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September 17, 2008

Notebook: MWC proving worthy of respect

This week, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson has been on the phone more than a teenage girl with a new boyfriend.

It seems everyone has a crush on the MWC after it crushed the presumably superior Pac-10.

Thompson simultaneously watched games on three TVs on Saturday. BYU's 59-0 win over UCLA was settled early and TCU pulled away from Stanford in the second half, so he was able to focus more intently on New Mexico's victory over Arizona. Later, he celebrated UNLV's stunning 23-20 triumph over Arizona State, which presumably was looking ahead to this week's game against Georgia.

The big weekend raised eyebrows across the nation, but not in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the MWC office is located.

"I don't know that you take anything for granted, but BYU, Utah, TCU and Air Force are at the point in their programs that beating a BCS automatic qualifier at home is what they should do," Thompson said.

Note he referred to those Pac-10 teams as "BCS automatic qualifiers" rather than "Big Six'' teams. Of course, champions of the "Big Six" conferences SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and Big East (and Notre Dame) get automatic invitations to lucrative BCS bowls. That designation alone suggests those conferences are vastly superior to less heralded leagues.

But the MWC is 6-3 against "Big Six" teams this season. By comparison, the SEC is 3-2, the Big Ten is 5-6, the Big 12 is 5-3, the ACC is 5-6, the Pac-10 is 5-5 and the Big East is 2-5.

Perhaps the "Big Six" need another nickname or at least a higher number.

"Our stated goal 10 years ago was to be a BCS automatic qualifier," Thomson said. "Maybe some day that number will be the 'Big Seven.' That is the goal."

Detractors could argue that the MWC simply is a one-season or one-weekend wonder. But the MWC was 7-9 in regular-season games against "Big Six" teams last season, and Thompson points out that since the inception of the BCS in 1998, TCU is 15-7 against the "Big Six," Utah is 15-10, Air Force is 8-8 and BYU is 14-18.

The MWC still has five games remaining against "Big Six" teams. Should more victories follow, the MWC champion would deserve a BCS bid. An undefeated champion perhaps should get even more.

Utah was undefeated in 2004 beating Texas A&M of the Big 12, Arizona of the Pac-10 and North Carolina of the ACC along the way. Yet the MWC didn't raise any ruckus when the Utes weren't even in the discussion to play for the national championship. It was content with Utah's 35-7 annihilation of Big East champion Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

If an unbeaten team emerges this season, the MWC might not be so quiet.

"I think an argument could definitely be made," Thompson said. "But that's a tall task."

Yeah, but going 4-0 in a weekend against the Pac-10 seemed like a tall task, too.


Saturday's Vanderbilt-Ole Miss matchup is huge for both programs, which are hoping to end bowl droughts. Both have several SEC games upcoming in which they will be considered heavy underdogs, so in order to reach the six victories required for bowl eligibility, they must prevail in what some might call "winnable" games. This one would fit the description for both sides.

During the offseason, would anyone have guessed that heading into this week's game the team with quarterback issues would be Auburn rather than LSU? LSU is starting a Harvard transfer (Andrew Hatch).

What are the significance of these numbers 66, 45, 55 and 81? The first three are points scored by Penn State in each of its three games. The final number is coach Joe Paterno's age. With offensive production like that, who dare suggests it's time for Paterno to retire?

Purdue on Saturday is facing Central Michigan for the third time in a year. Last season, the Boilermakers won 45-22 in the regular season and 51-48 on a last-play field goal in the Motor City Bowl.

There is a quarterback controversy brewing in College Station, Texas, where fans are debating whether senior Stephen McGee or sophomore Jerrod Johnson should guide Texas A&M. McGee was knocked out early in the Aggies' 28-22 win over New Mexico on Sept. 6, and Johnson came on to throw three touchdown passes. A&M plays host to Miami on Saturday. The Hurricanes' defense was reasonably successful in containing Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in a 26-3 loss, so UM would figure to contain whomever starts for the Aggies. That will make whomever doesn't start even more popular in Aggieland.

Baylor has had some good quarterbacks in its history J.J. Joe, Cody Carlson, Brad Goebel. But by the time true freshman Robert Griffin leaves Waco, he'll probably be the Bears' best ever. Did you catch his line against Washington State? He rushed for 217 yards on 11 carries and passed for another 129. That's 349 yards of total offense. In seven games last season, the Bears didn't reach that total.

Kansas State, which hasn't been challenged yet, has to prove itself Wednesday night in Louisville. The Wildcats have been among the nation's worst road teams in recent seasons. Over the past four seasons, the Wildcats are 4-15 on the road, with one victory coming each year. Last season, they were 1-5 on the road.

Wake Forest is aiming for a third consecutive victory over Florida State. Before posting back-to-back wins over the Seminoles, Wake had beaten Florida State just twice in 24 games.

Oregon could be down to its fourth-string quarterback this weekend against Boise State. Either junior college transfer Jeremiah Masoli or true freshman Chris Harper will start for the Ducks, who lost Nathan Costa to a knee injury before the season started and Justin Roper to a sprained knee in last week's victory over Purdue. Harper was the fourth-stringer before injuries hit.

East Carolina looks to further strengthen its BCS resume this weekend against ACC member N.C. State. The Pirates already have beaten Virginia Tech and West Virginia.


Remember the old View-Masters? Missouri sports information director Chad Moller certainly does, and he hopes they will help Heisman voters remember Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel when ballots are cast in December.

SIDs often seek creative ways to campaign for their Heisman candidates. BYU sent voters neckties for Ty Detmer. Washington State mailed out leafs for Ryan Leaf. Memphis distributed die-cast model race cars for DeAngelo Williams. Marshall produced bobble-head dolls of Byron Leftwich.

But the idea of sending out View-Masters, already loaded with Daniel highlights, is as good and creative an idea as any.

"We thought it was a unique way to draw a little attention and get the word out to, 'Don't forget about our guy,' " Moller said. "He's a special guy to keep in mind."

Daniel already has passed for 973 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 72 percent of his attempts for the 3-0 Tigers.

The View-Master comes with a reel that shows photos of Daniel in action. It also allows Mizzou to send out more reels as the season progresses to keep reminding voters of Daniel's accomplishments.

"Really, the practicality is outstanding," Moller said. "It lends itself to be re-used throughout the season. We can print new reels for Chase and send them out. And not just for Chase. We have (receiver) Jeremy Maclin and (tight end) Chase Coffman, and if the team continues to do well, we could print up reels for them, too, and promote them that way.

"We're hoping it resonates with voters and they really like it."

A good marketing idea can only do so much, though: Of all the previous "creative" campaigns, only Detmer won the Heisman.

"We wanted to do something unique that hadn't been done before and draw attention, but not be over the top," Moller said. "We didn't want to do a bobble-head or buy a banner in Times Square or things like that that can backfire on you. We wanted to do something noteworthy and practical, then leave it to the guys on the field."


Five teams that did not appear in bowls last season Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Vanderbilt already are halfway to bowl eligibility with 3-0 records. Here's a look:

Beat: Maine 46-3; Florida International 42-0; Iowa State 17-5.
Why they will make it: The Hawkeyes finally know how to score again. They're averaging 35 points per game. They ranked 111th in scoring offense (18.5 ppg) last season.
Why they won't: The schedule has been marshmallow soft. In addition, the Hawkeyes have played only at home and five road trips await.

Beat: Northern Illinois 31-27; Bowling Green 42-17; Montana State 35-23.
Why they will make it: Hey, Bowling Green beat Pittsburgh and was competitive against Boise State. It figures that Minnesota must be pretty good to get that win.
Why they won't: Last week, leading rusher Duane Bennett was lost for the season to a knee injury. The young Gophers cannot afford to lose top players.

Beat: Western Michigan 47-24; San Jose State 35-12; New Mexico State 38-7.
Why they will make it: The Huskers again are playing defense under Bo Pelini.
Why they won't: The Huskers will face much better offenses the rest of the way, including Missouri, Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

Beat: Syracuse 30-10; Duke 24-20; Southern Illinois 33-7
Why they will make it: The Wildcats were bowl eligible though uninvited last season despite losing to Duke. They already have a win over the Blue Devils this season. And they have a healthy Tyrell Sutton at tailback.
Why they won't: The first three opponents were pushovers. The rest of the season, they play opponents that push back.

Beat: Miami University 34-13; South Carolina 24-17; Rice 38-21
Why they will make it: Well, they're due. Twenty-five seasons have passed since that 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl loss to Air Force. QB Chris Nickson is playing well, and the Commodores are playing OK defense.
Why they won't: The SEC is a grind. The conference games that Vandy would figure to have the best chance to win Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky are on the road.


Wide receiver Richard Jackson, a transfer from Notre Dame for whom the NCAA approved a hardship waiver two weeks ago, is expected to play for UCF this week. Jackson is from Clermont, about an hour from UCF's campus in Orlando. The Knights likely will be without wide receiver Kamar Aiken, who has foot injury.

Boston College defensive end Alex Albright, one of the Eagles' best pass rushers, will miss the rest of the season because of a damaged disk in his neck. He needs surgery.

Florida State sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder on Saturday's game against Wake Forest: "I've got to say we're not going to lose this game. It's going to be tough. I think everybody is going to be prepared and everyone is going to be excited, so I think it's going to be tough for us to lose this game."

Oklahoma defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger has a sprained left foot, but it's not known whether he will miss any action. The Sooners don't play again until Sept. 27 against TCU.

West Virginia middle linebacker Reed Williams will play and may start against Colorado on Thursday. Williams, the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP, has been out after having offseason surgery on both shoulders.

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez announced that Steven Threet will start at quarterback in the Wolverines' next game, against Wisconsin on Sept. 27.

Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy has returned to practice and may play against Vanderbilt on Saturday. Hardy, who led the SEC with 10 sacks last season, hasn't played this season because of a stress fracture in his right foot.

Olin Buchanan is a Heisman voter and a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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