Conference USA Round Up: Week One
The Golden Hurricane had a disappointing day Saturday, no question about it. They looked great at times against Iowa State, but a general lack of offensive execution cost them a chance to start the season 1-0.
Despite the loss, there were times during the game where TU's potential was evident. There were big defensive stands, well-executed passing plays, and the offensive line protected Cody Green pretty well against a Big-12 defense. The other good news is TU's mistakes are fairly correctable. Dropped passes, penalties and an inability to convert on third-and-short plays are things that can be worked on with a fairly cushy schedule coming up.
Let's take a trip around Conference USA to see how Tulsa's competition fared in week one of the 2012 season and how each game may affect the C-USA race.
We'll start with the most shocking C-USA outcome of week one, Houston's home thumping at the hand of Texas State. The Bobcats are playing their first season at the FBS level after a long run of mediocrity in the FCS, and Houston didn't even keep it close. The Cougars' offense was so bad Saturday, brand new offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt quit after the game. We all knew Houston wouldn't be the same in 2012 after losing so much offensive talent and its head coach, but to actually witness the decline is a very encouraging sign for Tulsa fans. Houston should be better as the year goes on, but unless they improve dramatically from this performance, TU shouldn't have too much trouble finishing ahead of the Cougars in 2012.
The Green Wave opened up 2012 by giving Rutgers a solid fight. Tulane only lost by 12 to a Big East team that won nine games last season. This performance may be an indication that Tulane is ready to become more competitive in 2012. We'll find out just how much they've improved next week when they visit TU.
The Miners' fans got a treat in week one when Bob Stoops brought his fourth-ranked Sooners to the west Texas town of El Paso. Fortunately for UTEP, the Sooners seemed to fall in love with complacency and looked lethargic throughout the game. UTEP had a legitimate shot at the upset until late in the fourth quarter until ultimately losing 24-7. While I believe this game was more of an indication of Sooners' problems than Miners' talent, UTEP can certainly build off this performance. What we do know for sure is that UTEP needs to go mining for a kicker and a quarterback. Dakota Warren and Steven Valadez combined to go 0-3 on field goal attempts, all occurring at crucial points in the game. Nick Lamaison and Carson Meger combined to throw 7/26 for just 48 yards. On a positive note, running back Nathan Jeffery looked spectacular, running for 177 yards and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. OU gave UTEP many opportunities to not only beat them, but blow them out. The Miners couldn't take advantage of any of them, and that's not a good sign going forward.
The Rice Owls opened up the 2012 season with a special Thursday night home game against UCLA. They made it slightly respectable in the first half, but the Bruins extended the score in the fourth quarter. The Owls defense looked terrible, allowing UCLA to rack up over 300 yards through the air AND 300 yards on the ground. The Rice offense moved the ball fairly well, but unless the defense significantly improves it won't matter much.
The Mustangs had high hopes for their season-opening trip to Waco to face Baylor. It was thought that SMU's chances of pulling the upset were greatly increased with the departure of Baylor's Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, but the Bears squashed that idea real fast. At first glance, you wouldn't have guessed this one was a blowout. Each team had 27 first downs, Baylor had 48 more yards in penalties, SMU's time-of-possession was nearly 40:00, and the Mustangs racked up over 500 yards of total offense. But it was indeed a blowout, a 25-point beatdown to be exact. Baylor looked unstoppable, gaining over 600 yards of offense in just 20:00 of possession time. While the SMU defense was completely overmatched, their offense showed some promise. Zach Line ran for 135 yards and Garrett Gilbert made some nice throws. We won't get a good read on SMU for a while, as they play an FCS team next week followed by Texas A&M and TCU.
The Pirates opened up at home against FCS power Appalachian State, and took care of business 35-13. But don't be fooled by that score, it was a 14-13 late into the third, and that was with the benefit of the officials handing the Pirates a free touchdown on a botched call in the first quarter. Quarterback Rio Johnson didn't look particularly sharp, and the Pirates' offense was outgained by ASU. ECU didn't look like much of a serious threat in week one, we'll see if they can improve.
The Tigers lost at home to Tennessee-Martin, what else really needs to be said? Memphis won two games last season and will probably finish in the bottom of the C-USA East so let's just move on.
The Blazers lost their home opener to Troy, although the Trojans are coming off a rare bad season. The 39-29 loss is especially tough considering UAB's next three games are against South Carolina, Ohio State and Tulsa. UAB is expected to finish near the bottom of the C-USA East again, and what they do won't have much impact on the Hurricane.
The Golden Eagles had a tough task in week one, traveling to Lincoln to face Nebraska. They kept it close for a while, but Nebraska eventually pulled away to make it lopsided. New quarterback Chris Campbell didn't do a whole lot, throwing 6/12 for just 69 yards. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez took the Golden Eagles' secondary apart, throwing for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Nebraska as a whole collected well over 600 yards of total offense. You can't tell a whole lot from this game other than the fact that Southern Miss wouldn't last long in the Big 12, but the Eagles will have to learn to pass the ball better than that if they want to compete for the C-USA crown.
I wrote in my C-USA preview article about how Marshall is expecting to be much improved in 2012. They opened up against powerful in-state rival West Virginia and took a pretty bad thrashing. In fact, midway through the fourth quarter they trailed 69-20. The Herd can be excited about the 545 yards of total offense and the decent third down-conversion percentage, but should be concerned about the 11 penalties for 112 yards. This game isn't a good indicator of what we should expect from Marshall in 2012, nor will next week's cupcake matchup against FCS scrub Western Carolina. A week three matchup against the Ohio Bobcats should be a solid matchup for the Herd.
Central Florida flat-out overwhelmed the Akron Zips in week one, winning 56-14 in Akron. Now keep in mind, the Zips only managed one win last season, so take this blowout with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, UCF's defense looked impressive, holding Akron to just 69 yards rushing and forcing four turnovers. If UCF can play that efficiently most of the season, they'll be competing for the C-USA East title.