We started off at Kansas State and actually led 31-20 before the sim decided to take over, eventually winning by 10 (after we scored a meaningless TD). After beating WKU, Central Michigan raked the defense for 48. Not a good sign for non-conference play.
After a bye week, we rolled UAB 31-3 and FAU 28-10. Fell behind Arkansas State by 17, managed to rally to get back into it, but then had a problem on a punt, didn't get away from it in time and gave up a fumble return for a TD, losing by 3. Crushed MTSU and Troy, which put us in a three-way tie with Troy and North Texas heading into our game in Denton.
It started off poorly: on one two-play sequence, we fumbled the ball and it stood, they fumbled it and it was overturned. Crazy finish: they kick a 50-yard FG to go up 27-24, we return the kickoff 91 yards to lead 31-27. They score in 1:18 to lead 34-31. We score at 2:08 to lead 38-34. UNT drives the length of the field, converting three fourth downs, including one that gave them the ball at the 1, first down. We call time out to get a better defense. They throw an interception ... but as we try to kneel down, the sim strips the ball. Fortunately we recover and advance it, run the time off and win. North Texas, thanks in part to sacks, had -39 yards rushing. Yeah, it was the #1 classic, almost 2000 points.
We ran through the rest of the Sun Belt with just the one loss, clinching another New Orleans Bowl spot. Against Louisiana Tech in the finale, for the first time I can ever remember, I pulled a sim on a punt: nice, high punt, no one blocking, I hit the returner just after he caught it to force a fumble, then held him down while a teammate recovered. (Of course he magically stepped out of bounds right after recovering it, so it wasn't just like the sim: the sim always scores on those. We did force a fumble on a regular play later, and we returned that one for a TD. And we had a fumble that I successfully challenged ...)
My running back won the Doak Walker Award. Pretty impressive for a sophomore, but in the past, award winners who return never live up to their previous seasons. Even if you have a good season, you don't get votes. Last season's winner, my now-senior TE, caught 82 passes for 835 yards and was omitted from the top 12. A sophomore corner (Robinson) finished 7th in Thorpe balloting.
South Florida in the New Orleans Bowl. Wow. We score with 20 seconds left in the first half to lead 21-20. They return the kickoff with 9 seconds left to lead 27-21. We return the kickoff at the end of the half to lead 28-27. South Florida leads next, 37-28. Then 37-35. Then 44-35. Then 47-35. I thought we were done: we had four interceptions at that point.
Great drive to cut the lead to 5, 47-42. We force a punt. Drive to score with 26 seconds left, converting the 2 to lead 50-47. They drive to midfield, heave a Hail Mary ... and we intercept it in the end zone. Crazy game. We had 480 yards total offense, 9-14 on third downs, 3-4 on fourth downs (which means we converted 12 of 14 times we had a third down). If it hadn't been for the picks – one of which was returned for a TD – we'd probably have won easily. We actually broke into the top 25 after that win, #21 ... the only time we've been ranked to date.
In-season recruiting went very well. We signed 3 four-star players (the #4 and #6 athletes and the #26 CB) and 4 three-star players (#31 WR, #21 athlete, #38 OLB, and #18 DT), 23rd-best class overall.
My top TE is leaving, as are two of my three best QBs, but the WR and HB are returning. I lose a good LT, but other than that, the seniors are passable but not irreplaceable.
This time, Michigan and Texas are interested in hiring me. (RR didn't get it fixed in Ann Arbor, I guess.)
Unfortunately, the WR who transferred from FSU is ready for the NFL, so my 92-rated WR is gone. Now I really need to sign a good one. The nice thing is we're getting an 86-rated LE transferring in from Georgia. Of course he's not eligible for a season, but I can use that depth. Right now my single LE is a 65.
I signed four more four-star recruits (#5 athlete, #7 athlete, #7 WR, and #6 OLB) and five more three-star recruits (#26 DE, #40 TE, #13 QB, #53 G, and one I couldn't find) to finish 24th overall.
We're C+ on offense (B- at HB, C- at FB), B- on defense (B+ at DE thanks to the transfer, no C-), B- on special teams and B- overall. Up to 47th in the preseason polls and of course favored to win our third straight Sun Belt crown.
Non-conference schedule includes Miami-Florida at Miami, USC in Lafayette (how did we do that?), and Tulsa at Tulsa ... of course we're playing at Louisiana Tech for the fourth game. Strangely, replacing a I-AA team with the Bulldogs kept my SOS at C-.
Now they want me to finish in the top 25 (I think I can) and play in a January bowl game. Um ... we don't get invited to those. And I doubt I'll run the table with this schedule and this team. Oh well ... here we go ...