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Choosing C-USA: A tough Southern Miss defense will be tested against an explosive North Texas offense

The dangerous Jefferey Wilson will be up against a Southern Miss defense that’s known for allowing big plays.

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at North Texas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not one to brag but readers, I’m kind of on fire with the picks right now. Last week Choosing C-USA finished 9-1 and if it wasn’t for FAU, it would have been a perfect 10-0. Going undefeated this week might not be too hard though, as the Week 5 schedule is kind of a dud.

Only two C-USA teams will be involved in a matchup where both squads are .500 or better. As a result, the choice for Game of the Week was easy as the best game this Saturday will take place in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Choosing C-USA Record: 40-8

Game of the Week

North Texas vs Southern Mississippi (Southern Mississippi -9, 7:00 PM ET, C-USA TV)

After winning a shootout against UAB last weekend to start 1-0 in conference play, the Mean Green will play a 2-1 Southern Miss team coming off of a bye.

Last week we talked about how tough it would be for UAB to contain UNT’s explosive offense and the game played out that way as UNT averaged 7.4 yards per play. On the ground UNT averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Jeffery Wilson finished with 211 rushing yards while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. When Wilson is going, UNT is tough to stop.

The Southern Miss defense has already played against a tough rushing attack in Kentucky, and played well as they limited the ‘Cats to 3.0 yards per rushing attempt. However, Benny Snell Jr. lacks the game-breaking speed that Jeffery Wilson possesses and that might be an issue.

While the Golden Eagles rank 4th in Rushing Success Rate as a defense, they are 114th in Rushing IsoPPP. When a ball carrier breaks through USM’s tough front seven, they keep running for a little bit. Louisiana-Monroe had three different ball carriers that recorded runs of 25 yards or more against Southern Miss two weeks ago.

That’s not a great recipe against UNT’s offense as their identity is big plays from Wilson. UNT still ranks in the top 10 in Rushing Iso PPP, but they can be efficient too as they are 27th in Rushing Success Rate. Southern Miss had issues with giving up the big play last year and that’s still a problem in 2017. With an extra week to prepare, maybe some corrections have been made.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Southern Mississippi
The Southern Miss defense thrives off of negative plays as they rank 20th in Overall Havoc Rate.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Being that this game will have two of the best running backs in Conference USA in Ito Smith and Jefferey Wilson, alongside two quarterbacks who still have to prove their mettle in Kwadra Griggs and Mason Fine, the key to the game will be which offense can succeed on passing downs and perhaps more importantly, avoid passing downs.

On offense North Texas ranks 19th in Passing Downs Success Rate and 44th in Passing Downs IsoPPP and will play a stingy defense that is the best in the country in Passing Downs Success Rate and 13th in Passing Downs IsoPPP.

Seniors Curtis Mikell, Kevin Williams Jr., Tarvarius Moore, and Kelsey Douglas haven’t played an offense that will test them like North Texas’ will through the air, but they’ve been nonetheless stout.

On the flip side UNT ranks 116th in Passing Downs Success Rate on defense and 124th in Passing Downs IsoPPP. Allenzae Staggers and Korey Robertson should have huge games as long as Kwadra Griggs is accurate. USM isn’t efficient when passing the ball but they are explosive, as they are 21st in Passing IsoPPP.

I see this as an even draw offensively but I trust Southern Miss’ defense. USM will for sure allow huge plays that will keep the Mean Green in it, but I think the bye week will help USM figure out some things defensively as they make a few more stops than UNT and grab a few turnovers. This will be a great game with the winner officially entrenching themselves as a challenger to La Tech and UTSA.

Southern Miss 42 North Texas 33

The rest of C-USA…

Rice at Pittsburgh (+20, 12:00 PM ET, ACCN)

Pittsburgh’s defense has been shredded this year as Pitt head coach Pat Narduzi hasn’t had a solid defense since his defensive coordinator days at Michigan State. But that won’t matter against Rice.

Pittsburgh 44 Rice 10

UTEP at Army (UTEP +24, 3:30 PM ET, CBSSN)

Last year Army was a 3.5 point favorite against UTEP. Now, Vegas thinks they are 24 points better than the Miners. This is probably UTEP’s best chance to prevent a winless season.

Army 48 UTEP 21

Charlotte at FIU (FIU -13, 7:00 PM ET, beIN)

This will be the first home game at the new Riccardo Silva Stadium. At 2-1 and 1-0 in conference play, this is a huge opportunity for the Panthers. FIU under Ron Turner loses this game. We’ll see if Butch Davis has truly changed the culture of underachieving that we know all too well from the Panthers. The offense hasn’t clicked at all so far as they are averaging 15.6 points per game and rank 104th in S&P+. Charlotte’s defense is 126th in S&P+. This is FIU’s last chance to get some things figured out offensively as they won’t face a worse defense than this in conference play.

FIU 28 Charlotte 3

Middle Tennessee at FAU (no line, 7:00 PM ET, Stadium)

With the status of Brent Stockstill and Richie James still up in the air there’s no line. Lane Kiffin is still caught in between starting Daniel Parr and Jason Driskell. If Stockstill and James are both out, the Owls will win. I think James will play though as I can’t see the Sarasota native missing his homecoming game. As Owl fans know, James is enough for MTSU to win.

Middle Tennessee 35 FAU 24

South Alabama at Louisiana Tech (La Tech -14, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN 3)

Both Louisiana Tech and South Alabama are coming off of heartbreaking losses. USA lost their Sun Belt opener at home to Idaho in double overtime, while La Tech gave up a game-winning field goal to South Carolina. The Bulldogs are at home, and are the more talented team so I’m choosing them to bounce back.

Louisiana Tech 38 South Alabama 20

Marshall at Cincinnati (Marshall +4, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN 3)

The Herd has had two weeks to prepare for Cincy. Doc Holliday’s record at Marshall when having nine or more days to prepare for an opponent - not including the season opener - is 7-5. Take away the bowl games and it’s 3-5. Not exactly great. I see this as a low scoring game as both offenses have been spotty. I think Marshall has the better offense though. Tyler King looked the part against Kent State and if Chase Litton can stay away from turnovers I think Marshall can move to 3-0 against teams from Ohio this season as their passing offense is much better than Cincy’s. The key to the game will be if Marshall can stop Cincy’s rushing attack as dual-threat Hayden Moore, and running backs Mike Boone and Gerrid Doaks, are quite capable of doing damage.

Marshall 23 Cincinnati 20