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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

Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. S.D.S.U.

A trip down memory lane. The year: 2004. The bowl: Emerald, then in its first year of existence, since renamed the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The game: Navy and New Mexico, two programs shaking off the doldrums under a new, energetic coach. The scene: with little time left in the third quarter, the Midshipmen begin a drive that takes 14 minutes and 26 seconds, encompasses 26 plays — 25 runs and a field goal — and leaves the nation’s eighth-best rushing defense beat, demoralized and gasping for air. If I were in some position of power — don’t hold your breath — I would demand that every coach, every player, from Pop Warner through the N.F.L., would sit down prior to each season and watch the most physical drive I’ve ever had the great pleasure to witness. You know the old saying: 25 runs and a cloud of dust.

Navy (9-3, 0-0)

Regular season in review Navy continues to roll off successful regular seasons with relative ease, though the Midshipmen are surely disappointed in the fact that Air Force, for the first time in eight years, reclaimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. That was the only thing that changed from, say, 2007 and 2010: Navy beat Army, again; beat Notre Dame, again; racked up ridiculous amounts of rushing yards, again; and, once again, enter bowl play with a shot at 10 wins. This is nothing new. What is somewhat new? The rebirth of a stout Navy defense. The program had struggled keeping points off the board in 2007, allowing a school record 473 points in Johnson’s final season, but has given up less than 22.1 points per game in each of the last three seasons.

Regular season high point The season-ending win over Army. Yeah, the barrage of scoring against East Carolina was fun to watch, but nothing comes close to another win over the Cadets.

Regular season low point A 14-6 road loss to Air Force. Navy had chances to at least even the score, but were undone by careless play with the football and a somewhat uncharacteristic reliance on the pass. At the point, Navy stood at 2-2.

Regular season offensive M.V.P. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs. The superlatives fail me: just know that in the long, storied history of Navy football, Dobbs stands just behind only Roger Staubach as the finest quarterback in program history. His senior totals fell short of his breakout junior campaign, but Dobbs still improved as a passer while leading the Midshipmen in rushing and rushing scores.

Regular season defensive M.V.P. Safety Wyatt Middleton. It wasn’t such an easy pick, even if Middleton’s statistical performance is matched only by his importance as a team leader. Senior linebacker Tyler Simmons led Navy with 124 tackles, nearly doubling his 2009 total. Defensive linemen Billy Yarborough and Jabaree Tunai were strong both against the run and the pass, combining for 11.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss. The short answer, however, is Middleton — look no further than his game-changing fumble return against Army.

San Diego State (8-4, 5-3)

Regular season in review Brady Hoke knows something about turning around the moribund: he did it at Ball State, leading the Cardinals from the bottom of the MAC to an undefeated regular season in 2008, at which point he embraced another rebuilding job at San Diego State. His touch lost none of its luster on the West Coast, leading the Aztecs to bowl play after a 12-year absence in only two seasons. There’s a reason Hoke is shortlisted for big-name job openings across the country; there’s a reason S.D.S.U. fans should worry about the program’s future should a program in the Big Ten, for instance, opt to offer Hoke a sizable contract. Stay in the present, San Diego State: Hoke is here now, will be here in 2011 and perhaps even beyond — and as long as he’s around, S.D.S.U. is due to continue to move up the Mountain West ladder.

Regular season high point A 27-25 win over then-No. 23 Air Force on Oct. 16. While the Aztecs had lost by only a combined total of eight points to Missouri — on the road — and B.Y.U. at that point, the win validated S.D.S.U.’s growth in Hoke’s season season.

Regular season low point Back-to-back narrow losses to T.C.U. and Utah. On the bright side, however, that S.D.S.U. hung with two such talented teams made the rest of the M.W.C., if not the nation, stand up and take notice.

Regular season offensive M.V.P. Running back Ronnie Hillman. Bear with me here: Ryan Lindley was terrific, building upon his strong sophomore campaign, and receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson constituted the conference’s most productive receiving pair, but Hillman’s play gave far more balance to a formerly one-dimensional offense. The run-pass split made the Aztecs far more difficult to stop.

Regular season defensive M.V.P. Linebacker Miles Burris. S.D.S.U. needed Burris, the lone returning starter at linebacker, to step up — he did, to the tune of a team-best 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He more than doubled his next-closest competitor in both categories; no other defender had more than 2.5 sacks.

Know Your Sponsor

San Diego County Credit Union With more than $4.8 billion in assets, the San Diego County Credit Union is San Diego’s largest financial institution. With a name like that, you’d assume as much. Like the Green Bay Packers, the credit union is wholly owned and operated by its members. In other good news, the credit union has been voted the area’s best by The San Diego Union-Tribune. Again, with a name like that, you’d assume as much.

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  1. Uberd says:

    i think a lot of people around the country took notice of SDSU this season, good team, real good coach.

  2. schedule nit says:

    I must admit to major curiosity as to which team the San Diego crowd will be rooting for.

  3. Matt Rob says:

    Have you seen Sportscenter today? The stadium and the surrounding parking lots are under a couple feet of water. I wonder if they have a backup location in mind?

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