Weis sparks Irish renaissance

The non-BCS season lacks an obvious best seller like Utah, but there are volumes of teams to satisfy every taste.

TCU is the pick for those who enjoy more plot twists than a dime-store novel. All the Horned Frogs have done is beat Oklahoma in Norman, lose to SMU, edge Utah in overtime, survive a shootout against BYU and stun Wyoming in Laramie. The Frogs remain unbeaten in league play and play three of their final five games at home.

Renaissance enthusiasts turn to South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame has surged back into the top 10. First-year coach Charlie Weis has installed a "nasty" attitude and an unremitting offense that has pushed Notre Dame to 4-1. The Irish have authenticated several stars (QB Brady Quinn, RB Darius Walker) and generated some new ones (WR Jeff Samardzija) in the nation's ninth-ranked offense (504.2 ypg). A BCS berth remains in the viewfinder for the Irish, who host No. 1 USC on Saturday.

Lovers of second chance stories can look toward a former Irish coach (albeit for five days). George O'Leary's Central Florida team has won three consecutive games and sits atop Conference USA after snapping its 17-game losing streak.

Several conference races will hold fans in suspense well into November. Nevada and Louisiana Tech share the WAC lead at 2-0, but Fresno State and Boise State -- two of the best non-BCS teams -- are closing in fast. Bowling Green and Toledo look comfortable atop the MAC East and West divisions, respectively, but Akron and Northern Illinois could make things interesting. Central Florida amazingly leads Conference USA, but teams like UTEP and Southern Miss will factor into the final standings.

There are also plenty of tragedies among the non-BCS teams. The Sun Belt Conference has no team with a winning record, and new members Florida Atlantic and Florida International have a combined record of 2-7. Several teams are still waiting for a victory, including Temple (0-6), New Mexico State (0-6), Army (0-5), Buffalo (0-5) and Rice (0-4).

Biggest Surprise
Central Florida has gone from national laughingstock to the Conference USA pole-sitter in only three weeks. The Golden Knights ended their 17-game losing streak Sept. 24 against Marshall and have since beaten Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis to become the only undefeated team in Conference USA play. UCF is only the third team since 1950 to win three consecutive games after going winless the season before. "They're starting to see the payoff from all their hard work," O'Leary said after the Memphis win. "There's a cautious confidence. But from where they're coming from to where they're at, I'll take that."

Biggest Disappointment
Several winless teams are in the running for this unwanted tag, but Utah earns it after struggling to a 3-3 mark. Despite the loss of coach Urban Meyer and QB Alex Smith, the Utes were the preseason pick to win the Mountain West. They have dropped consecutive games to North Carolina and Colorado State after falling in overtime Sept. 15 at TCU. "We're up to the point where we have to see what kind of character we have, what kind of men we are," first-year coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We are out of the conference race, that's all but sealed … but there are still things you are playing for, a winning season, bowl games." Among the other unsatisfactory non-BCS teams are Miami (Ohio), New Mexico and Marshall.

Midseason MVP
RB DeAngelo Williams is carrying a star-crossed Memphis team that lost two QBs to broken legs in the first three weeks. Williams leads the nation in rushing (177 ypg) and has scored eight of the team's 17 touchdowns. Against UTEP, Williams took snaps at the QB spot and ran for a 76-yard touchdown in Memphis' 27-20 win over the Miners. Other candidates for this award are Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn (1,621 passing yards) and Brigham Young QB John Beck (31.2 completions per game).

Midseason Coach of the Year
Simply put, Charlie Weis has made Notre Dame matter again. Weis has guided the Irish to a 4-1 record despite a schedule that featured four of five games on the road. Though he had talent to work with on offense, his game plan-oriented system has stumped defenses week after week. The elastic Irish defense continues to make plays in the red zone, and players enter each game sure of themselves and the plan. Already regarded as the perfect choice for a disoriented program, Weis would earn deity status Saturday if the Irish beat No. 1 USC.

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.