NCF Nation: Virginia Tech

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Andre Jones had a gift for reading people. Just a few moments upon meeting someone, he could tell if he or she were destined for great things. He would make people comfortable around him, they would eventually open up and relationships would gradually build.

There's a story Andre would often tell one of his sons, Malachi Jones, about how he befriended Jon Jeffries when both were at DeMatha (Md.) High School. Andre told his new friend that he loved him after just a few exchanges, that they would both accomplish a lot in school. Jeffries at first looked at him like he was crazy, but before long the two were playing football at Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, respectively.

"If you ever had the opportunity to meet my dad," Malachi said, "he pretty much touched everybody that he met."

More than 20 years later, Jeffries publicly called Andre Jones a brother.

That's more than the role T.J. Jones, a sophomore receiver on the Fighting Irish, has had to take on since June 22.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Jones
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIT.J. Jones now understands why his dad, Andre, would get so emotional when he saw T.J. take to the field at Notre Dame Stadium.
One day before then, a Tuesday, North Gwinnett High School coach Todd Wofford was texting back and forth with Andre around noon, telling Jones that Malachi needed to be more assertive and more aggressive as a leader.

Andre told Wofford he had a headache and was going to take a nap.

"I kept our conversation on my phone for the longest time, looking back and forth at it," Wofford recalled, "because he was more than just one of my players' dads."

A few hours later, Malachi Jones called Wofford to inform him he'd miss his senior picture the next day. A day later, Andre Jones was gone, victim of a brain aneurysm at the age of 42.

He left behind 147 tackles in a Notre Dame uniform, a national title from 1988 and a brief NFL career. More importantly, he left behind six kids, the second-oldest of whom is walking in his footsteps in a No. 7 jersey at Notre Dame Stadium.

"He's sitting in my dad's locker, going to his alma mater and wearing his uniform," Malachi said of older brother T.J. "I don't think it can get any better than that."

Malachi, who wears No. 9, does his part by pretending to draw a No. 7 on his chest with his hands whenever he reaches the end zone.

T.J. was working out at his campus' Guglielmo Athletics Complex on June 21 when receivers coach Tony Alford pulled him aside and told him his father was sick. T.J. hopped on a plane to Georgia, joined his family and stuck around for about a little more than a week.

He wanted to stay until the following Friday, to try to be the man of the house for his family that his father had always been. His mother Michele, however, forced him out that Wednesday, getting him back to classes, to practices, to pursuing his dreams.

The family was on the Notre Dame Stadium field together Sept. 3, before the Irish's opener against South Florida, for a ceremony honoring Andre.

"It was hard. It was real hard," T.J. said. "Seeing my mom out there for the first time in six weeks, and she was crying. So that made me more emotional. And definitely just, it hit home that he wasn't gonna be standing there in the tunnel when I came out this year."

Andre always told T.J. how special it was to walk out that tunnel, to hear the roar of all the fans cheering you on. T.J. never understood why his father would tear up or cry seeing his son enter the field, but now he does, as does Malachi.

"I have three younger siblings, and unfortunately they won't get to experience the same experiences we did with our dad because he's gone," Malachi said. "So looking back, we're extremely grateful to know we got to spend a significant amount of time with him during football season and off the field in a short span."

Two springs ago, during T.J.'s first semester on campus, Andre took the family to the Grotto at night, a sight illuminating enough for Malachi to call "beautiful."

It's a place Andre tried to stop by before every home game, and when he wasn't in town he would often tell T.J. to light a candle for someone else who asked.

T.J. tries to go a little bit more now, though the fall is a busy time for a football player at Notre Dame.

Instead he will think about his father before each game, say a prayer and talk to him. Malachi will read the two Bible passages his dad texted him during a pregame meal a year ago: Matthew 10:16 and Psalms 18: 32-38.

Malachi drew connections from the readings to the football field, though a message in the latter may resonate a little bit more in his everyday life:

You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me,
So my feet did not slip.

Orange Bowl prediction

January, 3, 2011
You may have noticed that I am not in South Florida for the Discover Orange Bowl, which has been capably covered by Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson.

But that doesn't mean I'm not going to pick the game!

Andrea provided some insights here and here and predicted Stanford to win 37-24.

That sounds pretty reasonable. I'm going with Stanford, too, 35-28.

I see a game that figures to be in doubt until well into the fourth quarter. And I think that, in the end, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the difference. Virginia Tech has faced a few good quarterbacks -- Boise State's Kellen Moore and NC State's Russell Wilson top the list -- but no one like Luck. And no one with an elite running game to support him.

I expect Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies' outstanding rushing attack to give the Cardinal some trouble. Further, we really don't know if all the "We don't know where Harbaugh is going but he is going" talk has been a distraction. There's a lot of down time at bowl games. Players chat. You know that has been a hot topic, particularly with the young guys coming back in 2011.

Count on that being the excuse/explanation if Stanford lays an egg.

Still, this has been a mentally tough, focused team. And it's a talented one. By season's end, the Cardinal were playing as well as any team in the nation.

So Stanford should get it done. Then we all can worry about where Harbaugh will land (and if Luck is headed to the NFL draft).

Start the Jim Harbaugh speculation

December, 27, 2010
The San Francisco 49ers have fired Mike Singletary, which means speculation about Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's future is about to become frenzied.

Think some folks at Michigan are paying attention? You'll note that the Wolverines' present coach, Rich Rodriguez, has been lacking any type of definitive vote of confidence from the Michigan powers that be.

Harbaugh, whose Cardinal arrived in Miami on Monday to begin on-site preparations for the Discover Orange Bowl, might be the hottest football coach in the nation. Odds are somebody is going to try very hard to lure him away from Stanford.

Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby has said that he believes Harbaugh will sign a new contract extension. It appears that Harbaugh and Bowlsby aren't exactly on the same page.

Michigan would be alluring for Harbaugh because it's his alma mater. But he wouldn't even have to move to take over the 49ers.

Expect this to be a hot topic leading up to the Orange Bowl, one that could be settled one way or another shortly thereafter. Of course, things could break before then, and that would be a shame because it would obscure one of the best seasons in Stanford history.

Big question: Does the "Where is Harbaugh going?" talk distract the Cardinal this week as it gets ready for Virginia Tech?

3-point stance: Best late-blooming teams

November, 11, 2010
1. Oregon is cracking down on vendors selling unlicensed merchandise outside of Autzen Stadium. I understand the desire to protect a school’s trademark (and its cut of the take). But when I covered the Stanford game last month, I loved the variety of clever t-shirts that Ducks fans created for the occasion. Schools rarely sell T-shirts that veer from the obvious. Protecting the brand usually turns into protecting the bland.

2. This year’s best late-blooming teams, as I wrote yesterday, look to be Virginia Tech, Florida, Texas A&M and Penn State. The best late-blooming team of the last 25 years is Florida State in 1989. The Seminoles began the season 0-2 and won 10 straight to finish second behind Miami, a team that Florida State beat, 24-10. After that season, Alabama tried to hire Bowden. As he described in his book "Called to Coach," he turned down what once had been his dream job. “Too late,” Bowden said.

3. Not that the ACC Coastal Division is in much doubt -- Virginia Tech has a two-game lead on the field with three games to play -- but the apparent decision by Miami to hold out quarterback Jacory Harris for a second consecutive game because of a concussion means that his first game may be against the Hokies on Nov. 20. As Nick Foles of Arizona proved at Stanford last week, you can miss two games and need a half to get your timing back. Pencil Virginia Tech into the ACC Championship Game? Go ahead, use a pen.

Boise State in the polls

October, 5, 2010
There has been plenty of chatter about Boise State dropping one spot in the polls to No. 4 after its 59-0 win over New Mexico State. Oregon moved up to No. 3 after its 52-31 win over No. 9 Stanford.

Predictably, Boise State coach Chris Petersen refused to get into the poll talk, saying, "You ask that question in December."

His fellow WAC coaches came to the defense of the Broncos.

"I do know that Oregon, the last two times they played Boise State, they got beat," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker, who used to coach in the Pac-10, said he thought they would have no problem being "more than competitive" in the Pac-10.

Meanwhile, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said on the league's conference call he wanted poll reform in the coaches' poll, suspecting some had Boise State in "double digits." All the coaches' ballots are confidential except for the final regular-season vote. USA Today college football reporter Kelly Whiteside indicated on her Twitter account that one coach had Boise State at No. 10 and one had the Broncos at No. 8.

We all know there is a double standard when it comes to the Broncos, who are held accountable for their WAC schedule. You would be hard-pressed to find another team dropping in the polls after a 59-0 win. In fact, Oregon jumped four spots to No. 7 in the AP poll and three spots to No. 8 in the coaches' poll after beating New Mexico 72-0 in the season opener. New Mexico and New Mexico State are both winless and two of the worst teams in the country. So why the difference in voting?

I still have Boise State at No. 3 in my power rankings, much to the consternation of many readers. Here is my reasoning, for those who have asked for an explanation:

Boise State has beaten more ranked teams than Oregon at this point in time. The Broncos beat a top-10 team on the road to start the season. Hey, if you want to say Stanford was a top-10 team, then you have to say Virginia Tech was a top-10 team. That win over a top-10 team for the Ducks came at home. Oregon also beat an Arizona State team (2-3) that just lost to Oregon State -- the other ranked team the Broncos beat.

Boise State has not played an FCS team. Oregon has.

The other victory for the Broncos is over a 2-3 Wyoming team on the road. Oregon has a win over a 2-3 Tennessee team on the road.

To me, there is not much discrepancy in the results as I just laid them out. This is to take nothing away from the Ducks. They have obviously been impressive, and I leapfrogged them over TCU into the No. 4 spot on my ballot. But I am not yet ready to move Boise State from that No. 3 spot, certainly not after a 59-0 win.

Of course, most of this is moot right now anyway. An undefeated Boise State is going to need help to make it into the BCS national championship game. Sliding down to No. 4 does not change that. Will the Broncos keep sliding? If other teams from power conferences keep winning, no question about it. But we knew that would happen. What remains to be seen is how Boise State will be ranked when/if some of those teams start losing.

That of course, will no doubt create more interest in a playoff. Most coaches like the bowl system, but Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday he believes a playoff system is inevitable.

"There’s really not a lot of rhyme or reason some weeks what goes on," said Whittingham, whose team moved up two spots to No. 10 despite being idle. "What happens to your own team is more dependent on what happens to other teams, that’s just how it is. Until there’s a playoff system, I don’t think anything’s going to be real accurate. I think there should be a playoff system. Ranking teams and deciding by popular vote who’s the best, I don’t buy that."

Vote: Capital One Impact Performance

October, 4, 2010
Time once again to vote for the Capital One Impact Performance of the weekend.

Here are your nominees:
  • Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has 494 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in a win over Indiana.
  • Virginia Tech's David Wilson returns a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown against NC State.
  • Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham runs for 277 yards and three touchdowns in a win over FIU.
  • Maryland's Tony Logan returns a punt 84 yards for a touchdown to spark a comeback win over Duke.

What to Watch, Week 4

September, 24, 2010
We’ve got big games from coast to coast in Week 4, so let’s check out the top 10 storylines to watch heading into Saturday:

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Kim Klement/US PresswireCan Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett lead his team to a win over the No. 1 team in the nation?
1. Does Arkansas have what it takes to beat Alabama? Certainly the Razorbacks are much improved on defense, and Ryan Mallett has lived up to his Heisman Trophy billing. But does this team have a killer instinct? This is a team that had a 7-0 halftime lead over ULM, then blew a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead against Georgia last week before rallying for 31-24 the victory. Alabama will try to confuse Mallett the way it did last season. Offensively, there are so many options for the Tide, the Razorbacks are going to have to prove just how good they have become on defense.

2. Does Oregon State have a chance to beat Boise State? Absolutely the Beavers have a chance. Is it going to happen? That is another question. Some keys to watch: Oregon State might not be able to run into the heart of that Boise State defensive line. Do the Beavers try to run sweeps to the outside with their speedy receivers to loosen them up? The Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, are always a threat to take it the distance. The Boise State secondary has been vulnerable at times, so if Ryan Katz has time to throw, he could connect for some big plays.

3. Can Notre Dame close out a win? So far 2010 has looked a lot like 2009 for the Fighting Irish, what with losing games in the closing seconds to Michigan and Michigan State. They could just as easily be 3-0 with a few more plays going their way. Instead, they are staring at the prospect of a 1-3 start, given the way Stanford has played going into the game. This could be a national statement game for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who has 674 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

4. Can the Big East represent in big nonconference games? Pittsburgh, one of the popular preseason picks to win the Big East, fell flat on its face Thursday night in a 31-3 loss to Miami. That leaves Cincinnati and West Virginia this weekend in huge national profile games. Oklahoma visits the Bearcats, who have fallen on hard times just one season removed from an undefeated regular season. They hardly resemble the outfit that made it to the Sugar Bowl last season, having already lost to Fresno State and NC State. West Virginia, meanwhile, travels to LSU. The Mountaineers might be the best hope to win the Big East, but then again they nearly lost to Marshall.

5. How does Michigan State respond without coach Mark Dantonio? Luckily, the Spartans play Northern Colorado, not exactly the toughest challenge. Dantonio suffered a heart attack in the hours after the Spartans’ overtime win over Notre Dame, and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will lead the team in his absence. A big game looms next week at home against Wisconsin. The bigger question is whether Dantonio will be back in time for that one.

6. Does South Carolina need to prove that it is for real even after beating Georgia? Some believe the answer is yes. Well here it is, perhaps an even bigger test because the Gamecocks must play a better Auburn team on the road. Last week, Auburn struggled to stop Clemson running back Andre Ellington, who had 140 yards and a touchdown. This week, the Tigers face a bigger, more physical back in freshman stud Marcus Lattimore. The key for the Tigers: shutting him down to force Stephen Garcia into trying to win the game. South Carolina has the defense to be able to slow down Cam Newton.

7. How does Iowa respond after its heartbreaking loss to Arizona? The Hawkeyes get an easier challenge this week against Ball State, but they are beginning life once again without Jewel Hampton, out for the season with a torn ACL. This game serves as an excellent tune-up headed into next Saturday’s big game against Penn State. Iowa has to figure out how to get its offensive line going, perhaps the most glaring weakness on the team, which was completely exposed against the Wildcats.

8. How does Arizona respond after its big win over Iowa? We can ask the question both ways. The Wildcats are up to No. 14 in the polls after that win, and now all of a sudden are a team everyone believes is right there in the mix for the Pac-10 title. They play a California team that lost to Nevada last week. What was striking in that game was the way Nevada dominated on both lines. That doesn’t bode well going into this game, considering how strong Arizona looked on the offensive and defensive lines against the Hawkeyes.

9. Can Virginia Tech win at Boston College without Ryan Williams? This is a crucial game for the Hokies, who could drop to 1-3 with a loss. Without Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson will carry the load. But Evans has lost two fumbles in two weeks, and the Hokies traditionally struggle running the ball against the Eagles. That was until last season, when they had 235 yards on the ground. They are going to need another performance like that to win, but it’s going to be much harder without their top runner.

10. Can Oregon keep up its scoring pace? Hard to imagine the Ducks will be able to hang half a hundred on Arizona State, a team that came thisclose to beating Wisconsin on the road last week. Oregon has averaged over a point a minute in its three games this season, but the Sun Devils are no New Mexico and are certainly no Tennessee. Still, Arizona State has to be better in the red zone to have any shot at the upset.

Big East respect tops Week 3 mailbag

September, 17, 2010
I am beginning to feel unloved, guys. Hardly a comment in the mailbag! Does this mean you agree with everything I say? That I'm doing a great job? You like me! You really like me!

I know that cannot be true based on the comments you leave on the blog posts I write. So drop me a line. I promise, I don't bite -- unless you tell me to get my rear back in the kitchen. Then I may get a little feisty.

BE Fan from Cathedral, Calif., writes: I have often wondered how the Big 10 and Big 12 are rated with more respect and higher statistical numbers. The Big East has had six of eight teams fighting for its conference title (75%), while the Big 10 has had five to six teams (around 50%), and the Big 12 has had basically four to five (much less than 50%) who vie for their yearly championship. And I don't buy the answer that the Big East is mediocre--until Cincinnati's 2 year run of superior coaching, our conference, and especially WVU held its own in BCS bowl games.

Andrea Adelson:Oh, BE Fan. If only a wide variety of conference champions would make the Big East relevant. Nobody is arguing that the league hasn't had its fair share of representatives. The problem is once it gets outside conference play, everyone seems to start laying eggs. The Big East has yet to win a game against another automatic qualifying conference this year. Cincinnati has now dropped games against a non-AQ (Fresno State) and NC State last night. Did the Bearcats somehow forget how to play football under Butch Jones? Let's not forget the embarrassment of the Sugar Bowl against the Gators, too. How about Pittsburgh, which also lost to a non-AQ in Utah? Rutgers nearly lost to FIU! No Big East team has gotten into the national championship game -- not even an undefeated one last season. Until the Big East starts proving it has several dominating teams, the league is going to get no respect.

BuckEm from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Andrea, who let you out of the kitchen?

Andrea Adelson: BuckEm, who says I was let out of the kitchen? My baked ziti is pretty awesome.

Corey of Baton Rouge writes:"You never have the same team two weeks in a row." - Lou Holtz. Then why is everyone holding Boise State to a different standard? Anyone who knows anything about football should be able to tell that the VA Tech team that lost to Boise St. was not the same team that lost to James Madison. The same people who say that only teams who consistently win against top opponents should play in the national championship don't want a playoff, which would, surprise!, reward the most consistent team. Come on! When will the hypocrisy end?! What does Boise have to do? I am becoming disheartened by the whole system.

Andrea Adelson: Corey, you are just starting to become disheartened? Where have you been, my friend? This system has been rewarding the power teams since it began. Oh yes, Bill Hancock can talk about the BCS opening up doors once closed to teams like Boise State and Utah. That is very true. But it still hasn't opened up the biggest door of all -- getting into a national championship game. Unfortunately, perception is reality in college football, and the perception that Boise State is not as tough compared to the power conferences because of its schedule is going to remain the prevailing point of view.

I don't know what more Boise State can do, except win. It tries to play tough nonconference opponents. Getting into the Mountain West next year will help, but I don't know if that will make a huge enough difference. This year is the litmus test. I hope fans keep an open mind throughout the year so we can evaluate the body of work at the end for all teams. Nobody knows what a team like Boise State or TCU would do in a championship game if given an opportunity, and anybody who thinks they do is flat-out wrong.

Top 10 storylines to watch: Week 3

September, 17, 2010
Monster Saturday may have turned into a dud, but there are plenty of intriguing national storylines to watch in Week 3.

Here is a little sampling:

1. How does the ACC rebound? To call the ACC's performance last week abysmal would be giving the word abysmal a bad name. Virginia Tech loses to James Madison. Miami and Florida State lay eggs in their big non-conference showdowns. Kansas beats Georgia Tech. N.C. State got the league off to a good start Thursday night with a win over Cincinnati, but that is not really saying much considering the Bearcats hardly look like their 2009 selves. Florida State-BYU, Maryland-West Virginia, East Carolina-Virginia Tech and Clemson-Auburn highlight Saturday. Here’s hoping the league doesn’t embarrass itself again.

2. What will we see out of Boise State? The Broncos had the week off last week, but you wouldn’t have known it for all the chatter about them once Virginia Tech lost. They finally return to the field Saturday against Wyoming to play in Game 2 after what feels like a very long layoff. The Cowboys have played Boise State tough in recent meetings. The game will be sold out, and the crowd fired up. Key to watch: Will the Wyoming spread offense be able to take advantage of a Boise State secondary that looked shaky at times in the opener?

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
AP Photo/Joe Jaszewski/Idaho StatesmanThe last time we saw Kellen Moore and Boise State they were celebrating a win over Virginia Tech.
3. Jake Locker vs. Nebraska. It may be unfair to pit one player against an entire team, but that is what this one is going to come down to on Saturday. Locker essentially had his Heisman campaign parked in a season-opening loss to BYU, a team that it turns out may not be as good as advertised. How will he do against a defense that continually brings pressure and is considered to be one of the best in the country? That will go a long way toward determining how people view Locker the rest of the way.

4. Can Georgia keep itself in the SEC East race? It may be a stretch to say the Bulldogs are reeling, but Saturday’s game against Arkansas has got to be considered a must-win. Georgia struggled in a 17-6 loss to South Carolina last week, with shoddy tackling headlining the defensive performance. While Marcus Lattimore and run-oriented South Carolina punished them last week, a different type of offense meets them this week behind pass-happy Ryan Mallett. Georgia is expected to open up more of its playbook for redshirt freshman Aaron Murray, but the onus is going to fall on the Georgia defense to stop Mallett and the Razorbacks.

5. Nick Foles vs. Adrian Clayborn. Arizona faces its biggest test of the season against the No. 9 Hawkeyes, and this one is going to come down to the way quarterback Nick Foles is able to handle the pressure the Iowa defensive line is sure to bring. And by that we mean Clayborn, who is still waiting on his first sack of the season after notching 11 in 2009. Of course, there is this from ESPN Stats & Information: Since 1990, Pac-10 teams are 25-6-1 at home against Big Ten teams.

6. What does Denard Robinson do for an encore? Surely the Michigan quarterback can’t keep up his torrid pace, what with 885 yards of total offense in the first two games. He may not have to do as much Saturday against Massachusetts, though FCS teams have proven to be problematic for several teams this season. Still, Robinson has inspired awe throughout the country, and now word is out that high school players are leaving their shoelaces untied in order to be just like him.

7. Does Notre Dame rebound against Michigan State? Surely a heartbreaking loss to Michigan won’t be easy to get over, but the bigger question is whether Dayne Crist is 100 percent after he admitted he played against the Wolverines with blurred vision before being pulled from the game. If you thought the series against Michigan was a nail biter, check this out from ESPN Stats & Information: Over the past 10 meetings, the Notre Dame-Michigan State game has been decided by seven points or less eight times, with the game-winning score coming late in the fourth quarter or overtime in seven of the 10 meetings.

8. Any FCS upsets this weekend? Already this year, five FCS schools have beaten their upper division opponents, headlined of course by James Madison over Virginia Tech. Last year there were only four. There isn’t an overload of FCS-FBS games this week, but these are the teams on alert: Oregon, South Carolina, Michigan, Syracuse and San Jose State.

9. What do we see out of Alabama running back Mark Ingram? The Heisman Trophy winner is getting his first action of the season after missing the first two games while recovering from knee surgery. Does Alabama need him to beat Duke? No. But they will need him for its run through the SEC, which begins next weekend with a huge game at Arkansas. Better get him game ready before then.

10. Any last-second heroics between Texas and Texas Tech? We all remember the last time Texas visited Lubbock -- Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree ruined the No. 1 Longhorns’ shot at the BCS national championship. Point to remember from ESPN Stats & Information: Texas Tech has upset a top-10 Texas team twice in the Longhorns’ previous four visits (2002 and 2008).

Non-AQ what to watch: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
This is another big week for non-AQs, with several huge non-conference matchups looming. With that, here are 10 storylines to watch among the non-AQ teams:

1. Can the non-AQs pull off some upsets in its high-profile nonconference games? Week 1 was a good one for the non-AQs, with big nonconference wins for TCU, BYU, Utah and Fresno State. Will the same happen in Week 3? That may not be as likely. Three of those four games were at home, and TCU played at the new Cowboys Stadium, so that was just outside of home. This week, most of the high-profile nonconference games are on the road: East Carolina at Virginia Tech; Air Force at Oklahoma; Houston at UCLA; BYU at Florida State; Tulsa at Oklahoma State.

2. Will Houston quarterback Case Keenum play against UCLA? Coach Kevin Sumlin has kept mum on the topic all week, but offensive coordinator Jason Phillips said the team is preparing as if Keenum will be ready to go. Keenum sustained a concussion last week against UTEP while attempting to make a block. If he can’t play, Cotton Turner will get the nod. Turner was effective in relief last week, going 9-of-10 for 69 yards with a touchdown pass.

3. Can East Carolina take advantage of a reeling Virginia Tech team? I guess the question could also be posed this way – do the Pirates have any shot against an angry, motivated Hokies team? Remember, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech in the opener in 2008, but that was a more experienced team than the one now. The Hokies had a very short week to prepare for James Madison following an emotional, exhausting loss to Boise State. You can bet they will be ready for this one.

4. How does Boise State respond following its emotional win? The Broncos had a week off and face their first opponent since the win over Virginia Tech on Labor Day night, traveling to Wyoming. The Cowboys haven’t been pushovers in this series. The last time they played, Boise State won 24-14 in 2007. In 2006, Boise State pulled out a 17-10 win in Laramie. It’s going to take larger margins of victory this year to begin convincing voters they are worthy of that No. 3 ranking.

5. How does BYU respond after its 35-14 loss to Air Force? Coach Bronco Mendenhall has already decided to change up how he rotates his quarterbacks, and that could perhaps lead to a decision to go with just one player. Going with two didn’t work against the Falcons, as BYU threw for a combined 88 yards. Now the Cougars are facing a team that handled them easily last year in Provo. Will two quarterbacks be able to do something Max Hall could not? That seems unlikely.

6. Can Air Force slow down the Oklahoma passing attack? The Falcons did an exceptional job taking away the pass from BYU last week. Now they face a similar challenge against the Sooners. Landry Jones went 30-for-40 for 380 yards and four touchdowns last week against Florida State. While Air Force does have an experienced secondary, slowing down Jones and Ryan Broyles is a must.

7. Can Colin Kaepernick run wild on California? Last week, Kaepernick became the ninth player in NCAA history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 3,000 yards in a career. But he is facing his toughest test of the season. The Bears have the No. 1 ranked defense in the country following a 52-7 destruction of Colorado last week. They have allowed just one touchdown in two games, along with an average of 44 yards rushing and four sacks. Not comforting numbers for the Wolf Pack.

8. Will Jerry Kill be on the sideline for Northern Illinois? The veteran coach has been hospitalized since Sunday with an undisclosed medical condition, and it’s unknown whether he will be able to attend the Huskies’ game against Illinois. If he’s unable to be there, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will be the coach in his place.

9. Can TCU shut down Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin? The Horned Frogs don’t usually play fast, mobile quarterbacks like Griffin, so this presents a unique challenge. You can bet defensive guru Gary Patterson has emphasized solid tackling and being able to get pressure up front. That should come from Wayne Daniels, who has 3.5 sacks this season.

10. Who gets their first win ULM or Arkansas State? Somebody has to win, right? Arkansas State has a prolific passer in Ryan Aplin, who has 716 yards on the season. But the Red Wolves would much rather have wins than their quarterback throwing for so many yards. Doing both? Double bonus! Arkansas State has won five straight home openers.

Non-AQ predictions: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
My picks in Week 2 were … slightly better than awful. With a 12-10 overall record, I need somebody to give me a pep talk. Is Frank Beamer available? Oh wait. He is probably busy giving his team one of those.

On to the picks!

Virginia Tech 35, East Carolina 27. No way Virginia Tech loses a third straight, right? Well, the Hokies have a recent history of losing to the Pirates -- dropping the opener in 2008. Dominique Davis has played lights out for the Pirates, but the defense -- not so much. The Hokies are going to be fighting mad, and should be able to slow down the East Carolina offensive attack just enough to escape.

Oklahoma 24, Air Force 20. The Falcons present a unique offense to defend, and Oklahoma has looked helter-skelter in its first two games. Air Force did a fantastic job slowing down the BYU offense, limiting the Cougars to 88 yards through the air. Oklahoma struggled against Diondre Borel. But give the Sooners the win here based on the play in the trenches.

Florida State 30, BYU 20. Don’t think the BYU quarterback problems are going to be solved against the Seminoles, who dismantled a far better Cougars team last year on the road. Unfortunately for BYU, the passing game is not in tip-top shape right now and that is where the Sooners did most of their damage last week.

TCU 24, Baylor 20. The Bears are one of three teams that have yet to allow their opponent into the end zone this season, but they haven’t played anybody as good as TCU. Don’t think that streak will continue against veteran Andy Dalton and an experienced offense.

Houston 35, UCLA 17. Are the Bruins that bad? I am calling this game for Houston, regardless of who starts at quarterback. Case Keenum (concussion) might be day to day, but his backup has proven capable and so has the running game through two games this season. UCLA, meanwhile, has been able to muster nothing on offense or defense.

Southern Miss 20, Kansas 17. The Golden Eagles dropped a close one to the Jayhawks last season, and though they looked pretty unspectacular against South Carolina in the opener, Austin Davis and DeAndre Brown could be in line for big games. This is a huge test for a defense that has played inconsistently. But, hey, so has Kansas.

California 28, Nevada 17. The Wolf Pack haven’t had much success against AQ opponents, losing eight straight games. Though the defense has looked much better, and defensive coordinator Andy Buh spent the last three seasons as a Stanford assistant, California simply has too much talent on offense. The Bears will find a way to slow down Colin Kaepernick enough to win.

Hawaii 37, Colorado 30. Going with the upset in this one. I know Hawaii has been away from home for a really long time, increasing its chances of losing this game, but Bryant Moniz and the offense have looked good in the first two games. The Buffaloes? Not so good, especially last week.

SMU 44, Washington State 10. The Cougars nearly lost to FCS Montana State last week, so that should tell you how the rebuilding effort is going in Pullman. SMU has had some injuries to deal with, but as long as Kyle Padron is behind center, the Mustangs should easily win this one.

Missouri 33, San Diego State 27. The Aztecs are vastly improved, thanks to a better run game and more experience from Ryan Lindley. But Blaine Gabbert is playing well for the Tigers, with a completion percentage over 70 percent. The Tigers defense also has six interceptions on the year and makes the difference in this one.

Miami (Ohio) 30, Colorado State 10. The Rams have scored a total of nine points in two games, and true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas has been sacked eight times. The defense hasn’t played much better, either. The RedHawks haven’t exactly torn up the field but have shown much more improvement this season than the Rams.

Army 24, North Texas 17. Things went from bad to worse for the Mean Green this week when they found out starting quarterback Nathan Tune would be out for the season with a dislocated hip. Five starters have gone down with season-ending injuries now, and coach Todd Dodge is trying to cope. It’s going to be tough against a much-improved Army team.
East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis knew what would await him if he showed his face on campus that Tuesday morning.

Sure, the Hail Mary to beat Tulsa was the best experience of his life. But Davis needed to focus on the next game, to put it behind him, not let it turn into a distraction.

So he took shortcuts to his classes after the thrilling 51-49 win to open the season, hoping to avoid the craziness he was sure would follow. He succeeded there, in the same way he has succeeded on the field in the Pirates’ 2-0 start.

[+] EnlargeDavis
AP Photo/Rhett ButlerDominique Davis has thrown eight touchdown passes and just one interception so far this season.
Davis, it seems, is pretty elusive.

Perhaps we should have all expected that from the one-time starter at Boston College. But time and anonymity has a way of making us all forget. Davis is quickly making us all remember.

He has been the story of the young season in Greenville, N.C., so far. Many thought this season would be a rebuilding one, following the loss of coach Skip Holtz and 14 starters, including veteran quarterback Patrick Pinkney.

How quickly a Hail Mary can change perceptions.

“We just do what we have to do to prove people wrong and just win games,” Davis said.

A big one looms Saturday against what should be a supremely motivated Virginia Tech team eager for a win after an embarrassing loss to James Madison last weekend. For his part, Davis said the team has not thought about that intangible factor playing a role in the game.

“We’re not worried at all,” Davis said. “We’re going to go into Blacksburg and do what we have to do. We’re focused on us right now.”

The Virginia Tech game begins a key three-game stretch for the Pirates. Following an off week, they travel to play at North Carolina and then at Conference USA rival Southern Miss. While the Pirates are going to need to show some defensive improvement, Davis has been the unquestioned star.

But he has only been with the team for a few short months. Davis began his college career in Boston, and became the starter after an injury knocked starter Chris Crane out for the season. He helped the Eagles get into the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech.

Though Boston College lost that game and its bowl game, Davis thought he was on his way to becoming the full-time starter. But soon there was a coaching change. Then Davis got into academic trouble and was suspended in the summer of 2009. He transferred to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas for a season, then committed to Holtz because he saw an opportunity to start right away.

But soon there was a coaching change -- Holtz left for USF. Davis got nervous.

After Ruffin McNeill was hired, his first order of business was to re-recruit Davis. He and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley arrived at the Davis home in Lakeland, Fla., to make their pitch. McNeill laid it all out there.

“I told him about the demands I have on our players,” he recalled. “I want them to act professional and act championship-like, and Dominique was ready to do that and more.”

“I was being patient,” Davis said. “When they brought in Ruffin McNeill, he came the day after he was hired to talk to me and my family. That made me more comfortable. He was just like 'we’re going to run this business as a family.' That opened our eyes. My family wanted me to be with him.”

Davis reaffirmed his commitment, but missed the start of the academic semester, preventing him from participating in spring drills. Davis paid his own way to Greenville and was there to watch all 15 spring practices so he could begin to learn the spread offense McNeill and his staff were installing.

McNeill maintained an open competition for the quarterback job throughout the fall between Davis, Brad Wornick and Rio Johnson. Everyone found out his choice when East Carolina kicked off the season against Tulsa.

It seems like an easy one after watching what happened next. In what turned out to be an offensive shootout, Davis matched Tulsa veteran quarterback G.J. Kinne throw for throw, going 27-of-46 for 383 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. He also added a touchdown on the ground.

But the most important play, of course, was the 33-yard prayer to Justin Jones with no time left to win the game.

“He was very poised, with a new offense, new coaching staff, new football team, he made some tough throws there,” McNeill said. “To make the play on the last toss, to make that play was very special by Dominique.”

Davis kept it up last week against Memphis, going 27-of-38 for 244 yards with three touchdowns in a 49-27 win. He added two more on the ground.

Now the big test comes. Davis has proved he is ready.

The hits keep coming for Boise State

September, 13, 2010
How quickly a big win can turn into a big loss -- without even playing a game.

That is the situation confronting Boise State today, now that Virginia Tech lost to James Madison this past weekend. That last thing the Broncos needed was for Virginia Tech to lose to an FCS school, particularly because the Hokies are one of the few teams on Boise State's schedule with national cache.

Boise State will absolutely take a hit to its strength of schedule, a schedule that is the weakest among the top-ranked teams in the country. Four of the six computer rankings that are used to tabulate the BCS standings release their rankings every week. Check out the disparity among them between Week 1, after the win over Virginia Tech, and Week 2, after Virginia Tech lost. These rankings have been adjusted for what the BCS will use in October.

After Week 1

Kenneth Massey: No. 42

Richard Billingsley: No. 1

Jeff Sagarin: No. 1

Colley Matrix: Tie-1, strength of schedule: 82

Massey compiled a collection of 51 college football rankings, and Boise State ranked No. 2 behind Alabama. TCU was at No. 4.

After Week 2

Massey: No. 54

Sagarin: No. 1

Billingsley: No. 2

Colley Matrix: No. 47, strength of schedule: 153.

Of 48 computer rankings Massey compiled, Boise State fell to No. 6. TCU has moved ahead, to No. 5.

“Because of the weakness of the WAC portion of the schedule, the computer element was already going to be the Achilles’ heel for Boise State in the BCS formula,” said ESPN BCS guru Brad Edwards, who also coordinates college football research for ESPN. “After last weekend, it's now going to be even harder for an undefeated Boise State to be ranked ahead of major one-loss teams in the computers.

“Virginia Tech losing to James Madison was a tough break for the Broncos, but the problem was compounded by the ACC having such a miserable rest of the day on Saturday. As bad as the ACC has been out of conference so far, even if Virginia Tech bounces back and wins the league, it'll mean more to the voters than it will to the computers.

“Some humans have a short-term memory and might forget what happened in September. The computers won't.”

Boise State lost some ground to Alabama and Ohio State in the coaches' poll, which also counts one-third in the BCS standings, but remained at No. 3. The Broncos play at Wyoming this weekend and do have five games against bowl teams left on their schedule, including a game against Oregon State next weekend.

But only Oregon State is ranked, at No. 25. We all knew an undefeated Boise State team would face hurdles to getting into a national championship game over a one-loss team from an AQ conference, but now it does appear they are even greater. Add to that the growing national perception that Boise State doesn’t belong, and the Broncos can’t seem to win.

Even when they do win.

“To discount a win against a team like Virginia Tech that historically has proven that it’s a top-10 team just because they got upset … teams get upset all the time,” said WAC commissioner Karl Benson, fighting for his marquee team. “I think the experts that are now claiming that Virginia Tech win is tainted -- it’s ridiculous.”

For his part, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said he chuckled when he heard the news that Virginia Tech lost because “that’s college football.”

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Petersen said. “People from the outside put wins and losses in the boxes before the games are completed. As a coach you know what can happen and that’s a great example of it.”

The season is two weeks old. Boise State has played one game. Nobody knows whether the Broncos will have a chance to play for a national championship. Nobody knows if Boise State will win out. Nobody knows how many teams will be undefeated at the end of the year.

No question, the odds look grimmer for Boise State today than they did a week ago. But as it stands, it should not be eliminated from national championship contention based on a loss that it had nothing to do with. Sure, it feels better to know what will happen, but at this point, all we can do is continue to guess.
The big day has finally arrived for No. 3 Boise State. We will know once and for all whether the Broncos will continue to be in the national title conversation after their huge game against No. 10 Virginia Tech tonight.

Throughout the course of the last month, many people have brought up the 2005 game between Boise State and Georgia as an example of why the Broncos do not belong anywhere near the national stage. Boise State got embarrassed 48-13 in Athens. News flash -- Boise State 2010 is not Boise State 2005.

Here's why:

1. This team is better. In 2005, the Broncos were just making their national reputation. They went into the game ranked No. 18 -- the first time they were ever ranked going into the season. Simply put, Boise State lacked much of the national exposure and experience playing in such big games with the spotlight turned on them. The 2010 version returns 20 starters from a team that won a BCS game last season. In 2005, Boise State had yet to crash the BCS party.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Brian Losness/US PresswireBoise State quarterback Kellen Moore will face a big challenge against Virginia Tech.
2. Kellen Moore is better than Jared Zabransky. The offenses are both high-powered, but Moore is much more disciplined, poised and better equipped to handle the pressure. Zabranksy threw four interceptions and had two fumbles in the first half before got yanked from the Georgia game, essentially dooming Boise State from having any shot at winning. Moore threw three interceptions in all of 2009. Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who was offensive coordinator in 2005, was asked about lessons learned from that game. "Hope our quarterback plays a little bit better than we did back then," he said.

3. This defense is better. A very underrated unit, the defense has started to get some national attention following its performance against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The defense ranked No. 14 in the country last season, giving up about 300 yards a game. The 2005 defense was statistically one of the worst Boise State has fielded in the last 10 years.

4. They have more experience. As I alluded to in the first point, Boise State has gone up against teams from AQ conferences and won those games since the Georgia debacle. Boise State 4-1 against teams from AQ conferences in the last four seasons. That includes one BCS win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. It is no fluke this team is ranked No. 3 in the preseason. These Broncos know how to handle pressure and national media attention. They understand what is at stake in this game.

"This program is in such a different place today than it was six years ago," said Scott Huff, tight ends coach. "I just think these guys are close. They’ve been through a lot together and if they go through some adversity they’ll rally around together."

Petersen, of course, scoffs at the notion that this season has anything to do with what happened in 2005: "I don’t think Georgia has anything to do with this game. That hasn’t even come up."

What to watch around the nation

September, 3, 2010
Our esteemed conference bloggers gave us their top 10 storylines to watch yesterday. Today, we present the top 10 storylines to watch across the country.

1. How does North Carolina recover emotionally from losing so many players? We know North Carolina is going to be depleted on the field against LSU on Saturday. Twelve players have been declared ineligible, including six starters. Of those six, five are on what is supposed to be one of the best defenses in the country. Players are going to have to step up, yes, but you have to wonder what type of toll this is going to take on the team from a mental standpoint. North Carolina is going into one of the biggest national games in the country with one arm tied behind its back. Surely the players know this. Surely coach Butch Davis knows this. He is going to have to do one heck of a coaching job to get his players to focus on the actual game and not all the outside distractions.

2. Big debut for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: Opinions are mixed on just how well Kelly will do in his first season as Irish coach. There are some who believe a 10-win season is possible. Others think seven wins is more likely. We will have to see how Dayne Crist does in the new spread offense, but more importantly -- how much better is the defense going to be this season? This is a team that returns nine starters from a defense that ranked 86th in the country last season. Yes, there is another new defensive scheme in place, but it should get a big test from Purdue and pass-happy quarterback Robert Marve.

3. How much of a home-field advantage will Virginia Tech have against Boise State? We have gone over some of the matchups, most notably the Hokies running backs vs. the Boise State defense. But intangibles are going to play a role here. How does Boise State handle traveling across the country and going into what should be a hostile environment? It has practiced for the heat and humidity, but it is hard to simulate actual game conditions with 90,000 fans -- most of whom are against you. Boise State has played in front of hostile crowds before, but this should be especially loud.

4. How does Year 3 of the Rich Rodriguez era start? Rodriguez could have the hottest seat of any coach in the country right now, what with NCAA sanctions looming and two straight losing seasons on his resume. Michigan fans want to win yesterday, let alone now. There is still uncertainty at quarterback, where up to three players could play against Connecticut. Every game Michigan plays these days feels like a must-win, but especially this one because of all the distractions outside the program.

5. No Tim Tebow, now what? The Florida Gators are ranked so high in the preseason polls this year largely because of the expectations on new quarterback John Brantley. He has a different style to be sure, more of a drop-back passer with a much stronger arm, but many expect him to step in and keep the Gators offense rolling along. He will have to do it without two of the team's top receivers, Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez. Who is going to step up to be the leader of that receiving group? Will the Gators have an effective way to run the ball with Tebow gone? After all, Tebow led the team in rushing the past three seasons.

6. How does Alabama handle playing without Mark Ingram and defensive end Marcell Dareus? Yes, the Tide is only playing San Jose State, but a big game against Penn State looms and the Tide could potentially be without both players in that one. Alabama has a capable back in Trent Richardson, and Damion Square is expected to play in Dareus' place. Both are going to need to get comfy out there before Sept. 11.

7. Does Nebraska have an offense to match its defense? The Cornhuskers are getting much love based on the way their defense played last season, and their near-upset of Texas. But their offense was atrocious, ranking 99th in the entire country. Once again, there is quarterback uncertainty, so that does not exactly project the confidence that this unit is going to magically be better. In its four losses last season, Nebraska averaged 11 points.

8. Can Oregon State put enough pressure on TCU quarterback Andy Dalton? Much of the focus on this game has centered around the Rodgers brothers and their return to Texas. Jacquizz Rodgers vs. the always strong TCU defense is a great matchup to watch. But another one is how Oregon State defends Andy Dalton. The last time we saw Dalton, he was frazzled into throwing three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. He threw only five in the regular season.

9. Georgia breaks in a new quarterback and new defense: How are the Bulldogs going to look with a redshirt freshman in Aaron Murray leading the offense, and a new defense playing the 3-4? Georgia is going to need answers fast with a road game at South Carolina looming. The Gamecocks looked pretty good Thursday night.

10. Charlie Strong vs. Joker Phillips: It's great to see two African-American head coaches making their debut in such a huge rivalry game. Their rise has helped increase the number of minority head coaches to 13 going into the 2010 season, up from nine in 2009.