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September 16, 2010

Week 3: C-USA, MAC, SBC, WAC and Indy

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC

THE 12 BEST GAMES
Friday
Kansas at Southern Miss, 8 p.m.
California at Nevada, 10 p.m.
Saturday
Connecticut at Temple, noon
East Carolina at Virginia Tech, 1:30 p.m.
Marshall at Bowling Green, 7 p.m.
Toledo at Western Michigan, 7 p.m.
Tulsa at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
Navy at Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m.
Notre Dame at Michigan State, 8 p.m.
Fresno State at Utah State, 8 p.m.
Boise State at Wyoming, 8 p.m.
Houston at UCLA, 10:30 p.m.

This is a big weekend for Conference USA, with Houston, Southern Miss, Tulsa and East Carolina having winnable games against Big Six conference teams.

The league had three games last week against Big Six foes, and Marshall (against West Virginia) and UCF (against N.C. State) had chances to pull upsets but fell short. C-USA folks don't want that to happen this week.

Southern Miss is up first, playing host to the Big 12's Kansas on Friday night. The Jayhawks looked pitiful in their opener, losing to FCS member North Dakota State, but they rebounded strongly last week and upset Georgia Tech behind a revamped offensive backfield.

Southern Miss' passing attack should have success, but any hopes for a win depend on the Golden Eagles running the ball effectively. In their season-opening loss to South Carolina, the Golden Eagles' rushing attack was shut down, putting way too much pressure on QB Austin Davis to make plays with his arm.

East Carolina has started 2-0, and though the Pirates haven't played a team with a good defense, a strong passing attack could lead to an upset over a reeling Virginia Tech team. ECU took a while to decide on its starting quarterback, but junior Dominique Davis -- a former starter at Boston College who flunked out, then transferred to a junior college -- has adapted well to coordinator Lincoln Riley's pass-first offense. ECU has a deep receiving corps, and if Davis has time to throw, those receivers -- most notably Dwayne Harris -- are going to have a chance to make some big plays.

The question is whether Davis -- who leads the nation with eight TD passes -- gets any help from his running game and whether a rebuilt front seven on defense can withstand Virginia Tech's power running game. Good news for the Pirates is that the Hokies' rushing attack has bogged down thus far this season.

Tulsa is at Oklahoma State, and the Golden Hurricane should have no problems moving the ball. Instead, the question is whether Tulsa's defense can make any stops. Oklahoma State's new offensive coordinator is Dana Holgorsen, who held the same position at Houston the past two seasons. In two games against Tulsa while he was at Houston, Holgorsen's offense rang up 116 points.

Expect a shootout in Stillwater, as Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne should be able to hit some big plays against Oklahoma State's secondary. Kinne leads all FBS quarterbacks with 755 passing yards. The question, then, comes down to who makes more big plays, Kinne or Oklahoma State TB Kendall Hunter (207 rushing yards per game).

Finally, Houston travels to the West Coast to play UCLA. The biggest concern for the Cougars is whether QB Case Keenum will play. He suffered an apparent head injury in last week's victory over UTEP after attempting to make a tackle following an interception, and he officially is listed as questionable for this week's game. If he can't go, junior Cotton Turner will get the start.

Keenum had his streak of 31consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass snapped against UTEP, but his presence is so important for the Cougars in games against "big-time" opponents. UCLA's offense has been abysmal thus far, but the Bruins still figure to have some success against the Cougars' iffy defense. That means Houston's offense likely will need to score at least four touchdowns if the Cougars are to win; the Cougars can do that under Turner, but they would do that under Keenum.

Best matchup: Connecticut offensive line vs. Temple front seven. The Owls are a talented bunch on defense, with much more talent than a typical MAC defense. Those guys are the key for Temple pulling an upset this week. If the Owls can keep UConn RB Jordan Todman and his backups from having a big day -- holding UConn to, say, 150 rushing yards -- Temple can win this game. DT Muhammad Wilkerson is the guy most on the spot; UConn is strong in the middle of the line with C Moe Petrus and G Zach Hurd, and Wilkerson must hold up against that duo.

Player on the spot: Navy QB Ricky Dobbs. Dobbs went into the season as a dark-horse Heisman contender, and he was praised as being Navy's best quarterback since Roger Staubach. The hype has disappeared. Dobbs rushed for more than 100 yards in eight games last year, including each of the last five, but he has rushed for just 107 total yards in the Midshipmen's two games this season. He needs to get untracked Saturday at Louisiana Tech. The Midshipmen's schedule isn't that difficult; on the other hand, if Dobbs isn't playing well, the Midshipmen are a beatable team.

Numbers game: Boise State has a 15-game winning streak, one behind Alabama, the nation's active leader. In addition, Boise has won 12 consecutive road games, the longest streak in the country, and has won 27 consecutive regular-season games.

What they're saying

"We took a bus ride home after the game and it was the happiest five-hour bus ride I have ever had. Winning is good." -- Rice coach David Bailiff, whose team won by one point at North Texas last week

"Anytime a Sun Belt team plays a Conference USA team, it is a good measuring stick for your program. They have five bowl bids while we only have two. This is our chance to say, 'Our conference is as good as your conference.' " -- Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill, whose Sun Belt program plays at Conference USA member Memphis this week

"Good try. So much of this is just noise that can go away so fast. It's so much conversation for no reason. Now, if you're talking about us at the end of the year, then things are probably earned and deserved." -- Boise State coach Chris Petersen, when asked if his third-ranked team is held to different standards in the polls

"I'd say out of the 66 guys that are traveling, probably 60 haven't seen a mountain in their life." -- Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, on traveling to L.A. to play UCLA

"I felt like we took a step Friday, and we have to make sure we do not take a step backward when we go to Bowling Green." -- Marshall coach Doc Holliday, whose team lost in overtime to West Virginia and now travels to Bowling Green

"It is difficult on the players because they are creatures of habit and right now we do not really have a habit. Every day is something new for them." -- Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, on his team playing on three different days thus far; the opener was on a Thursday, last week's game was on Saturday and this week's is on Friday

"Very much so. They have the same make-up in that they are very confident in themselves and are self-assured about what they do. Nothing really fazes them, which bothers me a little bit. You should be fazed a little bit out there." -- UCF coach George O'Leary, when asked if true freshman QB Jeffrey Godfrey reminded him of his former Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton

"Most coaches want to get their best player the football, and he's pretty darn good. … Why wouldn't you get him the football? He's not complaining." -- Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, on Hilltoppers RB Bobby Rainey, who has 52 carries through two games and is the nation's No. 4 rusher at 169.5 yards per game

Etc.: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick last week became the ninth player in FBS history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 3,000 yards in a career. … Temple has won seven in a row at home, the longest home winning streak since the Owls won seven in a row in 1940-41. … North Texas senior QB Nathan Tune suffered a dislocated hip during the fourth quarter of last week's one-point loss to Rice and is out for the season. He will be replaced by sophomore Derek Thompson. North Texas already had lost starting C J.J. Johnson for the season with a ruptured tendon in his foot. … Through two games, all of Tulane's points have been scored by freshmen. RB Orleans Darkwa has run for four touchdowns, while K Cairo Santos has four field goals and four extra points. … Nevada is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 1995, and this is the first time since 1991 that the Wolf Pack are opening the season with three consecutive home games. … Memphis starting QB Cannon Smith suffered a concussion in last week's loss to East Carolina and will miss this week's game against Middle Tennessee. True freshman Ryan Williams will start instead. … Miami (Ohio) sophomore QB Zac Dysert has thrown for 2,966 career yards and is just 69 yards away from already becoming the No. 10 career passer in school history. … In his second college game, Rice redshirt freshman K Chris Boswell tied a school record with four field goals in a game in a one-point win over North Texas. … Louisiana Tech WR Phillip Livas is the only current college player to have scored a 70-yard touchdown in four different ways (reception, rush, punt return, kickoff return) in his career. … UCF true freshman QB Jeffrey Godfrey seems likely to get his first college start when the Knights play at Buffalo on Saturday. … Through two games, Western Michigan already is a third of the way to 2009's total of 12 fumble recoveries after recovering two against both Michigan State and Nicholls State. … Florida International committed five turnovers and 14 penalties, yet lost by just five to Rutgers last week. … Army already has eight rushing touchdowns after mustering just 13 all of last season. …Louisiana Tech senior QBs Steven Ensminger and Ross Jenkins were battling for the starting job in fall drills, but they appear to have fallen by the wayside. Sophomore Colby Cameron looks to be the starter now, backed up by sophomore Tarik Hakmi.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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