CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the first time ever, there shall be seven league games in Conference USA on the same Saturday, starting with Marshall's homecoming game with Texas-San Antonio at 2 p.m. today. It is the first and only such week this will happen this fall.The Thundering Herd and five other teams have all eight C-USA games in front of them, but a few of today's results stand to shape both division races.Cases in point: East Carolina at Middle Tennessee and Rice at Tulsa. The former pits the first and third teams in the East Division in the preseason coaches' poll, while the latter pairs the top two in the West.The pertinent question on this side of the league is this: Will anybody from here on out stop ECU's Shane Carden?
North Carolina surely didn't last weekend, as the Pirates rolled into Chapel Hill and pillaged the Tar Heels 55-31. Carden completed 32 of 47 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns and added three 1-yard touchdown runs. Vintavious Cooper ran for 186 yards and led ECU with 70 receiving yards.Team-wise, the Pirates (3-1, 1-0) rolled up 603 yards in a school-record 101 plays, racking up a school-record-tying 36 first downs. Not surprisingly, Carden was named C-USA's offensive player of the week, the fifth such award in his career."I told Ruffin [McNeill, ECU's coach] before the game this is by far his best team," said UNC coach Larry Fedora. "You know, he's in year four, he's got his guys in there, they understand what he's trying to do and they believe in what he's doing, and they're playing like that."I told him that before the game, and he feels good about where he's at right now and he should be. He's in year four and they've bought in."It has been apparent that MTSU's players have bought into the system of eighth-year coach Rick Stockstill, and that veteran team was as ready as any to jump into C-USA. The Blue Raiders (2-3, 1-0) won their first conference game, 42-35 in overtime at Florida Atlantic.But the Raiders suffered a bad setback eight days ago, falling 37-10 at Brigham Young. The Cougars outgained the Raiders 486-212 and held veteran QB Logan Kilgore to 82 yards on 13-of-31 passing.Feast-or-famine MTSU defensive stat: The Blue Raiders have forced 16 turnovers, tied for first in the FBS with Tulane, but is 13th in C-USA in third-down stops (49.4 percent opponents' success).Out west, Rice goes to preseason favorite Tulsa with a better early-season resume. The Owls started the season with a 52-31 loss at Texas A&M, but followed with a 23-14 win over Kansas and a 31-26 loss to crosstown rival Houston. Rice (2-2, 1-0) escaped last week in the "Battle of the Owls," forcing late turnovers in an 18-14 win over Florida Atlantic.The last two losses for Tulsa (1-3, 0-0) are understandable (38-21 to Iowa State, 51-20 to Oklahoma), but the season-opening 34-7 loss at Bowling Green is not. The Golden Hurricane downed Colorado State on a last-play field goal, 30-27.Senior Cody Green has not progressed as expected, and he was pulled in the third quarter of the Iowa State game last week in favor of Dane Evans. Green re-entered in the fourth quarter, only to throw an interception that set up the Cyclones for a short-field touchdown.Other C-USA games today, in no particular order:
Florida International (0-4, 0-0) at Southern Mississippi (0-4, 0-4): The rules say one of these 0-4 teams must win, and the odds are the host Golden Eagles will end their 16-game losing streak. The Panthers had an extra week to recover from their 72-0 loss at Louisville, and for quarterback Jake Medlock to recover from a concussion. Alas, the FIU circus continued this week with two more suspensions.FAU (1-4, 0-3) at Alabama-Birmingham (1-3, 0-0): The Owls will try to avoid an 0-4 league start as their underrated defense takes on UAB running back Darrin Reaves, who is averaging 103 yards per game. Owls quarterback Jaquez Johnson is expected to return from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Rice game. A conspiracy theorist could say Johnson's healing was accelerated by the fourth-quarter meltdown by Greg Hankerson, who committed three turnovers and threw a pass away on the final fourth-down play.North Texas (2-2, 0-0) at Tulane (3-2, 1-0): The Green Wave owns sub-LSU Louisiana and has designs on surprising West Division contention. Cornerback Jordan Baptiste was responsible for two turnovers in a 31-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe, and the Green Wave has those 16 takeaways.Louisiana Tech (1-4, 0-1) at Texas-El Paso (1-3, 0-1): Who's up for an early October "must-win" game? Loser gets early trip to the West basement.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.