NCF Nation: MAC

Could top conference be out of title game?

December, 2, 2013
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Heading into the final week before the bowls are announced, the SEC leads ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings by a wide margin.

The SEC has seven teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including three of the top five teams in the country in Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.

The SEC’s strong out-of-conference record has a lot to do with its success in the polls; the SEC is 47-9 in nonconference games, including 3-1 last Saturday against the ACC.

Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina all defeated their ACC rivals on Saturday, and the SEC’s only out-of-conference loss this past weekend came at the hands of then-No. 2 Florida State.

However, the biggest debate heading into conference championship weekend is whether the SEC deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship to defend its seven straight titles.

If the season ended today, the top team in the ACC would face off against the top team in the Big Ten. According to ESPN Stats and Info’s Conference Power Rankings, the ACC and Big Ten are the lowest-ranked conferences among the five major ones, and the SEC is by far the top conference in the country.

However, the debate is not necessarily which conference is the best, but which team is the most deserving.

When looking at ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings – a system that determines the most deserving teams in the country -- Ohio State and Florida State are both ranked higher than the top team in the SEC.

Looking deeper by using ESPN’s Football Power Index – a predictor of future strength -- Ohio State should be favored by three points over Auburn and six points over Missouri on a neutral field.

It appears the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be on the outside looking in on the national title debate despite ranking second and third, respectively, in ESPN’s Conference Power Rankings. Both conferences have depth, but their biggest issue is that there is no “elite” team at the top.

Keep an eye on the bowl matchups announced next Sunday to see how conference strength plays into bowl selections. In the last three seasons, the SEC has the best record in bowl games among the five major conferences (17-11) while the Big Ten has the worst record (9-16).

Non-AQ What to Watch: Week 5

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
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There are only a few marquee games on the schedule for this week. Air Force vs. Narvy tops our top 10 non-AQ storylines to watch:

1. Air Force defense vs. Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs. In the biggest game of the week featuring the non-AQs, Air Force has a good shot at beating Navy for the first time in eight seasons. Dobbs has not returned to his 2009 form, and part of the reason is because he has been hobbled with a sprained ankle. Teams are keying in on him and forcing him to pitch the ball out. Air Force did a good job against him last year, holding him to less than 100 yards. But the Falcons lost a heartbreaker in overtime.

[+] EnlargeRicky Dobbs
Chris Gardner/US PresswireAn ankle injury and added defensive attention have slowed Ricky Dobbs. He's rushed for 174 yards in three games after netting 1,192 last season.
2. Is BYU or Utah State the second-best team in the Beehive State behind Utah? We will get our much-anticipated answer in a nationally televised game Friday night. This has not been a competitive game in the past, but BYU is struggling now, having lost three straight. It has experience going against running quarterbacks. The Cougars allowed Colin Kaepernick and Nevada a big first half last week, but adjusted well in the second half. That should give them some confidence going into the game against Diondre Borel.

3. Welcome to conference play Boise State and TCU. Let us introduce you to your opponents -- two of the worst teams in college football. Boise State gets winless New Mexico State, while TCU gets one-win Colorado State. This is why a lot of people have a hard time buying their rise to the top of the polls.

4. How much will Boise State miss Winston Venable? The starting safety is suspended for a half after a helmet-to-helmet hit gave James Rodgers a concussion last week. The Broncos are playing offensively challenged New Mexico State so the answer here is easy. They could have afforded to have him suspended the entire game, which is what WAC commissioner Karl Benson initially ruled before an appeal.

5. Will TCU give up almost 200 yards on the ground again? Considering Colorado State is the worst rushing team in the country, averaging 59 yards on the ground, the answer is no. But the way Pete Thomas can throw the ball, the Rams may be able to get their yards through the air.

6. Will there be a Top 25 meltdown for Nevada in its big rivalry game with UNLV? No. That win last week for UNLV was really nice and all, but it came against New Mexico. The Rebels have a long way to go if they want to catch up to the way Nevada is playing right now. The Wolf Pack are deserving of that No. 25 ranking.

7. Will a fourth starting quarterback make a difference for Louisiana Tech? The Bulldogs are going with Tarik Hakmi, who threw for 262 yards in a narrow loss to Southern Miss last week. But he is going to have a hard time trying to keep up with the Hawaii offense. Bryant Moniz has 1,337 and 11 touchdowns already this season.

8. Will two of the top running backs in the MAC be available on Saturday? Temple coach Al Golden says Bernard Pierce (ankle) is a game-time decision against Army after getting hurt against Penn State. Kent State coach Doug Martin didn’t sound as optimistic about Eugene Jarvis (groin), who has missed the past two games.

9. Can SMU bounce back against Rice? This will be the 88th meeting between the two Texas schools and former Southwest Conference rivals, making it the most-played rivalry in Conference USA. SMU has the edge in this one. The Mustangs played valiantly in their loss to TCU. Zach Line ran the ball well, but coach June Jones would like to see more consistency out of his passing game.

10. Any of the six winless teams remaining have a shot to win? Five are playing this weekend -- Eastern Michigan, FIU, Akron, New Mexico and New Mexico State. I would not say any have a realistic shot, but watch for FIU against Pittsburgh and Eastern Michigan against Ohio. The Bobcats have not played up to their potential yet, at 1-3, and are still juggling quarterbacks.

What we learned from non-AQs: Week 4

September, 26, 2010
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Another week in the books, so what did we learn from the non-AQs? Boise State and TCU are still tops, but Utah and Nevada are undefeated, too. They could wreak havoc on the race for a potential BCS national championship berth.

1. Boise State and TCU may not have gotten the style points they wanted this weekend, but the top non-AQ teams did win, keeping their quest for a historic national championship berth alive. Boise State beat Oregon State 37-24 on national television on Saturday night, while TCU beat SMU 41-24 on national television Friday night. Neither looked outstanding. Both had uncharacteristic lapses. Boise State had special teams breakdowns and eight penalties, including several personal fouls. TCU, always known for its defense, gave up 192 yards rushing. But what would style points have gotten them, anyway? Neither is busting into the Top 2 of the human polls with undefeated teams ranked ahead of them. I'm not even sure a 100-0 win would do that. The point is to keep winning, and that is what they are doing.

[+] EnlargeTitus Young
AP Photo/Don RyanTitus Young and Boise State just keep winning.
2. Utah and Nevada are here, too. And then there were four undefeated non-AQ teams left. Watch for Nevada to join the Top 25 today after a 27-13 win over BYU on Saturday. The Wolf Pack are 4-0, their best start since they began playing on the FBS level in 1992. The 4-0 start also marks Nevada’s best start since the 1991 team went 12-0 to start the season. Meanwhile, Utah welcomed the return of starting quarterback Jordan Wynn, who missed the past two games with a sprained thumb. The Utes beat San Jose State 56-3, but their schedule is back-loaded, with a brutal stretch beginning Oct. 30 at Air Force.

3. Heartbreak hotel. Several non-AQ teams suffered heartbreaking losses on Saturday. UAB lost to Tennessee 32-29 in double overtime, but, oh, what could have been. UAB kicker Josh Zahn missed field goals from 30, 35, 41 and 49 yards in regulation. UCF lost with 24 seconds left after Kansas State scored on a 7-yard run to make it 17-13. It was the first time the Knights trailed all day. Ditto for Memphis, which lost to UTEP as time expired. Dakota Warren made an 18-yard field goal as the Miners rallied for the 16-13 win. Ohio lost to Marshall 24-23 when coach Frank Solich decided to go for the win, and the 2-point conversion failed with no time left. Arkansas State lost to Troy in the closing seconds, too.

4. The MAC is all right. The MAC and Big Ten had eight games on Saturday, and the MAC won two of them -- Toledo beat Purdue and Northern Illinois beat Minnesota. The MAC now has eight wins over Big Ten opponents over the past three years -- two this year, two in 2009 and four in 2008. Let us not forget the valiant effort Temple gave in a 22-13 loss to Penn State. Temple led until the 1:38 mark of the third quarter. Before Saturday, Temple had lost its past four games to Penn State 154-9.

5. The service academies are for real. When was the last time Air Force (3-1), Army (3-1) and Navy (2-1) were a combined 8-3 after four weeks of the season? Certainly not recently, and that is mainly due to the struggles the Black Knights have had. After their 35-21 win over Duke, they are two games above .500 for the first time since going 10-2 in 1996.

Non-AQ: What to watch, Week 4

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
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Another big game for Boise State this Saturday. Can the Broncos prove they are worthy again? That leads our top 10 non-AQ storylines to watch:

1. What does Boise State have to do to get a little respect -- aside from beating Oregon State? At this point, it seems as though winning is not going to be enough for the Broncos. They are the No. 3 team in the country, but many pundits believe they have hit their peak. Do they have to blow teams out? Do they need everybody else to implode? First order of business is to win, of course, but with all eyes on Boise State for the second time in a month, you can bet many folks around the country are going to want to see more than a close win.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
AP Photo/George FreyJake Heaps is set for his first start Saturday against Nevada.
2. How does Jake Heaps handle his first start at BYU? The quarterback decision was made for Bronco Mendenhall this week when Riley Nelson went out for the season with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. That leaves the true freshman Heaps in charge of what has been a very weak offense so far. Will one quarterback make a huge difference for the Cougars? They face a difficult task against Nevada on Saturday. Heaps has to be ready.

3. How does Terrance Broadway handle his first start at Houston? Broadway was thrown into the mix last week against UCLA when Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner were lost for the season with separate injuries. The true freshman played well, but now he will actually get the reps in practice and show what he can do leading this offense. Broadway was a four-star recruit once offered a scholarship to Alabama before an injury in high school. He chose Houston because the Cougars run a similar spread offense to what he ran in high school. First order of business is Tulane. Well, at least it’s not Mississippi State. That comes in two weeks.

4. How does SMU handle the TCU defensive front? The SMU offensive line has struggled in the first three games of the year, giving up 10 sacks. Wayne Daniels is off to a good start for the Horned Frogs, with 3.5 sacks, and the TCU defense is always good at applying pressure. You can bet that will be the game plan to rattle Kyle Padron and get him off rhythm.

5. Can Fresno State contain Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli? Heck, everybody else has seemed to contain him, why not the Bulldogs? Much credit goes to coach Pat Hill for his improved defensive unit this year. Chris Carter and Logan Harrell have combined for 6.5 sacks, but they have not quite played an opponent the caliber of Ole Miss just yet. Yes, Mississippi is better than Cincinnati.

6. Can the MAC pull off an upset against the Big Ten? There are eight MAC vs. Big Ten matchups this weekend. Two to watch: Northern Illinois at Minnesota and Bowling Green at Michigan. I would like Bowling Green’s chances a lot better if Matt Schilz was playing, but it seems you can throw any 11 players on the field and they will have an opportunity to gain some yards on a pretty poor Michigan defense. Minnesota has struggled this season, and that gives Northern Illinois the perfect opportunity.

7. Any chance FIU pulls the upset over Maryland? The Panthers have been oh-so-close against Rutgers and Texas A&M, taking fourth-quarter leads into both games. Their defense has set the tone early, but they simply fell short during crunch time. The Panthers just don’t have a good enough offense to be able to win these games.

8. UCF defense vs. Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas. Thomas ranks second in the nation in rushing, and UCF has the best defense in Conference USA. So what is going to give? No doubt the Knights will try to stack the box, and they have said this week the key is sure tackling. That is easier said than done. Though the Knights do have a good unit, they have struggled at times against the run and are giving up an average of 128.7 yards a game.

9. Will Dwight Dasher be able to play for Middle Tennessee against Louisiana? The NCAA has ruled Dasher must sit out four games for improperly accepting a $1,500 loan. The school has filed an appeal, and that ruling is expected to come either late tonight or tomorrow. The Blue Raiders are preparing as if he won’t be able to play, so Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy have gotten the majority of reps in practice. This is the conference opener for Middle Tennessee before a huge game Oct. 5 against Troy. Dasher will be eligible to return for that game against the Trojans.

10. How does Duke slow down Army DE Josh McNary? The Black Knights are hoping to win their third straight game away from home for the first time since 1966-67. They have a chance if Josh McNary continues to play well. The defensive end has five sacks in Army’s last two games. As a team, Army has seven sacks in those two games. Army could be 3-0 if not for a last-second field goal in a loss to Hawaii.

Temple hoping to hang with Penn State

September, 22, 2010
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Nothing in their recent history gives you any faith that Temple can hang with Penn State.

Maybe this year will finally be different.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Howard Smith/US PresswireCoach Al Golden has Temple off to its first 3-0 start since 1979.
Temple (3-0) goes into the game Saturday in Happy Valley following a 30-16 win over Connecticut, its first over a team from an automatic qualifying conference as a member of the MAC. Penn State has struggled with a true freshman at quarterback.

Surely the Owls are better and have more experience than they have since the two schools began playing again in 2006.

“The gap is huge, that’s the problem,” Temple coach Al Golden says.

Yes, the gap is huge. Temple has lost the last four games to Penn State 154-9. Last season, the Owls lost 31-6, but it was the closest they had played the Lions. In 2006 and 2007, Temple got shut out. Golden, however, ran off a litany of stats that prove how daunting the task will be -- his team has been outgained by 1,073 yards in the four games.

“The biggest thing is to hang in there, hang in the game with them and try to keep it close because they’re so powerful, they’re so deep and they’ve got the crowd with them,” Golden says.

Golden would never reveal whether this game has special meaning to him. He played under coach Joe Paterno, and his name has already surfaced as a potential replacement whenever Paterno decides to step down.

Perhaps some Nittany Lions fans will see this as a mini-tryout for Golden, who has completely resurrected the Temple program. The start to this season proves 2009 was no fluke. Temple is 3-0 for the first time since 1979.

The win over Connecticut was most certainly a confidence booster after lackluster performances in their first two games, but Golden is not dwelling on the win, and he has told his players to move on as well.

“It was a great win. It motivates the team to know that we are big-time competitors, but we have to move on to the next game,” Temple running back Bernard Pierce said. “We needed that win to get everybody’s morale up, but when the game’s all over and done with we still have to go to practice and work hard and perform hard.”

If anybody needed a big game going into Penn State week it was Pierce, who led the MAC last season with 1,361 yards. He and Matt Brown shared time in the first two games, but Pierce got going against Connecticut with 169 yards rushing -- his first 100-yard game of the season.

Last season against Penn State, Pierce only had seven carries for 24 yards in his second career game and admitted to being a little intimidated.

“It was a crazy environment, ridiculously loud,” he said. “I was very nervous. But now that I know what it’s going to be like, I’ll be settled down.”

For his part, Golden says he is trying to keep his team focused on this season. He sees no sense in bringing up past futility to use as motivation. Temple has not beaten Penn State since 1941.

Still, Golden sees benefits to the series even though it has been so lopsided.

“One of the things when we got here, there were a lot of irrelevant games,” Golden said. “Now when we play Army or we play Navy, there’s a buzz. When we play UConn, there’s a buzz and when we play this team -- even though we haven’t won since World War II -- there’s a buzz. We’re appreciative and grateful to Penn State for wanting to play this series and supporting football here.”

The series will continue with five games in the next six years. We’ll have to see if Temple can close the gap, even a little.

Lunchtime Links

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
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The 1935 game between SMU and TCU was known as "The Game of the Century." Very cool video of the game included.

Unselfish Terrance Cain makes sure there is no quarterback controversy at Utah. Jordan Wynn has resumed throwing, but coach Kyle Whittingham won't name a starter before Saturday's game against San Jose State.

The MAC could be expanding in the near future.

Fate has stepped in to pick BYU's starting quarterback.

As expected, Terrance Broadway gets the nod as Houston's starting quarterback.

San Jose State has lost its best player for the season. Safety Duke Ihenacho broke his foot last week against Southern Utah. He is eligible for a medical redshirt.

Middle Tennessee doesn't look like the runaway pick to win the Sun Belt.

UAB receiver Jackie Williams made the game-winning catch last week against FAU with a hand injury -- and his grandmother sitting in the stands. It was the first time she had ever seen him play.

Athletic departments are relying more and more on student fees, according to this excellent investigative piece in USA Today.

Other conference links:

ACC

Big 12

Big East

Big Ten

SEC
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.”

What we learned from non-AQs: Week 2

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
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Boise State never took a snap Saturday but the Broncos ended up losing thanks to Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, the MAC had a pretty crummy day, too.

What did we learn from Week 2?

We have no idea what is going to happen with Boise State. What was supposed to be a signature win turned into a whole lot of blah when Virginia Tech lost to James Madison 21-16 on Saturday. The last thing the Broncos needed was for the Hokies to lose again, let alone lose to a lower division school. Even if Virginia Tech wins out and takes the ACC, questions will still loom about the legitimacy of the Boise State win simply because this is such an awful loss for the Hokies. Does this stain how the coaches and Harris poll voters perceive Boise State? How do the computer rankings react? Then there is this: what does this do for TCU? A bad Virginia Tech loss could end up hurting the Horned Frogs going forward. They play a tougher schedule, no question about it. TCU did finish ahead of Boise State in the final BCS standings last season.

[+] EnlargeMikel Hunter
AP Photo/Bryan OllerMikel Hunter and Air Force had reason to celebrate after a 35-14 win over BYU.
BYU still has a ways to go with its two quarterback system. After playing almost flawlessly against Washington in a home win last week, Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps struggled in a 35-14 loss to Air Force. Nelson had a costly fumble just before halftime that Air Force turned into a 21-14 lead it would not relinquish. Heaps threw for just 15 yards and had an interception as coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to stick with Nelson for the second half. With a road game against Florida State set for this Saturday, we will wait and see what Mendenhall decides to do about his quarterbacks. Of course this could be spun a different way -- do not sleep on Air Force.

The MAC has some explaining to do. Not such a great day for the MAC, which saw Ball State and Akron lose to FCS schools. Mike Brown put Liberty ahead with a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left in the game. Akron blew a 31-17 third-quarter lead, then had an extra point blocked in overtime that made the difference. Northern Illinois and Western Michigan were the only two MAC schools to win non-conference games. Both wins came against FCS schools.

UCF may have found itself a new starting quarterback. Many Knights fans knew it would only be a matter of time until Jeffrey Godfrey took over from Rob Calabrese. Godfrey replaced him in the middle of the third quarter and helped erase a 28-7 deficit with two touchdown runs. UCF had a chance at the end, but Quincy McDuffie fumbled, giving the Knights their fifth turnover of the game and a 28-21 loss. Godfrey, who broke Jacory Harris’ Miami-Dade County passing records, finished 7-of-10 for 107 yards, and led the team with 53 yards rushing. Calabrese, meanwhile, threw two interceptions and completed just 5.9 yards per completion.

Utah is pretty good at home. Even with Jordan Wynn watching from the sideline, the Utes won their 19th straight game at home, 38-10 over UNLV, setting a new Mountain West Conference record in their last year in the league. Terrance Cain, who started the first eight games of last season, went 13-of-20 for 207 yards with no interceptions or fumbles. Wynn sprained the thumb on his throwing hand last week against Pittsburgh, and Utah didn’t want to risk playing him.

Lunchtime Links

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
12:32
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Central Michigan and Temple play tonight to open MAC play. ...

Temple wants to make a statement against the defending MAC champs.

The Owls have a lot of big games in September, but none bigger than this MAC matchup.

Hey, Boise State, Monday night was fun. Planning any other big games?

TCU coach Gary Patterson didn't run up the score on Oregon State, but will that cost him style points?

Cousins square off against each other when Marshall plays West Virginia in the Coal Bowl.

A group of no-name Utah linebackers proved themselves against Pittsburgh.

Rice defensive tackle Michael Smith makes an emotional return to North Texas. His brother, Andrew, played quarterback there but was killed in a car accident before the start of football practice in 2004.

After landing in New Jersey for its game against Army, Hawaii took to the parking lot for a brief practice.

Other conference links:

ACC

Big 12

Big East

Big Ten

SEC

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 6, 2010
9/06/10
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Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the incredible in a nearly complete Week 1.

The good: The Mountain West and WAC were the only two conferences to win games against AQ opponents. The Mountain West had the best record against teams from those automatic qualifying conferences, going 3-3 with big wins from TCU, BYU and Utah. Fresno State had the lone WAC win, over Cincinnati. Of course, there is still one WAC team yet to play. The other conference records against other AQ schools:

[+] EnlargeUtah Celebration
AP Photo/Steve C. WilsonUtah's upset of No. 15 Pitt was just one reason for Non AQs to celebrate in Week 1.
Conference USA: 0-5; 0-6 against all FBS opponents.

MAC: 0-5; 0-7 against all FBS opponents.

Sun Belt: 0-5; 2-5 against all FBS opponents.

The bad: Nobody could possibly have had a worse weekend than New Mexico, which lost 72-0 to Oregon. This is the perfect example of why many people believe the Mountain West should not get an automatic qualifying bid into the BCS. The league is so top heavy it gets weighed down with the teams at the bottom that simply cannot compete. Show me a team at the bottom of any AQ conferences that could lose as badly as this. Not even Duke, Vanderbilt or Syracuse qualifies.

The incredible: You probably have all seen the highlights, but it bears repeating that East Carolina's last-second win over Tulsa is why fans of the sport love it so much. Time winding down, hopes all but gone, and then a ball dropped from the heavens right into the arms of the 6-foot-8 Justin Jones. "That was the greatest experience of my life," quarterback Dominique Davis said after the game. "There was probably people in the stands -- our fans -- who probably thought the game was over. But I told the team, 'Just trust.' As soon as I let it go, I knew he was going to catch it."

The new: Several new starters at quarterback seemed to do all right for themselves on opening weekend. Jake Heaps of BYU, Corey Robinson of Troy and Logan Kilgore of Middle Tennessee all had decent outings. So did Ryan Radcliff of Central Michigan and Jerry Davis of Buffalo.

A few more helmet stickers: Belated helmet stickers to Davis of East Carolina, who went 27-of-46 for 383 yards with five touchdown passes. He also had a score on the ground. Also, much was made of the way Hawaii was able to hang around USC. The offense looked great, even after starting quarterback Bryant Moniz took a hit to the helmet and was forced to leave the game. Kealoha Pilares had five catches for 176 yards and 3 TDs in the win. Two of his touchdowns went for over 50 yards.

A few injury items to note: UTEP running back Donald Buckram missed the opener against Arkansas Pine-Bluff after bruising his knee in practice. A MRI on his knee was negative, and he clearly was not needed in the win over an FCS team. Hawaii's Moniz didn't practice Saturday but said he expects to play this week against Army. Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert was carted off the field with a neck injury in the opener against Northwestern State, and it's unlikely that he plays this weekend against BYU. Tests on his neck were negative.

Week 2 look ahead: There are several in-conference games scheduled for this week, the biggest being BYU at Air Force. On Thursday night, Central Michigan plays Temple in the MAC; UTEP is at Houston on Friday night in a big divisional game. You can bet the Miners will need Buckram in this game. FIU, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe were the only three idle teams in the country Week 1. They play their first games this weekend.

Ohio to play two quarterbacks

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
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Ohio coach Frank Solich said on the MAC conference call Monday that he will play quarterbacks Phil Bates and Boo Jacksonin the season opener Saturday against Wofford. Though he has told the players who will start, he said he did not want to make the announcement public because he wanted to keep his opponent guessing.

Solich said both quarterbacks give his team a different look, making it harder for the opposition to game plan.

"Phil’s by far the best rusher we’ve got. Boo, when he’s scrambling, has a unique way of finding guys in the open field," Solich said. "They bring something a little different to the table, so it probably makes sense for us not to announce that to allow preparation for a specific type of quarterback. Right now one will start, another will come in at some point during the game, and it will be an evaluation process throughout the early part of the season. If we feel like there’s a reason to play two guys, we’ll work it that way."

Bates, at 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, is an Iowa State transfer and hasn't played in a game since 2008. Jackson, 6-1 and 202 pounds, took a medical redshirt last season because of a shoulder injury. He started 10 games for Ohio in 2008, passing for 2,355 yards -- the second-highest single-season total in school history.

Solich said Jackson was still working through the shoulder injury during fall camp and got tired at times. He said both players understand they will play and everyone was on the same page.

But eventually, Solich would like to settle on a starter.

"We could go the season playing two if it calls for it -- again that’s not what I’m interested in doing," Solich said. "I would like one guy to take it and go, but both guys have ability and there could be a time and place for both of them in a game to use that ability. It would be extremely difficult to prepare for the two quarterbacks with the same game plan. They shine at different things, and yet theyr’e good at the other things. We feel maybe we can have the best of both worlds there. I don’t want to project what’s going to happen. We’ll start it off, see how they play and make decisions based off of that."
Akron coach Rob Ianello announced Wednesday that Patrick Nicely would be his starting quarterback in the season opener Sept. 4 against Syracuse.

Nicely, a sophomore, won the job over junior Matt Rodgers. The two split the reps evenly throughout fall camp. Nicely was supposed to have redshirted last season, but he ended up making seven starts after Rodgers went down with a season-ending knee injury. He threw for 1,349 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Nicely started the final scrimmage of camp Saturday only because it was his turn to start. He went 4-of-10 for 47 yards and a TD. Rodgers went 5-of-10 for 37 yards.
Eastern Michigan coach Ron English has been under fire for comments he made about single moms during MAC media day. The criticism has gotten so bad, English today issued a letter to the editor to once again clarify comments he made at MAC media day. Here is his quote from July 31:
"You know what the real focus was? We wanted to recruit football players that love football. I felt like we had a lot of guys who really didn't love football. They maybe were playing football so that they could go to school or whatever, but not for the love of playing football.

"So when we went out, we wanted to do two things. We wanted players who love football, who have the physical ability to play football and then the other thing we wanted was guys that could be coached. We wanted guys that had a father in their background because if you don't, the hard part is, some guy like me coming in and corrects you. So you're working -- that's a whole another dynamic. A guy that's raised by his mom -- and please don't take me wrong -- but the reality is, you have to teach that guy how to be taught by a man. That's part of it."

Here is his letter to the editor:
"Media reports on comments attributed to me at the recent Mid American Conference Football Media Day have reached a point where I think it is important, as the Head Football Coach at Eastern Michigan University, to clarify for the record my position and to shed a little light on my history.

A July 31st article in The Detroit News quoted me as saying:

“We wanted guys that had a father in their background. A guy that is raised by his mom all the time, and please don’t get me wrong, but the reality is you’ve got to teach that guy how to be taught by a man."

The quote was an incomplete snippet of a lengthy conversation with a pool of reporters on my thoughts on our recruiting class. The comment was also made in the context of me providing insight into the first year of our program and, the prospects for our upcoming season. It was NOT a conversation about my thoughts on the value of single parent mothers or, the vitally important role father figures can play in not only those situations, but others as well. Had it been a discussion on those topics, I would have shared that my twin brother and I are products of being raised by our grandmother, Mamie Blaylock. My mother (who was not married to my father) passed away when I was 18-months old. In addition, I would have spoken about several coaches and other men who played an equally important role in whatever I have been able to achieve as a person.

I hold a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California and a Masters’ from Arizona State University. In December 2008, this great university (Eastern Michigan University) honored me by naming me its Head Football Coach, making me only one of five African-American Division I Head Football Coaches in America at the time (and one of only 13 today). To suggest I would dismiss or negate the critical role played by single parent mothers or, men who serve as mentors in young men’s lives, would contradict the very way I WAS RAISED (which would be absurd).

Throughout my 18-year coaching career, I have been privileged to not only have successfully coached several young men raised by their mothers but, to have personally been a father figure and mentor to many of them. As just one of many examples of which I am profoundly proud of, Jimmy Verdon, a Graduate Assistant on our Staff at EMU, comes particularly to mind. Verdon, who was raised by his Aunt, overcame a learning disability and was recruited by, and played for me at Arizona State. He not only went on to receive his Degree, but enjoyed a career in the National Football League before joining our Staff at EMU. In addition to working with our student athletes, he is presently enrolled in a Masters Degree Program at our School. As we work each day to give Eagle Nation, the Football Program, its students, faculty, Administrators, donors and Alumni so richly deserve, be assured we will continue to attract the very best student athletes for this Institution who meet our standards of decorum and personal responsibility, regardless of the demographic of the households they were raised in."

Sincerely,

Ron English

Head Football Coach

Eastern Michigan University

Around the MAC

August, 9, 2010
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Let us check in with the MAC, to see what happened at media days and find out how the start of fall practice is going.

Preseason favorite: Temple was selected to win the East, while Northern Illinois was picked to win the West.

News and notes: Though the conference media gathering was several weeks ago, it is still worth pointing out that BCS chief Bill Hancock stopped by and held a news conference. He unleashed this gem of a quote: “You MAC schools, you athletes, you are this close to making it in. Don’t forget that.” Gee, thanks for the pep talk.

As a quick reminder, no MAC school has made it into a BCS game. No MAC school has ever come close. Of course, it is Hancock’s job to tout the wonders of the BCS, and yes, it is conceivable for a MAC school to make it in. But how close is a MAC school? For one, there are none ranked in the coaches’ preseason Top 25. For another, one would have to go undefeated. And for another, one would have to trump the non-AQ teams standing ahead of them.

New QB faces: Central Michigan and Western Michigan go into the season without two of the more recognizable faces in the MAC: quarterbacks Dan LeFevour and Tim Hiller. All-MAC QB Tyler Sheehan is also gone from Bowling Green. LeFevour re-wrote a number of MAC, NCAA and school records at Central Michigan, becoming the first player in NCAA history to pass for 12,000 yards and rush for 2,500. Ryan Radcliff, a sophomore, has emerged as the front-runner to replace LeFevour.

But now that fall practice is underway, there is an open competition. Among the others in the mix: junior Derek Rifenbury, redshirt freshman A.J. Westendorp, true freshman Kyle Smith and junior college transfer Brandon Fricke. Radcliff is the only quarterback on the roster who has attempted a pass in a game for the Chips.

Meanwhile at Western Michigan, Alex Carder won the job in the spring to replace Hiller, who set school records for career passing yards and total offense. Carder is a much more vocal leader, so look for some differences when watching the Broncos play this season.

More QBs: There are several other QB battles to watch this fall in the MAC. At Ohio, coach Frank Solich said after the spring the job was wide open between Phil Bates, Boo Jackson and Tyler Tettleton. Jackson had the starting job last season before sustaining a shoulder injury that also kept him out during the spring. Bates, a transfer from Iowa State, sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules and played very well in the spring with Jackson sidelined.

At Buffalo, the competition to replace the departed Zach Maynard is ongoing between Jerry Davis and Alex Dennison. Davis and Dennison are splitting the reps during practice as they learn the new spread offense, and new coach Jeff Quinn hasn’t ruled out playing both of them.

At Bowling Green, redshirt freshman Matt Schilz is listed ahead of Kellen Pagel in the competition to replace Sheehan.

At Toledo, sophomore Austin Dantin and junior Morgan Williams are competing to take over the starting job from Aaron Opelt. Dantin served as the backup last season. Side note on Toledo -- coach Tim Beckman is going to move into the dorms with his players during fall practice, carrying on the tradition he started last season.

Opening camp: Temple

August, 7, 2010
8/07/10
11:00
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We continue our series of camp previews for select non-AQ schools.

Opening camp: Temple

Schedule: Practice starts Saturday.

What’s new: Winning. Temple posted its first winning season since 1990 and made its first bowl game in 30 years in 2009. Now the Owls are being picked to win the East in the MAC.

Key battle: There is a lot of competition at wide receiver if you believe the post-spring depth chart. There are no favorites going into camp even though Michael Campbell and Rod Streater return as starters. Coach Al Golden lists C.J. Hammond, Deon Miller and Joey Jones as potential first-teamers. The Owls are going to need a more reliable passing game to help out RB Bernard Pierce.

New on the scene: He is not exactly new, but Vaughn Charlton is new on the tight end scene. The former quarterback switched to tight end in the spring when it became clear that Chester Stewart would be the starter there. Charlton now has the tough task of filling the shoes of Steve Maneri, a great blocker, if he can win the starting job.

Breaking out: Wide receiver Delano Green. He had two punt returns for touchdowns last season, and could see even more playing time at wide receiver, where the Owls need a deep threat to emerge.

Don’t forget about: Amara Kamara has moved from defensive end to outside linebacker. He has the size, at 6-2 and 235 pounds, to play on the outside and should help out a unit that lost two starters.

All eyes on: Bernard Pierce. After rushing for 1,361 yards and a single-season school record 16 touchdowns last season as a freshman last season, Temple has launched a Heisman campaign for the runner. Pierce already had 1,000 yards through eight games last season, and he missed the final two regular-season games with injuries. He is fine now, but he will have to handle the heightened expectations that have come with his superb rookie campaign.

Quoting: "What that says is that we've become a relevant program. But, it's not going to change the way we operate. Hopefully, our kids will continue to focus on the process. If we do that, and don't worry about what people say, the product will take care of itself." -- Coach Al Golden on his team being picked to win the MAC East.

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