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October 22, 2009
Weekend breakdown of the non-Big Six
While the BYU-TCU game is -- rightfully -- garnering a ton of national attention (it is Rivals.com's game of the week and will be featured Friday), this is a big week in the other non-Big Six conferences as well.
In the Western Athletic, surprising Idaho travels to play surging Nevada. Idaho, which was picked to finish last in the league, became bowl eligible last week and is off to its best start since 1994. Nevada, meanwhile, has won three in a row after an 0-3 start and has gotten its rushing attack cranked up. Boise State remains the prohibitive favorite in the WAC, but the Idaho-Nevada winner could finish second.
In the Mid-American, there's a key inter-divisional game between Temple and Toledo. Temple and Ohio U. are tied for the East Division lead, while Toledo is a game behind unbeaten Central Michigan in the loss column in the West but still controls its own destiny. Temple wins with defense, Toledo with offense. And given that the MAC has three bowl tie-ins, the winner of this one would give itself a leg up on a bowl bid even if it doesn't win a division title.
In Conference USA, Houston looks to remain in the top 20 of the BCS standings when it plays a vastly improved SMU team. Houston, which owns wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, was 17th in the first BCS standings of the season. The Cougars struggled to beat SMU last season, and this SMU team is much better than last season's. Not surprisingly, these are the two best passing offenses in the league; Houston averages 425.3 passing yards per game, and the Mustangs are at 280.8. Interestingly, Houston trails SMU in the C-USA West Division race; SMU is unbeaten in league play and the Cougars' lone loss is a league setback.
Finally, in the Sun Belt, surprising Louisiana-Lafayette will try to keep pace with Troy. ULL and Troy both are 4-2 overall and 3-0 in league play. That was expected of Troy; not so for ULL, which owns a victory over Kansas State. ULL plays host to Florida Atlantic on Saturday. FAU, which has been to a bowl in each of the past two seasons, was expected to contend for the Sun Belt title but has opened 1-4. Still, the Owls are 1-1 in conference play and put themselves into the mix with a victory over the Ragin' Cajuns.
KEY MATCHUP: Idaho QB Nathan Enderle vs. Nevada's pass defense. The Idaho-Nevada matchup has a couple of interesting subplots. One is that Nevada leads the Western Athletic Conference (and the nation) in rushing offense at 292.8 yards per game and that Idaho leads the WAC (and is 14th nationally) in rushing defense at 95.6 yards per game. Another is that Nevada -- for the second season in a row -- has been awful against the pass, allowing 282.3 yards per game. Enderle has had a big season, averaging 247.9 yards per game through the air, with nine TD passes. Regardless of Idaho's defensive ranking, Nevada is going to have success on the ground. But if Enderle is on target, the Vandals will keep it close.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Temple RB Kee-Ayre Griffin. Toledo leads the MAC in total offense, and Temple leads in total defense. Toledo is going to have some offensive success. For the Owls to pull this one out, they need a big game from Griffin, a sophomore who had lost his starting job to true freshman Bernard Pierce. But Pierce was injured last week against Army and is doubtful. Griffin lacks Pierce's breakaway ability but must come up big against the Rockets.
NUMBERS GAME: BYU has won an Mountain West Conference-record 13 consecutive conference home games.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
"We have to become more physical as a football team. From a defensive standpoint, instead of our opponents falling forward for three to five yards, we have to drive them back. From an offensive standpoint, we need to be more physical as run blockers. ... Guys are going to learn that they're going to have to play the game physical, or that they're in the wrong organization." - Miami of Ohio coach Mike Haywood, whose team is winless
"I love the exposure. I know I enjoy going home on Tuesday night, eating dinner and watching the second half on TV. Now that I have to go be part of it, though, I don't think I'm as excited about it. ... I don't like getting home at 4 a.m. after a Tuesday night game with classes on Wednesday. There are a lot of logistical situations it creates for you as a team." - East Carolina coach Skip Holtz, whose team's next game is next Tuesday at Memphis
"There is not a lot to say about last Saturday other than we got outplayed and outcoached and, really, for the most part, just outclassed." - Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild, on his team's 44-6 loss to TCU this past Saturday
"There's not a lot of excitement. You go and take the field, and there's nobody in the stands. There's nobody cheering. Nobody gets our guys excited. I try, obviously, and maybe I failed. When there's not a lot of people out there, there's not a lot of emotion." - Tulane coach Bob Toledo, decrying a lack of home-field advantage after Saturday's loss to Houston. He apologized for his comments Tuesday
"If you get ready for the games you are supposed to win, the big games will take care of themselves. I know that is coach-speak, but it holds pretty true. You have to worry about getting your guys too sky high. What then happens, you make mistakes because you think you have to do more than you need to. The good teams take care of business." - TCU coach Gary Patterson, on this week's game at BYU
Etc.: Boise State was fourth in the first BCS standings of the season; that's the highest a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference has been ranked. ... ESPN's "College GameDay" crew will be at the BYU-TCU game in Provo, Utah. This will mark the fourth time "GameDay" has appeared on a Mountain West campus. The others came in 2004 (BYU at Utah), 2002 (Notre Dame at Air Force) and 2001 (Army at Air Force). ... Notre Dame WR Robby Paris has minor injuries to his ankle, knee and hip, but still might be able to play Saturday against Boston College, which has beaten the Irish six consecutive times. ... Utah senior SS Joe Dale will miss at least three games with an inkle injury. ... Toledo S Barry Church blocked a potential winning 42-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in a one-point victory over Northern Illinois last week. ... TCU is 6-0 for the first time since 2003 and for only the third time since 1942. ... Utah has won 10 consecutive Mountain West games. That's the nation's second-longest conference winning streak, behind Florida's 11 in a row in the SEC. Boise State has won nine in a row in the WAC. ... Tulane is switching starting quarterbacks, with freshman Ryan Griffin replacing Joe Kemp. ... With a 27-13 victory over Army last week, Temple has won four consecutive games for the first time since 1985. ... Fresno State junior RB Ryan Mathews leads the nation in rushing at 162.3 yards per game. ... Central Michigan's Bryan Anderson has caught a pass in 47 consecutive games, the nation's longest such streak. ... New Mexico is 0-6 for the first time since 1987, when it finished 0-11. This week, the Lobos play host to UNLV, which has lost 20 consecutive Mountain West road games. New Mexico will be without coach Mike Locksley, who was suspended for this game for hitting an assistant in September. ... Bowling Green has scored 104 points and averaged 492.3 yards of offense in its past three games.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.