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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA - Week 1

College football made its long-awaited return and the weekend’s results show that we’re in for another unpredictable year in Conference USA.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 UAB at Southern Miss Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following an unprecedented offseason, the anticipation for week one of the college football season was at a fever pitch.

Each Conference USA game played provided its share of highlights and storylines to watch throughout what’s sure to be a season unlike any other.

Let’s take a look back at the week in C-USA and the three things we learned from the initial slate of games.

Southern Miss needs to hit the reset button

Due to concerns surrounding participating in the 2020 college football season and potentially contracting COVID-19, the NCAA has allowed players to opt-out of playing this season while remaining on scholarship.

No C-USA team has been affected by this ruling more than Southern Miss.

August saw three Golden Eagles: linebacker Racheem Boothe, defensive end Jacques Turner and running back Steven Anderson all choose to opt-out of playing this season and enter the transfer portal. Wide receiver Jaylond Adams has also decided to opt-out but hasn’t announced whether he’ll enter the portal.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Southern Miss at Louisiana Tech
Opposing C-USA QB’s wont have to worry about Racheem Boothe having them in his sights anymore.
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The losses of Boothe and Turner were especially significant as both were starters and considered two of the better defensive players in C-USA.

Fast forward to opening night, and it’s clear that the Southern Miss defense, already looking to improve on being one of the worst in the league last season, missed the presence of the two stalwarts. South Alabama went into Hattiesburg and outclassed Jay Hopson’s team from the opening kick, leaving with a 32-21 victory.

It’s clear that quarterback Jack Abraham and dynamic wideout Tim Jones won’t be enough for the Golden Eagles to contend. Hopson has to hit the reset button, or else 2020 could get away from them - in a hurry.

Grant Wells

The 2019 season for Marshall could easily be summed up in two words - what if. Thundering Herd fans saw receiver Obi Obialo make a late-season return from injury to tantalize them with thoughts of what could have been, had he been healthy all season.

However, the biggest what if comes in the form of how the season may have looked like had quarterback Isaiah Green been more consistent. Last year, Green had six games where he completed less than 60% of his passes and in the Herd’s five losses, he threw two touchdown passes with eight interceptions.

Eastern Kentucky v Marshall
Grant Wells had an excellent outing in his debut as the starter.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Saturday’s 59-0 throttling of Eastern Kentucky ushered in the Grant Wells era in Huntington.

The West Virginia native went 16-for-23 with 307 yards and four touchdowns in his starting debut. While the numbers came against an FCS opponent, if Wells can provide a semblance of stability at the quarterback position, Doc Holliday’s team will be a factor in the East.

UTEP’s youth movement

Despite getting off to a slow start in Saturday’s 24-14 win over FCS Stephen F. Austin, there was something different about the UTEP’s victory - it was led by players who have their best football ahead of them.

Redshirt freshman Deion Hankins bulldozed his way to 113 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries; sophomore receiver Jacob Cowing hauled in seven receptions for 116 yards and sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison threw for 212 yards and a touchdown in leading the Miners’ win.

Dana Dimel has the task of rebuilding a once-proud Miner program.
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hankins was a local legend coming out of El Paso’s Parkland High, setting the city’s all-time rushing record with 7,491 yards in his prep career. A highly-touted prospect, he turned down various Power Five offers to remain at home with UTEP.

If head coach Dana Dimel has any chance at successfully rebuilding a program that has won six games over the past four seasons, including back-to-back one-win campaigns since Dimel’s arrival, it will hinge on the growth and development of younger players, opposed to short-term solutions via the transfer portal or junior college.