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October 27, 2011
SMU plays a third consecutive Conference USA showdown game of sorts Saturday, and the Mustangs need to win if they have any league title hopes.
Meanwhile, Southern Miss dominated SMU last week and needs to follow that up with a victory at UTEP on Saturday night to remain the East Division front-runner.
SMU beat UCF two weeks ago, then fell at Southern Miss last week. The Mustangs travel to Tulsa this week in the first of three round-robin games that will determine the West Division crown. Houston and Tulsa are unbeaten in league play and tied for the division lead. SMU is one game back. Houston plays Friday night against lowly Rice.
The key player for SMU is QB J.J. McDermott. McDermott struggled in last week's loss to Southern Miss, tossing two picks and no TDs; he passed for just 173 yards, the first time he had been held to fewer than 244 yards this season.
SMU coach June Jones praised true freshman Conner Preston during his weekly teleconference, though Preston has not played this season. McDermott needs to regain his mojo against Tulsa, which is 117th nationally in pass defense, allowing 299.7 yards per game.
Best matchup: Navy run offense vs. Notre Dame run defense. Notre Dame has lost starting DE Kapron Lewis-Moore to a season-ending injury, and starting DE Ethan Johnson also is injured but is expected to play Saturday against the run-oriented Midshipmen. The Irish's backup defensive ends are freshmen and sophomores. Notre Dame gave up 363 rushing yards to Air Force's triple option on Oct. 8, but still won easily. The Irish don't want to tempt fate like that again, but Navy does average 325.1 rushing yards per game, which is third nationally. Notre Dame has allowed just three rushing TDs this season, tied for second-fewest in the nation. Over the past 16 games, only two running backs have scored a rushing TD against Notre Dame.
Player on the spot: Western Michigan QB Alex Carder. The Broncos have lost two games in a row and basically have fallen out of the hunt for the MAC West title. But there's still bowl eligibility to chase, and Western needs a big performance from its quarterback if it is to beat surprising Ball State on Saturday. Carder is averaging 267.1 yards per game, but he hasn't come close to that number in the two losses. He threw for 194 yards in a 29-point loss to Northern Illinois two weeks ago, then was held to 181 in last week's upset loss to Eastern Michigan. He has thrown 16 TD passes this season but just one total in the past two games. Ball State is last in the MAC and 105th nationally in pass offense (268.3 ypg).
Keep an eye on: The MAC. Both division races could be decided - but not this weekend. Northern Illinois plays at Toledo on Tuesday in what looks to be the MAC West title game; next Wednesday, Temple travels to Ohio in what could end up being the MAC East title game. In addition, Ball State, Bowling Green and Western Michigan are involved in games Saturday that will have a bearing on whether each of those teams becomes bowl-eligible.
Numbers game: Houston QB Case Keenum became the NCAA's career record-holder in total offense last Saturday against Marshall. He has 17,173 yards; the old record-holder was Hawaii QB Timmy Chang, who picked up 16,910 yards from 2000-04.
What they're saying
"I thought it was a great atmosphere. I think everything was great except for the way we played. I mean, the fans were great; the atmosphere was great; it was an electric stadium. We had all of those things ... except for the way we played." - Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, on the Irish playing a night home game last week for the first time since 1990
"It's good to be recognized for what you've accomplished at this point, but at the same time, you have to understand that there are a lot of people who have been in the top 25 that aren't there anymore." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, whose team is ranked in the coaches' poll this week
"That's something that I've been surprised with; the Hawaii game and Central Arkansas games were probably the two worst games we've played all year and they were both at home. We need to play better here. We need to do a better job of staying focused and not getting too distracted. We will change our routine a little bit ... try to make it a little like a road trip. We play well on the road." - Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, whose team plays host to San Jose State on Saturday
"I have a friendship and a professional relationship [with him]. Whatever he said, I didn't read it nor do I care. Because I know what my relationship is like with him and that overrides it. So whatever was said, that doesn't bother me." - BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, when asked about TCU coach Gary Patterson's "pretty critical" comments when BYU announced it was going independent last season
"I know that they were happy. It was time for us to get a victory, but I also saw focus. We didn't celebrate as if we won the national championship. We celebrated as if we finally got a return on our investment." - Memphis coach Larry Porter, whose team got its second win of the season last week
Poll watch: Unbeaten Houston is 17th in the BCS standings this week. The Cougars are 18th in the coaches' poll and in the Harris poll. Southern Miss is 25th in the coaches' poll but isn't in the BCS standings.
Etc.: BYU has punted just three times total in the past three games. ... SMU LB Taylor Reed, who leads the Mustangs with 57 tackles, has been suspended for Saturday's game at Tulsa for conduct detrimental to the team. He is one of the best linebackers in Conference USA. ... Army QB Trent Steelman has a leg injury and will miss Saturday's game against Fordham. He had started 32 consecutive games, which is a school record for quarterbacks. ... Western Kentucky has won three consecutive games for the first time since 2007. Last week's victory over Louisiana-Lafayette was the first home win for WKU since Sept. 20, 2008 - breaking an 18-game home losing streak. ... Toledo scored TDs on each of its first three possessions last week against Miami (Ohio), and a different tailback capped off each drive: David Fluellen, then Morgan Williams and finally Adonis Thomas. ... Southern Miss CB Marquese Wheaton has scored a TD in three consecutive games. He had a 75-yard fumble return against Rice on Oct. 1, a 79-yard blocked field goal return against Navy on Oct. 8 and a 41-yard interception return against SMU last week. ... When it plays at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, San Jose State is looking for a third win in the month of October for the first time since 2000. ... In a loss to Northern Illinois last week, Buffalo rolled up a school-record 572 yards of offense. ... A victory Saturday over Notre Dame would mark the first time in school history that Navy has defeated the Irish in three consecutive seasons. ... East Carolina QB Dominique Davis was 40-of-45 for 372 yards and two TDs as the Pirates beat Navy last week. Davis set two NCAA records; he hit all 26 of his first-half attempts, breaking the single-game consecutive completions mark of 23 held by Tennessee's Tee Martin in 1998 and tied by California's Aaron Rodgers in 2004. Davis had completed his final 10 attempts of last week's win over Memphis, giving him a streak of 36 consecutive completions, which broke Rodgers' NCAA mark set in '04. ... In its past six games against Navy, Notre Dame has punted just four times total; three of those punts came in 2008. ... In last week's loss to Ball State, Central Michigan QB Ryan Radcliff threw for 436 yards; it's the third-highest single-game total in school history and just the fifth 400-yard game in school history. ... Houston is 7-0 for just the third time in school history and the first time since 1990. The Cougars lead the nation in scoring offense (49.3 ppg), passing offense (447.1 ypg) and total offense (606.1 ypg). ... UTEP closed out the non-conference part of its schedule with a win over Colorado State last week, making the Miners 3-1 in non-conference play. It marks the first time since 1956-57 that UTEP has won three non-league games in back-to-back seasons. ... Idaho's Bobby Cowan leads the nation in punting with a 47.9-yard average. ... In a loss to Middle Tennessee last week, Florida Atlantic committed six turnovers. It could have been worse. FAU, which threw one interception, fumbled eight times, losing five. ... Navy has missed at least one kick (PAT or field goal) in six of its seven games this season, including four consecutive contests. Last week, a potential game-tying field goal hit the right upright on the last play of the loss to East Carolina.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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