Most would agree that in the East Division of Conference USA, both Marshall and Western Kentucky are the measuring stick. They are the bigger names in the division and have earned that moniker given their recent success.
At the midway point in the season, each team holds identical 5-1 records and both are undefeated in league play. Breaking through to wrestle away one of those top two spots in the East would take some doing, and though not entirely impossible at this point seems improbable nonetheless.
So who is best of the rest? Which team will rise above the pack and establish itself behind the top two? That question, it would appear, could be answered on Saturday when FIU travels to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee State in a noon Saturday kickoff.
The East Division foes look to be first in line behind the two favorites, each having split the first couple of conference games. FIU (3-3) set school records in last week’s 52-12 victory over UTEP, its most impressive showing so far this season. The Blue Raiders (2-4) have an equally impressive conference win under their belts, trouncing UNC-Charlotte, 73-14.
So it’s not difficult to see that these two squads are among what could be considered best of the rest in the East Division, perhaps slightly ahead of FAU and measurably better than both Old Dominion and UNC-Charlotte.
That makes Saturday’s noon showdown a vital one in each team’s development and progression towards not only the top in the division but also in the C-USA bowl pecking order. For FIU, it could very well be viewed as a swing game in that, at 3-3 for the season, victories over Old Dominion and UNC-Charlotte seem as likely as losses to Marshall and Western Kentucky.
That leaves Saturday’s game and a Halloween afternoon encounter at FAU as toss-ups that the Panthers need to come out victorious in to qualify for a bowl game and perhaps finish with a winning season; two goals the Panthers have not accomplished since 2011.
FIU head coach Ron Turner said in his weekly press conference that he feels the team is where it needs to be at this point in the season.
“I think our team has some confidence right now,” Turner said. “I think they believe in one another and I love the fact that we are playing as a team. You cannot win in this game if you are not completely in it as a team, and I think we are.”
Nearly the entire team scored touchdowns in last week’s big home victory. Actually it was just seven players on the team, but that’s the most ever in one game at FIU. The 42 points scored were the most ever by a Panthers team in one half. The 518 total yards were the most for FIU under Turner.
Are they peaking at the right time? Perhaps, quarterback Alex McGough is certainly doing his part. The sophomore has thrown 121 passes without an interception, and for the season has thrown just two picks in 206 passing attempts.
He and his Panthers teammates will need to keep it going on the road Saturday if they hope to oust the Blue Raiders and make the definitive statement that they are the best of the rest.