CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many Marshall football players have their Saturday night entertainment set -- their next two opponents play.Each other, conveniently enough."This week we're going to get everybody healthy, then sit back and watch our opponents," said receiver Aaron Dobson. "Definitely, there's a lot we are going to learn."Southern Mississippi takes on Central Florida at 8 p.m. Saturday in Orlando, a contest which usually has major implications in the Conference USA East Division race. Still might - in four of seven seasons since the 2005 realignment, the winner has gone on to win the division.UCF (3-2, 1-0) has looked good this season, even in defeats to Ohio State and Missouri, and is coming off a 40-20 win over East Carolina. And that was after the Pirates took a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes.That's impressive. Defending champion Southern Miss (0-5, 0-1), so far, is not.Not since the Golden Eagles lost the first nine games of 1976 has a season gone that far south out of the gate. The lowlights under first-year coach Ellis Johnson have been plenty, including:
Allowing 632 total yards in a 49-20 loss to Nebraska; Allowing a fumble return for a TD and another short-field score in a 24-14 loss to East Carolina; Falling 42-17 at Western Kentucky in a game that wasn't that close - the Hilltoppers led 42-3 and piled up 560 total yards; Taking a 17-6 lead in a heavy rain before falling 21-17 against 19th-ranked Louisville; Committing five turnovers against Boise State, falling behind 37-7 and losing 40-14.And now, the Eagles head to Bright House Networks Stadium to face a Knights team bouncing back nicely from a disappointing 2011.At the root of the problems is a quagmire at quarterback, as Southern Miss struggles with life after four-year starter Austin Davis. And with life after Larry Fedora, who left after four seasons to become coach at North Carolina.New coach Ellis Johnson and offensive coordinator Steve Buckley have tried three signal-callers - Anthony Alford, Ricky Lloyd and Chris Campbell - and none have been great. The Eagles' completion percentage is 45.3 percent and their pass efficiency rating is on the wrong side of 100. Johnson expects Alford to start and Lloyd to probably play against UCF, with Campbell recovering from injury.
Against Boise, the Eagles' five turnovers included two interceptions thrown by Lloyd and three lost fumbles. The Broncos cashed in with touchdowns off four of those."The biggest problem is just turnovers," Johnson said. "It's creating field position problems. It's creating time of possession problems. It's obviously equating into points. The average field position difference was about 22 yards and when you multiply that by how many possession exchanges there are, you get up into 300, 345, 350 yards of difference before the ball is even snapped."We're just not good enough right now to overcome that."Elsewhere Tonight's Fox Sports Net game pits Tulsa (5-1, 3-0), fresh off its 45-38 win over Marshall, hosting Texas-El Paso (1-5, 0-2). The Golden Hurricane scored exactly 45 points more than UTEP managed over Southern Methodist.Miners coach Mike Price is sticking with senior Nick Lamaison, despite his 9-of-23, two-interception performance. Price does have precedent on which to draw.
"One of the finest men I've ever known was the president at Washington State, and I can remember asking me, 'Do you think you're staying with the quarterback too long? He hasn't played real great.' I said, 'I think I'm doing the right thing, and the right thing is to stick with Drew Bledsoe. He's just a freshman.'" The most interesting C-USA game of the week might not be a conference game - yet. Texas-San Antonio, the reclassifying program entering C-USA next season, travels to Rice.UTSA is undefeated in five games, beating reclassifying South Alabama, future Sun Belt program Georgia State and New Mexico State. The Roadrunners, playing in the Western Athletic Conference for a year, belted the Aggies 35-14 last week.The first question: UTSA has drawn 30,416 and 25,742 in its two home games. How badly can its fans outnumber those of the lightly drawing Rice? Yes, those are the Memphis Tigers (1-4, 1-0) tied for first in the East Division. They downed Rice 14-10 last week in a cold rain, their first win in a league opener since 2000. Allen Cross caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Eric Mathews late in the third quarter, and then the Tiger defense didn't allow the Owls across midfield the rest of the game.After gaining the first victory under coach Justin Fuente, the Tigers travel to East Carolina (3-3, 2-1) on Saturday. Alabama-Birmingham (1-4, 0-1) visits Houston (2-3, 1-0) and running back Charles Sims, who had 210 yards rushing and 55 receiving in a 44-21 win over North Texas. Cougar linebacker Phillip Steward leads the league with 10.8 tackles per game. SMU (2-3, 1-0) travels to Tulane (0-5, 0-1). The Mustangs have a legitimate shot at their second consecutive shutout, a feat they haven't recorded since 1947.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.