It was all there for Houston’s taking. A Conference USA title, which would begat an unbeaten regular season plus one, which would begat a berth in a BcS bowl, which would begat millions of extra dollars for both itself and its conference.
Either somebody forgot to tell No. 24 Southern Miss what was on the line, or Larry Fedora‘s charges really could care le$$ what was at stake.
With a stunning and overwhelming 49-28 upset over previously unbeaten and No. 7 Houston, Southern Miss claimed its first win in a Conference USA championship game and its fifth title overall (outright or shared) since the conference began play in 1996. It also avenged a 34-20 loss to the Cougars in the 2006 title game, as well as kept intact the East division’s streak of titles and pushed that number to five.
But, in the end, that mattered little to 11/12 of the conference.
With a win, Houston was guaranteed a spot in a BcS bowl — likely the Sugar — and the millions of dollars flowing into the conference’s coffers such a berth would’ve brought. Last year, for example, the Mountain West, with TCU as its lone representative, made roughly $13 million from the BcS; Conference USA, with no representatives in a BcS bowl, earned just over $3 million from the BcS.
Based solely on the last set of available numbers — and the pool of money distributed to non-automatic qualifying conferences is expected to go up again this year — the UH loss, or the Southern Miss win if you prefer, cost the conference and its member institutions a total of at least $10 million — and that’s on the very low-end of the eventual reality.
Of course, to Southern Miss, it’s not about the money it’s about the title and the hardware — even as in winning Southern Miss cost its athletic department hundreds of thousands of dollars. For the rest of the conference, though — especially one like C-USA, whose athletic departments are not exactly awash in black ink — it was a lump of coal instead of the iPad you were expecting to see Christmas morning.
“We’d make between $500,000 and $800,000,” UTEP athletic director Bob Stull said earlier this week when asked what a UH win would mean financially for his school. “That’s a good little boost for anybody.”
In addition to the financial aspect, another intriguing storyline of this title game was the head coaches. Kevin Sumlin has been the subject of many a rumor this coaching carousel, and has likely coached his final game with the Cougars; while he’s now considered the top candidate for the UCLA job, he’s expected to be named the head coach at Texas A&M at some point in the near future, perhaps as early as Sunday.
While Fedora’s name has not been mentioned as prominently as his counterpart, this shredding of previously unbeaten Houston will likely alter the rate of speculation as it pertains to the Southern Miss coach.
Just don’t expect it to be another Conference USA school; they simply won’t have the money for it.
UPDATED 4:23 p.m. ET: Another byproduct of the Houston loss? TCU, currently No. 18 in the BcS rankings but the Mountain West champ by virtue of its win over Boise State, could find itself with a BcS berth. Here’s a tweet from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Stefan Stevenson:
“It comes down to this, TCU fans. If Frogs move up 2 spots in tomorrow’s BCS rankings to 16th, they get BCS bowl — SUGAR.”
Oh, and the door just swung open a little bit wider for Michigan to grab an at-large BcS berth as well — and play the Horned Frogs.