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They are the teams who upset your favorites. They are the underdogs you root for or hate every year. They can win you big money, or they can bust you out with their upset victories. Their dream? Making a BCS bowl game. These are the top ten non-BCS schools, or mid-majors, if you prefer.
#1 Boise State Broncos: We all know the Broncos. Since 2006, the blue turf bandits have made off with victories over Oregon State, Oregon, Utah, and TCU. Let’s not forget the Statue of Liberty play to defeat Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Since that undefeated year, the Broncos have four total losses. Last year’s team saw QB Kellen Moore throw for 39 touchdowns to just three picks. Wide receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis combined to catch 142 balls for 1,896 yards and 24 touchdowns, while running backs Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin averaged 5.5 yards and 6.0 yards per carry, respectively. The two combined for 21 scores. Last season’s top-ranked scoring offense retains all of these leaders, so matching last year’s 450.8 yards and 42.2 points per game is doable. The defense retains star cornerback Brandyn Thompson, who intercepted five balls in 2009. Most of the defense from last year was made up of freshmen and sophomores, so this unit is only going to improve. This season, the Broncos open with Virginia Tech, a school that has struggled in early-season games as of late. With a win, the Broncos would be set to not just make a BCS bowl, but be the first non-BCS school to reach the National Championship game.
Key non-conference games: Virginia Tech (N), Oregon State
Key conference games: @ Nevada, @ Idaho
#2 TCU Horned Frogs: Since 2005, the Horned Frogs have taken out Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Stanford, Utah, BYU, Boise State, Virginia, and Clemson. Last year’s impressive squad, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, averaged 456.7 yards and 38.3 points per game. Dalton threw for 2,756 yards, 23 scores, and eight interceptions. This year, he will be throwing to a trio of seniors in Jeremy Kerley, Jimmy Young, and Bart Johnson, who combined for 110 receptions and seven scores in 2009. Running back Matthew Tucker averaged 6.4 yards per carry last year, scoring eight times. He will be the primary running back with the loss of Joseph Turner. A defense that gave up just 239.7 yards and 12.8 points per game retains the majority of its starters, though both Jerry Hughes and Darryl Washington are now in the NFL. Like Boise State, the Frogs have several freshmen and sophomores returning with great experience. They will have their chance to make another statement with a week one game against Oregon State.
Key non-conference game: Oregon State (N)
Key conference games: BYU, @ Utah
#3 Navy Midshipmen: Navy sails into 2010 coming off a ten win season, including victories over both of the other service academies. The Middies lost three games by seven points or less. With the return of quarterback Ricky Dobbs and another year of the famed spread-option offense, Navy is looking for another great season. Dobbs threw just 105 passes in 2009, completing 56 of them for 1,031 yards, six touchdowns and three picks. Of course, on the ground, he ran 315 times for 1,203 yards and a whopping 27 tuddies. Joining him in the unique offensive attack are fullback Vince Murray and a host of young, but talented slot-backs ready to replace Marcus Curry. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 182 touches, scoring six times. However, Curry was dismissed from the team in May after violating team rules and failing a drug test in January. Eager to step up are backs Gee Gee Greene, Alex Teich, and Aaron Santiago. Greene averaged 6.2 yards per rush last year, while returning 33 kickoffs for 607 yards. Teich contributed 376 yards on 70 carries. On defense, Navy will be led once again by DE Jabaree Tuani and safety Wyatt Middleton. They will have to re-tool at linebacker however, as the three starters are gone. Tyler Simmons will be heavily relied upon to lead the new group. Navy has a favorable schedule, so another ten win season is looking likely.
Key games: @ Air Force, Notre Dame(N), @ East Carolina
#4 Houston Cougars: There is a significant drop-off after Boise State and TCU, but Houston took out Texas Tech, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State last season. The Cougars feature a high-powered offense and the nation’s statistically leading quarterback in Case Keenum. Keenum completed 492 of 700 balls last year for 5,671 yards, 44 touchdowns, and 15 picks. The team returns three 1,000 yard receivers in James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, and Patrick Edwards. The three combined for 27 touchdowns, all averaging at least 11.3 yards per catch. Clearly, there is not much use of the running game, but if needed, the Cougars have two running backs in Charles Sims and Bryce Beall, who are capable. Sims averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored nine times, while Beall gained 670 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Don’t look for the 108th ranked defense to improve much, however. Last year’s unit gave up 451.3 yards and 30.1 points per game. Senior cornerback Jamal Robinson intercepted five balls a year ago and will lead a defense that is extremely young. Houston will be in the spotlight in its final game of the year at Texas Tech.
Key non-conference games: @ UCLA, Mississippi State, @ Texas Tech
Key conference games: @ SMU, UCF, Tulsa
#5 Temple Owls: You’re asking yourself: “How did Temple get on any top ten lists, other than maybe the worst schools ever?” Well, my friend, Temple has turned it around, at least for a little while. Yes, it lost to Villanova in week one of the 2009 campaign, but then again, Villanova won the FCS championship. The Owls put together a nine game win streak, finishing the regular season at 9-3 before losing by nine to UCLA in their first bowl appearance since 1979. Vaughn Charlton returns as the quarterback for 2010, but last year was not impressive; he completed 107 of 213 passes for 1,390 yards, ten scores, and 11 picks. This will obviously have to improve. The wide receiving corps is deep, with only two players getting more than 20 catches. Five receivers caught at least two touchdowns, but none caught more than three. The ground game is the real excitement for the Owls, with star running back Bernard Pierce. Last season, Pierce carried 236 times for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns. Matt Brown also ran for 529 yards and five scores on 89 carries. On defense, the Owls should again be strong against the run, with an experienced and large line and senior linebackers Elijah Joseph and Amara Kamara leading the way. However, opposing quarterbacks racked up 226.4 yards per game, blasting through the Owls’ secondary. The schedule is no cakewalk, with the first four games against Villanova, Central Michigan, Connecticut, and Penn State. However, Temple could easily get another 9-3 season and MAC title game appearance.
Key non-conference games: Connecticut, @ Penn State
Key conference games: Central Michigan, @ Northern Illinois, Ohio
#6 Nevada Wolfpack: The Wolfpack quietly had a 7-1 conference record and the best rushing offense in the nation a year ago. After getting stomped by Notre Dame, Colorado State, and Missouri, the team went on an eight game win streak, before losing its final regular season game and a bowl bid against SMU. Returning this year is quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who completed 166 of 282 throws for 2,052 yards, 20 touchdowns, and six picks. He was the top dual threat in the nation, adding 7.3 yards per rush on 161 carries, scoring 16 times. Rejoining last year’s number one ranked ground game is Vai Taua, who averaged 7.8 yards and scored ten times on 172 carries. The team loses its third 1,000 yard rusher in Luke Lippincott, but there is plenty of depth in Mike Ball and Mark Lampford. At wide receiver, the team returns Brandon Wimberly, Tray Session, and Chris Wellington. The three combined for just nine touchdowns in the nation’s 107th ranked passing offense. The Wolfpack will need to improve their passing offense to keep up their winning ways. Last year’s unit gave up a second to last ranked 297.8 yards per game through the air. In the team’s five losses, the opposition scored at least 31 points. The line and linebacking core losses are minimal, and the only way to go is up for the secondary. The conference road schedule is terribly brutal, however.
Key non-conference games: California
Key conference games: @ BYU, @ Idaho, Boise State
#7 Utah Utes: The Utes are looking tough once again for 2010. They have some holes to fill on defense, but with BYU losing Max Hall and other staples, Utah is primed to be right there with TCU. The offense will be led by sophomore QB Jordan Wynn, who threw for 1,329 yards, eight scores, and four picks in a half season’s work after replacing junior Terrance Cain. The team loses a 1,000 yard wide receiver in David Reed, but retains Jereme Brooks, who led all receivers with seven scores. Sophomore Luke Williams will be the second throwing option for Wynn, having caught just nine passes last year. The rushing attack will be led by Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. Asiata tore his ACL early last season and was granted an extra year of eligibility. Wide emerged as a more than capable replacement, racing for 1,070 yards and 12 touchdowns on 202 carries. On defense, only five starters return. Last year’s unit allowed just 176.2 passing yards and 20.2 points per game. The biggest hit comes at linebacker, with all three starters now gone. However, junior J.J. Williams is expected to lead a young group. The schedule isn’t easy, but Utah does get most of the big games at home, including Pittsburgh, TCU, and BYU.
Key non-conference games: Pittsburgh, @ Notre Dame
Key conference games: @ Air Force, TCU, BYU
#8 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders: MTSU isn’t exactly one of the most talked about mid majors, but last year it showed it really does have a capable football program. The Raiders finished behind Troy for the Sun Belt title, but won ten games, including a bowl victory over Southern Miss. Now, it might just be MTSU’s year to win the Sun Belt. The offense will be led by a great dual threat in Dwight Dasher. He led his team with 1,154 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, while throwing for 2,789 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. At wide receiver, the team loses Chris McClover and Patrick Honeycutt, who combined for 961 yards and nine scores. Remaining are Garrett Andrews and Shane Blissard. The two only combined for 19 catches last year, though. This year’s defensive unit also has some strength. DE Jamari Lattimore returns, having racked up 5.5 sacks. Safety Jeremy Kellem has been named the Sun Belt preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The Blue Raiders will have their first statement game opportunity in week one, when the Minnesota Golden Gophers come to Tennessee.
Key non-conference games: Minnesota, @ Georgia Tech
Key conference games: @ Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy
#9 Northern Illinois Huskies: The Huskies are again on the rise, with back-to-back bowl appearances and an impressive win at Purdue last season. Now, they return several key starters and look to appear in the MAC Championship game with Temple. The offense will once again feature a strong running game, with senior Chad Spann. Last season, Spann gained 1,038 yards and scored 19 times on 179 carries. Fellow running back Me’Co Brown has left the program, so JUCO transfer Jasmin Hopkins will see action early. Chandler Harnish will again be the quarterback and will try to improve on a mediocre performance, throwing for 1,670 yards, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions last season. The 109th ranked passing offense will be searching for a top wide receiver, as only two caught more than one touchdown. Landon Cox appears to be the man, leading last year’s squad with 535 yards and four scores on 45 receptions. Defensively, the Huskies should be set. Nine starters are returning, but will need to improve on last year’s measly four total interceptions. Last year’s unit also allowed opponents to convert 41.2% of the time on third down, but did sack the quarterback 29 times. Where it really counts, the Huskies only surrendered 21.2 points per game. This season, the Huskies will face a brutal schedule, with four of the first five on the road. However, with the departure of Dan LaFevour at Central Michigan, the MAC West is NIU’s to lose.
Key non-conference games: @ Iowa State, @ Minnesota
Key conference game: Temple
#10: Central Florida Knights: The Knights are going to be a power in Conference USA’s East Division. The story here is the defense, which allowed just 84.7 rushing yards per game last season. Seven starters are returning, including DE Bruce Miller, who was responsible for 16 sacks in 2009. At cornerback, sophomore Josh Robinson will make another impact, intercepting six passes in his freshman debut. A unit that a year ago allowed just 22.5 points per game has nowhere to go but up. The offense is a different story, with junior Rob Calabrese stepping in at quarterback. He threw for three scores and no interceptions in limited action in 2009. Leading running back Brynn Harvey should be back from knee surgery in time for the season opener. On the plus side, the offense returns four starting linemen and its top receiver in Kamar Aiken, who scored nine times and averaged 16.9 yards per catch last year. The Knights have an excellent chance to make the C-USA title game, led by their lights-out defense.
Key non-conference games: North Carolina State, @ Kansas State
Key conference game: @ Houston