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MID-MAJOR MONDAY VS. HAWAII

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We've been over this before, but Hawaii forges ahead in the latest polls, and I am tireless in my mission to spread the truth: Hawaii does not deserve to be considered to be ranked by anyone in any poll.

For the record, I think the computers are generally better voters than people - with the important exception that people are allowed to account for the scores of games, though it's the same people that absurdly decided to prevent computers from doing so - and thought this long before the computers happened to completely agree with me about the unsuitablility of the Warriors. Facile hu-mahn ballots currently rank Hawaii tenth (Coaches), eleventh (Harris Interactive) and twelfth (AP), respectively, but of the six computer polls in the Official Do Not Disturb Poll of Record, the Warriors' average is officially 0.0000 percent. Five of the algortihms used to calculate that number - those of Anderson&Hester, Richard Billingsley, the Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey and Jeff Sagarin - don't have the Warriors in their top 25 at all; the sixth, Peter Wolfe, somehow has them thirteenth, but because the high and low computer scores are wiped from the equation, Hawaii doesn't even get credit for that. To be more specific about UH's record in each poll:


Hawaii fan Papa Shango weighs in on the Warriors' schedule.
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It's telling that Wolfe's formula is one of only two (Billingsley's in the other) that does not list a component for strength of schedule on its rankings page. As for the rest, Sagarin's "ELO_CHESS" rankings have three I-AA teams - Northern Iowa, North Dakota State and Massachusetts - with higher numbers than Hawaii as we speak. Kenneth Massey's rankings also include Northern Iowa (34th), Massachusetts (36th) and North Dakota State (46th) as well as, astoundingly, Division II Northeast Omaha (37th) ahead of Hawaii, and consider Saturday's win over New Mexico State a dramatic boon to the Warriors' standing, up 14 slots from last week. That game also bumped their strength of schedule all the way up to 178, just 32 spots behind a Division II team, not to mention Elon, Northwest Missouri State, Wofford, Central Washington, New Hampshire, Richmond, James Madison, Hofstra, Georgia Southern, Western Illinois and so on, etc. By Sagarin's estimation, the Warriors have played the nation's 163rd-toughest schedule to date, weaker than 43 different schools from the Championship Subdivision. The Colley Matrix, which weirdly groups I-AA teams rather than handling them individually, figures UH has played the 128th-toughest schedule out of 129, including the I-AA groups, and that it has not beaten a better team than New Mexico State. Anderson & Hester, which does not include the FCS, predictably ranks the Warriors' schedule 119th out of 119.

I reiterate: To date, Hawaii is playing a I-AA schedule. There is no difference in considering Hawaii for a BCS bid right now and considering Northern Iowa and North Dakota State, except that Northern Iowa and North Dakota State actually have wins against a team from a BCS conference. As the estimable Mayor points out, Hawaii's opponents are 8-40 against I-A competition, and six of those wins are against Utah State or Idaho, neither of which has defeated another I-A team. Along with I-AA Eastern Washington and Charleston Southern, the Aggies and Vandals make up a full half of Hawaii's wins, and most of Hawaii's opponents' wins. And the Warriors have still required overtime to pull out two of those.

Hawaii is in line to earn millions and millions of dollars for itself and its sorry conference, and it has done nothing to warrant this opportunity, or even consideration for this opportunity. We're supposed to be talking about the top-performing teams in the nation here. If you have a vote of any kind, in any poll, and Hawaii is a part of your ballot before it defeats Boise State and/or Washington at the end of the year, you are a fool. You are a fool with no integrity and you hate America. What a disgrace.

Mid-Major Game(s) of the Week
While you were waiting for Nebraska to collapse...
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No game Saturday (or Sunday...I don't want to talk about it - though Jonathan Tu will at some point this week, presumably) matched a pair of last second comebacks in Conference USA by favorites who had spent most of the game scrambling from behind.

In Tulsa, SMU took advantage of three first half turnovers and then a 67-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter to expand its lead on the anachronistically-named Hurricane to 20-7, then weathered to two Tulsa touchdowns and a brief one-point deficit to go back in front, 23-21, on a 52-yard field goal by Thomas Morstead with a little under eleven minutes to play.


Hey, bro, sorry about that whole 'Getting you fired thing' there. You know, all in the game.
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SMU's defense stepped up in its next two possessions against the Hurricane's prolific, Malzahnian spread, forcing a fumble and a three-and-out, the latter of which set up the Mustang offense at the Tulsa 46, from whence it ground out three first downs, milking the clock on a five-minute drive all the way to the Tulsa one with a chance to essentially ice the game with a two-score lead and just over two minutes on the clock. One 3rd-and-goal from a yard out, the Hurricane defense rejected James Mapp. On 4th-and-goal, it rejected DeMyron Martin - "years of investment went into that play," according to Tulsa's Todd Graham - keeping the game alive, but the offense was still coming out for a last gasp drive with its back against its own end zone.

It pays at times like these to have a veteran triggerman like Paul Smith, who got the Hurricane out of the hole with a 13-yard completion on third down from the one, and a 22-yard pass to midfield a few plays later. Then, enough screwing around: Smith connected with freshman Charles Clay for a 51-yard, game-winning touchdown with 43 seconds on the clock, which Clay described thusly:

"The second catch was just a straight vertical. Before the play they were telling the linebackers to watch the vertical and when the time came I didn't think I would be open, but he tripped and I caught it."
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For his trouble, SMU fired coach Phil Bennett Sunday, effective at season's end, which seems rather hasty: the Mustangs have been on a steady ascent under Bennett, from the depths of probation-addled futility that bottomed out at 0-11 in 1999 and hadn't recovered much by the time Bennett took over in 2002. SMU went 5-6 in 2005 and was the only team to beat TCU, earning PB an "extension" through 2009, and was actually bowl eligible at 6-6 last year, a vast improvement by every account from the program he took over. But what have you done for me lately? The Mustangs are 1-7 and have lost six in a row, the last two in heartbreaking fashion to Tulane (in overtime) and to Tulsa as described above, and so Bennett is out the door in December. We'll see if anyone else can break that postseason barrier.

(Aside: I've always wondered why coaches - Ron Zook, Dirk Koetter, whoever - hang around to finish a season after they've been publicly canned. It's one thing to suspect you're gone at the end of the year, but when the school actually announces, "This guy is a lame duck for the next month," how can you conduct your business with any self-respect? Maybe they care that much about their players and the season, or it's just not done, career-wise, but I know I'd feel like just dropping the whole thing right there).

Wild C-USA Comeback, Numero Dos: Memphis trailed Tulane in the Superdome 27-21 in the fourth quarter, largely by allowing 278 yards on a Herculean 44 carries by national rushing leader and one-man Green Wave offense Matt Forte, and, like Tulsa, could have fallen behind by two scores with too little time to make up the difference if not for a missed Wave field goal at the end of a seven-minute, 68-yard drive, which would have extended the lead to nine with five minutes to play.

Instead, still down just six, Memphis took over at its own 20 and commenced marching, striking big on a third down, 41-yard pass to the Tulane 32. Facing another third down, backup Matt Malouf completed his only pass of the game for 19 yards, setting up a 1st-and-goal at the Wave six. Tulane held again on first and second down, but with 40 seconds on the clock, Martin Hankins hit displaced Wild West hero Duke Calhoun for a five-yard touchdown to tie. Matt Reagan's PAT was the winner, capping the 80-yard drive and keeping the Tigers within striking distance of the C-USA East lead at 3-1 in-conference.

Bob Toledo: not fired. But, ooh, these kinds of games will not help him.


Northern Illinois: Every day in every way, the worst team Joe Novak has ever coached.
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For the Record...
Just so you're aware
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Toledo - that is, the football team representing the University of Toledo, not the still-employed coach of Tulane - set a school and conference record and nudged the bar for  single-game offense this season by gaining 812 total yards in a 70-21 win over Northern Illinois, emphatically dropping the always respectable Huskies to 1-8 and 0-5 in the MAC in one of the shocking collapses of the season.

This is some incredible box score. Toledo passed for 430 yards, ran for 382 and scored 21 points in each of the first three quarters; the Rockets averaged 8.8 yards per play for the game and were still averaging ten-plus yards every snap before they shifted to shut down mode at the end of the third, after which they still mounted another 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth. They had eleven plays of at least 20 yards in the first half, one of them, bizarrely, on a 50-yard run by quarterback Aaron Opelt on 4th-and-7 from the UT's own 31 in the first quarter. Toledo punted once and fumbled twice, and none of them mattered.

For both teams, though, it doesn't get any wilder than Navy's game with I-AA Delaware, in which the once option-bound Blue Hens outgunned the still option-bound Midshipmen, 59-52, by passing for 434 yards and four touchdowns. The game featured 1,084 total yards, 15 touchdowns and zero punts in the final three quarters; at one point, as I noted Sunday, the teams combined for touchdowns on seven straight non-half-ending possessions.


The Record vs. BCS Conferences
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Last week: 0-3
Avg. Score: 36-13
This year: 17-105
Avg. Score: 39-18

Steppin' Up
Hail to the Conquering Heroes
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For the second straight week, no underdog came through against a bigger school, though, to be fair, the chances were severely limited. Ball State put up an admirable effort in its second near-hit upset bid of the year (the first was at Nebraska, the start of the Huskers' coach-killing defensive demise) but fell short 28-17 at Illinois after trailing the Illini by just four heading into the fourth quarter. It, um, might have helped if the Cardinal hadn't allowed the Illini to run for 324 yards.

...and What Never Had a Prayer
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There was never any way Florida International and its 19 straight losses were going to give Arkansas any sort of trouble, so the 58-10 final doesn't look quite as bad as all that, especially when considering FIU had to turn the ball over seven times to push it that high. The Razorbacks clearly dominated despite a somewhat lackluster day by Darren McFadden (just 3.2 per on 19 carries, partially due to scoring four short touchdowns) and a lot of damage by scrambling QB Dwayne Younger, who ran for 124 yards on 14 carries. Now if he can just do something about those five interceptions...

An Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
This is more of a power poll.
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1. Boise State (7-1): Consider it a protest vote against Hawaii if you like (it is partly that), but BSU waxed a pretty decent Fresno State outfit on the road Friday without its best player, clearing the path for the winner-take-all showdown with the Warriors next month. Players and coaches come and go, and still the WAC is the Broncos' league until proven otherwise: they've won 45 of 46 and are on pace for a seventh championship in seven years in the conference.

2. Hawaii (8-0): See above, but being undefeated by whatever means does carry some weight, as long as it's kept in context. This is the proper context. The schedule still sucks on an historic level.

3. BYU (5-2): The Cougars would be in outstanding shape nationally if not for their loss at Tulsa back in September. The loss at UCLA can be forgiven, and the rest of the resumé includes wins over Arizona and a perfect Mountain West run with wins over top challengers Air Force and New Mexico, which are a combined 12-5. Outside shot at the national top 25 if they win out the rest of the way and repeat last year's bowl bonanza.

4. Troy (6-2): The Trojans will be caught here eventually as they're dragged down by the rest of the Sun Belt and an impending trip to Georgia, but the big win over Oklahoma State still carries the day for now.

5. New Mexico (6-2): The biggest wins are Arizona and Air Force, but the home loss to BYU probably disqualifies the Lobos for the Mountain West title - UNM might win out (toughest remaining games: TCU and Utah), but the Cougars would have to lose twice against essentially the same schedule.

6. Central Florida (5-3): Not that Southern Miss is, like, good or anything (the Eagles absolutely are not), but UCF dominated the second half against the C-USA East frontrunner Sunday night, as Brian Cook might say, like whoa. The Knights still need a loss from East Carolina for tiebreaker purposes to win the division, but I'd classify them at this point as the new favorite. Getting credit for beating N.C. State and playing Texas to the wire.

7. Air Force (6-3): Tough loss Thursday to New Mexico for second place in the MWC, but already sitting with wins over the nearest competition, Utah and Wyoming, and should secure the first bowl bid since 2002 with another win over Army, Notre Dame or San Diego State.

8. Utah (6-3) Five straight wins, including Louisville and TCU, and the early blowout of UCLA is an impressive boost, but the 1-3 start and especially the 27-0 loss to UNLV are lingering blemishes. The closing stretch is a chance to rocket up this poll: Wyoming, New Mexico, at BYU.

9. Houston (6-3): Steadily, quietly working its way back to the C-USA Championship game, which will probably be decided in two weeks at Tulsa. Two of three losses are at Oregon and Alabama; the third is by two points to East leader East Carolina.

10. East Carolina (5-4): Wyoming will not be happy about this snub - oh, I expect hate mail - but the Pirates have already beaten two teams ranked in front of them here (as well as North Carolina) and control their own destiny against the dregs of Conference USA (Memphis, Marshall, Tulane) to play for the conference title, an incredible turnaround job by Skip Holtz in three years at one of the true national bottom dwellers if he can finish it.
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Honorable Mention: Wyoming (5-3), Fresno State (5-3), Central Michigan (5-4)


Skip Holtz: master motivator. Learned everthing he knowth from hith dad.
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Coming Up
Optimism in the week ahead.
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Best Game: At 1-3, TCU can't win the Mountain West title it was supposed to take easily even if it wins its final four games, but it can salvage its disappointing season and push for a bowl bid starting Saturday with a home game against second place New Mexico. The Lobos are hanging on in the conference race and can't afford any slip-ups as long as BYU is cruising with a perfect MWC slate.
Most Realistic Upset: Navy's losing streak to Notre Dame is legend: the longest uninterrupted streak of futility to a single team in the history of American sports, it stretches back to the last days of the Kennedy Administration, before man walked on the moon, when Roger Staubach was still a lanky kid and Charlie Weis and Paul Johnson were biting ankles. Actually, Weis still bites ankles, I hear, but it's a metaphor, people: unless you are too old to be on the Internet (seriously, come on), this is the best chance Navy has had to beat Notre Dame in your lifetime.
Most Unrealistic Upset: Troy is on a roll through the Sun Belt, and was impressive in its very non-flukey takedown of Oklahoma State in September. But Georgia pounded the Cowboys, too, and isn't keen to be playing around with the Sun Belt when it's hitting its stride and there are championships to be won.
Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout: UL-Lafayette at Tennessee. Why do these teams do this to themselves? For the money? Is it really worth the money? Five-hundred thousand neon orange-clad Vol fans in Neyland Stadium will feel deeply ashamed, and only partially because of the neon orange.