October 10, 2011
Weekly notes from the undercard.
Louisiana-Lafayette hasn't been to a bowl game as a member of the FBS, but with one more win, the Ragin' Cajuns will be bowl-eligible and in good shape to make their first postseason trip in 40 years. After Saturday's 31-17 win over perennial Sun Belt overlord Troy, the Ragin' Cajuns are 5-1 for the first time since 1988 and have won five straight for the first time since 2005.
To say the Cajuns came out of nowhere would be an understatement. While all eyes in the preseason were on Troy and Florida International, Lafayette has gone about its business under first-year head coach Mark Hudspeth, picking apart its opponents — including the conference's two favorites — to become one of the great non-AQ success stories of the first half of the season. But they're trying to keep things in perspective and learn from the mistakes of the '88 team. After climbing to 5-1, it went on to finish the season 6-5.
"It's still a long season," said quarterback Chris Masson, who was rewarded with Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week honors in the win and a spot on the bench when regular starter Blaine Gautier returns this Saturday against North Texas. "We're only at five wins, and we still need to continue to keep winning football games and put no doubt in people's minds that we are going to a bowl game and win this conference. We are still far away from that, and we have another opponent in North Texas."
• THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…
• Utah State finally found the secret to not giving up a lead at the end of a game: Get out to an insurmountable advantage by halftime.
Well, that and play Wyoming. After dropping three of their first four games in the final minute, the Aggies all but assured victory against the Cowboys Saturday by jumping out to a 42-19 halftime lead. They added another 21 while pitching a shutout in the second half, for good measure. In a wide-open WAC, Utah State still has a good chance to win the conference and go to its first bowl game since 1997.
• We're still here. A lot of attention has been paid to Boise State's run, and rightfully so, but Houston has quietly cruised through the first half of its schedule to become the non-AQ's first bowl-eligible team. With the exception of SMU and perhaps Tulsa at the end of the year, Houston has a pretty clear path to an undefeated season.
"We want to try to get ourselves in the best possible place," Johnson told WMC-TV in Memphis. "Ultimately we would like to be in the SEC. That's where we think we belong geographically. We think we deserve to be."
For the record, this is the same football program that is 131-222-6 since 1980, has never won a division title in 16 years in Conference USA and has lost 26 of its last 30 games since 2009, during which time a freshly fired head coach called out the university, the fan base and the local media for a lack of support. Just a hunch, but if Johnson does receive an "invitation" from the SEC, he might want to check with a few of his quietly snickering C-USA colleagues before he follows up on it.
• RUSH THE FIELD: Wins worthy of a bleacher-clearing celebration.
Congratulations to Western Kentucky for its first win of the season, a 36-33, double-overtime triumph over the only Sun Belt team that's even worse than the Hilltoppers, Middle Tennessee.
To celebrate, WKU running back Antonio Andrews took to Twitter after the game to rip the home crowd's loyalty relative to Kentucky fans — an insult if ever there was one — and rub the rare triumph in the face of the naysayers who "said we suck and will never win a game." For the most passionate defense of Western Kentucky football on record, Andrews was swiftly suspended for Saturday's trip to Florida Atlantic.
• GAME OF THE WEEK: Nevada 37, UNLV 0
The score might not scream "Game of the Week" candidate, but the defensive effort by Nevada was unmatched en route to the first shutout in the 36-year history of the rivalry. The Wolf Pack held UNLV — the same UNLV that stunned high-flying Hawaii earlier in the year — to just 110 yards of total offense and one completion, which didn't come until the final five minutes of the game. UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring was sacked six times.
• YOUTUBE DEDICATION OF THE WEEK:
This week's YouTube musical dedication goes out to Louisiana Tech running back Hunter Lee, a walk-on, who rushed for 134 yards in a 24-11 win over Idaho after the Bulldogs' top two running backs left the game with injuries. After the game, he went up to coach Sonny Dykes to show his appreciation.
"Thank you for allowing me to walk-on this year," Lee told his coach.
"That was the easiest decision I have ever had to make," Dykes replied.
Altogether now: Awwwww!
• PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Austin Davis, QB, Southern Miss.
Davis completed 21 of 23 passes for 283 yards, ran four 75 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' 63-35 win at Navy. His 91.3-percent competition rate set a new school record. (Take that, Favre).
Honorable mention: Nevada defensive tackle Brett Roy had a career-high 11 tackles, including four for loss and one sack in the dominant win over UNLV. … Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen had 10 punts for a 48-yard average in the Bulldogs' win over Idaho, including six that were downed inside the Vandal 20-yard line and four that died inside the ten. … And Buffalo running back Branden Oliver rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-37 upset over Ohio.
A SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY MID-MAJOR TOP 10
1. Boise State (5-0) After breezing through the non-conference schedule, the Broncos open the Mountain West slate Saturday at Colorado State.
2. Houston (6-0) High-scoring Cougars are bowl eligible and looking for more this weekend against Marshall.
3. SMU (4-1) The Mustangs have a big win over TCU, but Central Florida is going to be a tough conference test.
4. Southern Miss (5-1) Golden Eagles follow up a surprisingly dominant win over Navy against the always-daunting Bye Week University.
5. Louisiana-Lafayette (5-1) The Ragin' Cajuns have taken out both FIU and Troy. Is there anyone left between them and the Sun Belt title?
6.Western Michigan (4-2) Big win against Bowling Green, but it doesn't get any easier this weekend against Northern Illinois.
7. Temple (4-2) The Owls got back on track Saturday with a convincing win over Ball State, keeping them neck-and-neck with Ohio for the MAC East lead.
8. TCU (4-2) Despite some rough sledding outside of the conference, the Frogs earned a big win at San Diego State to move to 2-0 in MWC play.
9. BYU (3-2) Newly anointed starting quarterback Riley Nelson might be the spark the Cougars need to get their season back on track.
10. Ohio (4-2) The Bobcats suffered a tough loss to Buffalo, but are still in the thick of the MAC East hunt.
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Honorable Mention: Florida International (4-2), Toledo (3-3), Colorado State (3-2), San Diego State (3-2), Hawaii (3-2), Arkansas State (4-2).