NCF Nation: Brady Amack

Toledo Rockets (8-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (7-5)

Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Toledo take from Nation blogger Andrea Adelson: Toledo overcame a 1-3 start to the season that featured two heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Syracuse to run through MAC play 7-1 for the second straight season.

What cost them a spot in the MAC title game? A wild 63-60 loss to Northern Illinois that featured four lead changes in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. The Huskies scored a 4-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left to cap the game, giving them the head-to-head advantage in the West Division and a spot in the MAC championship game. The 123 points scored was the third most in a game since 2004.

Still, Toledo is happy to go bowling for the second straight season, the first time the Rockets have back-to-back bowl campaigns since 2004-05. Third-year coach Tim Beckman made a two-quarterback system work with Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin -- though Dantin missed the final two games of the regular-season with concussion symptoms. All-purpose player Eric Page was as good as advertised as a returner and receiver -- he set the school record for receptions in a season with 112, and won first-team All-MAC honors as a receiver, punt and kickoff returner. Adonis Thomas played well at running back, winning second-team honors after rushing for 963 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ended the season with four straight 100-yard rushing games, and Toledo ended the season scoring 40 or more points in five straight games, a school record.


Air Force take from college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: A rare three-game losing streak put Air Force's bowl future in question midway through the year -- dropping games to Notre Dame, San Diego State and Boise State in succession. But the Falcons rallied to win four of their final five to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season. With two FBS teams on the schedule, Air Force needed to reach seven wins.

Quarterback Tim Jefferson has 28 career wins -- a school record -- and commands the nation's No. 2 rushing attack at 320.3 yards per game. The 28 victories is the third best in conference history, putting him in some elite company with TCU's Andy Dalton (42 wins) and BYU's Max Hall (32).

Thousand-yard rusher Asher Clark (six touchdowns) headlines the triple-option scheme, averaging 91.3 yards per game. Mike DeWitt (10 touchdowns) goes for 45.2 a game and Jefferson check in at 41 yards per game.

But the Falcons aren't just the traditional triple-option team. Jefferson has an arm, and used it to throw 12 touchdowns this season.

Linebacker Brady Amack ranks among the top tacklers nationally -- but despite a slew of injuries on defense, the Falcons retained the Commander in Chief Trophy for the second straight year, notching wins over Army and Navy.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

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

Conference USA

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

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

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

Independent

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

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

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

MAC

East Division

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

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

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

West Division

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

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

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

Mountain West

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

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

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

WAC

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

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

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

Sun Belt

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

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

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

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

October, 3, 2011
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Taking a look at the week that was in the non-AQs ...

The good: Marshall and Western Michigan pulled upsets on their AQ opponents -- the Thundering Herd beat Louisville 17-13 and the Broncos beat UConn 38-31. ... Boise State got its run game going in a 30-10 win against Nevada as Doug Martin went over 100 yards for the first time this season. ... New Mexico State beat New Mexico 42-28 - the first time in over 40 years that the Aggies have won three straight in the series. ... San Jose State scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass with 54 seconds remaining to beat Colorado State 38-31. The Spartans have won back-to-back games for the first time in three years. … Louisiana is 4-1 for the first time since 1988 after Brett Baer hit a 26-yard field goal with no time left to lift the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 37-34 win against FAU.

[+] EnlargeDarius Johnson
AP Photo/Matt StrasenReceiver Darius Johnson and SMU ripped TCU's pass defense in a 40-33 overtime victory.
The bad: The TCU pass defense continues to struggle. SMU beat TCU 40-33 in overtime, throwing for 349 yards in the victory. All of its offensive touchdowns came on passes. In all, TCU gave up more than 450 yards for the second time this season, and the Horned Frogs are out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 47 weeks. ... Temple had a huge win against Maryland in Week 4, but the Owls fell flat at home against Toledo, dropping an important MAC game 36-13. All seven of their drives in the second half ended with a punt or turnover. ... Northern Illinois lost to Central Michigan 48-41 -- the third time this season the Huskies' defense has given up 40 points.

The heartbreak: Utah State is the poster child for broken hearts this season. For the third time, the Aggies lost a game in the closing minutes. This time, it happened against in-state rival BYU. Riley Nelson came off the bench to lead a comeback for the Cougars, engineering a 96-yard game-winnning drive with 11 seconds left for a 27-24 BYU win. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Matthews was tipped by Utah State defender Will Harris near the goal line. The Aggies blew a 24-13 lead, and were hoping for consecutive wins against BYU for the first time since 1973-74.

Meanwhile in Annapolis, a penalty flag helped decide one of the biggest rivalry games in college football. Navy erased an 18-point fourth quarter deficit behind quarterback Kriss Proctor, who had a 7-yard touchdown run and 5-yard touchdown pass to Gee Gee Greene with 19 seconds left in regulation. Alexander Teich ran in the 2-point conversion and the game went into overtime. Proctor put Navy up first in the extra period on a 1-yard touchdown run, but was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for getting in the face of an Air Force player. The extra point was blocked. Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson answered with a 1-yard touchdown run of his own and the Falcons made their extra point to win 35-34 and get a leg up in the competition for the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was incredulous after the game, "I would hope the referees would have said something like, 'Settle down,' in that situation," he said. "It's too critical a call to make. I hope those guys can sleep well tonight."

Idaho nearly pulled the upset at Virginia, but the Vandals failed on their 2-point attempt in overtime and lost 21-20. Coach Robb Akey decided to go for the win in the extra period, but Brian Reader had his pass batted down. "My only disappointment was that we didn’t make the play at the end of the game," Akey said.

Case Keenum watch: Keenum threw for 471 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-42 win against UTEP, the 15th time he has reached 400 yards in his career. He now ranks third on the NCAA career pasing list, and needs 1,482 yards to break the mark held by Timmy Chang. Keenum is averaging 401 yards passing a game. If he keeps that pace up, he will break the passing record at UAB on Nov. 5.

Helmet stickers

Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan. Carder threw for a career-high and program record 479 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-31 win against UConn.

Harry Peoples, WR, Louisiana. Peoples had 12 catches for 176 yards in a win against FAU. His 12 receptions tied the mark Brandon Stokley set against Louisiana Tech in 1995 for most catches by a UL receiver at Cajun Field.

Brady Amack, LB, Air Force. Amack amassed a career-high 23 tackles (11 solo), a sack and two tackles for loss in the Falcons’ 35-34 overtime victory at Navy. Amack’s tackle total ranks as the sixth-highest in school history and tied for the most in Mountain West history.

Matt Christian, QB, New Mexico State. Christian went 16-of-27 for a career-high 296 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in a 42-28 win at New Mexico. Christian also rushed for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He had 397 yards of total offense and accounted for five of the six Aggie touchdowns in the game.
They are fierce rivals, yes, but everybody who coaches at and plays for a service academy understands the difficulty of making a bowl game. So it should come as little shock that they applauded what happened last season -- when Army, Navy and Air Force all made bowl games for the first time in college football history.

"All three are phenomenal places. Each one has their own niche that our country badly needs," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "We’re fortunate to have each one of these academies. When they all have winning seasons, that’s pretty cool stuff."

Now the big question -- can they do it again and again?

[+] EnlargeArmy quarterback Trent Steelman
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesLast season Trent Steelman passed for 995 yards, rushed for 721 yards and led Army to its first bowl game since 1996.
"There are no guarantees in this, but I think that’s a realistic outcome when you look at who we are and our schedules and how well we’re playing," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "It’s not hard to visualize that."

Navy and Air Force have been playing at high levels in recent years. The Midshipmen have been to eight straight bowl games; Air Force to four straight. It had been Army that lagged behind. But Ellerson has changed the culture at West Point, taking his Black Knights to a bowl game for the first time since 1996.

Is that enough to get the momentum going for Army? On paper, it appears that Army has the longest shot of the three service academies to make it back to a bowl game.

The defense lost six starters, including all-important nose guard Mike Gann and defensive end Josh McNary, who holds the school record for tackles for loss and sacks. The defensive line is more undersized than usual for a service academic, so the team is hoping its quickness and athleticism can make up for that. The Black Knights also lose leading tackler Stephen Anderson, who had 108 stops last season, and both starting safeties.

If you take a look at the Army schedule, you will find very few gimmes. Six of the 12 games feature bowl teams; only four of their FBS teams had losing records last season. The opening stretch is tough, starting with a game at Northern Illinois (11-3 last season), then home to San Diego State (9-4) and Northwestern (7-6). Army plays six straight games before getting a bye.

But if there is a bright spot for Army, it has to be on offense. Quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin return, and they should given opposing defenses fits. Hassin ran for 1,013 yards last season and Steelman added 721 on the ground and 995 yards passing. Army does have to replace four starters on the offensive line, but Ellerson has been pleased with their progress.

Navy faces a rebuilding year as well, but the Midshipmen are a team that knows how to win and win consistently. They only return 10 starters -- and just three on defense. Navy lost its top four tacklers from a year ago -- Wyatt Middleton, Tyler Simmons, Aaron McCauley and Jerry Hauburger.

There are some bright spots returning, though. Defensive end Jabaree Tuani, their best defensive lineman, returns. Cornerback Kewsi Mitchell will anchor the defensive backfield, though just exactly where he will play remains up in the air. On the latest depth chart, he is listed as a possibility at rover, right and left cornerback.

Offensively, Ricky Dobbs is gone, but there isn't much concern about Kriss Proctor coming in to run the triple-option. Proctor has had extensive experience running the offense as a backup the past two seasons. Plus, he has fullback Alexander Teich to help him out. Teich had a breakout year in 2010, running for 863 yards and is in line to be a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Four of five starters on the offensive line return as well.

As for Air Force, the Falcons are the defending Commander-In-Chief Trophy winners after breaking the seven-year Navy streak. Air Force has to be the favorite to repeat as CIC champions because of everybody it has returning. In fact, the Falcons were picked to finish third in the Mountain West in the preseason media poll, and some have called them a darkhorse candidate to win the conference.

Air Force has the best quarterback of the service academies in Tim Jefferson, and the best return specalist in Jonathan Warzeka. The Falcons also have the most solid defense. Eight starters return on defense, including the team's top three tacklers from a year ago -- Jordan Waiwaiole, Jon Davis and Brady Amack.

All three programs need to get to six wins to be bowl eligible. If that happens again, Navy would head to the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Dec. 28 in Washington against a team from the ACC. Army would head to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco against a Pac-12 team on Dec. 31. Air Force would go to a Mountain West tie-in.

MWC media days preview

July, 19, 2011
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We are closing in on media day season. The Mountain West is holding its annual media event July 26-27 in Las Vegas, and I will be there to bring you the latest. Down below you will find the student-athletes each school is bringing for interviews. But first, my most pressing questions headed into 2011:

1. How will the reconfigured Mountain West fare and what will that mean for BCS inclusion? This is the biggest question hanging over the league, one that is certain to be asked of commissioner Craig Thompson. Even though we all want an answer, we will not get one until the season ends. Still, there is no debating that teams such as New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado State have to be improved for there to be any real shot at becoming an AQ.

2. Along those lines, how will Boise State fare in Year 1? The Broncos are almost certain to be the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West in their first year in the league. This, of course, is not a new position for Boise State, the preseason favorite every year in the WAC. But how does the team feel about these expectations considering it will be facing a new slate of conference games in what is a more difficult conference than the WAC?

3. How does TCU feel about being in its final MWC season? This is a similar storyline to last season with Utah and BYU. These three teams essentially put the Mountain West on the map and all are going to be gone in 2012. But TCU was given what it believes is a raw deal, when its game against Boise State was moved to Boise in November. That one could end up determining the league title. You can bet there is nothing the Horned Frogs would enjoy more than leaving the league as champion. There most definitely is a rivalry that has formed between TCU and Boise State. It's too bad we won't see that play out every year.

4. Is Air Force really a dark horse to win the league? One of the bigger under-the-radar teams that has gotten national attention is Air Force. Some are calling the Falcons a dark horse to win the league. Coach Troy Calhoun is going to do everything he can to avoid talking about or answering that question. But with Tim Jefferson, Asher Clark and Jonathan Warzeka returning on offense, and Jordan Waiwaiole, Jon Davis and Brady Amack returning on defense, the Falcons should have another strong season.

5. Is San Diego State a threat to win the league? The top four teams in the conference should be pretty strong. That includes San Diego State, which had a breakthrough season last year and returns several of its best players, including Ryan Lindley, Ronnie Hillman, Miles Burris and Leon McFadden. But there are some questions within this question -- how do the Aztecs do without Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, and can Hillman avoid a sophomore slump?

List of student-athletes attending MWC media days:

Air Force: WR/KR Jonathan Warzeka, DL Zach Payne
Boise State: QB Kellen Moore, S George Iloka
Colorado State: OL Paul Madsen, LB Mychal Sisson
New Mexico: LB Carmen Messina, TE Lucas Reed
San Diego State: QB Ryan Lindley, DL Jerome Long
TCU: WR Josh Boyce, LB Tank Carder
UNLV: TE Anthony Vidal, DB Quinton Pointer
Wyoming: LB Brian Hendricks, DE Josh Biezuns

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