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Three things we learned from Conference USA in Week 9

The East will come down to the wire, FIU and UNT's disappointment and Rice's rebuild.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 06 Marshall at Boise State Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 9 in Conference USA didn’t disappoint, providing its fair share of upsets and entertaining contests.

Let’s take a look back at the week that was in C-USA and the three things we learned from the weekend’s games.

They AREN’T who we thought they were

Preseason favorites North Texas and FIU have shown this season why games are decided on the field - and not on paper.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Houston at North Texas
Seth Littrell’s tenure at UNT hasn’t been marked with many disappointments.
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Seth Littrell’s Mean Green blew a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to a Charlotte team who had lost their previous three straight games to fall to 3-5 on the season, while FIU had their three-game win streak abruptly halted at the hands of MTSU’s 471 rushing yards, making them 4-4 on the year.

For two teams who entered the year with conference championship aspirations, week nine brought the sobering reality that their immediate future involves them purely fighting for bowl eligibility.

The Achilles heel for FIU was their inability to defend against the run - giving up 471 yards - second-most in program history to a Middle Tennessee team who entered the game ranked 10th in rushing yards per game. Blue Raider running backs Jayy McDonald and Terelle West combined for 38 yards rushing in the loss the week prior to North Texas.

McDonald eclipsed that total alone on his 92-yard scamper down the MTSU sideline in the fourth quarter of his team’s 50-17 victory. The Panthers’ struggles have dated back to the beginning of last season with the team having given up over 250 yards six times in their last 21 outings.

Following the game, the frustration was palpable on faces of various FIU coaches as they left the Floyd Stadium.

"We have to address this immediately, if we don't put these fires out now, another team is going to come do the same to us next week," said FIU head coach Butch Davis.

For UNT, defensive woes as well are the culprit for their lackluster record.

The Mean Green have the league’s 13th ranked defense in total yards per game (446.1) and 12th ranked defense in points per game allowed (33.8).

Littrell entered 2019 looking to finally get over UNT's conference title hump, now the goal is purely to keep the program's bowl streak alive.

C-USA East could be a slugfest till the final round

Three teams (Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Marshall) all have one conference loss and are fighting for the division lead. WKU suffered a three-point loss to Marshall on Saturday at the hands of a 53-yard Justin Rohrwasser field goal and three sacks from fifth-year senior Marquis Couch.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Western Kentucky at Marshall
Justin Rohrwasser nailed a game-winning field goal for the Herd.
Photo by Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The veteran defensive end has been a stalwart for the Herd in his three seasons as a starter and if he, along with safety Omari Cobb and other defensive leaders for Marshall can play strong down the stretch, they own the tie-breaker scenario over FAU and WKU.

The Owls throttled Bobby Wilder’s 1-7 ODU team by a score of 41-3 in Norfolk on Saturday. FAU quarterback Chris Robison 17-for-24 with 208 yards and two touchdowns before being injured in the game. They get their chance to pull ahead of the Tops during their week 10 contest in Bowling Green.

What's interesting about the three programs is how vastly different their identities are.

FAU is led by an offense that put up points in a hurry, boasting the league's third-highest scoring offense.

WKU's surprise season has been built on the backs of a strong run game and arguably C-USA's top defensive player in DeAngelo Malone.

Marshall hasn't always played their most best football throughout the year, but as expected from a Doc Holliday coached team, they're playing their best football down the stretch.

Last season, the East division came down to the final day of the season, with a Marshall victory over FIU and an MTSU victory over UAB giving the Blue Raiders the division crown. Expect the division race to potentially be up in the air until the final weekend in November.

The rebuild in Houston isn’t quite ready for liftoff

When Mike Bloomgren took over the Rice job in December of 2017, there was little doubt that the former Stanford offensive coordinator had his work cut out for him. The Owls had a record of 9-27 in the previous three seasons following a 25-11 mark in the prior three.

Coming from the David Shaw coaching tree, the 42-year-old first-time head coach went in the opposite direction of college football’s offensive trend, preferring to play power football, utilizing the tight ends and fullbacks in an offense, opposed to employing a spread attack.

Wake Forest v Rice
Mike Bloomgren has the Owls heading in the right direction - wins have just been hard to come by.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

What’s clear is the team plays hard for Bloomgren and they’re bought into the culture that he’s trying to establish at Rice. However, the results on the field haven’t quite made the mark.

Rice has been competitive in many games over the 21 games that Bloomgren has been at the helm, but they just don’t have enough depth to overcome certain mistakes and the quarterback position is still a work in progress.

It will be worth watching to see if they can secure a victory before season’s end, to at least keep the stain of a winless season off their record and generate momentum heading into 2020.