NCF Nation: Willie Snead

GoDaddy Bowl preview

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
Ball State (10-2) enters the GoDaddy Bowl (9 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN) still looking for its first bowl win in program history. At 0-6, the Cardinals have the worst all-time record in bowl games, just below Western Michigan's 0-5 mark. They'll face Arkansas State (7-5), a rising program with a 27-11 record since 2011.

Who to watch: Keith Wenning is one of the best QBs you've never heard of. Ball State's all-time leading passer, Wenning led the Cardinals to 10 wins and threw for 3,933 yards and 34 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Ball State is one of just four FBS teams with two 1,000-yard receivers -- Willie Snead (1,429) and Jordan Williams (1,016). Trying to keep up will be Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy, who has found success in his senior year after transferring from Utah State. Hitting on 69.4 percent of his passes, Kennedy has the fifth-best completion percentage in the FBS. ASU sophomore running back Michael Gordon averages 6.8 yards a carry and is coming in hot. Two of his two best games of the season came in the least three games -- 184 yards rushing against Texas State and 132 against Western Kentucky.

What to watch: Arkansas State might be the away team, but it clearly has home-field advantage playing in the GoDaddy Bowl for the third straight year. The Red Wolves won the Sun Belt Conference for the third year in a row and also saw their head coach hired away for the third straight season. Following in the footsteps of Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss, and Gus Malzahn to Auburn, Bryan Harsin left to take over Boise State. Defensive coordinator John Thompson will be the Red Wolves' interim coach for a second consecutive GoDaddy Bowl. Look for Arkansas State to play with edge, as new head coach Blake Anderson will be watching and evaluating.

Why to watch: The coach on the other sideline, Pete Lembo, is no slouch either. With a 25-12 record and back-to-back bowl appearances over the past three seasons at Ball State, Lembo is a hot name. Since breaking into the head coaching ranks in 2001, he has won big at every stop (35-22 at Elon and 44-14 at Lehigh) and reportedly interviewed for openings at Wake Forest and UConn. Lembo's calling card is the passing game, and Ball State is ranked No. 17 in the nation in total offense, averaging 486.6 yard a game. Look for plenty of fireworks, as Arkansas State averages 414.2 yards a game.

Prediction: Ball State 41, Arkansas State 31
UCF Knights (9-4) vs. Ball State Cardinals (9-3)

Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET, St. Petersburg, Fla. (ESPN)

UCF take from WolverineNation's Chantel Jennings: In its final season in Conference USA before it moves to the Big East, UCF exited its conference play with an overtime loss to Tulsa in the championship game. So, in a trip about 100 miles down the road the Knights will try to erase that memory with a win in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.

The Knights were a stalwart on defense this season, putting together the conference’s best scoring defense (22.5 points/game), best pass defense (217.8 yards/game) and second best in both total defense (380.2 yards/game) and redzone defense.

It will be the second time UCF takes the field in St. Petersburg as a part of the bowl and the fifth time in school history the Knights have gone bowling. And in its final bowl trip as a C-USA member it’ll take on a team out of the conference that it will join next season, the Big East.

Pacing the Knights this season has been sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles, who could pass the 3,000-yard season passing mark in the bowl game. Despite making up for three of UCF’s touchdowns, his 14-of-32 passing performance against Tulsa was one of his worst of the season (though the 30-plus mph winds might have had a part in that). The talented sophomore will look to build on his impressive season with a final win for C-USA.

Ball State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Although Northern Illinois and Kent State received most of the attention during a historic season for the MAC, Ball State quietly put together a very successful run under second-year coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals won their final six games, including triumphs against Toledo and Ohio, to match the third-highest victories total in team history.

Ball State boasts a dynamic offense that ranks 22nd nationally in total yards and 31st in scoring, and eclipsed 200 rushing yards seven times, including four times in the final five games. Talented sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards racked up 786 yards and nine touchdowns in the final six regular-season contests. Wide receiver Willie Snead ranks in the top 25 nationally in both receptions and receiving yards.

Ball State’s defense struggles against the run (106th nationally), but the overall unit improved as the season went along. The Cardinals’ only losses came at Clemson and against the two MAC frontrunners. Three of Ball State’s six major bowl appearances have come in the past six seasons, although the Cardinals are still searching for their first bowl victory.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 24, 2012
Here's a look back at what was an up-and-down weekend for the Big East.

The good: The Big East now has two ranked teams after Louisville took care of business at FIU and Rutgers won at Arkansas. Pitt also looks to have made its slow early-season start a distant memory after it destroyed Gardner-Webb.

[+] EnlargeGary Nova
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireThe most surprising aspect of Rutgers' win over Arkansas was how the Scarlet Knights did it: With the arm of Gary Nova.
The bad: The conference went just 3-4 as a whole, losing to a pair of opponents each from the Big Ten and the MAC. Three of the four losses were certainly winnable contests.

The ugly: What was arguably Temple's best chance to beat Penn State since 1941 went up in flames in a 24-13 loss. The Owls were just 3 of 12 on third down, notched 237 yards of offense and surrendered nearly 500 yards to a Nittany Lions team hardly known for its ability to move the ball.

Biggest surprise: We knew Rutgers could be good after three weeks, and we knew the Scarlet Knights had a chance to pull off a win in SEC country. We just didn't think it would be on the arm of Gary Nova, who threw for 397 yards and five touchdowns on 25-of-35 passing. Nova was inconsistent through the first three weeks but came up huge when his team needed him most.

Biggest disappointment: USF suffered another letdown, this time at underdog Ball State. The Cardinals stunned the Bulls late with a remarkable 19-yard touchdown catch by Willie Snead with 1:02 to go, and B.J. Daniels was picked off to end the game after driving the offense deep in the final minute. USF's 518 yards of offense should be enough, especially at Ball State, but its defense -- and 11 penalties -- hampered the team. Things won't get easier next week against Florida State.

Human … finally: Teddy Bridgewater was brought down to earth at FIU. The Miami native's homecoming was not the smoothest, as the sophomore who entered Week 4 completing 81.8 percent of his passes finished just 19-of-36 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. The interceptions were his first of the season. He did add 16 rushing yards and another score on four carries.

Kryptonite: The MAC. Yes, the MAC. Can we at least get these contests moved to midweek, like the rest of #MACtion, if they're going to be so competitive? They really shouldn't be when featuring BCS-conference schools, but Western Michigan took down UConn and Ball State topped USF, both at home. The Huskies' offense and the Bulls' defense have been major letdowns so far.

Ball State stuns USF

September, 22, 2012
USF followed up its Big East opening loss to Rutgers ... with a loss to Ball State.

It was that kind of day for the league, which went 0-2 against the MAC on Saturday -- including UConn's loss to Western Michigan. That winless record comes a week after the Big East made some headlines with its 3-0 day against the ACC.

But Saturday, both UConn and USF seemed to take their MAC competition lightly. The Bulls seemed disinterested and made way too many mistakes in a 31-27 loss. Start with 11 penalties for 112 yards; minus-2 in the turnover margin department; and a missed extra point that impacted the outcome of the game.

Had USF made its extra point after a touchdown by Lindsey Lamar in the second quarter, then the Bulls would not have needed to score a touchdown with time running out in the game. It was a wild final five minutes to be sure. B.J. Daniels threw his second touchdown pass to Lamar -- who ran 29 yards with several broken tackles -- to give USF a 27-24 lead with 4:12 remaining. It was USF's first lead since opening the game with a field goal.

But the Bulls defense simply couldn't hold, and that followed the theme of the day. Keith Wenning marched Ball State 75 yards down the field and capped the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead -- who made an unbelievable tippy-toe catch in the corner of the end zone. Ball State grabbed a 31-27 lead with 1:02 to go.

USF then had to go for the touchdown. Daniels marched USF to the Ball State 28 with 17 seconds left. But he threw an interception to end the game, on what looked like a miscommunication with his receiver.

USF did have 518 yards of total offense, but too many mistakes did this team in -- again. Now the Bulls face the prospect of hosting Florida State at home next weekend on the heels of two dispiriting losses.