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October 20, 2011

Week 8: C-USA, WAC, MAC, SBC and Indy

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

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly knows what is at stake Saturday night.

The Fighting Irish play host to USC in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium since 1990 with their BCS hopes on the line. The Irish committed 10 turnovers in losing their first two games, but they've rebounded and carry a four-game winning streak into the game against the Trojans. A 10-2 Notre Dame team has a legit shot at a BCS bid; a 9-3 Notre Dame almost certainly does not.

THE 10 BEST GAMES
Louisiana Tech at Utah State, 3 p.m.
East Carolina at Navy, 3:30 p.m.
Temple at Bowling Green, 3:30 p.m.
Fresno State at Nevada, 4 p.m.
Marshall at Houston, 4:30 p.m.
Army at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m.
USC at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m.
SMU at Southern Miss, 8 p.m.
Colorado State at UTEP, 9 p.m.
New Mexico State at Hawaii, 11:59 p.m.
"We want to get into a BCS game," Kelly told reporters this week. "We know what we have to do, and that is we've got to win each and every game we play. So every game for us, since going 0-2, has been that way. It's been the same focus for us.

"It's a huge game for us against USC. There is no question about the tradition and the rivalry. But if we beat USC and don't beat Navy, it doesn't mean much. So that is the perspective we take."

USC is ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, but you have to figure the Trojans wouldn't mind messing with the Irish's season. This will be the 83rd meeting in the nation's most-played intersectional rivalry, and USC has won 11 of the past 14 games in the series. Notre Dame's victory last season snapped USC's eight-game winning streak in the series.

This season, the Trojans are 5-1 but unranked, and coach Lane Kiffin says his players have noticed.

"We discussed that, the negativity around us," he told reporters. "Going on the road [last week at California] and winning by 21 points - and, as you mentioned, the first 5-1 team not to be ranked in the history of USC - I just think it's the dark cloud over us. But it has nothing to do with these players and the way that they work."

A big key Saturday for USC is slowing the Irish's newfound rushing attack. Notre Dame has rush for 735 yards in the past three games, the most in a three-game stretch since the Irish gained 804 yards in 2003.

[What to watch? Week 8 viewer's guide]

"I've always felt that in running the spread, if you don't have the ability to run the football first, then you've got to take the tight end off the field," Kelly said. "You've got to play with four wide receivers, and that is not really the style we want to play. You can't be just throwing the ball around if you want to be a championship football team. You've got to have that balance, and we've been able to develop that balance."

Saturday's game will be the second in a row with both teams unranked. It marks the first time in the 83-game series history that each team was unranked in consecutive meetings.

Best matchup: Southern Miss rush offense vs. SMU rush defense. Southern Miss leads Conference USA and is 19th nationally in rush offense, averaging 212.8 yards per game. As productive as Southern Miss' passing attack has been (262.7 ypg, 14 TDs), SMU would rather QB Austin Davis take to the air. SMU needs to find a way to stifle the Golden Eagles' rushing attack. In a loss to Marshall, Davis threw for 309 yards but Southern Miss was held to just 75 rushing yards. SMU is 12th nationally in rush defense, allowing just 89.5 yards per game. SMU has shut down the rushing attacks of Texas A&M, TCU and UCF (a combined 273 yards on the ground) and now needs to do the same to Southern Miss. LB Taylor Reed is SMU's best run-stuffing 'backer, so he needs to be active.

Player on the spot: East Carolina QB Dominique Davis. Davis has been responsible for 60 of ECU's past 77 touchdowns, which means he has to play well for the Pirates to win. ECU plays at Navy on Saturday. Davis was excellent last season against Navy, throwing for 413 yards and five TDs. But the Pirates still got ripped, falling 76-35. He has to have another huge game if ECU is to have a shot at the win.

[Game tickets: Watch your favorite team in action]

Keep an eye on: Marshall DE Vinny Curry. Curry leads the nation with 17 tackles for loss and is second with 9.5 sacks. This week, he'll be going against a Houston offensive line that has allowed nine sacks. If Houston QB Case Keenum isn't pressured in the pocket, he is going to carve up Marshall's secondary. It's vital that Curry get up close and personal with Keenum a few times.

Numbers game: Houston QB Case Keenum should become the NCAA's career record-holder in total offense Saturday against Marshall. He has 16,781 yards; the current record-holder is former Hawaii QB Timmy Chang, who picked up 16,910 yards from 2000-04. Keenum is 129 yards behind.

Quotes of the week

"It goes back to what I was saying: When you win, you start to get confidence, you start to walk differently and think different, and that's what's going on right now. Our chemistry is really good within the team, but that doesn't guarantee that we're going to go in there and win." - SMU coach June Jones, whose team plays at Southern Miss on Saturday

"It's nice to be able to fly to where we're going as opposed to being in a bus. But whatever we have to deal with, we don't have a choice. This week we get to fly, so we'll take advantage of that. Nicer than a seven-hour bus ride, for sure." - Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, whose team plays at Buffalo this week

"There are a lot of people jumping off the ship and that always happen. That doesn't bother me. They'll be back when we are winning." - Hawaii coach Greg McMackin, whose team is 3-3

"I really think it's a good thing. It's the only chance for Conference USA to secure one of the automatic qualifying bids. I think that is the biggest key. If you don't have that, it's going to be very difficult in the future financially. Hopefully, that will take place." - Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, on the planned C-USA/Mountain West "merger"

[Wave goodbye: Tulane coach Bob Toledo resigns]

"As we all know over the last week and days, Bob had become a lightning rod for criticism and attacks and things that shouldn't be part of what we're doing in college athletics. As I told the young men, and Bob agreed, by him stepping down, that has been removed." - Tulane AD Rick Dickson, on coach Bob Toledo's resignation Tuesday

"As far as keeping the momentum, it's a lot easier to sustain momentum to me sometimes than to build it if you're not having a successful season. I think the winning helps the momentum because you can go to practice with a little more pep in your step and you're a little more eager to get to that next game." - Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team has won six in a row since an opening loss at Oklahoma State

"I enjoy hanging out with these guys. We have a great family of players that have a good time in the hotel. We typically, especially if we have a night game, we'll have a room where we set up some TVs and show movies and that kind of stuff. Guys like to hang out and watch football games on Friday night. That's been a lot of fun to get in there and hear the trash talk and the fun. These guys get along very well." - Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, on going on the road with his team

"I think it's good to get right back on the field and not lament on the game." - UCF coach George O'Leary, whose team lost Saturday and plays again tonight

"It is huge. We call it 'Uncle Mo.' You always want 'Uncle Mo' on your side. Whenever he is on your side, good things happen. Whenever he jumps to the other side, you go, 'Oh, man.' " - Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, on the power of momentum

[Y! Sports Shop: Show your school colors with college football team gear]

"It doesn't matter that the offensive numbers are this and the defensive numbers are this; I don't care much about the stats. Bottom line is that we are 2-4; that is where we were a year ago. What matters to me is winning. It is time for us - it is time for me first and I will always say 'me.' I am not talking about the kids when I say this, I am talking about myself and I am talking about the other coaches to hold ourselves accountable and be able to find a way to win football games. If we can't do that, then, yes, things need to change. Period. That is where I am at with it." - Utah State coach Gary Andersen

"This week, we're wearing the patch of the 101st Airborne Division. Their motto is, 'We don't have a history, we have a rendezvous with destiny.' " - Army coach Rich Ellerson

Poll watch: Houston is 19th in this week's BCS standings, and coach Kevin Sumlin says his players have noticed. "It's better that I talk to them about it than everybody else," he said. "I'm not so naive to think that everybody else isn't trying to tell them how good they are and patting them on the back. Our guys understand where they are. We tell them that they have 12 guaranteed opportunities to play, and you earn the right for 13 and 14. Our guys are very focused on the fact that we are still trying to earn 14 football games." Houston is 6-0 for the first time since 1990.

Etc.: Tulane coach Bob Toledo resigned Tuesday midway through his fifth season with the Green Wave; he was 15-39 at the school. Offensive line coach Mark Huston will be the interim coach. Since the Green Wave went 12-0 in 1998 under Tommy Bowden - Rich Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator on that team - they have had two winning seasons. Tulane hasn't won more than four games since 2004. Arkansas State kept itself in the Sun Belt title race with a 34-16 victory over visiting Florida International on Tuesday night. Louisiana-Lafayette leads the league with a 4-0 record, and Arkansas State, with a 3-0 mark, is the only other team unbeaten in league play. ULL plays at Arkansas State on Nov. 12. Preseason co-favorite FIU, meanwhile, lost for the second time in conference play; the other co-favorite, Troy, also has two league losses. ULL already has wins over FIU and Troy. Troy lost 38-10 to Louisiana-Monroe last week; it was the Trojans' worst home loss in coach Larry Blakeney's 21-season tenure. The last time the Trojans lost to ULL and ULM in the same year had been 2005. Temple junior RB Bernard Pierce broke five school records in last week's 34-0 victory over Buffalo. He now holds school marks for single-season rushing TDs (17), single-season overall TDs (17), single-season points (102), career TDs (44) and career points (264). He is tied for the national lead with Wisconsin's Montee Ball in rushing TDs. SMU's Zach Line and Utah State's Robert Turbin are tied for fourth with 13. Houston leads the nation in total offense (6-3.7 ypg) and pass offense (435.5 ypg) and is fourth in scoring offense (47.0 ppg). Nevada leads the WAC in total offense and total defense. The only other team that leads its conference in both categories is West Virginia in the Big East. BYU's victory at Oregon State last week means the Cougars now have a streak of six consecutive seasons with a win over a Pac-10/Pac-12 team. Navy plays host to East Carolina on Saturday for homecoming, but the Midshipmen have lost four of their past five homecoming games, including losses to schools from North Carolina in 2010 (Duke) and 2007 (Wake Forest). Tulsa forced four turnovers in last week's win over Rice, the third time this season the Golden Hurricane have forced at least four turnovers in a game. Western Kentucky has won back-to-back games for the first time since winning three in a roe late in the 2007 season. Senior Skylar Jones, a transfer from Wake Forest, started at quarterback for Memphis in last week's loss to East Carolina. He is the Tigers' third starting quarterback of the season. Army has run for at least 300 yards in each of its first six games. It is the program's longest such run since the 1996 team reached that plateau in eight consecutive outings to start the season. Army leads the nation in rushing at 361.3 yards per game. Louisiana Tech is playing its seventh game of the season Saturday and will be facing its first non-senior quarterback. Utah State's quarterback is true freshman Chuckie Keeton. Ohio senior WR LaVon Brazill last week became the school's career leader in receptions with 151. FIU senior WR T.Y. Hilton became the school's career leader in receptions in Tuesday night's loss to Arkansas State. He has 200 career receptions; the record had been 199. New Mexico State senior WR Taveon Rogers is averaging 112.0 kick-return yards per game in his career, the highest among active players. Navy has missed at least one kick (PAT or field goal) in five of its six games this season, including each of the past three. Navy had an extra-point blocked in overtime against Air Force, a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown against Southern Miss and a field-goal attempt blocked at Rutgers. Middle Tennessee, which leads the Sun Belt in total offense, will have a new play-caller for the rest of the season. Offensive coordinator Willie Simmons resigned last week after being arrested on domestic violence charges against his girlfriend. Quarterback coach Buster Faulkner will take over the play-calling duties; he will be MTSU's fifth play-caller in the past four seasons. Faulkner is a former assistant for Chris Hatcher at Valdosta State and Murray State; Hatcher is a Hal Mumme disciple.

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

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