NCF Nation: FIU

Non-AQ What to Watch, Week 11

November, 11, 2010
Come one, come all for your top 10 non-AQ storylines for Week 10:

1. Let the jockeying continue. Now that TCU has passed Boise State in the human polls, the race is on to see whether the Horned Frogs can stay there -- and grow their lead. Both need to happen for TCU to solidify its spot ahead of the Broncos in the BCS standings. TCU plays San Diego State (7-2) while Boise State plays Idaho (4-5) so it is unlikely Boise State will move ahead after this week. But looking ahead, TCU has one game left against New Mexico (1-8), while Boise State has games remaining against Fresno State (6-2), Nevada (8-1) and Utah State (3-6).

2. Is a letdown in store for TCU? The Horned Frogs are coming off an emotional 47-7 win over Utah, but this is not a team that loses focus easily. They have given up a total of 23 points in six league games, and have given up one touchdown at home in three league games. This is Senior Day, where TCU will say goodbye to a group of players who have not lost in the regular season since 2008. San Diego State is much improved, so we will see how the Horned Frogs handle their emotions.

3. How does the Boise State-Idaho rivalry end? Boise State and Idaho have no future games set as the Broncos depart the WAC for the Mountain West. But this game has not proved to be much of a rivalry over the last several years. The Broncos have won 11 straight over the Vandals, and have won those game by an average score of 51-18.

[+] EnlargeUtah
Andrew Weber/US PresswireComing off a disappointing loss to TCU, the Utes have to go on the road to face Notre Dame.
4. Can Utah bounce back? The Utes are coming off an embarrassing loss at home to TCU and travel to play a beaten down Notre Dame team. As badly as the Irish need to win, so does Utah, which wants to avoid having its season go down the drain due to one loss. After losing 55-28 to TCU last year, Utah rebounded with a 38-7 win over San Diego State. But that one was at home. This is going to be a tough challenge.

5. Will we get clarity in Conference USA? There are several big games for the league this weekend as UCF hosts Southern Miss, and Tulsa travels to Houston. UCF is the lone team that is undefeated in league play in Conference USA and can clinch the East Division with a win over Southern Miss and an East Carolina loss to UAB tonight. Meanwhile, Tulsa, Houston and SMU each have two losses in the West. Whoever wins would remain in the hunt.

6. Will we get clarity in the Sun Belt? Who would have thought when the season started we would be saying Troy and FIU would be meeting with Sun Belt title chances on the line? Both teams have one loss in conference play and the winner here would be in the driver’s seat. Whoever wins out, wins the league. It’s as simple as that.

7. Bowl eligibility time. Here are your teams that have a shot to become bowl eligible this week: Army, East Carolina, Houston and Troy. Army plays at Kent State, while East Carolina is at UAB, Houston hosts Tulsa and Troy hosts FIU. SMU (5-5) is off.

8. What does Navy do for an encore? The Midshipmen racked up 76 points and 521 yards on the ground against East Carolina last week. So what happens against Central Michigan (3-7)? Quarterback Ricky Dobbs reportedly missed a few days of practice with a slight concussion. If he cannot go, Kriss Proctor would get the start. But even without Dobbs, Alexander Teich has played well since replacing Vince Murray in the starting lineup. He averaged 11.2 yards a carry last week against the Pirates, and had a 200-yard game against Notre Dame.

9. What does Nevada do for an encore? The Wolf Pack may not have scored as many points as Navy, but they had more yards -- 844 in a 63-17 win over Idaho. Nevada sits at No. 21, behind several two-loss teams from power conferences. The question is whether voters see Nevada as a great team or merely a good team from a bad conference. How it does against a good Fresno State team on Saturday is important for perception.

10. The future is now. True freshman quarterbacks Pete Thomas and Jake Heaps face each other when BYU travels to Colorado State. Thomas has thrown for 2,273 yards for the Rams and is second in the league in passing, mostly because he has been put in situations where his team has fallen behind. But still, he is progressing well and coach Steve Fairchild believes Thomas' future is bright. Heaps has not been as successful, struggling as much as the rest of the BYU offense. He had his first good game against UNLV last week, throwing for 294 yards and a touchdown. The play of the quarterbacks is the key to the game.

Non-AQ predictions: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Three straight weeks of going 7-3 is not that bad considering the alternative. I did get one of my upset specials right, though I didn’t expect Navy to hang 76 on East Carolina. Props to New Mexico. Does it count that I said there was a “slim chance” of an upset? Hey at least I said there was a chance!

With a 64-40 overall record, bring on Week 11.

East Carolina 41, UAB 35. (Tonight) The Pirates have to get past the 76 points they allowed to Navy last week. UAB is going to have to get running back Pat Shed going, because Dominique Davis will be able to pass for the Pirates. The East Carolina defense has been bad, but somehow the Pirates will find a way to bounce back with bowl eligibility on the line. They have got to hold on to the football, though. Four turnovers on five possessions in the third quarter against Navy let the game get out of hand.

No. 4 Boise State 45, Idaho 13. (Friday). You know the atmosphere is going to be rowdy, what with offseason comments from Boise State president Bob Kustra stirring the pot. This is the final scheduled game in the rivalry now that the Broncos are leaving for the Mountain West. The Vandals would love nothing more than to end their undefeated season, but they are one of the most penalized teams in the country. Idaho hasn’t beaten Boise State since 1998. The Vandals’ last win at home over the Broncos? 1995.

No. 3 TCU 38, San Diego State 10. Sure this is the classic “trap” game for the Horned Frogs, who will be coming down off an emotional 47-7 win at Utah. San Diego State is much improved this season, and bowl eligible for the first time since 1998. Ronnie Hillman already has 1,000 yards rushing and will be the No. 1 target to stop. The Aztecs have won four straight but haven’t looked good doing it. They have won their past three games by an average of eight points. Their opponents in those three games have a combined six wins.

No. 14 Utah 35, at Notre Dame 20. The Utes have to bounce back and fast to put the embarrassment of last weekend behind them. This certainly will be a big test for coach Kyle Whittingham to get his team to stay focused for the remainder of the season. The Irish have a handful of starters out because of injuries. Bank on Jordan Wynn putting the mistakes of last week behind him to have a big game.

No. 21 Nevada 45, Fresno State 40. This one is not going to be easy for the Wolf Pack, but they come into the game riding a major 844-yard output on offense, with three 100-yard runners and a 300-yard passer in a win over Idaho. Chris Carter and Logan Harrell each have nine sacks for Fresno State, but the first key is to stop the run. The same can be said for Nevada -- Fresno State has gotten good production from Robbie Rouse in the last three games. He is coming off a 286-yard day against Louisiana Tech.

UCF 35, Southern Miss 21. The Knights are the only undefeated team left in Conference USA and are the favorites to win the entire conference. They survived a scare on the road against Houston last week and now face an East Division rival that has been inconsistent. But the Golden Eagles have lost their two league games by a combined two points. Still, their defense has been somewhat disappointing and is going to have a hard time slowing down Jeff Godfrey.

BYU 30, Colorado State 27. I am trying not to read too much into the Cougars’ offensive explosion last week because it came against UNLV. But still, it has to be encouraging to see Jake Heaps throw for more than 100 yards in a game. This one features the two top freshman quarterbacks in the league, and the Rams are much improved with Pete Thomas leading the way. But BYU has an improving defense -- and has to win to keep bowl hopes alive.

Army 30, Kent State 27. The Black Knights have to win either against Kent State or next week against Notre Dame to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1996. This one is an intriguing matchup -- Army has the No. 8 rushing attack in the country, averaging 277 yards a game. Kent State has the best run defense, giving up just 69 yards a game. But the Golden Flashes have to major injuries on defense: linebacker Cobrani Mixon and safety Brian Lainhart. Mixon is second on the team in tackles, while Lainhart is third. Quarterback Spencer Keith also has a sprained thumb and is listed as day-to-day.

Troy 28, FIU 17. Though FIU is 3-5, the Panthers are 3-1 in conference play, half a game behind Troy (4-1). So essentially the Sun Belt title is on the line. Troy has never lost to FIU, so bank on the Trojans to win this one and eventually win their fifth straight league title. Great special-teams matchup to watch between T.Y. Hilton of FIU and Jerrel Jernigan of Troy.

UPSET SPECIAL: Tulsa 45, Houston 44. The top two scoring offenses in Conference USA battle it out with the West division title at stake. The Golden Hurricane have loads of confidence after winning three straight, and plenty of weapons for Houston to try and handle. Tulsa has a more high-powered attack than UCF, which scored 40 in a win last week, so the Golden Hurricane get the edge.

Non-AQ bowl look

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

Conference USA

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

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

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

Guaranteed bowl spots: Six.


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

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

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

Guaranteed bowl spots: Three.

Mountain West

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

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

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

Guaranteed bowl spots: Five.

Sun Belt

Already eligible: No one.

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

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

Guaranteed bowl spots: Two.


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

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

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

Guaranteed bowl spots: Four.


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

Non-AQ Players of the Week

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

Conference USA

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

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

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


East Division

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

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

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

West Division

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

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

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

Mountain West

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

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

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

Sun Belt

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

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

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


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

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

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

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunchtime Links

November, 8, 2010
Time to really savor the games. The season is almost over! Then what?!

On to some links:

Utah attempts to pick up the pieces and move forward after a 47-7 loss to TCU.

TCU coach Gary Patterson reiterated that he didn't expect such a lopsided score.

Nevada's win against Idaho gives it a formula to potentially beat Boise State.

San Diego State is winning despite turning the ball over. The Aztecs have 11 turnovers during their four-game winning streak.

Spirits are high at UCF, where the Knights are ranked for the first time in school history.

Air Force has locked up the Commander-In-Chief Trophy, but the Falcons close with a bit of a letdown -- games against New Mexico and UNLV.

FIU coach Mario Cristobal was fired up after his team's double-overtime win against ULM.

Western Michigan lost to Central Michigan, calling fans to question coach Bill Cubit. But calls for him to be fired are irrational, writes Graham Couch.

Lunchtime Links

November, 4, 2010
More football tonight everyone! Those watching Virginia Tech take on Georgia Tech should join ACC blogger Heather Dinich and me for another midweek live chat.

Meanwhile, Buffalo is at Ohio on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m.

Expect Utah to open up the playbook against TCU.

Former walk-on receiver Tyler Shoemaker has made a big impact this season at Boise State.

Navy LB Tyler Simmons has overcome serious injuries from a skiing accident to lead the team in tackles.

Army can prove it is for real with a win over Air Force.

Opponents are now focusing on the San Diego State run game.

UCF would face a tough decision if it got a football-only invite from the Big East.

A family feud is set for the Rice-Tulsa game on Saturday: Rice WR Patrick Randolph goes against his dad, Tulsa assistant Paul Randolph.

With the FIU season in the balance, there is little margin for error.

Non-AQ storylines to watch: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
Come one, come all for your Top 10 non-AQ storylines for Week 10:

1. Who remains undefeated, TCU or Utah? You have got to love the national spotlight being placed on two teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences on Saturday. Both teams are terrific. It is a shame somebody has to lose and be relegated to the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah has a great home-field advantage, having won a Mountain West record 21 straight at Rice-Eccles Stadium. TCU has worked on silent counts all week and pumped crowd noise into practice in order to prepare for what is sure to be a wild atmosphere. The winner of the TCU-Utah game has earned an automatic bid into a BCS game each of the past two years.

[+] EnlargeTejay Johnson
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTCU has the No. 1 overall defense and the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.
2. TCU D vs. Utah D. OK so the defenses don’t play against each other, but they are the two units to watch in this game. Both are ranked in the Top 10 in total defense and scoring defense, and both are playing better than perhaps many people expected going into the season. TCU is rated No. 1, a spot it held at the end of 2008 and 2009. Both get tremendous play from their front seven to take the pressure off their secondary. Big plays on offense are going to be at a premium in this one.

3. Will Hawaii be able to pass on Boise State? Yes, but pay attention to what happens inside the red zone. In 46 trips inside the 20, the Warriors have scored 37 times. But they have only gotten 25 touchdowns. They are going to need to convert those opportunities into points against an aggressive Boise State defense and a secondary eager to prove its worth.

4. So who ends up ahead in the BCS standings on Sunday? That is asking to predict the unpredictable. If TCU and Boise State win, expect to see the Horned Frogs stay on top. They might even jump Boise State in the human polls, depending on the outcome of the game. If Utah and Boise State win, expect the Broncos to go back into the No. 3 slot. In any of those scenarios, we will all be tuned into the BCS show Sunday night to find out.

5. Which of the service academies becomes bowl eligible? Army, Air Force and Navy all have five wins and are on pace to have winning seasons in the same season for the first time since 1996. Army and Air Force play in West Point with the Commander-In-Chief Trophy on the line. Air Force beat Navy earlier this year and would win it with a victory over Army. Navy, meanwhile, tries to overcome its worst performance of the season at East Carolina. Navy has a bowl tie-in to the Poinsettia Bowl this year. Army has no guaranteed tie-in but is a backup in the Armed Forces Bowl. If they are passed over for that game, the Black Knights are a backup for the Military Bowl.

6. Who else has a chance to become bowl eligible? East Carolina, Houston, Tulsa, Southern Miss , UTEP, SMU, Miami (Ohio) and Fresno State also are one win away from bowl eligibility. UTEP and SMU play each other.

7. Houston offense vs. UCF defense. The Cougars have reinvented themselves with Case Keenum out for the season and have relied more on the run. But they are facing the best defense in Conference USA and one of the best defenses in the country. UCF is allowing right around 100 yards a game on the ground this season, and has confidence. Last season, the Knights upset the Cougars in Orlando for the first win over a ranked opponent in school history.

8. Does anybody want to win the Sun Belt? Troy has won four straight conference titles but opened the door for others to knock it off the perch after losing to ULM last week. If the Trojans win out, they still win the crown, but there is no margin for error anymore. FIU has one conference loss. ULM, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee each have two conference losses, but Troy has already beaten the Red Wolves and Blue Raiders.

9. Will the winless watch for Akron and New Mexico ever stop? Last season ended with two winless teams from the MAC (Eastern Michigan) and Sun Belt (Western Kentucky). This season could end with two winless teams, too. But both squads are playing opponents with losing records this week -- Akron against Ball State (2-7) and New Mexico against Wyoming (2-7).

10. Must win for BYU. The Cougars (3-5) come off their bye week facing a must win every week from here on out if they want to make it to a bowl game. They start against UNLV, a team struggling more than the Cougars are this season. After that, they play Colorado State and New Mexico before closing the season at Utah. So they have to win all three games before the season finale. Colorado State next week will be the biggest test in the upcoming three-game stretch.

Non-AQ weekend rewind: Week 9

November, 1, 2010
Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 9.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-AQ Picks: Week 9

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

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

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

On to the picks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunchtime Links

October, 18, 2010
With the BCS standings all the rage this morning, let us check out some other wonderful links from the non-AQs:

Brian Murphy of The Idaho Statesman says college football fans have become addicted to watching the BCS standings.

Utah is far from satisfied with its win against Wyoming.

BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae is under fire for his play calling and poor offensive production.

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the loss to Hawaii: "In my eyes, I single-handedly lost this football game."

Air Force fullback Jared Tew is out for six weeks with a broken fibula, severely hurting the Falcons' offense.

TCU coach Gary Patterson says he isn't going to sell his team to the voters.

San Diego State showed great resiliency in bouncing back against Air Force.

Hawaii's win against Nevada gave the team some confidence. Nose tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu said he could tell Nevada underestimated them.

FIU's new-look defense remains stubborn.

UAB made the right decision to give the ball to its running backs in a win against UTEP.

Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill gave his team a rest day after its 5-2 start.

Non-AQ Picks, Week 7

October, 14, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 6 were much improved at 8-2, thank you very much. Although I still have a BYU problem. Picking against the Cougars did not work, either. My upset special panned out, so at least there is that. With a 41-23 overall record, I am ready for Week 7.

On to the picks!

NC State 40, East Carolina 27. As much as I want to believe in the Pirates, I do not know if they have the defense to be able to slow down Russell Wilson. But I think I have a pretty good idea. I will give credit to them for one thing -- making all their games quite entertaining to watch. One area to note, East Carolina will be without safety Derek Blacknall, who has been suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit he delivered last week against Southern Miss.

UPSET SPECIAL: Army 30, Rutgers 20. Army is coming off a big win at Tulane. Rutgers lost to Tulane earlier this year. That is not the reason I am picking the upset special. The Scarlet Knights have struggled all season, nearly losing to FIU, losing to an undermanned North Carolina, and losing to Tulane. Yes, Rutgers looked much better last week with Chas Dodd at quarterback, but Army has an experienced, opportunistic defense that will present him problems. Army leads the nation in turnover margin, and the Black Knights have scored 86 points off 16 takeaways while allowing only 10 points on four giveaways.

Ball State 24, Eastern Michigan 20. The Cardinals had one of their worst games under coach Stan Parrish last week in a loss to Western Michigan, and now they get winless Eastern Michigan to ease the suffering. This game is not going to be a walkover. The Eagles have come close in a few of their conference games this season, and will keep this one close, too.

Houston 31, Rice 24. The Cougars are not going to blow anybody out with a freshman playing quarterback. Will I regret those words? Maybe. David Piland did throw for 300 yards last week, but he had no help. The running game was totally stymied. I think Houston will have an easier time rushing the ball Saturday, but this one is going to be a fight until the end.

SMU 33, Navy 23. Call this upset special No. 2 since the Midshipmen are 1.5 point favorites to win the game. Though the Midshipmen are coming off a big win against Wake Forest and Ricky Dobbs looked more like himself, SMU is really looking solid on offense behind Kyle Padron. The defense has stepped up, too, behind Ja’Gared Davis, who will wreak Havoc for Dobbs.

No. 4 TCU 34, BYU 14. I know BYU is 2-4, but am still surprised the Cougars are 29-point underdogs. Perhaps they found a spark on defense now that Bronco Mendenhall is in charge, but this team is not anywhere near improved enough to win this game. TCU has too much talent on offense and defense. Andy Dalton is completing 82 percent of his passes at home this season, and the TCU defense will be able to slow down JJ Di Luigi and force true freshman Jake Heaps into mistakes.

No. 23 Air Force 24, San Diego State 20. The Aztecs have been on the losing end of two heartbreakers, and both games featured bad calls that cost them. They have a very real chance at upsetting the Falcons if they can get their run game going. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has made it a point to stress to his defense it must improve against the run. In the end, Tim Jefferson and that triple offense are going to be too much for a defense that is still learning and improving.

No. 19 Nevada 45, Hawaii 44. A shootout, island style. Nevada has not beaten Hawaii in Honolulu since 1948, and it is a difficult task for any team to make the long trip out to the islands. But Nevada is playing well on offense, behind Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua, and on defense, where Dontay Moch continues to bust through double teams and chip blocks for tackles behind the line. Moch will be able to pressure high-flying Bryant Moniz enough to rattle him and take him out of rhythm.

UAB 30, UTEP 27. I got some e-mail into the mailbag yelling at me for not noticing UTEP, which is off to a 5-1 start. I have noticed all right. It has played just one team with a winning record. The other FBS teams it has beaten have a combined three victories. That includes a last-second win over Memphis. So I am not quite ready to declare UTEP for real, though I will say Trevor Vittatoe is a joy to watch. UAB is coming off an embarrassing loss to UCF, but this as close to a must-win as you can get. The Blazers find a way to pull it out.

North Texas 28, FIU 27. This has been a disastrous season for the Mean Green as injuries have taken a serious toll throughout the team. They are down to their fourth quarterback in Chase Baine, but having Lance Dunbar in the backfield gives them a chance. They have lost their two conference games by a combined six points. FIU is improved, but the Panthers have had problems against the run. Dunbar is in line for a big game.

Non-AQ helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 10, 2010
Time to give out some non-AQ helmet stickers:

Air Force KR Jonathan Warzeka. Tied an NCAA mark with a 100-yard kickoff return in a 49-27 win over Colorado State. Incredibly, Warzeka also had a 100-yard kickoff return against Houston in the 2009 Armed Forces Bowl. The NCAA doesn't add the yards in the end zone so 100 yards is the maximum anyone can return a kick.

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn. Went 23-of-31 for 325 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 68-27 win over Iowa State. The Utes had their highest scoring output since beating Wyoming 69-14 in 1983. Seven different players scored for Utah, which scored 31 unanswered points in the second quarter to blow the game open again. Shaky Smithson deserves mention, too. He threw for a touchdown pass and caught another for 293 total yards.

Western Michigan kicker John Potter. Recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, had a field goal, hit six extra points and scored his first career touchdown on a second quarter fake field goal from 8 yards out in a 45-16 win over Ball State. Potter also had another tackle Saturday to extend his own record to 21 career tackles -- the most by a kicker in school history.

SMU quarterback Kyle Padron. Went 27-of-40 for 381 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 21-18 win over Tulsa. Padron has thrown for more than 370 yards in back-to-back victories. SMU (4-2) is off to its best start since 1986, when the Mustangs started 5-1.

Hawaii WR Greg Salas. Had nine catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-27 upset win over Fresno State. The Warriors have the nation’s best pass offense behind Bryant Moniz, who threw for more than 300 yards again, and won their third straight game.

New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker. Down to his third quarterback, the Aggies were able to win their first game of the season 16-14 over rival New Mexico in the Land of Disenchantment Bowl. Matt Christian sat out with an injury. His replacement, Tanner Rust, got hurt, and Andrew Manley led the team to the win. Manley completed both of his pass attempts to set up Ryan Stampler's 22-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining to win the game.

FIU coach Mario Cristobal. His team racked up 235 yards rushing to win its first game of the season 28-21 over Western Kentucky. A late defensive stand preserved the victory.

Lunchtime Links

October, 8, 2010
We are here to help you get to the weekend with some links:

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

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

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

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

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

BYU coaches haven't lost faith in Jake Heaps.

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

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

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

What to watch from non-AQs: Week 6

October, 7, 2010
Hot off the Internet stratosphere, we bring you our Top 10 non-AQ story lines for the week:

1. Does Boise State need to win 100-0 to get a little respect around here? The Broncos get Toledo this week in yet another game that is not going to win them any converts. The big question as the season rolls on is whether they continue to slide because of the level of competition. They already moved down one spot after Oregon beat Stanford, and they beat New Mexico, ahem, 59-0. This is going to be a continuing storyline, and one that is sure to grow more polarizing should Boise State continue to win.

2. Ditto for TCU. The Horned Frogs have not put up huge winning margins, either, beating SMU 41-24 and a pretty bad Colorado State team 27-0 last week. They led just 6-0 at halftime, and quarterback Andy Dalton struggled to get much going in the passing game. This week they get Wyoming at home. Coach Gary Patterson is not much interested in style points. Talk to him about winning games.

3. How big a test does No. 10 Utah face at Iowa State? Huge. The Utes have beaten up on some bottom feeders. Their four opponents so far have a combined record of 4-15. Yikes. But what those contests have done is allow a young defense to find its chemistry and come together. The unit is playing very well, particularly the front seven. Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud is the best player they have faced so far, so Utah better be up for the challenge.

4. How does BYU respond after losing four straight? No question the Cougars are at a crossroads, off to their worst start since 1973. Coach Bronco Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jamie Hill and said he wants to take a more active role. It might be a little too late for that with back-to-back games against San Diego State and TCU facing his already beleaguered squad.

5. Chad Spann vs. Matt Brown/Bernard Pierce. OK so the running backs technically do not go against each other, but they headline the matchup between Temple and Northern Illinois. Spann leads the Huskies ground attack and the MAC in rushing. Brown had 224 yards last week for Temple in place of Pierce. Whether the star Owls back plays is a question. He is still nursing a sprained ankle. But there is no doubt this is an early preview of a potential MAC title game.

6. Will we ever see the Ricky Dobbs of old? Maybe against a Wake Forest run defense that is not very good. But how Dobbs plays will really determine how Navy does this season. So far, the answer is mediocre on both accounts. Dobbs has been hobbled with ankle and groin injuries and is averaging just 2.4 yards a carry. There are some in Annapolis who believe he is not as explosive as he was in 2009, when he set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27.

7. Will Houston become more of a rushing team? The Cougars have the capability with Bryce Beall, who is tied for the national lead with nine touchdowns on the ground. Coach Kevin Sumlin hasn’t announced whether Terrance Broadway or David Piland will start against Mississippi State, but there is no question with two true freshmen quarterbacks they will have to rely more on the running game.

8. What else can go wrong for North Texas? The Mean Green are down to their fourth starting quarterback after injuries have taken down Nathan Tune, Derek Thompson and now Riley Dodge. Chase Blaine will make his first career start against Arkansas State. Receiver Tyler Stradford is out after a freak accident, too, and the team has lost upwards of 10 starters because of injuries. But the most tragic of all – the team is still reeling from the death of walk-on receiver Josh Rake following a car accident.

9. Bad football lives here. As in, the entire state of New Mexico, FIU and Western Kentucky. But hey, at least two of those teams will notch their first wins this week. New Mexico and New Mexico State play each other, and Sun Belt rivals FIU and Western Kentucky also play. These are can’t-miss games for anybody interested in football futility.

10. Is Air Force the marquee program in Colorado? It is an excellent question now that the Falcons are ranked in the Top 25 for the first time under coach Troy Calhoun. They play Mountain West foe Colorado State on Saturday, but it appears Air Force is on top of the college football mountain in the state – even after Colorado’s big win against lowly Georgia.