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Choosing C-USA: North Texas against UTSA has the makings of a barn burner

The biggest game in Conference USA will take place in Denton, as bragging rights won’t be the only thing on the line.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas-San Antonio Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

A week ago I declared that 10 teams have a realistic shot at winning Conference USA.

Right now I’d say there are 10 fan bases who can offer legitimate reasons for why their team can make it to the Conference USA Championship Game (sorry UTEP, Rice, Charlotte and UAB).

UAB fans, I owe you an apology. I was wrong. 11 Teams now have a shot at wining C-USA. I hinted that it’ll be tough picking C-USA games during conference play and proceeded to go 3-4, my worst week of the season.

This week should be much easier as four C-USA teams will be involved in double-digit point spreads. Of course, the one that matters most will be the toughest one to pick.

North Texas will host UTSA in what is not only the Game of the Week, but the most impactful game in C-USA West.

Choosing C-USA Record: 48-14

Game of the Week

UTSA at North Texas (UTSA -3, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3)

All offseason North Texas has had to hear about how UTSA is a program on the rise. Why the Roadrunners are on the verge of becoming a C-USA power. How North Texas is getting lapped on the recruiting trail. Who leads the all-time series despite being an upstart program.

I can go on forever, but you get the point. UTSA has been the darlings of C-USA while UNT, despite going through an even bigger rebuild and having their own head coach on the rise in Seth Littrell, has been largely overshadowed. Despite being first in C-USA West, Vegas has North Texas as a home underdog. Still no respect for that school in Denton.

Well North Texas, here’s your chance to get that respect.

UTSA enters this game wounded on the offensive line and fresh off their worst defensive performance of the season. Last week we noted that UTSA’s major weakness defensively is giving up explosive plays, particularly on the ground. Southern Miss averaged an outstanding 8.6 yards per play. UTSA’s defensive Rushing IsoPPP rank dropped from 87th to 125th, as Ito Smith rushed for 178 yards and averaged 10.4 yards per carry.

We’ve mentioned in this space before how explosive North Texas’ rushing attack is. Jeffery Wilson is averaging 7.2 yards per carry. When Wilson comes out for a breather backup Nic Smith averages 5.1 yards per carry. The Mean Green has thrived off of explosive plays all season. This is a great matchup for them.

Despite the poor performance, UTSA is still one of the best defenses in C-USA. The Roadrunners have been great at creating negative plays as they are 2nd in the nation at Overall Havoc Rate. Finishing drives off and preventing big plays will determine if they can slow down the Mean Green. Southern Miss was the first potent offense they’ve seen all season and they were exposed. Now they’ll face an even better offense and try to stop Mason Fine, Jalen Guyton, and of course, Jeffery Wilson.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Mississippi
Jeffery has rushed for 666 yards and nine touchdowns this year.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Being that the Roadrunners may be dealing with issues on the offensive line, protecting Dalton Sturm could be dicey. UNT is middle of the conference in sacks with 12 sacks for the season. UTSA has allowed 11 sacks so far this year.

The Mean Green still aren’t great at defending the pass when it requires them to though as they rank near the bottom in every advanced stat for Passing Downs. They are great at defending the pass during standard downs however, as they rank in the top 20 in every advanced stat for Standard Downs defense.

Josh Stewart, Greg Campbell Jr., Kerry Thomas Jr., and Marquez McNair are capable of having a big game. Stewart and Campbell Jr. both had over 100 yards in receiving against Southern Miss. Those two have the size to really create some matchup problems. Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall matched up against those two will be very fun to watch.

For me the game will rest on the shoulders of Dalton Sturm. He’s been great this season and after watching him lead UTSA back into last week’s game after the rushing offense was shut down, I believe Sturm is very capable of defeating UNT through the air and on the ground.

I expect this game to be a classic. Both teams are evenly matched and will come into this one with a ton of energy right from the beginning. A few weeks ago I would have picked UTSA to win a close one but I think North Texas has all the momentum with the game at home making the difference. A late fourth quarter stop gives UNT the win.

North Texas 37 UTSA 31

The Rest of C-USA...

Old Dominion at Marshall (Marshall -16.5, 2:30 PM ET, ESPN3)

Steven Williams had a pretty tough outing against FAU and it’ll only get tougher as Marshall has one of the best defenses in the conference. Over the last three games Marshall hasn’t allowed an opponent to score in the first half. The defense will only get better now that Juwon Young is back from suspension as Young saw his first action of the season last week. The Monarchs could get some guys back and if Ray Lawry returns this week and is completely healthy, it’ll be huge for the ODU offense. This is one of those games where if Marshall doesn’t show up they could lose.

Marshall 28 Old Dominion 14

Charlotte at WKU (WKU -16, 4:30 PM ET)

I have a bad feeling about this game for WKU as I think the Tops should be on upset alert. Something tells me that Charlotte will keep this game competitive for four quarters. Like last week, the Tops will win a game that will end up much closer than it should be.

WKU 24 Charlotte 17

Middle Tennessee at UAB (MTSU -6, 6:30 PM ET, beIn Sports)

Hard to get a read on Middle as I have picked just about all of their games incorrectly this year due to Brent Stockstill and Richie James being game-time decisions. If Stockstill and James indeed don’t play, the Blazers should win. Middle isn’t beating good teams without Stockstill and James. We’re about to find out if UAB is a good team.

UAB 31 Middle Tennessee 21

UTEP at Southern Miss (Southern Miss -22.5, 7:00 PM ET, Stadium)

The Mike Price story is a cool one but I see Southern Miss keeping the momentum from last week and winning easily as the UTEP offense will continue to struggle.

Southern Miss 38 UTEP 13

Tulane at FIU (Tulane -13.5, 7:00 PM ET, C-USA TV)

Welcome back to Conference USA Tulane! FIU will host a Tulane team that obliterated Tulsa 62-28 last week. Willie Fritz has the option offense rolling right now as it was by far the biggest win of his tenure so far. How they handle a big win entering this matchup will be interesting. FIU has been pretty solid against the run. The Panthers defense ranks 34th in Rushing Success Rate but an abysmal 117th in Rushing IsoPPP. After letting MTSU run on them I fear they won’t stand a chance against Tulane. Treyvon Williams, Anthony Wint, and Sage Lewis will need to have huge games in order to contain the Green Wave. Unfortunately FIU’s biggest issue hasn’t been the defense but rather the offense. Don’t see the Panthers scoring enough to keep up with the Green Wave in this one.

Tulane 42 FIU 21