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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

The Ragin’ Cajuns; Non-B.C.S. Themes

The Associated Press sends a reporter to every single F.B.S. game — or every game featuring at least one F.B.S. team — and God bless the venerable old institution for that. Alabama games get about 800 words, I’d imagine. Saturday’s game in Madison garnered 730 words of coverage, though it was likely more than that before editors for your local sports site chopped it down to size. The tale of Louisiana-Lafayette’s win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday was told in 150 words: five paragraphs, with 31 of the 150 words being proper nouns — Louisiana-Lafayette, or Brett Baer, or Blaine Gautier. What’s my point? I don’t have one. It’s just interesting, in my mind. And before I forget: the Ragin’ Cajuns are 4-1. Touching on Louisiana-Lafayette and other non-B.C.S. conference themes:

Hot start for Hudspeth Top grades all around: North Texas for Dan McCarney, Arkansas State for Hugh Freeze and Louisiana-Lafayette for Mark Hudspeth. The former, McCarney, will get things going in Denton before long; the Mean Green aren’t there yet, though they knocked off Indiana in September. And I don’t think Freeze is long for Jonesboro, though he’ll bring excitement and scoring to Arkansas State before he heads off for greener pastures. Hudspeth, however, has trumped both of his new-look brethren — through five games, at least.

His Ragin’ Cajuns are 4-1, 2-0 in the Sun Belt, after back-to-back wins over Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Another test awaits with Troy this weekend. Not that U.L.L. is winning pretty: by eight points over Kent State, six over F.I.U. and by three points, via a late field goal, over the Owls. Winning pretty? That doesn’t matter one iota, not when you’re the Ragin’ Cajuns, winners of three games a year ago and never more than six since joining the Sun Belt in 2001. And that U.L.L. is winning ugly is a testament to Hudspeth; it’s not often that a first-year coach pulls out narrow win after narrow win.

Waking up the echoes After a losing streak against F.B.S competition that lasted years — from Nov. 28, 2009 to this September — San Jose State has won back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 11-18, 2008. It’s been a while. But such a streak was coming, based on how the Spartans played over the first three weeks of September. Yeah, they were losses, and yes, Stanford made the Spartans look terrible — the Cardinal make most teams look terrible. But S.J.S.U. hung tight with U.C.L.A. for much of three quarters before eventually losing, 27-17. And a week later, the Spartans were knocking on the door against Nevada before an interception in the end zone sealed a 17-14 loss. Maybe San Jose State has turned a corner? One thing we can say with certainty: this isn’t one of the worst teams in the country, which the Spartans were in 2010.

How far back do we have to go? Saturday’s win over T.C.U. was S.M.U.’s biggest in years, dwarfing last year’s win over Tulsa, for instance — that win gave the Mustangs the Conference USA West crown. It was the program’s biggest since returning from the Death Penalty, in my opinion, though a local — Burnt Orange, perhaps — might have a different theory. The win was simply enormous on several levels: it came over T.C.U., which is everything S.M.U. wants to be; it came on the road; it came with a powerful offensive effort; it came just as conference realignment became a distinct possibility, and beating the Horned Frogs gives S.M.U.’s pull among the Big 12 or Big East a significant boost. It was enormous. And it may just be a jumping-off point for this specific team, which has combined Zach Line’s hard-charging running style with a quarterback, J.J. McDermott, with guts and panache. Up next: U.C.F., Southern Mississippi and Tulsa. Win all three, and S.M.U. is nationally ranked.

Your undefeated teams The list keeps dwindling by the Saturday. Remember when F.I.U. was 3-0? I do, but it’s like a faint memory, one quickly forgotten after successive losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Duke. Here are your remaining undefeated teams along the non-B.C.S. conferences: Houston and Boise State. That’s it. So who’s lasting to 12-0? Well, Houston sure isn’t, based on what we’ve seen from the Cougars in their last two games against F.B.S. competition. Boise State will go 12-0, barring injury or another Nevada-like flub. Once again, the Broncos are the non-B.C.S. flag bearer.

Your winless teams There are a few more winless teams, on the other hand. The list: U.A.B., New Mexico, Miami (Ohio), Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky. You could bend the rules to include teams without a win over F.B.S. competition, which would add Memphis and Akron, but the Tigers and Zips could use a breather. Let’s give them a break. So which of the five winless teams will be the first to snap the slide? U.A.B. hasn’t played poorly over the last two weeks, but with Mississippi State, Tulsa and U.C.F. up next, it might be a few weeks until the Blazers land that elusive first win. New Mexico may never win again, so the Lobos aren’t a safe bet. Miami (Ohio) simply has too much talent not to get a win sooner rather than later, so my money would be on the RedHawks. If nothing else, one team will get in the win column on Oct. 15, when F.A.U. hosts Western Kentucky.

Toledo puts its foot down All the talk was about Temple: Temple this, Temple that, Temple’s the best team in the MAC. Toledo, 1-3 heading into Saturday, didn’t listen to the general consensus. Any question as to which team is the best in the MAC was answered this past weekend: Toledo 36, Temple 13. The Rockets put their foot down on the gas and ran away it, taking a 22-13 halftime lead and then forcing the Owls into nothing but punts and turnovers over their seven second-half possessions. So much for Temple building on the big win over Maryland two weeks ago. And so much for the Rockets being left for dead — not sure why they would be — after three straight losses to Ohio State, Boise State and Syracuse, the latter under somewhat dubious officiating by the Big East crew. Toledo is about to go on a major run: 8-0 in the MAC is well within reach, based on the way it dismantled the Owls.

Conference power rankings Of the non-B.C.S. conferences, with average P.S.R. ranking, highest team ranking and number of teams in the top 25 in parentheses:

1. Mountain West (65.5, 4, 1)
2. Conference USA (76.4, 24, 1)
3. MAC (88.8, 51, 0)
4. Sun Belt (90.2, 58, 0)
5. WAC (92.1, 67, 0)
N/A. Independents (51.3, 34, 0)

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    @SMU- you are right Paul. There were a couple of upsets of Arkansas in the nineties and a memorable tie against a Top Ten Aggie team in the last days of the SWC but Saturday was bigger. Why won’t a big time program hire Jones?

  2. Michael says:

    Toledo’s win over Syracuse shows why there’s no justice in the world. Big East officials are worse than metermaids. there’s no justice

  3. quigley says:

    Would Jones go to a big program? My understanding was that he was content in Hawaii except for the lack of support for the program. Kudos to the guy that wants to ply his trade in his way rather than seeking always the greener pasture.

  4. Kernel says:

    As a University of Louisiana alumnus, I cannot begin to describe the elation over simply being relevant. And I’m amazed at what Hudspeth has been able to do this soon. If he’s able to keep the recruiting momentum going, this could get interesting.

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