UPCOMING GAMES (ALL TIMES CT)
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18
UMass at No. 25 Liberty (ESPN+) 12 p.m.
LA Tech at Jax State (ESPN+) 1 p.m.
UTEP at MTSU (ESPN+) 1 p.m.
Sam Houston at WKU (ESPN+) 2:30 p.m.
New Mexico State at Auburn (SEC Net) 3 p.m.
FIU at Arkansas (ESPNU) 6:30 p.m
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK, PRESENTED BY BLENDERS EYEWEAR (WEEK 11)
QB KAIDON SALTER, LIBERTY
Sophomore, Cedar Hill, Texas
Salter accounted for all five Liberty touchdowns in the 38-10 win Saturday afternoon over Old Dominion and finished the game with three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in the win. It marked Salter’s third game in a row with three or more passing touchdowns and third game this season with two rushing touchdowns. The Texas native completed 13- 22 passing attempts for 225 yards to go along with those three scores. It was his fifth game this season with 225 or more passing yards and seventh with 10 or more rushing attempts (11).
LB KAVIAN GAITHER, SAM HOUSTON
Junior, Waco, Texas
Gaither turned in a huge game on the road for Sam Houston in helping the Bearkats snag their first win in CUSA play. The linebacker from Waco led the Kats with 12 tackles and forced a fumble before sealing the game late in the fourth quarter when he plucked a pass from LA Tech quarterback Hank Bachmeier out of the air and raced 45 yards down the sideline for a pick-six that sealed the game in SHSU’s favor. The 12 tackles tied his career high and the pick-six was the first of his collegiate career and the first for the Kats since early in the 2021 season.
K ETHAN ALBERTSON, NEW MEXICO STATE
Redshirt Senior, San Diego, California
Albertson finished the weekend a perfect 6-6 on field goal and PATs combined, including going a 5-5 on PATs. The San Diego native knocked through a 40-yarder to score the Aggies’ first points of the game in their 38-29 win over WKU on the road to clinch a spot in the 2023 CUSA Championship Game.
A LOOK AT WEEK 12
All nine Conference USA teams are in action again in Week 12, though only six are set to play in league contests, while No. 25 Liberty, New Mexico State and FIU conclude their non-conference schedules.
No. 25 Liberty (10-0) hosts UMass (3-7) at 12 p.m. CT on ESPN+, as the Flames look to remain unbeaten in their quest for the New Years Six spot from the College Football Playoff. The Flames, one of just seven undefeated teams remaining in the FBS, dominated Sun Belt foe Old Dominion at home last week with a 38-10 win, while UMass is on a two-game winning streak with wins over Army (11/4) and Merrimack (11/11).
LA Tech (3-7, 2-5 CUSA) travels to Jacksonville Alabama, to take on Jax State (7-3, 5-1 CUSA) at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN+. The Bulldogs lost 42-27 at home last week to Sam Houston, while Jax State was idle. The Gamecocks dropped a hard-fought non-conference contest at South Carolina, 38-28, on 11/4 in their last time out.
UTEP (3-7, 2-4 CUSA) is set to travel to Murfreesboro to battle MTSU (3-7, 2-4 CUSA) at 1 p.m. CT, also on ESPN+. The Miners were idle last week and fell 21- 13 at home against WKU their last time out on 11/4, while the Blue Raiders defeated FIU 40-6 at home last week.
Sam Houston (2-8, 1-5 CUSA) is riding a two-game winning streak as the Bearkats head to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to take on WKU (5-5, 3-3 CUSA) at 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN+. The Bearkats won on the road 42-27 at LA Tech last week, while WKU fell 38- 29 to New Mexico State at home.
New Mexico State (8-3) finishes off its non-conference schedule when it travels to Auburn (6-4) at 3 p.m. CT on SEC Network. The Aggies clinched a spot in the 2023 CUSA Championship Game with their road win at WKU, 38-29, last week, while Auburn secured bowl eligibility with a 48-10 win last week at Arkansas.
The final game involving a CUSA team kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU when FIU (4-6) travels to Fayetteville to battle SEC foe Arkansas (3-7). The Panthers fell 40-6 on the road last week at MTSU, while Arkansas lost 48-10 at home to Auburn. FIU must win its final two games of the season to secure bowl eligibility.
NEW FACES IN CUSA
With four new teams in Conference USA in 2023, that means the league has four new head coaches: Rich Rodriguez is in year two at Jacksonville State, Jamey Chadwell is in the first year of his tenure at Liberty, Jerry Kill is in his second year at New Mexico State and K.C. Keeler is in his 10th season at Sam Houston
LIBERTY ONE OF SEVEN UNBEATEN
AP No. 25 Liberty (10-0, 7-0 CUSA) is one of just seven unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS. The Flames, under first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell, are atop the Conference USA standings, will host the 2023 CUSA Championship Game and are in contention for the Peer Conference spot in the New Year’s Six. Other undefeated teams are: No. 1 Georgia (10- 0), No. 2 Michigan (10-0), No. 3 Ohio State (10-0), No. 4 Florida State (10-0), No. 5 Washington (10-0), and No. 18 James Madison (10-0). Note: All rankings are from the AP top 25. The Flames are the only 10-0 G5 regular season champion and have victories over 8-win New Mexico State, 7-win Jacksonville State, 6-win Bowling Green (who defeated Georgia Tech earlier this season) and 5-win Western Kentucky. All 10 Liberty wins are versus FBS competition and the Flames rank 16th nationally in ESPN’s Strength of Record metric (College Football Power Index), which is first among postseason eligible G5 teams (Tulane is 20, Toledo is 32, SMU is 34, Troy is 36, Fresno State is 38).
WHY THE RUSH?
Liberty enters Week 12 leading the nation in rushing offense, averaging 278.0 yards per game. Jax State ranks sixth in FBS at 218.0 yards per game and New Mexico State is 12th at 204.3 yards per game.
Liberty enters Week 12 as the national leader in interceptions, as the Flames have a total of 17 through their first 10 games of the season (tied with Oklahoma). Liberty’s 20 turnovers forced is also fifth best in the nation. WKU is tied for 11th in the nation in takeaways with 19, while Jax State is tied with WKU for 11th nationally with 19 turnovers gained (and ranks 10th nationally in interceptions with 12).
ON THE (TURNOVER) MARGINS
Entering Week 12 Liberty is +0.90 in turnover margin, which is tied for 10th nationally, while WKU is tied for 17th at +0.70 per game. Jax State’s +0.60 turnover margin ranks 21st. The Hilltoppers are +7 for the season, while Liberty is +9 and Jax State is +6.
RECOVERY IS KEY
WKU is ninth in the nation in fumble recoveries entering Week 12, with nine. Jax State ranks 28th nationally with seven.
NO. 25 LIBERTY ROLLS ODU TO MOVE TO 10-0 AP
No. 25 Liberty (10-0) was dominant over Sun Belt foe Old Dominion, beating the Monarchs 38- 10 at home Saturday afternoon to move to 10-0 for the first time in program history, and remain one of just seven undefeated FBS teams. The Flames were once again led by QB Kaidon Salter, who was responsible for all five Liberty touchdowns on the day, three through the air and two on the ground. Salter now has 35 touchdowns this season (a CUSA-best 26 passing and nine rushing). He threw for 225 yards and chipped in 41 on the ground in the win for the unbeaten Flames. WR CJ Daniels hauled in seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, DT Bryce Dixon recorded eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while DE Bryson Jennings finished with 1.5 sacks in the win. The Flames also picked off their nation-leading 17th interception of the season (20th takeaway in total).
NM STATE CLINCHES TITLE GAME SPOT
New Mexico State (8-3, 6-1 CUSA) outscored WKU (5-5, 3-3 CUSA) 38-14 after falling behind 14-0 early to beat the Hilltoppers 38-29, in Bowling Green and clinch a spot in the CUSA Championship Game against Liberty on Friday, Dec. 1, in Lynchburg, Virginia. QB Diego Pavia completed 14-24 passes for 141 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and also ran for 44 yards on nine carries. The Aggies ran for 220 yards in the win, possessing the ball for 32:55. Defensively, LB Keyshaun Elliott led the Aggies with 10 tackles, while S Mehki Miller sealed things with a late pick-six, going 57 yards to the house.
SAM HOUSTON PICKS UP FIRST CUSA WIN
Sam Houston (2-8, 1-5 CUSA) is on a two-game winning streak and picked up its first-ever CUSA victory by beating LA Tech (3-8, 2-5 CUSA) on the road Saturday afternoon, 42-27. QB Keegan Shoemaker was a difference-maker for the Bearkats, completing 18-28 passes for 269 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, and also carried nine times for 65 yards and another score. TE Jax Sherrard caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, while WR Noah Smith was also over the century mark, with six catches for 115 yards in the win. Defensively, LB Kavian Gaither made a huge impact for the Bearkats, recording a game-high 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and picked off a fourth quarter pass that he brought to the house (45 yards) to seal the win.
MTSU BOUNCES BACK WITH WIN OVER FIU
Middle Tennessee (3-7, 2-4 CUSA), who dropped a tough decision last week at New Mexico State, bounced back in a big way on Saturday afternoon, beating FIU (4-6, 1-6 CUSA) 40-6 at home. QB Nicholas Vattiato finished 18-25 for 275 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions, while also adding 39 yards on the ground. The Blue Raiders outgained the Panthers 427-277, and averaged 6.8 yards per play in the win. Defensively, DL Quindarius Dunnigan recorded 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while DL Richard Kinley found the end zone on a scoop and score, returning an FIU fumble 23 yards for a touchdown to put MTSU up 17-0 in the first quarter. The Blue Raiders never looked back and picked up their first win since Oct. 10 against LA Tech.
WEEKDAY CUSA WAS ENTHRALLING
In Conference USA’s first season with a midweek October schedule on national television, 14 of the 19 games played in this window were decided by two scores or less, while nine of those were one-score games, including a pair in overtime.