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C-USA looking to bounce back after rough first week

Wins over so-called BCS schools haven't been easy to come by for Conference USA teams, and wins over Top 25 teams are that much more difficult.

But C-USA teams can't always reach for the stars in non-conference action. They must swat away the perceived smaller fish in the major-college food chain.

We're talking the Mid-American Conference, the soon-to-die Western Athletic Conference and, most of all, the smack-talkin' Sun Belt.

Marshall won't have to deal with pesky teams such as Arkansas State, but the Thundering Herd does have to contend with an ambitious, momentum-riding Ohio team. Meanwhile, the Herd's C-USA brethren have eight games vs. the Sun Belt and three vs. the WAC.

In general, Sun Belt teams ignore the talk about their conference being rated the lowest in the FBS. They seem to especially savor the chance to knock off C-USA.

New commissioner Karl Benson, transplanted from the WAC, wants even more.

Recently he told the Associated Press, "What my goal would be for the Sun Belt to enhance our assets, our characteristics, so if and when the time comes that Conference USA comes looking to the Sun Belt for a replacement team because Conference USA lost school A, B, or C, that the Sun Belt member will look at what the Sun Belt provides and come to the conclusion that there's no reason for us to leave the Sun Belt."

A big statement, considering Florida International is playing its last year in the league before high-tailing it to C-USA. Others reportedly wanted to join the conga line, most notably Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic.

After FIU was invited and FAU was left out, Howard Schnellenberger issued another bold statement, saying the Owls' new stadium in Boca Raton would seat 65,000, perfect for Big East play.

In the next two weeks, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee take their shots at Big East-bound Memphis, which has struggled against the Sun Belt - 2-7 since 2005. FIU plays at Central Florida on Sept. 15.

Two of the three C-USA-vs.-WAC games involve Louisiana Tech, whose defection is helping sink the WAC in football. After getting "hurricaned out" of last week's neutral-site game against Texas A&M, the Bulldogs play at shell-shocked Houston this week and host Rice the following week.

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  • C-USA went 0-7 against BCS leagues and 0-2 against ranked teams last week. This week, East Carolina visits ninth-ranked South Carolina and UCF plays No. 18 Ohio State.

    The latter game has been jokingly called the "Loss of Institutional Control Bowl," pitting two bowl-banned teams (UCF's ban is on hold pending appeal). After raking Akron 56-14 last week, confidence is running high in the Knights' camp.

    Latavius Murray ran for 108 yards against Akron, but is expected to miss Saturday's game with an injury. Blake Bortles went 13-of-16 for 168 yards and three touchdowns, and the usually understated coach George O'Leary is singing his praises.

    "I feel more comfortable this year with the drop-back game than I have in any year, last year or the year before," O'Leary said. "The reason is that Bortles has good arm strength, he can see downfield. I think we have some receivers, we play with six of them that can go out and get the ball."

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  • After a disappointing 38-23 loss at Iowa State, Tulsa kicks off the league season at home against Tulane. It's the first of three early-season conference games over the next three weeks.

    Nebraska transfer Cody Green, playing his first game in nearly two years, was a rusty 23-of-49 passing with two interceptions. Worse yet, the Golden Hurricane lost top receiver Bryan Burnham for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

    Burnham caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in a 59-17 win over Marshall. With that void, keep an eye on 6-foot-4, 207-pound Keyarris Garrett, a long-armed, speedy sophomore who bulked up from 185 pounds.

    Garrett's short touchdown pass cut Iowa State's lead to 31-23 with 9:12 left, but the Cyclones later intercepted Green and returned it 1 yard to the Tulsa 5 to foil the rally.

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  • Finally, Marshall will have to reckon with Rice linebacker Cameron Mwosu two weeks from Saturday. Against UCLA, the senior blocked three extra points, a new NCAA record.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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