The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 15, 2018

2018 American Athletic Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

This American Athletic Conference believes the number one team in the nation played within its jurisdiction last year. No, Alabama did not have some type of adjunct relationship with the league. Central Florida was the lone unbeaten team in the nation in 2017. In addition, the Knights did something Alabama was unable to do–beat Auburn.
The PiRate Ratings not only said that UCF was not the top team in the nation, we believed there were four better teams last year. UCF’s running the table reminded us a lot of Penn State in 1968, when the Nittany Lions went 11-0 and beat Kansas in the Orange Bowl. So what did that Penn State team do for an encore in 1969? They merely went 11-0 again with one of the most aggressive defenses and special teams in college football history.
UCF just might run the table again this year, just like that great Penn State team.

However, they will have an extra impediment that Penn State did not have in 1969. Coach Scott Frost took his marbles and went home to alma mater Nebraska. The Knights will try to become the first team since Toledo in 1970 and 1971 to go undefeated in back-to-back seasons with different head coaches. That Toledo team actually ran the table for three consecutive years.
UCF returns a talented quarterback in McKenzie Milton, two talented running backs in Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson, and two highly-skilled receivers Dredrick Snelson and Gabriel Davis that helped team up for 530+ yards and 48+ points per game. The Knights should continue to pile up yards and points again this year, and if the defense can hold serve and put up similar numbers to last year, UCF has a chance to repeat at 13-0. The toughest roadblocks will be road games with North Carolina and Memphis and a home game with Pittsburgh. The regular season finale at South Florida could be a trap game.

Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls are not quite up to UCF’s talent level, and they undergo a slight rebuilding project this year. A splendid offensive team in 2017, USF must break in a new quarterback, a new running back or backs to replace two highly talented backs, and their leading receiver. Things are not all that rosy on the defensive side of the ball, but the Bulls had a lot of talented depth and should be okay on this side of the ball, especially with a defensive mastermind like Charlie Strong as head coach.

Temple continued to win with new coach Geoff Collins taking over for Matt Rhule last year. Collins might have a hard time topping last year’s seven wins, but the rest of the division is not ready to move up, so the Owls might have a shot at another bowl-eligible season. Temple has some stars on both sides of the ball, foremost being rush end Quincy Roche, who recorded seven sacks as a freshman. He’ll join the finest trio of linebackers in the league, and Temple should hold opponents to 21 to 24 points per game this year. If the offense can take a small move forward, Temple can contend with South Florida for second in the division.

The bottom three teams in the East Division fall far short of the top three. Cincinnati appears to be nearing the end of the Luke Fickell era. After a 4-8 season in 2017, the Bearcats look like a team that will find it hard to even equal that mark this year. Pass defense will be a major issue, and even if the pass rush improves this year, UC may take a backward turn against the run. The result should be another year where opponents average north of 30 points per game.

East Carolina and Connecticut face major rebuilding projects and should both win fewer games than a year ago. That’s not an easy task, as they both won just three times in 2017.

Memphis lost just twice in the regular season last year, but both times, it was to Central Florida. The Tigers host UCF in the middle of the season, and the game could match a pair of ranked and undefeated teams. The only reason why Memphis may not top the Knights is the breaking in of a new quarterback. David Moore can run and pass with talent, but he lacks the experience that Milton has at UCF. The Tigers should have a better defense this year with most of the key players back, but the offense is going to backtrack, and with it will go the Tigers’ conference championship hopes in 2018.

When Major Applewhite became Houston’s head coach last year, he heard an edict from the school’s president that 8-4 will get a coach fired there. Applewhite only mustered seven wins in his first year, and 8-4 may be about what to expect in year two. The question is: will 8-4 be good enough in year two? The Cougars lost too much talent on both sides of the ball to make a legitimate move forward. Every full-time starting skill position player at one set position on offense must be replaced. The one exception is D’Eriq King, who began the season as one of the leading receivers on the team and then moved to quarterback in the second half.

Navy has been to 14 bowls in the last 15 years, and with an experienced quarterback returning to run the double slot option offense, the Midshipmen will make it 15 in 16 years. Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s teams usually improve by a couple of games when his quarterback returns, so look for Navy to challenge for double-digit wins this year.

Unlike the East, the bottom three teams in the West could all contend for bowl eligibility this year. Tulane and SMU played a bowl-qualifier in the regular season’s final week last year. Tulane appeared to have the game won at the end, but an incorrect referee’s call gave the game and the Frisco Bowl bid to the Mustangs. The PiRate Ratings don’t call for it, but we believe Coach Willie Fritz will build on this near-miss and push Tulane to bowl eligibility. Expect quarterback Jonathan Banks to increase the Green Wave’s passing efficiency, especially since his starting receiving corps returns in full. While at Georgia Southern, Fritz’s offenses averaged better than 425 yards and 35 points per game, and if TU can match that amount this year, Fritz will be coaching in December.

SMU must start all over with a new coach and new offensive system. The Mustangs should be okay on offense, but their defense is still a mess, and the new offense may force it to stay on the field a tad more this year. It may take 40 points per game for the Mustangs to win six games and make a bowl game again.

Tulsa has the least chance of the three bottom-half teams to make a bowl this year, and a reduction in their athletic budget could signal some lean times in the near future. Last year, the Golden Hurricane could not move the football through the air, and it led to a sub 30 points per game output, and a year after winning 10 games, Tulsa lost 10 games.

Here is how the American Athletic Conference Media voted in the preseason poll.

American Athletic
East 1st Place Points
1. Central Florida 25 175
2. South Florida 5 140
3. Temple 0 132
4. Cincinnati 0 91
5. Connecticut 0 51
6. East Carolina 0 41
West 1st Place Points
1. Memphis 23 171
2. Houston 4 146
3. Navy 3 129
4. SMU 0 72
5. Tulane 0 68
6. Tulsa 0 44
Championship Game Winner Points
Central Florida 19
Memphis 7
South Florida 3
Houston 1

The PiRate Ratings agree almost completely with the media experts with the exception of flip-flopping Tulane and SMU

American Athletic Conference
East Division
Team AAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Central Florida 0-0 0-0 110.8 110.4 110.7 110.6
South Florida 0-0 0-0 96.0 99.3 96.9 97.4
Temple 0-0 0-0 95.8 95.8 96.2 95.9
Cincinnati 0-0 0-0 87.1 88.5 86.5 87.3
Connecticut 0-0 0-0 84.1 84.4 82.8 83.8
East Carolina 0-0 0-0 83.1 82.2 82.0 82.4
West Division
Team AAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Memphis 0-0 0-0 104.2 106.3 105.7 105.4
Houston 0-0 0-0 99.9 101.4 101.0 100.8
Navy 0-0 0-0 98.7 101.7 98.5 99.7
Tulane 0-0 0-0 94.4 94.6 94.0 94.3
SMU 0-0 0-0 95.1 93.8 94.0 94.3
Tulsa 0-0 0-0 91.8 90.3 92.3 91.5
AAC Averages 95.1 95.7 95.1 95.3

New Coaches
The biggest coaching change in all of Group of 5 football is at Central Florida, where former Oklahoma passing phenom Josh Heupel takes over for former Nebraska star Scott Frost. Heupel comes from the spread passing philosophy of Bob Stoops and Mike Leach. Heupel most recently served as offensive coordinator at Missouri, where Drew Lock routinely topped 300 yards passing. What a lot of fans might not know is that Heupel’s Missouri offense also finished in the top half of the SEC’s rushing statistics. UCF will most likely continue to average more than 40 points and 500 yards per game.

SMU welcomes former Louisiana Tech and California head coach Sonny Dykes, as he too brings the same offense to Dallas that Heupel will bring to Orlando. Dykes was a special offensive assistant at TCU last year, and the Horned Frogs averaged 33.6 points and 419 yards per game.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. What we’re saying is: don’t take these numbers with anything more than a grain of salt.

Team Conference Overall
East
Central Florida 8-0 13-0 *
South Florida 5-3 8-4
Temple 5-3 7-5
Cincinnati 2-6 3-9
East Carolina 1-7 2-10
Connecticut 0-8 1-11
West Conference Overall
Memphis 7-1 10-3
Navy 6-2 10-3
Houston 6-2 8-4
Tulsa 3-5 5-7
Tulane 3-5 4-8
SMU 2-6 3-9
* Central Florida picked to win AAC Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The American Athletic Conference has contracts to fill seven bowls with no set pecking order.

Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX
Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas
Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, AL
Cure Bowl in Orlando, FL
Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX (The Home Soccer Stadium for FC Dallas of the MLS).
Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL
Military Bowl in Annapolis, MD

Coming Tomorrow–We begin previewing the Power 5 Conferences. First up is the Big 12.

Advertisements

January 9, 2018

PiRate Ratings 2017-18 College Football Final Polls

Congratulations go to Coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide for winning the National Championship in a thrilling overtime victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.  Alabama wins the top spot in all three ratings, plus the retro rankings.  Here’s how the final numbers crunched.

Retrodictive Rankings

PiRate Retrodictive
# Team
1 Alabama
2 Georgia
3 Ohio St.
4 Wisconsin
5 Central Florida
6 Penn St.
7 Clemson
8 Oklahoma
9 Notre Dame
10 Auburn
11 TCU
12 Michigan St.
13 Miami (Fla)
14 USC
15 Washington
16 Oklahoma St.
17 Northwestern
18 North Carolina St.
19 Iowa
20 Stanford
21 Virginia Tech
22 Mississippi St.
23 LSU
24 Memphis
25 Boise St.
26 Michigan
27 Iowa St.
28 Wake Forest
29 South Florida
30 Louisville
31 South Carolina
32 Washington St.
33 Toledo
34 Florida Atlantic
35 Boston College
36 Florida St.
37 Texas
38 Purdue
39 Kansas St.
40 San Diego St.
41 Fresno St.
42 Troy
43 Army
44 Navy
45 Texas A&M
46 Duke
47 Georgia Tech
48 Oregon
49 Utah
50 West Virginia
51 Missouri
52 Arizona St.
53 Houston
54 Texas Tech
55 Kentucky
56 Arizona
57 UCLA
58 Appalachian St.
59 Ohio
60 Indiana
61 Ole Miss
62 Pittsburgh
63 California
64 Northern Illinois
65 Temple
66 SMU
67 Minnesota
68 Marshall
69 North Texas
70 Virginia
71 Wyoming
72 Florida
73 Syracuse
74 Maryland
75 Central Michigan
76 Colorado
77 Colorado St.
78 Nebraska
79 Western Michigan
80 Louisiana Tech
81 Tulane
82 Vanderbilt
83 Arkansas St.
84 Southern Miss.
85 Florida Int’l.
86 Arkansas
87 Akron
88 Buffalo
89 Middle Tennessee
90 Utah St.
91 Tennessee
92 North Carolina
93 UAB
94 Eastern Michigan
95 Rutgers
96 Air Force
97 New Mexico St.
98 UTSA
99 Miami (O)
100 Cincinnati
101 Tulsa
102 UNLV
103 Western Kentucky
104 Baylor
105 BYU
106 East Carolina
107 Nevada
108 Georgia St.
109 Massachusetts
110 Connecticut
111 Illinois
112 Old Dominion
113 UL-Monroe
114 Bowling Green
115 New Mexico
116 Idaho
117 South Alabama
118 UL-Lafayette
119 Oregon St.
120 Hawaii
121 Coastal Carolina
122 Georgia Southern
123 Kansas
124 Kent St.
125 Ball St.
126 Rice
127 Charlotte
128 Texas St.
129 San Jose St.
130 UTEP

The PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings

PiRate Ratings
# Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 Alabama 136.9 133.5 135.8 135.4
2 Ohio St. 132.3 130.2 132.6 131.7
3 Georgia 130.8 130.0 131.4 130.7
4 Clemson 131.3 128.6 130.9 130.3
5 Penn St. 129.4 128.1 129.8 129.1
6 Oklahoma 128.2 126.7 129.4 128.1
7 Auburn 127.0 125.2 127.2 126.5
8 Washington 126.2 124.2 126.1 125.5
9 Wisconsin 126.4 123.9 125.5 125.3
10 Oklahoma St. 121.2 120.4 121.6 121.1
11 Stanford 120.6 119.0 119.9 119.8
12 U S C 120.1 119.2 119.8 119.7
13 L S U 118.5 116.3 118.8 117.9
14 Virginia Tech 118.1 117.6 117.9 117.8
15 Miami 118.6 117.4 117.5 117.8
16 T C U 118.0 116.5 118.2 117.6
17 N. Carolina St. 117.1 116.2 117.0 116.8
18 Central Florida 116.0 116.9 117.2 116.7
19 Louisville 116.8 116.0 116.5 116.4
20 Notre Dame 116.6 115.4 116.8 116.2
21 Florida St. 116.9 116.0 115.7 116.2
22 Northwestern 115.4 114.2 115.5 115.0
23 Iowa 114.3 114.5 113.6 114.2
24 Michigan 114.2 114.0 113.4 113.9
25 Mississippi St. 113.5 113.3 113.3 113.4
26 Memphis 113.2 112.5 114.0 113.2
27 Iowa State 112.8 112.8 113.9 113.2
28 Texas 112.9 112.9 113.5 113.1
29 Kansas St. 112.9 112.7 113.0 112.9
30 Boston College 112.6 112.3 112.6 112.5
31 Michigan St. 111.0 111.6 112.1 111.6
32 Wake Forest 112.1 110.4 112.2 111.6
33 Duke 111.1 110.0 110.4 110.5
34 Utah 109.9 109.9 110.1 110.0
35 Oregon 110.5 108.6 109.9 109.7
36 Georgia Tech 110.2 108.4 108.7 109.1
37 Washington St. 109.8 107.7 109.3 108.9
38 South Florida 109.0 108.2 109.3 108.8
39 S. Carolina 109.1 108.3 108.2 108.5
40 Pittsburgh 108.8 108.1 108.7 108.5
41 Missouri 108.5 107.1 107.8 107.8
42 Boise St. 107.5 106.1 107.6 107.1
43 Texas A&M 107.9 106.0 107.0 107.0
44 West Virginia 106.7 107.4 106.7 106.9
45 Arizona St. 106.4 105.3 106.0 105.9
46 Kentucky 106.4 105.7 105.0 105.7
47 Purdue 105.6 105.4 106.1 105.7
48 Indiana 105.5 105.6 105.9 105.7
49 Ole Miss 106.3 105.0 105.4 105.6
50 Florida 105.7 105.4 105.1 105.4
51 Arizona 106.0 104.9 104.9 105.3
52 Texas Tech 105.2 104.9 104.8 105.0
53 Florida Atlantic 103.4 104.9 105.3 104.5
54 California 105.3 103.2 103.8 104.1
55 Navy 103.5 104.1 103.7 103.8
56 Colorado 104.5 103.4 102.4 103.4
57 U C L A 103.0 102.4 102.3 102.6
58 N. Carolina 102.9 102.0 102.0 102.3
59 San Diego St. 101.5 101.5 102.5 101.8
60 Houston 101.4 101.1 101.5 101.3
61 Syracuse 102.0 100.8 101.1 101.3
62 Army 100.9 100.8 101.3 101.0
63 Appalachian St. 101.2 100.0 101.4 100.9
64 Toledo 100.1 100.1 102.1 100.8
65 Minnesota 100.3 101.2 99.2 100.2
66 Vanderbilt 100.8 99.8 99.7 100.1
67 Troy 99.7 99.8 99.9 99.8
68 Fresno St. 99.9 98.6 100.8 99.8
69 Colo. State 99.8 99.1 99.7 99.5
70 Virginia 99.6 98.6 99.9 99.4
71 Ohio U 98.3 99.6 99.3 99.1
72 Arkansas 99.4 98.5 99.2 99.1
73 Baylor 98.1 99.4 98.2 98.6
74 Temple 98.2 98.5 98.8 98.5
75 Wyoming 97.8 96.9 97.2 97.3
76 Tennessee 97.3 95.9 95.3 96.2
77 Western Michigan 95.8 95.2 96.5 95.8
78 Northern Illinois 95.0 95.0 95.8 95.2
79 Nebraska 94.9 95.4 94.4 94.9
80 Eastern Michigan 94.7 94.8 95.1 94.9
81 Maryland 94.5 95.8 93.9 94.7
82 Arkansas St. 93.8 95.0 94.7 94.5
83 Tulane 94.2 94.4 94.6 94.4
84 SMU 94.0 94.5 94.3 94.3
85 Utah St. 94.0 93.3 93.7 93.7
86 Marshall 92.4 93.5 93.8 93.3
87 Central Michigan 92.8 93.1 93.4 93.1
88 Tulsa 93.1 92.8 92.7 92.9
89 Air Force 92.2 92.5 92.2 92.3
90 Louisiana Tech 90.8 92.4 91.6 91.6
91 Middle Tennessee 90.4 91.4 91.6 91.1
92 Rutgers 91.1 91.1 90.7 91.0
93 BYU 90.0 89.9 89.9 89.9
94 Nevada 88.9 90.5 90.0 89.8
95 Miami (O) 88.7 90.7 89.9 89.8
96 Oregon St. 90.0 89.9 88.4 89.4
97 Massachusetts 88.9 88.4 89.0 88.8
98 U T S A 87.6 90.0 88.4 88.6
99 Buffalo 87.3 89.3 89.3 88.6
100 Florida Int’l. 87.6 88.0 88.4 88.0
101 Illinois 87.9 89.0 86.8 87.9
102 Southern Miss. 87.5 88.4 87.8 87.9
103 N. Texas 86.4 87.8 86.9 87.0
104 U N L V 86.2 87.7 86.3 86.8
105 N. Mexico St. 86.8 85.7 86.9 86.5
106 W. Kentucky 85.7 86.2 86.1 86.0
107 Connecticut 84.5 86.3 84.8 85.2
108 Akron 84.2 86.1 84.9 85.1
109 Cincinnati 83.9 85.7 84.6 84.7
110 New Mexico 84.4 84.4 84.9 84.6
111 East Carolina 83.2 84.5 83.3 83.7
112 Georgia St. 82.7 82.7 82.5 82.7
113 Kansas 81.8 85.1 80.5 82.5
114 Bowling Green 81.5 82.6 81.8 82.0
115 Hawaii 81.8 82.9 81.1 81.9
116 UL-Monroe 81.9 82.8 81.0 81.9
117 S. Alabama 81.1 83.0 81.3 81.8
118 Idaho 80.8 81.6 81.7 81.3
119 Old Dominion 80.3 82.7 80.5 81.2
120 UAB 79.6 79.9 81.3 80.3
121 UL-Lafayette 79.3 80.5 79.0 79.6
122 Georgia Southern 79.1 80.4 78.5 79.3
123 Coastal Carolina 74.5 75.7 75.3 75.2
124 Kent St. 73.9 75.4 74.2 74.5
125 Rice 72.6 74.1 73.0 73.2
126 San Jose St. 72.3 72.4 71.6 72.1
127 Texas St. 70.3 72.5 69.4 70.7
128 Charlotte 69.5 71.8 69.7 70.3
129 U T E P 67.9 70.7 67.9 68.9
130 Ball St. 65.7 67.7 66.4 66.6
           
PiRate Ratings By Conference
# League PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 ACC 112.7 111.6 112.2 112.2
2 SEC 112.0 110.7 111.4 111.4
3 B12 109.8 109.9 110.0 109.9
4 P-12 109.4 108.1 108.6 108.7
5 BTEN 108.8 108.6 108.5 108.6
6 IND 99.1 98.6 99.2 99.0
7 AAC 97.9 98.3 98.2 98.1
8 MWC 92.2 92.2 92.3 92.2
9 MAC 88.2 89.1 89.0 88.8
10 CUSA 84.4 85.8 85.2 85.1
11 SBC 84.3 85.0 84.3 84.5

 

 

 

September 28, 2017

PiRate Ratings Money Line Parlays for September 28-October 2, 2017

After four weeks of the football season, our readers might just want to take a knee; then again, they might want to place that knee firmly in some PiRate groin!  Ouch!  1,000 apologies if you took our ill-adivsed advice!

Another losing week, and we are now in the hole to the tune of -25% return on our investment for the season.  We won only one of last week’s four selections, returning $245 on $400 invested.  The -25% return for the season comes from $899 returned on $1,200 invested, quite a hole to try to emerge from before the season runs out of dates.

Our one solace, and we hope this is yours as well, is that these are imaginary dollars.  We can continue to select a liberal amount of games and be a bit wild with our selections, because we are only out the time it takes to pick these games.

This week, you will notice that all of our selections are college football games.  There are no NFL picks.  Make of this what you want, and you will be partially correct.  For one, we just didn’t feel like looking at the NFL Money Lines.  None of us will attend any games this week, and as far as we know, none of us will be watching on TV or listening on the radio.  Another reason why we didn’t select any NFL games is that the league is extremely erratic this year.  The supposed sure-thing 0-16 Jets won big over a playoff contender, and the Texans with a rookie QB almost beat New England, so let’s just walk away from the NFL for now.  The politics can only make the outcomes more unpredictable.

That leaves us with college football, and there are a lot of good games this week.  By good, we mean games in which the favorite is in the 5 to 10 point range, which presents us excellent Money Line potentials.  We actually like one underdog winning outright on the road, and we are going to put that one out as a single entry.

Here are our 5 parlay selections for this week.  Remember this: The members of the PiRate Ratings are not foolish enough to wager real currency on these selections.  We are nervous enough with our value stock selections, which are real, so we don’t need the added stress.  You to should avoid the stress of worrying about losing $500 real dollars on these selections, so only wager imaginary money if you must.

#1 @ +155  
Must Win Must Lose
Georgia Tech North Carolina
Georgia Tennessee
Nebraska Illinois
#2 @ +150  
Must Win Must Lose
Iowa Michigan St.
#3 @ +146  
Must Win Must Lose
Central Florida Memphis
Cincinnati Marshall
#4 @ +128  
Must Win Must Lose
Kentucky Eastern Mich.
Western Mich. Ball St.
La. Tech South Alabama
Boston College Central Mich.
#5 @ +135  
Must Win Must Lose
UNLV San Jose St.
Florida Intl. Charlotte
San Diego St. N. Illinois
Florida Vanderbilt

 

 

 

 

August 19, 2013

2013 American Athletic Conference Preview

2013 American Athletic Conference Preview

 

Say hello to the newest FBS conference.  The AAC formed when the Catholic, non-scholarship football schools from the Big East and the schools that play football divided into two leagues.  For just one season, this conference will still field a somewhat decent roster of teams, but two of the most prestigious schools will leave for greener pastures at the end of this season.  With three more teams joining this league from Conference USA next year, it will basically make this new league the original Conference USA with a new name.

 

For this one season, the last that really matters for receiving a bid to a big bowl with the maximum payout, there is a team capable of challenging for the national championship.

 

Louisville should be favored to win all 12 games, and the Cardinals will not be required to play in a conference championship game to advance to the national title game should a 12-0 record earn them one of the top two spots in the final BCS National Championship Game.

 

If any school is capable of upsetting the Cardinals, it would be Cincinnati.  The Bearcats change coaches this season, as Butch Jones left for Tennessee.  He is replaced by journeyman coach Tommy Tuberville, who has piloted the likes of Ole Miss, Auburn, and Texas Tech.

 

Rutgers returns a significant amount of talent from last season’s 9-4 campaign, and the Scarlet Knights should compete with a trio of other teams for the third spot in the league.  Central Florida, South Florida, and SMU will compete with RU for the third spot.

 

Connecticut and Houston should be considered dark horses in the AAC race, while Memphis and Temple will bring up the rear.

 

 

New Teams: The members of the AAC played in either the Big East or CUSA last year.

 

Central Florida   CUSA
Cincinnati   Big East
Connecticut   Big East
Houston   CUSA
Louisville   Big East
Memphis   CUSA
Rutgers   Big East
S M U     CUSA
South Florida   Big East
Temple   Big East

 

 

Departed Teams: None, since this is the first season

 

2014 Additions: East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa move from CUSA, giving the AAC nine former CUSA members (Cincinnati and South Florida were once in CUSA).

 

2014 Departures: Louisville leaves for the ACC, while Rutgers heads to the Big Ten, leaving this league with no team that played in every Big East season and leaving just Connecticut and Temple that did not play in CUSA.

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

American Athletic Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Louisville

0-0

0-0

115.3

113.4

116.5

Cincinnati

0-0

0-0

105.5

105.9

105.9

Rutgers

0-0

0-0

99.3

104.2

100.1

Central Florida

0-0

0-0

98.2

97.5

99.2

South Florida

0-0

0-0

94.5

92.9

93.5

S M U

0-0

0-0

94.1

101.9

94.6

Connecticut

0-0

0-0

93.6

101.3

94.2

Houston

0-0

0-0

89.4

101.0

90.9

Memphis

0-0

0-0

88.7

98.4

89.7

Temple

0-0

0-0

87.6

85.1

85.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

League Averages

 

 

96.6

100.2

97.0

 

 

Official AAC Media Poll

Pos

Team

Points

1st Place

 

1

Louisville

298

28

 

2

Cincinnati

257

2

 

3

Rutgers

240

0

 

4

Central Florida

210

0

 

5

South Florida

155

0

 

6

Houston

134

0

 

7

Connecticut

131

0

 

8

S M U

118

0

 

9

Temple

60

0

 

10

Memphis

47

0

 

 

The AAC has not released an official preseason all-conference team.  Here is a list of key players for each of the members:

 

Central Florida

Blake Bortles—QB (62.9% comp/7.7 ypa/25 TD/7 Int)

Storm Johnson—RB (507 rush/4.5 avg)

J. J. Worton—WR (44-594/5 TD)

Breshad Perriman—WR (26-388/3 TD)

Justin McCray and Torrian Wilson—OL

Thomas Niles—DL (5 sacks/7 QB hurries)

Terrance Plummer—LB (108 tackles/7 TFL)

Clayton Geathers—DB (117 tackles)

 

Cincinnati

Brendon Kay—QB (63.0%/9.4 ypa/10 TD/2 Int—as co-starter)

Dan Sprague, Sam Longo, Austen Bujnoch, and Eric Lefeld—OL

Jordan Stepp—DL (4 TFL)

Greg Blair—LB (138 tackles/9 TFL/4 QB Hurries/8 Passes Defended)

Deven Drane—DB (43 tackles/9 Passes Defended)

Arryn Chenault—DB (3 Int/6 Passes Defended)

Tony Miliano—K (17-22 FG)

 

Connecticut

Lyle McCombs—RB (860 rush/6 TD)

Geremy Davis—WR (44-613)

Shamar Stephen—DL (26 tackles)

Yawin Smallwood—LB (120 tackles/15 TFL/4 Passes Defended)

Byron Jones—DB (88 tackles)

Chad Kristen—K (14-21 FG Strong Leg)

 

Houston

Daniel Spencer—WR (41-579)

Deontay Greenberry—WR (47-564)

Bryce Redman and Rowdy Harper—OL

Derrick Matthews—LB (126 tackles/6 sacks/17 TFL/9 QB Hurries)

Zach McMillian—DB (5 Int./11 Passes Defended)

Trevon Stewart—DB (126 tackles/8 Passes Defended)

Richie Leone—P (45.5 avg./39.7 net)

 

Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater—QB (68.5% comp./8.9 ypa/27 TD/8 Int. Heisman Candidate)

Michael Dyer—RB (former 1,242 yard rusher for Auburn in 2010)

DeVante Parker—WR (40-744/10 TD)

Damian Copeland—WR (50-628)

Jake Smith and John Miller—OL

Marcus Smith—DL (29 tackles/4 sacks/ 7 TFL)

Preston Brown—LB (109 tackles/5 Passes Defended)

Calvin Pryor—DB (100 tackles/7 Passes Defended)

Terrell Floyd—DB (3 Int./8 Passes Defended)

 

Memphis

Jacob Karam—QB (64.2% comp./14 TD/3 Int.—Formerly at Texas Tech)

Keiwone Malone—WR (44-476)

Alan Cross—TE (23-301/5 TD)

Al Bond—OL

Martin Ifedi—DL (7.5 sacks/11 TFL/4 QB Hurries)

Johnnie Farms—DL (9.5 TFL)

Charles Harris—LB (79 tackles)

Anthony Brown—LB (71 tackles)

Lonnie Ballentine—DB (3 Int./8 Passes Defended)

Tom Hornsey—P (43.4 avg./38.9 net/41.7% inside the 20)

 

Rutgers

Gary Nova—QB (57.0% comp./22 TD/16 Int.)

Brandon Coleman—WR (43-718/ 10 TD)

Betim Bujari, Antwan Lowery, and Kaleb Johnson—OL

Jamil Merrell—DL (40 tackles/10.5 TFL/5 QB Hurries)

Jamal Merrell—LB (83 tackles/8.5 TFL

Lorenzo Waters—DB (68 tackles/6.5 TFL)

 

S M U

Garrett Gilbert—QB (2932 yards/15 TD/15 Int./8 rush TD)

Traylon Shead—RB (Juco star should take pressure off passing game)

Jeremy Johnson—WR (67-679)

Der’Rikk Thompson—WR (41-535)

Randall Joyner—LB (93 tackles/8 Passes Defended)

Jay Scott—DB (76 tackles/11 Passes Defended)

Kenneth Acker—DB (50 tackles/3 Int./15 Passes Defended)

 

South Florida

Andre Davis—WR (46-534/6 TD)

Sean Price—TE (21-209)

Austin Reiter and Quinterrius Eatmon—OL

Aaron Lynch—DL (Former Starter at Notre Dame)

DeDe Lattimore—LB (76 tackles/7.5 TFL)

JaQuez Jenkins—DB (53 tackles)

Mark Joyce—DB (74 tackles)

 

Temple

Chris Coyer—RB (444 rush/4.0 avg)

Jalen Fitzpatrick—WR (30-363)

Tyler Matakevich—LB (101 tackles)

Anthony Robey—DB (41 tackles/6 Passes Defended)

 

 

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

Central Florida Knights

               
Head Coach

George O’Leary

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Orlando

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1 (in CUSA)

Overall

10-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

58

Pass Offense

73

Run Defense

57

Pass Defense

62

               
Ratings              
PiRate

98.2

Mean

97.5

Bias

99.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

68

Mean

71

Bias

63

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Cincinnati Bearcats

               
Head Coach

Tommy Tuberville

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Cincinnati

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-2 (in Big East)

Overall

10-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

69

Pass Offense

70

Run Defense

76

Pass Defense

68

               
Ratings              
PiRate

105.5

Mean

105.9

Bias

105.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

42

Mean

40

Bias

42

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

 

Team

Connecticut Huskies

               
Head Coach

Paul Pasqualoni

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Storrs, CT

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-5 (in Big East)

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

48

Pass Offense

58

Run Defense

68

Pass Defense

60

               
Ratings              
PiRate

93.6

Mean

101.3

Bias

94.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

84

Mean

57

Bias

81

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Houston Cougars

               
Head Coach

Tony Levine

               
Colors

Scarlet and White

               
City

 

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4 (in CUSA)

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

53

Pass Offense

75

Run Defense

45

Pass Defense

42

               
Ratings              
PiRate

89.4

Mean

101.0

Bias

90.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

95

Mean

58

Bias

90

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

 

Team

Louisville Cardinals

               
Head Coach

Charlie Strong

               
Colors

Cardinal and Black

               
City

 

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-2 (in Big East)

Overall

11-2

               
Grades              
Run Offense

70

Pass Offense

94

Run Defense

78

Pass Defense

76

               
Ratings              
PiRate

115.3

Mean

113.4

Bias

116.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

25

Mean

17

Bias

18

               
Prediction              
Conference

8-0

Overall

12-0

 

 

Team

Memphis Tigers

               
Head Coach

Justin Fuente

               
Colors

Royal Blue and Gray

               
City

Memphis

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-7 (in CUSA)

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

49

Pass Offense

58

Run Defense

51

Pass Defense

55

               
Ratings              
PiRate

88.7

Mean

98.4

Bias

89.7

               
Rankings              
PiRate

96

Mean

64

Bias

95

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

 

 

Team

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

               
Head Coach

Kyle Flood

               
Colors

Scarlet and White

               
City

New Brunswick, NJ

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-2 (in Big East)

Overall

9-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

65

Pass Offense

64

Run Defense

71

Pass Defense

59

               
Ratings              
PiRate

99.3

Mean

104.2

Bias

100.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

61

Mean

43

Bias

57

               
Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

S M U Mustangs

               
Head Coach

June Jones

               
Colors

Red and Blue

               
City

Dallas

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-3 (in CUSA)

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

35

Pass Offense

75

Run Defense

58

Pass Defense

62

               
Ratings              
PiRate

94.1

Mean

101.9

Bias

94.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

80

Mean

51

Bias

79

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

South Florida Bulls

               
Head Coach

Willie Taggart

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Tampa

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-6 (in Big East)

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

62

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

65

Pass Defense

46

               
Ratings              
PiRate

94.5

Mean

92.9

Bias

93.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

79

Mean

91

Bias

83

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Temple Owls

               
Head Coach

Matt Rhule

               
Colors

Cherry and White

               
City

Philadelphia

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-5 (in Big East)

Overall

4-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

52

Pass Offense

64

Run Defense

51

Pass Defense

43

               
Ratings              
PiRate

87.6

Mean

85.1

Bias

85.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

98

Mean

115

Bias

106

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

4-8

 

August 21, 2012

2012 Conference USA Preview

Conference USA placed two teams in the Final Poll last year; Houston finished number 18, and Southern Mississippi came in at number 20.  Tulsa and SMU were not far from cracking the poll as well.  Just when this league appears ready to break out and become the top non-BCS conference, the weakest BCS league pirated four teams.  CUSA stays the same for one more season, but the league will lose four teams to the Big East in 2013 and pick up four new members.  The four departing teams will be Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, and SMU.  Joining the league next year will be Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, and UT-San Antonio.

 

The league will be down some this year with the loss of some great talents, especially at quarterback.  Gone are Houston’s Case Keenum, Tulsa’s G. J. Kinne, Southern Mississippi’s Austin Davis, East Carolina’s Dominique Davis, SMU’s J. J. McDermott, and Rice’s Nick Fanuzzi.  Five of the top seven receivers (three of them from Houston) are missing.

 

The Conference races should be more wide open this year.  In the East, the team picked to win the division by the media, as well as both the PiRate and PiRate Vintage Ratings, may be ineligible for the Conference USA Championship Game.  Central Florida was placed on a one year bowl ban in football, as well as additional punitive actions for the football and basketball program, but the school is appealing the ruling.  Chances are high that the Knights will be finished playing in November.

 

The league media poll and our two polls are almost exactly the same, something that has rarely occurred at the PiRate Ratings.

 

Media Poll

 

CUSA East

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Central Florida

13

85

2

Southern Miss.

2

70

3

Marshall

0

58

4

East Carolina

0

56

5

U A B

0

29

6

Memphis

0

17

 

 

 

 

 

CUSA West

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Houston

8

81

2

Tulsa

4

73

3

S M U

3

67

4

U T E P

0

39

5

Rice

0

35

6

Tulane

0

20

 

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

CUSA East

PiRate

1

Central Florida

100.5

2

Southern Miss.

98.3

3

Marshall

94.3

4

East Carolina

93.6

5

U A B

81.9

6

Memphis

75.7

 

   

Rank

CUSA West

PiRate

1

Houston

105.9

2

Tulsa

104.9

3

S M U

97.9

4

U T E P

90.2

5

Rice

89.0

6

Tulane

79.9

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

CUSA East

Vintage

1

Central Florida

102

2

Southern Miss.

98

3

Marshall

96

4

East Carolina

95

5

U A B

91

6

Memphis

84

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

CUSA West

Vintage

1

Tulsa

105

2

S M U

103

3

Houston

100

4

U T E P

93

5

Tulane

89

6

Rice

86

 

 

Team

U A B  Blazers

               
Head Coach

Garrick McGee

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Birmingham, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

81.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

111

               
Vintage Rating

91

               
National Rating

98

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-2

Overall

4-8

 

Neil Callaway’s five year record of 18-42 did not cut it in Birmingham, especially when Alabama and Auburn topped 18 wins in the last two years.  Garrick McGee takes over after running the offense at Arkansas.

 

The Blazers’ offense came alive in November last year, as UAB scored 41 points on Memphis, 34 points in an upset of Southern Miss, and 35 points on Florida Atlantic.  Quarterback Jonathan Perry started eight games and completed 58% of his passes for 2,042 yards and 10 touchdowns.  If he stays healthy, Perry should pass for more than 3,000 yards this year.

 

Perry benefits from having an experienced group of receivers returning.  The top seven pass catchers are back again this season.  Jackie Williams is a fine possession receiver, while Nick Adams, Patrick Hearn, and Jamarcus Nelson can turn a short pass into a long gain.

 

Greg Franklin is the returning starter at running back, but he will be pressed hard by former highly-rated recruit and Georgia transfer Dontavius Jackson.  McGee also plans to play Darrin Reaves and Bashr Coles.

 

The offensive line is the biggest liability on the offensive side of the ball.  Four starters must be replaced.  The lone returnee, tackle Chris Hubbard, was an honorable mention All-CUSA pick last year, but there isn’t enough talent here to make the offensive explosive enough to move UAB in to the upper half of the East standings.

 

The UAB defense gave up almost 37 points per game last year and close to 490 yards per game.  Oddly, their best defensive effort came against SEC foe Mississippi State.  With a tougher schedule that includes games at South Carolina and Ohio State, as well as conference games at Southern Miss and Houston and a home game against Tulsa, the Blazers could actually take another step back this year.  

 

The only bright spot on this side of the ball is at linebacker.  Marvin Burdette and Greg Irvin made a lot of tackles, some of them as the last defender before the opposing player broke loose for a long gain.

 

The front four is not strong enough to stop the run or rush the passer with any success.  UAB registered an anemic eight sacks last year; end Diaheem Watkins led with just 1 ½ sacks.

 

The secondary doesn’t have much chance to shine when opposing quarterbacks can read War and Peace before they throw the ball and still not worry about getting hurt.  Safety Jamie Bender made way too many tackles last year (119), and he has moved on.  No starters return to this unit, so opposing quarterbacks will have excellent dreams the night before they face UAB.

 

The good news in Birmingham is that UAB faces Troy, Memphis, Tulane, and Southeast Louisiana. As weak as the Blazers are, they can win these four games, and even if they lose one, they could pull off an unbelievable upset like they did last year when they defeated Southern Miss as a 23-point ‘dog.

 

 

Team

Central Florida Knights

               
Head Coach

George O’Leary

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Orlando, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

100.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

59

               
Vintage Rating

102

               
National Rating

58

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-4

 

The Knights could finish first in the East this year, but it appears they will be prevented from playing in the conference title game or going to a bowl game.  Too bad for Coach George O’Leary: He has 16 starters returning from a team that should have won seven or eight games last year and could have won as many as 11.  UCF finished 5-7 despite outgaining opponents by more than 100 yards per game and outscoring opponents by nine points per game.  In their five wins, they outscored their opponents by an average score of 36-5.

 

Blake Bortles takes over starting quarterback duties full time this year.  As a part-timer last season, he completed 68% of his passes and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt.  Tyler Gabbert was not happy at Missouri, where his older brother Blaine was a star.  He transferred to Orlando and will back up Bortles.

 

Dropped passes have been a bugaboo for the receiving corps, but J. J. Worton, Quincy McDuffie, and Josh Reese still combined for 114 receptions, 1,474 yards, and seven touchdowns.

 

Brynn Harvey and Latavius Murray teamed for 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, but they will take a backseat to Miami transfer Storm Johnson.  Johnson has 1,000-yard potential.

 

The offensive line returns four starters.  Center Jordan Rae, guard Theo Goins, and tackle Phil Smith are good enough to make one of the all-conference teams.

 

The defense features three talented units.  The front seven is the best in the league this year.  Troy Davis is one of the top ends in the league.  In 2011, he made 8 ½ stops for loss, including five sacks.  Former tackle Victor Gray has moved to end, and he has all-league potential.

 

Linebackers Jonathan Davis and Troy Gray teamed up for 74 tackles.  Sophomore Terrance Plummer takes over at the vacant middle linebacker spot.

 

The secondary will benefit from a good pass rush up front.  Three starters return to the back line including a fine pair of safeties in Kemal Ishmael and Clayton Geathers.  The duo finished one-two in tackles with 81 and 67 respectively.  UCF needs to have more of a ball-hawking presence.  Cornerback A. J. Bouye is the only returning player that had more than one interception last year.

 

UCF could finish first in the East standings, but the Knights’ final year in this conference will see them home for the holidays.

 

 

Team

East Carolina Pirates

               
Head Coach

Ruffin McNeill

               
Colors

Purple and Gold

               
City

Greenville, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

93.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

80

               
Vintage Rating

95

               
National Rating

83

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

7-5

 

Usually when a team improves defensively by 12 points and 100 yards per game, their record improves by three or four wins.  East Carolina actually won one less game.

 

Third year coach Ruffin McNeill welcomes back 15 starters, but one of the seven missing is quarterback Dominique Davis, who passed for 3,225 yards and 25 touchdowns.

 

A number one quarterback has yet to be named, but junior Rio Johnson has had the best scrimmage results so far.  Johnson saw limited action last year, completing 20 of 29 passes for 157 yards.  Cody Keith is the future here, but he is likely to see no action this season.  Shane Carden and Brad Warnick are competing with Johnson.

 

Whoever starts under center should immediately produce fat passing numbers thanks to a talented and deep pool of receivers.  As a freshman last year, Justin Hardy led the team with 64 receptions.  Fellow freshman Danny Webster grabbed 43 passes.  This now sophomore duo should combine for 125 receptions this season.  Reese Wiggins is the one real deep threat.

 

McNeill’s Air Raid (Mike Leach-style) offense actually passes the ball less than 60% of the time.  Last year, the running game let him down, as ECU rushed for just 109.1 yards per game and averaged 3.3 yards per try.  Four backs return this year, but one should emerge as a possible 1,000-yard rusher.  Reggie Bullock was on pace to approach 1,000 yards rushing before he was injured midway through the year and saw limited carries from then on.  Hunter Farr transferred from North Carolina, and he has all the tools needed to be a big time contributor.

 

Four starters and three key backups return to the offensive line, and the Pirates should see their offensive numbers improve this year, even with a new quarterback.  Look for ECU to score more than 30 points this season.

 

The defense gave up 32 points per game after yielding an incredible 44 points per game in the 2010 bowl season.  The strength of the 3-4 scheme is at linebacker, where all four 2011 starters return.  Jeremy Grove led ECU with 122 tackles.  Fellow inside backer Daniel Drake added 74 tackles.

 

Michael Brooks held his own at nose guard, and his play allowed the two inside linebackers to roam freely to the ball.  ECU is a little thin at end, and the Pirates need a better pass rusher to emerge.

 

The secondary has to holes to plug as three starters have used up their eligibility.  Safety Damon Magazu intercepted four passes last year and finished second on the team with 80 tackles.  At cornerback, Leonard Paulk and Jacobi Jenkins have considerable experience as backups and limited starting experience, but McNeill feels comfortable with these two seniors.

 

One player that will sorely be missed is placekicker Mike Barbour.  The Pirates were in field goal position when they got to the opponents 40 yard line.

 

McNeill is on the hot seat.  While his teams have been exciting to watch, they have not built upon what former coach Skip Holtz left.  ECU must win seven or more games this year or else his Air Raid offense will have to fly to another destination.

 

 

Team

Marshall Thundering Herd

               
Head Coach

Doc Holliday

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

Huntington, WV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

94.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

78

               
Vintage Rating

96

               
National Rating

81

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

 

Marshall fans are anxious for a return to the good ole days of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  The Thundering Herd has a cumulative record of 35-50 in the last seven years.  Third year coach Doc Holliday guided Marshall to a bowl win last year, but the Herd came up one game short in the conference race.

 

MU has a better team this year, but their schedule is still the toughest in the division.  The Herd must face Tulsa and Houston from the West.  Their third Western foe is Rice, and that game is played in Houston this year.

 

Holliday faces some rebuilding on the defensive side of the ball.  The secondary loses its top player from last year; Rashad Jackson intercepted four passes and broke up nine others.  Two transfers from Boston College, Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, both started six games with the Eagles, and they make this unit deep.  However, nobody on this roster can replace Jackson.

 

It will be even more difficult to replace second round draft pick Vinny Curry.  The end finished second in the league with 11 sacks and 22 total tackles for loss.  Jeremiah Taylor has all-league potential, but he will not record 11 sacks.

 

The second line of defense actually has the most rebuilding to do as two of last year’s three starters must be replaced.  Devin Arrington is a better pass defender than run stopper.

 

The schedule starts with the short trip to Morgantown to face West Virginia.  A home game with Ohio and road game at Purdue makes it difficult for MU to become bowl eligible this year.

 

 

Team

Memphis Tigers

               
Head Coach

Justin Fuente

               
Colors

Blue and Gray

               
City

Memphis, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

75.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

118

               
Vintage Rating

84

               
National Rating

114

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

The Tigers have been uncompetitive the last three seasons, and they bring in their third head coach in four seasons.  The new man, Justin Fuente, comes from TCU, where he helped guide the offense.  This program could hire Nick Saban to run the defense and Chip Kelly to run the offense, but if the school does not devote more resources to the program, it isn’t going to move out of the basement.

 

The Tigers start over on offense with a new plan after finishing dead last in the league in rushing offense, passing offense, and scoring offense.  The two quarterbacks scheduled to return from 2011 both transferred, and Fuente brought in Texas Tech transfer Jacob Karam to run the offense.  Karam rarely saw the field in two seasons in Lubbock, appearing in limited action in five games.  Still, he should be considered an upgrade at this position.

 

Karam does not inherit a good situation, as UM has limited talent at receiver.  Kevin Wright figures to be the primary receiver this year, and he could see his total catches double from the 36 he had last year.

 

The passing game might be more efficient if the running game could get going.  If Jerrell Rhodes can stay healthy, he has the potential to help the UM ground game get above triple digit in yardage per game for the first time in three years.

 

The offensive line will not produce any all-conference players, but the 2012 version will be better than its 2011 counterpart.  Five players have multiple-game starting experience, and they should help the Tigers improve their rushing and passing numbers.  UM may actually move up to number 11.

 

In a league where seven teams surrendered more than 30 points per game, Memphis was not too far behind on this side of the ball.  In fact, the Tigers finished ahead of UAB and Tulane in scoring defense.

 

Pass defense has the potential to be greatly improved if a credible pass rush can develop up front.  The Tigers only produced 14 sacks last year, so replacing most of the key pass rushers should not be as harmful as it could have been.  Memphis actually produced a first round NFL draft pick from its interior line.  End Dontari Poe finished with eight tackles for loss.  Opposite end Frank Trotter leaves after leading UM with five sacks.  Nose tackle Johnnie Farms can cover two gaps just by lining up.  The 310-pounder recorded 2 ½ sacks.

 

The back two lines of defense should be improved this year. The linebacker quartet features Akeem Davis, who plays tough against the run and covers well against the pass.  Davis registered 78 tackles with eight going for losses last year, and he led the Tigers with three interceptions and seven passes defended. 

 

The Tigers gave up right at 300 passing yards per game last season, and a weak pass rush was equally to blame with the secondary.  All four starters return with a year’s more experience, so the Tigers should improve just a little this year.  If any type of pass rush can emerge, this group could improve by more than a little.  Former starting quarterback Cannon Smith now patrols the deep zones at safety.  He broke up six passes last year, but he was burned a few times as well.

 

Memphis could actually begin the season 5-0 if everything went their way.  Their first five games come against UT-Martin, Arkansas State in nearby Jonesboro, Middle Tennessee, Duke in Durham, and Rice.  There is one additional winnable game when Tulane visits in November.  Of these six games, we believe Memphis can win as many as four.  That would almost give Fuente the Coach of the Year award in this conference.

 

 

Team

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

               
Head Coach

Ellis Johnson

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Hattiesburg, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

12-2

               
PiRate Rating

98.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

69

               
Vintage Rating

98

               
National Rating

71

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

7-6

 

 

The Golden Eagles improved steadily under former coach Larry Fedora the previous three seasons, and USM upset Houston to win the CUSA Championship last year.  Now Ellis Johnson takes over after spending four years directing South Carolina’s defense.  Johnson, a former defensive coordinator here, faces a major rebuilding project on that side of the ball.

 

The front wall of defensive coordinator Tommy West’s defense features just one player with any starting experience, but all three projected starters contributed last year.  Khyri Thornton showed flashed of greatness at one tackle spot, and he could emerge as the leader of this unit.  Nose tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches has the perfect body for his position.  At 312 pounds, he will plug the “A-gaps.”

 

The top player on this side of the ball lines up at the bandit position (a hybrid linebacker/end) Jamie Collins is a multi-tool weapon.  He made 98 tackles, 6 ½ sacks, 19 ½ tackles for loss, eight QB hurries, and nine passes defended.  Collins is the only experienced player on the second line of defense.

 

The back line features two potential 1st team All-CUSA players.  Cornerback Deron Wilson led the league with 17 passes defended last year (four interceptions), and safety Jacorius Cotton added seven passed defended to 98 tackles.

 

After giving up 21 points and 340 yards last year, the defense may take a minor step backwards in 2012.  We could see USM surrendering 24 points and 360 yards per game this season.

 

The offense will also experience some growing pains as the passing game has to be rebuilt.  Austin Davis will be a tough quarterback to replace, after he passed for 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.  There is a three-way race to earn the starting nod in the opener against Nebraska.  Junior Chris Campbell leads the race, but true freshman Anthony Alford and redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd are still in the race.  Eventually, this job will become Alford’s, as he has the tools to be another RG3.  He could become the starter after the opener, as the Golden Eagles have a bye week following their trip to Lincoln.

 

Whoever wins the QB job will have a decent set of receivers running routes, but the top two pass-catchers from last year are gone.  Slotback Tracy Lampley is speedy and can break loose for long gains as a pass receiver and as a runner.  Dominique Sullivan is a deep threat and runs well after the catch.  Senior Quentin Pierce is a sleeper; he could emerge as a key contributor as a first-time regular.

 

Two running backs figure to share the majority of the carries this season.  Desmond Johnson and Kendrick Hardy are more north-south bulldozers than breakaway threats, but a power running game forces defenses to cheat their safeties up a bit.

 

Experienced talent returns to the offensive line.  Four starters are back, and all four could vie for all-conference recognition.  Center Austin Quattrochi has an NFL future.

 

One late change involves the offensive coordinator’s position.  Steve Buckley has moved up to OC, while Rickey Bustle has moved down to running backs coach due to illness.

 

Southern Miss will have some excellent days moving the ball, but they will not be as consistent as they were in 2011.  Look for about 28 points and 400 total yards per game.

 

With Central Florida more than likely ineligible, Southern Miss may repeat as East Champs almost by default.  The Eagles host East Carolina and Marshall, the two teams that have a fighting chance to contend.  We see USM winning both games.

 

 

Team

Houston Cougars

               
Head Coach

Tony Levine

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Houston, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-1

               
PiRate Rating

105.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

44

               
Vintage Rating

100

               
National Rating

64

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

New Houston coach Tony Levine hopes that history can repeat itself.  Back in 1990, Houston had to replace Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, and David Klingler stepped in and passed for more yards than Ware had.

 

That’s wishful thinking for Levine, because nobody is going to top the yardage produced by Case Keenum last year.  Keenum finished the season with 5,631 yards to shatter the all-time Division 1 career passing mark.  His 48 touchdowns to just five interceptions and 71% completion rate were mind-boggling as well.  Keenum did not pad those numbers with a bunch of “dink and doink” passes two yards away.  He showed remarkable accuracy throwing the deep routes as well.

 

David Piland is not an untested replacement.  He actually replaced Keenum once before.  When Keenum was injured in 2010, Piland started the final eight games and passed for 2,600+ yards with a TD/Int ratio of 24/14.  Expect Houston to still be among the nation’s passing leaders, but the drop in yards per game could top 100.

 

Also gone are three highly talented receivers that took 272 receptions worth 3,939 yards and 37 touchdowns.  That is too much talent to replace for any team.  Fifth year senior Ronnie Williams caught just 16 passes, but he should at least triple that number as the new starting H-back.  Mark Roberts and Chance Blackmon figure to be the starting wideouts, while Daniel Spencer gets the nod at the other inside receiver spot.  This trio combined for just 19 receptions last year.

 

Charles Sims averaged an eye-popping 7.5 yards per rush last year, which was better than any other back in the nation that was not the pitch option at Army, Navy, or Georgia Tech.  Sims carried the ball just nine times per game, and he will see more action this season (and thus his average per carry will fall).

 

Thanks to the return of almost all 2011 contributors, the offensive line will be a team strength.  Guard Jacolby Ashworth should be a 1st team All-CUSA player this year.

 

The defense was overlooked last year, but UH played tough on that side of the ball.  The stats didn’t look as good as other teams, but they had to defend for 75 scrimmage plays per contest, whereas Central Florida’s defense only had to defend 61 plays.

 

New defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant switched Houston to a 4-3 alignment in hopes of improving against the run.  Factoring out sacks, the Cougars gave up 4.7 yards per run!  Tackle Dominic Miller should benefit from the switch.  Look for his tackles to increase by 50%.  Ends Kelvin King and Eric Braswell teamed for 73 tackles last year, but neither was a sack monster.

 

UH will miss two talented linebackers in Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown (234 tackles, 16 sacks, 44 ½ tackles for loss).  However, there is returning quality in Derrick Mathews and Phillip Steward.  Steward is a dual threat linebacker (tough vs. run and pass), while Mathews is not far behind talent-wise.

 

The back line of defense returns three starters and four top reserves from last year, so it should be in great shape.  Cornerback D. J. Hayden is the best of the bunch; he intercepted a couple of passes and broke up 11 more.

 

Even with all the losses sustained by this team, Houston figures to contend for the CUSA West Division crown.  The Cougars play at SMU in October and host Tulsa in November.  Road trips to East Carolina and Marshall could be tricky, and a loss in either one could be enough to finish second or third in the division. 

 

 

Team

Rice Owls

               
Head Coach

David Bailiff

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Gray

               
City

Houston, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

89.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

97

               
Vintage Rating

86

               
National Rating

112

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

 

Since their outstanding 10-3 season in 2008, Rice has won just 10 of 36 games.  Sixth year coach David Bailiff will not end the malaise this season, as he faces heavy graduation losses on both sides of the ball.

 

On offense, the Owls were very inconsistent last year.  Quarterback Taylor McHargue had good games and bad games, as he could not hold onto the starting job the last two seasons.  McHargue completed 57.5% of his passes with a TD/Int ratio of 8/5.  He only averaged 6.2 yards per pass attempt.  Redshirt freshman Driphus Jackson is more of a running quarterback, but he could see considerable time if McHargue struggles again.

 

Rice has depth at receiver this year with the return of three receivers plus the addition of a potential star who could line up just about anywhere on the offense.  That star is Sam McGuffie.  McGuffie missed most of 2011 due to injury, and his healthy return could be worth three or four points per game.  Look for him to line up in the slot, but he could return to the backfield as well.  It wouldn’t be shocking to see him even take some snaps in a wild owl formation.  Tight end Luke Willson could top 40 receptions this year.  The 6-5 senior caught 29 passes last year.

 

Running back Charles Ross looks to rebound from injury as well.  The junior can bulldoze his way for an extra yard or two on power runs, but he is not going to sweep around the flank for long gains.

 

The offensive line is in shambles with only one full-time starter returning.  Guard Drew Carroll could potentially make an all-conference team in a year or two, but he is the senior statesman of this unit as a sophomore.

 

The Rice defense gave up 460+ yards per game last year, and prospects are not all that good for any improvement in 2012.  In fact, things could get worse if the offense cannot sustain time-consuming drives.

 

The Owls will use a 4-2-5 defense as their base this year, and the five defensive backs are the strength on this side.  Bryce Callahan is the big star on the defense.  The cornerback tied for the conference lead with six interceptions last year, and he batted away nine others.  Kat Safety Paul Porras and free safety Corey Frazier combined for 137 tackles last year.

 

The linebacker tandem is still up for grabs in August.  Former highly recruited Kyle Prater did not live up to his press clippings when he transferred here from LSU.  He made just 19 tackles and just one for a loss.  He competed with James Radcliffe at the weak side spot, while Cameron Nwosu tries to hold on to his starting strong side spot.  Nwosu led the team with 108 tackles, but he is being pushed hard by two others.

 

There will be three new starters up front, and nobody on this roster can adequately replace Scott Solomon at end.  Solomon led the Owls with 8 ½ sacks and 13 ½ tackles for loss last year.  Jared Williams is the lone holdover from this unit.

 

The Owls non-conference schedule is tricky.  After opening at home with UCLA, which should be a loss, they visit Kansas and Louisiana Tech, before hosting Marshall.  It isn’t impossible that they could be 0-4 when they play Houston at Reliant Stadium.  They follow that game with a visit to Memphis, and still, the Owls could be winless when they play UT-San Antonio on homecoming.

 

It is going to be a long year for the Owls.  They should be competitive in about half their games, but they may only win about two.

 

 

 

Team

S M U  Mustangs

               
Head Coach

June Jones

               
Colors

Crimson and Blue

               
City

Dallas, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

97.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

70

               
Vintage Rating

103

               
National Rating

53

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

7-5

 

 

June Jones has no trouble recruiting quarterbacks to pilot his run and shoot offense.  If he cannot pull them out of the high school ranks, he gets them from other colleges.  He has a potential 1st team all-conference player in Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert.

 

Gilbert was pressed into duty against Alabama in the 2009-10 National Championship Game, and he showed he was up to the task as a freshman.  He was blamed for Texas’s downturn in 2010, but he was not the reason why the Longhorns did not win.  Expect Gilbert to complete about 60-62% of his passes and gain around 3,300 yards.

 

Gilbert will have two exceptional receivers to hook up with this year.  Darius Johnson returns after leading the Mustangs with 79 receptions and 1,118 yards.  Der’ricck Thompson caught 30 passes good for 411 yards in eight starts.

 

Keeping defenses honest is the top running back in the league. Zach Line missed three games and still rushed for 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns. 

 

The offensive line is the big question this year.  All five starters must be replaced, two of whom were NFL draft choices.  Blocking for the run and shoot is not the easiest thing in the world, and guard Blake McJunkin is the only returnee on par with what was lost.

 

The Mustangs have improved their defensive numbers every year under Jones.  If you follow the linear progression, SMU is due to give up about 21 points and 330 yards per game this year.  If they do, they will be at the top of the CUSA West Standings.

 

The 3-4 alignment will revolve around the quartet at linebacker, where all four starters return this year.  Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed were the top two tacklers last year.  The dynamic duo teamed up for 184 stops, 9 ½ sacks, 21 ½ total stops for loss, and 11 passes defended.  Cameron Rogers is a potential star here as well.

 

The front line features a giant in Margus Hunt.  The 6-8, 295 end dumped enemy quarterbacks three times last year in a designated pass rush role.  Nose tackle Torlan Pittman made 37 tackles, with six going for losses.

 

The secondary was more of a liability last season, and it is a minor question as 2012 starts.  The best player from this unit has moved on to the NFL, so SMU could be vulnerable against the pass. 

 

SMU benefits in league play by getting to host both Houston and Tulsa.  Additionally both games follow relatively easy games the week before.  The Mustangs have a tough out-of-league schedule with games at Baylor and at home against TCU and Texas A&M.  They also draw Central Florida and Southern Miss out of the East, so they could lose enough games to finish in second place even if they beat Houston and Tulsa.  We think this team will fall one game short of taking the West flag, but they will be bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season.

 

Team

Tulane Green Wave

               
Head Coach

Curtis Johnson

               
Colors

Olive Green and Sky Blue

               
City

New Orleans, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-11

               
PiRate Rating

79.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

113

               
Vintage Rating

89

               
National Rating

103

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

It has been 10 years since Tulane last had a winning season.  There are no J. P. Losman’s or Mewelde Moore’s on this current Green Wave edition, so it will be at least 11 years after this season.

 

Curtis Johnson is the new head coach.  He comes from the New Orleans Saints via the Miami Hurricanes.  Johnson faces a tough uphill battle in the Crescent City.

 

What had the makings for an improved defense has quickly eroded into another fine mess.  TU had one of the top defensive players in the league in middle linebacker Trent Mackey (145 tackles, 4 ½ sacks, 14 TFL).  Mackey was just suspended indefinitely following his arrest.  Mackey is worth about 2 ½ to 3 points to the Green Wave.

 

Three additional players expected to contribute and contend for starting spots on the defensive side will not be around this year, including expected starting end Michael Pierce.

 

What do these defections leave in the front seven?  Not much.  Sam Linebacker Darryl Farley finished a distant second to Mackey with 69 tackles.  Matthew Bailey made just 33 tackles from his weakside linebacker position.

 

Up front, end Austen Jacks is the sole returning starter.  Jacks made 32 tackles with 2 ½ sacks in 2011.

 

The back line of defense suffered no late scratches, and it is the only area of the defense that is not a major concern.  Cornerback Ryan Travis is now the top player on the stop side.  Travis intercepted four passes and knocked away six more last year.  Safety Shakiel Smith finished third on the team with 68 tackles, but he needs to step up in pass coverage.

 

The TU defense gave up 37.5 points and 410 yards of offense last year.  Without Mackey, those numbers could be worse. 

 

There is a glimmer of hope on the other side of the ball, as Tulane has some decent offensive talent.  Quarterback Ryan Griffin will benefit from the implementation of the new pro-set offense.  Griffin completed 55.6% of his passes for 2,502 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, but he needs to cut down on his 10 interceptions.

 

Orleans Darkwa came close to rushing for 1,000 yards for the second year in a row, and maybe the third time is the charm.  Darkwa scored 13 touchdowns and proved to be a receiving threat with 37 receptions.

 

Darkwa was the number four receiver on this team, and the good news is that the three players with more receptions all return.  The best news is that neither of the three will be the best receiver this year.  Ryan Grant returns after missing almost all of last year with a hernia.  Add Grant to Wilson Van Hooser, Justyn Shackleford, and Xavier Rush, and TU should have a much improved passing game this year.

 

The offensive line is a little inexperienced with just two starters returning, but there should not be much drop-off.  Tackle Eric Jones has all-conference potential.

 

Tulane averaged just 21 points and 340 yards per game last year.  We expect the Green Wave to run for 130 and pass for 230 yards this year and score about 24 points per game. 

 

Home games with Ole Miss, Louisiana-Monroe, UAB, and Rice coupled with road games against Louisiana and Memphis give TU a chance to win more games this season than last.  Three wins would be a 50% improvement.

 

 

Team

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

               
Head Coach

Bill Blankenship

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Tulsa, OK

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

104.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

49

               
Vintage Rating

105

               
National Rating

43

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

 

It can be tough being number three in your state, but Tulsa has been successful and exciting in recent years and with three coaches.  In the past five seasons, the Golden Hurricane have averaged 8.8 wins per year, 38.4 points per game, and 494 yards per game.

 

TU relied on a Texas transfer the previous three seasons, and now they turn to a Nebraska transfer.  Cody Green takes over at quarterback for G. J. Kinne.  Green completed 54% of his passes in two seasons at Nebraska (17 games).  If Green can live up to his potential, the TU offense will shine once again, because the Hurricane are loaded at back and receiver.

 

The receiving corps ranks at the top of the league.  Three players have the ability to turn any pass into a long gain.  Willie Carter and Bryan Burnham both made the 2nd team all-conference list last year after teaming for 115 catches and 1,718 yards.  Jordan James added 31 receptions.  Out of the backfield, Trey Watts caught 31 passes.

 

Watts teams with Ja’Terian Douglas to form the best one-two running back punch in the league.  Both topped 880 yards rushing last year.  Watts is the more consistent of the two, but Douglas is the game-changer.

 

The offensive line faces a minor rebuilding effort.  Center Trent Dupy and guard Stetson Burnett will form the nucleus, and they are all-conference quality.

 

Coach Bill Blankenship’s offense could easily top last year’s results (33.1 points/440 yards).  Whether the defense can improve on its numbers will determine if the Hurricane can get back to the CUSA Championship Game for the first time since 2008.  TU gave up 27.3 points and 415 yards per game last year, but those numbers were skewed by the fact that they faced Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State, and Houston.  In the other nine games, TU gave up 17.8 points and 352 yards per game.

 

The defensive line will show improvement this year with the return of three regulars.  Tackles Derrick Jackson and Daeshon Bufford should keep opponents from running up the middle, while end Cory Dorris should plug the off-tackle hole on his side.

 

Shawn Jackson anchors the second line of defense.  The Will linebacker paced TU with 4 ½ sacks, and he recorded 11 total tackles for loss.  DeAundre Brown returns to the Cane position (hybrid linebacker/safety) after missing nine games to injury last year.

 

Tulsa is loaded on the back line with the best secondary in the league.  Bandit safety Dexter McCoil and free safety Marco Nelson could both make the all-conference team this year.  McCoil tied for the conference lead with six interceptions and knocked away seven others. 

 

You can call the 2012 “A Tale of Two Schedules” for Tulsa.  The Hurricane open with Iowa State, Tulane, Nicholls State, Fresno State, UAB, Marshall, UTEP, and Rice, and it is possible they will be 8-0 and ranked in the top 20 heading into their week off.  They get two weeks to prepare for the final four games: at Arkansas, at Houston, Central Florida, and at SMU.  What a way to end a season!  We think Tulsa may drop one of those first eight but win two of those final four and get back to the CUSA Championship Game.

 

 

Team

U T E P  Miners

               
Head Coach

Mike Price

               
Colors

Orange and Navy

               
City

El Paso, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

90.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

94

               
Vintage Rating

93

               
National Rating

90

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

 

After guiding the Miners to consecutive 8-4 seasons, Coach Mike Price has suffered through six seasons of near misses where UTEP has been a one or two wins away from returning to a bowl ever since.  The end of the line could be near for Price, and we don’t see him righting the ship this season.  The schedule is much too difficult to find six winnable games.

 

Price likes to throw the ball all over the field, and he has a decent quarterback with experience returning for his senior year.  Nick Lamaison was slowed by injuries last year, missing four games.  He returned in the final month, and UTEP averaged 238 passing yards in those games (but won only one of five).

 

Mike Edwards and Jordan Leslie give Lamaison two credible targets.  Edwards led the team with 50 receptions and 657 yards last year.  Kevin Perry should provide more offense at tight end this year.

 

Nathan Jeffrey started just one game last year, but he will be the regular running back.  Jeffrey may not be a 1,000-yard threat, but he is a fine run-pass combo back.  He may even be more dangerous coming out of the backfield on passing plays.

 

An improved offensive line will make the UTEP offense succeed this year if it can stay healthy.  Center Eloy Atkinson and Tackles James Nelson and Brander Craighead missed spring practice nursing injuries.

 

A vulnerable defense is the reason UTEP will not be able to get above .500 this season.  The Miners have some talent, but they have holes everywhere on the stop side. 

 

End Horace Miller is the top player in the trenches.  Miller led UTEP with five sacks and eight tackles for loss.  Senior Greg Watkins inherits the other end spot after he started five times in 2011.

 

There will be a drop in talent at linebacker following the graduation of leading tackler Jeremy Springer as well as Isaiah Carter.  Josh Fely is the lone holdover.

 

The secondary returns two starters, neither of whom will make even the honorable mention of the all-conference selections.  Safety DeShawn Grayson is the leading returning tackler (67), and if he leads the team this year, it will be bad news.

 

UTEP’s schedule includes non-conference games with Oklahoma and Wisconsin, as well as a road trip to Ole Miss.  1-3 is probably the best they can hope outside of league play, and the Miners are not capable of going 5-3 in the league.  So, it looks like another subpar season, possibly the last for Price.

 

Coming Wednesday afternoon/evening: A look at the Big East Conference.  Should it still be a BCS league?

August 17, 2011

2011 Conference USA Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 10:40 am

2011 Conference USA Preview

 

The Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences have placed teams in BCS bowls and had teams ranked in the top three.  Conference USA has not been able to break through, but at least their champion finally won a bowl game over an SEC team, when Central Florida beat Georgia last year.

 

2011 should be an interesting year in CUSA, especially in the West Division.  Three teams should contend for the division flag.  In the East Division, we see two teams contending.  Two teams have a chance to run the table thanks to avoiding any powerhouse non-conference opponents.

 

East

Southern Mississippi has consistently fielded good but not great teams in the 21st Century, but the Golden Eagles have not won the conference title since 1999.  Fourth year coach Larry Fedora has his best team yet, and 2011 could find USM playing in the CUSA Championship Game for just the second time.

 

Austin Davis returns at quarterback, and the senior should become the all-time leading passer in Hattiesburg as early as the opening game of the season.  Davis completed 63% of his passes for 3,100+ yards and a terrific 20/6 TD/Int ratio last year.  Davis rushed for 452 and 10 big scores to give him a total of 30 accounted for.

 

Davis’s top pass catcher, Kelvin Bolden, returns to the fold this season after grabbing 46 passes for 722 yards and six scores.  Quentin Pierce should top 50 receptions after finishing with 38 in an injury-plagued season.

 

The Golden Eagles have a two-headed monster at running back.  Starter Kendrick Hardy and key backup Desmond Johnson combined for more than 1,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2010.

 

The offensive line returns three starters, none of whom are big stars.  USM surrendered just 17 sacks last year, but a lot of that had to do with Davis’s mobility. 

 

The Golden Eagles scored 37 points per game last year, and there is no reason to think they cannot approach or top 40 points per game this season.

 

Southern Miss lost five games in 2010 because their defense could not match their offense’s production.  The Golden Eagles gave up 30 points per game.  The run defense was not all that bad; in fact, it was quite good, giving up just 113 rushing yards per game.  Five of the front six starters return this year, including linebacker Korey Williams, who recorded 14 ½ stops behind the line last year.  End Cordarro Law led USM with six sacks, and he added four QB hurries.

 

The secondary has room for improvement after giving up 243 yards through the air last year.  Three of last year’s five starters will not be around this year, so this unit could even take a minor step backwards.

 

The Golden Eagles have a big weapon in placekicker Danny Hrapmann.  Hrapmann was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award after connecting on all 55 of his extra point attempts and 26 of 31 field goal attempts with a long of 54 yards.

 

While this team may be no more talented than any of the previous 10 Golden Eagle squads, the schedule could not be any more beneficial.  The toughest non-conference game is at Virginia, and the toughest two conference games are at home.  If USM can win at Virginia and at Navy, they have a chance to run the table in the regular season.

 

Trivia question: Who is the only team to make it to a bowl game after giving up 44 points and more than 475 total yards per game?  Do you think this is a trick question and that no team has ever done that?  Think again.  East Carolina gave up those numbers and still went to the Military Bowl in 2010. 

 

The Pirates won because they outscored opponents last year.  They beat Tulsa 51-49; Southern Miss 44-43; and UAB 54-42.  They also lost to Navy 76-35 and Maryland 51-20.

 

In the second year of the Air Raid offense, look for ECU’s already scary offensive numbers to get even scarier.  Quarterback Dominique Davis just missed the 4,000-yard passing mark, and he tossed 37 touchdown passes last year.  He will certainly miss Dwayne Harris and his 101 receptions from last year, but he welcomes the return of Lance Lewis, who caught 89 passes for 1,116 yards and 14 touchdowns (tied for the lead in the conference).

 

The running game loses its top two rushers from last season, but welcomes junior college transfer Reggie Bullock and freshman Alex Owah.  The success of the running game has more to do with forcing defenses into using five and even six defensive backs.

 

The offensive line is a bit of a concern with the loss of three starters, including two that made All-CUSA teams last year.  Look for the number of sacks to go up from last year’s ultra-low of 15 out of 647 possibilities.

 

ECU will score a ton of points this season, but the offense may not be as consistent as 2010.  We believe the Pirates can be as successful as last season thanks to a big improvement on the other side of the ball.

 

Where is there to go but up for this defense?  ECU gave up 227 rushing and 252 passing yards per game.  That put them in a two-team league with New Mexico!

 

The Pirates will use a 3-4 defense this season.  Coach Ruffin McNeill will blitz his linebackers much more this season in an attempt to put more pressure on the quarterbacks.  The Pirates only recorded 15 sacks and very few hurries. 

 

Up front, the new three-man line is stocked with veterans, but nose guard Michael Brooks is a bit undersized for a 3-4 scheme.  ECU may be vulnerable to runs between the tackles and quick traps.

 

The secondary will be the strength of the defense. Emanuel Davis and Derek Blacknall are decent cover corners, while Bradley Jacobs plugs the deep half as good as any safety in the league.  Davis will miss the first game against South Carolina due to a suspension for public drunkenness and resisting arrest (Wide receiver Michael Bowman also was suspended).

 

ECU’s schedule is difficult, and the Pirates will have a difficult time improving upon last year’s 6-6 regular season record.  After a probable 0-2 start, the home game with UAB on September 24 will be a must-win game.  After that game, there are only three cupcakes on the schedule.

 

Central Florida won the conference championship and then upset Georgia in the Liberty Bowl to finish 11-3 last year.  Coach George O’Leary can put that on his resume.  He may not want to include this season’s results though, because his excellent defense was decimated by graduation.  Gone are seven starters and several key reserves from a team that gave up just 17 points and 315 yards per game.  To make matters worse, defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable replaced Dave Doeren as Wisconsin’s DC.

 

All is not lost on the defensive side of the ball.  The secondary should be fine with cornerback Josh Robinson being one of the four returning starters.  Robinson was a 1st team all-conference player last year after intercepting a couple of passes and batting away a baker’s dozen passes.  Free safety Kemal Ishmael led the Knights in tackles.

 

At linebacker, Josh Linam is strong against the run and the pass, but the two teammates lining up with him in the second line of defense are raw and inexperienced.  Up front, only one starter returns, and that is tackle Victor Gray.  However, Darius Nall returns after serving as the designated pass rusher.  Coming in on passing situations, Nall led the team with 8 ½ sacks and another 14 QB hurries.  Look for Nall and end Troy Davis to team for 15-20 sacks this year.

 

The UCF offense gained less than 375 yards per game but still topped 32 points per game, thanks to a great field position advantage given to it by the defense.  Expect the offensive production to suffer some this year due to the weaker defense.

 

Quarterback Jeff Godfrey will not be confused for Case Keenum, but the sophomore signal caller should top 2,500 yards through the air this year and make few mistakes.  He also can run the ball, as his  nearly 700 rushing yards (factoring out sacks) proves.  Godfrey will have an entirely new set of receivers after the top three from last year are gone.  With the return of all the key running backs, UCF will run to set up the pass.  With running backs Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver, the Knights have three players (Godfrey included) capable of topping 100 rushing yards in a game.

 

The offensive line lost its top blocker in tackle Jah Reid, but with three starters back, it should be in decent shape.

 

UCF has a tougher schedule than Southern Miss, and that could prevent the Knights from challenging for the division title.

 

U A B was so close last year.  What turned out to be a 4-8 season could have been 8-4, but the Blazers lost a lot of close games.  They came up short four times, losing to Florida Atlantic by a point, Tennessee by a field goal in double overtime, Mississippi State by five, and Rice by five.

 

This could be the year the Blazers break through and challenge for a bowl bid, but the schedule maker did the team no favors with three tough non-conference games.

 

Quarterback Bryan Ellis almost made UAB fans forget Joe Webb last year.  Ellis threw 25 touchdown passes while completing 56+% of his passes for 2,940 yards.  He was not the runner Webb was.

 

Two of Ellis’s favorite receiver targets return this season.  Patrick Hearn finished second on the team with 536 receiving yards and four touchdowns, while Jackie Williams caught 30 balls.  Running back Pat Shed is a great dual threat.  Aside from his 847 rushing yards, he came out of the backfield to grab a team-leading 47 catches.

 

The offensive line will be the strength of the offense this season.  Four starters return from last year, and all of them should contend for all-league honors.  The fifth offensive linemen has seen considerable action and has started in the past, so this unit will be top notch.

 

UAB averaged better than 26 points per game and almost 425 yards per game, but the Blazers could have averaged more than 30 if they had been able to hang onto the ball better.  We think they will this year and will average at least 28 points per game.

 

As good as the offense should be, the defense should improve even more.  The front four needs to be rebuilt, but the back seven are experienced, talented, and deep. 

 

In the trenches, tackle Elliott Henigan is the leader of the unit.  Henigan led UAB with 15 ½ total tackles for loss.  At 6-4, he was able to get his hands up and knock away five passes last year.

 

Marvin Burdette could become a 1st team All-CUSA player this year.  He led the Blazers with 114 tackles with three sacks.  In the secondary, safety Jamie Bender will try to earn a second 1st team All-CUSA award.

 

This is not a great defense, but it will be better than last year and surrender less than 30 points per game for the first time in five years.  UAB has a chance to get to six wins, but it will not be easy with out-of-conference games at Florida and Troy as well as a home game with Mississippi State.

 

Marshall is another team that narrowly missed bowl eligibility in 2010.  The Thundering Herd came up one win short for first year coach Doc Holliday.  An overtime loss to in-state rival West Virginia was the difference.

 

2011 does not look like the year Marshall will return to greatness.  Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich are not eligible.  Instead, a true freshman could end up starting at quarterback.  Rakeem Cato will battle sophomore A. J. Graham for the starting nod.  Whoever starts will have one of the best receivers in the league running underneath those passes.  Aaron Dobson is as quick as a hiccup, and he can take a five yard slant pass and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown.  Dobson averaged almost 16 yards per reception last year.  Look for Troy Evans to contribute more this year.

 

Marshall could not run the ball last year, finishing with less than 100 yards in eight games.  Another true freshman, Travon Van, could step in and start from day one.  Martin Ward and Essray Taliafero are sure to see playing time at back as well.

 

The offensive line will need to be rebuilt after three starters departed.  Two of the returnees, tackle Ryan Tillman and guard C. J. Wood could contend for all-conference accolades.

 

Marshall averaged less than 21 points per game and only 314 yards per game, and it could be hard to improve on those numbers with a tough non-conference slate of opponents (West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Ohio).

 

Defensively, the Herd is in better shape.  It all starts up front, where Marshall has the best defensive end in the league.  Vinny Curry introduced his body to enemy quarterbacks a dozen times last year, while forcing them to hurry throws another 16 times.  He added six other tackles behind the line.  Curry should be an early draft choice in the 2012 NFL draft.

 

Three experienced veterans will line up at linebacker.  Kellen Harris, Tyson Gale, and Devin Arrington will not appear on the all-conference 1st team, but the trio is more than capable.

 

Things are not so optimistic in the secondary.  What was going to be a major asset has turned into a minor liability due to a situation at the safety positions.  2010 starter Donald Brown was dismissed and then projected starter D. J. Hunter suffered a knee injury and may not be ready to plug the strong safety position.  When Marshall conducted its first scrimmage, former wide receiver Raheem Waiters was running with the first team.  Five other safeties are ailing, and it is unsure who will start at the free safety position against West Virginia on September 4.

 

Too many freshmen and sophomores having to play do not bode well for the Thundering Herd.  This team will be exciting to watch, but they will experience growing pains.  Holliday’s recruiting efforts will begin to pay off, but not this season.  Marshall may take a small step backwards in 2011 before challenging for a bowl berth next year.

 

Memphis has fallen on hard times.  The Tigers finished 2-10 in 2009 and 1-11 last year.  Prospects are not bright for 2011, and second year coach Larry Porter could very well see his career record move to 2-22.

 

The offense never got in a groove at any point last year.  The Tigers averaged just 14 points and 285 yards per game.  The offensive line could not protect inexperienced quarterbacks that could not read defenses fast enough.  None of the backs reminded anybody of DeAngelo Williams.  To make matters worse, the one of the two real stars on last year’s offense, wideout Jermaine McKenzie, has used up his eligibility.

 

At least the other big play receiver returns, and that is where Memphis will try to revive its offense.  Marcus Rucker will see a lot of double teams this year after catching 41 passes and averaging 17.2 yards and scoring eight times (Memphis only scored 19 touchdowns).  Former Alabama wideout Keiwone Malone is trying to gain immediate elibility due to family health issues, but the NCAA will probably not rule before the end of August.  If he is eligible, the receiving corps could become an asset.

 

Quarterback was a major problem last year, as it has been for several years.  Memphis seems to have a jinx here with frequent injuries at this spot.  Andy Summerlin, a juco transfer appears to have the edge over former Wake Forest QB Skylar Jones and true freshman Taylor Reed, but if fate holds out, all three may have to see the field this year.  None of the trio is going to star, because the offensive line will still be a major liability. 

 

Jerrell Rhodes could be a diamond in the rough at running back.  He rushed for 469 yards last year, and he could be ready to break out and have a big year.  But, he will need help, and the holes just may not open for him. 

 

Only one starting lineman returns this season, but at least he was the best of the quintet last year.  The Tigers will rebuild around tackle Ronald Leary.

 

The defense was equally to blame for Memphis’s 1-11 record.  Opponents scored 40 points per game and gained 461 yards per game.  Six starters return, but eight reserves that saw considerable playing time return as well.

 

The defensive line could develop into something memorable.  Tackles Frank Trotter and Dontari Poe could be the best tandem at this position.  They teamed for 23 total tackles for loss last year.

 

Troubles begin once you get past the front four.  Memphis will have trouble stopping the excellent bevy of CUSA quarterbacks this year.  Last year. the Tigers gave up 289 passing yards per game and allowed enemy passers to complete better than 65% of their passes.  To make matters worse, the best pass defender has used up his eligibility, and the second best transferred after Spring practice.

 

The schedule gives Memphis a chance to win at least one game.  A September home game against FCS school Austin Peay should be a nice win.  Memphis does not play UTEP from the West, and we do not see the Tigers winning in league play this year.

 

West

Tulsa might have been our choice to break through and become the first CUSA team to make it to a BCS bowl game this year, but two factors prevented us from going out on that limb.  First, former coach Todd Graham left for Pittsburgh, leaving a rookie, Bill Blankenship, as the new coach.  More importantly, the Golden Hurricane open the season at Oklahoma and then host Oklahoma State two weeks later.  They then make a trip to the field of blue to play Boise State; no CUSA team will play in a BCS Bowl with a 10-3 record, even if the three losses are to top 10 teams.

 

Tulsa returns 10 starters from the fifth best offense in the nation.  TU averaged 41 points and more than 500 yards per game last year, and there is no reason to expect much drop-off this year.  It all starts at quarterback in the spread formation, and G. J. Kinne is a magician.  The former Texas QB passed for 3,650 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2010, and he led the team with 561 rushing yards (more than 750 when factoring out sacks). 

 

As good as Kinne is, his offensive line is the real strength of this team.  All five of these prized possessions return for an encore, and three could earn 1st Team All-CUSA honors.  Center Trent Dupy, guard Clint Anderson, and Tackle Tyler Homes will all be watched by NFL scouts this year.

 

It is rare when a wide receiver becomes a team’s big play man in the running game, but Damaris Johnson was that man.  He averaged more than 10 yards per rush and ran the ball 55 more than four times per game.  When he wasn’t sprinting wide with the ball, he found time to lead the team with 57 pass receptions good for 872 yards.  In his spare time, he returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.  We haven’t heard yet whether he sells programs before the games or marches in the band at halftime.

 

Willie Carter and Ricky Johnson teamed up for just 41 receptions last year, but they both averaged 16 yards per catch.  They will team with Mr. Everything to make a dangerous group.

 

Tulsa’s Achilles heel last year was its defense.  The Golden Hurricane surrendered more than 30 points and 450 yards per game last year.  New defensive coordinator Brent Guy moves TU from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3 defense.  Expect middle linebacker Curnelius Arnick to become an even bigger playmaker in this alignment after he led the team with 115 tackles in 2010.  Shawn Jackson and DeAundre Brown team with Arnick to form one of the top linebacker trios in the league.  If Brown can return to his pre-injury 2009 form, this will be the best unit.  Jackson led TU with 15 ½ stops for loss, including 8 ½ sacks.

 

Safeties Dexter McCoil and Marco Nelson form an excellent tandem of ball hawks.  Both players intercepted six passes last year.

 

Up front, end Tyrunn Walker is the top holdover, earning 2nd Team All-CUSA honors last year.  He recorded 12 tackles for loss.

 

Tulsa hosts Houston in the season finale, and that game should determine the West Division representative in the conference title game.  If Tulsa can stay healthy against this demanding schedule, we believe the Golden Hurricane is the favorite for that spot.

 

S M U returns most of their key players from a team that won the West Division last year, but the Mustangs are the third choice to start 2011.  Coach June Jones’ team finished just 7-7 overall due to 1-3 non-conference record and losses to UCF in the Championship Game and Army in the bowl.  Another tough non-conference schedule will prevent the Mustangs from making any major leap forward.

 

Kyle Padron returns at quarterback after throwing for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns.  Five of his top six receivers return, including Cole Beasley, who caught 87 passes for 1,060 yards.  However, the one receiver lost was an NFL draft choice.  Aldrick Robinson caught 65 passes and averaged 20 yards per catch with 14 touchdowns.  With the breakaway threat gone, the other receivers will find the going a little tougher, and SMU will pass for less yards this season.

 

Taking up the slack in the yardage department will be an excellent running game.  Zach Line rushed for almost 1,500 yards last year and averaged more than six yards per carry. 

 

Up front, SMU’s offensive line is almost as talented as Tulsa’s.  All five starters return as well as the five second teamers.  Tackle Kelvin Beachum earned 1st team all-conference honors last year and could contend for Honorable Mention All-American honors this year.

 

SMU gained more than 5,800 total yards last year but only scored 360 points.  That averages out to more than 16 yards per point.  The average effective offense scores a point for about 13 yards of offense, meaning SMU should have scored close to 450 points last year.  The Mustangs could gain fewer yards and score more points this season, but only if the backs can hold onto the ball, and Padron can keep his interceptions down.

 

SMU’s defense has improved for three consecutive seasons, and it could be more of the same in season four of the Jones era.  Eight different defensive players made an all-conference team last year, and six of them return, two each in the three different units.  Ends Margus Hunt and Taylor Thompson were two of those award winners.  The duo teamed up for 7 ½ sacks. 

 

In the second line of defense, linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja’Gared Davis combined for 235 tackles.  Both could earn 1st Team All-CUSA accolades this year.

 

Cornerback Richard Crawford and safety Chris Banjo are the stars of the secondary.  Crawford recorded 12 passes defended with four interceptions, while Banjo proved to be strong against both the run and the pass.

 

September will bring an almost assured 3-2 start for SMU.  Road games against Texas A&M and TCU bookmark games with UTEP, Northwestern State, and Memphis.  After a week off, the Mustangs host Central Florida in a game that will decide if either team will contend in their respective division.

 

Houston has the schedule Tulsa needs to become a BCS Bowl participant.  The Cougars are not that far behind Tulsa in talent, and if Coach Kevin Sumlin can plug a couple of holes on both sides of the ball, we would not be surprised to see Houston visiting Tulsa with a perfect won-loss record on the line.

 

All this optimism hinges on the 100% return of Heisman Trophy candidate Case Keenum.  The Cougars have had some outstanding quarterbacks, including a Heisman Trophy winner in Andre Ware and current Arizona Cardinals’ QB Kevin Kolb.  However, Keenum may be better than both.  When he was healthy in 2009, he completed 70% of his passes for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns.  If he replicates those numbers this year, all other marbles should fall in place.  Backup David Piland threw for 2,641 yards and 24 touchdowns as Keenum’s fill-in, so there is excellent depth.

 

Keenum will hook up frequently with Patrick Edwards.  Edwards led the Cougars with 71 receptions, 13 touchdowns and 1,100 yards.  Houston will have to break in two new receivers, but they have some real sprinters ready to go in 2011. 

 

Houston has not been a running back factory since the old veer offense days of the 1960’s and 1970’s; more recently, they have produced one productive back at a time.  This year, the Cougars have three great running backs.  Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes teamed for almost 1,500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last year, while former co-regular Charles Sims returns after missing last season.  The trio should team up for about 175 rushing yards per game this season; considering that Houston passes the ball about 60% of the time, this is a scary statistic.  It will give Keenum more open looks when defenses have to remain honest.

 

The one question mark to the 2011 offense is a rebuilding offensive line.  Keenum was not sacked in the two plus games that he played before his ACL injury.  Piland only went down 12 times after that.  Expect the sack total to go up by at least 50% this year due to some inexperience in the blocking corps.  Center Chris Thompson is one of the best at his position in the conference, and Keenum should feel comfortable with him.

 

Houston averaged more than 40 points per game with Keenum directing the offense in 2008 and 2009.  They scored 122 points in the first two games last year before he went down for the count and averaged “just” 33 points per game without him.  We believe he will regain his old form, and the Cougars will move north of the 40-point mark again this year.

 

Whether 40 points per game will be enough to win all the games on the schedule is an unknown at this point.  Houston’s defense will not be championship material this year.  The Cougars gave up more than 32 points and 430 yards per game, and there may be no improvement and even a small deterioration in the numbers this year.

 

The secondary is a major concern.  Just one starter returns from a unit that gave up about 225 passing yards at a 60% completion rate.  As of this writing, Sumlin has not yet decided on his starting four nor has he even decided where to play some of his players.  Expected starting cornerback Chevy Bennett was playing safety in the early scrimmage.

 

As raw as the secondary will be, the linebackers will be grey beards.  Seniors Sammy Brown and Marcus McGraw could both earn all-league honors, and Brown could contend for defensive player of the year.  He recorded 20 tackles for loss with 7 ½ sacks in 2010.  Junior Phillip Steward is an excellent pass defender from his strong side spot.

 

Up front, the three-man line had a tough time stopping the run last year.  UH gave up more than 200 rushing yards as close to a five yard per carry rate.  Ends David Hunter and Kelvin King return, but the Cougars will have a new nose guard as Matangi Tonga graduated.

 

Houston has a couple of special teams weapons as well.  When not catching passes, Edwards is one of the best punt returners in the nation.  Tyron Carrier is an asset in the kick return game.

 

Houston has a slim chance of running the table this year, but with too many questions on the defensive side, we tend to believe they will fall once or twice.

 

Last year, Rice began to recover some from its slide from 10 wins in 2008 to 10 losses in 2009.  The Owls won four games and blew out East Carolina 62-38, so Coach David Bailiff has enough talent to get back above the .500 mark.

 

Injuries ruined any chance for the Owls to contend for a bowl bid last year.  Quarterback Taylor McHargue played sparingly due to injuries last year.  In his time under center, he completed 57% of his passes at 8.5 yards per attempt. 

 

Former quarterback 6-07 Taylor Cook moves to wide receiver and will team with tight end 6-05 Luke Wilson and wideout 6-05 Vance McDonald to make one of the tallest receiver units in college football history.  While there isn’t a trailblazer in this group, there will be a lot of 3rd down passing plays converted to first downs.

 

Sam McGuffie is a dual threat back.  He led the Owls with 883 rushing yards while catching 39 passes.  That earned him 2nd team all-league honors.

 

The offensive line returns four starters, but they are mediocre at best.  Guard Davon Allen and tackle Jake Hicks are the two quality players in the blocking corps.

 

Rice should exceed last season’s production of 29 points and 375 yards.  Look for more than 30 points and 400 yards this season.

 

In Bailiff’s four seasons in Houston, Rice has given up 43, 33, 43, and 39 points per game.  They won 10 games when they gave up 33 points, so it will not take much for a record reversal.  Unfortunately, with the tough out-of-conference schedule and road games against Southern Miss, Houston, and SMU, it does not look like the Owls can chop much off last season’s numbers.

 

The biggest problem with the Rice defense is the secondary.  The Owls gave up 304 passing yards per game last year and intercepted just six passes.  Of course, a better pass rush would have helped, as enemy quarterbacks hit the turf just 14 times.  Four of the five starters return from a year ago, and unfortunately three of them were the top three tacklers on the team.  That can never be a good sign.

 

There is some good news at linebacker.  Kyle Prater takes over in the middle after transferring from LSU two years ago.  There’s more good news in the trenches with the return from injury of end Scott Solomon.  However, that is not enough good news to turn Rice’s fortunes around.

 

The schedule makers did the Owls no favors this year.  Rice plays at Texas, Northwestern, and Baylor and hosts Purdue out of the league, and that could very well equate to an 0-4 mark.  The three conference road games listed above are basically unwinnable, so even if the Owls win the other five games, they will finish with a losing record.  They must sweep the five easier teams and then pick up a big upset somewhere along the line.  We do not see it happening this season.

 

Tulane has not enjoyed a winning season since 2002, when Mewelde Moore was running loose.  The Green Wave always seem to be good for one upset, but they cannot get over the hill.  This could be Coach Bob Toledo’s last attempt to reverse the poor fortunes in the Crescent City.

 

The offense will revolve around running back Orleans Darkwa.  As a freshman, Darkwa rushed for 925 and 11 touchdowns, earning 1st team All-CUSA awards.  Look for Darkwa to run the ball more than the 15 times he averaged last year.  He should carry the ball 25 times for about 125 yards per game.

 

Junior quarterback Ryan Griffin was adequate but not exceptional last year.  He completed 60% of his passes for 2,371 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010, but he played part of the season with a lame shoulder.  He should have more zip on the ball this year, and his numbers will improve.

 

Only one real threat returns to the receiver corps.  Ryan Grant grabbed 33 passes and blazed for almost 16 yards per catch. 

 

The offensive line could be a liability this year.  Three starters return and three second teamers are back, but we do not see any stars in this group.

 

Tulane averaged 25 points and 373 yards per game last year.  We expect those numbers to improve some this year, but we do not see a 30-point, 400-yard production.  That’s what the Green Wave offense will need to get to seven wins.

 

Defensively, TU gave up more than 37 points per game in 2010.  Six times, they surrendered 42 or more points.  No unit stands out as a strength this year, and we expect the Green Wave to give up more than five touchdowns per game for the third consecutive season.  Tulane’s biggest problem is an inability to stop the run.  Opponents averaged five yards per carry, and you must realize that their schedule found them facing a majority of opponents that preferred to pass rather than run.

 

Up front, end Dezman Moses was the one bright spot.  Moses recorded six sacks and forced seven QB hurries after transferring from Iowa.  In the second line of defense, Trent Mackey made the 1st Team All-CUSA roster after he led TU with 124 tackles.

 

The secondary looked better than it was, because teams found the going so easy running the ball against the Green Wave.  Yet, TU did surrender just 53.9% in completion percentage. 

 

Unlike Rice, Tulane’s schedule is manageable.  Outside of league play, TU should beat Southeast Louisiana.  They should compete against Duke and Army, and Syracuse comes to the Superdome in what looks like a big upset chance for TU.  Remember, they always come up with one upset.  In conference play, home games with UTEP and Memphis will give the Green Wave an excellent chance to pick up two league wins.  There is an outside chance Tulane could be 6-6 and playing for bowl eligibility when they head to Hawaii for the season finale.  This team is not as good as Rice, but the schedule gives them the chance that Rice will not receive.

 

U T E P used to be referred to as the University of Texas at intercepted passo by one a pollster that used to rank the Bottom 10 every year.  Then, the Miners started to get better earning three bowls in six years.  After four sub-.500 seasons, UTEP recovered to break even in the regular season in 2010.  A bowl loss sent their final record back under .500 again.  It looks like 2011 could find the Miners resembling their old moniker once again. 

 

Only one starter returns to an offense that was just pedestrian in CUSA standards last year.  Running back Joe Banyard may wish he wasn’t the lone returnee.  He led TEP with 623 rushing yards last year, but with no starters returning at QB, wide receiver, and offensive line, he will probably not match that number this season.

 

At quarterback, Nick Lamaison has been named the starter.  He completed 60% of his passes for almost 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore at junior college. 

 

Donovan Kemp is the only receiver left on the roster that caught more than 10 passes and gained more than 100 yards.  He is coming off an ACL injury, so he may not be 100% at the beginning of the season.

 

With no returning regulars to the front five, Coach Mike Price had to recruit multiple juco players to fill the spots.  Center Eloy Anderson has one career start.

 

UTEP has averaged no less than 26 points per game for the last seven years.  2011 may find them averaging less than they did in 2003 (22.2).

 

The Miners have almost the exact opposite situation on the other side of the ball.  15 of the top 19 tacklers from 2010 are back this year.  Of course, those players contributed to a defense that gave up 28 points and more than 400 yards per game, so there may be little or no improvement.  If the offense struggles and the time of possession suffers, UTEP could even fare worse defensively in 2011.

 

The secondary is the strongest unit on the stop side.  Safety Travaun Nixon was voted to the All-CUSA 2nd team after he defended 12 passes with four interceptions.  Fellow safety DeShawn Grayson earned honorable mention all-conference honors.

 

At linebacker, all three starters are back for more.  Royzell Smith, Jamie Irving, and Isaiah Carter combined for 226 tackles, each recording more than 70.  Up front, three starters return, but this group lacks a star. 

 

UTEP will start the season 1-0 thanks to a cupcake game with Stony Brook.  After that game, a road trip to Las Cruces to play New Mexico State is their best shot at picking up a second win.

 

Conference USA Preseason Media Poll

 

C-USA EAST

1st Place Votes

Total Votes

Central Florida

20

139

Southern Miss

4

122

East Carolina

 

93

Marshall

 

65

U A B

 

61

Memphis

 

24

     
C-USA WEST

1st Place Votes

Total Votes

Houston

12

127

Tulsa

8

117

S M U

4

116

Rice

 

60

Tulane (tied)

 

42

U T E P (tied)

 

42

 

Conference USA PiRate Ratings

C-USA EAST

PiRate #

Prediction

Southern Miss

97.0

7-1/10-3

East Carolina

94.8

6-2/6-6

Central Florida

91.9

5-3/7-5

U A B

89.1

3-5/3-9

Marshall

85.8

3-5/3-9

Memphis

72.0

0-8/2-10

 

 

 

C-USA WEST

PiRate #

Prediction

Tulsa

103.6

7-1/9-4 *

S M U

102.0

5-3/6-6

Houston

96.7

7-1/10-2

Rice

89.7

3-5/3-9

Tulane

80.9

2-6/4-9

U T E P

76.0

0-8/1-11

 

 

 

* Tulsa picked to beat Southern Miss in the Championship Game

 

Next: The Western Athletic Conference preview—Thursday, August 18

 

December 26, 2010

PiRate Ratings College Football Bowl Preview, Part Two

We are posting three bowl previews this year; this is the second preview.  We will give you the current odds for each game, the PiRate, Mean, and Bias spreads for each game, and the results of our 100 computer simulations for each game.

 

Today, we cover the bowls from Boxing Day through New Year’s Day.  Next week, we will preview the bowls from January 2 to the Championship Game. 

 

Sunday, December 26

Little Caesar’s Bowl

Detroit, MI

8:30 PM EST on ESPN

Toledo (8-4)  vs. Florida Internationl (6-6)

Vegas: Toledo by 1

Totals: 57

PiRate: Toledo by 3.3

Mean: Toledo by 2.8

Bias: Toledo by 16.8

100 Sims: Toledo 67  Florida International 33

Avg. Sim Score: Toledo 33.6  Florida International 25.7

Outlier A: Toledo 49  Florida International 19

Outlier B: Florida International 37  Toledo 24

 

Monday, December 27

Independence Bowl

Shreveport, LA

5:00 PM EST on ESPN

Air Force (8-4)  vs.  Georgia Tech (6-6)

Vegas: Air Force by 2 ½  

Totals: 56

PiRate: Georgia Tech by 1.7

Mean: Air Force by 5.2

Bias: Air Force by 5.9

100 Sims: Air Force 55  Georgia Tech 45

Avg. Sim Score: Air Force 29.2  Georgia Tech 26.9

Outlier A: Air Force 41  Georgia Tech 23

Outlier B: Georgia Tech 34  A Force 23

 

Tuesday, December 28

Champs Sports Bowl

Orlando, FL

6:30 PM EST on ESPN

West Virginia (9-3)  vs. North Carolina State (8-4)

Vegas: West Virginia by 2 ½

Totals: 49

PiRate: West Virginia by 6.8

Mean: West Virginia by 2.3

Bias: West Virginia by 3.0

100 Sims: West Virginia 53  North Carolina State 47 (6 games decided by OT)

Avg. Sim Score: West Virginia 25.8  North Carolina State 25.2

Outlier A: West Virginia 27  North Carolina State 10

Outlier B: North Carolina State 28  West Virginia 12

 

Insight Bowl

Tempe, AZ

10:00 PM EST

Missouri (10-2)  vs.  Iowa (7-5)

Vegas: Missouri by 2 ½

Totals: 46 ½

PiRate: Even

Mean: Missouri by 4.1

Bias: Missouri by 12.6

100 Sims: Missouri 58  Iowa 42

Avg. Sim Score: Missouri 25.6  Iowa 22.3

Outlier A: Missouri 31  Iowa 13

Outlier B: Iowa 21  Missouri 7

 

Wednesday, December 29

Military Bowl

Washington, D.C.

2:30 PM on EST

Maryland (8-4)  vs. East Carolina (6-6)

Vegas: Maryland by 7 ½

Totals: 68 ½

PiRate: Maryland by 18.4

Mean: Maryland by 11.2

Bias: Maryland by 13.8

100 Sims: East Carolina 51  Maryland 49

Avg. Sim Score: Maryland 34.4  East Carolina 34.1

Outlier A: East Carolina 47  Maryland 31

Outlier B: Maryland 42  East Carolina 20

 

Texas Bowl

Houston, TX

6:00 PM EST on ESPN

Baylor (7-5)  vs. Illinois (6-6)

Vegas: Baylor by 1

Totals: 62 ½

PiRate: Baylor by 2.4

Mean: Illinois by 1.6

Bias: Baylor by 6.9

100 Sims: Illinois 54  Baylor 46

Avg. Sim Score: Illinois 32.1  Baylor 28.6

Outlier A: Illinois 34  Baylor 17

Outlier B: Baylor 28  Illinois 18

 

Alamo Bowl

San Antonio, TX

9:15 PM EST on ESPN

Oklahoma State (10-2)  vs. Arizona (7-5)

Vegas: Oklahoma State by 5 ½

Totals: 66

PiRate: Oklahoma State by 1.1

Mean: Oklahoma State by 6.1

Bias: Oklahoma State by 9.6

100 Sims: Oklahoma State 61  Arizona 39

Avg. Sim Score: Oklahoma State 38.0  Arizona 29.1

Outlier A: Oklahoma State 51  Arizona 27

Outlier B: Arizona 34  Oklahoma State 28 (and one other 6-point spread)

 

Thursday, December 30

Armed Forces Bowl

Dallas, TX

12:00 Noon EST on ESPN

S M U (7-6)  vs. Army (6-6)

Vegas: S M U by 7

Totals: 52

PiRate: S M U by 7.7

Mean: S M U by 3.2

Bias: S M U by 10.6

100 Sims: S M U 64  Army 36

Avg. Sim Score: S M U 28.2  Army 20.6

Outlier A: S M U 34  Army 10

Outlier B: Army 24  S M U 16

 

Pinstripe Bowl

New York, NY

3:20 PM EST

Syracuse (7-5)  vs. Kansas State (7-5)

Vegas: Pick’em

Totals: 47 ½

PiRate: Syracuse by 1.5

Mean: Kansas State by 4.6

Bias: Syracuse by 2.3

100 Sims: Syracuse 53  Kansas State 47

Avg. Sim Score: Syracuse 20.1  Kansas State 18.6

Outlier A: Syracuse 24  Kansas State 7

Outlier B: Kansas State 17  Syracuse 3

 

Music City Bowl

Nashville, TN

6:30 PM EST

Tennessee (6-6)  vs. North Carolina (7-5)

Vegas: North Carolina by 1 ½  

Totals: 50 ½

PiRate: North Carolina by 6.8

Mean: North Carolina by 1.5

Bias: Tennessee by 6.6

100 Sims: Tennessee 50  North Carolina 50

Avg. Sim Score: Tennessee 24.5  North Carolina 23.9

Outlier A: Tennessee 30  North Carolina 14

Outlier B: North Carolina 27  Tennessee 12

 

Holiday Bowl

San Diego, CA

10:00 PM EST

Nebraska (10-3)  vs. Washington (6-6)

Vegas: Nebraska by 14

Totals: 52 ½

PiRate: Nebraska by 11.8

Mean: Nebraska by 11.5

Bias: Nebraska by 5.3

100 Sims: Nebraska 57  Washington 43

Avg. Sim Score: Nebraska 26.1  Washington 19.3

Outlier A: Nebraska 27  Washington 6

Outlier B: Washington 23  Nebraska 14

 

Friday, December 31

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Charlotte, NC

12:00 Noon EST

South Florida (7-5)  vs. Clemson (6-6)

Vegas: Clemson by 5 ½

Totals: 40 ½

PiRate: Clemson by 5.1

Mean: Clemson by 3.7

Bias: South Florida by 6.1

100 Sims: South Florida 58  Clemson 42

Avg. Sim Score: South Florida 25.1  Clemson 19.2

Outlier A: South Florida 31  Clemson 12

Outlier B: Clemson 28  South Florida 16

 

Sun Bowl

El Paso, TX

2:00 PM EST on CBS

Notre Dame (7-5)  vs. Miami (Fl) (7-5)

Vegas: Miami by 3

Totals: 47

PiRate: Miami by 6.3

Mean: Notre Dame by 1.2

Bias: Miami by 6.0

100 Sims: Notre Dame 52  Miami 48

Avg. Sim Score: Notre Dame 23.4  Miami 23.2

Outlier A: Notre Dame 30  Miami 14

Outlier B: Miami 35  Notre Dame 14

 

Liberty Bowl

Memphis, TN

3:30 PM EST on ESPN

Central Florida (10-3)  vs. Georgia (6-6)

Vegas: Georgia by 6 ½

Totals: 55 ½

PiRate: Georgia by 12.8

Mean: Georgia by 5.3

Bias: Georgia by 11.3

100 Sims: Georgia 72  Central Florida 28

Avg. Sim Score: Georgia 28.6  Central Florida 17.3

Outlier A: Georgia 38  Central Florida 10

Outlier B: Central Florida 24  Georgia 19

 

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Atlanta, GA

7:30 PM EST on ESPN

South Carolina (9-4)  vs. Florida State (9-4)

Vegas: South Carolina by 3

Totals: 55

PiRate: Florida State by 0.4

Mean: South Carolina by 0.5

Bias: Florida State by 1.6

100 Sims: Florida State 52  South Carolina 48

Avg. Sim Score: South Carolina 26.7  Florida State 26.6

Outlier A: Florida State 30  South Carolina 16

Outlier B: South Carolina 44  Florida State 17

 

Saturday, January 1

TicketCity Bowl

Dallas, TX

12:00 Noon EST on ESPN-U

Texas Tech (7-5)  vs. Northwestern (7-5)

Vegas: Texas Tech by 10

Totals: 60

PiRate: Texas Tech by 12.5

Mean: Texas Tech by 7.3

Bias: Texas Tech by 9.6

100 Sims: Texas Tech 86  Northwestern 14

Avg. Sim Score: Texas Tech 34.6  Northwestern 21.2

Outlier A: Texas Tech 45  Northwestern 17

Outlier B: Northwestern 30  Texas Tech 24 (3 other by 6)

 

Outback Bowl

Tampa, FL

1:00 PM EST on ABC

Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5)

Vegas: Florida by 7 ½  

Totals: 48

PiRate: Florida by 13.2

Mean: Florida by 5.1

Bias: Florida by 5.5

100 Sims: Florida 54  Penn State 46

Avg. Sim Score: Florida 22.6  Penn State 19.8

Outlier A: Florida 28  Penn State 13

Outlier B: Penn State 21  Florida 10

 

Capital One Bowl

Orlando, FL

1:00 PM EST on ESPN

Michigan State (11-1) vs.  Alabama (9-3)

Vegas: Alabama by 10

Totals: 52 ½

PiRate: Alabama by 15.5

Mean: Alabama by 10.4

Bias: Alabama by 3.2

100 Sims: Alabama 59  Michigan State 41

Avg. Sim Score: Alabama 27.6  Michigan State 24.7

Outlier A: Alabama 31  Michigan State 12

Outlier B: Michigan State 35  Alabama 25

 

Gator Bowl

Jacksonville, FL

1:30 PM EST on ESPN2

Mississippi State (8-4)  vs.  Michigan (7-5)

Vegas: Mississippi State by 5 ½

Totals: 61

PiRate: Mississippi State by 10.3

Mean: Mississippi State by 6.3

Bias: Mississippi State by 4.8

100 Sims: Mississippi State 52  Michigan 48

Avg. Sim Score: Mississippi State 33.7  Michigan 30.1

Outlier A: Mississippi State 38  Michigan 20

Outlier B: Michigan 36  Mississippi State 27

 

Rose Bowl

Pasadena, CA

5:00 PM EST on ESPN

T C U (12-0)  vs. Wisconsin (11-1)

Vegas: T C U by 3

Totals: 58 ½

PiRate: T C U by 7.9

Mean: T C U by 5.8

Bias: Wisconsin by 6.6

100 Sims: Wisconsin 54  T C U 46

Avg. Sim Score: Wisconsin 30.4  T C U 28.8

Outlier A: Wisconsin 40  T C U 24

Outlier B: T C U 34  Wisconsin 24

 

Fiesta Bowl

Glendale, AZ

8:30 PM EST

Oklahoma (11-2)  vs. Connecticut (8-4)

Vegas: Oklahoma by 16 1/2

Totals: 55

PiRate: Oklahoma by 19.7

Mean: Oklahoma by 16.2

Bias: Oklahoma by 20.7

100 Sims: Oklahoma 91  Connecticut 9

Avg. Sim Score: Oklahoma 35.3  Connecticut 14.8

Outlier A: Oklahoma 49  Connecticut 7

Outlier B: Connecticut 27  Oklahoma 23

August 13, 2010

2010 Conference USA Preview

Go To: www.piratings.webs.com , where we “beat the spread” 60.4% in 2009!

 

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

 

2010 Conference USA Preview

28.8 points per game—that is the average score put up by members of Conference USA in conference games last year.  These teams averaged 417 yards of offense per game.  If wide open offenses and 150 scrimmage plays per game are up your alley, you have found the conference to follow.

The most outstanding of these offenses belongs to the Houston Cougars.  This is the third time in the school’s history that Houston has been so dominating on offense.  In the late 1960’s, it was the veer offense.  The Cougars were the last team to reach 100 points in a game when they did so against Tulsa in 1968.  In the late 1980’s, it was the run and shoot offense.  Houston came within five points of repeating the triple digit score when they hung 95 on SMU.  Now, with Case Keenum running a four wide receiver spread offense, could the Cougars possibly be primed to challenge the triple digit mark again?  Two opportunities present them with a great chance in the month of September.  It will be fun to watch—unless you are a fan of one of the two teams that could see it happen. 

C U S A Predictions
Pos Team Conf Overall
C U S A  EAST
1 Southern Mississippi 6-2 9-4
2 Central Florida 6-2 8-4
3 U A B 4-4 6-6
4 Marshall 4-4 6-6
5 East Carolina 2-6 2-10
6 Memphis 0-8 0-12
       
Pos Team Conf Overall
C U S A  WEST
1 Houston 7-1 10-3
2 S M U 6-2 7-5
3 Tulsa 6-2 8-4
4 U T E P 4-4 7-5
5 Rice 4-4 4-8
6 Tulane 0-8 2-10

 

CUSA Championship Game: Houston over Southern Mississippi

 

Liberty Bowl—Houston

Hawaii Bowl—Southern Mississippi

Armed Forces Bowl—S M U

St. Petersburg Bowl—Central Florida

New Orleans Bowl—U T E P

Eagle Bank Bowl–Tulsa

 

Team By Team Breakdown

CUSA East

 

Team East Carolina Pirates
               
Head Coach Ruffin McNeill
               
Colors Purple and Gold
               
City Greenville, NC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 9-5
               
PiRate Rating 89.6
               
National Rating 89
               
2010 Prediction  
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: Things will be much more exciting in Greenville this season when the Pirates have the ball.  New coach Ruffin McNeill brings the Texas Tech “Air Raid” offense with him from Lubbock.  He also brings former TTU receivers coach Lincoln Riley as his offensive coordinator (youngest coordinator in FBS by three years!)

Gone is the ball-control offense that wasn’t flashy but was effective enough to win back-to-back CUSA titles for former coach Skip Holtz.  ECU will throw the ball more than 40 times a game (maybe over 50).  There is a minor battle going on to decide which of four quarterbacks will start against Tulsa in game one.  It appears that former Boston College QB Dominique Davis will get the nod over Brad Wornick and Rio Johnson, but it would not surprise us if eventually true freshman Shane Carden emerges as the full-time starter. 

The receiving corps returns two key players who could both approach 100 receptions this season. Dwayne Harris and Darryl Feeney teamed for 131 receptions in 2009.  Harris is more of the possession receiver, while Feeney is the breakaway threat.

ECU has had some off the field issues with multiple running backs, and this year’s starter by default has not been immune to that.  Jonathan Williams will get one last chance to live up to his high recruit status, but he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry last year.  The Pirates will run the ball 20-25 times with several draw plays.

The offensive line returns three starters, but the two that graduated were both All-CUSA performers.  Throw in the fact that they must learn an entirely new blocking scheme, and you can expect sacks to possibly triple from the 14 of last year.

We believe the new passing offense will produce a lot of yards through the air, while sacks and weaker blocking will haunt the running game.  Look for about 75 yards rushing and 300-325 passing yards, but only about 24-28 points per game.

Defense: We’re talking trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for players, as in nine lost starting players from 2009.  To make matters worse, not a single player in the front seven returns this year to a defense that will be on the field for at least 5-10 more plays this year.

The only experience is in the secondary, where both cornerbacks, Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons, combined for 121 tackles.  Davis intercepted two passes and knocked away a dozen.  They benefitted from one of the best pass rushes in the league, and they won’t be so fortunate this year.  Even with the experience and talent, expect enemy quarterbacks to find the going easier against the Pirate secondary.

Worse than the lack of a returning starter up front is the possibility that as many as three of the four starters in the trenches could be freshmen or sophomores.  Senior Dustin Lineback should emerge as the star of the linebacking unit, but he only recorded 29 tackles last year.

When you factor into the equation that the new offense will struggle at times and force the defense back on the field much more than last year, it looks like this will be a long year for ECU.  Look for the Pirates to give up 30-35 points and 400+ yards per game.

Schedule: Out of conference games at Virginia Tech and North Carolina are sure losses.  Home games with North Carolina State and Navy also look like losses.  The Pirates get Memphis at home, and that is the only sure win.  We figure they will pick up one more along the way.  2-10 would be a big disappointment, but ECU will take a lot of lumps in transitioning to the new offense.

 

Team Marshall Thundering Herd
               
Head Coach Doc Holliday
               
Colors Green and White
               
City Huntington, WV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 88.7
               
National Rating 91
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Here is another school with a new coach.  Marshall gave the Okay to Doc Holliday to corral the Thundering Herd talent into winners at the CUSA gunfight.  He has enough talent to succeed in year one.  

Holliday has worked for Urban Meyer, so you can expect some form of the spread offense.  The first order of business is to identify who will be piloting the new scheme.  Willy Korn was a high school phenom when he signed with Clemson.  Things didn’t pan out there, and he transferred to Marshall where it was expected he would beat out 2009 incumbent Brian Anderson.  However, our spies in Huntington tell us that Anderson is going to keep his job as starter.  Korn may not even be the number two, because hot shot freshman Eddie Sullivan has a really big arm and fast shoes.  This position is in very good hands.

Anderson will have a quartet of fine receivers to throw to this year.  2009 leader Antavious Wilson caught 60 passes for 724 yards last year.  Aaron Dobson is the speedster of the group.  He won’t catch 60 passes, but the 30-40 he does grab should average more than 15 yards per reception and produce double-digit touchdowns.  Tight end Lee Smith is the hands down best at his position in the conference.

The offensive line is better blocking for the run than pass, but we believe they will pick up the new scheme quickly.  All five projected starters are experienced upperclassmen. 

The formerly strong running game is the one concern on this side of the ball.  The Herd lost a 1,000-yard rusher last year, and 2010 figures to be a season where the leading runner could gain less than 800 yards.  If Korn sees action, he could be used as the running alternative to Anderson.

We believe Marshall’s offensive numbers will increase minimally this year.  Look for 24-26 points and 350-375 total yards.

Defense:  Former Marshall coach Mark Snyder was supposed to be a defensive wizard, after he molded some great defenses at Ohio State.  The Buckeye defenses actually improved under Jim Heacock after Snyder left.  His Herd defenses were mediocre, and that cost him his job. 

This year, the pieces are in place for another mediocre showing.  Marshall will fare well against most opponents’ running games, but they will suffer against the slate of excellent opposing quarterbacks they will face this season.  The secondary is a big concern following the loss of its top two stars.  Free safety Omar Brown and cornerback Ahmed Shakoor return, but there is not much experience or depth in this unit.

The defensive line also returns half of its starting contingent, but there is more depth up front than in the back line.  End Vinny Curry could make 1st Team All-CUSA this year after he registered 8 ½ stops behind the line last year.

The middle trio is the strength on this side of the ball.  Linebackers Kellen Harris and Mario Harvey are both excellent run-stoppers.  They will be called on to contribute more in pass coverage this year to hide the liabilities behind them.

The new offense may force the defense to play a couple more plays per game, and we believe Marshall will give up a couple more points and yards per game this season.  Look for 25-28 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: Marshall opens the season at the Giant Horseshoe in Columbus against Ohio State, and then the home-opener the following week is against West Virginia.  The Herd will be 0-2 when they go to Bowling Green in week three.  That will be a must-win game if Marshall is to earn six wins again this season.  They host Ohio U the following week before beginning conference play.  Their first two games in the league come against the top two teams in their division—Southern Mississippi and Central Florida.  They could be 1-5 by then and figure to be 2-4.  Home games with UTEP, Memphis, and Tulane will make the back end of the schedule much more fun for Herd fans.  Look for Marshall to flirt with a winning season but fall short and finish 6-6 or 5-7.

 

 

Team Memphis Tigers
               
Head Coach Larry Porter
               
Colors Blue and Gray
               
City Memphis, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 77.7
               
National Rating 114
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12

 

Offense:  Welcome to a big mess!  Memphis doesn’t have much going for it these days.  If you walk around town, the natives will tell you they wish they lived somewhere else.  There is a malaise there.  You can get away from it by making a trip to the Rendezvous for a plate of ribs, but 2010 is not a fun time for the Bluff City.  Ditto that for Memphis Tiger fans.  Tommy West did not go quietly when he was given his walking papers.  He warned the administration that they needed to make a significant renewed effort to revitalize the football program, or else drop football.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will this football program.  It has been rumored that Memphis will be admitted to the Big East Conference in a few years, but Big East officials deny this.  If it doesn’t happen, Memphis could become the next Villanova.

Okay, let’s talk some real football.  New coach Larry Porter comes from LSU, where the coaching staff has been under fire now for a couple of seasons.  He steps out of one frying pan into another.  The Tigers will have new players starting at quarterback, running back, and two of the receiver positions.  They lost their top two rushers and top two receivers. 

The new quarterback will be under close media scrutiny from day one.  Cannon Smith is the son of Federal Express ex-CEO Fred Smith.  Smith has offered up a 10 million dollar “bribe” to any major conference if they accept Memphis as a member.  Most of us have seen cases where the son of the big shot got preferential treatment (like George Herbert Walker Bush’s son and Joseph Kennedy’s sons).  Smith played in one game for Miami (FL) two years ago, but even if he is worthy of being the starter, there will be too much pressure on him to prove it to the rest of the world.

Making matters worse, there isn’t that much talent for Smith to throw the ball.   Sophomore Marcus Rucker is the best of this bunch, but he had just 18 receptions in 2009.

Don’t expect the next DeAngelo Williams or Curtis Steele to suit up for Memphis this year.  True freshman Jerrell Rhodes will likely get the most carries with Lance Smith supplementing.

The offensive line is better than average but not great.  All 2009 starters return, but they will be called to sustain their blocks up to a half-second longer for the inexperienced quarterbacks and receivers to hook up.  Without Steele, they will have to do more in run blocking as well.

We are extremely pessimistic on this year’s team.  We believe Memphis will struggle to score 17 points per game and be fortunate to produce 325 total yards per game.

Defense: The picture on this side of the ball makes the offense look peachy.  The Tigers are going to crash and burn on this side of the ball in 2010.  Only five starters return to a defense that couldn’t stop the pass last year. 

In their final four games, Memphis surrendered 415 passing yards per game last year, and they lost their top two secondary starters.  Cornerback DA Griffin was out for those four games, and his return gives the Tigers a little solace.

Middle linebacker Jamon Hughes led Memphis with 87 tackles last year.  He could be the lone player on this side of the ball to make the All-CUSA team.

Up front, there is some quality and depth.  Three starters return, and the projected fourth starter saw significant action.  Porter recognizes a need for a better pass rush, and he moved Winston Bowens from linebacker to end.

Memphis gave up 35 points per game last year, and they will not improve this year.  Expect 35-40 points and 450-475 yards allowed.

Schedule:  The non-conference schedule isn’t all that difficult, and in a good year, the Tigers could have possibly won all four of these games.  With the major rebuilding project here, they are likely to lose all four.  They open at Mississippi State and play at Louisville in October.  They host Middle Tennessee and Tennessee.  Throw in Houston, Tulsa, and UTEP from the other division, and the almost sure losses add up to seven.  Inside divisional play, Southern Miss and Central Florida are two more sure losses.  That leaves three games—East Carolina, Marshall, and UAB for Memphis to try to find one win.  It may not happen this year.  0-12 is a possibility.  Cheer up Memphis fans.  Basketball season begins soon.

 

 

Team Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
               
Head Coach Larry Fedora
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Hattiesburg, MS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 91.1
               
National Rating 84
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-4

 

Offense: Coach Larry Fedora has produced two excellently balanced offenses in his first two seasons in Hattiesburg.  The Golden Eagles might be just as balanced this year, but that just means that the decimated attack drops off equally in the running and passing stats. 

The offensive line is the major concern.  Only center Cameron Zipp has any starting experience.  He will be surrounded by upperclassmen who have never started a game, and that is a little bit of a concern.

If the line can gel just enough to be considered average, the rest of this offense should be okay.  Quarterback Austin Davis isn’t Case Keenum or G.J. Kinne, but he is a fine passer.  The Eagles have the best backup quarterback in the conference.  Martevious Young had a 16/3 TD/Int ratio last year when he filled in for the injured Davis. 

Only one starting wide out returns.  DeAndre Brown was a consensus freshman All-American last year after catching 47 passes for 785 yards and nine scores.  Junior college transfer Kelvin Bolden was a high school teammate of Brown, and he has the speed to make defenses pay if they try to stop the bigger Brown.

Southern Miss lost its career rushing leader when Damien Fletcher graduated.  Look for Fedora to use a three-player platoon with V.J. Floyd getting first crack as the starter.  Watch out for freshman Kendrik Hardy, who could see a lot of action in short yardage situations.

Southern Miss will not be as explosive on offense this year.  Look for a drop to 25-28 points and 375-400 total yards per game.

Defense:  This side of the ball is in much better shape.  The Golden Eagles will improve here, and with enough improvement, they could be playing on December 4 as the East Division representative in the CUSA Championship Game.

The entire front seven returns from last year, and that includes four juniors and three seniors.  Tackle Anthony Gray and end Cordarro Law have legitimate NFL talent.  They combined for 21 ½ tackles behind the line last year.

The three linebackers were the top three tacklers on the team.  All three (Martez Smith, Korey Williams, and Ronnie Thornton) could make one of the three-deep All-CUSA teams.  The entire trio plays the run and the pass exceptionally well.

The secondary is the only weak spot on the defense, but with an experienced front seven, their inefficiencies may be hidden.  One player who won’t have to hide is cornerback C. J. Bailey.  He knocked away 13 passes last year.

Throw in a great punt returner in Tracy Lampley, and USM might have the best overall defense in the league this season after giving up 26 points per game last year (42 to Middle Tennessee in the New Orleans Bowl loss).  We believe the Eagles will shave both points and yards off 2009’s averages.  Look for 22-24 points and 350-375 yards allowed.  In this league, those numbers will be good enough to lead. 

Schedule: The opener is a toughie at South Carolina on Thursday night, September 2.  Home games follow with Prairie View and a rebuilding Kansas.  Southern Miss wraps up non-conference play with a visit to a rebuilding Louisiana Tech, so a 3-1 start is quite possible.  In league play, it all comes down to the last three weeks of November, when the Eagles play at Central Florida, host Houston, and finish at Tulsa.  They could lose two of those games and still win the division title.  The game with UCF should determine which of those two schools win the division flag.  We tend to favor USM by the thinnest of margins—maybe 50.1% to 49.9%.

 

 

Team U A B  Blazers
               
Head Coach Neil Callaway
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Birmingham, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 90.4
               
National Rating 87
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: How do you replace Superman?  You can’t, and UAB cannot replace departed quarterback Joe Webb.  Webb was a one-man offense for the Blazers last year, leading the team in rushing with more than 1,400 yards (1,600+ when you factor out sacks) and 11 touchdowns, while passing for 2,300 yards and 21 touchdowns.  He accounted for 32 of UAB’s 39 touchdowns!

Fourth year head coach Neil Callaway has three options to choose from in selecting Webb’s replacement.  While all three are decent runners, none can do what Webb did.  Sophomore David Isabelle, Junior Bryan Ellis, and Juco Emmanuel Taylor have been splitting the snaps in practice so far, and it will take at least one or two scrimmages to determine the winner.

There is quality and experience at wide receiver and tight end.  Wide out Frantrell Forrest and tight end Jeremy Anderson return after finishing one-two in catches last year.  Both combine decent size and speed with good hands, so if the new QB has any accuracy, UAB should be able to move the ball overhead.

The running back spot was more of a decoy and pass blocker last year.  It was so bad that Isabelle was the team’s second leading rusher, and he saw very limited action backing up Webb.  Like the QB position, three players are vying for the one spot.  Justin Brooks is the best downhill runner able to create holes with punishing plunges.  Pat Shed is the dangerous long-gain threat able to make quick cuts and evade tackles.  Daniel Borne is a combination of the other two.  All three will fail to equal the rushing numbers put up by Webb, but they could give the Blazers a more balanced look.

The offensive line is a major asset this year.  It could even be in the top three in the league.  Four starters return from last year, led by tackle Matt McCants, a 6-7 monster.

Look for UAB’s offense to take a step backward in both point and yardage production, but the Blazers will not be a slouch for any opposing defense in this league.  Expect about 23-26 points and 375-400 total yards.

Defense:  Here is where there is much optimism for 2010.  UAB gave up more than 32 points per game last year, but things are looking up on this side of the ball.  12 of the top 13 tacklers return, including the entire defensive line (technically one of these starters, Daniel White, started at outside linebacker).  Three of those linemen, tackles Elliott Henigan and D. J. Reese and end Bryant Turner, have good shots at making one of the All-CUSA teams.  They teamed for 23 stops behind the line, and that number will go up by at least five this year.

Linebackers Lamanski Ware and Marvin Burdette return, but this unit lacks a little something.  None of the linebackers are 1st team all-league material.

The secondary is solid this season.  Free safety Hiram Atwater is one of the three best defensive backs in the league.  He led UAB with 89 tackles last year.  Cornerback Terrell Springs broke up 10 passes last year while finishing third in tackles.

Callaway hopes his secondary players don’t lead the team in tackles this season, but it is likely to happen.  Still, the Blazers will improve on this side of the ball and surrender less than 30 points per game for the first time since Watson Brown was the head coach.  Look for 25-28 points and 380-410 yards allowed

Schedule:  UAB is lucky this year.  They avoid both Houston and Tulsa from the other division.  Out of league play, the Blazers have two winnable games with Florida Atlantic and Troy coming to Legion Field.  Road games at Tennessee and Mississippi State appear to be double-digit losses, even though both SEC teams will finish near the bottom of their respective divisions.  There are a couple of key games that will decide whether UAB can get to six wins for the first time since 2004.  The Blazers host UTEP, Marshall, ECU, and Memphis.  If they win all four, they are looking at 6-6.

 

 

Team U C F Knights
               
Head Coach George O’Leary
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Orlando, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 94.5
               
National Rating 76
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense:  UCF has not registered back-to-back winning seasons since 2001 and 2002.  On the other hand, they have not had back-to-back losing seasons either.  It has been feast during the odd years and famine during the even years.  Head Coach George O’Leary’s team looks primed to break that trend easily this year.  The Knights are the co-favorites in this division.

If O’Leary can find an adequate new quarterback to replace Brett Hodges, UCF will become the overwhelming favorite to win the East Division for the second time in four years.  Rob Calabrese has won the starting job twice before, but he apparently wasn’t ready to lead the team.  O’Leary believes the third time is the charm.  The only fly in the ointment may be that he could feel the nerves after being booed at home last year.

The rest of the offense is fairly well set.  At running back, Central Florida returns every player who contributed in the ground game last year, including Brynn Harvey.  Harvey rushed for more than 1,100 yards, scoring 14 times.  He won’t be available until the third or fourth game due to a knee injury he suffered in spring drills, but Jonathan Davis, Ronnie Weaver, and Brendan Davis will fill in admirably until Harvey is full speed once again.

The Knights have a terrific trio of wide receivers returning.  A.J. Guyton, Kamar Aiken, and Jamar Newsome combined for 104 catches and 1,471 yards.

Helping make this offense go is an experienced and very deep offensive line.  Four starters return and eight of the two-deep return.  O’Leary landed a bonanza of quality recruits here, so there is depth galore.

Look for UCF to score 24-28 points and gain 340-370 yards per game on offense this year.  If they can average 28 points per game, they will be tough to beat in the conference.

Defense: Since O’Leary took over in 2004, the Knight defense has given up 33, 29, 29, 27, 24, and 23 points per game per season.  Do you see the pattern?  Expect that patter to continue again this season, because UCF is loaded on this side of the ball.

The Knights have an outstanding set of ends in David Williams and Bruce Miller.  The two senior terminals specialize in making tackles on the offensive side of scrimmage.  Miller registered 13 sacks and five other tackles for loss.  The tackles are inexperienced, but they both tip the scale at 300+ pounds.  It will take more than one blocker to drive them off the line.

The linebacking trio returns two 2009 starters, but it is just like having all three back, because 2008 star Chance Henderson returns after missing last year with an injury.  Lawrence Young and Derrick Hallman combined for 23 ½ tackles for loss.

The secondary ranks with Southern Miss and UAB as the best in the conference.  The Knights are toughest at cornerback where Josh Robinson and Justin Boddie form the best outside defending pair in the league. 

UCF will give up less than 23 points per game this year.  Call if 18-22 points and 325-350 yards a contest.

Schedule: The Knights open with four consecutive non-conference games and then get a week off before starting league play.  They should be 2-2 at that point after beating South Dakota, losing to North Carolina State in a close game, winning at Buffalo, and losing at Kansas State.  They host Southern Miss on November 13, but they must face Houston on the road the week before.  We expect the Cougars to be clicking on all cylinders by then and think that game will be a loss for UCF.  It will all come down to the USM game.  At this moment in time, we favor the Eagles by about a half-point.

 

 

CUSA West

 

Team Houston Cougars
               
Head Coach Kevin Sumlin
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Houston, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 104.3
               
National Rating 46
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the event you’ve all been waiting for.  Step right up and see the magical Case and his band of merry men prowl and loot through the land.

As we told you at the beginning of this preview, this is the third time that Houston has become an offensive titan in college football.  In 1968, running what we call the Houston veer today, the Cougars averaged 42.5 points per game while rushing for better than 300 yards and passing for more than 200 yards per game.  On November 23, 1968, they reached the century mark in a game against Tulsa (Country music star Larry Gatlin rushed for the touchdown that gave Houston 93).  That team topped 70 points two other times.  Flash forward to 1989.  Houston, out of the run and shoot offense, rode the arm of Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware to the tune of 53.5 points per game.  That team passed for more than 400 yards per game and almost repeated the feat of the 1968 team when they hung 95 points on SMU and topped 60 points four other times.

While we don’t believe this Houston team will score 50 points per game, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise.  The Cougars have topped 40 points per game the last two years, while averaging 563 yards of total offense both seasons.

Quarterback Case Keenum has a shot at becoming the next Heisman Trophy winner at UH.  He completed better than 70% of his passes last season.  Before you think that most of them were little dump passes, consider this:  he averaged better than eight yards per attempt and 11.5 yards per completion.  As a team, Houston put up 434 passing yards per game.  There is no reason to believe Keenum will not match or even exceed those numbers in his senior season.  He should be a first or second round pick in next year’s draft.

Keenum will benefit from the return of his big four receivers.  James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards, and Charles Sims caught more passes (350) than 117 of the other 119 FBS schools!  This quartet gained 4,023 yards and scored 28 touchdowns.

Unlike most mega-passing teams, Houston can run the ball quite competently.  Both of last season’s big two rushers were set to return, but Charles Sims was declared academically ineligible.  Bryce Beall returns after rushing for 670 yards and seven scores.  He added 32 receptions and scored three times through the air.  Factoring out sacks, Houston exceeded five yards per rush.

The offensive line lost two starters, but the reserved picked up considerable playing time last year.  They gave up only 24 sacks in over 700 passing attempts, and that feat can be repeated again this year.

How much better could this Houston offense be in 2010?  If the defense can improve enough to give the offense a few more plays, and if the key players can stay healthy, this team could challenge the 50-point barrier.  It would not surprise us if Keenum throws for “just” 5,400 yards after topping 5,600 last year, because the running game could top 150 yards per game.  You won’t see a better offense in college football. 

Defense: This is the bugaboo for this team.  If the defense was just average, we would be discussing which BCS Bowl the Cougars would be headed to in January.  Houston gave up more than 30 points and 450 yards per game last year, and if the defensive line doesn’t improve by leaps and bounds, the Cougars could lose two or three games this year by scores of 45-35.

The line gave up a disgusting 227 rushing yards and better than five yards per carry.  In their four losses, the Cougars gave up an average of 253 rushing yards.  One of last year’s starting defensive linemen, Isaiah Thompson, has been moved from nose tackle to offensive guard, as Houston moves to a 3-4 defense.  That leaves UH with just one veteran on the front three. 

The quartet of linebackers has the potential to be much better than last year’s three-man unit.  Inside ‘backer Marcus McGraw was the star of last year’s defense, and he should repeat as 1st Team All-CUSA.  He is equally tough against the run and the pass, and he is going to be a demon on the zone blitz.

The secondary returns two very capable starters in cornerback Jamal Robinson and free safety Nick Saenz.  Robinson intercepted five passes and knocked away eight others.

The Cougars are still not world-beaters on this side of the ball, but they should give up less than 30 points and 425 yards per game this year.

Schedule: A tougher schedule will keep the Cougars out of the BCS Bowl picture.  After an easy opener at home against Texas State and a conference opener at home with UTEP, UH plays at UCLA.  The Cougars must also face an improving Mississippi State team and close the season at Texas Tech.  We can only see a 2-2 mark out of league play.  In the conference, Houston must face Southern Miss and Central Florida from the East.  A road game at SMU should be one of the most entertaining games of the year with a score that looks like a basketball game.  We think Houston will fall one time in league play, but they should still win their division.  The Cougars are our choice to win the CUSA Championship Game and face a beatable SEC team in the Liberty Bowl.

 

 

Team Rice Owls
               
Head Coach David Bailiff
               
Colors Dark Blue and Gray
               
City Houston, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 86.4
               
National Rating 95
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: The fall was sharp.  Rice followed up its first 10-win season in 60 years with a 10-loss season last year.  Nine starters return on offense, and one of those starters could be benched in favor of a transfer from the Big Ten.

Let’s start with the offensive line.  All five starters and four of the second unit return from last year to make this one of the most experienced blocking corps in the nation.  Guards Jake Hicks and Davon Allen and tackle Scott Mitchell will contend for all-conference honors.  Look for great pass protection and better run-blocking this year.

Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi returns after starting two-thirds of Rice’s games last year.  He passed for just under 1,600 yards last year, and that mark could easily double in 2010.

Fanuzzi will need some newcomers to step up from the group of receivers.  The Owls lost three of their top four from 2009, and the receivers who do return did nothing spectacular. 

The running game should make a major move forward.  After averaging a meager 109 yards on the ground in 2009, the Owls welcome Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie.  McGuffie is the highest-rated recruit to play at Rice in some time, and he should run the ball more than 20 times per game.

Rice won’t approach 2008’s offense numbers, but the Owls will combine a solid running game with a decent passing game to top last year’s output.  Call if 23-26 points and 325-350 total yards per game.

Defense:  This is where improvement must be made.  Rice gave up 43 points and 464 yards per game in 2009.  Nine starters return on this side of the ball too, including the entire defensive line.  The line also returns five other contributors from last year, and it should be much tougher to run on Rice this year.  Look for the pass rush to be much better as well with the return of ends Cheta Ozougwu and Scott Solomon.

Rice plays a 4-2-5 defense, and they have a decent pair of linebackers this season.  Neither will earn all-conference honors.

The biggest weakness is a porous secondary that surrendered 273 passing yards per game and allowed 67% of enemy passes to be completed.  Opposing quarterbacks averaged better than nine yards per attempt against them.  Any quarterback that averages better than nine yards per attempt for the season, and isn’t an option quarterback throwing eight passes a game, would be a Heisman Trophy finalist.  Safety Travis Bradshaw led the Owls with 121 tackles a year ago and earned 3rd team all-conference accolades.

Rice could improve by 10 points per game on defense this year.  Let’s call it about 30-35 points and 410-440 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: The Owls need to fire the schedule-maker.  He has guaranteed that they go no better than 1-3 outside of the league and maybe even 0-4.  The only winnable non-league came will be at North Texas.  Rice hosts Northwestern and Baylor, two private schools that could both be bowl-bound this year.  The fourth non-conference game is the opener at Reliant Stadium against Texas.  In league play, Rice could split their eight games and go 4-4, but they have no chance at a winning season unless they win six league games. 

 

 

Team S M U  Mustangs
               
Head Coach June Jones
               
Colors Crimson and Blue
               
City Dallas, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 92.3
               
National Rating 83
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Coach June Jones may draw comparisons to Annie Sullivan before he retires from the game.  Like Sullivan, you can call Jones a “miracle worker.”  He took a weak Hawaii program and created a little dynasty on the island, culminating with a trip to the Sugar Bowl in his last season there.  In just two short seasons in Dallas, he has brought SMU out of a quarter century of doldrums.  The Mustangs returned to a bowl last year for the first time since their pre-Death Penalty days of the 1980’s.

Jones is a mastermind with the passing game, but SMU’s exceptional pass offense will get pushed to the back of the sports pages playing in the same division as Houston.  Quarterback Kyle Padron took over as starter midway through the season following an injury to since departed Bo Levi Mitchell.  The true freshman completed better than 67% of his passes last year for more than 9.5 yards per attempt.  If he can replicate those numbers for a full season, he could top 3,400 yards this year.

SMU lost the services of its best pass receiver in school history.  Emmanuel Sanders took his 98 receptions to the NFL.  Aldrick Robinson has NFL potential.  He caught 47 passes for 800 yards (17.0 avg./catch) last year. 

Missing from the running game is Shawnbrey McNeal, who gained close to 1,200 yards last year.  Jones is very high on true freshmen Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope.  Fields can take a simple dump pass or quick pitch and turn it into a touchdown ala Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.  Pope has the power to run over defenders. 

The offensive line will be manned by five juniors, four of whom started last year.  Three of the four received some form of postseason honors.

Jones should mold another fine offense in Dallas this year.  Look for the Mustangs to improve to 35+ points and 425+ yards per game this year.

Defense: SMU trimmed 11 points and 80 yards off their poor showing of 2008.  Enough talent returns this year to believe that the Mustangs will continue to show improvement.  The defensive line is the strongest unit on this side.  Ends Marquis Frazier and Taylor Thompson teamed up for 9 ½ sacks.  True freshman Mike O’Guin could step in as the new starting nose tackle.  O’Guin tips the scale at 320 pounds, and he will not be easily moved out of the middle.

Three of the starting four linebackers return.  The best of the quartet is outside ‘backer Pete Fleps, who made 83 tackles.

The secondary could be a problem this year, and in a conference where teams pass the ball 40 to 60 times a game, that could become a big problem.  Cornerback Sterling Moore broke up 11 passes last year, but the Mustangs lost two honorable mention all-conference players who teamed up for eight interceptions and 17 passes knocked away.

A solid pass rush could help hide the liabilities in the secondary, but we believe SMU will give up 225-250 passing yards and 375-400 total yards this year, which leads to about 24-28 points surrendered.

Schedule: The non-conference portion of this schedule is rough.  Look for a 1-3 mark as the Mustangs venture to Texas Tech and Navy and host TCU.  Only a home game with anemic Washington State gives them a shot at a win.  Once league play begins, SMU will be able to compete with anybody on their schedule, even Houston and Tulsa.  We actually believe the Mustangs will pen a loss on Houston and be in the division race until the end.  Road games against Rice and UTEP may determine if SMU can sneak through with a division title.  The Mustangs avoid the top two teams from the East.

 

 

Team Tulane Green Wave
               
Head Coach Bob Toledo
               
Colors Olive Green and Sky Blue
               
City New Orleans, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 72.2
               
National Rating 119
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: It has been eight long years since Tulane last enjoyed a winning season.  The Green Wave has lost eight or more games for five consecutive seasons, and the stigma of Hurricane Katrina still haunts this program.  The Green Wave offense has fallen on hard times, averaging less than 17 points per game the last two seasons.

If TU is to improve on a 3-9 season of a year ago, the offense will have to make a huge leap forward.  Sophomore quarterback Ryan Griffin won’t have to share duties with Joe Kemp this year, as Kemp has been moved to wide receiver.  Griffin could be the best Tulane quarterback since Patrick Ramsey by the time he graduates, but he needs better receivers.  Only one receiver with any real experience returns this year, and Casey Robottom isn’t going to be confused with DeAndre Brown or James Cleveland.

In two seasons, Albert Williams has accumulated 143 rushing yards.  He will be asked to carry the load this year and fill the shoes of last year’s star Andre Anderson.  Expect a major regression here, as TU could rush for less than 100 yards per game.

The offensive line returns four starters, and they have the potential to be an excellent pass blocking front for Griffin.  Center Andrew Nierman is among the best in the league at his position.

It doesn’t look promising for Coach Bob Toledo in his fourth year in New Orleans.  We don’t see him righting the ship in the Crescent City.  Look for Tulane to continue to struggle to score points and access territory.  Call it 17 points and 300-325 yards per game. 

Defense:  The offense looks like a juggernaut compared to this side of the ball.  Tulane has been weak on this side for a long time.  In the last seven years, opponents have averaged an aggregate of 34 points and 415 yards per game.  With but four starters returning on this side of the ball, the Green Wave could be looking at even worse numbers in 2010.

Only one starter returns to the front seven, so this will be a major headache this season.  Tackle Justin Adams is the lone returnee up front, and he is coming off a season in which he registered just 17 tackles.

The secondary has three returning starters, but they will be asked to defend some of the best receivers in the nation for a longer amount of time this year.  None of these experienced defenders will show up on an all-conference team.

We believe Tulane is headed toward a Washington State-type of season.  Look for the Greenies to yield more than 40 points and 450 yards per game this year.

Schedule: Tulane is fortunate that they open at home against Southeast Louisiana.  That could be the only game they win this year.  The Green Wave host Ole Miss and Army and travel to Rutgers out of league play, and these three games look like big losses.  In conference play, it just doesn’t look promising that they can pick up a win.  It doesn’t help that they must play Southern Miss, Central Florida, and Marshall from the other division. 

 

 

Team Tulsa Golden Hurricane
               
Head Coach Todd Graham
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Tulsa, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 92.8
               
National Rating 81
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: For a team that averaged 29 points and 410 yards per game last year, it was funny to hear fans mutter, “What’s wrong with our offense?”  Tulsa averaged 44 points and 557 yards per game over the course of the last two years.

The offense should rebound with another stellar season this year, but there are a couple causes for concern.  Offensive coordinator Herb Hand left his position in late July to take a non-coordinator position at Vanderbilt.

Coach Todd Graham hopes the team can hit the ground running and not miss a beat.  He has an experienced attack unit that should be able to get over the loss of their top offensive assistant.

Quarterback G. J. Kinne began his career at Texas before transferring to Tulsa.  He fired the ball 345 times last year and completed 61% for 2,732 yards and 22 touchdowns.  He takes a back seat only to Case Keenum in this conference.  With better pass protection this year, he should add at least 1,000 yards to his 2009 total.

Tulsa has one of the three or four best receivers in CUSA.  Damaris Johnson caught 78 passes for 1,131 yards last year. He is also the best combined kick/punt returner in the league.  Joining him on the other side of the line should be Jameel Owens a transfer from Oklahoma.  Owens has the physical tools to be a great possession receiver.

The running backs are used more for their blocking and pass catching abilities than their running abilities.  Kinne was the leading rusher from the spread formation.  Fullback/H-back Charles Clay rushed for just 236 yards last year, but he caught 39 passes and scored 12 total touchdowns.  At 6-3 and 235, he seldom goes down on first contact.  Graham will rely on as many as six players to share the rushing load.

The offensive line had some difficulties last year, and with four starters and all of the second five returning, look for some improvement.  You will not see the quarterbacks go down 46 times like last year.

Tulsa will rebound with a move back over 35 points and 450 yards per game this year.  If the line improves enough, the Golden Hurricane could top 40 points per game.

Defense: Tulsa has not fielded a strong defense since Dave Kragthorpe was the head coach and Graham was the defensive coordinator.  Graham has indicated that he will take more control over the defense this year.

Six starters have been lost from last year, so it will take a monumental coaching effort to keep Tulsa from giving up 30 or more points per game.  Two starters return up front, but Graham brought in three junior college recruits who could all see considerable time in the trenches this season.  Best of the lot is nose guard Darrell Zellars.

Tulsa uses a 3-3-5 defense with two players, a bandit and a spur, playing a hybrid linebacker/safety position.  Spur DeAundre Brown returns after leading TU with 102 stops last year.  He only picked off one pass, and that was Tulsa’s major weakness on defense.  In fact, no returnee had more than one pick last year.

We see some form of improvement in the 2010 numbers, but how much is a mystery.  Our best guess if 25 points and 375 yards allowed.

Schedule: The non-conference schedule is not overly imposing.  The Golden Hurricane should win at least two and maybe three of their four games.  They face Bowling Green and Central Arkansas at Chapman Stadium, and they go on the road to a rebuilding Oklahoma State and Notre Dame.  In league play, it will all come down to a couple of games.  TU plays at SMU on October 9, at Houston on November 13, and closes the regular season with Southern Miss at home.  If they win two of those games, they will reach double figure victories for the third time in the last four years.  We see at least nine regular season wins.

 

 

Team U T E P  Miners
               
Head Coach Mike Price
               
Colors Orange and Navy
               
City El Paso, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 82.3
               
National Rating 103
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: UTEP has been successful on this side of the ball for the last six years, and 2010 should not be an aberration.  Coach Mike Price returns the best quarterback in the conference not wearing a Houston or Tulsa uniform.  Trevor Vittatoe needs just 2,122 passing yards to become the school’s all-time leading passer.  If he stays healthy, he should do that by late October.  Vittatoe took a step backward last season, but he will have a better offensive line blocking for him this year.

Two quality receivers return for the Miners in wide out Kris Adams and tight end Jonny Moore.  Junior receiver Donavon Kemp has breakaway speed, and if he can learn to hold onto the ball, he could be an “X-factor” in this offense.

The running game has one outstanding rusher but very little depth.  Donald Buckram rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the two new starters have past starting experience.  UTEP should move the ball with consistency against every team on the schedule.

This looks like another 30+-point scoring team in the conference.  Call it 32 points and 425 yards this year.

Defense: Poor defensive play has been the Miners’ downfall during the Price era.  The natives are getting restless in El Paso, and another poor showing could bring that era to an end.

The Miners will have troubles up front, where three starters have graduated.  End Robert Soleyjacks is the lone holdover; he made just 19 tackles a year ago.

The linebacking unit loses the defense’s top player from 2009, and there is nobody on the roster who can replace Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and his 108 tackles.

The news is not any better in the secondary.  Both cornerbacks and the free safety graduated, taking with them 20 deflected passes.  Strong safety Braxton Amy was granted a sixth season of eligibility after missing the last eight games of 2009 to injury.

UTEP will not contend for the division crown because they will not be able to stop the Keenum’s Kinne’s, and Padron’s of the conference.  Look for the Miners to yield 31-34 points and 450 yards per game.

Schedule: UTEP has a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2005 thanks to an easy non-league slate.  The Miners host Arkansas-Pine Bluff and New Mexico State, and they face New Mexico in Albuquerque.  They can win all three of those games.  Only a visit to Arkansas will be bad news.  UTEP avoids UCF and Southern Miss from the East.  They get Memphis, UAB, and Marshall.  We believe they can split their conference games this year and win seven games overall.

 

 

Coming Tomorrow: The WAC Preview—Boise State is primed to run the table once again if the Broncos can get past a tough opening game opponent.

December 7, 2009

PiRate Ratings and Spreads For College Football–Regular Season Final

NCAA 2009 College Football Playoff Simulation

The Playoffs You Wished For 

Welcome to season number three of the NCAA College Football Playoff Simulation.  For those reading this blog for the first time, the PiRate College Football Playoffs take the champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC as automatic qualifiers.  Any of the remaining conference champions (including the top independent) that finish in the top 16 in the final regular season BCS Standings also qualify automatically.  At-large teams are then selected in the order of BCS finish until 12 total teams have been selected.  The 12 teams are then seeded by BCS ranking with no maximum number of teams per conference.

 

Here is how the 12 teams were selected for the 2009 playoffs.

 

Top Six Conference Champions

ACC–Georgia Tech 11-2           #9 Seed

Big East–Cincinnati 12-0                   #3 Seed

Big Ten–Ohio State 10-2         #8 Seed

Big 12—Texas 13-0                    #2 Seed

Pac-10—Oregon 10-2                #7 Seed

SEC—Alabama 13-0                             #1 Seed

 

Automatic Qualifiers By Virtue Of Top 16 In BCS

MWC—T C U 12-0                       #4 Seed

WAC—Boise State 13-0             #6 Seed

 

Top Four At-Large To Fill Out 12-Team Field

Florida 12-1                                 #5 Seed

Iowa 10-2                                    #10 Seed

Virginia Tech 10-2                     #11 Seed

L S U 9-3                                      #12 Seed

 

The PiRate Playoff System uses the top 11 bowl games to play the four rounds.  The 5th through 12th seeds must play in the first round, while the top four seeds receive byes to the quarterfinals.

Opening Round

 

Outback Bowl    #5 Florida vs. #12 L S U  Dec 17

Alamo Bowl       #6 Boise State vs. #11 Virginia Tech  Dec 18

Holiday Bowl     #7 Oregon vs. #10 Iowa  Dec 19

Gator Bowl         #8 Ohio State vs. #9 Georgia Tech  Dec 19

 

Quarterfinal Round

 

Cotton Bowl                #4 T C U vs. Outback Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Capital One Bowl       #3 Cincinnati vs. Alamo Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Rose Bowl                             #2 Texas vs. Holiday Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Sugar Bowl                  #1 Alabama vs. Gator Bowl Winner  Jan 1

 

Semifinal Round

 

Fiesta Bowl        Sugar Bowl Winner vs. Fiesta Bowl Winner Jan 9

Orange Bowl     Rose Bowl Winner vs. Capital One Bowl Winner Jan 9

 

National Championship Game

 

Fiesta Bowl Winner vs. Orange Bowl Winner  Jan 23

 

1. This system awards the four best teams with byes.

2. This system not only keeps the bowls alive, but it gives them more importance and prestige, as 11 bowls decide the title.

3. Instead of undefeated Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise State getting left out of the national championship picture, number 13 Penn State is the first team left out.  This is much more fair, as this system will always allow a 12-0 team to have a chance regardless of whether it is Alabama or Boise State.

4. The remaining bowls would not have to settle for 6-6 teams.  The rules could demand at least 7 wins as a minimum.

5. Three of the four rounds would occur during winter break for the schools, thus quashing the myth that players would miss too much time.

 

Check back on December 20 for simulated results of the first round games.

 

Final Regular Season PiRate Ratings

 

The Army-Navy game must still be played, but that game doesn’t warrant an extra week’s worth of ratings.  Neither team can break the top 25 even if they win 222-0.  The game still has bowl implications.  If Army wins, the Cadets will advance to the Eagle Bank Bowl to face Temple.  If Navy wins, then UCLA takes Army’s place in Washington, DC.

NCAA Top 25 For December 7, 2009
Rank Team PiRate Won Lost
1 Alabama 133.0 13 0
2 Texas 131.4 12 0
3 Florida 128.2 12 1
4 T C U 125.4 12 0
5 Oklahoma 124.0 7 5
6 Boise State 120.9 12 0
7 Virginia Tech 120.5 9 3
8 Oregon 119.8 10 2
9 Georgia Tech 119.4 11 2
10 Nebraska 118.8 9 4
11 Texas Tech 117.9 8 4
12 Penn State 117.7 10 2
13 Ohio State 117.6 10 2
14 Miami (Fla) 117.4 9 3
15 Stanford 116.9 8 4
16 Arkansas 115.5 7 5
17 Southern Cal 115.1 8 4
18 Cincinnati 114.9 12 0
19 Iowa 114.8 10 2
20 Arizona 114.0 8 4
21 Oklahoma State 113.9 9 3
22 Pittsburgh 113.7 9 3
23 Ole Miss 113.2 8 4
24 L  S  U 112.5 9 3
25 Oregon State 112.0 8 4
         
Note: Ratings rounded to one decimal point
even though I rank them to two decimal points

 

Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Clemson 6-2 8-5 111.7
Florida State 4-4 6-6 107.6
Boston College 5-3 8-4 107.1
Wake Forest 3-5 5-7 104.8
North Carolina State 2-6 5-7 102.7
Maryland 1-7 2-10 93.0
       
Coastal Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Virginia Tech 6-2 9-3 120.5
Georgia Tech 7-1 11-2 119.4
Miami-FL 5-3 9-3 117.4
North Carolina 4-4 8-4 110.9
Duke 3-5 5-7 98.4
Virginia 2-6 3-9 94.8

 

Big East Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Cincinnati 8-0 12-0 114.9
Pittsburgh 5-2 9-3 113.7
West Virginia 5-2 9-3 106.0
Connecticut 3-4 7-5 105.8
Rutgers 3-4 8-4 102.1
South Florida 3-4 7-5 101.8
Syracuse 1-6 4-8 93.9
Louisville 1-6 4-8 90.5

 

Big Ten
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Penn State 6-2 10-2 117.7
Ohio State 7-1 10-2 117.6
Iowa 6-2 10-2 114.8
Wisconsin 5-3 9-3 108.5
Michigan State 4-4 6-6 101.5
Northwestern 5-3 8-4 99.3
Purdue 4-4 5-7 99.0
Minnesota 3-5 6-6 97.9
Michigan 1-7 5-7 96.6
Illinois 2-6 3-9 96.0
Indiana 1-7 4-8 90.9

 

Big 12
North Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Nebraska 6-2 9-4 118.9
Missouri 4-4 8-4 104.8
Kansas 1-7 5-7 103.9
Kansas State 4-4 6-6 99.4
Colorado 2-6 3-9 97.4
Iowa State 3-5 6-6 94.9
       
South Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Texas 8-0 13-0 131.4
Oklahoma 5-3 7-5 124.0
Texas Tech 5-3 8-4 117.9
Oklahoma State 6-2 9-3 113.9
Texas A&M 3-5 6-6 103.4
Baylor 1-7 4-8 96.6

 

Conference USA
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
East Carolina 7-1 9-4 105.2
Central Florida 6-2 8-4 104.1
Southern Mississippi 5-3 7-5 100.9
Marshall 4-4 6-6 92.4
U A B 4-4 5-7 91.0
Memphis 1-7 2-10 83.4
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Houston 6-2 10-3 107.4
Tulsa 3-5 5-7 91.6
U T E P 3-5 4-8 90.8
S M U 6-2 7-5 88.4
Rice 2-6 2-10 76.4
Tulane 1-7 3-9 71.1

 

Independents
       
Team   Overall Rating
Notre Dame   6-6 105.9
Navy   8-4 100.6
Army   5-6 82.0

 

Mid American Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Temple 7-1 9-3 100.7
Ohio U 7-1 9-4 94.9
Buffalo 3-5 5-7 92.4
Bowling Green 6-2 7-5 91.4
Kent St. 4-4 6-6 84.7
Akron 2-6 3-9 81.5
Miami (O) 1-7 1-11 76.3
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Central Michigan 8-0 11-2 109.0
Northern Illinois 5-3 7-5 95.1
Toledo 3-5 5-7 87.1
Western Michigan 4-4 5-7 86.2
Ball State 2-6 2-10 83.0
Eastern Michigan 0-8 0-12 74.2

 

Mountain West Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
T C U 8-0 12-0 125.4
B Y U 7-1 10-2 111.1
Utah 6-2 9-3 107.7
Air Force 5-3 7-5 100.7
Wyoming 4-4 6-6 87.9
UNLV 3-5 5-7 86.8
Colo. State 0-8 3-9 86.1
S. D. State 3-5 5-7 85.2
New Mexico 1-7 1-11 77.8

 

Pac-10 Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Oregon 8-1 10-2 119.8
Stanford 6-3 8-4 116.9
Southern Cal 5-4 8-4 115.1
Arizona 6-3 8-4 114.0
Oregon St. 6-3 8-4 112.0
California 5-4 8-4 108.6
U C L A 3-6 6-6 105.3
Arizona St. 2-7 4-8 102.1
Washington 4-5 5-7 103.6
Wash. St. 0-9 1-11 70.8

 

Southeastern Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Florida 8-0 12-1 128.2
Tennessee 4-4 7-5 110.9
South Carolina 3-5 7-5 110.9
Georgia 4-4 7-5 110.4
Kentucky 3-5 7-5 104.4
Vanderbilt 0-8 2-10 93.1
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Alabama 8-0 13-0 133.0
Arkansas 3-5 7-5 115.5
Ole Miss 4-4 8-4 113.2
L S U 5-3 9-3 112.5
Auburn 3-5 7-5 107.7
Mississippi State 3-5 5-7 104.2

 

Sunbelt Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Troy 8-0 9-3 99.0
Middle Tennessee 7-1 9-3 96.2
Louisiana-Monroe 5-3 6-6 86.8
Arkansas State 3-5 4-8 85.8
Florida Atlantic 5-3 5-7 84.6
U. of Louisiana 4-4 6-6 83.7
Florida International 3-5 3-9 80.3
North Texas 1-7 2-10 76.4
Western Kentucky 0-8 0-12 73.7

 

Western Athletic Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Boise State 8-0 13-0 120.9
Nevada 7-1 8-4 108.6
Louisiana Tech 3-5 4-8 99.8
Fresno State 6-2 7-4 99.0
Utah State 3-5 4-8 91.9
Idaho 4-4 7-5 89.6
Hawaii 3-5 6-6 87.7
San Jose State 1-7 2-10 78.5
New Mexico State 1-7 3-10 71.0

 

Bowl Lineups

Day Date Time EST Bowl Team   Team
Sat 19-Dec 4:30 PM New Mexico Wyoming vs. Fresno State
Sat 19-Dec 8:00 PM St. Petersburg Rutgers vs. Central Florida
Sun 20-Dec 8:15 PM New Orleans Middle Tenn vs. Southern Miss
Tue 22-Dec 8:00 PM Las Vegas B  Y  U vs. Oregon State
Wed 23-Dec 8:00 PM Poinsettia Utah vs. California
Thu 24-Dec 8:00 PM Hawaii Nevada vs. S  M  U
Sat 26-Dec 1:00 PM Little Caesar’s Pizza Marshall vs. Ohio U
Sat 26-Dec 4:30 PM Meineke Car Care North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh
Sat 26-Dec 8:00 PM Emerald Southern Cal vs. Boston College
Sun 27-Dec 8:15 PM Music City Kentucky vs. Clemson
Mon 28-Dec 5:00 PM Independence Georgia vs. Texas A&M
Tue 29-Dec 4:30 PM Eagle Bank Temple vs. Army/UCLA
Tue 29-Dec 8:00 PM Champs Sports Miami-Fl vs. Wisconsin
Wed 30-Dec 4:30 PM Humanitarian Idaho vs. Bowling Green
Wed 30-Dec 8:00 PM Holiday Nebraska vs. Arizona
Thu 31-Dec 11:00 AM Armed Forces Houston vs. Air Force
Thu 31-Dec 2:00 PM Sun Stanford vs. Oklahoma
Thu 31-Dec 3:30 PM Texas Missouri vs. Navy
Thu 31-Dec 6:00 PM Insight.com Iowa State vs. Minnesota
Thu 31-Dec 7:30 PM Chick-fil-A Tennessee vs. Va. Tech
Fri 1-Jan 11:00 AM Outback Auburn vs. Northwestern
Fri 1-Jan 1:00 PM Capital One Penn State vs. L  S  U
Fri 1-Jan 1:00 PM Gator West Va. vs. Florida State
Fri 1-Jan 5:10 PM Rose Oregon vs. Ohio State
Fri 1-Jan 8:00 PM Sugar Florida vs. Cincinnati
Sat 2-Jan 12:00 PM International South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Sat 2-Jan 2:00 PM Cotton Oklahoma St. vs. Ole Miss
Sat 2-Jan 2:00 PM Papajohns.com Connecticut vs. South Carolina
Sat 2-Jan 5:30 PM Liberty Arkansas vs. East Carolina
Sat 2-Jan 9:00 PM Alamo Texas Tech vs. Michigan St.
Mon 4-Jan 8:00 PM Fiesta Boise State vs. T C U
Tue 5-Jan 8:00 PM Orange Georgia Tech vs. Iowa
Wed 6-Jan 8:00 PM G M A C Troy vs. Central Mich.
Thu 7-Jan 8:00 PM Nat’l Championship Alabama vs. Texas

Coming This Week–What you can do to help bring about a college football playoff

August 29, 2009

2009 Conference USA Preview

2009 Conference USA Preview

A PiRate Look

In the fifth in our series of conference previews, we take a look at Conference USA, where defense is just a suggestion and offense rules.  The 12 member institutions collectively surrendered 30 points per game last year.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Central Florida was to get really lucky and host the mighty King Tebow, it would be expected that the Gator fans would find a way to get to Orlando and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same UCF team hosted Hawaii a week after the Warriors played at Boston College, then the Knights could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

   

Conference USA Preseason PiRate Ratings

     

 

Prediction *

 

 
    Team

PiRate

CUSA

Overall

 
    CUSA East

 

 

 

 
    East Carolina

102

6-2

7-6

#
    Southern Mississippi

101

6-2

8-4

 
    Marshall

96

4-4

6-6

 
    Memphis

90

2-6

3-9

 
    Central Florida

89

3-5

5-7

 
    U A B

88

2-6

3-9

 
     

 

 

 

 
    CUSA West

 

 

 

 
    Houston

101

6-2

8-4

 
    Tulsa

97

7-1

11-2

#
    U T E P

94

6-2

8-4

 
    Rice

92

2-6

3-9

 
    S M U

86

3-5

5-7

 
    Tulane

80

1-7

2-10

 
     

 

 

 

 
   

# Tulsa over ECU in CUSA Championship Game

   

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

   

on expected changes to rating during the year

 

CUSA East

East Carolina: The Pirates return 16 starters from a year ago, including nine on the offensive side.  We give them the edge over Southern Miss solely on the basis of their game with the Eagles being at home to close out the year.  For full disclosure, our founder steadfastly believes USM will win this division.

Quarterback Patrick Pinkney is back for his senior season after completing better than 61% of his passes for 2,675 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 13/7.  We believe he will approach 3,000 yards this year with more touchdown passes and the same or even fewer interceptions.  On the other end of those passes will be a talented group of receivers, including Dwayne Harris (58-654) and the speedy Darryl Feeney (16 yards per reception).

The backfield is a weak spot, as nobody on the roster is capable of striking fear into opponents.  As long as they can pick up five to seven yards on a 2nd & long draw play and convert first downs on 3rd & 1 or 2, they will suffice.

The offensive line returns almost intact, as every starter has experience starting in the past.  Look for ECU to increase their offensive numbers to 28 points and 380 yards per game this season.

ECU’s defense was the only one in the league that was somewhat reliable last year.  Seven starters and 13 of the top 17 tacklers return, so the stop troops should be good again this year. 

Nick Johnson anchors this side of the ball from his middle linebacker spot.  He’s coming off a season where he registered 102 tackles including 10 behind the line.

Up front, C.J. Wilson is a monster at end.  A year ago, he recorded 10 ½ sacks and eight other tackles for loss.  He’ll compete for CUSA Player of the Year.

Two defensive backs should contend for league honors this year.  Cornerbacks Dekota Marshall and Emanuel Davis combined five interceptions and 14 passes broken up.  Behind those two, safety Van Eskridge stops receivers for little or no gain after the catch.

The schedule is favorable within the conference, but a killer outside league play.  Expect Virginia Tech and West Virginia to exact revenge this year, while ECU will probably taste defeat at North Carolina.  The other game is a season opener with Appalachian State, the preseason number one team in the FCS.  Appy State won at Michigan two years ago.  The road game with Tulsa comes immediately after the Thursday night tilt with Virginia Tech, and we expect ECU to suffer in that one.  We also think they will have a chance at revenge in December.

Southern Mississippi: East Carolina won’t have an easy road to a repeat division title this year, because the Eagles are loaded on both sides of the ball with nine starters back on both units.  If Southern Miss can pull off an upset over Kansas in Lawrence on September 26, it isn’t totally out of the realm that they could get on a roll and run the table.  No CUSA team has made it to a BCS bowl yet, so it’s something to think about.

Quarterback Austin Davis performed admirably as a freshman last year.  He passed for 3,128 yards and 23 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.  Defenses will not be able to key on him because back Damion Fletcher rushed for 1,313 yards and 10 scores at a six yard per carry clip.  He’s on the NFL scout’s radar. 

All three starting wide receivers from last year return, and they are an excellent trio of pass catchers.  DeAndre Brown nabbed 67 balls for 1,117 yards and 12 scores.  Gerald Baptiste hauled in 35 balls for 480 yards, and Freddie Parham caught 19 balls but only started six times.  All told, this unit is the equal of Houston’s and superior to the other 10 league members’ receiving units.

Four starters return to the offensive line, but overall this group is not as strong as some others in the league.

Defensively, Southern Miss will be strong in the trenches and in the secondary, but there is a question mark with the linebackers, where the top two tacklers from last year are gone.  In the secondary, cornerback C. J. Bailey and safety Chico Hunter will challenge for all-conference honors.  The secondary surrendered 226 yards per game, and that number should remain about the same this year.  However, it may occur due to more opponent passes.

The defense against the run will be improved after giving up 140 yards per game last year.  No, the increase won’t be large, but we predict an improvement to about 120 yards per game.  There will be some vulnerability due to inexperienced linebackers.

The schedule is set up so that if the Eagles upset Kansas and then knock off Louisville on the road, they could quickly move into the top 15 and venture to Greenville to face ECU with either an 11-0 or 10-1 record.  We think it won’t happen, but Southern Miss will challenge for the East title and definitely improve upon their seven-win season of last year.

Marshall: Coach Mark Snyder starts his fifth season in Huntington, and it will be his last one if the Thundering Herd fails to gain bowl eligibility.  The former Ohio State defensive coordinator has a dark horse contender for the division title this year, so a record of at least 6-6 should be a reality.

The roster took a big hit this summer when former CUSA all-freshman guard Josh Evans transferred.  We think Snyder has molded an adequate albeit piecemeal offensive line with Brandon Campbell moving in at left tackle and Ryan Tillman moving down to left guard.

At quarterback, former starter Mark Cann has fallen all the way to third team, and Brian Anderson will begin the season as the starter.  Cann threw too many interceptions, and Anderson has a more accurate arm.  Anderson’s receiving crew isn’t quite as experienced or talented as the teams Marshall will try to surpass in their division, so back Darius Marshall will be called on to move to the next level after rushing for 1,095 yards last season.  He needs to top 1,300 yards this year for the Herd to compete for the division title.

The Defense is going to be better, but it has a long way to go to gain respect after surrendering 28 points and 418 total yards per game in 2008.  The front four can match up with any CUSA rival.  End Albert McClellan has all the tools and will have a monster year if he can remain healthy.  Cornerback DeQuan Bembry is a ball-hawking pass defender who broke up 11 passes in addition to recording 7 ½ tackles behind the line.

Marshall hosts Southern Illinois to start the season, and it won’t be a sure win.  The Salukis are ranked #7 in the FCS preseason poll.  Games at Virginia Tech and West Virginia are sure losses, while a home tilt with Bowling Green must be a win.  Can Marshall break even in conference play?  Definitely, yes, but it may be hard to get that fifth league victory to cinch a bowl bid.  East Carolina and Southern Miss must come to Huntington, and Marshall has the horses to upset them both.  Road games with Memphis, UTEP, and Central Florida need to produce at least two wins for the Herd to go bowling.  It will be close.  Five wins ends Snyder’s reign.

Memphis: The Tigers somehow stay under the radar for most of the year and emerge at the end as a bowl team.  They have been to bowls five of the last six seasons, even though on paper they don’t appear to have the talent to do so.  This year is no different.  The PiRate stats say they have no chance of breaking even and could win just three games, but common sense says they will beat three teams as underdogs and earn a New Orleans Bowl bid or equivalent.

Coach Tommy West has consistently put out balanced offenses, averaging 407 yards per game over the last six seasons.  This year, we expect those numbers to drop by up to 50 yards per game (417 in ’08).  The Tigers lost too much talent and will rebuild on the attack side.  The major problem is the offensive line, where only one starter returns.  Memphis has done well with experienced lines and quality backs.

The Tigers do have a quality back in Curtis Steele, who rushed for 1,223 yards and a 5.6 average.  His numbers could suffer some because there will be times where he is met in the backfield by multiple defenders.

Quarterback Arkelon Hall is average for this league, and with less time to throw, we expect his interceptions to go up and percentage to drop.

Seven starters return on defense.  Last year, UM gave up just 354 total yards per game, but they gave up 27.2 points per game.  Those 354 yards came on just 60 total plays.  Memphis won’t hold onto the ball for 76 plays per game like last year, so we believe that even though the defense could be more talented, it will be on the field for 100 more plays this year; that could mean 500-600 more total yards.  That’s why we believe Memphis will fail to gain bowl eligibility. 

The schedule is on the rough side.  Memphis opens at home with Ole Miss on Sunday, September 6.  Then, they bus to Murfreesboro to play at Middle Tennessee six days later.  We see the Tigers starting 0-2 before getting a breather with Tennessee-Martin.  A game at Tennessee should make their non-conference record 1-3.  In CUSA play, UM gets Marshall, UTEP, East Carolina, and UAB at the Liberty Bowl and plays at Central Florida, Southern Miss, Houston, and Tulsa.  We just cannot see five winnable conference games.

Central Florida: The Knights were the one CUSA team that didn’t have an explosive offense last year.  To be blunt, UCF stunk last year, gaining just 230 total yards per game.  They couldn’t run the ball, and they threw 176 incomplete passes versus just 132 completions.  A mediocre defense meant UCF had one of the better stop troops in the league, but it wasn’t enough to have a winning season.  This year, the offense can only be better, but the defense will be weaker.

Quarterback Rob Calabrese completed less than 40% of his passes, which would have been bad 50 years ago.  It’s not like he can run the ball like Colin Kaepernick.  If Calabrese doesn’t improve immediately this season, look for former Wake Forest QB Brett Hodges to take over. 

The receivers will make whoever throws the ball a better passer this season, as everybody who caught a pass last year returns.  There’s just as much experience returning at running back, and the offensive line should be about as mediocre as last year.  Look for UCF to gain about 275 total yards per game this year and increase their point production from 16.6 to around 21.  Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to win six games.

The defense has a major Achilles Heel.  The secondary lost all four starters, and the new starters will get burned often by Pinckney, Davis, Anderson, Joe Webb, and especially Case Keenum.

The front seven will be considerably stronger this year with linebacker Lawrence Young leading the way.  Young is equally proficient against the run and the pass.

Perhaps the biggest offensive weapon this year could be late signee Jamie Boyle, a kicker/punter with a cannon for a leg.  Boyle is capable of connecting on a 60-yard field goal.

The schedule gives UCF a remote chance of posting six or seven wins.  Home games with Samford, Buffalo, Memphis, Marshall, and Tulane and road games with UAB and Rice are the winnable contests.  Miami and Texas will both destroy the Knights; road games against Southern Miss, East Carolina and a home game with Houston appear to be out of reach.

U A B: The Blazers have fallen on hard times as of late, winning just nine of 36 games the last three years.  UAB will be stronger on both sides of the ball, but a difficult schedule should keep them at the bottom of the standings.

10 Starters return on offense, including quarterback Joe Webb.  Webb completed 59% of his tosses for 2,367 yards last year, but he threw 16 interceptions.  Webb also can run the ball and led UAB with 1,021 yards on the ground.  Should he go down with an injury, it will be big trouble in Birmingham. 

All the key receivers from last year return and running back Rashaud Slaughter has a great pair of hands to catch balls out of the backfield, many of which are nothing more than forward lateral sweep plays.

The offensive line would have had all five starters returning, but tackle Terence Edge will miss the season.  Still, they should open more holes this year and protect the quarterback for a fraction of a second longer.

The defense gave up 31.3 points and 430 yards per game last year.  Unfortunately, the top two tacklers plus another who tied for third have run out of eligibility.  Additionally, the top pass defender has picked up his sheepskin.  A weak pass rush will expose a weak secondary, and the three linebackers are below average talents.  It looks like another long season at Legion Field.  Speaking of the home stadium, Legion Field’s upper deck has been closed to spectators.  That’s a perfect microcosm for this program. 

CUSA West

Houston: The Cougars set the college football world on fire in 1968, when the Houston Veer offense of then coach Bill Yeoman averaged over 300 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.  They even scored 100 points against Tulsa.  In the late 1980’s, it was the run and shoot offense that passed for more than 400 yards per game.  Houston almost scored 100 points again, beating SMU 95-21 in 1989.  Now, the Cougars of Coach Kevin Sumlin are poised to run up some new gaudy offensive statistics and perhaps score 70 points in a game again this season (yep, they did that against Tulsa last year).

Quarterback Case Keenum won’t repeat the feat of Andre Ware and become the second UH QB to take home a Heisman Trophy, but the junior signal caller will top 5,000 passing yards once again.  He could approach 50 touchdown passes and post just 10 interceptions.  Keenum has a nice stable of receivers to play catch with, led by Tyron Carrier.  Carrier is coming off a season where he caught 80 passes for 1,026 yards.  Keep an eye on L. J. Castle, who can turn a five yard pass into a 70 yard touchdown.

It’s not all about passing at Houston.  Running back Bryce Beall ran for 1,247 yards last year with 13 touchdowns.  He is a danger to break free for long gains, and Keenum frequently passed to him coming out of the backfield.

The offensive line has three returning starters and should be about as good as last year.  JUCO transfer Roy Watts should start immediately at tackle and gives the Cougars the equivalent of a fourth starter.

The defense should be happy that they don’t have to face the Houston offense in a game, because UH couldn’t stop a feather last year.  They surrendered 31 points and 413 yards per game, and only four starters return from that team.  Worse, they lose Phillip Hunt and his 14 QB sacks.

Linebackers Marcus McGraw and C.J. Cavness will have to lead the defense this year.  The two combined for 180 tackles in 2008.  In the backfield, Brandon Brinkley will be assigned to the opponents’ top receiver.  Brinkley led the team with 15 passes broken up and tied for the lead with four interceptions.

An out-of-conference schedule that includes games against Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Texas Tech will prevent the Cougars from having a chance to sneak into the BCS bowl picture.  They also must face both Tulsa and UTEP on enemy turf, so we don’t believe Houston can win the division.

Tulsa:  Houston’s 563 total yards and 41 points per game was not the best in the nation last year; it wasn’t even the tops in the conference or even the West Division.  Tulsa averaged 47.2 points and 570 total yards per game.  While, the Golden Hurricane have just five starters back on offense and lost a quarterback who passed for more than 4,000 yards and 46 touchdowns, they could put up similar numbers this season.

Coach Todd Graham has three quarterbacks that could start for BCS conference teams.  As of this writing, it looks like Texas transfer G.J. Kinne may have a slight edge over JUCO standout Jacob Brewer and freshman Shavodrick Beaver, who spurned a scholarship offer from Michigan.  Then, there’s backup receiver A. J. Whitmore who will receive snaps out of the wildcat formation.  Graham has hinted that more than one of these talented players could be on the field at the same time, and even all four could be out there for a play.  Imagine trying to prepare for that scenario.

Whoever throws the ball, there will be three excellent receivers with breakaway speed on the other end of those tosses.  Damaris Johnson, Slick Shelley, and Trae Johnson combined for 1,845 yards on 112 catches (16.5 avg per catch) and 21 scores.

The running game will take a hit this year after the loss of Tarrion Adams and his 1,500+ rushing yards.  Jamad Williams and Charles Opeseyltan could share the majority of carries and approach 1,500 combined rushing yards.

The offensive line needs a little rebuilding, as three starters are gone.  If Tulsa fails to win the division, this will probably be the reason why.

On the stop side, the 3-3-5 defense returns four starters to the secondary, and the new starter at the bandit strong safety position (DeAundre Brown) started six games and basically gives them five returning starters.  This was TU’s major fault last year, but it should be a better unit this year.

The pass rush will be led by James Lockett from his blitzing spur safety alignment.  He comes off a year where he recorded 16 ½ tackles behind the line.

The schedule will not allow Tulsa to sneak into the BCS bowl picture.  A road game against in-state rival Oklahoma will put an end to those chances on September 19.  The Golden Hurricane could play spoiler when Boise State comes for a visit on October 14.  The key games in the division are against Houston and UTEP.  If they split those two, which we think they will, TU should go 7-1 in league play and repeat as West champions.

U T E P: On paper, this Miner team looks strong enough to win the league championship, but Mike Price’s teams have not played enough defense to win the West Division much less the conference championship.  We think UTEP will score almost as many points as their two main rivals, but the Miners will find a way to lose a conference game against one of the lower-placed teams due to a breakdown on defense. 

The offense averaged 33 points per game and 407 total yards in 2008, and most of the key components return this year.  Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe may not have put up the gaudy numbers equal to Keenum, but he tossed 33 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions.  He played a good portion of the season with a lame ankle, so his numbers could be more Keenum-like this year.

Vittatoe’s top two targets return this season.  Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi teamed for 101 receptions for 1,613 yards and 23 touchdowns.  The running game is as lame as the passing game is spectacular.  Nobody topped 500 yards last year, and we look for three or four players to share the load again this year.  However, we don’t expect the rushing numbers to change much—about 125 yards per game.

The progress of the defense will determine if this club can challenge for conference honors.  UTEP gave up an eye-popping 37 points and 469 yards per game in 2008, and with four of the top five tacklers gone, there isn’t much room for improvement.  UTEP uses a 3-3-5 defense, but they don’t have capable blitzers to disrupt offenses.  There isn’t much depth either, so a couple of injuries to starters could be big trouble.

The schedule is the only reason why the Miners have any chance to win the division this year.  They get both Houston and Tulsa at the Sun Bowl.  We think that they will lose at least one of those games and then fall in an upset on the road to Memphis, Tulane, SMU, or Rice.  Out of conference, the Miners host Buffalo and Kansas and venture to New Mexico State and Texas.  We say they will split those games and gain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2005.

Rice: The Owls had their best team since the 1953 squad beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl with the aid of the only major college penalty that ever resulted in an automatic touchdown, when an Alabama player (Tommy Lewis) raced from the bench to tackle Rice’s back Dicky Maegle.  Rice didn’t need that type of penalty to win the Texas Bowl and finish 10-3; they had the machine gun arm of quarterback Chase Clement.

Clement graduated after passing for 4,119 yards and 44 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.  Also gone are the top two receivers, who merely combined for 198 catches and 33 touchdowns and the top two running backs.  Throw in three new starters in the offensive line and a new offensive coordinator, and the Owls’ offense could plummet from 41 points and 471 yards per game to about 25 points and 375 yards per game.

The defense will be much better this year after surrendering 33 points and 452 yards per game in 2008.  Nine starters return and all 11 second teamers are back as well.  This side of the ball will have excellent depth even though the overall talent is marginally average.  The back seven are the strength of the team, led by Andrew Sendejo from his free safety position.  He paced the Owls with 94 stops a year ago.

The schedule is tough this year, as a home game with Tulane appears to be the only sure conference win.  Outside the league, the Owls face Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the road and host Vanderbilt and Navy.  It looks like 1-3 at best and maybe just two wins in league play.

S M U:  June Jones had two losing seasons in nine years as coach at Hawaii, and he could have two losing seasons in two years at SMU.  It’s going to be close, but we think the Mustangs will fall one game short of a break even season.  Watch out for them in 2010.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell performed quite well as a freshman, tossing 24 touchdowns and picking up 2,865 yards.  He also gave the ball away 23 times, and he should cut down on that number with a year’s experience under his belt.

Two dandy receivers as well as four other key contributors return to the fold this year.  Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders teamed for 126 catches for 2,005 yards and 2o scores.  Until some semblance of a running game forms, this offense will never have a chance to get unleashed.  SMU rushed for just 41 yards per game, the worst amongst FBS schools.  There isn’t a back on the roster capable of striking fear into opponents.

The offensive line has some decent pass blockers, but they just cannot open running lanes.  Center Mitch Enright could challenge for league honors.

The defense was consistently appalling against both the run and the pass last year, giving up 226 yards rushing and 254 yards passing per game.  Eight starters return including six of the top seven tacklers.  Linebacker is the team strength with Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga capable of earning all-conference honors.

The secondary has some ball hawks with Derrius Bell, Rock Dennis, and Bryan McCann teaming up for 20 passes swatted away in ’08.

An opening game with Stephen F Austin will give the offense a chance to put up some fat numbers.  A road game against UAB could move the record to 2-0, and if so, the Mustangs just may gather enough momentum to move north in the standings.  Washington State on the road is not infallible, and it’s foreseeable that SMU could win that one as well.  A week off precedes the first blowout loss when SMU goes to TCU.  A home game with East Carolina could help decide the other division champion.  After a home game with Navy, the Mustangs face consecutive powers Houston and Tulsa on the road, and they should lose them both by big numbers.  

Tulane: This program has never fully recovered from the hurricane.  Last season’s 2-10 record may be hard to top this year and could easily be matched in 2009.

Coach Bob Toledo’s squad couldn’t move the ball or stop opponents for most of 2008 thanks to a young squad and numerous injuries to key players.  Running back Andre Anderson was headed to a 1,500 yard season before going down for the season.  After his injury, the Green Wave could only muster 64 rushing yards per game.

TU will hand the quarterbacking duties over to sophomore Joe Kemp, who beat out last year’s starter Kevin Moore.  Moore tossed 13 interceptions against just eight touchdown passes, and Kemp should better those numbers with ease if he stays healthy. 

Jeremy Williams is the top returning receiver after grabbing 27 balls for 437 yards last season in less than half the season.  He suffered multiple injuries and missed the last seven games.  Without him, the TU passing game dropped off by 75 yards per game.

The offensive line returns three starters from a year ago, but there is a depth problem and the overall talent is among the weakest in the league.

Likewise, there are big problems on the other side of the ball, where Tulane just couldn’t consistently stop anybody.  There are no stars at linebacker and no depth in the secondary.  The front four has some talent, with tackle Reggie Scott leading the way.  Keep an eye on rush end Logan Kelley, who led the Green Wave with seven sacks even though he didn’t start.

The special teams’ unit returns the punter, place-kicker, punt returner, and kick returners from last year.

Tulane last fielded a winning team in 2002, and it will be at least another year for the Greenies to challenge.  The schedule this season includes non-conference games at home against BYU and on the road at LSU.  The other two out-of-league tilts are winnable—McNeese State and at Army, but we think TU will lose at West Point.  The Green Wave will have to pull off an upset to avoid going 0-8 in league play, but we believe they will pull off one upset.

Next up: A look at the Mountain West Conference, where two or even three teams have the talent to earn an at-large BCS bowl bid.

Blog at WordPress.com.