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September 22, 2011

Week 4: CUSA, MAC, SBC, WAC and Indy

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-12 | SEC

Forget Notre Dame's 31-point output last week.

On a day in which the Irish offense - just 275 total yards - struggled, the defense came through in a big way in the victory over Michigan State, especially against the run. And that's big with a trip to Pittsburgh next on the schedule.

THE 12 BEST GAMES
FRIDAY
UCF at BYU, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, noon
Toledo at Syracuse, noon
Temple at Maryland, 12:30 p.m.
Bowling Green at Miami (Ohio), 1 p.m.
Army at Ball State, 2 p.m.
Southern Miss at Virginia, 3:30 p.m.
Virginia Tech at Marshall, 3:30 p.m.
Tulane at Duke, 3:30 p.m.
Connecticut at Buffalo, 6 p.m.
Indiana at North Texas, 7 p.m.
Colorado State at Utah State, 8 p.m.
Pitt hasn't been as effective as expected throwing the ball in new coach Todd Graham's "high-octane offense.' But junior tailback Ray Graham has been a workhorse, rushing for 419 yards and six TDs in the Panthers' three games.

Against a deep and talented Michigan State backfield last week, the Irish held the Spartans to 29 yards on 23 carries.

"The foundation of this program has got to be built on being able to control the line of scrimmage because that's how you build consistency," Irish coach Brian Kelly said in his weekly teleconference. "We're getting better at that."

Beating Pitt is going to require again winning at the line of scrimmage. The Irish should have success throwing the ball against the Panthers, who are surrendering 336.3 passing yards per game (119th nationally). But the Irish need to make sure they keep Pitt's offense off the field. If they do that, a 2-2 start is likely.

Graham has been impressed with what he has seen of Notre Dame.

"No doubt, they're the best team we've played to this point and maybe as good a team as we'll play all year," he said on the weekly Big East coaches' teleconference. "... They should be undefeated. They way they've executed, they've been very, very good. It's just that turnovers [13, including five in each of the first two games] have plagued them. But they got that all that straight last week and dominated Michigan State."

Best matchup: Temple run offense vs. Maryland run defense. Any shot Temple has of pulling the offense depends on a big game from TB Bernard Pierce. He runs behind a big, experienced line (four seniors and a junior are projected to start along the line Saturday) led by C John Palumbo and T Pat Boyle. The Owls don't throw it well enough to worry the Terps, so that line needs to carve out space against the Terps' front seven. The Terps have active linebackers, and DT Joe Vellano is one of the best linemen in the ACC.

Player on the spot: UCF QB Jeff Godfrey. Godfrey struggled in last week's loss to Florida International. He threw for 181 yards but managed just 41 rushing yards on 19 carries. He has not thrown a TD pass this season (UCF is one of six teams nationally with zero TD passes) and was sacked six times last week. BYU CB Corby Eason told reporters Monday that "If we stop the quarterback, they have no offense." UCF has won its past 10 games when coming off a loss, but unless Godfrey plays better, UCF has no shot at the victory in what projects to be a defensive struggle.

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Keep an eye on: North Texas TB Lance Dunbar. Dunbar averaged 129.4 yards per game last season, which was sixth nationally. This season, he has 121 yards - total - in three games. Granted, last week's game was against Alabama and he also is running behind a rebuilt line, but his production fall-off is huge. Unless he turns it on, UNT is going to struggle offensively this season. He goes against a shaky Indiana defense this week. In two games against Big Six foes last season (Clemson and Kansas State), Dunbar ran for 387 yards.

Numbers game: Houston QB Case Keenum should move into at least third place on the NCAA's total offense career list this weekend. He is in fourth place with 15,596 yards, 3 yards shy of tying former Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell (2005-08) for third. Former Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour (2006-09) is second with 15,853 yards; given that Houston plays FCS program Georgia State this week, Keenum should have no problem rolling up the 258 yards needed to pass LeFevour. No. 1 is former Hawaii QB Timmy Chang (2000-04), with 16,910 yards. Keenum is 1,314 yards behind Chang. Because of injuries and redshirt seasons, both Chang and Keenum will have stats from five seasons.

Quotes of the week

"I have been where Houston was when I was at Texas Tech [as an assistant]. I mean we would be down 28 and laughing about it on the sideline, and that is a great feeling to have when you are down 28 and you know you are going to find a way to win. That is where this program wants to get to. Those guys didn't panic. They knew they were going to score. They knew they could score; it was just a matter of getting it done." - Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, whose team blew a 34-7 third-quarter lead and fell 35-34 to Houston

"I think it was a reality check for our offensive guys. It's the first adversity they've faced in a while." - Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, whose team fell 49-7 to Wisconsin

"If we were 12-0 last year, it might be a problem. You don't have that problem if you haven't proven anything before." - SMU coach June Jones, when asked if he was worried his team would overlook Memphis

"For people who haven't seen them, they may look at the numbers and say, 'What's the difference?' If you watch the game, I think you can see a difference. Early in both games, they've done what needed to be done. I think we've struggled a little bit offensively in the first half and kept them on the field quite a bit." - Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, on his much-maligned defense

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"It certainly makes it difficult to prepare, but with this being the first year of independence, some concessions have to be made to get the exposure we are hopeful for." - BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, on playing on Friday night

"Hopefully, we're learning to overcome adversity. That's one of the things I've tried to talk to our team about. It's a 60-minute game and bad things happen during the course of a game. ... I get tired of something bad happening or getting behind, and all of a sudden it's the Tulane attitude of, 'Here we go again.' I'm tired of hearing that and I've told them that. I don't want to hear that 'here we go again' attitude. That's for losers. We need to start winning and we need to start developing a different attitude." - Tulane coach Bob Toledo, whose team plays at Duke on Saturday and is trying to start 3-1 for the first time since 2003

"I guess the best thing I can say about it is that it is an event that people will talk about for a long time." - Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, whose game against Oklahoma State kicked off at 12:16 a.m. local time Sunday because of a long weather delay

"Well, I would." - UCF coach George O'Leary, when asked if he thinks BYU will blitz a lot Friday night. UCF had issues with the blitz in last Saturday's loss at FIU

"We will know coming out of that game how far we are from being Sun Belt Conference contenders. They [FIU] have really got their program on track. They struggled for four years and have quickly made up ground and now are coming off a Sun Belt championship." - Louisiana-Lafayette first-year coach Mark Hudspeth, on Saturday's game at FIU

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Poll watch: FIU received 11 votes in this week's coaches' poll. The Golden Panthers were tied for 38th with Vanderbilt, which also is 3-0.

Etc.: Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne is expected to miss between two and four weeks with a sprained MCL suffered in last week's loss to Oklahoma State. ... The two most prolific passing quarterbacks in the MAC this season will square off Saturday. Bowling Green's Matt Schilz is throwing for 328.7 yards per game, and Miami's Zac Dysert is averaging 259.5 yards per game. ... UCF coach George O'Leary is going for his 100th career victory Friday. ... Florida Atlantic is last nationally in total offense, rush offense and scoring offense and 119th in pass offense. The Owls also are last in third-down conversion percentage, at 8.7 (2-of-23). ... Former Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams last weekend made what Tigers coach Larry Porter termed a "significant" six-figure donation to upgrade the school's locker room. ... BYU is looking to avoid losing back-to-back home games for the first time since 2005 (the Cougars lost their last home game in 2004 and their first home game in 2005). ... Saturday's game with Indiana is the first against a Big Ten team in North Texas' history. In addition, Indiana is just the third Big Six conference school to play at North Texas since 2003, joining Kansas State (2010) and Baylor (2003). ... SMU junior DE Margus Hunt blocked his fourth kick of the season last week in a victory over FCS member Northwestern State (La.). He has 14 career blocks (eight field goals, six PATs), which ranks third in NCAA history. The eighth career blocked field goal allowed him to tie the NCAA record held by James Ferebee of New Mexico State (1978-81) and Terrence Holt of N.C. State (1999-02). ... East Carolina has won 11 of its past 12 games against Conference USA opponents at home. ECU opens its league schedule this week against visiting UAB. ... Utah State is looking for its first 2-1 start since 1997. ... Army's 71.7 rushing attempts per game leads the nation by a wide margin. Second is Nevada at 55.5. In addition, Army leads the country in time of possession with an average of 38:30. Army has had at least 40 minutes of possession time in each of the past two games. ... Ohio University is the only undefeated team remaining in the 13-team Mid-American Conference. ... Temple faces off with Maryland on Saturday. The teams haven't played since 2005, but Temple beat a Randy Edsall-coached team last season, downing Connecticut 30-16. That marked the Owls' first win over a Big Six school since a 2004 victory over Syracuse. ... Of the 76 scholarship players on Akron's roster, 46 are underclassmen. ... Saturday's matchup will be the first time since 2006 that Middle Tennessee and Troy have played on a Saturday. ... FIU will be playing its third home game this season this weekend. Four of the Golden Panthers' first five games are at home, and for the first time ever, FIU has six home games this season. ... Saturday's game between Arkansas State and Central Arkansas will be just the third meeting since 1947. And not that is has anything to do with Saturday's game, but Arkansas State's largest margin of victory and largest loss both came against Central Arkansas. Arkansas State won 101-0 in 1917 and lost 95-0 in 1937.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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