NCF Nation: 2011 midseason team reports

Midseason team-by-team reports

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
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ESPN.com's bloggers have gauged how the season has gone for teams at the midway point of the season. Here's their midseason reports by conference:

Midseason report: Notre Dame

October, 11, 2011
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Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 4-2

Seems like it was years ago that the Irish were 0-2 and panic mode had set in across South Bend. But four straight wins — three in dominant fashion — have significantly altered the mood around the program, which is beginning to show the kind of offensive fireworks expected with a Brian Kelly-run unit. Notre Dame is clicking on all cylinders there, with Tommy Rees showing the growth Kelly has wanted and quieting those calling for his head and doubting Kelly's decision to replace Dayne Crist after one mediocre half in Week 1. The running game has exceeded everyone's expectations but its own, with Jonas Gray answering Kelly's call in grand fashion following a costly Week 1 fumble. And the defense, save for the fourth quarter of Week 2 at Michigan, has been a force to be reckoned with, particularly against the run. There is still no clear answer in the punt return game, which can become a bigger problem as the season progresses, but Notre Dame has managed to weather the storm through six weeks. Plenty of games remain after this coming bye week, and the Irish have certainly shown they are capable of tripping over themselves, but that finale at Stanford is looking more and more like it may be a play-in contest for a BCS bowl.

Offensive MVP: WR Michael Floyd. The senior has treated a rocky offseason like a distant memory, obliterating the records of every Irish receiver who came before him en route to a 53-catch, 639-yard first half of the season. On an offense featuring several skill players who have surpassed preseason expectations, Floyd has been the brightest star of the group. Just look at the offensive production at Pitt, where he was held in check, for proof of how valuable Floyd is to the unit.

Defensive MVP: LB Manti Te'o. The junior leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks and is on pace for 127.8 tackles. Yes, that is a little less than his ridiculous 133-tackle output last season, but he has improved as a player since then, showing much more discipline and not going for the knockout blow in the open field. He has also embraced the role of leader along with team captain Harrison Smith, becoming more vocal when he needs to and helping set a tone for the many freshmen on the unit.

Midseason report: Boise State

October, 11, 2011
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BOISE STATE BRONCOS

Record: 5-0, (0-0, MWC)

The Broncos opened the season with a critical test against Georgia in the Georgia Dome, yet another nonconference game on the road that would test its mettle. Boise State easily passed the test, winning 35-21 and in the process taking down an SEC team for the first time in school history. Kellen Moore carved up the Georgia secondary, and the underrated Boise State defensive front had six sacks and never really let the Bulldogs find much of a rhythm. That win looks better and better, now that Georgia has a real shot at winning the SEC East after shaking off an 0-2 start. Boise State has cruised in its other four games and is ranked No. 5 in the latest AP poll, leaving many to question its credentials once again. Certainly the Broncos are in a tougher conference this season now that they are a member of the Mountain West. But their critics always like to point out that Boise State only plays a few tough games a year. The strength of schedule might bear some of that out, but there is no disputing this is another solid team playing in Boise. Kellen Moore tweaked his knee early in the season and has had to play with a brace on, but is still as good as always even without his top two playmakers in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. The Broncos do not have much of a deep threat without them, but Moore is finding ways for his teammates to make plays. Still, there are a few areas of concern as Boise State hits conference play. The running game has been inconsistent. Coach Chris Petersen would like to see bigger plays in the pass game. Defensively, Boise State ranks No. 12 in the nation. But its pass rush is not up to its usual standards. After getting six sacks in the opener, the Broncos have a combined three in their last four games. Having said all that, Boise State has scored 30 or more points in all its games this season and has made winning look easy. Tests remain on the schedule, with games against Air Force, TCU and San Diego State chief among them. But Boise State should be poised once again to get into the BCS.

Offensive MVP: QB Kellen Moore. He remains in Heisman contention, with 1,391 yards passing and 17 touchdowns this season, but Moore has only played in one complete game this season. Still, his completion percentage is 74 percent, on pace for a career high, and he has only been sacked once.

Defensive MVP: DE Shea McClellin. McClellin ranks third on the team with 21 tackles and leads the way with 3.5 sacks. His experience and leadership have been big for a defense that had to replace several starters in the back end.

Midseason report: BYU

October, 11, 2011
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BYU COUGARS

Record: 4-2

Year 1 as an independent has been a bit clunkier than maybe the Cougars envisioned. With a new offensive coordinator and nearly every starter returning, it was easy to believe the Cougars would return to their days of old and put up points left and right. But the offense has struggled in many of the same ways it struggled last season. Jake Heaps never looked comfortable running the new offense, and was pulled during the Utah State game. Riley Nelson took over, keyed a comeback and has regained his starting job. None of the playmakers that were projected to emerge have done so. The leading receiver, Cody Hoffman, has 258 yards total. The running game also has struggled, as the Cougars rank No. 98 in the nation. In all, BYU is No. 101 in the country in scoring offense and has failed to score over 30 points this season. The low point game in Week 3 against in-state rival Utah. BYU lost 54-10 and turned the ball over seven times -- three of them by Heaps. Has the problem been Brandon Doman calling the plays? Heaps not getting the job done? The offensive line struggling? The defense has played well for the most part. In fact, if it were not for the defense, BYU would have lost to Ole Miss to start the season. If it were not for special teams, the Cougars may have very well lost to UCF, too. So many questions remain as the Cougars hit the second half of the season with some tough games remaining. This may not have been the start fans wanted to see, but BYU is still trying to feel its way in this brand new world.

Offensive MVP: QB Riley Nelson. I am going all unconventional here and going with a player who has gotten into one and a half games. Why? Because he has more touchdowns (five) than anybody else on the team and provided a spark to a pretty poor offense. Name me somebody else who has played well on offense this season. Didn't think so.

Defensive MVP: LB Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy has been everywhere for the Cougars, ranking second on the team with 28 tackles. He also has a sack, two interceptions, two quarterback hurries and that all important fumble recovery in the end zone to give BYU a 14-13 win over Ole Miss.

Midseason report: Houston

October, 11, 2011
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HOUSTON COUGARS

Record: (6-0, 2-0 CUSA)

Case Keenum has returned for the Cougars, so that means one thing -- Houston is back. After missing a bowl last year thanks in large part to a knee injury to Keenum, the Cougars are off to a 6-0 start and just debuted at No. 25 in the AP rankings. The last time Houston started 6-0 was in 1990, when the Cougars got off to an 8-0 start. Keenum, of course, has been a big reason for the turnaround. Keenum leads the nation with 2,309 total passing yards as he continues his quest to set the NCAA career passing mark. He currently stands 1,178 yards behind Timmy Chang of Hawaii for that record. With him the Cougars are a totally different team. Patrick Edwards (107 ypg) and Tyron Carrier (76 ypg) have gotten of to good starts receiving as a result. Now, that is not to say things have been easy this season. Already, Houston needed the biggest comeback in school history to beat Louisiana Tech 35-34. Keenum led the team to 28 unanswered points after it fell behind 34-7 in the third quarter. Then the Cougars got into a shootout against UTEP. After trailing at various points in that game, Houston finally won 49-42 in a game that featured more than 1,200 yards of offense. But the Cougars are coming off their best performance of the season on defense, holding East Carolina to 21 rushing yards and forcing four turnovers in a 56-3 win over the Pirates. The defense remains a work in progress, but with Keenum back there slinging the ball, Houston stands a chance to run the table.

Offensive MVP: QB Case Keenum. Is there any question how valuable Keenum is to this team? The Cougars went 5-7 last season. They are 6-0 this season after he was granted a sixth year of eligibility. If he stays healthy, he will easily own the NCAA career passing mark.

Defensive MVP: LB Sammy Brown. Brown has made a living in his opponents' backfield, leading the nation with 14 tackles for loss. His 5.5 sacks also rank second in the league, which go along with nine quarterback hurries.

Midseason report: SMU

October, 11, 2011
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SMU MUSTANGS

Record: 4-1, 2-0 CUSA

The Mustangs made it to the Conference USA championship game last season, but now coach June Jones expects to win it. His team has its hands full in the West Division, but certainly the Mustangs have shown the potential to get back into the title game again this season. They have done it with a new quarterback. J.J. McDermott replaced an ineffective Kyle Padron in the season opener and has not let go of the starting job. McDermott has played well, throwing for 1,482 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions to rank No. 2 in CUSA in passing. Darius Johnson has proven to be a go-to receiver with 39 catches for 550 yards and four touchdowns, and leads the league in receptions per game and receiving yards a game. His teammate Cole Beasley is right behind him at No. 3 in both categories. Running back Zach Line once again is dominating on the ground, with 583 yards and 11 touchdowns already this season to lead CUSA. SMU has done a nice job on defense as well, ranking No. 2 in the league in total defense, giving up an average of 296.6 yards a game. Steps are being made, and none bigger than its 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU. It was the Mustangs' first win over a ranked team since defeating No. 22 TCU 21-10 in Dallas on Sept. 10, 2005. SMU is off to a 4-1 start for the first time since going 5-1 to begin the 1986 season. But the schedule has its challenges. The Mustangs get UCF this weekend in a rematch of last year's CUSA title game. They also have to play at Southern Miss, Tulsa and Houston. But the Mustangs have proved they can play with anybody. Will that translate into an even bigger milestone for the program this season?

Offensive MVP: RB Zach Line. You are making me choose just one? It was a tough call between Line and Johnson, but I am going with the guy who leads the league in scoring with 66 points. He has been incredibly valuable and durable once again.

Defensive MVP: LB Ja'Gared Davis. Plenty of candidates for this one as well. Taylor Thompson is third in the league with five sacks, and Taylor Reed leads the team with 39 tackles. But Davis has done a little bit of everything -- he has 28 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also has an interception, forced and recovered a fumble and has six passes defended.

Midseason report: TCU

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
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TCU HORNED FROGS

Record: 4-2 (2-0, MWC)

The Horned Frogs had a banner year in 2010, winning the Rose Bowl and finishing undefeated. But they knew there were some challenges ahead, having to replace quarterback Andy Dalton and several key players on defense, including safety Tejay Johnson. The offense has not been the problem. It has been the defense that has had some issues to work through, which is uncharacteristic for a Gary Patterson-coached team. TCU ranks No. 69 in the nation in total defense, on pace to be the worst since ranking No. 99 in 2004. This is a group that finished the last three seasons ranked No. 1. But the Horned Frogs have been hurt by the loss of starting linebacker Tanner Brock and an inexperienced secondary. In losses to SMU and Baylor, TCU put itself in position to win after giving up huge leads. But the defense could not hold long enough for the Horned Frogs to prevail. Patterson says the unit is getting better, and the biggest challenge left remains its game at Boise State on Nov. 12. Meanwhile, Casey Pachall has done a fine job replacing Dalton. The rushing game also has proved to be invaluable thanks to its quality depth. TCU is averaging 209.7 yards a game on the ground. Ed Wesley has been banged-up, so Waymon James has taken on a bigger role, rushing for 398 yards and two scores while Matthew Tucker has seven rushing touchdowns. Josh Boyce is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season, with 580 yards and five touchdowns. But no matter what has happened on the field this season, perhaps the biggest story has been off the field, where TCU is now set to join the Big 12 for 2012. The Horned Frogs spurned the Big East for an opportunity to stay closer to home, its years of BCS busting paying off in a big way.

Offensive MVP: QB Casey Pachall. There are plenty of candidates here, with James and Boyce having great seasons, too. But questions about Pachall have been answered with his play so far -- going 118-of-171 for 1,391 yards with 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Defensive MVP: DE Stansly Maponga. Patterson has repeatedly praised Maponga for his strong play this season. Maponga leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and he also has forced four fumbles and recovered one. Linebacker Tank Carder has not quite been 100 percent but he is nearly there.

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