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Three things we learned from Conference USA in Week 7

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The bowl picture is beginning to clear up as teams rise to the top of the conference.

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Florida International
Nov 4, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Fiu Golden Panthers head coach Butch Davis reacts after defeating the UTSA Roadrunners at Riccardo Silva Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

FIU Controls their destiny to win C-USA East

FIU defeated Middle Tennessee 24-21 as the Panthers outscored MTSU 11-0 in the fourth quarter to secure the comeback win. With the win, the Panthers have a clear path to win the division. Not only are they the last undefeated team in C-USA East, they also have the easiest conference schedule going forward.

FIU will host FAU and Marshall, their two biggest challengers for the division crown. Their cross-division matchups this season are against UTSA and Rice, two teams who are unlikely to play in a bowl game this season. In Year 2 of the Butch Davis era the Panthers are once again surpassing media expectations. Picked to finish fourth in C-USA East in the media poll, the Panthers could very well host the Conference USA Championship game at the end of the season.

Bowl picture is beginning to clear up

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at North Texas
North Texas is the first team in the conference to become bowl eligible.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’re more than halfway through the season we are finally getting a good idea of who will be bowling in 2018. North Texas became the first C-USA team to become bowl eligible after their win over Southern Miss. At 6-1, UNT is the only team in the conference who is bowl eligible. Here’s what the prospects are for the rest of the teams in the conference.

  • Very likely: UAB (5-1), FIU (4-2), Louisiana Tech (4-2), Marshall (4-2)
  • Likely: FAU (3-3), MTSU (3-3)
  • Unlikely: UTSA (3-4), Southern Miss (2-3)

I’m unofficially eliminating Rice, UTEP, Old Dominion, Charlotte and WKU from bowl contention. At worst, C-USA should have seven bowl teams this season with an outside shot at nine teams depending on if we get a few upsets down the stretch.

Southern Miss’ offense will be an issue all season

NCAA Football: Rice at Southern Mississippi
Without Todd Monken’s players on offense, Jay Hopson is really struggling to field an offense that can score points.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Without Todd Monken’s players on offense, Jay Hopson is really struggling to field an offense that can score points. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

There were hints of this being a possibility earlier in the season. Against one of the worst defenses in the country, USM scored only 20 points at home against ULM. I figured it was a blip. Against Rice they scored 40 points, a sign that they perhaps turned the corner. Against Auburn they struggled, but that was to be expected. UNT was a solid measuring bar for how they would fare against the best teams in the conference and they failed. The Golden Eagles scored seven points while gaining 367 yards. They rushed for a terrible 50 yards in the game.

If you take away the 55 points scored against FCS team Jacksonville State and the 40 points against Rice, the Golden Eagles are averaging 13 points per game. Without a talent advantage this unit is very poor. They are dead last in the conference with 98.6 rushing yards per game, If Jack Abraham isn’t hitting deep shots down the field, the Golden Eagles simply don’t move the ball.

The Golden Eagles have a defense good enough to win the conference but like a few other teams, their offense just isn’t holding up their end of the bargain and in the end, if they fail to reach a bowl game Jay Hopson will face pressure to move on from OC Shannon Dawson.