Yesterday we took a look at midseason progress reports for the Sun Belt and MAC, and today it’s time to do the same for the Mountain West, Conference USA and FBS Independents.
Let’s get to it.
Mountain West West
Hawaii (2-4, 1-0): This says it all about the state of the division, right? The Warriors have taken a step forward from last season’s 1-11 campaign, playing Washington and Oregon State to within nine combined points, and then going on the road and keeping it close at Colorado (21-12) and Rice (28-14). With only three home games remaining, Norm Chow’s team will have to steal one on the road (at Colorado State, San Jose State or Fresno State) to hit bowl eligibility.
Fresno State (3-4, 2-1): Tim DeRuyter’s group took it on the chin to start the year with a brutal opening slate – at USC (a 52-13 loss), at Utah (a 59-27 loss) and home versus Nebraska (a 55-19 loss). The Bulldogs have pulled it back together since, although Friday’s overtime loss at UNLV stings.
San Diego State (3-3, 2-1): Last year’s team started 0-3 and finished 8-5. This year’s bunch started 2-3, and has the potential for another fast finish, with only two road games remaining.
San Jose State (1-1, 2-3): The Spartans have played some good defense in Ron Caragher’s second year, leading the conference in total defense, but have struggled to run the ball with a MW-worst 730 yards and 3.48 yards per carry on the season, except against UNLV, when the Spartans gashed the Rebels for 277 yards and nearly five yards per carry in a 33-10 win.
UNLV (2-5, 1-2): UNLV’s 30-27 upset of Fresno State feels like the biggest Mountain West upset of the year so far. Save for the three-point overtime win and a 13-12 squeaker over Northern Colorado, the Rebels have been outscored by an average of 19.8 points per game.
Nevada (1-2, 3-3): It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but the retirement of Chris Ault has seen Nevada’s prolific running game fall down the charts. The Wolf Pack ranked seventh nationally in his final season of 2012, dropped to 49th in 2013 and are down at 56th through the first half of this season, though their yards per carry is up from 3.9 to 4.24.
Mountain West Mountain
Utah State (4-2, 1-0): You’ve got to hand it to Matt Wells and his staff. For the second year in a row Utah State is without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, and for the second year in a row they continue to win. Aggie quarterbacks hit 22-of-31 passes for 311 yards with two touchdowns in Saturday’s 34-16 win over Air Force.
Boise State (4-2, 2-1): Quite the dichotomy for Bryan Harsin’s Broncos. Boise State is averaging an even 40 points per game in its four wins, and scored 27 points total in its four losses. Fittingly, the Broncos committed 11 turnovers in those two losses, with quote-unquote just five turnovers in the four wins.
Colorado State (5-1, 1-1): My pick to win the conference at this point, Colorado State leads the Mountain West in scoring and ranks second in scoring defense. The Rams lead the league in passing, passing efficiency and yards per attempt, and a 5.44 yards per carry average allow them to rank seventh in the conference in rushing despite being the only team with less than 200 carries (190, to be exact) on the season. After a 6-12 start, Jim McElwain has won 11 of his last 14 games at Colorado State.
Wyoming (3-3, 1-1): You can tell what kind of team Craig Bohl has just by looking at the Cowboys’ final scores. The three wins have come with finals of 17-12, 17-13 and 20-19. Wyoming has stayed in that area in its three losses, scoring 14, 14 and 28 points, but the opponent has taken off without them, scoring 48, 56 and 38 points. Saturday should be more to Wyoming’s liking, as San Jose State brings the Mountain West’s 10th-best scoring offense (21 points a game) to Laramie.
Air Force (4-2, 1-2): Perhaps no team is more reliant on turnovers – creating them on defense, eliminating them on offense – than Troy Calhoun’s team. The Falcons are 10-2 in the black in their four wins – and 9-2 in wins over Boise State and Navy, games where they truly needed turnovers to win – and 6-1 in the red in losses at Wyoming and Utah State.
New Mexico (2-4, 0-2): For the third year in a row under Bob Davie, New Mexico can run the ball (ninth nationally in rushing, 13th in yards per carry) and not much else. The Lobos are 118th in total defense, 123rd in yards per play allowed, and 94th in scoring defense.
Conference USA East
Marshall (6-0, 2-0): College football’s most under-appreciated team thanks to maybe college football’s lightest schedule, Marshall is the only team in the country to rank among the top 10 in scoring offense (second at 47.8 points per game) and scoring defense (eighth at 17.2 points per game). Needless to say, their 30.6 scoring differential is the largest in college football. The Thundering Herd also ranks in the top 25 in total offense, total defense, rushing offense and passing offense.
Middle Tennessee (4-3, 3-1): With a 50-47 triple-overtime defeat of Western Kentucky under their belt, Middle Tennessee may go on to claim the much-coveted “Conference USA East champion if not for Marshall’s incredible year” title.
Florida International (3-4, 2-1): Left for dead by many after a 1-3 start that included a loss to Bethune-Cookman, FIU and head coach Ron Turner have turned it around sharply since late September. FIU leads Conference USA in total defense, passing defense and yards per carry allowed and ranks second in yards per play allowed, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense.
UAB (4-2, 2-1): Speaking of turnarounds, we’ve written about the change in momentum Bill Clark brought to UAB, who has already doubled last season’s win total.
Florida Atlantic (2-4, 1-1): Charlie Partridge’s team is 2-0 in Boca Raton, with wins over Tulsa and UTSA, and 0-4 away from home, which has included trips to Alabama, Nebraska, Wyoming, and then across South Florida to FIU. Not surprisingly, the Owls offense hasn’t traveled with them, averaging 45 points at home and nine points on the road.
Old Dominion (3-4, 1-3): The Monarchs’ defense has struggled in its first year as an FBS member, surrendering 46.25 points per game in four losses. Old Dominion also allowed 28 points win in win over Hampton, and 42 in a 45-42 shootout victory at Rice.
Western Kentucky (0-2, 2-3): Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers are the Conference USA version of New Mexico. WKU can throw the ball with 433 passing yards per game, trailing only Washington State nationally and outpacing third-place Texas A&M by 37 yards a game, but not much else. Western Kentucky is 123rd in total defense, 115th in yards per play allowed and pass efficiency defense, 118th in scoring and 123rd in rushing defense.
Conference USA West
Louisiana Tech (3-3, 2-0): How about Manny Diaz? La Tech’s new coordinator has bumped the Bulldogs from 70th to 39th in total defense. Take out the 48 allowed to Oklahoma, 45 to Auburn (and the ugly 30-27 loss to Northwestern State) and Louisiana Tech has allowed 44 points total to mid-major peers Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas and UTEP – all blowout wins.
Rice (3-3, 1-1): Perhaps the best statement how David Bailiff has built the Rice program – the Owls haven’t fallen off the map after a successful season. Rice went 10-3 with a senior-laden team in 2008, then dropped to 2-10 in ’09 and 4-8 in both 2010-11 before building back up to 7-6 in 2012 and 10-4 in last season’s C-USA championship campaign.
UTEP (3-3, 1-1): Already surpassed the 2-10 mark of Sean Kugler’s first season, UTEP has planted its flag over the state of New Mexico – beating UNM 31-24 and NMSU 42-24 – and competed well in a 30-26 loss to Texas Tech. Take the Miners away from the Southwest and they struggle, with a 30-point loss at Kansas State and a disheartening 55-3 stomping at Louisiana Tech.
UTSA (1-1, 2-4): The Roadrunners started to swell, dominating Houston in the opening of their new stadium, and pushing Arizona to the point where UTSA had the ball with a chance to win late in the fourth quarter. Since then: a blowout loss to Oklahoma State, and then losses to FAU and New Mexico, followed by an encouraging home win over Florida International.
North Texas (2-4, 0-2): The Mean Green can play some defense, ranking second in rushing defense and fifth in total defense and yards per play allowed in the conference, but have struggled to find a quarterback and, thus, struggled to move the ball consistently. Dan McCarney aired some of his frustrations earlier this week.
Southern Miss (2-4, 0-2): Outside of wins over FCS Alcorn State and former FCS Appalachian State – by seven points combined – Southern Miss’ best accomplishment this season is coming within six points of Middle Tennessee.
Notre Dame (6-0): The Irish are off to a good start against a schedule that hasn’t proven as challenging as previously anticipated, but everything obviously hinges on Saturday night at Florida State. Notre Dame is a heavy underdog, but how’s this for an omen? The Irish have never lost to a defending national champion in the regular season (4-0-2) and are a 9-0-1 in games where both teams enter 6-0 or better.
BYU (4-2): The fault line here is clear. BYU was undefeated, ranked nationally and a contender for a major bowl game until Taysom Hill was lost for the season. Since he went down, the Cougars have lost to Utah State and Central Florida.
Navy (3-4): The schedule is interesting here for Ken Niumatalolo to keep Navy’s run of 10 bowls in 11 seasons alive. With four losses already and games against Notre Dame and Georgia Southern ahead, the Midshipmen will have to sweep San Jose State, South Alabama and Army to get to six wins (if you assume losses to the previous two, which I am). Additionally, Navy’s loss to Air Force (just the third since 2003) means the Midshipmen are going to need some help to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the third straight time and 10th time in the last 12 years.
Army (2-4): The good news? Army is 2-0 against the MAC in Jeff Monken’s first season, defeating Buffalo to open the season and Ball State on Oct. 4. The bad news? The Black Knights are 0-4 against everyone else, including the first-ever loss by an FBS team to Yale, and first loss by an FBS squad to an Ivy League member since 1986.