What we learned from non-AQ bowl season

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
9:00
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Time to put a bow on non-AQ bowl season and look at what we learned.

1. Boise State should have been in a BCS game. We already knew that going into bowl season, but Boise State's 56-24 dismantling of Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas just served as a fresh reminder that the Broncos were done an injustice. Combine that with the mistake-filled Allstate Sugar Bowl between Michigan and Virginia Tech, and you get that "woulda, shoulda, coulda" feeling all over again. Playing in the Vegas bowl game was not only unfair to the Broncos, who had to bid farewell to Kellen Moore on a weeknight in December, it was unfair to the Sun Devils. Both teams deserved a chance to play a team more on their own level. Being paired up against San Diego State would have made a much better game for Arizona State; A Michigan-Boise State matchup would have been much more appealing as well. Instead, Boise State is left with an unsatisfying end to the season.

[+] EnlargeHouston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum
Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIREHouston quarterback Case Keenum and the Cougars completely dominated in their bowl win over Penn State.
2. Houston was fired up. OK maybe that was an understatement. Houston came out with its full passing arsenal and completely obliterated Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. It was a bigger rout than the 30-14 final score indicates, as Houston led 24-7 at halftime. Despite losing a shot to play in the BCS, and then losing head coach Kevin Sumlin, the Cougars clearly felt they had something to prove. Case Keenum threw for 532 yards and three touchdowns on a defense that was giving up an average of 162 yards through the air headed into the game. The bowl performance capped Keenum's NCAA record-breaking career, and also allowed Houston to complete the best season in school history at 13-1.

3. MWC not as dominant. Last season, the Mountain West rolled to a 4-1 bowl record and its fourth Bowl Challenge Cup. But the success was not replicated this year. The Mountain West went 2-3 in its bowl games, with two losses to the MAC (Wyoming to Temple, Air Force to Toledo) and one loss to the Sun Belt (San Diego State to Louisiana-Lafayette). If you fashion yourself as one of the top conferences in the country, you have got to win all your bowl games against non-AQ competition. Boise State and TCU once again held up their end of the bargain, but the story of this conference has been and will continue to be its lack of quality depth top to bottom. You can add in Nevada, which joins in 2012, and the Mountain West went 2-4 -- 1-4 against non-AQ competition.

4. MAC, C-USA shine. On the other end of the spectrum, bravo to the MAC and C-USA for putting together 4-1 marks during bowl season. C-USA went 2-0 against competition from the AQ conferences, with wins for Houston over Penn State, and SMU over Pitt. In the MAC, the Toledo-Air Force game was perhaps one of the best of the entire bowl season, with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun calling a fake extra point attempt to win the game instead of heading to overtime. Toledo was prepared, and the 42-41 win gave 32-year-old Rockets head coach Matt Campbell his first victory. Ohio pulled a come-from-behind stunner on Utah State to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 24-23 -- the first bowl win in school history. Northern Illinois ended the season with its ninth straight win, and Temple cruised.

5. BYU ends with 10 wins. Closing Year 1 as an independent with a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, meant the Cougars notched their fifth bowl win in the last six season and ended with 10 victories. How much fun was it to see Riley Nelson unleash the fake spike just before throwing the winning touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman? That win earned them a No. 25 ranking in the final coaches' poll, also the fifth time in the last six seasons they ended in the Top 25. BYU is one of only 11 programs nationally to be ranked in at least one of the two major polls during five of the last six seasons.

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