NCF Nation: SMU

Are Frogs on charmed road back to BCS?

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
2:57
PM ET
Improbable, but now not impossible, the BCS flame is rekindled for the streaking TCU Horned Frogs.

They'll need No. 11 Houston and No. 20 Southern Miss to each fumble a golden opportunity, while the No. 19 Frogs -- 8-2 and winners of five in a row -- can ill-afford a misstep of their own in their final two games against below-.500 squads Colorado State and UNLV.

Still, these Frogs, boosted by Saturday's huge road win at No. 5 Boise State that put a hammerlock on the Mountain West Conference championship, are the leading dark horse to earn a third consecutive BCS bowl berth.

How is this possible? Let's review:

When Baylor kicked the game-winning field goal with 1:04 to play in the season-opener, TCU swallowed the hard truth that just one game in and the BCS was all but dead to them. A month later, SMU's overtime victory in Fort Worth posed the question if the 3-2 Frogs were even capable of capturing a third consecutive league title?

Fast forward five weeks and Gary Patterson's boys provided that answer with Saturday's resounding, come-from-behind, 36-35 victory on the Broncos' near-invincible blue turf. The heart-and-guts effort, spearheaded by the tremendous play of first-year starting quarterback Casey Pachall, put TCU in the driver's seat for the conference title and, somewhat unsuspectingly, rekindled the BCS flame.

Here's how:

The BCS selection process offers two paths of entrance for non-automatic qualifiers like TCU. The first is a top-12 ranking in the BCS standings. At No. 19, that's highly unlikely considering the Frogs' final two opponents and the number of teams ahead of them. The second route grants a berth by finishing in the top 16 and with a ranking higher than that of a champion of one of the six AQ conferences.

Say hello to the Frogs' once-future home, the Big East.

That league currently boasts no teams ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings. Cincinnati (7-2) dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll, falling to 29th, and West Virginia is 27th. Neither team boasts a remaining schedule that would catapult it ahead of a 10-2 Frogs team, one that very well could claim a top-16 ranking.

Standing in the way is Houston (10-0) and Southern Miss (9-1). These two are on a collision course to meet in the Conference USA title game. If the Coogs win out, they'll be assured of the BCS berth. If the Golden Eagles win out, they'll likely hop the Frogs and earn the spot.

Pass-happy Houston, led by sixth-year quarterback Case Keenum, welcomes the disappointing Ponies (6-4) on Saturday (ESPN GameDay will be there) before traveling to Tulsa (7-3, 6-0) the day after Thanksgiving. Southern Miss has games against a pair of 2-8 teams in Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis.

The script favorable to the Frogs would see SMU or Tulsa knock off Houston, and then the Coogs beat Southern Miss in the title game, assuring each another loss.

If it plays out, the two-loss Frogs could very well become the first non-undefeated, non-AQ team to play in a BCS game.

If that happens, consider these Frogs charmed.

Non-AQ bowl look

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
5:03
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You saw my bowl projections from Sunday. Now here is a breakdown of the teams that have a shot at becoming bowl eligible this weekend.

Conference USA

Already eligible: UCF, Tulsa, Southern Miss, UTEP.

Vying for a spot: East Carolina, SMU and Houston each have five wins. The Pirates are hoping to bounce back after an embarrassing 76-45 loss to Navy at UAB. Houston hosts Tulsa in an important West division game, while SMU is off. SMU, Houston and Tulsa each have two league losses. SMU already beat Tulsa but lost to Houston. If there is a three-way tie atop the division when the season ends, the first tiebreaker is overall record to determine who plays in the Conference USA title game.

On the other end of the spectrum: Tulane (3-6), Marshall (3-6) and UAB (3-6) have to win out. Rice (2-7) and Memphis (1-8) have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Six.

MAC

Already eligible: Temple, Toledo, Ohio and Northern Illinois.

Vying for a spot: Miami (Ohio) is 5-4 and has a great shot at becoming bowl eligible in the next two weeks with games at Bowling Green (2-7) on Wednesday and at Akron (0-10) on Nov. 17. Kent State (4-5) needs to win two of its final three against Army (5-4), Western Michigan (3-6) and Ohio (7-3).

On the other end of the spectrum: Western Michigan has to win out. Buffalo, Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Akron, Eastern Michigan and Ball State are out.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Three.

Mountain West

Already eligible: TCU, San Diego State, Air Force, Utah.

Vying for a spot: BYU (4-5) plays at Colorado State in a critical must-win before closing against New Mexico and Utah.

On the other end of the spectrum: Colorado State, Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Five.

Sun Belt

Already eligible: No one.

Vying for a spot: Troy (5-3) is the only team with five wins. A home win against FIU on Saturday gets the Trojans bowl eligible. ULM (4-5) and Arkansas State (4-5) have to win two of three. The Warhawks have LSU, North Texas and Louisiana. Arkansas State has Western Kentucky, Navy and FIU.

On the other end of the spectrum: FIU, Middle Tennessee and FAU are each 3-5. The Blue Raiders may have the easiest road with games against North Texas, Western Kentucky, FAU and FIU remaining. FAU has Troy and Texas on its schedule. FIU also has tough games against Troy, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee. North Texas, Louisiana and Western Kentucky have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Two.

WAC

Already eligible: Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada, Fresno State. Hawaii has accepted an invite to the Hawaii Bowl.

Vying for a spot: Idaho (4-5) has to win three of four against Boise State, Utah State, Fresno State and San Jose State. Since the Vandals have a 13-game schedule, they have to get to seven wins. Louisiana Tech and Utah State are both 3-6 and have to win out. The Bulldogs have New Mexico State, San Jose State and Nevada. Utah State has San Jose State, Idaho and Boise State.

On the other end of the spectrum: New Mexico State and San Jose State (1-8) have been eliminated.

Guaranteed bowl spots: Four.

Independents

Navy (6-3) became eligible for the Poinsettia Bowl. Army (5-4) needs one more win with games left against Kent State, Notre Dame and Navy. Army does not have an automatic bowl tie-in this year, but has backup agreements with the Armed Forces Bowl and Military Bowl. Notre Dame (4-5) needs two more wins with games remaining against Utah, Army and USC.

Non-AQ bowl projections

November, 7, 2010
11/07/10
8:30
PM ET
Not much has changed in my non-AQ bowl projections for this week. I still have a non-AQ team in the BCS national championship game. I have TCU in there for the second straight week, based on my projection that the Horned Frogs will finish ranked ahead of Boise State at the end of the season. Moving in front in the human polls is a huge plus for TCU as it jockeys with the Broncos for that top spot among the non-AQs.

I still have Boise State in as an at-large BCS team, now playing Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. As for my conference champions, I am still projecting UCF to win Conference USA, Northern Illinois to win the MAC and Troy to win the Sun Belt.

I am still looking for a place to put Toledo. I know Rockets fans must think I am crazy for not having them in here. The problem is there are not that many at-large spots open because so many of the power conferences are going to have teams that end up being bowl eligible at 7-5 or 6-6. Lots of parity this year. I am still going with Ohio to get the No. 3 MAC nod ahead of Toledo.

Here are all of the non-AQ picks:

BCS National Championship Game: Oregon vs. TCU

Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Boise State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Boston College* vs. Nevada

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Temple vs. Troy

Liberty Bowl: UCF vs. Kentucky

Armed Forces Bowl: SMU vs. Army

Military Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. East Carolina

Independence Bowl: Clemson vs. Air Force

Little Caesars Bowl: Iowa State* vs. Northern Illinois

Hawaii Bowl: Tulsa vs. Hawaii**

Poinsettia Bowl: San Diego State vs. Navy

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Texas A&M*

St. Petersburg Bowl: ULM vs. Southern Miss

New Orleans Bowl: Houston vs. Middle Tennessee

Humanitarian Bowl: Ohio vs. UTEP*

New Mexico Bowl: BYU vs. Fresno State

*at large selection because conference couldn't fill allotment.

**Hawaii already accepted bid to bowl.
Friday mailbag time! Thanks to everyone who has written in. I read all your comments and do my best to answer as many questions as possible, trying not to go over the same topics we have already covered in previous mailbags.

First, the TCU-Utah game is on CBS College Sports. Second, I know I messed up on the live chat earlier this week. Ohio State lost at Wisconsin. So please accept my apologies. Third, I just found out the Big Ten has decided the bowl order for the Gator and Insight bowls, which are going to alternate No. 4 and No. 5. Gator picks No. 4 this year. This will be reflected in the bowl projections on Sunday. I try to make every attempt to fix my errors, and I know my credibility is on the line. So thanks to all for letting me know when I mess up.

Scotty in Boise, Idaho, writes: Why do Boise State, TCU, Utah even have Division I status? They can play Oregon, Texas, Alabama, they can beat these teams but they still can't play for a national championship. Talk about back of the bus.

Andrea Adelson writes: Great question, Scotty, and one I have often wondered myself. If half of the teams in college football are automatically eliminated from championship contention before the season even starts, how do we have a fair system? Why should teams like Boise State play? For wonderful consolation prizes? The system is unfair and completely broken. It is the only one in the NCAA that does not give every team in its division a fair shot to play for a championship. That is the way the powers-that-be want it because they want to keep the glory (and the money) for themselves.


Tim in Boise writes: In a recent BCS chat, BCS Guru Brad Edwards makes it sound like Boise St. may now get left out of a BCS game all together. He predicted that TCU gets the automatic non-AQ nod and then the Big 12 and Big 10 both get the at-large bids. From a financial standpoint and recruiting stand point, that is brutal. Who wants to play for a team that starts No. 3 in the polls, wins all their games, and can't get into a BCS bowl game? Ouch!

Adelson writes: Edwards is absolutely right. If TCU finishes ahead of Boise State but out of the national championship game, a very real possibility exists that the Horned Frogs would be the only non-AQ team in a BCS bowl game. Two non-AQ teams made it in last year, so there is that hope. But with the big-name, one-loss teams that could be available for an at-large berth, the bowls may opt to go for teams that they know will travel, fill the stadium and be more of a bigger "national name." Although I think everybody in America would tune in to watch Boise State vs. Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, don't you?


Homesick Warrior in Livermore, Calif., writes: Now that the Fresno State and Nevada departure dates are confirmed and the WAC is once again on the verge of survivalist expansion, is Hawaii a viable football independent? Are they better off staying in a watered down WAC? Do you see the dominos falling in their favor within the next few years if they continue to win?

Adelson writes: Being an independent is exceedingly hard, as BYU is set to discover once it goes down this road starting in 2011. First you need national cache and a TV partner that will pay millions to broadcast your games. I don't think Hawaii has either. They need to have set teams that will travel so far away. I am not sure how many teams would do this if Hawaii was on its own. The WAC looks as if it is in tatters right now, but think of this as an opportunity for Hawaii to emerge and dominate the way Boise State has.


Alan in Salt Lake City writes: I'd like someone to please give me a rational explanation as to why the ACC and Big East should even be allowed a spot in a BCS bowl. Pitt (5-3) and Virginia Tech (7-2) are the latest teams projected to reach the BCS bowls from their respective conferences. Can anyone else see how asinine an automatic bid is for them? Unranked Pitt lost to the Utes and to Miami. VT lost to Boise State and FCS James Madison. Please tell me why Boise State and a one loss TCU or Utah squad do not ALL deserve a BCS bid over the Big (L)east and the ACC.

Adelson writes: They all do, and it is a crying shame the loser of the Utah/TCU game is probably going to end up in Vegas. There is only one explanation. Those two are automatic qualifiers, and whether we like it or not, that is the system that is in place. They are not losing that status any time soon.


Jim Grossman in Santa Monica, Calif., writes: Since everyone agrees the BCS is broken and essentially is a "beauty contest," until we get a proper playoff system like every other sport here's a suggestion: Evaluate teams by how efficient they are. In other words, rank the teams on how well they play (win/loss record, strength of schedule and statistics) against how much resources they have (football budget, ranking of incoming recruiting class, maybe even size of fan base.) Ideally this would be the only ranking qualification in both the human and computer polls, but even if it was just a component of either or both sets of polls, I think it would spur what I believe 'amateur' and college sports should ultimately and even exclusively be about; the pursuit of excellence, not necessarily dominance.

Adelson writes: You present an interesting theory, but money makes the world go 'round, right? Unfortunately, people are not much interested in the finances that make these schools and programs function and only care about the results on the field and the schedules they play. You cannot rank a team on recruiting class, either, because those are so hard to predict and most times end up being wrong. Size of fan base is also an abstract number that does not have much to do with the results on the field. But I do appreciate you trying to come up with a different way of looking at the teams that play.


Jim in Rapid City, S.D., writes: Can a college football team get a schedule change during the current season. I read that Bill Curry said his Georgia State team was tired and needed a rest. Georgia State is scheduled to play Alabama on Nov. 18. My question is could Boise State request and be granted permission to play Alabama in Georgia State's placer? The result could answer the BCS question of where Boise State should be.

Adelson writes: I wish this were possible, but alas it is not. Great idea, though!


Donnell in Vancouver, B.C., writes: Would it be an overstatement to say SMU's running back Zach Line is the most improved player in Conference USA?

Adelson writes: Not at all. Line is having a great year, taking over for Shawnbrey McNeal and leading the league in rushing. Bet nobody expected that!

Non-AQ storylines to watch: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
10:15
AM ET
Come one, come all for your Top 10 non-AQ storylines for Week 10:

1. Who remains undefeated, TCU or Utah? You have got to love the national spotlight being placed on two teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences on Saturday. Both teams are terrific. It is a shame somebody has to lose and be relegated to the Las Vegas Bowl. Utah has a great home-field advantage, having won a Mountain West record 21 straight at Rice-Eccles Stadium. TCU has worked on silent counts all week and pumped crowd noise into practice in order to prepare for what is sure to be a wild atmosphere. The winner of the TCU-Utah game has earned an automatic bid into a BCS game each of the past two years.

[+] EnlargeTejay Johnson
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTCU has the No. 1 overall defense and the No. 1 scoring defense in the country.
2. TCU D vs. Utah D. OK so the defenses don’t play against each other, but they are the two units to watch in this game. Both are ranked in the Top 10 in total defense and scoring defense, and both are playing better than perhaps many people expected going into the season. TCU is rated No. 1, a spot it held at the end of 2008 and 2009. Both get tremendous play from their front seven to take the pressure off their secondary. Big plays on offense are going to be at a premium in this one.

3. Will Hawaii be able to pass on Boise State? Yes, but pay attention to what happens inside the red zone. In 46 trips inside the 20, the Warriors have scored 37 times. But they have only gotten 25 touchdowns. They are going to need to convert those opportunities into points against an aggressive Boise State defense and a secondary eager to prove its worth.

4. So who ends up ahead in the BCS standings on Sunday? That is asking to predict the unpredictable. If TCU and Boise State win, expect to see the Horned Frogs stay on top. They might even jump Boise State in the human polls, depending on the outcome of the game. If Utah and Boise State win, expect the Broncos to go back into the No. 3 slot. In any of those scenarios, we will all be tuned into the BCS show Sunday night to find out.

5. Which of the service academies becomes bowl eligible? Army, Air Force and Navy all have five wins and are on pace to have winning seasons in the same season for the first time since 1996. Army and Air Force play in West Point with the Commander-In-Chief Trophy on the line. Air Force beat Navy earlier this year and would win it with a victory over Army. Navy, meanwhile, tries to overcome its worst performance of the season at East Carolina. Navy has a bowl tie-in to the Poinsettia Bowl this year. Army has no guaranteed tie-in but is a backup in the Armed Forces Bowl. If they are passed over for that game, the Black Knights are a backup for the Military Bowl.

6. Who else has a chance to become bowl eligible? East Carolina, Houston, Tulsa, Southern Miss , UTEP, SMU, Miami (Ohio) and Fresno State also are one win away from bowl eligibility. UTEP and SMU play each other.

7. Houston offense vs. UCF defense. The Cougars have reinvented themselves with Case Keenum out for the season and have relied more on the run. But they are facing the best defense in Conference USA and one of the best defenses in the country. UCF is allowing right around 100 yards a game on the ground this season, and has confidence. Last season, the Knights upset the Cougars in Orlando for the first win over a ranked opponent in school history.

8. Does anybody want to win the Sun Belt? Troy has won four straight conference titles but opened the door for others to knock it off the perch after losing to ULM last week. If the Trojans win out, they still win the crown, but there is no margin for error anymore. FIU has one conference loss. ULM, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee each have two conference losses, but Troy has already beaten the Red Wolves and Blue Raiders.

9. Will the winless watch for Akron and New Mexico ever stop? Last season ended with two winless teams from the MAC (Eastern Michigan) and Sun Belt (Western Kentucky). This season could end with two winless teams, too. But both squads are playing opponents with losing records this week -- Akron against Ball State (2-7) and New Mexico against Wyoming (2-7).

10. Must win for BYU. The Cougars (3-5) come off their bye week facing a must win every week from here on out if they want to make it to a bowl game. They start against UNLV, a team struggling more than the Cougars are this season. After that, they play Colorado State and New Mexico before closing the season at Utah. So they have to win all three games before the season finale. Colorado State next week will be the biggest test in the upcoming three-game stretch.

Non-AQ Picks, Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
9:00
AM ET
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 9 were decent, and I got my upset special right. Tulsa beat Notre Dame to help me get to 7-3. Should have known Western Kentucky might have a letdown after its first win since 2008.

With a 57-37 overall record, bring on Week 10.

Drumroll please: No. 3 TCU 24, No. 5 Utah 21. Yes, I know Utah has a 21-game home winning streak. Yes, I know TCU is 0-3 in Utah. But I am picking the Horned Frogs for two reasons: 1. I think the defense is better. 2. I think Andy Dalton and his experience will be a big key. These teams are so evenly matched, turnovers could make a difference. Utah has struggled until recently in creating them. TCU is at plus-5. Utah is at minus-1 in turnover margin. For more on my pick, check out my prediction video on this game later today.

No. 4 Boise State 38, Hawaii 23. The Warriors will give the Broncos a test with their passing offense. The Boise State secondary has to step up and prove it is not a weak link on this defense. In the end, Boise State will get enough pressure on Bryant Moniz to throw him off rhythm, and Kellen Moore will be able to make enough plays to help the Broncos win.

No. 23 Nevada 35, Idaho 17. Nevada got back on track last week on offense in a win over Utah State. But coach Chris Ault had some choice words for his defense, which gave up 42 second-half points after shutting the Aggies out in the first two periods. “We stunk up the field and played with absolutely no sense of urgency,” Ault said. That should be corrected against the Vandals, who had 14 penalties for 152 yards and four turnovers in a loss to Hawaii last week.

Air Force 28, Army 21. The Falcons have hit a bit of a rough stretch, losing three straight. All three were to bowl-eligible teams, including No. 3 TCU and No. 5 Utah. Army is putting together its best season since 1996, but the Falcons have the edge in this game because their triple option offense is better. They gave Utah all it could handle last week, but had five turnovers. If Air Force wins, it gets the Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the first time since 2002.

UCF 27, Houston 17 (Friday night). This is going to be a grind-it-out game between two teams that are relying on running the ball. But the difference here is UCF will be able to run on Houston, which ranks No. 98 in the country in run defense. Ronnie Weaver has emerged, and is coming off a career night. Bryce Beall, Houston’s leading rusher, is banged up and his status is in question for the game. UCF has the best defense in Conference USA and will be able to slow Houston down.

UPSET SPECIAL: Kent State 21, Temple 20. The Golden Flashes are undefeated at home, and have the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. That is going to pose a problem for Temple, which relies on Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown to set the tone. Temple has won three straight against MAC bottom feeders, including back-to-back shutouts of Akron and Buffalo (combined two wins). This will be the Owls’ biggest challenge since losing to Northern Illinois on Oct. 9.

UPSET SPECIAL II: Navy 35, East Carolina 27. If you can figure Navy out this year, please raise your hand. The Midshipmen have been on more highs and lows than a yo-yo. But East Carolina is going to have a hard time stopping the run game, and the Navy defense should return to form to get it to six wins and bowl eligibility. Last week was a very uncharacteristic performance from a Navy defense that has generally played well all season.

Troy 35, North Texas 23. Troy has won six of the last seven meetings between the schools, and no longer has any margin for error if it wants to win the Sun Belt. That is because the Trojans lost to ULM last week, their first conference loss in two years. North Texas won last week under interim coach Mike Canales, but Troy has more talent and depth and will be even more motivated to win.

SMU 30, UTEP 20. The Miners are in a tailspin, losing three straight games. Trevor Vittatoe hasn’t been healthy, and he has played erratically because of it. SMU is the stronger team on offense and defense. One more point: Since 2006, the Miners are just 4-15 in November.

Wyoming 33, New Mexico 17. Slim chance for an upset here -- the Lobos are the worst team in America for a reason. Now add in the fact that they could be without starting quarterback B.R. Holbrook and well, this one is looking like another loss. Wyoming has been eliminated from bowl contention, but I’m sure the players don’t want to be the ones to end the New Mexico losing streak.

Lunchtime Links

November, 3, 2010
11/03/10
12:15
PM ET
Just three days until the big showdown between Utah and TCU. Who's pumped?

Now on to some links:

The big news yesterday came out of the Big East, which wants to expand. TCU and UCF are at the top of the list, but the invites might be football only.

What about Houston?

Arkansas State routed Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night.

Utah cornerback Lamar Chapman has overcome life's challenges to star for the Utes.

TCU would love to avenge its loss in Salt Lake City in 2008. Utah would love to avenge its loss to TCU last season.

Idaho coach Robb Akey downplays his team's penalty issues.

No word on whether Southern Miss WR DeAndre Brown and CB C.J. Bailey will be able to play on Saturday at Tulane.

SMU DL Szymon Czerniak has put family problems behind him to make an impact this season.

The Mountain West had determined a botched call against San Diego State in a loss to BYU was the result of "combined human error."

Kent State has confidence headed into its game against Temple.

Non-AQ Bowl Projections

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
8:30
PM ET
Well, nine weeks in and the time has come. I am removing Boise State from the national championship game. The latest BCS rankings make it clear that if the Broncos and TCU finish undefeated, it would be the Horned Frogs who finish as the top non-AQ team. So I am going with Oregon vs. TCU in the BCS national title game for this week.

This is still is a leap of faith on my part, because I have no idea whether the Horned Frogs would be able to hold off a hard-charging one-loss Alabama team, should the Tide win out. I still have TCU beating Utah and project the the Horned Frogs to go undefeated. I also am still projecting Boise State to go undefeated, and am guessing the BCS would take two non-AQs again. There is always the possibility it could go with two Big Ten teams rather than two non-AQ teams. Or even two Big 12 teams, depending on who they are.

Toledo is bowl eligible, but I have not been able to find a home for the Rockets just yet. They would need an at-large selection. UTEP is in the middle of a massive slump, and though I do project the Miners to be bowl eligible, I have them as the No. 7 team in Conference USA. That means they would also need an at-large berth. ULM is back in, but mainly because the Sun Belt serves as a backup to the Big East in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg.

BCS national championship game:Oregon versus TCU

Sugar Bowl: Alabama versus Boise State

Little Caesars: Michigan versus Northern Illinois

Military Bowl: North Carolina versus Tulsa

Liberty Bowl: UCF versus Kentucky

Hawaii Bowl: East Carolina versus Hawaii**

Armed Forces Bowl:SMU versus Army*

New Orleans Bowl: Houston versus Middle Tennessee

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Temple versus Troy

Humanitarian Bowl: Ohio versus Iowa State*

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah versus Texas A&M*

Poinsettia Bowl: San Diego State versus Navy

Independence Bowl: Air Force versus Clemson

New Mexico Bowl:BYU versus Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger: Boston College* versus Nevada

Beef O’Bradys:ULM* versus Southern Miss

*=at large selection because conference doesn’t have enough teams to
fill tie-in.

**= accepted bid.

Non-AQ Helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
12:43
AM ET
Several late games involving the non-AQs are still ongoing but it is time to give out a few helmet stickers to the players who have already had big days:

North Texas RB Lance Dunbar. Ran for a season-high 215 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns in a 33-6 win over Western Kentucky. The game marked the debut of interim head coach Mike Canales, who took over for the fired Todd Dodge a little more than a week ago. Dunbar helped give the Mean Green their second win of the season, and first since beating FAU on Sept. 25.

Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish. Led Northern Illinois on a game-winning, 79-yard, seven-play drive with less than five minutes left in the game to give the Huskies a 28-21 win at Western Michigan. Harnish threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Willie Clark with 3:42 to play and led his team to its sixth straight victory, its longest winning streak since 2004. Harnish had three total touchdowns in the game. Western Michigan WR Jordan White had a career-high 14 catches for a career-high 180 yards in the loss.

SMU QB Kyle Padron. Threw for 354 yards and was the key in a 31-17 comeback win over Tulane. His 82 yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson broke a fourth-quarter tie. He also scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to close out the win. Robinson finished with 182 yards.

San Diego State WRs DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown. The two combined for 12 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-38 win over Wyoming. Each had more than 100 yards, and the two touchdowns belonged to Sampson. It was the first time since Sept. 27, 2008 that San Diego State had two receivers have more than 100 yards in the same game. San Diego State is bowl eligible for the first time since 1998.

ULM defense. The WarHawks beat Troy 28-14, holding the Trojans to their lowest point total in a Sun Belt Conference game since 2006 and breaking their 13-game league win streak. ULM held Troy to just 285 yards, and Jerrel Jernigan had just 92 all-purpose yards. He entered the game averaging 178.3 ypg.

New Mexico State WR Taveon Rogers. Talk about a game winner. Rogers caught an 8-yard touchdown with no time left to give New Mexico State a 29-27 win over San Jose State. Rogers was making his first start of the season and had 90 yards and two touchdowns.

Lunchtime Links

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
12:43
PM ET
Anybody else fired up for Florida State vs. N.C. State? Join me and ACC blogger Heather Dinich tonight as we live chat the game.

Now on to some links:

The Boise State secondary is in for some tough challenges in the weeks ahead.

The Utah defensive line is eager to face Air Force.

If you have yet to see the rant from the FAU announcer over a hit in last week's game against Arkansas State, you MUST.

The Army-Navy game won't play into the final BCS standings.

TCU nose tackle Kelly Griffin is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken ankle, testing the Horned Frogs' depth on the defensive line.

Air Force has another option on fourth down thanks to Tim Jefferson's punting abilities.

Houston safety Jacky Candy hits hard.

Back-to-back losses have SMU searching for answers.

Two punters are better than one at Middle Tennessee.

UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey and East Carolina's Dominique Davis are trying not to put too much pressure on their upcoming game.

Buffalo defensive back Domonic Cook is making a big impact.

Non-AQ Bowl Projections

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
8:30
PM ET
Time for the latest bowl projections for the non-AQ teams. I have done these for all of college football from the beginning of the season, but now is when things truly get interesting in the fight for bowl eligibility. It is a huge guessing game, but also keep in mind -- the projections are not necessarily where the teams are going to finish.

Bowls are not required to take teams based on order of finish in the conference if they feel there is a more intriguing team that is available to them. Hawaii, for example, might finish second in the WAC, but would go to the Hawaii Bowl regardless.

One change - I am now projecting UCF as the winner of Conference USA. SMU's loss to Houston on Saturday night had a hand in that. But right now UCF and East Carolina are the two best teams in the conference, with a big showdown looming this week in Orlando. I also have Houston back in the projections after the big win.

I still have Boise State in the national title game. The more No. 1 teams that lose, the more that helps the Broncos.

Here are the latest projections after Week 8:

BCS national championship game: Oregon vs. Boise State

Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. TCU

Hawaii Bowl: Tulsa vs. Hawaii

Armed Forces Bowl: East Carolina vs. Army

Eagle Bank: Maryland vs. Southern Miss

Liberty Bowl: UCF vs. Kentucky

New Orleans Bowl: UTEP vs. Middle Tennessee

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Temple vs. Troy

Humanitarian Bowl: Ohio vs. Idaho

Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Washington

Poinsettia Bowl: San Diego State vs. Navy

Independence Bowl: Air Force vs. NC State

New Mexico Bowl: BYU vs. Fresno State

Little Caesars: Penn State vs. Northern Illinois

Beef O’Bradys: Louisville vs. SMU

Kraft Fight Hunger: Houston* vs. Nevada

* = at large because conference cannot fill bowl allotment.

What we learned from non-AQs: Week 8

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
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What did we learn after Week 8?

[+] EnlargeTCU
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Ed Wesley had more than 200 rushing yards as TCU beat Air Force 38-7 to remain undefeated.

1. The non-AQs are still very much in contention for a BCS national championship. We may say this every week, but this is a continuing story and one that is history in the making. Every week that another No. 1 team loses is another week that Boise State, TCU and Utah can keep its hopes up that this could be the year that a team from outside the power conferences makes it into the title game for the first time. The No. 1 team in the country has lost for three straight weeks -- the first time that has happened since 1960. That ought to tell you about the season going on right now in college football. Argue about strength of schedule all you want. But with the way no dominant team has emerged, it is becoming more realistic to think anything can happen. These schools need help to make it in, but this is not pie in the sky. I know some people are already dreaming of TCU versus Boise State in the BCS title game just to bust the system.

2. Only two winless teams remain. Kudos to Western Kentucky for breaking the nation’s longest losing streak at 26 games and beating Louisiana 54-21. That leaves Akron and New Mexico as the only winless teams in the country, vying for the title of “Worst Team in America.” The vote here still goes with the Lobos, though they showed some fight in a 30-20 loss to San Diego State. Akron got totally dominated in a 56-10 loss to Western Michigan.

3. Can anyone figure out Houston? There are a lot of Jekyll and Hyde teams out there, and Houston has to fall into that category. The Cougars have been perplexing since Case Keenum got hurt. They handed SMU its first conference loss of the season, 45-20, on Saturday night to remain atop the West Division at 3-1. But this is the same team that lost the week before to Rice, 34-31. Said Rice team just got embarrassed 41-14 at UCF on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Knights and East Carolina have been the two most consistent teams in C-USA play with a showdown looming in Week 9.

4. Hawaii might be the biggest threat to Boise State. Maybe that should have been clear after the win last week over Nevada, but the Warriors throttled Utah State 45-7 and are 4-0 in WAC play for just the third time in school history. Hawaii has won its past seven WAC games dating back to last season, and the defense has 12 interceptions in its last five games. Hawaii plays at Boise State on Nov. 6, the same day TCU travels to play Utah.

5. Northern Illinois and Temple officially became bowl eligible. Both teams are at 6-2 after big wins Saturday. Northern Illinois beat Central Michigan 33-7 while Temple beat Buffalo 42-0. The MAC only has three bowl tie-ins, so if they want to make it into one of the bowls, their best shot is to play for the conference title. Meanwhile, Hawaii is one win away from becoming bowl eligible. UTEP blew its second straight chance to become bowl eligible and is 5-3. UCF, East Carolina, Southern Miss, San Diego State, Air Force and Navy are all one win away from clinching bowl eligibility.

What to watch from non-AQs, Week 8

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
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Come one, come all for your Top 10 non-AQ storylines for Week 8:

1. Can Navy win three of its four over Notre Dame? The Navy senior class is trying to join the Class of 1937 and the Class of 1964 as the only classes to beat Notre Dame three times in their career. The Midshipmen ended a 43-game losing streak to the Irish in 2007 and won in South Bend last year. Navy has not defeated Notre Dame at a neutral site since 1960.

[+] EnlargeTCU Defense
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIThe TCU defense faces a stiff test Saturday in Air Force.
2. Does the TCU defense have another stellar performance in it? The Horned Frogs have given up one field goal in their last three games, but face a much tougher test Saturday against the Air Force triple-option offense. Gary Patterson has prepared his team for this offense throughout the spring and fall, and there is no question the defensive guru wants to see how it responds.

3. Boise State is off as it prepares to play Tuesday night against Louisiana Tech. How will this affect its standing in the polls and BCS rankings when they come out on Sunday? This is going to be a continuing story line, even when the Broncos are off. It all depends on what happens to everyone else. Oklahoma has a tough game against Missouri, and Auburn and LSU are playing in a matchup of Top 6 teams. Many have wondered whether a big Auburn win would vault it ahead of the Broncos. That remains to be seen. Remember, last week at this time we thought Boise State would be No. 1. Instead, the Broncos are No. 3.

4. Will BYU or Wyoming be bowl eligible this season? I still have the Cougars going to a bowl game, but they have got to win this one. If Wyoming is going to be bowl eligible, it has to win this one, too. Neither team has been prolific on offense, and both have faced difficult schedules to this point. But with this game followed by contests against UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico, I can still see BYU finishing 6-6.

5. Does SMU take control of the West Division in Conference USA? It might be too early to say that, but certainly the Mustangs have a chance to distance themselves with a win. That would give them a two-game lead over Houston and Tulsa, two teams they have already beaten. UTEP, Rice and Tulane would also be at least two games back, depending on results from the weekend.

6. Which Utah State team shows up against Hawaii? It is the team that barely lost to Oklahoma and looked dominant against BYU? Or is it the team that scored a combined 13 points against San Diego State and Louisiana Tech? Coach Gary Andersen has said his team does not know how to handle success. The Aggies had a week to prepare for Hawaii, which has scored 49 or more points in four of its five wins over them in WAC play.

7. Rocky Long returns to New Mexico. The San Diego State defensive coordinator has declined interview requests this week as his team gets ready to play the Lobos, where he was head coach for 11 seasons before stepping down following 2008. He had success there, guiding the team a school-record 65 wins. Since he left, Mike Locksley has gone 1-17 and the program is the worst in the country.

8. Does UTEP become bowl eligible for the first time since 2005? The Miners had a chance last week but had a disappointing loss to UAB. They play Tulane on Saturday in a game they are favored to win. UTEP stands at 5-2 following a 4-8 season last year, and the seniors on this team made it a point to bring everyone closer together to set higher goals, because they were so tired of losing. UTEP has several players banged up going into the game, including quarterback Trevor Vittatoe (ankle, shoulder), but he expects to play.

9. Can the Utes start creating turnovers this week against Colorado State? About the only thing coach Kyle Whittingham has had to complain about his team is its lack of turnovers. Utah only has gained six turnovers in six games -- four interceptions and two fumbles. Last season, Utah was able to force 25 turnovers and had a plus-5 turnover margin.

10. Can Akron break its winless streak against Western Michigan? Pretty unlikely the way this season has gone for a team that has taken on its Zips nickname. Quarterback Patrick Nicely is 2-11 as a starter, and coach Rob Ianello says he is sticking with him. But Nicely has done little to help the cause, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, with three touchdowns to seven interceptions. But the poor guy has been sacked 23 times.

Non-AQ predictions: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
9:00
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 7 were so hideous, I should be disqualified from making any more of them for the rest of the season. I mean not even a dog guesses and finishes 2-8. Wow, that hurts my fingers. Also because of all the e-mails and mailbag comments I have received, I will begin picking all games involving ranked non-AQ teams. See, I do hear you!

With a 43-31 overall record, I am ready to avenge my poor performance from Week 7. Or am I?

On to the picks!

No. 5 TCU 24, Air Force 10. Gary Patterson takes the Falcons seriously because of their dangerous triple-option. But there might be a little less danger this week with top fullback Jared Tew out (broken leg). Air Force still has the top-rated rush offense in the country and was a two-point conversion away from sending its game against San Diego State into overtime last week. But the TCU defense is looking really strong, and the Horned Frogs have never lost to the Falcons at home.

No. 9 Utah 44, Colorado State 3. The Utes beat Wyoming last week, but had three interceptions and are still lacking when it comes to creating turnovers. They are going to have to do better than minus-6 headed into their tough stretch, which starts next week at Air Force. Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas can throw the ball, but not sure how much progress he will make this week.

UPSET SPECIAL: Navy 20, Notre Dame 18. The Midshipmen have not made things easy on themselves this season. Essentially all of their games have come down to the fourth quarter. While the offense might not be as prolific as expected, the defense has been terrific and kept this team in games. Last week against SMU, Navy forced three turnovers and held the Mustangs to 21 points. Notre Dame has had problems stopping the option, and Ricky Dobbs is not pressing as much.

SMU 38, Houston 28. My how the tide has turned in the West Division of Conference USA. Houston has dropped two straight, and it is the Mustangs who are alone in first place and in control of their own destiny. Ja’Gared Davis will cause fits for true freshman quarterback David Piland, and Kyle Padron will be able to throw on a Houston defense that continues to struggle.

UPSET SPECIAL II: Miami (Ohio) 28, Ohio 21. The emergence of the RedHawks has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the MAC and college football. Their three-game turnaround from last season is the best of any team so far this season. They sit alone atop the East at 3-0, but Ohio is right behind at 3-1 in this crucial matchup. Ohio has won four straight in the series, but the Miami defense makes the difference in this one.

BYU 20, Wyoming 17. Two of the worst scoring offenses in the country face off in a fight for their bowl lives. BYU is averaging 14.7 points a game and Wyoming 11.6 points a game. The Cowboys rank last in rushing defense, and that is going to be the difference. Because BYU has proved it can run the ball behind a strong offensive line and JJ Di Luigi. Coach Bronco Mendenhall promised more power running, and that should work this week.

Hawaii 44, Utah State 24. The Warriors are coming off a big win over Nevada, while Utah State had a week to prepare for the best passing offense in the country. Utah State has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the WAC this season, so it is hard to figure the Aggies out. But we do know Hawaii will pass and pass some more. The Warriors have won four of the five meetings between the school in WAC play.

Northern Illinois 30, Central Michigan 20. The Chippewas have won three straight in the series, but they are on a four-game losing streak and are 1-3 in the division, an unusual spot for them after winning the MAC championship three of the last four years. Many figured this would be a rebuilding year with Dan LeFevour gone and a new coach in Dan Enos. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois has won four straight and has found a groove with Chad Spann and Chandler Harnish leading the way on offense.

Middle Tennessee 27, ULM 24. The Blue Raiders need this game in the worst way. At 2-4, they are in a fight to become bowl eligible, though they have only played two conference games to date. ULM has needed two comebacks to beat FAU and Western Kentucky -- two of the worst teams in the league.

UTEP 31, Tulane 21. UTEP beat up on some bottom feeders en route to a 5-1 start. But the Miners stumbled on the road at UAB last week (one of two picks I got right!) and had only 229 yards of total offense. They are banged up going into this game but should have enough to beat the Green Wave, who are improved over last season.
When preseason favorite Houston lost Case Keenum for the season with a knee injury, the Conference USA race opened right up.

One team that could be the beneficiary is SMU, which stands alone atop the Western Division headed into a big game with the Cougars on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeKyle Padron
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireSMU quarterback Kyle Padron leads Conference USA with 19 touchdown passes.
SMU (4-3, 3-0) and Houston (3-3, 2-1) finished last season tied atop the West Division, but the Cougars went on to the conference title game because they won the head-to-head meeting. This time around, the Mustangs are seven-point favorites and have emerged as the favorite to come out of the West.

Coach June Jones has tried to temper those expectations because his team is so young, but admits a Keenum-less Houston has “evened out” the race for the league title. He also said his team has placed an emphasis on winning Conference USA this season, so he wants his players thinking that way.

“We’ve been focusing on that and now it’s time to prove that you belong in that thought process,” Jones said. “I think our kids are understanding that and are learning how to win.”

When you have such an inexperienced team, it takes time to build a winning mentality. SMU may have had the best turnaround in college football last season, but it was the program’s first taste of success since the early 1980s.

Some of the “learn how to win” mentality that Jones is trying to instill showed up in a tough 28-21 loss to Navy last weekend. SMU jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead, but Navy came right back in the second half. The Mustangs had a chance to win the game late. With the score tied at 21, Kyle Padron threw an interception with 1:50 to go that set up the game-winning score for the Midshipmen.

It was a pass that had worked several times during the game. But on the interception, Padron waited a tick too long to get rid of the ball.

“I took a real shuffle step that caused me to be a second late,” Padron said. “Next time, I’m going to get it right.”

Padron is having a good season, with a league-leading 19 touchdown passes, 1,818 yards and just six interceptions. Jones likes to remind people Padron does not have much starting experience because he played so little in high school and only became the starter midway through last season.

What has also helped has been the emergence of Zach Line, a converted linebacker who leads the league in rushing with 635 yards this season.

Line did play running back in high school, and since Jones felt he had depth at linebacker, he moved Line to running back full time. With leading rusher Shawnbrey McNeal gone, Line has stepped up to help take some of the burden off Padron.

For his part, Padron says he feels more comfortable running the Run and Shoot offense that Jones has come to perfect. As for the ratcheted-up expectations, Padron welcomes them.

“Last year when we lost, it was, ‘Aww, we lost another one,’” Padron said. “Now on campus is like, ‘What happened? How did you lose? They’re expecting us to win. It’s good to have that back on campus.”

Houston has lost two in a row, including a tough 34-31 setback to Rice. They are 1-2 without Keenum. If you count the UCLA game, when he got hurt, Houston is 1-3. The Cougars have had to play true freshmen Terrance Broadway and David Piland because Cotton Turner broke his collarbone in the UCLA game, too.

Bryce Beall is right up there with Line when it comes to rushing in the conference, but Houston seems to be a team that is in a fight for survival. Five of its final six games are against teams with winning records.

Despite the recent struggles, no way is SMU going to take Houston lightly. Not when the Mustangs know they are in now in the driver’s seat in the West.

“We control our own destiny,” Padron said. “We just have to go out every week and execute.”

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