Posted by Walter
Yesterday we saw how well we did at predicting the preseason's overrated teams, but how did we do trying to find sleepers? Maybe these teams did pull through and have great years. Maybe they weren't that good and we just missed, or maybe they simply failed to live up to their ability. Let's take a look.........
Walter's Five Up
Analysis: This pick was looking great when the Golden Hurricanes started the year 7-1, but it looks not as good when they finished the year 1-4. Overall Tulsa had a decent year. Their two top wins were against the very solid East Carolina and Navy squads, and their losses were against top Conference USA teams (SMU, Houston, Rice) and BYU. But I definitely expected better things from Tulsa this season. They failed to build upon their breakout season a year ago, and really struggled offensively at times. They missed Garrett Mills more than I thought they would, and QB Paul Smith failed to take the next step. They did finish 8-5 so this isn't a total miss, but they didn't maintain the momentum from 2005, and got waxed by Utah in their bowl game. Steve Kragthorpe can be proud of what he accomplished at Tulsa, but even he will tell you this season wasn't what he thought it would be.
Hit or miss? - Hit, barely. Or miss, barely. This team proved that they were ranked just where they should have been. They did not underachieve but they certainly were not underrated.
Analysis: By far my best pick. An 11-3 season, coupled with record offensive numbers and a top 25 ranking definitely qualify the Warriors as one of the most underrated teams to start the season. The big question facing Hawaii this year was how they'd fare against some of the BCS conference teams on their schedule. Though they did lose at Alabama and Boise, they performed very well. Add in wins over Purdue and Arizona State and you have what amounts to a coming out party for the nation's preeminent offense. With Colt Brennan, Davone Bess and Co. returning next season, don't expect them to fly under the radar again.
Hit or miss? - 100% hit. Right on the nose, this was one of the most underrated teams to start the year and they proved it with big performances against their top competition (see above, and including Fresno State and Nevada).
Colt Brennan playing the gunslinging role of Yul Brunner, and Davone
Besse as the "walk softly but carry a big stick" cool Steve McQueen.
Analysis: Ouch, this one hurts. You'd better believe I was riding high after the Wildcats beat BYU in the opener, but it was all downhill from there. For the third straight season Arizona failed to take a step forward under Mike Stoops finishing a bowl less 6-6. But while the numbers won't wow anyone, this team was actually pretty close to being good. The 6 losses are all defensible and against top competition: at LSU, USC (whom they played tough), Washington, at UCLA, Oregon St., and Arizona St. Of their 6 wins, three were extremely impressive (over BYU, over Washington State on the road when the Cougars were ranked #25, and over Cal when they were ranked #8). So once again it was an up and down year for the Cats. They had a murderous schedule, didn't have any horrific losses, and flashed some real potential against Cal and Oregon (whom they rocked in Eugene 37-10).
Hit or miss? - I'd bet USC, Cal and Oregon would call them a hit as an underrated team, but 6-6 ain't gonna cut it. They weren't terrible, but they didn't take a step forward. Miss.
Analysis: Another direct hit. I actually thought Arkansas would take baby steps, and be ready to challenge for the SEC crown in 2007. Not so much. Arkansas featured a devestating running game with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and rode those horses to a shocking 10-4 season. The crazy thing is that if not for a murderous stretch at the end of the season (#9 LSU, #4 Florida, #7 Wisconsin), Arkansas' record would have been that much better. If they can get even mediocre quarterback play from Casey Dick next season, they have enough skill position talent in McFadden, Jones, and WR Marcus Monk to be a player for the national title. If they are ranked outside of the top 10 in the preseason, you may find them on this list once again.
Hit or miss? - As dead on a hit as you will find.
1) Northern Illinois
Analysis: OK, so I got a little N Illinois crazy during the preseason when I predicted that they would hang with Ohio State and beat Iowa.....sue me. They did finish the year 7-6, but there is no way I can feel good about this pick. They got clobbered by the Buckeyes in the opener (although G Wolfe did run wild against them as I thought he might), lost to Ohio the next week in a clear hangover game, hung with a terrible Iowa team before falling 24-14, and got pasted by 30 points in their bowl game vs. TCU. Overall, an ugly ugly picture. Of their 7 wins you can only count one as being a quality win (over C Michigan), and several you could say shouldn't even count (Ball State, Temple, Buffalo). Perhaps I dug too deep into my bag of tricks for Northern Illinois, perhaps the allure of making such a shocking prediction was a ploy to catch your attention. Whatever it was, it was a total failure.
Hit or miss? - Miss. Not even close really. N Illinois won the MAC last season so anything short of that has to be considered a failure.
Overall Grade: Well let's see, two great picks (Hawaii and Arkansas), plus two poor picks (Arizona and Norther Illinois), plus one mediocre pick (Tulsa) equals.....how about a B-. I was tempted to give myself a straight C seeing as the good picks just about cancel out the bad ones, but that seemed a bit harsh. None of my picks absolutely bombed this year (ahem, UConn, ahem, UTEP). I mean they all finished with non-losing records. And picking Hawaii and Arkansas (who both started outside but finished inside the top 25) was more impressive than Arizona and N Illinois were pitiful. Yes B- seems about right.......well maybe C+.
Frazier's Five Up
Analysis: Hmmmm. This is a tough place to begin. Now, the Huskers started the season #20 in the AP and #22 coaches poll. They finished the season out of the top 25 in both polls, although just out. They ended up going 9-5, which isn't great, but they did make the Big 12 Championship game, so there should be something said for that. Zac Taylor really failed to make progress this year, and he was inconsistent, at best. He played his worst in his biggest games, and can't blame his running attack for a change, because it was better than expected. This whole team was generally mediocre, losing a close, and ugly, game to Auburn in their bowl. Not a terrible year, but not the step forward they might have had.
Hit or miss: Miss. Dammit. I wanted this to be a hit. Making the Big 12 title game was such a fucking tease. But, as they did all year, they simply couldn't win a big one.
Analysis: Wow, this is a slightly better pick. Arkansas really arrived on the scene this year, led by the swiss-army running back and an innovative offensive approach. Who needs a quarterback when you have McFadden? (Actually, Arkansas still did, as competent play from that position and they may have really done something). They had four losses on the year, yet, those four losses came from top 5 schools! That is un-fucking-believable. No one had a tougher road. Still, they had a great year, and really deserve a ton of credit. I may have been a little overenthusiastic about Nutt (altho he actually was pretty good this year) and Mustain (the kid has ego issues). They really DID have a softer SEC schedule, it's just their trip to the SEC Championship, and top bowl really weighted down the end of the year schedule. I hope all the drama of the off-season doesn't blow their chance for something special next year. And I pray that McFadden stays healthy. He's a joy to watch.
Hit or miss: Hit. Absolutely. Great year for the Hogs.
McFadden is not Swiss.....he actually hails from Lichtenstein.
Analysis: Ugh. This pick gave me nightmares all season. My rationale behind this pick was that a third Big East team would emerge due to a soft schedule, and with a lucky win would hit the national stage. I just bet on the wrong horse. My decision was between UConn and Rutgers, and some Jersey bias probably led me down the wrong path. They played Rutgers to a virtual tie last year, so I figured one of those teams would break through. Although I knew Schiano was doing good work, I bet on the program building skills of Randy Edsall. My analysis of the situation was dead-on, but my pick to fill that void was misguided. The turmoil at quarterback between the mediocre Bonislawski and the mediocre Hernandez didn't help things. The Huskies ended up taking a step backwards, with a 4-8 campaign.
Hit or miss: Big miss. The worst kind, because I correctly identified a place for a no name team to rise to national prominence. Yeah, that team was Rutgers. Fuck.
2) Boise St.
Analysis: I couldn't be prouder. I feel like a papa bear showing his cub off to the world. Seriously, I love the Broncos, their crazy smurf turf, and their insanely ballsy coach. Wow. I really, really, really love this team. I was right about Zabransky returning to his form of a couple years ago, which paid enormous dividends. I was also right about Peterson being a more than able replacement. Yeah, the offensive innovations were still on display. They went undefeated, remember?
Hit or miss: Biggest hit imaginable. They didn't lose a game, and won one of the best bowl games of all-time against Oklahoma. Yeah, it's a hit.
Analysis: Whoops. Honestly, I'm not sure what happened here. Palmer's numbers actually improved, but he didn't do it when he needed to. I thought he was going to make the leap, instead, he kind of spun in circles. It turns out that their ugly end of season slide last year was no fluke. And that team showed up regularly this year. Basically, their biggest problem is that everyone else simply got better. Tulsa was good again. Houston was vastly improved, and really played well this year. Rice came out of nowhere to be a good team. Well, UTEP simply couldn't keep up. Price did a poor job getting these guys to play, and needs to take some blame. He's a better coach than he showed this year. The team rushed for a total of 691 yards this year. That's pretty much the biggest culprit. They ran for 1,500 yards last year. By having zero running game, they focused every team's energy on the pass. While Palmer put up better numbers, he couldn't carry them all by himself. The team dropped from 8-4 to 5-7, and that is pretty disgusting. Basically, UTEP couldn't keep up with the Joneses (or the Houston's, Rices, or Tulsa's).
Hit or miss: Miss, badly. You can't win if you're allergic to running the ball. A huge disappointment.
Overall analysis: Ugh, not quite. That's sort of what happened here. Going 2 for 5 just isn't good enough. While the big man may have given himself a pass on Tennessee (they were a miss, chief) I refuse to do the same with Nebraska. That pick was a miss, even if they were damned close. I am more upset about the UConn pick than anything. I was literally debating between UConn and Rutgers all day when I made the call, and my personal bias against Rutgers decided it. I've been living with that decision every day since. The UTEP thing was an unmitigated disaster. I thought they were the best of a bad conference, turns out it was a pretty good conference, and they were pretty bad. Of course, the Arkansas pick was a total hit, and the Boise St. pick was as good as the Florida pick was bad.
Final Grade: One great pick (Arkansas) one better-than-great pick (Boise St.) a close miss (Nebraska) and two disasters (the U's, Conn and TEP). Without Boise St. it's a total wash, but they saved my day. If the U's could have pulled to .500, it's a damned good year. As it is, it's a C. Fuck it, it's a C+. (Thanks Broncos).