Inside Marshall Sports

Conference USA notebook for 9/2

Hello, Herd fans!

Technically, it’s the second weekend of the C-USA season, as Rice traveled to Australia last week and was de-feathered by Stanford 62-7. To make matters worse, the Owls had to forgo landing at Houston and set up shop at Texas Christian University. Fortunately, the Owls the Rice University have a week to sort out matters.

Regrettably, Texas-San Antonio’s home game with the Houston Cougars has been postponed. That will be a tough rescheduling — the next open weekend for both is December 9. (Both teams have a fair shot at their league championship games, on the weekend of Dec. 2.

As I did last year, I will present games involving C-USA teams, in order of interest, with my prediction against the point spread.

KENTUCKY (0-0) at SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (0-0), 4 p.m. Saturday
TV: CBS Sports Network

Last Meeting: Southern Miss 44, at Kentucky 35 (Sept. 3, 2016)

As may remember, the Golden Eagles scored 34 unanswered points to swamp the Wildcats 44-35 last year in Lexington. The Eagles held a 295-56 advantage in total yards after the second half.

Ito Smith, who has 16 100-yard games in his career, is the top returning rusher in the league (1,321 yards), while Allenzae Staggers owns five 200-yard receiving game, including a school-record 292-yard effort (on just six passes) against Rice.

It would be just like me to pick against Kentucky, and guess what? As a double-digit favorite, that’s an easy call.

Line: Kentucky by 10.5. SOUTHERN MISS

ALABAMA A&M (0-0) at ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (0-0), 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Trivia: I was the last writer to leave the Legion Field pressbox after a UAB game — and I witnessed the UAB logos getting scrubbed off the field. A man from Birmingham Parks & Rec told me they were prepping for a movie shoot, but I don’t recall a stinkin’ movie since.

It’s a miracle to me that coach Bill Clark and 14 players have returned from the 2014 Blazers. The roster features 16 redshirt seniors, 43 redshirt juniors, 5 juniors, 19 redshirt sophomores, 29 redshirt freshmen and 10 true freshmen.

“There is going to be relief once the ball is kicked off, when that game is over we’ll be getting ready for game two,” Clark said.
“What I don’t want us to lose is how important this is for our school and our community. Hopefully our community feels that sense of, we need you, we need you week three and every week after that.”
As a practical matter, this game is a barometer on whether the Blazers will be 130th in the nation, or if they will be better. Alabama A&M is coming off a 4-7 season, and the Blazers need to blast them off the field.
Line: None. UAB

VANDERBILT (0-0) at MIDDLE TENNESSEE (0-0),  8 p.m. Saturday
TV: CBS Sports Network

Vandy won 27-24 in this neighborly semi-rivalry, but the Brent Stockstill-to-Richie James combo has grown fearsome. Stockstill threw for 399 yards in last year’s game, with James catching 14 for 183. Alas, Vandy scored on three short-field drives to lead 33-17 at halftime.

In two football trips, I have been unimpressed with MTSU’s fan base, but blue should be the color of the day at Floyd Stadium. This will be a fun game.

Line: Vandy by 3.5. MTSU
NAVY (0-0) at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (0-0), 8 p.m. Friday

The Midshipmen get a little shore leave in Boca Raton, and have heard about the dawning of the Lane Kiffin era. The game is expected to be a near-sellout, at the least.

Kiffin has a few offensive tools at his disposal, such as 1,000-yard rusher Devin Singletary and quarterback … quarterback … somebody or somebodies, I guess. They may score some points, but Navy eventually gets the ball.

The Middies ran for 310 yards per game, and their triple option will send the Owls’ defense burrowing for answers. I look for Navy to rush for 450-plus.


TV: CBS Sports Network

FIU returning nine starters on defense impresses more a lot more than Butch Davis being the new coach. Last year, FIU throttled Marshall in the second half of an energizing win in Miami.

Davis hasn’t coached since 2010, but brought in experience coordinators Brent Guy (defense) and Rich Skrosky (offense). If a head coach brings in good people for his staff, he’s won half the battle.

The Panthers beat UCF 15-14 in 2015, but those Knights were awful. These Knights are not.

Line: UCF by 17. UCF

CHARLOTTE (0-0) at EASTERN MICHIGAN (0-0), 6:30 p.m. Friday

Did you remember EMU played in a bowl game? Did you remember Charlotte won four, including one at … never mind.

In their fifth year, the 49ers may take a step down after the loss of nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi and other defenders. Hasaan Klugh is a veteran QB now, but there are questions all around him. The turnover margin last year was plus-8, which brings the question: How much was opportunistic defense and how much was luck?

Line: Eastern Michigan by 14. EMU

TEXAS-EL PASO (0-0) at OKLAHOMA (0-0), 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Guard Will Hernandez became the first Miner offensive lineman to earn All-American honors, and was named Pro Football Focus Protector of the Year among all FBS linemen. Hernandez is an AP preseason All-American selection this year, and is emblematic of Sean Kugler’s run-heavy emphasis.

Whether Hernandez has a good line around him is up in the air, as is the question of a running back to replace Aaron Jones. And Oklahoma eventually gets the ball, so …

Kugler is reportedly on the hot seat in El Paso, but it would be unfair to judge on this game

Line: Oklahoma by 43. UTEP … I think, I think.

Other FBS on FCS crime (right?):
ALBANY (0-0) at OLD DOMINION (0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday

EASTERN KENTUCKY (0-0) at WESTERN KENTUCKY (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
TV: FloSports

LAMAR (0-0) at NORTH TEXAS (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday

NORTHWESTERN STATE (0-0) at LOUISIANA TECH (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday