A little over a month into the 2019 season brings us much of the same in Conference USA that we’ve seen over the previous four weeks - parity.
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.
Ever so quietly, the Lane Train is motoring ahead in Boca
At C-USA media days in July, I sat roughly three feet away from Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin during a press scrum - which was two feet further than I needed to be in order to hear the enigmatic 44-year-old, as he was speaking in a whispered tone.
Six years removed from his 3 a.m. firing on the tarmac of Los Angeles International Airport, Kiffin appears to be rounding into form as a collegiate head coach at FAU - without the public scrutiny that comes with coaching in Knoxville, or the national attention of being the face of USC’s program.
His team comes off a decisive 45-27 victory against Charlotte on Saturday, which, coupled with Marshall’s drubbing at the hands of Cincinnati, gives Owl fans good reason to believe that they’re in great position to contend for second C-USA East crown in three seasons.
Quarterback Chris Robison continues his ascension into the upper echelon of C-USA quarterbacks, going 20-for-27 with 312 yards and 2 TD’s.
Freshmen running backs Malcolm Davidson and Larry McCammon III combined for three rushing TD’s, while the FAU defense kept Charlotte’s star running back Benny Lemay in-check for the entire afternoon.
The most impressive thing about FAU’s victory was that it’s clear they still have room to grow.
If Kiffin is able to navigate the Owls through the rest of their conference slate which includes home games against MTSU and Marshall, along with a trip to surprising Western Kentucky, all roads to the C-USA title game could lead through Boca Raton.
Rebuilding jobs are coming along nicely
Entering this season, if anyone said that Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, and Rice were at least a season or two away from being competitive, few, if any at all would have challenged the notion.
However, as we enter conference play, there’s no denying that these programs’ rebuilding efforts are ahead of schedule and won’t be a sure victory for teams throughout the season.
Mike Bloomgren’s Rice Owls could be the best 0-5 team in all of FBS football.
Yes, at some point they’ll need a put a few in the win column to build their own confidence and be taken seriously.
But there’s no denying that his team plays hard for four quarters and are bought in to the ex-Stanford offensive coordinator and his efforts to a physical team that looks to run first and play power football.
Bobby Wilder’s ODU team underachieved in a massive way last season.
Despite having receivers Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham who both spent time with the Detroit Lions earlier this season, along with 2019 third-round pick Oshane Ximines, the Monarchs sputtered to a 4-8 record last year.
Now, having decidedly less star power with a group of young or unproven players, Wilder’s team pushed Virginia Tech two weeks ago and lost a close contest to East Carolina on Saturday.
Despite the 1-3 record, this year’s ODU team looks to be playing with something to prove, which bodes well for the future of Monarch football.
At the end of last season, WKU fans had clearly become exasperated with Mike Sanford II’s tenure in Bowling Green.
Insert 42-year-old Tyson Helton who returned to Western Kentucky as head coach after spending time as the Tops’ offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015.
After a slip-up against FCS Central Arkansas that saw WKU blow a 14-point fourth quarter lead, the Tops upset preseason C-USA East favorite FIU on the road and beat defending conference champions UAB at home.
The second upset victory puts WKU at the top of the East division with a surprising 2-0 conference record.
It’s been a tough start for C-USA in out-of-conference games - especially against the American
Through five weeks, Conference USA has played 33 games against FBS out-of-conference opponents.
Their record in those 33 games - a paltry mark of 5-28.
UAB’s win over Akron, FAU over Ball State, Southern Miss over Troy, Lousiana Tech over Bowling Green, and Marshall’s two-point win over Ohio represent the five wins.
Of the 28 losses, the games against the American have been the toughest to watch.
FIU took a thrashing at the hands of Tulane on opening night, FAU was steamrolled by UCF in week two, and this weekend’s defeats at the hands of Cincinnati and Houston land C-USA with a 0-4 mark against the AAC.
What’s hardest to swallow for C-USA fans is the fact that the four losses come from teams who offer some of the best talent that the conference has to offer.
UNT should be in the thick of the C-USA West race at the end of the year, while the same can be said for Doc Holliday’s Marshall team in the East.
Yet, both teams took lopsided losses this weekend.
It could easily be a matter of C-USA having a down year as these things tend to ebb and flow.
However, there’s at least seven teams (UCF, Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, Tulane, SMU) in the American that appear to be far and away better than any Conference USA program.