The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 26, 2010

2010 PiRate Ratings NFL Preseason Ratings & Predictions

PiRate Ratings 2010 NFL Preseason Ratings & Predictions

 

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we were 60.6% against the spread in 2009!

 

The 2010 edition of the NFL PiRate Ratings makes its debut today, and we have tweaked the ratings just a bit this season.  Every year, we evaluate every team’s ability to run the ball, pass the ball, defend the run, defend the pass, and all the special teams play.

 

Breaking down the run, we look at the offensive blocking for the run, the ability of the team to run up the gut and pick up two yards on 3rd & two, the ability to get outside and pick up a lot of yards, and so forth.  To us, it is more important to know the situation of each running play rather than the raw average.  If a team has a 1st & Ten at its own 20 yard line and runs the ball five consecutive times for eight, ten, four, two, and two yards, that team has averaged 5.2 yards per rush, but that team must now punt on 4th & two at their 46 yard line.

 

If that same team starts at its 20 yard line and runs the ball five consecutive times for four yards on every play, that team has averaged just four yards per rush, but they now have a 3rd & two—a much better proposition than 4th & two.

 

We break down the pass in a similar way.  We look at pass protection, passer ability, and pass receiving ability.  Passing percentage matters very little (virtually nothing).  Yardage gained and maintaining possession of the ball are all that matters.    

 

Of course, for every offensive action, there is a corresponding defensive action that we rate.  This year, we have given a little more weight to pass rush over pass coverage.  Sacks and hurries are becoming more influential in today’s short passing game offenses.  If you look at a typical game today, 80% of the passes thrown in the NFL are thrown to receivers/backs less than 10 yards pass the line of scrimmage.  The three and five-step drop have displaced the seven-step drop and longer passes.  Most longer passes today are of the play-action variety.  Of course, the 3rd & 20 situation still leads to the longer pass plays. 

 

With so many shorter passing routes against two-deep coverage, the pass rush deserves a little more weight at the expense of the pass coverage.  We are not talking about a major shift; this is more like a fraction of points, or what we call moving the minute hand on our watch by a minute to synchronize it with Coordinated Universal Time.

 

For those of you who are new to the PiRate Ratings, these ratings are only good for the current week’s games.  Since the season actually does not begin for a couple weeks, we may tweak them in the next 10-12 days once all cuts and late free-agent pickups are made. 

 

Additionally, we advise you not to use our raw ratings to pick games.  We offer picks against the spread at our sister site, www.piratings.webs.com, and we NEVER use the raw ratings.  If every scheduled game was played 100 times, then the ratings would be quite accurate.  We look at several variables and intangibles in addition to the pointspread to analyze each game and try to find a favorable angle that “gives” us an extra point or two.

 

You will see three ratings for each team: The PiRate, The Mean, and The Bias Rating.  Each rating is based on 100 being level par.  If a team has a rating of 103.7, then consider that team 3.7 points better than average. 

 

The PiRate is the raw score we give each team based on all the variables we discussed above (running, passing, etc.).  The Mean Rating is a separate rating of 12 variables that we have used since 1979.  It is purely statistical based on many of the same variables used for the PiRate Rating.  We take the exact average of those 12 variables and use a constant and a multiplier to produce a par of 100.  The Bias Rating takes those same 12 variables and gives each rating a different weight in the formula.  All three ratings have been quite accurate through the years. 

 

Here are the preseason ratings for the 32 teams.  Each week, the teams will be ranked by division in order of PiRate Rating.  We do not calculate an average of these three ratings, but you can if you want to. 

Initial Regular Season NFL PiRate Ratings
 

NFC East

PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
Dallas 104.5 106.3 106.9 0-0-0 0 0
Philadelphia 101.7 104.1 98.7 0-0-0 0 0
New York Giants 100.0 99.9 102.3 0-0-0 0 0
Washington 98.3 96.1 95.8 0-0-0 0 0
             
NFC North PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
Minnesota 104.8 108.0 107.9 0-0-0 0 0
Green Bay 104.1 106.7 105.7 0-0-0 0 0
Chicago 100.5 97.3 98.9 0-0-0 0 0
Detroit 92.1 88.1 89.4 0-0-0 0 0
             
NFC South PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
New Orleans 105.2 109.8 106.6 0-0-0 0 0
Atlanta 104.7 103.5 104.6 0-0-0 0 0
Carolina 101.6 103.6 100.4 0-0-0 0 0
Tampa Bay 94.3 94.5 92.3 0-0-0 0 0
             
NFC West PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
San Francisco 101.6 100.8 102.2 0-0-0 0 0
Arizona 98.5 100.3 99.1 0-0-0 0 0
Seattle 92.2 91.1 94.8 0-0-0 0 0
St. Louis 90.1 85.9 87.3 0-0-0 0 0
             
AFC East PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
NY Jets 107.3 106.3 106.2 0-0-0 0 0
New England 105.7 106.5 105.4 0-0-0 0 0
Miami 101.1 100.4 100.8 0-0-0 0 0
Buffalo 97.6 97.4 95.9 0-0-0 0 0
             
AFC North PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
Baltimore 105.6 106.3 106.5 0-0-0 0 0
Pittsburgh 100.9 102.2 101.8 0-0-0 0 0
Cincinnati 100.3 100.0 99.4 0-0-0 0 0
Cleveland 97.3 93.2 93.2 0-0-0 0 0
             
AFC South PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
Indianapolis 104.9 106.8 107.1 0-0-0 0 0
Houston 102.0 101.9 101.9 0-0-0 0 0
Tennessee 97.9 99.3 101.2 0-0-0 0 0
Jacksonville 96.3 94.8 97.0 0-0-0 0 0
             
AFC West PiRate Mean Biased W-L-T Pts Opp
San Diego 102.5 106.0 104.6 0-0-0 0 0
Denver 96.6 99.3 98.5 0-0-0 0 0
Kansas City 95.7 92.3 94.5 0-0-0 0 0
Oakland 94.2 91.4 92.8 0-0-0 0 0

 

The following predictions are not based on the above ratings.  Remember, these ratings are not usable to select future games.  They are not even 100% affected by the scores of each week’s games.  For instance, San Diego would be considered a 6.8-point favorite in the PiRate Ratings over Kansas City in a neutral-site game (before intangibles and other variables).  Even if San Diego won 24-17, their PiRate rating would be adjusted based on how they won by a touchdown.  Suppose the Chiefs led 17-10 with five minutes to go in the game and had a 100-yard advantage, and the Chargers blocked two punts and recovered them in the end zone for touchdowns.  Or, what if the Chargers led 24-3 after three quarters but then lost their three linebackers to season-ending injuries?  The ratings would change drastically depending on how this 24-17 score occurred.

These predictions are our own personal opinions on how we think the season will pan out.  Take them for what it is worth.

NFC East W L   AFC East W L  
Dallas 10 6   New England 10 6  
New York 9 7   Miami 10 6  
Philadelphia 7 9   New York 9 7  
Washington 6 10   Buffalo 4 12  
                   
NFC South W L   AFC South W L  
New Orleans 13 3   Indianapolis 12 4  
Atlanta 10 6   Tennessee 9 7  
Carolina 7 9   Houston 8 8  
Tampa Bay 4 12   Jacksonville 5 11  
                   
NFC North W L   AFC North W L  
Green Bay 12 4   Baltimore 13 3  
Chicago 9 7   Pittsburgh 9 7  
Minnesota 9 7   Cincinnati 8 8  
Detroit 5 11   Cleveland 3 13  
                   
NFC West W L   AFC West W L  
San Francisco 9 7   San Diego 10 6  
Arizona 7 9   Oakland 7 9  
Seattle 6 10   Denver 7 9  
St. Louis 3 13   Kansas City 6 10  
                   
Wildcard Playoffs   Wildcard Playoffs  
San Diego over Tennessee   Dallas over Chicago  
Miami over New England   Atlanta over San Francisco  
       
Divisional Playoffs   Divisional Playoffs  
Baltimore over Miami   New Orleans over Atlanta  
San Diego over Indianapolis   Green Bay over Dallas  
       
AFC Championship   NFC Championship  
Baltimore over San Diego   Green Bay over New Orleans  
                   
Super Bowl  
Baltimore over Green Bay  
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August 21, 2010

2010 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:43 am

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2010 Southeastern Conference Preview

We close out the conference previews with a look at the biggie.  The SEC has produced the last four national champions and five in the past decade, compared to two from the Big 12, one from the Big Ten, one from the Pac-10, and one from the Big East.  Not since Georgia in 2005 has the SEC Champion not played in the BCS National Championship Game.

We are going to predict this trend ends this season, but not without a lot of controversy.  We believe the SEC Champion, like all the other five BCS Conference champions will lose at least one game.  As we have stated in earlier previews, we believe both Boise State and TCU will win all their games and meet in Glendale for the rubber match bowl game.

One coach finds himself on a hot seat that he may not be able to cool down.  One coach is on a mildly warm seat due to fans that have ridiculously high and impossible standards.  One coach may want to hang it up at the end of this year after many years in the business.  One coach already decided to get out, leaving just before August practices began.  It is possible that four jobs in the elite conference will be available after the season. 

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos East SEC W-L
1 Florida 7-1 11-2
2 South Carolina 5-3 8-4
3 Georgia 5-3 9-3
4 Kentucky 2-6 6-6
5 Tennessee 1-7 4-8
6 Vanderbilt 0-8 1-11
       
Pos West SEC W-L
1 Alabama 7-1 12-1
2 Auburn 5-3 9-3
3 Arkansas 5-3 9-3
4 L S U 4-4 7-5
5 Ole Miss 4-4 8-4
6 Mississippi State 3-5 6-6

 

SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Florida

 

BCS Bowl (Sugar): Alabama

BCS Bowl: Florida

Capital One Bowl: Auburn

Outback Bowl: Georgia

Cotton Bowl: Arkansas

Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina

Gator Bowl: L S U

Music City Bowl: Mississippi State

Liberty Bowl: Ole Miss

PapaJohns.com Bowl: Kentucky

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

S E C  East

 

Team

Florida Gators
               
Head Coach Urban Meyer
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Gainesville, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 13-1
               
PiRate Rating 121.4
               
National Rating 10
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
Strengths: QB, RB, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, LB, DB, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Receiver (small weakness)
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Miami (O), South Florida, Appalachian State, @ Florida State
   
Key Games: @ Alabama, LSU, Georgia (n), South Carolina
   
Offense Pred. 28-32 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 15-19 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

The Gators went 13-1 last year, and it was considered a major disappointment.  The team that returned almost every starter from a national championship was expected to go 14-0 and become the next 2001 Miami, 1995 Nebraska, 1971 Nebraska, and 1945 Army in college football.

 

Head Coach Urban Meyer briefly stepped down only to come back a few days later.  Unfortunately, Tim Tebow, Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Ryan Stamper, Joe Haden, Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, and Carlos Dunlap don’t have the option of coming back.  The Gators lost nine players to the NFL.  How can they possibly still be considered the top contender in the SEC East?  Simple: they still have the best overall talent in the division.

 

Quarterback John Brantley completed 36 of 48 passes for 410 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions in mop-up situations last year.  Not a real dual-threat runner like Tebow, he will set up in the pocket and throw downfield.  Remember, Meyer won a national title here with Chris Leak doing the same thing.

 

Brantley has fewer weapons at his disposal than Tebow had.  The loss of Cooper and Hernandez (119-1,811/14) leaves Deonte Thompson as the leading holdover.  Thompson will get help from the speedy Andre DeBose and the big-bodied Carl Moore.  Slotback Chris Rainey caught only 10 passes last year, and he will have to quadruple that mark this year for the Gators to be successful.

 

The running game will need more production from real backs, because Brantley will run much less than Tebow.   Rainey will team with Chris Demps and Emmanuel Moody to carry the load.  Expect the trio to top 1,800 rushing yards this year.

 

The offensive line returns four talented blockers, including all-American center Mike Pouncey and 6-5, 360-pound guard Carl Johnson.

 

Losing three defensive players who were drafted in the 1st two rounds of the NFL Draft and two other players in later rounds, UF will be a little weaker on this side of the ball, but not too much weaker to miss out on a return trip to a BCS Bowl.

 

The Gators have strength at defensive tackle thanks to the return of Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard.  Very few teams will run the ball up the middle against them.  Meyer recruited a lot of grade A d-line talent, and three could see immediate action as true freshmen.  Keep an eye on Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd.

 

A.J. Jones is the lone starter returning at linebacker.  Jones plays the run and the pass well, but UF will be weaker in the second line of defense.

 

The secondary will be strong once again with the return of two starters and several talented letterwinners.  Enemy quarterbacks will throw away from cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

 

Florida must play Alabama in the regular season at Tuscaloosa on October 2.  They will probably face the Tide in Atlanta two months later in a rematch game.

Team Georgia Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Mark Richt
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Athens, GA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 115.5
               
National Rating 23
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: RB, Receiver, Offensive Line ***, Linebacker, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: UL-Lafayette, @ Colorado, Idaho State, Georgia Tech
   
Key Games: @ South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida (n), @ Auburn
   
Offense Pred. 27-31 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

It is ridiculous that many Georgia fans want to get rid of Coach Mark Richt, when he just guided the Bulldogs to the most successful decade in their history.  Vince Dooley did not post 10-consecutive seasons as victorious as the decade Richt produced in Athens.  Pay close attention to what happened in Minnesota when Glen Mason was fired.

 

Editorial aside, Georgia has another fine team this season.  10 starters return on the offensive side; the one position that needs to be filled just happens to be at quarterback.  Richt has basically one option here.  Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray has the job from day one, because true freshman Hutson Mason is the only real backup.

 

If Murray is worth his salt as a passer, he will have a lot of weapons at his disposal.  A.J. Green has all-American potential after grabbing 53 passes for 808 yards in an injury-plagued season.  Tavarres King and Orson Charles should both top 40 receptions.  Former quarterback Logan Gray moves to receiver, where he should contribute this year.

 

At running back, Washaun Ealey played in the final nine games and rushed for 717 yards.  Caleb King added 594 yards.  Both have a combination of power and speed and can hit anywhere on the line of scrimmage.

 

The offensive line returns all five starters from last season, and this quintet ranks second nationally to Wisconsin’s line.  Guards Chris Davis and Cordy Glenn make a terrific tandem, and when you throw in center Ben Jones, the Bulldogs will be able to run the ball inside with authority and keep defensive pass rushers from coming up the middle.

 

In the last five seasons, Georgia gave up 16.4, 17.6, 20.2, 24.5, and 25.9 points per game.  This annual deterioration has led to a change at defensive coordinator.  Enter NFL veteran Todd Grantham, and enter the 3-4 defense.

 

We are a bit concerned about the new front three, as nose guard DeAngelo Tyson is not the answer there for a 3-4 front.  Former offensive lineman Justin Anderson may eventually take over in the interior.  At 330 pounds, he is better suited to growing roots over center.

 

If the new defensive line can keep blockers away from the UGa linebackers, the defense will have a chance to improve for the first time in five years.  Watch for Justin Houston to become a fixture in opponents’ backfields.  He could register double figure sacks and 20+ tackles for loss.

 

Brandon Boykin is the only returning starter in the secondary, and there isn’t much experience taking the place of the three departed starters.  Look for the ‘Dogs to give up more passing yards this year.

 

Georgia faced a key game in week two, when they visit South Carolina.  The winner will get a chance to play for the division title later in the season against Florida, while the loser will be out of the race.

Team Kentucky Wildcats
               
Head Coach Joker Phillips
               
Colors Royal Blue and White
               
City Lexington, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 101.9
               
National Rating 55
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Receiver, Special Teams, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron, Chas. Southern
   
Key Games: @ Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina, @ Miss. St., Vandy, @ Tenn.
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 300-325 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

Joker Phillips takes over as head coach in Lexington after directing the Wildcats’ offense.  Kentucky has used intelligent non-conference scheduling to gain bowl eligibility four years in a row.  The trend should continue in Phillips’ first season.

 

This will be a weaker Kentucky team, but the Wildcats will benefit from having the easiest schedule in the league.  They should sweep their four non-SEC foes for the fourth year in a row and win two conference games to make it back to a bowl for the fifth straight year.

 

Phillips has to make a decision at quarterback.  He has senior Mike Hartline and sophomore Morgan Newton as his two main options.  Hartline is a more conservative passer who seldom takes chances.  He’s got a more accurate arm, but he doesn’t have much zip on the ball.  Newton can hum the ball deep and has a quick release, but he doesn’t always put the ball where he aims.  Expect both to play, and redshirt freshman Ryan Mosakowski could see some game time as well.

 

There is another option at quarterback.  Randall Cobb is the Wildcat Offense quarterback, but he is a starting wideout.  Cobb led UK with 39 receptions and 447 yards last year.  He finished second in rushing with 573 yards, and he passed for 89 more.  If the single wing were still in vogue, he would be an all-star tailback.

 

Speaking of tailbacks, Derrick Locke returns after rushing for 907 yards.  Expect Locke to run the ball 200-225 times for more than 1,000 yards this season.

 

Besides the previously mentioned Cobb, Kentucky returns four other receivers that saw considerable action, so whoever ends up in the pocket should have some good targets running routes.

 

The offensive line could be a liability this year, as just one starter returns.  Guard Stuart Hines has all-conference potential, but three of the new starters have seen a lot of action in SEC games.  Don’t expect too many more sacks allowed by this unit.

 

The 2009 UK defense turned out to be outstanding.  Ask Tim Tebow about the pass rush.  This year, the defensive line could even be a bit better.  Ends DeQuin Evans and Taylor Wyndham (the concussion-delivering blow to Tebow) will give the ‘Cats a good pass rush from the outside.  The tackles are not as talented as the ends, and opponents will run the ball up the middle against them.

 

Only one starter returns at linebacker.  Danny Trevathan finished second in tackles last year with 82, and he had five tackles for loss.  Phillips may have some depth issues here, because several expected backups have left.

 

Half of last year’s great secondary returns.  Cornerback Randall Burden intercepted two passes and knocked down eight others.  Safety Winston Guy was an excellent run stuffer, and he broke up five passes.  The pass defense won’t come close to matching last year’s exceptional output (just 48.5% completions allowed), but it will still be quite good.

 

Kentucky has not defeated rival Tennessee since 1984, but we believe this is the season that streak ends.

Team South Carolina Gamecocks
               
Head Coach Steve Spurrier
               
Colors Garnet and Black
               
City Columbia, SC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 121.6
               
National Rating 9
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Southern Miss, Furman, Troy, @ Clemson
   
Key Games: Georgia, @ Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, @ Florida
   
Offense Pred. 26-30 points & 360-380 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

It could be now or never for Coach Steve Spurrier in Columbia.  He has enough talent to break through into the top two in the division, if he can get halfway decent production from his quarterbacks.

 

Spurrier tends to eat at his quarterbacks when they don’t play every down like they have the name “Wuerffel” on the back of their jerseys.  He has bad-mouthed two-year starter Stephen Garcia since the end of last season, and it appears he will carry the insults to the opening game.  Garcia passed for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he scrambled at times when the pocket broke down.  Still, Spurrier is threatening to start true freshman Connor Shaw in the first game.

 

Another true freshman might start from day one and become the best running back the Gamecock’s have had since George Rogers.  Marcus Lattimore is the real deal.  He was the top running back recruit in the nation last year.  Returning starter Kenny Miles and backups Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles return, so the USC running game may produce the most yards here since Lou Holtz was coaching.

 

The receiving corps welcomes back leading pass catcher Alshon Jeffery, who finished 2009 with 46 receptions for 763 yards and six touchdowns.  He will team with Tori Gurley to form a formidable pair of wideouts.  If tight end Weslye Saunders can improve on his 32 receptions, the Gamecocks are going to be potent on the attack.  Saunders was one of the college stars present at that South Beach agent party, so he could miss some or even all of 2009.

 

The offensive line has played inconsistently the last couple of years, but it should be a team strength this season with four returning starters. 

 

The USC defense gave up just 20 points and 300 yards per game last year, and seven starters return to keep it strong in 2010.  Two starters return to the front four, including all-conference end Cliff Matthews.  Matthews made 47 tackles with seven sacks and three other tackles for loss, and he proved valuable against the pass with three knocked down passes.

 

At linebacker, leading tackler Shaq Wilson returns after making 85 stops last year.  Rodney Paulk returns to the middle linebacker spot after missing two seasons due to injury.  If he is close to 100% after suffering an ACL injury, the Gamecocks will be strong here.

 

The secondary is the strength of the defense.  USC has a top notch pair of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver.  They broke up 17 passes last year, and they should pick up a couple more interceptions this season.

 

Everything is in place for Spurrier to take USC to the next level.  They have a chance in all eight conference games, as they get to host Alabama and Georgia, and they play Florida in Gainesville in a year where the Gators will have a minor rebuilding season.  If the Gamecocks repeat with a 7-6 season, Spurrier may hang it up.

Team Tennessee Volunteers
               
Head Coach Derek Dooley
               
Colors Orange and White
               
City Knoxville, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 101.9
               
National Rating 54
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
Strengths: Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: UT-Martin, Oregon, UAB, @ Memphis
   
Key Games: @LSU, @ Georgia, @ S. Carolina, Ole Miss, @ Vandy, Kentucky
   
Offense Pred. 16-20 points & 275-300 yards
               
Defense Pred. 20-24 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

Welcome to the annual soap opera known as “All My Coaches.”  The Volunteers have their third coach in three seasons and fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons.  Add to this that several players have left and more have suffered injuries, and this is going to be the weakest team on the hill in Knoxville in more than 30 years.

 

The offense starts with a new quarterback that threw for 39 yards in very limited action at Louisville two years ago.  Matt Simms is the son of Phil Simms.  The junior transfer will compete with true freshman Tyler Bray, but whoever winds up as the starter will not come close to matching the stats compiled by departed starter Jonathan Crompton.

 

Three talented receivers will give the new QB a decent chance at having some success against weaker pass defenses.  Wideouts Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore and tight end Luke Stocker teamed up for 115 receptions, 1,609 yards, and 16 touchdowns.  True freshman Justin Hunter could see extensive action.

 

The running game has to start from scratch with the loss of the top two rushers.  Tauren Poole and David Oku are serviceable backs, but neither will threaten to run for 1,000 yards.

 

The weakest unit on the team is the offensive line.  All five starters are gone.  Guard Jarrod Shaw started three games last season, and the rest of this unit has no career starts.

 

This will be the weakest offense at UT since before Doug Dickey’s time as coach in the mid-1960’s.

 

The defense should be better off than the offense, but there are no Reggie White’s or John Henderson’s on this team.  There are also no Eric Berry’s.  Berry finished his career with seven tackles for loss and nine passes defended last season.  The all-American strong safety was the fifth overall pick in the draft.

 

Darren Myles was going to be the new stud of the secondary, but he was dismissed from the team this spring.  Expect opponents to shred this secondary for 200+ passing yards this season.

 

The defensive line took a major hit with injuries, and there will be a problem stopping the run and rushing the passer.  Southern Cal transfer Malik Jackson could see immediate playing time.  Chris Walker will be the lone serious QB sack threat.

 

Tennessee has a similar history to Penn State when it comes to producing linebackers.  They have two fine ones this year who should combine for 100-120 tackles.  LaMarcus Thompson and Nick Reveiz won’t make all-conference teams, but they won’t be liabilities either.

 

Tennessee should win three of their four non-conference games this year, but once conference play begins, the Vols may have to wait to November to get a league win.  Coach Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville could produce a 4-8 record.  Since the Vols started playing football in 1902, they have never lost eight games in a season.

Team Vanderbilt Commodores
               
Head Coach Robbie Caldwell
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Nashville, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 96.1
               
National Rating 68
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11
               
Strengths: Running Back
               
Weaknesses: QB, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, LB, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Northwestern, @ Connecticut, Eastern Mich., Wake Forest
   
Key Games: @ Ole Miss, @ Kentucky, Tennessee
   
Offense Pred. 13-16 points & 275-300 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-26 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

Vanderbilt was supposed to contend for another bowl game last year and maybe win as many as eight games with a veteran squad returning from a seven-win season that included a bowl victory.  Instead, the Commodores suffered through numerous injuries and crashed to a 2-10 season.  The offense could not move the ball on Army much less a conference foe.  Vanderbilt averaged just 8.9 points and 234 yards of offense in conference play, numbers not seen in the SEC since the mid-1960’s.

 

To add insult to injury, Bobby Johnson decided in July that he could take no more of this.  He retired, leaving the job to Robbie Caldwell.  Vanderbilt is a team that must stay healthy to have a chance in the SEC, and immediately after practice began, serious injuries put a major crimp in the offense.  It is going to be a long season in Nashville, and the Commodores are going to be underdogs in all but one game.

 

Larry Smith returns at quarterback after suffering through a sophomore slump season that ended in the first quarter of the ninth game.  He will compete with holdovers Jared Funk and Charlie Goro and junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Aaron Rodgers.  We expect Smith to start the opener with Northwestern, but we wouldn’t be surprised if more than one quarterback played in that game.

 

The running back situation appeared to be a team strength until practice began.  Sophomore Warren Norman rushed for 783 yards as a freshman, while fellow freshman Zac Stacy added 478.  Stacy sprained his MCL in practice and is out for the first couple of games.  Backup backs Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate (younger brother of Golden Tate) are nursing injuries as well, so depth will be an issue here.

 

The Commodores are rather weak at receiver.  There is not a deep ball threat on the roster, and there is only one consistent possession man.  John Cole led the team with just 36 receptions and 382 yards.  Tight end Brandon Barden finished second with 29 catches for 357 yards.  No receiver had more than one touchdown reception.  Expect another year of struggles through the air.

 

The offensive line lost its one all-conference caliber blocker when tackle James Williams was lost to academic difficulties.  One starter returns to the blocking corps–guard Kyle Fischer.

 

This looks like an offense that will possibly score fewer than 10 points per game in conference play for a second consecutive season.

 

The Vanderbilt defense was decent last year, but the offense forced it to defend too many plays, more than 70 to be exact.  Injuries and graduation will make this side of the ball weaker than last year.  Tackle Adam Smotherman tore his ACL in Spring drills, and he will not be 100% at all this season.  He will probably miss some games as well.  End Theron Kadri will become the sack specialist on this team, but we don’t expect Vanderbilt to top 20 sacks with this defense.

 

Chris Marve is an all-conference talent at middle linebacker after leading the Commodores with 121 tackles last year.  He will have two new partners starting with him in the second line of defense.

 

The back line of defense loses its leading pass defender, but cornerback Casey Hayward returns after intercepting two passes and batting away seven others.

 

We cannot see the Commodores breaking through with a conference victory this season.  Vanderbilt’s non-conference schedule is the toughest of any SEC team.  They face Northwestern, Connecticut, and Wake Forest, and we see these opponents defeating the Commodores in close games.  That leaves an October 9 home game with Eastern Michigan as possibly the only chance to pick up a victory.

S E C  WEST

Team Alabama Crimson Tide
               
Head Coach Nick Saban
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Tuscaloosa, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 126.1
               
National Rating 2
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 12-1
               
Strengths: Quarterback **, Running Back ***, Defensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: San Jose State, Penn State @ Duke, Georgia State
   
Key Games: @ Arkansas, Florida, @ S. Carolina, Auburn
   
Offense Pred. 34-38 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 15-19 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

What can the Tide do for an encore?  They had maybe two tough games in their march to a 14-0 record and national championship.  The had the Heisman Trophy winner as well.  How can a team lose nine starters on their defensive side and still be a legitimate contender for another national championship?

 

That’s simple.  When you have a top five recruiting class three years in a row, you have exceptional talent past your two-deep.  There are players on this team that may see no more than a few snaps of game action per year that could be starting for other bowl teams.

 

Let’s start on offense, where the Tide will be tough to slow down.  The second best running attack in college football starts with the best individual back.  Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is back after rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He added 32 receptions for 334 yards and three more scores.  Backup Trent Richardson rushed for 751 yards and eight scores, earning 1st Team Freshman All-American honors! 

 

Handing the ball off to this dynamic duo is a quarterback that has never lost a game at the college or high school level.  Greg McElroy didn’t get much publicity with Ingram running roughshod over opponents, but he completed better than 60% of his passes for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions.  He could top 3,000 yards this year.

 

McElroy’s receivers are not as talented as the running backs, but they are still quite talented in their own right.  Julio Jones led the Tide with 43 catches, even though he missed the better part of seven games.  Marquis Maze is a deep threat in his own right, and he will see mostly single coverage.

 

The offensive line returns three starters but has several talented newcomers, including redshirt freshman tackle D.J. Fluker, who has all-conference written all over his chest.

 

The defense has some major reloading to do.  13 of the top 16 tacklers are gone, and that number could become 14 of 16. Middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower and strong safety Mark Baron are the only two returning starters, and Hightower only started four times before going down for the season with an ACL injury. 

 

Baron could be a 1st Team all-American this year.  He led the SEC with 18 passes defended (7 Int./11 PBU).  There is very little experience joining him in the secondary, but there is a lot of raw talent waiting for Coach Nick Saban to mold into the next tough pass defense.

 

Sophomore Nico Johnson made the SEC All-Freshman team last year in limited action, and he will team with Hightower to form a splendid pair at linebacker.

 

The front line could have another major blow.  End Marcell Dareus, a sack machine, may be declared ineligible for part or all of the season for his attendance at the South Beach agent party.

 

Alabama will give up more points and yards this year, but they will still finish in the top 20 in the nation in total defense.

 

The schedule is really tough for all SEC West teams this year, as every team could easily be bowl eligible.  Throw in a game with Florida, and it doesn’t look possible for a third consecutive undefeated regular season.  Call it a one-loss year and trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Team Arkansas Razorbacks
               
Head Coach Bobby Petrino
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fayetteville, AR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 124.9
               
National Rating 4
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Quarterback ***, Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Tenn. Tech, UL-Monroe, Texas A&M (n), UTEP
   
Key Games: @ Georgia, Alabama, @ Auburn, Ole Miss, @ S.Car, LSU
   
Offense Pred. 40-44 points and 450-475 yards
               
Defense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

Arkansas has half of the best team in the nation.  Their offense is unrivaled by any team.  They may not finish atop the total offense and scoring offense statistics, but the teams that beat them out won’t play SEC defenses.  If the Razorbacks played a CUSA schedule, they might average close to 55 points per game this year.

 

Ryan Mallett is the best quarterback in the SEC and one of the five best in the nation.  Last year, he passed for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns versus just seven interceptions.  His 55.8% completion rate was lower than others, because Mallett tends to throw deeper passes.  He averaged nine yards per attempt and more than 16 yards per completion.

 

The vertical passing game works so well, because Arkansas has the best group of receivers in the SEC.  Three Hog pass catchers can burn a secondary for a quick six on a go route.  Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, and Joe Adams teamed up for 118 receptions, 2,143 yards (18.2 avg), and 19 touchdowns.  Tight end D.J. Williams added 32 receptions, and he can take a pass over the middle and go the distance.

 

Pass defenders will have to cede territory in their alignments, and that will make the running game have more room to run when backs break free from the line.  Arkansas doesn’t run the ball much, and they have little need to do so, but when they do, expect the backs to improve on last season’s average per attempt.  Ronnie Wingo and Broderick Green should average a combined five yards per rush this year.

 

The offensive line returns four starters from last year, and this group will give Mallett ample time to locate his deadly receivers.

 

The defense is a different kettle of fish.  Arkansas gave up 25 points and 400 yards per game last year, giving up 52 points to Georgia. 

 

Two starters return to the defensive line, but neither was a star.  The two new starters saw extensive time last year, so this unit will be about as mediocre as it was last year.  Look for true freshman Bryan Jones to see immediate action in the trenches.

 

The Hogs will be improved at linebacker.  Two starters, the numbers one and three tacklers, return.  Jerry Franklin collected 94 tackles and played admirably against both the run and pass.  Jerico Nelson was a better run-stopper than pass defender.  New starter Freddy Burton started seven games last year, so he can be considered a half-starter.

 

The defensive backfield is the weak spot of the defense.  The Razorbacks gave up far too many big plays last year.  Arkansas gave up 248 passing yards per game last year.  With three starters returning, there should be some improvement.  However, none of them intercepted a pass.

 

Expect another entertaining season out of Coach Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks.  We believe they will average more than 40 points per game.  We also think they may be the team that upsets Alabama.  However, they have too many holes on defense to run the table.  Call it a second or third place finish in the tough West.  Jerry Jones would love for his alma mater to play in his stadium at bowl season.

Team Auburn Tigers
               
Head Coach Gene Chizik
               
Colors Navy and Burnt Orange
               
City Auburn, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 117.8
               
National Rating 19
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Receiver, Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Arkansas State, Clemson, La.-Monroe, Chattanooga
   
Key Games: S. Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, @ Ole Miss, Georgia, @ Alabama
   
Offense Pred. 28-32 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

What a difference a year made!  In their last season with Tommy Tuberville in charge of this program, Auburn averaged 17 points and 300 yards per game in offense and gave up 18 points and 320 yards.  In their first season under Gene Chizik, and with offensive guru Gus Malzahn’s offense being implemented, Auburn’s offense improved to 33 points and 430 yards per game.  Unfortunately, their defense weakened to 28 points and 375 yards allowed.

 

The end result was an 8-5 record that included a bowl win over Northwestern.  In year number two, Chizik has the pieces in place to win more games and even possibly challenge for the SEC West division title.

 

Former Florida signee Cam Newton takes over at quarterback this year.  He is a dual-threat that could add to the running game, but he won’t pass for as many yards as this team had in 2009.

 

Newton’s excellent running ability will help take some heat off the backs.  Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb combined for just 850 subbing for departed star Ben Tate, and we believe they will team for 1,600 or more yards.  True freshman Michael Dyer is a tank with quickness, and he could take away some of the snaps from the other two.

 

Newton has an outstanding receiver to aim for in Darvin Adams, who caught 60 passes for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Terrell Zachery added 26 receptions for 477 yards and five scores.  Fannin also proved to be a valuable weapon out of the backfield, taking 42 passes.  Look out for true freshman Trovon Reed, who could actually supplant one of the starters.

 

Four starting offensive linemen return to provide excellent pass protection and to open holes for the running backs.  Center Ryan Pugh and tackle Lee Ziemba are both stars.

 

Look for Auburn to rush for 225-250 yards and pass for 150-175 yards.  It looks like another big year from the offense.

 

Auburn returns half of their starting defensive line, but the loss of Antonio Coleman makes this unit considerable weaker.

 

Linebacker is a major asset with the return of all three starters.  Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens, and Daren Bates finished one-two-and four in tackles last year.  Expect Jonathan Evans to see considerable time here as well and possibly crack the starting lineup.

 

Neiko Thorpe has all-conference potential at cornerback.  He intercepted two passes and broke up nine others last year.  He joins two safeties with past starting experience, so the pass defense should be a little tighter this season.

 

Auburn hosts both LSU and Arkansas, the two teams they will compete with for second place in the SEC West.  We give them the edge over the other two.

 

Team Louisiana State Tigers
               
Head Coach Les Miles
               
Colors Royal Purple and Gold
               
City Baton Rouge, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 113.0
               
National Rating 28
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5
               
Strengths: Receiver, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: North Carolina (n), West Virginia, McNeese St., UL-Monroe
   
Key Games: @ Florida, @ Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, @ Arkansas
   
Offense Pred. 20-24 points & 300-325 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 290-310 yards
               
Outlook

The Tigers were a major disappointment last year, finishing 9-4 and fielding very little offense.  Coach Les Miles is on a very hot seat, and we believe this will be his last season in Baton Rouge, because the Tigers lost too much talent to improve on last year’s record.

 

Six starters return on offense, but those starters did not shine.  Quarterback Jordan Jefferson completed 61.5% of his passes for 2,166 yards with a TD/Int. ratio of 17/7.  However, Jefferson (and backup QB Jarrett Lee) took 37 sacks because of difficulty reading defensive coverage.  We don’t see the quarterbacking position being all that much improved this season.

 

Two receivers caught almost 56% of all completed passes last year, and one is no longer here.  Terrence Toliver caught 53 passes for 735 yards.  Former quarterback Russell Shepard has moved to receiver full-time and will start immediately.

 

The running game averaged 123 yards per game (skewed by all the sacks).  Take away the four non-conference breathers, and the Tigers averaged just 97 rushing yards per game.  The top two runners are gone, leaving a major hole at this position. 

 

The offensive line lost its top two blockers, so even with three starters returning, we expect little or no improvement here.

 

Opposing defenses will beg LSU to run the ball and take away the passing lanes.  Jefferson will have a hard time of it this season, and we expect the offense to boggle down yet again.

 

It was defense that won most of LSU’s games last year.  Only four starters return to this side of the ball.  Four of the top five tacklers must be replaced.

 

Only one starter returns to the defensive line.  Tackle Lazarius Levingston made eight tackles for loss and batted away four passes.  Drake Nevis will team with Levingston to make a great tandem at tackle and prevent many gains up the middle.  The news isn’t so rosy at end, where there isn’t a real proven pass rusher present.

 

Mike linebacker Kelvin Sheppard led the Tigers with 110 tackles, including 8 ½ for loss.  Expected starter Ryan Baker will be out until October, so the Tigers will have some concerns in their first four games.

 

The secondary is the strongest unit on the entire team, and it returns just two starters.  Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top three players at his position.  He picked off two passes but batted away 13 others.

 

LSU’s defense will still be powerful, but we doubt they will hold opponents to 16 points per game like last year.  The Tigers will struggle to score enough points week after week, but they will still win more than they lose.  But, it won’t be enough to save Miles’ job.  Three years ago, after supposedly being in line to take over the Michigan job, he chose to stay at LSU.  In a strange twist of fate, if Rich Rodriguez were to have a big year at Michigan and this job came open, he might be a candidate here.

Team Ole Miss Rebels
               
Head Coach Houston Nutt
               
Colors Cardinal and Navy
               
City Oxford, MS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 108.3
               
National Rating 41
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Jacksonville St., @ Tulane, Fresno State, UL-Lafayette
   
Key Games: Kentucky, @ Arkansas, Auburn, @ Tennessee, @ LSU, Miss. St.
   
Offense Pred. 31-34 points & 410-430 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 325-350 yards
               
Outlook

Brett Favre left Mississippi to return to the Minnesota Vikings.  Ole Miss has their own version of Favre, so to speak.  They will rent a quarterback for the season with hopes of winning a conference championship.  Enter Jeremiah Masoli, who was booted off the Oregon Ducks’ team for two infractions.  Masoli would have been a Heisman Trophy candidate at OU.  He led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl last season after running for 668 yards and 13 touchdowns and passing for 2,147 yards and 15 touchdowns.

 

The Rebels lost a great all-purpose back in Dexter McCluster.  He topped 1,100 yards last year.  Brandon Bolden returns after running for 614 yards.  Keep an eye of Enrique Davis.  The former highly sought after back has floundered so far, but the junior could be getting ready to come into his own.

 

The Rebels lost their top two receivers from last year, and that may keep Masoli from putting up passing stats like he did at Oregon.  Markeith Summers is the leading returnee with 394 yards on 17 receptions.

 

The offensive line lost three multi-year starters, but both tackles return.  Expect a small step backward in pass protection, but Masoli is much more mobile than last year’s quarterback, Jevan Snead.

 

The defense is in a little better shape with the return of six starters.  Three starters return up front, and the Rebels should be strong against the run and also have another good pass rush.  Jerrelle Powe could make the 1st Team All-SEC list after coming up with 12 tackles for losses last year.

 

Linebackers Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker return to form a good mix in the second line of defense.  Cornell is a better run-stopper and Walker is a better pass defender.

 

The secondary will take a step back with just one starter returning.  Safety Johnny Brown finished second with 81 tackles last year.

 

Coach Houston Nutt’s Rebels benefit from a great schedule.  Ole Miss could easily open 5-0 and should be no worse than 4-1.  The Rebels then get an off week to prepare for their October 16 game at Alabama.  We believe Ole Miss will win eight regular season games for the third consecutive year.

Team Mississippi State Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Dan Mullen
               
Colors Maroon and White
               
City Starkville, MS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 110.8
               
National Rating 36
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Defensive Line
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Memphis, Alcorn State, @ Houston, U A B
   
Key Games: Kentucky, Arkansas, @ Ole Miss
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 360-380 yards
               
Outlook

Coach Dan Mullen’s first year in Starkville almost produced bowl eligibility when the Bulldogs had been picked to possibly lose 10 games.  If not for a mix-up at the line of scrimmage at the end of the LSU game, Miss. State would have gone 6-6 instead of 5-7.

 

We think the Bulldogs will get that extra win this year and earn a trip back to a bowl for the first time in three years.  Seven starters return on both sides of the ball.

 

One position that must be replaced is at quarterback.  Chris Relf has a rifle arm, and he is mobile.  He should add another dimension to the Bulldog offense.  He also should cut down on the number of interceptions State quarterbacks threw last season (17).  Tyler Russell, a redshirt freshman, should also see some playing time this year.

 

There isn’t a lot of talent at wide receiver, but the top two pass catchers do return.  Wideout Chad Bumphis and Tight end Marcus Green have some breakaway potential, but they won’t remind anybody of Mardye McDole.

 

Replacing Anthony Dixon at running back is not possible with the running backs on the roster; Vick Ballard is expected to get the lion’s share of the load, but the roster is really thin behind him.

 

The offensive line returns four experienced starters, and they should give Relf room to run and time to pass.  We would not be surprised if Relf led the Maroons in rushing yards while passing for close to 2,000 yards.

 

The biggest loss on defense may have been defensive coordinator Carl Torbush.  Now, the Bulldogs will have their third DC in three years.  Chris Wilson from Oklahoma and Manny Diaz from Middle Tennessee will share the responsibility.

 

Mississippi State’s defense will rely on a talented defensive line to set the tone.  End Pernell McPhee is one of the best in the league.  He comes off a year in which he had five sacks, 12 total tackles for loss, and four knocked down passes.  New starter Sean Ferguson will give State a strong end tandem.

 

The top two returning tacklers return to the second line of defense.  Linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright combined for 157 stops a year ago.

 

The Bulldogs have a terrific trio of starting defensive backs returning this year.  Safeties Charles Mitchell and Johnathan Banks both intercepted four passes last year; cornerback Corey Broomfield had six!

 

Look for State to improve on this side of the ball and allow fewer points this year.  We believe it will bring them one more win and bowl eligibility.

Coming Next Week: The initial PiRate, Mean, and Biased Ratings for the NFL, and the entire first week of the college football season 

August 20, 2010

2010 Big Ten Conference Preview

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Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Big Ten Conference Preview

The Big Ten started all this realignment mess, but all they did in the end was add Nebraska.  While we wouldn’t be shocked to see Commissioner Jim Delany add two or even four more teams before the year is up, nothing will be more surprising than the Big Ten race this season—at least in our opinions.

We are not about to shock anybody and pick Indiana and Minnesota to split the title.  No, we believe, like most other pundits, that Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin are the main contenders, and Penn State and Michigan State are right behind.  We do throw in one surprise team that could contend this year.  Our big surprise is that we feel like the league has become as balanced as the Pac-10.  We actually expect that there is a possibility that four teams could go 6-2 and split the title multiple ways.  Every contender has a strength that can be used to exploit one of the other contenders’ weaknesses.  Thus, every contender also has an exploitable weakness.  It should be an interesting season, as the Big Ten sends its champion to the Rose Bowl (no BCS Championship Game again this year) to face a Pac-10 champion, just like the good ole days.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team B10 W-L
1 Wisconsin 7-1 11-1
2 Iowa 6-2 9-3
3 Ohio State 6-2 10-2
4 Michigan 5-3 8-4
5 Michigan State 5-3 9-3
6 Penn State 5-3 8-4
7 Northwestern 3-5 7-5
8 Purdue 3-5 6-6
9 Illinois 2-6 4-8
10 Indiana 1-7 5-7
11 Minnesota 1-7 3-9

 

BCS (Rose) Bowl: Wisconsin

Capital One Bowl: Ohio State

Outback Bowl: Iowa

Gator Bowl: Michigan

Insight Bowl: Penn State

Texas Bowl: Michigan State

Dallas Football Classic: Purdue

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl: Northwestern

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

Team Illinois Fighting Illini
               
Head Coach Ron Zook
               
Colors Orange and Blue
               
City Champaign-Urbana, IL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 98.3
               
National Rating 63
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8
               
Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker, Cornerback
               
Weaknesses: Wide Receiver, Safety, Special Teams
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Missouri (N), Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, @ Fresno State
   
Key Games: Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern (@ Wrigley Field)
   
Offense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

Ron Zook almost lost his job last year, and he will lose it this year if the Illini don’t return to a bowl.  He hired new offensive and defensive coordinators, but that may not be enough to turn the tide in Champaign-Urbana. 

 

Illinois will have a decent running game again this year, but we do not see the Illini averaging 200 yards a game like last year.  Quarterback Nate Scheelhaase does not have the wheels former QB Juice Williams had.  He will pass for more yards possibly.

 

At running back, the Illini will rely on a good tandem.  Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford could combined for 1,500 yards, but their average per gain will drop some without a mobile QB threat.

 

Scheelhaase will struggle against better secondaries, because his receivers are not that talented.  Jarred Fayson is the leading returnee after catching just 16 passes for 218 yards.

 

The offensive line is average at best, and they will give up considerably more sacks with a less-mobile QB.

 

Illinois stunk on this side of the ball last year, and things won’t be much better this season.  Illinois switches to the 3-4 defense this year, and the three-man line will struggle some.  Only one starter, Clay Nurse, returns to this unit.  He will see a lot of double team blocks, as the rest of the line will not pick up a lot of sacks.

 

Linebacker is the strength of this side of the ball, as three with starting experience return. 

 

The Illini are set at the corners, but safety is a concern.  Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne combined for 12 batted passes but intercepted just two.  Illinois finished #120 (dead last) in the nation in intercepted passes, so there is only one way to go in this category.

 

We do not believe the Illini have enough to get over the hump.  They had a lot better talent last year and won just three games.  Zook is headed back to the assistant coaches ranks after this season. 

Team Indiana Hoosiers
               
Head Coach Bill Lynch
               
Colors Cream and Crimson
               
City Bloomington, IN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 92.5
               
National Rating 82
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
Strengths: Wide Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Towson, @ Western Kentucky, Akron, Arkansas State
   
Key Games: Michigan, @ Illinois, Northwestern, @ Purdue
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 31-34 points & 400-425 yards
               
Outlook

Three close losses were the difference in a 7-5 season and the 4-8 season in Hoosierland in 2009.  Indiana has a lot of talent on the offensive side and a lot of questions on the defensive side of the ball this year.  It looks like another year of close, high-scoring games with IU on the losing side.

 

Quarterback Ben Chappell returns for his senior year after completing 62.6% of his passes for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns.  His 15 interceptions have a lot to do with an offensive line that did not do its job.  He had to heave the ball in desperation too many times.

 

Chappell has some excellent receivers, and when IU plays teams with weaker pass rushes, the Hoosiers will generate a lot of passing yards.  Tandon Doss, Damario Belcher, and Terrance Turner teamed for 183 receptions and 2,175 yards last year, and they should top that contribution this season.

 

Indiana will pass the ball more this year, because their running game is still a problem.  Their offensive line does not block well for the run, and we don’t see the Hoosiers getting much more than 100 yards on the ground this year.  If they do, it will be because they fatten their stats against the non-conference opponents.

 

The Hoosiers were less than mediocre on the defensive side of the ball last year, and the news gets worse this year.  Seven of the top eight tacklers are gone, including the only two quality pass rushers.  IU has a decent tandem at defensive tackle, and Adam Replogle and Larry Black will stop up the middle running plays.  Replogle is the only pass rushing monster returning.

 

Only one starter returns at linebacker and in the secondary, and with a weaker pass rush, the Hoosiers will be quite generous through the air.  Look for IU to give up more than 250 passing yards per game in a conference noted for heavy running attacks.

 

A very easy non-conference slate will give Indiana four wins.  They will only need two conference victories to become bowl eligible, but getting one win will be tough.

Team Iowa Hawkeyes
               
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Iowa City, IA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 119.8
               
National Rating 15
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Defensive Line ***, Receiver, Defensive Back, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Eastern Illinois, Iowa State, @ Arizona, Ball State
   
Key Games: Penn State, @ Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State
   
Offense Pred. 26-30 points & 360-380 yards
               
Defense Pred. 13-17 points & 275-300 points
               
Outlook

Iowa was a losing team last year if you look at their scores through three quarters.  They came from behind numerous times and barely earned victories over Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.  Of course, if you look at their bowl game against Georgia Tech, they looked like a top five team.

 

The Hawkeyes are the trendy pick to win the Big Ten this year because they host Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.  We won’t bash the Hawkeyes, but we see just enough exploitable areas to select them to come up a game short in the league standings.

 

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi completed just 56.3% of his passes last year and tossed 15 interceptions.  He forced passes at times, and he shut cut down on those this year.  On the other hand, some of those forced passes resulted in spectacular plays that helped Iowa move the ball in the fourth quarter. 

 

Stanzi will have two excellent weapons at his disposal.  Wideouts Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt combined for 79 receptions and 1,424 yards (18.0 per catch).  Their ability to break loose for long gains opened the running lanes for the backs.

 

Speaking of backs, Coach Kirk Ferentz welcomes the return of two fine runners in Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.  Look for the two to team for 1,500 or more yards this year.

 

The one weakness on this side of the ball is in the offensive line, as three starters departed.  Iowa usually has excellent line play, but only tackle Riley Reiff qualifies for all-conference material.  Stanzi could receive a tougher pass rush this year, and if he reverts to his old ways…

 

Iowa won with defense last year, and they will probably rely on defense to win again this year.  Eight starters return on this side of the ball, but the Hawkeyes lost three excellent players who heard their names called in the NFL Draft.

 

The overwhelming strongest unit on this side of the ball is possibly the top in the nation!  All four defensive line starters return, and with North Carolina’s defensive line possibly missing the best player in the nation, we give the nod to Iowa.  In fact, we would not be surprised if all four starters (Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, and Broderick Binns) ended up on the 1st or 2nd Team All-Big Ten list.  Clayborn made 20 total stops behind the line last year.  The other three combined for 32 for an incredible 52 plays where the other team lost yardage!

 

The second line of defense is the vulnerable unit on this side of the ball.  Expect teams to use a lot of play-action passes and short passes into the seams of the underneath zones to try to exploit the youth in the linebacking corps.

 

The secondary is almost as tough as the defensive line, even with the loss of Amari Spievey to the NFL.  Safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood combined to defend 22 passes last year.  Sash proved to be very valuable in run support as well.

 

Most pundits believe the Big Ten race could come down to the two big games the Hawkeyes host at Kinnick Stadium—October 23 with Wisconsin and November 20 with Ohio State.  We believe they will win one and lose one.  We actually believe the race will be decided on October 16, when Iowa plays at Michigan.  We think the Wolverines might upset the Hawkeyes in that game, forcing Iowa to sweep the other two teams.  At 6-2, they may fall one game short.     

Team Michigan Wolverines
               
Head Coach Rich Rodriguez
               
Colors Maize and Blue
               
City Ann Arbor, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 106.3
               
National Rating 43
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Connecticut, @ Notre Dame, UMass, Bowling Green
   
Key Games: Michigan State, Iowa, @ Penn State, Wisconsin, @ Ohio State
   
Offense Pred. 30-34 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 360-380 yards
               
Outlook

Coach Rich Rodriguez’s seat is just as hot as Ron Zook’s, but we believe he will right the ship in Ann Arbor this season.

 

Michigan will unveil a new quarterback that will remind folks of Pat White.  Denard Robinson has apparently beaten out last year’s starter Tate Forcier, and Robinson could easily rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 this year.  The Wolverines increased their offensive production from 20 to 30 points per game last year, and if Robinson is as good as advertised, they could top that number in 2010.

 

With Robinson set to get a lot of rushing attempts, look for running backs Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint to benefit from the linebackers having to freeze to make sure they pursue the right player.  Toussaint has the potential to be an every down back in the Big Ten, as he combines power and speed.

 

Receiver Roy Roundtree may be the only deep ball threat for the Wolverines this year, but he will require double coverage by many opponents, and that will open up the zone read to explode.  If opponents put an extra man in the box to stop the run, Roundtree will burn them with a breakaway play.

 

The offensive line is the key to the offense moving from really good to outstanding.  The healthy return of center David Molk should give this line a chance to shine.  They will give up fewer sacks with Robinson taking the snaps.

 

The key to a possible surprise move into title contention is the progress of the defense.  UM has suffered through two dreadful seasons on this side under the Rodriguez tenure.  The Wolverines are switching to a 3-3-5 alignment this season, which is a gutsy move when you have to face Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State’s ground games.

 

Michigan still had a decent pass rush last year, but the man responsible for that, Brandon Graham, is now getting paid to play in the City of Brotherly Love.  End Ryan Van Bergen will be the new sack specialist after recording five a year ago, but the key to the front line will be nose tackle William Campbell.  If he can hold his own in the trenches, the linebackers can move and make plays.

 

Linebacker is the key to this defense; can the Wolverines find enough talent to make the 3-3-5 work?  Former end Craig Roh has the tools to play linebacker in the Big Ten.  Jonas Mouton has not lived up to his press clippings, but this new defense may suit him better.

 

The back line must improve by leaps and bounds for UM to have a chance at winning the Big Ten.  Losing Troy Woolfork to injury will make that impossible, but the Wolverines will improve just enough on this side of the ball to win two or three more times.

 

We believe Michigan can win eight games this year.  That would save Rodriguez’s job.  It would be funny if he won big this year and then went shopping for a possible vacant position if an opening popped up in the SEC (LSU, Georgia, South Carolina???). 

Team Michigan State Spartans
               
Head Coach Mark Dantonio
               
Colors Green and White
               
City East Lansing, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 107.4
               
National Rating 42
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: W. Michigan, Fla. Atlantic (@ Detroit), Notre Dame, N. Colorado
   
Key Games: Wisconsin, @ Michigan,  @ Northwestern, @ Iowa, @ Penn State
   
Offense Pred. 31-34 points & 420-440 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 360-380 yards
               
Outlook

Here is a team that is not far from being ready to challenge for a conference championship.  The Spartans have a first-rate passing attack that rivals those of the great West Coast teams.  Unfortunately, a below-average secondary will allow opponents to pass like they are a West Coast passing team.

 

Quarterback Kurt Cousins returns to pilot the MSU offense after taking most of the snaps last year.  He tossed for 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.  Keith Nichol, last year’s backup threw for 764 yards, but he is now a starting wideout.  Cousins could easily approach 300 passing yards per game this year.

 

Besides Nichol, Cousins will have two excellent wideouts and a talented tight end to pass to.  B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin give Cousins two different types of receivers to aim for.  Cunningham is a possession receiver who can take a lick and hold onto the ball.  Martin can get open deep quickly and pick up a long gain.  He scored five times on just 18 catches last year.

 

With the passing game ready to excel, the running game may not produce a lot of yards, but the yards per attempt may go up.  Larry Caper is a bull who can get the tough yards inside, while Edwin Baker can get around the perimeter quickly.

 

The offensive line may be a small liability this year, as just two starters return.  Due to a lot of injuries last year, several players saw action.  So, this year’s starters are not totally raw.

 

The Spartans will use both the 4-3 and 3-4 defense this year.  The defensive line welcomes back two starters including tackle Jerel Worthy, who registered nine tackles for loss.

 

Middle linebacker Greg Jones is the real stud of this defense.  He led the Big Ten last year with 154 tackles and had nine sacks and 14 total tackles for loss.  Eric Gordon returns at Sam linebacker after finishing runner-up on the team with 92 stops.

 

The secondary is the big question mark on this team.  Even with an exemplary pass rush last year, MSU gave up 268 passing yards per game.  Two defensive back starters graduated, one to the NFL.  Chris Rucker is a Big Ten-caliber defensive back, but two or three more quality player must emerge for this team to compete with the elite.

 

Michigan State games will be shootouts this year, as the offense appears to be dominant and the defense is pedestrian.  It will keep MSU from winning the title, but they could play spoiler.  Expect at least eight wins and maybe nine.

Team Minnesota Golden Gophers
               
Head Coach Tim Brewster
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Minneapolis, MN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 100.7
               
National Rating 57
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9
               
Strengths: Offensive Line, Safety
               
Weaknesses: Receiver, Running Back, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Cornerback
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Middle Tennessee, South Dakota, Southern Cal, N. Illinois
   
Key Games: Northwestern, @ Purdue, @ Illinois, Iowa
   
Offense Pred. 23-27 points & 325-350 yards
               
Defense Pred. 30-34 points & 400-425 yards
               
Outlook

Minnesota fired Glen Mason after the 2006 season because they were fed up with seven, eight, nine, and 10-win seasons and no conference championships.  In the three years since, the Gophers have won one, seven, and six games.  With a major rebuilding job facing Coach Tim Brewster’s defense, Minnesota’s win total could drop 50% this season.

 

The Gophers return most of their offense from last year, but that offense was not all that good.  The best player, receiver Eric Decker, is now in the NFL.  

 

Quarterback Adam Weber returns for his final season after having a subpar junior season.  He threw 15 interceptions and completed just 52% of his passes. 

 

With Decker gone, the Gophers have few downfield weapons.  The leading returnee in reception yardage is Da’Jon McKnight.  He had 311 yards on 17 catches, most of them after Decker went down to injury.

 

The running game, which was always stellar during Mason’s tenure, has fallen to the bottom of the league.  The Gophers rushed for just 99 yards per game last year, but the offensive line gave up 41 sacks to skew that number a little.

 

All five starters return to the offensive line, so there should be some improvement both in pass protection and in opening holes for the run.  Guard Matt Carufel is the best of the five.

 

The defense could be the weakest stop unit in the Big Ten since the Minnesota defense of 2007.  Just safeties Kyle Threet and Kim Royston return to the starting lineup this season, and Royston has leg issues. 

 

Linebacker Keanon Cooper played quite a bit last year, and he is the only other experienced player on the roster.

 

In the defensive line, end Anthony Jacobs is the closest thing to an experienced player.  He registered 19 tackles in a backup role last year.  His career start total is three games, which is three more than the rest of the d-line.

 

To make matters worse, Minnesota must play Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State, and they don’t play Indiana.  It is going to be a long year in Minneapolis, but at least the Gophers have a really beautiful stadium now.  Just how many people decide to come to TCF Bank Stadium in November when it is 25 degrees and windy…

Team Northwestern Wildcats
               
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
               
Colors Purple and White
               
City Evanston, IL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 95.7
               
National Rating 69
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-5
               
Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebackers
               
Weaknesses: Receiver, Running Back, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Vanderbilt, Illinois State, @ Rice, Central Michigan
   
Key Games: @ Minn., Purdue, Mich. St., @ Indiana, Illinois (@ Wrigley Field)
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

The Wildcats may take a small step back this year but not enough to keep them from going to their third consecutive bowl.  Northwestern lost their starting quarterback and top two receivers on offense, and five starters on defense, so we expect NU to be a couple points weaker.  Thanks to a soft non-conference slate of opponents, they should win seven games and earn another bowl trip.

 

The new quarterback is Dan Persa.  He saw limited action last year, completing 59% of his 34 pass attempts.  Persa is a sneaky runner, so expect more rushing yards from this position than last year.

 

No NU backs rushed the ball with any competency last year; Arby Fields led with 302 yards.  Expect a big improvement, because Persa can run the zone-read quite well.

 

The running game has to improve, because the passing game will take a step backward.  NU lost 148 receptions and 1,783 yards when their top two receivers graduated.  The replacements are not as talented.  Nobody on this roster is a consistent deep threat; Drake Dunsmore is the closest thing to that, and he averaged just 11.1 yards per catch last year.

 

Helping make the running game improve this year is an experienced offensive line with four returning starters.  Tackle Al Netter was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player last year.

 

The Wildcat defense is above average in the line, really good at linebacker, and below average in the defensive backfield.  End Vincent Browne tied for the NU lead with five sacks and had three other tackles for loss. 

 

The other co-leading sack man is linebacker Quentin Davie.  To Davie’s five sacks, he added 6 ½ other tackles for loss.  Fellow linebackers Nate Williams and Ben Johnson return to make this a solid unit.

 

Opponents with good quarterbacks (Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins, Scott Tolzien, Robert Marve, Ben Chappell) will torch the NU secondary this year.  Jordan Mabin is the only returning starter, and he was more of a run-stopper than pass defender in 2009.

 

Look for the Wildcats to win all four of their non-conference games.  They will only need two conference wins to gain bowl eligibility, and there are four conference opponents that they can beat.  We’ll say they win three of those games and post another winning season.  Maybe, this is the year they draw an easier bowl opponent and finally win a bowl.

Team Ohio State Buckeyes
               
Head Coach Jim Tressel
               
Colors Scarlet and Gray
               
City Columbus, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 124.3
               
National Rating 5
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-2
               
Strengths: Quarterback,  Receiver, Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Not many, maybe slightly at Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Marshall, Miami (FL), Ohio U, Eastern Michigan
   
Key Games: @ Wisconsin, Penn State, @ Iowa, Michigan
   
Offense Pred. 30-34 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 13-17 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

We could be far off base here, but we actually believe that Ohio State will not win the Big Ten and will not play in the National Championship Game this year.  The Buckeyes have an incredible offense returning, but it is not as good as Wisconsin’s or Michigan State’s offense, and is no better than Purdue or Michigan’s offense.  They have a very good defense, but it is not as good as Iowa’s or Penn State’s defense.  Thus, we believe they will fall twice in conference play and watch a rival lost just once.

 

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a Heisman Trophy contender.  He must be considered one of the top five preseason choices.  He ended the season on a roll with a dynamic Rose Bowl performance, but he was almost a non-factor passing in November.  He threw for less than 300 yards in the last three regular season games combined.  He also threw 11 interceptions (3.73%) and finished 8th in passing efficiency.  His ability to run made him a lot more dangerous than other QBs, but we believe Coach Jim Tressel will try to limit his runs this season and increase his passing attempts.

 

OSU is still a run first team, but Pryor has a plethora of good receivers to toss the ball.  DeVier Posey is a classic possession receiver, and his 60 receptions led the Buckeyes last season.  Dane Sanzenbacher is more of a deep threat.  Tight end Jake Stoneburner will be a new star for the Buckeyes this season.  He provides a large target with a good pair of hands.

 

The running game benefits from the return of Brandon Saine and Dan Herron.  The two combined for 1,339 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Saine is a weapon coming out of the backfield as a pass receiver as well.

 

The offensive line returns four starters, and all four are all-conference talents.  This is a one of the nations’ top five lines, but it is just number two in the Big Ten.

 

The defense will not crumble even though it lost five great players.  Tressel’s last four teams yielded just 12.5, 13.9, 12.8, and 12.8 points per game.

 

The defensive line is a minor strength, even with the loss of three starters.  Tressel rotated fresh players in every week, so the three new starters saw extensive playing time in big games.  End Cameron Heyward is ready to become the next great lineman to play at the Giant Horseshoe.  He registered 10 total tackles for loss, but he was not an every down player last year. 

 

Two players return to the second line of defense.  Brian Rolle earned 2nd Team All-Big Ten accolades after making 95 tackles.  Ross Homan was a 1st Team all-conference selection and led OSU with 108 stops.  He also recorded 10 passes defended with a team-leading five interceptions.

 

The back line of defense will be a team strength with three starters returning.  Cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence are among the best in the league.

 

The Buckeyes must travel to both Wisconsin and Iowa.  Home games with Penn State and Michigan will be toughies.  A September home game with Miami will be very interesting.  We think Ohio State will beat the Hurricanes, but the two road games in Big Ten play will be a bit too much.  Call it a second place finish.

 

Team Penn State Nittany Lions
               
Head Coach Joe Paterno
               
Colors Dark Blue and White
               
City State College, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 109.6
               
National Rating 38
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Youngstown State, @ Alabama, Kent State, Temple
   
Key Games: @ Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, @ Ohio St., Michigan St.
   
Offense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Defense Pred. 17-21 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

Penn State will have to break in a new quarterback this year, and we don’t have much faith in the possible replacements for Daryll Clark.  Two sophomores and two freshmen will battle it out, but we believe sophomore Kevin Newsome will get first crack at the job.  Expect a major decline in passing yardage and more interceptions.  With just an average offensive line, we wouldn’t be surprised if the number of sacks rose as well.

 

The Nittany Lions will try to get the job done with a strong ground attack.  Running back Evan Royster is a great stone to build that running foundation.  Royster rushed for 1,169 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.  Backup Stephfon Green added 319 yards.  Expect the two to combine for close to 2,000 rushing yards this year.

 

The Lion receiving corps has talent, so if a quarterback can emerge that can consistently deliver the ball on target, Penn State can still enjoy a decent passing attack.  Derek Moye and Graham Zug return after teaming for 94 receptions and 1,385 yards.  Expected starter Curtis Drake will miss at least half the season with a broken leg.

 

Penn State gave up just 12.2 points per game last year, the sixth consecutive season they held teams under 20 points per game.  Six starters are gone, but PSU had to replace seven starters last year.

 

The two returning starters to the defensive line are end Jack Crawford and tackle Ollie Ogbu.  Crawford recorded 5 ½ sacks and nine other tackles for loss, while Ogbu recorded eight total tackles for loss.  The two new starters are on par with those two, so Penn State should once again be dominating up front.

 

Ironically, the weakness on this defense is the one position football fans think about when they think about Penn State. “Linebacker U” will have an off season.  All three starters must be replaced.  Middle linebacker Michael Mauti missed last year with an ACL injury, and if he can return to his 2008 form, he will be the leader of this group.

 

The strength of the back line is at safety.  Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino are tough against the pass and the run. 

 

Not many teams contend for championships with poor quarterback play these days.  That’s why we cannot pick Penn State to contend for the Big Ten title.  They will be good with their defense and running game, but they will lose two or three times in conference play.

Team Purdue Boilermakers
               
Head Coach Danny Hope
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City West Lafayette, IN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 99.4
               
National Rating 61
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
               
Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Notre Dame, Western Illinois, Ball State, Toledo
   
Key Games: @ Northwestern, Minnesota, @ Illinois, Indiana
   
Offense Pred. 27-31 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 25-29 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

After enjoying many years among the elite of the Big Ten, Purdue has fallen back among the also-rans.  The Boilermakers have endured losing seasons three times in the last five years, including back-to-back sub-.500 years.

 

Coach Danny Hope could guide the Boilermakers back into a bowl in his second season in West Lafayette.  The offense has to replace almost all of its running game and lost some quality receivers, but with former Miami of Florida starting quarterback Robert Marve becoming eligible this year, we believe Purdue will have a first class passing game again. 

 

Marve has a rifle arm, so he will tend to throw longer passes.  This could lead to a lower completion percentage but higher yardage per completions.

 

With Keith Smith returning after grabbing 91 passes for 1,100 yards, the Boilermakers have a potential 1st Team All-Big Ten pick.  Marve needs a game-breaking deep threat to emerge so he can air it out a couple times per game.

 

The running game has to start from scratch this year.  Sophomore Al-Terek McBurse had four carries for 10 yards, and he will open up as the new starter. 

 

The offensive line is going to be young as well.  Guard Ken Plue could contend for all-conference honors, but three new starters will line up in the trenches.

 

The defense gave up close to 30 points per game last year, and it will not be much better this season.  The defensive line will be much improved, but the secondary will be a major liability.

 

The front line features a great pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan.  He registered 13 sacks last year.

 

All three starters return to the second line of defense.  Joe Holland, Jason Werner, and Chris Carlino finished second, third, and fourth in tackles.  Werner recorded 14 ½ stops for loss.

 

The secondary must replace all four starters, and only free safety Albert Evans saw any real game action last year.  Purdue gave up 203 passing yards per game last year with a really good pass rush.  They could give up 250+ yards this year.

 

Like Michigan State, expect Purdue games to be fast-paced and high scoring.  We believe they will just squeak by with six wins and garner a bowl bid for the first time in three years. 

Team Wisconsin Badgers
               
Head Coach Bret Bielema
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Madison, WI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 117.0
               
National Rating 20
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-1
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line ***
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay
   
Key Games: @ Michigan State, Ohio State, @ Iowa, @ Michigan
   
Offense Pred. 33-37 points & 425-450 yards
               
Defense Pred. 20-24 points & 310-330 yards
               
Outlook

The Badgers have quietly become the next most consistent Big Ten program after Ohio State.  They have been to eight consecutive bowl games and have won double digit games three of the last five seasons.  With 10 offensive starters returning from a fantastic offense a year ago, UW may have an unstoppable attack this year.

 

Coach Brett Bielema’s offense averaged more than 200 yards rushing and passing last year, and both phases will be even better in 2010.  Quarterback Scott Tolzien returns after passing for 2,705 at a 64.3% rate.  The Badgers have built a solid offense the last several years even though they have had to break in a new starter at quarterback the last three seasons.  Expect Tolzien to top 65% completions and 3,000 passing yards.

 

With Tolzien throwing the pigskin, the running game will have more holes available.  The Badgers have three running backs that they can unleash on opponents, and all three can rush for 100 yards in a game.  John Clay may not get much respect outside the league, but in our opinion, he is the near equal of Mark Ingram and LaMichael James.  Clay rushed for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.  Backups Montee Ball and Zach Brown may get more carries this year at Clay’s expense.  The duo combined for 670 yards last year.

 

The receiving corps is not far from being as talented as the running backs.  Nick Toon has exceptional strength and good hands, while Isaac Anderson has the quickness to turn a five yard catch into a 50-yard touchdown sprint.  UW has made a tradition out of developing all-conference tight ends, and Lance Kendricks should be the next one.  He comes off a season in which he caught 29 passes in a secondary role.

 

We saved the best for last.  The offensive line is not just the best in the league, we believe it is the very best in college football.  All five starters return including 1st Team All-Big Ten studs at center (John Moffitt) and tackle (Gabe Carmi). 

 

The defense will not be as dominating as the offense, but we don’t expect the Badgers to give up a lot of points this year.  If an adequate pass rush can be molded out of a rebuilt defensive line, the Badgers are going to grab their first Big Ten title since the days of Ron Dayne.

 

J.J. Watt is the lone returnee up front.  He earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors after recording 15 ½ total tackles for loss and batting down five passes.  Two of the new starters saw a lot of playing time, but this unit will be a little weaker than last year’s front four.

 

The second line of defense returns two talented starters.  Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are equally effective against the run and the pass.

 

The secondary is the real strength on this side of the ball.  With three competent starters back and with the new starter having past starting experience, teams will not burn UW for a lot of passing yards.

 

Throw in a great punter and placekicker, and this team looks primed to win the conference championship. 

Coming Tomorrow: The Southeastern Conference continues to produce national champion after national champion.  Can anybody challenge Alabama and Florida in the divisional races? 

August 19, 2010

2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

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Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

The Big 12 Conference almost ceased to exist this summer.  It looked like eight of the 12 teams would leave and end up in the Big Ten, Pac-10, and even SEC.  After the dust cleared, the conference was left with 10 teams.  Colorado was the only member of six possible teams to accept the Pac-10 bid.  Nebraska, tired of seeing Texas control the league, gladly accepted a bid to the Big Ten.  The rest of the league will hold a grudge in this final season before divorce becomes official.  Speaking of officials, this league will need close scrutiny this year.  After Nebraska felt they had been robbed in the Big 12 Championship Game, can they expect any better treatment this year? 

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos North B12 W-L
1 Nebraska 8-0 12-1
2 Missouri 4-4 8-4
3 Colorado 4-4 6-6
4 Kansas 3-5 5-7
5 Kansas State 2-6 6-6
6 Iowa State 1-7 3-9
       
Pos South B12 W-L
1 Oklahoma 7-1 12-1
2 Texas 6-2 10-2
3 Texas Tech 5-3 8-4
4 Texas A&M 4-4 7-5
5 Baylor 3-5 6-6
6 Oklahoma State 1-7 5-7

 

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma over Nebraska

 

BCS Bowl (Fiesta): Oklahoma

BCS Bowl: Nebraska

Cotton Bowl: Texas

Alamo Bowl: Missouri

Insight Bowl: Texas Tech

Holiday Bowl: Texas A&M

Texas Bowl: Baylor

Pinstripe Bowl: Colorado

Dallas Football Classic: Kansas State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

North Division

Team Colorado Buffaloes
               
Head Coach Dan Hawkins
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Boulder, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 105.5
               
National Rating 45
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Offensive Line, Receivers, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 24-27 points / 320-340 yards

Expected Defense: 24-27 points / 340-360 yards

Schedule: Out of Conference: Colorado State (n), @ California, Hawaii, and Georgia

Interdivision: Baylor, Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma

Outlook: The Buffaloes need to settle on one quarterback, and Tyler Hansen is that man.  Hansen should get more time to pass and pass for 2,500 or more yards, and we don’t expect CU QBs to be sacked 44 times again.  Rodney Stewart could top 1,000 yards rushing.  Transfers from Michigan, USC and UCLA should bolster the receiving corps.  The offensive line returns the entire two-deep from last year, including nine players with starting experience.

A better pass rush should help the defense improve a little, but we don’t expect the Buffs to challenge for a top four position in the league.  Coach Dan Hawkins must win this year, or he will be out of a job.  We don’t know if 6-6 and a minor bowl will be enough, but that is what we think will happen.

Team Iowa State Cyclones
               
Head Coach Paul Rhoads
               
Colors Cardinal and Gold
               
City Ames, IA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 94.4
               
National Rating 77
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Expected Offense: 22-26 point / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 24-28 points / 425-450 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Northern Illinois, @ Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Utah

Interdivision: Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma, @ Texas

Outlook: Coach Paul Rhoads placed the Cyclones in a bowl in his first year in Ames, but ISU will revert back to their losing ways this year.  The offense will be somewhat improved, but it was ranked last in the Big 12 last year.  Quarterback Austin Arnaud will hand the ball to Alexander Robinson a lot this year, and if Robinson stays healthy, he could top 1,250 yards on the ground.  Arnaud can run and pass with equal competency, so he should take some of the pressure off Robinson.  Other than Jake Williams, ISU will have to rely on several average receivers.  None of his teammates will allow Williams to avoid double coverage.  The offensive line features tackle Kelechi Osemele, a 2nd Team All-Big 12 selection last year.

Seven key defensive performers graduated, so the Cyclones will take a large step backwards.  The front seven will be much weaker, and opponents will run the ball for more yards and pass against less pass rushing pressure.  Even with a decent secondary, the weaker pass rush will force them to cover a half-second to a second longer.  Expect the pass yardage allowed to go up as well.

ISU should win two of their four non-conference games, but we can only see them winning one Big 12 contest.  Call it a 3-9 rebuilding season.

Team Kansas Jayhawks
               
Head Coach Turner Gill
               
Colors Dark Blue and Red
               
City Lawrence, KS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 102.0
               
National Rating 53
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7

 

Strengths: Not many, but the Offensive Line and Defensive Line are small positives

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 22-26 points / 330-350 yards

Expected Defense: 24-28 points / 360-380 yards

Schedule: Out of conference: North Dakota State, Georgia Tech, @ Southern Mississippi, New Mexico State

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State

Outlook: Turner Gill takes over after bringing Buffalo from also-ran to MAC Champion in short time.  It will take time here for his system to bear fruit, but we are confident that he can recruit the Midwest and Southwest and return the Jayhawks to prominence.

KU will debut a new quarterback this year, as Kale Pick and Jordan Webb are locked in a competitive battle.  Pick threw five passes, while Webb has yet to take a college snap.  An interesting battle brews at running back, where last year’s leading rusher Toben Opurum and 6th year player and former linebacker Angus Quigley could form a decent tandem.  KU lost two star receivers who combined for 186 receptions and more than 2,300 yards, so this will be a liability.  Four starters return to the line, and they will undergo some restructuring to fit Gill’s change of offense.

In a pass happy league, a weak secondary is bad news.  KU has some bad news.  The returning defensive backs combined for just two interceptions.  This side of the ball will have to learn a new system as well, and the defensive line is the only average unit using Big 12 standards.  A real plus for the Jayhawks is not having to play Oklahoma or Texas from the South.

Gill has enough talent to repeat last year’s 5-7 record.  The offense will not be as potent, but it will eat more clock.  That will help the defense hold opponents under 30 points per game.

Team Kansas State Wildcats
               
Head Coach Bill Snyder
               
Colors Royal Purple and White
               
City Manhattan, KS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 67
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

Expected Offense: 22-25 points / 325-350 yards

Expected Defense: 21-24 points / 325-350 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: UCLA, Missouri State, Central Florida, @ North Texas

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas

Outlook: Kansas State’s offense will move on the legs of running back Daniel Thomas.  He raced for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and he could top 1,400 this season.  An experienced offensive line returns, and they are better run blockers than pass blockers.

Quarterback Carson Coffman started four games last year, but he was unspectacular.  With a below average receiving corps, expect KSU to struggle when they get behind in games.

On defense, the line is talented, and there is depth.  They should clear out enough space for the new linebackers to have decent first years as starters.  However, there is not a great pass rusher on the roster.

Look for Kansas State to sweep their four non-conference opponents, which means they only will need two league wins to earn a bowl bid.  That’s what they will get.

Team Missouri Tigers
               
Head Coach Gary Pinkel
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Columbia, MO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 111.6
               
National Rating 32
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-4

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back

Weaknesses: Receiver (not that much of a weakness)

Expected Offense: 31-35 points / 425-450 yards

Expected Defense: 20-24 points / 350-375 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Illinois (n), McNeese State, San Diego State, Miami (O)

Interdivision: @ Texas A&M, Oklahoma, @ Texas Tech

Outlook: Blaine Gabbert returns at QB where he passed for almost 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns to just nine picks.  Not the runner Chase Daniel was, he can still pull the ball down and cross the sticks for a first down.  Running back Derrick Washington saw his production drop from over 1,000 yards in 2008 to 865 last year; with an improved offensive line, look for that number to climb back over 1,000.  The only question on offense is at receiver.  Mizzou lost two great pass catchers that combined for 159 receptions and 20 touchdowns.  To make matters worse, Jerrell Jackson, who was expected to be the leading receiver this year, will miss the first three games with a fractured wrist.  Don’t expect him to return and catch half a dozen passes in September.

The Tigers gave up a couple of big plays at the wrong time last year, and it cost them two conference wins and the North Division title.  Expect improved play on this side of the ball as all three units will be improved thanks to the return of eight of the top nine tacklers.  Missouri only picked off eight passes last year.  The entire secondary returns, and the Tigers will intercept double digit passes this season.  The pass rush can only get better with the return of end Aldon Smith.  He recorded 11 ½ sacks last year.  Led by Andrew Gachkar and Will Ebner, the linebacking unit will be tough against the run.

The pre-conference schedule should allow Missouri to start 4-0.  They could be 6-0 by the time they face Oklahoma on homecoming.  We are being as pessimistic as we can when we call for the Tigers to go 4-4 in league play.  They could be 6-2 if they stay healthy and prevent the big plays on defense.

Team Nebraska Cornhuskers
               
Head Coach Bo Pelini
               
Colors Scarlet and Cream
               
City Lincoln, NE
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 120.7
               
National Rating 13
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1

 

Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Quarterback

Expected Offense: 28-32 points / 350-375 yards

Expected Defense: 14-18 points / 275-300 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Western Kentucky, Idaho, @ Washington, South Dakota State

Interdivision: Texas, @ Oklahoma State, @ Texas A&M

Outlook: If Nebraska had just an average quarterback, they would be our pick for one of the two BCS Championship Game teams.  Zac Lee, Cody Green, and Taylor Martinez are still locked in a battle to determine the starter, but we would be surprised if anybody other than Lee line up under center for the first game.  Roy Helu will have a tough time carrying the offense if no passing game develops.  Helu rushed for 1,147 yards and 10 scores last year.  The ‘Huskers return some talented receivers, and they should help the quarterbacks improve their passing numbers.  Niles Paul might be a 1,000 yard receiver at eight other Big 12 schools, but he’ll have to settle for 40-50 receptions and 800-900 yards here.  The offensive line took a major hit when center Mike Smith broke his leg, but Coach Bo Pelini will field another excellent interior.

Nebraska’s defense will take a step back, because it is impossible to replace Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante, Matt O’Hanlon, and Barry Turner all in one season.  A weaker defense means that NU will give up more than 14 points per game.  The defensive line still has star talent with end Pierre Allen and tackle Jared Crick.  Crick made 15 total tackles for loss including 9 ½ sacks.  Allen added five sacks and 12 total tackles for loss.  They also combined for nine batted away passes.  There’s royalty in the secondary with the return of Prince Amukamara.  He led the ‘Huskers with 16 passes defended (5 Int/11 PBU). 

Alex Henery is one of the best dual punter/kickers in college football, and Niles Paul is a gem as a kick and punt returner.

We believe that Nebraska has a decent shot at running the table in the regular season.  The October 16 game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with Texas is going to be unbelievable, and the Longhorns are going to be treated like Sarah Palin with a chainsaw outside Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.  We think the Cornhuskers will enter the Big 12 Championship game ranked number one and suffer defeat at the hand of their oldest rival.  Still, they should get a bid to a BCS bowl.

South Division

Team Baylor Bears
               
Head Coach Art Briles
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Waco, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 103.7
               
National Rating 48
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Back (small strength)

Weaknesses: Running Back (other than QB), Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Expected Offense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Sam Houston, Buffalo, @ TCU, @ Rice

Interdivision: Kansas, @ Colorado, Kansas State

Outlook: It starts and ends with quarterback Robert Griffin.  In just over two games, Griffin had passed for 481 yards with four TDs and no interceptions before he went down with a season-ending ACL injury.  If he stays healthy for 12 games, he should pass for close to 3,500 yards and lead Baylor to its first bowl game in 16 years.  The running backs suffered with the loss of Griffin, because defenses had to respect Griffin’s ability to take off and run.  Expect improvement in the rushing attack, but don’t expect the Bears to top 150 yards per game on the ground Jay Finley did rush for 1,072 yards in 2008, but he will not get enough touches to repeat that.  Griffin has a couple of good target to pass to in Kendall Wright and Lanear Sampson, but another receiver needs to emerge.  Three starters return to the offensive line, and Griffin will make their job much easier.

The defense lost six starters, including four of their top five tacklers.  A weaker than Big 12 average defensive line will cause BU some trouble as opponents run the ball to eat the clock and keep Griffin off the field.  The Bear pass rush won’t scare many enemy quarterbacks either.  BU has one talented linebacker in Antonio Johnson.  Johnson’s 77 tackles and two sacks are the most of any returnee.  The defensive backfield would have been a bigger strength had Ahmad Dixon actually showed up.  He was the highest recruit the Bears have had in years and would have started immediately at free safety.  Baylor still has some talent here with cornerbacks Clifton Odom and Chance Casey returning.

Baylor has three winnable non-conference games and three or four more in the Big 12.  We believe they will go 3-5 in the Big 12 and 6-6 overall, which will earn a bid to one of the lower Lone Star state bowl games.

Team Oklahoma Sooners
               
Head Coach Bob Stoops
               
Colors Cream and Crimson
               
City Norman, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 125.6
               
National Rating 3
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 12-1

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: None really.  If you had to get picky, maybe in the seams of the middle zones on pass defense.

Expected Offense: 35-40 points / 450-475 yards

Expected Defense: 18-22 points / 300-325 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Utah State, Florida State, Air Force, @ Cincinnati

Interdivision: Iowa State, @ Missouri, @ Texas A&M

Outlook: Can a team that lost the first pick in the draft, three other 1st Round picks, three other draft picks, and three more players that are still in NFL training camps be better than they were a year ago?  It sounds crazy, but OU could not only be better, they could be the best!  Losing Sam Bradford will hardly be noticed, as he only threw 69 passes last year.  Landry Jones returns at quarterback after passing for just under 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns.  He needs to cut down on his 14 interceptions.  At running back, DeMarco Murray and Jermie Calhoun will team for 1,500 yards, and the Sooners will be a much more balanced team this year.  Murray will not be asked to carry the ball 20 times any more, and he should stay healthy.  The most lethal unit on this team is pass catchers.  Ryan Broyles and Dejuan Miller could both earn all-conference recognition; throw in super freshman Kenny Stills with tight ends Trent Ratteree and James Hanna, and you have one of the nation’s top receiving corps.  The offensive line is the weakest unit of the attack side, and yet it is still one of the four best in the Big 12.

On Defense, the Sooners lost five star players.  Don’t pity them; the players they have coming back are just as good or will soon be.  In the trenches, end Jeremy Beal is the best at his position in the Big 12.  He dumped quarterbacks 11 times last year and stopped runners for losses eight times.  He can drop back in pass coverage on zone blitzes and play pass defense like a linebacker.  Speaking of linebacker, Travis Lewis returns to the second line of defense after earning 1st Team All-Big 12 accolades.  He will have two new partners, and both are stars of the future.  The Sooners have two starters returning to the secondary, led by safety Quinton Carter, who grabbed four enemy quarterback passes while batting away five others.

Oklahoma has the talent to run the table and be 13-0 following a win in the Big 12 Championship Game.  If so, we know where they will be playing in January.  We are going to go out on a small limb and pick one Big 12 team to knock them off in an upset, just like Colorado did to them in 2007.  Call it a 12-1 regular season plus Fiesta Bowl bid.

Team Oklahoma State Cowboys
               
Head Coach Mike Gundy
               
Colors Orange and Black
               
City Stillwater, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 99.8
               
National Rating 59
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7

 

Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line

Expected Offense: 20-24 points / 325-350 yards

Expected Defense: 23-27 points / 350-375 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Washington State, Troy, Tulsa, @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Interdivision: Nebraska, @ Kansas State, @ Texas

Outlook: It will be a long season in Stillwater, as the Cowboys must rebuild on both sides of the ball.  OSU returns just four offensive and three defensive starters to a team that many felt underachieved last year.  The rabid fans, in their desire not to play second fiddle in the Sooner State, may chase Coach Mike Gundy out of town if the ‘Pokes fail to make it back to a bowl.

Gundy brought Dana Holgorsen in from Houston to take over as offensive coordinator.  Holgorsen will institute the spread passing game used by the Cougars (which gained 512 yards and 45 points against OSU last year).  His first order of business was to pick a quarterback, and Brandon Weeden will not be confused for Casey Keenum.  Weeden spent five years pitching in the Minor Leagues and has seen a lot more action on the mound than under center.  Having running back Kendall Hunter 100% healthy once again could be the saving grace for this side of the ball.  When healthy in 2008, he rushed for 1,555 yards and earned All-American honors.  He played in just three games last year.  The loss of Dez Bryant to the NFL Cowboys won’t hurt too much, since Bryant hardly played last year.  Holgorsen will use as many as 10 receivers in his pass-happy offense.  Hubert Anyiam should be the star of the group.  The offensive line will be a major liability, as just two starters return.

Oklahoma State allowed just 96 yards rushing last year, but with five (and maybe six pending the outcome of an arrest) of the front seven gone, that number could increase by over 50% this season.  Ugo Chinasa spearheads a respectable pass rush.  In the secondary, amazingly Andrew McGee returns to play after suffering a broken neck last season.  He will team with safety Markelle Martin to provide experience in the back line of defense.

Okie State has a good shot at winning all non-conference games, so they will only need two Big 12 wins to become bowl eligible.  We actually believe they will have a difficult time winning any league game and will call for the Cowboys to go 1-7 in the conference. 

Team Texas Longhorns
               
Head Coach Mack Brown
               
Colors Burnt Orange and White
               
City Austin, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 13-1
               
PiRate Rating 119.3
               
National Rating 16
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-2

 

Strengths: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Quarterback (small weakness)

Expected Offense: 31-34 points / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 15-19 points / 275-300 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: @ Rice (Reliant Stad.), Wyoming, UCLA, Florida Atlantic

Interdivision: @ Nebraska, Iowa State, @ Kansas State

Outlook: When any other team loses as much talent as the Longhorns, you can expect a long season.  In Texas, they just insert the next star at each position.  The ‘Horns lost their all-time leading passer, a receiver that caught 116 passes for 1,485 yards, and four starting offensive linemen, and yet UT will still have a lethal offense.  Quarterback Garrett Gilbert got his Baptism under fire last year in the National Championship Game when Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game in the first half.  Gilbert brought the Longhorns back in the second half and gave them a chance.  If he could do that against Alabama, what do you think he will do against Iowa State?  Expect more contribution from the running game with Tre’ Newton and Fozzy Whittaker carrying the load this year.  Texas has a stable of fine receivers as well, led by James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams, and John Chiles.  Chiles is an ex-quarterback, and he could be used in some trick plays.

Coach Mack Brown can sleep easier at night with Will Muschamp at his side.  The head coach-in-waiting has made the Longhorn defense the envy of the nation.  His 2010 team will do just fine once he finds a way to plug some holes in the defensive line.  Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall form the conference’s best pair of tackles.  Acho made 10 sacks last year.  Emmanuel Acho heads the second line of defense.  He is a tough run-stopper.  In the secondary, cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams form the best tandem of cover men in the league, but the loss of All-American Earl Thomas will make this a little weaker pass defense.

Texas must play at Nebraska, and if the officiating is honest, we do not believe the Longhorns can win this grudge match-to-be.  The Longhorns have a 50-50 shot with Oklahoma, and they have about a 20% chance of losing to Texas Tech, Texas A&M, or Kansas State.  We’ll call it a 6-2 league mark and 10-2 overall.

Team Texas A&M Aggies
               
Head Coach Mike Sherman
               
Colors Maroon and White
               
City College Station, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 113.5
               
National Rating 26
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 34-38 points / 475-500 yards

Expected Defense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Stephen F Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Arkansas (n)

Interdivision: Missouri, @ Kansas, Nebraska

Outlook: The Aggies have one of the best offenses in a BCS conference.  With Quarterback Jerrod Johnson running the team, if the offensive line can give him adequate protection, A&M could top 40 points per game.  Johnson passes for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns last year, while running for 506 and eight more scores.  Johnson’s ability to take off with the ball really helped the running game to click.  The Aggies return two running backs capable of topping 1,000 yards.  Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray combined for 1,601 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.  At receiver, Johnson has his big three pass catchers returning this year.  Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Tannehill, and Jeff Fuller teamed for 127 receptions (each had at least 40) and 17 touchdowns.  Tannehill is a converted QB, so he could be used on a trick play as a passer.

The defense switches to a 3-4 alignment this year, and there isn’t a star in the trenches.  Last year’s star defensive lineman has been moved to rush linebacker.  Von Miller led the league with 17 sacks, and Coach Mike Sherman hopes he can continue to get into the backfield as a linebacker.  In the secondary, last year’s leading tackler, Trent Hunter, returns after making 95 tackles.

With a powerful offense and an improving defense, there is only one way to go for the Aggies.  Expect Texas A&M to be in almost every game this year and win at least half of their Big 12 contests.  Toss in at least three non-conference wins, and the Aggies will have a winning season.

Team Texas Tech Red Raiders
               
Head Coach Tommy Tuberville
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Lubbock, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 112.6
               
National Rating 30
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Offensive Line

Expected Offense: 26-30 points / 350-375 yards

Expected Defense: 21-24 points / 325-350 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: S M U, @ New Mexico, Weber State, Houston

Outlook: What a change of philosophies!  The only thing we can compare it to is the change that the University of Cincinnati’s basketball team made when Oscar Robertson graduated in 1960 after taking the Bearcats to three consecutive top five finishes and back-to-back Final Fours.  Coach George Smith left, and UC replaced him with Ed Jucker, who instituted a power offense and pressure defense that produced scores like 70-55 rather than 105-90.

Enter Coach Tommy Tuberville to replace Mike Leach.  Say goodbye to 50 passes a game and hello to 20 runs between the tackles.  Say goodbye to 150 scrimmage plays per game.  Tuberville will not change Tech into a 75% running team, but he will run the ball hard when it is 3rd and two, or 2nd and five.

The Red Raiders return enough quality pieces to continue their winning ways.  Quarterback Taylor Potts has apparently beaten out Steven Sheffield for the starting position.  The two combined for 4,659 passing yards and 36 touchdowns last year.  Whoever starts at quarterback will have nearly every receiver from last season back for more.  Detron Lewis and Alexander Torres lead the way.  Running backs should get more carries in the new system, and Baron Batch has the ability to top 1,000 yards.  He scored 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last year, and he caught 57 passes out of the backfield.  The offensive line is the only worry.  Tuberville likes quicker, less bulky blockers, but he inherits a couple of 350-pound stationary blockers.

Like many other teams, Tech is switching to the 3-4 defense.  With just one returning defensive line starter, that is a good thing.  Nose tackle Coby Whitlock has the skills to cause havoc in the trenches.  Linebackers Brian Duncan and Bront Bird are strong run-stoppers and very good pass defenders.  The one weakness with the front seven is in pass rushing.  There doesn’t look like there is a competent sack machine in the lot.  That could hurt the secondary, which is the strength of this side.  Free Safety Cody Davis was a 1st Team Freshman All-American last year.

Tuberville is used to winning, and he should guide the Red Raiders back to a bowl.  They could pick up an upset along the way and play spoiler.  By the way, that Cincinnati basketball team fared okay with the change to Ed Jucker.  The Bearcats won the next two National Championships and came within a minute of winning a third in a row.

Coming Tomorrow: The Big Ten started all the conference shuffling and only added one team—to this point.  Find out if there will be any shuffling at the top of the conference standings and whether Rich Rodriguez can keep his job.

August 18, 2010

2010 Pac-10 Football Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Pac-10 Conference Preview

Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott attempted to shake the college football world in June by luring Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to form the Pac-16.  Instead, he had to settle for just CU and Utah.

Southern California made more headlines after the football season than during it, and they continued to stay in the news all summer.  After being placed on major probation, the Trojans will not be eligible for the postseason.  They lost several players who were allowed to become eligible immediately at other schools.  It cost Athletics Director Mike Garrett his job.

Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks before this all came to a head.  So, who is the honest-to-a-fault replacement?  Who is the guy that has been hired to run a clean program?  LANE KIFFIN!  Yes, the ex-Oakland Raiders coach, who left Alameda County in a cloud of controversy.  The ex-Tennessee Volunteers coach, who left the Vols looking at possible probation.  He brings Ed Orgeron with him.  Is the death penalty still an option in football?

USC is out of the bowl picture, and now the league will need six bowl eligible teams other than the Trojans to fulfill their contractual agreements.  This league is so balanced; any of the top seven teams could win the conference championship.  The Oregon Ducks lost Jeremiah Masoli, and still the PiRate Computer shows them to be the most powerful team in the nation in week one.  That aside, we cannot see Oregon, or any other Pac-10 team running the table in conference play, and we believe that two losses will earn a piece of the title.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team P10 W-L
1 Oregon 7-2 10-2
2 Arizona 7-2 10-2
3 Oregon State 6-3 7-5
4 California 6-3 9-3
5 Southern Cal 5-4 8-5
6 Stanford 5-4 7-5
7 Washington 4-5 6-6
8 U C L A 4-5 5-7
9 Arizona State 1-8 3-9
10 Washington State 0-9 1-11

 

BCS (Rose) Bowl: Oregon

Alamo Bowl: Arizona

Holiday Bowl: California

Sun Bowl: Washington

Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Oregon State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

Team Arizona Wildcats
               
Head Coach Mike Stoops
               
Colors Cardinal and Navy
               
City Tucson, AZ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 116.0
               
National Rating 21
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-2
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: The biggest loss on this side of the ball is offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who took over at Louisiana Tech.  Arizona couldn’t move the ball until Dykes brought the “Air Raid” offense to Tucson in 2007.

The Wildcats have two very capable quarterbacks.  Starter Nick Foles led ‘Zona to the brink of the Pac-10 Championship last year, coming up just short in overtime against Oregon.  Foles passed for 2,486 yards and 19 scores and should post better numbers this year.  Backup Matt Scott is a dual-threat runner-passer.  He forces opponents to prepare for two different game plans.

Coach Mike Stoops can call on multiple players to line up at receiver.  He can go with two tight ends or no tight ends and has talented choices both ways.  Juron Criner led the ‘Cats with 582 receiving yards, and he will get plenty of help from David Douglas, Bug Wright, and tight ends A.J. Simmons and David Roberts.

The Wildcats used a trio of backs last year and should continue to split the carries.  Keola Antolin led with 637 on the ground and caught 17 short passes. Nic Grigsby added 567 yards with an eye-popping 7.2 yard average.

A senior-dominated offensive line should continue to open running holes and protect the passers.  Arizona surrendered just 13 sacks in 2009.  Center Colin Baxter earned 1st Team All-Pac-10 honors last year, and he should be an early draft pick next Spring.

Can Arizona continue their dominance on this side of the ball without Dykes calling the plays?  We say they can.  Look for the Wildcats to score 26-30 points and gain 375-400 yards per game.

Defense: Stoops loses his defensive coordinator as well; his brother Mark went to Florida State.  He also loses seven starters, including his top four tacklers.  The biggest concern is at linebacker, where there will be three new players in the starting lineup.  Two of the projected starters were junior college players last year, and the third saw limited action here.  None of the graduated players were top caliber, so the drop in production could be minimal.

The front line should be quite good.  Ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed return to anchor the perimeter.  Elmore finished third in the league with 10 ½ sacks. 

The secondary returns a 1st Team All-Pac-10 performer in cornerback Trevin Wade.  Wade led the team with five interceptions and nine passes broken up.

The Wildcats are expected to take a small step backward on this side of the ball, but we believe the defense will regress less than the offense improves.  Arizona may control the clock more in an attempt to help the defense.  Look for 21-24 points and 300-325 yards allowed, or about the same as last season.

Schedule: Outside of league play, Arizona has one easy game, one difficult game, and one interesting game.  They start off at Toledo on Friday night, September 3.  The Rockets will test the new defense.  They host The Citadel the following week, and they should light up the scoreboard.  The following week, Big Ten contender Iowa visits Arizona Stadium. 

The Wildcats face Oregon in Eugene and Stanford in Palo Alto.  We could see Stoops and company coming up one game short again this season, but win double-digit games, as long as the defense gels.

Team Arizona State Sun Devils
               
Head Coach Dennis Erickson
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Tempe, AZ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 99.0
               
National Rating 62
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-8
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: The Sun Devils suffered through consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1946-47, and if they don’t right the ship this year, it could be the end for Coach Dennis Erickson.  After starting his ASU tenure at 8-0, he has gone 11-18 since.

A lack of offense has been the reason for the decline in Tempe.  With just three starters returning on this side of the ball, it could spell doom for State this year.  They lost their top runner, top passer, and top two receivers, so you have to consider this a rebuilding season.

The Sun Devils will switch to a no-huddle, wide-open offense under first-year offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.  Piloting that attack could be one of three players.  Former Michigan quarterback Steven Threet was thought to be the front-runner, but Brock Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy are battling for the starting nod.  Look for Erickson to use Szakacsy as a running threat off the bench, and we believe Threet will open as starter.

There will be a two-man platoon at running back as well.  Cameron Marshall should start.  He rushed for just 280 yards and two touchdowns last year as the top reserve.  True freshman Deantre Lewis will get a hard look at supplanting Marshall.  He will see action right away.

Keeping with the program, ASU will rotate receivers, because they have several decent but no great pass catchers.  Kerry Taylor and Gerell Robinson are the two most experienced receivers, but they combined for just 49 catches and 537 yards.

The offensive line took a beating with the unexpected loss of loss of guard Zach Schlink to a career-ending knee injury.  Backup guard Jon Hargis was already out with an ACL injury, so there is going to be some depth issues in the line.  Center Garth Gerhart is the only experienced lineman left.

With a new offense and several new players, it looks grim for the Sun Devils this year.  We don’t believe they can improve on last year’s mediocre numbers.  Call it 17-21 points and 300-325 yards per game this year.

Defense: Things don’t look much better on this side of the ball, as ASU lost five of their top six tacklers, including most of their best pass defenders.  In a pass-happy league, this spells trouble.

Arizona State needs a spectacular pass rush this year, and they have two excellent tackles that could fit the bill.  Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola combined for 8 ½ sacks.  End James Brooks has the potential to be a pass rushing stud, and we believe he will lead the Devils in sacks this year.

Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict is nursing a bad ankle in August practice, but he should be ready for the season.  He is the only returning starter to the linebacking unit.  Burfict is strong against both the run and pass.

The secondary was one of the best in the league last year, holding opposing quarterbacks to just 53% completions and 189 yards.  All four starters are gone (combined for six interceptions and 18 passes broken up).  Former starter Omar Bolden returns to his cornerback spot after missing 2009 with an injury.  The other projected saw action last year, so the fall-off shouldn’t be severe.

Arizona State gave up just 21 points and 298 yards per game last year, which would have been good enough for a 9-3 record with a decent offense.  Expect those numbers to suffer some this year.  We’ll call for 23-26 points and 320-340 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: The Sun Devils will go 2-1 outside of the Pac-10.  They host Portland State and Northern Arizona, and they play at Wisconsin.  In conference play, they fortunately host Washington State; that is their only sure win in the league.  They get two bye weeks in conference play, so a road game against Cal and home game with UCLA following those bye weeks will give the coaching staff time to come up with solid plans.  Maybe, they can get one more conference win, but we cannot see ASU sniffing bowl eligibility this year.

Team California Golden Bears
               
Head Coach Jeff Tedford
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Berkeley, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 112.5
               
National Rating 31
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-3
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Coach Jeff Tedford has consistently put together well-balance, high-scoring offenses in Berkeley.  His Bear teams average 30 points per game year in and year out.  He has an experienced quarterback, a running back sure to top 1,000 yards rushing, and a stable of excellent receivers.  His offensive line is talented and very experienced.  So, it is easy to be optimistic about this season’s attack side.

Quarterback Kevin Riley won’t challenge the league’s top passers in passer rating, total yards, or touchdown passes, but the senior knows how to move his team.  Expect Riley to pass for 3,000 yards this year.

The Bears lost Jahvid Best who went to the NFL a year early.  Best was injured last year, and Shane Vereen took his place in the lineup for the last four games.  He finished the season with 952 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 25 passes.  Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson will get some touches as well.  In limited action last year, he averaged 6.8 yards per rush.

Marvin Jones and Jeremy Ross will not team to catch 150 passes, but both can get open deep and burn a secondary for a quick score.  Tight end Anthony Miller is one of the top three at his position in the Pac-10, and he should improve on his 26 receptions of 2009.

The offensive line returns four starters that have combined for 70 career starts.  Tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Matt Summers-Gavin form a great pair of outside blockers.

Cal should top last year’s offensive averages by a little.  Tedford’s teams usually score 28-33 points per game, and we will go for 31-35 this year with 400+ yards of total offense per game.

Defense: The Bears were too generous on this side of the ball last year, and it led to a conference average of 28 points allowed.  Six starters return, but there are enough holes on this side to keep Cal from contending for a top 10 finish.

The Bears switched to a 3-4 defense last year, and the front seven performed well against the run.  Even with 31 sacks, the pass defense gave up almost 270 yards per game.

Up front, two starters return to the three-man trench.  Nose tackle Derrick Hill controls the middle and commands more than one blocker to move out of the way.  You won’t see his name high up in the defensive stats, but he deserves an assist every time the inside linebackers get in on a stop.  End Cameron Jordan dumped quarterbacks six times last year, and he will have to step it up with the departure of Tyson Alualu, a first round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Linebackers Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks return after finishing one-two in tackles a year ago (combined for 183).  Both proved dangerous against the run and dropping off into the underneath pass zones.

The secondary was a weak point in 2009, and two starters must be replaced.  Cal picked off just 11 passes, but they knocked away several.  Unfortunately, the top pass defenders have moved on.  Safety Sean Cattouse intercepted one pass and broke up three; he leads the group this season.

Cal just doesn’t have enough talent on this side of the ball to consistently stop the great offenses in this league.  Look for the Bears to surrender 25-28 points and 375-400 yards.

Schedule: Cal should go 3-0 before league play begins.  The Bears host UC Davis and Colorado before jogging over to Reno to take on Nevada in what should be a great game.  Road games with Arizona, USC, and Oregon State will be tough, and home games with Oregon, Stanford, and Washington won’t be easy.  We’ll call for a 6-3 conference mark and 9-3 overall.  In a wild season, 6-3 could actually challenge in the wild Pac-10.

Team Oregon Ducks
               
Head Coach Chip Kelly
               
Colors Green and Yellow
               
City Eugene, OR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-1
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 126.2
               
National Rating 1
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-2
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: Is it possible that the Ducks can contend for the national championship after booting Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremiah Masoli off the team?  The PiRate computer says the Ducks are the number one team on September 1 (*–see note at the end about why the PiRate Ratings are used for just the next week of the season and are not meant to be used to look forward).

Second year head man Chip Kelly had to deal with the loss of a key weapon after one game last year and found an even better replacement.  Tailback LaMichael James rushed for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns after LeGarrette Blount opted for a boxing career that lasted one punch.  James could carry the ball 300 times this season and threaten the 2,000 yard mark if there wasn’t such great depth here.  True freshman Lache Seastrunk and sophomore Kenjon Barner could top 1,000 yards rushing if they either was the starter.  Look for the Ducks to top 200 yards, maybe 250, on the ground this season.

Making the running game all the more powerful is the return of the entire starting offensive line.  It is the best run-blocking line in the league and ranks with Ohio State and Wisconsin as one of the best run-blocking fronts in college football.  Both guards, Mark Asper and Carson York, should make either 1st or 2nd Team All-Pac-10.  Tackle Bo Thran will do so as well.

Filling the big shoes of Masoli will not be easy, but Kelly has two talented possibilities.  Pure drop back passer Nate Costa has worse knees than Joe Namath, but the senior has started and won in the Pac-10 before.  Sophomore Darron Thomas has the tools to be another Masoli, but he has to learn to cut down on mistakes.

Whoever starts at quarterback will have a decent group of receivers on hand.  D.J. Davis, Lavasier Tuinei, and Jeff Maehl all return after starting last season and combining for 100 receptions.  Oregon will use more play-action passes this year, and we expect the yards per catch to increase.

It looks like another big year on this side of the ball for the Ducks.  We think they can top 40 points per game, but we believe Kelly may try to control the clock a little more this season to help his defense.  We’ll call for 35-38 points and 410-440 yards per game.

Defense: The Ducks gave up 73 scrimmage plays per game last year and still made it to the Rose Bowl.  Expect Kelly to address this and try to hold onto the ball more this year.  If this defense can defend 10 fewer plays, Oregon could run the table.

Eight of the top nine tacklers return from last year including the Pac-10’s sack leader.  End Kenny Rowe made 11 ½ sacks and 15 total tackles for loss.  He knocked down four passes as well.  To the inside, Brandon Bair made 8 ½ tackles behind the line.

Two potential 1st team all-conference players line up at linebacker.  Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews can blitz and disrupt plays and can cover their pass zones as competently as anybody.  The duo combined for 162 tackles, 4 ½ sacks, 12 ½ total tackles for loss, and 13 passes defended.

The secondary is better than the other two units and the best in the league.  The move of former starting linebacker Eddie Pleasant to safety makes the Ducks tough against the run and the pass on the back line.  Pleasant will blitz and get to the QB, and he will get his paws on a half dozen or more passes.  Cornerback Talmadge Jackson intercepted four passes and broke up six.

Oregon has the pieces in place to improve considerably on this side of the ball, but the Pac-10 offenses as a whole are even better this year than last.  Look for the Ducks to give up 18-23 points and 325-350 yards per game.

Schedule: Oregon will get off to a quick 3-0 start before Pac-10 play begins.  The Ducks open with New Mexico at home, visit a rebuilding Tennessee in week two, and host Portland State the following week.

We give the Ducks the leg up on Arizona in league play because the two teams face off at Autzen Stadium, one of the best home field advantages in college football (The Ducks’ winning percentage at home is more than 20% better than on the road in the 21st Century).  We think UO will not be able to run the table, because the Pac-10 is just too balanced.  Look for them to stumble once or twice.  The Beavers will be waiting for revenge in the Civil War on December 4.

Team Oregon State Beavers
               
Head Coach Mike Riley
               
Colors Orange and Black
               
City Corvallis, OR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 113.7
               
National Rating 24
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Beavers have improved offensively the last four seasons, going from 27.8 points and 360 yards in 2006 to 31.5 points and 411 yards last year.  Look for a small retreat this season.

OSU lost quarterback Sean Canfield to the New Orleans Saints, and his replacement is a lightly experienced Sophomore.  Canfield passed for almost 3,300 yards and 21 touchdowns, and new QB Ryan Katz will not duplicate those numbers.

The best running back in the State of Oregon and best in the Pac-10 resides in Corvallis and not Eugene.  Jacquizz “Quizz” Rodgers raced for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns and also caught 78 passes last year.  Coach Mike Riley will use Rodgers to take the heat off Katz and force secondary defenders to cheat up.

James Rodgers is to pass catching what Quizz is to running.  He is the best in the Pac-10.  Last year, he led the league in receptions by 21 catches!  His 91 receptions went for 1,034 yards.  His presence will make it easier for Jordan Bishop and Markus Wheaton.

An experienced offensive line returns four starters including Freshman All-American tackle Michael Philipp and senior center Alex Linnenkohl, a three-year regular.

If Katz can develop and take enough heat off the running game, the Beavers have a championship-caliber offense.  We think he will have some growing pains, but by mid-October, OSU will be tough to stop.  Call it 28-33 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Defense: The Beavers have come up short by one game the last three years because they have not been able to stop the elite teams.  Against the rest, their defenses have looked outstanding.

For OSU to challenge this year, the pass rush has to improve.  The Beavers had just 17 sacks last year, and they return three starting linemen who should lead the team and move that number past 20.  Tackles Stephen Paea and Brennan Olander are even better against the run, and opponents will not find much success running the ball inside.  End Gabe Miller needs a breakout year after sharing the lead with Paea for the QB Sacks lead with three.  He needs to approach double digit sacks if the Beavers have a chance to make it back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 47 years.

Linebacker is a bit of a concern with the departure of their top two tacklers.  Dwight Roberson, Tony Wilson, and Keith Pankey are not all-conference performers.

Three starters return to a better than average secondary.  Safeties Cameron Collins and Lance Mitchell combined 142 tackles and 14 passed defended.  Cornerback James Dockery intercepted two passes and knocked away eight others.  New cornerback Brandon Hardin saw extensive action last year intercepting a pass and batting away four others.

Oregon State has to step it up and come up with better defensive efforts against the top teams in the league.  They padded their stats against the weaker teams.  There is no way their defensive numbers will be as good as last year, but they could still compete for the Pac-10 title.  We’ll predict 25-28 points and 350-375 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: Who made this schedule?  He should be tarred and feathered.  OSU must play both TCU and Boise State.  When this schedule was made, those two teams were already powerful.  The third non-conference team is Louisville, and when they were put in the schedule, they were as good as the other two.  The Beavers will be out of the national title picture before October.

In league play, the best thing going for OSU is that they get USC and Oregon at home.  The bad news is they get Arizona, Washington, and Stanford on the road.  They will need five conference wins to be bowl eligible.  We’ll say they get six.

Team Southern California Trojans
               
Head Coach Lane Kiffin
               
Colors Cardinal and Gold
               
City Los Angeles, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 110.9
               
National Rating 34
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-4
Overall 8-5

 

Offense:  Cue the organ music.  It’s time for the daily soap opera brought to you by the makers of Probation Suds.  On today’s episode of How Lame Can You Get, we find Lane Kiffin delaying the signing of papers to release ex-players and recruits who do not want to stay in LA.

Southern Cal received two years probation for numerous recruiting violations, and they brought in a coach that already had the NCAA investigators burning the midnight oil.  Eight key players and recruits left, able to become immediately eligible at other schools.

With all that aside, the Trojans still have lots of talent.  If enough have chips on their shoulders, and the team stays healthy, they could even take it out on the rest of the nation and run the table.  We think that is unlikely.

Quarterback Matt Barkley had a fine freshman season.  He completed 60% of his passes for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He also threw 14 interceptions.  Backup Mitch Mustain was once considered the best quarterback prospect in the nation, and he started half a season at Arkansas as a freshman.

While there isn’t a Marcus Allen, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, or Charles White on this roster, USC has several talented running backs even with the loss of their 1,000 yard rushing starter from last year.  Junior Marc Tyler may be about to emerge and live up to his press clippings.  Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable, and fullback Stanley Havili will all see action as ball carriers.  Havili is a threat as a pass catcher too.

The Trojans lost their top two receivers, but they have a lot of talent ready to step in.  Ronald Johnson and Brice Butler have some game experience, and tight end Jordan Cameron could emerge as a force in the middle of zones.

Only two starters return to the offensive line, and a projected starter has gone while the getting was good.  All the new starters were highly sought recruits, so the drop in talent won’t be that much.

USC’s offensive numbers could go up a little this year, because Kiffin will run up the score on teams that have no chance.  Expect 27-31 points and 400 total yards.

Defense: The Trojans lost too much on this side of the ball to dominate or even compete for the Pac-10 title in our opinion.  You don’t replace Taylor Mays, Josh Pinkard, Kevin Thomas, and Everson Griffen with untested recruits and expect the same results.

Jurrell Casey and Nick Perry give the Trojans a good base to rebuild the defensive line.  Perry’s eight sacks tied for the team lead.  Wes Horton is a decent end, but he is not all-conference material.

All three starting linebackers return, but the Trojans are now a bit thin here due to a couple of defections.  Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith, and Michael Morgan are the best trio in the league.

There are no returning starters to the secondary, and in the Pac-10, that will get you beat.  Cornerback T.J. Bryant will be the leader of this unit, but he will not come close to matching Mays or Thomas.  Shareece Wright was supposed to start in 2008 and again in 2009, but he’s been off the field for two years due to injuries and ineligibility.

Southern Cal gave up 11 more points and 118 more yards in 2009 than in 2008.  That trend will continue this year, but the weakening will be less.  Call it 21-25 points and 325-350 yards allowed.

Schedule: USC will play 13 games without going to a bowl thanks to an opening game at Hawaii.  They host Virginia and Notre Dame and play at Minnesota.  The Trojans could go 4-0, but we will call for 3-1.

In league play, USC travels to Stanford, Arizona, and Oregon State.  They host Oregon, Cal, and Washington.  They have the talent and swagger to play spoiler, but we think the personnel losses and general malaise creeping into this program will cause them to settle in the middle of the pack.  Remember, they were tied for 5th last year at 5-4.  We will call for a repeat in 2010.

Team Stanford Cardinal
               
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Palo Alto, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 117.9
               
National Rating 18
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Cardinal finished in a tie for second last year thanks to an offense that topped 200 yards both on the ground and through the air.  With eight starters returning, even with the loss of their star running back, they should field another excellent offensive squad in 2010.

Expect the Cardinal to look more like many of the great teams from their past this year.  They will pass the ball with great effectiveness thanks to the return of the next Jim Plunkett.  Andrew Luck passed for 2,575 yards as a true freshman with 13 touchdowns to just four picks.  Expect Luck to top 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns this year and challenge Jake Locker for 1st Team All-Pac-10 and 1st Team All-American (like the good ole days when Plunkett and Sonny Sixkiller banged heads).

Coach Jim Harbaugh is licking his chops over the return of both starting wideouts and one of his two starting tight ends from last year.  Chris Owusu is a serious deep threat every time he catches the ball, but he has to cut out all the drops.  When he held onto the ball last year, he averaged 18.4 yards with his 37 receptions.  Ryan Whalen just missed 1,000 yards, ending with 926 on a team-leading 57 catches.  Tight end Coby Fleener caught 21 passes, and he will get more looks this year.

Replacing Toby Gerhart’s 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns couldn’t be replicated with any back in the NCAA.  He was so consistent, in the manner of Larry Csonka and Jim Taylor, and that will be missed more than anything.  At this point in the preseason, Harbaugh has said that as many as six backs could see the field.  Jeremy Stewart, Stepfan, Taylor, and Tyler Gaffney appear to have a slight edge at the moment, but true freshmen Anthony Wilkerson and Ricky Seale and redshirt freshman Usua Amanam (the quickest back on the team) still have a real shot.  Don’t forget fullback Owen Marecic.  He will see action on both sides of the ball, as he has been moved to linebacker.

The offensive line ranks just behind Oregon for the best in the league.  Four starters return from a unit that gave up just seven sacks and opened holes for backs to run for 5.3 yards per attempt.  Andrew Phillips and David DeCastro make the best guard combo in the league.

Stanford will throw the ball more and run less this year.  The consistency may suffer a bit, but there will be days when this team cannot be stopped.  Look for the Cardinal to challenge for top scoring team in the league and once again score 35-40 points per game while gaining 425-450 yards per game.

Defense: Like many of the contenders in this league, Stanford doesn’t have a championship-caliber defense to match its offense.  As a result, the Cardinal will get in offensive shootouts with four or five opponents.  Remember, they beat Oregon last year 51-42, giving up an amazing 570 total yards and still winning.

Harbaugh brought in NFL veteran defensive coach Vic Fangio to rework the defense.  The Cardinal will switch to the same 3-4 defense Fangio used with the Baltimore Ravens.  He couldn’t bring Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs with him.

All 3-4 defenses must have a big, strong nose guard to occupy more than one blocker and defend the middle.  Sione Fua fits that bill.  At 6-2 and 307, he will protect his linebackers behind him.  Ends Brian Buicke and Matthew Masifilo have starting experience, and former end Thomas Keiser dropped back one line.

Keiser anchors a solid quartet of linebackers.  He finished third in the league with 15 total tackles for loss (9 QB sacks) and should be a terror blitzing from outside.  Marecic will start next to him.  We think these two will work well together.

Three starters return to a secondary that gave up 265 passing yards per game last year.  If the front seven can improve on the 21 QB sacks of last year, this quartet should post better numbers.  Cornerback Richard Sherman led SU with 10 passes defended.  Strong safety Delano Howell supplied great run support.

With Gerhart, Stanford still saw opponents run three more scrimmage plays per game than they enjoyed.  The defense had to defend 68 plays per game.  If that number goes up into the 70’s, it is bad news.  The offense needs to help the defense out and have more time-consuming drives. 

We look for SU to give up 23-27 points and 375-400 yards per game this year. 

Schedule: A home game with Sacramento State kicks off the season.  Two weeks later Wake Forest comes to Stanford Stadium.  The Cardinal follow that up with a visit to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.  We figure the Cardinal will be 2-1, but they could be 3-0.

The defense just doesn’t have enough for us to place SU among the top three in the league this year.  We think they will have a chance in every game—a chance to win and a chance to lose.  Only a home game with Washington State is a given.  They should split the other eight Pac-10 contests and finish 5-4, earning another bowl bid.

Team U C L A  Bruins
               
Head Coach Rick Neuheisel
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Los Angeles, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-6
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 109.4
               
National Rating 39
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-5
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: Year two saw Coach Rick Neuheisel turn his alma mater’s team around, winning seven games and the inaugural Eagle Bank Bowl after going 4-8 the year before.

The UCLA running game was too weak to take the heat off a very good West Coast passing game.  The Bruins improved slightly from 83 to 115 yards per game, but that mark beat only Washington State.

Watch for UCLA to implement the Pistol Offense into their repertoire this year and run the zone option.  Can sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince run the option?  He’s dealing with a strained back muscle in practice.  He suffered a broken jaw in a game last year, so this may not be the best fit for him.  Richard Brehaut is not a runner either.  Juco transfer Darius Bell is the one true dual threat quarterback on the roster, and he could eventually emerge as the go to guy.

No running backs on this roster will strike fear in the defenses of the league.  Johnathan Franklin led the Bruins with 566 yards.  We expect true freshman Malcolm Jones to eventually become the lead back.

The passing game should continue to be strong thanks to the return of Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree.  They both caught more than 40 passes last year.  Rosario is big and fast, and he can burn defenses with a long gainer any time.

The offensive line welcomes back four starters, and if Micah Kia can regain his effectiveness from 2008.  He missed last year with an ACL injury.  This group doesn’t have a real star, but they will be improved and cut down on the 29 sacks they allowed.

UCLA should improve their scoring average from 22 to about 24-26 points per game.  We expect them to top 350 yards per game as well.

Defense: The Bruins finished second in the league against the pass and fifth overall, but seven starters were lost to graduation.  There is rebuilding to do on this side of the ball.

After an a broken right foot ended end Datone Jones’ season, the Bruins were left with having to replace their entire defensive line.  Jones had four sacks and seven other tackles behind the line, and there isn’t a player on the roster capable of replacing him, much less all-conference end Brian Price.  Price was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and runaway leader in tackles for loss in the Pac-10.

Only one starting linebacker returns as well.  Akeem Ayers is a borderline all-conference performer.  He defends well against the run and the pass, and he is a fantastic blitzer.

Three starters return to the back line, where the Bruins were tough against the pass last year.  They were greatly helped by a pass rush that recorded 44 sacks.  The one lost starter was a 4th Round NFL draft choice, but UCLA returns a certain 1st Round pick.  Rahim Moore is a difference maker at free safety; he is better than Taylor Mays who went in the 2nd round of this year’s draft.  Moore led the nation with 10 interceptions and batted away seven other passes.

We expect UCLA to be more generous on this side of the ball and give up 26-30 points and 340-370 total yards per game.

The Bruins have one of the best kicking combos.  Punter Jeff Locke and placekicker Kai Forbath will both play in the NFL.  Forbath is the best kicker in college football, and he may be better than 90% of the NFL kickers.

Schedule: The Bruins have a difficult non-league schedule.  They must face Kansas State and Texas on the road and Houston at home.  They will be lucky to go 1-2.

UCLA gets five home conference games and could win three or four of them.  Road games with Cal, Oregon, and Washington won’t be fun.  It looks like a sub-.500 year in Westwood.

Team Washington Huskies
               
Head Coach Steve Sarkisian
               
Colors Purple and Gold
               
City Seattle, WA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 115.6
               
National Rating 22
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-5
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: It has been eight seasons since the Huskies last posted a winning record and went to a bowl.  That 2002 team rode the arm of Cody Pickett tossing to Reggie Williams and won seven games.  With the talent returning in Seattle this year, seven wins would be a disappointment.  UW returns nine offensive starters, including the possible first pick in next year’s NFL Draft, so second year coach Steve Sarkisian could reverse that bowl drought this year.

Jake Locker is a lot like John Elway.  Aside from the accurate rifle arm and great wheels, he could choose to play baseball if a lousy NFL team chose him in the draft.  Let’s hope the comparison ends there.  Elway never played on a winning team nor played in a bowl game at Stanford.  Locker has one more shot to avoid the same fate.  He should top 3,000 yards per game through the air this season and possibly pass for 25 or more touchdowns.  And, maybe some Seattle DJ will right a ballad about him like they did for Sonny Sixkiller.

Just about every wideout that caught a pass last year returns, and that makes UW a very scary team.  This group of receivers ranks in the top five in the nation.  In Jermaine Kearse, Locker has a target to bring out the mad bomber in him.  Kearse averaged 17.3 yards on his team-leading 50 catches.  James Johnson and Devin Aguilar teamed up to make 81 receptions.  Tight end Kavario Middleton will be sorely missed after being dismissed for violating team rules.

The task of helping keep defenses honest falls on running back Chris Polk.  Polk rushed for 1,113 yards last year.  Locker rushed for over 500 yards when you factor out sacks and crossed the goalline seven times.

The offensive line is a bit small, but they are quick and rely on zone blocking to open running lanes.  Four 2009 starters return including Ryan Tolar and Cody Habben.  Tolar can play guard or center and will start at center this season.

The Huskies should average around 30-35 points and 400 total yards this season.

Defense: Eight starters return to a defense that improved by eight points and 62 yards per game last year.  Two of those three graduated defenders were last year’s starting ends.  Tackle Alameda Ta’Amu would be the perfect nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.  He will line up next to Cameron Elisara.  Not many teams will run the ball up the middle.

UW returns two quality linebackers in Cort Dennison and Mason Foster.  Both will have to increase their tackles by a couple dozen if the Huskies are to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Alvin Logan was scheduled to be the third linebacker, but chronic injuries have forced him to give up football.

The secondary returns all four starters and almost the entire second string as well.  Though not among the best in the league, they can rotate and stay fresh.

Washington will once again struggle at times on this side of the ball, but there should be enough improvement to shave a little off last season’s numbers.  Look for 23-26 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Huskies don’t have any pushover non-conference games this year.  They open at BYU and then host an improving Syracuse and Big 12 North favorite Nebraska.  A 2-1 mark would be an accomplishment.  UW must go on the road to USC (where the Trojans will be out for revenge), Arizona, Oregon, and Cal.  They could lose all four of those games.  Home games with Oregon State, Stanford, and UCLA will be tough as well, and we think they will lose one of them.  Call it a 4-5 league mark, and if they start 2-1, they will return to a bowl game. 

Team Washington State Cougars
               
Head Coach Paul Wulff
               
Colors Crimson and Gray
               
City Pullman, WA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-9
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 92.9
               
National Rating 79
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-9
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: Where have you gone Jason Gesser?  Washington State has been one of the weakest teams in FBS football the last two seasons, finishing with back-to-back 11-loss seasons.  The Cougars have averaged less than two touchdowns per game these last two years.  Their total yardage from the last two years combines was more than 70 fewer yards than Houston gained last year.

WSU will field an improved offense this season, but they are so far behind the rest of the league, they are still guaranteed to finish 10th in scoring and total offense.  Coach Paul Wulff had to take the redshirt off quarterback Jeff Tuel after four games last year, and then Tuel went down for the year five games later.  In those five contests, he completed 59% of his passes for 789 yards and six touchdowns.  Backup Marshall Lobbesteal has never recovered 100% from a knee injury he suffered in 2008.

The Cougars return their three top receivers and four of their top five, led by Jared Karstetter, who grabbed 38 passes for 540 yards and six TDs last year.

WSU has had no semblance of a running game the last two seasons.  Last year’s mark fell to 71 yards per game.  Of course a lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line allowing an astronomical 53 sacks.  But, then again, defenses did not have to worry about the run and could sell out to the pass.  James Montgomery has survived multiple injuries in and around his knees and almost had to give up football.  The former Cal transfer says he is healthy enough to play.  When 100%, he was a game-changing back.  Chantz Staden is another former starter trying to come back after missing all of 2009.

The offensive returns four starters, but it is still the weakest in the conference by far.  Expect this unit to give up a lot of sacks again this year, but they should improve on the horrible showing of last year.

There is nowhere to go but up for this offense.  WSU will top 14 points per game this year.  Call if 16-18 points and 275-300 total yards.

Defense: The defense gave up 38.5 points per game last year, and that represented a five point improvement over 2008!  The Cougars actually gave up 69 more yards per game than the year before.  With a much improved defensive line, State will improve by a couple more points. End Travis Long led WSU with six stops for loss. 

Linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis led the Cougars with 84 tackles, but he recorded just 4 ½ for losses.  He’ll have two new starters joining him in the second line of defense, and this remains a weak unit.

The secondary returns half of its 2009 starters, and this remains the weakest pass defense in the league by far.  WSU gave up 276 passing yards per game, and enemy passers completed 66.8% of their passes against them.

Look for an improved line to allow WSU to improve their numbers.  Expect 33-36 points and 450-475 total yards allowed per game.

Schedule: Washington State goes on the road for two of its non-conference games, and they will lose both games.  They open at Oklahoma State and play at SMU two weeks later.  A home game with Montana State is sandwiched in between, and it is a must-win game.  MSU is not a weak FCS team. 

We don’t see the Cougars breaking the losing steak in Pac-10 play.  They beat a winless Washington team in 2008, and that is their only conference victory in the last two years.  We believe it will be their only conference victory in three years.

*–The PiRate Ratings cannot be used to look forward past the next week of the college football season.  These ratings are good for just the current week, because the computer program uses more than game scores to determine the ratings.  Based on depth and personnel, some teams have regression factored into their rating due to predicted depth issues.  Other teams may have an advancement programmed into their rating due to certain personnel issues (star players recovering from injury, new system to learn, etc.)

Coming Tomorrow: The Big 12 almost ceased to exist this summer after losing Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten.  Can the Cornhuskers conclude their tenure in the league with a title?

August 17, 2010

2010 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

 

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Atlantic ACC W-L
1 Florida State 6-2 8-5
2 Boston College 5-3 8-4
3 Clemson 5-3 8-4
4 Maryland 3-5 6-6
5 Wake Forest 2-6 4-8
6 North Carolina State 1-7 4-8
       
Pos Coastal ACC W-L
1 Miami (Fla) 6-2 10-3
2 North Carolina 6-2 10-2
3 Virginia Tech 6-2 9-3
4 Georgia Tech 5-3 8-4
5 Duke 3-5 5-7
6 Virginia 0-8 3-9

 

ACC Championship Game: Miami over Florida State

 

BCS Bowl (Orange): Miami

Chick-fil-A Bowl: North Carolina

Champs Sports Bowl: Clemson

Sun Bowl: Florida State

Meineke Car Care Bowl: Virginia Tech

Music City Bowl: Georgia Tech

Independence Bowl: Maryland

Eagle Bank Bowl: Boston College

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Atlantic Division

 

Team Boston College Eagles
               
Head Coach Frank Spaziani
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Chestnut Hill, MA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 109.1
               
National Rating 40
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: Coach Frank Spaziani won eight games in his debut in Chestnut Hill last season.  He did it with a lackluster offense that averaged just 63 scrimmage plays and 324 yards, relying on a defense to win four close games.  His 2010 offense will look similar; the Eagles will score just enough to win more close games.

There’s a greybeard operating at quarterback with 26-year old sophomore Dave Shinskie taking over for a full season.  In 10 starts, the 6-year Minor League baseball veteran tossed for 2,049 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he has to cut down on his 14 interceptions (4.9%).

Shinskie’s stats may not look all that much better this year, because somebody has to catch his strikes.  Last year’s primary receiver, Rich Gunnell, caught 60 passes, which was 31 more than anybody else.  Wide out Colin Larmond caught just 29 passes, but he averaged better than 20 yards per catch.  BC always has good tight ends, and Chris Pantale should catch as many as 40 passes this year.  He will prove invaluable in the 3rd and medium situations, where his 6-6 frame will be a great target at the first down marker.

The running game has a dominant player but little quality depth.  Montel Harris finished second in the league with 1,457 yards rushing, finding paydirt 14 times.  He will have to carry the load and carry the pigskin 20-30 times per game this year, or BC may struggle on this side of the ball.

Chances are good that Harris will continue to churn out consistent gains thanks to the return of four starters to the offensive line.  Tackle Anthony Castonzo was a 1st Team All-ACC pick last year, and we believe he is the best OL Prospect for the next NFL Draft.

The Eagles won’t generate highlights for ESPN on this side of the ball, but they will rush for 175-200 yards and pass for 150, putting up about 25 points a game for the third year in a row.

Defense: For five years in a row, BC has been very tough against the run, giving up 91, 108, 76, 91, and 103 yards per game.  These stats have not been inflated (or deflated depending on how you look at it) due to a high number of sacks.  BC has consistently great run-stoppers, and that should continue again this season.

Three experienced starters return to the front four.  End Alex Albright met and dumped enemy ball carriers on their side of the line seven times last year.  Throw in a sack and ¼ of all his tackles went for lost yardage.

It would have been one of the best stories of the season if linebacker Mark Herzlich could have played and contributed after missing all of last year with cancer.  He was ready to play, but he suffered a stress fracture in his foot.  He might be able to return later in the season.  The Eagles still have talent at linebacker with Luke Kuechly, the tackling monster.  Kuechly led the ACC with 158 tackles, including 13 for losses.  He broke up four passes and picked off one other.

Because the run defense was so effective, opponents took to the air against BC.  The Eagles gave up 224 passing yards at a 62% completion rate, but the secondary did intercept 15 passes (29 broken up).  Two starters return including free safety Wes Davis, but the two new starters saw considerable action last year.

This year’s defense will be much like last year’s defense.  Expect 18-22 points and 300-325 yards allowed.  Boring is okay when it is successful.

Schedule: Boston College gets their off-week at the best possible time.  After opening with “gimme” games against Weber State and Kent State, the Eagles get two weeks to prepare for a home game with Virginia Tech.  They follow it up with a fourth consecutive home tilt, hosting rival Notre Dame.  We expect the Eagles will be 3-1 or possibly 2-2 at this point.  They play at Syracuse to end the season, and there is a chance that the ‘Cuse could be 5-6 playing for bowl eligibility. 

The Eagles lack that extra oomph to get them to the next level.  They need a Doug Flutie or Matt Ryan for that.  Call it another 5-3/8-4 regular season.

Team Clemson Tigers
               
Head Coach Dabo Swinney
               
Colors Orange and Purple
               
City Clemson, SC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-5
               
PiRate Rating 113.7
               
National Rating 25
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: The Tigers won the division title last year with a powerful, multi-dimensional offense that made the most of the yardage it gained.  CU averaged 362 yards a game.  One player was responsible for 123 of those yards and 16 touchdowns.  He also scored five return touchdowns.  C J Spiller is now a Buffalo Bill.

Many people will think Clemson’s offense will fall off quite a bit this year due to the loss of their superstar.  They are wrong.  CU might even gain more total yards this year.  Quarterback Kyle Parker is a two-sport star.  He is a home run hitter with an offer on the table from the Colorado Rockies.  He could be the next Todd Helton.  Coach Dabo Swinney does not have another Peyton Manning on his roster, so he hopes Parker continues to play football.  Expect better numbers from the sophomore after he passed for 2,526 yards and 20 touchdowns as a freshman.

Replacing Spiller’s 1,200+ rushing yards may not be impossible.  CU will use a two-man tandem, and both are solid players.  Andre Ellington will start; he has good speed, and he has good hands to catch the ball out of the backfield.  Jamie Harper has more power and can gain the tough yards.

The offensive line returns four experienced starters; this unit takes a back seat to no other OL in the conference.  Tackle Chris Hairston and guard Antoine McClain will compete for 1st Team All-ACC accolades.

The Tigers have a lot of depth but untested talent at wide receiver.  Swinney will take advantage of this depth with Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones, Javon Brown, and Bryce McNeal all scheduled to see playing time.  McNeal is a burner who can get open deep in a hurry.  He may catch only 25-30 passes, but he should average 20+ yards per reception.  Dye and Jones can burn defenses as well, so we expect the Tigers’ yards per catch to be among the highest in the nation.

Clemson will gain more yards this year, but their points per game average will drop due to the elimination of all the special teams’ touchdowns.  Call it 375-400 yards and 24-28 points per game

Defense: CU lost five starters, including star linebacker Kavell Conner, but they have even more talent on this side of the ball than on the other.  Three starters return up front where the Tigers had a league best 36 sacks (tied with Virginia Tech).  All four of this year’s projected starters have all-conference potential.  Tackle Jarvis Jenkins made 10 tackles for loss and one sack.  No ACC rival can rival this line.

The Tigers have some holes to fill at linebacker.  Only one starter returns.  Brandon Maye recorded 103 tackles with three sacks and four others for loss.  True freshman Justin Parker has cornerback speed, and he should start from game one. 

As good as the front four are, the back four could be better!  Strong safety DeAndre McDaniel intercepted a league-best eight passes last year.  Cornerback Marcus Gilchrist registered 107 tackles.

If Clemson can get adequate play from their linebackers, they will be tough on this side of the ball.  Expect opponents to use a lot of play-action and misdirection, trying to exploit the inexperience in the middle unit.  We look for Clemson to give up 18-22 points and 300-325 yards per game.

Schedule: The Tigers play two easy marks and two tough SEC teams outside of ACC play.  CU hosts North Texas and Presbyterian to start the season, before visiting the Loveliest Village on the Plains and Auburn.  They close at home with in-state rival South Carolina where they will be looking for revenge. 

In ACC play, CU draws both North Carolina and Miami from the other division.  They have the talent to repeat as Atlantic Division champions, but we think they will come up one game short; they must play on the road against Boston College and Florida State.

Team Florida State Seminoles
               
Head Coach Jimbo Fisher
               
Colors Garnet and Gold
               
City Tallahassee, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 119.0
               
National Rating 17
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: When was the last time Bobby Bowden was not patrolling the sidelines at Florida State?  Do you remember the year the Cincinnati Reds beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, the one where Carlton Fisk willed his long fly ball to stay fair as it sailed over the Green Monster at Fenway Park?  Yes, it was 1975 when the Seminoles were coached to a 3-8 season by Darrell Mudra.

Enter Jimbo Fisher.  He has been the coach in waiting the last couple of years.  He inherits the controls of a dangerous offense capable of reminding Seminole fans of past great FSU teams.

Start at quarterback, where Christian Ponder has to be considered a Heisman Trophy candidate.  Ponder completed 69% of his passes for 2,717 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago (8.2 yards/attempt), despite missing four games last year to injury.  E.J. Manuel could start for many teams, but he will see mop-up duty for FSU. 

Ponder will miss the services of two great receivers.  Rod Owens graduated, and Jarmon Fortson was dismissed from the team.  Two quality holdovers return in Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling.  Look for these two to combine for 120-140 receptions this year, because there is very little experience on the bench. 

Florida State’s running game began to re-emerge as a power last year, as the Seminoles improved to 150 rushing yards per game.  Jermaine Thomas moved into the starting lineup at the end of September and rushed for 832 yards and nine scores.  He could become the first 1,000 yard rusher since Warrick Dunn’s senior season.  If Thomas fails to rush for 1,000 yards, it will be because he had to share the position with several other quality runners.

The offensive line returns intact, and it is on par with the offensive line at Clemson.  Guard Rodney Hudson has 1st Round draft potential.

FSU topped 30 points and 420 yards per game in 2009, and we believe they will improve a bit more this year.  Look for 32-36 points and 425-450 yards.

Defense: The once proud defense in Tallahassee fell apart last year, as FSU gave up 30 points per game for the first time since 1973, when the ‘Noles went 0-11.  Three of the top five tacklers graduated, but there is hope for considerable improvement.  Mark Stoops, younger brother of Bob and Mike, takes over at defensive coordinator.

Stoops must work his magic up front, where FSU gave up 205 rushing yards (5.4 avg.) per game last year, including 401 to Georgia Tech.  Sophomore tackle Jacobbi McDaniel started two games last year after coming here as the number one d-line recruit.  He joins three holdovers in the trenches, but none of the other three will challenge for all-conference honors.  End Markus White is a plus though.

2009’s top tacklers Nigel Bradham and Kendall Smith combined for 178 tackles; they return at linebacker and should team with outstanding true freshman recruit Jeff Luc.

The secondary gave up 230 passing yards, and considering that teams could run the ball with ease against them, this is a large amount of yards.  The ‘Noles should be okay at cornerback with Ochuko Jenjie and Greg Reid starting and Dionte Allen seeing a lot of time.

There is only one way to go with the amount of talent Stoops has on defense.  Expect FSU to improve to 22-26 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: Fisher will get off to a good start at Doak Campbell Stadium.  The ‘Noles host Samford.  The following week, they venture to Oklahoma and then host BYU a week after that.  If they are 3-0, then we’re looking at a team that could be on its way to the BCS Championship Game.  We believe they will be 2-1 and on their way to the ACC Championship Game.  The season finale at home with Florida is a tossup before the season begins.

In conference action, FSU avoids Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech from the Coastal Division and hosts North Carolina.  They must play at Miami.  We believe they will get a chance to revenge the loss Miami will give them in a rematch on December 4.

Team Maryland Terrapins
               
Head Coach Ralph Friedgen
               
Colors Red, White, Black, and Gold
               
City College Park, MD
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 95.7
               
National Rating 70
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle.  That sound is Coach Ralph Friedgen starting to simmer on a very hot seat.  It is now or never for Fridge in College Park.  Following a 2-10 season which was his fourth losing season in six year, the Terps must win in 2010, or a new coach will be coming in.

The biggest criticism with Friedgen has been the difficulty of his offense.  New quarterbacks tend to struggle learning it all.  Junior signal caller Jamarr Robinson returns after seeing some action under center last year, so he has just enough experience to move the Maryland offense. 

Robinson has a nice group of receivers, led by the top four pass catchers from last year.  Torrey Smith was a 1st Team All-ACC pick last year after making 61 catches for 824 yards.  Adrian Cannon, Ronnie Tyler, and running backs Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett combined for 98 receptions, so there is a lot of experience here.

UM’s running game was weak last year.  Scott and Meggett were more valuable as receivers than runners.  Scott was injured most of the year, and when he was healthy in 2008, he topped 1,000 yards.  Look for something closer to 2008 than 2009.

The offensive line was a weak spot last year, and there must be improvement here for the offense to turn it around.  Three starters return, but nobody in this unit will make honorable mention All-ACC.

We don’t know if the Terps can improve enough to please the fans and administration, but UM will post better numbers on this side of the ball.  Look for 24 points and 350-375 yards.

Defense: Maryland was one of three ACC teams to give up more than 30 points per game last year, and the Terps lost six starters from that group.  This will be Friedgen’s downfall if UM fails to win enough games.

Problems start up front where three new starters must be found.  Tackle A.J. Francis is the lone returnee.  He had just one sack. 

The second line of defense is much better than the front four, but they will have to shed a lot more blocks this year in order to replicate that 2009 effort.  Middle linebacker Alex Wujciak was a 1st Team All-ACC performer after leading the Terps with 131 tackles and 8 ½ for losses.

Three starters must be replaced in the secondary.  Lone holdover Cameron Chism could make all-conference at cornerback.  His counterpart could be a freshman.  Safeties Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez combined for 92 tackles as reserves last year, so they should perform adequately this year.

This defense will not be confused with Jerry Claiborne’s old defenses from the Randy White days in College Park, but it will be better than last year.  Look for 24-28 points and 360-380 yards allowed.

Schedule: We believe the opening game could decide Friedgen’s fate.  Maryland plays Navy in Baltimore, on Labor Day.  Their other three non-conference games are against Morgan State and Florida International at home and West Virginia on the road.  They must win three of those four to go bowling this year. 

In ACC play, they draw both Duke and Virginia from the other division, and they host North Carolina State and Wake Forest.  They couldn’t ask for a better schedule, and they should win six games. Whether or not that is enough to save Fridge, we don’t know.

Team North Carolina State Wolfpack
               
Head Coach Tom O’Brien
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Raleigh, NC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 97.9
               
National Rating 64
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: Coach Tom O’Brien hasn’t been able to work his magic in Raleigh like he did at Boston College.  Except for a four-game stretch in November of 2008, when the Wolfpack climbed from 2-6 to 6-6 by defeating Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Miami, the ‘Pack has gone 12-21 in the rest of their games.

The offense will be the bright spot for this team this season.  Coming off a year in which they topped 30 points and gained close to 400 yards per game, they return their starting quarterback and most of his favorite targets from a year ago.

Quarterback Russell Wilson has been a little rusty in practice so far.  He spent the spring and early summer playing minor league baseball (he hit a low .230), so it may take a few weeks before he is back in a groove.  Wilson tossed for better than 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.  Backup Mike Glennon was one of the top QB prospects three years ago, and he saw some action last year as a redshirt freshman.

There is abundant talent at receiver where the top four return from 2009.  Tight end George Bryan nabbed 40 passes and scored six times.  Wideouts Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and Darrell Davis combined for 100 catches and 18 touchdowns.  Spencer is a deep threat every time he touches the ball.  He averaged 25.5 points a catch to lead the nation in that department a year after he averaged 21.2 per catch.   There is experienced depth behind this group.

The running game has not been a strong point for several years,  and we don’t see it getting much better this year.  Curtis Underwood and James Washington will split most of the carries. 

The offensive line took a major hit to graduation losses.  Three starters, including an NFL draft, have used up their eligibility.  This will keep the Wolfpack from moving north of .500 this year.

We believe that State will take a small move backward this year with less pass protection and another so-so running game.  Call it 23-27 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Defense:  O’Brien has not been able to put together solid defenses in his three years in Raleigh.  NCSU gave up 31.2 points per game last year, and they lost six starters from that squad. 

The entire defensive line must be replaced (including NFL draftee Willie Young), and in a league with really good offensive lines, this is major trouble.  Senior end Michael Lemon is the best of this lot, but he won’t be confused for Robert Quinn or Alan Bailey.

Too bad, State cannot play a 1-7 defense, because they have talent and depth at linebacker.  Terrell Manning, Nate Irving, and Audie Cole make a great trio, and former starter Dwayne Maddox leads an excellent second group.

As weak as the front four is, the back four could be weaker.  One full-time starter and one part-time starter returns from last year, but neither intercepted a pass.  Safeties Brandon Bishop and Earl Wolff were better as run-stoppers than pass defenders.

The Wolfpack could repeat last year’s dismal performance.  We will call for them to yield 28-32 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: There is a chance for a 4-0 non-league mark, but we will call for one team to nip them.  State hosts Western Carolina and Cincinnati and plays at Central Florida and East Carolina. 

In league play, the ‘Pack faces Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech from the Coastal Division.  That’s three losses before you factor in their own tough divisional opponents.  It looks like a last place finish for the third time in four years, but this time they will own it by themselves (tied for last the other two times).

Team Wake Forest Demon Deacons
               
Head Coach Jim Grobe
               
Colors Black and Old Gold
               
City Winston-Salem, NC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 103.6
               
National Rating 49
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: The Demon Deacons lose their all-time leading passer and three starting offensive linemen, so 2010 is going to be a work in progress.

Coach Jim Grobe enters his 10th season here, and he has proven to be quite adaptable, changing his offensive game plan to match the talent he has.   This year, look for Wake Forest to revert back to a run first philosophy after using a 50-50 run-pass approach with Riley Skinner at quarterback.

The Deacs may go to a two-quarterback rotation this year.  Junior Skylar Jones is more of a running quarterback, while sophomore Ted Stachitas is more of a pure passer.  Redshirt freshman Brendan Cross and true freshman Tanner Price are getting a lot of reps in practice, so apparently Grobe is not 100% decided on which player will start the first game.

Running back Josh Adams won’t appear among the ACC rushing leaders, but he is a dual threat back.  He rushed for 541 yards and four touchdowns and caught 28 passes for 307 yards.  Backup Brandon Pettigrew added 399 yards on the ground.

Three talented receivers return, but their catches are sure to drop some if Jones plays more than Stachitas.  Chris Givens, Devon Brown, and Marshall Williams teamed for 166 receptions and 20 touchdowns.  All three can get yards after the catch.

The offensive line is the problem this year.  Both tackles and one guard must be replaced, and with an inexperienced quarterback, the team’s interception and sack percentages are sure to rise.  Grobe may counter this by going back to more of the zone blocking schemes he used earlier in his tenure at Wake and at Ohio U.

There is no way Wake Forest can match last year’s offensive output.  Look for the averages to fall to 21-24 points and 360-390 yards.

Defense: The Demon Deacons are undersized and inexperienced up front, and that could lead to teams running the ball at that all day.  Wake gave up 164 rushing yards per game last year; that number could top 200 this season.

Ends Kyle Wilber and Tristan Dorty do not have the size to take on a one-on-one drive block from an offensive tackle.  They are better pass rushers.  The tackles will have the beef, but they lack experience.

Three linebackers with playing experience return to the second line of defense, but they will not get much help up front.  Expect more blitzing by this group, and that will leave holes open in pass coverage.

The secondary has experience and talent.  Cornerback Kenny Okoro excelled in his freshman year with three interceptions and 11 passes knocked down.  Wake won’t give up 219 passing yards per game last year, and we expect that number to drop—partly because the secondary is good and partly because opponents will run the ball more.

We believe opposing teams will control the ball for more plays this year.  Last year, the Deacons enjoyed a scrimmage play difference of +4; that number could be reversed this year.  Look for the Deacs to give up 28-32 points and 375-400 yards.

Schedule: The Deacons play four private schools out of league play, and they could win three of those games; they could also lose three of them.  They host Presbyterian and Navy, and they play at Stanford and Vanderbilt.

In the league, they get Duke, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech from the other division.  They face North Carolina State and Maryland on the road, so those games are not sure wins.  Wake will have to pull off two or three upsets to become bowl eligible, and we don’t see it happening.

Coastal Division

Team Duke Blue Devils
               
Head Coach David Cutcliffe
               
Colors Royal Blue and White
               
City Durham, NC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 95.0
               
National Rating 75
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: Coach David Cutcliffe is known as an offensive genius who has helped develop talented quarterbacks into Super Bowl ring-holders.  Two brothers named Manning can thank him for making them better than they were.  Thaddeus Lewis enjoyed playing two seasons for him here, and he departs as Duke’s all-time leading passer.

Welcome Sean Renfree.  He becomes the next star pupil for Professor Cutcliffe.  Renfree suffered an ACL injury last year, so his mobility will be a question.  Don’t expect Lewis-like numbers, but he should have some success in his first year as a regular.

Almost every receiver from last year returns, so Renfree will benefit from this experience.  Donovan Varner led the ACC with 65 catches for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns.  Conner Vernon and Austin Kelly both caught more than 50 balls and proved to be able to break off a long gain.

Duke ran the ball only about 25 times a game last year and averaged just 64 yards per game (only 80 with sacks removed).  True freshman Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson are expected to contribute immediately this year and challenge projected starter Jay Hollingsworth and Desmond Scott for playing time.  Expect some improvement here.

The offensive line welcomes the return of four starters from last year, and they will give Renfree ample time to locate his receivers.  Tackle Kyle Hill will protect Renfree’s blind side.

We believe the Blue Devils will rush for 100 yards this year, which may not sound like much at first.  Duke has only topped 100 yards rushing once in the four years.  Add about 225 to 250 passing yards, and the Blue Devils should score 21-25 points per game.

Defense: Duke will add some 3-4 fronts to their regular 4-3 defense this year.  A lack of talent up front will force Cutcliffe to rely more on a three-man line.  Nose guard Charlie Hatcher has the size to occupy multiple blockers.

Two starters return at linebacker, but there isn’t a star player in this group.  Middle linebacker Damian Thornton could be the leading tackler this year.

If Thornton isn’t the leading tackler, strong safety Matt Daniels will be.  He made 83 stops and broke up five passes last year.  Cornerback Chris Rwabukamba batted away seven passes.  Former receiver Johnny Williams moves over to the secondary, and he should see a lot of playing time at cornerback.

The defense will keep Duke from gaining bowl eligibility.  Look for the Blue Devils to give up 28-32 points and 375-400 yards per game.

Schedule: Duke should win two non-conference games.  They begin the season with Elon and play host to Army.  They host Alabama on September 18, and I give Duke a lot of credit for keeping this game at Wallace Wade Stadium rather than take a huge payout to move it to a neutral site (Wade coached at both schools).  The Devils play at Navy at the end of October.

Duke draws Boston College, Wake Forest, and Maryland and doesn’t have to face Florida State or Clemson.  They could win three ACC games, but they will probably need a 4-4 league mark to get that elusive sixth win.

Team Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
               
Head Coach Paul Johnson
               
Colors Old Gold and White
               
City Atlanta, GA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-3
               
PiRate Rating 119.9
               
National Rating 14
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Offense:  Coach Paul Johnson and his magic spread option offense continues to fool defenses wherever he takes it.  Football pundits were skeptical that the option could win a BCS conference championship, but Tech proved them wrong last year.  Of course, Iowa stopped them cold in the Orange Bowl.  Expect every team on the Yellow Jackets’ schedule to closely examine the tape of that game.

The spread option requires a few important things to work.  The fullback (B Back as Johnson calls the position) must be strong enough to create his own hole and not go down on first contact.  The quarterback must be smart enough to read the defense and react appropriately without losing ground as he runs laterally.  Surprisingly, for this offense to work, there has to be one receiver who can get open deep and command the respect from the secondary.  If he requires double coverage, then there are not enough defenders left to stop the option.

Notice that outstanding blocking was not mentioned.  Sure, blocking is important, but most of the plays provide for double-team blocking near the first point of attack. 

Let’s cover each of these points.  At fullback (B back), beefy Anthony Allen should satisfy the requirement and be tough to bring down on first contact.  He rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns last year playing in the slot (A back), but he should get 200-225 carries this year and should top 1,000 yards on the ground.  Slotbacks Roddy Jones and Embry Peeples will be the recipient of option pitches and should combine for about six to seven yards per carry.  Sure, Tech will miss Jonathan Dwyer and his nearly 1,400 yards rushing, but the Jackets will rush for about the same amount of yards this year.

Quarterback Josh Nesbitt was the 1st Team All-ACC quarterback last year.  He ran for 1,037 yards and 18 touchdowns and passed for 1,701 yards and 10 more touchdowns.  Even though his passing percentage was just 46.3%, he averaged 10.5 yards per attempt.

Tech loses star receiver Demaryius Thomas (46 catches, 25.1 avg., 8 TD).  Thomas caught almost 60% of the passes last year.  The slotbacks (A-backs) have the quickness to get open and in the clear, so Nesbitt should once again top 10 yards per attempt.

The offensive line returns just two starters, but we are not overly concerned for the reasons we discussed previously.  Yes, there will be a little drop in blocking ability because both graduated guards were all-conference performers.  However, the new linemen will learn and become effective much sooner than pass blocking linemen could learn.

Georgia Tech will throw in a few new wrinkles to counter the defensive maneuvers they faced in the Orange Bowl.  Expect the Techsters to top 30 points and 400 yards once again this year.

Defense: Georgia Tech gave up almost 25 points per game last year.  They return eight starters from last year, but those three players were stars.

Johnson hired Al Groh as defensive coordinator.  Groh knows the rest of the league well, having been the head coach at Virginia.  He brings the 3-4 defense to Atlanta.

The defensive line lost Derrick Morgan to the NFL.  Morgan recorded 12 ½ sacks (50% of the team’s total) and six other tackles for loss.  This year’s starting trio up front averages about 285 pounds, so they will force opposing offenses to use double team blocks at the line.  That will give the linebackers room to roam and pursue.

The linebackers will be charged with two three tasks.  They will have to make most of the tackles, most of the QB sacks, and play pass defense as well.  Brad Jefferson is the star of this unit.  He led Tech with 95 tackles and got into the offensive backfield eight times for stops.  Anthony Egbuniwe will be the lead rush linebacker, and his ability to get to the quarterback will determine how successful the new defense becomes.

The secondary loses a 3rd Round NFL Draft choice, and it is not as strong as last year.  The returning starters are much better at run support than pass defense.  Cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese combined for just three interceptions and five passes broken up.

Tech’s defense may take a turn south in their first year in the new system.  They will be fine against the run, but a weak pass rush and mediocre secondary will give up too many yards through the air.  As quick as the offense scores points, the defense will give them up.  Look for about 26-30 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: Tech should win three of their non-conference games.  They begin the season hosting South Carolina State.  The following week they play at a rebuilding Kansas team.  They host Middle Tennessee, and they conclude the regular season facing Georgia between the hedges.

In the ACC, they get Clemson, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest from the other division.  Clemson will be out for revenge after falling twice to the Jackets last year in games they could have won.  Road games with North Carolina and Virginia Tech will be trouble, and a home game with Miami won’t be easy.  Call it a 5-3 league mark this year.  If they can win one more, it just may be enough to get a piece of the division flag.

Team Miami Hurricanes
               
Head Coach Randy Shannon
               
Colors Royal Purple and Gold
               
City Coral Gables, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 120.9
               
National Rating 12
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: The Hurricanes are close to returning back to the dominating team they were when they earned five national titles and just missed on three or four others.  Coach Randy Shannon has a couple of holes to fill, but this team is loaded with talent and ready to ascend to the top of the ACC.

Quarterback Jacory Harris has a live arm.  He can throw a 50-yard bomb with what looks like little effort.  He played much of last year with a thumb injury, and that led to several bad throws.  He still managed to gain 3,352 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he tossed 17 interceptions too.  If he stays 100% healthy, look for Harris to top 3,500 yards and maybe approach 4,000.  If his TD/Int. ratio is something like 30/10, the “U” is going to compete for their next national championship.

Harris will get a chance to have a Heisman Trophy type of season because he has a loaded group of receivers on hand.  The Hurricanes return their top five pass catchers, including three guys who can get open deep.  Leonard Hankerson is the best of the group.  He caught 45 passes for 801 yards (17.8 avg./c) and six touchdowns.  Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson also topped 17 yards per reception.

The running back position is a question mark as the season begins.  The question is not about talent; it is about determining how many backs will contribute.  Shannon has five talented backs competing for time.  Expect a running back by committee approach.  Damien Berry appears to be the starter, but Graig Cooper and Mike James should get a lot of attempts.  Lamar Miller is a burner with sprinter’s speed, and true freshman Storm Johnson could work his way into the mix.

The one real concern on this side of the ball is the offensive line.  Three starters, including an NFL Draft pick, are gone.  The Hurricanes’ starting tackles, Joel Figueroa and Orlando Franklin, will be the stars of this unit, and how the other three inside players perform may determine just how far this team can go.  Southern Cal true freshman transfer Seantrel Henderson will be eligible to play this year, and he could contribute immediately; he was the top offensive lineman recruit in the nation.

We will call for Miami to score 31-35 points and gain 415-430 yards per game.  They should explode against the weaker teams on their schedule, but there are three or four teams with defenses strong enough to hold them to 24 points or less.

Defense: Some Miami fans believe this year’s defense has the potential to be as good as the 2001 team.  We are a bit skeptical.  This will be a better defense than last year, but we don’t see them holding teams to 250 yards and less than 10 points per game.

The ‘Canes may have the best defensive line in the conference.  We say “may” because we don’t know for sure what will happen with North Carolina.  At worst, this is the second best DL in the ACC.  Shannon has a lot of talent here and can play two units.  That will help when Miami has to play a home game in hot and humid weather.  Three of the four down linemen could earn 1st or 2nd Team All-ACC accolades this year.  End Allen Bailey dumped enemy quarterbacks seven times last year and made four other stops behind the line. 

The linebackers are not as talented as the front line, but they are still one of the four best in the league.  Colin McCarthy and Sean Spence return as starters and will man the outside spots.  Kylan Robinson gets first crack in the middle.  McCarthy was a star last year with 10 ½ stops for loss.

The secondary is as talented as the linebackers.  Cornerback Brandon Harris practically shut down his side of the field last year.  He intercepted just two passes, but he batted away 15 others to lead the league in passes defensed. 

Miami gave up 22 points per game last year.  Florida State, Clemson, and North Carolina scored 36 points per game against them, while the other 10 teams averaged just 18 points per game.  Look for the ‘Canes to lower their defensive numbers to 18 points and 300-325 yards allowed.

Schedule:  We believe the schedule is just hard enough to keep Miami from challenging for a spot in the National Championship Game.  We do believe they are the favorite to play in the Orange Bowl.  Outside of the ACC, the Hurricanes have two tough road games, and we don’t think they can beat both Ohio State and Pittsburgh on enemy turf.  Home games with Florida A&M and South Florida will be different.

In league play, the Coastal Division has four tough teams, and they will beat up on each other.  We think 6-2 will earn part of a piece of the title, and we give Miami the nod to win the division in a tiebreaker.

Team North Carolina Tar Heels
               
Head Coach Butch Davis
               
Colors Carolina Blue and White
               
City Chapel Hill, NC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 121.1
               
National Rating 11
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: Imagine if Florida had to enter fall drills any of the last three years wondering if Tim Tebow was going to play.  Imagine if the Miami Heat had to wonder if Lebron James and Dwayne Wade may or may not be able to play.  That’s what North Carolina faces, and it greatly interferes with our ability to make our picks here.

The best offensive player to play in Chapel Hill since Amos Lawrence will probably be declared ineligible to play.  Wide receiver/running back Greg Little attended a Memorial Day weekend party in South Beach, Florida, hosted by a professional agent, and he apparently did not pay for the trip.  That is a violation of NCAA rules and can lead to his being declared ineligible (see the defense for more bad news).  Little was going to be used all over the field this year, running, catching, and maybe even throwing the ball.  Without him, North Carolina’s offense goes from dominating to just better than average.

Our ratings above do not factor his (and the defensive player to be mentioned below) being ineligible, so we will have to lower that rating when and if the time comes.

Let’s continue with what we do know.  Quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Bryn Renner find themselves in a media-inspired controversy over which player should start.  Whether Coach Butch Davis considers it a controversy, we don’t know.  Yates was the starter last year and completed 60% of his passes for 2,136 yards and 14 touchdowns.  However, he threw 15 interceptions.  Renner redshirted as a true freshman.   

Without Little, the receiving corps goes from a strength to a concern.  Wideouts Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd will be asked to shoulder the load.  They shared in receiving 49 passes last year, but they were never doubled with Little in the lineup.  Tight end Zack Pianalto caught 33 passes, and he may become a key alternative now.  He could top 50 receptions this year.

Three players should see action at tailback.  Shaun Draughn missed a third of the season with a shoulder injury, and he managed just 567 yards.  Ryan Houston led the Tar Heels with 713 yards and nine touchdowns (three more than Little).  Senior Johnny White could work his way into the rotation.  A.J. Blue saw some action in the Wildcat formation.

With four starters back, the offensive line will be one of the two best in the division.  Guard Alan Pelc could hear his name called in next year’s NFL Draft.

Without Little, we will call for the offense to score about 21-24 points and gain 320-340 yards per game.  If he survives the scandal and actually gets to play, add about four points and 30-40 yards to that amount.

Defense:  Little was not the only Tar Heel at that party.  Not only was the best offensive player on the team there, the best defensive player on the time attended as well.  Tackle Marvin Austin is the one of the best inside defensive linemen in college football and a sure 1st Round pick in the next NFL Draft.  He made four sacks and two other tackles for loss last season.  He got a hand on three passes as well.  He would have anchored the best defensive line in the league and one of the five best in the nation.  Without him, UNC still has an exceptional unit, but it drops below Miami in talent.  End Robert Quinn finished second in the league with 11 sacks and first in total tackles for loss (19).

All three 2009 starters return at linebacker including two all-conference performers.  Quan Sturdivant led the ‘Heels with 79 tackles, 12 for loss.  Bruce Carter added 7 ½ stops for loss.

The secondary may actually be the best unit on this side, but some of their great results must be attributed to a great pass rush.  Cornerback Kendric Burney picked off five passes a year ago, earning 1st Team All-ACC honors.  Safety Deunta Williams one-upped Burney, picking off six passes and knocking away eight others to earn a spot on the all-conference first team as well.

Even without Austin, this is one of the best defenses in the country.  Look for the Tar Heels to give up about 17-21 points and 275-300 yards.  If Austin can play, shave off three points and 25 yards. 

North Carolina has another weapon.  Kicker Casey Barth connected on 21 of 25 field goal attempts, including 4-5 from 40 yards or more.

Schedule: The opening game in Atlanta against LSU will reveal a lot.  We expect something like a 14-10 game either way.  We tend to favor the Tar Heels for the moment, but that could change before game night.  If UNC can get by the Tigers, they should go 4-0 outside of the league.  They travel to a weaker Rutgers team and host East Carolina and William and Mary.

UNC gets both Florida State and Clemson from the other division.  They host Virginia Tech and play at Miami.  We think they will lose twice in league play, but one of those will be to the Hurricanes.  That’s why we pick Miami in a tiebreaker.

Team Virginia Cavaliers
               
Head Coach Mike London
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Charlottesville, VA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 95.3
               
National Rating 73
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: Virginia suffered through losing seasons three of the last four years, and it cost Coach Al Groh his job.  Enter former UVa defensive coordinator Mike London as new coach.  London won an FCS National Championship at Richmond in 2008.

Bill Lazor takes over as the new offensive coordinator.  The veteran NFL assistant has scuttled the former shotgun spread formation for the under-center pro offense.

The Cavaliers might have been better running the single wing, because they are thin on talent at quarterback.  Senior Mark Verica started nine times two years ago, but he was very ineffective throwing 16 interceptions to just eight touchdowns.  True freshman Michael Rocco could eventually take over the reins of the offense.  It will be a long year in Charlottesville, as the Cavs struggle to pick up yards through the air.

To make matters worse, Virginia lost three of their top four receivers from a year ago.  Leading receiver Kris Burd returns after catching 31 passes for 413 yards and just one score.  Tight end Joe Torchia didn’t get many opportunities in the old offense, but he could actually become the leading receiver this year.

With the passing game bound to have some growing pains, it would be great if the running game was really good.  That isn’t going to happen.  Virginia rushed for less than 100 yards per game last year, and their leading returnee had just 73 yards!  Keith Payne started one game in 2008.  He quit before the 2009 season began.  He may become the starter by default.

Also by default, the offensive line becomes the best part of the offense.  There are no all-conference performers in this unit, but at least there is some experience.  Three starters return, and one of the new starters is a highly recruited freshman.

You have to learn how to crawl before you can learn how to walk.  Virginia will crawl a lot this year on this side of the ball and struggle to score points.  Look for just 14-17 points and 250-275 yards per game.

Defense: There will be more growing pains on this side of the ball.  London scrapped Groh’s 3-4 defense and installed a 4-3 in the Spring.  Former outside linebacker Cam Johnson was moved to end, where he is much better suited to play.  The tackles should hold their own and keep blockers away from the middle linebacker.

That middle linebacker is Steve Greer, who earned Freshman All-American honors last year.  Greer posted a team-leading 92 tackles with 6 ½ for loss.  He may make as many as 130 tackles this season, but many will be for good gains by the opponent.  There isn’t much experience or talent on the outside.

Considering it got very little help from the pass rush, the secondary performed quite well last year.  Two starters from that unit return, including Ras-I Dowling.  Dowling earned 2nd Team All-ACC honors after intercepting three passes and batting away eight.  He should be used on the corner blitz more this year as well.

Virginia gave up 26 points per game last year but just 353 total yards.  Look for the Cavaliers to give up a little more this year due to the change in schemes and the offense not being able to control the clock.  We’ll call it 28-31 points and 370-390 total yards.

Schedule: How ironic!  UVa opens the season with Richmond.  London will have a great scouting report, and the Cavs will open the season 1-0 with a hard-fought victory.  The following week, they serve as the home-opening opponent for Lane Kiffin and his Southern Cal Trojans.  After a week off, they host VMI and should move to 2-1.  A home game with lowly Eastern Michigan should give them a third win.

Don’t expect the Cavs to win an ACC game, and if they do, London should get some votes for ACC Coach of the Year.  It will be a tough transition for the Cavs in year one.

Team Virginia Tech Hokies
               
Head Coach Frank Beamer
               
Colors Maroon, Orange, and White
               
City Blacksburg, VA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 121.8
               
National Rating 7
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Virginia Tech has won 10 or more games nine times in the last 11 seasons.  Coach Frank Beamer has won with great offenses, great defenses, and great special teams.  He’s won with mobile quarterbacks and with drop back passers.

He’s got a great mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.  At 6-1, he might be a little too short for the NFL, but he is certainly talented enough to contend for top honors in the ACC.  Taylor threw for 2,311 yards and 13 touchdowns last year with just five interceptions.  His 56% completion rate didn’t look great on paper, but he’s more of a vertical passer.  His completions averaged 17 yards, and he averaged 9.5 yards per attempt.

Taylor has three great targets returning at wideout, each of whom can go deep.  Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, and Dyrell Roberts teamed for 92 receptions and 1,839 yards (20 yds./catch).

The Hokies have two running backs capable of rushing for 1,000 yards, as both have done it before.  Ryan Williams raced for a league-leading 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns last year.  Darren Evans rushed for 1,265 yards in 2008 before missing all of last year with an ACL injury.  He’s fully healthy now.

Tech lost two all-conference offensive linemen from the left side of the line.  That is the only concern on this side of the ball, but it is a big one, as that is Taylor’s blind side.

Virginia Tech should come close to matching last year’s offensive numbers.  If they drop a little, it will be because the Hokies rely a little more on their excellent running game.  Look for 26-30 points and 375-400 yards.

Defense: The reason we don’t have the Hokies penciled in as ACC Coastal Division Champions and legitimate contenders to advance to the National Championship Game is because they lost too much on this side of the ball.  Nine of the top 13 tacklers are gone.  We aren’t about to predict that defensive coordinator Bud Foster will not be able to mold a fine defense with the holdovers, but the Hokies have just enough holes for a couple of teams on their schedule to exploit.

The defensive line returns just one starter.  Tackle John Graves made just 15 tackles last year.  The Hokies sacked enemy quarterbacks 36 times in 2009, and that number will fall by as much as 10 this year.

The Hokies have limited experience returning at linebacker, and they lost an All-American in Cody Grimm.  Barquell Rivers is equally good against the run and the pass, but he will have new partners on either side of him.

Two starters return to a better than average secondary.  Cornerback Rashad Carmichael intercepted six passes and knocked down six more.

It may take a couple of games for the defense to gel, but by October, the Hokies should be challenging for the top stop troops in the conference.  Look for Tech to give up 17-21 points and 300-325 yards per game.

Schedule: Virginia Tech opens the season with what could be the Game of the Year.  They face Boise State at the Washington Redskins Stadium on Labor Day Monday.  So many pundits are calling for Tech to not only beat the Broncos, but do it in convincing manner, all because Boise State lost big to Georgia five years ago.  Five years ago, Barack Obama was unknown to 99% of the country.  Tech’s other three non-league games include home games with James Madison, East Carolina, and Central Michigan.

In the ACC, the Hokies draw Boston College, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest.  They miss Florida State and Clemson.  Their league fate will be decided in back-to-back games in November at North Carolina and Miami.  We felt that they would lose both of these games, and show that in the predictions above.  However, the UNC loss of their top two stars was not figured into that equation.  Tech’s game with Miami should decide the Coastal Division title.

Coming Tomorrow: The Pac-10 Conference prepares to expand to 12 teams next year.  With Southern Cal ineligible for the Rose Bowl, will it be just Ducky again in 2010?

August 16, 2010

2010 Big East Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Big East Conference Preview

 

Today, we begin coverage of the BCS Conferences.  The Big East gets little respect from among the “Big Six” leagues, and the last two BCS Bowl seasons have instilled that opinion.  Undefeated Cincinnati fell in the Sugar Bowl to Florida by 27 points last year and by 13 points to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl the year before.  West Virginia lost to Florida State in the Gator Bowl.  On the bright side, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, South Florida, and Rutgers won their bowl games last year.

The Big East race figures to be exciting this year as five teams could vie for the conference title.  The next two could surprise a few teams.  Only Louisville figures to have no chance of becoming bowl eligible.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team B E Overall
1 Pittsburgh 6-1 9-3
2 West Virginia 6-1 10-2
3 Connecticut 5-2 9-3
4 Cincinnati 4-3 7-5
5 South Florida 4-3 7-5
6 Rutgers 2-5 6-6
7 Syracuse 1-6 4-8
8 Louisville 0-7 3-9

 

BCS Bowl: Pittsburgh

Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame (contractually allowed to take any BE bid)

Meineke Car Care Bowl: West Virginia

Pinstripe Bowl: Connecticut

PapaJohns.com Bowl: South Florida

St. Petersburg Bowl: Cincinnati

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Cincinnati Bearcats
               
Head Coach Butch Jones
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Cincinnati, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-0
Overall 12-1
               
PiRate Rating 110.8
               
National Rating 35
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Bearcats lost a lot of manpower, most notably their head coach.  Brian Kelly left the Queen City for Notre Dame.  New head man Butch Jones has done this before.  He replaced Kelly at Central Michigan in 2007. 

Jones inherited Dan LeFevour from Kelly at CMU.  He inherits Zach Collaros here.  Collaros replaced Tony Pike in the middle of the season after Pike was injured, and Collaros completed 75% of his passes and gained an amazing 11.6 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns to just two inteceptions!    Expect him to be one of the leading runners in this offense, as he rushed for better than six yards per attempt.  Collaros will be one of three league quarterbacks competing for 1st Team All-Big East honors.

The receiving corps is missing its leader from a year ago.  Mardy Gilyard will be catching Sam Bradford’s passes this year in St. Louis after grabbing 87 balls for almost 1,200 yards last year.  Look for Armon Binns to top 80 catches this season.  He caught 61 passes for 888 yards and 11 touchdowns.  D.J. Woods had 51 catches as a third option last year, and he should help free up space for Binns.  Tight end Ben Guidugli is a better pass receiver than run blocker, and he should catch at least 30 passes this year.

The running game was not a strength last year.  UC rushed for just 166 yards in their last three games.  Starting tailback Isaiah Pead rushed for over 800 yards, but he is actually more valuable as a pass receiver coming out of the backfield.

The offensive line returns three starters, including a pair of all-conference guards in Alex Hoffman and Jason Kelce.

The Bearcats scored 39 points per game last year.  While they won’t repeat that output, they could still lead the Big East in offense.  We figure they should score about 30-33 points and produce 400-425 yards of offense.

Defense: It was a “Tale of Two Seasons” for UC on this side of the ball in 2009.  After surrendering 15, 3, 18, 20, 13, 17, 10, and 7 points in their first eight games, they gave up 45, 21, 36, 44, and 51 in their final five.  They lost six starters from this side of the ball, so opponents could beat the Bearcats in multiple shootout games.

Three defensive line starters must be replaced.  The lone returnee is tackle Derek Wolfe, who recorded five sacks and three other stops for loss.  Both new starting ends saw a lot of action last year; Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano combined for 15 stops behind the line, so this unit isn’t as inexperienced as it looks.

Two starters return at linebacker.  J.K. Schaffer had 100 tackles, and he proved to be an excellent pass defender.  He had three interceptions and knocked away three other passes.  The loss of leading tackler Andre Revels will hurt.

The secondary could be a liability this year.  UC gave up 63.6% completions and 230 yards last year.  They lose their top pass defender, so teams could pass them silly.

The Bearcats will give up more points and yards this year.  Expect their defensive numbers to fall to 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed.

Schedule: UC should equal their 2009 loss total in the first week of the season.  The Bearcats venture to Fresno State.  FSU nearly beat them last year at Nippert Stadium.  Other non-conference games include Indiana State and Miami (Ohio) at home, North Carolina State on the road, and Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium (The Cincinnati Bengals’ home stadium). 3-2 is the best they can do in these games.

In the Big East, UC hosts South Florida, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh.  They could force a multiple-team tie at the top at 5-2 if they can upset Pitt or West Virginia, but we believe their defense will be too generous.  Call it another winning season and bowl bid, but the bowl will be before New Year’s Day.

Team Connecticut Huskies
               
Head Coach Randy Edsall
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Storrs, Ct
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 113.2
               
National Rating 27
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Connecticut football gets no respect.  They are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the BCS.  The Huskies are known for their basketball.  They compete in the greater New York City Metro area, where football is all about the Giants and Jets first, Rutgers second, and everybody else third.

Any defense that fails to give UConn respect this season will be licking its wounds on Sunday morning.  The Huskies are loaded on this side of the ball with most of their weapons from 2009 returning plus the addition of a summer transfer escaping the Kiffin Circus.

Coach Randy Edsall has spurned offers to move elsewhere, and he has methodically built the Huskies into a 21st Century version of Woody Hayes’ Ohio State “Three yards and a cloud of dust.”  Connecticut can pound the ball up the middle and slant off-tackle from their shotgun spread offense with the same results Hayes got from his full-house T in the 1950’s and I in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Huskies had two, 1,000-yard backs last year—Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon.  Dixon departs, but fret not Husky fans; enter Southern Cal transfer D.J. Shoemate, who will not have to sit out a year.  Shoemate is not only a big punishing runner, he is a great pass receiver.  Shoemate and Dixon will give UConn another great tandem and should combine for more than 2,500 total yards and 30+ touchdowns.

Those two cannot do it alone.  They have to have room to run, and the Huskies have an exceptional blocking wall up front, buoyed by the return of four starters.  This unit is the class of the league, and they will provide those holes for UConn to lead the league in rushing.

If any improvement can be made in the passing game, Connecticut could emerge as league champions.  Quarterback Zach Frazer was highly regarded when he signed out of high school with Notre Dame.  The senior should enjoy his best season this year as the full-time starter.  He completed just 53.2% of his passes last year and he was intercepted nine times (4.1%).  Backup Cody Endres is more of a pure passer, but he doesn’t have the wheels Frazer has.

The biggest concern on this side of the ball is an inexperienced receiving corps.  Kashif Moore is the leading returning pass catcher, but he only caught 22 passes.  However, one of those catches was perhaps the top touchdown reception in the country.  He took an off-target pass on the sideline and caught it one-handed, scoring without breaking stride against South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

Connecticut won’t look flashy, but the Green Bay Packers won a lot of championships by not being flashy.  Expect the Huskies to top 200 yards per game on the ground and approach 400 total while topping 30 points per game.

Defense: An offense that churns out rushing yards and eats the clock tends to make an average defense look much better.  With three starters returning to the defensive line and two to the linebacking corps, the Huskies should continue to play well on this side of the ball.

One player missing from the line is 2nd Team All-Big East linebacker, move to end, Greg Lloyd.  A knee injury has forced him to take a medical redshirt.  Trevardo Williams will take his place; he saw action in all 13 games last year.  He’ll join Jesse Joseph, Kendall Reyes, and Twyon Martin to form a formidable, but not spectacular, front line.

The second line of defense returns the team’s number one and three tacklers.  Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus should both earn 1st Team All-Big East honors this year after teaming for 170 tackles, 16 ½ for losses, including 8 ½ sacks.

The weak spot of this defense will be the secondary, as two all-conference players have departed.  Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had six broken up passes and one interception.

The pass defense will be what keeps the Huskies from winning the conference championship this year.  Still, this is a team capable of topping last year’s 8-5 season.  The five losses came by 2, 3, 4, 4, and 2 points.

Schedule: The opening game will be very interesting, as UConn travels to the Big House to take on Michigan.  That game should be a toss-up.  The other four non-conference games should be wins, as the Huskies host Texas Southern, play at Temple, and then host rebuilding Buffalo and a weak Vanderbilt team.

The Huskies get the top two Big East teams at home, facing West Virginia on Friday, October 29 and Pittsburgh on Veterans’ Day, Thursday, November 11.  The schedule sets up perfectly for Connecticut to win both of these games; they precede West Virginia with lowly Louisville and get a week off to prepare for the Panthers.

If the passing game develops at all, and the secondary gets enough help from the pass rush to be just average, you could be looking at the next Big East champions.  We’ll go with 9-3 and a trip to Yankee Stadium for the first Pinstripe Bowl.

Team Louisville Cardinals
               
Head Coach Charlie Strong
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Louisville, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 95.1
               
National Rating 74
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-7
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: Just a few years ago, Louisville wasn’t far from becoming the next Florida State.  Then Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense was the best in the nation, scoring 50 points per game en route to an 11-1 season in 2004.  Two years later, UL finished 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

Things changed in the three years Steve Kragthorpe coached the team.  The once mighty offense crashed and burned, falling all the way to 18 points and 334 yards last year.  Enter a new head coach.  Charlie Strong comes in after serving as Florida’s defensive coordinator.  He will try to institute Urban Meyer’s spread offense here.

Strong made a great move in bringing in former UNLV head coach Mike Sanford to run the offense.  Sanford was Utah’s offensive coordinator when Meyer was there.  Unfortunately, Strong could not bring Alex Smith with him.

Three players are competing for the quarterback job, and if the coaches know who will start, they are not letting on.  Adam Froman, Justin Burke, and Will Stein have been alternating snaps in practice.  True freshman Dominique Brown was an option quarterback in high school, and he could be tried at other positions.  However, for now, he will be in the mix here.  No matter who lines up behind center for the opening game, don’t expect anything Earth-shattering.

The running game has a chance to develop into something with the healthy return of Victor Anderson.  Playing only in eight games and never really fully healthy, he gained 473 yards and scored five times. 

Two of last year’s starting wide outs graduated, leaving lone holdover Doug Beaumont and tight end Cameron Graham as the only two experienced receivers.  Neither will remind anybody of Harry Douglas.  Of the new starters, watch for giant 6-9 wide out Josh Chichester to be utilized in short yardage and goalline situations where he the ball will be tossed in the air for him to jump up and take.

The offensive line is the strength of this offense, as four starters return.  There aren’t any all-stars here, but there is a lot of depth.

Look for Louisville to struggle at times in this new offense.  They will have to rely too much on the running game, and another injury to Anderson would be too much to overcome.  Expect about 16-20 points and 325-350 yards.

Defense: This is the reason Louisville will stay in last place for the third straight season.  The Cardinals actually improved defensively the last two years, but since the offense regressed even more, the won-loss record worsened.  Only four starters return on this side of the ball, and even with the defensive acumen of Coach Strong, he will not be able to mold UL into a fantastic defense this year.

The defensive line lacks talent, but has some experience.  The only quality player up front graduate, so this will be a major liability this year.

Don’t expect much better performance from the linebackers.  Only one of three starters returns, and the two who graduated were the top two tacklers.  It would be a major plus if Southern Cal transfer Jordan Campbell actually showed up on campus before the season began.  He could lead the Cardinals in tackles and form a decent one-two-three punch with Antwon Canady and Dexter Heyman. 

The secondary has a chance to be better than average, especially if former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey can become eligibile.  Dorsey could start from day one.  Returning regular Johnny Patrick and new starter Anthony Conner give the Cards a nice set of cornerbacks.

Louisville has a long road ahead before they rebuild enough to return to the plus side of .500.  Expect baby steps in year one of the Strong administration.  The Cards will give up 28 points and 375+ yards per game.

Schedule: As usual, UL opens with Kentucky for the Governor’s Cup.  The Wildcats have won the last three, and they should make it four in a row.  UL then gets Eastern Kentucky at home, and the Colonels gave both Indiana and Kentucky fits last year.  A road game against Oregon State could get ugly, and then after a week off, a road game against Arkansas State should give the Cards a second chance at a win.  Memphis comes to Papa John’s Stadium the following week, and the Tigers will treat this like a bowl game.  It will be hard fought.  It will also be UL’s last chance at a win this year, as they are clearly the weakest team in the Big East.  They must play at Syracuse and Rutgers, the teams that should finish in 7th and 6th place.

Team Pittsburgh Panthers
               
Head Coach Dave Wannstedt
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Pittsburgh, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 110.5
               
National Rating 37
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-1
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: Since returning to his alma mater, Coach Dave Wannstedt has been a recruiting monster.  The Panthers have not signed so many talented players since Jackie Sherrill patrolled the sidelines in the early 1980’s.  Last year, Pitt topped 30 points per game, and even though they lost a majority of their starters, there is enough talent returning to make this another successful season on this side of the ball.

Let’s start with the player that earned 2nd Team All-American honors as a true freshman.  Dion Lewis drew comparisons to the great Tony Dorsett after rushing for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He found time to catch 25 passes for another 189 yards.  Backup Ray Graham injured his knee in a scrimmage over the weekend.  If he is okay, expect him to get a few more carries this year.  He rushed for 349 yards, and actually averaged a tad more per carry than Lewis.

The backs may have to shoulder the load this year, because the Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback after losing Bill Stull to graduation.  Sophomore Tino Sunseri has limited experience, but he’s got a rifle for an arm.

The receiving corps took a minor hit with the departure of the numbers two and three receivers, but top man Jon Baldwin returns after averaging nearly 20 yards on 57 receptions.  Wannstedt likes to throw to his tight ends, and he has two youngsters with a lot of promise in Mike Cruz (6-5, 270) and Brock DeCicco (6-5, 235).

The offensive line is strong at tackle, but the inside blockers are untested.  Lucas Nix and Jason Pinkston could both make all-conference teams (Pinkston was 1st Team All-Big East in 2009), but three new starters must be found at center and guard.

Even with the questions in the blocking wall, we think the Panthers will continue to move the ball with force.  The backs will run the ball off tackle, and the passing game will continue to stretch the defense vertically.  Look for 26-30 points and 375-400 yards.

Defense: The stop side has improved the last three years, and Pitt gave up just 19.8 points per game last year.  The Panthers led the nation in quarterback sacks with 47 and return most of the players who contributed to the great pass rush.

One cause for concern is the status of star end Greg Romeus.  He led the Panthers with eight sacks last year, but as of this writing, he has seen only limited action in practice due to muscle spasms.  He should be okay for the regular season, but this will be a story to follow as September draws near.  Jabal Sheard had five sacks, and he gives Pitt the best pair of ends in the league.

Three outstanding linebackers comprise the second line of defense.  Greg Williams, Max Gruder, and Dan Mason may not be 1st team All-Big East material yet, but any of the three could earn 2nd team honors this year.

The secondary benefits greatly from having the best pass rush in the nation up front.  The only question mark on this side of the ball is at cornerback where two new starters will line up.  Both Antwuan Reed and Ricky Gary saw a goodly amount of action last year, but neither will match the production of Aaron Berry (11 passes defensed).  Safeties Jarred Holley and Dom DeCicco both picked off three passes last year and knocked away three others.

Look for another stellar year on this side of the ball.  The Panthers might give up a few more points and a dozen more yards per game this year, but their schedule is much tougher.  Call it 21-24 points and 325-350 yards allowed.

Schedule: It starts with a road trip to Utah, where the Utes usually win out-of-conference games.  The following week, they host FCS power New Hampshire.  After a week off, they host the Miami Hurricanes.  After a breather at home with Florida International, they travel to Notre Dame.  By this point, Pitt will be out of the national title picture because they will be 3-2 or 2-3 (we say 3-2).  Once conference play begins, Pitt should be 3-0 when they visit Connecticut on Thursday, night, November 11.  We believe they will lose that game, and they will have to sweep their final three games to win the title.  They close with South Florida on the road, West Virginia in the backyard brawl, and Cincinnati on the road.  It is a very tough closing four games, but we believe Pitt has the talent to go 6-1 in the league and earn the BCS Bowl bid.

Team Rutgers Scarlet Knights
               
Head Coach Greg Schiano
               
Colors Scarlet and White
               
City New Brunswick, NJ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 96.6
               
National Rating 65
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-5
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Last year’s 9-4 season was a bit of a disappointment in New Brunswick.  Rutgers was supposed to contend for the conference title, and they opened the season with a 47-15 loss to Cincinnati when then starting QB Domenic Natale threw three interceptions in the first half.

This year’s offense could take another step backward.  Quarterback Tom Savage returns after taking over the starter’s role in the second half of that awful first game, but he will have a tough time passing this season behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Only two starters return to the offensive line; one of those lost was guard Anthony Davis, the 11th overall player in the NFL Draft.  There is not much experience here either.  Tackle Art Forst is an all-star, but he’s the only star up front.

The receiving corps lost a stud in Tim Brown.  Brown led the Scarlet Knights in receptions, yards, yards per catch, and scored three more touchdowns than the rest of the receivers combined!  There is still talent remaining with Mohammed Sanu.  Sanu caught 51 passes and can get open deep.  He also lines up behind center in the Wildcat Formation, and he was tough to stop.

Rutgers has dropped from 32.8 to 29.0 to 28.8 points per game the last three seasons.  Look for that downward slide to continue.  Call it 24-27 points and 325-350 yards this year.

Defense: The defense was a bright spot for this team after the disastrous opening game.  In the other 12 games, RU gave up less than 16 points and less than 290 yards per game.

Three starters return to the defensive line, including end Alex Silvestro, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection.  Three of the second four return and saw a lot of action, so this unit will once again be strong.

There is room for improvement in the linebacking corps, after the Knights lost their star Mike ‘backer to the NFL.  Antonio Lowery is the best of the group, but he won’t make the 1st or 2nd team all-conference squad.

The secondary loses a first round NFL pick, so it will be tough for this group to match last year’s success.  Opponents passed away from Devin McCourty, and his replacement could be a freshman.

Look for Rutgers to give up 20+ points this year and 320-340 yards.  It will be a weaker defense, but not weak.

Schedule: The Knights will get off to a 2-0 start with games against Norfolk State and Florida International.  After a week off, they host North Carolina, who could have some major issues.  Game four with Tulane should be a breather.  The other non-conference game is against Army at the new Meadowlands Stadium.  Rutgers could go 5-0 outside the league, and they should be no worse than 4-1.  The conference record won’t be as rosy.  Road games with Pittsburgh, South Florida, Cincinnati, and West Virginia are almost sure losses.  Connecticut and Syracuse won’t be easy wins, or wins at all, at home.  The Knights could be 1-6 in league play, but more likely 2-5.  With the easy non-conference schedule, they should squeak into a bowl at 6-6.

Team South Florida Bulls
               
Head Coach Skip Holtz
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Tampa, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 106.1
               
National Rating 44
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Skip Holtz did not have a flashy offense as head coach at East Carolina, so don’t expect the Bulls to look like Cincinnati.  Holtz’s teams played solid, hard-nosed football and rarely beat themselves.

Holtz gets a solid, hard-nosed quarterback in year one in Tampa.  B. J. Daniels is just a sophomore, but he may already be the best quarterback in the league.  He should top 1,000 yards on the ground and 2,000 yards through the air in his first full year as the starter.  If he can grasp the new offense and play to his potential from game one, there is no reason not to think he will be 1st Team All-Big East.

Holtz benefitted from having running backs like Chris Johnson at ECU, but he won’t have a future NFL star on the roster this year.  He’ll have to mold a running game around Daniels and backs Moise Plancher and Demetrius Murray. 

USF will stuggle somewhat at receiver.  A. J. Love might have been a real star this year, but even if he returns from an ACL injury in October, he will not be 100% at any time.  Sterling Griffin may have become the major threat with Love out, but he too is out until October with an ankle injury.  He too won’t be near 100%, and he could redshirt this year.  Dontavia Bogan will have to carry the load, and he is not good enough to catch 80 passes for 1,000 yards.

The offensive line returns all five starters, led by center Sampson Genus.  The opened holes for the running game to average 4.4 yards per carry, but they were not the best pass blockers, giving up 38 sacks.

USF will struggle at times this year, because their offense will be one dimensional, at least until one or both of their star receivers can return.  Look for about 23-26 points and 330-350 yards per game.

Defense: How much weaker will this side of the ball be this year?  They lost four NFL draft picks.  Their top five tacklers are gone.  They lost almost 70% of their sack-makers and 77% of their pass interceptors.

The one bright spot is the hiring of Mark Snyder as defensive coordinator.  He was the head coach at Marshall, and prior to that he was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State (they won their national title during his tenure).

Up front, the Bulls return their starting tackles, but both ends must be replaced.  Those ends were 1st and 7th round draft picks and combined for 10 sacks and 26 stops for loss.  Their replacements have potential, but hardly any experience.

The leading returning tackler starts at Will linebacker.  Sabbath Joseph made 48 tackles and broke up four passes.  Both of the new starters saw considerable action last year, so this unit is in good shape.

The secondary cannot replace Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy, two first day draft choices.  Those two combined for 162 tackles, eight interceptions, and 12 passes broken up.  Expect opposing quarterbacks to throw for as much as 50 yards more per game against USF.

This is going to be a tough first year for Holtz in Tampa.  His familial motivational skills should be good enough to produce a couple of inspired performances, but expect USF to give up 23-27 points and 325-350 yards.

Schedule: Holtz will definitely start his USF career at 1-0, as the Bulls get Stony Brook at home.  He will then endure his first loss the following week at Florida.  After a week off, the Bulls will move to 3-1 with breathers against Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic.  A November 27 game at Miami will give the Bulls a second out-of-conference loss.  They will need to go 3-4 in the Big East to become bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive year.  We think they will win four league games, and if the two star receivers can return and contribute something close to 100%, they could win an extra game.  At 5-2, they could also end up in a multiple tie for first.

Team Syracuse Orange
               
Head Coach Doug Marrone
               
Colors Orange
               
City Syracuse, NY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 101.7
               
National Rating 56
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: Second year coach Doug Marrone has the Orange pointed in the right direction.  SU may have to take a detour for one year, because their offense lost six starters. 

Quarterback Ryan Nassib may be better only than whoever starts at Louisville.  The sophomore saw limited action last year behind former Duke basketball star Greg Paulus.  Nassib completed just 52.9% of his passes, many of those being short tosses.

The receiving corps is in the same shape; it is maybe better than one other league team.  Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales both caught fewer than 30 passes last year, and neither has breakaway potential.  Marrone moved defensive back Dorian Graham to receiver, and he plans on using tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens a lot more this year, possibly going deep over the middle.

The running game returns a familiar face in Delone Carter.  Carter rammed forward for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Antwon Brinkley will supplement Carter. 

The offensive line has some reworking to do.  Only two player return to the starting five.  They will be asked to block more for the run, and multiple double team blocks could break the bulldozing backs through for several four and five yard gains.  The ‘Cuse will run the ball between the tackles to force safeties to creep up, and then they will throw deep to the tight ends.  It could be just successful enough to allow the Orange to surprise a team or two.

We believe SU will score about 20-24 points and 325-350 yards a game this year.

Defense: Expect big improvement on this side of the ball, maybe enough to give SU a chance at bowl eligibility.  Nine Starters return after SU improved last year by almost five points per game.

Leading the charges up front is end Chandler Jones, who made 10 stops behind the line.  The entire second unit returns, so there should be some good depth here.

The linebacking corps could have been the best in the league, but Will linebacker E. J. Carter transferred to North Carolina State.  Sam linebacker Doug Hogue and Mike linebacker Derrell Smith return after combining for 154 tackles, 16 sacks, 10 ½ other tackles for loss, and seven passes defended.

Three experienced starters return to the secondary, and two others who saw starting time return as well.  This was a weak spot last year, as the ‘Cuse gave up 65% completions and 235 yards per game.  This group might get burned occasionally by long gains, but they will come up with more big plays this season.

Look for continued improvement overall on this side.  Syracuse will give up 23-26 points and 320-340 yards per game.

Schedule: The Orange won three non-conference games last year, and they should do so again this year (a small chance for four).  They play at Akron and Washington to start the season and host Maine and Colgate the next two weeks.  They close the season at home with Boston College.  They host Louisville in conference play, but it will be difficult (not completely impossible) to find another conference win.  We’ll call for SU to equal last year’s record, but we are not in agreement here.  One of us five believes this is a 7-5 team.

Team West Virginia Mountaineers
               
Head Coach Bill Stewart
               
Colors Navy and Old Gold
               
City Morgantown, WV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-2
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 112.9
               
National Rating 29
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-1
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: The Mountaineers’ offense has suffered some since Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan.  Coach Bill Stewart tweaked the offense, and the production dropped by two touchdowns and 90 yards.  Even though he has enjoyed back-to-back 9-4 seasons, WVU fans expected more.  The Mountaineers have a ton of talent, especially on the defensive side this year.  They should contend for the conference championship.

The offense goes through the legs of running back Noel Devine.  Devine should be an early round draft pick next year.  Even though he was banged up last year, he rushed for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.  He’s a threat to break one every time he touches the ball.  When WVU needs a crucial yard or two or gets close to the goal line, fullback Ryan Clarke is the man to do the job.  He ran the ball 60 times for 250 yards and scored eight touchdowns. 

The Mountaineers have a new quarterback this year, but Geno Smith should be able to equal the production that last year’s QB, Jarrett Brown, had.  Former star QB Pat White’s younger brother Coley could see some time as well.

The receiving corps needs to find a breakaway threat to stretch the defense for Devine.  Leading receiver Jock Sanders averaged less than 10 yards per catch last year.  Tavon Austin could be the answer.

An experienced offensive line with four starters returning should open holes and protect the new quarterback and provide better rushing and passing numbers.

Look for the Mountaineers to top 30 points per game this year and gain about 400 total yards per game.

Defense: WVU uses a 3-3-5 alignment, and their front three is beefy and experienced, and there is quality depth.  End Julian Miller is a sack machine, picking up nine last season.  He made five other tackles for loss.  The Mountaineers should record 30+ sacks this season.

The top two tacklers return to their linebacking positions.  Pat Lazear and J. T. Thomas combined for 154 tackles, 13 stops behind the line, and eight passes defended.

Four starters return to the secondary, led by two 1st Team All Big-East performers.  Cornerback Brandon Hogan broke up 11 passes and intercepted one last year, while free safety Robert Sands led the team with five picks and eight others broken up.  Rover safety Sidney Glover is equally effective against the run pass.

West Virginia has one of the top two defenses in the league.  Look for the Mountaineers to give up 17-21 points and 300-325 yards per game this year.

Schedule: The schedule is a bit tricky because four of the Mountaineers five non-conference opponents are hard to figure out this year.  There is no mystery to a home game with Coastal Carolina.  A Friday night, 9/10, game at Marshall will be tough.  Marshall coach Doc Holliday knows this team well having been the chief recruiter here.  The following Saturday, WVU hosts Maryland.  Terp coach Ralph Friedgen will more than likely be on a very hot seat at that point, and it could be a must-win game for them.  WVU then goes on the road to LSU.  Les Miles’ seat is even hotter than Friedgen’s, and a loss to WVU will probably seal his fate.  After a week off, the Mountaineers host UNLV, a team in transition with a capable quarterback.  We believe WVU can go 4-1 in these five games.  The Mountaineers have four conference home games, and they could be 5-0 when they go to Pittsburgh on the day after Thanksgiving.  The Backyard Brawl could decide the league title.  We’ll say this team will finish 6-1 but lose the tiebreaker to Pitt.

Coming Tomorrow: The Atlantic Coast Conference has six teams capable of landing in the Top 25.  Could a Memorial Day weekend party in Florida affect the outcome?

August 15, 2010

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

 

The best of the non-BCS conferences will undergo a change next year, as Utah leaves for the newly named Pac-12.  Boise State will move here from the WAC and continue a great rivalry with TCU.  It wouldn’t shock us to see the Horned Frogs and Broncos meeting for a third consecutive season in a bowl, and it isn’t impossible for that bowl game to be the last one of the year!

The only mystery for this season’s race is who will finish second.  TCU will win the league and should go undefeated in the regular season for the second year in a row.  There is no clear-cut second best team as five teams could wind up in the runner-up spot.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team MWC Overall
1 T C U 8-0 12-0
2 Utah 6-2 8-4
3 Air Force 5-3 7-5
4 B Y U 5-3 7-5
5 Wyoming 4-4 6-6
6 San Diego State 4-4 7-5
7 U N L V 3-5 5-8
8 Colorado State 1-7 2-10
9 New Mexico 0-8 1-11

 

BCS Bowl—T C U

Las Vegas Bowl—Utah

Poinsettia Bowl—B Y U

Independence Bowl—Air Force

New Mexico Bowl—San Diego State

Armed Forces Bowl—Wyoming

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Air Force Falcons
               
Head Coach Troy Calhoun
               
Colors Royal Blue and Silver
               
City Colorado Springs, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.0
               
National Rating 52
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Falcons have a feast/famine tug of war on this side of the ball.  Coach Troy Calhoun has molded three fantastic offenses in his first three seasons in Colorado Springs, and we believe the string will continue despite Calhoun having to start almost from scratch up front.

Right guard A.J. Wallerstein started one game at left guard last year, and that represents all of the starting experience for this season’s offensive line.  It isn’t a complete disaster though.  Air Force frequently has a lot of turnover because traditionally, there has been a reliance on seniority.  Also, because the Falcons utilize the option offense, the blocking schemes rely heavily on double team blocks and leaving other defenders unblocked so the quarterback can read and option them.  We are not concerned with the new starters, but there is an issue of depth.  None of the next five are ready to play at this level.

The rest of this offense is loaded and lethal.  Returning quarterback Tim Jefferson went 4-1 as a starter last year.  He connected on 57% of his passes with five touchdowns against two interceptions.  Jefferson connected on longer passes than the two other quarterbacks, and his ability to throw the ball downfield will open more running lanes for a great stable of back.

All the contributing ball carriers return this season.  Fullback Jared Tew and tailback Asher Clark teamed for 1,835 rushing yards and 16 scores.  Z-receiver Jonathan Warzeka added 267 yards on the ground running misdirection plays.

Kevin Fogler benefitted greatly from having Jefferson under center.  He averaged 22.7 yards per catch and scored a touchdown every fifth time he caught a pass.  Warzeka added 18 more catches.

Air Force has averaged 29 points and 380 yards per game in Calhoun’s tenure.  There is no reason to believe those stats won’t be continued again this year.

Defense: The defensive line is a cause for concern with just one of the three regulars from last year returning.  AFA is a little small at Defensive tackle in their 3-4 alignment, so opponents will be able to run the ball up the gut on them. 

The four-man linebacking crew welcomes back both of the outside defenders, Andre Morris and Wale Lawal.  The two combined for 9 ½ stops for loss, but the Falcons will have troubles replacing their two excellent inside linebackers.  John Falgout and Justin Moore finished one-two in tackles.

Only TCU has a better MWC secondary than Air Force, and the Falcons may have a better pair of cornerbacks than the Horned Frogs.  Anthony Wright and Reggie Rembert picked off 10 passes and knocked away six others.

Air Force gave up just 15.7 points and 288 yards per game in 2009.  Those numbers will go up this year.  Expect the Falcons to give up 21-24 points and 320-350 yards per game.

Schedule: The schedule gives the Falcons a leg up on competing for number two in the league.  After an easy opener with Northwestern State that should allow the new offensive line to gain confidence, AF hosts BYU.  The Cougars have run defense issues this year, and we believe Air Force will win that game.  The following week, the Falcons visit Oklahoma, who is loaded this year. 

As usual, AF plays Army and Navy, and we feel that they will win at least one of those games.  The key to the season comes in back-to-back weeks in October.  They face TCU in Ft. Worth on the 23rd, and then they host Utah a week later.  If they have anything left after the TCU loss, they could give the Utes a great game.  We feel that as the season progresses, the lack of depth in both trenches will hurt them.  Call it a repeat of 2009: 5-3 in league play and 7-5 overall before the bowl.

Team Brigham Young Cougars
               
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Provo, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 103.2
               
National Rating 50
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: 2010 will be a rebuilding season in Provo.  Brigham Young lost too much talent on this side of the ball, and there will be a substantial drop in production.  The Cougars lost a multi-year starting quarterback (Max Hall) who finished second all-time in passing yards at a school with a dozen excellent former QBs.  Also gone is the school’s career leader in rushing yards; Harvey Unga rushed for almost 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He was dismissed from school and became a supplementary NFL pick.  2009’s top receiver, tight end Dennis Pitta, is now in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens after he led the team with 62 receptions (30 more than any other player).

It could be a blessing or a curse that BYU has two quarterbacks still competing for the starting nod this close to the first game.  They have totally different styles, and according to Coach Bronco Mendenhall, neither player has separated himself from the other.  Jake Heaps is the prototypical straight drop-back passer in the Peyton Manning mode.  He has all the physical tools to be the next in a long line of great passers here.  However, he is a true freshman.  Riley Nelson is more of a scrambler who can pass well on the run.  He saw very limited action last year, but he has starting experience from his days at Utah State.

BYU has no answer at tailback with the loss of Unga.  Unga rushed the ball 208 times last year, and the top reserve ran the ball just 55 times.

Without Pitta, BYU will once again concentrate on throwing the ball to wide outs and less to tight ends.  We believe O’Neil Chambers will emerge as the breakout star of this group.  Chambers caught 32 passes last year.

The one ray of sunshine on this side of the ball is the return of four starting offensive linemen.  Tackle Matt Reynolds has first round NFL draft potential.

BYU has topped 30 points and 425 yards per game for five straight years, but this streak will more than likely end this year.  Call it 25-28 points and 380-420 total yards per game.

Defense: There is more rebuilding to do on this side of the ball than on the other side.  The Cougars lost seven of their top 11 tacklers from 2009, including six starters.  Just two of the front seven return, so BYU will have a tough time against the run and rushing the passer.  It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Cougars give up 150 points in the first four games this year (see schedule below).

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is an experienced secondary.  Three starters return including leading tackler, free safety Andrew Rich.  Rich also tied for the team lead with four interceptions.

The Cougars lost their two best pass rushers, leaving outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton as the only quality sack man.  Pendleton had three sacks and three other tackles for loss.  He is a quality pass defender in the short zones as well.

Up front in the 3-4 alignment, BYU has a decent space-occupier in nose tackle Romney Fuga.  He won’t make 50 tackles, but he will command double team blocks, giving the linebackers a chance to be heroes.

BYU may not give up too many more points this year than last, because opponents will eat the clock running the ball much better this year against them.  Expect the Cougars to yield 22-25 points and 325-350 yards per game.  However, also expect the defense to be on the field for more plays this year.

Schedule: The month of September will be a back-breaker for the defense.  BYU opens with Washington and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Jake Locker.  Then, they must travel to Air Force, where their newly rebuilt defensive front seven will struggle against the option.  A week later, they will melt in Tallahassee against Florida State.  They close out the month with Nevada coming to Lavell Edwards Stadium.  It looks like a 1-3 start for this team.  After the annual first October Friday game (precedes the Church’s National Conference) with Utah State, BYU faces three of the league’s other four expected bowl-eligible teams—San Diego State, at TCU, and Wyoming.  By this point, we expect the Cougars to be out of the conference race just trying to salvage a winning season.  November gives them a chance for three quick wins before closing the season at Utah.  We will call it a seven-win ceiling this year.  And, you can take the Las Vegas bowl off the schedule for the first time in six years.  A trip to San Diego might be a nice alternative.

Team Colorado State Rams
               
Head Coach Steve Fairchild
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Ft. Collins, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 85.8
               
National Rating 96
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: After starting the season 3-0 with wins over Colorado and Nevada, it looked like the Rams were primed to make a bid for a second consecutive bowl game.  Then, the bottom fell out.  CSU lost their final nine, including an embarrassing loss to a New Mexico team that went 1-11.  With only four starters returning on this side of the ball, don’t expect the Rams to match last year’s three-win season.  They will take a step backwards this year.

CSU lost both of their contributing quarterbacks, and the replacement will be one of two freshmen competing for the job.  There is a third quarterback on the roster that could eventually emerge as the starter sometime during the season; Junior Klay Kubiak is the son of Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak.  Klay missed all of last season with an injured shoulder that required surgery.

The quarterbacks won’t have much opportunity to star, because there is very little talent at receiver.  CSU lost its top two pass catchers, who combined for 74 receptions.  Additionally, the Rams lost three receivers since spring that were expected to contribute including a possible starter.  Expect true freshman tight end Crockett Gilmore to see immediate action.

Things look rosier at the running back position.  CSU has enough quality backs to flirt with running an old-fashioned two-back pro-set. 

Raymond Carter was a highly-touted recruit at UCLA.  He becomes eligible here this year and could supplant last year’s two-man platoon of Leonard Mason and John Mosure (a combined 1,416 rushing yards and nine scores).  Watch out for true freshman Tony Drake, who we believe could be a difference maker with his breakaway speed.  His size will keep him from being an every down back.

The offensive line lost four starters.  There is a little starting experience returning, but the Rams will field the weakest interior in the conference.

With a raw quarterback passing to inexperienced receivers and having to run for his life due to weak pass protection, expect Colorado State to struggle to score points and to turn the ball over more this season.  A negative turnover margin is a virtual given.  Look for about 14-18 points and 300 total yards from this side of the ball.

Defense: CSU had a lot more experience scheduled to return on this side of the ball, but the Rams lost both returning defensive ends (one to injury/one to academics), a defensive back expected to see a lot of time, and several reserves in the back seven.  This looks like a train wreck waiting to happen.

The one bright spot is at linebacker.  Will linebacker Mychal Sisson will compete for 1st team All-MWC honors after leading the Rams with 91 tackles, six sacks, and 9 ½ other tackles for loss.  He knocked down five passes too.  Coach Steve Fairchild welcomes back Sam linebacker Ricky Brewer who was suspended last year.

The front four will now have four new starters, and it will be the weakest in the conference.  Expect teams to run the ball at will on the Rams and exploit their lack of a pass rush with play-action passes to keep Sisson occupied.

The secondary will be overwhelmed due to the fact that there will be so little pass rush.  Free safety Elijah-Blue Smith led the Rams with three interceptions and knocked down five others, but teams will throw away from him. 

The statistic is not kept, but we have a suspicion that CSU will finish dead last number 120 in scrimmage play differential.  They were -6 last year, and they could easily be -10 to -15 this year.  Expect this defense to give up 200+ yards rushing and 200+ yards passing while surrendering 31-35 points per game.

Schedule: By the time UNLV comes to Ft. Collins for homecoming on October 16, the Rams could be 0-6 and figure to be no better than 1-5.  Outside of league play, they face Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver, play at Nevada and Miami of Ohio, and host Idaho.  They open MWC play with TCU at home and Air Force on the road.  They have two chances to win a conference game—the homecoming game with UNLV and the revenge game at home with lowly New Mexico.  We will call for a 1-7 league finish and 2-10 overall.  If Fairchild can coax four wins out of this team, he deserves a raise.

Team New Mexico Lobos
               
Head Coach Mike Locksley
               
Colors Cherry and Silver
               
City Albuquerque, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 81.3
               
National Rating 107
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: Lobo fans wanted someone else to coach this team after watching Rocky Long’s teams play conservative football and simply go to bowl game after bowl game.  So, they forced him out.  They got Mike Locksley’s new offense—the one that gained 315 total yards and scored 16 points per game.  We hope they enjoyed what they got.

Locksley may only last one more season in Albuquerque, because this year’s offense could make last year’s look like Boise State.

A true freshman will open up at quarterback.  Tarean Austin is a speedy multiple-threat player who could lead the team in rushing as well as passing.  Let’s hope he can run enough to avoid the oncoming slew of defenders shooting through the line.  Austin’s backup will be another freshmen—Darain “Stump” Godfrey.

New Mexico returns their top three running backs from last year.  None of them will be confused for DonTrell Moore.  The trio combined for 987 yards and five touchdowns last year, and with an even weaker offensive line, they may not equal that mark this season.

The receiving corps has some experience returning, but like the running game, Hank Baskett won’t be walking out on the field.  Ty Kirk led the Lobos with 36 receptions and 427 yards. 

The offensive line will struggle.  Two starters return, and there is much less experience here, but last year’s regulars were not world-beaters.  This year’s unit cannot be much worse.

Look for UNM to average about 14-18 points and 280-320 yards.   

Defense: As weak as the offense was last year, the defense was worse.  Without the defensive genius of Long, the Lobos gave up 13 more points and 83 more yards per game in 2009.  If the offense could hold onto the ball, the defense could show a little improvement this year.

The Lobos have strength in numbers up front.  Three starters return to the four-man line, including one of UNM’s two potential 1st Team All-MWC performers.  End Johnathan Rainey finished second in the league (to the great Jerry Hughes) in sacks with 9 ½.  He added six more tackles for loss for good measure.  When he was busy dealing with double teams, counterpart Jaymar Latchison found time to pick up 4 ½ sacks and four other tackles for loss.

The other potential 1st Team All-MWC performer would be repeating that feat if he made it again this year.  Middle linebacker Carmen Messina led the country with 162 tackles and eight for loss.  He will have two new partners on either side of him.

The secondary gave up 254 yards per game and 63% completions last year, even with the great press rush.  The Lobos need to find two new safeties.  Both cornerbacks return, but they were the two weakest corner starters in the league.

The defense will be a little more talented, but it may not show in the stats.  Because opponents emptied the bench early in five of their games last year, and New Mexico figures to be in these games a little longer this year, expect opponents to leave their starting offense in deeper into the game.  The result—opponents will still score a lot of points.  Expect 31-35 points and 400-425 yards allowed once again.

Schedule: The Lobos have a chance in two of their non-conference games, and we think they will win one of the two.  Expect an 0-2 start with a road game against Oregon and a home game with Texas Tech.  After losing at home to Utah and on the road at UNLV, the Lobos get UTEP at home and travel to New Mexico State.  If they are 0-6 at this point, then they will end up 0-12.  We believe they will be lucky once and finish 1-11 again this year.  Locksley won’t be so lucky.

Team San Diego State Aztecs
               
Head Coach Brady Hoke
               
Colors Scarlet and Black
               
City San Diego, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 92.8
               
National Rating 80
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Second year head coach Brady Hoke has the Aztecs on the right path, and he could soon replicate here what he did at Ball State.  Hoke’s 2010 Aztecs are going to be much improved on this side of the ball, and with a little bit of help from the other side of the ball, San Diego State could be playing a 13th game in December.

Look for SDSU to move to a two-back pro-set and use the West Coast Offense this year.  The Aztecs are stocked anew in the backfield, and they will force defenses to stop the run first.  Brandon Sullivan moves from tailback to fullback after leading the team in rushing in 2009.  Last year’s number two rusher, Walter Kazee, may have trouble getting on the field this year.  Two outstanding freshmen may get most of the reps at halfback.  Ronnie Hillman is a blazing runner who can take a simple pitch and turn it into a long gain.  Ezell Ruffin moves to halfback from wide receiver in high school.  He is almost as speedy as Hillman, but at 205 pounds, he packs some brute force punch in his game.  The Aztecs could double their running production after rushing for less than 80 yards per game.

If the running game takes some heat off the passing game, then SDSU will have a potent attack.  Quarterback Ryan Lindley could challenge for 1st Team All-MWC accolades.  With very little running game to supplement last year’s offense, Lindley passed for 3,054 yards and 23 touchdowns.  If he can cut down on his 16 interceptions of a year ago, he could challenge Andy Dalton for top honors in the league.

Lindley has a surplus of talent at receiver where two fine wide outs return.  DeMarco Sampson caught 62 passes for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, while speedy Vincent Brown added 45 receptions for 778 yards (17.3 avg.) and six scores.  There is depth behind these two.  For a West Coast offense to click, the tight end must be a pass catching weapon, and Alston Umuolo is that.  He grabbed 22 throws a year ago, and that number will improve to 30+ this year.

SDSU’s offensive line welcomes back four starters, and the new starter is a quality junior college transfer.  Expect much improved numbers in the running game and better protection for Lindley.

We believe San Diego State can improve from 23 to 28-31 points per game this season and from 342 to 375-400 yards of offense.

Defense: New Mexico’s loss was the Aztecs’ gain.  Rocky Long took over as defensive coordinator last year, and SDSU improved on defense by almost as many points and yards as New Mexico worsened.  With the entire three-man line returning up front, look for improved play against the run and a better pass rush.

Neither B J Williams nor Ernie Lawson proved to be a dominant pass rushing end last year, but with a better secondary this year, quarterbacks could be forced to hold onto the pigskin a bit longer.  Expect their sacks totals to rise.

The one suspect part of this defense is at linebacker, where two of last year’s three starters are gone and one other linebacker has been moved back one level. 

The back line of the 3-3-5 defense is loaded with talent and experience.  The aforementioned player that moved from linebacker is Andrew Preston.  He will man the “Aztec” position, a third safety that plays closer to the ball than a regular safety.  Preston played enough last year to record 46 tackles with four for loss. 

Expect more defensive improvement in the stat sheet this year.  We anticipate this team giving up 22-26 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: San Diego State scheduled well this year.  They should win three non-conference games, and they could stay surprisingly close in the one they lose.  Nicholls State will provide SDSU with an excellent chance to work out the kinks in game one.  A trip to New Mexico State should move the Aztecs to 2-0.  The following week, they could put a scare in Missouri at Columbia, but we expect them to lose by less than two touchdowns.  A home game with Utah State should give them a third win before MWC play begins.

The Aztecs host Air Force, Colorado State, Utah, and UNLV, while they go to BYU, New Mexico, Wyoming, and TCU.  They could be as good as 6-2 in the league or as bad as 3-5.  We’ll call for them to go 4-4, which will make them bowl-bound for the first time since 1998.

Team T C U  Horned Frogs
               
Head Coach Gary Patterson
               
Colors Purple and White
               
City Ft. Worth, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1
               
PiRate Rating 124.1
               
National Rating 6
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Nine starters return to an offense that amassed 38.3 points and 457 yards per game last year.  That offense was quite balanced, churning out 240 rushing and 217 passing yards.  TCU will be virtually unstoppable on this side of the ball this year, and it wouldn’t surprise us any if the Horned Frogs challenged for 45-50 points and 500+ yards per game!

It all starts with the league’s top quarterback.  Andy Dalton will compete for the Heisman Trophy in his senior year.  As a junior, Dalton completed 61.6% of his passes for 2,756 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 512 (600+ without the sacks) yards and three more scores.

The leading rusher from last year has graduated, but TCU uses a running back-by-committee approach, and the Horned Frogs return several quality backs this year.  Expect another season of 200+ yards per game running, maybe as much as 275.

The receiving corps is downright scary and could be as good as Houston’s group of stars.  The top four receivers are back.  Jermey Kerly led with 44 catches and 532 yards.  Jimmy Young had 33 receptions for 517 yards.  Antoine Hicks caught just 23 passes, but he averaged an eye-popping 20.8 yards per catch with six scores.  Bart Johnson caught 33 more.  To this fine quartet, add two exceptionally talented youngsters.  Redshirt freshman Josh Boyce and sophomore Skye Dawson will see considerable playing time, and it wouldn’t surprise us if both finished with more than 25 receptions.  Dawson is even faster than Hicks and can turn a line of scrimmage bullet into a 75-yard touchdown.

Throw in the best offensive line in the league and possibly one of the five best in the nation, and you have an offense that will move the ball in every game.  Tackle Marcus Cannon has first round NFL draft potential.  Center Jake Kirkpatrick should make it to a pro roster next year as well (assuming there is a next year in the NFL).

The only drawback in trying to predict the points and yardage for this team is determining how often the bench warmers will be playing for long stretches in their games.  We’ll go with 42+ points and 500+ yards per game.

Defense: Here is the even scarier news: TCU’s defense is even better than their offense.  There is no weakness anywhere on this side.  All three units rank among the best in the nation.  Coach Gary Patterson’s Frogs have given up 12.3, 18.7, 11.3, and 12.8 points in the last four seasons, and it is not impossible for this year’s team to give up single digits in points per game.  The Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense last year by holding teams to 80 yards rushing and 159 yards passing. 

TCU utilizes a 4-2-5 defense, and they have both quality and depth at every position.  Up front, three starters return including two all-conference performers, tackle Cory Grant and end Wayne Daniels.  Even with the loss of All-American Jerry Hughes, this team won’t miss a beat.  His replacement, either Braylon Broughton or Stansly Maponga, will not record 11 ½ sacks, but the other three starters will make up for that lost amount.

The linebacking duo features 1st Team All-MWC Tank Carder.  Carder is one of the best all-around linebackers in college football.  In 2009, he made 89 tackles with 10 for loss.  In pass coverage, he batted away 10 passes and picked off one.  Look for him to compete for a spot on the All-American team this season.

The back five feature a trio of great safeties, but it is the two new cornerbacks that could be the best defenders in the secondary.  Greg McCoy and Jason Teague saw a lot of action last year and combined for four interceptions and seven knocked down passes.

It is tough to improve on number one, but TCU can get better statistically on this side of the ball.  We are going to guess they will give up 10-12 points and 185-225 yards per game.  They could lead the nation in both categories.

Schedule: TCU opens with Oregon State on September 4 at the Cowboys’ Stadium in nearby Arlington.  The Beavers are good and could contend for a Rose Bowl berth, but they are usually a slow-starting team.  We believe TCU will win this game by double digits and continue to roll from there.  They could lead Tennessee Tech by 50 points before halftime.  Game three at home with Baylor will be interesting, and the Bears will be pumped for this game, but the Horned Frogs should score a 17 or more point win.  Game four at SMU comes on a Friday night, and the battle for the Iron Skillet will be heated.  The Mustangs need a little more defense before they can make a game of it with TCU.  The only conference team that could give them a scare is Utah.  The game comes November 6, and it will be at Salt Lake City.  We expect the Horned Frogs to win convincingly in a game that should be on national TV, and it just could propel them into one of the top two spots in the BCS.

We believe there is an outside chance that TCU and Boise State could hook up for a bowl rubber match.  Two years ago, it was the Poinsettia Bowl, and TCU won 17-16.  Last year, it was the Fiesta Bowl, and Boise State exacted revenge with a 17-10 win.  This year, both could return to Glendale, but this one would be for all the marbles.  The SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten champions must all lose one game after October 1 for this to happen, but if it does, it should be the most talked about national championship game in decades.  It could do for the NCAA what the New York Jets’ Super Bowl victory over Baltimore did for the NFL.

Team U N L V  Rebels
               
Head Coach Bobby Hauck
               
Colors Scarlet and Gray
               
City Las Vegas, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 94.1
               
National Rating 78
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-8

 

Offense: New head coach Bobby Hauck comes to Las Vegas from Montana, where he guided the Grizzlies to the FCS Championship Game three times.  His arrival in Vegas comes at the right time, because former coach Mike Sanford left him a full cupboard on this side of the ball.

UNLV will transition from a shotgun spread offense to an old-fashioned quarterback under center offense.  Senior quarterback Omar Clayton, a former walk-on, comes back for his third season as starter after topping 60% in completions last year.  We believe he will improve his yards per attempt and cut down on interceptions this year.  Backup Mike Clausen saw a lot of action last year, as he is a better runner than Clayton.  Clausen suffered an ankle injury in early fall practice, but he should be okay for the season.

The Rebels had three productive receivers last year, and two of them return this season.  Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson teamed for 101 catches and eight scores.

UNLV returns the two running backs that saw most of the game action last year.  While neither is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, C J Cox  and Channing Trotter will get the tough yards—three yards on third and two.  Redshirt freshman Bradley Randle is more of an outside threat, and we believe he will become part of the rotation this year.

Four starters return to the offensive line.  The tackles, Matt Murphy and Evan Marchal, rank near the top in the league.

Hauk’s first Vegas attack should average 25-28 points and 360-380 yards per game.  If the Rebels can cut down on turnovers, they could surprise a few teams.

Defense: This is the reason Mike Sanford was let go.  He could never mold together a decent defense, as UNLV gave up more than 32 points per game the last two seasons, while falling one win short of bowl eligibility both times.

The Rebels will be more of an attacking defense this year.  They may give up an occasional big play, but they should force more turnovers as well.  Six of the two-deep from the defensive line return this season.  Tackle Ramsey Feagai tips the scale at 350 pounds!  He won’t get to the quarterback, but he should plug the inside just by holding his ground.  His counterpart at the other tackle is “puny 300-pounder”  Isaako Aaitui.  Opponents will not run many line plunges between their tackles, but the Rebels will continue to search for pass rushing answers, and they will probably resort to a lot of blitzing on passing downs.

Two linebackers return to the starting lineup, and they could finish one-two in tackles this year.  Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo teamed up for 126 stops a year ago.

The secondary is the strength of this unit.  All four starters come back for another season, and they absolutely must improve on last year’s poor showing when they gave up 236 yards and 65% completions.  They combined for just two interceptions.

Expect immediate improvement in this defense, especially in yards allowed.  We’re looking for the Rebels to give up 25-30 points and 380-420 yards.

Schedule: If they had a couple more patsies, we might be inclined to call UNLV a sleeper team.  The out-of-conference schedule is too difficult.  The Rebels host Wisconsin and Nevada and play at Idaho, West Virginia, and Hawaii.  They should be 2-3, 3-2 at best.  They are better than Colorado State and New Mexico and should win those two games.  We think they could pull one upset, maybe over Wyoming or Air Force and finish with five wins for the third consecutive season.

Team Utah Utes
               
Head Coach Kyle Whittingham
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Salt Lake City, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 104.0
               
National Rating 47
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: This will be Utah’s last year in the Mountain West, as they move to the Pac-12 next year.  They should go out with a bang and not a whimper thanks to a strong offense.

Coach Kyle Whittingham welcomes back two experienced quarterbacks this season.  Jordan Wynn will get the nod over Terrance Cain.  Wynn started the final five games of the year, and Utah averaged 34 points in those games. 

Wynn lost his top receiver, David Reed and his 81 receptions for 1,188 yards.  Jereme Brooks caught 56 passes and led with seven touchdowns, while earning 2nd Team All-MWC last year. 

The running game will be special this season with the return of Eddie Wide.  Wide rushed for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning 1st Team all-league honors.

Like several of the other top teams in this league, the Utes have a talented and experienced offensive line returning.  Four starters are back including two who made all-conference.  Center Zane Taylor and guard Calb Schlauderaff will hear their names called early in the next NFL draft.

Utah averaged 30 points per game for the season, and we expect that number to top 35 this year.  We also expect total yards to top 400.

Defense: Here is the reason Utah will not give TCU a serious challenge for the title.  The Utes regressed on this side of the ball last year, and they don’t look any better this year.  In fact, we expect them to be even more generous with the loss of their top four tacklers.

Three of four defensive line starters are back.  Tackle Sealver Siliga had 49 tackles with 6 ½ for loss, while getting his hand on four passes.

The linebacking corps has been decimated by graduation.  Rover J J Williams had one start last year and made 20 tackles.  Keep an eye on true freshman V. J. Fehoko, who could emerge as a starter at some point in the season.  He is one of the highest-rated recruits Utah has had.

The secondary has just one starter returning, and that is lightning fast cornerback Brandon Burton.  Burton knocked down 10 passes and intercepted one other last year.  Justin Taplin-Ross saw considerable action at strong safety last year, but he has been shifted to free safety.

Utah will surrender 20-24 points and give up 320-340 yards per game this year, and that will be just enough to keep them from competing with TCU. 

Schedule: Utah opens the season with Big East runner-up Pittsburgh on a Thursday night at Eccles Stadium.  Other non-conference games include road games at Iowa State and Notre Dame and a home game with San Jose State.  The Utes could win all four games, which would help TCU’s strength of schedule when the Frogs come to SLC.  Utah could also lose three of those four and struggle to reach eight wins in their final go around in the conference.  We will call for a 2-2 non-conference record and 6-2 league mark.

Team Wyoming Cowboys
               
Head Coach Dave Christensen
               
Colors Brown and Prairie Gold
               
City Laramie, WY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 95.6
               
National Rating 71
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Dave Christensen inherited a veteran club from Joe Glenn and guided the Cowboys to a 7-6 record and bowl win in his first season in Laramie.  His second team should be as good as his first, and his second attack squad should be better.

Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors last year.  He completed 59% of his passes for more than 1,950 yards and ran for more than 600 yards when you factor out almost three dozen sacks.  His specialty was pulling victory out in the last minutes of games.  Christensen developed Chase Daniel at Missouri, and he Carta-Samuels should rapidly improve in his second season.

The Cowboys had one great receiver and six average ones last year.  Fortunately, the great one returns for his senior year.  David Leonard grabbed 77 passes last year, many of them in tight quarters, as Wyoming was a five yards and cloud of dust passing team.

The running attack had a freshman leading the way in 2009, as Alvester Alexander ran for 640 yards and seven scores. 

The offensive line lost two seasoned veteran starters last year, but two of the three returnees could earn postseason honors.  Guard Sam Sterner is the second or third best in the league at his position, while tackle Clayton Kirven could sneak onto the All-MWC team.

The Cowboys should top 20 points per game for the first time in four years and 325+ yards per game for the first time in five years.

Defense: Seven of the team’s top eight tacklers return this year, so Wyoming’s defense should improve more than the offense.  The strength on this side is the secondary, where all four starters return.  The quartet of Marcell and Tashaun Gipson at cornerback and Shamiel Gary and Chris Prosinski at safety combined for six interceptions and 22 passes broken up.  Prosinski led the Cowboys with 140 tackles, and I am sure Christensen would prefer he wouldn’t have to make so many this season.

Christensen has made a courageous move up front.  Because all three defensive linemen graduated, he took his two outside linebackers and moved them to end and switched to a 4-3.  Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns recorded 193 tackles with 14 recorded for lost yardage. 

Middle linebacker Brian Hendricks becomes the lone holdover in the second line with the moving forward of his two comrades.  Hendricks made 116 stops last year.  Ghaali Muhammad made 21 tackles in a reserve role last year and will start at one linebacker spot.  The other will probably go to Keith Lewis, who has three years of reserve experience.  Freshman Devyn Harris could see as much time at that spot.

Look for a little more consistency out of the Wyoming defense this year.  We believe they will give up around 25-27 points and 375-400 yards again this season, but they play a tougher schedule.

Schedule: The Cowboys face three teams that went undefeated in the regular season last year—Boise State at home and Texas and TCU on the road.  Other non-league games include Southern Utah at home and Toledo on the road.  The key to the season are the two games that come after Texas and Boise State and precede TCU.  Wyoming hosts Air Force on September 25 and goes to Toledo the next week.  They must win both of these games and sit at 3-2 at this point in order to get to six wins.  We believe they can do it.  Their two new defensive ends with past linebacker experience just may be able to shut down the option game, and their improving offense should be able to score enough points at the Glass Bowl.

Coming Tomorrow: We begin breaking down the BCS conferences.  First up: The Big East Conference—Five teams have a shot at the conference title.

August 14, 2010

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

No team has dominated a conference for an entire decade the way Boise State has dominated the WAC since Alabama toyed with the SEC for 10 years after Bear Bryant went to the wishbone.  The Broncos last eight years in conference play have produced a league mark of 62-2!  Things will change next year, when BSU moves to the Mountain West.  It appears impossible for the Broncos to top last year’s 14-0 record, but this year’s team might be considerably stronger.

Nevada is the clear-cut second best team, and Fresno State is the clear-cut third best team.  After those two, there are three teams that are equally mediocre and three teams that will be fodder for the top six.  With Boise primed to make a run for a National Championship, there is a legitimate possibility that there will not be enough bowl eligible teams for the allotted bowl spots.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team WAC Overall
1 Boise State 8-0 12-0
2 Nevada 7-1 10-3
3 Fresno State 6-2 9-3
4 Utah State 4-4 5-7
5 Hawaii 4-4 6-7
6 Louisiana Tech 4-4 5-7
7 Idaho 2-6 3-10
8 New Mexico State 1-7 2-10
9 San Jose State 0-8 2-11

 

BCS Bowl: Boise State (possible National Championship Game)

Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Nevada

Hawaii Bowl: Will need an at-large team

New Mexico Bowl: Will need and at-large team

 

Hawaii is guaranteed a spot in the Hawaii Bowl if they have seven or more wins.  If not, this bowl gets the third choice after the Humanitarian and Kraft Bowls select.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Boise State Broncos
               
Head Coach Chris Petersen
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Boise, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 121.7
               
National Rating 8
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Better?  You betcha.  The Broncos return 10 starters on this side of the ball as well as every player that ran the ball and every receiver that caught a pass!

Let’s start with the nation’s number two quarterback in passing efficiency in 2009, trailing only some guy named Tebow.  Kellen Moore made 3rd Team All-American last year, and he could move up two spots if his team runs the table this year.  We expect him to be making a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan in December.  Moore completed 64.3% of his passes for 3,536 yards.  His TD/Int ration was an astonishing 39/3.  He was a down-the-field passer, so those stats were not inflated by having some speedster frequently turning a two-yard pass into a 65-yard touchdown.

Moore’s only problem may be trying to decide which open receiver to throw the ball.  His top two options are 2009 1st Team All-WAC Austin Pettus and Titus Young.  Those two combined for 142 receptions and 24 touchdowns.  Tyler Shoemaker is the bruiser of this group, and he can go across the middle and make the tough catch in a sea of defenders.

When Boise runs the ball, they will have a trio of special backs toting the pigskin.  Jeremy Avery ran for more than 1,150 yards, and Doug Martin added 765.  Martin led the ground contingent with 15 touchdowns.  Third back D. J. Harper accounted for just 285 yards, but he is the best breakaway threat of the three.  He averaged 6.5 yards per rush a year ago.

The offensive line returns four starters a year after allowing just five QB sacks, only three after the first game.  The entire second team has some starting experience, so Coach Chris Petersen can feel confident relieving his starters for a series.

Boise State averaged 42.2 points and 450 total yards last year, and those numbers should be eclipsed by this veteran squad.  Look for 45-50 points and 450-475 yards per game this season.

Defense: Now the bad news: Uh, the only bad news is for the rest of the league, because Boise State will be more improved on this side of the ball than on offense!

The Broncos gave up 17 points and 300 yards per game last year, and 10 starters also return on this side of the ball.  Almost the entire second team returns as well, and it would not surprise us to see BSU finish in the top five in both total offense and total defense.  We’re talking 1997 Nebraska-type dominance if that happens.

If there is a liability of any kind with this defense, it is at linebacker.  Boise uses a 4-2-5 defense, and the two linebackers get lost among all the stars on the stop side.  Aaron Tevis and Daron Mackey combined for just 90 stops a year ago, and they were merely above-average players in the WAC.

In the trenches, the Broncos can rely on four experienced upperclassmen, including a sure future NFL (assuming the NFL plays in 2011 or 2012) end.  Ryan Winterswyk made 17 tackles on the other team’s side of the line—nine sacks and eight tackles of runners.  Tackle Billy Wynn is just as potent at causing teams to lose yardage.

The secondary is even stronger this year.  Nickel back Winston Venable is a monster against both the run and the pass, and when he is on the field, opposing teams may think there is more than one #17 running around.  Cornerback Brandyn Thompson and strong safety Jeron Johnson should both make 1st Team All-WAC after teaming for 10 interceptions last year.

Schedule: It all comes down to the first game of the season.  Boise travels over 2,000 miles across two time zones to face Virginia Tech at the Washington Redskins’ stadium on Monday night, September 6.  The Broncos proved they could beat a BCS conference champion last year when they completely shut down Oregon in the opener.  That game was at home.  If the Broncos beat the Hokies, we don’t see anybody else threatening them.  A home game with Oregon State and a road game against Nevada might be the only other games where they cannot win by three touchdowns or more.  It will be either 1-0 on the way to 12-0 or 0-1 on the way to maybe 10-2.  At 12-0, they would be riding a 26-game winning streak and deserve to go to Glendale, Arizona, on January 10.

Team Fresno State Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Pat Hill
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fresno, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 99.6
               
National Rating 60
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Fresno State has always fielded exciting, well-balanced offenses under Coach Pat Hill.  This year will be no different.  The Bulldogs may have lost their top player on this side of the ball, but they return eight starters and should have another successful season moving the ball.

It will be hard to replace running back Ryan Mathews after he led the league with more than 1,800 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.  We expect Robbie Rouse to step in and rush for 1,000+ yards in his first year as a starter.  He showed flashes of brilliance last year in a backup role.

In a league of outstanding quarterbacks, Ryan Colburn rarely gets a mention in the press outside of Fresno.  Colburn is a capable, but not flashy passer.  He completed 61% of his tosses for 2,459 yards last year, but he needs to cut down on his 3.7% interception rate.

The Bulldogs lost three of their top four receivers, but there is good talent left.  Jamel Hamler and Devon Wylie can turn a short pass into a long gain.

The offensive line welcomes back all five starters.  This unit could be a little better than Boise State’s interior line.  Best among this quintet are center Joe Bernardi and tackle Kenny Wiggins, two seniors that should have a chance to play professionally (maybe in Canada).

Fresno State may take a small step backward on this side of the ball, but the Bulldogs will still be an offensive threat in every game.  Look for about 28 points and 400 yards per game.

Defense: FSU surrendered 214 rushing and 200 passing yards last year, and we see that problem continuing in 2010.  The Bulldogs return the majority of their contributors from 2009, but we see only three really good players on this side of the ball.

One of those three is end Chris Carter.  The 1st Team All-WAC performer accounted for almost half of the team’s sacks (5 out of FSU’s poor 11) and added eight other tackles for loss.  He’s the only star player in the trenches, and he will see double teams on most plays this year.  The Bulldogs gave up a profane six yards per rush last year, so teams will run the ball at them until they can prove they can slow it down.

The second line of defense is much better than the first and considerably better than the unit behind them.  Linebacker Ben Jacobs led FSU with 106 tackles last year, but too many were five or more yards down the field.  Neither he, nor outside linebacker Kyle Knox recorded a sack.

The secondary is pedestrian, but it was hard to cover the WAC’s receivers when there was no pass rush.  Strong safety Lorne Bell earned 2nd Team All-WAC honors, but he is better in run support than in pass coverage.

Fresno State will give up a lot of points again this season, and it will prevent the Bulldogs from contending with the big two in the league.  Look for 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed—about the same as last year.

Schedule: Outside of the WAC, Fresno plays its usual contingent of BCS schools.  This year, they host Cincinnati and Illinois and visit Ole Miss.  They get a breather with FCS member Cal Poly.  Boise State is a road game, and they have no chance in that one.  They get Nevada at home and could sneak up on the Wolf Pack.  6-2 in the league is a strong possibility, and we believe the Bulldogs can upend two of the three BCS conference teams they play.  Call it nine wins and a bowl in 2010.

Team Hawaii Warriors
               
Head Coach Greg McMackin
               
Colors Green, Black, and White
               
City Honolulu, HI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 85.0
               
National Rating 97
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-7

 

Offense: Hawaii has once again become a great vacation trip for BCS schools.  Since June Jones left for SMU three years ago, the Warriors have fallen on hard times.  The UH offense went from a 40+ per game juggernaut to a 20-point per game patsy.

Don’t look for any improvement on this side of the ball in 2010.  Coach Greg McMackin has too many holes to fill to expect a better showing.  In fact, things could get worse.  Only five starters return, but only one of them is from the offensive line.  Tackles Austin Hansen and Laupepa Letuli give the Warrior a good couple of anchors.

Quarterback Brian Moniz returns to pilot the attack after starting eight times last year.  He is a good runner as well as passer, but he won’t be confused with Colin Kaepernick.

Moniz will benefit from the return of receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.  The two combined for 172 receptions and 2,280 yards.  Speedy Rodney Bradley gives Moniz a third good option.

The running game has not been much of a factor in recent years.  As long as the back in the game can block for the quarterback, run a good safety valve route and cut on a draw play, he has done his job.  Alex Green should fit the bill nicely, and he should catch 25-30 passes this year.

With the troubles up front, we just cannot see Hawaii topping 24 points per game this season.  Look for 21-24 points and 375-400 yards.  The Warriors turned the ball over a lot last year, and that trend may continue in 2010. 

Defense: There should be improvement on this side of the ball, but it may not show up that much in the stats.  If the offense gives up the ball quickly due to incompetence, the defense will stay on the field longer.

Seven starters return on this side of the ball, but the top two tacklers from a year ago are gone.  One area that should not be a problem is the secondary.  All four starters return after giving up just 203 passing yards per game (low for this league).  All four (corners Jeramy Bryant and Lametrius Davis and safeties Mana Silva and Spencer Smith) proved to be excellent pass defenders, combining for 10 interceptions and 24 passes batted away.

The front seven is more of a problem.  Hawaii did a poor job against the run last year, and it could continue this season.  Two starters must be replaced up front, and two starters must be replaced at linebacker.  None of this year’s front seven will contend for even honorable mention all-conference.

Hawaii will give up 30-35 points and 400-425 yards per game.  

Schedule: The opener should draw a lot of national attention.  UH entertains bad boy Lane Kiffin and his Southern Cal Trojans on Thursday night, September 2.  They follow it up with a trips to West Point to face Army on 9/11 and to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on 9/18.  It could actually be snowing in the Front Range on that date.  The Warriors return home to face Charleston Southern, which should be their first win.  UH concludes the season with UNLV.  The Rebels could possibly be playing for bowl eligibility in that game.  In league play, UH has road games with Fresno State and Boise State and will come home with their tails beneath their legs. 

We believe the Warriors will break even in league play, but they will fall one game short of bowl eligibility again.

Team Idaho Vandals
               
Head Coach Robb Akey
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Moscow, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 90.3
               
National Rating 88
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-10

 

Offense: 2009 was one of those years when the stars aligned just right for Coach Robb Akey’s Vandals.  Idaho won five close games, including a 43-42 Humanitarian Bowl thriller over Bowling Green, on its way to its first winning season of the century.  With the graduation of most of their offensive line, their top running back, and their top receiver, it looks like the one year recovery will be an anomaly. 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is the return of quarterback Nathan Enderle.  After the big two, he may be the third best QB in the WAC.  Last year, he passed for 2,906 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Enderle’s top target has graduated, and Max Komar was vital to this team’s success.  Maurice Shaw returns after averaging more than 20 yards on his 32 receptions.  He should form a solid trio with Preston Davis and tight end Daniel Hardy, but Komar will be sorely missed.

Idaho used a platoon at tailback, and two of the three principle members of that platoon return.  Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson combined for 1,108 yards, so the Vandals’ running game is in good hands this year.

Because the rebuilding blocking wall will be a liability this year, expect both the rushing and passing yardage to fall back in 2010.  Call it about 23-26 points and 380-420 yards per game.  

Defense: Idaho didn’t win because of great defensive play in 2009.  They gave up 36 points and 433 yards per game!  With 10 starters returning, there should be some improvement, but we don’t see enough improvement to justify picking Idaho to return to a bowl.

The entire front seven returns intact.  They were not particularly strong against the run or the pass.  While the Vandals gave up just a tad over 150 rushing yards per game, opponents averaged 4.7 yards per rush.  They were too busy picking the secondary to shreds to run the ball much more than 30 times per game.

The strength of the front seven is on the outside where end Aaron Lavarais and outside linebacker Jo Jo Dickson will contend for all-conference honors.

The secondary will not fare much better than their dismal performance last year after giving up 278 passing yards per game and allowing better than 66% completions.  Without a much better pass rush, look for the Vandals to maybe give up 300 yards per game through the air.

Idaho will once again give up 30+ points per game, but maybe it will be less than last year’s 36.  Let’s go with 32-35 points and 425-450 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Vandals should start off the season on a winning note when they open with North Dakota at home.  Then, they must play at Nebraska, where they could lose by six touchdowns.  A home game with UNLV should tell the fans whether they have any reason to remain optimistic, and we believe the Rebels will leave Moscow with a win.  A trip to Colorado State the following week will either put the nail in the coffin for the 2010 season or give the Vandal hope.  The Rams will treat that game as a must-win contest.  A final non-conference game at Western Michigan won’t give them a win.  Idaho hosts both Nevada and Boise State, which should be considered a curse this year.  They cannot compete with either, and it would be better for the Vandals to have two other home games.  At least, UI gets New Mexico State and San Jose State at home—those are their two conference wins for 2010.

Team Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
               
Colors Red and Blue
               
City Ruston, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 66
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: After half of the coaches in FBS football turned down the Tennessee job last year, Tech coach Derek Dooley took the job.  Welcome new coach Sonny Dykes.  Dykes turned around the Arizona Wildcats’ offense after learning the “Air Raid” Spread offense at Texas Tech under Mike Leach.  Expect a complete overhaul of the offense this year, as the Bulldogs return to a wide open offense like teams of yesteryear in Ruston.

Unfortunately, Tech won’t have Tim Rattay, Luke McCown, or Terry Bradshaw lining up at quarterback.  Actually, neither Dooley nor offensive coordinator Tony Franklin know who will be lining up at quarterback in the opener.  As August practices began, it was a four-way race between incumbent Ross Jenkins, Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger, last year’s backup Colby Cameron, and junior college transfer Tarik Hakim.  Whoever wins the battle will be throwing the ball anywhere from 40 to 60 times a game.

Tech has a fine stable of pass receivers thanks to the school that stole their prior coach.  Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige left Orangeville last year to escape the tornado known as Lane Kiffin.  Paige will join holdovers Cruz Williams and Phillip Livas to form a solid first team.  In this offense, expect at least five other receivers to catch more than 25 passes. 

Another escapee from the Kiffin asylum is tailback Lennon Creer.  We expect Creer to step in and start from day one, but the Bulldogs backs will not match the production of graduated star Daniel Porter.

The offensive line returns four starters, but there could be some rough times in the transition from a predominantly running attack to an offense that will pass the ball at least 60% of the time and as much as 80-85% of the time.

LT averaged 29 points per game last year, and we think the Bulldogs will shatter that mark this season.  Look for 31-35 points and 400-425 yards per game in year one of the “air raid.”

Defense: This is the reason Dykes won’t turn things around in year one.  Tech gave up 26 points per game last year, and the defense is noticeably weaker this season.

The problems start up front where only one starter returns to the four-man trench.  Included in the graduation losses was two-time All-WAC star D’Anthony Smith.

The three-man linebacking corps returns two starters, including 2009 1st Team All-WAC Mike linebacker Adrien Cole.  Cole led the Techsters with 93 tackles last year.

The secondary is better than average and returns three starters, but they may have trouble matching last year’s numbers due to the weaker pass rush. 

We expect LT to give up more than 28 points and maybe as much as 33 points per game to go along with 375-400 yards per game.

Schedule: Finally it will happen!  Louisiana Tech will play Grambling for the first time ever to kick off the 2010 season.  The schools are within walking distance, but they have been separated by mountains of Southern philosophical opinion for years.  It should be an interesting game, but any chance for Grambling to pull off the upset disappeared when they weren’t able to gain approval for a medical hardship redshirt for their starting quarterback.  Tech will be 1-0 when they venture to Aggieland to take on Texas A&M, and that game should be a shootout.  Ditto the following two weeks’ games with Navy and Southern Miss.  When Tech enters WAC play, they may be just 1-3, but they could be averaging 40 points per game.  We see them splitting their league games, coming up one win short of bowl eligibility.

Team Nevada Wolf Pack
               
Head Coach Chris Ault
               
Colors Blue and Silver
               
City Reno, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.6
               
National Rating 51
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: Coaltown, Alydar, Sham, the 1961 Detroit Tigers, the 1962 Detroit Lions—what do these have in common?  Coaltown, Alydar, and Sham were great horses that might have won the Triple Crown in their three-year old campaigns, but they happened to race against Citation, Affirmed, and Secretariat.  The 1961 Tigers won more than 100 games and was probably better than the 1968 World Champions.  The 1962 Lions were probably the best ever in the Motor City.  Those Tigers played second fiddle to the Maris and Mantle Yankees.  Those Lions played second fiddle to the greatest NFL team in history—the 1962 Green Bay Packers.

Nevada is this year’s Coaltown.  The Wolf Pack is clearly the second best team in the WAC and one of the best teams in WAC history (in the current alignment) not wearing an orange and blue uniform.

Coach Chris Ault’s team ran the pistol offense to near perfection a year ago.  Nevada outpaced Georgia Tech and the three service academies that run triple option and averaged a nation’s best 345 yards rushing per game.  They had three players top 1,000 rushing yards.  Not even the great Oklahoma teams of the 1970’s that rushed for more than 400 yards a game had such a trio.

Two of those three stars return this season.  One is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  He rushed for almost 1,200 yards (actually well over 1,300 when you factor out sacks) and 16 touchdowns.  He tossed another 20 touchdown passes on his way to 2,052 yards passing.

Joining Kaepernick in the pistol backfield will be Vai Taua, the other 1,000 yard back.  He totaled 1,345 yards with 10 touchdowns.  Backup Mike Ball will take over as the number two running back.  He averaged almost 10 yards per try in limited action last year, so he could replace Luke Lippincott as the third 1,000-yard rusher this year.

The receiving corps isn’t exactly chopped liver.  The four main receivers return after combining for 130 receptions and 14 touchdowns.  Brandon Wimberly was the WAC Freshman of the Year after grabbing 53 passes for 733 yards.

The offensive line lost two All-WAC performer, but we think this unit will be close to last year’s unit in blocking ability. 

Unless one of the option teams has an incredible season, there is no reason not to believe that Nevada will top the rushing charts again this season.  Look for another 325-350 effort on the ground with an additional 175-200 yards through the air.  The Wolf Pack should top 40 points per game after threatening that mark the last two seasons.

Defense: This side of the ball is missing just enough to prevent Nevada from competing with Boise State for the title.  As it is, the Wolf Pack is still the second best team by far.  Three of the top four tacklers must be replaced, so it is likely that Nevada will have to outscore opponents this season.

Up front, one of the returning starters is end Dontay Moch, who earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.  Moch registered 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including  6 ½ sacks.  At 6-1, he may be on the small side to be a star at the next level.

Brandon Marshall gives Nevada an outstanding strong-side linebacker.  Marshall dumped defenders for loss 9 ½ times in 2009, and he batted away four passes as well.

It is the secondary where Nevada cannot stop Boise State and thus cannot win the WAC this year.  The ‘Pack surrendered almost 300 yards through the air and 61.5% completions in 2009, and no starter had more than one interception.  Former Utah quarterback Corbin Louks has been brought to Reno to anchor the secondary at free safety. 

Nevada will once again give up more than four touchdowns per game.  Look for about 30 points and 425 yards allowed per contest.

Schedule: Nevada gets two breathers to open the season.  They host Eastern Washington and Colorado State.  A third consecutive home game against California could give the Wolf Pack a good chance to pull off the minor upset and crack the polls.  The following week finds them venturing to BYU for a potentially great shootout.  A week later, Nevada plays at UNLV.  They could be 5-0 when WAC play starts, and they will be no worse than 3-2.  They should be 4-0 in conference play when they go to Fresno State on November 13.  After a breather with New Mexico State, they host Boise State on Friday, November 26.  It isn’t impossible, but highly improbable they will win this game unless Boise State falls apart with numerous injuries.  Still, this should be Ault’s best team in Reno since he returned for the third time in 2004.  Call if a double-digit winning year.

Team New Mexico State Aggies
               
Head Coach DeWayne Walker
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Las Cruces, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-10
               
PiRate Rating 78.4
               
National Rating 109
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: One word can best sum up the Aggies’ offense—offensive.  NMSU scored just 11.5 points per game and tallied just 229 total yards per game.  That looks like stats you would see from a college team in the days when players went both ways.  The Aggies had no passing game whatsoever, and they were not an option team.  They averaged just 88 yards per game and completed less than half of their passes.

Quarterback Jeff Fleming might do better if he could throw to himself.  He just doesn’t have much talent in which to throw the ball.

Things are much better with the running game.  Seth Smith ran for more than 1,000 yards even though defenses placed an extra defender and sometimes two extra defenders up close to stop the run.

The offensive line returns three starters, but the Aggies pick up a plum in former Texas Longhorn tackle Aundre McGaskey.

With stats like last year, there is only one way to go for Coach DeWayne Walker’s offense, but we don’t expect State to fool many defenses this year.  Look for a slight improvement to 14-17 points and 250-275 yards per game. 

Defense: When your offense cannot sustain many drives and convert first downs, your defense will be on the field much longer than average.  Opponents ran an average of eight more plays per game against the Aggies last year, and more of the same will happen this season.

One unit that will be better is the back line.  All four starters return to the secondary.  This quartet of Stephon Hatchett, Alphonso House, Jonte Green, and Davon House teamed up for 32 batted passes and five picks.

The defensive line will be a little better this year, and that will make the secondary that much better.  Ends Pierre Fils and Donte Savage teamed up to make 13 QB sacks.

It’s at linebacker where there will be difficulties this year.  The Aggies must break in three new starters, only one of whom saw any real action last year.

The Aggies will give up 28-32 points and 400-425 yards again this season.  They are still a long way from competing for bowl eligibility.

Schedule: The one plus for New Mexico State is that as weak as they are, their in-state rival is weaker.  The Aggies should beat New Mexico.  They won’t be so lucky with San Diego State, UTEP, or Kansas.  NMSU gets upstart San Jose State at home, so we believe they will win twice this season.  That is one less than last year.

Team San Jose State Spartans
               
Head Coach Mike MacIntyre
               
Colors Dark Blue and Gold
               
City San Jose, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate