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Choosing C-USA: Southern Miss faces a must-win game against UTSA

After losing last week, Southern Miss has a chance to redeem themselves against the best team in C-USA.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve reached October which means from here on out the slate will be filled with conference games. 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).

Given how wide open Conference USA is this year, conference play is going to be extremely fun to follow down the stretch. And it’ll no doubt be harder to pick games.

The choice for Game of the Week was easy as UTSA can unofficially knock Southern Miss out of the race for the division title this weekend.

Choosing C-USA Record: 45-10

Game of the Week

Southern Mississippi at UTSA (UTSA -13.5, 7:00 PM ET, Streaming exclusively on Facebook via this link)

After being humbled at home last week against North Texas, Southern Miss will take on a UTSA team that has had two weeks to prepare for them. Last season UTSA blitzed Southern Miss 55-32 in the Alamodome as the Golden Eagles could not stop UTSA’s rushing attack.

I think we’re in store for a similar performance from the Roadrunners. UTSA ranks 15th in Rushing IsoPPP, 34th in Rushing Success Rate, and 1st in Power Success Rate. The Roadrunners don’t possess the same firepower as North Texas’ backfield but they can get similar results against a USM defense that continues to go all out for havoc plays and allow explosive plays.

Jalen Rhodes is averaging a quiet 7.5 yards per carry this season and Dalton Sturm is averaging 9.4 yards per carry. I’d be surprised if UTSA doesn’t rush for around 200 yards Saturday night.

Given how successful UTSA has been on the ground and staying away from turnovers (28th in TO Margin), UTSA opponents are averaging nearly 11 possessions per game.

This does not bode well for a Southern Miss offense that isn’t efficient and needs extra possessions to make up for it. The Golden Eagles are 108th in Success Rate. USM is however, 11th in IsoPPP and if they are going to beat UTSA they are going to need a ton of explosive plays.

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Baylor
Josiah Tauaefa
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

UTSA’s defense has been susceptive to giving up big plays as they are 87th in IsoPPP, but they rank 4th in Success Rate. The Roadrunners aren’t going to allow long scoring drives and if Southern Miss’ offense can’t stay on the field (120th in third down conversion rate) their defense is going to get worn down. Fast.

I’m calling for the rare blowout in the Game of the Week. UTSA has the better offense, the better defense, a better coaching staff, and has had two weeks to prepare for Southern Miss who is coming off of a deflating loss. Oh, and UTSA will be at home.

We could see a game where Southern Miss hangs in there but I don’t think there will be any moment where it feels like UTSA isn’t in control of this game.

UTSA 48 Southern Miss 24

The rest of C-USA…

FIU at Middle Tennessee (MTSU -10, 3:00 PM ET, ESPN3)

The first place Panthers go on the road to take on the last place Blue Raiders. This is a season defining game for Middle. A loss here and you seriously have to be concerned about the possibility of MTSU earning a bowl berth. I don’t think MTSU is good enough to win without Brent Stockstill and/or Richie James. FIU hasn’t looked great this season at all despite being on a three-game winning streak, but their offense finally got in a rhythm for the first time this season against Charlotte last week. Being that James and Stockstill’s status is up in the air, I’m begrudgingly choosing FIU as the Panthers are playing with a lot more confidence right now.

FIU 28 Middle Tennessee 21

Louisiana Tech at UAB (La Tech -11, 4:00 PM ET, C-USA TV)

La Tech’s defense has looked pretty good this year. UAB’s offensive line has not. The Blazers rank 119th in Standard Downs Sack Rate and 120th in Passing Downs Sack Rate. With two weeks to prepare I’m sure Bill Clark will have something up his sleeve, but I think Jaylon Ferguson and Jordan Bradford are going to have huge games and keep UAB’s offense in check for the majority of the day. As long as J’Mar Smith stays away from turnovers the Bulldogs should remain undefeated against the Blazers.

La Tech 37 UAB 21

FAU at Old Dominion (FAU -4, 6:00 PM ET, STADIUM)

Steven Williams’ second career start will be against an FAU defense that loves to play man-to-man defense. Travis Fulgham must win his one-on-one battles. ODU will have Jeremy Cox back for this one as well as a few other key starters but it looks like they will miss Bunmi Rotimi which is not a good sign for the run defense as FAU is really starting to embrace their rushing attack. Whoever can run the ball best and stay away from turnovers will win this one. FAU and ODU has played in some pretty close games so I’m expecting another good one. I’m going with ODU as I don’t quite trust the Owls on the road.

Old Dominion 28 FAU 27

Marshall at Charlotte (Marshall -15, 6:00 PM ET)

Charlotte upset Marshall last year and I’m sure the Herd will be hungry to make a statement to begin conference play. The Herd will have this one wrapped up by halftime.

Marshall 41 Charlotte 7

Army at Rice (Army -13, 6:30 PM ET, beIN)

Army has a chance to end another coaching tenure as this is Rice’s most winnable game down the stretch. Army is actually pretty good this year. Rice is not.

Army 37 Rice 21

WKU at UTEP (WKU -18.5, 8:00 PM ET, C-USA TV)

Way too much going on at UTEP for me to pick them. Mike Price hasn’t coached in years, the team is not okay with an outsider coming into the locker room, and the coaching staff was bummed when hearing that one of their own was not tabbed as the interim head coach. If the Tops don’t cover this spread I’d be shocked.

WKU 42 UTEP 14