Week three wasn't a banner week for the ranks of Conference USA. Marshall, fresh off a defeat of a conference favorite, suffered a 37-point shellacking at the hands of a MAC school. UCF, the conference's defending champion, and another of its favorites in the 2011 season, lost to a Sun Belt school. The sole remaining undefeated conference school had to rally from a 27-point deficit to a Louisiana Tech team that needed overtime to beat 1-AA Central Arkansas a week ago.
So it can't get much worse, can it? We're about to find out. Four conference schools go toe to toe with ranked opponents this week. This could get ugly.
Still, we gotta rank 'em in some order. Here's how we see it breaking down:
1. Houston Cougars (3-0) - Up 1
Last week: Beat Louisiana Tech, 35-34
Hard to put the hometown Coogs at #1 on the list when they looked like a high school team for two and a half quarters on Saturday, but there it is. If the team that put up that furious rally in the last 20 minutes of the Louisiana Tech game (or the second half of the North Texas game) is in there, why can't we see it to start a game? Okay, enough grousing. A win's a win. In positive news, the defense, while it has room to grow, is the best I've seen from UH in at least four or five years.
This week: vs Georgia State, Saturday, 7:00 PM CST.
2. Central Florida Knights (2-1) - Down 1
Last week: Lost to Florida International, 17-10
A loss to a Sun Belt team never looks good, but FIU does already have a win over Louisville on its resume this year. The Golden Panthers did show that if you can slow down UCF's formidable run game, their offense is in trouble. But holding Boston College and FIU to a combined total of 20 points does further indicate that UCF's defense is still head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. I'd love to see Houston's offense go up against the Knights' defense, and although that match-up is not on the schedule, it may very well still happen.
This week: at BYU, Friday, 7:00 PM CST. Will the (other) Cougars be up for taking out their frustrations on the Knights after a 54-10 loss in the Holy War, or is BYU just not that good?
3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-2, 1-0 C-USA) - No Change
Last week: Lost to Oklahoma State, 59-33
When's the last time you attended a football game that started after midnight? That's what Tulsa fans got to experience after a weather delay pushed the start back several hours. To make matters worse, starting quarterback G.J. Kinne was injured in the game, apparently having suffered a Grade II MCL tear, and is expected to be out 2-4 weeks. As if losing star wide receiver Damaris Johnson to the legal system wasn't bad enough.
Still, don't count the Golden Hurricane out of the West race. The next three weeks are two non-conference games and a bye, followed by a home date with a UAB team that has looked downright awful thus far. If Kinne is healthy four weeks from now, he could be coming back to a team with a 2-0 conference record.
This week: at Boise State, Saturday, 7:00 PM CST. Getting beat up in non-conference play has to be getting old for Tulsa fans. But it's time to take the medicine one more time. I'd be surprised if this one's any closer than the OU or OSU games.
4 - Southern Methodist Mustangs (2-1, 1-0 C-USA) - No Change
Last week: Beat Northwestern State, 40-7
After that season-opening beat-down at the hands of the Aggies, SMU gets one of the easiest three-game stretches anybody in the country will enjoy this year. Vs UTEP, vs Northwestern State, at Memphis? Yeesh. I could probably play quarterback for the Mustangs in that stretch, and the team would win all three games.
This week: at Memphis, Saturday, 11:00 AM CST. Enjoy your last cupcake while it lasts, Mustang fans, there are no gimmes the rest of the way.
5. East Carolina Pirates (0-2) - No Change
Last week: Idle
Now that the schedule gets a little bit easier (read: now that Conference USA play starts), let's see if the Pirates can get that running game (currently second to last in Division 1-A with 35 yards per game) going. It would be nice if Dominique Davis had a little help.
It sure feels like it's awfully late in the season for ECU to still not have a victory to their credit, but they start with a fresh conference slate this week. Don't discount their chances in the East, they've played two ranked teams very well.
This week: vs UAB, Saturday, 2:30 PM CST. The Pirates have a couple "moral victories" against tough schools, now they get a Blazer squad that is struggling mightily to start the year. Time for a real victory.
6. Rice Owls (1-1) - No Change
Last week: Idle
The Rice Owls had a bye week to prepare for Baylor, but the Bears have gone two weeks and a day without facing a real team, so where does the advantage swing in this situation? Probably to Baylor, because they're a more talented team. Still, the Bears looked vulnerable defensively in week one. Let's see if the Owls can get the offense clicking.
This week: at Baylor, Saturday, 6:00 PM CST.
7. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-1, 0-1 C-USA) - Up 1
Last week: Beat Southeastern Louisiana, 52-6
After a shockingly uninspiring opening two weeks, it's good to see some signs of life out of the Golden Eagles, even against a 1-AA school. Now it's time to see if the Golden Eagles can get something going against a real school. Come on, Southern Miss, you're supposed to be one of the established powers in this conference!
This week: at Virginia, Saturday, 2:30 PM CST.
8. Tulane Green Wave (2-1, 1-1 C-USA) - Up 2
Last week: Beat UAB, 49-10
What on earth is one to make of the Green Wave? A 28-point conference loss and a 39-point conference win in consecutive weeks. How does one score 3 points on Tulsa's defense and then drop 49 on UAB's, when those two defenses, on paper, are at a similar talent-level?
After playing two conference games early, Tulane will get three straight non-conference games to try and establish some consistency. I've got them down at eighth in the rankings for the time being, but I don't think anybody's looking forward to playing them any more.
This week: at Duke, Saturday, 2:30 PM CST. Speaking of teams trying to establish some consistency, how about a Blue Devil squad that's 0-1 against Division 1-AA, and 1-0 in the ACC?
9. Marshall Thundering Herd (1-2, 1-0 C-USA) - Down 2
Last week: Lost to Ohio, 44-7
To play devil's advocate on myself and defend Marshall's offense, which I have repeatedly stated in this space isn't good enough for the Herd to compete at the top of Conference USA, and which just scored a single touchdown against Ohio (not Ohio State, just Ohio), Marshall did actually move the ball pretty well on the ground in this game, they just got so far behind so early that they were forced to throw the ball around more than they wanted to, which helped lead to four interceptions.
That said, remember when Marshall's defense looked like it might be a strength that could carry a so-so offensive attack? It's hard to hold onto that sentiment after watching the Bobcats wrack up 559 yards of total offense.
This week: vs Virginia Tech, Saturday, 2:30 PM CST. The Hokie offense has put up just 44 combined points on the defenses of ECU and Arkansas State, so I could definitely see the Thundering Herd having a better defensive showing than they did against Ohio. But I have a very difficult time imagining the Herd offense moving the ball anywhere against VT. Maybe if they can out-Beamerball Frank Beamer, and win the special teams and turnover battles, they can stay close.
10. Texas-El Paso Miners (2-1, 0-1 C-USA) - Up 1
Last week: Beat New Mexico State, 16-10
It wasn't pretty, but UTEP managed to scratch one out in a rivalry game on the road. With their starting quarterback injured, freshman Jay Hall came in and completed just 9 of 28 pass attempts with an interception. The run game, which was averaging less than two yards per carry through the first two games, averaged just 3.0 per carry, outside of a fake punt that went for 60 yards. But it was enough.
While the Miner offense has a long way to go, the UTEP defense has looked respectable in the last two weeks, limiting SMU to 28 points, and holding the Aggies to 16 rushing yards on 29 carries.
This week: at South Florida, Saturday, 6:00 PM CST. It would be a huge moral victory for the Miners to keep this one close.
11. Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (0-2, 0-1 C-USA) - Down 2
Last week: Lost to Tulane, 49-10
The Florida loss was somewhat understandable, but a 39-point drubbing at the hands of the Green Wave (UAB was out-gained 540 to 193) cannot be overlooked. The Blazers have been outscored 88-10 through two weeks. And this is a team that returns a lot of the squad that won three conference games a year ago, beat Troy, took Tennessee to double overtime and only lost to Mississippi State by five. It's difficult to wrap the mind around.
This week: at East Carolina, Saturday, 2:30 PM CST. If head coach Neil Callaway is going to turn this ship around and save his job, it has to start this weekend.
12. Memphis Tigers (1-2) - No Change
Last week: Beat Austin Peay, 27-6
Memphis did manage to score a solid win over their 1-AA opponent, in what will likely be their last win of the year. But at least they avoided the oh-fer.
While this may very well be the worst team in college football, I'm still not buying the growing clamoring to fire head coach Larry Porter. Anyone who expected anything better than what we've seen under Porter wasn't realistic about the situation he was stepping into. Give the man four or five years.
This week: vs SMU, Saturday, 11:00 AM CST.