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Choosing C-USA: Week 8 predictions

Everyone has a game this weekend but the biggest game will take place in Birmingham.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at North Texas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season all 14 teams will be in action as we will have seven conference games on Saturday. The biggest game in C-USA East is Marshall against FAU, as the loser would essentially be out of contention for the division. In C-USA West UAB will host North Texas for an opportunity to cement their place as the team to beat.

Choosing C-USA Record: 12-7

Game of the Week

North Texas at UAB (North Texas -1, 7:30 PM ET, beIN)

The biggest game of the week might just be the biggest game of the season in C-USA. At stake is UAB’s best start in school history, a school record 10 straight home wins at Legion Field, and a commanding two-game lead for the Blazers in C-USA West.

With UTEP, UTSA, Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee left on the conference schedule, the Blazers would need to lose at least two of those games for any other C-USA West team to have a chance at the division. It’s not a stretch to say that if UAB beats North Texas, the Blazers will unofficially win the division.

Entering the game UAB is third nationally in passing yards allowed (134.8 yards per game), first in Passing Downs Sack Rate, first in Passing Completion Rate (42.8%), first in Stop Rate, and have five interceptions. Given North Texas’ air raid philosophy, the Blazers are a tough matchup on paper as their front seven is one of the best in the country.

With that said, Mason Fine will be the best quarterback UAB has seen all season. Fine has passed for 2,210 yards with 16 touchdowns and just one interception. Only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (21 TDs, 0 INTs) has a better TD-to-INT ratio. Since Seth Littrell has taken over in Denton the book on beating North Texas has been pretty simple. Get pressure on Mason Fine and keep him uncomfortable throughout the game. UNT has allowed five sacks during conference play, all of them coming in the conference opener to Louisiana Tech, but UTEP and Southern Miss both consistently got pressure on Fine.

The emergence of DeAndre Torrey last week against Southern Miss adds a much-needed dimension to the offense as he averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 17 attempts. While the more fascinating matchup will be if Mason Fine and UNT’s offense can solve UAB’s defense, the result of the game will be determined when his counterpart A.J. Erdely is on the field.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Southern Mississippi
A.J. Erdely has passed for 1,181 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions, while adding five rushing touchdowns this season.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

If you take away the performance against Rice, UAB’s offense has been hit-or-miss this season. Erdely is completing 56 percent of his passes this season, and when he’s off, he’s really off. UNT is allowing C-USA QBs to complete 57 percent of their passes. Nate Brooks, Khairi Muhammad and Kemon Hall have been phenomenal, combining for 10 INTs this season. Hall has missed the last few games and is listed as questionable for this week’s game.

If Xavier Ubosi’s emergence against Rice (four catches for 196 yards and two TDs) doesn’t continue, I’d advise the Blazers to keep it on the ground. Spencer Brown has quietly avoided any signs of a sophomore slump as he’s rushed for 491 yards and seven touchdowns, with 4.5 yards per carry. North Texas LB E.J. Ejiya has been terrific this season and serves as UNT’s go-to run stopper as he leads the team in TFLs (14) and Run Stuffs (18.5). Eijya also has a team-high 6.5 sacks. If the Blazers can’t run the ball effectively, I don’t like their chances to win at all.

S&P+ is just like Vegas, as they give both teams a 50 percent chance at winning this game. I’m right with them. UNT has the better QB, the better offense in general, and has a defense that is capable of taking over the game just like UAB’s defense. However, I don’t trust their offensive line and in what should be a terrific home field advantage for the Blazers, I’m worried about that unit being rattled and unable to protect Mason Fine in big moments.

Before the season started I picked UAB to win C-USA West due to having the easiest schedule, the most experienced team and how great their defense could be. If they are to beat UNT, it’ll be because the Blazers won the field position battle, dominated UNT’s offensive line and stayed away from critical penalties.

North Texas has the more talented and explosive team, but I’m going with UAB to somehow pull off the win. Mason Fine has a chance to win the game on their last drive but a fourth-down sack gives the Blazers one of their biggest wins in school history.

UAB 28 North Texas 24

The Rest of C-USA...

Charlotte at Middle Tennessee (Middle Tennessee -17, 3:00 PM ET, ESPN3)

MTSU is a 17-point favorite despite the status of Brent Stockstill being unknown. If there’s one thing we know, MTSU doesn’t win unless Stockstill is at QB. Charlotte isn’t that bad, as the 49ers whipped WKU last week thanks to Benny LeMay rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns. MTSU doesn’t exactly have a great rushing defense, but they did hold FIU under 100 rushing yards last week.

MTSU didn’t look that bad with backup QB Asher O’Hara but missing Brad Anderson for the game and Jovante Moffatt for a half due to being ejected for targeting last week will be the difference here.

Charlotte 31 Middle Tennessee 27

UTEP at Louisiana Tech (Louisiana Tech -24, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN+)

UTEP has had two weeks to prepare but that advantage doesn’t mean much when you are the far less talented team. The Bulldogs win big.

La Tech 50 UTEP 17

UTSA at Southern Miss (Southern Miss -17.5, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN+)

Both teams need this one to improve their bowl prospects. Southern Miss has struggled with teams that aren’t terrible. Are we completely sure UTSA doesn’t fit that bill? I don’t think so considering they have a really good defense. USM is a bit more competent than UTSA on offense so I’m picking the Golden Eagles.

Southern Miss 30 UTSA 10

Rice at FIU (FIU -24, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN+)

With Shawn Stankavage out due to a lower leg injury, Mike Bloomgren has decided to turn to former walk-on Evan Marshman to start at quarterback. Marshaman saw the field for the first time in his collegiate career last week against UAB and completed 6-of-16 passes for 57 yards. Rice has the worst scoring offense in the conference and will look to a former walk-on to sustain drives. Good luck with that. FIU should continue to roll in conference play as the Owls haven’t won on the road against teams not named Charlotte and UTEP since 2015.

FIU 48 Rice 14

Old Dominion at WKU (WKU -5, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN+)

The most disappointing teams in conference play will square off in this one as both teams are a combined 2-11 and are winless in conference play. After WKU’s disappointing performance how could anyone possibly trust them to cover this spread. ODU is one of the worst rushing defenses in the country and WKU is one of the worst rushing offenses in the country. Something has got to give. I’ll take ODU in a slight upset as they have the better coaching staff.

Old Dominion 41 WKU 28