C-USA Power Rankings: Rice Controls Destiny
By Dan Harralson
Football in late October usually means contenders separating themselves from the rest of the field.
There will be several interesting matchups for the second half of this season in Conference USA. With both the East and West divisions up for grabs, let's look at the conference's power rankings leading up to this weekend's games:
1. Rice (5-2, 3-0 C-USA) — David Bailiff has done a tremendous job of turning around the football program at Rice. After its excellent finish to last season and strong start in 2013, Rice is thinking big things are in store this season. Rice's two losses were to Texas A&M and once-beaten Houston. Having already defeated Tulsa, the Owls are looking at running the table with winnable games remaining against UTEP, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tulane.
2. Marshall (4-2, 2-0) — Having the best quarterback in the conference always helps. A 3-0 start in conference play has The Herd thinking of a C-USA East championship. As good as Rakeem Cato has been, it will still be a tough feat for Marshall to win out. Remaining games at Tulsa and a home finale against East Carolina will determine if Marshall can hold on to its No. 2 power ranking.
3. Tulane (5-2, 3-0) — Tulane has turned a lot of heads with its start to this season. It's pretty remarkable that a Green Wave program that has not been bowling since 2002 is one win away from being bowl eligible. That speaks volumes for head coach Curtis Johnson and his team, who came up with a huge win over East Carolina last week. Tulsa is up next for the Green Wave. We'll see if the magic continues.
4. East Carolina (5-2, 3-1) — Whenever you have Cato running Ruffin McNeill's offense, you have a shot. ECU had a surprising loss last week at Tulane, but the Pirates are still a tough team to face. Like Marshall, their season will be defined by two games — at home against Tulsa and at Marshall.
5. North Texas (4-3, 2-1) — Talking to North Texas head coach Dan McCarney in Dallas this summer, I figured he would put his team in bowl contention. With four wins already, the Mean Green can win six or seven games. McCarney has done a good coaching job this year.
6. Tulsa (2-4, 1-1) — How crazy was it to think that Tulsa would be in this position? I saw Tulsa struggling early to start and bouncing back, but then Rice dealt the Golden Hurricane an unexpected loss. Hats off to Rice for cementing its mark on the conference this year, but Tulsa needs to reclaim its place among the West Division contenders. It's going to be tough for Tulsa to win a second straight West Division crown now that Rice and Tulane are competing in the division. Tulsa has a tough schedule remaining with a trips to Tulane and Eastern Carolina along with a home game against Marshall.
7. Middle Tennessee State (3-4, 1-2) — It has not been too bad of a first year in Conference USA for MTSU. The Blue Raiders are halfway to a bowl game. With remaining games against Marshall, UAB, FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP, it seems that MTSU is headed bowling.
8. Louisiana Tech (2-5, 1-2) — Finding a new quarterback was the story going into fall camp for head coach Skip Holtz, and that has been the issue as the season has unfolded. Wins against Lamar and UTEP have been the two bright spots for the Bulldogs, but there are other signs of progress under Holtz's leadership. Close losses to Tulane and Kansas may not prevent Louisiana Tech from contending for a bowl game. The Bulldogs have back-to-back games against FIU and Southern Miss, which may allow Holtz and the Bulldogs to ponder pulling out six wins this season. The problem is that Louisiana Tech will need two wins in its last three games against Rice, Tulsa and UTSA.
9. Florida Atlantic (2-5, 1-4) — The Owls may be 2-5 and 1-4 in the conference, but head coach Carl Pelini's team has been competitive. The Owls have a road win under their belt at UAB to go along with a win over South Florida. They also have three defeats in which they have lost by a combined 25 points to go along with loses to Miami and ECU.
10./11. UAB (2-4, 1-1) and UTSA (2-5, 1-2) — The Blazers and Roadrunners are pretty much equal as they get ready to play each other Saturday. UTSA has one more loss than UAB, but UTSA also gas two road wins over New Mexico and UTEP. UTSA's five losses have all been to quality teams: Oklahoma State, Arizona, Houston, Marshall and Rice. UAB has defeated FIU on the road and Northwestern State of the FCS. UAB needs to win Saturday for any chance at making only the school's second bowl appearance in program history.
12. UTEP (1-5, 0-3) — Sean Kugler's first season as head coach at Texas-El Paso has not gone the way he had wanted with a 1-5 start. The Miners' lone win came at New Mexico State in a blowout, but UTEP needs to find a defense. The Miners have given up at least 30 points in each of their losses.
13. Florida International (1-5, 1-1) — FIU has suffered a blowout loss to Maryland, an embarrassing setback to Bethune-Cookman and two losses by a combind score of 110-0 to UCF and Louisville. Its only win? Against winless Southern Miss.
14. Southern Miss (0-6, 0-2) — Winless this season and with 18 consecutive losses. Dare I say more?