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Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10

Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are sitting at 3-5 overall. The Rebels are facing a must win for the rest of the season starting with Georgia Southern in Week 10. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)
Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are sitting at 3-5 overall. The Rebels are facing a must win for the rest of the season starting with Georgia Southern in Week 10. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10

We have now entered the final full month of regular season action the 2016 college football season. Week 10 offers us #8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, #22 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, TCU at #13 Baylor, #10 Florida at Arkansas, Iowa at #20 Penn State, and the two biggest games on Saturday night: #1 Alabama at #15 LSU and #9 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Louisville at Boston College (11/5 at 12 PM) – Ever since Louisville lost at Clemson they have not looked like the same team. They struggled against Duke at home, took care of NC State at home, but then struggled at Virginia. They needed a late touchdown to defeat the Cavaliers on the road and now they go to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College.

The Eagles sit at 4-4 overall and still have a solid chance at making a bowl game even with a loss. However, they can give Louisville fits if their defense is playing at their very best.

This game is bigger for Louisville because they have struggled since the loss at Clemson. They still have an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff, but how will the Committee view them if they continue to squeak by teams? A big win would help Louisville here.

2. Air Force at Army (11/5 at 12 PM) – The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is at stake in this game for Air Force. Both teams are 5-3 and win puts Air Force in a bowl while Army would still need another victory due to their schedule containing two FCS schools.

Air Force started 4-0 including a 28-14 win at home against Navy. They then lost the next three games before needing a rally against Fresno State to reach 5-3. Army started 3-0 before back-to-back close losses to Buffalo and Duke on the road. They crushed Lafayette before North Texas soundly defeated the Black Knights. Army was able to get a big win last week against Wake Forest on the road to reach 5-3.

Army can also win the CIC Trophy by defeating Air Force this week and Navy to end the regular reason. This will be a fun game to watch the old school triple option offense from both teams.

3. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (11/5 at 12 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications for both teams. Georgia Southern is 4-4 overall with their final three games consisting of Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State (away), and Troy. They will probably be favored in two of those games and a bowl game still looks likely even with a loss here.

The same cannot be said for Ole Miss and they must treat every game as a must win. They are currently 3-5 with Texas A&M (away), Vanderbilt (away), and Mississippi State after this game. They can lose only one game the rest of the way and still make a bowl. Given their schedule (read as: Texas A&M), this is not the one to drop.

4. Texas at Texas Tech (11/5 at 12 PM) – Neither of these squads will be winning the Big 12, but the bowl implications are huge. Both teams sit at 4-4 overall and their schedules to end the season require little margin for error.

Texas will face West Virginia, Kansas (away), and TCU after this contest. Texas Tech will play Oklahoma State (away), Iowa State (away), and Baylor. Now we can see why the winner of this game will be in much better position to make a bowl.

Looking beyond this game and season, could either or both coaches be fired if they fail to make a bowl game? Some outlets already have marked Charlie Strong as a lame duck. What about Kliff Kingsbury? That would make it two of four years that Texas Tech did not reach a bowl under Kingsbury, assuming they do not win two of their final four games in 2016. He probably will not be fired if the Red Raiders fail to make a bowl game, but his seat will undoubtedly be warmer.

5. Pittsburgh at Miami (FL) (11/5 at 12:30 PM) – What a difference a month makes for both teams. Pittsburgh was 2-2 going into October, but have come out ahead with a 3-1 record last month to make them 5-3.

Miami was 3-0 after September and it was 4-0 after defeating Georgia Tech, but it has been all downhill since. The Canes have lost four in a row with three games determined by a touchdown or less. Miami has a forgiving schedule the final month with games against Pitt, Virginia (away), NC State (away), and Duke, but nothing can be taken for granted with the slide they are currently on.

Pittsburgh has Miami (away), Clemson (away), Duke, and Syracuse to end the season. Both teams look likely to make a bowl game based on the schedules, but this game will be worth watching to see how they respond to losses last week.

6. UT-San Antonio at Middle Tennessee (11/5 at 2:30 PM) – Both teams are alive in their respective Division races in Conference USA. UTSA is 3-2 in the West and sit a game out of first place. Middle Tennessee is 3-1 in the East and are a half-game behind Western Kentucky in the win column, but the Hilltoppers own the head-to-head victory.

A loss for either team will probably end their hopes of making the Conference USA Championship Game. Middle Tennessee faces Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic to end the season. They will probably be favored in all three of those, but would still need a loss or two from Western Kentucky to make the Championship Game.

UTSA faces Louisiana Tech (away), Texas A&M (away), and Charlotte to end the season. A loss here and they would be 4-5, out of the West Division race, and facing the real possibility of missing a bowl game. The Roadrunners are also 1-2 on the road this year. Their win was over lowly Rice by a score of 14-13. This game is very big for the Roadrunners.

7. Hawaii at San Diego State (11/5 at 7 PM) – San Diego State can put a hammerlock on the West Division of the Mountain West with a win. The Aztecs sit 4-0 in conference while Hawaii is 3-2. Hawaii is currently the only other team in the West Division that has not lost at least 3 conference games.

The Aztecs are also still in the race for the Group of 5 bid to one of the New Year’s Six Bowls. They need some help with Western Michigan still undefeated as well as Boise State having only one loss. Those two may also face in the Mountain West Championship Game.

As for Hawaii, they are currently 4-5 overall and will need to reach 7 wins to make a bowl game. They wrap up with Boise State, Fresno State (away), and Massachusetts. This is basically a must win game for Hawaii to reach those 7 wins.

8. Georgia at Kentucky (11/5 at 7:30 PM) – This is weird to fathom, but Kentucky is currently the second placed team in the SEC East and also have a better overall record (5-3) than Georgia (4-4).

Georgia really has not looked good since their opening win against North Carolina. They struggled against Nicholls State and Missouri to reach 3-0, but are just 1-4 their last five games including devastating late game losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home.

Kentucky started 2-3 this year, but have reeled off three straight wins to reach 5-3. Kentucky has not finished ahead of Georgia in the SEC East since 2006 when both teams finished 4-4 in the SEC and Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs that year.

With a win Kentucky will be in a bowl, but probably would make one even with a loss against Georgia. They face Tennessee (away), Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). For Georgia, they face Auburn, UL-Lafayette, and Georgia Tech all at home to end the season. A loss is not crushing for the Bulldogs, but it will make things far easier for this inconsistent and underachieving team.

Check back next week for the week 11 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West's Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)
Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

We are entering the final weekend in October and there are some huge games on the horizon this week and beyond. For week nine the big games are #10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, #14 Florida at Georgia, #4 Washington at #17 Utah, #7 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin, and #3 Clemson at #12 Florida State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (10/27 at 7:30 PM) –  This is a massive game for both teams as well as the Sun Belt title picture. Appalachian State sits at 5-2 overall and 3-0 in conference while Georgia Southern is 4-3 overall, but 3-1 in the Sun Belt.

Georgia Southern started the year 3-0 before three straight losses including a 27-26 loss to Arkansas State on the road. They rebounded to defeat New Mexico State last week 22-19 in what was their fourth straight road game.

Appalachian State had that excellent defensive game versus Tennessee to start the season and have only had one stumble and one hiccup since then. They were crushed at home by Miami (FL) 45-10 and played a thrilling 45-38  game at Akron, which they won. Their defense will have a test against the Georgia Southern triple option.

Both teams still have to face fellow Sun Belt contender Troy later this year. Appalachian State travels to play them on 11/12 while Georgia Southern faces them at home on 12/3. This game could make the Appalachian State-Troy game the Sun Belt decider if Georgia Southern cannot get the win.

2. Connecticut at East Carolina (10/29 at 12 PM) – This game will probably determine which team finishes at the bottom of the AAC East. Currently, Connecticut is at 1-4 in AAC play and East Carolina is 0-3.

Connecticut has been a tough customer this year in almost every game. However, they only have a 3-5 record to show for it with five of their games determined 8 points or less (2-3 record). East Carolina has not been so tough with just a 2-5 record overall and five straight losses. Only the loss at South Carolina (20-15) has been less than a touchdown with the other four losses all by 12 points or more.

This game also has potential bowl implications. A win for Connecticut would still keep their hopes alive with three difficult, but winnable games to end the season. A win for East Carolina would keep their bowl hopes alive, but still leave them a lot of work to do with Tulsa, SMU, Navy, and Temple to end the season. A loss for either team leaves zero margin for error the rest of the season.

3. Duke at Georgia Tech (10/29 at 12 PM) – Neither of these two squads will win the ACC Coastal, but they both have legitimate hopes for reaching a bowl game. And both teams need to win this game when looking at their final four games.

Let’s start with Duke’s final five games: Georgia Tech (away), Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh (away), and Miami (FL) (away). For Georgia Tech it is Duke, North Carolina (away), Virginia Tech (away), Virginia, and Georgia (away).

With Duke currently at 3-4, this win would put them at .500 and the Blue Devils would need two wins. Given their last four games, they would have to be two upsets, which are possible with this team, but would also be a very tall order. Georgia Tech would move to 5-3 with a win and they would need one win to reach a bowl game with Virginia their best chance to win.

4. Kentucky at Missouri (10/29 at 12 PM) – Here is a contest that could elicit quite a bit of offense. Missouri’s decent start to the season has completely dissipated with the defense giving up 44.3 points and 580 yards per game over their last three games. Kentucky’s offense put up 554 yards on Mississippi State in their 40-38 win last week.

Kentucky is in much better shape to make a bowl game with their 4-3 record. After Missouri, they will face Georgia, Tennessee (away), FCS Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). A win here and they are very likely to hit 6 wins this year at minimum. Missouri needs a lot of help sitting at 2-5, but a win here helps somewhat. They finish with South Carolina (away), Vanderbilt, Tennessee (away), and Arkansas.

5. Army at Wake Forest (10/29 at 3:30 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications. Army started 2016 quite well going 3-0 before losing back-to-back games on the road to Buffalo and Duke by a combined 10 points. They crushed Lafayette before last week’s blowout loss to North Texas at home 35-18. At 4-3 there are plenty of chances let for this team to get to 6 or 7 wins and this could be a game they can steal.

Wake Forest has been a surprise team this year and are currently at 5-2. Their losses have been to North Carolina State and Florida State on the road, but this defense has been good. Their hands will be full as their defense allows 119.3 rushing yards per game and will face Army’s top ranked rushing attack that averages 366.8 yards per game.

Army finishes the season with the trio of Air Force, Notre Dame, and Morgan State at home before the finale against Navy. If Army can steal a win here, they will be in solid shape. On the flip side, a win here for Wake Forest will put them in their first bowl game since 2011 when they lost the Music City Bowl to Mississippi State 23-17.

6. SMU at Tulane (10/29 at 4 PM) – Here is another potential basement battle (in the AAC West), but both teams still have a shot at making a bowl game despite identical 3-4 records.

SMU is coming off their blowout win at home over #11 Houston 38-16 and a close loss the week before on the road at Tulsa (43-40). SMU will be facing Memphis, East Carolina (away), South Florida, and Navy to end the season so a win against Tulane would still require an upset or two in order to become bowl eligible.

Tulane has lost two in a row against Memphis (24-14 at home) and Tulsa last week (50-27). Their final four games are Central Florida (away), Houston (away), Temple, and Connecticut (away). A win here and they would have a decent chance of beating both Central Florida and Connecticut to become bowl eligible, but those are both away games.

7. Boise State at Wyoming (10/29 at 7 PM) – The Mountain West’s Mountain division title could be on the line here. Both Boise State and Wyoming sit at 3-0 in conference play though a win could be far more important for the Broncos.

Boise State is 7-0 overall, but their last two games have not been easy. Two weeks ago they led Colorado State 28-3 with 5 minutes left in the game and held on for a 28-23 win. Last week’s game against BYU saw the Broncos commit 5 turnovers including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, but a fourth quarter rally and strong defense in the final 15 minutes saw them eke out a 28-27 win.

Wyoming is currently 5-2 overall and there is a distinct pattern to their wins: they score a lot of points. In each of their 5 victories they have put up at least 35 points while in their two losses they have averaged just 20.5 points. They may have to score 35 or more points if they want to win this game and take control of the Mountain Division.

A win here for Boise State would likely wrap up the division for them with four games to play. The Broncos face San José State, Hawaii (away), UNLV, and Air Force (away) in the final four games and it is difficult to see them losing more than one game, if they even lose any at all. The Broncos can still overcome a loss but would need help from Wyoming’s final four opponents: Utah State, UNLV (away), San Diego State, and New Mexico (away). That is possible, but the Broncos have their sights set on a possible big bowl game and they can only do that by winning out.

8. Middle Tennessee at Florida International (7 PM) – Both of these squads are part of the wide open C-USA East division race. Middle Tennessee stepped out of conference play to defeat the SEC East’s Missouri Tigers. Florida International lost their first conference game last week to Louisiana Tech at home 44-24.

Middle Tennessee looks like the better team on paper, but that is not where games are played. Their two losses are to Vanderbilt on the road (47-24) and Western Kentucky at home in double overtime (44-43). That loss to WKU has already put them a bit behind the Hilltoppers and MTSU still has to play UT-San Antonio, Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic. The UTSA game is clearly the most difficult, but they cannot overlook their road games.

FIU started 0-4 before winning three straight against Florida Atlantic, UTEP, and Charlotte. As previously mentioned, they lost to Louisiana Tech and the competition becomes harder with MTSU this week followed by Western Kentucky (away), Marshall, and Old Dominion (away) to end the season. FIU still has a chance to win this division, but it will not be easy and they must win this game.

Check back next week for the week ten edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Five Predictions For Conference USA In 2016

Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill against Alabama in 2015. Stockstill is one of the top passers and is only a sophomore this year. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill against Alabama in 2015. Stockstill is one of the top passers in C-USA and is only a sophomore this year. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For Conference USA In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Conference USA for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the teams in 2016 as all thirteen teams will be the same from 2015 with seven teams in East Division and six in the West Division. The seven East teams are Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Western Kentucky. The six West teams are Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Southern Mississippi, Rice, UTEP, and UT-San Antonio.

Here are five predictions for Conference USA in 2016:

1. Rice will win the West Division – This will be either a spectacular pick or “what was I thinking pick?”. Rice has a total of 16 starters returning (7 on offense and 9 on defense), but will have to break in a new quarterback. The defense gave up 35.8 and 447 yards per game in 2015, but that was with only three starters back and that number triples this year, which should provide a vast improvement.

Rice will have to navigate a tough conference schedule of Western Kentucky (on the road in week one), at Southern Miss, and at Louisiana Tech. Each team in the West has questions surrounding them going into 2016 and Rice has a solid chance of taking the division this season.

2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – Should this prediction come true, it would be the first bowl in school history for Old Dominion. ODU played in the FCS between 2009 and 2013 while taking the step up to the FBS and C-USA in 2014. They went 6-6 in 2014 (were not bowl eligible) and then 5-7 last year. Last year’s team lost a lot of experience and had 7 starters back on offense with 5 on defense while the quarterback position lost both experience and time due to injury.

2016 should produce better numbers on both sides staring with offense. 9 are back on that side including the both quarterbacks, the top three running backs, and the top five receivers. They had 24.3 points and 371 yards per game in 2015 while those numbers should go up. The defense gave up 35.8 points and 437 yards per game, but will return 8 starters from last year while those numbers should go down.

The schedule will be tricky with non conference games against Appalachian State and North Carolina State with those two both away from home. In conference, they have to deal with Western Kentucky (away), Marshall (home), Southern Miss (home), and Florida Atlantic (away). They can certainly reach six wins with games against Hampton, UTSA, Charlotte, UMass, UTEP, Florida International and a possible upset against the previously mentioned teams will go a long way to securing their first bowl bid.

3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – Charlotte is entering their fourth season of football with the first two played against weaker teams (FCS, DII, and DIII). 2015 was their first full season against the FBS and they had a rough time. They went 2-10, scored only 17.5 points per game, and gave up 36.3 points per game. This year, the 49ers return a total of 16 starters with nine on offense and seven on defense.

The offense will add in the very talented quarterback Kevin Olsen from Miami (FL) and Robert Washington (originally committed to Syracuse) at running back while also returning the top four receivers from 2015. Speedy receiver Austin Duke led the team with 53 catches for 534 yards and 5 touchdowns. There are few reasons for this offensive unit to not hit 25 points per game in 2016 with the combination of talent and experience.

4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – The North Texas program went south in a hurry. After going a school record 9-4 in 2013, the Mean Green fell to 4-8 in 2014 and even further in 2015 to 1-11. Dan McCarney was fired after Portland State laid a 66-7 beat down on North Texas in Denton. The offense sputtered averaging only 15.2 points and 320 yards per game while the defense was shredded giving up 41.3 points and 503 yards per game.

The schedule is not kind to North Texas in 2016. They face SMU, Bethune-Cookman, Florida (away), and Army (away). It is not hard to envision a 1-3 non-conference finish for the Mean Green. In conference, their one winnable game in conference on paper looks to be Texas-San Antonio, but that game is away and UTSA should win it. I could be another 1-11 year or 2-10 if North Texas can pull an upset.

5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee have a very good offense coming back in 2016. Brent Stockstill (pictured above and also the coach’s son) returns after throwing for 4,005 yards (66.7%) with 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions as a freshman. Also returning are the two of the top three receivers for Stockstill. Richie James (108 catches for 1,346 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Terry Pettis (29 catches for 612 yards and 4 touchdowns) are those two receivers while three offensive linemen return. Coming into the mix is I’Tavius Mathers from Ole Miss at running back. For a unit that put up 34 points and 457 yards per contest in 2015, there should be no issues reaching those numbers again barring injuries.

The trouble will be on defense and the schedule. Defensively, MTSU returns five starters from the 2015 unit that allowed 26.6 points and 406 yards per game. With some high powered offenses that are in C-USA, that side of the ball will have to perform better. The schedule is not easy for MTSU as they face Western Kentucky (home), Marshall (away), and the potentially dangerous regular season finale against Florida Atlantic (home). Their benefit is they pulled North Texas and UT-San Antonio from the West, which should be two wins for the Blue Raiders. Going 2-1 against the three tough East teams should see MTSU finish second (or better if they go 3-0) in the East.

The Prediction Schedule

With the C-USA predictions above, there are now predictions for three conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

The Good And Bad From The Opening Round Of March Madness 2016

Bronson Koenig's buzzer beating three pointer defeated Xavier to cap an incredible opening four days of the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

The Good And Bad From The Opening Round Of March Madness 2016

The 2016 version of March Madness has been just that: Madness. Brackets were busted early and then completely blown up by the end of the first round. For as much fun as the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament has been, there have been some bad parts of it as well. Below we will take a look at the good and bad from the first four days of the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament

The Good

  1. Upsets Galore – #15 Middle Tennessee defeated one of the National Title favorites and #2 seed Michigan State in the first round. Double digit seeds won left and right (#13 Hawaii over #4 Cal, #11 Wichita State over #6 Arizona, #12 Yale over #5 Baylor, #11 Northern Iowa over #6 Texas, #10 VCU over #7 Oregon State, #10 Syracuse over #7 Dayton, #11 Gonzaga over #6 Seton Hall, #12 Arkansas-Little Rock over #5 Purdue, and #14 Stephen F. Austin over #3 West Virginia). That all made for some great action, particularly on Friday.
  2. The ACC – The Atlantic Coast Conference has put a record 6 teams through to the Sweet 16 (Miami (FL), North Carolina, Notre Dame, Duke, Syracuse, and Virginia). That is incredible to have 38% of the remaining field, but it also came down to some favorable matchups like Syracuse against Middle Tennessee. However, that is no fault of the ACC as their teams delivered.
  3. “Mid-Majors” – This was a good tournament for the upsets (see above), but the “Mid-Majors” got plenty of support in close games and some great stories. Stephen F. Austin got 33 points from Thomas Walkup, who played incredibly against West Virginia and had a solid game against Notre Dame. Yale won their first ever Tournament game against Baylor. Hawaii defeated Cal. Northern Iowa captivated the nation not once, but twice against teams from the state of Texas. First it was Texas and this buzzer beater, but then it was their collapse against Texas A&M. Saint Joseph’s played a great second round game against top seeded Oregon. Finally, Middle Tennessee going toe-to-toe with Michigan State was easily the biggest story of the first round. Mid-Majors should not be discounted in the future when picking brackets.
  4. The #1 Seeds – The top four seeds in the Tournament all looked good on the first weekend, but also faced some competition at times. Kansas took a big lead against UConn before that dwindled, but the Jayhawks fended off that challenge. North Carolina had a close first half against Florida Gulf Coast and Providence, but dominated the second half of those games to pull away. Virginia and Oregon had tough second round games against Butler and Saint Joseph’s, respectively. However, they were able to get through those games and move to the Sweet 16. The top seeds look mighty tough, but this is March Madness afterall and we have seen that anything is possible.

The Bad

  1. Brackets – Michigan State was picked to win a lot of brackets and their upset loss ended any hopes of a prefect bracket on CBS Sports. The Spartans’ loss did other damage to Final Four picks as well according to CBS Sports. Here is my 2017 New Year’s Resolution: Do not fill out a bracket.
  2. The Referees – The inconsistency of the officials calling the Tournament made it frustrating to watch at times. Between Duke and UNC-Wilmington, the referees called every soft foul imaginable while other games would let them play. Constant foul calling stems the flow of the game for TV viewers, but how frustrating must that be for a player on the floor? One thing that needs to be looked at is how much contact to allow. It does come down to each referee, but how can one game have a foul called 80 feet from the basket for putting a hand on a player’s hip and another not call a push off?
  3. Game Management – You can call this the Northern Iowa Special. The Panthers blew a 12 point lead with 35 seconds left in the game and then lost in double overtime to Texas A&M. They are not the only team to make questionable calls though. Xavier was up three in the final 10 seconds, but opted not to foul the Badgers’ shooters. Wisconsin subsequently tied the game and then Bronson Koenig hit a three at the buzzer to end Xavier’s season. Purdue deserves mention as well for letting Little Rock comeback late in the game and losing in double OT. There was also near comebacks by Wichita State (trailed 27-6 to Miami) and Yale (down as much as 27 to Duke), but those two were not able to complete the miracle comebacks.
  4. Seeding/Selection Committee – The NCAA Basketball Selection Committee did a bad job selecting teams last Sunday. It turns out they did a bad job of seeding the teams as well. Stephen F. Austin deserved better than a 14 seed as did Middle Tennessee at 15. And this was before the games were played. It is easy to pile on the Committee after the fact, but some of the seeding was questionable beforehand. In addition, the scheduling for Wichita State was brutal. The Shockers had a late game on Tuesday, late game on Thursday, and an early game on Saturday, which may have contributed to them starting as flat as they did.
  5. Wisconsin versus Pittsburgh – This was about as ugly a game to watch in recent tournament memory. The Badgers won 47-43 after scoring only 16 points in the first half. The teams combined to go 35 of 101 from the field and 7 of 30 from beyond the arc. The 90 total points were the fewest since 2000 in the NCAA Tournament. The game was wretched, but Badger fans felt greatest about the result and were lifted in the second round too.

Let’s hope the final two weekends give us as much entertainment as the first weekend provided.

2015 Big Ten Week 4 Roundup

De'Veon Smith had a spectacular 60 yard touchdown run (pictured above). The defense for Michigan was also impressive. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)
De’Veon Smith had a spectacular 60 yard touchdown run (pictured above). The defense for Michigan was also impressive. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

2015 Big Ten Week 4 Roundup

The Big Ten had a full week of non-conference games before starting its conference schedule next week. It was a positive Saturday overall with the conference going 12-2, but, as always, there is room for improvement. Each game is broken down below.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Result: Nebraska Win 36-28 (Saturday, September 26)

Nebraska improved to 2-2 on the season, but it was another poor performance from the defense that should cause concern in Lincoln. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong went 23 of 35 for 368 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He was also effective in the running game with 63 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.

Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp had another big game with 11 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Reilly had a few big plays, as he caught 3 passes for 112 yards. Terrell Newby had 76 yards on 18 carries to lead the Huskers in rushing. Andy Janovich was quietly effective with just five carries, but went for a total of 68 yards.

While the offense was good by racking up 610 yards, it was not very effective when it needed to be. Kicker Drew Brown attempted 7 field goals and connected on five. An 8 point win could have been a lot more comfortable had they converted two or three of those field goals into touchdowns. The offense went 4 of 13 on third down.

The defense largely held the Southern Miss running game in check with only 11 yards allowed, but gave up 447 yards through the air. Most worrisome is that the defense gave up three touchdown drives of at least 53 yards and 21 points. It has been a constant them for the Huskers that their defense is giving up quite a few points in the fourth quarter and we have already seen it cost them one game on the final play.

Nebraska faces Illinois next week on the road in their conference opener.

Kansas Jayhawks at Rutgers Scarlet Knight

Result: Rutgers Win 27-14 (Saturday, September 26)

Rutgers took care of business against Kansas, one of the weakest (if not the weakest) teams in all of FBS. That makes it hard to judge the performance, but a win is a win.

Chris Laviano had a decent game going 18 of 25 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The rushing game was very good for the Scarlet Knights as they rushed for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns on 58 carries as a team. Josh Hicks led the way with 113 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 carries while Robert Martin also broke the century mark at 102 yards on 17 carries. Overall, the offense was very effective with 513 yards, but converted on 8 of 12 third downs as well.

Defensively, it is hard to gauge this effort. They held Kansas to 342 yards of total offense including 64 yards on the ground. They forced just one turnover, but did not have a lot of trouble overall. Perhaps this will give them some confidence as they continue on in the Big Ten conference schedule.

The Scarlet Knights are off next week. Rutgers will have a stern test at home in two weeks against Michigan State.

#22 BYU Cougars at Michigan Wolverines

Result: Michigan Win 31-0 (Saturday, September 26)

Michigan looked incredible on Saturday against BYU, a team that had impressed the first three weeks. The defense was particularly impressive for the Wolverines.

Jake Rudock had a solid game with 14 of 25 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown. There were no interceptions or fumbles from him and he accounted for another two touchdowns on the ground (10 carries for 33 yards). De’Veon Smith had 125 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while his bruising 60 yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game. Smith did leave the game in the second half and did not return, but he is expected to be fine for next week’s game.

Amara Darboh had 4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown including a wonderful one handed catch in the first half. Nine different players caught a pass for Michigan in a very equal passing game by Rudock.

The real story for Michigan was the defense. They allowed 105 total yards of offense to BYU with 55 through the air and 50 on the ground. BYU went 4 of 15 on third down and had just 8 first downs the entire game. The Wolverines did not allow them to get into a rhythm and this is what we expect from a Jim Harbaugh coached defense.

Michigan travels on the road next week to face Maryland.

Central Michigan Chippewas at #2 Michigan State Spartans

Result: Michigan State Win 30-10 (Saturday, September 26)

Michigan State looked far from the #2 team in the nation on Saturday against Central Michigan, but they got the job done.

Connor Cook went 11 of 19 for 143 yards and a touchdown, but the offense did not always look great. Madre London ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while Gerald Holmes rushed for 22 yards and 2 touchdowns (both coming in the fourth quarter) on 4 carries.

The defense also had its issues against the Central Michigan offense. Cooper Rush threw for 285 yards and a touchdown on 26 of 39 passing. The trio of Jesse Kroll, Anthony Rice, and Corey Willis all had at least 5 catches and 57 yards.

Shilique Calhoun was disruptive for the Spartans on defense and also blocked a field goal. That was one of two blocked field goals by the Spartans. More worrisome for Michigan State is the possible losses of Jack Conklin, RJ Williamson, and Josiah Price.

Michigan State takes on Purdue next week at home in their Big Ten opener.

Bowling Green Falcons at Purdue Boilermakers

Result: Bowling Green Win 35-28 (Saturday, September 26)

Purdue slumped to 1-3 this year thanks to a loss to MAC opponent Bowling Green. It was not the worst loss for Purdue, as there was a good sign of improvement at quarterback.

David Blough was named the starter for this game and he did well. He went 29 of 39 for 340 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown, but the Boilermakers were not good rushing with just 77 yards on 38 carries as a team.

The defense was all or nothing in the first half. Bowling Green scored a touchdown, then lost a fumble, scored a second touchdown, was intercepted, and ended the first half with a third touchdown. Purdue was able to turn one of the turnovers into a touchdown, but missed a field goal on the other.

The defense was better overall in the second half, but still could not do enough to hang on for the win. They allowed 539 yards of offense and also allowed Bowling Green to convert 11 of 16 third downs.

It will be a tall task next week for Purdue with a road trip to Michigan State.

Indiana Hoosiers at Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Result: Indiana Win 31-24 (Saturday, September 26)

Indiana got a road win to open the season 4-0 and sit just two games away from bowl eligibility. The defense was improved, but there is still plenty of concern on that side of the ball.

Nate Sudfeld had pedestrian numbers considering his normal output. He went 19 of 34 for 205 yards with 2 touchdowns. Jordan Howard had another big rushing game with 168 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. The offense converted 7 of 17 third down opportunities.

The defense played well early on for Indiana. The first three drives for Wake Forest yielded just one yard. The Hoosiers did allow 10 points in the second quarter, but held a 17-10 lead at the break. The defense played well again after halftime. A 20 yard pick six early in the fourth quarter by Kendall Hinton put the Hoosiers up 31-10. The concern is that Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on the next two drives. They did hold the Demon Deacons to 363 yards of offense including 99 on the ground and 4 of 18 on third down.

Indiana goes from facing Wake Forest on the road to Ohio State at home next weekend.

Maryland Terrapins at West Virginia Mountaineers

Result: West Virginia Win 45-6 (Saturday, September 26)

The worst Big Ten performance of the week belongs to Maryland. It was terrible performance, particularly from the quarterbacks.

Caleb Rowe went 10 of 27 for only 67 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 interceptions (!). Daxx Garman came in and threw for 86 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Brandon Ross did well to pick up 130 yards on 15 carries, but he was the lone bright spot in a dismal offense.

The defense struggled to put up any resistance to the West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers put up 601 yards of offense and it was nearly even with 297 through the air and 304 on the ground.

Maryland may find themselves struggling to get offense going again next week. They face Michigan at home, a team that has been solid on the defensive side of the ball.

North Texas Mean Green at Iowa Hawkeyes

Result: Iowa Win 62-16 (Saturday, September 26)

Iowa completely crushed North Texas to finish their non-conference schedule 4-0. It was a complete domination by both sides of the ball for Iowa.

C.J. Beathard was deadly accurate and efficient. He went 18 of 21 for 278 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Jordan Canzeri had a field day running the ball as well. He had four rushing touchdowns to go along with 115 yards on 22 carries. Tevaun Smith had 4 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

The defense had only two turnovers, but both were interceptions returned for touchdowns. First, it was Josey Jewell for a 34 yard pick-six late in the third quarter. The second one came late in the game with Bo Bower taking a pick 88 yards to the house.

Big Ten play begins next week with one of the toughest games on their schedule. Iowa travels to play Wisconsin in Madison with the winner having an early inside track on the Big Ten West.

Ohio Bobcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Result: Minnesota Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 26)

For the second week in a row, Minnesota escaped at home against a MAC foe. This week, at least there was more scoring.

Mitch Leidner had a solid day going 22 of 32 for 264 yards with no touchdown or interceptions. He also ran for 22 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. Rodney Smith had a solid day as well with 94 yards on 16 carries, but Shannon Brooks emerged with 10 carries for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns including the game winner late. The offense looked much better this week and they put up 468 yards of offense and had only one turnover.

In an odd twist, the defense did not play as well as we have seen. They certain were not terrible, but it was not as stout as they were in the first three games. They allowed 8 of 16 on third down conversions and also gave up 345 yards of offense. They allowed 10 points in the fourth quarter that made it way too uncomfortable for the Gopher faithful.

Another worry, at least late, was the special teams. A muffed punt by Cody Grilliot was recovered by Ohio and led to a touchdown. They also gave up a massive kick return with less than 30 seconds remaining to Ohio after they just took the lead.

Minnesota finished their non-conference slate at 3-1 and they will have a defensive battle next week against Northwestern on the road.

Western Michigan Broncos at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes

Result: Ohio State Win 38-12 (Saturday, September 26)

Ohio State may have decided on a quarterback, but it still does not look like the Buckeyes we saw in 2014.

Cardale Jones went 19 of 33 for 288 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. His second half left a lot to be desired as he completed only 6 of 14 passes. Ezekiel Elliott, unsurprisingly, was good with 124 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Curtis Samuel had 2 carries for 55 yards including a 40 yard run for a touchdown just before the midway point of the fourth quarter. The offense still managed to put up 511 yards with 288 passing and 223 on the ground. They did go 8 of 13 on third downs, which is a big improvement over the 2 of 13 they managed against Northern Illinois last week.

The defense was very good for Ohio State. They did not allow Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell to get into a rhythm. He finished 18 of 33 for 169 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. That interception was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Adolphus Washington. The Buckeyes did allow Daniel Braverman to catch 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, but they clamped down in the second half.

Ohio State begins the defense of their Big Ten title next week on the road at Indiana.

San Diego State Aztecs at Penn State Nittany Lions

Result: Penn State Win 37-21 (Saturday, September 26)

Penn State relied on their running backs last week to get the offense going, but it was Christian Hackenberg that woke up the dormant offense this week. Hackenberg threw for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing.

Saeed Blackwell led the Nittany Lions with 4 catches for 101 yards while Chris Godwin had 5 receptions for 78 yards with a touchdown. The running game was dealt not one, but two blows, thanks to injuries. Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch both left leaving Nick Scott and Mark Allen to try and pick up the slack. Allen ran for 5 yards on 5 carries, but did catch 2 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. Scott had 6 carries for 9 yards. Those numbers will surely need to improve or Hackenberg will be primary target number one if Barkley and Lynch miss any time.

The defense was decent, but the highlight went to Austin Johnson. The defensive tackle ran (rumbled?) 71 yards for a fumble return touchdown that put Penn State up 34-21 early in the fourth quarter. The defense did only allow 242 yards of offense to SDSU including a poor 10 of 29 for 141 yards throwing.

The special teams is still a question mark after week four’s performance. They gave up a 100 yard kick return, fumbled a punt return that led to a touchdown, and also missed a field goal.

Unlike much of the Big Ten, they have not completed their non-conference schedule. Army visits next week in an early kickoff.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Illinois Fighting Illini

Result: Illinois Win 27-25 (Saturday, September 26)

Illinois bounced back from last week’s thrashing at North Carolina, but it was not easy by any means. They needed a last minute field goal from Taylor Zalewski and also needed a missed field goal from Middle Tennessee with seconds remaining to pull out the win.

Wes Lunt went 29 of 49 for 238 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. The large amount of incompletions are a bit worrisome, especially after he went 15 of 32 against North Carolina a week ago. Josh Ferguson ran for 83 yards on 20 carries while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Geronimo Allison easily led the team in receiving with 10 catches for 128 yards. Desmond Cain was also involved in the passing game with 7 catches for 48 yards. Coming into the game, Cain had 8 catches for 53 yards on the year.

The defense gave up only 38 yards rushing to Middle Tennessee thanks largely to -30 yards rushing by the Middle Tennessee quarterback on sacks. They allowed 330 yards through the air as well as 3 touchdowns. The defense allowed 13 fourth quarter points as the Blue Raiders moved down the field with ease.

The special teams unit was good overall. There was a missed field goal, but a blocked punt subsequently allowed Illinois to build a 14-3 in the second quarter. Clayton Fejedelem fell on the ball in the end zone for the score.

Illinois enters Big Ten play 3-1 and they immediately get Nebraska next week at home. It is a potentially big game, as Illinois needs three wins to make bowl eligibility.

Ball State Cardinals at #17 Northwestern Wildcats

Result: Northwestern Win 24-19 (Saturday, September 26)

Northwestern was able to hang on against Ball State in a deceivingly good second half from the offense. The first half left a lot to be desired from the Wildcats, especially at the quarterback position.

Clayton Thorson looked like a freshman during the first half. He lost a fumble after a nice run, which led to a field goal for Ball State. He also threw an interception (led to a missed field goal), but his fumble late in the first half allowed Ball State to score a touchdown and take a 10-7 lead at halftime.

The second half was like a whole new ball game for the Wildcats on offense. Their first three drives resulted in 17 points and a 24-10 lead. Thorson finished the game going 18 of 31 for 256 yards with 3 touchdowns and the interception. He also ran for 45 yards on 9 carries. Justin Jackson had a big game rushing the ball with 184 yards on 33 carries. Dan Vitale easily had his best game of the year with 5 catches for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. His emergence really helped Thorson in the final 30 minutes.

The defense played solidly and it is worth noting that they kept the game close while the offense struggled in the first half. They recovered a fumble deep in their own territory and forced a total of four field goals from Ball State. Ball State missed two field goals, which would have been the difference.

Northwestern is likely to have a defensive battle next week at home in their Big Ten opener against Minnesota.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at #22 Wisconsin Badgers

Result: Wisconsin Win 28-0 (Saturday, September 26)

Wisconsin finally looked like the rushing team we all expect from them. And it was done without Corey Clement, who was the biggest piece of news this week. Clement will miss the next four to six weeks due to sports hernia surgery.

Taiwan Deal rushed for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries while Dare Ogunbowale had 15 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers rushed for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team on 54 carries. Most importantly, the offense looked to have gotten their running game back, if only for this week. The offense nearly held a 2-1 advantage in time of possession, another good sign.

Joel Stave was not overly impressive, but he was smart with the ball and did not force unnecessary throws. He went 14 of 23 for 164 yards and a touchdown. In no surprise, Alex Erickson was his top target with 9 catches for 87 yards. Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 23 yards and a touchdown and is quietly becoming a big red zone target for Stave.

The defense did not make any big plays, but they did not allow any type of rhythm for the Hawaii offense. Hawaii’s longest drive was 60 yards, but the defense held firm on fourth and three at the Wisconsin 33. Another drive got as close to the Wisconsin 1 yard line, but a series of penalties by Hawaii resulted in a missed 49 yard field goal. In the last three games, Wisconsin has allowed a total of 3 points and has two shutouts.

Wisconsin faces Iowa at home in their Big Ten opener next week.

Check back next Sunday for a look at the Week 5 Big Ten Roundup. There will be plenty of Big Ten Conference action that is dissected.

2015 College Football Preview: C-USA East

Conference USA's East Division looks likely to come down to Marshall and Western Kentucky in 2015. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)
Conference USA’s East Division looks likely to come down to Marshall and Western Kentucky in 2015. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: C-USA East

The 2015 College Football Preview has covered both the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West Conference Preview. Now, we are up to Conference USA and this section will look specifically at the East Division. Below is a schedule for each conference and division in the 2015 College Football Preview.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at the C-USA East Division.

1. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Western Kentucky finished 4-4 in C-USA play in 2014 while finishing in a three way tie for third. They also were the only team to beat Marshall in 2014 with the crazy 67-66 win in overtime. Will 2015 be even better for WKU in Jeff Brohm’s second season?

There will be 7 starters back for a potent WKU offense that average 44.4 points and 535 yards per game in 2014. That number includes the quarterback, running back, and top two receivers. Brandon Doughty threw it all over the field in 2014 with 4,830 yards with 49 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 67.9% of his passes. He will have his top targets in Jared Dangerfield (69 catches for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Taywan Taylor (45 catches for 767 yards and touchdowns) to throw to. At running back will be Leon Allen, who ran for 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns while also grabbing 51 catches for 476 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offense will be high-flying once again for the Hilltoppers.

Defensively, WKU gave up 39.9 points and 510 yards per game in 2014 with only four starters back. That number more than doubles in 2015 to nine starters back as well as the top four tacklers. The two losses are at outside linebacker and cornerback, but the replacements have plenty of experience including Wonderful Terry (yes that is his name) at CB. He was 2nd Team-C-USA in 2014 after playing in 12 games and recording 43 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions.

The entire defensive line returns, but they will need to do better than the 221 rushing yards per game they yielding last year. They will also be backed up by two returning linebackers that were #1 (Nick Holt) and #2 (Dejon Brown) in tackles. The previously mentioned secondary returns three starters and the entire defense should perform better this year than in 2014.

The schedule is not as kind to WKU as they would have hoped. They face a road game at Vanderbilt in the opening before the conference opener at home against a tough Louisiana Tech team. Next up is a road game at Indiana before a home game against Miami (OH). They also have a road game against Rice from the West Division, road game at LSU near the end of October, but get Marshall at home to end the regular season. That game should determine the winner of the East Division and we will call WKU as that winner.

2. Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall nearly had a magical season in 2014 with a chance to make a New Year’s Six game. However, they lost to Western Kentucky in the regular season finale before bouncing back to win the C-USA Championship and crushing Northern Illinois in the bowl game.

In 2015, Marshall will be hit heavily on offense with the losses being Rakeem Cato at quarterback and Tommy Shuler as the top receiver in 2014 with six starters turning. Replacing Cato will be either Michael Birdsong or Gunnar Holcombe, but they will not be putting up the same stats at Cato. Devon Johnson will be returning in the backfield to help out the new QB and he ran for 1,767 yards with 17 touchdowns in 2014. The Thundering Herd will miss their top receiver, but have the #2 (Davonte Allen), #3 (Angelo Jean-Louis), and #4 (Deon-Tay McManus) receivers as well as three offensive lineman. The offensive will not be nearly as potent (45.6 points and 559 yards per game) as it was with Cato leading the show.

Marshall has only five starters back on defense from a unit that allowed 21 points and 357 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line was hit hardest with three starters gone and Jarquez Samuel as the only returning starter (30 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss). Linebacker was also hit hard with the top two tacklers from 2014 gone and the only starter back is DJ Hunter. Hunter, originally at Tennessee, recorded 80 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2014 and should have a big season again. The strength for Marshall on defense will be the secondary that returns three starters from a unit that only allowed 197 yards passing and 54.5% completions last year. They will be key to helping the front seven gel early in the season. Overall, the defense will take some steps back with the loses.

Marshall has a pretty easy out of conference schedule with a home game against Purdue, road trip to Ohio, home game against FCS Norfolk State, and road trip to Kent State. A 3-1 record is probable in that stretch. In C-USA play, they draw North Texas and Southern Miss from the West with both of those games at home. The do have to travel to Western Kentucky in the regular season finale and it would not be surprising to see them end up in the C-USA Championship Game.

3. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

2015 will mark head coach Rick Stockstill‘s 10th season in charge of Middle Tennessee. He has seen them progress from the Sun Belt to C-USA. He has also been in charge for all four of Middle Tennessee’s four bowl appearances (1-3 record). Will 2015 be the fifth bowl game for Middle Tennessee and Rick Stockstill?

The offense will return eight starters from 2014 including quarterback Austin Grammer, who threw for 2,557 yards (65.4%) with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Brent Stockstill (son of Rick) could also see playing time. The top running back is gone for the Blue Raiders, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth leading rushers are back, which should soften the blow. The top and third leading receiver are also gone, but the offense was spread out evenly in regards to passing so the losses are not as detrimental while four starters return on the line. After averaging 31.6 points and 431 yards per game in 2014, a similar output can be expected in 2015.

The defense, like the offense, returns eight starters with the losses spread out evenly (one loss on the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary). The defense will be led by Will linebacker TT Barber, who had 72 tackles, 1 sack, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while being named to C-USA’s 2nd Team. The defensive line allowed 183 rushing yards per game and a 4.3 yards per carry average with the number expected to improve with nearly all of their major players back. The secondary is headed by strong safety Kevin Byard, who was named to the 1st Team All-C-USA squad after putting up 66 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and intercepting 6 passes last year. The defense should be solid for Middle Tennessee.

Middle Tennessee will face three Power 5 conference members in the opening five weeks with games at Alabama and Illinois before Vanderbilt comes to town. They also have Jackson State in the opening week and a home game against Charlotte in Week 3. From the West division they draw Louisiana Tech (road), North Texas (home), and Texas-San Antonio (road) while facing East contender Western Kentucky on the road and Marshall at home. Middle Tennessee can expect another bowl appearance in year 10 under Stockstill.

4. Florida International Golden Panthers

Florida International has improved in the first two years under Ron Turner going from 1-11 in 2013 to 4-8 in 2014. The offense and defense both improved as well. The offense went from averaging 9.8 points per game in 2013 to 23 points per game in 2014 while the defense went from surrendering 37 points per game in 2013 to 24.8 points per game allowed in 2014. Year three should continue that trend.

The offense will be returning seven starters from a year ago including Alex McGough at quarterback. As a true freshman in 2014, McGough threw for 1,680 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing only 50.4% of his passes. Those numbers are far from overwhelming, but he should improve in year two of this offense. McGough will also benefit from the top three rushers returning led by the duo of Anthon Samuel and Alex Gardner. Both rushed for exactly 582 yards on the ground while Samuel had 5 touchdowns and Gardner scored only once. That duo should also improve. Jonnu Smith, the top receiver in 2014, is back as well after grabbing 61 passes for 710 yards and 8 scores. If McGough and the offense can find consistent second and third receivers, they will put up even better numbers in 2015.

The defense returns eight starters including the second, third, and fourth leading tacklers as well as eight of the top ten tacklers from 2014. Six of the front seven return including C-USA Freshman Team member Anthony Wint (48 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss). The defense gave up only 160 yards rushing per game including 4.1 yards per carry. That should be the case again in 2015. The secondary loses two players at the safety spots so it will be on the corners, Richard Leonard (1st Team C-USA) and Jeremiah McKinnon, to shut down the top opposing receivers. It should be another solid year, if not better, for FIU on defense.

FIU has a somewhat difficult out of conference schedule with back-to-back road games at Central Florida and Indiana before a home game against FCS North Carolina Central. They have a tough draw after that with back-to-back road games again, this time against Louisiana Tech from the West Division and Massachusetts from the MAC. They also draw UTEP out of the West division and will have the duo of Marshall (road) and Western Kentucky (home) to end the regular season. FIU looks poised to reach bowl eligibility and get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.

5. Old Dominion Monarchs

2014 marked the first season of Old Dominion in Conference USA and it is hard to call it anything but a success. They played 11 FBS teams and finished 6-6 including some incredibly entertaining games against North Carolina State, Rice, UTEP, Western Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. Old Dominion is now no longer the newcomer to the conference in 2015 thanks to the addition of Charlotte.

Eight starters are back on offense for ODU, but two of them are key losses. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke (3,476 yards with 30 touchdowns and 16 interceptions) and wide receiver Antonio Vaughn (63 catches for 1,019 yards and 12 touchdowns) have both departed. Quarterback duties will ended up being handled by redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, true freshman Blake LaRussa, junior Colin McElroy, or Greyson Lambert. The quarterback may put up solid numbers, but it will be hard to replace Heinicke.

Running back Ray Lawry returns after a successful freshman campaign in which he ran for 947 yards and 16 touchdowns on only 134 attempts (7.1 yards per carry average). He will have four of the same offensive lineman from last year to help pave the way. The loss of Vaughn at wide receiver will hurt, but there are plenty of experienced players to help soften the loss. Zach Pascal had 59 catches for 743 yards and 7 touchdowns while David Washington caught 47 passes for 599 yards and 4 touchdowns. Overall, the offense could produce similar numbers of 32.7 points and 442 yards per game if the quarterback grasps the offense quickly.

2014 saw 10 starters return on defense, but they still gave up 38 points and 452 yards per game against a mostly FBS schedule. That is to be expected, but now the returning starters is halved to five. The defensive line was hit hard with only one returning starter in Poncho Barnwell, who had 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss. Linebacker loses two starters as well with middle linebacker TJ Ricks returning to anchor the unit. Ricks had 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss last year. The secondary allowed 230 passing yards and 68.6% completions and returns two starters at the safety spots. The defense may improve on the numbers a bit in 2015, but are still in the process of trying to make the entire roster full of FBS players.

Old Dominion has quite a few home non-conference games. They start with Eastern Michigan on the road before getting Norfolk State, North Carolina State, and Appalachian State on the road. A 2-2 or 3-1 record will put them in good position because they open C-USA play on the road at Marshall. From the West Division they get Texas-San Antonio, UTEP, and Southern Miss while games against Charlotte (home), FIU (road), and Florida Atlantic (home) will decide if they have at least six wins in 2015.

6. Florida Atlantic Owls

Florida Atlantic thought they had found their man in Carl Pelini until some rather unsavory allegations led to his departure from FAU during the 2013 season. FAU hired Charlie Partridge prior to the 2014 season he guided the Owls to a 3-9 record with only 11 starters returning.

In 2015, there will be six starters returning on offense led by quarterback Jaquez Johnson. Johnson threw for 2,215 yards (57.8%) with 17 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. He also ran for 513 yards and 7 touchdowns as the second leading rusher on the team. The top rusher, Jay Warren, also returns after running for 571 yards and 2 scores. Out of the top four receivers from 2014, only Jenson Stoshak returns. Stoshak was the second leading receiver with 37 catches for 508 yards and 2 touchdowns. After putting up 24 points and 363 yards per game in 2014, FAU should put up similar numbers, if not higher.

On defense, there are still some issues to work on after yielding 34.4 points and 461 yards per game in 2014. Six starters return, the same number that returned in 2014, but the back seven has been decimated with only two returning starters. The entire defensive line returns as well as Rutgers transfer Nick Internicola. The front four should improve vastly on the 222 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry average they gave up last year.

The linebackers have only one returning starter in Robert Relf, but he was the #4 tackler in 2014 after making 65 stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has Cre’Von LeBlanc and Sharrod Neasman back, which will help shore up some of the inexperience issues. The defense will probably have a few struggles throughout the season.

FAU opens the season on the road at Tulsa before a home game against Miami (FL). They have another home game against Buffalo before a road trip to Charlotte. Their final non-conference game is at Florida on November 21. In conference, FAU has to face Rice (home) and UTEP (road) from the West. FAU will get close to bowl eligibility, but is probably a year away from getting back to a bowl game.

7. Charlotte 49ers

Charlotte has only been playing football since 2013 and have racked up a pair of 5-6 seasons against FCS, Division 2, and Division 3 opponents. 2015 will mark their first time against an FBS opponent and they will have 11 of them. Brad Lambert is in charge of the 49ers and has been with the program since its inception.

Charlotte will have 9 starters back on offense from a team that scored 38.8 points per game and put up an average of 487 yards a game. Matt Johnson threw for 1,941 yards with 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions before an injury against James Madison knocked him out for the season. His top two targets are back including Austin Duke, who had 79 catches for 1,373 yards and 9 touchdowns. Added into the mix is former Georgia Bulldog Uriah LeMay. Kalif Phillips ran for 1,436 yards and 20 touchdowns behind an offensive line that returns four starters. The offense will not put up the same numbers it did in 2014 thanks to tougher opponents.

The defense returns 8 starters from a unit that allowed 31.6 points and 477 yards per game in 2014. The front three will be back after allowing 193 rushing yards and 4.2 yards per carry in 2014. The linebacking unit has two losses and two returning starters, which will hurt them against FBS competition. Three of the four starters from 2014 return in the secondary including Branden Dozier, who had 86 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and 1 interception in 2014. Despite the experience coming back, the defense will probably see worse numbers this year.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there will be 11 FBS opponents this year for Charlotte to face. They start with a game at Georgia State before playing at home against FCS Presbyterian. They face back-to-back C-USA opponents in weeks three and four before a home game against Temple. Their last non-conference game is against Kentucky in the penultimate weekend in November. Things will be tough for Charlotte in their first C-USA season with their best chance to win in conference against FAU on September 26 or Texas-San Antonio on November 14. It could be a double digit loss year for Charlotte as they get acclimated to playing in the FBS.

Overview

The Conference USA East Division is headed for a showdown between Marshall and Western Kentucky to determine the division champion. It just so happens to be that those two teams meet in the regular season’s final weekend (November 27) prior to the Championship game the following week. Middle Tennessee, Florida International, and Old Dominion look to be headed towards bowl eligibility while Florida Atlantic may come up just short. Charlotte will have a tough time in their inaugural season in C-USA. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Western Kentucky

2. Marshall

3. Middle Tennessee

4. Florida International

5. Old Dominion

6. Florida Atlantic

7. Charlotte

Check back on Friday, July 17 for the Conference USA West Division preview as well as the predicted winner of the C-USA Championship game.