The Bowl Tracker had links and information for all seven bowls that CUSA teams were playing in. One was cancelled — champion UAB was not afforded an opportunity to beat up on South Carolina — and the other six games saw the league get worked.
This was a sorry performance and one that we should have saw coming. The league has not been in a good place the last two seasons. Last year the league went 3-5 in the post season, including 0-2 against the Sun Belt, 1-2 against the AAC, and 1-1 against the MAC. The Tech win over UMiami covered for the rest of the league, especially following the FIU win over the Hurricanes that season.
This bowl season, there was no hiding. The league went a combined 0-6, and was outscored 96-206. Against the Sun Belt alone the league went 0-4 and out scored 76-164. UTSA, and Marshall were the most competitive but that will fade. There is no trophy for most competitive bowl loser.
This is all not-good but it is also not as bad and terrible as it seems on its face. Here are some quick list-based takeaways:
1. Bowl Games Are Not As Important As You Think
I watch a lot of these bowl games and do not remember them outside of something remarkable happening. A big comeback. A really thorough beat down. A dramatic finish. Everything else is lost because a) they are easily qualified 1 and b) there are a lot of undifferentiated bowl games.
Anecdotally speaking — and this matters because donors and fans think and discuss these things anecdotally and rarely with the actual numbers or subtlety — the things that stand out are P5 victories in like, September. People remember Tom Herman’s win over Oklahoma with Houston and not really how that season ended. People remember ODU beating Va Tech and not so much the rest. People remember North Texas and WKU beating Arkansas and not so much the bowl results.
2. The W/L record in Bowls Is Important
So it may seem like I am contradicting myself but note the difference: A bowl loss does not matter so much but you cannot keep losing them. Tech winning six in a row mattered, but I challenge anyone that is not a Bulldog fan to name the bowls or opponents or the average margin of victory. Nope. But you knew the six-game streak was broken this year. You may not remember to whom exactly Seth Littrell’s North Texas teams lost, but you know that he has lost all of them.
3. Judy Is Not Directly Responsible for the Conference Winning Or Losing A Bowl Season
There is a lot of blame placed at the feet of the conference commissioner, blaming Judy McLeod for basically everything going wrong. No, the programs were responsible for the poor play on the field. You can say Judy is not doing enough to further the conference’s profile in the ways that would provide a healthy, winning foundation for the league. Sure, you could argue that. Mostly, however, the blame is something like “The TV deal sucks, and my team has no defense, fire her”.
This is not good.
We have made this point on this site previously, but let me repeat: the bulk of the problem with the television deal that the league has is that the public at large does not want to watch CUSA football, or basketball. In 2018, the Murfreesboro public did not show up in greater numbers than the traveling UAB contingent to see Brent Stockstill, one of the greatest if not the greatest MTSU players, compete at home for a CUSA title. If the good people of that town could not be bothered to show up for a title game how can we expect anyone to sell MTSU on television?
When this site makes the point that the development of the league depends on the best programs making progress against the lower P5, other G5 teams in the regular season, we do so with the thinking that the next step in national recognition for this league is for one program to build a compelling narrative. Marshall had that shot and blew it against Rice, UAB, and Buffalo. UAB had that shot and blew it vs Louisiana.
People are excited for Liberty vs Coastal Carolina because they are winning. Win and everything else is much easier. People want to watch your team, and your league and everything as long as you win. App State has won. Arkansas State has won. ULL and now Coastal Carolina are winning. The same cannot be said of the CUSA programs.
FAU was getting a little shine for a while when they tore through the league and then made some noise in the bowl game. They fell flat the next season, but got back to winning — albeit in less convincing fashion nationally. This season? Middling-to-fair. They dropped a game on national television to USM and then lost the bowl. Not super compelling, Bob.
North Texas had dark horse Heisman Mason Fine and came off that season in which they beat Arkansas and … had a terrible 2019. They followed that with an awful defensive 2020.
I am happy to levy criticism for poor marketing of all the teams by the league but it is not bad marketing. At best it is uncreative but not bad. They push the teams that are good, and allow access, and tweet out stuff. It would help to have a team as good as Coastal, or ULL, or App State.
4. This Is Cyclical
College Sports by definition are cyclical. Four years is a short time and programs live and die in an even shorter time with the transfers and early-exits. CUSA graduated a handful of starting QBs and had some transfers and early-departures here and there. There is youth that will grow and get better. If you want to be cynical, there are clear starting opportunities for transfers to walk into.
I mean “Here is a list of guys that did not play, or they were coming off a tough championship game loss and were not into it or what have you. ↩