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Three things we learned from Conference USA in Week 2

Why is Conference USA still struggling?

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at North Texas Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Conference USA is the worst FBS conference in 2018

Kind of a harsh assessment this early in the season right? But how could one not reach this conclusion after this weekend’s results. After going 7-8 to start the season, C-USA entered Week 2 with a bevy of FCS games and opportunities to not just improve their record, but the beleaguered perception of the conference. Despite being favored in three games against FBS competition (Southern Miss over ULM, UAB over Coastal Carolina, and FAU over Air Force), C-USA managed to walk away with just one victory, FAU over Air Force.

Rice did not beat Hawaii, losing 43-29 on the islands, resulting in a 5-7 record for C-USA. C-USA’s best win in 2018 is North Texas over SMU. The Mustangs are 0-2 to start the season and look to be on their way to a losing season.

Two years ago C-USA was trending up. Stability helped with that perception, but the crux of the argument was that recruiting was on the upswing and most importantly, well-regarded head coaches were now entering the league.

With bottom dwellers UTEP, Charlotte and Rice (for now) holding the conference down, I expected the middle of the conference to take steps forward by now and that hasn’t been the case.

In Year 3 under Frank Wilson, UTSA is in a state of transition. In Year 2 under Butch Davis and Lane Kiffin, respectively, FIU and FAU are trending up but just aren’t good enough to be flagship schools for the conference yet.

On the flip side of young programs still encountering growing pains, you have established programs in Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss okay with being stuck in neutral as Rick Stockstill and Jay Hopson, respectively, each have signed contract extensions in the past year despite not showing a whole lot to earn them.

Meanwhile yesteryear’s flagship school for C-USA made an underwhelming hire and is paying for it as Mike Sanford Jr. has WKU in shambles.

The simplest way to improve in college football is to make a good coaching hire and have an administration committed to winning. There just aren’t many examples in C-USA where you can say both things are in harmony at any school right now.

While good wins are still on the table for C-USA this season, do you have any faith in anyone pulling off an upset?

Mike Sanford Jr. is on the hot seat

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Western Kentucky
After a disappointing loss to Maine, it’s time to put Mike Sanford Jr. on the hot seat.
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of WKU, the Tops have gone from 2017 C-USA preseason favorite to one of the worst teams in the country in the span of a year. Yesterday, WKU was listed as a 10-point favorite against Maine and the Tops lost at home 31-28.

The natives are getting restless and should be. Mike Sanford Jr. inherited a team that had more than enough talent to three-peat as C-USA Champs in 2017 and ended up finishing 6-7 with a loss to Georgia State in the Cure Bowl.

Sanford had an opportunity to earn a lot of goodwill entering an obvious rebuilding season in Year 2 and instead faces a lot of questions on whether he’s the right man for the job.

WKU’s rushing offense is still one of the worst in the country since Sanford has taken over, as the Tops failed to have a running back rush for 100 yards during his tenure.

Old Dominion is trending down as sellout streak comes to an end

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at North Texas
Bobby Wilder isn’t on the hot set yet, but it’s clear ODU has regressed since winning 10 games in 2016.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

After jumping out to a 17-0 second quarter-lead in the conference opener against FIU, the Monarchs were outscored 28-3 down the stretch, falling to 0-2 on the season. Perhaps more concerning for the ODU program was that the game wasn’t a sellout.

Due to a two-hour weather delay, perhaps students were smart enough to know that weather would be a factor and not show up for the game. Or perhaps they knew that the football program just isn’t good.

Bobby Wilder has cut his teeth playing the long game since ODU joined C-USA, redshirting full classes, building a team through the trenches and capitalizing on one of the best home venues in the conference.

The football program has been built around being blue-collar. It worked, as ODU won 10 games and a bowl game in 2016. But after disappointing losses to Liberty and FIU to start 2018, the writing is on the wall.

The rise of FAU and FIU meant a few programs in C-USA East were going to start trending down and unfortunately for Wilder, ODU is one of those programs.