Conference USA: Week 12 Preview

Conference USA

CONFERENCE USA 

West Division Champion Louisiana Tech (6-1, 8-3) and East Division-leading WKU (6-1, 8-3) are both idle this week, but there is plenty to be decided in Conference USA Football.

Old Dominion at FAU

Old Dominion (5-1, 7-3) is the one other team that could still earn a spot in the Dynacraft C-USA Football Championship Game and the Monarchs, who have won six of their last seven games, will visit Florida Atlantic, winners of two straight (5 p.m. CST on Campus Insiders). Old Dominion leads the nation in turnover margin at +15, having forced 21 opponent miscues after Southern Miss turned it over five times last week (a new school record for ODU). Senior LB TJ Ricks was a big part of last week’s turnover success, forcing two fumbles and recovering a pair of fumbles in the 51-35 win, helping earn him C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors. Ricks, who posted 11 tackles last Saturday, now is second on the school’s all-time list with 302.  He needs 38 more to become the record-holder. 

Florida Atlantic has won two in a row and freshman RB Devin Singletary has played a huge part in that success.  After posting 283 all-purpose yards at Rice, he compiled 245 against UTEP.  He is averaging nearly 10 yards per play the last two outings, with 397 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.

 

Southern Miss at North Texas 

A game with huge bowl implications takes place in Denton, where North Texas hosts Southern Miss (4:30 p.m. CST on beIN SPORTS). The Mean Green need a victory here and at UTEP in the final week to reach bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2013, while one more win puts Southern Miss into bowl-eligibility for the second straight season. Under first-year head coach Seth Littrell, North Texas has made marked improvement on both sides of the ball in 2016 when compared to 2015.  Through 10 games, they have improved offensively, scoring 8.6 points per game more (23.8 in 2016 compared to 15.2 in 2015) and defensively, allowing 10.2. ppg less (31.1 in 2015 compared to 41.3 a year ago.  Offensively, the Mean Green rank 19th nationally in offensive turnaround in points per game, while defensively, North Texas ranks eighth nationally in defensive turnaround in points per game.  


Golden Eagles junior RB Ito Smith has rushed for more than 1,000 yards on the season, finishing with 97 yards last week to give him 1,081 on the season.  He is the fourth player to rush for over 1,000 yards in more than one season during their career at Southern Miss.  Smith, who scored three times last Saturday, also has a pair of impressive scoring streaks with a rushing touchdown in six straight games, while producing a touchdown in each of his last 15 outings.

 

Middle Tennessee at Charlotte 

Charlotte, like North Texas, maintains bowl hopes, but must get wins in their final two games, beginning with Saturday’s home contest against Middle Tennessee, a team that is already bowl-eligible (1 p.m. CST on ESPN 3).  The 49ers lead Conference USA in rushing offense at 194.2 yards per game. Senior RB Kalif Phillips leads the ground attack and had a combined 116 yards last week (87 rushing; 29 receiving), marking his seventh straight game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage.  Over his current seven-game streak, Phillips is averaging 139.4 yards from scrimmage and 113.6 rushing yards.  He has now rushed for 3,941 yards, leaving him just 59 yards shy of 4,000 in his career. 

Even though the Blue Raiders have a new quarterback throwing the ball in freshman John Urzua, sophomore WR Richie James hasn't slowed down his school record-setting pace.  Thanks to a MT record six-straight games of more than 100 receiving yards, James is just 93 yards shy of breaking his own single-season school record of 1,346 set last year.  He's also 23 catches shy of his MTSU record 108 single-season receptions.

 

UTEP at Rice 

Texas foes UTEP and Rice meet in Houston (11 a.m. CST on ESPN 3). UTEP senior RB Aaron Jones posted his second straight 200+-yard rushing game last Saturday at Florida Atlantic, carrying 27 times for 229 yards and two touchdowns.  It was the fourth career game with more than 200 rushing yards as he became the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,738 yards.  Jones is now ranked seventh in Conference USA history.  He leads C-USA and ranks fourth nationally with 139.7 yards per game this season and has run for 13 TDs.  

Senior QB Tyler Stehling threw for 279 yards and a touchdown and added 93 yards on the ground with two scores, both career highs, to lead a Rice rally from a 21-0 deficit to defeat Charlotte 22-21 last Saturday.  He shook off an early interception to complete 25-33 the rest of the game and his 35 total completions matched the second-most in school history.  Stehling executed a methodical offensive attack that held the ball for over 30 minutes in the last three quarters to keep the 49ers offense on the sidelines and set the stage for the Owls’ rally.  

 

Marshall at FIU 

East Division rivals Marshall and FIU match up in Miami (6 p.m. CST on ASN).  The Thundering Herd are looking to build on an impressive 42-17 win over Middle Tennessee in which they shutout the Blue Raiders in the second half, allowing just 88 total yards.  Senior S Corey Neely led the defense with a career-best performance, finishing with 13 tackles and forcing two fourth quarter turnovers, a fumble and an interception.  He is now tied for third on the team with 58 tackles. 

Its senior day at FIU, but junior RB Alex Gardner comes into Saturday’s contest with a team-high 758 yards on 157 carries (4.8 yards-per-carry).  He is 96 yards shy of becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher.  Gardner has 2,100 yards during his career and is chasing Rashod Smith’s (2002-04) mark of 2,195.

 

UTSA at No. 22 Texas A&M 

UTSA closes out its non-conference schedule with a game at No. 22 Texas A&M.  (11 a.m. CST on ESPNU).  Roadrunners senior RB Jarveon Williams scored two rushing TDs last week to push his season total to a school-record-tying eight. It also increased his career total to 19, which now is one shy of David Glasco II’s school mark established from 2011-14.  Williams, who just missed his fourth 100-yard game of the season with 95 yards on 18 carries, has reached the end zone five times the past two contests.