The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 22, 2013

2013 Big 12 Conference Preview

2013 Big 12 Conference Preview

 

Once thought a dead league, the Big 12 received a reprieve and has thrived these last two years.  The league produced a Heisman Trophy winner in 2011, and placed nine of its ten members in bowls last year.  In 2013, it could produce a National Championship Game participant.

 

This league remains stable this year after the departures of Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, and Texas A&M, and the arrivals of TCU and West Virginia in the last two seasons.  The nine-game conference schedule guarantees that all two-team ties are easily broken without having to use several tiebreakers.

 

Coach Mack Brown welcomes back to Texas the most experience squad he’s ever fielded in Austin.  The Longhorns had to rebuild for a couple of years, but they are poised to go on a big run this year with 19 starters returning to the first team offense and defense.  The Longhorns will be a juggernaut on the offensive side of the ball.  Even though their defense might give up 24 points per game, the offense should average more than 40 and outscore every opponent on the regular season schedule.

 

Three years in a row:  That’s the current streak in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys.  OSU has averaged in excess of 40 points per game three years running (and passing), and the pokes should make it four in a row with the return of quarterback Clint Chelf and most of his key receivers.  Can an offense that has improved its total yardage output per game from 520 to 546 to 547 in the last three seasons improve yet again?  Yes, it can top 550 this year, and OSU could even challenge the 50 points per game barrier.  The key game is at Texas on November 16, and it could be the big one of the season.

 

TCU may have as much talent this year as they had in 2010, when the Horned Frogs ran the table in the Mountain West Conference and won the Rose Bowl.  However, in this year’s Big 12, they are no better than third best and possibly fourth best.  The defense could lead the conference in fewest points and yards allowed, but this is a league where offense rules.  The Horned Frogs averaged 27.2 points per game in league play, and that was good enough for only eighth best in the league.  That number will have to jump by a touchdown if TCU is to challenge the two powers.  It doesn’t help that they must play Oklahoma St. and Texas in back-to-back weeks in October.  Additionally, they face Oklahoma in Norman, and TCU figures to be an underdog in all three games.  Throw in an opening game against LSU at Cowboys Stadium, and it looks like a four-loss season in Ft. Worth.

 

Oklahoma has endured back-to-back three loss seasons, and the Sooners may be looking at another one as well.  The defense must reload with the loss of four of the top five tacklers, including the top run defender and the top pass defender.  The OU offense may take a small step backward this year, as it lost its starting quarterback and top two receivers.  Fret not Sooner fans, for you rebuilding means averaging 30 points and 425 yards per game.

 

Baylor looks for its fourth consecutive winning season under Art Briles.  The Bears survived the loss of RGIII and Kendall Wright and emerged with eight victories in 2012.  Bryce Petty is the new quarterback, and he should top 4,000 yards passing in his first year as a starter.  The Bears return two backs capable of topping 1,000 yards rushing, but the offensive line needs reworking.  Baylor will score a lot of points again this season, but the defense will give up a lot of points as well.  It will be very exciting in Waco, but this unit will just scrape by with enough wins to stay above .500.

 

Kansas St. will be lucky to stay bowl eligible this year after the defense left the building.  Six of the top seven tacklers must be replaced on the defense, and the offense must replace Collin Klein at quarterback.  Coach Bill Snyder relies on a lot of junior college talent, so his teams frequently have a lot of upperclassmen.  Thanks to a schedule that gives the Wildcats three guaranteed non-conference wins to start the season, KSU should find a way to stay bowl eligible.

 

Texas Tech breaks in a new head coach, as former Red Raider quarterback Kliff Kingsbury returns to Lubbock after running the offense of Johnny Football U in College Station last year.  Kingsbury will return the Red Raiders to the Air Raid offense after former coach Tommy Tuberville tried to make TTU Auburn west.  Look for the offense to struggle a bit and fall under .500 this year, but Kingsbury will soon have the Red Raiders scoring points like they did under Mike Leach.

 

West Virginia has a bigger rebuilding job to face than Texas Tech.  The Mountaineers cannot replace Geno Smith and his 4200+ yards and TD/Int ratio of 42/6!  Add the losses of two receivers that both grabbed more than 100 passes and combined for more than 2,900 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns, and the Mountaineers will see their offense fall by more than 10 points per game this year.  This team only went 7-6 last year, so hopes for a winning season are very dim in 2013.

 

Paul Rhoads has done great work at Iowa St., leading the Cyclones to three bowls in his four seasons in Ames.  If he can squeeze six wins out of this team, then the NCAA needs to name the National Coach of the Year Award, the Rhoads Award.  ISU must rebuild on both sides of the ball, and with this conference’s offensive fireworks, it could get ugly several Saturdays this fall.  Of the bottom four teams, ISU hosts Kansas, but must play at Texas Tech and West Virginia.  Expect at least nine and possibly ten losses this year.

 

Kansas has nowhere to go but up.  Since going 12-1 with an Orange Bowl win in 2007, the Jayhawks have seen their win number drop every year since then (8, 7, 5, 3, 2, and 1).  While it is still mathematically possible that the number could drop again, we don’t see that happening.  Second year coach Charlie Weis should find a way to lead KU to a very modest improvement and put an end to the 21-game losing streak in league play.

 

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

Big 12 Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Texas

0-0

0-0

127.3

116.2

127.8

Oklahoma St.

0-0

0-0

122.0

111.2

122.7

T C U

0-0

0-0

118.0

115.1

118.9

Oklahoma

0-0

0-0

115.8

111.6

115.2

Baylor

0-0

0-0

112.5

103.2

112.4

Kansas St.

0-0

0-0

111.9

104.5

110.8

Texas Tech

0-0

0-0

104.1

96.6

102.9

West Virginia

0-0

0-0

102.1

97.4

101.1

Iowa St.

0-0

0-0

99.7

92.8

98.3

Kansas

0-0

0-0

93.9

91.5

92.8

     

League Averages    

110.7

104.0

110.3

 

2013 Official Preseason Media Poll

 

Pos

Team

Points

1st Place

1

Oklahoma St.

365

15

2

Oklahoma

355

8

3

T C U

347

9

4

Texas

337

8

5

Baylor

282

2

6

Kansas St.

240

1

7

Texas Tech

161

0

8

West Virginia

126

0

9

Iowa St.

96

0

10

Kansas

56

0

 

2013 Preseason Media All-Conference Team

 

Offense

Pos Player School
QB Casey Pachall TCU
RB Lache Seastrunk Baylor
RB John Hubert Kansas State
WR Josh Stewart Oklahoma State
WR Eric Ward Texas Tech
TE Jace Amaro Texas Tech
OL Cyril Richardson Baylor
OL Cornelius Lucas Kansas State
OL Gabe Ikard Oklahoma
OL Trey Hopkins Texas
OL Le’Raven Clark Texas Tech
     

Defense

Pos Player School
DL Devonte Fields TCU
DL Calvin Barnett Oklahoma State
DL Jackson Jeffcoat Texas
DL Kerry Hyder Texas Tech
LB Bryce Hager Baylor
LB Jordan Hicks Texas
LB Shaun Lewis Oklahoma State
DB Ty Zimmerman Kansas State
DB Jason Verrett TCU
DB Aaron Colvin Oklahoma
DB Quandre Diggs Texas
     

Special Teams

Pos Player School
K Jaden Oberkrom TCU
P Kirby Van Der Kamp Iowa State
KR Tyler Lockett Kansas State
PR Tramaine Thompson Kansas State

 

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100         A+

86-92           A

79-85           A-

72-78           B+

65-71           B

58-64           B-

51-57           C+

44-50           C

37-43           C-

30-36           D

0-29             F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

Team

Baylor Bears

               
Head Coach

Art Briles

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Waco, TX

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

92

Pass Offense

93

Run Defense

67

Pass Defense

59

               
Ratings              
PiRate

112.5

Mean

103.2

Bias

112.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

32

Mean

46

Bias

32

               
Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-5

 

 

Team

Iowa St. Cyclones

               
Head Coach

Paul Rhoads

               
Colors

Cardinal and Gold

               
City

Ames, IA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

64

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

58

Pass Defense

68

               
Ratings              
PiRate

99.7

Mean

92.8

Bias

98.3

               
Rankings              
PiRate

59

Mean

92

Bias

70

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-8

Overall

2-10

 

 

Team

Kansas Jayhawks

               
Head Coach

Charlie Weis

               
Colors

Crimson and Blue

               
City

Lawrence, KS

               
2012 Record              
Conference

0-9

Overall

1-11

               
Grades              
Run Offense

76

Pass Offense

62

Run Defense

60

Pass Defense

42

               
Ratings              
PiRate

93.9

Mean

91.5

Bias

92.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

82

Mean

99

Bias

87

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-8

Overall

3-9

 

 

Team

Kansas St. Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Bill Snyder

               
Colors

Royal Purple (and Silver)

               
City

Manhattan, KS

               
2012 Record              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

90

Pass Offense

64

Run Defense

81

Pass Defense

77

               
Ratings              
PiRate

111.9

Mean

104.5

Bias

110.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

33

Mean

42

Bias

34

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-4

 

 

Team

Oklahoma Sooners

               
Head Coach

Bob Stoops

               
Colors

Crimson and Cream

               
City

Norman, OK

               
2012 Record              
Conference

8-1

Overall

10-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

83

Pass Offense

89

Run Defense

74

Pass Defense

76

               
Ratings              
PiRate

115.8

Mean

111.6

Bias

115.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

22

Mean

26

Bias

24

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-2

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Oklahoma St. Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Mike Gundy

               
Colors

Orange and Black

               
City

Stillwater, OK

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

79

Pass Offense

99

Run Defense

87

Pass Defense

81

               
Ratings              
PiRate

122.0

Mean

111.2

Bias

122.7

               
Rankings              
PiRate

5

Mean

28

Bias

5

               
Prediction              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-1

 

 

Team

Texas Longhorns

               
Head Coach

Mack Brown

               
Colors

Burnt Orange and White

               
City

Austin

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-4

Overall

9-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

93

Pass Offense

95

Run Defense

91

Pass Defense

90

               
Ratings              
PiRate

127.3

Mean

116.2

Bias

127.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

3

Mean

8

Bias

3

               
Prediction              
Conference

9-0

Overall

12-0

 

 

Team

T C U Horned Frogs

               
Head Coach

Gary Patterson

               
Colors

Purple and White

               
City

Ft. Worth, TX

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

82

Pass Offense

76

Run Defense

92

Pass Defense

84

               
Ratings              
PiRate

118.0

Mean

115.1

Bias

118.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

15

Mean

13

Bias

14

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-3

Overall

8-4

 

 

Team

Texas Tech Red Raiders

               
Head Coach

Kliff Kingsbury

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Lubbock, TX

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

57

Pass Offense

86

Run Defense

71

Pass Defense

60

               
Ratings              
PiRate

104.1

Mean

96.6

Bias

102.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

45

Mean

78

Bias

45

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-7

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

West Virginia Mountaineers

               
Head Coach

Dan Holgersen

               
Colors

Old Gold and Blue

               
City

Morgantown, WV

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

63

Pass Offense

83

Run Defense

65

Pass Defense

56

               
Ratings              
PiRate

102.1

Mean

97.4

Bias

101.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

47

Mean

72

Bias

51

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-7

Overall

4-8

 

August 27, 2012

2012 Big 12 Conference Preview

A year ago at this time, the Big 12 Conference appeared to be on life support.  Colorado and Nebraska had already left.  Missouri and Texas A&M were in their last season.  The Pac-12 was still trying to lure four Big 12 teams away.  Even the ACC was rumored to be willing to offer Texas the moon and the stars.

 

The Big 12 raided the Big East and took West Virginia and a TCU program that had already committed to the Big East.  Not only did it save this conference and keep it at 10 schools, it received two conference champions to boot. 

 

Not only is the Big 12 stronger than ever, from number one to number eight, it is the equal of the strongest conference in the nation.

 

Looking at the aggregate schedules this year, the Big 12 has a chance to do something special.  It is possible that the league could go 30-0 in non-conference games.  There are just two non-conference games where the Big 12 team will be the underdog.  Because of this, eight teams should become bowl eligible, and if Iowa State can upset Iowa, then nine teams could gain bowl eligibility.

 

Here is the pre-season media poll.

 

 

Big 12

Votes

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Oklahoma

32

396

2

West Virginia

7

339

3

Texas

0

291

4

Oklahoma State

0

267

5

T C U

1

260

6

Kansas State

1

257

7

Baylor

0

162

8

Iowa State

0

121

9

Texas Tech

0

116

10

Kansas

0

46

 

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings disagree somewhat with the media poll, but not at the top.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Big 12

PiRate

1

Oklahoma

130.6

2

Oklahoma State

125.2

3

Texas

121.4

4

Kansas State

119.9

5

West Virginia

113.0

6

Texas Tech

111.8

7

Baylor

111.6

8

T C U

111.2

9

Iowa State

105.9

10

Kansas

101.7

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

Big 12

Vintage

1

Oklahoma

117

2

Texas

113

3

Kansas State

110

4

Oklahoma State

109

5

West Virginia

107

6

T C U

107

7

Texas Tech

104

8

Baylor

100

9

Iowa State

96

10

Kansas

92

 

 

 

Team

Baylor Bears

               
Head Coach

Art Briles

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Waco, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-3

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

111.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

63

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-6

 

Can a team that has not been a semi-power in college football almost two decades produce another ranked team following the loss of the Heisman Trophy winner, a 1st round NFL pick wide receiver, and a 6th round NFL pick running back?  Consider also, that these three players led the Big 12 in passing, receiving, and rushing.  Of course, the Bears are coming back to Earth this season, but it won’t be a bear hunt like it was between 1995 and 2007.  Yes, Baylor will struggle in league play this year.  However, as we stated in the preface above, most of the Big 12 teams will enter conference play with 3-0 records and need go only 3-6 in the league to become bowl eligible.  Baylor is one of five league teams that figures to be in the 3-6/4-5 range this year.

 

Have you ever heard of a baseball player named George Selkirk?  I doubt you ever heard of Bob Fothergill.  Most of you remember Lou Brock and Carl Yastrzemski.  Besides being baseball players, these four gentlemen share something in common.  Selkirk replaced Babe Ruth in right field.  Fothergill replaced Ty Cobb in the batting order.  Brock replaced Stan Musial, and Yaz replaced Ted Williams.  Selkirk hit over .300 with 20-HR power.  Fothergill hit over .360 for the immediate seasons after he replaced Cobb.  Brock led the Cardinals to an amazing pennant and World Series Championship.  Yaz became a big star with the Red Sox, eventually becoming baseball’s last Triple Crown winner.

 

Will Nick Florence become another Selkirk and company?  He only has one year to replace Robert Griffin III.  In three years as the understudy, he passed for 1,992 yards with eight touchdowns and nine picks.  He could top the 3,000-yard mark this season, but remember RG3 passed for almost 4,300 yards last year.  Obviously Baylor’s offense will retreat by at least two touchdowns if not more this season.

 

Replacing Kendall Wright and his 108 receptions, 1,663 yards, and 14 touchdowns will also be impossible.  BU has a potential all-American on its roster here, but Terrance Williams will see defenses concentrate their efforts on stopping him.  Last year, Williams was the “other guy,” and defenses played him looser than they will this year.  Williams caught 59 passes and averaged more than 16 yards per catch with 11 touchdowns.  His reception total will swell this year, but his average per catch will likely go down some.

 

Tevin Reese was another receiver that benefitted from being the secondary option and the defenses’ third priority last year.  He should top the 51 receptions he made in 2011, but like Williams, his yards per catch average will not be as high as last year’s 17.2.

 

Tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk will see more balls thrown their way this year.  As reserves last year, they combined for 24 receptions and 246 yards. 

 

Jarred Salubi takes over at running back for Terrance Ganaway, and former Oregon back Lache Seastrunk will get a lot of action here is as well.  This duo could approach the yardage gained by Ganaway last year (1,547), but they will not team for 21 rushing touchdowns.

 

The offensive line returns three starters, but guard Cameron Kaufhold has lost his spot to Jake Jackson.  Center Ivory Wade and guard Cyril Richardson give the Bears a solid inside blocking wall.

 

Most schools would be happy with 28-32 points and 375-400 total yards, which is where we think this offense will be in 2012.  Of course, BU scored more than 45 points per game and gained almost 600 yards per game last year.  The Babe has left the building.

 

If Baylor is to get to six wins in 2012, the defense will need to show marked improvement over last year.  No BCS school surrendered 37+ points and close to 500 yards per game and won 10 games until this team did it last year.

 

Eight starters return to this side of the ball.  The secondary is the best unit of the three, as all four starters return from 2011.  But, these four were chiefly responsible for BU giving up 291 passing yards per game.  Nickel back Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks Joe Williams and K. J. Morton gave up some big plays, but the trio teamed up for 27 defended passes.  Morton picked off four balls.

 

The rest of the defense is rather mediocre.  Ends Terrance Lloyd and Gary Mason teamed up for just five sacks, and neither proved to be a force against the run.  Middle linebacker Rodney Chadwick was not the answer at the key spot of the 4-2-5 defense, and sophomore Bryce Hager replaced him.

 

The opening game this Sunday afternoon against SMU may be similar to Baylor’s opening game against TCU last year.  BU won that one 50-48.  The Bears get 13 days to prepare for might Sam Houston State.  We are not being facetious here; the Bearkats could make this game close.  Baylor faces UL-Monroe in Monroe on the following Friday, and if the Bears are 3-0 on September 22, they will be in the hunt for a bowl game.  

 

 

Team

Iowa State Cyclones

               
Head Coach

Paul Rhoads

               
Colors

Cardinal and Gold

               
City

Ames, IA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

105.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

80

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

5-7

 

Paul Rhodes has taken a page from former ISU coach Dan McCarney.  He has surprise league experts every year and produced better results than expected.  The Cyclones have now played in bowls in two of his three seasons in Ames.  His other year, they finished 5-7 and lost an overtime thriller to Nebraska that would have given them a sixth win.

 

Iowa State should continue to surf on the edge of bowl eligibility this year, as the Cyclones return enough talent to continue to hang around.

 

On the offensive side of the ball, ISU returns both of their co-starting quarterbacks this year, and both will play regularly this season.  Steele Jantz would have been the clear-cut number one had he not been injured early in the year.  Jared Barnett kept the offense going when Jantz was unable to play.  The duo teamed for better than 2,700 passing yards, but their TD/Int ratio was 16/17. 

 

The receiving corps has experience, but none of the players will play in the NFL one day.  Tight end Kurt Hammerschmidt should more than double his receptions this year after catching just 13 passes a year ago.  Aaron Horne has the potential to break out with a big season, after he caught 38 passes in a reserve role last year.

 

James White and Jeff Woody both return to the backfield after teaming for more than 1,100 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.  White is the speed back, and Woody is the power back.

 

The offensive line is not going to generate many headlines, but it actually is the best unit on the offense.  Three starters return, most notably center Tom Farniok.

 

ISU averaged 23 points and 390 yards per game last year.  We believe those numbers are approachable and possibly beatable this season.

 

The defense is more of a question as the season starts.  For starters, the defensive line has to be rebuilt, as three starters must be replaced.  Nose tackle Jake McDonough was pushed around a bit last year, but he made 35 tackles with 4 ½ going for losses.  Willie Scott and Roosevelt Maggitt are the new starting ends, while Cleyon Laing gets the vacant tackle spot.  Former Wyoming starter Ben Durbin will see action here as the fifth lineman.  He can rotate at three of the four line spots.

 

ISU’s top two tacklers return at linebacker.  A. J. Klein (116 tackles) and Jake Knott (115 tackles) need to improve on their 11 ½ TFL.

 

Iowa State had trouble stopping the pass, but then again, the Cyclones had to face seven premier quarterbacks last year.  Jacques Washington picked up 90 tackles at the free safety spot.  He only caught one enemy pass, but he broke up eight others.  Cornerback Jeremy Reeves tied with Knott for second on the team with two interceptions.

 

Iowa State is one of two teams that will be an underdog in at least one non-conference game.  They are a slight underdog at home against Tulsa, and they will more than likely be an underdog against Iowa.  Their third non-league game comes against Western Illinois.  Coach Paul Rhoads has outperformed expectations every year since he came from Auburn to Ames to replace Gene Chizik, who left Ames for Auburn.  This looks like a year where his Cyclones will fail to qualify for a bowl.  If there are any surprises with this team, we expect it to be on the wrong side of the norm.

 

 

Team

Kansas Jayhawks

               
Head Coach

Charlie Weis

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Red

               
City

Lawrence, KS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-9

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

101.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

56

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

95

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-8

Overall

3-9

 

Charlie Weis was well-liked by his players at Notre Dame.  That’s why some of them left South Bend and ended up on the roster in Lawrence.  In fact two starters on offense began their careers playing for Weis in South Bend.

 

Dayne Crist is one of those players.  He will start under center this year.  At Notre Dame, he was the starter in 2010, but he was benched last year.  Expect Crist to top 2,500 passing yards this year, but he will have to run for his life more than he ever did with the Irish.  If he cannot make it through a full season, redshirt freshman Mike Cummings will take over.  KU fans need to pray for Crist’s safety.

 

The cupboard isn’t necessarily bare at receiver.  Expect last year’s top two receivers, D. J. Beshears and Kale Pick, teamed for 74 receptions and 781 yards.  We expect those two to team for more than 100 catches this year.  Another transfer from ND is tight end Mike Ragone.  Ragone is a sixth-year player after missing two seasons with injuries.  When he was healthy, he was considered one of the top recruits at his position, and he started for the Irish.

 

Kansas will have to get by without its best running back for the first three games following a DUI arrest.  James Sims might have challenged for 1,000 rushing yards this year, but he won’t come close to that number now.  Tony Pierson may actually have better skills, and he may not relinquish his newfound status.

 

KU’s offensive line is a liability.  Weis is a good teacher, and he will mold this unit into a competent quintet, but there will be games where enemy defensive lines get the better of them.  Guard Duane Zlatnik and tackle Tanner Hawkinson will protect Crist’s blind side.

 

The defense was on the defensive too much last year.  The Jayhawks gave up more points against Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Texas A&M (64.0 ppg) than their basketball team gave up in many games.  All of KU’s defensive units have a long way to go to become competitive in the Big 12.

 

Up front, end Toben Opurum is one player that belongs in this league.  He led the ‘Hawks with four sacks and 10 ½ stops for loss.  Those four sacks represented 40% of the team total.  His counterpart, Keba Agostinho, recorded just one sack and two TFL.

 

In the second line of defense, middle linebacker Darius Willis made 81 tackles with eight for loss, but he will be unseated by another former Notre Dame player.  Anthony McDonald is a graduate student, and he will play one year in Lawrence (like Crist and Ragone).

 

The back line returns three starters, but this is clearly the weakest secondary in the Big 12.  KU allowed QBs to complete 70% of their passes.  These were not cheap passes thrown two yards downfield either.  Cornerbacks Tyler Patmon and Greg Brown teamed up for 10 defended passes.  Safety Bradley McDougald made 89 tackles, picked off two passes, and broke up five others.

 

Games against South Dakota State and Rice give KU a shot at a 2-0 start.  After that any win would be an upset.  We figure Weis is good for one upset, so we’ll go with 3-9 as the ceiling this year.

 

 

Team

Kansas State Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Bill Snyder

               
Colors

Royal Purple and White

               
City

Manhattan, KS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-2

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

119.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

24

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-5

 

Coach Bill Snyder has used the same formula for his previous 20 seasons in “The Little Apple.”  He schedules winnable non-conference games to increase his team’s confidence.  He relies on a ball-controlling power running game mixed with longer than average passing routes to spread the field vertically.  Defensively, his teams play a bend, but don’t break style that forces opponents to make sustained drives.

 

Last year, Snyder guided the Wildcats to a surprising 10-win season, when they looked to be in rebuilding mode.  This year, he has considerably more talent returning than he had at the beginning of last season.  However, this league is much tougher in 2012, and his conference schedule is really difficult with road games against Oklahoma, West Virginia, and TCU.

 

If any team could go back to the Single Wing offense and succeed with it, KSU would be the one.  Quarterback Collin Klein is really more like a single wing tailback.  He ran the ball about 25 times per game last year, gaining 1,141 yards and scoring 27 touchdowns!  He is a modern day Bronko Nagurski.  As a passer, Klein completed 57% of his tosses for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns.

 

Klein’s top three receivers return this year (top four when you add the running back).  Tramaine Thompson is the breakaway threat.  He caught just 21 passes, but he averaged better than 16 yards per catch.  If he can remain healthy and play a full season, he could improve to 40-50 receptions.  Chris Harper has similar traits, but he is more durable.  Harper led KSU with 40 receptions last year.

 

John Hubert narrowly missed joining Klein in the 4-digit club last year, as he rushed for 970 yards.  He also caught 24 passes.  Angelo Pease gained 144 yards in a limited role, but he can pick up a tough couple of yards when the situation warrants it.

 

The offensive line is the only liability here, and if it cannot get the job done, K-State will suffer on this side of the ball.  Center B. J. Finney and guard Nick Puetz are the only starters returning.  Two redshirt freshmen will start against Missouri State this weekend.

 

The defense is about as talented this year as it has been for the last three seasons since Snyder returned to the sidelines.  It is around the middle of the pack with all three units.  Up front, Adam Davis proved to be a nice addition last year at the end position.  He dumped enemy passers four times and threw runner for losses four more.  His counterpart, Meshak Williams, was more of a third down end, and he led the Wildcats with seven sacks and 10 TFL.

 

Mike linebacker Arthur Brown is the star of the defense.  He led the Wildcats with 101 tackles, 9 ½ going for negative yardage.  Tre Walker returns to the Will linebacker spot.  He was a better pass defender than run stopper, which may be more important in this league any way.

 

One of the top pass defenders in the league is cornerback Nigel Malone.  Malone led the Big 12 with seven interceptions last year and earned 1st Team All-Big 12 honors.  Safeties Ty Zimmerman and Thomas Ferguson and cornerback Allen Chapman round out this group.

 

Kansas State has one of the better field goal kickers around.  Anthony Cantele connected on 17 of 23 field goal attempts, and was 4 of 7 from beyond 40 yards with a high of 54.

 

After a 3-0 start against rather easy competition, the Wildcats will be able to test their confidence at Oklahoma on September 22.  We think they will leave Norman with much less confidence.  Still, this team should rebound from that loss and win enough games to return to a bowl.

 

 

Team

Oklahoma Sooners

               
Head Coach

Bob Stoops

               
Colors

Cream and Crimson

               
City

Norman, OK

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-3

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

130.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

117

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

4

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-1

 

On July 15, when we first began to run the numbers through our computer programs, Oklahoma emerged as the top-ranked team before personnel losses began to chip away at their rating.  When you lose two starting offensive linemen who both were expected to be all-conference performers, it costs you on the scoreboard.  Of course, OU picked up a couple points when they received wideout Justin Brown in the Penn State fire sale.

 

Such is life trying to be a 21st Century ratings compiler for college football.  The Sooners will still contend for the national title, but if their two studs had been able to play, this team would have been number one in the PiRate Ratings and number two in the PiRate Vintage Ratings.

 

Landry Jones should still have a stellar senior season.  Already the school’s number one passer, Jones should add another 4,500 yards onto that record this season.  He needs to cut down on his interceptions, as he threw 15 to the wrong team last year.

 

Jones loses his go-to guy this year (he actually lost him in the final weeks last year and OU dropped two games).  Ryan Broyles is now Matt Stafford’s new best friend in Detroit.  Jones will have to make do without three of his expected key receivers this year.  Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks, and Kameel Jackson were all suspended indefinitely for violations.  The trio combined for 75 receptions last year.  Brown will immediately need to become a star.  At Penn State last year, he caught 35 passes.  Kenny Stills will need to step up as well and top 1,000 receiving yards after gaining nearly 850 last year.  Juco transfer LaColtan Bester will need to contribute immediately as well.  He will back up Brown.

 

OU’s top two running backs return after teaming for more than 1,200 yards last year.  Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch both averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

 

The offensive line is an even bigger question than the receiving corps, because the Sooners did not have the luxury of picking someone from Penn State’s roster.  Expected starting guar Gabe Ikard has made the switch to center to replace Ben Habern.  With guard Tyler Evans out, Coach Bob Stoops had to find two new guards.  Bronson Irwin and Adam Shead are capable blockers, but they are not 1st Team All-Big 12 linemen at this point of their careers.  Tackles Daryl Williams and Lane Johnson would have been the least talented of the projected starters, but now they are second and third best.

 

There is much more stability on the defensive side, but the stop troops are far from perfect.  OU gave up 44 points to Oklahoma State, 45 to Baylor, and 41 to Texas Tech.

 

The strength of this side is at linebacker, where two potential future pros return.  Corey Nelson and Tom Wort teamed for 130 tackles with 13 going for losses.  They added eight passes defended.

 

Two of the Sooners’ top three tacklers were defensive backs, and that is something that cannot happen this year if OU is to contend for the national title.  Cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Tony Jefferson were responsible for 158 tackles.  Jefferson picked off four passes.  Cornerback Demontre Hurst finished among the conference leaders with 12 passes defended.

 

The Sooners have a rebuilding job to do up front.  They lost two NFL Draft picks (Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander), who teamed up for 14 sacks and 32 TFL.  David King and R. J. Washington replace the two stars on the terminals after combining for seven sacks as reserves.

 

Oklahoma only plays two non-conference games before starting league play, and they will win both by large margins (UTEP and FAMU).  They host Notre Dame in the middle of league play.  We tend to believe that they will fall at least one time, and it will come in the final three weeks against either West Virginia, Oklahoma State, or TCU.  Of course, they cannot overlook Texas.  A loss in November may be very difficult to overcome in the now lame duck BCS standings.  This league does not have a championship game, so the league champion needs to go undefeated in November to make it to the National Championship Game.  The odds are now stacked against Oklahoma.

 

 

Team

Oklahoma State Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Mike Gundy

               
Colors

Orange and Black

               
City

Stillwater, OK

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

125.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

25

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-2

Overall

10-2

 

Coach Mike Gundy has gone from “A Man” who “could take it” at 40 to “The Man” who can dish it at 45.  Last year, Gundy’s Cowboys had the school’s best season since 1945.  That 1945 undefeated team beat Oklahoma 45-0; last year’s team won 44-10.

 

The best pass-catch combo in the nation will be impossible to replace.  Brandon Weeden is now the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns, and Justin Blackmon is now a future star for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Wes Lunt is a true freshman, replacing a quarterback that was 28 years old last year.  The number two man is redshirt freshman J. W. Walsh.  Expect a drop in pass yardage by maybe 150 yards per game.

 

Besides losing Blackmon (122 receptions), the Cowboys must find a replacement for number two receiver Josh Cooper, who made 71 catches last year.  Tracy Moore becomes the new leader after finishing third with 45 receptions.  Josh Stewart should emerge as a dependable slot receiver.  He should at least triple his number of catches this year (19 in 2011).

 

OSU will need to rely more on its running game this year.  Gundy knows a thing or two about the running game at his alma mater.  As QB in Stillwater in the late 1980’s, he handed the ball off to backs named Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas.  We’re not saying that Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith can be mentioned in the same breath as Sanders and Thomas, but we would not be surprised if the two backs combined for 2,000 rushing yards this year.

 

A quality offensive line from last year gave up just 12 sacks in 13 games.  Only guards Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush return from that starting unit.  New center Evan Epstein is serviceable, and he saw action at Air Force before coming here.  Parker Graham and Daniel Koenig have limited playing experience.  Expect the sack total to at least double this year.

 

In this league, giving up 27 points and 450 yards is cause for celebration.  In fact, in conference games only, OSU finished first in scoring defense.  Eight starters return from last year, but one is no longer listed as a starter on the depth chart.  End Cooper Bassett has moved ahead of Nigel Nicholas.  Bassett’s 17 tackles last year included four for losses. 

 

All three starting linebackers return this season.  Alex Elkins, Caleb Lavey, and Shaun Lewis should improve upon their joint effort of 225 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, and 19 ½ TFL.

 

Free safety Dattawion Lowe led the team with 97 tackles.  He intercepted just one pass.  Cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert both picked off five passes and combined to break up 25 more.

 

Quinn Sharp handles both punting and kicking duties, and he is exceptional at both jobs.  He was a 1st team All-American, making 22 of 25 field goals and averaging better than 46 yards per punt.

 

The Schedule is a big ally for the Pokes this year.  They should start 3-0 with a non-league slate of Savannah State, Arizona (which could be tough in Tucson), and UL-Lafayette.  They get an extra week to prepare for Texas when the Longhorns come to at Boone Pickens Stadium, and then they get another week off before travelling to Kansas, hosting Iowa State and hosting TCU.  By this time, it would not be much of a surprise if OSU was 7-0.  We believe another double-digit win season is coming to Stillwater.

 

 

Team

Texas Longhorns

               
Head Coach

Mack Brown

               
Colors

Burnt Orange and White

               
City

Austin, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

121.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

12

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-3

Overall

9-3

 

After a rare losing season in 2010, Coach Mack Brown’s Longhorns rebounded with a respectable 8-5season last year.  Of course in Austin, going 5-7 and 8-5 better be followed up with a double-digit win season, or else the coach may be thrown on the grill with a couple of sirloins. 

 

The pieces are in place for Texas to win 10 or 11 games this year, but the league is really strong at the top this season.  We feel the Longhorns will have to win their bowl game to get that tenth win.

 

After scoring around 35-50 points per game during the times of dominance, the Longhorns averaged just 24 points per game in 2010 and 28 last year.  The offense figures to return to an average in the 30’s this year.  Both of last year’s co-regular quarterbacks return this season.  David Ash will begin the year as the starter.  As a true freshman, Ash completed 56.6% of his passes with four touchdowns but eight interceptions in 173 attempts.  Case McCoy (Colt’s little brother) completed 61.4% of his passes with seven touchdowns and four interceptions in 145 attempts.  Ash is the better runner, while McCoy has the better arm.  Both need to cut down on their interceptions.

 

Last year’s three starting wide receivers are back again this year, so the passing game should see improvement.  Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, and Marquise Goodwin split the receptions rather democratically, teaming for 122 catches and 1,637 yards.  All three showed the ability to run after the catch.  The ‘Horns have three quality tight ends in D. J. Grant, Greg Daniels, and Barrett Matthews.

 

The one-two running punch of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron is not the most talented tandem in the league, but they get the job done.  Last year, the teammates combined for 1,205 rushing yards and 10 TDs.

 

With all the turmoil up in Norman, UT now has the top offensive line in the Big 12.  Guards Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins have no peers in the league, and they will team up with center Dominic Espinosa to open nice holes inside.  Tackle Josh Cochran started as a true freshman last year and could sneak onto the second or third All-Big 12 team.

 

There was little slippage on the defensive side the last two seasons.  Yes, the Longhorns gave up 55 points to Oklahoma, and they gave up 48 to Baylor.  They also “held” Oklahoma State to 38, which was more than 10 below their average.

 

This year, Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz has a top-flight defensive line and secondary.  If the linebackers can develop quickly, Texas could return to allowing less than 21 points per game.

 

Almost every college team would take ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat as their starters.  Okafor, a 1st Team All-American, Should be a first round pick in the next NFL Draft.  He comes off a season in which he made seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and 17 QB hurries.  Jeffcoat led UT with eight sacks and 21 TFL.

 

Jordan Hicks is the only returning starting linebacker.  He was a fairly good pass defender but average run stopper.  Middle linebacker Steve Edmond has the potential to become a star.  As a freshman reserve last year, he made 16 tackles.

 

The secondary will shine once again this season.  Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom teamed up for six interceptions and 36 passes defended.

 

Coach Brown has signed a kicker and a punter that graduated from other colleges.  It makes this team much stronger to have former Penn State kicker Anthony Fera over a true freshman.  Fera was perfect on his PATs and hit on 14 of 17 field goal tries for the Nittany Lions.  Alex King comes to Austin from Duke, where he averaged better than 42 yards per punt.

 

UT opens with three easy wins (Wyoming, New Mexico, and Ole Miss).  They get a week off to prepare for Oklahoma State, but they have to play that one on the road.  They follow that game with a home tilt against West Virginia and then the Red River rivalry game in Dallas against Oklahoma.  They could be 3-3 or 5-1 after this game, but they will more likely be 4-2.  After these three tough games, the Longhorns should run the table through November and be no worse than 8-3 when they head to Kansas State.  We think Texas improves their won-loss record again this year, but the Longhorns will not win the Big 12 title.

 

 

Team

T C U Horned Frogs

               
Head Coach

Gary Patterson

               
Colors

Purple and White

               
City

Ft. Worth, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-0

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

111.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

34

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-5

 

TCU is in a similar situation that is facing Temple.  The Horned Frogs were members of the old Southwest Conference through the 1995 season.  They were perennial fodder for Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, and before they left for the SEC, Arkansas.  Yearly, they fought with Rice to avoid the basement.  When the Big 12 was created, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor joined the former Big Eight teams to create the membership.  TCU was not invited, and the Horned Frogs joined the WAC for five years.  In that time, the Frogs rode the legs of some fantastic runners, including LaDainian Tomlinson, and became relevant in football for the first time since the mid-1950’s.  In 2001, the moved to CUSA for four years.  Current coach Gary Patterson became the coach and began to make defense the staple in Ft. Worth.  TCU joined the Mountain West in 2005 and dominated the league for the next seven seasons, moving as high as number three in the final polls after going 13-0 and winning the Rose Bowl in 2010-11. 

 

The Horned Frogs were supposed to become Big East members this year, but when a spot opened up in the league they always wanted to be a part of, they jumped at the chance.  Too bad, this comes in 2012 and not two years ago, because this could be the weakest TCU team in eight years.

 

At least, the Horned Frogs return their quarterback from the 2011 MWC champion team.  Casey Pachall was second only to Kellen Moore in the MWC.  He is third, fourth, or fifth best in this league.  In 2011, he completed 66.5% of his passes for more than 2,900 yards and with a TD/Int ratio of 25/7.  Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin backs him up, and it will be quite a drop if Pachall were to be injured.

 

Pachall has a nice team of receivers with talent and experience.  Josh Boyce led the team with 61 receptions, 998 yards, and nine touchdowns last year.  Skye Dawson gained an even 500 yards on 45 grabs.  Brandon Carter showed some breakaway speed when he caught 23 passes and averaged better than 15 yards per catch. 

 

The running game took a small blow this summer.  TCU would have returned a trio of quality backs that all topped 700 yards rushing last year.  However, one of those backs, Ed Wesley has already graduated, and at the 11th hour, he decided to turn pro.  After placing his name in the supplemental draft, he went unselected and then signed a free-agent contract with Dallas and was released.

 

That leaves Waymon James and Matthew Tucker to possibly both top 1,000 rushing yards this season.  Tucker has the punch to crack through the inside of the line and burst to the outside, running to daylight.  James is more of a speedster that gets to the outside quickly.

 

The big problem on offense is the offensive line, where just two starters return.   Blaize Foltz is a quality guard, and center James Fry is more than adequate.  There are a host of options to fill out the other three spots.  Tayo Fabuluje, a BYU transfer, figures to be one of the new regulars.

 

The great TCU defense will take a step backwards this season.  Joining this league will inflate the numbers without any changes in the talent level.  Unfortunately, there has also been a change in the talent level.  10 talented contributors out of the Horned Frogs’ top 15 defensive players are no longer on campus.  One of those five returning players, end Ross Forrest, has missed practice time nursing an injury.  Forrest joins holdovers Stansly Maponga and tackle David Johnson to make the D-line the only defensive area that is not a concern to Patterson.  Chuck Hunter rounds out the front four.

 

The Horned Frogs have dealt with some adversity in their two-man linebacking crew.  Kenny Cain returns as the Frogs’ leading 2011 tackler, but two of the players expected to spend time in the lineup with Cain have missed practice time with injuries.  When fully healthy, look for Joel Hasley to emerge as the other LB starter.

 

The secondary has to almost start over from scratch.  Cornerback Jason Verrett returns after intercepting just one pass last year.  However, there are four positions that will be manned by inexperienced or mildly experienced players, and that spell trouble in the wide open Big 12.

 

TCU has a major weapon at kicker.  Jaden Oberkrom may have the strongest kicking leg in the Lone Star State since Tony Franklin and Russell Erxleben kicked in the 1970’s.  Oberkrom nailed a 60-yard field goal in high school, and he has hit two 61-yard field goals in scrimmages this year. 

 

TCU’s non-league slate should be worth three wins.  Beginning conference play with Kansas and Iowa State should allow them to start 5-0.  Their first big test comes at Baylor on October 13, and the Frogs can win that game.  A home game against Texas Tech follows, and there is a chance TCU will be 7-0 when they venture to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State.  A trip to West Virginia follows, and the Horned Frogs could be hit with back-to-back losses for the first time since September 2007.  With their confidence reeling, the final three games against Kansas State, Texas, and Oklahoma could give this team their first five-game losing streak in 15 years.

 

 

Team

Texas Tech Red Raiders

               
Head Coach

Tommy Tuberville

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Lubbock, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-7

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

111.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

50

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-6

 

Tommy Tuberville is quickly finding out how hard it can be to follow a legend.  Tubs replaced Terry Bowden at Auburn, but Bowden was not in the same legend league with Mike Leach.  The Texas Tech fans wanted their team to continue throwing the ball all over the field on any play in any down and distance.  Tuberville came from the old school, where you won games by establishing a strong ground game that kept your defense off the field.  What he inherited in Lubbock was like trying to put Charlie Sheen in charge of a dairy.

 

TTU suffered through its first losing season since 1992, and the fans in Lubbock want an instant turnaround in 2012.  It isn’t going to happen this year, as the Red Raiders at best will win one additional conference game, which should make them bowl eligible.

 

Tuberville welcomes back eight offensive starters, led by quarterback Seth Doege.  Doege quietly passed for more than 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns, but he underperformed down the stretch, and TTU lost its final four games.  Redshirt freshman Michael Brewer could cut into Doege’s playing time, as he is a prototypical Tuberville quarterback.

 

There are no Michael Crabtree’s on this roster.  Eric Ward is a fine possession receiver. He will catch six to 10 passes per game and pick up at least a half dozen first downs or score a touchdown when TTU is deep in the red zone, but he will not catch a five yard pass and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown.

 

We can feel it in our bones; Tubs wants to get more production out of his running game.  He wants a Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown banging through the line and running for big gains.  Eric Stephens, Kenny Williams, and DeAndre Washington won’t pull a Williams and Brown act and make Tech unstoppable on the ground.  In fact, as of this writing, Stephens and Washington aren’t 100% healthy.  When all three are healthy again, expect Tech to rush for more than they have rushed in many years—maybe even 150 yards per game.

 

The offensive line needs two new starters, but there is some talent here.  Center Deveric Gallington and tackles (former guard) Terry McDaniel and LaDrian Waddle make up three-fifths of a fine blocking corps.  Le’Raven Clark and Alfredo Morales should keep this unit up to its usual standards.

 

Tuberville has suffered through the tribulations of coaching in a wide-open passing league, and he has not figured out how to get his troops to stop enemy movement.  Tech gave up close to 40 points and 500 yards per game last year.  At Auburn, his defense were usually good for about 16 points and 300 yards allowed.

 

Nine starters return on this side of the ball, but two will not begin the season on the first team.  End Dartwan Bush gives way to Jackson Richards.  Richards is quicker off the ball, and Tech needs to find someone that can rush the quarterback.  16 sacks won’t cut it in the Big 12.

 

The back seven starters by the end of the year returned intact this season until a week and a half ago.  Linebackers Terrance Bullitt, Sam Eguavoen, and Daniel Cobb teamed up for 156 tackles and 18 tackles for loss.  Junior college transfer Will Smith will take over for Cobb following his dismissal from school due to an felony arrest.

 

As we preach here many times, your defense cannot be outstanding if your secondary is making all the tackles.  Tech’s top two 2011 tacklers were safeties Cody Davis and D. J. Johnson (176 total).  Davis had no interceptions, and Johnson had two.

 

The Red Raiders have three easy non-conference games and will start 3-0.  They could outscore Northwestern State (La), Texas State, and New Mexico by 100 points or more.  Tech will continue to struggle against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Kansas State, and they will not like facing West Virginia even on homecoming.  It adds up to a probable 6-6 season.

 

Team

West Virginia Mountaineers

               
Head Coach

Dana Holgorsen

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Morgantown, WV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2 (Big East)

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

113.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

35

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-4

 

The knock against Geno Smith was that he produced fat stats playing the weak Big East defenses.  Smith will get the chance to prove his critics wrong this year.  Of course, if anybody still holds that belief after watching what he did to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, they probably aren’t intelligent enough to waste the time needed to explain.

 

Smith thrived in Coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.  His passing yardage ballooned up to 4,385 with 31 touchdowns against just seven picks. 

 

It helps that the top three targets from last year return to give Smith an excellent opportunity to top 4,500 yards this season.  Tavon Austin led finished second in the Big East with 101 receptions and third with 1,186 receiving yards.  He was not even the best receiver on his team!  Stedman Bailey led the Big East with 1,279 yards on 72 receptions, scoring 12 times.  It’s hard to believe that number three receiver Ivan McCartney (49-585) might lose his spot in the starting lineup to a true freshman, but it appears that Jordan Thompson might be that freshman.  If this is the case, this receiving corps might be impossible to stop.  It could become this year’s Oklahoma State (where Holgorsen was offensive coordinator until last year).

 

A knee injury to starting running back Dustin Garrison has thrust Shawne Alston into the starting lineup.  Alston is more of a three yards and cloud of dust bulldozer, whereas Garrison was a quick as lightning mighty mite. 

 

The offensive line returns four players that have been full-time starters at one point in their career.  The three inside players (center Joe Madsen and guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins) could be the top three inside trio in the league.

 

Holgorsen’s wide open approach forced the Mountaineer defenders to defend more plays and stay on the field for more minutes per game, because the offense scored quickly and gave the ball back to the other team.  If WVU can replicate the same defensive numbers of last year, it will be a successful Big 12 debut.

 

The defense gets more talented the farther back you go.  In the secondary, six of the top eight players return, but the two lost may have been the best two.  Still, this group has some fine players.  Darwin Cook made 85 tackles from his safety position, and he picked off a couple of passes.  Corners Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins teamed for 15 defended passes. 

 

WVU will switch from a 3-3-5 to a 3-4 alignment this year, but there will be little change in the personnel.  Terrence Garvin simple becomes a full-time linebacker rather than a hybrid linebacker/safety.  Garvin contributed to the defensive effort with 72 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, two interceptions, and five passes defended.  Jewone Snow returns at the buck linebacker position, but he needs to do better than 1 ½ sacks if he is to remain a pass rusher.

 

Up front, end Will Clarke returns after posting five tackles for loss.  Nose tackle Jorge Wright might need to add some meat to his bones to avoid getting pushed back by all the quality centers and guards in this league. 

 

WVU should be an exciting team to watch in their first year in the Big 12.  They perfectly fit the mold of a Big 12 team even though they are the farthest outpost in the league.  Look for the Mountaineers to win eight or maybe nine regular season games.

 

Coming Tuesday evening, August 28: A look at the Southeastern Conference, where the Western Division is more like the ninth division of the NFL.  Will LSU and Alabama do it again?  How will Arkansas be affected by a coaching change?  Who is going to win a wide open SEC East race?  How will the two new members affect the way the game is played in the perennial top conference?

 

Note: Our initial PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings will be posted Wednesday, August 29.  We will take our initial stab at selecting some pointspread winners Thursday morning.  Our NFL ratings will be released Tuesday, September 4.  Our first Presidential election ratings will be released following the end of the second convention in Charlotte.

August 22, 2011

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

If only…  If only Brigham Young and Utah had chosen to stay in this conference, and TCU would not have announced their departure after 2011-12, this conference would have leap-frogged over at least one and maybe two automatic qualifying BCS leagues.

 

Imagine a league with Boise State, TCU, BYU, Utah, and Air Force as its top tier and with San Diego State and Colorado State frequently displaying enough talent to beat teams from the “Big Six” conferences.  This league would have had the potential to state its case for inclusion in the AQ conferences.  With the Big 12 on the precipice of breaking up, who knows?  Maybe the MWC could have taken in the leftovers from that league and assumed an automatic qualifying position.

 

2011 should still be an interesting season in this conference.  TCU must still play one more year here, and then the top three teams from the WAC (Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State) will join Boise State in this league.

 

Boise State

The Broncos dominated the WAC like no other team has dominated a conference since Alabama dominated the SEC in the 1970’s.  BSU posted a WAC record of 69-3 in their last nine seasons in their old league (Alabama went 64-4 in the SEC from 1971-1980; Oklahoma went 64-6 in the Big 8 in that same time frame).

 

Will Coach Chris Petersen’s Broncos dominate the MWC like they did the WAC?  It looks like they will in 2011.  Boise returns just enough talent to make another run toward an undefeated season.

 

Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.  The quarterback is already the leading passer in school history.  Last year, he completed better than 71% of his passes at better than 10 yards per attempt.  His TD/Int ratio was 35/6, and there is no reason to believe he cannot duplicate or improve upon those numbers this year.  He is a bit small for the NFL’s likes, but he should still be a second day draft choice next year.  Backup Joe Southwick is more than capable of running the team should Moore go down with an injury.

 

Moore loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Titus Young and Austin Pettis were gems, as they both grabbed 71 passes and teamed for 19 touchdowns.  Both were high draft picks, so there will be a drop-off in talent at this position.  However, Boise might still have the best receiver in the league.  Tyler Shoemaker proved to be a breakaway threat when he averaged better than 18 yards per reception last year.  Tight end Kyle Efaw should see more balls thrown his way this year after grabbing 24 passes and scoring five times in 2010.

 

Another pass-catching threat is running back Doug Martin.  Martin had 28 receptions last year to go with 1,260 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns.  He’s always a threat to break open any run or reception.

 

The offensive line returns three starters; foremost among them is tackle Nate Potter.  The former two-time 1st Team All-WAC should become a 1st Team All-MWC and contend for All-American honors as well.  Center Thomas Byrd is likely to join Potter on the all-conference squad.

 

Maybe the biggest loss on this side of the ball is offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.  Harsin is now the OC at Texas.  Former Houston Oiler quarterback Brent Pease is the new OC after serving as the receivers’ coach here for multiple seasons.

 

We look for Boise State to continue dominating with an explosive offense this year, but we seriously doubt the Broncos will match their 2010 numbers of 45 points and 520 yards per game.  Call it about 38 points and 450 yards per game, as Moore will have to rely a little more on the short passing game.

 

The Bronco defense played one poor half all season.  Unfortunately, it came against Nevada, and it ended the 24-game winning streak.  They allowed just 11 points and 232 yards per game in the other 12 contests.  Expect more of the same in 2011, as the Broncos are strong from front to back.  Their defensive line could be one of the top five in the country.

 

BSU forced 49 sacks last season, and it should be another stellar year for rushing the passer.  Three starters return to the front four, and the new starter saw considerable action last year.  We would not be surprised if all four players earned some form of post-season honors.  Tackle Billy Winn will be a high draft choice next spring.  He comes off a 2010 season that saw him make four sacks and 9 ½ total tackles for loss, while driving blockers away from the linebackers.  End Shea McClellin led the team with 9 ½ sacks and tied for the lead with 13 ½ total tackles for loss.  New starting end Tyrone Crawford finished second on the team last year with seven sacks and tied McClellin with 13 ½ total tackles for loss.  Chase Baker added 4 ½ sacks from his tackle spot.

 

The linebacker position is not quite as strong as the front four, but it is still a big plus.  Both starters from 2010 are back.  Byron Hout and Aaron Tevis combined for 80 tackles a year ago.

 

The five-man secondary returns just two starters, but the new starters will receive a lot of help from having the best pass rushers in the league up front.  The Broncos did not intercept many passes in 2010, but they made up for it with excellent coverage.

 

Another key loss to the team this year is punter/kicker Kyle Brotzman.  Brotzman may be remembered for missing the critical field goals against Nevada, but he was one of the best combo kickers in the nation.

 

The new schedule finds a couple of possible bumps in the road, but we tend to believe Boise is capable of running the table and challenging for a spot in the National Championship Game.  Once again, Boise must travel 2,000+ miles to the east for their opening season game.  This time, the Broncos face Georgia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  If they get by the Bulldogs, then they should be 8-0 when TCU comes to Bronco Stadium.  TCU will not be as strong this year as they have been in recent seasons, and we see Boise winning that one.  So, an opening win over Georgia would more than likely send Boise to a 12-0 season with hopes that there are not two undefeated teams from the AQ conferences.

 

T C U

13-0 and a 3rd place national finish following a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin is a hard act to follow.  The Horned Frogs enjoyed their best season since the 1938 squad won the national title and tiny quarterback Davey O’Brien won the Heisman Trophy.

 

2011 looks like a rebuilding year, but Coach Gary Patterson should be able to coax another winning season and bowl bid out of his troops.

 

The bigger rebuilding job must take place on the offensive side of the ball.  Quarterback Andy Dalton may wish he was still in college rather than be the starting quarterback for the most mismanaged team in the NFL.  Dalton left as the all-time leading passer in TCU history.  This position will take a major hit, because the expected starter, Casey Pachall, has an injured shoulder.  An MRI turned up negative, but a sore shoulder does not lead to a great passer.  If Pachall is not 100% ready to start the season, TCU will be in a heap of trouble.  Behind him are two untested backups.  Matt Brown and Trevone Boykin both have the potential to be excellent dual threat quarterbacks, but both are freshmen; Boykin is a true freshman.

 

Three of the top four receivers from last year have also used up their eligibility.  That leaves Josh Boyce as the only holdover from among that quartet.  Boyce caught 34 passes and averaged an eye-popping 19 yards per reception with six touchdowns.  Antoine Hicks saw limited action and caught 13 passes, but he has the potential to be a big-play receiver.

 

The backfield is the strong spot on this team, and we look for the running game to be featured more often this season.  Last year, the Horned Frogs ran the ball 64% of the time, and that number could approach 70% this year.  Ed Wesley ran for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns, while chief backup Matthew Tucker contributed over 700 yards and seven scores.  3rd teamer Waymon James saw enough action to rush for more than 500 yards and five scores.  All three return, as well as fourth teamer Aundre Dean, who led the team in yards per carry at 7.0.

 

The biggest problem area is the offensive line.  Only one starter returns.  Among those missing is 1st Team All-American and Rimington Award winner Jake Kirkpatrick and 1st Team All-MWC tackle Marcus Cannon.  The OL gave up just nine sacks all season.  Look for a considerable gain in this negative statistic this season.

 

TCU averaged almost 42 points per game while rushing for close to 250 yards and passing for more than 225 yards per game last year.  The Frogs won’t jump that high this season.  Look for a regression to about 28-30 points and 375-400 yards per game.

 

There is rebuilding to do on the defensive side of the ball as well, only not as much as on the offensive side.  Of course, there is nowhere to go but down after the team finished first nationally in points and yards allowed.  The definite strength of the defense is at linebacker where both starters return after garnering All-American honors last year.   Tanner Brock and Tank Carder are future NFL stars.  The duo teamed up to record 166 tackles with 15 ½ tackles for loss, while they found time to record 10 passes defended.

 

The front four is not as talented as Boise State’s great quartet, but they are better than any other MWC team.  End Stansly Maponga earned 2nd Team All-MWC accolades last year.  The other end spot may eventually go to sophomore Jon Koontz over senior Braylon Broughton.  D.J. Yendrey and Ray Burns make a capable pair of tackles.

 

The secondary shows promise, but it is not going to be up to the standards set by last year’s team.  For the second year in a row, TCU allowed fewer than half of enemy passes to be completed, but we expect that streak to end this season.  Cornerback Greg McCoy intercepted a couple of passes and knocked away six others.  New starter Jason Verrett will replace all-conference CB Jason Teague.  At Safety, only one of the three starters returns.  Tekerrein Cuba is a sure thing at one spot, but Patterson has been switching players around at the other two positions. 

 

The schedule is manageable this season.  An opener at Baylor followed by a trip to the Springs to take on Air Force in week two will be a great indicator for this team.  A 2-0 start could give TCU a chance to visit the field of blue with a 9-0 record.  Of course, this team could lose one or both of those first two games.  We believe the Horned Frogs can earn another double-digit win season, but only if Pachall stays healthy, and the new offensive line gels quickly.

 

Air Force

If Boise State had not joined the league, Air Force would have been listed as a co-favorite in the Mountain West this year.  The Falcons have a lot of experience returning from their best team since 1998.  At the military academies, 14 starters are unheard of.  In fact, it has been many years since AFA has returned that 14 starters.

 

The Falcons gave up 21 points and 350 yards per game last year, which was very respectable but nothing like what they did in 2009 (15.7 ppg/288 ypg).  The stop troops may be as good as the 2009 edition, but even so, we do not expect the Falcons to five up less than 18 points per game in 2011 with the schedule they have.

 

Eight starters and eight key reserves return to this side of the ball, so the Falcons will definitely be improved.  As you must have to succeed in this league, Coach Troy Calhoun has a dynamite secondary.  Safety Jon Davis finished second on the team with 93 tackles and tied for first with three interceptions.  Calhoun would like to see his tackles go down and his interceptions go up.  Often, he had to make tackles on running plays after backs broke through the first line of defense.  Cornerback Anthony Wright knocked down six passes and intercepted two others, as the AFA passing game gave up just 148 yards per game last year.

 

The Falcons are equally strong at the linebacker positions.  Calhoun used three and four linebacker sets last year, and he has a full stable of experienced players back this year.  Jordan Waiwaiole led the Falcons with 96 stops with 7 ½ tackles for loss.  Brady Amack added 82 tackles, while Patrick Hennessey got in on 60 stops with 10 for loss.

 

The one weak spot on this side of the ball is the defensive line.  The Falcons were too generous against the run last year, giving up more than 200 yards per game.  TCU rushed for 377 yards in a 38-7 pasting.  The Falcons have no 300-pound linemen, so they will always be vulnerable in the trenches.  Using a 3-4 defense places a large amount of pressure on the nose tackle, and at 260 pounds, Ryan Gardner is at a disadvantage.  Gardner made only 29 tackles in 10, 2010 starts.  End Zach Payne is the star of the front wall.  He came up with 6 ½ stops behind the line.

 

We are optimistic that Air Force will once again feature an exciting and efficient offense.  The main reason is the return of quarterback Tim Jefferson.  Removing sacks, Jefferson rushed for more than 800 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He passed for 1,459 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging better than nine yards per pass attempt.

 

The running game is in great hands with running back Asher Clark joining Jefferson in the option attack.  Clark led AFA with 1,031 rushing yards.  Two fullbacks that combined for more than 1,000 yards must be replaced, but Calhoun never seems to have a lack of talent ready to plug in here.  The new fullback is Wesley Cobb, a seldom used backup the last two years.  Mike DeWitt will back him up.

 

When your leading pass receiver had 18 receptions, it’s hard to call his return a major asset.  However, Jonathan Warzeka is the perfect academy flanker/slot.  His 18 receptions went for 406 yards (22.6/rec) and three touchdowns.  Warzeka provided excellent ability to run on the perimeter when Jefferson pitched him the ball; he averaged 7.6 yards on his 41 carries.  Zack Kauth grabbed 16 passes and averaged 17+ yards per reception, so the Falcons should once again burn defenses that put eight in the box to try to stop the option attack.

 

The offensive line returns three starters, but there is some concern here with expected starting guard Jordan Eason out with a knee injury and backup center Jeffrey Benson, who was expected to slide over to guard to replace Eason, also suffered a knee injury.  Thus, Calhoun will have to do more shuffling.  One player sure to star wherever he ends up on the line is A. J. Wallerstein, a 1st Team All-MWC performer last year.

 

Air Force averaged 31 points and 425 yards per game last year.  There is no reason to believe they will not equal or better those numbers in 2011.  The schedule sets up nicely for the Falcons.  A relatively easy opener with South Dakota is followed by a visit from TCU.  If the Falcons can get revenge on a rebuilding Horned Frog team, they could be headed to their first double-digit win season this century.  If not, a repeat of last year is within their grasp.

 

San Diego State

2010 was a memorable one at Qualcomm Stadium, as the Aztecs won nine games, including a 21-point win over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl.  It was SDSU’s first winning season since 1998 and first nine-win season since the 1977 team went 10-1-0 (Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox was a member of that team).  However, the main force behind the turnaround has moved to the “Big House.”  Coach Brady Hoke is now pacing the sidelines at Michigan.

 

All is not lost.  Rocky Long is the new head man after serving as Hoke’s defensive guru the last two years.  Long won at New Mexico; look at what happened to the Lobos since his departure.

 

This year’s Aztec squad will not be as strong, but there is enough returning talent to send SDSU back to a bowl game.  However, Long was faced with an epidemic to one part of his offense, and it could sink the Aztecs’ bowl hopes.

 

The injury bug hit his receiver corps—big time.  Expected starters Jay Waddell and Dominique Sandifer both suffered season-ending knee injuries.  Incoming freshman Anthony Sheffield failed to qualify academically.  Then, possible replacement starter Larry Clark suffered a knee injury.  Not even Oklahoma could lose four key players at one position and not suffer.  San Diego State was already looking at having to replace their top three receivers from last year.  Now, tight end Gavin Escobar is the only returning receiver that caught at least 10 passes last year.  His backup, Hunter Hewitt, has been suspended for the start of the season, so the Aztecs have a lot of work to do disguising this weakness.  Walk-on Dylan Denso and Marcus Russell may see considerable playing time.

 

Quarterback Ryan Lindley will give the new receivers a chance to become successful.  Outside of Kellen Moore, he is the next best quarterback in the league.  Lindley will leave SDSU as the all-time leading passer if he can pass for about 160 yards per game this year.  He passed for close to 300 yards per game last year, so barring injury or just downright pitiful play at the receiver position, he should own that record by October or early November.

 

Long’s coaching style resembles Woody Hayes more than Mike Leach, so expect the Aztecs to run the ball more this season, especially with the liability at wide receiver.  Both of last year’s key backs return.  Sophomore Ronnie Hillman led the conference by a large margin with 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns, which beat Marshall Faulk’s freshman records.  Backup Walter Kazee added 320 yards and three scores.

 

One place that the Aztecs don’t have to worry is the offensive line.  Four quality starters return from a year ago, and they should open holes for the running backs to sneak through for five yards.

 

After averaging 35 points and almost 460 yards per game last year, expect a reduction in both areas.  Long’s game plans usually seek to control the ball on extended scoring drives and not go for the quick score.  Look for about 28 points and 380-400 yards.

 

The defense has a bit of rebuilding to do.  An already raw defensive line took an extra beating when starter to be Neil Spencer was declared academically ineligible.  Larry Gibbs was expected to compete for Spencer’s end spot, but he suffered a broken foot in Spring drills.  That leaves nose tackle Jerome Long and end J. J. Autele as the only experienced holdovers from last year.  Long, an undersized nose tackle in the 3-3-5 alignment, got in on 30 tackles with 6 going for losses last year.  Autele posted 15 tackles as a backup.

 

The strength of the defense is the three-man linebacker unit.  All-conference star Miles Burris returns to the Sam linebacker position after leading the team with 80 tackles.  He led the conference with 9 ½ sacks and 20 tackles for loss. 

 

The secondary will miss free safety Brandon Davis for the first couple of games.  That will leave cornerback Leon McFadden as the lone returning starter until the third game.  McFadden was the star of last year’s secondary with 14 passes defended (led the conference).

 

The schedule presents SDSU with seven or eight win opportunities. We believe they will get to six, maybe seven wins and go bowling once again.

 

Colorado State

The Rams have suffered through back-to-back 3-9 seasons after going bowling in 2008.  Fourth year head coach Steve Fairchild may begin to feel the heat in Fort Collins, if the green and gold go 3-9 again this season.  Fairchild has enough tools to build a winner this year, but like San Diego State, the Rams have been plagued with a rash of problems in one area.

 

That area is the offensive line.  It started when projected starting guard Connor Smith chose to take his sheepskin and enter the workforce rather than use his final year of eligibility.  Then, key reserve tackle Justin Becker was ruled academically ineligible.  To make matters worse, three more offensive linemen suffered injuries in one week of preseason drills.  The other expected starting guard Jake Gdowski had knee surgery and will more than likely miss the start of the season.  Jason Baird and Mason Hathaway are sidelined with ankle injuries.  CSU is now razor thin here, and any chance for a winning season will hinge on the success of their offense.

 

If the Rams can provide any pass protection, they have no worries at quarterback.  Sophomore Pete Thomas put up some amazing numbers as a freshman.  He completed 64.7% of his passes for 2,662 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.  He did toss 13 interceptions, but almost half of those came in September.  Thomas has the ability to pass for 3,300 to 3,500 yards this year, as the Rams move to more of a pro-style passing attack like those used by the New England Patriots.

 

The Rams have two receivers capable of topping 50 receptions this season.  Lou Greenwood and Byron Steele teamed up for 54 receptions and 787 yards last year.  The Rams have depth here with the return of five backups that registered 15 or more receptions.

 

The running back position is not what it used to be in the Sonny Lubick days.  Nobody on this roster is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, but this offense will not need that to succeed.  If Fairchild can find a back that can consistently pick up three yards on 3rd and two and can punch it in from the two yard line, the Rams will be okay at this position.  Raymond Carter saw limited action here last year after transferring from UCLA.  Carter, at one time a 4-star recruit from Los Angeles, has never lived up to his press credentials, mostly because of multiple knee injuries.  If he can remain healthy, he is capable of rushing for 100 yards against the weaker defenses, but we have to question his durability.  He should be limited to about 15 touches a game.

 

The offense averaged a meager 16.5 points and 335 yards per game in 2010.  If the problems in the offensive line can be solved, CSU will easily surpass these numbers in 2011.  If the OL stays as it is as of mid-August, Thomas could be running for his life rather than running downfield to congratulate his receivers.

 

The defense is much healthier, but it is not as talented as the offense.  The secondary is suspect after giving up nearly 70% completions last year and finishing 3rd to last in passing efficiency defense.  Cornerbacks Elijah-Blue Smith, Momo Thomas, and Shaq Bell have the potential to be good, but only if they get a little help from the pass rush.  The trio combined for just one interception and one pass defended, which is completely unacceptable at this position.

 

The strength, if you can call it that, on this side of the ball will be at linebacker.  Mychal Sisson is a probable 1st team all-conference player after making the 2nd team two years in a row.  He finished second in the league with 15 tackles for loss and recorded 95 total tackles last year.

 

The front four is another liability, and Fairchild could use more 3-4 alignments this year trying to hide the liability and take advantage of more talented linebackers.  The Rams posted just 21 QB sacks, and the chief instigator, Guy Miller, graduated.  Ends Broderick Sargent and C. J. James combined for just 3 ½ sacks.  Davis Burl can play a hybrid position (end/lb), and he has the quickness to pursue across the field and get into the backfield.

 

The Rams were generous a year ago, giving up 35 points and 425 yards per game.  Without an improved pass rush, don’t expect much improvement this year.  However, their schedule will actually give them a chance to challenge for bowl eligibility, especially if Thomas can help the Rams outscore the opposition in 38-35 style games.

 

Games against New Mexico, Northern Colorado, Colorado, Utah State, and San Jose State could actually give the Rams a chance to start 5-0 before enjoying a week off to prepare for Boise State.  The second half of the season includes games with UTEP, UNLC, and Wyoming.  This gives CSU eight winnable games, and we believe they can win at least six of them, but only if the offensive line can protect Thomas.

 

Wyoming

Dave Christensen came to Wyoming after serving as Gary Pinkel’s offensive coordinator at Missouri.  He immediately produced big results in his first season in Laramie in 2009, winning seven games, including the New Mexico Bowl.  In year two, the Cowboys didn’t catch the breaks they caught the year before and finished 3-9.  Both years, Wyoming was outgained and outscored, so the question remains: can Christensen turn this program around and produce a consistent winner?  Wyoming has a storied history in college football, and even though it is the smallest state by population, the ability to recruit all over the Rockies gives this school a chance to succeed.  One look at the lovely campus at more than 7,100 feet in elevation is a great recruiting tool to big sky country (Disclaimer: the photo montage screen saver on the computer typing this preview includes a lovely picture of Laramie, WY, taken by our founder when he lived in the Rockies and frequently hiked in Curt Gowdy State Park just a bit to the east of Laramie).

 

Wyoming will have a new offensive coordinator and new quarterback this year after averaging just 19 points and 286 total yards per game in 2010.  Former Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon produced some stellar passing teams, especially with Tyler Sheehan at quarterback.  Brandon finds the QB cupboard almost bare.  Austyn Carta-Samuels transferred to Vanderbilt when his former OC left for Cal.  Emory Miller was expected to compete for the starting job and given a 50-50 chance of winning it, but he quit the team.  That leaves true freshman Brett Smith as the starter.  Look for Brandon to keep things simple for Smith.  Wyoming will throw short and try to spread the field and cut down on mistakes.  Smith’s completion percentage could be over 60, but his yards per attempt could be under six.

 

The Cowboys lost their top two receivers, leaving Chris McNeill as the leading returnee.  But, he averaged just 9.2 yards per reception last year.  When UW uses a tight end, T. J. Smith can get open in the seams of zones.  He caught just eight passes last year, but he averaged nearly 22 yards per catch.  Look for him to more than double his amount of touches this season.

 

The Cowboys are just fine at the running back position.  Alvester Alexander returns after leading the team with 792 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.  We believe he has 1,000 yard potential, and he could become an important weapon in the short passing game.  In fact, it would not surprise us to see him lead the team in rushing and in receptions.

 

The offensive line is the real strength of this offense, and it will give Smith a chance to learn without fearing continual turf poundings.  After giving up 31 sacks last year, the OL should chop that number by at least 10.  Tackles Kyle Magnuson and John Hutchins create a solar eclipse when they stand up straight.  They will protect the flank and open holes for Alexander.

 

If Smith can just have an average year as a freshman, Wyoming’s numbers will improve on this side of the ball.  We are looking for a typical stat line of 17-27 for 175 yards against an average opponent.  Throw in 150 yards rushing, and Wyoming would average about 20-25 points per game this year.  That would be an enormous improvement; UW has not averaged 20 or more points per game since 2006.

 

There is good news and bad news on the other side of the ball.  Wyoming needs more good news after giving up more than 30 points and 400 yards per game last year.  The Good news is the return of the entire starting front four from last year.  There will be improvement on the 20 sacks and 200+ rushing yards allowed.  End Josh Biezuns led the team with 6 ½ sacks, while his counterpart Gabe Knapton added four.  The healthy return of Mark Willis gives the outside quality depth.

 

Now the bad news: Wyoming must rebuild its back seven line of defense.  Only two starters return here, and the unexpected loss of middle linebacker Oliver Schober is likely to be a major factor in why the Cowboys will not improve much if any on this side of the ball.

 

Brian Hendricks is the lone holdover at linebacker.  He finished third on the team with 80 tackles, but he did not get into the backfield, nor did he cover well on passing plays.  Backup middle linebacker Devyn Harris saw considerable action in 2010, so he has a chance to partially fill the void left by Schober.

 

The secondary performed admirably last year considering there was very little pass rush, and the safeties had to make a lot of stops on running plays.  Cornerback Tashaun Gipson could vie for all-conference honors this year.  He defended a dozen passes last year, intercepting three.

 

It will be hard to hold opponents under 30 points per game this year with the weaknesses in the back seven.  The schedule offers the Cowboys a chance to top last year’s win total, but we do not see this team getting to six wins.  4-8 or 5-7 is about the peak for this season.

 

U N L V

Bobby Hauck replaced Joe Glenn at Montana and in seven seasons, guided the Grizzlies to seven conference championships.  His last team included future Pro Bowl rookie kick returner Mark Mariani. 

 

In his first season in Las Vegas, Hauck’s Rebels finished 2-11, only six fewer losses than he experienced in seven years at Montana.  Glenn left Montana to take a job in the MWC at Wyoming, but he never turned the program around and was dismissed after six seasons.  Is the Montana position a lot like the Boise State position has been?  You can win big at Montana, but don’t try to let the chips ride for bigger stakes?

 

Only time will tell, but in year two in Vegas, Hauck may wish that what happens at Sam Boyd Stadium, stays in Sam Boyd Stadium.  The Rebels will have a hard time improving on the woeful 2-11 season of last year, and they could even win 50% fewer games if they cannot defeat New Mexico.

 

Hauck comes from the three yards and a cloud of dust offense school, and he does not have the horses to make it run.  The current roster was recruited to play in the spread offense, and what talent there is was recruited for speed over girth.

 

Trying to improve on 18 points and 274 yards per game, the first order of business is finding a new quarterback.  Omar Clayton has left the building after finishing second in school history to Randall Cunningham in passing yards.  Caleb Herring should line up under center when the season opens on September 1.  He completed half of his 56 passes last year with four touchdowns and three interceptions (the latter stat too high to win in this league).

 

We expect improvement in the Rebels’ running game this year, but it would be hard to go downhill from last year’s weak results (103 rushing yards per game). Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle teamed for just 655 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but both have looked solid so far in August drills.

 

UNLV has experienced depth at the receiver positions, but the leading receiver from 2010 will miss the start of this season.  Phillip Payne led the Rebels with 40 receptions, while proving to be the only breakaway threat on the team.  He is still recovering from a broken foot.  Payne has the potential to be an all-conference player.  Replacing him until he is ready to go will be tall and lanky Kurt Davis.  Marcus Sullivan has the potential to give the Rebels a solid one-two punch on the perimeter.

 

The offensive line is still a major liability, and expected starting tackle Allen Carroll has been a spectator in practices so far.  The transfer from Washington would be the one true talent on this line, but he has yet to suit up after being medically cleared.  Redshirt freshman Cameron Jefferson is well undersized to play tackle, but he will start at the all-important left tackle position.  Jefferson is 6-6 and only 265 pounds having been a basketball star more than a football star in high school.

 

With an inexperienced line and inexperienced quarterback, defenses may be able to choke off the running game and stop the Rebels’ offense again this season.  We are a little pessimistic on their prospects in year two of the Hauck regime.

 

The defense makes the offense look good.  UNLV had no defense last year.  The Rebels surrendered 40 points and 450 yards per game.  There was no pass rush; enemy backs enjoyed career days; and the secondary played like matadors.  Maybe having major graduation losses on this side of the ball is not such a bad thing.

 

There is one man among boys on this side of the ball.  Linebacker Princeton Jackson comes from Blinn Junior College (Cam Newton’s school) where he was a legitimate superstar in the Juco ranks.  Jackson is quick and strong, and he can make a tackle on either sideline.  He will immediately be the star on this side of the ball and team with Nate Carter and Tani Maka to give the Rebels respectability at this position.

 

You know things are not well when your leading returning sack master recorded just 1 ½ sacks.  UNLV only dumped QBs 12 times in 13 games last year.  B. J. Bell tied for the lead (with a defensive back) with just 1 ½ sacks.  The other starting end, James Dunlap, never touched a QB.  In the interior, Hauck has a couple of beefy bulldozers coming in at 300+ pounds, but there is very little experience or depth here.

 

The secondary might have been an asset this year, but the Rebels’ projected starting strong safety Chris Jones decided to quit playing the game.  The news is a little better at cornerback with the return of the top three players with starting experience.  Will Chandler and Sidney Hodge (the other player with 1 ½ sacks) combined to stop 10 passes last year with Chandler intercepting five of those.  Former starter Quinton Pointer returns after missing 2010 with a knee injury.

 

The schedule does no favors for UNLV.  The Rebels open the season with road games against Big Ten power Wisconsin and improving Washington State.  Then Hawaii comes for a visit.  Game four finds the Rebels hosting a dangerous FCS team in Southern Utah; the Thunderbirds are capable of pulling off the upset.  In conference play, UNLV faces the other two weakest teams on enemy turf, so this could be a very long season in Vegas.  The chances for an 0-12 season are there, but we believe the Rebels can find a way to win two times.

 

New Mexico

How many times have you seen something similar to this story? A publicly traded company has a history of turning a modest profit most quarters with an occasional loss but never a big loss.  The board decides the modest profit is not enough and brings in this promising assistant from one of the Dow Jones 30, and the modest quarterly profits all of a sudden became incredible losses, threatening to make the company the next Eastern Airlines.

 

New Mexico’s most influential supporters were not satisfied with Rocky Long’s typical six and seven-win seasons in a state that just does not have any recruiting base to expect anything more.  Long won nine games in 2007, and he should have been given a lifetime contract.  Instead, a rebuilding season in 2008 brought a 4-8 record and his dismissal. 

 

How do you feel about that now you influential supporters?  You traded five bowls in six years for back-to-back 1-11 seasons and with no prospects for much improvement if any. 

 

New Mexico’s most recent 1-11 season was much worse than the 1-11 season the year before.  The Lobos averaged 16 points and 266 yards (last in the nation) per game while giving up 44 points and 470 total yards per game last year.  Among the losses was a second consecutive defeat to rival New Mexico State, a team that finished 2-10.

 

Third year coach Mike Locksley has appointed two new coordinators, but that is not the problem.  As a popular commercial once made popular, “Where’s the Beef?”  There are not enough FBS-caliber players on the roster, and Vince Lombardi couldn’t win six games with this team.

 

There is talent on offense, but none of it as in the line.  Two starters return to the blocking corps, and this group may be weaker than last year.  Last year’s line gave up 27 sacks and opened holes for just 108 rushing yards at less than three yards per rush.  The top lineman, tackle Darryl Johnson, missed Spring practice.

 

The Lobos went through four quarterbacks last year, and two return for more pain and suffering.  Either B. R. Holbrook or Tarean Austin will start against Colorado State in game one, but with the lack of protection, it would be no surprise if true freshman Dustin Walton is starting at some point during the season.  Holbrook and Austin combined for 1,017 passing yards with a 51% completion rate and a 4/10 TD/int ratio.

 

The top two receivers from last year are back, giving the Lobos a chance to have a little better passing yardage this year.  Ty Kirk and tight end Lucas Reed teamed for 71 receptions and 936 yards.  New wide receiver Lamaar Thomas has world class sprinter’s speed; he started his career at Ohio State, and he could become the top receiver here.

 

Kasey Carrier and James Wright both return to the backfield.  The two gained 677 yards on the ground and scored four touchdowns last year, but it could be harder for them to gain yards with the raw offensive line.

 

It looked like the defense had a chance to improve quite a bit, but major defections/injuries/suspensions have put a major crimp in the trenches of the 4-2-5 alignment.  The big loss is tackle Calvin Smith, who was a big-time recruit.  He transferred to Purdue.  End J. J. Hugine transferred as well.  End Omar Castillo was dismissed from the team, while end Johnathan Rainey broke a bone in his neck and will miss the entire season.  Two juniors who played sparingly a year ago will be counted on to lead the front line.  Joe Harris and Reggie Ellis will join Jaymar Latchison as the only experienced players in the trenches.

 

UNM has some talent at linebacker.  Carmen Messina, Joe Stoner, and Javarie Johnson, and Spencer Merritt give Locksley a decent two-deep.  Messina led the Lobos with 115 tackles with six tackles for loss.  He batted away four passes as well. 

 

The secondary returns four starters from a year ago, but unless the line develops some threat of a pass rush, it will be hard for this quintet to improve by much.  Free safety Bubba Forrest made way too many tackles last year (100).  If he records triple digit stops again this year, the Lobos will be looking up at the rest of the MWC in the standings.

 

The schedule gives UNM a chance to win four times.  Colorado State is vulnerable in the opener due to their offensive line issues.  Sam Houston State visits on September 24, and if the Lobos lose that game, Locksley could be out.  New Mexico State visits Albuquerque the following week, and the Lobos have dropped the last two games to the Aggies.  On November 12, UNM hosts UNLV in a game that could decide which team avoids the basement.

 

New Mexico has so much room to make up on the rest of the league, it is really hard to predict that they will win any of these four winnable games.  We believe that lightning will strike at least one time—again.

 

2011 Mountain West Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Boise State

28

236

T C U

3

208

Air Force

 

176

San Diego State

 

160

Colorado State

 

104

Wyoming

 

80

U N L V

 

77

New Mexico

 

39

 

 

2011 Mountain West Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Boise St.

121.7

7-0/12-0

T C U

110.0

6-1/11-1

Air Force

106.6

5-2/8-4

S.D.State

100.3

4-3/6-6

Colo.State

92.4

3-4/6-6

Wyoming

90.4

2-5/4-8

UNLV

85.2

1-6/2-10

New Mexico

81.7

0-7/1-11

 

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