CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- THERE ARE 12 undefeated teams in the NCAA's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, but only three of the 124 teams are winless.All three are 0-6 and two are from the Mid-American Conference, which should trigger some snickering from Marshall fandom. Those are Massachusetts, which is reclassifying from below, and Eastern Michigan, which is ... Eastern Michigan.The third 0-6 team won't have Thundering Herd fans laughing: Southern Mississippi. After a 38-31 double-overtime loss Saturday night at Central Florida, you can confidently declare the Golden Eagles the best 0-6 team in America.And the most shocking. This is a proud program with 18 - that's one-eight - consecutive winning seasons, a streak two years longer than the history of Conference USA. The Eagles are the defending C-USA champions and have appeared in bowls in each of the last 10 years.
But now, this team has won one fewer game than perennial plodders such as Kansas, Akron, Memphis, Kentucky, New Mexico State and, gulp, Tulane. The Eagles are on the brink of attaining bowl ineligibility two weekends before the end of daylight savings time.Next up: Marshall, which will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., after a week off to ponder its agonizing 2-4 start. Kickoff time is 7 p.m. Eastern from M.M. Roberts Stadium, with the game airing on CBS Sports Network.I'm slapping the "must-win" tag on the Herd (2-4, 1-1) for this one - do you really want to be 2-5, 1-2 when UCF comes to Huntington on Oct. 27? You know Southern Miss (0-2 C-USA) wants to avoid a seventh loss, but the Herd should play with equal desperation.(So how large is that Ohio game looming about now?)One more log to toss on the fire - when I compile my mythical C-USA rankings on my blog this week, I promise you Southern Miss' final five foes will be ranked below the Herd. In other words, a win over Marshall can spark a season-saving 6-0 run.Here are a few reasons the Eagles are a little better than that record: Maybe, just maybe, their quarterback situation is clearer. Dual-threat freshman quarterback Anthony Alford directed the Eagles to two touchdowns and a game-tying field goal on their last five possessions against UCF, showing an ability to throw darts into tight spaces.
Alford went 14 of 27 for 165 yards and ran for 71 more on 12 carries, with two touchdowns. He did throw two interceptions, though, including the game-ending toss snared by UCF's Kemal Ishmael.Chris Campbell, who has considerably better efficiency numbers but is not as much a running threat, missed the UCF game with an injury. Ricky Lloyd has started two games, though it appears he is third string for a reason. The Eagles still have several good running backs. Desmond Johnson is the leading rusher, but Jalen Richard impressed me with his 87 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
Some elements of a typical Southern Miss defense remain. The Eagles allowed UCF 272 yards passing and 454 total, and couldn't stop a fresh-legged Latavious Murray in overtime, but fared well on third down (5 of 14).
The Eagles held Louisville to 269 total yards (in a downpour) and limited Boise State to 310 (five turnovers fed that 40-14) debacle. On the other hand, Nebraska riddled the Eagles for 632 yards, and Western Kentucky amassed 560."Bandit" end Jamie Collins is a name you might know, and he recorded his 15th and 16th sack at UCF. Tracy Lampley is still around, though he is slowed by a knee injury. He owns a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but he was held out of that duty at UCF. Still, look for him to get the ball in a number of ways.
Marshall should go no worse than 4-2 the rest of the way, and really should finish 5-1 or better. But the Herd must maneuver through this Mississippi minefield to get where it wants to go. nn
Chances are when you went to bed Saturday night, Texas A&M was smacking future C-USA entrant Louisiana Tech really, really hard in an off-campus game at Shreveport, La. The Aggies led 39-13 late in the first half.The final score? A&M 59, Tech 57. In fact, the Aggies had to foil a two-point conversion attempt with 38 seconds left to keep the contest from overtime, and to knock the Bulldogs out of the Top 25.It is a good thing for the rest of C-USA that the Bulldogs will lose seven senior starters on offense, including quarterback Colby Cameron (44 of 58, 450 yards, five TDs). The defense will be the veteran side, though that may or may not be a good thing.Whatever the case, Louisiana Tech will be a fun addition to Conference USA, football-wise. Consider the Bulldogs an upgrade from Big East-bound Memphis, for sure.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@ wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.