Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Year in Review

80. Florida International (7-6, 6-2 Sun Belt)
The Original Forecast: Mario Cristobal continues to turn the Panthers into a competitive unit, but they still lack the depth to compete with the big boys in the Sun Belt. They also had a tough OOC schedule and a mid-season away stretch that was likely to consign them to maybe 3 or 4 wins, assuming they can pull an upset or two. Still a work in progress.

The Outcome: Things looked to be normal with FIU going 0-4 in their OOC, but some further investigation might show that were pretty competitive against everyone except Pittsburgh. What does might have helped explain is why they only lost two more games the rest of the season, to earn a share of the Sun Belt crown and their first ever bowl berth. The offense, particularly the running game, was pretty solid all season. Darriet Perry and Darian Mallary combined for 1577 yards and 18 TDs to key the attack. Mississippi State transfer Wesley Carroll added punch to their passing game with 2623 yards and 16 TDs, although he threw 14 interceptions. TY Hilton and Greg Ellingson caught 102 passes for 1460 yards and 10 TDs between them. Hilton was also a superb kick returner and took two kicks back for six. The defense still needs some work, but they came up with 25 turnovers and 33 sacks and made plays when it mattered. SLB Toronto Smith had 91 tackles, with 6.5 for loss, and 4 sacks; fellow linebacker Winston Fraser had 9 tackles for loss; DE Tourek Williams had 7.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks; and Jarvis Wilson had 5.5 tackles for loss and an excellent 9.5 sacks. This would have been a good season even if they hadn't topped it off with a comeback victory over Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl.

Best Game: Lately in the Sun Belt, there's been one team to beat, and FIU surprised many when they took down Troy 52-35. Troy had no answer for the Panthers offense - Carroll only completed 8 of 15 passes, but he threw for 220 yards and 3 TDs with an pick. The real issue for the Trojans was the running attack, with Perry gaining 186 yards and a TD, receiver Hilton had 158 and 2 scores (on 6 carries) and Mallary managed a meager 118 yards and another score. The defense allowed Troy QB Corey Robinson to throw for 299 yards and a pair of TDs, but picked him off twice. They also forced two other turnovers and kept Troy's receivers from breaking big plays most of the day.

Worst Game: Every team has an opponent that it hurts to lose to more than any other. For FIU it's Florida Atlantic. The Owls struggled this season, but still managed to beat FIU, thanks to 4 turnovers and an inability to get into the endzone despite gaining 360 yards of offense. Carroll threw for 210 yards, but also three picks and was the main culprit. Kedrick Rhodes ran for 100 yards, but the Panthers were still unable to punch the ball in on 4th and 1 in the fourth quarter. For FAU, Jeff Van Camp threw for 169 yards and a TD, while Alfred Morris and Willie Floyd combined for 189 yards and 2 scores.

79. Virginia (4-8, 1-7 ACC)
The Original Forecast: With a new coach in place, the Cavaliers were expected to play harder this season, but probably to little avail. Due to some (supposedly) easy OOC games, and a home game against fellow conference strugglers, five wins was possible, but bowl eligibility required an upset or two.

The Outcome: Well, they beat their easy OOC opponents, and got their upset with a surprise victory over Miami, but that was it for the Cavs. Their defense tailed off a little, at least against the run, although they were pretty good against the pass. The Cam Johnson experiment at end proved to be inspired, as he tallied 8 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks. Corner Chase Minnifield picked off six passes. The offense was pretty good, led by QB Marc Verica. He threw for 2799 yards and 14 TDs and the same amount of interceptions. On the ground, Keith Payne and Perry Jones combined for 1395 yards and 15 TDs to keep things ticking over. The top receivers were Dontrelle Inman and Kris Burd,who had a combined 109 receptions for 1614 yards and 8 scores. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough talent in reserve to maintain their successes over the season. A disappointment for coach Mike London.

Best Game: Has to be the win over the Hurricanes. They weren't awesome, they just did enough. Verica had 176 yards and a TD, while Payne had 81 yards and 2 TDs. Burd had a nice game with 7 catches for 104 yards. The game was scoreless when Miami QB Jacory Harris was lost for the game. In stepped Spencer Whipple and then freshman Stephen Morris who quickly dug the team into a 24-0 hole. Morris did mount a comeback, throwing for 162 yards and 2 TDs, but it was too little too late. The Cavs defense allowed 448 yards of offense, but 5 interceptions spoiled their scoring opportunities.

Worst Game: Virginia hadn't lost at home to North Carolina since 1981, and with the Tar Heels struggling with player suspensions, the Cavs must have fancied their chances. Things went bad quickly though, allowing an 81 yard TD pass on the first play of the game. They drove for a FG, but Verica could only muster 139 yards passing and 3 picks on the day, stopping Virginia from ever getting going. Payne had a nice game with 107 yards and a score, but he as the lone bright spot. NC's QB TJ Yates threw for 325 yards and 3 TDs, with Dwight Jones catching 7 of them for 198 yards and 2 scores. Virginia totalled 5 turnovers on the day, and ended up on the wrong side of a 44-10 thrashing. A poor performance on nearly every count.

78. East Carolina (6-7, 5-3 CUSA)
The Original Forecast: Nothing seemed to favor ECU going into the season with a change in coaching staff, systems, and graduation returning very few players. They had a tough schedule, both in and out of conference, and looked like they'd struggle to a 3 or 4 win season.

The Outcome: Dominique Davis arrived from the JUCO ranks with the hope that he could add some spark to the new passing attack now that the Pirates had run out of Pinkneys. All he did was throw for 3967 yards and 37 TDs, with 16 interceptions. 8 of those picks came in a three game stint early too. They didn't run the ball much, but Jonathon Williams took advantage of his opportunities with 847 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, and also caught 52 balls for 431 yards and a TD. Dwayne Harris caught 101 passes for 1123 yards and 10 scores, while Lance Lewis had 89 catches for 1116 yards and 14 scores. The defense, however, was one of the worst in the FBS and leaked scores at a rapid rate. WLB Dustin Lineback tried to stem the tide with 119 tackles, 6 for loss, while DT Josh Smith had 11 tackles for loss. SS Bradley Jacobs had 4 interceptions and 80 tackles, but for the most part the defense was a liability. Despite the leaky defense, the offense did enough to get the Pirates back to a bowl game, but the 51-20 loss to Maryland has to be considered a bad result to an up and down season.

Best Game: The Pirates defense had few games where it could hold its head high afterwards, and the 37-10 victory over Marshall is one of them. The defense held Marshall's QB Brian Anderson to just 217 yards and a TD and picked him off three times, and shut down the running attack to the tune of 94 yards. The offense was quietly efficient, with Davis throwing for 208 yards and 2 TDs, and running for another, while Wiliams ran for 111 yards on just 10 carries. A good job all round.

Worst Game: Any time a team puts 62 on your defense, it's bad. When the team happens to be a struggling Rice squad, it's very bad. The Owls racked up 639 yards of offense, with freshman QB Taylor McHargue throwing for 220 yards and 3 TDs on just 15 attempts, and he also ran for 93 yards. Jeremy Eddington and Sam McGuffie combined for 257 yards and 5 TDs on the ground, and the latter also caught a 64 yard TD pass. Davis had a tough time of it, completing just 21 of 39 for 308 yards and 3 TDs, while also throwing 2 picks. Williams came up with 100 yards on the ground and receivers Lewis and Harris combined for 14 receptions, 245 yards and 2 TDs. In retrospect, losing a game like this hurt ECU's chances of contending for the division.

77. Mississippi (4-8, 1-7 SEC)
The Original Forecast: The Rebels suffered from graduation woes, and looked unlikely to take contend for the SEC West in 2010. Their OOC schedule was lightweight, and they got the easier opponents from the East, but the Rebels looked like they were going to struggle this season.

The Outcome: Well, losing to Jacksonville State is no way to start a season. They were pretty competitive, Mississippi's defense was poor this season, especially against the pass, and it counteracted the hard work done by a running attack that ranked 18th. Brandon Bolden was the catalyst, picking up 976 yards and 14 TDSs at an excellent average of 6 yards per carry. He also led the team with 32 receptions, gaining 344 yards and 3 more scores. The second leading rusher with 544 yards and 6 TDs was QB Jeremia Masoli (fresh from Oregon), and he added 2039 yards passing with 14 TDs and 13 picks. The receivers lacked either punch or consistency which hurt Masoli, who is a solid passer. MLB Jonathon Cornell was the defensive star with 80 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks, but the starting lineup changed to much due to injury or inconsistency and the defense suffered as a whole. After falling short of expectations last season, the Rebels seemed to meet them this year, but a 4-8 season is unacceptable and the Rebels top brass has fired good coaches before (see David Cutcliffe).

Best Game: The Rebels didn't have a lot of wins this season, and no real signature victory, but the 43-21 beating of Louisiana-Lafayette was about as good as it got. They also managed it without for Masoli for much of the game, although he threw and ran for TDs before he left with a concussion. Nathan Stanley threw for108 yards in his absence. Bolden and Enrique Davis combined for 252 yards and 2 TDs, and Bolden caught 4 passes for 80 yards and a TD to key the offense. But the real story was the defense, holding the Ragin' Cajuns to just 215 yards and turning the ball over 3 times. The score could have been worse, but Melvin White returned an Ole Miss fumble 93 yards for a score at the end of the second quarter to pull within 3 points before the defense shut them out in the second half. Not the best win in their history, but a good one based on last season's results.

Worst Game: Tennessee! The Volunteers were also struggling when the Rebels arrived at Neyland Stadium with bowl hopes still alive. The Vols jumped out to a 21-0 lead and just kept motoring, shredding the Rebels 52-14. Freshman QB Tyler Bray threw for 323 yards and 3 TDs, and Tauren Poole ran for 107 yards and 2 scores to keep Ole Miss on their back foot all day. Masoli was dreadful, throwing for just 80 yards and 3 interceptions, 2 of which were taken back for scores. The sole bright spot was Bolden, who had 113 yards and 2 second quarter TDs to inspire some hope for the Rebels. But UTenn stepped it up in the second half and that was about it for Mississippi on the day.

76. Southern Methodist (7-7, 6-2 CUSA)
The Original Forecast: SMU have a fine offense that's good enough to win games in spite of a suspect defense. They looked to have most of the pieces in place except at running back, where was some talent but little depth. They also had a pretty tough schedule, but were capable of winning some games. They needed their defense to step up to aspire to a title shot, but more than likely would repeat last season's 8 wins. This is a team for the future.

The Outcome: The defense stepped it up and SMU made the title game. Unfortunately, so did tough UCF, who beat them 17-7. Still, it was a fine season, and they were competent in most areas. The run defense was tough, holding opponents to a mere 3.7 yards per carry, and the pass defense allowed just 208.1 yards a game. One area the defense did struggle was turnovers, coming up with a meager 15. They finished with a -12 turnover margin, costing them a better record. The offense was still the star of the show though. Padron showed he wasn't just a flash in the pan, throwing for 3828 yards and 31 TDs with 14 interceptions, and running for 244 yards and 4 scores. Running back Zach Line realised his excellent potential rushing for 1494 yards and 10 TDs. The Mustangs boasted three excellent receivers, with Aldrick Robinson, Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson combining for 230 catches, 3206 yards and 26 scores. On defense, MLB Taylor Reed and "Buck" Pete Fleps were tackling machines, combining for 268 stops, 11 for loss. WLB Ja'Gared Davis had 90 tackles, 7 for loss, and 9 sacks, while corner Richard Crawford defended 12 passes and picked off 4. This was a fine season, and the best is yet to come for the Mustangs.

Best Game: SMU haven't beaten a lot of BCS teams lately, so while Washington State isn't the toughest of tests, they'll take it. In their 35-21 victory, Padron threw for 280 yards and 4 TDs, and also ran for one, with Robinson catching 4 for 111 yards and 3 scores. Line picked up 82 yards on a mere 8 carries. For the Cougars, Jeff Tuel threw for 284 yards and a pair of scores, but failed to convert two fourth downs late in the game. The SMU defense held WSU's running game to a mere 66 yards. A good win that wasn't necessarily as close as the final score suggests.

Worst Game: With QB Case Keenum out for the season, SMU must have felt their high octane offense could easily outscore a Houston team with a freshman QB. Line ran for 106 yards and Padron threw for 318 yards and 2 TDs, but he also threw two interceptions. Piland threw for 233 yards and a TD, but the real story for the Cougars was the running game, with Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall combining for 171 yards and 4 scores. Down 24-10 at halftime, the Mustangs threatened to make a game of it with a third quarter TD, but Tyron Carrier took the ensuing kickoff back for a score to steal back momentum. The Cougars scored two more TDs to round out a 45-20 thrashing.

75. Houston (5-7, 4-4 CUSA)
The Original Forecast: QB Case Keenum has had a superb career here with one exception - a CUSA title. An improved running game and defense were keys in helping him achieve this goal, and also boosting his Heisman chances. They have a very winnable schedule, and could even be BCS busters with an unbeaten season.

The Outcome: UCLA put paid to their unbeaten season, but it was against beleaguered Tulane that their title hopes ended when Keenum tore his ACL. Freshman David Piland stepped in and had his moments, throwing for 2641 yards, 24 TDs and 14 interceptions, but wasn't ready to accept the keys to this offense so soon. The running game tried to take some of the pressure off him, with Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall combining for 1499 yards and 20 TDs, while receiver Patrick Edwards led with 71 catches for 1100 yards and 13 scores. The defense was vulnerable to both run and pass, and meant most games were shootouts, not what a freshman QB needs. ILB Marcus McGraw led the way with 110 tackles, 7 for loss, while OLB Sammy Brown was the playmaker with 76 tackles, 12.5 for loss, and 7.5 sacks. After high hopes on the season, Houston finished losing their last four games, not just failing to make the title game, but not even bowl eligible.

Best Game: In a season of disappointments, it's always nice to take down a local rival, and beating SMU 45-20 was nice. Piland was pretty sharp, throwing for 233 yards and a score without turning it over, but the real story was the running game with Hayes and Beall combining for 171 yards and 4 TDs. The defense had three turnovers and Tyron Carrier too a kick back for a TD when SMU threatened to make a game of it. A nice solid victory with all aspects of the team performing.

Worst Game: After some big victories over Texas State and UTEP, the Cougars traveled to UCLA with BCS busting on their minds. They got sent home with their tails between their legs on the wrong end of a 31-13 defeat. Keenum was knocked out early, although Houston weren't having much success with him as he threw 2 picks. The offense managed 252 yards passing, but five different players threw a pass. The Bruins, on the other hand, only managed 99 yards through the air, but Jonathon Franklin ran for 158 yards and 3 TDs to key the victory. James Cleveland was the sole bright spot for Houston, catching 6 passes for 144 yards and a score. A poor performance against a very beatable team.

74. Troy (8-5, 6-2 Sun Belt)
The Original Forecast: Troy has been the most talented team in the Sun Belt in recent history and were expected to contend for the division title again. They are breaking in a new QB and most of their defense, but are still loaded. The defense was weak last year, and the hope is the new faces can improve on last '09s showing.

The Outcome: The defense struggled again, putting the team through too many shootouts. They allowed over 400 yards of total offense, although they came up with an excellent 30 turnovers and 40 sacks. DEs Jonathon Massoquai and Mario Addison were the stars of the show, combining for 123 tackles, 12 for loss, and 24 sacks, but there were some other good shows too. More consistency could have accounted for more wins, as too much pressure was put on the offense. Freshman Corey Robinson stepped in at QB and had a decent season,throwing for 3726 yards and 28 TDs, although he also had 15 interceptions. The running game was good enough to take the pressure off the passing attack, and was led by Shawn Southward, who had 623 yards and 7 scores, and DuJuan Harris who gained 603 yards and scored 6 times. The top receiver was Jerrel Jernigan, who caught 84 passes for 822 yards and 6 scores, and also added 322 yards and 3 TDs rushing. The season ended with a first-place tie with FIU, who received the 1st place bowl bid courtesy of beating the Trojans. Another fine season, but 4 and half titles in five years sounds slightly tarnished.

Best Game: What better way to make up for falling short of an outright league title than smashing your bowl opponent 48-21? Robinson spearheaded the charge with 387 yards and 4 TDs passing, while Harris and Southward combined for 180 yards and a score on the ground. For Ohio, QB Boo Jackson threw for 208 yards and 3 TDs, but many of those yards (and scores) came long after the game was decided. Ohio's running attack was limited to just 99 yards. An outstanding finish to a slightly disappointing season.

Worst Game: Troy don't lost conference games very often, let alone at home. For perennial strugglers the Golden Panthers to walk in and run over them was shocking. Robinson threw for 299 yards and 2 score, put was picked off twice, and the running game only accounted for 108 yards, although they were playing from behind for most of the game. FIU QB Wesley Carroll threw for 220 yards and 3 TDs on just 8 completions, and they had three hundred yard rushers as the running game totaled a team record 448 yards. A very disappointing loss that essentially cost them a shot at their fifth consecutive outright title.

73. Washington State (2-10, 1-8 PAC 10)
The Original Forecast: Pundits are becoming wary of predicting a breakthrough year for the Cougars, as they have been simply awful as of late. There was hope for this season, with more experience and talent, but they play a tough OOC schedule and play in the increasingly tough PAC 10. They may be a better team, but probably won't have the results to show it.

The Outcome: The defense and running game were still pretty poor, but the passing attack under Jeff Tuel was pretty good. Tuel threw for 2780 yards and 18 TDs against 12 interceptions, and added 199 yards and a score on the ground. Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter were reliable targets, catching 117 passes for 1664 yards and 13 TDs. The leading rusher, however, was James Montgomery with a meager 483 yards and 5 TDs. DE Travis Long led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss, but that was about as good as it got for a struggling defense. The team was improved on the field, being more competitive in most games than in recent history, but they're still a couple of years away from bowl eligibility.

Best Game: WSU hadn't won a conference game since '08 when they headed to Corvallis to take on Oregon State. They left happy after flattening the Beavers 31-14 behind a solid performance on both sides of the ball. Tuel was the main man as usual, throwing for 157 yards and a score and running for 79 yards. Montgomery chipped in with 67 yards and a TD. The defense was great, holding the Beavers to 261 yards and turning the ball over three times, while allowing just 2 of 10 3rd down conversions. A bright spot in another dismal season.

Worst Game: Nice to see fewer choices this year, but there was still a few disasters. Getting blanked 42-0 by Arizona State has to rank as their worst showing on the season though. Tuel threw for 200 yards, but was picked off twice, while the running game accounted for just 8 yards. For the Beavers, QB Steven Threet threw for 300 yards and 3 TDs a week after a concussion. The Cougar defense held ASU to 118 yards rushing, but it mattered little with Threet passing with aplomb. In a season in which one hopes for improvement, laying an egg this late is never good. A very poor performance.

72. Fresno State (8-5, 5-3 WAC)
The Original Forecast: The Bulldogs have been one of the WAC's more successful teams, but have lived in the shadow of Boise State for a while now. With most of their starting offense back, they were expected to be competitive again, in spite of a tough OOC schedule. They're not good enough to challenge Boise, but a bowl game was a given.

The Outcome: Pretty much the same as last year. The offense wasn't as good and the defense was a little better, but was still suspect against the run. They got to the QB 37 times, but only came up with a feeble 13 turnovers. DE Cris Carter and DT Logan Harrell were the stars of the show with a combined 101 tackles, with 9 for loss and 21.5 sacks. RB Ryan Matthews was missed on offense, though small but quick sophomore Robbie Rouse racked up 1129 yards and 8 TDs. Ryan Colburn improved on last season, although he still had a couple of howlers. This season he threw for 2817 yards and 23 TDs, with just 9 picks, 5 of which came in two games. Jamel Hamler was his favorite receiver, catching 54 passes for 812 yards and 6 TDs despite some injury issues. It was a typical season for Fresno, knocking off some BCS foes, yet losing to league opponents. To be fair, the WAC was tough this year, so the season was a relative success if you disregard the bowl game.

Best Game: Pat Hill's squads have had a reputation for giant killing over the years, and with last year's BCS bowlers Cincinnati coming to town for the first game, there was another possible scalp in the offing. In a close loss last season, the Bulldogs held the ball for nearly 44 minutes but still lost 28-20. This time, neither team could get anything going on the ground, but Colburn threw for 247 yards and 4 TDs against one interception in a 28-14 victory. The defense was excellent, allowing 15 yards rushing while holding Cinci QB Zach Collaros to 219 yards and a score in 41 attempts. The Bearcats actually led 14-0 at one stage, completely dominating the game, but Fresno's pass rush lit it up from the second quarter on, ending the day with eight sacks. By the end of the season, the win looked less impressive, but at the time it was quality.

Worst Game: No-one expected the Bulldogs to beat Boise State, but it was an opportunity to show they were close. They blew it. Colburn was awful, completing just 6 of 23 passes for 76 yards and 2 interceptions, while Robbie Rouse had 70 yards but over half came on the last drive. Broncos QB Kellen Moore threw for 333 yards and 4 TDs, and one pick, with Titus Young and Austin Pettis catching 18 passes for 257 yards and 4 TDs between them. The 51-0 loss was the first time Fresno was shut out in 13 years. Simply dreadful.

71. Miami, Ohio (10-4, 7-1 MAC)
The Original Forecast: The Redhawks had the look of a team in the middle of a rebuilding phase. They had some talent, but not much depth. They had a nasty OOC schedule, but could probably pull off three or four wins with a couple of upsets. This is a team for the future.

The Outcome: Wow! The defense was night and day better, playing tough against both run and pass and coming up with an excellent 35 turnovers. MLB Jerrell Wedge was again the star with 101 tackles, 15 for loss, but this time he had help. WLB was outstanding, with 94 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 6 interceptions while also defending 9 passes. Corner Dayonne Nunley had 7 tackles for loss and another 6 picks. DE Jason Semmes led all sackers with 6. The running game still struggled despite the efforts of Thomas Merriweather who had 921 yards and 12 TDs. QB Zac Dysert threw for 2406 yards with 13 TDs and 12 interceptions (10 in 3 games), but missed the last 4 games with injury. In stepped Austin Boucher who amassed 1120 yards, 6 scores and 3 picks. Armand Robinson and Nick Harwell led the receiving corps with a combined 158 receptions for 1933 yards and 12 TDs. After winning just one game last season, the Redhawks had one of the biggest turnarounds in FBS history. They lost to Ohio in the MAC and 3 BCS foes, but won every other game, including beating Northern Illinois in the title game and Middle Tennessee in the bowl. The only people who could possibly be disappointed with this season are their opponents.


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