Greetings from the internet. CR was on a longer-than-expected hiatus as we were doing some reorganizing behind the scenes. We noted on twitter, but not in this space, so if you were wondering we apologize for the lack of information.
Rest assured: we have been watching the games, and have our opinions. Instead of game-by-game recaps, we will rank the teams by power using our proprietary ranking and add some notes about recent performances.
- UTSA – The Roadrunners enter the bye week 4-0, and pulled out an epic game-winning drive that saw the tight-end Cardenas pull down a one-handed (left!) grab to get UTSA into scoring position. The next play-call was bold, but something we have seen before from head coach Traylor (vs WKU on fourth down). They play to win. UTSA has now won vs UAB in a play-in game (essentially) last year, a title-game, and beat NT in a battle for first. They do not always look like the best team in the league (vs FIU, Middle for a stretch) but when it is winning time, they have a play-making QB and are dangerous. They get a chance to rest, now and that should help things a bit.
- WKU – The Tops are 3-1, lost in San Antonio, but gave them all they could handle until NT did the same a couple of weeks later. Reed is very good, can run, and very accurate. The WR group is dynamic, and the second-best in the league in talent and production. The run game is dynamic, and I really like the scheme (lots of pulling lineman and play-action off of it). The defense is always well-schemed and had a good game plan for UTSA. They did a great job vs UAB and own their destiny the rest of the way. Next up is UNT, a good rush team with the capability of hitting you over the top with big WR and TEs that can run.
- NT – These are power rankings, not talent rankings. NT looked awful, terrible, and garbage in non-conference (terrible losses to SMU, UNLV, Memphis) but had won well vs FAU and Tech. The run game looked powerful and clever, the pass game was doing nice play-action, and the defense was getting timely stops to put them in position to win. Against UTSA, they could not run as productively (22 yards) but that was because UTSA was flying forward to stop it. That put the spotlight on Austin Aune to make plays. He had big numbers – 325 yards and 2 scores – but close-watchers will not the missed chances and poor completion percentage. It is tempting to think that NT is on the verge of unlocking some explosive ability, but it is equally likely that they fall back to earth. Full credit to them for taking the lead three times after losing it – big plays by Aune, again – and being a half-yard away from winning the game. It took a miracle catch and a great throw vs a good young corner (Texada has been great) for UTSA to win.
- Rice – If you are one of twelve Owl fans you are finally seeing the fruits of the Bloomgren labor. This Owl squad has looked tough and capable but unlike previous seasons, they are winning games. There was a comeback vs Louisiana Tech and a big win vs UAB. Sure, FAU squeaked by with a 3-point win but there was a lot to like there. The next part of the schedule won’t require perfect games from Rice, either (CLT, UTEP). The end of the season will see three title-game hopefuls in @WKU, vs UTSA, and @UNT. That’s a tough little stretch but it will tell decide the title race. The Owls have every chance of doing some damage and either sneaking into the race (like they did in 2013!) or messing it up for someone with designs on hosting.
- UAB – The Blazers are a better team than UNT on paper, but the games are played in real life where the coaches have to do play-calls and everyone needs to execute. The run game still looks very good and watching this team you see a lot of positives. That makes sense, as UAB was probably as good as UTSA last year and was also one-drive away from winning in San Antonio. The tools are there but the products being made are less-than-good. Obviously, missing Bill Clark as the head coach is a gigantic thing and easy to point to for root cause analysis. Two-losses in conference play means UAB needs help. They have UNT on the schedule and so can get ahead of them with a win in Birmingham, but they need two someones to beat WKU. They can spend time rooting against UTSA as well, but that doesn’t seem too likely. They can be very good and still outside the title game. WKU and UTSA are likely the championship game participants at this moment and UAB could split against them and be on the outside looking in .... because of Rice.
- UTEP/FAU – Sure, UTEP beat FAU on a late-field goal the other day, but these teams are very much alike. They have talent, but are sort of middling. They are good enough to beat you but also bad enough to let you come back and win. The talent is there, but neither side of the ball will impose their will upon you, but instead will take what is given. That is a recipe for mediocre and that is about that.
- Tech – A teams that is flawed but will jump up on you if you are not careful. Tech’s offense is explosive and interesting. I love the screens and movement they do with Smoke Harris. McNeil is a solid QB but was injured. Downing and the freshman Lyddy came in and made some big time throws to get to, and through overtime. They are trying to be bold - going for 2 there at the end - but are still building the kind of team they want. The roster was thin even in Holtz’ last season but has talent. Tech has always been able to recruit talent to Ruston and I expect they will be good in the coming years. Right now? You and I could probably run through that defense.
- Middle – they had a brief run where they looked like they were going to do something.
- FIU – gasp! FIU handled Charlotte. I was of the opinion that FIU was the worst team in the league. They proved that wrong. They are clearly the second-worst. (Also, good effort vs UTSA in front of an empty stadium on Vice night)
- CLT – Will Healy looked like he was going places. He did that CLUBLIT thing, and beat Duke. He was young and interesting, and also had Charlotte doing some interesting things offensively. Looking back, it is hard not to think some of that was the team that his predecessor had put together, as CLT has regressed. In all of Healy’s time, he seemed to lose momentum after playing FAU. They had his number. Apparently the AD did not have his number, as Healy found out about his firing on twitter. That’s not a good look at all. Of the AAC-bound teams, CLT is playing the worst football. A fun rumor: Former Tech coach and serial winner Skip Holtz.
Games to watch:
Friday – Tech vs FIU – It is on CBSSN and Tech has a fun offense. Watch for the Harris’ doing good stuff out there, clever Air Raiding, and boldness. Also watch FIU run through them like a kid drinks apple-juice.
Saturday – GOTW: UNT at WKU on Stadium at 2:30pm
NT played a hell of a game against the defending league champs and so did WKU. Now we get to see last year’s runner up defend home turf. I cannot recall a time where NT and WKU were both solid in football, and I think even NT fans would dispute the quality of their program. The Seth Littrell era has been a long one and there are big questions about QB recruiting. Tyson Helton has found two-straight quality QBs and that is a big reason why his team’s are competitive in CUSA right now.
Other games –
CLT at Rice – Rice should win that handily
UAB at FAU – Owls are good enough to win, but UAB should win this
Middle at UTEP – That’s a long way to travel for a game few will be watching.