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Shoveling Out for Some News

NCAA probation?!? Me?!?! NEVER!

Apologies for the delay in posting, as not only is it a fairly slow time around Ball State land, the weather Gods decided to pummel the Washington, DC area with 20 inches of snow. While blessed with the Cardinal Mobile with 4-wheel drive, dealing with lane upon lane of Maryland drivers who can’t drive in sunshine-laden dry roads makes for stressful times, traffic at the wazoo, and no time to even catch up on what’s going on. So let’s play some catch up…

  • Buffalo hires Jeff Quinn: I think most who watched the Cincinnati Bearcats this season believe that it was more about Kelly and less about Quinn, but kudos to Buffalo for doing what most fans of mid-major programs hope for… hiring a coordinator from a BCS level school. In Buffalo’s case, they got the best around, as Quinn’s UC squad is heading to the Sugar Bowl after being just short of playing for a national title. Quinn will stay on at UC for the Sugar Bowl, which is a bit surprising in my mind, but Buffalo fans seem to be ok with that, so bully for them.
  • San Jose State hires Mike MacIntyre: Not really noteworthy since SJSU is far from a national program, but I never thought I would see the day when a Duke offensive coordinator was at the top of anyone’s list, unless it was a list of worst coaches in the country.
  • Joe McKnight/USC may be dirty after all: For years I’ve had to endure RV telling anyone who would listen that Pete Carroll and the Trojans were the dirtiest program in all of college football. All that was without anything resembling evidence or even questionable tactics, short of the Reggie Bush mess. Now, though, it appears there may be some more significant smoke from this supposed non-fire. If I considered myself a USC fan, I would be concerned. As I’m not, I can only hope this ends brutal, bloody, and legacy tainting.
  • Bowl Season has begun: Not like Ball State fans would notice since our Cardinals are nowhere to be found this Bowl season, unlike the previous two. As much as philosophically, I’m opposed to a system rewarding .500 teams in mid-level conferences by allowing them to play in a bloated Bowl season that ends up costing institutions of higher learning hundreds of thousands of dollars, I love it and watch them religiously. The largest spread of the Bowls was the opener… the New Mexico Bowl, where Fresno State was spotting Wyoming 13. One game in… one point spread obliterated as Wyoming upends the Bulldogs in double overtime. Here’s hoping that the rest of ’em are just as good.

Amidst the coaching changes, Bowl discussion, etc., Cardinal fans are left wondering/waiting/hoping about the futures of MiQuale Lewis and Madaris Grant, two Cardinals awaiting rulings from the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility for medical hardships. Part of me is optimistic that the NCAA will give these kids a chance, but following college athletics has taught me really only one thing… that the NCAA figures out what is sensible, logical, and reasonable, and then does the exact opposite.

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Weekend Carnage Report

boom-goes-the-dynamite-bria

Boom goes the Weekend Carnage Report


If OTP were a train, our actual real life function and existence Monday totally derailed the high hopes and expectations of the morning and afternoon. Post victory hangover? Perhaps. And while I wish we had all day to celebrate and mock since we have victory numero uno, part of me falls along the “Act Like You’ve Been There Before” line. We have been here before… 12 times last season to be exact, but for whatever reason, this win, this 29-27 eeking out over Eastern Michigan just tastes a lot sweeter than many of the wins last season.

Perhaps that’s because this one was unknown. Perhaps because this one silenced more critics, both internal and external, than any victory last season. Perhaps it was because of the record breaking day on the ground. It really is hard to say why I feel the way I do, because the game was far from perfect. The defense played deplorable at times, outstanding at others. As good as the running game was with Quale Lewis and Cory Sykes going for over 500 yards, the passing defense was just as bad… going for 1 yard. Singular. Not good. The special teams were far from special, as an extra point and a field goal were both blocked, and EMU was able to have favorable field position thanks to shoddy kick coverage most of the time.

The injury bug? He’s back again, this time claiming Eric Williams, the promising young tailback who at times this season has been the most exciting player on the field offensively for the Cardinals. No official word from BSU, but Williams has alerted us it’s an MCL sprain.

Any other time, a victory over a winless, hapless, severely overmatched squad like Eastern Michigan wouldn’t be cause for excessive celebration, but this time is different. The monkey is off the back of Stan Parrish and the team… finally.

The rest of the weekend…

The Good

  • Iowa: Their wins have been far from sexy, but the Hawkeyes continue to roll them up. Only a handful of teams in each of the major conferences control their own destiny any longer for a conference title, and Iowa is one of those lucky few. A win at Ohio State on 11/14 and avoiding trap games against Indiana and Illinois locks the Hawkeyes in for the conference crown and the BCS payday.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats are also in the control your own destiny camp, and took most of the country by surprise. Cynics will point to the lack of major opponents, but supporters can just as easily point to what Cincy has been able to do to those not so impressive teams. The area of largest concern heading into the season, the defense, has been more than impressive for the Bearcats.
  • TCU: After dismantling BYU at BYU this weekend, the Horned Frogs are making a serious case that it should be them, and not Boise State as the top ranked non-automatic qualifier. TCU’s performance on Saturday was dominant and one-sided, which is what they’ll need to keep doing to have a shot at the big dollar Bowls.

The Bad

  • North Carolina: After squandering a second half lead to Florida State and dropping their 3rd ACC contest of the season, the Tar Heels, whom many predicted to contend for the ACC find themselves in a virtual must win this Thursday at Virginia Tech to save face and try to go Bowling.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks had the opportunity to plant their flag in the Big 12 North race with a win over a depleted and somewhat weakened Oklahoma team. After their loss, the Jayhawks now find themselves in a perilous position with the meat of their schedule upon them.
  • Rice/Miami (OH)/Eastern Michigan/Western Kentucky/New Mexico: All still winless after 8 weeks of action.

The Ugly

  • Alabama: Needed a blocked field goal in the final seconds to ensure a victory over Tennessee. It certainly raises some questions about which team in this contest was wrongly valued by the pundits and pollsters. My gut says Tennessee just plays big against big time opponents, and I hope my worst case fears that the Kiffin system actually works are not realized.
  • Auburn: LSU delivered the Tigers’ third straight loss. Auburn was a team being lauded mere weeks ago as a potential SEC West darkhorse. After Arkansas, Kentucky, and LSU, Auburn is falling back to Earth and quickly.
  • SEC Officials: No one had taken more heat leading up to Saturday’s action than the official crews in the Southeastern Conference. After yet another gameday across the south dictated by shoddy calls and blatant incorrect review decisions, there are some major questions being raised. All totally valid and worth exploring, but truly unfortunate that the country’s best conference, who happens to find themselves under the biggest microscope, is missing call after call after call.

OTP Helmet Stickers
From Alan

  • MiQuale Lewis/Cory Sykes, RBs, Ball State: In the win over Eastern Michigan, the Cardinal backfield rushed for over 500 yards. That’s more than most teams gain on the ground in two games. Hapless opponent? Of course. Any reason to not celebrate their accomplishment? Nope.

Weekend Carnage Report

Kiffin throws a signature win on the resume with Saturday's Georgia upset. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Kiffin throws a signature win on the resume with Saturday's Georgia upset. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

This weekend was clearly the media’s dream sort of day. Two top 5 schools facing off in Florida-LSU, the return of Sam Bradford, the Michigan-Iowa game garnering national attention because of the early season upsets provided by both. Has has been the case the last three weekends, both our Ball State Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats walked into Sunday with another loss, and another game that frustrates the fanbases, albeit for very different reasons.

For UK, a loss on the road in the SEC is certainly respectable, especially considering it was against a Top 25 team, QB Mike Hartline’s injury resulted in him missing a majority of the 2nd half, and Steve Spurrier was roaming the sidelines for the Gamecocks… a coach UK has never beaten. Despite all that, Kentucky was still in it till the bitter bloody end. One of these days those sort of games that Kentucky seems to always find a way to lose will go UK’s way. I simply hope I’m alive to see it. Now the Cats find themselves facing off against a team that we’ve already covered once this season… the Auburn Tigers. Injuries are numerous, hope is little, but stranger things have happened.

The Ball State Cardinals continued to find new and impressive ways of losing games this season, this time shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, poor special teams, and more turnovers than is either acceptable or overcome-able. The fanbase is on edge, there are people calling for the ousting of head coach Stan Parrish, and unlike recent weeks, there isn’t a lot of positives to take away from this one. Do I think this all blows over? Hard to say. A victory would go a long way in righting the ship for Parrish, but just one is unfortunately not enough. With another loss this season, the Cardinals are guaranteed a losing record, and that isn’t sitting well with a fanbase that grew exponentially with last season’s 12-0 perfection.

Off we go for the weekend…

The Good

  • Florida/Tim Tebow: Tebow was far from dominating, and the Gators didn’t blow anyone out, but watching the #1 ranked team’s defense on Saturday against LSU certainly made me feel better about UK’s struggling against them two weeks ago. I have rarely seen a defense as good as theirs, and Tebow playing the way he did considering the circumstances was admirable, impressive, and worthy of the celebration and adulation he receives week in and week out.
  • Oklahoma/Sam Bradford: Yes, it was against Baylor, a team the Sooners should beat. But watching a star player return to form after a potentially serious injury is a great thing for the sport. Bradford certainly looked back to form, but the real test for his readiness is next weekend versus the Longhorns.
  • Virginia Tech: Holy woodshed, Batman. After putzing around with Duke last week, the Hokies laid a beating on Boston College from minute one. VT is getting very little attention compared to Florida, Texas, or even Alabama, but they are very much capable of running the schedule and making some noise at the national title table.

The Bad

  • Ole Miss: Heading into 2009, most thought Saturday’s game against Alabama would be essentially an early season elimination game for the SEC West. No one expected it to be Ole Miss’ second conference loss, and the game that would plummet them off of any Top 25 ballot they were on. Ole Miss fans were hoping that this was the year that the Rebs would prove the naysayers wrong, but it appears once again, that the cynical bloggers who had Ole Miss pegged as a fraud were right.
  • Penn State’s Schedule: Eastern Illinois? In middle October? As if the MAC schedule that Penn State played to start the season could get any softer. Kudos to teams like Oklahoma and USC for playing non-conference games of note. Shame, shame, shame to Penn State for loading their win totals up with cupcakes and softies.
  • Auburn/Wisconsin: Two teams who sat at undefeated and were just barely sniffing the Top 25 and now no longer need to play the “lack of respect” card since they proved they belong nowhere near a Top 25 ballot. Wisconsin’s loss, on the road to Ohio State was at least respectable. Auburn, on the other hand, was on the road and a complete and utter disaster.

The Ugly

  • TCU: The Horned Frogs, the second most respected non-automatic qualifier this season outside of Boise, needed to recover a late onside kick to hold off a surging Air Force squad. Hostile environment? On the road? Sure. But that’s a game that most, including me, expected TCU to roll through. Perhaps that high ranking is not so deserved after all.
  • Georgia Tech: Anyone who thought Paul Johnson’s offense was incapable of scoring points needs to look at Saturday’s Florida State contest and their 49 points and 401 rushing yards. What made this one ugly? The 44 points surrendered and 539 yards to a Florida State team hardly dominant or impressive this season.
  • Texas: Another game, another example of Texas going through the motions early, allowing a team to hang around longer than it should, and relying on the large talent gap to eventually take over. That won’t bode so well for them next week against Oklahoma, a team that is looking to make a national splash and has just as good, if not better, talent on the roster.

OTP Helmet Stickers
From Alan

  • Freddie Barnes, WR, Bowling Green: 22 receptions, 278 yards, and 3 TDs in the Falcons’ win over Kent. This does not bode well for the Ball State defense next weekend.
  • Jonathon Crompton, QB, Tennessee: 20-27, 310 yds, 4 TDS in a victory over Georgia. As much as it pains me to write that and as surprising as it is considering how this season started for Crompton, Saturday, he was dominant in the Vols’ upset win of Georgia. Granted, this isn’t the Georgia team of years past, but still…
  • Lee Campbell, LB, Minnesota: In the win over Purdue, Campbell certainly earned himself the game ball, blocking a field goal returned for a touchdown, intercepting a pass, and making 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss.

Weekend Carnage Report

Apologies for the delay this morning… stupid real life. We’re back now, though, and playing catch up for most of the morning. The weekend itself was noteworthy more for what didn’t happen (Tennessee not getting destroyed, USC struggling, etc.) than for what did, but it’s another weekend over.

Thankfully, the time for teams to load up on tomato cans from FCS or pitifully overmatched FBS teams is drawing to a distinct close as conference play is just around the corner for most. I, for one, cannot tell you how exciting it was to welcome the 3:30 SEC/CBS marriage back onto my television. It had been gone far too long. Off we go…

Ball State logoBall State Report: More coming in a bit, but frankly, this one was both disappointing and encouraging, if that’s even possible. In what’s sort of become a refrain so far this season… as bad as we played all game, we were still in a position to win it. While it sucks we’re 0-3, this isn’t like we’re getting beat by 60 points. Having said that, we play at Auburn this weekend, where the potential for a beating of epic proportions is entirely possible. Could this be the weekend where lightning strikes? Who knows…

Kentucky LogoKentucky Report: It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless for the Wildcats. Years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case, as UK tried every way in the world to give that game to the Cardinals. Penalties, turnovers, clock problems, etc. all colored this game, and could have very easily been the reasons why a loss was inevitable. Fortunately for UK, the football Gods and more specifically Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb smiled on them Saturday as they walked out of Commonwealth a winner. Tremendous effort by Louisville, though. Totally unexpected. More a bit later on this one as well.

On to the weekend…

The Good

  • Washington: With a stout defensive effort, as well as some key USC injuries, the Huskies upset #3 USC on Saturday, snapping a 10-game Pac 10 losing streak and announcing to the world that Steve Sarkisian, was in fact, the right man for the job.
  • Oklahoma: No Sam Bradford? No problem for the Sooners, who dismantled Tulsa 45-0 behind the arm of backup QB Landry Jones. The freshman threw for 336 yards and 6 TDs, leaving many wondering how they would have done against BYU without Bradford at all.
  • Oregon: After the punch heard round the world, and their 1-1 start, most had written off Oregon as any sort of threat out west. With Saturday’s victory over Utah, the Ducks announced they are still very much in the picture, while dealing the non-automatic qualifiers a significant blow to their BCS hopes.

The Bad

  • BYU/Utah: Two teams that most thought would be in the conversation for a BCS at large berth, especially given the Cougars upset of Oklahoma to start the season. Both beaten on Saturday, and both virtually guaranteed to not be in the BCS.
  • Maryland: Following the trend of the last few seasons, Maryland certainly played to their competition Saturday in Byrd Stadium as they were upset by Middle Tennessee State on a last second field goal. “Upset” may be a bit much, though, considering the Terps needed overtime to beat James Madison last weekend and were beaten by MTSU last year.
  • USC: Saturday’s upset at Washington was another example of SC underperforming at least once per season. The last 4, to be exact, were all characterized by a Trojan loss to an unranked opponent. It’s not a question whether or not Pete Carroll can coach a big game, it’s whether or not he can coach the run of the mill ones.

The Ugly

  • Kentucky: A Louisville team that is the bottom of the Big East shouldn’t test anyone the way they did on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether this was more Louisville playing over their heads or Kentucky under theirs. With the Gators heading to Lexington on Saturday, we shall have an answer to that question.
  • Florida: Blame the swine flu, but Florida looked far from sharp or dominant in their 10-point victory over Tennessee. Rivalry games have a ridiculous tendency to be close, but the margin in this one was surprising to say the least.
  • Penn State: Another weekend, another win for the Nittany Lions, but like every other victory this season, it was far from a blowout, the Nittany Lions far from dominant, and this one was again against a MAC school. Ugly for not only their margin, but their continuous opponents who provide no real challenge.

OTP Helmet Stickers
From Alan

  • Jahvid Best, RB, Cal: Further proving that he is without question the best running back in college football, Best racked up 131 yards and 5 TDs in the Golden Bears victory over a tough Minnesota team.
  • Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame: 22-31 300 yds, 2 TDs in a victory over Michigan State, a win the Irish desperately needed.
  • Jeremy Avery, RB, Boise State: 186 rushing yards, 83 receiving yards, and a TD in the victory over upset minded Fresno State.

From Edge

  • Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Record setting performance with 6 TD tosses in a Sooner victory… as a freshman.
  • Washington: The entire team for upsetting USC and costing them a good chance at a national title. Congrats.

Week One… with a Little Help from the Fab Four

Club_ID_by_BeatlesFanClubWith week one in the books, the football machine is now fully operational.  But if you haven’t noticed, this week is a landmark occasion in the music world.  The Beatles are set to release all their albums today, finally remastered on CD, as well as The Beatles: Rock Band video game.  I have had a chance to hear about half of the remastered albums (we rockers get early access to everything, or we find someone who does), and the results are nothing short of incredible.

But as I listened this weekend, a lot of the songs played as great soundtracks to the weekend of college football.  And once again, I did the work for you.  Here are some timeless Beatles songs and their connection to week one.

Here, There and Everywhere
Notre Dame was all over the field Saturday.  And for once, they weren’t being led around it.  They came out fast, and they stayed that way the entire game.  If they keep this up, maybe Crazy Lou was right.

Let It Be
Air Force did anything but let it be.  Demolishing Nicholls State 72-0 should show the rest of the Mountain West that Air Force should probably not be taken too lightly in 2009.

I’m Looking Through You
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly almost seemed inside Rutgers’ head coach Greg Schiano’s head the entire game.  Taking a 47-15 beating from a fellow conference team is not a pretty way to start the season.

A Day in the Life
Leave it to Ohio State to make a close game out of a sure blowout.  Just another day in the life for Buckeye fans.

You Can’t Do That
LeGarrette Blount committed one of the worst acts of losing one’s temper that I have ever seen on national television.  Next to Ron Artest.  Needless to say, I fully agree with the year-long suspension, and it should serve as a reminder that as much as you want to lay out an opponent for talking shit, sucker-punches aren’t the answer.

Continue reading

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 Rams 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 Jim Kenny, a loyal Colorado State alum and fan, as well as poker player extraordinaire, and aside from being a Red Sox fan, an all around good guy.

Homer Preview: Colorado State Rams

colorado-state-logoWhat You Need To Know
The CSU Rams are starting their second season under new coach Steve Fairchild. Fairchild came to CSU after the rocky departure of long time coach Sonny Lubick. Lubick, who had garnered great success early in his career at CSU, saw his success steadily deteriorate starting with the 2003 season. Aside from his inaugural campaign in ’93, Lubick had a streak of 10 winning seasons and won 6 conference championships. He also brought a stingy defensive philosophy with him and mentored future NFL players like Joey Porter and Clark Hagans. However, there was a sharp decline in his final 4 seasons, when he went 17-30 overall and, in 2007, landed his worst season with a 3-9 record. Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk was forced to make a change, which was heard with conflicted ears by the community. Lubick was put off by his offer to stay on as an Associate AD involved with PR and fundraising, which caused much of the friction. It was also reported that Lubick contacted one of his former assistants, Urban Meyer at Florida, about a job on his staff. In the end, Lubick turned CSU down and did not run for Gainesville, instead choosing to ride what was left of his fame out in Fort Collins. With all due respect to Lubick and his supporters, I love when people whine about losing and then complain when you fire the coach for being “such a nice guy.” You know what is nice? Winning games. You know what Sonny did towards the end of his career at Colorado State? Lose games. If it takes the sting away, I’ll bring my buddies to your new steakhouse, Sonny, and buy a few porterhouses. I applaud the AD for making the hard choice and aiming the PR heat squarely at himself.

Okay, now that I am down from my soapbox, let’s talk about the 2009 season. Steve Fairchild is starting his second season as the head coach. Fairchild came to the Rams from his position as Offensive Coordinator of the Buffalo Bills. Prior to that, he was Offensive Coordinator under Mike Martz in St. Louis. What made Fairchild a phenomenal choice given the PR situation were two things. First, he is a CSU alumnus and played QB for the team. Second, and perhaps most important, he was on the coaching staff at CSU for 6 years as QB coach and then Offensive Coordinator under…wait for it…his predecessor Sonny Lubick. In his first press conference, Fairchild said more nice things about Lubick in 30 minutes than the entire Fort Collins press corps had in the previous 5 years.

Fairchild’s first year was, by all standards, very solid. He led the team to 7 wins, the most by a first year coach in CSU history. He also brought the program its first winning season in 5 years and, with their win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl, Fairchild became the first coach with a bowl victory in his first year. The strong performance last year was largely because of RB Gartrell Johnson, who racked up more than 1400 yards, 12 TDs and the rushing crown for Mountain West Conference. Combine that with the solid QB play of Billy Farris, you had a decent year. The only blemishes would be the 4-4 conference record and the defensive play under coordinator Larry Kerr.

The CSU defense was pretty awful last season. Opponents averaged 190 yards rushing per game and the defense only had 9 sacks and 10 INTs all season. This was because of a less than stellar secondary, inconsistent D-line and young LB’s. The lone bright spot was freshman LB Mychal Sisson, who led the team with 105 tackles and was named a freshman All-American, CSU’s first player to earn that award. Sisson will anchor a solid linebacking corps this year and the secondary should improve given they are returning 3 out of 4 starters. However, their D-line may still be their Achilles heel with only one returning starter.

Who You Need to Know
QB: Coach Fairchild has yet to commit to a starter, I think it will come down to one of the following: Jon Eastman, a Junior College transfer or Senior Grant Stuckey
WR Rashaun Greer – a Senior with more than 1,100 yards last year and is on the Biletnikoff Watch List.
LB Mychal Sisson – a Sophomore who led the team in tackles last year with 105

Games to Watch
Because of the question marks surrounding the key offensive positions of QB and RB, I am choosing to highlight some key games, instead of one matchup. For CSU this year, their key games with be those in October vs. conference teams San Diego State and Air Force. I think the team with be 4-3 heading into these contests and, depending on the results, will either set them up for a great year with a great bowl game or a disappointing year where they are watching TV while others are playing football in December.

They’ll Do Well If…
… their O-Line stays healthy. The line comes into this year with a combined 125 starts, the most of any school in the country.

… they find a QB who can be effective and throw it a lot to WR Rashaun Greer

… the RB competition inspires excellence and not conflict. Juniors John Mosure and Leonard Mason will likely lead the pack, but look for freshmen Lou Greenwood and Chris Nwoke to challenge them for carries.

Season Outlook
Unfortunately, I think this season is going to be either really good or really bad. With only 10 days before their season opener, the Rams have yet to name a starting QB and but have announced they are likely to have a “RB by committee” format. They have an experienced offensive line, but you still have to have producers at the QB and RB positions to take advantage of their skill. I think their schedule will make for a roller coaster season. I think they win their first 3 games, but will most likely drop 3 of their next 4 when they play away against BYU and TCU and at home against Utah (even with my cheers at the game). The key to their season, as I mention above, will be winning the following home games vs. SDSU and Air Force. If they can prevail in those two contests, CSU should be able to run the table and go onto another solid bowl at the end of the year. If they struggle in those two games, then I fear they will under perform in the final stretch of the season and not be bowl eligible. As an alumnus, I am certainly hoping for a solid second year for Coach Fairchild and the Ram program.

Conference Preview: Mountain West

crystalballIn an effort to address all the teams and conferences that make the fall so exciting, OTP’s All-Star Editorial staff is putting on their prognosticatin’ hats and taking a stab at each of the conferences and all of the teams in FBS. Alan and Edge are giving you the conference’s order of finish, the records, the superlatives for offense and defense, and the biggest surprise for each conference. At the conclusion of our series, we’ll have the Bowl Projections for all 34 Bowl Games.

OTP Conference Preview: The Mountain West

mountain west logoThe Mountain West Conference is the relative new kid on the block of major college athletics. They are the youngest conference, having been formed in 1999, but they are far from irrelevant or deserving of national attention or props.

Since their inception, the Mountain West has had a BCS representative twice… both times the Utah Utes, who won both appearances. Year in and year out, the Mountain West is the perennial best of the non automatic qualifying conferences, and last year had two teams in the final Top 10, tying them for most teams.

In the offseason, the Mountain West made a plea to the United States Congress that they should be included in the Bowl Championship Series, and this year is another chance for the conference as a whole to show they belong at the title table, a chance that BYU can certainly demand in week 1 versus national title contender Oklahoma.

The Mountain West doesn’t get the top billing in the college football universe, as the media and fanbases often overlook them in favor of the glitz and presitge of the SEC, Pac 10, or Big 12, but the Mountain West is just as good. The Mountain West’s best may not be world beaters in those leagues, but they certainly would give 80% of the teams in those leagues all they could handle. The MWC is a conference made up of athletes and coaches that are talented, capable, and just looking for their break out year and their next BCS invite.

Of special note to this blog, the Mountain West also sees a new coach at one of its members, as former Ball Stater Brady Hoke now tries to rebuild San Diego State. Good luck, Coach.

Last 5 Conference Champions:
2008: Utah
2007: BYU
2006: BYU
2005: TCU
2004: Utah

Bowl Tie Ins:
The Mountain West Conference has five bowl tie-ins:
#1– The Maaco Las Vegas Bowl receives the first choice of Mountain West teams, unless that team is selected by the BCS.
#2– The Poinsettia Bowl receives the second choice of Mountain West teams.
#3-4– The Armed Forces Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl have the third and fourth picks, but in no particular order.
#5– The Humanitarian Bowl receives the fifth choice of Mountain West teams.

Alan’s Mountain West Predictions
Order of Finish:
BYU 11-1 (8-0)
Utah 10-2 (7-1)
TCU 10-2 (6-2)
UNLV 7-5 (5-3)
Air Force 6-6 (4-4)
Colorado St. 4-8 (3-5)
San Diego St. 5-7 (2-6)
Wyoming 2-10 (1-7)
New Mexico 2-10 (1-7)

League Champion: BYU

League MVP: Max Hall, BYU
Offensive MVP: Harvey Unga, BYU
Defensive MVP: Jerry Hughes, TCU

Biggest Surprise This Season: Two fold… BYU’s only loss comes in their season opener against Oklahoma, and the Cougars go undefeated the rest of the way, but it will not be enough to warrant a BCS trip for BYU. Second, as the HokeManBeast begins to get acclimated to life in San Diego, the homeless population mysteriously drops 34% by week 3.

Edge’s Mountain West Predictions
Order of Finish:

BYU 10-2 (8-0)
Utah 10-2 (7-1)
TCU 10-2 (6-2)
UNLV 6-6 (4-4)
Air Force 6-6 (4-4)
Colorado State 5-7 (4-4)
New Mexico 3-9 (2-6)
San Diego State 3-9 (1-7)
Wyoming 2-10 (1-7)

League Champion: BYU

League MVP: Max Hall, BYU
Offensive MVP: Matt Asiata, Utah
Defensive MVP: Jerry Hughes, TCU

Biggest Surprise This Season: Utah remains perfect until Oregon in week 3, but also falls to BYU in week 13. So long, hopes for a BCS berth.

Prelude to a Season: #19

19.) Utah Utes

UtahWhat You Need to Know
The Utes certainly ended 2008 on a high note as they demolished Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 31-17. It was their 8th consecutive Bowl win, but perhaps the one game that led to the most controversy and discussion in the offseason. Thanks largely to their dominance and #2 finish, a large population of college football fans felt Utah was unjustly not allowed to compete for the national title. It’s led to Congressional committees, blogosphere fodder, and the issue of the offseason for all of college football as the discussion rages on about how “fair” or “unfair” the BCS is.

For Utah, the offseason was less about reliving 08 and their lack of a cyrstal football, and more about Kyle Wittingham continuing the tradition built under Urban Meyer. Certainly 2008 was Wittingham’s best season, finishing ranked #2 and 13-0, but Wittingham has certainly made Utah a Mountain West frontrunner each and every year. His recruiting is solid, his talent now well stocked, and the future looks just as bright as the past for the Utes.

Offensively, Utah returns 5 starters, but did lose QB Brian Johnson and their top 3 receivers in Freddie Brown, Brent Casteel, and Bradon Godfrey who combined for 176 catches, 2020 yds, and 15 TDs. Returning for the Utes is senior RB Matt Asiata, an effective scoring threat along with his backups in junior Eddie Wide and redshirt freshman Sausan Shakerin. Battling for the starting QB position will be junior Corbin Louks and junior Terrance Cain, a transfer who was the National Junior College Offensive Player of the Year. Neither is Brian Johnson, but either is a decent option for the Utes.

Defensively, the Utes return 7 starters from a unit that ranked 11th in the country in total defense and 12th in points allowed. The defensive line has tremendous losses in DE Paul Kruger and DT Greg Newman, who combined for 111 tackles, 10 sacks, and 16 tackles for loss. Utah also loses both corners in Brice McCain and Sean Smith, who combined for 14 pass break ups and 6 INTs. Utah’s starting safeties are two of the best in the country in Joe Dale and Robert Johnson and will anchor an already solid defense to continued success.

Utah finds themselves in very unfamiliar territory as 2009 dawns. In recent years, they were certainly a talented team but had very little buzz surrounding them save for those exceptionally in the know. This year however, certainly everyone knows just exactly who Utah is. They made sure that was the case last January in New Orleans as they totally destroyed one of the country’s most prestigious football programs.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Matt Asiata: 146 att, 707 yds, 12 TDs
WR David Reed: 25 rec, 427 yds, 6 TDs
LB Stevenson Sylvester: 73 tkls, 3.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 4 PBU

Game to Watch
The most challenging non-conference game for the Utes will be September 19th at Oregon. In conference, two games stand between Utah and another Mountain West Conference title: @ TCU (11/14) and @ BYU (11/28). Extremely challenging games… both on the road.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the Utes find a quarterback who leads this team. Finding someone to totally replace a player like Brian Johnson is nearly impossible but finding the next great quarterback in the Utah lineage will have to happen for the Utes to be successful.

Season Outlook
For Utah, replicating last season’s unbelievable dream season will be challenging. But competing for a Mountain West title is well within their reach. Their three toughest contests are all on the road (Oregon, TCU, BYU) and I don’t forsee them losing more than 1 game in conference play. A great season for Utah is what we’re predicting, with the Utes finishing at 11-1 and with a great shot at a Mountain West title, but they must beat TCU, whom we also believe will stumble once in conference play.

Prelude to a Season: #20

20.) Texas Christian Horned Frogs

TCUWhat You Need to Know
While fellow mid-majors Utah and Boise State were racking up BCS paydays, national attention, and significant arguments that they should have a seat at the national title conversation, TCU has quietly made themselves extremely relevant in the college football world. Since head coach Gary Patterson took over in 2000’s Bowl game, he has amassed a 73-27 record as well as 5-3 in Bowls. He’s been Bowling 4 straight years, and has 5 seasons of 10 or more wins. This year, Patterson’s Horned Frogs are primed for even more success, as well as being a potential BCS buster. They return 10 total starters, have a manageable schedule, and will be in the running for a Mountain West title.

Offensively, TCU returns 6 starters, including all of their skill players in junior QB Andy Dalton, senior RB Jospeh Turner, and junior WR Jimmy Young. The interior of the offensive line is the only question mark, as the Horned Frogs need to replace their center and both guards. Anchoring that line will be veterans in junior RT Marcus Cannon and senior LT Marshall Newhouse. Last year saw TCU rack up 220 per game on the ground with 33.6 points per game. To expect that sort of production again might be fool’s gold since TCU set records last season in touchdowns scored and total points scored, but expect TCU to continue their offensive success.

Defensively, TCU was one of if not the, best in the country last season. 4 starters return from a unit that allowed only 11.3 points per game and 218 yards per game. They were dominant against the run, allowing only 1.7 yards per carry and 47 yards per game. Those numbers were good enough to propel TCU to #1 in the country in both rush defense and total defense. It was the third time in the last nine seasons that TCU has had the country’s best defense, so expect them to continue their trend of a dominating defensive unit. Corners Nick Sanders (sr) and Rafeal Priest (sr) have started every game for the Horned Frogs the prior three seasons, and senior DE Jerry Hughes 4.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks last year.

The Horned Frogs find themselves in a position to win the Mountain West Conference this season in addition to the potential of upsetting two BCS teams on the road. If that happens, it is likely that they will be the Cinderella team looking for an at-large BCS berth. Standing in their way is BYU, whom TCU has to travel to for a game that may very well decide the conference race.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Andy Dalton: 182-307, 2242 yds, 11 TDs, 5 INTs
RB Joseph Turner: 145 att, 577 yds, 11 TDs
WR Jimmy Young: 59 rec, 988 yds, 5 TDs

Game to Watch
The one game on the schedule that has the potential to make or break TCU’s season is October 24th battle at BYU. The winner has an inside track to the conference title, in addition to the possibility of an undefeated season and a BCS berth. For TCU to achieve that they’ll also need to knock off their ACC opponents to start the year, @ Virginia (9/12) and @ Clemson (9/26).

They’ll Do Well If…
… they figure out how to knock off BYU. A victory over the Cougars could very well land TCU in a BCS game for the first time in school history.

Season Outlook
For the Horned Frogs, last season saw them finish the year ranked #7 after an 11-2 campaign, with the only losses to BCS Bowl participants Oklahoma and Utah. Improving on that record and those results will be difficult, but not impossible. In the worst case scenario of 09, TCU loses to BYU and Utah  both, as well as dropping one of the non-conference games. That places them at 9-3. What is more likely is a clean sweep through their non-conference slate and one loss in conference, placing them at 11-1 and right in the hunt for a conference title with an outside chance at a BCS appearance.