By: Matt Hayden & Ryan Martinolich
With Duke and Clemson wrapping up an exciting Labor Day weekend of football action, week one is officially in the books. Stretching all the way back to week zero until now, we have seen all FBS programs put at least one game under their belt, including all of the C-USA schools. Now let’s take a dive into all of that C-USA action.
After a disappointing loss to Louisiana Tech in Week 0, the Panthers struggles would continue at home against the Maine Black Bears. This includes three turnovers (2 Fumbles and 1 INT) and a poor running game after their stellar performance last week against the Bulldogs. Still, the Panthers were able to squeak out a win thanks to a breakout performance by true freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins throwing two touchdowns, both to junior wide receiver Kris Mitchell, and a defense that forced Maine into two turnover-on-downs, the last one sealing the game for FIU.
As for this upcoming week, FIU will face former C-USA foe, the North Texas Mean Green at home. The Panthers enter the matchup as 12-point underdogs and will look to defend their home turf. If the Panthers want to upset the Mean Green, FIU will need another great performance from Jenkins and find a way to open up some gaps for running back Shomari Lawrence. They will also need their defense to keep up their grand efforts getting into the backfield. With that being said, we predict that North Texas should get the win, but look for FIU to keep things close and cover the spread.
Week 0 saw the Gamecocks secure their first win as an FBS team against UTEP, they welcomed the East Tennessee State Buccaneers to their home. The game was all Jacksonville State from the start, with the Bucs having no answer for the Gamecocks running game, as it accounted for 237 yards and six touchdowns. Jacksonville State’s defense also forced four turnovers, leading to a 49-3 victory.
The Gamecocks will now go on the road to Conway, South Carolina to take on Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are coming off a game against UCLA that saw them struggle moving the ball. However, their defense kept it close for them, as they forced three interceptions, all by senior safety Clayton Isbell. With both teams having solid defenses, look for a low scoring game that hits the under. The Gamecocks will need a strong showing again from their ground attack, led by running backs Malik Jackson and Ron Wiggins, however, the Chanticleers veteran experience and home turf will pay dividends in the end and secure the victory.
The Flames got their first season in C-USA started with a home game versus the Falcons from Bowling Green. The score of 34-24 does not paint the whole picture of the game. Despite the Flames' defense securing five interceptions, which should have allowed them to run away with the game, an inconsistent offensive performance, multiple turnovers themselves, and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown kept the Falcons within striking distance. Nevertheless, a win is a win and marks the start of Liberty's season at 1-0.
Their next game will be an intra-conference matchup against New Mexico State. The Aggies got back in the win collumn following their loss against UMass with a win against Western Illinois. Quarterback Diego Pavia threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns and junior running back Star Thomas ran for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Liberty’s defense, led by linebackers Tyren Dupree and Jerome Jolly Jr., will look to crack down on the Aggies air-attack and force a few more turnovers. Look for a close game between these new additions to C-USA, with Liberty coming out on top.
After a great start for Boise State transfer Hank Bachmeier and the Bulldogs against FIU in week zero, they were seeking a similar result in Dallas against the Southern Methodist Mustangs. The Bulldogs came out and laid a dud, as they accounted for only 93 total yards of offense in the first half. Their defense also let them down with little to no answers for the Mustangs offense. The Bulldogs did tally two touchdowns in the second half and held SMU to only one score in the third, but that was not enough as LA Tech fell 38-14,
They look to flip the script as they head back home to Ruston to take on the Northwestern State Demons. This seems to be a nice bounce back game for the Bulldogs and seems to point towards another victory for them. That being said, the team will still need solid performances from Bachmeier and their defense in an effort to replicate their play against FIU. This could also be a game where LA Tech could try and really get the run game going to help them in the long haul.
Middle Tennessee State
The Blue Raiders drew the smallest straw as they started their season down in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Raiders gained momentum at times, but the untimely penalties prolonged multiple Alabama drives and conversaly killed their own. Alabama handled business from the start and avoided the ultimate upset with a dominating 56-7 victory as sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe totaled five touchdowns. The positives for MTSU were limiting turnovers on offense against one of the nation's best defenses, as well as forcing a few Alabama punts early in the second quarter, showcasing their ability to hold their own against stiff competition, which will prove to be worthy come conference play.
Unfortunately for MTSU, their season does not get much easier as they now head to face Columbia to face Missouri on the road, where the line for the game favors the Tigers by three touchdowns. The Blue Raider defense will need to step up by limiting blown coverages and missed tackles. Though Missouri is the clear favorite, it still requires them to play four full quarters of football against an MTSU team that, if given the opportunity, can move the ball downfield in a hurry.
New Mexico State
The Aggies are coming off a solid win against FCS opponent Western Illinois, where their offense never missed a beat, accounting for 58 points and 650 yards of total offense. However, their defense still allowed eight third-down conversions on the day and as a team, the Aggies committed six penalties for 75 yards.
As previously mentioned, New Mexico State finds themselves pitted against Liberty in a road game. Limiting turnovers and finding a way to put pressure on Liberty quarterback Kaiden Salter will be key in the Aggies keeping this game close, but ultimately, the Flames come out on top.
Sam Houston State
The Bearkats proved to be tough competition for BYU over the weekend, as their defense limited the Cougars to 14 points and only 260 yards of total offense. Senior linebacker Trevor Williams helped put pressure on Kedon Slovis and keep the BYU offense. The downside was that Sam Houston’s offense couldn’t back up their defense, as they went 2-for-14 on third downs and quarterback Keegan Shoemaker was picked off three times.
The Bearkats come home to Huntsville to square-off against a Mountain West stalwart in the Air Force Falcons. The Falcons love to run the ball with their coveted triple-option attack, so Sam Houston will be stacking the box in an effort to slow the speedy Air Force squad. With that said, the Air Force will most likely fly away with this one, especially if the Bearkat offense again struggles to move the ball.
Following a loss to the hands of Jacksonville State, the Miners welcomed an FCS opponent in Incarnate Word. The defense showed out again holding their opponent to only two touchdowns in back-to-back matches. Luckily for UTEP this was enough to lead them to a victory. The run game carried the offense accounting for 329 of the 423 yards and securing 2 touchdowns along the way. This matchup saw a nice bounce back from the Miners and a jolt of momentum for the team.
As they look at the week ahead, they take a jab at taking down a Big Ten foe in the Northwestern Wildcats. The line for the game sits at 1.5 points in favor of the Miners, so Vegas seems to like the possibility of UTEP taking one down on the road. If the Miners come out and pound the rock with Deion Hankins as well as they did against the Cardinals, we could very well see a C-USA school take down a Power Five opponent.
The Hilltopers opened their 2023 season on top of the hill welcoming the Bulls from South Florida. The Bulls came in with their horns out in the first half as they jumped out early with a 17-7 lead heading into the midway part of the second quarter. The unfortunate dilemma for South Florida is there was plenty of football to be played. The Hilltoppers were able to rally back and knot it up at 17 before the end of the first half. The tides flipped as Western Kentucky outscored the Bulls 24-7 in the second half, leading to a sound victory of 41-24. Senior quarterback Austin Reed tallied 336 passing yards and two touchdowns, and the Hilltopper defense forced three Bulls turnovers en route to the win.
They stay put at home as they welcome the Houston Christian Huskies to the hill. These teams share a little bond as WKU had a transfer from this very same school in 2021 by the name of Bailey Zappe. This game may sour that relationship a little more as one will stand above the other. That seems to be the Hilltoppers. If Austin Reed can replicate his performance from the week prior, Western Kentucky should easily start the year a nice 2-0.