C-USA Football Preview
With Week 0 in the books, the time has come; college football is upon us. The year 2023 is a little over halfway done, but that means college football is starting up again. Amidst all of the conference realignment, the C-USA landscape has been shaken up with the arrival of some new schools and departure of old foes. We saw a couple of the new faces in the conference play in week 0, but we also saw a few of the old heads take the field. So let's dive into all the action from the past week and our predictions for Week 1.
Week 0 Recap
UTEP VS JAX STATE
To kick off the 2023 slate, one of the conferences newest additions, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, started their inaugural season at the FBS level with a C-USA matchup against the UTEP Miners. The key takeaway from this game has to be the defense from both sides. The Miners defense stood strong, even with the offense being lackluster. Edge Rusher Praise Amaewhule accounted for a TFL, the team’s only sack on the day and helped the Miners stay within striking distance by holding Jacksonville State to under 280 yards of total offense. As for the Gamecocks, the secondary, led by seniors Jeremiah Harris and Kobi Fuqua showed up and showed out by picking off the Miner's Gavin Hardison twice in the game. The Gamecocks also held the Miners to 3 of 12 on 3rd down and 1 for 3 on 4th down. While not an offensive shootout, timely rushing touchdowns by the Gamecocks led them to a 17-14 victory, and their first official FBS victory.
UMASS VS NM STATE
The second game of the afternoon showcased another new C-USA squad, the New Mexico State Aggies, as they welcomed The UMass Minutemen. In Jerry Kill’s second season, the Aggies were looking to build off a strong finish to last season, where they finished 7-6 with a bowl victory over Bowling Green. However, the start to the 2023 season was not kind to Coach Kill and the Aggies, as they fell 41-30 at home. The Aggies offense looked great at times, with starting quarterback Diego Pavia throwing three touchdowns, but two interceptions and a fumble were the lowlights for last year’s hero. Factor in New Mexico State’s struggles containing UMass’s quarterback Taisun Phommachanh, who combined for 290 yards of total offense and a touchdown and they would take a loss in their home opener.
FIU VS LATECH
The final game of week zero saw the FIU Panthers travel to Ruston for a matchup with the Bulldogs. The Panthers came out swinging in the first quarter taking a 14-0 lead and then entered the half up 17-13. The script then flipped as the Bulldogs made a late fourth quarter comeback, scoring nine unanswered points to take a 22-17 victory. Florida International’s passing game was atrocious recording only 14 total yards in the air, but the offense was kept alive by the ground attack, led by Shomari Lawrence with 139 yards and a touchdown. The problem for FIU was that LA Tech’s transfer quarterback Hank Bachmeier rallied the bulldogs, setting up a 30-yard touchdown run for Jacob Fields late in the fourth.
Week 1 Predictions
LA TECH VS SMU: Winner - SMU
LA Tech enters the game as heavy underdogs, no pun intented, but the hill seems too steep to climb. If the Bulldogs look to start the season 2-0, they will need a brilliant game from Boise State transfer quarterback Hank Bachmeier.
BOWLING GREEN VS LIBERTY: Winner - Liberty
Liberty and first year head coach Jamey Chadwell start their C-USA campaign at home against the Falcons of Bowling Green. The Flames enter the contest as a 10-point favorite, and we believe they will defend home turf and take down the Falcons. Chadwell leads Liberty into a new era and the question remains if he will be able to follow in the success of former Head Coach Hugh Freeze.
EAST TENNESSEE STATE VS JAX STATE (1-0): Winner - Jacksonville State
After securing their first win in week zero, The Gamecocks welcome the Buccaneers from East Tennessee. Jacksonville State will look to have another successful defensive outing against ETSU and start the season 2-0 in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first year. This will be ETSU’s first game of the season, coming off a year where they finished on a five-game losing streak. Unfortunately for the Bucs, their streak will continue and we will see the Gamecocks record improve to 2-0, led by their fiesty defensive unit.
USF VS WKU: Winner - Western Kentucky
WKU starts their 2023 season on top of the hill welcoming the University of Southern Florida Bulls to Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers enter the game as 11.5-point favorites against a Bulls team that mustered only one-win last year. This game looks to be all Western Kentucky, as they look to start the year 1-0. WKU’s key to the game will be their two returning starters on offense in senior quarterback Austin Reed and junior receiver Malachi Corley.
MAINE VS FIU (0-1): Winner - Florida International
Florida International looks to bounce back after a week 0 loss to LA Tech. Luckily for them they get to come home and welcome an FCS opponent in the Maine Black Bears. The FIU Panthers had a close game last week in Ruston and look towards Sophomore running back Shomari Lawrence to lead the offense. This looks to be a nice bounce back for the Panthers and avoid an 0-2 start.
MTSU VS ALABAMA: Winner - Alabama
Blue Raider fans...sorry in advance. The Middle Tennesse State Blue Raiders travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to kick off their 2023 season versus Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. They enter as nearly 40-point underdogs and unfortunately even with Alabama starting slow most years, they will take down the visiting Blue Raiders. With MTSU dropping to 0-1, a bright spot for the Blue Raiders to look forward to is their leader on defense in Senior safety Tra Fluellen.
INCARNATE WORD VS UTEP (0-1): Winner - UTEP
UTEP head back home looking to avoid an upset against the FCS stalwart and an 0-2 start. The key for the Miners is they need their offense to step up in taking care of the football and converting on late downs. UTEP should be able to handle the Cardinals and gain their first win in their young season.
WESTERN ILLINOIS VS NEW MEXICO STATE (0-1): Winner - New Mexico State
The Aggies showed lots of promise in their opening game against UMass. Their offense at times looked unstoppable, but turnovers were the Achillies heel for the Aggies. While cleaning up on offense is important, their key is tighting up on defense. This game looks to be heading into New Mexico State gaining their first win against the Leathernecks from Western Illinois.
SAM HOUSTON VS BYU: Winner - BYU
The final game of the night sees the last newly added CUSA team take the field in the Sam Houston Bearkats. They head to Utah to take on the Cougars and enter the game as 20-point underdogs. Even though Jaren Hall left BYU after being drafted by the Vikings, the Cougars will take care of the Bearkats and start their CUSA career at 0-1. With a lot of questions surrounding Sam Houston, they look towards senior captains Trevor Williams and Markel Perry to lead the team.