Louisiana Tech Wins Conference USA West
Entering the season Southern Miss was the overwhelming favorite to win C-USA West. Although Louisiana Tech had won 18 games - and two straight bowl games - in two years, the Bulldogs were an afterthought and a distant second to their rivals as they had to replace starters in the offensive backfield, defensive backfield and replace almost their entire front seven which included first round draft pick Vernon Butler.
In short, many pegged this to be a transition year in Skip Holtz’s fourth season in Ruston. I was one of them.
Man were we wrong.
The Bulldogs dominated UTSA on senior day 63-35 for their seventh straight win this year and are now 8-3. Due to Southern Miss’ loss to Old Dominion, La Tech will represent C-USA West in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Tech won C-USA West because their offense has been amazing all season. Since Ryan Higgins was inserted back into the lineup after his one-game suspension to start the season the offense has averaged 44 points per game.
The defense has quietly become a force throughout the season as they have the third best scoring defense in C-USA.
The complete transformation of this team’s offensive identity as a ground and pound team with Kenneth Dixon to an unstoppable air-raid offense has been quite the coaching job by Skip Holtz and first-year offensive coordinator Todd Fitch.
After going 5-0 at home this year the Bulldogs have an opportunity to
play one more game at Joe Aillet Stadium (EDIT: The Joe is currently undergoing renovations so if Tech wins they will instead host the game in Shreveport at the Independence Bowl).
Last year it was Southern Miss coming out of nowhere to win C-USA West after Tech was the heavy favorite to win the division. For Tech to return the favor has to make the division championship that much sweeter.
The East Is A Two-Team Between Western Kentucky and Old Dominion
Just like we thought in the preseason, C-USA East is coming down to two teams. But rather those teams being Middle Tennessee, Marshall, or WKU, it is instead WKU and Old Dominion.
The Hilltoppers had another ho-hum beatdown at L.T. Smith Stadium as they defeated North Texas 45-7.
WKU has been so dominant at home during conference play that WKU fans would rather stay at home than go to a game they already know the Hilltoppers are going to win convincingly.
Oh, the luxury.
With the victory WKU is a win away from winning their second straight C-USA East division title. The pressure still remains on the Tops as they are still tied for first place with Old Dominion.
ODU’s victory over Southern Miss keeps the Monarchs in the hunt but they do not control their destiny due to their loss to WKU earlier in the season as they need to win out and hope WKU loses the Moonshine Throwdown on the road to Marshall.
ODU’s last two conference games are at FAU who’s currently on a two-game winning streak, and a home game against FIU.
Marshall is in the midst of their worst season since Doc Holliday has been the head coach but last week they managed to have play their best game of the year in a 42-17 home win over Middle Tennessee.
Rivalry games are always wild and The Joan is the toughest stadium to play in C-USA so WKU’s road to clinch the division could be a lot trickier than anticipated.
Sean Kugler Is On The Hot Seat
There has been a lot of talk about coaching changes in C-USA this year. FIU has already fired Ron Turner, and there’s been speculation that FAU and Rice head coaches Charlie Partridge and David Bailiff respectively, could face the same fate if they don’t turn it around.
Whether it’s because of UTEP’s remote outpost in El Paso or due to the job itself, Sean Kugler’s name has rarely come up but after UTEP’s loss to FAU eliminated them from bowl contention it might be time to wonder if he will be back next year.
With the best running back in the conference in Aaron Jones, UTEP’s offense has underachieved all season. The defense has also still had issues with depth.
In three plus seasons Kugler is 17-30 overall. He has finished with a winning record once. 2014 Was his best year as the Miners went 7-6 that year and ended up in the New Mexico Bowl.
With growth displayed by UTSA and North Texas this year it might be time to wonder if UTEP will be surpassed by their in-state peers. It doesn’t help matters that UTEP has had recruiting classes consistently rank near the bottom of C-USA. This year’s class is currently ranked last.
It appears his job security isn’t in too much danger but with games against in-state rivals Rice and North Texas to close the season, UTEP could possibly make a move if things don’t get better in El Paso.