September 12, 2011
Weekly notes from the undercard.
Like a lot of people this summer, I tabbed Memphis as the worst team in the nation on the heels of last year's 1-11 debacle under first-year head coach Larry Porter. But even then, I don't think I had a real grasp on just how bad the Tigers really are — or, frankly, how bad they conceivably could be in a hypothetical scenario of maximum ineptitude. Which, at this point, appears to be the reality.
Exhibit A: Memphis was trashed on opening day by Mississippi State, 59-14, as expected. OK, fine. But Exhibit B on Saturday was a catastrophe of an entirely different order: Coming in as two-touchdown underdogs to lowly Arkansas State, the Tigers were outgained by a whopping 442 yards and failed to reach the end zone in 47-3 thrashing that could have been much worse if Arkansas State hadn't let its foot off the gas in a scoreless fourth quarter. Through the first three, the Red Wolves embarked on touchdown drives covering 60, 82, 90, 85 and 61 yards. Not Mississippi State. Arkansas State.
If there can be excuses for that kind of flop, Porter has them. The already-inept offense is breaking in a brand new quarterback and four new offensive linemen in a revamped, spread-friendly scheme, opposite five new starters in the back seven on defense, which finished 2010 as the worst pass efficiency defense in the country. But they can't mask the looming reality: If the Tigers can't beat Austin Peay this Saturday, the lonely '1' in the win column in 2010 may give way to a fat zero.
• THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…
• . For the moment, the No. 1 defense in college football belongs to Central Florida, which followed an opening-day shutout over Charleston Southern with a slightly more impressive, 30-3 thumping over Boston College. After driving for a field goal on the first possession of the game, the Eagles finished with a grand total of 86 yards and four first downs over the last ten, all of which ended in a turnover or punt.
• Meanwhile, the former No. 1 defense, TCU, returned more or less to form Saturday after having its 26-game regular season winning streak unceremoniously snapped by Baylor last week, holding Air Force's triple-option attack in check in a 35-19 win that wasn't as close as the final score. The Falcons come away with 416 yards' worth of total offense (249 rushing, 167 passing), but didn't find the end zone until well into the third quarter, at which point the Horned Frogs already led 28-3. More than half of Air Force's production came with the game well out of reach.
• It's not a typo: The Eastern Michigan Eagles are 2-0, matching their entire win total in coach Ron English's first two seasons combined. So, okay, the wins are FCS punching bags Howard and Alabama State, and things are about to get really ugly in back-to-back trips to Michigan and Penn State. When you begin your head-coaching career with 18 consecutive losses, you'll take two consecutive wins over a team full of nuns.
• GAME OF THE WEEK: Kansas 45, Northern Illinois 42.
The Huskies and Jayhawks spent three hours trading touchdowns — at various points, the game was tied at 7-7, 21-21, 28-28 and 35-35 — all of them coming on long, extended drives in a game that only featured one turnover. Of eight possessions between both teams in the second half, only two didn't result in a touchdown: NIU was forced to punt early in the third quarter, and Kansas was forced to settle for a field goal in the fourth.
The lone stop by the KU defense was just enough to put the offense in position to win when it took over at the Husky 47-yard line with 4:49 to play, down 42-38. From there, the Jayhawks milked the clock dry on an eleven-play march that included two fourth-down conversions — the second a six-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Webb to D.J. Brashears for the winning points with 14 seconds remaining.
• PLAYER OF THE WEEK: T.Y. HILTON, WR/KR, Florida International.
Yes, Hilton took top honors last week, too, but it's not like it's close or anything: The man is a heat-seeking missile with coordinates set to "end zone." This time around, Hilton embarrassed Louisville on national television with 268 all-purpose yards on nine touches, including touchdown grabs covering 74 and 83 yards, respectively, in the span of a little under three minutes in the second quarter. The Cardinals had no answer, and FIU had its first ever win over a "Big Six" program to move to 2-0.
Honorable Mention: Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish accounted for 399 total yards and five touchdowns in a losing effort at Kansas. … Temple running Bernard Pierce ripped up Akron for 150 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries in a 41-3 Owl rout. … And Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry notched three sacks and two more tackles for loss in the Thundering Herd's 26-20 upset over Southern Miss.
• UPSET OF THE WEEK: Rice 24, Purdue 22.
Rice's last win over an opponent from a "Big Six" conference: Sept. 8, notche, over a Duke outfit that finished the season 0-11 for the second year in a row. Ten years later, the Owls delivered a genuine shocker by miraculously blocking Purdue's last-second field goal attempt to win on the final play. If only anyone had actually been there to, you know, see it...
Officially, Rice announced a crowd of 25,317, which seems … optimistic. The reality appears to be closer to twenty-five. But a win is a win, and Rice has never had enough to nitpick over the details.
Honorable Mention: New Mexico State 28, Minnesota 21. The Aggies' big afternoon was overshadowed by the frightening scene involving Gopher coach Jerry Kill at the end of the game, when Kill collapsed to the turf and began to suffer from a seizure. (Kill appears to be in stable condition and plans to return to the sideline this Saturday.) But the win ended an even longer drought than Rice's: New Mexico State hadn't notched a win over a "Big Six" outfit since upsetting No. 22 Arizona State back in 1999.
• CASE KEENUM STAT WATCH
Keenum formally christened North Texas' new on-campus Saturday with a 458-yard, five-touchdown bomb in a 48-23 Houston win, leaving the game early in the fourth quarter just so there'd be something left. To break Timmy Chang's career passing record, Keenum needs to average 272 yards per game over the Cougars' last ten. To break Graham Harrell's career touchdowns record, he needs 21 more TD passes.
A SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY MID-MAJOR TOP 10.
1. Boise State (1-0). The Broncos took the week off to soak up their opening-night win over Georgia. Now: On to the next order of business Friday in the Glass Bowl.
2. Central Florida (2-0). The Knights are riding high at the moment, but not nearly as high as they'll be if they survive back-to-back road trips at Florida International and BYU (see below) with perfect record intact.
3. Houston (2-0). At this rate, Houston's offense vs. Central Florida's defense is going to make for a spectacular collision in the Conference USA title game.
4. Florida International (2-0). Mario Cristobal is on the fast track to the proverbial short list for a bigger job this winter.
5. BYU (1-1). One-point win at Ole Miss followed by a one-point loss at Texas. Maybe it's just me, but I'd say the 4.5-point spread over Utah is looking a little high.
6. TCU (1-1). Horned Frogs evened up the record at Air Force but still looked well below the usual curve defensively.
7. Ohio U. of Ohio (2-0). Bobcats' 20-point win at New Mexico State in week one suddenly has a little value. Hope they enjoy it while it lasts.
8. Rice (1-1). Owls get a week off to enjoy their triumph before it goes up in big, Owl-flavored flames at Baylor.
9. Toledo (1-1). Giving the Buckeyes a run for their money is one thing; keeping it close against Boise State is another, as the Rockets know all too well.
10. Navy (2-0). Awesome job not losing to Delaware or Western Kentucky.
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Honorable Mention: Bowling Green (2-0), Colorado State (2-0), San Diego State (2-0), Temple (2-0), Utah State (1-1).
AT THE OTHER END OF THE BARREL…
• One week after being predictably bludgeoned at Wisconsin, 51-17, UNLV came in for another thumping Saturday from a slightly less distinguished foe, Washington State, which put a 59-7 beatdown on the Rebels to move to 2-0. The Cougars racked up 610 total yards with backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael at the controls, en route to their first back-to-back wins in four years under coach Paul Wulff.
• Akron followed up an opening-day goose egg at Ohio State with another touchdown-free effort at Temple, providing easy fodder for the Owls in a 41-3 rout. Through two games, the Zips have been outscored 83-3 and yielded 13 quarterback sacks.
• Memphis. Come on, man.
STAY TUNED FOR…
This week, Boise State gets a national showcase on a Friday-night trip to Toledo. … Temple takes its 2-0 record against visiting Penn State. … And BYU welcomes Utah for the first non-conference "Holy War" since World War I.