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November 3, 2011
Here's a quick look at how the conference races are stacking up in Conference USA, the MAC, the Sun Belt and the WAC.
Conference USA: This weekend is big for both division races. Thursday night, UCF plays host to Tulsa, which is tied for the West Division lead with Houston. Both the Cougars and Golden Hurricane are unbeaten in league play, and even if Tulsa were to lose at UCF, it looks as if the Nov. 26 Houston-at-Tulsa matchup will determine the West crown. The winner of Saturday's East Carolina-Southern Miss game takes a big step toward nailing down the East Division crown. Those are the only division teams with fewer than two league losses. UCF remains in the hunt - but only if the Knights beat Tulsa. UCF plays on the road against Southern Miss and East Carolina in the next two weeks.
Mid-American: Northern Illinois took a giant step toward claiming the West Division crown with its wild 63-60 victory Tuesday night at Toledo. While there wasn't any defense played, it was an offensive feast that was entertaining to watch, and the win sets up NIU quite nicely. The Huskies finish with Bowling Green, Ball State and Eastern Michigan - each one an eminently winnable game. Eastern Michigan remains in the hunt, but it seems unlikely that an EMU team that lost by 38 to Toledo can beat NIU. Toledo can bemoan its horrible clock management down the stretch and hope that NIU unexpectedly loses one of its remaining games. In the East, Ohio took control of the division with its upset Wednesday night over Temple. The Bobcats have three league games remaining, but none of the future opponents has a winning record.
Sun Belt: It's a three-way race and each of the three teams involved - Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Kentucky - has been a huge surprise this season. Arkansas State is the only team unbeaten in league play and already owns a win over Western; in turn, Western owns a win over ULL. Arkansas State plays host to ULL on Nov. 12 and basically would sew up the crown with a win over the Ragin' Cajuns. Preseason favorite FIU can help out both Arkansas State and ULL if it can win at Western Kentucky this weekend.
Western Athletic: Boise State's departure has created a free-for-all, and Nevada is the only team without a league loss. Louisiana Tech plays at Fresno State on Saturday, and the loser becomes an extreme long shot to win the league. Nevada already owns a win over Fresno. Hawaii, which beat Louisiana Tech, plays at Nevada next week, then plays host to Fresno State on Nov. 19. It seems likely that the Hawaii-Nevada matchup will determine the league winner.
Best matchup: Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd vs. Wake Forest CB Merrill Noel. Everyone knows about Floyd, who will graduate with all the important Notre Dame receiving records. Floyd is big, physical and fast. But this is a chance for Noel to announce himself on the national scene. Noel is a redshirt freshman from the football hotbed of Pahokee, Fla., and he has one interception and a nation's-leading 15 pass breakups. He had four breakups against Florida State and three against Virginia Tech, but those teams don't have a receiver close to Floyd's talent level.
[Viewer's guide: Best games of Week 10]
Player on the spot: UCF QB Jeff Godfrey. Godfrey surprised most observers with his polished play as a true freshman last season, but he hasn't been as sharp this season. He has nine rushing TDs, but three came in the first game against overmatched FCS foe Charleston Southern and he has scored just one in the past four weeks. he threw 13 TD passes last season but has just three this season. Part of the issue is a lack of proven receivers, but UCF coaches haven't been shy about expressing their hope that Godfrey becomes more consistent. UCF looks to be out of the running for the Conference USA East Division title, but the Knights can put a dent in Tulsa's West Division title hopes Thursday night if Godfrey has a big game.
Keep an eye on: Western Kentucky TB Bobby Rainey. Western Kentucky has won four in a row and put itself in a position to get its first bowl bid. Rainey's production is a big reason for the winning streak. He has averaged 146.8 yards and scored seven rushing TDs during that stretch. For Western to increase its streak to five games Saturday at home against FIU, Rainey again needs to come through. FIU has done a relatively good job against Rainey the past two seasons, holding him to less than 100 yards each time and limiting him to one total TD.
Numbers game: The 123 total points scored in Tuesday night's NIU-Toledo game was No. 2 in league history in total points; the record is 127, set when Akron beat Eastern Michigan 65-62 in 2001. Tuesday night, the teams combined for 1,121 yards of total offense and a MAC-record 17 touchdowns. NIU QB Chandler Harnish threw six TD passes and Toledo QB Austin Dantin tossed five.
Quotes of the week
"I think the most important aspect to us doing well in November is two things - being healthy and having a goal that is within striking distance. If you don't have a goal in striking distance - if you don't have a chance to have a winning season or go to a bowl game, or you don't have a chance to win a conference title - it's difficult to finish strong in November. I'm looking forward to November." - UTEP coach Mike Price
"We are winning every game with a chip on our shoulder and trying to prove people wrong because, obviously, we were not picked very high to begin this year. And every week we wanted to get another win to prove them even more wrong. Get another win, get another win. And each week that has been our goal, to prove them as wrong as we can possibly prove them." - Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team is 7-2
"People may or may not realize that football has become a year-round sport. What you see on Saturday is not necessarily a product of just the fall. Quarterbacks and receivers have the ability to really work year-round on their own, and that is how that chemistry has developed. They have been together for the better part of four years." - Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, on the rapport QB Case Keenum has with his receivers
[Huguenin: Bad timing for Houston]
"Offensively, they have as many or maybe more weapons than I have ever seen on a college football team at receiver, quarterback and running back. You name it, they have it." - UAB coach Neil Callaway, whose team plays Houston this week
"Well, if it's not at the hotel, [our players] won't experience it. I don't know what the hotel is like or where we are staying - I don't ever even ask, I just show up. But we won't be taking any trips to South Beach or anything." - Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze, on his team's game at Florida Atlantic and the potential off-field diversions his team could face
"I think it is paying off for us now. The tough thing is when you are going through it and you are not getting any traction. You are trying to look for some forward momentum as a program and trying to get confidence. It's really hard to do that. Fortunately, now, as we are starting to move forward, that high level of competition is paying off." - Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, whose team lost to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State in September but is unbeaten in Conference USA action
Poll watch: Houston is 13th in this week's BC S standings. It's the highest ranking in school history; the previous high was 15th in 2009.
Etc.: Houston senior WR Tyron Carrier returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in last week's rout of Rice. That's his seventh career kickoff-return TD, which ties the NCAA record held by former Clemson RB C.J. Spiller (2006-09). ? UCF plays host to Tulsa on Thursday night. In four home games this season, the Knights have allowed a combined total of nine points and just 524 total yards. ? A win Saturday at FAU would give Arkansas State a 7-2 record; that would be a school record for wins as an FBS member and the school's most overall since 1987, when it won eight games. ? Western Michigan senior WR Jordan White had nine receptions in last week's victory over Ball State. That gave him 261 career receptions, which is a school record. ? East Carolina senior WR Lance Lewis caught his 22nd career TD pass in last week's win over Tulane, a school career record. Lewis is a former JC transfer who is in his second season with the Pirates. ? Southern Miss' win last week over UTEP clinched its 18th consecutive winning season; that's the fourth-longest active streak among FBS schools. Florida State leads at 29. ? What the league is billing as "MAC Midweek Football" began this week with two games; MAC teams are involved in 13 midweek games this month. ? Notre Dame was 7-of-7 on red zone trips against Navy last week, with all seven scores coming on TDs. ? Kent State beat Bowling Green last week, giving the Golden Flashes their first back-to-back victories over the Falcons since 1972-73, when Kent State was coached by Don James. In the loss, Bowling Green WR Kamar Jorden had 12 receptions for 203 yards and a TD; he had five catches of at least 20 yards. ? Hawaii senior Kenton Chun kicked two field goals in last week's win over Idaho, including a 35-yard winner with 32 seconds left. He had made one field goal in his career before that game, in this season's opener. ? North Texas senior TB Lance Dunbar scored his 37th career rushing touchdown in last week's loss to Arkansas State; that makes him the school's career leader in rushing touchdowns. In addition, Dunbar needs 129 more rushing yards to become only the sixth player in NCAA history to have 4,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Dunbar also is 180 yards away from becoming the school's leading career rusher. ? New Mexico State senior SS Donyae Coleman was credited with 24 tackles in last week's loss to Nevada; that's the most tackles by anyone in the nation this season. ? Army has lost a combined 11 consecutive games to its service academy rivals. ? LB Devon Lewis-Buchanan became the fifth Louisiana-Lafayette defender to post a "pick six" this season with a 55-yard interception return in the first quarter of last week's win over Middle Tennessee. That gives ULL six touchdowns on interception returns this season, the most in the nation. ? Notre Dame plays at Wake Forest on Saturday. Wake's BB&T Field, with a listed seating capacity of 31,500, is the smallest stadium to host a Notre Dame game since Dec. 1, 1945, when the Irish played the Great Lakes Naval Training Station (22,000).
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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