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Three Things We Learned in Week Four of Conference USA Football

The Blue Raiders impressed while the rest of the conference... did not.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt
The Blue Raiders came through with a huge win over Louisiana Tech to kick off conference play.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Tennessee is Over the Hump

The Blue Raiders picked up a big win over Louisiana Tech to start conference play as Brent Stockstill threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding any turnovers. Middle Tennessee is obviously in great shape offensively but the surprise of the game was MTSU’s ability to get stops on defense.

Down by as much as 20 points, the Blue Raiders defense forced three straight punts to crawl back into the game. The Bulldogs would fight all the way down to the MTSU five yard line to end the game but the Blue Raiders defense came up strong yet again to stop Ryan Higgins and his offense for a 38-34 win in Murfreesboro. If MTSU’s defense can play as well as they did in the second half of this game then the Blue Raiders are absolutely in play to win the C-USA East division. The Blue Raiders finally have the talent to jump from a consistent bowl team to a true competitor for a conference championship.

The Shula Bowl is Going to be an Absolute Train Wreck

Honestly, I promise I wrote this headline before Florida International fired Ron Turner. Both programs have looked miserable this season as FAU’s record stands at 1-3 and FIU’s at 0-4. The Panthers were absolutely shredded by UCF at home last night 53-14, amassing just 189 total yards. It was a shocking down turn from FIU’s 15-14 win over UCF last year.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Florida International
Ron Turner watches his Golden Panthers in his last game as FIU’s head coach.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Life is hardly better in Boca Raton. The Owls have yet to beat an FBS team this season and are -80 in scoring differential through just four games. FAU suffered an aggravating and heart-breaking loss last night as Ball State surged back to beat the Owls in the fourth quarter after an extended weather delay. If C-USA is ever to return to their former status as a top Group of Five conference then it’s imperative that the Florida schools turn their immense access to elite talent into wins on the football field. Right now it’s looking like that time will be years away if it happens at all.

The Texas Division of C-USA is in Free Fall

Speaking of teams that C-USA needs to be competitive, the Texas legion of C-USA continues to underwhelm. The UTSA Roadrunners looked hungover from their near upset of Arizona State after they got romped by Old Dominion 33-19 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score depicts. A poor performance from Dalton Sturm means that UTSA is likely right back where they started from with their preseason quarterback controversy.

C-USA staple UTEP is also struggling through what should have been a promising season. Southern Miss used 31 unanswered points to whip the Miners in the Sun Bowl behind 108 yards on 16 carries for Ito Smith. Aaron Jones was able to scamper for a 68 yard touchdown in the first quarter however those would be the only points for UTEP on the night as the score wrapped up at 34-7 in favor of the Golden Eagles.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Rice
Led by true freshman quarterback Mason Fine, UNT was the only Texas C-USA team to win on Saturday.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

North Texas and Rice played each other on Saturday so, you know, someone had to win. Regardless, the two teams had to use double overtime to decide who was less bad. In a sloppy but entertaining game, UNT overcame an early 17-0 deficit to storm back after an impressive performance from Mean Green running back Jeffery Wilson.

While true freshman quarterback Mason Fine is coming into his own to lead a much-improved UNT squad, neither Rice nor UNT looked like a team ready to compete for a conference championship any time soon. The Texas Group of Five teams are in a major arms race with hazy conference realignment possibly on the horizon yet none of the Texas programs are positioning themselves to make the jump to the next level on the field. Conference USA desperately needs at least two of these teams to step up and elevate their play to bring this conference back to a respectable state.