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Week 4 Preview: Intra-Conference USA Matchups Dominate Schedule

Finally, Conference USA league play picks up in a big way a bevy of games this weekend.

ConferenceUSA.com

UTSA at Old Dominion

UTSA makes its first trip to Old Dominion, as both teams look to even their records at 2-2. This matchup pits two of the youngest programs in the FBS, with the Roadrunners in their sixth season and the Monarchs in their eighth. The game will be played in front of the 50th consecutive sellout at Foreman Field, every home game ODU has played since the program began play in 2009. 

UTSA nearly knocked off Arizona State last week, as Dalton Sturm threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score. Old Dominion senior WR Zach Pascal has caught a pass in 39 consecutive games and has 17 grabs for 223 yards and three scores in the first three outings in 2016.

North Texas at Rice

In-state rivals North Texas and Rice meet in Houston. The Owls have won four of the last five meetings in the series as they look to break into the win column. The Mean Green are on the road for a second straight week after falling at No. 23 Florida last Saturday.  Sophomore DB Nate Brooks has emerged as a playmaker on the North Texas defense, registering eight tackles at Florida last week, to go with his season totals of one interception, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. 

Senior RB Darik Dillard continues to follow in his brother Jarett’s footsteps in making a mark in the Rice record book. Following his 124-yard rushing game against No. 19 Baylor last week, he moved into the top 10 in career rushing yards at Rice with 1,941 yards, just 59 yards from becoming the ninth Owl to top 2,000 yards in a career.

 

Louisiana Tech at Middle Tennessee

Louisiana Tech will visit Middle Tennessee in a meeting of two of the league’s top offenses. The Blue Raiders are second in the league with an average of 537.3 yards of total offense, while the Bulldogs are third, averaging 530.0 yards per game. Included in this showdown is a matchup of two of the league’s top receivers. LA Tech senior WR Trent Taylor has led the team in receiving 10 times in the last 15 outings. He now has 2,798 yards for his career, which moves him into fifth in LA Tech history.

With two TD receptions last week, Taylor now has 25 for his career, moving him ahead of Quinton Patton for third-most in school history.  With 8.5 career receptions per game, Middle Tennessee sophomore WR Richie James is the NCAA’s active career leader in that category. In just 16 career games, James has 136 receptions to rank fourth all-time in Blue Raiders history. He currently ranks 6th all-time in receiving yards with 1,684 and needs 74 more to move up to fifth place.

Southern Miss at UTEP

Southern Miss makes the trip to El Paso, seeking to rebound from its first loss when it faces UTEP. This game features a matchup of C-USA’s two most productive running backs. UTEP’s Aaron Jones leads the way with a 146.3 yards per game average, just ahead of Southern Miss’ Ito Smith, who averages 144.0 per outing.

Those totals rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the FBS, making C-USA the only league with two of the top five rushers in the country. They each have scored four rushing touchdowns to tie for the league lead.
 
In non-conference play, No. 3 Louisville visits Marshall, WKU hosts Vanderbilt, FIU welcomes UCF Florida Atlantic faces Ball State and Charlotte visits Temple.

Louisville at Marshall

The third-ranked Cardinals match West Virginia in 2007 as the highest-ranked teams to play at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Two of the nation’s most productive quarterbacks will be on display in this one. Louisville sophomore QB Lamar Jackson has thrown eight touchdown passes and run for 10 scores to lead a Cardinals offense that leads the FBS with a 65.0 point average. 

Marshall sophomore QB Chase Litton has thrown 10 TD passes in his first two outings, guiding the Herd to a C-USA-best scoring average of 50.0 per outing. 

Vanderbilt at WKU

Vanderbilt will become the first SEC team to play a game in Bowling Green, where WKU has won 11 consecutive games (fifth-longest active streak among FBS schools). The Hilltoppers won last year’s meeting, 14-12, in the season-opener in Nashville. The Commodores, led by RB Ralph Webb, the nation’s 11th-ranked rusher, will be facing a C-USA school for the second time in three weeks after defeating Middle Tennessee on Sept. 10. As WKU’s two most experienced wide receivers, seniors Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris have carried the pass catching load so far this season for the Toppers, accounting for 37 of the 64 completions (57.8%) combined. 

Their combined career receiving totals (4,975) are more than any other wide receiving duo in the country and Taylor and Norris both rank in the Top 12 in receiving yards through three weeks - making WKU the only team with a pair inside the Top 12.

UCF at FIU

In-state rivals UCF and FIU will meet for the fifth time in six seasons Saturday evening when the Knights and Panthers clash in Miami.  FIU won last year’s contest in Orlando, 15-13. UCF will give freshman McKenzie Milton his first start at quarterback after he helped the Knights take Maryland to overtime last weekend. Senior RB Alex Gardner has been the Panthers leader on offense, rushing for more than 100 yards the last two weeks, while scoring a touchdown in four straight outings, dating back to last season. 

Ball State at FAU 

Florida Atlantic is back in Boca Raton after challenging back-to-back road contests at nationally-ranked Miami and Kansas State. The Owls will meet Ball State for the first time and will need to protect sophomore QB Jeff Driskel against a Cardinal defense that has 14 sacks through three games, nearly matching their entire 2015 total of 17. Junior WR Kalib Woods was highly productive during FAU’s two-game road trip, catching 16 passes in two outings, giving him 19 receptions for 263 yards on the season. 

Charlotte at Temple

Charlotte will make its first visit to Temple after hosting the Owls last season. Senior WR Austin Duke led the 49ers with 84 receiving yards – the third straight game he was topped 49ers receivers. Duke ranks sixth in C-USA with 6.0 receptions and with 80.3 yards/game.  The game against Penn State last week saw the return of Temple all-conference running back Jahad Thomas, who scored two touchdowns in his debut after being sidelined with a hand injury the first two games.
 


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