12 of 14 Conference USA teams saw action during week six as the action on Friday and Saturday provided fans with a possible game of the year, plus a semblance of clarity in the division races. Charlotte picked up their first-ever win over Florida International, beating the Panthers 45-33 in a road victory that saw Miami native Victor Tucker haul in eight passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.
UTEP moves to 5-1 after beating Southern Miss on the road, setting up the Miners with an opportunity to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014, while UAB decisively beat Florida Atlantic, forcing four FAU turnovers and recording eight sacks in the process.
Let’s take a look at the Three Things We Learned from six in C-USA.
Frank Harris and Bailey Zappe Put On a Show
Entering the season, Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe had a much-ballyhooed arrival to Conference USA. The former Houston Baptist signal-caller had a prolific career at the FCS level, throwing for over 9,000 and 80 touchdowns in his Husky career. Numerous preseason projections had Zappe ranking among the top quarterbacks in C-USA, despite him making the jump to FBS football.
UTSA’s Frank Harris came into 2021 with high expectations but traveled a much more difficult road to get there. A former three-star recruit from nearby Clemens High School, Harris made the short 21-mile trek to UTSA, but battled ACL tears in 2017 and 2018, followed by a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2019 season. Last season saw Harris finally remain relatively healthy for a majority of a season, becoming one of the conference’s top dual-threat quarterbacks in rushing for over 500 yards while throwing for 1,630 yards. Saturday’s contest between UTSA and Western Kentucky saw Zappe and Harris square off in a game that will be long remembered by fans of both teams and C-USA fans alike.
Zappe went 38-of-60 for 523 yards with five touchdowns — but the numbers came in a losing effort as Harris wasn’t to be outdone — going 28-of-38 passing for 349 yards with six touchdowns and added another 51 on the ground. The two signal-callers traded scores throughout the game in a contest that saw seven lead changes and over 1,200 yards of total offense. With under five minutes remaining in the game, Zappe drove the Hilltoppers deep into Roadrunner territory, with a chance to regain the lead with a touchdown — but his third-down pass from the 15-yard-line was picked off by UTSA’s Clarence Hicks — Zappe’s lone interception of the day. Fittingly, the game ended with the ball in Harris’ hands as he took a knee, giving UTSA a thrilling 52-46 win and sending the Roadrunner back to San Antonio with a 6-0 record.
Chris Reynolds Stands Tall
Listed at 5-11 and 192 pounds, Chris Reynolds’ physical dimensions make him far from a quarterback produced in central casting. However, despite his diminutive frame, Reynolds has stood tall against competition on and off the field since arriving at Charlotte in 2017 as a walk-on.
After leading the Niners to three of their five wins in 2018, Reynolds beat out competition from South Florida transfer Brett Kean to win the job in ‘19 and helped Charlotte qualify for its first-ever bowl game. He would again be tested by a transfer quarterback entering this season as former four-star recruit and Texas A&M Aggie James Foster challenged for the job, before Charlotte head coach Will Healy named Reynolds the starter roughly six weeks before the season-opener.
In the Niners win over FIU, Reynolds went 21-of-27 for 203 yards with four touchdowns, showing his trademark elusiveness in finding four different receivers for scores. Most importantly, the win helped keep Charlotte in sole possession of first-place in the East division. If Charlotte truly has a chance to win a division that appears as wide-open as ever, Reynolds’ efforts will play a huge factor.
Who is Tyrese Chambers
Coming out of Baltimore’s Poly High School, Tyrese Chambers was one of only two wide receivers to make all USA Today’s Maryland first-team all-state list, hauling in 54 receptions for 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior.
However, Chambers was overlooked by many programs and landed at Fort Scott Junior College, before earning an offer from FCS Sacred Heart in 2019. Chambers became an instant playmaker for the Pioneers, recording 50 catches for 811 yards and 10 scores en route to becoming an All-American and a Jerry Rice Award finalist, given to the freshman of the year in FCS.
After signing with FIU in the Spring of 2021, the 6-1, 190-pound Chambers quickly made an impression on veteran head coach Butch Davis.
“What I love most about Tyrese is if you talk to him, his mind is always on football, he out catching balls, running routes, he truly loves football and wants to be an excellent player,” said Davis.
While the Panthers are in the midst of a disappointing 1-5 start to their season, Chambers has quietly been a bright spot for FIU. He’s recorded a touchdown reception in five of FIU’s six games, including Saturday’s three-catch, 201-yard performance in the loss to Charlotte. The 201 yards tied program-record for receiving yards in a game with former Panthers’ great T.Y. Hilton — one of Chambers’ favorite receivers.
“He’s one of the reasons why I came to FIU, so it’s just incredible to make that kind of impact,” said Chambers postgame.
Through six weeks, Chambers has 20 receptions for 672 yards and six scores — including a 33.6 yards per catch average that leads all FBS receivers.