The Conference USA Championship has existed since 2005 and, thus far, only one program acquired since the league’s mass Sun Belt addition in 2013-14 has reached the game: Western Kentucky in each of the past two seasons.
That’s about to change.
North Texas, a 2013 addition, all but wrapped up the C-USA West title with a 24-23 win at Louisiana Tech. The Mean Green trailed 17-10 at the half and 23-17 in the fourth quarter before going on top for good on a 14-yard Jeffrey Wilson scamper with 6:04 remaining and surviving a missed 53-yard field goal by the Bulldogs with 2:39 to play.
That victory pushed the Mean Green to 5-1 in C-USA play, one game ahead in the loss column of 4-2 UAB and 3-2 Southern miss. North Texas closes conference play with UTEP at home on Saturday and a visit to Rice on Nov. 25 — a pair of teams that are 0-8 in C-USA when not facing each other. And here’s the kicker: thanks to head-to-head victories over UAB and Southern Miss, North Texas needs only one win against UTEP or Rice to clinch its first West Division championship.
In the East Division, a pair of programs with new coaching hires appear on a collision course. Fellow 2013 addition Florida Atlantic, under new head coach Lane Kiffin, claimed significant control over the division with a 30-25 win over Marshall on Friday night.
The Owls are being chased by their South Florida rivals in another 2013 Sun Belt acquisition Florida International, led by a new hire in Butch Davis. The Golden Panthers moved to 4-1 in conference with a 14-7 victory over UTSA on Saturday.
FIU visits FAU on Nov. 18, with the winner seizing the fast track to its own C-USA Championship debut against (most likely) North Texas.
It’s been a couple of days since we’ve kicked off a morning with a portal post, so we were due.
Speculation was swirling over the past couple of days that Kenyon Reed was considering a transfer from Kansas State. Thursday, defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton confirmed to 247Sports.com and others that the defensive back has made his way into the NCAA transfer database.
According to the coordinator, he became aware of the impending departure the day before, although he wasn’t quite clear in the details surrounding the player’s decision. To further buttress the coordinator’s confirmation, Reed’s official bio is no longer a valid link.
Reed was a three-star member of the Wildcats’ 2019 recruiting class. The California high schooler surprised most observers by signing with K-State over UCLA earlier this year.
As Reed didn’t play a down this year, he can take a redshirt for the 2019 season.
UCLA has proven to a bad football team this season. On Thursday night though, we found out Stanford was worse.
The Bruins dominated their in-state rivals 34-16 to snap an 11-game losing streak and notch their second victory of the season in yet another case of a puzzling performance from both sides out of Pac-12 territory.
A lot of the effort — or lack thereof — on account of the Cardinal can be explained by their offense looking very much like one starting a walk-on third string quarterback for the first time. Jack West completed just 15 passes for 143 yards and had trouble seemingly every dropback behind an even more makeshift offensive line (seven sacks allowed). Running the ball was out of the question against a predictably stacked box and the team averaged just 1.8 yards per rush anyway.
All told, Stanford converted just three third downs all game and mustered only 198 yards total as they were booed off the field a few times by the sparse crowd in attendance. Kicker Jet Toner was also injured in the first quarter and the only other non-garbage time touchdown came off a blocked punt.
As bad as things were for the home side, they went equally well for a UCLA team that scored on their first drive and were in complete control of the game for the first time since Chip Kelly took over the program. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson was electric with his arm (192 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and legs (66 yards, 1 TD) while Joshua Kelley notched 176 yards on the ground with a score of his own.
In the process of stealing Stanford’s soul, the Bruins managed to end a long losing streak to their rivals in the Bay, winning on the Farm for the first time since the Karl Dorrell era in Westwood and first time overall since 2008. Coincidentally, that latter year was the last time the Cardinal missed a bowl game or won fewer than eight games — a streak that very much appears to be ending in 2019 unless the team invents a time machine in the next week or runs the table the rest of the regular season.
Make no bones about it, this was a very ugly and hard to watch rock fight between two bad teams that not even #Pac12AfterDark juju could save.
It remains to be seen just where these two programs go from here but at least on Thursday night, Kelly was able to overcome an old adversary and put an end to a streak many at his school thought would go on for a while. It didn’t however as UCLA can celebrate on their way back to Southern California while David Shaw‘s team will have a few extra days to contemplate just what kind of team they are this season.
If you can make sense of Pac-12 football, congrats on your impending move to Las Vegas to take advantage of it. Case in point? Strange first halves of football games like UCLA 21, Stanford 10 on Thursday night in Palo Alto.
The Bruins, looking for their second win of the season, looked uncharacteristically sharp on the offensive side while their defensive counterparts had one of their better performances through two quarters in recent memory in order to jump out to the early lead between California rivals.
UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson marched the team right down into the end zone on their first two drives, hitting the halfway mark with 100 yards passing and two touchdowns (one pick) while adding five carries for 67 yards and another score. Joshua Kelley notched 87 yards on the ground as well for a team that had previously struggled to move the ball at all.
Instead it was the Cardinal offense who couldn’t muster much on the offensive end. They had just 86 yards total in the game and starting quarterback Jack West very much looked like a walk-on making his first start at the position. It didn’t help that the offensive line (five sacks allowed) did him no favors but pretty much every series ended predictably in a setback before trotting out the punt team.
In fact, were it not for special teams, this first half would have been even more lopsided. Kicker Jet Toner nailed a 42 yard field goal but was injured and had to be taken to the locker room while Brycen Tremayne recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for six in perhaps the only sign of life in the contest for Stanford.
Somehow this Cardinal squad beat Washington by 10 points and somehow this UCLA side has just one win on the season. But first half performances like the one we saw on the Farm Thursday night are a good reminder as to why they play the game… and how hard it is to make sense of things out West on the gridiron.
The coaching carousel will start spinning wildly over the coming weeks and months in college football and one program that many observers have an eye is Tulsa.
While it’s too early to know if the cash-strapped school will move on from head coach Philip Montgomery after five seasons, speculation is running high that he at least has a pretty hot seat at the moment. After a lopsided home loss to Navy last weekend, the brass running the program were asked by local papers about the longterm status of the coaching staff and tried to downplay such concerns about a possible change.
“I’ve talked to other people in the administration,” Tulsa athletic director Derrick Gragg said this week, according to the Tulsa World. “and right now, there’s no panic here.”
Montgomery is 22-33 overall at the school, producing just one winning season (10-3) back in 2016. The Golden Hurricane are currently 2-4 in 2019 and notably blew a large fourth quarter lead at SMU a few weeks ago.
According to the Tulsa World, Montgomery has two seasons left on his contract at roughly $1.4 million a year. While it’s unique for a coach to have such few seasons on his deal for recruiting purposes, it’s possible the school may just try to play out the string rather than pay a six- or seven-figure buyout plus the associated costs of bringing in a new staff.
It’s still possible that Montgomery and Tulsa turn things around in the second half of the season and somehow make a bowl game but the odds are stacked against it. If that winds out playing out, the program will face a difficult decision come December despite the insistence of there not being any panic around in mid-October.