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Better Know New Hampshire

NewHampshireWildcatsIt’s easy to potentially take for granted the New Hampshire Wildcats. On paper they’re an FCS team, and by nature, any FBS school worth its weight in bratwursts should theoretically be better, more talented, and able to blow them off the field. Ask Virginia and Duke how that FCS talent pool is.

For the Wildcats, they come in at 1-0 after a season opening victory over St. Francis, PA. They rush the ball well, gaining 185 over SFPA, and are led by a junior RB in Sean Jellison. He went for 125 and a score in Saturday’s game, as well as catching a TD pass. UNH jumped to an early 21-0 lead, and sort of cruised the rest of the way, so don’t let the 24-14 final fool you. The offense for UNH was shut down in the second half, nine scoreless positions to be exact.

Defensively, the star so far has been Hugo Souza. The junior strong safety tallied six tackles (five solo), two pass breakups, recovered a fumble and blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt to spearhead the defensive effort against SFPA.

When the rubber hits the road for Ball State in this game, it’s a chance for redemption. Most of the national media and the people around the MAC have had a good chuckle at the expense of the Cardinals and their fall from last season’s grace at the hands of North Texas. They need to show up, deliver, and play like the FBS talent they have.

Scouting New Hampshire:
. . . New Hampshire is coming off a fifth straight winning season and second straight Colonial Athletic Association North Division Championship
. . . UNH was picked to win the North Division of the CAA in this year’s preseason poll conducted by the league
. . . The Wildcats were 10-3 in 2008
. . . UNH enters the season ranked eighth in both of the major Football Championship Subdivision polls after finishing No. 7 or No. 8 in most national polls a year ago
. . . The Wildcats defeated Army in 2008, giving the program four straight wins over Football Bowl Subdivision schools
. . . New Hampshire has also defeated Rutgers (2004), Northwestern (2006) and Marshall (2007).

Weekend Carnage Report

Football is back, ladies and gents, and with it brings the return of the Weekend Carnage Report, your Monday Must Read for football goings on. While the weekend was short on major earth shaking upsets, there was excitement to be found throughout the land. Blocked field goals, overtimes, sucker punches… and this was all week 1. It’s going to be a good year.

Ball State logoBall State Report: For the Cardinals, it was hardly worth rehashing. It was game 1, it was a learning experience, and we have an FCS team coming in on Saturday. Play like they did on Thursday and they’ll get beat again. Play like they’re capable of, and it’s an easy W. There are some that will tell you that the gap between non-BCS teams and excellent FCS teams isn’t all that large. I am not one of those people. The gap is there and this is a game BSU needs to win, and win big.

Kentucky LogoKentucky Report: What really can you say that hasn’t already been covered by A Sea of Blue? The Cats looked dominant, energetic, poised, and skilled. The things we thought would be troublesome, like pressure and skill from the defensive ends, or the offense picking up blitzing schemes was present, but that’s something teachable and nowhere near the problems that the Legion of Doom expected to be dealing with after game 1. The positives, like Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline, the offensive line’s dominance, and Trevard Lindley all looked extremely good. Yes, it was a MAC school… I get it. But a win like this builds confidence and swagger no matter who you beat… and that’s what this team needed. The most improvement usually occurs between games 1 and 2, and throw in a bye week and I’m feeling good about Big Blue.

On to the weekend…

The Good

  • Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were lampooned early this season as a team exceptionally overrated and ranked to highly. Most pointed to their season opener against Nevada and their high octane offense as a potential upset for the Irish. After Saturday’s 35-0 shellacking, ND looks like a team to keep your eye on. Charlie Weis silenced some critics, the Irish certainly impressed some pollsters, and Jimmy Clausen finally looked like the Clausen he was expected to be out of high school.
  • Florida/Texas/USC: Three of the teams universally expected to compete for a national championship berth all came out and handled their business against lesser opponents. Impressive, dominating, and totally expected but good all the same.
  • Boise State/BYU: Two non-BCS conference programs that have catapulted themselves into the BCS conversation. Boise’s victory over Oregon was overshadowed by a sucker punch, and BYU’s upset of Oklahoma overshadowed by Sam Bradford’s shoulder injury, but both those wins will be worth their weight in gold come this week’s poll and for the hopes of both of those programs to crash the BCS party come January.
  • Kentucky/Tennessee: Two teams needing large wins to sort of ease the fears of fanbases in worry mode. Both did exactly what was needed as Kentucky took Miami behind the woodshed and Tennessee laid the smack down on Western Kentucky. Welcome to FBS, Toppers… now grab your ankles.

The Bad

  • Virginia: It’s hard to say what’s worse… the fact that UVA lost to FCS William & Mary or the fact that no one seems to really be talking about it. Is that because of the other stories happening? Or because UVA is just expected to be awful. Probably a little of both.
  • The MidAmerican Conference: Some were lauding the MAC as a conference on the rise and in a position to get back some of the prestige lost when Marshall and Miami stopped dominating. The first weekend was hardly anything to warrant celebration as the MAC went 3-10 and the universally thought stronger MAC West went 0-6. The most damaging losses? Ball State’s to North Texas and Temple to Villanova. WMU looked dreadful against Michigan.
  • Maryland: Many were expecting the Terps to be contenders in an ACC devoid of overwhelming talent and skill. After the thorough decimation at the hands of Cal, Terp fans have got to be concerned. The Golden Bears ran absolutely roughshod over the Terp defense, didn’t allow the offense to flourish, and simply dominated.

The Ugly

  • Iowa: In what was nearly the largest upset of the weekend, Northern Iowa played Iowa closer than nearly every expert expected. So much so that the Hawkeyes needed two blocked field goals in the final seconds to seal a win. Iowa has had a ton of injuries but this is a game they have to win… largely… impressively… going away.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes were one pass away from a tie game with under three minutes to go Saturday. I’m certainly a fan of not running the score up in any fashion against a service academy, but playing like this next week against the Trojans is going to be an ass whipping waiting to happen.
  • Indiana: Not surprisingly, IU ends up on this list again. But at least this time it isn’t in the bad! Congrats! After a lackluster performance against Eastern Kentucky, it’s looking like it’s going to be a long year for the Hoosiers and their fans.

OTP Helmet Stickers
From Alan

  • WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame: 4 rec, 189 yards, 3 TDs in an impressive win against Nevada, announcing to the fans that ND may in fact, be ready to lay claim to a BCS berth with hopefully different results.
  • RB Ralph Bolden, Purdue: Sure, it was against Toledo. But when you throw up 234 yards and 2 TDs, that gets you some OTP love. Now… do that against Penn State and the Buckeyes, and you’re getting invited to New York for a bronze stiff-arming trophy.
  • QB Max Hall, BYU: 26-38 329 yards and 2 TDs in a shocking upset of Oklahoma. Hall commandeered an offensive unit that was far from dominant, but he got the job done. And that’s all anyone can ever ask for.

From Edge

  • Arizona State LB Mike Nixon hauled in an impressive three interceptions and even took one to the house.  Granted it was against Idaho State, it was still a great effort, and he’s clearly someone to watch this year.
  • Tony Pike threw for a personal best 362 yards and three touchdowns in Cincinnati’s rout of Rutgers on Monday.  One hell of a performance from one surprisingly good team, at least from week one’s showing.
  • Purdue’s RB Ralph Bolden accumulated 234 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries against Toledo.  And I thought Ball State’s rushing defense was poor on Thursday… jeebus.

09 Homer Preview: The Black Bears Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Lucas P. Calhoun, soon to be Dr. Lucas P. Calhoun… though it is unconfirmed that an honorary Doctorate of Awesome has already been conferred. While the team he covers is FCS, the review is BCS quality.

Homer Preview: Maine Black Bears

maine logoWhat You Need to Know
Continually strong in the Colonial Athletic Association, the University of Maine football team is looking to capitalize on a unique 2008 season. A team previously known for a strong defense and utilization of the West Coast Offensive scheme, head coach Jack Cosgrove was forced to make critical adjustments and switch to a running attack. The first step was a quarterback change when Mike Brusko replaced an injured Adam Farkas as the starting quarterback. Brusko, a stalwart on both sides of the ball, went 5-2 as the starter, caught passes as a receiver, punted once, and even recorded a special teams tackle. From there, Maine won six of its last eight games and reached the FCS playoffs.

Speaking to his team’s six-game winning streak that started against Delaware, Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said, “The experience we had last year is going to be tremendously helpful to this team. You just see the confidence developing.”

Cosgrove and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin are not hiding the fact that a varied running attack will be their season long plan. The following numbers give them confidence for future success. Brusko (1,353 yards of total offense, 12 TDs) is joined by All-American and 2009-preseason CAA All-Conference fullback Jared Turcotte (910 all-purpose yards, eight TDs as a redshirt freshman), Pushaun Brown and Derek Session (538 all-purpose yards) in a versatile backfield. The offense rushed for over 2,400 yards last season and numbers most likely go up this year.

The offensive line could be a key, as it must replace three starters, including center Ryan Canary. The team is fortunate to have a mobile quarterback because holes in the O-line may lead to limited pocket-time for Brusko.

In recent years, an ace-in-the-hole has been the play of Maine’s “Black Hole” defense, which will be looking to continue an impressive streak it has been building since the 2005 season. For the last four seasons, Maine has finished in the top third nationally in total defense. Defensively, the Black Bears take pride in aggressive play, but also in player development. Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi has created a system in which players evolve in the position, including mentorship by veterans. The sense of camaraderie amongst the defense is evident in their approach to workouts, practices, social times, and of course, game day. Four starters return to the unit in 2009, including DL Jordan Stevens, DL Raibonne Charles, LB Mark Masterson and LB Brandon McLaughlin. In addition, three other defenders return who started at least one game in 2008. However, the Black Bears must replace Buchanan Award runner-up and two-time CAA defensive player of the year Jovan Belcher (98 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) at end, as well as six other starters. Nevertheless, Jordan Stevens (53 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss) will take over both Belcher’s #9 jersey and spot as the defensive field general. Linebacker Mark Masterson (68 tackles, seven pass breakups) and strong safety Brandon McLaughlin (51 tackles) will also provide both leadership and a calming presence for the new members to the unit. The kicking game needs improvement. The Black Bears must replace their punter, and kicker Brian Harvey must improve as he was just 5-of-13 on field goals last season.

The team has a schedule allowing for tremendous success in 2009. Instead of starting against an established FBS opponent, the Black Bears open against the St. Cloud State Huskies. Good in their own right, they are not Iowa, and Maine should be able to take advantage of St. Cloud’s weak-against-the-run defense. An early conference game against Northeastern precedes two non-conference games, including a first-ever meeting with the Orangemen of Syracuse. After Syracuse, the Black Bears get into the heart of conference play. Strong performances will be needed against annual challengers, Hofstra, Richmond, and James Madison.

Who You Need to Know and Their ’08 Stats
QB Mike Brusko: 67-104, 936 yds, 8 TDs, 7 INTs, 112 att, 417 yds, 4 TDs
FB Jared Turcotte: 105 att, 625 yds, 7 TDs
DL Jordan Stevens: 53 tkls, 4 sacks, 7.5 TFL
LB Mark Masterson: 68 tkls, 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT

Game to Watch
Having received a beat down at the hands of Iowa to begin last season, the Black Bears chose to start the season with much lighter fare. With some momentum, the fourth game of the year versus Syracuse could make for an interesting season. Playing at Syracuse in their first ever meeting, a W will give the team a tremendous confidence boost heading into the heart of conference play. In addition, the final regular season game against rival University of New Hampshire is always an important date on the game calendar. UMaine hopes to rebound from a tough 24-28 loss last year.

They’ll Do Well If…
…they utilize their versatile quarterback and continue to pound their diverse ground attack. If the defense can adjust for the loss of seven starters and the offense sticks to their running attack, this blue-collar approach will keep the Black Bears in the hunt for both the CAA North title and a second-consecutive FCS playoff berth.

Season Outlook
Picked to finish 3rd in the CAA North, this is a very real possibility. With a solid quarterback in place, UMaine is ready to start the year strong. Opponents will attempt taking advantage of the defense, but the Black Bears will be ready despite personnel losses. The first four games are vital. Starting with a home opener, the team hits the road three Saturdays in a row, concluding with the Syracuse meeting. If the team comes out of that stretch 3-1, the rest of the season will be easier. Overall, expect some positive surprises along the way including a 9-2 regular season record and a small run in the playoffs.

Maine Football 2

Maine does their best Iverson impression, talkin' 'bout practice