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Week 9: Miner Rush's Conference USA Power Rankings

There are now three tiers of teams in the C-USA. Sadly, the Bottom 5 has turned into the Bottom 6 as the UTEP Miners fall into that group after losing to Tulane and UAB in consecutive weeks. Remember, this isn't a C-USA Standings list, these are power rankings, and until Mike Price & Co. right the ship, they fall into the lower end of the C-USA. A win against Marshall, and the resulting bowl eligibility, will be enough to get them on top of the bottom so to speak with two big conference games left to go.

After the Bottom 6, you have the Best of the West and the Beasts in the East. The Top 3 teams in each division are the top 6 teams in the league. But, the order might surprise you. SMU's inability to beat a struggling, up and down Houston squad, has knocked the Mustangs down a rung. Right now, it appears that the Top 3 East teams are all better than the Top 3 West teams.

At this point in the season, it's impossible to rank all the teams based on head to head wins. These rankings are based mostly on who's playing best right now but obviously season success will come into play a bit too.

Like always, I appreciate any feedback here. I tend to get 2-3 emails a week on these rankings. Please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email at minerrrush@gmail.com.

The Bottom 6: Highly Competitive, With Each Other

12. The Memphis Tigers (1-6, 0-4 C-USA)

Last TIme: Bye Week

Stock: Same

When Does Basketball Start? The Tigers have hit #7 in the ESPN Bottom 10; luckily the only C-USA team to be in those rankings (though Marshall is on the waiting list). Things aren’t getting any easier for the Tigers who host Houston and then play at Knoxville against the Tennessee Volunteers. At least when Larry Porter looks back at this season, he’ll know he found a quarterback. Ryan Williams has completed around 60% of his passes and has more touchdowns (7) than INT’s (6). If he continues to develop, Memphis will improve with him at the helm.

Next Up: vs. Houston

11. The Marshall Thundering Herd (1-6, 0-3 C-USA)

Last Time: Lost 37-10 at East Carolina

Stock: Same

Lucky Break? Marshall’s sitting at 1-6 in Doc Holliday’s first season. Their only win was a one point victory against Ohio. In their last three games, the Herd have been outscored 113-40. But, the Herd have reeling UTEP coming to town fresh off losses to 2-5 UAB and 3-4 Tulane. Marshall is in the midst of an all out QB controversy with freshman Eddie Sullivan challenging the struggling veteran Brian Anderson. Anderson can throw an accurate pass, but he just doesn’t seem to fit Marshall’s spread offense. Last season, Anderson finished the season with 14 touchdowns and 13 int’s. This season, Anderson has 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. At least he’s consistent.

Next Up: vs UTEP

UTEP fans, check out Doc Holliday's pre-UTEP press conference below.

10. The Rice Owls (2-6, 1-3 C-USA)

Last Time: Lost to UCF 41-14

Stock: Down 1

Much Needed Rest: David Bailiff’s boys have a week off before their second game (Tulsa) in a three game road swing. Rice fell behind 34-0 to UCF with 11 minutes to go in the third quarter. It will be interesting to see if Rice can find that magic that they used to beat Houston when they take on Tulsa.

Next Up: Bye, at Tulsa in two weeks.

By the way, here are some clips of Rice's celebration after claiming the "Bayou Bucket" over UH.

9. The UTEP Miners (5-3, 2-3)

Last Time: Lost to Tulane 34-24

Stock: Down 3

Time to Rally: UTEP’s losses to Tulane and UAB have knocked them out of contention for the C-USA West. The Miners are now in a very real fight for that elusive 6th win and their first bowl bid. UTEP desperately needs QB Trevor Vittatoe to get the Miners offense back in gear. It won't be easy with Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey standing in the way. The Miners are in a make it or break it week. They are the only team in this lowest tier with legitimate bowl aspirations.

Next Up: at Marshall

8. The Tulane Green Wave (3-4, 1-2 C-USA)

Last Time: The Wave beat UTEP 34-24

Stock: Up 2

Who is Orleans Darkwa? It was Orleans Darkwa, not Albert Williams, who ran all over UTEP last week in the Sun Bowl. Admittedly, I didn't know much about Darkwa before the game. Even ESPN lists his hometown as "USA." Darkwa essentially evened his season totals against UTEP. Ryan Griffin is progressing well and his deep 43 yard pass to Casey Robottom that sealed UTEP's fate was a beautiful ball. Robottom is a stellar athlete with great footwork. He's the kind of guy that the Pats or Colts will sign as an undrafted free agent and then he'll have a 10 catch, 145 yard, 3 touchdown game in Week 3 and become a fantasy star. He's Austin Collie. He's got good speed, excellent route running skills, and hands that never fail him.

Next Up: vs. Southern Methodist

7. The UAB Blazers (2-5, 1-2)

Last Time: Lost to #24 Mississippi State 29-24

Stock: Up 1

So Close: The Blazers fought #24 Mississippi State till the very end. Remember, these are power rankings, not standings. UAB beat UTEP last week and played a ranked team tough on the road while UTEP sputtered at home to Tulane. UAB fell to 2-15 against SEC teams but were close to beating Tennessee and Mississippi State. The UTEP win and the close call against MSU puts UAB ahead of this group for now.

Next Up: at Southern Miss

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Tier 2: The Westside Connection

Nine weeks in, it looks like the three leaders in the East (USM, ECU, and UCF) are the cream of the C-USA Crop. In the West, Houston's stunning upset (or blowout) of SMU has allowed Tulsa to keep some hopes of a league title in mind but the Hurricane of course will need SMU to lose two more games due to the head to head loss. Houston is in the drivers seat and controls their own destiny. But, the Coogs have the most difficult schedule of the three including a clash with UCF next week. Even so, Tulsa's ability to beat the teams they are supposed to keeps them in this middle tier of the C-USA Power Rankings. They may not win the West, but they aren't losing to Memphis or UAB either.

6. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane (4-3, 2-2 C-USA)

Last Time: BYE, beat Tulsa 52-24 two weeks ago

Stock: Down 1

A Hurricane over Touchdown Jesus? Tulsa is off to South Bend to take on the Irish in a rare late season non-conference matchup. Notre Dame just got pounded by Navy 35-17. Don’t let the helmets fool you, Tulsa can play with the Irish. This would be a nice win for the conference. Quarterback G.J. Kinne is on pace for his first 3,000 yard season. I look forward to seeing him and Damaris Johnson test Notre Dame’s defense.

Next Up: at Notre Dame (1:30 MST, NBC)

5. The SMU Mustangs (4-4, 3-1 C-USA)

Last Time: Lost to Houston 45-20

Stock: Down 1

Not Ready for Primetime: The stage was set for SMU to have a breakout season in 2010. Houston lost Keenum and looked to be set for a down year. Aldrick Robinson seemed to replace Emmanuel Sanders and Zach Line has been one of the biggest surprises in the C-USA this season at running back. A win against Houston would have essentially clinched the West for SMU. The loss to Navy and blowout to the Coogs showed that SMU is still at least a year away from having Houston ’09 like potential.

Next Up: at Tulane

4. The Houston Cougars (4-3, 3-1 C-USA)

Last Time: Beat SMU 45-20

Stock: Up 3

What a Difference a Week Makes: Have the Cougars finally turned the corner? Did it take a loss to crosstown rival Rice to wake up the Coogs? Houston crushed UTEP with their running attack powered by Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes. The two killed SMU with 39 carries for 191 total yards on the ground and four touchdowns. Also, credit Tyron Carrier for a huge kickoff return for a touchdown that killed SMU. The Mustangs gut the lead to 24-17 midway through the third when Kyly Padron hit Cole Beasley from 29 yards out. Carrier took the ensuing kickoff 91 yards. Ball game. SMU will be rooting hard for the Tigers and Knights in the coming weeks.

Next Up: At Memphis

Tier 1: The Contenders

With nobody in the West really separating themselves, it looks like whoever emerges from the Easts' Big 3 will be a heavy favorite in the C-USA Championship Game. Southern Miss has that close loss to ECU on their resume, so they will need some help from UCF this week to set up a USM-UCF showdown for the East Title in a few weeks. East Carolina is hoping to knock off the Knights which would put them in the drivers seat (and allow them to win the division even if they get upset down the road).

3. The Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (5-2, 2-1 C-USA)

Last time: BYE week, Pummeled Memphis 41-19 two weeks ago

Stock: Same

Fallen Star: Three of the C-USA’s biggest offensive stars have had their 2010 seasons all but taken away by injuries. Coming into the season, Case Keenum (QB), Donald Buckram (RB), and DeAndre Brown (WR) were considered the best players at their respective skill positions. Southern Miss has struggled to get any sort of a vertical passing game going without Brown who hasn’t played since USM’s Septermber 17, 2010 win against the Kansas Jayhawks. Coming off the bye, Brown should be back in action. Just as I hope Donald Buckram completely recovers, same goes for DeAndre Brown.

Next Up; Saturday vs. UAB

1.B.. The East Carolina Pirates (4-0, 5-2)

Last Time: Beat Marshall 37-10

Stock: Same

The MVP? With UTEP’s Trevor Vittatoe slipping and SMU’s Kyle Padron struggling to take SMU to the next level, it looks like ECU’s Dominique Davis is the front runner for the C-USA MVP Award. Davis has done a nice job picking up Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid offense. More importantly, he has the Pirates on a strong 3 game winning streak including one against N.C. State which is probably, sadly, the C-USA's best non-conference win. East Carolina’s only losses are to North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Ruffin McNeill is looking like a lock for the C-USA Head Coach of the Year. Riley, with his mastery of the Air Raid now evident, will become a trendy head coach candidate for a host of mid majors. He's not quite at Dana Holgerson level yet, but don't be surprised if a national powerhouse comes calling for an OC gig this after this season too.

Next Up: at UCF Saturday

Missed this last week, here are some highlights from ECU's win over N.C.State:

1.A. The Central Florida Knights (3-0, 5-2 C-USA)

Last Time: Routed Rice 41-14

Stock: Same

Clash of the Titans: The stage is set for a battle in Orlando this week against two C-USA heavyweights. UCF entered the season amid high expectations and with much fanfare. The Knights were hoping to make a Houston like splash with wins against N.C. State and/or Kansas State. The Knights lost those 7 and 4 points respectively. The loss of veteran Rob Calabrese didn’t slow down frosh QB Jeffrey Godfrey against Rice. Godfrey is still progressing as a passer, but his running ability gives UCF a shot to score on anybody. The real matchup, of course, will be ECU’s 36th ranked total offense against UCF"s 7th ranked total defense. If East Carolina scores some points early, UCF might be in trouble because their passing game is still a work in progress. If UCF’s defense holds serve and the Knights can stay on the ground, RB Ronnie Weaver and Godfrey should be able to run at will against ECU’s 88th ranked rush defense.

Next Up: vs. ECU