Non-AQ season wrap

The Mountain West Conference spent almost all of the offseason protesting the current BCS system and claiming that Utah -- the only team to finish undefeated last season -- was unfairly left out of the BCS mix.

The BCS didn’t change and neither did the Mountain West.

For the second consecutive season -- and the third time since 2004 -- the conference has produced the highest-ranked undefeated nonautomatic qualifying team in TCU, and will once again appear in a BCS bowl.

And Boise State will be joining the Horned Frogs.

For the first time in the history of the BCS system, two nonautomatic qualifying teams will play a BCS bowl -- Boise State and TCU will meet in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- proving the Mountain West’s protests for more equality did not go unheard.

But make no mistake, the non-AQs earned their way into the BCS spotlight and it wasn't just TCU and Boise State. The non-AQs as a whole had one of its best seasons in terms of national rankings, big wins and overall records.

For eight weeks, five nonautomatic qualifying schools appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 and there were never fewer than three non-AQ teams in the AP poll.

Five nonautomatic qualifying schools appeared in the BCS standings during five of the eight weeks. The BCS standings never had fewer than four non-AQ teams ranked this year.

TCU, Boise State and BYU were consistent early on, while Utah and Houston started making regular appearances after the sixth week of the season. At the end of the year, Central Michigan made its first appearance in the AP poll.

Five non-AQ teams finished with double-digit wins and 11 teams with nine or more wins. Three of the five conference champions had more than 10 wins.

East Carolina and Troy also made history by winning their respective conferences. The Pirates became the first Conference USA team to win back-to-back titles since the conference went to a championship format, and the Trojans notched their fourth consecutive Sun Belt conference title, tying North Texas for the most consecutive championships.

The non-AQs also took down their fair share of automatic qualifying schools, including Oklahoma, Oregon, Clemson, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Mississippi State among others.

Individually, the quarterbacks made the headlines. Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour became the FBS' all-time leader in career touchdowns and broke both school and Mid-American Conference passing records. Houston's Case Keenum led the nation in total offense and passing, and threw for more than 5,000 yards for the second consecutive season. Boise State's Kellen Moore led the nation in passing efficiency and led his team to its second consecutive undefeated regular season.

Last season appeared to be a monumental year for the non-AQs with Utah’s accomplishments, but this year more than ever has shown that parity is becoming more abundant across the board.

Offensive MVP: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State

Moore led the nation in passing efficiency with a 167.35 rating and led the Broncos to a 13-0 campaign, their second consecutive undefeated regular season. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 3,325 yards and 39 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Many considered Moore a potential Heisman candidate.

Defensive MVP: Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU

Hughes anchors the nation's second-ranked defense. He has 15 tackles for loss, including 11.5 sacks, and a career-high 54 tackles. Hughes already has been named an AFCA All-American and is expected to be a consensus All-American for the second consecutive season.

Newcomer of the Year: James Cleveland, Houston

Cleveland, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, ranks second in the country in receptions per game and sixth in receiving yards with 107.45 per game. He had five games with double-digit receptions and more than 100 receiving yards, including a 19-catch, 241-yard performance in the Conference USA title game.

Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU

Patterson led the Horned Frogs to their first undefeated season since 1938 and first 12-0 regular season in school history. The Horned Frogs will play in their first BCS bowl game, and were a second away from possibly playing for a national championship.

Biggest surprise: Idaho

Idaho was picked to finish last in the WAC coaches poll and second-to-last in the WAC media poll, but won six of its first seven games and finished with a 7-5 record, the most wins since 1999. Idaho will be playing in its first bowl game since 1998.

Biggest disappointment: New Mexico

New Mexico finished last season 4-8, its worst season since winning four games in 1999, but was supposed to be on an upswing with new head coach Mike Locksley. Instead, Locksley found himself embroiled in off-field controversies and the team went 1-11, its worst campaign since going 0-11 in 1987.

Game of the Year: Navy 23, Notre Dame 21, Nov. 7; TCU 14, Clemson 10, Sept. 26

It was hard to pick just one game out of the hundreds that were played this year, but both of these games changed the course of a couple different seasons.

Navy’s win over Notre Dame was the Midshipmen’s second win over the Irish in 45 years and likely cost Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis his job.

TCU’s win over Clemson, which ultimately played in the ACC championship, continued to give the Horned Frogs the clout to stay high in the BCS standings and stave off the pressure from Boise State. That win could have been the push the Horned Frogs needed to get them into the national championship had the Big 12 title game turned out differently.