Monday, February 21, 2011

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.


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