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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA — Week 7

The force behind UTSA’s first ever top-25 ranking, UTEP is bowl-eligible and is Jerreth Sterns the best receiver in the nation?

NCAA Photos Archive

Despite only featuring a five-game slate of action, week seven in Conference USA provided us with our first real semblance of clarity amongst what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested West division race.

UAB’s decisive 34-0 blanking of Southern Miss was headlined by a career-high 137 yards from DeWayne McBride and safety Grayson Cash’s second touchdown in as many weeks. Marshall bounced back from a near-loss against Old Dominion, running the Mean Green out of Apogee Stadium early en route to a 49-21 victory that saw quarterback Grant Wells account for five touchdowns.

Let’s take a look at the Three Things We Learned from the C-USA weekend.

A Crowning Achievement for Lisa Campos

Dr. Lisa Campos began her tenure at UTSA on November 17, 2017 — six days after the Roadrunners’ 24-19 loss to Marshall. Then-head coach Frank Wilson would finish the 2017 season — his second campaign in San Antonio with a 6-5 record. The next two seasons would see Wilson go 7-17 at the helm, despite boasting a top-three recruiting class in C-USA during his time with UTSA. Campos made the decision to relieve Wilson of his duties the day following the 2019 season, leading the search for a new direction for the program — and UTSA Athletics as a whole.

Eight days later, Campos found the next coach in former Arkansas’ running backs and Texas high school head coach Jeff Traylor. To say the decision has paid off has been an understatement. Traylor has led an incredible resurgence in the Alamo City, going 7-5 in his first season and currently 7-0 in season two. To cap things off, UTSA received their first ever top-25 ranking in program history, earning the number 24 spot in the AP poll and being ranked 25th in the coaches poll. Campos’ leadership has resulted in a top-25 program and the Roadrunners opening the Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence, a 40-million dollar athletic training facility on UTSA’s campus.

During Wilson’s introductory press conference as McNeese State’s head coach, he made the following comments about his former job.

“This job, unlike the one I just left from, has something very unique, rich tradition,” said Wilson. “Extreme amount of pride and things that you don’t necessarily have to invent. It’s here. It’s been done here before and it’s been done at a very high level consistently.”

Campos’ success has resulted in her signing a four-year contract extension in August, extending her through 2026. The 44-year-old has already reestablished pride among the UTSA faithful — she’ll have the opportunity to build a rich tradition that could see the Roadrunners among the top-25 for seasons to come.

UTEP is Bowl Eligible

For the first time since 2014, UTEP is bowl-eligible following their 19-3 victory over Louisiana Tech in front of a home crowd at the Sun Bowl. Head coach Dana Dimel’s five-year plan for rebuilding the Miner program has come to fruition a season early, but not without its hardships. Two consecutive 1-11 campaigns in 2018 and 2019 saw UTEP rank among the bottom in FBS football in scoring offense, scoring defense, passing yards and rushing yards allowed. Dimel’s first four recruiting classes would see the program sign over 30 players from either the JUCO ranks or transfers, seeking an infusion of talent that could step-in and contribute immediately.

Slowly but surely, the level of play on the field increased for Dimel, starting with 2020’s three-win campaign — eclipsing the team’s win total from the prior three years combined — and culminating with the Miners’ sixth win of 2021 on Saturday. Many of the JUCO talents signed over the past three years have played a factor in the team’s rebuild, including quarterback Gavin Hardison, receiver Justin Garrett, defensive back Dy’Vonne Inyang and defensive end Jadrian Taylor, who had 3.5 sacks in the win over the Bulldogs.

Dana Dimel has the Miners bowling.
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The win over La Tech also firmly establishes UTEP as a player in the West division race down the stretch. The team’s first five wins came over two subpar FBS teams (New Mexico State, New Mexico), an FCS team (Bethune-Cookman) and two clearly rebuilding C-USA opponents (Old Dominion, Southern Miss). While Skip Holtz’ team are clearly having their own struggles, Tech represents a division foe that has been a bowl team for the better part of the last decade — a win that puts the rest of the league on notice.

Jerreth Sterns

Entering the season, much of the hype around the Western Kentucky football team revolved around Houston Baptist transfer quarterback Bailey Zappe. While the signal-caller has more than lived up the expectations, leading C-USA in all major passing categories, fellow HBU transfer Jerreth Sterns has established himself arguably the nation’s top wideout.

After racking up 220 receptions in three seasons at the FCS level — the most among all active FCS receivers, Sterns’ debut at Western Kentucky saw him haul in seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. On the season, he leads the nation in receptions (69) and receiving yards (962).

Western Kentucky v Michigan State
Jerreth Sterns is having an outstanding season at Western Kentucky.
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Over the last three weeks, the 5-9, 195-pound junior has recorded 46 grabs for 603 yards and four scores, including 13 caches for 221 yards in Saturday’s win over Old Dominion. With remaining contests against FIU, Middle Tennessee and Rice, Sterns has a very legitimate shot at taking the Biletnikoff Award home to Bowling Green.