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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA In Week 13

The regular season wraps up for Conference USA. Here’s what we learned about the conference in week 13.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Southern Mississippi
Nick Mullens celebrates after leading Southern Miss to bowl eligibility.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Hopson may have turned a corner at Southern Miss

Folks always say you can throw away records heading into a rivalry game and that was certainly the case on Friday as the Southern Miss Golden Eagles warped back to 2015 to demolish division champion Louisiana Tech in this year’s iteration of the Rivalry in Dixie. The Golden Eagles were led by quarterback Nick Mullens who had missed the previous three weeks with an injury. Mullens was brilliant in his return, missing on just four passes in a 29-33 effort that accounted for 340 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.

It was a massive win for the Golden Eagles not just because it granted them their sixth win for bowl eligibility but because it also ended a violent downward spiral in Hattiesburg that had fans wondering if the Jay Hopson hire was an unmitigated disaster. Hopson certainly still has work to do and should consider making some moves to bolster his staff but last week’s win reminded us that the program is still loaded with talent and will remain a contender in C-USA West for the foreseeable future.

Frank Wilson is Conference USA’s Coach of the Year

You could make a strong argument for several coaches to win C-USA coach of the year honors. Skip Holtz won the West in a rebuilding year. Brad Lambert took Charlotte out of the basement. Seth Littrell took a team that won just one game last season to a bowl game, albeit with just five wins. While all of those gentlemen did a great job this season, I think the work first year head coach Frank Wilson has done at UTSA is the most impressive.

Frank Wilson inherited a young but modestly-talented roster. Renowned for his recruiting prowess, Wilson was able to immediately bolster depth by attracting talented transfers and finding freshmen that were able to contribute immediately without the need of a redshirt season. Wilson did more than just recruit though. He assembled a phenomenal young staff that was able to quickly implement offensive and defensive systems that didn’t even remotely resemble what the previous staff had installed.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Texas-San Antonio Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson displayed his potential as a head coach on Saturday as UTSA tied the NCAA record for quickest start up to reach a bowl game. The Roadrunners smoked Charlotte 33-14, holding the conference’s best rushing attack to a total of eight yards on the ground. In what seemed an outrageous decision at the time, Wilson decided to lift Dalton Sturm (18-33, 286 yards, two TDs) for senior backup Jared Johnson in the fourth quarter. The gamble played out brilliantly as Johnson played his best football as a Roadrunner, guiding the team to bowl eligibility with 128 passing yards on just seven passing attempts. It was a gutsy call but one that showed Wilson has a natural instinct on the sideline. With practically his entire team returning in 2017 Frank Wilson is well positioned to continue guiding UTSA to their championship potential.

Florida Atlantic is Fed Up

As expected, Charlie Partridge was handed the pink slip this week after turning in his third 3-9 record in as many years in Boca Raton. The death blow was an ugly 77-59 loss to a Middle Tennessee team that literally did not play with a quarterback on the field for three quarters after freshman John Urzua left the game with an injury in the first quarter. Wide receiver Richie James took snaps under center and the Blue Raiders were able to amass a school record 77 points and 757 yards of offense, also a school record, despite James attempting just six passes.

While it’s clear that Partridge was sorely in over his head at FAU, I don’t think that his time in Boca was completely fruitless. Partridge oversaw a clean program culture and did incredible work on the recruiting trail. His replacement will have plenty of talent to employ and should be able to win early. FAU will need to make a very strong hire to keep up with rival FIU following the Golden Panthers’ hire of Butch Davis.