NCF Nation: A.J. Graham

Florida International Golden Panthers (8-4) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (6-6)

Dec. 20, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

FIU take by college football blogger Matt Fortuna: FIU's 8-4 this season was the best in school history, and it will look to punctuate that mark with a bowl win in its second-ever bowl appearance after beating Toledo last season in the Little Caesar Bowl. The Golden Panthers' Sept. 9 win at Louisville was its first against a BCS automatic qualifying opponent in school history.

Quarterback Wesley Carroll lost his job to Jake Medlock but won it back after Medlock injured his shoulder at Louisiana-Monroe. Carroll, a fifth-year senior, stepped back in and completed 16 of 34 passes for 213 yards and three scores, leading FIU to a 28-17 win.

T.Y. Hilton has been the most explosive player for the Golden Panthers, though he has been hampered by a hamstring injury. Hilton has 950 receiving yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for another 101 yards on just 16 carries. His seven receiving touchdowns tied the school's single-season record. Hilton has also returned a punt for a touchdown and added a 77-yard kickoff return in the regular-season finale. FIU finished the season tops in the nation in punt returns.

FIU's banner season included wins over in-state opponents Florida Atlantic and Central Florida, and the Golden Panthers finished with tied with Florida State for most wins in the state this season.

Marshall take from college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: Needing to win their final two games to become bowl eligible, Marshall clutched up with a win on the road at Memphis before pulling out a 34-27 overtime win at home over East Carolina.

Defensive lineman Vinny Curry is a beast that makes the defense go. He has 11 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss this season (second best nationally). Marshall still ranks in the lower half of the nation in rush defense, yielding 155 yards per game. But Curry makes offenses work for every yard.

In the secondary, senior defensive back Rashad Jackson has had a nice season with nine pass breakups and four interceptions -- including a pair in the ECU win.

Quarterbacking is once again an issue with true freshman Rakeem Cato and A.J. Graham splitting time. But Graham was hurt in the season finale, and with bowl eligibility on the line, Cato orchestrated the overtime victory. Cato has more touchdowns (13), but also has 10 picks on the year. Graham has a 7-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Tron Martinez paces the offense on the ground with 591 yards and an average of 4.1 yards per carry. In the overtime win against East Carolina, he scored the winning touchdown and also showed some versatility out of the backfield, catching three balls for 34 yards.

Non-AQ spring games

April, 22, 2011
There are a few non-AQ spring games this weekend. Here is a quick glance:

Ball State: New coach Pete Lembo has stressed working on fundamentals this spring, but he also has a quarterback competition that has been ongoing between Keith Wenning and Kelly Page. The two are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, so they have gotten plenty of reps with the first- and second-team offenses. Wenning has an edge following the last scrimmage the Cardinals played. Lembo hopes to have a decision following the spring game. "But if it’s not clear-cut, we won’t panic and we’ll make that decision in the preseason," Lembo said. "Either way, those guys will continue to get a lot of work."

Colorado State: Quarterback Pete Thomas has continued his improvement throughout the spring, but one player to watch is Crockett Gillmore, who has turned heads at tight end after lining up at defensive end. The 6-foot-6 Gillmore had a 1,000-yard season as a receiver in high school and has showed good hands and good blocking this spring. Coach Steve Fairchild was asked after a scrimmage last week whether Gillmore could be used like Stanford two-way player Owen Marecic. "It would take some time, and some well-thought-out packages to see which way he could go the most, and so forth," Fairchild said. "We’ve got a long time before we have to make that decision. But I know this: He’s one of our top 22 football players and he will be on the field in Albuquerque [for the season opener against New Mexico Sept. 3].”

FAU: Graham Wilbert and David Kooi continue their competition to become the starting quarterback, but it appears there may not be a decision until the fall. In the last scrimmage before the spring game, Kooi went 5-of-12 for 64 yards and a touchdown. Wilbert went 12-of-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Idaho: Injuries have taken a big toll this spring, especially on the offensive line, where only two starters participated in the team's last scrimmage. But coach Robb Akey has been pleased with the development of the depth on his defensive line. Michael Cosgrove and Benson Mayowa have been spring standouts, combining for four sacks in the team's last scrimmage.

Marshall: A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan have not separated themselves in the race to become the Thundering Herd's starting quarterback. They have one last opportunity to impress in the spring game, though this race is expected to continue into the fall. The Herd has to improve their running game, too, and Essray Taliaferro has impressed this spring.

Navy: Twenty players are being held out of the scrimmage this afternoon for various injuries, including Alexander Teich, Jabaree Tuani, G.G. Greene and Aaron Santiago. Those players are veterans, and do not need to prove themselves. Coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to see his younger defensive players in the game with so many starting jobs up for grabs in the linebacking corps and secondary. Only three starters return on defense.

Northern Illinois: A great running back competition has developed during between Jamal Womble, Jasmin Hopkins and Akeem Daniels.

You can read more about it in a blog post I did earlier this morning.

Utah State: Alex Hart, Jeremy Higgins and Adam Kennedy are competing for the starting quarterback job to replace Diondre Borel. Coach Gary Andersen does not want the offense to fall on their shoulders as much as it did on Borel. They should get some help from a deep running back group that features the return of Robert Turbin (knee) and Michael Smith (turf toe), along with Kerwynn Williams. Turbin has been limited during the spring but expects to be full go for fall practice. The last day of practice is actually April 29, but the spring game is Saturday.

Spring QB competition: C-USA

February, 8, 2011
We continue our look at spring quarterback competitions with a look at Conference USA. This league is actually pretty solid when it comes to its top quarterbacks, with Case Keenum coming back and joining G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, Austin Davis of Southern Miss and Dominique Davis of East Carolina among others. But a few others have some question marks:


[+] EnlargeTrevor Vittatoe
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinUTEP is replacing school record-holder Trevor Vittatoe and has to find a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006.
Who’s out: Trevor Vittatoe, the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (12,439), passing touchdowns (97) and total offense (12,291).

Who’s competing: The Miners will also have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006 after Vittatoe started every game since 2007 (49 total). Redshirt freshman Javia Hall, sophomore Carson Meger, senior Tate Smith and junior college transfer Nick Lamaison are the candidates. Meger and Smith saw limited action last season, but Lamaison is the most intriguing candidate. Lamaison was the Offensive Player of the Year for both the All-California and All-American teams after leading Mt. San Antonio College to a 13-0 record. He went 300-of-499 for 3,993 yards with 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season and has two years of eligibility remaining.


Who’s out: Brian Anderson.

Who’s in: A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan return. Graham was a redshirt freshman last season and Sullivan a true freshman and both played. But the most intriguing candidate could be Conelius Jones, a January enrollee who will be eligible to play in the spring. Jones signed with Michigan out of high school last season but did not qualify academically. He sat out this last year but was able to get his test score and should be in the mix to compete for the starting job.


Who’s competing: Nobody is really out, but the job will be open again. Ryan Williams started the last 10 games last season as a true freshman but struggled with consistency. Coach Larry Porter will want to take another look at Cannon Smith, who went into the season as a starter before sustaining a concussion and then playing sporadically. There also Andy Summerlin, a junior college transfer who signed in 2010 but injured his shoulder last spring and was out for the fall. Memphis is considering moving back to the spread, but there's nothing definitive on that just yet.