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December 10, 2010

College Football Report - Final Conference Grades and Breakdowns:

The Southeastern Conference:

Auburn 13-0, Arkansas 10-2, LSU 10-2, South Carolina 9-4, Alabama 9-3, Mississippi State 8-4, Florida 7-5, Georgia 6-6, Tennessee 6-6, Kentucky 6-6, Mississippi 4-8, Vanderbilt 2-10

Conference Rank: 1. Once again, it’s hard to argue against the SEC as College football’s top conference. With six teams sitting within the AP Top 25 poll, and 10 of its 12 teams heading to bowl games, the SEC still reigns supreme over all others in college football. The league also has a chance this season to bring in its fifth straight National Championship when Auburn takes on Oregon in this year’s title game.

Offensive MVP: Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn. Not only is Newton the MVP of the SEC, he may run away with the Heisman trophy. There hasn’t been as exciting a quarterback in college football since Vince Young in 2005. Newton’s special, not only with his legs – 1,409 yards – but with his arm as well, leading the country in passing efficiency with a 188.2 rating.

Defensive MVP: Nick Fairly, DT, Auburn. Fairly consistently disrupted opposing backfields this season. A junior college transfer and full time starter for Auburn for the first time this season, Fairly became as important a piece to the defense as Newton was to the offense.

Overachiever: South Carolina. How could the Gamecocks not be the overachiever of the year in the SEC? USC knocked off the No. 1 team in the country when Alabama came to town, then put a beating on rival Florida in the Swamp. The Gamecocks reached the SEC title game for the first time ever and brought in their first nine win season since 2001.

Underachiever: Georgia. I actually had high hopes for Georgia. I liked the young quarterback Aaron Murray, and still do, but the offense was terrible to start the season. The Bulldogs began to play better once wideout A.J. Green returned, but one guy can’t make an offense. The offense returned 10 starters and the defense brought back five of their front seven. At 6-6, Georgia brought in its worst season since 1996. With a win in their bowl game, the Bulldogs have a chance at seven wins, still, their worst since 2000.

Best Game: Nov.26, Auburn 28 at Alabama 27: This one really had it all. It had the rivalry factor. It had the star players. The big stage. A National Championship on the line. And a dramatic comeback. The Tide placed a 24-0 lead on then No.2 Auburn, only to have Heisman leader Cameron Newton march the Tigers back in the second half, taking the lead early in the fourth, 28-27.

The Big Ten Conference:

Michigan State 11-1, Wisconsin 11-1, Ohio State 11-1, Iowa 7-5, Michigan 7-5, Penn State 7-5, Northwestern 7-5, Illinois 6-6, Indiana 5-7, Purdue 4-8, Minnesota 3-9

Conference Rank: 2. The Big Ten is often left out of discussion of the best conference early in the season, long before many begin to realize the strength of the league. Three teams – Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State – brought in 11 win seasons, all earning a share of the Big Ten Title. The middle of the league also holds a bit of strength, with five other teams heading to bowl games.

Offensive MVP: The Wisconsin Backfield. It may be easy to give the award to Denard Robinson. What he did for Michigan was undeniably one of the best quarterback seasons in Big Ten history. The problem for me, however, was Robinson’s inconsistency late in the year, mostly against Big Ten teams. A group of players for the Badgers, however, were consistent the entire season. Running backs John Clay, James White and Montee Ball contributed to the best offensive backfield in the country. All three brought in 850+ yards, as well as at least 13 touchdowns a piece.

Defensive MVP: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. Kerrigan was the lone bright spot on a terrible Purdue team. The senior nearly single-handingly beat Michigan, bringing in 10 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. He finished second in the country in sacks per game (1.04) and third in the nation in total sacks (12.5).

Overachiever: Michigan State. Tagged as the fifth best in the Big Ten to start the year, the Spartans didn’t lack the drama factor this season. Thanks much in part to a strong running game led by sophomore Edwin Baker and freshman Le’Veon Bell, MSU was able to roll over early season opponents. Junior quarterback Kirk Cousins came into his own this season as well, helping the Spartans to wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern.

Underachiever: Iowa. Some had the Hawkeyes as the second best team in the Big Ten to begin the year. I didn’t quite think they were to be that highly regarded, but five losses is definitely a disappointment with 15 starters and one of the nation’s best defenses returning. The late season losses to Northwestern and lowly Minnesota, gave way to underachiever of the year for the Hawkeyes.

Best Game: Nov. 6, Illinois 65 at Michigan 67 3OT: There were a lot of games deserving of the best Big Ten game of the year. Wisconsin beating Iowa was dramatic. Ohio State coming from behind to take down the Hawkeyes was thrilling. But when Illinois visited Michigan, there were little who believed multiple records would be set. The schools combined to set a Big Ten record for total points in a game with 132. The game finally came to an end when Illinois quarterback Nathan Sheelhaase wasn’t able to get off the two-point conversion pass in the third overtime.

The Big XII Conference:

Oklahoma 11-2, Nebraska 10-3, Oklahoma State 10-2, Missouri 10-2, Texas A&M 9-3, Baylor 7-5, Texas Tech 7-5, Kansas State 7-5, Iowa State 5-7, Texas 5-7, Colorado 5-7, Kansas 3-9

Conference Rank: 3. The top of the Big XII this season looks, and feels a little lonely. Mostly because the Longhorns failed to live up to whatever ounce of hype they had coming into the year. The conference, however, continues to be consistent. The league brought in four multi win teams and eight teams who will head to a bowl game.

Offensive MVP: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon shot onto the scene in 2010, quickly becoming the most dominating wideout in not only the Big XII, but the nation. The sophomore brought in at least 105 yards in every game this year to go along with at least one score. Against one of the best corners in the country in Prince Amukamara of Nebraska, Blackmon brought in 157 yards and two scores.

Defensive MVP: Von Miller, DE/LB, Texas A&M. Miller, who struggled to begin the season, exploded in the second half, bringing in at least one sack in the Aggies final five games. In those five games, the Aggies went 5-0. On the year, Miller finished with 9.5 sacks and 59 tackles from his stand-up end position.

Overachiever: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were nothing shy of one giant surprise this season. The other team in Oklahoma returned just eight total starters from last season, but put together one of the best offenses in the nation. Quarterback Brandon Weeden was phenomenal, combining with Blackmon and running back Kendall Hunter for one of the best trios in football. Although their record improved from 9-4 to 10-2, the obvious expectations for the Cowboys weren’t there to begin the season.

Underachiever: Texas. All I can say is wow. One of the biggest drop offs in college football history. The Longhorns went from a National Championship game appearance to a 5-7 record this season. Texas returned just 12 starters, but an arsenal of blue chip recruits hung in the wings of those who left. Most importantly, though, head coach Mack Brown returned. The Longhorns put together just a 2-6 conference record, with losses that included Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor.

Best Game: Nov. 27, Oklahoma 47 at Oklahoma State 41: The best was saved for the last. As in the last regular season game for the rivals. The Bedlam series featured a bit of bedlam this season as the winner would go on to represent the Big XII South division in the conference title game a week later. The Sooners piled on a 33-24 lead on the Cowboys in the fourth. The two traded touchdowns down the stretch, with an Oklahoma 76 yard touchdown sealing the game with less than three minutes left to play.

The Pacific Athletic Conference:

Oregon 12-0, Stanford 11-1, USC 8-5, Arizona 7-5, Washington 6-6, Arizona State 6-6, California 5-7, Oregon State 5-7, UCLA 4-8, Washington State 2-10

Conference Rank: 4. The top of the PAC-10 is tough to argue against this season. Oregon is heading to the National Championship game and the Cardinal is one of the best and hottest teams at this point in the season. One can only wonder how things may have turned out if the two met later in the year. The bottom of the PAC-10 rivals that of the CUSA. Only four teams will venture into the postseason, mainly because of USC’s suspension and Arizona State’s lack of quality opponents.

Offensive MVP: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. There are more than a handful of Oregon Ducks that can migrate towards a PAC-10 season MVP award this year, but I’d like to argue that Luck’s importance to Stanford was greater than any Duck to Oregon. Luck, just a redshirt sophomore, passed for just over 3,000 yards with 28 scores through the air.

Defensive MVP: Mason Foster, LB, Washington. Foster was often overlooked, mainly because of Washington’s struggles throughout the year, but also because of quarterback Jake Locker soaking up what little spotlight there is in Seattle. The senior brought in 14+ tackles six times this season, finishing second in the nation with 151 stops.

Overachiever: Stanford. I fully expected the Cardinal to contend for a PAC-10 title. To finish the season 11-1 with a No. 4 ranking and National Title in near arms reach is a surprise. What head coach Jim Harbough has been able to do in Stanford has been a remarkable turnaround. If Luck decides to return next season, the Cardinal won’t only be the favorites in California again, but one the favorites to take the title as well.

Underachiever: Arizona. The Wildcats started the year hot. The win over the Iowa Hawkeyes I thought would set the tone for the season. Quarterback Nick Foles was one of the more impressive single-callers to begin the year. Then it all fell apart in Tucson. The Wildcats were upset at home by Oregon State two weeks after the Iowa game, then ended the season on a four game losing streak.

Best Game: Oct. 9, USC 35 at Stanford 37: One of the many close calls and nail-biters for the Trojans this season. The Cardinal looked to get the best of their instate bully in a down season for the Trojans. Notched at 7-7 to end the first quarter, 14-14 to end the second, 21-21 to end the third, the equal scoring would be offset in the fourth when Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker would miss an extra point attempt. With the Trojans leading 35-34 with 1:12 left on the clock, Luck drove the Cardinal down the field to give Whitaker one last chance at redemption. He didn’t disappoint, nailing a 30 yard kick for the win.

The Atlantic Coast Conference:

Virginia Tech 11-2, Florida State 9-4, Maryland 8-4, NC State 8-4, Miami (FL) 7-5, North Carolina 7-5, Boston College 7-5, Clemson 6-6, Georgia Tech 6-6, Virginia 4-8, Wake Forest 3-9, Duke 3-9

Conference Rank: 5. There are high hopes every year for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Rightfully so, an abundance of teams chose to not live up to their early season expectations. Virginia Tech seems to be the lone conference regular atop the league, bringing in their seventh straight year with at least 10 wins, and fourth 11 win season this decade. Florida State took a step in the right direction this season, but even their year wasn’t supplemented without a few embarrassing losses.

Offensive MVP: Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech. All looked gloom in Blacksburg when the Hokies opened the year with two straight losses, including one to FCS James Madison. Taylor then put his game into another gear, leading the Hokies to 11 straight wins, including the ACC Title. On the year, Taylor brought in over 2,500 yards and 23 scores through the air to go along with 637 yards and five scores on the ground. His four interceptions were fewest amongst quarterbacks with at least 20 passing touchdowns in the country.

Defensive MVP: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Bowers etched his name into the books with some of the past ACC greats this year. Some of the NFL’s current best defensive ends spent their college years in the ACC including Mario Williams, Julius Peppers and Chris Long, and it won’t be long before Bowers is playing alongside them on Sundays. He led the nation with 15.5 sacks, while collecting the Bronco Nagurski and Ted Hendricks Awards.

Overachiever: Maryland. Talk about a turnaround. The Terps were on the verge of saying goodbye to longtime head coach Ralph Friedgen after a dismal 2-10 2009 record. Friedgen responded with an ACC title run and 8-4 season, coming just shy of a trip to Charlotte to face Virginia Tech.

Underachiever: Miami (FL). This was supposed to be the Hurricanes year. The year the Orange and Green splashed back onto the national map. The year ‘The U’ became ‘The U,’ once again. Instead, the ‘Canes season was just like those of the latter half of the decade. Miami found unexpected losses to both Virginia and South Florida, while being embarrassed by rival Florida State at home. The season closed with the firing of head coach Randy Shannon.

Best Game: Oct. 28, Florida State 24 at NC State 28: No other game held as much importance to the ACC Atlantic division race as the Thursday night October matchup between FSU and NC State. The Seminoles jumped out to a 21-7 lead to close the first half. Russell Wilson would lead the Wolf Pack back following halftime, mostly in part with his legs, and ability to avoid the rush of FSU’s front seven. Wilson and NC State took the lead with 2:40 left in the contest, only to have FSU drive back down field on their next possession. With just 48 seconds left, and FSU on the NC State four yard line, Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder would fumble, turning the ball over to NC State, securing the win.

The Big East Conference:

Connecticut 8-4, West Virginia 9-3, Pittsburgh 7-5, Syracuse 7-5, South Florida 7-5, Louisville 6-6, Cincinnati 4-8, Rutgers 4-8

Conference Rank: 6. The Big East has almost reached a point of where you begin to feel bad for the teams within the league. The most criticized of the six automatic qualifying BCS conferences, the Big East did little this season to end the misery of negative chatter. West Virginia and Pitt began the season as the favorites, but failed quite early to live up to season expectations. In the end, tiny UConn will “take their talents” to Tempe and a BCS bowl game.

Offensive MVP: Jordan Todman, RB, UConn. Why are the Huskies playing for a BCS bowl win at this point in the season? Todman, and the work he did on the UConn offenese this season is the reason. Todman was able to find room to rush for 1,574 yards on an offense that featured a deck of quarterbacks shuffled throughout the season. He faced constant stacked boxes on his way to nine 100 yard games.

Defensive MVP: Chris Neild, DT, West Virginia. Don’t look at his stats. Steer your eyes away from them. Try instead to focus on West Virginia’s team defense stats, which are quite easy on the eyes. The Mountaineer’s brought in the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, No. 3 total defense and No. 2 rush defense. West Virginia gave up 17 points or more just once all season, holding every Big East opponent to 14 points or less. All of that can be credited to Neild’s presence within the middle of the defense.

Overachiever: Syracuse. The ‘Cuse brought in five straight years of losing seasons. Then came 2010. The Orange finally looked back on the Big East map this season. They beat South Florida for the first time ever and beat West Virginia for the first time since 2001. Head coach Doug Marrone, in just his second season, looks to have the Orange back on the right path.

Underachiever: Pittsburgh. I’m sorely disappointed in the Panthers performance this season. Pitt never won more than three straight games at any point in the year and dropped games that mattered at critical times. The loss to a struggling Notre Dame team on the road seemed to be the back-breaker for the Panthers. At 7-5, it’s a far cry from the clean slate I thought the Panthers would be able to pull off inside the Big East.

Best Game: Oct. 8, UConn 24 at Rutgers 27: This one was a bit of a quarterback conundrum. The Huskies were choosing to start backup Cody Endres for the second straight week, while Rutgers was forced to go with true freshman Chas Dodd. The Scarlet Knights held the lead early 17-7, only to lose it by half, 24-17. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Knights charged back, as Dodd contributed to a 52 yard touchdown strike with 3:53 left on the clock, tying the game at 24. With 13 seconds remaining, Rutgers kicker San San Te connected on a 34 yard field goal for the win.

The Mountain West Conference:

TCU 12-0, Utah 10-2, San Diego State 8-4, Air Force 8-4, Brigham Young 6-6, Wyoming 3-9, Colorado State 3-9, UNLV 2-11, New Mexico 1-11

Conference Rank: 7. The Mountain West Conference, although not an automatic qualifying league for the BCS, proves still to be one of the better leagues in college football. TCU and Utah have been consistent teams over the last decade, and continued their success against BCS conference schools this year. A few teams emerged this season, in Air Force and San Diego State, catching the eye of college football enthusiast.

Offensive MVP: Andy Dalton, QB, TCU. Dalton became the reason why the Horned Frogs were able to be so successful on offense this season. The senior passed for over 2,600 yards and 26 touchdowns to go along with just six interceptions. This year, Dalton proved to be more than just a field general for the Frogs, taking the next step as a true quarterback.

Defensive MVP: Tank Carder, LB, TCU. Carder didn’t place the same numbers that many expected, but the junior linebacker led a Horned Frogs defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense. Carder, a former BMX pro rider, brought in 54 tackles, with 6.5 for a loss.

Overachiever: San Diego State. Head coach Brady Hoke was hired a year ago to turn around a San Diego State program that sat within a talent bed, and seemed to have the ability to compete at a high level. In his second season as the Aztecs coach, that is exactly what Hoke did. The Aztecs brought in their most wins this decade and find themselves in a bowl for the first time since 1998, and just third bowl since 1970. Led by freshman running back Ronnie Hillman, the Aztecs looked primed for good things to come.

Underachiever: Wyoming. A lot might feel BYU was clearly the biggest disappointment in the conference. I actually had high hopes for Wyoming. Led by Mountain West Freshman of the Year in quarterback Austin Carta-Samuels, and coming off of a 7-6 season and bowl win over Fresno State, I expected far more than a 3-9 year. The Cowboys dropped a number of games they should have own, including the game below.

Best Game: Nov. 6, Wyoming 31 at New Mexico 34: A game that meant nothing, actually a thrilling game? Sure. The two traded touchdowns throughout the evening, answering one another’s scores with a score of their own. Wyoming tied the contest in the fourth with 5:40 left to go. The then Lobos put together a 12 play drive on their next possession to set up a 38 yard game winning field goal for James Aho as time expired. It was the Lobos lone win of the year.

The Western Athletic Conference:

Nevada 12-1, Boise State 11-1, Hawaii 10-3, Fresno State 8-4, Idaho 6-7, Louisiana Tech 5-7, Utah State 4-8, New Mexico State 2-10, San Jose State 1-12

Conference Rank: 8. The WAC hasn’t normally been known as a strong conference from top-to-bottom, and this year was no different. The WAC, however, is a strong league consistently at the top. Nevada emerged this season with a share of the league title after beating longtime favorite Boise State.

Offensive MVP: Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada. Sure, I could have put Boise’s Kellen Moore here, but I would like to argue that Kaepernick does more for his Nevada team than Moore does for Boise. Kaepernick has taken the pistol offense installed by head coach Chris Ault and ran with it, literally. The senior passed for over 2,800 yards and 20 scores to go along with 1,184 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the ground. If football doesn’t work out. He’s always got a career teaching the pistol.

Defensive MVP: Dontay Moch, DE, Nevada. Moch is famous for a couple of reasons. One because he’s a beast on the field. The other, because he’s the lone defensive end in the country that can claim a 4.25 40 yard dash time to his name. One of the lone players actually in the country that fast. Moch used his speed to bring in 61 tackles and 22 tackles for a loss this year. He also had 8.5 sacks for the Wolf Pack.

Overachiever: Hawaii. The Warriors have proved this decade they’re capable of a large amount of wins. Last season wasn’t one of them, finishing just 6-7. On the arm of quarterback Bryant Moniz, though, the Warriors turned last season around, bringing in a 10-3 season. They gave USC a scare to begin the season, then gave Nevada their lone loss of the year.

Underachiever: Boise State. With the expectations and talk that surrounded Boise to begin the year, the Broncos surly have to be the underachiever. Long tagged as a National Title contender and one who can hang with anyone, couldn’t hang with Nevada this season. Although the Broncos had a remarkable season, it wasn’t the season all had hoped would finally come for Boise.

Best Game: Nov. 26, Boise State 31 at Nevada 34 OT: Not only was the Boise vs. Nevada game the game of the year in the WAC, but I believe the game of the year in college football. The Broncos had one last test to get through before their second straight undefeated season. The Wolf Pack proved to be a much bigger problem than most had thought. Boise placed a 24-7 lead on Nevada by the third and it looked clear that it was just another game for the Broncos. Kaepernick and Nevada stormed back, tying the game at 31 all with just 13 seconds remaining. It appeared headed to overtime with Boise getting the ball back with nine seconds remaining. On the Boise 37 yard line, Kellen Moore heaved one last attempt towards wideout Titus Young, who made a full extension grab 54 yards down field at the Nevada nine. From there, Boise kicker Kyle Brotzman was set for a 26 yard game winner. Which he missed wide. In overtime, Boise was held to yet another field goal. This time a 29 yarder, this was missed wide again by Brotzman. Nevada would take possession of the ball, and take the game on 34 yard field goal by Wolf Pack kicker Anthony Martinez.

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All writing and views subject to © Drew P. Kochanny, All Rights Reserved. Photo's credited to rights owner.