The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 22, 2011

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

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

 

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

 

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

 

Boise State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

T C U

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Air Force

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

San Diego State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Colorado State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wyoming

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

U N L V

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

New Mexico

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011 Mountain West Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Boise State

28

236

T C U

3

208

Air Force

 

176

San Diego State

 

160

Colorado State

 

104

Wyoming

 

80

U N L V

 

77

New Mexico

 

39

 

 

2011 Mountain West Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Boise St.

121.7

7-0/12-0

T C U

110.0

6-1/11-1

Air Force

106.6

5-2/8-4

S.D.State

100.3

4-3/6-6

Colo.State

92.4

3-4/6-6

Wyoming

90.4

2-5/4-8

UNLV

85.2

1-6/2-10

New Mexico

81.7

0-7/1-11

 

August 11, 2010

2010 Mid-American Conference Preview

2010 Mid-American Conference Preview

 

After placing five teams in bowl games a year ago, the MAC is now guaranteed three teams in bowl games this season with a chance for a fourth and fifth team garnering an at-large bid.  It is our opinion that this league will produce five bowl-worthy teams this year, so don’t count out the chance of a repeat. 

The champion this year will face the number eight team from the Big Ten in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit.  The GMAC Bowl in Mobile gets second choice, and the Humanitarian Bowl at the blue field in Boise gets the third selection.  The PapaJohn’s.com Bowl will give precedence to a fourth bowl-eligible MAC team if they have an opening, and the inaugural Dallas Football Classic will look to the MAC after first looking to CUSA to find an at-large team.

This should be an interesting year in the league, as many teams go through a transition.  There are new coaches at Buffalo, Central Michigan, and Akron, and there are six new starting quarterbacks.  In the East, Temple looks to be the clear-cut favorite, but Ohio U has enough talent returning to repeat as division champs.  Kent State has just one bowl bid in its history, and that was in 1972 when Coach Don James led the Golden Flashes prior to earning legendary status at Washington.  That 38 year absence from post-season play could finally come to an end this year.

In the West, a tight race between Northern Illinois and Western Michigan could get even tighter if Central Michigan, Ball State, and Toledo can find answers at certain iffy positions.

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.

Mid-American Conference Predictions

 
East  
Pos Team Conf Overall  
1 Temple 7-1 10-3  
2 Ohio U 6-2 8-4  
3 Kent State 6-2 8-4  
4 Miami (Ohio) 3-5 4-8  
5 Buffalo 2-6 3-9  
6 Akron 2-6 3-9  
7 Bowling Green 2-6 2-10  
         
West  
         
1 Northern Illinois 8-0 9-4  
2 Western Michigan 6-2 8-4  
3 Central Michigan 4-4 5-7  
4 Toledo 3-5 3-9  
5 Ball State 2-6 4-8  
6 Eastern Michigan 1-7 1-11  

 

     
               

MAC Conference Championship Game: Temple over Northern Illinois

 

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl: Temple

G M A C Bowl: Northern Illinois

Humanitarian Bowl: Ohio U

 

Western Michigan and Kent State could be at-large bowl teams

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

MAC East

 

Team Akron Zips
               
Head Coach Rob Ianello
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Akron, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 77.9
               
National Rating 113
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: New head coach Rob Ianello comes over from Notre Dame where he was an offensive assistant to Charlie Weis.  He will make numerous changes in the offensive philosophy as the Zips were zipless last year on this side of the ball.

Quarterback Patrick Nicely started seven games as a true freshman last year.  However, even though he has more experience this year, his receiving corps has been decimated to graduation.  Only one contributor from last year returns, and Ianello has moved former defensive back Jalil Carter over to this side of the ball.

None of the running backs on the roster strike fear in the eyes of the opponents.  Only one back topped 200 yards rushing last year, and he graduated. 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is a rather experienced offensive line with credible talent at the terminal positions.

We look for Akron’s new offense to go through some growing pains at first, but by October, the Zips should be moving the ball with more zip.  Call it about 18-22 points and 325-350 yards per game.

Defense: The stop side would have held opponents under 25 points per game last year if it hadn’t been for an offense that turned the ball over too often.  The Zips could field a better defense this year, especially in the points allowed department.

Ianello will install a 4-3 defense, and he has three quality defenders returning up front.  Hasan Hazime, James Harvey, and Almondo Sewell combined for 17 tackles for loss, and that number should head north of 20 this year.

The three-man linebacker crew returns starters in Sean Fobbs, Brian Wagner, and Mike Thomas.  Wagner was the leading tackler in the league with 132 stops and 7 behind the line.  Thomas is a better zone pass defender than run-stopper, while Fobbs’ strength is against the run.

The secondary is the vulnerable part of the defense.  The loss of Miguel Graham is too much for the backfield to make up for, and Akron will give up more than 200 yards per game through the air.

Look for the Zips to yield about 25-30 points per game while giving up about 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: Akron has one easy mark on their non-conference schedule in Gardner-Webb.  The Zips open against a Syracuse team eager to show the nation they can compete for a bowl bid.  Back-to-back road games against Kentucky and Indiana close out what should be a rough September.  Look for Akron to go 1-3 outside of league play and then struggle to pick up two more victories.

 

Team Bowling Green Falcons
               
Head Coach Dave Clawson
               
Colors Orange and Brown
               
City Bowling Green, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 78.0
               
National Rating 112
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: Dave Clawson implemented one of the top passing games in the country in his first year with the Falcons, but year two finds him having to rebuild from scratch.  Gone is superb passer Tyler Sheehan who completed 65% of his passes for more than 4,000 yards and a TD/Int ratio of 27/7.

Redshirt freshman Matt Schilz and true sophomore Aaron Pankratz will compete to fill Sheehan’s shoes.  Look for a major drop in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage this year, and a rise in interceptions.

BGU lost its top two receivers, including Freddie Barnes (155-1,770 & 19 TD).  Nobody on this roster is capable of catching a dozen balls per game, and nobody has the blazing speed to turn a five-yard pass into a 40-yard gain.

The Falcons averaged just 87 rushing yards per game last year, but that number is a bit misleading.  In college football, sacks are ridiculously counted as rushing yards.  Factoring out sacks, BGU went from averaging 3.1 yards per carry to a more respectable 3.9.  Willie Geter could actually threaten the 1,000 yard rushing mark if he can get any help from his blockers.

BGU could drop by a touchdown or more offensively this year, so we will predict an output of 20-23 points and 325-350 yards per game.

Defense: This side of the ball is in worse shape than the offense.  Gone are the top six tacklers and leading pass defender from last year.  The defensive line appears to be in great shape, but the back seven are in shambles.  End Angelo Magnone and tackle Kevin Alvarado combined for 5 sacks last year.  

The pass defense returns players who combined for just two interceptions.  Cornerback Adrien Spencer and safety Keith Morgan will anchor the back line.  The two teamed up for nine passes deflected.

Bowling Green will give up more than 30 points and 400 yards per game this year, and the Falcons could yield more than 200 rushing and 200 passing yards.

Schedule: This looks like an 0-4 start out of conference.  The Falcons open with road games against Troy and Tulsa.  They then face Marshall at home before going to Ann Arbor to face Michigan.  Without a week off until November, the young squad could be nursing a lot of injuries.  The odd number of teams in the league leads to quirks in the schedule, and the Falcons will not play Akron this year.  They also miss the two easiest teams in the other division, so 2010 will be a long one in Bowling Green.

 

Team Buffalo Bulls
               
Head Coach Jeff Quinn
               
Colors Royal Blue and White
               
City Buffalo, NY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 81.6
               
National Rating 106
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: Turner Gill has left Upstate New York for Kansas, and new coach Jeff Quinn inherits enough talent to make the Bulls move on offense.  Quinn was the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati, and he will implement Brian Kelly’s spread offense here.

Unfortunately, Buffalo unexpectedly lost the services of an inexperienced quarterback when Zach Maynard transferred to California.  Lightly used sophomore Jerry Davis and untested redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will compete for the starting job.  Look for some growing pains and the possibility of one or two more players being tried at QB during the season.  Freshman Rudy Johnson is highly heralded.

Inexperience carries over to the receiving corps.  The top three pass catchers from last year are gone, and the leading returnee had just 25 receptions. 

Gill improved the running game every year he was at Buffalo, and he left the stables stocked with two fine runners.  Ike Nduka and Brandon Thermilius shared the load last year and combined for more than 1,150 yards.  They will benefit from the blocking of an experienced offensive line featuring all-MAC guard Peter Bittner.

There will be some transition in the offense this year, and it could lead to a couple of bad performances.  However, by the second half of the season, the Bulls could be a dangerous opponent for the other MAC defenses.  Look for about the same output as last year—24 points and 400 yards, but look for the Bulls to average more than 28 points per game after their bye week in October.

Defense: Quinn will switch the Bulls from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year, and it should work fine thanks to a great quartet of linebackers.  On the outside, no MAC team can do better than Buffalo with Steven Means and Justin Winters.  Means will be an excellent zone blitzer in the new defense, while Winters forces offenses to run the other way.

Up front, nose tackle Richie Smith has the girth to keep runners from plunging past the line for big gains.  He won’t register many tackles, but he will occupy a lot of space and require double team blocks, which will free up the linebackers to pursue and tackle.

The secondary actually performed better last year than in 2008 when the Bulls won the MAC.  Look for even more improvement with the return of both cornerbacks, including all-conference Domonic Cook, and the league’s best free safety in Davonte Shannon. 

Buffalo has the potential to post better defensive stats this year, and that makes the Bulls a dangerous team in an offensive-dominated league.  We believe the Bulls will surrender about 24 points and 325 yard this season. 

Schedule: An opener at home against Rhode Island should be a breather game.  The rest of the non-league schedule will be the opposite, as Buffalo plays at Baylor, hosts Central Florida, and goes to Connecticut.  At 1-3, the Bulls visit Bowling Green in what will be a tossup game.  If they can win this one, the season could turn around.  If they lose, it could drain the squad.  Buffalo closes with Ball State, Eastern Michigan, and Akron.  If they beat Bowling Green and then upset one other team in October, they could be looking at a .500 record.  We’ll say that the offense will take a little longer to gel, and the Bulls will have to wait until next year.

 

Team Kent State Golden Flashes
               
Head Coach Doug Martin
               
Colors Navy and Gold
               
City Kent, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 84.5
               
National Rating 98
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: It has been nine years since Kent State last enjoyed a winning season (6-5 in 2001).  The Golden Flashes are excited this year, because they have an offense capable of putting up enough points to end that drought.

Coach Doug Martin has all the pieces in place to make a run at the division title, and if the top two falter, it would not be a big surprise to see KSU in the MAC Championship game.

The return of star running back Eugene Jarvis is worth five to seven extra points per game.  Jarvis missed almost all of last season with a lacerated kidney.  When he last played an entire season, he rushed for 1,669 yards.  He is just 5-5 and 170 pounds, so he is very susceptible to injury.  The Flashes have more than adequate depth at his position.

Sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith gave Kent State its best passing game in four years last season, and he should continue to show progress in year two.  He will team up with top receiver Tyshon Goode to form one of the top combinations in the league.  Goode caught 53 passes for 755 yards in 2009.

The offensive line returns some good, young talent and should provide excellent protection for Keith while opening holes for the backs.

Look for Kent State to put up much better offensive numbers this year.  We see something in the order of 24-28 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Defense: Enough talent returns on this side of the ball to believe that the Flashes will perform at a similar or better rate than last year.  In 2009, Kent State gave up just 137 rushing yards per game and held enemy quarterbacks to just 56.7% completions.

The top six tacklers return including the league’s best linebacker.  Former Michigan Wolverine Cobrani Mixon led the Flashes with 108 tackles with 10 ½ behind the line.  He added seven deflected passes from his Mike linebacker spot. 

Hybrid End/Will linebacker Monte Simmons recorded eight sacks and eight other tackles for loss last year, giving Kent State the best linebacker unit in the league.

The defensive backfield is not as strong as the unit in front of them, but it is better than average.  Three starters return, including an outstanding pair of safeties.  Free safety Brian Lainhart led the MAC with seven interceptions.  Strong safety Dan Hartman picked off four passes and broke up nine others, but he is even better in support of the run.

The defensive line is the one weak spot on the entire roster.  If Simmons can have another outstanding year, the inexperience here could be partially hidden.

Kent State could easily lead the MAC in total defense and scoring defense this season.  We believe they will yield less than 20 points and 330 yards per game.

Schedule: The Flashes have one sure win, two sure losses, and one tossup game in their out-of-conference schedule.  An opening tilt with Murray State should be a breather.  Consecutive road games against Boston College and Penn State will not be much fun.  The November 13 home game with Army could be a bowl elimination game for the two teams.  Kent State gets both Temple and Ohio at home, and they have the talent to upset both teams.  Road games against Toledo and Western Michigan could decide in the end if 2010 will be “the year.”

 

Team Miami (Ohio) Redhawks
               
Head Coach Mike Haywood
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Oxford, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 87.8
               
National Rating 93
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: The good news:  Miami returns 10 starters to its offense.  The bad news: Miami returns 10 starters to an offense that scored just 15.6 points per game, rushed for just 70 yards per game, and turned the ball over via interceptions and fumbles almost as often as it did by punting (an exaggeration, but the Redhawks had a horrible -24 turnover margin last year!)

The rushing statistic looks much worse than it really was.  Miami quarterbacks endured 58 sacks due to a porous offensive line.  That line returns intact, and it has to be somewhat better.  Using an entirely new system hurt, and a year of experience should lead to better blocking this year.  Still, don’t expect Miami to lead the league in offense.

Quarterback Zac Dysert took his lumps as a freshman last year.  If he can cut down on his interceptions, he has the potential to be the best passer in the league.  Give him three more years, and he could surpass Ben Roethlisberger as the school’s top passer.

Dysert has some quality receivers to throw to, but there is no deep threat to spread defenses.  Miami will have to rely on converting first downs and sustaining drives to reach paydirt this year.

It won’t be hard to top last year’s poor offensive showing.  We believe Miami can top 20 points and 350 yards per game this season.

Defense: A better offense that can keep drives alive means a defense can stay on the bench for longer stretches.  Throw in the fact that 10 of the top 11 tacklers return, and Miami should make great strides on this side of the ball as well.

The monster on this side of the ball is middle linebacker Jerrell Wedge.  He was a one-man wrecking crew last year, recording 114 tackles with 18 ½ behind the line of scrimmage.

In front of Wedge is a very experienced defensive line that returns almost all of its two-deep from last year.  Still, it is a line that will not cause many problems for offensive linemen. 

The secondary wasn’t all that bad last year, holding half of their opponents to less than 200 passing yards.  Safety Anthony Kokal finished with 105 tackles, but second year coach Mike Haywood would be much happier if Kokal’s tackles fell into double digits this year.

Look for Miami to improve on this side of the ball as well.  The Redhawks surrendered better than 34 points per game last year, but they only gave up about 375 yards.  Just by cutting down on turnovers, the points allowed will improve.  Throw in an actual better defense, and that number should drop by more than a touchdown.  Call it 24-27 points and 350-370 yards allowed this year.

Schedule: This is a major drawback.  Miami has just one winnable non-conference game.  Road tilts with Florida, Missouri, and Cincinnati could see the Redhawks give up more than 120 points.  A home game with Colorado State should give Miami a better than 50% chance of winning.  The Redhawks get Eastern Michigan at home.  Road games against Bowling Green, Akron, Buffalo, and Central Michigan give them a chance for maybe two more wins.  Four wins would be four times more than last year.

 

Team Ohio Bobcats
               
Head Coach Frank Solich
               
Colors Green and White
               
City Athens, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 9-5
               
PiRate Rating 84.4
               
National Rating 99
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: Coach Frank Solich’s Bobcats benefited from a +12 turnover margin last season and won the MAC East.  The offense did not strike fear in their opponents, posting averages of 112 rush yards and 198 pass yards per game.

The Bobcats lose their top rusher, top passer, and top pass catcher this year, but the offense could actually improve some.  Solich uses a smorgasbord approach to his offense, using aspects of the spread, the pistol, and the zone read. 

Former Iowa State starter Phil Bates will battle 2008 starter Boo Jackson at quarterback; Bates is an all-out competitor, and we believe he will win the job.  Bates, or Jackson, will have two fine receivers running routes this year in Athens.  LaVon Brazill and Terrence McCrae both have the ability to turn a short pass into a long gain.  Brazill is the speedier of the two, while McCrae is the better target in a crowd.  Former Vanderbilt wide out Steven Goulet gives the Bobcats an excellent third option.

The running game will take a step backward this year.  Junior college transfer Kenny Ashley should be the lead back this year, as there isn’t much quality on the roster. 

The offensive line should be marginally better this year with three starters returning, as well as four from the second team.

We think Ohio will improve its yardage from 310 to about 350 per game, but the Bobcats may not score any more points than they did last year, when they averaged 24.8 per game.

Defense: The Bobcats could have the best defense in the MAC this year after having the second best stop troops last year.  It all starts up front where Ohio has a stellar line returning all four starters from a year ago.  All four can get in the backfield and stop a runner for a loss.  They need to improve their pass rushing ability, as the Bobcats had just 22 sacks all season.

The star of the defense is Mike linebacker Noah Keller, who recorded 155 tackles (23 more than any other MAC player).  Equally adept against the run or the pass, Keller could be the MAC Defensive Player of the Year this season.

The secondary may not dominate, but they won’t be embarrassed all that often.  Strong safety Gerald Moore picked off six passes last year.

Ohio gave up just 21 points per game in 2009, and the Bobcats should equal or even better that mark this year.  They should contend for the best total defense as well and surrender around 300-325 yards per game.

Schedule: Ohio faces Ohio State on September 18.  They won’t pull off the monumental upset, but the Bobcats put a scare in a really good Buckeye team two years ago.  Home games with Wofford and Louisiana-Lafayette should provide the Bobcats with two wins, while a trip to Marshall should be interesting.  Since that comes the week after Ohio State, we will give the edge to the Thundering Herd.  Ohio must play at Temple and Kent State this year, so we believe the road is too tough for the Bobcats to win the division again.  Six conference wins and eight overall should get Ohio back into a bowl game.

 

Team Temple Owls
               
Head Coach Al Golden
               
Colors Cherry and White
               
City Philadelphia, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 91.0
               
National Rating 85
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: When Al Golden took over this Temple team in 2006, the Owls were coming off an 0-11 season in which they scored less than 10 points per game.  His first squad “improved” to 1-11 and scored 11 points per game while actually falling to just 216 yards per game.  The next three years, Temples scoring output increased by six points per season.  Now, coming off a 9-4 campaign that included a bowl loss to UCLA, the Owls are poised to top 30 points per game for the first time since 1979.

Vaughn Charlton began 2009 as the starting quarterback, but Chester Stewart took over in the second half of the season.  Stewart will be number one from the opening snap this year, while Charlton has moved to tight end.  At 6-4, he will provide Stewart with an excellent target in the middle.

Temple didn’t pass the ball all that well last year, so even though the top three receivers return, the trio only combined for 67 receptions and 1,133 yards.  One of those three receivers, James Nixon, moved to defense and will be the best kick returner in the league.

The running game clicked for the Owls last year, and it should continue to work wonders.  Back Bernard Pierce rushed for a league-leading 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, and he should top 1,500 this year if he stays healthy.

The Owls boast the best offensive line in the MAC.  Four starters return to the fold including three who earned all-conference mention.

We look for Temple to score 30-35 points per game while averaging 350-380 total yards.  The rushing total could top 200, while the passing tops 150.  Temple should lead the league in yards per reception as defenses have to cheat up to the line to slow down the running game.

Defense: Like he has with the offense, Golden’s defenses have improved every year from 45 to 41 to 26 to 23 to 22 points allowed.  There is no reason to believe that trend won’t continue this year, as the Owls are loaded on this side of the ball.

The defensive line shares with its offensive counterpart—it is the best in the league hands down.  Tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and end Adrian Robinson teamed up for 20 QB sacks and seven passes batted down.  Robinson is the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year.  Though both juniors, they could easily be playing in the NFL next year.

The second line of defense is only average, and if the Owls do not win the MAC this year, it could be because opponents gain an extra yard or two at opportune moments.  One player who takes a backseat to nobody in the MAC is middle linebacker Elijah Joseph, but the outside spots are question marks.

The secondary is tough.  Two of the three returning starters are All-MAC performers.  Safeties Kevin Kroboth and Jaiquawn Jarrett both knocked down seven passes last year.

Temple could yield as few as 17 points and 300 yards per game in a league noted for high-flying offenses.  If so, look for a very memorable season in Philadelphia.

Schedule: What appears to be a “gimme” win for the Owls may be anything but this year.  Temple opens with cross-town rival Villanova on Friday, September 3.  The Wildcats defeated the Owls last year on their way to a 14-1 season and FCS National Championship.  VU returns 15 starters, so this game will be a hard-fought struggle.  Temple faces Connecticut, Penn State, and Army out of conference, so it could be anything from 2-2 to 0-4 outside of league play.  The Owls host Ohio U, but they must play at Kent State and Northern Illinois.  We don’t see them running the table in the conference, and if Kent State beats them, the Owls may need help from another team to win their first division title.

 

MAC West

 

Team Ball State Cardinals
               
Head Coach Stan Parrish
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Muncie, IN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 81.7
               
National Rating 104
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: Head coach Stan Parrish has got to be the most unlucky coach in FBS history.  He has been a head coach at the top level for four seasons spread out over a quarter century, and he has a 4-41-1 record to show for it.  Three of those seasons were at Kansas State from 1986 to 1988, when the Wildcats did not emphasize football.  The fourth season came last year here in Muncie, as Ball State faced a serious rebuilding effort.

Parrish could see his career wins double this season thanks to an offense that returns 10 starters.  Quarterback Kelly Page only had to take over for the school’s top career passer last year and he didn’t have the school’s number two and three career pass catchers; he was not ready for the league rigors as a freshman.  Look for much better production from him this year.

The top nine receivers return this season, led by Briggs Orsborn and Torieal Gibson.  They aren’t an exceptional group overall, but the Cardinals can only improve in this area after averaging a paltry 134 yards through the air in 2009.

The BSU running game is in much better shape with the return of star back Miquale Lewis.  Lewis rushed for more than 1,700 yards in 2008 with a veteran offensive line blocking for him.  Last year, with a very young and inexperienced line, that number dropped to 871.  Look for something in between in his final year here, but that should be enough to make him the school’s all-time leading runner (he needs just 669 yards to do so).

The offensive line returns intact from a year ago after three freshmen and a sophomore started for most of the season.  Look for the line to open up more holes and give Page more time to pass.

Ball State scored 15 fewer points per game last year than in 2008.  Look for the Cardinals to top 20 points per game this year, but they will not approach the great numbers from two years ago.  BSU should average about 320-340 total yards per game.

Defense: The Cardinals fielded a credible defense in 2009 that was just on the field too much.  With a little better offense that can keep possession of the ball a minute or two more per game this year, Ball State should see their stop troops improve substantially.  Whether or not that improvement will be enough to guide the team back to a winning record may be asking too much.

The defense switched to a 4-3 alignment last year, and having an extra year of experience should help improve the numbers.  The strength of this unit is at linebacker, where all three starters return.  Davyd Jones and Travis Freeman led the team in tackles with 100 and 93 respectively, but too many of those stops occurred after sizeable gains by the offense.

The secondary was much too generous last year, giving up 65% completions and 234 yards per game.  Three starters return, plus the Cardinals add former Michigan safety Artis Chambers.  Look for BSU to be a little stingier this year.

Ball State will give up about 24-27 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: The Cardinals should start 2-0 with home games against Southeast Missouri and Liberty.  When conference play begins three weeks later, BSU will be 2-2 after losing at Purdue and Iowa.  They get Eastern Michigan and Akron at home, so there is a good chance Ball State will at least double its win total from a year ago.

 

Team Central Michigan Chippewas
               
Head Coach Dan Enos
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Mt. Pleasant, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-2
               
PiRate Rating 88.5
               
National Rating 92
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: New head coach Dan Enos was the running backs coach at Michigan State the last three years.  He helped develop Javon Ringer into an NFL talent.  He better hope that somebody on the CMU roster can resemble Ringer, because the Chippewas have lost the services of the league’s top career passer.  Dan LeFevour is now in training camp with the Chicago Bears.

Ryan Radcliff saw very limited action for CMU last year, and the lightly used sophomore will get first crack at filling the giant shoes of LeFevour.  Radcliff will move under center unlike LeFevour, who operated from a shotgun where he could run and pass.  Look for a severe drop-off in both rushing and passing yards.

CMU lost its top two receivers, who combined for 174 receptions, 1,982 yards, and 16 touchdowns.  Kito Poblah and Cody Wilson give the Chippewas a foundation to rebuild on.  The tandem combined for 78 catches and 907 yards last year.

The running game relied on LeFevour the way Florida relied on Tim Tebow.  There isn’t much to get excited about in this department as Carl Volny and Paris Cotton are decent relief runners but poor feature backs.  Cotton figures to see a few more carries than Volny.  The two could combine for 1,000 plus rushing yards, but they will not match the 4.6 yards per rush recorded by last year’s runners.

An experienced offensive line should give CMU a fighting chance to run the ball and produce some decent results through the air.  Four starters return from last year led by the league’s best center Colin Miller.

CMU averaged 34 points and 423 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will fall to 22-26 points and 350-375 yards per game this season.

Defense: While the offense made the headlines, it was the Chippewa defense that got the job done when the title was on the line.  CMU held Ohio to 10 points and 275 yards in the MAC Championship game.

A lot of talent was lost to graduation, but there are still some very good players returning on this side of the ball.  At linebacker, Nick Bellore earned 1st Team All-MAC honors after posting 132 tackles, 13 of those behind the line.  He played well in pass coverage as well.  Will linebacker Mat Berning had 108 tackles and 8 ½ behind the line.  He knocked down seven passes as well.

Up front, half of the stellar defensive line starters return this year.  How well the two new starting ends perform could go a long way in determining the Chippewa’s fate.

The secondary is a concern this year, and we expect opposing quarterbacks to throw early and often against this untested quartet.  As a result, the linebackers may have to cheat back a little, thus weakening their ability to stop the run.

CMU will give up more than 20 points and 350 yards per game this year.  If that number approaches 25 points per game, it could be a long transitional season.

Schedule: A season opener at home with Hampton should give the new players a little confidence.  That should be the Chippewas only non-conference win, as they must face Northwestern, Virginia Tech, and Navy on the road.  Inside the MAC, CMU should split their eight games, which means they will fall under .500 overall.

 

Team Eastern Michigan Eagles
               
Head Coach Ron English
               
Colors Dark Green and White
               
City Ypsilanti, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12
               
PiRate Rating 69.6
               
National Rating 120
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: The Eagles don’t have much going for them on this side of the ball, and yet it is the stronger unit of the two.  There is but one way for an 0-12 team to go, but improvement in 2010 could be negligible.

Second year head coach Ron English will more than likely rely on a two-man platoon at quarterback.  Alex Gillett is a dual-threat player who can score with his feet or his arm.  Redshirt freshman Devontae Payne is a pure pocket passer with a rifle for an arm.  Opposing defenses will have to prepare for both players.

At running back, returning starter Dwayne Priest has exceptional speed, but he lacks the power to escape a single tackler.  He could rush for 800 yards with a little better blocking up front.

The offensive line is stronger the closer you get to the ball, or to put it another way, it gets weaker as it moves away from the ball.  None of the players on this roster will contend for 1st or 2nd team all-conference honors.

EMU should surpass last year’s statistical figures, but the improvement may not be enough to stop the losing streak.  Look for 18-21 points and 300 yards per game this year.

Defense: English inherited a defense that had surrendered 36 points and 400+ yards a game in 2008, and his first team in Ypsilanti actually performed worse, giving up 38 points and 427 yards per game.  Against the run, the numbers were scary bad—277 yards allowed at 6.3 yards per rush!  Three defensive line starters return, but the one lost starter was the best of the four by far. 

The second unit, much like the linemen, returns all but one starter, and that lost starter was the best player on the entire defense. 

The secondary gave up just 151 passing yards per game last year, but opposing teams only passed the ball 19 times per game.  There is some talent in this unit, and if the Eagles actually take a second half lead in a game, this group could come up with a big play to end the long losing streak.

We see EMU improving some on this side of the ball, but that means they might give up 33-35 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Schedule: Once again, it appears that EMU has little or no chance to win a game outside of league play.  The Eagles face a much improved Army team that should rush for 300 yards against this defense.  They must go on the road to Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and Virginia, and while the latter two face major rebuilding projects, the Eagles are not talented enough to beat either team on enemy turf.  EMU will be an underdog in all 12 games, and there is a chance they could go winless again.  We think they will come up with an upset in conference play to finish 1-11.  It’s been 29 years since a FBS school lost every game for two consecutive years (Northwestern) (Kansas State went 0-10-1 and 0-11 in 1987 and 1988).

 

Team Northern Illinois Huskies
               
Head Coach Jerry Kill
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Dekalb, IL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 90.5
               
National Rating 86
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 9-4

 

Offense: The MAC version of Fresno State, Northern Illinois picked up another Big Ten win last year with a 28-21 upset of Purdue.  They gave Wisconsin all they could handle in a 28-20 loss.  Third year coach Jerry Kill has his best team yet in Dekalb, as the Huskies are primed for a run to the league title thanks to a rushing attack that should top 200 yards per game. 

Chad Spann returns to the fold after earning 1st Team All-MAC honors last year.  Spann topped 1,000 yards on the ground even though he had to split carries with another player.  He should get about 50 more attempts this year.  Top newcomer Jasmin Hopkins led the Juco ranks last year with more than 1,900 yard rushing, so he could provide an ample change of pace to Spann. 

A talented and experienced offensive line is set to open holes for the stable of running backs.  Tackle Trevor Olson could contend for 1st Team All-MAC honors.

There is a heated battle for the starting quarterback position between last year’s starter Chandler Harnish, backup DeMarcus Grady, and Juco newcomer Casey Weston.  Grady is currently number one at the start of preseason drills, but it would not surprise me if Harnish regains his starting spot after a quick recovery from a 2009 knee injury.  No matter who lines up under center in week one, the passing game will be merely a secondary option to the running game. 

Receiver Landon Cox returns after leading NIU with 45 catches a year ago.  The makings of a good unit is here, but the rest of the receiving corps lacks experience.

Northern Illinois will not put up gaudy statistics due to the reliance on the running game, but the Huskies should consistently use ball-possession as a major weapon.  Look for NIU to score about 28-31 points and gain 350-375 yards per game while holding total plays per game for both teams under 125.

Defense: NIU’s defense could be on the field about 10 fewer plays per game than the average MAC defense.  That should equal about one long drive per game not allocated to the opposition.  Last year, with only three starters returning, NIU still finished third in the league in defense.  This year, eight starters return, and the Huskies look like the cream of the MAC crop.

The secondary is the best part of the defense.  All four starters return, including an excellent duo at cornerback in Patrick George and Chris Smith.

The front seven should be as good as last year with the return of two defensive line starters and two linebackers.  Sam linebacker Alex Kube and Will linebacker Pat Schiller should combine for more than 150 tackles and 15 stops for loss.

NIU gave up 21.6 points and 330 yards per game last year, and those numbers should be a little better this season.  If they approach 17 points and 300 yards, the fans in Dekalb could be celebrating a MAC Championship.

Schedule: We think the Huskies have a 50-50 chance of running the table in conference play, at least until the MAC Championship Game.  The non-league schedule presents a wide variation of possibilities.  The Huskies open at Iowa State on Thursday night, September 2.  The Cyclones will be weaker this season and beatable in Ames.  After a home game with North Dakota, NIU travels to Illinois and Minnesota in consecutive weeks.  Again, both of these games are winnable but not sure things.  NIU could enter conference play at 1-3, 2-2, 3-1, or even 4-0.  The potential is there for a repeat of 2003, or even better.

 

Team Toledo Rockets
               
Head Coach Tim Beckman
               
Colors Midnight Blue and Gold
               
City Toledo, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 80.5
               
National Rating 108
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: The Rockets were an exciting team last year with a wide open offense that produced 30 points and almost 440 yards per game.  Expect more of the same in year two of the Coach Tim Beckman era in Toledo.

Quarterback Austin Dantin received three starts as a true freshman last year filling in for the injured Aaron Opelt.  Dantin averaged better than eight yards per attempt, and he could possibly top 3,000 yards through the air this season.

Receiver Eric Page is the league’s leading returning pass catcher after grabbing 82 passes for 1,159 yards.  He was just a freshman!  Could a triple digit reception season be in his future?  It’s possible.

Running back Morgan Williams lost his starting job last year after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in 2008.  If he returns to form, the Rockets will be impossible to stop this season.

The offensive line is one of the most experienced group of blockers in the nation.  They gave up just 18 sacks to a group of passers that combined for 37 passing attempts per game.

The Rockets should average 33-36 points and 450-475 yards per game this season; they will continue to be one of the most exciting teams in the nation to watch.

Defense: As good as the offense is, the defense is the polar opposite.  Toledo gave up 38 points and 400+ yards per game last season, and it doesn’t appear that 2010 will see enough improvement to win more games.

Two starters return up front, but neither of them will be confused for all-conference players.  Toledo had just 20 sacks last year, and they lose their top sack man.

The Rockets use a 4-2-5 defense, and they return just one of their linebacker tandem.  That lost player was the best player on the entire defense, Barry Church, who made all-conference all four years.

The quintet in the secondary is the strength of this unit.  Toledo started three freshmen last year, and as sophomores, they should be much better.  The Rockets welcome back Desmond Morrow, a 2008 starter who missed most of last year with an ACL injury.

Toledo should surrender fewer points this year.  However, a weaker run defense could keep the stop troops on the field for longer stretches.  Look for the Rockets to give up as much as 200 rushing yards and 375-400 total yards per game while allowing about 28-33 points per game.

Schedule: This is a major problem.  Toledo will not win a non-conference game, and they could be quite banged up by the time they are finished with the last of those games.  Arizona visits the Glass Bowl to kick off the season.  Road games at Purdue and Boise State will be trouble.  A homecoming game with Wyoming comes sandwiched between Purdue and Boise State.  The Rockets will compete in most of their conference games, but they could repeat their 3-5 mark.

 

Team Western Michigan Broncos
               
Head Coach Bill Cubit
               
Colors Brown and Gold
               
City Kalamazoo, MI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 77.0
               
National Rating 115
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: The Broncos were inconsistent on offense last year.  They topped 30 points four times and scored 17 or less points five times.  With the loss of the school’s career best passer, 2010 could be a trying one for a team that has enough talent to contend for the division flag.

Quarterback Alex Carder saw limited action as a freshman last year, but he begins 2010 as the clear-cut starter.  He won’t be asked to pass the ball over 40 times per game like Tim Hiller, but he has a great set of receivers on hand. 

The top five receivers from last year are back in the fold, giving the Broncos the hands down best receiving unit in the league.  Drew Burdi, an option-style QB was moved to wide receiver to add to those riches.

WMU must replace star running back Brandon West, who rushed for 1,164 yards and 10 TDs.  He leaves a major void, as the new starter, Aaron Winchester, ran for just 148 yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

The lack of a proven runner might force Carder to take the ball to the air a bit too much, and his inexperience could lead to an increase in interceptions.  Still, WMU should average better than 25 points and 375 yards per game.

Defense: There are definite strengths and glaring weaknesses on this side of the ball, but the Broncos are sure to improve on their lousy showing of last year when they gave up 28 points and 419 yards per game.

First the bad news:  the secondary gave up 241 passing yards per game and seldom supplied much pressure on receivers.  Two freshmen could start this year.

The Broncos are a little more settled at linebacker.  Rover Jamail Berry is more of a linebacker than secondary player.  He led WMU with five interceptions (half of the team’s picks).  Newcomer Dex Jones possesses great speed, and the former Wisconsin player should be a vast improvement on the weak side.

The defensive line is not impressive, but there is more experience returning this year than returned in 2009.

If the Broncos can develop an average pass rush, they could make an unexpected run at Northern Illinois.  We believe they will improve some, but not enough.  Call it 24-27 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Broncos are looking at a 2-2 mark outside of conference play.  They host Nicholls State and Idaho and travel to Michigan State and Notre Dame.  League games with Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Central Michigan, and Akron give WMU a good shot at enjoying a winning league mark.  The Broncos get Kent State and Northern Illinois at home, and if they win one of those games, they will be bowling this year. 

 

Coming Tomorrow: A look at the three independents—Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.  Could the entire trio be bowl eligible in 2010?

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