Conference USA Makes Up For 2015 Missed Opportunity in Fiesta Bowl

Conference USA will play in a bowl game in the state of Arizona for the first time on Monday. Eight years ago, they came close to accomplishing this feat.

Liberty plays in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day
Source: Chase Gyles/Liberty University

New Year's Day is a landmark day in the nearly 30-year history of Conference USA. A Conference USA school will play in a bowl game in Arizona for the first time when Liberty squares off with Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. With a membership concentrated in the American South and college football's Arizona Bowls gravitating towards the Power Five and Big East, this is no surprise. However, eight years ago, Conference USA nearly sent a team to spend the postseason in the Grand Canyon State.

The upstart Arizona Bowl burst onto the scene in 2015. The Tucson bowl game wisely signed an agreement with the Mountain West. Opposite the Mountain West would be a Conference USA school. Conference USA won by gaining an extra bowl. The conference had seven bowl-eligible teams in 2014, yet only five went to bowls. Additionally, the conference had membership relatively close to Tucson. UTEP is less than a five-hour drive from Tucson, while UTSA and North Texas were 12 to 14-hour drives away from the Arizona city.

However, Conference USA failed to fulfill its seven-bowl obligations in 2015. Only five of the conference's 13 members reached bowl eligibility, forcing them to vacate two bowl spots. The Arizona Bowl was one of these bowls, causing the bowl to pit two Mountain West schools against each other in its first year. The following year, the Sun Belt took Conference USA's spot the next season to accommodate their two western schools, New Mexico State and Idaho. Conference USA has since never partnered with the Arizona Bowl.

Most college football fans will look at Liberty's Fiesta Bowl appearance against Oregon and see it as the realization of a dream deferred by previous legendary Conference USA schools like 1998 Tulane and 2011 Houston. Yet, it is also the first time the conference will go bowling in a state with one of the most storied bowl histories in the Union.