NCF Nation: WAC

Instant analysis: A&M 59, La. Tech 57

October, 14, 2012

After a wild game with dramatic twists and turns, including a furious comeback attempt, Texas A&M outlasted Louisiana Tech 59-57 and escaped Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La., with a win to improve to 5-1 overall and give the Bulldogs (5-1) their first loss.

It was over when: Texas A&M running back Ben Malena recovered a Louisiana Tech onside kick attempt with 37 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs already had recovered one onside kick to set up their final touchdown, but Malena stepped in front of the ball and secured it for the Aggies to take a knee and leave with a win.

Game ball goes to: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman continues to shine and broke the Texas A&M and Southeastern Conference records that he set against Arkansas earlier this season, compiling 577 total offensive yards. Manziel was 24-of-40 passing for 396 yards and three touchdown passes while rushing 19 times for 181 yards and three scores, including a 72-yarder that gave the Aggies their final points.

Game ball, Part 2: Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton deserves a game ball for his tremendous effort for the Bulldogs. The Biletnikoff Award watch list member showed why he's considered one of the best receivers in the country, catching a whopping 21 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns. The Aggies rarely had an answer for him, and Patton played a huge role in the Bulldogs' late rally to narrow the Aggies' lead.

Rising star: Louisiana Tech true freshman running back Kenneth Dixon. He had 18 carries for 111 yards (an average of 6.2 per carry) and had two touchdowns. He broke plenty of tackles on his second scoring run of the night. Texas A&M redshirt freshman receiver Mike Evans also was impressive and continues to produce for the Aggies as perhaps Manziel's favorite receiver, catching four passes for 137 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown catch.

What it means: For the Aggies, it sets up a huge showdown with 6-1 LSU next week at Kyle Field. Texas A&M saw some issues that existed in its season-opening loss to Florida (penalties and missed tackles among them) and after a strong first four games on defense, allowing 57 points certainly won't be comforting for coach Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

For Louisiana Tech, it means its BCS-busting hopes are all but dashed. The Bulldogs likely will drop out of the rankings, but Sonny Dykes and Co. have nothing to be ashamed of. They showed tremendous fight and gave an SEC team a run for its money. The Bulldogs are still the favorites to win the WAC, and should they run the table the rest of the way, they'll jump back in and move up the rankings.

And depending how he fares next week against LSU, Manziel might start hearing the word "Heisman" mentioned in connection with his name pretty soon.
One thing we're learning about Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: When he says he's going to do something, he does.

Scott talked about expansion and he did it. And he talked about improving football officiating, and it appears he's well on his way to doing that.

Mike Pereira, the Pac-12's interim coordinator of football officiating, has dismissed 11 officials who worked games last year and will hire 16 new officials heading into the 2011 season, according to the Seattle Times. Those new officials will be lured away from the Big 12, Mountain West and WAC, per the report.

Pereira doesn't mince words with his evaluation of the conference's officiating.
"I certainly did not think that for a geographic area like the West Coast that can draw from a lot of officials, I certainly didn't think it was at the level that it could be," he told the Times. "I'm not saying it was horrible, but it was not at the level that it deserved to be and that this conference deserves to have."

My guess is some of you might agree.

Couple of other notes of interest from the Times story by Bob Condotta.
  • Pereira said the conference's entire officiating program is being reorganized, starting with the hiring of seven supervisors to oversee each of the seven officiating positions (referee, umpire, linesman, line judge, back judge, field judge, side judge), as well as one for the replay booth.
  • There will be a new "officiating command center" at the conference office in Walnut Creek, Calif., which matches other BCS conferences.
  • Sixteen new officials will give the conference seven seven-man crews, a personnel increase due to the addition of two new teams to the conference.

Utah reshuffles staff

February, 4, 2011
Norm Chow: Utah tight ends coach.

Sorry. Just wanted to type that.

Here's how Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has reshuffled his staff after hiring Chow away from UCLA, per a press release:

[O]ffensive coordinator Norm Chow will also coach the tight ends, while Dave Schramm takes over at running back -- a position he managed during his first four years at Utah (2005-08). Aaron Alford, a Ute assistant since 2007 and the running backs coach for the last two seasons, moves into an administrative role as the director of high school relations. The rest of Utah’s offensive staff has Aaron Roderick beginning his seventh year with the receivers, Brian Johnson coaching the quarterbacks for the second year, and Tim Davis taking over the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport - US PresswireNew Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow will bring a lot of experience to the staff.
Utah also announced that Chad Kauha’aha’a will take over as defensive line coach. He replaces John Pease, who retired after the season. Kauha’aha’a was Utah State's defensive line coach for the past two seasons. He's a former second-team all WAC player for the Utes in 1996. Whittingham was the defensive coordinator during Kauha’aha’a’s last three years at Utah.

But back to the offensive shakeup. Here's how Whittingham explained it:

“We took our time re-positioning the offensive staff and made sure that we got everybody into the roles we felt were best for the program. Aaron Alford did a nice job with our running backs, and the cornerbacks before that, but as the director of high school relations, he will fill a critical role for us in our move to the Pac-12.”

It seems like Whittingham tried to limit the shock to his staff's system as best he could, seeing that Schramm and Roderick shared the coordinating duties last year and are functionally getting a demotion because of the arrival of Chow.

Most interesting: Chow is not coaching quarterbacks. That's been his specialty since his BYU days in the 1970s. That decision feels like tip of the cap to Brian Johnson, as well as a way to allow Chow to serve in a more supervisory role. A graduate assistant can put tight ends through drills. Coaching quarterbacks is far more involved.

Further, Chow turns 65 in May. It seems unlikely he'll be Utah's offensive coordinator for the next decade, though you never know. You'd think the rest of the offensive staff, even if they are grumpy at present about the changes, could absorb plenty of knowledge from Chow over the next few years that will benefit them down the road.

While Chow's tenure at UCLA wasn't successful, he's still on a short list of the best offensive minds in college football history. You'd also think he'll be plenty motivated to wash the bad taste out of his mouth over how things went in Westwood.

And who isn't excited about UCLA's visit on Nov. 12?

Pac-10 bowl projections

November, 14, 2010
Will any team mired in the bottom-middle of the Pac-10 get hot down the stretch? It sure would make the conference's bowl partners happy.

With Oregon State's stunning loss to Washington State, it's becoming increasingly likely that only four conference teams will earn bowl eligibility, barring any special waiver from the NCAA for 5-7 teams to play in contracted bowl games.

Oregon, Stanford and Arizona are already bowl eligible. If Oregon wins out, it almost certainly will play for the national title. If Stanford wins out, and the Ducks play a non-AQ team for the title, the Cardinal will play in the Rose Bowl. After that, Stanford's status is fluid. Could it earn an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game? Or will it possibly be relegated to the Alamo Bowl?

If Arizona loses to Oregon and beats Arizona State, it figures to end up in the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl. We are projecting California to end up 6-6 after losing to Stanford and beating Washington at home in the season-finale, which would put the Bears in the Holiday or Sun Bowl.

And the Las Vegas Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger bowl, in our projection, would have to look elsewhere for teams.

Of course, there are possibilities for UCLA and Washington and even Arizona State.

The Bruins (4-5) play at Washington (Thursday night), at Arizona State and play host to USC. It's not implausible to imagine them winning two of three. Of course, they will have to show some toughness on the road, which they did at Texas.

Washington (3-6) plays the Bruins, at California and at Washington State. It's not implausible to imagine the Huskies winning all three, though the visit to Cal looks a bit daunting.

As for Arizona State (4-6), it needs to beat UCLA and win at Arizona to reach .500. If it does, it's likely the Sun Devils would be a candidate for a waiver that would allow them to play in a bowl game, despite getting to six wins with two victories against FCS foes.

And it's not that hard to be sympathetic to that position. The Sun Devils' two FCS foes are not really that much weaker than the nonconference patsies a number of other 6-6 and 7-5 teams will have played.

The Bruins, however, look like the swing team, with remaining games against Washington and Arizona State. If they manage to get a fifth win at Washington, it wouldn't be hard to see them splitting their final two games and getting to 6-6.
  • Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: Oregon vs. BCS team [a non-AQ]
  • Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
  • Valero Alamo: Arizona vs. Big 12
  • Bridgepoint Education Holiday: California vs. Big 12
  • Hyundai Sun: No team.
  • MAACO Las Vegas: No team
  • Kraft Fight Hunger: No team.

Pac-10 bowl projections

November, 7, 2010
There's some happy in this week's bowl projections: Two BCS teams!

And there's some grumpy: Contract bowls with no eligible Pac-10 teams.

First, after watching Boise State and TCU this weekend, I've decided to roll the dice that one or the other will play Oregon for the national title.

That opens the door for Stanford to play in the Rose Bowl. That's my makeup gift for nagging Stanford fans about all those empty seats Saturday.

That's the good news. The bad news is I'm now projecting just five bowl-eligible teams. Which means the Las Vegas Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl make have to look elsewhere for a Pac-10 team.

The way I see things playing out, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington all finish 5-7.

Of course, what that also means is a one-game swing would create a bowl-eligible team (though ASU needs to be 7-5 to guarantee bowl eligibility). On the other hand, Washington's visit to California on Nov. 27 is a swing game. I've got it being Cal's sixth win (Bears at home!) and the Huskies seventh loss. And if UCLA keeps rolling and wins at Washington on Nov. 18th ... well, you get the point.

Still, as I keep typing: Lots of football to be played. These are for entertainment purposes. I don't want to be seen as a travel agent. Don't book anything yet.
  • Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: Oregon vs. BCS team [a non-AQ]
  • Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
  • Valero Alamo: Arizona vs. Big 12
  • Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Oregon State vs. Big 12
  • Hyundai Sun: California vs. ACC
  • MAACO Las Vegas: No team
  • Kraft Fight Hunger: No team.

Pac-10 bowl projections

October, 31, 2010
Oregon State is the big mover this week, its win against California making a 5-3 Pac-10 finish the most likely scenario for the Beavers. That could make things interesting.

If both Arizona and Oregon State finish 5-3 in the Pac-10, that likely would make them top candidates for the Holiday Bowl, which gets the Pac-10's No. 3 team.

The Wildcats played in the Holiday Bowl last year. Oregon State never has. And the Beavers won at Arizona.

The guess here is the Beavers would go to San Diego and Arizona would get a trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl, which the Beavers played in in 2006 and 2008.

Of course, both are still in the Rose Bowl race. And if Arizona wins at Stanford on Saturday, its bowl possibilities greatly expand. (I'm sure to get some grumpiness from Wildcats fans not appreciative of getting losses to Stanford and Oregon written into their future).

After the top four teams, though, things are murky. We've got California and Arizona State earning bowl berths at 6-6. For the Sun Devils, that means some sort of waiver is given, because they played two FCS teams and typically would be required to win seven games. Contracted conference bowl games might be able to fudge things with the NCAA. (With 35 bowls requiring 70 teams, this might be necessary to fill all slots).

A key player might be USC. Will the Trojans finish strong or wilt? My present scenario has the Trojans losing to Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon State, meaning they're about to begin a four-game losing streak.

To be honest, that feels unlikely. But, not to seem like a whiny baby or anything, these bowl projections aren't easy to do.
  • Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: Oregon vs. BCS team
  • Rose Bowl Game: No Pac-10 team
  • Valero Alamo: Stanford vs. Big 12
  • Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Oregon State vs. Big 12
  • Hyundai Sun: Arizona vs. ACC
  • MAACO Las Vegas: California vs. Mountain West
  • Kraft Fight Hunger: Arizona State vs. WAC

Pac-10 bowl projections

October, 24, 2010
These bowl projections don't match up with how I penciled out the rest of the regular season. My perhaps pessimistic projections see more 5-7 than 6-6, which likely means open bowl slots.

So I'm leaning on the conference's unpredictability to provide a boost to teams that could go either way toward bowl eligibility. Stanford, Arizona, USC and, heck, maybe even Oregon, are going to lose to someone in a "We didn't see that coming" game. That probably is where an elusive sixth win will appear.

Two games among the muddled middle seem critical to me, with unpredictable Cal being the linchpin: First, the Bears visit Oregon State on Saturday. The guess here is the winner is a sure-thing bowl team.

Second, Washington visits Cal on Nov. 27. It's hard to win in Berkeley, but the Huskies might need that one to get to six wins.

And by the way, Stanford and Arizona fans: You are now also TCU and Boise State fans. If a non-AQ team were to play Oregon for the national championship, then the Rose Bowl could stick to its traditional Pac-10-Big Ten matchup. If the No. 2 Pac-10 team is BCS-bowl eligible, then it likely goes to the Rose Bowl in that scenario.

So here we go.
  • Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: Oregon vs. BCS team
  • Rose Bowl Game: No Pac-10 team
  • Valero Alamo: Stanford vs. Big 12
  • Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona vs. Big 12
  • Hyundai Sun: California vs. ACC
  • MAACO Las Vegas: Washington vs. Mountain West
  • Kraft Fight Hunger: Oregon State vs. WAC

WAC meets with five potential members

September, 29, 2010
The WAC membership committee met with five potential new members in Dallas, and commissioner Karl Benson said invitations could be handed out in the next 30 to 60 days.

Texas-San Antonio, Texas State, Seattle University, Montana and the University of Denver are all candidates to join the WAC, which is losing Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West. Only UTSA, Texas State and Montana have football programs, and none of them play on the major college level.

Both UTSA and Texas State have plans to move up to FBS. Montana is still deciding whether it is going to make the jump up and has conducted feasibility studies on the subject. There also is administrative change there as well, with a new president set to take charge. Seattle and Denver would be candidates to join as non-football playing members.

“Our first goal and our highest priority is to ensure that we have a minimum of eight football-playing schools for the 2012 season,” Benson said Wednesday on a conference call.

The membership committee, consisting of the athletic directors of the six remaining WAC schools, heard presentations from everyone but Montana on Tuesday. Because Montana has yet to make a decision about its future, the school had a different dialogue with the committee. Benson said it was important to include Montana in the discussion because it is a good fit for the league.

He also added these were the five schools the WAC was focused in on for right now, but also said he did not want to back the league into a corner should there be further expansion moves with other conferences.

“We want to make sure we leave some opportunities in case there are other moves,” Benson said. “We are going to continue to track what’s going on around us. At the same time, we believe it’s necessary to allow our coaches to go out into the recruiting world and be able to inform student-athletes that this is what the WAC is going to look like in 2012.

“There is negative recruiting going on right now in many sports and our coaches are being disadvantaged when other coaches in other conferences are suggesting maybe the WAC isn’t going to be around in 2012. It’s very important we send a strong message sooner than later that the WAC is going to continue operating.”

The goal is to have the new members in place for the 2012-13 school year. Boise State is leaving after this season, but there is a legal fight looming with Fresno State and Nevada. Both schools also want to leave after this season, but the WAC wants them to stay through 2011-12.
Boise State starting safety Winston Venable has been suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against New Mexico State for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Oregon State's James Rodgers last weekend.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson announced the suspension Wednesday during a conference call. Benson had initially suspended Venable for the entire game. But Boise State appealed to the WAC sportsmanship committee, which cut the suspension to half a game.

The hit knocked the Oregon State receiver out of the game with a concussion, though it did not draw a penalty. Tape of the hit was sent to Benson for review. Under NCAA rules, commissioners must review all helmet-to-helmet hits. Benson also asked Dave Parry, NCAA coordinator of officiating, and NCAA secretary-rules editor Rogers Redding to review the play as well.

Both officials deemed the hit to be a flagrant personal foul, which would have required automatic ejection had a flag been thrown.

Venable will receive a letter from Benson, informing him of the suspension and warning him that future helmet-to-helmet hits may result in further suspensions.

The WAC and Mountain West also reviewed a low block Nevada offensive lineman John Bender delivered to BYU defensive tackle Romney Fuga in last weekend's game. Both conferences ruled the hit didn't violate NCAA football rules so no further action is required. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall complained about the hit, saying it wasn't a "positive football play." Fuga is out for the season after tearing two ligaments in his knee on the play.

Nevada is good for WAC, Mountain West

September, 29, 2010
You can imagine what WAC commissioner Karl Benson must be feeling these days.

On the one hand, he has got to feel pride, seeing Boise State and Nevada in the Top 25 -- the first time the WAC has had two teams ranked since Sept. 28, 2008. On the other, he has to feel incredible disappointment, knowing those two schools and Fresno State are ditching his league for the Mountain West.

Benson refused comment when asked about the dichotomy earlier this week, saying only, “I’m not going to go down that path.”

Strange as it may sound, what is good for the WAC is good for the Mountain West this season.

If Nevada keeps winning, the Wolf Pack help out Boise State in the BCS computer rankings and perhaps in national perception. It also would help fill the void that BYU is leaving in the Mountain West’s quest to become an automatic qualifying conference. The same could be said of Fresno State, which is off to a 2-1 start but reeling after a loss at Ole Miss.

The quest for AQ status is three-pronged. Results from the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons will be evaluated to determine whether the Mountain West qualifies. Here is the evaluation process, for those who need a refresher:
1. The ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year.

2. The final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings the BCS uses.

3. The number of teams in the Top 25 of the final BCS standings each year, with adjustments to account for the size of league membership.

The Mountain West would have to finish among the top six conferences in No. 1 and No. 2 and have a ranking equal to or greater than 50 percent of the conference with the highest ranking in criteria No. 3. If the Mountain West fails to meet these standards, it can apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption.

The calculations will be made based on conference membership on Dec. 4, 2011. That is why it is so critical for the Mountain West to get Fresno State and Nevada on board for the start of the 2011 season. They are currently embroiled in a legal fight with the WAC, which maintains those schools must remain through 2011-12. Boise State will begin play in the Mountain West in 2011.

As it stands now, the Mountain West would fall short of AQ status.

If Fresno State and Nevada are able to join for the 2011 season, both are going to have to turn it up to bolster the chances of the Mountain West. Utah leaving for the Pac-10 is negated with the addition of Boise State, which has been ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings in 2008 and 2009. TCU remains.

The problem here is replacing BYU, which is going independent. The Cougars finished No. 16 in the final BCS standings in 2008 and No. 14 in 2009. Neither Fresno State nor Nevada finished in the Top 25. That is why their performance this season is so critical.

Nevada must keep winning, for the WAC and the MWC. Look at what happened in 2008. Fresno State was ranked No. 22 after a 3-1 start, but dropped from the rankings after a 32-29 overtime loss to Hawaii. The Bulldogs ended up losing four more games that season and finished 7-6.

Nevada is now in at No. 25, its first ranking ever in the coaches’ poll. Fresno State coach Pat Hill, familiar with the expectations that come with rankings, said, “I think it’s good, but you have to keep winning to stay there,” Hill said. “We live in such a day of hype and everything else you have to keep playing.”

Nevada coach Chris Ault seems to understand the ramifications.

“I do think it’s a great motivator for our football team to get recognized and understand you’re playing that well that people are appreciating it,” Ault said. “The bottom line is you still have to line up. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
Utah State football coach Gary Andersen injured neck in a fall at his home, but plans on being on the sideline against BYU on Friday night.

Anderson got hurt Monday morning and is recovering.

“Gary is a very fit and well-conditioned individual with a low resting heart rate and low resting blood pressure. He simply got up too quickly and fell, injuring his neck, which from the wear and tear on his neck from his football days made it a more worrisome injury. His prognosis is good, and he will be fine,” team doctor Trek Lyons said.

Andersen was released from Logan Regional Hospital Emergency Room later Monday morning and spent the afternoon resting at his home, before making an appearance at the Aggies' practice. According to Lyons, Andersen will wear a neck brace as a precaution.
The big theme for Boise State and TCU after their “unconvincing” wins this past weekend was style points. As in: both earned big, fat zeroes.

Never mind that they both won their games to remain undefeated. TCU ended up dropping one spot to No. 5 because it beat SMU 41-24. Oregon moved into the No. 4 spot after beating Arizona State 42-31 on the road.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTCU coach Gary Patterson knows that style points don't mean much for his program.
But how much will style points really help TCU and Boise State? I am inclined to believe the answer is: not at all.

Style points have long been a source of debate in college football. They have to be, since there is no fair way to determine a national champion. When your entire formula for deciding the champ comes down to a bunch of computers crunching numbers and humans voting, your body of work must be judged against another team. Several other teams, really.

That is where the beautiful style points come into play. But in this case, Boise State and TCU are already behind in perception because of their conferences and schedules, so style points are not going to put them into a national championship game.

Raise your hand if you think Boise State and TCU winning the rest of their games 100-0 will put them into the top 2 at the end of the season? My hand is down at my side, simply because there is the continuing perception that they play a weaker schedule than everybody else. There is a perception that a one-loss SEC team or a one-loss Big 12 team deserves a spot ahead of them in the rankings.

Several folks on my live chat Monday asked why Nebraska can get away with a close win over South Dakota State with nary a batted eye, but a win for Boise State over a team from the Pac-10 has folks believing it is not as good as advertised. The reason is twofold: this was the final game against an automatic qualifying opponent for Boise State. Then there is the perception that the Big 12 is somehow better. Even though one of its marquee teams just got smoked at home, another lost to an FCS team, and still another lost badly to TCU.

The WAC and Mountain West each have more wins (four) over automatic qualifying opponents than the Big East (one) and the ACC (three). Both non-AQ leagues are ranked ahead of the Big East and ACC in the latest conference power rankings. But it is the weak sisters of the conference who dominant the prevailing school of thought for those conferences.

That is why I am not sure style points matter. If TCU had beaten SMU 40-0, does it hold on to the No. 4 spot ahead of Oregon? Maybe. Maybe not. But Boise State and TCU are not moving up until another team loses, no matter how pretty they look on the field.

Neither coach much cares for the style point factor, so you will not see them running up the score this season. TCU coach Gary Patterson actually publicly apologized to Tennessee Tech after his team scored a late touchdown and won 62-7 earlier this month, saying, “I didn't mean to score the last touchdown. We don't do style points. We didn't throw the ball in the fourth quarter. That's not the program we are, period.”

Boise State had the ball late in the fourth quarter at the Oregon State 21 but called three straight running plays and settled for a field goal to go up 37-24.

I asked Boise State coach Chris Petersen Monday about the idea of needing style points and he said, “What we’re trying to do is win the game and really play at the highest level we can possibly play at. We’re not worried about style points at all. We’re worried about getting better and playing good football. Certainly not style points or things that we can’t control.”

He was asked a follow-up on whether there was pressure to put up style points, given the scrutiny that always follows his team. “I don’t know if it’s pressure but it’s just not what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re trying to win the game and play as well as we can and after that it doesn’t matter.”

He is right about one thing -- it doesn’t matter, not for Boise State and TCU.
Nevada made history on Sunday when it appeared in both the Associated Press and coaches' poll for the first time.

The Wolf Pack are at No. 25 in both polls after a 4-0 start to the season, their best start since joining the FBS division in 1992. They had previously been ranked in the AP poll in 1948. Nevada first appeared on Oct. 4, 1948, at No. 19. The Pack, behind All-American quarterback Stan Heath, rose as high as No. 10 on Oct. 25 before falling out of the poll in mid-November.

"It's very exciting news," coach Chris Ault told the AP in a telephone interview Sunday. "I'm sure our players will be fired up."

Nevada has surged behind Colin Kaepernick, who is third in the nation in total offense with 1,375 yards. He ranks second behind Michigan's Denard Robinson among dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Thanks to him, Nevada has the No. 4 offense in the country, averaging 529 yards a game.

Last week in a phone interview, Kaepernick acknowledged he didn't think Nevada was a national name just yet. But it's getting there.

"If we end the season at .500, no one will care about what we did the first three games," he said. "We have to win the rest of our games for people to take us seriously and respect us as a football team."

That includes major tests ahead. Nevada plays at UNLV on Oct. 2, but also has to play at Hawaii on Oct. 16 and at Fresno State on Nov. 13. Then the doozy -- home against Boise State on Nov. 26. That game could decide the WAC champion.

But, of course, there is still plenty of football left to be played before that big showdown in Reno.

TCU, Boise State jockey for position

September, 20, 2010
Boise State and TCU have been locked in a fight for non-automatic qualifier supremacy for two years now with no signs of letting up. So what exactly does TCU have to do to overtake Boise State this season if the two teams continue to go undefeated?

There has been a lot of chatter about potential scenarios. Last season, TCU finished ahead of Boise State in the final BCS rankings, so one could believe the same would happen this year if the teams go undefeated.

But there is a flaw to that line of reasoning. BCS guru Brad Edwards points out a few factors that could keep Boise State ahead of TCU.

1. The Broncos are ranked higher in both polls. The coaches’ poll counts one-third in the BCS standings, so first ask yourself what would make anybody vote Boise State down and TCU up should the two teams keep winning? Unless the Broncos have a string of really close victories against mediocre competition, it’s most likely not going to happen. Boise State has the advantage of having beaten TCU last season in the Fiesta Bowl. The Harris poll counts another third in the BCS formula. While that doesn’t come out until October, those voters are media members as well. If Boise State is No. 3 in the AP poll, one can guess it would stay in the same position in the Harris poll. That is just a guess, of course.

2. The Mountain West schedule would not necessarily give TCU the push that it needs to make up for being behind in the polls. Remember, the polls account for two-thirds of the formula. Right now, TCU does have better rankings than Boise State in three of the four computer rankings that publish their standings. (The first BCS standings will be released Oct. 17, with all six computer rankings listed). But the WAC has not embarrassed itself this season, and in fact is putting together a pretty decent showing. The WAC is 3-7 against teams from AQ conferences; the Mountain West is 4-8.

The WAC has an advantage in head-to-head competition against the MWC so far this year, going 3-1 in those games. Three more WAC-MWC games are on tap for this weekend. The highlight of those: Nevada at BYU. That game could end up being a gauge for where the WAC stands. Both Nevada and Fresno State have wins over AQ teams. If they continue to play well, the WAC has the potential of having three teams ranked in the Top 25. The Mountain West has two right now in No. 4 TCU and No. 13 Utah. The Mountain West is ranked ahead of the WAC in the latest conference power rankings, and both are ahead of the Big East and ACC.

3. How about Utah, you ask? Some have wondered whether Utah has what it takes to leap Boise State should the Utes be the ones to go undefeated from the Mountain West. Because Utah started the season ranked so low, it is going to be difficult for the Utes to leap frog into a Top 2 position.

Of course, we still have the bulk of the season that needs to be played. Boise State has its big game against Oregon State this Saturday (8 p.m. EDT, ABC). TCU has a challenge at SMU on Friday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN). The Horned Frogs have already beaten the Beavers, so at least that game will give us a point of comparison between the two squads. But it is going to get harder and harder to judge each team and figure out who is best should they continue to win.

TCU has been impressive simply because the Horned Frogs had to replace their best players on defense. Yes, they and Boise State returned the bulk of their starters, and having veteran leaders at quarterback is always a huge advantage. But TCU lost Jerry Hughes, Daryl Washington and its veteran cornerbacks Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders. Yet there the Horned Frogs are, ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense. Boise State is right behind at No. 5.

Nobody can say for sure who is going to end up ahead of the other come December. But for right now, it is certainly a debate worth discussing.

What we learned from non-AQs, Week 3

September, 19, 2010
Now for a recap of five things we learned from the non-AQs after Week 3.

1. TCU is the best team in Texas. You might have thought so before, but after watching the Horned Frogs beat Baylor 45-10 and Texas struggle to beat Texas Tech 24-14, it is safe to say it now. Heck, TCU might even be better than Boise State at this point. The defense has come on strong despite losing Jerry Hughes, Daryl Washington and two experienced cornerbacks in Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, turning back two vastly different offenses in Oregon State and Baylor. TCU held the Bears to 263 total yards of offense and sacked Robert Griffin three times. Andy Dalton, meanwhile, had only two incompletions the entire game, and running back Ed Wesley added a career-high 165 yards rushing with two touchdowns. For those skeptic s out there who think the Longhorns would beat TCU, my answer is this – both defenses are terrific, but a senior quarterback with 32 career wins takes it over Garrett Gilbert.

2. Boise State can win with style. But is that going to be enough to impress voters and computers? The Broncos easily handled Wyoming, scoring 37 straight points en route to the 51-6 rout in Laramie. But as we have so often heard, this game is simply one of many against “cupcakes” ahead for the Broncos. There are reasons to believe this schedule could prove to be more difficult than people realize. Oregon State is next, and several WAC teams have shown signs of life – Hawaii looked good in its first two games; Fresno State and Nevada are playing extremely well; and Utah State is much improved. These teams don’t stack up to the SEC, but they aren’t pushovers, either. Just ask California.

3. Conference USA is wide open. After Houston saw both Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner go down with injuries against UCLA late Saturday night, the Cougars’ fortunes have completely changed. Both players are out for the season, the school announced Sunday night -- Keenum with a torn ACL and Turner with a broken clavicle. That opens the door for the rest of Conference USA. They simply are a different team without their best player. This is two games in a row now that Keenum has been injured trying to make a hit on an interception. Coach Kevin Sumlin had talked to Keenum about trying to avoid making tackles, but the competitive nature got the best out of the former Heisman Trophy candidate.

4. Temple is living up to the preseason expectations – so far. You may not have thought that after the struggles in the first two games of the season, in which the Owls needed a field goal to win it at the end of regulation against Villanova and in overtime against Central Michigan. They had been outgained through the first two weeks of the season. Connecticut outgained them, too, but the Owls put together a dominating fourth quarter to come from behind and win 30-16. Temple is 3-0 for the first time since 1979. The win was its first against a team from an automatic qualifying conference since beating Syracuse in 2004 – when Temple was still in the Big East. Now comes a big litmus test to see how the Owls truly stack up – they hit the road to take on Penn State in Week 4.

5. This could be the year for another team to win the Commander-In-Chief Trophy. Navy has won the trophy seven straight years, but watch out for Air Force. Navy (2-1) put together a nice performance against Louisiana Tech in a 37-23 win, led by Ricky Dobbs’ arm and not his legs, but the Midshipmen have had injury problems and looked inconsistent overall this season. Air Force (2-1) played Oklahoma extremely close in a 27-24 loss Saturday and has veteran leadership in Tim Jefferson, Asher Clark and Jared Tew, who are running the triple-option to near perfection. The defense is also improved. Air Force is at Wyoming this week and Navy has a bye before their huge game in Colorado on Oct. 2.