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Dr. Saturday

Mid-Major Monday: Boise’s got those November backsliding blues

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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Weekly notes from the undercard.

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same for Boise State.

After indulging in a bye this week, the Broncos returned to preparations a spot lower in the BCS standings than they were a week ago, after Stanford leapfrogged them on the strength of its triple-overtime win against USC — an all-too-familiar theme for Boise. Just when the Broncos are within shouting distance of a spot in the BCS national title game, some school from one of the BCS' Big Six conferences comes and knocks them down a peg.

Now, it's no used getting into the debate of whom Boise State plays versus everyone else. It can't change its schedule, and it's the same schedule it had when the Broncos started the year in the top five of the AP poll. Even changing conferences hasn't helped, which is why, despite the geographical absurdity of a move to the Big East, it might be the only way for Boise State to get a fair crack at the crystal football.

There's only one "quality" game remaining on Boise State's schedule and that's against TCU on Nov. 12. But the other four teams on the Broncos' schedule have a combined record of 11-18, including a not-even-kinda thrilling season finale against winless, coachless New Mexico. Meanwhile, the teams surrounding the Broncos in the polls all have games against ranked teams down the stretch. It's starting to become clear that a one-loss "Big Six" team has a better chance at a national title shot than the Broncos.

Boise has consistently scheduled tough non-conference games, taking out ranked, name-brand teams — Oregon twice, followed by Virginia Tech and Georgia — in four consecutive seasons. It successfully positioned itself in what it hoped would be a more competitive conference. As my colleague Matt Hinton says, don't blame the team, blame the system.

It's unfortunate that the Mountain West has failed the Broncos this year. In the past few years, the Mtn has rivaled many of the "Big Six" conferences with several ranked teams and competitive games that piqued national interest. This year, with Utah and BYU gone, Air Force and San Diego State down and TCU going through a rebuilding of sorts, the league had faded from the spotlight. And while Boise State remains very much in the national banter, a game against UNLV this weekend isn't going to be much to help the Broncos' BCS credit.

Look on the bright side: Short of an upset loss, Boise State will play in its second BCS bowl game in the past three seasons. That's a major accomplishment that will continue to keep Boise State's status as a non-BCS darling. But at what point does that start to get a little old?

THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…{YSP:MORE}

Southern Miss clinched its 18th consecutive winning season Saturday with its 31-13 win over UTEP, but this week the season gets real. The Golden Eagles have an opportunity to give themselves a little breathing room in the Conference USA East standings with a win over East Carolina, also sitting atop the division at 3-1 in league play.

Easier said than done. ECU has won the last two meetings, and last year's come-from-behind win in Hattiesburg was one of the more demoralizing finishes in recent Southern Miss history. The Golden Eagles were up 20 points in the first quarter and caused four turnovers, but ECU managed the go-ahead touchdown with 2:59 remaining. The game also got a little heated with 24 penalties for 229 yards and one ejection for each team.

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On the heels of its revenge tour of wins against rival TCU and defending C-USA champ Central Florida, SMU has been downright awful. The Mustangs have been outscored 65-10 in back-to-back losses against Southern Miss and Tulsa and have fallen out of the race in the C-USA West.

Meanwhile, Tulsa becomes the newest major foe for an unbeaten Houston outfit that still seems unstoppable right now. Both teams are 4-0 in conference play and they meet in the final game of the regular season.

For the first time since 2002, Navy will not finish with a winning record. That year, the Mids went 2-10 under first-year head coach Paul Johnson, but have won at least eight games every year since on the strength of Johnson's vaunted triple-option attack.

Navy has lost six straight this year, two of those losses coming by three points and two by one point. Of course, there are also performances like Saturday's 56-14 shellacking at the hands of Notre Dame. It didn't help that the Mids were without starting quarterback Kriss Proctor, who missed the game because of injury, but their sixth loss means they must win out to keep their streak of bowl appearances alive. The good news: Three of the last four games are against teams with a losing record.

Oh, Western Kentucky… How do you do that voodoo that you do? The Hilltoppers have won four consecutive games and are making a serious charge for one of the Sun Belt's two automatic bowl tie-ins. WKU has never been to a bowl game and would probably have to win three of its last four to be in the running for one, which will be a death-defying ride since one of those four opponents is LSU.

RUSH THE FIELD: Wins worthy of a bleacher-clearing celebration.
Wyoming is one game away from bowl eligibility for the second time in three years under head coach Dave Christensen after a thrilling 30-27 win over San Diego State. Let's be honest, no one gave Wyoming much of a chance this summer after starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels opted to transfer. And yes, the Cowboys were probably the nation's worst undefeated team after the third week of the season. But Saturday's win was quality and should have them in line for a seven-win season — though, they still have to play Mountain West heavies Boise State and TCU.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Central Michigan 23, Akron 22.

Akron was oh-so-close to its first MAC win of the season after rebounding from a 20-0 third quarter deficit against the Chippewas on the arm of quarterback Clayton Moore, who connected on two touchdown passes in the final three minutes of regulation to pull the Zips within a point. Instead of kicking the PAT for the tie after Moore's second touchdown pass, though, the Zips went for the win — and came up short when Moore's two-point pass to A.J. Price failed with four seconds remaining.

"Never did the thought come to kick it," coach Rob Ianello said after the game. "The decision to go for two came prior to that series… We felt like we knew what coverage they were going to be in, which they were. Felt like we had a play that matched up well, which we thought we did. It just didn't work out for us. We're trying to teach our team how to win."

YOUTUBE DEDICATION OF THE WEEK:
This week's YouTube dedication goes out to both Akron and Idaho who were both knocked out of bowl contention (OK, they're both 1-7) with last-second losses. Here's to better seasons.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Case Keenum, Houston.
While Keenum's last few touchdowns in a 73-34 win over Rice might have been gratuitous, his nine-touchdown night last Thursday was still the best performance by any quarterback this weekend against an FBS team. For his efforts, Keenum passed Graham Harrell for most career touchdowns with 139, five more than Harrell with at least five games remaining to pad that number. Keenum now needs 268 yards to own the FBS record for career passing yards currently held by former Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang, which should fall this weekend against lowly UAB.

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Honorable mention: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman had 224 rushing yards in a losing effort, including a 99-yard touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage in school history. … Houston receiver Patrick Edwards had seven receptions from Keenum for 318 yards and five touchdowns in the win over Rice. … Nevada running back Lampford Mark had eight carries for 185 yards, good for one touchdown and a 23.1 yard per carry. … TCU safety Justin Anderson had a career-best 17 tackles, 11 solo, and his first career interception in the Frogs' win over BYU. ... And Western Michigan wide receiver Jordan White had nine catches for 172 yards and two scores against Ball State to become Western Michigan's all-time receptions leader with 261. He also became just the third WMU receiver with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

A SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY MID-MAJOR TOP 10
1. Boise State (7-0). After a week off, the Broncos face a UNLV team that got a big win against Colorado State last week.
2. Houston (8-0). The Cougars have a couple easy road trips ahead at UAB and Tulane, but have be careful they don't fall asleep beneath all the empty seats.
3. Southern Miss (7-1). The Golden Eagles have won six straight, USM's longest winning streak since its last C-USA championship run in 2003.
4. TCU (6-2). The Horned Frogs have been looking more like their old selves since coming off a bye week earlier this month.
5. BYU (6-3). The Cougars played tough against TCU, but couldn't sustain a four-game winning streak since replacing quarterback Jake Heaps with senior Riley Nelson.
6. Tulsa (5-3). After a brutal September schedule, the Golden Hurricane have rattled off four straight — including a key win Saturday over division rival SMU — to remain neck-and-neck with Houston in the C-USA West.
7. Arkansas State (6-2). The Red Wolves are bowl eligible after their fifth consecutive win, a 37-14 pounding of North Texas.
8. Louisiana-Lafayette (7-2). The Ragin' Cajuns regrouped from their flop against Western Kentucky and remain on a collision course with Arkansas State for the Sun Belt title.
9a. Toledo (5-3). The Rockets had the weekend off, but remain the only undefeated team in MAC play.
9b. Nevada (5-3). The Wolf Pack have won four straight and are emerging as the favorite to take the WAC for the second year in a row.
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Honorable Mention: San Diego State (4-3), SMU (5-3), Temple (5-3), Eastern Michigan (5-3), Ohio (5-3), Wyoming (5-2).

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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.

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