NCF Nation: 2011-final-team-reviews

Season recap: Boise State

December, 7, 2011

11-1, 6-1

What can you say about a team that got left out of the BCS despite a No. 7 ranking and one loss on the season? Should have won all its games, right? In the world of the non-AQs, there is absolutely no margin for error. There has never been a one-loss team from a non-AQ make it into the BCS. Not even a deserving team like Boise State, which beat SEC East Division champion Georgia to open the season and lost at home by one point to a ranked TCU team thanks to another missed field goal. Now the Broncos are headed for the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas for the second straight season to play a 6-6 Arizona State team. You can see why coach Chris Petersen ripped into the BCS earlier this week, saying everybody was tired of the system.

Despite the loss, this was yet another double-digit season for Boise State, and the fourth year in a row the Broncos finished in the Top 10 of the final BCS standings. Kellen Moore had the best season of his career, throwing for a career-high 41 touchdowns and setting a career mark with a .741 completion percentage. Injuries did take their toll, most especially in the TCU game, when Boise State was left with a walk-on at running back and freshmen playing in the secondary. All things considered, this Boise State senior class has lost three total games and still deserves some national recognition, even if they are playing in a non-BCS game.

Offensive MVP: Moore, QB. Moore completed 300-of-405 passes for 3,507 yards this season and became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. He is the only quarterback this season who carved up the Georgia secondary and what he was able to do with new starting receivers should reaffirm his skill as a quarterback.

Defensive MVP: Tyrone Crawford, DE. This was a tough one because so many of these players had solid seasons. I am going with Crawford because he led the team with 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, and did a solid job in replacing Ryan Winterswyk on the line.

Turning point: Losing 36-35 to TCU. Given the way the college season ended, you have to wonder whether an undefeated Boise State team would have had a shot at playing LSU in the national title game. The Tigers were the only undefeated team in the nation. Anybody's guess whether Boise State would have had enough of a push to move ahead of Alabama, but this might have been their best chance. It was not meant to be. For the second straight season, their BCS hopes ended on a missed field goal.

What’s next: Life after Moore. The senior class has a chance to set the school record for most wins by a departing group in the bowl game (50), and then it is time to say good bye to a group that elevated the program to an elite level. How will Boise State handle itself without Moore, and with plans to join the Big East for 2013?

Season recap: BYU

December, 7, 2011

Record: 9-3

It is hard to really measure this season for BYU. Another 10-win season would certainly make it a success, considering that would make the Cougars one of just six FBS schools with 10 or more wins in five of the past six seasons. In Year 1 as an independent, everybody at BYU will take that. But a closer look at the schedule reveals the Cougars have one victory over a team with a winning record. In the "big games" against three bowl teams -- Texas, Utah and TCU -- they went 0-3. Granted, Texas and Utah came early in the season, when BYU was struggling with Jake Heaps as the starting quarterback. Not all the blame can be put on his shoulders, though, because everything was going wrong on offense. The offensive line, backs and receivers were not playing well, either.

Once Riley Nelson took over for Heaps, things seemed to stabilize. And just like last year, BYU ended the season on a nice little run to get to nine wins, an improvement over its 7-6 record in 2010. Heaps has decided to transfer because it became clear he was no longer the future at quarterback for the Cougars. He won't play in the bowl game. So now it appears Nelson is the man to lead this team into 2012, with plenty of improvements to be made.

Offensive MVP: Riley Nelson, QB. Nelson came in for Heaps against Utah State and provided the spark needed to get a victory. He went 4-1 as a starter -- 5-1 if you count the Idaho win in which he got hurt and left the game. He finished the year with 1,467 yards passing and 16 touchdowns, and added 376 yards on the ground. The Cougars seemed to rally around Nelson, and that was a big reason for the improved play.

Defensive MVP: Kyle Van Noy, LB. Van Noy had a team-leading 10 tackles for loss, with five sacks, three interceptions, nine quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He finished with 58 tackles, and also saved the day in a win over Ole Miss.

Turning point: Beating Utah State. Nelson engineered a comeback in the fourth quarter after the Cougars trailed 24-13, leading them to a 27-24 win. BYU ended up winning six of its final seven games, and Nelson supplanted Heaps as the starter. That game was essentially the beginning of the end for the Heaps era at BYU.

What’s next: BYU is headed to the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl to play Tulsa, then it is on to the second year as an independent after turning down overtures from the Big East to join as a football-only member. There is plenty of young talent on this team returning, but it will be interesting to see how Nelson handles his responsibilities when he goes into 2012 as the starter.

Season recap: Houston

December, 7, 2011

Record: 12-1, 8-0 C-USA

By now you already know the story of the season for the Houston Cougars. A first ever BCS appearance slipped through their fingers in a 49-28 loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. It was not the way Houston envisioned ending the season, or the way Case Keenum envisioned his league career ending when he decided he wanted to return for his sixth season after missing nearly all of 2010 with a torn ACL.

It probably is little consolation that Houston ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense. The Cougars had five players made the all-conference first-team: Keenum, Patrick Edwards, Charles Sims, Justin Johnson and Chris Thompson. But in the end, the offense could not make enough plays when it mattered most.

And as much was made about the improvement on defense, that unit simply collapsed against Southern Miss, giving up 207 yards on the ground. It was as disappointing a loss as any team will suffer, and one that surely will linger on in Houston.

Offensive MVP: Keenum. What can you say about Keenum, who returned after a knee injury only to have yet another 5,000-yard passing season. Keenum re-set NCAA career records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense while also becoming the first player in NCAA history with three 5,000-yard seasons. Keenum ended the regular season with 5,099 yards passing and 45 touchdowns, both tops in the nation.

Defensive MVP: Sammy Brown, LB. Brown was excellent this season, and leads the country with 28 tackles for loss and ranks among the top five nationally with 12.5 sacks. His 28 TFLs set the school record and he could break the all-time single-season sacks mark with two more sacks in the TicketCity Bowl against Penn State.

Turning point: Even though it was the last game of the season, the loss to Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game was the turning point for the Cougars. They went from BCS to TicketCity Bowl, a steep drop for a one-loss team that did just about everything else right in 2011.

What’s next: There is a lot of uncertainty for Houston. Keenum is gone, and coach Kevin Sumlin has been a popular name for several coaching vacancies. Houston also appears ready to join the Big East for 2013. When Keenum got hurt last season, the Cougars struggled to a 5-7 record and missed a bowl game. Will David Piland be better off for his experience as a true freshman or are tough times in store for a program that will be without its best player -- and perhaps even its coach?

Season recap: Southern Miss

December, 7, 2011

Record: 11-2, 6-2 C-USA

You gave Southern Miss a chance in the Conference USA championship game, right? Nobody outside Hattiesburg did. But the Golden Eagles pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, beating No. 6 Houston 49-28 to win its fifth league championship but first C-USA title game. It was an impressive defensive performance, one that featured the team's eighth interception return of the season to set a FBS record.

The win gave Southern Miss a school record 11 wins. The school had only two 10-win seasons over its first 100 years since the program began. This also is the program's 18th straight winning season, the fourth longest streak in the FBS behind Florida State, Florida and Virginia Tech. What is hard to believe is this team could have been undefeated, if not for losses against one team that finished .500 and another that had a losing record.

Offensive MVP: Austin Davis, QB. Davis has set just about every career quarterback record in school history and passed single-season marks against Houston for touchdown passes (28) and passing yards (3,331). It was the third time in his career Davis threw four touchdown passes in a game. He also added 332 yards rushing on the season and three touchdowns on the ground as Southern Miss went over 6,000 yards of total offense for the first time in school history.

Defensive MVP: Cordarro Law, LB. Law had 17.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 7.5 sacks for the Golden Eagles, and he was unstoppable against Houston, with 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and a hurry. Defensive back Marquese Wheaton deserves mention as well after registering three touchdowns on the season off two interceptions and one blocked field goal return.

Turning point: A 48-28 win over East Carolina. The victory was the seventh in a row for the Golden Eagles after they dropped an early game against Marshall, and essentially allowed them to take control of the East Division. This game also featured two interceptions returned for a touchdown. Jamie Collins returned one 97 yards for a score, and Deron Wilson had one that went 79 yards as the Golden Eagles used their opportunistic defense to help them win.

What’s next: Southern Miss will head to its 10th straight bowl game, playing Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. But the Golden Eagles may have to start looking for a new coach. Larry Fedora is reportedly the choice at North Carolina after four seasons at Southern Miss. They will also lose Davis and Law, the backbone of their team this season, so there will be plenty of changes for 2012.

Season recap: SMU

December, 7, 2011

Record: 7-5, 5-3 C-USA

The season appeared as if it would be an improvement over 2010, when the Mustangs won the West Division and played in the Conference USA championship game. They got off to a 5-1 start, including a huge 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU, their first win over a ranked team since the 1980s. SMU also avenged a loss to UCF -- which beat the Mustangs in the C-USA title game a year ago.

But then things began to fall apart for an offense that is known for its high scoring. J.J. McDermott, who replaced Kyle Padron in the season opener, started to struggle and the Mustangs ended up losing four of their final six games. In three of those losses, SMU scored a touchdown or less, unheard of for a June Jones run 'n' shoot offense. SMU squeaked out a 27-24 win over Rice to get to seven wins in the regular season for the second straight year. But SMU was unable to beat Tulsa and Houston this year, its top competition in the West.

Still, getting to a third straight bowl game tied the school record for consecutive bowl appearances. For a program ravaged by the death penalty, that is a huge measure of how far this program has come.

Offensive MVP: Zach Line, RB. Line led Conference USA in rushing for the second straight season with 1,224 yards and scored a league-best 17 touchdowns in just 10 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Still, he made the C-USA first team and was dependable all season long for an offense that struggled at times.

Defensive MVP: Taylor Thompson, DE. The Mustangs got a lot of clutch performances on defense, but Thompson was a C-USA first-team selection after leading the team with seven sacks and six forced fumbles -- that tied him for No. 3 in the nation.

Turning point: A 27-3 loss to Southern Miss. SMU only had 330 yards and 14 first downs in the loss, which started the slide at the end of the season. The Mustangs had opportunities in the second half, driving into Southern Miss territory twice, but they came away with no points. They also had nine penalties and were 4-of-13 on third downs.

What’s next: SMU plays Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and then it is off to prepare for a new conference home, as the Mustangs are reportedly set to join the Big East for 2013. Coach June Jones has been mentioned as a candidate at several openings, but has reportedly assured his staff he is staying. For how long is always a question that has surrounded him everywhere he has gone.

Season recap: TCU

December, 7, 2011

Record: 10-2, 7-0 MWC

The season did not exactly start the way TCU is used to, with losses in two of the first five games. It was not the offense that was a problem, but the defense, which simply gave up too many points and too many big plays in the pass game in losses to Baylor and SMU. Injuries and inexperience really hurt the defense, with key losses like Tanner Brock (injury) and safety Tejay Johnson (graduation) having an impact. But you knew with Gary Patterson, a defensive guru, performances like that would not last. TCU showed steady improvement, then pulled the upset of the season in Boise, beating the Broncos 36-35 to end their long winning streak on the blue turf.

TCU ended up winning another conference championship, reaching the 10-win mark for the fourth straight year and eighth time in the past 10 seasons under Patterson. Before Patterson arrived on campus in 1998, the Horned Frogs had just four 10-win seasons in their history.

They end their run in the Mountain West having won a record 24 straight league games, while also holding the conference mark for consecutive home league wins at 17.

Offensive MVP: Casey Pachall, QB. The big concern going into the season was how Pachall would fare in place of Andy Dalton, the school's all-time winningest quarterback. Pachall did a terrific job in his first year as a starter, going 213-of-314 for 2,715 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. He made the All-MWC second team. Receiver Josh Boyce was outstanding as well, with 932 yards receiving and nine touchdown receptions.

Defensive MVP: Tank Carder, LB. Injuries hampered Carder's productivity at the beginning of the season, but he closed out strong and ended up winning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors for a second straight season. Carder finished with 66 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Turning point: Beating Boise State 36-35. Coach Gary Patterson gambled and went for 2 late in the game, playing for the win rather than the tie. Pachall found Josh Boyce in the end zone for the conversion with 1:05 remaining. The Broncos marched down the field and got into field goal range, but Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal at the gun. The victory allowed TCU to win its third straight Mountain West Conference championship in its final year in the league.

What’s next: TCU was hoping to get an automatic selection into the BCS but failed to finish in the top 16 of the final standings. So it's off to the Poinsettia Bowl against WAC champion Louisiana Tech, then a move to the Big 12 Conference for the 2012 season. There is so much young talent on this team, it will be interesting to see how the Horned Frogs fare in their first year in an AQ conference.