Thursday, December 15, 2011
What to watch in the non-AQs: Bowls
By Andrea Adelson
Here is what I will be watching from the non-AQ teams once bowl season begins:
1. Last hurrah for Kellen Moore. Boise State closes out the season in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas next week against Arizona State, bringing to a close the final chapter for Moore, the best player in school history. Moore already holds the NCAA record for career victories. Another win will mean he and his senior class will set the school mark for most victories by a group with 50. What Moore has achieved is simply remarkable four-year starter, 3,000-yard passing seasons in each of his four seasons and only once did he throw double-digit interceptions (his freshman year, 10). He led this team to four top-10 finishes in the BCS standings, one BCS appearance and one undefeated season. His critics will point out that the strength of schedule has not been impossible, but it is hard to knock what this young man has accomplished with his consistency, his football IQ and his ability to will his team to victory. Boise State has lost three games in his time as a starter, and all three were by a field goal or less. Moore has elevated this program, and whoever replaces him will have an enormous legacy to match.
2. TCU says goodbye. It has been a nice run for the Horned Frogs in the Mountain West, but now it is time for them to say goodbye and move on to their new home in the Big 12. They closed out the conference season with their third straight league title, thanks to a huge win at Boise State, and now have a chance to post 11 wins for the seventh time in the past 10 years. A victory also would be career win No. 109 for coach Gary Patterson, which would tie him with Dutch Meyer as the all-time winningest coach in school history. Meyer was 109-79-13 from 1934 to '52, including national championships in 1935 and 1938.
3. How does Houston respond? One of the biggest questions in all of bowl season is what we will see out of Houston. This is a team that fell one win short of making a BCS game. Now the Cougars are relegated to the TicketCity Bowl against Penn State and will be without coach Kevin Sumlin, who accepted a job to coach Texas A&M. It is hard to know exactly what to expect out of Houston for several reasons. Its performance in the Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss was the worst of the season, it has to fight the distraction of losing its coach and it has to fight the feeling of playing in a lesser bowl game after working so hard to try to bust into the BCS. It will be up to senior quarterback Case Keenum to get his teammates prepared to play and motivated to find a little extra to get them up for this game.
4. Anything to prove? There are four bowl games out of 35 that pit non-AQ teams against those from automatic qualifying conferences: Boise State-Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Western Michigan-Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, SMU-Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and Houston-Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. Bowl season is always a great time for the non-AQs to prove themselves against teams from the bigger conferences, but without a big BCS matchup this season, these matchups fall a little flat. Is anybody going to take notice if the non-AQs go 4-0 with wins over Arizona State (6-6), Pitt (6-6) and Purdue (6-6)?
5. My favorite matchup: BYU vs. Tulsa, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Both teams have had solid seasons. BYU in Year 1 as an independent has a chance for another 10-win season; Tulsa survived a brutal nonconference stretch to open the season to make it back to a bowl game. Starting quarterbacks Riley Nelson and G.J. Kinne can run, and both have good skill position players around them. Tulsa linebacker Curnelius Arnick and BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy have put together great seasons and are fun to watch. When you start to parse the numbers, their wins have not come against the toughest competition. Of BYU's nine wins, only one has come against a bowl team. Of Tulsa's eight wins, only two have come against bowl teams.