NCF Nation: Austin Davis

Instant analysis: S. Miss 24, Nevada 17

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
11:46
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No. 21 Southern Miss beat Nevada 24-17 in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Saturday night. Here is a quick breakdown of how it happened:

How the game was won: One definitive drive. Incredibly, two of the most potent offenses in the nation slogged through most of this game. Special teams were a mess on both sides -- Nevada had a punt blocked and lost a fumble on a kickoff; Southern Miss lost fumbles on a kickoff and a punt return. Midway through the fourth quarter, each team had more punts than first downs. But finally, the Golden Eagles woke up with seven minutes to play. Austin Davis fired a 43-yard pass to Dominique Sullivan. Davis completed the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Bolden. It was the longest drive of the game for the Golden Eagles.

Turning point: The 43-yard pass to Sullivan might not have gone for a big play had Nevada defensive back Isaiah Frey not gambled. Frey went for the interception and missed, allowing Sullivan to race 20 more yards.

Player of the game: Southern Miss defensive end Cordarro Law. After Nevada gashed Southern Miss on the ground in the first half, Law helped his teammates put an end to that. He had a huge impact in the second half, and ended the game with seven tackles (three for loss) and two sacks.

Second guessing: Nevada had a chance to answer the go-ahead Southern Miss score. On fourth-and-1 from midfield with 4:01 to go, coach Chris Ault called a running play between the tackles. The Wolf Pack had early success running in that direction, but they had been stymied the entire second half. Lampford Mark was tackled for no gain, and that did it for Nevada. After Mark had 162 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, he had 22 after the break.

What it means for Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles won a school-record 12 games to cap the best season in school history. But now they have to move on without coach Larry Fedora and record-setting quarterback Davis. Fedora moves on to North Carolina, while Davis will try for a shot in the NFL. Both were instrumental in this team's success this season.

What it means for Nevada: The Wolf Pack played their final game in the WAC, as they head to the Mountain West in 2012. They are now 0-4 in their past four appearances in Aloha Stadium and continue to have key breakdowns on defense late in games. In its past three defeats, Nevada has either been tied or had a lead in the fourth quarter, and lost. Cody Fajardo was benched in the second half in favor of Tyler Lantrip because he was ineffective, so the Wolf Pack are going to need much more consistency out of him if he is to lead this team going forward.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Three Keys

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
2:30
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You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Nevada and Southern Miss heading into the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Saturday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Nevada (7-5)

1. Block Jamie Collins and Cordarro Law. For the Wolf Pack to have any success with their Pistol offense, they are going to have to take stock of these two players, who have been terrific at making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Southern Miss ranks No. 20 in rush defense, and Collins and Law are a big reason for that. Collins, who plays the hybrid end/linebacker role, really does a nice job shutting down the perimeter. He has 94 tackles this season, with a team-leading 19.5 tackles for loss (tied for No. 10 nationally) and 6.5 sacks. Law has 7.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.

2. Consistent defense. One of the biggest reasons Nevada struggled late in the season was because of inconsistent play on defense, especially in the secondary. This group will be facing one of the most balanced teams it has played this season, so it has to be ready for equal doses of runs and passes, and has to be on the lookout for Austin Davis scrambling out of the pocket, too. It is a cliche to say Nevada has to play assignment-sound, but it totally fits the bill here.

3. Rishard Matthews advantage. Matthews is the best, most consistent player the Wolf Pack have on offense, so it will be critical to get the ball to him in what appears to be a huge matchup advantage. Matthews leads the team with 91 receptions for 1,364 yards and eight touchdowns. He most likely will be paired against Deron Wilson, and has a huge size advantage on the cornerback (4 inches, 40 pounds).

Southern Miss (10-2)

1. Big plays in the pass game. Davis has been terrific this season in leading Southern Miss, and he will have an opportunity to take advantage of the biggest area of weakness Nevada has on defense -- the secondary. Ryan Balentine and Kelvin Bolden each have more than 600 yards receiving and have been the most consistent threats in the pass game. The Golden Eagles also are effective at getting the ball to Tracy Lampley out of the backfield.

2. Block Brett Roy. No question Nevada will try to get Davis off his rhythm by getting after him. Roy, a first-team WAC defensive tackle, had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, and is the best player on the Wolf Pack front. Nevada has been solid at generating a pass rush this season, but the big problem facing Nevada is Davis' escapability and a solid offensive line that has only allowed 15 sacks all season.

3. Make Cody Fajardo win it. Fajardo has shown flashes this season, but this defense has been excellent at putting major pressure on quarterbacks and forcing mistakes. Just ask Case Keenum, who had his worst game of the season against Southern Miss. Dan Disch has done a great job installing his 4-2-5 scheme, and Southern Miss has set a new FBS record with eight interception returns for touchdowns. You can bet this group will be hoping for a few more against the redshirt freshman quarterback.
Nevada (7-5) takes on No. 21 Southern Miss (11-2) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Saturday night in Honolulu. The Wolf Pack are quite familiar with their surroundings in Aloha Stadium, as they are making their fourth straight trip to the islands for a game. They are 0-3 in their past three appearances (two losses to Hawaii in regular-season play, one loss to SMU in the 2009 Hawaii Bowl). Meanwhile, Southern Miss stunned Houston in the Conference USA championship game and is making its 10th straight bowl appearance. That is tied with Boise State for the longest active streak among non-AQ schools.

Who to watch: Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis. What Davis has accomplished in his Southern Miss career truly is remarkable. He walked onto the team with no guarantee of getting playing time, but became a four-year starter and broke all of Brett Favre's passing records. Davis now has career marks of 10,727 passing yards, 81 touchdown passes, a 61.6 completion percentage, and 12,082 total offensive yards. His impressive career earned him the Burlsworth Trophy, given annually to the best player in the nation who began his career as a walk-on. He can run, too, and was second on the team with 101 carries.

What to watch: How Cody Fajardo leads Nevada. The Wolf Pack have been an incredibly inconsistent team this season. They had a heck of a nonconference schedule and changed quarterbacks, deciding to go with the redshirt freshman. He has made plays, completing 71.4 percent of his passes, but he also has taken his share of lumps and has been called out for not fighting through injuries. Nevada was in position to win the WAC but lost at home to Louisiana Tech, ending the season with losses in two of its final three games. In fact, Nevada is one of four teams in the postseason that did not beat a bowl-eligible team all year.

Why to watch: This is the last game for Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, who was hired to be the head coach at North Carolina. Fedora led this team to its first 10-win regular season since 1952 -- only the third time the mark has been reached in school history. The Golden Eagles also reappeared in the national polls for the first time since 2004, and won their first C-USA division title since 2006. This is a coach who elevated the program, and allowing him to coach one final game is a nice tribute.

Prediction: Southern Miss 35, Nevada 20. The Golden Eagles have the superior offense and defense, and truly are one of the better teams in the country this season. They will prove it in Hawaii.

Season recap: Southern Miss

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
10:00
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SOUTHERN MISS GOLDEN EAGLES

Record: 11-2, 6-2 C-USA

You gave Southern Miss a chance in the Conference USA championship game, right? Nobody outside Hattiesburg did. But the Golden Eagles pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, beating No. 6 Houston 49-28 to win its fifth league championship but first C-USA title game. It was an impressive defensive performance, one that featured the team's eighth interception return of the season to set a FBS record.

The win gave Southern Miss a school record 11 wins. The school had only two 10-win seasons over its first 100 years since the program began. This also is the program's 18th straight winning season, the fourth longest streak in the FBS behind Florida State, Florida and Virginia Tech. What is hard to believe is this team could have been undefeated, if not for losses against one team that finished .500 and another that had a losing record.

Offensive MVP: Austin Davis, QB. Davis has set just about every career quarterback record in school history and passed single-season marks against Houston for touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (3,331). It was the third time in his career Davis threw four touchdown passes in a game. He also added 332 yards rushing on the season and three touchdowns on the ground as Southern Miss went over 6,000 yards of total offense for the first time in school history.

Defensive MVP: Cordarro Law, LB. Law had 17.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 7.5 sacks for the Golden Eagles, and he was unstoppable against Houston, with 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a hurry. Defensive back Marquese Wheaton deserves mention as well after registering three touchdowns on the season off two interceptions and one blocked field goal return.

Turning point: A 48-28 win over East Carolina. The victory was the seventh in a row for the Golden Eagles after they dropped an early game against Marshall, and essentially allowed them to take control of the East Division. This game also featured two interceptions returned for a touchdown. Jamie Collins returned one 97 yards for a score, and Deron Wilson had one that went 79 yards as the Golden Eagles used their opportunistic defense to help them win.

What’s next: Southern Miss will head to its 10th straight bowl game, playing Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. But the Golden Eagles may have to start looking for a new coach. Larry Fedora is reportedly the choice at North Carolina after four seasons at Southern Miss. They will also lose Davis and Law, the backbone of their team this season, so there will be plenty of changes for 2012.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
10:57
PM ET
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (11-2)

Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Nevada take: Coming off a 13-1 record-breaking season, the Wolfpack started this season 6-3 and in control of the Western Athletic Conference, looking to clinch their second straight conference title. Then they blew a 20-3 home lead to eventual conference champion Louisiana Tech, and they lost by four at Utah State the next week, too. Running back Mike Ball was kicked off the team prior to the Utah State team for violating team rules. He had 704 yards and three touchdowns and was a force on kickoff returns as well.

A brutal four-game road stretch to open the season -- which included games against Oregon and Boise State -- led to a 1-3 start, with the lone win coming by three at San Jose State.

Freshman Cody Fajardo emerged as the starting quarterback over Tyler Lantrip and has completed better than 71 percent of his passes for 1,647 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 680 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nevada scored at least 37 points in five straight games with Fajardo under center. After two straight losses, the Wolfpack closed the season with a 56-3 win Saturday over Idaho. Their rushing offense, keyed by Chris Ault's vaunted pistol attack, ranks eighth nationally. They averaged more than 522 total yards per game, good for fifth nationally.


Southern Miss take: There's a reason Larry Fedora's name has been mentioned so often for other job openings. He had already led the Golden Eagles to their first 10-win season since 1952 and only their third in school history. It then all culminated with a 49-28 thrashing of undefeated Houston in Saturday's Conference USA title game, giving the Golden Eagles their first-ever 11-win season.

Southern Miss is going bowling for the 10th straight year, the longest active streak in the conference. That is thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Austin Davis, who has re-written the school record books and threw four touchdown passes in the victory over the Cougars. He now has the single-season school record for touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (3,331).

Ronnie Thornton's 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday was Southern Miss' eighth pick-six of the year, an NCAA record. The defense's quick adjustment to first-year coordinator Dan Disch and his 4-2-5 look has paid dividends early.

"We knew in making that change that there wouldn't be time for a learning curve so we told the kids, 'There is not time for a learning curve you’re going to have to spend whatever free time you have learning this system as quickly as possible,' " Fedora said last week. "They all bought in. They were excited about it and they learned it very quickly you have to give credit to Dan Disch and the defensive staff for making things simple."

Final: Southern Miss 49, Houston 28

December, 3, 2011
12/03/11
4:12
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Houston was so close to making history.

All the Cougars had to do was beat Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game to clinch a spot in their first BCS game.

So close.

No. 24 Southern Miss completely dominated No. 6 Houston and Heisman trophy candidate Case Keenum, burying the Cougars 49-28 behind the strength of their aggressive, physical, opportunistic defense. The victory gives the Golden Eagles (11-2) their first win in the C-USA title game.

Now the BCS is thrown into flux, as the Cougars (12-1) are out of the mix after a season full of records. That's a $17 million loss for Conference USA.

Keenum came back for his sixth season to make history, and he did that as the NCAA record holder for passing, touchdowns and total offense. He led the Cougars to a school-record 12 wins, too. But nobody in Houston cares much about the record books right now. Houston needed this win in the worst way, but Larry Fedora outcoached Kevin Sumlin in the biggest game in Houston history.

From the start, the Cougars looked off-kilter because Southern Miss applied heavy pressure and simply dominated the Houston offensive line. Keenum never got comfortable, never got in a good rhythm, and that was a big reason the Cougars could never claw back after going down 14-0 early.

They managed to tie it in the second quarter at 14, but Southern Miss answered right back when Austin Davis threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Sullivan on the next drive. That was as close as the Cougars got. Hard as it might be to believe, Houston never led in this game.

Keenum, who came into this season with just three interceptions, threw two in this game. One was in the end zone to kill a drive. The other was returned for a touchdown, giving Southern Miss an FBS-record eight interceptions returned for a score this season.

What is most impressive about this Southern Miss D is this: First-year coordinator Dan Disch installed a completely new 4-2-5 scheme when he arrived on campus. Generally it takes about a year for a team to really take to a new style of play. But not this unit. Earlier this week, Fedora said his players bought into the scheme immediately.

"We knew in making that change that there wouldn't be time for a learning curve so we told the kids, 'There is not time for a learning curve, you’re going to have to spend whatever free time you have learning this system as quickly as possible.' They all bought in. They were excited about it and they learned it very quickly. You have to give credit to Dan Disch and the defensive staff for making things simple."

Cordarro Law, who has been outstanding all year, was a particular source of trouble for Houston. He was simply unblockable. The No. 1 offense in the nation was held to season lows in points and total offense (428) -- 185 yards below its season average. Keenum was 41-of-67 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, as his Heisman hopes took a serious hit.

The Cougars had made improvements on defense, but Southern Miss racked up 207 yards on the ground. The Golden Eagles' Davis, who has been so solid for this team, threw four touchdown passes.

With the loss, the door now opens for TCU to potentially join the BCS party for a third straight season. No. 18 TCU has to move into the top 16 in the final BCS standings and finish ranked ahead of the Big East champion, and the Horned Frogs will get an automatic berth. Non-AQ teams are eligible for an automatic berth if they win their conference. Boise State will be ranked higher if it closes its season with a win over New Mexico, but it is disqualified from getting an AQ spot because it lost the Mountain West title to TCU.

For Houston, the what-if game is one that will now be played.

Houston on the verge of history

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
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Houston is on the verge of becoming the fifth non-AQ program to make it to a BCS bowl game.

And just like every other program that has come before the Cougars, there are some who wonder why an undefeated non-AQ has nary a chance at the BCS national title game. If No. 6 Houston beats No. 24 Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game Saturday to improve to 13-0, nobody will argue the Cougars deserve to play for it all.

That is how it went with Utah. Boise State. Hawaii. TCU. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin is not complaining about the potential situation facing his team. He is just happy to be along for the ride.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/David J. PhillipKevin Sumlin has Houston on the brink of a 13-0 season.
"We set out to win a conference championship, and as I said before, we've talked as a team if you win, you won't be ignored," Sumlin said Tuesday on a conference call. "We really have very little to complain about in my view. Eight weeks ago, we weren't even ranked. To go from that to sixth in the BCS is an accomplishment within itself, so as a non-AQ school you can't have it both ways. People want to talk about our schedule, want to talk about all kinds of other things. You can't be a non-AQ school and play an AQ schedule. It doesn't work that way. We understand where we are, we have a schedule before the year -- we can't change that. We're going to try to win the game Saturday and see what happens."

Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora has the opposite view.

"Your players don’t have an opportunity to play for a championship," he said. "It's the only NCAA sport that is not equal for everybody. Not everybody has a chance to play for the national championship and that's just the way it is. Whether you like it or not, that's the system we have set up right now. Hopefully those things will change in the near future."

Sumlin added that he likes the bowl system, but also feels there is some merit to a playoff that features just a handful of teams.

That discussion becomes irrelevant if Houston loses to Southern Miss, a team that won 10 games -- including a victory at Virginia early in the season. The Golden Eagles feature one of the best quarterbacks in C-USA in Austin Davis, who needs 77 yards to break his own record for single-season passing. Davis, like Houston quarterback Case Keenum, has broken every school career passing record.

He has helped lead an offense that has lost two running backs to injury early in the season and has played many young receivers. For Fedora, seeing Davis manage so many newcomers has been impressive.

"He's really concentrated on helping the younger guys on the field," Fedora said. "We play a lot of players on offense ... he's been dealing with a different running back in almost every game, and we've played a lot of wide receivers and some of them very young. He's done a tremendous job of bringing those players along and raising their game."

So there is no doubt all eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks in this one. Keenum, who broke three NCAA passing records this year, needs 274 yards passing to become the first player in NCAA history with three 5,000-yard passing seasons in a career. What might be even more impressive about the season Keenum has put together is this stat -- he has 43 touchdown passes and a career-low three interceptions.

Should he have another exceptional game, he may end up writing his ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

"What's your definition of the Heisman?" Sumlin said. "People have talked about the best player on the best team, pro prospects. To me, it's the most valuable player for a team, and from his numbers, how he's operated this year, I don't see how he wouldn't be in New York."

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
4:36
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Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Austin Davis, QB, Southern Miss. Set a school record for passing efficiency and was responsible for four total touchdowns in a 63-35 win at Navy. Davis threw for 283 yards on 21-of-23 passing with three touchdowns, and also rushed for 75 yards on 12 carries with a running score.

Defense: Phillip Steward, LB, Houston. Had a pair of key interceptions in a 56-3 win against East Carolina, the Cougars fewest points allowed in a conference game since 2004.

Special Teams: Marques Wheaton, DB, Southern Miss. Blocked a field goal and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown, his second straight week with a score.

Independent

Offense: Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame. Went 23-of-32 for 261 yards and four touchdowns -- all of which came in the first two quarters -- in a 59-33 win against Air Force. Rees is the first Notre Dame player to throw for four touchdown passes in the first half since Brady Quinn on Sept. 25, 2004.

Defense: Jamoris Slaughter, S, Notre Dame. Forced a fumble on the Cadets’ first drive of the contest, and later recorded an interception -- his first of the season and the second of his career.

Special teams: Justin Sorensen, PK, BYU. Went 2-for-2 on field goal attempts (hitting from 42 and 45 yards) and made all three of his extra-point attempts.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Branden Oliver, RB, Buffalo. Ran for a career-high 179 yards on 34 carries and scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 5:45 remaining on fourth-and-1, to help lift Buffalo to a 38-37 win against Ohio.

Defense: Stephen Johnson, LB, Temple. Led the Owls with a career-high 16 tackles, including a career-high eight solos, one sack and a career-high two tackles for a loss in a 42-0 win at Ball State.

Special teams: Matt Weller, K, Ohio. Tied a season-high with three field goals made in a 38-37 loss at Buffalo. His 43-yarder was his fourth field goal this season from 40 or more yards.

West Division

Offense: Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. Recorded his fourth-straight game with 10 or more catches and more than 100 yards with 12 receptions and 156 yards in a 45-21 win against Bowling Green. His four consecutive 100-yard receiving games ties the record set by Jamarko Simmons at the end of the 2006 and into the first three games of the 2007 season.

Defense: Ron Newcomb, DT, Northern Illinois. Had a career-high nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble in a 40-10 win against Kent State. He also blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.

Special teams: Eric Page, PR, Toledo. Returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan. The punt return for a touchdown was the first of his career.

Mountain West

Offense: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Moore went 23-of-31 for 254 yards and three touchdowns in just over two quarters of play in a 57-7 win at Fresno State.

Defense: Tekerrein Cuba, S, TCU. Cuba finished with a team-high eight tackles in the Horned Frogs’ 27-14 win at San Diego State. Cuba also had a tackle for loss, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.

Special teams: Ross Evans, K, TCU. Evans finished with nine points in a win at San Diego State, tying the Mountain West all-time scoring record of 356 set by former New Mexico running back DonTrell Moore (2002-05). Evans connected on field goals of 47 and 21 yards while making all three of his extra-point attempts.

Sun Belt

Offense: Chris Masson, QB, Louisiana. Masson stepped in for an injured Blaine Gautier on the first series of the game and led the Cajuns to a 31-17 win against Troy. He went 21-of-29 for 211 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. The Cajuns have won five consecutive games and have tied the league record for best start to begin a season.

Defense: Kelcie McCray, S, Arkansas State. Had a career-high two interceptions against ULM to help lead the Red Wolves to their 24-19 victory. He also had a pass breakup and six tackles.

Special Teams: Don Jones, DB, Arkansas State. Jones blocked a punt and returned it 25 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter in a win over ULM.

WAC

Offense: Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State. Went 16-of-21 for 228 yards and a school-record tying five touchdowns in a 63-19 win against Wyoming. He also added 44 rushing yards on four carries. All five touchdown passes came in the first half as Utah State scored on its first eight possessions of the game.

Defense: Brett Roy, DT, Nevada. Set a career-high with 11 tackles, including four for a loss (one sack), in a 37-0 win against UNLV. Roy leads the nation in tackles for loss with 2.5 per game.

Special teams: Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech. Punted 10 times for a 48-yard average in a 24-11 win at Idaho. Allen had six punts inside the 20, including four inside the 10-yard line.

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
1:00
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Let's take a look at back at Week 4 for the non-AQs:

The good: How about a hand for Temple and Southern Miss, two non-AQ teams that took down the ACC on Saturday. The Owls dominated Maryland 34-7, and took particular pleasure in the win after hearing some trash talk from the Terps players before the victory. Temple has been impressive since the outset of the season, and nearly upset Penn State last week, too. Coach Steve Addazio has done a terrific job in his first year taking over the program. … Meanwhile, Southern Miss beat Virginia 30-24 -- its first road win over an AQ school on the road in five tries. … San Jose State ended a 13-game losing streak and notched its first conference win since defeating New Mexico State 13-10 on Nov. 28, 2009.

The bad:It was not a great day for the Mountain West. San Diego State was supposed to give Michigan a fight but instead lost 28-7 against former coach Brady Hoke. UNLV, a week removed from beaten Hawaii, lost at home to Southern Utah 41-16. Incredibly, Southern Utah returned three interceptions for touchdowns. New Mexico lost to Sam Houston State in overtime, 48-45. Just before kickoff, a teenager claiming to be a recruit was arrested on DWI charges in Mike Locksley’s car. Finally fed up with Locksley, New Mexico fired him Sunday afternoon. In two-plus seasons, Locksley went 2-26 and the program became a national laughingstock. To Lobos fans, this probably should go into the “good” category because they can now get the fresh start they have so desperately wanted.

UCF has got to fix its special teams. For the second straight week, that unit cost them, this time in a 24-17 loss to BYU. The Knights allowed Cody Hoffman to score on a 93-yard kickoff return, and a muffed punt by J.J. Worton set up another score. Last week against FIU, UCF also had a muffed punt that led to a touchdown and the Knights lost 17-10.

The heartbreak: The WAC had the toughest day of all the conferences in the hurting department. Two teams lost in overtime, and another with 44 seconds left in the game.

We start with Utah State. The Aggies have got to have their collective heart in pieces at this point. The closing minutes against Auburn doomed the Aggies thanks to a special teams error. The same can be said of their loss to Colorado State on Saturday night. Utah State saw its 21-13 lead evaporate after Eric Moats dropped a punt with 2:17 to play. Colorado State recovered and Chris Nwoke scored on a 1-yard run with 42 seconds left. The Rams got the 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime. The teams traded touchdowns in the first two extra periods. But Utah State decided to go for 2 in the second overtime to win the game. Robert Turbin was stopped short and Colorado State won 35-34. "The reason we went for 2 is because I believe in the team," coach Gary Andersen said afterward. "I believe we can score from the 3-yard line at any time and I surely believe we can score from the 1.5 yard line. I would do it again in one second. I’m always going to coach aggressive."

Louisiana Tech must know the feeling. Two weeks in a row the Bulldogs have come close to pulling the upset. Two weeks in a row they fell just short. Last week they blew a huge lead to Houston. This week, they did not have enough to take down Mississippi State. Freshman quarterback Nick Isham threw two critical interceptions -- one late in the game, and one in overtime -- that made a huge difference in the 26-20 loss.

Nevada has not played particularly well this season, but that looked like it was about to change at Texas Tech. The Wolf Pack built a 28-14 third-quarter lead, and Cody Fajardo seemed to provide a nice spark off the bench. But the defense -- which was supposed to be a strength this year -- collapsed and the Red Raiders scored with 44 seconds left when Seth Doege threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ward for the 35-34 win.

But nothing beats the case Toledo has. The Rockets had a win snatched from them thanks to a mistake by the officials in a 33-30 overtime loss to Syracuse. The school has asked the MAC to contact the Big East and request the win be given to the Rockets.

Injury report: TCU lost starting linebacker Tanner Brock for the season with a foot injury. The Horned Frogs will petition for a medical redshirt. TCU has shifted Tank Carder to the outside. … Air Force suffered injuries to starting linemen Zach Payne (knee) and Cody Miller (leg). … UAB quarterback Bryan Ellis suffered a concussion against East Carolina and was taken off the field on a backboard in a 28-23 loss.

Keenum watch: Case Keenum threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns in just two and a half quarters of play, and Houston recorded its first shutout since 1999 in a 56-0 rout of Georgia State on Saturday. He passed passed former BYU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer for third on the NCAA all-time passing yardage list, and passed former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell for third on the NCAA career total offense list.

Helmet stickers

Brandon Rutley, RB, San Jose State. Rutley had 209 yards rushing on 33 carries -- including a career-long 66 yard scoring run -- in a 34-24 win over New Mexico State. It was the first 100-plus yard rushing game of his career, and he became the first San Jose State player to rush for 200 or more yards since the 2004 season.

Austin Davis, QB, Southern Miss. Davis finished 27 for 41 for 313 yards with no interceptions in a 30-24 win over Virginia. He threw touchdown passes of 32 and 3 yards to Bolden and a 20-yarder to Ryan Balentine.

Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple. Pierce set a school record with five rushing touchdowns in a 38-7 win over Maryland. Pierce had 149 yards on 32 carries.

Deon Long, New Mexico. Long had nine receptions for 209 yards and caught three touchdown passes, and returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Sam Houston State. His 378 all-purpose yards set a school and Mountain West record.

Blaine Gautier, QB, Louisiana. Gautier, making just his fourth career start, led the Cajuns to a stunning 36-31 upset at FIU. Gautier guided the team to a season-high 419 yards of total offense and did not commit a turnover. He totaled 307 yards (221 passing/86 rushing) and tossed three touchdown passes.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
1:00
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The good: It was a weekend of big wins for non-AQs. FIU picked up the first win against an AQ team in school history when the Panthers upset Louisville 24-17. New Mexico State stunned Minnesota 28-21, picking up its first win against a Big Ten team, and first win against an AQ opponent since defeating Arizona State in 1999. The Aggies have been one of the worst teams in college football -- coach DeWayne Walker has won six games there in three seasons. Taveon Rogers had two touchdowns and 88 yards receiving.

[+] EnlargeGeorge O'Leary
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayCentral Florida and coach George O'Leary dominated Boston College.
Meanwhile, Conference USA pulled out two wins against AQ opponents: UCF handled Boston College 30-3 and Rice beat Purdue 24-22. Both were milestone wins. Though UCF has beaten AQ programs before, the Knights had never done so at home. They are off to their first 2-0 start since 1998, a season removed from making the Top 25 for the first time in program history. Rice had lost 22 consecutive games to AQ opponents. The win was the Owls' first against a Big Ten team since a 40-34 win at Northwestern in 1997.

TCU rebounded in a big way against Air Force, winning 35-19 in a game that was never close. In fact, the Horned Frogs led 35-9 in the fourth quarter, and played much better on defense, even without leading tackler Tanner Brock.

The heartbreak: The MAC easily had the most heartbreaking day. Central Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois had leads on their AQ opponents only to come up just short.

Central Michigan led the Wildcats 13-6 at halftime and had outgained them 227 yards to 94. But the turning point came midway through the third quarter, when coach Dan Enos elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34. Tim Phillips ran for no gain. Kentucky scored on the next play to tie the game at 13, and Central Michigan never scored again in 27-13 loss.

Toledo had Ohio State on the ropes, but the Rockets killed themselves with one mistake after another: 14 penalties for 102 yards; a missed 45-yard field goal and botched hold on a 50-yard attempt; allowing a punt return for a score. A final interception from Terrance Owens on the Ohio State 17 with 48 seconds closed out a 27-22 loss.

Northern Illinois lost to Kansas 45-42 with 9 seconds left when Jayhawks quarterback Jordan Webb threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to B.J. Beshears. The Huskies had taken the lead with 5:03 remaining when Jasmin Hopkins scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Kansas converted two fourth down opportunities on the winning drive. Chandler Harnish finished 27-of-33 for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 89 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish has 11 total touchdowns in two games this season.

Not to be outdone, Fresno State and BYU each had halftime leads in their games before losing. The Bulldogs gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the tide and lost to No. 10 Nebraska 42-29. ... BYU led Texas 13-3 but the Longhorns changed quarterbacks in the second half and that seemed to spark them to a 16-13 win. The BYU offense has not exactly gotten immediate results from new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. The Cougars rank No. 108 in the nation in total offense (275.5 ypg), and No. 107 in scoring offense (15 ppg). Despite that, they could very easily be 2-0.

The ugly: The offense clearly was not invited to the Louisiana-Kent State game. The teams combined for 19 first downs, seven turnovers and 15 penalties in one of the ugliest games of the day. Louisiana had 159 total yards; Kent State 186. Louisiana quarterback Chris Masson threw for 18 yards.

Army was one of the best teams in the nation last season in turnover margin, but so far this season, turnovers have been a big problem in an 0-2 start. In a 23-20 loss to San Diego State, the Black Knights fumbled eight times -- losing three. In two games, Army has given the ball away six times and is at minus-4 in turnover ratio.

Record watch:

  • Ohio coach Frank Solich notched his 100th career win Saturday in a 30-3 win against Gardner-Webb.
  • Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis broke Brett Favre's school passing yards mark of 7,695, in a 26-20 loss to Marshall.
  • Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 458 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-23 win against North Texas. He moved into fourth place on the FBS career list for passing yards (14,354) and tied Danny Wuerffel for sixth in career passing touchdowns with 114.
  • Pete Thomas became the first sophomore quarterback in Colorado State history to reach 3,000 yards passing. In a 33-14 win against Northern Colorado, Thomas was 28-for-42 for 259 yards and a touchdown -- but he also threw three interceptions.
Injury update: Colorado State linebacker Mychal Sisson broke his ankle in the second quarter against Northern Colorado and is out indefinitely. Coach Steve Fairchild said the hope is for Sisson to be able to return later this season. ... UTEP starting quarterback Nick Lamaison separated his shoulder in a loss to SMU. ... Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson was pulled from the loss to TCU and got precautionary X-rays after the game for an undisclosed injury. Nose guard Ryan Gardner injured his knee.

Helmet stickers

Eugene Cooper, WR, Bowling Green. Had career-highs in catches (6), yards (134) and touchdowns (4) in the Falcons’ 58-13 win against Morgan State. Cooper’s four receiving touchdowns tied a school record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State. Had a career-high 10 tackles in a 23-20 win against Army, and his sack on a critical third-down on Army's last drive of the game took Army out of field goal range.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Set a career-high and school record with 201 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a 24-17 upset win against Louisville.

Adrien Cole, LB, Louisiana Tech. Had 9 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and blocked Central Arkansas’ field goal in overtime, his second blocked field goal in as many games.

UCF defense. Held Boston College to three points and 84 yards passing in the 30-3 win. The Knights have yet to allow 100 passing yards in a game this season and have limited their first two opponents to three points and 260 total yards.
I am continuing my look at potential BCS busters from Conference USA, a league that would love nothing more than to get one of its teams into one of the marquee games. Southern Miss has had 17 straight winning seasons, a level of success unmatched by anyone in C-USA. But the Golden Eagles have not won a conference championship since 2003 and last played in the C-USA title game in 2006. This season could be an outstanding one for the Golden Eagles based on their excellent returning quarterback and a very manageable schedule.

Why they have a shot: Quarterback Austin Davis had his best year last season with 3,103 yards passing and 452 yards rushing, proving to be comfortable running the spread offense. He is on pace to set school career marks for passing yards and passing touchdowns. He should be even better headed into his senior year, especially with a nice compliment of running backs returning in Kendrick Hardy, Desmond Johnson and Tracy Lampley. Top receiver Kelvin Bolden also returns, along with Quentin Pierce. The schedule plays into the Golden Eagles' favor, with their toughest nonconference games at Virginia and home to Navy. Plus, they get UCF and SMU at home. The most difficult C-USA road game is at East Carolina.

Why they won't make it: Southern Miss has not quite been able to get back into the driver's seat in the East in three seasons under Larry Fedora. The offense has looked good, but the defense has sputtered at times with breakdowns in crucial situations. In four of its five losses last season, Southern Miss gave up 40-plus points. The Golden Eagles beat eventual league champion UCF last season, but lost three conference games by a combined eight points and finished in a tie for second. They will have a new defensive scheme this season under new coordinator Dan Disch -- the 4-2-5 that TCU and Boise State run. Fedora was pleased with the progress the defense showed this spring, but there are sometimes growing pains when learning a new system.

Previously profiled

Houston

SMU
Louisville beat Southern Miss 31-28 in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday night. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: Louisville was better on special teams, plain and simple. Southern Miss made too many mistakes that ended up costing it the game. Danny Hrapmann, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, had a 29-yard field goal blocked in the third quarter. Then after Southern Miss took a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, Louisville returner Jeremy Wright took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Southern Miss also had a bad snap on a punt early in the game, but Louisville did not take advantage of the miscue.

Southern Miss also had one other critical error: Johdrick Morris fumbled late in the second quarter following a reception, and Louisville ended up scoring a touchdown off that mistake, too, to tie the game. Each time Southern Miss took a lead in this game, Louisville found a way to come back. The Golden Eagles had leads of 14-0 and 21-7 but could not control the outcome.

Turning point: With the score tied at 28, Louisville got a much-needed break. Bilal Powell appeared to have fumbled at his own 20-yard line, but the ruling on the field was no fumble. Video replays showed his knee never touched the ground, but the no fumble call was upheld on review. Louisville ended up driving for a 36-yard field goal from Chris Philpott to go up 31-28. For those wondering, Sun Belt officials worked the game.

Player of the game: Louisville cornerback Johnny Patrick. He was all over the place, with a forced fumble and blocked field goal -- two plays that ended up making the difference in the game.

Best call: Highlight of the night had to have been the reverse pass from Southern Miss receiver Quentin Pierce to quarterback Austin Davis in the second quarter. Davis made a stunning one-handed catch with his right hand extended in the air. He grabbed it, stumbled, kept his legs and got into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown reception.

What it means: Southern Miss has had plenty of offensive fireworks this season, and definitely has something to build on for next season with the return of Davis, DeAndre Brown, Kelvin Bolden, Kendrick Hardy and company. But Southern Miss has got to get more disciplined. The special teams breakdowns were costly, and the Golden Eagles also had too many penalties once again. They also need more of a killer instinct. Southern Miss lost four of its five games this season by six points or less. Until the Golden Eagles can pull out the close games, they are going to have trouble winning championships.

Record performance: Davis set the school record for career touchdown passes, breaking the record of 52 held by Brett Favre (1987-90) and Lee Roberts (1995-1998).
Here is a quick preview of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl between Louisville and Southern Miss tonight from St. Petersburg, Fla.

WHO TO WATCH: Southern Miss QB Austin Davis. The junior has been on a tear of late, and so has the Golden Eagles' offense. Southern Miss scored 40-plus points in seven of its last eight games, and much of that is because Davis has grown more comfortable in the offense after missing a good chunk of last season with a foot injury. Davis needs just 102 yards to go over 3,000 yards passing this season, and let us not forget that he is a rushing threat as well. The Golden Eagles are one of 13 FBS programs that are averaging over 200 yards per game in both rushing and passing.

WHAT TO WATCH: Southern Miss run D vs. Bilal Powell. The Golden Eagles have struggled as a defense of late, but they have been pretty decent at stopping the run. That is going to be crucial against Powell, who is No. 10 in the country in rushing, averaging 121 yards a game. Southern Miss ranks No. 13 in rushing defense, limiting its opponents to 113.3 yards per game. Heading into its final game, Southern Miss has allowed the fewest rushing yards since the 2001 team allowed just 101.5 yards per contest to finish that season.

WHY TO WATCH: Classic matchup of one of the best defenses in the country (Louisville) vs. one of the top offenses (Southern Miss). The Golden Eagles are usually very entertaining, while Charlie Strong has done a great job in his first season with the Cardinals.

PREDICTION: Southern Miss 30, Louisville 27. Yes, a good defense usually trumps a good offense, but Southern Miss is taking this challenge in a big way. The last time the Golden Eagles faced a good defense, they won -- 31-21 over UCF. The Knights have the best defense in Conference USA, and rank No. 18 in the country in total D. Louisville is No. 12.
The questions were only natural. How would Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis respond after missing the majority of 2009 and all of spring practice with a foot injury?

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
Chuck Cook/US PresswireAustin Davis is on pace to break many of the school's quarterback records.
Slowly at first. But now Davis is playing his best ball of the season, and it is coming at the right time, with the Beef 'O' Brady’s Bowl against Louisville set for Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Everyone played better toward the end of the year,” Davis said in a phone interview. “I’m more comfortable with the guys. You play more games, you get better. You can’t substitute game experience.”

Davis has had plenty of that, even though he missed the final eight games of last season with a ligament tear. In 2008, he became the first freshman to start in his first game since 1991 and is very close to breaking the school career records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, 200-yard passing games and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

He needs two more passing touchdowns to pass Lee Robert and Brett Favre into first place on the career touchdowns list with 53.

Davis was able to stay healthy this season despite some foot pain, but many of his teammates were not, and that accounted for some of the early struggles. Top receiver DeAndre Brown was hampered all season, and only played in five games. The running backs were also banged up. Kendrick Hardy, Tracy Lampley and V.J. Floyd all got starts this season. The offensive line also had to break in four new starters, so it took a while for everyone to find a rhythm.

“I think Austin played himself back into being comfortable,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “You don’t know how the guy is going to respond. Initially early maybe he was trying to do too much.

“Some of that had to do with some of the injuries we had earlier. You’re dealing with different skill players every week, so there wasn’t continuity with him and those guys. The timing was not always as good. We found the comfort zone offensively in what we liked and what we had confidence in and gradually our guys got better.”

Indeed, Southern Miss scored 40-plus points in seven of its last eight games. But two of those were critical one-point losses to East Carolina and UAB. Because Southern Miss beat eventual East Division champion UCF, wins in those games would have gotten the Golden Eagles into the C-USA title game.

The UAB loss in double overtime was particularly galling because the Blazers ended the season 4-8. Davis has had a hard time of letting go of those losses, knowing how much they ended up costing Southern Miss.

“There were a couple of plays in those games that I know I made mistakes that keep me up at night,” Davis said. “I feel if I could have done something different, we might have won that game and ended up playing in the championship. You never know what play is going to make a difference. We just have to learn, come out focused and ready to play with intensity in every game. Once we mature to the point we can do that, we’ll find ourselves in the conference championships.”

Despite the disappointment of those two games, Southern Miss is in a bowl game for the ninth straight season and has won eight games for the first time since 2006.

Davis was selected to the C-USA second-team and needs just 102 yards to go over 3,000 yards this season. He will be the only Southern Miss quarterback to go over 3,000 yards passing in a season. Plus, he is also a threat to run, ranking third on the team in rushing with 436 yards on 132 carries and 10 touchdowns.

With many of the skill players returning in 2011, this bowl game could be a big momentum booster. And it will all start with Davis.

“For us to win 10, 11, 12 games a year from now, we’ve got to start out the season with him playing like he’s playing now,” Anderson said. “That is not easy to do. His focus level and preparation over spring and summer is going to be tailored toward that.”
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (8-4) vs. Louisville Cardinals (6-6)

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Southern Miss take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Golden Eagles beat eventual C-USA champion UCF earlier this year, but a pair of one-point losses to East Carolina and UAB kept them from winning the East. Still, they have the longest active bowl streak in Conference USA with nine straight, and have one hot quarterback in Austin Davis, who is playing his best football of the season.

The problem for Southern Miss of late has been its defense, which has given up way too many points. Four times in its final five games, the Golden Eagles gave up 30-plus points. That includes the 50-49 loss to UAB in overtime. The defense failed them as well against the Pirates at home earlier in the season. One thing about this team, though, they will be playing with plenty of inspiration.

Three players were shot following a fight at a club that spilled into the parking lot after the team returned home from its 31-21 win over UCF on Nov. 13. Linebacker Martez Smith was paralyzed from the waist down, while Tim Green cannot speak after reportedly being shot in the neck. Defensive end Dedrick Jones also was shot. The team wears a decal on its helmets in the shape of a heart with their decals inside. They are 1-1 since the shootings, winning an inspired game over Houston the week after it happened and losing the finale at Tulsa.


Louisville take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: The 6-6 record may not look impressive, but Charlie Strong worked wonders in his first year in Louisville.

Everyone picked the Cardinals to finish last in the Big East, and the team he inherited was roundly considered to have the least amount of talent in the league. But Strong and his staff got the most out of a previously underachieving group of seniors, with tailback Bilal Powell the prime example. Powell, who had never broke 400 yards in a season, erupted for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns behind a veteran offensive line.

It's on defense, though, where Strong truly made his mark. Despite lacking size or elite playmakers, the Cardinals finished 12th in the country in total defense while locking opponents down in the final month of the season.

Louisville was competitive in every game this season but needed to beat Rutgers in the finale to clinch its first bowl appearance since the 2006 season. Quarterback Adam Froman, who missed the final four games with a thigh injury, could be healed in time for this game. The Cardinals’ seniors are excited about playing in their first bowl, and they'll look to continue the Big East's recent domination of Conference USA in the postseason.

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