1. UCF: 7-2 (5-0) Previously: 2
2. Tulsa: 7-2 (5-0) Previously: 1
3. ECU: 6-4 (5-1) Previously: 3
4. SMU: 4-5 (3-2) Previously: 4
5. Marshall: 4-5 (3-2) Previously: 6
6. Houston: 4-5 (3-2) Previously: 5
7. Rice: 4-6 (2-4) Previously: 7
8. Tulane: 2-7 (2-3) Previously: 8
9. UTEP: 2-7 (1-4) Previously: 9
10. UAB: 2-7 (0-4) Previously: 12
11. Memphis: 1-8 (1-4) Previously: 11
12. Southern Miss: 0-9 (0-5) Previously: 10
Central Florida takes over the No. 1 spot in this week's power rankings after yet another impressive victory Saturday. The Knights' five-game winning streak has included a few blowout wins against strong competition. A 20-point win over ECU, a 37-point win at Marshall and most recently a 25-pointer over SMU have combined to hoist UCF to the top.
I encourage Golden Hurricane fans not to panic though, as TU is still sitting pretty. If SMU loses to Southern Miss this Saturday, Tulsa can clinch the west division by beating Houston.
As far as the rest of the rankings, ECU solidified its hold on the No. 3 spot by dismantling Houston and becoming bowl-eligible, while UAB rose from the basement by beating Southern Miss.
Here's a look at what happened around Conference USA in week 10:
The Mustang's matchup with UCF Saturday was expected to be one of the highlight games of the week. Instead, UCF flexed its muscle and SMU couldn't hang. This loss wouldn't have been so crippling if the Mustang's hadn't dropped that shocker to Tulane a few weeks ago, but with two conference losses it will take a lot for SMU to have a chance for the west title. The first step would be to handle pitiful Southern Miss this Saturday.
Saturday's blowout loss at ECU is just the latest example of the fact that Houston's defense isn't getting it done. The Cougars' defense has 155 points in the past three weeks while falling two games behind Tulsa in the west division race. UH has always been an offensive power, but this season's squad hasn't been explosive enough to overcome the defensive shortcomings. This Saturday's home date with TU means absolutely everything for Houston. If the Cougars win, they climb back within one game of the west division title and will hold the tiebreaker. A loss not only means elimination from conference title contention but would also put their bowl hopes in serious question.
It appeared the Owls were going to breeze right past Tulane Saturday, but the Green Wave used a 28-point third quarter to turn the game into a nail-biter. Nevertheless, Rice held on for the 49-47 win and kept its bowl hopes alive in the process. This squad is finally rounding into form, having won three out of four with its only loss being a 28-24 thriller at Tulsa. If the Owls can take SMU down at home this Saturday, a season-finale win at lowly UTEP would send this team bowling.
Despite a valiant effort, Tulane's comeback attempt fell just short Saturday. The loss officially eliminates the Wave from bowl contention and leaves them with nothing to play for other than pride. Saturday's trip to Memphis will be a good chance to get back into the win column.
The Knights took over the No. 1 spot in the power rankings because of the manner in which they win games. Saturday's 42-17 mauling of a solid SMU team is just the latest example in a long stretch of impressive play. UCF finishes its season at home in three weeks against UAB, which should be an easy win. With that said, a win at UTEP this week will essentially clinch the east title for the Knights, even if they do lost to Tulsa in two weeks. They hold the tiebreaker over ECU, which means the Pirates must win-out and UCF must lose twice to blow the lead. They way these guys have been playing, it's hard to believe a loss to UTEP would even be possible.
The Pirates looked mighty impressive Saturday, thumping Houston 48-28 and becoming bowl-eligible. Unfortunately for ECU, it appears Central Florida has almost no shot to lose two of its final three, which would shipwreck the Pirates' hopes of reaching the conference title game. ECU's final two games are very winnable, (at Tulane, vs. Marshall) but as I explained in UCF's recap, East Carolina doesn't control its own destiny. Expectations in Greenville are different than most college towns. Reaching a bowl game is a given, not a goal for Pirates fans. Conference titles are the goal, and this would mark the third consecutive season of not getting there.
Saturday's win over Memphis wasn't pretty, but it was effective nonetheless. The Herd earned win No. 4 and will be in pursuit of No. 5 this Saturday at UAB. If Marshall wants a bowl bid, the UAB game is an absolute must-win. After this week, matchups with Houston and ECU remain, both of which will be very tough. The Herd is averaging 47 points per game on the road this season, including trips to West Virginia and Purdue. Another strong offensive output at UAB should be enough to swamp the Blazers.
The Blazers rose from the power rankings' basement this week with a 27-19 road win over Southern Miss. The win was UAB's first this season over an FBS opponent and should provide this squad with a nice boost of energy to finish the season.
2012 has been nothing short of awful for Memphis, but relief could be on the way. Saturday's loss at Marshall dropped the Tigers to 1-8, but the schedule from here on out gets much easier. Tulane, UAB and Southern Miss close out the season for Memphis, a stretch where 3-0 is absolutely possible.
I'm not sure what the NCAA record is for biggest win drop-off from one season to the next, but I've got to imagine the Eagles are flirting with it. 12 wins in 2011 and a 0-9 start to 2012 is a collapse of historic proportions. With a trip to SMU Saturday, the Eagles are staring 0-10 right down the barrel. I'll do what I can to find that stat, but in the meantime let's just assume they've got it.