There’s only one non-BCS conference left to spotlight in the Bowl Projection Series, and that’s the Sun Belt.
The Sun Belt is like the red-headed step-child of the FBS; everyone beats up on them. They are so maligned that they only have one bowl bid, and any others they get almost always come by default instead of choice.
But what more can you expect for a conference that just a few years ago faced the very real possibility of their champion not even reaching bowl eligibility standards?
The dominant team is Troy. The Trojans have finished first or second in the Sun Belt five times since joining the conference in 2004.
They went undefeated in the league this year, edging out Middle Tennessee State (who had the same overall record as Troy).
The Sun Belt has four eligible teams but only that one automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl, which is obligated to take the champion.
They do have three contingency plans (the St. Petersburg, PapaJohns.com and Independence Bowls can select Sun Belt teams), but none of those are available this year.
This year, though, they will still get two bids…but as usual, it will be by default.
The four Sun Belt Teams who could go bowling are:
Troy (9-3, League Champion)
Middle Tennessee State (9-3)
Again, Troy is automatically headed to the New Orleans Bowl and none of the three usual contingencies are open. But as you’ll see in the next slide, that won’t matter.
Projected Bowl selections:
No. 1: New Orleans Bowl—Troy (locked in)
No. 2: GMAC Bowl—Middle Tennessee State
The New Orleans Bowl’s other tie-in is the fifth selection from Conference USA, so Troy will likely play Southern Mississippi.
As for Middle Tennessee, they’re headed to Mobile, Ala., by default…sort of.
There will be five open bowl slots due to lack of qualifiers: The Humanitarian (MWC), Little Caesars Pizza (Big Ten), GMAC (ACC) and two in the EagleBank (ACC and Army).
For those five slots, the eligible pool will likely be Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, UCLA, and the three remaining Sun Belt schools. Half of them are 6-6, and because NCAA rules state that seven-win teams must fill open slots before 6-6 teams, the Blue Raiders are assured of a spot.
But where will they go? It’s likely the GMAC, and here’s why:
The EagleBank has contingencies with the MAC and C-USA. Not enough C-USA teams are 7-5, so they’ll take Northern Illinois for the first and try to wait on 6-6 local favorite Marshall with the second.
The Humanitarian will likely grab Bowling Green. It would make sense to wait on UCLA for name value, but the Bruins once declined an invite there and likely will never receive another.
That leaves MTSU as the only non 6-6 team remaining with three possible suitors. The GMAC, being the closest to their campus, will likely extend the invitation.
That does present an interesting scenario, though, because if UCLA chooses to decline a potential Little Caesars Pizza Bowl invite, the Sun Belt will get a third bid for one of the Louisiana schools.
Lafayette won head-to-head and they also beat Kansas State, so they would likely be the ones chosen to face Central Michigan.