It was a big week in Conference USA football, but can there still be things to learn about the conference, this deep into the season?
Turns out there’s quite a few, and more than likely a few more coming, with two more weeks until the title game. What did we learn this week, you may well ask?
Who’s playing in the C-USA title game... and where
Despite putting up more points than any other team in the conference, Florida Atlantic didn’t clinch their division until the week after North Texas. That’s no shame in FAU’s game, just a quirk of scheduling, as FAU is currently rocking a 7-0 conference record, compared to UNT’s 6-1... that one loss being to, of course, those same FAU Owls.
With the way things were going, we could all take an educated guess, of course, but it wasn’t official until FAU dropped FIU in the Shula Bowl on Saturday, winning in decisive fashion, 52-24. In retrospect we should’ve seen this coming anyway, a week after FIU lost to Old Dominion. Still, FIU put up a good fight, and it made for an exciting game. FAU will surely put more eyes on screens (and butts in seats) for the first C-USA title game played somewhere other than Bowling Green since 2014, so C-USA will definitely get a lot of exposure in two weeks.
In two weeks, we’ll find out if North Texas is capable of making those same kind of adjustments, as they look to avenge their biggest loss of the season, in Boca Raton once again.
Who’s going bowling... and who’s not
As of this week, we’re now officially up to eight bowl-eligible teams in the conference. WKU won on Friday, taking them to 6-5 (4-3) in a triple OT thriller that almost resulted in the Hilltoppers missing their first postseason since 2013. On the other end of the slate, the last C-USA game of the week saw UTSA defeat Marshall in a slightly more low-key affair, moving the Roadrunners to 6-4 (3-4).
Speaking of the Roadrunners, they’ll face a 5-6 La Tech squad this week, as last year’s C-USA West champ fights to go bowling at all. And 5-6 Middle Tennessee will host 5-6 Old Dominion, as C-USA is guaranteed as many as ten bowl-eligible teams... but no less than nine.
2018 is going to be terrifying... for the opposition
You read that correctly. Nine, may 10 teams will go bowling this year. Could anyone have predicted this? Did any of the so-called “experts” predict this, by which we mean the sports outlets who spend their time on Power Five squads, and dabble on the Group of Five when they can find the time?
Two years ago, C-USA had 13 teams, two of whom were perhaps viewed as FCS upstarts, ODU and Charlotte. While the 49ers have admittedly regressed this year, ODU has played strong despite a roster decimated by injuries. They challenged for the division title a year ago, and the Monarchs will absolutely be back with a vengeance in 2018 as they appear to have found their quarterback of the future in Steven Williams.
This year we saw the conference return to its full strength of 14 teams, as UAB— not much more than a passing thought in the preseason— returned to the gridiron, roaring back onto the field as if they’d never been away. The Blazers are 7-4 and will more than likely finish second in the west, as they play 0-11 UTEP in the final week.
And speaking of UTEP, this is a football program that has the potential to breakthrough. Whatever new coach they find to captain the Miners, he’ll be a step-up from what we saw this year. Two years ago, the last place team in this division was North Texas, who finished 1-11 in 2015. If they can rebuild quickly, the boys in El Paso can do it too, and between that and the changing of the guard at the top of the divisions, we can look forward to finally seeing the true potential of this conference a year from now.
We predicted both FAU and UNT would need another year, and both have surpassed our expectations, with UAB, Marshall ,and FIU doing just the same. At this pace, ranked teams in 2018 are not out of the question, if this year has been any indication.
Anything else we learned? The comment section awaits below...