The National, 9/25/12: Wreckage

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

We're looking at the wasteland outside the top 25, and the current status of the mid-majors may surprise you.

Hey, What Happened to This Place?: Odd. Things look a lot different here. Things look a lot different among the ranks of the still-unbeaten, too. Minnesota dispatched Syracuse 17-10 on Saturday to run their record to 4-0. They share first place in the Big Ten with Ohio State (who doesn't even count anyway) and Northwestern (38-7 winners over FCS South Dakota). On the other side of the Big Ten coin, Wisconsin looked just as horrible in handing UTEP a 37-26 defeat as they have all year, really. I mean, sure, they moved the ball and scored points but this is UTEP we're talking about. And then there was Iowa... oh, we'll get to that in a minute.

Syracuse, for their part, is looking very much like the Syracuse of old; they're not horribad or anything, but they're limping along at 1-3 and that win was an uninspiring 11-point victory at home over FCS Stony Brook. Sure, Stony Brook's pretty good (ignore that 32-31 escape from Colgate on Saturday), but that's no excuse. (Speaking of Stony Brook, go ahead and pencil them in for a win over Army this weekend.)

Meanwhile, Rutgers continued the dismantling of the Arkansas Razorbacks football program, winning in Fayetteville 35-26. I can't be sure, but it's entirely possible that if you're looking for work, Jeff Long might take your call.

MACtion Engaged With Full Force and Authority: Setting aside Eastern Michigan's failed and flawed attempt to upset Michigan State (finally won 23-7 by Sparty, but it was a near-disaster until the final quarter) and Akron's surprising halftime lead over Tennessee (in which the Vols reasserted control after halftime to win 47-26), here's the dirty reality of the MAC's weekend: nine non-conference games. Six wins and the two aforementioned near-misses. The only complete failure on the part of the MAC was Bowling Green's 37-0 loss to Virginia Tech.

Meanwhile, Northern Illinois knocked off Kansas 30-23. Admittedly, Kansas is the absolute dregs of the Big 12, but you take what you can get, right? Central Michigan fought tooth and nail with Iowa before winning 32-31 on a last-second field goal. Ball State bounced back and forth with South Florida, finally eking out a 31-27 win. And Western Michigan dispatched Connecticut 30-24.

Yes, all four of these games were decided by a single score. It wasn't some shocking performance against top-flight BCS conference opponents. But they're wins, and considering the MAC had gone 2-14 against BCS teams in the first three weeks of the season, going 4-3 this week has to taste awfully sweet. Especially since it's been nearly a decade since the MAC knocked off three BCS teams in one weekend.

Sifting Through The Mid-Major Wreckage: Things have just not been good at all for the MWC and C-USA this year. Well, at least now the pain is finally almost over, as they can commence losing to conference foes instead of other folks.

Two teams from Conference USA won games this weekend. One was a result of Tulsa's 27-26 win over Fresno State of the MWC. The other was Marshall's 54-51 overtime win over Rice, which was a conference game, so someone kinda had to win that one. 1-6 out of conference this week; 9-28 overall. Only Central Florida and Tulsa come into conference play with two wins.

The Mountain West fared better this week, going 3-3 non-conference -- but all six games were against the WAC, C-USA, or Brigham Young. Especially concerning to the MWC is that the four games against the WAC were split; Wyoming edged Idaho 40-37 in overtime and New Mexico beat their in-state rivals New Mexico State 27-14, but Colorado State was wiped out by Utah State 31-19 and San Diego State really misses Ronnie Hillman, losing 38-34 to San Jose State. To grind salt into the wound, winless UNLV got off the mat by beating Air Force 38-35, and I guess we don't have to deal with the annual "Is Air Force any good this year?" question anymore. The Mountain West sports a 14-19 non-conference record, but it's deceiving; six of those 14 wins are against FCS teams. Then again, three of the 19 losses are to FCS teams, so that's something... right?

The WAC went 5-2 this week, and we just mentioned both losses and two wins. A third win was Louisiana Tech's victory over Illinois, discussed yesterday; the other two were wins over an FCS team and a D-II team. It was still a good week, don't misunderstand, but... yeah. Still, the WAC has gone 16-10 in non-conference play, and that actually makes them the best mid-major conference in the country, at least for another three months after which they won't even exist anymore.

Finally, there's the Sun Belt, who two weeks ago were the toast of the town as they had no winless teams and Louisiana-Monroe was riding the crest of an overtime win over what has now turned out to be one of the biggest pumpkins ever foisted onto the top 25. Now, things aren't so rosy. The Sun Belt is 13-18 out of conference, only going 2-4 this week and 2-8 last week. To be fair, the Sun Belt's schedule has been extremely SEC- and Big 12-heavy, and they've actually performed fairly well under those circumstances after recording two wins over SEC teams and losing four games against SEC or Big 12 teams that could be characterized as close games. Either way you slice it, the WAC and Sun Belt have, to the surprise of everyone paying attention, actually been the class of the mid-major landscape, and it's a shame they've got the fewest bowl tie-ins to sort through in December.

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