Mid-Major Monday: Florida International’s not just a flash in the pan

Weekly notes from the undercard.

Pregame announcement: Today marks my foray into the weekly non-AQ review. Just want to put out there that I wanted to change the name to the "Non-AQ Notebook," but because this has been a staple on Dr. Saturday for quite some time, the name stays. Just know that I was looking out for you, non-AQ fans.

Moving on…

The third weekend of the college football season brought more non-AQ surprises, including the continued success of Florida International. The Panthers defeated reigning Conference USA champion Central Florida 17-10 on Saturday to move to 3-0 this season, one of just six non-AQ teams with an undefeated mark. FIU is even receiving votes in the national polls for the first time in its short history.

This is the same FIU program that won just six games in its first three years of existence. It won three games in all of 2009.

But coach Mario Cristobal has had Florida International on a steady rise. It shared the Sun Belt Conference title a year ago and will likely challenge for it again.

The most impressive thing about Saturday's win is that FIU did it mostly without the help of star receiver T.Y. Hilton, who left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. Hilton already has 587 yards of total offense and is averaging 22.58 yards per play. He's a big reason the Panthers defeated North Texas and Louisville, but it's good to see FIU is not a one-trick pony and can still beat a good team without him.

THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…{YSP:MORE}

Mentioned there are just six undefeated non-AQ teams remaining: Houston, Wyoming, Boise State, San Diego State and Ohio. Out of those, it's fair to say Boise State has the best chance to stay undefeated through the rest of the season. Wyoming, San Diego State and Ohio put those undefeated records on the line this weekend against Nebraska, Michigan and Rutgers respectively.

• Boise State has had slow starts against its two opponents this year, but has managed to overcome them for big victories. Here's where someone might say that Boise State can't afford to have a slow start when they go up against a good team. Unfortunately, there really aren't any good teams left on the schedule. Yes, yes, TCU in November, but the rest of the conference is making its name on suspect wins.

Of the Mountain West's 12 wins — excluding Boise State's — only two have come against bowl teams (San Diego State over Army and UNLV over Hawaii). And TCU hasn't exactly been impressive this season. It's defense, which has long been the nation's best, is ranked 103rd in the country. Yeah, that's not a misprint. It is allowing 431.33 yards per game and has one of the worst pass defenses in the country. To put that in perspective, you have to go back to the 2008 season to find the last time TCU gave up 400 yards in a game (411 vs. Oklahoma).

Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne is questionable this week after suffering a knee injury against Oklahoma State last weekend. Kinne was hit while out of bounds after a scramble. He didn't return to the game and the Golden Hurricane's offense sat on the sidelines with him. Tulsa is awaiting MRI results.

RUSH THE FIELD: Wins worthy of a bleacher-clearing celebration.

In one of the most unexpected results of the weekend — of the season, in fact — UNLV defeated Hawaii 40-20 in Las Vegas. This is the same Hawaii team that is boasting a Heisman-caliber quarterback and is favored to win the WAC. UNLV hasn't been to a bowl game since 2000 and has had just one non-losing season during that span (6-6 in 2003). The Rebels have won just two games in five of the past seven seasons. So kudos to the Rebels and coach Bobby Hauck for a signature win and a headshake to the WAC, which currently has no team with more than one win this year.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Penn State 14, Temple 10

The Owls were 2 minutes and 42 seconds away from what many would have dubbed the biggest win in program history, but a Penn State touchdown dashed those hopes and gave the Nittany Lions a 14-10 escape over Temple. While this is a bitter loss, the Owls can take comfort in the fact that they continue to show they can play with anyone. This is a program that was going to close its doors before coach Al Golden came along and resuscitated it. And it looks like first-year coach Steve Addazio is pushing it forward. Even though Ohio is 3-0, there's no doubt the Owls are the team to beat in the MAC.


This week's YouTube musical dedication goes out to Louisiana Tech, who snatched defeat from the hands of victory against Houston. The Bulldogs led 34-7 near the end of the third quarter when Houston quarterback Case Keenum started a furious comeback that ultimately gave the Cougars a 35-34 win. So, Louisiana Tech, I dedicate Tiffany's "Could've Been" to you. Enjoy.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State.

Moore continued to make his case for the Heisman with a stellar performance in a 40-15 win against Toledo. He completed 32 of 42 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns using nine different receivers. The five scores and 32 completions were both career highs. In two games, Moore is completing 79 percent of his passes.

Honorable mention: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman rushed for 191 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Aztecs to a 42-24 win over Washington State and the Aztecs first 3-0 start in 30 years. … Case Keenum completed 25 of 40 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns to help lead Houston back from a 27-point deficit in the final 19 minutes.


1. Boise State (2-0). The two toughest tests are over for the Broncos and barring an absolute meltdown, they shouldn't encounter much resistance before facing TCU in November.
2. Florida International (3-0). Even without T.Y. Hilton, the Panthers are one of the more formidable non-AQ teams. They drop back into conference play this weekend and could take a commanding 2-0 lead in the Belt.
3. Houston (3-0). Case Keenum showed why he's one of the nation's best quarterbacks by orchestrating an amazing comeback against Louisiana Tech.
4. Temple (2-1). The Owls performance against Penn State showed that it's picked up where Al Golden left off.
5. Navy (2-1). The Mids almost pulled off a major upset of South Carolina, which should give them a lot of confidence going into the Commander-In-Chief Trophy game against Air Force next weekend.
6. Central Florida (2-1). No shame in losing to FIU, though they'll have to pick up the offense to keep pace in Conference USA.
7. TCU (2-1). The Frogs haven't been great this year and a near stumble against Louisiana-Monroe shows this is a far cry from the team that won the Rose Bowl a year ago.
8. San Diego State (3-0). It's first two wins weren't all that impressive, but it handled Washington State with ease. The Aztecs might give Michigan a run for its money this weekend.
9. Ohio (3-0). The Bobcats are undefeated against a soft schedule, but will have a chance this weekend against Rutgers to show that it belongs in the conversation.
10. Utah State (1-1). The Aggies impressed with a near upset of Auburn in the first week, but we're still waiting to see if that was a sign of a better USU team.
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Honorable Mention: Bowling Green (2-1), Colorado State (2-1), Southern Miss (2-1), SMU (2-1)

• Western Kentucky is exactly who we thought they were. After an impressive showing against Kentucky during the opening weekend, the Hilltoppers have lost their last two, including last weekend's debacle against FCS opponent Indiana State. Western Kentucky won two games last year, but will be hard-pressed to repeat with performances like Saturday's.

There's not a lot to say about the WAC right now except, 'Wow.' We all knew Boise State was the cream of the crop in that conference, but no one could have predicted the nosedive it would take after the Broncos (and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick) left. What was Hawaii's conference to lose has turned into a very open competition that could give championship opportunities to teams such as Utah State, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech.

Could New Mexico get a win this weekend? The Lobos finally get a schedule break against Sam Houston State and have the opportunity to win their first game since beating Wyoming last November. The Lobos have won one game each of the past two seasons and this could be the next opportunity.

San Diego State tries to remain undefeated as it takes on former coach Brady Hoke and Michigan. … Temple gets a second chance to knock off an AQ team at Maryland. … Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida International go head-to-head in the battle of the top Sun Belt teams.

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