After the big, huge, gigantic win over UAB last week, UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor said he asked for a plane back to San Antonio, rather than the bus ride. He said, that maybe he was violating the culture tenet by doing so but his kids deserved it. That was an indicator that despite the right things being said — Traylor said he knew UNT could ruin their season but they could ruin their season (NT was playing for bowl eligibility) and players said they were fully focused on NT — perhaps the UTSA eyes were not fully on the prize.
Seth Littrell was perhaps coaching for his job, but a secretly confident North Texas staff1 had their charges ready. The Mean Green were very mean, running for 340 yards and six touchdowns. The cold and rain helped cause multiple fumbles — 6, 3 lost 2— on UTSA’s side, but that merely gave UNT more opportunities to show how powerful the run game was. It was mighty telling that North Texas largely played in short sleeves, while UTSA was wearing ponchos on their sideline.
Everything written and said in the post-loss haze is true: UTSA’s season is still memorable, exciting, notable, and not over. There is at least one championship game to play and an all-but-certain bowl invite. Still, competitors know when something special is within reach and that makes it all the more disappointing and frustrating if it is not achieved3
For North Texas, a remarkable turnaround from 1-6 -> 6-6 is commendable, and probably saved Seth Littrell’s long-term career prospects, in Denton and elsewhere. Rushing for 300+ against FIU was fine but considering that was the league’s worst defense it was not necessarily guaranteed that they could repeat the feat vs UTSA. Now, UAB ran through UTSA for a good portion of last week’s matchup, but held their own against McBride and company after making an adjustment. The cold was a factor, but full credit to the Mean Green run game
Final from Denton: NT 45 UTSA (22) 23
Over in Huntington, the Thundering Herd had set up another big game at home to decide their fate. You might remember last season they hosted the CUSA title game vs UAB and lost, thanks to an underwhelming first half. They had also dropped an awful game vs Rice 20-0, to drop from the national polls and put themselves in a questionable spot. That loss and the title game failure ultimately cost the head coach the job. This outcome was something of a boon to the decision-makers, as new head coach Charles Huff had the Herd in a good spot: Win, and you fly to San Antonio for a date with the UTSA Roadrunners.
Instead, Bailey Zappe and WKU dominated going away. It started well enough for Marshall, as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead, and looked like they had WKU figured. After half-time, and a Grant Wells departure, it became the Zappe show. He had loads of time in the backfield, found his guys in ridiculous space, and the offense simply out-executed their defensive counterparts.
For head coach Tyson Helton, it was yet another feather in his cap. The headline is that he reached out to coordinator Zach Kittley and Zappe and the Sterns brothers’ following was “organic“. Sure. It does not really matter how he got it done, just that he did. He recruited the best QB in the league, and a couple of stud WRs, and that has put his crew in line for a league title. The question coming in — at least for CR — was if the defense could be solid enough where Zappe did not have to score every time down.
In this game, helped by the injury to Wells, they did enough. Luke Zban is no Frank Harris, a guy who was pulled from the NT game after the Mean Green jumped out to a 31-13 halftime lead. Harris threw for six scores and 349 in Bowling Green back in early October.
We will have much more on the CUSA title game (including in-person coverage) later. Right now, consider that the early line is UTSA -2.5, which means the bookies do not necessarily love how UTSA is playing right now even with something like 90% of a 50K crowd in their favor.
Final: WKU 53 Marshall 21
On Friday, we saw UAB end their season with a beat down of UTEP that was a little closer than we thought it would be at first. The Blazers had a season that was disappointing by their own standards. The new stadium was supposed to be something like a victory lap and a crown. Instead, UAB lost a couple of games there — including the inaugural game. Still, the Blazers had a real shot of winning the west division, and were about 88% there before one bad decision (Bill Clark’s failure to go for it vs UTSA ) and one poorly defended drive ended the title defense. Bill Clark’s wife was firing off hot sports opinions about the fans on Facebook, and suddenly things are not super amazing with the Clark-UAB relationship.
In this one, UAB was briefly challenged by UTEP before establishing the proper hierarchy. Dana Dimel’s UTEP squad had a bright start … on paper, but close watchers saw the struggle-wins over poor competition. The big showcase game vs UTSA was a dude, and the win over Rice was semi-impressive. Everything else — even the almost-comeback vs UNT — was very disappointing. The Dimel offense is not designed to be super entertaining, but effective. It is only half-way so, and while attempts are made to get he ball to Cowing et al, it is all tool late, or too predictable to make a real impact.
Dimel has his Miners bowl eligible, but I do not know if many Miner fans really buy that as progress.
Final: UAB 42 UTEP 25
Rice 35 Tech 31
Skip Holtz and Tech announced the parting of ways (read: firing) before the game. That can inspire or deflate. It seemed to be the latter. Playing at Rice Stadium, always empty, and uninspiring can deflate anyone and Rice tends to take advantage of that. Mike Bloomgren will remain at Rice, which is a strange thing to announce or even mention unless it was a surprise or a consideration otherwise. He had a disappointing season by far. His Owls beat Marshall, and held their own vs UAB until late in 2020. They brought back a number of super-seniors with the thinking that they would continue that quality play. They did not. So more of that is coming.
ODU 56 Charlotte 34
The Monarchs are the best story in the league that is not WKU or UTSA. They bounced back from a Idle year, and have impressed, becoming bowl-eligible in Rahne’s first year. Beating Charlotte, the one-time darlings of the early CUSA season is impressive in that they took care of business. New head coach Ricky Rahne has his squad set up for lots of success even though it will be hard to get six more wins next year. Talent is still required, but it looks like that will be easier to amass after this campaign.
Will Healy’s 49ers fell on their faces after about mid season. There was a lot of momentum, and a lot of good happening. Beating Duke at home was great, but Duke is also parting ways with David Cutcliffe, sort of undermining that accomplishment. The ClubLIT campaign will begin to look silly if more losses come this way.
MTSU 27, FAU 17
Meanwhile, Middle jumped up and became a solid team. The Blue Raiders reached bowl-eligibility over one-time CR dark-horse FAU. Roster-to-roster, FAU has more talent, but it did not look like it. Head coach Rick Stockstill has a reputation of reaching some kind of consistency with that program no matter what. Remember that one year where he fell into hosting the title game? Well now his squad is bowl-eligible.
FAU, on the other hand, has a problem with Willie Taggert. He had talent, and is known as a good recruiter. He is also known for his offenses … but we are only seeing shadows of that. The talent on his roster is not executing for the entire game. It sure looks like the FAU we saw before Kiffin: talented but not reaching their potential.
Here are some projections from friend-of-the-site CUSABBS:
Here is a consideration and possible moment for some politicking.
Middle Tennessee has already accepted an invite to the Bahamas Bowl. Congratulations are in order there. The general sense I get is that no one really wants to travel very far for a bowl — UNT fans are hoping for a Frisco Bowl invite, for example.
“We thought UTSA could be run on” said one staff member↩
UNT fumbled the ball a few times, but didn’t do it in crucial moments or recovered the ones that were in crucial times ↩