Tulsa looked sharp in all phases Saturday against Nicholls State, beating the Colonels 66-16. No question that Nicholls State didn't provide any sort of challenge for the Hurricane, but TU did what it needed to and looked impressive in the process. The Hurricane collectively ran for 333 yards and seven touchdowns, while Cody Green threw for 130 yards and two scores before leaving in the second quarter.
It's a good thing TU did look good Saturday, because next week's opponent won't be so easy. The Fresno State Bulldogs will travel to Tulsa coming off a 69-14 thumping of Colorado in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates. The Bulldogs have looked explosive offensively in all three of their games this season; fans might want to bring a calculator to Saturday night's shootout.
Week three of Conference USA play only featured one intra-conference matchup, with ECU traveling to Southern Miss. Let's take a trip around C-USA and see how Tulsa's competition fared in week three, and how that may affect the Hurricane.
Bye Week: Tulane
The Pirates scored 21 points in the third quarter to come back and stun Southern Miss 24-14. ECU ditched starting quarterback Rio Johnson last week at South Carolina after he threw three picks, and went with sophomore Shane Carden. Carden got the starting nod today and while he didn't blow anyone away, he took care of the ball and made the necessary throws. Carden threw for a touchdown and ran for a touchdown, while not committing any turnovers. The Pirates' defense capped off that huge third quarter by returning a fumble for a touchdown. This wasn't pretty; ECU only managed 228 yards of offense, but make no mistake, this is a huge win for the Pirates as they look to regain their place atop the C-USA East. ECU makes the the short drive to Chapel Hill next week to face its rival UNC.
There's no dancing around the fact that losing a home game to ECU hurts. ECU came into town after getting thumped by South Carolina, and showed what they're made of. Southern Miss had a golden opportunity to snag a win over a division rival and imploded in the third quarter. The Golden Eagles' offense looked sluggish, only collecting 324 yards and averaging just two yards-per-rush. In fact, Southern Miss' offense actually looked better at Nebraska in the season opener. The Eagles now take a 0-2 record to Western Kentucky next week, who fought Alabama hard and took down Kentucky this week.
After two weeks on the road, Central Florida hosted in-state rival Florida International in week three. The Knights jumped out to a 23-0 halftime lead and did enough in the second to hold the Panthers off. UCF looked impressive last week at Ohio State, hanging in there until late in the fourth quarter. They looked good again against FIU, but now faces the most important stretch of the season. They have a bye in week four, then play three straight home games against Missouri, ECU and Southern Miss. Regardless of what happens in the Missouri game, the ECU and USM games could determine who wins the C-USA East. The way the Knights have looked so far this season, there's no question they'll be gunning for a 3-0 record in that stretch.
The Herd played tough Saturday, but blew a big opportunity to take down Ohio at home. The Bobcats trailed 24-17, but scored 10 unanswered points to finish the game and steal a win on the road. Ohio came into the game at 2-0 with a win at Penn State, and would have been a big win for the Herd. Nevertheless, their strong performance against a very strong Ohio team should give them confidence, Marshall opens up C-USA play next week at Rice (1-2).
The Blazers led South Carolina 3-0 in the first quarter and was driving in Gamecocks' territory looking for more. Then everything fell apart. Fast. Jonathan Perry fumbled and South Carolina returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. The Gamecocks never looked back in route to a 49-6 victory. UAB was predictably overmatched, as they will be next week when they travel to Ohio State. Assuming they fall to the Buckeyes, the Blazers will still be looking for their first win in 2012 when they host Tulsa in two weeks.
The Tigers had a 10-7 lead in the second quarter Saturday, but Middle Tennessee quickly ended their hopes with a 34-7 run to put the game out of hand. As I have said all season, Memphis won't factor much into the C-USA race; they'll be lucky to win three games. The Tigers head to Duke on Saturday.
The Cougars haven't looked good so far in 2012, but Saturday it got even worse. UCLA has seemingly come out of nowhere this year under new coach Jim Mora Jr. and took advantage of a rebuilding Houston team. Quarterback David Piland threw five interceptions and the UH defense allowed 567 yards. The next three games will be huge for the Cougars. They have home games against Rice, North Texas and UAB. As bad as Houston has looked, these three games should all be wins. If UH can win those two C-USA games especially, they might just get the confidence they need to turn things around.
The Miners jumped out to a 27-0 lead and held on to take down New Mexico State. Quarterback Nick Lamaison continued to improve, throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns. This was a must-win game because UTEP travels to Wisconsin this week, which will likely end with another loss. This win prevents a 0-4 start entering C-USA play, which they will do in two weeks at ECU.
The Owls got a big road win last week over Kansas, but experienced a meltdown this week at Louisiana Tech. Rice played the Bulldogs evenly for the final three quarters, but couldn't recover from a 21-point first quarter deficit. Louisiana Tech earned its second-consecutive win over a C-USA team, winning a shootout with Houston last week. Rice will need to recover quickly as their next two games are against conference opponents. The Owls host Marshall next week and Houston the week after.
Southern Methodist continues to be a head-scratcher, losing a home game by 45 points one week after winning a home game by 52 points. Yes, I know the win was over an FCS opponent, and the loss was to Texas A&M, but it's not that simple. The FCS opponent was perennial-power Stephen F. Austin, and SMU made them look like a high school team. But the two losses to A&M and Baylor were both really ugly, a combined 107-27 ugly to be exact. So through three weeks, we haven't learned much about SMU other than they'll be unpredictable. The Mustangs play their final non-conference game next week against TCU.