Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Year in Review


After going on a hiatus caused by lack of time due to college and work, I've got my blog back up and running. This is a review of each NCAA 1A team from worst to first, using USA Today's Jeff Sagarin's ratings ( Anyone who feels the need to debate a team's placing can take it up with him. This was an interesting season, with number 1's dropping like flies and two originally (relatively) low ranked contesting the Championship. There are some surprises throughout the list, in keeping with the year in general, so enjoy a trip down recent memory lane. On to the teams:

120. Akron (1-11, 1-7 MAC)

Original Forecast: I didn't hold out much hope for the Zips: they were less than impressive last year and were changing coaches and systems, and they easily repaid my lack of faith.

The season was a disaster with the team (except for a 1 point loss to FCS Gardner-Webb) getting blasted far too often. They improved over the last two weeks, losing close games to Ball State and MAC champ Miami, before getting there first win by beating equally beleaguered Buffalo. Alex Allen remained relatively healthy and had a nice season (186-877-8), and Nate Burney (109-467-0) had his moments in reserve. QB Patrick Nicely struggled for the most part, completing less than 50% of his passes with just 10 TDs against 13 Ints. In his defense, the receivers were subpar most of the season, with the exception of Jeremy LaFrance (43-534-6), but he missed three games mid-season. Jalil Carter blew up in the last three games, with 18 receptions for 297 yards and 2 TDs, but he also missed three games and was unimpressive otherwise. Somewhat disappointingly, the defense, despite some good experience, generally allowed teams to run or pass at their leisure. On the plus side, DE Shawn Lemon was voted 2nd Team All-MAC after a season in which he totalled 7 sacks with 10.5 tackles for loss.

Best Game: It has to be rising to the occasion against Buffalo in the last game of the season to avoid a winless season. It was also Nicely's best game throwing for 193 yards and 3 TDs. The defense came up big with the 3 turnovers, and the game wasn't as close as the score the suggests – Buffalo scored in the last 2 minutes to pull within 8.

Worst Game: This was a tough choice, but losing to 4-7 FCS squad Gardner-Webb has to be the one. They even led 31-17, but let the Bulldogs back into it. A blocked extra point in overtime was the difference. Despite running for 224 yards, the Zips still managed to blow this one.

119. Buffalo (2-10, 1-7 MAC)

Original Forecast: I thought Buffalo had a shot at the MAC East title, on the assumption that the QB and receivers could make enough plays to allow a potentially potent running game and solid defense to win games.

Guess what? The QBs, led by Jerry Davis, completed just 45.1% of their passes and threw 23 picks against (a somewhat respectable) 17 TDs. The running game struggled all season, averaging just 3.1 per carry and scoring 3 TDs. Receiver Marcus Rivers was a bright spot, catching 50 passes for 690 yards and 5 TDs, but slowed down over the second half of the season when defenses realised he was the big play guy. The defense was pretty tough, but spent too much time on the field and wore down as games went on. The season was a disappointment for a team that has been so competitive lately.

Best Game: Good question. Their closest losses were to equally poor Eastern Michigan and Akron, and one of their wins was over 5-6 FCS team Rhode Island, so the win over Bowling Green is the only other option. The Bulls dominated the 28-26 win, racking up 441 yards to 176 for the Falcons. Jerry Davis threw for 241 yards and 3 TDs, but also threw four picks, with one returned 82 yards to paydirt to make the score 28-20 in the fourth quarter. Buffalo then had a punt blocked to lead to another score and a last minute fumble almost lost them the game, but Falcons' kicker Bryan Wright missed a 40 yarder as time expired. Not an impressive performance by most standards, but when you're 2-10, it's good enough.

Worst Game: There are a couple of candidates, but after some great games with Temple the last few seasons, a 42-0 thrashing was shocking. The Owls ran the ball at will with 2 100-yard rushers, and QB Mike Gerardi also threw 3 TDs. The offense managed just 161 yards and turned the ball over 3 times.

118. Eastern Michigan (2-10, 2-6 MAC)

Original Forecast: No wacky bowl game predictions here – EMU are historically poor and two wins was all I'd predicted, although they did show some improvement too. Thanks for making me look good after my Buffalo debacle.

The Eagles actually managed to rank 37th in rushing nationally due to the two pronged attack of QB Alex Gillett and RB Dwayne Priest, both of who gained over 700 yards. Gillett had his moments passing as well, but also threw 13 picks. No-one stepped forward at receiver to give him a reliable target though. The offense wasn't terrible, and compared to the defense was amazing The Eagles held just two teams to under 30 points! The had four games allowing 40+ points, two over 50 and two of 70+. Simply appalling!

Best Game: Has to be the 41-38 OT win over Ball State. To be fair, it wasn't so much the team's best game as Gillett's. He threw for 225 yards and 3 TDs and ran for 189 yards and two TDs and brought the team back from a 28-7 deficit. But football's a team game, so their best game it is.

Worst Game: Going into their last game of the season, after showing some fight against some BCS teams as well as division opponents, EMU hoped to make a statement against MAC West leader Northern Illinois to end another disappointing season on a high. The result? A 71-3 thumping in which the Eagles allowed 544 yards rushing including 5 TDs of over 61 yards. They did force two punts though. Gillett managed an abysmal 11 yards passing. If this is their statement for next season, coach Ron English might want to explore some other options.

117. Western Kentucky (2-10, 2-6 Sun Belt)

Original Forecast: Nobody was expecting the Hilltoppers to have a dream bowl season after the struggles in their first two FBS seasons, and the two conference wins are exactly what I expected.

2-10 may not seem like something to shout about, but WKU were competitive for much of the season, losing four games by less than a TD. There's no question of who inspired this turn of events – running back Bobby Rainey. The Hilltoppers rode him all season and he responded to the tune of 1649 yards and 15 TDs. It wasn't just a case of beating up on bad Sun Belt defenses –the first three games of the season he ran rushed for 155, 184 and 105 yards – against BCS foes Nebraska (!), Kentucky and Indiana (maybe not so great). He also scored 5 TDs in that span. Just to prove he's not a one-trick pony, he caught 29 passes too. QB Kawaun Jakes had some good games in his second year in charge, but for the most part showed too much inconsistency. His mobility and some okay play from the line meant he only endured 28 sacks. There were concerns of a dropoff at the receiver position, and this was the case with no-one stepping up to the plate. The defense has been pretty much awful since the moved to the FBS and last season it did improve, but not by much, leading to the resignation of coordinator Clint Bowen. Despite this, a lot of positives can be taken from the season, not least of all Rainey back for one more hurrah, and the season was a big improvement on the previous two years.

Best Game: Has to be going to Louisiana-Lafayette on the back of a 26 game losing streak and blowing them out 54-21. With the Ragin' Cajuns focusing on stopping Rainey (a mortal 67 yards) Jakes threw for 262 yards an a TD and ran for 2 more in his best game of the season. The defense had three turnovers - two for TDs - and harassed Louisiana QB Chris Masson all day.

Worst Game: The following week, at home to a North Texas squad who had just seen their head coach fired, the Cajuns were brought back to earth with a bump getting beaten 33-6. Mean Green RB Lance Dunbar ran riot to the tune of 215 yards and 3 TDs while QB Jakes failed to move the Cajun offense with Rainey again the focus of attention (100 yards).

116. Memphis (1-11, 0-8 CUSA)

Original Forecast: Another team who struggled last season and I didn't expect to show much this season, although 3 or 4 wins were possible. Questions at the offensive skills position were plentiful, and the defense had some good players, but lacked talent in other areas.

The offense was impotent, scoring more than 19 points just once (27 against East Carolina), and the defense was worse, allowing an average of 39.8 per game. Freshman QB Ryan Williams had an okay season, throwing for 2075 yards and 13 TDs against 10 INTs, with Marcus Rucker showing some of his potential by catching 41 passes for 704 yards and 8 TDs. He got better as the season progressed too. Gregory Ray was the main man on the ground with 676 yards. The defense was consistent, being equally bad against the run and the pass and allowing 63 TDs against a mere 13 turnovers. While the play of some of the players suggests a brighter future, the Tigers will want to forget about 2010 as soon as possible.

Best Game: Like our other bottom-10 teams, Memphis didn't compete in many of their games, but their one win, a 24-17 decision over a somewhat disappointing Middle Tennessee squad, is still noteworthy. The Blue Raiders were expected to contend for the Sun Belt, but instead struggled with inconsistency all season. They were missing Dwight Dasher who's made a few BCS teams look silly, but holding their talented offense to 17 points was impressive. Ray had one of his best games of the season, rushing for 121 yards and 2 TDs and carried the Tiger offense. The defense held up their end of the bargain too, holding MTU to 315 yards and coming up with four turnovers. What they were doing the rest of the season is another question.

Worst Game: Take your pick. Their worst loss statistically was 56-0 to Louisville, who was much improved this season. The Tigers allowed 574 yards in total, with Cardinals RB Bilal Powell gaining 204 yards rushing and 2 TDs on a mere 18 carries. QB Adam Froman also threw 4 TDs. MU gained just 223 yards and was 3 of 16 on third down. For a team that has beaten BCS foes in not-too-distant past, this was a bad loss.

115. Louisiana-Lafayette (3-9, 3-5 Sun Belt)

Original Forecast: Going into the season, the Cajuns had questions at running back and on the O-line and the schedule outside of the Sun Belt was a killer.

I did think they could manage at least 5 or 6 wins, but it turns out the Sun Belt was tough this year and the lack of running attack was too much for the team to overcome. Masson (1842 yds, 11 TDs) struggled with the responsibility of carrying the load, and also missed three games and most of a fourth with injury. In saying that, the passing game had its moments. The running game, on the other hand, averaged just over 100 yards a game at 2.9 a carry despite 3 runs over 55 yards. Aaron Spikes was the leading rusher with a mere 339 yards. 39 sacks allowed certainly didn't help the overall stats (or Masson's health), but the running game was consistently poor with the exception of a couple of games. The defense struggled all season, with 22 points their least points allowed. Their run and pass defense were equally suspect, and they managed just 22 turnovers. In saying all that, they were quite competitive and showed some sass against superior teams before running out of steam. I'm not sure they should be rated as low as they were, but they were definitely one of the weaker teams this season.

Best Game: There are a few games that should get a mention, but their win against Arkansas State was probably their best team effort. A week after getting trounced 55-7 by Georgia, the Cajuns ran over the Red Wolves to the tune of 242 yards, including two TDs over 60 yards. Masson ran for one of those scores, and also threw for one. Receiver Javone Lawson also threw a TD. The defense did allow Ryan Aplin to throw 438 and two TDs as they tried to come back from 31-7 down, but they allowed just 18 yards rushing and came up with 3 turnovers, including the game winning interception.

Worst Game: It can only be the loss to Western Kentucky, who came into the game riding a 26 game losing streak. The game was close for about 27 minutes before the Hilltoppers went on a points explosion behind QB Kawaun Jakes, who completed 18 of 22 passes for 262 yards and a TD. They also returned a fumble and interception for scores in a 54-21 thrashing.

114. Florida Atlantic (4-8, 3-5 Sun Belt)

Original Forecast: This was meant to be a tough season for the Owls after a relatively successful stint behind QB Rusty Smith, and it was. QB Jeff Van Camp was expected to excel, but the offensive line and defense were problematic in '09 and were essentially the same units going in 2010. I thought they'd struggle to win five games again, and they backed me up by winning four, all over teams who join them at the bottom of these rankings.

The offense was still effective but few of the players who were expected to carry the load performed to expectations. Van Camp had a nice season, completing 57.3% of his passes for 2459 yards and 17 TDs against 13 picks, but didn't quite live up to the promise of his stint in '09. RB Alfred Morris had an outstanding season the year before, but couldn't find the holes as often this season and ended up with a respectable 928 yards and 7 TDs. WR Lester Jean was exceptional, though, catching 64 balls for 988 yards and 8 TDs. TE Rob Housler wasn't too shabby either with 39 catches for 629 yards and 4 scores. The defense was poor against the run, allowing over 200 yards a game, but was okay against the pass. But then you didn't need to pass against FAU to win. It's a hard call to say how the Owls view their season. The last three games were all blowouts (Texas is acceptable), and it looks like they're on the downslide after an okay (4-5) start.

Best Game: Has to be the season opener against Alabama-Birmingham in which the Owls refused to give up, coming back from 14 and 16 point deficits to win with just 2:20 left. Van Camp threw for 254 and 3 TDs, while Morris had 103 yards and scored the winning TD from 38 yards out. Jean caught 9 passes for 164 yards and 2 TDs, including a 77 yarder. The defense may have allowed Blazer QB David Isabelle to rush for 214 yards and 3 TDs, but returned an interception for a TD and shut down the UAB passing attack. The special teams blocked a last second 28 yard FG to ensure the 32-31 victory.

Worst Game: After the disappointing loss to Middle Tennessee (which could also feature here), more was expected of FAU against Troy in the season finale. The two teams have had some good games over the last few seasons, and this was not one of them. Trojan QB Corey Robinson threw for 305 yards and 3 TDs as they moved the ball at will against the Owls defense. Despite Van Camp throwing for 302 yards and a TD, the Owls struggled to generate any consistency on offence and turned the ball over three times and faltered on three fourth downs. A disappointing end to a disappointing season for coach Howard Schnellenberger.

113. New Mexico (1-11, 1-7 Mountain West)

Original Forecast: There were a lot of factors that could have prevented the Lobos from getting to a bowl game in 2010 – a new coach and offense, a tough OOC schedule and the fact that they weren't great the year before anyway. I thought they could pull off 3 or 4 wins, but they managed just one, over equal hapless Wyoming.

The above factors weren't the only problems, New Mexico struggled with injuries too, losing seven starters for the season, and players lost a total of 83 games. This led to the Lobos going through 35 different starters this season. With this kind of turnover continuity was an issue, and an 1-11 season is no surprise. Four starting QBs were used, and the passing attack ranked 106 as a result. The running game also ranked 106th, but sophomore Kasey Carrier got most of the work over the last four games and showed enough to suggest a decent future. The defense held just one, offensively challenged New Mexico State, to less than 30 points, and ranked plum last in the FBS in points allowed. On the plus side, the experience should count in the future, and Locksley was retained, ensuring continuity in the system too.

Best Game: For a team that struggled to both move the ball and stop other teams, a win is a win regardless of opponent. The midseason 34-31 win over Wyoming is the only contender in this case. Freshman Stump Godfrey made his first start at QB and completed 16 of 20 for 211 yards and 2 TDs, as well as 69 yards rushing and a TD on 23 carries. Carrier added 97 yards and a TD with TE Lucas Reed adding 100 yards and 2 TDs on 7 receptions. The defense did allow 392 yards rushing, but came up with four turnovers. Reliable kicker James Aho made all his kicks, including the game winner from 38 yards as time expired.

Worst Game: Quite a few contenders here, but the season opener against Oregon was a disaster, with no lengthy injury lists for an excuse. No-one expected an upset here, but a 72-0 spanking in which the Lobos mustered a mere 107 yards and turned the ball over 5 times while allowing 720 yards and 9 TDs was just abysmal.

112. North Texas (3-9, 3-5 Sun Belt)

Original Forecast: North Texas looked to be turning the corner under Todd Dodge, with the most returning starters in the Sun Belt, some serious talent on offense, and an improving defense. Six games appeared to be well within their reach.

But after just two games, seven key performers were down, including QB Nathan Tune. Dodge's son Riley moved in at QB, where he played the last two seasons but was moved to receiver after being beaten to a pulp and developing shoulder problems, and was a decent game manager, throwing for 1212 yards (60.2% complete) and 11 TDs with just 4 picks. He also ran for 253 yards and a TD. RB Lance Dunbar was the heart and soul of the offense, racking up 1553 yards and 13 TDs for the nation's 19th ranked running attack. He also caught 28 passes for 332 yards and a further 3 scores. He finished on a high note two, tearing through Kansas State's defense for 270 yards and 3 TDs. The receivers were capable and moved the chains effectively, but none stood out. The defense did improve, but wore down towards the end of the season, and although they did enough to keep the team in their many close games, they rarely did enough to ensure victory. Dodge was fired with five games left, so it can be said the season didn't meet expectations.

Best Game: Has to be the 33-6 pasting of Western Kentucky the week after coach Dodge was fired. WKU were coming off their first victory in 26 games, a 54-21 blowout of Louisiana-Lafayette. Lance Dunbar 215 yards and 3 TDs while the Mean Green defense held the Hilltoppers and superstar running back Bobby Rainey to a mere 272 yards. They also came up with two turnovers. This was NT's most complete game of the season, and came at a time when many teams would throw in the towel.

Worst Game: How about the week before in what would be Dodge's last game? A home game against Florida International turned out to be an embarrassment with Golden Panthers routing them 34-10. QB Wesley Carroll threw for 288 yards and 3 TDs to inspire the victory. The Mean Green offense could only must 285 total yards, with Dunbar being held to a mere 30. Their best play was a 64 yard run by Craig Robertson on a fake punt to set up a TD.

111. New Mexico State (2-10, 1-7 WAC)

Original Forecast: New Mexico State has struggled recently with an offense that couldn't find balance between the run and the pass, and a defense that couldn't stop either. A tough schedule and an improving conference suggested an improved Aggie team may manage a mere three wins. Despite being one of the better non-BCS recruiters, they couldn't even do that.

After switching from an effective passing team who couldn't run to an effective running team who couldn't pass, the Aggies finally achieved some balance by struggling to do either. The fact that they were 117th in points for and 115th in points allowed just highlights their problems. The offense averaged just 296.5 yards per game, compared to 453.3 allowed and a turnover total of just 12 (4 interceptions!) showed they have a long way to go to even be competitive. The only two teams they beat, New Mexico and San Jose State, are at the bottom of the list too. They have some solid players and continue to recruit at a high level, if coach DeWayne Walker can get these players to play to their talent level, they could be a team to watch. This has been said before though.

Best Game: The 29-27 win was a solid victory, with the Aggies showing some poise by driving down the pitch to win on a last second TD pass. After going in at halftime leading 17-3, NMSU allowed the Spartans back into the game behind the passing of Jordan La Secla. But QB Matt Christian, who threw for 259 yards and 2 TDs, and ran for 74 yards and a TD, led them back down the pitch after SJSU took a 27-23 lead. The defense held the Spartan rushing attack to 70 yards, but did allow big plays in the second half. Regardless this was the Aggies best game of the season by far.

Worst Game: Getting blasted 59-0 by Boise State. Getting beaten by the Broncos is pretty much acceptable, but the Aggies were down 45-0 when BU QB Kellen Moore took the rest of the day off after one second half drive. The Broncos passed for 309 yards and ran for 299 and scored on their first five possessions. NMSU could muster just 208 yards and turned the ball over 3 times in a game that was effectively over by the end of the first quarter.




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