CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- AFTER HIS Ohio team mauled Marshall by a bigger margin Saturday than any of his Kent State teams did last decade - and that's saying something - the question had to be asked.
Jim Christian, was this the sloppiest Thundering Herd team you've coached against, or did your team just play that well?
He started with, "Well we were a little hungry tonight."
Ding, ding, ding! Eventually, he gave the obligatory defense of the vanquished opponent, but the word "hungry" said it all.
The Bobcats entered Saturday's 94-57 rout having lost five of the last seven. Those involved solid teams such as Memphis, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, but the losses still stung. The Bobcats were hungry.
Following a pounding by Kentucky and an embarrassing home loss to Delaware State, Herd players had every reason to be just as hungry. Down 39-12 in no time, it was clear they weren't.
As I offer my annual Conference USA rankings at the start of league play, that's the most disturbing thing about this Herd team - more disturbing than the lack of a D.J. Cooper-like point guard, the injury to DeAndre Kane or any other individual factor.
In fairness, I wonder what effect the Robert Goff/Yous Mbao collision had on the team's psyche. Before then, the program lost an emotional investment in point guard Kareem Canty; since then, Kane's injury hasn't helped.
None of that matters when the Herd kicks off the league season at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Tulsa. If this MU team doesn't develop the hunger it showed down the stretch of 2011-12, these next two months will be tough to watch.
Much like the last few games.
The first thing to know about Conference USA this season: It will be a single-bid league, unless Memphis falls in the league tournament. Even then, a second spot in the NCAA tournament is not a cinch.
As usual, the league is loaded with fraudulent overall records. Six teams have 10 victories, but only Memphis has a worthy schedule among those.
But that doesn't mean every team has regressed. Tulane truly is better under Ed Conroy, Southern Methodist has to be better coached under Larry Brown, I suspect East Carolina is better and I know Texas-El Paso is better than its 6-6 record.
Others are going the other way, though. Southern Mississippi almost has to step back a notch, Tulsa has suffered five double-digit losses and the Rice program has collapsed. After losing their top players from a year ago, the Owls are a good bet to go 0-16 in the league.
1. Memphis (10-3)
2. Southern Miss (11-4)
3. Texas-El Paso (6-6)
NR. Central Florida (10-4)
4. Tulane (12-3)
5. UAB (8-7)