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Mid-Major Monday

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For the second time in as many weeks this season, the bane of the mid-major existence is Iowa State, which emerges a narrow winner again over a pesky underdog: a week after surviving a triple overtime marathon against Toledo on the road, ISU had to literally escape, this time on its own field, as UNLV players and coaches embodied the team's Rebel moniker by revolting onfield for about 15 minutes to protest a call that denied them a potentially winning touchdown on the final play.

SMQ often fantasizes in football - and in other walks of life - of inexplicable, arbitrary abuses of official power, and possible real-life reactions (sometimes explosively violent, sometimes stoically defiant) to rectify injustice. Having not seen the final play in question, SMQ can't say whether this is necessarily the case for UNLV; the pass could have been clearly incomplete. From the UNLV perspective, though, surely the scenario must seem like something out of Kafka, or at least Fire Mark May:

Trailing 16-10, late in the fourth quarter, the Rebels were driving for the possible winning touchdown, reaching the ISU 14 with 18 seconds remaining.

Reserve quarterback Shane Steichen first hit Casey Flair for a short pass to the ISU 11, where Flair fumbled before recovering the ball. After a lengthy review by the officials, the ball was set at the 11 with seven seconds left.

Steichen rolled to his right before throwing to Aaron Straiten in the back of the end zone with what the Rebels thought was the game-tying touchdown.

Officials ruled Straiten was out of bounds when he caught the ball. Game over, right?

Not so, said UNLV coach Mike Sanford, who kept his team on the field for about 15 minutes after the game ended. The scene had the potential to turn ugly as Rebel players started to respond to the thousands of ISU fans remaining who began chanting "Let's go home" several times.

Eventually, the UNLV team headed to the locker room, and each individual player was escorted to the team bus by the police.

"My only concern was that I thought the play should have been reviewed," Sanford said in his postgame press conference. "Nowadays in college football, we have replays for a reason, and it was a catch on the boundary and I needed to get an answer that the game was over.

"In our minds, we don't believe that we lost. We ran out of time, and we didn't get the play reviewed."

The play was reviewed said review official Tom Ahlers.

"I deemed it a reviewable play, reviewed it and did not overrule the play," Ahlers said.

(Hat Tip: The Wizard of Odds)

The emphasis on Sanford's denial is SMQ's, to highlight a kind of defiance to the all-encompassing dictates of the inviolable "final score" more disgruntled coaches should angrily employ more often. You are not a loser if you don't believe you've lost! Everyone knows it's the way you play the game.


Mike Sanford does not accept the premise

But oh, woe the ill fortune of monumental, Top 25 defeats by the slimmest threads: Troy led Florida State midway through the fourth quarter; Air Force was mere feet from collecting the winning points at Tennessee; Purdue was forced into overtime by Miami of Ohio (which had scored just three against Northwestern, which subsequently lost by 17 to New Hampshire, which is so OMG victory chain linker!); Texas Tech required an upright-bouncing game-winner to down UTEP in overtime; Fresno State controlled the ball for nearly ten minutes longer than Oregon and went down only on devious field goal treachery. Such sound and fury, and breathless SportsCenter "In-Games," signifying nothing.

The Mid-Major Record Against BCS Conferences
Last Week: 4-20
Season to Date: 5-41

Mid-Major Games of the Week
The Buffalo Bulls, a week after their first-ever Bowl Subdvision game as a favorite ended in an overtime win against Temple, put the fear into perennial and projected MAC West power Bowling Green, scoring twice on special teams and leading BGSU until the final play of regulation, improbably extending the game by blocking an overtime extra point moments after the Falcons had themselves improbably blocked a Bull PAT, succumbing just a yard shy of a vital first down on a 4th-and-1 in the third extra period. Has Turner Gill got UB turning a corner? Well, despite their averaging a little under 3.1 yards per play Saturday and giving up closer to 6.8 (and 356 rushing), SMQ says yes! Well, maybe.

Representin'...
Boise State and Akron deservedly received the most attention this week for carrying the mid-major banner against schools from bigger conferences, for very different reasons, but the other big winner Saturday was San Jose State, 35-34 victors over Stanford.

Admittedly, this may reflect worse on the Cardinal than it does positively on SJSU; few teams even in the WAC figure to allow the Spartans 351 yards rushing again, or an 88 percent completion rate. Yes, Stanford is without question the worst defense - and, among the six "power" conferences at least, the worst team, period - in the nation. But anytime San Jose shuts out anybody over an entire half for a close win, especially if it's anyone from the PAC Ten - even possibly the worst Stanford team in school history - that's doing the WAC proud.

...and Frontin'
This is a matter of perspective as far as the label `embarrassment' goes, but is it a good or bad thing for the MAC that its preseason division favorites, Toledo and Northern Illinois - both competitive to reasonable expectations and varying degrees in losses to major conference competition in their openers - were whacked by a combined 33 points to league also-rans Western Michigan and Ohio, respectively? SMQ knows somewhat of whence he speaks: as one of the few vigilant of Conference USA, he saw quality parity last season throughout a competitive league, where others saw only middling futility. Midwesterners may believe otherwise, but the lack of a dominant team - again - is only going to hurt the Mid-American's image. Whatever, exactly, that may be...

And Central Florida, come on. Please. Southern Miss at least scored at Florida, at least put up some early fight in Week One. And you, defending division champion and projected favorite, go into Gainesville waving the oft-mocked C-USA flag and lose 42-0? Giving up 637 yards? Averaging a yard per carry? Who are you, Florida State? The shame!

Mid-Major Players of the Week
Anyone who saw the first touchdown run out of Boise State's Ian Johnson (22 carries, 240 yards, 5 TDs, 1 catch, 21 yards), in which he hit a seam and incinerated two Oregon State DBs who started right on his hip, should have recognized the birth of a minor star. Speaking of which, Garrett Wolfe (24 carries,196 yards, 2 TDs) was typically terrific in Northern Illinois' otherwise unworthy loss to Ohio, of all teams, but if one's going to focus on mid-major running attacks this week, he'd best begin with the Air Force offensive line, which provided Ryan Williams, Chad Hall, Shaun Carney and Chad Smith, among others, room for 281 yards on 5.5 per carry against big, bad Tennessee, and protected Carney well enough for him to hit 7 of 9 passes with only one sack; by contrast, the UT line sacked Cal quarterbacks three times, harassed them all day and held the vaunted Bear backs to under three yards a pop.

An Entirely Subjective Mid-Major Top Ten
This is more of a power poll...
1. Boise State (2-0)
2. TCU (2-0)
3. Fresno State (1-1)
4. Navy (2-0)
5. Houston (2-0)
6. UTEP (1-1)
7. BYU (1-1)
8. Air Force (0-1)
9. Colorado State (2-0)
10. Ohio (2-0)

This Week
Toledo has its second home game in three weeks against a Big XII North team, this time Kansas, a game it has to win to avoid an 0-3 start [erroneous bowl history deleted - see comments-ed.]...Down one game in the conference already, East Carolina tries to keep its unlikely postseason dreams alive against Memphis... The mid-major game of the week will feature two ranked teams (though only one, actually, is from a mid-major conference) when Texas Tech visits TCU, another fireworks-pending game featuring the high-flying Raiders visiting a dangerous instate rival that, lost amidst the bliss of Football Nirvana across the nation, will be viewed by virtually none...Upsetting: BYU, UAB and Ohio are long - though not impossible - shots at Boston College, Georgia and Rutgers, but look again towards the ACC for vulnerability: Virginia, narrow 13-12 winners after being tagged as a potential target last week against Wyoming, faces a quarterback-rich Western Michigan team coming off a three-touchdown win over a presumably competent Toledo squad; and while it may have gotten the mid-major blues behind it by losing to Akron, NC State has at least as tough a challenge on the road at Southern Miss, whom a better State unit narrowly beat in suspect fashion in Raleigh last year. SMQ is biased, of course, but from his gold-colored angle, low-octane NCSU is looking like a sheep in wolf's clothing.