Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Monday, October 11, 2010
Non-AQ midseason overview

By Andrea Adelson

The teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences could not have asked for a better start to the season. Boise State and TCU remain in the top 5. Utah, Nevada and Air Force are ranked, too, giving the schools from outside conferences a major presence in the polls.

All of this means the non-AQs remain on course for a shot to play for a national championship. Boise State is at No. 3, TCU is at No. 4 and Utah is No. 11 in the AP poll, making them all viable candidates. Utah was No. 10 last week and that made a bit of history, with three non-AQ teams ranked in the top 10 for the first time in history.

Of course, the top non-AQ contenders have to win out, hope for the teams from power conferences to lose and then some. We still have no idea whether an undefeated non-AQ would finish ahead of a one-loss team from a bigger conference. But they are still in position, and that is all they can ask at the midpoint of the season.

Colin Kaepernick
Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick has 1,321 yards through the air and 639 on the ground.
The early results bode well for the future of the Mountain West. Three of its current members are ranked. Utah leaves for the Pac-10 next season, but Boise State joins up for 2011. Fresno State and Nevada will be joining, too, either in 2011 or 2012. So that gives the future Mountain West four ranked teams.

Also important to remember, how Boise State finishes will be counted for the Mountain West when it comes time to calculate whether it deserves to get an automatic bid into the BCS. If Nevada is allowed to join for 2011, its results would count, too.

Conference USA has not had as much luck. It lost its top BCS contender in Houston when Case Keenum went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 against UCLA. His backup, Cotton Turner, was also hurt. Without them, Houston has started two true freshmen -- Terrance Broadway started once and David Piland started once. Now its hopes for a league championship remain in jeopardy, too, as SMU, UCF, East Carolina and Southern Miss are all contenders for the league crown.

Meanwhile, the MAC is shaping up the way most expected. Northern Illinois and Temple remain the favorites to meet in the league title game. The Huskies just beat the Owls 31-17, perhaps giving them a leg up.

As for the Sun Belt, Middle Tennessee had hopes to win the conference title this season, but quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended for the first four games of the season for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. Troy just won the head-to-head meeting between the two schools, giving the Trojans the inside track at their fifth straight league title. As for the service academies, all three appear on track to make it to a bowl game.

Offensive MVP: Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada. There have been so many outstanding offensive performances from all five non-AQ conferences. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore is right up there, too, considering he is getting Heisman consideration. But it is hard to ignore the numbers Kaepernick has put up. He ranks No. 6 in the country in total yards with 1,960 and has 19 total touchdowns.

Curry
Marshall's Vinny Curry leads the nation in sacks with eight.
Defensive MVP: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall. Curry has been one of the bright spots for a struggling Marshall team. He ranks No. 1 in the country with eight sacks, No. 2 in the country in tackles for loss with 11.5 and No. 16 with 50 total tackles. Curry also has two forced fumbles and three quarterback hurries.

Biggest surprise: Nevada. The Wolf Pack are off to the best start since joining FBS in 1992, and are now being used as a model program as others start to imitate the Pistol offense coach Chris Ault installed there. With Kaepernick and Vai Taua returning, there was no question the offense would be able to put up some numbers, but the defensive improvement under new coordinator Andy Buh has made a huge difference.

Biggest disappointment: BYU. Nobody expected the Cougars to be 2-4 and fighting for their bowl lives at this point in the season. They were off to their worst start since 1973 after losing four straight. A win over San Diego State last week stops some of the bleeding, but this is a team that still has serious questions with a true freshman quarterback and a defense that has been inconsistent all season.

Best game: Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30. All the pressure was on the Broncos going into this one, because they had so much to prove. They answered the call with an outstanding fourth-quarter comeback. Moore drove his team 56 yards down the field in 38 seconds, throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis with 1:09 left to win the game.

Best coach: Chris Ault, Nevada. I would rather list five here, as Boise State coach Chris Petersen, TCU coach Gary Patterson, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun have all done outstanding jobs so far. But Ault gets the nod because of the way his team has emerged.