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Blowouts and Ambiguity Abound: Conference USA Week Five Picks

While some C-USA teams are two weeks into their league schedule, others are still taking the big-money contract games. The result — we don't know much about anyone in Conference USA, but I'm going to try to guess some scores anyway.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Friday

Middle Tennessee State at Old Dominion (-3.5) — 8:00 p.m. — FS1

This should be a barnburner. Hell, it has already established more intrigue than any other C-USA game this season before it has even kicked off, as MTSU denied ODU's request to wear white as part of a "Whiteout". The contest is big in Hampton Roads — it's Old Dominion’s first-ever home game as a member of Conference USA, coming a week after it won its first-ever conference game in a shootout at Rice. MTSU hasn’t quite shown its hand this year, but it’s fair to presume the Rick Stockstill model is still in action in Murfreesboro. The Raiders are going to use a bunch of running backs, have a bevy of quality, but anonymous receivers, boast a quietly strong defensive back core and at least one standout elsewhere (LB TT Barber is this year’s main man). Pepper in a quarterback who won’t lose games and will surprise with his end-of-game numbers and you have Middle Tennessee. What does that mean when they’re going up against a poor man’s ECU? Well, it means they’re evenly matched. Presume that the turnover margin will win the contest — and MTSU has seen some back luck on that front so far this year, luck that should turn in a wide-open game. But with a national TV audience and an amped-up crowd, this is a game you should enjoy only as a fan — too many outside factors could influence an already tight game (how many points are those white jerseys worth?) — but I’m betting on MTSU QB Austin Grammer to have a strong game and win it late.

MTSU - 36
ODU - 33

Saturday

UTEP at Kansas State (-30) — Noon — FSN

UTEP is the worst 2-1 team in the nation, allowing 7.73 yards per play (No. 126 nationally) to a schedule of New Mexico (bad), New Mexico State (worse) and Texas A&M (that's fine, but seriously with the first two?). This is the game that the facade of improvement is detonated in El Paso. That said, Kansas State isn’t a team that enjoys big-margin blowouts (though such large spreads are rare in Manhattan). The Wildcats are a far superior team and will establish that supremacy early thanks to a long week. Expect UTEP to backdoor the 30 points as Snyder benches his top player ahead of Big 12 play.

UTEP - 21
Kansas State - 48


FIU at UAB (-17.5) — 3:30 p.m. — ASN

UAB is the surprise team of C-USA, but what do we really know about the Blazers under Bill Clark? Yes, the team is far better coached (though some would argue you can’t divide by zero), but they haven’t played anyone their own size so far this year. Foolhardy be the man who presumes they can glean anything from games vs. abysmal Troy, CFP-eying Mississippi State and Alabama A&M. FIU’s performance two weeks ago against Pitt was admirable, but the Panthers are yet to put together a good offensive performance this year (averaging 3.97 yards per play). The FIU defense has a chance to be pretty good, relatively, and I think in a battle of two unknowns, it’s fair to say that the team with the better defense won't get blown out.

FIU - 20
UAB - 34


WKU at Navy (-7) — 3:30 p.m. — CBS Sports Network

Middle Tennessee exposed Western Kentucky’s lax-at-best rush defense on Sept 13. The Hilltoppers had two weeks to prepare for Navy’s triple-option, and I think that and Brandon Doughty’s gunslinging will keep the game close in the early goings. But Navy boasts a strong pass defense and eventually the leaky dam that WKU’s defensive front-eight will break. A big fourth quarter clears the margin for Navy.

WKU - 32
Navy - 40


Louisiana Tech at Auburn (-32) — 4 p.m. — SEC Network

Louisiana Tech looked like a team that could possibly contend for a Conference USA title. In reality, they still can, but after an embarrassing home loss to FCS opponent Northwestern State, any thought of a dream season is on layaway. Auburn, of course, played for the national title last year and looks positioned to perhaps reach the game again in 2014. Expect this game to look similar to LaTech’s Week One loss at Oklahoma, where the Bulldogs had only five third-down conversions and were blown out 48-16 (note this week's line.) I think Auburn is a six-point favorite over Oklahoma on a neutral field, so you can do the Scarbinsky and the math. Auburn rolls.

LaTech - 20
Auburn - 58


UTSA (-6) at Florida Atlantic — 5 p.m. — Local TV (UTSA)

The nation has a pretty good read on UTSA — talented, well-coached, a bit sputtering on offense, but a strong defensive squad that should meet Marshall in the C-USA title game come December. But no one knows what to expect from FAU, who should be 2-2 if not for a rookie coach blunder on the road in Wyoming (it must have been the thin air.) Pair that with the Owls' only win of the year, a 50-point, 518-yard outburst vs. Tulsa in Week Three that looks to be an outlier, and two blowout losses in Million Dollar Games, and you have an enigma in Boca Raton. There’s little to no shot they can pull that off that Tulsa against UTSA, which is what they would need to win on Saturday. The FAU defense has lost its spark from last season — and a poor defense is just what UTSA needs to get their offensive wheels turning again. Will they? That remains to be seen. This is the most ambitious matchup of the week, but I’m siding with the better defensive team.

UTSA - 31
FAU - 24


Rice (-8) at Southern Miss — 7 p.m. — FCS

You know you’re at rock bottom when you have two wins and are yet a big underdog, at home, to a winless team. Frankly, it’s hard to blame the oddsmakers — Rice was one of the favorites to win the C-USA West and Southern Miss’ two wins have come against the non-states of Alcorn and Appalachian, both of which were nail biters. Rice’s defense is disappointing, but it won’t be tested Saturday night, and their offense will finally have a chance to run though its real game plan and not play catchup. I expect a big road win for the Owls.

Rice - 38
Southern Miss - 17