Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Long and Suite Preview: Non-Automatic Qualifying Conferences

Davante Adams hopes to take Fresno State to new heights in 2013... Ha, see what I did there?

By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

The BCS era, for the most part, widened the gap between the "haves" and "have nots" in college football.

Schools from automatic qualifying, or "BCS," conferences had easier access to lucrative bowl games and more attractive television rights deals. To make matters worse, each smaller conference and independent school (Other than Notre Dame) was given essentially no chance to win the national championship.

Despite all this, programs like Boise State, BYU and TCU (While a member of the Mountain West) enjoyed memorable runs during the BCS period. Next year will mark the end of the BCS, and soon the new "group of five" conferences-The AAC (former Big East), Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt- will be guaranteed a spot in a lucrative bowl game affiliated with the new college football playoff.

It isn't as sweet a deal as the AQ schools have, but it's a step in the right direction. As for this season, there will be plenty to watch for in the Non-AQ conferences.

Mountain West Loaded at the Top

In his first season as head coach, and his program's first year in the Mountain West, Tim DeRuyter led a resurgence at Fresno State. Behind quarterback Derek Carr's 4,100 yard, 37 touchdown junior season, the Bulldogs split the conference title with Boise State and San Diego State.

Carr announced he will return for what promises to be an eventful senior campaign, and Fresno State has BCS aspirations. Speaking of that, the program that has become synonymous with BCS busting will be Carr and DeRuyter's biggest hurdle. Boise State is the early favorite to face the Bulldogs in the inaugural MWC title game, and a September 20th matchup in Fresno could loom just as large for bowl purposes.

Quarterback Joe Southwick returns for his senior season after the Bronco offense endured some growing pains in 2012. Last season, the experienced defense was Boise's strength, but the opposite may be true in 2012 as the Bronco front seven will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. 

Northern Illinois Hopes to Repeat as MAC Daddies

The MAC had fallen off as a top mid-major conference until last season when NIU and Kent State each entered the conference championship game at 11-1. The Huskies won a thriller and went on to the Orange Bowl, while Toledo, Ohio and Ball St. each represented the conference well on the whole.

To the casual fan, the biggest concern for NIU will be replacing former coach Dave Doeren who left for NC State before the Orange Bowl. But, perhaps just as pressing, will be NIU's need to rebuild an underrated defense that loses nine starters from a year ago. Still, with the return of Jordan Lynch-the only player in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 and rush for 1,500 yards in the same season- the Huskies will be deserving favorites in a challenging MAC.

Independent BYU Faces Brutal Schedule

BYU will serve as Notre Dame-lite in the post BCS era as the Cougars remain independent, but still find ways to challenge themselves with difficult scheduling. This season's slate features seven opponents from BCS conferences, plus mid-major powers Boise State and Nevada.

It won't be an easy go for the Cougars, who overhauled their offensive coaching staff after a disappointing 2012, and now must replace a first round pass rusher and their entire defensive line on the other side of the ball.

Bobby Petrino Lives!

Whether he was secretly interviewing at Auburn to get out of Louisville and replace his mentor Tommy Tuberville, secretly leaving the Atlanta Falcons for Arkansas, or secretly riding a motorcycle with a woman that wasn't his wife, one thing is for sure: Bobby Petrino is a dick.

But, as every stop in his coaching career has shown, he's also a heck of a coach. That's what makes Petrino's hiring at Western Kentucky a great deal for both parties: WKU gets an amazing coach they normally wouldn't have a shot with, while Petrino gets a chance for redemption with a program that Willie Taggart already turned around.

Don't be surprised if the Hilltoppers pull off an upset or two, but also don't be surprised if Petrino has moved on in a year or two.

Potential Sleeper: Louisiana-Lafayette

It may be a bit of a cop-out to call the reigning Sun Belt champions "sleepers," but the Ragin' Cajuns have the potential to run the table in 2013. Returning junior quarterback Terrance Broadway set school records for total yardage and completion percentage in only nine starts, culminating in a New Orleans Bowl win over East Carolina.

Getting rival Louisiana-Monroe at home is a nice perk of this year's schedule, but ULL's three biggest games will come on the road, starting with back-to-back games against Arkansas and Kansas State. If the Ragin' Cajuns can get past the struggling Razorbacks and a Wildcat team searching for answers at quarterback, it's hard to see them getting tripped up by anybody else, including Petrino's Hilltoppers.

Players to Watch

Kyle Van Noy, DE, BYU. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno St. Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall

Ziggy Ansah was a first round pick out of BYU based on pass rush potential, but the guy that regularly harassed QBs last season for the Cougars was Van Noy. The talented outside linebacker has recorded 20 sacks over the last two years, and his decision to return for his senior season has BYU hopeful it can recreate lass season's defensive magic.

Adams was named the Mountain West's freshman of the year after leading the conference is every relevant receiving category by a WIDE margin. His 1,312 yards were nearly 500 more than second place, and his 14 touchdown receptions were five more than the closest conference competitor. Both of those totals were also good for conference and school records.

Expect more from the Palo Alto native, as he and QB Derek Carr look to light up the MWC for another season.

Archer is one of the most versatile players in the country. Serving as both a running back and a receiver at Kent State last season, the diminutive but explosive play maker accumulated nearly 2,000 yards of total offense (1,429 rushing, 561 receiving). While coach Darrell Hazell, who emphasized running the ball, has left for Purdue, new coach Paul Haynes would be foolish not to put the ball in Archer's hands as much as possible.

Last, but certainly not least, is Marshall's record-setting quarterback Rakeem Cato. The Miami native enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, throwing for over 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns, leading the nation is passing yards per game along the way. Despite all that, the Thundering Herd still finished 5-7, thanks to a defense that allowed over 43 points per game.

This season, it will be on Cato not only to pile up stats, but also wins in a newly depleted C-USA. With seven returning starters on defense and the league's best offense, Cato hopes to turn Marshall from a losing team to a conference champion.


Here is how I see some of the best Non-AQ teams finishing this season.

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