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September 6, 2010

Monday with Mike: No doubting Thomas

Of all the impressive first-week performances, the best might have come from Kansas State senior TB Daniel Thomas.

Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing last season (1,265 yards) after transferring in from junior college, but he remains criminally underrated nationally. A major reason for his anonymity is that K-State was 6-6 last season and didn't go to a bowl.

But Thomas, who is 6 feet 2 and 228 pounds, should start getting more notice now. He ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the Wildcats' 31-22 victory over UCLA. "I want to show that I can go out and play good every game and that last year wasn't a fluke," Thomas told reporters Saturday. "UCLA loaded the box against me, but I think my offensive line made my job a lot easier."

UCLA allowed just one team to run for more than 234 yards last season (Cal had 289) and held seven teams to 130 or fewer rushing yards.

Bruins DT Donovan Carter told reporters that Thomas "is really good. He is big and he is physical. You have to wrap up on him; you cannot arm-tackle him because he runs through them. I was really impressed."

Thomas' yardage total takes on greater significance when you consider that K-State has one of the worst quarterback situations of any Big Six school.

K-State QBs Carson Coffman and Collin Klein combined to go 12-of-17 but for just 64 yards against the Bruins. Coffman started the first four games last season before losing his job, and he didn't get off the bench in the last five games of '09. Klein played wide receiver last season and actually is the Wildcats' leading returning receiver -- with all of six catches.

That means UCLA, which is solid defensively, focused all of its attention on Thomas, and he still came through. But he's used to that, as K-State was anemic throwing the ball last season, too (169.4 yards per game, seven TD passes).

A positive for Thomas is that he runs behind a solid line. There are no stars on the line, but it is an experienced, veteran group, with four returning starters. The defense lacks star power, but any team coached by Bill Snyder is going to play tough, aggressive defense.

Thomas' back story should be worth more notice, too. He is from tiny Hilliard, Fla., which is about 30 miles northwest of Jacksonville and about 8 miles south of the Georgia border. Florida high schools are divided into eight classifications and Hilliard is in 1A, the second-smallest.

Thomas was a star at quarterback and linebacker at Hilliard, good enough to get recruiting attention from numerous SEC schools. But one look at his transcripts and -- poof! -- the attention was gone. He went to Northwest Mississippi CC in Senatobia and played well enough at quarterback to garner more attention. Again, though, academic problems were an issue. He finally turned his academics around, then blossomed at running back last fall.

Thomas and his linemen know that if K-State is to get to a bowl this season -- the Wildcats didn't go last season because two of their six wins were against FCS programs and only one counts toward bowl eligibility -- they will have to carry the load. Given that UCLA was the toughest non-conference opponent, a bowl bid isn't far-fetched. Two of the Wildcats' Big 12 crossover opponents are Oklahoma State and Baylor, teams that were picked to finish fifth and sixth in the Big 12 South. K-State also has winnable division games against Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas. But the schedule does have some pitfalls.

None of the first five games are true road contests; Game 3 is a neutral-site game in Kansas City against Iowa State. But that means five of the final seven -- including the last three -- are on the road. Plus, two of the three conference home games are against top-10 teams Nebraska and Texas.

Still, K-State could be 4-0 heading into October, and in that scenario, you have to like Thomas and the Wildcats being able to go at least 2-6 the rest of the way, which would get them a bowl.

"This is good for everybody," Snyder told reporters after Saturday's win. "Wins are hard to come by, whether you're the coach, the quarterback or the water guy. They're hard to come by, and they're good and important for everybody."

Two little guys come up big
There were 39 games matching FBS schools against FCS opponents, and FBS schools went 37-2.

Ten FBS teams scored at least 50 points (Air Force, Arizona State, California, Florida State, Houston, Indiana, Stanford, Tennessee, USF and Wake Forest), and two scored more than 60 (Air Force and Houston).

The FBS teams that lost did so in a different manner. Ole Miss blew a 31-10 lead and fell 49-48 in double-overtime to Jacksonville (Ala.) State despite outgaining the Gamecocks 479-355. Kansas, meanwhile, fell 6-3 to North Dakota State despite holding the Bison to 168 total yards. North Dakota State forced three turnovers and held KU to 4-of-15 on third downs.

One thing in common for both losing coaches in those games is that they are well-acquainted with the coaches that beat them.

Kansas coach Turner Gill and North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl spent time together at Nebraska as assistants from 1995-2002. And Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt worked for Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe at Arkansas from 1990 until early in the 1992 season. Ironically, Crowe was fired as Arkansas' coach after the Hogs lost their '92 season opener to The Citadel -- an FCS school.

After Saturday's game, Crowe told reporters, "I'm not sure this feels as good as that felt bad."

Jacksonville State's victory was led by true freshman QB Coty Blanchard, who was Alabama's "Mr. Football" last fall at Centre (Ala.) Cherokee County High. What has to add even more pain for Ole Miss fans is that Blanchard -- a three-sport star in high school -- had committed to play baseball for Mississippi State before he changed his mind and decided to head to Jacksonville State.

The new guys
There are 23 new FBS coaches this season, and 22 -- all but Louisiana-Monroe's Todd Berry -- made their debuts this weekend.

There were 12 winners: Buffalo's Jeff Quinn, Central Michigan's Dan Enos, East Carolina's Ruffin McNeill, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Kentucky's Joker Phillips, Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, Tennessee's Derek Dooley, Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville, USC's Lane Kiffin, USF's Skip Holtz and Virginia's Mike London. ECU, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Texas Tech and USC beat FBS competition.

The 10 first-game losers: Akron's Rob Ianello, Cincinnati's Butch Jones, Kansas' Turner Gill, Louisville's Charlie Strong, Marshall's Doc Holliday, Memphis' Larry Porter, San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre, UNLV's Bobby Hauck, Vanderbilt's Robbie Caldwell and Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart. Marshall, UNLV and Western Kentucky played teams ranked in the top 15.

Grid bits
Fresno State had just 11 sacks last season, ranking next-to-last in the nation with that paltry total. Incredibly, the Bulldogs almost matched that 13-game total in their opener this season. Fresno was all over Cincy QB Zach Collaros on Saturday night, sacking him eight times in a dominating 28-14 victory. The game featured just 64 total rushing yards.

Northwestern's 24-22 win at Vanderbilt was the Wildcats' 13th consecutive road or neutral-site game to be decided by 10 or fewer points. Northwestern is 8-5 in those games, 12 of which have been decided by seven or fewer points and seven by five or fewer.

Lost in all the hubbub created by backup TB Kenjon Barner's scintillating performance in the first half of Oregon's 72-0 dismantling of New Mexico is that Ducks CB Cliff Harris had two punt-return TDs in the second quarter; that ties an NCAA record for most punt-return TDs in a game. Barner scored five first-half touchdowns as he helped the Ducks to a 59-0 halftime lead.

Something else interesting about the Oregon game? Sophomore QB Darron Thomas, who supposedly won the starting job because of his running ability, had no carries against the Lobos. Backup QB Nate Costa, considered the better passer of the two, had four carries.

Something has to give this Saturday in Knoxville, when Tennessee plays host to Oregon. While the Ducks were pounding New Mexico, Tennessee was hammering UT-Martin 50-0. The Vols allowed three first downs and 142 total yards; those figures are 32 and 578 less, respectively, than Oregon rolled up.

Houston had almost as productive a first half as Oregon, as the Cougars scored 54 first-half points in their 68-28 rout of FCS member Texas State. Houston QB Case Keenum threw for 274 yards and five TDs, and he didn't play in the second half. What was somewhat disconcerting is that Keenum threw two picks; that gives him 11 in his past three games.

Keenum threw for 150 yards in the first quarter. Contrast that with Army and Eastern Michigan combining to throw for 96 -- in their game. Army won 31-27. The Black Knights ran for 285 yards and threw for 31; Eastern Michigan ran for 309 and passed for 65.

Speaking of bad passing, Georgia Tech's Joshua Nesbitt was 1-of-6 for 8 yards in the Yellow Jackets' victory over FCS member South Carolina State. He also threw a pick, meaning he completed as many to the Bulldogs as he did to his teammates.

One issue among many for Virginia this season was who was going to run the ball. The Cavs may have their answer, as Keith Payne ran for 114 yards and four TDs in the Cavs' 34-13 victory over FCS powerhouse Richmond. Payne, a 255-pound senior, gave up football last season because he didn't get along with then-coach Al Groh. But he returned this season under Mike London and worked hard to gain academic eligibility. "It was a long time coming for him," London told reporters after Saturday's game. "He wasn't always my favorite player. But he's done the things that I've asked him to do. He's gotten himself back into playing shape, and he did a great job out there."

Hawaii is playing at Army next Saturday; the schools are about 4,960 miles apart, and that's the longest distance any team will travel this season. Hawaii plays at Colorado on Sept. 18, and the Warriors will stay on the mainland, in Las Vegas, between the Army and Colorado games.

Texas' win over Rice was its 39th in the past 40 meetings with the Owls. But the Longhorns' streak of scoring at least 50 points in four consecutive games against Rice ended.

MAC schools play host to Big Six conference opponents just three times this season. The first two didn't go well, with Akron and Toledo losing by a combined 70-5 to Syracuse and Arizona, respectively. The last chance for a home win over a Big Sixer comes Sept. 18, when Connecticut visits Temple.

It was a good weekend for quarterbacks associated with Arkansas. Ryan Mallett threw for 301 yards and three TDs in the Hogs' rout of Tennessee Tech. Former Hogs QB Nathan Dick threw for 351 yards and three TDs in Central Arkansas' season-opening win over Elizabeth City (N.C.) State. And Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin threw for 278 yards and a TD in a loss to Auburn. Mallett, surprisingly, was the only one of the trio to throw an interception.

One positive thing Ole Miss can take from its opener is that the Rebels were not penalized once. The same goes for Eastern Michigan, which also lost its opener. On the other side of the ledger, Bowling Green and Troy each were called for a national-high 13 penalties this week -- and they played each other.

Quincy, an NAIA school in Quincy, Ill., lost its opener 70-7 to FCS powerhouse Southern Illinois. Actually, that's a better first-game performance than last season for Quincy, which lost 72-3 to Southeast Missouri to open the '09 season.

Finally, congratulations to Bill Curry. He led Georgia State to a 41-7 victory over NAIA member Shorter in Georgia State's first-ever college football game. Georgia State is a FCS independent with designs on eventually becoming a FBS member. A crowd of 30,237 showed up at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night. Curry, 67, last coached a game 14 years ago, when he was at Kentucky.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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