NCF Nation: Toledo Rockets

All dressed up, no place to bowl

December, 10, 2013
Sometimes you can do everything right and reach that six-win trigger point to become bowl eligible. But sometimes it’s not enough.

For nine teams this year, six wins (or more) didn’t get the job done. And while 70 other teams are preparing to play an extra game, snag some swag and -- most importantly -- getting extra practice time, these nine are on the outside looking in.

While a snub is a snub, it’s always fun to rank things. Here’s a snapshot of the “Jilted 9” from the most snubbed to the least snubbed.

Toledo (7-5, 5-3)
League: MAC
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 5
Notable: Seven wins feels like it should have been enough for the Rockets -- especially with victories over Navy, Bowling Green and Buffalo -- which are all going bowling. But a limping finish that included losses to Northern Illinois and a two-point loss to Akron snaps Toledo’s streak of three-straight bowl appearances.

San Jose State (6-6, 5-3)
League: Mountain West
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 6
Notable: A top 25-finish last year and a returning standout quarterback in David Fales wasn’t enough to get the Spartans -- who were looking for back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1986-1987 -- into the postseason. Prior to their signature win over No. 16 Fresno State to close out the year, the Spartans dropped three straight to San Diego State, Nevada and Navy (3 OT).

Western Kentucky (8-4, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: Despite closing the year with four wins and beating Arkansas State (which has a better conference record at 5-2, but a worse overall record at 7-5), Bobby Petrino and the Hilltoppers are left out. The Sun Belt has only two tie-ins (R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and GoDaddy Bowl), so they were the league that took the brunt of the snubbing. Last year -- a loss in the Little Caesars Bowl -- was the school’s first bowl appearance. Their eight wins are the most since moving to FBS ball in 2009.

Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3)
League: MAC
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 5
Notable: The Chippewas closed the year strong with three wins after dropping six of their first nine. But they failed to beat a ranked team, dropping the season opener to No. 17 Michigan 59-9 and falling to No. 23 Northern Illinois 38-17. Central Michigan had gone to five bowl games the past eight years.

Florida Atlantic (6-6, 4-4)
League: Conference USA
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 6 (Note: UTSA, though 7-5, is still in transition to NCAA Division I and won't be eligible for bowl games until next year.)
Notable: After starting the year 2-6 (coach Carl Pelini was fired, but other factors contributed to his dismissal), the Owls closed out the year with four straight wins. Their last appearance was the 2008 Motor City Bowl.

Louisiana-Monroe (6-6, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: One of five Sun Belt teams staying home for the holidays, the Warhawks made their only appearance in the postseason last year when they lost in the Independence Bowl to Ohio, 45-14. They dropped both games against ranked teams (Oklahoma, Baylor) and dropped two of their final three to close out the season. There was some hope that the season-finale win over Louisiana-Lafayette (headed to R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl) might have been enough of a statement for inclusion.

South Alabama (6-6, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: This was the fifth season of football for the Jaguars, who were bowl eligible for the first time since moving up from FCS. Like Louisiana-Monroe, they closed out the year with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette. But despite finishing the season with three straight wins and no games against ranked opponents, there wasn’t enough on the resume.

Troy (6-6, 4-3)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: Another one of those three-conference loss Sun Belt teams on the outside, the Trojans were 5-3 at one point during the year, but closed out the season losing three of their last four. They played the Blue Devils tough at Duke, losing 38-31 in September, but didn’t have much of a resume. Their last postseason appearance was winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

Texas State (6-6, 2-5)
League: Sun Belt
Bowl eligible teams: 7
Teams going bowling: 2
Notable: In their first year of bowl eligibility after moving up from FCS, the Bobcats struggled in the Sun Belt and dropped three in a row to Arkansas State, Western Kentucky and Troy to close out the year. They lost their only game to a ranked team, Texas Tech, back in September, 33-7.

3-point stance: ND's Kelly seeks balance

December, 26, 2012
1. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly captured the debate that is both eternal and internal in the bowl season. The coaching staff tries to determine how much hitting to do during bowl practice to keep a team sharp without getting anyone hurt. “I know how important it is. I know you need to do it,” Kelly said. “But ask any coach that’s sitting in this chair, and they’re going, ‘I really don’t want to lose Manti (Te'o, the All-America linebacker) to a practice tackling drill indoors in December.’”

2. The Mid-American Conference might have had its best season ever, what with Northern Illinois doing some BCS busting and six other MAC teams playing in the postseason. However, the league has begun the postseason as if it’s stretched too thin. Toledo and Ball State have been routed by fellow non-AQs Utah State and Central Florida, respectively -- both underrated teams. Maybe it’s just bad matchups. In the Military Bowl on Thursday afternoon, Bowling Green (8-4) plays a San Jose State (10-2) team that nearly upset No. 6 Stanford.

3. Happy 88th birthday to Arkansas legend Frank Broyles, who retired from coaching 36 years ago with a record of 149-62-6 (.700) but served as athletic director for more than three decades. Broyles’ former assistants included former Razorbacks players Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson, who won four national championships between them. But he was best known for his friendship with Darrell Royal, the coach of his then-archrival, Texas. They retired together in 1976, played golf together often and never discussed their 1969 showdown, when the No. 1 Longhorns defeated the No. 2 Hogs, 15-14.

Video: Famous Idaho Potato preview

December, 14, 2012

Utah State looks to end the season as a ranked team with a win over Toledo in Saturday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (4:30 p.m. ET -- ESPN).

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Toledo Rockets (9-3) vs. Utah State Aggies (10-2)

Dec. 15, 4:30 p.m. ET, Boise, Idaho (ESPN)

Toledo take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: Toledo made its first-ever appearance in the BCS standings at No. 25 on Nov. 4. That followed eight straight wins by the Rockets, including a 29-23 upset over then-No. 21 Cincinnati on Oct. 20.

Back-to-back November losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois by a touchdown apiece prevented Toledo from playing for the MAC title. But it was still a highly successful debut for first-year head coach Matt Campbell, who took over when Tim Beckman left for Illinois. The Rockets are led on offense by Doak Walker Award semifinalist David Fluellen, who is No. 8 nationally in rushing with 1,460 yards. On defense, linebacker Dan Molls leads the FBS with 166 tackles.

Utah State take by WolverineNation's Chantel Jennings:In the 114 years that Utah State has had a football program, it had never won 10 games in a season.

Until now.

With their perfect 6-0 conference record, Utah State secured the WAC title outright behind fourth-year coach Gary Andersen, who has become one of the bigger up-and-coming names in FBS football. Now, with his team full of players he has recruited, the Aggies have put together one of the most successful seasons in program history.

While Utah State had an all-around impressive team, though its defense seems to be where it hung its hat. The Aggies had the eighth-best scoring defense in the FBS.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 22, 2012
One undefeated team took a fall in Week 8. Here's the best and worst of the weekend.

The good: Rutgers and Louisville survived scares against Temple and USF, respectively, pulling away at the end to remain unbeaten as they appear poised on a collision course for the Nov. 29 finale.

The bad: Cincinnati fell to Toledo, a very good MAC team that is, well, a MAC team. The conference has dealt the Big East three losses this year, and taking down an unbeaten team from a big-six conference is simply bad news for a Big East that is always fighting for respect.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireWith a win against USF, Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals remain unbeaten at 7-0 on the season.
The ugly: The weather at Buffalo? Temple's second half, in which the Owls were outscored 35-0 at home by a team allegedly short on offense? UConn surrendering 40 points at Syracuse, including 27 straight to close the game? Take your pick.

Special: We tried warning you. Rutgers' special teams were at it again Saturday, as the Scarlet Knights blocked their fifth kick of the season. Leonte Carroo blocked Brandon McManus' punt attempt early in the fourth quarter, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Gary Nova to D.C. Jefferson to make it 28-10.

Another one: Teddy Bridgewater carried much of the load for Louisville's running game Saturday, but Senorise Perry still managed to sneak in a touchdown, his seventh of the last three games and 10th of the season. He has rushed for at least one score in all but one game this season.

Pick, anyone? Bridgewater completing all 11 of his first-half passes and 21 of 25 overall doesn't make matters easy, but South Florida is still looking for its first interception of the season. For those keeping track, the Bulls are the only FBS team without one.

Unhappy homecoming: Paul Pasqualoni probably won't be in a rush to return to his old stomping grounds anytime soon. The UConn coach watched his team get thrashed in the second half of a 40-10 defeat at Syracuse, its third straight loss. Questions are mounting about a Huskies squad that still has no offensive identity as it enters its bye week.

Feel-good story: Pitt's Dan Mason recorded a tackle on fourth down on Buffalo's final offensive play to keep the Bulls out of the end zone. Mason made his first start since Sept. 11, 2010, and has torn two knee ligaments. He recorded a sack Saturday and tied a career high with 11 tackles.

What we learned in the Big East: Week 8

October, 21, 2012
Here's a look at what can be drawn from the past two days in the Big East.

1. It is down to two. All three undefeated Big East teams had scares at times Saturday, but only Cincinnati fell, losing 29-23 at Toledo. The Rockets are good, but a MAC team taking down an undefeated and ranked Big East team is simply bad for the conference. Rutgers and Louisville are now the teams to beat, and they play each other in the regular-season finale Nov. 29, although a lot obviously can change between now and then. (The Bearcats are still 1-0 in Big East play, remember.)

2. Rutgers can throw when it needs to. The Scarlet Knights proved this in a Week 4 shootout at Arkansas, and they proved it again Saturday at Temple. Trailing 10-0 at halftime, Rutgers outscored the Owls 35-0 in the second half behind four Gary Nova touchdown passes, with a Khaseem Greene fumble return for good measure.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyQuarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a solid game passing and rushing to lead Louisville.
3. UConn is in serious trouble. Three straight losses are bad enough. When the No. 6 defense in the country gives up 40 points, including 27 unanswered, to a team that turned it over four times a week earlier? That's bad news for the Huskies, who are on the brink of missing a bowl game for the second straight year and have a bye week coming up.

4. Teddy Bridgewater is really, really good. Probably not something learned just this weekend, but definitely validated. The sophomore completed all 11 of his first-half passes and finished the game 21-of-25 for 256 yards with two touchdowns, including the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers with 1:35 left. The Louisville sensation added 74 rushing yards on 10 carries, too.

5. Pitt is made for bad elements. Wind? Rain? Bring it on. The Panthers rushed for 126 yards in a throwback 20-6 win at Buffalo, more than their previous two games combined. Buffalo is not Lousiville, but holding a team to six points has to be encouraging for a defense that surrendered 45 at home a week earlier. Now the Panthers need to be efficient in conference play.

Toledo hands Cincinnati first loss

October, 20, 2012

Cincinnati's slow starts finally caught up to the Bearcats, and now their perfect season is over.

A 29-23 loss Saturday night at Toledo left the Big East with just two undefeated teams and set off a party inside the Glass Bowl, whose fans rushed the field following the Mid-American Conference's third win over the Big East this season.

Make no mistake: at 7-1, the Rockets are a very good team. But Cincinnati simply has to get it going earlier, something it failed to do yet again in falling behind 13-0 in the first half.

Jermaine Robinson returned a first-quarter interception 75 yards to make it 10-0 early, and the Bearcats were playing from behind throughout the night.

The pick was one of two thrown by Munchie Legaux, whose second interception came on the final drive of the game. Legaux had a rough night, completing just 15 of 36 passes for 227 yards.

Cincinnati's ground game had a strong night, with Ralph David Abernathy IV and George Winn combining for 184 yards on 25 carries, but it wasn't enough.

David Fluellen rushed for 161 yards on 25 carries, and Jeremiah Detmer connected on all five of his field goal attempts for the Rockets.

The Bearcats' loss takes some serious luster off their upcoming Friday night game at unbeaten and preseason conference favorite Louisville. And after a nonconference season that lacked much punch outside of Virginia Tech, it will be important for Cincinnati to regroup fast with nothing but Big East games remaining.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
Here's what to expect this weekend in the conference.

1. Revenge against the MAC. America's favorite non-BCS conference went 2-0 against the Big East in Week 4, and there are two more meetings between the two conferences this Saturday. Don't expect a repeat when Pitt travels to Buffalo and Cincinnati goes to Toledo.

2. Orange D cranks it up. The unit has played very well in its past two games, giving Syracuse a chance to win. Throw in a bad UConn offense coming to town -- for a Friday night home game, which this team seems to love -- and the trend should continue this weekend.

3. Big special-teams play in Philly. Rutgers utilized a returned block kick for victory last week. Temple has blocked fourth-quarter field goal attempts in each of its past two wins. One of these units will break through again Saturday in a game where points may be hard to come by.

4. USF pick-less streak. Few have been better at avoiding turnovers than Teddy Bridgewater, and the Louisville quarterback should keep that success going against a Bulls defense that still has not intercepted a pass all season.

5. Tino Sunseri continues hot streak. It might be more than a streak at this point. The hardened Pitt quarterback is No. 8 in the nation in pass efficiency and second in the Big East in passing yards per game. He should have a field day against a not-very-good-at-all Buffalo defense.

6. Cincinnati defense looks to step up. The Bearcats gave up 17 points to FCS Fordham last week. This isn't exactly one last nonconference warm-up considering Toledo is 6-1 and averages more than 36 points per game, but expect the Bearcats to be ready from the get-go this time.
1. I noted a couple of days ago that Dri Archer of Kent State, all 5-foot-8 of him, led the FBS in all-purpose rushing. Little did I know, pun intended. Five of the top seven players in this category are 5-9 or shorter: Archer, Tavon Austin of West Virginia (third), Venric Mark of Northwestern (fourth), Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska (fifth) and Bernard Reedy of Toledo (seventh). With the advent of the spread, more players who depend on quickness in space will succeed. And yes, I know. Some of them can run between the tackles, too.

2. Tulane first-year head coach Curtis Johnson said this week that he teared up as the Green Wave defeated SMU, 27-26, for his first victory. He wants his team to invest itself like that, too, and cited the baseball playoffs as an example. “I just watched those millionaires -- the Yankees, the A’s, Detroit, Oakland -- and you just watch their emotion. I felt the one thing our team needs to learn is emotion. ... We have to learn that when we make a big play, it’s a big deal.”

3. Maryland coach Randy Edsall has taken a lot of grief in his season-and-a-half. The Terps offense starts freshmen at tackle, guard, quarterback and wide receiver and the team’s leading rusher is a freshman, too. Maryland ranks in the bottom 10 in the FBS in rushing, total offense, sacks allowed and turnover margin. Yet the Terps are 4-2 overall, 2-0 and leading in the ACC Atlantic. In truth, the schedule is backloaded. Toss out Boston College and the rest of Maryland’s remaining schedule is 22-10. But what Edsall has done so far is either coaching or alchemy.

ASU, Arizona aim to make early statements

September, 5, 2012
Arizona and Arizona State are bitter rivals, but they also have a lot in common at present.

Both were severely disappointing in 2011. Both have new head coaches as a result. Those new coaches, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Todd Graham at Arizona State, know each other well. They both are somewhat controversial for various reasons. Both run up-tempo offenses that looked pretty good in week one. And both won.

Further, both will be home against major-conference foes on Saturday. Both teams lost on the road to those foes last year.

Of course, the parallels are not exact. Arizona is a double-digit underdog to No. 18 Oklahoma State, while Arizona State is a slight favorite over Illinois.

The Wildcats are playing the Cowboys for a third time in 15 months. Both previous meetings were blowout defeats. But these aren't the same Cowboys who nipped Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. They lost quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon and welcome back just 12 starters. Their new signal-caller, freshman Wes Lunt, will be making his first road start after receiving no challenge at all last weekend against a dreadful Savannah State team.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriASU ran roughshod over Northern Arizona in Todd Graham's debut; Illinois presents a stiffer test.
"They could have scored 184 by halftime if they'd kept their starters in," Rodriguez said of the Cowboys' farcical 84-zip victory.

Illinois beat the Sun Devils 17-14 last year, but those programs' seasons were notably similar. Both Arizona State and Illinois started fast, earned national rankings, then cratered. And, therefore, fired their coaches.

Another tie that binds: New Illinois coach Tim Beckman coached Toledo, the team Arizona beat last weekend, for three years before arriving in Champaign, losing at home to the Wildcats in 2010.

Still, while everyone will know each other in points central and south in Arizona, there are plenty of unknowns. Last season's game films shouldn't be too revealing for anyone.

"We watched it a whole bunch looking at the personnel," Graham said. "I think it helps us evaluate their personnel but their defense is different, their offense is different. It's all new coordinators so from a schematic standpoint it didn't help us at all. From a personnel standpoint, studying their personnel, that is what we mostly used it for."

And even that is a bit confusing. Veteran Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is decidedly questionable after hurting his ankle during a 24-7 win over Western Michigan. The Sun Devils might be facing a dual-QB system with Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei.

That would be a big advantage for the Sun Devils, though Graham said he's preparing his team as if Scheelhaase will play. On defense, the Illini are stout. It should give Graham's up-tempo offense and new starting QB Taylor Kelly a far bigger challenge than Northern Arizona did in week one.

Still, the Sun Devils appear far more likely than the Wildcats to improve to 2-0 and generate further positive momentum for Graham.

The Wildcats have a puncher's chance for an upset, but their defense is going to have to catch a few breaks. The unit played fairly well against Toledo, at least based on low expectations entering the game. But Oklahoma State, the defending Big 12 champion, is not Toledo. Even with some new players in key positions, the expectations for a lot of points will continue in Stillwater. The Cowboys have been consistently good on offense under coach Mike Gundy.

“It’s an opportunity for us to play a ranked team," Rodriguez said. "I told our team there’s not a lot of people who talk about Arizona football in certain circles, and if you want to become more relevant, the best way to do it is to beat a ranked team. It’s a great challenge but also a great opportunity."

Arizona and Arizona State are constantly trying to one-up the other, and it will be popular to compare the records Rodriguez and Graham produce their first seasons. While both are ultimately trying to build programs that consistently compete in the top half of the conference, the competition and rivalry will be present each step of the way.

So fans of both programs are hoping, with considerable zeal, that they don't share anything in common at the stroke of midnight on Saturday.

Hat trick for Pac-12 in night games

September, 2, 2012
After a rough start to the day for the Pac-12, USC pounded Hawaii and the conference swept the night games. Here's the breakdown of the three 7:30 p.m. kickoffs:

Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.

Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.

Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.

Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.

Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.

The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.

Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.

The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.

But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.

Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.

Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.

Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.

Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.

Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.

Top 10 non-AQ moments of 2011

January, 12, 2012
Let's take a look back at some of the top moments from the non-AQs in 2011, both good and bad.

[+] EnlargeCasey Pachall
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesQB Casey Pachall and TCU stopped Boise State's 65-game regular-season home win streak en route to a third straight Mountain West title.
1. A missed field goal strikes again. Everybody knew the Boise State-TCU game would have major implications in the national picture. No. 5 Boise State came in undefeated, with a 65-game regular-season home winning streak and veteran Kellen Moore leading the way. But the Horned Frogs are never an easy out, as Boise State has learned through the years. Casey Pachall rallied his team from a fourth-quarter deficit with 1:05 to go when he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Carter. Rather than go for the extra point to tie the game at 35, Gary Patterson went for 2. It was a bold move, but it was one he felt was necessary if he wanted to win in regulation. Pachall converted with a pass to Josh Boyce and TCU went up 36-35. Moore wasn't done. He guided the Broncos into position for the game-winning field goal. But for the second straight year, they missed. This time, it was Dan Goodale's 39-yard kick sailing wide right, denying Boise State a shot at a BCS game. TCU left the Mountain West with its third straight conference title.

2. Houston collapses. All Houston had to do to secure its first BCS berth was beat Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game. The Cougars were the favorite, having gone undefeated in the regular season with Case Keenum behind center. Southern Miss had lost to UAB. So yeah, most everybody expected the Cougars to romp. Instead, the Golden Eagles pulled one of the biggest upsets of the season, shutting down Keenum and winning 49-28 in a game they dominated from start to finish. Keenum threw two interceptions and was harassed all day long. The end result: Houston ended up in the TicketCity Bowl, a far cry from one of the major BCS games. Southern Miss won its first C-USA title game.

3. Records broken. The two best non-AQ players this year ended up breaking two of the most meaningful stats for quarterbacks. Moore ended his career as the NCAA all-time wins leader with 50, passing Colt McCoy of Texas; Keenum ended his career with several NCAA marks -- 19,217 passing yards; 20,114 yards of total offense; 155 passing touchdowns; and 1,546 completions. They both did all they could to lead their teams with maturity and class, and were great representatives for their respective programs.

4. No BCS. For the first time since the BCS expanded to five games, there were no non-AQ teams represented. Much was made about a one-loss No. 7 Boise State team getting passed over for an at-large selection in favor of two teams ranked lower in the BCS standings (Michigan and Virginia Tech). Though four non-AQs finished the season ranked in the AP poll (Boise State, TCU, Houston, Southern Miss), this season will be remembered as one in which there were no undefeated non-AQs for the first time since 2005.

5. Expansion. One of the biggest storylines to eclipse the entire season was expansion, and its impact on the non-AQs. The Mountain West and Conference USA announced they were forming an alliance in the hopes of gaining an automatic bid, and bolstering itself in the event they lost teams. Well, the inevitable happened and they both lost teams. Boise State and San Diego State are leaving the MWC for the Big East, along with UCF, Houston and SMU of C-USA. With TCU going to the Big 12, you can say the non-AQs have been stripped of nearly every single one of their most consistently good teams. There is no word on the future of the alliance between the MWC and C-USA.

[+] EnlargePat Hill
AP Photo/Gary KazanjianPat Hill won 112 games and made 11 bowl appearances in 15 seasons at Fresno State.
6. End of an era. Pat Hill had become an institution at Fresno, guiding the Bulldogs to some of their most important victories in the past 15 years while putting this program on the national map. But this team has slid in recent years and hit rock bottom in 2011 -- going 4-9, tying the mark for most losses in school history. The administration decided it was time for Hill to go and fired him after winning 112 games and going to 11 bowl games in his career there.

7. End of an era, Part II. Many wondered how good TCU would be this season with Andy Dalton headed to the NFL. After a few early-season struggles, the Horned Frogs proved they would be just fine. TCU ended its Mountain West reign with its third straight conference title; 11 victories; and yet another top 15 ranking. In fact, TCU is one of just four schools (Alabama, Boise State and Oregon) to finish in the top 15 of both major polls over the past four seasons. On top of that, TCU and Boise State are the only schools to win at least 11 games each of the past four years.

8. Navy streak ends. For the past eight years, we have come to expect Navy in a bowl game. But it was not meant to be this season. The Midshipmen lost one heartbreaking game after another -- five games by three points or fewer. The last one of those was a 27-24 setback to San Jose State in the second-to-last game of the season. Navy led going into the fourth quarter, but could not hold on. A victory in that game would have ensured a bowl appearance, because Navy finished the season with its 10th straight win over Army.

9. Got any D? The wildest game in college football happened in the MAC this year, between Northern Illinois and Toledo. Now this game is what MAC-tion is all about. The Huskies outlasted the Rockets 63-60 in a game that featured eight lead changes, 1,121 combined yards of offense and a MAC-record 17 touchdowns. Chandler Harnish won the game when he threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Perez Ashford with 19 seconds left. The victory gave Northern Illinois the MAC West title, and allowed the Huskies to make it to the conference title game, where they won their first title since 1983. They also ended up tying the school record with 11 victories.

10. Turn it around. This season, the Sun Belt literally turned itself upside down. Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky went a combined 9-27 in 2010. This season, they went 26-12 and each finished with a winning record. Arkansas State won the league and finished 10-3; ULL went 9-4. Both teams made bowl games. Western Kentucky, which went winless in 2009, finished 7-5 but was left out of a bowl.
Time to put a bow on non-AQ bowl season and look at what we learned.

1. Boise State should have been in a BCS game. We already knew that going into bowl season, but Boise State's 56-24 dismantling of Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas just served as a fresh reminder that the Broncos were done an injustice. Combine that with the mistake-filled Allstate Sugar Bowl between Michigan and Virginia Tech, and you get that "woulda, shoulda, coulda" feeling all over again. Playing in the Vegas bowl game was not only unfair to the Broncos, who had to bid farewell to Kellen Moore on a weeknight in December, it was unfair to the Sun Devils. Both teams deserved a chance to play a team more on their own level. Being paired up against San Diego State would have made a much better game for Arizona State; A Michigan-Boise State matchup would have been much more appealing as well. Instead, Boise State is left with an unsatisfying end to the season.

[+] EnlargeHouston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum
Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIREHouston quarterback Case Keenum and the Cougars completely dominated in their bowl win over Penn State.
2. Houston was fired up. OK maybe that was an understatement. Houston came out with its full passing arsenal and completely obliterated Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. It was a bigger rout than the 30-14 final score indicates, as Houston led 24-7 at halftime. Despite losing a shot to play in the BCS, and then losing head coach Kevin Sumlin, the Cougars clearly felt they had something to prove. Case Keenum threw for 532 yards and three touchdowns on a defense that was giving up an average of 162 yards through the air headed into the game. The bowl performance capped Keenum's NCAA record-breaking career, and also allowed Houston to complete the best season in school history at 13-1.

3. MWC not as dominant. Last season, the Mountain West rolled to a 4-1 bowl record and its fourth Bowl Challenge Cup. But the success was not replicated this year. The Mountain West went 2-3 in its bowl games, with two losses to the MAC (Wyoming to Temple, Air Force to Toledo) and one loss to the Sun Belt (San Diego State to Louisiana-Lafayette). If you fashion yourself as one of the top conferences in the country, you have got to win all your bowl games against non-AQ competition. Boise State and TCU once again held up their end of the bargain, but the story of this conference has been and will continue to be its lack of quality depth top to bottom. You can add in Nevada, which joins in 2012, and the Mountain West went 2-4 -- 1-4 against non-AQ competition.

4. MAC, C-USA shine. On the other end of the spectrum, bravo to the MAC and C-USA for putting together 4-1 marks during bowl season. C-USA went 2-0 against competition from the AQ conferences, with wins for Houston over Penn State, and SMU over Pitt. In the MAC, the Toledo-Air Force game was perhaps one of the best of the entire bowl season, with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun calling a fake extra point attempt to win the game instead of heading to overtime. Toledo was prepared, and the 42-41 win gave 32-year-old Rockets head coach Matt Campbell his first victory. Ohio pulled a come-from-behind stunner on Utah State to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 24-23 -- the first bowl win in school history. Northern Illinois ended the season with its ninth straight win, and Temple cruised.

5. BYU ends with 10 wins. Closing Year 1 as an independent with a 24-21 win over Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, meant the Cougars notched their fifth bowl win in the last six season and ended with 10 victories. How much fun was it to see Riley Nelson unleash the fake spike just before throwing the winning touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman? That win earned them a No. 25 ranking in the final coaches' poll, also the fifth time in the last six seasons they ended in the Top 25. BYU is one of only 11 programs nationally to be ranked in at least one of the two major polls during five of the last six seasons.

Military Bowl: Toledo 42, Air Force 41

December, 28, 2011

You know that old axiom that defenses usually have the advantage in bowl games because they have more time to prepare? Yeah, about that... Toledo and Air Force made that widely-held belief look silly with an 83-point shootout in Washington in the Military Bowl - presented by Northrop Grumman. Toledo won 42-41. Here's how it all went down at RFK:

How the game was won: It depends which quarter you were watching. After both teams came firing out of the gates on offense, only one offensive touchdown was scored in the third quarter. Both defenses stiffened in the second half. Toledo got touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams. But ultimately, it came down to a coaching decision in the final minute. Read on.

Turning point: Air Force scored with 52 seconds left in the game, cutting its deficit to 42-41. The Falcons came out in kicking formation, presumably to attempt the tying PAT and look to force overtime. But Air Force coach Troy Calhoun opted to fake the PAT. Holder David Baska took the snap, but was hit by Jayrone Elliott and fumbled out of bounds. The onside kick attempt came up short.

Second guessing: None here. Loved Calhoun's call.

Player of the game: Toledo sophomore wide receiver Bernard Reedy had a monster game -- just four catches, but 125 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 31.3 yards per catch. He had just six touchdowns on the season heading into the game.

Unsung hero(s): Toledo's Eric Page had 13 catches for just 59 yards. But his 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was a huge momentum swing. Adonis Thomas had more than 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game with a 127-yard performance.

Stat of the game: 56. That was the point total at the half. It was the highest scoring first 30 minutes of any bowl game since 2004.

Stat of the game, take 2: 5-of-6. That was Air Force's fourth-down efficiency. Remarkably, they also had three touchdowns come on fourth down.

Military Bowl: Three Keys

December, 27, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for Air Force and Toledo in the Military Bowl on Wednesday:

Air Force (7-5)

1. Page-turner: Where's Eric Page? That's the question Air Force's secondary needs to be asking every snap. Stopping -- or at least slowing down -- the Toledo receiver has to be a top priority. As good as the Rockets are running the ball, they are just as efficient throwing to Page, who set a Toledo record with 112 catches this season -- which included a five-touchdown performance against Northern Illinois. Air Force doesn't give up a lot of yards in the air (162.7 per game); Page averages almost 10 catches and 94 yards per game. Something has to give.

2. Simple, tackle: One of the things that makes Air Force's secondary efficient is that its members tackle well and keep everything in front of them. The front seven is going to have to do the same against one of the best rushing teams in the country. In the season finale against Colorado State, Air Force gave up 321 rushing yards to a team that was in the bottom half nationally running the ball. Toledo will get its yards -- just as the Falcons will on offense -- so yards after contact for both teams will likely be the tipping point.

3. Lean on experience: Air Force has a lot of veterans with bowl-game experience. This is the fifth consecutive bowl game for the Falcons, who have won their past two -- which included a 14-7 victory over Georgia Tech in last year's Independence Bowl. Quarterback Tim Jefferson has amassed 28 wins in his career -- more than any other quarterback in Air Force history. It's that knowledge and leadership that could make the difference for the Falcons.

Toledo (8-4)

1. Discipline: Air Force is going to try to confuse Toledo with misdirection, counters and a wide variety of offensive formations. The Falcons will work the triple option from the shotgun and the pistol and put a variety of different players in motion and in the backfield. Knowing the option rules -- and actually adhering to them -- will be paramount. Defensive freelancing won't get it done. Only one team has held the Falcons to fewer than 200 yards this year (San Diego State, 195), but they have gone for at least 340 yards in half of their games, including a 595-yard (yes, 595) day against Tennessee State. Smart reads and defensive discipline should be Toledo's top priority.

2. Make a stand: Few teams in the nation have been hotter offensively over the past five games than Toledo -- which is averaging 52.8 points per game during that stretch. Here's the problem: the Rockets have also given up a ton of points -- 63 in consecutive games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. Yikes. The offense does its job, and does it well. Now the defense has to pick the offense up against an offensively efficient Air Force attack that averages 34.4 points per game and has put up 45 in each of its past two contests.

3. Win one for the new guy: Don't expect any drop-off in production with Tim Beckman's departure to become head coach at Illinois. Offensive coordinator-turned-head-coach Matt Campbell has been the brains behind Toledo's offensive resurgence of late. His quick hire ensures continuity in the program and you can bet he and his players will be excited to get his head-coaching career off with a bang.