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MID-MAJOR MONDAY RUNS IT ALL THE WAY BACK

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How obscure was 2-3 Akron's game Saturday at 2-3 Western Michigan? So obscure that the hometown Akron Beacon-Journal didn't even send a reporter to Kalamazoo, relying instead on a rote, standard issue AP report to describe what must be one of the amazing finishes of this or any season. For a little color, we turn instead to Graham Couch's more dramatic run down in the Kalamazoo Gazette:


Zippy, the horrifying, pantless kangaroo menace, seized by regret for leaving after Western Michigan's last touchdown.
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Bill Cubit walked in, smacked his hat on the table, sat down and stared. For about five minutes Saturday night, Western Michigan University's football coach didn't raise his eyes from the table in the postgame interview room in the bowels of Waldo Stadium.
Cubit needed time to digest what had just taken place.

Moments earlier, he must have figured he'd be talking about his team's third straight win and an impressive second half against a surprisingly game Akron program.

Instead, the Broncos' coach had to relive a heart-wrenching 39-38 defeat, one that appeared certain to be a victory with a few seconds remaining.

"Obviously, it was just unbelievable,'' Cubit finally began. "I don't know what else to say.''

With a 38-31 lead and time winding down, WMU (2-4) elected to take a safety on fourth down with 15 seconds remaining rather than chance a traditional punt.

Akron's Alphonso Owen took the free kick from Broncos punter Jim Laney at the 11-yard line and began upfield. In the grasp of WMU's Boston McCornell at about the 25-yard line, Owen found teammate Andre Jones streaking up the left sideline.

Jones grabbed the short lateral and reversed field, beating WMU's coverage deep into Broncos territory before slipping past C.J. Wilson at the 5-yard line and ducking into the end zone for the victory after time had expired.

The crowd, announced at 25,610, once ready to burst into celebration, filed out looking about as shocked as Cubit. Even the band seemed to recognize the moment, playing a rendition of "Amazing Grace'' at a tempo appropriate for a funeral.

"I can't even describe the feeling in how we feel right now,'' Cubit continued. `"I thought we had him tackled. I'll be honest, I didn't see much of the final play.

"They've got a pretty good punt returner, so we figured we'd take 20 more yards and get our kickoff team out there so we didn't have to protect the block and (could) get some guys downfield.''

Until Jones crossed the goal line, WMU's Londen Fryar was the game's hero in the clutch. With the Broncos leading 38-31, Fryar broke up three straight passes from the 7-yard line on Akron's final drive to give WMU the ball with less than 2 minutes to play.
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A loss so devastating, the band played "Amazing Grace." As it stands, I haven't seen this clip on the Leader or anywhere else - this is what the old, lamented "hidden video" segment on Thursday nights was made for - and can't find video or even a decent photo of the climactic return or the fallout from the field-storming crowd. The Beacon-Journal's "photo gallery" is two AP shots, probably filed before the end of the game so the overworked weekend photog could jet to a middle school beauty pageant or something. If any readers have any clips, pics or other items of interest related to the final play, send it along.

Click here to listen to the WMU Chamber Choir sing "Amazing Grace" in a more graceful setting.

Update [2007-10-9 7:29:59 by SMQ]: SportsCenter clip of the return went up overnight. Per The Wiz:

In other non-categorical  news, someone asked during Saturday's open thread when was the last time Temple and Buffalo each won on the same day (Temple upset Northern Illinois, 16-15, to the holder-bashing chagrin of NIU Sports (which is less than thrilled with the Huskies in close games in general), and Buffalo walloped Ohio U. of Ohio, 31-10, which could get the never-favored Bulls close to even against Toledo this week). I have no answer for that, unless it's "probably never." Buffalo has only been I-A for roughly eight years, all of them overwhelmingly bad, at the same time Temple has endured a stretch as one of the most win-averse teams anywhere. The odds are nearly infinitismal that the dual victories Saturday have ever occurred before. Again, if anyone knows otherwise, drop me a line.

Steppin' Up


The Record vs. BCS Conferences
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Last week: 1-7
Avg. Score: 21-33
This year: 15-93
Avg. Score: 19-38
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See the complete list of lower division wins this season.

Opportunities await over the next two months - notably Navy's shot at ending its record 43-game losing streak against Notre Dame - but six weeks and 108 BCS vs. non-BCS games into one of the bloodiest seasons of upset football in recent memory, it's safe to say the curtain has fallen yet again on any chance of the long-awaited mid-major uprising. Of the season's three monumental upsets and myriad other surprising swipes, not one of them is the product of a member of any of the five mid-major conferences and two independents that make up roughly 43 percent of the Bowl Subdivision; the only win by a true mid-major over a ranked opponent is Utah's turnover-fulled romp over UCLA, a week before the Utes were shut out by UNLV to drop to 1-4.

The will be other triumphs to recount at the end of the year - hooray for Troy over Oklahoma State! Wyoming over Virginia! - but in all, the "parity" angle driving columns and commentary hasn't trickled down to those leagues at all. The middle class (Syracuse, Stanford, South Florida) may be getting richer, but it's at the expense of the truly poor souls in the MAC at C-USA, who are still doubled up in the average contract killing against BCS behemoths. Damn you, Reaganomics!


Blame the Gipper for the failure of "trickle down" recruiting. He always had a vision for America, and it included the Big West knowing its place.
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Consequently, as conference games dominate the schedule, the "Steppin' Up" metric will be moving to the bottom of the column for the rest of the season. Because we don't need your validation, anyway.

Hail to the Conquering Heroes
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Utah's 44-6 win over UCLA had all the makings of a fluke, coming as it did as the meat in a sandwich of defeat, between humiliating MWC losses to Air Force and UNLV. But no! Give the Utes an unsteady, reeling quasi-power that refuses to play defense, and they will exploit it for the only class-hopping victory of the weekend.

Louisville was doomed by the thing swe've come to identify as quintessentially Kragthorpian: an instant, insurmountable deficit, a refusal to cover individuals running wide open through the secondary, an inability to tackle, a desperate comeback that falls short. The Cardinals did not turn the ball over here, as they did against Kentucky and Syracuse, but the defense made it easy enough without the help: Utah racked up 580 yards and scored touchdowns on four of its first six possessions. Brian Brohm wound up slinging enough passes (58) in comeback mode to finish with 493 and four touchdowns, but UL had a chance for about 30 seconds after the fourth scoring toss - which cut the score to 41-35 with 3:25 to play - before Utah recovered the icing onside kick.

What Should Have Been...
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If Florida Atlantic had any kind of kicking game, it could have logged another entry in the season of top-ranked blood Saturday against South Florida, against whom the Owls missed three first half field goals and turned the ball over on downs on another occasion in USF territory in an eventual 35-23 loss that was closer than the score (South Florida scored its last touchdown with 29 seconds to play in a five-point game). FAU couldn't stop the Bulls' running game - Bernie Williams and Matt Grothe each went over 100 on the ground with big runs to their credit - but Grothe did little damage as a passer (122 yards, no touchdowns) and FAU's own offense went off for 411 yards on 22 first downs. That tied the Owls' second-best offensive effort of the season: in all likelihood, even in the upcoming Sun Belt schedule, they're not touching the 580 and 42 points they put up in the win over Minnesota last month.

Elsewhere, after falling behind 23-0 in the first quarter, Houston wound up outgaining Alabama and  pulling within six points of the Tide midway through the fourth quarter, on its fourth score in five possessions. The Cougars' last two drives ended in interceptions, though, and Alabama avoided a second half posterization.

...and What Never Had a Prayer
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Bowling Green briefly led Boston College, 3-0, and pulled to within 14-10 in the second quarter before the Eagles ran off four unanswered touchdowns in the final six minutes of the half. Two of those scores were on interception returns, and BC quickly extended a 38-10 advantage at the half to 52-10 with two 80-yard touchdown drives in the third. The total yardage was practically even thanks to some garbage time effort by BG, but the Falcons committed six turnovers and were down at one point by six touchdowns in a 55-24 final. That's a blowout.


Your standard issue cushion by the Tulsa secondary.
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Mid-Major Game(s) of the Week
While you were waiting for the other shoe to drop on Stanford...
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The WMU-Akron game recounted above had reams of offense - 764 yards and seven touchdown passes between two quarterbacks - but no game over the weekend held a candle to the fireworks of UTEP and Tulsa. From the Golden Hurricane that brought you 55-47 and 21-62 comes the latest in a season-long assault on everything defensive coordinators hold dear, a 95-point, 1,218-yard explosion that featured almost as many points in the fourth quarter - an astounding 37 between both teams - as plays from scrimmage (41). This after the offenses had also combined to score 24 in the second quarter and had 19 plays of longer than 20 yards.

To the extent either offense was slowed, it was Tulsa's, by virtue of three Hurricane turnovers, though only of them led to points, and even that a 78-yard UTEP drive in the first half. The touchdown drives in the second half covered 80, 81, 71, 65, 53, 72 and 76 yards, after the last of which Tulsa trailed 48-47 with 58 seconds to move for the win. The subsequent hurry-up, beginning at the Hurricane 41, was not impressive, but it did move the ball to the UTEP 36 with three seconds on the clock, just enough for a doomed 53-yard effort by Jarod Tracy that sailed left to seal the Miner win.Tulsa is a point machine, both for itself and opponents, but it was UTEP's third straight win over forty-eight.

In Laramie (Wyoming, that is), TCU completed its spiral from wannabe "BCS Buster" to Mountain West also-ran by falling into a 24-6 hole in the fourth quarter at Wyoming from which the Frogs couldn't hop or powerlift their way out (cuz they're frogs and have a serious strength and conditioning program, see? Eh, I should have gone for the blood-shooting-from-the-eyes thing. Philistines).

Damned if they didn't try, though. The Cowboys broke open a close, 7-6 game in the third quarter with consecutive touchdown drives that built the lead to 21-6, then laid down the coup de grace by driving 93 yards from their own one-yard line for a chip shot field goal that put them ahead 24-6 with 8:25 to play. The kick ass run defense that finished second in the nation last year and carried a 21-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher into last month's game with Texas suddenly allowed two 100-yard rushers, 135 to Devin Moore (5.9 per carry) and 100 to Wynel Seldon (5.0 per carry), in one game.

From that point, though, down 18 with half a quarter remaining, the Frogs came out firing, moving 50 yards through the air for one touchdown (and two-point conversion) in a little under two minutes, then taking advantage of a botched punt after a 3rd-and-1 stop for a quick 15-yard drive to pull within three. The Frogs forced another three-and-out, got the ball back at its own 20 with 1:11, and moved to the Wyoming 31 in 11 plays for a 48-yard attempt at overtime...which Chris Manfredi missed on the final snap of the game.

It was Manfredi's second game-ending miss of the season: he also missed a 36-yarder in the first overtime in a loss to Air Force. The two kicks - not exclusively, but directly, in the "easy scapegoat" sort of way - are all that stand between TCU and a 3-0 record in the Mountain West. Instead, the preseason lock is 1-2 with losses to two of the five teams that currently sit in front of it. Wyoming (see below) holds on to the conference's best overall record at 4-1.

Mid-Major Player(s) of the Week
Non-Brennan Division
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Akron's Jabari Arthur (15 catches, 223 yds., 3 TD) wasn't involved in the Zips' final spectacular touchdown, but he did more than any other Zip to have the team in the position for it to matter, continuing a fine senior season with career highs across the board.

Elsewhere, like many quarterbacks before him, Brian Johnson (24-31, 312 yds., 1 TD, 37 rush yds., 1 TD) efficiently diced Louisville's secondary to his satisfaction in Utah's 44-35 road win, while Dan LeFevour (30-38, 360 yds., 5 TD, 1 INT, 16 carries, 148 rush yds., 1 TD) put one giant all-purpose torch to Ball State and its stadium, while the Cardinals' parents, girlfriends and tutors were still inside, no doubt, in Central Michigan's 58-38 rout. Four of LeFevour's five scoring passes came in a gung ho third quarter. And in all likelihood, Temple had its best defensive effort since holding Pitt to 189 yards in a 29-22 loss back in 2002, this time holding 1-5 Northern Illinois to 259 in a 16-15 win. Terran Knighton opened things up for the Owls with a 66-yard fumble return for touchdown in the second quarter.

Obligatory Brennan Stat Watch
While desperately attempting to retain grains of skepticism.
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Brennan left Hawaii's 52-37 win over Utah State after completing 19 of 25 passes for 219 yards (8.8. per attempt) and one touchdown with no interceptions. Tyler Graunke came off the bench to complete 9 of 11 for 246 yards (22.4 ypa!) with three touchdowns and one interception.
Pace for the Season: Brennan has played roughly 15 quarters in five games, exiting a couple early and missing Hawaii's win over Charleston Southern completely. Assuming he plays the entirety of Hawaii's six remaining games, Brennan is on pace to complete 395 of 538 passes (73.4 percent) for 4,810 yards, 42 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. With the exception of completion percentage, which is up very slightly, all of those numbers fall way short of Brennan's 2006 totals. Forty-two touchdowns? Please. Last year it was fifty-eight. Pick it up, man.

An Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
This is more of a power poll.
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1. Hawaii (6-0) - By default until the Warriors lose. Record of teams defeated: 8-28, including I-AA Charleston Southern (3-3) and Northern Colorado (0-6). Idaho is 1-5; Utah State is languishing at 0-6. Hard to argue with 54 points per game, though, when the competition is sitting on at least one loss already.
2. Boise State (4-1) - Absolutely devastated New Mexico State in the defensive performance of the weekend and maybe the season: the high-flying Aggies, who entered Sunday night averaging 341 yards passing and 28 points, were held to 89 total yards in a shutout on the blue turf. The Friday finale in the islands in November looks relevant again after three straight impressive Bronco wins since the loss at Washington.
3. Wyoming (4-1) - One of those wins was over Wyoming, the only Cowboy setback to date for a team that's crushed Virginia and held on against preseason MWC overlord TCU. The Moore-Seldon backfield combo will get most of the headlines, to the extent there are headlines about Wyoming, but the defense is currently eighth in the country in yards allowed.
4. Troy (4-2) - Won four straight, one of them a wipeout of not-terrible-after-all Oklahoma State. The losses were big, but came against Arkansas and Florida, and the offense is topping 500 yards per game in the meantime.
5. BYU (3-2) - Passing numbers are actually up with Max Hall, and the Cougars are the MWC favorite (Wyoming notwithstanding; they play Nov. 17) after two straight wins.
6. UTEP (4-2) - The Miners dropped back-to-back games in September to Texas Tech and, less excusably, New Mexico State, but have rebounded to win three straight shootouts and have relatively good value in a defensive win (10-6) over New Mexico in the opener. The best team in C-USA? Probably not when it's said and done, but took a major step to winning the West by outlasting Tulsa. If you're worried about the defense, which is, in fact, terrible (114th in total D), remember: nobody in this league can play defense.
7. Air Force (4-2) - The Falcons stopped a two-game slide by walloping UNLV. A game back in the Mountain West standings and further in perception after losing to BYU by 25 two weeks ago.
8. East Carolina (3-3) - Loss to Southern Miss is beginning to look inexcusable, but the Pirates' other losses are at Virginia Tech (close) and West Virginia (big) and ECU has beaten North Carolina and the two C-USA rivals in the best position to challenge for this spot, Central Florida and Houston, which have also both played well against top 20 teams.
9. Central Florida (3-2) - Hanging on to beat NC State in the opener isn't worth much, as the Wolfpack drop to 1-4, and it's actually playing Texas to the hilt that makes up for allowing 52 last week to ECU. Kevin Smith is a terror of a running back.
10. New Mexico (3-2) - This should say something about the current sorry state of mid-majordom: the Lobos' claim to fame is beating Arizona and then New Mexico State, despite allowing 581 yards total offense to the latter. Make-or-break game this Saturday at Wyoming.


Loss, no loss, everything's still coming up Boise.
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Coming Up
Optimism in the week ahead.
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Mid-week Madness!!! The real madness Wednesday is the bizarre decision by an actual longtime BCS program, Pittsburgh, to play in the middle of the week - especially given its Thursday beatdowns against West Virginia the last two years - against another, less speedy option team, Navy. Game's on ESPN, features the flexbone and should repeatedly display one relentless mustache in a fight for its host lip's survival in its chosen career.

Best Game: I would consider Nevada at Boise State on Sunday night if the Pack hadn't been waxed by BSU at home last year (or if it hadn't somehow lost Saturday despite gaining 700 yards against Fresno State), so I'll stick with a serious rubber match in Conference USA: East Carolina at UTEP. No preseason hype followed either, but both have found new, young quarterbacks who will put up ungodly numbers against ghastly defenses - remember: there is no `D' anywhere in C-USA -  in a possible championship preview. No TV.

Most Realistic Upset: A couple good options here, beginning with TCU over Stanford - you don't think the Cardinal are going to beat two teams in the preseason top 25 in back-to-back weeks, do you? - and Central Florida visiting South Florida. Florida Atlantic made waves against the Bulls last week, a sign that a) USF will be really pissed and on a rampage or b) USF's soft underbelly was exposed. The Knights are a potentially high-scoring team (32 points against Texas, 56, 37, 38 since), which is not up the Bulls' alley.

Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout: Everyone is vulnerable, of course, we know that, but Ohio State, at home against a Kent State team that's lost in the last three weeks to Akron and Miami, Ohio, is probably less vulnerable than, say, any other team in the nation Saturday. Not for sure - nothing, nothing is for sure, especially for a team like OSU that can have the tendency to roll up into an ultra-conservative ball when not feeling threatened - but probably.