Dr. Saturday

Mid-Major Monday: Houston, the spotlight is all yours

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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Weekly notes from the undercard.

Alright Houston, it's your turn.

With Boise State's kicker ruining yet another perfect season (yeah, we'll get comments on that one), only one undefeated non-automatic qualifying team is still standing and that's Houston. Don't freak out or anything.

Already Houston is in uncharted waters having won 10 consecutive games. The Cougars have posted four 10-win seasons, and even two 11-win seasons, during their time in the FBS, but never have they been this hot and never have they been this close to the school's first BCS bowl game. Likewise, Conference USA has never been this close to a BCS game.

So, naturally, and apologies for the jinx, this is exactly the time where Houston will falter. Houston's remaining schedule is not easy. The Cougars play an SMU team, that since June Jones arrived, has consistently given them fits. To add to the pressure, ESPN's College Gameday broadcasting from their campus for the first time in school history. Next week, Houston plays Tulsa, which is also undefeated in conference play and is ripe to play spoiler.

And even if Houston gets through the gauntlet to end the regular season, it has to play a red-hot Southern Miss team that has won eight in a row and plays two cake teams to end the regular season.

Rest assured, if Houston gets to a BCS bowl, it will have earned it.

Unfortunately for the rest of the non-AQs Houston might be the last hope to get a non-AQ team into the BCS. A one-loss non-AQ team has never been selected for a BCS game and if it were to happen this year, it's more likely that Southern Miss would get the nod over Boise State. The Broncos need TCU to lose both of its final games — against Colorado State and UNLV, who are 5-13 combined - to win the Mountain West. Southern Miss, on the other hand, is already ranked No. 20 and if Houston stays undefeated, it could vault up the national rankings to be in a position for the BCS.

Here are the BCS criteria for non-AQ teams:{YSP:MORE}

The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

• A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,

• B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in thefinal BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. (Note: a second team may be eligible for at-large eligibility as noted below.) If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.

Currently, there are no Big East teams ranked in the BCS, opening the door for one-loss Southern Miss to squeak into that top 16 and earn a BCS spot.

But for now, the brass ring belongs to Houston. It controls its own destiny and if it can get out of its own way and not let the pressure or any outside distraction derail it, it will make school and conference history.

THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…

Earlier this month Northern Illinois suspended freshman linebacker Jamaal Bass (No. 6 above right) for throwing a shoulder into a Toledo band member and knocking over another as the Huskies were running out of the tunnel following halftime of the 63-60 win over the Rockets.
Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren suspended Bass one game for his antics, but after further review — and some medical information about the affected band members — Bass will sit two more games.

"Once we went back and learned everything and talked to Jamaal and looked at the situation, we felt like that was appropriate," athletics director Jeff Compher told the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. "It was regrettable, but something we felt like we needed to do."

Compher originally was told the Toledo band members were fine, but the two that Bass took out actually received concussions, which prompted NIU to take more decisive action. So Bass, who already missed last week's game against Bowling Green, will miss Tuesday's game against Ball State and the season finale against Eastern Michigan as well.

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BYU quarterback Riley Nelson could miss a month after suffering lung and rib injuries in a 42-7 win against Idaho. This would be good news for backup Jake Heaps, who was the starter at the beginning of the year before Nelson outplayed him, but coach Bronco Mendenhall told media Monday that no matter what heaps does during Nelson's absence, he's not getting his starting role back. Ouch.

Contrary to popular belief, Toledo does not have the nation's worst scoring defense: It just looks that way. The Rockets have allowed 126 points in their last two games — yeah, you read that right — and have somehow managed a 1-1 record. The loss was in a 63-60 affair against Northern Illinois. The Rockets scored 66 against Western Michigan last week. In the past two weeks, Toledo has been a part of the third and fourth-highest scoring games in MAC history.

ESPN's College Gameday is coming to Houston this week for the game against SMU. It's the first time in school history that the popular Saturday morning pregame show has made its way to the Cougars' campus.

RUSH THE FIELD: Wins worthy of a bleacher-clearing celebration.
Arkansas State gave away a deer stand to get people in the seats last Saturday and what they were treated to was a 30-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette and a Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves actually got up big early before allowing the Ragin' Cajuns to storm back and take a 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter. But Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin rushed for a score late in the quarter and the Red Wolves never looked back. Arkansas State just needs two more wins to secure a perfect conference season.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Southern Miss 30, Central Florida 29.
In the polls for the first time in seven years and riding its longest winning streak in nearly a quarter-century, Southern Miss nearly let it all slip away when a comfortable fourth quarter lead turned into a harrowing last-second escape. Up 19-9 after three quarters, the Golden Eagles quickly found themselves in a 23-22 hole with nine minutes to play. Their response: An 8-play, 80-yard drive to move back in front, 30-23, on a short Austin Davis touchdown pass and subsequent two-point conversion.

After both offenses traded turnovers, UCF managed an answer of its own: An 89-yard march on the arm of backup quarterback Blake Bortles over the final three minutes, the last 25 coming on a touchdown pass from Bortles to J.J. Worton that pulled the Knights within a point, 30-29, with two seconds on the clock. Snubbing the standard PAT to send the game to overtime, the Knights instead went for two to win … and failed when Bortles' pass was broken up in the end zone, pulling Southern Miss within one win of the C-USA East title.

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The only remaining hurdles between the Golden Eagles and the conference championship game are the worst teams in the league, UAB and Memphis, which stand a combined 4-16 on the season. A win over either will give USM its first 10-win season since that Favre guy was a sophomore, back in 1988.

YOUTUBE DEDICATION OF THE WEEK:
This week's YouTube dedication goes out to Boise State kicker Dan Goodale, who fell victim to a poorly held ball on the 39-yard miss that cost Boise State a shot at an undefeated season, a BCS bowl and a possible national championship berth. According to Boise State special teams coach Jeff Choate, the laces of the ball were facing in and not out the way kickers prefer (laces out!). Don't worry Dan, Ray Finkle feels your pain.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Casey Pachall, TCU.
Hard to argue Pachall came through as the most clutch player this weekend non-AQ or otherwise with his effort in a 36-35 win over Boise State. Pachall threw for 473 yards, five touchdowns and converted two two-point conversions, including the one that ultimately won the Horned Frogs the game. All year, Pachall has had to deal with comparisons to former quarterback Andy Dalton, but this win should put that talk to rest.

Honorable mention: New Mexico State wide receiver had 10 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown in a 48-45 win over Fresno State, NMSU's first against Fresno in 18 games. … Southern Miss kicker Taveon RodgersDanny Hrapmann hit all five of his field goal attempts, including three from at least 44 yards, in the Eagles' 30-29 win over Central Florida. … Toledo running back Adonis Thomas had 30 carries for 216 yards and two touchdowns in a 66-63 win over Western Michigan. … And Arkansas State defensive lineman Brandon Joiner set a school and Sun Belt Conference record with four sacks in ASU's 30-21 win over Lousiana-Lafayette.

A SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY MID-MAJOR TOP 10
1. Houston (10-0).
The Cougars have to be feeling the pressure now that Boise State is out of the picture. Just two more games and a conference championship game between them and perfection.
2. Boise State (8-1). Tough loss for the Broncos who, once again, miss a perfect season wide right.
3. Southern Miss (9-1). Things got a little dicey against Central Florida, but the Golden Eagles kept their perfect conference season intact.
4. TCU (8-2). Great win for the Horned Frogs, who are now 2-1 against Boise State in the past four seasons and headed for their third consecutive Mountain West title.
5. BYU (7-3). The Cougars crushed Idaho, but lost starting quarterback Riley Nelson in the process.
6. Tulsa (7-3). The Golden Hurricane continue to win in Conference USA after a brutal September schedule, setting up a potentially epic finale against Houston.
7. Arkansas State (8-2). The Red Wolves wrapped up the Sun Belt title with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette and will be going to their first bowl since 2005.
8.Northern Illinois (6-3). Not sure there's another MAC team that could handle the Huskies right now.
9. Nevada (6-3). The Wolf Pack beat Hawaii, but have a tough task Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
10. Wyoming (6-3). The Cowboys played a soft schedule early, but have really come on of late and could supplant Boise with an upset in two weeks.
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Honorable Mention: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-3), Toledo (6-4), San Diego State (6-3), Ohio (7-3), Louisiana Tech (6-4).

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

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