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Three things we learned from Conference USA in Week 6

Frontrunners have emerged after two weeks of conference play.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Middle Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Tennessee has emerged as the C-USA East favorite

For two years Middle Tennessee was a preseason favorite to win C-USA East or at the least, finish as one of the best teams in the conference. In 2016 they finished 8-5 but third in the division behind WKU and Old Dominion. In 2017 they finished 7-6 and third in the division again, as injuries would force stars Richie James and Brent Stockstill to miss a good chunk of the season.

No longer expected to compete for a conference title by the media, Middle Tennessee entered 2018 with modest expectations. Just make a bowl game. With Brent Stockstill, one of the best quarterbacks in C-USA history still in uniform, a fourth straight bowl game was attainable but there was always a shot at something more if a few breaks went Middle’s way.

A few breaks have gone Middle’s way. With two weeks to prepare for their conference opener against FAU, the Blue Raiders were able to comeback from an 18-point deficit and escape with a 25-24 home win last weekend.

On a short week, MTSU defeated Marshall 34-24 with the Herd missing their starting QB Isaiah Green. MTSU held Marshall’s backup QB Alex Thomson in check for majority of the game. After lingering for a half, Brent Stockstill caught fire as Middle scored 24 straight points to pull away from the Herd. Stockstill finished with 317 yards and two touchdowns and became the first MTSU QB to reach 10 thousand career passing yards.

MTSU is now 2-0 in conference play with wins over two teams the media considered to be the favorite to win the division. After flying under the radar, MTSU is back to facing expectations. With their two biggest threats to win the division now vanquished, Rick Stockstill is in the bird seat to advance to the Conference USA Championship Game and bring home his first conference title since 2006.

UAB is now the front runner to win C-USA West

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Southern Mississippi
UAB imposed their will against La Tech and now has a clear path to a division title.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers bullied Louisiana Tech for a 28-7 win on the road Saturday night in the game of the week. UAB had their best win of the season thanks to a dominating performance from their defense as they had five sacks and 10 TFLs. The Blazers held J’Mar Smith to 107 yards on just nine completions.

First-year OC Bryant Vincent still has a lot of work to do on offense, but last night’s performance was just enough. Spencer Brown rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns. AJ Erdely was poor for much of the game as a passer with just eight completions for 136 yards for one TD and one INT but when relied on to move the chains he did, rushing for 76 yards and one touchdown.

The biggest revelation from the game was how good UAB’s defense is. Entering the game they had yet to play an offense as talented as Tech’s and pushed Tech around rather easily. UAB definitely has one of the best defenses in the country.

With a 2-0 record in conference play, UAB is now the favorite to win the division and is projected to be a underdog in just two conference games going forward according to ESPN’s FPI (vs North Texas, at Middle Tennessee). The Blazers will head to Rice next week before a massive home game against North Texas.

UTSA’s offense is going to be an issue all season

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Arizona State
UTSA is averaging 19.8 points per game this season and hasn’t looked any better since conference play started.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I thought UTSA’s offense had some decent potential entering conference play. With two of the worst defenses in the conference at the start of conference play I figured the Roadrunners would breakout and show that they have an offense that’s good enough to keep UTSA in the discussion to win C-USA West.

I’ve seen the tweets and figured UTSA fans might be overreacting a bit but after watching them perform against Rice I have to admit I was wrong on this one. In their 20-3 win over Rice, UTSA gained 178 total yards. Cordale Grundy went 6-of-18 with 33 yards. Backup QB D.J. Gillins went 2-of-4 and passed for 10 yards. That’s 43 passing yards against one of the worst passing defenses in the country. First-year OC Al Borges has installed an offense that lacks an identity.

With a limited passing offense, Rice was able to key in on UTSA’s rushing offense and held them to 135 yards. B.J. Daniels and Jalen Rhodes are good running backs, but the offensive line is not good enough to let them thrive. The receivers have potential but the QBs are below-average at best. Against UTEP and Rice, UTSA scored a combined 50 points.

Lost in all this is how good UTSA’s defense is. Josiah Tauaefa has had a really good bounce-back season and the D-line is still among the best in the conference despite Marcus Davenport’s absence. The Roadrunners allowed a combined 24 points to UTEP and Rice.

This unit is good enough to keep UTSA in games against the better teams in C-USA but if the offense keeps performing at this level it won’t matter as the defense could eventually wear down over the course of the game.

UTSA is 2-0 in conference play and tied with UAB for first place in C-USA West but I have a hard time seeing UTSA remain in the hunt for a division title by the time we reach November.