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Early Look at Non-AQ Schedules

Continuing with the series of early looks into each team’s schedule, I’ll dive into the non-AQ schools that could have a prominent role on the national scene. I tried to get a look at a team from every conference, but the WAC & Sun Belt didn’t make it in due to the fact that a team in those conferences didn’t have a schedule crappy enough to potentially win 11-12 games in a best case scenario. Another thing to keep in mind is that there could be quite a sea change when it comes to non-AQ schools. BYU has already gone independent, and this will be the last time TCU is a non-AQ school as it joins the Big East. With the Big East potentially looking for even more expansions, we could see Central Florida join that conference as well which would give them an even 10-teams. With the knowledge that the non-AQ could be different in 2012, let’s look at who the biggest stars should be in 2011.

BOISE ST. BRONCOS

Home: Tulsa, Nevada, Air Force, TCU, Wyoming, New Mexico
Road: Toledo, Fresno St., Colorado St., UNLV, San Diego St.

Neutral: Georgia

The Broncos move from the WAC to the MWC this season meaning the Broncos & TCU will mix it up in the regular season which of course will eliminate one of them BCS contention. What can you really say about Boise at this point? They are a well oiled machine. Chris Petersen is definitely not making the same mistake as Dan Hawkins did, so while Petersen is 61-5 in his first 5 seasons in Boise, he’s not leaving. The Broncos are coming off a 12-1 season in which their only loss came to Nevada. They return 7 on offense, but more importantly return QB Kellen Moore who last season passed for 3,845 yards & 35TD completing 71.3% of his passes. They also return RB Doug Martin who rushed for 1,260 yards & 12TD. They bring back 3 offensive lineman and TE Kyle Efaw. Boise does lose WRs Austin Pettis & Titus Young who combined for over 2,100 yards & 20TD! Boise brings 7 starters back from their base nickel package. Five of the front-6 return giving Boise the best down 6 in the WAC. You have to give some credit to Boise with the scheduling. Georgia, Tulsa, TCU, Air Force, San Diego St., and Toledo aren’t horrible teams. Nevada will be a bit down without Collin Kaepernick, but the Wolfpack gave Boise their lone loss from a season ago. The schedule boils down to playing Georgia in Atlanta. Boise wins this game and there is really nothing stopping them from going 12-0 and getting to a BCS Championship. However, that game is in Atlanta and Georgia should be pretty darn good. Boise hasn’t lost a home game since 2005, but they get both Tulsa & TCU at home. I don’t think those games will be easy. Should Boise win? Absolutely, but you never know. Tulsa returns 18 starters from a squad that went 10-3 a season ago. TCU won’t beat Boise St. A new QB won’t walk into Bronco Stadium and win. Another surprise team that might though could be Air Force. Remember that Boise has trouble with Nevada and that pistol offense. I don’t think Boise St. has played a team running some type of triple option scheme the way the Falcons do which could get interesting. Boise will be 4th game of a 4-week brutal stretch for Air Force, but I’d keep an eye on them. I don’t think Boise can lose any road games. Toledo & San Diego St. aren’t bad, but Boise should roll through them fairly easily. To me the win range is 9-12. The games they could lose are against Tulsa, Air Force & Georgia. If Boise takes care of business at home, then they are a minimum of 11-1. If they beat Georgia and take care of business at home, then there is nothing stopping them from being 12-0. Keep an eye on sequence for Boise St. They open in Atlanta against Georgia but then get an off week. They then travel to Toledo for a game that probably won’t be easy and then come home to play Tulsa. After Tulsa comes Nevada. After Nevada is back-to-back road games against Fresno St. & Colorado St. Boise should win those games, but I don’t think they’ll be walks. After those 2 road games, Boise comes back home to play Air Force. A lot of land mines in those 8 weeks.

TCU HORNED FROGS

Home: UL-Monroe, Portland St., SMU, New Mexico, BYU, Colorado St., UNLV
Road: Baylor, Air Force, San Diego St., Wyoming, Boise St.

The Horned Frogs are coming off the best season in TCU history. TCU finished the year 13-0 and ranked #2 in the nation after winning the Rose Bowl 21-19 over Wisconsin. Three offensive & two defensive starters were drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft with the Class of 2007 having arguably the most successful 4-year run (44-8) in TCU history. With great historical runs comes rebuilds. As long as Gary Patterson is HC, TCU is going to be very good. Especially defensively, but this year TCU returns just 3 starters on offense & 5 on defense. QB Andy Dalton is gone along with 4 of the 5 offensive linemen and the TE. RB Ed Wesley returns as does WR Josh Boyce, but the losses are significant. Defensively TCU does return all-world LBs Tanner Brock & Tank Carder, but only 3 of the front 7. The secondary is senior laden but with only 2 of the 4 returning in CB Greg McCoy & SS Tekerrein Cuba. TCU’s home slate isn’t too bad. They should win all of those games except for possibly BYU & SMU. The Mustangs have a pretty solid team with 18 starters returning, but might not be a national player because of their brutal schedule. June Jones is a good coach and TCU loses A TON. BYU of course will be solid. The road could be tough for TCU. Boise St., Air Force & Baylor could all win those games. I don’t see San Diego St. or Wyoming being a problem. That puts TCU’s win range of 7-11. The one game I can’t see them winning is the road game to Boise St. The worse season TCU has had in the last 6 years is an 8-5 campaign in 2007. I’m not sure they’ll drop to that kind of mediocrity, but finishing 7-5 given the turnover here? I wouldn’t be completely surprised.

HOUSTON COUGARS

Home: UCLA, Georgia St., East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, SMU
Road: N.Texas, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, UAB, Tulane, Tulsa

Houston is in an interesting situation. Phil Steele says their schedule is the 114th most difficult in 2011! Keep in mind there are only 120 teams in FBS! Case Keenum returns at QB and will likely end the season as college football’s all time leading passer if he can stay healthy through 13 games. Houston had a disappointing season last year going 5-7 after Keenum was injured. The year before Houston was 10-4 poised for a pretty big season in 2010. Keenum goes down and Houston plummets along with HC Kevin Sumlin’s star. Both could have significant rebounds in 2011 as Houston returns a ton at the skill positions and also 6 starters on defense. Defense has never been something Houston has stressed so expect the Cougars to average 45-50ppg and hopefully winning blowouts! The schedule sets up nicely for Houston. The only home games they could lose are against UCLA & SMU, although Houston should be favored in both games, especially the game against the Mustangs. The road slate is easy too with their only tough game likely coming against Tulsa in the season finale. That puts Houston’s win rage at 9-12. I would call the win range 9-11 with a definite loss at Tulsa, but the Golden Hurricane are going through a coaching change this season and odd things can happen with a new regime. Is Tulsa better? I think so, but Houston has a schedule that is so bad that they might be so well rested when they go to Tulsa that it could be a win. The wild card here is Case Keenum. Remember that 2-years ago, Keenum led Houston in Stillwater and beat the 5th-ranked Oklahoma St. Cowboys 45-35! That year Houston also went to Mississippi St. and got a win. Going to Tulsa won’t fluster him and he could himself will Houston to a 13-0 season including a CUSA title.

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI GOLDEN EAGLES

Home: Louisiana Tech, SE Louisiana, Rice, SMU, UCF, Memphis
Road: Marshall, Virginia, Navy, UTEP, E.Carolina, UAB

Speaking of CUSA titles, Southern Miss has an easier road than Houston does! While Houston’s schedule ranks 114th in the NCAA, Southern Miss’s ranks 117th! Southern Miss is coming off an 8-5 year, but this year could be a huge coming out part for Brett Favre’s alma mater! Southern Miss returns 7 starters on offense including QB Austin Davis, RB Kendrick Hardy, RB Desmond Johnson, & WR Kelvin Bolden. They return 3 starters on the O-line, but LT Lamar Holmes is a senior and was actually an Honorable Mention CUSA player last year which pretty much gives Southern Miss 8 returning starters with 4 being on the offensive line. Defensively Southern Miss returns 7 starters including 5 of the front 7. They return 5 of their top-6 tacklers. DE Cordarro Law, DE Jamie Collins, LB Korey Williams, and CB Deron Wilson should be All-CUSA performers. The schedule really is a joke. Southern Miss shouldn’t lose a game at home although I’m pimping SMU pretty hard. George O’Leary is doing a great job at Central Florida, but the Knight return just 10 starters and take on massive losses on defense. The road slate is also a joke. Virginia & Navy could be stumbling blocks, but the Midshipman lost do it all QB/RB Ricky Dobbs and bring only 3 players back on defense. Virginia has a ton back and Mike London is doing a good job in Charlottesville. I’ll hedge my bets and give Southern Miss a win range of 10-12. In reality, they should cruise to a 12-0 season, but I’m going to stick to pimping SMU and I’ll say Virginia could be the other loss. It could be a very interesting year in CUSA because both Houston & Southern Miss could be 12-0 by the time both meet in the CUSA championship game and you have to wonder if either will get a shot at a BCS bowl given how absolutely weak their schedules are shaping up to be.

BYU COUGARS

Home: Utah, UCF, Utah St., San Jose St., Idaho St., Idaho, New Mexico St.
Road: Mississippi, Texas, Oregon St., TCU, Hawaii

BYU goes from the Mountain West to full independence this season. BYU from 2006-2009 had a record of 43-9 and had the good fortune of having John Beck at QB in 2006 and Max Hall from 2007-2009. Last season the Cougars broke in true freshman QB Jake Heaps and BYU regressed to a 7-6 record, but did hammer UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. Heaps is a tremendous talent at QB so don’t expect anymore growing pains from him. Offensively BYU brings back 10 starters with the only loss coming at RG. They’ll be back to averaging 35-40ppg this season which will put a lot of pressure on the defense to hold teams down. BYU has a solid group of D-Linemen, but the back-7 is suspect. BYU’s defense won’t be fantastic this season, but as long as they bend and don’t break then the offense should be able to carry the rest of the load. One of the major reasons BYU went to the Las Vegas bowl for 4 straight years despite averaging an 11-2 record is that they couldn’t get past TCU who peaked during 2006-2009 as well. BYU still plays TCU, but overall this is one of the worst schedules in the nation. BYU should be able to take care of their home turf except for possibly the Holy War with Utah. BYU will be coming off back-to-back road games against Mississippi & Texas respectively before playing Utah. That’s a tough nut for anyone to crack. BYU could very well lose road games to Texas or TCU. I’ll also throw in Oregon St. & Ole Miss because you never know. That gives BYU a win range of 7-12. All the games are winnable for the Cougars especially if Heaps is much improves as a QB. The offense should be fantastic and I think for the most part they get teams who are down a bit. TCU loses Andy Dalton. Texas is coming off a bad season so there are question marks there. Oregon St. lost Jacquizz Rodgers. Ole Miss lost their QB in Jeremiah Masoli. There is definitely some transition that could work in BYU’s favor.

OHIO BOBCATS

Home: Gardner-Webb, Marshall, Kent St., Ball St., Temple, Miami-OH
Road: New Mexico St., Rutgers, Buffalo, Akron, C.Michigan, Bowling Green

It’s odd to put a MAC team here as a non-AQ school who could do some damage, but Ohio has the easiest schedule in college football according to Phil Steele and this could portend to a phenomenal season in Athens. Oddly enough Ohio doesn’t look like much on paper. They return only 7 starters on offense and actually lose their top rusher, top passer and two top receivers. They bring back their entire offensive line and their TE giving them arguably the best O-Line in the conference. Defensively they bring back just 4 starters and lose their top-4 tacklers and 4 of their top-5! The entire D-line is gone, but all 3 LBs return and the LB unit might be the best in the conference. Ohio should win all of their home games although I think both Temple & Marshall could be tough outs for the Bobcats. The road slate is flat out awful. They’ll lose at Rutgers, but the rest of the teams are brutally bad and Ohio should win those games. That puts their win range at 9-11. At worst they go 7-1 or 6-2 in the MAC. The only conference game they could potentially lose is the home date against Temple which might not happen meaning a perfect 8-0 season. What will be really interesting here is if Ohio can somehow beat Rutgers. Then a 12-0 season is in play although the MAC title game won’t be easy. The 3 best teams in the MAC are probably Toledo, Western Michigan & Northern Illinois. They all reside in the MAC West and Ohio misses them all during the regular season. Ohio could breeze through their schedule and still not be considered MAC champions because they lose the title game.

TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE

Home: Oklahoma St., North Texas, UAB, SMU, Marshall, Houston
Road: Oklahoma, Tulane, Boise St., Rice, UCF, UTEP

Tulsa could have been poised to do great things in 2011, but a couple of things aren’t working in their favor. The first is that HC Todd Graham bolted for Pittsburgh after Mike Haywood was fired for off-field issues surrounding his wife. The other problem facing Tulsa is their schedule which has them playing road games against Oklahoma & Boise St. along with a road game against Oklahoma St. The Golden Hurricane brings back 18 starters from a team that finished 10-3 last year that included a win over Notre Dame. This year Tulsa is right there with Southern Miss for title of best team in CUSA except they miss the Golden Eagles on the regular season schedule. Offensively Tulsa returns 10 starters from a team that averaged 41.4ppg last year! The only loss was HB Charles Clay. Defensively Tulsa returns 8 starters including 5 of their top-6 tacklers. Two of their losses were both DTs so they’ll need to find replacements in their interior D-line, but Tulsa should have the best set of LBs in the conference so hopefully they’ll be able to help out quite a bit. As I said before, the schedule is a little tough. I don’t think Tulsa can win road games against Oklahoma or Boise St. Even the game against Central Florida could be a tough one. The last time Tulsa visiting UCF, they lost 44-23 back in 2007. The home slate isn’t real easy either with games against Oklahoma St., SMU & Houston. That would make Tulsa 6-6 in a worst case scenario! That’s truly amazing considering the amount of talent Tulsa is bringing back from a 10-3 squad. Best case is 10-2 and an appearance in the CUSA title game. Tulsa gets fairly lucky by drawing Houston at home and avoiding Southern Miss outright. The big question here will be HC Bill Blankenship. He’s never been a HC or even a coordinator at the collegiate level. He was a high school coach until 2007 when he came on staff at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane will also have a new OC and a new DC. If the coaching staff had Todd Graham and his coaches back then Tulsa could be in for a wild ride, but with the new regime, there could be bumps in the road. I’ll give them a win range of 6-10.

WIN RANGES

Boise St. 9-12
TCU 7-11
Houston 9-12
Southern Mississippi 10-12
BYU 7-12
Ohio 9-11
Tulsa 6-10

I wanted to point out the reasons whey I didn’t include Toledo, Western Michigan or Northern Illinois among the non-AQ teams. That trio from the MAC could very well be better than Ohio and probably are. The problem with those teams however is the schedule. Ohio has a schedule that could very easily put them at 12-0/11-1 so they merit mention. Toledo might very well be the best team in the MAC, but they have road games against Ohio St. & Syracuse along with a home game against Boise St. They also play Western Michigan & Northern Illinois on back-to-back weeks. That puts their “best” case record at 9-3 and possibly 8-4. It’s the same for Western Michigan. The Broncos have road games against Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Northern Illinois & Toledo! It’s possibly their best case record is 7-5! Northern Illinois could have potentially been the best team of the 3 to include. The two games they might have trouble with is a date in Chicago against Wisconsin and then a road game against Toledo. For the most part if NIU goes 10-2/11-1 it won’t be all that surprising really.

As for the rest of the non-AQ schools listed, the only real national title contender is Boise St. They have a chance to go 12-0 and make some noise for a title game. They join a depleted MWC this season in which TCU suffers massive losses and BYU goes independent. BYU has a chance for 12 wins although I think their win range of 7-12 is too vast to think they’ll actually get to 12 wins. TCU loses too much. While they have a fantastic shot at getting to 11 wins, I don’t think they can win a road game in Boise to try for the perfect 12-0 they had last year.

Southern Mississippi & Houston have shots at 12-0 seasons, but both must win conference title games to finish 13-0 and I don’t think either school has built enough historical cache at the national level to really threaten a BCS bowl even if they do finish 13-0. The schedules themselves by playing in CUSA will be enough to keep them out.

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July 11, 2011 - Posted by | Boise St., BYU, Houston, Ohio, Schedule, Southern Miss, TCU, Tulsa

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