NCF Nation: Eric Page

Military Bowl: Toledo 42, Air Force 41

December, 28, 2011

You know that old axiom that defenses usually have the advantage in bowl games because they have more time to prepare? Yeah, about that... Toledo and Air Force made that widely-held belief look silly with an 83-point shootout in Washington in the Military Bowl - presented by Northrop Grumman. Toledo won 42-41. Here's how it all went down at RFK:

How the game was won: It depends which quarter you were watching. After both teams came firing out of the gates on offense, only one offensive touchdown was scored in the third quarter. Both defenses stiffened in the second half. Toledo got touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams. But ultimately, it came down to a coaching decision in the final minute. Read on.

Turning point: Air Force scored with 52 seconds left in the game, cutting its deficit to 42-41. The Falcons came out in kicking formation, presumably to attempt the tying PAT and look to force overtime. But Air Force coach Troy Calhoun opted to fake the PAT. Holder David Baska took the snap, but was hit by Jayrone Elliott and fumbled out of bounds. The onside kick attempt came up short.

Second guessing: None here. Loved Calhoun's call.

Player of the game: Toledo sophomore wide receiver Bernard Reedy had a monster game -- just four catches, but 125 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 31.3 yards per catch. He had just six touchdowns on the season heading into the game.

Unsung hero(s): Toledo's Eric Page had 13 catches for just 59 yards. But his 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was a huge momentum swing. Adonis Thomas had more than 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game with a 127-yard performance.

Stat of the game: 56. That was the point total at the half. It was the highest scoring first 30 minutes of any bowl game since 2004.

Stat of the game, take 2: 5-of-6. That was Air Force's fourth-down efficiency. Remarkably, they also had three touchdowns come on fourth down.

Military Bowl: Three Keys

December, 27, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for Air Force and Toledo in the Military Bowl on Wednesday:

Air Force (7-5)

1. Page-turner: Where's Eric Page? That's the question Air Force's secondary needs to be asking every snap. Stopping -- or at least slowing down -- the Toledo receiver has to be a top priority. As good as the Rockets are running the ball, they are just as efficient throwing to Page, who set a Toledo record with 112 catches this season -- which included a five-touchdown performance against Northern Illinois. Air Force doesn't give up a lot of yards in the air (162.7 per game); Page averages almost 10 catches and 94 yards per game. Something has to give.

2. Simple, tackle: One of the things that makes Air Force's secondary efficient is that its members tackle well and keep everything in front of them. The front seven is going to have to do the same against one of the best rushing teams in the country. In the season finale against Colorado State, Air Force gave up 321 rushing yards to a team that was in the bottom half nationally running the ball. Toledo will get its yards -- just as the Falcons will on offense -- so yards after contact for both teams will likely be the tipping point.

3. Lean on experience: Air Force has a lot of veterans with bowl-game experience. This is the fifth consecutive bowl game for the Falcons, who have won their past two -- which included a 14-7 victory over Georgia Tech in last year's Independence Bowl. Quarterback Tim Jefferson has amassed 28 wins in his career -- more than any other quarterback in Air Force history. It's that knowledge and leadership that could make the difference for the Falcons.

Toledo (8-4)

1. Discipline: Air Force is going to try to confuse Toledo with misdirection, counters and a wide variety of offensive formations. The Falcons will work the triple option from the shotgun and the pistol and put a variety of different players in motion and in the backfield. Knowing the option rules -- and actually adhering to them -- will be paramount. Defensive freelancing won't get it done. Only one team has held the Falcons to fewer than 200 yards this year (San Diego State, 195), but they have gone for at least 340 yards in half of their games, including a 595-yard (yes, 595) day against Tennessee State. Smart reads and defensive discipline should be Toledo's top priority.

2. Make a stand: Few teams in the nation have been hotter offensively over the past five games than Toledo -- which is averaging 52.8 points per game during that stretch. Here's the problem: the Rockets have also given up a ton of points -- 63 in consecutive games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. Yikes. The offense does its job, and does it well. Now the defense has to pick the offense up against an offensively efficient Air Force attack that averages 34.4 points per game and has put up 45 in each of its past two contests.

3. Win one for the new guy: Don't expect any drop-off in production with Tim Beckman's departure to become head coach at Illinois. Offensive coordinator-turned-head-coach Matt Campbell has been the brains behind Toledo's offensive resurgence of late. His quick hire ensures continuity in the program and you can bet he and his players will be excited to get his head-coaching career off with a bang.
Toledo Rockets (8-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (7-5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 10, 2011
Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Austin Davis, QB, Southern Miss. Set a school record for passing efficiency and was responsible for four total touchdowns in a 63-35 win at Navy. Davis threw for 283 yards on 21-of-23 passing with three touchdowns, and also rushed for 75 yards on 12 carries with a running score.

Defense: Phillip Steward, LB, Houston. Had a pair of key interceptions in a 56-3 win against East Carolina, the Cougars fewest points allowed in a conference game since 2004.

Special Teams: Marques Wheaton, DB, Southern Miss. Blocked a field goal and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown, his second straight week with a score.


Offense: Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame. Went 23-of-32 for 261 yards and four touchdowns -- all of which came in the first two quarters -- in a 59-33 win against Air Force. Rees is the first Notre Dame player to throw for four touchdown passes in the first half since Brady Quinn on Sept. 25, 2004.

Defense: Jamoris Slaughter, S, Notre Dame. Forced a fumble on the Cadets’ first drive of the contest, and later recorded an interception -- his first of the season and the second of his career.

Special teams: Justin Sorensen, PK, BYU. Went 2-for-2 on field goal attempts (hitting from 42 and 45 yards) and made all three of his extra-point attempts.


East Division

Offense: Branden Oliver, RB, Buffalo. Ran for a career-high 179 yards on 34 carries and scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 5:45 remaining on fourth-and-1, to help lift Buffalo to a 38-37 win against Ohio.

Defense: Stephen Johnson, LB, Temple. Led the Owls with a career-high 16 tackles, including a career-high eight solos, one sack and a career-high two tackles for a loss in a 42-0 win at Ball State.

Special teams: Matt Weller, K, Ohio. Tied a season-high with three field goals made in a 38-37 loss at Buffalo. His 43-yarder was his fourth field goal this season from 40 or more yards.

West Division

Offense: Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. Recorded his fourth-straight game with 10 or more catches and more than 100 yards with 12 receptions and 156 yards in a 45-21 win against Bowling Green. His four consecutive 100-yard receiving games ties the record set by Jamarko Simmons at the end of the 2006 and into the first three games of the 2007 season.

Defense: Ron Newcomb, DT, Northern Illinois. Had a career-high nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble in a 40-10 win against Kent State. He also blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.

Special teams: Eric Page, PR, Toledo. Returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan. The punt return for a touchdown was the first of his career.

Mountain West

Offense: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Moore went 23-of-31 for 254 yards and three touchdowns in just over two quarters of play in a 57-7 win at Fresno State.

Defense: Tekerrein Cuba, S, TCU. Cuba finished with a team-high eight tackles in the Horned Frogs’ 27-14 win at San Diego State. Cuba also had a tackle for loss, forced a fumble and broke up a pass.

Special teams: Ross Evans, K, TCU. Evans finished with nine points in a win at San Diego State, tying the Mountain West all-time scoring record of 356 set by former New Mexico running back DonTrell Moore (2002-05). Evans connected on field goals of 47 and 21 yards while making all three of his extra-point attempts.

Sun Belt

Offense: Chris Masson, QB, Louisiana. Masson stepped in for an injured Blaine Gautier on the first series of the game and led the Cajuns to a 31-17 win against Troy. He went 21-of-29 for 211 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. The Cajuns have won five consecutive games and have tied the league record for best start to begin a season.

Defense: Kelcie McCray, S, Arkansas State. Had a career-high two interceptions against ULM to help lead the Red Wolves to their 24-19 victory. He also had a pass breakup and six tackles.

Special Teams: Don Jones, DB, Arkansas State. Jones blocked a punt and returned it 25 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter in a win over ULM.


Offense: Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State. Went 16-of-21 for 228 yards and a school-record tying five touchdowns in a 63-19 win against Wyoming. He also added 44 rushing yards on four carries. All five touchdown passes came in the first half as Utah State scored on its first eight possessions of the game.

Defense: Brett Roy, DT, Nevada. Set a career-high with 11 tackles, including four for a loss (one sack), in a 37-0 win against UNLV. Roy leads the nation in tackles for loss with 2.5 per game.

Special teams: Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech. Punted 10 times for a 48-yard average in a 24-11 win at Idaho. Allen had six punts inside the 20, including four inside the 10-yard line.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 26, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week as selected by each conference. The independent players are selected by a nationwide media panel.

Conference USA
Reggie Bullock, RB, East Carolina. Bullock rushed for a personal-best 169 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries to help East Carolina beat UAB 28-23.

Defense: Jamie Bender, S, UAB. Had 11 tackles and returned one interception 35 yards for a touchdown in a loss to East Carolina. That was the first defensive score for the Blazers since 2009.

Special teams: Danny Hrapmann, K, Southern Miss. Made three of four field goals (43, 35 and 27 yards), including two in the final quarter of a 30-24 victory over Virginia. He also converted a fake punt deep in the Golden Eagles' end zone and ran 31 yards for a first down.

Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame. Eifert set a career-high with eight receptions for a game-high 75 yards and a touchdown in a 15-12 win at Pittsburgh.

Defense: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU. Had eight tackles and a sack in a win over UCF.

Special teams: Cody Hoffman, WR/KR, BYU. Had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 24-17 win over UCF. That was BYU's first kickoff return touchdown since Oct. 17, 1998 -- a span of 161 games.


East Division

Offense: Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple. Ran for a school record and MAC record-tying five touchdowns in a 38-7 win at Maryland. Pierce eclipsed the 100-yard mark in rushing for the 12th time in his career and third time this season. He finished with 149 yards on 32 carries for five touchdowns.

Defense: Luke Wollet, S, Kent State. Had two interceptions while matching his season-high with eight tackles in a 33-25 win over South Alabama.

Special teams: Ray Hutson, WR, Bowling Green. Blocked a punt and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return in the Falcons’ 37-23 win at Miami (Ohio).

West Division

Co-Offense: Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan. Eric Page, WR, Toledo. White set his career record with 14 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown in a 23-30 loss at No. 24 Illinois. White became the fourth Bronco to have over 200 career catches and recorded his 14th 100-yard receiving game.

Page had a season-high 13 receptions and career-high 158 receiving yards in a 33-30 overtime loss at Syracuse. Page had 279 all-purpose yards, including 114 yards in kickoff returns.

Defense: Sean Baker, S, Ball State. Had eight tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one interception in a 48-21 victory over Army. He was a part of a Ball State defense that tied an NCAA single game record by not allowing Army to complete a pass in the game.

Special Teams: Jeremiah Detmer, K, Toledo. Kicked a 52-yard field goal in his first career attempt in a 33-30 overtime loss at Syracuse. The 52-yarder was the second-longest field goal in Toledo history.

Mountain West

Co-Offense: Chris Nwoke, RB, Colorado State, Deon Long, RB, New Mexico. Had 102 yards of total offense (85 rushing, 17 receiving) and scored two touchdowns in Colorado State’s 35-34 double-overtime victory at Utah State. Nwoke tied the game with a 1-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds left in regulation, then provided the game-winner with a 2-yard run on CSU’s second possession in overtime.

Long broke the school and Mountain West single-game record with 378 all-purpose yards in New Mexico’s overtime loss to Sam Houston State. Offensively, Long caught nine passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns, and returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.

Defense: Shaquil Barrett, LB, Colorado State. Had a team-high 14 tackles in a 35-34 double-overtime win at Utah State. He also added his first career fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Special teams: Tanner Hedstrom, LS, Colorado State. Hedstrom recovered two fumbles on muffed punts, including a critical takeaway to set up the game-tying score in Colorado State’s 35-34 double-overtime win at Utah State.

Sun Belt
Blaine Gautier, QB, Louisiana. In just his fourth career start, Gautier totaled 307 yards (221 passing/86 rushing) and tossed three touchdown passes to lead the offense in a 36-31 upset over FIU.

Defense: Chris Pickett, DB, Troy. Recovered a fumble and returned it for a 63-yard touchdown in a win over Middle Tennessee. Pickett finished the game with seven total tackles, including one for loss, and also broke up a pass.

Special Teams: Brian David, K, Arkansas State. Set a new Sun Belt and school record when he made six field goals in a 53-24 win over Central Arkansas. His 23 points scored in the game also set a league and school record for points scored in a single game by a kicker.

Bryant Moniz, QB, Hawaii. Set a new school record and tied an NCAA record with seven touchdown passes in the first half of a 56-14 win over UC Davis. Moniz also set a new school record with 424 passing yards in a half. He was 30-of-40, and did not play in the second half.

Defense: Travis Brown, LB, Fresno State. Made a career-high 11 tackles in Fresno State’s 48-24 win at Idaho. Brown led the Bulldog defense that allowed just 55 yards of total offense in the second half and 44 yards rushing for the whole game.

Special teams: Kevin Goessling, K, Fresno State. Made all six of his extra point attempts and both field goal attempts from 48 yards in the win at Idaho.

Halftime: Syracuse 13, Toledo 13

September, 24, 2011
Toledo has given Syracuse all it can handle, as the teams are tied headed into halftime. Here are a few first-half observations, and a few keys for Syracuse in the second half:

  • Syracuse has hurt itself in this game. The biggest mistake was on a failed snap in the first quarter. Ryan Nassib was moving up to the line to make a call, but the ball was snapped and Toledo recovered. That led to a 21-yard touchdown run from Morgan Williams to put the Rockets up 10-0.
  • The Orange have had several red-zone opportunities that they failed to cash in. On a third-and-7 from the Toledo 16, Nassib threw incomplete. Ross Krautman came on and made a 33-yard field goal to tie the game. Later in the second quarter, Nassib threw incomplete from the Toledo 14. Krautman made a 31-yard field goal instead.
  • Syracuse is playing without a few of its top players on defense. Starting safety Shamarko Thomas is out, while Chandler Jones and Olando Fisher are out again. Keon Lyn appeared to aggravate a shoulder injury late in the first half, and Ri'Shard Anderson hobbled off as well.
  • Prince-Tyson Gulley has provided a nice spark at running back, with 47 yards on five carries.

Keys for the second half:
  • Get Toledo off the field. The Rockets have held the ball for 7 more minutes and done a nice job converting on third down. The Rockets have had 12 third-down attempts already in one half, and have made eight.
  • Keep an eye on Eric Page. He already has 55 yards receiving in the first half and had a kickoff return called back because of a penalty. Page has been wide-open on several occasions, so he has to be contained.
  • Take advantage of red-zone opportunities. Syracuse has been able to move the ball but then stalls close to the goal line. Can't settle for field goals, even against Toledo.

Predictions: Big East Week 4

September, 22, 2011
I had a better weekend than the Big East did. Thanks to Louisville, I nailed the upset pick and went 6-1. Would have been perfect had UConn held onto its fourth-quarter lead. That makes me 19-4 through three weeks. There are some big nonconference games this weekend, so let us see how I think they will shake out:

NC State (2-1) at Cincinnati (2-1), 8 p.m., Thursday, ESPN. The Bearcats have a chance to redeem themselves after a disappointing performance against Tennessee in their previous nationally televised game. The secondary needs to play much better or Mike Glennon could have a big day. It is hard to get a gauge on both these teams. They have dropped their only contests against teams from AQ conferences. Last year, NC State had its way with Cincinnati. But this time around, the Bearcats will not be pushovers. They will take advantage of a depleted NC State defense to come out with a victory. Cincinnati 33, NC State 30.

Toledo (1-2) at Syracuse (2-1), noon, Saturday, ESPN3. The Orange should be on upset alert in this one, because Toledo is a talented team that threw a scare into Ohio State on the road a few weeks ago. The Rockets play two quarterbacks and have a speedy receiver/returner in Eric Page who has the potential to cause problems against a banged-up secondary. Kellen Moore picked the Rockets defense apart last week, and many of the big gains were on short screen passes or underneath routes. The Orange should use a similar game plan, especially with the way Ryan Nassib has played. Syracuse 27, Toledo 24.

Notre Dame (1-2) at Pitt (2-1), noon, ABC. The Panthers should be 3-0, but blew a 24-3 lead to Iowa last week and lost. Turnovers were the undoing of the Irish in their first two games, but they showed their potential last week against Michigan State. I fear for Pitt in this game because of the way the Irish have been able to pass the ball, averaging 289 yards a game. This is one area Pitt has struggled to defend so unless the Panthers make the Irish cough up the ball, I see a Notre Dame win. Notre Dame 27, Pitt 21.

Ohio (3-0) at Rutgers (1-1), 2 p.m., ESPN3. The Bobcats are one of the best teams in the MAC and run a unique style of offense that incorporates some of the Pistol, making it a challenge to defend. The defense is solid, too, and has a pretty decent pass rush, with seven sacks already on the season. The Scarlet Knights are going to try Savon Huggins a bit more at running back, but I think Chas Dodd to Mohamed Sanu will be the difference in this one. Rutgers 30, Ohio 21.

Connecticut (1-2) at Buffalo (1-2), 6 p.m., ESPN3. The Huskies have been dreadful on offense, and need to find some consistency at quarterback. Here is hoping coach Paul Pasqualoni comes to a decision and fast. The Bulls put a scare into Pitt in the season opener and are capable hitting some big passes. But the UConn defense is going to stop giving up the big plays which will help the Huskies win. UConn 24, Buffalo 17.

UTEP (2-1) at No. 18 USF (3-0), 7 p.m., ESPN3. The Bulls should not have much of a problem with UTEP, which has played three different quarterbacks already this season. One thing to watch is the USF offensive line against the UTEP front -- the Miners have nine sacks this season. They have an opportunistic defense as well, with six takeaways. But B.J. Daniels should have another big game. One note: UTEP has never won in the Eastern Time Zone. USF 45, UTEP 13.

No. 2 LSU (3-0) at No. 16 West Virginia, 8 p.m., ABC. Now we arrive at the game of the week. I have been getting questions about this game since my first day on the blog back in May, and have been anticipating it as much as you. I think the Mountaineers can absolutely hang with the Tigers. Geno Smith will make some big plays in the passing game. I bet Bruce Irvin picks up at least a sack. But to me, the big advantage is along the Tigers' defensive front. Their size and speed are a challenge, and they also rotate players in so they stay fresh. I think that is going to be the difference in the game. As much as I would love to pick an upset, I am going with LSU 24, West Virginia 20.
Boise State easily beat Toledo 57-14 early last season, but coach Chris Petersen walked off the field impressed with the Rockets.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Brian Losness/US PresswireBoise State coach Chris Petersen is impressed by Toledo.
"I remember thinking these guys are going to be good sooner than later," Petersen said earlier this week. "How they finished last season and the first two games have proven that out. It’s not surprising to this coaching staff how those guys are playing right now."

Indeed, the No. 4 Broncos go into their game at Toledo on Friday night (8 p.m., ESPN) prepared for an upset-minded team that nearly beat Ohio State last week and got the rest of the country talking. Toledo is not a revelation to those who follow the MAC. The Rockets were the preseason pick to win the conference, with 18 returning starters off a team that made a bowl appearance last season for the first time since 2005.

But playing well in Columbus is little consolation to Toledo, which held a third-quarter lead on the Buckeyes. The Rockets had one last chance to win, but Terrance Owens threw incomplete on fourth down from the OSU 17-yard line with 52 seconds left and they came up just short 27-22. In the game, Toledo had 14 penalties, a missed field goal and botched another field goal attempt.

When the team reviewed the game tape afterward, players saw how they hurt themselves with all their mistakes, costing them a chance to win. It was little consolation that the 22 points were the most an in-state school had scored on the Buckeyes since 1909.

"It was a tough defeat, no question about it," Toledo coach Tim Beckman said. "The kids and the coaching staff set their hearts out on the line to win that football game. As I told them, be there in the fourth quarter and we'll have a chance and that's what we had. ... We still have many, many things we have to get accomplished for this to be a successful year."

Meanwhile, the Broncos had an impressive 35-21 win against Georgia to open the season but had to sit for a week because of a bye. Nothing like getting geared up to start the season, get a nice win, then hit the practice field two weeks in a row. The same thing happened last year, when they had a bye after an opening week win against Virginia Tech. Boise State responded with a 51-6 win against Wyoming.

"It's tough, but we've done that," Boise State safety George Iloka said. "You get amped up with the whole offseason to play your first game against a very tough opponent, you get the win and think, 'Let’s keep it rolling,' but then you have a bye week and it’s like, 'Oh we just started playing. We have to stop again?' The schedule is set up in a way to help us recover, so you can see it both ways."

There are two big challenges for the Broncos -- preparing for two Toledo quarterbacks, and trying to slow down all-purpose player Eric Page. The Rockets play both Austin Dantin and Owens, to try to keep teams off balance. Page had 12 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes, and also returns kicks and punts as well. Last year against the Broncos, he had 11 receptions for 120 yards.

"They do have a lot of the same guys, but they're running their offense a lot better and doing what they do a lot better," Iloka said. "They're on the same page, a lot more crisp and more exact in what they’re doing."

Toledo is a better team than it was at this point last season. We'll see whether that has any impact on the outcome of the game.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 12, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each league. The independent players are picked by a national panel.


Offense: Patrick Edwards, WR, Houston. Edwards had eight catches for a career-best 187 yards and a touchdown in a win against North Texas. He also extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 36.

Defense: Marshall's George Carpenter, LB, and SMU linebacker Ja’Gared Davis share the honors. Carpenter recorded a game-high 13 tackles in a 26-20 win against Southern Miss. He also posted two tackles for loss, including one sack, forced one fumble and recovered two fumbles. Davis had eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one interception, three pass break-ups and one touchdown in a win against UTEP.

Special Teams:Kase Whitehead, P, Marshall. Averaged 42.5 yards on eight punts, and backed up the Golden Eagles offense inside the 8-yard line on five of those eight kicks.


Offense: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. Had 13 receptions for 159 yards in a 35-31 loss at Michigan.

Defense: Matt Warrick, LB, Navy. Recorded a team-high 12 tackles, a fumble recovery and pass breakup in a 40-14 win at Western Kentucky.

Special teams: Justin Sorensen, PK, BYU. Made field goals of 30, 33 and 32 yards, while making his lone PAT attempt in a 17-16 loss at Texas.

East Division

Offense: Eugene Cooper, WR, Bowling Green. Had career-highs in catches (6), yards (134) and touchdowns (4) in the Falcons’ 58-13 win against Morgan State. His four receiving touchdowns tied a school record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Defense: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. Had a team-best eight tackles (four solos), 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two forced fumbles, an interception and three quarterback hurries against Stony Brook.

Special Teams: Matt Weller, K, Ohio. Was 3-of-4 on field goals and a perfect 3-for-3 on extra points against Gardner-Webb.

West Division
Eric Page, WR, Toledo. Caught 12 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in Toledo's 27-22 loss at Ohio State. Page has now caught a touchdown pass in seven of the past eight games.

Defense: Marcus English, LB, Eastern Michigan. Posted a team-best 10 tackles in a 14-7 win against Alabama State. English added 3.5 tackles for a loss and one sack.

Special Teams: John Potter, K, Western Michigan. Made all five extra point attempts, extending his Western Michigan career record for consecutive PATs made streak to 78 straight.


Offense: Casey Pachall, QB, TCU. Completed 20-of-25 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, leading No. 25 TCU to a 35-19 win against host Air Force.

Defense: Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State. Recorded the first double-digit tackle game of his career, finishing with 10 stops (seven solo) and a sack in a 23-20 win at Army.

Special teams: Brian Stahovich, P, San Diego State. Put four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line and recorded a pair of kicks exceeding 50 yards in the Aztecs’ 23-20 win at Army.

Sun Belt

Offense: T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Had a school-record 201 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 24-17 win against Louisville. For his efforts, Hilton was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.

Defense: Winston Fraser, LB, FIU. Had eight tackles, six of them unassisted, and a 71-yard interception return for touchdown.

Special Teams: Brelan Chancellor, KR, North Texas. Broke two school records against Houston, setting the mark for all-purpose yardage and kickoff return yards. Chancellor had 286 yards on nine kickoff returns and 332 all-purpose yards.


Offense: Andrew Manley, QB, New Mexico State. Was 20-of-31 for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-21 win at Minnesota.

Defense: Jonte Green, DB, New Mexico State. Led the Aggies with 10 solo tackles in the win against Minnesota. He also forced a fumble and broke up a pass while recording his second double-digit tackle game of his career.

Special teams: Devin Wylie, PR, Fresno State. Returned five punts for 110 yards, including a 67-yard return for a touchdown, in a loss at Nebraska. It was the first punt return for a touchdown against the Cornhuskers since 2001 and the first for the Bulldogs in almost two years.

Non-AQ preseason team

August, 12, 2011
Here is a look at your non-AQ preseason team. All five conferences, BYU, Army and Navy were considered.


QB Kellen Moore, Boise State

RB Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State

RB Doug Martin, Boise State

OT Nate Potter, Boise State

OT Matt Reynolds, BYU

C Scott Wedige, Northern Illinois

OG Chris Barker, Nevada

OG Braden Hansen, BYU

TE Ladarius Green, Louisiana

WR Damaris Johnson, Tulsa

WR Patrick Edwards, Houston


DE Vinny Curry, Marshall

DE Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy

DT Logan Harrell, Fresno State

DT Billy Winn, Boise State

LB Tank Carder, TCU

LB Corey Paredes, Hawaii

LB Tanner Brock, TCU

CB Josh Robinson, UCF

CB Leon McFadden, San Diego State

S Marco Nelson, Tulsa

S George Iloka, Boise State


K Danny Hrapmann, Southern Miss

P Brian Stahovich, San Diego State

KR T.Y. Hilton, FIU

PR Eric Page, Toledo

Making a case for Case

June, 2, 2011
Houston quarterback Case Keenum makes his return from a torn ACL this season, ratcheting up expectations for the Cougars. Expectations are high for him as well.

Phil Steele has Keenum as a fourth-team selection on his newly released All-America teams, right behind Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Andrew Luck of Stanford and Kellen Moore of Boise State. This is a clear indication that there is some unfinished business left for Keenum, who remains on pace to break the NCAA career passing mark -- should he stay healthy.

Keenum needs 3,487 yards to break the mark of 17,072 yards set by Timmy Chang of Hawaii from 2000-04. There is another mark that Keenum has a chance to surpass -- career touchdown passes. Graham Harrell of Texas Tech has the record of 134. Keenum needs 28 to break that mark. Considering he threw for more than 5,000 yards and 44 touchdowns in each of his two full seasons as a starter, those records seem to be in jeopardy.

So Steele putting Keenum on his fourth team is his preseason projection that Keenum will get those records. Plus, there is plenty of uncertainty at quarterback around the country, and Keenum has delivered in bunches so this choice makes sense if you are projecting a healthy season. Steele also lists go-to Houston receiver Patrick Edwards on his fourth team, so his expectation is a big year for Edwards as well.

As for some of the other non-AQ players listed:

I agree with the selection of Moore on the third team. Teammate Nate Potter made the first team at tackle while Billy Winn made the second team on the defensive line.

No-brainers: TCU linebacker Tank Carder, Tulsa kick returner Damaris Johnson and Southern Miss kicker Danny Hrapmann on the first team; Toledo kick returner Eric Page on the second team. BYU offensive tackle Matt Reynolds made the second team. I think he is going to be either a first- or second-team selection this year.

Surprises: FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton made the third team, quite an impressive accomplishment considering he is known more for being an all-purpose player. Steele must think the Panthers have a chance to win another Sun Belt title and that Hilton will have an even better year than 2010, when he was Sun Belt Player of the Year. I think Louisiana tight end Ladarius Green has the potential to be better than a fourth-team selection. Same for Troy defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi and TCU linebacker Tanner Brock, both fourth-team selections. Another interesting choice: UCF kick returner Quincy McDuffie on the fourth team. McDuffie has made huge strides in special teams, but the Knights are eager to get even more out of him.

Omissions: You can certainly make a case for San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman, the top freshman back in the country last season with 1,532 yards. Same for Boise State running back Doug Martin, one of the most underrated players in the nation.

Non-AQ Top 25 Players: No. 21

February, 18, 2011
There is no underrating the impact a terrific all-purpose player has on your team. These rankings feature five of the best all-purpose players in the nation, never mind the non-AQs. We start with this little guy, who has done big things in a short period of time.

No. 21 Eric Page, WR/KR, Toledo

[+] EnlargeToledo Rockets wide receiver Eric Page
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireToledo Rockets wide receiver Eric Page finished with 2,035 all-purpose yards in 2010.
How many times have we heard that size hardly matters? You will probably be reading that refrain several more times during these rankings. But we start with the 5-foot-10 Page, who has become a sensation in just two years with the Rockets. In 2010, he became the first Toledo player to make first-team on any All-America team since quarterback Gene Swick was on the UPI first team in 1975. Page ended the season ranked No. 12 in nation in all-purpose yards with 2,035. He led the team with 1,105 yards receiving and eight touchdowns, and it was not even close. The No. 2 player on the team's receiving list: running back Adonis Thomas with 372 yards. He added 871 kickoff return yards for an average of 31.11 yards a game, third in the nation. Page was the only player on the FBS level with three kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. His play was a big reason why the Rockets made it to a bowl for the first time since 2005.

No. 22 Jake Kirkpatrick, C, TCU

No. 23 Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple

No. 24 Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky

No. 25 Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State

Instant Analysis: FIU 34, Toledo 32

December, 27, 2010
FIU beat Toledo 34-32 in a heart-stopping finish to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: A wild fourth quarter ended with FIU winning the game on the leg of kicker Jack Griffin, who nailed a 34-yarder down the middle with no time left to give the Panthers their first bowl win in their first bowl appearance. Toledo blew a 24-7 lead and trailed 31-24 with 3:18 remaining. Quarterback Terrance Owens had thrown three interceptions to let the Panthers into the game, and now the game was on his shoulders. He drove Toledo down the field and scored a 14-yard touchdown on a zone read. Coach Tim Beckman did not hesitate to go for the two-point conversion. Owens threw to Eric Page to put Toledo up 32-31 with 1:14 to go and the Rockets appeared to be in control. But they left too much time on the clock. The Panthers converted a fourth-and-17 on a hook-and-ladder play to T.Y. Hilton during their final drive of the game. Another big pass play to Greg Ellingson put FIU into field goal range.

Toledo had run right over FIU in the first half to the tune of 205 yards rushing and a 21-7 lead. But the running lanes were not there in the second half, as the Panthers' defense tightened up, forcing Owens to throw the ball. FIU scored 14 points off Owens' interceptions -- Kreg Brown had two, including one in the fourth quarter that led to a 10-yard touchdown catch by Hilton. The score put the Panthers up 28-24 and it also gave them their first lead of the game. Hilton had a quiet first half, but his superb second half allowed the Panthers to come back.

Turning point: After Toledo went up 24-7 with 9:44 to go in the third quarter, Hilton returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. Owens threw his first interception to Brown, and FIU turned it into a touchdown when Darriet Perry took the direct snap and scored on a 7-yard run. The Panthers had cut a 17-point deficit down to four points in three minutes. FIU ended up scoring 24 straight points.

Player of the game: Griffin gets the nod for his dramatic kick to end the game. Special nod to Toledo running back Adonis Thomas, who had 194 yards rushing and two touchdowns, running for 145 first-half yards that gave the Rockets the early momentum.

Unsung hero of the game: Brown's interceptions helped FIU with its defensive turnaround. They were his first two picks of the season.

Second guessing: Hilton is one of the best kickoff returners in the game, and the reigning Sun Belt Most Valuable Player. So why did Toledo kick to him all night? He made the Rockets pay with his second kickoff return for a touchdown of the season and changed the momentum of the game. You have to wonder how Toledo lost track of Hilton and allowed him to convert the fourth-and-17 on the gimmick play. After a review of the spot, the ruling on the field stood and FIU was on the way to its win.

What it means: FIU had its first winning season but more could be on the horizon. The Panthers have 15 starters returning, including quarterback Wesley Carroll, Hilton and a running back trio of Perry, Darrian Mallary and Jeremiah Harden. What an incredible breakthrough season for Mario Cristobal, the Sun Belt Coach of the Year. As for Toledo, the Rockets were making their first bowl appearance since 2005, but should also be in good shape with coach Tim Beckman. This also was a breakthrough season for the Rockets. They return Austin Dantin, Page, Thomas and Dan Molls.
It has become a familiar refrain for smaller players to re-tell anecdotes about bigger schools passing them over.

[+] EnlargeEric Page
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREEric Page has developed into a versatile standout for Toledo.
“If only you were a few inches taller. …” Generally, that is how the rejection goes. But in lots of cases, the small guys end up being the bigger ones. Take Toledo all-purpose player Eric Page.

He is 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. He knew he did not have the ideal size, but Page still was disappointed when only MAC schools showed up to recruit him out of high school in Toledo. Ultimately, he decided to stay right at home, 5 minutes from where he grew up.

Turned out to be a great decision. Page won MAC Special Teams Player of the Year Honors and made the first team as a kickoff returner and receiver. He also was named an All-American by four different publications.

“It feels great coming from not as big a school. To be recognized is a real honor,” Page said. “I was pretty surprised. We made big strides as a team this year, and it proves we had a good year, and that’s how I got recognized.”

Page ranks fourth in the nation in kickoff returns (31.8 avg.) and is the only FBS player with three kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. As a receiver, Page is tied for fifth in the nation with 94 receptions, and ranks 18th in the country with 1,081 receiving yards.

Of course, none of this should come as a shock after last season, when he led all freshmen in the nation with 82 receptions and 1,159 receiving yards. But coach Tim Beckman was a little concerned about how he would handle this season without Stephen Williams, who had 1,065 yards receiving last season.

“He has seen doubles, but we’re proud of how he’s taken his game to a different level,” Beckman said. “He has great football intelligence, he understands how to utilize his talents. He comes out to work and he doesn’t think he’s close to how good he thinks he can be. That’s why he continues to try to improve his game.”

Page most definitely is a player to watch headed into the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Sunday night against FIU. He expects about 167 friends and family to be in attendance, a close enough drive from Toledo.

As for what makes him so good, Page has a few reasons: good teammates helping him on kick returns, film study and a good overall football IQ.

“I’m not the fastest guy, but on kickoffs, the key there is following your blocks, having good vision and explode through the holes,” he said. “As a receiver, if you know how the defense is going to work, then you can catch the ball like a pro.”

He already seems to have mastered both in two short seasons.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl 3 Keys

December, 23, 2010
You saw my preview and prediction for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between FIU and Toledo on Sunday night in Detroit. Now here are three keys for each team:

FIU (6-6)

1. T.Y. Hilton everywhere. For FIU to have a shot, Hilton is going to need to have one of his monster games. He has had several of those this season, including his performance against ULM when he had 291 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns. Those scores came three different ways -- a reception, a run and a kickoff return. Hilton can line up at receiver and running back and also plays special teams, so Toledo is going to have to make sure it has a man on him at all times.

2. Avoid turnovers. FIU is the second-most penalized team in the country, so it cannot afford to make costly mistakes. Toledo is excellent at forcing turnovers, and one of the best in the nation with 33 takeaways. Toledo has 19 interceptions, and FIU quarterback Wes Carroll has thrown his share of picks this season (13). However, the Rockets have also struggled against the pass at times this season. FIU must take advantage there with some big plays to Hilton to help open up the passing game against a defense that has been excellent against the run.

3. Keep cool. One of the few people in the FIU program with bowl experience is Carroll, who played for Mississippi State when the Bulldogs faced UCF in the Liberty Bowl in 2007. Perhaps he can relate his experiences to his teammates to help keep them calm. This is going to be a true away game, as FIU has had a hard time selling tickets. The Panthers would have preferred to play closer to home, but have to avoid the “just happy to be here” feeling.

Toledo (8-4)

1. Terrance Owens or Austin Dantin? Owens is set to start the game, but Dantin has returned to practice after injuring his shoulder in October and could come on in relief should Owens struggle. Coach Tim Beckman said Dantin has looked a little rusty in practice, but had not decided whether his starter would see time in the game. Owens is more mobile, but Dantin has the better arm. So perhaps he may just wait and see how the game progresses.

2. Eric Page alert. Just as FIU has Hilton, Toledo has Page. He led the team in receiving this season and will most likely be paired up against Anthony Gaitor, FIU’s best cornerback. Page had a terrific game against the Panthers when the two teams met last season, catching five passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Page is better this season, but of course the big question is who is going to get him the ball. Toledo also has receiver Kenny Stafford (6-foot-4) as a big-play target as well.

3. Dan Molls and Archie Donald watch. The top tackling tandem in the nation with a combined 167 total tackles, Molls and Donald are going to be instrumental in slowing down FIU -- especially Hilton when he lines up in the backfield. Donald will become the first player in school history to lead the team in tackles in three consecutive seasons should he finish with more takedowns than Molls in the game.