By Jeremy St. Louis (@jrstlouis)
Week four of the Conference USA football season has come and gone like my first kiss - very quickly and not exactly setting records for quality engagement. Still, there were a number of very important things that occurred this week and in terms of learning stuff, there was a lot to absorb so here are my five takeaways...
1. Marshall's D will be best in C-USA by season's end.
Oh sure, Louisville put up 59pts but they came in AVERAGING 63ppg. The Cardinals beat the #2 team in the nation by 43pts in week 3 and were expected by more than a few (but not this guy) to hang between 80-100pts on the Herd. Nope. In fact, Doc Holliday's defense came in fired up and are the only team this season to hold QB Lamar Jackson to 7pts in the opening quarter. Losing by 31pts is never fun but no other team that has faced Louisville this season has lost by less than 34pts so hold your heads high Herd fans. The rest of the Conference better be ready for this defense.
2. Ron Turner is the first C-USA coaching casualty of 2016.
Turner was in his 4th season with FIU and it was obvious right from the start that things were not going well with the Panthers. His QB Alex McGough only threw his first TD pass this past weekend in a 53-14 blowout loss to UCF - and that was only after the team were down by 46pts and he was put in after being benched prior to the game. The team was obviously not buying in anymore and this writer figured he'd at least get to the FAU game before the axe fell but the University obviously felt a clean slate was needed heading into Conference play. There's only one direction for FIU to go - and here's hoping interim man Ron Cooper can get them moving that way versus FAU this weekend (on beIN SPORTS).
3. Turner may not be the last casualty.
The only other winless team in C-USA is Rice - and David Bailiff is certainly feeling the heat after this week's double-OT loss to North Texas. Sure, you say 'well hang on there JSL, double overtime means it was close...'. True, but what say you when I tell you Rice blew a 17-0 lead? Last year's 5-7 (3-5 C-USA) record was seen as an aberration by many and Rice were expected to bounce back, possibly even getting into Bowl contention with an experienced team. But so far, it's not looking good. Only one team in the West has surrendered more points than they have and the loss to the Mean Green is especially disheartening when you consider their win probability going in was close to 70%. Southern Miss is next before a bye week so if they get blown out by the Golden Eagles...
4. Middle Tennessee is now in the title conversation.
The Blue Raiders were a top-5 team coming into the season but after the weekend shootout versus LA Tech, they can now be considered real contenders for the division and the Conference. Good teams know how to win ugly and Rick Stockstill's men found a way to erase a 20pt deficit and come out trumps when it looked like the Bulldogs were going to cruise to victory. Brent Stockstill had another strong outing with 356yds passing and ZERO turnovers but it was the MTSU defense that deserves the plaudits. After a shaky first half, they regrouped and stopped LA Tech four times in the second half - including at the five yard line to end the game. If that defense shows up in C-USA play - starting at North Texas this week - look out.
5. Conference play cannot begin soon enough.
I said last week that C-USA teams NEED a win against non-conference opponents going into week 4. So what happens? They go 0-5. Thankfully, the non-conference schedule is coming to a close so things will get much more competitive as we move forward and it looks like there will be some good battles as we head towards November. If we've learned anything from this year's 14-28 non-conference record, it's that C-USA remains a work in progress, but having put in some respectable performances against the #1 and #3 teams in the nation, there are a lot more positives than negatives as the Conference continues to grow. A decent upset of a top team may not be as far away as some might like to think.
This week's beIN SPORTS College Football 'Game of the Week' features winless FIU (0-4) welcoming FAU (1-3). The Panthers will play their first game under interim Head Coach Ron Cooper and we'll have a conversation with FIU Athletic Director Pete Garcia about the state of the program. The pregame show with George D. Metellus, Donovan McNabb, Ki-Jana Carter and O.J. McDuffie is underway at 6:30p ET. The game will follow at 7pm ET with Matt Martucci & Brett Romberg in the booth and Jordan Daigle on the sidelines.