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10-02-2006, 11:55 AM
Battle for New Orleans (week 5)

Posted by Administrator on October 02nd 2006

OK, enough games have been played to get a feel for where the race is headed. League opening losses don’t rule out at a run at the title (UNT 2001, Louisiana Lafayette 2005), nor do opening wins make one a contender (ASU 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, UNT 2005 and numerous others).

Obviously a 7-0 record is the easiest way to win the league. 6-1 gives a team a great shot at tying if not winning outright. 5-2 in league way is the hard way to do it. With parity toward the top of the league so far, another 5-2 multi-team tie isn’t implausible but that’s the really hard way to do it.

With everyone except Troy and the Louisiana Cajuns having played a league game you can get a feel for things. Both of those teams are deliberately lower rated because they’ve not played a league game, we’ve seen too often that non-conference play isn’t often a good indicator of in-conference play. There have only been four league games played but the race is starting to shake-out because home teams went 1-3 in those games.

Teams are in three categories. From least likely to most likey they are: Headed to the showers, On the field, In the Red Zone

Headed To The Showers.

Florida International’s close losses were bound to take a toll. That toll got assessed Saturday. Even if FIU beats UNT this weekend the Panthers still have five losses and need a 6-6 or better record to get the New Orleans Bowl committee to take them in a tie, since 5-2 is the best they can do in league play a tie would be almost guaranteed if they win out in conference. After UNT the Panthers face Miami and Alabama. To go to New Orleans, FIU has to win out the league and split that Miami/Bama road swing. Tiebreakers held: None. Teams holding tiebreaker: MTSU and ASU

North Texas has played three games where they had less than 120 yards offense. A pourous defense isn’t a great sign either. The Mean Green lost at home to MTSU and doesn’t get a home game against any of the likely remaining contenders other than FAU. They get FIU at home and travel to everyone else. Contending would require taking both home games and at a minimum a split in the four road games, to get to 5-2, more likely they need 3-1 on the road and have to hope they don’t end up tied with MTSU or a team they lose to on the road. Absent the SMU game, UNT just hasn’t shown they are in the hunt. Tiebreakers held: None Teams holding tiebreaker: MTSU

On The Field.

Louisiana Monroe just accomplished the big “no-no” of being a contender by losing at home to FAU. To be in the hunt they need to win the two remaining home games and take at least three on the road in trips to Troy, Lafayette, Jonesboro, and Miami. The only reason ULM is “On the field” vs. “Headed to the Showers” like UNT is because ULM was competitive in two of their three losses. Tiebreakers held: None. Teams holding tiebreaker: FAU

Troy has yet to play a league game. They’ve played some really good football and some bad football. They’ve got an open date to recover from a 4 game losing skid. The Trojans have a schedule designed to contend. Of the teams likely to be in the hunt, all but MTSU travel to Movie Gallery Stadium. The groundwork is there, if Troy plays like the team that gave Florida State and Georgia Tech fits, but no “red zone” designation here until they actually play some league games. Tiebreakers held: None. Teams holding tiebreaker: None

Louisiana Lafayette hasn’t played a league game, so like Troy, doesn’t get their trip to the Red Zone until they win in league play. The Cajuns though seemed poised to repeat last year, starting rough and then finding their game. The Cajuns have four league home games and the biggest road challenges look to be Troy and FAU. They host MTSU and ASU. Tiebreakers held: None. Teams holding tiebreaker: None

Arkansas State entered league play having played six decent quarters of ball and six dreadful quarters, with the dreadful being the previous six. ASU smashed FIU with strong line play on the road. The schedule isn’t friendly with trips remaining to visit the Cajuns, Trojans and Owls. The Indians swept all three last year at Indian Stadium by a combined 12 points and failed to score a TD in two of those games. Winning the three league home games and one or two of the remaing road games might well mean a share of the league title and watching the New Orleans Bowl on TV because of the tiebreakers. Tiebreakers held: FIU. Teams holding tiebreaker: None

Florida Atlantic started out rough (what else can you call four losses where 45 points allowed was the best effort and 8 points scored the best scoring output). But we all know conventional wisdom for being a league contender demands winning all your home games and not picking up more than one or two league road losses. FAU has only three road trips in league play and has a league win on the road. They face only one road test against a contender traveling to MTSU. If the Owls can hold serve at home they are in the hunt. Tiebreakers held: Over ULM. Teams holding tiebreaker: None
In The Red Zone.

I admit its a bit early in the race to make someone this big of a front-runner but Middle Tennessee has won on the road and is the only team to post a conference home win. The schedule isn’t friendly with trips to both Louisiana schools and Arkansas State remaining along with home games against Troy and FAU. At this point though, MTSU is the team to catch. Tiebreakers held: FIU and UNT. Teams holding tiebreaker: None