Week 10 brought clarity within the division races, but for the rest of Conference USA’s teams fighting for bowl contention, qualifying for the postseason will come down to the wire.
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.
Chris Reynolds is here to stay
When Will Healy took over as Charlotte 49ers’ head coach in December of 2018, he established that virtually every position was up for grabs during the offseason. The spot that would most closely evaluated - quarterback.
Chris Reynolds started six games in 2018, throwing for 1,173 yards with six TDs and two INTs, while going 3-3 before breaking his leg. At C-USA’s media days in July, Healy sounded non-committal about the state of the quarterback position.
“We have three guys that we’ll take a look at. I’m just looking for consistency and then one of the guys will set themselves apart,” said Healy.
Despite bringing in graduate transfer Brett Kean from South Florida and Evan Sherriffs returning from the year prior, it was the 5-10, 195-pound Reynolds who stood apart from the competition and won the job for the second straight year.
The suburban Charlotte native won’t amaze the layperson with size or overwhelming attributes, however, he plays well above his stature and has earned the right to have the keys to the program. Through nine games, Reynolds ranks third among C-USA quarterbacks in TD passes (16), second in passing efficiency (153.7) and has used his legs to add 425 yards on the ground.
In Saturday’s 34-20 win over Middle Tennessee, he had his first 100-yard rushing performance, finishing the day with 104 yards on 16 carries. Those efforts would be rewarded by being selected as a Manning Award "Star of the Week".
Most importantly, the Niners are two wins away from bowl eligibility - which would be their first in program history.
A tale of two units for FIU’s offensive line
FIU set a program high in wins last season (9) and much of that success was due to the outstanding play of their offensive line. The unit finished fourth in FBS football allowing only eight sacks, while paving the way for C-USA’s third-leading rushing attack.
Entering 2019, expectations were that the Panthers could compete for a conference title, in part because they returned multiple members from last year’s group. While they still currently sit third in C-USA in sacks allowed (13), the number of pressures on quarterback James Morgan has increased and the rushing numbers haven’t been as consistent as last year’s success.
The result has been the Panthers’ having a seesaw 2019 season, sitting with a 5-4 record heading into the final stretch of the year.
Offensively, they've had their moments, but haven't been able to have the firepower of last year's team that was the top scoring unit in C-USA.
In Saturday’s 24-17 nail-biting victory against Old Dominion, FIU gave up three sacks for the first time since 2017.
While the O-Line hasn’t been able to replicate 2018’s success, they have been able to build depth due to injuries.
“I’m really proud of the offensive line because we have guys banged up and Shacquille Williams moves over to right tackle, a spot that he hasn’t practiced a snap at this year. Sione Finau for a true freshman has been outstanding, so it’s coming along,” said Davis.
Their conference championship aspirations have diminished, but Davis’ program has the opportunity to make three consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in FIU’s 18 years of existence.
The East is now a two-team race
In an East division showdown that pitted C-USA’s second-highest scoring offense against the defense allowing the second-fewest points per game, Florida Atlantic beat Western Kentucky to move ahead of the Tops in the division. Ironically enough, it was FAU’s defense - not the more highly-touted WKU defense that made the difference.
The Owls’ forced four turnovers from WKU quarterback Ty Storey, including two James Pierre interceptions and a forced fumble by Akileis “Keke” Leroy.
Leroy had an outstanding ballgame, racking up a game-high 12 tackles to go along with two sacks and the aforementioned strip-sack of Storey. The victory sends the Owls into their rivalry game against FIU, looking to keep a two-game win streak going, so they can keep pace with Marshall.
Unfortunately for FAU players, the business of college football may cause distraction - albeit a slight one from the task at hand. With the firing of Florida State head coach Willie Taggart, FAU head coach Lane Kiffin’s name will inevitably be brought up in the list of candidates - rightly or wrongly.
I gave my thoughts on why those expecting Kiffin to jump at the first chance to leave may want to reconsider in an earlier installment of this series.
Speaking of the Herd, they beat Rice on Saturday by a score of 20-7, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the scoreboard may have suggested. Doc Holliday’s team were never truly threatened by the conference’s 13th ranked scoring offense.
For Marshall fans, they have to feel optimistic about the back-to-back steady games from quarterback Isaiah Green. He went 17-for-22 with 269 yards and one TD pass in the win.
Because of Marshall’s victory in Boca Raton three weeks ago, they hold the tiebreaker over FAU and a squarely in control of their own destiny. As Saturday showed, as long as the Herd don’t beat themselves, Doc Holliday will have them in position to compete for their first East division crown since 2014.