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Matt Hinton

Mid-Major Monday, Tuesday edition: BYU is hanging by a thread

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Notes from the undercard.

BYU was obviously in dire straits after back-to-back-to-back flops against Air Force, Florida State and Nevada, all by double digits. But it's one thing to lose three straight to teams that appear in the latest top-25. It's another story altogether together when you get blown out by the obscure in-state whipping boy for the first time Nirvana was No. 1. The 31-16 embarrassment the Cougars endured Friday night at Utah State looks like the point of no return for a season that's shaping as BYU's worst in 40 years.

That's a doubly sobering reality for coach Bronco Mendenhall, the home-grown golden boy who lifted a proud program out of the doldrums of the Gary Crowton era to a pair of Mountain West championships and four straight 10-win seasons prior to this year. He's not taking this crap lying down, either: Mendenhall responded to the latest loss by immediately firing defensive coordinator Jaime Hill for "core differences," such as giving up 434 yards to Utah State and fielding the nation's worst defense against the run.

But the offense has hardly been better: The Cougars are putting up a paltry 15.2 points per game, less than half their average in any of Mendenhall's first five years. Hyped true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, locked into the job after a season-ending injury to co-start Riley Cooper, looked every bit as erratic and overmatched against the Aggies as he against more respected units in September. (I would describe his second interception at USU, a softly floating pop fly to an uncontested Aggie safety in the third quarter, as possibly the worst pass ever attempted by a Division I quarterback who wasn't being hit as he released the ball.) With a body-bag trip to TCU looming in two weeks, a fifth straight loss in Saturday's MWC opener with San Diego State would effectively put any lingering hope for this season out of its misery.

The Crib Sheet. Elsewhere in the world of mid-majordom...

Mid-majors continue their cunning takeover of the rankings with three top-10 teams in both mainstream polls this week for the first time in history, thanks to Utah's appearance at No. 10 after doing absolutely nothing on a bye week. Air Force also slips into the Associated Press poll at No. 25, giving the non-"Big Six" conferences five teams in the poll at large – along with Boise State, TCU, Utah and Nevada – also a modern-era record.

North Texas quarterback Riley Dodge is out indefinitely after suffering a broken wrist in Saturday's loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, which might throw the Mean Green into crisis mode if they weren't already in crisis mode: Dodge, a former starter at QB, was only moved back there from wide receiver after season-ending injuries sidelined both Nathan Tune (dislocated hip) and Derek Thompson (broken leg) in the first three games. Besides the quarterbacks, UNT is down nine other starters, including receiver Tyler Stradford, who was injured last week trying to escape a dog at his apartment complex. Next man up to lead the spread: Sophomore Chase Baine, a local product who's never attempted a college pass.

Speaking of UNT, the Mean Green's trip to Lafayette was surpassed only by Tennessee's travails in Baton Rouge as the Soul-Crushing Defeat of the Weekend: Trailing the Ragin' Cajuns 28-14 at the end of the third quarter, North Texas rallied for a pair of sustained scoring drives in the fourth, the second a 12-play, 92-yard march capped by a four-yard pass from Dodge to Darius Casey to cut the ULL lead to 28-27 with 45 seconds on the clock. UNT played it safe, opting for the extra-point kick by Trent Deans to send the game to overtime – which Lafeyette subsequently blocked to ice its second Sun Belt victory.

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Mid-Major Game of the Week: Buffalo 28, Bowling Green 26.
Down 28-13 in the midst of a dismal offensive effort after three quarters, Bowling Green scored two quick touchdowns on an interception return by Jerry Davis and a 48-yard pass from Aaron Pankratz to Willie Geter to cut the Bulls' lead to two points midway through the fourth. Just needing to run the clock out after intercepting Pankratz with 1:26 to play, Buffalo coughed up a fumble at its own 24-yard line – its sixth turnover of the game – setting up a game-winning, 39-yard field goal attempt by the Falcons' Bryan Wright ... which dutifully sailed wide right as the clock expired.

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Player of the Week: Matt Brown, RB, Temple.
This award goes to an Owl running back for the second time in three weeks, but it's a different back: Brown, starting in place of All-MAC bellwether Bernard Pierce, piled up 226 yards and four touchdowns against Army, including the last two scores in a 28-0 Temple run in the second half to put the Knights away, 42-35.

Upset of the Week: Tulane 17, Rutgers 14.
The sad-sack Green Wave gave up a 91-yard touchdown run on the second snap of the game, the longest play in Rutgers history. (Which is saying something at a place that literally invented football.) After that, though, the Wave buckled down to sack quarterbacks Tom Savage and Chas Dodd nine times and force punts on nine of the Scarlet Knights' next ten possessions snuffing out a last-gasp drive with an interception that put Rutgers' season on red alert going into Big East play. Yes, there is a "Downfall" parody.

Tulane didn't do much on offense, but was able to take advantage of a pair of shanked punts for short-field touchdowns, including a nifty 24-yard throwback from receiver/Wildcat QB Joe Kemp to receiver D.J. Banks and back to Kemp to put the Green Wave up 17-7 in the third quarter.

Non-Upset of the Week: North Carolina 42, East Carolina 17.
The program may be on the brink of disaster, but North Carolina showed no signs of attrition or turmoil in the second half, roaring out of a 17-14 hole with four unanswered touchdowns to bury the Pirates over the last two quarters. The typically lame Tar Heel running game produced two 100-yard rushers, Johnny White (140) and Shaun Draughn (137), who also scored UNC's last three touchdowns.

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A Somewhat Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10.
1. Boise State (4-0). The Broncos walloped their token in-conference cupcake by twice the margin TCU did, so they're not falling here. Yet.
2. TCU (5-0). Not that there's anything wrong with clocking Colorado State 27-0.
3. Nevada (5-0). 374 yards rushing against rival UNLV is just another day at the office.
4. Utah (4-0). Idle, but we're not going to learn about the Utes until they get Notre Dame and TCU back-to-back to open November, anyway.
5. Air Force (4-1). Falcons took a big step toward loosening Navy's iron grip on the Commander-In-Chief Trophy, and find themselves ranked for the first time since 2002.
6. Temple (4-1). Owls are nine points against Penn State from sitting at 5-0.
7. Fresno State (3-1). Bulldogs' struggles with Utah State don't look quite as bad as it did last week, but the flop at Ole Miss still does.
8. Southern Miss (4-1). Golden Eagles open Conference USA play looking like a frontrunner.
9. San Diego State (3-1). Gets a golden opportunity to move toward a bowl game while also continuing BYU's death spiral this weekend.
10. Houston (3-1). Key post-Keenum barometer against Mississippi State will give the Cougars a better idea where they stand without their cover boy.

At the Other End of the Barrell...
The nation's longest losing streak lives on after Eastern Michigan, tied 10-10 with Ohio U. at the half, immediately yielded three third-quarter touchdowns on the other side of the break en route to a 30-17 defeat, the Eagles' 17th in a row under Ron English. Official attendance in Ypsilanti: A robust 16,753, three times the embarrassing 2009 average. The actual number? Don't make them say it.

EMU's partner in ongoing futility, Western Kentucky, was able to salvage a rare moral victory in a 24-12 loss at South Florida, outgaining the Bulls 314 yards to 283 for the game. Unfortunately, the majority of those yards came in the fourth quarter, with the game already well out of reach and USF's offense sitting on the ball. When you're 0-16 as a I-A/FBS program, you take what you can get.

Memphis returned to its early-season form against Tulsa, unveiling its patented second half collapse on the way to a 48-7 blowout in the Liberty Bowl, the third time in five games the Tigers (1-4) have given up at least 48 points.

One of the few teams actually giving up more points than Memphis: New Mexico, which improved dramatically by yielding a mere 38 to UTEP. The Lobos still rank dead last nationally in scoring defense and close to dead last in a lot of things. But why be glass half-empty? Equally pitiful New Mexico State looms this week as the best chance UNM is going to get to break into the win column.

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Proud new father Jerry Hinnen will be back on Mid-Major duty next week.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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