Conference USA Bowl Eligibility Preview: Old Dominion/Middle Tennessee, UTSA/La Tech

For those waking from their Thanksgiving slumber, there is still college football to play. It’s meaningful too.

Three teams will figure out if they will be bowling this season including a matchup between Louisiana Tech and UTSA that will decide who gets to go bowling.

With a stomach full of leftover turkey, let’s look at both Middle Tennessee/Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech/UTSA.

Louisiana Tech/UTSA

Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech has been hovering around relative obscurity in the West after an up and down year. But, they still have a chance to salvage their season.

J’Mar Smith can be one of the best quarterbacks in the West when he’s on. The problem is, he hasn’t always been that way this year.

In close games, including versus South Carolina and UAB, Smith has disappeared a little bit versus stronger teams. He will need to be careful of UTSA’s recent success in stoping the pass.

Boston Scott will also be a good outlet to open up the pass game. The running back has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and will be key for letting Smith open things up in the air.

On defense, the bulldogs have given up 28.5 points per game, but the team has 14 interceptions. Amik Robinson and Dae’von Washington both could have a pick or two coming out of this game.

UTSA

UTSA…

I had you all picked out to win the west division this year. But then, North Texas happened, and now we’re here.

You won three straight to start the year, but now have lost two of your last three. While you are now bowl eligible, scoring a grand total of nine points against Marshall is not going to help you beat the Bulldogs.

The Roadrunners only scored three points in the first half last week. They will need to show some kind of life if they hope to ruin the Bulldogs chances.

Wide receiver Kerry Thomas will be a big part in helping change that look. If quarterback Dalton Sturm can find Thomas in the red zone more, that could be the difference maker UTSA needs.

Their biggest strength recently may be their defense though. The team hasn’t given up more than 21 points in three of their last four games.

Facing a strong Bulldog offense will surely test the Roadrunners. With the Bulldogs scoring 29.5 points a game, they will be the true test coming into bowl season of how good this defense is.

UTSA and Louisiana Tech football game at Joe Aillet Stadium, 12Nov2016. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. c.2016.Louisiana Tech University Foundation. TOM MORRIS/LATechSportsPix.com (318.237.3030)

Who will win

Louisiana Tech will be desperate for this win to be bowl eligible. They could win if they force turnovers and smith has a good game.

UTSA looks to have a slight edge here, though. With a defense that can choke out opponents, give them the advantage.

Middle Tennessee/Old Dominion

Old Dominion

Ah, Old Dominion…

After going bowling last year, this year seemed like it was going to be a drop-off for you.

Before your three-game winning streak, you sat at 2-6 and looking nothing like a bowl contender. But here we sit, you having won three straight one score contests and now a win away from a .500 season.

Monarchs quarterback Steven Williams may be the most impressive piece of that win streak. Williams was handed the keys to the ODU offense as a 17-year-old and became the youngest quarterback in the FBS.

While he has had bumps during his development, Williams has grown in the position. One of his best drives came with two minutes left, as the freshman led the team 75 yards for the game-winning score

What may be the scariest stat is the team has not turned over the ball during the win streak. That shows Williams has finally gotten comfortable, which is not good for Middle Tennessee.

Middle Tennessee may give the Monarchs some fits on defense though. Even without their best offensive weapons, the Blue Raiders have put up 30 or more points in their last three games.

Old Dominion will have to prove they are not a flash in the pan, though. This game will prove if the last three games were a fluke.

MTSU

This was not the year Blue Raiders fans were expecting.

Many thought that this year was the one for Rick Stockstill and co to win a championship. With quarterback Brent Stockstill and wide receiver Ritchie James both coming off strong seasons, it seemed a weak east division was theirs to take.

Instead, Florida Atlantic and Florida International had a resurgence and injuries forced the Blue Raiders to be inconsistent at best. But, the team has rallied to win two of their last three and can still be bowl eligible.

Tavares Thomas may be the most interesting player to watch. The linebacker turned running back has been relied on heavily with Brad Anderson’s leg injury, so look for him to run free Saturday.

The Blue Raiders will also have to shape up against the pass. Last Saturday versus Western Kentucky, they gave up 485 yards and five touchdowns to Mike White. A repeat would make it hard for their offense to outgun ODU.

Without the most consistent offense in the world, MTSU needs to contain the pass. If they can pressure Williams, they could throw a cog in the freshman’s momentum.

Who will win

I give Old Dominion the edge here. With both teams performing better, I think this one will be relatively close.

Williams is truly the x-factor in this game. If he stays true to form, the Monarchs could be bowling again.

I expect another game-winning Williams drive in the fourth quarter. Regardless of how this season winds up, the Monarchs should be glad they could have their quarterback of the future.

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