November 30, 2009
The week in the undercards.
Bring on the coronations ...
With Saturday's shellacking of New Mexico (you can tell the actual game is a mere formality when the opponent isn't even mentioned until the third paragraph of the AP roundup), TCU cinched up its perfect regular season nice and tight, and with it an equally fierce grip on that No. 4 BCS ranking that puts the Frogs lying in wait for a shot at Pasadena if Texas somehow goes down Saturday in the Big 12 Championship game.
Elsewhere, Troy bested Louisiana-Lafayette and laid claim to the Sun Belt title for the fourth year in a row, but Boise State's latest WAC championship odyssey -- the Broncos' eighth in nine years in the conference -- is more interesting. With Friday's win over Nevada, the last opponent with any real hope of making any kind of headway against the reigning conference kings, Boise retained its No. 6 standing in the BCS and should finish out another perfect season with no trouble Saturday against lowly New Mexico State. The Broncos also, however, have newly rekindled hopes of getting their hands on an at-large BCS bid thanks to Oklahoma State's dilly-dallying at Oklahoma.
... and ready the cannons.
Conference USA is down to East Carolina and Houston, with the Purple Pirates hosting Saturday's C-USA Championship tilt after edging out the Doc's Golden Eagles in the winner-take-all regular season finale for the East Division crown. And if you found yourself particularly wowed by Houston's explosive offensive antics in their 73-14 obliteration of Rice -- a game the Cougars led 59-0 at the half thanks to six offensive touchdowns, and two more scores on a kickoff and interception return, respectively -- just remember that it's the kind of needlessly garish win that screams, "Please kindly disregard our subpar defense and inexplicable road losses at UTEP and Central Florida and look at all these points!" Don't lose focus on the sparkly lights: The Pirates are sound enough to repeat as C-USA champs.
Moving to the MACtion, we've got the early-anointed favorite Central Michigan, fresh off dispatching Northern Illinois to lock up the MAC's West Division, and a surprise from out of the East: The Chippewas are not facing Temple, previous owner of a seven-game conference win streak. Entering Saturday's do-or-die showdown with Ohio U., there was only one obstacle between the resurgent Owls and a date with CMU (two obstacles if you count the injury to star rusher Bernard Pierce), and the Owls hit it dead on and bounced off. It will be the Bobcats instead facing off with Central Michigan in Detroit on Friday, marking perhaps the first championship game in history in which Temple is surprised to not be on hand.
The Utah Utes have compromising photos of the entire BCS voting body and at least one computer.
Utah is still ranked after losing to BYU, yet somehow Central Michigan is not despite winning 10 of its last 11 with only two losses, both to BCS competition, and a better win (at Michigan State) than the Utes' best victim, over 7-5 Air Force in overtime. That is all we have to say about that.
Step into the arcade.
Check out the big arm on Case Keenum! It's hard to continue getting worked up about Houston's gluttonous offensive numbers this late in the year, but even for the Cougars, 684 total yards is downright gaudy, to say nothing of the 73 points and 30 first downs. That point total is a season high for any team in I-A, in fact, and if Keenum's first completion against East Carolina in next week's C-USA title game covers eight yards or longer, it'll put him past the rare 5,000-yard mark for the second straight year.
Coaches! Get your coaches!
As you may have heard, Marshall's Mark Snyder "resigned" following a bad loss to UTEP, a 6-6 season and a reputedly not-so-great relationship with Marshall's new athletic director, Mike Hamrick. As is sadly the norm with these things, the timing could be better -- we're sure the Thundering Herd want to get a jump on their coaching search, but having some random assistant coach guide the team through a fifth-tier bowl game will be an even more ignominious end to the year.
In other Conference USA East bottom-dwelling news, someone wants the Memphis job! LSU assistant Larry Porter has a long history as a Tiger of a different stripe, so at least he knows what he's getting into. Memphis, for the record, fell short in its bid to upset Tulsa and end "nice guy" Tommy West's final season on a high note.
Give us your tired, your poor, your downtrodden yearning to be bowl eligible.
Vaya con dios, Yarbnalls -- Idaho, our favorite plucky, huddled mass of the season, is bowl-bound despite a late-season skid and a weird loss to Utah State in Saturday's finale. SMU, too, is eligible for the postseason for the first time in a quarter-century, since being nuked by the NCAA in the mid-eighties. And they can grow just about anything in Hawaii, including a football team that might not be entirely terrible, after all.
Profiles in continuing ineptitude.
The first certified winless team of 2009 is in the books: Eastern Michigan, toiling under first-year coach Ron English, lost to Akron, 28-21, despite outgaining the Zips in total offense and time of possession, dropping the Eagles to an infamous 0-12 for the season. They're done. Winless Western Kentucky fell, again, this time to the tune of 29-23 at the hands of Florida Atlantic, and has one final shot at a one-win season next week against Arkansas State. With head coach Dave Elson on his way out following the Hilltoppers' first season as a full-fledged I-A doormat, it should be an emotional scene in Bowling Green.
What should have been ...
Cruelly, both of our tracked winless teams played close enough to fool themselves into hoping -- for a little while. Western Kentucky was upon Florida Atlantic for four whole minutes in the third quarter. Eastern Michigan never led, but was tied with Akron for bits of the first half.
... and what never had a prayer:
Weep, weep for New Mexico at the hands of a TCU team looking to slam the door on an undefeated season. The 10 points permitted the Lobos in the second quarter were quite gracious, but the Horned Frogs still cracked 50 with ease.
Player of the Week: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State.
We can't give it to BYU quarterback Max Hall, much as we'd like to just for running his mouth in epic fashion. So let's turn instead to Moore, Boise's sophomore phenom, who's put up ridiculous numbers for the season and went over 3,000 yards for the second year in a row with 262 on just 17 completions against Nevada, adding five touchdown passes in that number to fuel BSU's 44-33, conference-clinching win. Oh, and he hasn't thrown an interception since early November, against Louisiana Tech.
(A Somewhat Arbitrary) Mid-Major Top 10
1. TCU (12-0) Bring on the BCS.
2. Boise State (12-0) Just don't screw up next week?
3. Central Michigan (10-2) Don't get us wrong, we still think they've got the MAC title for the taking.
4. BYU (10-2) We resent this. Good lord, their losses are stupid in retrospect.
5. Houston (10-2) Not as stupid as Houston's, though.
6. Ohio (8-3) Bring back Boo Jackson! Bring him back, we say!
7. Nevada (8-4) Wishing quarterback Colin Kaepernick a grand finale to a quietly spectacular season in the bowl game.
8. Temple (9-3) Division title or no, still the best bunch of Owls in decades, by far.
9. Troy (9-3) Perennial Sun Belt champs return to the firmament.
10. MTSU (9-3) Blue Raiders haven't lost since falling to Troy in early October.
Dropped out: Navy (sorry), Utah (not sorry)
For the final week of regular season play, we have on tap: Houston at East Carolina for the C-USA title, Arkansas State at Western Kentucky, the MAC title matchup of Ohio U. and Central Michigan, Fresno State at Illinois, New Mexico State at Boise State, and Wisconsin at Hawaii.
• Most Realistic Upset: Fresno State over Illinois. The Bulldogs, 7-4 and third in the high-scoring WAC, are one-point underdogs, on the road, yes, but traveling to face a 3-8 team. Something tells us the homefield advantage enjoyed by the Illini isn't that pronounced.
• Most Unrealistic Upset: We do not like Western Kentucky's last chance for a win against Arkansas State. This makes us sad, as we have watched the Hilltoppers flutter from the nest this year and basically plummet to the hard earth of the Sun Belt, over and over again. That said, Arkansas State is having a down season as well, so maybe they'll catch a lucky break. Maybe?
• Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout: TCU is done for the year, but Boise State's got one more chance to put on a fireworks show, and the target in their sights is 3-9 New Mexico State. The line on this game is 46.5 in the Broncos' favor, and that may be a little soft, frankly.
With no games against BCS schools in rivalry-heavy Week 13, the score for the year remains 19-92 when mid-majors step up to "Big Six" competition. We'll revisit this next week after Fresno State visits Illinois and Wisconsin hits the road for Hawaii to get the little guys over the .180 barrier.
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Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.