ECU-Tulane a meeting of unexpected division leaders
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The first important Conference USA cross-division game wasn't supposed to happen this early in the league season. And it wasn't supposed to involve Tulane.
When the first C-USA preseason football poll in years was rolled out in July, a check of the schedule zeroed-in on West Division favorite Tulsa's two-game stretch against East favorite East Carolina and second-place pick Marshall.
But ECU's next assignment has gained in importance, as the Pirates (4-1, 2-0) travel to New Orleans to take on Tulane. Those are two of the three 2-0 teams in league play.
The Green Wave (4-2, 2-0) was picked sixth of seven teams in the West, which was hardly a stretch - it had won just 13 league games in the previous eight seasons and hadn't had a winning season overall since 2002.
But Tulane owns wins over Louisiana Tech (24-15) and North Texas (24-21), the latter won on the last play by a 27-yard Cairos Santos field goal. As the defending Lou Groza Award winner, Santos is one of the Green Wave's biggest weapons.
ECU just got by Middle Tennessee last weekend, 24-17, with Damon Magazu intercepting MTSU star Logan Kilgore with five minutes remaining. The Pirates ran the clock out, converting three times on third down.
The loss stung for MTSU (3-3, 1-1), probably the best-positioned of C-USA's six new teams. To stay in East Division contention, the Blue Raiders must win at North Texas (2-3, 0-1) in a battle of former Sun Belt teams.
A big subplot for the Blue Raiders, who host Marshall on Oct. 24: They have been beset with offensive line injuries, forcing former Marshall assistant Geep Wade to adjust his personnel on the fly. That may have had a hand in MTSU rushing for just 89 yards against the Pirates.
"It's tough. We haven't started the same center in back-to-back games all year," said Kilgore. "... It's tough for those guys and tough on the running backs who have to understand the different ways we are going to block."
In the West, Rice (4-2, 2-0) goes to the Alamodome to take on a Texas-San Antonio (2-4, 1-1) team that is smarting from its loss at Marshall. The Owls knocked off Tulsa 30-27 in overtime last week, as quarterback Taylor McHargue recovered somewhat from a frustrating night against Florida Atlantic.
McHargue, who tortured Marshall with 467 total yards last year in Houston, threw for 177 and ran for just 11. The Golden Hurricane sacked him four times, but couldn't stop his game-winning 25-yard pass to Darik Dillard in overtime.
UTSA coach Larry Coker is trying to regroup his troops after their 34-10 loss at Marshall. The Roadrunners are happy to be home, for certain.
"You look at four of our first six games on the road," he said. "Three pretty long trips, plus a bus ride once we get there and playing a good team. For a young team like we are, that can be difficult. I don't like to make excuses. I just made one. I didn't say I liked it.
"I think it's the Bill Parcells theory, 'all that matters is did you win or did you lose?' We didn't win and I think we're a little bit of a tired football team. I think that's probably my fault. I have to recognize that and get them rested. They'll be rested for Rice and ready to go."
Around the USA
The rest of the schedule consists of Alabama-Birmingham (1-4, 0-1) at Florida International (1-4, 1-0) and Tulsa (1-4, 0-1) at Texas-El Paso (1-4, 0-2). Given the events of September, who could have guessed FIU has the only league win among the four teams?
The Panthers extended Southern Mississippi's agony with a 24-23 win last weekend, clinched when Isame Faciane blocked Corey Acosta's 44-yard field goal attempt.
Keep an eye on FIU's Silas Spearman, the 5-foot-8 freshman running back who received his first extended action, ran for 136 yards on 29 carries.
"Silas has shown us that he has some quickness, some speed, but his vision and cut-back ability really stand out," said FIU coach Ron Turner. "When we watched the reps he had earlier, we saw that he could make people miss. Once he got in the game, I didn't know we were going to play him that much, but when the guy gets hot you go with him."
Southern Miss (0-5, 0-1), loser of 17 straight, and Louisiana Tech (2-4, 1-1) have the week off.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.