Non-conference play is just about over for everyone in Conference USA and after this weekend, everyone will have played at least one conference game. Time for a roundtable about what's happening in C-USA!
1. What's been the biggest disappointment?
Cyrus Smith: FAU's offensive struggles. I was never completely on the bandwagon for FAU winning C-USA East but I definitely thought they could compete with Western Kentucky and Marshall because of how dynamic their offense could be. Jaquez Johnson missing some time certainly hasn't helped but the Owls have 15 turnovers in their last three games while averaging 26.3 points per game for the year.
Jason Jones: UTEP has to be the biggest disappointment, and not because of what they've done on the field so far. Just losing Aaron Jones makes me disappointed for them. The Miners beat NMSU and they host UTSA this week and I think they have a chance at beating UTSA. The problem is that they just aren't the same team without Jones and I don't see them competing for the west division without him.
Adam Woodyard: I'm the North Texas writer, so I think the answer should be obvious: WESTERN KENTUCKY. The only way C-USA takes that extra step and gets that extra national coverage and attention is if you have a team run the table and earn that national ranking. This year, a 13-0 team was not to be, and WKU was our best hope (though I had my fingers crossed for Marshall and Rice, too, because I am an optimist).
2. What's been the biggest surprise?
CS: Jeff Driskel. Driskel has looked like a completely different quarterback at times this season as he has thrown for 1171 yards with eight touchdowns while also rushing for four touchdowns. More importantly, he has thrown just one interception. Nobody would have guessed Driskel would throw just one interception four games into the season.
JJ: The biggest surprise to me is that Southern Miss played so well against Mississippi State and Nebraska. USM has a real chance to make bowl eligibility. They're four home games in CUSA are UNT, UTSA, UTEP, and Old Dominion. If the Golden Eagles can just hold serve at home, they will make it to 6 wins.
AW: North Texas. I was expecting a mediocre re-building year, but WHAT IS HAPPENING. The entire crack team of CUSA writers picked UNT for a middling spot, Charlotte for dead last. Both these teams made a mockery of us, though to be fair we should be mocked at all times.
3. As of now C-USA is 7-6 against G5 schools and 2-17 against P5 schools. Did the conference tarnish its reputation during non-conference play?
CS: A little bit. After week one C-USA was looking good with wins over the Big Ten, SEC, and AAC. Ever since then its been downhill with loses against teams from the MAC and Sun Belt. I still would rank them ahead of the Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt though.
JJ: Last season, C-USA didn't get a win over a P5 school until LA Tech beat Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. I think getting the two wins helped the league and having a winning record against the other G5 schools helps too. The last couple of weeks have been disappointing because C-USA teams missed several opportunities to get some big wins, but I don't think they hurt the league's image.
AW: No. We don't have a reputation in non-conference play, which is slightly frustrating. Even the MAC can be occasionally terrifying, this current C-USA is still waiting for the post-realignment surge.
4. What game is circled on the schedule as a must win for your program?
CS: No question its FIU. The Panthers have already defeated UCF this season and a win over FAU would be another feather in their cap on the recruiting trail. A second straight loss to Ron Turner would effectively stop any recruiting momentum Partridge has been making in South Florida.
JJ: For LA Tech fans, it's USM, which is the last game of the season. If USM does find a way to get to 6 wins before that game, the atmosphere could be really good. Tech has not had a ton of success against the Golden Eagles over the years and the Bulldogs have a chance to make it three straight wins over their nemesis.
AW: For my alma mater? Any of them. One win would be sufficient.
5. What will be the most important game during conference play?
CS: WKU vs Marshall. Entering the season I thought this game will decide the C-USA East. Nothings changed.
JJ: For Louisiana Tech, the game at Rice is the biggest. The Owls are the main team that stands in the way of the Bulldogs going back to the conference championship game.
AW: For North Texas? At the beginning of the season, clearly WKU. Now? UTEP. Get it together, McCarney.
6. Offer a prediction during conference play?
CS: The Tops will win every conference game by at least double digits.
JJ: Louisiana Tech will finish 6-2 in conference play. It's hard to expect the Bulldogs to finish perfect the rest of the way. If they do manage to finish the season winning 5 of 6, the winner of the LA Tech vs Rice game would be the front runner to win the division.
AW: McCarney gets fired. And while I do hold out hope, if they lose to Portland State (currently 3-0, including a win against Washington State), it will be very, very difficult to make an argument against it.