HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The first conference game has been played in the sort-of-brave new Conference USA, and a pecking order has been established in the East Division.East Carolina, dressing up its players, field and fans in black, rolled over Florida Atlantic 31-13 in the first league game of the season Thursday night. FAU (0-2, 0-1) is one of the six new members playing football this season and one of the newcomers in the East.The Pirates (2-0, 1-0) led 21-6 at the half and cruised in for the most part, but didn't have a gaping advantage in the team statistics - they outgained the Owls just 312-282 and the teams tied in first downs, 16-16.Coach Ruffin McNeil wasn't concerned with that, though. He was happy how his team handled the game coming five days after a difficult 52-38 win over Old Dominion."We planned on this, from the practice in fall camp, anticipating this short week," McNeil said. "Really a man-up effort by our group to face a team like Old Dominion, who stretched the field on us and come back in a short window with weather-type obstacles in the way."ECU hosts Virginia Tech next weekend, a week before Marshall travels to Blacksburg, Va., to take on the Hokies.nn
North Texas isn't on Marshall's schedule, but the Mean Green's opponent this week is - the Ohio Bobcats, playing in the cozy confines of Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.
So while Thundering Herd coaches view video on the Bobcats, they'll incidentally get an eyeful of North Texas. With Conference USA shifting from a 14-team league schedule to 13 teams next year, it's hard to tell exactly which teams the Herd will draw from the West Division.For the present, this game is a good barometer for UNT, which beat Idaho 40-6 last week, and for Ohio after its 49-7 loss at Louisville.The interesting back story of this game: UNT coach Dan McCarney and Ohio coach Frank Solich could have been on the Wisconsin staff in 1990.McCarney and the Badgers' new head coach at the time, Barry Alvarez, planned to sneak Solich out of Lincoln, Neb., and hire him, but that plan unraveled when Solich was designated to replace Nebraska coach Tom Osborne when he retired.
McCarney is in his third year at North Texas, while Solich has long forgotten his Nebraska tenure with eight-plus years in Athens.nn
Some other C-USA games today:
Colorado State at Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane had lots to fix last week after a devastating 34-7 loss at Bowling Green.Middle Tennessee at North Carolina: It's uncertain how good the Tar Heels are, but that's not the Blue Raiders' problem. A close result will carry over into MT's first C-USA schedule.Florida International vs. Central Florida: This should be a nasty little contest, with the Panthers having something to prove after getting turtled by Maryland last week (43-10 final).Texas-San Antonio vs. Oklahoma State: This matchup gives the Roadrunners a home game, and Cowboys fans get some elbow room in the Alamodome - and some recruiting exposure. Barring an ugly rout, UTSA has little to lose.nn
And finally, FAU doesn't have an easy go of it in the local press. The hometown Boca Raton Tribune has five drop-down menu items on its website: the Marlins, Dolphins and Heat, as you might expect, and high school football. The fifth team: the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the lower-tier North American Soccer League.
The Fort Lauderdale-based Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post respectfully recognize the Owls, however.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.