On the board, off the rails: just as preseason favorite TCU's season really hits the skids with the Frogs' loss to Utah, MWC mate Colorado State's finally gets a flash of optimism with the Rams' 48-23 win over UNLV, their first of the season. CSU has not been that atrociously bad: it went down in overtime to Colorado in the opener, played Cal within six in Fort Collins the following week and only fell by four at San Diego State. The Rams may have also found a new running back: the esteemed Gartrell Johnson III replaced Kyle Bell and popped off 162 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns, his second straight game over 140.
The Rams' victory leaves only two teams in zero-win purgatory: Florida International and Utah State. Unlike the Rams, who are merely bad, FIU and USU are the teams of slow-moving, soft-hitting nightmares. Between them, the Panthers and Aggies are 0-14 and have been outscored on average by 23 points.
Fact: Temple doesn't completely suck, in relative terms. I mean, probably. You've come a long way, kids.
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I point out this special kind of special futility by way of honoring Temple, so long the subject of such awe-inspiring wretchedness, which has just won its third straight game. This is an almost unprecedented run of success for modern Owl football, which hadn't won three straight games against any competition since 1990, much less three straight conference games, which had eluded the program since 1967. Forty years of unrelenting despai, slowly vanishing in the somber Philadelphia mist. That's what moving to the MAC will do for you.
There's even a chance, albeit a small one, the Owls can break even. They currently sit at 3-5, 3-2 in the MAC; assuming the visit to Penn State in two weeks is an automatic loss, Temple could still finish at 6-6 with wins over conference foes Ohio, Kent State and Western Michigan. That would put the Owls at 6-2 in-conference, likely still not enough to overcome all of the four one-loss teams that currently sit in front of them in the MAC East, but a dramatic leap from Al Wallace's four wins in four years. Commence the Golden showers!
Mid-Major Game(s) of the Week
While you were waiting for Florida and Kentucky to punt...
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On paper, Ohio U. of Ohio at Toledo plays out as a surreal experience, at once frenzied, sloppy, heroic, dramatic...even tragic.
Now, centuries-old dramatic form is not easily applied to the Mid-American Conference, but to get a proper sense of the kind of tragedy experienced by Ohio U. in this game, it's probably helpful to review the pinnacle of the form, the legendary 1994 Texas state championship game between Plano East High and John Tyler:
Ohio U. and Toledo, frankly, can't measure up to that, as, frankly again, no game could. But it is a similar emotional scenario writ small. Ohio, which turned the ball over five times on its first eight possessions and scored touchdowns on the other three, found itself trailing 40-29 in the fourth quarter with eight and a half minutes to play and the ball at its own 20 after Toledo's third touchdown in as many drives. The Bobcats took the ball 57 yards from there for a field goal that cut the score tp 40-32 with a little over six and a half minutes left. Toledo, on an unstoppable roll offensively throughout the second half, responded by marching the ensuing possession inside the Bobcat five on a ten-play drive, apparently en route to the icing score before Jalen Parmelee fumbled at the Rocket seven. With new life, however slim, Ohio quarterback Theo Scott, in for "comically off" Brad Bower after the veteran's fourth interception in the third quarter, guided his offense out of the hold by hitting passes of 25, 19, and 10 yards for first downs before connecting with Andrew Mooney for a 35-yard touchdown that completed the length-of-field sojourn, then finding the epically-named Chido Nwokocha for the tying two-point conversion with 1:50 on the clock. The Ohio defense sustained that momentum by forcing a punt on the Rockets' next possession, momentum it was apparently going to carry into overtime after improbably overcoming seven turnovers, an 11-point deficit in half a quarter, a goal-to-go situation by the opposing offense looking to put the game away and then an entire field to cover to get to the tie. Backs against the wall, the Bobcats got all of that done, on the road, and still had a chance to win.
Ohio's innovative "Give Parmelee his space" defense in action. Looked better on the blackboard.
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If only it was that easy. If only fate was fair. But fortune, she is a fickle mistress: the Bobcats' Chris Garrett fumbled the concillatory punt at his own 20, where Toledo's Greg Harris was stunned to find himself in history's path, and the ball's. The Rockets ran Parmelee once more for no gain, ran the clock down to two seconds, called timeout, and crushed Ohio's dreams like a bug between its fingers on a 40-yard kick by Alex Steigerwald as the clock heaved its anguished last.
The Bobcats were gracious, noted the Toledo Blade, and came to the Glass Bowl bearing gifts. What it didn't say was that they also came bearing their soul, the soul of non-ironic backbone and perseverence that made its proud people
great very competent, mostly, and that soul was shattered like, well, like glass. The disposable glass of an indifferent universe, hurtling it thoughtlessly across the room in a fit of lusty anger as Frank Solich lay prone to its whims (only after using it to dispense a little fun, of course).
Yet where Ohio U. was the only victim this week of an epic struggle framed by its dramatic composition, a dreadful or fatal calamity that dealt seriously with a somber theme of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, such as fate, society or fundamental ball security, to downfall or destruction, it was actually a watershed weekend for amazing finishes that flew below the radar:
• New Mexico 20, San Diego State 17: Trailing 17-10 entering the fourth quarter, having given up a five-yard touchdown drive in the first half following a turnover, the Lobos rallied for a field goal early in the final frame to cut the score to 17-13, then forced a fumble the UNM offense took 65 yards in eight plays for the winning touchdown with 15 seconds to play.
• Florida Atlantic 39, UL-Lafayette 32: Trailing 32-25 with 1:03 to play, FAU drove 64 yards in five plays, tying the game on a 17-yard pass from Rusty Smith to Cortez Gent with seven seconds to play. The Owls responded with a four-play touchdown drive in the first overtime, then forced an incomplete pass on 4th-and-goal of the Cajuns' possession to seal the win.
• Tulane 41, SMU 34: Down ten points in the first half, Tulane rallied in the second and third quarters on a huge effort by running back Matt Forte (see below) to score 20 unanswered points, only to give up the lead with eight seconds left in regulation, when Justin Willis tied the game on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Zack Sledge at the end of an 81-yard two minute drill. Forte scored a touchdown in the first overtime for the Green Wave, immediately followed by a first down sack/strip of Willis that was recovered by Tulane's Avery Williams.
• Ball State 27, Western Michigan 20: Down 23-20 with the ball on its own 21 and 5:22 to play, Ball State'sNate Davis completed four of five passes and got a 25-yard run by Frank Edmonds on a nine-play, 79-yard drive that put the Cardinals up 27-23 on a one-yard run by Edmonds with 1:10 to play. Western Michigan converted a 4th-and-12 on its last gasp drive, but Tim Hiller was picked off by Jamarko Simmons on the next play to end it.
Mid-Major Player(s) of the Week
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Top honors this week belong without question to Tulane's Matt Forte (38 carries, 342 yards, 4 TDs), who set a new C-USA record for yards in a single game by slashing and dismembering the bloody corpse of SMU's defense, including the winning touchdown in overtime. Forte had six runs of at least 15 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 66-yard dash to the one that set up Tulane's go-ahead touchdown and the end of the fourth, and well over a dozen 7-to-9-yard runs, among them the eventual game-winner in the first OT. Forte was the national player of the week from all schools by Walter Camp, for obvious reasons.
Forte: Bow to your new rushing king.
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In the Ohio-Toledo game recounted above, Jalen Parmelee (38 carries, 241 yards, 2 TDs) redeemed his killer late fumble by running over the Bobcats in every other situation, while his counterpart, Kalvin McRae (25 carries, 182 yards, 3 TDs, 3 catches, 52 yards) led Ohio to its second straight 500-plus-yard game - the highest single-game production of the decade for the Bobcats, in fact, in a loss. . . .Boise State's Taylor Tharpe (21 of 35, 328 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT) and Jeremy Childs (7 catches, 143 yards, 2 TD) kept the Broncos firing without Ian Johnson against Louisiana Tech, hooking up on an 88-yard pass that broke the game open at the start of the fourth quarter. . . .Diminutive 18-year-old true freshman Willie Geter (22 carries, 203 yards, 1 TD, 4 catches, 51 yards) broke into his own in his first start for the previously pass-happy Falcons, taking over the second half and digging BG out from its own goalline with a 50-yard run from the three in the third quarter on the way to a 31-20 win over Kent State. . . .Temple's Junior Galette (6.5 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble) hounded Miami, Ohio's Mike Kokal enough to earn MAC East Defensive Player of the Week. . . . And great white tailback hope Luke Lippincott (36 carries, 241 yards, 2 TD, 4 catches, 20 yards) didn't have a run longer than 28 yards in Nevada's dominant-yet-close win over winless Utah State (the Pack outgained the Aggies by 260 yards, 15 first downs and 15 minutes of possession time, yet didn't pull ahead for good until midway through the fourth quarter), but he was the engine in the Wolf Pack's 302-yard rushing effort, especially on 85, 87 and 77-yard touchdown drives.
Obligatory Brennan Stat Watch
While desperately attempting to retain grains of skepticism.
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Hawaii was off this week after a Friday game last week against San Jose State. The Warriors will be back against New Mexico State next Sunday in a matchup of the nation's second and fifth-most pass happy offenses.
Pace for the Season: No change from last week: Brennan has missed one game entirely and was pulled for the second half of another; he's played roughly 20 quarters in six games. Assuming he plays the entirety of each of Hawaii's remaining five games, he would double his current numbers, finishing 382 of 564 (67.7 percent) for 4,790 yards with 40 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. This is nowhere near his pace of 2006, which was: 405 of 559 (72.5 percent), 5,549 yards, 58 touchdowns and 12 interceptions against an unquestionably tougher schedule that included Alabama, Oregon State, Purdue, Arizona State and three WAC bowl teams.
The Record vs. BCS Conferences
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Last week: 0-7
* Avg. Score: 39-14
This year: 17-102 (.143)
* Avg. Score: 39-19
Hail to the Conquering Heroes
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The only BCA team to fall to a non-BCS team Saturday was Minnesota, a victim of I-AA "provisional member" North Dakota State, which, while ranked number one in the Championship Subdivision, a winner of three of its last four against I-A competition and owner Division I's longest win streak (11 games), remains a I-AA provisional member. And not a mid-major. If you haven't heard, the Gopher defense allowed just shy of 600 yards to the Bison, 394 rushing, and may well be fielding the worst defense of the decade.
What Should Have Been...
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East Carolina had good reason for confidence against NC State: the Pirates were at home, against a 1-5 team ECU beat last year and that hadn't beaten a I-A opponent to date (the Wolfpack's lone win before Saturday was against Wofford), that had lost to a team ECU had beaten, Central Florida, to open the season, and that had also lost in the last two years to Akron and Southern Miss. And N.C. State only led by a point, 21-20, heading into the fourth quarter. Cue Pirate meltdown: Rob Kass was picked off on ECU's first possession of the fourth, leading to an N.C. State touchdown that put the Pack ahead 31-20 and leading to desperate fourth down failures by the Pirates on their last two drives. NCSU added another field goal for a 34-20 final, the first I-A win of the O'Brien era.
...and What Never Had a Prayer
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Central Michigan scored the first touchdown, but the next ten were all Clemson's: the Tigers rolled over CMU for a ridiculous 656 yards total offense (341 rushing, 315 passing) and scored touchdowns on ten of twelve possessions after an opening interception, eight of them in the second and third quarters alone. The Chippewas actually did a not-horrible job of containing James Davis and C.J. Spiller, all things considered, allowing the star backs to combine for 184 on 37 carries, but were diced by Cullen Harper (20 of 22 - seriously - for 273 and 5 TDs) and backup running back Sadat Chambers, still listed as a safety in some places, who ran for 112 on just ten carries.
Keep hustling, kid, just keep on...hustling...eh, good luck in the MAC, kid.
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For the record, Central Michigan remains a favorite to defend its championship in the MAC with a 3-0 conference record. Their average margin of defeat in four non-conference losses? Thirty-nine points. Also of note: one of those losses was to North Dakota State, by thirty.
An Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
This is more of a power poll.
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1. Hawaii (7-0): Not playing at all is probably better than having to come from behind against whatever ne'er-do-well the Rainbows would have played, if they could convince anyone to schedule them.
2. Boise State (6-1): It's definitely better than struggling into the fourth quarter with Louisiana Tech. Although at least the Broncos pulled away and didn't have to go to overtime...
3. BYU (5-2): Yeah, they played a I-AA team in the middle of the conference season. What of it? Defending champ is still the only undefeated team in a pretty competitive MWC.
4. Troy: (5-2) The Trojans have beaten Oklahoma State, probably will not come close to losing in the Sun Belt, and when they hit 10-2 (or 11-2, if they win the New Orleans Bowl again), you're going to have to deal with them on a few top 25 ballots, if not actually in the polls. Just a fair warning.
5. Air Force (6-2): Falcons have already clinched a bowl, stunningly, and are still in the Mountain West picture, with some help. They may just have to settle for beating Notre Dame.
6. New Mexico (5-2): Losses are close, to UTEP and BYU, with wins over Arizona and Wyoming. First of several "moment of truth" games down the stretch with Air Force Saturday to keep MWC title hopess breathing.
7. Utah (5-3): Some Utah message board found this last week and began debating the status of their state university, which most posters considered a "major university," and a major football program, as it has a win in a BCS bowl and how many "major" teams have done that? These people are wrong. Utah plays in the Mountain West and therefore is the definition of a mid-major. But at least the Utes are in the top ten this week after beating TCU for their fourth straight win. The 44-6 blowout over UCLA in September remains the most impressive and inexplicable victory of any team on this list.
8. Wyoming (4-3): Yes, I am just listing the Mountain West standings. Wyoming is number five in a nine-team conference after losing to Air Force. But the Cowboys did take it to TCU and, more impressively, completely dismantled Virginia in the opener, the only thing standing between college football and the ugly reality of an undefeated team coached by Al Groh that wins by two points every week. So they've got that going for them.
9. Fresno State (5-2): The Bulldogs ill rocket up the list with an upset of Ian Johnson-less Boise State Friday, and move into contention for the conference championship with Hawaii on the horizon - the two losses are to Texas A&M (in overtime) and Oregon. FSU's wipeout of Boise in Fresno in 2005 is the only conference loss the Broncos have suffered since their first season in the WAC in 2002.
10. Central Florida (4-3): Any All-Non-BCS Team would have to include running back Kevin Smith. Beat NC State, whatever that's worth, gutted through a tough game with Texas and held high-scoring Tulsa in check Saturday to stay even with East Carolina and Southern Miss in the C-USA East. Impressed?
Optimism in the week ahead.
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Mid-Week Madness!!: Thursday night, opposite Virginia Tech-Boston College, for those of you in the mountain region, Air Force and New Mexico get together for a very significant game in the Mountain West. As it stands, if BYU should happen to go down - which is not eminent of likely, but certainly possible -over the next month, the winner of this game is most likely to fill the power void with a single conference loss.
Best Game: Friday night, Boise State visits Fresno State without its best player, in the only WAC environment to host a BSU defeat since 2002. The Bulldogs arecompletely under the radar for a team that's one overtime fumble away from being 6-1, which is not necessarily a bad thing for them, since none of Pat Hill's more hyped teams has ever managed to bring home a conference championship. The best chance by far for Boise to go down before the much-anticipated showdown with Hawaii after Thanksgiving.
Most Realistic Upset: This is pretty shaky, but the pickins are slim in BCS-non-BCS matchups this week, and it would seem like a peculiarly Vanderbilt thing to do to submarine its bowl hopes after a big win by losing to Miami, Ohio. The RedHawks had won three in a row before losing to Temple last week, so...yeah. It's possible.
Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout: Statistically, there is no team worse now than Florida International, which has not only lost 19 games in a row, but ranks 102nd or worse across the board, in every major offensive and defensive category, including turnover margin. That means rushing defense, too, where the Panthers are 102nd. Arkansas, on the other hand, is fourth in rushing offense and will probably improve on that after seeing FIU Saturday in Fayetteville. Only a guess.