What did we learn from the non-AQs in Week 13?
1. Only one left standing. That one is TCU, the team everybody (myself included) counted out headed into Week 13. All anybody wanted to talk about was the inevitability that Boise State would pass the Horned Frogs in the BCS standings after a win over Nevada. Of course, we all forgot that Boise State had to actually win that game. The Broncos' loss kept TCU firmly in the No. 3 position as the only undefeated team from a non-automatic qualifying conference, still needing either Auburn or Oregon to lose to have a shot at the BCS national title game. TCU has one more week for that to happen. If not, there is a pretty good consolation prize -- a spot in the Rose Bowl, most likely against Wisconsin. TCU completed its second straight undefeated regular season with a 66-17 win against New Mexico and has won 30 of its past 31 regular-season games. The Horned Frogs were expected to win easily, but they had to do it without starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who left the game with a minor elbow injury. Whether they get a shot to become the first non-AQ in the BCS national title game or not, this season will go down as yet another success. Now the Horned Frogs have to win their BCS game. They lost to Boise State last year.
2. Boise State was not up to the task. The Broncos became the most polarizing team in America this season because of all they stood for -- the swaggering outsider hoping for a shot despite their weak conference schedule. Critics lambasted their “three-game schedule.” Supporters pointed to their 24-game winning streak and recent record over teams from power conferences. But perhaps taking so many fourth quarters off this season caught up with Boise State on Friday night in Nevada. After the Broncos jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead, Nevada dominated the second half. Vai Taua had 105 yards on the ground after halftime, and after an impressive performance in a 51-0 win over Fresno State, the Boise State defensive line got pushed around. Kellen Moore was off, and so were his receivers, who had several uncharacteristic drops. Yes, Kyle Brotzman missed two chip shot field goals, but it should never have come to that. Teams that deserve of a spot in a national title game don’t blow 17-point leads.
3. Nevada is for real. Now that Boise State has lost, the common comment from critics has been this: the Broncos couldn’t even beat Nevada. Oh yeah? Most teams in America would probably lose to Nevada the way the Wolf Pack are playing this season. Their only loss came on the road at Hawaii 27-21, in a game where Colin Kaepernick had four turnovers -- including one in the end zone. Nevada racked up 528 yards on the No. 2 defense in the country, and its Pistol offense gave the Broncos fits in the second half. Kaepernick is one of the most underrated players in America, and so is Taua -- the two set the NCAA record for most yards gained by two players in a career, breaking the mark of 8,193 yards set by Craig James and Eric Dickerson from 1979 to 1982. Said Pistol is now being copied across the land. Kudos to coach Chris Ault for leading the best season in school history.
4. History is made. Incredibly, improbably, FIU (6-5, 6-1) clinched its first ever Sun Belt title with a come-from-behind 31-24 win over Arkansas State on Saturday. The Panthers also are headed to a bowl game for the first time in school history. After trailing 24-20 headed into the fourth quarter, FIU got a 30-yard field goal from Jack Griffin. Then T.Y. Hilton caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Wes Carroll with 1:42 left to seal the win. Coach Mario Cristobal took over a program in shambles thanks to probation and sanctions. Now he has a winner.
5. Conference title games set. Northern Illinois will play Miami (Ohio) in the MAC championship game on Friday in Detroit, while SMU travels to UCF to play in the Conference USA championship game. The Huskies have won nine straight and will be heavy favorites to win their first conference title since 2005. Still, Miami coach Mike Haywood deserves credit for engineering the nation’s best turnaround, from 1-11 to 8-4 and the league title game. SMU won the West in June Jones’ third year at the helm. The Mustangs may be slightly ahead of schedule, but there was no doubt Jones would make them a winner. That’s just what he does.