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Steppin' Up

The Record vs. BCS Conferences
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Last week: 2-8
Avg. Score: 46-22

Season to Date: 13-80
Avg. Score: 41-17

Courtesy Paul Kislanko

Hail to the Conquering Heroes, or A Sad Goodbye to Late, Great Iowa State
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The onset of conference play dramatically reduced the chances for earth-shaking, coach-killing upset, and produced only the most-watered down imitations of the form: Navy toppled Duke 46-43 in overtime and Toledo triumphed 36-35 over Iowa State, neither of which actually qualifies as an upset given the mid-major-like status of the Devils and Cyclones to begin with. Despite Navy's sudden, Duke-inspired balance on offense (the Middies uncharacteristically passed for 236 yards, only the second time they've gone over 200 passing against a I-A opponent under Paul Johnson, in addition to the standard 304 from the option), the Academy should be thoroughly embarrassed with its defense through the firsth three-and-a-half quarters:

Duke's First Eight Possessions vs. Navy
Qtr. Plays Yards Result
1 5 10 Punt
1 1 76 Pass TD
1 1 35 Pass TD
1 10 80 Rush TD
2 3 1 Punt
2 8 61 Rush TD
2 4 58 Pass TD
3 2 70 Pass TD

That is, indeed, 36 points allowed in the first half to Duke. Yes, Duke, a mere week after the same defense allowed an truly astonishing rushing performance by the Middie offense  (521 yards) to be buried in defeat under a 539-yard performance by Ball State (stop and read that again: Navy ran for 521 yards in one game and LOST). Navy can take some pride in outscoring the Devils 21-7 in the second half, but will not have such a luxury in the coming weeks against Air Force, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.

Toledo went the more traditional route to beating Mid-Major Monday Hall-of-Famer Iowa State, which mercifully completes its non-conference schedule with a remarkable 0-3 mark against non-BCS opponents: turnovers. The Cyclones gave it away three times, the Rockets only once, and turned in a truly memorable self-immolation in the closing minutes. Leading 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter, ISU marched 61 yards for the apparent icing touchdown, only to allow Toledo to return the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for a score, cutting the Cyclone lead to five. The Cyclones answered by promptly going three-and-out and mishandling the subsequent punt in the end zone, which Toledo recovered to go ahead 36-35. Undaunted, ISU drove into field goal range at the Toledo 21 with a few seconds remaining, only to watch the winning kick...sail trough for a gutsy victory? No: come hurtling to the ground off the mitt of an enterprising Rocket defender, running the `Clones record against the MAC to 0-2.

Gone but not forgotten: the 2007 Iowa State Cyclones, friend to mid-majors everywhere.
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What Should Have Been...
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Ball State brought its big guns to Lincoln, where - hangover or not - Nebraska was humiliated by a 610-yard, 40-point Cardinal barrage, 30 of those points coming in the second half. BSU's Nate Davis made one killer mistake in the process of carving Husker DBs into fine organic soaps, throwing an interception early in the fourth quarter that Nebraska took back for a touchdown to cut the Cardinals' lead to 37-34. Ball State's three previous drives had covered 80, 80 and 96 yards, all for touchdowns, and its next possession went 65 yards for a field goal. After Nebraska answered with the go-ahead touchdown and PAT, Davis resiliently moved the Cardinals to the Husker 22 with a chance at the upset from 40 55 yards out, where (as you may have seen) the game-winner sailed wide left, thus saving Nebraska a dump truck of humiliation it completely deserves.

...and What Never Had a Prayer
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The rest of the Big 12 North was less kind to its unheralded visitors. Kansas completed its scorched-earth campaign against the lower divisions by routing Florida International 55-3, cementing KU's status as a mid-major nightmare, the anti-Iowa State: in four games against the weaker sects, the Jayhwaks have outscored Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and now FIU on average 54-6, outgaining them 553-219. In its final ritual slaughter, KU benefitted from recovering a blocked punt in the end zone and returning an interception 100 yards.

Colorado, meanwhile, smelled blood and opened things up on Miami, Ohio, not only holding a decent RedHawk offense to six first downs and zero points on the game, but racking up 634 yards total offense of its own, the best single-game total not only of Dan Hawkins' tenure, but of Gary Barnett's, too (including the powerhouse 2001 Big 12 champs), and if I could get the numbers, probably of Rick Neuheisel's. Hell, since I can't prove otherwise (i.e., don't have the time to go through old media guides on PDF), I'll go ahead and proclaim the Buffs' performance against Miami, Ohio, Saturday the single greatest offensive game in school history. The material is being smelted and Cody Hawkins is being measured for a life-sized statue as we speak.

Mid-Major Game(s) of the Week
While you were throwing darts at pictures of Steve Kragthorpe...
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In a lot of ways, Wyoming's visit to Ohio U. of Ohio wasn't close at all: the Cowboys outgained Ohio by 149 yards, rung up more than twice as many first downs, held the Bobcats to 37 yards rushing on 1.1 per carry. The Wyoming defense forced four turnovers. Ah, but the equalizing power of giving away seven turnovers...

Not only that, but Wyoming also allowed a 94-yard kick return for touchdown in the first quarter, a 68-yard touchdown pass in the second and an interception return for a score in the third. It was a classic giveaway game, except Ohio had no solution for Cowboy jitterbug Devin Moore. Moore comes in listed at 5-10, 182, which experience says must be a rather generous listing, and maybe that explains Wynel Seldon's role as workhorse: the senior had 22 carries for 91 yards. Perfectly respectable, but it's not 19 carries for 198 yards, which represented Moore's line on the ground, including two touchdown runs in the third quarter that brought Wyoming from 23-6 down to within a field goal in a matter of minutes.

Devin Moore yields to no Bobcat.
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Still trailing by six, 33-27, Wyoming got the ball back at its own 43 with 4:57 to play and set out for the win, running Seldon and Moore for 38 yards to the Ohio five, where Seldon was hit for a one-yard loss on 3rd-and-goal with just over two minutes on the clock. After one of those annoying double timeouts prior to the decisive fourth down - Wyoming calls one to set its play, lines up, then Ohio calls one to adjust to the offense - the nicely-named Karsten Sween connected with Michael Ford for the go-ahead touchdown. The Cowboy defense forced a fumble on Ohio's last gasp possession and got the hell out of Athens with the one-point win, 3-1 record intact.

Mid-Major Player(s) of the Week
Non-Brennan Division
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Devin Moore (19 carries, 198 yards, 2 TDs) was the essential spark in Wyoming's comeback, his feats matched elsewhere only by Houston's Case Keenum (18-22, 197 yards, 4 total TDs, 0 INT), who replaced starter Blake Joseph with the Cougars trailing Colorado State 17-3 at the half and was near-perfect over the final two quarters, throwing for two touchdowns in the third quarter and running for two more in fourth to bring the Cougars from 14 down to a nine-point win.

Elsewhere, Omar Haugabook (30-43, 297 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 9 carries, 89 yds., 1 TD) was an all-purpose terror in Troy's 48-31 win over UL-Lafayette, as was the Trojans' Kenny Cattouse (19 carries, 139 yds., 3 TDs).

Obligatory Brennan Stat Watch
While desperately attempting to retain grains of skepticism.
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Colt Brennan sat out Saturday's rout of Charleston Southern, yielding the big numbers to Tyler Graunke, who passed for 285 and three touchdowns as well as two interceptions in the Great Brennan's stead. Inoki Funaki added two late touchdown passes off the bench as Hawaii won, 66-10. The score was only 21-10 at the half, leading one to wonder whether Graunke succumbed to the dark temptations of the touchdown-lusting Island god Kaho'ali'i at the half.

Kaho'ali'i cares not who is the vessel, as long as he is fed touchdowns!
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An Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
This is more of a power poll.
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1. Hawaii (4-0) • Still by default. The only BCS busting candidate left on the board, but not a particularly impressive one.
2. Central Florida (2-1) • Beat one mid-major team (N.C. State) on the road, played a legitimate power (Texas) to the wire and beat the holy hell out of Phil Steele favorite Memphis Saturday. UCF scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions of that game.
3. Boise State (2-1) • Best of the Broncos' first three games was a defensive-driven win over Wyoming, which can change Thursday against Southern Miss.
4. Wyoming (3-1) • Virginia win is looking better, I guess; UVA is somehow 3-0 since turning in one of the worst performances of the year in Laramie.
5. Houston (3-1) • Art Briles can find a prolific quarterback in the fifteenth row, apparently, but running back/receiver/return man Anthony Alridge is still the scariest player in Conference USA.
6. BYU (2-2) • Tearing Air Force a new one counts as quality for now after the Falcons beat MWC frontrunners TCU and Utah in consecutive weeks.
7. Air Force (3-1) • Still riding the fast start, but not competitive against the Cougars.
8. Southern Miss (2-1) • National reputation, such as it is, rests on trip to Boise State Thursday.
9. New Mexico (3-1) • Three straight wins, one over Arizona. Prove-it game Saturday against BYU.
10. UNLV (2-2) • Played Wisconsin tough and - exploding head alert - just blanked (27-0) the same Utah team that crushed UCLA 44-6 a week earlier. WTF?
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Honorable Mention: Bowling Green, TCU, Florida Atlantic, Tulsa

Coming Up
Mid-major game of the week is Thursday, Southern Miss at Boise State, on the intimidating blue turf, a key barometer for both teams before they hit conference play - the BCS out of the picture for both - in earnest. More on this one as the week progresses.