Separation Saturday is what the action in Week 9 should be called in Conference USA as every game in C-USA is a conference game. Two teams tied for first place in C-USA East will play each other (MTSU & FIU) and two teams tied for second place in C-USA West (North Texas & Southern Miss) will play intriguing opponents that will determine whether they are contenders down the stretch.
There were a ton of league games that ended up being tossups and my record reflected it as I went 4-3 last week.
Choosing C-USA Record: 55-17
Game of the Week
North Texas at UTSA (UTSA -3.5)
North Texas has been a major surprise this season. After going 1-11 with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Portland State, this season we have seen a whole different team under Seth Littrell.
The former North Carolina offensive coordinator has yet to see his offense truly take shape in Denton as the Mean Green struggle mightily in explosiveness (108th in IsoPP) and efficiency ( 104th in Success Rate).
But when they get inside the opposition’s 40-yard line they do a great job at putting points on the board as they rank 7th in the country in Finishing Drives.
Jeffrey Wilson has been the bellwether for the offense. If he’s doing well and keeping the offense out of passing downs UNT is moving the ball. If not, the offense stalls.
True freshman Mason Fine has played admirably after replacing former Alabama quarterback Alec Morris but he’s still experiencing a learning curve at the FBS level.
UNT ranks near the bottom in every advanced stat in passing offense but thanks to Wilson they are 24th in Rushing IsoPPP, 60th in Rushing Success Rate, and 53rd in Rushing S&P+.
In other words, UNT is just fine giving Wilson the ball with the hopes that he will break one. A young quarterback’s best friend is a quality rushing attack and Fine has just that.
The Locust Grove, Oklahoma, native is only completing 55.7 percent of his passes but he’s only thrown 2 interceptions which is a great sign that the freshman knows how to take care of the ball and with the way UNT’s defense has been performing it’s translated to a great turnaround thus far.
Fine has a decent set of wheels to keep UTSA’s defense honest as he’s rushed for 197 yards and 1 touchdown this year. But given his size (5'11, 170) it would be in his and UNT’s best interest for him to not take off and run too many times.
UTSA’s passing defense has been decent this year and I believe it will be good enough to force UNT into the same offensive strategy they have employed all along which is to give Wilson the rock.
Fortunately for the UTSA faithful the rushing defense has no glaring signs of weakness either with their best attribute being how good they are at limiting big plays on the ground as they are 41st in Rushing IsoPPP.
If UTSA can keep UNT in passing downs and force Fine to deal with the Alamodome and their experienced secondary the Roadrunners have a great shot at winning this.
North Texas’ biggest weakness on defense is stopping the run as they rank 93rd in Rushing S&P+ and 91st in Rushing Success Rate. Similar to UNT, they don’t allow explosive plays on the ground but they will allow 4-5 yards per carry, something Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes are extremely capable of.
UNT’s secondary is pretty salty as evidenced by their play against Middle Tennessee and Marshall earlier this year. If UTSA is to move the ball they are going to have to do it on the ground.
Whoever runs the ball the best is going to win this game. In rivalry games I tend to lean towards the home team. North Texas enters this game with a lot of momentum as they are on the cusp of qualifying for a bowl game meanwhile UTSA is coming off of a heartbreaking loss to UTEP in 5 overtimes.
UTSA’s offense has stalled in the second half several times this year with the game in balance (UTEP & Arizona State come to mind).
I don’t trust Frank Scelfo’s offense in what will be another close game down the stretch. I’ll take North Texas for the upset behind another great defensive performance and a turnover-free day from Mason Fine.
North Texas 28 UTSA 17
The Rest of C-USA...
Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic
FAU has played the Hilltoppers pretty close in recent meetings and even defeated WKU two years ago. The Owls have had two weeks to prepare and I think they will do a much better job at slowing down the Tops than Old Dominion last week. WKU will be without Ace Wales for the first half due to his involvement in last week’s melee. That will help the Owls slow down WKU but it won’t be enough to win.
Western Kentucky 45 FAU 28
Rice at Louisiana Tech
Rice gave up 44 points to Prairie View. An FCS school. Good luck trying to stop Carlos Henderson, Trent Taylor, and Ryan Higgins.
Rice 24 Louisiana Tech 55
Marshall at Southern Miss
Entering the season this had the potential to be heavyweight battle between Conference USA’s most recognizable brands. Only one school has held their end of the bargain though. Southern Miss should look well rested after having a week off and with Marshall in shambles this could be a blow out. I have a feeling the Herd makes this one interesting due to USM’s tendency to turnover the ball.
Marshall 28 Southern Miss 40
Middle Tennessee at FIU
After Middle Tennessee’s nice win over Mizzou last week they could potentially sleep walk in this game as it wouldn’t surprise me if they went into half time up by 10 points or less. MTSU pulls away in the second half as Richie James hauls in two touchdown passes in his home state.
Middle Tennessee 48 FIU 23
Old Dominion at UTEP
This is a prove it game for the Monarchs. After being embarrassed last week their hopes of a C-USA East division title are all but dashed but this could still be a special season in Norfolk. ODU has already taken care of a few teams in C-USA’s middle class and I see them doing so again behind their rushing attack.
Old Dominion 38 UTEP 21