Week 14 CUSA - Rice-Tulane, UTSA-LT, MT-UTEP

Posted Nov 27, 2013

Week 14 Fearless Predictions & Preview - Rice at Tulane, UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee at UTEP

Tulane (7-4) at Rice (8-3) Nov. 30, 3:00

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Three teams still have a shot at the West Division of Conference USA. Two of them are in Houston this week. Rice controls its own destiny. Win and the Owls are in, facing either Marshall or East Carolina a week from now. If, however, Tulane delivers the upset, they can take the West, but only if UTSA also loses to Louisiana Tech later in the day. The Green Wave ended the Superdome era a week ago with a blowout of UTEP, 45-3. This Saturday could be its Conference USA swan song, as it prepares to head to the American in 2014.

Why Tulane Might Win: The offense perked up last week, but it's been the D that's carried the Green Wave to its first winning season since 2002. Tulane is dotted with playmakers, the kinds of defenders who can change the momentum of a game. The school is second nationally in takeaways with 31, led by the ball-hawks out of the secondary, Lorenzo Doss, Jordan Sullen, Derrick Strozier and Jordan Batiste. Tulane is also yielding just 3.2 yards per carry.

Why Rice Might Win: The Owls are more consistent on offense. While Tulane ranks No. 12 in the league, Rice can lean with authority on the backfield of QB Taylor McHargue and RB Charles Ross, who's crossed the 1,000-yard threshold. It has better balance on offense to go along with a veteran D poised to rise to the occasion in one of the biggest games of the season. The Owls have yet to lose a game on their home field this year.

Who To Watch Out For: Tulane leads the league in takeaways, but Rice is third in turnovers. Not only does McHargue make few mistakes, but he also doesn't take a lot of chances through the air, which could neutralize the Green Wave's biggest asset.

- Green Wave RB Orleans Darkwa is coming off his best game of 2013, rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown on only 17 carries. More of the same is needed this week in order to take some of the pressure off QB Nick Montana, who's been erratic and injury-prone in his Tulane debut.

What Will Happen: The potential is there for this to be not just a meaningful game, but an entertaining one as well. Tulane has lived off big plays on defense and special teams, but Rice doesn't make a lot of mistakes. The Owls are home and led by the more consistent quarterback, which will wind up being the differences in a see-saw game that doesn't get decided until early in the final quarter.

Prediction: Rice 31 … Tulane 23
Line: Rice -13 o/u: 48.5
Must See Rating: (5 American Hustle – 1 The Sound of Music Live!) … 2
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Louisiana Tech (4-7) at UTSA (6-5) Nov. 30, 3:30

Why You Should Give A Hoot: UTSA wanted to be competitive in its first season in Conference USA. Mission accomplished. The Roadrunners became bowl-eligible with an exclamation point last weekend, shocking West Division leader North Texas, 21-13. They've now won four in a row, with a chance to cop the division with a win and a Rice loss this week . Louisiana Tech has labored along in Skip Holtz's first year in Ruston, only handling FCS teams and the worst members of the league. The Bulldogs have dropped the last two games to Rice and Tulsa, managing just 14 points in both losses.

Why Louisiana Tech Might Win: The Roadrunners have had enough offensive problems to keep weaker opponents around for four quarters. Too often, they struggle to finish drives, which will continue lowering their margin for error. The Bulldogs boast a couple of very talented backs in Tevin King and Kenneth Dixon, who's working through a knee injury.

Why UTSA Might Win: No stars. No problem. Despite not having any household names on defense, the Roadrunners are still stifling opponents, holding the last three to an average of just 12 points. UTSA will allow yards, but it's had a penchant for stiffening when it matters most, on third downs and in the red zone. Louisiana Tech lacks the passing attack needed to solve a unit with UTSA's sound fundamentals.

Who To Watch Out For: Eric Soza, the only quarterback in the history of the program, continues to be the heart-and-soul of UTSA. More solid than spectacular, he has a knack for coming through in the clutch for the Roadrunners.

- What's up with Daniel Cobb, the Louisiana Tech linebacker and Texas Tech transfer who's tailed off in recent weeks? Cobb has just two tackles over the last two weeks, burdened by injuries that are limiting his effectiveness.

What Will Happen: UTSA is poised to close the deal on a winning season in 2013, holding off an undermanned Louisiana Tech squad that's been besieged by injuries. It won't be pretty or littered with a spate of big plays, but with Soza leading the way, the Roadrunners will gut out its fifth consecutive win.

Prediction: UTSA 28 … Louisiana Tech 17
Line: UTSA -15.5 o/u: NL
Must See Rating: (5 American Hustle – 1 The Sound of Music Live!) … 1
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UTEP (2-9) at Middle Tennessee (7-4) Nov. 30, 3:45

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Middle Tennessee is playing very well these days; well enough to lock down the bowl berth that frustratingly eluded the program a season ago. The Blue Raiders have answered a mid-season three-game losing streak by winning four straight, beginning with an upset of East Division contender Marshall. UTEP has one final game before starting a long offseason, one that first-year head coach Sean Kugler hopes can be used to further build in El Paso. It's been a long year for the Miners, marked by routs and glaring problems on both sides of the ball.

Why UTEP Might Win: The Blue Raider defense is beatable. Middle Tennessee is just ninth in the league in total D, allowing 414 yards per game. The Miners will pin their hopes on RB Nathan Jeffery, who has the potential to carry the offense when fed the requisite number of carries.

Why Middle Tennessee Might Win: Too much offensive balance for a porous UTEP defense. The Blue Raiders have turned the corner since losing to North Texas on Oct. 12, balancing backfield depth with the passing of Logan Kilgore. The program is also getting timely support from an opportunistic defense that got pick-sixes from LB T.T. Barber and S Kevin Byard a week ago.

Who To Watch Out For: Rookie Shane Tucker is the latest Blue Raider running back to step up and fill a key role for the offense. Buried on the depth chart when the season began, he didn't play until Nov. 2, but has responded with 216 yards and four scores in three games.

- Barber and Byard have made a ton of big plays for the Middle Tennessee defense this year. Even better, both are sophomores, so fans in Murfreesboro are going to enjoy their tenacity right through the 2015 season.

What Will Happen: Middle Tennessee is gearing up for its first bowl game in three years. UTEP is preparing for another long winter in West Texas. The Miners will once again lack the offensive execution—or timely defensive stops—to keep pace with one of Conference USA's tougher teams.

Prediction: Middle Tennessee 42 … UTEP 13
Line: Middle Tennessee -22.5 o/u: 57.5
Must See Rating: (5 American Hustle – 1 The Sound of Music Live!) … 1
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