The season begins tonight! With that, here are 10 storylines to watch among the non-AQ teams:
Boise State defense vs. Virginia Tech running game. What happens here could largely determine who wins the game. Ryan Williams and Darren Evans present a duo at running back that Boise State rarely sees in WAC play. Add in the very mobile Tyrod Taylor, and the Broncos are going to have their hands full. Watch for Jeron Johnson and Winston Venable to set the tempo for the defense.
How does BYU handle its two quarterbacks against Washington? One of the biggest non-AQ storylines of the fall has been how Bronco Mendenhall will handle playing Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps. Two-quarterback systems rarely work, but Mendenhall says he could go with two for the entire season. They are two vastly different quarterbacks. Does Heaps play in spot duty? Do they split the plays? If one is hot, does the other sit? All questions to ask going into the season.
How does Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse perform against Cincinnati? Rouse has the tough task of replacing the NCAA rushing leader from last season, Ryan Mathews. Coach Pat Hill has compared him to Darren Sproles in terms of being a physical inside runner. Another key to this game -- how does the Fresno State defense handle the spread and Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros?
How does Logan Kilgore do in the opener against Minnesota? Middle Tennessee was the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, but that was with Dwight Dasher at quarterback. Now that he has been suspended indefinitely, Kilgore will start. He is a junior college transfer who has yet to take a snap for the Blue Raiders. How does the team react to a new starting quarterback? How much does the team miss Dasher? How much does the offense change?
Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers vs. TCU defense. The Horned Frogs have built their reputation on defense. Seven starters return, but leading tackler Daryl Washington is gone. How much will TCU miss him playing an elusive back in Rodgers? TCU had the No. 3 rushing defense in the country last year and allowed just two 100-yard rushers on the season.
Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis vs. Utah defense. The Utes are missing seven starters, including all three linebackers from last season. They do have depth on the defensive line, but the starters are going against an offensive line that weighs an average of about 40 pounds more than they do. Lewis rushed for 1,799 yards last season, and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake acknowledges he is a “monster” to take down.
Upset watch: Northern Illinois at Iowa State. Northern Illinois has Chad Spann in the backfield, one of the best rushers in the MAC. The Huskies actually had one of the best rush offenses in the country last season, ranking No. 19. Meanwhile, Iowa State struggled against the run and goes into the season hoping to prove last season was no fluke. Northern Illinois did beat one AQ school last season, Purdue in Week 3.
Can East Carolina continue its reign atop Conference USA? The season begins with a conference game, hosting Tulsa. The Pirates are in for a rebuilding year. No starting quarterback has been named, and the defense is missing its entire front seven from a year ago. Tulsa could make some noise in the West. How is East Carolina going to slow down G.J. Kinne?
Combined number of points in the SMU-Texas Tech game will be … ? SMU loves to throw the ball in the Run N Shoot offense. Coach Tommy Tuberville says Texas Tech will continue to throw the ball, too, with Taylor Potts. Kyle Padron should be much improved in his second year in June Jones’ system. Wouldn’t be surprised if this one ended 44-40.
Do TCU and Boise State still have national championship aspirations after this weekend? Losses in their big non-conference games knock them out and would seriously damage any hopes at a BCS game, too. No one-loss non-AQ team has ever made it to a BCS game.