NCF Nation: Kelly Page
WHO TO WATCH: UCF kick returner/receiver Quincy McDuffie. The 5-foot-10 McDuffie is one of the fastest men in the FBS and poses a threat to score every time he touches the ball. That's especially true on kickoff returns, where the senior has six career touchdowns, including three this season (and two in the same game versus Marshall). He led the nation in kickoff return average at more than 34 yards per attempt. While McDuffie doesn't often get involved in the offense, he did run for three touchdowns last month against UAB. Ball State would be wise to kick the ball out of the end zone as much as possible.
WHAT TO WATCH: Quarterback play for both teams. Ball State's Keith Wenning missed his team's final six quarters with a right ankle injury that required surgery, though he did return to practice this week. His backup, Kelly Page, dealt with a concussion late in the season. UCF's Blake Bortles had a great year but went just 14-of-32 in the Knights' overtime loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA championship game. When right, both quarterbacks can slice up a defense. They have very similar numbers in passing yards (Bortles threw for 2,787, Wenning for 2,878) and touchdowns (both have 22).
WHY TO WATCH: These are two mid-major teams that could play with a lot of big boys. Ball State won its final six games and lost only to Clemson, MAC champion Northern Illinois and MAC runner-up Kent State -- three teams with a combined record of 33-5. The Cardinals also beat two AQ teams in Indiana and South Florida. UCF very nearly won the C-USA crown, and its losses came to Ohio State, Missouri and Tulsa (twice). The Knights beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl game two years ago. Ball State is still looking for its first bowl victory after coming up short five times since 1989. Though this is a football game in a baseball stadium (Tropicana Field), the score could resemble a basketball game. Both teams are averaging 35 points a game with well-balanced offenses. Cardinals coach Pete Lembo could soon become the latest MAC coach to get scooped up by a major program.
PREDICTION: UCF 38, Ball State 30. Both teams will move the ball extremely well, but the Knights had one of the better defenses in C-USA while Ball State ranked 103rd in the nation in total defense. A poor run defense will doom the Cardinals as UCF's 222-pound back Latavius Murray rumbles for 150-plus yards. The Knights also own an advantage in playing only 120 miles from campus and should have more fans in the stands than the school from Muncie, Ind.
Ball State: New coach Pete Lembo has stressed working on fundamentals this spring, but he also has a quarterback competition that has been ongoing between Keith Wenning and Kelly Page. The two are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, so they have gotten plenty of reps with the first- and second-team offenses. Wenning has an edge following the last scrimmage the Cardinals played. Lembo hopes to have a decision following the spring game. "But if it’s not clear-cut, we won’t panic and we’ll make that decision in the preseason," Lembo said. "Either way, those guys will continue to get a lot of work."
Colorado State: Quarterback Pete Thomas has continued his improvement throughout the spring, but one player to watch is Crockett Gillmore, who has turned heads at tight end after lining up at defensive end. The 6-foot-6 Gillmore had a 1,000-yard season as a receiver in high school and has showed good hands and good blocking this spring. Coach Steve Fairchild was asked after a scrimmage last week whether Gillmore could be used like Stanford two-way player Owen Marecic. "It would take some time, and some well-thought-out packages to see which way he could go the most, and so forth," Fairchild said. "We’ve got a long time before we have to make that decision. But I know this: He’s one of our top 22 football players and he will be on the field in Albuquerque [for the season opener against New Mexico Sept. 3].”
FAU: Graham Wilbert and David Kooi continue their competition to become the starting quarterback, but it appears there may not be a decision until the fall. In the last scrimmage before the spring game, Kooi went 5-of-12 for 64 yards and a touchdown. Wilbert went 12-of-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Idaho: Injuries have taken a big toll this spring, especially on the offensive line, where only two starters participated in the team's last scrimmage. But coach Robb Akey has been pleased with the development of the depth on his defensive line. Michael Cosgrove and Benson Mayowa have been spring standouts, combining for four sacks in the team's last scrimmage.
Marshall: A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan have not separated themselves in the race to become the Thundering Herd's starting quarterback. They have one last opportunity to impress in the spring game, though this race is expected to continue into the fall. The Herd has to improve their running game, too, and Essray Taliaferro has impressed this spring.
Navy: Twenty players are being held out of the scrimmage this afternoon for various injuries, including Alexander Teich, Jabaree Tuani, G.G. Greene and Aaron Santiago. Those players are veterans, and do not need to prove themselves. Coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to see his younger defensive players in the game with so many starting jobs up for grabs in the linebacking corps and secondary. Only three starters return on defense.
Northern Illinois: A great running back competition has developed during between Jamal Womble, Jasmin Hopkins and Akeem Daniels.
You can read more about it in a blog post I did earlier this morning.
Utah State: Alex Hart, Jeremy Higgins and Adam Kennedy are competing for the starting quarterback job to replace Diondre Borel. Coach Gary Andersen does not want the offense to fall on their shoulders as much as it did on Borel. They should get some help from a deep running back group that features the return of Robert Turbin (knee) and Michael Smith (turf toe), along with Kerwynn Williams. Turbin has been limited during the spring but expects to be full go for fall practice. The last day of practice is actually April 29, but the spring game is Saturday.
Who’s competing: Kelly Page and Keith Wenning will compete once again in the spring. They are no strangers to competing against each other -- Wenning won the starting job from Page in 2010 as a true freshman. With new coach Pete Lembo set to install his no-huddle offense, both players are going to have to audition for that job. Keep in mind, Page and Wenning are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
Who’s competing: The Bulls did plenty of quarterback shuffling last season under first-year coach Jeff Quinn, but nobody seemed to stick as the starter. So the competition is open once again headed into the spring between Jerry Davis, Alex Zordich and Alex Dennison. Davis will be a junior, while Zordich and Dennison will be sophomores. Davis started the majority of games last season, but Zordich did start a handful as a true freshmen. Neither put up stellar stats as they tried to learn the spread offense.
Who’s competing: Spencer Keith returns, but he was wildly inconsistent last season, throwing for 2,212 yards, eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But with a new coach in Darrell Hazell, nobody is guaranteed of keeping their starting job. Expect a competition with Giorgio Morgan in the spring as Hazell installs more of a traditional offense. Morgan has been a career backup.
Who’s competing: This is going to be a tremendous competition between Zac Dysert and Austin Boucher, two quarterbacks equally capable of leading this team. Dysert started the first 10 games of the season before injuring his ribs and sitting out the rest of the way. In came Boucher, who had only thrown 14 career passes to that point. But Boucher closed the season 4-0, with a come-from-behind win in the MAC championship game and then a win the GoDaddy.com Bowl against Middle Tennessee. Dysert threw for 2,406 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and completed 65 percent of his passes. Boucher threw for 1,120 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, and completed 64 percent of his passes. With a new head coach on Don Treadwell, both go in with clean slates and an opportunity to impress.
Who’s out: Boo Jackson
Who’s competing: Jackson and Phil Bates Bates have been involved in quarterback competitions themselves, so being in this position is nothing new for Bates. But this is opportunity to prove once and for all why he deserves to be the starter after taking a back seat to Jackson last season. He is a senior and the most experienced quarterback on the roster. But two will push him -- Kyle Snyder and Tyler Tettleton. Snyder redshirted as a true freshman last season, and Tettleton also redshirted and will be a sophomore. Tettleton attempted 23 passes in 2009.
Who’s competing: Chester Stewart began last season as the starter before then-coach Al Golden decided on a switch and put Mike Gerardi into the starting lineup during the Bowling Green game in October. Gerardi started the rest of the way, but it wasn’t enough to get the Owls into the MAC championship game. With new coach Steve Addazio taking over, both are in contention to become the starter. There is one more player in the mix -- Chris Coyer, a 6-foot-3 dual-threat, left-handed quarterback who has drawn comparisons to Tim Tebow. Addazio coached Tebow at Florida. Coyer’s bio says he worked out with Tebow in high school. Plenty of connections there for him to make a serious run at the starting job.
Who’s competing: Another intriguing competition here between Austin Dantin, who began 2010 as the starter, and Terrance Owens, who filled in quite nicely down the stretch. Dantin injured his shoulder/collarbone at the end of October and missed the final four games of the season. Owens went 2-2 as a starter, but he ended up with a better quarterback rating than Dantin and threw 13 touchdowns to seven for Dantin.
As spring football starts at Buffalo, players are out to impress new head coach Jeff Quinn.
BYU will have plenty of choices to fill the shoes of departed tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George.
Middle Tennessee standout wide receiver Malcolm Beyah is trying his hand at cornerback this spring.
Micah Grimes is trying to solidify a spot as a starting offensive lineman at Troy.
Former Snow College teammates Mazi Ogbonna and Dejay Lester are now teammates at Wyoming.
How committed is Tulane to the success of its football program?
Louisiana Tech’s running backs are proving that they can be a part of the spread offense.
UCLA running back transfer Raymond Carter is ready to challenge Colorado State’s deep backfield.
Southern Miss takes its spring practice on the road again with a trip to Clinton High School next week.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
" New head coach Rob Ianello takes over an Akron squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005. The Zips struggled last year averaging 19.25 points per game on offense and gave up 28.75 points per game on defense. This spring's goal will be to find playmakers to bring both sides of the ball on par with the rest of the league.
" The Zips had a running back by committee system last year, but none of their backs had more than 250 yards. Two of the team’s top three rushers are gone and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. Ianello signed five tailbacks in his first class.
" The defense struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as the Zips finished with 11 sacks. Opponents scored touchdowns on 66 percent of opportunities inside the red zone. Shoring up the defensive line and the linebackers will be an emphasis this spring.
Ball State Cardinals
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
" Sophomore quarterback Kelly Page tries to regain the starting role after missing the second half of the season with thumb surgery. The Cardinals were winless with him in the lineup, but he improved as the season progressed. Redshirt freshman Aaron Mershman will vie for the role in the spring before highly-touted recruit Keith Wenning joins the competition in the fall.
" Running back MiQuale Lewis and tight end Madaris Grant are both awaiting word from the NCAA about a possible sixth season. Both are team leaders and are the top players at their respective positions.
" Losing defensive coordinator Doug Graber is a blow to the Cardinals. Although he was only with the team for a season, the defense was one of the team's bright spots and got better as the season progressed. The Cardinals have yet to name a replacement.
Bowling Green Falcons
Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:
" Replacing quarterback Tyler Sheehan will be one of the biggest chores since he took 95 percent of the snaps for the past three seasons. Aaron Pankratz was the backup last year and the leader heading into spring. But redshirt Matt Schiltz, walk-on Kellen Pagel and December enrollee Caleb Watkins will all be in the mix.
" Freddie Barnes was the Falcons best offensive weapon and it will be hard to find a replacement. Overall, the Falcons lose three of their top five receivers, and one of those returning is running back Wille Geter.
" Rebuilding the defense will be a priority after losing seven players, including the entire line backers corps and three-fourths of the secondary. There is a lot of young talent waiting, it is just a matter of gelling during spring ball.
Spring practice starts: March 20
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
" Losing quarterback Zach Maynard, who decided to transfer last month, hurt their offense. He would have been the starter heading into the season, but now sophomore Jerry Davis and redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will duke it out this spring before two freshmen arrive in August.
" The Bulls have to replace top receivers Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin and have several candidates to do so. Juniors Terrell Jackson, Marcus Rivers and Ed Young, and redshirt freshmen Fred Lee and Alex Neutz will compete for playing time.
" New head coach Jeff Quinn is going to install a more wide-open offensive system at Buffalo, however finding the right guys to play it will be a challenge. There are athletes remaining at Buffalo, but the loss of players such as Maynard and Roosevelt will make the transition slower.
LeFevour not only finished his career as the face of Central Michigan, but also the face of the conference.
And it was a good year to showcase the MAC.
For the first time since 2004, the MAC had three teams with at least nine wins and for the first time since 2005, the conference has five teams with at least seven wins. Both the West and East Divisions came down to the final weeks of the regular season to decide a championship and teams such as Ohio and Bowling Green played the final fourth of the season like a series of elimination games. Ohio earned its first division championship since 2006 and Bowling Green was the only team with a new non-AQ head coach to finish the regular season with a winning record. Both teams are going bowling.
And then there was one of the biggest success stories of the season in Temple. The Owls fell a game short of their first divisional title and conference championship berth, but still managed to finish with their best record since 1979.
Not to mention there is a ton of young talent in players like Toledo’s Eric Page, Kent State’s Spencer Keith and Tyshon Goode, Temple’s Bernard Pierce and Ball State's Kelly Page that will be able to keep the conference on an upswing.
The MAC still has a ways to go to catch up to some of its non-AQ brethren, but this year could be the breakthrough season it was looking for.
Offensive MVP: Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour
There’s no doubt that LeFevour was the best offensive player in the conference this year. While his numbers might have been down from his sophomore season, he was still the most complete and dangerous player in the league. LeFevour finishes his career as the leader in total offensive yards (15,140), attempts (1,669), completions (1,110), passing yards (12,255) and is tied for second in touchdown passes (99).
Defensive MVP: Temple defensive end Adrian Robinson
Robinson led the MAC and tied for tenth in the country with 12 sacks. He also had 42 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and one interception. He helped Temple become the 20th-ranked rushing defense in the country.
Newcomer of the Year: Temple running back Bernard Pierce
Pierce led the MAC and ranked 13th in the nation in rushing with 1,308 yards on 224 carries and 15 rushing touchdowns. He was the Owls most effective offensive weapon and helped them rank 21st in the country in rushing with an average of 192.3 yards per game.
Coach of the Year: Temple’s Al Golden
In his fourth season as head coach, Golden led the Owls to a 9-3 overall record, 7-1 in the MAC. That record included nine consecutive wins during the season. The Owls have improved every season under Golden. In 2006, they won one game, four in 2007 and five wins a year ago.
Biggest Surprise: Temple
When Temple opened the season with a loss to FCS opponent Villanova, no one expected much from the Owls. But in a loss to Penn State, the Owls discovered they could play with any team in the country and rattled off nine consecutive wins to become one of the most talked about teams in the country. With a lot of talent coming back, Temple should be the favorite to win the East next year.
Biggest disappointment: Toledo
With so many senior leaders and playmakers returning this season, it was disappointing to see the Rockets win just five games. Two of Toledo’s loses came to teams with losing records, including Miami-Ohio, which only won one game this season.
Game of the Year: Temple 34, Miami-Ohio 32, Nov. 5
A loss a winless Miami-Ohio team not only would have stopped the Owls winning streak, it would have still put them a game out of securing a bowl and taken them out of first place in the MAC East. The Owls needed a Brandon McManus field goal with three seconds remaining to notch the win that would be their seventh in a row.
Ball State quarterback Kelly Page is done for the season.
Coach Stan Parrish announced after Tuesday’s practice that Page, a redshirt freshman, suffered a broken thumb on his throwing hand that will require surgery.
According to the Ball State Daily News, Page will have the surgery today and two screws will be placed inside the thumb to stabilize it.
“If it was you or I, they would just put a cast on it and in six weeks it would have healed,” Ball State associate athletics trainer Shawn Comer told the Daily News. “But with Kelly being a quarterback, he needed surgery.”
Tanner Justice will take over as the starter. He’s played in four games this season, completed 44 percent of his passes for 351 yards and two interceptions.
With Justice moving into the starting roll, Ball State does not have a backup quarterback. Freshman Aaron Mershman would be the next in line, but Parrish said he hopes to maintain Mershman’s redshirt and would be apt to play the Wildcat formation if something happens to Justice.
Page finishes the season completing 52.7 percent of his passes for 1,019 passing yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
Ball State coach Stan Parrish had nothing good to say about his offense after Saturday’s 23-16 loss to FCS opponent New Hampshire.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the way we played against New Hampshire, particularly offensively,” Parrish said during Monday’s MAC teleconference. “Probably the worst game in my five years here offensively. We weren’t good in any phase of anything we did. We didn’t protect the quarterback. He didn’t throw the ball well. We didn’t run the ball well.”
So, Parrish has decided to switch things up. Starting quarterback Kelly Page, who Parrish was high on since taking the job in December, will split time with backup Tanner Justice, who has yet to see any meaningful snaps during his career. It’s unclear who will start Saturday’s game against Army.
Page has struggled during his first two games, both losses, with the Cardinals. He’s 30-of-68 for 254 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The Ball State offense ranks 114th in the country, last in the MAC, and is the antithesis of what it was a year ago when former quarterback Nate Davis led the charge and the team went 12-2.
So Parish is hoping to provoke some sort of spark this week heading into an unusually tough game against Army. In the past, Army has been a game that could get a losing team back on track, but behind new head coach Rich Ellerson, the Black Knights are playing inspired football and have shown to fight to get to 1-1 on the season. Parrish said he was concerned about Army’s “Arizona Desert Swarm” defense and how it would affect an offensive line that was brutalized against New Hampshire, giving up five sacks.
Parrish said he’s looking for anything to rally his team. Falling to 0-3 with games against Auburn and Toledo in the next two weeks would mean a tough turnaround to salvage even bowl eligibility.
“We’re trying to rally confidence within a very, very young group,” Parrish said. “It’s not an easy task, but they’re a very high-character group, some very talented young players and we just need to make some good things happen, particularly on offense.
“If I had a magic wand, I’d wave it right now. We’re going through a tough spot and we’ve just got to all hang together. Just got to let these kids be successful and we’ve got to get a plan to help them be successful.”
1. Offensive player of the year: Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan -- LeFevour suffered some ankle injuries, which resulted in a down season, but he's still the best quarterback in the league and maybe one of the beat dual-threats in the country.
2. Defensive player of the year: Frank Zombo, DE, Central Michigan -- Zombo didn't get a lot of help last year, but still managed to lead the conference in tackles for loss and rank third in the conference in sacks.
3. Newcomer of the year: Ansel Ponder, WR, Western Michigan -- Ponder joins Western Michigan after a season with Hargrave Military Academy. While there, he amassed 760 yards receiving and 11 receiving touchdowns. He had 13 touchdowns overall.
4. Comeback player of the year: Theo Scott, QB, Ohio -- Scott was the Bobcats starter at the beginning of last season, but suffered a broken collarbone and a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter of the second game. He's still competing with Boo Jackson for the starting job.
5. Freshman of the year: Kelly Page, QB, Ball State -- Page steps in for all-everything quarterback Nate Davis, and does so having been groomed for the starting role last season. He has the receivers and running back to be successful, but his offensive line is in question.
6. Most exciting player: Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan -- Brown led the conference and was fourth in the country with 178.08 all-purpose running yards per game. He was dynamic on both kick and punt returns and was the team's leading receiver.
7. Coach of the year: Al Golden, Temple -- Temple has gotten better every year Golden has been in charge and this could be his best season yet. If the Owls challenge for the MAC East, which they have the personnel to do, Golden should win the coach of the year award for the turnaround of the program.
8. Game of the year: MAC Championship, Dec. 4 -- Last year's MAC title game was the best and most surprising game of the season. This year's game could be equally as interesting especially since many believe Central Michigan should run away with the title and no one's talking about the threats in the East.
9. Surprise team of the year: Temple -- The Owls are a team no one is talking about and that's probably a big mistake. The Owls finished third in the East last season and were a game away from bowl eligibility. Behind a new (unnamed) starting quarterback, they should be much improved this season.
10. Team that will disappoint: Ball State -- After a fantastic 2008 campaign, the Cardinals are going to have a little trouble getting back to the top of the MAC West, especially with Central Michigan and Western Michigan poised to have stellar seasons behind senior quarterbacks. Still, the season will be a good learning experience for Page and new head coach Stan Parrish.