OK, commish Judy McLeod, dust off your speech about how strong Conference USA is this year. Realistically, eight of 14 teams can go bowling, and the league will seize unfilled spots in other bowls. There’s a dark side, though: CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm projected Marshall to play Central Michigan in the usually Big Ten-vs.-ACC Quick Lane Bowl.
That’s in Detroit. That thought may make me throw myself in the Atlantic Ocean this weekend, never to return.
The somewhat strange schedule, in (my) order of interest:
SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (5-3) at TENNESSEE, 7:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
The Golden Eagles were held to 81 yards rushing by UAB, and still has quarterback issues after all these weeks. Maybe Jay Hopson can sort out the Keon Howard vs. Kwandra Griggs dilemma before the season finale at Marshall.
But with the Butch Jones Death Watch at the edge of the cliff, it would be awesome to see the Golden Eagles give the final push. I think they’ll do it.
LINE: Tennessee by 5.5. SOUTHERN MISS, PROBABLY OUTRIGHT
TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (5-2, 2-2) at FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (5-2, 3-1), 7 p.m.
As much as I like the Roadrunners, they have a Marshall-like problem with their resume. Of their five victories, only one has come against a team with a winning record, and that’s Southern. The four FBS victims are a combined 2-29.
But their two losses are to Southern Miss and North Texas, both in game that went to the final minute. If this team has the character I think it does, it will turn that into a positive against an FIU team that might take a step back after two really good wins.
Besides, QB Dalton Sturm (2 picks all season) won’t turn it over. At all.
LINE: UTSA by 4. UTSA
NORTH TEXAS (5-3, 4-1) at LOUISIANA TECH (4-4, 2-2), 3:30 p.m.
TV: Stadium via Facebook
In full desperation mode, the Bulldogs didn’t inspire confidence by needing a touchdown with a minute left to beat Rice. (The score was 42-28, thanks to a late “pick-six” return.)
Meanwhile, the Mean Green was in full hangover mode last week after its 69-31 pummeling by Florida Atlantic, struggling with Old Dominion at home. The defense woke up in the fourth quarter, making three fourth-and-1 stops to secure a 45-38 victory.
The Bulldogs’ offense is a weeeee little better than that of the Monarchs. I smell a possible 90-point game here.
LINE: La Tech by 3.5. LA TECH
WESTERN KENTUCKY (5-3) at VANDERBILT, noon
What, the Commodores are applying to enter Conference USA? Well, they do occupy the geographical middle ground in the “100 Miles of Hate.”
Vandy held Middle Tennessee (with Brent Stockstill), to 215 total yards, but we know that’s not as impressive as it would be to limit WKU that low. Surely, the Hilltoppers can do better than that.
Then again, as their fourth-quarter performance against Florida Atlantic showed, these Hilltoppers are tough bunch to figure.
LINE: Vanderbilt by 11.5. WKU TO COVER
RICE (1-7, 1-3) at ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (5-3, 3-2), 3 p.m.
The best nickname I have seen for UAB: “College football’s favorite zombies.” This once-dead program has two near-gimme shots to clinch bowl eligibility, this one and the season finale against UTEP.
And apparently, Spencer Brown is all that and more. He has 615 rushing yards in his last four games.
LINE: UAB by 11.5. RICE TO COVER, SOMEHOW
CHARLOTTE (1-7, 1-3) at OLD DOMINION (2-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m.
The Monarchs don’t have UTEP on the schedule, so the 49ers and Rice (in two weeks) will have to do for their shot at a conference win.
LINE: ODU by 8.5. CHARLOTTE TO COVER
TEXAS-EL PASO (0-8, 0-4) at MIDDLE TENNESSEE (3-5, 1-3), 7:30 p.m.
TV: beIN Sports
You think MTSU’s crowd for Marshall was small? A November night game against UTEP is cruel and unusual punishment.
Brent Stockstill is having an MRI this week, and his dad/coach is holding onto hope he can come and rescue the season. My hunch: He can’t come back the rest of the season, and the Blue Raiders are falling short of six wins.
But this week, the Raiders will get win No. 4 with anybody behind center.
LINE: MTSU by 18. MTSU
Last week: 4-1
East: Marshall, FAU 4-0, FIU, Marshall 3-1, WKU 3-2, MTSU, Charlotte 1-3, Old Dominion 0-4.
West: North Texas 4-1, UAB, Southern Miss 3-2, UTSA, Louisiana Tech 2-2, Rice 1-3, UTEP 0-4.
Bowl eligible: Marshall (6-2). On verge: Southern Miss (5-2), WKU (5-2), FAU (5-3), FIU (5-2), North Texas (5-3), UAB (5-3), UTSA (5-2)
Eliminated: UTEP, Charlotte, Rice. On verge: Old Dominion (2-6).
Rushing yards: Devin Singletary, FAU, 1,053; Spencer Brown, UAB, 909; Jeffery Wilson, NT, 834. (Marshall: Keion Davis 8th, 518.)
Passing yards: Mason Fine, NT, 2,388; Mike White, WKU, 2,328; J’Mar Smith 1,960; Chase Litton, Marshall, 1,913.
Pass efficiency: Dalton Sturm, UTSA (121-185-2, 1,563 yds, 13 TDs, rating 157.4); Mason Fine, NT (178-280-8, 2,388 yds, 17 TDs, rating 149.5); Mike White, WKU (214-327-6, 2,328 yds, 14 TDs, rating 135.7). (Marshall: Chase Litton 5th, 134.8.)
Receptions: Teddy Veal, La Tech, 50; Tyre Brady, Marshall, 47; Korey Robinson, Southern Miss, 43. (Other Marshall: Marcel Williams, 8th, 36; Ryan Yurachek, 11th, 32.)
Receiving yards: Thomas Owens, FIU, 728; Tyre Brady, Marshall, 694; Jalen Guyton, NT, 692. (Other Marshall: Marcel Williams 13th, 374; Ryan Yurachek 20th, 307.)
Team total offense: North Texas 484.4, FAU 482.4, UTSA 449.3. (Marshall 9th, 388.9)
Team total defense: UTSA 294.7, Marshall 325.6, Southern Miss 331.5.
Scoring offense: FAU 39.5, North Texas 37.4, UTSA 31.1. (Marshall 6th, 28.4)
Scoring defense: UTSA 17.4, Marshall 17.6, Southern Miss 21.3.