This is a big weekend in Conference USA, which a key game involving contenders in each division.
In the East, Southern Miss -- which has won 11 in a row at home -- plays host to East Carolina, which has won the past two league titles. In the West, SMU plays host to Tulsa. The winner of each takes a huge first step toward a division title.
In the East, it appears to be a three-team race between ECU, Southern Miss and UCF. ECU is solid offensively but has all sorts of defensive issues, while UCF has a strong defense but still is trying to sort out its quarterback situation. Southern Miss looks to have the best mix of offense and defense.
In the West, the season-ending injuries to Houston QB Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner looks to have turned the division into a free-for-all. With Keenum out, Tulsa might now have the best offense in the league, but the Golden Hurricane's defense has been shredded at times. In its third season under June Jones, SMU has a stronger-than-expected rushing attack, a still-improving defense and an inconsistent passing attack. Given Jones' presence, you have to figure the pass offense will round into form.
Mustangs QB Kyle Padron threw for a season-high 371 yards against Rice last week. "I hope his performance is just the start of the rest of the year for us," Jones said on Monday's C-USA coaches' teleconference.
Meanwhile, Troy took a huge step toward a fifth consecutive Sun Belt title by beating Middle Tennessee 42-13 Tuesday night. It was Troy's 12th consecutive league win and the Trojans' fifth in a row over MTSU. Troy and Middle look to be the best teams in the league.
Best matchup: Northern Illinois rush offense vs. Temple rush defense. NIU leads the MAC and is 12th nationally in rushing (241.6 ypg) behind TB Chad Spann (108.4 ypg) and QB Chandler Harnish (62.2 ypg). Temple has had trouble stopping opponents, allowing 174.6 rushing yards per game. But that figure may be skewed a bit. The Owls have allowed more than 200 rushing yards to ground-bound Connecticut, Penn State and Army -- and they still won two of those games. If NIU can get to 175 rushing yards, it likely will win.
Player on the spot: Houston RB Bryce Beall. Houston is down to its third-string quarterback and will be without star WR James Cleveland (team-imposed suspension) for Saturday's home game against Mississippi State. The Cougars beat the Bulldogs in Starkville last season, but the going figured to be much tougher this time. Beall has to have a big game if the Cougars are to win. He rushed for 123 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Tulane in Houston's first game with new starting QB Terrance Broadway, but Mississippi State's defense is more physical than Tulane's. If Beall doesn't produce, there's no way an inexperienced Broadway is going to be able to do enough to produce a victory.
Numbers game: Nevada plays host to San Jose State on Saturday night. San Jose State has lost 10 in a row on the road and is last in the nation in third-down conversion percentage (19.4). Nevada has won eight in a row at home and leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage (62.3).
What they're saying
"Some people, when you're not doing as well, like to hide. You still have to call with that same tone and same energy and let guys know the future of this program is very promising." -- Memphis coach Larry Porter, on whether his team's 1-4 start will hurt recruiting
"We probably had half a dozen players tell me that was the first plane they had ever been on. That's quite a first flight for them, eight hours from Dallas to Honolulu. I told them all the flights aren't eight hours." -- Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, whose team lost at Hawaii last week
"They're running pretty much same offense they have been running for the last four years and we're 0-4 against them. ... They won only two games last year and one was against us. ... They have definitely had our number in the last four years." -- UTEP coach Mike Price, on Rice, this week's opponent
"I've been asked multiple times why we haven't scored in the fourth quarter and why we haven't done certain things in the second half. If I knew the one answer for that, then every coach in the country would pay me for it." -- Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle.
"The only time you can develop the things we have to work on is through game experience. I wish I could do it differently, but I can't and we can't. We just have to be patient. I wish we could rush it, but we can't. ... Our opponents have done a good job attacking where they should attack." -- East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill, on his young and inconsistent defense
Etc.: Toledo is 0-2 at home and 3-0 on the road. But the Rockets play at Boise State on Saturday and the Broncos have won 27 in a row at home. ... Houston puts its 18-game home winning streak -- the fourth-longest in the nation -- on the line when Mississippi State comes calling Saturday night. ... Arkansas State has scored at least 24 points in each of its first five games, the first time since 1995 that the Red Wolves have scored at least 20 points in five consecutive games. ... Hawaii senior WR Kealoha Pilares set a school record with 18 receptions for a career-high 217 yards and two TDs in last week's 41-21 win over Louisiana Tech. ... Louisiana-Lafayette edged North Texas 28-27 last week, thanks to a blocked extra point with 31 seconds left. The block was the 42nd in the Rickey Bustle era, and ULL ranks fourth in the nation in
blocked kicks since Bustle became coach before the 2002 season. ... Notre Dame junior QB Dayne Crist has thrown for more yards (1,358) in his first five career starts than any quarterback in school history. ... Navy and Western Kentucky are on the road this week; they are the only two FBS schools in the nation who play four of their first five games away from home. ... Boise State senior K Kyle Brotzman has 377 points, 18 shy of the WAC career record for points. Hawaii's Jason Elam scored 395 points from 1989-92. ... Marshall senior DE Vinny Curry leads the nation with eight sacks, and Herd senior LB Mario Harvey leads the nation in tackles with 65. ... Ohio University earned the 500th victory in program history with last week's 30-17 win at Eastern Michigan. ... Utah State is 2-3, its best start since 2005. ... Louisiana Tech has allowed all five of its opponents to score on their opening possession of the second half. ... FIU might be 0-4, but the Panthers have yet to allow a first-quarter touchdown this season. ... UTEP is 4-1 for the first time since 2005, and the Miners have outscored opponents 56-6 in the third quarter this season. ...
New Mexico State has lost 11 in a row and doesn't have a sack, a fumble recovery or an interception this season. ... Tulsa has scored 24 touchdowns, and 12 players have scored at least one touchdown this season. ... SMU won by 11 at Rice last week, its largest margin of victory in a road game since 1999. ... Hawaii's Bryant Moniz leads the nation in passing touchdowns (15) and passing yards (1,869). ... North Texas has allowed opponents to score on their opening possession in each game this season. ... Last week's Bowling Green-Buffalo game had 11 turnovers; Buffalo committed five and Bowling Green six in a game Buffalo won. ... In its past two home games with Pittsburgh, Notre Dame has lost on last-second field goals (41-38 and 36-33).
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.