Entering this week we’ve had four cross-divisional matchups. So far both divisions have held their own with neither having the edge, as the record is 2-2. That record will change this Saturday as North Texas will host an Old Dominion team looking for their first conference win. The cross-division matchups will be interesting to keep up with as both division titles could come down to who had the easier cross-division draw.
UNT will watch their division mates take on intra-division teams as Southern Miss has the chance to make sure UAB’s Cinderella season won’t finish with a division title. UTSA and La Tech meanwhile will try to beat up on the worst teams in the conference.
The most intriguing games of the week take place in Conference USA East. The South Florida Twins have an opportunity to solidify that the Conference USA East division title will no longer run through the Appalachian region. FAU and FIU will both take on WKU and Marshall on the road, respectively.
Although all four teams are just a game apart, the decision for Game of the Week was easy. FAU has been outscored by WKU 87-22 in their last two games. The Owls are the hottest team in C-USA but WKU has been a major road block for the Owls.
Choosing C-USA Record: 56-18
Game of the Week
FAU at WKU (FAU -7, 4:30 PM ET, Stadium)
The standings might not show it, but the path to winning Conference USA still runs through Bowling Green. Western Kentucky has earned that merit due to winning two straight conference titles.
The Tops are a dangerous team due to their championship DNA. But if you strip away the intangibles, WKU isn’t nearly as scary as the championship teams that came before them.
Mike Sanford Jr.’s Hilltoppers are averaging 26.8 points per game this year. They are a pedestrian 78th in S&P+ on offense and are no longer the explosive machine capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, ranking 119th in IsoPPP.
Over the last two weeks we’ve seen a surge on offense as they averaged 40 points per game but the competition was weak (Old Dominion and Charlotte).
Against FAU we’ll really see if WKU has indeed figured things out offensively as they will be up against an FAU defense that shut down North Texas, one of the best offenses in C-USA.
Despite the recent surge, WKU is still a one-dimensional passing team. Quinton Baker, Marquez Trigg, D'Andre Ferby, and Jakairi Moses have been pretty mediocre. WKU is 124th in Rushing S&P+ and dead last in Rushing IsoPPP. FAU’s biggest weakness on defense is stopping the run but they’ve gotten better. Three weeks ago against Old Dominion’s Jeremy Cox they allowed 202 rushing yards. Against North Texas’ Jeffrey Wilson they allowed 49 rushing yards.
If WKU is to move the ball it’ll have to go through FAU’s best defensive unit. The Owls are 43rd in DB Havoc Rate, a solid 61st in Passing S&P+, and 57th in Passing Success Rate. Without their best corner Raekwon Williams, FAU held North Texas’ best receiver, Jalen Guyton, without a reception.
Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley have been tremendous for FAU this season and freshman Zyon Gilbert has held his own. Former star recruit Jalen Young has also played well. The secondary has made huge strides under first-year defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin and will be the most talented secondary Mike White has seen since WKU’s conference opener against Louisiana Tech.
During WKU’s four-game winning streak they’ve had the advantage of not playing with the pressure to score every time out (Ball State, UTEP, ODU, Charlotte). While I doubt we’ll see FAU score on their first 11 possessions like last week, the Owls are going to score points.
Jason Driskel played the best game of his career last week and will go up against the worst Passing S&P+ defense in the country. WKU is also an abysmal 103rd in Passing Success Rate. WKU allowed ODU’s Ray Lawry to rush for 166 yards so I think it’s safe to say FAU won’t have any problems moving the ball on the ground.
Normally teams coming off a huge win are due for a setback the next week but WKU doesn’t match up well against FAU. The Hilltoppers don’t appear capable of having steady success on the ground to exploit FAU’s biggest weakness. They also haven’t been great against the run all season and will play an offensive line that is firing on all cylinders in paving the way for FAU’s running backs.
But there’s something to say for championship DNA. It’s a big game, one that WKU must win if they wish to three-peat, and the Hilltoppers are at home. I see FAU winning but they are going to have to earn it as I don’t see WKU going down easily.
FAU 43 WKU 30
The Rest of C-USA...
FIU at Marshall (Marshall -17, 2:30 PM ET, Stadium)
If FIU is to make a statement that they too should be considered a contender to win C-USA this is the game to do it. The Panthers were embarrassed 52-0 last time they travelled to Huntington. I bet Butch Davis has reminded the Panthers about that score a few times over their bye week. Tyler King had a breakout performance against Middle Tennessee last week and while FIU’s defense is better, I think we could be in store for another great game from the freshman.
The biggest factor in this one is whether or not FIU’s offense can generate any points. With an extra week to prepare we could see FIU catch Marshall off guard with some new wrinkles in the playbook. They’ll need them as the Panthers are 96th in S&P+ on offense. Marshall’s defense is 17th in S&P+. Advantage Marshall. I think FIU’s defense will keep them in the game for a bit but ultimately the Herd will generate some points off of turnovers to make this a blowout victory.
Marshall 34 FIU 13
Louisiana Tech at Rice (Louisiana Tech -13, 3:30 PM ET, FloSports)
La Tech has more talent than Rice. The Bulldogs should win convincingly but if their mindset isn’t right the Owls could play them close to the fourth quarter. We saw Marcus Davenport dominate Rice’s offensive line. Jaylon Ferguson could have a similar performance.
Louisiana Tech 28 Rice 10
Old Dominion at North Texas (North Texas -10.5, 6:30 PM ET, ESPN3)
Old Dominion looked much better on offense against WKU with Ray Lawry back for the second straight week but Steven Williams is still a turnover machine. After one of the worst games in UNT history, I have a hard time seeing Seth Littrell not getting a win this week. Expect UNT to revert back to earlier form this Saturday.
North Texas 41 Old Dominion 24
UAB at Southern Miss (Southern Miss -13, 7:00 PM ET, CUSA TV)
UAB faces a must-win against rival Southern Miss and must hope their issues on offense against Charlotte don’t carry over. The Golden Eagles are allowing 23.3 points per game on defense and rank 19th on defense in S&P+. The “nasty bunch” has played up to their name this season. This isn’t a great matchup for the Blazers. The Blazers excel at running the ball but USM’s biggest strength is run defense as the Golden Eagles are 11th in Rushing Success Rate. USM is still a volatile team due to Keon Howard’s inconsistency as a passer but I think their defense will shutdown UAB so it won’t matter.
Southern Miss 30 UAB 14
UTSA at UTEP (UTSA -16, 8:00 PM ET, CUSA TV)
Last year UTSA and UTEP played in the best Conference USA game of the season. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat performance. The Roadrunners will put this game away early if they can get six instead of three. UTSA is 71st in the country in finishing drives. That’s pretty disappointing when you see UTSA is 41st in Efficiency and 25th in IsoPPP. But even three points will be good enough against this UTEP offense.
UTSA 35 UTEP 7