NCF Nation: Phillip Livas

Non-AQ Picks, Week 14

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
9:00
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Upsets cost me all three games last week and I ended up 7-3 again. But hey, I nailed Akron’s first win of the season!

With a 86-48 overall record, bring on Week 14.

No. 11 Boise State 55, Utah State 10. This game could go two ways: the Broncos could sleepwalk their way through after their devastating 34-31 overtime loss last week to Nevada. Or they could absolutely dominate in their final home game of the season, to close out their stint in the WAC with a perfect home record. Betting on the latter.

No. 17 Nevada 35, Louisiana Tech 24. Nevada might suffer an emotional hangover after its big win, and Louisiana Tech is fighting for a bowl berth. The Bulldogs are at home, and with a win they become bowl eligible. Lennon Creer has been outstanding, and so has Phillip Livas. But Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua and Rishard Matthews are going to be hard to stop for a team that allowed one-win San Jose State to score 38 last week.

No. 25 Northern Illinois 38, Miami (Ohio) 20 (Friday). The Huskies have won nine straight and are the heavy favorites headed into the MAC title game in Detroit. Meanwhile, Miami (Ohio) was the least likely team to make it this far, after going 1-11 last season. The combination of Chad Spann and Chandler Harnish is going to be too hard to stop. This offense has averaged 65 points in its last three games.

UCF 31, SMU 21. The Knights are in the Conference USA title game for the third time, while SMU is making its first appearance. UCF has the best defense in the conference, and is bigger and more physical along the line of scrimmage. That should help the Knights slow down Zach Line, who leads the league in rushing. SMU has struggled making big plays this season, and it will be tough sledding against UCF.

FIU 35, Middle Tennessee 28. The Panthers have won four straight and already clinched a share of the Sun Belt championship, while the Blue Raiders are playing for their bowl lives. A win for Middle Tennessee and they become bowl eligible. Dwight Dasher has been inconsistent, while FIU is playing with a confidence never before seen in this program.

UPSET SPECIAL: Fresno State 40, Illinois 35 (Friday). You know the Illini will be seeking revenge for what happened last season, when the Bulldogs won a wild 53-52 game after offensive lineman Devan Cunningham caught a deflected pass on a 2-point conversion with seconds left in the game. This has been a disappointing season for the Bulldogs, but three of their losses have been to AP Top 25 teams. Count on Logan Harrell and Chris Carter to be able to get pressure on Nathan Scheelhaase, and a big game from QB Ryan Colburn.

Hawaii 55, UNLV 13. The Warriors should become the sixth team in school history to win 10 games. Key stat to watch: Greg Salas needs eight receptions to break Davone Bess’ single-season record of 108 set in 2007 and 133 yards to eclipse Ashley Lelie’s single-season mark of 1,713 set in 2001. Also, can Alex Green get 300 yards rushing again?

Idaho 38, San Jose State 20. The Spartans got a huge game from Jordan La Secla last week in a loss to Louisiana Tech, but go into their season finale with just four healthy seniors available to play. The injury bug has been absolutely brutal. Idaho, meanwhile, has had a disappointing season after going to a bowl in 2009 but has more talent and depth to win.

Troy 28, FAU 17. The Owls got off to a rocky start this season, then fought their way back to near bowl eligibility before losing last week to Middle Tennessee. Though the Trojans have struggled and are having a subpar season by their standards, they have won six of their seven meetings with FAU and are playing for bowl positioning.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
4:00
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Here are your non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference.

Conference USA

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

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

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

MAC

East Division

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

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

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

West Division

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

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

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

Mountain West

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

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

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

Sun Belt

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

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

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

WAC

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

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

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

Non-AQ Helmet Stickers: Week 13

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
12:49
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Time for a few non-AQ helmet stickers for Week 13:

Lennon Creer, Phillip Livas, Louisiana Tech. Creer ran for a career-high 252 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-38 win over San Jose State. Livas tied a NCAA record with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown -- his eighth career combined kickoff/punt return for a score. Five other players also have reached the mark, most recently C.J. Spiller of Clemson last season.

Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada. Matthews was instrumental in helping the No. 19 Wolf Pack upset No. 4 Boise State 34-31 on Friday night. He had a combined 216 yards of total offense with two touchdowns -- including a 7-yarder with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Matthews finished with 10 catches for a career-high 172 yards -- just his second 100-yard game of the season.

Alex Green, RB, Hawaii. Set a school record with 327 yards rushing, in less than three quarters no less, in a 59-24 win over New Mexico State. He broke the old record of 270 yards, set by Pete Wilson in 1950. Green went had more than 1,000 yards on the season, the first Hawaii player to go over that mark since 1992.

Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Ran for 152 yards on 19 carries to break the conference record for rushing yards by a freshman with 1,304 this season in a 48-14 win over UNLV.

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah. Blocked what would have been a game-winning 42-yard field goal on the final play of the game in a 17-16 win over BYU in the Holy War.

Eric Page, WR, Toledo. Accounted for five touchdowns in a 42-31 win over Central Michigan on Friday. Page scored on kickoff returns of 99 yards and 95 yards, becoming the first player in school history to score twice in one game on kickoff returns. His 99-yard return in the first quarter was the second-longest in school history. Page also caught touchdown passes for 9 and 25 yards and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to QB Terrance Owens.

G.J. Kinne, QB, Tulsa. Threw for 406 yards and scored six touchdowns in a 56-50 win over Southern Miss on Friday night. Kinne threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more as the Golden Hurricane closed their season on a six-game winning streak.

Darin Davis, LB, Middle Tennessee. Had two interceptions and returned them for a combined Sun Belt-record 101 yards in a 38-14 win over FAU to keep the Blue Raiders' bowl chances alive.

Non-AQ Did you know, Week 11

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
9:00
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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.

Lunchtime Links

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
12:00
PM ET
Almost nailed the Miami (Ohio)-Bowling Green score right yesterday. More mid-week non-AQ football coming up tonight: East Carolina at UAB. My pick: East Carolina 41, UAB 35.

Now on to some links:

Rose Bowl officials have discussed the possibility of choosing between Boise State and Stanford as an at-large selection.

The Alford brothers will be on opposite sidelines once again Saturday when Utah plays Notre Dame.

How does anyone know who the best team in the country is on eyeballs alone, asks Jennifer Floyd Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Nevada offensive lineman John Bender plays on the edge.

San Diego State coach Brady Hoke says he's not looking to bail out after two years with the Aztecs. His name has surfaced on the Minnesota wish list.

Rice athletic director Rick Greenspan has given coach Dave Bailiff a vote of confidence.

Marshall's Donald Brown won't live down "The Slide."

Arkansas State is ready for Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey.

Louisiana Tech's Phillip Livas is back to making big plays.

Northern Illinois stays grounded after its win against Toledo.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
3:30
PM ET
Here are the non-AQ Players of the Week, as selected by each conference:

Conference USA

Offense: UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey. Went 15-of-19 for 294 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown, giving him 399 yards of total offense in a 40-33 win against Houston. It was just the second 100-yard rushing game by a UCF quarterback in school history.

Defense: UCF linebacker Josh Linam. Had 17 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and a pass breakup against Houston. It more than doubled his previous career-high of seven.

Special Teams: Tulsa kick returner Damaris Johnson. Totaled 322 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns in a 57-27 victory against Rice. Johnson became the Conference USA record-holder for career kickoff return yards with 3,054 yards and needs only 64 yards to become the NCAA’s all-time kick-off return leader.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Temple quarterback Mike Gerardi. Threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-10 win at Kent State. In four games, Gerardi has three starts and is 54-of-81 for 871 yards and eight touchdowns.

Defense: Ohio defensive lineman Stafford Gatling. Recorded six tackles, including 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss with a forced fumble in a 34-17 win against Buffalo.

Special teams: Kent State punter Matt Rinehart. Averaged 48.4 yards on seven punts in a 28-10 loss to Temple. Rinehart had a pair of punts downed inside the 5-yard line as the Flashes averaged an impressive 48.1 net average.

West Division

Offense: Ball State receiver Jack Tomlinson. Had a career day with seven catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-30 double overtime win against Akron.

Defense: Central Michigan linebacer Armond Staten. Recorded 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and three forced fumbles in a 26-22 win against Western Michigan.

Special teams: Ball State kicker Ian McGarvey. Made three field goals and four extra points against Akron.

Mountain West

Offense: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. Went 21-of-26 for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-7 win at No. 5 Utah. His 93-yard touchdown pass to Josh Boyce marked the second-longest play in MWC history.

Co-Defensive Players: TCU linebacker Tanner Brock and San Diego State linebacker Miles Burris. Brock had a career-high 12 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in the win against Utah. Burris had a career-high 10 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles in a 24-19 victory against Colorado State.

Special teams: New Mexico kicker James Aho. Kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to help New Mexico stop a nine-game losing streak with a 34-31 win against Wyoming. He also made a career-best 51-yard attempt.

Sun Belt

Offense: FIU receiver T.Y. Hilton. Had 291 all-purpose yards, scoring four touchdowns in a 42-35 win in double overtime against ULM. He had two receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one kickoff return for a touchdown.

Defense: Arkansas State linebacker Demario Davis. Had seven tackles and a career-high two interceptions in a 51-24 victory against Middle Tennessee.

Special teams: Hilton. Had 168 kick return yards, including 95 on a touchdown return. The return was his fourth-career return for touchdown, tying him for first all-time at FIU.

WAC

Offense: Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. Went 30-of-37 for a career-high 507 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 win against Hawaii. The 507 yards are the second most by any player in the nation this year.

Defense: Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner. Tied a career-high with 17 tackles in a 27-22 win against New Mexico State.

Special teams: Louisiana Tech return specialist Phillip Livas. Returned seven kickoffs for 225 yards, including a 95-yarder for a touchdown, and a punt for another 29 yards in a loss to Fresno State.

What to watch in the WAC this spring

February, 25, 2010
2/25/10
10:00
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Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Boise State Broncos
Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" All starters but Kyle Wilson return in 2010. Jerrell Gavins, who started at Wilson's outside cornerback position during the Fiesta Bowl (Wilson moved to safety) likely will slip into that starting slot.

" With so many players returning and few questions to answer, the Broncos can really start working on the 2010 season. This will also be a good time to sort out the offensive line (10 O-linemen had at least one start last year) and looking for some redshirted playmakers that could find their way into the lineup this season.

" Defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski steps in as the new defensive coordinator for Justin Wilcox, who went to Tennessee, but don’t expect any major changes to the defense. Kwiatkowski was Wilcox’s mentor and the two shared the same vision for the Broncos defense.

Fresno State Bulldogs
Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

" Fresno State lost three top backs in Ryan Mathews, Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding and will spend the spring looking for a replacement. Robbie Rouse is the top returning back, but he’s a smaller back than the ones the Bulldogs lost. Look for Michael Harris to get a chance this spring.

" With Seyi Ajirotutu, Marlon Moore and Chastin West gone, the Bulldogs will be looking to fill their receiver depth to help starting quarterback Ryan Colburn. Coach Pat Hill noted on signing day that he wants to spread things out this year and he’s looking forward to some speed joining the team in the fall. In the meantime, sophomore Rashad Evans, redshirt freshman A.J. Johnson and sophomore J.J. Stallworth will work for playing time with Jamel Hamler and Devon Wylie.

" The defensive front, which struggled late against the running game (most notably Nevada and Wyoming), will be a focus this spring. The Bulldogs return nine starters from the bowl game, including All-WAC first team defensive end Chris Carter and linebacker Ben Jacobs.

Hawaii Warriors
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

" The offensive line was a question heading into the 2009 season and will be again in 2010. The Warriors lose four senior starters, including center John Estes. Backups Kainoa LaCount, Matagisila Lefiti, Andrew Faaumu, Bronson Tiwanak, Clayton Laurel and Adrian Thomas will be among those competing for starting roles.

" Bryan Moniz finished the season as the starting quarterback and will go into spring ball as the leading candidate to start in 2010, but Shane Austin, who played some in 2009, will challenge for the starting role this spring. Moniz finished the season completing 57 percent of his passes for 2,396 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

" The Hawaii defense struggled some last year, but should be better if star linebacker Brashton Satele receives a sixth season. The Warriors will be looking for a new right tackle as well as a couple of starting linebackers, but the defense, which improved as the season progressed, should be a pleasant surprise in 2010.

Idaho Vandals
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:

" The top priority this spring will be reloading the offensive line. The Vandals lost four starters on the offensive line, including All-American guard Mike Iupati. The only returner is left tackle Matt Cleveland. Guy Reynolds Jr. was Iupati’s backup, and players such as Clell Hasenbank, Tevita HalaHolo and Tyron Novikoff will be competing for starting roles.

" The offense carried the team last year, especially the passing game, but starting quarterback Nathan Enderle will have to work out three new receivers this spring. The biggest loss is slot Max Komar, who made key catches all season, including in the Humanitarian Bowl win over Bowling Green.

" The Idaho defense was one of the worst in the country allowing 433.23 yards per game and 36.00 points per game. More often than not, the Vandals were trying to outscore their opponents instead of stopping them defensively. Eleven players with starting experience from last year’s bowl team return; the only loss is strong safety Jeromy Jones. But with the way the defense played last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some of those positions open this spring.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

" The loss of running back Daniel Porter and tight end Dennis Morris takes out a lot of the offense and scoring the Bulldogs had in 2009. New head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will spend the spring looking for playmakers to fit their wide-open offensive style.

" Wide receiver will be a key competition this spring for Louisiana Tech’s new spread offense. Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige and LSU transfer Tim Molton are both eligible and will join RP Stuart, Cruz Williams and Phillip Livas in the receiving corps.

" Louisiana Tech will be looking for some consistency in the punting game after Cade Glasgow struggled last year. Overall, the Bulldogs punting game averaged 32.91 yards per game, which ranked last in the WAC. The Bulldogs didn’t recruit a punter, so expect some potential walk-on help.

New Mexico State Aggies
Spring practice starts: April 5
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

" Second-year coach DeWayne Walker was unhappy with the team's scoring, especially in the second half of the season, which prompted him to replace his offensive coordinator and running backs coach. His main priority this spring is finding some consistency at quarterback. Jeff Fleming and Trevor Walls return and redshirt freshman Tanner Rust and true freshman Andrew Manley will challenge, but junior college transfer Matt Christian is the favorite to be the starter.

" The running game was the one bright spot for the offense last season with Seth Smith rushing for 1,016 yards, but he had just one rushing touchdown. Redshirt freshman Marquese Dunn will get a look this spring and will challenge for playing time as Walker looks for playmakers.

" Shoring up a total defense that allowed 423.62 yards per game and 31.62 points per game will be Walker’s project this spring. The Aggies return some key players, but Walker said most of the help on the defensive line will come in the fall.

Nevada Wolf Pack
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 3

What to watch:

" The running game is Nevada’s bread and butter and it should stay that way with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and star running back Vai Taua returning. However, the Wolf Pack need to spend this spring working on depth with players such as Lampford Mark, Mike Ball and Stefphon Jefferson.

" The offensive line needs to replace Kenneth Ackerman and Alonzo Durham this spring in order to keep the running game effective. Center Jeff Meads and tackle Jose Acuna are the primary backups for those two spots. The Wolf Pack also will look to build offensive line depth across the board.

" The Nevada defense will spend the spring learning a slightly altered 4-3 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Andy Buh. The defense has been the weak link of the Wolf Pack for the past few years, so shoring that up this spring will be a high priority.

San Jose State Spartans
Spring practice starts: March 12
Spring game: April 22

What to watch:

" For the second consecutive season, San Jose State had trouble producing offense mostly because of inconsistent play at quarterback. Jordan La Secla returns as the incumbent, but junior college transfer Matt Faulkner, who enrolled in January, will challenge this spring.

" For as much as the passing offense struggled, the rushing offense was worse. Lamon Muldrow, who led the team with 592 yards and three touchdowns last season will be counted on in the running game, but the Spartans signed three running backs for 2010, including Forrest Hightower, who will challenge in the fall.

" Most of spring practice will be spent learning the new coaching staff and the new offensive and defensive schemes. The Spartans are transitioning from a spread offense to a more traditional style that will incorporate an H-back and a tight end. The Spartans also will move toward an attacking style defense, but will stay in a 4-3 base that will feature both man-to-man and zone coverage.

Utah State Aggies
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" The primary concern this spring will be finding running back depth after star Robert Turbin suffered a torn ACL during winter workouts. All eyes will be on Michael Smith, Derrvin Speight and Kerrwynn Williams as they try to pick up the slack.

" Second-year head coach Gary Andersen is showing his commitment to defense after shuffling several players on that side of the ball. Nathan Royster is moving from defensive tackle to end, Junior Keiaho and Devin Johnson are moving from end to linebacker, wide receiver Cameron Sanders has moved to defensive back and the Aggies are hoping to get some defensive contribution out of Page Clifford, a transfer from Utah.

" There should be some good competition at wide receiver this spring with Matt Austin returning from injury and Travis Van Leeuewen coming off a redshirt season. Mid-year signees Xavier Martin and Dontel Watkins also will challenge for starting roles. Utah State had a good passing offense with 246.75 yards per game from starter Diondre Borel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

The Independence Bowl between Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech was competitive early, but there just seemed to be this sense that the game belonged to Louisiana Tech.

Perhaps it was the home crowd or the dominance of the Bulldogs' defense. But something helped Louisiana Tech to a 17-10 win and gave the Bulldogs their first eight-win season since 1999.

The credit for the win belongs to the Louisiana Tech special teams and defense. The special teams accounted for a key touchdown when running back Phillip Livas ran back a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown right after the Huskies had taken a 7-0 lead. And Louisiana Tech never looked back. The defense got sufficient pressure on Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish to force him into two interceptions.

Even when Harnish got time to throw, he often overthrew his receivers or they dropped the ball. There were many dropped passes in the game, which could have gone for big gains.

Both of these teams are considered up-and-coming programs in their respective conferences and their seasons proved that point.

Louisiana Tech becomes the first WAC team to win its bowl game so far this season. It finishes second in the conference with an 8-5 record, that after rebounding from a 2-3 start. Head coach Derek Dooley, who was the subject of many coaching rumors during the past month, is in the process of building a nice program in Ruston, La., as several of his key players return.

Northern Illinois should not despair. Yeah, it wasn't the Huskies' best performance of the season, but it was still a testament just to be in the game especially after a 2-10 season last year and learning a new system under a new coach.

For coach Jerry Kill to bring NIU to six wins after having a couple quarterbacks go down with injuries and playing in a tough Mid-American Conference West is a testament to his coaching ability. Similar to Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois returns a lot of key players and has already shown that it will be a force in the MAC for the next couple seasons.

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