Tag:Arizona
Posted on: June 19, 2009 12:43 pm
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Picking the Pac-10

It's never been like this in the Pac-10.

The conference that gave us Elway, Leinart, Plunkett, Aikman and Fouts, also has given us Best, Blount, Rodgers, Gerhart, and Grigsby. The first set of five names you recognize as some of the best quarterbacks in Pac-10 history. The next five represent another bit of history. According to the conference, there have never been five returning 1,000-yard rushers in the Pac-10.

They are:

Jahvid Best, Jr., Cal -- Despite missing a game, Best rushed for 1,580 yards last season and will be on everyone's Heisman list. Or should be.

LeGarrette Blount, Sr., Oregon -- Chip Kelly has made Oregon into an offensive powerhouse, particularly on the ground. The Ducks have finished in the top six in rushing each of the last two seasons. Kelly lost one 1,000 yard rusher (Jeremiah Johnson) and gets another. The punishing Blount ran for 1,002 yards.
 
Jacquizz Rodgers, Soph., Oregon State -- The Pac-10's offensive player of the year ran for 1,253 yards as a freshman despite missing two games. How could we forget that Thursday night against USC?

Toby Gerhart, Sr., Stanford
-- Set the school rushing record with 1,136 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in '08.

Nic Grigsby, Jr., Arizona -- The Cats' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.

Picking the Pac-10 ...

1. USC -- Expect at least a share of an eighth consecutive Pac-10 title. Expect an eighth consecutive BCS bowl (probably Rose). Don't expect me to tell you the starting quarterback. Aaron Corp started the spring game, but true freshman Matt Barkley has made tremendous strides. Corp may start the season but Barkley might be the guy by the end. The defense and offensive line (Pete Carroll's best ever at USC) can hold the Trojans in the national championship race if the qbs struggle.

2. Oregon -- Kelly has gone from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to Oregon head coach in less than three years. He will take over officially on July 1. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli started as a fifth-stringer, then accounted for 23 touchdowns under Kelly in 2008. Normally, a head-coaching change would signal a drop in the standings. But Kelly has had enough time in the program to get familiar. Don't forget the Ducks were a top 10 team last season. Welcome to the big time, Chip .The season kicks off at Boise.

3. Cal -- Jeff Tedford has brought stability to Berkeley, but no Rose Bowls. It's been 50 years and counting for the Bears since their last trip to Pasadena -- for a bowl game. Tedford, the quarterback wizard, has been pumping out running backs in recent years while quarterback play has slipped. Aaron Rodgers was the last serviceable signal caller. That was five years ago. Inconsistent Kevin Riley gets the job this season. Best will have to relieve the pressure.

4. Oregon State -- Twenty-eight victories the past three seasons. Two wins over USC. Never, ever doubt Mike Riley. Even though his defense has to rebuilt, the Beavers are going to be a pain again this season. Four of the five starters on the offensive line are back. Rodgers' shoulder is healed. Lyle Moevao is a veteran quarterback. Expect at least eight wins.

5. UCLA -- The Bruins could be the most improved team in the Pac-10. Interception machine Kevin Craft is gone. In his place is redshirt freshman Kevin Prince. Sixteen starters return and defense is not the problem. The Bruins had the second-best total defense in Pac-10 play. Until Neuheisel actually performs in Westwood, though, I will relegate them to this spot.

6. Arizona State -- The Sun Devils (5-7) were one of the most disappointing teams in the country last season. Don't be surprised if Arizona State repeats that record. The strength lies with the defense where end Dexter Davis has 10-plus sacks each of the past two seasons. Chris McGaha is a fine pass catcher who led the Devils two years ago (830 yards).  Dennis Erickson must first get some consistency out of an offensive line that has surrendered a staggering 89 sacks the past two seasons.

7. Arizona
-- The Wildcats have the worst Pac-10 record this decade (24-51) but seem to be on the rebound. Despite losing firestarter Willie Tuitama, coach Mike Stoops could make it to a second consecutive bowl. He will have to deal with a non-conference trip to Iowa, plus having only four conference home games (five away). Either Matt Scott or Nick Foles, both sophomores, will replace Tuitama. They have 11 career pass attempts between them.

8. Stanford -- Jim Harbaugh might be the most coveted 9-15 coach in the country. His name continues to come up when other jobs open up. The Cardinal have improved, coming within a season-finale loss to Cal of being bowl eligible. Gerhart and Andrew Luck give Stanford a chance this season. Luck, a sophomore, threw five touchdowns in the spring game. They're here because the Cardinal open with back-to-back road games (Washington State and Wake) and have to play seven teams that won bowl games.

9. Washington -- Steve Sarkisian can't lose. Well, he can but certainly at the level of last season's worst Husky team ever. Sark starts his head coaching career with Washington on a 14-game losing streak. Three wins would make him the mayor of Montlake. The Huskies have the talent to go 5-7. A healthy Jake Locker will make a difference under Sark. Everyone is looking forward to redshirt freshman tailback Chris Polk. Part of Sarkisian's job is getting the Huskies to believe they can win. The streak breaker should come in Week 2 against Idaho.

10. Washington State -- The Cougars won twice last season (one of them against Washington) but are in worse shape than their rivals. This could be one of the nation's worst programs again this season. Second-year coach Paul Wulff loses five starters from one of the worst defenses in Pac-10 history. That might be a good thing. The offense turned it over a staggering 25 times and gave up 43 sacks.

 

Posted on: June 9, 2009 9:19 am
Edited on: June 9, 2009 4:21 pm
 

Picking the independents

When senior citizens complain, they tend to whine about wanting their juice, maybe turning up the heat, or, for gosh sakes, somebody find the remote. Jeopardy's on. 

Joe Paterno is one of those senior citizens. He also tends to whine. Recently he chose the Big Ten as his target. Late in life other 82-year-olds want their favorite chair, pillow or blanket. The Penn State coach prefers Big Ten expansion. Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh are his favorites. Pretty much anyone but Notre Dame.

The fact that no one of consequence even commented on JoePa's ramblings confirmed that they were just that -- ramblings. Paterno might want it his way but he's got it all wrong.

The only way Big Ten expansion works is if Notre Dame is the pick. Ten years ago, the conference (Big 11, really) walked down the aisle hand-in-hand with ND. A marriage seemed imminent. Then the engagement was abruptly broken off when the Notre Dame's board of trustees reiterated its preference to stay independent.

Since then, the former lovers' prospects have dimmed. Big Ten football has regressed recently. Despite two BCS bowls this decade, Notre Dame has seen some of its darkest days since its last appearance in 2006. Coach Charlie Weis' job hangs by a thread. He is the program's fifth coach since '96. The last national championship was 21 years ago.

Still, ND retains favored status in the BCS. The public at large didn't know about ND's almost special dispensation when it came to the BCS. It had arguably the easiest entry into a major bowl -- basically win nine and finish in the top 12.

 Notre Dame also happened to keep all the bowl money itself (minus expenses, of course). Why join a conference? It gets $4.5 million for playing in a BCS bowl. Even in years when ND doesn't go to the BCS bowl, it receives a $1.4 million check just for participating in the system. The deal with NBC pays it another $8 million per year. At least. 

That's why Notre Dame is the only school that makes sense for Big Ten expansion. The conference could use the money. Notre Dame is a ratings winner whether it is 7-1 or 1-7. People watch the same way they watch dogs fighting in the middle of the street.

It interests us.

It's easy to see why the trustees want to stay independent. Why split all that money 12 ways? Of course, if Notre Dame joined the Big Ten it could dictate some favorable terms. For example, it is assumed the school wouldn't be sharing any of that NBC money.

You can also see why Notre Dame expansion makes sense to the Big Ten. Adding the Irish would boost the Big Ten's TV ratings, its bowl coffers (at some point) and its profile. Think how the fledgling Big Ten Network could benefit. There would be a central location to catch up on everything Notre Dame.

Big Ten expansion into South Bend would be easier on both ends to recruiters. For existing Big Ten coaches who could tell prospects, "Come play against Notre Dame," and for Notre Dame which could tell prospects, "Come win the Big Ten."

None of this is going to happen soon. Commissioner Jim Delany recently called Big Ten expansion a "back burner issue." While the conference's football prospects might be down, things are always cyclical in college football. Notre Dame, as you will read below, is expected by some to get back to a BCS bowl this season.

For now, a 12-team Big Ten with Notre Dame is a conversation piece. It might never happen. The economy might worsen and it might be inevitable. There is one thing conclusion when it comes to the subject:

Please don't listen to JoePa.

Picking the independents...

1. Notre Dame -- It's all in place -- the schedule, the front-line talent, the network, the hype. Forget all that. ND goes nowhere this season unless Jimmy Clausen makes the next logical step in his progression. The junior improved last season adding 18 pounds and throwing for 25 touchdowns. It all came together in the bowl game when his only four incompletions against Hawaii were drops. With better protection, a better running game, better receivers and a better outlook, Clausen should begin to fulfill the promise he brought to South Bend three years ago. Whether it's enough to save Charlie Weis' job is another issue. It's BCS bowl or bust for The Big Guy. Weis will ride as far as Clausen can take him. The kid will benefit from the return of four starters on the offensive line. Experts have fallen in love with receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. The running game (No. 100 nationally) has to get better with the arrival of freshman Cierre Wood. Clausen can give Wood a few pointers on how to approach that freshman season. The quarterback had his ego knocked back to The Stone Age in 2007-2008. But, seemingly, Clausen has lived and learned. With his body still intact from all those sacks, Clausen should thrive. But will it be enough to win at least nine games?

2. Navy -- It was hard to place Navy second behind ND. If everything goes right for the Middies, they could be the best of the independents. They won one more than Notre Dame last season. The last two seasons they've been competitive with Notre Dame which is important after four decades of losses. The prospects are bright for '09. In his first full season as head coach, Ken Niumatalolo won eight games, a sixth consecutive Commander-In-Chief's Trophy and got Navy to a bowl. The best thing to happen to Navy, in a weird way, might have been an injury to dangerous quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. That allowed budding talent Ricky Dobbs to start four games in '08. Dobbs wants to be president someday (after his Navy commitment, of course). His moves could make the triple option even more dangerous. The front seven is the strength of the defense. Remember that you read it here first -- in June: Look out Ohio State and Pittsburgh. Navy visits both in the first three weeks of the season. Dobbs and the option are coming.

3. Army -- Good things are being said and written about new coach Rich Ellerson. If he can transfer his magic to this run-down program, then ... well let's wait and see. There have been 12 consecutive losing seasons. The Army brass has made bad decision after bad decision. There is no reason that the Black Knights shouldn't at least be on a par with Air Force and Navy, but somehow Army has sunk to the depths of Division I-A. Ellerson comes from I-AA Cal Poly bringing the triple option on offense and double-eagle flex formation on defense (think Arizona's "Desert Swarm"). Army won't go to a bowl but it needs to build enough momentum to give Navy a game on Dec. 12.

 


Posted on: February 11, 2009 1:04 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2009 4:06 pm
 

The future of Mike Leach and other items

The feeling seems to be that Mike Leach will let the deadline expire for signing a new contract on Tuesday. I wrote about the situation on Wednesday.

That leaves him only two years left on a deal that is paid him $1.75 million in 2008, eighth-highest in the Big 12. More important, Texas Tech could be assured that Leach would be on his way out. Allowing him to walk after the 2010 season would not only hurt recruiting but probably distract Leach who would be looking for a new job.

That's not to say a new agreement couldn't be worked out at some future date, but giving a sitting coach a deadline to sign a deal is unique.

Here is a copy of what is believed to be Leach's current contract

 A look at the 2009 Pac-10 non-conference schedule: (Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner who rounded up the skeds)

Once again the Pac-10 is showing it isn't shy about playing out of conference. The league plays few I-AA opponents and is willing (maybe because of its geography) to travel to play high-profile opponents.

Best 2009 Pac-10 non-conference games:

1. USC at Ohio State, Sept. 12 -- Game of the Century No. 1,317. Will this be Terrelle Pryor's coming out party?

2. Utah at Oregon, Sept. 19 -- By this point in the schedule the Ducks will have played Boise, Purdue and Utah. Three BCS league opponents. Combined record from 2008: 29-9. Please, stop the madness. Even if the Ducks win all three, what condition will they be in for the Pac-10 schedule?

3. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 17 -- Seven in a row and counting for the Trojans ...

4. Oregon at Boise State, Sept. 5 -- Can't understand why Oregon (and Oregon State) keep playing the Broncos. In this case, the loser might be out of a BCS bowl.

5. UCLA at Tennessee, Sept. 12 -- Rick Neuheisel won't be leading any postgame pep rallies in Neyland. When was the last time the Bruins and Vols were each this desperate for a quarterback?

6. Arizona State at Georgia, Sept. 26 -- The Devils were embarrassed by the Bulldogs last season in the middle of a six-game losing streak. In this return game, both teams are rebuilding.

7. Cincinnati at Oregon State, Sept. 19 -- Jacquizz Rodgers vs. the defending Big East champions.

8. LSU at Washington, Sept. 5 -- What is the Washington AD smoking? That brutal non-con schedule helped get Tyrone Willingham fired. Steve Sarkisian starts his career against an SEC monster.

9. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 28 -- Irish season finale. Will it be Charlie Weis' finale?

10. Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19 -- Wait, Bill Snyder is actually getting on a plane to play a non-con road game?

11. Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19 -- The Wildcats are on the rise but Iowa still start the season ranked despite the loss of tailback Shonn Greene.

12. Stanford at Wake Forest, Sept. 12 -- The I.Q. Bowl. Jim Harbaugh's scheduling instincts have to be questioned. His team is starting with consecutive roadies to Pullman (Washington State) and Winston-Salem.

13. Cal at Minnesota, Sept. 19 -- Gophers have almost everyone back in this season that will be a referendum on Tim Brewster's future. (started 7-1, finished 0-5). Hope the Bears have a secondary. Adam Decker could be a preseason All-American.

14. Maryland at Cal, Sept. 5 -- Plenty of revenge motive here for the Bears. Cal was down 28-6 after three quarters last season at Maryland before waking up. After winning nine in '08, the Bears have set their sights higher.

 How the economy will handle the glut of bowls -- natural selection.

 The president is a recruitnik too.

It is the responsibility of this space to keep alive the printed word whenever possible. To that end, let me recommend two excellent, recently-released books.

"KU Basketball Vault, The History Of The Jayhawks," is a unique look at one the most decorated programs in hoops by veteran college basketball scribe Ken Davis. Unique? When was the last time you got souvenirs with your coffee table book?

"Big Boy Rules, America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq" will change your entire view of the war, the government and human nature. Steve Fainaru of the Washington Post provides a deeply personal look at the Bush travesty that is the Iraq war. Steve is a Pulitzer Prize winner who was a former colleague at the Kansas City Star.

I know, I know. I can hear you. That's as close as I'll ever get to a Pulitzer.

 

Posted on: November 5, 2008 10:32 am
 

National notes

What is the immediate future of Tennessee football?

I'm talking two, three years down the road. I have a nagging feeling that Tennessee could become the new Nebraska. A fallen power. Nebraska will never win three national championships in five years. Those days are over.
I'm wondering when the Huskers will challenge for the Big 12 North again. As recently as early this decade, Nebraska was still dominating the division.

Tennessee has won three SEC East titles in the past seven years. That's not bad, folks. Will the next coach do that? The school has the facilities and interest and budget to win big. How does it get that back in one of the most competitive atmospheres in the country?

 Good to see that Steve Spurrier has officially declined interest in tap-dancing on Phil Fulmer's grave, er, in the vacancy. After all, you can't spell Steve Spurrier without UT.

 Before that the Old Ball Coach took a few final jabs at his favorite target. After South Carolina beat the Vols 27-6, Steve Spurrier said: "I'm used to hearing 'Rocky Top' about 10 times. Did they play it at all? I can't remember any of it. Usually you hear that song -- maybe they only play it after they score." Ouch.

 

 USC has become a victim of its own excellence. The Trojans dropped from fifth to seventh this week in the BCS standings despite shutting out Washington 56-0. Apparently the pollsters and computers aren't impressed with the Pac-10 conference.

 

Since the BCS standings debuted, USC is 3-0 having outscored Washington State, Arizona and Washington by a combined 142-10. In that time USC has lost 7.5 percent of its BCS average (.8165 to .7551).

Three of the six BCS computers have the Pac-10 ranked no higher than fourth (Billingsley, fourth; Sagarin, sixth; Colley, seventh behind the Mountain West).

"The more we win, the worse we get," Pete Carroll said.

 BYU needs Utah to beat TCU on Thursday to have any chance of winning its third consecutive Mountain West title.

 

Where is BYU quarterback Max Hall going to be?

"Can't miss 'The Office,' Hall said before changing his story. "I don't know. I will probably pay attention to it. I will probably watch it."
 
 
 Greg Robinson has won three Big East games in four seasons at Syracuse. Two of those are over Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe. Might want to add another name to the hot list.

 This week's SEC ill feeling of the week descends upon Baton Rouge where Nick Saban makes his return as a college coach to LSU.

 

"This isn't about me," Bama's coach said.

Uh, yeah it is, Nick. It's all about you walking out on LSU for the NFL. That in and of itself isn't bad. Who among us wouldn't jump at the chance for a huge promotion?

The mistake is coming back into the belly of the beast (Death Valley!) and trying to deflect the attention. Check this comment from the SEC meetings earlier this year. The guy doesn't exactly expect a welcoming committee.

"All I know is when we had a staff meeting about who goes on what bus, who rides where and all that kind of stuff, it was pretty unanimous in our staff that when we go to LSU, nobody's riding on the bus I'm on," Saban said.

 The pandering went down to the last day for Mr. Hope and Change. Barack Obama continued to tell us what we wanted to hear without offering any substance.

 

"I think it is about time that we had playoffs in college football," Obama said during a Monday interview. "I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams -- the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide a national champion."

That will resonate with Joe Six Pack, which is the point of Obama's entire campaign. Hope and change are empty terms. I'm betting Mr. H and C knows as much about college football as the average cricket player.

How are you going to select the eight teams? What about the ninth team? What about the bowls? Where are the games going to be? You might want to check with the Rose Bowl, Pac-10 and Big Ten.

A lifetime of Washington experience counts more than charisma and empty promises. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, John McCain gave us 5 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prison, I believe we owed him at least four in the White House.

 Mystery team of the week. Unbeaten, No. 1 in total defense in a major conference, tied for 54th nationally in total defense. Answer below.

 

 Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana-Lafayette became the seventh player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of four seasons. He joins a list that includes Tony Dorsett, Cedric Benson and Ron Dayne.

 

 More Tennessee:

 

One of the more striking aspects of Phil Fulmer's firing is the support showed by his players.

“I just feel like I just lost one of my ribs and my kidney or something,” safety Eric Berry said. “I feel like I just lost a family member. Nobody has died, but that’s what it feels like to me right now.”

"That right there wasn't very stand up of Tennessee ... He should go out on his own terms," offensive lineman Ramon Foster said.  "If you're on the other side of the fence we hope you're happy."

 Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton's letter to alumni:

 

Dear friends,


This afternoon, Coach Fulmer announced he will step aside at the conclusion of the football season. I want to express my sincere gratitude for everything he has done for the University and our program.

Coach Fulmer has been, and will continue to be, a great representative of the University and the athletic department. He has dedicated a majority of his life to our program and brought home two SEC championships and a national championship. He has secured his place as the second winningest coach in Tennessee history behind General Neyland. I personally appreciate everything he has done for Tennessee and look forward to him continuing to be a part of our family.

I hope that you will come and show your appreciation for Coach Fulmer at the Wyoming and Vanderbilt games as well as the Kentucky game on Nov. 29 when we celebrate “Phillip Fulmer Day” in Neyland Stadium.

We will begin a national coaching search immediately. We have a great University, world-class student-athletes, a tremendous fans base and first-class facilities. As a result, we will attract some of the nation’s best candidates. We will introduce a new coach to you over the next several weeks.

Thank you for your continued support of Tennessee football.

Sincerely,

Mike Hamilton

 

 Kentucky wishes Randall Cobbs could clone himself. In his first career start, he threw for 56 yards and a touchdown in a 14-13 win over Mississippi State. Cobbs also rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown.

 

He also caught a team-high three passes as a receiver and returned a few punts.

"If I were our field goal kickers, I'd be worried," offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said.

 Texas Tech is your mystery team of the week.

 

Posted on: October 20, 2008 11:31 am
 

Startling Pac-10 realization ...

Yikes, just realized this scenario:

If Oregon State and USC win out, the Beavers would win the Pac-10 tiebreaker and go to the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, USC would be a couple of upsets away from playing in the national championship game. The Trojans debuted at No. 5 in the BCS standings and clearly need help to jump the teams above them -- Oklahoma, Penn State, Alabama and Texas.

USC's schedule strength was/is inferior to those other teams. First things, first. USC has to win at Arizona this week.

Just to be clear, USC could lose out for the Rose Bowl but play for the national championship. 

Pac-10 standings

USC, 5-1, 3-1

Arizona 5-2, 3-1

Oregon 5-2, 3-1

Oregon State 4-3, 3-1

Oregon State remaining schedule -- Nov. 1, Arizona State; Nov. 8, at UCLA; Nov. 15, at Cal; Nov. 22, at Arizona; Nov. 29 Oregon

USC remaining schedule -- Oct. 25, at Arizona; Nov. 1, Washington; Nov. 8, Cal; Nov. 15, at Stanford; Nov. 29 Notre Dame; Dec. 6, at UCLA

And no I haven't  forgotten that Arizona controls its own fate. The Wildcats still have USC and Oregon at home and a Nov. 15 trip to Oregon.

Posted on: August 18, 2008 10:40 am
 

Five things you should know about the Pac-10...

1. The Slickster: He's back and he's here to stir up Westwood, L.A., That School Down The Road and the Pac-10. Rick 
Neuheisel will be the freshest thing to hit the league since, well, Pete Carroll. Get ready for the USC-UCLA rivalry to reignite.

2. Curse of the Trojans: A dislocated knee is one thing (quarterback Mark Sanchez) but it's getting ridiculous at 
USC. Offensive lineman Jeff Byers is being treated for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Running back Joe McKnight 
smashed his fingers in a doorjamb last year (ouch!). Don't forget an outbreak of jock itch.

3. Curse of the Trojans II: USC has developed a nasty habit of a conference loss that defies explanation. Last year, it was Stanford. The year before that it was Oregon State. Put a shotgun (formation) to my head and I'd have to say 
the Oct. 25 game at Arizona qualifies as this season's head scratcher.

4. Intersectionals: Never let it be said the Pac-10 is ducking the competition. It plays that brutal nine-game 
round-robin league schedule. It doesn't fill the non-cons with cream puffs either. The Pac-10 was 5-3 against BCS 
conference schools in non-conference games last season (No. 1 in the country). We'll know a lot about the Pac-10 
(and a lot of other conferences) early on. Consider these intersectional doozies ...

USC at Virginia, Aug. 30
Oregon State at Penn State; BYU at Washington, Sept. 6
Oklahoma at Washington, Ohio State at USC; UCLA at BYU, Sept. 13
Georgia at Arizona State, Sept. 20

A case can be made for the Pac-10 being favored in only two of those games, both USC games (Ohio State, Virginia).
 

5. The end of an era: Commissioner Tom Hansen ends more than a quarter century of service when he steps down after 
this academic year. An NCAA veteran of 16 years, Hansen joined the league in 1983. Things have been great -- the 
re-emergence of USC -- and embarrassment -- the recent officiating snafus -- but Hansen always added class and dignity to a tough job.

His replacement could signal a small crack in the staunch Pac-10 position against a plus-one depending on who is 
hired. The short list: Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, WAC commissioner Karl Benson and former 
Pacific/Dartmouth/Stanford AD Ted Leland.

Posted on: August 6, 2008 2:00 pm
Edited on: August 6, 2008 4:28 pm
 

Five things you should know about the MAC

Five things you should know about the MAC

1. Yes, Nate Davis is wearing gloves ... which is strange if you're a quarterback. Ball State's Davis was the MAC's top passer last season throwing for a conference-most 3,667 yards. No. 1 in MAC pass efficiency, Davis leads a return of the conference's top seven passers.

Ball State offensive coordinator Stan Parrish calls Davis one of the best he's ever had. That means something considering Parrish has both Super Bowl (Tampa Bay) and national championship (Michigan) rings. He worked with some guy named Brady while at Michigan.

Why the gloves? Davis, a shotgun quarterback in high school, had trouble taking the snap under center when he arrived at Ball State. Parrish suggested gloves for traction. Davis never took them off, playing some of his best games against BCS schools. Two years ago Davis threw for 250 yards against Michigan in an eight-point loss. Last season he threw for 422 yards and three scores in a one-point loss to Nebraska.

2. Postseason embarrassment. There's no doubt the MAC is better but it needs to get it going in bowls. In the last four years the league is 4-10. It lost all three bowl games, two by embarrassing scores: Rutgers beat Ball State 52-30 in the International Bowl and Tulsa laid an epic 63-7 whipping on Bowling Green in the GMAC Bowl.

3. Temple is no longer a joke. Al Golden went 4-8 in his second year with the Owls. The program hadn't won more than two games since 2002. Temple is believed to be the only I-A team with all 22 starters returning.

4. Ditto for Buffalo. In two short years, Turner Gill has led Buffalo to respectability. The Bulls were 5-7 last season, the program's best record this decade. Gill will be Nebraska's coach some day if the success continues.  He's just not ready yet. In the offseason his name came up for the Huskers vacancy.

5. Play up. It would be nice for the MAC to start winning some of these non-conference games against BCS schools. The conference went 5-37 against BCS-conference programs last season. Maybe the news is that Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Toledo and Kent State each actually beat one of the big boys.

Last year there were embarrassments like MAC champion Central Michigan's 52-7 loss at Kansas and Western Michigan's 38-point loss at West Virginia. Toledo did beat Iowa State but it also lost to Purdue and Kansas by a combined 60 points.

This season MAC teams play 10 games against teams currently ranked in the coaches' poll. Games to watch this season: Akron at Wisconsin, Aug. 30; Central Michigan at Georgia, Sept. 6; Western Michigan at Nebraska, Aug. 30; Northern Illinois at Minnesota, Aug. 30; Toledo at Arizona, Sept. 6; Bowling Green at Pittsburgh, Aug. 30; Vanderbilt at Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 28 followed by the RedHawks' trip to Michigan on Sept. 6; Boston College plays Kent State in Cleveland on Aug. 30.

There is hope: Five years ago MAC teams beat five ranked teams.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com