Come one, come all for your top-10 non-AQ storylines for Week 9:
1. Do No. 4 TCU and No. 8 Utah stay undefeated headed into their big showdown next week? TCU travels to UNLV and Utah travels to Air Force on Saturday. The Horned Frogs have been inconsistent in two true road games this season, trailing early to SMU and leading only 6-0 at halftime against Colorado State. TCU is a heavy favorite to beat lowly UNLV, but this is a good road test before its trip to Salt Lake City. Utah faces a much more difficult test at Air Force. The games between the two schools are generally close, and the Falcons are smarting after two straight losses. Many have complained about the “weak” Utah schedule to this point. A win here might answer some of those critics.
2. Who becomes bowl eligible? Eleven non-AQ teams are one win away from becoming bowl eligible this Saturday, with some new faces scattered in there. San Diego State (5-2) has not been to a bowl game since 1998 and plays at Wyoming, a game it should win. Toledo (5-3) and UTEP (5-3) have not been to a bowl game since 2005. East Carolina (5-2) and UCF (5-2) play each other so only one will get to six wins. Hawaii (6-2), Nevada (6-1), Navy (5-2), Ohio (5-3) and Southern Miss (5-2) are all favored to win their games. Air Force (5-3) has a big game against Utah, as mentioned above.
3. Does UCF break through and beat East Carolina? The two rivals have combined to win each of the past three Conference USA championships and four of the past five East Division titles. Both have won all their league games, marking the latest that two undefeated teams have played since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005. But East Carolina has won four straight in the series and holds an 8-1 overall edge. Many people thought this might be a rebuilding year for the Pirates, but they have won behind Dominique Davis. The UCF defense is going to have its hands full.
4. Navy has a chance to win four straight. The Midshipmen were down and out after losing to Air Force 14-6 earlier this season. A team that has known nothing but dominance over its fellow service academies has been strengthened because of that loss, running off three straight wins. None was more convincing than a 35-17 victory over Notre Dame last week that was vintage Navy. It hosts Duke on Saturday.
5. How does TCU quarterback Andy Dalton play on the road? In three neutral site/road games this season, Dalton has three touchdowns to four interceptions. At home: 11 touchdowns to one interception. TCU closes with three of its final four games on the road, starting Saturday. Coach Gary Patterson said earlier this week, “We’ll probably go as Andy Dalton goes. If he plays at a high level, we’ll have a chance to win more of those games than we lose.”
6. Can the Utah defense be as effective as TCU at stopping Air Force? A lot of people like to scoreboard watch as a way to measure teams against each other. TCU and Utah both are in the top 10 in the nation in total defense. So which will be able to handle the Air Force triple option better? TCU held Air Force to a season-low 184 yards rushing last week.
7. Ohio is asserting itself in the MAC. The Bobcats have won four straight games behind solid play from quarterback Boo Jackson. Of course, it has helped that they also got to beat up on Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green and Akron. But last week’s win over Miami (Ohio) was big. They have outgained five consecutive opponents on the ground for the first time since 2006. During the four-game win streak, Ohio has scored 151 points, the most points in a four-game stretch since 2002. They get Sun Belt Louisiana this week and Buffalo next before a huge game against East Division opponent Temple on Nov. 16.
8. Two of these teams are going to get to two wins on Saturday: San Jose State, New Mexico State, North Texas and Western Kentucky. The season has been especially unkind to San Jose State and North Texas, who have lost multiple players to season-ending injuries. The Mean Green have lost 10 starters, the Spartans 15 starters and key reserves. North Texas travels to play Western Kentucky, coming off its first win of the season, while San Jose State goes to Las Cruces.
9. How does Mike Canales fair in his first game as a North Texas interim head coach? Canales takes over for Todd Dodge, who was fired last week after winning just six games for the Mean Green. This is a job audition for Canales, who would love to become a head coach and has learned under some of the best. Most recently, he served as offensive coordinator under Jim Leavitt at USF before coming to North Texas this season.
10. The BCS standings will look how? Depends on what happens with everybody else. The big question moving forward: If TCU and Utah are undefeated next week and the Horned Frogs win, will that give them a boost toward climbing ahead of Boise State? They are just 0.0013 points behind Boise State this week. If Utah wins, will that give the Utes a boost? That is much less likely because they still have far to climb, especially in the human polls.