NCF Nation: Utah State

Happy Thanksgiving!

November, 25, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving to all! Hope you get to spend today with lots of food, family and football -- it will be a great treat to see whether Texas can pull the upset and become bowl-eligible tonight against Texas A&M.

What are you thankful for today? Here is my list:

Passionate college football fans, who are all to eager to tell you that you are either 1) The smartest person alive or 2) The dumbest person who ever lived and should be scrubbing toilets rather than talking college football. I love you all!

Boise State and TCU. Haters can hate all they want, but we are seeing something this season that may never happen again. This is history in the making, the possibility that a non-AQ makes it into the national championship game. With Boise State and TCU set to be in the same conference in 2011, Utah leaving for the Pac-12 and the implosion of the WAC, this could very well be the last time we see two undefeated non-AQ teams jockeying for position in a national championship race.

The Pistol offense. It's nice to see Nevada coach Chris Ault get all the pub he has gotten for his innovative offense this season. Not only have countless stories been done on him, but several teams throughout college football are now running some version of it, from UCLA to Alabama to Stanford.

Great coaching jobs. Look across the non-AQs and you will find plenty -- TCU coach Gary Patterson and Boise State coach Chris Petersen go without saying. Here are a few others:
  • Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood -- Took a 1-11 team to an 8-4 record and a share of the East Division title.
  • Ohio coach Frank Solich -- Overcame the loss of three star players to lead his team to a share of the MAC East.
  • Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill -- On the verge of a 10-win season for the Huskies.
  • FIU coach Mario Cristobal -- Has his never-been-bowling Panthers one win away from a Sun Belt title.
  • UCF coach George O'Leary -- Has his team one win from the C-USA title game with a freshman quarterback and an outstanding defense.
  • BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall -- His team is bowl-eligible after starting the season 1-4.
Great players. You know the headliners. Here are some of the most unheralded from the non-AQs: Western Kentucky RB Bobby Rainey, who has carried the ball a whopping 313 times this season and ranks No. 4 in the country in rushing, averaging 135 yards a game. North Texas back Lance Dunbar is right behind him in the Sun Belt. Dominique Davis of East Carolina, Bryant Moniz of Hawaii, Alex Carder of Western Michigan and Corey Robinson of Troy all rank in the top 10 in the nation in passing.

Great WR duos, too: Titus Young and Austin Pettis at Boise State; Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares at Hawaii; Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson at San Diego State; Juan Nunez and Jordan White at Western Michigan.

Defensively, it's hard not to like Jamon Hughes of Memphis, Bobby Wagner of Utah State, Dwayne Woods of Bowling Green, Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey of Marshall, Archie Donald and Danny Molls of Toledo, the entire TCU and Boise State defenses, Josh McNary of Army and Wyatt Middleton of Navy. Three of the best special-teamers in the nation are from non-AQs too: Shaky Smithson of Utah, Jeremy Kerley of TCU and Darius Johnson of Tulsa.

Happy eating, everyone!

Non-AQ bowl look

November, 9, 2010
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.


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.


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.


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 Players of the Week

November, 8, 2010
Here are the non-AQ Players of the Week, as selected by each conference:

Conference USA

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

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

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


East Division

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

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

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

West Division

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

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

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

Mountain West

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

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

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

Sun Belt

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

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

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


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

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

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

Non-AQ Did You Know? Week 10

November, 5, 2010
Time for a little trivia and your weekly installment of non-AQ Did you know? Thanks to the school and league sports information departments for these notes, along with ESPN Stats & Information.

The Mountain West is the only league in the country with four teams ranked in the Top 10 for fewest sacks allowed. Utah is tied for second with Oregon with three through eight games. San Diego State is tied for seventh with Army (four). Air Force and TCU are tied for ninth with five.

TCU has allowed opponents to convert just 23.9 percent of third downs, best in the nation, but it is the Utah defense that is best on third-and-short. With 3 yards or fewer to go, opponents are converting on Utah at a rate of 38.1 percent.

Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick needs two rushing touchdowns to break the school record of 53 held by Chris Lemon. He is five passing touchdowns away from the school record of 78, held by Eric Beavers.

Utah State will honor the 10-year anniversary of Emmett White’s NCAA single-game all-purpose yards record at halftime against New Mexico State, the same school that White set his record against 10 years ago. White had 578 yards against New Mexico State, rushing 34 times for a school-record 322 yards, while adding 134 yards on seven receptions, 2 yards on one punt return and 120 yards on four kickoff returns. He also had four touchdowns in the win.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of UNLV’s Las Vegas Bowl victory, the entire 2000 Rebel football team will be honored during next week’s game against Wyoming. Representatives of the team will serve as honorary captains, and the entire squad will take the field to be recognized between the first and second quarters.

The team, coach by John Robinson, was the last one from UNLV to make a bowl game. That fall, the Rebels won their last three games of the regular season in dramatic fashion to earn a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl, where they beat Arkansas 31-14 to finish 8-5.

UCF now has the third-longest active winning streak in conference play among FBS schools. The Knights have won their past 10 C-USA matchups, trailing only Boise State (19) and TCU (14). UCF is also ranked in the NCAA’s top 15 nationally in all four major team defensive categories, leading Conference USA in all but one (rushing defense). The unit is ninth in total defense (279.8 ypg) 11th in scoring defense (16.5 ppg) 13th in rushing defense (100.9), while placing 15th in pass defense (177.5 ypg).

Ball State senior running back MiQuale Lewis is approaching the school career rushing record. Lewis has 3,659 career yards and needs 344 yards rushing to break Marcus Merriweather’s mark of 4,002 yards. There are three games left in the season for the Cardinals, who host Akron on Saturday.

Temple has posted consecutive shutouts against Buffalo (42-0) and Akron (30-0) for the first time since 1971 (at Connecticut and vs. Xavier).

ULM quarterback Kolton Browning has thrown for more than 200 yards in seven straight games -- the longest streak at the school since Robert Cobb’s seven-game streak in 1993. His 1,741 passing yards are the most through eight games since Raymond Philyaw had 1,762 in 1996. Browning has thrown a touchdown pass in seven of ULM's eight games this season; the Warhawks are 4-3 in those games.

Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey needs 62 yards for his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Rainey has rushed for no less than 64 yards in a game this season.

Non-AQ Picks: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 8 were back to being decent, and I got one of my two upset specials right. Navy beat Notre Dame to help me get to 7-3, but did anyone expect the Midshipmen to win that decisively? Not I said the cat.

With a 50-34 overall record, I am ready for what Week 9 has to bring. I think.

On to the picks!

No. 4 TCU 41, UNLV 3. The Horned Frogs keep on rolling in their first road game since Oct. 2 against Colorado State. Keep in mind they won that game 27-0 after some struggles on offense. Andy Dalton is going to have to play well on the road for TCU to have any shot at staying undefeated. TCU has outscored its Mountain West opponents 141-10.

No. 8 Utah 31, Air Force 13. This game is usually really tight, but not this year. After a good first quarter, Air Force struggled to move the ball against TCU last week and had its lowest rushing output of the season. Utah has one of the more unheralded defenses in the nation, and ranks in the Top 10 in the nation in scoring D, total D and rush D.

No. 24 Nevada 35, Utah State 13. The Wolf Pack return to the field after a week off, hoping to erase the sting of their first loss of the season. Colin Kaepernick had four turnovers in that loss to Hawaii, and is going to have to be mistake-free for Nevada to have a shot at winning the rest of its games. Coach Chris Ault said his team had physical practices leading up to this game, and is eager to see how it responds. Utah State has scored 13 points in its past two games.

UCF 27, East Carolina 24. The Pirates own this series, having won four straight and eight of nine. But UCF gets the edge here because it’s at home and has the best defense in Conference USA. The Knights haven’t faced an offense quite as potent as this one, but the defensive line is playing outstanding and should be able to pressure Dominique Davis into making mistakes.

Hawaii 45, Idaho 17. Hawaii is playing lights out football, and should clinch a bowl berth into the Hawaii Bowl with a win over the hard-to-read Vandals, who have alternated wins and losses this season. They won last week, so a loss must be in the stars. The Warriors have scored 40-plus points in four of their past five games, and present a big challenge to Boise State on Nov. 6.

UPSET SPECIAL Tulsa 33, Notre Dame 30. Yup, two weeks in a row I am going to pick Notre Dame to lose in my upset special. No, Tulsa doesn’t run the triple option, but the Golden Hurricane have an offense capable of racking up yards and points. Notre Dame is going to have to find an answer for the trio of Damaris Johnson, Trae Johnson and Charles Clay.

Central Michigan 33, Bowling Green 17. Talk about disappointment. Both teams made bowl games last season and are now floundering. The Falcons have already been eliminated from bowl contention. Meanwhile, the Chippewas have lost five straight, but get the edge behind Ryan Radcliff, Kito Poblah and Nick Bellore.

Western Kentucky 30, North Texas 28. Can it be true? Two in a row for the Hilltoppers? After breaking their 26-game losing streak last week, Western Kentucky returns home to play a team that just fired its head coach and is on its fourth-string quarterback (though there is hope Riley Dodge can play). They came awfully close to a win earlier this month, so the improvement is there for the Hilltoppers.

FIU 24, FAU 20. One thing you have come to expect from the “Shula Bowl” -- an FAU win. The Owls lead the series between the rivals 7-0, although the lone FIU win in 2005 was vacated due to NCAA sanctions. FIU is flat out better this season. FAU has lost five straight, and its lone win came in the opener on the final play of the game.

Colorado State 44, New Mexico 20. The Rams have shown glimpses of an offense this season behind true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas, although he has been on his back more often than he probably likes. The Rams have given up 29 sacks this season, but should be able to do enough to protect Thomas against one of the worst teams in the country.

What to watch from non-AQs, Week 8

October, 21, 2010
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.

BYU-Georgia Tech set series

October, 18, 2010
BYU and Georgia Tech have agreed to a four-game series, starting with the 2012 season.

The teams will play in Atlanta on Oct. 13, 2012, and Oct. 11, 2014. Two games are also scheduled for Provo on Oct. 12, 2013, and Oct. 14, 2017.

“This should be a great series for our football program,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said. “As we fill our schedules for the coming years, we want to play storied football programs like Georgia Tech. It’s a great opportunity for Cougar fans in the Southeast to see our football team play.”

BYU is making progress in scheduling its games as an independent. So far, it has future games set with Oregon State, Texas, Utah, UCF and Boise State, in addition to WAC teams Utah State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State. It has 10 games set for next season, its first as an independent.

Non-AQ Weekend Rewind

October, 11, 2010
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 Weekend Rewind

October, 4, 2010
Let's take a look at the good and the bad for the non-AQs in Week 4.

The good: Air Force is ranked for the first time under coach Troy Calhoun, joining the AP poll at No. 25 after its big 14-6 win against Navy. There are now five non-AQ teams ranked and three in the Top 10, with Boise State at No. 4, TCU at No. 5 and Utah at No. 10.

Miami of Ohio (3-2) is 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2007. The Red Hawks are one of the youngest teams in the country. Coach Mike Haywood estimates he had between 45 and 48 true freshmen, redshirt freshman and sophomores on his 65-man roster in its 27-21 win against Kent State last Saturday. “When you have a young team you don’t take anything,” Haywood said.

[+] EnlargeGary Anderson
AP Photo/Jim UrquhartCoach Gary Andersen and Utah State have reason to be excited after beating BYU.
Utah State beat BYU for the first time since 1993, and even though BYU is down, coach Gary Andersen will take it. Fans stormed the field afterward, and he said the victory is a huge boost for recruiting and fan support for the Aggies. “For us to get a win over BYU is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz keeps putting up video game numbers for the Warriors. Hawaii is No. 1 in the country in passing offense, averaging 431 yards per game. Moniz had a career-high 532 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-21 win over Louisiana Tech last Saturday. He has over 300 yards passing in all his games but the opener against USC. That is because he left the game in the third quarter with a head injury.

The bad: Meanwhile, the Cougars dropped to 1-4 for the first time since 1973, and fired defensive coordinator Jamie Hill over the weekend. Coach Bronco Mendenhall will resume his coaching duties. BYU has been unable to do anything on offense and defense this season. BYU ranks No. 96 in total offense and No. 101 in total defense. The Cougars are also last in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of 259 yards a game. Hill told the Deseret News he was surprised the decision came in the middle of the season, but one former player said Hill had some personality conflicts with players.

None of the six non-AQ winless teams won this past weekend. Western Kentucky was idle, but Eastern Michigan, Akron, FIU, New Mexico State and New Mexico all lost.

The heartache: You have got to feel for North Texas, which played Louisiana a day after freshman walk-on wide receiver Josh Rake died from injuries sustained in a car accident. This had already been a tough season, losing 10 starters to injury. Before Rake died, receiver Tyler Stradford got hurt when he tried to run from a pit bull at his apartment complex. Stradford leaped over a fence but landed on a lawn chair and had a bar stuck four inches into his chest, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

North Texas came back from a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit, scoring with 31 seconds left to make it 28-27. But the extra point attempt was blocked, and Louisiana won. The Mean Green have now lost eight games by seven points or less in the last two seasons. Now comes word that starting quarterback Riley Dodge has a fractured wrist and may require surgery, the third starting quarterback to get hurt for North Texas this season. Coach Todd Dodge is now preparing Chase Blaine to start.

A few more helmet stickers: Hawaii WR Kealoha Pilares set a new school record with 18 catches against Louisiana Tech, passing the previous mark of 16 set by Greg Salas last year against New Mexico State. Pilares also finished with a career-high 217 receiving yards, the seventh best performance in school history. … Arkansas State LB Javon McKinnon recorded a career-high 16 tackles against Louisville. … Ball State DE Robert Eddins had a career-high 4.5 sacks and seven total tackles in Ball State's 31-17 win at Central Michigan.

A few injury items to note: Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury, and coach Dave Clawson sounded unsure whether his player would be able to go at Ohio on Saturday. Schilz hasn’t thrown since last Wednesday. If he can’t go this week, Clawson said he would open up the quarterback competition. Aaron Pankratz went 12-of-37 for 167 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a loss to Buffalo. … Ohio WR LaVonn Brazill has a broken hand and is out. … Central Michigan linebacker Nick Bellore (ankle) is day to day. ... Utah State RB Michael Smith (turf toe) is out indefinitely and Andersen said he would see whether Smith is eligible for a medical redshirt.

Week 6 look ahead: Plenty of big conference games this week. It starts Tuesday night with Troy at Middle Tennessee in the return of Blue Raiders quarterback Dwight Dasher. On Wednesday, UAB travels to UCF. The Blazers have had three of their games come down to the final play, losing two. Big MAC showdown between Temple and Northern Illinois. San Diego State travels to BYU, and there also is the winless bowl: New Mexico against New Mexico State. Someone has to win. Right?

Lunchtime Links

October, 1, 2010
All hail, October, hail.

The stress of a losing season has taken a toll on Utah State coach Gary Andersen, who blacked out, hit the floor and lost consciousness at his home on Monday. Andersen must wear a neck brace for the next five weeks.

Meanwhile, the season is on the line for BYU going into its game against Utah State on Friday.

Boise State players relish their turn on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

TCU safety Colin Jones puts winning first.

Nevada running back Mike Ball will miss the UNLV game as he sits out a two-game suspension.

Air Force used Navy as motivation to get through grueling offseason workouts, hoping to end a seven-game losing streak to the Midshipmen.

Despite an 0-4 start, Mike Locksley is upbeat about his New Mexico team.

Tulsa freshman defensive back Marco Nelson is off to a fast start.

FAU has suspended four players for the game against USF for conduct "detrimental to the team."

Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish overcomes the doubts.

Non-AQ Did you know, Week 5

October, 1, 2010
Now it is time for a little bit of non-AQ Did You Know?

You probably know that Air Force leads the nation in rushing with an average of 394 yards per game. But did you know the Falcons have finished the season with the NCAA rushing title just once since 1980? It happened in 2002, when they averaged 307.8 yards a game. They have been awfully close, though, finishing second 11 times in the same span.

Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen and offensive line coach Jim Harding return to a very familiar place when the Cowboys play Toledo on Saturday. Christensen spent nine seasons at Toledo as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator from 1992-2000. During his nine seasons, Toledo won outright or tied for three MAC West titles (1997, ‘98 and 2000) and won the MAC title in 1995, advancing to the Las Vegas Bowl where it defeated Nevada 40-37. Harding was a former offensive tackle for the Rockets from 1997-2000, starting a school record 46 consecutive games. In his senior season, he helped lead Toledo to a road win against Penn State, a 10-1 record and a No. 25 national ranking.

Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel needs 393 yards of total offense to reach 7,000 career yards, becoming just the second quarterback in school history to reach the milestone. He also needs 220 passing yards to crack the top five on the school’s career passing list.

Western Michigan receiver Jordan White is second in the nation in receiving yards with 127.3 a game. He averages nine catches.

Boise State receiver Titus Young has caught a pass in 33 straight games, the third longest active streak in the nation. He leads the country in all-purpose yards with 208 a game.

Nevada is 19-for-19 in the red zone with 14 touchdowns and five field goals this season. The Wolf Pack also have converted 6-of-7 fourth-down attempts.

TCU (27-3) and Utah (27-3) are two of six teams (Alabama 30-2, Florida 30-2, Boise State 29-1, Texas 28-3) with 27 or more wins since the beginning of the 2008 season. The Mountain West is one of two conferences (SEC) to have two teams with 27-plus wins during that span.

San Diego State and Utah are two of 12 teams in the country that have allowed just one sack this season. Both are off this week.

UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe passed Tulsa's Paul Smith (2005-07) to move into fifth place on the all-time Conference USA passing list in last week’s game against Memphis (10,669). Vittatoe is also fifth on the conference list in touchdown passes (83).

North Texas defeated Florida Atlantic for the first time in school history last week. The Mean Green were 0-6 all-time versus the Owls coming into this game. North Texas starts the Sun Belt season 1-0 for the first time since 2005 when it won a road game at Middle Tennessee 14-7 to begin the conference season.

Five Northern Illinois starters -- running back Chad Spann, guard Joe Pawlak, tight end Jason Schepler, defensive end Jake Coffman and defensive end Sean Progar -- and 11 players on the current depth chart originally arrived to the school as walk-ons.

It appears Saints quarterback Drew Brees lost a bet with receiver Lance Moore when Toledo beat Purdue last week. Moore, who went to Toledo, sent out a Twitter message and picture of Brees wearing a Rockets shirt. Brees played at Purdue. The twitter message said, “Ok so I wasn't gonna do it but I couldn't help myself. Thanks Rockets for beating Purdue! @drewbrees u look good in that bro.”

Terrific note from ESPN Stats & Information: This year marks the first since 1947 that both New Mexico (0-4) and New Mexico State (0-3) have entered the month of October winless. Football seasons started later back then, and New Mexico was 0-1 while New Mexico State was 0-2 entering October. If neither team wins this week, something will have to give next week since they play each other in Las Cruces.

BYU hopes to avoid four-game slide

September, 30, 2010
Coach Bronco Mendenhall can hardly remember how it feels to start 1-3, thanks to the success he has had with the Cougars. The last time it happened was the 2005 season, Mendenhall's first at BYU. What he does remember is how good it felt to win the second game that season, a 27-24 victory at New Mexico.

"I remember hugging my wife in the locker room," he said earlier this week on the Mountain West coaches conference call. "There were tears we were so desperate."

But Mendenhall says he does not feel desperate now, even though his team is 1-3 and has lost three straight for the first time since he became coach. The last time BYU lost four straight in one season -- 1993.

Now comes a critical Friday night game against Utah State (1-3), a team the Cougars have dominated.

"My perspective is a little bit different,” he said. “Not that I don’t want to win, not that I don’t desperately want to help our kids play at a higher level, but I have actually tried to remain very consistent ."

Perhaps the perspective is different because his teams have gotten off to slow starts before and have been able to turn things around. Following that 1-3 start in 2005, BYU made it to the Las Vegas Bowl before losing to California and ending the season 6-6. There were 1-2 starts in 2006 and 2007 that resulted in 11-2 seasons. But this one feels different because BYU is not playing its classic brand of football.

The Cougars cannot score, and part of the reason for that is the quarterback shuffle they played through the first three games of the season. Now true freshman Jake Heaps takes over, but you are asking a lot of a true freshman to lead a team without any proven playmakers around him. Harvey Unga is gone and Dennis Pitta is gone, and nobody has really stepped up in their absence.

Meanwhile, a defense that was already playing inconsistently just lost its best player in defensive tackle Romney Fuga. The stretch does not get any easier after this game, either, with a home game against San Diego State (3-1) on Oct. 9 and then a game at TCU (4-0) on Oct. 16.

The back end of the schedule does get easier, with games against Wyoming, UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico before the finale against Utah. But it is safe to say BYU cannot afford to lose to the Aggies, not with what looms ahead. Before you ask, the last time BYU failed to make a bowl game was 2004, the year before Mendenhall arrived.

Lunchtime Links

September, 30, 2010
If you haven't had enough of expansion talk, you have come to the right place.

TCU and the Big East have had talks, the Dallas Morning News reports, citing sources.

The Mountain West grabbed Fresno State and Nevada as a matter of survival, commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesman in an extensive interview.

The Friday night game with BYU is a huge deal for Utah State.

BYU receiver Cody Hoffman is a big deal in his small hometown.

More bad news on the injury front for Fresno State -- running back A.J. Ellis is most likely out six to eight weeks with a sprained toe.

This is the final showdown between Air Force QB Tim Jefferson and Navy QB Ricky Dobbs.

Rice is hoping for a turnaround now that conference play begins.

FIU linebacker Larvez "Pooh Bear" Mars will either play Saturday against Pittsburgh or redshirt after breaking his ankle in a car accident this summer.

Non-AQ What to Watch: Week 5

September, 30, 2010
There are only a few marquee games on the schedule for this week. Air Force vs. Narvy tops our top 10 non-AQ storylines to watch:

1. Air Force defense vs. Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs. In the biggest game of the week featuring the non-AQs, Air Force has a good shot at beating Navy for the first time in eight seasons. Dobbs has not returned to his 2009 form, and part of the reason is because he has been hobbled with a sprained ankle. Teams are keying in on him and forcing him to pitch the ball out. Air Force did a good job against him last year, holding him to less than 100 yards. But the Falcons lost a heartbreaker in overtime.

[+] EnlargeRicky Dobbs
Chris Gardner/US PresswireAn ankle injury and added defensive attention have slowed Ricky Dobbs. He's rushed for 174 yards in three games after netting 1,192 last season.
2. Is BYU or Utah State the second-best team in the Beehive State behind Utah? We will get our much-anticipated answer in a nationally televised game Friday night. This has not been a competitive game in the past, but BYU is struggling now, having lost three straight. It has experience going against running quarterbacks. The Cougars allowed Colin Kaepernick and Nevada a big first half last week, but adjusted well in the second half. That should give them some confidence going into the game against Diondre Borel.

3. Welcome to conference play Boise State and TCU. Let us introduce you to your opponents -- two of the worst teams in college football. Boise State gets winless New Mexico State, while TCU gets one-win Colorado State. This is why a lot of people have a hard time buying their rise to the top of the polls.

4. How much will Boise State miss Winston Venable? The starting safety is suspended for a half after a helmet-to-helmet hit gave James Rodgers a concussion last week. The Broncos are playing offensively challenged New Mexico State so the answer here is easy. They could have afforded to have him suspended the entire game, which is what WAC commissioner Karl Benson initially ruled before an appeal.

5. Will TCU give up almost 200 yards on the ground again? Considering Colorado State is the worst rushing team in the country, averaging 59 yards on the ground, the answer is no. But the way Pete Thomas can throw the ball, the Rams may be able to get their yards through the air.

6. Will there be a Top 25 meltdown for Nevada in its big rivalry game with UNLV? No. That win last week for UNLV was really nice and all, but it came against New Mexico. The Rebels have a long way to go if they want to catch up to the way Nevada is playing right now. The Wolf Pack are deserving of that No. 25 ranking.

7. Will a fourth starting quarterback make a difference for Louisiana Tech? The Bulldogs are going with Tarik Hakmi, who threw for 262 yards in a narrow loss to Southern Miss last week. But he is going to have a hard time trying to keep up with the Hawaii offense. Bryant Moniz has 1,337 and 11 touchdowns already this season.

8. Will two of the top running backs in the MAC be available on Saturday? Temple coach Al Golden says Bernard Pierce (ankle) is a game-time decision against Army after getting hurt against Penn State. Kent State coach Doug Martin didn’t sound as optimistic about Eugene Jarvis (groin), who has missed the past two games.

9. Can SMU bounce back against Rice? This will be the 88th meeting between the two Texas schools and former Southwest Conference rivals, making it the most-played rivalry in Conference USA. SMU has the edge in this one. The Mustangs played valiantly in their loss to TCU. Zach Line ran the ball well, but coach June Jones would like to see more consistency out of his passing game.

10. Any of the six winless teams remaining have a shot to win? Five are playing this weekend -- Eastern Michigan, FIU, Akron, New Mexico and New Mexico State. I would not say any have a realistic shot, but watch for FIU against Pittsburgh and Eastern Michigan against Ohio. The Bobcats have not played up to their potential yet, at 1-3, and are still juggling quarterbacks.

Non-AQ predictions: Week 5

September, 30, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

My picks in Week 4 were not too bad. Took a risk with the upset special and lost it, but what is life without risk? Still hoping to improve on 7-3 this week. With a 28-16 overall record, I am ready for what Week 5 has to offer -- even though it is not much in the way of marquee games.

Also, several readers have emailed me asking about why I leave certain teams out of the picks. My assignment is to make picks for 10 to 12 games featuring non-AQ teams, at least one from each conference. I try to look for the best games on the schedule. I could pick the easy ones, but what fun is that? So for that reason, Utah has not been in the picks for a few weeks. The competition has not warranted a spot, and I wanted to give myself something other than a guaranteed win.

On to the picks!

BYU 24, Utah State 20. Can BYU really lose four in a row? The Cougars have never lost three in a row under Bronco Mendenhall until last week, so anything is possible with the way the season is going for BYU. They lost their best defensive player, Romney Fuga, last week after a low hit against Nevada. Jake Heaps gets his first career start on the road. Neither unit has been overly impressive. Both teams are actually desperate for a win at 1-3. But the Cougars have won 10 straight in the lopsided “rivalry” and have more talent.

Air Force 21, Navy 20. I went back and forth on this one. I know Navy has won seven straight. I know Navy always finds a way to win these games. But there is a reason Air Force is the favorite. The Falcons have simply played better than Navy this season.

Upset Special: Army 24, Temple 23. Giving out a little service academy love here. Running back Bernard Pierce is a game-time decision. Without him, Temple could be hurting. Yes, Army has not beaten a tough opponent yet, but I like the way the Black Knights are playing. They are creating turnovers and Trent Steelman has found his groove.

Miami (Ohio) 28, Kent State 21. The Golden Flashes have had a tough schedule to open the season, with back-to-back games at Boston College and Penn State before the bye. They might be without RB Eugene Jarvis once again. Miami has played well at home, and the battle to watch here is Thomas Merriweather against the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. Miami gets the edge at home.

North Carolina 33, East Carolina 30. This game is going to be closer than a lot of people think because the Pirates can score and the Tar Heels are still undermanned. Still, East Carolina has problems on defense, and that is going to be the deciding factor in the end.

Pittsburgh 20, FIU 10. The Pittsburgh Panthers looked pretty awful in a loss last week at Miami. Now they face another team from Miami. Luckily for them, the FIU Panthers don’t pose the same type of threat. Nonetheless, FIU has played its nonconference opponents tough, almost beating Rutgers and Texas A&M. They will keep this one close.

Toledo 24, Wyoming 20. The Cowboys made a rare trip East to Toledo, where coach Dave Christensen spent nine seasons as an assistant. They are struggling while Toledo has reeled off three straight wins on the road, including one over Purdue. Going with the hot team in this one.

North Texas 27, Louisiana 17. The Mean Green unleashed their run game last week with Lance Dunbar, James Hamilton and quarterback Riley Dodge, rushing 54 times for 257 yards against FAU. Seems like a good strategy, considering the team is down to its third quarterback. Louisiana, meanwhile, struggled to stop Middle Tennessee on the ground. Sensing a possible light at the end of the tunnel for North Texas.

Western Michigan 34, Idaho 30. Idaho is a tough team to figure out, after losing on the road to Colorado State. Given the way the Vandals struggled to stop the pass last week, and how Alex Carder is playing for Western Michigan, the Broncos should have the advantage.

Southern Miss 28, Marshall 13. Southern Miss leads the series 4-1 against Marshall, but the only loss game at home two seasons ago in the conference opener. The same scenario awaits this week, but Marshall has struggled all season to find any semblance of consistency.