UPCOMING GAMES (ALL TIMES CT)
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25
MTSU at Sam Houston (ESPN+) 11 a.m.
WKU at FIU (ESPN+) 2 p.m.
No. 22 Liberty at UTEP (CBSSN) 2:30 p.m.
Jax State at New Mexico State (ESPN+) 3 p.m.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK, PRESENTED BY BLENDERS EYEWEAR (WEEK 12)
QB DIEGO PAVIA, NEW MEXICO STATE Junior, Albuquerque,
New Mexico Pavia led New Mexico State to arguably its best win in program history as he threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-10 road victory over Auburn after entering the game as 26-point underdogs. Pavia helped lead an Aggie offense which became just the second team this season to score more than 30 points against Auburn. This also marks the ninth time this season that Pavia has thrown multiple touchdown passes. The win over the Tigers marked the Aggies first win over an SEC program in its long history. With the win, NM State became the first non-Power Five program to defeat Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium since 2007. With Saturday’s performance, Pavia now ranks 18th in the nation in passing touchdowns (22), 12th in the nation in passing yards per completion (12) and 33rd in the nation in total offense per game (266.3).
LB GABE PETERSON, NEW MEXICO STATE Sophomore, Overland Park,
Kansas Peterson tied for the team lead in tackles with six in Saturday’s historic win over Auburn. This included four solo tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Peterson led a defensive charge that limited the ninth-ranked rushing attack in the country to 65 yards on the ground and just 15 rushing yards in the second half. The output from the Auburn rushing attack marked just the second time in the last two seasons that the Tigers have been held to fewer than 100 rushing yards in a game and the 65-yard total is the fewest by an Auburn team since Nov. 27, 2021, when Alabama held them to 22 yards on the ground.
DB KEKOURA TARNUE, JAX STATE Junior, Monrovia,
Liberia Tarnue had the biggest special teams play of the day for the Gamecocks and set the tone for Jax State’s blowout win over LA Tech on Saturday. With a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Tarnue blocked a LA Tech punt, recovered it and scored from 21 yards out. it was Jax State’s first blocked punt return for a score this season.
A LOOK AT WEEK 13
Eight Conference USA teams are in action again in Week 13, the final week of the regular season. All four games this week are league contests.
Middle Tennessee (4-7, 3-4 CUSA) travels to Huntsville, Texas, to battle Sam Houston (2-9, 1-6 CUSA) at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN+ to kick the week of CUSA action off. MTSU is coming off a 34-30 win at home over UTEP last week, while Sam Houston was once again in a one-score game, but ultimately fell 28-23 on the road at WKU. The Bearkats have been involved in seven one-score games in 2023 (2-5 in such games).
WKU (6-5, 4-3 CUSA) makes the trip to Miami to take on FIU (4-7, 1-6 CUSA) at 2 p.m. CT on ESPN+. The Hilltoppers held on to beat Sam Houston at home, 28-23, to become bowl eligible for the 10th time in the past 12 seasons, while FIU fell 44-20 at Arkansas in Fayetteville.
No. 22 Liberty (11-0, 7-0 CUSA) is seeking an undefeated regular season when the Flames travel to El Paso to face UTEP (3-8, 2-5 CUSA) at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBSSN at the Sun Bowl. Liberty was dominant yet again in its 49-25 win at home over UMass last week to close its non-conference schedule, while UTEP dropped a tight one in Murfreesboro, 34-30, to MTSU.
The final CUSA game of the 2023 regular season kicks off at 3 p.m. CT, as Jax State (8-3, 6-1 CUSA) travels to Las Cruces to take on New Mexico State (9-3, 6-1 CUSA) on ESPN+. Though Jax State is ineligible for the CUSA title game due to their transition from the FCS, the Gamecocks have been an incredible story in their first season in the league and at the FBS level. They dismantled LA Tech last week 56- 17 at home while setting a new league single game rushing record (522 yards), while New Mexico State controlled play in an impressive 31-10 win at Auburn to win its ninth game of the season.
LIBERTY ONE OF SIX UNBEATEN
AP and US LBM Coaches Poll No. 22 Liberty (11-0, 7-0 CUSA) is one of just six 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 (11-0), No. 2 Michigan (11-0), No. 3 Ohio State (11-0), No. 4 Florida State (11-0) and No. 5 Washington (11-0). Note: All rankings are from the AP top 25.
The Flames are the only 11-0 G5 regular season champion and have victories over 9-win New Mexico State, 8-win Jacksonville State, 6-win Bowling Green (who defeated Georgia Tech earlier this season) and 6-win Western Kentucky. All 11 Liberty wins are versus FBS competition and the Flames rank 15th nationally in ESPN’s Strength of Record metric (College Football Power Index), which is first among G5 teams (Tulane is 18, James Madison is 21, SMU is 25, Toledo is 27 and Troy is 34).
NM STATE NAMED CHEEZ-IT NATIONAL TEAM OF THE WEEK
The New Mexico State Aggies outgained Auburn by a near two-to-one margin while rushing for 213 yards in a 31-10 upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Aggies’ first win over a Southeastern Conference opponent in program history. The Aggies scored on all four trips to the red zone while preventing the Tigers from getting inside their own. The win earned the Cheez-It National Team of the Week for games the weekend of Nov. 18, as selected by the All-America Committee of the Football Writers Association of America. This is the first time the Aggies have earned this honor from the FWAA.
Liberty QB Kaidon Salter has had a tremendous start to his 2023 season for the 11-0 and AP and US LBM Coaches Poll No. 22 Flames. The Maxwell Award semifinalist has completed 138-230 passes for 2,409 yards with 28 touchdowns and five interceptions, while also carrying 128 times for 823 yards and 11 more touchdowns.
He completed 11-16 passes for 225 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to go along with 13 carries for 118 yards and two more scores in a 49- 25 win over UMass last week.
Through Week 12 of the season, Salter leads the nation in passing yards per completion (17.46), ranks third in passing efficiency (183.8), ranks third in points responsible for per game (21.3), third in yards per pass attempt (10.47), third among QBs in rushing yardage (823), fourth in total points responsible for (234), sixth in passing touchdowns (28), tied for second among QBs (20th among all players) in rushing TDs (11), 12th in yards per carry (6.43), which is second among QBs in the country, behind only LSU’s Jayden Daniels and 17th in total offense per game (293.8).
Entering Week 13, New Mexico State QB Diego Pavia has been electric for the 9-3 Aggies. Pavia is 176-291 for 2,458 yards with 22 passing touchdowns and six interceptions. He has also carried 134 times for 740 yards and five more rushing scores.
He was 19-28 for 201 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and carried eight times for 35 yards in a win at Auburn last week.
Pavia through 12 games ranks 12th in FBS in passing yards per completion (13.97), 18th in passing touchdowns (22), 20th in points responsible for (162) and 27th in yards per pass attempt (8.45). Among QBs, Pavia is tied for fifth in rushing yardage (740), third in yards per carry (5.51).
REED ALL ABOUT IT!
Through 11 games in 2023, WKU QB Austin Reed has completed 263-435 passes for 3,060 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while also carrying 41 times for 106 yards and four additional scores.
He was 28-41 for 392 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions in the Hilltoppers’ win at home over Sam Houston last week.
Reed enters Week 13 tied for seventh nationally in passing touchdowns (27), ranked ninth in points responsible for (190), 10th in points responsible for per game (17.3), 11th in completions per game (23.91), 16th in passing yards (3,060), 18th in passing yards per game (278.2) and 21st in total offense per game (287.8).
Through Week 12 of the season, CUSA boasts three of the top-16 and four in the top-21 in the country in tackles per game.
T-4. Tyrice Knight, LB, UTEP 11.4
T-6. Trevor Williams, Sam Houston 11.2
16. Donovan Manuel, LB, FIU 10.1
21. Tyren Dupree, LB, Liberty 9.4
WHY THE RUSH?
Liberty enters Week 13 leading the nation in rushing offense, averaging 282.2 yards per game.
Jax State ranks third in FBS at 245.6 yards per game and New Mexico State is 11th at 206.2 yards per game.
Liberty enters Week 13 as the national leader in interceptions, as the Flames have a total of 19 through their first 11 games of the season. Liberty’s 23 turnovers forced is also fourth-best in the nation.
WKU is tied for sixth in the nation in takeaways with 22 and 15th nationally in interceptions with 12, while Jax State is tied for 10th nationally with 21 turnovers gained (and ranks sixth nationally in interceptions with 14).
ON THE (TURNOVER) MARGINS
Entering Week 13 Liberty is +0.91 in turnover margin, which is tied for seventh nationally, while Jax State’s +0.64 turnover margin ranks 20th and WKU is tied for 24th at +0.45 per game. The Hilltoppers are +5 for the season, while Liberty is +10 and Jax State is +7.
RECOVERY IS KEY
WKU is eighth in the nation in fumble recoveries entering Week 12, with 10.
NO. 25 LIBERTY IMPROVES TO 11-0 AP
No. 25 Liberty (11-0) was dominant yet again in a 49-25 win over UMass on Saturday to stay unbeaten. The Flames are off to their best start in program history and are the only team in the country with wins over 11 FBS teams in 2023, and are one of just six undefeated teams remaining, after JMU’s home loss to App State. The Flames pulled their starters at the beginning of the fourth quarter, on top 49-10. QB Kaidon Salter was again a difference-maker for the Flames, completing 11-16 passes for 225 yards with two touchdows and also ran 13 times for 118 yards and two more scores in the win. RB Quinton Cooley had eight carries for 102 yards and a touchdown as well, as the nation’s leading rushing team finished with 324 yards on the ground. TE Austin Henderson caught both of Salter’s touchdown passes for Liberty. Defensively, the Flames, who lead the country in interceptions (now with 19), picked off a pair on Saturday, including a pick-six by DB Preston Hodge. LB Tyren Dupree led all tacklers with 14, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry in the win.
NM STATE DOMINATES AUBURN, 31-10
New Mexico State (9-3) was dominant in a 31-10 win at Jordan Hare Stadium over Auburn (6-5), the program’s first-ever win over an SEC opponent (previously 0-27). QB Diego Pavia finished 19-28 for 201 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and carried eight times for 35 more yards in the win. The Aggies outgained Auburn 414-213 in the victory. The Aggies ground game ran for 213 yards collectively, led by RB Star Thomas, who carried seven times for 67 yards and also had a 17-yard touchdown reception. Defensively, LB Gabe Peterson recorded six tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack. The Aggies, winners of seven straight, conclude their regular season next week at home against CUSA newcomer Jax State (8-3, 6-1 CUSA) at 3 p.m. CT in Las Cruces. The win marked New Mexico State’s first against a P5 opponent since 2011 (at Minnesota), and it was the first by a CUSA team in 2023.
JAX STATE RUNS OVER LA TECH, SETS NEW CUSA SINGLE GAME RUSHING RECORD
Jax State (8-3, 6-1 CUSA) set a new CUSA single game team rushing record with 522 yards in a 56-17 win at home over LA Tech on Saturday afternoon. RB Malik Jackson carried nine times for 193 yards and two touchdowns, while QB Zion Webb carried 10 times for 122 yards with three scores and RB Anwar Lewis finished with 14 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown in the win. The Gamecocks defense intercepted a pair of passes in the win, giving them 14 on the season.
WKU BOWL ELIGIBLE WITH 28-23 WIN OVER SAM HOUSTON
WKU (6-5, 4-3 CUSA) became bowl eligible for the 10th time in the past 12 seasons with a 28-23 win over Sam Houston (2-9, 1-6 CUSA) at home on Saturday afternoon. WR Malachi Corley caught 10 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, while WR Dalvin Smith hauled in seven catches for 125 yards and another touchdown. QB Austin Reed was up and down, but did enough to help lead the Hilltoppers to the win, completing 28-41 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw four interceptions. The WKU defense forced three Sam Houston turnovers on the Bearkats’ last three fourth quarter possessions, including an interception by DB Desmyn Baker in the end zone to seal the win.
MTSU HOLDS ON, BEATS UTEP 34-30
MTSU (4-7, 3-4 CUSA) knocked off UTEP (3-8, 2-5 CUSA) at home on Saturday afternoon. QB Nicholas Vattiato completed 18-35 passes for 242 yards with three touchdowns and also had 14 carries for 100 yards in the win. WR Holden Willis caught six passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns for the Blue Raiders. Defensively S Parker Hughes recorded seven tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack in the win.
FIU FALLS AT ARKANSAS
FIU (4-7) held an early 13-7 lead at Arkansas (4-7), but ultimately fell 44-20 on Saturday night. FIU WR Kris Mitchell led the way for the Panthers with six catches for 157 yards and a touchdown and freshman QB Keyone Jenkins finished 21-36 for 265 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a rushing score. Defensively, LB Reggie Peterson recorded a game-high 13 tackles and a sack, while LB Donovan Manuel had 12 stops and a tackle for loss.
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.
CUSA BOWL SYNOPSIS
Conference USA is in year four the league’s sixyear cycle of the bowl lineup, concluding with the 2025 season. The conference is guaranteed seven bowl appearances in each year of the cycle and will have associations with up to 16 different bowls.
As part of the new bowl cycle, CUSA will annually send teams to the Bahamas Bowl against a MidAmerican Conference opponent, and to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, against a Sun Belt Conference school. The league has participated in all eight Bahamas Bowls and has placed a team in the New Orleans Bowl 18 times in its first 22 years.
The league continues its relationship with the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. CUSA is guaranteed to send a team to the Shreveport, Louisiana-based bowl in 2025, while holding a secondary agreement with the bowl in the other years of the cycle.
CUSA also continues its long-standing relationship with the Easypost Hawai’i Bowl. The league is set to participate in the Honolulu-based game in 2024.
The conference’s remaining guaranteed selections in the cycle (either four or five per season) will include the 68 Ventures Bowl (Mobile, Alabama) or from among 11 games which are owned and operated by ESPN Events. A backup opportunity also exists for the Quick Lane Bowl after ESPN and/or Independence Bowl slots have been filled.
Guaranteed selections each season:
Famous Toastery Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina) – due to ongoing renovations at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium in
New Orleans Bowl (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Guaranteed selections selected seasons:
Easypost Hawai’i Bowl (Honolulu, Hawai’i) – 2024
Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana) – 2025 www.radiancetechnologiesindependencebowl. com