CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Is Tulane for real? Is Tulsa still a contender in Conference USA's West Division?
That is the most compelling matchup on Saturday, especially after Tulane's break-through win two weeks ago against East Carolina, 36-33 in triple overtime. The Green Wave (5-2 overall, 3-0 C-USA) is one of two unbeaten teams in the West, and neither of them is Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane (2-4, 1-1), which already has lost to co-West leader Rice, could suffer a knockout punch at the Superdome. Tulsa is coming off a 34-20 win at cellar-dweller Texas-El Paso (1-5, 0-3) two weeks ago, and that wasn't domination by any means.
The victory came with a cost - quarterback Cody Green suffered a bruised left thigh and took a shot to the right knee in separate plays in the second half. For Tulsa, that was a shame - Green was 14 of 17 for 226 yards and two touchdowns, the most efficient effort of his career.
Redshirt freshmen Dane Evans took first-team snaps during the off week, with Green getting involved over the weekend. Their status remains up in the air.
As does that of Tulane QB Nick Montana. The son of Joe Montana didn't play against ECU, and freshman Devin Powell jumped in and went 23 of 39 for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
"I don't know if he'll play or not," Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said Tuesday. "We're counting on him to play, but he's on a snap count of about 40 throws. He's upping it every time. It's his arm strength that we've got to get back going."
And yes, Johnson does have a consultant in ol' No. 16 (No. 19 in his Kansas City days).
"I look over and see his dad. His dad sometimes gives me the 'yea' and sometimes he gives me the 'no,'" Johnson said.
Tulane has lost eight in a row to Tulsa, not winning in the series since 1968. But the Wave is off to its best start since the unbeaten season of 1998 and is a win from earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 2002.
Rice (5-2, 3-0) plays UTEP at the same 3:30 p.m. EDT time as the Tulsa-Tulane game, so the Owls might win the race to C-USA's first bowl berth. East Carolina (3-1 C-USA) is also 5-2 overall, but has the week off.
Other games Saturday, in chronological order:
Alabama-Birmingham (2-4, 1-1) at Texas-San Antonio (2-5, 1-2), 5 p.m.: UAB took a 21-7 lead two weeks ago at Florida International, but needed a late Ty Long field goal to win 27-24. Darrin Reaves has 502 yards rushing, on pace to repeat his 1,037 yards of 2012.
Louisiana Tech (2-5, 1-2) at FIU (1-5, 1-1), 6 p.m.: Since their 72-0 evisceration by Louisville, the Panthers have outgained two foes by a combined 19 total yards. After the Cardinals roughed FIU 464-27 in that statistic, that's nothing to sneeze at.
North Texas (4-3, 2-1) at Southern Mississippi (0-6, 0-2), 7 p.m.: The Golden Eagles are 13th (or last) in the league in just about every offensive category and are minus-14 in turnovers. That's not a good recipe to end an 18-game losing streak.
Florida Atlantic (2-5, 1-4) at Auburn, 7:30 p.m.: Ah, yes, it's homecoming in the SEC!
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.