Saturday was a rough day for Conference USA. C-USA teams were 0-6 against nonconference opponents until Tulsa finally held off Fresno State Saturday night.
Tulsa saved some face for the conference by winning one of the wildest games you'll see all season. The Hurricane overcame three Cody Green interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and used the rare Trey Watts to Thomas Roberson touchdown connection to rally to victory.
There was only one intra-conference game this weekend, and it was just as wild as Tulsa's. Marshall took down Rice in a double-overtime shootout in both teams' conference opener.
With the conference as a whole struggling, Tulsa has a chance to really separate itself from the pack in the next few weeks. Perennial powers Southern Miss and Houston are a combined 0-6, and contenders like SMU, UTEP and ECU aren't exactly rolling. In fact, other than Tulsa, the only team in Conference USA with a winning record is UCF at 2-1.
Let's take a look around the conference and see exactly how Tulsa's competition fared in week four.
Bye Week: Houston, SMU, UCF
The Miners traveled to Wisconsin Saturday, getting a second crack at a huge win this season. Missed opportunities and special teams blunders cost them a chance to beat OU, and a 21-point second quarter for the Badgers cost UTEP any chance to spring the upset in Madison. To give the Miners credit, they battled back in the second half and made it a little interesting, losing by a respectable 11 points. The improvement of quarterback Nick Lamaison is encouraging for UTEP as conference play begins to heat up. They open up C-USA play next Saturday at East Carolina.
As I alluded to earlier, Rice was involved in the only C-USA matchup of week four. They lost a heartbreaking 54-51 two-overtime home game to Marshall, in which remarkably, they never had a lead until the second overtime. There's no question this loss hurts Rice, as Marshall appears to be one of the better teams in the conference and anytime you have a lead in overtime it hurts to lose, but there are some positives to take away. The Owls fought a tough team right to the end, and if you add that to a win over Kansas, Rice has reason to believe they can win some games in the conference this season.
This nightmare season for Tulane got worse on Saturday, getting thumped at home 39-0 by Ole Miss. The Green Wave hasn't scored a touchdown in the first three quarters so far this season, and faces a tough road ahead. They host a strong Louisiana-Monroe team next week and then travel to Louisiana-Lafayette before starting conference play.
East Carolina fell at UNC Saturday, having to face the Heels in the return of star running back Gio Bernard. Bernard pillaged the Pirates for over 100 yards and two touchdowns, while ECU's offense couldn't muster much either. Quarterback Shane Carden made his second start, but was pretty ineffective and didn't take many shots downfield. The Pirates appear to be a solid team that doesn't have a very high ceiling in 2012. They return home against UTEP next Saturday.
If the traditional powers in C-USA are going to struggle in 2012, Marshall is one of the teams that could be poised to step in and take over. If the Herd wants to do that, Saturday's barn-burner win over Rice was a huge step. Through four games, Marshall sits No. 1 in the country in passing yards per game at 384. They are also an impressive 16th in points per game at 41. If the Herd can improve its defense, Marshall might be Tulsa's top challenger for the C-USA West title in 2012.
The Blazers played a very strong ball game Saturday, trailing Ohio State by only six late into the fourth quarter. The Blazers may be 0-3, but their schedule has been brutal. After a tough loss to Troy, UAB had to travel to South Carolina and then Ohio State, a schedule that would leave most C-USA teams 1-2 at best. They return home this week to face Tulsa in the Blazers' conference opener. If Tulsa goes into Birmingham and takes the Blazers lightly, UAB is talented enough to spring the upset.
The Tigers got off to a strong start against Duke Saturday, holding a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Unfortunately, they proceeded to allow 31 unanswered on the way to another blowout loss. They allowed 500 yards to the Blue Devils and only gained 152. Keep in mind, they were playing Duke, one of the most notoriously pathetic programs at the FBS level. It's going to be a very long season for the Tigers.
The Golden Eagles have been pretty disappointing so far this season, and it got worse Saturday. A 42-17 loss at Western Kentucky drops the Eagles to 0-3, and not one of those losses has been by single digits. The loss of head coach Larry Fedora to UNC and quarterback Austin Davis to the NFL has left this offense in shambles. The Eagles rank 120th in the country in passing yards and No. 115 points per game, and their next two games are Louisville and Boise State. Southern Miss does get both of those games at home, and if they can spring an upset in one of them, it might give this team some confidence to turn this season around.