The league we thought was hard to get a feel for is even harder to understand today. FAU went to Western Kentucky and beat the twice-defending CUSA champs to stake their claim as the team to beat in CUSA. While FIU and Marshall also control their fate, FAU is the clear best team in the league right now. They have beat West leader NT by 39, and beat WKU by 14. With Marshall getting beat handily by FIU (???), and FIU having looked clear second-best against MTSU this month, no other East team can say their resume is unassailable.
Everyone can beat anyone on the day, and that is enough reason for every team that does not control their fate to be hopeful. It is also reason for every team that does to be on edge.
1. FAU (1)
Lane Kiffin’s group overcame a 28-20 deficit and unleashed an offensive haymaker to end the game in Bowling Green. While the crowd was kept away by the cold and apathy, the Owls had not won very much in cold weather. The Owls intercepted Mike White twice, and shutdown the WKU offense on the way to closing this out. They look really good, having beat both the East and West contenders.
2. UNT (5)
The Mean Green have not looked great for two weeks but they did move themselves to 4-1 in conference, which puts them in control of the division. ODU is improving and so Seth Littrell and company should not feel too awful, but after the defense collapsed two weeks ago, the Special Teams looked poor this game. The offense, while explosive, cannot put together four complete quarters. Up next is Louisiana Tech, a good team that has lost two tough games.
3. FIU (9)
Is this too high? While the Panthers lost a testament game a couple of weeks a go, they completely destroyed Marshall this game. The Herd has looked best on offense and has struggled on defense. This week they looked terrible on both ends. A bye week to prepare looked to have done wonders. UTSA is next at home in what should be a good test of Butch Davis’s crew.
4. Marshall (2)
A week before the big showdown with FAU, Marshall stumbled against FIU. Well, stumble is being kind. They were awful at home against the Panthers. Next week’s game against Florida Atlantic will be important because Marshall needs to win to stay in the division race. The slate does not get much easier afterward with WKU, UTSA, and USM left.
5. UAB (8)
UAB beat USM and Blazer fans may want to be ranked higher. UAB does not control their destiny, however. The first year under Bill Clark has gone about as well as could be hoped. This blog figured UAB was good for one or two upsets this year. They’ve not beaten USM and La Tech and nearly came back against NT. The Blazers need a little help to do the unthinkable and win the division but they are helping themselves.
6. USM (3)
We can call this loss against UAB a hangover loss. Ito Smith was banged up and tried to play but UAB was too tough defensively and had timely scores late. The Golden Eagles need North Texas to lose in Ruston and probably once more while also winning out.
7. UTSA (6)
An ugly win in El Paso is a win, nonetheless. The Roadrunners went up 17 before allowing UTEP to score 14 straight. They then held off the Miners the rest of the way to win 31-14. Next up is a now-tough game against the Panthers in Florida followed by a tough UAB, a still-good Marshall, and a trip to Ruston. UTSA has not had one complete game in conference play and the competition is only getting tougher.
8. LT (7)
Wait, a Bulldog win and still they remain below UTSA and USM? Well, yes. La Tech has lost twice inside the division and hosts NT in a make-or-break game. They beat Rice on the road but allowed 28 points to a bad Owl team and blew a 14-point lead a week after blowing a lead against USM. They will face the best offense in the division. The good news is for Tech is that NT has not played their best in a couple of weeks either.
9. WKU (4)
The good news about the loss was that no one was there to see it. The bad: FAU did a tough thing to steal the lead and then step on the Hilltopper throat. The only worst option for Western would have been getting blown out. As it was, Mike White was intercepted twice and the defense — the only thing keeping this team afloat at times — was destroyed late. WKU is out of the running for a three-peat without a complete breakdown by three other teams.
10. ODU (11)
Two straight tough losses for this talented, young, injured team. Steve Williams will be very good soon, but right now he accounted for the three turnovers that helped do the Monarchs in. Ray Lawry looked slower against the NT rush defense, but Jeremy Cox looked good. Still that run game could not convert big fourth-and-shorts late, dooming the comeback bid. The season is cursed.
11. MTSU (10)
12. Rice (12)
Hey! A real shot at an upset. The Owls availed themselves well in this one but came up short. Moral victory.
13. Charlotte (13)
14. UTEP (14)
This felt like a ripe opportunity to pull off an upset. UTSA has not been playing well and UTEP felt spunky. The brief comeback bid looked good but UTEP fell back into the terrible offensive habits that has killed anyting good about this team. At CUSA Media Days I had asked former coach Sean Kugler if the offense could cope without Aaron Jones. He thought so, but obviously this was very wrong.