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November 24, 2011
The spotlight shined brightly on Houston for the first time in a while last week, and the Cougars responded with a dominating defensive performance in an easy victory over SMU.
They need an even better performance Friday, when they try to keep their perfect season alive at Tulsa (8-3) in a game that will determine the Conference USA West Division titlist.
Tulsa comes in on a seven-game winning streak after a 1-3 start. The losses, though, came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State, and in conference-only games, Tulsa is second in the league in total offense (to Houston) and total defense (to Southern Miss).
A Houston victory keeps the Cougars in line for a BCS berth; the Cougars are eighth this week in the BCS standings.
The winner takes the West Division title and will play host to the Dec. 3 league title game. It will be the sixth time in the seven-year history of the C-USA championship that either Houston or Tulsa will represent the West Division.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Houston coach Kevin Sumlin]
"We said probably as early as last spring that the way the schedule played out, we should be playing Houston for the division title on the Friday after Thanksgiving," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said at his weekly news conference. "We've been talking about that for a long time."
Houston, of course, is led by its high-powered offense; the Cougars lead the nation in scoring offense, total offense and pass offense. The Cougars also lead the league in pass defense. But they're ninth in rush defense, which could be an issue against a Tulsa team that leads the league and is 23rd nationally in rush offense.
Tulsa uses a committee approach at tailback, and Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts have combined for 1,617 yards and seven TDs. Alex Singleton, a 250-pounder, is the short-yardage specialist, and he has eight rushing TDs. QB G.J. Kinne also is a running threat, and Houston coach Kevin Sumlin says his team knows it needs to keep Kinne in check.
"People are a lot more familiar with what Case has done. G.J. Kinne has been a great player at Tulsa for a while now," Sumlin said early this week. "? He is a heck of a player and a great leader. He is a reason they are winning this year."
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Houston QB Case Keenum]
Tulsa employs a run-heavy version of the spread, but it also throws for 256.6 yards per game. H-back Willie Carter has been a huge weapon for the Golden Hurricane, with 57 catches and six TD receptions. Keeping Carter under wraps is another priority for second-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who has overseen dramatic defensive improvement this season; Houston allowed 427.8 yards per game last season, and that number has dropped to 381.4 this season.
Stewart had been an NFL assistant for eight years, including a two-season stint as the Dallas Cowboys' coordinator, before being hired by Houston.
"The college game is much different from the professional game," Sumlin said. "In the pros, you will very rarely face a dual-threat quarterback like G.J Kinne. Our defensive coaches, coming from the NFL, have gotten better there. Going from 96th to 31st in scoring defense is significant."
Tulsa has won 12 consecutive league games.
Best matchup: Temple run offense vs. Kent State run defense. Kent State can become bowl-eligible with a victory, and while a bowl bid would be an extreme long shot, a victory for the Golden Flashes (5-6) would mean just their fourth non-losing season since 1977. Kent State's offense has been horrible (119th nationally) and defense has been its calling card; the Golden Flashes are 22nd in the nation in total defense and 27th in rush defense. Temple can't throw, but the Owls are seventh nationally in rush offense, averaging 261.6 yards. Kent State's best chance for a victory is to hold the Owls to less than 200 yards rushing and force some turnovers.
Player on the spot: Marshall QB Rakeem Cato. Marshall plays host to East Carolina with bowl eligibility on the line for both. And because C-USA has six bowl tie-ins, becoming bowl-eligible means there will be a bowl bid. Cato, a true freshman, led Miami Central to a state title in Florida's largest high school classification last season, but he has struggled a bit down the stretch. He has thrown for just 313 yards, with two TDs and three picks, in the past two games. He needs to outplay Dominique Davis, his ECU counterpart, if the Herd is to win.
Keep an eye on: Northern Illinois' offense. The Huskies have been putting up huge numbers of late. NIU rolled up 532 yards in beating Toledo 63-60 on Nov. 1, 623 yards in trampling Bowling Green 45-14 on Nov. 8 and 710 yards in edging Ball State 41-38 on Nov. 15. What will NIU do to Eastern Michigan, which has played solid defense this season and is allowing 356.2 yards per game to rank 40th in the nation in total defense. NIU has scored 40 points nine times this season. EMU has allowed more than 34 points once.
Numbers game: Notre Dame is one of six FBS schools that has a 1,000-yard receiver (Michael Floyd) and 1,000-yard rusher (Cierre Wood). The others are Iowa (TB Marcus Coker and WR Marvin McNutt), Oklahoma State (TB Joseph Randle and WR Justin Blackmon), North Carolina (TB Gio Bernard and WR Dwight Jones), California (TB Isi Sofele and WR Keenan Allen) and Texas A&M (TB Cyrus Gray and WR Ryan Swope).
Quotes of the week
"There's no doubt. I think if you watched any games [last] weekend, you found out that it doesn't matter who you are. If you don't play with a high energy level, anybody can beat you. I've said that before, and this past weekend was proof of that at a lot of places across the country." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, on whether his team lacked energy in last week's loss at UAB
"In regards to this season, it's been a very frustrating season. We've lost six games by a total of 31 points. That's one possession or one defensive stop, really. I think our players have played really hard, but we have tried to build our program on not making mistakes, no penalties and not beating yourself, and we really haven't gotten that accomplished this season." - UCF coach George O'Leary, whose team is 4-7
[Expert picks: Week 13 predictions]
"We haven't taken the least path of resistance all year. We're backed into a corner, and there's no back door out of this thing. We're either going to be a bowl team or we're not, and this one game will decide it." - UTEP coach Mike Price, whose 5-6 team must win at UCF to become bowl-eligible
"I have been stuck a couple of times before. A couple of times we've had to stay overnight, but never in the beginning, middle and the end. I've never had that happen like that. The kids did a great job with it. I'm getting older and older, so it's harder for me to recover from stuff like that, but it didn't bother them." - Utah State coach Gary Andersen, on last week's road trip to Idaho. The Aggies didn't arrive in Moscow, Idaho, until Saturday morning because bad weather interfered with the Friday flight
Poll watch: Houston is No. 8 in the BCS standings. That's the best ranking for a C-USA team.
Etc.: University of Hawaii president M.R.C. Greenwood said in a statement Thursday that the school's admissions office received an anonymous letter Nov. 3 charging point shaving. In a statement Thursday night, the Honolulu Police Department said it became aware of the allegation in early November but "at this time there is not enough information to open a criminal investigation." Hawaii is 3-7-1 against the spread this season. ? The Florida Atlantic-UAB game features a unique coaching situation. Both coaches - UAB's Neil Callaway and FAU's Howard Schnellenberger - played for Bear Bryant in college (Callaway at Alabama in the 1970s, Schnellenberger at Kentucky in the 1950s). ? In last week's win over Navy, San Jose State senior TB Brandon Rutley became the first player in school history to rush for 100 yards (132) and have 100 receiving yards (101) in the same game. ? A Southern Miss victory over Memphis or a Marshall loss to East Carolina gives the Golden Eagles the C-USA East title. It would be Southern Miss' first C-USA championship game appearance. In addition, one more victory allows Southern Miss (9-2) to tie the school record for victories in a season, set in 1952 and matched in 1988. ? Ohio University clinched the MAC East and will play either Northern Illinois or Toledo in the league title game Dec. 2 in Detroit. NIU wins the West title with a win over Eastern Michigan or a Toledo loss to Ball State. Toledo wins the division with a win and a NIU loss. ? East Carolina has held each of its past six opponents to less than 200 yards passing, the longest such streak for the Pirates since 1980-81. ? Buffalo sophomore TB Branden Oliver set a school single-game record with 235 yards in last week's rout of Akron. The record of 231 had been held by current Green Bay Packers RB James Starks. ? Temple's senior class set a school record with its 29th victory last season. The record had been held by the 1931 class. ? Notre Dame junior TB Cierre Wood is the 10th Irish player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and the first since Darius Walker in 2006. There have been 21 1,000-yard seasons by those 10 players. ?Utah State (5-5) has not won six games in a season since going 6-6 in 1997, the last season the Aggies went to a bowl game. ? Arkansas State has scored at least 30 points in a game seven times this season, including each of the past five. The last Arkansas State scored 30-plus in seven games in a row was 1951. ? Unless Hawaii beats Tulane on Saturday, the Warriors will go winless in November for the first time since 1998. ? Rice K Chris Boswell kicked two 50-plus-yard field goals in last week's win over Tulane. Boswell is tied for the national lead with three others with three 50-yard field goals this season. ? With 2,161 all-purpose yards, New Mexico State WR Taveon Rogers is on pace to break the WAC's single-season record of 2,591 set by Fresno State's Bernard Berrian in 2001. ? In his past four games, Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron has thrown for 1,148 yards and 10 TDs with one interception. ? San Jose State is tied for third in the nation in turnovers forced with 30; alas, the Spartans are 199th in the nation in turnovers lost with 30. ? Arkansas State junior QB Ryan Aplin has 578 completions this season, which sets a school record. ? Houston senior WR Tyron Carrier has 298 career receptions, two shy of the C-USA record of 300 held by former Louisville WR Arnold Jackson (1997-2000). ? Notre Dame's defense has not allowed any points in the third quarter in 10 of 11 games this season, and only one offensive touchdown has been scored on the Irish in the period.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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