NCF Nation: Pete Lembo


Arkansas State (8-5) defeated Ball State (10-3) 23-20 in the GoDaddy Bowl on a wet, windy Sunday night in Mobile, Ala.

It was over when: Arkansas State blocked Scott Secor's attempt at a 38-yard game-tying field goal with two seconds left. Earlier, quarterback Fredi Knighten rallied ASU from down four by engineering a 59-yard drive with 1:33 left. He gave Arkansas State the lead for good when he threw a perfect 13-yard strike to Allen Muse in the corner of the end zone.

Game ball goes to: Knighten, a sophomore, who came off the bench late in the first quarter and sparked the Red Wolves with his ability to run and pass. When starter Adam Kennedy was ineffective, Knighten stepped up and led ASU in rushing 19 times for 97 yards and completing 15 of 20 passes for 115 yards and the game-winning touchdown. His last pass, the TD pass, was his best of the night.

Stat of the game: Ball State QB Keith Wenning threw just his seventh interception of the season, but it was a costly one that blunted the Cardinals' momentum early in the fourth quarter. Arkansas State's defense harassed Wenning into one of his worst performances in an exceptional season, as he was 23-of-44 passing for 215 yards. That's about 112 yards below his average.

Unsung hero of the game: Running back Jahwan Edwards did everything he could to keep Ball State in the game and make up for Wenning's difficulties. He paced the offense in the first half with 92 yards on 14 carries and finished with 28 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown. He even pounced on a Wenning fumble just two plays before scoring his go-ahead TD.

Second guessing: After a long scoring drive to start the second half, Arkansas State had all the momentum and didn't need a big mistake by Ball State. But that's exactly what the Red Wolves got when BSU coach Pete Lembo inexplicably called for a fake punt on his own 34-yard line. Freshman punter Kyle Schmidt lost four yards on the play, and ASU took over at its own 30. It wasn't a total disaster because the Ball State defense prevented a touchdown, but Arkansas State extended its lead to 16-10 with a field goal.

What it means: The Red Wolves played with passion as their new coach, Blake Anderson, looked on from the sideline. John Thompson is now 2-0 as interim coach at Arkansas State, with both wins in the GoDaddy Bowl. The defensive coordinator, who stuck around when former coach Gus Malzahn left to take over at Auburn a year ago, made a good case for himself as he now hits the job market. Ball State was oh-so-close to the first bowl win in program history, but the Cardinals fell to 0-7.

To watch the trophy presentation of the GoDaddy Bowl, click here.

Instant analysis: UCF 38, Ball State 17

December, 21, 2012
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UCF made the short trip over to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl and turned it into a long night for Ball State. The Knights scored an impressive 38-17 victory at Tropicana Field, shutting down a Cardinals offense that averaged 35 points per game this season. Here's a quick look at how it went down:

It was over when: After Ball State kicked a field goal to make the score 28-10, the Cardinals attempted an onside kick. It didn't work, and UCF needed just seven plays to turn that good field position into a touchdown. Blake Bortles found J.J. Worton for a 7-yard touchdown pass and a 35-10 lead. You couldn't blame Ball State coach Pete Lembo for gambling, because his defense had no answers all night long for the Knights, who led 28-7 at halftime and controlled both sides of the ball.

Game ball goes to: Bortles. The sophomore quarterback bounced back from a rough day in the Conference USA title game loss to Tulsa for a terrific all-around performance. He completed 22-of-32 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and he also ran for 79 yards and a score. Bortles did a great job of extending plays with his feet, especially in the red zone, and he didn't turn the ball over. Running back Latavius Murray caught two of Bortles' touchdown passes and ran for another.

Stat of the game: 68. That's how many rushing yards Ball State had in the game. The Cardinals averaged 214 rushing yards per game this season but couldn't find much room against UCF's defense and had to play from behind all night. Bortles outrushed Ball State all by himself.

Unsung hero of the game: UCF freshman receiver Breshad Perriman had five catches for 90 yards, helping set up two first-half scores. Perriman had only 298 receiving yards in the regular season.

What it means: UCF won its second bowl game and first since downing Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl. The Knights seniors became the winningest class in school history with their 34th victory. A 10-win season should set the program up well for its entry next season into the Big East, however that league may end up looking. ... A strong season by Ball State ended with familiar disappointment. The program is now 0-6 all time in bowls.

Pregame: Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

December, 21, 2012
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Ball State (9-3, 6-2 MAC) vs. Central Florida (9-4, 7-1 C-USA)

WHO TO WATCH: UCF kick returner/receiver Quincy McDuffie. The 5-foot-10 McDuffie is one of the fastest men in the FBS and poses a threat to score every time he touches the ball. That's especially true on kickoff returns, where the senior has six career touchdowns, including three this season (and two in the same game versus Marshall). He led the nation in kickoff return average at more than 34 yards per attempt. While McDuffie doesn't often get involved in the offense, he did run for three touchdowns last month against UAB. Ball State would be wise to kick the ball out of the end zone as much as possible.

WHAT TO WATCH: Quarterback play for both teams. Ball State's Keith Wenning missed his team's final six quarters with a right ankle injury that required surgery, though he did return to practice this week. His backup, Kelly Page, dealt with a concussion late in the season. UCF's Blake Bortles had a great year but went just 14-of-32 in the Knights' overtime loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA championship game. When right, both quarterbacks can slice up a defense. They have very similar numbers in passing yards (Bortles threw for 2,787, Wenning for 2,878) and touchdowns (both have 22).

WHY TO WATCH: These are two mid-major teams that could play with a lot of big boys. Ball State won its final six games and lost only to Clemson, MAC champion Northern Illinois and MAC runner-up Kent State -- three teams with a combined record of 33-5. The Cardinals also beat two AQ teams in Indiana and South Florida. UCF very nearly won the C-USA crown, and its losses came to Ohio State, Missouri and Tulsa (twice). The Knights beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl game two years ago. Ball State is still looking for its first bowl victory after coming up short five times since 1989. Though this is a football game in a baseball stadium (Tropicana Field), the score could resemble a basketball game. Both teams are averaging 35 points a game with well-balanced offenses. Cardinals coach Pete Lembo could soon become the latest MAC coach to get scooped up by a major program.

PREDICTION: UCF 38, Ball State 30. Both teams will move the ball extremely well, but the Knights had one of the better defenses in C-USA while Ball State ranked 103rd in the nation in total defense. A poor run defense will doom the Cardinals as UCF's 222-pound back Latavius Murray rumbles for 150-plus yards. The Knights also own an advantage in playing only 120 miles from campus and should have more fans in the stands than the school from Muncie, Ind.
The ACC, historically one of college football’s most inconsistent leagues, had stability at the top from the preseason through the postseason, with Florida State and Clemson holding onto a firm grasp of the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the power ranking, respectively. That hasn’t changed as we head into bowl season.

With the regular season and the championship game officially behind us, here is how the ACC stacks up heading into the new year:

1. Florida State (11-2, 7-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Seminoles won their first ACC title since 2005 with a 21-15 win over Georgia Tech. It was a disciplined defensive performance against the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense, and the Noles will represent the ACC against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl.

2. Clemson (10-2, 7-1; LW: No. 2) -- After finishing the regular season with a loss to rival South Carolina, Clemson has a chance to redeem itself against the SEC against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Clemson has won seven of its past eight games and could win an 11th game for the fourth time in school history.

3. Miami (7-5, 5-3; LW: No. 3) -- The Canes will be home for the holidays after their second straight self-imposed postseason ban, but the success this season was something to build on for next year. Running back Duke Johnson was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Year.

4. Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3; LW: No. 4) -- The Yellow Jackets had a chance to upset the Noles in the ACC title game, but an interception with a minute remaining in the fourth quarter ended any hopes of it. Georgia Tech needed a waiver from the NCAA to play in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, where it will face USC.

5. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 5) -- It was a successful first season for coach Larry Fedora; now it is a waiting game to see if star running back Giovani Bernard will leave school early to enter the NFL draft, and if there is any substance to the coaching rumors surrounding Tennessee’s interest in Fedora.

6. Duke (6-6, 3-5; LW: No. 6) -- The Blue Devils will face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl as Duke returns to the postseason for the first time since 1994. David Cutcliffe was named the ACC Coach of the Year. Duke is making its ninth bowl trip and has a 3-5 record in postseason games. The Belk Bowl will be the program’s first appearance in a bowl game in North Carolina.

7. NC State (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 7) -- Athletic director Debbie Yow didn’t waste any time hiring Dave Doeren from MAC champion Northern Illinois. Instead of coaching in the Discover Orange Bowl against FSU with his old team, Doeren immediately began working for NC State, which will play Vanderbilt (8-4) in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible will coach the Pack in the bowl game.

8. Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 8) -- After going 0-2 against the Big East during the regular season with losses to Pitt and Cincinnati, the Hokies will have a chance to redeem themselves against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

9. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; LW: No. 10) -- The Deacs’ main priority now is recruiting, as it was another trying season for coach Jim Grobe and his staff. Wake Forest ended the season with three straight losses.

10. Virginia (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 9) -- Coach Mike London made sweeping changes following a disappointing season, firing four of his assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid. It’s likely the next coordinator will have a different, more aggressive defensive philosophy and scheme.

11. Maryland (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 11) -- Anything and everything Maryland did this year on the field was overshadowed by its intent to join the Big Ten for the 2014 season. The ACC announced its intent to sue Maryland in order to force the university to pay the $50 million exit fee in full. As Randy Edsall and his staff recruits this offseason, they will do so looking for athletes to compete in the Big Ten.

12. Boston College (2-10, 1-7; LW: No. 12) -- Coach Frank Spaziani was fired, and first-year BC athletic director Brad Bates hired Temple coach Steve Addazio.

Sources: Finalists for BC job

December, 4, 2012
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Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, Ball State coach Pete Lembo and New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer are finalists for the Boston College job, sources told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Tuesday.

First-year BC athletic director Brad Bates is searching for a replacement for former coach Frank Spaziani, who was fired one day after the Eagles finished their 2-10 season with a loss to NC State.

As expected, Purdue decided to part ways with head coach Danny Hope, firing him on Sunday. Athletic director Morgan Burke will address the dismissal at a news conference scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET.

Hope went 22-27 in four seasons at Purdue, recording just one winning campaign in 2011 when the Boilers went 7-6 and beat Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. He went 12-19 in Big Ten play, including an 0-5 start this season. Rivals.com reports that Hope's dismissal has been in the works since an Oct. 13 blowout loss against Wisconsin. He will receive a $600,000 buyout.

Assistant coach Patrick Higgins, who took over the offensive play-calling duties late in the season, will lead Purdue in its upcoming bowl game.

Dismissing Hope was a fairly easy decision despite the Boilers' three-game win streak to the end the season. The hard part comes next for Purdue -- finding the right coach and investing in him. The school went the cheap route with Hope, a former Boilers assistant who returned to Purdue after coaching FCS Eastern Kentucky, his alma mater, from 2003-07.

He was the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten -- making just $950,000 this season -- and had the lowest-paid staff. In today's college football world, you tend to get what you pay for, and Purdue got mediocrity.

Hope's career peaked with two home wins against Ohio State (2009 and 2011) and the bowl win last year. He touted the 2012 squad as his best at Purdue, but after a 3-1 start, the Boilers dropped their first five Big Ten contests, four in blowout fashion. Attendance at Ross-Ade Stadium had plummeted, and Hope had very little support among Boiler fans. Although Hope recently talked about needing more time and resources to implement his plan for Purdue, he had enough talent to compete better in a weak Big Ten this year and failed. He also made two defensive coordinator changes in three seasons and wedded himself to a quarterback rotation that rarely worked.

Maybe if Purdue made one more play Oct. 20 at Ohio State, things would have been different. But Hope's teams always seemed one mistake away and didn't show enough consistency in all three phases. This move makes sense.

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Pat Lovell/US PresswireDanny Hope had a 22-27 record in four seasons with the Boilermakers.
Burke has been good at managing the bottom line during his tenure as AD, but he nearly lost stud basketball coach Matt Painter last year and certainly didn't shell out for Hope or his assistants. Another cheap hire likely will put Purdue in a similar place a few years down the line.

Purdue needs to reinvigorate its program and its fan base, which played a role in this move by not coming to games.

From The Lafayette Journal and Courier:
Purdue averaged 43,588 fans, a nearly 1,700 decrease from the 2011 season. The program has seen a decline in average attendance the last five seasons, including [Joe] Tiller’s final year.

It needs to aim for some big names, even if they don't seem realistic. Some are throwing out Jim Tressel's name as Hope's successor. While that would be a truly bold move filled with risks, it would get folks talking about Boiler football again. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones also has been mentioned, but Purdue would have to make a really good push to get him. We don't see either of those men ultimately taking the job.

I'm fine with Purdue looking to the MAC for its next coach. Some Big Ten fans thumb their noses at the MAC, but there are some very good possibilities out there in Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren, Kent State's Darrell Hazell and Ball State's Pete Lembo. A top coordinator like Texas A&M's Kliff Kingsbury or Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi would be interesting.

No matter what route Burke takes, he needs to assure the coach the resources will be there to compete.

Winning in the Big Ten has gotten more expensive. Every team is doing some sort of facilities upgrade. Teams are paying their head coaches more and assistant coaches more. Purdue had it good with Tiller for a long time, but the game has changed.

According to Rivals.com, Purdue has been putting together a fund of approximately $4.5 million to pursue its next coach.

That's an encouraging sign, but the school must now deliver.

Weekend Rewind: Non-AQs

November, 7, 2011
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Let's take a look back at Week 10 in the non-AQs.

Records fall. As expected, Kellen Moore and Case Keenum set major NCAA records in victories this weekend. Moore helped the Broncos beat UNLV 48-21 for his 46th career win, breaking the record set by Colt McCoy for most career wins. Meanwhile, Keenum threw for 407 yards in a 56-13 win against UAB to become the most prolific passer in NCAA history. Keenum passed the mark held by Timmy Chang and now has 17,212 career passing yards. He is averaging 402.9 yards a game, putting him on pace to potentially get another 2,000 yards this season should the Cougars play in the Conference USA championship game.

[+] EnlargePete Limbo
Michael Hickey/US PresswireCoach Pete Lembo has Ball State eligible for a bowl for the first time since 2008.
Bowl eligibility. Ohio, Northern Illinois, Tulsa, SMU and Ball State all became bowl eligible this weekend. It has been a nice turnaround season for Ball State under first-year coach Pete Lembo, getting the Cardinals to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008. Teams that have a chance to become bowl eligible this week:

FIU (5-4) vs. FAU

Western Kentucky (5-4) at LSU

Louisiana Tech (5-4) at Ole Miss

Nevada (5-3) vs. Hawaii

Game of the week. Louisiana-Lafayette 36, Louisiana-Monroe 35. The Ragin' Cajuns overcame an 11-point deficit with 3:08 left, scoring two touchdowns in the span of two minutes to complete the incredible comeback. Blaine Gautier threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Darryl Surgent with 2:05 left to close the gap to 35-30. They failed to make the 2-point conversion but did recover the onside kick. Alonzo Harris scored on a run from 3 yards with 1:06 remaining.

Greatest turnarounds. Speaking of the Sun Belt, Louisiana-Lafayette has the best turnaround in the country from last season, winning five more games than 2010. That league has three teams with some of the best turnarounds among the non-AQs.

2010, 2011

ULL 3-9, 8-2

Houston 9-0, 5-7

Ark. St 4-8, 7-2

WKU 2-10, 5-4

E. Mich 2-10, 5-4

Conference race update. Let us check in with all the non-AQ conferences to see who is leading in the race for a championship.

C-USA. Southern Miss is in control of the East Division after a convincing 48-28 win against East Carolina. The Golden Eagles host defending East Division champs Central Florida on Saturday. They have a one-game lead over the Pirates and Marshall, though their only loss this season came to the Thundering Herd. In the West, Houston and Tulsa are undefeated in league play at 5-0, setting up a huge showdown in the season finale Nov. 25 at Tulsa. Houston has Tulane and SMU before then; Tulsa has Marshall and UTEP. Both teams will be favored to be 7-0 in league play headed into their game.

MAC. Ohio dealt a huge blow to Temple's chances of winning the East with a 35-31 win in Week 2. The Bobcats and defending East champ Miami (Ohio) are 3-2 in league play. They end the season against each other Nov. 22 at Ohio. In the West, Northern Illinois and Toledo each are 4-1 but the Huskies have a huge head-to-head win against Toledo, 63-60 in a wild game in Week 10. If they both win out, Northern Illinois goes to get another MAC title game.

Mountain West. As expected, TCU and Boise State are undefeated in league play headed into their huge game Saturday in Boise. The winner will be in the driver's seat to win the conference. Remember, this game was initially set for Forth Worth, but moved to Boise after TCU announced it was leaving the conference.

Sun Belt. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-2, 6-1) has a huge game at Arkansas State (7-2, 5-0). If Louisiana-Lafayette wins, it would create a three-way tie with Western Kentucky (5-4, 5-1) atop the Sun Belt standings. If all three then win out, they would each be considered co-champs. If Arkansas State wins, then the Red Wolves would remain undefeated in the Sun Belt and control their destiny.

WAC. Nevada is the only undefeated team in league play at 3-0 and controls its hopes for a second straight league title. Louisiana Tech at 4-1 is in second place. The teams play in Reno on Nov. 19.

Helmet stickers

Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State. Aplin had five touchdowns in a 39-21 victory at FAU, rushing for 49 yards and four touchdowns and completing 24-of-37 passes for 244 yards and another score. His four rushing touchdowns are the most for any player in the Sun Belt this season, and his five overall touchdowns are tied for the most.

Kama Bailey, RB, Idaho. Bailey ran for a career-high 163 yards on 19 carries and had two scores as Idaho came back to beat San Jose State 32-29.

Jon Davis, DB, Air Force. Davis had a game-high 12 tackles and recorded one interception as Air Force retained the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy with a 24-21 win against Army. Davis also forced and recovered a fumble.

Nick Fanuzzi, QB, Rice. Fanuzzi completed 30-of-43 for 405 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 41-37 win against UTEP. It was his first start of the season, and he is just the third player in school history to pass for more than 400 yards.

Donte Harden, RB, Ohio. Harden finished with a school-record 322 all-purpose yards (184 rushing, 75 receiving and 63 return yards) and scored a pair of touchdowns in a 35-31 win against Temple.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

September, 5, 2011
9/05/11
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The good: No.5 Boise State thoroughly and convincingly beat Georgia 35-21, picking up a critical first win over the SEC. But the Broncos were not the only to win a non-AQ vs. AQ game. Houston beat UCLA 38-34; BYU beat Ole Miss 14-13; Hawaii beat Colorado 34-17 and Ball State beat Indiana 27-20. The MAC now has eight wins over the Big Ten in the last three years. The Cardinals have also beaten Indiana twice since 2008, a huge first win for new coach Pete Lembo.

Speaking of firsts ... New Temple coach Steve Addazio picked up his first win, 42-7 over Villanova. Bernard Pierce ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. New Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren also picked up his first win when the Huskies beat Army 49-26.

The great escape: UTEP barely escaped Stony Brook, 31-24 in overtime. The Miners trailed 24-10 in the third quarter but Nick Lamaison keyed the comeback -- throwing three late touchdown passes, including the winner in overtime. Lamaison ended with 365 yards in his first career start. ... Wyoming also needed a last-second touchdown to escape Weber State. Brett Smith threw a touchdown pass to Robert Herron with 22 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 35-32 win. Weber State led for most of the fourth quarter before seeing its upset bid slip away.

The heartbreak: Utah State and Middle Tennessee felt all sorts of heartbreak after their down-to-the-wire games came up just short for them on Saturday. The Aggies had the defending national champions down for nearly the entire game. But Auburn scored twice in the final 2:07, thanks in part to an onside kick the Tigers easily recovered. Utah State lost 42-38, but if anything came out of the loss -- the nation got its first glimpse of poised true freshman Chuckie Keeton, who impressed everyone with his play in the game. You can beat Auburn won't soon forget him. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee had its game-tying 47-yard field goal attempt against Purdue blocked and lost 27-24. The Blue Raiders led 24-17 with 9:26 left in the game, but could not hold on long enough to win. Purdue scored 17 points and gained 192 yards in the fourth quarter. "It kicks you in the gut right now, you're sick to your stomach that you lost the game," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. ... New Mexico hung with Colorado State for the entire game but lost 14-10 because a familiar foe came back. Turnovers. The Lobos had three of them. Last season, New Mexico finished the season with a minus-12 turnover margin. ... Western Kentucky gave it a valiant effort against Kentucky, putting a scare into the Wildcats before losing 14-3. The Hilltoppers had more first downs and more total yardage, but also committed more penalties and turnovers in the loss. ... TCU also saw its win over Baylor evaporate when Aaron Jones kicked a 37-yard field goal with 1:04 left for a 50-48 win. Casey Pachall threw an interception to end the game. Much already has been made of the uncharacteristic defense TCU played. But contrast the end of this game with the Rose Bowl. TCU got a huge defensive play to help win the game when Tank Carder batted down the 2-point conversion attempt late in the game. But the Horned Frogs could not make one stop on Baylor's game-winning drive.

The young guns: In the week leading up to the opener against Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes was asked who reminded him of his 17-year-old starting quarterback, Nick Isham. “Greg Brady,” Dykes said. Isham, a true freshman born in 1993, asked the Bulldogs sports information director, “Who’s Greg Brady?” Isham might be young, but he gained his first game experience against Southern Miss, going 20-of-36 for 176 yards in a narrow 19-17 loss. Keeton, Brett Smith of Wyoming and Rakeem Cato of Marshall were the two other non-AQ true freshmen to make starts and both looked poised behind center despite their teams' losses. Keeton went 21-of-30 for 213 yards, while Cato was 15-of-21 for 115 yards in a rain-shorted day against West Virginia. Smith went 27-of-41 for 294 yards and three touchdowns, but the first pass of his career was intercepted.

Helmet stickers

Boise State defense. The Broncos absolutely dominated up front in a win against Georgia. The defensive line had six sacks and constantly harassed Aaron Murray. The Bulldogs had just 13 first downs and were never much of a threat.

Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois. The Huskies quarterback threw a career-high five touchdown passes and ran for another in a 49-27 win over Army.

T.Y. Hilton, FIU. Hilton opened a win over North Texas with a 62-yard kickoff return that he almost broke for a touchdown. On the next drive, he scored on a 60-yard reception on the first play. He had 180 all-purpose yards in the first quarter and finished the game with 283 all-purpose yards, 12 shy of his own school record.

Case Keenum, Houston. In his return from an ACL injury, Keenum looked like he was back to his old self, throwing for 310 yards and two touchdown passes in a win over UCLA. He went past the 300-yard mark for the 26th time in 38 career starts.

Bryant Moniz, Hawaii. Moniz threw for 5,000 yards last season but he helped the Warriors beat Colorado with his legs. Moniz ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns -- the most rushing yards by a Hawaii quarterback since Glenn Freitas had 122 yards and four touchdowns against UTEP in 1995.

Kriss Proctor, Navy. Much was made over what Proctor would face this season -- taking over for Ricky Dobbs at quarterback. But he did more than fine against Delaware, running for 176 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-17 win. He also threw his first career touchdown pass.

Non-AQ spring games

April, 22, 2011
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There are a few non-AQ spring games this weekend. Here is a quick glance:

Ball State: New coach Pete Lembo has stressed working on fundamentals this spring, but he also has a quarterback competition that has been ongoing between Keith Wenning and Kelly Page. The two are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, so they have gotten plenty of reps with the first- and second-team offenses. Wenning has an edge following the last scrimmage the Cardinals played. Lembo hopes to have a decision following the spring game. "But if it’s not clear-cut, we won’t panic and we’ll make that decision in the preseason," Lembo said. "Either way, those guys will continue to get a lot of work."

Colorado State: Quarterback Pete Thomas has continued his improvement throughout the spring, but one player to watch is Crockett Gillmore, who has turned heads at tight end after lining up at defensive end. The 6-foot-6 Gillmore had a 1,000-yard season as a receiver in high school and has showed good hands and good blocking this spring. Coach Steve Fairchild was asked after a scrimmage last week whether Gillmore could be used like Stanford two-way player Owen Marecic. "It would take some time, and some well-thought-out packages to see which way he could go the most, and so forth," Fairchild said. "We’ve got a long time before we have to make that decision. But I know this: He’s one of our top 22 football players and he will be on the field in Albuquerque [for the season opener against New Mexico Sept. 3].”

FAU: Graham Wilbert and David Kooi continue their competition to become the starting quarterback, but it appears there may not be a decision until the fall. In the last scrimmage before the spring game, Kooi went 5-of-12 for 64 yards and a touchdown. Wilbert went 12-of-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown.

Idaho: Injuries have taken a big toll this spring, especially on the offensive line, where only two starters participated in the team's last scrimmage. But coach Robb Akey has been pleased with the development of the depth on his defensive line. Michael Cosgrove and Benson Mayowa have been spring standouts, combining for four sacks in the team's last scrimmage.

Marshall: A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan have not separated themselves in the race to become the Thundering Herd's starting quarterback. They have one last opportunity to impress in the spring game, though this race is expected to continue into the fall. The Herd has to improve their running game, too, and Essray Taliaferro has impressed this spring.

Navy: Twenty players are being held out of the scrimmage this afternoon for various injuries, including Alexander Teich, Jabaree Tuani, G.G. Greene and Aaron Santiago. Those players are veterans, and do not need to prove themselves. Coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to see his younger defensive players in the game with so many starting jobs up for grabs in the linebacking corps and secondary. Only three starters return on defense.

Northern Illinois: A great running back competition has developed during between Jamal Womble, Jasmin Hopkins and Akeem Daniels.

You can read more about it in a blog post I did earlier this morning.

Utah State: Alex Hart, Jeremy Higgins and Adam Kennedy are competing for the starting quarterback job to replace Diondre Borel. Coach Gary Andersen does not want the offense to fall on their shoulders as much as it did on Borel. They should get some help from a deep running back group that features the return of Robert Turbin (knee) and Michael Smith (turf toe), along with Kerwynn Williams. Turbin has been limited during the spring but expects to be full go for fall practice. The last day of practice is actually April 29, but the spring game is Saturday.

New non-AQ coaches: MAC

January, 21, 2011
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There will be plenty of new faces on the sideline for non-AQ teams this season. Today I will take a look at the new coaches who have been hired and how they rate.

First up: MAC

Ball State: Pete Lembo.
Rating: Questionable.
The Cardinals went off the grid and hired Lembo, who spent the past five seasons at FCS Elon. Before that, he was at FCS Lehigh. In fact, Lembo has never been a head coach or assistant on the FBS level and has no ties to the area in recruiting. The program is not exactly in the best shape, either, though Brady Hoke proved the right coach can win there. Lembo was a winner at Elon and Lehigh, but there are questions about whether he can win on this level without any experience.

Kent State: Darrell Hazell.
Rating: Love it.
Hazell has done a terrific job as an assistant at Ohio State and has deep recruiting ties here. That should help, along with his outgoing personality and reputation among players who love playing for him. The Golden Flashes only have one bowl appearance in their history, but Hazell could be the man to change all that. His former players love him, too. Anthony Gonzalez called him an "unbelievable coach" and Ted Ginn said in an Akron Beacon-Journal column that he was "like my everything."

Miami (Ohio): Don Treadwell
Rating: Love it.
Treadwell did just fine when he filled in for Mark Dantonio at Michigan State this past season, coaching from the sideline in four wins. It was his performance in those games while Dantonio recovered from a heart attack that helped land him the job. Treadwell is a graduate of Miami, so he understands the tradition. Given his background and knowledge, he should be able to keep the RedHawks in contention in the MAC.

Northern Illinois: Dave Doeren
Rating: Like it.
Doeren has spent the past five seasons at Wisconsin and has had stints on the high school, FCS and FBS level. He has done a good job with the Badgers' defense, but nobody would call his unit this past season "lights out." However, his defensive mentality fits right in at Northern Illinois. Jerry Kill did a great job in his three seasons there, leaving Doeren a program that is in good shape. Doeren should be familiar with the area, which will help in recruiting.

Temple: Steve Addazio
Rating: Questionable.
I am not sure what to make of this hire, to be honest. I am very familiar with the Gators' program, and was never impressed with Addazio as offensive coordinator in Gainesville (I know fans were not, either). Even with Tim Tebow leading the offense in 2009, Addazio seemed unsure of himself in his play calling, and relied way too heavily on his Heisman Trophy winner. The question I keep coming back to is whether his mediocre performance as offensive coordinator at Florida will impact how he does as a head coach. He clearly has the passion and the energy to be a head coach and has varied ties to recruiting in the Northeast. But how will he manage a game and an entire program?

Lunchtime Links

December, 21, 2010
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Four bowl games in four days featuring non-AQ teams kicks off tonight with the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl between Southern Miss and Louisville. I picked the Golden Eagles in an upset.

Now on to some links:

Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has interviewed for the Temple head-coaching job.

Utah WR DeVonte Christopher is enjoying a homecoming in Las Vegas.

With struggling kicker Kyle Brotzman, Boise State will face tough decisions in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on when to kick or when to go for it.

The S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl between San Diego State and Navy has already sold over 50,000 tickets -- a record for the bowl game.

Southern Miss needs a much better game on defense to have any chance against Louisville.

TCU running back Ed Wesley does a Q&A with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

New Kent State coach Darrell Hazell is eager to get going.

The hiring of Pete Lembo will define Ball State athletic director Tom Collins.

Hawaii may not be locked into playing in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl once it moves on to the Mountain West.

The Navy football program has not missed a beat since Paul Johnson left.
Pete Lembo was officially introduced as the new Ball State football coach on Monday, and faces a tough task -- trying to translate his success on the FCS level to the FBS level.

Lembo has never been a head coach or assistant coach at the top level of football, but he has won plenty in two head coaching stints at Lehigh, and most recently at Elon. He has a career record of 79-36 in 10 seasons as a head coach. Here is a little of what he had to say during his news conference:

"He emphasized the importance of building relationships and recruiting in Indiana and the surrounding area. Lembo has spent the majority of his career on the East Coast.

"You've got to jump right in and get to know people," he said. "You could say I've been on the East Coast but I've never been to the South before going to Elon. When we went there 5 years to the day from today we jumped in and immersed ourselves in the community, recruiting in the area, building relationships. It's a challenge but it's what I like to do."

"His offense will be "exciting and up-tempo." Elon averaged 435.2 yards of total offense this season -- the fourth straight year it averaged more than 400 yards a game.

"We're known for throwing the football, but it's not just a drop-back passing game," he said. "It's a very sophisticated screen game and it's a fun offense to watch. At the places we've been it's allowed you to do more with less."

"On defense, he said he wants a team that is aggressive, and fundamentally sound. Lembo also will be hands-on with special teams.

"As for what drew him to the job, Lembo mentioned the profile of the MAC and his desire to be an FBS coach. He also believes he has what it takes to turn around a program that went 6-18 the past two seasons after playing in the conference title game under then-coach Brady Hoke in 2008.

"As I researched it, I felt good about what I learned about the student-athletes and program," Lembo said. "A lot of guys are coming back on the roster, and yet some of the struggles offensively and with turnovers and things of that nature, I felt like some of the things we've been able to do at the places I've been might be a good fit to come in and re-energize the program."

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.

Pete Lembo hired as Ball State coach

December, 19, 2010
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Pete Lembo has been hired as Ball State head coach and will be formally introduced at a news conference Monday.

Lembo spent the last five seasons at Elon, where he went 35-22. The FCS program had won only 30 games the previous seven seasons before he took over. His 2010 team averaged 435.2 yards of total offense -- the fourth straight year it averaged more than 400 yards a game. He led Elon to its first ever playoff appearance in 2009.

"We are extremely excited to have Pete Lembo join the Ball State family,” Ball State athletic director Tom Collins said in a statement. “The search for our next football coach included talking to a number of people in the football world. Coach Lembo’s name and credentials continued to surface as an outstanding candidate for Ball State University. We are looking forward to his contribution to the program and looking forward to getting started in preparation for Ball State football 2011.”

Lembo was head coach at Lehigh from 2001-05 and has a 79-36 overall head coaching record. He has never been a head coach or an assistant on the FBS level.

Lembo takes over for Stan Parrish, who went 6-18 in two seasons as head coach.

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