BCS Busters: Under the Radar
by Trevor Whenham - 10/30/2008
It's the fault of Utah and Boise State that we are obsessed with BCS Busters. Those two teams showed that teams from outside the major conferences can not only make it into big bowls, but also show that they belong there. Since at least the 2004 season, when Utah crushed Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, we have christened any team that wins a game or two in September a potential BCS Buster. This year East Carolina was a popular pick until they self-destructed. BYU seemed like a very good choice until they decided not to show up against TCU. TCU would have been a good choice themselves if they hadn't scheduled Oklahoma. Still standing and looking good, however, are Utah and Boise State. Further below the radar, though, are two more undefeated teams that could find their way into the spotlight if they keep winning. Both Ball State and Tulsa have looked good so far, and both have the schedule and the ability to keep going. Here's a look at those two teams that people aren't as familiar with:
Best known as the alma mater of David Letterman, this school is proving that they can play ball a little, too. They are 8-0, and the only game they haven't covered is their most recent - one they still won by 22. At the helm of this impressive squad is Brady Hoke, a former Ball State star and Michigan assistant. After getting the team to a bowl for the first time in 11 years last year, Hoke was rumored to be very close to being named the new coach at Washington State. Given the state of the two programs, he must thank his lucky stars every day that he stayed where he is.
The unquestioned driving force of this team is junior QB Nate Davis. He was decent as a freshman, and better as a sophomore, but he has taken his game to a different level this year. He's completing two-thirds of his passes and averaging nearly nine yards per attempt. He avoids mistakes, and he makes things happen. This team will go as far as Davis will take them. Well, he and MiQuale Lewis. Lewis is a guy you may not know, but you should. The running back has nearly 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns already, including 11 scores in his last five games.
There is no obvious loss on the remaining schedule, but it won't be easy for Ball State. They should get to 10-0 fairly easily - Northern Illinois is especially beatable on the road, and Miami of Ohio just isn't very good. After that, though, things get rocky. They close out a Central Michigan and against Western Michigan. Those are the two biggest divisional rivals, and they have just one conference loss between them this year. The good news, though, is that if they survive that they will have an easy conference championship game against the winner of the much weaker MAC East.
I respect the team and what they are doing, but it's hard to know what we have yet. Their non-conference schedule was very weak - Navy and Indiana were the highlights - and they haven't played their toughest opponents yet. I will be pulling for these guys, but my best guess is that they will wind up at 11-1.
I'm a sucker for a passing game. If I was an offensive coordinator I would send every receiver deep on every play. That wouldn't get me very far in the profession, but I could probably get a job at Tulsa. These guys play offense like they are in a video game. The Golden Hurricane have the best offense in the country. At 601 yards per game, they are 44 yards better than No. 2 Texas Tech. Senior QB David Johnson, in his first year as a full time starter, is the machine that drives this team. His numbers - 68.3 percent completion rate, 2661 yards, 11.7 yards per attempt, 32 yards - are ridiculous.
Given how offensively explosive this team is, it's a bit surprising that the coach is a former defensive coordinator at the school. Todd Graham returned to Tulsa last season after going to Rice for one year as head coach. At Rice he performed miracles, turning a one-win squad into a bowl team. He made no friends when he left Rice after that season, but the pull of Tulsa was strong. If he keeps coaching like he is then he'll be tempted to go to a bigger school soon.
It won't take us nearly as long to get a good sense of Tulsa's chances to go undefeated as it will with Ball State. Tulsa plays Arkansas this weekend. If they win that one, they should cruise to 12-0 because their remaining conference schedule is very winnable. Arkansas is struggling, but they are at home and they are still an SEC team, so it could be a challenge. Tulsa is favored by a touchdown. Tulsa hasn't yet played a good non-conference team, so this will very much be a barometer of this team's makeup.
It could just be my hatred of Bobby Petrino speaking, but I like Tulsa's chances on Saturday a lot. I really like their chances against Houston, Tulane and Marshall, too. There isn't a team in the CUSA East that they can't beat in the championship game, either. The biggest hurdle these guys face in getting to a BCS game is getting the respect to be chosen. They are ranked No. 19 right now, so they need to move up a lot to get in. It will be even harder for them to get chosen if Utah and/or Boise State stay undefeated - both teams are more well known, and both play tougher conference and non-conference schedules. It seems quite possible that this could wind up being a 13-0 team that still has to play a December bowl game.