NCF Nation: Duke Ihenacho
Jordan in Akron, Ohio writes: Last year, Miami (Ohio) went from 1 win to 10 wins and the MAC championship. While unlikely, which one-win team from the previous season could repeat that success or at least, who do you see winning the most games? (Akron 1-11), (San Jose St. 1-12), (New Mexico 1-11) or (Memphis 1-11).
Andrea Adelson: Wow, this is a toughie! I do not see any of those teams getting to 10 wins this season. But I think San Jose State will finish with the best record among those four teams. While the Spartans have a question mark at quarterback right now, they return 18 starters. Now you might say that can't be good considering they won one game last season. But San Jose State had the injury bug hit them so hard last season, the team ended the season with 43 healthy scholarship players. This year, they have Duke Ihenacho back, a former first-team WAC selection. They also have WAC freshman of the year Keith Smith at linebacker, along with Pompey Festejo returning and everybody else on defense. The schedule is hard, but not nearly as difficult as it was last season. So if the Spartans stay healthy, they could be most improved among the four you mentioned.
Eric in Sacramento writes: Boise is in the Mountain West. Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are the contenders for the WAC championship and all will be heading towards the MWC next year. I believe a good way to say goodbye to one conference and hello to another is by winning the WAC this year. Who looks the strongest going into the season?
Adelson writes: I go back and forth on who I think is going to win the WAC this season between those three schools. Each has positives and negatives. Bryant Moniz returning to Hawaii is a huge plus, but he loses his best receivers and four starters on the offensive line. Will Nevada be able to ride the momentum of last season without Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua and Dontay Moch? How will Fresno State do with Derek Carr at quarterback and a defense that needs to get better more quickly. I am more inclined to go with Hawaii because of the system in place, and I think the defense is going to be solid. But Nevada gets Hawaii and Fresno State at home, so that could make the difference.
Alex in Cranston, R.I., writes: Hey Andrea, keep up the awesome work you do at ESPN!!! I love reading your columns on the non-AQs. They are very detailed, and you definitely know your stuff. I happen to have a question about Hawaii (I know, I'm from Rhode Island, it's odd). Obviously they have a relatively weak SOS, such as opening against Colorado, Washington, UNLV, and FCS opponent UC Davis, and with a down WAC because of Boise State's departure, the WAC really is only a 3 horse race, along with Nevada and Fresno State. Hawaii is the only contender from the WAC to return their starting QB, Bryant Moniz, who threw for 5,000 yards last year, and is on the preseason Watch List for both the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell awards. My question to you is this: If Hawaii is able to run the table in the WAC, and beat BYU the last game of the year to finish 13-0 (7-0), is there a realistic chance that they could maybe sneak into a BCS bowl? Or is their schedule too weak to be considered for that? From my perspective, it won't matter how hard they try this year, because they'll probably play an 8th home game in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl as they usually do, despite being undefeated.
Adelson writes: A lot depends on what happens with the other non-AQs. If Hawaii is the only undefeated non-AQ when the season ends, then the Warriors would get into a BCS game automatically if they finish in the Top 12 of the final BCS standings. But if you are asking whether an undefeated Hawaii would get in over an undefeated Boise State or undefeated TCU, that answer would be no. It is more than just the strength of schedule (which would be weaker). Those two programs are going to start the season ranked and with national attention on them already. Hawaii would have a long climb up. Plus the Warriors have to fight the perception that they are just a gimmicky team playing six hours behind everyone else. Hardly anyone gets to see them on TV. But as you know, nothing is impossible. See: 2007.
Well, Alabama only beat the Spartans 48-3 at home, but look at Wisconsin! Only 27-14 when you compare that to a 48-0 Boise State win or 56-3 Utah win.
The Spartans were the only FBS teams to play three top 15 teams in September, but it is a sad commentary on the BCS that such score comparisons are being used for or against one team. Caught in the middle of it all is San Jose State, a team that has been beset by one injury after another. This week, San Jose State (1-6) lost another three players to season-ending injuries, bringing its season total to a whopping 15. Nearly all of those players are starters or key backups.
"I’ve never see anything like this in my life, and I hope we never see it again," first-year coach Mike MacIntyre said. "We don't have 50 scholarship guys on the field. It's tough to compete."
The latest starter to get hurt was running back Lamon Muldrow, the team's leading rusher. He tore his ACL in the loss to Boise State. Reserve linebacker Ryno Gonzalez (knee) also got hurt in the game, and OT John Konye is also done (neck).
The injury parade began back in the fall and hasn't stopped. Among the key players out: All-WAC first-team safety Duke Ihenacho (foot), starting center Robbie Reed (knee), starting linebacker Pompey Festejo (foot), starting tight end Ryan Otten (toe), starting
DE Mohamed Marah (shoulder), starting LB Kyler O’Neal (knee), LB Braden Storaasli (knee) and DE Joe Nigos (elbow).
In addition, quarterback Jordan La Secla has been dealing with bruised ribs.
"It has started affecting our guys a little bit because they see them go down," MacIntyre said. "It's disheartening."
Many of the players who have gotten hurt are seniors, so that has also hurt team leadership. Eighteen freshmen have played this season. Five true freshmen are starting, the most for a San Jose State team in the 21st century.
"I never anticipated all the injuries," MacIntyre said. "A lot of injuries happened to our leaders who have played a lot of football so they’re not in the locker room, they’re not on the practice field, so they’re in civilian clothes. It truly is baptism by fire and they learn as it happens to them.
"It’s been hard to develop a lot of continuity. As far as the future goes, we have a lot of young men playing a lot of football, learning from their mistakes. They’re starting to understand what it takes to play major college football."
Unselfish Terrance Cain makes sure there is no quarterback controversy at Utah. Jordan Wynn has resumed throwing, but coach Kyle Whittingham won't name a starter before Saturday's game against San Jose State.
The MAC could be expanding in the near future.
Fate has stepped in to pick BYU's starting quarterback.
As expected, Terrance Broadway gets the nod as Houston's starting quarterback.
San Jose State has lost its best player for the season. Safety Duke Ihenacho broke his foot last week against Southern Utah. He is eligible for a medical redshirt.
Middle Tennessee doesn't look like the runaway pick to win the Sun Belt.
UAB receiver Jackie Williams made the game-winning catch last week against FAU with a hand injury -- and his grandmother sitting in the stands. It was the first time she had ever seen him play.
Athletic departments are relying more and more on student fees, according to this excellent investigative piece in USA Today.
Other conference links:
Four players from the nonautomatic qualifying schools were honored on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list Thursday.
The total watch list has 31 players from the FBS and the award is given annually to the nation's best defensive back.
Toledo safety Barry Church is the only player on this year's watch list who also made last year's watch list. Church was second on Toledo with 93 total tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. He had one interception.
Safety Kyle Wilson led Boise State with five interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 15 passes defended. The 15 passes defended ranked 18th nationally.
East Carolina safety Van Eskridge led the Pirates with 59 solo tackles and four interceptions. He had 97 total tackles.
San Jose State safety Duke Ihenacho led the Spartans and the WAC with five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. He ranked 19th nationally in interceptions.
The award's field will be narrowed to 10-12 semifinalists on the first Monday in November and the three finalists will be selected the Monday before Thanksgiving.
In the seven years of the award, no player from the nonautomatic qualifying schools has won.
2009 JIM THORPE AWARD WATCH LIST
Barry Church, Toledo
Van Eskridge, East Carolina
Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State
Kyle Wilson, Boise State
If it had been left up to Edith Ihenacho, there wouldn't be a story to read here.
There would be no fabled tale about two brothers with little football experience defying odds to become two of the nation's best defensive players at their respective positions.
|AP Photo/Paul Sakuma|
|Carl Ihenacho, left, and his brother, Duke Ihenacho, are preparing for one of the biggest games of their college careers against No. 13 Boise State.|
No, if it were left up to Edith Ihenacho, the mother of San Jose State defensive stars Carl and Duke Ihenacho, who lead the nation in tackles for loss (Carl) and interceptions (Duke), her sons would have never played football.
"We tried to persuade my mom to let us play Pop Warner because all our family members were doing it," said Carl Ihenacho, a junior defensive end for the Spartans. "We went to one practice. We didn't even get to suit up. We just went to go watch a practice, and she'd seen a head-on collision by two younger kids, and she just walked us home and we never went back out to play football again."
Carl and Duke followed their love of baseball, which turned into basketball as they got older and were satisfied with flag football games with relatives. But as they got into high school, the urge to play football surfaced again.
By the time Duke was going into his junior year, he realized that he wasn't going to get a scholarship to play basketball at a major college. Steve Garcia, Duke's gym teacher at Serra High School near Los Angeles, was the defensive coordinator on the football team and urged Duke to try out based on his athleticism.
He was tired of pleading for his mother's permission to be a part of a sport he longed to play, so as a 16-year-old, Duke just threw caution to the wind and tried out.
"When you're 16, there's not much your mom can say to have you not play football," said Duke, now a sophomore linebacker. "If she let me play basketball, I didn't see why not let me play football. I was old enough and strong enough to withstand the physical contact of football. It was a decision I made by myself. I didn't ask her, I just told her. She said she didn't like it."
Had it not been for that decision, and later Duke's deft persuasion of his older brother Carl, who was a senior at the time, to join him, the Ihenacho brothers might not have realized that football was their calling. San Jose State assistant Charles Nash might not have recruited Carl and Duke, who have become the anchors of the nation's 13th-ranked total defense.
And the nation would not have the opportunity to see them play in the biggest game of their careers to date against No. 13 Boise State on ESPN this Friday.