NCF Nation: Tom Brandstater

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Yes there are other things happening in the non-BCS than tonight's game between Utah and TCU, and I've assembled some of them right here in this cozy little blog post.

• Ball State had a big win over Northern Illinois last week, but I think the most important thing to note is a small line near the middle of this notebook. A representative from the Orange Bowl was in attendance. The Cardinals picked a nice night to be dominant.

• Fresno State's Tom Brandstater and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick are from the same city, but lmade their marks with with opposite quarterbacking styles. Both have great respect for the other as they head into the final collegiate game against each other.

• Like many teams in the WAC, the Broncos are thriving because of their youth, including players at tight end and fullback, who had to fill in because of injuries.

• There's still a lot for which to play if you're UNLV. And we're not just talking a bowl game, we're talking your coach's future.

• North Texas got its first win of the season last week against Western Kentucky and will look to build on that progress this week against defending Sun Belt champion Florida Atlantic.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Went 4-1 last week -- d'oh! on Oregon's loss to Boise State -- and the record stands at 22-7 for the season.

USC 38, Oregon State 17 (Thursday): Expect some sloppiness early for the Trojans due to a week off but they will pull away in the second half. The Beavers only hope is for the USC sloppiness to continue and for QB Lyle Moevao to make some big plays downfield. If USC allows it to stay close, it will not be the nation's No. 1 team on Sunday.

Oregon 41, Washington State 10: Oregon's quarterback woes won't get much sympathy from Washington State, which has been beset by not only injuries at quarterback but also across an already thin roster. The going figures to be far tougher for new Cougs QB Marshall Lobbestael, a redshirt freshman making his first start, than for Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas and Chris Harper, however Ducks coach Mike Bellotti works the three-man rotation.

Stanford 27, Washington 24: This figures to be a fight. The Huskies are fighting for Tyrone Willingham's job, while the Cardinal is fighting to reach respectability. The difference is Cardinal RB Toby Gerhart will be able to gash a soft Washington defense, while Stanford's D is good enough to keep QB Jake Locker reasonably in check.

Fresno State 28, UCLA 17: UCLA may have some success on offense -- at least relatively speaking -- because Fresno State lost its two starting DTs to injuries. Also, the return of RB Kahlil Bell may help. But Fresno State had a huge advantage at quarterback with Tom Brandstater, an NFL prospect, versus UCLA's Kevin Craft, who is fighting to retain his job.

California 35, Colorado State 20: California should come out fired up and play angry after losing at Maryland two weeks ago. But Cal fans probably have lingering fears, based on the way things went over the second half of last year, that the Bears might not do that. Of course, the Bears might be so eager to put last year's implosion behind them that they do come out and rock the Rams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten entered the season with two ways to improve its national image. The first called for a veteran-laden Ohio State team with 20 returning starters to finish what it started the previous two years and win a national championship. The other option ultimately was more important to the league's long-term health, but seemed difficult.

Other teams needed to show they could close the gap with the Buckeyes and compete well on the national stage. If Ohio State was far and away the class of the league but continued to flop against elite opponents, national respect would be in short supply. Well, Ohio State flopped big-time on the grandest stage Saturday night, not even managing a touchdown against top-ranked USC in a 35-3 loss at the L.A. Coliseum. The Buckeyes will get Chris "Beanie" Wells back and still make a run for a BCS bowl, but the door is open for other Big Ten teams to carry the banner.

Wisconsin and Penn State certainly look up to the task. The Badgers claimed a gutsy road win against always-tough Fresno State and Penn State, despite weak competition so far, has simply blown teams away.

Here's a look at five lessons from Week 3:

1. Big Ten title goes through Madison -- Wisconsin survived its biggest road test of the season by overcoming several obstacles, including the officials, at Fresno State. The power run game came through at critical moments and the defense, led by linebacker DeAndre Levy and tackle Jason Chapman, contained Tom Brandstater and the Bulldogs. The Badgers now benefit from a home schedule that includes Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois. Wisconsin hasn't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema.

2. Ohio State's offense needs more than Beanie -- There's no doubt Wells makes Ohio State a much better offense, not only from a productivity standpoint but because of the confidence he gives others and the on-field leadership he provides. But the USC game showed that the unit has several areas to repair. There's still not nearly enough creativity in the scheme. A veteran line crumbled against the Trojans, surrendering five sacks. And Todd Boeckman had another rough night when the team desperately needed strong quarterback play.

3. Fear the Lions -- The real season begins Sept. 27 against Illinois, but Penn State's offense has shown no signs of slowing down. Syracuse became the latest punching bag for Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and their teammates, as Penn State scored 35 points in less than 28 minutes. The Lions' road poise will determine how far they go this fall, as they travel to both Wisconsin and Ohio State, but there's little doubt the Spread HD offense makes them a much better team.

4. Purdue better, but still Purdue -- The Boilermakers' defense deserved better, as a top defender lamented as he stood outside Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday night. Purdue showed it could keep pace with speedy Oregon, thanks to a much-improved secondary and strong line play from Alex Magee and Ryan Baker. But once again, Purdue couldn't come through in a big game. Quarterback Curtis Painter has had a fine career, but the signature win continues to elude him.

5. Defenses flex their muscles -- Ohio State couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and Michigan never got much chance to stop Notre Dame, but the rest of the league showcased its defensive prowess. Michigan State blanked Rusty Smith and Florida Atlantic in the rain, Iowa kept in-state rival Iowa State out of the end zone, Illinois needed a defensive touchdown by Brit Miller to outlast Louisiana-Lafayette and Northwestern continued to improve under new coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Purdue wasted a tremendous defensive performance against Oregon and Penn State continued to excel without Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma.

Fresno State beat Fresno State

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
3:51
AM ET
 
 AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian
 Wisconsin's Jaevery McFadden, left, watches Fresno State's Devon Wylie drop a pass in the second half. Fresno State squandered multiple chances to take control of the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

FRESNO, Calif. -- Tom Brandstater didn't have any excuses for Saturday 13-10 loss to No. 10 Wisconsin, just a realization that he and his team had several opportunities to win the game and never capitalized on them.

"I think I feel bad now," Brandstater said. "But it will be a lot worse in the morning when we watch film and we realize how many chances we had."

All fingers will point to kicker Kevin Goessling, who missed three field goals, including a 35-yarder with 11 minutes remaining that would have tied the game. But the reality is, Fresno State had several opportunities and several bounces to turn a 3-point loss into a two-touchdown rout.

An interception by Brandstater and a punt that errantly hit a Fresno State player led to 10 of the Badgers' 13 points.

"There were so many opportunities that were missed opportunities for us that I'm not going to place the blame anywhere except that we just didn't make enough plays to win the game," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "They won the turnover battle and that's a huge part of the game. We knew going into that game that we'd have to win the turnover battle and we didn't."

The Fresno State offense was never able to catch the momentum the defense and special teams we're trying to throw its way.

After cutting the score to 10-7, the Fresno State defense forced Wisconsin into a three-and-out and Desia Dunn blocked the punt to give the Bulldogs a start at the Wisconsin 37-yard line. But Brandstater threw two incomplete passes and the offense managed just three yards before Goessling missed the 51-yard field goal.

In the fourth quarter, running back Lonyae Miller rushed 57 yards to the Wisconsin 25-yard line, but the Bulldogs could only muster nine yards, and that's when Goessling missed the 35-yarder.

"It hurts just to know that I didn't give it my best shot and I let my team down," Brandstater said. "It's just a hurtful one. I feel I was given opportunities over and over and we couldn't capitalize and we couldn't capitalize and it's just like a hollow, empty feeling right now. I can't really describe it."

Fresno State will have to regroup if it wants to make something out of this season. Even though the dream of a BCS bowl is gone, the Bulldogs still could vie for the WAC title. There's no telling whether a one-loss team could still make a BCS bowl considering how poor teams from the Big East and the ACC have played the opening three weeks of the season.

But Saturday's loss hurt more simply because Fresno State beat itself.

"We let one slip again," Brandstater said. "I'm tired of talking like this. I'm tired of regretting things. I'm just tired of losing games like this when we should win. I don't care how close it was. We need to win games like this and that's all that matters."

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

 
 Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
 Tom Brandstater threw for 2,654 yards and 15 TDs a year ago.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- As Tom Brandstater opens his final season as Fresno State's quarterback against Rutgers this evening, he knows he's come a long way.

From backing up Paul Pinegar in 2005 to a disastrous 2006 to rebounding and rebuilding in 2007, Brandstater has ridden the rollercoaster of being a Division I quarterback, but almost didn't stick around to tell the tale.

He admits that in 2006, while the Bulldogs were going through a 4-8 campaign, he thought about quitting the team and questioned whether he was even good enough to play the game.

"There were times when I wanted just to say, 'This is not worth it,'" Brandstater said. "I was going out there and putting my body on the line and getting killed and I'm getting nothing but criticism for it... There definitely was a time in '06 where I wasn't as confident as I am now in my ability to be a good football player at the Division I level."

The 2006 campaigns was one of the worst seasons in recent Fresno State history, and Brandstater, who was supposed to be the quarterback to lead Fresno State to both the WAC championship and BCS promise land, was falling short in his first try.

Both Pinegar and coach Pat Hill said they tried to prepare Brandstater for the wrath of Fresno State fans while he was a redshirt freshman. Hill recalls grabbing Brandstater during a game and having him listen to the boos that rang out from Fresno State fans every time Pinegar took the field.

"Paul Pinegar, who is the second-winningest quarterback in the history of Fresno State, was literally booed a lot in his senior year even though he was winning games and everyone was cheering for Tom Brandstater, the freshman, to come into the game," Hill recalled. "I used to stand there with Tommy on the sideline and I said, 'Tom, you hear all those cheers for you right now? Someday, you're going to go through those same things Paul goes through, win or lose.'"

Brandstater recalls walking with Pinegar up the tunnel to the locker room during the 2005 season and a fan tried to reach over the fence and grab Pinegar. He told Pinegar that he was the worst quarterback he'd ever seen and told Brandstater that he should be starting.

"I felt horrible," Brandstater said. "I'm a freshman, not knowing what to think, and Paul's an established senior. We got to the ramp and he just said quietly, 'Hey, this is what you've got to look forward to.' I never really understood it until it was the other way around and I was the guy walking up the ramp getting yelled at.

"I think I definitely saw it from both sides and it didn't really sink in until I was the guy who was going through the hard times."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

The following are five clutch performers to watch this season. Again, there are far more than five players who could make clutch plays this season, but these five are the best for their team's success. These are in no particular order.

Max Hall, QB, BYU -- Several BYU quarterbacks have made clutch plays to make the Cougars great and Hall has a chance to carry on that legacy. The schedule sets up nicely for BYU to make a run at another undefeated season.

Eugene Jarvis, RB, Kent State -- No one is expecting a lot out of Kent State this year, but Jarvis could be the spark the team is looking for. He is the nation's top returning running back and could be the MAC's Offensive Player of the Year.

Tom Brandstater, QB, Fresno State -- Fresno State will go as far as Brandstater will take them, and it won't be easy with a brutal nonconference schedule. He'll need to pull out some clutch wins to keep Fresno State afloat.

Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State -- Johnson was plagued by injuries last year, but says he can return to 2006 form this season. Johnson has been the team's catalyst for the last few years and will need to return to that form to return Boise State to the top of the WAC.

Rusty Smith, QB, Florida Atlantic -- Smith led the Owls to the Sun Belt championship last year and has the talent to do it again. The Owls are just starting to gain national attention, but a great season by Smith could make FAU a non-BCS sleeper.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

Reading Bruce Feldman's list of the nation's softest nonconference schedules got me thinking about August/September and how critical it will be for the Big Ten. Four Big Ten teams made Feldman's top 10 -- Indiana (1), Northwestern (3), Minnesota (7) and Iowa (10) -- and Wisconsin likely would have been there if not for an intrepid trip to Fresno State (can't wait for that game). I know bowl bids are gold and stacking up early wins is the way to get there, but this league needs to make an early statement, especially after what happened in Pasadena and NOLA earlier this year.

Fortunately, several teams passed on cupcakes and will play games that will determine whether the Big Ten regains national respect. You probably know about the one in Los Angeles on Sept. 13, but here's a rundown.

Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Aug. 30: The general feeling when the BCS selections came out was that Illinois didn't deserve a spot and Missouri did. The two teams' bowl performances didn't do much to change that. Missouri enters the Braggin' Rights game with national championship aspirations. Illinois lost its best player (Rashard Mendenhall) but brings back quarterback Juice Williams and wideout Arrelious Benn. A win here vaults Illinois into the Big Ten title picture with Ohio State.

Michigan State at Cal, Aug. 30: The Spartans appear to be on the right track under Mark Dantonio, but a solid road win would undoubtedly raise their national profile. Michigan State won only two road games last season -- one against hapless Notre Dame -- so a win in Berkeley would further the argument that the Spartans can be this season's Illinois.

Utah at Michigan, Aug. 30: The notion that Michigan should win this type of game no longer exists after Appalachian State. Add to that a new coach, a completely new offense, a new quarterback, a new running back, new wide receivers -- do I need to go on? Oh yeah, and Utah is very good. Brian Johnson understudied for Alex Smith and has boatloads of experience. The Utes' backfield is stacked. A win here wouldn't guarantee a ton of respect for Michigan, but the Wolverines certainly wouldn't lose any.

Oregon State at Penn State, Sept. 6: Penn State's new quarterback -- Daryll Clark or Pat Devlin -- faces a rebuilding Oregon State defense in a game the Nittany Lions should win at home. But given Oregon State's recent success, this would qualify as a solid early win for Penn State.

Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13: Don't miss this one. The nation's premier nonconference game pairs two teams that have combined for 12 BCS bowl appearances and five national title game appearances. Ohio State can silence talk of its back-to-back title game stumbles with a road win against USC, which has some issues on the offensive line but always boasts top-shelf talent. An Ohio State win puts it in prime position for another national title push.

Oregon at Purdue, Sept. 13: The knock on Purdue, from coach Joe Tiller on down to quarterback Curtis Painter, is that it no longer wins big games. Here's an early chance to prove otherwise. Oregon lost Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart but boasts a defense that will test an iffy Boilermakers passing game. Purdue played it bold in scheduling this year with Oregon, Central Michigan and as always, Notre Dame, and a win against the Ducks would be a great start.

Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 13: Neither team is expected to contend for a BCS bowl berth, but the annual matchup of the game's two winningest programs always merits plenty of attention. The scary thing for the Wolverines is that they have a lot of the same issues Notre Dame had in 2007, especially with personnel on offense. A strong performance on the road against a team Michigan embarrassed last season would give RichRod and the Wolverines a major boost before league play.

Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13: Props to Wisconsin for doing what most teams avoid at all costs -- playing a game in Fresno. Pat Hill has had too many BCS teams back out of games at Bulldog Stadium, so it's nice to see one squad follow through on its word. Wisconsin's new starting quarterback faces his first major test, and the Badgers must stop Tom Brandstater, Ryan Mathews, Bear Pascoe and Co. If Wisconsin leaves the Central Valley with a W, people will take notice.

Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 20: Dantonio is changing the culture in East Lansing, but it's hard to forget the Spartans' collapse in the rain two years ago against Notre Dame. The loss spelled the end for John L. Smith. Beating Notre Dame doesn't carry the glitz it once did, but Michigan State has the opportunity to continue its success against a rival and notch another eye-catching win.

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