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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA - Week 9

FAU’s defense makes a statement, uncertain QB situations around the league and Austin Trammell’s consistency lead our highlights of the C-USA weekend.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Florida Atlantic at Marshall Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week nine provided a five-game slate of Conference USA action, but most of the weekend’s contests weren’t competitive. Charlotte took a lopsided loss to a Power Five opponent in Duke, while Western Kentucky didn’t fare any better, losing by 31 to a de facto P5 program in BYU.

Conference play saw Rice steamroll struggling Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic outclass UTSA. A battle of West division foes provided the lone game decided by one score as Louisiana Tech overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat UAB in double-overtime.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from the weekend in C-USA.

Florida Atlantic

Following a 43-point victory in the 2019 Conference USA Championship game over UAB and a decisive win against SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl, FAU had every reason to believe that they would be an odds-on favorite to contend for back-to-back conference titles entering the offseason. However, the next seven months would see starting quarterback Chris Robison given an indefinite absence from the program and linebacker Akileis Leroy not with the Owls for the 2020 season, in addition to having to replace multiple starters on both sides of the ball.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Florida Atlantic at Marshall
Malcolm Davidson is again one of the top backs in C-USA.

After having their first four games postponed or canceled due to COVID, FAU’s off to a 2-1 start to the year, with the lone defeat coming as the Owls were severely shorthanded against No. 22 Marshall on the road. The weekend saw Willie Taggart’s team deliver an impressive 24-3 victory over a rising UTSA team that featured the nation’s leading rusher, Sincere McCormick.

FAU’s Malcolm Davidson, who’s one of the league’s top backs in his own right, rushed for 115 yards on 14 carries and Duke transfer Aaron Young hauled in a first-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Robison.

But undeniably, the game’s top billing goes to the FAU defense.

Jim Leavitt’s unit kept UTSA quarterback Frank Harris under duress all afternoon, recording seven sacks and six QB pressures. Redshirt freshman defensive end Jaylen Joyner had three sacks and true freshman linebacker Chris Jones added two sacks of his own, in addition to the defense holding McCormick to only 54 yards on 16 carries.

FAU’s remaining schedule features a pair of 2-5 teams (Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee), 4-2 Georgia Southern and a winless FIU team that the Owls have beaten three straight seasons.

While their conference title hopes may be out of reach - look for the rest of the season to serve as a launching pad into 2021 for a young and talented FAU program.

Austin Trammell

Coming out of Klein High School in suburban Houston, Austin Trammell was a lightly-recruited, two-star prospect in the class of 2017. As a true freshman, he saw limited time on offense while in the shadow of talented yet mercurial receiver Aaron Cephus — but made C-USA’s All-Freshman Team and All-Conference Second Team as a kick returner. The 2018 season saw the 5-10, 185-pound Trammell quietly led the Owls in receptions as the number two wideout behind Cephus. Last year, Trammell again led Rice in receptions - but was slightly overshadowed by the big-play talents of JUCO transfer Brad Rozner, who led the team in receiving yards (770) and receiving touchdowns (5).

NCAA Football: Rice at Southern Mississippi
Austin Trammell and Mike Collins hooked up for three receiving TD’s in the win over Southern Miss.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Following numerous delays to the start of their 2020 season, Rice lost a thriller in double-overtime to Middle Tennessee, then picked up a win on Saturday against Southern Miss. With Rozner choosing to opt-out of playing this season, Trammell is the clear-cut number one receiver and has responded accordingly. He’s hauled in five touchdown passes, including three in the 30-6 win over the Golden Eagles.

Given Rice’s limited 2020 schedule and the NCAA’s decision to allow an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes, there’s a possibility that Trammell could return next season. If he does, he’s earned the right to be considered one of the top wideouts in Group of Five football.

Teams are still trying to find their QB

Entering last season, Conference USA was loaded at the quarterback position with several teams featuring returning starters. FIU’s James Morgan became a fourth-round pick of the New York Jets and two C-USA West signal-callers, J’Mar Smith and Mason Fine spent time in NFL camps.

FIU fans are hoping to see more of redshirt freshman Stone Norton.
Margi Rentis/FIU

At the start of the 2020 season, nine of 13 C-USA teams participating in the Fall season were tasked with replacing 2019’s primary starting quarterback. Through week nine, there are still multiple programs who are trying to solidify their quarterback situation.

FIU has played as many as three signal-callers in trying to replace Morgan, with former three-star prospect Stone Norton appearing to be the guy, for now. Western Kentucky is rotating between Maryland transfer Tyrrell Pigrome and former four-star recruit Kevaris Thomas. UAB’s three-point loss on Saturday came in part to the combined 11-of-23 for 147 yards and two interception output at the hands of Bryson Lucero and Tyler Johnston III.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Wisconsin
Kevaris Thomas is the highest-rated signee in the history of Western Kentucky football.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the season will serve as an opportunity for multiple quarterbacks to establish themselves heading into what will be a more normal offseason than last — hopefully.