Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert says there’s “no question” he wants his team to close the season with its first Conference USA victory – for the team’s seniors.
“I always look back to January, when they started preparations for the season, and all the hard work they’ve put in,” Lambert says. “It would be great to see them win one.”
The 49ers close their first FBS season Saturday at Rice, taking a 0-7 conference record and a nine-game losing streak (2-9 overall mark) against the Owls (2-5, 4-7).
“It would be huge,” says Cabarrus County native and starting offensive tackle Danny Book, one of three senior starters. “It’s been frustrating, not getting that win so far. But we’ve kept working at it, and we’d really like to go out with a win.”
The other senior starters are receiver Richard Murphy and linebacker Caleb Clayton-Molby. But with junior running back Kalif Phillips still nursing a knee injury, Andrew Buie, also in his final game, could start. Buie is a graduate transfer from West Virginia.
Rice is coming off a disappointing 34-24 loss to Texas-San Antonio, a setback that ended their hopes of reaching a bowl game for the fourth straight year. But Lambert said he doesn’t expect the Owls to be in a charitable mood against the 49ers.
Lambert said Rice coach David Bailiff, in his ninth season at the Texas school, wants his team to finish with a victory for the squad’s 15 seniors.
“Coach Bailiff has said it’s senior day,” Lambert said. “Those seniors have won a lot of games at Rice, and I’m sure they want to go out with another win.”
Playing for pride: Bailiff says his team is unhappy to miss a bowl game, adding, “All you can do at this point is play for pride. We went to three straight bowls. Nobody likes the position we’re in. I expect that we will play well.”
Charlotte injury report: Lambert said several 49ers are questionable for Saturday’s game. Phillips, who injured a knee two weeks ago and re-injured it in Saturday’s 58-10 loss at Kentucky, is day-to-day. Lambert said Phillips’ knee is sore with swelling.
Also listed as day-to-day are offensive lineman Jamal Covington (back), defensive back Branden Dozier (knee) and receiver T.L. Ford II (foot).
Conference USA showdowns: So-called “Rivalry Week” in college football includes a pair of showdowns for division championships in Conference USA. The East title will be decided Friday, when Marshall (6-1) visits Western Kentucky (7-0) for a noon game. And at noon Saturday, Southern Mississippi visits Louisiana Tech in a battle of 6-1 teams for the West title.
The two division champions play for the league title Dec. 5 at the site of the team with the best overall record. Since Marshall and Western Kentucky each are 9-2, and the two West teams are 8-3, the East winner will have the better record.
Bowl update: While the 49ers aren’t headed to a bowl, at least four of this season’s opponents are. And there’s a chance three more teams on Charlotte’s schedule will get into a bowl.
Temple (9-2), Marshall (9-2), Southern Mississippi (8-3) and Middle Tennessee (6-5)are bowl-eligible. Old Dominion and Kentucky each are 5-6 and need victories Saturday. Old Dominion is favored at home against Florida Atlantic, but Kentucky is an underdog at home against rival Louisville.
Georgia State, the only FBS team Charlotte has beaten, is 4-6 and would be bowl-eligible if it wins Friday against Troy (3-7) and Dec. 5 against Georgia Southern (7-3).