Let’s take a look at the 10 biggest storylines to watch this season among the non-AQ teams:
1. Will Boise State or TCU make history with a spot in the national championship game? No non-AQ team has played for a national title, but this year is providing the best shot yet. The Broncos are No. 3 in the AP poll and TCU is No. 6 -- the highest preseason rankings for both programs. This has evolved into a national storyline, partly because there are two sides to the issue: those who believe an undefeated non-AQ team deserves a spot in the title game, and those who believe their weak conference schedule should preclude them from playing for a championship. We could know next week whether this storyline will continue into the season: TCU opens against No. 24 Oregon State and Boise State opens against No. 10 Virginia Tech.
2. What will BYU do? Since reports surfaced last week that the Cougars want their independence in football, the WAC has teetered on the brink of extinction and BYU has remained mum. With Fresno State and Nevada set to join the Mountain West, BYU has to think long and hard about whether it wants that independence in football, and an affiliation with the WAC for its other programs. Utah State, which turned down an invite to the Mountain West believing all members of the WAC were committed to the league with the potential addition of BYU, is waiting on the Cougars as well.
3. What will BYU do, Part II: Who starts at quarterback for the Cougars? Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps are in a dead heat for the starting job. Coach Bronco Mendenhall says he won’t have a decision until next week. Don’t be surprised if both play.
4. Can Kellen Moore or Case Keenum contend for the Heisman? Both are generating early buzz, but it has been 20 years since a non-AQ player won the coveted trophy and nobody has come close since then. Keenum has the gaudy stats but many discredit them because he plays in a system offense. Moore has some pretty impressive numbers of his own, but many discredit him because he plays against a WAC schedule.
5. Will Dwight Dasher be eligible to play for Middle Tennessee this season? Dasher’s status is up in the air after accusations that he failed to repay a loan and stole a teammate’s checkbook. He is still practicing with the team, but there is no timetable for a decision on whether he will be allowed to play in the season opener Sept. 2 against Minnesota. Dasher, on several preseason watch lists, is one of the most dynamic players in the country. If he’s out, the Blue Raiders would be in serious trouble.
6. Can Utah pull the upset and win the Mountain West in its final season before going to the Pac-10? The Utes were picked to finish second behind TCU, but the conference schedule sets up nicely. They play TCU and BYU at home. The big question is the defense, with seven new starters, including all three linebackers.
7. Will Temple have another ride to match 2009? The Owls emerged as one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, going to a bowl game for the first time in 30 years. They are now being picked to win the MAC East. An incredible turnaround to be sure under coach Al Golden, who has emerged as one of the hottest young coaches in the country. Temple seems to be poised to make another run with Bernard Pierce in the backfield.
8. Can Eastern Michigan or Western Kentucky win a game this season? Both teams went winless in 2009. Western Kentucky has a new head coach in Willie Taggart; Eastern Michigan goes into Year 2 under Ron English. Both teams should be able to win one.
9. Who will have more yards rushing at the QB spot: Ricky Dobbs or Colin Kaepernick? Dobbs broke Tim Tebow’s record for rushing TDs by a quarterback last season with 27 for Navy. Kaepernick was a part of the first trio in NCAA history to each rush for 1,000 yards last season at Nevada. Kaepernick had 1,183 yards on the ground last season; Dobbs had 1,203. You can throw Dasher into this mix if he plays.
10. Which could be some surprise bowl teams? Watch for Tulsa, which returns nine starters on offense, including QB G.J. Kinne; San Diego State behind Ryan Lindley and up-and-coming freshman RB Ronnie Hillman; and Kent State, with 15 starters returning, including QB Spencer Keith and RB Eugene Jarvis.