NCF Nation: Central Michigan

Different circumstances for this 0-2 team

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Harrison Smith could do nothing but watch from the sideline four years ago. The frustration that mounted with every play and every loss on seemingly every Saturday had to be put in reserve until he took the practice field the following Monday.

But Smith doesn't want to relive the year he didn't play, his freshman year -- the last time, and only the second time, Notre Dame started a season 0-3.

"All I'm looking at is Michigan State," Smith, now a fifth-year captain, said. "I'm not worried about what happened a couple of years ago, a week ago, yesterday. Focus on right now. Focus on Michigan State and that's where the team's at. That's all we can control, so we're putting everything into preparing for Michigan State."

Smith is one of just six current scholarship players who lived through the Fighting Irish's 2007 season, a campaign that got off to an 0-5 start and ended with a 3-9 record.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireDespite their 0-2 record, Brian Kelly's Irish have piled up over 1,000 yards of total offense.
But through two weeks and two losses this season, the similarities between the 2007 team and this one ends with the win column and a few familiar faces.

And, in the case of the only other Irish squad to start 0-3, the 2001 group, the parallels are even thinner.

No, Notre Dame certainly didn't envision itself still searching for win No. 1 as it welcomes the defending co-Big Ten champions into town Saturday, not in a season that began with a No. 16 ranking and BCS bowl aspirations.

But the Irish have done enough through two games to suggest that better days are on the horizon.

In two losses this season by a total of seven points, Notre Dame has 1,021 total yards of offense, something it hasn't done through two games since 1974. That season, Ara Parseghian's last as head coach, began with two wins by a combined score of 80-10. More importantly, it ended with a No. 6 ranking after an Orange Bowl win over Alabama made Notre Dame 10-2.

Quite a far cry from 2007, when the Irish were outscored 64-13 through two games. Or even 2001, Bob Davie's fifth and final season as head coach, when Notre Dame was outscored 44-20 and finished the season 5-6.

Which would explain Smith's reaction when asked if any memories from 2007 have popped up this week.

"No, I play DB, so we have a short memory," the safety said flatly, "so I don't remember anything."

The edgy demeanor pleased head coach Brian Kelly, whose message this week was sent by running a live practice Wednesday, the first time he's done so during a game week in his two seasons on the job.

"I think everybody's probably a little bit, I don't know -- I don't want to say annoyed -- but nobody's happy, and I'm OK with that," Kelly said. "Nobody should be in a great mood. We've got work to do, and I think those guys probably reflect the feelings of the entire team."

Kelly has been in this situation before, just never under the spotlight that comes with coaching the third-winningest program in college football history. He has suffered through five 0-2 starts in his previous 20 years as a head coach, even going 0-3 in 1999 and in 2000 at Div. II Grand Valley State. But Kelly finished only one of those five seasons with a losing record, going 4-7 in his first year at Central Michigan in 2004.

Naturally, Kelly has refused to call Saturday's contest against the No. 15 Spartans the most important game of his two-year tenure with the Irish.

And he won't look ahead to what's still left for Notre Dame to accomplish over 10 more games.

"I don't think you can look at it anymore about what's at the end of the season other than playing better right now," Kelly said. "We have to be focused right now on Saturdays, because we haven't played well. We can't think about what's in the future; we have to focus on making money right now. And that means winning for our guys. So it hasn't been hard for me to keep our guys focused because they're 0-2. They're focused on one at a time.

"Hey, if we string together seven or eight in a row, then we can start thinking about hey, what's it look like at the end of the season. But it's too early."

For now, a loss Saturday would be nothing more than just that.

"0-3," guard Trevor Robinson said, "would mean the fourth game is that much more important."

Non-AQ bowl look

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
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You saw my bowl projections from Sunday. Now here is a breakdown of the teams that have a shot at becoming bowl eligible this weekend.

Conference USA

Already eligible: UCF, Tulsa, Southern Miss, UTEP.

Vying for a spot: East Carolina, SMU and Houston each have five wins. The Pirates are hoping to bounce back after an embarrassing 76-45 loss to Navy at UAB. Houston hosts Tulsa in an important West division game, while SMU is off. SMU, Houston and Tulsa each have two league losses. SMU already beat Tulsa but lost to Houston. If there is a three-way tie atop the division when the season ends, the first tiebreaker is overall record to determine who plays in the Conference USA title game.

On the other end of the spectrum: Tulane (3-6), Marshall (3-6) and UAB (3-6) have to win out. Rice (2-7) and Memphis (1-8) have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Six.

MAC

Already eligible: Temple, Toledo, Ohio and Northern Illinois.

Vying for a spot: Miami (Ohio) is 5-4 and has a great shot at becoming bowl eligible in the next two weeks with games at Bowling Green (2-7) on Wednesday and at Akron (0-10) on Nov. 17. Kent State (4-5) needs to win two of its final three against Army (5-4), Western Michigan (3-6) and Ohio (7-3).

On the other end of the spectrum: Western Michigan has to win out. Buffalo, Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Akron, Eastern Michigan and Ball State are out.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Three.

Mountain West

Already eligible: TCU, San Diego State, Air Force, Utah.

Vying for a spot: BYU (4-5) plays at Colorado State in a critical must-win before closing against New Mexico and Utah.

On the other end of the spectrum: Colorado State, Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Five.

Sun Belt

Already eligible: No one.

Vying for a spot: Troy (5-3) is the only team with five wins. A home win against FIU on Saturday gets the Trojans bowl eligible. ULM (4-5) and Arkansas State (4-5) have to win two of three. The Warhawks have LSU, North Texas and Louisiana. Arkansas State has Western Kentucky, Navy and FIU.

On the other end of the spectrum: FIU, Middle Tennessee and FAU are each 3-5. The Blue Raiders may have the easiest road with games against North Texas, Western Kentucky, FAU and FIU remaining. FAU has Troy and Texas on its schedule. FIU also has tough games against Troy, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee. North Texas, Louisiana and Western Kentucky have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Two.

WAC

Already eligible: Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada, Fresno State. Hawaii has accepted an invite to the Hawaii Bowl.

Vying for a spot: Idaho (4-5) has to win three of four against Boise State, Utah State, Fresno State and San Jose State. Since the Vandals have a 13-game schedule, they have to get to seven wins. Louisiana Tech and Utah State are both 3-6 and have to win out. The Bulldogs have New Mexico State, San Jose State and Nevada. Utah State has San Jose State, Idaho and Boise State.

On the other end of the spectrum: New Mexico State and San Jose State (1-8) have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Four.

Independents

Navy (6-3) became eligible for the Poinsettia Bowl. Army (5-4) needs one more win with games left against Kent State, Notre Dame and Navy. Army does not have an automatic bowl tie-in this year, but has backup agreements with the Armed Forces Bowl and Military Bowl. Notre Dame (4-5) needs two more wins with games remaining against Utah, Army and USC.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 8, 2010
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Here are the non-AQ Players of the Week, as selected by each conference:

Conference USA

Offense: UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey. Went 15-of-19 for 294 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown, giving him 399 yards of total offense in a 40-33 win against Houston. It was just the second 100-yard rushing game by a UCF quarterback in school history.

Defense: UCF linebacker Josh Linam. Had 17 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and a pass breakup against Houston. It more than doubled his previous career-high of seven.

Special Teams: Tulsa kick returner Damaris Johnson. Totaled 322 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns in a 57-27 victory against Rice. Johnson became the Conference USA record-holder for career kickoff return yards with 3,054 yards and needs only 64 yards to become the NCAA’s all-time kick-off return leader.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Temple quarterback Mike Gerardi. Threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-10 win at Kent State. In four games, Gerardi has three starts and is 54-of-81 for 871 yards and eight touchdowns.

Defense: Ohio defensive lineman Stafford Gatling. Recorded six tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss with a forced fumble in a 34-17 win against Buffalo.

Special teams: Kent State punter Matt Rinehart. Averaged 48.4 yards on seven punts in a 28-10 loss to Temple. Rinehart had a pair of punts downed inside the 5-yard line as the Flashes averaged an impressive 48.1 net average.

West Division

Offense: Ball State receiver Jack Tomlinson. Had a career day with seven catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-30 double overtime win against Akron.

Defense: Central Michigan linebacer Armond Staten. Recorded 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and three forced fumbles in a 26-22 win against Western Michigan.

Special teams: Ball State kicker Ian McGarvey. Made three field goals and four extra points against Akron.

Mountain West

Offense: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. Went 21-of-26 for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-7 win at No. 5 Utah. His 93-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce marked the second-longest play in MWC history.

Co-Defensive Players: TCU linebacker Tanner Brock and San Diego State linebacker Miles Burris. Brock had a career-high 12 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in the win against Utah. Burris had a career-high 10 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles in a 24-19 victory against Colorado State.

Special teams: New Mexico kicker James Aho. Kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to help New Mexico stop a nine-game losing streak with a 34-31 win against Wyoming. He also made a career-best 51-yard attempt.

Sun Belt

Offense: FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton. Had 291 all-purpose yards, scoring four touchdowns in a 42-35 win in double overtime against ULM. He had two receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one kickoff return for a touchdown.

Defense: Arkansas State linebacker Demario Davis. Had seven tackles and a career-high two interceptions in a 51-24 victory against Middle Tennessee.

Special teams: Hilton. Had 168 kick return yards, including 95 on a touchdown return. The return was his fourth-career return for touchdown, tying him for first all-time at FIU.

WAC

Offense: Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. Went 30-of-37 for a career-high 507 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 win against Hawaii. The 507 yards are the second most by any player in the nation this year.

Defense: Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner. Tied a career-high with 17 tackles in a 27-22 win against New Mexico State.

Special teams: Louisiana Tech return specialist Phillip Livas. Returned seven kickoffs for 225 yards, including a 95-yarder for a touchdown, and a punt for another 29 yards in a loss to Fresno State.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
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Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 10.

The good: Boise State and TCU remained in the national title hunt with big wins this weekend. Though their offenses made headlines -- the Broncos racked up a school-record 737 yards and TCU had more than 500 yards -- both defenses played something fierce. They both held their opponents to fewer than 200 yards of total offense. Now they are the top two teams in the country in total defense and scoring defense. TCU is No. 1 in both categories. … Meanwhile, New Mexico won its first game of the season, 34-31 over Wyoming. Quarterback Stump Godfrey made his first career start as B.R. Holbrook sat out because of an injury and went 16-of-20 for 211 yards with two touchdowns. The Lobos, which had been giving the ball away as if it was a Christmas present, forced four turnovers. It was just the second time all season they won the turnover battle in a game. … How about Nevada racking up 844 yards of total offense? Not only did Colin Kaepernick have 300 yards passing, the Wolf Pack had three 100-yard rushers: Mark Lampford, Mike Ball and Vai Taua.

The bad: Western Michigan controlled its own bowl destiny heading into its game against Central Michigan. None of the four opponents left on its schedule had a winning record, so finishing up 7-5 or 6-6 seemed realistic. But the Broncos lost for the fifth straight time to their in-state rivals -- even though the Chippewas went into the game with just two wins. Backup RB Brian Fields fumbled 2 yards from the end zone with 1:37 remaining, the fourth lost fumble of the game for Western Michigan and the Chippewas held on 26-22.

The heartache: The Akron Zips are now the only winless team in the country, but missed out on a great opportunity in a 37-30 double-overtime loss to Ball State. After tying the score late to send the game into overtime, the Zips and Cardinals traded touchdowns in the first overtime. Ball State went ahead in overtime No. 2. But all hopes were lost for Akron when Patrick Nicely was intercepted on third down by Joshua Howard to end the game. Akron had more first downs and more rushing yards than Ball State and won the turnover battle as well. … Tulane had Southern Miss on the ropes heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams were tied at 30, but the Golden Eagles scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 46-30. Tulane (402) outgained Southern Miss (358) and had 11 more first downs.

[+] EnlargeTCU defense
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireTCU shut down the high-powered Utah offense.
The off-balance: Utah and Hawaii went into their respective games as some of the highest-scoring teams in the country. But each were held to just a touchdown. Utah had been averaging 45.2 points a game, tied for No. 3 in the nation. Hawaii had been averaging 39. 2 points a game. … Meanwhile, BYU exploded offensively for the first time all season, posting more than 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing and a season-high 55 points against UNLV. The Cougars are 39-0 since 1972 and 5-0 under current head coach Bronco Mendenhall when passing for 300 and running for 200.

A few more helmet stickers: FIU WR T.Y. Hilton had 291 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in a 42-35 double-overtime win over ULM. He became the first Panther to score a touchdown three different ways in the same game, as he caught two touchdowns, ran for one and returned a kick for a score. … Central Michigan LB Armond Staten had 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and three forced fumbles in an upset win over Western Michigan. … San Diego State LB Miles Burris had a career-high 10 tackles, four tackles for loss (minus-39 yards), two sacks and two forced fumbles in a 24-19 victory over Colorado State.

A few injury items to note: Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson is questionable for the Nov. 16 game against Temple after reportedly getting into a fight outside a bar and sustaining serious injuries to his face. Coach Frank Solich would only say that Jackson is questionable for the game. Backup Phil Bates has been slowed by a shoulder injury, leaving the possibility that Ohio could burn the redshirt of true freshman Kyle Snyder. “We’re going to have to talk about it some more and look at it from different angles and make a decision about a player being brought out of redshirt if he needs to be,” Solich said. … Kent State star LB Cobrani Mixon is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Army with a shoulder injury, and starting quarterback Spencer Keith injured his thumb and is day-to-day. … BYU TE Marcus Mathews is out for the season with a lacerated spleen.

Week 11 look ahead: TCU plays San Diego State (7-2) in a classic letdown game. Will the Horned Frogs suffer an emotional low after an emotional high over Utah? Boise State has a big rivalry game against Idaho, perhaps made even bigger after comments during the offseason where school president Bob Kustra slammed Vandal culture as “nasty” and “inebriated.” Southern Miss travels to UCF in a big East Division game. The Knights, ranked for the first time in school history, control their destiny. We can’t forget about the big Tuesday night game between MAC West Division leaders Toledo and Northern Illinois.

Non-AQ weekend rewind: Week 9

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
2:00
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Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 9.

[+] EnlargeTulsa
Matt Cashore/US PresswireTulsa barely edged out Notre Dame in a historic win for the school.
The good: The BCS standings feature three non-AQ teams ranked in the Top 5 for the first time ever -- No. 3 TCU, No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 Utah. TCU or Utah will be out after their game this weekend. But they preserved their big matchup with wins this past weekend. … Tulsa won at Notre Dame 28-27. Though the Irish are struggling and Dayne Crist got hurt, the Golden Hurricane still posted one of the biggest wins in program history. Even coach Todd Graham said he wanted his players to remember the feeling to carry on the rest of the way. They need one more win to become bowl eligible. “This was such a team win, and it's really pulled our team together,” Graham told The Tulsa World. “We needed that.”

Army is also one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1996, but what most people talked about afterward -- the camouflaged uniforms they wore.

FAU snapped a five-game losing streak with a 21-9 win over FIU in the “Shula Bowl.” The Owls held the Panthers without a touchdown for the first time all season.

The bad: Plenty of letdowns on Saturday. Western Kentucky went from scoring 54 points in its first win of the season to just six in a loss to North Texas. “It was a total embarrassment out there,” coach Willie Taggart said.

Navy went from a win over Notre Dame to a loss to Duke.

Sun Belt leader Troy had its 13-game Sun Belt winning streak snapped in a 28-14 loss at ULM. It was Troy’s third consecutive loss at Malone Stadium, which accounts for almost half of the Trojans’ eight league losses since the start of the 2005 season. Troy is 3-1 in conference and still atop the standings, but the door has been opened for somebody else to try and break its stranglehold on the league title.

UTEP lost its third in a row, dropping another road game to Marshall. Central Michigan lost its sixth straight, officially eliminating it from bowl contention.

The heartache: San Jose State has had its share of injury problems, losing one starter after another for the season. But the Spartans have not thrown in the towel, and nearly pulled off a come-from-behind win over New Mexico State on Saturday. Though both teams entered the game with one win, this was one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. San Jose State trailed 17-3 but came on strong in the second half. The Spartans took the lead with 3:47 to go when Jordan La Secla threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jalal Beauchman. But New Mexico State had the last say. Taveon Rogers caught an 8-yard touchdown pass as time expired to win 29-27. Perhaps the difference in the game: New Mexico State kicker Tyler Stampler made three field goals; San Jose State kicker Harrison Waid missed three.

The off balance: Talk about a dramatic turn of events for Navy. Coach Ken Niumatalolo worried about a letdown after a big win over Notre Dame, but he could not have envisioned his defense folding. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 314 yards and had only two incomplete passes. The Navy defense came into the game tied for 15th in the country in pass defense (174 ypg) and 19th in scoring defense (18 pg). It was the first time all year the Midshipmen gave up more than 27 points. Four of their previous seven opponents had scored fewer than 20 points.

A few more helmet stickers for career marks: Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs became the school’s career scoring leader (266 points) and all-time rushing touchdowns leader (44) in a 34-31 loss to Duke. … With 326 passing yards against Idaho, Bryant Moniz became the fifth quarterback in school history to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season, joining Colt Brennan, Timmy Chang, Dan Robinson and Nick Rolovich. … Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson set the school record for touchdown passes (32) in a 38-31 win over Louisiana.

A few injury items to note: Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin is out three to four weeks with a shoulder/collarbone injury, leaving the starting quarterback job to Terrance Owens. The backup did a mighty fine job against Eastern Michigan after Dantin got hurt, throwing four touchdown passes in the 42-7 win. But we’ll see how he does against tougher competition next Tuesday, when the Rockets play Northern Illinois in a critical West Division game. Both teams are 5-0 in league play. … San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley sprained his ankle against Wyoming but should be able to play this week. … Nevada running back Vai Taua sat out the game against Utah State with a sprained ankle, but coach Chris Ault said he could have played.

Week 10 look ahead: Do we need to even go here? No. 3 TCU at No. 5 Utah takes center stage not just for the non-AQs but for the entire nation as well. We all wait and see whether this can be the year a team from outside the power conferences can make it into the BCS national title game. No. 4 Boise State has a big home game against surging Hawaii (7-2), the first team in the nation to accept a bowl bid. Air Force (5-4) travels to Army (5-3). A win here would clinch the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy has won the past seven. Another big Conference USA game between division leaders: UCF at Houston.

Non-AQ Did You Know? Week 9

October, 29, 2010
10/29/10
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It’s Friday, so that means it’s time for a little non-AQ Did You Know?. Thanks to the conference and team sports information departments for these nuggets of information.

Tulsa and Notre Dame are playing for the first time on Saturday, but the school dug up an interesting factoid. A postseason game between the two at the end of the 1916 almost materialized. Tulsa, known as Kendall College back then, went 10-0 that season and a few local businessmen tried to get Notre Dame to play in Tulsa.

According to the book, “The Golden Hurricane: Fifty Years of Football at The University of Tulsa” published in 1952, the deal fell through because of the large guarantee Notre Dame wanted to play there. Nearly 100 years later, some things never change, right?

The 1960 Navy football team will be honored at halftime in recognition of the 50th anniversary of its berth in the Orange Bowl. The Midshipmen went 9-2 that year, losing 21-14 to Missouri in the big bowl game. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino led the team.

Troy quarterback Jamie Hampton has been nominated for the 2010 Discover Orange Bowl Courage Award. Hampton originally committed to Purdue but instead went to Troy in 2007 in order to stay closer to his mother after his father went to prison. As a sophomore, he won a three-player battle at quarterback and was off to a good start before seriously injuring his knee. He missed the rest of the 2008 season and 2009 as well.

He returned to action this fall as a short-yardage and change-of-pace quarterback. But in the fifth game against Middle Tennessee -- almost two years since his initial injury -- he broke his leg. A team captain, Hampton participated in the pregame coin toss the following week, heading to midfield on crutches. He plans to try another comeback in 2011.

At least two Mountain West teams have been ranked in the USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll for 41 consecutive weeks, dating back to Sept. 7, 2008. The MWC joins the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC as the only four conferences that have had at least two teams ranked for 41 consecutive weeks.

If you compare the win percentage of the top four teams in each of the 11 FBS conferences, the Mountain West Conference currently ranks fourth behind the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten. The top four teams in the Big 12 are a combined 25-3 (.893), followed by the SEC at 28-4 (.875) and Big Ten at 27-4 (.871). The top four teams in the MWC boast a .833 win percentage with their collective 25-5 mark.

TCU did not punt in last week’s 38-7 victory over Air Force. It was the first game in which the Horned Frogs did not record a punt since the Horned Frogs’ 45-14 win at Colorado State on Nov. 25, 2006.

Tulane wide receiver Casey Robottom has four touchdowns on the season -- more than he had his previous three seasons combined (three).

San Jose State plays New Mexico State on Saturday, its first FBS opponent of the season with a losing record. The Spartans scored a season-high 18 points last week against Fresno State, but they have lost 11 straight road games and five straight overall.

Nevada RB Vai Taua needs 72 yards for his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz needs 79 passing yards to reach 3,000 on the season.

Northern Illinois has won five straight, its longest winning streak since the 2004 season, when the Huskies won six consecutive games between Sept. 24 and Oct. 30. Northern Illinois’ 6-2 start this year matches the team’s record through eight games in 2004.

Since joining the MAC in 2007, Temple owns the league’s best home record for MAC games at 12-2.

Central Michigan is 18-1 in its last 19 games against MAC opponents from the state of Ohio. The Chippewas had won 18 straight against Ohio MAC opponents before a 27-20 loss to Miami on Oct. 16. The streak began after a 27-22 loss at Ohio on Oct. 23, 2004. Central Michigan plays Bowling Green on Saturday.

Non-AQ Picks: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
9:00
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 8 were back to being decent, and I got one of my two upset specials right. Navy beat Notre Dame to help me get to 7-3, but did anyone expect the Midshipmen to win that decisively? Not I said the cat.

With a 50-34 overall record, I am ready for what Week 9 has to bring. I think.

On to the picks!

No. 4 TCU 41, UNLV 3. The Horned Frogs keep on rolling in their first road game since Oct. 2 against Colorado State. Keep in mind they won that game 27-0 after some struggles on offense. Andy Dalton is going to have to play well on the road for TCU to have any shot at staying undefeated. TCU has outscored its Mountain West opponents 141-10.

No. 8 Utah 31, Air Force 13. This game is usually really tight, but not this year. After a good first quarter, Air Force struggled to move the ball against TCU last week and had its lowest rushing output of the season. Utah has one of the more unheralded defenses in the nation, and ranks in the Top 10 in the nation in scoring D, total D and rush D.

No. 24 Nevada 35, Utah State 13. The Wolf Pack return to the field after a week off, hoping to erase the sting of their first loss of the season. Colin Kaepernick had four turnovers in that loss to Hawaii, and is going to have to be mistake-free for Nevada to have a shot at winning the rest of its games. Coach Chris Ault said his team had physical practices leading up to this game, and is eager to see how it responds. Utah State has scored 13 points in its past two games.

UCF 27, East Carolina 24. The Pirates own this series, having won four straight and eight of nine. But UCF gets the edge here because it’s at home and has the best defense in Conference USA. The Knights haven’t faced an offense quite as potent as this one, but the defensive line is playing outstanding and should be able to pressure Dominique Davis into making mistakes.

Hawaii 45, Idaho 17. Hawaii is playing lights out football, and should clinch a bowl berth into the Hawaii Bowl with a win over the hard-to-read Vandals, who have alternated wins and losses this season. They won last week, so a loss must be in the stars. The Warriors have scored 40-plus points in four of their past five games, and present a big challenge to Boise State on Nov. 6.

UPSET SPECIAL Tulsa 33, Notre Dame 30. Yup, two weeks in a row I am going to pick Notre Dame to lose in my upset special. No, Tulsa doesn’t run the triple option, but the Golden Hurricane have an offense capable of racking up yards and points. Notre Dame is going to have to find an answer for the trio of Damaris Johnson, Trae Johnson and Charles Clay.

Central Michigan 33, Bowling Green 17. Talk about disappointment. Both teams made bowl games last season and are now floundering. The Falcons have already been eliminated from bowl contention. Meanwhile, the Chippewas have lost five straight, but get the edge behind Ryan Radcliff, Kito Poblah and Nick Bellore.

Western Kentucky 30, North Texas 28. Can it be true? Two in a row for the Hilltoppers? After breaking their 26-game losing streak last week, Western Kentucky returns home to play a team that just fired its head coach and is on its fourth-string quarterback (though there is hope Riley Dodge can play). They came awfully close to a win earlier this month, so the improvement is there for the Hilltoppers.

FIU 24, FAU 20. One thing you have come to expect from the “Shula Bowl” -- an FAU win. The Owls lead the series between the rivals 7-0, although the lone FIU win in 2005 was vacated due to NCAA sanctions. FIU is flat out better this season. FAU has lost five straight, and its lone win came in the opener on the final play of the game.

Colorado State 44, New Mexico 20. The Rams have shown glimpses of an offense this season behind true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas, although he has been on his back more often than he probably likes. The Rams have given up 29 sacks this season, but should be able to do enough to protect Thomas against one of the worst teams in the country.

Lunchtime Links

October, 26, 2010
10/26/10
12:30
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It's Tuesday, so that means it's game day. Louisiana Tech travels to No. 3 Boise State in a game that will air on ESPN2. Who you got? Give me Boise State 49, Louisiana Tech 17.

Now on to some links:

Idaho senior linebacker JoJo Dickson broke his leg against New Mexico State and is out for the season, ending his college career.

Brandon Burton is a lockdown corner for Utah.

Fresno State is gearing up for a tough stretch.

The race is on for the second guaranteed bowl berth in the Sun Belt.

The numbers don't tell the full story for East Carolina.

A loss to East Carolina would likely knock UCF out of the Conference USA race.

Western Michigan defensive backs Damond Smith and Doug Wiggins say their on-fight disagreement was blown out of proportion.

Bowling Green and Central Michigan are desperate for a win.

Hawaii punt returner Ryan Henry is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Since joining FBS in 1987, Akron has never gone winless. The Zips are 0-8 with four games left.

UNLV has reinstated WR Phillip Payne.
Central Michigan starting defensive end Joe Kinville has been suspended for one game by the MAC for unsportsmanlike conduct in his team's 33-7 loss to Northern Illinois.

Kinville reportedly threw a cheap shot in a pileup in the fourth quarter. The play had been blown dead, but he was not flagged at the time. He will miss the team's game against Bowling Green on Saturday.

“The behavior of Joe Kinville during the Central Michigan – Northern Illinois contest is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement.

Kinville issued an apology through the school.

"I apologize to Northern Illinois University and its football program, my teammates, coaches and Central Michigan University for my actions on Saturday," Kinville said. "As a student-athlete, I am expected to represent my school and team with class, and I regret that I failed to do that during Saturday's game."

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

October, 25, 2010
10/25/10
2:00
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Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 8.

The good: Pollsters might not have noticed, but Utah is on an incredible tear. The Utes are No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense, having scored more than 50 points in four of their wins. They are outscoring opponents 183-36 in league play – the latest a 59-6 win against Wyoming that was one of their most complete games of the season. People have slammed the Utah schedule, but the Utes did beat Iowa State 68-27 – the same Cyclones team that just beat Texas.

TCU is on a tear, too, outscoring its opponents 141-10 in four Mountain West games.

[+] EnlargeGee Gee Greene
AP Photo/Rich SchultzRunning back Gee Gee Greene and Navy dominated Notre Dame, 35-17.
You have heard all about Navy’s impressive 35-17 win against Notre Dame. Those Navy seniors are now the third class in Academy history to beat Notre Dame three times, joining the classes of 1937 and 1964.

Meanwhile, the past two weeks have seen two winless teams win. Western Kentucky became the latest on Saturday in a 54-21 win against Louisiana. One interesting nugget from the win -- the victory was the first career coaching win for head coach Willie Taggart. It came on the same field where he played his last collegiate game, in 1998, when the Toppers dropped the season finale.

Say what you will about the WAC, but the league has five teams that are .500 or better right now.

The bad: Two MAC bowl teams from last season are having a difficult time of it in 2010. Bowling Green, which went 7-6 last season with a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl, has been eliminated from bowl contention after a 30-6 loss to Kent State. The Falcons have dropped five straight and are 1-7, including 0-4 in the MAC. Injuries have hurt, but so has the loss of several key players from last season. Bowling Green has struggled to run the ball, averaging 1.9 yards a rush, and has had trouble stopping the run, too. “We’ve got to find a way to play much better than we’ve been playing,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said.

Defending West Division champion Central Michigan is at 2-6 and needs to win out to even be bowl eligible, but that would give it no guarantees for getting into a game. The Chippewas went 12-2 last season and have made four straight bowl games. But they have a new head coach in Dan Enos and are without quarterback Dan LeFevour, one of the best players in school history.

Meanwhile, Utah State has been outscored 69-13 in its past two WAC games. … Winless Akron has failed to score more than 17 points in its four MAC losses.

The heartache: UAB has read through this script before, and the Blazers have got to hate the results. Yet again, they came oh so close to upsetting an SEC team before coming up just short. UAB pulled ahead of Mississippi State 24-23 with 10 minutes to go in the game, but failed to hold on. The Bulldogs kicked two field goals to squeak out a 29-24 victory. No need to relive the 32-29 overtime loss to Tennessee earlier in the year that featured five missed field goals. Oh, wait. We just went there.

The off-balance: BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said his team would go with a power run game more in the final part of the season. He wasn’t kidding. The Cougars had a season-low 81 yards passing in a 25-20 win against Wyoming, while racking up 217 yards on the ground. This is not necessarily good news, considering Cougars fans probably want to see more out of true freshman Jake Heaps. Is he not developing or does he not have playmakers around him? BYU has to win three of its final four to become bowl eligible. With games against UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico, that remains a possibility.

A few more helmet stickers: Kent State receiver Tyshon Goode had a career-high 12 receptions for a season-high 158 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Bowling Green. … Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes’ 262 passing yards and 290 yards of total offense in a win agaist Louisiana were the most for him since his first career start when he passed for 276 yards and posted 320 offensive yards at Navy last year.

A few injury items to note: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman has a hip pointer, but isn’t expected to miss any games. … Air Force isn’t going to get any of its injured players back this week for Utah. Jared Tew (leg) and receiver Kevin Fogler (knee) are still out, and nose tackle Ryan Gardner (groin) and receiver Zack Kauth (ankle) won’t practice this week.

Week 9 look-ahead: Plenty of big games ahead this weekend. No. 8 Utah begins the tough stretch of its schedule with a trip to Air Force. East Carolina travels to UCF for a big Conference USA showdown. Western Kentucky might even be able to put together a two-game winning streak as it hosts North Texas. The Mean Green will be playing their first game since coach Todd Dodge was fired.

Non-AQ predictions: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
9:00
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 7 were so hideous, I should be disqualified from making any more of them for the rest of the season. I mean not even a dog guesses and finishes 2-8. Wow, that hurts my fingers. Also because of all the e-mails and mailbag comments I have received, I will begin picking all games involving ranked non-AQ teams. See, I do hear you!

With a 43-31 overall record, I am ready to avenge my poor performance from Week 7. Or am I?

On to the picks!

No. 5 TCU 24, Air Force 10. Gary Patterson takes the Falcons seriously because of their dangerous triple-option. But there might be a little less danger this week with top fullback Jared Tew out (broken leg). Air Force still has the top-rated rush offense in the country and was a two-point conversion away from sending its game against San Diego State into overtime last week. But the TCU defense is looking really strong, and the Horned Frogs have never lost to the Falcons at home.

No. 9 Utah 44, Colorado State 3. The Utes beat Wyoming last week, but had three interceptions and are still lacking when it comes to creating turnovers. They are going to have to do better than minus-6 headed into their tough stretch, which starts next week at Air Force. Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas can throw the ball, but not sure how much progress he will make this week.

UPSET SPECIAL: Navy 20, Notre Dame 18. The Midshipmen have not made things easy on themselves this season. Essentially all of their games have come down to the fourth quarter. While the offense might not be as prolific as expected, the defense has been terrific and kept this team in games. Last week against SMU, Navy forced three turnovers and held the Mustangs to 21 points. Notre Dame has had problems stopping the option, and Ricky Dobbs is not pressing as much.

SMU 38, Houston 28. My how the tide has turned in the West Division of Conference USA. Houston has dropped two straight, and it is the Mustangs who are alone in first place and in control of their own destiny. Ja’Gared Davis will cause fits for true freshman quarterback David Piland, and Kyle Padron will be able to throw on a Houston defense that continues to struggle.

UPSET SPECIAL II: Miami (Ohio) 28, Ohio 21. The emergence of the RedHawks has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the MAC and college football. Their three-game turnaround from last season is the best of any team so far this season. They sit alone atop the East at 3-0, but Ohio is right behind at 3-1 in this crucial matchup. Ohio has won four straight in the series, but the Miami defense makes the difference in this one.

BYU 20, Wyoming 17. Two of the worst scoring offenses in the country face off in a fight for their bowl lives. BYU is averaging 14.7 points a game and Wyoming 11.6 points a game. The Cowboys rank last in rushing defense, and that is going to be the difference. Because BYU has proved it can run the ball behind a strong offensive line and JJ Di Luigi. Coach Bronco Mendenhall promised more power running, and that should work this week.

Hawaii 44, Utah State 24. The Warriors are coming off a big win over Nevada, while Utah State had a week to prepare for the best passing offense in the country. Utah State has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the WAC this season, so it is hard to figure the Aggies out. But we do know Hawaii will pass and pass some more. The Warriors have won four of the five meetings between the school in WAC play.

Northern Illinois 30, Central Michigan 20. The Chippewas have won three straight in the series, but they are on a four-game losing streak and are 1-3 in the division, an unusual spot for them after winning the MAC championship three of the last four years. Many figured this would be a rebuilding year with Dan LeFevour gone and a new coach in Dan Enos. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois has won four straight and has found a groove with Chad Spann and Chandler Harnish leading the way on offense.

Middle Tennessee 27, ULM 24. The Blue Raiders need this game in the worst way. At 2-4, they are in a fight to become bowl eligible, though they have only played two conference games to date. ULM has needed two comebacks to beat FAU and Western Kentucky -- two of the worst teams in the league.

UTEP 31, Tulane 21. UTEP beat up on some bottom feeders en route to a 5-1 start. But the Miners stumbled on the road at UAB last week (one of two picks I got right!) and had only 229 yards of total offense. They are banged up going into this game but should have enough to beat the Green Wave, who are improved over last season.

Lunchtime Links

October, 8, 2010
10/08/10
12:00
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We are here to help you get to the weekend with some links:

Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier understands why Utah canceled its series with the Broncos. "They’re saying, ‘OK, we’re going to play a Pac-10 schedule and we’re going to play BYU, why would we play Boise State?’ he told the Idaho Statesman. "And if you think about it, you can understand."

Southern Miss will be without top rusher Desmond Johnson for Saturday's game against East Carolina for violating team rules.

UNLV receiver Phillip Payne has been suspended for Saturday's game against West Virginia, possibly for a tweet critical of coach Bobby Hauck.

Brothers Ryan and Neil Basford face off when Navy plays Wake Forest.

Houston receiver Tyron Carrier had to hide his early football career from his mom, who refused to let him play following a severe asthma attack when he was 8.

BYU coaches haven't lost faith in Jake Heaps.

North Texas quarterback Chase Baine is ready for his chance to start.

FIU's top receiver, T.Y. Hilton, is struggling this season.

Central Michigan must now face Virginia Tech off a humbling loss.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 20, 2010
9/20/10
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Here they are, the players of the week for all five non-AQ conferences:

Conference USA

Offense: UAB QB Bryan Ellis. Came off the bench in the second quarter and threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns to lead UAB to a 34-33 come-from-behind win over Troy. Ellis led a 99-yard drive in the final 1:09 of the game, capping off the drive with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jackie Williams. His performance helped the Blazers overcome a 23-0 lead for the biggest comeback in school history.

Defense: UCF DE Darius Nall. Led UCF with nine tackles, including three for loss and two sacks, plus a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry in UCF’s 24-10 win at Buffalo. He became just the sixth defensive lineman to lead UCF in tackles for a game under George O’Leary.

Special teams: Memphis P Tom Hornsey; Southern Miss DB Deron Wilson. Hornsey kicked a career-high 10 punts in the game, averaging 41.7 yards per punt. He had a career-long 63-yard punt in the fourth quarter and had two inside the 20 in the win over Middle Tennessee. Wilson recovered a blocked punt and went seven yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter of the Golden Eagles’ 31-16 win over Kansas on Friday night.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Temple RB Bernard Pierce. Ran for 169 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 30-16 win over Connecticut. Pierce moved up to No. 8 on Temple’s career rushing list and now has 1,662 rushing yards.

Defense: Bowling Green LB Dwayne Woods. Was second on the team with eight tackles, including one tackle for loss, two pass break-ups and one interception return for a touchdown in a 44-28 win over Marshall.

Special teams: Ohio P Paul Hershey. Had three 50-plus yard punts in a loss to Ohio State and dropped two inside the 20-yard line.

West Division

Offense: Central Michigan RB Paris Cotton. Ran for a career-high 209 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-14 win at Eastern Michigan. He became the first player to go over 200 yards at the school since 2004.

Defense: Toledo DB Desmond Marrow. Had 10 tackles and two interceptions, including one he returned 15 yards for a touchdown in a win over Western Michigan.

Special teams: Northern Illinois P Josh Wilber. Averaged 49.0 yards on five punts in 28-22 loss at Illinois. Wilber had three punts of over 50 yards with punts of 51, 56 and 55 yards, with all three of those kicks pinning the Illini inside their 12-yard line.

Mountain West

Offense: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman and TCU QB Andy Dalton. Hillman rushed for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in a 27-24 loss at Missouri. He became the first Aztec player to run for over 200 yards in a game in seven years, while also setting a new MWC freshman single-game rushing record.

Dalton had for 293 yard of total offense and two touchdowns in TCU’s 45-10 win over Baylor. Dalton’s 91.3 completion percentage is a MWC record and is tied for the highest mark by an FBS passer with a minimum of 20 attempts since 2004.

Defense: Utah DB Lamar Chapman. Had a team-high eight tackles, including seven solo stops, two tackles for loss and one sack in Utah’s 56-14 victory at New Mexico.

Special Teams: Utah WR/PR Shaky Smithson. Returned four punts for 140 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown. Smithson topped the 100-yard mark and returned a punt for a touchdown for the second straight game, averaged 35.0 yards per return.

Sun Belt

Offense: Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin, Troy QB Corey Robinson. Aplin recorded 318 yards of total offense and had two touchdowns in a 34-20 victory over ULM. He led ASU on four scoring drives that covered at least 70 yards.

Robinson became the third quarterback in school history, and the first freshman, to pass for more than 400 yards in a game by going 26-of-44 for 404 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to against UAB. He has now attempted 113 consecutive passes without an interception.

Defense: FIU DB Anthony Gaitor. Gaitor gave FIU a 20-6 lead over Texas A&M in the third quarter when he returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble when he sacked Johnson in the first quarter in the game FIU ultimately lost.

Special teams: Middle Tennessee P Josh Davis. Punted four times for a school record 59.8-yard average, including a 78-yarder, the third longest punt in school history. Three of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.

WAC

Offense: Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick. Had 329 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in a 52-31 win over No. 24 California on Friday night.

Defense: Idaho DE Aaron Lavarias. Had four tackles, including two sacks, and a forced fumble in Idaho's 30-7 win over UNLV.

Special teams: Idaho K Trey Farquhar. Made all three of his field goal attempts and was 3-for-3 in extra points in the win against UNLV. He also had seven kickoffs that went into the end zone.

Non-AQ Did You Know: Week 3

September, 17, 2010
9/17/10
9:00
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Time for a little Did You Know? heading into Week 3:

Conference USA has two of the best quarterbacks in the country, at least in the NCAA statistics. Tulsa junior QB G.J. Kinne leads all quarterbacks with 755 yards passing in the first two games of the season. Meanwhile, East Carolina junior Dominique Davis tops all quarterbacks with eight touchdown passes through two games. Kinne is tied for second with seven passing touchdowns. Both quarterbacks face tough opponents this week as Tulsa plays at Oklahoma State and East Carolina visits Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeDominique Davis
AP Photo/The Daily Reflector/Rhett ButlerThrough two weeks of the season, East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis led the NCAA with eight touchdown passes.
Army has eight rushing touchdowns through the first two games of 2010. The Black Knights ran for 13 scores all of last season. Sophomore FB Jared Hassin has scored four of those eight touchdowns and is one shy of matching quarterback Trent Steelman’s team-leading total from a year ago. Army also has scored at least 28 points in each of its first two games, the first time the Black Knights have reached that mark in consecutive games since a three-game run in 2004.

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick has 43 career rushing touchdowns, the most of any active player in the nation. He leads the WAC in rushing with 110.5 yards a game and is third in the nation in total offense with 384 yards a game. He faces the biggest test yet against California tonight.

Hawaii receiver Greg Salas has 2,643 career receiving yards, the most of any active player in the nation. His 181 receptions are the second most among active players.

Utah State is 1-1 for the first time since 2005, and hasn’t started a season 2-1 since 1997. The Aggies play Fresno State on Saturday.

Bowling Green mayor John Quinn issued a “Mayoral Challenge” to mayor Kim Wolfe of Huntington, W. Va. If the Falcons win, Wolfe will have to display a Bowling Green flag at Huntington’s City Hall for the duration of the week after the game. If Marshall wins, Quinn will fly a Marshall flag at Bowling Green’s City Hall for the following week. The “losing Mayor” will also send a photo featuring them with the flag on display.

With Utah and TCU in the latest Top 25, at least two Mountain West Conference teams have been ranked in the coaches' Top 25 for 35 straight weeks, dating back to Sept. 7, 2008. The MWC joins the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC as the only four conferences that have had at least two teams ranked for 35 consecutive weeks.

San Diego State snapped a 14-game non-conference road losing streak with its victory at New Mexico State last week. It was the Aztecs’ first non-conference road win since Sept. 13, 2003, when they won at UTEP 34-0.

BYU, San Diego State and Utah have not allowed a sack. The Cougars, Aztecs and Utes are three of nine teams in FBS that haven’t given up a sack this season (Indiana, Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Penn State, Texas and Wake Forest).

When Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan play this weekend, it’s a safe bet there will be plenty of scoring. The winning team in the matchup has scored 45 points or more five times in the last eight meetings, including each of the last three years.

FIU might have only played one game, but the Panthers have already seen results from new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. The defense allowed just 172 total yards of offense in a close loss to Rutgers last week, and now rank second in the country in total defense. The Scarlet Knights only managed 76 yards on the ground and averaged just 2 yards a carry.

Lunchtime Links

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
12:49
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Nick Saban takes a shot at Boise State.

Boise State wanted $1 million to play at Nebraska.

TCU was rooting for Boise State to beat Virginia Tech.

Temple is 2-0 for the first time since 1981 after a 13-10 overtime win against Central Michigan on Thursday night.

Marshall has gotten off to good starts against West Virginia, but the result is usually a bad finish.

A move from quarterback to wide receiver has paid off for Utah's DeVonte Christopher.

After a dismal end to 2009, Houston quarterback Case Keenum vowed to his teammates he wouldn't let them lose again.

UTEP running back Donald Buckram remains a game-time decision for tonight's contest against Houston.

Other conference links:

ACC

Big 12

Big East

Big Ten

SEC

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