Boise St. (13-0)- What more can anyone possibly say about Boise? Obviously the victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl silenced any lingering concerns over exactly how good this team is, and even though BYU had a very good season, any talk of the best non-BCS Bowl team needs to start with Boise. Period. The Broncos beat six bowl teams throughout the course of the season while blowing out every other team (except a solid 6-6 Wyoming team) on the schedule. In fact, Boise averaged a sick 39.7 points a game, only scoring less then 30 on two occasions on the season (translation: they moved the ball at freaking will.) The fact that the team absolutely destroyed a 10-4 Oregon St. team and survived 11-3 Hawaii should have been enough to convince most people the Broncos were for real, but playing in the best Bowl game of all time and beating the most-winningist team of all time probably did not hurt.
Brigham Young (11-2)- John Beck and the Mountain West champs finally got some love after knocking off Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl, but attentive fans knew all along that Brigham Young was steadily becoming one of the best teams the talking heads at ESPN were ignoring. Had it not been for two incredibly near misses at Arizona and at Boston College early in the year, we may well have seen BYU join Boise in a BCS Bowl game. After the overtime loss to Boston College in week three, BYU ran away with the MWC title, beating their remaining opponents by an average of 27.2 points per game. While some may argue they played in a weak conference, BYU’s dominance over good non-BCS teams like Tulsa, Wyoming, and TCU, as well as competitive play against BCS conference teams, is quite enough to warrant them here.
Texas Christian (11-2)- The team everyone was expecting to go to the Fiesta Bowl when the year started, back-to-back slipups at BYU and Utah cost the Horned Frogs a chance at crashing the BCS party. Still, TCU built an impressive resume led by a defense that finished second nationally. TCU won both its game against Big 12 opponents, holding Baylor and Texas Tech to seven and three points, respectively. The defense made a special encore in the Poinsettia Bowl, blowing out Northern Illinois and holding star running back Garrett Wolfe to only 28 yards (1.4 avg.)
Hawaii (11-3)- Perhaps more then any other team in the country, the Rainbow Warriors can put points up with ease and at will. Unfortunately for them, Jerry Glanville’s defense could sometimes afford the opposition that same freedom. Hawaii scored 60(!) or more points four times this season, although it often came against notoriously bad teams. They scored good wins against Purdue and Arizona St, although both of those teams were not exactly the cream of the crop of BCS conferences. Yet when you factor in close games against Oregon St, Alabama, and Boise, you can certainly see how good this team was, and why so many pundits are quick to hail Hawaii as a major contender in 2007.
Houston (10-4)- Kevin Kolb did not disappoint in 2006, leading the Cougars to a C-USA championship and a 10-4 record. Houston picked up a good win over Oklahoma St in week four and played Miami tough the next week, but loses at home against Louisiana Lafayette and at Southern Miss definitely hurt their cause. Still, they ended up beating four bowl-bound teams during the course of the year, and gave Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina ball club one helluva scare in the Bowl game.
Navy (9-4)- Homerism? Maybe, but this pick makes sense and let me tell you why. More then any other team ranked below them, the Mids beat the opponents they were suppose to beat, and lost to the opponents they were expected to lose to. While their only win over a Bowl team came over East Carolina in week one, Navy throttled BCS teams Stanford, UConn, and Duke by a an average score of 39-13. All four of Navy’s loses came to Bowl teams, of which one was BCS bound (Notre Dame) while two others (Rutgers and BC) were probably a play or two from being BCS-bound. Finally, consider that an injury-riddled Navy team nearly, and probably should have, upset nationally ranked Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Utah (8-5)- Picked by many to actually win the Mountain West, Utah played far too inconsistently in 2006 to garner the national attention of Urban Meyer’s last Ute team. While they beat TCU convincingly they dropped back-to-back games to Wyoming and New Mexico, and lost on a last second pass to BYU in the annual “Holy War.” They were not able to capitalize in their only game against BCS competition (loss to UCLA,) and were blown out by Boise St at home in week five. Still, if perhaps urged on by all-everything performer Eric Weddle, the Utes rallied late last year, and were able to knock off a decent Tulsa team in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish at 8-5.
Central Michigan (10-4)- This vote clearly reflects my belief that the WAC and MWC are superior to the MAC, but don’t let that persuade you from thinking Central Michigan doesn’t have a good team. The Chippewa’s lost close games to Boston College and Kentucky, but still managed to rattle off ten wins, including a nice win over Ohio in the MAC championship and a victory over Middle Tennessee St. in the Bowl game. While the Chippewa’s only had one conference loss, they struggled enough at times during the year not to be ranked higher.
Nevada (8-5)- Chris Ault’s squad picked up a good win against Northwesertn, but then again so did New Hampshire. Getting blown out by Arizona St. doesn’t do much to advance the cause of non-BCS teams, while losing to a bad (but albeit talented) Fresno St. team certainly doesn’t look to good either. While the Wolfpack did run over the bottom half of the WAC, their only win over a bowl-bound team came over San Jose St. They played very well in the Boise Bowl (my new name for it) against Miami, but it’s hard to get gauge on how good or bad Miami was both this year and during a bowl game in Siberia.
San Jose St (9-4)- Dick Tomey’s Spartan team was one of the big surprises of the year, coming completely out of left field to finish the year at 9-4, including a victory in a Bowl game. While they played Boise extremely tough and fared well in the WAC, the Spartans lacked a signature win on the year. They were very lucky to get pass a bad Stanford team in week two, while they were blown out by Hawaii down the stretch. Likewise, the Spartans benefited from a first half New Mexico implosion in their 20-12 win in the New Mexico Bowl, and even a win over the Lobos doesn’t say much these days (just ask Portland State.)
Also Considered: Tulsa, Ohio, Southern Miss, Troy, Western Michigan, Wyoming