C-USA's Week 8 slate is loaded with conference match-ups that will help to further clean up the East and West division races. Only UAB has a non-conference game as the Blazers travel to Starkville to take on #24 Mississippi State. Memphis, Tulsa, and Southern Miss all have off weeks, a luxury that the UTEP Miners won't experience this season. UTEP is hoping to stop the bleeding and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2005.
The C-USA Game of the Week isn't in El Paso, though. It's in Dallas as the SMU Mustangs host the Houston Cougars. SMU hasn't lost in C-USA play and Houston is the only 1 loss team. If Tulsa, UTEP, or Houston are going to keep SMU from winning the division, they'll all need the Cougars to bounce back from their Bucket Bowl loss to beat the Pony's. An SMU win doesn't mathematically clinch the division, but it makes it all but impossible for Houston and Tulsa. The Coogs and TU would need SMU to lose three of their final four C-USA games, and win out themselves, to claim the division. UTEP hasn't played SMU and would need to beat them, win out, and hope SMU loses another one (perhaps East Carolina) to win it.
So, as much as I hate to say it, Go Coogs! Fans in El Paso and Tulsa are rooting for you. You can do it, David Piland.
Sat., Oct. 23
Houston Cougars at SMU Mustangs
CBS College Sports
2:30 p.m. CT
Rice Owls at Central Florida Knights
2:30 p.m. CT
Marshall at East Carolina Pirates
3:15 p.m. CT
UAB Blazers at #24 Mississippi St. Bulldogs
6:00 p.m. CT
Tulane Green Wave at UTEP Miners
El Paso, Texas
8:05 p.m. CT
Miner Rush's 2010 Picks
Last Week: 2-4
Not a good week for the Rush; thought UTEP and UH would hold serve and picked the wrong non-conference win. Note to self: Never Pick SMU to win a non-conference game against a good team again.
Year to Date: 34-9
Game 1: Rice Owls at UCF Knights
One Man Show: It will be interesting to see how UCF's offense adjusts to going back to a one man QB system. For those who didn't know, UCF had been playing a dual quarterback system with veteran Rob Calabrese and the lock for C-USA Frosh of the Year Jeffrey Godfrey. Calabrese suffered a knee injury against Marshall and is out for the season. I think UCF will be find and Godfrey is lucky to have a tuneup game against Rice with East Carolina coming up.
The Pick: UCF 31, Rice 13
Game 2: Marshall Thundering Herd at ECU
Rocks to a Gunfight: I've said it before, I just don't think Marshall's Brian Anderson fits the spread offense the Herd are trying to install. I'm not saying Doc Holliday was wrong to run ex-Clemson QB Willy Korn out of town, but I'd venture to guess some Herd fans wouldn't mind trying someone new right now. East Carolina's Dominique Davis shouldnt't have much trouble Air Raidin' Marshall to death.
The Pick: East Carolina 41, Marshall 24
Game 3: UAB at #24 Mississippi State
Back to Reality: The UAB Blazers must have been flying high after knocking off the formerly 5-1 UTEP Miners before a crowd of dozens last week in Birmingham. They won't celebrate too long; at least until they see that MSU defense and running game that destroyed the Houston Cougars a few weeks back. Amazingly, losing David Isabelle to injury might be the best thing to ever happen to UAB. Neil Callaway had forgotten he had running backs.
The Pick: Mississippi State 37, UAB 13
The Conference USA Game of the Week
The Houston Cougars at the SMU Mustangs
I think the C-USA was stunned to see Houston fall to Rice. Kevin Sumlin will find a way to get his boys ready to play against SMU because this game will mark a turning point for the Coogs one way or the other. To be blunt, Houston isn't going to win the C-USA West. Yes, as noted above, they can take the lead in the race with a win against SMU. But, Houston still has UCF at home and a trip to Southern Miss. The Coogs are going to lose at least one (if not both) of those games. Houston, after the Rice loss, had to readjust their goals to go from hoping to win the C-USA West to hoping they become bowl eligible. And, looking at Houston's schedule, it will be an uphill battle.
Check out Houston's remaining schedule:
1. at SMU
2. at Memphis
3. vs. UCF
4. vs Tulsa
5. at Southern Miss
6. at Texas Tech
Do you see three wins in there? Asides from a road game at Memphis, the Coogs should be underdogs in 5 of their final 6 and note that four of those last six are on the road. If they lose to SMU, I don't see three wins left on their schedule. So, Kevin Sumlin & Co. know they are playing for the postseason now. I think Houston will play inspired football, but their offense just isn't there yet. Bryce Beall can't do it alone.
The Pick: SMU 31, Houston 21
The Tulane Green Wave at the UTEP Miners
Protect This House: When last years team was faced with injuries and adversity, they quite simply rolled over and died. That's the only way to describe the way UTEP fell apart after losing at Memphis last season. All summer and so far in this season, I've stressed that I don't think this UTEP team will fall victim to another late season implosion. This team is simply too good.
I was encouraged by Trevor Vittatoe's comments to the press yesterday. I've noted this week how essential his play is to UTEP's season. Trevor will obviously go down in the record books as, statistically, the best quarterback in UTEP history. But, if he truly wants to become a Miner legend. A guy that we will look back on 10 years later as a great one, the way we do with Rocky Perez, he has to find a way to get UTEP that elusive sixth win. He has to do more than play this week, he has to play as well as we know he can. Because, the road only gets harder from here.
Marshall doesn't lose a lot at home. They have the nations best winning percentage at home since their stadium was built. They have two sure fire NFL prospects (including a potential first rounder) on defense. And, they are more physical up front than UAB and Memphis. We all know SMU and Tulsa are winnable games but they will be battles. Arkansas nearly beat Alabama and is head and shoulders above anybody in the C-USA including UCF.
I firmly believe UTEP will win more than one more game this season. But a loss here will begin to cast a dark cloud over this season. In a town more than willing to give up on their team without investing in them, the Miners could get caught up in a wave of negativity that will take away an advantage we desperately need against SMU: a raucous Sun Bowl.
I think Trevor plays. And, I think Aaron Price learned from his mistakes against UAB and will open up the play book against Tulane. More than that, I think UTEP will control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. UTEP's offensive line should be able to help open things up for an improving Donald Buckram and I hope that Price gets Joe Banyard back in the gameplan. I think UTEP will try and slow down the game with the run and put together long drives similar to the ones UAB did that killed us.
Tulane's offense, notably Ryan Griffin, had a breakout game against Tulsa. Lucky for us, Tulane is battered at the RB position and doesn't have a power running offense that can take advantage of UTEP's biggest weakness; the defensive line. I think Griffin will throw far more passes than he wants to, and I think Travaun Nixon & Co. will be ready.
The Pick: UTEP 24, Tulane 21