Wednesday: Tulsa (4-2, 2-0 Conference USA) @ UTEP (2-4, 1-1), 8 PM on ESPN
While the Golden Hurricane have been a consistent team for much of the season, the same can't be said for their opponents and that could make this an interesting challenge. UTEP picked up their best win in years a couple of weeks ago in their 58-41 beating of Houston, and how did they back that up? With a surprising loss to a bad Memphis team the following week. Despite the explosion of QB Trevor Vittatoe and RB Donald Buckram in the win over the Cougars this is still a mediocre offense that can't be expected to consistently bail out a defense that's among the worst in college football. Mike Price's team is also last in C-USA in penalty yards per game and 11th in number of penalties to this point in the year.
If UTEP isn't disciplined in both their infractions and assignments they'll be in serious trouble against the likes of QB G.J. Kinne and WR Damaris Johnson. Tulsa is among the best in the country offensively, and they are also atop a few of the major defensive statistical categories. That will prove to be too much for the Miners on this night; Tulsa takes care of business on the road.
Thursday: Florida State (2-4, 0-3 ACC) @ North Carolina (4-2, 0-2), 8 PM on ESPN
Opposites attract in Chapel Hill in a game that will feature a pair of assistants under siege from fans. Florida State's defense has been the issue, with a group that defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews toutesd before the season as the fastest he'd seen at the school ranking dead last in the ACC in total defense. This group is painfully young, a fact that has lent itself to missed assignments and big plays for opposing offenses.
And while the offense is ranked the best in the conference in terms of yards per game they've been inconsistent, struggling with turnovers and periods of stagnant play. If both sides of the football can become more consistent there's still a chance that they get back into the ACC Atlantic race. North Carolina has dealt with far different issues themselves and fans aren't too happy with offensive coordinator John Shoop as a result.
Noth Carolina's defense, led by LB Bruce Carter and DT Marvin Austin, leads the ACC in total defense and could have a big night pressuring Florida State's Christian Ponder. The offense, on the other hand, is dead last in total offense. People knew there would be a dropoff of some sort with receivers Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate all moving on.
But injuries on the offensive line as well as at tight end and running back have also played a role in this, so it may not be completely fair to place the blame on Shoop's playcalling. Look for T.J. Yates to be more consistent on Thursday night, and a good evening from backs Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn should equal a Tar Heel victory.
Friday: Rutgers (4-2, 0-2 Big East) @ Army (3-4), 8 PM on ESPN2
Despite the appearance on paper the Scarlet Knights will be in for quite a test on Friday night when they travel to West Point. Army ranks 12th nationally in rushing offense and Rich Ellerson's double-eagle flex defensive scheme (which he helped create at Arizona) has been a success thus far. It will provide a challenge for QB Tom Savage in that very few schools use that scheme, and if successful it feeds off of heavy pressure of the quarterback.
Can the Rutgers defense neutralize Army's rushing attack? It's definitely possible, but the Rutgers defense and viewers alike will need a little time to get used to Army's primary receiver. Ali Villanueva, who last year was an offensive lineman, cuts an imposing figure on the outside at 6'10", 260 lbs. and while they're the worst team in the FBS at throwing the ball a player like Villanueva has to be accounted for. But the pick here is Rutgers and look for a big game from freshman WR Mohamed Sanu, who is rapidly developing into one of the better receiving threats in the Big East.