Conference USA is slowly creeping up the Eastern Seaboard. The additions of Liberty and now Delaware in 2025 will strengthen the Conference’s presence in the Mid-Atlantic. Unfortunately, the few bowls in the Northeast are out of reach for the league.
The Big Ten and ACC play in the Bronx’s Pinstripe Bowl, while the American Athletic Conference faces the ACC in Boston’s Fenway Bowl and Annapolis’ Military Bowl. With two years left in this current cycle of Bowl agreements, Conference USA needs to look to the future.
Delaware’s campus is 85 miles from the Naval Academy. Liberty is 217 miles away from Annapolis. Both schools are closer to Annapolis than 12 of the AAC’s 14 football-playing members. The Military Bowl drew one of its largest crowds ever in 2023, with 35,849 fans in attendance for Tulane-Virginia Tech. However, crowds like this will not always be the norm. In 2022, the Military Bowl saw its lowest attendance in 10 years when only 17,974 fans witnessed Duke beat UCF, whose campus is 881 miles away.
The Military Bowl is a natural fit to be Delaware’s first bowl appearance. Annapolis is familiar ground for the Blue Hens. Delaware has played Navy 18 times. Nevertheless, they have played Navy once since 2013.
With Delaware moving up to FBS, they may never play Navy in the regular season again. The Midshipmen play Army, Air Force, and Notre Dame each year, making only one non-conference spot free for the Midshipmen that they routinely use on an FCS opponent. Consequently, Blue Hens’ fans would value a trip to Annapolis.
Liberty would also be a strong draw for the Military Bowl given their proximity to Annapolis and their sizable online and in-person enrollment. A chance to play in-state Power Fives, Virginia, and Virginia Tech, for Commonwealth bragging rights would make a trip to Annapolis enticing for Flames fans.
Additionally, rumors of the addition of UMass make the Military Bowl a more necessary tie-in for Conference USA. Amherst is a manageable 378-mile trip to Annapolis. A 2006 visit to the Naval Academy is the Minutemen’s only trip to Annapolis, making a Military Bowl a new experience for several UMass fans.
Additionally, the matchup with the ACC allows UMass to rekindle the Battle of the Bay State against Boston College. It is hard to imagine a better way for UMass fans to end a bowl season than their first win against Boston College since the Carter Administration.
Finally, the Military Bowl gives Conference USA the marquee postseason matchup they desperately lack. Louisiana Tech’s shutout of Miami in the 2019 Independence Bowl was Conference USA’s last non-New Year’s Six bowl game against the Power Five.
Had the College Football Playoff committee put SMU ahead of Liberty, there is no guarantee the Flames would have played a Power Five school during Bowl Season. Conference USA’s next guaranteed bowl appearance against a Power Five school will be in the 2025 Independence Bowl against a Big 12 school.
The Military Bowl has several possibilities for engaging matchups between its members and ACC schools. Imagine Kennesaw State knocking off crosstown rival Georgia Tech in their first bowl appearance or Louisiana Tech beating its former WAC conference mate of four years, SMU.
Eastward expansion, or “reverse Manifest Destiny” for my future history buffs, makes Conference USA pursuing the Military Bowl is a must. The Military Bowl gives the league a marquee game and caters to its Mid-Atlantic members.