Profiles in Profiteroles will provide a weekly examination of the glories and tribulations of programs playing outside the "Big Six" AQ conferences. A profiterole is a fancy word for a creampuff. This nickname is affectionate and will not be altered. Let's dive in, shall we?
In weeks to come: This column will take on a more regular format as we progress through the season. What to expect: A violently subjective ranking of the top 10 non-AQ teams, released weekly; Gleeful notation of non-AQ teams' victories against Big Six programs and of any teams that lose to an FCS school; Continual fascination with winless teams, Case Keenum's stats and why Mike Locksley still has a job; Player of the week awards; The search for a new favorite player in the midlands following the graduation of Colin Kaepernick and a player to fill the All-Name void left by Boo Jackson. Expect ample attention to be paid to the likes of TCU and Boise State, but also a growth chart of South Alabama football as it moves toward Sun Belt membership. For now, we'll survey some favorite topics while anxiously awaiting the kickoff of Louisville and Murray State, just 25 short hours away.
When last we saw our heroes: For everybody's sake, let's throw up a quick cheat sheet primer of which teams are in which conference and who's going where at the end of this season. Apart from the mercifully stable MAC, C-USA and SBC, shifting sands reside under the feet of:
• The FBS independents: A loose confederation now composed of the Army-Navy tandem, Notre Dame and newcomer BYU.
• The Mountain West: Currently consists of Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, Nevada and Wyoming. Utah and BYU have departed for the Pac-12 and independence, respectively; the Broncos are newly arrived. TCU will depart for the Big East in 2012 and Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii will join up.
• The WAC: On the roster, for the moment: Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State. Fresno, Hawaii and Nevada are gone following the 2011 season, to be replaced by (straight faces!) Denver, Seattle, UT Arlington, UT San Antonio and Texas State.
Foolhardy Preseason Conference Championship Predictions:
• Conference USA: Houston. Case Keenum, make us believers again. Even SMU's defense will not stand against him, provided he's still standing. Trusty veteran rushers return to balance the offense.
• MAC: Toledo. A cornucopia of returning starters on both sides of the ball and a handy coaching void (not to mention plentiful defensive attrition) at NIU will hand the division title to the Rockets and position them nicely to snatch up that coveted Little Caesars Pizza (Pizza!) Bowl berth.
• Mountain West: Boise State. Can TCU claim a conference title on its way out of town? It'd be hilarious, but in the absence of Andy Dalton and his marauding o-line and with hefty losses on the defensive side, expect a temporary drop in production while Gary Patterson's war machine reloads.
• Sun Belt: FIU with a bullet. The Panthers return a goodly number of vets from last year's surprising squad; all this team has to do is be adept at football and continue playing in the SBC to enjoy success.
• WAC: Nevada. By contrast, the Pack will win a title while letting the conference's swinging door hit them in the back of the helmets. (But it is a flimsy door and will not hurt a bit.) Expect fewer Pistolero antics under Tyler Lantrip, but this program will be far from passive absent Colin "The Angry Ostrich" Kaepernick.
Pressing preseason queries of varying degrees of import: Is the Boise State-TCU November date on the blue turf already overshadowing the rest of both teams' seasons? Will San Diego State, as Stewart Mandel and Mallory Rubin predicted last week, upset one of these teams and make a BCS-busting mission a non-issue? Will a high-profile 11th-hour armed robbery arrest of a Marshall player overshadow the fact that the team wasn't going to be any good this season anyhow? Who will rack up more offense, ECU through the air or Tulsa on the ground? Is Akron seriously still calling it "Infocision Stadium?" And can these plucky people not think of a likelier Big 12 addition than Memphis?
Entirely Binding Preseason Coaching Codgerliness Rankings:
1. Howard Schnellenberger, FAU. Those suspenders!
2. Robb Akey, Idaho. That 'stache!
3. Mike Locksley, New Mexico. Those fists!
4. Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech. Is Sonny Dykes!
5. Doc Holliday, Marshall. Probably not a real doctor!
Extremely important preseason awards watch list:
• Preseason player of the week, offense: Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State.
• Preseason player of the week, defense: Roosevelt Nix, DL, Kent State.
• Preseason coach of the week: Mark Hudspeth, who is turning heads in the Ragin' Cajun community by actually making recruiting inroads. (I asked one Louisiana fan this week how this differentiated Hudspeth from his predecessor: "Well, he liked to golf.")
• Best facial hair: Will Goggans, P, Troy.
• Worst mascot: Big Red, WKU, forever.
Housekeeping: Please note that for our purposes Notre Dame will not be covered as a Profiterole team given its automatic BCS tie-in. And everybody just get their arguing over what to call the Ragin' Cajuns out of the way right now and save us all a lot of headaches once they actually start playing football. The team's fans want to be called "Louisiana." Partisans of other Louisiana programs tend to get angry about this. I'm inclined to think that since it's their school, they get to go by whatever they want, because I actually don't care all that much. But I'm going to start calling you all "Lulu" indiscriminately if you make a bother about it. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Onward!
Game of the week: Georgia-Boise State is the most evenly-matched game featuring teams from opposite sides of the BCS AQ fence. And even in a week not fraught with bloodbaths it's an interesting competitive matchup.
Week 1 in lights: Coming up in nationally-televised games featuring non-AQ teams:
• Thursday: UNLV-Wisconsin, Mississippi State-Memphis, Kentucky-Western Kentucky
• Friday: TCU-Baylor
• Saturday: Georgia-Boise State, Akron-Ohio State, Utah State-Auburn, Miami (Ohio)-Missouri, Western Michigan-Michigan, UCLA-Houston, Louisiana Monroe-Florida State, Delaware-Navy, Appalachian State-Virginia Tech, BYU-Ole Miss, FAU-Florida, Louisiana-Oklahoma State, Tulsa-Oklahoma, Louisiana Tech-Southern Miss, Colorado-HawaiiSunday: