It’s taken us eight weeks, but what was once a rabble of teams fighting for positioning now looks like a clear group of bowl contenders - and the pretenders are fading into the background.
Let’s take a look back at the week that was in C-USA and my three things we learned from the weekend’s contests.
Amik Robertson could be C-USA’s best NFL prospect
Since his 2017 debut in Conference USA, Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson has been one of the top players in the league.
Through 30 career contests, the diminutive junior from Thibodaux, Louisiana has played much larger than his 5-9, 185-pound stature. A ball-hawking cornerback who’s not afraid to come up and deliver a hit, Robertson has racked up an impressive 163 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 14 interceptions and three pick-six’s in his time as a Bulldog.
In Saturday’s come-from-behind victory over division foe Southern Miss, he had his finest outing yet. Robertson picked off Golden Eagle quarterback Jack Abraham three times, spearheading the La Tech comeback which lands the Bulldogs in first place in the West - squarely in control of their destiny.
C-USA has put a litany of defensive backs in the NFL over the past few seasons, including All-Pro safety and former MTSU Blue Raider Kevin Byard. Expect Robertson’s name to be called early in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Brenden Knox rises to the occasion
Entering the 2018 season, you would have to search long and hard to find Brenden Knox’s name on the depth chart at running back. The lightly-recruited Columbus, Ohio native didn’t receive his first collegiate carry until the ninth game of last season - only coming because the Herd were besieged by injuries at the position.
In the 12 games that he’s played in the backfield, Knox has over 1,200 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. With the spotlight of a Friday night nationally televised game, he rushed for a career-high 220 yards including a 17-yard scamper that put Marshall ahead of Florida Atlantic 36-31 with 36 seconds left to secure the victory.
Knox has proven that he’s more than capable of shouldering the load as the feature back in Huntington, with his play rising after the dismissal of former starting running back Tyler King.
Quarterback is still an issue for ODU
Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder more often than not takes the approach of being an optimist. From the time I spoke with him at conference media days - through last week’s 31-17 loss to Marshall, the only head coach that the Monarchs have known since their 2009 rebirth has been positive about his 2019 team.
“If we can keep playing football like this, we’re going to be a good team,” he said to ODU Sports after the team’s loss to Virginia Tech.
“I’m the head football coach of the best 1-5 football team in America,” he said in his post-game remarks following the Marshall loss.
For the record, Wilder isn’t necessarily erroneous in his steadfast belief when it comes to this year’s team. Their losses have all been competitive on the scoreboard - until Saturday’s 24-point defeat at the hands of UAB.
One major factor has to be the quarterback play - a position that the former all-time leading passer at Maine is very familiar with. An argument can be made that the Monarchs have been searching for the answer at the most important position on the field for the past three seasons.
Steven Williams showed promise as a 17-year-old starter in 2017 but lost the starting job four games into 2018 to Blake LaRussa. In the offseason, LaRussa chose to forego his senior season to attend seminary school and Williams was moved to receiver.
In the loss to UAB, Michigan State transfer Messiah deWeaver made his first start after Stone Smartt started the first seven games and went 6-of-24 passing for 82 yards.
Wilder made an effort to bring in multiple QBs in the offseason, but all have yielded mixed results at best.