NCF Nation: Dwight Dasher

Miami (Ohio) beat Middle Tennessee 35-21 in the Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: Turnovers have hurt Middle Tennessee all season, and they hurt the Blue Raiders in the Bowl against Miami. They ended up with five turnovers -- including one interception returned for a touchdown. Middle Tennessee also failed to take advantage of several other opportunities, including a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter that gave it the ball at its own 44. After Middle Tennessee punted, Miami simply wore down the defense on the next drive, capping the game with an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended when Austin Boucher threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Nick Harwell. Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher was ineffective, throwing four second-half interceptions, while Boucher played well and moved to 4-0 as a starter since taking over for Zac Dysert (ribs). The RedHawks became the first team in FBS history to go from double-digit losses (1-11) to double-digit wins (10-4) in consecutive seasons.

Turning point: Trailing 28-21, the Middle Tennessee defense came up with a huge stop after Evan Harris' interception gave Miami the ball deep in Blue Raiders territory. Miami set up for a 32-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked. Middle Tennessee could not take advantage of the mistake and never got any closer.

Player of the game: Boucher. Yes, he threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone at the end of the first half. But he also made the big plays when they counted and finished 22-of-36 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. It really is incredible that he has only started four games in his career.

Unsung hero of the game: Miami cornerback Dayonne Nunley. His 52-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter gave Miami its first lead of the game at 21-14. He also had a fumble recovery a play after Boucher threw his second interception to give the ball right back to his team.

What Miami learned: The RedHawks can hang their hat on an outstanding season, and were able to win the game despite the events of the last month. Coach Mike Haywood resigned to take a job at Pittsburgh, only to be fired following domestic assault charges. Interim coach Lance Guidry did a nice job leading the team, with new head coach Don Treadwell watching from the press box. There is plenty of young talent on this team, but you can be sure there will be a quarterback battle in the spring between Boucher and Dysert. Harwell should be a preseason All-MAC selection.

What Middle Tennessee learned: Dasher simply never recovered to be the quarterback he was in 2009 after sitting out the first four games of the season for violating NCAA rules. The Blue Raiders had too many turnovers and too many penalties this season as well. Now they must prepare for life after Dasher, running back Phillip Tanner and Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Jamari Lattimore. Bowl 3 keys

January, 5, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys each for Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio) headed into the Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.

Middle Tennessee (6-6)

1. Get Dwight Dasher going. That has been easier said than done this season. Dasher has had an inconsistent season after being suspended the first four games for violating NCAA rules. He did play well in the finale against FIU, so the Blue Raiders are hoping he can pick up where he left off. But he did show signs of rust when he returned after his four weeks off, so it will be interesting to see whether the same rust returns with such a long layoff between games. One of the big keys will be to break contain and make plays with his legs, something that he has not done as much this season as he did in 2010.

2. Contain Miami running back Thomas Merriweather. The RedHawks have relied more on their run game with Zac Dysert out, and Merriweather has responded with three of his best games of the season. Still, with a redshirt freshman quarterback in Austin Boucher starting once again for Miami, you can bet the Blue Raiders will want to shut down Merriweather and make Boucher beat them with his arm. To be successful, not only will Miami have to put pressure on Boucher with Jamari Lattimore, they will have to account for Miami receivers Nick Harwell and Armand Robinson, one of the finest duos in the MAC. The two combined for 1,766 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

3. Limit the mistakes. Middle Tennessee has been a turnover machine this season, ranking last in the FBS in turnover margin. The Blue Raiders have given the ball away 33 times and taken it away only 17, a large reason why they had a .500 season this year. Miami, meanwhile, is at plus-8 on the season in turnover margin, so it is even more imperative in this game for the Blue Raiders to hold onto the ball.

Miami (Ohio) (9-4)

1. Make life easy for Boucher. There is no question that Boucher has filled in well as the starter since Dysert went down with a rib injury in November. Boucher has started three games and won all three, thanks in part to an increased reliance on the run game and Merriweather -- who has posted two 100-yard games with Boucher as the starter. It will be important to get Merriweather going early, to help open up passing lanes for Boucher and keep the Middle Tennessee defense honest. Balance is a must for Miami to be successful in this game.

2. Block defensive end Jamari Lattimore. That is no easy task. Lattimore was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He also ranks third on the team in tackles with 64. Lattimore has good speed, and should be able to take advantage of that against an offensive line that has given up 34 sacks this season, one of the worst in the country. Left tackle Matt Kennedy is on the hot seat.

3. Intangibles. There are a couple of questions for Miami headed into the game that have nothing to do with what will happen on the field. First, how will the team do with interim coach Lance Guidry on the sideline guiding the team? Mike Haywood is the coach who led this squad to the biggest turnaround in the NCAA this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4. But he resigned to coach at Pittsburgh and has since been fired following being arrested on a domestic violence charge. Northern Illinois responded with an interim coach at the helm in its win over Fresno State, so the same could happen here. Also, none of these players have been in a bowl game before, so it will be important for them to keep their poise early on this game.
Miami (Ohio) is making its first bowl appearance since 2004, while the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are in a bowl game for the second straight season. While the RedHawks were a surprise winner of the MAC championship game, Middle Tennessee needed a win in the season finale against FIU to become bowl-eligible, to salvage what had been a disappointing season. The Blue Raiders had been picked to win the Sun Belt, but an early-season suspension to quarterback Dwight Dasher, injuries and turnover problems plagued the team throughout. Here is a quick preview of the matchup in the Bowl on Thursday night in Mobile, Ala.

WHO TO WATCH: Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher. This has been a nightmare of a season for Dasher, who went into the year with some dark-horse Heisman buzz. Instead, he was suspended for the first four games of the season because he improperly accepted a $1,500 loan. When he returned, he was not the same quarterback who lit up the opposition in 2009. He looked rusty and tentative and could not get much going with his legs, and had to fight through injuries as well. But he played a terrific game against FIU, throwing for a season-high 244 yards. Overall, he threw six touchdown passes to 14 interceptions, was sacked 17 times and averaged a career-low 3.6 yards a carry with seven rushing touchdowns. He has got to play well for Middle Tennessee to have a chance.

WHAT TO WATCH: Middle Tennessee run game versus Miami (Ohio) run defense. The last time we saw the RedHawks, they were doing a terrific job shutting down one of the top rushing offenses in the country in Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game. The Huskies only had 92 yards rushing, well below their season average. One of the big keys in this game is going to be able to shut Dasher down in the running game and make him beat you with his arm. Middle Tennessee also has capable runners in Phillip Tanner, D.D. Kyles and Benjamin Cunningham, so the RedHawks have major work cut out for them. Watch for defensive tackle Austin Brown.

WHY WATCH: The Sun Belt has owned the MAC in bowl play this season, going 2-0 in the other bowl matchups. Troy ran all over Ohio, while FIU needed a last-second field goal to beat Toledo. So you have to watch and see if the Sun Belt -- the least regarded of all 11 conferences -- can go ahead and finish unbeaten in bowl play.

PREDICTION: Miami 27, Middle Tennessee 20. I have watched both bowl games involving Sun Belt-MAC matchups. But Miami gets the edge here because it has been the more consistent team throughout the season. You never know what you are going to get with Middle Tennessee. I think the Miami defense makes the difference. Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (6-6) vs. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (9-4)

Jan. 6, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Nation blogger Andrea Adelson’s take: Miami had the best turnaround in the country, going from 1-11 to 9-4 and MAC champions.

The RedHawks needed Ohio to lose to Kent State in its regular-season finale to get into the MAC title game and the Bobcats obliged. Mike Haywood has done an unbelievable job there, instilling discipline and making sure his players stay out of trouble off the field.

Up in the air is whether starting QB Zac Dysert will be ready for the bowl game. He has missed the last three games with a lacerated spleen. Redshirt freshman Austin Boucher has been good in his place, throwing for 333 yards in the MAC title game.

The defense has gotten better and better, and a huge key in this game is its ability to shut down the Middle Tennessee running game. That’s what Miami did to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game.

The Blue Raiders needed a win over FIU on Saturday to become bowl eligible for the second straight season. They were a popular preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, but then dynamic QB Dwight Dasher was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the season for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. He wasn't the same after his return -- 6 TDs, 14 INTs, career-low 3.6 yards a carry -- although he had his best game of the season against the Panthers. Last season, Dasher had an awesome game in the New Orleans Bowl and became the fourth player in NCAA history last season to pass for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards.

Middle Tennessee has had turnover problems all year, ranking last in the country in turnover margin. Miami has been one of the best.

Lunchtime Links

November, 19, 2010
Boise State has another shot to impress some voters as it hosts Fresno State tonight in a nationally televised game. One potential problem: bad weather is expected.

Now on to some links:

Air Force ended its season with a 35-20 comeback win against UNLV.

Boise State linebacker Derrell Acrey knows it's his time to shine with Byron Hout out for the season.

Fresno State has not won in Boise since 1984.

Does TCU belong in the title game? Here are the pros and cons.

Utah is feeling a sense of urgency.

SMU's seniors have been through a long journey to get the program where it is today.

Hawaii is talking to the Mountain West about joining as a football only member.

Should Middle Tennessee bench Dwight Dasher?

Navy safety Emmett Merchant laments missing Senior Day. Merchant ended his career because of concerns posed by multiple concussions.

Western Michigan is paying for recruiting mistakes from the 2006 and 2007 classes.

Non-AQ What to Watch: Week 7

October, 14, 2010
Come one, come all for your Top 10 non-AQ storylines for Week 7:

1. What will the first BCS standings reveal? The first rankings come out on Sunday, but they were a big topic of discussion this week, when ESPN BCS guru Brad Edwards projected that No. 3 Boise State would be ranked No. 1. Nobody expects that to last should everybody else remain undefeated, but it serves as a validation for the schedule the Broncos have played thus far. They have San Jose State this Saturday, but keep in mind their future opponents have a combined record of 21-19. Virginia Tech and Oregon State are also looking pretty strong.

2. Can Nevada handle a big test at Hawaii? This is a classic reverse matchup -- a team that loves to run in the Pistol offense versus a team that loves to pass in the run 'n' shoot offense. Which wins? You have to give the edge to the team that runs. Nevada will be able to chew up clock and get pressure on Bryant Moniz, but there is no question this is going to be a tough game. Nevada has not beaten the Warriors in Hawaii since 1948.

3. Can Air Force keep its winning streak going against San Diego State? The Aztecs struggled against the run last week in a loss to BYU, as the Cougars had 62 carries and held the ball for 45 minutes. San Diego State defensive coordinator Rocky Long said his team missed way too many tackles, and that led to way too many yards after contact. That is going to have to be corrected and fast against the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. The triple option is a different run game to handle, and Tim Jefferson had made a huge difference. The Aztecs cannot afford to make many mistakes.

4. Style points this week for TCU? Coach Gary Patterson made headlines for telling BYU to be careful what it wished for when it came to independence. Now the two schools play for the final time as Mountain West conference rivals. There probably is no love lost here, as Patterson said there is no shot TCU would play an independent BYU. But Patterson has been adamant that he will not roll up style points on anyone. Perhaps the better question to ask is whether TCU can get is third straight shutout.

5. More offensive fireworks for Utah in the second quarter? You may not have heard this yet, but Utah is outscoring teams 101-7 in the second quarter this season. Coach Kyle Whittingham has no explanation for the outburst. Can the trend continue Saturday against Wyoming?

6. Tougher start to the season -- Wyoming or San Jose State. The Cowboys are facing Utah, the fourth team to be ranked in the Top 10 at the time they played -- more than any other team in the country. The Utah game follows losses to Texas (No. 5 at the time), No. 3 Boise State and No. 4 TCU. Utah is No. 10 in the coaches’ poll. San Jose State comes close. The Spartans are playing their fifth ranked team in Boise State after having played Nevada, Utah, Wisconsin and Alabama.

7. Can Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher find his rhythm? His season debut last week against Troy was less than spectacular, going 22-of-37 for 172 yards with an interception, and gaining 27 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns. There is not much relief this week as the Blue Raiders go on the road to play Georgia Tech.

8. Can Temple rebound? The Owls lost 31-17 to Northern Illinois last week, and coach Al Golden ripped his team afterward for showing no passion or sense of urgency. He also said he was going to have lineup changes, playing guys who showed the heart and effort he wanted to see out of his starters. He also sounded frustrated with the slow recovery of running back Bernard Pierce, who has been hampered with a sprained ankle. Matt Brown has done well in his place. Temple plays Bowling Green on Saturday in a game it should win.

9. Can Houston quarterback David Piland win his first game as a starter? Coach Kevin Sumlin is sticking with Piland, after initially starting Terrance Broadway when Case Keenum went out for the season with a torn ACL. Piland and Houston lost to Mississippi State last week and face in-city rival Rice on Saturday. Piland is going to need more help from the run game. The Cougars only had 47 yards rushing against the Bulldogs.

10. How much longer can Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore stay atop the Heisman hunt? As long as Boise State keeps winning, Moore will most likely get an invite to New York. He appeared at the top of an straw poll after Denard Robinson slipped last week in a loss to Michigan State. Moore has 14 touchdowns and just one interception this season.

Lunchtime Links

October, 7, 2010
UCF beat down UABon Wednesday night. More mid-week football ahead with Nebraska-Kansas State Thursday night. Big 12 blogger David Ubben and I will be live chatting so come on by.

Now on to some links:

UAB takes a backward step in the loss.

Is this George O'Leary's best team at UCF?

TCU is Texas' lone star in college football.

SMU running back Zach Line has been a huge boost for the Mustangs.

Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher is expected to play against Georgia Tech despite a dislocated left pinkie. Further testing showed no breaks in his hand.

Nevada has stayed healthy this season thanks to a commitment on the practice field and in the weight room. Its opponent this weekend has not been as fortunate.

Western Michigan starting right tackle Dann O'Neill is out for Saturday's game against Ball State with a sprained ankle.

UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could become the school's all-time leading passer Saturday against Rice.

Other conference links:


Big 12

Big East

Big Ten


Troy in Sun Belt driver's seat

October, 6, 2010
Troy completed dominated Middle Tennessee in its 42-13 win Tuesday night, putting itself in the driver's seat in the Sun Belt race.

What else is new?

The Trojans (3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt) have now beaten the Blue Raiders (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) five straight times, and have won 12 straight Sun Belt games. They are going for their fifth straight conference title.

This season was supposed to be Middle Tennessee's year, but things have not gone exactly to plan. Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended for the first four games of the season for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. He made his return Tuesday night, but it was one to forget on a "Black Out" night in Murfreesboro.

“That is really important. They were picked No.1 in the Sun Belt, but I think it was more of a 'clear out' than a 'black out,'" Troy receiver Tebiarus Gill said.

Dasher dislocated the pinkie finger on his left hand on the second drive of the game and missed the rest of the first quarter. When he returned, Middle Tennessee was down 14-0. The Blue Raiders could not muster anything on offense, even with Dasher back. He looked rusty and out of sorts, and so did his teammates.

They had just 82 yards of total offense in the first half and ended the game with 207, including just 28 on the ground in the face of an attacking Troy defense. Dasher, who passed for 2,500 yards and ran for 1,000 yards last season, had 14 carries for a team-high 27 yards and went 22-of-37 for 172 yards.

He has traditionally struggled against Troy, and Tuesday night was no exception. Dasher was also sacked four times.

“We spent all week focusing on Dasher because we knew he was going to be a big key to their offense," said Troy linebacker Jacoby Thomas, who had two sacks. "We came in here wanting to go after him with blitzes and we blitzed him all night."

Meanwhile, Troy quarterback Corey Robinson continued to excel, going 26-of-37 for 259 yards with three touchdowns. Jerrel Jernigan, who was limited with an elbow injury, still had four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. He also became the Sun Belt's all-time leading receiver with 2,730 yards, passing North Texas’ Johnny Quinn.

One bit of bad news for Troy: Backup quarterback Jamie Hampton is out for the season after breaking his leg. Hampton was injured on an 8-yard carry in the second quarter and will undergo surgery Wednesday. He has played in every game as a change of pace to Robinson, but coach Larry Blakeney fears his career could be over.

Lunchtime Links

October, 5, 2010
It's game day in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Who you got, Middle Tennessee or Troy?

Dwight Dasher returns for the Blue Raiders.

Middle Tennessee has called for a Blackout game. Players and coaches will be in black, and fans have been asked to dress in black, too.

Troy quarterback Corey Robinson has overcome a lot since his mother died a year ago.

Teams are copying Nevada's Pistol formation.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said core differences led him to fire defensive coordinator Jamie Hill.

East Carolina redshirt freshman Justin Dixon is out for the season with a knee injury, leaving the Pirates thin at defensive end.

San Jose State quarterback Jordan LaSecla practiced Monday despite a rib injury and will start against Nevada if he is healthy.

Western Michigan has suspended starting safety Doug Wiggins and starting cornerback Damond Smith after the two got into a fight during a loss to Idaho. The two came to blows during the game in a dispute over how a play should have been covered. Coach Bill Cubit said the two have shown remorse, but he is undecided on how long their suspensions will last.

Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin is in a battle with Terrance Owens to keep his starting job.

Louisiana Tech will make a game-time decision on who starts at quarterback this weekend. It could be Ross Jenkins, last year's starter.

Former Navy football player Brendan Looney was laid to rest Monday alongside his roommate, Travis Manion, at Arlington National Cemetary. Looney was killed two weeks ago in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Dwight Dasher figures he will be nervous before Middle Tennessee plays Troy Tuesday night in a big Sun Belt conference showdown.

Who can blame him? It has been 10 months since he played in a football game, the first four contests of his senior season gone while he served an NCAA suspension for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan.

[+] EnlargeDwight Dasher
Aaron M. Sprecher/Icon SMIDwight Dasher will get his first start of the season Tuesday night against Troy.
Dasher came into the season with high hopes and some outside Heisman buzz as one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country, and it pained him to be in the meeting rooms and on the sideline knowing he could do nothing but watch.

But the season is far from over.

Middle Tennessee managed to go 2-2 without him, and is 1-0 in conference play going into the Troy game. This matchup could ultimately decide who ends up winning the league. Troy (2-2, 1-0) has won four straight conference championships, including four straight over the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee was the preseason pick to win it all.

“I mean we want to beat them bad,” Dasher said in a phone interview. “We’re trying to go out there and win, and be the conference champs this year.”

Dasher has plenty of motivation on all fronts. He is eager to get his season started, and has spent extra time at practice working with his receivers to try to shed some of the rust. The time off between the win over Louisiana on Sept. 25 has certainly helped because it has given Dasher extra time to get reps with the first team.

He does not anticipate being rusty, but coach Rick Stockstill knows it is expecting a lot to believe Dasher will be on top of his game.

“You can only simulate game time situations in practice so much and there’s nothing like getting out there and playing,” Stockstill said. “He hasn't played a live game since December. I'm sure there will be some rust but he's had great week of practice.”

There is also motivation to change the way he has played against Troy. Dasher has never had a good game against the Trojans. In a 31-7 loss last year, he was 24-of-44 for 245 yards with a touchdown, but was shut down in the run game, with 18 carries for 53 yards. He played sparingly his freshman year and came off the bench his sophomore year but did poorly in relief.

“They have keyed in on me a lot, not wanting me to run the ball,” said Dasher, who became the fourth player in NCAA history last season to pass for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 yards.

“So they’ll bring a little pressure. Our offensive line has to step it up and pick it up. If they do that, I’m going to have a good game.”

The Middle Tennessee offensive line has been banged up, so that is going to be a huge key in the game. Troy coach Larry Blakeney knows his team has to prepare differently with Dasher back on the field simply because he runs the ball more than his replacements did.

“We will have to prepare well for the draw, the power and the trap where he has the ball in his hands,” he said. “Sometimes they will just line him up and run it right or left. He is also not bad throwing the ball. We had a good game against him last year, but he is a viable guy who makes a difference.”

As for Troy, the Trojans have one of the top all-purpose players in the country in Jerrel Jernigan. He needs seven receptions to break the school record of 215 held by behind Danny Grant (1966-69) and 218 yards to break the career yards mark of 2,907 that Grant also holds.

But much of the spotlight will be on Dasher and how he does in his return.

“I’m ready to get back out there and play, give everything I got especially the game I’m coming back for,” Dasher said.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

October, 4, 2010
Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 4.

The good: Air Force is ranked for the first time under coach Troy Calhoun, joining the AP poll at No. 25 after its big 14-6 win against Navy. There are now five non-AQ teams ranked and three in the Top 10, with Boise State at No. 4, TCU at No. 5 and Utah at No. 10.

Miami of Ohio (3-2) is 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2007. The Red Hawks are one of the youngest teams in the country. Coach Mike Haywood estimates he had between 45 and 48 true freshmen, redshirt freshman and sophomores on his 65-man roster in its 27-21 win against Kent State last Saturday. “When you have a young team you don’t take anything,” Haywood said.

[+] EnlargeGary Anderson
AP Photo/Jim UrquhartCoach Gary Andersen and Utah State have reason to be excited after beating BYU.
Utah State beat BYU for the first time since 1993, and even though BYU is down, coach Gary Andersen will take it. Fans stormed the field afterward, and he said the victory is a huge boost for recruiting and fan support for the Aggies. “For us to get a win over BYU is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz keeps putting up video game numbers for the Warriors. Hawaii is No. 1 in the country in passing offense, averaging 431 yards per game. Moniz had a career-high 532 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-21 win over Louisiana Tech last Saturday. He has over 300 yards passing in all his games but the opener against USC. That is because he left the game in the third quarter with a head injury.

The bad: Meanwhile, the Cougars dropped to 1-4 for the first time since 1973, and fired defensive coordinator Jamie Hill over the weekend. Coach Bronco Mendenhall will resume his coaching duties. BYU has been unable to do anything on offense and defense this season. BYU ranks No. 96 in total offense and No. 101 in total defense. The Cougars are also last in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of 259 yards a game. Hill told the Deseret News he was surprised the decision came in the middle of the season, but one former player said Hill had some personality conflicts with players.

None of the six non-AQ winless teams won this past weekend. Western Kentucky was idle, but Eastern Michigan, Akron, FIU, New Mexico State and New Mexico all lost.

The heartache: You have got to feel for North Texas, which played Louisiana a day after freshman walk-on wide receiver Josh Rake died from injuries sustained in a car accident. This had already been a tough season, losing 10 starters to injury. Before Rake died, receiver Tyler Stradford got hurt when he tried to run from a pit bull at his apartment complex. Stradford leaped over a fence but landed on a lawn chair and had a bar stuck four inches into his chest, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

North Texas came back from a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit, scoring with 31 seconds left to make it 28-27. But the extra point attempt was blocked, and Louisiana won. The Mean Green have now lost eight games by seven points or less in the last two seasons. Now comes word that starting quarterback Riley Dodge has a fractured wrist and may require surgery, the third starting quarterback to get hurt for North Texas this season. Coach Todd Dodge is now preparing Chase Blaine to start.

A few more helmet stickers: Hawaii WR Kealoha Pilares set a new school record with 18 catches against Louisiana Tech, passing the previous mark of 16 set by Greg Salas last year against New Mexico State. Pilares also finished with a career-high 217 receiving yards, the seventh best performance in school history. … Arkansas State LB Javon McKinnon recorded a career-high 16 tackles against Louisville. … Ball State DE Robert Eddins had a career-high 4.5 sacks and seven total tackles in Ball State's 31-17 win at Central Michigan.

A few injury items to note: Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury, and coach Dave Clawson sounded unsure whether his player would be able to go at Ohio on Saturday. Schilz hasn’t thrown since last Wednesday. If he can’t go this week, Clawson said he would open up the quarterback competition. Aaron Pankratz went 12-of-37 for 167 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a loss to Buffalo. … Ohio WR LaVonn Brazill has a broken hand and is out. … Central Michigan linebacker Nick Bellore (ankle) is day to day. ... Utah State RB Michael Smith (turf toe) is out indefinitely and Andersen said he would see whether Smith is eligible for a medical redshirt.

Week 6 look ahead: Plenty of big conference games this week. It starts Tuesday night with Troy at Middle Tennessee in the return of Blue Raiders quarterback Dwight Dasher. On Wednesday, UAB travels to UCF. The Blazers have had three of their games come down to the final play, losing two. Big MAC showdown between Temple and Northern Illinois. San Diego State travels to BYU, and there also is the winless bowl: New Mexico against New Mexico State. Someone has to win. Right?

Video: Friday Four Downs

October, 1, 2010

Andrea Adelson looks at the top Non-AQ storylines in Friday Four Downs.

Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher had his appeal to reduce his four-game suspension rejected by the NCAA, so he must sit out tomorrow's game against Louisiana.

Dasher has been suspended four games for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. He is eligible to return for the huge conference showdown against Troy on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

Without Dasher, Middle Tennessee has struggled to find any consistency. The Blue Raiders are 1-2 and face a big test in their conference opener at the Ragin' Cajuns. Jeff Murphy and Logan Kilgore have both started at quarterback, and coach Rick Stockstill has yet to announce who will start Saturday.

Kilgore has been hampered with a toe injury, which forced him to miss the second game of the season against Austin Peay. He returned last week against Memphis, but was benched in favor of Murphy after throwing three interceptions in the loss.

Middle Tennessee also has taken a hit to its offensive line: center Alex Stuart (knee) could be out for the year, while tackle Mark Fisher (knee) is doubtful for this game, and guard Brandon McLeroy is questionable with several injuries.

One of the biggest problems, though, has been turnovers. Middle Tennessee is one of the worst in the country in turnover margin, having given the ball away 10 times and taken it away just twice. Its four turnovers against Memphis led directly to all of the Tigers' 24 points.

Middle Tennessee went into the season as the consensus pick to win the Sun Belt. If it truly wants to stay in that race, it has to beat Louisiana and just weather the storm until Dasher returns. The Blue Raiders should consider themselves fortunate that he will be back just in time for that game against the Trojans.

Lunchtime Links

September, 23, 2010
I had to wipe some Cheetos off my fingers to finish my lunch links ...

Boise State loves to play smash-mouth football.

BYU tries to avoid an uncharacteristically slow start.

Houston isn't going to get pity without Case Keenum.

Ball State coach Stan Parrish doesn't have a problem with his players using Twitter, as long as it doesn't become a distraction.

Ronnie Hillman is helping San Diego State get something that has been rare -- hype.

Tulane welcomes back suspended players for its big game against Houston.

Tulsa coach Todd Graham says his defense has been neglected while the team worked to build a powerful offense.

Louisiana isn't dwelling on the Dwight Dasher situation at Middle Tennessee.

Arkansas State and Troy match two wide-open offenses.

As long as Hawaii is bowl eligible, it will have a place in the Hawaii Bowl through at least 2013.

Other conference links:


Big 12

Big East

Big Ten


Non-AQ: What to watch, Week 4

September, 23, 2010
Another big game for Boise State this Saturday. Can the Broncos prove they are worthy again? That leads our top 10 non-AQ storylines to watch:

1. What does Boise State have to do to get a little respect -- aside from beating Oregon State? At this point, it seems as though winning is not going to be enough for the Broncos. They are the No. 3 team in the country, but many pundits believe they have hit their peak. Do they have to blow teams out? Do they need everybody else to implode? First order of business is to win, of course, but with all eyes on Boise State for the second time in a month, you can bet many folks around the country are going to want to see more than a close win.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
AP Photo/George FreyJake Heaps is set for his first start Saturday against Nevada.
2. How does Jake Heaps handle his first start at BYU? The quarterback decision was made for Bronco Mendenhall this week when Riley Nelson went out for the season with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. That leaves the true freshman Heaps in charge of what has been a very weak offense so far. Will one quarterback make a huge difference for the Cougars? They face a difficult task against Nevada on Saturday. Heaps has to be ready.

3. How does Terrance Broadway handle his first start at Houston? Broadway was thrown into the mix last week against UCLA when Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner were lost for the season with separate injuries. The true freshman played well, but now he will actually get the reps in practice and show what he can do leading this offense. Broadway was a four-star recruit once offered a scholarship to Alabama before an injury in high school. He chose Houston because the Cougars run a similar spread offense to what he ran in high school. First order of business is Tulane. Well, at least it’s not Mississippi State. That comes in two weeks.

4. How does SMU handle the TCU defensive front? The SMU offensive line has struggled in the first three games of the year, giving up 10 sacks. Wayne Daniels is off to a good start for the Horned Frogs, with 3.5 sacks, and the TCU defense is always good at applying pressure. You can bet that will be the game plan to rattle Kyle Padron and get him off rhythm.

5. Can Fresno State contain Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli? Heck, everybody else has seemed to contain him, why not the Bulldogs? Much credit goes to coach Pat Hill for his improved defensive unit this year. Chris Carter and Logan Harrell have combined for 6.5 sacks, but they have not quite played an opponent the caliber of Ole Miss just yet. Yes, Mississippi is better than Cincinnati.

6. Can the MAC pull off an upset against the Big Ten? There are eight MAC vs. Big Ten matchups this weekend. Two to watch: Northern Illinois at Minnesota and Bowling Green at Michigan. I would like Bowling Green’s chances a lot better if Matt Schilz was playing, but it seems you can throw any 11 players on the field and they will have an opportunity to gain some yards on a pretty poor Michigan defense. Minnesota has struggled this season, and that gives Northern Illinois the perfect opportunity.

7. Any chance FIU pulls the upset over Maryland? The Panthers have been oh-so-close against Rutgers and Texas A&M, taking fourth-quarter leads into both games. Their defense has set the tone early, but they simply fell short during crunch time. The Panthers just don’t have a good enough offense to be able to win these games.

8. UCF defense vs. Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas. Thomas ranks second in the nation in rushing, and UCF has the best defense in Conference USA. So what is going to give? No doubt the Knights will try to stack the box, and they have said this week the key is sure tackling. That is easier said than done. Though the Knights do have a good unit, they have struggled at times against the run and are giving up an average of 128.7 yards a game.

9. Will Dwight Dasher be able to play for Middle Tennessee against Louisiana? The NCAA has ruled Dasher must sit out four games for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. The school has filed an appeal, and that ruling is expected to come either late tonight or tomorrow. The Blue Raiders are preparing as if he won’t be able to play, so Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy have gotten the majority of reps in practice. This is the conference opener for Middle Tennessee before a huge game Oct. 5 against Troy. Dasher will be eligible to return for that game against the Trojans.

10. How does Duke slow down Army DE Josh McNary? The Black Knights are hoping to win their third straight game away from home for the first time since 1966-67. They have a chance if Josh McNary continues to play well. The defensive end has five sacks in Army’s last two games. As a team, Army has seven sacks in those two games. Army could be 3-0 if not for a last-second field goal in a loss to Hawaii.