UPCOMING GAMES (ALL TIMES CT)
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Jax State at South Carolina (ESPNU) 11 a.m.
Kennesaw State at Sam Houston (ESPN+) 12 p.m.
LA Tech at Liberty (CBSSN) 5 p.m.
MTSU at New Mexico State (ESPN+) 5 p.m.
WKU at UTEP (ESPN+) 8 p.m
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK, PRESENTED BY BLENDERS EYEWEAR (WEEK 9)
QB KAIDON SALTER, LIBERTY
Sophomore, Cedar Hill, Texas
Salter finished the win at WKU on Tuesday with four of Liberty’s six touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He posted his second career 100-yard rushing game (117 yards), which have happened in back-toback weeks. The Texas native ranks second in the country in rushing yards by a quarterback (614) after carrying 13 times for 117 against the Hilltoppers. Salter threw three touchdown passes, his highest total this year against a CUSA opponent and the game marked the fifth time in eight games without throwing an interception. The sophomore has Liberty ranked third in the country in fewest passed intercepted in 2023 (three).
DL J-ROCK SWAIN
Junior, Oxford, Alabama
Swain, who plays the Bandit position for the Gamecocks, led the Jax State defense in a convincing 41-16 win over FIU. The Oxford, Alabama, native recorded six tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss (-12 yards), 2.0 sacks, one fumble recovery and return for seven yards, and one quarterback hurry in the win for the Gamecocks.
K BUZZ FLABIANO, UTEP
Redshirt Freshman, Plano, Texas
Flabiano kicked the game-winning field goal during UTEP’s come-from-behind 37-34 victory over Sam Houston on Oct. 25. The redshirt freshman hit a career-high three field goals that included a career-long make of 43 yards with no time remaining in the first half to get UTEP within eight points (21-13). Flabiano was a perfect 3-3 on field goals and was 4-4 on PATs, scoring a career-high 13 points. Flabiano also kicked off seven times for 413 yards with four touchbacks.
CUSA’S FOUR NEW MEMBERS Conference USA entered 2023 with a new composition, having added four new members – Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State and Sam Houston. The quartet brings the 2023 membership to nine teams, joining FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, UTEP and WKU. Kennesaw State will join CUSA on July 1, 2024.
A LOOK AT WEEK 10
Eight Conference USA teams are in action again in Week 10, though only six are set to play in league contests, while Jax State and Sam Houston continue their respective non-conference schedules. All games involving CUSA teams return to Saturdays for the remainder of the regular season following a successful Weekday CUSA debut in October.
Jax State (7-2) travel to take on the SEC version of the Gamecocks, as it travels to Columbia to do battle with South Carolina (2-6) at 11 a.m. CT on ESPNU. Jax State handled FIU 41-16 on the road last week in conference, while South Carolina fell on the road at Texas A&M 30-17. Jax State is in search of CUSA’s first win against an Autonomy 5 opponent in 2023.
The second and final non-conference contest involving a CUSA program kicks off at noon CT on ESPN+, as Sam Houston (0-8) welcomes future conferencemate Kennesaw State (2-5) to Huntsville, Texas. The Bearkats dropped yet another heartbreaker last week at home, falling 37-34 to UTEP, while the Owls, who join CUSA on July 1, 2024, defeated Lincoln (CA) 28-12 last week at home.
Liberty (8-0, 6-0 CUSA) hosts Louisiana Tech (3- 6, 2-3 CUSA) at 5 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network, as the Flames look to lock up CUSA Championship Game hosting duties and can do so with a win OR a loss by New Mexico State. The Flames, one of just eight undefeated teams remaining in the FBS, went on the road and beat WKU 42-29 last week, while LA Tech fell narrowly at home, 27-24, to New Mexico State.
New Mexico State (6-3, 4-1 CUSA) is set to host MTSU (2-6, 1-3 CUSA) at 5 p.m. CT on ESPN+. The Aggies knocked off LA Tech on the road last week, 27-24, while MTSU was idle. The Blue Raiders fell 42- 35 their last time out, on Oct. 17, at unbeaten Liberty. The Aggies can become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season with a win on Saturday (first time since 1959 and 1960). NM State has to reach seven wins this season due to their 13-game schedule.
The final CUSA tilt of the night kicks off at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN+ in El Paso, as UTEP (3-6, 2-3 CUSA) welcomes WKU (4-4, 2-2 CUSA) to the Sun Bowl. The Miners kept their bowl eligibility hopes alive last week with a 37-34 win at Sam Houston, while WKU fell 42-29 at home to Liberty.
LIBERTY ONE OF EIGHT UNBEATEN
Liberty (8-0, 6-0 CUSA) is one of just eight unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS. The Flames, under first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell, are atop the Conference USA standings, and are in contention for the Peer Conference spot in the New Year’s Six. Other undefeated teams are: No. 1 Georgia (8-0), No. 2 Michigan (8-0), No. 3 Ohio State (8-0), No. 4 Florida State (8-0), No. 5 Washington (8-0), No. 17 Air Force (8-0) and No. 23 James Madison (8-0). Note: All rankings are from the AP top 25.
JAX STATE KEEPS ROLLING
Jax State (7-2, 5-1 CUSA) won its fifth game in its last six with a 41-16 road win at FIU (4-5, 1-5 CUSA) on Wednesday night. QB Zion Webb, last week’s CUSA Offensive Player of the Week, carried 20 times for 125 yards and two scores, while also throwing for 105 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in the win. It marked the second straight week for Webb to eclipse the century mark rushing, and third time this season. The Gamecocks rolled up 265 yards on the ground, and RB Ron Wiggins also found the end zone twice for Jax State, carrying nine times for 61 yards. The Jax State defense held FIU to just 249 yards of total offense, 3.7 yards per play and recorded five sacks in the win. DL J-Rock Swain record-ed six tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry. Jax State, who is ineligible for the CUSA Championship Game due to their transition to the FBS level, has made quite the mark in their debut season. Under head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Gamecocks are now 16-4 (after going 9-2 in 2022 at the FCS level). The Gamecocks travel to South Carolina to take on the SEC’s version of the Gamecocks in a non-conference tilt at 11 a.m. CT in Columbia on ESPNU.
UTEP KEEPS BOWL HOPES ALIVE
UTEP (3-6, 2-3 CUSA) came back to shock Sam Houston (0-8, 0-5 CUSA) 37-34 on Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas in the final Weekday CUSA game of the season. The Miners trailed 27-13 late in the third quarter and scored 24 of the final 31 points of the fame to pick up a much-needed win to keep their bowl hopes alive, with three games remaining. K Buzz Flabiano made a game-winning 32-yard field goal with four seconds remaining, after Sam Houston had tied things at 34-34 with just 1:11 remaining. It marks Sam Houston’s fourth one-score loss of the season, as that elusive first FBS win evaded them again on Wednesday night. UTEP RB Deion Hankins finished with 15 carries and 117 yards and a touchdown, while WR Kelly Akharaiyi had six catches for 126 yards and a score. Defensively LB Tyrice Knight had a game-high 12 tackles and a half tackle for loss, while DE Maurice Westmoreland recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the victory.
8-0 LIBERTY CLINCHES TITLE GAME SPOT
Liberty (8-0, 6-0 CUSA) remained undefeated on Tuesday night, knocking off WKU (4-4, 2-2 CUSA) in Bowling Green, 42-29, to punch its ticket to the CUSA Championship Game on Friday, Dec. 1. The Flames can clinch hosting duties with a win at home next week against LA Tech or a loss by New Mexico State. It was the Kaidon Salter show in Bowling Green, as he totaled four touchdowns with no turnovers in the win. He completed 10-15 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while also carrying 13 times for 117 yards and another score. This marks the second consecutive game for Salter with 100-plus yards on the ground and gives him 614 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, both league highs. His 26 total touchdowns also lead CUSA. The nation’s second-best rushing attack rolled up 323 yards on the ground (entered play averaging 274.6 yards per game). RB Quinton Cooley had 17 carries for 76 yards and a score, his seventh on the year, all of which have come in the past four games. The Flames had a key interception late in the first half in the end zone, giving them 16 on the year as a team, which leads the nation. DB Kobe Singleton picked off his fourth pass of the season, and he tied for the team-lead in tackles with seven to go along with a pass breakup in the win.
AGGIES TAKE DOWN BULLDOGS New Mexico State (6-3, 4-1 CUSA) picked up a narrow road win, 27-24, at LA Tech (3-6, 2-3 CUSA) on Tuesday night. The Aggies trailed 16-3 late in the first half in Ruston, Louisiana, but rallied to win their fourth consecutive game and are now just one win shy of becoming bowl eligible for the second consecutive season (they need seven wins due to their 13-game schedule with their game at Hawai’i back on Sept. 23). RB Star Thomas carried 10 times for 88 yards, while QB Diego Pavia completed 10-19 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and also carried 12 times for 67 yards and a score in the win. The Aggies defense forced a pair of key fumbles, one of which New Mexico State immediately turned into a touchdown. After trailing 16-3, the Aggies outscored LA Tech 24-8 the remainder of the way. LB Keyshaun Elliott finished with six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, while DB Myles Rowser led the team with nine stops and a pass breakup in the win. LA Tech QB Hank Bachmeier finished 20- 27 for 238 yards with three total touchdowns (two on the ground) in a losing effort, as the Bulldogs dropped their fourth one-score game of the season.