Thursday, March 3, 2011 0 comments

The Year in Review

A couple of surprise teams in this batch, Cal at 5-7 and Michigan State at 11-2. Easy schedule or not, surely they should be higher despite the dreadful bowl loss. Still, I'll soldier on...

40. Miami (Fl) (7-6, 5-3 ACC)
The Original Forecast: Randy Shannon had the Hurricanes blowing in the right direction with two-game improvements in each of his first two seasons. This season was meant to be the one when they turned the ACC corner and competed for the title again. They got most of the tougher conference opponents at home to boot. They also had a manageable OOC schedule outside of Ohio State, and with QB Jacory Harris improving on last season's hot-and-cold season, things were looking good in Coral Gables.

The Outcome: Oh dear! The wheels fell off the Randy Shannon wagon as turnovers and a somewhat deserved game of musical QBs managed to derail an offense and defense that were among the best in the country. The defense in particular was tough, and was better against the run than statistics suggest, but they were vulnerable to the big play and got run over by Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The pass defense was outstanding, allowing just 150.5 yards per game with just 9 TDs against 16 interceptions. OLBs Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence were the heart of the defense, combining for 230 tackles,with 27.5 for loss. DE Allen Bailey led with 7 sacks, while FS Ray-Ray Armstrong, SS Vaughn Telemaque and CB Ryan Hill each had three picks. Apart from the 36 turnovers (27 picks!) the offense moved the ball well. Jacory Harris played in ten games and threw for 1793 yards and 14 TDs, but also 15 interceptions. Only Duke and Florida A&M failed to pick him off. Freshman Stephen Morris played in six and threw for 1240 yards with 7 TDs and 9 interceptions. The ground game was the most effective aspect of the offense, despite Graig Cooper struggling with injury, with a three-pronged attack of Damien Berry, Lamar Miller and Mike James combining for 1943 yards and 14 TDs. Receiver Leonard Hankerson had a fine senior season, catching 72 passes for 1156 yards and 13 TDs. After the improvements over the previous season, 2010 was a disappointment and led to the release of coach Randy Shannon.

Best Game: Two weeks after a thrashing at the hands of Florida State, Miami faced a North Carolina team that were rolling on the back of a four game winning streak. After falling behind early to Johnny White's 76 yard TD run, the Hurricanes woke up and outscored the Tar Heels 30-0 the rest of the way. The defense allowed QB TJ Yates to throw for just 140 yards and picked him off twice, while sacking him five times, 3.5 going to Allen Bailey. They also limited the running attack to 80 yards outside of the big TD run. On offense, Berry and Miller combined for 176 yards and 1 score, while Harris threw for 217 yards and 3 TDs, along with his customary interception. A much needed win to keep them in the ACC race.

Worst Game: The bowl loss to Notre Dame was pretty bad, but was nothing compared to the 45-17 thrashing handed out by fierce rivals Florida State. The Seminoles jumped out to a 21-0 lead and never let up as they ran rampant through the Hurricane defense to the tune of 298 yards. RBs Damien Berry and Lamar Thomas combined for 236 yards and 3 scores, including a 90 yarder by Berry to close out the scoring. QB Christian Ponder had a solid evening with 173 yards and 2 TDs. Harris only completed 19 of 47 passes for 225 yards and an interception, but Damien Berry provided some offense with 101 yards and a score on the ground. A shockingly bad loss.

39. Illinois (7-6, 4-4 Big 10)
The Original Forecast: Despite an easy enough OOC schedule outside of Missouri, the the Big Ten is tough this year, especially with an opening kick against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. After this though, they could potentially pull enough wins out of the remaining schedule to eke out six wins and a bowl game.

The Outcome: Despite losing to Fresno State at the end of the regular season, the Illini still managed to put six wins together, and then blow out Baylor in the Texas Bowl. The defense seemed to fall asleep for the last four games of the regular season but was solid for the rest of the year, and the offense revolved around a superb running attack and barely efficient passing attack. Freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase started from day 1 and got steadily better, finishing with 1825 yards passing, 17 TDs and 8 interceptions. He was also a terrific runner, gashing defenses for 868 yards and 5 TDs. The real story on offense was Mikel Leshoure, who was third in the FBS with 1697 yards and also scored 17 TDs on the ground. He also caught 17 passes for another 3 scores. AJ Jenkins was the top receiver, catching 56 passes for 746 yards and 7 TDs, and would do better in a more pass focussed offense. The defense was usually tough against run and pass, and forced 27 turnovers. MLB Martez Wilson returned from an injury that cost him the '09 season and led the team with 112 tackles, 11.5 for loss. DT Corey Liuget was a rock in the middle with 12.5 tackles for loss. However, with three losses they could have (and should have) won in the latter half of the season, their final record leaves much to be desired.

Best Game: Any time Illinois knocks off one of the big conference foes, even one in a state of transition and suffering from a rash of injuries as this year's Penn State, it's sweet. What makes it even better is they one 33-13 in Happy Valley. Leshoure was the key, rushing for 119 yards and a score, while Scheelhaase had a nice game, passing for 151 yards and a score and running for 61. The defense was great, holding Lion QB Rob Bolden to 8 completions in 21 attempts, with 142 yards and a TD and an interception that was returned for a score by Nate Bussey. Penn State ran for only 65 yards and converted just 2 of 14 third downs. An excellent team performance for the Illini.

Worst Game: One week after a triple overtime pointfest loss to Michigan, the Illinois defense failed to show up in a 38-34 loss to punchless Minnesota. Golden Gopher QB Adam Weber had a decent day with 225 yards and 2 scores, while running back DeLeon Eskridge only gained 49 yards, but scored 3 TDs, including the winner with just 16 seconds left. The Gophers also had a 92 yard kick return to set up the TD that pulled them to 34-31, setting the stage for the final drive. For the Illini, Scheelhaase had 172 yards and 2 scores, while Leshoure racked up 141 yards and 2 TDs. AJ Jenkins did most of the work through the air, catching 6 passes for 137 yards and a TD. A bad loss to a bad team, and one that could have cost them a bowl shot.

38. Maryland (9-4, 5-3 ACC)
The Original Forecast: This was to be a bowl or bust year for coach Ralph Friedgen. After some fine seasons early in his career, the Terrapins slipped to mediocrity before last season's 2-10 debacle. Their schedule was pretty tough outside of a couple of easy games, and they needed the rest of their defense to raise their level of play to that of their linebackers. There were too many question marks for them to win more than six or seven games.

The Outcome: The Terps had one of the better turnarounds of the season, but despite winning a bowl game and earning ACC Coach of the Year honors, "Fridge" stepped down after the season. He did an excellent job though. Despite a middle of the pack offense, they still managed to finish 29th in scoring, while the defense was tough to run and pass on and they came up with 29 turnovers. MLB Alex Wujciak was again the heart of the defense with 117 tackles, while FS Kenny Tate pitched in with an even 100, 8.5 for loss, and 3 picks. On offense the Terps got a solid season from freshman Danny O'Brien, who threw for 2438 yards and 22 scores, with just 8 interceptions. Davin Meggett and Da'Rel Scott combined for 1428 yards and 9 TDs, while DJ Adams was the goal-line option with 11 scores. Torrey Smith had a fine season at receiver, catching 67 passes for 1055 yards and 12 TDs. The bowl blowout of East Carolina put a fine finish to the season, but losing Friedgen will disappoint some.

Best Game: While the season was impressive, they didn't beat any of the better ACC teams. That is, until the final week of the regular season when they beat #23 North Carolina State to deny them the Atlantic division. With the Terrapin running game accounting for -9 yards, the game was left in the hands of O'Brien and Smith, and boy did they deliver. O'Brien threw for 417 yards and 4 TDs, with Smith catching 14 for 224 yards and all 4 TDs. For NC State, QB Russell Wilson threw for 311 yards and a score and ran for 53 more yards and another 2 TDs, but he completed just 31 of 60 passes. The Wolfpack did score 2 TDs in the last 2:39 to make it close, but the Terps recovered an onside kick with a minute remaining and ran out the clock. A good finish to their league play.

Worst Game: With Maryland sitting at 4-1, they travelled to Clemson who were mired in a three game losing streak and struggling to put points on the board. The Tigers didn't need their offense to beat the Terps who self-destructed. O'Brien threw for 302 yards, but was picked off 3 times, one returned for a score. They also allowed Andre Ellington to return a kickoff 87 yards for a score in a 31-7 thrashing. The defense kept up its end of the bargain, holding Clemson to 213 yards, but O'Brien's interceptions and 10 penalties kept Maryland out of the endzone. A game to show the Terps they weren't quite ready for Atlantic contention.

37. Air Force (9-4, 5-3 Mountain West)
The Original Forecast: Despite questions on both lines, the Falcons were expected to reload and carry on as usual. They had a tough OOC schedule, and then had to face the Big 3 in the MWC as usual. BYU was a likely victory this season, but the league title should remain out of reach. The Commander-In-Chief trophy, on the other hand, is very achievable. As long as the lines gel, Navy's stranglehold could be broken this season. That aside, it will be 8 or 9 wins as usual.

The Outcome: Exactly as predicted. Beat BYU, win Commander-In-Chief trophy and 9 wins. The lines got it together as expected from the start, and the Falcons finished second in rushing and allowed just five sacks. The run defense was suspect, but the pass defense was outstanding -something that is quickly becoming an Air Force trait. DE Rick Ricketts and LB Pat Hennessy each had 10 tackles for loss, while corner Reggie Rembert had 3 interceptions and 10 passes defended. On offense, QB Tim Jefferson had a decent season through the air, throwing 1459 yards and 10 TDs against 6 picks - and on the ground with 794 yards and 15 scores. Asher Clark led on the ground with 1031 yards and 5 TDS, while Jared Tew and Nathan Walker combined for 1069 yards and 10 scores. The receivers were mostly used as blockers, and the big play threat was Jonathan Warzeka who had just 18 catches for 406 yards and 3 TDs. This was an outstanding Falcons team that not only won back the academies' trophy, but also took down Georgia Tech in the bowl too. A great season all round.

Best Game: The Falcons don't get to beat BYU too often, but when they beat them 35-14, there's definitely cause for celebration. The defense spearheaded the victory, holding Cougar QBs Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps to 88 yards passing and forcing 3 turnovers. Nelson and JJ DiLuigi did combine for 198 yards and 2 scores, but couldn't move the ball consistently. Clark and Tew combined for 198 yards on the ground, while Tim Jefferson ran and passed for scores. An excellent win.

Worst Game: Air Force have given TCU some close scares lately, but this season's showdown was a 38-7 beating that only stayed close for a quarter. TCU running back Ed Wesley out-rushed the Falcons, gaining 209 yards and 2 scores. QB Andy Dalton threw for 185 yards and a TD, while rushing 93 yards and another score. Little went right for Air Force after a Jefferson TD in the first quarter, as they had no answer for Wesley and the Horned Frog rushing attack. A bad loss for the cadets.

36. West Virginia (9-4, 5-2 Big East)
The Original Forecast: None of the teams on the Mountaineers OOC schedule was unbeatable, as they were an experienced team at most positions. They should be able to handle most Big East teams, and the title could go down to the Backyard Brawl at the end of the season. If they could beat LSU and win the Big East they could make some noise in the BCS.

The Outcome: For the third time in Bill Stewart's three year tenure with the Mountaineers, the team has gone 9-4. After the success of his predecessor Rich Rodriguez, the team has not quite lived up to expectations. The three regular season losses were all by less than a score, so the team wasn't that far from BCS contention. One problem this season was the injury problems of star RB Noel Devine. He still led the team with 936 yards and 6 scores, but wasn't the threat he has been in seasons past. It's unfortunate, because he would have been a nice foil for super sophomore QB Geno Smith, who threw for 2763 yards and 24 TDS with just 7 interceptions. He formed a nice partnership with receivers Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders, who combined for 127 receptions for 1515 yards and 12 scores. The biggest problem on offense was fumbling, with the team combining for 20, far too many. The defense was outstanding, finishing third in the nation in points allowed and stifling run and pass attacks equally well, coming up with 45 sacks and 23 turnovers. DE Bruce Irvin led the team with 14 sacks, while DE Julian Miller had 9. Corner Keith Tandy had an excellent year with 6 interceptions and 11 passes broken up. It was another solid season in Morgantown, but something needs to be done to turn the corner.

Best Game: Beating Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl is always nice, but spanking them 35-10 in their own stadium is as good as it gets. Smith had a big day, throwing for 212 yards and 3 scores in just 12 attempts, while RBs Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke combined for 99 yards and 2 TDs. The Panthers made it easy for the Mountaineers, turning the ball over four times to keep the field short for WVU. QB Tino Sunseri threw for 284 yards and a score, with one pick, and also ran for 38 yards but only 40 yards from the other backs. An awesome win in a season that eventually disappointed.

Worst Game: The loss to North Carolina State in the Champs Sports Bowl was bad, but fumbling the game away in a tight defensive struggle to eventual Big East winners Connecticut was a shock. Both defenses were on top form, but the Mountaineers fumbled seven times, losing four, including once in overtime, to throw the game away. Smith had a decent day, throwing for 160 yards and running for 64 more, while Noel Devine ran for 67 yards, but the offense could still only muster 13 points. For UConn, Jordan Todman picked up 113 yards and a score on 33 carries, but their defense was the story of the day, recovering their fourth fumble of the day to seal the win.

35. Tulsa (10-3, 6-2 CUSA)
The Original Forecast: After a losing season in '09, Tulsa were expected to get back to contending for the West title this season. They have an outstanding offense, and a defense with enough talent make a few necessary stops. Their schedule was manageable, but there were trips to principle rivals SMU and Houston that could cost them a title shot. Nonetheless, they should contend regardless and make a bowl game.

The Outcome: Back to winning ways for the Golden Hurricanes - ten wins and a bowl thrashing of Hawaii. Unfortunately, close losses to SMU and East Carolina (by a total of 5 points) cost them the West title. The season was business as usual with a big play offense and a ballhawking defense that usually struggled against any offense with a pulse. Former Texas QB GJ Kinne continued to develop nicely, throwing for 3650 yards and 31 TDs against just 10 interceptions and leading the team with 561 yards rushing and another 7 scores. RB Alex Singleton led the running backs with 399 yards and 11 TDs, but they ran using a committee approach and were very effective. The second leading rusher was receiver Damaris Johnson, who ran for 560 yards and 7 scores on a mere 55 carries. He also led the team with 57 receptions for 872 yards and 4 TDs. He was also an outstanding returner, adding scores through kick and punt returns. A shout out must go to multi-talented H-Back Charles Clay who ran for 226 yards and caught 43 passes for 526 yards and a team-leading 7 TDs. SLB Cornelius Arnick was excellent in his first year as a full-time starter, making 115 tackles, 4 for loss, 5 sacks and 4 interceptions. Freshman MLB Shawn Jackson had 88 tackles, with 7 for loss, 8.5 sacks. Safeties Colbert Nelson and Dexter McCoil shared the team lead with 6 interceptions each. The biggest setback in an otherwise fine season was the loss of coach Todd Graham, who takes over the same job at Pittsburgh.

Best Game: Beating Hawaii at home in the bowl game was nice, but traveling to South Bend and taking out Notre Dame 28-27 was a great win for the team. And it was a team effort - the offense struggled a little, but Kinne still threw for 196 yards and a score and ran for 78 yards and also led the team for the winning FG; the defense picked off QB Tommy Rees three times, one for a TD by Jackson and one in the endzone with 36 seconds left; and Johnson returned a punt for a score and the special teams blocked a PAT that was returned for 2 points by Arnick. This turned out to be the key play in a 1 point game. Rees did throw for 334 yards and 4 TDs, and almost led the winning drive, but Tulsa's opportunistic defense was his downfall. A sterling victory.

Worst Game: The losses to East Carolina and Oklahoma State were disappointing, but a young defense was still trying to gel at that stage - the loss to SMU, on the other hand, was bad because the offense never really got going. Kinne threw for 229 yards, but completed less than 50%, and ran for 38 yards and 2 scores. SMU's stars easily outperformed their counterparts though. QB Kyle Padron thew for 381 yards and 3 scores with just one interception, while RB Zach Line picked up 92 yards on the ground. Receivers Aldrick Robinson and Darius Johnson combined for 13 receptions, 220 yards and a TD. Despite this offensive dominance, Tulsa still pulled to within 3 with just seven minutes to go, but never saw the ball again as SMU ran out the clock. A tough loss that cost the Golden Hurricane the West title.

34. San Diego State (9-4, 5-3 Mountain West)
The Original Forecast: On paper, SDSU had enough talent to make a run at a bowl game this season, and move up in the conference rankings, but they always do and rarely contend. This year they needed the running game and defense to step up and take the pressure off QB Ryan Lindley who's good enough to spearhead the charge. They had an easy OOC outside of Missouri, and they could run the conference schedule apart from maybe Utah and TCU.

The Outcome: Coach Brady Hoke led another turnaround season, after leading Ball State to 12-2 in '08. How good were the Aztecs this season? Their four losses - to Missouri, BYU, #3 TCU (away!) and #23 Utah - were by a total of 15 points. The offense was excellent, with Lindley throwing for 3830 yards and 28 TDs against 14 interceptions. This time he didn't have to carry the load himself. Freshman Ronnie Hillman finally resolved his eligibility issues, and boy was he worth the wait. He gashed defenses for 1532 yards and 17 scores, and also caught a TD pass. Fullback Brandon Sullivan scored 10 TDs (7 rushing, 3 receiving) despite touching the ball just 66 times. Receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson provided a pair of big-play targets and combined for 136 catches, 2572 yards and 18 TDs, making Lindley's job a lot easier. The defense was much tougher than in seasons past, though it still has some work to do. OLB Miles Burris was the star, making 80 tackles, 11.5 for loss, and 9.5 sacks. Rover Andrew Preston came second with 78 tackles, 4 for loss, and also led the team with 3 interceptions. The team has youth on its side and should be even better down the road, but they'll have to do it without coach Brady Hoke, who has the taken the head job at Michigan. By far their worst loss of the season.

Best Game: With four close losses the Aztecs had shown during the season that they could play with the big boys, but had to prove they could actually beat someone good, as opposed to just compete. Navy have been one of the better mid-level teams for a while now, and were looking to make up for the disappointment of not having the Commander-In-Chief trophy for the first time in years. This would not be the answer, as SDSU steamrolled them 35-14, gashing their normally tough defense and slowing down the option offense. Hillman was the star of the show, rounding out a fine season with 228 yards and 3 TDs rushing, and also caught one. With the running game clicking, Lindley passed at his leisure, throwing for 276 yards and 2 scores. Brown caught 8 of his passes for 165 yards and a score to finish off his Aztec career in style. For Navy, QB Ricky Dobbs threw for 147 yards and a score, with one interception, and also ran for 107 yards and a score, but the Middies never really got into gear against an Aztec squad with a point to prove.

Worst Game: None of the Aztecs' losses were horrible, but the 38-34 setback to a desperate Utah team was one they let get away after controlling the action for most of the game. Lindley may have thrown for 528 yards and 4 scores, but the 3 interceptions were a big factor in keeping the Utes in the game. Brown and Sampson shredded the Utah defense, combining for 20 receptions for 338 yards and 3 scores, but Hillman could only must 54 yards on the ground, making it hard for SDSU to control the clock in the fourth quarter with a 34-24 lead, and two of Lindley's picks came in the last six minutes. Utah QB Jordan Wynn kept bringing his team back, throwing for 362 yards and 2 scores. RBs Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide combined for 153 yards and 3 scores to keep the ground game moving. The turning point in the game came at the end of the second quarter, when Utes receiver Kendrick Moeai caught a tipped ball in the endzone for a 47 yard TD. The Aztecs struggled after that. A disappointing loss.

33. California (5-7, 3-6 PAC 10)
The Original Forecast: Cal returned a team littered with both quality and experience, but people have given up having high expectations for the Golden Bears, as they have continually disappointed of late. They have an manageable OOC schedule, but the PAC 10 is tough and almost any team (except Washington State) could spring a surprise on the division leaders. The Bears are capable of winning 7 or 8 games, but not winning the division. A bowl should be in the offing.

The Outcome: Cal's season can be summed up in one word - inconsistency. The running game and defense were the strength's of the team and when they were good (Colorado), they were very good, but when they were bad (Nevada), they stunk. RB Shane Vereen was the star of the offense, rushing for 1167 yards and 13 scores while also catching 22 passes and another 3 TDs and was reliable throughout the season. The same can't be said of the passing game. Kevin Riley and Brock Mansion split time throughout the season, and while Riley was more reliable, neither was the answer at QB. They combined for just 2055 yards and 15 TDs against 11 picks. Receiver Marvin Jones led the team with 50 receptions for 765 yards and 4 TDs and deserves better service. The defense was pretty solid for the most part last year, but had too many games where they were picked apart. OLB Mychal Kendricks was a playmaker with 66 tackles, 7 for loss, and 8.5 sacks, as was DE Cameron Jordan who had 62 tackles, 7 for loss, and 5.5 sacks. The defensive unit forced few turnovers though, with only 19 on the season. This team was good enough to make a bowl, and this mediocre season (both for wins and passing) could have coach Jeff Tedford looking over his shoulder.

Best Game: When you win by an aggregate score of 104-10 in your first two games, a few eyebrows are likely to be raised, especially when you beat a Colorado team (who weren't awful) 52-7. The Golden Bears gave the Buffaloes a taste of PAC 10 life in this thrashing. Riley threw for 197 yards and 4 TDs to lead the offensive charge, although the Buffs did a good job limiting Vereen to 59 yards and a score. Cal's defense was the real hero though, holding Buff QB Tyler Hansen to 166 yards and 3 interceptions, although he ran for a score. They also held the running attack to just 73 yards and recovered two fumbles. A game that promised so much for Cal fans but turned out to be one of their few highlights.

Worst Game: Cal had a few clunkers on their schedule, but when you're outgained 602-245 and outscored 48-14, it's pretty bad. What made it even worse, is this year's edition of USC is a pale imitation of their previous incarnations this decade. The Bears never got started and were down 42-0 by halftime and USC took their foot off the gas for the second half. Trojan QB Matt Barkley
threw for 352 yards and 5 TDs, with receiver Ronald Woods catching 7 for 115 yards and 2 scores. Marc Tyler and CJ Gable led the ground attack with a combined 151 yards and a TD. With the ground game sputtering to a mere 52 yards, the offense was left to Riley, who threw for 195 yards and 2 scores and 2 picks. An abysmal performance all round.

32. Pittsburgh (8-5, 5-2 Big East)
The Original Forecast: This was to be Pitt's year. The team is loaded with talent courtesy of coach Dave Wannstedt's excellent recruiting. Most of the previous year's 10-3 squad returns, while many of the other conference teams are undergoing vast changes. They had a tough OOC schedule, but were capable of winning all of the games. The one question mark is at QB where reliable Bill Stull has graduated and sophomore Tino Sunseri takes over. Sunseri has talent, but whether he had what it takes to get through the Big East season is another question.

The Outcome: The Panthers stumbled out the gate, going 2-3, and then lost to UConn and West Virginia to spoil any chance of the conference title, despite being in the driving seat for much of the season. It's hard to put a finger on it, but Pitt seemed to start slowly in all their losses, and apart from two games, did just enough to fall short. It's hard to blame Sunseri - he had a decent season throwing for 2582 yards and 16 TDs with an okay 9 interceptions and got better as the season went on. RB Dion Lewis was a pale imitation of his freshman incarnation, partly due to injury, but still managed 1061 yards and 13 TDs. Luckily Ray Graham picked up the slack with 922 yards and 8 scores, and they provided a decent 1-2 punch. The shaky early play of Sunseri limited receivers Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan to a combined 96 receptions for 1411 yards and 6 TDs, something of a waste of their talents. The defense as a whole was decent, but when the early struggles against the pass were resolved, the run defense regressed. Part of this was playing in a run-dominated Big East, but the talent is there to shut this down. Part of the problem with the inconsistent defense was the loss of star DE Greg Romeus after just two games - most teams would struggle to replace his talent. DTs Brandon Lindsey and Chas Alecxih, and DE Jabaal Sheard combined for 22 tackles for loss and 26.5 sacks, but their is no denying the gaping hole of Romeus' abscence. SS Dom DiCicco led team with 94 tackles, 6 for loss, while pitching in with 5 interceptions. FS Jared Holley also had 5 picks. This was a season that promised so much, but never really got started. Many fans will feel robbed of the satisfaction of Wannstedt's firing, as he resigned at the end of the season.

Best Game: They had a few solid victories, but beating Cincinnati at home a week after getting battered in the Backyard Brawl and effectively losing the Big East showed some resiliency. Dion Lewis had a career day, doing all the work on offense by running for 261 yards and 4 TDs on 42 carries, including a 76 yard score. Sunseri chipped in with 158 yards passing and an interceptions, but this was Lewis's show. The defense did allow 156 yards on the ground, but held QB Zach Collaros to 109 yards and a TD passing, while intercepting him 3 times. A recovered fumble rounded out a solid outing for a defense that was abused a week previously.

Worst Game: The aforementioned loss to West Virginia counts as one of the more embarrassing losses in the recent history of the Backyard Brawl. With the running attack providing just 78 yards, the game was left in the hands of Sunseri. He performed well enough, throwing for 284 yards and a score, with an interception, and also running for 38 yards. But with the Lewis held in check, and the offense fumbling six times and losing three, he was fighting a losing battle. For the Mountaineers, QB Geno Smith threw for 212 yards and 3 TDs on just 9 completions. Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke combined for 99 yards and 2 scores to keep things ticking over on the ground. An embarrassing loss in a high-stakes game.

31. Michigan State (11-2, 7-1 Big 10)
The Original Forecast: The Spartans went through a minor rebuilding phase in '09 and were expected to be back to their winning ways this season. They had a winnable OOC schedule and play conference wasn't horrible. They were expected to be favored in the majority of their games and were good enough to pull off an upset or two and contend for league honors. Nine wins was almost guaranteed, and better pass defense could push them over the hump.

The Outcome: There were essentially two Spartan teams last season: the one that beat all comers in winning 11 games; and the one that failed to show up against Iowa and Alabama, losing by an aggregate of 86-13. Both these opponents had a point to prove in their own disappointing season, but the failure to perform by Sparty spoils an otherwise superb season by Michigan State. The offense was never outstanding, but MSU always got the job done. QB Kirk Cousins continued to be a steady presence at QB, passing for 2825 yards with 20 TDs against 10 interceptions. The running game exceeded expectations with Edwin Baker pounding out 1201 yards and 13 TDs, while Le'Veon Bell rode shotgun, rushing for 605 yards and another 8 scores. Mark Dell and BJ Cunningham provided a pair of decent targets for Cousins, catching 101 passes for 1399 yards and 15 TDs between them. The defense was solid for the most part, and the pass defense improved over the course of the season. Greg Jones was the star again, rounding out a productive career with 101 tackles, 10 for loss, and 2 picks. Free safety Trenton Robinson led the team with 4 interceptions. The one failing of the defense was the lack of a consistent pass rush, and the secondary was badly exposed on occasion.

Best Game: When a team's toughness has been called into doubt over previous season, beating blue collar pounders Wisconsin can change opinions. What was even more impressive was the fact that coach Mark Dantonio was in hospital with complications from a heart attack suffered a fortnight before. Wisconsin actually led 10-3 to start, courtesy of three early turnovers, but couldn't seem to stop the Spartans when it mattered. Cousins threw for 269 yards and 3 TDs, while Keyshawn Martin returned a punt 74 yards for a score. Baker and Bell combined for 162 yards on the ground against Wisconsin's stingy defense. Scott Tolzien only threw for 127 yards and a score, but James White and John Clay combined for 178 yards and 2 scores rushing. The Badgers had MSU pinned deep with just under 11 minutes left, but the Spartans embarked on a 15 play, 84 yard drive that consumed 7:57. Along the way they converted three third downs and scored on a 1 yard TD pass to BJ Cunningham on fourth down to ice the game 34-24.

Worst Game: The loss to Iowa was bad, but failing to show up against Alabama in the bowl game was disappointing. You can blame the long layup, disappointment at missing out on a BCS game or whatever, but the bottom line is they were embarrassed in front of a national audience. The running attack accounted for -48 yards, while Cousins only threw for 120 yards and a pick. For the Tide, QB Greg McElroy threw for 220 yards and a score, while RB Mark Ingram and his running mates accounted for 275 yards and 6 TDs. The Spartans are now 0-4 bowl games under Dantonio.

Monday, February 21, 2011 1 comments

The Year in Review

Starting to get into the better teams in the FBS, so there should be less groans of despair at lackluster performances and sieve like defenses. I did say "should".

50. Penn State (7-6, 4-4 Big 10)
The Original Forecast: The Nittany Lions had quite a few question marks heading into the season, but that's never stopped them before. An easy OOC schedule (apart from Alabama) was to give them time to sort out these issues before conference play began in earnest. If their question marks can turn into positives, they have the ability to contend for a Big 10 title and a BCS bowl.

The Outcome: Quick, write Joe Paterno off, the Lions only won seven games. They were a bit of a had read, winning their seven victories by two or more scores, and losing all bar one of their six losses by more than two scores too. Their passing game was poor under freshman Robert Bolden, who threw for 1360 yards, but just 5 TDs against 7 interceptions. Once former walk-on Matthew McGlon stepped in, things picked up. He threw for 1548 yards and 14 TDs, with 9 picks. He wasn't superb, but he gave the whole team a shot in the arm, displaying fine leadership skills. Evan Royster may have finished his career as Penn State's leading rusher, but he his final season was less than satisfactory with just 1014 yards and 6 TDs, nearly half of them coming in just three games. Derek Moye was the leading receiver, pulling in 53 passes for 885 yards and 8 TDs, but he was easily the best of the bunch. MLB Chris Colasanti led the way on defense with 112 tackles, 8.5 for loss. CB D'Anton Lynn and FS Nick Sukay each picked off three passes each in a decent secondary, despite an anemic pass rush that managed just 17 sacks. Paterno knew going into the season that it wouldn't be easy, and it wasn't but not being even competitive against higher tier opposition has to be galling.

Best Game: With Paterno's 400th win on the line, Penn State looked like they were going to make him wait a couple more weeks before he could enjoy it. Northwestern shredded their defense in racing out to a 21-0 lead. QB Dan Persa threw for 201 yards and a score, and ran for 109 and two more TDs in making the Lions look bad. Penn State needed a shot in the arm and they got it when McGloin replaced Bolden. McGloin threw for 225 yards and 4 TDs, and Royster and Silas Redd combined for 265 yards and a score as Paterno's squad turned up the head just before half-time. The Wildcats didn't score again as the whole team rose to the occasion. Paterno got number 400 with the 35-21 win. Apart from the first half, an excellent win.

Worst Game: Penn State played a lot of good teams, and lost to them all, but Illinois where one they could and should beat. They didn't, instead getting run over 33-13. Bolden completed just 8 of 21 passes for 142 yards with a TD and interception which was returned for a score, and the running game was held to just 65 yards. The defense struggled too. QB Nathan Scheelhause completed 15 of 19 for 151 yards and a score, and ran for 61 yards. Mikel LeShoure ran for 119 yards to key the offense. Illinois are a decent team, so it's not quite an embarrassment, but the Lions should do better in games like this.

49. Boston College (7-6, 4-4 ACC)
The Original Forecast: Predicting BCs level of success would have been tough due to their playing in the unpredictable ACC. Their OOC was manageable, and the team was loaded with juniors and seniors. The defense was expected to be solid again, but the offense needed to get going early. A repeat of last season was most probable.

The Outcome: A tale of two seasons and two teams for the Golden Eagles this year. After a 2-5 start, with the two wins over lower tier teams, things looked bleak for BC run of bowl seasons. Then BC went on a five game winning kick before losing to Nevada in the bowl game. This fits in well with the BC team this season - an outstanding defense coupled with a feeble offense. Running on the Eagles was an exercise in futility, and passing was no picnic either. They allowed just 21 offensive TDs and forced 33 turnovers despite just 20 sacks. Luke Kuechly managed to improve on his outstanding freshman season with 183 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and 3 interceptions. DE Max Holloway had 10 tackles for loss but just 4 sacks. Corner Donnie Fletcher chipped in with 5 interceptions, while Mark Herzlich and Jim Noel each had 4 picks. The offense is a sadder state of affairs. Apart from Montel Harris, who gained 1243 yards and 8 TDs despite missing the last two games, the offense was poor all season. QB Dave Shinskie regressed from last season completing just 47.9% of his passes for 618 yards with 5 TDs against 6 picks. He was benched in favor of Chase Rettig and didn't play again. Rettig wasn't much better, passing for 1238 yards with 6 TDs against 9 interceptions. There was a distinct lack of experience at receiver coming into the season, and it showed. Freshman Bobby Swigert led the team with just 39 catches for 504 yards and 4 scores. He had his moments though, and should be good down the road. Even Harris took his time getting started, doing most of his damage in the second half of his season. A season that could have been so much more with even average QB play.

Best Game: The Eagles can't lay claim to beating too many good teams, but the 16-7 win over Syracuse to end the regular season was a good one - one they pulled out without Harris. The defense was at its stifling best, limiting Orange QB Ryan Nassib to 147 yards and an interception, and limiting their running game to 91 yards. The offense still failed to impress with Rettig throwing for a mere 110 yards and an interception. Andre Williams stepped up in Harris' place, running for 185 yards and a score on a massive 42 carries. Nate Freese closed out a good regular season with 3 FGs. A solid win over a solid team.

Worst Game: With the offense misfiring and the defense starting the crack under the pressureof having to win games, the last thing BC needed was a trip to red hot NC State. QB Russell Wilson threw for 328 yards and 3 TDs, and two interceptions, but a blocked punt and an interception returned for a score did the real damage for the Eagles. Shinskie managed just 89 yards and a TD with 2 interceptions, while Harris had just 53 yards, but BC were chasing from the get-go, falling behind 24-3. The 44-17 final score put a surprising end to BCs three year winning streak against the Wolfpack.

48. Syracuse (8-5, 4-3 Big East)
The Original Forecast: Syracuse seemed to be a team on the rise under Doug Marrone, but still had a ways to go before being a player in the division. They had a solid defense and running attack, but needed the passing game to make some plays. They had enough easy OOC games, coupled with a conference in flux, to reach six games and a bowl berth.

The Outcome: The Orange took a big step forward, winning eight games behind a stingy defense. The offense still wasn't great, although the running game was effective enough. QB Ryan Nassib was employed as a game manager, throwing for 2334 yards and 19 TDs, with only 8 picks. He struggled against the better defenses, particularly when coming from behind. The key to the offense was RB Delone Carter, who gained 1233 yards and 9 TDs. His understudy, Antwon Bailey, chipped in with a solid 554 yards and 2 TDs. Nassib tended to spread the ball around, but the leading receiver, Van Chew, had just 41 catches for 611 yards and 5 TDs. He tailed off as the season progressed too. As mentioned earlier, the defense was the big story, ranking 10th in total yardage. The pass defense was excellent, but they did have some issues with power running attacks like Pittsburgh. Derrell Smith led the team with 114 tackles, 9 for loss. One problem on defense was the lack of big plays - they managed 27 sacks, but no one player had more than 4, and 17 turnovers. Still, despite losing big in one or two games, they were competitive in every other game and doubling last years win total makes the season a resounding success.

Best Game: Coming off a thrashing at the hands of Pittsburgh, the Orange needed a signature win to show they were back, and #20 West Virginia were their next opponent. One hard-fought 19-14 victory later and Syracuse had shown they were on their way back. Both teams were defensively strong and it showed throughout the game. Nassib only threw for 63 yards but threw a key TD and didn't throw any picks. The ground game carried them with Bailey and Carter grinding out 169 yards between them. LB Doug Hogue was the star on the day with 2 interceptions and a key sack in the final minute. For the Mountaineers, QB Geno Smith threw for 178 yards and a score, but was picked off three times, Noel Devine ran for 122 yards but they were shutout in the second half. A sterling performance from the Orange.

Worst Game: The aforementioned 45-14 spanking at the hands of Pittsburgh. The Psnthers had struggled out of the gate, going 3-3 and needing to show up in their first conference game. Did the ever. QB Tino Sunseri threw for 266 yards and 4 TDs, and runners Dion Lewis and Ray Graham combined for 133 yards and 1 score as Pitt made a mockery of the Syracuse defense. Nassib threw for 231 yards and a TD, but was picked off twice with one returned 80 yards for a score. Carter and Bailey could only muster 63 yards (and a TD) between them. One bright spot was Alec Lemon, who caught 8 passes for 108 yards. An absolute disaster that showed Syracuse still have some way to go to contend for the Big East.

47. Hawaii (10-4, 7-1 WAC)
The Original Forecast: The Warriors haven't quote matched June Jones success under replacement Greg McMakin, missing a bowl game last season. They have a strong offense, but their defense was weak last year. They have a manageable OOC schedule, and most of the conference is beatable. The also have the best homefield advantage in the FBS, but don't always travel well either. They're good enough to make a bowl game this season though.

The Outcome: After starting 1-2 with losses to USC and Colorado, the Warriors went 9-1 the rest of the regular season, losing only to Boise State. The passing game was 1st in the country and the defense, while not outstanding, did enough for their super offense to win games. Bryant Moniz was the key at QB, throwing for 5040 yards and 39 TDs against 15 interceptions. He also used his good mobility to run for four scores. Greg Salas was his favorite target, rounding out a good career with 119 catches for 1889 yards and 14 TDs, but Kealoha Pilares was far from an afterthought with 88 receptions for 1306 yards and 15 scores. RB Alex Green had just 146 carries, but gained 1199 yards and scored 18 times. The defense was pretty tough, holding opponents to 3.6 yards per carry and despite allowing 221.7 yards per game passing and 24 TDs, they had 40 sacks and 23 interceptions (not to mention 15 fumbles recovered). Their sack total was a group effort, with no one player getting more than 5. This frequent blitzing generally worked in the WAC, but the secondary was shredded by USC and, somewhat shockingly, Tulsa in the bowl game. FS Mana Silva continued his ball-hawking ways, this time with 8 picks, and he also defended 15 passes. OLB Corey Paredes was the leading tackler with 151 stops, 4 for loss, while DE Kamalu Umu had 15.5 tackles for loss. The season ended on a bum not with Tulsa shredding them for 62 points, but it was a fine season otherwise.

Best Game: Conference rival Nevada have never won in Hawaii, and with the Warriors upsetting them 27-21 last season, the streak continued. The defense frustrated Wolfpack star QB Colin Kaepernick, forcing and recovering two fumbles and intercepting him twice, including one in the waning minutes after Nevada had recovered an onside kick. Kaepernick also only threw for 159 yards although with 2 TDs, and was held to 30 yards and a score on the ground. Moniz threw for 287 yards and 3 TDs without turnover, with Salas catching 11 for 153 yards. Pilares caught two of his TD passes. An excellent win that earned the Warriors a share of the WAC come season end.

Worst Game: Getting thrashed by Boise State is bad, but not as bad as the 62-35 loss to Tulsa in the bowl game. No-one expected them to beat the Broncos, but they were favored at home against the Hurricanes. Tulsa's Damaris Johnson was the star of the show, picking up 326 all-purpose yards. He ran 5 times for 98 yards and 2 scores, caught 4 passes for 101 yards and a score, and totalled 127 return yards. QB GJ Kinne was no slouch either, throwing for 343 yards and 3 TDs, repeatedly torching the Hawaii secondary. The Warriors were flustered by Tulsa's much maligned defense, which managed to get pressure with it's defensive line while dropping seven into coverage, and resulted in 6 turnovers in the first half alone. Moniz threw for 411 yards and 3 TDs, but was picked off 4 times. Hawaii fought back after Tulsa took a 24-7 lead, but with the defense incapable of stopping Tulsa's big play offense, their second half efforts were academic.

46. Northern Illinois (11-3, 8-0 MAC)
The Original Forecast: Jerry Kill has been building a fine program here, but there were questions at QB and LB going into the season. They had a reasonably tough OOC schedule, but were capable of winning any MAC games and the West title. Nine wins is within their reach.

The Outcome: An almost excellent season. After starting 1-2 with losses to BCS foes, they steamrolled everyone until they ran foul of an inspired Miami team in the title game. They made up for it slightly with a blowout win over Fresno State in the bowl game, but they should still consider it a success. They were excellent in every facet of the game. Both the offense and defense were great, even the special teams were solid. There were questions about QB Chandler Harnish's knee coming into the season, but he answered them with style. He threw for 2530 yards and 21 TDs, with just 5 interceptions, and ran for 836 yards and 7 scores. He did have the luxury of throwing at his leisure, but came up with the goods when needed and played well against BCS teams. RB Chad Spann was the key to the offense, running for 1388 yards and 22 TDs. The top receiver was Willie Clark with 42 receptions for 602 yards and 7 scores.The defense was tough to run or pass on, with DE Jake Coffman returning and amassing 7 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. The loss to Miami in the title game was disappointing, but the biggest loss for Northern Illinois was coach Jerry Kill, who's leaving to take the head job at Minnesota, a team they beat this season.

Best Game: After the disappointment of a lackluster title game performance, the Huskies raised their game against Fresno State to blow them out 40-17 in a bowl matchup that was never close. Harnish did most of the damage, throwing for 300 yards and a TD, while running for 72 yards and another 2 scores. Spann gained 95 yards and another 2 TDs. The defense came up with six sacks of Ryan Colburn, with Coffman taking him down three times, and shut down Fresno's running attack. Colburn did throw for 288 yards and 2 scores, but hadn't the time to move the ball consistently.

Worst Game: Has to be the title game loss. With no disrespect to the Redhawks, NIU essentially beat themselves with dropped passes. They still had a chance to win it, but couldn't stop freshman Austin Boucher from converting a 4th and 20 pass in the last minute. Boucher was outstanding throwing for 333 yards and a TD in his third start. Mike Merriweather helped keep the pressure off with 85 yards and 2 TDs on the ground, while Armand Robinson caught 14 passes for 176 yards and the game winner with 33 seconds left. A heart-breaking loss for an otherwise dominant Husky team.

Brigham Young (7-6, 5-3 MWC)
The Original Forecast: BYU is always loaded with talent, but this year they lacked the experience to back it up. The schedule was harsh from the start, but finished with 3 or 4 very winnable games before finishing at Utah. Finding a replacement for QB Max Hall is the big issue - QB Riley Nelson has starting experience from his time at Utah State, but super recruit Jake Heaps may steal the job. The odds of them winning ten games this season, though, are very slim.

The Outcome: A 2-5 opening kick followed by a 5-1 finish including a whipping of UTEP in the bowl game. Heaps started from day one but struggled early while learning the ropes. He did improve as the season progressed and ended up with 2316 yards and 15 TDs against 9 interceptions, with 12 TDs and 2 picks coming in his last five games. The Cougars tried to run the ball early on to take the pressure off Heaps, but struggled with teams stacking the box. The holes opened up as the passing game improved, however, and the trio of JJ Di Luigi Brian Kariya and Joshua Quezada combine for 1959 yards and 19 TDs. The receivers didn't get the service early on, and Di Luigi was actually the leading receiver with 45 catches for 443 yards and a score, but they did pick it up late. The defense played tough all season, especially against the pass, but couldn't carry the team against the better opponents early on. SS Andrew Rich was excellent again this season, leading the team with 110 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and 5 interceptions. DE Vic So'oto was the leading sacker with 6 and chipped in with 5.5 tackles for loss. This was a tough defense but didn't make enough big plays. The season was one of transition, and the solid finish gives hope for the future and the improvement of Heaps makes the season a success.

Best Game: BYU and UTEP were heading in different directions when they met in the New Mexico Bowl, and Heaps and the Cougars proved it with as 52-24 blowout that was never close. Heaps threw for 264 yards and 4 TDs, with just one pick, with Cody Hoffman giving flashes of a bright future by catching 8 passes for 137 yards and 3 TDs. Di Luigi and Quezada kept things motoring on the ground with 199 yards and a TD apiece. The defense also held UTEP to -12 rushing yards and picked off QB Trevor Vittatoe 3 times. Vittatoe did throw for 245 yards and 3 scores, but the team was sorely outclassed by a Cougar team on the rise.

Worst Game: With BYU starting to roll, they traveled to face a tough Utah team in the last game of the regular season. And they nearly came out on top, losing 17-16 on a last minute blocked field goal. BYU started hotter, taking a 13-0 lead as Utah played musical quarterbacks. They finally settled on Jordan Wynn, who led the Utes to 17 fourth quarter points, throwing for 199 yards with a TD and pick in the game. Heaps had a decent game, throwing for 228 yards with a TD and a pick, and leading the team into field goal position late in the game only for Utah's special teams to rise to the occasion. A disappointing loss to a fierce local and conference rival.

South Florida (8-5, 3-4 Big East)
The Original Forecast: The Bulls were meant to be rebuilding with losses at key position, and a new head coach in Skip Holtz. They had a manageable schedule, and enough talent on campus to win 7 or 8 games, if not compete for a title.

The Outcome: The Bulls didn't bother with the rebuilding phase, instead winning eight games on the back of an excellent defense. Tough to run and pass on, they also came up with 30 sacks and 15 interceptions. OLB Jacquian Williams led the team with 71 tackles, with 11.5 for loss. This speedy unit spent a lot of time in opposing backfields disrupting play. Unfortunately, praise for the offense is thinner on the ground. BJ Daniels struggled at QB after flashing some major potential last season. He threw for just 1685 yards and 11 TDs against 13 interceptions. He did add 259 yards and 5 scores on the ground though. The running attack was decent with Moise Plancher and Demetris Murray combining for 1326 yards and 9 TDs. Dontavia Bogan led the receivers with 46 catches for 673 yards and 6 TDs, but wasn't helped by the inconsistency at QB. Considering the turnover of talent and Daniels' struggles, Holtz did a fine job squeezing 8 wins out of this squad. A good season, and a sign of better to come.

Best Game: One year after knocking off local rival Florida State, the Bulls added another local scalp to their collection by taking down Miami 23-20 in overtime. Unsurprisingly, it was the defense that won the game for USF. Both teams played the majority of the second half with their backups. Daniels was injured and replaced by freshman Bobby Eveld, while Hurricanes starter Stephen Morris was replaced by Jacory Harris due to ineffective play. But the game ball goes to South Florida's defense. Both Miami QBs combined to throw for just 188 yards and 2 interceptions, one in the dying seconds with Miami driving for a potential game-winning field goal, and forced a goal-line fumble to prevent another score. Outside of a 71 yard TD run, the Hurricanes could do little on the ground either. Plancher and Murray combined for 143 yards and 2 scores to keep the Bulls moving, and Eveld scored a game-tying TD with 2 minutes left. A good win for South Florida, and one that finally cost Miami coach Randy Shannon his job.

Worst Game: The Bulls still have one more Florida scalp to get, and this season they fell way short, losing 38-14 to the Gators. The defense held up well early on, but couldn't maintain the pace with Daniels throwing nearly as many to Gators as Bulls. He completed just 5 passes for 84 yards and a TD, and also 4 interceptions - one returned for a score. He did run for 107 yards though. For Miami, QB John Brantley continued his freshman struggles, throwing for just 172 yards and 2 TDs, but RBs Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody ran for 193 yards and a score to help out. A terrible show from Daniels, wasting a 244 yard rushing day.

43. Texas Tech (8-5, 3-5 Big 12)
The Original Forecast: With Tommy Tuberville taking over the program here, it will be interesting to see the impact in the Red Raiders. His teams had a toughness that Tech have lacked in the past, so there should be a change in philosophy. He intends to hang on to the high octane passing attack, with some increased running, but is switching to a 3-4 defense. The Raider defense was poor last season, so they may struggle while learning a new system. Their schedule has few easy games and Tech are as likely to win five games as ten. Most likely, they'll manage eight.

The Outcome: Eight games it is. They didn't really beat anyone of note other than an over-rated Missouri, and the defense tended to collapse against better teams, but the offense was solid throughout (except Oklahoma). Taylor Potts earned the starting QB job and was very good, throwing for 3726 yards and 35 TDs against just 10 interceptions. Barron Batch and Eric Stephens provided a nice 1-2 punch on the ground with 1484 yards and 11 TDs. They even combined for 65 receptions. Receivers Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis combined for 161 receptions for 1778 yards and 25 TDs. Big plays in the passing attack were few and far between though, and this needs to improve. The defense couldn't stop the run or the pass despite some okay performances. ILB Bront Bird had 106 stops with 5 for loss, while Buck linebacker Brian Duncan led the team with 7 sacks. Corner Jarvis Phillips had a nice first season with 4 picks and 14 passes defended. Not a bad first season for Tuberville, but the team's issues were highlighted to often for his liking.

Best Game: With #12 Missouri coming to town, Tuberville decided to start backup QB Steven Sheffield for the first time this season. It nearly backfired. Sheffield threw for just 99 yards and struggled the whole time he was in as Missouri built a 17-3 lead. He was pulled and replaced by Taylor Potts, and the game changed almost instantaneously. Potts threw for 188 yards and 3 TDs, and had another picked off at the Tiger 2 as he brought Tech back to win 24-17. Leong caught 9 of his passes for 123 yards and 2 scores, and Batch ran for 134 yards as the Raiders worked on their running game. The defense was pretty good too. They allowed Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy to combine for 170 yards and 2 scores on just 9 carries, but 140 of those yards came on two TD runs. QB Blaine Gabbert had a poor game, throwing for just 95 yards and couldn't make plays when it mattered despite the game never being out of reach. An excellent job by the whole team.

Worst Game: The following week they traveled to Oklahoma with upset on their mind. The only upset was how the players felt after getting destroyed 45-7. Sooner QB Landry Jones keyed the win with 317 passing yards and 5 TDs, with Ryan Broyles catching 8 for 119 yards and 3 scores. DeMarco Murray and Mossis Madu combined for 151 yards on the ground as Oklahoma moved the ball at will. Tech got 131 yards rushing from Batch and Stephens, but Potts could manage just 136 yards and an interception as the passing attack went from "high octane" to "2 stroke" in a hurry. A dismal showing that only highlighted how far the team has slipped from it's '08 highs.

42. Central Florida (11-3, 7-1 CUSA)
The Original Forecast: With a relatively easy OOC schedule and many of their principle conference foes rebuilding, the Knights looked in good shape. George O'Leary hasn't had consecutive winning seasons since he took over, but that was expected to change as UCF looked good for a bowl and a 10 win season. A league title looked out of reach with a strong Houston team playing in the West.

The Outcome: With Houston's demise, the title was practically handed to UCF as the racked up 11 wins and beat a spirited SMU squad in the title game. To top it all off, they knocked off Georgia in the Liberty Bowl to cap a fine season. They still weren't great though - the passing game still wasn't great, but at least it was functional with freshman Jeffrey Godfrey at the helm. He threw for 2159 yards and 13 TDs against 8 interceptions after taking over from Rob Calabrese in week 3. He also ran for 566 yards and 9 TDs. The running game was key to the Knights success, with Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray combining for 1527 yards and 22 TDs. Brian Watters led the receiving corps with 47 catches, 651 yards and 2 TDs. The defense was outstanding, stuffing the run and forcing teams to pass, with little more success. There were some fine performances, with DEs Bruce Miller and Darius Nall totaling 8.5 sacks each, while SS Reggie Weams had 5 picks. Just to highlight how good UCF were this season, KR Quincy McDuffie averaged over 32 yards a return and scored twice, while PR Josh Robinson averaged over 15 yards. A fine team and a fine season.

Best Game: With the exception of Southern Miss, the Knights beat every non-BCS foe soundly this season, but the 10-6 win over Georgia has to top the lot. The Knights did an excellent job stifling the Bulldog's potent offense when it threatened the endzone, holding them to a pair of field goals. QB Aaron Murray threw for 198 yards and was picked off twice, while Washaun Ealey managed just 60 yards rushing. AJ Green caught 8 passes for 77 yards, but was never allowed to get behind the defense or make his usual big plays. For the Knights, Godfrey threw for just 117 yards and also threw two picks, but Murray got it done on the ground with 104 yards and the game's only TD. The Knights stuck to their MO and it paid off against a team with superior talent. A job well done.

Worst Game: After entering the Top 25 for the first time in their history, the Knights were bounced out just as quickly with a 31-21 home loss to rivals Southern Miss. UCF actually took a 14-0 lead, but Eagles' QB Austin Davis led the comeback with 264 yards and 4 TDs, taking a 31-14 lead with 11 minutes left. For the Knights, Godfrey threw for 190 yards and 2 scores, but also 2 interceptions. Weaver gained 112 yards on the ground, but was shut down after a bright start. A disappointing loss.

41. North Carolina (8-5, 4-4 ACC)
The Original Forecast: The Tar Heels returned 18 starters, including nine from their outstanding defense. Apart from LSU, the OOC schedule was okay, and they were capable of beating anyone in their conference. The big question mark was the offense, which has struggled as of late. If the offense picked up the pace, and they could overcome LSU, big things were ahead.

The Outcome: Not quite what the doctor ordered. The season started with a number of players being suspended for varying NCAA violations. With the team on its back foot, former backups were needed to step up and fill some sizable gaps. For the most part, they got it. Three of their losses were by less than a score, and the defense played tough, improving as the season went on. The real surprise, though, was QB TJ Yates, who finally played to the potential he occasionally flashed over the previous three years. Despite a poor running game, Yates carried the offense on his back throwing for 3418 yards and 19 TDs, with just nine interceptions (six of which came kin two games). On the ground, Johnny White (who missed the last three games) and Shaun Draughn combined for 1357 yards and 13 TDs. Dwight Jones was the leading receiver by a large margin, catching 62 passes for 946 yards and 4 TDs. On defense, DT Quinton Coples led the team with 10 sacks, while DE Donte-Paige Moss had 7. SS Da'Norris Searcy led with 4 picks and 8 passes defended. The Tar Heels may have overcome all the adversity to win eight games, including a bowl win over Tennessee, but the amount of suspensions leaves a sour taste in the mouth and there will be many questions asked over the coming months.

Best Game: The Tar Heels hadn't played well the previous two games, getting spanked by Miami and squeaking past William & Mary, but had a shot at reaching bowl eligibility if they somehow beat a good Florida State team. One 37-35 last minute later, and UNC were likely going bowling. TJ Yates was the catalyst, throwing for a school-record 439 yards and 3 scores despite a running game that could muster just 34 yards. Jones was his favorite target on the day, catching 8 passes for an outstanding 233 yards and a score. Seminoles' QB Christian Ponder picked apart the Tar Heel defense with 264 yards and 3 TDs, with Willie Haulstead catching 10 balls for 154 yards and a score. Florida State took a 35-34 lead with 5:49 left to go after a botched punt gave them the ball at the 1, but Yates drove the team 72 yards to win the game with Casey Barth's 22 yard field goal. Florida State drove down the field quickly to set up their own field goal attempt, but Dustin Hopkins missed from 40 yards out. A nice win in an otherwise disappointing season.

Worst Game: After turning the season around somewhat by winning four games in a row, the Tar Heels headed to Miami to take on the Hurricanes and turnover-prone QB Jacory Harris. After taking a 10-3 lead on a weaving 76 yard TD run by White, the Tar Heels appeared to wilt in the pressure applied by an inspired Miami squad. Yates managed just 14o yards and threw two interceptions, despite White and Draughn combining for 156 yards. Harris, on the other hand, did throw a pick but also 217 yards and 3 TDs. RBs Damien Berry and Lamar Miller pounded the Hurricanes for 176 yards and a score and the defense shut down the Tar Heels, effectively ending any shot at a place in the title game. Very disappointing.
Thursday, February 17, 2011 0 comments

The Year in Review

Welcome to this segment on mediocre BCS squads and decent lower tier teams.

60. Tennessee (6-7, 3-5 SEC)
The Original Forecast: After a surprise bowl season in '09, the Volunteers were jilted by coach Lane Kiffin for USC, and the Derek Dooley era began. No-one expected much of them again this year, especially with a tough conference schedule and a number of key players graduating. It looked like a 3 or 4 win season was imminent.

The Outcome: The Vols just want to keep on surprising. After starting the season 2-6 and appearing to fulfill expectations, UT went on a four game winning streak to earn a bowl appearance, which they lost 30-27 to North Carolina in double overtime. The reasons for the turnaround are many, but QB was definitely a factor. Matt Simms started the season and was solid with 1460 yards and 8 TDs against 5 interceptions. But it was when Tyler Bray took over full time that the Vols really exploded. Bray passed for 1849 yards and 18 TDs, although with 10 picks, 7 in the last three games. He brought a big play element that wasn't obvious is Simms' play. The running attack was almost non-existent outside of Tauren Poole, who ran for 1034 yards and 11 TDs. Denarius Moore provided that big-play threat with 47 catches for 981 yards and 9 TDs. The defense got better as the season went along and they were particularly good against the pass. They gave up some yards, but allowed just 14 TDs against 18 interceptions, despite a pass rush that managed just 26 sacks. FS Janzen Jackson had 69 tackles and 4 interceptions with 11 passes defended, while corner Prentiss Waggner had 57 tackles and another 5 picks, with 9 passes defended. Nick Reveiz led the team with 108 tackles, 6 for loss. After a poor start to the season, the Vols really turned on the jets in the last five games, and the season should be counted as a relative success.

Best Game: A week after pummeling local rivals Memphis 50-14, the Vols went even better blowing out Mississippi 52-14. In a game that was never close, Bray threw for 323 yards and 3 TDs, with Justin Hunter catching 3 for 114 yards and 2 scores. Tauren Poole kept things ticking over on the ground with 107 yards and 2 TDs. For Ole Miss, QB Jeremiah Masoli threw for just 80 yards and 3 picks, although Brandon Bolden ran for 113 yards and 2 scores. But that didn't matter in a game that was never really close. A statement game for Tennessee.

Worst Game: A month before the Ole Miss win, Tennessee traveled to Georgia. With hopes of getting off to a fast start, the Vols instead spotted the Bulldogs a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Simms threw for 179 yards and a score, but the running attack managed only 9 yards. Georgia QB Aaron Murray threw for 266 yards and 2 scores, and ran for 41 and another pair to spark the victory. A tough loss where little went right for the Vols.

59. UCLA (4-8, 2-7 PAC 10)
The Original Forecast: Coach Rick Neuheisel had targeted 8 wins for the season, but not many believed that was possible. After a year in a new offense, improvement was expected this season. but they still lacked firepower. A tough schedule made it unlikely the Bruins would make a bowl game.

The Outcome: I guess Neuheisel was half right, with a mere 4 wins. The running attack was outstanding, but the passing attack actually averaged nearly 35 yards a game LESS than the run. Starting QB Kevin Prince was knocked out early in the season, but he was far from outstanding, throwing for just 384 yards and 3 TDs against 5 interceptions. Sophomore Richard Brehaut stepped in and was a bit better, throwing for 1296 yards and 6 TDs with 7 picks. Jonathon Franklin led the running attack with 1127 yards and 8 TDs, with good backup from Derrick Coleman who had 487 yards and 5 TDs. Taylor Embree was the top receiver with a mere 32 catches for 409 yards with no scores. The defense wasn't bad against the pass, but was terrible against the run allowing an average of 205.5 yards a game. OLBs Sean Westgate and Akeem Ayers combined for 158 tackles with 20 for loss, but big plays were few and far between. A dissatisfying season that promised improvement early but went downhill too quickly.

Best Game: The Bruins headed to Texas off the back of a solid win over Houston, hoping to sweep Texas teams, and boy did they. Texas turned the ball over 5 times in a 34-12 rout. Prince threw for just 27 yards, but still managed a TD pass. Franklin and Coleman combined for 212 yards and 2 scores on the ground. Texas QB Garrett Gilbert threw for 264 yards and a TD, with a pick, but it was four fumbles that cost Texas. A win that seemed far more of a scalp at the time, but a good win nonetheless.

Worst Game: California weren't particularly special this season and the Bruins expected to at least compete when they got there. They were wrong, getting trounced 35-7 with the offense going nowhere fast. Prince managed just 99 yards passing with a TD and an interception in his last game of the season. The vaunted UCLA running game mustered a mere 26 yards and Jonathon Franklin coughed up the ball at an inopportune moment when the game was still in reach. For Cal, QB Kevin Riley threw for only 83 yards and a score, but Shane Vereen ran for 151 yards and 2 scores and Isi Sofele chipped in with 80. A bad loss against local and division rivals.

58. Baylor (7-6, 4-4 Big 12)
The Original Forecast: The '09 season went downhill as soon as star QB Robert Griffin III was injured, and Baylor needed a full year from him in order to compete for a bowl game. The offense is night and day better with him, but the defense needed to pull its socks up and pitch in. The OOC was manageable outside of TCU, and there were enough winnable conference games to hit bowl eligibility. But it's all for nothing if Griffin's knee doesn't hold up against a Big 12 pounding.

The Outcome: The drought is over - Baylor started the season 7-2 behind a prolific offense before the wheels fell off the wagon and they lost their last four games -the tough partof the schedule - by double digits each. The offense was ranked 19th in passing and 24th in rushing, but the defense struggled mightily against powerhouse offenses. And Illinois. Griffin was outstanding, passing for 3501 yards and 22 TDs with just 8 picks, and running for 635 yards and another 8 scores. The offensive line played its part, allowing just 20 sacks and clearing holes for RB Jay Finley to rush for 1218 yards and 12 TDs. Kendall Wright was the top receiver with 78 catches for 952 yards and 7 TDS, but four other guys caught more than 40 passes to give Griffin plenty of options. SS Byron Landor led the defense with 127 tackles and 6 passes defended, but managed just one interception. Much was expected of Penn State transfer Phil Taylor at nose guard, but he managed just 4 tackles for loss, although he led the team with 5 sacks. Gettinng Baylor to a bowl game has to count as a success for coach Art Briles, but the 0-4 finish where they fell flat against string teams shows just how far the team must go to start contending for titles. If Briles keeps getting the Bears to bowl games, he may not be around to see it.

Best Game: This might be the year the Bears beat Texas, but the manner in which they hammered Kansas 55-7 has to count as their best performance. The Baylor offense racked up 678 yards of offense and the defense forced four turnovers. Griffin threw for 380 yards and 3 TDs (a 94 yarder!) and ran for 64 yards and a score. Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams combined for 8 receptions, 262 yards, and 4 scores. The defense not only had the turnovers, but brought an interception back for six, had 3 sacks, and held Kansas to a mere 270 yards of offense. Outstanding!

Worst Game: When you make your first bowl game since '94, you better show up to play. Unfortunately, the Bears took to long to get started, falling behind 24-0 in a 38-14 loss. The defense had no answer for Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure who ran for 184 yards and 3 TDs. Freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 242 yards and also ran 55 yards for the final TD. Griffin threw for 306 yards and a score, and got the Bears to within 10 points before the Fighting Illini pulled away. However he fumbled the ball on the first drive that set the tone for the day. A disappointing first bowl for Briles and Baylor.

57. Michigan (7-6, 3-5 Big 10)
The Original Forecast: This was a bowl or bust season for coach Rich Rodriguez, but questions were abound regarding the team. Who would be QB; how would the 3-3-5 defensive scheme hold up against the black-and-blue offenses of the Big 10; and would they be able to compete against a tough schedule. Even if some or all of these questions are answered, the team still might only win 6 or 7 games in a tough conference.

The Outcome: Well, they made their bowl game, but it wasn't enough to save Rodriguez's job. They started surprisingly well, going 5-0 behind an inspired performance from QB Denard Robinson, but finished 2-6 when the schedule got tougher. The offense was great, ranking 3t6th in passing and 13th in rushing, but the defense was dreadful, finishing 108th in points allowed and allowing over 450 yards in total offense. LB Jonas Mouton and SS Jordan Kovacs were the leading tacklers with a combined 233, 17 for loss, but there was practically no pass rush and too few turnovers too help out. The story of the offense was Robinson - he had an amazing year, throwing for 2570 yards and 18 TDs with an okay 11 interceptions, and ran for an outstanding 1702 yards and 14 TDs. Vincent Smith was the leading running back with just 601 yards and 5 TDs, but he was used more as a decoy and was decent. Ray Roundtree was Robinson's favorite target, catching 72 passes for 935 yards and 7 TDs, but he had bouts of drops at inopportune moments. The offense was finally run as Rodriguez wanted it, but the defense has regressed throughout his tenure and cost him his job despite the bowl. An improvement, but just not enough.

Best Game: Robinson showed his talent from Day 1 against Connecticut, but the following week against Notre Dame he showed he could win with the game on the line too in a 28-24 win. He had a great game, throwing for 244 yards and a score and running for 258 yards and 2 TDs, including an 87 yard run to spot the Wolverines a 21-7 half-time lead. Martavious Odoms and Roundtree were reliable targets all night, combining for 15 receptions, 173 yards and a TD. Notre Dame wouldn't go away though, with Dayne Crist shaking off a first half concussion to throw 2 long TDs to lead the Irish back to a 24-21 lead with 3:41 left. TE Kyle Rudolph did most of the damage with 8 catches for 164 yards and a 95 yard TD reception. Robinson marched Michigan back down the pitch, mixing run and pass well, to score on a 2 yard run with just 27 seconds left. Crist nearly brought ND back, but overthrew the endzone with no time left on the clock. A good win over a decent opponent, something rare this season.

Worst Game: Losing to Ohio State hurt, but the 52-14 bowl thrashing at the hands of Mississippi State was downright awful. Don't get me wrong, the Bulldogs are a good team, but not this good. Bulldog QB Chris Relf threw for 281 yards and 3 TDs and ran for another, while RB Vic Ballard picked up 76 yards and 3 TDs. Robinson threw for 254 yards and 2 scores, and ran for 59, but Michigan just seemed to give up after going up 14-10. To highlight the futility of the Wolverine defense, MSU converted 5 first downs on the evening. A bad end to a tough season.

56. Kansas State (7-6, 3-5 Big 12)
The Original Forecast: Kansas State surprised many with their 6 win season in '09, and more was expected of them this season. They had questions at QB, but had the type of runner - Daniel Tomas - who could win games on his own. The defense was also a question mark, but Snyder built a solid foundation through the JUCO route and the Wildcats should be good for 7 or 8 wins.

The Outcome: The Wildcats had a 7 win season and were competitive in most games. The passing game was poor, but Thomas carried the offense for the second straight season. The defense was okay against the pass, but was terrible against the run, allowing 231.4 yards per game. This was despite the efforts of corner David Garrett who led the team with 92 tackles, 15 for loss, and 10 passes defended. Yes, that was a corner. On offense, QB Carson Coffman threw for 2060 yards and 14 TDs against just 7 picks. He also ran for 157 yards and 9 TDs. Backup Collin Klein played some too, throwing for 138 yards and a TD, and running for 432 yards and 6 scores. Thomas was the key though, gaining 1585 yards and 19 TDs. The top receiver was Aubrey Quarles, who had a respectable 51 catches for 760 yards and 5 scores. Not a bad season for the most part. They started fast and used an easy OOC schedule to pad the win column, but they had some good wins too. They need to seriously strengthen the front seven if they have any desire to compete for Big 12 titles.

Best Game: Beating Texas is sweet for any Big 12 team, but the manner of K-State's 39-14 victory made it all the more sweet. What was even more surprising was Klein getting the start over Coffman at QB. Klein only threw 4 passes, completing 2 (to Thomas) for just 9 yards, but he ran for 127 yards and 2 scores, creating a 1-2 punch with Thomas, who ran for 106 yards and another 2 TDs. The defense allowed Texas to move the ball, QB Garrett Gilbert threw for 272 yards and a TD and ran for 93 yards, but they picked him off 5 times in building a 39-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Gilbert finally figured out which team he played for in the fourth quarter and led two TD drives, but the game was well over long beforehand. A great scalp for the Wildcats.

Worst Game: It's no secret that the Wildcats aren't quite ready for beating the big boys week in, week out, but they were competitive in every game bar one - Nebraska. The Cornhuskers shut down Thomas, holding him to just 63 yards in a 48-13 blowout. Coffman managed just 91 yards, a TD and an interception in 14 completions. For Nebraska, QB Taylor Martinez threw just 7 passes, completing 5 for 128 yards and a score, but also ran for 241 yards and 4 TDs, including an 80 yarder. RB Roy Helu ran for 110 yards as Nebraska ran over the Wildcats to the tune of 451 yards. Disgraceful.

55. Connecticut (8-5, 5-2 Big East)
The Original Forecast: With 16 starters returning and the rest of the Big East suffering through change, this was to be UConn's year to take a step up in the FBS after being on the verge for a while. They lacked a passing game, but had a solid running attack and defense. Their OOC schedule wasn't difficult, and the team may pull off and 10 wins, and were to be considered contenders in the Big East.

The Outcome: Pretty much as predicted, except the easy OOC and 10 win season. Michigan and Temple turned out to be stiffer propositions, but the tenacious Huskies went 6-2 in the Big East and got the BCS spot courtesy of beating both West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The passing game was again a problem, especially when Cody Endres was gone. Zach Frazer started the season, and came back in when Endres went out, but only threw for 1425 yards, 5 TDs and 6 interceptions. Endres threw for 471 yards and 5 scores against 2 picks in just three games, but was kicked off the team. The Huskies managed to win 8 games in spite of the passing attack courtesy of superstar RB Jordan Todman, who gained 1695 yards and 14 TDs. Michael Smith was their leading receiver with 46 catches for 615 yards and 2 TDs. Their defense was tough most of the season, ranking 35th in points allowed with just 22 points per game. Lawrence Wilson led the team with 123 tackles, with 10 for loss, while Sio Moore had 110 tackles with 11.5 for loss. FS Jerome Junior and Blidi Wilson-Wreh had 4 picks apiece. DE Jessee Joseph led the team with 8.5 sacks. A fine season for the Huskies, despite the loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, but the success cost them their coach Randy Edsall, who has become head coach at Maryland.

Best Game: A week after beating West Virginia in overtime, Pittsburgh arrived in town with designs on cementing their conference lead. They hadn't counted on Jordan Todman though. Todman ran for 222 yards to pace UConn, and Frazer threw for just 100 yards but 2 TDS, as the Huskies won a nail-biter 30-28. UConn also got a 95 yard kick return TD as the third quarter closed. For the Panthers, QB Tino Sunseri threw for 220 yards and a TD, but was picked off twice. Dion Lewis and Ray Graham combined for 152 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. UConn had a 4th and 1 at their own 19 with 2 and a half minutes left, and Edsall went for it, getting the conversion and running out the clock. An excellent win that spearheaded their BCS charge.

Worst Game: Connecticut traveled to Louisville with the aim of getting back on track after losing to Rutgers the previous week, but did little right in a 26-0 beating. The managed just 195 yards against the Cardinals medicore defense, and turned the ball over three times. What was even worse was the Louisville special teams dominating the Huskies normally strong unit. Four field goals and a 74 yard TD punt return from Doug Beaumont piled on the misery. The other score was a pass Adam Froman, who threw for 195 yards, to Cameron Graham. Bilal Powell ran for for 105 yards. The loss that turned the season around for the Huskies.

54. Navy (9-4 Independents)
The Original Forecast: Navy won ten games in '09 and though it was unlikely, could possibly do it again this season. The schedule was manageable, and they had a Heisman hopeful at QB in Ricky Dobbs. The likelihood of them missing a bowl game for the first time in 8 years was slim to none.

The Outcome: Navy were just 12 points from a 12-1 season, losing to Maryland, Air Force (oops!) and Duke. They were solid all round as usual, with a fine running attack and defense, and were even quite efficient on those rare moments when they passed. Dobbs didn't win the Heisman, but he did throw for 1527 yards, 13 TDs and 6 picks, while rushing for 967 yards and 14 TDs. FB Alexander Teich rushed for 863 yards and 5 scores and plenty of other backs contributed too. Greg Jones did a good job at receiver, catching 33 passes for 662 yards and 5 TDs. On defense, LB Tyler Simmons led the team with 131 tackles, while DE Jabaree Tuani had 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Billy Yarborough on the other end led the team with 6 sacks. A fine year that was somewhat marred by a bowl blowout and losing the Commander-In-Chief trophy to Air Force.

Best Game: The Navy offense rarely scored more than 35 all season, so when they went to East Carolina and hung 76 on the Pirates to their 35, it was an impressive performance. Dobbs completed 6 of 8 passes for 75 yards and 2 scores, and ran for 100 yards and another TD. Teich was the main man though, with 157 yards and a score. In all, eight different players scored TDs. ECU QB Dominique Davis had a big day with 413 yards and 5 TDs, but not he even he could counter an inept defense or an offense that coughed the ball up 4 times, including 3 in 4 snaps. An outstanding example of how to execute the triple option.

Worst Game: Losing the Commander-In-Chief trophy to Air Force after 7 consecutive wins has to sting. Dobbs completed just 6 of 18 passes for 103 yards and 2 interceptions,while running for just 43 yards. Falcon QB Tim Jefferson was the better of the two, completing 5 of 7 passes for 83 yards, while running for 62 yards and both scores. FB Jared Tew kept things ticking over with 111 yards on the ground. A disappointing loss in an otherwise good season.

53. Georgia (6-7, 3-5 SEC)
The Original Forecast: This had the look of a transition year in Athens, with a number of new faces at key positions, including a freshman QB. The schedule was tough from the start (well, week 2) and there was little respite for new guys to get comfortable. There was an abundance of talent with which to contend for the East title, but with inexperienced players at key positions, an 8 win season was probably more likely.

The Outcome: The season started badly, going 1-4, before finishing 5-2 before their bowl loss. The Bulldogs remained pretty competitive throughout, never getting blown away, and there were some bright spots, such as the play of QB Aaron Murray. He threw for 3049 yards and 24 TDs with 8 interceptions, while running for 167 yards and another 4 scores, and looks like he could take Georgia back to competing for SEC titles. He could do with more help from a running game that was inconsistent at best. Washaun Ealey was the leading rusher with 811 yards and 11 TDs, but they finished 73rd overall. Receiver AJ Green rounded out his college career by leading the team with 57 receptions for 848 yards and 9 TDs, despte a four game suspension to start the season. The defense was good, carrying the team for the most part, bot fell asleep on occasion - they had four games with 31+ points in the last five. ILB Akeem Dent led the team with 126 tackles, 6.5 for loss, but OLB Justin Houston was the big play guy with 8.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, and an outstanding 44 QB hurries. They were somewhat unfortunate in their scheduling, and where a much better team by season's end, but the bowl loss to UCF was shocking. This was Georgia's worst season in some time.

Best Game: With one more shot at bowl eligibility, and Georgia Tech coming to town, the Bulldogs needed to do something to try to save something of their season. Step forward Murray, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 271 yards and 3 TDs, and Ealey who 118 yards and 2 scores. Green didn't get in the endzone in his penultimatel game, but caught 8 passes for 97 yards. They nearly blew it too, allowing Tech to run for 411 yards, led by Anthony Allen with 166 and a score. The Yellowjackets got to within a point, but the Bulldogs answered with Ealey's second score and Tech couldn't respond. A big win with the postseason on the line.

Worst Game: With the offense humming in previous weeks, few people expected the bowl matchup with UCF to be close. But the Knights did enough to stop Georgia when it mattered in a 10-6 victory. Murray threw for 198 yards and two interceptions and the running game just managed 82 yards. Green caught 8 passes, but was limited to 77 yards and UCF made sure he didn't beat them. UCF running back Latavius Murray ran for 104 yards and the clinching TD to key the victory. A disappointing finish to a lost season.

52, Clemson (6-7, 4-4 ACC)
The Original Forecast: After winning the ACC title in '09, one would expect something similar from the Tigers again this season. But Clemson never seems to maximize its level talent, usually frustrating fans by falling short, particularly when expectations are high. Many new faces were taking over this season, but Clemson always have a good haul of talent on campus, and were more than capable of contending for the ACC title again. They had a tough schedule after a couple of layup games early on, and most likely this would be a tough season.

The Outcome: And it was - the offense struggled most of the season when even mediocrity would suffice, as Clemson's defense was outstanding, ranking 13th in points allowed. They made both passing and running a chore, but even this defense couldn't stem the tide when it spent too much time on the field. DE Da'Quan Bowers was the man of the hour with 74 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 15.5 sacks and 20 QB hurries. SS DeAndre McDaniel led the team with 84 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and also led with 4 interceptions. These were the stars of the show, but the strong defense was definitely a team effort. On offense, QB Kyle Parker was mediocre at best, throwing for 2213 yards, 12 TDs and 11 interceptions. Freshman receiver DeAndre Hopkins led the team with 51 catches, 626 yards, and 4 TDs, which says a lot about the receivers. To be fair to Hopkins, he got better as the season progressed and looks like a good one. Clemson needed two players to replace '09 star RB CJ Spiller, and they weren't too bad. Speedy Andre Ellington was the better runner, gaining 686 yards and 10 TDs despite missing three games late in the season. He's a small back, but did okay carrying the load. Jamie Harper was a tank, powering for 760 yards and 7 TDs, most of them coming when Ellington was injured. This was a tough season, with most of their losses close (including an OT loss to Auburn). Better QB play would have made the difference, and Parker's performance epitomized the season - average.

Best Game: With the Tigers sitting at 4-4, and #25 NC State coming to town, the season looked to be going downhill in a hurry, especially with some tough games due up too. The Wolfpack were quite the offensive juggernaut with QB Russell Wilson dissecting defenses at his leisure. Not this one - Clemson put the clamps on, holding him to 212 yards and a TD, and intercepting him in the endzone. The Tigers held the NC State running attack to 63 yards, leading the Wolfpack to decide to punt on 4th and 1 late in the game, a punt which managed just 4 yards. Clemson also blocked a 30 yard field goal, and were fortunate to have TD interception return nullified by penalty. For the Tigers, Parker threw for 214 yards and a TD and interception, providing most of the offense as Ellington was out injured and Harper was suffering from a virus. He still managed to run for 60 yards and the game winning TD though. A good win when things were looking bleak.

Worst Game: With bowl eligibility assured, Clemson had a chance to show their ability with the annual battle with South Carolina. They fell flat on their faces, losing 29-7. The defense was pretty solid, holding freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore to 48 rushing yards. Stephen Garcia threw for 227 yards and a pair of TDs, but only Alshon Jeffrey did any real damage with 5 receptions for 141 yards and a score. The Tiger offense, on the other hand, took the day off. Between Parker and Tajh Boyd, they passed for just 190 yards and turned the ball over 3 times. The running attack never got going with just 61 yards. There was one bright spot on offense - Hopkins caught 7 passes for 124 yards and the only TD. An otherwise poor showing when they should at least be competitive.

51. Louisville (7-6, 3-4 Big East)
The Original Forecast: New coach Charlie Strong is a good recruiter who should be able to increase the talent level in Lexington in a hurry, but a tough schedule and the current roster most likely means a winning season is beyond them.

The Outcome: Take a bow, Charlie Strong. Not only did you inspire the team to win 8 games, but you did it with a star performance from RB Bilal Powell, a tough defense, and on the flip side, a mediocre passing game. Powell was easily the star of the show, rushing for 1405 yards and 11 TDs, and catching another 3 scores. The QBs Adam Froman and Justin Burke combined for 2423 yards and 21 TDs against 7 interceptions. They were careful with the ball, but neither will make fans forget Brian Brohm. TE Cameron Graham and receiver Doug Beamount combined for 81 catches, 910 yards and 6 TDs. Beaumont is capable of better. The real story was the defense though, as it has been dire lately. They allowed an average of just 19.4 points per game, and were extremely tough to pass on. Rodney Gnat led the team with 9 sacks, while CB Johnny Patrick was excellent, intercepting 5 passes and defending 17 passes. After being tagged by pretty much every authority to prop up the Big East, the Cardinals and Strong came up with a fine season and topped it off with a nice come-from-behind bowl win.

Best Game: With bowl eligibility on the line and a trip to struggling Rutgers on the cards, Louisville need to pull off the win. In recent seasons they'd most likely have lost, but this year they steamrolled the Scarlet Knights 40-13. The defense was key, sacking Rutgers QBs 9 times and intercepting them twice, with one late in the fourth quarter returned for a TD to close out the scoring. Burke needed just 11 passes, completing 9 for 138 yards and 2 TDs. Powell keyed the ground attack with 123 yards and a score. If there was one negative, Rutgers had some success on the ground, with Jordan Thomas gaining 120 yards and a score. A fine victory nonetheless.

Worst Game: With the Cardinals showing they were no walkover, they traveled to Pittsburgh with the intention of making some noise in the conference. The only noise they made was going belly up against a Panther team that shut them down without Powell. Powell injured his knee early, and Louisville could get nothing going after that. Burke threw for just 82 yards, while the running game sans Powell made just 18 yards. For Pittsburgh, QB Tino Sunseri managed just 123 yards against the tough Cardinals secondary, but Dion Lewis and Ray Graham pounded for 105 yards and a score. With the Louisville offense, they didn't need more. A loss that showed how much work the team has to go.