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Conference USA Football Power Rankings, Week 3: Favorites Emerge

What must have been a rousing halftime speech from Kevin Sumlin turned a close game against UNT into a blowout, keeping the Cougars unbeaten and at #2 in our power rankings.

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 03:  Head coach Kevin Sumlin of the Houston Cougars attempts to get the attention of the referee at Robertson Stadium on September 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 03: Head coach Kevin Sumlin of the Houston Cougars attempts to get the attention of the referee at Robertson Stadium on September 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Just two weeks into the season, with three conference games in the books, only two Conference USA can still claim unbeaten records. While a few conference schools rebounded from week one losses, it was the two schools at the top of last week's rankings who remained the favorites going forward.

1. Central Florida Knights (2-0) - No Change

Last week: Beat Boston College, 30-3

The victory over the Eagles stayed a little closer than it probably should have for the first three quarters, before the Knights ran away with three fourth quarter touchdowns. Still, the game provided a good indicator that UCF's conference leading defense of a year ago hasn't slipped very far, if at all.

This week: at Florida International, Saturday, 5:00 PM CST. The Golden Panthers knocked off Big East foe Louisville last week, and are favorites in the Sun Belt, making this a top-tier non-AQ match-up.

2. Houston Cougars (2-0) - No Change

Last week: Beat North Texas, 48-23

While the defense didn't look stellar to start the game, some of the points the Cougars gave up were due to short fields created by turnovers. Overall, the defense allowed less than 4.3 yards per snap, a respectable figure against any competition.

This week: at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, 6:00 PM CST. After giving Southern Miss a good game of it in week one, the Bulldogs needed overtime to knock off Division 1-AA opponent Central Arkansas last week.

3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-1) - Up 2

Last week: Beat Tulane, 31-3

The next five or six slots in our power rankings provide a Rorschach test or a sort - what do you see in a blowout loss to a BCS conference power? What do you see in a big win over a team that occupies the conference cellar more often than not? Maybe I have too much faith in the Green Wave, but I am impressed with how well Tulsa moved the ball while continuing to break in newcomers at the offensive skill positions, and how well the defense turned Ryan Griffin and Orleans Darkwa into non-factors.

This week: vs Oklahoma State, Saturday, 9:00 PM CST. Even if Tulsa can't pull out a win here, look to see if they can pull off the moral victory of staying closer than they did with OU in week one.

4. Southern Methodist Mustangs (1-1) - No Change

Last week: Beat UTEP, 28-17

Kyle Padron, we hardly knew ye? Despite all the hype surrounding Padron heading into the season, he threw all of four passes in the season opener before being replaced by J.J. McDermott, and it was McDermott who started and played all game in a win over the Miners. SMU gets jumped by Tulsa here because a home victory over UTEP - on paper, one of the weakest teams in the conference - that was close all game, looks less than impressive.

This week: vs Northwestern State, Saturday, 7:00 PM CST.

5. East Carolina Pirates (0-2) - Up 3

Last week: Lost to Virginia Tech, 17-10

Maybe it's silly to move the Pirates up in the power rankings after a pair of losses, but playing competitive games against top 25 programs in South Carolina and Va Tech is more than most teams in the conference have accomplished. And maybe holding the Hokies to 17 means that ECU defense has improved a little after all.

This week: Idle

6. Rice Owls (1-1) - Up 1

Last week: Beat Purdue, 24-22

Props to the Owls for ending their 22-game losing streak against BCS-conference competition. It looks like Rice might actually have a respectable defense for the first time in God knows how long, so if quarterback Taylor McHargue can really get going (and Saturday was a good step in the right direction), this could be a dangerous team.

This week: Idle

7. Marshall Thundering Herd (1-1) - Up 2

Last week: Beat Southern Miss, 26-20

Last week, we called Marshall a dangerous team because of their defense, and that showed, as they forced six turnovers en route to the victory. Quarterback Rakeem Cato opened things up a bit on the offensive end, which bodes well for the Herd.

This week: at Ohio, Saturday, 6:00 PM CST. The Bobcats are 2-0 after warm-ups against New Mexico State and Gardner-Webb.

8. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (1-1) - Down 4

Last week: Lost to Marshall, 26-20

Bad news: maybe the narrowness of that victory over a mediocre Louisiana Tech squad to open the season wasn't just the bad weather's fault. Worse news: Austin Davis' breakdown in that game may not have been a fluke, either. After coming unglued with his teammates on the sidelines in the opener, Davis threw three picks in the loss that puts the Golden Eagles at a major disadvantage in the East division standings. Kinda puts a sour note on the game that saw Davis surpass Brett Favre's school passing record.

This week: vs Southeastern Louisana, Saturday, 6:00 PM CST.

9. Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (0-1) - Down 3

Last week: Lost to Florida, 39-0

So much for catching the Gators in a down year. UAB's bid to play with the big boys was shot down in dramatic fashion, as Florida dominated every aspect of the game. You don't want to get too down on yourself for losing to a team like Florida, but it's difficult to take any positives away from this one.

This week: vs Tulane, Saturday, 3:00 PM CST. A must-win early on for both schools. It's very difficult to see either school making a bowl game if they drop this one.

10. Tulane Green Wave (1-1) - No Change

Last week: Lost to Tulsa, 31-3

Head coach Bob Toledo's squad sure looked like it's still a year or several away from competing in C-USA after a convincing loss on Saturday. The Green Wave will have to become road warriors, with three straight games progressively further away from New Orleans in the comings weeks, but all three games are against opponents who have looked less than impressive so far. The time is now for Tulane to make an impact.

This week: at UAB, Saturday, 3:00 PM CST.

11. Texas-El Paso Miners (1-1) - No Change

Last week: Lost to SMU, 28-17

Miner quarterback Nick Lamaison suffered a shoulder injury in the loss on Saturday, and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks. Losing  your quarterback is never a good thing, but it's a worse thing when you have 66 team rushing yards on 49 carries so far on the season. Yikes.

This week: at New Mexico State, Saturday, 7:00 PM CST. What to make of the Aggies? After a season-opening 20-point loss at home against Ohio, NMSU turned around and went on the road to beat Minnesota, a team fresh off hanging close with USC. As for the upcoming game, UTEP can't run the ball, NMSU is allowing over 5 yards per carry so far. Call it resistible force vs easily movable object.

12. Memphis Tigers (0-2) - No Change

Last week: Lost to Arkansas State, 47-3

Ouch. How do you sugarcoat a 44-point loss to a Sun Belt team? The Tigers couldn't do anything, or stop the Red Wolves from doing anything on Saturday. How much longer 'til basketball season starts?

This week: vs Austin Peay, Saturday, 6:00 PM CST. The Tigers' 1-AA opponent may be the only thing standing between them and an 0-12 season.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.