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Previewing Conference USA-Big Ten Non-Conference Football (Part 2)

Western Kentucky looks like the most likely winner (over Illinois), but Middle Tennessee and Florida International bring a couple upset-minded squads to Minneapolis and Bloomington.

Indiana v Florida International Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

We all take a deep breath after yesterday?

Good. Or not. Whatever. But in case you missed it, Tanner Spearman of Underdog Dynasty stopped by to chat Conference USA and the 2017 season. Today, we’ll bring you previews and predictions for the five Big Ten match-ups with C-USA, and we’ve got a whole bunch of the Underdog Dynasty crowd here to help. Let’s hit it:

Week 2:

Florida Atlantic Owls at wisconsin badgers

September 9 || 11am || BTN

I mean...Devin Singletary is gonna be really good, right? Are we talking good enough to make some headway against a proven Badger run defense? Even more scarily, can a woefully-undersized Owls defensive line hold up against the pounding they'll take in Madison -- or does Chris Kiffin have some other tricks up his sleeve?

OK, fine, we're here to talk about the other Kiffin. Is Lane Kiffin, FAU Head Coach, a Real Thing, or is he a one-and-done in Boca Raton? What do you see as the end-game for both FAU and Kiffin: Is it a bowl game and a farewell?

Cyrus Smith: Despite a makeshift offensive line dealing with injuries last year, and a below average passing offense, Devin Singletary and Greg Howell combined to rush for 1849 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. Singletary is the more explosive runner of the two so I expect him to get his, even against what looks like a stingy Wisconsin rushing defense. Howell may struggle since he’s more of a between the tackles runner though.

The Owls probably won’t stop the run. The new 4-2-5 defense from Chris Kiffin is helping to get more speed in the secondary but the lack of size up front is concerning. I’m not optimistic about the run defense especially early in the season.

I think Lane Kiffin has enjoyed his stay in Boca Raton. He’s a big story in a town full of old money big wigs. A few fans and alumni are not too concerned about the one-and-done thing and I’m in the same boat, mainly because not a ton of schools were lining up to hire him last year. The only way I see Kiffin leaving for a bigger job is if he takes FAU to nine wins and that isn’t very likely. Unless his JUCO players become immediate contributors, this roster has the makeup of a six or seven-win team. I think he’ll be in Boca for at least two years before the P5 schools start calling.

Cyrus’s Pick: wisconsin 35, FAU 17

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Illinois Fighting Illini

September 9 || 7pm || BTN

New head coach Mark Sanford is a proven quarterback whisperer, and he inherits a really damn good QB in Mike White. Losing a great deal of rushing production, though, puts Western in the position of having to rely on Leon Allen and his sixth year of eligibility and a mostly aerial attack. Can they head up to Champaign and get the job done? Who should the Illini fear getting to Chayce Crouch in the backfield?

Tanner Spearman: I kind of like Illinois. [ed. note: wrong] They were the first Power 5 team I saw in person, and I love their war chant on 3rd downs.

I don’t like them that much. [ed. note: better] Illinois returns almost no one off a 3-9 team. It feels like things in Champaign will get worse before they get better. WKU should remain one of the best of C-USA and I think Mike White will lead the Hilltoppers to victory here. As for Crouch, be concerned about Derik Overstreet. The senior defensive end recorded four sacks last year to go with 8.5 TFL. He pressured a QB 42 times last season, third most among non-P5 edge rushers.

Last time they played, Illinois won in a shootout. The Illini finished 6-7, while WKU finished 8-5. Illinois is now coming off a 3-9 season while WKU has had back to back double digit win seasons. I daresay WKU could be favored in this game.

Tanner’s Pick: WKU 38, Illinois 21

Week 3:

North Texas Mean Green at Iowa Hawkeyes

September 9 || 11am || ESPN2

I'm rooting hard for UNT here, as they've been my favorite C-USA team since their ill-fated coffee mug. Seth Littrell's Mean Green, though...really have nowhere to go but up, but Mason Fine underwhelmed in his starts at quarterback. Can Jeffrey Wilson run the ball on a punishing Hawkeye defense, and is there any chance UNT stops Akrum Wadley and the Iowa rush attack?

How long is the rebuilding project in Denton, and will the Mean Green become a new Air Raid bucket of fun?

Adam Woodyard: Short answer: No.

Long answer: These teams recently met in 2015, when Jeffrey Wilson was but a mere sophomore. He had 15 carries for 75 yards in a 62-16 loss. Unlike in 2015, the current UNT head coach is not an unqualified bargain hire, but still-- I think we can safely say Iowa has this one in the bag. It's always exciting to see the oppositions' star player do their thing, and if the Mean Green spreads the ball around, it's not impossible for Wilson to crack 100.

The UNT defense is a lot better than two years ago, so you may see a few stops to keep it interesting. I'm not predicting anything other than an Iowa victory, by any means, but please do recall that even a 1-11 team like UNT was in 2015 rushed for 183 yards that game, to Iowa's 210. Discuss.

What do we consider "rebuilt?" A bowl game? Check. Finishing in the top-half of the conference? Check. Having a Big Ten team casually inquire if our RB is a threat? We'll take it. I don't think Mason Fine is, like, the dude to lead us to the promised land or anything, but he's the best QB we've had in over a decade, so GO FINE GO. With five wins last year and some surprising victories (USM anyone?), this team is still a year or two away from hanging with La Tech. But hey, they're a bucket of fun NOW, and we promise you'll enjoy watching your team win more than some FCS sacrificial lamb. Other than NDSU, obviously.

Adam’s Pick: Iowa 49, North Texas 21

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at Minnesota Golden Gophers

September 9 || 2:30pm || BTN

Brent Stockstill and Richie James against a vulnerable Gopher secondary is the steam here, right? Can Rick Stockstill's defense come up with the goods to make this a fun track meet, or will the Blue Raiders' abysmal (like, really really bad) run defense play right into the Gophers' hands? More importantly, does Rick have an equivalent of Row the Boat? That's very important to Minnesota fans.

AJ Grande: MT football’s “motto” ( I guess you could call it that) is “EATT,” which is an acronym for “Effort, Attitude, Toughness, and Turnovers.”

As for the defense, I’m not sure it could get any worse than last year’s dumpster fire. Scott Shafer has an opportunity to turn things around for this defense, but it will most definitely take time. I think the defense will learn a lot from their week 1 matchup against Ralph Webb of Vandy leading up to this matchup. Though I think it will be a very close game, the Golden Gophers will be able to run the ball against this defense and keep up with the MTSU offense.

AJ’s Pick: Middle Tennessee 38, Minnesota 34

Florida International (Golden) Panthers at Indiana Hoosiers

/searches game time info

“The Rock”?! No. Indiana, no. Stop trying to make “The Rock” a thing. You’re [insert shitty local regional cable company] Field at Memorial Stadium sponsored by Ro*tel. Don’t fight it.

The Golden Panthers rudely dumped Illinois legend Ron Turner in favor of...holy shit, Butch Davis?! Damn, FIU could be fun in a couple years.

But in the meantime, what's Davis got to work with? It looks like FIU can be efficient on offense, but is there any defense to stop the Hoosiers? How long of a rebuild are they looking at in Miami?

Tanner: Well, FIU returns nine starters on defense, so that’s a good place to be. They also bring back QB Alex McGough, running back Alex Gardner, a pair of receivers and a pair of linemen. Last year in Miami, FIU played the Hoosiers pretty close until the 4th quarter. That was under now fired coach Ron Turner. As soon as Turner was canned, interim Ron Cooper found Turner’s MIA offense. Now it’s up to Butch Davis to put all the pieces together into a winning product. He should be the right guy for the job, but only time will tell how fast he can do so. I think FIU should be better this year, I just don’t know how much better. But as long as Davis sticks around for a couple of years, FIU should be winning pretty soon.

Tanner’s Pick: Indiana 31, FIU 24

Well, Tanner’s got Conference USA going 2-3 against the Big Ten. Do you agree? Vote in the poll and let us know your picks in the comments!

A special thanks to Tanner, Cyrus, Adam, and AJ for taking the time to answer these questions! Be sure to give them all a follow on Twitter, along with checking out Underdog Dynasty on Twitter. Best of luck to your teams this fall, guys!


How will the Big Ten fare against Conference USA in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    (24 votes)
  • 41%
    (54 votes)
  • 19%
    (25 votes)
  • 10%
    (14 votes)
  • 6%
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    (6 votes)
131 votes total Vote Now

Missed previous articles in Beyond the Empire, 2017?

Big XII, Part I
Big XII, Part II
C-USA, Part I