Conference play is here in a big way this weekend as we have five conference games on the docket with all of them being played under the bright lights. The biggest non-conference matchup this week will take place in Greenville, North Carolina, as Old Dominion will have the opportunity to prove they have turned the corner against former C-USA member East Carolina.
For those who have been hoping for C-USA to move rivalry games to the conference opener, you’ll be happy to see that WKU is hosting Marshall while UTSA will host UTEP. The biggest game of the week will take place in Denton, as the undefeated North Texas Mean Green will take on Louisiana Tech with the winner having an inside track for the division crown.
Game of the Week
Louisiana Tech at North Texas (North Texas -7.5, 7:30 PM ET, beIn)
The biggest game of the week has a lot more at stake than what was originally thought entering the season, as the 4-0 Mean Green control their fate for a New Year’s Six bid. In their way is La Tech, a talented football team still looking to get over the hump and capture their first C-USA Championship.
Last year North Texas snapped a three-game losing streak to La Tech with a 24-23 victory in large part due to their red zone defense. UNT’s defense might be a big reason why the Mean Green defeat the Bulldogs again.
Despite all of the hype the offense has received, UNT’s defense has been the story of the season as the defense is ranked 43rd in S&P+, 19 spots better than their offense.
The biggest reason for UNT’s success has been their secondary. North Texas leads the country with 10 interceptions, as seniors Nate Brooks and Kemon Hall each have three INTs. North Texas ranks 2nd in Passing Completion Rate, as opposing QBs are only completing 46 percent of their passes. That doesn’t bode too well for J’Mar Smith, as the junior has a tendency to be inconsistent over the course of a game. Given how well UNT’s pass defense is, if Smith starts off slow he might not be able to get back on track.
La Tech has their own star in the secondary, as Amik Robertson was an all-conference performer last year, and enters the game with one INT. As mentioned before, UNT hasn’t really been lights out on offense as they have been huge benefactors of winning the turnover margin. If Robertson can take away one of Mason Fine’s favorite targets (Jalen Guyton or Rico Bussey Jr.), the Bulldogs should be able to contain UNT’s offense somewhat.
While both teams boast a lot of talent on offense and defense, the game will likely come down to hidden yardage on special teams. North Texas ranks 2nd in the country in average field position for the offense (own 38 yard line) and 5th in average field position for the defense (opponents are starting at own 24 yard line). On the flip side, La Tech is one of the worst teams at field position (offense starting at own 26, opponents starting at own 34) as they rank 123rd and 120th, respectively.
The discrepancy in field position between both teams entering this game is staggering and reflects their ranking in Special Teams S&P+ as La Tech is ranked 119th compared to North Texas, who ranks 6th in the country.
While Mason Fine and co. on offense have received all the pub, UNT has been winning with defense and special teams this season and against La Tech, they are more than capable of winning in that fashion this weekend.
Defensively the Bulldogs matchup well with UNT. They have the pass rusher to keep Mason Fine under pressure in Jaylon Ferguson, and they have the lockdown corner in Robertson. Tech’s special teams and offense has to be sharp for them pull off the upset and those units typically have a hard time showing up on the road.
North Texas 35 Louisiana Tech 23
The Rest of C-USA...
Rice at Wake Forest (Rice +26, 3:30 PM ET, ACC Network)
The Owls will play their third straight road game this week. Wake Forest doesn’t exactly have a huge home-field advantage, but being at home should thwart any possibility of a loss as Rice hasn’t defeated a team on the road not named Charlotte and UTEP, since 2015.
Wake Forest 45 Rice 20
Old Dominion at East Carolina (Old Dominion +7, 3:30 PM ET, ESPN3)
This is such a tricky game to peg. Both teams pulled off an upset against an in-state ACC team, but aside from those wins have looked dreadful. If ODU has really turned the corner, they win this game. I’ll begrudgingly choose the Monarchs, as they possess more talent on offense.
Old Dominion 34 East Carolina 33
Southern Miss at Auburn (Southern Miss +27, 4:00 PM ET, SEC Network)
Defensively, the Golden Eagles could limit Auburn’s offense and keep them in the game for a half. I don’t trust their offense to score too many points though.
Auburn 31 Southern Miss 14
UTEP at UTSA (UTSA -10, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN+)
If UTSA losses this game Frank Wilson should be on the hot seat. UTSA should win big with the Miners coming off of a deflating home loss to New Mexico State.
UTSA 31 UTEP 7
Charlotte at UAB (UAB -17, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3)
The Blazers kick off the easiest conference schedule in C-USA West against Charlotte, a team they lost to in overtime in 2017. A win here gives UAB their 8th straight win at home, breaking a school record. What more motivation do the Blazers need? With two weeks to prepare for the 49ers, this one should be over at halftime.
UAB 45 Charlotte 17
Marshall at WKU (Marshall -6.5, 7:30 PM ET, Stadium)
The lack of attention this game has been given among C-USA fans should tell you how far the Tops have fallen since Jeff Brohm has left. WKU has already had a good showing in a “rivalry game” against Louisville so it wouldn’t shock me if the Tops keep this close going into the fourth quarter. Marshall has more talent and should runaway with this, but I’m not sure if they’ll match WKU’s energy.
Marshall 31 WKU 17
Arkansas Pine-Bluff at FIU (FIU -36, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN3)
Last year FIU scored 17 points against FCS team Alcorn State. I guarantee you they’ll have a much better showing on offense against this FCS team. UAPB has allowed 152 points in their last two games.
FIU 48 Arkansa Pine-Bluff 10