NCF Nation: Non-AQ-2010-final-team-reviews

Boise State Broncos season recap

December, 7, 2010
The season started with such high expectations -- BCS bowl or bust. After all, Boise State returned nearly every starter off a team that went undefeated in 2009 and won the Fiesta Bowl over TCU. The Broncos began the season with the highest ranking in school history at No. 3 in the AP poll, setting the stage to potentially become the first non-AQ team to make it into the BCS National Championship Game.

The first hurdle was the season opener against No. 10 Virginia Tech at FedEx Field, a virtual home game for the Hokies. Kellen Moore engineered a dramatic comeback after Boise State blew an early 17-0 lead, and Boise State won 33-30, validating its high ranking. The Broncos beat Oregon State a few weeks later, and remained in the top 5, jockeying for position with TCU as the top non-AQ. TCU moved ahead after a win over Utah, but it appeared the momentum began to swing back toward Boise State after the Horned Frogs had a close win over San Diego State. Most projected Boise State would be the top non-AQ if it won out.

But alas, it was not meant to be. The Broncos lost a heartbreaking stunner to Nevada 34-31 in overtime on Nov. 26, dashing their hopes at getting a BCS bid. Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal that would have won it in regulation, then another 29-yarder in overtime. He became the subject of harassment and ugly taunts, but Chris Petersen maintained it was a team loss. Indeed, the Broncos blew a 17-point halftime lead. Still, Boise State was able to win a share of the WAC title, finished No. 10 in the BCS standings and ended their WAC membership with a 40-0 record at home in league games. The senior class has gone 47-5 with two undefeated regular seasons and a BCS win.

Offensive MVP: QB Kellen Moore. A Heisman Trophy finalist and WAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Moore threw for 3,506 yards, 33 touchdowns and five interceptions -- and he’s only a junior. Titus Young, Austin Pettis and Doug Martin deserve recognition as well. All three made the WAC first team: Young had 1,151 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns, Pettis had 804 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Martin had 1,113 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Billy Winn, Shea McClellin, Ryan Winterswyk, Chase Baker. This was simply too close to call, but the nod goes to the entire front four for being the engine that made the defense go. The four combined for 19.5 sacks and helped set the tone for everyone else to follow.

Turning point: The loss at Nevada killed its chances at a BCS game.

What’s next: Boise State plays Utah in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas on Dec. 22, then prepares for life as a member of the Mountain West missing several key players including Young, Pettis, Winterswyk, Winston Venable, Brandyn Thompson and Jeron Johnson.

Hawaii Warriors season recap

December, 7, 2010
Hawaii finished just short of a bowl bid last season, but hopes were high going into 2010 with the return of quarterback Bryant Moniz. The junior emerged as the starter after walking onto the team and finding himself sixth on the depth chart. But he worked his way up and got into the lineup after several injuries gave the Warriors no other choice. Still, nobody could have anticipated the giant leap Moniz took this season. He threw for a nation-leading 4,629 yards and 36 touchdowns, making Hawaii one of the most prolific offenses in the country. He had help of course from Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, who combined for nearly 3,000 yards and 27 of those touchdown passes. Salas has caught a pass in 40 straight games en route to All-WAC first-team honors. Let’s not forget the Warriors also had a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 1992 in Alex Green. Hawaii scored 40 or more points in eight games this season and topped the nation in passing.

Defensively, linebacker Corey Paredes had a monster season with 144 tackles, and safety Mana Silva was tied for the nation lead with eight interceptions. Kicker Scott Enos also ended the regular season converting a school-record 100 straight extra-point attempts. Hawaii may have gotten blown out by Boise State, but the Warriors beat Nevada and that was good enough to win a share of the WAC championship. The Warriors also won 10 games for just the sixth time in school history.

Offensive MVP: QB Bryant Moniz. What more can you say about a guy who had to take a side job delivering pizzas when he first walked on at Hawaii? Moniz exceeded all expectations with his incredible season. His total passing yards were the second-highest total in school history, and he set the school single-game passing record with 560 yards against San Jose State.

Defensive MVP: LB Corey Paredes. He led the team in tackles, and ranked 11th in the nation. Not only that, Paredes was a key member of a defense that led all FBS teams in turnovers forced with 36, including a nation-leading 23 interceptions.

Turning point: A 27-21 win over Nevada on Oct. 16 set the stage for the Warriors to become co-WAC champs. They did an excellent job shutting down Colin Kaepernick and forcing him into four turnovers.

What’s next: Hawaii plays Tulsa in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24, and could be the favorite in the WAC next season with Boise State leaving for the Mountain West and Nevada losing Kaepernick, Vai Taua and Dontay Moch.

FIU Panthers season recap

December, 7, 2010
Here we have yet another program that had been pegged to finish near the bottom of its conference. Given the history, it was easy to see why. FIU had won nine games in the previous three seasons under coach Mario Cristobal, and was still feeling the effects of NCAA sanctions and scholarship losses. But Cristobal was determined to build a program living in the shadow of his alma mater, the University of Miami. He preached hard work and discipline, and got his players to believe. That showed immediately, when the Panthers blew fourth-quarter leads in near upsets to Rutgers and Texas A&M.

FIU started 0-4, but all four losses came to schools from bigger conferences, and they actually served to give the Panthers confidence because they could see the results of their efforts -- even if they were falling short. Wes Carroll stepped up at quarterback after winning a competition over Wayne Younger early in the season. Darriet Perry and Darrian Mallary proved to be a good duo at running back, and T.Y. Hilton continued his tear at receiver. Defensively, Anthony Gaitor set the tone as he has done throughout his career. What happened next is the stuff of history. FIU overcame an ugly loss to rival Florida Atlantic and beat conference heavyweight Troy for the first time in school history. That gave the Panthers the head-to-head advantage and eventually led to the first Sun Belt championship in league history, along with the first bowl bid in school history. FIU finished 6-6 and has a chance for the first winning season in school history with a win in the bowl game.

Offensive MVP: T.Y. Hilton. Mr. All-Purpose did it all for FIU once again: 816 receiving yards with four touchdowns; 278 yards rushing and four TDs; 785 yards in punt/kickoff returns and one touchdown.

Defensive MVP: Anthony Gaitor. He finished with 50 tackles, 8.5 for loss, three sacks and two interceptions to lead the defense once again.

Turning point: A 52-35 win over Troy put FIU in the driver’s seat for the Sun Belt. Even though the Panthers dropped the season finale to Middle Tennessee, their win over Troy allowed them to become co-champions.

What’s next: FIU plays Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl on Dec. 26 and could be poised for more success. Nearly everybody returns on offense, though FIU has to deal with the loss of Gaitor.

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks season recap

December, 7, 2010
Nobody pegged Miami to do much of anything this season, not after a 1-11 record in 2009 made them one of the worst teams in college football. But as the old cliché goes, that is why they play the games. From the season opener against Florida, you knew something special could happen this season. Miami challenged the Gators hard, and though the RedHawks lost 34-12, they came away with the sense that they could play with anyone. It helped that nearly the entire starting offense and defense returned, because those players had another opportunity to get better. Zac Dysert showed flashes as a freshman last season, and he put together a nice season before lacerating his spleen late and making way for redshirt freshman Austin Boucher. Armand Robinson had another good year at receiver, but Nick Harwell also emerged to give the RedHawks a powerful duo -- the two combined for over 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns. But perhaps the biggest improvement came on defense, where Miami ranked No. 5 in the MAC. Defensive tackle Austin Brown emerged as a force, and Miami was able to put itself in position to make the MAC championship game with a win over Temple late in the season. After Ohio lost in the last regular-season game of the year, Miami went into the MAC title game as heavy underdogs but beat Northern Illinois 26-21 with 33 seconds to go. The win completed the best turnaround in the country this season as the RedHawks finished 9-4, making MAC Coach of the Year Mike Haywood one of this season's best stories.

Offensive MVP: WR Armand Robinson. Tough one here, because Dysert, Harwell and RB Thomas Merriweather all deserve recognition. Robinson had 90 catches for 981 yards -- both career highs -- along with six touchdowns en route to second-team All-MAC honors.

Defensive MVP: DT Austin Brown. A co-captain, Brown anchored the defensive line and had 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, and also was an All-MAC second-team selection. LB Evan Harris also deserves recognition for leading the team in tackles.

Turning point: 34-13 loss to Ohio on Oct. 23. Miami had the chance to get itself in the driver’s seat in the East but lost. Instead of going in the tank, the RedHawks reeled off five straight wins, including a crucial 23-3 win over Temple in the season finale that helped get them into the MAC title game.

What’s next: Miami plays Middle Tennessee in the Bowl on Jan. 6 and will have plenty of returning players for next season. About 45 freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores traveled to the MAC title game.

Nevada Wolf Pack season recap

December, 7, 2010
One media voter out of 43 cast their ballot for Nevada in the WAC preseason media poll, drawing scorn and ridicule. Well, it turns out that voter was right. The Wolf Pack won a share of the WAC title with Boise State and Hawaii, capping the best season in school history with its first conference championship since 2005. The big highlight of course was the 34-31 overtime win over Boise State. But the signs were there early that this could be a special season. Go back to the 52-31 win over California in Week 3. The Wolf Pack had their way with the Bears, and won a game over a team from an automatic qualifying conference for the first time in seven tries. That set the stage for what was to come. Colin Kaepernick was better than advertised, and he and Vai Taua partnered to become the most prolific rushing duo in NCAA history. The vaunted Pistol offense began showing up in college football games throughout the country, and coach Chris Ault was named WAC coach of the Year. A defense that was in desperate need of improvement showed development under first-year coordinator Andy Buh. Dontay Moch was his usual disruptive self, and James-Michael Johnson was a revelation. The only setback came at Hawaii, a place where Nevada hasn’t won since 1948. Kaepernick had an uncharacteristic four turnovers, including a fumble as he was crossing the goal line that went out of the end zone. Who knows what might have been had he been able to score there. The reality is that Nevada is a champion.

Offensive MVP: QB Colin Kaepernick. You would run out of space on this page if you wanted to discuss all of his accolades this season. Kaepernick won WAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors this season for not only rushing but passing his way into the record books. He joined Cam Newton and Tim Tebow as the only players in NCAA history to run for 20 TDs and pass for 20 TDs in a season. That is just one highlight. The biggest area of improvement this season was his pass efficiency -- he completed a career-high 65.3 percent of his passes this season.

Defensive MVP: DE Dontay Moch. Though he didn’t win WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, he still set the league record for tackles for loss. Moch ended up with 22 tackles for a loss on the year and 8.5 sacks.

Turning point: The win over Boise State was the first over a Top 5 team in program history, and set the stage for the team to share the WAC championship.

What’s next: Nevada plays Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, then faces big-time rebuilding, losing Kaepernick, Taua and Moch.
The preseason expectations were there for the Huskies. They were favored from the outset to reach the MAC championship game. But adversity struck right away. Coach Jerry Kill decided to go with DeMarcus Grady at quarterback in the opener against Iowa State. He was not productive, so Kill benched him and went with Chandler Harnish. That proved to be a wise move, though there was another bit of adversity to overcome. Kill was hospitalized for nearly a week after a setback following gallbladder surgery, but returned in time to watch his team lose to Illinois. After that 1-2 start, Northern Illinois started its rally with a win over Minnesota and ended up winning nine straight en route to the MAC title game. The Huskies got their first ranking since 2003 and were heavy favorites to beat Miami (Ohio). But they fell short after the RedHawks threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 33 seconds remaining. Still, they are headed to their third straight bowl game, unprecedented for the program. Kill deserves all the credit, but he won’t be there to coach the team in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl against Fresno State. He accepted a job at Minnesota, leaving Northern Illinois after three seasons. Still, he left the program in far better shape than he found it. Despite the disappointment over the way the season ended, the Huskies have a chance to win a program-record 11th game.

Offensive MVP: RB Chad Spann. The MAC Offensive Player of the Year broke the school’s record for single season rushing touchdowns with 20 and has gained 1,293 yards on 243 carries. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and Northern Illinois ranks No. 7 in the country in rushing offense.

Defensive MVP: LB Alex Kube. This is a tough one, because Sean Progar, Sean Smith and Jake Coffman had outstanding seasons. But Kube led the team in tackles, and Kill has had nothing but glowing remarks about him, saying he has made the most strides of anyone and developed into an “excellent leader.”

Turning point: Losing in the MAC title game has to be a turning point. The Huskies were so close, the way they were in 2005 before losing. How the team responds against the Bulldogs, without their head coach, is going to be important to watch.

What’s next: Northern Illinois plays Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 18 and must begin the search for a new head coach.

San Diego State Aztecs season recap

December, 7, 2010
Before the season started, the Aztecs were picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West. But there were signs that this could be a turnaround season. First, coach Brady Hoke has built winners. Second, he had good assistants in Rocky Long and Al Borges. Third, their players had another year in their system. Fourth, they had some very solid players returning on offense. Ryan Lindley, DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown were good in the passing game, but the weakness in 2009 was an inability to run the ball. Insert freshman Ronnie Hillman and voila! Those troubles vanished. Hillman set the league freshman rushing record with 1,304 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to Mountain West Freshman of the Year Honors. Lindley threw for over 3,000 yards, and Sampson and Brown each had 1,000 yards. The defense made strides, too, especially linebacker Miles Burris, who had 74 tackles and 9.5 sacks this season. Hoke won the league’s coach of the year honors and just received a contract extension after several schools showed an interest in hiring him away. San Diego State posted its best season since 1996 and is headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1998. Now consistency has to be established. With a coach like Hoke leading the way, that seems inevitable.

Offensive MVP: RB Ronnie Hillman. You definitely can make an argument for Lindley, who had the best season of his career. But the biggest difference in this offense was its ability to run the football. Last season, San Diego State ranked No. 116 in the country in rush offense, averaging 2.9 yards a carry. This year, the Aztecs averaged 4.8 yards a carry, and Hillman is the biggest reason why.

Defensive MVP: LB Miles Burris. He was the lone returning linebacker returning from last season, along with the team’s leading tackler, and made even bigger strides this season. He ranks first in the league in sacks and tackles for loss (19) -- both career highs.

Turning point: After a 24-21 loss to BYU, San Diego State faced a ranked Air Force team at home. They held on to win the closing seconds to win 27-25 -- their first win over a ranked team in 14 seasons.

What’s next: San Diego State plays Navy in the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl before going about the task of replacing Sampson and Brown.

TCU Horned Frogs season recap

December, 7, 2010
How do you follow up an undefeated regular season? With another undefeated regular season. The Horned Frogs put together yet another incredible season, becoming the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to get back-to-back BCS bids. Their only loss in the past 25 games came to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl to close last season. Expectations were high for TCU going into the year with 16 starters returning, including nine on offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton was the preseason pick to be Offensive Player of the Year, and he lived up to the billing, winning the award for a second straight season. Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker provided an upgrade at running back, several players emerged at receiver, including freshman Josh Boyce, who leads the team with 602 yards receiving. Meanwhile, the defenses survived the loss of four starters, including its best players Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington. That was the big unknown going into the season, but coach Gary Patterson found the right combination of guys to fill in. Wayne Daniels had a great season at defensive end, and Tank Carder and Tanner Brock won first-team All-MWC honors. Safety Tejay Johnson was steady and reliable, and the Horned Frogs turned away all challengers with their experience and determination to have yet another special season.

Offensive MVP: Dalton. The senior completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,638 yards with 26 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He joined Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt as the only players to win league Offensive Player of the Year honors in consecutive seasons.

Defensive MVP: Carder. He became the third straight TCU player to win league Defensive Player of the Year honors. He made plays all over the field and has been a tremendous leader.

Turning point: Second quarter vs. San Diego State. The Horned Frogs stared at a 14-0 deficit to San Diego State following their big win against Utah, but showed no signs of panic. They scored 21 second-quarter points and totally dominated the quarter to take a lead into halftime. Yes, they allowed the Aztecs back into the game, but for a large portion they dominated and won 40-35. The close margin caused some panic from voters, but most championship teams face at least one test in a season. The Horned Frogs passed theirs.

What’s next: TCU faces Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, and has just one more season in the Mountain West before joining the Big East in 2012.

UCF Knights season recap

December, 7, 2010
Expectations were high going into the season thanks to a stout defense returning, but the big question is whether UCF would follow its maddening trend: down year following a good year. Well, the Knights broke that trend in a big way, posting back-to-back winning seasons for the first time under coach George O’Leary while winning their second Conference USA championship game. The defense was as good as advertised with defensive end Bruce Miller leading the way. UCF ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense and run defense. True freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey emerged as a star after taking over starting duties from veteran Rob Calabrese early in the season. He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency, and can use his legs to scramble out of trouble as well. Depth at running back was a pleasant surprise, considering incumbent Brynn Harvey missed the entire season with a knee injury. Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver combined for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. Now UCF has to keep building on the success it has had over the last two seasons to begin putting itself on the radar.

Offensive MVP: QB Jeff Godfrey. As outlined above, he has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season, and went 9-2 as a starter. O’Leary has been reluctant to play true freshmen at quarterbacks in the past, but there was no hesitation this time around because Godfrey is so good.

Defensive MVP: DE Bruce Miller. The leader of the defense, Miller led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hurries and was second with seven sacks. He and Darius Nall were big forces on the line. Nall had 8.5 sacks and 14 hurries.

Turning point: UCF earned the first ranking in school history in November, then promptly lost to Southern Miss 31-21. But the Knights used that loss as motivation, especially the defense. In three wins after that loss, they gave up an average of 12.6 points a game and won the league title.

What’s next: UCF plays Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, looking for its first bowl win in four tries.

Utah Utes season recap

December, 7, 2010
When you win at least 10 games for three straight seasons, it is hard to call anything a disappointment. Yet Utah may be best remembered this season for its 47-7 loss to TCU, a game that showed its 8-0 record at No. 5 ranking in the BCS standings were not what they appeared to be. Still, this season has to be considered yet another in a line of success stories, considering the unknowns headed into 2010. You figured the offense would be just fine with a core group returning, including quarterback Jordan Wynn, running backs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, and a solid offensive front. But the defense had to replace seven starters, including all three linebackers. Well the new faces at linebacker stepped up big time, and the defensive line showed its strength and depth. A new star emerged in the secondary in safety Brian Blechen, a true freshman who made big plays at crucial moments. Shaky Smithson also developed into one of the best punt returners in the country. This may not have been another undefeated season, but it certainly was another good one. Another note to remember: Utah’s senior class leaves as the winningest in school history with a 42-9 record.

Offensive MVP: QB Jordan Wynn. Yes, he missed two games during the season with an injury, and was awful in the two losses. But so was the entire offense. He still gets credit for finishing second in the league in passing yards per game (233.4) and taking another step forward in his development. But next year is going to be absolutely critical with Utah joining a bigger conference.

Defensive MVP: MLB Chaz Walker. The second-team all-Mountain West Conference selection leads Utah with 103 total tackles. He is the first Ute to reach 100 tackles since 2007 and his 103 tackles with one game remaining ties him for the most in the past five years. Incredible, considering he began his career as a walk-on and this is his first year as a starter.

Turning point: Losing 47-7 to TCU on Nov. 6. Utah went into the game ranked No. 5 in the BCS standings and a 21-game home-winning streak. But TCU cruised to a 23-0 halftime lead and Utah was never in the game. The hangover lasted another week. Utah played an uninspired game against Notre Dame and lost 28-3 for back-to-back losses in which it scored just 10 points.

What’s next: Utah plays No. 11 Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Dec. 22 in its final game as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The Utes join the Pac-12 for next season.