Well, another week is in the books and two things are looking more and more clear. First of all, East Carolina, despite their defensive woes, and UCF seem to be on a collision course for the C-USA East Championship in the ultimate test of the "defense wins championships" mantra. Second, after UCF, ECU, and maybe Southern Miss, there is a lot of parity in the C-USA.
Even with David Piland at quarterback, I think most people who follow C-USA thought Houston would be able to hold off Rice. UTEP looked destined to bounce back into the C-USA West race until UAB clubbed them out in Birmingham. SMU is in the West drivers seat despite not having a single noteworthy out of conference win. While we are seeing some separation at the top, the race to fill all of the C-USA's bowl tie-ins is wide open.
Like last week, I am going to start classifying groups of teams based on their hopes of winning a C-USA Championship.
Cinco de Stinco: Two wins don't erase a season for the Bottom 5
12. The Memphis Tigers (1-6, 0-4 C-USA)
Last TIme: Lost 41-19 to Southern Miss
When's Basketball Start? The Memphis basketball team kicked off practice with "Memphis Madness." 18,000 screaming fans went to essentially a pep rally, at midnight, to cheer on the Tigers. There were scores of famous athletes from the NBA to the MLB there. Maybe everybody partied too hard becuase Memphis had about that many people at their football game the next day against division rival Southern Miss. Memphis has a much needed bye before taking on Houston next week.
Next Up: Bye
11. The Marshall Thundering Herd (1-5, 0-2 C-USA)
Last Time: Lost 35-14 to UCF
Stock: Down 2
Two Pony Show: It's a shame to see Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey wasted on this struggling Marshall team. Curry leads the nation in sacks and was just named a first team Midseason All-America by Sports Illustrated. Curry, a junior, has elevated himself to being a potential late first round pick. Even with Curry and Harvey, UCF showed just how good they can be on offense with a dynamic mix of option running and an efficient passing game. I'm scared to see what Dominique Davis can do against Marshall this week.
Next Up: at East Carolina
10. The Tulane Green Wave
Last Time: The Wave were pounded by Tulsa 52-24
Stock: Down 2
Can They Blot out the Sun? Tulane couldn't keep pace with Tulsa's high powered offense, but the Wave might be turning a corner at quarterback. Up and down Ryan Griffin posted a career day against TU with a 36/53, 412 yard game (2 TD, 1 INT). Miner fans should know more about RB Albert WIlliams though. He's better than UAB's Justin Brooks and we all saw what Brooks did to wear down UTEP's defense.
Next Up: at UTEP
9. The Rice Owls (2-5, 1-2 C-USA)
Last Time: Beat Houston for the Bayou Bucket 34-31
Stock: Up 2
Who Owns H-Town? Rice's David Bailiff really, really needed a win like the one he just got against Houston to stop the bleeding. The bad news is that the Owls have three straight road games staring them in the face including this week's at C-USA power UCF. Rice played smart on defense, they did everything they could to slow down Bryce Beall and force David Piland to win the game with his arm. Piland is testing the belief that any QB can instantly succeed in Houston's version of the Air Raid. By the way, Rice's stellar punter Kyle Martens was also named a first team Midseason All-American by CNNSI, he's now the frontrunner for the Ray Guy Award.
Next Up: at UCF
8. The UAB Blazers (1-2, 2-4)
Last Time: Beat UTEP 21-6
Stock: Up 2
The Right Stuff: I wasn't quiet about drawing attention to the "Fire Neil Callaway" movement, so now I have to lick my wounds and give credit where credit is due. At the end of the first half, Callaway turned to a run first, with a trickle of quick-fire screen passes, that absolutely wore down UTEP's defense. UAB was obviously somewhat lucky that UTEP's previously red hot QB Trevor Vittatoe was injured and ineffective in the game, but that's football. UAB made adjustments to wear down UTEP's defense and UTEP's offensive coaching staff ran the ball twice in the second half despite the fact that it was a one possession game most of the way. UAB outcoached UTEP. No denying that.
Next Up: at #24 Mississippi State (ESPN3.com)
The Verdict is Still Out; But The Season Can Go Either Way
7. The Houston Cougars (2-1, 3-3 C-USA)
Last Time: Lost to Rice 34-31
Stock: Down 1
Hypocrisy? Note that Rice and UAB beat Houston and UTEP collectively this past week. Yes, I am still ranking UTEP and Houston ahead of those teams. Houston is undoubtedly slipping down the rung (now 3-3), but I want to give the Coogs one last game before they the Bottom 5 becomes the Bottom 6. The Coogs have a showdown at SMU this week. With only one C-USA loss, the Coogs are probably the last team that can challenge SMU for the West Title if they can somehow right the ship. It's likely that we'll see a true changing of the guard this week when Houston hands the figurative title of "Division Favorite" over the the Mustangs, but I'm not ready to give up on Bryce Beall and Kevin Sumlin just yet. Especially after seeing SMU lose to Navy.
Next Up: At Southern Methodist
6. The UTEP Miners (5-2, 2-2)
Last Time: Lost to UAB 21-6
Stock: Down 1
Can They Stop the Bleeding? The UTEP team that lost to UAB was not the same team that rolled up 4 straight wins to get to 5-1. We all saw firsthand, how terrible UTEP can be offensively when QB Trevor Vittatoe isn't his usual self. If his injury nags at him all season, the Miners might struggle to get that elusive 6th win and first bowl bid since 2007. For more on UTEP's mounting injuries, check this post out. The Miners, at full strength, are a better team than the Green Wave. The thing is, UTEP isn't full strength right now. This game can go either way, but UTEP's 5-2 record and TV's unknown injury status keeps UTEP in the "Season Can Go either Way" category.
At least UTEP's Mascot Paydirt Pete is still winning in the Capital One Bowl Mascot Challenge. How can he not win, when he can get down like this. Vote for Paydirt Pete here or text Paydirt Pete to. 69866. This week, NMSU fans are even trying to help him lose to Idaho.
Next Up: vs. Tulane
5. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-3, 2-2 C-USA)
Last Time: Beat Tulane 52-24
Stock: Up 2
Hitting Their Stride: In the last two weeks, Tulsa passes up Houston and UTEP because of their consistent offensive success. Right now, Tulsa, Houston, and UTEP, all have comparable talent and are capable of beating any of the other or losing to anybody. Tulsa gets the highest ranking this week because of a blowout win and the way their offense came back after struggling to score against SMU. With Trevor Vittatoe banged up, Tulsa's G.J. Kinne gives the Hurricane a slight edge over the David Piland led Cougars and UTEP. It's amazing how important that week 1 "Hail Mary" loss to East Carolina is shaping up to be. Without it, Tulsa would still have a decent chance to catch SMU in the West. Now, they need SMU to lose three conference games which seems highly unlikely.
If you haven't seen the Hail Mary from the Tulsa/ECU game, here it is.
Next Up: Bye (at Notre Dame on 10/30)
The Contenders: One of These Four Teams Will Win the Conference USA Championship
Yup, it's down to four. In the West, SMU's 3-0 record will make it very difficult for anybody to catch them for the West title. If Houston knocks them off, then the Coogs will actually claim first in the West (both with 1 loss). And, then UTEP theoretically (if they beat Tulane) could beat SMU to force a three way tie. So, UTEP needs to run the table in C-USA play and have Houston beat SMU. Houston needs to run the table in league play. Tulsa needs Houston and UTEP to beat SMU and for the Mustangs to lose another game. SMU is in the drivers seat.
In the East, USM is on the outside looking in after their narrow loss to East Carolina. The Eagles will likely join the middle tier group later in the season, but with only one loss (and with UCF still on the schedule and UCF and ECU still playing), USM is still alive for a share or outright East title. I don't see it happening, but in this league anything is possible.
4. The SMU Mustangs (4-3, 3-0 C-USA)
Last Time: Lost to Navy 28-21
Stock: Down 2
The Leader of the Pack: Yup, as explained above, SMU is in the West drivers seat depsite their inability to get a significant out of conference win. SMU is good, but not nearly as good as Houston was last year which doesn't bode well for the West in the C-USA Championship game. SMU moved the ball on Navy and actually out-gained the Midshipmen, but when it came down to it they couldn't match up with Navy's power running game. Lucky for them, nobody in the West can run like Navy.
Here are some highlights from the Navy game.
Next Up: vs Houston
3. The Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (5-2, 2-1 C-USA)
Last time: Pummeled Memphis 41-19
Stock: Up 2
Still Alive: Just about everybody in the C-USA now has 2 league losses, but Southern Miss, after blasting Memphis, is still in the East Division race. Their close loss to ECU still gives them a handicap but they should be at 4-1 in league play on November 13, when they travel to Orlando. That game will be after UCF and ECU matchup. Austin Davis has ended any talk of losing his spot to fan favorite Martevious Young with good, consistent play. I'm still not sure that USM has the firepower to get past UCF's defense, especially with DeAndre Brown's season slowly slipping away.
Next Up; Bye, vs. UAB in two weeks
1.B.. The East Carolina Pirates (4-2, 3-0 C-USA)
Last Time: Beat N.C. State 33-27 (OT)
Stock: Up 1
The Co-Favorite: There is no #2 this week. ECU and UCF are offically 1.a and 1.b. How did ECU close the gap? First of all, the Pirates did something that UCF couldn't do; they beat N.C. State. Also, UCF suffered a serious injury loss when backup/shared QB Rob Calabrese was knocked out for the season against Marshall (more below). East Carolina has the nations 116th ranked scoring defense but the 14th ranked scoring offense. UCF has the 58th ranked scoring offense and the 8th ranked scoring defense. East Carolina is the new Houston. UCF is still UCF. Circle October 30, 2010 on your calendar. It's going to be a fun one.
1.A. The Central Florida Knights (4-2, 2-0 C-USA)
Last Time: Blasted Marshall 35-14
Defense Wins Championships? UCF will have to lean even more on their defense now that Rob Calabrese is done for the season. I hated that UCF was rotating QB's because I thought it would stunt the maturation of the superior player (in my mind, at least) Jeff Godfey. Godfrey has some bad habits, mainly he stares down his receivers from the get-go and locks in on them in a way that I think will eventually lead to a 2-3 INT game. But, he has good arm strength and underrated accuracy. Obviously, he's the best rushing quarterback in the league. He is still, though, a freshman and it will be interesting to see how he does against ECU in a game that should determine the C-USA East Champion.
Here is a mid-season highlight film for UCF- Can somebody make one as good for UTEP?
Next Up: Rice at home