Thursday, March 3, 2011

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.


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