This difficult season continues. While the nation is moving closer to a level of stability with the virus, the big pharmaceutical companies are creeping toward a vaccine. There are more rapid tests available, but standardizing the way they are processed is still in-progress. Last night’s presidential debate confirmed that the strangeness of this year is not merely in your mind as there was something like a consensus that it was the worst debate in history. I do not disagree.
The CUSA season has limped forward. Rice began practicing, and hopes to play soon. Louisiana Tech is 2-0, meanwhile, and UTSA and UAB have both managed to contest three games. Pre- and post-game analysis is nearly meaningless, but during the games, we get a little sense of normalcy — a bad third down call here, a great play there.
After just a month of play (for some) we should stop and take review. We paused the normal CUSA Power Rankings for this season, as there is no way to reasonably compare these teams. Instead, we will use a different mechanism for discussing each of the 13 (no ODU) teams in the league. That mechanism? Total wins.
UTSA 3-0, 1-0
The Roadrunners escaped against a solid Texas State team just up the road1. They then beat FCS Stephen F. Austin at home just 24-10 and followed that with a shootout win over hapless MTSU 37-35 in which starter Frank Harris went down. In the decade of football at UTSA there has been a history of What If He Didn’t Get Injured: QB Edition. Frank Harris has loads of talent but has just about the same number of injuries.
UAB is the best team in the league not named Marshall and it is a tough ask to win on the road at Legion Field in Birmingham. Beyond that, a trip to BYU (the unofficial CUSA buddy during this pandemic crisis) then home vs Army. We cannot say that UTSA is good in the normal sense, but they have played their games and gotten wins. That’s what this whole thing is about.
Bonus Note: Head Coach Jeff Traylor basically quoting Ted Lasso.
UTEP 3-1, 0-0
Yes, I was also shocked to read this. UTEP beat FCS SFA 24-14 to start the season before being sacrificed to Texas in Austin. Then came a very underwhelming win over FCS Abilene Christian 17-13 until the squad impressed with a 31-6 win over ULM. You are forgiven if your first thought is “ULM must be bad.” For one, that is not an untrue statement (ULM is 0-3 and gave up 30+ in all of those).
I can’t see the Miners replicating this performance against anyone else on the schedule. Everyone should enjoy that 500+ yard explosion and prepare themselves for more heartache the rest of the way. The offense has been woeful and the defense cannot really stop anyone with a competent offense.
Marshall 2-0, 0-0
The Herd upset App State and then were ranked in the AP Top 25. Unfortunately, Doc Holliday’s squad were unable to continue the fun ride as the game vs Rice was postponed and no make up game was announced for that week. They line up against WKU on the 10th and that seems like a long way away from now. The Herd are a good team on both sides of the ball. New QB Grant Wells has impressed not only in his execution, but in his leadership. Brenden Knox is in the conversation for best RB in the league and Doc Holliday has seen it all.
WKU looks worse than it did last season, but Tech should be trouble. We haven’t seen FAU thus far, but Middle and Charlotte should be winnable. If I were to wager on the outcome, I would put Marshall in the favorite position to represent the East.
Louisiana Tech 2-0, 1-0
Tech has had two entertaining wins but one can poke some holes in their quality. USM is a non-good team, it turns out, and needing an epic comeback to edge them out is unimpressive though entertaining. HBU is a good little team but a 66-38 win over that squad is par. I do want to note that HBU’s QB Zappe is my favorite FCS player at the moment. He has been ridiculous in three games, averaging over 400+ and 3 TDs against FBS competition.
I am not knocking Tech here. Let it be known I think they are a solid squad, but an untested one. BYU this week is a huge game. BYU is a quality program and boasts a national title and a Heisman winner. Tech is also a storied program. These two teams have never met. The Cougars have thus far beaten Navy (55-3) and Troy (48-7) and are ranked 22nd in the nation.
This is a great time to shine on a Friday night on the road. Tech has been a solid program the last few years without much league hardware to show for it. They have not emerged from the division but have win six straight bowl games.
After BYU, Tech is scheduled to play UTEP, Marshall, UTSA and UAB in October. Yes, that is both division favorites in one month. Tech will have plenty of chances to display their talent and quality.
UAB 2-1, 0-0
The Blazers are the best team in the division but have weaknesses. They also may have COVID-19 after playing Southern Alabama last week (and winning 42-10). The one loss was to Miami, which was all about a talent disparity at the QB position.
UAB will not play another team with as good of an offense as the Hurricanes had, and outside of a test in Ruston vs Louisiana Tech, the Blazers should be favored in every contest the rest of the way. That begins this week with the annual Children’s Harbor game against UTSA. UAB is on a 19-game win stream in CUSA at Legion. RB Spencer Brown is playing his best football right now.
UTSA should be feisty, with an occasionally lively offensive drive or two, and an opportunistic defense. It is hard to imagine much taking this Blazer team down that is not a virus.
North Texas 1-1, 0-0
The Mean Green traded blowouts to start the season. They rolled over the aforementioned HBU squad before being steamrolled themselves by SMU. The offense looks mostly fine, but the defense has regressed from a poor showing last season. The message-boarders blame the coach but offer excuses for the blow out — the starting linebacker duo was out with (probably COVID) a medical issue and there were injuries to start the game.
NT had to postponed the game vs Houston because of a COVID-19 outbreak/contact tracing that reduced a position group to unplayable status. No one expected much from NT this season, but the defense should be better than it has played. Seth Littrell fired both of his coordinators after last year’s losing season (his second in four years) and so that button cannot be easily pressed again on the defensive side.
USM is not a good football team and was just humiliated by Tulane. This game should be entertaining as each offense has talent (Tim Jones, Jaelon Darden) and there will be scoring.
The rest of the way really depends on the defense for North Texas. Charlotte, Middle, UTEP, Rice (maybe) and UTSA are all winnable if the defense can allow fewer than 25points and 500 yards.
Tech, and @UAB are pretty much guaranteed losses, while the Rice, UTSA, and Charlotte games are toss ups if the defense cannot stop anyone. A lot is riding on the young QBs — NT is still going with the co-starter nonsense — and that screams uncertainty.
These Teams Have Not Played
FAU, Rice 0-0, 0-0
It is hard to get a feel for the defending league champs and the up-and-coming squad out West. Both sets of Owls have yet to play thus far. Rice has postponed four games and will begin play on Halloween vs USM. There is a competitive advantage to being uninjured by a month of football when taking on the league squads at that time but there is a competitive disadvantage in being rusty.
For FAU, they have postponed just the two games and will take on Charlotte this week. FAU is opening the season here, while Charlotte has not played since September 12. Last year FAU shut down the feel good mood at club LIT by smacking the upstart team 45-27. Charlotte looked good early against a good Appalachian State team in the opener before falling off. The had to postpone the next two games.
FAU is breaking in a new QB in Nick Tronti after Chris Robison was dismissed from the team. Of course also new is head coach Willie Taggart, taking over for the departed Lane Kiffin. Taggart previously coached at WKU and recently was fired as coach of Florida State.
FAU is talented (again) and Taggart is known as a hell of a recruiter. Translating talent into conference titles is what Lane Kiffin did (2 in 3 years) and it falls to his successor to continue that.
These Teams Have Yet To Win
Charlotte 0-1, 0-0
As we mentioned above, Charlotte looked good against Appalachian State in the opener before falling apart late. This team was surprising last season in the first year of the career of Will Healy. There were shirts-off, and viral gifs. It was fun. Charlotte showed a good little offense (again) in the opener, and that is enough to win a few games in this league. They have yet to reach the talent depth of a Marshall or FAU, and Healy is still building his team. That means we can expect some incomplete games vs talented competition.
Therefore, we are not too surprised or down on this 49er team after the performance vs Appalachian State. Playing FAU to start is a tough matchup, especially on the road. The 49ers have the advantage of having played a game, but that was three weeks ago. After this, UNT is on the docket, followed by FIU, UTEP, and Duke in October.
I would not be surprised if Charlotte won 3 of those 5, but I also would not hold it against them if they came out of October with a losing record. This is still a team in transition, and the East has some talent and good coaches. These 9ers are giving themselves a chance by playing good football. That can be enough to make another nice run.
FIU 0-1, 0-0
Liberty put up over 500 yards of offense compared to FIU’s 304. RB D’vonte Price was the entire offense — running for 148 and scoring three total TDs. FIU had a chance to tie late but failed on the two-point attempt. Their final last-gasp drive stalled on downs after two sacks.
Of course, Liberty is a solid team for its level, was playing at home, and had already played a game while FIU was opening its season.
Still, after a disappointing year in which the Panthers were supposed to compete seriously for the league title and instead only managed an epic upset over a nearby FBS team 2. This season looks like a re-tooling one with more of these frustrating outings in store. FIU looks destined to drop another to FAU, lose to Marshall and probably Tech.
The wins can probably be had vs Marshall, WKU, UTEP (although this is in El Paso). Its a tough season ahead.
WKU 0-2, 0-0
Tyson Helton impressed with his coaching last year. In 2020, he has burned through some of that goodwill but at a slower rate thanks to the pandemic. Losing at Louisville is forgivable. Losing to Liberty is not, especially at home. The offense was putrid, as it adjusts to Tyrell Pigrome at the controls. The former Maryland starter was supposed to be the catalyst, a steady-hand that provided some dynamism.
WKU, when it was winning titles, was known for its explosive offense and talented defense. Since they had to replace Jeff Brohm in 2016, it has been a boring time in Bowling Green. Playing Middle on the road this week should be something like a salve. Middle can score in bunches when it isn’t self-destructing, so the Helton offense better improve quickly.
Middle Tennessee 0-3, 0-1
Middle got rocked vs Army and looked bad, and unprepared. Against Troy, they were destroyed, and looked lifeless on offense. Against UTSA they scored and moved the ball well but turned the ball over. Asher O’Hara is the entire offense and that is a huge burden and a big risk. O’Hara threw two interceptions vs UTSA and that went a long way toward losing the game. He’s up to five interceptions on the season in three games against just the three TD tosses (all against UTSA). Last year he threw 20 scores against 8 picks.
He has been contained in the run game this season. In 2019, he rushed 199 for 1044 and 9 scores but has only managed 3.7 per tote this season. Western is next up, and they are vulnerable. FIU looks iffy and UNT might allow another 55-pointer without much effort even for this Middle team.
The fact is that everyone looks at Middle as a winnable game and that is not where coach Stockstill wants his program.
Southern Miss 0-3, 0-1
This team was supposed to be explosive on offense and talented on defense, and possibly challenge for the west division if UAB slipped up. Instead, it is down a handful of players and one coach. The Hopson move was a long time coming, but the player exodus is evidence of a program with some rot.
Southern Miss can still draw some major talent that can be molded into a winner, but some investment needs to be made into the infrastructure if it wants anything beyond it. USM may not be able to afford the highest paid coach in the league — but can it afford to keep paying coaches the least amount every season?
The stadium, facilities, and everything else needs some looking-after and this season is the result of a long list of decisions that happened in the decade previous.
All that said, no one had better sleep on USM lest they risk getting 40 put on them.