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November 4, 2010
This is a big weekend in the world of non-Big Six football.
Here's a quick look.
In Conference USA, UCF is at Houston on Friday night. Before the season, many thought this would be a preview of the league championship game. Then Houston All-America quarterback Case Keenum was lost for the season with a knee injury, and it was thought Houston would fall back in the pack. But the Cougars have rallied and are tied with SMU for the C-USA West lead; Houston owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its win over the Mustangs. But Houston has the tougher schedule down the stretch, beginning with the visit from the Knights, who are in great shape to win the East Division.
In the WAC, Boise State faces a rare tough conference opponent when pass-happy Hawaii comes calling. The Warriors have surprised with their 7-2 start and have a highly productive passing attack (more on that in a minute). But Boise State's offense should have success putting points on the board against Hawaii, meaning that if the Warriors are to win, it's going to have to be in a shootout. The Fresno State-Louisiana Tech game also bears watching, as both are trying to become bowl eligible. Tech has more work to do in that regard than Fresno.
In the MAC, the West Division title almost certainly will be decided Tuesday when Northern Illinois welcomes Toledo. Those two are the only teams unbeaten in league play, and they have at least a two-game lead on everybody else in the division. NIU's success was expected, but Toledo has been a surprise for second-year coach Tim Beckman. The Rockets have won six games despite breaking in a new quarterback.
In the Sun Belt, Arkansas State's surprisingly easy win over Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night gave the Red Wolves hope they can get to 6-6 and become bowl eligible. The Sun Belt has two bowl ties-ins and also serves as the "fill-in" conference in case a league affiliated with the Little Caesars Bowl can't fill its spots. It seems doubtful the Big Ten will have enough bowl-eligible teams to fills its spot in that game, and Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe -- coming off a huge upset of league front-runner Troy -- have a chance to get to six wins. ULM plays at Florida International on Saturday, and ULM needs a win to legitimately remain in the hunt for a bowl.
It's also a big weekend for the service academies, with Army welcoming in Air Force and Navy traveling to East Carolina. Air Force already has beaten Navy, so a win over the Black Knights would clinch the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the Falcons; Army, meanwhile, needs just one more win for bowl eligibility. Navy also needs one more win. The Midshipmen are coming off an embarrassing loss to Duke and face an explosive ECU pass offense this week.
Best matchup: Hawaii pass offense vs. Boise State pass defense. Hawaii junior QB Bryant Moniz has thrown for a nation's-best 3,247 yards and 25 touchdowns, and WRs Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares are 1-2 in the WAC in receiving. In addition, Salas leads the nation in receptions and receiving yards. For Hawaii to pull the big upset -- Boise is favored by 21 points -- Moniz must be sharp. Boise State is No. 3 in total defense, No. 8 in pass defense and No. 19 in pass efficiency defense. The Broncos have just six interceptions, but they've also allowed just six TD passes and are fourth nationally with 3.43 sacks per game.
Player on the spot: UCF QB Jeffrey Godfrey. UCF is coming off an important 49-35 victory over East Carolina that gave the Knights control of the C-USA East Division race. Friday night, UCF plays at Houston. Against ECU, Godfrey -- a true freshman from Miami Central who set all sorts of area high school passing records -- threw for 159 yards and two TDs and also rushed for 43 yards. UCF's offense is predicated on the power running game, and Houston has struggled to stop the run this season. Still, at some point against the Cougars, Godfrey is going to have to make some plays with his arm if UCF is to remain unbeaten in league play. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin has been impressed by what he has seen of Godfrey on tape: "What they ask him to do, he's done very well; they've played up his strengths. Godfrey has done a nice job of not forcing the football when he has to throw it, and he's been good about protecting it and capitalizing on the defense's mistakes."
Numbers game: UAB beat Southern Miss 50-49 in overtime last week. It was the fourth of the Blazers' eight games that have been decided on the last play. UAB is 2-2 in those contests, defeating Troy and Southern Miss and falling to Florida Atlantic and Tennessee.
What they're saying
"It doesn't get more special than beating Notre Dame in South Bend. I slept three hours when I got back. I couldn't go to sleep because I wanted to watch the film again. I got up, went to church and tried to sleep again. I couldn't do it because my heart was racing -- and I watched the film again." -- Tulsa coach Todd Graham, whose team won at Notre Dame last week
"They had better team speed than we did in a lot of areas." -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, to IrishIllustrated.com, on Tulsa
"I wish we would not have turned the ball over four times." -- Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, when asked if there was anything he would've done differently in last week's 50-49 loss to UAB
"I want them to be frustrated right now. I hope they are frustrated and it is tearing them up inside. If not, then I have the wrong guys. If it does not mean enough to them, that it is just sickening." -- Fedora, on last week's loss
"Losing does have a momentum of its own. First and foremost, I have to start with me and my staff and us being very critical of what we're doing -- not second-guessing ourselves, but just continuing to analyze what we're doing and finding ways to put our team in a better position to be successful. In terms of the team, we just have to learn how to respond to adversity." -- Memphis coach Larry Porter
"We are very similar teams. To me, we are the exact same team in the same scenario. We are both trying break into the next barrier in the league [the WAC], and neither of us have done it to this point." -- Utah State coach Gary Andersen, on New Mexico State, this week's opponent
Etc.: Hawaii accepted a bid to the Hawaii Bowl after its victory over Idaho on Saturday night. The game is played in the Warriors' home stadium. Hawaii has played in the game five times since the bowl's inception in 2002 and has won three of those games (2003, '04, '06). ... Notre Dame junior QB Dayne Crist had surgery on a torn patellar tendon in his left knee Sunday, and he could miss spring practice. Recovery time is expected to be six months. Freshman Tommy Rees becomes the starting quarterback, backed up by Nate Montana. ... Ohio U. -- which plays host to Buffalo on Thursday night -- has scored 189 points in its past five games; that's the most in a five-game span for the Bobcats since they scored 200 in 1968-69 (the last three games in '68 and the first two in '69). ... Boise State plays host to Hawaii on Saturday, and the Broncos never have lost a WAC home game (37-0). In addition, Boise has won 21 in a row overall, one shy of the school record set from 2003-04. ... North Texas beat Western Kentucky 33-6 last week; it's the first time since 2003 that the Mean Green held an opponent without a touchdown. ... Southern Miss junior QB Austin Davis threw for 388 yards in last week's loss to UAB. It was his fourth career 300-yard game, tying Brett Favre for the school record. ... Army is second in the nation in time of possession, at 34:01 per game. Stanford leads at 34:24. UCF is fourth at 33:45. ... Western Michigan leads the nation in fourth-down attempts (28) and fourth-down conversions (16). ... Louisiana-Monroe redshirt freshman QB Kolton Browning has thrown for 200 yards in seven consecutive games; it's the longest streak at ULM since Robert Cobb's seven-game streak in 1993. ... Temple is 7-2, and a win Saturday over Kent State would help the Owls tie the school record for wins in two back-to-back seasons (17) and for wins in three consecutive seasons (22). ... Boise State junior QB Kellen Moore has 82 career TD passes, tied for the most in school history with Ryan Dinwiddie (2000-03). ... Nevada senior QB Colin Kaepernick needs one rushing TD to tie the school's career record of 53 held by Chris Lemon (1996-99). ... Florida International has not allowed a first-quarter touchdown this season. ... Navy senior QB Ricky Dobbs needs one touchdown to set the school record for total touchdowns. Dobbs is tied with Chris McCoy, who rushed for 43 touchdowns and caught one touchdown pass as a quarterback from 1995-97. Dobbs' 44 rushing touchdowns is a school record. ... Louisiana-Lafayette plays at Ole Miss this week; the Ragin' Cajuns are 0-36 all-time against SEC opponents. ... Louisiana-Monroe scored 21 points combined in the first and third quarters of last week's stunner over Troy. Going into the game, the Warhawks had scored just 14 combined points this season in the first and third quarters. ... Ohio U. did not punt in last week's win over Louisiana-Lafayette. It was the second time this season the Bobcats didn't punt (vs. Akron); before this season, the last time the Bobcats hadn't punted in a game was Sept. 16, 2000, against Tennessee Tech.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.