Last week’s BCS crashers probably won’t make a run at a major bowl game this season, but two of them crashed the expectations for power-conference teams.
Louisiana-Monroe scored a rare Sun Belt win over an SEC team, and not just a rebuilding SEC program, as happens every now and then. The Warhawks overwhelmed, at least on offense, an SEC team that fancied itself a West Division and BCS contender. Those hopes may be over for Arkansas.
Out West, Utah had an uphill battle to unseat USC in the Pac-12 North to begin with, but the Utes are now trying to avoid being the third-best team in their own state. Meanwhile, Utah State -- rather than preseason favorite Louisiana Tech -- may be the team to watch in the WAC.
Looking ahead, this could be a key week for teams outside of the six major conferences. ULM will try to upset another SEC team. Utah State faces a reeling Big Ten team. And independents BYU and Notre Dame will hit the road for key rivalry games.
Here’s whose stock is rising and falling for teams outside of the Big Six leagues:
Louisiana-Monroe. As a conference, the Sun Belt has never had two wins over the SEC in the same season, never mind a single team doing it in back-to-back weeks. And remember, ULM wasn’t even one of the favorites in the Sun Belt -- Athlon picked the Warhawks fourth after Arkansas State, FIU and Louisiana-Lafayette. This week, the Warhawks face an Auburn team stinging from a turnover-filled loss to Mississippi State. Meanwhile, ULM quarterback Kolton Browning bounced back from a broken sternum last season to account for 481 yards of total offense against the Razorbacks’ lackluster defense.
Utah State. Aggies coach Gary Anderson has led once-hapless Utah State to close losses to Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Auburn in the last four seasons. Utah State put an end to the near-misses Friday with a 27-20 win over Utah, the Aggies’ first win over the Utes since 1997. A week after quarterback Chuckie Keeton and Kerwyn Williams averaged 5.3 yards per carry against Utah and All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, the Aggies’ backfield duo will face a Wisconsin team that lost 10-7 to Oregon State last week. How much of a big-game player is Keeton? The sophomore is a combined 56 of 87 for 551 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions against Auburn, BYU and Utah the last two seasons.
Toledo. Anyone with an affinity for midweek college football knows to keep an eye on Toledo. That shouldn’t change this season despite a new Rockets coach. A week after taking Arizona to overtime in a 24-17 loss -- a loss that’s more impressive after the Wildcats’ dismantling of Oklahoma State on Saturday -- Toledo defeated bowl contender Wyoming 34-31 on the road. Toledo’s Terrance Owens passed for 300 yards and four touchdowns and the Rockets rushed for 204 yards as a team. Toledo also has allowed 1,150 yards in two games, so the potential for defense-optional MAC games is high again this season. Could that start this week with Toledo’s home opener against Bowling Green, a team that was competitive with Florida until the fourth quarter in Week 1?
KEY GAMES IN WEEK 3
ULM at Auburn. The Warhawks try to add the Tigers to Alabama and Arkansas in their SEC trophy case.
Utah State at Wisconsin. The Aggies seek a big-time road win to go with Utah victory.
BYU at Utah. BYU has lost three of four in the series, but Utah is stinging from the loss to Utah State.
Notre Dame at Michigan State. Manti Te’o vs. Le’Veon Bell is one of the week’s top matchups.
Notre Dame. The 20-17 win over Purdue is tough to figure, and not because of the Irish quarterback rotation: Is Purdue better than projected? Is Notre Dame worse? Was this a case of jet lag since the trip to Ireland? In any event, Notre Dame escaped with a win. It turns out Notre Dame’s switch at quarterback from Everett Golson to Tommy Rees in the final two minutes was due to Golson’s inexperience rather than his sore thumb. Will Golson go the distance against Michigan State.
Ohio. No Penn State hangover here. The Bobcats defeated New Mexico State 51-24 behind four total touchdowns from Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship. This week’s game against Marshall is Ohio’s only regular-season game against a team with a winning record last year.
Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs won their opener after their first game against Texas A&M was postponed. Louisiana Tech may be one of the top teams outside of the Big Six conferences, but the Bulldogs didn’t show it on defense in a 56-49 win over Houston. The Cougars passed for 580 yards, rushed for 113 and scored 35 second-half points to prevent the game from being a rout.
Nevada. The Wolf Pack threatened to string together back-to-back wins against major conference teams before a late collapse led to a 32-31 loss to USF. In the fourth quarter, Nevada was stopped on a goal-line stand and the 1-yard line and allowed two 50-yard pass plays to blow an 11-point lead.
Arkansas State. Is it time to re-evaluate those Sun Belt expectations? Arkansas State’s 57-34 loss at Oregon wasn’t a huge surprise, but the Red Wolves let Memphis hang around a little too long Saturday. Arkansas State was the preseason Sun Belt favorite after winning 10 games last season while Memphis lost to UT Martin in the opener. Senior quarterback Ryan Aplin remains productive, though, passing for 300 yards in both games this season.
OFF THE MAP
Eastern Michigan. The Eagles have made progress under Ron English, going 6-6 last season for the program’s first non-losing season since 1995. Eastern Michigan’s hopes of reaching a bowl for the first time since 1987 decreased thanks to a 31-14 loss to Illinois State. The Eagles turned the ball over five times in the loss.
Colorado State. The Rams’ didn’t have the highest expectations this season, but the good feelings from a season-opening win over Colorado quickly eroded with 22-7 loss to North Dakota State. Colorado State lost to the top-ranked team in the FCS, but an FCS team, nonetheless.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Taylor McHargue, Rice. The Owls quarterback is a week removed from passing for 236 yards in a second-half comeback against Kansas. The junior who lost his job to Nick Fanuzzi also passed for 172 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 95 yards and a score to keep the heat on UCLA in the opener. This week, he’ll face a vulnerable Louisiana Tech defense that just allowed 580 passing yards and 77 pass attempts to Houston last week.
By David Fox
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