NCF Nation: non-AQ team outlook 102109

Second-half outlook: Utah

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
4:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

UTAH UTES (5-1, 2-0 MWC)

This year’s Utah team has been gritty. It’s pulled out tough wins during the first half of the schedule to remain within striking distance of the Mountain West title. It’s handled adversity with the loss of running back Matt Asiata and remains one of the nation’s best teams.

But like many of the teams in the Mountain West, the schedule takes a tougher turn in the second half. Utah will have to get past TCU and BYU as well as a tough Air Force squad this weekend if it wants to repeat as Mountain West champions.

Best-case scenario: Utah doesn’t have a great chance to make a BCS bowl this season, but it makes it interesting with wins over TCU and BYU. It wins its second consecutive conference title and it starts to garner the same kind of preseason respect Boise State has gotten with its consistent seasons.

Worst-case scenario: The Utes close contest against Colorado State is a sign that they’re going to struggle against some of the better teams in the conference. Utah loses to Air Force and can’t topple TCU and BYU. It finishes fourth in the conference, repeating its 2005 standing.

Prediction: Utah won’t defend its conference title, but it will put up a good fight. It will lose to both TCU and BYU, finish with three total loses, but still finish third in the conference, which will likely put the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl after BYU opts for the Poinsettia.

Second-half outlook: Troy

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
3:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

TROY TROJANS (4-2, 3-0 Sun Belt)

The Trojans had a tough start, but rebounded to win their last four and are sitting in prime position to take their fourth consecutive Sun Belt title. The Trojans already have defeated Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee, two of the more highly regarded teams in the conference, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier with Louisiana-Monroe playing stride-for-stride. Those teams will meet at the end of the month.

Best-case scenario: The Trojans win out. Troy has dominated conference play before, but in the past three seasons, it hasn’t made it through conference play unscathed. This season it happens and the Trojans win their second outright conference title.

Worst-case scenario: Troy loses to Louisiana-Monroe for the second consecutive year and spends the rest of the season trying to crawl back into a tie for the conference championship.

Prediction: Troy wins the Sun Belt Conference, becomes just the second team to ever win four consecutive conference titles (North Texas), and goes on to play in the New Orleans Bowl, the conference’s only guaranteed postseason trip.

Second-half outlook: Tulsa

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
3:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE (4-2, 2-0 C-USA)

Tulsa has handled the teams that it should have beaten and lost to the teams it should have lost to, but now that conference play is in full swing, things should get interesting for the Golden Hurricane. After this week’s game against an unpredictable UTEP team, Tulsa has four consecutive games against strong opponents that could determine the outcome of the Golden Hurricane’s season.

Best-case scenario: Tulsa finds the rhythm that led them to strong first and fourth quarters against Boise State and uses that to propel them through the conference season and to their third consecutive West Division title. The Golden Hurricane go on to the conference championship and defeat Marshall for the conference crown.

Worst-case scenario: Tulsa’s offense, including its offensive line, plays as poorly as it did against Boise State in quarters two and three, and the Golden Hurricane get dominated by the strong offenses of Houston and SMU and the strong defenses of East Carolina and Southern Miss. The Golden Hurricane find themselves in a rebuilding year trying to figure out what happened to the dominance they enjoyed the past two seasons.

Prediction: Tulsa doesn’t get through this second half unscathed. Their inconsistent play will come back to haunt them, especially against Houston and East Carolina. Tulsa still will finish as one of the conference’s top teams and end up in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Second-half outlook: TCU

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
2:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

TEXAS CHRISTIAN HORNED FROGS (6-0, 2-0 MWC)

Many expected TCU to be undefeated through the first half of the season, but the second half will create many challenges toward keeping that undefeated record. The Horned Frogs have no margin for error if they want to have a chance at a BCS bowl berth. Even if the Horned Frogs do go undefeated, they’ll need a little push from the voters to supplant Boise State.

Best-case scenario: There are a couple best-case scenarios for the Horned Frogs:

A) TCU defeats BYU, its biggest obstacle, this weekend and goes undefeated. The Horned Frogs schedule is tough enough that it pushes them past Boise State in the BCS standings and they head to a BCS bowl.

B) TCU defeats BYU, its biggest obstacle, this weekend and goes undefeated. The Horned Frogs schedule is not enough to get them past Boise State, but both teams are selected for a BCS bowl (this would be a best-case scenario for Boise State as well).

Worst-case scenario: TCU loses to BYU and the Cougars go on to win the Mountain West title and have an opportunity for a BCS bowl berth. TCU was in this position with Utah a year ago and faltered. It could have won the conference and put itself in a position for a BCS bowl berth. History repeats itself this weekend.

Prediction: TCU goes undefeated, wins the Mountain West title and also receives a BCS bowl berth. If both Boise State and TCU go undefeated, especially with how crazy this season already has been, both should be rewarded for their consistency. Two non-AQ teams should have gotten in a year ago and this time it actually happens. TCU plays in the Fiesta Bowl.

Second-half outlook: Navy

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
2:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

NAVY MIDSHIPMEN (5-2)

Navy has won eight or more games each of the past six seasons and despite playing one of the toughest schedules in recent Naval Academy history, the Mids are well on their way to another stellar performance this year.

Although Navy has lost to Ohio State and Pittsburgh, they’ve handled the teams they’re supposed to beat, including rival Air Force to take a leg up in the annual Commander-in-Chief ‘s Trophy race, which also includes Army. The Midshipmen’s schedule does become more difficult in the second half, but so far, Navy has proven it’s up to the challenge.

Best-case scenario: Navy needs seven wins to become eligible for the Texas Bowl, but what would make this season the sweetest for the Mids would be capturing their seventh consecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by beating Army and defeating rival Notre Dame, who they’ve only beaten once since 1963. Sure, the Mids could go 10-3, but it will be sweeter with those wins in hand.

Worst-case scenario: The second half of the season is littered with strong teams which could wreak havoc on the Mids season especially if quarterback Ricky Dobbs can’t be the player he’s been the first half of the year. Dobbs suffered a knee injury last weekend and has been held out of practice so far this week. There’s no word about the results of his MRI, but if it’s bad, that could mean bad things for what has started out as a tremendous season for Navy.

Prediction: Navy notches an eight-win regular season and wins its seventh consecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. They play in the Texas Bowl, which is guaranteed with seven wins, and continue the strong winning tradition that has thrived for the better part of this decade.

Second-half outlook: Idaho

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
1:30
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

IDAHO VANDALS (6-1, 3-0 WAC)

The biggest surprise of this season has been the emergence of Idaho. The Vandals already have doubled their win total from the past two seasons combined and look well on their way to their first bowl berth since 1998. Idaho is one of two teams in the WAC with a winning record and currently sits atop the conference. If this trend continues, not only should coach Robb Akey win conference coach of the year honors, he should also be considered for national coach of the year.

Best-case scenario: Idaho wins its next three games and then is the team to ruin Boise State’s perfect season. There would probably not be a bigger cherry to put atop the Vandals' great season than ruining their in-state rival’s perfect campaign and BCS bowl aspirations. The Vandals win the WAC title and cap an improbable one-loss campaign after not winning more than five games in any season this decade.

Worst-case scenario: Idaho’s schedule gets tougher in the second half of the season, beginning with this weekend’s game against Nevada. The Vandals can’t keep up with the traditional upper echelon of the conference and don’t win another game. They finish the season 6-6 and miss a bowl game because Boise State loses and there aren’t enough opportunities to accommodate the Vandals in the WAC bowls and they're snubbed for an at-large bid.

Prediction: Idaho has proven that it’s a scrappy team that can win in any situation. There’s not a program in the country with more confidence and humility than Idaho because the Vandals know how fragile winning is. Idaho probably won’t win every game to finish its season, but it will win enough games to secure a WAC bowl. The Vandals will stay in state and play in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Second-half outlook: Houston

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
1:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

HOUSTON COUGARS (5-1, 1-1 C-USA)

There’s always one team that surprises and sneaks into the BCS standings to pose a threat to the traditional powers. This year, it’s Houston, which has knocked off three automatic qualifying teams, including No. 5 Oklahoma State. The Cougars have a dynamic offense led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Case Keenum, but it’s defense leaves a little something to be desired. Things will get interesting as the Cougars start to play some of the better teams in their conference.

Best-case scenario: Had Houston not had a mental lapse against UTEP a few weeks ago, the Cougars might be in the thick of the BCS bowl berth hunt, but hope is not lost. At No. 17 in the BCS standings, the Cougars have an outside shot at a BCS bowl berth, but to get there, the Cougars need Boise State, TCU and BYU to stumble. The Cougars most likely prize will be the Conference USA title, which they haven’t won since 2006.

Worst-case scenario: That UTEP game wasn’t a fluke. While the Cougars have gone on to win two games since that UTEP loss, the struggles in that contest were a sign that the Cougars are going to struggle to keep up against some of the more offensively potent teams in the conference. The Cougars are currently behind Tulsa and SMU in the conference standings and those two teams will end up pushing them out of the Conference USA race.

Prediction: Houston’s loss to UTEP was an aberration. The Cougars have proven this season that they belong among the nation’s best teams and they’ll continue to prove that in conference play. Once Houston gets into the groove of playing C-USA opponents and really sets its sights on a conference title, there won’t be many teams that can stop them. Houston will win the conference title and play in the Liberty Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (6-1, 4-0 MAC)

Central Michigan lost its season opener against Arizona and hasn’t stumbled since, winning its last six games, including an upset win over Michigan State, to get off to its best start since 1984. It’s clear that the Chippewas are out to fix last season, which ended with three consecutive losses, and regain the Mid-America Conference title they held in 2006 and 2007.

Best-case scenario: Unfortunately for Central Michigan, its schedule isn’t carrying very much clout, which has kept the Chippewas out of the national rankings and BCS standings. Even if the Chippewas go 11-1, the best they can hope for in the postseason is the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. However, they will regain the division and conference titles that they lost to Ball State and Buffalo.

Worst-case scenario: Central Michigan gets tripped up by Bowling Green, Boston College and Toledo in the next three weeks. Those are the toughest teams the Chippewas have faced since opening with Arizona and Michigan State, and they might be a little overconfident after their quick start. The tailspin costs the Chippewas a shot at the MAC championship because of the head-to-head loss to Toledo and they finish second in the MAC West.

Prediction: Central Michigan has been playing well on both sides of the ball and none of the conference teams the Chippewas are playing through the second half of the season have been consistent enough to put up a good fight. CMU might struggle at Boston College, but that still won’t change their likely trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. CMU will end up in Detroit because it's like a home game and it will bring goodwill to the city. However, they have played in the bowl three consecutive seasons and would probably like a change to the GMAC Bowl.

Second-half outlook: BYU

October, 21, 2009
10/21/09
11:50
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

BRIGHAM YOUNG COUGARS (6-1, 3-0 MWC)

BYU started the season with a huge win over Oklahoma, but that win hasn’t looked quite so spectacular as the Sooners have struggled to beat good teams without starting quarterback Sam Bradford. Couple that with a loss to a lowly Florida State team and BYU has an uphill battle to a BCS bowl berth. However, there are still good teams remaining on their schedule, which gives the Cougars an outside chance.

Best case scenario: BYU might be able to profit from both a Boise State and TCU loss and land in the top 12 of the BCS standings should it finish the season 11-1. It’s a longshot possibility, but BYU has played well and it’s early fame might be enough to rekindle the voters love affair. And even if a BCS bowl doesn’t happen, winning out would still net the Cougars their third Mountain West title in four seasons.

Worst case scenario: BYU loses to TCU and the Horned Frogs go on to not only be the Mountain West champion, but also claim the BCS bowl berth that was the Cougars for the taking earlier in the season. There are still dangerous games remaining on the schedule and this week’s showdown with TCU is one of them. All of the Cougars championship and postseason goals could easily go down the drain this weekend.

Prediction: BYU probably isn’t going to a BCS bowl. That loss to Florida State still haunts the Cougars and Oklahoma continues to hurt them as well. Not to mention that both Boise State and TCU have been tough competition this year and aren't going to yield their spots in the BCS standings. BYU will end up in the Poinsettia Bowl as a change of pace from Las Vegas.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

BOISE STATE BRONCOS (6-0, 1-0 WAC)

Boise State is the nation’s best nonautomatic qualifying team and the Broncos continue to prove it week in and week out with wins. They’ve been a model of consistency, which has aided in their high ranking and the respect they’ve earned around the country. Here are the scenarios for the second half of the Broncos' season:

Best-case scenario: Win out. Bose State is in a great position to earn a BCS bowl berth as long as it stays undefeated and some other things go the Broncos' way. Right now, Boise State has the No. 36 schedule, according to the Sagarin Ratings, one of the five computers that make up a third of the BCS formula, but it’s pleasing the human polls that will make the difference. Boise State is one of the most respected programs in the country and if the Broncos keep winning, that shouldn’t change.

Worst-case scenario: If Boise State loses a game, the quest for a BCS bowl berth is likely done. The Broncos have struggled some in their last two games, especially with finishing. However, coach Chris Petersen stressed that it was a change in strategy that led to the slow finishes, not execution. The schedule doesn’t get much more difficult as the season progresses, but there’s always that fear of becoming complacent and running into a team on a roll such as Nevada or Idaho.

Prediction: Boise State is going to go undefeated. After the Broncos got past Oregon, there wasn’t a team on the schedule that could beat them. I think it would be tough for voters to keep an undefeated Boise State team out of a BCS bowl for the second consecutive season. People complain about the schedule, but that hasn’t seemed to affect their rankings. If Cincinnati stays highly ranked, Boise State will go to the Orange Bowl.

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