Thanksgiving: C-USA Style
By Peter Burke
As Thanksgiving approaches, Football.com takes a look at what each Conference USA team has to be thankful for.
UAB: UAB can be thankful for its punting and red-zone offense, which are first and third in the C-USA, respectively. Hunter Mullins has punted 48 times for 2,080 yards. The Blazers got the most use of him last Thursday, when the junior punted a season-high seven times for 335 yards, including a long of 63 yards, in a 37-34 overtime loss to Rice. UAB has also scored on 30 of 34 trips in the red zone, which is tied for third in the conference.
ECU: East Carolina can be thankful for the trio of junior quarterback Shane Carden, senior running back Vintavious Cooper and junior wide receiver Justin Hardy.
Carden has passed for 3,320 yards (good enough for first in the C-USA) and 29 touchdowns thus far. Carden's nine rushing touchdowns are tied for first on the team with Cooper. Hardy, who began his career as a walk-on, has set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,130. Hardy also set the school record for career touchdown catches (25) and leads the C-USA in both receptions (95) and receiving yards.
FAU: Florida Atlantic can be thankful for offensive coordinator-turned-interim head coach Brian Wright, who is 3-0 since taking over for Carl Pelini late last month. FAU was 2-6 when Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned amid allegations of illegal drug use (the school maintains drugs had nothing to do with the move). Wright, whom Pelini hired in 2012, stated at his introductory news conference that he wanted the job in 2013 and beyond. Should FAU finish the final month of the regular season unblemished, Wright might just get his chance.
FIU: FIU can be thankful for having Southern Miss on its schedule. If it weren't for the Golden Eagles, the Panthers might earn the distinction for worst team in the conference.
Marshall: Marshall can be thankful for senior tight end Gator Hoskins, who set a school record with 10 touchdown catches last season. Hoskins already has 12 touchdowns this season, including three against FIU last Saturday.
Middle Tennessee State: Middle Tennessee can be thankful for its schedule. After getting out to a 3-4 start, the Blue Raiders benefited from a softer schedule down the stretch that helped them to become bowl-eligible. Middle Tennessee's November opponents — UAB, FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP — have a combined record of 5-39.
Southern Miss: Southern Miss can be thankful that the season is almost over. The Golden Eagles haven't won a game since 2011.
Louisiana Tech: Louisiana Tech can be thankful for sophomore kicker Kyle Fischer, who leads the C-USA in field goals and is second in field-goal percentage. He's converted 17 of 22 attempts with a long of 49 yards.
North Texas: North Texas can be thankful for senior defensive end Aaron Bellazin. He leads the conference with 7.5 sacks and is fourth in tackles for loss with 11. He has also forced two fumbles this season.
Rice: Rice can be thankful that rival Houston has moved on to the American Athletic Conference and no future meetings are scheduled. The Owls have lost three in a row in the battle for the "Bayou Bucket" and 10 of the last 15 meetings since the rivalry resumed in 1999. Fortunately for Rice, a 31-26 loss in September won't count against the Owls in the C-USA standings. Rice can win the West Division with a victory at home Saturday against Tulane.
UTEP: UTEP can be thankful for the performance of running back Aaron Jones. The true freshman has made an impact for his hometown team, rushing for 811 yards (good enough for fourth in the conference) and four touchdowns.
UTSA: UTSA can be thankful for head coach Larry Coker and joining the C-USA at the right time. Coker, who won a national championship at Miami, was tasked with leading the upstart program, and in three seasons he has the Roadrunners competing for a conference championship. Coker led the Roadrunners to an 8-4 season last year, which was UTSA's lone season competing in the Western Athletic Conference. In their first season of C-USA play, the Roadrunners can clinch spot in the championship game with a victory and some help from Tulane.
Tulane: Tulane can be thankful for having 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos. The senior kicker is a finalist for the award in 2013 and already has booted one game-winning field goal this season to help lead the Green Wave to their most wins since 2002.
Tulsa: Tulsa can be thankful for senior running back Trey Watts, who is second in the C-USA with 1,215 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. It is his second consecutive season of at least 1,000 yards on the ground. He also leads the team in receptions (46) and punt returns (20 for 137 yards).