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Choosing C-USA: Is J’Mar Smith ready for a star turn against Mississippi State?

Conference USA has a good opportunity to get some wins over the Power 5 in Week 2.

Louisiana Tech v Arkanss Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

After a poor showing in Week 1 where the Marshall Thundering Herd was the only team to defeat an FBS opponent, Conference USA has a chance to bounce back in a major way in Week 2.

Out of the 13 matchups this week, I believe six C-USA teams (Middle Tennessee, Marshall, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, and WKU) have at least a decent opportunity to come away with a win and change the perception of this conference for the better. Out of those six games, the biggest matchup is Louisiana Tech vs Mississippi State.

Picked to win C-USA West by the media, if La Tech defeats MSU the Bulldogs in red and blue will have to be seriously considered for a run at the New Year’s Six bid if they win this Saturday.

Choosing C-USA Record: 12-1

Game of the Week

Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech (Mississippi State -8.5, 7:30 PM ET CBSSN)

The Bulldogs in maroon and white will take on the Bulldogs in blue and red in what will be a great showcase opportunity for J’Mar Smith (and a remodeled Joe Aillet Stadium) Saturday night. As a redshirt freshman, Smith started the season opener against Arkansas and displayed great composure and skill in his first career start but the Bulldogs lost 21-20 in large part due to leaving points on the field.

If Tech leaves points on the field again, they will be lucky to lose to Mississippi State in a close game. Nick Fitzgerald is the real deal on the ground for MSU and Smith is going to have to match his play for the Bulldogs to have a chance.

Last week the Tech offense looked pretty lethargic against Northwestern State before turning on the jets in the fourth quarter. I expect them to come out with more urgency in this one.

If Boston Scott and Jarred Craft can keep Tech out of passing downs I really like Tech’s chances but that will be a tall task.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at North Texas
Boston Scott
Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

MSU has some studs on defense with Jeffery Simmons at nose tackle and Leo Lewis at linebacker. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes to utilize an aggressive 3-4 defense offering multiple looks and MSU (albeit against Charleston Southern) looked awfully good in their shutout win.

Should the Bulldogs have to rely on their passing offense I trust Teddy Veal the most at receiver. But since the receiving core failed to make any impressions in the opener it’s tough to forecast if Tech will have any success against State’s secondary. State’s secondary is their weakest unit on defense but those guys are at the least upperclassmen.

I noted above how great Nick Fitzgerald is but if there’s one thing he can improve on it is passing the ball. Secdrick Cooper, DaMarion King, and Ephraim Kitchen must lock down State’s receivers as I don’t think Tech has any chance if State is moving the ball through the air. Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams will get their’s on the ground, but if Tech can take advantage of Fitzgerald’s mistakes when drops back to throw I like their chances to keep it close.

Similar to Middle Tennessee last week, Tech has a great chance to prove that they are done playing runner up and this is a great opportunity to prove 2017 will be different.

MSU fans have been pretty dismissive in regards to this matchup and I’m not sure why as the Bulldogs did lose to South Alabama last year and this will be their first road game of the season.

I see Mississippi State’s front seven being the difference maker in this one. State has the talent up front to bog down the running game and I don’t trust Tech’s receivers just yet to loosen up MSU’s secondary. J’Mar Smith’s playmaking ability will be critical for Tech to keep drives alive.

I think this game will play out exactly how Tech’s opener against Arkansas did in 2016. Tech will hang tough defensively behind what should be a great crowd. Eventually though the offense will have to make a few plays to win it and I’m not sure they’ll get it done.

Mississippi State 24 Louisiana Tech 20


The rest of C-USA...

Alcorn State at FIU (no line, Friday 7:00 PM ET)

Due to Hurricane Irma FIU will be playing this game in Birmingham and a day earlier than originally scheduled. Butch’s boys take care of business.

FIU 40 Alcorn State 21

FAU at Wisconsin (FAU +32, 12:00 PM ET BTN)

The Owls won’t look any better against the run now that Ray Ellis is done for the season. Wisconsin’s NFL-sized line should create gaping rushing lanes all day. I do think we’ll see a better offensive output from the Owls though.

Wisconsin 54 FAU 17

Charlotte at Kansas State (Charlotte +36.5, 12:00 PM ET)

Charlotte’s offense looked inept against Eastern Michigan. Doubt it’ll look any better against Kansas State.

Kansas State 49 Charlotte 10

UAB at Ball State (UAB +14, 3:30 PM ET)

After last week’s closer than expected game against Alabama A&M, this game should let us know what we can expect from the Blazers this year. The Cardinals should have beat Illinois last week as they outplayed them for the majority of the game. They have been a run-first team under second-year head coach Mike Neu and I expect them to test UAB’s run-defense throughout the game. I liked UAB to win this in the offseason but didn’t like what I saw from their o-line last week as Ball State gave Illinois a lot of trouble.

Ball State 35 UAB 17

Old Dominion at UMass (ODU -3.5, 3:30 PM ET)

The Monarchs get another tune-up before hosting North Carolina. UMass can score so the Monarchs better not be sleep walking in this one. Expect Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox to see a lot more than the 19 combined carries they got last week.

ODU 38 UMass 24

Middle Tennessee at Syracuse (Middle Tennessee +10, 3:30 PM ET ACCN)

MTSU defensive coordinator Scott Schafer returns to his old stomping grounds in this one. I would have loved MTSU’s chances to win a track meet if the offense showed up last week but not so much now. I think MTSU’s defense will regress to the mean. While the offense will look better, I think they’ll have a hard time matching the Orange point-for-point. Expect a high-scoring game as the over/under is 77!

Syracuse 48 Middle Tennessee 31

Marshall at North Carolina State (Marshall +24.5, 6:00 PM ET ACCN)

NC State could be reeling after being upset by South Carolina last week so I like Marshall to cover the spread and make this close. The Wolfpack will also miss their starting safety Freddie Phillips Jr. due to an ACL injury. If Marshall’s pass defense can hold up without CJ Reavis until the second half they’ll be in this to the fourth quarter. I’m not sure if their offense is good enough to pull off the upset though.

North Carolina State 34 Marshall 24

North Texas at SMU (North Texas +13, 7:00 PM ET ESPN3)

All offseason we’ve heard that this is the year the Mustangs turn the corner but I’m not buying it. I still don’t think their defense is very good. UNT played SMU tough last year before Seth Littrell’s system was entrenched so I don’t thing the Mean Green fear SMU at all. I liked what I saw from the rushing attack in the opener and see a repeat performance as Jeffrey Wilson goes for 150 yards and three touchdowns while UNT’s secondary picks off Ben Hicks twice. Littrell is still looking for a statement win against a Texas school (Rice doesn’t count) and I think this is the game he gets it.

North Texas 42 SMU 34

Southern at Southern Mississippi (no line, 7:00 PM ET)

Southern Miss will run all over Southern and pass all over Southern too!

Southern Miss 50 Southern 14

UTSA at Baylor (UTSA +17, 8:00 PM ET)

After seeing what Liberty did to Baylor I’m expecting a huge day on the ground for both Jalen Rhodes and Dalton Sturm. It was said that Baylor had 52 missed assignments on defense last week. 52! No way that’s getting corrected in a week. The fact UTSA hasn’t had the opportunity to get their opening game jitters out is a bit concerning. I thought UTSA would win this game in the offseason and I’m still on board they’ll take care of business Saturday.

UTSA 40 Baylor 34

WKU at Illinois (WKU -7.5, 8:00 PM ET BTN)

Conference USA will be watching this one closely as WKU is the more talented team and would have blown out Illinois under Brohm. The Tops didn’t look like their normal selves last week and I think that had more to do with the team looking forward to this game than it was Mike Sanford’s coaching debut. With this being Sanford’s first big test to prove he can keep WKU rolling it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds should they fall into a quick hole. As a G5 team taking on the P5, it’s a bit weird that all the pressure will be on WKU in this one. I think this game will reveal that the Tops won’t be the same juggernaut that they were under Brohm but I think Mike White will find a way to get this victory.

WKU 30 Illinois 27

Rice at UTEP (UTEP -1.5, 8:00 PM ET)

Both teams need this win badly after suffering beatdowns last week. Rice has owned UTEP under Bailiff as he is 9-1 against the Miners as Rice’s head coach. With two weeks to prepare I think Rice will come out with a ton of energy. I feel like Rice is the more talented team and has the better head coach so I’m going with the Owls in a close one.

Rice 30 UTEP 27