Mid-major Report: Quarterback Taysom Hill and BYU storming ahead
First off, a disclaimer. While BYU is an FBS independent and not technically a mid-major, there are a lot of mid-major sensibilities in this team. As we should all know at this point, that moniker is not a negative term in the slightest. BYU left the Mountain West in 2011, and it has been largely successful since. Coach Bronco Mendenhall's squad won a combined 18 games in 2011 and 2012, including two bowl victories.
Hopes were high entering this fall, although the Cougars' schedule left little room for error. And their first three games were wildly up and down: BYU lost at Virginia in Week 1 in a result that still doesn't make a lot of sense, trounced Texas in Week 2 behind a staggering 550 rushing yards and fell to Utah in Week 3, the Utes' fourth straight win in the rivalry.
Since then, however, BYU has been on a roll. It has won four straight, including a dramatic 47-46 victory at previously unbeaten Houston. Quarterback Taysom Hill hit Skyler Ridley for an 11-yard touchdown with 1:08 to play to put the Cougars ahead for good and improve their record to 5-2 on the year. BYU has already played teams from the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and AAC, and it still has matchups with a Big Ten foe (at Wisconsin on Nov. 9) and fellow independent Notre Dame remaining. It's an ambitious slate, to say the least, but another eight-plus win year seems squarely within reach.
Hill may get himself into trouble with some of his passes (he has thrown nine touchdowns to eight interceptions on the season), but better decision-making should come in time. He attempted just 71 passes in 2012 due to a fluke knee injury suffered against Utah State, and it's easy to forget the scary moments given his tantalizing playmaking ability. The sophomore has 1,680 passing yards, 772 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns thus far in 2013.
BYU was known for its defense a year ago behind defensive end Ziggy Ansah (picked fifth overall in the 2013 NFL draft) and linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy has stepped up nicely as a senior, compiling 11 tackles for loss, four sacks and an interception. The defense is allowing just 21.4 points per game, 29th nationally, and the offense has scored 30 or more points in every game during the Cougars' winning streak.
With a battered Boise State team up next on Friday, BYU is hoping to make it five in a row.
• Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch: It's not a surprise to find an NIU player in this category. The Huskies (7-0, 3-0 MAC) debuted at No. 18 in the first BCS rankings of the year (a spot behind Fresno State) after their 38-17 win over Central Michigan. In that contest, however, Lynch was nothing short of spectacular. The senior rushed for 316 yards, breaking the FBS record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback, and scored four total touchdowns. The combined record of the Huskies' next two opponents (Eastern Michigan and UMass) is 2-12, but the road gets tough for Northern Illinois after that. Back-to-back matchups with Ball State and Toledo could end up deciding the MAC West.
• Fresno State: Another week, another win for the Bulldogs, this time a 38-17 victory over UNLV. Fresno State is clearly at the top of the Mountain West, and its offense is showing no signs of slowing down. Quarterback Derek Carr threw for 412 yards and four scores against the Rebels, and wideout Davante Adams caught all four of them. Adams now has 717 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the year, and the Bulldogs are in prime position to bust the BCS if they can make it through the rest of the regular season unscathed.
• Akron: It's been a while -- 28 games, in fact -- since the Zips won a matchup with an FBS opponent. That makes Saturday's 24-17 victory over Miami (Ohio) a cause for celebration. The result snapped a five-game losing streak on the year (Akron's prior win came against James Madison on Sept. 7) and moved the Zips out of the MAC basement, if only temporarily. Akron has already bested its one-win total from 2012, and it might just have another win on the schedule when the Zips visit UMass on Nov. 16.
• Southern Miss: Earlier this year, former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, talking about Colorado, said: "There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not a train." Well, when it comes to the Golden Eagles, any light -- even from a train -- would likely be welcome. Southern Miss has lost 18 games in a row and is set to start true freshman Nick Mullens at quarterback this week against North Texas. The Golden Eagles are allowing more than 40 points per game and scoring just 12.5, and things don't seem set to turn around any time soon. Southern Miss' best chances for a win should come against Louisiana Tech (Nov. 9) or Florida Atlantic (Nov. 16). Even then, however, nothing is guaranteed.
• Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick: This season didn't start as the Broncos probably imagined, as early losses to Washington and Fresno State derailed Boise's shot at a BCS berth. But Chris Petersen' team rebounded to pull it together in recent weeks, winning three straight. Now, even that seems shaky. Though Southwick never really found his groove in 2013, the broken ankle he suffered in last week's 34-17 win over Nevada could shelve him for the remainder of the season. Not exactly how the senior drew up the end to his career. • Navy's finish against Toledo: After rattling off 10 straight points, including a field goal at the end of regulation, Navy forced overtime against Toledo on Saturday. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds scored a touchdown to force a second overtime, and the Midshipmen got the ball first. Geoffrey Whiteside proceeded to score a six-yard touchdown, but kicker Nick Sloan missed the extra point. Toledo promptly scored and made its point after to hand Navy a 45-44 loss. The Midshipmen are now 3-3 on the year and have Pittsburgh and Notre Dame next.