We’re roughly halfway through the 2021 Conference USA football season. Here are a few highlights from the first half and some musings on what’s to come.
As is always the case, it’s been an eventual year for Conference USA football. While realignment rumors swirl around the sport and teams jockey for position on the field, there have been several intriguing results. With approximately half the season in the books, here are some of the top moments and storylines from C-USA.
1. Power 5 upset No. 1 – Charlotte knocks off Duke (Week 1)
It was a tough 2020 for Charlotte and head coach Will Healy. The up-and-coming star in the coaching ranks lost some luster as his team struggled through the season. But any signs of trouble were vanquished immediately upon the start of 2021. Not only did Charlotte beat Duke — their first win over a Power 5 program in school history — they engineered two go-ahead fourth quarter drives to do so.
2. Power 5 upset No. 2 – UTSA upsets Illinois (Week 2)
Not to be outdone, UTSA and Jeff Traylor doubled C-USA’s Power 5 win total the next weekend. The Roadrunners were so impressive early that ESPN FPI gave them better than a 50 percent chance of winning with the score tied 0-0 in the waning minutes of the first quarter. Frank Harris and Zakhari Franklin would go on to seal the deal.
3. Outlook on title contenders
The West seems fairly straightforward at this point, even though five teams sit at 1-0 in C-USA action. UTSA is 5-0 on the season and 1-0 in C-USA action so far with a highly anticipated matchup against Western Kentucky looming. UAB is 3-2 with losses to Georgia and Liberty, which can largely be written off as understandable. UTEP is 4-1 (?!?) but their four wins have come against opponents with a collective record of 4-17.
In the East, things are significantly more muddled. Charlotte and FAU are the lone unbeaten in C-USA play and the only teams on the season with records above .500. Preseason favorite Marshall is 2-3 (0-1) and Western Kentucky hasn’t played any conference games thus far. At this point, the race is completely wide open.
4. Early conference MVP favorites
To date, only three players have repeated in the three weekly conference awards. Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds and Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe are two-time Offensive Player of the Week recipients. UTSA punter Hunter Duplessis has taken home the Special Teams Player of the Week on two occasions. He’s probably the front-runner for the season-long aware at this point. No defensive players have repeated yet.
It’s only a matter of time before UTSA running back Sincere McCormick takes home an Offensive POTW award. He leads the conference in rushing attempts and rushing yards. No singular pass catcher has emerged as truly dominant, although there have been some flashes and elite play from UTSA’s Joshua Cephus and UTEP’s Jacob Cowing, among others. Right now, it’s probably a three-way race between Reynolds, Zappe and McCormick with room for others to enter down the road.
Things are much more wide open on the defensive side of the ball. MTSU’s Reed Blankenship leads the conference in tackles with 46. Josh Carr from Southern Miss has four sacks, with a host of other players tied with three apiece. Others like UTSA’s Rashad Wisdom and Rice’s George Nyakwol have had less to show on the stat sheet, but very productive performances on this field.
5. Conference USA as we know it
Realignment has been at the forefront of the 2021 college football season. Reports have tabbed UAB as a heavy favorite to earn an invitation to the AAC, at the very least. UTSA could be in the running as well. Meanwhile, just about every program in the conference has their hopes set on getting to green pastures, somewhere, anywhere. All of that to say we could be nearing the end of Conference USA as we know. Soak up every ODU/UTEP matchup while we’ve still got it.
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