While first-year starting quarterback DAYNE CRIST has received the most attention since coach BRIAN KELLY took over at Notre Dame, the Irish are going through a more drastic change on the other side of the ball. The defense is switching from a 4--3 to a 3--4, which will help hide one of the team's vulnerabilities: lack of depth on the defensive line. Kelly's top defensive priority is to stop the run (the Irish were 89th in 2009) because, he says, "I know we can bring pressure from the edge with our athletes." . . . Even with running back Ryan Mathews, whose 150.7 rushing yards per game led the nation last year, gone to the NFL with one season of eligibility left, signs point to Fresno State's remaining a running club. The Bulldogs have all five starters back from an offensive line that helped the team finish eighth in the nation in rushing (228.9 yards a game). And taking the place of Mathews will be 5' 7", 185-pound sophomore ROBBIE ROUSE
(left), who coach PAT HILL says reminds him of San Diego Chargers mighty mite Darren Sproles. . . . One year after a 12--2 MAC championship season, Central Michigan is undergoing a major overhaul, with a new coach (DAN ENOS), staff, scheme and quarterback (RYAN RADCLIFF). Gone are the up-tempo spread offense and record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour; in their place will be a more traditional, under-center attack led by Radcliff, last season's backup. . . . With his team bringing back four of five members of its offensive line and three experienced running backs (BENJAMIN CUNNINGHAM, D.D. KYLES and PHILLIP TANNER), Middle Tennessee State coach RICK STOCKSTILL says the Blue Raiders may take advantage of their strengths by running the wishbone in short-yardage and goal line situations.
Top offensive player
QB, Houston, Sr.
The 2009 Conference USA MVP is the no-brainer choice for stat-loving Heisman voters. Last year he led the nation with 5,671 yards (third most in I-A history) and 44 touchdowns. This season, with his top four pass catchers back, those numbers could even improve.
Top defensive player
DE, Central Florida, Sr.
No active I-A player has more career sacks (27) or tackles for loss (44) than this 6' 2", 248-pound pass rushing force. His sacking skills will be needed on a Knights defense that is looking to improve against the pass; it ranked 113th (eighth worst) in the country last season.