Ladies and gentlemen welcome back! Conference USA football started in Week 0 with Rice’s narrow win over Prairie View A&M. This week everyone will get in on the action in Week 1 as the rest of the 13 teams in C-USA will begin their 2018 campaign.
For the first time since 2014 C-USA has a really good shot at appearing in the College Football Playoff Rankings this season (last appearance was Marshall in 2014) and ultimately, walking away with the honor of having the best Group of Five team and seeing them play in the New Year’s Six.
In order for C-USA to get there, a good showing against P5 teams is a must as voters will need tangible proof that this is a tough conference. The benefactor of such proof could be the preseason runaway favorite, FAU Owls. The Owls will have the opportunity to prove their worth right out the gate as they will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, and play last year’s participant in the College Football Playoff, the Oklahoma Sooners.
Game of the Week
FAU vs Oklahoma (FAU +21, 12:00 PM ET, FOX)
The most successful first-year head coaches in 2017, Lincoln Riley and Lane Kiffin, will square off with a lot more at stake that’s normally in a G5-P5 matchup during non-conference play. Both teams have aspirations in playing in the New Year’s Six and a season opening loss makes that goal a lot more difficult to accomplish.
With a boatload of starters back from a team that won 11 games, the Owls have every right to feel like they can play with the Sooners. Devin “Motor” Singletary was named C-USA MVP last season after leading the FBS with 32 rushing touchdowns and will go up against a defense that is projected to rank 83rd according to S&P+.
The Sooners return just five starters from a defense that really struggled under Mike Stoops in 2017. Of course, replacing those departed starters are former four-star/five-star recruits. The Owls feasted on bad defenses last year but they’ll be up against a defense that despite what statistics want you to believe, does in fact have great athletes.
Seeing as how Motor needs a monster game for FAU to have a shot at leaving Norman with a win, the biggest matchup will be OU’s front seven against FAU’s rushing offense. The Sooners were abysmal at preventing explosive rushing plays in 2017 as they ranked 116th in Rushing IsoPPP. FAU ranked 24th in Rushing IsoPPP. The game could very well come down to whether or not OU can prevent Singletary from breaking off his patented 30/40-yard runs.
If the Owls can jump on the Sooners and force Kyler Murray to play from behind, the Owls have to like their chances a whole lot better than if OU is able to settle in and run the ball. With one of the more experienced secondaries in the country, forcing the Sooners into passing downs is a must, considering that the defensive line is still the unit with the most question marks. But if new defensive coordinator Tony Peccaro stays true to his attacking tendencies and leaves defensive backs in man-to-man coverage, it could be feast or famine.
OU receiver and Florida native Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is a game-breaker, as he averaged 19.2 yards per catch last season. Beside him is CeeDee Lamb (17.5 yards per catch). After Hollywood and Lamb, the Sooners will rely on former star recruits who have yet to make an impact in college as a receiver.
While it’s not that hard to see FAU keeping up with the Sooners for a half, OU is the far more explosive team and brings back a lot more continuity in the coaching staff. With the Owls having a new offensive and defensive coordinator, expect to see some glitches. Unfortunately against a team as talented as Oklahoma, you can’t afford glitches.
Oklahoma 47 FAU 30
The rest of C-USA…
Savanah State at UAB (8:00 PM ET, ESPN+)
UAB went 6-0 at Legion Field last season, registering their first ever undefeated season at home. Look for the Blazers to make it seven straight at home. Keep an eye on AJ Erderly and the passing offense, as he’ll need to make big strides in that department if the Blazers are to win the conference.
UAB 38 Savanah State 7
WKU at Wisconsin (WKU +37, 9:00 PM ET, ESPN)
The Hilltoppers begin their season with a tough task in stopping one of the best backs in the country, Jonathan Taylor. Good luck with that.
Wisconsin 48 WKU 14
Houston at Rice (Rice +25.5, 12:00 PM ET, CBSSN)
The Owls needed a fourth-quarter comeback to get pass one of the worst FCS teams in the country. Austin Walter and Emmanuel Esukpa looked really good running in Mike Bloomgren’s offense but now they’ll have to run against the best defensive lineman in the country in Ed Oliver
Houston 55 Rice 14
Marshall at Miami (OH) (Marshall -1.5, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN+)
Last year Doc Holliday entered this game facing a must-win against this former MAC rival. This season, Marshall represents FAU’s biggest threat at a repeat. Finding a QB is a must and as of this writing, Holliday still hasn’t announced the starter. While that could be alarming to some, Marshall boasts too many talented playmakers for me to really see them losing on the road to Miami.
Marshall 31 Miami (OH) 20
Old Dominion at Liberty (ODU -7, 6:00 PM ET, ESPN3)
Liberty will make their FBS debut against the Monarchs. Liberty went 6-5 last season and notched a program-defining win over Baylor in last year’s season opener. This feels like a tricky spot for the Monarchs but I’m going with ODU to win as their defensive line should dominate. As long as Steven Williams stays away from turnovers, ODU should win by 10 points at least.
Old Dominion 31 Liberty 14
Fordham at Charlotte (6:00 PM ET, ESPN+)
The 49ers have yet to announce their starting quarterback. I don’t care. Charlotte should easily win. Brad Lambert made some really good coordinator hires in DC Glen Spencer and OC Shane Montgomery and I’m curious to see how both units perform against an overmatched opponent.
Charlotte 31 Fordham 17
Louisiana Tech at South Alabama (La Tech -10.5, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN+)
Last year Tech defeated South Alabama 34-16, as J’Mar Smith played in one of his better games during the 2017 season. USA brings in a new head coach in Steve Campbell. Tech should be on high alert for gimmick plays and surprises. But that shouldn’t matter. Quite simply, this is a game Tech should win by two scores as they are the more talented team. Oh, and the Bulldogs have never lost to a team in the Sun Belt.
La Tech 31 South Alabama 14
Indiana at FIU (FIU +10.5, 7:00 PM ET, CBSSN)
FIU will play Indiana for the third time in four years and will welcome the Hoosiers to Miami. If the Panthers are legit on defense, this could be a close game entering the fourth quarter. Butch Davis said both Christian Alexander and James Morgan will take snaps, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. Indiana has been pretty good on defense lately so I expect a low scoring game.
Indiana 23 FIU 14
Jackson State at Southern Miss (7:00 PM ET, ESPN+)
The Golden Eagles will win by a lot and we will learn absolutely nothing.
Southern Miss 50 Jackson State 17
SMU at North Texas (North Texas -4.5, 7:30 PM ET, Stadium)
While FAU vs Oklahoma is the most hyped game of the weekend for the conference, North Texas vs SMU will probably be the best game. At stake is a nice win over the AAC for C-USA and a rivalry win for the Mean Green, who have lost three straight to the Mustangs. Given that the Mustangs are expected to rise with Sonny Dykes back in Texas and have recruited extremely well this year, this would be a huge win for Seth Littrell. I expect to see a lot of points and a few turnovers deciding this one in favor of UNT, as I think it’s their year to finally get pass SMU.
North Texas 45 SMU 35
Northern Arizona at UTEP (7:30 PM ET, ESPN 3)
The Dana Dimel era will start off with a win. I have no idea how the Miners will look though.
UTEP 28 Northern Arizona 20
Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt (Middle +3, 7:30 PM ET, SEC Network)
MTSU will play Vandy for the fourth straight year, looking to snap a three-game losing streak. Over the last three games against Vandy, a healthy MTSU offense has averaged 14.3 points per game. Tony Franklin has yet to solve Derek Mason’s defense. The point spread is a lot lower than expected as Vandy has had their way with MTSU during their winning streak but Vegas knows something. Give me the Blue Raiders using a game-winning touchdown drive to defeat the Commodores.
Middle Tennessee 27 Vanderbilt 21
Arizona State at UTSA (UTSA +18.5, 10:30 PM ET, Fox Sports 1)
A few years ago UTSA had the Sun Devils on the rope for their first P5 win before fading down the stretch of the game’s final minutes. This season unknown commodities abound as Herm Edwards is now ASU’s head coach. UTSA has new offensive and defensive coordinators, as well as a new starting QB in Cordale Grundy. The most talented players in the game will wear maroon and gold as QB Manny Wilkins and WR N’Keal Harry are future NFL Draft picks. Give me the Sun Devils in a close one.
Arizona State 28 UTSA 20