NCF Nation: Frank Solich

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl preview

December, 23, 2013
A glance at the lone game on Monday’s schedule, a clash between Ohio (7-5) and East Carolina (9-3) in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET).

Who to watch: Shane Carden might have been working well outside of the spotlight compared to the rest of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks, but he has earned the right to be in that conversation with another eye-popping statistical season leading the attack for the Pirates. The junior ranks sixth in the country in passing yardage with 3,866 in the regular season, two spots ahead of a pair of guys with Heisman Trophies on their mantles in Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel. While Carden gets nowhere near the acclaim, he has steadily picked apart defenses all season, throwing for more than 300 yards in seven games thanks in part to a productive partnership with junior wide receiver Justin Hardy that generated 105 receptions, more than 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns.

What to watch: With almost no bowl history to speak of until 2007, coach Frank Solich has turned the Bobcats into a fixture of the postseason recently, hitting the road around the holidays for five straight seasons -- and playing some pretty entertaining affairs along the way. Ohio won a thriller two years ago over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and backed that up with a blowout win over Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl. The Bobcats will need a defense that has had its ups and downs to play like the unit that allowed a total of three points in consecutive outings in September and not the one that was gouged for 49 and 44 points in losses to Bowling Green and Kent State.

Why to watch: For starters, the Bobcats and Pirates have the stage all to themselves, and with only one bowl on the docket, they offer the only college football fix of the day. But beyond that, East Carolina has an offense built to put up fireworks and provide some entertainment. And under Solich, the Bobcats have rarely backed down from a challenge and have proved to be a motivated bunch in bowl games recently.

Prediction: East Carolina 41, Ohio 27

There's hardly ever a perfect time to part ways with a coach, especially one who has had success. Some programs opt to nudge out long-tenured, mostly successful coaches only to pay the price later for their decisions. Others that part ways with a veteran coach end up seeing improvement. is taking a closer look at this topic today, and we're putting it under the Big Ten microscope.

Here are some notable Big Ten (and Nebraska) coaching forceouts:

LLOYD CARR, Michigan (1995-2007)

What happened: A longtime Michigan assistant for Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller, Carr moved into the top job in 1995 and two years later guided Michigan to a national title. He led the Wolverines to at least a share of five Big Ten championships and six bowl victories, including the 1998 Rose and 2000 Orange bowls. Carr had the Wolverines positioned for another national title run in 2006 as they faced archrival Ohio State in an epic matchup of undefeated teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally. But Carr's squad fell to Jim Tressel's Buckeyes, a theme during the later part of Carr's tenure. The 2007 season began with a humiliating loss to Football Championship Subdivision team Appalachian State. Although Carr officially retired in November 2007, there certainly was some pressure for the school to go in a new direction.

[+] EnlargeLloyd Carr
Chris Livingston/Icon SMILloyd Carr is carried off the field following Michigan's win over the Gators in the Capital One Bowl, which was Carr's final game.
What happened next: Michigan went away from its coaching tree and plucked Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia to succeed Carr. It was a rocky situation from the start that never truly smoothed out. Rodriguez's first Michigan team in 2008 might have been the worst ever, tumbling to 3-9 and ending the school's streak of consecutive bowl appearances at 33. The following summer, Michigan admitted to committing major violations for the first time in its history -- relating to practice time -- and self-imposed probation. The Wolverines once again missed a bowl game in 2009 and struggled to make one in Rodriguez's third season. After a blowout loss in the 2011 Gator Bowl, Michigan fired Rodriguez, who went just 15-22 at Michigan (6-18 Big Ten, 0-3 against Ohio State). Michigan might have slipped a bit from the ranks of the elite under Carr, but the program plummeted to historic depths under Rodriguez. Michigan replaced Rodriguez with former Carr assistant Brady Hoke.

JOHN COOPER, Ohio State (1988-2000)

What happened: After a rocky start (4-6-1 in 1988), Cooper went on a nice run at Ohio State in the mid- to late 1990s, averaging 10.3 victories between 1993 and 1998. He guided Ohio State to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 13 years during the 1996 season and emerged with a victory against Arizona State. He also won the Sugar Bowl after the 1998 season and coached Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. But Cooper had two problems: an inability to beat archrival Michigan (2-10-1) and struggles in bowl games (3-8). Three times the Buckeyes entered The Game with a perfect record -- 1993, 1995 and 1996 -- and fell to the Wolverines. After a 6-6 clunker in 1999 and another loss to Michigan in 2000, Ohio State fired Cooper, who finished second on the school's all-time coaching wins list, behind Woody Hayes, with 111.

What happened next: Ohio State made an unorthodox move in bringing in Youngstown State's Tressel to succeed Cooper. It paid off as Tressel guided the Buckeyes to a national title in his second season. Ohio State remains the only Big Ten team to win a crystal football during the BCS era. Tressel ended up dominating the Big Ten (six titles) and Michigan (8-1) during his tenure, leading Ohio State to five BCS bowl wins (one vacated) and three appearances in the national title game. Although Tressel's tenure ended in scandal, he certainly boosted Ohio State's program after the Cooper era.

BILL MALLORY, Indiana (1984-1996)

What happened: After mostly successful runs at Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Northern Illinois, Mallory came to Indiana and put together an impressive run, reaching six bowl games between 1986 and 1993. He became the first man to win back-to-back Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1986 and 1987. Indiana had three top-four finishes in the Big Ten (1987, 1991, 1993), but after Mallory went just 5-17 (1-15 Big Ten) in 1995 and 1996, Indiana fired him. Mallory remains Indiana's all-time coaching wins leader (69) and is responsible for six of the Hoosiers' nine bowl teams.

What happened next: Indiana has yet to come close to achieving the type of moderate success it enjoyed in the Mallory era. The program struggled under Cam Cameron and Gerry DiNardo before surging a bit for the late Terry Hoeppner. Still, it took 11 seasons after Mallory's dismissal for Indiana to return to the postseason under Bill Lynch in 2007. Although the Hoosiers are making strides under Kevin Wilson, the program has a ways to go to match where it was under Mallory.

GLEN MASON, Minnesota (1997-2006)

What happened: Mason never got Minnesota to the promised land -- its first Big Ten championship since 1967 -- but he made the Gophers a consistent bowl team. He won six to eight games in six of his final eight seasons, slumping to a 4-7 finish in 2001 but breaking through with 10 victories in 2003. Minnesota reached bowls seven times under Mason, but his middling Big Ten record (32-48) and inability to challenge for league titles eventually stirred the administration into action. The school fired Mason two days after Minnesota squandered a 31-point third-quarter lead against Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl.

What happened next: The program backslid with the overmatched Tim Brewster at the helm, going 1-11 in 2007. Brewster made some splashes in recruiting but couldn't get enough talent to translate to the field. After a 7-1 start in 2008, the Gophers dropped their final five games, including a 55-0 decision to archrival Iowa at the Metrodome. A 6-7 season followed in 2009, and Minnesota fired Brewster after a 1-6 start in 2010. Brewster went 15-30 at the school and 6-21 in the Big Ten, which included an 0-10 mark in trophy games. His tumultuous tenure had many questioning why Minnesota ever got rid of Mason.

FRANK SOLICH, Nebraska (1998-2003)

What happened: A former Huskers fullback, Solich had the nearly impossible task of following coaching legend Tom Osborne, who won national titles in three of his final four seasons at the school. Solich won 42 games in his first four seasons, a Big 12 championship in 1999 and Big 12 North titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He guided the Huskers to the 2000 Fiesta Bowl championship, and the 2001 team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, played Miami for the national title at the Rose Bowl but fell 37-14. Nebraska then went 7-7 in 2002, its first nonwinning season since 1961. Solich rebounded with a 9-3 mark in 2003 but was fired despite a 58-19 record in Lincoln.

What happened next: Much like Michigan, Nebraska went away from its coaching tree and hired Bill Callahan, who had led the Oakland Raiders for two seasons. And much like Michigan, Nebraska paid a price as the program went downhill. The Huskers went 5-6 in Callahan's first year, their first losing campaign since 1961. They won eight games the following year and the Big 12 North in 2006, but a highly anticipated 2007 season fell apart, particularly for the celebrated Blackshirts defense. Nebraska surrendered 40 points or more in six games and went 5-7, leading to Callahan's dismissal. Although Nebraska has rebounded under Bo Pelini, its last conference championship came under Solich's watch, 14 long years ago.
1. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that the university wouldn’t release 2013 signee Eddie Vanderdoes to play at UCLA this year because he must be held accountable. Kelly is right. Vanderdoes signed the document. He has to live by it. So what took Notre Dame so long to commit to play at Arizona State in 2014? Sun Devils athletic director Steve Patterson said on the ESPNU College Football Podcast that it took a lot of lawyers and a lot of negotiation to get Notre Dame to agree to honor the contract it signed in 2008.

2. Wisconsin fifth-year linebacker Chris Borland is in that sweet spot for all college football fans. He is an immensely talented player who stuck around for all four years of eligibility. Those guys are so rare these days that it feels like Borland has been around forever. Doesn’t it seem like Borland played at least two seasons for Barry Alvarez, who retired in 2005? Nebraska senior quarterback Taylor Martinez is the same deal. I could swear he played for Frank Solich.

3. Borland, whom my ESPN colleague Matt Millen named as the No. 3 linebacker in the nation, is from Kettering, Ohio, and former Boston College All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly is from Cincinnati. What does it say that a) Ohio State signed neither player and b) that the Buckeyes’ star linebacker, Ryan Shazier, is from Pompano Beach, Fla.? The last native Buckeyes All-American linebacker is A.J. Hawk, also of Kettering, in 2005.

3-point stance: Fiesta familiarity

December, 14, 2012
1. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is a marquee game because No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State make for the only top-10 matchup outside of the Discover BCS National Championship. But the Fiesta will be fun to watch because the Ducks and the Wildcats are similar. They wait for the other team to crack and then they pounce. Oregon does it with a fast tempo. Kansas State leads the nation in punt returns, kickoff returns and turnover margin. All three are indicative of a well-coached, well-disciplined team.

2. Ohio University began the season with the 24-14 upset at Penn State -- which was no upset -- and won its first seven games. But the Bobcats suffered 14 season-ending injuries and finished 8-4. “They were injuries that required surgery,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. His training staff tried to discern a pattern. “Practice field, game field, opponent’s field,” Solich said. “We couldn’t piece anything together that just fit. It’s just a roll of the dice and we came up short.”

3. Speaking of dice-rolling, that’s what Colorado has done. Not by hiring head coach Mike MacIntyre -- if he could resurrect San Jose State, he can resurrect Colorado -- but in committing to raise the money to build an indoor practice facility, expand the Dal Ward Athletic Center and gussy up Folsom Field. Colorado is wading in to raise up to $100 million, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, in an uncertain economy from a fan base that a) has never given at that level and b) is all about the NFL's Broncos. That’s a tough slog.
The final regular-season polls are out, including the coaches' poll, which on Sunday revealed the final ballots from 59 FBS head coaches.

Six Big Ten coaches voted in this year's poll: Illinois' Tim Beckman, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Michigan's Brady Hoke, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Indiana's Kevin Wilson.

Politics and biases undoubtedly play out in the final balloting, so let's check out some notable votes from the Big Ten contingent.
  • After Wisconsin smashed his team Saturday night, Pelini ranked the Badgers at No. 16, the highest vote they received (Washington's Steve Sarkisian also had UW at 16). Bielema, meanwhile, had the Badgers at No. 18. Bielema didn't think a whole lot of the Huskers after Saturday night's stomping, putting Nebraska at No. 24, the lowest vote Big Red received among the Big Ten coaches.
  • Wilson, whose Indiana team Wisconsin crushed Nov. 10 in Bloomington, had the Badgers at No. 25, lowest among all the Big Ten coaches. Wilson had Nebraska at No. 22. Hmmm ...
  • Hoke was one of three coaches to give Michigan its highest ranking at No. 15. The others? Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and ... wait for it ... Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who coached the Wolverines from 2008-10. Nice to see Rich isn't bitter. Dantonio put his in-state rival at No. 20.
  • Hoke played and coached in the Mid-American Conference for Ball State, but he had little loyalty for the league on his ballot. That, or he just hates Northern Illinois. Hoke had the Huskies at No. 25, the lowest vote they received among any of the coaches. Beckman, who previously coached NIU's top rival Toledo, had the Huskies at No. 17.
  • Bielema gave his former boss Bill Snyder some love, ranking Kansas State at No. 4 on his ballot. Dantonio, who is good friends with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, had the Sooners at No. 8 and BCS buster Northern Illinois all the way down at No. 22. Wilson, who worked for Stoops at Oklahoma before coming to Indiana, had the Sooners at No. 11. So did Pelini.
  • A quick check of where the Big Ten coaches ranked their upcoming bowl opponents. Bielema had Stanford at No. 5, Hoke had South Carolina at No. 10 and Pelini had Georgia at No. 6.
  • All six Big Ten coaches had Notre Dame at No. 1 and Alabama at No. 2.

Other notable coach votes:
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren, the former Wisconsin defensive coordinator who coached Northern Illinois this season, didn't rank the Badgers on his final ballot. He had Nebraska at No. 18. Huh?
  • Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant, didn't have much love for the Big Ten, not ranking Northwestern or Nebraska. He had Michigan at No. 23.
  • Ohio coach Frank Solich, who played and coached at Nebraska, had the Huskers at No. 23 on his ballot.

Here's a quick look at the voting for each Big Ten team in the final poll (Ohio State and Penn State weren't eligible).

No. 17 Northwestern

High vote: 14, from Kentucky's Joker Phillips and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier (who also jabbed at the Wildcats on Sunday)

Low vote: Not ranked by multiple coaches

No. 21 Nebraska

High vote:15, by Oklahoma's Stoops, Spurrier and Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn

Low vote: Not ranked by multiple coaches

No. 22 Michigan

High vote: 15, by Hoke, Kelly and Rodriguez

Low vote: Not ranked by multiple coaches

No. 23 Wisconsin

High vote: 16, by Pelini and Sarkisian

Low vote: Not ranked by multiple coaches

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 12, 2012
Wishing you a good weekend of game watching.

Tim from Hermosa Beach, Calif., writes: Adam,Should Wisconsin win out, win the Big Ten Championship, and win the Rose Bowl, could Bret Bielema be considered for Big Ten coach of the year? Yes, losing two games (one to a pretty good OR St. team), is bad, but with all the turnover on the field and the sidelines, wouldn't it be phenomenal to accomplish that feat?

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, if the Big Ten awarded Coach of the Year after the bowl season, I would agree with you 100 percent. But the major awards actually come out after the final regular-season games are played. Would Bielema win the award if Wisconsin merely wins the Leaders division, which everyone predicted it would before the season? Highly unlikely. Although it would show he helped right the ship in Madison after a very shaky start, I'd be surprised to see him claim the award over, say, Bill O'Brien, Urban Meyer, Pat Fitzgerald or Jerry Kill. There's a long way to go and anything is possible, but the timing of when the award is presented -- before the league title game and the bowls -- probably eliminates Bielema from the discussion.

Michael from Saginaw, Mich., writes: I know this is thinking really far ahead, but I cant help myself. This mediocre season that seems to be going down for my beloved Spartans may have one of those double edged sword mentalities i think. Instead of losing possible greats to the draft such as bell and Gholston, do they come back for unfinished business? Ive read many times how much Gholston appreciates the staff and the college life and opportunities that were afforded to him. Bell could possibly have a healthy and strong O-line next year with a (god willing) much improved pass game. Do seasons such as this give way to possible great follow-ups? (or am i asking the football gods for too much?)

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, while there could be an unfinished business mentality for Michigan State's draft hopefuls, it ultimately comes down to a set of individual decisions. I would be very surprised if Le'Veon Bell returns in 2013, even if Michigan State falls short of its goals this fall. Bell plays a position that has a very short shelf-life in the NFL, and despite his size, he has taken a ton of carries -- and hits -- this season. He projects very well to the next level and doesn't need to prove much more to the scouts after the durability he has shown this fall. Gholston is a different case because of the position he plays and whether he'll benefit more from another year at the college level. I think he could, but again, I'm not in his shoes and dealing with the circumstances in his life. Gholston hasn't been as dominant as many of us thought he'd be, but his natural ability certainly could springboard him to the NFL if he chooses to come out. If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say Bell goes and Gholston stays.

Matthew from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Since the Pelini hot seat rumors seem to be firing up I thought I'd pose this to someone who might actually know:If we fire Pelini when he hasn't had a losing season and is 45-22 (if he's 6-6 this year) is any coach going to want to come here? Considering our treatment of Solich (who was 58-19) are good coaches going to think our expectations are grossly inflated and pass?And by good coach I mean someone who "everyone" is talking about as a good head coaching prospect, so they're likely to have options and future prospects. Yes I know that can backfire.(I know this isn't really unique to us, Georgia seems to be in the same situation. A coach you don't think is good enough to win championships and too good to fire)

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, first of all, I'd be very surprised if Nebraska parts ways with Pelini after this season, even if he goes 6-6 (also unlikely). It's more likely he leaves for another job than gets fired. You bring up an interesting point, though, about the perception of the Nebraska job if the Huskers dump Pelini with a decent overall record, like they did with Solich. While I think the circumstances are a little different in Lincoln these days (no Steve Pederson), it's interesting to debate how the Nebraska job is viewed from the outside. Although the school and its fans want to compete for national championships, I also think there's a keen understanding of the difficulties (geography, recent history, rise of SEC) that make it tough. What Nebraska should be doing is competing regularly for Big Ten titles, occasionally for national titles and having fewer nights like last Saturday's, when it flat-lines in the national spotlight. If Bo can't do that, Nebraska will need to look elsewhere. And whomever succeeds Pelini, he needs to be keenly aware of the program/fan culture and embrace the unique elements of leading Big Red.

Grant from State College, Pa., writes: I was wondering your thoughts on Michael Mauti being left off of the Lombardi quarter-finalist list? Through the first half of the season, he is producing at a high a level as anyone in the Big Ten, and the country for that matter.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a joke, Grant. A lot of these awards embarrass themselves with preseason watch lists and sometimes with revised midseason watch lists. Anyone who has been paying attention knows Mauti has been one of the nation's top 3 linebackers this season. He is playing at an All-America caliber level, and if he keeps it up, he'll win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. I hope the Lombardi Award folks reconsider their error and add Mauti to the mix. I agree with David Jones that these awards shouldn't be taken as seriously as they are, and there are PR agendas in play. I would hope Mauti isn't punished because of the uniform he wears, but the lack of analysis I've seen from those compiling these award lists rarely surprises me. Mauti will be recognized where it matters -- on All-America lists and with the Big Ten awards.

(Read full post)

Michigan and Penn State aren't used to this.

The Wolverines and Nittany Lions entered Saturday's games with a combined record of 201-39-5 in season openers. Penn State hadn't dropped its first game since 2001, and while Michigan had a few recent missteps, most notably a 34-32 loss to FCS Appalachian State in 2007, the Maize and Blue typically start seasons with relatively easy wins.

Michigan has never experienced an opening loss worse than the 27-point setback it endured at the hands of then-No. 2 Alabama on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas. Few expected Michigan to knock off the defending national champ, but most thought the Wolverines would hang around longer than a quarter.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDeion Belue will be a familiar face in Alabama's secondary next season, but others need to step up.
Although Penn State was far more competitive in its loss to Ohio, a talented team with a good quarterback (Tyler Tettleton) and a proven coach (Frank Solich), the perception of falling to a MAC team at home stings a team that had dealt with so much transition and turmoil during the offseason. There's a reason the Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries published a post Tuesday headlined: "Five Penn State losses worse than Ohio."

Both Michigan and Penn State find themselves in the unfamiliar position of needing to rebound in Week 2. And while Wisconsin survived its opener against FCS Northern Iowa, the Badgers are in the club as well, looking for a better performance as they hit the road for Oregon State.

"You've got to get over it," said Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who threw two interceptions, one returned for an Alabama touchdown, in the loss. "You can't let them beat us twice. It's time to move forward."

Penn State players echoed the same message this week as they get ready for a road test at Virginia. The Lions couldn't wait to get back on the field after a nightmarish offseason and channeled their emotion to take a 14-3 halftime lead on Ohio.

But when the momentum shifted in the third quarter on a likely Penn State interception-turned Ohio touchdown, Beaver Stadium seemed to deflate, and so did the Lions. Although Bill O'Brien attributed his team's second-half swoon more to Ohio's playmaking ability, players acknowledged a letup.

"As a football player, you have to have a short memory because there are wins and losses," senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "We've got to stay pumped up and not lose our energy. We lost some of our energy in the second half. We have to keep that up the whole game."

O'Brien stressed the need to move forward immediately after Saturday's game, and while there are schematic and personnel adjustments to be made to yield better results at Virginia, the coach has had to be more Stuart Smalley than Bill Belichick for his potentially fragile team.

"We've got to talk to our guys all the time about making sure they know how we feel about them," O'Brien said. "These are good football players who are playing in new systems. There are a lot of guys playing really for the first time in college football, who have bright futures. … I really feel good about our football team. Nobody wanted it to go that way on Saturday, but if you're sitting there with me watching the tape with our staff, there's a lot to build on."

Both O'Brien and Brady Hoke praised their teams' response in the first practices following the opening losses. Hoke is leaning on Michigan's senior class to ensure the team turns the page from Alabama to an always tricky Air Force squad, which visits Ann Arbor this week.

"We'll learn a little bit more about our leadership," Hoke said. "I've liked it to this point. This week we'll learn a little bit more on how motivated they are. I think when you only have 11 guaranteed opportunities left and you're Michigan, I think you'll be very motivated."

Bret Bielema expects the same from his Wisconsin team after a major scare at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers nearly squandered leads of 19-0 and 26-7 and needed a late defensive stand to hold off Northern Iowa 26-21. Wisconsin had won its previous seven nonconference home games by an average of 32.7 points.

Wisconsin typically hands out MVP awards (offense, defense, special teams, scout team) after wins, but Bielema withheld them after the Northern Iowa game, saying he "didn't really feel we're at that level yet."

Bielema called the close call a valuable teaching tool for his team.

"For us to face the adversity we had to to win that game, on offense, defense and special teams, you'd much rather have that after a win than a loss," he said.

Michigan and Penn State don't have that luxury, but like Wisconsin, the Wolverines and Lions are looking for bounce-back performances this week against dangerous foes. As both O'Brien and Hoke preached this week, it's a long season.

Then again, it'll feel a lot longer at 0-2.

"I know that we have to move on," Hill said, "and move forward."

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 12, 2011
The good: It was a weekend of big wins for non-AQs. FIU picked up the first win against an AQ team in school history when the Panthers upset Louisville 24-17. New Mexico State stunned Minnesota 28-21, picking up its first win against a Big Ten team, and first win against an AQ opponent since defeating Arizona State in 1999. The Aggies have been one of the worst teams in college football -- coach DeWayne Walker has won six games there in three seasons. Taveon Rogers had two touchdowns and 88 yards receiving.

[+] EnlargeGeorge O'Leary
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayCentral Florida and coach George O'Leary dominated Boston College.
Meanwhile, Conference USA pulled out two wins against AQ opponents: UCF handled Boston College 30-3 and Rice beat Purdue 24-22. Both were milestone wins. Though UCF has beaten AQ programs before, the Knights had never done so at home. They are off to their first 2-0 start since 1998, a season removed from making the Top 25 for the first time in program history. Rice had lost 22 consecutive games to AQ opponents. The win was the Owls' first against a Big Ten team since a 40-34 win at Northwestern in 1997.

TCU rebounded in a big way against Air Force, winning 35-19 in a game that was never close. In fact, the Horned Frogs led 35-9 in the fourth quarter, and played much better on defense, even without leading tackler Tanner Brock.

The heartbreak: The MAC easily had the most heartbreaking day. Central Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois had leads on their AQ opponents only to come up just short.

Central Michigan led the Wildcats 13-6 at halftime and had outgained them 227 yards to 94. But the turning point came midway through the third quarter, when coach Dan Enos elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34. Tim Phillips ran for no gain. Kentucky scored on the next play to tie the game at 13, and Central Michigan never scored again in 27-13 loss.

Toledo had Ohio State on the ropes, but the Rockets killed themselves with one mistake after another: 14 penalties for 102 yards; a missed 45-yard field goal and botched hold on a 50-yard attempt; allowing a punt return for a score. A final interception from Terrance Owens on the Ohio State 17 with 48 seconds closed out a 27-22 loss.

Northern Illinois lost to Kansas 45-42 with 9 seconds left when Jayhawks quarterback Jordan Webb threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to B.J. Beshears. The Huskies had taken the lead with 5:03 remaining when Jasmin Hopkins scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Kansas converted two fourth down opportunities on the winning drive. Chandler Harnish finished 27-of-33 for 315 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 89 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish has 11 total touchdowns in two games this season.

Not to be outdone, Fresno State and BYU each had halftime leads in their games before losing. The Bulldogs gave up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that turned the tide and lost to No. 10 Nebraska 42-29. ... BYU led Texas 13-3 but the Longhorns changed quarterbacks in the second half and that seemed to spark them to a 16-13 win. The BYU offense has not exactly gotten immediate results from new offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. The Cougars rank No. 108 in the nation in total offense (275.5 ypg), and No. 107 in scoring offense (15 ppg). Despite that, they could very easily be 2-0.

The ugly: The offense clearly was not invited to the Louisiana-Kent State game. The teams combined for 19 first downs, seven turnovers and 15 penalties in one of the ugliest games of the day. Louisiana had 159 total yards; Kent State 186. Louisiana quarterback Chris Masson threw for 18 yards.

Army was one of the best teams in the nation last season in turnover margin, but so far this season, turnovers have been a big problem in an 0-2 start. In a 23-20 loss to San Diego State, the Black Knights fumbled eight times -- losing three. In two games, Army has given the ball away six times and is at minus-4 in turnover ratio.

Record watch:

  • Ohio coach Frank Solich notched his 100th career win Saturday in a 30-3 win against Gardner-Webb.
  • Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis broke Brett Favre's school passing yards mark of 7,695, in a 26-20 loss to Marshall.
  • Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 458 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-23 win against North Texas. He moved into fourth place on the FBS career list for passing yards (14,354) and tied Danny Wuerffel for sixth in career passing touchdowns with 114.
  • Pete Thomas became the first sophomore quarterback in Colorado State history to reach 3,000 yards passing. In a 33-14 win against Northern Colorado, Thomas was 28-for-42 for 259 yards and a touchdown -- but he also threw three interceptions.
Injury update: Colorado State linebacker Mychal Sisson broke his ankle in the second quarter against Northern Colorado and is out indefinitely. Coach Steve Fairchild said the hope is for Sisson to be able to return later this season. ... UTEP starting quarterback Nick Lamaison separated his shoulder in a loss to SMU. ... Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson was pulled from the loss to TCU and got precautionary X-rays after the game for an undisclosed injury. Nose guard Ryan Gardner injured his knee.

Helmet stickers

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. Cooper’s four receiving touchdowns tied a school record for touchdown catches in a single game.

Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State. Had a career-high 10 tackles in a 23-20 win against Army, and his sack on a critical third-down on Army's last drive of the game took Army out of field goal range.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Set a career-high and school record with 201 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a 24-17 upset win against Louisville.

Adrien Cole, LB, Louisiana Tech. Had 9 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and blocked Central Arkansas’ field goal in overtime, his second blocked field goal in as many games.

UCF defense. Held Boston College to three points and 84 yards passing in the 30-3 win. The Knights have yet to allow 100 passing yards in a game this season and have limited their first two opponents to three points and 260 total yards.

Instant Analysis: Troy 48, Ohio 21

December, 19, 2010
Troy easily beat Ohio 48-21 in the R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night. That makes three blowouts in three games to open bowl season. Here is a quick instant analysis of the Trojans' win:

How the game was won: Tempo, tempo, tempo. Troy devastated Ohio with is quick-strike, spread offense, and the Bobcats simply could not keep up. Not on the line, not in the secondary, not with substitutions. At one point, Ohio coach Frank Solich screamed to the officials that his team was not given the proper amount of time to get in substitutions. But that was far from the problem. Ohio simply had no answers. Troy scored on its first eight possessions and did not have a punt until the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Troy defense put major pressure on Phil Bates and Boo Jackson and did a good job against the run. Despite trailing early and not having much success on the ground, Ohio stuck with the run way too long. With its methodical offense, falling behind so badly made it impossible to come back. Ohio remains winless in five bowl appearances.

Stat of the game: 0. Troy had zero penalties, zero punts and zero turnovers in the first half, en route to a 38-7 lead.

Player of the game: Corey Robinson. What can you say about the game the redshirt freshman quarterback had? Robinson completed 23 of 29 passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns. By halftime. He ended with the New Orleans Bowl record for passing yards with 387, completing 32 of 42 passes without an interception.

Unsung hero of the game: Troy defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi. The Trojans dominated on the defensive front, and Massaquoi was a big reason why. He piled up eight tackles, including three for a loss, and a New Orleans Bowl record 2.5 sacks. Scary part -- he just finished his redshirt sophomore season.

Second guessing: Bates got the start at quarterback for Ohio, but he was ineffective. Jackson has the much better arm, but Solich continued to stick with Bates. Perhaps it was because Jackson had academic problemsto clear up and joined the team late in New Orleans. Solich eventually went with Jackson, but by that time, Ohio trailed badly and the deficit was too large to overcome.

Record performance: Troy scored the most points and gained the most yards in the 10-year history of the New Orleans Bowl. It also was the most points the Trojans have scored in their five bowl appearances. Hard to believe this same team lost to ULM and UAB this season.


MAC loses three top coaches

December, 16, 2010
The MAC has a long and proud history of sending its head coaches on to bigger jobs. But even this season is a bit unusual in its attrition rate.

Three of the top coaches in the league have left for jobs at automatic qualifying conferences in the past few weeks, more than at any time in the past five seasons. Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood became the latest to leave Wednesday, moving on to Pittsburgh. Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill (Minnesota) and former Temple coach Al Golden (Miami) have also left.

Last season, the league lost two coaches to AQ jobs -- Butch Jones went from Central Michigan to Cincinnati, while Turner Gill went from Buffalo to Kansas. That means former MAC coaches are in the Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12.

There will be at least five new head coaches in the league once again. Kent State is looking to replace Doug Martin, who resigned, while Ball State fired Stan Parrish. There were also five new coaches to start the 2009 season. But only one coach went on to a job at a bigger school -- Brady Hoke left Ball State at the end of 2008 for San Diego State.

In fact, the last four winners of the MAC Coach of the Year Award are now gone: Gill in 2007, Hoke in 2008, Golden in 2009 and Haywood in 2010.

Several other coaches have left the MAC in recent years for bigger schools -- the late Terry Hoeppner left Miami (Ohio) in 2005 for Indiana, Urban Meyer coached at Bowling Green, Brian Kelly coached at Central Michigan and Gary Pinkel and Nick Saban both were head coaches at Toledo. Miami (Ohio) is, of course, known as the Cradle of Coaches.

With all the movement, Ohio coach Frank Solich and Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit will be the most experienced MAC coaches going into 2011. Both are headed into their seventh seasons.

As for the college football landscape, no other league will have more new head coaches than the MAC. The Sun Belt is the only one that comes close, with three.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November, 25, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving to all! Hope you get to spend today with lots of food, family and football -- it will be a great treat to see whether Texas can pull the upset and become bowl-eligible tonight against Texas A&M.

What are you thankful for today? Here is my list:

Passionate college football fans, who are all to eager to tell you that you are either 1) The smartest person alive or 2) The dumbest person who ever lived and should be scrubbing toilets rather than talking college football. I love you all!

Boise State and TCU. Haters can hate all they want, but we are seeing something this season that may never happen again. This is history in the making, the possibility that a non-AQ makes it into the national championship game. With Boise State and TCU set to be in the same conference in 2011, Utah leaving for the Pac-12 and the implosion of the WAC, this could very well be the last time we see two undefeated non-AQ teams jockeying for position in a national championship race.

The Pistol offense. It's nice to see Nevada coach Chris Ault get all the pub he has gotten for his innovative offense this season. Not only have countless stories been done on him, but several teams throughout college football are now running some version of it, from UCLA to Alabama to Stanford.

Great coaching jobs. Look across the non-AQs and you will find plenty -- TCU coach Gary Patterson and Boise State coach Chris Petersen go without saying. Here are a few others:
  • Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood -- Took a 1-11 team to an 8-4 record and a share of the East Division title.
  • Ohio coach Frank Solich -- Overcame the loss of three star players to lead his team to a share of the MAC East.
  • Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill -- On the verge of a 10-win season for the Huskies.
  • FIU coach Mario Cristobal -- Has his never-been-bowling Panthers one win away from a Sun Belt title.
  • UCF coach George O'Leary -- Has his team one win from the C-USA title game with a freshman quarterback and an outstanding defense.
  • BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall -- His team is bowl-eligible after starting the season 1-4.
Great players. You know the headliners. Here are some of the most unheralded from the non-AQs: Western Kentucky RB Bobby Rainey, who has carried the ball a whopping 313 times this season and ranks No. 4 in the country in rushing, averaging 135 yards a game. North Texas back Lance Dunbar is right behind him in the Sun Belt. Dominique Davis of East Carolina, Bryant Moniz of Hawaii, Alex Carder of Western Michigan and Corey Robinson of Troy all rank in the top 10 in the nation in passing.

Great WR duos, too: Titus Young and Austin Pettis at Boise State; Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares at Hawaii; Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson at San Diego State; Juan Nunez and Jordan White at Western Michigan.

Defensively, it's hard not to like Jamon Hughes of Memphis, Bobby Wagner of Utah State, Dwayne Woods of Bowling Green, Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey of Marshall, Archie Donald and Danny Molls of Toledo, the entire TCU and Boise State defenses, Josh McNary of Army and Wyatt Middleton of Navy. Three of the best special-teamers in the nation are from non-AQs too: Shaky Smithson of Utah, Jeremy Kerley of TCU and Darius Johnson of Tulsa.

Happy eating, everyone!

Non-AQ What to Watch, Week 13

November, 24, 2010
Come one, come all for your top 10 non-AQ storylines for Week 13:

1. Does Boise State finally pass TCU in the BCS standings? Ever since TCU had its less than impressive 40-35 win over San Diego State, experts and fans have speculated it was only a matter of time before the Broncos passed the Horned Frogs as the top non-AQ team in the BCS standings. This could be the weekend it happens. No. 4 Boise State plays No. 19 Nevada, while No. 3 TCU plays lowly New Mexico (1-10). Their computer average should be about the same, so watch for how the two line up in the human polls.

2. Does a non-AQ still have a national title shot? Tune in to Iron Bowl on Friday afternoon for your answer. No. 2 Auburn plays at rival Alabama, and many are predicting a win for the Tide. If that happens, either Boise State or TCU should move into that No. 2 position, but there are no guarantees. A one-loss SEC team could still be enough for voters to keep the Tigers ahead of both non-AQs. A lot depends on the final score, and then what happens in the SEC title game the following week. But losing late is never beneficial. Oregon hosts Arizona on Friday night, and there is an outside shot the Wildcats pull the upset.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireGary Patterson says style points won't come into play against New Mexico.
3. Can TCU do anything to help itself? Win in a blowout. But that still may not be enough. Boise State plays Friday night, so the Horned Frogs will have a better idea of where they could stand when the BCS standings are released on Sunday. Boise State has all the momentum this weekend. Meanwhile, TCU coach Gary Patterson says there is no way his team will put up style points on the Lobos.

“Both sides have players and coaches who are human beings,” Patterson said. “Somebody wrote an e-mail: Oregon beat them 72-0. I can promise -- even if I had a chance to do that, that would never happen. Do I want to get an opportunity to play for a national championship? Yes, but not at the expense of teaching my young people a life lesson. I believe in doing things the right way. It’s not about teaching them the wrong message.”

4. Boise State D vs. the Pistol. The Broncos put on a dominating performance last week in a 51-0 win over Fresno State, but they face the trendsetting offense of the year: the Pistol. They are used to playing against this offense, so it will be easier for them to defend against it. Nevada ranks No. 3 in total offense, and Boise State ranks No. 2 in total defense. Colin Kaepernick had a terrific game in a four-overtime thriller his freshman year against Boise State, but since then has not posted a 100-yard rushing game against Boise State. The key here could be the running of Vai Taua, ranked seventh in the country in rushing, and whether Kaepernick is able to pass as efficiently as he has so far this season.

5. End of an era for BYU-Utah. The Holy War will have a different feel to it this season, simply because it’s the final one featuring the two teams as members of the same conference, and the final one scheduled to close out the regular season. The two teams will play in 2011 and 2012 in September, but have no future games scheduled after that. Both schools want to keep the game alive, and they should. This is one of the fiercest rivalries in all of college football.

6. C-USA race. All SMU and UCF have to do is win and they are in the Conference USA title game Dec. 4 in Orlando. The Knights would host the game based on their better record. UCF should be a shoo-in to beat Memphis (1-10). SMU will face a more difficult challenge at East Carolina. The Pirates have lost three of their last four, and gave up an average of 62 points in those losses. But they have only dropped one at home, and have a good offense behind Dominique Davis and Dwayne Harris that can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

7. MAC race. If Ohio beats Kent State on Friday night, the Bobcats punch their ticket to the MAC title game on Dec. 3 in Detroit for the second straight season. Consider the job coach Frank Solich has done this season -- he lost his best defensive player in Noah Keller and his best offensive player in LaVon Brazill for the season, along with Freshman All-America safety Gerald Moore. But the Bobcats have won seven straight and beat the two other East Division teams that are bowl eligible in Temple and Miami (Ohio).

8. Sun Belt race. FIU gets its first Sun Belt title game and first bowl appearance with a win over Arkansas State on Saturday. The Panthers have been one of the biggest surprises this season and have won three straight to take command of the league race. The last time these two teams played in Miami, FIU won 22-21 on a touchdown pass from receiver T.Y. Hilton to fellow receiver Junior Mertile.

9. Bowl eligibility. A few teams have hopes of getting to six wins this weekend: Houston (at Texas Tech), Western Michigan (at Bowling Green), Troy (at Western Kentucky), FIU and ULM (Louisiana). Louisiana Tech (4-6) and Idaho (5-6) have to win out to become eligible. Louisiana Tech has to beat San Jose State and Nevada; while Idaho needs to beat Fresno State and San Jose State.

10. Your waistline. Oh, forget about your waistline! Put on a pair of sweatpants, and enjoy all the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie you can as you feast on a terrific college football slate this holiday weekend. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
A familiar story line will unfold Tuesday night in Philadelphia: Ohio and Temple will play with a spot in the MAC title game on the line.

The two teams are in a three-way tie atop the East with Miami (Ohio). But if either the Owls (8-2, 5-1) or the Bobcats (7-3, 5-1) win out, then they get a spot in the league championship game, most likely against Northern Illinois.

Last season, the two teams also met in the second-to-last game of the season. Temple came in with a nine-game winning streak and unbeaten record in league play. But Ohio won 35-17 as the Owls struggled in the passing game. Chester Stewart and Vaughn Charlton completed a combined 11 passes and threw three interceptions.

The Bobcats later lost to Central Michigan in the MAC title game.

“We would have all liked to have left the film there,” Temple coach Al Golden said of going back and watching last season’s game. “They played better than we did. They were the tougher team. We’ve learned a lot about our team. We’ve learned a lot throughout the course of this year, but we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t learn from last year. It should be a great matchup. That’s what we’re in the business for -- to be in meaningful games in November.”

The big question is what will happen at quarterback for Ohio. Starter Boo Jackson has played well lately, but he sustained a concussion in a fight outside a bar and hasn’t been involved in practice. Coach Frank Solich said Monday that Jackson was doubtful to play.

Phil Bates, who has split time with Jackson this season, took reps this week in practice but he’s been hobbled with a shoulder injury. Freshman Kyle Snyder has also gotten reps, but Ohio hopes to hold him out because it wants to redshirt him.

“(Bates is) not 100 percent, but been playing on and off at not 100 percent, so we’ll just wait and see,” Solich said. “He’s practiced well and felt good during practice. We think he’ll be able to start the game and hopefully be able to hold up.”

Bates presents a different style than Jackson. He is more of a runner than a passer, and leads the team with 423 yards on the ground.

As for Temple, the Owls have gotten a huge lift since Mike Gerardi replaced Stewart in the starting lineup. In three starts, Gerardi has gone 54-of-81 for 871 yards and eight touchdowns. But there has been shuffling along the offensive line, and Golden wants to make sure his team is just as physical as Ohio.

“They’ve been more explosive than we have been on offense,” Golden said. “That’s the challenge. They really put it to us a year ago in terms of the offensive side of things and didn’t allow any big plays. Frank has always had a physical team, has always had a rugged team and that’s what they pride themselves on. They are certainly that.”

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.
They share the same geographic footprint and some of the same recruits, but nobody would ever mistake MAC football and Big Ten football.

For all the strides the MAC has made over the last several years, there is no shaking the perception it is the little brother to the big and mighty Big Ten. It is a hard label to escape considering the league is a non-automatic qualifying conference, with far fewer dollars, smaller athletic budgets and smaller fan bases.

Still, MAC teams use their games against the Big Ten every year as a measuring stick to see where they stand going into conference play. So far this season, the MAC is 0-5 against the Big Ten, losing by an average of 20 points. Many more measuring sticks will be out this Saturday, with eight MAC vs. Big Ten games on the schedule.

“Our conference needs to prove that we can go out and beat and compete with those teams,” said Kent State coach Doug Martin, whose team lost to Penn State 24-0 last Saturday. “We’ve made dramatic strides here. Our last BCS win was in 2007, but we’ve been much closer in these two (Penn State, Boston College) than we’ve been in the past, so they’re good measuring sticks and they can only make you better.”

The MAC has six wins over Big Ten opponents over the last two years -- two in 2009 and four in 2008. Though only a few have been close this year, MAC coaches believe these games give them a tremendous opportunity for a variety of reasons.

The measuring stick is a part of it. Coaches feel they learn more about their teams -- even in blowouts to Big Ten teams -- than if they were to easily beat a lower-division school.

“Your weak spots are immediately identified. There’s no covering them up against a quality football team like Ohio State,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich, whose team lost to the Buckeyes 43-7 last Saturday. “The good thing about that is you know exactly what you’ve got to work on to get better.”

They also want to give their kids an opportunity to play in the biggest stadiums, in front of the biggest crowds. They want to play them for exposure in recruiting. Some of these games end up on national television, so that is good for exposure as well.

Plus, they provide nice paydays that infuse athletic departmenta with much-needed cash.

“When you look at it through a coach’s eyes, you definitely want to see how you measure up to the likes of a BCS opponent, Big Ten, Big East or whoever it might be,” said Toledo coach Tim Beckman, whose team plays at Purdue on Saturday. “You’re always gauging where you’re working your program to. It’s a way to gauge how you’re recruiting. For the kids' sake it’s a great opportunity to play in a place you look at or you admired as a youngster. It’s a plus-plus for us.”

MAC teams also are vying for some of the same players Big Ten teams are going for, and many of the MAC coaches believe they are having more success in that area than ever before, which has helped them be competitive in some of the most recent games.

“There’s enough players people are going to miss on,” said Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit, whose team lost to Michigan State 38-14 in the opener.

Some MAC teams are more competitive than others, depending on the Big Ten team they are playing. Many times, depth ends up being an issue. Though MAC teams are sometimes able to pluck Big Ten-caliber players, they simply do not have the same talent across their rosters.

“The expectations of the MAC, before it was like no chance and now I think every team that plays a Big Ten team, you feel like you have a chance going into the game,” Cubit said. “The problem is depth. You get a couple guys hurt and all of a sudden your twos are not going to be as good as their twos.”

Two schools, Ball State and Northern Illinois, are playing Big Ten teams on the road on back-to-back weekends, a doubly difficult task to be sure.

“We’ve got to be at our very best and we will be,” said Ball State coach Stan Parrish, whose team plays at Iowa after losing to Purdue 24-13 last week. “The venue there will really help us down the road because playing Purdue and Iowa back to back helps young players grow up.”