After a solid Week 2 where Conference USA added two Power 5 wins under their belt, Week 3 was pretty normal. There was no surprise upsets or defeats. Louisiana Tech and WKU was last week’s best game by far with UAB-Coastal Carolina a distant second.
Hopefully this week provides us more excitement as the body-bag games are now replaced with matchups against Group of 5 opponents. Every C-USA team has a solid chance to win their game except UTEP.
Although the slate still features a bevy of non-conference games, the most intriguing game is in Denton, Texas, as North Texas will host UAB in a game that has a chance to change the outlook for both programs going forward.
Choosing C-USA Record: 31-7
Game of the Week
UAB vs North Texas (North Texas -11.5, 6:30 PM ET, beIN Sports)
The 2-1 UAB Blazers will play their first conference game in three years this Saturday as they take on a 1-2 North Texas team that is steadily improving.
Believe it or not, there’s a lot at stake in this one. A 1-0 start to conference play would be huge for both programs. Looking at the schedule, the Blazers will have two weeks to prepare for (rival?) Louisiana Tech before playing Middle Tennessee. Both games are at home and present a huge opportunity for the Blazers should they win this Saturday.
As for North Texas, the schedule is a bit more unkind. After hosting UAB, the Mean Green will travel to Southern Miss (USM is on a bye this week) before having two weeks to prepare for a home game against UTSA.
Like I said, this is a pretty huge swing game as the pecking order in C-USA West will be established after this one and make both fan bases adjust their expectations for the 2017 season.
After playing tough against the run last week against Iowa the Mean Green will have to do so again this Saturday. The Blazers have used at least three different running backs in each game this year and I’d be surprised if that trend doesn’t continue.
James Noble III and Carlos Stephenson are speed backs and have combined for 244 rushing yards. They each average over five yards per carry. UAB’s leading rushers however are Spencer Brown and quarterback AJ Erderly. Both are bigger ball carriers and provide the Blazers a lightning and thunder rushing attack with four different players having the ability to do damage.
UNT did allow over 200 rushing yards to Iowa but they more than held their own on defense as they were just worn down eventually by Iowa’s offensive line. Given how inconsistent the Blazers’ offensive line has performed this year, UNT can definitely turn in a similar performance but this time get the results they want.
Linebackers E.J. Ejiya and Colton McDonald had a great game last week and are the leaders of UNT’s most disruptive unit as UNT’s LB Havoc ranks 36th in the country. If UAB’s offensive line continues to be inconsistent, Ejiya and McDonald could have huge games Saturday.
I expect the Blazers to get yards on the ground. However, if UNT can get the Blazers into a shootout I like their chances.
UAB’s secondary has yet to face a group of receivers as skilled and explosive as North Texas’. Jalen Guyton (23.1 yards per catch) and Turner Smiley (19.8 yards per catch) could each have a huge game Saturday.
I know the Blazers defended the pass well against Coastal but against Ball State they allowed Riley Neal to go 13-of-17 for 149 yards on passing downs. Neal finished with 217 yards and two touchdowns with zero turnovers. Ball State’s talent level on offense is much closer to UNT than Coastal.
Mason Fine has passed for 815 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. I’d still like to see more from Fine but there’s no doubt he looks more comfortable running the Air Raid offense. UNT still relies on Jeffrey Wilson to deliver their explosive plays and he’s delivered as he’s rushed for 307 yards and five touchdowns. Wilson’s eight yards per carry is the biggest reason why UNT is 6th in Rushing IsoPPP.
I can see UNT winning in a blowout or really close. I can only see the Blazers winning a close game around the high 20s. That tells me UNT is the better team. UAB will keep it close for three quarters but I see North Texas pulling away from the Blazers in the fourth.
North Texas 45 UAB 28
The rest of C-USA…
Old Dominion at Virginia Tech (ODU +28, 2:00 PM ET, ACCN)
ODU will start true freshman Steven Williams. Against Bud Foster. In Lane Stadium. Although I think Bobby Wilder made the right move, it’s going to be a long day for the ODU offense.
Virginia Tech 42 Old Dominion 7
Louisiana Tech at South Carolina (La Tech +8.5, 3:30 PM ET, SECN)
La Tech will get another shot at the SEC as Skip Holtz will take on the school where some believed would be his first FBS head coaching gig. If La Tech’s offense has truly turned the corner then I think they give the Gamecocks a game. I’m gonna go with South Carolina in this one as I think their speed on defense will keep J’Mar Smith out of rhythm all game, but losing Deebo Samuel will limit Carolina offensively. Tech should be in this one till the end.
South Carolina 24 Louisiana Tech 20
Georgia State at Charlotte (Georgia State -1, 6:00 PM ET)
Charlotte’s first FBS win came against the Panthers two years ago. At the time both were considered to be bad football teams. Nothing has changed since. Both teams are winless. Both expected their seasons to be much better than this going into this game too. I’m going with Georgia State as I just don’t trust Charlotte’s offense.
Georgia State 27 Charlotte 14
FAU at Buffalo (FAU +3, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN 3)
The Bulls have played extremely well on defense this season as they’ve allowed 16 points per game. This is a revenge game for FAU as the Bulls embarrassed the Owls two years ago at FAU Stadium in which the Bulls defense outscored FAU’s offense in a blowout win. FAU will start the game slow but eventually ride Greg Howell and Devin Singletary in the fourth quarter for the win.
FAU 28 Buffalo 21
Bowling Green at Middle Tennessee (no line, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN 3)
Bowling Green is winless and lost to FCS South Dakota two weeks ago. MTSU should roll no mater who they start at quarterback.
Middle Tennessee 48 Bowling Green 20
Ball State at WKU (WKU+8, 7:00 PM ET)
Something tells me Ball State is going to give the Tops a tough game and cover. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ball State won outright given the psyche of WKU right now, but surely the Tops are talented enough to bounce back right?
WKU 28 Ball State 24
FIU at Rice (Rice -1.5, 7:30 PM ET)
How is Rice favored in this one? Starting quarterback Sam Glaesmann is out, and they are banged up just about everywhere. I know FIU hasn’t looked great this season but Rice has looked far worse. Alex Gardner has a big day on the ground and FIU has this game wrapped up by the third quarter.
FIU 31 Rice 14
UTSA at Texas State (UTSA -12.5, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN 3)
The Bobcats will play UTSA tough but I just don’t see them having any success against UTSA’s defense. Dalton Sturm continues his great play and runs for two scores and passes for three more.
UTSA 38 Texas State 10
UTEP at New Mexico State (UTEP +18, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN 3)
If Sean Kugler wants to make it through the season UTEP has to beat NMSU. The Miners are getting 18 points. 18! UTEP has won eight straight over the Aggies but there’s no question NMSU is the more talented team this year. Something tells me Doug Martin is going to run it up if given the chance to. A new offensive coordinator for UTEP doesn’t help as the Aggies roll.
New Mexico State 45 UTEP 17