Conference USA: ECU vs. Marshall may determine who wins East

From staff reportsNovember 1, 2013 

Preseason favorite East Carolina enjoyed a bye last week, but the Pirates must have really enjoyed what happened late Saturday night in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Middle Tennessee stunned Marshall with a 9-yard touchdown pass on the final play to complete a 51-49 victory.

Just like that, ECU’s conference loss at Tulane on Oct. 12 didn’t matter quite as much because now its top challenger, Marshall, had one too.

The road to their Nov. 29 showdown seems to be about as smooth as any title contender could want.

ECU (5-2, 3-1) faces Florida International (1-6) on Saturday, then Tulsa (2-5) and Alabama-Birmingham (2-5).

Marshall (4-3, 2-1) faces Southern Miss (0-7) on Saturday, then UAB, Tulsa and FIU.

So barring an improbable upset, the final game will determine who wins the East.

The West Division is shaping up as a three-team race, with all three already qualifying for bowl eligibility.

Tulane is in the best position and controls its destiny. The Green Wave (6-2, 4-0) plays Florida Atlantic (2-6, 1-4), Texas-San Antonio (3-5, 2-2) and Texas El-Paso (1-6, 0-4) before welcoming Rice (6-3, 4-1) in a Nov. 30 clash that likely will determine the division champ.

North Texas stayed in contention (and became bowl eligible) Thursday night by handing Rice its first league loss. The Mean Green’s 28-16 win leaves both teams 4-1 in the conference.

That result also favored Tulane because it handed North Texas its only defeat and therefore has the edge in a tiebreaker scenario.

Bowl watch: C-USA has six bowl ties, and Middle Tennessee’s victory last week went a long way toward it likely becoming the sixth qualifier. The three West leaders already are in. ECU can become the league’s fourth bowl-eligible team Saturday. Marshall, as noted, should join them Nov. 9. And Middle Tennessee could run the table and get to eight wins. It finishes with UAB, FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP. No one else in the East has a legitimate chance to get to six wins. Louisiana Tech, with three winnable games remaining, has the best chance in the West of becoming the seventh eligible team.

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