NCF Nation: Iowa State

1. Protecting the ball makes for smooth sailing: It seemed like we'd never see the day Notre Dame went 60 minutes without a turnover, but Saturday changed that.

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
AP Photo/AJ MastNotre Dame's Cierre Wood is 42nd in the nation in rush yards per game at 89.8.
The Fighting Irish eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the third time this season, but won while crossing that plateau for the first time, as they were doomed by five-turnover performances in Weeks 1 and 2. Saturday was huge for the offense, particularly Tommy Rees, who eliminated many of the befuddling miscues that had Irish fans calling for a new quarterback after his first three and a half games under center. Now, for the first time all season, we can no longer say Notre Dame leads the nation in turnovers or has the worst turnover margin. (The first honor belongs to East Carolina, with 17. The latter is shared by East Carolina, Iowa State and Western Kentucky, at minus-2.00).

2. The rush defense is for real: Notre Dame had another dominating performance up front Saturday, limiting the Big Ten's second-ranked rushing offense to 84 yards on 27 carries. This came two weeks after the Irish allowed just 29 rushing yards against Michigan State and one week after holding Pitt's Ray Graham to 89 yards, something that looks like more of an accomplishment after Graham exploded for 226 yards Thursday against South Florida.

3. Special teams need to improve. Still: Brian Kelly said Saturday that he didn't want to sound like sour milk when listing what his team could have done better, but the Irish did leave points on the board. David Ruffer, a 2010 Lou Groza Award finalist, missed two field goals. And the punt return experiment once again looked like just that -- an experiment. John Goodman netted minus-3 yards on two returns and, in a real head-scratcher, watched one ball sail over his head and roll for a 61-yard punt in the first quarter.

4. Penalties still need clearing up: This one gets overshadowed because the Irish didn't turn the ball over, won by 28 points and saw their opponent commit an astounding 13 penalties for 118 yards. But Notre Dame itself committed eight penalties for 85 yards, including an ugly one when long snapper Jordan Cowart got tangled up with several Purdue players on a second-quarter punt. Mental lapses such as these are forgivable against the Boilermakers, not so much against USC or Stanford.

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.

Non-AQ predictions: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
It’s the most wonderful time of the year -- college football season. Watch as I put on my picking cap and make my supremely awesome predictions for 12 selected games involving non-AQ teams.

Now, on to the picks!

South Carolina 24, Southern Miss 14. We know Weslye Saunders is out for the Gamecocks, but we're unclear about anybody else. Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said his team didn’t pay attention to the distractions. With those players or not, South Carolina is simply too talented, especially on defense. Southern Miss goes into the game with just three returning starters on offense.

Pittsburgh 21, Utah 17. The Utes won the last meeting in the Fiesta Bowl in 2005. But this time around the Panthers have Dion Lewis, and he should make the difference -- especially against a defense that only returns four starters.

Northern Illinois 28, Iowa State 27. One of the best teams in the MAC will pull the upset behind the legs of Chad Spann.

Minnesota 31, Middle Tennessee 20. If Dwight Dasher was playing in this game, I would have called for the upset. But the Blue Raiders aren’t going to be the same with Logan Kilgore at quarterback.

Washington 35, BYU 21. The Huskies break their 12-game road losing streak behind the arm and legs of Jake Locker. BYU has had problems against quarterbacks like Locker in the past. The two-quarterback rotation for BYU is going to be a work in progress.

Colorado 21, Colorado State 10. Both teams essentially have coaches on the hot seat, and quarterback uncertainty. While the Rams won the meeting last year, they go into this game with a freshman starting at quarterback in Pete Thomas. Only two first-time starters at quarterback have won this game for Colorado State.

SMU 44, Texas Tech 40. Upset indeed. Kyle Padron should have a big day and break the Mustangs’ 13-game losing streak to Texas Tech.

Navy 30, Maryland 10. The Midshipmen have the real deal in quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who should pose all sorts of problems for the Terrapins defense. Maryland gave up over 200 yards on the ground four times last season.

TCU 24, Oregon State 20. TCU is 9-2 against AQ teams in its past 11 games. Andy Dalton is eager to erase the memories of his Fiesta Bowl performance. The defense should be able to slow Jacquizz Rodgers down enough to limit his impact.

Fresno State 35, Cincinnati 34. The Bulldogs controlled the ball in their game last year and ran for 290 yards. Ryan Mathews is gone, but Robbie Rouse hopes to get the running game going. Fresno State lost that game because Cincinnati was able to score and score quickly on a defense not used to seeing the spread. The Bulldogs should be improved there, and that will make the difference.

Tulsa 27, East Carolina 17. G.J. Kinne, Damaris Johnson and the Golden Hurricane offense are going to be too much for the rebuilding Pirates to handle. Tulsa starts the season on the road for the third straight year but that might not be such a bad thing in this case. The home team in this series has lost three straight.

Drumroll please …

Boise State 21, Virginia Tech 20. The Broncos squeeze this one out on the strength of their offense, and their much improved defense. Darren Evans and Ryan Williams will get their yards, but their big games will be limited thanks to the great tacklers Boise State has in the open field -- Winston Venable and Jeron Johnson. Boise State will be able to take advantage of a Virginia Tech defense that lost seven starters, including three on the defensive line.

What to watch among non-AQs: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
The season begins tonight! With that, here are 10 storylines to watch among the non-AQ teams:

  1. Boise State defense vs. Virginia Tech running game. What happens here could largely determine who wins the game. Ryan Williams and Darren Evans present a duo at running back that Boise State rarely sees in WAC play. Add in the very mobile Tyrod Taylor, and the Broncos are going to have their hands full. Watch for Jeron Johnson and Winston Venable to set the tempo for the defense.
  2. How does BYU handle its two quarterbacks against Washington? One of the biggest non-AQ storylines of the fall has been how Bronco Mendenhall will handle playing Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps. Two-quarterback systems rarely work, but Mendenhall says he could go with two for the entire season. They are two vastly different quarterbacks. Does Heaps play in spot duty? Do they split the plays? If one is hot, does the other sit? All questions to ask going into the season.
  3. [+] EnlargeRobbie Rouse
    Jason O. Watson/US PresswireRobbie Rouse rushed 82 times for 479 yards and four touchdowns last season while backing up Ryan Mathews.
    How does Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse perform against Cincinnati? Rouse has the tough task of replacing the NCAA rushing leader from last season, Ryan Mathews. Coach Pat Hill has compared him to Darren Sproles in terms of being a physical inside runner. Another key to this game -- how does the Fresno State defense handle the spread and Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros?
  4. How does Logan Kilgore do in the opener against Minnesota? Middle Tennessee was the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, but that was with Dwight Dasher at quarterback. Now that he has been suspended indefinitely, Kilgore will start. He is a junior college transfer who has yet to take a snap for the Blue Raiders. How does the team react to a new starting quarterback? How much does the team miss Dasher? How much does the offense change?
  5. Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers vs. TCU defense. The Horned Frogs have built their reputation on defense. Seven starters return, but leading tackler Daryl Washington is gone. How much will TCU miss him playing an elusive back in Rodgers? TCU had the No. 3 rushing defense in the country last year and allowed just two 100-yard rushers on the season.
  6. Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis vs. Utah defense. The Utes are missing seven starters, including all three linebackers from last season. They do have depth on the defensive line, but the starters are going against an offensive line that weighs an average of about 40 pounds more than they do. Lewis rushed for 1,799 yards last season, and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake acknowledges he is a “monster” to take down.
  7. Upset watch: Northern Illinois at Iowa State. Northern Illinois has Chad Spann in the backfield, one of the best rushers in the MAC. The Huskies actually had one of the best rush offenses in the country last season, ranking No. 19. Meanwhile, Iowa State struggled against the run and goes into the season hoping to prove last season was no fluke. Northern Illinois did beat one AQ school last season, Purdue in Week 3.
  8. Can East Carolina continue its reign atop Conference USA? The season begins with a conference game, hosting Tulsa. The Pirates are in for a rebuilding year. No starting quarterback has been named, and the defense is missing its entire front seven from a year ago. Tulsa could make some noise in the West. How is East Carolina going to slow down G.J. Kinne?
  9. Combined number of points in the SMU-Texas Tech game will be … ? SMU loves to throw the ball in the Run N Shoot offense. Coach Tommy Tuberville says Texas Tech will continue to throw the ball, too, with Taylor Potts. Kyle Padron should be much improved in his second year in June Jones’ system. Wouldn’t be surprised if this one ended 44-40.
  10. Do TCU and Boise State still have national championship aspirations after this weekend? Losses in their big non-conference games knock them out and would seriously damage any hopes at a BCS game, too. No one-loss non-AQ team has ever made it to a BCS game.