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Midseason report: The non-BCS as a whole

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Choosing the best of the best among the 54 teams of the non-BCS and Independents wasn't as tough as I originally thought. As I started to sit down and type, names popped into my head immediately and I went with my first instinct. Doesn't mean I'm right and it doesn't mean there won't be gripes, but to me, these are the best through the first seven weeks of the season.

The non-BCS -- as a whole -- is probably having its best season in a long time. There are still five undefeateds and we're seven weeks in. There are three viable candidates for a BCS bowl and the season is just starting to heat up with some major conference games in the next couple weeks. The way we see the non-BCS and Independents now might not be the way they're seen in the middle of December.

This is why people love college football. There are always surprises and nothing is for certain. Could anyone have honestly said that Ball State would be undefeated to this point? Or that UTEP would be the chief challenger for C-USA West? How about San Jose State and its surge through the WAC? And let's not forget what East Carolina did to start the season and its subsequent collapse.

If you think you know what's going to happen come the end of the season, chances are you're wrong. If you think you know which team will represent the non-BCS in a BCS bowl game, you might want to think again. The midway point is here, but there's a lot of football to be played. And if it's anything like the past seven weeks, we're all in for a wild ride.

Below are my top performers through the first seven weeks of the season.

Biggest surprise: Ball State

Many thought Ball State would be good this year, but no one outside of the Ball State locker room was expecting the Cardinals to start the season 7-0, their best start since starting 9-0 in 1965. Ball State has only had one other seven-win season since 1997 and that was last year when the Cardinals tapped out at 7-6. They've achieved their first-ever national ranking and last week they won their first-ever game as a ranked team. And they've done all of this without their best player -- Dante Love -- who football career was ended with a cervical spine injury on Sept. 20.

Biggest disappointment: East Carolina

After starting the season 3-0 with wins over ranked foes Virginia Tech and West Virginia, the Pirates have fallen from grace. Losers of their last three, the Pirates are in a tailspin. Coach Skip Holtz doesn't know how it started and isn't sure how to get out of it. Luckily for the Pirates, the skid has affected nonconference play more than C-USA East play. The Pirates are second in C-USA East, but the schedule doesn't get any easier.

Midseason Offensive MVP: Max Hall, QB, BYU

Max Hall is a no-brainer for the offensive MVP because no other player has been able to lead his team to the nation's longest winning streak. Hall has been phenomenal this season. He's been poised, accurate and he's been getting some Heisman mention for his efforts. But the schedule gets a little more difficult from here on out as the meat of the Mountain West schedule starts to creep up on BYU. Here's where Hall will start to earn his stripes.

Midseason Defensive MVP: Gerald McRath, LB, S. Miss

Gerald McRath has been a rock for the Southern Mississippi defense that returned just four players and has struggled with mistakes all season. He leads the team with 63 tackles -- 32 solo -- and ranks ninth in the country with 10.50 tackles per game. The numbers are amazing since, with just four starters returning, McRath could be an easy player to run away from, but McRath flies to the ball and involves himself in every play.

Top Newcomer: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State

No newcomer has shown the poise and leadership of Boise State redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Moore, who's led his team to a 5-0 start, including wins at Oregon and at Southern Mississippi. Moore has yet to be rattled. He stays in the pocket amidst pressure and handles it with the grace of a fifth-year senior. There's little doubt he'll be the WAC Newcomer of the Year, but I wouldn't count him out of other quarterbacking awards by season's end.

Midseason Coach of the Year: Brady Hoke, Ball State

As described above, Brady Hoke has taken his Ball State team to a place many never expected it to be at this time of the year and the Cardinals are showing no signs of stopping. He's urged the senior leadership to be strong and he's made quarterback Nate Davis and running back MiQuale Lewis into key performers and ultimately leaders. Most importantly, Hoke has held his team together through tragedy.

Bowl bound: Tulsa, UTEP, East Carolina, Marshall, Houston, Rice, Utah, BYU, TCU, Air Force, Notre Dame, Navy, Boise State, San Jose State, Fresno State, Ball State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Troy

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