Monday, August 30, 2010

UMD's Chase Vogler Honored by NSIC

The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference is quite accustomed to handing out weekly football honors to UMD players.

This time, the first offensive award of the season doesn't go to the guy you might expect it to.

Instead of All-American back Isaac Odim, already UMD's all-time leading rusher, the NSIC has honored UMD's starting quarterback.

The information on Chase Vogler's award comes from UMD.

Chase Vogler, who quarterbacked the University of Minnesota Duluth to a rousing 35-10 season-opening victory at Central Washington University this past Saturday, has been chosen the first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Offensive Player of the Week for 2010.

The 6-0, 190-pound sophomore from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., generated a career-high 252 yards of total offense, pacing both teams in rushing with 69 yards on just six carries while connecting on nine of 18 passes for another 183 yards with no interceptions. In addition to running 55 yards for one touchdown, Vogler also hooked up with junior wide receiver D.J. Winfield on an 89-yard scoring strike -- UMD's longest play from scrimmage since the 1999 season.

The win over Central Washington, which had won 17 straight regular season games coming into Saturday's clash, elevated the Bulldogs from fourth to third in this week's American Football Coaches Association Division II Poll. That's ties for the third highest ranking ever bestowed on a UMD club in a AFCA Il poll. (UMD closed out the 2008 season with a national championship and a No. 1 rating and held down the No. 2 spot in the Aug. 31, 2009 poll).

UMD, the two-time defending NSIC champions, will return to action on Sept. 11 when it takes on league rival Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa.

You can, by the way, follow UMD's starting quarterback on Twitter. Vogler last updated after Saturday's win, and he doesn't appear to tweet as often as, say, I do, but he's there!

The Bulldogs are heavy favorites to win a third straight NSIC title.

College Football 2010: Sun Belt

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Sun Belt Conference
1. Middle Tennessee State
2. Troy
3. Arkansas State
4. North Texas
5. Louisiana
6. Florida Atlantic
7. Florida International
8. Louisiana-Monroe
9. Western Kentucky

Stories to Watch in the Sun Belt

Will the overall competitiveness improve? We keep waiting for the Sun Belt to get over the hump, in a way. Member schools play a lot of "guarantee" games, where they get a large paycheck in exchange for traveling to a big school to get their asses kicked. And those ass-kickings are still happening. Last year, league champion Troy lost by 17 to Bowling Green, 50 to Florida, and 36 to Arkansas. Middle Tennessee State lost by 23 to Clemson and by 21 to non-bowl Mississippi State. Florida Atlantic lost to Nebraska by 46 and South Carolina by 22. Louisiana lost to LSU by 28 and Nebraska by 55. It's a problem, and it's going to continue to be a problem. Even the best the Sun Belt has to offer simply can't compete with the nation's top teams. The best that the Sun Belt can hope for is to get a lower-rung team from a major conference to visit one of their campuses, at which point the league has a chance to pick up a much-needed non-conference win. This year, Minnesota travels to Middle Tennessee State, North Texas hosts Kansas State, Oklahoma visits Lafayette, FIU gets Rutgers at home, Western Kentucky hosts Indiana, and Florida Atlantic plays a "home" game in Detroit against Michigan State. Good luck.

MTSU "dashes" to top. While Troy tries to reload at quarterback, Middle Tennessee State hits the ground running. Senior Dwight Dasher needs to improve his mediocre accuracy, but he brings every other tool the Blue Raiders could possibly want. He led the team with over 1,100 yards rushing last year, and also threw for 2,800 while accounting for 36 total touchdowns. The running game will be dynamic this year, thanks to the return of senior Phillip Tanner from injury. He's joined in the backfield by D.D. Kyles, who ended up running for over 800 yards in his place last year. Wide receiver Garrett Andrews returns, but the Blue Raiders do have to reload a bit on the perimeter. Elsewhere on offense, things look great. The defense brings back six starters, including leading sacker Jamari Lattimore and All-Sun Belt safety Jeremy Kellem. The Blue Raiders look the part of league favorite this year, and they might be able to reach ten wins for a second straight season.

North Texas is back. This is the year fourth-year head coach Todd Dodge has been waiting for. The Mean Green have talented players all over the field. The major question comes at quarterback, where fifth-year senior Nathan Tune starts after Riley Dodge was moved to receiver after suffering another serious injury to his throwing arm. Dodge -- the coach's son -- was one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school, but he couldn't stay healthy. The offense around Tune looks to be very good. Star back Lance Dunbar returns after a 1,400-yard season with 17 touchdowns. Leading receivers Jamaal Jackson and Darius Carey return, and four starters are back on the offensive line. After a disastrous 2008 season for the defense, it got a bit better last year. With eight starters back, more is expected this year. The Mean Green have to both make more big plays on defense and take better care of the football on offense. UNT has averaged a minus-14 turnover differential in the last four seasons, which won't get them to a bowl game.

Best of the rest
I mentioned above that Troy has to reload a bit. The Trojans lost starting quarterback Levi Brown and eight defensive starters, including leading tacklers Bear Woods and Boris Lee, along with sack leader Brandon Lang. That's a lot, but Troy has proven in the past they have more depth than anyone in the Sun Belt. ... Departed quarterback Corey Leonard and running back Reggie Arnold didn't get it done for Arkansas State last year. Now, the Red Wolves have a new quarterback in Ryan Aplin and a new running back in Derek Lawson. Don't be surprised if the athletic duo get plenty of room to maneuver behind an offensive line that returns intact. ... Louisiana has a nasty non-conference schedule this year (at Georgia, at Mississippi, at Ohio), and could struggle overall if quarterback Chris Masson continues to improve. The Ragin Cajuns bring back eight starters on defense, and junior cornerback Dwight Bentley could be a star. ... Venerable coach Howard Schnellenberger has built the Florida Atlantic program from scratch, and he's done well, getting the Owls to two bowl games. This year will be a challenge, as the Owls return two offensive starters and play a brutal non-conference schedule. ... Mississippi State transfer Wesley Carroll and Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden have emerged in the Florida International backfield. FIU continues to improve under Mario Cristobal, and better days are ahead. Those days are probably not imminent, though. Carroll and Harden should improve the Golden Panthers' offense, but not enough to get them to a bowl. ... Former Army coach Todd Berry -- who engineered some total disasters there -- takes over at Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks were awfully close to a bowl last year, but now are faced with overhauling their offense and replacing seven starters on defense. ... Western Kentucky is still building a program that can compete in I-A (FBS, whatever). Former Stanford assistant Willie Taggart takes over after an 0-12 season, and there is promise in sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

Preseason Sun Belt Superlatives
Best QB:
Dwight Dasher, Middle Tennessee State
Best RB: Lance Dunbar, North Texas
Best WR: Jamaal Jackson, North Texas
Best offense: Middle Tennessee State
Best defense: Arkansas State
Best coach: Larry Blakeney, Troy
Coach in the most trouble: Rickey Bustle, Louisiana
Best non-conference game: Minnesota at Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 2
Worst non-conference game: Austin Peay at Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 11

Sunday, August 29, 2010

College Football 2010: SEC

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Southeastern Conference
East Division
1. Florida
2. Georgia
3. South Carolina
4. Kentucky
5. Tennessee
6. Vanderbilt

West Division
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Arkansas
4. Auburn
5. Mississippi
6. Mississippi State

Stories to Watch in the SEC

Alabama better in defense of title? One of the great challenges facing Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is motivating his crew to defend their national championship. As long as that motivation is there, Saban should find that his team could actually be better than it was a year ago. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is back to anchor the running game, which also features the extremely talented sophomore Trent Richardson, who ran for over 750 yards last year in a purely complimentary role. Senior quarterback Greg McElroy threw just four picks in 325 pass attempts last year. Leading receivers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze return, as do three starters on the offensive line. Saban has some work to do on defense, where he lost a ton of talent, most notably linebacker Rolando McClain. Expect linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- a Freshman All-American last year -- to shoulder much of the load. There are plenty of juniors and seniors along Alabama's defensive two-deep, indicating that Saban will have no shortage of talent or playing experience to call upon. The friendly schedule -- tough games with Penn State, Florida, and Auburn are all at home -- sure helps matters for Alabama.

Florida reloads. Amid all the health drama surrounding coach Urban Meyer -- who is thankfully okay and ready to go this season -- the Gators have some heavy losses to deal with on the field. Quarterback Tim Tebow was the biggest star in the sport, and they also lost Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, and Ryan Stamper. That's a lot of passing yards, rushing yards, receptions, tackles, interceptions, passes defensed, and sacks. Meyer obviously has a very talented crop of players, but he has to find new leaders. Junior John Brantley will run the offense, and junior Jeff Demps will probably get more looks running the ball than he did with Tebow, who had 118 carries more than the next-most on the team last year (Demps). The Gators are a heavy favorite in the East because of the available talent, as well as their proven ability to reload. It helps that safety Ahmad Black and tackles Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard lead a solid group of defensive returnees. If Brantley can run the offense efficiently while integrating some new receivers, Florida will be formidable again.

How good can Ryan Mallett be? The Arkansas junior -- a Michigan transfer -- flourished in Bobby Petrino's offense last year, throwing for over 3,600 yards and 30 scores. There's more to come, as Mallett is better than the 56 percent completions he was good for a year ago. He'll have to be, because there are holes on this Arkansas team that won't go away with the snap of a finger. The Hogs gave up over 400 yards per game last year, including over 450 yards four times, and they coughed up 30 or more points four times. Mallett might be able to make this offense even better in 2010, but he has to do it with the help of the defense. The Razorbacks simply can't afford to spend too much time trying feebly to stop opponents, especially in the tough SEC West. Seven starters are back on defense, and Petrino simply needs that unit to improve with the help of linebacker Jerry Franklin, end Jake Bequette, and cornerbacks Ramon Broadway and Rudell Crim. Games against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe should help whip that defense into shape with some confidence before their trip to Georgia and games against Alabama, Texas A&M, and Auburn.

Masoli arrives in Oxford. If he's cleared by the NCAA, it seems a virtual lock that Jeremiah Masoli will start at quarterback for Mississippi after transferring from Oregon. Masoli brings a lot of talent and experience to Houston Nutt's team, and he instantly makes them credible at the sport's most important position. The other problem for the Rebels will be replacing do-everything back/receiver Dexter McCluster. Expect Nutt to try a few guys in that spot, including Derrick Herman and Jesse Grandy. If Masoli steps in and shows some accuracy while taking good care of the football, the Rebels could make some real noise this season as a darkhorse in the SEC West. Road dates against Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU could be too tough for Ole Miss to overcome, but it becomes even tougher for them to do anything notable if they can't get quality play out of the quarterback position.

Best of the rest
Georgia looks quite impressive, thanks to ten returning starters on offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is the new starter, leaving the Bulldogs with one huge question mark on offense entering the season. ... Steve Spurrier can't seem to get South Carolina over the hump. With a freshman under center at Georgia and a ton of new faces at Florida, this seems like as good a year as any. If the Gamecocks can show some actual consistency on offense, they're going to be good. ... If new coach Joker Phillips can solve Kentucky's quarterback situation, they have a shot in the East. The Wildcats have talented back Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb back, along with big-play defensive end DeQuin Evans. ... After an up-and-down season with Lane Kiffin, Tennessee has to hope Derek Dooley can restore some calm to the program. It might take some time to build a winner, as the Volunteers lost eight offensive starters and their top four tacklers on defense. Then again, after the controversial Kiffin, many UT fans will be happy if Dooley can just avoid pissing off most of the college football world. ... As if there weren't enough coaching changes in the SEC East, Vanderbilt named Robbie Caldwell as the successor to Bobby Johnson, who stepped down before fall camp started. It doesn't make Vandy any more or less of a team this year, as it was thought to be a tough year ahead for the Commodores. Johnson was a class act who worked hard at Vandy to be respectable amid serious academic hurdles. This is likely a program that is destined to never be a serious contender in this league, but they've proven they can be competitive and avoid constantly being blown out as they once were. ... Auburn detractors aren't laughing now. Controversial hire Gene Chizik built a solid team last year, and they should improve again in 2010. Quarterback Cameron Newton is a good fit for their offense, and junior receiver Darvin Adams should get better as he gains experience. Replacing star back Ben Tate will be tough. ... Look for a big season out of LSU. They have nine losses the last two years, but the Tigers do have a growing quarterback and some stars in the making around him. I like Jordan Jefferson a lot, and now we'll find out if coordinator John Chavis can keep the defense improving. If that happens, LSU could shock a lot of people this year. ... Many were surprised by Mississippi State winning five games last year. For them to get better this year, it's going to take some great strides at the quarterback position. Running back Anthony Dixon is gone, leaving a hole in the offense. The Bulldogs got just nine touchdown passes out of two quarterbacks last year, and while junior Chris Reif returns, he's trying to fend off a challenge from redshirt freshman Tyler Russell. The struggle continued through fall camp, and no starter has been named as of this writing.

Preseason SEC Superlatives
Best QB:
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Best RB: Mark Ingram, Alabama
Best WR: Darvin Adams, Auburn
Best offense: Georgia
Best defense: Alabama
Best coach: Nick Saban, Alabama
Coach in the most trouble: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Best non-conference game: Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11
Worst non-conference game: Georgia State at Alabama, Nov. 20

Saturday, August 28, 2010

College Football 2010: Pac 10

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Pac 10 Conference
1. Oregon
2. USC
3. California
4. Oregon State
5. Washington
6. Arizona
7. Stanford
9. Arizona State
10. Washington State

Stories to Watch in the Pac 10

No Carroll, no bowl. Pete Carroll slithered out of Los Angeles for the NFL, unaware (yeah, right) that USC was about to get the hammer dropped on them by the NCAA. When the Trojans take the field this year, they will have former Carroll aide and NFL coach Lane Kiffin leading the way, and they will have nothing to play for but a conference title and pride. The Trojans will make no postseason appearance this year, and they are ineligible for the national championship. Kiffin has the typical loaded roster at USC, but did lose around one-third of last year's lettermen, along with 12 starters. He will try to build around the usual strong offensive line and sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who had some ups and downs as a freshman. Barkley looked strong at times, and he also had games where he totally looked like, well, a freshman. The Trojans lose their leading rusher and receiver, along with three starters on the offensive line, so it could be a struggle at times for USC to even match their 26.5 point average from a year ago, which was down significantly from what they had been posting in previous seasons. The defense was a bit of a sieve against the run, but Kiffin's father, Monte, is an accomplished defensive coach who will whip the unit into shape. The linebackers will be a strength, with senior Malcolm Smith and junior Chris Galippo both back.

Oregon a quarterback away. The Ducks were strong a year ago, and they looked like a potential national championship contender until quarterback Jeremiah Masoli got in trouble again and was kicked off the team. He's at Mississippi now, and Oregon has the kind of team a new quarterback must dream of. The Ducks have experience all over the place, with key players like running back LaMichael James, receiver Jeff Maehl, receiver D.J. Davis, left tackle Bo Thran, safety John Boyett, cornerback Talmadge Jackson, and linebacker Spencer Paysinger all returning from very good 2009 seasons. New starting quarterback Darron Thomas indeed has a lot to work with. Thomas didn't play much as a true freshman, but he did get his feet wet in the offense and won the job officially in fall practice. The Ducks were exposed a bit defensively in the Rose Bowl, as Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor moved virtually at will while the vaunted Oregon offense was shut down. The Ducks have five league road games, along with a non-conference date at Tennessee, but the league schedule is still manageable. Oregon travels to Washington State, Arizona State, and Oregon State, all very winnable games. If Thomas can play well and continue the Ducks' dual-threat ways in the backfield, Oregon will go a long way, even with a pretty tough schedule.

Washington prepares to climb up the ladder. After an 0-12 2008 season, Steve Sarkisian coaxed five wins out of a marginally-talented Huskies team last year. He got great contributions from quarterback Jake Locker and running back Chris Polk to help get them there. Now, all the stars of that improved offense are back, with Locker looking at being a high pick in the 2011 NFL Draft if he can have another strong season. Polk ran for over 1,100 yards as a freshman, while receivers Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar, and James Johnson combined for over 130 receptions and 16 touchdowns. The defense took huge steps last year, and they bring back eight starters, including cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson. For Sarkisian to get Washington to the postseason for the first time since 2002, he needs the team to play more consistent football away from home. The Huskies travel to BYU, USC, Arizona, Oregon, and California before the season finale at still-hapless Washington State. If the bowl season is to call for UW, they have to snap their 12-game road losing streak by pulling an upset. They'll be underdogs in all these games, but need to find a way to "steal" one or two of them.

The battle against expectations. It seems expectations always seem to get the best of California. With a high preseason ranking last year, the Golden Bears fizzled, getting embarrassed at Oregon and at home against USC -- combined 72-6 in back-to-back weeks -- on their way to a so-so 8-5 record. Star running back Jahvid Best battled injury all year, though, so junior Shane Vereen got a lot of playing time, including in the Bears' bowl loss to Utah. Now Best is gone, but there is plenty of confidence that Vereen will do just fine out of Cal's backfield. Quarterback Kevin Riley was as up-and-down as the team was, and in the end, he has a lot of work to do as a senior. Riley isn't nearly accurate enough for what we expect out of head coach Jeff Tedford's offense. He has to get up from 59 to closer to 65 percent completions this year. Look for him to use big receiver Marvin Jones and rangy tight end Anthony Miller a lot. This Cal team has a lot of experience, but they're looked at as a bit of a darkhorse in the conference. I like how their team looks, and they should make noticeable improvements both on offense and defense. The schedule includes five home games in league play, and the last three games Cal plays are all at home. There's no reason the Golden Bears can't make some noise and potentially threaten to claim a major bowl bid if Oregon and/or USC falter.

Best of the rest
Junior quarterback Nick Foles will see a lot of familiar faces on the field with him at Arizona this year. The Wildcats return their top four rushers and eight of their top nine receivers from a year ago. Expect big things out of junior receiver Juron Criner. ... It's not surprising that Oregon State looks strong. They are among the most consistent programs in the country. Again this year, Mike Riley doesn't look to have a serious league contender, but he does have a team that will pull an upset or two and make a fifth straight bowl appearance. The brothers Rodgers -- running back Jacquizz and wide receiver James -- are back to lead the charge ... Stanford loses all-everything running back Toby Gerhart, but they return future NFL starter Andrew Luck at quarterback, and senior receiver Ryan Whalen is one of the best at his position in the Pac 10. ... After some interesting back-and-forth with Carroll, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel wisely quieted down last year. The bluster was not backed up on the field, where the Bruins went 7-6 and needed Army to lose to Navy in order to make a bowl game. Expect some positive steps this year, but the guys Neuheisel needs to make noise are probably still too young to do that. ... If Michigan transfer Steven Threet can become an effective quarterback in the desert, Arizona State might be able to spring a surprise or two. In the end, their league schedule (five road games, home date with Oregon) and a non-conference roadie to Wisconsin make it a bit far-fetched to think the Sun Devils will go bowling. ... It's starting to look up at Washington State, and not just because they have no other direction to look. The Cougars have 40 players with starting experience back, and they will lean on sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel to continue growing in his role. This will be a year where the Cougars close the gap, but not necessarily one where they escape the basement.

Preseason Pac 10 Superlatives
Best QB: Jake Locker, Washington
Best RB: Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
Best WR: Jermaine Kearse, Washington
Best offense: Oregon
Best defense: USC
Best coach: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Coach in the most trouble: Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
Best non-conference game: Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18
Worst non-conference game: Portland State at Oregon, Sept. 18

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Elk River Pauses Football Due to Hazing

While some high schools in the Northland struggle with low numbers, others are struggling for different reasons.

(If you didn't see the DNT article over the weekend, Wrenshall is going to field only a junior varsity team this season, Mesabi Academy will field no team, and Cotton merged with AlBrook. Also, on the fringe of the area, Laporte merged with Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.)

Elk River has pressed the "pause" button on their football season one week prior to its launch. Instead of preparing to play Becker on Sept. 2, the Elks are waiting for the results of a hazing investigation that has been launched.

(Warning: Some more sensitive readers may find the contents of the article a little disturbing.)

A hazing incident that forced the Elk River High School varsity football program to suspend practice this week involved some players striking other players with broom or mop handles, a source close to the investigation said Thursday.

The hazing apparently occurred Monday and Tuesday between morning and afternoon practices, the source said. Players entering the wrestling room were accosted, forced to the floor and struck or poked on or near the buttocks. Players were dressed in their uniforms, including padding, and no one was forced to disrobe, the source said. It's apparently the second year such hazing has occurred at the school.

Up to 25 players may have been involved as either victims or perpetrators, but the source said the final number will probably drop once the investigation is completed. Elk River officials said they have hired the Minneapolis law firm of Ratwick, Roszak & Maloney to conduct the investigation.

The program was suspended Wednesday after the parent of a player reported that her son was the victim of hazing.

There are more details in story, but I'll leave it up to you to read it at your discretion.

The investigation should conclude by Friday, and the article sites Elk River's athletic director as saying he doesn't expect the team to miss any scheduled games.

My wife noted that hazing happens all over, and she is right. What is debatable is where the line is, and when hazing goes from harmless fun to something that merits a criminal investigation, suspensions, and other sorts of discipline.

If the allegations printed in the Star Trib are true, it's not the end of the world. What Elk River will likely do is pin down the athletes responsible, issue a stern punishment against at least some of them, and move on with the football program.

This doesn't sound like a situation where a high percentage of Elk River's football roster was involved, and therefore a long-term suspension of football won't be needed.

Instead, the school is likely to try to send a strong message to its athletes. "Making the freshmen carry the seniors' pads" is acceptable hazing, but "hitting and poking them with mop handles" is not.

Seems like a pretty simple policy for kids to adhere to.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

College Football 2010: Mountain West

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Mountain West Conference
1. TCU
2. Utah
3. BYU
4. Air Force
5. San Diego State
6. Wyoming
7. Colorado State
9. New Mexico

Stories to Watch in the Mountain West

TCU reloads for another BCS run. The pieces are certainly in place for the Horned Frogs to make another trip to a BCS bowl. Leading rusher Joseph Turner is gone, but efficient senior quarterback Andy Dalton returns, off a strong season that saw him take very good care of the football while throwing accurately. He's one of nine starters back on offense, so the Frogs figure to improve on last year's solid total of 38 points per game. There's nothing flashy about this offense. They have balance in their game, don't rely on one running back, and they don't have any superstar receivers. Seniors Jeremy Kerley and Jimmy Young lead the way there, but neither is a dominating presence, and defenses aren't able to clamp down on an obvious go-to guy. At running back, look for Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley to carry the load. Gary Patterson's defense is always good, and they bring back seven starters from a ferocious unit that allowed less than 13 points per game despite having teams like BYU, Clemson, and Boise State on the schedule. Senior tackle Cory Grant and senior linebacker Tyler Luttrell are the top players on a unit that should be even better than it was last year. With Oregon State, SMU, and Baylor on the non-conference schedule (only Baylor travels to Fort Worth), TCU is hiding from no one, and if they go 12-0, they'll have earned it.

Can Utah pose a threat? We thought BYU -- with senior quarterback Max Hall leading the way -- could challenge TCU in the Mountain West last year. No dice. The Cougars were thrashed by the Horned Frogs on national television in Provo, and TCU never looked back on their way to an undefeated regular season. Like BYU last year, Utah appears to be the top challenger this year, and they get to play TCU at home. Kyle Whittingham returns a good chunk of offensive talent, including sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn, who took over the offense at mid-season and led the team to improvement down the stretch. With a full season, Wynn could become a big-time player in the MWC. While the defense only brings back four starters, the Utes have fielded solid defensive teams for the better part of the last seven years, so there's no reason to think they won't do it again. Look for junior end Derrick Shelby and freshman linebacker V.J. Fehoko to become huge names on this defense. Utah has a rough path to the TCU game Nov. 6. They face Pittsburgh (home) and Iowa State (road) in non-conference play, and they travel to Wyoming and Air Force in league action. After the TCU game, the Utes travel to Notre Dame and host BYU, so it's hardly a cakewalk schedule for one of the real darkhorse contenders to "bust" the BCS.

Can Air Force crack the "Big Three?" Lately, Utah, BYU, and TCU have owned the MWC. Air Force has gone 5-3 in league play each of the last two years, but only managed a fourth-place finish each time. They haven't beaten any of those three teams since 2007, when they bested TCU and Utah in back-to-back weeks. That's only six games total, but it's a lot when you're talking about a team's ability to crack the top three of a conference. Air Force is good, but they have some issues to overcome this year if they are to get in the top three of the MWC. While the skill position players all return -- led by quarterback Tim Jefferson, only a junior, and running backs Jared Tew, Asher Clark, and Savier Stephens. The offensive line is completely blown up, however, and they figure to lack experience up front. The projected five starters have combined for only one collegiate start among them, but this isn't a new challenge for Air Force. It's quite common for them to have to replace a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, because they typically have a slew of seniors in their starting lineup. On defense, the Falcons will rely on end Rick Ricketts, outside linebacker Andre Morris, and cornerback Reggie Rembert, all seniors. They have skill and experience all over, and they should be very efficient once again this year. The schedule is manageable, with only a non-conference trip to Oklahoma looking somewhat daunting, along with a road date with TCU in league play.

Wyoming tries to recreate the magic. 7-6 probably doesn't sound like much of a magical season, but for Wyoming, it got the job done last year. A team that lost games 41-10 (Texas), 24-0 (Colorado), 52-0 (BYU), and 45-10 (TCU) managed to go bowling despite being outscored by an average of 27-18 over its 13 games. The Cowboys then stunned Fresno State in double overtime in the New Mexico Bowl. For Wyoming to get back to a bowl game, a lot has to go right. Dave Christensen returns eight starters on offense, including sophomores at quarterback (Austin Carta-Samuels) and running back (Alvester Alexander). Both must significantly improve and become the big guys on this team. The secondary will improve -- largely because it can't get much worse -- and look out for sophomore safety Shamiel Gary, who was strong as a true freshman. As Christensen gets more of his recruits in Laramie, things will get better. It will help that the Cowboys will be better on the field, but the schedule includes Texas and Boise State in non-conference play, and it's hard to imagine this team winning more than five games unless things go quite right again.

Best of the rest
Hall is gone at BYU, and now the rest of the league may be a bit perturbed at the school's willingness to go indie in football and leave the MWC. That said, the losses of Hall and Harvey Unga will make it very tough for Bronco Mendenhall to keep the Cougars in the league's top echelon. ... Like Christensen at Wyoming, San Diego State coach Brady Hoke has quickly improved matters. The Aztecs won four last year, and they were very competitive in a lot of their losses. Hoke has a solid quarterback in junior Ryan Lindley, who could blossom into a pretty good NFL prospect if he keeps improving. ... After a bowl game in his first season and a 3-0 start in his second, Steve Fairchild fell hard at Colorado State. The Rams lost their last nine games last year, though four of them were by less than ten points. Expect the Rams to use a freshman quarterback -- Pete Thomas -- for at least a part of the season. That might be scary, but it's a sign of the future, because Thomas is a highly-regarded recruit. Fairchild did well to get him to Fort Collins. ... Former Montana coach Bobby Hauck takes over at UNLV. The Rebels won five last year, but it wasn't enough to save Mike Sanford's job. Now, Hauck will bring a winning mindset to what has been traditionally a losing program. He has 15 starters back, including underachieving senior quarterback Omar Clayton, who could do some big things in Hauck's system. ... It was a tumultuous first season for New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, but things are going to look up soon. Locksley was suspended for a game because of an altercation with an assistant, but he has done well in recruiting, and his team wasn't as bad as 1-11 indicates last year. If they can figure out the quarterback position, the Lobos could surprise, but it's not likely they'll be good enough for a bowl game.

Preseason Mountain West Superlatives
Best QB: Andy Dalton, TCU
Best RB: Eddie Wide, Utah
Best WR: Jimmy Young, TCU
Best offense: Utah
Best defense: TCU
Best coach: Gary Patterson, TCU
Coach in the most trouble: Mike Locksley, New Mexico
Best non-conference matchup: Oregon State vs. TCU at Dallas, Sept. 4
Worst non-conference matchup: Northwestern State at Air Force, Sept. 4

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UMD Receives More Division II Honors

The UMD Bulldogs continue to rake in preseason honors in Division II. The Bulldogs are just a few days away from their season opener, and has released their preseason All-Americans.

Two UMD stars made the cut. Here is the information from UMD:

The last of the major preseason football honors were announced today -- the 2010 season kicks off in just a few days, after all -- with the unveiling of the Preseason All-America Team. Among those on the 25-member first team were University of Minnesota Duluth senior running back Isaac Odim and senior inside linebacker Robbie Aurich, who were named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, earlier this month. Odim, the school's all-time rushing and scoring leader, was a second team pick one year ago.

The two-time defending NSIC champioon Bulldogs checked in at No. 6 in the Top 25 Preseason Poll, which was also released today and will take on No. 5 Central Washington University in their 2010 season opener this Saturday in Ellensburg, Wash.

You can hear Saturday's game with Chris Nettleton on The Fan 1490 and at

Monday, August 23, 2010

BlogPoll 2010: Preseason Ballot

Life is good, because college football is coming!

The season opens Sept. 2, and I've again been invited to take part in the BlogPoll, a conglomerate of football bloggers from around the country that will vote every week on a top 25, and we will invite your input along the way.

My preseason ballot has been submitted, and I am no soliciting feedback on my votes. Please send along any thoughts you have in the comments section, and I will consider any and all responses before the final ballot is due Wednesday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For, Ozzie Guillen

The Minnesota Twins have won four of six from the hated Chicago White Sox in the last week-plus. They have three games left together later in September.

After Thursday's 11-0 White Sox win that allowed them to avoid a sweep and a six-game hole in the American League Central, Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen -- not known for ever really filtering his thoughts -- was very clear.

He wants more from the Twins.

He can't wait to see them again.

"Give me a shot against them late in the season," Guillen said. "I predict this thing is going to be all the way to the wire. We stay healthy, we are going to compete and see what happens."

Hey, Ozzie: You're 5-10 against the Twins this season. That's five three-game series, at least on average, and you win one of three each time.

Do you really want to play them again?

Doesn't seem like a good idea to me. Instead, the White Sox are better off setting the Twins up with more dates against the Yankees, who they can't seem to beat under any circumstances.

Give Minnesota credit, because the White Sox have played some awesome baseball this season, but still can't seem to solve the puzzle when it comes time to play the Twins.

Let's hope it stays that way, so Ozzie can relive more of his personal nightmares Sept. 14-16 at U.S. Cellular Field.

CHL Brass Continues Unnecessary Campaign of Lies Against NCAA

If you're an outsider, or you're Canadian, you probably believe the NCAA has taken some impressive hits lately.

A number of college players have turned pro lately, hoping to start playing hockey for money. Worst case: They're going to play for a CHL team because the NHL franchise doesn't want to start the player's entry-level deal with a stint in the AHL.

Most recently, Notre Dame lost defenseman Jarred Tinordi to the OHL's London Knights, who fed Tinordi lies about him getting to the NHL faster if he played there.

Nope. Still looking at 2-3 years, kid. Way to get suckered in, though.

It's brought to light the continuing war between the NCAA and CHL. Of course, it's not much of a war, because the CHL continues to spread lies and innuendo about the NCAA's tactics.

Paul Kelly of College Hockey, Inc., the organization commissioned by the NCAA to somehow stop this madness, is in the middle of it all. Apparently, he's hurt a few people's feelings in Canada by saying mean (if not entirely accurate) things about the CHL's way of doing things.

Now, the CHL wants to talk about it, only after years spent discrediting the college game and the players who choose to take part in it.

(Nothing chafes the CHL more than when a kid like Mason Raymond, Patrick Wiercioch, Joe Colborne, or -- more recently -- Dylan Olsen or Jaden Schwartz choose to play Junior A hockey so they have the ability to go to college if they decide to do that once they're 18. You can't argue these players weren't good enough to play in major juniors, and you can't argue that they made poor choices, even if the jury is still out on a few of them as college players or professionals.)

So the World Hockey Summit is coming next week, and the CHL wants to sit down and discuss their feud with the NCAA. Of course, they didn't want to talk about this feud until they noticed someone calling them out on their fraudulent education package or the other bags of lies they tell kids.

Funny how the NCAA's decision to fight back has affected things.

"It's not on the agenda, but we've certainly indicated to Hockey Canada and USA Hockey that we think there is an opportunity to sit down," said Ron Robison, a CHL vice-president and commissioner of the Western Hockey League.

"We're committed to continuing to try to improve relationships with USA Hockey, NCAA Hockey and so forth. We have a responsibility in North America to the development system to do that in the best interest of the players. Our goal is to attempt to sit down (with them). Whether we can do that at the summit or soon thereafter, that will be our objective."

Someone should tell these geniuses that Kelly hasn't yet been invited to this summit. It's going to be exceptionally difficult for Kelly to sit down with the CHL when he isn't on the guest list for the event. Maybe the CHL is going to talk to a cardboard cutout of Kelly.

They'd still lose the debate, of course.

The money quote comes from a WHL team executive who clearly doesn't understand the old saying about the pot calling the kettle black.

"(Kelly) wants to turn this into a pissing match, but all he's doing is getting the kids caught in the middle of it," said Brent Parker, president of the WHL's Regina Pats. "I don't think it's fair to them. They have tough enough decisions as it is. That's where our league has really tried to take the high road through all of this. We recognize it's not the right way to go about it in terms of getting into running down each other's programs.''

wants this to be a pissing match?

This is like Brett Favre calling someone out for being indecisive.

Parker misses the point completely. Yes, kids have tough decisions to make when they're really young. The CHL does NOT make any of these decisions easier by continuing to pursue kids who have made up their mind to play college hockey. Expecting a 17-year-old kid to hang up the phone on a recruiter -- even if said kid has allegedly made up his mind to attend a college and play hockey there -- is just ridiculous.

As Chris Dilks suggests, maybe the CHL and NCAA can come up with a sort of gentleman's agreement not to pursue each other's commitments.

Of course, we have better odds of seeing blizzard conditions in downtown Miami than we do of seeing the CHL agree to keep their grubby, dirty paws off kids who have signed letters of intent to attend U.S. colleges.

This is still the ideal situation. It isn't perfect -- as evidenced by the WCHA's gentleman's agreement -- but it's one of those things that can be quite helpful to at least create the impression that the two sides are willing to work together.

Perhaps we can end the days where kids like Tinordi get pressured to break commitments while some teams are starting off-ice workouts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brad Childress Not Respected by Vikings, Says Anonymous Player

Wednesday's press conference with Brett Favre and Brad Childress revealed little, outside of the fact that Brett's not here for himself (allegedly), and Chilly doesn't know if Brett will play Sunday in San Francisco.

(I bet he does, even if only for a series.)

Favre talked over and over and over and over and over again about how highly he regards the players on this roster, and while he's thought to be a huge supporter of Childress, there were no words that would lead you to that conclusion.

(By the way, don't think for a second that I didn't notice his gushing over the Vikings' roster, as if he had played with a bunch of jerks in Green Bay and New York. Frank Winters and Mark Chmura are probably kicking themselves right now.

Or not.)

Anyway, if Jason Cole of Yahoo! is to be believed, the fact Favre didn't talk much at all about Childress in his rambling press conference was not unintentional.

In short, even as Minnesota’s best hope to win a Super Bowl this season was rejoining the team, Childress was losing more ground with his team in the battle for respect. One of the biggest issues playing out behind the scenes in Minnesota is that many players, particularly on offense, have no respect for Childress. Among those players is Favre, who officially returned to the team Wednesday.

According to multiple team sources, Favre’s disdain for Childress is deep.

“Brett thinks Childress has no clue about offense,” a Vikings player said.

Childress’ presence, not Favre’s ankle injury, was one of the biggest reasons Favre was hesitating about playing again, sources said.

In early July, Favre had indicated to one player that he was likely to play. However, after Childress visited Favre on July 19, Favre’s desire to return declined.

“Brett just doesn’t trust him,” a player said.


Apparently, Childress didn't do himself any favors Tuesday. As Favre flew back with the three amigos (Hutchinson, Allen, Longwell), Childress dispatched two assistant coaches to lie to the media about the players' whereabouts.

“Chilly can’t even tell the truth about that,” the player said. “I mean, how ridiculous is that? What’s the big deal that he has to lie? Worse, he has to tell other guys to lie for him?”

Certainly not the smartest thing a coach has ever done, but it's not like we believe coaches are always 100 percent truthful anyway.

No one expects players to attach their names to this type of criticism, but why should we believe this?

After all, the respected NFL media gave us that schism garbage last year, and surely a team divided by a huge schism doesn't go 12-4, blow out people left and right, and sing "Pants On The Ground" after a huge home playoff win.

This stuff might be true, because it was a bit peculiar that Favre didn't mention Childress much, if at all, especially given how much he talked about "Chilly" last year when he signed.

That said, this story doesn't pass the smell test when it isn't something that we've heard about before.

That Childress isn't a brilliant mind doesn't surprise anyone. But to intimate that he and Favre are totally not getting along is a bit of a stretch when all you have are an anonymous source or two.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Packers Mum on Brett Favre's Return

Things have changed greatly over the years in Green Bay.

For a long time, all anyone talked about in Packerland was Brett Favre. He was the glue that held the team together through the transition from Mike Holmgren to Ray Rhodes to Mike Sherman (coach) to Mike Sherman (coach and wholly incompetent GM) to Mike McCarthy eras. He was the most popular player for one of the NFL's most popular franchises.

Unquestionably, Brett Favre was the king in Green Bay. Hell, he was the king of Wisconsin.

Two years after his attempt to force himself back on the Packers roster led to some insane scenes at the team's annual Family Night scrimmage and plenty of embarrassment for the organization, Favre's name invokes different reactions in Green Bay now.

In fact, if you talk to Packer players about Favre now, you get the same kind of reaction as if you ask them to break down current events in Mozambique.


Saturday night, even the half-syllable "Bre -- " elicited a glare from friendly Packers receiver Greg Jennings.

"Don't know," Jennings said. "Don't care either."

He wasn't smiling.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, supremely talented and at least a decade from joining the Oak Grove Summer High School Football League, launched even more eyeball darts when asked if the Packers are following Favre's latest offseason saga.

"No," he said.

He wasn't smiling.

Rodgers was then asked if the Packers would prefer to see Favre retire and thereby hand over the keys to the NFC North and a clearer path to Super Bowl XLV.

"He has nothing to do with me or our team this year," Rodgers said.

This is tough for many to understand.

After all, it's highly unlikely that the Packers would bristle so much when asked about Jay Cutler or Matthew Stafford.

Of course, they went 4-0 against the Bears and Lions last year, picked Cutler off six times, and lost twice to a nearly flawless Favre.

In reality, the Packers' decision to cold-shoulder the Favre chatter is pretty clear-cut.

They don't want to give the old man any more motivation than the Saints did, or than he already had on his own.

National pundits -- on the air and on the internet -- will say enough bad things about Favre's selfishness, his spotlight addiction, and the way he held the Vikings over a barrel the entire offseason before he finally decided it was worth his time to show up and be a part of the team. The Packers don't need to point at this all and say "These are the scenes we've tried desperately to avoid," because it's so blatantly obvious to even a die-hard Viking fan.

Last year, it wasn't so obvious.

Last year, it could be argued the Packers made a grave mistake in the summer of 2008, when they told Favre they didn't think he should just walk back in the door when he felt like it to take over the team. The message then? Ted Thompson and McCarthy run this team, and it's a 53-man unit, not one held hostage by or under the control of one man.

Last year, Favre showed them. He chopped up the Packers defense like it didn't exist. He danced and jumped around and pointed his index finger at the sky as he soundly beat his former team twice. He acted all folksy and complimentary of Rodgers, the man he mentored without being a full-time mentor.

Watching Rodgers, Favre had to see a bit of himself, only without the out-of-control throws and unconscionable decisions.

You know, like that famous cross-body throw to Tracy Porter? Rodgers so rarely does those things that it's almost shocking when he does.

When Favre does it, we have to put it on a list.

The Packers hope this year is not last year. They hope they can become the 31st NFL team to post a win over Brett Favre (Houston would be the only one to fail, assuming Brett can't be talked into another season so the Texans get one more shot).

And they aren't going to stoke the Favre fire any more than they have to.

When asked yesterday for a reaction to Favre's return, McCarthy said he had none. We haven't heard from Thompson, and probably won't until his next media availability on Tuesday.

I'll save you the time. He won't have a reaction.

Nor should he.

Favre chose not to be a part of this franchise anymore. Don't be fooled into thinking he was forced out, or that Thompson and McCarthy didn't want him around.

Favre chose not to be there.

I refuse to debate the merits of this decision, because it was a personal choice. But for Favre to continually deny the facts is a bit ridiculous. It was his call, and we saw how it all played out. He forced the Packers' hand because he knew what the outcome would be. He played the retirement game that summer because he knew the team would move on without him, and he knew they wouldn't be able to take him back, given all the time, energy, and money already invested in Rodgers.

And it's all okay.

Packer fans are being painted as a bitter bunch. In reality, many of us look forward to the opportunity to salute Favre in Canton, and to cheer loudly for him as he takes his rightful place in Packers history -- with a retired jersey and a week of special events in his honor.

They're just not going to cheer him -- or anyone -- who waltzes into Lambeau Field wearing Vikings colors.

The same was true of Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, Robert Ferguson, and a bunch of other players before Favre. The same will be true of any player in the future who moves on from Green Bay to Minnesota.

Or Chicago.

Or Detroit.

It's just the way it is. This doesn't make Packer fans wrong. It makes them fans.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brett Favre Heading to Minnesota

NFL Network's Scott Hanson is reporting that quarterback Brett Favre is heading to Minnesota.

Brett Favre is on a plane heading north, a source told NFL Network's Scott Hanson. Could it be bringing Favre back to Minnesota?

The news came just hours after The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that three of Favre's closest friends on the Vikings -- defensive end Jared Allen, guard Steve Hutchinson and kicker Ryan Longwell -- reportedly have traveled to Hattiesburg, Miss., to try to convince the quarterback to return for a 20th NFL season.

On April 5, I told you this would happen.

... look for Favre to fly from Mississippi to Minnesota around the same time in August that he did last year, and look for the fan response to be extremely similar.

I rarely play the "I told you so" card, but I'm playing it here.

Not that this is any achievement. The only chance you have of being surprised by this is if you have been living under a rock for the last three years.

If you're no longer living under that rock, though, let me know. I might be looking to move the family there. Seems a safer and happier place to live.

Brett Favre Wants You To Want Him

In reality, Brett Favre just wants to be wanted, right?

And don't we all want to be wanted?

Now, the Vikings are sending three players to Hattiesburg. Their job is to show Brett exactly how much they want him.

Meanwhile, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is chuckling to himself, as he imagines this exact scene playing out in 2008.

Just think, Cullen Jenkins, Chad Clifton, and Mason Crosby ... this could have been you!

College Football 2010: MAC

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Mid-American Conference
East Division
1. Temple
2. Ohio
3. Bowling Green
4. Kent State
5. Buffalo
6. Akron
7. Miami (Ohio)

West Division
1. Northern Illinois
2. Western Michigan
3. Toledo
4. Central Michigan
5. Ball State
6. Eastern Michigan

Stories to Watch in the MAC

Central Michigan moves on without star. There was no better player in the MAC last season than Dan LeFevour. The record-setting Chippewas quarterback moves on after a stellar career at CMU in which he did virtually everything a MAC quarterback can realistically do. He finished his CMU career at just a shade under 13,000 passing yards, became the first college quarterback ever to pass for 12,000 yards and run for 2,500 in a career, and became the MAC's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He led the team in rushing last year. Yeah, good luck replacing him. It's not the end of the world, because inexperienced sophomore Ryan Radcliff spent two years (including a redshirt year) learning under LeFevour. While coach Butch Jones is gone to Cincinnati, it's unlikely that new coach Dan Enos will change much. The offense will still have some wide-open feel to it, even if it's not like it was with LeFevour. CMU also loses top receivers Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, who moved on to the NFL. The defense has some young talent, but lacks experience, so it could be a rough year for Enos, even if his stated goal is to turn Central Michigan into a Boise State-type program.

LeFevour is not the only missing star quarterback. Lost in all the LeFevour love is the loss Bowling Green is dealing with. Well, it's actually two huge losses. Quarterback Tyler Sheehan graduates second on the Falcons' all-time career passing list (missed the top spot by 163 yards). Sheehan was a steady, accurate thrower in an offense that demands such. He wasn't a productive runner like LeFevour, and he didn't win any conference titles or bowl games at Bowling Green, so he's more easily forgotten, unless you're a Falcon fan. Also gone is receiver Freddie Barnes, who smashed the college record for receptions in a season by catching 155 of Sheehan's 373 completions last year. Barnes reached 1,770 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, and finishes second on the Falcons' all-time receiving yards list. Redshirt freshman Matt Schilz is favored to take the quarterback job, while senior Tyrone Pronty and juniors Ray Hutson and Adrian Hodges should be prominent receivers in a more spread-out attack. Bowling Green could make some noise if coach Dave Clawson can find a way to overcome a severe lack of experience all over the roster, along with a schedule that includes trips to Troy, Tulsa, and Michigan in the first four weeks.

Can Temple improve again? Al Golden has been the Owls' head coach for four years. In each season, the team's record has improved from the year prior. Temple has gone from 0-11 before Golden arrived to 1-11, 4-8, 5-7, and 9-4. It would be a stunner if Golden made an improvement for a fifth straight year, but it can't be ruled out. Temple hasn't won ten in a season since 1979, so the challenge is daunting. The Owls have 16 returning starters, including star running back Bernard Pierce, who shocked many with a super freshman season. Junior Chester Stewart is expected to start at quarterback, and leading receivers Michael Campbell and Joe Jones both return. Plenty of starting experience returns to the defense, especially the secondary. The schedule is a bit friendlier than usual, with only the sorta-annual road trip to Penn State looking like an unattainable goal. Outside of that, Temple should have at least a puncher's chance to win each game, meaning a ten- or 11-win season is a real possibility for a program that was a total laughingstock in college football just a few years ago.

The struggles continue. No end in sight to the issues at Eastern Michigan or Miami, thought progress is coming. At EMU, coach Ron Prince is trying to fill the program with his type of players, and it's going to take time. The Eagles have plenty of it, however, because they're 41-119 since a 6-5 season in 1995 that marks their last winning season. English has a ton of experience back from last season, but the impact is coming from the players he's recruited. As a defensive coach, his first priority is getting a more competitive group on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, the Eagles allowed nearly 40 points per game, over 275 rush yards per game, and were outgained by an average of 150 yards per game. Miami won last year, but that home win over Toledo shouldn't confuse anyone. They were awful. For Mike Haywood to get anything better this year, it won't take as much work as what English has ahead of him, but it is still a significant hill. From a recruiting, talent, and experience standpoint, Miami is significantly behind the top teams in the East -- Temple and Ohio. If Miami is to get a lot better, it may rest on the shoulders of senior running back Thomas Merriweather, who has only started 13 games and run for 981 yards in his Miami career. He was a talented recruit who has been through a lot at the school, so we'll see if he can stay on the field and make that long-awaited impact.

Best of the rest
For Ohio, there's a real shot at a repeat in the MAC East. Frank Solich has another solid team led by first team All-MAC linebacker Noah Keller, who was all over the field defensively last year. The Bobcats have a road date with Ohio State, but an otherwise manageable schedule. ... Sixth-year senior running back Eugene Jarvis and quarterback Spencer Keith return for Kent State. The Golden Flashes lost their last three to miss out on bowl eligibility last year, but they should be able to top the .500 mark this year thanks to a ton of talent in their offensive backfield. ... Former Cincinnati assistant Jeff Quinn is the new boss at Buffalo. He's been an interim coach for two bowl games in his career, both following Brian Kelly. Now, he runs his own program for the first time. Former coach Turner Gill left this team in a good place, even though they had a losing season last year. The challenge for Quinn will be integrating new skill-position starters while installing the spread offense. ... There's reason for hope at Akron, thanks to a shiny new stadium and a talented young coach. Rob Ianello has an impressive resume that includes a stop at Notre Dame as their recruiting coordinator. He has a solid staff with him that brings loads of big-school experience. The expectation here is that Akron will rebuild from a stretch of four straight losing seasons, but Ianello has his work cut out for him short-term while he builds a more competitive roster. ... Northern Illinois keeps building and building. This is a good team that will contend for a MAC title this year. The Huskies have juniors and seniors all over the place, including junior quarterback Chandler Harnish and senior running back Chad Spann, both of whom will have big seasons this year. On defense, end Sean Progar was awesome as a freshman, and he will only get better. ... If sophomore quarterback Alex Carder steps in for the graduated Tim Hiller at Western Michigan, the Broncos might emerge as a true threat. Carder has a ton of experience around him, especially at wide receiver. Also impressive is a defense that could feature a stout secondary. Safeties Mario Armstrong and Doug Wiggins should lead the way. ... Tim Beckman surprised some by getting five wins out of a transitional year at Toledo. The Rockets will improve this year, especially if Beckman -- a defensive coach by trade -- can make this team's defense better. Toledo allowed nearly 40 points per game, offsetting a surprisingly effective offense in 2009. ... Stan Parrish might only be 4-41-1 as a Division I head coach, but half of those wins came last season, as Ball State finished 2-3 after an 0-7 start. I know it doesn't sound like much, but the Cardinals can bank on further improvement this year now that they've solved the quarterback puzzle. Sophomore Kelly Page is going to be a really good one in this program.

Preseason MAC Superlatives
Best QB:
Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois
Best RB: Bernard Pierce, Temple
Best WR: Eric Page, Toledo
Best offense: Temple
Best defense: Northern Illinois
Best coach: Frank Solich, Ohio
Coach in the most trouble: Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Best non-conference game: Connecticut at Temple, Sept. 18
Worst non-conference game: Nicholls State at Western Michigan, Sept. 11

Monday, August 16, 2010

College Football 2010: Conference USA

Yes, we're doing a College Football Preview again. Yes, you know I love Phil Steele's work. Order from his plethora of preview options here. I'm also armed with The Sporting News College Football 2010, and I picked up the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook this year, too. I've also done research through local newspapers and school websites to try to get the most up-to-date information on the teams.

Conference USA
East Division
1. Southern Mississippi
2. Central Florida
3. UAB
4. Marshall
5. East Carolina
6. Memphis

West Division
1. Houston
2. Tulsa
4. SMU
5. Rice
6. Tulane

Stories to Watch in Conference USA

Keenum's Heisman Case. Yes, it's a bad play on words, but it was done for the best quarterback you may not have heard of if you're a power conference elitist. Houston quarterback Case Keenum has virtually no business playing college football, but you could argue the unfinished business is what brought him back. The Cougars were thought to be a BCS-buster team before they got blown out at UTEP after upset wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Then they lost to East Carolina in the Conference USA title game, and were blown out by Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, in a game where Keenum threw six of his 15 picks for the season. Keenum is also within reach of a number of records. He is 14 yards away from passing Kevin Kolb for the school's all-time career passing record. He's 4,167 yards away from Timmy Chang's NCAA record, a number easily within reach since Keenum threw for 5,671 in 2009. The sky's the limit for Keenum, who isn't just another college system product. He's a legitimate NFL candidate, and this Houston team is a legitimate Top 25 threat. Keenum has receivers James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, and Patrick Edwards to throw to, and running backs Bryce Beall and Charles Sims both return. If the Cougars can get their defense to stop people, this team could be in a major bowl this winter.

Ruffin McNeill and Doc Holliday get their shots. It's been a long time coming for two veteran college coaches. McNeill got a taste of being a head coach when Texas Tech named him as the interim replacement for Mike Leach when the latter was suspended before the Red Raiders' bowl game last season. After Leach and his staff were let go, McNeill got the head job at alma mater East Carolina, replacing new South Florida coach Skip Holtz. McNeill has some work to do, as longtime starting quarterback Patrick Pinkney as he installs the wide-open offense he saw become so successful at Texas Tech. Meanwhile, longtime college assistant Holliday got the job at Marshall, replacing the canned Mark Snyder. Marshall has fallen quite a bit under Snyder, going 22-37 after being a perennial bowl team since their ascension to Division I-A. Holliday takes over a team that surged late last season, qualifying for and winning a bowl game to finish 7-6. Now, he has to guide this team through a brutal schedule that includes Ohio State and West Virginia in the first two games. As they try to build depth all along the roster, expect them to rely on senior Brian Anderson to lead the offense. Clemson transfer Willy Korn couldn't win the job, so Holliday moved the senior to safety. The Thundering Herd and Pirates are both in good hands, even if neither is a serious East Division contender this year.

Tulsa's quick rebound? After back-to-back campaigns with double-digit wins, Tulsa slipped to a 5-7 record last year. They lost some insanely close games to teams like Boise State and Houston, but also got blown out at home by East Carolina and finished 1-6 after a 4-1 start. The rebound for Todd Graham should be pretty quick. The Golden Hurricane are likely bowl-bound again this year, thanks to an experienced quarterback and more consistent defense. G.J. Kinne will be better this year, thanks to a ground game that can only get better this year. The 'Cane was led in rushing by Kinne, who didn't even top 400 yards on the season. They have to run the ball better, and they will. Where Tulsa will really get better is in the passing game. Kinne had his moments where he looked every bit the rusty quarterback who had sat out two seasons (redshirt and transfer seasons). He has almost all his receivers back, including Damaris Johnson and Trae Johnson, both of whom have plenty of experience in this offense.

Interesting East Division race. It's hard to tell what to think about the East Division. On one hand, there's Southern Mississippi, long a tough team to knock out of this race, but still looking for their first Conference USA title in the two-division format. In the other corner sits Central Florida, a program marked lately by its inconsistency. The Knights haven't posted back-to-back winning seasons under George O'Leary, alternating between losing and winning records. Last year, UCF went 8-5. USM has the more balanced offense, despite losing running back Damion Fletcher. Look out for redshirt freshman Kendrick Hardy, who could be a big-time player. The Golden Eagles have to decide on a quarterback, as both Austin Davis and Martevious Young have starting experience. Coach Larry Fedora seems inclined to go with Davis, but Young will get a chance to play. He's a better athlete, but not by much, and Davis is a bit more accurate with his throws. At UCF, there are questions in the offensive backfield. O'Leary has said both Rob Calabrese and true freshman Jeffrey Godfrey will play at quarterback this season. Godfrey is probably more talented, but Calabrese has more experience and is looking to rebound after a slow start led to his benching last year. At running back, Brynn Harvey banged up his knee in spring practice and will miss at least a month to start the season. Look for Jonathan Davis to start, and for there to be a dropoff in ability there. Harvey is quite talanted, and UCF will struggle to make due without him while also dealing with a quarterback controversy. UCF's defense is also in need of a rebuild. The two meet in Orlando come November, in a game likely to decide the division's representative in the Conference USA Championship.

Best of the rest
Now without Joe Webb, UAB looks to make another step forward in their rebuilding. Coach Neil Callaway likes sophomore David Isabelle, and while Webb was a great player for the Blazers, it might benefit them to not have him around as the centerpiece of the offense. Look for the ball to get spread around more now. ... Memphis also debuts a new coach, as they hired an African American Larry Porter, who also happens to be the first alum to take the helm of their football program. There's a lot of work here, as the Tigers were 2-10 and are very low on quality depth. ... There's pressure on UTEP coach Mike Price this year. And there should be. The Miners have a talented and experienced quarterback in Trevor Vittatoe, and they have yet to even get to bowl game with him. This is their last chance, and it may be Price's. ... June Jones has worked his magic again. Somehow, despite using a true freshman quarterback for the second half of the season, Jones got SMU to a bowl game, and they routed Nevada in the Hawai'i Bowl. Kyle Padron gets a whole season this time, and big things could be coming to Dallas. ... Rice returns 18 starters this year, and they should be significantly better than last year. The Owls started 0-8 last year, and hope to build off a modest 2-2 record to close the season. Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi is likely to start at quarterback. ... Bob Toledo's work has just started at Tulane. Now that he is happier with the competition on the roster, Toledo needs the team to perform better on the field. Just five wins over the last two years don't lead to many expectations.

Preseason Conference USA Superlatives
Best QB: Case Keenum, Houston
Best RB: Donald Buckram, UTEP
Best WR: James Cleveland, Houston
Best offense: Houston
Best defense: Central Florida
Best coach: Kevin Sumlin, Houston
Coach in the most trouble: Bob Toledo, Tulane
Best non-conference matchup: Houston at UCLA, Sept. 18
Worst non-conference matchup: Central Arkansas at Tulsa, Sept. 25