NCF Nation: Mike Price

Considering the Pac-12's worst teams

November, 28, 2012
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Colorado was one of the all-time bad teams in Pac-12/10/8 history this season, but were the Buffaloes the worst? Hard to say, as different decades bring different levels of awful.

The case for Colorado is this: The Buffs this season went 1-11 overall and 1-8 in Pac-12 play. They were outscored 552 to 214. They ranked last in the conference in scoring offense and scoring defense. They were 116th in the nation in scoring offense and 120th (last) in scoring defense.

That's pretty darn bad.

But there's some pretty darn good/bad competition.

Oregon State put together an epic level of awfulness in the 1980s. The Beavers didn't win a conference game in 1980, 1981 and 1982.

While the Beavers were winless in 1980, the best worst team of that three-year run was probably 1981. That team opened with a win over Fresno State and then nearly beat LSU in Baton Rouge. Then everything went bad.

The Beavers were outscored 330 to 75 in conference play and 469 to 145 overall. They scored fewer than 10 points in five games. They lost the Civil War to 2-9 Oregon 47-17.

My personal favorite, however, is a Pac-10 rivalry pair -- A Dismal Duo! -- mostly because I witnessed it: The Year of the Crapple Cup.

That was 2008. Washington went 0-12, and Washington State went 2-11.

In terms of statistical awfulness, the Cougars were worse. They were outscored 570 to 165 overall and 453 to 77 in conference play. They were shut out three times and scored a single field goal twice.

One of their wins was over a Football Championship Subdivision team. The other ... was over Washington in the Crapple Cup, 16-13 in double overtime.

Not unlike this season's Apple Cup, the Huskies lost after a massive fourth-quarter choke, not to mention superior field goal kicking from the Cougars.

The Huskies, who were outscored 463 to 159 overall and 347 to 111 in conference play, were the nation's only winless team that season, and coach Tyrone Willingham was given the boot at season's end.

The Cougars finished that season ranked 118th in the nation -- second to last -- in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Huskies were 117th in scoring offense and 116th in scoring defense.

But the Cougs did have the Crapple Cup victory to salve the wounds suffered during a rotten season.

So, to steal an old term from former Washington State coach Mike Price, they became the kings of Poop Island, while the Huskies were merely Poop Island citizens.
1. It is a measure of Jeff Tedford’s success through 11 seasons in Berkeley that Cal fired him with a record of 82-57 (.590). He may have been a victim of that success -- Tedford went 28-9 from 2004-06, when the USC dynasty kept Cal from its first Rose Bowl since the 1950s. Tedford helped push through the $321 million renovation of Memorial Stadium. But that expenditure demanded winning, and the Bears went 3-9 this year. His career may have suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome -- Cal got tired of him.

2. Mike Price’s retirement at UTEP on Monday got buried beneath the Big Ten expansion avalanche of news, which is fitting. Price operated outside the mainstream for his long career. He coached Washington State to two Rose Bowls, and his Miner teams have hovered around .500 for 10 seasons, which is hard to do at UTEP. His only time in the mainstream was a disastrous five months at Alabama, where his reputation was ravaged for what turned out to be not much at all.

3. The rise of the NFL coincided with the demise of urban college football powers: SMU, Rice, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, etc., etc. Yet more and more NFL stadiums are serving as bowl sites. The latest news came Tuesday, when the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl announced that it will move from its baseball home at AT&T Park into the 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara when it opens in 2014. That’s a great move for the bowl, and another sign of how the postseason has become a consolation prize for college football in the big city.

Tuel, Leach hope 'musical QBs' is over

October, 24, 2012
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It's clear Mike Leach has made a big impact at Washington State. Just not in terms of wins. At least, not yet.

The Cougars head to Stanford on Saturday looking for their first Pac-12 victory in five tries. And they are unlikely to get it.

But Leach's impact is notable in terms of his demanding nature and tendency to give unfiltered evaluations when things aren't as he wants them to be. Some of his players apparently weren't terribly focused during a bye week practice last Tuesday. So they earned some extra work. A lot of extra work.

A dramatic change from past years? Yep.

From Mike Price to Bill Doba to Paul Wulff, Washington State coaches haven't been known for being terribly harsh and demanding with their players. In fact, the first term that comes to mind with those three is "nice guys." Leach isn't like that troika.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Jake Roth/US PresswireJeff Tuel is hoping he can help get the Cougars back on track.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic transition," quarterback Jeff Tuel said. "It’s much different than what we were before. I think you’ve seen just by the number of guys who aren’t here anymore that started here with this season, there’s a high demand for production and if you’re not going to produce then you’re in the wrong place, basically. So it has been a dramatic change. And it’s for the better."

That change for the better didn't suit 17 players who are no longer with the team, either due to quitting or being given the boot since Leach was hired last December.

Against Stanford, Tuel will make his first start since facing Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. His back-and-forth with Connor Halliday at the position has been one of the reasons the so-called "Air-Raid" offense has yet to find its high-flying rhythm.

"We ended up in a situation where we've played musical quarterbacks," Leach said. "I think if we'd had one guy that was settled in I think we would have been a little better."

Perhaps it's Tuel's time? He admitted this week that he wasn't comfortable with the offense early in the season. He was tentative, and that's something Halliday is not. He also wasn't comfortable making checks at the line of scrimmage, which meant the Cougars were often running plays into a defense that was well-positioned.

A huge problem has been the success of what Tuel called "cover-8" against the Cougs. That means opposing defenses have been dropping eight into coverage against a pass-first offense, feeling confident that the three linemen can stop the Cougars' running game and still get pressure on the QB.

If a defense can do that, well, that's not good for an offense. It means the defense thinks its three linemen are better than the offense's five blockers.

"When we've had success this year, we've been able to run the ball against it," Tuel said. "It's tough to throw it every single down and be successful."

Ah, but here's a problem with that. The Cougars are 119th in the nation -- second to last -- in rushing offense, with a measly 40.6 yards per game. Or about an eighth of Oregon's ground production per game.

It might be a good time to toss this in: Stanford, fresh off holding California to 3 yards rushing in a Big Game victory, is No. 4 in the nation in run defense (77 yards per game). The Bears entered the contest averaging 195 yards on the ground per game.

So, yeah, this one doesn't stack up well for the Cougs.

Still, Tuel has hope. Hope that he holds onto the starting QB job and hope that the Cougs get off the canvas.

"I want to lead this team to some victories," he said. "Like I said last week, a bowl game still isn’t out of reach, believe it or not. People from the outside looking in can say it is, but it’s not with us. With the position I’m in it’s my job to take us there and I’m going to keep believing until it’s out of reach.”
PHOENIX -- The first reaction was shock: Junior Seau dead at just 43, his death ruled a suicide. Quickly came grief: An all-time USC and NFL great, a good guy known for his accessibility and philanthropy away from the field who didn't want to live anymore.

Then shortly thereafter: Anger. Another football player dead before his time. Surely head injuries -- concussions -- were to blame. Surely the game is to blame. These three stages have been repeated too often of late, and their repetition threatens our love affair with a sport that obsesses our country like no other.

We can't make you feel any better about Seau. That's a still-resonating tragedy. We can only note it's premature to arrive at any overriding conclusions as to why he did the unthinkable.

[+] EnlargeJunior Seau
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireSpecialists are trying to determine whether Junior Seau's suicide could be related to the growing link between football and concussions.
But we might be able to make you feel a little bit better about football.

The takeaway from a timely Fiesta Bowl Summit panel Thursday, "Sports-Related Concussions: Facts, Fallacies and New Frontiers," was twofold: 1. The NCAA and NFL, after the media forced them to pay attention, have been working hard to get their arms around the issue; 2. It's not unreasonable to believe they can.

Of course, there always will be head injuries in contact sports, and repeated head trauma can lead to long-term health problems. This knowledge isn't new. Doctors were aware of boxers becoming punch drunk -- dementia pugilistica -- in the 1920s.

Understanding concussions and how best to prevent and then treat them, however, isn't easy. As Dr. Margot Putukian, one of four panelists at the Arizona Biltmore, said, concussions are "a moving target." Each one is different, and each person is different. They are not anything like a torn ACL.

Yet there has been recent research progress that is particularly meaningful for football. Said Dr. Michael McCrea, "The news is promising."

McCrea's research found that 28 percent of athletes suffering a concussion no longer show symptoms from their injury after 24 hours. Sixty percent are asymptomatic after a week to 10 days. So nearly 90 percent of athletes passed tests that showed their symptoms were gone inside of 10 days. But that's not the good news. Passing tests that show symptoms are gone doesn't mean the brain has fully healed -- achieved full clinical recovery.

The good news is this: Those numbers, it turns out, do indeed run roughly parallel to a full clinical recovery. Using a multi-dimensional approach -- symptoms tests as well as MRI -- for assessing the recovery process can, McCrea said, "take the guesswork out of concussion management."

These numbers should make it easier to convince athletes who are eager to get back on the field and coaches who want them there to be patient. Simply, coming back too early greatly increases the risk of another concussion, and a second concussion almost always requires a far longer recovery time. Waiting the full seven to 10 days -- and missing a game -- greatly reduces the risk of re-injury, McCrea said. Ergo, there are now specific numbers that show it's better for athlete and team not to rush things.

But the issues with concussions extend beyond understanding them, treating them and even preventing them. Every institution needs well-drilled standards and procedures for dealing with them: A concussion management plan. And coaches and training staff need to know them and know them well. Putukian asked a rhetorical question that all parents of athletes should be asking coaches (non-rhetorically): "What medical personnel do you have there, and what do you do in case of emergency?"

How many layers of procedure are involved here? Lots. Here's one you probably didn't think of: Academic accommodation. A player who suffered a concussion on Saturday might have issues taking a test the following Wednesday.

There was a consensus among the four doctors about how the NFL and NCAA can continue to improve their approach to concussions.

  • Education: Players and coaches need to understand how serious head injuries are, and the potentially harmful long-term consequences for returning to play too soon. This could include, for example, coaches deciding to limit contact during practices.
  • Equipment: There are no helmets that prevent concussions, and there won't ever be. That doesn't mean some helmets aren't better than others. Virginia Tech has devised a respected helmet ratings system, and the Riddell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus and Riddell Revolution Speed all achieved five-star ratings.
  • Rules changes: Obviously, an emphasis on stopping head-to-head collisions has been front-and-center. A lot of attention also is being paid to when concussions are most likely to happen in a football game -- on special teams, in the open field and for specific positions.
  • Culture change: This might be one of the most difficult to enact -- see the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Football is a physical game. That's why it's fun to play and to watch. But there needs to be a recognition that brutality for brutality's sake, a zeal for hurting opponents, can have horrific ramifications after the cartoonish strut and taunt end.

Coaches seem to be taking this issue seriously. Among those who attended the concussion summit, which was presided over by NCAA president Mark Emmert, were Stanford's David Shaw, Wisconsin's Brett Bielema and Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville. When it was over, UTEP coach Mike Price stood up to say it was the best talk on the subject he'd heard.

This was a sad week for football. A few folks are seriously raising the question of whether college football should be banned. Seau's death made it less easy to scoff derisively at such talk.

Concussions are a serious problem in football. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it. The concussion panel this week suggested that football now might be taking a second and perhaps third step.

Ryan Leaf calls Mike Riley an 'idiot'

February, 6, 2012
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We all love redemption stories, yes? It's satisfying when a jerk redeems himself by: 1. Admitting he was crossing the line; 2. Ceasing his questionable behavior.

Unfortunately, former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf's redemption from being a questionable player, for which he is seeking attention, is incomplete.

We know this because Leaf called Oregon State coach Mike Riley "an idiot" this past week as he tried to drum up publicity for his new book.

Said Leaf: “I know the Chargers made mistakes, but I made a bunch of mistakes myself, and I’ve got to take responsibility for that. I mean, Mike Riley is an idiot, but I can’t do anything to change that. He wasn’t supposed to be a head coach in the NFL. Why was he there?”

No. 1: I do not think Riley is an idiot. I've never heard Riley's intelligence called into question by anyone. And, by the way, I was there when he was about to get fired by San Diego.

No. 2: Leaf's intelligence — intellectual as well as emotional — has been called into question by just about everyone who has known him throughout his life, even by those who defended him, such as former Washington State coach Mike Price.

Leaf is not qualified to call someone an idiot. The life he has led, from an NFL bust, to blaming everyone but himself for being a bust, to pleading guilty to felony drug charges, to calling a truly nice guy an idiot, shows that his bulb continues to burn dimly. Saying such a thing so publicly only makes Leaf look crass and petty and juvenile.

Leaf told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune that he wants to pursue a career as a motivational speaker, particularly working with young people.

“I don’t want anyone to ever feel how I felt,” Leaf said. “I was just miserable. I wasn’t happy with who I was.”

So, Ryan, if Riley cared about your opinion, how do you think he'd feel about being called "an idiot"?

The problem with redemption is the person seeking it actually needs to be redeemed, and not just trying to get some attention so he can sell some books and maybe pick up an easy paycheck for a speaking engagement.

3-point stance: Good fit for Leach

December, 1, 2011
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1. It’s not a surprise that Mike Leach ended up at Washington State. It’s a surprise that it took so long for the two of them to find one another. Leach is an iconoclast who is most comfortable when he is off the beaten path. Pullman makes Lubbock look like Times Square. Mike Price lasted only five months when he left Washington State for Alabama because he went from zero scrutiny to a fishbowl. Leach can be his own very different man with the Cougars. The fans will love him for it as long as the team is respectable.

2. The key to Bedlam on Saturday night in Stillwater just may be whether anyone scores quickly. No. 3 Oklahoma State leads the FBS with 20 touchdown drives of one minute or less, according to the geeks at ESPN Stats & Information. No. 10 Oklahoma is fourth with 16. Part of the threat of the spread offense is its any-given-play nature. If a defense breaks down in one place on one play, it still could mean 6 points. But you have to think it won’t happen to these two defenses. They see it every day in practice.

3. I am very curious about the attendance at the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night. The league began by having the higher-ranked of the division champions serve as host. It appears to be good business and an extra reward for regular-season play. The strategy also will avoid the empty seats that conferences not named the SEC have had to deal with at their championship games. The inaugural Big Ten Championship Game at the neutral site of Indianapolis doesn’t appear as if it will sell out.
1. Now that toxicology reports have established that Aaron Douglas of Alabama and Austin Box of Oklahoma died of accidental overdose of painkillers, let us hope that their deaths are not in vain. Here’s hoping that every team doctor at every level of college football uses Douglas and Box to remind student-athletes that painkillers must be taken carefully. Here’s hoping that doctors plead with players in any form of chronic pain to ask for help, regardless of a culture where asking for help is a weakness.

2. This is a compliment, if you think about it. The active coach who has the most wins despite a losing record is Bob Toledo (76-97 in 15 seasons at Pacific, UCLA and, now, Tulane). Not far behind is first-year San Diego State coach Rocky Long (65-69 in 11 seasons at New Mexico). Greg Schiano of Rutgers qualified for this list when the Scarlet Knights went 4-8 last season. That made Schiano 59-63 in 10 seasons. There is a would-be runaway winner: lurking near qualification is Mike Price at UTEP (169-167).

3. BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, my guest on the ESPNU College Football Podcast this week, is uncommonly mature for a sophomore who just turned 20. He’s already married. He’s already established himself as a starter. He’s already started four losses, two more than he lost on a three-time state champion at Skyline High near Seattle. The most mature thing about Heaps is that he leads an offense with guys in their mid-20s who left BYU for two years on an LDS mission, and they follow him. That’s maturity.

Lunchtime Links

December, 20, 2010
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Two new coaches join the MAC today: Pete Lembo at Ball State and Darrell Hazell at Kent State.

Now on to some links:

Two Southern Miss players injured in a shooting last month joined their teammates in St. Petersburg, Fla., as they continued bowl preparations for the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against Louisville. Martez Smith, who was paralyzed from the waist down, did not make the trip. He had a bit of a setback and needed additional surgery last week.

BYU is excited about its future after its bowl win.

Keys for Utah to beat Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, courtesy of Utah State coach Gary Andersen.

Fresno State coach Pat Hill is proud of his team even though it lost in a big way to Northern Illinois in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl.

The loss of an uncle has inspired Boise State cornerback Jeron Johnson.

Boise State has been deficient against the run of late.

San Diego State's receivers are set to face a stingy Navy secondary in the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Tulsa officials hope to break even on its trip to Hawaii for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

UTEP coach Mike Price will return next season.
BYU and UTEP are former WAC rivals who are meeting for the first time since 1998. But you could say both teams probably have different feelings about being here. The Cougars struggled to a 6-6 record after four straight seasons of 10 or more wins. UTEP is in its first bowl game since losing to Toledo in the GMAC Bowl in 2005. One interesting side note: UTEP coach Mike Price recruited BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall out of Snow College in the 1980s. Price coached his brother, Marty, but was unable to land Bronco, who went to Oregon State instead.

WHO TO WATCH: BYU RB J.J. DiLuigi. Thanks to struggles in the passing game, BYU is more of a power rushing team than it has been in a very long time. The reason the Cougars were able to switch gears is because of DiLuigi, who has 819 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this season. He also emerged as a threat in the passing game, leading the team with 422 yards receiving and a touchdown. UTEP will try to key in on him to put the game on the shoulders of freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, but the Miners have had problems slowing down the run all season.

WHAT TO WATCH: The health of UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe. Even though he owns just about every major career record in school history, Vittatoe has been a vastly different quarterback this season because he has struggled through various injuries. His ankle has been the biggest problem, and will require offseason surgery. But Vittatoe will keep his starting streak alive against BYU even though he is nowhere near 100 percent. Still, a gimpy Vittatoe gives UTEP a chance to win. Just how badly his ankle affects his mobility and ability to set his feet will be crucial.

WHY TO WATCH: BYU is going independent next season, so this is your first chance to catch a glimpse of the Cougars on ESPN, their future network home. Heaps looks like the quarterback of the future. BYU also has a potential first-round NFL draft pick on the offensive line in left tackle Matt Reynolds, who must decide whether to leave school early to enter the draft or return for his senior season. Reynolds has said he will mull that decision after the bowl game.

PREDICTION: BYU 30, UTEP 13. The Cougars are better defensively, and enter on a bit of a hot streak, having won four of their final five games. They nearly upset Utah in the season finale. UTEP has lost five of its last six, and a hobbled Vittatoe is going to hurt the Miners. Another fun fact to remember: UTEP has not won a bowl game since 1967.

Familiar faces square off in New Mexico

December, 14, 2010
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BYU and UTEP are former WAC rivals, though players on both teams probably have little awareness of the history between the two schools. One other nugget many people probably don't know: UTEP coach Mike Price tried to recruit BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.

The two recalled that time some 25 years ago as their teams prepare to play in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday. Both teams arrive in Albuquerque on Wednesday to begin their final preparations for the game.

Price was the coach at Weber State then, and had coached Mendenhall's brother, Marty. Bronco Mendenhall was a cornerback at Snow (Utah) Community College. His team went to play in the JUCO national championship game in Tulsa against Northeast Oklahoma in 1985. Price decided to hop the charter plane to the game to watch, and ended up sitting with the Mendenhall parents.

"We didn't have the rules like we do now so I just jumped on the team plane with him, bought a ticket from the boosters club and went to Tulsa to watch the game because I was trying to get a bunch of players off their team," Price recalled at a recent news conference in Albuquerque. "I sat with his parents, got to know them and I got an offensive tackle and defensive back out of the deal. Not him, but I did pretty good. Now all of a sudden he grew right up in front of me and hopefully not past me. I still got a little gas in the tank."

Mendenhall recalls: " I remember that like it was yesterday and I think about when was that. I'm 44 years old now; that's over 20 years ago. Coach Price has seen a lot of players since then and now to think I am coaching against Coach Price, it's bizarre."

Bronco Mendenhall ended up going to Oregon State. Price had several other coaching stops before landing with UTEP, which is making its first bowl appearance since 2005.

"We don't have anybody on the team that's been to a bowl game and that's not good," said Price, who is about to complete his seventh season in El Paso. "We're going out the right way and we want to go out the right way with a win."

Lunchtime Links

December, 10, 2010
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Big game on Saturday between Army and Navy. How about one more regular-season pick: Navy 20, Army 10.

The Mountain West board of directors meets today in Las Vegas to discuss future memebership.

Utah defensive end Christian Cox has turned into the team's version of Rudy.

Will UTEP coach Mike Price retire after the season?

Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse says he is nearly injury-free and will play in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl against Northern Illinois.

Is Kyle Whittingham a Utah man or another Urban?

San Jose State has hope for the near future.

Saints coach Sean Payton e-mailed Ball State athletic director Tom Collins this week suggesting he interview Mike Neu for the vacant head-coaching job.

Navy's Tyler Simmons will honor his childhood friend against Army on Saturday.

Asher Clark is the third Air Force tailback to crack 1,000 yards rushing in a season.

Non-AQ Did you know, Week 11

November, 12, 2010
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Time for a little non-AQ Did You Know for Week 11. Thanks to the schools and conference sports information departments for the nuggets.

TCU has held seven opponents to single-digit scoring this season, including two shutouts, and is the only team in the country to do so. Iowa is second in that category, holding five opponents to fewer than 10 points through nine contests. Since 1990, the highest number of games a team has held its opponents to less than 10 points in a single season is eight (USC in 2008, Miami Hurricanes in 2002 and Kansas State in 1998).

UTEP coach Mike Price gave Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino his first coaching job as a graduate assistant in 1984 at Weber State. The two worked together again when Price became head coach at Washington State. Now they square off Saturday when the Miners travel to play the Razorbacks.

“I knew after my interview with him, which was probably his first-ever interview for a coaching position, that he was really special,” Price said this week. “My son happened to be a wide receiver that year and played for coach Bobby and he says to this day, ‘He’s the best coach I’ve ever been around.’ He’s a special guy. He was born to be a coach.”

The Mountain West Conference is home to the nation’s two longest rushing plays from scrimmage this season. Wyoming’s Alvester Alexander has the longest -- a 94-yard touchdown run at New Mexico last week, while San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman is second with a 93-yard touchdown run at Missouri on Sept. 18.

UTEP senior quarterback Trevor Vittatoe made his 46th consecutive start behind center for the Miners last week against SMU. Only Minnesota’s Adam Weber (48) has a longer consecutive starting streak than Vittatoe, who has started every game of his UTEP career.

UAB running back Pat Shed has 1,426 all-purpose yards in 2010, the fourth-best single-season mark at the school. He needs just 79 yards to break the Blazer single-season record of 1,504 set by Derrick Ingram in 1994.

Louisiana Tech’s Phillip Livas is one kick/punt return for a touchdown short of tying the NCAA record of eight set by five different players.

New Mexico State has scored just seven total points in the second quarter of games this season.

Utah State running back Derrvin Speight recorded the Aggies’ first 100-yard rushing game of the season last week with 114 yards against New Mexico State.

Fresno State blocked two kicks last week against Louisiana Tech to increase its NCAA-high total since 2002 to 54.

Western Michigan is the only program in the nation that has two receivers with 70 receptions or more this season. Broncos senior wide receivers Jordan White (72 receptions, 1,057 yards, three touchdowns) and Juan Nunez (70 receptions, 768 yards, seven touchdowns) have been favorite targets for sophomore quarterback Alex Carder. The Broncos are ranked 13th in the nation in passing offense.

The MAC has seen a youth movement at quarterback. In Week 11, the MAC will see four freshmen and seven sophomore quarterbacks start. Northern Illinois junior quarterback Chandler Harnish and Ohio senior quarterback Boo Jackson are the only two veteran MAC quarterbacks.

Arkansas State has four conference wins, tied for the most since it had five in the 2005 season. The Red Wolves have scored at least 23 points in every game this season, marking the first time since 1986 that it has scored 20-plus points in nine straight games.

Louisiana has been eliminated from bowl contention, marking just the second time in the last six seasons that the team failed to become bowl eligible.

Troy failed to force a turnover in its win at North Texas last week, marking just the 17th time since 2000 that the Trojans have failed to force one. It was also just the second time Troy has recorded a victory since 2000 when failing to force a turnover. The Trojans entered the game tied for seventh in the nation this year, having forced 22 total turnovers.

Houston gears up to stop UTEP run

September, 10, 2010
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Houston has a pretty simple game plan going into its game against UTEP.

Someone, anyone, stop the run.

[+] EnlargeDonald Buckram
AP Photo/Victor CalzadaUTEP's Donald Buckram scored four touchdowns against Houston last season.
The Miners gashed the Cougars on the ground last season, rushing for 305 yards in the upset 58-41 win. Donald Buckram did most of the damage, with 262 yards and four touchdowns – and averaged a whopping 8.4 yards a carry.

Buckram is questionable for this game after bruising his knee at practice last week, but coach Kevin Sumlin understands it won’t matter who is in the backfield. His team has got to shut the Miners down tonight (ESPN, 10: 15 p.m. ET).

“Physically, they got after us in both fronts,” Sumlin said. “This game will be pretty simple -- the team that’s able to be physical and win up front is going to win the football game.”

The Cougars have changed their defensive alignment since last season, and now play the 3-4. They allowed Texas State to gain 180 yards on the ground in a win last week, but only allowed 3.2 yards per rush. Last season, Houston allowed 5.1 yards a carry.

Sumlin said he was pleased with the overall effort from his new defense.

“In the first half, our starters on defense gave up one touchdown and 175 yards,” he said. “For the first crew, I thought they came out and did what we asked them to do.”

Of course, one might think the Cougars are out for revenge after what happened last year. They were riding high after consecutive upsets, first over No. 5 Oklahoma State and then against Texas Tech. Houston became a non-AQ darling, jumping up into the polls to No. 12. Meanwhile, UTEP was coming off a 64-7 loss to Texas. Nobody gave the Miners a chance.

Perhaps the attention got to the Cougars. Sumlin refuses to talk the R-word, but UTEP coach Mike Price realizes what’s coming.

“I’m sure our game is going to be circled on their schedule,” Price said. “They were riding high when they came in here last year, and we won the game and we knocked them off the tremendous start they were having.”

The schools seem to always play offensive shootouts. In 2005, UTEP won 44-41 in double overtime. In 2007, Houston rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to win 34-31. In 2008, Houston again rallied from a 28-9 third-quarter deficit. Case Keenum threw the winning touchdown pass in a 42-37 victory.

The teams have totaled over 1,000 yards of offense in their past two meetings. Last year, Keenum completed 51 of 76 passes for 536 yards and five touchdowns, but it was a wasted effort in the loss. Does UTEP have the offensive firepower to stay with Houston if Buckram cannot play?

Price said the offensive game plan would change a little, simply because none of the other running backs have the long-strike ability of Buckram. Vernon Frazier is more of an outside runner, Joe Banyard more of an inside runner, and both would play if Buckram is out. They both played in the opener and gained 183 combined yards.

“But alone, Buckram ran for (262) against these guys last year,” Price said. “He was really a vital part of us keeping ahead of Houston. Very seldom does anybody get ahead of Houston much.”

When asked whether his team was physically prepared for the task of stopping the run, Sumlin said, “I would hope so.”

Lunchtime Links

September, 8, 2010
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Let's get over hump day with some tasty links ...

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn says he might not know until Saturday whether he will be able to play against UNLV with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand.

If Wynn can't play, the Utes would turn to one-time starter Terrance Cain, who has showed big improvements.

Boise State may have just won big, but the Broncos are far from perfect.

Southern Miss receiver DeAndre Brown says he has to play better, a day after his coaches criticized him for a lack of effort.

Gary Patterson got his first paying job as a coach at Tennessee Tech, the team the Horned Frogs are playing on Saturday.

Wyoming returned to the practice field, trying to establish normalcy after the death of linebacker Ruben Narcisse. His father told the Casper Star-Tribune, "He was excited about Wyoming. He was crazy about it."

Nevada is working on its play on both lines as it prepares for Colorado State.

Houston coach Kevin Sumlin wouldn't be where he is today without Mike Price.

Toledo has to get WR Eric Page more involved in the offense.

Kent State feels it has a fighting chance against Boston College.

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Texas El-Paso starting quarterback Trevor Vittatoe missed the first six practices of spring football because of suspension, and on Tuesday, the day he was set to return, UTEP announced that Vittatoe’s spring was over before it even began.

Vittatoe had minor surgery on his throwing shoulder this past weekend, which will keep him out six weeks and cause him to miss the rest of spring practices.

"He had a bad shoulder the last two or three weeks and it's gotten worse," coach Mike Price told the El Paso Times. "A procedure was done on his shoulder and he'll be out the rest of spring. In six weeks he'll be back throwing.

"I don't know if he desperately needs the practice, but we'd sure like to have him out there. He'll be showing his leadership counseling his teammates."

Vittatoe was back on the field Tuesday with his teammates for the first time this spring after being suspended for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Receiver Pierce Hunter and offensive lineman Alex Solot also returned from suspension Tuesday.

Freshmen Carson Meger and sophomore Tim Curry are the only healthy quarterbacks in UTEP's camp right now. Senior James Thomas II is out of spring practice while recovering from an injury and redshirt freshman Andy McCloud decided to leave the team.

Vittatoe told the El Paso Times that he plans to spend the rest of spring practice as an assistant coach.

"I need to keep the offense moving in the right direction," Vittatoe said. "I'll move around and motivate each guy individually. That's definitely my role as of right now."

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