Previewing Conference USA’s Potential CBSSN Schedule

Conference USA has announced a couple of start times for games this upcoming season, something college TV rights guru Matt Sarzyniak equates to Conference USA beginning to form their selection of games for 2019.

To recap, CBS Sports Network will televise 10 games per year in accordance with the deal agreed to in the spring of 2018. The network serves as the flagship broadcaster for the conference.

We’ll take a look at the Conference USA games likely to be broadcast on the network this upcoming season.

September 6: Wake Forest at Rice, 8 pm ET

 

A week after visiting a possibly ranked Army team on the opening Friday, Rice plays another Friday night tilt.

The rebuild at Rice continues with them welcoming the middling Demon Deacons to town.  Rice returns 13 starters, 7 on offense and 6 on defense. Among the returners are Austin Trammel and Aaron Cephus who combined for 102 catches for 1197 yards and the safety combo of George Nyakol and Prudy Calderon who combined for 6 interceptions and 20 pass breakups.

However, the Owls do face uncertainty at the quarterback position. Wake Forest returns key pieces from their Birmingham Bowl champion team like QB Sam Hartman and RB Cade Carney who ran for 1005 yards, but they do lose their intriguing slot receiver Greg Dortch.

Last year’s game was hardly competitive with Wake Forest jumping out to a 42-3 halftime lead on the way to a 56-24 victory. Austin Walter was a bright spot for Rice with 165 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Despite going 2-10, Rice had good showings last year against bowl teams Houston and Louisiana Tech, with the Owls taking a 24-17 lead into halftime before losing 45-27 to a Houston squad that would later be ranked.

September 7: UCF at FAU 7 pm ET

Last year’s game was hyped as one of the keynote games in the Group of Five, with FAU coming off an 11-3 season and their first conference title, and UCF off of a 12-0 National Championship and Peach Bowl-winning season.

The game did not disappoint as the offensive fireworks were plentiful in a 56-36 UCF victory. McKenzie Milton had 387 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, while Devin Singletary had 141 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

FAU returns 13 starters, seven on offense and six on defense, but face the tall task of replacing RB Devin Singletary and Kerryth WHyte, Jr., both of whom were drafted this past weekend.

Among the returnees for the Owls are their leading tackler Rashad Smith at linebacker who tallied 61 stops last year and co-Freshman of the Year QB Chris Robison who threw for 2,533 yards and added 274 non-sack rushing yards.

UCF looks to remain on the top of the Group of Five, but must replace 4 of their top tacklers and receiver Dredrick Snelson. They still return many pieces like the running back duo of Greg McRae and Adrian Killins.

September 14: Texas vs Rice (@ NRG Stadium) 8 pm ET

2010 was the last meeting between these two former SWAC members.  (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

JFK once asked “Why does Rice play Texas?” Hopefully, we’ll finally find an answer to this elusive question on September 14. Rice continues their non-conference gauntlet against a Texas team that will be ranked barring a miracle. The Owls face the daunting task of stopping a Texas offense led by Sam Ehlinger, who scored 41 total touchdowns, and proudly proclaimed to the nation that Texas was back after their Sugar Bowl victory.

This is the first meeting since 2015 and the fourth meeting at NRG Stadium. Rice lost 42-28 in the last meeting, despite outgaining Texas 462-277. Five turnovers proved to be the death blow for the Owls including a 26-yard fumble return.

This game being at a neutral site has a bowl game feel, which could give the game exposure on a weekend with a light slate of marquee games, and for CBS Sports Network that rarely broadcasts teams the caliber of Texas and only has the rights for two bowl games per year.

September 20:  FIU @ Louisiana Tech 8 pm

Photo Credit:  (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

This Friday night clash could be a preview of the Conference USA Championship game. FIU returns 16 starters, eight on both sides including QB James Morgan, fresh off a season in which he threw for 2727 yards and 26 touchdowns, and their leading receiver Maurice Alexander and leading rusher Napolean Maxwell. On defense they return their leading tackler, Sage Lewis, who totaled 106.5 tackles, and all but one of their regulars in the secondary.

The elephant in the room for Louisiana Tech is how will they replace all-time sack leader Jaylon Ferguson. The Bulldogs still return a number of key pieces with 13 starters returning including 8 on offense.

The trio of QB J’Mar Smith, RB Jaqwis Dancy, and WR Adrian Hardy return. Smith threw for 3,160 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, with 1,145 of those yards going to Adrian Hardy. The defense remains in good shape despite the loss of the sack king, with 1st Team All-C-USA DB Amik Robertson returning after notching 13 pass defenses last year.

The last meeting was in 2016, with Louisiana Tech winning easily after jumping out to a 20-3 lead early on. Trent Taylor starred for Tech with 11 catches and 156 yards and a touchdown.

October 18: Marshall @ FAU, 6:30

These two teams meet on a Friday night for a key clash in the Eastern division as FAU looks to return to the top of the conference this year.

Marshall returns 14 starters, 8 on offense and 6 on defense, including co-Freshman of the Year QB Isaiah Green who threw for 2,459 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2018, and their top two leading rushers Tyler King and Brand

on Knox who combined for over 1200 yards last year. On defense, returnees like DB Chris Jackson, who amassed 15 pass breakups last year, and defensive linemen Ty Tyler and Channing Hames, who both had over 19 TFLs, lead the way.

Last year, the Thundering Herd won easily 31-7, led by a standout performance by the defense, who picked off Chris Robison four times and held Devin Singletary to 39 yards on 16 carries. Tyler King starred on offense with 125 rushing yards and a touchdown.

November 15: Louisiana Tech @ Marshall, 7 pm

Almost a month later, another Friday night cross-divisional clash takes place, this time a rematch of the 2014 Conference USA title game. For Louisiana Tech, this game comes in the middle of a brutal November stretch where they host North Texas on November 9 and travel to UAB on the 23rd. These three game will likely have huge implications for the Western division race.

That was the last time these two teams met and despite jumping out to an facing an early 10-0 deficit and trailing 23-16 heading into the 4th quarter, Marshall would score 10 unanswered points, with the go-ahead score coming on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Deon-Tay McManus with 1:53 left.

The victory put Marshall in position for a New Year’s Six birth if Boise State lost in the MWC Championship to 6-6 Fresno State. While the implications might not be national, this will likely be a very important game in both divisions of C-USA.

 

November 23: Miami VS FIU (@ Marlins Park)

 

What’s better than this? Ballpark football in prime time. These inter-city rivals meet for the fourth time time ever, with Miami winning the previous two meetings.

The Hurricanes hope to bounce back from an underwhelming 2018, where they finished 7-6.

They return key pieces on offense such as their second leading rusher, DeeJay Dallas, and leading receiver Jeff Thomas. On defense, Miami returns star linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman, both NFL prospects.

FIU has been fairly competitive in the last two meetings, losing 23-9 in 2007, and scoring 17 unanswered in their 31-17 lost to the then #21-ranked Hurricanes, in a game where James Morgan threw two touchdowns.

This game taking place the week before rivalry week, could attract viewers across the nation with many teams, particularly the SEC playing tune-up games.

November 30: FIU @ Marshall 12 pm

This one could be for all the marbles in the East. These two are front runners in a wide open C-USA East, with Middle Tennessee looking to repeat and FAU hoping to return to their 2017 prowess. FIU’s game versus Miami the previous week does no favors for the Panthers in their quest for their first division title. On the other hand, Marshall gets a bit of a tune-up the week before in visiting Charlotte. FIU controlled their own destiny in the East in last year’s Thanksgiving weekend clash, but lost 28-25 with Isaiah Green throwing two touchdown passes and Brenden Knox rushing for 109 yards.

Other Guesses

CBSSN still has one more C-USA game to broadcast and here are a couple of possibilities that seem feasible.

September 14- Army @ UTSA, 12 pm

Photo Credit: Billy Calzada/ San Antonio Express-News

CBSSN already has a deal to broadcast Army’s home slate, so why not broadcast another game with an Army team that has a lot of hype heading into the season?

As shown in the past, CBSSN is not afraid to go out of their way to broadcast more Army games, as they used their sublicense deal with the MAC to broadcast two Army road games, their games at Buffalo and Eastern Michigan. In addition, the 12 pm slot is open on September 14th.

Army returns many pieces in the backfield like QB Kelvin Hopkins, fresh off of the Academy’s first 1,000 yard season and slotback Kell Walker, who has gained over 2200 all-purpose yards in three years at West Point. On defense, they return MLB Cole Christiansen, their second-leading tackler and team captain, as well as solid defensive backs Elijah Riley, who had 10 pass breakups in 2018, and Jaylon McClinton who had 54 tackles and 8 passes defensed.

UTSA is looking to return to their 2016-2017 form, where they won six games each year and appeared in the New Mexico Bowl in the first of those two years. The defense has always been a strength of Frank Wilson’s teams even though they allowed 31 points per game, after allowing only 17 per game in 2017.

The defense returns contributors such as defensive end Lorenzo Dantzler, who made 12 tackles for loss last year, and cornerback Cassius Grady who picked off four passes last year. They must replace both starting linebackers from last year.

The Roadrunners return their leading rusher running back BJ Daniels who ran for 322 yards and three touchdowns last year and quarterback Cordale Grundy, who threw for 989 yards last year hopes to improve an offense that only averaged 14 points per game. This will be the first meeting between the two schools.

September 14: Louisville vs WKU (@ Nissan Stadium)

 

Why not broadcast two neutral site C-USA games on the 14th? This has the potential to be a good game after last year’s meeting between the two schools, saw Western Kentucky scare the Cardinals by jumping out to a 14-0 lead.

Louisville would outscore the Hilltoppers 17-3 in the second half and win 20-17, with the winning score coming on a Dae Williams 1-yard run. Both quarterbacks had strong games, with Davis Shanley throwing and running for a score and passing for 240 yards for WKU, while Malik Cunningham ran for 129 yards for Louisville.

Western Kentucky is 1-1 all-time at Nissan Stadium/LP Field, with both games coming against Kentucky. In 2011, they lost 14-3 to the Wildcats, but turned the tables in 2013 defeating the Wildcats 35-26 in a game where the Hilltoppers led by as much as 18 in the second half.

Western Kentucky returns almost everyone on offense with ten starters coming back, including their leading rusher Joshua Samuel, who ran for 641 yards and leading receiver Lucky Jackson, who had 563 receiving yards last year.

Davis Shanley and Steven Duncan will battle for the starting QB nod after both threw for over 900 yards last year.

On defense, the Hilltoppers return everyone from an experienced D-Line and pieces in the secondary like Devon Key and Ta’Corian Darden who each had three interceptions last year, but must replace both starting linebackers.

Louisville hopes to rebound from a 2-10 finish, with Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham battling for the starting QB job after both saw significant time last year.

In addition to the quarterbacks, the Cardinals return their second-leading rusher Hassan Hall and second-leading receiver Dez Fitzpatrick. On defense, the Cards return five of their top six tacklers, including ILB CJ Avery who added two interceptions to his 56 tackles.

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