Not only are we bringing you CFB articles every week but we can rhyme our titles with the best of them. Double-bonus if there ever was one. With the conclusion of Week 7, we’ve hit the midway point of the season in college football and we’ll spend a few pieces this week looking back at the first half of the season and seeing what we learned, what we already knew and what we can expect as we head towards the second half of the year and closer to crowning another national champion. As the title suggested, we’ll spend Part 1 of the mid-season recap looking at the Mountain West and the rest of the Non-AQ conferences. BCS writer Yesh is starting the mid-season recap off for us and we’ll have the Big 12 and Big East coming up later today with me, Bryan. K.M and new CFB writer Chuck will hit you with the SEC, PAC-12, Big Ten and ACC later this week on Wed so if you’re a fan of a team in one of those conferences, check back later this week for those. Here’s a look back at the Mountain West and the rest…
This was supposed to be a banner year for the Mountain West. They knew that they needed to keep pace with the Big East in average overall computer rankings to ern themselves a chance at becoming a BCS AQ for the next two years. They also needed a highly-ranked champion and to have at least one other ranked team at the end of the year. Boise State has represented the conference well and done their part. The rest just aren’t keeping up. Assuming Boise State runs the table, there will be no one else in the conference with less than 3 losses. TCU suffered a shocking nonconference loss to SMU that really hurt the league and neither Air Force nor San Diego State could pick up that slack by beating TCU. They may still end up with their champion playing in the BCS National Championship Game if the cards fall the right way, and Boise State will most likely play in a BCS game even with 1 loss, but this has to be a disappointing year overall for the conference.
The best team in the league this year by far is Boise State. Their is no question about it. The only reason they won’t win every conference game by at least 30 (yes, even against TCU) is because Chris Petersen won’t ever run up the score and pulls his starters very early. He acts on principle, but it very well may cost Kellen Moore a chance at the Heisman. This past week, for example, Moore played his last play of the game with over ten minutes left… in the third quarter. This team is good. This team is deep. And this team’s reserves will just get better and better as they get more playing time in blowout wins. Kicking is still an issue, but I would be shocked if Boise State loses a game this year and almost as surprised if they win one not in a blowout. This team is just that good and their other potential challenges have not lived up to expectations.
Biggest surprise: I’ll give this to either Colorado State or Wyoming. I expected both to be absolutely terrible this year. Both have turned out to be just less-than-decent. Wyoming passes the eye test much better, or at least they did until they traveled to Utah State. Wyoming looked pretty decent the first few weeks of the year, even agaisnt Nebraska. The defense has even seemed solid at times while the offense looked pretty good behind Alvester Alexander and true freshman quarterback Brett Smith. Their loss @Utah State was downright embarassing though. Colorado State has been the exact opposite. The Rams have not looked good on either side of the ball really but have gotten the job done due to opportune tunrovers and a fair amount of luck. It wouldn’t be too shocking if they lose the rest of their games, but having three wins at this point is better than we could have expected of them.
Biggest disappointment: I’m not going to go with TCU on this. I didn’t expect them to be great. The loss to SMU was pretty bad, but when a team only returns 10 starters it’s really not fair to expect too much of them. That’s why I am going to say that the biggest disappointment is San Diego State. SDSU lost the coach who rejuvenated this program (Brady Hoke) to Michigan this year, but returned most of the talent from a team that had a lot of potential. They upset a not-terrible Washington State team but just had way too many mistakes against Michigan and TCU, both games that they could have come much closer in and possibly won if not for poor decisions and turnovers on offense. Ryan Lindley looked like an NFL quarterback last year but has really done nothing this year. He did lose two NLF-caliber receivers this year, but that in no way excuses his terrible decision-making so far this season. And Ronnie Hillman, the best running back this school has seen since Marshall Faulk and who never fumbles, suddenly can’t hang onto the ball in big moments. This team has time to turn things around and could still finish with nine wins, but it will have been a disappointing season regardless.
Best game so far: Well, it wasn’t so good for the league but TCU against Baylor on the first Friday night of the year was a doozy. Robert Griffin III tore the TCU defense to shreds for over three quarters and it looked like Baylor was on its way to a blowout. But Casey Paschall showed that years playing in Andy Dalton’s shadow was not for nothing and led the Horned Frogs on a furious comeback, scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter to take a one-point lead. Baylor avoided the major choke by winning on a field goal with a minute, an appropriate final cap on a game that did not feature much defense at all. The team that scored last deservedly won. This game featured a little bit of everything, including trick plays and a reception by Griffin over the middle of the field, something you never see.
Best game remaining: Is it bad that I am really not looking forward to any of the league games in this league anymore?I expect every Boise game to be a blowout. I would think about TCU but there is no reason Boise won’t rip apart that defense just like Baylor did and no one will put up that many points on Boise’s defense. Boise gets Air Force at home and is far too disciplined for an option offense to cause trouble, especially because they see Nevada’s similar pistol offense every year. I expected SDSU to challenge Boise, especially because they game is in Qualcomm Stadium and is right after Boise hosts TCU, but the Aztecs have shown us nothing this year that would let us think they can affect Boise. TCU has already beaten both Air Force and SDSU, so those potentially exciting games turned out to be duds. Honestly, the most exciting game might be Colorado State hosting Wyoming on December 3rd to try and get bowl-eligible. Kinda sad, isn’t it? If you forced me to pick a game I would say TCU @Boise State, but I’m really not expecting it to be anything special.
Best Player: Before the season I was hoping that I could put Ronnie Hillman in this spot instead of the obvious answer. And Hillman looked really good for 3 weeks. Since then though, he has been very disappointing. This league’s best player by far is Kellen Moore. He had one un-Moore like game against Nevada where he completed less than half of his passes and threw two interceptions. But he has been stellar otherwise, completing well over 70% of his passes and has a 17:4 touchdowns to interceptions ratio. This kid is just money. He’s a great leader on the field and a classy guy off of it too. It will be well-deserved when he passes Colt McCoy’s all-time wins record sometime in November. He is also on pace to break Graham Harrell’s all-time record for career touchdown passes, but Case Keenum will probably break it first and set a mark that Moore will be unable to match.
The rest: Instead of just giving you a whole new conference that isn’t so exciting and you probably don’t care about,we’ll just lump together the bottom four conferences and mention the exceptional teams and first-half memories from them.
Houston and Tulsa: It’s not really fair to call these teams surprising. Each is led by a a great quarterbacking and an improving defense. Tulsa played one heck of a nonconference slate and really never had a chance without Damaris Johnson. Houston is churning along behind Case Keenum’s arm and winning games. These two are on track to both be undefeated when they meet in Tulsa on November 26th for a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Louisiana-Lafayette: How about them Ragin’ Cajuns? When they gave Oklahoma State a decent run in Week 1 everyone was thinking that the Cowboys defense was just that bad. It kinda is, but it turns out that the Cajuns have some talent in there too. They took care of their other business out of conference and have already upset the two most talented Sun Belt teams. A trip to Arizona to end the season probably means that 11 wins won’t happen, but the Ragin’ Cajuns may very well become the Sun Belt’s first-ever team to win 10 regular season games. Injured quarterback Blaine Gautier will be missed, but the Cajuns have a balanced running attack, a more-than-solid backup quarterback in Chris Masson, and the toughest games are behind them.
Miami (OH)- This team had pretty high expectations coming into the year. They won 10 games last year and returned two quarterbacks who had each been successful last year. They lost coach Mike Heyward but a lot of people didn’t think that would hold them back. To be fair, they started out slow last year too and really cam into form to win the MAC. Still, their losses to Minnesota and Bowling Green did not look encouraging for the rest of the year. They should have been a middle-to-top MAC team and earned bowl eligibility. That is looking less and less likely though with games still remaining against Toledo, Temple, and Ohio.
Fresno State- Honestly, none of their losses were particularly bad. They played 4 very good teams out of conference and represented themselves well in 3 of them. Getting absolutely blown out by Boise State was expected and the Broncos didn’t disappoint. But when you play 4 quality opponents and have the talent that Fresno does (they have an NFL running back in Robbie Rouse and an NFL quarterback in Derek Carr) they should be able to actually win one of their AQ games. Cal and Ole Miss are certainly not world-beaters and Nebraska has shown to be a disappointment this year. Fresno not beating any of them and getting absolutely creamed by Boise certainly was not what the average fan was expecting this year.
Most snakebitten team: Utah State is a good team. They really are. And they were probably 3 plays away from starting 5-0. If they could cover an onside kick they would have beaten Auburn. They were a muffed punt with 2 minutes to go from beating Colorado State. And BYU needed a hail mary and a lucky tipped ball to be able to beat them. This team could definitely still win the WAC and should make a bowl game, but this could have been a special year for them. And remember the name Robert Turbin. He will be playing on Sundays and playing well.
Most controversial game: Toledo is a very solid team who, in my book at least, is 5-2 right now. The Rockets had a chance to beat Ohio State, played Boise State closer than anyone else but Georgia this year (which is admittedly notsaying much), and should have beaten Syracuse. To refresh your memories, Toledo lost that game in overtime after kicking a game-tying field goal to end regulation. Syracuse had a 3-point lead after an extra point that was clearly wide (it wasn’t even above the uprights, it was just wide) that was ruled good by both the officials on the field and the replay officials. The standard “apology” was offered by the Big East Conference since it was their refs who screwed up, but in the end you can’t change the fact that Toledo lost the game-officially. Big East and BCS officials are just praying at this point that that difference won’t affect anything in the national championship race.
Best player: There are a lot of very good players sprinkled around these leagues. It would not be completely fair just to list one top one. But the best quarterbacks from these four leagues have to be Case Keenum and G.J. Kinne. The two Conference-USA quarterbacks each have a good team behind them and they will face off the second-to-last week of the regular season (as mentioned above), most likely for a spot in the C-USA championship game. Keenum will get all of the Heisman love because of all of the records he will break and because he puts up the gaudier numbers, but Kinne is just as talented a quarterback. Also, Eric Page from Toledo deserves a mention. He is an amazing receiver with great hands, he can get open against just about anyone, and is very dangerous as a return man. He can do a ton of damage in the open field and might be the driving force behind a MAC championship run for Toledo.
Best game remaining: Well, if I haven’t built it up enough yet, you may have guessed that I am really looking forward to the meeting between Tulsa and Houston. It should be a great offensive shootout that will be determined by which defense can come up with stops at crucial times. But Conference-USA actually has a bunch of good teams this year and the games between them should be pretty good. SMU and Southern Miss are pretty talented teams and any game between two of these five times (those three plus Houston and Tulsa) should be pretty high-quality and enjoyable games. I still expect Houston and Tulsa to run the table until then though and set up one more blockbuster game to finish off the year