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Non-AQ bowl projections

8/11/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
Since there are so many teams among the non-AQ's, I thought I would break down the possibilities of those that have legit BCS aspirations. We're talking the usual suspects with a couple new names thrown in just for fun.

Boise State Broncos

BCS bowl bound? High probability

Best case: Boise State defeats Oregon, Tulsa and Nevada and cruises to an undefeated season. The Broncos have the talent, the coaching and the drive to make this happen. It's really just that first bout with Oregon that's their major hurdle.

Worst case: A couple disappointing things could happen this season. The Broncos could beat Oregon and Tulsa in the nonconference schedule and feel on their way to a BCS bid when Nevada sweeps in with their first-ever Boise State win. Or the Broncos could get through the season unscathed only to see a Mountain West team do the same and finish higher in the rankings.

My prediction: Rose Bowl

TCU Horned Frogs

BCS bowl bound? Could be, but a tough schedule

Best case: The Horned Frogs get through their tough road tests against Clemson and Virginia and run the table in the Mountain West to earn their second MWC title and their first trip to a BCS bowl

Worst case: The Horned Frogs get through their tough nonconference schedule and emerge as the nation's top non-AQ team only to falter against on of its Mountain West brethren. TCU has never been to a BCS bowl and the pressure of being on the cusp of one might be tough to handle.

My prediction: Las Vegas Bowl

Brigham Young Cougars

BCS bowl bound? Not likely

Best case: The Cougars shock the world and defeat Oklahoma in their season opener, defeat Florida State, roll through conference play like they did in 2006 and 2007 and make a strong case for a national championship berth.

Worst case: The Cougars get blasted by Oklahoma and a lot of the anxiety that surfaced last season after the TCU loss come back and begins to taint the season early. The Cougars struggle against both nonconference BCS opponents and get hammered by TCU and Utah -- again -- in conference play.

My prediction: Poinsettia Bowl

Utah Utes

BCS bowl bound? Nope

Best case: The Utes have a strong defense this season and that will win them some games, but they'll struggle against the better teams both in their nonconference and conference schedule. That Oregon game could be the Utes first loss since Nov. 24, 2007.

Worst case: The Utes struggle to find consistent play with their quarterbacks, which cause inconsistency throughout the rest of the team. The team loses a couple games that it shouldn't like it did in 2007 and it's a big letdown after a spectacular 2008.

My prediction: New Mexico Bowl

Nevada Wolf Pack

BCS bowl bound? Not this year

Best Case: The Wolf Pack generates some momentum with a win over Notre Dame to begin the season, but has some trouble adjusting to its newfound hype and drops a game against either Fresno or Hawaii. It does topple Boise State for the first time, though.

Worst case: The Wolf Pack gets a lot of preseason praises and starts to believe the headlines. They choke at Notre Dame, which affects the way they play the rest of the season. The Wolf Pack finish in the top half of the conference, but lower than what many expected.

My prediction: Poinsettia Bowl

East Carolina Pirates

BCS bowl bound? Close, but not quite.

Best Case: The Pirates go 3-1 during nonconference play. Both Virginia Tech and West Virginia will be out to avenge losses, but only one will get it done. The Pirates play well during conference season, but face some battles with Southern Miss and Memphis for the East title.

Worst case: The Pirates lose both of their BCS nonconference games and the hype of a C-USA BCS bowl team dies down. The losses affect the team mentally and they struggle during conference play, losing the East to Southern Miss.

My prediction: Hawaii

Other bowl projections:

MOUNTAIN WEST

Humanitarian: UNLV -- The Rebels fell a game short of bowl eligibility last year, but with some fresh faces and some steady veterans such as receiver Ryan Wolfe, the Rebels could notch that sixth win, especially since the schedule isn't too tough.

Armed Forces: Air Force -- The Falcons are poised to have yet another strong season and should win enough games to finish both in bowl contention and among the top teams in the Mountain West.

WAC

Humanitarian: Fresno State -- If the Bulldogs can stay healthy and find consistent quarterback play, they should find themselves in Boise and back on the map nationally.

New Mexico: Louisiana Tech - The Bulldogs could flip-flop with Fresno State in bowl games, but they're going to end up somewhere. The nonconference is brutal, but the Bulldogs proved last year that they could handle the conference schedule.

Hawaii: Hawaii - Not a huge surprise here, but I think the Warriors finally break their bowl-losing streak this year after learning how to limit turnovers and protect their quarterback.

CONFERENCE USA

Liberty: Houston -- The Cougars are poised for a big season led by quarterback Case Keenum. They've got the offense to win the C-USA title, but their defense is going to have to prove it can play.

Armed Forces: Southern Miss -- The Golden Eagles have all the things in place for a championship team except experience. They win a bunch of games to notch their 16th consecutive winning season, but fall short against more experienced teams.

St. Petersburg: UTEP -- The defense was suspect last season, but after a year in the 3-3-5 system, the Miners should be better. Regardless, the offense has the weapons to make the Miners a contender.

New Orleans: Memphis -- The Tigers take a gamble on transfers from automatic qualifying conferences and it works. They give East Carolina and Southern Miss a run for their money, but end up third in the East.

Eagle Bank: Tulsa -- The Golden Hurricane lost a lot of talent from last season and is breaking in a young team, but Tulsa's offense is always dynamic, which makes the Golden Hurricane a dangerous foe.

MAC

Motor City: Central Michigan -- After a year's absence from the MAC title game, the Chippewas make their third appearance in four seasons and capture their third title.

International: Northern Illinois -- The Huskies got into the Independence Bowl in coach Jerry Kill's first season and will do better in his second? They're replacing all-everything end Larry English, but there's a lot of youth to build on.

GMAC: Western Michigan -- This is quarterback Tim Hiller's time to shine. He's received tons of preseason accolades and now it's time to see whether he can lead his team to another bowl berth. It won't be easy as he's breaking in some new receivers and the Broncos are breaking in some new defensive players.

At-large: Bowling Green or Buffalo -- Couldn't choose between these two teams because I think both will have an equal shot at the MAC East title and an at-large bid. Bowling Green has more experience, but Buffalo has more dynamic players.

SUN BELT

New Orleans: Troy -- While the Sun Belt should be tougher this year, it's hard to find a team more complet
e than Troy. The Trojans have playmakers at nearly every position, making them one of the more dangerous non-AQ teams.

INDEPENDENTS

Texas Bowl: Navy -- If the Midshipmen get the necessary seven wins for bowl eligibility, they're already guaranteed a spot in Houston. That won't be easy, though, with one of the toughest schedules in recent history.