NCF Nation: Alex Carder

UConn can't overcome slow start at WMU

September, 22, 2012
Too little, too late was the story Saturday for Connecticut.

The Huskies fell behind by 17 points early and gave their defense little help in a 30-24 loss at Western Michigan, putting UConn at 2-2 on the season. The game started a half-hour late because of thunder and lightning in the Kalamazoo area earlier in the day, and UConn's offense took cue.

Chandler Whitmer tossed a red-zone interception in the first quarter, and he was drilled by Desmond Bozeman during a fourth-quarter drive, with Bozeman recovering the loose ball and returning it 53 yards for the Broncos' final points of the day.

The loss will sting even more as WMU lost quarterback Alex Carder in the third quarter after Carder appeared to injure his throwing hand. The Broncos passed for just nine yards in the fourth quarter without Carder, and they failed to score offensively after Carder's 30-yard touchdown pass to Josh Schaffer at the 9:47 mark of the third quarter made it 24-7. Bozeman's play came with 7:12 left in the game, with the Huskies down just seven and looking to even things up after facing separate 17-point deficits.

Carder completed 18-of-34 passes for 237 yards with a touchdown.

Whitmer threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, but 146 of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the Huskies were making a late run. UConn rushed for just 94 yards and averaged 2.8 yards per rush.

WMU recovered UConn's desperation onside kick try in the final minute, sealing the deal.

It's worth repeating again: UConn needs to find some sort of offense. And, even more importantly, it cannot be giving away free points when its defense is being stretched. The Huskies will have a final nonconference tilt next week against another MAC school, Buffalo, before conference play kicks off a week later at Rutgers.

Big East predictions: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
Given my track record over the first three weeks, pencil in two losses on these picks. I am 14-6 headed into Saturday. Ho hum.

UConn at Western Michigan, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN3. The Huskies and Broncos got into a wild shootout last season in Connecticut. Western Michigan pulled off the upset victory behind quarterback Alex Carder, who threw for 479 yards and five touchdown passes. Carder is back, but he is without his top playmaker from last season, Jordan White. UConn, meanwhile, has not been able to do much on offense. The Huskies have scored twice on punt returns and once on an interception return this season, but do not yet have a touchdown pass. The defense will be relied on once again to win this game. UConn 23, Western Michigan 17.

Gardner-Webb at Pitt, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. Pitt plays its second Football Championship Subdivision opponent of the season and can only hope things go better this time around, after losing the opener to Youngstown State. The Panthers should go into this game with major confidence after upsetting Virginia Tech last week, but the last thing coach Paul Chryst needs is this team getting ahead of itself. That is what spells trouble. He needs to see continued development from Tino Sunseri and both his offensive and defensive lines, which made major strides last week. Pitt 38, Gardner-Webb 3.

Temple at Penn State, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. The Owls nearly pulled the upset last season, losing 14-10 after Penn State scored with 2:42 remaining. But this game seems to provide Temple its best shot yet at beating the Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941. Penn State is a team that has been left depleted because of sanctions leveled as a result of an unthinkable sexual-abuse scandal, and just picked up its first victory of the season last week. Temple did get the extra week to prepare, so here's hoping the Owls straightened out their turnover and penalty problems. But are Montel Harris and Matt Brown 100 percent? Reports say yes. They need to be at their best to pull the upset. I just think Penn State has enough on defense to slow this team down. Penn State 20, Temple 17.

USF at Ball State, 4:30 p.m., Big East Network. The Bulls are in desperate need of a bounce-back win and have to go on the road to get it. The biggest question in this one: Can USF play better up front along the offensive and defensive lines? Both groups did not play up to their capabilities last week against Rutgers. Ball State likes to spread the ball around and has run for more than 200 yards in each of its first three games. I think USF will win, but this is not going to be an easy one. USF 30, Ball State 20.

Rutgers at Arkansas, 7 p.m., ESPNU. I started changing my mind on this game this past Saturday, after I saw the train wreck that is Arkansas football right now. Rutgers has looked great on defense, so-so on offense and terrible with penalties, but at least this is one unified team playing behind its coach. Not sure what is going on in Fayetteville. Bottom line for me: If Tyler Wilson plays, Arkansas wins. I think he has the capability of making plays against the Rutgers secondary, undersized compared to the Arkansas receivers. If he does not play, Arkansas has nothing in the way of offense. As I write this today, it does not look good for Wilson. So I think Rutgers will rely heavily on Jawan Jamison and the D to pull the ... Upset! Rutgers 23, Arkansas 17.

No. 20 Louisville at Florida International, 7 p.m., ESPN3. Louisville lost at home to FIU last season, but the chances of the Cardinals dropping two straight to this team are pretty remote. Teddy Bridgewater is playing incredibly well for Louisville right now, the run game is working better than at any point last season and FIU no longer has T.Y. Hilton, the man who scorched the defense a year ago. Louisville 38, FIU 17.

Syracuse at Minnesota, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network. The Orange hit the road to play another team from an automatic-qualifying conference in Minnesota, off to a surprising 3-0 start. Minnesota will be without starting quarterback MarQueis Gray and rely on Max Shortell as the starter in this one. Shortell is not nearly the running threat Gray is, so that could be an advantage for Syracuse. As is having quarterback Ryan Nassib, who has thrown for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. Marcus Sales is having an outstanding year as well. Syracuse 33, Minnesota 27.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
Ten items to track as you ingest a 12-pack of games involving Big Ten teams Saturday.

1. The green flag: After the Big Ten's Week 2 disaster, Michigan State is the league's only legitimate hope for a national title run. Coach Mark Dantonio wisely isn't thinking about carrying the Big Ten banner, and his Spartans face their second home test in the first three weeks as No. 20 Notre Dame visits East Lansing. It's another big game for new starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who rebounded nicely last week after tossing three interceptions in the opener against Boise State. If Maxwell performs well against Manti Te'o and a solid Irish defense, more folks might start taking Michigan State seriously as a dark-horse championship contender.

2. The thin red line: Dominant offensive line play has defined Wisconsin for the better part of two decades, but the program's hallmark position (along with running back) is suddenly under the microscope. A horrific performance against Oregon State, a game in which the Badgers finished with just 35 net rush yards, led to the dismissal of new line coach Mike Markuson after just two games. Head coach Bret Bielema has tabbed the unproven Bart Miller, a Bob Bostad disciple, to lead the group. "We're going to take some baby steps," Bielema said. "And my guess is we're going to have a great amount of change in a short amount of time." Wisconsin could use a bounce-back performance Saturday night against Utah State, which comes off of an upset of Utah.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Andrew Maxwell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAndrew Maxwell and Michigan State should be tested by Notre Dame on Saturday night.
3. Casting call for Robinson, Miller: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller did it all for their respective offenses in hard-fought Week 2 wins. Although both men can do special things with the ball in their hands, their coaches need other weapons to emerge, if only to protect the signal-callers from injury. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wants to be "a little smarter" about Miller's carries after the sophomore logged 27 against UCF. The problem is that top running backs Jordan Hall (foot) and Carlos Hyde (knee) are banged up, and freshman Bri'onte Dunn should get the start Saturday against Cal. Robinson recorded his fourth career 200-yard rushing performance last week against Air Force, but running back Fitz Toussaint had just 7 yards on eight carries in his season debut. Michigan's offensive line wants to get Toussaint going and should get the chance Saturday against a woeful Massachusetts team.

4. Receiving orders for Wildcats: Northwestern's quarterback rotation seems to be functioning well so far, and while Trevor Siemian has led comebacks the first two weeks, Kain Colter will continue to start. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald seems more concerned with the guys catching passes than throwing them. The wide receivers, undoubtedly Northwestern's strongest position group entering the year, struggled with drops in last week's win against Vanderbilt. Fitzgerald challenged all his players this week but especially the receivers, saying, "I reminded them that it's a $60,000 scholarship. Catch the ball." As good as running back Venric Mark has been, the offense is driven by high-percentage passes. The receivers look to get back on track against Boston College, which ranks 11th nationally in pass-efficiency defense.

5. TerBush's time: Purdue coach Danny Hope loves his quarterback rotation, but another knee injury to Robert Marve has put Caleb TerBush in the spotlight. TerBush returned to the starting lineup last week and had mixed results, struggling early before relieving Marve and guiding the game-tying touchdown drive in the closing minutes. While most Purdue fans preferred Marve over TerBush, the Boilers will move forward with TerBush and Rob Henry calling signals. TerBush could really use a big performance against Eastern Michigan before an open week, a game against Marshall, and then a defining stretch to open Big Ten play (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State).

6. Bo vs. Gus: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini called his team's performance against UCLA "embarrassing," and the criticism justifiably centered on a defense that surrendered 36 points, 26 first downs and a whopping 653 yards to the Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Pelini pointed to the need for better tackling and also indicated the defense has been geared more toward stopping pro-style teams than spread teams. Nebraska faces Arkansas State on Saturday. While Gus Malzahn doesn't like his offense to be labeled a spread system, he'll use the entire field, numerous formations, accelerated tempo, and plenty of trickery to keep defenses off balance. Malzahn, the first-year Arkansas State coach, brings his offense, rated seventh nationally in total yards this season (574.5 ypg), into Memorial Stadium on Saturday. "We will be tested," Pelini said. "...We need to get better against that offense. It comes kind of at the right time for us." It should be fun to watch Pelini and Malzahn match wits Saturday.

7. Iowa's search for the end zone: Iowa is one of just two FBS teams with just one touchdown in two games this season. The Hawkeyes failed to reach paydirt on their home field in last week's loss to rival Iowa State. Needless to say, this isn't the start Iowa had hoped for under new coordinator Greg Davis, and the struggles of senior quarterback James Vandenberg have been particularly baffling. Iowa looks for the end zone Saturday in a critical game against Northern Iowa, an FCS program that gave Wisconsin all it could handle in Week 1. Iowa considers itself the state's flagship program. It's a very tough claim to make if the Hawkeyes lose to Iowa State and Northern Iowa in consecutive weeks.

8. Hoosiers, Gophers face first real challenges: Indiana and Minnesota are two of the Big Ten's five undefeated teams through the first two weeks, and both squads looked impressive last week after shaky openers. Both squads also haven't played anyone, making it tough to accurately gauge their progress. Although Ball State and Western Michigan aren't powerhouses, both are legitimate FBS programs that can pull off victories Saturday. Indiana has dropped consecutive games to Ball State and turns to Cameron Coffman, who makes his first start at quarterback in place of Tre Roberson. Minnesota's defense has impressed to date, but Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder provides a nice test.

9. Opportunity knocks for Lions: Penn State has had ample opportunities in its first two games under coach Bill O'Brien, but the Nittany Lions repeatedly haven't cashed in and sit at 0-2. Questions about confidence resurfaced after a heartbreaking loss to Virginia, a game in which Penn State was plus-4 in turnover margin but missed four of five field goal attempts. It'll be interesting to see how sophomore kicker Sam Ficken performs in front of the home crowd Saturday against Navy. But Ficken, who still has the top place-kicking job, is just a piece of the puzzle, and Penn State has to start finishing drives and getting key second-half stops. The Lions have done some good things the first two weeks. They now need to finish the job and get a win, or the season will really begin to slip away.

10. Spartans' D prepares for two QBs: Michigan State's defense has been as advertised so far, ranking eighth nationally in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. The Spartans' challenge changes this week as they must prepare for two Notre Dame quarterbacks after Tommy Rees led the game-winning drive last week against Purdue. Freshman Everett Golson will get the start for the Irish and coach Brian Kelly would like him to finish the game, too, but Kelly showed last week he isn't afraid to go with Rees, who has had been both the hero and the goat at times during his career.

Predictions: Big Ten Week 3

September, 13, 2012
Redemption Saturday is nearly upon us. That certainly goes for the Big Ten, which went 6-6 in a miserable Week 2, and for the Big Ten bloggers, who didn't fare much better (Rittenberg went 8-4; Bennett went 7-5).

This week's slate certainly looks a lot more manageable for the Big Ten, and several teams -- looking at you, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State -- definitely need a W.

It's prediction time ...


Brian Bennett: The Gophers improve to 3-0 -- barely. Jordan Wettstein nails his second game winner of the young season after MarQueis Gray leads the team down the field in the final two minutes. Minnesota overcomes three turnovers to escape at home. ... Minnesota 27, Western Michigan 24

Adam Rittenberg: Broncos quarterback Alex Carder provides the first real test for Minnesota, which gives up two early touchdowns before settling down. It'll be a close one, but Gray and the run game do enough as Minnesota goes to 3-0. ... Minnesota 30, Western Michigan 24


Adam Rittenberg: It'll take more than a week for Nebraska to fix its defensive woes against fast-paced, spread-ish offenses. Gus Malzahn's team makes some plays, but Arkansas State can't stop anyone, and both Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah rush for more than 100 yards. ... Nebraska 41, Arkansas State 21

Brian Bennett: I think the Huskers come out angry after the loss to UCLA and take it out on Malzahn's team. The defense gives up some big plays but keeps Arkansas State under 400 total yards. Martinez has four touchdowns, including two scoring tosses to Kenny Bell. ... Nebraska 45, Arkansas State 24


Brian Bennett: No rest this week for Braxton Miller, but he'll enjoy running and passing against Cal's shaky defense. The Golden Bears hang around for a while, but two more picks by an opportunistic Buckeyes defense kills any upset thoughts ... Ohio State 35, Cal 21

Adam Rittenberg: I grew up in Berkeley going to Bears games, and it's sad to say the Cal program is in free fall under coach Jeff Tedford. Ohio State has some initial trouble figuring out the Cal defense, but Miller gets going eventually and accounts for three touchdowns. Cornerback Bradley Roby records his first interception of the season as Ohio State pulls away in the third quarter. ... Ohio State 31, Cal 17


Adam Rittenberg: We ranked this as the worst Big Ten nonconference game, and it won't disappoint (not sure if that's possible). Josh Ferguson eclipses 200 rushing yards, and at least two Illinois quarterbacks fire touchdown passes as the Illini roll. ... Illinois 45, Charleston Southern 3

Brian Bennett: I'd be more interested in watching the Illini stage an intrasquad scrimmage than this yawner. Doesn't matter if Nathan Scheelhaase or a line cook from Nathan's Famous starts at quarterback. Illinois will win in a rout, and we won't learn a thing. ... Illinois 49, Charleston Southern 0


Adam Rittenberg: Eastern Michigan looks like the perfect opponent for Purdue's offense to recharge against. Akeem Shavers rushes for 150 yards and three scores against the nation's No. 118 rush defense, and Caleb TerBush fires two touchdown passes. ... Purdue 38, Eastern Michigan 14

Brian Bennett: The Boilers, still smarting from the Notre Dame loss and the Robert Marve injury news, get off to a slow start. But their defense and running game take over and wear down Eastern Michigan. Shavers runs for 100 yards and two scores. ... Purdue 42, Eastern Michigan 17


Brian Bennett: I love the way the Northwestern defense stepped up against Vandy, and Venric Mark is becoming a star. But ... history tells us the Cats usually slip up after good things happen. So I'm picking the mild upset here, with Chase Rettig throwing the winning score late in the fourth quarter. ... BC 31, Northwestern 28

Adam Rittenberg: Toughest game of the week to predict. (I haven't been right on Northwestern yet.) I like Pat Fitzgerald's approach to ward off a letdown, and while Boston College jumps ahead early and attacks Northwestern's secondary more, I don't think the Eagles can slow down Mark and the run game for four quarters. Expect another Trevor Siemian-led rally as Northwestern improves to 3-0. ... Northwestern 28, Boston College 27


Adam Rittenberg: This isn't the same UMass team that nearly stunned Michigan in the Big House in 2010. The Minutemen are awful. Fitz Toussaint gets back in the groove with three rushing touchdowns, and Denard Robinson puts up more sick stats in a total laugher. ... Michigan 65, UMass 0

Brian Bennett: If Brady Hoke wanted Robinson to get 700 yards in this game, he could. Instead, Robinson puts up 100 yards rushing and three total touchdowns before sitting in the third quarter, while Toussaint finally gets going against what is likely the nation's worst FBS team. ... Michigan 55, UMass 3


Brian Bennett: OK, I incorrectly picked the Nittany Lions to win the first two weeks (although they won everywhere but the scoreboard at Virginia). I'm guaranteeing that Penn State gets off the schneid against the Midshipmen. The Lions' problems on defense have revolved around stopping the pass, which won't be an issue against the option. Matt McGloin helps PSU find the end zone three times. ... Penn State 24, Navy 14

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State has played well enough to win, and the Lions finally get over the hump this week. I like the matchup for Penn State's defense, which doesn't have to worry too much about the pass. McGloin fires two touchdown passes, and Sam Ficken connects on a 50-yarder as Penn State finally celebrates. ... Penn State 17, Navy 13


Adam Rittenberg: I've wanted to pick against Iowa twice now and hesitated, getting burned last week. This time, I'm going against the Hawkeyes, even though the opponent is Northern Iowa. The FCS Panthers have nothing to lose, while Iowa continues to play tight on offense. UNI nearly beat a good Iowa team in 2009. It beats a bad one this year. ... Northern Iowa 17, Iowa 16

Brian Bennett: The Hawkeyes fail to score a touchdown yet again, but get by on four Mike Meyer field goals. Iowa blocks a three-point try by the Panthers on the final play to survive. ... Iowa 12, Northern Iowa 9


Brian Bennett: The 2-0 start for Indiana is a nice story, but the schedule hasn't been very good. Ball State is a major step up, and with Cameron Coffman getting his first start at quarterback, this is a dangerous assignment for the young Hoosiers. They lead early but can't control the Cardinals' running game in the fourth quarter. ... Ball State 35, Indiana 28

Adam Rittenberg: I really think the Hoosiers are getting better, but I agree with you about the schedule. Ball State is a significant jump in competition, and while Coffman fires two touchdown passes, he also fires two interceptions in his first start. The Cardinals rally to make it three straight against the Hoosiers. ... Ball State 31, Indiana 30


Adam Rittenberg: Get ready for another defensive struggle at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State's defense has been as advertised, and coordinator Pat Narduzzi told me this week that the unit is nowhere near its potential. Isaiah Lewis and the Spartans make it a rough night for Notre Dame's quarterbacks, and Le'Veon Bell rushes for two scores as MSU improves to 3-0. ... Michigan State 17, Notre Dame 10

Brian Bennett: This one will come down to defense, as Michigan State hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown all year and the Irish front seven will give Andrew Maxwell some problems. The Spartans' D is just better, however, and creates one score off a turnover. Bell does the rest with two touchdowns. ... Michigan State 21, Notre Dame 17


Brian Bennett: No Badgers assistant coaches will lose their jobs after the team gets back in the winning column. But it won't be easy against an Aggies team that just beat Utah. The Wisconsin offensive line looks a bit better, and Montee Ball runs for 125 yards and two scores. ... Wisconsin 23, Utah State 14

Adam Rittenberg: If Wisconsin's offensive linemen have any pride, they come out angry in this one. And a bunch of angry 300-pounders means bad things for the Aggies. The Badgers start quickly and get their swagger back, racking up 250 rush yards. ... Wisconsin 31, Utah State 17


Rittenberg: 18-6 (.750)

Bennett: 17-7 (.708)
One week of Big Ten action is in the books, and we finally have some on-field evidence to judge these teams.

Michigan State remains the class of the league after a hard-fought win against Boise State that shouldn't have been as close as the final score (17-13). The Spartans boast an elite defense and an elite running back (Le'Veon Bell), but they have work to do if they want to remain No. 1. Michigan only moves down a spot despite its blowout loss, in large part because Wisconsin let off the gas against FCS Northern Iowa. There's very little separating the teams 2-5 , and we'll get a better read on Ohio State when the competition improves.

Purdue and Illinois look like the best of the next tier, and Penn State moves down a few notches after its season-opening loss to Ohio. But again, teams 6-10 are very, very close.

Here we go ...

1. Michigan State (1-0): The defense can take the Spartans a long way, and so can Bell, although it's unrealistic to expect him to have 44 carries and 50 touches each game. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell must make strides this week against Central Michigan before another home showdown against Notre Dame on Sept. 15. Maxwell needs to better handle the pass rush and show more touch on his passes. If he can do so, Michigan State's ceiling is very high.

2. Nebraska (1-0): All eyes were on Taylor Martinez after all the offseason talk of improved mechanics and football, and the Huskers' junior quarterback delivered. Martinez looked much more comfortable throwing the ball en route to a career-high 354 pass yards in an easy win against Southern Miss. His progress offset the loss of top running back Rex Burkhead. We'll learn more about Nebraska after it hits the road this week to visit UCLA, but so far, so good.

3. Michigan (0-1): Alabama makes a lot of teams look bad, and most of Michigan's Big Ten brethren would have difficulties hanging with the Tide. But Saturday's 41-14 loss exposed Michigan's weaknesses, particularly at the line of scrimmage, as well as a lack of depth at key positions. The injury fallout doesn't help the Wolverines, who lost starting cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending ACL tear. They'll need young and unproven players to step up during a tortuous schedule.

4. Wisconsin (1-0): Rather than the typical September laugher at Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin found itself in a major scrap Saturday against Northern Iowa. The Badgers nearly squandered a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter and looked shaky at times in defending the pass. The good news: new quarterback Danny O'Brien played an efficient game (19-for-23 passing, 219 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs). But this was far too close for comfort against an FCS foe, especially at a place where Wisconsin has been so dominant.

5. Ohio State (1-0): To repeat: there's very little separating Ohio State from Wisconsin and the other top Big Ten squads. We were very impressed with Braxton Miller and the debut of the new Buckeyes offense in Columbus. But Miami (Ohio) didn't provide much of a test for Urban Meyer's crew, which might not get one until Week 5 at Michigan State (although this week's opponent, Central Florida, could be tricky).

6. Purdue (1-0): Despite the suspension of top quarterback Caleb TerBush, Purdue made quick work of Eastern Kentucky and looked like a team that could take the next step this season. Robert Marve is capable of leading the offense and should push TerBush this week in practice, and Purdue did what it had to do against inferior competition, piling up 547 yards of offense and converting 12 of 15 third-down chances. But the Boilers move up several classes this week against Notre Dame, and we'll know much more about Danny Hope's squad in four days.

7. Illinois (1-0): The combination of a banged-up Illini secondary and a prolific opposing quarterback (Alex Carder) suggested a potentially rough debut for coach Tim Beckman. But Illinois took control of the game and never really let Western Michigan in it. The Illini defensive line still looks very strong despite losing first-round draft pick Whitney Mercilus, and it held WMU to minus-6 rush yards. Illinois' main concern is the health of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and an offense that didn't produce much and will need a stronger effort Saturday night at Arizona State.

8. Iowa (1-0): Although many folks expected Iowa's opener to be close, few saw things going the way they did Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field. Iowa's two shakiest positions, defensive line and running back, both delivered with nice performances, as Joe Gaglione (3 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble) and Dom Alvis (2 tackles for loss, 1 sack) sparked the line and Damon Bullock piled up 150 rush yards. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg struggled and Iowa trailed most of the way, but it's a win and an opportunity to build.

9. Northwestern (1-0): Credit the Wildcats for another season-opening road win against a major-conference opponent, but their blown lead and defensive breakdowns create unease going forward. Northwestern never looks comfortable playing with a lead, although it never gives up, either, and received a big boost down the stretch from backup quarterback Trevor Siemian. Still, the defense showed major weaknesses that future opponents will expose, beginning this week with Vanderbilt.

10. Penn State (0-1): After a strong start to the Bill O'Brien era, Penn State faded on both sides of the ball in the second half Saturday. The offense needs to finish drives and create a better run-pass balance, which could be tough if Bill Belton is sidelined for an extended period. A big concern is a Lions defense that surrendered 499 yards to Ohio and struggled to get off of the field, allowing 13 of 21 third-down conversions. The defense must respond in a hurry as the nonconference schedule has no sure-fire wins.

11. Minnesota (1-0): The Gophers found a way to leave Las Vegas with a victory, as they received a strong effort from the defense and the running backs. MarQueis Gray came alive in the overtime sessions, but the senior quarterback will have to be much more polished for Minnesota to beat better competition. The Gophers also must play more disciplined after being flagged 11 times in the opener. New Hampshire is a solid FCS program, and Minnesota can't take anyone lightly after falling to FCS North Dakota State by 13 points last season.

12. Indiana (1-0): Any win is valuable for the Hoosiers, who matched their victories total from 2011 on Saturday night, but they'll need to make significant strides going forward. IU has to shore up its rush defense after allowing Indiana State's Shakir Bell to rack up 192 yards Saturday night. The pass rush looked improved, though, as Indiana racked up five sacks. That's a nice building block, as is quarterback Tre Roberson's strong performance. Indiana aims for its first FBS win under Kevin Wilson this week against new FBS member Massachusetts.
It's time for the second half of our Big Ten personnel roundup entering season-opening weekend. In case you missed Part I, which featured most of the Week 1 depth charts, be sure and check it out.

Michigan State released its depth chart, so we'll start there. Minnesota and Nebraska will release theirs later this week.


Depth chart
  • There are two unsettled positions on defense as Michigan State lists co-starters at defensive tackle (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover) and at free safety (Jairus Jones and Kurtis Drummond). Head coach Mark Dantonio called the Reynolds-Hoover competition "a flip of the coin" and praised Reynolds' progress during fall camp. Reynolds has a 33-inch vertical leap and bench-presses more than 400 pounds. Hoover, a converted defensive end, missed all but one game last season with a fractured rib.
  • Linebacker Darien Harris and defensive end Lawrence Thomas both don't appear on the depth chart because of injuries but will be contributors this season. Harris could see the field early Friday night against Boise State. Sophomore Skyler Burkland is listed as the backup left tackle but likely won't play because of a hand injury.
  • Junior Bennie Fowler and sophomores Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett are listed as Michigan State's top receivers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who had 24 receptions last season for the Vols, appears as Fowler's backup.

Here are some other personnel notes from around the league ...


Running back is the big question mark for the Hawkeyes after another summer of attrition. Iowa enters Saturday's opener with three primary backs -- Damon Bullock, Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy -- as well as two fullbacks in Brad Rogers and Mark Weisman.

Bullock, who had 10 carries for 20 yards, likely will get the start against Northern Illinois, although Garmon, a heralded true freshman, should get plenty of work as well. Rogers is a familiar name, and coach Kirk Ferentz praised Weisman's progress during camp.

"You play the cards that are dealt," Ferentz said. "The running back position is one where we’ve had a lot of players playing. The good news is they've performed pretty well."

Sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who suffered a torn ACL in spring practice, has returned to practice, but Ferentz said it's "weeks or months before we talk about him entering contact or anything live at all." Iowa has been cautious about live tackling involving its running backs in practice, particularly those who have game experience.


Boilers coach Danny Hope didn't sound too concerned about playing without top middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford, indefinitely suspended Monday following his latest arrest. Purdue practiced without Beckford during spring ball -- he was working his way back from another legal issue -- and rotated several players at middle linebacker. Senior Antwon Higgs appears to be the next man in, and converted quarterback Sean Robinson is behind him.

Sophomore Joe Gilliam, who recorded seven tackles last year and made one start, should be a bigger part of the plan as well.

"I thought in the recruiting process he was one of the top players in our state," Hope said of Gilliam. "I thought Joe was probably the next guy in line [behind the starters]."

  • Not surprisingly, Tre Roberson has emerged as Indiana's starting quarterback after taking over the top spot as a true freshman in 2011. Roberson beat out junior college arrival Cam Coffman and freshman Nate Sudfeld for the job. Coffman will serve as Roberson's backup. Although Roberson struggled in Tuesday's morning workout, coach Kevin Wilson has been pleased with the sophomore. "He's embraced the challenge," Wilson said. "He definitely can make some plays as a bit of a dual-threat guy. He's embraced the competition. He has been by far our most consistent quarterback."
  • Roberson will be passing the ball more in 2012, and he'll have a deeper group of wide receivers at his disposal. How deep? Wilson said that veterans Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson enter the season as the team's No. 5 and No. 6 receivers (Hughes is suspended for the opener against Indiana State). Kevin Wilson had high praise for sophomore Cody Latimer, limited by a sports hernia injury last season. Speedster Nick Stoner also should be a bigger part of the mix at receiver. "It's not because they've [Hughes and Duwyce Wilson] fallen off but because we've got some good players," the coach said. "We've got some competition, we've got some depth, we've got some young speed and I just think we're close to having a more complete unit there. We're not great at receiver, but we do have more playmakers."
  • Illinois' secondary isn't anywhere near full strength as it prepares to face Western Michigan and talented quarterback Alex Carder. The team's top two safeties, Steve Hull and Supo Sanni, both are nursing injuries and didn't appear on Monday's depth chart. Also, top cornerback Terry Hawthorne has a sprained ankle that will limit him only to defense for the first few games. Illinois wanted to use the athletic Hawthorne as another option at receiver, a position with little proven depth. The bigger question is how much the ankle will limit the senior with his primary cornerback responsibilities.
  • Although the Illini will rotate plenty at running back, receiver and tight end on Saturday, they won't employ a two-quarterback system, which had been rumored during camp. Co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said Tuesday that he's not a big believer in rotating quarterbacks, so junior Nathan Scheelhaase will take most or all of the snaps.
  • Urban Meyer expects "six seconds of great effort" from Ohio State's freshmen in Saturday's opener against Miami (Ohio). Asked which freshman he was most curious to see, Meyer identified defensive back Devan Bogard as well as freshman linebacker David Perkins, who "really exploded the last couple of days."
  • Meyer said freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith are "very close" for the No. 2 running back spot behind Carlos Hyde. Dunn has been a bit more consistent in camp and has a slight edge.
  • Meyer said Storm Klein's role going forward is yet to be determined and that recently reinstated linebacker is still "making up a bunch of stuff" after missing almost all of fall camp. Meyer based his decision to reinstate Klein on a domestic violence charge being dismissed against the senior, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged that it has been easier to go through the preseason this year as opposed to 2011, when talk of quarterback Dan Persa's health dominated fall camp. Although Northwestern knew all along that Persa wouldn't play in the first few games and Kain Colter would start, it has been easier for Colter this time around.

"Unfortunately, Danny had to go through that tough offseason," Fitzgerald said. "That was not fun. Kain handled the opportunity really well a year ago. ... You could definitely tell it was his first start in college football Now he's settled down, he's settled into the role."
Here's a look at three keys for Purdue during Tuesday's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl matchup against Western Michigan in Detroit.

1. Establish the run without Bolden: Boilers leading rusher Ralph Bolden is out (torn ACL), but the team has other backs capable of attacking a Western Michigan defense ranked 107th nationally against the run. Akeem Shavers will be Purdue's primary ball carrier, and Jared Crank and Reggie Pegram also should get some touches. Purdue needs to take the pressure off of its quarterbacks and consistently move the chains against the Broncos. One potential problem area is the red zone, where Western Michigan plays its best defense (sixth nationally at 70 percent scoring conversions). Purdue has scored touchdowns on 30 of its 47 red zone opportunities, so the Bolden-less backfield must cash in when opportunities arise.

2. Contain Jordan White: The Western Michigan senior receiver leads the nation in both receptions per game (10.58) and receiving yards per game (137.2). White will be a factor, and quarterback Alex Carder will get him the ball, but Purdue must prevent the Broncos star from taking over the game. Boilers sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen has covered several other standout receivers this season -- Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Iowa's Marvin McNutt and Illinois' A.J. Jenkins among them -- and will be assigned to White for most of the game. Allen's aggressive style could result in big plays for Purdue or for Western Michigan, but he's the type of corner you want against a talent like White.

3. Gain the edge on special teams: Purdue's season has been largely defined by special-teams plays, both the good and the bad. A blocked kick has both cost Purdue a chance at victory (against Rice) and preserved a chance for an eventual win (against Ohio State). The Boilers need strong performances from specialists Carson Wiggs and Cody Webster in kicker-friendly Ford Field, and they must avoid breakdowns against Western Michigan, which has been solid on both punt returns and kick returns this season. If Wiggs converts some lengthy field goals, Webster puts Western Michigan in tough field-position situations and Raheem Mostert breaks off a long return or two, Purdue will be in good shape in what should be a close game.

Little Caesars Bowl: Three Keys

December, 26, 2011
You saw the the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Western Michigan (7-5) as it takes on Purdue (6-6) in the Little Caesars Bowl on Tuesday afternoon:

1. Stop the run. Yes, Purdue will be without leading rusher Ralph Bolden, but this is a team that likes to run the ball, and will continue to rely on the run. That is going to be a huge test for a Western Michigan defense that has a tough time stopping teams on the ground this season, ranking No. 107 in the nation in rushing defense. Northern Illinois and Toledo each ran for more than 400 yards on the Broncos, so this has not exactly been an area of strength. If there is a silver lining, it is that Purdue will be without is best runner, and that defensive tackle Drew Nowak ranks No. 4 in the nation with 20 tackles for loss. Purdue must have an answer for him.

2. Throw it again, Alex. Western Michigan had its best success this season when it was able to gain chunks of yards in the passing game. The Broncos can run with Tevin Drake leading the way, but they are best when Alex Carder is hitting a variety of receivers. Jordan White has been great, but there are other options, too. Western Michigan is one of only four programs in FBS with three receivers with more than 50 catches this season (Robert Arnheim, Chleb Ravenell).

3. Nowak time. Speaking of Nowak, he is going to have to be a force not only against the run, but in the pass game as well. The MAC Defensive Player of the Year has 8.5 sacks on the season and plenty of tackles for loss, and has been the most consistent player up front for the Broncos. Purdue ranks No. 81 in the nation in sacks allowed (27), so there will be opportunities to get after Caleb TerBush. If Purdue is able to double Nowak successfully, defensive end Freddie Bishop could have a big game. He has 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss this season.
Big Ten bowl season kicks off Tuesday night as Purdue faces Western Michigan in the first of 10 bowl games for the league. Here's a quick preview of the Little Caesars Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit:

WHO TO WATCH: Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen. The Boilermakers are a little light on star power, but Allen is one of the best cover corners in the Big Ten, with a knack for making the big play. The sophomore will be matched up frequently against Western Michigan star Jordan White, who led the nation with 127 catches and 1,646 receiving yards (along with 16 touchdowns) this season. White is likely to get his yards -- he had at least 98 receiving yards in all but two games this season -- but Allen will need to at least make him work for it and try to keep him out of the end zone. Allen also had three interceptions this season, and turnovers could be big in what looks like a close game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Purdue's running game. Leading rusher Ralph Bolden suffered a torn ACL in the season finale against Indiana, so the team's two Akeems -- Akeem Shavers and freshman Akeem Hunt -- will have to come through. Both have had their moments this season, and Hunt averaged 8.6 yards per carry in limited duty. Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush can also take off and run. The Boilermakers don't own an explosive downfield passing game, but they might not need one against a Western Michigan team that allowed 216 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry this season. The Broncos faced and lost to two other Big Ten teams this season: Michigan ran for 190 yards (at 7.3 yards per carry) in less than three full quarters of a weather-shortened game, while Illinois produced two 100-yard rushers while rolling up 296 on the ground.

WHY TO WATCH: This is Purdue's first bowl game since 2007. The fan base has been slow to accept third-year coach Danny Hope, but the school showed faith by extending his contract last week. The Boilers failed to win back-to-back games all season and need a good bowl performance to build some momentum in the program. But how focused is the team? Three players have been arrested and another suspended since the end of the season, and receiver O.J. Ross and linebacker Dwayne Beckford won't play in the game. The Big Ten has some difficult matchups this bowl season, and the league could use a victory over a MAC opponent to get things started.

PREDICTION: Purdue 34, Western Michigan 33. The Broncos' dynamic passing game with White and quarterback Alex Carder will cause some problems for Purdue, which needs defensive tackle Kawann Short to disrupt things in the middle. The Boilermakers could have a tough time if they fall behind early. But Western Michigan struggles mightily against the run, something Purdue ought to be able to exploit all game even without Bolden. I see this one going down to the wire, with perhaps a key special-teams play deciding it.
Western Michigan (7-5) takes on Purdue (6-6) in the Little Caesars Bowl on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Receiver Jordan White. White got a sixth season of eligibility and made the most of it, becoming the first consensus All-American in school history, and the sixth in MAC history. White had a stellar season, with 127 catches for 1,646 yards and 16 touchdowns to lead the nation in both receptions and receiving yards. He is 110 yards from breaking the MAC record for career receiving yards (Darius Watts, Marshall — 4,031 yards) and 125 yards from breaking the MAC record for single-season receiving yards (Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green — 1,770 yards in 2009).

WHAT TO WATCH: Western Michigan is playing in its fifth postseason bowl game, but is looking for its first victory. The good news is that Ford Field has been a good venue for the Broncos under coach Bill Cubit. They are 2-0 in two previous appearances there: a 44-36 win against Eastern Michigan in 2005 and a 23-17 win against Illinois in 2008.

WHY TO WATCH: The connection between White and Alex Carder is probably the best you have never seen. Carder, who missed the regular-season finale with an injury, is healthy and expected to start. In his past three starts, he has thrown for more than 400 yards, and actually has six games this season with 300 yards or more. Carder ranks No. 7 in the nation in passing. Only Matt Barkley to Robert Woods, Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon, Case Keenum to Patrick Edwards and Kellen Moore to Tyler Shoemaker have been more prolific than Carder to White when it comes to touchdowns.

PREDICTION: Western Michigan 35, Purdue 30. The Broncos have lost five straight to Big Ten teams, but the Broncos did hold a halftime lead on Illinois, and beat a team from an AQ conference in UConn earlier this season. Cubit also has wins against Illinois and Iowa on his resume. I think the passing game will be on target, and Western Michigan will pull the upset.

First take: Big Ten bowl lineup

December, 5, 2011
We've had some time to digest the bowl selections and examine the Big Ten's bowl lineup for this season.

Here are some thoughts after looking over the bowl landscape:
  • As usual, the Big Ten's bowl lineup will be challenging, but not as daunting as it was last year. Having two teams in BCS bowls every year makes things tougher for the squads in non-BCS bowls, especially given the locations of the games. It's vital for the Big Ten to get at least a split in the BCS bowls. Although Oregon is a tough draw, Wisconsin can put up points and control possession time. Michigan State exposed Wisconsin's lack of speed on defense, and Oregon will try and do the same. Wisconsin will need a bunch of eight-minute scoring drives to win this game.
  • Michigan will be a popular pick against Virginia Tech, which has been miserable in BCS bowls, but those thinking the Wolverines will roll the Hokies should tone it down a bit. If Denard Robinson limits mistakes, he'll be a tough matchup for Virginia Tech.
  • The SEC-Big Ten matchups look more favorable after the Big Ten embarrassed itself against its rival conference in last year's bowls. Nebraska's offense will be challenged by South Carolina's ferocious defense, but the fact the Huskers are so run-oriented should help them against a team that is good but not great against the run. Michigan State and Georgia are evenly matched, and while the Spartans are disappointed after their Big Ten title game loss, they should be motivated to get their first bowl win under Mark Dantonio. As Dantonio said last week, the Spartans showed in the 2011 Capital One Bowl that they weren't BCS-worthy. They have another chance to change perception against Aaron Murray and Georgia, and they must take advantage. Ohio State and Florida both are mediocre, but I like this matchup for the Buckeyes, who should benefit from bowl practice. Buckeyes linebacker Andrew Sweat (concussion) should be back, and he'll provide a big boost against an anemic Gators offense.
  • The Big 12-Big Ten matchups are by far the toughest on paper, and it's tough to see the Big Ten doing any better than a 1-1 split. Iowa and Northwestern both are sizable underdogs against Oklahoma and Texas A&M, respectively. Although Oklahoma has been the most overrated team in America for much of the season, the Sooners boast a lot of talent. Iowa has been fabulous in bowls under Kirk Ferentz, but the Insight Bowl will be a major test. Texas A&M's motivation could be an issue for the Aggies, who saw their coach fired last week. This would play into Northwestern's favor, as the Wildcats will be geared up to get their first bowl win since the 1949 Rose. But Northwestern's defense has been pretty awful for most of the season, and without top cornerback Jordan Mabin, the Wildcats could struggle against a dangerous A&M offense.
  • Speaking of motivation, it will be the key factor for Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. The Lions deserved a better bowl after going 9-3, and the players were unfairly punished for a situation they had no part in creating. As you can see here and here, Penn State players weren't too thrilled about their bowl placement. If Penn State shows up to play, the Lions have a great chance to beat Houston, which showed itself to be a fraud in the Conference USA title game. The Cougars can't stop the run, and Penn State's Silas Redd should have a huge day in Dallas. But if the Lions don't care, Case Keenum could shred them.
  • Ricardo Allen and Purdue's secondary will be tested by Western Michigan's passing attack, led by quarterback Alex Carder and receiver Jordan White. It's another good opportunity for Allen to showcase his skills against an elite wideout. The Boilers will miss top running back Ralph Bolden (knee), but they have other backfield options and face the nation's No. 107 rushing defense. Pretty even matchup in Detroit.
  • It's hard to know what to expect from Illinois or UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Both teams had their coaches fired, and both had disappointing finishes to the season. Will Illinois coordinators Vic Koenning and Paul Petrino, both in the mix for other jobs, still be around to coach the game? Illinois' defense should be able to contain a UCLA offense that averages just 23.8 points per game. But if the Illini offense doesn't figure things out and show life for the first time since early October, it likely won't matter.
  • Remember that a .500 record typically qualifies as a strong bowl performance from the Big Ten, which faces the nation's toughest lineup almost every year. It's crucial the Big Ten wins at least one of its BCS games and performs better against the SEC. If the Big Ten can get 5-6 wins with one BCS victory and a 2-1 mark against the SEC, the bowl season should be deemed a success. But there aren't many gimmes in the lineup and could be another rough year for the league.

Little Caesars Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Western Michigan Broncos (7-5) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (6-6)

Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Western Michigan take from Andrea Adelson: Western Michigan is in its third bowl game in the last five seasons under head coach Bill Cubit based largely on the strength of its high-powered offense. Oklahoma State and Houston might get all the headlines, but the Broncos are up there with them when it comes to piling up yards and points.

Alex Carder and Jordan White are among the most prolific quarterback-receiver duos in the nation. White leads the nation in total receiving yards (1,646), receiving yards per game (137.17), total receptions (127) and receptions per game (10.58); he also ranks second in the FBS in receiving touchdowns (16). White holds all but three receiving records at Western Michigan and needs 110 yards to become the MAC career leader in receiving yards.

Carder threw for 3,251 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and ranks seventh in FBS in completions per game (27.18) and leads the MAC with 312.2 passing yards per game. Carder missed the season finale against Akron with a sore shoulder but is expected to start in the bowl game.

The offense ranks in the top 20 in passing (eighth), passing efficiency (14th) and scoring (18th). Meanwhile, MAC Defensive Player of the Year Drew Nowak leads the defense. Nowak ranks fifth in FBS in tackles for loss per game (1.67) and fourth in total TFLs (20.0). He closed out his regular season with 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in the final two games of the season. Western Michigan already has a win this season over a team from an AQ conference, beating Connecticut in September. But the Broncos are 0-4 all-time in bowl games.

Purdue take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: Purdue was the very definition of inconsistent in 2011.

The Boilermakers never once won two games in a row and had only one two-game losing streak. They beat Middle Tennessee State by blocking a last-second field goal and followed that up by losing to Rice when their own game-winning kick was knocked down. They had strong performances against Penn State on the road (in a loss) and against Ohio State at home (in victory), but got blown out by Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

But all Purdue cares about now is that it's going bowling for the first time since 2007 and for the first time under head coach Danny Hope, who would have felt some heat under his seat had the team stayed home for the holidays again. The Boilers had to overcome the loss of starting quarterback Rob Henry in fall camp and juggled Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve under center.

As you might expect for an inconsistent 6-6 team, Purdue doesn't stand out in many areas. But lineman Kawann Short emerged as one of the Big Ten's top defensive players, and the offense found success using screens and misdirection, though running back Ralph Bolden is out for the game because of a torn ACL.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 14, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference.


Offense: Charles Sims, RB, Houston. Sims rushed for a career-high 207 yards on only 10 carries with two touchdowns to lead Houston to a 73-17 win at Tulane. He had 252 all-purpose yards in the game.

Defense: Shawn Jackson, LB, Tulsa. Jackson had nine total tackles, including eight solos and three tackles for loss, and added one pass breakup in a 59-17 win against Marshall.

Special Teams: Danny Hrapmann, K, Southern Miss. Hrapmann tied his own school and Conference USA records by making five field goals in a 30-29 win against UCF.


Offense: Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame. Rees set a season high for completions with 30 in a 45-21 win against Maryland. Rees completed 30-of-38 pass attempts for 296 yards and two touchdowns, his 18th and 19th passing touchdowns of the season.

Co-Defense: Thomas Holloway, DB, Army. Jabaree Tuani, DE, Navy. Holloway set a career high with 14 tackles in a 27-12 loss to Rutgers. He also got his first career interception. Tuani had four tackles and a sack in a win against SMU.

Special teams: David Ruffer, PK, Notre Dame. Ruffer made a career-long 52-yard field goal against Maryland.


East Division

Offense: Matt Brown, RB, Temple. Brown made his first start of the season and rushed 24 times for 123 yards and a touchdown in a 24-21 win against Miami (Ohio).

Defense: Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State. Nix tied a career-high with six tackles in a 35-3 win against Akron. Nix helped his defense hold Akron to just 58 yards rushing on 27 attempts.

Special Teams: Paul Hershey, P, Ohio. Hershey had five punts for 205 yards, including a 51-yard punt in a win over Central Michigan. He had four go inside the 20.

West Division

Co-Offense: Alex Carder, QB, Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. Carder threw for a program record 548 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for another in a 66-63 loss at Toledo. The yardage total ranks second all-time in MAC history and his passing TD total is tied for the most in conference history. White had 238 yards receiving and became the school leader in career receiving yards leader (3,678), single-season receptions (111) and single-season receiving yards (1,402).

Defense: Brad Ohrman, DL, Eastern Michigan. Ohrman had eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack in a 30-17 victory over Buffalo.

Special Teams: John Potter, K, Western Michigan. Potter made a career high nine extra points at Toledo. Potter became the MAC's record holder for consecutive PATs made with 114.

Mountain West

Offense: Casey Pachall, QB, TCU. Pachall went 24-of-37 for a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns in a 36-35 win at Boise State. The five touchdown passes tied a TCU single-game record, while his 473 yards marked the second-highest single-game total in school history.

Co-Defense: Carmen Messina, LB, New Mexico. Nat Berhe, DB, San Diego State. Messina had his fifth straight double-digit tackle performance with 14 stops in a 21-14 victory against UNLV -- the first of the season for the Lobos. He also forced a fumble. Berhe tied a team-high with six tackles, forced a fumble and also had an interception in San Diego State’s 18-15 win at Colorado State.

Special teams: Anson Kelton, P, TCU. Kelton averaged 45.8 yards on four punts in a 36-35 win at Boise State.

Sun Belt

Offense: Derek Thompson, QB, North Texas. Thompson set a North Texas single-game record by completing 82 percent of his passes – going 31-of-38 -- to lead North Texas to its first win ever at Troy. He completed 17 consecutive passes in the game and threw for 331 yards.

Defense: Brandon Joiner, DL, Arkansas State. Joiner tied a school and conference record with four sacks, and he also tied his career high with a team-best eight tackles in a 30-21 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Special teams: T.Y. Hilton, KR, FIU. Hilton returned a punt 97 yards for touchdown in a win over FAU. The punt return is the longest in FIU history.


Offense: Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada. Fajardo accounted for 371 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 win against Hawaii. He completed 25-of-36 passes for 290 yards and a career-high three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed 19 times for 81 yards including a 25-yard touchdown run in the second half.

Defense: IK Enemkpali, DE, Louisiana Tech. Had six tackles, including 3.5 for a loss of 18 yards, in the 27-7 win at Mississippi. Enemkpali had a sack for a loss of seven yards and also forced a fumble.

Special teams: Taveon Rogers, KR, New Mexico State. Rogers returned eight kickoffs for a career-best 246 yards -- including a 99-yard return for a touchdown -- in a 48-45 win against Fresno State. He had a school-record 412 all-purpose yards in the game.

Carder-to-White becoming routine

October, 7, 2011
It comes as little shock that Brandon Weeden-to-Justin Blackmon is one of the most prolific quarterback-receiver duos in the nation.

How about Alex Carder to Jordan White? That is even shocking to the two Western Michigan players.

Through five games, Carder and White have established themselves as one of the top tandems to watch in the country.

[+] EnlargeAlex Carder
David Butler II/US PresswireAlex Carder earned MAC West Offensive Player of the Week honors after passing for 479 yards against UConn.
"Really?" Carder said in a recent phone interview. "I had no idea. But that's pretty cool."

Cool for the Broncos, coming off an upset 38-31 win over defending Big East BCS representative UConn. Carder broke the school record for passing yards with 479 in the game, earning MAC West Offensive Player of the Week honors.

White went over 100 yards in a game for the 15th time in career, leaving him two games shy of Greg Jennings’ program record.

As they prepare to take on Bowling Green on Saturday, take a look at what they have done, and where they rank in the country. Keep in mind these stats include the Michigan game, which was called just before the third quarter ended because of weather.

The NCAA does not officially recognize the stats from those games. But the schools are allowed to count the stats for their players.

Carder has thrown for 1,466 yards this season, with 12 touchdown passes. White has 668 of those yards and five of the touchdowns.

Carder-to-White makes up 45.6 percent of the team's passing yards through five games this season. That outranks Weeden/Blackmon (28.3 percent) of Oklahoma State.

Carder-to-White also makes up 41.7 percent of the team's passing scores. That also ranks above Weeden/Blackmon (40 percent).

The school has set up a YouTube page dedicated to some of the Carder-to-White highlights of the season in order to try and get some recognition to these under-the-radar players.

"Jordan and I think a lot alike as far as what we see in the pass game and different holes and how to attack defenses," Carder said. "We talk a lot about it off the field and what we're seeing out there and how we can attack people. That connection definitely shows."

White and Carder have been able to develop their connection for two seasons now. Carder became the starting quarterback last year and now that he has a full season under his belt, he feels completely comfortable in the offense.

"I've gotten to the point where I know everything, it's like the back of my hand," Carder said. "The more you go over it, you see things that you didn't see the time before, like watching a movie over and over again."

What also has helped with team chemistry has been weekly get-togethers at Carder's house on Sundays. White sometimes makes gumbo -- Carder's favorite -- and teammates come over to watch football, eat and play video games. Carder usually mans the grill.

For White, everything that happens this season is a wonderful bonus. He was given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after injuries cut short two of his seasons at Western Michigan.

His main goal is to win a MAC championship, something that has not been done since he arrived in Kalamazoo.

"It would mean a lot," White said. "I've always wanted a MAC championship ring. A lot these freshmen and sophomores maybe never think about, but as time progresses here, you put in your time and work and you have nothing to show for it. You get anxious, and you need something to show everyone what you were able to accomplish and how successful you and your team have been."

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 3, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Darius Johnson, WR, SMU. Had a career-high-tying two receiving touchdowns, along with 12 catches and 152 yards as SMU defeated No. 20 TCU 40-33 in overtime. It was his third straight 100-yard game.

Defense: Tyson Gale, LB, Marshall. Had a team-high seven tackles against Louisville, including a tackle for loss and the biggest play of the game when he intercepted a pass with 4:32 left in a 17-13 win.

Special teams: Kase Whitehead, P, Marshall. Dropped four of his five punts inside the 20 in the 17-13 win at Louisville. On the season, 10 of his 30 have been downed inside the 20.


Co-offense: Riley Nelson, QB, BYU. Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame. Nelson came in in relief of starter Jake Heaps and accounted for 206 yards of total offense in four drives as BYU rallied from a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Utah State. Nelson was 10-of-14 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, adding 62 rushing yards on 11 carries. Wood ran 20 times for a career-high 191 yards and a touchdown in a win against Purdue. His 55-yard scoring scamper was also a career-long run.

Defense: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. Had a team-high eight tackles unassisted, and a sack against Purdue.

Special teams: Alex Carlton, PK, Army. Made his first field goal of the season and made all six extra point attempts as the Black Knights beat Tulane. His six conversions moved him into sixth place on the Army career PAT made list.


East Division

Offense: Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio. Threw for over 250 yards for the third consecutive week as he finished with 276 yards passing and two touchdowns in a 17-10 victory over Kent State.

Defense: C.J. Malauulu, LB, Kent State. Had a game- and career-high 12 tackles in a 17-10 loss to Ohio. He also added three tackles for loss, a sack, a pass break-up and a forced fumble.

Special Teams: Boo Boo Gates, KR, Bowling Green. Had seven returns for 233 yards, including a career-best 77-yard return in the first quarter in a 55-10 setback at West Virginia. His seven returns are the second-most in school history, while the yards are the most ever in a game.

West Division

Offense: Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan. Threw for a career high and school record 479 yards and five touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter, in a 38-31 upset of UConn. His five touchdowns tied for second most in a game in school history.

Defense: Robert Bell, LB, Toledo. Had a career-high 12 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and one recovered fumble in a 36-13 road win at Temple.

Special Teams: David Harman, K, Central Michigan. Was 6-of-6 on extra-point attempts and 2-of-2 on field goals for 12 total points in a 48-41 win over Northern Illinois.

Mountain West

Offense: Tim Jefferson, QB, Air Force. Went 9-of-10 for 136 yards and a touchdown, and rushed 18 times for 66 yards and two scores in a 35-34 overtime win at Navy. Jefferson, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run, led Air Force to its second-straight win over Navy and the first in Annapolis since 1997.

Defense: Brady Amack, LB, Air Force. Had a career-high 23 tackles (11 solo), a sack and two tackles for loss in a 35-34 overtime victory at Navy. The tackle total ranks as the sixth-highest in school history and tied for the most in Mountain West history. It also tied for the most in a FBS game this season.

Special teams: Alex Means, LB, Air Force. Blocked Navy’s extra-point try in overtime. Means has blocked two kicks this season and also tied a career-high with 12 tackles and intercepted a pass.


Offense: Matt Christian, QB, New Mexico State. Went 16-of-27 for a career-high 296 yards and a career-high four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 42-28 win at New Mexico. Christian also rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He had 397 yards of total offense and accounted for five of the six Aggie touchdowns in the game.

Defense: Keith Smith, LB, San Jose State. Had a team-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble in a 38-31 win at Colorado State. The forced fumble occurred in the second quarter and was returned 20 yards for a touchdown to give the Spartans a 17-7 lead.

Special teams: Justin Hernandez, WR, Idaho. Blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown with 3:11 left in Idaho’s game at Virginia. Idaho trailed 14-6 at the time and following the successful two-point conversion, the Vandals forced overtime. They lost 21-20 in the extra period.

Sun Belt

Offense: Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State. Set a new school record for completions in a game when he completed 37 passes on 49 attempts in a 26-22 win at Western Kentucky. Aplin passed for a season-high 396 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and also caught a touchdown pass against the Hilltoppers.

Defense: Lance Kelley, LB, Louisiana. Had eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss and an interception in a win over FAU. He currently leads the Cajuns and ranks fourth in the Sun Belt with 39 total tackles.

Special teams: Brett Baer, K/P, Louisiana. Scored 13 points in a 37-34 victory. He made field goals of 47 yards and 46 yards before hitting the game-winning 26-yard field goal as time expired. It was the first win for the Cajuns in the final 10 seconds of regulation since 2003.