C-USA championship game matches conference's top 2 offenses
The scoreboard and stat sheets could get a workout when Western Kentucky hosts Southern Mississippi for Saturday's Conference USA's championship showdown between the league's most explosive offenses.
The Hilltoppers (10-2, 8-0 C-USA) lead the league in scoring at 44.2 points per contest, just ahead of the Golden Eagles' 41.7 average. Southern Miss (9-3, 7-1) has the edge in yardage at nearly 535 per game, nearly 15 more than WKU (520.1).
That's only the beginning for these mirror-image schools.
The game also is a matchup if strong-armed quarterbacks in WKU senior Brandon Doughty and USM counterpart Nick Mullens, who have combined for 8,148 yards and 77 touchdowns.
Add in two of C-USA's top defenses and it's no wonder Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm downplays having home-field advantage - even though his team is 5-0 at Houchens-Smith Stadium this season. Host teams are 7-3 in the championship game.
''I feel we're very evenly matched,'' said Brohm, whose team ran the table in the East division to earn its first title-game appearance in just its second year as a league member.
Of the Golden Eagles, the coach added, ''they've been playing outstanding on defense. They've blown out a lot of teams, so they know how to win.''
Indeed, routs were common for USM during its six-game winning streak that clinched the West division title. The Golden Eagles have outscored opponents by an average margin of 48-16 during the run that keyed a six-game turnaround in league play from last season, one short of the C-USA record.
A league-leading defense allowing 351 yards per game has helped along with a focus to stay the course after a 3-3 start. But USM faces a WKU team with similar strengths, and coach Todd Monken knows something must give.
''We're going to have to play our best this week,'' said Monken, whose team is playing for its sixth league title and first since 2011. ''The stats bear that out, it's not just coach talk. ... We will expect their best and they can expect ours.''
Some other things to watch in Saturday's C-USA championship:
GOLDEN ARMS: WKU sixth-year senior Doughty has thrown for 9,014 yards and 91 touchdowns the past two seasons, including 4,184 and 42 TDs this year. He's just the third QB in FBS to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 TDs in consecutive seasons. USM counters with Mullens, who has 3,964 yards passing and 35 touchdowns. He surpassed Brett Favre for No. 2 on the school's list for career yards with 8,210.
1,000-YARD CLUB: USM has one 1,000-yard running back in Jalen Richard (1,065, 13 TDs) and one on the brink in Ito Smith, who needs 17 yards to reach the milestone. WKU's Anthony Wales is close as well, needing just 67 yards rushing for the achievement. The junior has gained at least 100 yards in six straight C-USA games and leads with 879 yards rushing in league play.
GIVE NO GROUND: Southern Miss and WKU rank closely in several C-USA defensive categories including 2-3 respectively in scoring (22.4-25.0) and rushing defense (143.2-156.4). There's more separation when it comes to pass defense, with the Golden Eagles ranking second at nearly 208 yards allowed per game, nearly 31 yards better than the seventh-ranked Hilltoppers. But WKU was by far C-USA's most opportunistic unit with a plus-13 turnover margin, 12 better than the Golden Eagles.
PASS PROTECTION: WKU ranks second in sacks allowed with just 14 but faces a big challenge against a Southern Miss defense that stands second to Florida Atlantic with 31 sacks. Dylan Bradley leads the Golden Eagles with 6.5.
GOOD NAMES, GOOD GAMES: WKU's roster features several players whose play has lived up to their memorable and colorful names, such as: senior CB Wonderful Terry, who has returned three of his four career interceptions for TDs; roommate and DT Ge'Monee Brown, who recovered a fumble last week against Marshall; and senior CB Prince Charles Iworah, whose three picks lead the `Toppers.
AP College Football: www.collegefootball.ap.org