Week 8 Conference USA football rankings and reactions. League favorite Western Kentucky swung and missed against LSU, but not before putting up a respectable fight in Baton Rouge for almost three quarters. Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech, Rice and Southern Miss all won and remain knotted in the loss column with a single conference defeat.
Week 8 Conference USA Football Rankings
1, Western Kentucky: L, at LSU 48-20
All things considered, not a terrible effort for the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky rung up 428 yards on a talented SEC defense, and this was a 17-13 game midway through the third quarter. Hanging with undefeated LSU for 60 minutes, though, was going to be an extremely tall order for Jeff Brohm’s kids. Now that WKU has faced one of the nation’s premier programs, it’s back to the business of remaining the team to beat in Conference USA.
2. Marshall: W, Marshall 30-13
At some point between now and the end of the regular season, the Thundering Herd is going to need more input from the passing game. Backup QB Chase Litton has been serviceable while Michael Birdsong has been injured, but he’s not able to stretch defenses or take advantage of the team’s outside athleticism. And while 189 yards and one touchdown pass suffices against winless North Texas, it won’t in the season-ender against Western Kentucky.
3. Louisiana Tech: W, Middle Tennessee 45-16
DE Jaylon Ferguson is emerging into a big-time star up front for the Bulldogs. La Tech already had the veteran talent in the trenches, but Ferguson has brought youthful enthusiasm and fresh legs to his team’s pass rush. In just the last three games, the rookie has contributed 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, including a pair in the Blue Raider blowout.
4. Southern Miss: W, at Charlotte 44-10
Balance has become one of the cornerstones of the Golden Eagle offense, and a staple of head coach Todd Monken’s coaching philosophy. In the blowout of Charlotte, Southern Miss rushed for more than 200 yards, which aided QB Nick Mullens, who delivered four touchdowns without a pick. The team also popped the cork on rookie RB Delaunte’ Thornton, who rushed for 80 yards on 11 carries.
5 .Middle Tennessee: L, at Louisiana Tech 45-16
After starting the season with some success, the Blue Raider defense is no longer playing competitively. Middle Tennessee has been roughed up in three straight games, allowing an average of 44 points over that time. LB T.T. Barber and S Kevin Byard are terrific individual talents, but this sagging unit desperately needs a more collaborative effort to turn things around.
6. Rice: W, Army 38-31
The Owls will want to get the ball in the hands of sophomore WR Temi Alaka more regularly in the second half of the year. Alaka stepped up in place of leading receiver Dennis Parks, catching six balls for 98 yards. And his combination of 6-2 size and athleticism is encouraging news for QB Driphus Jackson, who can light up defenses when he gets outside support.
7. Florida International: W, Old Dominion 41-12
Nothing like a visit from Old Dominion to boost the confidence of a young quarterback. Alex McGough was downright peerless against the Monarchs, completing 31-of-39 for 390 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Plus, he finally got next-level TE Jonnu Smith more involved in the passing game, finding his field-stretching junior 10 times for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
8. UTSA: Bye Week
Next week: at North Texas
9. UTEP: W, Florida Atlantic 27-17
Now that QB Mack Leftwich is finally healthy again, the Miners have hope for a strong second half of the year. Leftwich returned Saturday evening, and the difference was immediately noticeable. He threw three touchdown passes without a pick, helping to unlock the big-play potential of not only WR Tyler Batson, but also running backs LaQuintus Dowell and Jeremiah Laufasa.
10. Florida Atlantic: L, at UTEP 27-17
Trey Rodriguez is showing hints of being the running back of the future for the Owls. Otherwise, not a lot to feel good about for FAU. QB Jaquez Johnson is still rusty, the rest of the running game was non-existent and the once-feisty D made Mack Leftwich look like the second coming of Trevor Vittatoe in El Paso. Head coach Charlie Partridge will have to work hard to capture a little tailwind that he can take into another long offseason.
11. Old Dominion: L, at Florida International 41-12
While QB David Washington still gives the Monarchs a better shot to win than Shuler Bentley, his inexperience showed when facing a better defense. Washington, a converted receiver, was a revelation last week versus Charlotte. But against an aggressive and athletic FIU D, he was ordinary, completing 13-of-24 for 125 yards, no touchdowns and a pick, while failing to get loose on the ground.
12. Charlotte: L, Southern Miss 44-10
Quarterback play—and depth—was supposed to be a 49er strength this season. But instead, Charlotte has been unable to complement the running of Kalif Phillips, who’s performed admirably without much help from the passing attack. After another shaky outing from Lee McNeill and Matt Johnson versus Southern Miss, the 49ers have now thrown just four touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
13. North Texas: L, at Marshall 30-13
Mean Green RB Jeffrey Wilson deserves a better fate. Wilson has all-league potential, rushing for 138 yards on 17 carries against a solid Herd D, but he’ll get lost in the shuffle playing for a team that has yet to win a game in 2015. Wilson is just a sophomore, so there’s time for him to generate more pub if the new coaching staff surrounds him with better talent in 2016 and 2017.