CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Its place secured for a final-week showdown with Marshall, East Carolina travels to rival North Carolina State in its final effort to improve Conference USA's non-league record.
It would be the Pirates' going-away present to C-USA to vanquish the Wolfpack today in Raleigh, N.C. The Pirates are 11-16 in the all-time series, won in 2006 and 2010 and are favored today.
A win would also give the Pirates (8-2, 6-1 C-USA) a North Carolina/N.C. State double, an all-time first. On Sept. 28, ECU dominated the Tar Heels as Shane Carden threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns.
"They all rank evenly, right at the top," coach Ruffin McNeil said of the in-state rivalries.
The league has one other non-conference game today, with Florida Atlantic hosting New Mexico State. The Owls are favored by about three touchdowns over the sad-sack Aggies.
The non-conference record of the 14 C-USA teams is 18-36 - 5-1 against Championship Subdivision teams, 2-19 against teams from the "Power 5" conferences and 11-16 against other FBS leagues such as the American Athletic.
ECU's win over North Carolina is one of those two "Power 5" wins; Rice's 23-14 win over Kansas is the other.
Carden continues his march to MVP honors. His passing line: 306 of 422, 3,320 yards, 29 touchdowns, seven interceptions. His yardage is 519 yards ahead of Marshall's Rakeem Cato, and his passer rating (158.0) is nearly 10 points ahead of Cato.
Justin Hardy leads C-USA in both receiving categories with 87 catches for 1,047 yards.
Not much will happen in the East Division, in all likelihood. Marshall (7-3, 5-1) should dispose of Florida International (1-9, 1-5) in Miami, while Middle Tennessee (6-4, 4-2) should extend the losing streak of Southern Mississippi (0-10, 0-6) to 23.
Once again, the intrigue comes in the West Division, where Rice (8-3, 6-1) leads by a half-game. The Owls kicked off the weekend Thursday with a 37-34 overtime win over Alabama-Birmingham (2-9, 1-6). The big game today: Texas-San Antonio (5-5, 4-2) at North Texas (7-3, 5-1).
UTSA already has one "spoiler" win, that 10-7 stunner Nov. 9 over Tulane. It was the Roadrunners' finest defensive effort in their short history.
The stakes are becoming historic for North Texas.
"We're trying to get to 6-0 in our home stadium, and there's only one time in the history of North Texas football that they have been 6-0 at home and that was 1966," said coach Dan McCarney. "To put that in perspective, it was Mean Joe Greene's sophomore year."
Luke Turner ran for the last yard to give Rice its victory at Legion Field. That was set up by Jowan Davis' 17-yard run to the UAB 1-yard line, after the Blazers were held to a field goal on their possession.
The Owls ran for 328 yards, but did most of that without star back Charles Ross, who left early with an apparent injury. He piled up 50 yards on 10 carries, giving him a league-high 1,063.
It was the second game that coach David Bailiff coached without his father, Bob, who died on Nov. 12. Last week, Rice played a strong game in his honor, beating Louisiana Tech 52-14.
Bailiff's mother, Marsh, died in 2012 on the Wednesday before the Owls' home game against Marshall. That's the game the Thundering Herd won 54-51 in double overtime.
Ross is just ahead of the 1,026 rushing yards by Tulsa's Trey Watts for the league lead. Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon is next at 917.
Some other stat leaders:
Scoring, Warren Harvey, ECU, 85.
Punt and kickoff return average, Brelan Chancellor, NT, 20.1 and 28.5.
All-purpose yards, Watts, Tulsa, 170.7.
Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.