NCF Nation: Lance Dunbar

Big Ten power rankings: Week 5

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Big Ten play is just around the corner, so it's time to get serious. Week 4 didn't provide too many revelations, as the league's top teams took care of business. Minnesota and Indiana, meanwhile, hit new lows after being outclassed by North Dakota State and North Texas, respectively.

We were tempted to not rank the Gophers and Hoosiers this week. But we're contractually bound to do so.

There's not much shuffling in the top 10, but we expect much more movement a week from now after the first set of Big Ten games are in the books.

Here are this week's rankings ...

1. Wisconsin (4-0): After a virtually flawless performance in nonconference play, the Badgers enter Big Ten action with plenty of confidence. Quarterback Russell Wilson continued his record-setting start Saturday, with help from top WR Nick Toon. The competition level goes up significantly this week, and Wisconsin has yet to face any real adversity, but the Badgers have been the league's only consistently dominant team.

2. Nebraska (4-0): Bo Pelini's squad remained perfect with a solid road win against Wyoming, and for the third consecutive week, Big Red seemed to improve as the game went on. There's still room for improvement on both sides, and Nebraska will need a more polished performance to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. If the offense cleans up some mistakes and keeps surging behind Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez, Nebraska will be very tough to beat.

3. Michigan (4-0): The Wolverines are 4-0 for the third consecutive year, and there are reasons to believe this season will be different than the previous two. There are also reasons to remain concerned. Michigan beat San Diego State primarily because of its defense, which is a very encouraging sign. Craig Roh led the Wolverines' best defensive effort of the season. Denard Robinson did his thing with 200 rush yards and three touchdowns, although his mistakes in the passing game could come back to haunt UM.

4. Illinois (4-0): There were some tense moments, but Illinois found a way to remain unbeaten and improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1951. It's a significant achievement, and a playmaking defense continues to be the biggest reason for the Illini success. Illinois can't lean on its defense forever, though, and must clean up some mistakes on offense. An inability to convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns could come back to haunt the Orange and Blue.

5. Michigan State (3-1): While the Spartans are still looking for a win against quality competition, their defense looks like the real deal. Not only are they limiting yards and points, but they're making big plays, as they showed Saturday by recording four interceptions against Central Michigan. Le'Veon Bell provided a much-needed spark for the run game. Michigan State leads the nation in total defense (172.3 ypg) and ranks eighth in points allowed (11 ppg).

6. Ohio State (3-1): Buckeyes fans don't like being this far down in the rankings, but the good news is their team has an excellent chance to move up in the coming weeks. Ohio State plays Michigan State, Nebraska and Illinois in its next three games, so we'll soon know exactly where it stands. The offense began to shape its identity behind freshman QB Braxton Miller on Saturday, and Ohio State excelled in the kicking game.

7. Penn State (3-1): The Lions' offense came to life against Eastern Michigan as Matthew McGloin made a good case to be the starting quarterback. Penn State's narrow Week 3 win against Temple looks a lot better after the Owls thrashed Maryland in College Park. The big downside from Week 4 was a serious knee injury to Penn State standout linebacker Michael Mauti. Although the Lions boast depth at linebacker, Mauti's leadership will be missed.

8. Iowa (3-1): The Hawkeyes enter the bye week with confidence after an easy win against Louisiana-Monroe. Quarterback James Vandenberg is on fire, racking up 1,095 pass yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception through the first four games. Vandenberg's emergence along with several receivers makes Iowa a very dangerous offense in Big Ten play. We'll get a good read on Iowa when it resumes play Oct. 8 at Penn State.

9. Northwestern (2-1): The wait for Dan Persa's return should end this week, as Persa is expected to make his season debut for Northwestern against Illinois. How Persa performs after a lengthy rehab remains to be seen, but his presence should provide a lift for Northwestern, particularly in the passing game. The bye week fell at a good time for the Wildcats, who need to get healthy on defense.

10. Purdue (2-1): Who are these Boilers? Tough to tell after the first three games, but we'll find out a lot more this week as Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium. Quarterback Robert Marve told Rittenberg this is a program-defining game for Purdue, and he's right. The Boilers have had two weeks to prepare for the Irish, who will provide tests on both sides of the ball. It'll be interesting to see if Purdue continues its rushing success against the Notre Dame defense.

11. Minnesota (1-3): The USC opener feels like a long time ago, doesn't it? Minnesota failed to build off of a nice win against Miami (Ohio) and fell Saturday to an FCS opponent for the second consecutive year and the third time in the past five seasons. More troubling was that North Dakota State looked like a superior team in almost every area. Coach Jerry Kill now has a quarterback quandary on his hands -- Marqueis Gray or Max Shortell -- and the defense has a long way to go.

12. Indiana (1-3): If this isn't rock bottom for the Hoosiers, it's scary to think what will be. Indiana fell behind 24-0 to winless North Texas before mounting a furious rally in the final minutes. Lance Dunbar torched the Hoosiers for 279 yards, and Indiana's offense once again made too many mistakes and didn't generate much of a run game against one of the nation's worst rush defenses. First-year coach Kevin Wilson has a lot of work ahead of him this week as Big Ten play begins.

Top non-AQ players, offense

January, 24, 2011
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Wanted to give you a quick rundown of the top non-AQ players in the final NCAA statistics for offense. Many of these players will be back for 2011, but many will be gone.

First let us take a look at rushing. Four non-AQ players finished in the Top 10 in yards per game:

No. 3 Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky (137.4)

No. 6 Lance Dunbar, North Texas (129.4)

No. 7 Vai Taua, Nevada (123.85)

No. 10 Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (117.9)

Taua is the only player who does not return next season. Hillman was a true freshman and many expect him to have an even better season. Rainey and Dunbar will both be seniors and vying once again to be the best running back in the Sun Belt. With Dunbar, it will be interesting to see how he fairs under new coach Dan McCarney, though offensive coordinator Mike Canales remains onboard. Rainey carried the ball a nation-leading 340 times last season. Can he handle another strenuous workload in 2011?

At quarterback, seven of the top 11 players in total passing yards were non-AQ players:

No. 1 Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 5,040 yards

No. 4. Dominique Davis, East Carolina, 3,967

No. 6 Kellen Moore, Boise State, 3,845

No. 7 Ryan Lindley, San Diego State, 3,830

No. 8 Kyle Padron, SMU, 3,828

t. No. 9 Corey Robinson, Troy, 3,726

No. 11. G.J. Kinne, Tulsa, 3,650

I stretched this list all the way to 11 to show the depth of quality quarterbacks among the non-AQs. Although big-name players like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick are gone, every player on this list returns to school next season, which means non-AQ quarterbacks will definitely be ones to watch again. But what is interesting is their receiver situation. Everybody but Kinne is losing his leading receiver. In the case of Moore, he loses two in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Moniz loses Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, and Lindley loses DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown.

At receiver, seven of the top 100 players in total yards also came from non-AQ schools:

No. 1 Salas, 1,889 yards

No. 5 Jordan White, Western Michigan, 1,378

No. 6 Brown, 1,352

No. 7 Pilares, 1,306

No. 8 Aldrick Robinson, SMU, 1,301

10. Sampson, 1,220

11. Young, 1,215

Ssix of these players are definitely done with their college careers. The one up in the air is White, who is petitioning the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver and sixth season of eligibility. White had serious injuries to both his knees and sat out 2006 and 2008, so it seems likely his waiver will be granted. He set the school record for receiving yards in 2010.
The inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl will almost certainly be known for its weather. Fans and media experienced travel troubles thanks to 20 inches of snow in New York City on Sunday, which forced a Kansas State team practice to become a walk-through in the Wildcats' hotel.

There's still a game to be played, though, snow or else.

WHO TO WATCH: Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas earns the headlines, and senior quarterback Carson Coffman plays more, but when Klein's legs get churning, Kansas State's offense can look unstoppable. Against Texas, the Wildcats jumped to a 39-0 lead and threw just four passes because the duo of Klein and Thomas was gashing the Longhorns defense every time either carried the ball. Coffman said Tuesday he wasn't sure if he was going to start, but whether he does or not, Klein should get plenty of playing time, and the more effective he is, the more he'll play. For a Kansas State quarterback situation that's "complicated," it's that simple.

WHAT TO WATCH: Kansas State's defense vs. Syracuse running back Delone Carter. Earlier this week, Carter had this to say about his team: "Once we get out there and I’m healthy and my O-line is healthy and our receivers are healthy, we’re going to dominate. I know defenders don’t like to get hit when it’s cold out, and that kind of gets me excited. I won’t mind the cold. ... I’m used to it. It’s not going to bother me. I’ll go a little harder."

That may be true, and considering the way the Wildcats defense has played lately, he's got reason to believe that's what will happen. K-State gave up 270 yards on the ground to North Texas' Lance Dunbar and 195 yards to Colorado's Rodney Stewart in its final two games. Carter could be due for another big day, or the Wildcats defense could be due for a big statement. The outcome of the game depends on it.

WHY WATCH: For all the action in baseball stadiums this year, the Big 12 hasn't been affected by it yet. The allure and novelty of playing at new Yankee Stadium is a bit new for us folks in Flyover Country, and hosting a bowl is new for the folks at Yankee Stadium, who haven't done so since the 1962 Gotham Bowl.

PREDICTION: Kansas State 28, Syracuse 24. I'm going against my gut a bit here, but not much about Syracuse's offense excites me, and if it's a cold, windy day at the ballpark, I'll take the zone-read scheme with Klein and Thomas over anything Syracuse will bring.

Non-AQ did you know, Week 14

December, 3, 2010
12/03/10
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Time for our final regular-season edition of Did You Know? Special thanks to the sports information directors at the conferences and schools for the notes below.

Both Boise State and Nevada have won at least 10 games this year and Hawaii is on the verge of doing so as well. If Hawaii beats UNLV this weekend or wins the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, then the WAC will have three teams with 10 or more wins for the first time since 1994 when BYU, Colorado State and Utah all finished the season with 10 victories.

New Mexico State junior Taveon Rogers finished the season with 1,410 kick return yards, setting a new WAC and NCAA record. The previous WAC record of 1,214 was set by San Jose State’s Deonce Whitaker in 1998, and the NCAA record was 1,382 yards set by Tulsa Damaris Johnson in 2008. Rogers’ 52 returns for the season also broke Whitaker’s WAC record of 51, but were short of the NCAA record of 55 set by Army’s William White in 2002. Utah State’s Kerwynn Williams has a chance to break both records this week as he has 47 returns for 1,287 yards.

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs 253 passing yards to reach 10,000, and 65 rushing yards to reach 4,000 for his career ... he also needs two rushing TDs to tie the WAC’s career record of 58 (Ian Johnson-BSU).

SMU and UCF have met just twice with UCF holding a 2-0 series edge, having topped SMU in 2007 and 2008.

SMU receiver Aldrick Robinson is the first player in school history to record two 1,000-yard seasons. He has had TD catches in six straight games entering the Conference-USA title game, and has pulled in a school-record 12 TD catches this season.

Four of SMU’s starting 22 are seniors - Pete Fleps, Sterling Moore, Robinson and Youri Yenga. A staggering 82 percent of SMU’s 2010 starters are slated to be back in 2011.

FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger will coach his 300th game Saturday, against Troy, a team the Owls have been able to defeat once (2007). Running back Alfred Morris needs 118 yards to become the first FAU player to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

The Sun Belt has two of the top three running backs in the country in terms of yards gained. Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey leads the nation with 1,649 yards rushing, and North Texas' Lance Dunbar is third with 1,553 yards. Rainey had nine 100-yard rushing games this year, tying him with Antwan Floyd (1994) and Jon Frazier (2002) for the most 100-yard games in a season in school history. Dunbar’s 1,553 yards ranks third in North Texas history. Only Jamario Thomas and Patrick Cobbs have rushed for more yards in a single season. Both are juniors and will be back next season.

Several non-AQ players have been nominated for the Rudy Award, honoring student-athletes who demonstrate exemplary character, courage, contribution and commitment. The award is named for former Notre Dame walk-on Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, immortalized in the movie "Rudy."

Here are the non-AQ nominees: Chris Banjo of SMU, Austin Contreras of UTEP, Doug Deakin of San Diego State, Kyle Delahooke of Navy, Kevin Fogler of Air Force, Derek Good of Colorado State, Jeremy Kellem of Middle Tennessee, Mitch Krotz of Miami (Ohio), Levi Koskan of Utah State, Dustin Lineback of East Carolina, Phillip Livas of Louisiana Tech, Darius Nall of UCF, Ashlyn Parker of FIU, Andrew Rich of BYU, Kevin Pool of Rice and Bronson Tiwanak of Hawaii.

Fans can review nominations and vote until Dec. 13 for the most deserving player at www.CollegeRudyAwards.com.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
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Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference.

Conference USA

Offense: Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne. Completed 62 percent of his passes and was 23-of-37 for a career-best 406 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-50 win over Southern Miss. He also ran for two scores.

Defense: Marshall LB Mario Harvey. Recorded a career-high 21 tackles, had two sacks, forced a fumble, and recorded five pass breakups in a 38-23 win over Tulane.

Special teams: Southern Miss KR Francisco Llanos. Returned seven kickoffs for 197 yards, including an 87-yard return for a touchdown the first time -- his first-ever kickoff return for Southern Miss.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Miami RB Thomas Merriweather. Ran for a career-high 182 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown in a 23-3 victory over Temple. His 96-yard touchdown tied for the second-longest run in Miami history.

Defense: Kent State LB Cobrani Mixon. Had eight tackles, one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, two pass breakups and a hurry in a 28-6 win over Ohio.

Special Teams: Ohio P Paul Hershey. Averaged 46.7 yards per punt on three kicks at Kent State.

West Division

Offense: Toledo QB Terrance Owens. Went 24-of-32 passing for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-31 win over Central Michigan in his third career start.

Defense: Northern Illinois DE Jake Coffman. Had five solo tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble in a 71-3 win at Eastern Michigan.

Special Teams: Toledo KR Eric Page. Became the first Rocket in history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns, a 99-yarder in the first quarter and a 95-yarder in the third quarter, in a 42-31 win over Central Michigan.

Mountain West

Offense: San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley. Completed 22 of 30 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-14 win over UNLV. It was his sixth 300-yard passing game of the season.

Defense: Utah DB Brian Blechen. Had seven tackles, one sack, an interception and a pass breakup in a 17-16 victory over in-state rival BYU.

Co-Special Teams: Utah DB Brandon Burton, UNLV K Marcus Sullivan. Burton blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game, helping preserve the victory over the Cougars. Sullivan set a new UNLV single-game record for kick return yards with 224 yards and an average of 37.3 yards per return.

Sun Belt

Offense: North Texas RB Lance Dunbar. Set a career-high and had the sixth-best rushing performance in the nation this season with 270 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Kansas State.

Defense: Middle Tennessee LB Darin Davis. Set a Sun Belt record with 101 yards on his two second-half interception returns in a win over FAU.

Co-Special Teams: Louisiana SS Cooper Gerami, North Texas WR Brelan Chancellor. Blocked an extra point attempt to preserve a victory for the Cajuns over their in-state rivals. Gerami also added five tackles on the night. Chancellor returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second game in a row, taking one back 93 yards against Kansas State. He is one of seven players in the nation this season to have two or more kickoff returns for a touchdown.

WAC

Offense: Hawaii RB Alex Green. Ran for a school-record 327 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 carries in a 59-24 win at New Mexico State.

Defense: Fresno State LB Travis Brown. Made five tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown in a 23-20 win over Idaho.

Special teams: Louisiana Tech KR/PR Phillip Livas. Returned a punt a career-long 88 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter of Louisiana Tech's 45-38 win at San Jose State. It was his eighth career return (kick or punt) for a touchdown, tying an NCAA record set by five others. He had a total of three punt returns for 103 yards and added a kickoff return for 27 yards against the Aggies.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind, Week 13

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
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Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 13.

The good: TCU completed its second straight undefeated regular season and is the flag bearer for non-AQS everywhere as the top team remaining in the BCS standings. Meanwhile, Nevada beat a Top 10 team for the first time in program history with its huge 34-31 overtime win over Boise State. But this weekend rewind would not be complete without a major hand clap for Akron and coach Rob Ianello, waiting until the very last game of the season for its first win, a 22-14 victory over Buffalo last Friday. Alex Allen posted his third straight 100-yard game, and Patrick Nicely threw for three touchdowns. The season will end without a winless team. ... FIU also made history with its first Sun Belt title and first bowl berth.

[+] EnlargePatrick Edwards
AP Photo/Zach LongPatrick Edwards and the Cougars ended the season on a four-game losing streak. The losses mean Houston will miss a bowl game for the first time in six years.
The bad: Houston, a preseason favorite to win Conference USA, ended the season on a four game losing streak and will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2004. The Cougars gave it a valiant effort, but in the end, the loss of Case Keenum was too much to overcome. The running game was never consistent, mainly because teams loaded the box and dared Houston to throw. When they did, true freshman David Piland put up a lot of yards, but also threw too many interceptions. During the four-game skid, he had 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. … Ohio (8-4) managed a season-low six points in a loss to Kent State with a berth in the MAC title game on the line. The Bobcats had four turnovers, 11 first downs and just 183 total yards. They had won seven straight going into the game and now await their bowl fate.

The offensive: Nine non-AQ teams scored 40 points or more this weekend, including five that scored 50-plus. Two of the wildest games were Tulsa beating Southern Miss 56-50 and Louisiana Tech beating San Jose State 45-38. In the Tulsa game, G.J. Kinne threw for 406 yards, while Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis had 371. The two teams combined for 1,197 yards and 56 first downs. In San Jose, the two teams combined for 1,001 yards and 50 first downs. San Jose State quarterback Jordan La Secla threw for 496 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions while Louisiana Tech running back Lennon Creer ran for 252 yards and three touchdowns.

The heartache: Boise State may be 10-1, but it’s hard to imagine anybody is more heartbroken than the Broncos today. Their dreams of playing for a national championship have been dashed, and so has any hope of playing in a BCS game. You have to feel for kicker Kyle Brotzman, who missed two field goals, including one that would have won the game.

BYU also had its hearts broken on a missed kick in the Holy War against Utah. It was a wild game in Salt Lake City, featuring seven combined turnovers. The most costly for BYU came late in the game. Leading 16-10, Brandon Bradley intercepted Jordan Wynn with about five minutes to play. But he fumbled during the return and Utah recovered. Though TV replays showed his knee was down, the ruling on the field stood. Matt Asiata ended up scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Utes ahead 17-16. BYU had a chance to win it, but Mitch Payne’s 42-yard attempt was blocked by Brandon Burton. Interestingly, BYU was involved in a highly publicized instant replay error against San Diego State earlier this season. After finding a BYU employee and alumni were working the booth in that game, the Mountain West changed its rules and no longer allows alums or school employees to work instant replay during games involving their teams.

A few more helmet stickers: UNLV freshman kick returner Marcus Sullivan set a new UNLV single-game record for kick return yards with 224 yards in a loss to San Diego State. That ranks second in conference history. … North Texas running back Lance Dunbar set a career-high and had the sixth-best rushing performance in the nation this season with 270 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Kansas State. He scored a fourth touchdown on a 17-yard pass reception. Also in the Sun Belt, Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey now leads the nation in rushing with 1,649 total yards rushing.

Week 14 look ahead: Two conference championship games to look forward to: Miami (Ohio) versus Northern Illinois on Friday in the MAC and SMU versus UCF on Saturday in Conference USA. No. 17 Nevada plays Louisiana Tech, No. 11 Boise State plays Utah State and Hawaii plays UNLV. If all three win out, they share the WAC championship.
Kansas State gave up 195 yards on the ground to Colorado's Rodney Stewart last week.

On Saturday, North Texas running back Lance Dunbar is following in Stewart's footsteps.

His first five carries have gone for 162 yards and two touchdowns -- a 52-yarder and a 63-yarder -- and the Wildcats have fallen behind 20-7 after the first quarter in Denton, Texas.

Daniel Thomas has done what he can to equal Dunbar's efforts, running for 108 yards and a touchdown on his first 11 carries, but this game will come down to defenses. If Kansas State can't fix what's going wrong, Thomas can have as big of a day as he wants and the Wildcats still won't come home with a win.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November, 25, 2010
11/25/10
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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 predictions: Week 12

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
9:00
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ


Four straight weeks of going 7-3 -- is this as good as it gets? I did my upset special right, though I did not expect Utah to continue its implosion, or FIU to beat Troy for the first time ever.

With a 71-43 overall record and several tough games to call this week, bring on Week 12.

No. 4 Boise State 45, Fresno State 17. The Broncos have won four straight in the series, and a few of those wins have been “close” at least in Boise State terms. Last season, Boise State won 51-34, and in 2007 the Broncos on 34-21. Scores that “close” may make voters think twice about where the Broncos stand in the rankings, especially since they have the Friday night spotlight to themselves. The Bulldogs have good balance on offense, but the Boise State defense will be able to shut down Robbie Rouse, who has posted back-to-back 200-yard rushing games.

No. 18 Nevada 55, New Mexico State 10. The Wolf Pack have rebounded nicely from a loss to Hawaii, and relied on Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua to pull out a close game against Fresno State last week. With a combined five touchdowns in that game, Taua and Kaepernick set the NCAA record for the most touchdowns and most points scored by two players on the same team in a career. Taua and Kaepernick have combined for 103 touchdowns and 616 points.

No. 23 Utah 28, San Diego State 27. I have gone back and forth on this one this entire week, and was leaning Aztecs up until this morning. I love what Brady Hoke has done with the program, and think Ronnie Hillman is a future star. But Jordan Wynn usually comes up big at Qualcomm, and a return home should do him some good and help the offense get out of its doldrums. He is on notice, and he has got to respond.

Tulsa 35, UTEP 17. The Golden Hurricane are streaking now, having won four straight games, and find themselves in a tie atop the West. They need to win out and hope for SMU to lose at least once to get the division crown. Meanwhile, UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe has been hampered by injuries the last several weeks and won’t be 100 percent. Going with the hot team.

Western Michigan 35, Kent State 28. This one is for the battle to keep bowl hopes alive. Both teams are 4-6, and both have had disappointing seasons. But the Broncos have a good thing going with Alex Carder, Jordan White and Juan Nunez on offense. Kent State has some uncertainty at quarterback -- Spencer Keith played last week with a sprained thumb but was benched after throwing an interception. Backup Giorgio Morgan threw two.

Wyoming 33, Colorado State 30. Anything can happen in “The Border War” season finale between the two teams. The last two seasons, the road team has won this game. Wyoming is winless in the Mountain West and in desperate need of a positive note to close out the season. The Rams have not won a road game yet, and have scored just 29 points in their past two games.

UPSET SPECIAL: Army 28, Notre Dame 20. Sorry, I am not on the Irish bus despite the win over Utah. The Utes were totally deflated going into that game and imploded. I still have visions of Navy dancing for 367 rushing yards against the Irish in my head. While the Black Knights aren’t as proficient as the Midshipmen in the triple option yet, they are much improved will give them fits. No doubt Notre Dame will make adjustments, but I still think Army will be able to run.

FIU 30, Louisiana 20. I have a big fear the Panthers may suffer from a letdown in this game following their first ever win over Troy, a victory that has them in the driver’s seat for the Sun Belt. FIU has never been in that position. But they are streaking offensively, having scored a combined 94 points in the past two games. T.Y. Hilton is a big reason why. Louisiana, meanwhile, has lost six straight.

UPSET SPECIAL, PART II: Houston 28, Southern Miss 24. Houston has got to win to keep its bowl hopes alive. The Cougars are no strangers to pulling the road upset, with a win at SMU last month. If the Cougars limit the mistakes, they win. The Golden Eagles have had a terrible week after three players were shot following a fight at a club. You have to wonder whether they will be motivated to play for them, or distracted because of the events of the week. Southern Miss has lost its two league games by a combined two points.

ULM 27, North Texas 20. The Mean Green have won two of three under interim head coach Mike Canales, and have largely done it behind Lance Dunbar, who has combined for 677 yards and six touchdowns rushing and receiving. ULM has to win this to keep bowl hopes alive, and is unbeaten at home. Kolton Browning had thrown for 200 yards in eight straight games before that streak ended last week against LSU. He will do enough to win.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
4:51
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Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as announced by each conference:

Conference USA

Offense: Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne. Had 344 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in a 28-25 win over Houston. He had the fourth-highest rushing game in Conference USA this year and the third-highest total ever by a quarterback with 190 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. Kinne also completed 65 percent of his passes for 154 yards and two scores.

Defense: Tulsa DB Marco Nelson. Starting his ninth game as a true freshman, Nelson had seven tackles and tied single-game school and conference records with three interceptions at Houston.

Special teams: Rice KR Charles Ross. Broke the school record with 261 yards on seven kickoff returns against Tulane. His effort sparked the Owls to a conference record total of 344 yards on 10 kickoff returns, bettering the mark of 303 set by East Carolina earlier this year.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Miami WR Nick Harwell. Caught 10 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown in a 24-21 win over Bowling Green. He has 43 receptions for 600 yards over the last five games, after making just two catches (15 yards) in his first five games.

Defense: Bowling Green LB Dwayne Woods. Had 13 tackles in a loss to Miami. The 13 tackle effort marked his fifth double digit tackle performance this season.

Special teams: Miami K Trevor Cook. Came back from a knee injury to kick the 33-yard game-winning field goal at Bowling Green.

West Division

Offense: Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish. Had 311 yards of total offense in a 65-30 victory over Toledo. Harnish completed 11 of 16 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, and ran for 149 yards on 13 carries with a rushing touchdown.

Defense: Ball State S Sean Baker. Intercepted two passes and returned a fumble 26 yards for a touchdown in Ball State's 20-3 win at Buffalo.Baker is now the school's career interceptions leader with 16.

Special teams: Ball State K Ian McGarvey. Became the school's all-time leading scorer at Buffalo with 284 points. McGarvey made field goals of 40 and 32 yards and made two extra point attempts.

Mountain West

Co-Offense: BYU WR Luke Ashworth, UNLV RB Tim Cornett. Ashworth had four receptions for a career-high 113 receiving yards and four touchdowns in BYU's 49-10 win at Colorado State. All four scores came in the first half, making Ashworth the first player in BYU history to tally four touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of action. Cornett had 82 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in a a 42-16 victory over Wyoming. He was him the first Rebel to score four touchdowns in a game since 1994.

Defense: BYU S Andrew Rich. Had a team-high nine tackles (three solo stops), an interception and a forced fumble in the win over Colorado State.

Special teams: BYU K Mitch Payne. Made all seven of his point-after attempts, tying his season high.

Sun Belt

Offense: North Texas RB Lance Dunbar. Had the best rushing performance in the nation this week, with 226 yards on 36 carries with one touchdown in a 23-17 win at Middle Tennessee. Dunbar had a total of 272 all-purpose yards. He went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark, making him the second back in school history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Defense: FIU DB Anthony Gaitor. Limited top Sun Belt all-purpose player Jerrel Jernigan to 32 receiving yards in a win over Troy. Also had eight tackles.

Special teams: North Texas K Zach Olen. Went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and 2-for-2 on PAT attempts for a total of 11 points in the victory.

WAC

Offense: Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Had 324 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-34 win at Fresno State. Kaepernick completed 16-of-26 passes for 171 yards and rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

Defense: Louisiana Tech safety Javontay Crowe. Had a team-high nine tackles, including six solo, and his first career interception in a win at New Mexico State.

Special teams: Boise State punt returner Chris Potter. Returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown within the first minutes of the game at Idaho. He ended the night with four punt returns for a total of 106 yards.

Non-AQ Helmet Stickers: Week 11

November, 14, 2010
11/14/10
1:51
AM ET
Time for a few non-AQ helmet stickers:

Tulane QB Ryan Griffin. Threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns, including a 73-yard score to Ryan Grant for the go-ahead score with 1:46 remaining to beat Rice 54-49.

FIU offensive line. The Panthers had three players rush for more than 100 yards for the first time in program history, and racked up a program-record 448 rushing yards. Darriet Perry had a career-high 186 yards, while T.Y. Hilton had 158 and Darian Mallary had 118 in the 52-35 win over Troy.

North Texas RB Lance Dunbar. Gained 226 yards and a touchdown in a 23-17 win over Middle Tennessee. Dunbar has gone over 200 yards rushing in two of his past three games.

Western Michigan WR Jordan White and Juan Nunez. Each went over 100 yards in the same game for the third time this season in a 45-30 win over Eastern Michigan. White had 134 yards and one TD, while Nunez had 110 yards on four catches and two touchdowns.

BYU WR Luke Ashworth. Had four catches for a career-high 113 yards in a 49-10 win over Colorado State. All four catches went for touchdowns -- 62, 7, 36 and 8 yards. BYU has won three straight and is one win away from becoming bowl eligible.

Navy QB Kriss Proctor. Ran 20 times for a career-high 201 yards and a touchdown in a 38-37 win over Central Michigan. Proctor started in place of Ricky Dobbs, who was held out with a slight concussion. Navy clinched its eighth straight winning season, the longest streak since 1952-61.

Tulsa safety Marco Nelson. The true freshman had three of the Golden Hurricane's five interceptions in a 28-25 win over Houston. He now has six interceptions on the season.

Fresno State RB Robbie Rouse. Ran for 215 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-34 loss to No. 21 Nevada. Rouse has posted back-to-back 200-yard games after rushing for 286 last week against Louisiana Tech. Colin Kaepernick had 324 total yards and two scores for Nevada.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
4:49
PM ET
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference:

Conference USA

Offense: UAB running back Pat Shed, UCF running back Ronnie Weaver. Shed ran for a career-best 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 50-49 double overtime win against Southern Miss. He finished with 235 all-purpose yards as the Blazers posted their first win in Roberts Stadium. Weaver ran for a career-high 180 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns in a 49-35 win against East Carolina.

Defense: Tulsa linebacker Shawn Jackson. His interception with 37 second left in the first half gave Tulsa the momentum in its 28-27 win against Notre Dame. He also had six tackles, a sack and two quarterback hurries.

Special teams: Tulsa punt returner Damaris Johnson. Had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown, the second of his career in the win. He is 25 yards shy of tying the Conference USA all-time kickoff return record.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Miami receiver Nick Harwell. Had eight receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-9 win at Buffalo.

Defense: Bowling Green defensive tackle Chris Jones. Had six tackles, five tackles for loss, three and a half sacks and recovered a fumble in a 17-14 win at Central Michigan.

Special Teams: Kent State punter Matt Rinehart. Averaged 52 yards on four punts as the Flashes posted a 43-yard net in a 33-14 win against Ball State.

West Division

Offense: Western Michigan receiver Jordan White. Had a career-high 14 receptions for a career-high 180 yards and one touchdown in a 28-21 loss to Northern Illinois.

Defense: Northern Illinois defensive end Jake Coffman. He had four tackles and the game-saving interception on Western Michigan’s final offensive play to seal the win.

Special Teams: Toledo punter Vince Penza. Averaged 40.6 yards on five punts in the Rockets' 42-7 win at Eastern Michigan.

Mountain West

Offense: San Diego State receiver DeMarco Sampson. Had seven receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-38 win against Wyoming. He has three straight 100-yard games.

Defense: Utah safety Brian Blechen. Had a career-high nine tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in a 28-23 win at Air Force.

Special teams: San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich. Kicked the longest punt in San Diego State history at 89 yards in the second half against Wyoming. It was his only punt of the day.

Sun Belt

Offense: North Texas running back Lance Dunbar. Ran for a season-high 215 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-6 win at Western Kentucky. The 215 yards was the most by any player in the Sun Belt this season and the third-highest rushing total in the nation this week.

Defense: ULM Darius Prelow. Had six tackles and an interception in a 28-14 upset win against Troy. The defense held Troy to its lowest point total in a Sun Belt game since 2006.

Co-Special Teams: Louisiana kicker Brett Baer, North Texas kicker Zach Olen. Baer made a field goal and four extra-point attempts, and had two perfectly placed onside kicks in a loss at Ohio. Olen made two field goals, including a 48-yarder, the longest by a North Texas kicker since 2005.

WAC

Offense: Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz. Went 27-of-38 for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-10 win against Idaho. He also rushed seven times for 43 yards and another score. Moniz is the first quarterback in the nation to reach 3,000 yards this season (3,247).

Defense: Hawaii S Mana Silva. Had nine tackles (six solo), including one for a loss of 13 yards, and intercepted a pass in the win against Idaho.

Special teams: New Mexico State kicker Tyler Stampler. Went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts in a 29-27 win against San Jose State. He made a 42-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and then added a 25- and a career-long 43-yarder in the fourth quarter of a tight game.

Non-AQ Helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
12:43
AM ET
Several late games involving the non-AQs are still ongoing but it is time to give out a few helmet stickers to the players who have already had big days:

North Texas RB Lance Dunbar. Ran for a season-high 215 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns in a 33-6 win over Western Kentucky. The game marked the debut of interim head coach Mike Canales, who took over for the fired Todd Dodge a little more than a week ago. Dunbar helped give the Mean Green their second win of the season, and first since beating FAU on Sept. 25.

Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish. Led Northern Illinois on a game-winning, 79-yard, seven-play drive with less than five minutes left in the game to give the Huskies a 28-21 win at Western Michigan. Harnish threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Willie Clark with 3:42 to play and led his team to its sixth straight victory, its longest winning streak since 2004. Harnish had three total touchdowns in the game. Western Michigan WR Jordan White had a career-high 14 catches for a career-high 180 yards in the loss.

SMU QB Kyle Padron. Threw for 354 yards and was the key in a 31-17 comeback win over Tulane. His 82 yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson broke a fourth-quarter tie. He also scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to close out the win. Robinson finished with 182 yards.

San Diego State WRs DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown. The two combined for 12 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-38 win over Wyoming. Each had more than 100 yards, and the two touchdowns belonged to Sampson. It was the first time since Sept. 27, 2008 that San Diego State had two receivers have more than 100 yards in the same game. San Diego State is bowl eligible for the first time since 1998.

ULM defense. The WarHawks beat Troy 28-14, holding the Trojans to their lowest point total in a Sun Belt Conference game since 2006 and breaking their 13-game league win streak. ULM held Troy to just 285 yards, and Jerrel Jernigan had just 92 all-purpose yards. He entered the game averaging 178.3 ypg.

New Mexico State WR Taveon Rogers. Talk about a game winner. Rogers caught an 8-yard touchdown with no time left to give New Mexico State a 29-27 win over San Jose State. Rogers was making his first start of the season and had 90 yards and two touchdowns.

Showtime for Oregon, LaMichael James?

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
7:45
PM ET
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon wants to put on a show tonight against UCLA in order to impress the nation and further validate its national-title contention.

And if the Ducks put on a big show, expect the star to be running back LaMichael James, who can further validate his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

James is the nation's best big-play running back. ESPN Stats & Information, in fact, can prove that, as the chart at right shows.

Since 2009, James has gained 20 yards or more on more than nine percent of his carries, which is the highest percentage among running backs in the FBS in that time frame.

This season, Oregon has 21 rushes of 20 yards or more. The Ducks hit a big run more often than any other team in the country outside of Taylor Martinez and Nebraska.

So, of course, you can expect the UCLA defense to be keying on James. The Bruins might even dare quarterback Darron Thomas to beat them passing, particularly with Thomas coming back from a sprained shoulder that knocked him out of the Washington State game two weeks ago.

But that might not be too wise, because Thomas is at his best going deep in the play-action passing game as the chart at right shows.

So the Bruins have to be smart on defense and mix things up. They can't crowd the line of scrimmage to stop James and the spread-option. And they can't forget Thomas over the top in play-action.

Non-AQ Picks, Week 7

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
9:00
AM ET
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

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

On to the picks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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