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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Utah

Is the Pac-10 ready for Utah? Better yet, is Utah ready for the Pac-10? It depends where we stand — or stood — on the calendar. This past September or October? At the point, I felt that Utah could have played with any team in the country: 8-0, the Utes sneaked past Pittsburgh, demolished Iowa State and beat Air Force before turning towards November. The final month wasn’t kind: 2-2, with ugly losses to T.C.U. and Notre Dame followed up by narrow wins over B.Y.U. and San Diego State. Which team shows up in 2011? That’s not such a tough question — despite the poor finish, anyone banking on Utah finishing in the second division of the Pac-10 should think twice.

Boise State (11-1, 7-1)

Regular season in review Only in this new age of Boise State football could a one-loss regular season be seen as a slight disappointment. That one loss — if you stayed awake — came at Nevada, a back-and-forth, one-for-the-ages loss that came about only because of a pair of special teams gaffes from kicker Kyle Brotzman. Outside of that game, only Virginia Tech sniffed Boise State all season; in hindsight, perhaps the fact that the Broncos could rest their starters for the second half of most games until heading to Nevada took a toll on the starters, still on the field into overtime. If that’s the biggest problem a team has, you know it’s been a successful season. Par for the course, more of the same, nothing to see here, move along: the Broncos rolled out of bed and went 11-1. The future holds a transition to the Mountain West, where Boise State is sure to be tested more than it was in the WAC. What else does the future hold? Something like 11-1, 12-0 — somewhere in that area.

Regular season high point The win over Virginia Tech to start the regular season. Those who thought less of that win following Virginia Tech’s loss to James Madison stood corrected after the Hokies ran roughshod through A.C.C. play. There was nothing wrong with the ensuing 10 wins, of course, though the detractors continue to come out of the woodwork with each Boise State win.

Regular season low point The loss to Nevada. The silver lining: perhaps a still-stacked Boise State team in 2011 will learn from the difficult experience.

Regular season offensive M.V.P. Quarterback Kellen Moore. Expecting someone else? Instead of recounting Moore’s superb season, a few other options in this spot: running back Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,113 yards and 11 scores; wide receiver Titus Young, Moore’s favorite target; and left guard Nate Potter, who has earned first-team all-WAC honors at both that position and left tackle over the past two seasons.

Regular season defensive M.V.P. Defensive end Ryan Winterswyk. It’s not all about numbers for the senior: while he led all Boise State defensive linemen with 41 tackles (7 for loss), Winterswyk’s impact goes beyond his statistical impact.

Utah (10-2, 7-1)

Regular season in review There was just no stopping T.C.U. in 2010, though that’s of little solace for a Utah team eying one final M.W.C. title before taking flight to the Pac-10. Not that there was any excuse for such a sloppy performance at home: after being embarrassed at T.C.U. in 2009, it was thought that Utah would put forth a better effort against the Horned Frogs. Not quite. That loss preceded another embarrassing defeat, this one by 28-3 at Notre Dame, giving the program back-to-back losses for the first since time since opening the 2007 season 0-2. The big question: is this Utah team really that good? Well, yes, of course. Yet even the most ardent fan must admit that the Utes feasted on inferior opposition to get to 8-0, beating only two teams that finished 2010 with winning records. Those November struggles, on the other hand, saw Utah scuffle for the first time in several years.

Regular season high point Wins over San Diego State and B.Y.U. to end the season. The former win, a 38-34 decision in San Diego, clinched the second spot in the Mountain West. The win over B.Y.U., as always, meant the world to Utah and its fans.

Regular season low point The answer is T.C.U., but the loss to Notre Dame was equally dreadful. Over a two-week span, an offense that had averaged 38.9 points over its first nine games accounted for all of 10 points.

Regular season offensive M.V.P. Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher. This season provided vindication to yours truly, who has plugged Christopher, a star quarterback in high school in Nevada, heading into each of the last two seasons. He embraced the opportunity for playing time in 2010, putting forth a big performance in the win over Pittsburgh and providing big-play ability throughout the season. Christopher trailed off in November — like his team — but he was Utah’s best weapon in the passing game.

Regular season defensive M.V.P. Linebacker Chaz Walker. He paced Utah in tackles (103, 7 for loss) while adding a pair of sacks and an interception. Not bad for a former walk-on in his first season in the starting lineup.

Know Your Sponsor

Maaco Don’t confuse Maaco, the auto repair chain, with AAMCO, the transmission chain, though each were founded by Anthony A. Matino of King of Prussia, Pa. How do I tell the two apart? For starters, I always tell myself, “Paul, AAMCO is the chain with an estimated $250 million in revenue, while Maaco is the chain with merely $53 million in revenue.” Another way? I try to recall each chain’s radio jingle: for Maaco, it’s “Uh oh, better get Maaco!”; for AAMCO, it’s “Double A (honk, honk), M-C-O.”

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  1. schedule nit says:

    Dude, you’re getting no slack on this one. If that’s the worst problem a team has, then they should try playing some decent opponents. Schedule’s a traveshamockery; on top of the softness they juryrig every spot they possibly can. Play VT on a monday? Better take a bye week. La Tech and the Rainbows back to back? Better put a bye week in between and play the first on a Thursday so you get extra rest and prep for those two powerhouses! Oh, and be sure to make Hawaii an early game! Play Nebraska? Not on my watch! Joke of a schedule, no matter how good they are.

    Loaded for next year, huh? I thought they had 20 senior starters returning THIS YEAR. Surely you’re not that impressed with the backups who just held serve in the second halves vs Boise’s patsies.

    Oh, and lol at the notion of the Broncos being tired v Nevada because they’d sat in 2nd halves. These guys are not you or me playing a 2nd round of 18 holes–they get other exercise!

    Paul: This was a DMK-esque dismantling of my argument.

  2. DMK says:

    Ugh. What a pointless game. Boise wins big and everyone will say that, yes, the Broncos are probably the best team in the country and they were robbed. But it’s the fans who were robbed: We needed to see Boise against an AQ team with some talent. As it is, we’ll learn nothing.

  3. Zaboo says:

    Boise State’s Schedule was comparable to Ohio State’s and Michigan State’s, according to Sagarin.

    Jus’ sayin’.

  4. schedule nit says:

    Yeah, but I haven’t caught Paul trying to talk them up yet. Also, while both their schedules are embarissingly bad (8 home games and 7 home games plus a “neutral” vs a Florida cupcake in Detroit) Sagarin (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong) accounts for their particular gimmicks, but not the bye-week and 8 am Hawaii-time shenanigans that Boise pulls. On the flip side, Alabama gets no special credit for playing 6 consecutive SEC opponents coming off bye weeks–but try running that gauntlet sometime. Again, open to correction, but that’s my understanding.

    Also, this year Sagarin has developed a heavy Pac 10 bias and probably gives Boise too much credit for playing OSU and playing WAC teams who played AGAINST Pac 10 teams. Or they are simply the greatest conference ever by a wide margin. You decide.

    Sparty I can give a slight pass to since they were just trying to emerge from the mediocremuck and make some bowls. Ohio State’s schedule is a joke and it’s probably their best in years–whole program’s a joke designed to make the SEC look good.

  5. Zaboo says:

    I didn’t know mathematical formulas could have conference biases.

    I stand corrected.

  6. schedule nit says:

    Well I’m not some kook saying the formula is angry at the Big 10, I’m just saying this season it has developed a predictor bias in favor of the Pac 10. It’s a formula working with small sample sizes and trying to compare conferences. That boils down mostly to OOC record and the Pac 10 had a great record this year. Kudos to them but there was some run-good involved and since they play 9 conference games, we’re only talking about 31 games (USC played 13). Big 10 has 44, SEC has 48–that’s a lot more room to regress to the mean.

    Sagarin is a good predictive model, but it’s not the best. You know who has better predictive models? The bookmakers (try making money betting the Sagarin side when it disagrees with the house). Guess how the books’ Pac 10 bowl lines compare to Sagarin:

    Bowl, Sag predictor, Sbook line
    Alamo, +0.14 , +5
    Holiday, +13.15, +14
    Orange, -9.43, -3.5
    NCG, -7.08, +3

    So close on one, and bullish on the Pac 10 team by 5, 6, and 10 on the others. So it seems to me it has a Pac 10 bias. Or Arizona State is really the 20th best team in the country.

  7. nizerdone says:

    this is exactly when this miserable game should be played…a week and change before the real bowls get going.

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