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September 15, 2011

Week 3: CUSA, MAC, SBC, WAC and Indy

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-12 | SEC

Notre Dame has rolled up more than 500 yards in each of its first two games, but the Irish have nothing to show for it.

The Irish had 508 yards against USF in the opener -- and held the Bulls to 254 -- but lost 23-20. Last week, Notre Dame finished with 513 yards against Michigan -- its second-highest total in a game under coach Brian Kelly -- but again lost, this time 35-31.

Turnovers are killing the Irish; they have committed 10 in two games, the most of any team nationally. They have forced just three turnovers.

THE 12 BEST GAMES
FRIDAY
Boise State at Toledo, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY
Penn State at Temple, noon
Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m.
N. Illinois vs. Wisconsin in Chicago, 3:30 p.m.
Northwestern at Army, 3:30 p.m.
Michigan State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m.
Navy at South Carolina, 6 p.m.
UCF at Florida International, 6 p.m.
Houston at Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m.
UTEP at New Mexico State, 8 p.m.
Utah at BYU, 9:15 p.m.
Oklahoma State at Tulsa, 10 p.m.
"The one stat that really matters for me is the turnover takeaway, and there's a direct correlation to percentage of winning when you turn the ball over," Kelly said at his weekly news conference. "There's no stat for me that tells the story more than that. So we've got to take care of that."

Kelly said he has told his team that while it is winless, they haven't been beaten.

"We've really had a hand at beating ourselves, and that's the big difference," he said. "If we do not beat ourselves, we've got a chance to be the kind of football team that we all believe that we can be. ... They've got to take care of the football. They've got to execute better, and they will. I know it's just a matter of time for them."

Next up is a visit from Michigan State, which has won 10 of the past 14 meetings in this series. The Spartans also have won in six of their past seven visits to South Bend.

Notre Dame committed three turnovers in losing to the Spartans last season.

Michigan State has been sharp on defense this season, allowing just 302 yards, but the opponents have been FCS member Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic. Notre Dame's offense will be quite a different challenge.

"They're going to spread you out, do some of the things they do, no-huddle offense, all the things you see them doing week in and week out, so we're going to have to play well," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said at his weekly news conference.

Michigan State beat the Irish last season on a fake field goal in overtime. Shortly after the game, Dantonio had a heart attack that caused him to miss two games.

"I'm completely healthy. I feel great," he said. "In terms of 12 months, there's a lot of good that's happened in 12 months and there's some things that were negative. I think that goes along with life in general. You take the good with the bad."

That certainly would sum up Notre Dame's season thus far.

Best matchup: Navy's run offense vs. South Carolina's run defense. Navy's only shot at the upset is to control the clock with its triple option, South Carolina has been spotty defensively -- but against the pass and not necessarily the run. Navy is averaging 400.5 rushing yards per game and has seven rushing TDs, with senior QB Kriss Proctor the key guy. Navy has to be heartened that the Gamecocks did surrender 188 rushing yards to Georgia last week. South Carolina's defensive strength is its front four, which is extremely athletic. Still, it will be interesting to see how touted true freshman DE Jadeveon Clowney stands up to the triple option.

Player on the spot: Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne. Kinne's least productive day last season came in a 65-28 loss at Oklahoma State. Here's his chance for redemption, and it comes at home. He threw for 271 yards and two TDs and ran for another 46 yards in a 33-point loss to Oklahoma in this season's opener, and given the porous nature of Tulsa's defense, the Golden Hurricane's only shot is a huge day -- like 350-plus passing yards, with three or four TD passes -- from Kinne. He threw one TD and three picks against the Cowboys last season. Kinne had four games last season in which he threw for at least 350.

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Keep an eye on: BYU's rush defense. The Cougars held Ole Miss to 64 rushing yards in winning their opener, then gave up 166 in losing by one at Texas last week. The Cougars would love to force Utah QB Jordan Wynn to have to throw in this season's edition of "The Holy War." Utah didn't do much on the ground last week against USC, which uses a 4-3 set. BYU needs its linebackers to be active out of its 3-4 scheme.

Numbers game: Let's look at some numbers related to UCF, which plays at Florida International on Saturday in a matchup of teams coming off strong performances. UCF's 30-3 victory over Boston College last week marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Knights allowed seven or fewer points. In all, UCF has won six in a row, outscoring its foes 217-47 in the process. UCF has allowed just three points this season and is tied with Florida for the top-ranked scoring defense nationally. Finally, UCF is 2-0 for the first time since 1998.

Quotes of the week

"We have to make sure we are prepared for them. 'If you need any help preparing, call Oregon State or Duke and they will tell you how important it is to play well against an FCS team - or you will get beat.' " - Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, on what he told his players in advance of this week's game against FCS member Nicholls State

"After last weekend, what we talked about is to how to handle situations and how to prepare for a game. We talked about the three things to prepare for a game, which is physically, mentally and emotionally. One and two is what us coaches will prepare you to do. Emotionally, you have to be ready to play on Saturday. ... I don't want to be the greatest halftime speaker in the country. We went through that three years ago when we were behind every game." - Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team struggled in the first half of last week's win over North Texas

"We've always had the attitude that every week it's about us. We don't really care about what the decal is on the opponent's helmet. That seems like an easy thing for a team to lock into, but for a team to understand that every game is a big game and to compete at the highest level, that's when you have a very mature team that is going to win a ton of football games." - Fresno State coach Pat Hill, on playing North Dakota this week after taking Nebraska to the wire last week

"We'll take a victory any way we can; it doesn't matter who it is." - Memphis coach Larry Porter, whose 0-2 team takes on FCS member Austin Peay this week

"We're really excited to be coming off a win. There's only two alternatives: You either come off a loss or a win, and this feels better." - Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, whose team defeated Tulane last week

"Honestly, it's not any different. This week is about me and our guys. When we get on the football field and we play, I'm going to coach our guys. I'm not going to look at their sideline and worry about what they're doing. When the game's over, we'll do what we do as friends and we'll talk, but this week is about us playing against them. That's all it is." - Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, on going against Wisconsin, where he had been defensive coordinator for the past few seasons, this week

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Poll watch: Conference USA's UCF and Houston were 27th and 28th, respectively, in this week's coaches' poll. Both have winnable games this week, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see either one move into the poll next week, assuming a couple of teams ranked between 18th and 25th lose.

Etc.: Both starting running backs in Saturday's Houston-Louisiana Tech game are from Tatum (Texas) High. Houston's Bryce Beall was a safety until his senior season at Tatum because Tech's Lennon Creer was a year older. Tatum is a town of about 2,000 in east-central Texas that also has produced, among others, former NFL RB Larry Centers and current Oakland Raiders WR Denarius Moore, a rookie from Tennessee. ... This is the fifth consecutive season that Hawaii will stay on the mainland for consecutive road games. This season's is an 11-day trip. After last week's loss to Washington, Hawaii travelled to Las Vegas for its game against UNLV. The trip will cover 6,296 air miles. ... SMU junior DT Margus Hunt already has three blocked kicks this season after blocking a field goal in last week's win over UTEP. He has 13 career blocked kicks (seven field goals, six PATs), which is tied for third in NCAA history. His seven blocked field goals is one off the NCAA career record shared by New Mexico State's James Ferebee (1978-81) and N.C. State's Terrence Holt (1999-2002). ... Middle Tennessee set a school attendance record in last week's loss to Georgia Tech, as 30,502 showed up at Floyd Stadium. ... San Jose State joined the WAC in 1996, but this season marks the first time the Spartans play each of their first three conference games at home. The first one is Saturday against Nevada. ... Conference USA teams won two home games against Big Six squads last week -- UCF over Boston College and Rice over Purdue. In addition, the WAC's New Mexico State won at Minnesota, the Aggies' first win over a Big Ten opponent. ... Tulsa plays three preseason top-10 teams in the first month of the season (Oklahoma in the opener, Oklahoma State this week and Boise State next week). Arizona is the only other team with that type of early-season schedule (Oklahoma State last week, Stanford this week and Oregon next week). By con¬trast, the Big East, Big Ten and Mountain West conferences play one top-10 opponent among their entire league memberships in the first four games. ... Fresno State will be playing its first home game of the season this week, and it will be on newly installed FieldTurf at Bulldog Stadium. "It's the best surface to play on; it's better than grass," coach Pat Hill said. ... MAC schools will play host to Boise State (at Toledo on Friday night) and Penn State (at Temple on Saturday) this weekend. In addition, Northern Illinois is playing Wisconsin at Chicago's Soldier Field in what technically is a NIU home game. ... Southern Miss senior QB Austin Davis threw for 309 yards in last week's loss to Marshall. That gave him 7,695 career passing yards and moved him past Brett Favre as the most prolific passer in school history. ... Eastern Michigan has opened 2-0 for the first time since 1989. ... Marshall's Kase Whitehead punted eight times last week, and five of his punts were downed inside Southern Miss' 8-yard line as the Herd upset the Golden Eagles. ... Ohio coach Frank Solich won his 100th career game last week, against Gardner-Webb. ... Army plays host to Northwestern on Saturday in its first game against a Big Ten opponent since Sept. 24, 1988. Coincidentally, that was against Northwestern, too. ... UTEP has held its first two opponents to less than 30 points, the first time the Miners have done that since 2001. ... This week's Marshall-Ohio contest is the only Conference USA-MAC game this season. ... There are two FBS head coaches who are coaching at their alma maters, and two of them will be on view in the Oklahoma State (Mike Gundy)-Tulsa (Bill Blankenship) game. Both were quarterbacks at their alma maters. The others: Troy Calhoun (Air Force), Jon Embree (Colorado), Steve Fairchild (Colorado State), Ruffin McNeill (East Carolina), Joker Phillips (Kentucky), Larry Porter (Memphis), Don Treadwell (Miami of Ohio), Chris Ault (Nevada), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Luke Fickell (Ohio State), David Shaw (Stanford), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA), Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech), Paul Wulff (Washington State) and Willie Taggart (Western Kentucky). ... Navy is No. 1 in the country in fewest penalty yards per game (10.0) and fewest penalties per game (1.0). That's nothing new for the Midshipmen. They finished No. 1 in the country in 2010 in fewest penalty yards per game (27.6) and No. 2 in fewest penalties per game (3.38). In 2009, Navy was the nation's leader in fewest penalties per game (3.4) and fewest penalty yards per game (29.6). The Midshipmen were No. 2 in the country in both categories in 2008, committing 3.15 penalties per game and 26.77 penalty yards per game. ... Speaking of penalties, Conference USA officials worked last week's East Carolina-Virginia Tech game. Virginia Tech was penalized 12 times for 92 yards, while ECU had its first penalty-free game in school history. ... Memphis defensive coordinator Jay Hopson resigned Wednesday, and the Tigers will have co-coordinators the rest of the season: defensive line coach Mike DuBose and linebacker coach Galen Scott. DuBose is Alabama's former coach. Memphis had surrendered 1,256 yards in starting 0-2.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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