Final Match Up Prediction for the 2018 Independence Bowl
Well here we are. Just about one month away from the 2018 Walk-On's Independence Bowl. This year's Independence Bowl is set for December 27th at 12:30pm, (tickets here) and we've been helping Indy Bowl fans watch for teams that they could see in Shreveport for a little while now.
It all started back in October, way before anyone outside of the Indy Bowl staff should have been looking at teams. The only thing we really knew back then, was that the SEC could run into trouble trying to fill their commitment, which is still a major concern.
Pause: remember, the priority agreements for the Independence Bowl are with the SEC and ACC. OK, back to the concerns over the SEC.
Now, over the last couple of weeks, some of the things that the Independence Bowl needed to have happen, in order to secure an SEC team, have happened.
There are now 11 bowl eligible teams in the SEC, meaning that they would have enough teams to fill their bowl commitments, and put Alabama into the College Football Playoff. But...
As nearly every major sports publication has pointed out in their bowl projections, the College Football Playoff Committee will probably scoop up 3 SEC teams for their New Year's Bowl games. Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Kentucky are now all in play for New Year's Day games through the committee.
That SEC issue (which isn't really an issue in the eyes of the Conference), isn't an issue shared by the other half of the game agreements, the ACC.
With the ACC, it's likely that Clemson will be in the College Football Playoff, but after that, the highest ranked team in the ACC is Syracuse. If Syracuse was going to make it into the committee games on New Year's Day, they would need to have some teams above them get ridiculously blown out in conference championship games.
Which means it still looks like the SEC won't send a team to Shreveport, but the ACC will.
Now we move to the next level of questions...which ACC team will likely be coming to the Indy Bowl?
If you go by what the national writers say, most agree on the same team from the ACC for the Indy Bowl. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sports all say that they believe Miami will be returning to Shreveport for the second time in five years. There are a couple other ACC teams on the national radar for the Indy Bowl bid. SB Nation suggests Duke will be on their way to the Ark-La-Tex, and Athlon Sports sees Georgia Tech coming to town.
If you look at the tiered and ranked order of bowl bids for the ACC, the Independence Bowl bid is #8 on their list. Then if you rank out the ACC standings, there are 3 teams tied in the #8 range with 7-5 overall records, and 4-4 conference records. Those three teams are Boston College, Virginia, and Miami. Then if you look at head-to-head match ups, the only thing you can find is that Miami lost to both Boston College and Virginia, so they would rank at the bottom of that 3-way tie, which would place them at #8, and would signal a trip back to Shreveport (so ESPN, SI, and CBS seem to know what they're talking about).
So if we know who's coming from the ACC, that just leaves the question of who they will play against. Let's bring in the Independence Bowl secondary agreements.
In addition to the deals with the SEC and ACC, the Indy Bowl has agreements with the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA to replace any spots not able to be filled by one of the primary conferences.
Last year, Conference USA sent Southern Mississippi to fill the SEC spots when they weren't able to fill. Back in 2015 Tulsa from the American Athletic filled in for the SEC. So if the conferences continue to alternate trips, that would put the American Athletic on deck this year.
The American Athletic has 7 primary bowl agreements, meaning they would need to have 8 bowl eligible teams to fill all of their agreements, and have a team for Shreveport. Which last night, SMU was that 8th team, needing to win to get their 6th victory and become bowl eligible, but they lost to Tulsa to finish 5-7. Putting the American Athletic just out of reach for the Indy Bowl.
So if my math is right, that means we're going to look towards Conference USA to fill that spot.
With Conference USA, there are 6 bowl agreements in place, so they would need 7 teams to fill those commitments, and be able to make a team available for the Indy Bowl. With Southern Mississippi's win last night over UTEP, they secured Conference USA's 7th bowl eligible team. Meaning they would be able to send a team to Shreveport.
Conference USA doesn't tier, or rank, their bowl bids like the ACC or SEC. So now that they have 7 teams eligible, they could pick any team from top-to-bottom to send to Shreveport. They generally make these decisions through negotiations with the bowls and schools, and base them on travel, ticket sales opportunities, and other considerations.
So who would make the most sense for Conference USA to send to Shreveport? I agree with Athlon Sports assessment, and think that Louisiana Tech would be the best option for both Conference USA and the Independence Bowl.
Shreveport is basically Louisiana Tech's second home, so it would create an environment that would help the conference and the bowl game. Tech fans would fill up the stands, and Louisiana Tech could also tie the record for most Indy Bowl appearances ever (Ole Miss holds the record with 5, La Tech has 4).
Now that pick might be too "on the nose", and there are a couple other teams who could benefit from a trip to Shreveport. North Texas plays their home games just 3 and a half hours from Independence Stadium, and has never played in the Indy Bowl before. Their fans have been feeling it this year too, going as far as setting a record for attendance at their home, Apogee Stadium, when hosting Louisiana Tech this season. They're a team that would be excited about the call, and their fans would likely travel...especially if it meant a date with Miami, and possibly a statement win for the program.
Based on the info available online (not sure how reliable it is, because sometimes these numbers are protected) the payout for the Independence Bowl would be more than all but one of the Conference USA bowl tie-ins. The First Responder Bowl (formerly the Heart of Texas Bowl) and the Independence Bowl will pay out roughly the same amount to the participating teams and conferences. Which could catch the attention of some of the other teams in the conference.
Teams that could be interested in the higher payout could include UAB, Middle Tennessee, or Marshall.
Conference USA does have some very interesting "destination" bowl games too. Like the Hawai'i Bowl, played at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Bahamas Bowl, which is played in Nassau, Bahamas. Last year UAB took the trip to the Bahamas, now this year it will be Florida International. The last Conference USA team to head to Hawaii was Middle Tennessee. So it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest UAB could take another "celebratory trip" for their bowl, but this time to Hawaii.
Looking back at all of those projections from the national writers, a few of them a projecting random teams from the "at large" pool, but since it looks like 2 of the 4 conferences with agreements to play in the Indy Bowl will be able to send teams, those won't be needed. A few of the national projections agree on UAB taking the Conference USA bid, and some point at other Conference USA schools, including Louisiana Tech.
As much as I would like to project Louisiana Tech in the game, I feel like there have been chances for the Bulldogs to take the bid to Shreveport, and it hasn't happened before, so I'm not sure it will happen. Honestly, I think North Texas would be an amazing option too. That program, and their fans, are hungry...and growing. They've only played in a handful of different bowl games, and never in Shreveport. Being only 3 hours away, and having a chance to play a program like Miami on a national stage would likely draw a lot of North Texas fans.
So, with all of that said, here is my final projection before we find out for sure who's coming...
Miami vs. North Texas
Again, I would love to see Miami vs. Louisiana Tech...but I'm not convinced that will happen.