NCF Nation: Austin Boucher

Best of spring

May, 10, 2011
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With spring practice in the books, let's hand out some virtual hardware.

Best newcomer: BYU linebacker Uona Kaveinga sat out last season after transferring from USC and is now eligible. Judging by the spring he had, he should have an immediate impact. Coach Bronco Mendenhall cited him as a leader on his defense during the spring.

[+] EnlargeCasey Keenum
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireIf Case Keenum can make a full return from injury, the Cougars' offense should be back on track.
Best new quarterback: Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, takes over as Fresno State's starter, and already he has the complete trust and confidence of his coaches and teammates. He had a great spring, and coach Pat Hill says, "Derek is the kind of kid who can take us to this next level."

Best quarterback competition: It's hard to envy the position new Miami (Ohio) coach Don Treadwell will face this fall -- choosing between the quarterback who started the 2010 turnaround in Zac Dysert, or the quarterback who capped the turnaround in Austin Boucher. They are even. Treadwell says he would rather have two skilled choices than no choice at all.

Best transformation: TCU's Sam Carter came into school as a quarterback. But after redshirting last fall, he is now playing safety and had a good spring. Carter is just the latest to change positions at TCU. That is what Patterson does best.

Best brother tandem: The Moore brothers will once again be on the same field. Kellen the quarterback now has his brother to throw to again after Kirby redshirted in 2010. A natural chemistry exists between the two. Now we'll see how that pays off on the field.

Best spring news: Houston learning that Case Keenum would be eligible for a sixth season. Keenum got his medical hardship waiver granted and will get another chance to try to break the NCAA record for passing yards. He didn't practice this spring, but just the idea that Keenum would be back lifted the spirits of his coaches and teammates.
Miami (Ohio) pulled off one of the most surprising seasons in college football last season, going from one win to MAC champion. The RedHawks did it with two quarterbacks to boot. When Zac Dysert went out for the season with a rib injury, freshman Austin Boucher stepped in and led the team to their unexpected league title and bowl win.

[+] EnlargeZac Dysert
Kim Klement/US PresswireMiami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert, who missed the final four games last season, is battling for the starting job with Austin Boucher.
Now the two are back and competing for the starting quarterback job. After the spring game this past Saturday, there is still no clear indication about who will win the job.

Dysert started the game and then alternated with Boucher. Dysert, a junior, went 15-of-20 passes for 140 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Boucher went 10-of-16 for 63 yards. New coach Don Treadwell said Monday that he is going to wait until preseason camp before deciding on a starter. But he also said he has no problem having to make that decision.

"It's a positive because I’ve been on both ends of it, when you don’t have a competitive situation at quarterback," Treadwell said on a MAC coaches conference call. "I’m excited at the fact that we have two very good quarterbacks we can win with. I’d rather have that job to sort that out. One beautiful thing about the skill positions is those guys have an opportunity to improve themselves through the summer and preseason and into camp.

"I look at that competition to continue to show itself by the time they hit the ground running in the fall. I would much rather work toward who is that guy than not having an answer."

Dysert went 222-of-343 for 2,406 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season before missing the final four games. Boucher came in and went 88-of-142 for 990 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions in the four games he started -- all victories.

The offensive system Treadwell is installing is similar to what Miami ran last season under then-coach Mike Haywood. But they only ran the basics during the spring in order to give the coaches a chance to see what they can do. They each got an equal number of reps. Now the real work of the offseason begins with a big question mark hanging over a team many expect to contend for another MAC title.

"You have two guys that are excellent leaders that want to be the leader of the football team. It’s been very positive," Treadwell said. "We wanted to give them the same opportunity because there was no first team or second team. We wanted to build from the ground up with some base concepts, see if they can handle it and move forward."

Lunchtime Links

April, 13, 2011
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BYU quarterback Jake Heaps tells Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune the Cougars are playing for a national championship.

Jake Broyles is in the mix to start at guard for Boise State.

The UCF-Tulsa game has reportedly been moved, which is not good news for the Golden Hurricane.

Injuries are offering opportunities at UTEP this spring.

Austin Boucher and Zac Dysert are locked in a quarterback competition at Miami (Ohio).

Northern Illinois cornerbacks are covering a lot of ground.

Hi ho! Akron quarterback Clayton Moore is hoping for playing time in the fall.

Marshall is trying to get more athletic on defense.

The Gillmore brothers are causing havoc at Colorado State.

Spring QB competition: MAC

February, 10, 2011
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Now it’s time to look at spring quarterback competitions in the MAC. There should be plenty of intrigue here, especially at Toledo and Miami (Ohio), where starters are returning from injury but finding they are not going to be shoo-ins to get their jobs back.

Ball State

Who’s competing: Kelly Page and Keith Wenning will compete once again in the spring. They are no strangers to competing against each other -- Wenning won the starting job from Page in 2010 as a true freshman. With new coach Pete Lembo set to install his no-huddle offense, both players are going to have to audition for that job. Keep in mind, Page and Wenning are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

Buffalo

Who’s competing: The Bulls did plenty of quarterback shuffling last season under first-year coach Jeff Quinn, but nobody seemed to stick as the starter. So the competition is open once again headed into the spring between Jerry Davis, Alex Zordich and Alex Dennison. Davis will be a junior, while Zordich and Dennison will be sophomores. Davis started the majority of games last season, but Zordich did start a handful as a true freshmen. Neither put up stellar stats as they tried to learn the spread offense.

Kent State

Who’s competing: Spencer Keith returns, but he was wildly inconsistent last season, throwing for 2,212 yards, eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But with a new coach in Darrell Hazell, nobody is guaranteed of keeping their starting job. Expect a competition with Giorgio Morgan in the spring as Hazell installs more of a traditional offense. Morgan has been a career backup.

[+] EnlargeZac Dysert
Kim Klement/US PresswireMiami Redhawks quarterback Zac Dysert will be battling for the starting job in 2011.
Miami (Ohio)

Who’s competing: This is going to be a tremendous competition between Zac Dysert and Austin Boucher, two quarterbacks equally capable of leading this team. Dysert started the first 10 games of the season before injuring his ribs and sitting out the rest of the way. In came Boucher, who had only thrown 14 career passes to that point. But Boucher closed the season 4-0, with a come-from-behind win in the MAC championship game and then a win the GoDaddy.com Bowl against Middle Tennessee. Dysert threw for 2,406 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and completed 65 percent of his passes. Boucher threw for 1,120 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, and completed 64 percent of his passes. With a new head coach on Don Treadwell, both go in with clean slates and an opportunity to impress.

Ohio

Who’s out: Boo Jackson

Who’s competing: Jackson and Phil Bates Bates have been involved in quarterback competitions themselves, so being in this position is nothing new for Bates. But this is opportunity to prove once and for all why he deserves to be the starter after taking a back seat to Jackson last season. He is a senior and the most experienced quarterback on the roster. But two will push him -- Kyle Snyder and Tyler Tettleton. Snyder redshirted as a true freshman last season, and Tettleton also redshirted and will be a sophomore. Tettleton attempted 23 passes in 2009.

Temple

Who’s competing: Chester Stewart began last season as the starter before then-coach Al Golden decided on a switch and put Mike Gerardi into the starting lineup during the Bowling Green game in October. Gerardi started the rest of the way, but it wasn’t enough to get the Owls into the MAC championship game. With new coach Steve Addazio taking over, both are in contention to become the starter. There is one more player in the mix -- Chris Coyer, a 6-foot-3 dual-threat, left-handed quarterback who has drawn comparisons to Tim Tebow. Addazio coached Tebow at Florida. Coyer’s bio says he worked out with Tebow in high school. Plenty of connections there for him to make a serious run at the starting job.

Toledo

Who’s competing: Another intriguing competition here between Austin Dantin, who began 2010 as the starter, and Terrance Owens, who filled in quite nicely down the stretch. Dantin injured his shoulder/collarbone at the end of October and missed the final four games of the season. Owens went 2-2 as a starter, but he ended up with a better quarterback rating than Dantin and threw 13 touchdowns to seven for Dantin.

Top 10 non-AQ moments of 2010

January, 18, 2011
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What would a season wrap be without a list of the top 10 moments of the non-AQ season? So here it goes.

1. Tank Carder bats down Scott Tolzien’s 2-point conversion attempt. The best moment of the season simply because it preserved TCU’s 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, allowing the Horned Frogs to finish No. 2 in the final rankings as the top non-AQ team in the nation.

[+] EnlargeNevada Wolf Pack kicker Anthony Martinez
AP Photo/Cathleen AllisonAnthony Martinez's game-winning kick in overtime shocked Boise State and led Nevada to its best season ever.
2. Anthony Martinez kicks a 34-yard field goal in overtime to beat Boise State. In one of the biggest upsets of the season, Nevada took advantage of two misses from Broncos kicker Kyle Brotzman to pull off the 34-31 win. It was Martinez, a redshirt freshman, who calmly delivered the game-winning kick, triggering a wild celebration and helping the Wolf Pack finish with the best season in school history.

3. Kellen Moore delivers the game-winning touchdown over Virginia Tech. Moore threw the 13-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis with 1:09 remaining, lifting the Broncos to a 33-30 win over Virginia Tech. The win may have lost its luster at the end of the season, but at the time, it kept Boise State in the national conversation and proved once again the Broncos had what it took, not only to compete, but to beat the teams from the automatic qualifying conferences.

4. TCU smacks Utah. The stakes were high. College GameDay was in Salt Lake City for the huge clash between No. 3 TCU and No. 5 Utah, two undefeated non-AQs jockeying for BCS positioning. The Horned Frogs dismantled Utah 47-7 as Andy Dalton threw for 355 yards, including a 93-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce early in the first quarter that set the tone for the game.

5. Brandon Burton blocks BYU’s game-winning field goal attempt. Not only was this the last game between BYU and Utah as conference rivals, it's also presumably the last time they will end the season against each other. Burton delivered a classic finish, blocking a 42-yard attempt by Mitch Payne to help Utah hold on for a 17-16 victory. Utah had erased a 13-0 deficit to come from behind and win.

6. Austin Boucher throws a 33-yard touchdown pass to Armand Robinson with 33 seconds left to help Miami (Ohio) win the MAC title game. This was supposed to be Northern Illinois’ night. The Huskies finished unbeaten in league play and were the overwhelming favorites to win. But Boucher, a redshirt freshman, converted a fourth-and-20 on the final drive, then hit Robinson for the game-winning touchdown as Miami (Ohio) completed the best turnaround in college football. The RedHawks went 1-11 last season.

7. Navy beats Notre Dame. Alexander Teich had his way against the Irish, running for 210 yards as the Midshipmen won in a 35-17 rout. It was Navy’s third win over Notre Dame in four years, as it racked up 367 yards on the ground – the most ever for Navy against the Irish. Teich also became the first fullback in school history to run for over 200 yards in a game.

8. Dominique Davis’ prayer answered. Trailing 49-45 with seconds remaining in the season opener for both teams, the only option East Carolina had to win was to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone. Davis heaved the football into the end zone, and James Jones came up with the 33-yard touchdown to complete the improbable 51-49 victory. The teams combined for 1,117 yards and swapped the lead 12 times. If Tulsa had won, the Golden Hurricane would have played in the C-USA championship game and East Carolina would not have made a bowl.

9. Air Force knocks off Navy. When the Falcons beat the Midshipmen 14-6 early in the season, they got the upper hand in the race for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Air Force beat Navy for the first time since 2002 and also ended the Midshipmen’s 15-game service academy win streak. It was an emotional win for the Falcons, whose win over Army later in the season ended Navy’s seven-year hold on that CIC Trophy.

10. FIU kicks a last second field goal to beat Toledo. In what was one of the best finishes during bowl season, FIU kicker Jack Griffin booted a 34-yard field goal with no time left to give the Panthers a 34-32 win over the Rockets in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. It was a great moment not only because of the heart-stopping ending, but because FIU won its first bowl game in its first bowl appearance and finished with its first ever winning record.

Lunchtime Links

January, 7, 2011
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The Mountain West clinched yet another Bowl Challenge Cup. Now Nevada is the only non-AQ left to play during the bowl season, with hopes of giving the WAC a 2-2 mark.

On to some links:

Miami (Ohio) capped a historic season with a bowl win against Middle Tennessee.

Blue Raiders running back Phillip Tanner hit two marks in the loss.

Miami (Ohio) quarterback Austin Boucher got an extra special gift for being named MVP of the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has interviewed for the same job as Texas.

It appears Tulsa coach Todd Graham might not be a finalist for the Pittsburgh job. Graham, for his part, will not entertain any talk about Pittsburgh.

Former Ball State defensive line coach Phil Burnett has posted his resume on Twitter, hoping to find a job.

San Diego State coach Brady Hoke hasn't signed his contract extension with the school yet.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco will feel like a home game for Nevada.

Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham have to gut up and make the tough calls, Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune writes.

Excellent piece from Vai Sikahema on the Robert Anae you might not know, in The Deseret News.

UCF coach George O'Leary got $400,000 in bonuses for the Knights' 11-win season.
Miami (Ohio) beat Middle Tennessee 35-21 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: Turnovers have hurt Middle Tennessee all season, and they hurt the Blue Raiders in the GoDaddy.com Bowl against Miami. They ended up with five turnovers -- including one interception returned for a touchdown. Middle Tennessee also failed to take advantage of several other opportunities, including a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter that gave it the ball at its own 44. After Middle Tennessee punted, Miami simply wore down the defense on the next drive, capping the game with an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended when Austin Boucher threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Nick Harwell. Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher was ineffective, throwing four second-half interceptions, while Boucher played well and moved to 4-0 as a starter since taking over for Zac Dysert (ribs). The RedHawks became the first team in FBS history to go from double-digit losses (1-11) to double-digit wins (10-4) in consecutive seasons.

Turning point: Trailing 28-21, the Middle Tennessee defense came up with a huge stop after Evan Harris' interception gave Miami the ball deep in Blue Raiders territory. Miami set up for a 32-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked. Middle Tennessee could not take advantage of the mistake and never got any closer.

Player of the game: Boucher. Yes, he threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone at the end of the first half. But he also made the big plays when they counted and finished 22-of-36 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. It really is incredible that he has only started four games in his career.

Unsung hero of the game: Miami cornerback Dayonne Nunley. His 52-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter gave Miami its first lead of the game at 21-14. He also had a fumble recovery a play after Boucher threw his second interception to give the ball right back to his team.

What Miami learned: The RedHawks can hang their hat on an outstanding season, and were able to win the game despite the events of the last month. Coach Mike Haywood resigned to take a job at Pittsburgh, only to be fired following domestic assault charges. Interim coach Lance Guidry did a nice job leading the team, with new head coach Don Treadwell watching from the press box. There is plenty of young talent on this team, but you can be sure there will be a quarterback battle in the spring between Boucher and Dysert. Harwell should be a preseason All-MAC selection.

What Middle Tennessee learned: Dasher simply never recovered to be the quarterback he was in 2009 after sitting out the first four games of the season for violating NCAA rules. The Blue Raiders had too many turnovers and too many penalties this season as well. Now they must prepare for life after Dasher, running back Phillip Tanner and Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Jamari Lattimore.

There was some cause for concern when Miami (Ohio) quarterback Zac Dysert went down with a rib injury in November. The RedHawks were in the thick of the MAC race, and would now turn to a redshirt freshman who had attempted 14 passes in his career.

Austin Boucher had no concerns. He knew he would take the opportunity and run with it. He most certainly did that, going 3-0 in his three starts since replacing Dysert. Among the wins were a 23-3 victory over Temple that kept the RedHawks in the race and a come-from-behind thriller to beat Northern Illinois in the conference title game.

[+] EnlargeAustin Boucher
Steven King/Icon SMIThe RedHawks are 3-0 in Austin Boucher's starts, including a win in the MAC championship.
He now leads Miami into its first bowl game since 2004, when it plays Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.

"I came here to play and this is the game I love," Boucher said in a recent phone interview. "I knew once I got my start, I would take advantage and enjoy it. You want to be a part of something like that. The team rallied around me. They picked me up in my first game or two, and I tried to be the best leader I could be."

In his three starts, Boucher has gone 72-of-115 for 765 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The defining drive happened with less than three minutes left against the heavily favored Huskies. Down 21-20, the RedHawks seemed on the outs with a fourth-and-20 on its 38 staring them down. But Boucher completed a 31-yard pass to Chris Givens. Boucher was sacked on the next play, but recovered on second down, throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Armand Robinson with 33 seconds left to give Miami a 26-21 lead. The ball was tipped, but Robinson was wide open and waltzed into the end zone.

"It was crazy at the time," Boucher recalled. "I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about. I was reading the defense, we had a wide-open guy. I just focused on hitting the play that was unfolding."

The win helped Miami complete the best turnaround in the NCAA this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4. But it has been over a month since the RedHawks have played. For a team that closed the season with five straight wins and a conference title, you wonder how the layoff will impact the players.

"Every team has to wait, so it's the same on every field," Boucher said.

As for his future, there is certainly going to be a quarterback competition between Boucher and Dysert in the spring, with new coach Don Treadwell watching intently. Dysert was playing well before his injury, throwing for 2,406 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Boucher said he had no intention of transferring regardless of how the quarterback situation unfolds. Dysert is a sophomore this season.

"Just like every player here, including Zac, everyone wants to play," Boucher said. "I didn’t come here to be a backup. God’s given me an opportunity late in the season, so I've been enjoying it and I’ve taken advantage of it. It will be a battle in the spring. Zac is a phenomenal quarterback. I helped out toward the end of the season, so I think it will be a good battle in the spring."

GoDaddy.com Bowl 3 keys

January, 5, 2011
1/05/11
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You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys each for Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio) headed into the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.

Middle Tennessee (6-6)

1. Get Dwight Dasher going. That has been easier said than done this season. Dasher has had an inconsistent season after being suspended the first four games for violating NCAA rules. He did play well in the finale against FIU, so the Blue Raiders are hoping he can pick up where he left off. But he did show signs of rust when he returned after his four weeks off, so it will be interesting to see whether the same rust returns with such a long layoff between games. One of the big keys will be to break contain and make plays with his legs, something that he has not done as much this season as he did in 2010.

2. Contain Miami running back Thomas Merriweather. The RedHawks have relied more on their run game with Zac Dysert out, and Merriweather has responded with three of his best games of the season. Still, with a redshirt freshman quarterback in Austin Boucher starting once again for Miami, you can bet the Blue Raiders will want to shut down Merriweather and make Boucher beat them with his arm. To be successful, not only will Miami have to put pressure on Boucher with Jamari Lattimore, they will have to account for Miami receivers Nick Harwell and Armand Robinson, one of the finest duos in the MAC. The two combined for 1,766 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

3. Limit the mistakes. Middle Tennessee has been a turnover machine this season, ranking last in the FBS in turnover margin. The Blue Raiders have given the ball away 33 times and taken it away only 17, a large reason why they had a .500 season this year. Miami, meanwhile, is at plus-8 on the season in turnover margin, so it is even more imperative in this game for the Blue Raiders to hold onto the ball.

Miami (Ohio) (9-4)

1. Make life easy for Boucher. There is no question that Boucher has filled in well as the starter since Dysert went down with a rib injury in November. Boucher has started three games and won all three, thanks in part to an increased reliance on the run game and Merriweather -- who has posted two 100-yard games with Boucher as the starter. It will be important to get Merriweather going early, to help open up passing lanes for Boucher and keep the Middle Tennessee defense honest. Balance is a must for Miami to be successful in this game.

2. Block defensive end Jamari Lattimore. That is no easy task. Lattimore was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He also ranks third on the team in tackles with 64. Lattimore has good speed, and should be able to take advantage of that against an offensive line that has given up 34 sacks this season, one of the worst in the country. Left tackle Matt Kennedy is on the hot seat.

3. Intangibles. There are a couple of questions for Miami headed into the game that have nothing to do with what will happen on the field. First, how will the team do with interim coach Lance Guidry on the sideline guiding the team? Mike Haywood is the coach who led this squad to the biggest turnaround in the NCAA this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4. But he resigned to coach at Pittsburgh and has since been fired following being arrested on a domestic violence charge. Northern Illinois responded with an interim coach at the helm in its win over Fresno State, so the same could happen here. Also, none of these players have been in a bowl game before, so it will be important for them to keep their poise early on this game.

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
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Nobody pegged Miami to do much of anything this season, not after a 1-11 record in 2009 made them one of the worst teams in college football. But as the old cliché goes, that is why they play the games. From the season opener against Florida, you knew something special could happen this season. Miami challenged the Gators hard, and though the RedHawks lost 34-12, they came away with the sense that they could play with anyone. It helped that nearly the entire starting offense and defense returned, because those players had another opportunity to get better. Zac Dysert showed flashes as a freshman last season, and he put together a nice season before lacerating his spleen late and making way for redshirt freshman Austin Boucher. Armand Robinson had another good year at receiver, but Nick Harwell also emerged to give the RedHawks a powerful duo -- the two combined for over 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns. But perhaps the biggest improvement came on defense, where Miami ranked No. 5 in the MAC. Defensive tackle Austin Brown emerged as a force, and Miami was able to put itself in position to make the MAC championship game with a win over Temple late in the season. After Ohio lost in the last regular-season game of the year, Miami went into the MAC title game as heavy underdogs but beat Northern Illinois 26-21 with 33 seconds to go. The win completed the best turnaround in the country this season as the RedHawks finished 9-4, making MAC Coach of the Year Mike Haywood one of this season's best stories.

Offensive MVP: WR Armand Robinson. Tough one here, because Dysert, Harwell and RB Thomas Merriweather all deserve recognition. Robinson had 90 catches for 981 yards -- both career highs -- along with six touchdowns en route to second-team All-MAC honors.

Defensive MVP: DT Austin Brown. A co-captain, Brown anchored the defensive line and had 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and also was an All-MAC second-team selection. LB Evan Harris also deserves recognition for leading the team in tackles.

Turning point: 34-13 loss to Ohio on Oct. 23. Miami had the chance to get itself in the driver’s seat in the East but lost. Instead of going in the tank, the RedHawks reeled off five straight wins, including a crucial 23-3 win over Temple in the season finale that helped get them into the MAC title game.

What’s next: Miami plays Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 and will have plenty of returning players for next season. About 45 freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores traveled to the MAC title game.

GoDaddy.com Bowl

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
2:20
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Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (6-6) vs. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (9-4)

Jan. 6, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Nation blogger Andrea Adelson’s take: Miami had the best turnaround in the country, going from 1-11 to 9-4 and MAC champions.

The RedHawks needed Ohio to lose to Kent State in its regular-season finale to get into the MAC title game and the Bobcats obliged. Mike Haywood has done an unbelievable job there, instilling discipline and making sure his players stay out of trouble off the field.

Up in the air is whether starting QB Zac Dysert will be ready for the bowl game. He has missed the last three games with a lacerated spleen. Redshirt freshman Austin Boucher has been good in his place, throwing for 333 yards in the MAC title game.

The defense has gotten better and better, and a huge key in this game is its ability to shut down the Middle Tennessee running game. That’s what Miami did to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game.

The Blue Raiders needed a win over FIU on Saturday to become bowl eligible for the second straight season. They were a popular preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, but then dynamic QB Dwight Dasher was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the season for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. He wasn't the same after his return -- 6 TDs, 14 INTs, career-low 3.6 yards a carry -- although he had his best game of the season against the Panthers. Last season, Dasher had an awesome game in the New Orleans Bowl and became the fourth player in NCAA history last season to pass for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards.

Middle Tennessee has had turnover problems all year, ranking last in the country in turnover margin. Miami has been one of the best.

Non-AQ Helmet Stickers: Week 14

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
12:18
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Yes, Hawaii is still playing UNLV out on the islands, but we are going to give out our final regular-season non-AQ helmet stickers, anyway.

Miami (Ohio) QB Austin Boucher. In just his third career start, Boucher threw for 333 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Armand Robinson with 33 seconds left to win the MAC championship game, 26-21 over Northern Illinois on Friday night. The RedHawks pulled an incredible upset and capped an incredible turnaround season after going 1-11 in 2009. Robinson had 176 yards on 14 catches.

Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders (6-6) are headed to a bowl game for consecutive years for the first time in their FBS history after a 28-27 win over Sun Belt c0-champion FIU. Quarterback Dwight Dasher threw for a season-high 244 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another 57.

UCF defense. The Knights had five sacks, six quarterback hurries and two interceptions in a 17-7 win over SMU in the Conference USA championship game. It was the lowest point total for the Mustangs since June Jones arrived in 2008.

Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. Became just the third player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season, joining Tim Tebow of Florida and Cam Newton of Auburn. Kaepernick had 155 yards rushing in a 35-17 win over Louisiana Tech, becoming the third quarterback in NCAA history to run for over 4,000 yards. He also had three rushing touchdowns, giving him 59 for his career, tied atop the NCAA rankings with Eric Crouch.

Fresno State QB Ryan Colburn. Went 18-of-26 for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a 25-23 win over Illinois on Friday night. The Bulldogs end the season with yet another win over an opponent from an AQ conference, their 17th win over a team from an AQ conference since 2000.

Miami (Ohio), your 2010 MAC champs

December, 4, 2010
12/04/10
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If there is a more incredible story among the non-AQs this season, please show it to me.

Miami (Ohio) pulled off a stunner Friday night in Detroit, upsetting the heavily favored Northern Illinois Huskies to win the MAC championship -- one season removed from a 1-11 record.

Where do we start handing out the credit? First of course is MAC Coach of the Year Mike Haywood, who has engineered the biggest turnaround in college football this season. Miami won nine games, and he has completely changed the culture in the program, laying down tough rules and expecting nothing but hard work and discipline. His team also won with games on the line -- Miami is 7-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

Many might question his decision to go for a fake field goal midway through the third quarter, with the RedHawks up 20-14. When you are the underdog, conventional wisdom calls for you to try to take as many points as you can get. Maybe Haywood was skittish because his special teams had been shaky -- with an extra point and field goal blocked already in the game.

But the fake field goal was less than inspired. Holder Mike Scherpenberg took the ball up the middle and came up short. After Northern Illinois scored late in the fourth quarter to go up 21-20, you thought those special-teams miscues would come back to cost the RedHawks.

[+] EnlargeChris Givens
Steven King/Icon SMIChris Givens came down with a 31-yard pass on fourth-and-20 to keep the game-winning drive alive.
But redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Boucher would not be denied. On fourth-and-20 with time ticking down, he completed a 31-yard pass to Chris Givens. Northern Illinois got its hands on the ball and tipped it, and Givens was right there for the catch. After a sack, Northern Illinois sent the house at Boucher. Making a terrific read, he spotted a wide open Armand Robinson running loose, and hit him for the 33-yard touchdown reception with 33 seconds left, and the improbable 26-21 win.

Where else does the credit go? The Miami defense, which did an incredible job slowing down the top-rated Northern Illinois rushing attack. The RedHawks loaded the box and limited MAC Offensive Player of the Year Chad Spann to 54 yards on the ground. Northern Illinois had just 92 total yards rushing. With the running game taken away, Chandler Harnish was not nearly as effective, and that ended up costing the Huskies.

Boucher deserves his share of credit, too. He was making his third career start, filling in for starter Zac Dysert, out with a lacerated spleen. But Boucher showed the calm and poise of a veteran, throwing for 333 yards and not wilting under the intense pressure late in the game. How often do we see freshmen making the plays he made to win the game?

"I've imagined it so many times -- winning the game in the last minute," Boucher said.

For Northern Illinois, it was another heartbreaker in the MAC title game. In its last appearance in this contest in 2005, Akron beat the Huskies 31-30 with a 36-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining.

In a strange twist, Northern Illinois had one shot to win with the ball at the RedHawks' 32-yard line with 10 seconds left. But Harnish, scrambling to find an open receiver, never felt the pass rush coming at him and was sacked to end the game.

The Huskies had won nine straight, and garnered their first Top 25 ranking since 2003. “We’ll bounce back," coach Jerry Kill said. "They’ll go back to work and learn. This hurts, and it should hurt. That’s part of life -- you don’t win all the time. This is when you find out who you are.”

We know what Miami is -- incredibly, improbably MAC champion.

"What an unbelievable feeling," Robinson said. "You'd never think something like this would happen after a 1-11 season."

Miami (Ohio) has slim MAC East hopes

November, 23, 2010
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There is one team that has MAC championship hopes alive between Temple and Miami (Ohio).

It’s not the team anybody expected going into the season.

Miami (7-4, 6-1) does need help, but the RedHawks still have a shot in the MAC East. They need to beat the Owls (8-3, 5-2) tonight in a nationally televised game from Oxford, then hope Ohio loses to Kent State on Friday.

Ohio (8-3, 6-1) beat Temple last week to eliminate the Owls from contention. The Bobcats beat Miami earlier in the season, so if they win out, they go to the MAC title game against Northern Illinois on Dec. 3.

Temple was the preseason favorite to win the East, but Miami has been the biggest surprise in the league and the country. Winning the game would give Miami automatic entry into a bowl game, because the two MAC title game participants are guaranteed spots.

That is important for a team that already has the best turnaround in the country, at plus-six games. If Miami finishes 7-5, there are no bowl guarantees. This season, teams with winning records from non-AQ conferences are no longer given consideration ahead of 6-6 teams from the power leagues.

After going 1-11 last season, Miami is trying to make a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Coach Mike Haywood said he tried not to pay too much attention to the bowl scenarios and what could await his team past this game.

“We can’t worry about those things,” Haywood said. “We have to be better than our opponent and we have to win the football game. The bowl coalitions take care of that from that point on.”

Haywood is prepared for a physical game. In fact, that is the first thing he stressed to his team following its 19-14 win over Akron last week. Temple has an excellent running game with Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce, though Pierce is out after injuring his hamstring on the opening play last week against Ohio. Also out for Temple is starting linebacker Peanut Joseph, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against Ohio.

The Bobcats physically handled Temple, providing a blueprint for Miami to follow.

“We’re going to have to spend some guys in the box to stop their run game, and when we decide to spend a guy down in the box it’s going to put us one-on-one on the outside,” Haywood said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of covering because they have big physical receivers.”

Miami is going to need its power run game to work with Thomas Merriweather because the RedHawks are starting redshirt freshman Austin Boucher at quarterback for the second straight week. With starter Zac Dysert out with a spleen injury, Boucher made his debut last week at Akron and went 22-of-32 for 213 yards. Merriweather helped take the pressure off, with 141 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Still, this will be a much better defensive unit than the one Miami played last week.

“Austin Boucher is a young man that’s extremely smart,” Haywood said. “He’s been really been waiting for his opportunity. (Last week) we tried to reduce the package to give him more confidence. He came in this week asking for more things in the package. Guys believe and trust in him. He’ll do a good job and continue to do a good job. We’re going to have to open it up a little more to be successful.”

Lunchtime Links

November, 22, 2010
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Big week ahead for the non-AQs.

What does Nevada have to do to upset Boise State?

The Broncos' defense is on a roll.

Utah wants some payback against BYU after a loss in OT last season.

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora is proud of the way his team responded in a 59-41 win over Houston.

San Diego State is looking in the mirror after a tough loss to Utah.

Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz celebrated Thanksgiving early.

Tulsa and Southern Miss meet this weekend, and the Golden Hurricane still have West Division hopes on the line.

Miami (Ohio) quarterback Austin Boucher is getting more comfortable in the offense.

Junior Mertile's switch to defense has paid off big for FIU.

Rod Issac changed Middle Tennessee's fortunes against Western Kentucky.

Colorado State's athletic director is standing by coach Steve Fairchild.

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