Southern Mississippi is the second best team in C-USA West
In the Conference USA 2015 Preseason Media Football Poll Southern Miss was picked to finish fourth in the West. But that didn't stop people from predicting a breakthrough season for Todd Monken in his third year in Hattiesburg.
ESPN's site Grantland believed the Eagles would get to a bowl. During our preseason Conference USA Roundtable someone even picked Southern Miss as their sleeper team.
After crushing Charlotte on the road 44-10, the Eagles are now just one win away from becoming bowl eligible. After winning a combined four games in the past three years, Monken has done an excellent job of rebuilding what should be one of Conference USA's flagship programs.
But Southern Miss is going to have bigger things on the table in the last month of the season than just qualifying for a bowl bid. The Eagles are tied with Louisiana Tech for first in C-USA West as both are 5-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play.
After many, including myself, believed the West division would be a two-team race between Louisiana Tech and Rice, it became clear over the weekend that the Owls just don't have it this year as they barely beat Army 38-31. Two weeks before they needed a fourth quarter comeback to defeat FAU.
While Rice has been struggling to put away inferior competition, the Eagles have been outscoring opponents 125-34 in their victories during conference play.
After missing a signature victory against Marshall earlier this season, Southern Miss will have another chance to announce to C-USA that the Eagles are back when they take on Louisiana Tech to close the season in what appears to be the game that will decide who will advance to the C-USA Championship game.
UTEP has an offense, and could become bowl eligible because of it
Entering Saturday night's game against FAU the Miners looked awful. They barely got by New Mexico State and struggled mightily against FCS Incarnate World.
Injuries were completely derailing UTEP's season as aspirations of competing for the C-USA West division were done after all-conference running back Aaron Jones went down with a season ending injury.
The offense played conservative and lethargic with Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson under center.
But against FAU injured starting quarterback Mack Leftwich returned from a severe concussion suffered earlier this season and the Miners finally opened things up on offense.
Leftwich passed for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-17 win. The offense looked in-sync for the first time since they began conference play, as UTEP gained over 400 total yards of offense; A feat they have been unable to accomplish since defeating New Mexico State.
As we all know FAU is a bad team. But the Miners still have North Texas, Old Dominion, and a struggling Rice team on the schedule.
Two bad teams and a mediocre one. If Leftwich can continue to lead a surging UTEP offense the Miners could finish the season 6-6 with a chance to go bowling.
C-USA East is better than C-USA West... for now
After last weekend C-USA West is now 5-6 against teams in the C-USA East division. Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and UTEP all won. Whereas Marshall grabbed the lone victory for the East.
With the East division being so top heavy with Marshall and Western Kentucky leading the way its not a shocker C-USA East holds the slight advantage.
Marshall and Western Kentucky still remain the two lone teams in the conference who are bowl eligible. But with C-USA West having three teams that would finish no worse than third in C-USA East its hard to say which division has the upper hand.
With seven cross-division games remaining on the schedule between the two divisions its still anyone's guess as to who will come out with bragging rights. The seven remaining games feature UTSA three times and Old Dominion three times.