C-USA notebook: Tulsa's status as favorite takes a thrashing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- So much for Tulsa being the prohibitive favorite to win Conference USA.
The Golden Hurricane was the first C-USA to hit the field against an FBS foe, and became the first to go down - and go down hard, losing 34-7 Thursday night at Bowling Green.
BG has been a place where good teams have gone to stumble (ask Marshall about that), but nobody expected the Falcons to manhandle Tulsa. The visitors did not score until there was 5:56 left in the game, well after the second-stringers hit the field.
"It got out of hand. We helped it get out of hand," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship. "The score doesn't bother me. What was hard is that we didn't do much."
That includes the running game. With three new starting offensive linemen, the Hurricane managed just 51 yards on 24 carries. Quarterback Cody Green was shaky, completing 17 of 34 passes for an unremarkable 172 yards.
When Tulsa wasn't getting stonewalled at the line of scrimmage, it was messing up in the kicking game. That started in the first half, as Carl Salazar missed field goal tries from 37 and 34 yards, leaving BG with a 6-0 halftime lead.
Toward the end of the third quarter, punter Cole Way tried a fake punt run on fourth-and-1 but was stopped for no gain (an illegal motion would have nullified a successful play anyway). That led to a 16-yard TD drive for BG and a 20-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Trey Watts fumbled a punt and BG recovered at the Tulsa 8-yard line. If that wasn't bad enough, the Hurricane had a three-and-out and then allowed BG's Ryan Burbrink to return the punt 67 yards to make it 34-0.
So what's next for Tulsa, thought by some pundits to walk through C-USA before heading to the American Athletic Conference? The first chance at redemption comes next week at home against Colorado State.
Rice, widely considered to be Tulsa's top competitor in the West Division, has been the innocent bystander in the Johnny Manziel controversy. The Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner has been suspended for the first half of today's game.
The Owls remain 271/2-point underdogs, and they have their issues on defense. Their top two players on that side will miss the game: linebacker Cameron Nwosu and cornerback Phillip Gaines (suspended). Gaines was named C-USA's preseason player of the year by league coaches.
The Aggies reportedly will start either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill.
Rice's game against seventh-ranked Texas A&M is the first of 21 games pitting C-USA teams against a "Power Five" conference member.
Every team plays at least one such foe, with East Carolina taking on three - Virginia Tech, North Carolina and North Carolina State. The Pirates are in long-term contracts with big-name foes in their region.
Even future C-USA teams Old Dominion and Western Kentucky have "Power Five" foes: ODU plays Maryland and WKU plays Kentucky today in Nashville, then at Tennessee.
bod:Middle Tennessee began its C-USA existence Thursday night by beating Western Carolina 45-24. One setback for the Blue Raiders: Quarterback Logan Kilgore left the game with a shoulder injury after going 12 of 18 for 144 yards with a touchdown.
The injury is to the AC joint, and he is questionable for the Raiders' game next week at North Carolina. Kilgore's backup is Austin Grammer.
Also Thursday, Tulane used six turnovers and two Orleans Darka rushing TDs to defeat Jackson State 34-7.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.