NCF Nation: Rusty Smith

East Carolina has moved on from Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill and has started to focus its search on Ruffin McNeill.

Louisiana Tech has been turned down by another candidate and now might be looking at Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.

Central Michigan has hired Joe Tumpkin as the defensive coordinator and he is one of five coaches added to Dan Enos’ staff.

Former Marshall coach Mark Snyder is happy for the opportunity at South Florida.

FAU quarterback Rusty Smith and coach Howard Schnellenberger have been invited to the Texas vs. the Nation game this weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton is considering the defensive coordinator position at Houston.

Receiver Josh Harper has backed out of his commitment to Cal to join Fresno State. He is the second receiver to do so in the past week.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

Florida Atlantic senior quarterback Rusty Smith will miss the rest of the season with a sprained AC joint he suffered during the final offensive play against Middle Tennessee last weekend.

The injury ends Smith’s career with the Owls and he will decide Thursday whether to have surgery to repair the injury. If Smith does go ahead with surgery, it’s scheduled for Friday.

Smith, who despite the Owls' struggles the past two seasons, is considered a potential NFL draft pick and selection to the NFL scouting combine. Regardless of whether he has surgery, Smith told local media that he plans to be ready for the combine in February.

Smith had initial tests on the injury on Monday, but sought a second opinion Tuesday and said he was surprised that the injury ended his college career.

"I can pretty much tell by the pain if it's serious or not," Smith said. "I did not expect to play anytime soon, but the fact that I wouldn't be able to finish my career, that was a little bit of a shock."

Smith, the most decorated player in Florida Atlantic history, has started 36 consecutive games and is the Owls’ and Sun Belt Conference’s all-time leader in career and single-season passing yards and touchdown passes.

He finishes with 10,112 passing yards and 76 touchdowns. In 2007, his best season, he was the Sun Belt player of the year and MVP of the New Orleans Bowl. Last season, he was the MVP of the Motor City Bowl. He was 19-18 as a starter.

Fourth-year junior Jeff VanCamp will replace Smith and try to salvage the Owls' 2-5 season. The Owls are out of the race for the conference title, but could still make a bowl if they sweep their final five games. The Owls were selected as an at-large team last year with a 6-6 record.

Smith told media that he’s come to terms with the injury and is now focused on moving forward.

"I really have a good peace of mind about it because I know that God has plans for everything and everything in life happens for a reason," Smith said. "A lot of people would think I'd take it pretty harshly and maybe it would jeopardize my future, but I'm not worried about all of that."
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

Jeff Van Camp might be charged with jump-starting Florida Atlantic run to bowl eligibility.

The redshirt junior is the likely starter against UAB this week after senior starter Rusty Smith suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Middle Tennessee last week.

Smith’s initial prognosis was a sprained left AC joint, but he was re-examined Monday and a full report will be released Tuesday.

"At this juncture, we will proceed as if Jeff Van Camp will be this Saturday's starter," coach Howard Schnellenberger said in a statement.

Van Camp already has shown he can work under pressure. He replaced Smith for the Owls' final drive in a 27-20 loss to Middle Tennessee and nearly led them to the game-winning score. On fourth-and-4 with about a minute remaining, Van Camp found receiver Cortez Gent at the 8-yard line. However, Gent was ruled out of bounds.

Van Camp completed 5-of-9 passes for 73 yards against Middle Tennessee. This season he is 14-of-31 for 197 yards.

The Owls are 2-5 this season, but not yet out of a possible at-large playoff berth. If they win out, they could earn a place in one of the Sun Belt’s secondary bowls. Or, at 6-6, FAU could be picked up as an at-large somewhere else. Last season, the Owls went to the Motor City Bowl with a 6-6 record.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some items I'm interested in following in the Big 12 games this weekend.

1. Colorado handling adversity after its opening-game debacle: The Buffaloes suffered an embarrassing loss to cross-state rival Colorado State in their opener Sunday night. Coach Dan Hawkins and his team have only five days as they travel halfway across the country to try to blot those painful memories against Toledo. It will be interesting to see how much heralded Colorado tailback Darrell Scott will play against the Rockets -- particularly after his pointed criticism of his lack of playing time earlier this week.

2. Landry Jones’ first career start: Oklahoma’s replacement for Sam Bradford shouldn’t be tested by Idaho State, which was drubbed by Arizona State last week. But it will still be telling to see how much leeway Bob Stoops will give Jones, a redshirt freshman. Coaches say they like his poise and demeanor, but I expect a conservative game plan that will feature heavy use of Oklahoma’s running game that unexpectedly struggled to produce 118 yards last week against BYU.

3. What the Oklahoma State defense does for an encore: The Cowboys punched out an impressive 24-10 victory over Georgia last week. The revelation for the Cowboys was a strong defensive effort that allowed a touchdown on its opening possession and three points during the rest of the game. They showed a physical nature that had been missing in recent seasons -- particularly noticeable because starters Orie Lemon and Markelle Martin were out of the lineup. It will be even tougher this week against Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who led the nation in total yards last season and got off to a fast start with four touchdown passes against Northwestern State last week. As good as Georgia was supposed to be offensively, the Cowboys will face a bigger test this week against the Cougars.

4. Can Blaine Gabbert match his opening-game success? One game into his career, some Missouri media members are already anointing Gabbert after his scintillating 319-yard passing effort against Illinois. His big outing earned him the Big 12’s offensive player of the week. He’ll be challenged to duplicate that success against an underrated Bowling Green team that allowed 263 passing yards in a victory over Troy last week, but still notched two interceptions. Gabbert’s continued development is the critical element that can help the Tigers continue as the Big 12’s surprise early power.

5. Nebraska’s front four: The Cornhuskers’ defensive front of Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner was expected to be the team’s strength. The group struggled last week against FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, failing to notch a sack. Those struggles were part of the reason Bo Pelini rebuked his defense earlier this week, calling the Blackshirts “soft.” And it won’t be easy for them as they try to harass Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard, who wasn’t sacked last week.

6. Wyoming freshman cornerback Shamiel Gray continue his success against Colt McCoy: Gray had an auspicious start to his college career with three interceptions in the Cowboys’ season-opening victory over Weber State. But he’ll face a huge challenge against McCoy, who has been intercepted only six times in his last 335 attempts dating back to last season. Gray hasn’t faced the athletic collection of receivers he’ll meet from Texas, which will make continuing his turnover spree that much more difficult.

7. How Iowa’s defense will handle Iowa State’s new no-huddle offense: The Hawkeyes and veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker have seen a variety of offenses come and go over the years at Iowa State. But they haven’t faced anything quite like Tom Herman’s no-huddle attack that seemed to work well in the Cyclones’ first game against North Dakota State. The Cyclones likely didn’t show everything and will be ready to try to continue their recent success that has enabled them to win four of their last five games against the Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium.

8. Ground-bound Jayhawks: After gashing Northern Colorado for 328 yards, Kansas may have similar opportunities against the Miners, who allowed 150 yards in a loss last week to Buffalo and 199 yards per game last season. Mark Mangino has growing confidence in his ball carriers with Jake Sharp, Toben Opurum and quarterback Todd Reesing all rushing for at least 79 yards rushing last week. Dezmon Briscoe will be back with a chance to stretch the UTEP defense, but the Jayhawks have been so successful in the trenches that I look for them to at least start the game with a similar strategy against the Miners.

9. Improvement on Kansas State’s special teams: Blunders in the kicking game led to two easy touchdowns for Massachusetts, making the Wildcats’ 21-17 season-opening victory way too close for comfort. Back in the day, Bill Snyder’s teams were always renowned for their special-teams success and Ron Prince continued that strategy during his tenure. They can’t afford similar mistakes Saturday night, or it could mean a long, nightmarish visit to hot, sticky Cajun Field.

10. Texas Tech’s running game looks for a comeback: After struggling to produce only 40 yards rushing and only two rushes of at least 10 yards against FCS opponent North Dakota, the Red Raiders’ running backs, and particularly Baron Batch, were called out by coach Mike Leach. It will be noteworthy if that lights a fire under them -- especially considering that Rice was gashed for 295 rushing yards last week by UAB.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin



Iowa State 31, North Dakota State 17 (Thursday): The Paul Rhoads era begins Thursday in Ames against a tricky opponent in the Bison, who are 3-2 in their last five games against FBS opponents -- including a victory at Minnesota in 2007. They’ll challenge a young Iowa State team struggling to find its identity on defense. But even with those uncertainties, Craig Bohl’s team likely won’t have enough offense to stick with Austen Arnaud and Co. in their first game running Tom Herman’s no-huddle defense.


Baylor 31, Wake Forest 28: The Bears learned their lesson last season in Waco, falling into an early 17-0 deficit before losing a 41-13 blowout. Art Briles decided not to start Robert Griffin in that game, but he’s been in the Bears’ starting lineup ever since. The key will be the performance of new Baylor tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake, who will protect Griffin from Wake Forest’s pass rush. Wake Forest starting defensive ends Tristan Dorty and Kyle Wilber have accounted for only seven career starts and will be outweighed by more than 50 pounds per man by the Baylor tackles. The Bears rushed for at least 200 yards in four of the last five games last season. If they can maintain that balance with Griffin’s passing on Saturday, they can steal an upset victory.


Oklahoma State 34, Georgia 31: Mike Gundy’s team comes into this game with more hype than any Oklahoma State team in history with the highest national ranking to start the season. The Cowboys will face a couple of potentially troubling personnel losses after starting tight end Jamal Mosley (quit team) and starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon (season-ending knee injury) were lost earlier this week. The Cowboys won’t be facing a team unaccustomed to road success as Mark Richt’s team is an incredible 30-4 on the road, including a 5-2 road record against top 10 teams. The Bulldogs will be a physical challenge and hammer away at the Oklahoma State defense that struggled late last season. But I’m expecting the Oklahoma State offensive triplets to prove too much for Georgia in a shootout.


Illinois 35, Missouri 31: The Illini are looking to turn the tables after losing four straight against the Tigers in the annual Arch Rivalry since it returned to St. Louis in 2002. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will make his first career start, only a few long touchdowns passes from his old high school in the St. Louis area. Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has played big against the Illini in previous seasons with two interceptions last season. He’s promised to “squeeze the pulp” out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams again this season. But in the end, Williams’ experience and play-making abilities will prove to be a little much for the Tigers to overcome.


Nebraska 45, Florida Atlantic 17: Zac Lee makes his first career start as the Cornhuskers attempt to build on momentum that saw them finish with a four-game winning streak, punctuating that with a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson. It will be important for the Cornhuskers to get a lot of work for an inexperienced set of running backs that features only two players -- Roy Helu Jr. and Marcus Mendoza -- with previous college experience. The Cornhuskers will face old rival Howard Schnellenberger, who claimed a memorable national championship while at Miami by beating them in the 1984 Orange Bowl. The Owls are coming off a victory over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. Quarterback Rusty Smith was the MVP of that game and comes into the contest as the Sun Belt Conference’s leading career passer. But look for Nebraska’s talented defensive front to repeatedly pressure him and set the tone for the victory.


Oklahoma 48, BYU 20: The Sooners and Cougars christen the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington, Texas, in its first college football game. Both teams are alike on offense as they have standout quarterbacks and tight ends and rebuilt offensive lines that are question marks coming into the game. Look for Oklahoma’s dominance along the defensive front to be the difference in this game, helping to extend BYU’s losing streak of 12 games to ranked nonconference opponents. BYU quarterback Max Hall struggled against better opponents last season and will be flummoxed by Oklahoma’s veteran defense that returns nine starters from last season.


Texas A&M 28, New Mexico 17: Mike Sherman and the Aggies will be looking for a better start than last season, when they dropped a season-opening loss to Arkansas State that deflated much of his momentum in starting the program. Look for the Aggies to play better Saturday with improved play in the trenches after their struggles last season. A&M running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael should be primed to dictate the pace.


Texas 51, Louisiana-Monroe 7: The Longhorns start off a pillow-soft nonconference schedule and shouldn’t face much of a challenge from the War Hawks, who finished 4-8 last season and were picked to finish seventh in the Sun Belt this season. Colt McCoy returns for his fourth season as starter and the Longhorns’ offense should prove multiple problems for the smaller Louisiana-Monroe team. Watch for Texas to try to feature Vondrell McGee as it hopes to give him a chance to grow into a comfortable role in the offense. The Longhorns have won their last nine openers by a margin of 43 points. This one should be right in that range.


Kansas 55, Northern Colorado 10: Mark Mangino’s team comes in with more hype about a potential Big 12 North title than in any previous season in school history. The Jayhawks shouldn’t be challenged much by a Northern Colorado team that was 1-10 last season and has lost its last two openers to FBS schools by an average of 44.5 points per game. Look for Todd Reesing and an explosive set of Kansas wide receivers to have a huge night against the outmanned Bears.


Texas Tech 56, North Dakota 10: It’s a name the margin game for the Red Raiders, who will be trying to build the confidence of a developing offense keyed by new quarterback Taylor Potts. Mike Leach has won six straight openers, scoring an average of 45.7 points per game. I’m expecting a big offensive showing by a group intent on showing it still has firepower even after Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are gone.


Kansas State 31, Massachusetts 14: It’s reunion weekend as Bill Snyder returns to the sideline to begin his second tour of duty after a three-season sabbatical. Carson Coffman will get the nod at quarterback and celebrated junior college transfer Daniel Thomas gets the start at running back. The Minutemen hope for better luck than their last game against a Big 12 team when they were blown out at Texas Tech last season. Look for them to stay closer, but they'll be facing too much emotion for them to overcome in Manhattan with Snyder’s return.


Colorado 24, Colorado State 14 (Sunday): Dan Hawkins plans to wait until game day to name his starter. It shouldn’t matter if the Buffaloes’ running attack plays to its level against a CSU defensive front that allowed 190 rushing yards last season and returns only one starter. Colorado State is inexperienced at quarterback and the Buffaloes should prevail -- no matter who is their quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

1. Offensive player of the year: Rusty Smith, QB, FAU -- Smith had a tough go last year, but said he's healthy and free of distractions this season. He has several weapons that could make the Owls one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.

2. Co-defensive players of the year: Brandon Lang, DE, Troy and Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State -- These players put up similar numbers as juniors last season and are in line to have similar success for their senior campaigns. Look for both players to be at the top of the conference in sacks and tackles for loss.

3. Newcomer of the year: Dudley LaPorte, TE, FIU -- It took awhile for LaPorte, a transfer from Santa Barbra City College, to find an FBS team, but he'll definitely help out an FIU offense that's looking for more playmakers. LaPorte was the nation's top junior college tight end last season.

4. Comeback player of the year: Jason Harmon, TE, Florida Atlantic -- Harmon was a first team all-conference selection in 2007 after amassing 63 catches for 825 yards and five touchdowns. But he suffered a knee injury during 2008 spring practice and missed all of last season.

5. Freshman of the year Josh Jarboe, WR, Troy -- Jarboe is still working his way up the depth chart, but teammates say he's putting in the work, coming along and should be a factor in the offense. If Jarboe lives up to the hype, he could be one of the most dangerous players in the league.

6. Most exciting player: T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU -- Hilton opened eyes last year as a freshman with the first 1,000-yard receiving season in FIU history. He also was one of the top kick returners in the country.

7. Coach of the year: Larry Blakeney, Troy -- The Trojans could make Sun Belt history by winning their fourth consecutive conference title. Only North Texas can claim a similar feat. The Trojans return several of their key playmakers on both offense and defense.

8. Game of the year: Florida Atlantic at Troy, Nov. 21 --
This game should decide the Sun Belt title since both teams are poised to be tops in the conference. In the past two seasons, the winner has gone on to win the conference title.

9. Surprise team of the year: North Texas -- Coach Todd Dodge has yet to live up to the reputation he made in the high school ranks, but with his son Riley leading the team at quarterback, the Mean Green might be poised for a big season. All the team needs is some defense.

10. Team that will disappoint: Arkansas State -- Quarterback Corey Leonard has accomplished a lot during his time with the Red Wolves, but he's the lone heralded senior quarterback without a conference title. The Red Wolves have the players to vie for a conference championship, but they'll fall short against FAU and Troy.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

The Manning Award announced Monday that 14 players from the nonautomatic qualifying schools were named to its award watch list.

The Manning Award was created by the Allstate Sugar Bowl in honor of the college football accomplishments of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. It is the only quarterback award that takes into consideration the candidates' bowl performances.

At least one quarterback from each of the five non-AQ conferences is represented. More quarterbacks could be added to the list throughout the season depending on their play.

The Manning Award only has been around for four seasons and none of the selections have been from a non-AQ conference. However, each of the four selections have gone on to be a top 10 draft pick in the NFL.

Ten finalists will be selected by Nov. 30. The winner will be announced on Thursday, Jan. 14.

2009 Manning Award Watch List

Levi Brown (Sr., Troy)
Andy Dalton (Sr., TCU)
Austin Davis (So., Southern Miss)
Max Hall (Sr., BYU)
Tim Hiller (Sr., Western Michigan)
Colin Kaepernick (Jr., Nevada)
Case Keenum (Jr., Houston)
Dan LeFevour (Sr., Central Michigan)
Corey Leonard (Sr., Arkansas State)
Ryan Lindley (So., San Diego State)
Kellen Moore (So., Boise State)
Tyler Sheehan (Sr., Bowling Green)
Rusty Smith (Sr., Florida Atlantic)
Trevor Vittatoe (Jr., UTEP)

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

This is Part II of a two-part Q&A with Florida Atlantic quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm.

How much fun has it been for you taking a quarterback who isn't on a major team, doesn't get all the Heisman hype and all that stuff, and really try and make him into a viable NFL prospect?

Jeff Brohm: It's been a lot of fun. I've gotten to come back here and get back to my roots of just coaching the quarterbacks and get to do it on an every day basis and really not be surrounded by the publicity and the media. I can really get to the roots of just coaching football, having fun with it and really trying to be the best you can be. Coaching under coach [Schnellenberger] has been great. I think he realizes that a lot of his best quarterbacks are guys that not only ran the offense, but they were individuals and they were creative, and he wants them to take the offense upon [their] shoulders and run it. He gives the quarterback as much freedom as anyone to run the show and that's why it is such a fun place to play. He does prepare his quarterbacks for the next level because he allows them to grow and to mature and to be the best player and to have it all on his shoulders.

You mentioned the publicity and the media and all that stuff, and it seemed like a lot of that stuff fell on you a little bit at Louisville. How much did that affect you and the way you started coaching?

JB: Well, I think you have to have total confidence in the head coach, you've got to click with everything he believes in and wants to do. I think that's important for every coordinator. If that's not happening then things might not click as well. So, I know here with coach [Schnellenberger] I played in this offense, I know how it works, coach knows how it works, coach knows how it prepares guys for the next level. Basically, it's a pro-style offense and I think a lot of kids want to come and play in that and not only win games and try to win championships, but it will help prepare them for the next level. They will be more ready and acclimated for that if they get the opportunity. It's been a lot of fun getting back in this environment and really believing in what we're doing and having fun with it.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

First-year FAU quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm is happy to get back to the simplicity of coaching quarterbacks and not worrying about anything else.

 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  FAU quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm is eager to help.
Brohm joined the FAU staff the offseason to learn from former coach and current mentor Howard Schnellenberger. It might have been perceived as a step back from his lofty position as offensive coordinator at Louisville, but Brohm said the change was welcome and he's eager help Owls' quarterback Rusty Smith navigate both the season and a potential NFL career.

This is the first part of a two-part Q&A with coach Brohm where he talks about everything from Smith to learning from Schnellenberger to helping FAU move forward.

When you first took the job, how much did you know about FAU's quarterbacks and Rusty Smith?

Jeff Brohm: I had been following [FAU] a little bit just because of coach [Schnellenberger] and Rusty has started for numerous years. So, just through the course of playing teams, I got to watch them a few times on tape and thought that he did a pretty good job when I watched him on tape. So, I got to know him a little bit that way, but it wasn't until I got here that I really got to know him as a person and as a player and get to study his game.

When you first got to FAU, did you immediately start looking at film and to see what Rusty was doing right and what he was doing wrong? Did you look at both last year and the 2007 season?

JB: The first thing we started off doing is that I just kind of wanted to watch him throw. I had heard a few things about his mechanics and delivery and those things, so I just wanted to watch and observe him that way. There were a few little things we worked on in the spring, making sure he stayed with a quick release, making sure he stayed over the top and mechanically, those were the main things we worked at along with a few others. And then we went back and watched this past year and even his sophomore year as well and compared the two. And that definitely did help not only me as a coach, but [the relationship between] me and him. He got to sit back and look at the things he did well and didn't do well and maybe what he could have done better this past year. I think he learned a lot from that.

Were there immediate differences that you saw in his game from his sophomore year to his junior year that you pointed out to him?

JB: Yeah, I think he's a very good player and he has a lot of confidence in his skills and his arm. I think his junior year he got to where he felt so confident and comfortable with that that he tended to force things down the field a little too much. He tended to try to make the big play a little too much. Tended to, in the game when they weren't in the lead and needed to come back, he'd force things as well that way. I think if you look at his sophomore year, he played the game the way it should be played as far as he took what they gave him, he wasn't afraid to just get the ball out of his hand quickly and get the completion. He wasn't always looking to make the big play. He was allowing the offense to work for him and the big plays would happen. So, I think we're trying to get back to that. While you want to be confident and cocky in your ability, you want to be smart and do things the right way, move the chains and not get greedy.

How does a player lose that effortless feeling? Is it the pressure of having a good season and getting the accolades?

JB: Yeah, I think it's a lot of those factors that end up adding up. He had an excellent sophomore year, he kind of was the cover boy for the team as far as he was going on the front of the program, the front of all the publications that went out, and he was the name that went with the program. I think with that he may have taken too much upon himself and tried to do too much. He has to realize that he has to do what's best for the team and he has to just execute the offense to the best of his ability. Allow it to work for him. I think if he gets back to doing that, he has a chance to be outstanding.

How hard is it to, I don't know if this is the right word, re-humble a quarterback when he's had so much success? Or does that just kind of happen when you don't have the type of season that you want to have?

JB: That's a good question. I think all really, really good quarterbacks believe in themselves and have a slight arrogance and cockiness to them. At least in their mind, if not outward a little bit. So, I think you have to be able to control that and realize, 'Yes, I am good, but let's not try to make Superman plays, let try to just what I'm good at.' Get completions, don't turn the ball over and I think if he just concentrates on these small things of playing quarterback, that will add into a complete and total game for him.

How quickly did he take to you from knowing your background and what you've done for other quarterbacks?

JB: Well, I think it's been a great relationship so far. He bought in right away that 'I'm just here to help you be the best quarterback you can be, and I'm here to help the program win as many games as I can.' I think he understands that I played the position, I played it for coach [Schnellenberger] in the same offense, I played on numerous NFL teams for a lot of great coaches at the highest level. He can kind of see things from that standpoint and aspect that a chalkboard or playbook won't help you with. So, I've earned his trust and basically let him know that, 'Hey, I'm here for you, push you to be your best and try to help you be your best. I want you to use me as a resource, but I'm going to tell you how I see things if I were a quarterback, and you can kind of take that and learn from it. Or, if sometimes we disagree, we can talk about it and we can figure out the best thing.' So, I think it's a very good, open relationship where he knows that I'm here just to help him.

Come back tomorrow for Part II of my conversation with FAU quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Rusty Smith doesn't want a do-over for his 2008 season; he feels it was a valuable and much-needed learning experience.

In a matter of six games, the Florida Atlantic quarterback went from a highly-touted NFL prospect who was adored by media and fans in 2007 to a victim of a junior jinx and a reason for the Owls' 1-5 start in 2008.

 
  AP Photo/Duane Burleson
  Rusty Smith hopes to bounce back after a rough 2008 season.

It wasn't just a fall from grace, it was a plummet.

Smith finished the 2007 season as one of the most talked about quarterbacks in the country. Smith started gaining momentum in the nonconference season after throwing for 463 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-39 win over Minnesota, the first time a Sun Belt team beat a Big Ten opponent.

He completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,688 yards with 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2007. He was named Sun Belt Player of the Year, and after throwing for five touchdowns against Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl, which was a record, he was named the bowl's MVP.

All of a sudden Smith went from a lightly recruited former baseball pitcher from Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Fla., to a potential NFL draft pick. Even FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger drew comparisons to former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar, whom Schnellenberger coached at Miami.

"It did kind of hit me like real fast because I didn't really expect to have the season I had in 2007," Smith said. "It just kind of popped up on us real fast like. All of the exposure and the awards and the media, it did kind of overwhelm me going into my 2008 season."

Behind Smith, FAU came into 2008 as the favorite to win its second consecutive Sun Belt title and notch its second consecutive bowl victory.

But things didn't go quite as planned.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Seven quarterbacks from the nonautomatic qualifying conferences have been named to the Davey O'Brien watch list. The Davey O'Brien Award is awarded annually to the nation's best quarterback. At least one member from each of the five nonautomatic qualifying schools was represented.

BYU's Max Hall, Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith are making their second consecutive appearance on the watch list.

A player from the non-AQ schools has not won the trophy since BYU's Ty Detmer won it in 1990 and '91. BYU players have won the award four times. Houston's Andre Ware is the only other player from a current non-AQ school to win.

2009 O'Brien Watch List
Max Hall, BYU, Sr.
Tim Hiller, Western Michigan, Sr.
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada, Jr.
Case Keenum, Houston, Jr.
Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan, Sr.
Kellen Moore, Boise State, So.
Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic, Sr.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Eight quarterbacks from the nonautomatic qualifying schools were named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list this week.

The award is given annually to the top senior quarterback and recognizes not only exceptional play on the field, but also character, citizenship, integrity and honor of the game.

Past winners of the award include Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn.

In the 21 years of the award, only two non-major conference quarterbacks have won -- Louisville's Chris Redman in 1999 and Fresno State's David Carr in 2001.

Twenty-one total quarterbacks made the 2009 preseason list. Below are the non-AQ representatives:

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Dec. 26, 8 p.m., (ESPN)

Central Michigan ended the season in an unfamiliar place -- out of the Mid-American Conference Championship Game. For the first time since 2005, the Chippewas did not get an extra game, but it is still playing in the Motor City Bowl where it won two years ago.

The Chippewas are coming into the Motor City Bowl on a two-game losing streak, their longest losing streak since September of last season, and the Chippewas have only defeated one BCS team since 1992 (37-34 against Indiana on Nov. 1).

Quarterback Dan LeFevour is one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He's been hampered by ankle injuries this season, but he's still ranked 11th nationally in total offense with 306.7 yards per game. Although LeFevour can scramble, the passing game has been Central Michigan's best weapon.

But beware of the Owls. Florida Atlantic won five of its last six to work its way into a bowl. It's one of the hottest at-large teams and one of the most offensively potent. Quarterback Rusty Smith, who started the season slowly, threw for 389 yards and five touchdowns in his last game against Florida International.

The Owls' defense isn't great against the pass. It's allowing 219.08 yards per game, which might be the factor that tips the scales for the Chippewas.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Do you want to take a picture with Charlie Weis' Super Bowl ring?

According to Chicago Tribune columnist Teddy Greenstein, you could take a photo with the infamous ring as long as you have a top recruit to peddle. Such was the case when Weis visited Jeannette (Pa.) High School in the spring of 2007 in an attempt to recruit top-rated quarterbacking prospect Terrelle Pryor.

Greenstein's column is one of many that have been written about Weis this week, but for some reason I found this one the most entertaining because it provided a real-life account of the Weis that many have encountered over the years, including me.

• Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith has played the bulk of the first half of the season with a separated shoulder, but after playing through the pain and eventually getting used to it, the Owls have won three consecutive games.

• For Utah State to move forward, it should do away with its past, and that means firing coach Brent Guy, according to Brad Rock of the Deseret News. Not that I'm trying to be contrarian, but Utah State has been as competitive as it has been in a while the past month or so -- under Guy's guidance.

• Troy Calhoun calls his Air Force team a "work in progress" but BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn't buy it. The Falcons have won eight games this season, more than anyone not named Graham Watson thought they would, making AFA a team to be reckoned with now, not an up-and-comer.

Is UCF cursed? That's a question Orlando Sentinel beat writer Iliana Limon attempts to answer in her latest article. She chronicles the injuries and misfortunes that have led to the Knights missing a bowl game this season.

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 4

September, 19, 2008
9/19/08
10:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Only eight games on the slate this week, but there's no shortage of subplots, especially on the defensive side.

Let's take a look:

1. Ringer vs. the world: Notre Dame will do all it can to stop Michigan State's Javon Ringer on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Ringer likely can expect to see eight or nine men in the box, as the Fighting Irish dare Brian Hoyer to beat them. The overloading still might not be enough, as Ringer has racked up 417 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games.

2. Pryor's coronation in Columbus: Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman will split snaps for Ohio State against Troy, but this game is a chance for the freshman to take control of the offense. If Pryor continues to show good poise and playmaking ability, he'll continue to be featured when the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play. Boeckman will get his opportunities as well, but with the top goal off the table for the Buckeyes, they have to look toward the future.

3. Iowa D takes on real McCoy: The Hawkeyes have already collected eight takeaways without allowing a touchdown this season, but they face their first major test in Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. Expect McCoy to run away from Iowa star tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, which will put pressure on less proven players to step up.

4. Indiana on the defensive: I've already heard from several furious Hoosiers fans about my upset pick of Ball State against their unproven team. Let's see if an improved Hoosiers defense proves me a fool when it faces dynamic quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love. There's no doubt Kellen Lewis will make plays for Indiana, but the team's fate, as usual, rests with the defense.

5. Northwestern chases history: Nonconference losses have been Northwestern's biggest bugaboo, even during the program's renaissance in the mid-1990s. The Wildcats can sweep their nonleague slate for the first time since 1963 by beating Ohio at home. It won't be easy, as the Bobcats are much better than their record indicates and athletic quarterback Boo Jackson spells trouble for an improved Northwestern defense.

6. Tiller gets record: Joe Tiller already should be Purdue's all-time winningest coach, but his team lost another winnable big game last Saturday against Oregon. Tiller sets the record this week as Curtis Painter and the Boilermakers pick apart a Central Michigan defense that looks overmatched against BCS foes. Dan LeFevour makes the game interesting for a while, but Purdue beats the Chippewas for the third straight time.

7. Gophers secondary tested: No one would mistake Minnesota's nonleague schedule for, say, Washington's, but the Gophers deserve a ton of credit if they go 4-0 after winning one game all of last season. Standing in their path is Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith, who will perform much better than he did in the rain last week in East Lansing. Minnesota's new-look secondary of Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons, Marcus Sherels and Kyle Theret have shown good playmaking skills so far and need continued progress against the Owls.

8. Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen: Coach Kirk Ferentz seems to be telling Christensen, "Take the job already, will ya?" The junior gets a great chance to do so on the road against a desperate Pitt team already knocked off its preseason perch. Christensen steadied the offense in the clutch last week against Iowa State but will need to make more pressure plays against the Panthers.

9. Penn State's defensive line: Coach Joe Paterno admits his team hasn't faced any adversity so far this season, at least on the field. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele should be a good challenge for Penn State's defensive linemen, who have held together nicely despite injuries, dismissals and suspensions. Paterno also should address the status of linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma after the game.

10. Michigan State safety Otis Wiley: Wiley once again looks like the guy who led the team in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10) as a sophomore in 2006. The Spartans need him at his peak against Notre Dame because of lingering personnel issues in the secondary. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen will look to stretch the field with Golden Tate, and it's up to Wiley to limit the damage.

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