Last week we were treated with a classic finish between North Texas and UTSA. This week we could have the privilege of being in store for more great finishes as FAU-North Texas and Southern Miss-Louisiana Tech are very compelling games.
WKU going on the road to Old Dominion should reveal whether the Tops are rounding in form just in time to make a run at the division title or if last week was a mirage.
While the Rivalry in Dixie has more on the line as the loser would pretty much be a long shot to win C-USA West, North Texas’ road trip to battle FAU and complacency, won it over for me.
The Owls can make a statement as one of the best teams in C-USA with a win, but in order to do so Lane Kiffin and company will need to play their best game of the season.
Choosing C-USA Record: 53-15
Game of the Week
North Texas at FAU (FAU -3.5, 5:00 PM ET, ESPN3)
In what has the potential to be a preview of the Conference USA Championship Game, FAU will host North Texas in the biggest conference game in FAU Stadium history. Both teams are unbeaten in conference play and both teams boast the top two scoring offenses in in C-USA. Points will be scored folks.
FAU, owners of the best rushing offense in C-USA, is led by Devin Singletary, Gregory Howell Jr. and Jason Driskel. North Texas, the best passing offense in C-USA, is led by Mason Fine, Jalen Guyton and a handful of other receivers who can do damage.
The major difference between the two offenses is that UNT has Jefferey Wilson in the backfield, making the Mean Green balanced and lethal. Meanwhile, the Owls have Jason Driskel at quarterback, whose play has been uneven at best.
Driskel has thrown for 449 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. As great as he has been on the ground (171 yards with 6.8 yards per carry), his inconsistent play as a passer has made the Owls one-dimensional.
After inexplicably giving Devin Singletary and Greg Howell a combined seven carries in the opener against Navy, Lane Kiffin and Kendall Briles has shifted to a more run-first philosophy and the returns have been great. But if FAU is going to win this game the Owls are going to need Driskel to make some key plays with his arm.
DeAndre McNeal is the Owls biggest threat at receiver but the emergence of tight end Harrison Bryant has been essential to FAU’s passing offense. Bryant has 16 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns. When Driskel passes off of play action he typically looks for Bryant first, who’s often open in the flats thanks to the linebackers paying so much attention to Singletary or Howell.
UNT gave up some big plays off of play action to UTSA last week so those same opportunities should be there for FAU. Driskel just has to deliver.
Driskel’s play will go a long way in determining if FAU can keep up with UNT should this game become a shootout. So will turnovers. FAU has forced a conference-high 13 turnovers this season. North Texas is 103rd in the country in turnover margin at -4.
FAU is in a perfect spot to give UNT their first conference loss of the season. FAU has had two weeks to prepare entering this game. The Mean Green on the other hand are riding high off of an emotional victory over UTSA, and now must fly across the country to play in what will probably be a tough road environment.
From what I’ve seen this season, UNT is the slightly better team. On a neutral field I think UNT wins by at least a touchdown. But Vegas has FAU as a favorite and so does S&P+, as the advanced stat metric gives FAU a 58 percent chance to win.
I think UNT comes out a bit flat to start as Lane Kiffin shows a few trick plays to give the Owls an early double digit lead. UNT comes back to play FAU to an even draw, but a slow first quarter start proves to be too much to overcome as the Owls hand North Texas their first conference loss of the season.
FAU 44 North Texas 34
The Rest of C-USA...
WKU at Old Dominion (Friday, WKU -9.5, 6:00 PM ET, CBSSN)
The Hilltoppers finally woke up on offense against Charlotte last week but they aren’t fooling me. They’ll see a much stiffer challenge against an ODU defense that has the defensive line to give them problems. Ray Lawry and Bunmi Rotimi returned last week and played decent, but I think we’ll see them return to playing like All-conference performers to give ODU the upset.
Old Dominion 23 WKU 17
Marshall at Middle Tennessee (Friday, Marshall -2.5, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)
MTSU is at a cross-roads entering this game. A loss would pretty much end any chance at the division title. Like every week, if Brent Stockstill doesn’t play then they pretty much a have slim shot at winning. Marshall hasn’t necessarily been that great on offense this year. Marshall’s offense is ranked 111th in S&P+. But their defense is 26th in S&P+. Defense travels. Look for Marshall to win a low scoring contest.
Marshall 23 Middle Tennessee 7
UAB at Charlotte (UAB -7.5 6:30 PM ET, beIn Sports)
As good as UAB has performed this season they are still looking for their first road win (lost to Ball State and North Texas). In the opener UAB played an overmatched Alabama A&M team and it took a while for the Blazers to create separation. We could see a similar performance where the Blazers start slow but pull away in the second half as their style of play tends to allow overmatched teams to hang around. Spencer Brown should have another great game as the 49ers will be without their best defender Karrington King.
UAB 30 Charlotte 10
Southern Miss at Louisiana Tech (La Tech -2.5, 7:00 PM ET, Stadium on Twitter)
Southern Miss has won two straight over the Bulldogs as the last time they were here USM pulled off a stunning blowout victory to win C-USA West. La Tech has had two weeks to stew over their loss to UAB and more importantly, get healthy. Southern Miss has been up-and-down all season so it’s tough to get a read on them. Kwadra Griggs and Keon Howard both have the ability to play well (though Howard’s ceiling is lower). La Tech has been inconsistent as J’Mar Smith hasn’t blossomed into a star quarterback just yet. It’s tough to get a read on this game. Add in the fact that it’s a rivalry game with huge stakes and any outcome is possible. Tie goes to the home team.
Louisiana Tech 30 Southern Miss 28
Rice at UTSA (UTSA -20.5, 7:00 PM ET, Stadium on Facebook)
After two straight losses I expect to see an angry Roadrunner team in the Alamodome. No chance Rice is in this game at halftime.
UTSA 44 Rice 7