The Pi-Rate Ratings

September 8, 2019

PiRate College Football Ratings: September 9, 2019

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 10:00 pm

This Week’s PiRate Ratings Spreads

Friday

September 13

Home

Visitors

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Wake Forest (x)

North Carolina

2.0

0.5

0.8

Boston College

Kansas

15.2

13.8

16.4

Houston

Washington St.

-14.3

-12.3

-12.0

 

 

Saturday

September 14

Home

Visitors

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Georgia

Arkansas St.

34.6

32.3

35.2

Mississippi St.

Kansas St.

9.4

4.9

9.1

West Virginia

North Carolina St.

2.9

2.5

1.5

Penn St.

Pittsburgh

12.8

12.2

13.3

Illinois

Eastern Michigan

12.5

13.4

11.0

Indiana

Ohio St.

-11.3

-11.3

-12.9

Temple

Maryland

-4.7

-5.5

-2.5

Cincinnati

Miami (O)

15.9

16.0

15.3

Colorado

Air Force

3.6

2.2

3.1

Ball St.

Florida Atlantic

-0.1

0.4

-0.9

Notre Dame

New Mexico

40.1

35.2

40.6

Central Michigan

Akron

-1.3

-0.7

-1.2

South Carolina

Alabama

-20.5

-18.1

-21.4

Central Florida

Stanford

8.7

8.7

10.1

BYU

USC

-2.0

-3.3

-2.7

UTSA

Army

-22.9

-20.5

-23.1

Tulsa

Oklahoma St.

-16.6

-16.6

-15.2

Minnesota

Georgia Southern

17.7

17.9

17.2

Northwestern

UNLV

29.5

26.3

28.5

South Alabama

Memphis

-24.9

-20.8

-27.0

Navy

East Carolina

5.3

6.1

5.2

Arkansas

Colorado St.

20.7

17.2

19.6

Michigan St.

Arizona St.

14.8

15.4

14.8

Louisville (n)

Western Kentucky

8.5

7.1

5.7

Iowa St.

Iowa

-4.0

-1.4

-3.9

California

North Texas

19.7

20.5

20.4

Bowling Green

Lousiana Tech

-8.2

-7.9

-7.8

Liberty

Buffalo

2.3

2.7

1.2

Charlotte

Massachusetts

19.4

17.0

20.3

Troy

Southern Miss.

2.8

6.0

1.6

Marshall

Ohio

-0.4

0.3

-0.7

Auburn

Kent St.

34.3

31.8

33.2

Kentucky

Florida

-8.8

-7.1

-9.0

Middle Tennessee

Duke

-9.5

-9.8

-9.1

SMU

Texas St.

19.2

17.4

19.7

Western Michigan

Georgia St.

12.5

9.5

13.5

Washington

Hawaii

19.1

16.4

20.6

Syracuse

Clemson

-24.9

-21.7

-25.6

Virginia

Florida St.

9.0

9.2

9.4

Purdue

TCU

11.0

7.1

10.4

UCLA

Oklahoma

16.1

-15.4

-16.7

New Mexico St.

San Diego St.

-18.4

-18.2

-18.7

Rice (n)

Texas

-32.9

-31.1

-33.2

Nebraska

Northern Illinois

13.3

16.0

12.5

Arizona

Texas Tech

-3.8

-4.0

-2.6

 

(x) The North Carolina vs. Wake Forest game does not count as an Atlantic Coast Conference Game.  It is a non-conference game and will have no effect on the conference standings.

(n) The Rice and Texas game will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston.  Even though Rice is in Houston, we expect more Texas fans at this game and thus have it listed as no home field advantage for Rice.

The Louisville and Western Kentucky game will be played at Nissan Stadium in Nashville and is a true neutral site game.

 

FBS vs. FCS

Home

Visitor

PiRate

Tennessee

Chattanooga

24

Virginia Tech

Furman

26

Georgia Tech

The Citadel

31

Coastal Carolina

Norfolk St.

27

Ole Miss

SE Louisiana

26

Miami (Fla.)

Bethune-Cookman

36

Oregon St.

Cal Poly

16

Utah

Idaho St.

35

Wyoming

Idaho

28

South Florida

South Carolina St.

23

Texas A&M

Lamar

39

Nevada

Weber St.

13

Florida Int’l.

New Hampshire

16

Toledo

Murray St.

27

LSU

Northwestern St.

50

Missouri

SE Missouri St.

34

Louisiana

Texas Southern

39

Tulane

Missouri St.

28

Boise St.

Portland St.

34

Oregon

Montana

29

 

This Week’s PiRate Ratings

 

American Athletic Conference

East Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

AAC

Overall

Central Florida

111.4

110.5

112.7

111.5

0-0

2-0

Cincinnati

104.8

103.1

104.7

104.2

0-0

1-1

Temple

102.6

101.4

103.9

102.6

0-0

1-0

South Florida

90.7

91.7

91.0

91.1

0-0

0-2

East Carolina

84.9

87.0

84.6

85.5

0-0

1-1

Connecticut

74.2

78.3

73.0

75.2

0-0

1-1

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

AAC

Overall

Memphis

103.8

103.3

104.9

104.0

0-0

2-0

SMU

100.8

100.1

101.4

100.8

0-0

2-0

Tulane

98.9

99.3

99.3

99.2

0-0

1-1

Houston

95.8

97.0

98.5

97.1

0-0

1-1

Tulsa

92.5

93.1

93.4

93.0

0-0

1-1

Navy

87.1

90.1

86.7

88.0

0-0

1-0

AAC Averages

95.6

96.2

96.2

96.0

 

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

ACC

Overall

Clemson

133.8

130.2

134.5

132.9

1-0

2-0

Syracuse

105.9

105.6

105.9

105.8

0-0

1-1

Boston College

104.8

104.5

105.5

104.9

1-0

2-0

North Carolina St.

103.5

103.5

104.3

103.8

0-0

2-0

Wake Forest

103.6

102.9

103.9

103.5

0-0

2-0

Florida St.

102.9

103.2

102.7

103.0

0-0

1-1

Louisville

95.5

94.9

94.3

94.9

0-0

1-1

 

 

Coastal Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

ACC

Overall

Miami (Fla.)

109.4

108.5

110.5

109.5

0-1

0-2

Virginia

108.9

109.4

109.1

109.1

1-0

2-0

Pittsburgh

105.8

105.3

105.2

105.4

0-1

1-1

Virginia Tech

104.6

104.8

104.9

104.8

0-1

1-1

North Carolina

103.1

103.9

104.6

103.9

1-0

2-0

Duke

103.7

103.1

103.4

103.4

0-0

1-1

Georgia Tech

99.0

97.1

99.5

98.5

0-1

1-1

ACC Averages

106.0

105.5

106.3

105.9

 

 

Big 12 Conference

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

B12

Overall

Oklahoma

120.4

119.4

120.1

120.0

0-0

2-0

Texas

112.1

111.9

111.8

111.9

0-0

1-1

Baylor

111.6

111.8

111.3

111.6

0-0

2-0

Iowa St.

110.2

110.6

110.1

110.3

0-0

1-0

Oklahoma St.

110.1

110.7

109.6

110.1

0-0

2-0

Kansas St.

110.1

110.0

109.9

110.0

0-0

2-0

Texas Tech

107.6

107.9

106.7

107.4

0-0

2-0

West Virginia

103.5

103.0

102.8

103.1

0-0

1-1

T C U

101.3

105.1

101.7

102.7

0-0

1-0

Kansas

92.6

93.7

92.1

92.8

0-0

1-1

Big 12 Averages

107.9

108.4

107.6

108.0

 

 

Big Ten Conference

East Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

BTen

Overall

Ohio St.

124.9

123.2

125.3

124.5

0-0

2-0

Michigan

119.3

117.2

119.6

118.7

0-0

2-0

Michigan St.

117.8

117.5

118.2

117.8

0-0

2-0

Penn St.

116.6

115.6

116.4

116.2

0-0

2-0

Indiana

110.6

108.8

109.4

109.6

0-0

2-0

Maryland

109.8

109.4

108.9

109.4

0-0

2-0

Rutgers

92.0

92.0

91.6

91.9

0-1

1-1

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

BTen

Overall

Wisconsin

116.8

116.5

116.7

116.7

0-0

2-0

Iowa

115.2

113.0

115.1

114.4

1-0

2-0

Northwestern

110.9

109.9

109.9

110.2

0-0

0-1

Minnesota

110.5

109.9

109.3

109.9

0-0

2-0

Purdue

109.4

109.2

109.0

109.2

0-0

1-1

Nebraska

105.4

106.8

104.8

105.7

0-0

1-1

Illinois

98.7

99.8

97.8

98.8

0-0

2-0

Big Ten Averages

111.3

110.6

110.9

110.9

 

 

Conference USA

East Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

CUSA

Overall

Marshall

93.3

92.9

94.4

93.5

0-0

1-1

Middle Tennessee

91.6

90.8

91.9

91.4

0-0

1-1

Florida Int’l.

89.7

89.4

90.0

89.7

0-1

0-2

Florida Atlantic

89.8

88.9

90.3

89.7

0-0

0-2

Western Kentucky

86.9

87.8

88.6

87.7

1-0

1-1

Charlotte

86.8

87.2

87.1

87.0

0-0

1-1

Old Dominion

77.6

78.0

77.8

77.8

0-0

1-1

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

CUSA

Overall

Southern Miss.

94.8

92.2

95.0

94.0

0-0

1-1

North Texas

91.7

90.9

92.4

91.7

0-0

1-1

Louisiana Tech

89.1

88.7

88.9

88.9

0-0

1-1

U A B

85.5

87.2

86.1

86.3

0-0

2-0

Rice

79.2

80.8

78.5

79.5

0-0

0-2

Texas-San Antonio

76.6

79.1

76.1

77.2

0-0

1-1

U T E P

66.7

72.2

67.1

68.6

0-0

1-1

CUSA Averages

85.7

86.2

86.0

85.9

 

 

FBS Independents

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

Conf.

Overall

Notre Dame

120.4

118.6

120.4

119.8

x

1-0

BYU

102.2

102.1

102.2

102.2

x

1-1

Army

101.9

102.0

101.7

101.9

x

1-1

Liberty

86.9

88.0

86.9

87.2

x

0-2

New Mexico St.

76.9

79.1

76.5

77.5

x

0-2

Massachusetts

69.9

72.7

69.3

70.6

x

0-2

Indep. Averages

93.0

93.7

92.8

93.2

 

 

Mid-American Conference

East Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

MAC

Overall

Ohio

96.7

95.6

98.1

96.8

0-0

1-1

Miami (Ohio)

90.4

88.7

90.9

90.0

0-0

1-1

Buffalo

87.1

87.8

88.2

87.7

0-0

1-1

Kent St.

85.7

85.9

86.1

85.9

0-0

1-1

Akron

79.8

80.1

79.6

79.8

0-0

0-2

Bowling Green

77.8

77.7

78.0

77.9

0-0

1-1

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

MAC

Overall

Western Michigan

98.2

96.8

98.3

97.8

0-0

1-1

Northern Illinois

95.0

93.8

95.3

94.7

0-0

1-1

Toledo

91.4

91.6

92.5

91.8

0-0

0-1

Eastern Michigan

89.2

89.4

89.8

89.5

0-0

1-1

Ball St.

87.2

86.8

86.9

87.0

0-0

1-1

Central Michigan

76.0

76.9

75.9

76.2

0-0

1-1

MAC Averages

87.9

87.6

88.3

87.9

 

 

Mountain West Conference

Mountain Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

MWC

Overall

Utah St.

106.1

104.9

107.5

106.1

0-0

1-1

Boise St.

106.0

105.3

106.3

105.9

0-0

2-0

Air Force

97.9

99.2

98.7

98.6

0-0

1-0

Wyoming

96.4

98.6

97.0

97.3

0-0

2-0

New Mexico

83.3

86.4

82.7

84.2

0-0

1-0

Colorado St.

80.5

84.8

80.7

82.0

0-0

1-1

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

MWC

Overall

Fresno St.

99.8

100.4

100.5

100.2

0-0

0-2

San Diego St.

97.8

99.7

97.7

98.4

0-0

2-0

Hawaii

97.1

99.0

96.5

97.5

0-0

2-0

Nevada

91.4

93.1

91.2

91.9

0-0

1-1

U N L V

84.4

86.6

84.3

85.1

0-0

1-1

San Jose St.

82.6

84.6

81.7

83.0

0-0

1-1

MWC Averages

93.6

95.2

93.7

94.2

 

 

Pac-12 Conference

North Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

P12

Overall

Oregon

116.1

116.1

117.2

116.5

0-0

1-1

Washington St.

113.1

112.3

113.5

113.0

0-0

2-0

Washington

112.2

111.4

113.1

112.2

0-1

1-1

California

108.4

108.4

109.9

108.9

1-0

2-0

Stanford

106.2

105.3

106.1

105.9

0-1

1-1

Oregon St.

94.8

96.1

93.6

94.8

0-0

0-2

 

 

South Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

P12

Overall

Utah

116.5

114.8

116.7

116.0

0-0

2-0

U S C

107.2

108.4

107.9

107.9

1-0

2-0

Arizona St.

106.0

105.0

106.4

105.8

0-0

2-0

U C L A

101.3

101.0

100.4

100.9

0-0

0-2

Arizona

100.8

100.9

101.0

100.9

0-0

1-1

Colorado

100.1

99.9

100.3

100.1

0-0

2-0

Pac-12 Averages

106.9

106.6

107.2

106.9

 

 

Southeastern Conference

East Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

SEC

Overall

Georgia

125.4

123.4

125.8

124.9

1-0

2-0

Florida

120.2

117.3

119.2

118.9

0-0

2-0

Missouri

114.4

111.8

114.5

113.6

0-0

1-1

South Carolina

112.3

110.9

112.3

111.8

0-0

1-1

Kentucky

108.3

107.2

107.2

107.6

0-0

2-0

Tennessee

106.3

106.0

104.7

105.7

0-0

0-2

Vanderbilt

103.1

101.9

102.0

102.3

0-1

0-2

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

SEC

Overall

Alabama

135.8

132.0

136.7

134.8

0-0

2-0

L S U

125.9

123.2

124.7

124.6

0-0

2-0

Texas A&M

118.8

117.2

117.7

117.9

0-0

1-1

Auburn

117.0

114.8

116.3

116.0

0-0

2-0

Mississippi St.

116.4

111.9

116.0

114.8

0-0

2-0

Ole Miss

102.8

102.0

101.8

102.2

1-0

1-1

Arkansas

98.2

98.9

97.3

98.2

0-1

1-1

SEC Averages

114.6

112.7

114.0

113.8

 

 

Sunbelt Conference

East Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

SBC

Overall

Appalachian St.

105.0

103.1

104.2

104.1

0-0

2-0

Georgia Southern

95.8

95.0

95.0

95.3

0-0

1-1

Troy

95.1

95.7

94.1

95.0

0-0

1-0

Georgia St.

88.7

90.3

87.8

88.9

0-0

2-0

Coastal Carolina

83.4

84.6

82.5

83.5

0-0

1-1

 

 

West Division

Team

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Average

SBC

Overall

Louisiana

94.9

95.2

94.3

94.8

0-0

1-1

Arkansas St.

93.7

94.1

93.6

93.8

0-0

1-1

Louisiana-Monroe

90.6

91.4

90.8

90.9

0-0

1-1

Texas St.

84.1

85.2

84.2

84.5

0-0

0-2

South Alabama

76.4

80.0

75.4

77.3

0-0

1-1

SBC Averages

90.8

91.5

90.2

90.8

 

 

Conference Power Ratings

#

League

Average

1

SEC

113.8

2

BTen

110.9

3

B12

108.0

4

P12

106.9

5

ACC

105.9

6

AAC

96.0

7

MWC

94.2

8

Ind

93.2

9

SUN

90.8

10

MAC

87.9

11

CUSA

85.9

 

Top 5 Group of 5

1

Central Florida

2

Utah St.

3

Boise St.

4

Cincinnati

5

Appalachian St.

 

This Week’s Bowl Projections

This week’s bowl projections finds an uncanny nine bowl spots needing at-large teams.  With Tennessee, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and South Carolina struggling, and with Missouri ineligible for a bowl, the SEC could field just eight bowl eligible teams.  Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and Florida could all be in a NY6 bowl, which means the SEC could fall five teams short fulfilling their bowl agreements.

 

Bowl

Conf

Conf

Team

Team

Bahamas

MAC

CUSA

Miami (O)

Marshall

Frisco

AAC

At-large

Houston

[Colorado]

Cure

AAC

SBC

Cincinnati

Arkansas St.

New Mexico

CUSA

MWC

Louisiana Tech

San Diego St.

Boca Raton

AAC

MAC

Memphis

Ohio

Camellia

MAC

SBC

Northern Illinois

Louisiana

Las Vegas

MWC

Pac-12

Boise St.

USC

New Orleans

CUSA

SBC #1

North Texas

Troy

Gasparilla

AAC

CUSA

[Buffalo]

Charlotte

Hawaii

BYU/MWC

AAC

Hawaii

SMU

Independence

ACC

SEC

Wake Forest

[Southern Miss.]

Quick Lane

ACC

Big Ten

Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska

Military

ACC

AAC

Syracuse

Temple

Pinstripe

ACC

Big Ten

Boston College

Maryland

Texas

Big 12

SEC

Texas

Mississippi St.

Holiday

Pac-12

Big Ten

Washington

Iowa

Cheez-It

Big 12

Pac-12

Oklahoma St.

Arizona St.

Camping World

ACC

Big 12

Virginia

Iowa St.

Cotton

At-large

At-large

Central Florida

Georgia

First Responder

CUSA

Big 12

UAB

[Nevada]

Redbox

Pac-12

Big Ten

Washington St.

Minnesota

Music City

SEC

ACC

[Western Michigan]

Virginia Tech

Orange

ACC

BTen/SEC

Notre Dame

Florida

Belk

ACC

SEC

North Carolina

[Purdue]

Sun

ACC

Pac-12

North Carolina St.

Oregon

Liberty

Big 12

SEC

Kansas St.

[Army]

Arizona

SBC

MWC

UL-Monroe

Wyoming

Alamo

Big 12

Pac-12

TCU

California

Citrus

SEC

BTen/ACC

Michigan St.

Texas A&M

Outback

Big Ten

SEC

Penn St.

Kentucky

Rose

Big Ten

Pac-12

Wisconsin

Utah

Sugar

Big 12

SEC

Baylor

LSU

Birmingham

AAC

SEC

[Georgia Southern]

[Liberty]

Taxslayer/Gator

SEC

Big Ten

Auburn

Michigan

Idaho Potato

MAC

MWC

Eastern Michigan

Utah St.

Armed Forces

Big Ten

MWC

Indiana

Fresno St.

Dollar General

MAC

SBC

Toledo

Appalachian St.

 

 

FBS PLAYOFFS

Fiesta

Top 4

Top 4

Alabama

Clemson

Peach

Top 4

Top 4

Ohio St.

Oklahoma

 

 

Champsionship

Fiesta

Peach

Alabama

Ohio St.

 

 

Teams in [Brackets] are at-large selections

 

Heat on a Seat and Hot Coaches

Look all over the Internet, and listen all over sports talk radio this week, and you will hear about college football coaches on the way to unemployment. In Knoxville, Tennessee, the talk isn’t if second year Volunteer coach Jeremy Pruitt will be ousted at the end of the season, it’s whether he can make it to November. Pruitt doesn’t have the talent on either side of the ball to compete, and he should get more time to turn things around on Rocky Top, but the fans might not allow this to happen.

Making things a little worse for Pruitt, former coach Urban Meyer made statements about how the Volunteers should be a top 10 program. Might Meyer be already campaigning for this job as insurance in the event that Clay Helton builds on his 2-0 start at USC and keeps his job?

Willie Taggart was about to join Pruitt at the very hottest of the seats, but his Florida State Seminoles survived an overtime scare to beat Louisiana-Monroe. Playing at Virginia may be a tough pill for Seminole fans to swallow. If Florida State loses this game, that will make the Seminoles 6-9 in Taggart’s year and a quarter in Tallahassee. FSU could be headed to their worst back-to-back records since Darrell Mudra went 4-18 in 1974 and 1975.

Chip Kelly’s UCLA offense looks weaker than the end of the Karl Dorrell era in Westwood. Will the Bruin fans allow another year of this if UCLA falls to 6th in the South Division? Neither Cincinnati nor San Diego State are juggernauts, as the Bearcats fell 42-0 to Ohio State, while San Diego State had narrowly edged Weber State the week prior.

There three coaches appear to have the hottest seats in college football, but what about the opposite end of the equation? Which coaches are the hottest commodities at this point of the season? Who might be a head coach in 2020 at a bigger program than where he is now?

I have broken this down into four categories. The lowest on the food chain are the handful of FCS head coaches that might move up. The past record is so-so when a champion FCS coach moves to FBS. For every Jim Tressel and Bobby Bowden, you have coaches that totally flamed out when moving up. Wyoming is hoping that Craig Bohl proves to be a better hire than Joe Glenn. Glenn was the hottest FCS coach when the Cowboys hired him away from Montana following a 39-6 three-year record. Glenn went 30-41 in Laramie. Bohl came from North Dakota State, where he won three consecutive FCS Championships, and so far he is 30-35 at Wyoming, but 24-17 in his last three years and two games.

Second on the list are the coordinators at some successful FBS programs. Some of the best college head coaches ascended to their jobs from coordinator positions. Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, Ryan Day at Ohio State, and Kirby Smart at Georgia were coordinators at big time programs before becoming head coaches.

Third on the list are current head coaches at FBS schools in line to move to a bigger and better program. These can be both Group of 5 and Power 5 coaches.
Finally, there are some (one) currently out of coaching coaches. This person may be working for Fox Sports today. He claims he has retired, but until he is out of the game for a few years, nobody believes this.

Here’s the PiRate 2-deep of coaches. These 22 could improve a downtrodden program.

Category 1: Current FCS Head Coaches

Many of the top FCS teams in 2019 have first or second year coaches, because their program has produced new hires elsewhere. In addition, some of the remaining great FCS coaches are at a point in their careers where they are not going to have a chance to be hired at the FBS level, or they have previously failed as an FBS coach.
There are three prime coaches in this level that the PiRate Ratings believes can move to FBS and succeed.

1.Jay Hill, Weber State: Hill is 44 years old and has many coaching years left in his career. He’s spent most of his career in the State of Utah, having been an assistant with the Utes. At Weber State, he’s made the playoffs three years in a row, and his Wildcats have won consecutive Big Sky Conference titles. If a Group of 5 job opens out west, like New Mexico or UTEP, Hill could be in line to get a FBS job.

2. Brian Bohananon, Kennesaw St.: At 48, Bohannon is nearing the time where he will have to make the move up to FBS or be content to remain in FCS football. He won immediately after building this program up from scratch, and KSU almost won at Kent State this past weekend. The one possible issue is that Bohannon is a triple option style coach coming from the Paul Johnson coaching tree. KSU averaged more than 350 yards per game on the ground last year, and the service academies and Georgia Tech proved you can win at the FBS level with this offense. Will fans of a school concur?

3. Bob Surace, Princeton: Are you looking for another Urban Meyer in the making? Surace’s Princeton teams have been big-time spread offense powerhouses. The Tigers could run for 300 and pass for 200 yards a game, and that’s a hard task to stop. Princeton went 10-0 last year, beating 9-1 Dartmouth in the top Ivy League game in 30+ years. At 51, 2020 is probably the end of the line for getting a job at an FBS school. He could be in line for an AAC or MAC job if one became available.

Category 2: Current FBS Coordinators

This list is usually the longest of the categories, but this year it is number two. There are a handful of coordinators that appear to be on the radar to move up to the head position.

4. Bob Shoop, Mississippi State DC: Age may hamper his efforts to land a head coaching job, as he’s 53 and would be 54 in 2020. He was head coach at Columbia for three years and only went 7-23, but Columbia has been the bottom feeder of the Ivy League for almost 60 years. Winning in any sport in upper Manhattan is nearly impossible. Shoop should be judged on his excellent defensive work with Boston College, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Tennessee, and Mississippi State. State led the SEC in scoring and led the nation in total defense last year and finished second in the nation in scoring defense. With LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Kentucky on the schedule, that’s quite a feat.

5. Chris Long, Notre Dame OC: Long produced big numbers in his one year as OC at Memphis before coming to South Bend to run the Irish offense. In 2017, he helped the Irish offense roll up more than 440 total yards and 34 points per game with dual threat QB Brandon Wimbush. Last year, the Irish made the playoffs with pro-style QB Ian Book guiding the team to 31 points and 440 yards of offense. Notre Dame has a history of moving coordinators to head coaching hires at other schools, but it’s been a mixed bag at best. You may not know the name John Ray. He may have had the brightest star of any past Irish coordinator, after his defense led Notre Dame to the 1966 national championship while giving up less than four points per game. He was hired to turn Kentucky back into a big time football program and in four years, Ray went 10-33 in Lexington and 4-24 in the SEC. Giving up 58 points to a mediocre Indiana team in his debut set the stage for four years of despair at Stoll Field. Long is just 36 years old, so he’s got additional time to prove himself.

6. Alex Grinch, Oklahoma DC: Grinch is in his first year at Oklahoma after spending time as Urban Meyer’s DC at Ohio State. If Oklahoma shows any improvement defensively this year, the Sooners are a threat to win it all, and Grinch would become a hero ready to take over a team of his own.

7. Dave Aranda, LSU DC: Prior to this year, LSU had to rely on stingy defense and conservative offense to win games. Coach Ed Orgeron has opened up the offense in 2019, and quarterback Joe Burrow is slinging the ball all over the yard. This has led to a great 2-0 start for the Tigers, but it means that Arranda’s defense must play extra snaps. There were some incredible and some not so incredible results against Texas, and there will probably be some issues stopping top notch offenses remaining on the schedule, but LSU has the talent and coaching to compete with Alabama and Georgia for the SEC Championship. If Arranda’s defense produces a “Chinese Bandits” year in Baton Rouge, look for another school to come calling to make him the head coach.

8. Brent Venables, Clemson DC: Where not going to kid you about this; Venables is number one with a bullet among this category. If Clemson should run the table again this year, Trevor Lawrence and the offense will get most of the credit. However, Clemson finished number one nationally last year in scoring defense and number five in total defense. The Tigers had to reload on the stop side of the ball, as that incredible front four of 2018 closed up their college careers. In two games into the new season, Clemson has given up just 12 points per game. Before coming to Clemson, Venables ran the defense at Oklahoma, and defense slowly disappeared in Norman after he left.

 

Category 3: Current FBS Head Coaches at Power 5 Schools

9. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia: Virginia had fallen on hard times with seven losing season in eight years under former coaches Al Groh and Mike London. After a rough first year in Charlottesville, Mendenhall began to produce magic like he did at BYU. Bryce Perkins may be the best QB in the ACC not named Lawrence, and Virginia is the current favorite to win the Coastal Division title. Mendenhall is 53 and maybe on the upper limits of his being able to move to another school, but if his alma mater comes knocking, he could take the Oregon State job.

10. Matt Rhule, Baylor: Baylor was in dire straits following all the damage done by former coach Art Briles. The Bears had moved into the top 10 on an annual basis before the bottom fell out in the wake of a sexual assault scandal. After a 1-11 debut in Waco, Rhule turned things around and guided Baylor to a 7-6 season and Texas Bowl win last year. His team is 2-0 to start this season, and they Bears are now a strong contender for the second spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. Rhule turned the program around at Temple before coming to Baylor, and he was 20-7 in his final two years in Philadelphia, including a win over Penn State. Rhule could be the answer at a bigger Power 5 school. Or, he could take Baylor back to where it was at the beginning of this decade.

11. Matt Campbell, Iowa St.: Campbell’s name has been rumored at USC, and it was rumored at Ohio State, but he’s more likely to stay at Iowa State until a top 10 program comes along and seeks his services. Even if the USC job should become available, his name might not be “sexy” enough for the Socal fanatics. Campbell has done an incredible job in Ames, even beating Oklahoma in Norman. His Cyclones have a big game this week in the annual Cy-Hawk Trophy game with rival Iowa. If ISU wins this one, they must be considered a top contender along with Baylor for the second spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. Add a 35-15 record with two divisional titles at Toledo, and Campbell’s resume is as good as any other potential candidate for a top 5 program.

12. Mark Stoops, Kentucky: It was expected that Kentucky would struggle to win six games and return to a bowl in 2019, after the Wildcats had their best year in 41 seasons in 2018. With the loss of the best player in college football, as well as their only sure offensive weapon, the Wildcats figured to struggle and have a difficult time staying out of the SEC East cellar. But, after two games, this Kentucky team looks as strong as last year’s edition, and with issues at Tennessee, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt, UK could find itself in the race for the number two spot in the division with Florida and Missouri. If Stoops guides the ‘Cats to another 10-win season, a giant may throw enough money to get him to move on. It worked rather well for two past coaches that succeeded in Lexington. Bear Bryant won national championships at Alabama, while Blanton Collier won an NFL Championship with the Cleveland Browns.

Category 4: Current Head Coaches at Group of 5 FBS Schools

13. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati: The Bearcats might be the only team in the AAC East that can give Central Florida a scare, and UC has produced past head coaches that went elsewhere and won, like Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly. Sid Gillman was once the Cinti head coach before making a name for himself in the American Football League with the Chargers. On the other hand, Butch Jones did not fare well at Tennessee after leading this school, and the father of the triple option, Homer Rice, never won again after leaving UC for Rice and then coming back to coach the Bengals for two years. Fickell might get a chance to coach in the Big Ten down the road if he can put together a few more seasons like 2018.

14. Josh Heupel, Central Florida: Heupel replaced Scott Frost in Orlando, and the Golden Knights have continued to win using a totally different style of play. If Heupel can run the table at UCF this year and then beat a big program in the Cotton Bowl, he could be in line for a job at a Power 5 school. If for some reason Lincoln Riley takes an NFL job as has been hinted, Heupel could easily be the man his alma mater looks for as the replacement.

15. Mike Norvell, Memphis: Norvell has done more than maintain the success that Justin Fuente had at Memphis. He’s come extremely close to winning the AAC Championship. His Memphis teams have been Central Florida’s number one nemesis, and UCF had to rally twice last year to beat the Tigers as it did in the 2017 AAC Championship Game. Norvell has experience as an assistant in the Pac-12, and if a Pac-12 job other than USC became available at the end of the year, he’d have to be a contender.

16. Willie Fritz, Tulane: Fritz has been a winner at every stop along the way in his career. He guided Tulane to a bowl win last year, the first time the Green Wave had won a bowl in 16 years. He won 18 games in two years at Georgia Southern including the Eagles’ first ever bowl win before coming to New Orleans, and prior to that, he went 40-15 at Sam Houston and 97-47 at Central Missouri. He’s the second oldest candidate on this list at 59, so he’d be quite a stretch for a Power 5 school to hire. He might be more suited to a place like one of the service academies if a job opens, as his offensive style includes a lot of the option game.

17. Jeff Monken, Army: If you like Fritz, then you must love Monken. Monken was the option guru at Georgia Southern prior to Fritz, when the Eagles were still in the FCS. He went 38-16 at GSU, which included playoff appearances in the three years that they were eligible before transitioning to FBS. Monken turned Army around quickly, and his triple option offense and tough defense could work in the FBS, just like it did for his mentor Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. A school like Vanderbilt might succeed with this strategy if the Commodores have an opening. Or, Monken could get a financial promotion to coach at a Group of 5 school in a conference, where he would have a chance to compete for a New Year’s Six Bowl. UTEP or Connecticut might be willing to take a chance.

18. Seth Littrell, North Texas: Now, let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. Littrell is an Air Raid coach, and he’s going to be missing the pilot of his offense when Mason Fine graduates at the end of this school year. North Texas has been quite entertaining to watch in Littrell’s time in Denton. While the OC at North Carolina, he tutored Mitch Trubisky and left Chapel Hill for this job following an 11-3 season that has not been matched since he moved on. A school like Illinois or Rutgers might be interested in him if they have to hire a coach in 2020.

19. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan: Winning at EMU is one of the toughest assignments an FBS coach can undertake. Between 1975 and 2013 (1975 was their first as D1), EMU made it to one bowl game. Between 1990 and 2013, EMU had one winning season. Since Creighton came to Ypsilanti, the Eagles have had two winning seasons and two bowl appearances in the last three years. Creighton had to earn his way to FBS Football. He began at NAIA Ottawa College and then moved to D3 Wabash. He won 6 championships in 11 years below the D1 level. He took over at FCS Drake in 2008 and took the Bulldogs to a 41-22 record in six years there. This man can re-tool a program from the bottom up and should get a chance to coach at an FBS school. He’s 50, so his time is now. If EMU gets to another bowl this year, some school will most likely offer him a substantial raise. He’s a natural for a Big Ten or Big 12 job.

20. Jason Candle, Toledo: The MAC always has future Power 5 coaches roaming the sidelines, and Candle must be considered a prime suspect to make that move up, just like his predecessor, Campbell. At 39, he’s still got something to prove at Toledo, but the Rockets are always fun to watch, and this could attract schools that are having issues selling tickets.

21. Craig Bohl, Wyoming: Bohl is 24-17 in his last three years and two games in Laramie. He was 104-32 in 11 years at North Dakota State, which ended with three FCS National Championships in a row. His number one issue is the same as Fritz’s; he’s 61 and most likely won’t be approached by a major program. Still, he could be a short-time answer at a Big 12 or Pac-12 school, and Bill Snyder showed you can coach well into your 70’s. He could easily finish his career with 10 years of service.

22. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii: It might be hard to convince a coach to leave the Elysian Fields to coach on the more stressful Mainland. Rolovich has returned Hawaii to the status it enjoyed June Jones. Jones left Hawaii for SMU, and it may or may not have been the right move. Rolovich has little experience with any big time coaches that you could call mentors. He was an assistant for one year under Chris Ault at Nevada plus three years under Brian Polian. So, his name is not going to win any press conferences. Look at Hawaii’s stats under Rolovich. Some school might like 400 passing yards and 38 points per game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 17, 2018

2018 Pac-12 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.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

The Washington Huskies are loaded with top talent at several positions, but they are inexperienced at a key position. On offense, Coach Chris Petersen welcomes back the league’s best passer in Jake Browning. Browning’s junior season was not as exceptional as his fabulous sophomore season, and he returns to move his draft stock up with a comeback year, if you can call a 19 TD/5 Int. 152.1 efficiency rating one to come back from.
Running back Myles Gaskin crossed the goalline 24 times last year, 21 of those while rushing for some of his 1,380 yards. Backup Salvon Ahmed provides a speedier second option to the more powerful Gaskin, and UW should rush for 200 yards per game this year behind one of the top offensive lines in the nation. Left tackle Trey Adams could be a first round draft pick next Spring. Right tackle Kaleb McGary should contend for first team All Pac-12.
It’s the receiver position that will determine if the Huskies will average better than 40 points per game or just 28-35 points per game this year. Dante Pettis may have been a little eccentric, but he was the best receiver at Husky Stadium the last two seasons.

Petersen is hoping that freshman phenom Marquis Spiker can step in immediately and be the go-to guy. Spiker has size and speed with soft hands, and he will get better and better every day going up in practice against the best college secondary in the nation and best in the Pac-12 since USC featured Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith four decades ago. If Chico McClatcher can return to form following an early 2017 injury, and Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones continue to show progress, this unit will be anything but a liability.

Now for the defense. Last year, UW gave up 16.1 points per game in a conference known for its wide open offenses. The Huskies easily led the Pac-12 in total defense, surrendering just 298 yards per game. With the offense being as strong as it is, if the defense were to be almost as good as last year, the Huskies could run the table in the regular season. The defense will be different this year, but to the disgust of the rest of the league, it will be better, maybe considerably better.

As mentioned before, UW has the nation’s top defensive backfield. All five starters from the 3-3-5 alignment return after 15 interceptions and 47 broken up passes. Four different cornerbacks could contend for all-league honors, if you count the nickel position as a third cornerback. Best of the group is Byron Murphy, who in just six games last year, intercepted three passes and recorded seven broken up passes. Murphy is more than an exceptional pass defender; he’s also an outstanding run stuffer and zone blitzer.

This secondary is multi-dimensional, and there is a leading contender for first team All-American at safety. Taylor Rapp is the best free safety not in the NFL. Rapp is like having Willie Mays in center field. He plays like there are two of him in the game, one to stop running plays for short gains or losses and to drop quarterbacks when on a blitz, and one to keep enemy receivers from getting any farther if they catch the ball.

The Huskies are not a one-trick pony on defense. It takes a strong pass rush to make the secondary shine, and UW has an incredible front six, making it the best pass rush in the Pac-12. Additionally, the Huskies led the league in rushing defense and finished fourth nationally. Nose tackle Greg Gaines does what a nose tackle is supposed to do. He takes up two gaps in the middle and stops most everything that comes his way. Unlike most NTs, he can get out of the block and rush the passer better than the average behemoth. Inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is undersized, but he led Washington in tackles last year and could repeat this year and approach 100 total tackles.

Washington will get a chance to show whether they belong in the 2018-19 Playoffs when they begin the season against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Classic in Atlanta. After long delays, the automated retractable roof is now working at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Husky fans should do a rain dance that day in hopes that the roof will be closed. A hot and humid Saturday afternoon could give Auburn a 7-12 point advantage, and the Huskies need to win this game to make up for the fact that their strength of schedule will hurt them in the playoff discussion.

Washington will not just waltz to the Pac-12 North Division title. They will face some stiff competition from Stanford and Oregon, and California might be waiting in ambush.

Stanford returns enough talent from 2017 to be a serious contender for the division and overall conference championship. The offense is in the capable hands of quarterback K.J. Costello and the more than capable feet of running back Bryce Love. Costello is an excellent game-manager, and part of that stellar management is pivoting and handing the ball off to Love. The All-American back rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, averaging better than eight yards per attempt. He is the number one contender for the Heisman Trophy this year, but he will have to top 2,000 yards again to get it. It’s possible if he stays healthy.

The Cardinal return their top two receivers from 2017. Trenton Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside teamed up to catch 91 passes and score 11 touchdowns. Usually, Stanford has a fine stable of tight ends, and they have two fine ones returning in Colby Parkinson and Kaden Smith. Neither is afraid to run across the middle of the field and haul in an important pass with a rib-crushing safety aiming for a maiming.

The offensive line returns four starters plus some key backups that could wind up starting, so the offense should once again be consistent if not flashy. Stanford should top 200 rushing yards and approach 200 passing yards while scoring 30-35 points per game.
Defensively, the Cardinal do not have Washington’s talent, but the unit does a good job of bending and not breaking. The strongest unit is at linebacker, where Bobby Okereke made 88 tackles, including 8 1/2 for loss. Stanford also has one of the two best kicking games in the league. Placekicker Jet Toner was perfect on PATs and went 21 of 26 on field goal attempts with nine coming from beyond 40 yards. Punter Jake Bailey averaged 45.4 yards per punt with a net of 41.0. As a kickoff specialist, 70% of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Oregon lost big to Washington, Washington State, and Stanford last year, so the Ducks are not yet back to where they were under Chip Kelly and the beginning of the Mark Helfrich era. The Ducks have a chance to take a leap forward with a lot of talented and experienced players returning, but at the start of 2018, they are behind their two divisional rivals and having to fight off a challenge from the Golden Bears to their south. An inconsistent offense should be a tad more consistent this year, while the somewhat porous defense should improve with the return of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt bringing his aggressive style back to Eugene.

Quarterback Justin Herbert didn’t officially qualify due to not meeting the minimum number of pass attempts, but had he qualified, he would have led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency last year. Herbert averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt with a 15/5 TD/Int ratio. His running ability is not on par with Marcus Mariota, but he’s the next best thing to hit Autzen Stadium since the former Heisman Trophy winner matriculated to the NFL.

Tony Brooks-James tries to replace Royce Freeman after Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Brooks-James has six career 100-yard rushing games, including two in the Pac-12 last year. A competent but not spectacular offensive line should allow Brooks-James to top 1,000 rushing yards if he stays healthy.

The one questionable unit on the attack side is the receiving corps. Dillon Mitchell is the closest thing to a star in this unit, and he led the Ducks with 42 receptions and 517 yards. Tight end Jacon Breeland is the go to receiver in the red zone. He led the Ducks with 5 TD receptions in 2017.

The defense should put up better numbers in 2018 than it did in 2017, when the Ducks surrendered 29 points and 369 yards per game. Up front, tackle Jordan Scott and end Jalen Jelks are excellent run-stuffers. Jelks can also introduce an enemy quarterback to the turf, as he led Oregon with 7 sacks. He can also drop off in pass coverage and defend the short flat and hook zones.

Linebacker Troy Dye is the top star on the stop side. Dye recorded 107 tackles with 14 for loss, but he may be more remembered for scooping up a Boise State Statue of Liberty Play fumble in the Las Vegas Bowl and returning it for a touchdown.

The Duck defensive backfield is a question mark, but safety Ugo Amadi returns after intercepting four passes last year. Oregon gave up 241 passing yards per game, and the pass rush must be better this year for this less experienced secondary to bring that number down.

Oregon’s non-conference schedule is quite weak, but it isn’t going to matter, because the Ducks are not going to be a playoff contender. The easy 3-0 start will allow the Ducks to enter conference play with confidence and momentum, and when Stanford invades Autzen Stadium in week four, Oregon should be primed for an upset bid. Oregon also hosts Washington, but road games with California, Washington State, Arizona, and Utah could be challenging.

California just missed bowl eligibility last year, with close losses to Stanford and UCLA at the end putting an end to a season that began on a bright note with a 3-0 start that included victories over North Carolina and Ole Miss. This year, the Bears could start 3-0 again, but with the experience returning to Berkeley, the students might be hugging them rather than the trees around the stadium. Cal is a dark horse contender in the North this year, and second year coach Justin Wilcox’s troops should return to a bowl game.

The Bear offense is poised to take a considerable leap forward with the return of 10 starters and many key backups. Quarterback Ross Bowers may not remind any Cal fans of Aaron Rodgers, but he has improved enough as a rising junior to have fought off a competition with former South Carolina starter Brandon McIlwain. Bowers has two very talented and experienced receivers; Vic Wharton and Kanawai Noa teamed up for 123 receptions and 1,659 yards last year. True freshman Nikko Remigio will get an opportunity to show off his afterburners and could find his way into the mix this year.

Defensively is where we expect Cal to make the most improvement. The Bears were almost like a skeleton defense giving token pressure against quarterbacks last year, but most of the pass defenders are back with more experience and improved skills. Last year’s numbers were actually an improvement over 2016, when they chopped two touchdowns off their averages. We’re not talking Washington’s defense, but Cal could trim three points and 30 yards off their 2017 numbers this year and pick up the extra wins they need to play again in December.

Some of our subscribers when they first joined the PiRate Ratings, believed that our name derived from our support of Mike Leach, the Pirate. If you notice, we are “PiRate Ratings” and not “Pirate Ratings,” as we used to actually be the “Pi-Rate Ratings” in a prior medium. It has nothing to do with Leach or East Carolina for that matter. When you think of Coach Leach, you think of a wide open passing attack and a lot of interesting midweek press conferences. It took him a couple years, but he has made Washington State football exciting and somewhat successful again.

This year, the Cougars will take a step backward and be hard-pressed to finish above .500 overall. WSU must rebuild on the attack side, as they must replace Quarterback Luke Falk (3,593 passing yards and 30 touchdowns), three key receivers, the top running back, and three offensive line starters. Fret not for the Cougars; they will move the ball and score points like always, but they won’t be as consistent as they have been the last two seasons.

Replacing the school’s all-time leading passer is the top priority, and Washington State will most likely turn to graduate transfer Gardner Minshew to run the offense. At East Carolina, a school that runs the same offense, Minshew completed 57% of his passes for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. In November, Minshew got a chance to hum the ball all over the field, as in those four games, he averaged 34 completions and 372 passing yards.

There are still some fine receivers on the roster, including running back James Williams, who led the team with 71 catches and Tay Martin, the game-breaker who turned six of his 31 catches into scores as a freshman in 2017.

The running attack officially averaged just 68 yards per game and 2.9 yards per rush. However, these stats are misleading. Take out the quarterback sacks. These are not running plays. They are passing plays that failed. The rest of the running plays showed WSU averaged 4.6 yards per real running attempt. Thus, the loss of Jamal Morrow, and his 522 yard rushing and 506 yards receiving will be felt more than expected.

If WSU is to make their third consecutive bowl appearance, the defense will have to step up and continue to come up with outstanding performances. Last year, the stop troops held Oregon to 10 points, Stanford to 21, and Utah to 25. Overall, the Cougars gave up 25.8 points and 323 yards per game. Most of the back eight players return, but the defensive front needs remodeling. Strong safety Jalen Thompson led the team in tackles and in interceptions, and he could vie for first team All Pac-12 honors this year.

Washington State may have some issues in their kicking game. A steady kicker has yet to be uncovered, and the punting game will not be as strong as last year either.

Oregon State has a long way to go to become a contender again in the Pac-12 North. The Beavers went 1-11 last year with the lone win coming over Portland State; they trailed in that game with just over a minute remaining and were out-gained by 126 yards.

The Beavers welcome back native son Jonathan Smith as head coach (see new coaches section), and Smith hopes to install a lot of the Washington philosophy, where he served as offensive coordinator. Oregon State’s offense finished last in the league in scoring and total yards, so it is a long road to respectability. Smith will move away from the spread to the pro-style offense, and it will take two or three years to get enough players recruited to that offense to have a chance at contending in the division. Quarterback Jake Luton is coming back from a spine fracture, and it could take some time to get his timing back while trying to learn a new offense. The Beavers may actually regress from their 21 points and 334 yard averages of last year.

Oregon State gave up a league worst 43 points per game last year, with only two other teams nationally performing worse. At least the defense was balanced; the Beavers gave up 236 yards per game rushing and 237 yards per game passing. Many of the few Pac-12 caliber players graduated. The two best returning players are safeties Jalen Moore and David Morris, but it is never a great thing when your two safeties finish with the most tackles every week.

The South Division should be an interesting race, and because no team is considerably better than the others, it would not be surprising if the division champion had a 6-3 conference record. The PiRate Ratings work differently than most every other system, because in the preseason, we actually factor into each team’s ratings a unique adjustment constant based on the quality of their depth and other intangibles like having to adjust to something new. We bring this up, because the team with the fifth best preseason PiRate Rating could be the team with the best PiRate Rating in late November due to the learning curve and forward improvement expected. Read on, and you will see what we mean.

USC begins the season ranked at the top of this division’s PiRate Ratings. The Trojans won a lot of close games with arguably the best quarterback in the nation last year in Sam Darnold. It is a strong possibility that the starting quarterback when USC takes the field against UNLV will be someone that in his last real game, passed for 233 yards playing for Mater Dei High School against De Lasalle in the CIF State Championship Game. J.T. Daniels may be the next great quarterback in USC history, but as a true freshman, he will be quite a drop off from the next Joe Namath in New York Jets’ history. Expect the Trojans to take some lumps against strong defensive teams, but expect Daniels to make some eye-popping plays with his arm and legs, because USC’s offense is strongest in its offensive line.

Defensively, the Trojans should be about on par with last year if not a little better, when they gave up 26 points and 396 yards per game. The Trojans are one of a handful of teams that use the new 2-4-5 defense, a variation of the popular 4-2-5 but with more agile outside linebackers playing on the edges. USC can excel with this package, because they have a stable full of talented linebackers. Cameron Smith finished second in the league with 112 total tackles, 11 of which went for lost yardage. Fellow inside linebacker John Houston added 84 tackles and broke up four passes.

The key to whether the pass defense will thrive is the pass rush, and the Trojans have to replace their two sackmeisters from last year. Rasheem Green was a third round pick of the Seahawks, and Uchenna Nwosu was a second round pick of the Chargers. All hopes rest on another great year from end Christian Rector, who made 7 1/2 sacks as a part-time starter.

The back line of defense returns four of five starters from last year plus the top reserve, and the Trojans should have their share of interceptions and deflected passes like last year. Cornerback Iman Marshall had 10 passes broken up, and his opposite side partner Jalen Jones had four interceptions and seven passes broken up. Safety Marvell Tell intercepted three passes to go along with 85 tackles.

USC’s schedule presents numerous roadblocks, especially in the first month when Daniels will be trying to gain experience and confidence. Back-to-back road games against Stanford and Texas will be tough. The Trojans begin the season as the light favorite to win the South, but by October, they could be an also-ran if the offense doesn’t gel.

Utah was off to a 4-0 start last year when the wheels came off due to injuries and tougher opposition. At 4-4, a bowl bid was in serious jeopardy, but the Utes recovered to beat UCLA and Colorado to earn a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they topped West Virginia to clinch a winning record. Coach Kyle Whittingham has a fabulous freshman quarterback too, but his isn’t expected to start like at USC. Tyler Huntley returns as the starter after showing some decent dual-threat skills. Huntley missed some games with injuries last year, so true freshman Jack Tuttle could see serious action during the season. Tuttle was offered scholarships by SEC powers Alabama and LSU, so it figures that he will eventually be a force in the Pac-12.

To run the spread option, your running back has to be strong and agile, as he will receive a lot of punishment. The Utes have a fine bruiser in Zak Moss, who finished 2017 with 1,173 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Moss is powerful with a low center of gravity, and he can quickly make a cut for an extra five yards.

The offensive line is good but not great, while the receiving corps has room for improvement. Utah’s offense is not excellent like others in this league, because they have questions at wideout and at tight end. Siaosi Mariner is the lone player with significant starting experience, and he caught just 20 passes a year ago. He made the most of those 20 catches, averaging close to 20 yards per reception.

The reason why Utah is not expected to win the division is a defense that must reload up front and in the secondary. A lot of quality talent returns to the defensive side of the ball, but maybe not enough to sustain the excellent results produced last year. Up front, Bradely Anae led the Utes with 7 QB sacks from his end position. He’s the lone starter returning to the line of the 4-2-5 defense. Linebacker Chase Hansen is the lone returning starting linebacker. He made 51 tackles last year and was all over the field. Cornerback Julian Blackmon led the Utes with four interceptions, and opponents will likely pass away from his side of the field more and more this year.

Utah may have the nation’s top kicking tandem. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky has one Ray Guy Award trophy from 2016 and is a leading contender to get a second. Kicker Matt Gay won the Lou Groza Award trophy as the top kicker in the nation. Gay was a perfect 40 of 40 on extra points and made an incredible 30 of 34 field goals. Gay didn’t put up those gaudy numbers kicking chip shot field goals. He made eight from 50 yards or more, including two 56-yarders.

Arizona has the best overall quarterback in the Pac-12 in Khalil Tate. If you remove quarterback sacks, the junior phenom topped 1,500 yards rushing and passing last year. He did this despite missing two full games and parts of another. Tate won’t be running Rich Rodriguez’s zone read offense this year, as Rich Rod is not there any more. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense is more of a passing offense, and Tate will most likely fail to rush for 1,000 yards but could approach 3,000 passing yards. It is a gamble to deviate from an offense that led the league with 41.3 points and 490 yards per game.
In Tate’s favor, Arizona returns almost all of their contributing receivers including all four starters, a part-time starter and three of the four top reserves. Arizona should top 250 passing yards per game. Co-starter J.J. Taylor returns at running back after leading the non-Tate runners with 847 yards and a 5.8 yard average. The offensive line needs some repairs, but there was depth here last year, and this unit should perform more than adequately.

The Wildcat defense was almost as inept at the offense was brilliant. The Wildcats finished dead last in pass defense, so returning the secondary and linebacker corps in full may or may not be a great thing. The four starting defensive backs made a dozen interceptions, and the starting linebacker trio teamed up for 16 1/2 sacks and 232 total tackles. The defensive line is the major question mark here. After giving up 185 rushing yards last year, UA could see those numbers worsen in 2018.

If the offensive personnel buy into Sumlin’s offense, Arizona can contend for the South Division title. If they struggle, the Wildcats could fall to as low as 5th place in the division.

Arizona State Athletics Director Ray Anderson is playing Russian Roulette knowing that the first two pulls of the trigger didn’t have the live bullet. Hiring Herm Edwards as head coach will certainly get the Sun Devils a lot of publicity. When USC hired Pete Carroll, he came to Troy with 11 years of college coaching experience. When Penn State hired Bill O’Brien from the New England Patriots, he came to Happy Valley with 14 years of college coaching experience. Edwards has just three years of college coaching experience that happened 30 years ago. He hasn’t coached at all in 10 years. This gamble has little precedence where a coach came out of a double-digit year retirement to take over a team in the level that he lacked experience coaching. We can only come up with legendary Hall of Famer Bud Wilkinson, who came out of retirement to coach the St. Louis Cardinals in the NFL 15 years after retiring as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Wilkinson went 9-20 in 1 1/2 seasons before losing his job.

Edwards uses the Tommy Lasorda method of motivation, and maybe his younger players will buy into what his NFL players often did not. There is some talent in the fold, especially on offense where the Sun Devils averaged 32 points and 431 yards per game. Quarterback Manny Wilkins is not one of the top five passers in the league, but he is rather consistent. Except for the Utah game, his stats were generally about the same week in and week out. He has never had the same offensive coordinator in consecutive years, and this year is no different. The receiving tandem of N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams combined for 148 receptions and 1,905 receiving yards, but the depth is thin behind these two.

The Sun Devils are a bit thin in the backfield and must replace their top two backs, including 1,000-yard rusher Demario Richard and the big power runner, Kalen Ballage.
Edwards was a defensive star in the NFL, and he tends to coach in a style that helps his defense as much as possible. ASU’s defense will need all the help it can get this year with major losses up front in the trenches and at safety. The Sun Devils will switch to a 3-3-5 defense, and they will take their lumps learning this new system against the high octane offenses in the Pac-12. Cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams give ASU a pair of serviceable defenders to build around, but the talent level is not Pac-12 worthy at safety. Expect to see backup cornerback Jalen Harvey moving to safety to try to add a little more talent on the field.

At linebacker, Arizona State has little depth and even less experience. Koron Crump looked like a potential star last year until his season ended in after playing just three games. He was given an extra year of eligibility and should become the leader of the defense.

Edwards needs to win the locker room quickly this year, as the Sun Devils face a tough trio of opponents in September. After beginning with a semi-breather against UTSA, games against Michigan State, San Diego State, and Washington follow, the latter two being road games. If ASU can come out of this stretch at 2-2, they have a chance to sneak into a bowl at 6-6 or even 7-5. If they are 1-3, they could be headed in a downward spiral to 3-9.

Colorado is at a crossroads in the Mike MacIntyre tenure. The Buffaloes followed up a South Division title in 2016 with a slide back to 2-7 in league play last year. Facing a monumental rebuilding project on offense, things could get worse in Boulder before they get better. Football in the Pac-12 has never been what it was for CU when they were in the Big 12, Big 8, or even the old Skyline Conference. Colorado is not a great fit as the remote outpost to the east. The PiRate’s Captain used to attend games at Folsom Field and was on the CU sidelines the day the Buffaloes destroyed number one Nebraska 62-36 and start the beginning of the end of the Frank Solich era in Lincoln. The two former bitter rivals will finally play again this year when the Buffs visit Lincoln in September.

One of the few offensive holdover for CU is quarterback Steven Montez. When not rushed, Montez has loads of talent and natural ability, and he can pick a defense apart. When rushed and forced to think on the run, as Washington’s defense made him run all day, Montez seems to become the college version of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He must cut down on his mental lapses and throw the ball away or run and take a dive before contact for CU to move out of the basement in the Pac-12 South this year.

Running back Travon McMillian decided to become a one-year free agent after playing at Virginia Tech. McMillian rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman in Frank Beamer’s offense, but he did not flourish the last two years in the Justin Fuente offense in Blacksburg. McMillian could top 1,000 yards in Boulder, but he is a step down from last year’s star Phillip Lindsey.

The receiving corps is a mess after the loss of three high quality wideouts that all were signed as undrafted free agents by NFL teams. Jay MacIntyre and Juwann Winfree lead the returnees after catching 28 and 21 passes respectively. Winfree has the potential to be a star if another receiver can prevent him from being double-teamed.

The Buffalo defense took a step backward last year, giving up more than 28 points per game after surrendering only 21.7 the year before. They gave up 107 more total yards per game as well, as they could not stop dual threat quarterbacks and big running backs. The line and linebacking units are not up to par with the other South Division schools, and the secondary will break down if there is not a better than expected pass rush. Linebackers Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis return after finishing one-two in tackles, but too many of those tackles were made five yards and more past the line of scrimmage. They need nose tackle Javier Edwards to have a breakout season and keep blockers away from the duo. Expect four or five true freshmen to see significant action on this side of the ball.

Most of the Buffs’ winnable games occur in the first half of the season, and a 4-2 start is a must if they are to have any chance of sneaking into a bowl. They will need to find two or three upset victims in the second half to play again in December, and we cannot see a legitimate path there.

Now, for the biggest unknown of the college football season. UCLA won the race with Florida to secure Chip Kelly as their new head coach (see the new coaches section below). Kelly creates instant excitement in Westwood, where the NFL’s Rams and Chargers look to both make a playoff run this year. Kelly may not have the same amount of quickness his Oregon teams had, but he will welcome some extra muscle with the Bruins in 2018.

In order to make the spread offense with the zone read work, you have to have a smart quarterback with deceptive running ability or outright sprinter’s speed. Two of the three contenders to replace Josh Rosen at quarterback have the dual-threat talent Kelly is looking for, but he also has an experienced starter from the Big Ten on board for a year, who happens to be more of a pure dropback passer. Wilton Speight started 16 times for Michigan in 2016 and 2017. His best games came in 2016, but he has played against the likes of Florida, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State with decent results. The quarterback race may not be settled until the Bruins begin preparing for Cincinnati in late August. Whoever eventually wins the job should get better as the season progresses, because Kelly’s offense needs a good number of snaps to fully grasp how to make it dangerous. Kelly has mentioned that he doesn’t want a running back that cannot throw for his quarterback, so Speight might have a slight advantage over Devon Modster and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but DTR has the potential to be another Marcus Mariota.

The Bruins will most likely use Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfumi interchangeably at the running back position. Jamabo will probably get the edge to start due to his ability to hit the wide holes of the read option quicker, but Olorunfumi might get more opportunities near the goalline with his straight ahead power.

Whoever wins the QB battle will have a huge target to find in the seams in tight ends Caleb Wilson and Devin Asiasi. Asiasi has some decent moves for a 287-pound monster. Enemy safeties will not like having to stop him mano a mano. Theo Howard is the top wideout on this team, and he could emerge as a 70-catch, 750-yard star if Speight wins the quarterback battle.

The offensive line may not have as many stars as some of the other contenders, but Kelly’s offense makes it easier to succeed with slightly better than average blocking. The Bruins may start off a bit slow as they get used to running the offense against live opponents, but by mid-October, they should be starting to look like a typical Kelly team, if there is such a thing. Kelly has been known to run the ball over 60 times in a game and pass the ball more than 60 times the next game, as he did at New Hampshire in back-to-back wins.

The Bruin defense figures to be improved over last year, and the amount of improvement will determine whether they can make a run to bowl eligibility. The farther back you go on this side, the more talented the units are. Defensive line will be a glaring weakness and the only reason why UCLA will not challenge for the division flag this year. How bad was the run defense last year? How about dead last in the entire FBS with an average yield of 287 yards per game! This was without playing a service academy or Georgia Tech that could have inflated the number. The Bruins gave up 457 yards on the ground in an 47-30 loss to Arizona; 405 rushing yards to Stanford in a 58-34 loss; and more than 300 yards in three other games.

The Bruins will transition to a 3-4 defense, and linebacker Jaelan Phillips should get a chance to live up to his press clippings coming out of high school. Phillips recorded 3 1/2 sacks and 7 total tackles for loss as a freshmen in limited action last year, and he could double those numbers this season. Nate Meadors anchors the back line after having 9 passes defended, including a pick 6 against Arizona State. Fellow cornerback Darnay Holmes led the Bruins as a freshman with 3 picks, one of which he took back all the way against Hawaii.

We want to make sure you understand this point. Our mechanical PiRate Ratings below will paint the worst possible picture on UCLA, and this does not actually reflect the expected improvement throughout the season as UCLA gets more and more familiar with the Kelly offense. We expect the Bruins to challenge for a bowl bid this year, and by November, nobody will want to face this team.
Here is how the Big 12 Conference Media voted in the preseason poll

Pac-12
North Division 1st Place Points
1. Washington 40 249
2. Stanford 1 198
3. Oregon 1 178
4. California 0 108
5. Washington St. 0 98
6. Oregon St. 0 45
South Division 1st Place Points
1. USC 22 225
2. Utah 14 209
3. Arizona 3 178
4. UCLA 2 116
5. Colorado 1 80
6. Arizona St. 0 72
Pac-12 Championship Game Winner
Washington 37
USC 2
Oregon 1
Stanford 1
UCLA 1

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat, and as we have mentioned, we expect considerable movement in these ratings, especially in the wide-open South Division.

Pac-12 Conference
North Division
Team P12 Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Washington 0-0 0-0 128.1 125.0 130.7 127.9
Stanford 0-0 0-0 120.3 117.5 121.0 119.6
Oregon 0-0 0-0 114.4 114.5 115.1 114.7
California 0-0 0-0 110.3 107.5 110.1 109.3
Washington St. 0-0 0-0 107.0 105.8 105.4 106.1
Oregon St. 0-0 0-0 88.5 86.0 86.9 87.1
South Division
Team P12 Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
U S C 0-0 0-0 112.5 110.7 111.8 111.7
Utah 0-0 0-0 111.0 109.0 111.9 110.7
Arizona 0-0 0-0 109.9 107.6 110.0 109.1
Arizona St. 0-0 0-0 105.4 103.3 103.8 104.2
U C L A 0-0 0-0 102.5 102.2 100.0 101.5
Colorado 0-0 0-0 98.9 100.4 100.1 99.8
Pac-12 Averages 109.1 107.4 108.9 108.5

New Coaches
The Pac-12 tends to have a lot of coaching turnover, and this year is no different. The only difference this year, is that the coaching changes made more headlines than normal.

Oregon didn’t hold onto Willie Taggart very long. Taggart returned to the Sunshine State. Former Sunshine State coach Mario Cristobal, returns to the head coaching ranks after serving as an associate head coach at Alabama for four seasons ans offensive coordinator here last year. Known as an excellent recruiter, Cristobal should continue the winning tradition in Eugene.

Just up the road an hour, Oregon State hired Jonathan Smith to try to pull the Beavers out of the nosedive that has given them sole position in the basement. Smith was offensive coordinator at Washington the last four years, but more importantly, he is one of the all-time favorite Beavers. As quarterback at OSU, he guided the Beavers to their best ever season in 2000, when they went 11-1 with a win in the Fiesta Bowl.

All the controversy took place in the Grand Canyon State. Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez amid allegations of harassment by a former administrative staffer, but probably more because the Wildacts were not competing for the division title. The Wildcats turned to Kevin Sumlin, who Texas A&M has just fired for leading the Aggies to multi-year mediocre and unacceptable finishes (four consecutive 5-loss seasons).

Arizona State made the most controversial coaching hire this century. The Sun Devils let go of Todd Graham after he guided ASU to a second place finish in the South Division. Graham had one first place and three second place finishes in six years in Tempe, but that was not good enough to keep the job. So, who did the Sun Devils go out and hire to take them to new heights? Former NFL coach and ESPN commentator Herm Edwards. Edwards last coached in 2008, when he guided the Kansas City Chiefs to a 2-14 record following a 4-12 season in 2017. He has very limited college coaching experience, having served as the defensive backfield coach at San Jose State the first three years following his retirement as a player in the NFL. He does have the unique distinction of having a play named for him. The end of game play with the quarterback taking a knee out of the victory formation is called the Herm Edwards Play, due to the Miracle in the Meadowlands in 1978, where instead of falling on the ball, New York Giants QB Joe Pisarcik tried to hand off to Larry Csonka. The snap was bobbled, Pisarcik missed the hand-off and fumbled, and Edwards scooped it up and ran for a touchdown to win the game.

And, then there is the most talked-about coaching change. Chip Kelly returns to the college ranks after trying his hand in the NFL. He takes over at UCLA, after Jim Mora, Jr., like his father, couldn’t talk about playoffs. UCLA figures to have an adjustment period early, but as the season goes on, and the players get some game-time experience, expect the Bruins to improve by 10-13 points.

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. In the case of UCLA, if they played any of the 12 games on their schedule next week, they might win just one as the predictions will show. But, if they were to play any of the 12 games on their schedule on November 24, they might win 10.

Pac-12 Conference
North
Team Conference Overall
Washington 9-0 13-0*
Stanford 8-1 10-2
Oregon 7-2 10-2
California 4-5 7-5
Washington St. 3-6 6-6
Oregon St. 0-9 1-11
South
Team Conference Overall
Utah 6-3 9-4
USC 6-3 7-5
Arizona 5-4 8-4
Arizona St. 3-6 5-7
Colorado 2-7 4-8
UCLA 0-9 1-11
* Washington picked to win Pac-12 Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA
2. Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX
3. Holiday Bowl in San Diego, CA
4. San Francisco Bowl in San Francisco, CA
5. Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX
6. Las Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas, NV
7. Cactus Bowl in Tucson, AZ

Coming Tomorrow–The Big Ten Conference

September 13, 2016

NFL Ratings And Spreads For Week 2: September 15-19,2016

Few Surprises In Week One

As NFL seasons go, week one was a rather tame beginning to the new season.  Because nothing is ever certain, there were a couple of eye-openers, but overall when compared to years past, this was a so-so beginning to the year.

The biggest news to come out of Week One was the across the board drop in TV ratings.  According to reports in Forbes Magazine, Thursday night’s Broncos-Panthers game on NBC was off 8%.  The Sunday afternoon games saw a ratings drop of 13%, and the Sunday night game was off 18% in the most important age group of 18-49 year olds.  We won’t pretend to have the answers, but we have heard many opinions about this today including:

  1. Protests of the National Anthem
  2. Americans have given up cable and satellite dish subscriptions in record numbers
  3. The 2016 Presidential Election is more entertaining to follow
  4. Americans are souring on the concussion issue
  5. The game has become a one-dimensional game where all 32 teams play the same way

Or, it could just be that this past weekend was a really nice one to be outside enjoying nature, shopping malls, visiting relatives, or anything else.  Maybe, the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers are contending for the Major League Playoffs in September, and more sports fans in the three largest markets were watching baseball.  The Cubs and Jake Arrieta were on ESPN Sunday night.

We’ll see if the ratings return to normalcy in Week Two.  There are some really interesting contests this week, so let’s take a look at a reason to watch if you can get these games.

Jets at Bills

One of these teams is going to be 0-2, facing a mountain to conquer to get into the playoffs.  The odds for finishing 9-7 or better after an 0-2 start since 2000 is something like 5-7%, and when you consider that the Patriots are going to win double digit games, we are talking about a Wildcard prospect.  The loser of this game can almost count itself out in the 2016 playoff race rather quickly, as both teams must still play New England twice.  If Buffalo loses, the Ryan brothers may wish to try going over Niagara Falls in a barrel made for two.

 

49ers at Panthers

The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against San Francisco this week.  They played a late Monday night game, while Carolina played last Thursday night.  They must travel all the way across the country to face a mad Panthers’ team that felt like they blew their opener on the road.  Carolina is a good touchdown better at home than they are on the road, while San Francisco is young and still learning Chip Kelly’s philosophy on the fly.  If the 49ers can pull off a monumental upset, or even if they continue to play top notch defense and lose a close game, the folks in Phoenix and Seattle will certainly take notice, and the folks in the Bay Area will become fanatical once again.  If Carolina loses, then the South race becomes wide open.

 

Titans at Lions

The way the Lions came back in the closing seconds to top the Colts further reinforces our preseason beliefs that this team is capable of challenging for a playoff spot.  Detroit has the easiest path to a 2-0 record as the Titans continue to bring up the rear in the NFL.  Their archaic offensive playing style does not win in the NFL in the 21st Century, as football metrics show the teams that pass the ball and defend the pass the best are the teams that win big.  Running games may look like the way to go, but in most instances, rushing statistics are inflated by teams running the ball to eat the clock once their passing game and pass defense has secured a winnable lead.  The Titans have issues against the pass as well, while Detroit can put up 300 passing yards against almost any team. Expect a lopsided win for the home team in Motown.

 

Chiefs at Texans

One of these two teams will be 2-0 on Sunday, but 2-0 teams are not as sure of a lock at making the playoffs than 0-2 teams are at not making it.  Still, 2-0 teams make the playoffs more than 60% of the time.  Houston might have closer to an 80% chance of making the playoffs if the Texans win this game and the Colts lose.  They could conceivably start the year with a two-game cushion on the entire division.  Kansas City eeked out an overtime comeback win in week one, and the Chiefs have been a slow-starter in recent years.  Should KC win this game, then watch out AFC fans–if the road to the Super Bowl runs through Arrowhead Stadium, the home field advantage in Kansas City in January is about as strong as the home field advantage at Bryant Denny Stadium in November.

 

Saints at Giants

Sean Payton’s magic may be going the way of former Giants head man Tom Coughlin.  The Saints can still move the ball and score points, but their defense has never been the same since Bountygate.  As long as Eli Manning has Odell Beckham, and now he has Victor Cruz, the Giants can put points on the board with anybody.  Because the Giants also have a halfway decent defense, a win this week makes the NFC East look very winnable.  The Saints need to win to keep even with Carolina and to possibly stay within a game of the surprising Bucs.

 

Bengals at Steelers

This may be the most important rivalry game between these teams since Terry Bradshaw and Ken Anderson faced off against each other back in the 1970’s, and Paul Brown played human chess against Chuck Noll.  Quite frankly, these two teams could be contending for the top won-loss record in the AFC, and the fans of both teams understand how a rivalry should be played.

 

Buccaneers at Cardinals

Cardinals’ GM Steve Keim was fully in his rights to lash out against the poor performance of his team Sunday night, but doing it in such a public manner might prove to be counterproductive in the 21st Century.  This isn’t 1978 when George Steinbrenner’s media monologues could light a fire under his team.  What’s Keim going to do next–fire Bruce Arians?  Who would be his Bob Lemon?  Tampa Bay meanwhile looked like a solid team in an opener against Atlanta.  The game should be interesting even if the extracurricular activities have no effect at all.

 

Seahawks at Rams

Los Angeles is not that inept; last night’s debacle cannot be the norm for the Rams.  Or could it?  We’re talking about a team of nomads with no real home just yet.  They have had to sojourn all over the LA area this summer, and they looked like a team that had been wandering in the desert for 40 years with no help from the Great Master.  Jeff Fisher is not Moses.  Pete Carroll was once treated like Moses in this town, and he will return to play a game in the great coliseum where he led the USC Trojans to victory almost every time in that venue.  This will be the first NFL regular season game in the LA Coliseum since December of 1979.  There’s even been a Dodgers game in this facility since the Rams last played here.

 

Falcons at Raiders

When is the last time Oakland began the year 2-0?  It was 2002, when the Raiders last played in the Super Bowl.  This is a team that is riding sky high after coming from behind to win in New Orleans Sunday afternoon.  Coach Jack Del Rio showed confidence in his team by going for two to either win or lose the game rather than take the almost automatic tie and go to overtime.  When Oakland converted, it boosted the morale and confidence in the Silver and Black.  It was probably worth an extra 3 to 5 points to their team for the near future.  Meanwhile, the Falcons began the season with the same belief, but that enthusiasm and confidence crash and burned after losing to Tampa Bay.  This could be another 0-2 team already looking at 2017 rather than 2016 if Atlanta loses this week.

 

Packers at Vikings

What better way to end Sunday night than to watch the great white north rivalry?  Unless your name is Ole, Lena, or Sven, you may not realize how great a rivalry this is.  Even when one team is down and the other is strong, this game tends to be quite worthwhile to view.  Because both teams currently are rather strong, this becomes the top game of the night, or maybe the co-top game with the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game.  This year, this game takes on more importance, because most likely the Lions will already be 2-0 when the rivals kick off.

 

Here are this week’s NFL PiRate Ratings

Current NFL PiRate Ratings
A F C
East PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
N. Y. Jets 103.5 101.1 104.7 103.1 61 42
New England 102.0 99.4 102.5 101.3 61 40
Buffalo 98.9 99.9 99.0 99.3 58 41
Miami 95.9 97.2 95.8 96.3 58 38
             
North PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Cincinnati 107.5 106.8 108.4 107.6 65 43
Pittsburgh 105.2 104.9 106.5 105.5 65 41
Baltimore 98.9 101.1 98.6 99.5 62 38
Cleveland 90.7 91.7 90.1 90.8 58 33
             
South PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Houston 101.1 102.6 101.1 101.6 64 38
Indianapolis 97.3 99.4 96.1 97.6 62 36
Jacksonville 97.2 98.9 96.5 97.5 59 39
Tennessee 92.2 94.4 91.6 92.7 54 39
             
West PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Denver 105.9 102.3 106.1 104.7 62 43
Kansas City 102.2 101.6 103.2 102.3 63 39
Oakland 98.9 99.5 99.0 99.1 63 36
San Diego 97.8 98.9 97.6 98.1 63 35
             
N F C
East PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Washington 98.5 99.3 98.3 98.7 61 38
N.Y. Giants 98.6 97.7 98.3 98.2 62 36
Philadelphia 99.4 96.3 98.7 98.1 61 37
Dallas 93.1 93.4 92.5 93.0 54 39
             
North PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Green Bay 104.7 104.0 104.7 104.5 65 40
Minnesota 102.6 101.6 103.1 102.4 60 42
Detroit 100.9 100.5 100.6 100.7 64 37
Chicago 97.0 95.0 96.8 96.3 56 40
             
South PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Carolina 109.2 107.9 110.2 109.1 65 44
New Orleans 99.2 101.8 98.5 99.8 64 36
Tampa Bay 97.5 98.7 96.6 97.6 60 38
Atlanta 95.4 98.4 95.1 96.3 61 35
             
West PiRate Mean Bias Avg Off Def
Arizona 108.4 105.6 109.4 107.8 68 40
Seattle 108.1 104.7 109.1 107.3 64 43
Los Angeles 96.5 98.3 95.7 96.9 56 41
San Francisco 95.8 97.1 95.8 96.2 56 40

Here are this week’s spreads

Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias Score
Buffalo New York Jets -2.6 0.8 -3.7 17-19
Carolina San Francisco 17.4 14.8 18.4 27-10
Cleveland Baltimore -5.7 -6.9 -6.0 21-27
Detroit Tennessee 11.7 9.1 12.0 28-17
Houston Kansas City 1.9 4.0 0.9 27-24
New England Miami 9.1 5.2 9.7 24-16
New York Giants New Orleans 2.4 -1.1 2.8 28-27
Pittsburgh Cincinnati 0.2 0.6 0.6 24-23
Washington Dallas 8.4 8.9 8.8 23-14
Arizona Tampa Bay 13.9 9.9 15.8 33-20
Los Angeles Seattle -8.1 -2.9 -9.9 13-20
Denver Indianapolis 11.6 5.9 13.0 27-17
Oakland Atlanta 6.5 4.1 6.9 30-24
San Diego Jacksonville 3.6 3.0 4.1 27-24
Minnesota Green Bay -0.1 -0.4 0.4 22-23
Chicago Philadelphia 0.1 1.2 0.6 21-20

 

 

 

 

September 8, 2016

PiRate Ratings Money Line Parlay Picks–September 8-12, 2016

Did you heed our biggest piece of advice given here last week? If so, then you were smart and lost none of your hard-earned money by following our selections. Our two picks both lost in the opening week. Army did not upset Temple. The Black Knights won impressively enough to prove that their win was no fluke. It wasn’t Davis and Blanchard running over opponents, but this has the look of a bowl-bound team. The Cadets entertain Rice at Michie Stadium this week, and chances for a 2-0 start are strong.

The other loss came about when LSU got Lambeau Leapt by Wisconsin. One late fumble sent our mythological winning week down the tubes.

We start out the season down 200 imaginary dollars in our fake bankroll.

Oh well, a new week brings new fun only picks, and with the NFL season beginning in a matter of hours from the time this is written, we have more opportunities to wager our fake bankroll. These days, a fake bankroll is what so many of us tend to have.

We are going with five parlay picks this week, two with college games, and three with NFL games. Usually, we like to be overly conservative at the start of the NFL season, because there is enough parity that a 4-12 team from the year before could become a playoff team this year, while a playoff team last year could swoon to 4-12 this year. However, we are going with three NFL parlays because we were able to get better than even money odds by parlaying just two teams in each selection.

Our two college parlays both contain rivalry games within each selection. It is not the norm for rivals to play so soon in the season, but it happens when said rivals are not members of the same conference. Thus, in week two, New Mexico plays New Mexico State, and Iowa plays Iowa State. We believe these are almost free games, as the favorites are overwhelmingly superior to their rival. Of course, this can bite us on the fanny, because weaker rivals can play well over their heads, especially early in the year before injury and other attrition has decimated their already thin-talented rosters.

There is also an issue with taking a slow-starting team against a quick-starting team, because sometimes, the quick-starting underdog might score so many points early that the slow-starting favorite cannot come back from the deficit. However, we are still going with two slow-starting Sunshine State schools. South Florida, and their smashmouth style of play, hosts Northern Illinois, and the Bulls were a bit sluggish on the defensive side in their season opening win over FCS member Towson State. However, NIU lost at Wyoming last week, and USF is considerably more talented than the Cowboys. Also, playing in muggy Tampa might give the Bulls an extra couple points of home field advantage.

Florida has not been the offensive juggernaut under Coach Jim McElwain that they were under Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer, but the Gators won the SEC East Division by taking care of business with strong defense. The Gators gave up just 73 points in their seven SEC wins last year. Meanwhile, Kentucky scored 35 points quickly against Southern Miss last week, before watching like a deer in the headlights as the Eagles stormed back and scored on the porous Wildcat defense like it was just a skeleton unit. We believe the Gators will win this game by 7-17 points, as McElwain knows that he only needs his offense to play it safe and avoid turnovers, while the defense and special teams sets up the offense for low-risk scoring drives.

Now to the NFL. We begin tonight by taking the Super Bowl loser from last year. You no doubt are familiar with the recent trend of Super Bowl losers performing considerably worse the following year. However, this on the surface looks like a gift tonight. Both teams lost some key talent since the last time they played, but Denver clearly lost more. Even though Peyton Manning was like Babe Ruth with the Boston Braves in 1935, the Broncos will have a totally untested quarterback and rookie backup trying to face the NFC’s best defense. Peyton might have guided Denver to 17 points. Trevor and/or Paxton will be lucky to score 17 and might give the Panthers a score with costly mistakes. Also, we have seen Wade Phillips’ defenses regress the year after they dominate, and we feel that Cam Newton is going to play this game like it is the Super Bowl again. We believe Carolina wins an ugly game tonight.

Miami could be a surprise team this year, but they still have a lot to prove. New Coach Adam Gase is already considered to be the top new coach in the league, and he has been tagged as a potential superstar in the business. However, even superstar coaches must have decent talent to succeed, and the Dolphins still have a lot of questions. Having to travel as far away as they can without playing at a neutral site, and having that game come against the team with the best home field advantage in the NFL makes us believe that Seattle is a gift choice. Of course, we could be wrong, but when there are just 16 NFL games, you have to isolate the couple that look the most promising and offer a good rate of return on your investment, even if said investment is as real as the Man in the Moon.

The second game of the Monday Night doubleheader looks to us to be a gift as well, but what do we know? The Los Angeles Rams (doesn’t that sound so wonderful again) go up the coast to take on their former and future arch-rival San Francisco 49ers, and the 49ers look like a train wreck. However, Chip Kelly can coach offense, and Jeff Fisher-coached teams have a history of starting out slow. In this game featuring recycled quarterbacks, we believe that Case Keenum has more weapons at his disposal than Blaine Gabbert, and the Rams’ defense is worth an extra touchdown saved over the 49ers’ defense, so in our possibly deluded mind, we think the Rams at low odds offer us an excellent base for a parlay.

Now to the turnaround game in our minds. We think that Baltimore is ready to rebound to at least a better than mediocre season, while Buffalo takes a small step backward this year. The Ravens have enough offense to score on Rob Ryan’s defense, while brother Rex’s offense does not offer very much.

Once again, when you see the odds, you will notice that all 5 games present better than even money.

When you see that money line at +X, add $100 to the X, and this would show you how much money you would receive if the parlay wins, and you invested $100, because when you win, you get back your initial investment plus your winnings, just like with paramutuel wagering at the horse track.

For instance, if you play a money line game or money line parlay at +120, and you invest $100 in this selection, if you win, you will receive $220 ($120 profit plus your $100 investment). If you lose, you are out your $100 investment.

Here are our parlays for the week.

#1–College Parlay at +118
Navy over Connecticut
New Mexico over New Mexico State
Florida over Kentucky

#2–College Parlay at +134
Duke over Wake Forest
Louisville over Syracuse
South Florida over Northern Illinois
Iowa over Iowa State

#3–NFL Parlay at +106
Los Angeles Rams over San Francisco
Seattle over Miami

#4–NFL Parlay at +121
Carolina over Denver
Kansas City over San Diego

#5–NFL Parlay at +131
Baltimore over Buffalo
Green Bay over Jacksonville

October 15, 2013

PiRate Ratings: NFL–Week 7, October 17-21, 2013

Implications Of This Week’s Games

Upon closer examination of this week’s NFL schedule, several interesting tidbits can be discussed.  Here is a sampling from the SS Buckaroo, o.k.a. PiRate Headquarters.

 

Seattle at Arizona

Arizona needs to come up with a Thursday night upset to stay in the NFC West and Wildcard races.  Where 7-9 won this division just a few years back, 8-8 could be the worst record in the division this year.

 

Seattle has a tricky two-game intradivisional road swing with games spaced 11 days apart.  They face the Rams in St. Louis on Monday night the following week.  Meanwhile, the rival 49ers have two very winnable games against AFC South opponents.

 

Tampa Bay at Atlanta

The Falcons still have a tiny bit of light left in their tunnel.  It is highly improbable that they can recover and make the playoffs, but it has happened before.  The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers appeared dead in the water after five games into a then 14-game schedule.  At 1-4, the defending Super Bowl Champion appeared to be out of the playoff race.  They had just lost to the 1-3 Browns to slip into last place, three games behind two rivals.  Cincinnati and  Houston were both hot at 4-1, with the Oilers’ only loss coming by a point against Oakland (The Raiders would go 13-1 and win the Super Bowl).

 

Pittsburgh looked like the best NFL team ever in the final nine weeks of the season, winning all nine with a defense that looked like it had 15 men on the field.  They shut out five of the nine opponents and gave up a grand total of 28 points while scoring 234 (26-3 average).  Meanwhile, Houston folded losing seven games in a row, while Cincinnati lost twice to the Steelers and finished 10-4.  Pittsburgh won the division, while the Bengals missed out on the wildcard to New England by a game.

 

The Falcons have the talent to win nine games in a row, but we don’t really see history repeating itself.  9-2 is a bit more probable, and that is what Atlanta must do to get into the playoffs.  This game then becomes a definite must-win.

 

Cincinnati at Detroit

This can be called the Contender Bowl.  The winner will move to 5-2 and be in excellent shape to make the playoffs at the least as a wildcard.  The Bengals have a little more room for error, and a loss knocking them to 4-3 won’t hurt as much as it would for the Lions.  Detroit could become a Super Bowl Sleeper with an impressive showing.  The parts are there to excel on both sides of the ball.

 

Houston at Kansas City

The Texans can still turn their season around.  Nobody is going to run away and hide in this rather weak division.  A fifth consecutive loss could send fans to Gary Kubiak’s house, but this is a very tough time for the Texans to right their ship.  Kansas City’s defense is number one in the league, and their offense has done just enough to win games.  A Chief win would give the team close to a 90% chance of making the playoffs.  The second place teams in the other three divisions figure to struggle to finish better than 9-7, so at 7-0, the chances of finishing 3-6 would be quite high.  Of course, KC wants home field advantage, and a 13-3 or 14-2 record is possible.  We pity the poor team that has to come into the decibel domicile in January.

 

Buffalo at Miami

This game is more about proving the Dolphins belong in the playoff hunt, because Buffalo is a nice team going nowhere.  This is a game Miami should win by double digit points with an extra week to prepare while the Bills had to play a tough overtime game.

 

New England at N. Y. Jets

This game is the first repeat game of the year, as the Patriots bested the Jets on Thursday night in week two.  It was not pretty, and it took three Geno Smith interceptions to finally secure the game for the home-standing Pats.

 

This is a must-win game for New York if they are to have relevance this season.  At 4-3, they would be just a game behind New England.  At 3-4, the Rex Ryan watch can begin.  These are the games Ryan’s teams play their best.  This should be an interesting one to watch.

 

Dallas at Philadelphia

First place is up for grabs, and these are the two teams left in this race, as the Giants and Redskins have had forks stuck in them.  This game should be more like a Baylor-Oklahoma St. college game.  If you liked the Dallas-Denver game two weeks ago, this one should tickle your fancy.  On paper, Dallas appears to be the better team, but the Cowboys have to prove they can play with more consistency.  Don’t count out Chip Kelly to have some new wrinkle that Dallas is not expecting, even the great Monte Kiffin.

 

Chicago at Washington

They are the Deadskins once again in DC.  This team is headed nowhere fast, just hoping to finish ahead of the Giants.

 

As for Chicago, in the black and blue division, every game is vital.  10-6 could send some team home in January one game shy of the playoffs.  In essence, Chicago must win this game; they will more than likely not recover from 4-3 and pass Green Bay or Detroit.  Since it is almost a metaphysical certitude that two NFC West teams will make the playoffs, it stands to reason that just two NFC North teams will make the playoffs.  Losers to the Deadskins are not likely to be one of those two teams.

 

St. Louis at Carolina

A couple weeks ago, this game figured to offer no real reason to follow if you were not a Rams’ or Panthers’ fan.  Now, it actually can be considered a playoff elimination game.  The winner will stay alive in the playoff race, while the loser has about a 2% chance of recovering to make the playoffs.  It should be an interesting game.  Can Carolina stop the Rams’ new-found running game?  Can St. Louis slow down Cam Newton?

 

San Diego at Jacksonville

It figures that at some point this year, the Jaguars will win one game.  The team they defeat will suffer more than just one loss; it could hit them like a torpedo.

 

San Diego picked up a big win on Monday night, but now they must travel 2,000 plus miles and three time zones to play an early Sunday game.  Jacksonville’s 19-point loss at Denver, including a pick six has the Jags’ players feeling like they can compete in this league.  This is a big trap game for the Chargers, but if they can prove their mettle and come away with a nice win, then at 4-3, they will definitely be alive in the playoff race.

 

San Francisco at Tennessee

The Titans were 3-1 two weeks ago, but the loss of Jake Locker hit this team hard.  In his stead, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown four interceptions in two weeks.  No team, not even the Broncos, can defeat San Francisco and throw two interceptions.

 

The loser of this game will not be out of the playoff race.  It figures that 9-7 could win the AFC South, and it figures that the 49ers will win 11 or 12 games.  Rumor has it that Locker is trying to find a way to play in this game, but that is nonsense.  Remember what happened to RGIII last year?

 

Baltimore at Pittsburgh

What we said about Atlanta above is double true for the Steelers.  At 1-4, they are not out of this race, and a win over the Ravens Sunday could move them within two games of the lead.

 

As for Baltimore, the Ravens are missing several pieces to last year’s puzzle, but Joe Flacco is still the best vertical passer in the AFC.  Defenses have to play their secondary a little looser, and that gives the running game a chance to work.  Baltimore cannot be overlooked in this race, even with Cincinnati being the sexy pick in the AFC North and Cleveland being the darling pick.

 

Cleveland at Green Bay

The Browns have a little more reason to believe they can pull off an upset at Lambeau.  The Packers are ailing at the moment, and Aaron Rodgers does not have his usual cast of dangerous weapons.  Look for Green Bay to go to more double tight end sets and throw into the middle seams of opposing defenses.

 

Cleveland is strongest in their four-man linebacking crew.  The quartet of D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, Paul Kruger, and Jabaal Sheard can defend those middle seams, and the Browns cannot be counted out in this game.

 

The winner of this game will have four wins, which won’t mean anything yet, but the loser is going to be behind the eight ball.

 

Denver at Indianapolis

This Sunday night game speaks for itself.  Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis.  Nothing else can trump that.  When Brett Favre returned to Green Bay, it was a big game, but this one is bigger.

 

As far as actual implications, Denver will make the playoffs no matter what happens in this game, but Indianapolis has not secured anything yet.  The Colts are now the clear-cut favorite in the AFC South, but if they lose and the Titans upset the 49ers, the race will be tied.

 

Minnesota at N. Y. Giants

There is only one way to look at this Monday night stinker.  It could be the worst Monday Night Football game ever.  We can remember two other really awful encounters, both several years back.

 

The Jets and Chargers hooked up in the mid-1970’s late in the season when they were both in last place in their divisions.  From memory, we believe San Diego was 1-11 or 1-12 and the Jets were only a game or two better.

 

The Vikings must be considered a contender for Johnny Manziel.  It figures that Teddy Bridgewater will be the first QB picked in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Manziel will be there should Minnesota have one of the top five picks, and a loss here would place them just behind Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

 

Current NFL PiRate Ratings

N F C

East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Dallas Cowboys

102.3

104.5

103.1

Philadelphia Eagles

96.7

98.2

96.8

Washington Redskins

96.4

96.1

96.0

New York Giants

92.3

91.3

90.7

 

 

 

 

North

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Green Bay Packers

106.7

105.8

106.5

Chicago Bears

102.3

101.8

101.5

Detroit Lions

101.6

103.4

101.6

Minnesota Vikings

95.1

93.8

94.2

       
South

PiRate

Mean

Biased

New Orleans Saints

106.2

108.1

106.7

Carolina Panthers

101.7

101.5

101.7

Atlanta Falcons

100.3

99.1

99.4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

94.1

93.0

93.4

 

 

 

 

West

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Seattle Seahawks

108.1

107.5

107.9

San Francisco 49ers

107.7

108.0

108.0

St. Louis Rams

97.1

97.9

96.9

Arizona Cardinals

96.4

98.9

97.1

       

A F C

East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

New England Patriots

106.1

103.9

106.6

Miami Dolphins

99.4

99.4

99.5

Buffalo Bills

96.6

95.7

97.1

New York Jets

95.1

92.7

95.0

       
North

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Baltimore Ravens

103.0

102.1

102.7

Cincinnati Bengals

102.9

102.5

103.3

Cleveland Browns

97.7

98.5

98.0

Pittsburgh Steelers

97.3

95.9

96.5

       
South

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Indianapolis Colts

104.5

104.5

105.2

Tennessee Titans

100.7

101.3

101.5

Houston Texans

97.4

96.0

97.0

Jacksonville Jaguars

86.2

85.4

85.8

       
West

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Denver Broncos

110.9

111.8

111.1

Kansas City Chiefs

103.9

106.9

105.2

San Diego Chargers

100.0

101.2

100.7

Oakland Raiders

93.3

93.3

93.3

 

This Week’s Games

   

 

 

 

Week Number:

7

 

 

 

Date of Games:

October 17-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

Home Visitor

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Arizona Seattle

-8.7

-5.6

-7.8

Atlanta Tampa Bay

9.2

9.1

9.0

Detroit Cincinnati

1.7

3.9

1.3

Kansas City Houston

9.5

13.9

11.2

Miami Buffalo

5.8

6.7

5.4

N Y Jets New England

-8.5

-8.7

-9.1

Philadelphia Dallas

-2.6

-3.3

-3.3

Washington Chicago

-2.9

-2.7

-2.5

Carolina St. Louis

7.6

6.6

7.8

Jacksonville San Diego

-10.8

-12.8

-11.9

Tennessee San Francisco

-4.0

-3.7

-3.5

Pittsburgh Baltimore

-3.2

-3.7

-3.7

Green Bay Cleveland

12.0

10.3

11.5

Indianapolis Denver

-3.4

-4.3

-2.9

N Y Giants Minnesota

0.2

0.5

-0.5

   

 

 

 

Byes: New Orleans, Oakland

 

 

 

 

Playoff Projections

 

A F C

1. Denver

2. New England

3. Cincinnati

4. Indianapolis

5. Kansas City

6. Miami

 

N F C

1. Seattle

2. New Orleans

3. Green Bay

4. Dallas

5. San Francisco

6. Detroit

 

Wildcard Round

Cincinnati over Miami

Kansas City over Indianapolis

Green Bay over Detroit

San Francisco over Dallas

 

Divisional Round

Denver over Kansas City

Cincinnati over New England

Seattle over San Francisco

New Orleans over Green Bay

 

Conference Championships

Denver over Cincinnati

Seattle over New Orleans

 

Super Bowl

Denver over Seattle

August 25, 2011

2011 Pac-12 Conference Preview

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Preview

 

Larry Scott didn’t start the fire, but he did ignite it.  After Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten, Scott tried to lure Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to form the first 16-team super-conference.  Sure, the Western Athletic Conference tried a 16-team setup in the 1990’s but the winner did not receive a bid to a major bowl.

 

Although Scott had to settle for Colorado and Utah, he fired the first shot toward what could become four major conferences of 16 teams.  It isn’t far beyond the imagination to see a four-team playoff down the road with a “plus one” format.

 

The strength of the league is in the North Division this year.  The South is faced with the strong possibility of sending its number two team to the first Pac-12 Championship Game, since Southern Cal is still on probation and prohibited from appearing in post-season games.

 

NORTH DIVISION

Stanford

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford has a reputation for producing great quarterbacks over the decades.  Four past passers are in the College Football Hall of Fame—Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway.  Add Trent Edwards, Steve Stentstrom, Turk Schonert, and others.  Could the current quarterback actually be the best of the bunch?  If you believe A-Rod is better than Gehrig and Ruth or Pujols is better than Musial, then maybe you can say the same about Andrew Luck.

 

Luck is the best college quarterback in 2011, and he is the prohibitive favorite to cart off the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and most importantly, the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.  A joke is already going around NFL circles that one or more teams may deliberately “sandbag” this year in an attempt to post the worst record and take the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

 

Luck completed almost 71% of his passes last year for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns.  He averaged almost nine yards per attempt, which is almost unstoppable.  As a runner, he added over 500 yards when sacks are factored out.  As long as he stays 100% healthy, he is the player you want to watch every week—the modern day Babe Ruth of college football.

 

Receivers

Luck lost his top two targets from 2010, but we do not believe it will greatly affect his production.  Great QBs can take average receivers and make them look like stars; just ask Indianapolis Colts fans. 

 

Unlike almost every other college team, Stanford actively includes two tight ends for a considerable amount of playing time.  It allows the Cardinal to get extra blocking for the running game, and it makes it very difficult on diminutive safeties trying to stop 250-pound receivers.

 

The Cardinal have three excellent tight ends capable of making a big play.  Coby Fleener caught 28 passes and averaged 15.5 yards per catch with seven touchdowns last year; he became a star in the Orange Bowl with three touchdown receptions.  Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will also see significant amounts of playing time.

 

Stanford’s new wideouts will do just fine and will not be a liability.  Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu should average about 14-18 yards per catch and combine for about 90-110 receptions.  There is ample depth here with Jemari Roberts, Jamaal-Rashad Patterson, and Drew Terrell.  Terrell is a sleeper; he could emerge as a star.

 

Running Backs

What makes the offense so unstoppable is the running game.  Defenses cannot forget it is there, because the Cardinal can beat you on the ground.  Stepfan Taylor returns after gaining 1,137 yards with 15 touchdowns.  Taylor is also a big weapon in the passing game, and he grabbed 28 passes.  Defenses forget him on a running fake, but Luck is great at faking to him and then passing to him when the defense covers the downfield receivers.

 

Behind Taylor are three other competent backs that will receive playing time.  Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney, and Usua Amanam teamed for 789 yards and seven scores in 2010.  This unit is loaded.

 

Stanford uses a fullback, but he is a blocker 99% of the time.  Last year’s “third guard,” Owen Marecic, was so good, he was a fourth round draft pick.  He also played full-time at linebacker, frequently playing 90-100 scrimmage plays in a game.  The new Marecic will be Ryan Hewitt, but he will only play on this side of the ball.

 

Offensive Line

The line must replace three excellent players from last year, including 1st Team All-American Chase Beeler at center.  Khalil Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein are battling neck and neck to replace him.

 

David DeCastro is entrenched at one guard spot after earning 1st Team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010.  Kevin Danser will start on the other side.  At tackle, Jonathan Martin earned 1st Team All-Pac-10 accolades last year.  Tyler Mabry and Cameron Fleming are in a heated battle for the other tackle position. 

 

While not as talented overall as last year, this unit will still be an asset.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Stanford gave up just 56 points in their final six games last year, and the defensive line really toughened up down the stretch.  They allowed just 89.7 yards rushing 276.8 total yards per game in that stretch.

 

New head coach David Shaw appointed defensive back coach Derek Mason and former San Francisco 49er defensive coach Jason Tarver as co-defensive coordinators.  With the change comes a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense.

 

Terrence Stephens will start at the nose.  At 290 pounds, he is a little on the light side for a two-gap defender.  Ben Gardner and Matthew Masifilo start at the end positions.  This unit is the weakest link on the team, and it will be here where Stanford either wins or loses the Pac-12 title.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year, and of course, there will be an extra linebacker in the alignment this year.  Shayne Skov will start at one inside position, while Chase Thomas will start at an outside position.  They led the Cardinal with 84 and 70 tackles respectively.  Both players co-led the team with 7 ½ sacks, and they combined for 22 tackles behind the line.  They also showed prowess for stopping passes, combining for nine passes defended.

 

Trent Murphy and Max Bergen will be the new starters on this unit.  Bergen made 21 tackles in limited playing time last year.  Blake Lueders could crack the starting lineup this year.  Keep an eye on Alex Debniak.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to this unit, and it should be in good shape.  Safety Delano Howell is the stud of this unit.  He led the Cardinal with five interceptions and 10 passes defended.  Michael Thomas returns to the other safety spot after finishing third on the team with 61 tackles.

 

At cornerback, Johnson Bademosi started nine times last year, while Barry Browning takes over for Richard Sherman, another NFL draft choice.

 

OTHER

Stanford lost a lot of talent via graduation, but the biggest loss will be coach Jim Harbaugh, who graduated to the 49ers.  Shaw has never been a head coach, but we believe he has enough talent to learn on the job without losing a game due to inexperience.

 

The Cardinal were one of four teams to average better than 40 points per game and give up less than 20 points per game (Oregon, Boise St., and TCU were the others).  In the 21st Century, any team that can pull off this feat is capable of contending for a national title.  We believe Stanford’s offense could be just strong enough to control the ball and the clock and allow the defense to mature without giving up 25 points per game.  We would not be surprised if Stanford repeats their averages of last year.

 

SUMMARY

Stanford has a dream schedule for a Pac-12 team.  They open the season with area rival San Jose State and then go on the road to Duke.  They should be 2-0 before opening conference play on the road at a rebuilding Arizona.  They then get a week off before hosting UCLA and Colorado.  A road game with Washington State follows, before Washington, without Jake Locker, comes to Palo Alto.  Stanford should be 7-0 when they head to the Coliseum to face Southern Cal in the first of a tough closing schedule.  By then, the defense should be up to snuff.  Following USC, Stanford has a trap game with Oregon State in Corvallis.  Then, on November 12 is the big rematch with Oregon, and this time it is at Stanford Stadium.  Arch-rival Cal comes in the following week, and then the Cardinal close out at home with Notre Dame, in what could be a battle of 11-0 teams.

 

Stanford has not run the table with a bowl win since 1940 when they became the first college team to use the modern T-Formation.  Could it happen again?  We believe it could, but chances are the defense will stumble at least one time.  The Pac-12 does not get its due in the eastern half of the country, but there is a lot of talent spread throughout the teams, and upsets are more prevalent here than in any of the Big Six conferences.

 

Oregon

Oregon is another of the teams that faced off-the-field issues during the summer.  The football program made several thousand dollars in payments to a recruiting service in Texas for what appeared to look like a third grade art project given in return, as well as the delivery of multiple key recruits out of the Lone Star State.  Running back Lache Seastrunk left UO over the controversy.  The NCAA is investigating.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Darron Thomas made fans forget Jeremiah Masoli.  Thomas made the Ducks fly last year.  He passed for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for more than 550 yards (sacks not included).  He can only hope for a repeat as a 2nd Team All-Pac-12 choice, but he is the best quarterback in the league after the new “franchise” down the road.

 

Receivers

Like Mr. Luck, Thomas loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Jeff Maehl and D. J. Davis teamed for 119 receptions and 15 touchdowns, but their replacements will be quicker and more elusive this season.

 

One of those speedy guys is not quite 100% as of this writing.  Josh Huff has the talent and potential to play on Sundays.  He is recuperating from an ankle injury.  Rahsaan Vaughn will fill in for him until he is ready.  Justin Hoffman will see significant time and will use his size and speed to make big plays.  Lavasier Tuinei is more of a possession receiver, and he is the leading returning pass-catcher with 36 receptions. 

 

Tight end David Paulson returns after catching 24 passes and showing some ability to run to daylight.  He earned 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors last year.

 

Running Backs

Oregon’s Heisman Trophy candidate is LaMichael James.  James led the league with 1,731 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.  If Oregon ran the ball 70% of the time (instead of 61%), James might be a serious candidate to top 2,000 yards on the ground.  James also caught 17 passes, with three going for touchdowns.

 

Slot back Kenjon Barner should change his name to “Burner.”  The track sprinter is a hybrid running back/receiver.  He rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns (6.1 yds/rush) and caught 13 passes with two more scores.

 

This dynamic duo plus the running ability of Thomas gives the Ducks the best running game in the league and one of the best in the nation—the best of the non-triple option teams.

 

Offensive Line

It will be hard to replace the three graduated stars from this unit, but the Ducks could still have the best blocking corps in the Pac-12.  Carson York is a returning 1st Team All-Pac-12 at guard.  Ryan Clanton will be the new starter at the other guard spot.  Mark Asper and Darrion Weems will start at tackle, while the center position is still a two-man race between Hroniss Grasu and Karrington Armstrong.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Here is the first question mark in 2011.  Three starters must be replaced.  End Terrell Turner returns after recording just 32 tackles and 2 ½ sacks.  At the other end spot, Dion Jordan saw limited action in 2010, making 33 tackles and two sacks.  The two new tackles will be Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, who combined for 27 tackles.  The defensive line was exposed by Auburn in the Championship Game, but the Ducks gave up only 117.5 rushing yards per game in the regular season.  Expect that number to jump by about 20 to 25 yards this year.

 

Linebackers

This is the second and even bigger question mark.  The Ducks will be without their top two linebackers from last year.  Casey Matthews led in tackles and played both the run and pass better than most.  Spencer Paysinger was almost as talented.

 

Josh Kaddu is the lone holdover.  He was the weakest of the three starters last year and is not a candidate to become an all-conference player.  Dewitt Stuckey and Michael Clay will be the two new starters.  Clay saw as much time as Kaddu and made 42 tackles.

 

Secondary

This was to be the best defensive backfield in the league, but it is not now.  The front seven may not provide a decent pass rush, diminishing the secondary’s effectiveness.  The bigger factor in the decline is the suspension of one of its key components; cornerback Cliff Harris is out indefinitely after running afoul of the law, and Oregon’s defense begins to show a couple of holes and enough vulnerability to be exploited by quality teams (like LSU, USC, and Stanford) with these factors.  Harris was the premier cover corner in the nation last year.  He intercepted six passes and had an unbelievable 23 passed defended.  He is not replaceable.  He also led the nation with four punts returned for a touchdown, so his loss is worth about as much as Stanford losing Luck.

 

Anthony Gildon will start at one corner after seeing limited action last year.  Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett make a decent pair of safeties, but without Harris, this secondary will be lit up against quality passers.

 

OTHER

It is hard to predict what the investigatory cloud hanging over the program might do for team morale.  Oregon figured to be a top contender for the National Championship Game following their narrow loss to Auburn last year.  However, the cloud hanging over is definitely a black one.  It could eventually cost Coach Chip Kelly his job.  Other players could be implicated as the season progresses.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule is a bit more difficult this season, and we cannot see the Ducks running the table in the regular season.  An opener with LSU at Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington could be interesting if only for the fact that both teams have off-the-field issues.  The Ducks could get lucky if more than one key opponent is unable to play.  Oregon has to play at Stanford, and they host Southern Cal.  We believe at least one of those teams will get them this year.

 

Oregon State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

In a league with multiple NFL quarterback prospects, Ryan Katz gets overlooked.  Katz might be a contender for all-conference designation in other leagues, but in the Pac-12, he does not even challenge for third team.

 

Katz completed 60% of his passes for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.  He should improve upon those numbers in his second season as a starter. 

 

Backup Cody Vaz has potential, but he is nursing a bad back and will miss the start of the season.

 

Receivers

Katz’s top three receivers (Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop, and tight end Joe Halahuni) are back for more after teaming for 107 catches and 12 touchdowns.  However, the sensation of the August practices has been a true freshman.  Brandin Cooks was challenging for a starting bid until he injured his ankle.  When he is fully recovered, look for him to contribute immediately.

 

James Rodgers caught only 16 passes last year in limited action, as he missed most of the season with knee injuries.  He has undergone two surgeries earlier this year, so he may not be ready to play.  He was a star in 2009 when he was last healthy.  Redshirt freshman Obum Gwachman could start in Rodgers place.  This unit will allow Katz to surpass his stats of last year.

 

Halahuni had shoulder surgery earlier this season, and he will miss all of September.  Backup tight ends Tyler Perry and Connor Hamlett face one game suspensions that will be staggered.  Tight end will be a concern in the early part of the season.

 

Running Backs

“The Quizz” is gone.  Jacquizz Rodgers left early and was a fifth round NFL Draft choice.  There will be a drop in talent and production here this year, as Coach Mike Riley uses the committee approach to replace him.

 

True freshman Malcolm Agnew may be the surprise opening day starter for OSU.  Terron Ward and Ryan McCants are contending with Agnew, but all three should see ample playing time. 

 

Offensive Line

Four of the five positions are set in stone.  The four holdovers from last year are center Grant Johnson, guard Burke Ellis, and tackles Michael Philipp and Mike Remmers.  Philipp and Remmers have the potential to become all-conference blockers.  Joshua Andrews was set to start at the vacant guard slot, but he suffered a concussion in practice and could be out for the opener.  Grant Enger had been moved to tight end but was moved back to guard and may start. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Injuries and academics are causing Riley some headaches this pre-season.  Both of his projected starting tackles will not be available for the opening of the season.  Dominic Glover, who recorded 43 tackles with 7 ½ for loss, is not academically eligible, and Riley is not sure when he will be available.  Kevin Frahm injured his meniscus and could be out four weeks. 

 

Redshirt freshman Scott Crichton will start at one end, while Taylor Henry should start at the other spot.  Henry started four games last year.  Rusty Fernando will become the designated pass rusher and come in on passing downs.

 

Manu Tuivailala should start at one of the tackle positions, with the other one still up for grabs as of this writing.  The Beavers will struggle here for the first month of the season.

 

Linebackers

The trio in this unit better overachieve, or else OSU’s defense will give up an increase in points per game for the fifth year in a row.

 

Rueben Robinson returns to the middle linebacker spot after registering 35 tackles in seven starts.  Cameron Collins started twice and saw considerable action in the other games.  He made 39 tackles.  Michael Doctor played in every game as a reserve and registered 11 tackles.  This group is not a top trio, but it is the best unit on this side of the ball.

 

Secondary

Once again, here is a unit that has been hit with injuries.  Top cornerback Brandon Hardin suffered a shoulder injury that required surgical repair.  He is out until October.  Two reserves are out for the season.

 

Safety Lance Mitchell finished third with 74 tackles last year.  He intercepted two passes and knocked away three others.  Anthony Watkins will start at the other safety position.  He got in on 27 tackles as a key reserve last year.  Ryan Murphy should see plenty of playing time.

 

Jordan Poyer figures to start at one cornerback position.  As a reserve in 2010, he had six passes defended.  Rashaad Reynolds will replace Hardin at the other corner.  He made 14 tackles and had no passes defended last year.

 

OTHER

The Beavers have seen their points allowed increase from 22.2 to 22.6 to 23.1 to 25.0 to 26.8 in the last five seasons.  The possibility of extending that negative streak to six is very high.  OSU could give up more than 28 points per game this season with all their injury troubles and a tough schedule against high-scoring opponents.

 

SUMMARY

The Beavers took a step backward last season, finishing with seven losses for the first time in over a decade.  This program has been on a small decline since 2006. 

 

Oregon State was once one of the weakest programs in major college football.  They went close to three decades without a winning season.  There was a quick transition from winning seasons in the 1960’s to losing seasons for the next 30 years.  Could the Beavers be on the cusp of repeating history?  We don’t know the answer, but we are a little pessimistic about 2011.

 

Katz is going to have to improve to a level similar to Thomas at Oregon if the Beavers are to score enough points to win most games.

 

The schedule gives them one cupcake—the opener with Sacramento State.  Conference games at home against UCLA, Arizona, and Washington are winnable, and road games with Cal and Washington State are winnable.  The Beavers must win all five of these games to become bowl eligible, and we cannot see this happening.

 

Washington

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jake Locker had his critics.  He threw too many off-target passes; he held onto the ball too long and took a lot of sacks; he ran the ball when he could have passed it, etc.

 

A quarterback at Southern Mississippi in the late 1980’s had many of the same criticisms bestowed on him.  His name was Favre.  Locker is Favre redux, and the Huskies will quickly realize how much he is missed.  Locker completed just 55.4% of his passes, for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final year at UW.  He added over 500 rushing yards (sacks removed) and six touchdowns. 

 

Keith Price takes over after completing 19 of 37 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.  He has talent and potential, but he will not duplicate Locker’s performance.

 

Receivers

Coach Steve Sarkisian welcomes back two stars on this side of the ball.  One of them is wideout Jermaine Kearse.  Kearse hauled in 63 passes for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. 

 

Devin Aguilar and Kevin Smith will supplement Kearse.  Aguilar caught 28 balls and averaged 12.6 yards per catch. 

 

The Huskies have two young, but inexperienced, quality tight ends; Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the top incoming recruit and should play right away, while redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson will see significant playing time.

 

Running Backs

The other star on this offense is Chris Polk.  As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns, and he nabbed 22 passes for 180 yards.  Polk recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss the start of the season.  Jesse Callier will replace him.  Callier rushed for 400+ yards and actually averaged a little more per rush than Polk.  Fullback Jonathan Amosa will open holes for Polk and Callier.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to the blocking corps.  Center Drew Schaffer, guard Coline Porter, and Tackle Senio Kelemente combined for 36 starts with Kelemente earning some all-conference consideration.

 

Erik Kohler should start at the vacant tackle position, while redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa will take the vacant guard position.  Overall, this is a fair unit. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Huskies gave up more rushing yards last year than the year before, but four tough opponents accounted for most of that deterioration. 

 

The Huskies have depth here.  All four starters return from last year, but one or two may be supplanted by others.  Alameda Ta’Amu is the big man in the trenches.  The 6-3, 330-pound tackle plugs multiple gaps.  True freshman Danny Shelton could start opposite him.  Hau’oli Jamora and Everette Thompson should start at end, with Josh Shirley serving as a designated pass rusher.  Providing depth in the line are Sione Potoa’e and Talia Crichton.  This unit will perform better in 2011.

 

Linebackers

Here is Sarkisian’s headache, and the reason the defense may not improve overall.  Middle linebacker Cort Dennison is a good defender, having made 93 tackles with 8 ½ behind the line and defending five passes.  John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are untested.  Garret Gilliland is available here as well.  This is the weakest trio in the Pac-12, and replacing Mason Foster and his league-leading 161 tackles will be impossible.

 

Secondary

When healthy, this is a tough unit.  However, as of this writing, one of its key components is recuperating from an ankle injury that may prevent him from starting the season opener.  Cornerback Quinton Richardson intercepted two passes among his 10 passed defended, and he will likely be replaced by Greg Ducre for the Eastern Washington game.

 

Safety Nathan Fellner led the Huskies with five interceptions and 13 passes defended.  Cornerback Desmond Trufant posted 48 tackles and defended five passes.  His counterpart will be sophomore Sean Parker, who picked off one pass in limited duty.

 

OTHER

2011 presents UW with a tough schedule.  The non-conference slate includes games with Hawaii and Nebraska (in Lincoln).  In conference play, the Huskies must play at Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State.  The Apple Cup game with WSU has been moved to Qwest Field and will not be as much of a home field advantage.

 

 

SUMMARY

We have a lot of confidence in Sarkisian and his two coordinators, Doug Nussmeier on offense and Nick Holt on defense.  They have just enough talent to compete against everybody but Stanford and Oregon.  UW could win six or seven games again even without Locker at quarterback.

 

California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Jeff Tedford has developed some outstanding quarterbacks here, including current Super Bowl Champion QB Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller.  As OC at Oregon, he had Joey Harrington, A. J. Feely, and Akili Smith.  At Fresno State before that, he tutored Trent Dilfer, David Carr, and Billy Volek.  In other words, Tedford knows a thing or two about quarterback development.

 

This year, he welcomes Zach Maynard from the University of Buffalo.  Maynard has beaten out last year’s starter Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford.  Look for Maynard to easily surpass last year’s off-season for Cal in yardage and touchdowns (2,101 yards and 15 touchdowns).  Look for a return of 200+ yards through the air and 20 touchdowns or more.

 

Receivers

The Bears’ top two receivers return in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, who teamed for 96 receptions and 1,255 yards.  Michael Calvin started three times and caught 13 passes.  Anthony Miller returns at tight end after hauling in 13 passes.  Look for steady improvement here with Maynard throwing the pigskin.

 

Running Backs

Tedford is also known for developing 1,000-yard rushing backs.  Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and the just departed Shane Vereen are prime examples.  Vereen does not have a likely 1,000-yard back replacing him this year.

 

This could be a year in which Cal uses a running back by committee.  Isi Sofele, Covauhgn DeBoskie-Johnson, and C. J. Anderson could split the carries, but the freshman Anderson has the skills to eventually become the feature back.  Cal averaged just 159 yards on the ground, which is a multi-year low in the Tedford era.  Look for better overall results, with the new trio combining for about 175 yards per game.

 

Offensive Line

This will be an improved unit in 2011.  Three starters return, including 1st Team All-Pac-12 tackle Mitchell Schwartz.  Guards Brian Schwenke and Matt Summers-Gavin are the other two veterans of the line.  Dominic Galas will start at center.  He started once in 2009.  Matt Williams is a famous sports name in the Bay area; Cal’s version will start at the vacant tackle position.  This group could give up less than 20 sacks and block well enough for the backs to average better than 4.5 yards per rush.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is rebuilding to do all throughout the defense this year, and the Bears will take a step backward on this side of the ball.  The line returns just one starter from the 3-man unit and loses a 1st team all-conference player in Cameron Jordan.

 

DeAndre Coleman returns at end after registering 18 tackles as a platoon player.  He did not make a sack or hurry a quarterback.  Trevor Guyton started four games and played in seven more, getting in on 29 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  At the nose position is a human eclipse.  Viliami Moala is 6-3 and 350 pounds.  The true freshman is one of Cal’s most prized recruits, and he has won the starting job from day one.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return to this four-man unit, one of whom is a legitimate star.  The Bears lose another star with the departure of leading tackler Mike Mohamed to the NFL Draft.

 

Mychal Kendricks led the Bears with 8 ½ sacks and 15 total tackles for loss.  His fellow inside linebacker mate, D. J. Holt, returns after making 85 tackles.  On the outside, redshirt freshman David Wilkerson will man one spot, while the other one is up for grabs between Chris McCain, Ryan Davis, and Cecil Whiteside, none of whom have played here.

 

Secondary

Two starters return to the back line of defense.  Safety Sean Cattouse is the closest thing to a star on this unit.  He intercepted a pass and broke up seven others last year.  D. J. Campbell will start opposite him after making 21 tackles in reserve last year.

 

Marc Anthony returns at one cornerback slot.  He was credited with eight passes defended with two interceptions.  The new corner will be Steve Williams, who intercepted a pass and knocked away four others in reserve.  Overall, this is a reliable but not spectacular secondary.

 

OTHER

The kicking game is in good shape with the return of two quality players.  Bryan Anger narrowly missed leading the league in punting, while Giorgio Tavecchio has a strong leg and was 4-6 on field goal attempts from beyonf 40 yards.

 

Cal will have to play its home games away from campus this season, as Memorial Stadium undergoes some surgery.  The Bears will host Fresno State at Candlestick Park and play the rest of their home games at AT&T (Giants baseball) Park.  If the Giants are in the NLCS, Cal will have to move its game with USC.

 

SUMMARY

It all depends on the rebuilt defense.  Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows his stuff, and we believe he will mold the new players into a cohesive unit.  They will not stop everybody on the schedule, but just remember what Cal did to Oregon’s offense last year—15 points and 317 yards (Oregon gained almost 450 yards against Auburn).

 

The offense will be much improved and will easily top last season’s averages.  We would not be shocked if the Bears top 28 points per game and 400 total yards per game.

 

The schedule has just one cupcake—a week three game with Presbyterian.  Cal opens with Fresno State at Candlestick Park, and that is a trap game for sure.  Through a quirk in the schedule, the Bears will play 10 conference games this year.  The Colorado game will not count in the league standings, as this game was already on the schedule before the Buffs joined the Pac-12. 

 

Here is the catch.  Cal was 1-4 on the road last year, and in effect, all 12 games this year will be on the road.  If the two municipal parks provide them with the same homefield advantage as Memorial Stadium, then the Bears will go bowling in El Paso, Las Vegas, or a similar venue.  If not, then Tedford could be sitting on a hot seat.

 

Washington State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jeff Tuel is not another Jason Gesser or Alex Brink, but he is going to have a year not too different than the two former stars.  Tuel completed almost 60% of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, and he has the potential to top 3,000 yards in 2011.

 

Marshall Lobbestael has starting experience, and if Tuel is injured, all will not be lost.  He does not have the accuracy of Tuel, but he will not be a deer in the headlights if he must go in.

 

Receivers

The Cougars return three starters here, one of whom was a Freshman All-American last year.  Marquess Wilson could be a 1st Team All-Pac-12 member this year after taking in 55 passes for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns.  He is a threat to take even a one yard pass and turn it into a long touchdown bolt.

 

Jared Karstetter hauled in a team-leading 62 passes and scored seven times.  He is strictly a possession receiver and uses his height to his advantage over smaller cornerbacks.  Isiah Barton and Gino Simone teamed up for 32 receptions and will supplement the two primary options.  Look for true freshman Henry Eaddy to challenge for a starting spot early in the season.

 

A new tight end/h-back must be found.  Coach Paul Wulff will choose between Jared Byers, Andrei Lintz, and Aaron Dunn.  This unit is in good shape overall.

 

Running Backs

WSU has not been able to generate a running game in six years.  The last three seasons have seen the Cougars rush for an average of less than 86 yards!  Of course, giving up 51 sacks in a season is enough to skew those rushing stats.  Removing the sacks, WSU rushed for about 115 yards per game with an average of 3.8 yards per rush.

 

Wulff will rely on a three-man platoon this year and hope to take enough heat off Tuel to prevent defenses from lining up and coming with five and six pass rushers.  Rickey Galvin, Logwone Mintz, and Carl Winston will split the load.  Look for the Cougars to top 100 yards rushing, but only by a little bit.

 

Offensive Line

This won’t be a major asset, but the blocking corps is going to be quite a bit improved in 2011.  Three starters return to this unit, but the new starters have enough experience to be considered quasi-starters.

 

Guard B. J. Guerra is the leader of this unit. He could challenge for 1st team all-conference honors this year.  Fellow guard John Fullington takes over on the other side after starting six times as a freshman.

 

Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales will man the tackle positions.  Jacobson started every game last year, while Gonzales has started seven games in the past.  He missed last season with an injury.

 

Andrew Roxas will be the new starting center.  He has nine career starts under his belt. 

 

This unit is not the equal of Oregon’s or Stanford’s, but they are no longer the weakest in the league here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Cougars are still in need of a lot of improvement on this side of the line.  They gave up 220 yards per game on the ground (average of 5.6/rush) and made just 23 sacks. 

 

Two starters return to the trenches this year.  End Travis Long led the team with five sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss.  Tackle Brandon Rankin made just 19 stops, but five were for losses.  The new starters figure to be Anthony Laurenzi at tackle and Adam Coerper at end.  Coerper is a fast developer; he moved from number four to number one in just a couple weeks.

 

Linebackers

This unit is a little stronger than the one in front.  Two starters return here.  Alex Hoffman-Ellis finished second on the squad with 81 tackles, while middle linebacker C. J. Mizell added 57 stops with six for loss.  Sekope Kaufusi is the new starter at the Sam position.  He made 22 tackles in a limited role last year.

 

Secondary

If there is a strong unit on this side of the ball, this is it.  However, it is hard to call this quartet a major asset. 

 

It is never great when your leading tackler is your strong safety.  Deone Bucannon led WSU with 84 tackles.  He intercepted a couple passes and knocked away five more.  Tyree Toomer is the other starting safety.  He is adequate against the pass but better supporting the run.

 

Cornerbacks Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington combined for 62 tackles but only seven passes defended.  Washington is nursing a sore hamstring, so he will be slow to start the season.

 

OTHER

Washington State’s last winning season was 2003, which was the third consecutive 10-win season.  The Cougars have fallen on rough times since.  Defense has been the major problem, as WSU has given 35 or more points per game the last three years.  We believe that streak will come to an end this season, but not by much.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule should allow Wulff’s Cougars to start 2-0 after they open with Idaho State and UNLV.  Game three will be the bell-weather game.  When the Cougars go to San Diego State, they might even be favored.  If they win the game to move to 3-0, then there is a chance, albeit small, that they could find a way to win three in the conference and make it to a bowl.  We tend to believe they will fall short this year, but they could easily double their win total from last year.

 

SOUTH DIVISION

Southern California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Matt Barkley is the best second best quarterback in a league since Colt McCoy at Texas in 2008 and 2009.  He might be the top quarterback in every other conference in America.  Last year even though he missed a game and parts of another, he completed 62.6% of his passes for 2,791 yards and 26 touchdowns. 

 

The Trojans are stocked here with three other quality passers.  Jesse Scroggins is out indefinitely with an injured hand, but true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler have star potential.  The Trojans will rely more on the pass this year, and we expect them to average more than 250 yards per game through the air.

 

Receivers

As a freshman, Robert Woods may have been one of the three best receivers in the league.  He finished with 65 receptions and six touchdowns last year and could top 80 receptions this season.

 

Behind him, the Trojans are inexperienced.  Marqise Lee could start as a true freshman.  Kyle Prater is a redshirt freshman, but at 6-05, he will be a tough matchup problem.  Brice Butler has played sparingly in two seasons.

 

Tight end/H-back Rhett Ellison hauled in 21 passes and scored three times in 2010.  Look for him to get more balls thrown his way this year.

 

Running Backs

Who would have thought that an internet gossip site could affect a college football team?  Starting tailback Marc Tyler ran his mouth off to TMZ.com, and it cost him his spot in the lineup.  Coach Lane Kiffin suspended him indefinitely over his remarks.  Funny, Kiffin’s name has been dragged through the mud from coast to coast in numerous internet sites, yet he still has a job.

 

Tyler led the Trojans’ ground game with 913 yards and nine touchdowns.  Curtis McNeal figured to be his replacement, but he injured his knee and is doubtful for the season opener.  Dillon Baxter and C. J. Morgan will share the reps at running back until one of the other two is able to play again. 

 

Offensive Line

The Trojans are deep here.  Their two-deep is almost as good as Oregon’s, even though just two starters return.  Center Khaled Holmes is one of the best in the league.  Ditto for tackle Matt Kalil.  John Martinez and Abe Markowitz will start at the vacant guard positions, while Kevin Graf will man the vacant tackle spot.  Look for this group to provide excellent pass coverage for Barkley and surrender less than 20 sacks for the seventh year in a row.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Any defense with Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron coaching is going to be tough up front.  The Trojans have the top defensive line in the league and one of the best in the country.

 

Three starters return, but nose tackle Armond Armstead will have to share his spot with newcomer George Uko, and DaJohn Harris may be relegated to the second team in favor of Christian Tupou.

 

Nick Perry starts at one end, while Wes Horton inherits the other end spot.  Devon Kennard and Kevin Greene will spell the two starters and allow the Trojans to have fresh anchors on the edge.

 

Linebackers

If there is an Achilles’ heel in the defense, it is in the linebacker unit.  It would be hard to find the heel here, because the Trojans’ linebackers are going to make a lot of plays this year.

 

Devon Kennard returns to the middle after making 72 tackles with seven for losses.  Chris Galippo was a part-time starter and made 29 tackles.  Marquis Simmons will split time with Hayes Pullard at the other outside spot.

 

Secondary

This unit is almost as strong as the front line.  The loss of Shareece Wright and his 10 passes defended will be hard to overcome, but new starting cornerback Tony Burnett saw a lot of action last year and made 26 tackles.  He will join Nickell Robey, who led the team with four picks.

 

The two starting safeties are back for more.  Jawanza Starling and T. J. McDonald combined for 126 tackles and nine passes defended.

 

Nickel back Torrin Harris is good enough to be a regular for most teams.

 

OTHER

Kiffin was cleared in the recent investigation of the Tennessee football program.  The Trojans will be off probation after this season, and they will not be eligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game this year.

 

SUMMARY

USC should be 6-0 when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame on October 22, although they must face Arizona State in Tempe on September 24.  They follow that game with Stanford at the Coliseum. A trip to Eugene to face the Quack Attack in November is followed by a visit from cross-town rival UCLA. 

 

Southern Cal should win at least eight games this year, and we would not be surprised if they go 10-2.

 

Arizona State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When healthy, Brock Osweiler is an effective quarterback.  At 6-08, he has no trouble seeing over the line, but he is mobile enough to be an effective runner.  In limited action last year, he completed 57% of his passes for 797 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

 

The Sun Devils will be in a heap of trouble if Osweiler is absent for any length of time.  Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly is the next best option, but he is not ready for Pac-12 football.

 

Receivers

Coach Dennis Erickson has loads of depth here but no true stars.  His projected three starters, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie, and Gerell Robinson, all topped 25 receptions and combined for 94 total with 13 touchdowns.  T. J. Simpson caught 29 passes for 481 yards, but he is still recovering from ACL surgery in the spring.  Juco Transfer George Bell could see action early.

 

Tevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle could form a double tight end set, but ASU does not throw to their tight ends and uses them basically for blocking.

 

Running Backs

The Sun Devils have some depth here.  Cameron Marshall returns after leading the team with 787 yards and nine touchdowns.  James Morrison saw limited action in 2010, but he will move to number two on the depth chart.  Deantre Lewis will not be ready for the start of the season after suffering a gunshot wound that damaged his hamstring.  He finished second with 539 rushing yards.

 

Look for Marshall to threaten the 1,000 yard mark if Lewis does not see the field this year.

 

Offensive Line

Arizona State welcomes back all five starters from 2010, and this is why the Sun Devils have an excellent shot of advancing to the first Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

Center Garth Gerhart is a Remington Trophy contender.  Tackle Evan Finkenberg could contend for all-conference honors.  Guards Andrew Sampson and Mike Marcisz and tackle Aderious Simmons round out the unit.  Look for the total number of sacks allowed to drop by 5-10 from a rather high 31 in 2010.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Erickson’s front four performed admirably last year, giving up just 120 rushing yards, but they did not provide enough of a pass rush.  Both ends, Junior Onyeali and Jamaar Jarrett, return after teaming for 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.  Bo Moos and William Sutton will be the new tackles.  They are one-gap aggressors and not big beefeaters.  Corey Adams is making a charge to replace Moos.

 

Linebackers

This could have been one of the top units in the nation, but the loss of key starter Brandon Magee with a torn Achilles’ tendon has dropped it several rungs on the national ladder.  Vontaze Burfict led the team with 90 tackles last year, but he did not record a sack and only knocked away three passes.  Colin Parker made 57 tackles, while Oliver Aaron made 47 with 7 ½ for losses.  Aaron replaces Magee.  Shelly Lyons could crack the starting lineup in place of Parker.

 

Secondary

Here is the problem with the defense.  ASU gave up 245 passing yards per game and allowed a completion percentage of 63.2%.  Two full-time and one part-time starter must be replaced.  Cornerback Deveron Carr started part-time and made just eight tackles.  At the opposite corner, Osahon Irabor made 40 tackles with three passes defended.  Safety Eddie Elder registered 64 tackles with 5 ½ stops for loss and five passes defended.  Clint Floyd will start at the other safety spot after recording 30 tackles.

 

OTHER

The Sun Devils had a -6 turnover margin last year, and a lot of that had to do with a defense that could not create turnovers.  Expect some improvement on that side of the ball but not much.

 

SUMMARY

This is Arizona State’s year to shine, but injuries could hamper the process.  With Southern Cal ineligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Sun Devils are the best of the rest in this weaker division. 

 

ASU may not have a gaudy record, because their out of conference slate includes games against Missouri and Illinois.  They could easily start 1-3, because their first conference game is against the Trojans.  Even if that happens, the Sun Devils can still rebound and go 6-3 in the league.  That should be good enough for second in this division, and at 7-5, they would be playing Oregon or Stanford for the Pac-12’s automatic BCS bowl berth.

 

Arizona

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nick Foles returns after passing for 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns.  He completed 67+% of his passes.  The situation is muddled after Foles.  Expected backup Bryson Beirne sprained his ACL and is out for several weeks.  Last year’s backup Matt Scott plans to redshirt this year, and that leaves true freshman Daxx Garman as the only other choice should Foles go down.

 

Receivers

Coach Mike Stoops has quality talent here with the return of his top four receivers.  Juron Criner, David Douglas, David Roberts, and Terrence Miller teamed for 207 receptions and 18 touchdowns.  Criner was the breakaway threat, while the other three were excellent possession receivers.

 

Dan Buckner joins the group after transferring from Texas.  He had starting experience with the Longhorns.

 

Running Backs

One of UA’s two platoon backs return this season.  Keola Antolin rushed for a team-leading 668 yards; he scored seven times.  Antolin also caught 28 passes with two more touchdowns.  The talent behind him is average.

 

Offensive Line

Oh no!  That’s the best way to describe this unit, as all five starters are missing.  Center Kyle Quinn is the only player to ever start a game, and he started a grand total of one.  Guards Trace Biskin and Chris Putton are as green as any starter in college football.  Tackles Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus are redshirt freshmen.  ‘Zona is going to regress by a considerable amount, and Foles is in danger of having to run for his life.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The front line is almost in the same boat as the offensive line.  The Wildcats lose two NFL Draft choices.  Tackle Justin Washington is the lone returnee.  He made 46 stops with 11 ½ for loss and will contend for 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors this year. 

 

Sione Tuihalamaka starts at the other tackle position.  He made 23 stops with three going for losses.  The ends will be Mohammed Usman and C. J. Parrish.

 

Linebackers

Paul Vassallo returns to his Will linebacker position after leading the team with 102 tackles and eight for loss.  Derek Earls returns at the middle spot after making 44 tackles.  David Lopez will be the new starter at the Sam position.  This is an average unit.

 

Secondary

If Arizona has a strength on this side of the ball, it is in the secondary.  Free safety Robert Golden finished tied for third in the league with 13 passes defended, but he only intercepted one pass.  He’ll team with Marquis Flowers, who made 11 tackles as a freshman.

 

At Cornerback, Trevin Wade needs to improve on his four passes defended, while Shaquille Richardson becomes a full-timer after coming up with nine passes defended.  Without a strong pass rush, this unit will struggle a little.  

 

OTHER

Arizona has to visit Oklahoma State just prior to playing Stanford, Oregon, and USC in consecutive weeks.  This four-game losing streak could damage the morale of the new starters and doom Arizona to a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The only sure wins on the schedule are the opener with Northern Arizona and the finale with Louisiana.  There are chances for maybe four conference wins, so the Wildcats could get to 6-6.  Who knows?  When Arizona faces Arizona State, if they are 4-4 in league play, the game could even be for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

U C L A

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford is noted for its great tradition of outstanding quarterbacks.  UCLA is noted for its awful tradition of injured quarterbacks.  It seems like every starter since Cade McNown graduated in the 1990’s has suffered some injury.

 

Kevin Prince is just the latest in that trend.  He made it through five games last year, passing for 384 yards out of the new pistol offense.  His knee was not well enough to allow him to set and throw quickly, and the extra running from the new formation sent him to the sidelines. 

 

Backup Richard Brehaut returns after leading the Bruins with almost 1,300 passing yards.

 

Two more QBs could see playing time this year; that is if tradition holds, and quarterbacks go out with injuries.  Nick Crissman was a highly sought-after passer four years ago, while true freshman Brett Hundley is a dual threat.  Hundley might have challenged for a starting spot, but he tore his meniscus playing basketball and will not be ready at the start of the season.  Even before he suited up, the injury bugaboo hit him.  Expect more of the jinx in 2011.

 

Late Note: Brehaut sprained his foot in practice and will miss a few days.  JINX!

 

Receivers

If a healthy quarterback can get in a rhythm and start several games, he will be happy with the group of receivers on hand.  Nearly everybody that caught or even dropped a pass in 2010 is back in 2011.  Leading receiver Taylor Embree strained a calf muscle and will be slowed to start the season.  Embree made 32 receptions but did not convert any into touchdowns.

 

Anthony Barr and Nelson Rosario will start at the other two receiver spots; they teamed for 38 receptions but just one touchdown.  Tight end Cory Harkey made 14 catches.  How many touchdowns did he score? Zero!  Of course, the Bruins only scored nine times through the air.  Randall Carroll is the one legitimate long ball threat.  He will see a lot of action after averaging 16.2 yards on his 15 receptions—and with two whole touchdowns!

 

Running Backs

At last, here is one position that will not cause Coach Rick Neuheisel nightmares.  Jonathan Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards and eight scores, while averaging 5.3 yards per rush.  Backup Derrick Coleman added 487 yards and five scores.  If the passing game develops like it could, the running game could see its yardage drop a little, but the average per carry could top 4.5 yards.

 

Offensive Line

Additional injuries and academic issues have put a dark cloud over this unit.  Guard Stan Hasiak had to enroll in a junior college due to grades.  His expected replacement, Jeff Baca, will miss the start of the season with an ankle injury.  The other guard spot was expected to be filled by Chris Ward.  He suffered a sprained ankle and will miss some practice time.

 

At least tackles Mike Harris and Sean Sheller are healthy and experienced.  Center Kai Maiava missed all of last year, but his healthy return is the one bright spot here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Bruins are in good shape here with a lot of depth and decent talent.  Damien Holmes and Datone Jones make up a quality pair of ends.  That is, if Jones can make a 100% comeback after a medical redshirt year in 2010.  Justin Edison and Cassius Marsh can plug a lot of gaps from their tackle positions. 

 

Linebackers

Will linebacker Sean Westgate made 90 tackles with four sacks and 11 total for losses.  He played tough against the short pass, knocking away four passes.  The unit will build around him.  Patrick Larimore missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  Glenn Love will start at the other linebacker spot after making 16 tackles as a reserve.

 

While not spectacular, this trio will not be the reason UCLA loses games this year.

 

Secondary

What looked like a possible strength has taken a pounding through injuries.  Somebody needs to investigate UCLA’s practice field.  Are they going on pavement or something?

 

Three starters return to the defensive backfield, including strong safety Tony Dye.  Dye led the Bruins with 96 tackles (remember what we said about strong safeties leading in tackles), while breaking up nine passes and pilfering one other.  His counterpart will be Dietrich Riley, who made 21 stops in reserve last year.

 

The cornerbacks are set with Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price.  The duo teamed for 51 tackles and 14 passes defended.  Jamie Graham figured to contend for a lot of playing time after transferring from Vanderbilt, but he suffered a meniscus tear that requires surgery and will be out until at least October.  Anthony Jefferson had to have surgery for a herniated disk in his back and will also be out all of September.

 

OTHER

Neuheisel is on the hot seat.  His three years in Westwood have produced a pair of 4-8 seasons with a 7-6 season in between.  He has two new coordinators this year.  Norm Chow went to Utah, so former 49ers’ offensive guru Mike Johnson takes over.  Joe Tresey is the new DC.  He was Brian Kelly’s DC at Cincinnati for two years.

 

SUMMARY

An opening game against Houston will be very interesting and reveal if UCLA has any chance of moving up from the dregs of the conference.  The next game against San Jose State should produce a win, but game three is against Texas.  The Bruins could be 1-2 and looking at another losing season; they could be 2-1 with a chance to get to seven wins.  If the quarterback play comes around with no injuries, they could even be 3-0.  If that’s the case, and the jinx can be avoided, they could be a dark horse for the South Division title, or at least the eligible team title.

 

Utah

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Welcome to the Pac-12 Jordan Wynn.  Wynn is 1-1 lifetime against conference opponents.  The Utes beat California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, and he almost upset Oregon in the 2009 regular season.

 

Last year in the Mountain West Conference, Wynn completed 62.2% of his passes for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  With new offensive coordinator Norm Chow tutoring him, he should produce better numbers even in a tougher league.

 

Juco transfer Jon Hayes will be the primary backup this year.

 

Receivers

Utah does not have exceptional talent here this year.  The depth is not there.  DeVonte Christopher is a gem; he led the Utes with 660 yards in receptions, averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

 

H-Back Luke Matthews is another big play receiver, but he only got his hand on 18 passes last year.  He will be called on to block more than catch passes. 

 

Reggie Dunn will split time with Dres Anderson at the flanker position, while Kendrick Moeai starts at tight end.

 

Running Backs

Utah must replace its two-platoon set of runners.  They combined for more than 1,400 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns.  Juco transfer John White will get first crack at starting, but Tauni Vakapuna should get a lot of attempts in short yardage situations.  He’s 5-09 and 229 pounds, so tackling him will be like stopping a large boulder coming down a mountain.

 

Offensive Line

This is not a strong unit.  Center Tevita Stevens is more than capable after earning 3rd Team All-MWC honors last year.  Tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have the experience with Bergstrom earning 2nd Team All-MWC honors.  Both projected starting guards will miss the start of the season, and Coach Kyle Whittingham has not yet settled on one of the replacements.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is some talent here, but overall, this is not an exceptional unit.  Star Lotulelei may one day live up to his name, but the nose tackle is an unknown commodity at the moment.  The other tackle will see a platoon between James Aiono and Dave Kruger.

 

Derrick Shelby and Joe Kruger will start at end.  Shelby made 6 ½ stops for loss last year. 

 

Linebackers

This is the strongest unit of a weak defense.  All three starters from last year return, and they finished one, two, and four in tackles.

 

Chaz Walker led the Utes with 113 tackles, while making seven for losses.  Hybrid linebacker/safety Matt Martinez made 91 tackles, while Brian Blechen added 67 stops and proved to be excellent against the pass with nine passes defended, four of them interceptions.

 

Secondary

The Utes have to start over here, as all four 2010 starters are gone.  Cornerbacks Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy have some experience, and Lacy has sprinter’s speed, so he will make up for a few mistakes before it can hurt the team.

 

Juco transfer Keith McGill will join true freshman Eric Rowe and sophomore Michael Walker at safety.

 

OTHER

Whittingham has expressed some concerns with his place kickers, as Coleman Petersen and Nick Marsh have been inconsistent in practice.

 

The Utes will miss punt returner Shaky Smithson, who took two back the distance last year, while averaging 19.1 yards per return to lead the nation.

 

SUMMARY

It is going to be a rough first season in the Pac-12 for the Utes.  Their offense will not equal last season’s production of 33 points and 389 yards, and their defense will give up more than 2010’s 20 points and 337 yards.

 

After an opening game with Montana State, Utah faces USC and BYU on the road.  They get a week off before starting conference play in earnest.  Mixed in the middle of the schedule is a trip to Pittsburgh. 

 

We see a 1-2 non-league record and then a struggle to win three more games.  At least, the Utes play neither Oregon nor Stanford.

 

Colorado

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy return to their alma mater to light a fire in the Buffaloes’ offense.  They inherit co-starter Tyler Hansen, who completed 68% of his passes but averaged less than 10 yards per completion.

 

Juco transfer Brent Burnette could challenge Hansen for the job.  Overall, this is the weakest QB roster in the Pac-12.

 

Receivers

Paul Richardson is sure to start after leading the Buffs with a 15.1 yard average per catch.  He grabbed 34 passes and scored six times.  Logan Gray, a former QB at Georgia, is immediately eligible and will start.  The other position will be split between Toney Clemons and true freshman Tyler McCulloch.  There is potential here, but they may need another season of experience.

 

Running Backs

Rodney Stewart is “the man.”  He was the Buffaloes’ offense last year, rushing for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Bieniemy may sound like a broken record calling his number over and over again this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to a rather decent unit.  Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins form a formidable pair of guards, while David Bakhtiari is a plus at tackle.  Jack Harris earned the other starting tackle nod, but he has never played in a college game in two years at CU.  There is a two-man battle to fill the center spot that would have belonged to Mike Iltis had he not given up football.  Daniel Munyer and Gus Handler are neck and neck.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Buffs are hurting on this side of the ball.  They will have a weaker defense than Washington State this year.  However, the four-man D-line is not all that bad.

 

Josh Hartigan and Chidera Uzo Diribe will make a decent pair of ends.  Hartigan made seven QB sacks as a designated pass rusher last year and will be more of a linebacker than end, while Will Pericak will play more like an end than a tackle.  Curtis Cunningham and Conrad Obi will play inside.  This unit has depth and some talent.

 

Linebackers

Unless you count Hartigan as a true linebacker, this unit is in need of a transfusion.  Jon Major made 57 tackles at the Will position last year, but too many of them were after nice gains by the enemy.  Derrick Webb and Douglas Rippy are not the answer and will be exploited.

 

Secondary

CU will be lit up via the passing game, as the secondary is not Pac-12 caliber.  Safeties Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins will make a lot of tackles, but officials will be signaling “first down” on most of them.  Travis Sandesfeld and Greg Henderson are subpar at cornerback.

 

OTHER

Colorado plays at Hawaii, so the Buffs will have 13 games on their schedule.  The contest with California in week two will not count as a Pac-12 game, since it was previously scheduled as a non-conference game.

 

SUMMARY

Because they play 13 games, there is a good chance CU will suffer through a double-digit loss season.  They play at Hawaii and at Ohio State outside of the league, and they face rival Colorado State at Invesco Field in Denver.  It will be a long first year for Embree.

 

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

North Division

 

 

Oregon

29

239

Stanford

13

220

Washington

 

142

Oregon State

 

120

California

 

110

Washington St.

 

51

 

 

 

South Division

 

 

Southern Cal

24

230

Arizona St.

13

207

Utah

4

170

Arizona

1

140

U C L A

 

89

Colorado

 

46

 

 

 

Pac-12 Championship

 

Oregon

 

28

Stanford

 

11

Arizona State

 

3

 

 

2011 Pac-12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

North Division

 

 

Stanford

126.4

9-0/13-0*

Oregon

125.6

8-1/11-1

Oregon State

112.9

5-4/6-6

Washington

112.9

5-4/7-5

California

111.3

3-6/6-6

Washington St.

102.8

3-6/5-7

   

 

South Division  

 

Southern Cal

117.2

7-2/9-3

Arizona St.

116.6

6-3/8-5

Arizona

113.1

3-6/5-7

U C L A

110.9

3-6/4-8

Utah

108.4

2-7/3-9

Colorado

101.8

0-9/1-12

   

 

* Stanford picked to defeat Arizona State
in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

 Coming Friday Night: A look at what’s left of the Big 12 Conference.

August 18, 2010

2010 Pac-10 Football Preview

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

 

2010 Pac-10 Conference Preview

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions

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

 

BCS (Rose) Bowl: Oregon

Alamo Bowl: Arizona

Holiday Bowl: California

Sun Bowl: Washington

Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Oregon State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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