NCF Nation: Conference USA

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top five teams in the country in Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.

The SEC’s strong out-of-conference record has a lot to do with its success in the polls; the SEC is 47-9 in nonconference games, including 3-1 last Saturday against the ACC.

Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina all defeated their ACC rivals on Saturday, and the SEC’s only out-of-conference loss this past weekend came at the hands of then-No. 2 Florida State.

However, the biggest debate heading into conference championship weekend is whether the SEC deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship to defend its seven straight titles.

If the season ended today, the top team in the ACC would face off against the top team in the Big Ten. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings, the ACC and Big Ten are the lowest-ranked conferences among the five major ones, and the SEC is by far the top conference in the country.

However, the debate is not necessarily which conference is the best, but which team is the most deserving.

When looking at ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings – a system that determines the most deserving teams in the country -- Ohio State and Florida State are both ranked higher than the top team in the SEC.

Looking deeper by using ESPN’s Football Power Index – a predictor of future strength -- Ohio State should be favored by three points over Auburn and six points over Missouri on a neutral field.

It appears the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the outside looking in on the national title debate despite ranking second and third, respectively, in ESPN’s Conference Power Rankings. Both conferences have depth, but their biggest issue is that there is no “elite” team at the top.

Keep an eye on the bowl matchups announced next Sunday to see how conference strength plays into bowl selections. In the last three seasons, the SEC has the best record in bowl games among the five major conferences (17-11) while the Big Ten has the worst record (9-16).

3-point stance: Davie back in the game

November, 17, 2011
1. Remember when Notre Dame fired Bob Davie for having the temerity to go 35-25 (.583)? Neither of his successors, Ty Willingham (.583) or Charlie Weis (.565), surpassed him. New Mexico announced Wednesday that Davie will be its next head coach. It has been 11 seasons since Davie last ran a practice or coached a game, a longer hiatus than any current FBS head coach has on his resume. Given the mess that Mike Locksley made of the Lobos, you have to assume that Davie will have time to scrape off his rust.

2. Love this note that ACC blogger Heather Dinich sent me. North Carolina State sophomore corner David Amerson leads the FBS with 10 interceptions, three more than anyone else. Not only has no defender picked off 11 passes since safety Jim Leonhard of Wisconsin in 2002, but if Amerson maintains his pace of one interception per game, he will be the first to do so over an entire season since safety Terry Hoage of Georgia in 1982. You now may find Hoage in the College Football Hall of Fame.

3. If No. 11 Houston falters down the stretch, there are two other non-AQs waiting to qualify for an automatic BCS bid. If either No. 19 TCU wins the Mountain West Conference or No. 20 Southern Miss knocks off Houston to win Conference USA, it’s possible that one of them will reach 16th or higher in the final BCS standings. That would qualify the higher-ranked team of the two of them for a BCS bid. One of them will end up in the Fiesta or the Sugar.

Are Frogs on charmed road back to BCS?

November, 14, 2011
Improbable, but now not impossible, the BCS flame is rekindled for the streaking TCU Horned Frogs.

They'll need No. 11 Houston and No. 20 Southern Miss to each fumble a golden opportunity, while the No. 19 Frogs -- 8-2 and winners of five in a row -- can ill-afford a misstep of their own in their final two games against below-.500 squads Colorado State and UNLV.

Still, these Frogs, boosted by Saturday's huge road win at No. 5 Boise State that put a hammerlock on the Mountain West Conference championship, are the leading dark horse to earn a third consecutive BCS bowl berth.

How is this possible? Let's review:

When Baylor kicked the game-winning field goal with 1:04 to play in the season-opener, TCU swallowed the hard truth that just one game in and the BCS was all but dead to them. A month later, SMU's overtime victory in Fort Worth posed the question if the 3-2 Frogs were even capable of capturing a third consecutive league title?

Fast forward five weeks and Gary Patterson's boys provided that answer with Saturday's resounding, come-from-behind, 36-35 victory on the Broncos' near-invincible blue turf. The heart-and-guts effort, spearheaded by the tremendous play of first-year starting quarterback Casey Pachall, put TCU in the driver's seat for the conference title and, somewhat unsuspectingly, rekindled the BCS flame.

Here's how:

The BCS selection process offers two paths of entrance for non-automatic qualifiers like TCU. The first is a top-12 ranking in the BCS standings. At No. 19, that's highly unlikely considering the Frogs' final two opponents and the number of teams ahead of them. The second route grants a berth by finishing in the top 16 and with a ranking higher than that of a champion of one of the six AQ conferences.

Say hello to the Frogs' once-future home, the Big East.

That league currently boasts no teams ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings. Cincinnati (7-2) dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll, falling to 29th, and West Virginia is 27th. Neither team boasts a remaining schedule that would catapult it ahead of a 10-2 Frogs team, one that very well could claim a top-16 ranking.

Standing in the way is Houston (10-0) and Southern Miss (9-1). These two are on a collision course to meet in the Conference USA title game. If the Coogs win out, they'll be assured of the BCS berth. If the Golden Eagles win out, they'll likely hop the Frogs and earn the spot.

Pass-happy Houston, led by sixth-year quarterback Case Keenum, welcomes the disappointing Ponies (6-4) on Saturday (ESPN GameDay will be there) before traveling to Tulsa (7-3, 6-0) the day after Thanksgiving. Southern Miss has games against a pair of 2-8 teams in Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis.

The script favorable to the Frogs would see SMU or Tulsa knock off Houston, and then the Coogs beat Southern Miss in the title game, assuring each another loss.

If it plays out, the two-loss Frogs could very well become the first non-undefeated, non-AQ team to play in a BCS game.

If that happens, consider these Frogs charmed.
The Pac-12 is popularly known as the conference of quarterbacks, mostly because it has better quarterbacks than everyone else, at least in terms of NFL potential.

That is again the case in 2011. The conference boasts Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, who each could become first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Then there’s Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who beat out Barkley and Foles for second-team All-Conference honors in 2010, and talented youngsters such as Washington State’s Jeff Tuel, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz and Utah’s Jordan Wynn.

Oh, but across the country in Conference USA, there’s a crew of quarterbacks that offers something that bests the Pac-12 signal-callers: huge numbers. Four Conference USA passers threw for more than 3,000 yards; just two did in the old Pac-10. Also, three threw 31 or more touchdown passes versus just one in the Pac-10 -- Luck with 32.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Case Keenum
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCase Keenum is one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.
And that doesn’t even include the return of Houston’s Case Keenum, who passed for over 5,000 yards in both 2008 and 2009 and 44 touchdowns each season. Keenum was lost for the 2010 season in Game 3 after suffering a knee injury at UCLA.

So while the Pac-12 may think of itself as the conference of quarterbacks, Conference USA might be able to counter as the conference of passers.

Sounds like a blog debate! Bring on Andrea Adelson!

Ted Miller: Andrea, you have me and many of my Pac-12 blog readers at a loss. You know all about the Pac-12 quarterbacks because they are on TV all the time.

While most are familiar with Keenum’s eye-popping numbers for the Cougars, some of these other names draw blanks. Educate our poorly informed West Coast brains, please!

Andrea Adelson: Yes, Ted, there is a reason C-USA has a Wild, Wild West Division. It is there you will find some of the most prolific passers in the nation -- Keenum, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, and Kyle Padron of SMU.

Keenum was just picked as the C-USA preseason offensive player of the year for obvious reasons. Your Pac-12 brethren only got a small glimpse of what he could do last season against UCLA -- the game in which he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Keenum got a sixth season and has a slew of NCAA records he is chasing down -- total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, pass attempts and completions. He is in an offensive system that suits his strengths, and he really came onto the scene in 2008 under a certain coach named Dana Holgorsen.

With Keenum out last season, Kinne picked up the torch and was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Kinne actually began his career at Texas before transferring to the Golden Hurricane. Last season he truly blossomed, but he is a different style quarterback than Keenum and Padron. Kinne can run -- he led the team in passing (3,650 yards) and rushing (561). It should come as no surprise that Padron is a gunslinger -- he plays for June Jones after all. And Jones is a master of the run 'n' shoot. But there are quarterbacks in the East who aren't slouches, either. Dominique Davis transferred from Boston College to East Carolina and flourished last season, leading the nation in passing. Austin Davis, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation can run and pass, too. We all know the Big 12 is known for its passers, but C-USA equaled that conference with three players ranked in the top 11 in the nation in yards passing with Davis, Padron and Kinne. The Pac-12 might have the most "quarterback ready" players, but C-USA has guys who know how to put the ball in the air, that is for sure. And who doesn't love offensive fireworks?

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireA number of analysts project Stanford's Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 overal pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Ted Miller: Andrea, those are impressive -- and sometimes HUGE -- numbers. Keenum got knocked out against UCLA, so the Bruins didn’t really get a full taste of him, which they figure to on Sept. 3 in Houston. But that’s the only time Pac-12 fans will get to see any of these guys. In the Pac-12, I’d rate Luck No. 1, Barkley No. 2, Foles No. 3 and Thomas No. 4 in terms of NFL prospects. Luck and Thomas are both outstanding athletes who are capable running the ball. Most folks don’t realize that Luck rushed for 453 yards last year. Barkley and Foles are prototypical drop-back passers.

So how do you see your guys' NFL prospects stacking up?

Andrea Adelson: None of these guys are first-round prospects, but that does not make them any less impressive as college quarterbacks. All of them are going to carry the "system quarterback" label with them when their careers end. Keenum already gets that when his name comes up in Heisman chatter. Interestingly, he is after the NCAA career passing mark of Timmy Chang -- coached at Hawaii by June Jones. And Jones has a guy in Padron who can sling it, too. Davis is in a system that Ruffin McNeill picked up from his "Air Raid" days at Texas Tech -- a school that has produced prolific passers such as Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury but nobody who tore it up in the NFL. If you want to rank them as college quarterbacks, then Keenum deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best playing today. He is, after all, one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.

Ted Miller: That’s the rub, I think, Andrea. While the Pac-12 prides itself on producing NFL quarterbacks, I think we can all appreciate guys who produce thrilling performances in the college game, the game by the way we love most, apologies to the NFL.

So as excited as I am to see Luck this year -- and others -- I also am eager to see what a healthy Keenum does in Round 2 with UCLA. And perhaps we on the West Coast need to branch out a bit in our quarterback appreciation and catch a few Conference USA games this season.

We do, you know, like our passing out West.

What we learned from non-AQs, Week 3

September, 19, 2010
Now for a recap of five things we learned from the non-AQs after Week 3.

1. TCU is the best team in Texas. You might have thought so before, but after watching the Horned Frogs beat Baylor 45-10 and Texas struggle to beat Texas Tech 24-14, it is safe to say it now. Heck, TCU might even be better than Boise State at this point. The defense has come on strong despite losing Jerry Hughes, Daryl Washington and two experienced cornerbacks in Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, turning back two vastly different offenses in Oregon State and Baylor. TCU held the Bears to 263 total yards of offense and sacked Robert Griffin three times. Andy Dalton, meanwhile, had only two incompletions the entire game, and running back Ed Wesley added a career-high 165 yards rushing with two touchdowns. For those skeptic s out there who think the Longhorns would beat TCU, my answer is this – both defenses are terrific, but a senior quarterback with 32 career wins takes it over Garrett Gilbert.

2. Boise State can win with style. But is that going to be enough to impress voters and computers? The Broncos easily handled Wyoming, scoring 37 straight points en route to the 51-6 rout in Laramie. But as we have so often heard, this game is simply one of many against “cupcakes” ahead for the Broncos. There are reasons to believe this schedule could prove to be more difficult than people realize. Oregon State is next, and several WAC teams have shown signs of life – Hawaii looked good in its first two games; Fresno State and Nevada are playing extremely well; and Utah State is much improved. These teams don’t stack up to the SEC, but they aren’t pushovers, either. Just ask California.

3. Conference USA is wide open. After Houston saw both Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner go down with injuries against UCLA late Saturday night, the Cougars’ fortunes have completely changed. Both players are out for the season, the school announced Sunday night -- Keenum with a torn ACL and Turner with a broken clavicle. That opens the door for the rest of Conference USA. They simply are a different team without their best player. This is two games in a row now that Keenum has been injured trying to make a hit on an interception. Coach Kevin Sumlin had talked to Keenum about trying to avoid making tackles, but the competitive nature got the best out of the former Heisman Trophy candidate.

4. Temple is living up to the preseason expectations – so far. You may not have thought that after the struggles in the first two games of the season, in which the Owls needed a field goal to win it at the end of regulation against Villanova and in overtime against Central Michigan. They had been outgained through the first two weeks of the season. Connecticut outgained them, too, but the Owls put together a dominating fourth quarter to come from behind and win 30-16. Temple is 3-0 for the first time since 1979. The win was its first against a team from an automatic qualifying conference since beating Syracuse in 2004 – when Temple was still in the Big East. Now comes a big litmus test to see how the Owls truly stack up – they hit the road to take on Penn State in Week 4.

5. This could be the year for another team to win the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy has won the trophy seven straight years, but watch out for Air Force. Navy (2-1) put together a nice performance against Louisiana Tech in a 37-23 win, led by Ricky Dobbs’ arm and not his legs, but the Midshipmen have had injury problems and looked inconsistent overall this season. Air Force (2-1) played Oklahoma extremely close in a 27-24 loss Saturday and has veteran leadership in Tim Jefferson, Asher Clark and Jared Tew, who are running the triple-option to near perfection. The defense is also improved. Air Force is at Wyoming this week and Navy has a bye before their huge game in Colorado on Oct. 2.

Non-AQ Did You Know: Week 3

September, 17, 2010
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.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Cal's defense will be tested at Nevada: California presently ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, giving up a scant 160 yards per game. So kudos to new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. But Nevada ranks No. 1 in total offense, rolling up a monstrous 592 yards per game. So who wins: The irresistible force or the immovable object?

2. Arizona's O-line vs. Iowa's D-line: The Wildcats have a good offensive line, probably among the top three or four units in the Pac-10. But Iowa probably has the best defensive line in the country, led by end Adrian Clayborn. All four starters are back from 2009's stingy unit that combined for 27 sacks and allowed just 3.5 yards per rush. The first question is can the Wildcats line do enough to create any sort of run threat or occasional creases for Nic Grigsby? The second is, failing that, will the line give QB Nick Foles enough time to throw the ball?

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansen
AP Photo/Ben MargotCal has the nation's No. 1 defense through two games, allowing just 160 yards per game.
3. Locker on the big stage: There is a bizarre crew that haunts the Pac-10 blog and constantly calls Washington QB Jake Locker "overrated," meaning they disagree with Mike Bellotti, Pete Carroll, every Pac-10 coach, every NFL scout, LSU's players (who called Locker the best player they saw in 2009) and just about everyone who makes a living around football. Of course, they have the right to call the world flat. But guess what? If Locker doesn't turn in an impressive performance vs. Nebraska, his Heisman Trophy candidacy will end before it gets started. So this is his big moment to either lead an upset or take a step back in national stature.

4. Vontaze Burfict vs. John Clay: Arizona State's 245-pound linebacker Vontaze Burfict is one of the most talented and aggressive LBs in the country. Wisconsin's 248-pound running back John Clay is one of the best power runners in the country. When these two meet, the violence of the impact should be dynamic. But who knocks the other backwards? Burfict and the ASU defense is looking to make a national statement. To do so, it needs to contain Clay.

5. Can USC put it together? USC's offense looked great in the opener at Hawaii. The defense looked terrible. The offense looked terrible vs. Virginia. The defense looked pretty good. The cumulative affect is we really don't know who these Trojans are. Will they put it all together at Minnesota's expense? Or will it be another piddling effort?

6. Luck through the air: Stanford QB Andrew Luck looked great running, but, despite two TD passes, didn't throw terribly well at UCLA. He completed just 11 of 24 passes for 151 yards. Wake Forest's secondary didn't look great while giving up 358 passing yards and four touchdowns to Duke in a wild 54-48 victory. You'd think Luck would feast on that at home and revert back to his accurate, playmaking self.

7. How will UCLA's offense bounce back? Stanford shut out the Bruins and held them to 233 total yards last weekend. That had many screaming for QB Kevin Prince's head. But Prince's biggest problem is he's barely seen practice time due to a back injury and then a shoulder injury. He's practiced all this week. Moreover, Houston's defense isn't anything like its offense. The Cougars are surrendering 26 points and 393 yards per game. Expect the Bruins to be much better on offense Saturday.

8. Jacquizz should break out vs. Louisville: Dating back to last season, Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't eclipsed 100 yards rushing in three games. That's a mini-slump for him. Louisville gave up 230 yards rushing to a mediocre Kentucky team in week one. So expect for Rodgers to get his 100 yards. And also expect him to get some touches in the passing game, which he didn't vs. TCU.

9. Cougs stepping forward? Does the comeback win vs. Montana State turn a page for Washington State? Sure, it was just an FCS opponent, but showing some backbone feels meaningful. SMU has a high-powered, balanced offense and is one of the favorites in Conference USA. Moreover, the Mustangs will be plenty motivated after losing at Washington State last year. But if the Cougars pull the upset, the entire tenor of their season could change.

10. How did the Pac-10 measure up? It wasn't the most creative name or anything, but "Measuring Stick Saturday" is real. The Pac-10's place in the pecking order among BCS conferences largely will be based -- at least during the regular season -- on what happens Saturday. A winning weekend will earn it consideration with the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12. A losing one? It falls to the bottom half of the six. Considering the Pac-10 is an underdog in five of the nine games, the conference needs for all its favorites to prevail and at least one underdog to come through with an upset.

Non-AQ Did You Know: Week 2

September, 10, 2010
Now for a bit of Did You Know? going into Week 2:
  • When Memphis visits East Carolina on Saturday, it will mark the first time since 2003 that two first-year coaches are facing each other in Conference USA play. Larry Porter dropped his opener last week when Memphis lost to Mississippi State, while Ruffin McNeill saw his cardiac Pirates pull off a 51-49 win over Tulsa on a Hail Mary.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson had the quote of the week when discussing his team’s upcoming game against Tennessee Tech: “We don’t want to be the Ole Miss of this week,” he said. Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State, which upset the Rebels last week, play in the same conference. Incidentally, Patterson got his first paying job as a coach at Tennessee Tech in 1983.
  • The Western Michigan football team stepped up in a big way to help a student-run organization that provides free rides home for members of the community Thursday-Saturday late nights. Drive Safe Kalamazoo realized it had no funding for this weekend because of a clerical error. Each member of the football team decided to donate $1 from per diem they received during a day of training camp to help close the gap. The organization ended up getting enough money to be funded for this weekend, and the football team’s donation paid for one car in the seven-car fleet.
  • When Arkansas State plays Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, it begins a three-game stretch against conference opponents. The last time Arkansas State opened its season against conference opponents in three of its first four games was in 1995 as a member of the Big West.
  • Army plays Hawaii Saturday and several of its coaches have ties to the Warriors. Head coach Rich Ellerson lettered four years at Hawaii as a center and linebacker and graduated in 1977. He served as a graduate assistant there in 1977 and later as a defensive assistant from 1981-83 and defensive coordinator from 1987-91. Co-defensive coordinator Chris Smeland coached at Hawaii from 1991-94.
  • Things don’t get much easier for San Jose State this week. After losing to No. 1 Alabama, the Spartans play at No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday. This is the second straight year the team is opening the season against two ranked opponents. San Jose State hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since defeating No. 9 TCU 27-24 in 2000.
  • Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel needs 69 passing yards against Idaho State to reach 5,000 for his career.
  • Four FBS quarterbacks threw five touchdown passes in Week 1 -- three are from Conference USA: Houston's Case Keenum had five in the first half against Texas State before sitting out the second half; East Carolina’s Dominique Davis threw five in his first start for the Pirates against Tulsa; in the same game, Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne also had five.
  • Utah has a chance to set the Mountain West record for consecutive home wins. The Utes have won 18 straight, tied with BYU, which set the mark from Sept. 9, 2006, to Nov. 8, 2008. Utah hosts UNLV this weekend. The current home winning streak began Sept. 15, 2007 with a 44-6 victory over UCLA. The 18-game streak is the third-longest active home winning streak in the country behind Oklahoma (31) and Boise State (26).

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 6, 2010
Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the incredible in a nearly complete Week 1.

The good: The Mountain West and WAC were the only two conferences to win games against AQ opponents. The Mountain West had the best record against teams from those automatic qualifying conferences, going 3-3 with big wins from TCU, BYU and Utah. Fresno State had the lone WAC win, over Cincinnati. Of course, there is still one WAC team yet to play. The other conference records against other AQ schools:

[+] EnlargeUtah Celebration
AP Photo/Steve C. WilsonUtah's upset of No. 15 Pitt was just one reason for Non AQs to celebrate in Week 1.
Conference USA: 0-5; 0-6 against all FBS opponents.

MAC: 0-5; 0-7 against all FBS opponents.

Sun Belt: 0-5; 2-5 against all FBS opponents.

The bad: Nobody could possibly have had a worse weekend than New Mexico, which lost 72-0 to Oregon. This is the perfect example of why many people believe the Mountain West should not get an automatic qualifying bid into the BCS. The league is so top heavy it gets weighed down with the teams at the bottom that simply cannot compete. Show me a team at the bottom of any AQ conferences that could lose as badly as this. Not even Duke, Vanderbilt or Syracuse qualifies.

The incredible: You probably have all seen the highlights, but it bears repeating that East Carolina's last-second win over Tulsa is why fans of the sport love it so much. Time winding down, hopes all but gone, and then a ball dropped from the heavens right into the arms of the 6-foot-8 Justin Jones. "That was the greatest experience of my life," quarterback Dominique Davis said after the game. "There was probably people in the stands -- our fans -- who probably thought the game was over. But I told the team, 'Just trust.' As soon as I let it go, I knew he was going to catch it."

The new: Several new starters at quarterback seemed to do all right for themselves on opening weekend. Jake Heaps of BYU, Corey Robinson of Troy and Logan Kilgore of Middle Tennessee all had decent outings. So did Ryan Radcliff of Central Michigan and Jerry Davis of Buffalo.

A few more helmet stickers: Belated helmet stickers to Davis of East Carolina, who went 27-of-46 for 383 yards with five touchdown passes. He also had a score on the ground. Also, much was made of the way Hawaii was able to hang around USC. The offense looked great, even after starting quarterback Bryant Moniz took a hit to the helmet and was forced to leave the game. Kealoha Pilares had five catches for 176 yards and 3 TDs in the win. Two of his touchdowns went for over 50 yards.

A few injury items to note: UTEP running back Donald Buckram missed the opener against Arkansas Pine-Bluff after bruising his knee in practice. A MRI on his knee was negative, and he clearly was not needed in the win over an FCS team. Hawaii's Moniz didn't practice Saturday but said he expects to play this week against Army. Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert was carted off the field with a neck injury in the opener against Northwestern State, and it's unlikely that he plays this weekend against BYU. Tests on his neck were negative.

Week 2 look ahead: There are several in-conference games scheduled for this week, the biggest being BYU at Air Force. On Thursday night, Central Michigan plays Temple in the MAC; UTEP is at Houston on Friday night in a big divisional game. You can bet the Miners will need Buckram in this game. FIU, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe were the only three idle teams in the country Week 1. They play their first games this weekend.
Cannon Smith was named the starting quarterback at Memphis on Monday, winning the job over Tyler Bass.

Smith, who transferred from Miami, gets his first test Saturday at Mississippi State.

"We had three criteria: 1. was decision making, 2. the ability to manage the offense and 3. productivity," coach Larry Porter said on the Conference USA conference call. "Throughout all of spring and fall camp it was a very competitive race, very close. At the end of the day, we decided to go with Cannon. We just felt Cannon was the guy.

"He's athletic, has a strong arm, been exposed to major college football," Porter said. "I think his leadership ability has grown over the course of the last eight months, so it was all those things that we saw starting to grow and come to life in his play."
There are several quarterback battles still up in the air as we get closer to the start of the season. Here is Part I of our series looking at the races going on among the non-AQ schools:



Between: Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps.

Who has the edge: Coach Bronco Mendenhall says the two are dead even after a scrimmage Saturday. Nelson was allowed to run the ball in the scrimmage for the first time, shedding his non-contact jersey. Nelson, who brings more mobility, ran six times for 39 yards, and went 9-of-13 for 69 yards and a touchdown. Heaps, who came into school as a very highly touted prospect, went 8-of-11 for 56 yards.

When will we know: Mendenhall says a starting quarterback probably won’t be selected until game week against Washington.


[+] EnlargeClayton
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIOmar Clayton is the incumbent at UNLV, but he split snaps with Mike Clausen in Saturday's scrimmage.
Between: Omar Clayton and Mike Clausen.

Who has the edge: Clayton has been the starter for the last two years, while Clausen has received some starts when Clayton has been injured. But the two have been in a heated competition throughout the spring and fall under new coach Bobby Hauck, who brings a more balanced offensive system. They each took 10 snaps in Saturday’s final scrimmage.

When will we know: Hauck doesn’t have a timetable for a decision.


East Carolina

Between: Brad Wornick and Dominique Davis.

Who has the edge: Wornick was the starter after spring drills, but Davis has played well during fall camp. They are two different players. Wornick, a former walk-on, has never thrown a pass in a college game. Davis, who is more athletic, transferred in from junior college and spent part of 2008 as the starter at Boston College.

When will we know: Coach Ruffin McNeill says a decision will be made by next week.


Between: Cannon Smith and Ryan Williams.

Who has the edge: Smith was thought to be the front-runner, but Williams has emerged during fall camp. The freshman enrolled at Memphis during the spring semester and has shown poise. He split reps with Smith, a transfer from Miami, during the last fall scrimmage.

When will we know: No timetable for an announcement.


Between: Taylor McHargue, Nick Fanuzzi and Taylor Cook.

Who has the edge: Coach Dave Bailiff was supposed to name a starter after last week’s scrimmage, but wanted more time before deciding between his three candidates. Fanuzzi is the incumbent, having thrown for 1,598 yards, 11 touchdowns and 8 INT last season. Cook is a Miami transfer, while McHargue has been slowed because of an ankle injury. Fanuzzi should still have an edge because of his experience.

When will we know: Any day.


Between: Rob Calabrese and Jeffrey Godfrey.

Who has the edge: Calabrese went into fall camp as the starter, but Godfrey has crept up behind him. Now coach George O’Leary says the competition is open again. Calabrese went into last season as the starter but struggled before getting benched. Godfrey, a dynamic freshman, broke Jacory Harris’ prep passing numbers in Miami-Dade.

When will we know: O’Leary says he won’t make a decision until the season opener against South Dakota on Sept. 4.


San Jose State

Between: Jordan La Secla and Matt Faulkner

Who has the edge: La Secla is the incumbent, but Faulkner has pushed him hard during camp. The two combined to complete 26 of 32 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown in the final scrimmage. Faulkner, who started his career at Fresno State, played at junior college last season and threw for 3,301 yards and 30 touchdowns.

When will we know: Depth chart is scheduled to be released today.

C-USA statement on talks with MWC

August, 20, 2010
Speculation has swirled today about talks between Conference USA and the Mountain West. Representatives of both leagues did meet Thursday in what they said was a previously scheduled meeting.

Because of all the speculation today, C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky has issued the following statement:

"The conferences have much in common and have worked cooperatively for many years and we are exploring creative ways to work together going forward. The discussion included scheduling, television and postseason football. It is premature for anyone to suggest anything else at this point. We have the strong support of our members as we work on a variety of strategic initiatives. We had a good discussion yesterday and likely will have more in the future."

One of the scenarios that has been reported has the winners of both leagues facing each other for the right to get into a BCS game. The current BCS cycle ends in 2014. Postseason play was reportedly one topic of discussion during these meetings. Another reported a potential merger between the two leagues.

A merger seems unwieldy. If there has been talk of a postseason game, perhaps the Mountain West realizes it won't become an AQ conference and figures playing C-USA in a playoff style game for a spot in the BCS would be its best shot at getting non-AQ leagues a seat at the BCS table every year.

The big question is whether the BCS is willing to give one of its spots to a non-AQ team annually. Currently, non-AQ teams are eligible for an at-large berth if they finish in the top 12 of the final BCS standings; or a non-AQ team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and its ranking is higher than that of an AQ champion.

Also, the Mountain West has seemingly done just fine getting into BCS games without having to rely on another conference. Conference USA has been the one hoping to get a BCS buster.

Lunchtime Links

August, 20, 2010
BYU is looking to leave the Mountain West because of the league's TV deals with Comcast and CBS.

Could the Mountain West and Conference USA merge? The Orlando Sentinel cites two sources who say those discussions have taken place.

The gap continues to grow between the haves and have nots.

Fresno State says the maximum penalty it will face for leaving the WAC is $2.5 million. Commissioner Karl Benson contends each WAC school faces a $5 million buyout.

Ashley Lelie is serving as a student manager at Hawaii.

Houston LB Matt Nicholson hopes to stay injury-free this season.

The Navy linebacker group is a work in progress.
We had a little fun with our 20 for 10 series today, posing the question: “Would you rather be …” Here are three non-AQ questions that made the list:

1. Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen?

2. Case Keenum or Kellen Moore?

3. Eastern Michigan or Western Kentucky?

Let’s have some more fun and make it a top 10 non-AQ list:

4. Pat Hill or Chris Ault? Two of the longest-tenured coaches in the WAC have plenty going for them this season. Who will emerge as the top dog when Boise State leads for the Mountain West? These two programs are the top contenders.

5. Conference USA or the WAC? The WAC has had its BCS buster; Conference USA has come close but is still waiting. But with Boise State on the way out, the WAC has a chance to go after a few more teams. Could they come calling C-USA?

6. Bernard Pierce or Chad Spann? Spann leads Northern Illinois on the ground; Pierce leads Temple on the ground. The two teams could play in the MAC championship game. If they do, it will be because of their fantastic running backs.

7. UCF or Memphis? The two schools have been at the heart of speculation concerning potential Big East expansion. Which school would you take?

8. Todd Dodge or Mario Cristobal? Both coaches need to win now, but the seat for Dodge at North Texas is probably pretty hot. He intimated as much last week, when he said he knew he had to win now.

9. Share BCS money with all the non-AQ conferences or keep it for yourself? The BCS money is currently shared, but wouldn’t it be tempting to keep it, considering Boise State, Utah and TCU have helped fill the buckets for everybody else?

10. Andy Dalton or Tank Carder? The essential question is this -- would you rather be the leader on offense or the leader on defense?

Discuss below.

Conference USA media days recap

August, 5, 2010
Let us recap what happened at media days for the non-AQ conferences. Today we feature Conference USA.

Preseason favorite: Conference USA does not select preseason favorites.

Preseason Players of the Year: But it does select preseason players of the year and a preseason first team. Houston QB Case Keenum was selected the Offensive Player of the Year; UCF DE Bruce Miller the Defensive Player of the Year; Houston return specialist Tyron Carrier the Special Teams Player of the Year. Here is the full first team.

Seen and heard: A year after holding its media days via video conferencing, the league went back to a more traditional summit in Memphis.

Commissioner Britton Banowsky made headlines when he said his league was considering going to a nine-game league schedule to help it field a BCS buster. Part of the reasoning is because so many C-USA teams play difficult nonconference schedules against BCS teams. Everybody but UTEP plays at least 2 schools from BCS conferences this year.

But on the flip side, many of the C-USA programs are cash-strapped, so those BCS games give them guaranteed money that help the entire athletic department.

"Our coaches are pleading for it," Banowsky said. "But it's a difficult dynamic because there's an economic factor associated with [it] and you have to balance it. You have to pay for your athletic programs and you to have a good season ticket for the fans. It's challenging. We have talked about moving to a nine-game conference schedule, which may help moderate it."

Sure, adding another league game and taking away a game against a BCS opponent could help a team go undefeated. But it could also serve to hinder strength of schedule and its standing in the computer rankings. Take Houston as an example. It did well in 2009 with its difficult nonconference schedule, beating Oklahoma St., Texas Tech and Mississippi St. But it tripped up in Conference USA play. So a nine-game league schedule certainly would not have helped last season.

News and notes: UAB has got to find a replacement for QB Joe Webb, and fast. David Isabelle, Bryan Ellis, Emmanuel Taylor, Jonathan Perry Joe Bento are all competing for the starting job. Coach Neil Callaway wants to narrow the list soon. But there is no question losing Webb hurts. He had a combined 8,545 rushing and passing yards in his career and 65 total TDs. “There’s no doubt we’ll miss Joe Webb,” Callaway said.

Tulsa had its first losing season in five years, going 5-7, last season. But hopes are high for a turnaround in 2010. QB G.J. Kinne is on several preseason watch lists, and the Golden Hurricane return nine starters on offense. Coach Todd Graham called last season “humbling” and is hoping for a quick return to its winning ways.

UCF coach George O’Leary and UTEP coach Mike Price are the longest-serving coaches in Conference USA. Both are entering their seventh seasons at their respective schools. Hopes are high for UCF this season, but for UTEP the key is going to be improving on defense.

"If you want to watch a lot of fireworks, come watch our games," Price said. "We can score a lot of points, but we can't stop anybody on the other side. It's fast-break basketball at its best. If we can do anything defensively, we'll be a much better team and have a much better record."

SMU coach June Jones said the Mustangs would throw the ball even more now that Kyle Padron has another year experience. His team is a hot pick this season for the way it came on in 2009. That is fine with him. "We have a better chance now of sustaining because we have kids who know that feeling. You don't have to describe how to win. You have a whole locker room of kids who have done it.

"And, I just know that what we do works. And the guys have to love to come to work. And these kids do right now."

Keenum did his best to deflect the Heisman talk. Houston is considered the favorite to win C-USA because he returns. "Preseason stuff is very cool and that's definitely an honor, but the ones that really matter are at the end of the season,” he said. “The season is a long season, you know 14 weeks is a long time. We need to play at a high level each week and we'll take it week by week."

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