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Three things we learned from Conference USA in Week 11

A glimpse at the post-Mason Fine era, Bobby Wilder’s future at ODU and C-USA’s next elite running back resides in Boca.

North Texas v SMU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Week 11 provided a trio of resounding statement wins, Conference USA’s first win over a P5 this year and two more programs became bowl-eligible.

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.

A look at the post-Mason Fine Mean Green

By no means am I going to judge the combination of Austin Aune and Jason Bean strictly off their performance against Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

However, I will address the obvious - Mason Fine hasn’t been just a good quarterback over his four years in C-USA - he’s been an all-time great signal-caller.

NCAA Football: New Mexico Bowl-North Texas vs Utah State
Mason Fine has been stellar in four seasons at North Texas.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the game against the Bulldogs, Fine needed 865 passing yards over the final three games to move into third-place on the conference career passing yard charts. When he exited Saturday’s game with a concussion, Mean Green fans were treated to a glimpse of the future, when Bean and Aune combined to go 15-for-20 passing for 217 yards and one TD with two INTs in UNT’s resounding 52-17 loss in Ruston.

With Fine’s status for the final two outings in doubt, there’s a distinct possibility that Aune or Bean could see the field.

While either player may turn into fine (no pun intended) collegiate players, Mason Fine’s level of success in Denton is reminiscent of Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton’s.

I use Milton as an example because as Knights’ fans have come to realize, they can have a more than respectable level of success without Milton on the field. But losing a quarterback of his caliber makes the difference between competing for conference titles and being a team that’s just in the race.

Over Fine’s 47 games for North Texas, he’s shown that he’s much more than just a product of the system - he’s taken the system to another level.

The future is now for Hayden Wolff - but is Bobby Wilder a part of it

I had the opportunity to see Old Dominion true freshman Hayden Wolff’s first collegiate start in-person when the Monarchs visited FIU on November 2nd.

The first thing that struck me about the 6-5, 215-pound quarterback was his poise, especially in the face of incessant pressure from Panther defenders throughout the contest, playing in a sweltering Miami afternoon heat.

True freshman Hayden Wolff made his debut at FIU.
Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While he finished his debut 19-for-35 with 169 yards and one interception, it was clear to ODU head coach Bobby Wilder that Wolff was the answer at what had been a revolving door of signal-callers this year for the Monarchs.

“The story of the day for us is the play of Hayden Wolff. He showed tremendous poise and he’ll be the guy going forward for us,” said Wilder following his team’s 24-17 loss at FIU.

Wolff’s home debut was much better, throwing for 247 yards and one touchdown in ODU’s 24-23 loss to UTSA on Saturday. Unfortunately for Wilder, his team gave up a 13-point lead in the final quarter of the game to drop to 1-9 on the season.

With the final two games being against Middle Tennessee State and Charlotte, there’s a realistic chance that ODU may finish the season with just one victory - a marked fall from the 10-win team that won the Bahamas Bowl in 2016.

Bobby Wilder could potentially be coaching his penultimate game as ODU head coach against MTSU.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Since that season, Wilder has a record of 10-24 as they head the final weeks of the year. Similarly to Charlotte last season, Old Dominion could look to part with the program’s only head coach in modern-era school history, in an effort to rejuvenate the fanbase and help fill newly-remodeled SB Ballard Stadium.

When asked about his job status following the loss to Florida International, Wilder mentioned Wolff as part of his answer.

“My goal is to be the head coach in 2020 and Hayden is going to be part of that,” said Wilder.

Malcolm Davidson may be the key to an FAU division title

Florida Atlantic notched their seventh victory of the season with an emphatic 37-7 trouncing of rival FlU in the 18th annual Shula Bowl game. The win marked three-straight triumphs over their nemesis and FAU head coach Lane Kiffin wasn’t bashful about making that point known.

“I’m happy for our players and fans - 365 days to brag - so that’s a 1,000 straight days,” said Kiffin in his on-field postgame interview with Stadium.

To be exact, it had been 1,134 days since the last Panther victory in the rivalry.

In order for FIU - or any C-USA team to beat the Owls going forward, a large part of that will need to be stopping FAU’s Malcolm Davidson. The redshirt freshman from Kissimmee, Florida rushed for 144 yards and three touchdowns en route to winning game MVP honors in the win.

Middle Tennessee v Florida Atlantic
Malcolm Davidson leads the Owls in rushing this season.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

While FAU has been a middle of the pack rushing team in C-USA, averaging only 3.8 yards per attempt, when Davidson has seen significant carries, the team’s had success.

In fact, Davidson’s 6.5 yards per carry is first among league running backs. On just 79 carries, he has 517 yards and eight scores.

With the Owls needing to keep pace with Marshall for a division crown, expect FAU to feature Davidson against the league’s 12th ranked rushing defense in UTSA on November 23rd and their season-finale at Southern Miss on the 30th, especially with fellow back Larry McCammon III having battled injuries and lack of consistency.