Week 9 Conference USA Previews

    UAB (4-3) at Arkansas (3-4) Oct. 25, 12:00, SEC Network Here’s The Deal: A visit from a Conference USA team couldn’t come at a more perfect time for

    October 24, 2014

    UAB (4-3) at Arkansas (3-4) Oct. 25, 12:00, SEC Network 

    Here’s The Deal: A visit from a Conference USA team couldn’t come at a more perfect time for Arkansas, which just faced Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia, and has a wicked last month of games remaining. The Razorbacks must use this week to get healthy, both physically and emotionally, if they have any hope of playing SEC West spoiler in November. UAB will need to bounce back from a tough loss to Middle Tennessee in a game it was leading in the second half. The Blazers have made significant strides in Bill Clark’s first year, but can really take a step forward with an upset this week in Fayetteville. 
    Why UAB Might Win: No one has scored more points against top-ranked Mississippi State this season than the Blazers, which played well in its first crack at an SEC opponent. UAB averages 37 points a game, while getting balance from the running of Jordan Howard and the long strikes of QB Cody Clements. Albeit against better competition, Arkansas has been very soft versus the pass this fall, with a 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. 
    Why Arkansas Might Win: When facing average defenses, the Hogs have run the ball down their throats this season. UAB sports, at best, an average defensive unit, even by the Conference USA measuring stick. Arkansas can bank on a huge day on the ground from the backfield tandem of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, which will create opportunities for QB Brandon Allen to find receivers and tight ends downfield on play-action. 
    Who To Watch Out For: If the Blazers have any chance of competing Saturday afternoon, they’ll need to keep the Arkansas D-line at bay. It’ll be a tall order for the self-made UAB blocking unit. DE Trey Flowers, DT Darius Philon and NG Taiwan Johnson are all quick to the pocket, and are itching to face someone other than SEC blockers. 
    What’s Going To Happen: There’ll be no looking back—or ahead—for Arkansas, which watched the film of the UAB-Mississippi State game, and knows the importance of this week’s matchup. The Hogs will control the line of scrimmage, springing Williams and Collins for 250 combined rushing yards to keep the Blazer offense off the field. 
    Prediction: Arkansas 41 … UAB 19 
    Line: Arkansas -23.5 o/u: 63 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 2 

    North Texas (2-5) at Rice (3-3) Oct. 25, 12:00, Fox Sports 

    Here’s The Deal: Two rivals heading in opposite directions meet this week in Houston. Rice has regrouped from a slow start to win the last three games comfortably. The Owls will need to avoid any stumbles during the second half of the year to keep pace with West Division-leading Louisiana Tech. North Texas, on the contrary, has dropped three in a row. The Mean Green has fallen on hard times after winning nine games in 2013, inexplicably fading at home last week to Southern Miss. 
    Why North Texas Might Win: While the Rice defense is improved, it’s not without its weaknesses. The Owls have flashed vulnerabilities to the run and the pass, which should create opportunities for backs Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram, as well as the pitch-and-catch combo of Andrew McNulty to Carlos Harris. McNulty found Harris 15 times on Saturday. 
    Why Rice Might Win: Other than LB Derek Akunne, not enough Mean Green defenders are playing with much consistency this season. The Owls will exploit the unusually leaky North Texas D on the ground and through the air. QB Driphus Jackson has been the explosive orchestrator of a Rice attack that can also pound away at the soft UNT interior with a combination of Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard between the tackles. 
    Who To Watch Out For: The Owls will match up Bryce Callahan, their top corner, on Harris in an effort to force McNulty to test out different receivers. David Bailiff might even consider doubling the Mean Green’s best target, since Harris is the only receiver to catch more than a dozen passes this season. 
    What’s Going To Happen: Rice is on the kind of roll that won’t be thwarted at home by stumbling North Texas. The Owls will perform without any rust following last week’s bye, schooling the Mean Green D with a talented backfield that operates with power and agility. 
    Prediction: Rice 38 … North Texas 20 
    Line: Rice -15 o/u: 57 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1 

    Florida Atlantic (3-4) at Marshall (7-0) Oct. 25, 3:30, Fox Sports 1 

    Here’s The Deal: With another blowout of an overmatched opponent, Marshall remained one of the nation’s four unbeaten programs, while moving a rung higher in Top 25 polls. The Herd is thundering toward a Conference USA East crown, but has its sights set on even bigger prizes. As long as Marshall avoids an upset, it’s going to be one of the strong contenders to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s bowl game. Florida Atlantic has lacked consistency in its first season under Charlie Partridge. However, the Owls have won two of their last three, including over Western Kentucky last Saturday. 
    Why Florida Atlantic Might Win: If you want to hang with Marshall, you better be prepared to score often. The Owls might be up to the challenge. In their last two wins, they scored 86 points by unlocking the multi-dimensional potential of QB Jaquez Johnson. Johnson has thrown 10 touchdowns to one pick, and he can make things happen with his feet. 
    Why Marshall Might Win: Every opponent brings its ‘A’ game for Marshall, but the Herd has no signs of tapping the brakes. It’s won each of the last six games by no fewer than 25 points, with a combination of balanced offense and unheralded D. No one has held Marshall under 42 points, as QB Rakeem Cato maximizes all of the eclectic skill position talent that surrounds him. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Someone will need to spy Johnson at all times, especially when he exits the pocket. The Herd is flush with good athletes who can make plays from sideline-to-sideline. LB Neville Hewitt is sort of the prototype of a Marshall defender. He’s not very big, but he makes a ton of plays, downfield and behind the line of scrimmage. 
    What’s Going To Happen: Marshall has given zero indication that it doesn’t have a laser focus on the task at hand. In fact, the way the Herd has disposed of each challenger has been quite remarkable. Florida Atlantic is dangerous at home, but not so much outside Boca Raton, a trend that’ll continue this week in Huntington. 
    Prediction: Marshall 45 … Florida Atlantic 16 
    Line: Marshall -28 o/u: 67.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 2 

    Louisiana Tech (4-3) at Southern Miss (3-4) Oct. 25, 3:30 

    Here’s The Deal: There are two teams undefeated in Conference USA play. Marshall is one of them. And Louisiana Tech is the other. In one of the odder resume quirks, the Bulldogs have lost to Oklahoma, Auburn … and Northwestern State. Tech looks to stay one step ahead of the competition this week in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss is fresh off its best win of the year, and possibly the Todd Monken era, beating North Texas in Denton. If the Eagles can build on their road upset, they’ll spend November dreaming of a December bowl game. 
    Why Louisiana Tech Might Win: The Bulldogs boast the better offensive personnel, led by RB Kenneth Dixon and veteran QB Cody Sokol. Dixon is liable to run wild against a Southern Miss defense giving up 5.6 yards per carry. And if the Golden Eagles stack the box to stop No. 28, Sokol will capitalize over the top. 
    Why Southern Miss Might Win: The Eagles are home, improving and gushing with confidence after getting out of Denton with a win. They’re running the ball better behind Ito Smith and George Payne, and QB Nick Mullens has shown more flashes of consistency. It was only a month ago that Louisiana Tech lost to an FCS team in Ruston, turning the ball over five times. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Turnover-prone Mullens will need to be extra careful with the ball this weekend. Manny Diaz’s aggressive D has accounted for 18 takeaways, including eight forced fumbles, four interceptions from S Xavier Woods and two picks from LB Terrell Pinson. The Bulldogs like to attack, which will force the quarterback to face down pressure. 
    What’s Going To Happen: This is a tricky road test for Louisiana Tech. Southern Miss is improving, and consistency can sometimes elude the Bulldogs. They’ll survive in Hattiesburg, but only because Dixon will put the team on his back and carry it to a close win. 
    Prediction: Louisiana Tech 31 … Southern Miss 24 
    Line: Louisiana Tech -10 o/u: 55 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1.5 
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    Old Dominion (3-4) at Western Kentucky (2-4) Oct. 25, 4:00 

    Here’s The Deal: There won’t be a ton at stake when Old Dominion squares off with Western Kentucky this Saturday afternoon. But Monarch Taylor Heinicke versus Topper Brandon Doughty will be one of the sneaky-good quarterback duels of the entire month of October. The two newcomer programs to Conference USA are mirror images of one another; they can’t stop anyone, they score a ton of points and they’ve gone winless for the month. 
    Why Old Dominion Might Win: Heinicke will achieve his usual production against a Western Kentucky D allowing 40 points and 533 yards per game. The Hilltoppers are a sieve on defense, which Heinicke will be able to exploit with his legs as well as his arm. In terms of pass efficiency defense, no one has been flimsier so far this fall than Western Kentucky. 
    Why Western Kentucky Might Win: Doughty will achieve his usual production against an Old Dominion D allowing 37 points and 467 yards per game. The Monarchs are every bit as overwhelmed as the Hilltoppers, a situation exacerbated by poor tackling and shaky coverage. Western Kentucky has better options on the ground, Leon Allen and Anthony Wales, to go along with a very deep corps of receivers. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Sure, opposing quarterbacks prefer to avoid the side of the field occupied by Western Kentucky’s Cam Thomas, but the senior corner has been a mild disappointment in 2014. Where are the big plays that were so common a season ago? He’s yet to pick off a pass or make a stop in the backfield, and he’s allowed too many big plays through the air. 
    What’s Going To Happen: The quarterbacks may duel to a draw, but Doughty has the better all-around supporting cast, which will be the difference this weekend. While Heinicke is more of a one-man gang, Western Kentucky is capable of spreading the wealth, including balancing its passing attack with some tough yards between the tackles from Allen. 
    Prediction: Western Kentucky 49 … Old Dominion 41 
    Line: Western Kentucky -10.5 o/u: 77 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1.5 
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    UTEP (3-3) at UTSA (2-5) Oct. 25, 7:00, American Sports Network 

    Here’s The Deal: In a matchup of contrasting styles, the offensive firepower of UTEP matches wits with the sound defense of UTSA in a game destined to become a rivalry. The Miners had Saturday off in Week 8, but they evened their record with a 42-35 win over Old Dominion two weeks ago. The Roadrunners’ quest for a .500 season is beginning to slip through their fingertips. Although they fought hard in Ruston last weekend, they still fell short to Louisiana Tech, 27-20. 
    Why UTEP Might Win: The Miners have far greater firepower, most of which comes from RB Aaron Jones, who leads the team in rushing, scoring and receptions. If the sophomore gets into space, look out. Not only can he take a game over, but he’s liable to singlehandedly outscore a feeble UTSA attack averaging just 316 yards per game, while failing to protect the pocket. 
    Why UTSA Might Win: The Roadrunners are the better defensive team … by far. UTSA has one of the most fundamentally sound defenses in Conference USA, a veteran group that tends to keep plays in front of it. It’s going to frustrate a Miner team whose fortune rests so heavily on a single player. UTEP, on the other hand, hasn’t stopped anyone in 2014, yielding more yards per play than any FBS team. 
    Who To Watch Out For: The Roadrunner passing attack is a wreck. But the running game has hope thanks to the development of sophomore RB Jarveon Williams, who’s rushed for 178 yards and two scores on 27 carries over the last three games. He ought to be featured versus a UTEP defense that’s last nationally in yards per carry allowed. 
    What’s Going To Happen: UTSA is flawed, but it’ll also be the better all-around coached team at the Alamodome this Saturday. The Roadrunners will employ solid defense and Williams’ non-stop legs to offset the flash and big-play potential of the UTEP offense. 
    Prediction: UTSA 27 … UTEP 21 
    Line: UTSA -10 o/u: 52.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1 

    Louisiana Tech (4-3) at Southern Miss (3-4) Oct. 25, 3:30 

    Here’s The Deal: There are two teams undefeated in Conference USA play. Marshall is one of them. And Louisiana Tech is the other. In one of the odder resume quirks, the Bulldogs have lost to Oklahoma, Auburn … and Northwestern State. Tech looks to stay one step ahead of the competition this week in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss is fresh off its best win of the year, and possibly the Todd Monken era, beating North Texas in Denton. If the Eagles can build on their road upset, they’ll spend November dreaming of a December bowl game. 
    Why Louisiana Tech Might Win: The Bulldogs boast the better offensive personnel, led by RB Kenneth Dixon and veteran QB Cody Sokol. Dixon is liable to run wild against a Southern Miss defense giving up 5.6 yards per carry. And if the Golden Eagles stack the box to stop No. 28, Sokol will capitalize over the top. 
    Why Southern Miss Might Win: The Eagles are home, improving and gushing with confidence after getting out of Denton with a win. They’re running the ball better behind Ito Smith and George Payne, and QB Nick Mullens has shown more flashes of consistency. It was only a month ago that Louisiana Tech lost to an FCS team in Ruston, turning the ball over five times. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Turnover-prone Mullens will need to be extra careful with the ball this weekend. Manny Diaz’s aggressive D has accounted for 18 takeaways, including eight forced fumbles, four interceptions from S Xavier Woods and two picks from LB Terrell Pinson. The Bulldogs like to attack, which will force the quarterback to face down pressure. 
    What’s Going To Happen: This is a tricky road test for Louisiana Tech. Southern Miss is improving, and consistency can sometimes elude the Bulldogs. They’ll survive in Hattiesburg, but only because Dixon will put the team on his back and carry it to a close win. 
    Prediction: Louisiana Tech 31 … Southern Miss 24 
    Line: Louisiana Tech -10 o/u: 55 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1.5 

    Old Dominion (3-4) at Western Kentucky (2-4) Oct. 25, 4:00 

    Here’s The Deal: There won’t be a ton at stake when Old Dominion squares off with Western Kentucky this Saturday afternoon. But Monarch Taylor Heinicke versus Topper Brandon Doughty will be one of the sneaky-good quarterback duels of the entire month of October. The two newcomer programs to Conference USA are mirror images of one another; they can’t stop anyone, they score a ton of points and they’ve gone winless for the month. 
    Why Old Dominion Might Win: Heinicke will achieve his usual production against a Western Kentucky D allowing 40 points and 533 yards per game. The Hilltoppers are a sieve on defense, which Heinicke will be able to exploit with his legs as well as his arm. In terms of pass efficiency defense, no one has been flimsier so far this fall than Western Kentucky. 
    Why Western Kentucky Might Win: Doughty will achieve his usual production against an Old Dominion D allowing 37 points and 467 yards per game. The Monarchs are every bit as overwhelmed as the Hilltoppers, a situation exacerbated by poor tackling and shaky coverage. Western Kentucky has better options on the ground, Leon Allen and Anthony Wales, to go along with a very deep corps of receivers. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Sure, opposing quarterbacks prefer to avoid the side of the field occupied by Western Kentucky’s Cam Thomas, but the senior corner has been a mild disappointment in 2014. Where are the big plays that were so common a season ago? He’s yet to pick off a pass or make a stop in the backfield, and he’s allowed too many big plays through the air. 
    What’s Going To Happen: The quarterbacks may duel to a draw, but Doughty has the better all-around supporting cast, which will be the difference this weekend. While Heinicke is more of a one-man gang, Western Kentucky is capable of spreading the wealth, including balancing its passing attack with some tough yards between the tackles from Allen. 
    Prediction: Western Kentucky 49 … Old Dominion 41 
    Line: Western Kentucky -10.5 o/u: 77 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1.5 

    UTEP (3-3) at UTSA (2-5) Oct. 25, 7:00, American Sports Network 

    Here’s The Deal: In a matchup of contrasting styles, the offensive firepower of UTEP matches wits with the sound defense of UTSA in a game destined to become a rivalry. The Miners had Saturday off in Week 8, but they evened their record with a 42-35 win over Old Dominion two weeks ago. The Roadrunners’ quest for a .500 season is beginning to slip through their fingertips. Although they fought hard in Ruston last weekend, they still fell short to Louisiana Tech, 27-20. 
    Why UTEP Might Win: The Miners have far greater firepower, most of which comes from RB Aaron Jones, who leads the team in rushing, scoring and receptions. If the sophomore gets into space, look out. Not only can he take a game over, but he’s liable to singlehandedly outscore a feeble UTSA attack averaging just 316 yards per game, while failing to protect the pocket. 
    Why UTSA Might Win: The Roadrunners are the better defensive team … by far. UTSA has one of the most fundamentally sound defenses in Conference USA, a veteran group that tends to keep plays in front of it. It’s going to frustrate a Miner team whose fortune rests so heavily on a single player. UTEP, on the other hand, hasn’t stopped anyone in 2014, yielding more yards per play than any FBS team. 
    Who To Watch Out For: The Roadrunner passing attack is a wreck. But the running game has hope thanks to the development of sophomore RB Jarveon Williams, who’s rushed for 178 yards and two scores on 27 carries over the last three games. He ought to be featured versus a UTEP defense that’s last nationally in yards per carry allowed. 
    What’s Going To Happen: UTSA is flawed, but it’ll also be the better all-around coached team at the Alamodome this Saturday. The Roadrunners will employ solid defense and Williams’ non-stop legs to offset the flash and big-play potential of the UTEP offense. 
    Prediction: UTSA 27 … UTEP 21 
    Line: UTSA -10 o/u: 52.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 1 

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