We Put C-USA Back in the Liberty and Potato Bowls: Part I (2014-2016)

Let’s rewind back to 2013.

It is Conference Championship weekend, and much is at stake in C-USA. The winner gets a birth in the Liberty Bowl, and the loser goes…well, elsewhere. This was the reality from Conference USA’s early years in the mid-90s to the end of the BCS in 2013.

They had a solid bowl lined up for their champion in the Liberty Bowl, in the heart of blues country with over 50 years of history. This alone was a big enough reason for Army and others to join the conference.

With the dawn of the College Football Playoff, this was gone as the Big 12 took the Liberty Bowl from C-USA. Instead, C-USA’s champion gets the reward of choosing where they land.

Recently, we’ve been reviving old tie-ins with today’s conference alignments, so we decided to do the same here. We will put C-USA back in not only the Liberty Bowl but the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, as the runner up went there from 1997-99.

The rules for this simulation are simple, as we will place the conference champ in Memphis and send the runner-up to Boise. Just like our Big East/American scenario, we will simulate the match-ups on WhatIfSports.com. Without further ado, we start with the 2014 season:

2014

  • Liberty Bowl: Marshall 42, West Virginia 34 *Was Boca Raton Bowl vs NIU
  • Potato Bowl: Louisiana Tech 19, Air Force 10 *Was Heart of Dallas Bowl vs Illinois

The first year of our simulation reignited the Friends of Coal Bowl in Memphis, in Marshall and West Virginia’s first meeting since 2011. While C-USA’s opponent in the Liberty Bowl was the SEC, a chance to revive this rivalry was too good to pass up.

This was a significantly better match-up for the Thundering Herd as West Virginia spent time in the Top-25 and provided a more engaging opponent for the fans. In addition, this is Marshall’s first appearance in the bowl.

Rakeem Cato throws three touchdowns, while Devon Johnson’s 193 rushing yards and two touchdowns lead the way as the Herd win 42-34. Clint Trickett throws for 409, but it is not enough for the Mountaineers.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech upgrades from a date with 6-6 Illinois to play talented (and fellow former WAC member) Air Force, who in 2014 notched wins over Boise State and 10-win Colorado State.

The contrast in styles provides for an interesting game between Louisiana Tech’s balanced spread offense and Air Force’s option offense. It also is Louisiana Tech’s first appearance in the Potato Bowl since the 2001 edition, when they faced Clemson while still in the WAC.

In a surprising defensive struggle, Louisiana Tech wins 19-10 on the strength of Cody Sokol’s 255 passing yards and Kenneth Dixon’s 85 rushing yards. The Air Force option attack runs for 285 yards, but it is not enough for the Falcons.

2015

  • Liberty Bowl: Western Kentucky 16, Arkansas 24 *Was the Miami Beach Bowl vs Arkansas
  • Potato Bowl: Southern Miss 32, Utah State 10 *Was the Heart of Dallas vs Washington

Western Kentucky got a significant upgrade by facing a strong Arkansas team who beat both LSU and Ole Miss during the year. Another bonus is that the trip to Memphis would be considerably easier for their fanbase.

Coming into the game ranked #25 in the AP Poll in their first Liberty Bowl appearance, this game is a chance for Western Kentucky to get a signature win in a historic season.

While the hype surrounds Brandon Doughty leading up to game time, Brandon Allen steals the show by throwing for 253 and three touchdowns in a 24-16 Razorback win. Doughty throws for 281 yards and two scores, but his output seems underwhelming. Arkansas holds the Hilltoppers to 400 total yards, 127 yards below their season average.

On the other hand, Southern Miss received a downgrade in opponent quality for the sake of history, as they face a 6-6 Utah State team instead of a young 6-6 Washington squad fresh off a victory over ranked Washington State.

This game is the Golden Eagles’ first trip to the Potato Bowl since the 1997 game when they lost to Idaho, the Big West’s champions that year.

Come game time, it is the Southern Miss defense that rises to the occasion in a 32-10 win, spoiling Chuckie Keeton’s final game. Nick Mullens and Jalen Richard led a balanced attack with Mullens tossing the ball for 219 yards and two scores, along with Richard adding 90 yards on the ground and a score.

2016

  • Liberty: Western Kentucky 33, Georgia 30 *Was Boca Raton Bowl vs Memphis
  • Potato: Louisiana Tech 34, Idaho 23 *Was the Armed Forces Bowl vs Navy

The Hilltoppers make their second straight trip to Memphis and play another SEC school in Georgia. This matchup is an upgrade as they had originally faced a Memphis squad with just eight wins. The contrast in styles is evident with Mike White leading an exciting Western Kentucky spread offense against Georgia’s run-heavy pro-style offense.

After jumping out to a 30-10 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Hilltoppers nearly blows it but hangs on to win 33-30. Mike White throws for 273 and a touchdown pass, while Anthony Wales adds two scores on the ground.

In the losing effort, Jacob Eason throws for 343 yards. The normally potent running back duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb struggle for the Bulldogs, combining for 31 carries and a paltry 106 yards. For Georgia, it is familiar territory as the 2010 C-USA champions, UCF, defeated them 10-6 in the same bowl.

In Boise, Louisiana Tech and Idaho get to again resurrect the WAC in a showdown of eight-win teams. Louisiana Tech receives a downgrade in opponents, going from facing the AAC West champs, Navy, to facing an Idaho school that finished tied for second in the Sun Belt.

The Bulldogs still notch their second straight win in Boise, defeating a formidable Vandals team 34-23. Ryan Higgins throws for 203 with a touchdown pass to Carlos Henderson, while Jarred Craft ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns, including one that sealed the game with 1:33 left. Matt Linehan throws for 275 yards and a touchdown, but it is not enough for the Vandals.

The return to C-USA’s bowl glory days proves beneficial for the conference as it allows some of the conference’s greatest teams in recent memory to end their seasons with quality opponents. Furthermore, the simulation reignites old rivalries and resurrects friendships we lost along the way (#RIPWAC). With all of this in mind, the second part of the simulation should be intriguing.

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