September 15, 2012; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; Southern Miss Golden Eagles wide receiver Chris Briggs (9) is tackled after a catch by East Carolina Pirates defensive back Damon Magazu (11) during their game at M.M. Roberts Stadium. East Carolina won, 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook - US PRESSWIRE
Through three weeks, Conference USA as a whole is struggling to gain its footing. The league that had produced two 12 win teams a year ago is now 10-23 through the opening weeks of the season. While it does seem like a couple of teams are stepping forward as the class of the league, at this point Conference USA is a wide open race. Here are the C-USA football power rankings for Week 4.
12. Memphis Tigers (0-3) Last: (L) vs. Middle Tennessee State, Up Next: @ Duke
The Tigers are starting to get comfortable again in the 12 spot where they've spent much of the last two seasons. Saturday, they had a prime opportunity to get one in the win column, but were unable to as they allowed Middle Tennessee to score 48 points, and gave up 4 turnovers en route to an 18 point home loss. Up next, the Tigers hit the road to take on the Duke Blue Devils. Memphis opened as a 24 point dog in that one, and with Rice, ECU, and UCF coming up in the next weeks, it may be a while before we see them pick up a win, if they do at all.11. Tulane Green Wave (0-2, 0-1) Last: BYE, Up Next: vs. Ole Miss
The Green Wave stay in 11th position through their bye, but aren't too far ahead of the Tigers. Up next will be a tough match against an Ole Miss squad who will be looking to rebound after their home loss to Texas over the weekend, and then they'll take on a Louisiana-Monroe team who knocked off then #8 Arkansas on the road two weeks ago, and nearly dropped Auburn as well this past Saturday. Bottom line, I wouldn't expect the Wave to improve on this no. 11 ranking, at least for a few weeks.
10. Houston Cougars (0-3) Last: (L) #19 UCLA, Up Next: vs. BYE
After showing a bit of life a week ago against La Tech, the Cougar offense was nowhere to be found Saturday at #19 UCLA. QB David Piland went from throwing for nearly 600 yards and no interceptions last week, to throwing for less than 250 and 5 interceptions against the Bruins. On top of that, Houston managed only 14 first downs (UCLA-29), and maintained possession for only 18:46 (UCLA-41:14). This week, the Cougars have a bye, before taking on their cross town rival, Rice, on a neutral field in Reliant Stadium. After that, they've got North Texas and UAB at home. If they can't pick up at least 2 of 3 in the coming weeks, this season could be much worse for Houston than any of us could have imagined.
9. UAB Blazers (0-2) Last: (L) @ #7/8 South Carolina, Up Next: @ #16 Ohio State
After a disappointing 10 point home loss to Troy a couple of weeks ago, the Blazers fell 49-6 against top 10 foe South Carolina Saturday. They were able to stay within striking distance for a half (21-6), but the Gamecocks pulled away for the easy victory. While they were able to move the ball, and take care of it (only 1 turnover), UAB managed only 267 yards of total offense, and 27 on the ground. With Ohio State this week, and Tulsa on the horizon, this team could very well be looking at an 0-4 start.
8. SMU Mustangs (1-2) Last: (L) vs. Texas A&M, Up Next: vs. #16/17 TCU
My doubts about this team were definitely justified. After putting up a gaudy 52-0 result over Stephen F. Austin the week before, the Mustangs were run over by Texas A&M 48-3 on their home field over the weekend. QB Garrett Gilbert's struggles continued, as he passed for only 203 yards on 49 attempts, completing only 23. The Mustangs managed only 309 yards of total offense, while giving up 605. Its starting to become apparent that this isn't the team that most expected SMU to be, and with games against TCU and at UTEP coming up, they could be in a 1-4 hole before Tulane, Houston, and Memphis show up on the schedule.
7. Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (0-2, 0-1) Last: (L) vs. East Carolina, Up Next: @ Western Kentucky
Much like C-USA's other 12 win team from a year ago, the Golden Eagles are having trouble getting one up in the win column. Saturday, they had an opportunity, at home against ECU, to step up as a contender in the Eastern division of Conference USA. That didn't happen as 3 turnovers doomed USM to a 24-14 loss. The defense was able to hold ECU to only 228 total yards, and 171 passing, but if the offense can put up points or protect the ball, the Golden Eagles aren't going to win very many games. This week they travel to take on Western Kentucky (who just beat Kentucky), and then they'll have a four game stretch that features #20 Louisville, #24 Boise State, UCF, and Marshall. If Southern Miss can't manage a win this week, its anybody's guess as to when that first one will come.
6. Rice Owls (1-2) Last: (L) @ Louisiana Tech, Up Next: vs. Marshall
The Owls followed up their big road win over a Big 12 team with a pretty hefty road loss against Louisiana Tech. Tech managed to put up more than 600 yards of total offense, and 56 points, just as they did a week ago against Houston. Now, Rice was able to put up 37 points, and 477 yards of total offense, but they could just never keep pace with the Bulldogs. The Owls were down 21-0 after one, and were down by as many as 26, twice in the 4th quarter. This week Rice will take on Marshall at home, and will then have Houston at Reliant Stadium. It'll be interesting to see if they can win either of those two games. If they can't, at least they've got Memphis and UTSA after that.
5. UTEP Miners (1-2) Last: (W) vs. New Mexico State, Up Next: @ #24 Wisconsin
The Miners jump up three spots in the rankings this week after picking up their first win of the season against New Mexico State. The UTEP offense was firing on all cylinders Saturday as they jumped out to a 27-0 lead after 4 touchdowns on their opening 4 possessions. The defense played well also, holding NMSU scoreless until almost 3:00 minutes left in the first half. The Miners were up 41-14 midway through the 4th before the Aggies put up a couple of scores late in the game. Altogether, the Miners amassed nearly 500 yards of total offense, and saw starting QB Nick Lamaison pass for his first 300 yard game of the season, going 21-32 for 300 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Miners will now take on a struggling Wisconsin team on the road, before opening up C-USA action at ECU. Two wins would be nice, but if the Miner can even manage to split, they'll be in good shape heading down the stretch run of the season.
4. Marshall Thundering Herd (1-2) Last: (L) vs. Ohio, Up Next: @ Purdue
The home loss against Ohio isn't exactly a terrible one, but it was heartbreaking as the Herd were in position for the go ahead field goal with only 5 minutes to play. After a completed catch for a first down to the Ohio 21, WR Antavious Wilson fumbled, allowing the Bobcats to take it the other way, and get in position for their own go ahead field goal. Marshall outgained Ohio 491 to 399, including 432 to 200 through the air, but 3 turnovers cost them the game. The Herd will now travel to Rice and Purdue in consecutive games, and neither of them will be easy. With Tulsa, Southern Miss, and UCF to follow, its tough to say where this team will be in the next few weeks. But, if they want to compete for a C-USA crown, or even make it to a bowl game, they can't continue to give away games as they did on Saturday.
3. East Carolina Pirates (2-1, 1-0) Last: (W) @ Southern Miss, Up Next: @ North Carolina
The Pirates were able to pick up a huge road win in Conference USA play over the weekend, as they knocked off Southern Miss 24-14 in Hattiesburg. While the win was a great start to conference play, there are still plenty of questions with this team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. In Saturday's game, the Pirates managed only 13 first downs, and 228 yards of total offense. Truth is, it weren't for 3 USM turnovers, this would've been a completely different game. ECU now has games at North Carolina, against UTEP, and at UCF in the next 3 weeks. None of those games will be easy, but all three will be winnable. If they are going to step forward as a true contender in C-USA, now is the time.
2. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-1, 1-0) Last: (W) vs. Nichols State, Up Next: vs. Fresno State
The Hurricane definitely seem to putting it together here as the season progresses. They had the poor performance against Iowa State in the opening week, but have put together back to back blowout wins since then. Saturday, Tulsa knocked Nichols State 66-16, and totaled 566 yards of offense. The Hurricane now sit at 59th in the FBS in passing yards per game, and are in the top 50 in rushing yards (10th), points for (14th), and points against (49th). Tulsa will take on Fresno State this week, and will then hit the road to take on UAB and UCF after that. If they can manage to win all three of those games, they just might be sitting at the top of C-USA when they return home to play UTEP.
1. Central Florida Knights (2-1) Last: (W) vs. Florida International, Up Next: Missouri
The Knights maintain their spot on top of Conference USA after their home win against Florida International. It wasn't exactly the dominating type of win you'd expect to see over a middle of the road Sun Belt team, but the Knights did open up a 30-7 lead before the Panthers made a run. UCF managed 431 total yards, and 261 passing, compare to 306 and 154 for FIU. They will now have three consecutive home games against Missouri, East Carolina, and Southern Miss so we should know a lot more about this team once that stretch has played out. For now though, they are the best team in Conference USA.