USM, UTSA & La. Tech in the hunt in C-USA West, UTEP hits rock bottom

After a three-year run of East Division teams ruling Conference USA football, it appears as if the West is ready to claim its first conference title since 2013.

Louisiana Tech, UTSA (2-0) and Southern Miss (2-1) are all threats to win the West Division and North Texas can’t be counted out despite a 1-2 start.

Middle Tennessee (1-2), Marshall (2-1) and WKU are contenders in the East Division, but it’s anybody’s guess on which team will take first. WKU (1-2, 0-1) is no longer the offensive juggernaut that won the last two C-USA titles as shown by its 23-22 loss to Louisiana Tech in Bowling Green on Saturday and the Hilltoppers’ scoring average of 20 points a game.

La. Tech (2-1, 1-0) began the season as the popular choice to win the West again and the 57-21 loss at home to Mississippi State on Sept. 9 suddenly isn’t looking all that bad considering MSU thrashed LSU 37-7 last week.

UTSA has a senior quarterback (Dalton Sturm), a solid defense and a favorable schedule. If the Roadrunners get past USM on Oct. 7 in San Antonio, it seems likely that the West Division title will be decided when they travel to Louisiana Tech in the regular season finale.

USM may have the best defense in C-USA and has received better than expected play at quarterback in redshirt junior Kwadra Griggs. If that trend continues, USM could be back in the C-USA title game for the first time since 2015.

After falling short of expectations with a 7-6 season in 2016, USM has the potential to spoil lofty goals for Tech and UTSA. The problem for USM is that it has to travel to UTSA and Tech.

Non-conference battles

Marshall seems much improved after falling to 3-8 a year ago. The Thundering Herd have taken care of two MAC opponents (Miami-Ohio and Kent State) and its only loss was a 37-20 game at N.C. State. The Herd led N.C. State 20-10 in the second quarter.

Marshall will have a shot at picking up a good non-conference win when it travels to Cincinnati (2-1) after the bye week on Sept. 30.

MTSU’s 30-23 win at Syracuse on Sept. 9 was a nice win out of conference, giving the Blue Raiders their second win over a Power 5 team in consecutive years after beating Missouri last season.

However, MTSU has been manhandled by Vanderbilt and Minnesota in the other two games. The Blue Raiders will find out how good they are when they host Marshall on Oct. 20.

The worst

C-USA has been home to some bad football teams in its history, but this may be the worst season yet when it comes to the number of bottom feeders.

UTEP, Rice, Florida International and Charlotte are all among the worst teams in the nation and have a total of one win over an FBS opponent among them – and that’s only because Rice (1-2) won 31-14 at UTEP on Sept. 9.

Charlotte (0-3) has suffered the most embarrassing fate yet this season in C-USA, losing 35-31 to North Carolina A&T, an FCS team, on Saturday.

FIU (1-1) had to fight like heck to beat another FCS squad, Alcorn State, in a neutral site setting in Birmingham on Sept. 8 thanks to Hurricane Irma.

While Charlotte, FIU and Rice have all stumbled through the early going, there’s little doubt that UTEP (0-3) has been the worst team in C-USA up to this point.

A trip to nearby New Mexico State typically means the Miners have a good shot at a non-conference win, but not this Saturday. UTEP will travel to NMSU Saturday as an 18-point underdog.

UTEP head coach Sean Kugler fired his offensive coordinator, Brent Pease, after the Miners were mauled 63-16 by Arizona last week. UTEP has been outscored 150-37 through three games.

Kugler led the Miners to a 7-6 season and a bowl bid in 2014, but little else has gone right during his five years in El Paso. Overall, UTEP is 18-34 under the former Steelers offensive line coach.

1. UTSA (2-0)

2. La. Tech (2-1)

3. Southern Miss (2-1)

4. Marshall (2-1)

5. MTSU (1-2)

6. WKU (1-2)

7. North Texas (1-2)

8. ODU (2-1)

9. FAU (1-2)

10. UAB (2-1)

11. Rice (1-2)

12. FIU (1-1)

13. Charlotte (0-3)

14. UTEP (0-3)

Patrick Magee, Sun Herald

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