NCF Nation: Toledo

Kelly: 'I still believe in this team'

September, 11, 2011
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A previously unthinkable 0-2 start does not have Brian Kelly ready to give up on Notre Dame two weeks into the second year of his tenure as the Fighting Irish's head coach.

Not when his team has put up 1,022 yards of total offense, production outdone only by the head-scratching mistakes that have led to 10 turnovers and 17 penalties over 120 minutes of game action.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireBrian Kelly says it's the little things that are keeping his team from reaching its potential.
"I think when we came out of preseason camp we felt like we had the chance to be a good team," Kelly said during a teleconference Sunday. "And so when you put that modifier in front, 'chance,' to be a good team, I can see those things in practice, I can see those things in the development of our players. But that chance to be a good team is everything you just mentioned — those turnovers, the little detail things. And until we can clean up those detail things, we can't be a good team.

"I still believe in this team, I still believe we'll be a good football team. But the chance to be a good team is all the things that we're doing right now. We're not giving ourselves a chance to be a good football team."

The challenges of getting a team over the hump may draw greater pressure at a school such as Notre Dame, the third-winningest program in FBS history and a team that had its sights set on a BCS bowl two short weeks ago.

Kelly downplayed that notion, saying he has come across challenges at each one of his three previous head-coaching stops.

"Not one school is the same," he said. "I had challenges at all the schools that I've been at in terms of getting a team over those inherent challenges, and there are inherent challenges here. But we'll get through those as well. And the product that we're putting out on the field, I understand we've gotta win and our players wanna win.

"We're not, we got a chance to be a good team. We can't be a good team until we take care of the little things that are popping up. It's pretty clear that until we get those things taken care of on Saturdays, we'll be a mediocre football team."

When asked if he felt the Irish were close or far from being a good team, Kelly pointed to the demanding early-season schedule, saying his team's mistakes were magnified because of the spotlight it was playing under.

Other schools, he said, have gotten by unscathed by the public.

"We've made so many mistakes against two pretty tough teams coming out," Kelly said. "Again, as you see the schedule, Ohio State's playing Toledo. I mean, teams are playing easy games early on in the schedule. We don't get that luxury. We gotta go play in front of 115,000, and those mistakes get, obviously, they're more glaring against opponents that are physically pretty good as well.

"I believe that we're gonna be a good football team. We won't be until we clean up the little things that keep popping up on Saturdays."

-- On personnel matters, Kelly said tight end Mike Ragone (knee) and linebacker Danny Spond (hamstring) would undergo MRIs. He also said the staff decided to move Theo Riddick from punt returns because it thought both those duties and his wide receiver duties were too much for him.

Northern Illinois looks MAC-nificent

November, 10, 2010
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Northern Illinois and Toledo went into their nationally televised game undefeated in league play. But the Huskies showed just how far the Rockets have to go into order to contend for a MAC title in a 65-30 victory Tuesday night.

Now the Huskies (8-2, 6-0) are alone atop the West and the only unbeaten team left in MAC play. They already beat co-East leader Temple earlier this year and have now won seven straight. Northern Illinois can win its first MAC West title since 2005 with a win over either Ball State or Eastern Michigan.

"Our kids are believing in each other," Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill said. "When you get a little confidence, things seem to fall into place. I think the kids are playing with confidence right now. We've got two more weeks. You can't listen to all the things people say, you have to keep getting better. We still can get better. That's the good thing, we can get a lot better."

Hard to imagine how much better given what the Huskies did Tuesday night. Northern Illinois ran for 422 yards on the ground, as Chandler Harnish passed for and ran for a touchdown, and Chad Spann had three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish ended up leading the team in passing (162) and rushing (149). The Huskies led 28-0 at halftime and essentially were able to do whatever they wanted in the first half.

"It's a tremendous feeling," Spann said. "There was a lot of tradition in this game. It's a big game for both teams for our postseason goals. To be able to have the showing we did and put up as many points as we did, it really feels good."

As for Toledo (6-3, 5-1), coach Tim Beckman blamed poor tackling and an inability to fit the scheme properly for the problems on defense. The Rockets also had redshirt freshman quarterback Terrance Owens make his first career start in place of Austin Dantin, out with a shoulder injury.

Owens went 18-of-38 for 186 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but the Rockets simply dug themselves a hole too big to overcome. The 65 points were the most the Rockets have given up since losing 81-0 to Miami (Ohio) in 1953.

"We're just a very young football team," Beckman said. "When you're only playing three, four seniors, a first start for a quarterback ... there's some things we'll improve on. We'll learn from this situation and try to build for the next football games."

Toledo closes the season against Bowling Green and Central Michigan, and is still bowl eligible for the first time since 2005.

But the story of the MAC season is Northern Illinois.

Non-AQ bowl look

November, 9, 2010
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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.

Lunchtime Links

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
12:51
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Ready for some MAC football tonight? The MAC West is on the line when Toledo travels to Northern Illinois.

Now on to some links:

Boos show how the standards at Utah have been raised, writes Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Idaho running back Deonte Jackson stirred the pot going into the Boise State game on Friday. When asked about comments Boise State president Bob Kustra made that were critical of Idaho fans, Jackson said, "I wouldn't expect anything different coming from the blue and orange snot."

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte isn't interested in a football-only invite to the Big East.

Utah wants TCU to get a title shot.

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick is all business as he returns close to home when the Wolf Pack play Fresno State.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo's son is a budding high school football player and has drawn some interest from college programs.

A lack of playmaking has continued to hurt SMU.

More details emerge from "Replaygate" involving San Diego State and BYU.

Is a change coming at quarterback for Rice?

ULM receiver Brent Leonard is second nationally in fourth-down conversion receptions.

The Colorado State-BYU series is ending.

Toledo, NIU ready for showdown

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
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Toledo has a proud football tradition that had fallen on hard times recently. Enter Tim Beckman.

The second-year coach has energized and revitalized the program, and now the Rockets go into a huge game on national television against Northern Illinois tonight with MAC title hopes on the line. Both teams are 5-0 in the West, and whoever wins controls their destiny for a spot in the conference title game.

Not bad for a team picked to finish fourth in the division this season.

[+] EnlargeTim Beckman
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireTim Beckman has led to Toledo to a 5-0 conference record so far this season.
“Toledo’s been recognized as being one of the top programs in the Mid-American conference for so many years, it’s good to be here in November and playing for a game that means something,” Beckman said.

Beckman made it a priority to get to the MAC championship back in January. He handed out bracelets to his players that read “Operation: Ford Field” with the date of the game: 12-3-10. The Rockets went 5-7 in his first year, and lost several starters, but Beckman has the confidence his team could compete.

He got the motivational gimmick from other coaches he has worked under, learning from Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Mike Gundy.

“I think you have to talk about these things if you’re ever going to reach these goals,” Beckman said. “Right now it’s getting those kids to believe in one common goal. If it’s wristbands, it’s something the youth of today loves to do.”

The Rockets (6-3) have had to overcome some tough losses this season to Arizona, Boise State and a struggling Wyoming team. But they have won three straight to build momentum and are bowl eligible for the first time since 2005.

The Rockets are 5-0 in the MAC for the first time since 2004, when it ended up winning the conference title. Toledo has 10 MAC titles, and last started the league play 6-0 in 1997.

But now they face a stark reality -- playing without starting quarterback Austin Dantin for the rest of the season.

Dantin injured his shoulder in the last game against Eastern Michigan and is not expected to return this season. Redshirt freshman Terrance Owens stepped in and threw for 234 yards and four touchdowns to help the Rockets win, but Northern Illinois (7-2) is a far better team than Eastern Michigan.

Owens and Dantin had competed for the starting job during the preseason. Dantin won out, but Beckman said Owens never hung his head and has worked hard to improve.

“He continues to get better,” Beckman said. “He struggled a bit during two-a-days, but since then he’s progressed probably faster than most quarterbacks I’ve seen or been around.”

Northern Illinois probably expected to be in this position when the season started. The Huskies were picked to win the division, and have played well with Chandler Harnish and Chad Spann leading the way. They lead the MAC in rushing offense, scoring offense and total offense.

Spann leads the league in rushing and already has 1,000 yards. But the Toledo defense has been opportunistic and is tied for the national lead with 16 interceptions.

Adding more fuel to the fire in this game -- Toledo has won 14 of the past 16 games in the series. Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill said he has gotten plenty of e-mails in the past week from fans eager to see the Huskies win this one.

“When you’re having a bit more success, people want to see that,” Kill said. “There’s no question with success comes more energy, more interest, more excitement. I don’t know how you can ask for a better setting for college football on Tuesday night.”

Lunchtime Links

November, 2, 2010
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Who is ready for some football? Middle Tennessee travels to Arkansas State tonight in the first nationally televised home game for the Red Wolves.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen is granting the wish of a 12-year-old boy with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Stephen Kinsey wants to be a coach for a day.

There is more at stake this week for TCU and Utah than just the Mountain West title.

Utah says it is a different team than the one that lost 55-28 last year in TCU.

One thing that has become obvious -- Navy doesn't know how to handle success, Bill Wagner of The Annapolis Capital writes.

Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin could be out for the rest of the regular season with a separated left shoulder.

The turnaround at Miami (Ohio) continues to raise eyebrows.

San Jose State is happy for its bye week.

Ties bind Air Force LB Jordan Waiwaiole and Army FB Jared Hassin.

UAB will study having an on-campus stadium.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

November, 1, 2010
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Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference:

Conference USA

Offense: UAB running back Pat Shed, UCF running back Ronnie Weaver. Shed ran for a career-best 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 50-49 double overtime win against Southern Miss. He finished with 235 all-purpose yards as the Blazers posted their first win in Roberts Stadium. Weaver ran for a career-high 180 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns in a 49-35 win against East Carolina.

Defense: Tulsa linebacker Shawn Jackson. His interception with 37 second left in the first half gave Tulsa the momentum in its 28-27 win against Notre Dame. He also had six tackles, a sack and two quarterback hurries.

Special teams: Tulsa punt returner Damaris Johnson. Had a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown, the second of his career in the win. He is 25 yards shy of tying the Conference USA all-time kickoff return record.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Miami receiver Nick Harwell. Had eight receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-9 win at Buffalo.

Defense: Bowling Green defensive tackle Chris Jones. Had six tackles, five tackles for loss, three and a half sacks and recovered a fumble in a 17-14 win at Central Michigan.

Special Teams: Kent State punter Matt Rinehart. Averaged 52 yards on four punts as the Flashes posted a 43-yard net in a 33-14 win against Ball State.

West Division

Offense: Western Michigan receiver Jordan White. Had a career-high 14 receptions for a career-high 180 yards and one touchdown in a 28-21 loss to Northern Illinois.

Defense: Northern Illinois defensive end Jake Coffman. He had four tackles and the game-saving interception on Western Michigan’s final offensive play to seal the win.

Special Teams: Toledo punter Vince Penza. Averaged 40.6 yards on five punts in the Rockets' 42-7 win at Eastern Michigan.

Mountain West

Offense: San Diego State receiver DeMarco Sampson. Had seven receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-38 win against Wyoming. He has three straight 100-yard games.

Defense: Utah safety Brian Blechen. Had a career-high nine tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in a 28-23 win at Air Force.

Special teams: San Diego State punter Brian Stahovich. Kicked the longest punt in San Diego State history at 89 yards in the second half against Wyoming. It was his only punt of the day.

Sun Belt

Offense: North Texas running back Lance Dunbar. Ran for a season-high 215 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-6 win at Western Kentucky. The 215 yards was the most by any player in the Sun Belt this season and the third-highest rushing total in the nation this week.

Defense: ULM Darius Prelow. Had six tackles and an interception in a 28-14 upset win against Troy. The defense held Troy to its lowest point total in a Sun Belt game since 2006.

Co-Special Teams: Louisiana kicker Brett Baer, North Texas kicker Zach Olen. Baer made a field goal and four extra-point attempts, and had two perfectly placed onside kicks in a loss at Ohio. Olen made two field goals, including a 48-yarder, the longest by a North Texas kicker since 2005.

WAC

Offense: Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz. Went 27-of-38 for 326 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-10 win against Idaho. He also rushed seven times for 43 yards and another score. Moniz is the first quarterback in the nation to reach 3,000 yards this season (3,247).

Defense: Hawaii S Mana Silva. Had nine tackles (six solo), including one for a loss of 13 yards, and intercepted a pass in the win against Idaho.

Special teams: New Mexico State kicker Tyler Stampler. Went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts in a 29-27 win against San Jose State. He made a 42-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and then added a 25- and a career-long 43-yarder in the fourth quarter of a tight game.

Non-AQ weekend rewind: Week 9

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
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Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 9.

[+] EnlargeTulsa
Matt Cashore/US PresswireTulsa barely edged out Notre Dame in a historic win for the school.
The good: The BCS standings feature three non-AQ teams ranked in the Top 5 for the first time ever -- No. 3 TCU, No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 Utah. TCU or Utah will be out after their game this weekend. But they preserved their big matchup with wins this past weekend. … Tulsa won at Notre Dame 28-27. Though the Irish are struggling and Dayne Crist got hurt, the Golden Hurricane still posted one of the biggest wins in program history. Even coach Todd Graham said he wanted his players to remember the feeling to carry on the rest of the way. They need one more win to become bowl eligible. “This was such a team win, and it's really pulled our team together,” Graham told The Tulsa World. “We needed that.”

Army is also one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1996, but what most people talked about afterward -- the camouflaged uniforms they wore.

FAU snapped a five-game losing streak with a 21-9 win over FIU in the “Shula Bowl.” The Owls held the Panthers without a touchdown for the first time all season.

The bad: Plenty of letdowns on Saturday. Western Kentucky went from scoring 54 points in its first win of the season to just six in a loss to North Texas. “It was a total embarrassment out there,” coach Willie Taggart said.

Navy went from a win over Notre Dame to a loss to Duke.

Sun Belt leader Troy had its 13-game Sun Belt winning streak snapped in a 28-14 loss at ULM. It was Troy’s third consecutive loss at Malone Stadium, which accounts for almost half of the Trojans’ eight league losses since the start of the 2005 season. Troy is 3-1 in conference and still atop the standings, but the door has been opened for somebody else to try and break its stranglehold on the league title.

UTEP lost its third in a row, dropping another road game to Marshall. Central Michigan lost its sixth straight, officially eliminating it from bowl contention.

The heartache: San Jose State has had its share of injury problems, losing one starter after another for the season. But the Spartans have not thrown in the towel, and nearly pulled off a come-from-behind win over New Mexico State on Saturday. Though both teams entered the game with one win, this was one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. San Jose State trailed 17-3 but came on strong in the second half. The Spartans took the lead with 3:47 to go when Jordan La Secla threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jalal Beauchman. But New Mexico State had the last say. Taveon Rogers caught an 8-yard touchdown pass as time expired to win 29-27. Perhaps the difference in the game: New Mexico State kicker Tyler Stampler made three field goals; San Jose State kicker Harrison Waid missed three.

The off balance: Talk about a dramatic turn of events for Navy. Coach Ken Niumatalolo worried about a letdown after a big win over Notre Dame, but he could not have envisioned his defense folding. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 314 yards and had only two incomplete passes. The Navy defense came into the game tied for 15th in the country in pass defense (174 ypg) and 19th in scoring defense (18 pg). It was the first time all year the Midshipmen gave up more than 27 points. Four of their previous seven opponents had scored fewer than 20 points.

A few more helmet stickers for career marks: Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs became the school’s career scoring leader (266 points) and all-time rushing touchdowns leader (44) in a 34-31 loss to Duke. … With 326 passing yards against Idaho, Bryant Moniz became the fifth quarterback in school history to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season, joining Colt Brennan, Timmy Chang, Dan Robinson and Nick Rolovich. … Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson set the school record for touchdown passes (32) in a 38-31 win over Louisiana.

A few injury items to note: Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin is out three to four weeks with a shoulder/collarbone injury, leaving the starting quarterback job to Terrance Owens. The backup did a mighty fine job against Eastern Michigan after Dantin got hurt, throwing four touchdown passes in the 42-7 win. But we’ll see how he does against tougher competition next Tuesday, when the Rockets play Northern Illinois in a critical West Division game. Both teams are 5-0 in league play. … San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley sprained his ankle against Wyoming but should be able to play this week. … Nevada running back Vai Taua sat out the game against Utah State with a sprained ankle, but coach Chris Ault said he could have played.

Week 10 look ahead: Do we need to even go here? No. 3 TCU at No. 5 Utah takes center stage not just for the non-AQs but for the entire nation as well. We all wait and see whether this can be the year a team from outside the power conferences can make it into the BCS national title game. No. 4 Boise State has a big home game against surging Hawaii (7-2), the first team in the nation to accept a bowl bid. Air Force (5-4) travels to Army (5-3). A win here would clinch the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy has won the past seven. Another big Conference USA game between division leaders: UCF at Houston.

Lunchtime Links

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
12:30
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The week begins with TCU ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings. Will the Horned Frogs stay there after Saturday? We have a week full of previews lined up for you, starting with a look at the TCU D vs. the Utah D.

Now on to some links:

If you have not had a chance to see the Army camo unis from this past weekend, check 'em out.

With a bowl invite in hand, Hawaii has turned its attention to winning the WAC championship. Next up: Boise State.

TCU coach Gary Patterson isn't interested in the latest BCS soap opera that has his team ranked No. 3.

The big week is finally here for Utah.

San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley sprained his ankle against Wyoming but is expected to start against Colorado State this weekend.

Air Force has turned its attention to Army.

Mike Canales might be a good fit at North Texas.

Northern Illinois gets ready for its game against the surging Toledo Rockets next Tuesday.

Tulsa coach Todd Graham said Sunday afternoon that he wanted his players to savor their win against Notre Dame: "I want to keep them on Cloud 9."

Non-AQ What we learned: Week 9

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
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Time to see what we learned from the non-AQs in Week 9:

1. Bring on TCU vs. Utah. The huge game we have waited all season for is finally here, and the teams involved did not disappoint in Week 9, staying undefeated to set up a colossal matchup between the two teams. Utah had a tough time against Air Force, but that was not entirely unexpected. The defense forced five turnovers and had several crucial fourth down stops to preserve the win. TCU cruised over UNLV. Now attention can focus on the matchup between the two. Will Utah pull off the win in its final season in the Mountain West? Or will TCU win for the first time at Utah? The Utes have won a Mountain West record 21 straight games at home. After the Air Force game, Utah players talked about getting their shot at TCU. “Can't wait,” safety Greg Bird said. “I’m excited. We’re going to bring it to them.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Wide
AP Photo/Chris SchneiderUtah celebrated a win over Air Force on Saturday and can now focus squarely on TCU.
2. Non-AQs get more good news, but Boise State is going to have to be more impressive. Even a 49-20 win over Louisiana Tech was not enough to silence its critics. The Broncos had the spotlight to themselves on Tuesday night, but looked sloppy and led many to wonder why against such inferior competition. Boise State and TCU/Utah got help when Michigan State and Missouri lost, leaving only two undefeated teams from the automatic-qualifying conferences. That is obviously good news. But now they have to start sweating the one-loss teams (ahem, Alabama) and that means impressing human voters, who have to keep Boise State in the top 2 of the polls for the Broncos to have any legitimate shot at playing for a championship.

3. Six more non-AQ teams became bowl eligible. We went into the weekend with 11 who had the chance. We end with six getting to the magical mark: San Diego State, UCF, Toledo, Ohio, Nevada and Hawaii. UCF becomes the first team eligible from Conference USA -- Southern Miss and UTEP fell short of six wins on Saturday. The MAC has four teams eligible, including Northern Illinois and Temple, but only three guaranteed bowl spots. So that means somebody needs an at-large berth or could be left home. San Diego State is eligible for the first time since 1998, while Toledo is eligible for the first time since 2005.

4. UCF is the favorite in the East in Conference USA. The Knights won a critical game over East Carolina 49-35 to take command of the East. If UCF wins out, it plays in the conference championship game. Ronnie Weaver had a career-high 180 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The lead is actually pretty commanding. UCF is the only remaining team in the entire league that is undefeated in conference play. It has the head-to-head tiebreaker over East Carolina, and a two-game lead on UAB (which it already beat) and Southern Miss. The Knights have a critical game at West Division leader Houston on Friday night before hosting the Golden Eagles on Nov. 13.

5. Navy suffers a letdown. Just when you think the Midshipmen have turned a corner, they have a complete meltdown. A week after handily beating Notre Dame 35-17, the Midshipmen lost to Duke 34-31. The defense, which had carried this team all season, gave up a season-high 34 points and inexplicably allowed quarterback Sean Renfree to pass for 314 yards. He set a school record with a 93.3 completion percentage and completed his first 16 passes. Navy trailed 24-0 at halftime, its largest deficit at the break since 2002. Though Navy had won several games thanks to fourth-quarter comebacks this season, it was not meant to be Saturday.

Non-AQ What to Watch, Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
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Come one, come all for your top-10 non-AQ storylines for Week 9:

1. Do No. 4 TCU and No. 8 Utah stay undefeated headed into their big showdown next week? TCU travels to UNLV and Utah travels to Air Force on Saturday. The Horned Frogs have been inconsistent in two true road games this season, trailing early to SMU and leading only 6-0 at halftime against Colorado State. TCU is a heavy favorite to beat lowly UNLV, but this is a good road test before its trip to Salt Lake City. Utah faces a much more difficult test at Air Force. The games between the two schools are generally close, and the Falcons are smarting after two straight losses. Many have complained about the “weak” Utah schedule to this point. A win here might answer some of those critics.

[+] EnlargeRyan Lindley
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireRyan Lindley and the Aztecs are on the brink of bowl eligibility.
2. Who becomes bowl eligible? Eleven non-AQ teams are one win away from becoming bowl eligible this Saturday, with some new faces scattered in there. San Diego State (5-2) has not been to a bowl game since 1998 and plays at Wyoming, a game it should win. Toledo (5-3) and UTEP (5-3) have not been to a bowl game since 2005. East Carolina (5-2) and UCF (5-2) play each other so only one will get to six wins. Hawaii (6-2), Nevada (6-1), Navy (5-2), Ohio (5-3) and Southern Miss (5-2) are all favored to win their games. Air Force (5-3) has a big game against Utah, as mentioned above.

3. Does UCF break through and beat East Carolina? The two rivals have combined to win each of the past three Conference USA championships and four of the past five East Division titles. Both have won all their league games, marking the latest that two undefeated teams have played since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005. But East Carolina has won four straight in the series and holds an 8-1 overall edge. Many people thought this might be a rebuilding year for the Pirates, but they have won behind Dominique Davis. The UCF defense is going to have its hands full.

4. Navy has a chance to win four straight. The Midshipmen were down and out after losing to Air Force 14-6 earlier this season. A team that has known nothing but dominance over its fellow service academies has been strengthened because of that loss, running off three straight wins. None was more convincing than a 35-17 victory over Notre Dame last week that was vintage Navy. It hosts Duke on Saturday.

5. How does TCU quarterback Andy Dalton play on the road? In three neutral site/road games this season, Dalton has three touchdowns to four interceptions. At home: 11 touchdowns to one interception. TCU closes with three of its final four games on the road, starting Saturday. Coach Gary Patterson said earlier this week, “We’ll probably go as Andy Dalton goes. If he plays at a high level, we’ll have a chance to win more of those games than we lose.”

6. Can the Utah defense be as effective as TCU at stopping Air Force? A lot of people like to scoreboard watch as a way to measure teams against each other. TCU and Utah both are in the top 10 in the nation in total defense. So which will be able to handle the Air Force triple option better? TCU held Air Force to a season-low 184 yards rushing last week.

7. Ohio is asserting itself in the MAC. The Bobcats have won four straight games behind solid play from quarterback Boo Jackson. Of course, it has helped that they also got to beat up on Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green and Akron. But last week’s win over Miami (Ohio) was big. They have outgained five consecutive opponents on the ground for the first time since 2006. During the four-game win streak, Ohio has scored 151 points, the most points in a four-game stretch since 2002. They get Sun Belt Louisiana this week and Buffalo next before a huge game against East Division opponent Temple on Nov. 16.

8. Two of these teams are going to get to two wins on Saturday: San Jose State, New Mexico State, North Texas and Western Kentucky. The season has been especially unkind to San Jose State and North Texas, who have lost multiple players to season-ending injuries. The Mean Green have lost 10 starters, the Spartans 15 starters and key reserves. North Texas travels to play Western Kentucky, coming off its first win of the season, while San Jose State goes to Las Cruces.

9. How does Mike Canales fair in his first game as a North Texas interim head coach? Canales takes over for Todd Dodge, who was fired last week after winning just six games for the Mean Green. This is a job audition for Canales, who would love to become a head coach and has learned under some of the best. Most recently, he served as offensive coordinator under Jim Leavitt at USF before coming to North Texas this season.

10. The BCS standings will look how? Depends on what happens with everybody else. The big question moving forward: If TCU and Utah are undefeated next week and the Horned Frogs win, will that give them a boost toward climbing ahead of Boise State? They are just 0.0013 points behind Boise State this week. If Utah wins, will that give the Utes a boost? That is much less likely because they still have far to climb, especially in the human polls.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

October, 18, 2010
10/18/10
5:15
PM ET
Time once again for the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference:

Conference USA

Offense: East Carolina QB Dominique Davis. Scored three touchdowns and set career-highs in passing attempts (53) and completions (37) on the way to a 376-yard, interception-free performance in a 33-27 overtime win over NC State.

Defense: Memphis LB Jamon Hughes. Had the most tackles for a Memphis player in 31 years with 21 stops against Southern Miss. The total ranks tied for second in school history and is the most since Pete Scatamacchia had a school record 25 against Louisville in 1979.

Special teams: Rice P Kyle Martens. Averaged 49.8 yards on four punts, none of which were returned, in the Owls' 34-31 win over Houston. He placed his fifth punt of the season inside the 10 this season.

MAC

East Division

Offense: Ohio QB Boo Jackson. Went 14-of-21 for 161 yards, one passing touchdown and two rushing scores in a 38-10 win over Akron. He also caught a 42-yard pass in the win.

Defense: Miami LB Evan Harris. Had a career and team-high 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and one passed defensed in a 27-20 win at Central Michigan. Harris’ two interceptions were the first for the RedHawks by a single player since 2006.

Special teams: Temple DE Adrian Robinson. Blocked a PAT attempt in Temple’s 28-27 win over Bowling Green. The play forced the Falcons to opt for a 2-point conversion on the game’s final play.

West Division

Offense: Eastern Michigan QB Alex Gillett. Accounted for 414 yards of total offense, ninth-best in school history, and set school quarterback records for most rushes (35) and net rushing yards (189) in a single-game. He had five total touchdowns.

Defense: Toledo DE T.J. Fatinikun. Had five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a key 10-yard sack in the Rockets' 34-21 win over Kent State.

Special teams: Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward. Blocked his second punt of the season in a 45-14 win over Buffalo. Ward also forced a fumble late in the game and contributed two tackles, one on special teams.

Mountain West

Co-Offense: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman, TCU QB Andy Dalton. Hillman had 191 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 27-24 win over No. 23 Air Force, the team's first win over a ranked team in 14 years. Dalton accounted for 289 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in a 31-3 win over BYU.

Defense: Colorado State DT Guy Miller. Had eight tackles, 4.5 sacks and five tackles for loss to in a 43-10 win over UNLV. Miller set new school and MWC records with his 4.5 sacks.

Special teams: TCU PR Jeremy Kerley. Had 137 total return yards in a 31-3 victory over BYU. Kerley helped the Horned Frogs establish field position throughout the contest, returning two kickoffs for 81 yards and four punts for 56 yards.

Sun Belt

Offense: Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin. Had a career-high four touchdowns, the most of any Sun Belt player this season, in a loss to Indiana. Aplin completed a school-record 33 passes on 44 attempts for 275 yards and added 23 rushing yards.

Defense: ULM DB Robert Nelson. Returned an interception 55 yards for the game-sealing touchdown in a win over Western Kentucky. It was the first interception return for a touchdown by a Warhawk since 2008.

Special teams: Troy KR Jerrel Jernigan. Had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the win over Louisiana, the first of his career and the first for the Trojans since 2007. He also scored the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Corey Robinson in the fourth quarter.

WAC

Offense: Louisiana Tech QB Ross Jenkins. Threw for a career-high 422 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-35 win over Idaho on Saturday. It was the most yards thrown by any quarterback in the nation over the weekend.

Defense: Hawaii LB Corey Paredes. Had nine tackles and forced two fumbles in the 27-21 win over No. 19 Nevada. His first forced fumble led to Hawaii’s first touchdown. On the second, he stripped Colin Kaepernick just before he crossed the goal line.

Special teams: Boise State PR Chris Potter. Returned four punts for 76 yards in a 48-0 win over San Jose State. The 76 return yards are the most by a WAC player this year.

Lunchtime Links

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
12:30
PM ET
Boise State got one No. 1 vote in the coaches' poll. But it wasn't from Chris Petersen.

Buffalo linebacker Scott Pettigrew was stabbed during a bar fight this past weekend. Pettigrew has already been treated and released, and coach Jeff Quinn said Pettigrew should be fine.

Nevada coach Chris Ault says Vai Taua is running as hard as ever.

BYU is a 29-point underdog to TCU this weekend, and is going to need its run game to provide some help.

Western Michigan defensive backs Doug Wiggins and Damond Smith have been reinstated to the team after serving a suspension for an in-game scuffle. Now the two will have to win their jobs back.

Middle Tennessee has to find more offensive focus as it prepares to play Georgia Tech this weekend.

Injuries have hit Southern Miss hard. Now starting linebacker Martez Smith appears to be out with a knee injury.

Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin bounces back after a hard hit against Boise State, but is questionable for this weekend.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
2:00
PM ET
Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 6.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP Photo/Jeffery WashingtonTCU quarterback Andy Dalton has been outstanding at home this season.
The good: The elite non-AQ teams have done their jobs midway through the season. TCU put together an impressive 45-0 win. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who has been up and down this season, was 14-of-17 for 270 yards with three touchdowns. In three home games this season, Dalton is 50-of-61 (82 percent) for 719 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. … Utah trailed Iowa State 14-10, but then the second quarter started. The Utes outscored the Cyclones 31-0 and have now outscored opponents an eye-popping 101-7 in the second quarter this season. … Bryant Moniz continues his incredible rise. He came to Hawaii as a walk-on last season, and now is leading the country with 2,245 passing yards – the only quarterback with more than 2,000 yards so far this season. Hawaii has the top ranked passing offense in the country. Greg Salas leads the country in receiving yards, and teammate Kealoha Pilares ranks third. … UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe set new school career records for touchdown throws (89), passing yards (11,260) and total offensive yards (11,117).

The bad: Ball State coach Stan Parrish said his team played one of the worst games since he became head coach, in a 45-16 loss to Western Michigan. His team fumbled the opening kickoff, then had an interception returned for a touchdown on the second series. It was downhill from there, with three more turnovers erasing any chance to win. … Utah State had one of its best wins a week ago against BYU, beating its in-state rival 31-16. But the Aggies had their worst game of the season on Saturday in a 24-6 loss to Louisiana Tech. They had just 73 yards passing and 195 total yards of offense, a week after racking up 434 yards of total offense against the Cougars. Coach Gary Andersen said his team is much better at handling adversity than success.

The heartache: FAU fought back from a 12-0 deficit to take a 20-17 lead against ULM. But a fumbled snap gave ULM the ball at its own 45 with 4:51 remaining. Kolton Browning led the team down the field, and Jyruss Edwards ran for a 5-yard touchdown with 2:43 remaining, handing the Owls their fourth straight loss. … New Mexico clung to a 14-13 lead over in-state rival New Mexico State, but Stump Godfrey fumbled late, setting up Tyler Stamper’s 22-yard field goal to win it for the Aggies. New Mexico turned the ball over four times, and leads the nation with 20 turnovers this season. … San Jose State might have lost 35-13 to Nevada, but it was the first game all season where the Spartans didn’t lose a player to a season-ending injury. Those injuries have taken a toll, but so has the brutal start to the season, with games at Alabama, Wisconsin, Utah and Nevada.

A few more helmet stickers: Nevada defensive end Dontay Moch and running back Vai Taua have had excellent back-to-back games. Moch has a combined 18 tackles, eight tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble in the past two games, and Taua has 35 carries for 382 yards and eight total touchdowns (seven rushing, one receiving). … Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert had a season-high seven tackles, an interception, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery in a 49-27 win against Colorado State. … In his first college game, North Texas kicker Zach Olen was perfect on all five of his kicks against Arkansas State, making 4-0f-4 field goals and his only extra-point attempt.

A few injury items to note: Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin is questionable after being carted off the field in a loss to Boise State last week. Dantin took a hard hit following a run in the fourth quarter and was motionless on the field, but coach Tim Beckman said his quarterback was coherent and he was put on a stretcher as a precautionary measure. Terrance Owens would get the nod if Dantin can’t play. … Temple offensive lineman Steve Caputo (leg) is out for the season. Ohio has lost its two best players -- receiver LaVon Brazill (leg) is out for the season, and linebacker Noah Keller (foot) is doubtful to return this season. North Texas quarterback Riley Dodge (wrist) will have a pin inserted in his broken wrist, and the team is hoping he can return as early as Oct. 30 against Western Kentucky.

Week 7 look ahead: There are some really interesting games in the Mountain West and WAC. Nevada is at Hawaii in a matchup of contrasting offenses. The Wolf Pack love to run, the Warriors love to pass. This is going to be a very big test for Nevada, no question. Air Force plays at San Diego State to start a brutal four-game stretch. Following that game, the Falcons are at TCU, home to Utah then at Army. BYU is at TCU, and there might not be any love lost here. TCU coach Gary Patterson was critical of the Cougars’ move to go independent before the season started.

Non-AQ Did You Know, Week 6

October, 8, 2010
10/08/10
9:00
AM ET
Time for a little non-AQ Did you Know, Week 6 style. Thank you to the school and conference public relations departments for these wonderful nuggets.

Arkansas State has scored at least 24 points in each of its first five games, marking the first time since 1995 it has scored 20 or more points in five straight games. The Red Wolves play at North Texas on Saturday.

Wyoming plays at No. 5 TCU, marking the third time in six weeks the Cowboys will be facing a Top-5 team. Wyoming is the only team in the country that will face three Top 5 teams through the first six weeks of the season. The Cowboys played at Texas, then ranked No. 4 on Sept. 11, and faced then-No. 3 Boise State in Laramie on Sept. 18.

Air Force has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter this season. The Falcons have outscored their opponents 54-0 in the fourth quarter through the first five games. Air Force and Oregon are the only teams in the nation that have held their opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter this season.

Quarterback Andy Dalton broke two more TCU passing records in a 27-0 win at Colorado State. Dalton became the Frogs’ career leader in both touchdown passes (50) and pass attempts (1,122). He already holds TCU marks for completions (681) and passing yards (8,364). Dalton broke Max Knake’s former school record of 49 touchdowns, set from 1992-95, with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Young in the fourth quarter.

Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas has thrown for 1,197 yards through five games and is 8 yards shy of the school freshman record for passing yards. Caleb Hanie holds the record with 1,204, set in 2004.

Big home test for Houston this weekend. The Cougars have won a league-record 18 straight home games, the fourth-longest active home winning streak in the NCAA. In 10 of those 18 wins the Cougars have scored 50 or more points. Houston hosts Mississippi State on Saturday.

Marshall senior DE Vinny Curry continues to lead the nation in sacks with eight. He posted two more at Southern Miss last week. Teammate Mario Harvey leads the nation in tackles, averaging 13.0 per game.

Boise State senior kicker Kyle Brotzman is about to become the WAC’s all-time scoring leader. Brotzman has 377 points in 44 games, 18 shy of Hawaii’s Jason Elam, who scored 395 points from 1989-92. Brotzman has made 60-79 field goals and 197-of-199 PATs in his career. He is also second in WAC history in field goals made, 19 shy of Elam’s record.

Winless New Mexico State has not recorded a sack, recovered a fumble or intercepted a pass this season.

Ohio earned its 500th victory in program history last week, improving to 500-519-48 overall, with a 30-17 victory at Eastern Michigan.

In addition to Kent State ranking first in the nation in run defense, the MAC also features three of the top 25 teams in the country in that category. Toledo (95.4 avg.) ranks 13th and Miami (106.8 avg.) ranks 24th.

Army has already reached the end zone more than it did in 12 games in 2009. Army scored 18 offensive touchdowns (13 rush, 5 pass) last season. In the first five games of 2010, the Black Knights have 21 touchdowns, including 18 rushing scores.

Since Kyle Whittingham became head coach at Utah, the Utes are 5-0 coming off regular-season bye weeks.

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