The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 8, 2019

2019 Conference USA Football Preview

Welcome to the 2019-2020 College Football season on the SS Touchdown, your favorite PiRate ship of analytical merriment.

The PiRates have spent hours upon hours doing research this summer getting ready for another football season.  2018 was an incredible year for our ratings, as we finished at the top of the Prediction Tracker against the spread in college football, and the best against the spread and at picking winners in NFL football.  We have seen a steady bump in additional readers, so we hope we can follow up with another great year.

Today, we begin previewing one NCAA FBS conference per day for the next 11 days.  In past years, we published lengthy previews, but after hearing from a lot of you tell us that you come here for the stats, we are going to try to become the Sergeant Joe Friday of football, “Just the Stats.”  Oh, we’ll throw in a little Joe Gannon and include something from out of left field when something warrants it.

We begin with Conference USA, the #11 rated conference to begin the PiRate Ratings season.

The Official Media Poll

Conference USA Media Poll
East Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes
1 Marshall 14
2 Florida Int’l. 9
3 Florida Atlantic 3
4 Middle Tennessee 0
5 Western Kentucky 0
6 Old Dominion 0
7 Charlotte 0


West Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes
1 North Texas 20
2 Southern Miss. 4
3 Louisiana Tech 0
4 UAB 2
5 UTSA 0
6 Rice 0
7 UTEP 0

For some reason, Conference USA did not release the total vote count by the media.  We only received the First Place Votes and position each team finished in the voting.  Additionally, the media did not vote on an overall champion.


The PiRate Ratings

Preseason PiRate Ratings–CUSA
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Florida Int’l. 93.6 93.7 94.4 93.9
Marshall 92.9 92.6 93.8 93.1
Florida Atlantic 91.7 91.1 92.4 91.7
Middle Tennessee 90.5 90.0 90.6 90.4
Western Kentucky 87.5 88.7 89.0 88.4
Charlotte 86.6 87.0 87.0 86.9
Old Dominion 75.1 76.0 75.1 75.4


West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Southern Miss. 93.4 92.2 93.7 93.1
North Texas 92.5 92.3 93.4 92.7
Louisiana Tech 90.7 90.8 90.8 90.7
U A B 88.2 89.1 88.7 88.7
U T S A 77.5 80.0 77.2 78.2
Rice 77.7 78.8 77.0 77.9
U T E P 67.9 72.6 68.3 69.6
CUSA Averages 86.1 86.8 86.5 86.5

Note:  These preseason ratings are accurate as of August 1, 2019, and subject to change before the first week of the season due to personnel changes prior to the first week of the season.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

The PiRate Ratings were not created to forecast won-loss records like other ratings might attempt.  Our ratings are valid for just the next game on the teams’ schedules, and we have pre-set adjustments built into our ratings on many teams.  For instance, if a team has exceptional starting talent but little depth, their rating has a pre-set reduction per week of the season, so that even if they win or lose a game by the exact expected margin, they will lose some of their power rating due to their depth issues.

If a team has exceptional, but inexperienced talent, their rating will have a pre-set addition per week of the season, and even if their performance may be exactly what was expected, their power rating will rise.

What you see in these predicted won-loss records are our opinion and not calculated from the ratings.  These are the estimated records based on a vote, with the Captain having 50% of the vote and the crew having the other 50%.  Then, if the Captain didn’t like the result, he swung his sword and chose them by himself.  Actually, the conference records had to be balanced, and all the half-win votes made it a mess, so it’s probably 100% his opinion.

PiRate Members Predicted Won-Loss
East Division
Pos Team CUSA Overall
1 Florida Atlantic 6-2 8-5
2 Marshall 6-2 9-3
3 Florida Int’l. 5-3 7-5
4 Western Kentucky 4-4 5-7
5 Middle Tennessee 4-4 5-7
6 Charlotte 3-5 5-7
7 Old Dominion 1-7 2-10


West Division
Pos Team CUSA Overall
1 Southern Miss. 7-1 9-4*
2 Louisiana Tech 6-2 9-3
3 North Texas 6-2 7-5
4 UAB 5-3 8-4
5 UTSA 2-6 3-9
6 Rice 1-7 1-11
7 UTEP 0-8 1-11
* Southern Miss. picked to win CUSA Championship


Bowl Projections

Bowl Team
Bahamas Southern Miss.
First Responder Marshall
Gasparilla Cincinnati
New Mexico Louisiana Tech
New Orleans UAB


Alternate Bowl Teams
Frisco Florida Int’l
Independence North Texas

Coaches That Could Move To FBS Power Conference Schools

Seth Littrell–North Texas

Lane Kiffin–Florida Atlantic

Jay Hopson–Southern Miss.


Coaches on The Hot Seat

Dana Dimel–UTEP

Frank Wilson–UTSA

Bobby Wilder–Old Dominion


Top Quarterbacks

Mason Fine–North Texas

Tyler Johnson III–UAB

James Morgan–Florida Int’l.


Best Offense

North Texas

Florida Int’l.



Best Defense


Louisiana Tech

Southern Miss.


Coming Tomorrow–The Mid-American Conference




August 11, 2018

2018 Conference USA Preview

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

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


Conference USA is an interesting league. Annually, it comes in as the second weakest conference overall to begin each season, sometimes just a fraction ahead of the Sun Belt. Yet. this league produces a plethora of bowl-eligible teams. Last year was no different, as 10 of the 14 schools earned bowl eligibility, and nine received bowl invitations.

Last year, after a slow start that saw his team lose big to Navy and Wisconsin and then suffer a heartbreaking loss at Buffalo, Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team caught fire and won their final 10 games. Included in the season-ending sweep were a CUSA Championship Game title and a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl, both by fat margins. The Owls finished the season averaging better than 40 points and almost 500 total yards per game, but Kiffin will have to rebuild on this side of the ball. Expect defense to help FAU contend for another conference title.

Marshall and Middle Tennessee should be FAU’s chief competition for the title. Coach Doc Holliday is one of the best recruiters in the Group of 5 conferences, and he has a lot of experienced talent returning to Marshall. If not for the fact that the Thundering Herd will have to break in a new quarterback and has no player that has thrown even one pass for the school in a game. Additionally, there will be a new offensive coordinator, as Tim Cramsey comes to Huntington from Sam Houston State and brings a new offense.  Of course, his 2017 SHU offense merely averaged better than 43 points per game and proved to be powerful running and passing the ball.

Middle Tennessee has the top returning quarterback in the division in Brent Stockstill, but the Blue Raiders have an iffy secondary and could be forced to outscore opponents every week.

The West Division looks like a three-team race. North Texas, Lousiana Tech, and UAB could finish in a three-way tie, with Southern Mississippi a distant fourth. Having two of the weakest FBS teams in the same division in Rice and UTEP, means that the other four division rivals can almost count on two conference victories already.

North Texas has the top overall quarterback in the league and maybe the best overall in the Lone Star State in Mason Fine. As a sophomore last season, he finished 6th nationally in passing yards, and he is the leading passing yardage leader among returning quarterbacks. Fine has most of his receiving corps returning this year, so if he gets just a little better pass protection, he could lead the Mean Green to the best season in Denton since Hayden Fry coached there in the late 1970’s. UNT Coach Seth Littrell is on a fast track to taking over a big time program. Every stop along the way, the team he has coached as an assistant set passing and total offense records. Mentoring Fine is not the first time he has trained a top prospect into a big-time talent. He previously tutored Nick Foles at Arizona.

UAB coach Bill Clark takes a back seat to nobody. How’s this for an incredible feat of wizardry? Clark stayed with the program when the school dropped football for two seasons. With just a handful of recruits to work with and a promise of playing again in the future, he recruited enough talent and then “coached ’em up.” Picked to maybe win two games by most pundits last year in their return to the game, UAB enjoyed an 8-win season and bid to the Bahamas Bowl. With 14 starters returning from last year’s first team back in football and a decent recruiting class, UAB should be right there with North Texas in the West Division race.

Skip Holtz is the big name in the West Division of CUSA, and his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have to be considered one of the tri-favorites in this division. His team underperformed a bit last year but still managed to win seven times and make an appearance in the Frisco Bowl, where LT looked more like the team people expected them to be, dusting SMU 51-10. The Techsters have a lot of returning talent, and if said talent plays more like they did in the bowl and less like they did against Southern Miss and Rice, then the Bulldogs could make it back to the top of the division.

Here is how the CUSA media voted in the preseason poll.

East Division 1st Place Votes
1. Florida Atlantic 22
2. Marshall 4
3. Middle Tennessee 0
4. Florida Int’l. 0
5. Western Kentucky 0
6. Old Dominion 0
7. Charlotte 0
West Division 1st Place Votes
1. North Texas 18
2. Louisiana Tech 4
3. UAB 3
4. Southern Miss. 1
5. UTSA 0
6t. Rice 0
6t. UTEP 0

There were no votes for overall conference champion.

The PiRate Ratings basically confirm the media’s preseason opinions.

Conference USA
East Division
Team CUSA Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Florida Atlantic 0-0 0-0 102.0 103.0 103.3 102.8
Marshall 0-0 0-0 94.3 97.1 95.0 95.5
Middle Tennessee 0-0 0-0 91.4 93.4 93.0 92.6
Old Dominion 0-0 0-0 87.5 91.3 89.0 89.3
Florida Int’l. 0-0 0-0 82.0 86.8 82.6 83.8
W. Kentucky 0-0 0-0 80.4 84.6 81.2 82.1
Charlotte 0-0 0-0 76.2 78.7 76.3 77.1
West Division
Team CUSA Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisiana Tech 0-0 0-0 93.8 96.4 95.2 95.1
N. Texas 0-0 0-0 93.0 96.3 93.6 94.3
U A B 0-0 0-0 91.1 93.6 91.5 92.1
Southern Miss. 0-0 0-0 81.6 85.0 82.1 82.9
U T S A 0-0 0-0 80.2 85.6 81.6 82.5
Rice 0-0 0-0 71.4 74.5 69.7 71.9
U T E P 0-0 0-0 69.3 72.5 68.6 70.1
CUSA Averages 85.3 88.5 85.9 86.6

New Coaches

When a large majority of schools gain bowl eliibility, there are not going to be a lot of coaching dismissals. Unless coaches get better jobs, they will return to their respective schools. As mentioned previously, Rice and UTEP ranked in the bottom 10 of all FBS schools last year, and these two teams will welcome new leaders.

Rice hired MIke Bloomgren and hopes to get the same results that Bloomgren produced as offensive coordinator at Stanford. He also has experience coaching with the New York Jets during the Rex Ryan era. The Owls will use power running mixed with play-action passing and hope to improve on 16 points and 330 yards per game on offense. Thanks to home games with Prairie View and UTEP, Bloomgren should double the win total from one to two.

UTEP wore the collar last year, going 0-12 and losing by an average of 25 points per game. The Miners hired 55-year old Dana Dimel, who for the last decade has been the offensive coordinator at Kansas State. Dimel has past head coaching stops at Wyoming and Houston. He succeeded in Laramie but failed in Houston. In year one, he faces a gargantuan rebuilding process, but you cannot really go south from 0-12, unless you repeat with another 0-12 that includes a loss to an FCS team. Northern Arizona will be a tough FCS opponent for the Miners.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

Team Conference Overall
Florida Atlantic 8-0 11-2 *
Marshall 7-1 9-3
Middle Tennessee 6-2 7-5
Old Dominion 4-4 6-6
Western Kentucky 3-5 5-7
Florida Int’l. 2-6 3-9
Charlotte 0-8 1-11
Team Conference Overall
North Texas 6-2 9-4
UAB 6-2 9-3
Louisiana Tech 6-2 8-4
Southern Miss. 4-4 5-7
UTSA 3-5 5-7
Rice 1-7 2-11
UTEP 0-8 1-11
* Fla. Atlantic picked to win CUSA Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
CUSA does not have a set bowl order. They send teams to bowls to create the best overall matchups.

These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas
Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL
Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL
Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, HI
Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, TX
New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, NM
New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, LA

There are secondary bowl agreements with the Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas, and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, if those bowl need at-large alternates.

Coming Tomorrow–The Mid-American Conference

March 9, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 9 Update

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 8:25 am

Three More Tickets Punched

Horizon League Championship

Butler 59  Milwaukee 44

 The Bulldogs held Milwaukee to 30% shooting from the field, and Matt Howard connected on seven of nine shots to pace Butler with 18 points, as the defending National Final runner-up earned another spot in the Big Dance.

 Summit League Championship

Oakland 90  Oral Roberts 76 

The Golden Grizzlies displayed a great offensive show with the aid of numerous first half steals by Drew Valentine and Reggie Hamilton to build a double-digit lead by the break.  After withstanding an early second half run by the Golden Eagles, Oakland pulled away to win the automatic bid.  

Keith Benson topped Oakland with 28 points and 14 rebounds.  Hamilton added 25 with six assists, while Will Hudson recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.


Sunbelt Conference Championship

U A L R  64  North Texas  63 

The Trojans won their first Sunbelt Championship and earned their first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1990.


SBC Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman drove from the backcourt to the left side of the top of the key and drained a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining to give UALR the decisive points.  Bozeman scored a game-high 20 points. 

North Texas had led by seven points with less than two minutes to go, but the Mean Green wilted under the Trojan pressure defense.  With one last chance to try to win, UNT committed a turnover on the inbounds pass. 

11 Automatic Qualifiers To Date

Team Conference Record
Arkansas-Little Rock Sunbelt  19-16
Belmont  Atlantic South 30-4
Butler  Horizon 23-9
Gonzaga West Coast 24-9
Indiana State  Missouri Valley  20-13
Morehead State  Ohio Valley  24-9
Oakland  Summit  25-9
Old Dominion Colonial 27-6
St. Peter’s Metro Atlantic 20-13
UNC-Asheville Big South 19-13
Wofford Southern 21-12


Two Tickets To Be Punched Tonight

Big Sky Tournament Championship @ 9PM ET On ESPN2

#2 Montana (21-9) at #1 Northern Colorado (20-10)


Semifinal Round

Montana 57  Weber State 40

Northern Colorado 73  Northern Arizona 70


These two split their regular season series with Northern Colorado winning 63-45 in Greeley, and Montana winning 55-42 in Missoula.  Tonight’s game will be played at Butler-Hancock Hall in Greeley, so Northern Colorado will enjoy the home court advantage. 

This game is a great study in contrasts.  Northern Colorado is a quicker team, but Montana is a stronger team.  Northern Colorado has one exceptionally dominant player, while Montana has more, albeit less exceptional, weapons.


The Bears’ offense runs through 6-1 senior guard Devon Beitzel.  Beitzel averages a league-best 21 points per game, and he is deadly at the free throw line, where he connects on 91% of his tosses. 

The rest of the team collectively shoots under 41% from the field and commits more turnovers than assists, so if the Grizzlies can stop Beitzel, or at least limit his touches, they have a chance of defending their crown.


Montana has the dominant big man in the conference in 6-11/260 senior center Brian Qvale.  If the Grizzlies can keep this game a half-court affair, they stand a great chance of winning with Qvale plugging the middle on defense and controlling the boards at both ends of the court.  Qvale averages 15 points and nine boards a game, and he had a double-double with 16 points and 17 rebounds in the semifinal round.  Montana likes to limit possessions, so those numbers are even more impressive than they look. 

In the win over UNC, Montana held the Bears to 23.3% shooting, while they shot just 32.6% in the loss at Greeley.


It is our opinion that the visiting number two seed will pull off the mild upset over the host numbone seed, but it is not a strong feeling. 

 Northeast Conference Tournament Championship @ 7PM ET On ESPN2

#3 Robert Morris (18-13) at #1 Long Island (26-5)

Semifinal Round

Long Island 69  Central Connecticut 67

Robert Morris 64  Quinnipiac 62

Brooklyn has not been this excited over one of their own sports teams since the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series.  Long Island is one of the most exciting teams in the nation, and their 26-5 record has throngs of Brooklynites cramming into the Wellness, Recreation, and Athletic Center.  The WRAC holds just 2,500 seats, but you can bet that more than that amount will find their way into the game tonight, as they “Pack the WRAC.” 

Those fans will be converging to the corner of Ashland and Dekalb tonight, dressed in all white, to watch what could be a blowout win for their team.   

LIU is on a roll.  The Blackbirds have won 12 games in a row (longest current streak in the nation) and 20 of their previous 21 games.  They average almost 83 points per game.  The Blackbirds have exceptional depth with eight players capable of scoring 15 or more points. 


The Blackbirds pose difficult matchups with their roster, as they rely on quick guards and medium-sized forwards with great leaping ability to play at a fast pace.  There is no center on the roster, but the two 6-7 forwards have controlled the boards in most games this year. 

Those forwards are Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere, who team up for 25.4 points and 15.7 rebounds per game.

 5-10 backup guard Jason Brickman plays just 22 minutes per game, but he leads the team with 5.3 assists per game.  When he comes in the game, the pace picks up, and the Blackbirds shoot a lot of threes in transition.


Robert Morris is definitely not cannon fodder.  The Colonials are the two-time defending NEC Tournament champions, and they believe they can three peat even on the road in hostile conditions. 

The Colonials have won eight games in a row, relying on a stellar defense that limits possessions and pressures the guards.  They are missing their leading scorer, as 5-9 guard Karon Abraham’s season ended two weeks ago with a torn Achilles Tendon.  On the positive side, Abraham missed RMU’s win at LIU on December 2, as he was serving a multi-game suspension. 

Velton Jones and Russell Johnson will have to shine tonight for the Colonials to pull off the upset.  The duo are the only double figure scorers left, but both shoot less than 39% from the field. 

Without Abraham, RMU shoots just 33.7% from behind the arc, so the only way they can possibly win tonight is to replicate the formula that was successful more than three months ago—control the tempo and prevent LIU from getting off any uncontested three-pointers. 

We believe this game will begin slowly with RMU taking the lead in the early stages.  Somewhere in the first half, LIU will go on one of their patented runs and gain the lead.  Then, a second spurt will give them a commanding lead.  RMU might cut into that lead, but we believe in the end, the Blackbirds will be celebrating at the WRAC.  We do not believe the Brooklynites will be crying “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”  This will be like October of 1955 in the borough.


Yesterday’s Other Tournament Results

Atlantic 10 Conference

First Round

LaSalle 75  St. Bonaventure 73  2ot

St. Joseph’s 71  George Washington 59  ot

Rhode Island 70  St. Louis 61

Dayton 78  U Mass 50


Big East Conference

First Round

Connecticut 97  DePaul 71

Rutgers 76  Seton Hall 70 ot

South Florida 70  Villanova 69

Marquette 87  Providence 66 


First Round

Bowling Green 74  Northern Illinois 54

Ohio U 74  Toledo 57

Akron 67  Eastern Michigan 53

Buffalo 64  Central Michigan 50



First Round

MD-Eastern Shore 87  F A M U 85  2ot

S. C. State 64  Delaware State 59 

Ivy League Playoff Set

Princeton defeated rival Penn 70-58 last night in Philadelphia, forcing a one-game playoff for the Ivy League’s automatic berth.  Princeton (24-6) will take on co-champion Harvard (23-5) Saturday afternoon at 4PM Eastern Time.  The game will be played at Yale University in New Haven, CT, and it can be seen live on

Princeton has appeared in all seven Ivy League tiebreaking playoff games in the history of the league.  This is Harvard’s first Ivy League basketball championship of any kind.  The Crimson last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1946. 

There is a chance that the loser of this game could hold a slim chance of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Harvard is ranked #35 in the RPI, while Princeton is ranked #49.  Harvard has two wins over top 50 teams as well as three losses.  Their biggest win was at Boston College.  Princeton has just one win against the top 50 and two losses.  For the Ivy to earn two bids, the Tigers have to win Saturday and hope Harvard’s high RPI is enough to earn the second bid. 

Conference Tournaments In Action Today

Big 12 Conference

Tournament Site: Kansas City

1st Round Games

#8 Nebraska (19-11) vs. #9 Oklahoma State (18-12)  12:30 PM ET

#5 Colorado (19-12) vs. #12 Iowa State (16-15)  3 PM ET

#7 Baylor (18-12) vs. #10 Oklahoma (13-17)  7PM ET

#6 Missouri (22-9) vs. #11 Texas Tech (13-18) 9:30 PM ET 

Big East Conference

Tournament Site: New York City

2nd Round Games

#8 Georgetown (21-9) vs. #9 Connecticut (22-9)  12 Noon ET on ESPN

#5 St. John’s (20-10) vs. #13 Rutgers (15-16)  Approx. 2:15 PM ET on ESPN

#7 Cincinnati (24-7) vs. #15 South Florida (10-22)  7 PM ET on ESPN

#6 West Virginia (20-10) vs. #11 Marquette (19-13)  Approx. 9:15 PM ET on ESPN 

Conference USA

Tournament Site: El Paso, TX

1st Round Games

#8 East Carolina (16-14) vs. #9 Central Florida (19-10)  1 PM ET

#5 Southern Miss (21-9) vs. #12 Tulane (13-16)  3:30 PM ET

#6 Marshall (21-10) vs. #11 Houston (12-17)  7:30 PM ET

#7 S M U (17-13) vs. #10 Rice (13-17)  10 PM ET 


Tournament Site: Winston-Salem, NC

Note: The MEAC has a unique way of scheduling their tournament.  As a result, one first round game will be played today as well as two quarterfinal round games.  The other two quarterfinal round games will be played Thursday. 

1st Round

#6 Norfolk State () vs. #11 Howard ()  3 PM ET

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Bethune-Cookman (20-11) vs. #9 South Carolina State (10-21)  7 PM ET

#2 Hampton (21-8) vs. #10 Maryland-Eastern Shore (9-21)  9:30 PM ET 

Mountain West Conference

Tournament Site: Las Vegas

1st Round

#8 Wyoming (10-20) vs. #9 T C U (10-21)  5 PM ET 

Pac-10 Conference

Tournament Site: Los Angeles

1st Round

#8 Stanford (15-15) vs. #9 Oregon State (10-19)  9 PM ET on Fox Sports Net

#7 Oregon (14-16) vs. #10 Arizona State (12-18)  11:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Net 

Southland Conference

Tournament Site: Katy, TX (Houston Area)

Quarterfinal Round

#2 Northwestern State (LA) (18-13) vs. #7 Texas-San Antonio (16-13)  1 PM ET

#3 Sam Houston (17-12) vs. #6 Stephen F. Austin (18-10)  3:30 PM ET

#1 McNeese State (19-10) vs. #8 Nicholls State (14-13)  7 PM ET

#4 Texas State (15-15) vs. #5 Southeastern Louisiana (15-13)  9:30 PM ET 


Tournament Site: Garland, TX (Dallas-Ft. Worth Area) 

Quarterfinal Round

#2 Jackson State (16-14) vs. #7 Prairie View (10-21)  12:30 PM ET

#1 Texas Southern (18-11) vs. #8 Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7-23)  9 PM ET


Tournament Site: Las Vegas

1st Round

#5 Hawaii (18-11) vs. #8 San Jose State (15-14)  3 PM ET

#6 Nevada (12-18) vs. #7 Fresno State (14-16)  5:30 PM ET

March 8, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 8 Update


The Four Newest Dance Invitees

Did you see those conference championship games last night?  Was this the Monday Night Fights or basketball?  There were more cut men and cut women than in your average boxing card.


When it is all or nothing for these smaller conferences, you get what we saw last night—teams playing like their lives were on the line.


Colonial Athletic Association

Old Dominion 70

Virginia Commonwealth 65


Old Dominion 27-6


The Monarchs are capable of making a semi-surprise run in the Big Dance.  They lead the nation in rebounding margin, and they can score points in the paint. 


Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

St. Peter’s 62

Iona 57


St. Peter’s 20-13


The Peacocks beat Alabama earlier in the season, and their defense could keep them within striking defense in an opening round game, but we cannot see SPC advancing to the second round.


Southern Conference

Wofford 77

College of Charleston 67


Wofford 21-12


The Terriers finally beat the Cougars (we predicted this yesterday), and they will not roll over and play dead in the first round.  This team returns to the Dance for the second consecutive season, and they will not back down.  They may not advance, but they will not be in awe of their heavily favored first round opponent.


West Coast Conference

Gonzaga 75

Saint Mary’s 63


Gonzaga 24-9


This edition of Zags may not be the most talented in the Coach Mark Few era, but they are playing their best ball at the right time.  It will depend on their bracket, but this team has Sweet 16 potential.


Three More Invitations Go Out Tonight

By 11:15 PM Eastern Time tonight, we will know the names of three more NCAA Tournament participants.  Let’s break down these games.


Horizon League Championship @ 9PM ET on ESPN

Butler (22-9)  at  Milwaukee (19-12)


Butler defeated Cleveland State in the semifinal round Saturday evening, while Milwaukee topped Valparaiso.  During the regular season, Milwaukee swept the Bulldogs, winning 76-52 at home and 86-80 in overtime on the road.  The top-seeded Panthers host this game.


Both teams are red hot coming into this title match.  Milwaukee has gone 10-1 in their last 11 games, and the only loss was in the Bracketbuster to Buffalo.  Their defense is what got them here, as they shoot only 43% from the field and 65% at the foul line.


Three Panthers average double figures in scoring, led by Anthony Hill.  Hill averages just under 16 points per game, but he broke out with a 24-point, 11-rebound performance in the semifinal game against Valpo.  Kaylon Williams is the X-factor for Panthers.  He can score when needed, rebound with the big men, and run the offense.  He recorded a triple-double earlier in the season against Butler (10 points-10 rebounds-10 assists), and he added a double-double in the second win over the Bulldogs.


Butler missed Gordon Hayward even more than most experts predicted.  The Bulldogs played a tough pre-conference schedule and limped into February.  With their backs against the wall, they reeled off eight consecutive victories to get to the title game tonight.


Most basketball fans know Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack from last year’s team that made the surprise run to the National Championship Game.  The duo has teamed for 32 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this year.  However, it has been the emergence of 6-11 sophomore center Andrew Smith that has allowed Butler to turn things around and look like a force to be reckoned with once again.  Smith averaged 11 points per game over the second half of the season.  In the eight game winning streak, he has averaged 32 minutes per game and pulled down close to eight rebounds per game.  His 63% field goal percentage has forced defenses to stop him first, giving Howard and Mack more room to get open.  Smith was a non-factor in the two games against Milwaukee, and he is the key to tonight’s game.  If he plays 32 minutes and gets double figure points and eight rebounds, Butler will be cutting down the nets yet again.


Summit League Championship @ 9PM ET on ESPN2

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Oakland (24-9)  vs. Oral Roberts (19-14)


If you like high-scoring, fast-paced games, you will definitely clear your schedule to view this one.  Oakland is the second best offensive team in the nation, averaging 86 points per game (92 ppg in their last 10 games).  The Grizzlies connect on close to 50% of their field goal attempts, and they tend to hit spurts where they score 10 points in two minutes.  Oral Roberts averages 81 points per game and has no qualms running with Oakland.


Both teams are riding major winning streaks entering tonight’s title game.  Oakland has won 17 of their last 18 games, while the Golden Eagles have won 10 in a row.  In the regular season, Oakland won both high-scoring games, but both were nail-biters that went down to the wire. 


Oakland has a tall and short combination that has done a lot of the damage on opponents.  6-11 center Keith Benson is the best player in the league.  Benson averages 17.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.  He showed he can do it against the big schools, as he had 17 points and 12 rebounds in a close loss to Michigan State and 26 points and 10 rebounds in a big win at Tennessee. 


5-11 guard Reggie Hamilton is a threat to top 20 points any night.  He is quick and can get open without help from screens.


Oral Roberts has a star in its own right.  Dominique Morrison averages just under 20 points per game, and he doesn’t need to heave up 25 shots per game to get those points.  Morrison shoots 51.3% from the field, 40% from behind the three-point line, and 78.4% at the foul line.  He scored 56 points in the two games against Oakland.


This should be a great game, and we don’t believe Oakland is that much of a favorite.  ORU has been to the Big Dance four times in the last six years, while Oakland is the defending tournament champion.  We expect the winner to top 90 points in this game, and it is too close to call.  We say Oakland has about a 54% chance and Oral Roberts a 46% chance of winning.


Sunbelt Conference Championship @ 7PM ET on ESPN2

Site: Hot Springs, AR


North Texas (22-10)  vs. U A L R (18-16)


On paper this looks like a mismatch, even though the teams finished one game apart in the regular season.  North Texas finished fourth in the West with an 8-8 league mark, while Little Rock finished fifth at 7-9.


North Texas was one of the biggest underachievers this season.  The Mean Green returned four starters from their 2010 conference champion team and were expected to win again this year with the best backcourt and one of the best frontcourts in the league.  Instead, a 3-9 swoon in the middle of the season placed them out of contention for the West crown.  Since that awful slide, UNT has recovered with five consecutive victories.


6-5 senior guard Tristan Thompson has led the way for the Mean Green in the tournament, scoring 80 points in the first three games.  He has done a lot of the damage at the foul line, where he is 31-35 in Hot Springs, including an unbelievable 20-20 performance in the win over top-seed Florida Atlantic.  Thompson combines a quick move to the basket with a sweet shot from outside.  Beefy forward George Odufuwa averages 11 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, and UALR has a tough matchup problem against him.


The Trojans dropped both regular season games to North Texas, mostly because they could not compete under the basket.  Their chance to win this game will come down to limiting possessions and trying to win 55-50.  They have won three games in the tournament by getting to the foul line and hitting foul shots, while using the clock and taking 30 seconds to shoot on most possessions.  UALR’s big star in this tournament has been senior guard Solomon Bozeman.  Like Thompson, Bozeman has gotten to the free throw line and made the most of his opportunities.  He has connected on 37 of 42 attempts including an eye-popping 19 of 22 against Middle Tennessee last night.


We expect a low-possession, low-scoring game.  There may be fewer than 100 field goal attempts tonight.  North Texas has been there before, while UALR has never won the Sunbelt Conference Tournament.  We think that trend will continue, but it wouldn’t surprise us if this game stays relatively close for the entire 40 minutes.  We could see North Texas winning 60-54.


The Other Tournaments In Action Today


Atlantic 10 Conference

First Round At Higher Seed Home Court


#9 Dayton (19-12) at #8 U Mass (15-14)  9PM ET on CBSC

#12 St. Joseph’s (9-21) at #5 George Washington (17-13)  7PM ET on CBSC

#10 LaSalle (14-17) at #7 St. Bonaventure (16-13)  5 PM ET on CBSC

#11 St. Louis (12-18) at #6 Rhode Island (18-12)  7 PM ET no TV


Big East Conference

Madison Square Garden in New York City


#16 Depaul (7-23) vs. #9 Georgetown (21-9) 12 Noon ET on ESPN2

#13 Rutgers (14-16) vs. #12 Seton Hall (13-17) Approx. 2:15 PM ET on ESPN2

#15 South Florida (9-22) vs. #10 Villanova (21-10) 7PM ET on ESPNU

#14 Providence (15-16) vs. #11 Marquette (18-13) Approx 9:15 ET on ESPNU


Big Sky Conference

Semifinal Round At Higher Seed Home Court

#3 Weber State (18-11) at #2 Montana (20-9)

#4 Northern Arizona (19-11) at #1 Northern Colorado (19-10)


Mid-American Conference

1st Round At Higher Seed Home Court  All Games At 7PM ET


#10 Northern Illinois (9-20) at #7 Bowling Green (13-18)

#11 Eastern Michigan (9-21) at #6 Akron (19-12)

#9 Central Michigan (10-20) at #8 Buffalo (17-12)

#12 Toledo (4-27) at #5 Ohio U (17-14)


Mideastern Athletic Conference

Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC


#9 South Carolina State (9-21) vs. #8 Delaware State (9-20)  9PM ET

#10 Maryland-Eastern Shore (8-21) vs. #7 Florida A&M (12-19)  6:30 PM ET


Note: One more 1st round game Wednesday plus two quarterfinal games



March 7, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 7 Update

NCAA Tournament Qualifier #4

Congratulations to the Indiana State Sycamores, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champions.  ISU defeated Missouri State Sunday by a score of 60-56, giving them eight wins in their last nine games.  This Sycamore team is not to be confused with the 1979 National Finalists with some guy named Larry Bird doing a lot of the scoring, but ISU (20-13) has enough talent to pull off an upset in the first round.  The last time they were in the Big Dance, ISU upset Oklahoma 70-68 in the first round of the 2001 tourney; they lost 85-68 to Gonzaga in the next round.  The Sycamores lost by nine at Notre Dame and by 13 against Purdue, so they can compete against Top 10 teams.


Indiana State joins UNC-Asheville, Belmont, and Morehead State as automatic qualifiers in the NCAA Tournament.


Four More Teams To Enter The Dance Party Tonight

The field of automatic qualifiers doubles from four to eight tonight.  Let’s take a look at the four conference championships for Monday.


Colonial Athletic Association

Virginia Commonwealth (23-10)  vs. Old Dominion (26-6)

7:00 PM EST on ESPN


In the semifinal round, VCU upset top-seed George Mason 79-63, while Old Dominion ousted Hofstra 77-69.  Bubble teams will be cheering hard for ODU because if VCU wins, the CAA could send an extra team to the Dance.  George Mason and ODU are virtually assured at-large spots, but VCU will be College Insiders, CBI or NIT-bound if they lose tonight.


ODU has won eight games in a row and 12 of 13.  Big forward Frank Hassell has continued to improve and impress down below, and Notre Dame can tell you how well he plays in the postseason; ODU beat the Irish in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.


VCU slumped at the end of the regular season, losing four of their final five games (and the one win was in the Bracketbuster) to fall from first to fourth.  The Rams won nine games in a row in the middle of the season, including a road victory over their opponent tonight. 


Forward Jamie Skeen will be the key man to watch.  If he can match or beat Hassell point-for-point and rebound-for-rebound, VCU should pull off the victory.  If Hassell wins the battle, then the Monarchs will live up to their preseason billing as best in the league. 


If the game comes down to the backcourt, then VCU has the superior tandem there with Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez.  If the battle comes down to the rebounding game, ODU will win and maybe win by 10-20 points.


Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

St. Peter’s (19-13)  vs.  Iona (22-10)

7:00 PM EST on ESPN2


St. Peter’s pulled off the big upset in this tournament, defeating #1-seed Fairfield 62-48 in yesterday’s semifinal round.  Iona slaughtered Rider 83-59 to earn their spot in the championship game.  The Gaels won their opener by 30 over Siena, so they are the clear-cut favorite tonight.


St. Peter’s is an experienced team.  The Peacocks’ top four players are seniors—Wesley Jenkins, Jeron Belin, Nick Leon, and Ryan Bacon.  The quartet averages a combined 45 points a game with all four averaging more than 10 points a game.  Their strongest asset is their defensive ability, and teams have a tough time scoring on SPU.  Unfortunately, the Peacocks barely top 40% shooting from the field and less than 64% at the foul line.  To win tonight, they need to connect on at least 45% of their shots and get some second chance opportunities.


Iona has the look of a champion.  The Gaels have won nine games in a row by an average margin of 18.6 points per game.  They swept SPU by 18 and 14 in the regular season.  Star forward Michael Glover has recorded 17 double-doubles, and the only thing that could prevent him from making it 18 tonight would be his early exit from the game due to the game being a blowout.


As you can surmise, we think Iona will put this game away with a big run about halfway into the opening half after a five to eight-minute period to calm the nerves.


Southern Conference

College of Charleston (24-9)  vs.  Wofford (20-12)

9:00 PM EST on ESPN2


Semifinal Scores

College of Charleston 63  Furman 58

Wofford 86  Western Carolina 72


The top two teams in the league meet for the third time and Charleston won the first two meetings.  The Cougars won the battle on the boards in both games and in turn took several more shots.  Andrew Goudelock was unstoppable in both games, and Wofford must do something to keep the ball out of his hands tonight and prevent him from scoring his average of 23 points per game to have a chance.


The Terriers are the defending SoCon Tournament champions, and they were the overwhelming pick to repeat as champions this year.  They will need a repeat of yesterday’s performance to pull off the upset.  Wofford connected on 54% of their field goals, 50% of their three-point attempts, and 80% at the foul line.  Their big three, Noah Dahlman, Jamar Diggs, and Cameron Rundles, teamed for 52 points and 16 rebounds.  Wofford also has excellent depth with three players capable of coming off the bench and scoring points and pulling down rebounds in massive numbers.


Charleston proved to be the better team in the regular season sweep, but we tend to believe this night will belong to Wofford.  The Terriers are playing up to their potential, while the Cougars are not. 


West Coast Conference

Saint Mary’s (24-7)  vs. Gonzaga (23-9)

9:00 PM EST on ESPN


Semifinal Round

Saint Mary’s 73  Santa Clara 64

Gonzaga 71  San Francisco 67


This is the game of the night.  We tend to believe both teams have done enough to punch a ticket to the tournament, but still, this will be a hard-fought rivalry game.


The teams split their regular season series, both winning close games on the other’s home court.  If you like offense, then this is the game for you.  Both teams routinely top 80 points per game, and both have enjoyed many nights where they shot in excess of 50% from the field.


Gonzaga has won eight games in a row, and the Bulldogs utilize great depth to wear down opponents.  They can go 10-deep with very little drop in talent, as no player averages over 14 points per game, and only one tops six rebounds per game. 


SMC relies on a trio of talented players in Mickey McConnell, Rob Jones, and Matthew Dellavedova.  They team up to average 43.3 points per game.  McConnell is one of the best outside shooters in the nation, and he is virtually automatic at the charity stripe.


This game is a tossup in the truest since, and we expect it to go down to the final minute for the third time this season.  They could not settle it in 40 minutes the last time they faced off, so this has to be considered a 50-50 game.  We will go with Gonzaga’s 50% chance tonight.


Continuing Tournaments

America East Conference

Semifinal Round

Boston U. 55  Hartford 49

Stony Brook 69  Vermont 47


Championship Game—Saturday, March 12@ 12 Noon on ESPN2

Stony Brook (15-16) at Boston U (20-13)


Northeast Conference

Semifinal Round

Long Island 69  Central Connecticut 67

Robert Morris 64  Quinnipiac 62


Championship Game—Wednesday, March 9 @ 7PM on ESPN2

Robert Morris (18-13) at Long Island (26-5)


Patriot League

Semifinal Round

Lafayette 73  American 71  2ot

Bucknell 66  Lehigh 64


Championship Game—Friday, March 11 @ 4:45 PM on ESPN2

Lafayette (13-18) at Bucknell (24-8)


Summit League

Quarterfinal Round

South Dakota State  85  I P F W  75

I U P U I  79  Missouri-KC  55 


Semifinal Round—Monday, March 7 @ Sioux Falls, SD

Oakland (23-9)  vs.  South Dakota State (19-11) @ 7:00 PM EST

Oral Roberts (18-14)  vs.  I U P U I (19-13) @ 9:30 PM EST


Sunbelt Conference

Quarterfinal Round

Western Kentucky 81  Louisiana-Lafayette 76

North Texas 78  Florida Atlantic 64

Middle Tennessee 73  Florida International 38

U A L R  59  Arkansas State 52


Semifinal Round—Monday, March 7 @ Hot Springs, AR

Western Kentucky (16-15)  vs. North Texas (21-10) @ 7:00 PM EST

Middle Tennessee (16-15)  vs.  U A L R (17-16) @ 9:30 PM EST


Coming Tomorrow: The Big Sky Conference and Horizon League Tournament Championships are decided, and four more conference tournaments begin.  Check back Tuesday afternoon for more coverage.

March 5, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 6 Update

Congratulations To Three Champions

Three teams have punched their tickets to the Big Dance.


Big South Conference

UNC-Asheville 60  Coastal Carolina 47


UNC-Asheville 19-13


Atlantic Sun Conference

Belmont 87  North Florida 46


Belmont 30-4


Ohio Valley Conference

Morehead State 80  Tennessee Tech 73


Morehead State 24-9


Scores From Other Conference Tournaments


America East Conference

Vermont 57  Binghamton 46

Stony Brook 67  Albany 61

Boston U 69  New Hampshire 60

Hartford 66  Maine 63


Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

Vermont 23-7  vs. Stony Brook 14-16

Boston U. 19-13  vs. Hartford 11-19


Big Sky Conference

Weber State 79  Eastern Washington 70

Northern Arizona 65  Montana State 62


Tuesday, March 8 Semifinal Round

Montana 20-9  vs. Weber State 18-11

Northern Colorado 19-10  vs. Northern Arizona 19-11


Colonial Athletic Association

George Mason 68  Georgia State 45

Virginia Commonwealth 62  Drexel 60

Old Dominion 59  Delaware 50

Hofstra 72  William & Mary 56


Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

George Mason 26-5  vs.  Virginia Commonwealth 22-10

Old Dominion 25-6  vs. Hofstra 21-10


Horizon League

Butler 76  Cleveland State 68

Milwaukee 70  Valparaiso 63


Tuesday, March 8 Championship Game

Butler 22-9  vs. Milwaukee 19-12


Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Fairfield 55  Marist 31

St. Peter’s 70  Loyola (MD) 60

Rider 79  Canisius 64

Iona 94  Siena 64


Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

Fairfield 24-6  vs. St. Peter’s 18-13

Rider 23-9  vs. Iona 21-10


Missouri Valley Conference

Missouri State 60  Creighton 50

Indiana State 61  Wichita State 54


Sunday, March 6 Championship Game

Missouri State 25-7  vs. Indiana State 19-13


Southern Conference

Western Carolina 77 UNC-Greensboro 66

Wofford 67  Appalachian State 56

Furman 61  Chattanooga 52

College of Charleston 78  Elon 60


Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

Western Carolina 18-14  vs. Wofford 19-12

Furman 22-9  vs. College of Charleston 23-9


Summit League

Oakland 82  Southern Utah 66

Oral Roberts 72  North Dakota State 65


Sunday, March 6 Quarterfinal Round Continues

I P F W  18-11  vs. South Dakota State 18-11

I U P U I  18-13  vs. Missouri-Kansas City 16-13


Sunbelt Conference

Western Kentucky 66  Louisiana-Monroe 50

North Texas 83  Troy 69

Florida Int’l 53  Denver 49

U A L R  82  South Alabama 68


Sunday, March 6 Quarterfinal Round

Louisiana-Lafayette 14-14  vs. Western Kentucky 15-15

Florida Atlantic 21-9  vs. North Texas 20-10

Middle Tennessee 15-15  vs. Florida Int’l  11-18

Arkansas State 17-14  vs. U A L R  16-16


West Coast Conference

Santa Clara 76  Loyola Marymount 68

San Francisco 76  Pepperdine 59


Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

St. Mary’s 23-7  vs. Santa Clara 19-13

Gonzaga 22-9  vs. San Francisco 17-13

March 4, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 5 Update 1

Two new conference tournaments begin today (Saturday), but more importantly the first three spots in the Big Dance Card will be filled.


All Times EST

Summit League Tournament

Tournament Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Saturday, March 5: Quarterfinal Round

G 1: #1 Oakland vs. #8 Southern Utah  7PM

G 2: #2 Oral Roberts vs. #7 North Dakota State 9:30 PM


Sunday, March 6: Quarterfinal Round

G 3 #4 I P F W vs. #5 North Dakota State 7 PM

G 4 #3 I U P U I vs. #6 Missouri-Kansas City 9:30 PM


Monday, March 7: Semifinal Round

G 5: G 1 Winner vs. G 3 Winner 7 PM

G 6: G 2 Winner vs. G 4 Winner  9:30 PM


Tuesday, March 8: Championship Game at 9PM on ESPN2

G 5 Winner vs. G 6 Winner


Hot Team:  Oral Roberts has won eight consecutive games by an average margin of 12.6 points per game.   This includes a key win over IUPUI that clinched the second seed.


Oakland enters the tournament riding a five-game winning streak.  The Golden Grizzlies won 15 of their final 16 regular season games.


Not Hot:  Missouri-Kansas City lost its last three games, but they were to three of the top four teams in the league.


Team Nobody Wants To Play: South Dakota State is only one hour from Sioux Falls, and the Jackrabbits will fill the arena.  Oakland would much rather play four-seed I P F W in the semifinals.  If SDSU wins their quarterfinal game, look for them to give Oakland fits in a semifinal match.


Oakland as Favorite:  The Golden Grizzlies finished 17-1 in league play, so they must be considered solid favorites.  Their lone league loss came at IUPUI, and in their 18 conference games they had a +14.2 scoring margin.    


Our Pick:  We will stick with the favorite to win here, even though we believe they will struggle to win their semifinal and final game.



Sunbelt Conference Tournament

Tournament Site: Hot Springs, AR (using Summit Arena and Convention Center Court)


Saturday, March 5: Opening Round

G 1: #3E Western Kentucky vs. #6W Louisiana-Monroe  7:45 PM (Convention Center)

G 2: #4W North Texas vs. #5E Troy  7:30 PM (Summit Arena)

G 3: #3W Denver vs. #6E Florida International  9:45 PM   (Summit Arena)

G 4: #4E South Alabama vs. #5W U A L R  10PM (Convention Center)


Sunday, March 6: Quarterfinal Round

G 5: G 1 Winner vs. #2W Louisiana-Lafayette  7:30 PM (Summit Arena)

G 6: G 2 Winner vs. #1E Florida Atlantic  7:45 PM (Convention Center)

G 7: G 3 Winner vs. #2E Middle Tennessee  10 PM (Convention Center)

G 8: G 4 Winner vs. #1W Arkansas State  9:45 PM (Summit Arena)


Monday, March 7: Semifinal Round (Summit Arena)

G 9: G 5 Winner vs. G 6 Winner  7PM

G10: G 7 Winner vs. G 8 Winner  9:30 PM


Tuesday, March 8: Championship Game (Summit Arena)

G11: G 9 Winner vs. G 10 Winner at 7PM on ESPN2


Hot Team: Louisiana-Lafayette has won 11 consecutive games, but seven of those wins were by five points or less or in overtime.  The Ragin’ Cajuns defeated both division winners in that stretch


Not Hot: Denver dropped from first to third when they lost their last three games and six of their final eight.  The Pioneers had won eight consecutive games in midseason, but they lost their offensive touch down the stretch.


Team That Nobody Wants To Play: After starting conference play 0-4, Western Kentucky righted the ship and won eight of their last 12 conference games.  The Hilltoppers greatly underachieved, and with two studs in Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch, WKU can beat anybody in the SBC.


Florida Atlantic As Favorite: The Owls started 8-0 in league play before faltering a bit down the stretch.  We do not feel strongly that FAU can win three games in three days.  In fact, we believe they will not even be around for the championship game. 


Our Pick: When UL-Lafayette takes on Western Kentucky in the quarterfinal round, we believe the winner of that game will upset FAU in the semifinal round and go on to win the league’s lone bid to the Dance.


The First Three Bids Go Out Today


The league championship games are on tap for Saturday.  Let’s look at the scores from Friday with the schedule for the three conference championship games.


Big South Conference— 4:00 PM on ESPN2

#3 UNC-Asheville (18-13) at #1 Coastal Carolina (28-4)


UNCA beat Charleston Southern 72-63 and High Point 62-45.  Coastal Carolina beat Gardner-Webb 83-72 and VMI 89-81


Atlantic Sun Conference—6:00 PM on ESPN2

Site: Macon, GA

#1 Belmont (29-4) vs. #6 North Florida (15-18)


Belmont defeated Kennesaw State 72-57 and Mercer 80-72.  North Florida defeated Jacksonville 68-64 and East Tennessee 59-55


Ohio Valley Conference—8:00 PM on ESPN2

Site: Nashville

#2 Morehead State (23-9) vs. #4 Tennessee Tech (20-11)


Morehead State beat Austin Peay 68-49.  Tennessee Tech beat UT-Martin 83-59 and Murray State 64-59.


Scores From Other Conference Tournaments


Colonial Athletic Association

#9 Georgia State 58  #8 UNC-Wilmington 52

#5 Drexel 75  #12 Towson  69

#7 Delaware 60  #10 Northeastern 58

#11 William & Mary 72  #6 James Madison 68


Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#1 George Mason vs. #9 Georgia State

#4 Virginia Commonwealth vs. #5 Drexel

#2 Old Dominion vs. #7 Delaware

#3 Hofstra vs. #11 William & Mary


Horizon League

#3 Cleveland State 73  #6 Wright State 59

#4 Valparaiso 88  #5 Detroit 78


Semifinal Round—Saturday

#1 Milwaukee vs. #4 Valparaiso

#2 Butler vs. #3 Cleveland State



#9 Marist 73  #8 Niagara 61

#7 Siena 68  #10 Manhattan 66 OT


Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#1 Fairfield vs. #9 Marist

#4 St. Peter’s vs. #5 Loyola (MD)

#3 Rider vs. #6 Canisius

#2 Iona vs. #7 Siena


Missouri Valley

#1 Missouri State 58  #8 Southern Illinois 56

#5 Creighton 60  #4 Northern Iowa 57

#2 Wichita State 70  #10 Bradley 56

#3 Indiana State 52  #6 Evansville 50


Semifinal Round—Saturday

#1 Missouri State vs. #5 Creighton

#2 Wichita State vs. #3 Indiana State


Southern Conference

#5N UNC-Greensboro 71  #4S Davidson 64

#3N Appalachian State 65  #6S Georgia Southern 57

#3S Furman 61  #6N Samford 48

#4N Elon 85  #5S Citadel 74


Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#1N Western Carolina vs. #5N UNC-Greensboro

#2S Wofford vs. #3N Appalachian State

#2N Chattanooga vs. #3S Furman

#1S College of Charleston vs. #4N Elon


West Coast Conference

#8 Loyola Marymount 72  #5 Portland 68

#6 Pepperdine 84  #7 San Diego 81


Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#4 Santa Clara vs. #8 Loyola Marymount

#3 San Francisco vs. #6 Pepperdine


Ivy League Results (Princeton and Harvard)

Harvard 79  Penn 64

Princeton 77  Dartmouth 55


Princeton is now 11-1.  Harvard is now 11-2.  The two teams square off in Cambridge tonight.  If Princeton wins, the Tigers clinch the Ivy League title.  If Harvard wins, then Princeton must win at Penn Tuesday night to force a playoff for the Ivy League title.

August 10, 2010

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

Two teams have dominated this league since its inception as a football conference.  In the early years, North Texas repeatedly won conference championship after championship.  In recent years, Troy has dominated the league, while North Texas has fallen on rough times.

2010 could be a year of change.  Middle Tennessee has played second fiddle in this league for most of their existence as a Division 1-A (FBS) participant.  The Blue Raiders have been to two bowls as the conference runner-up.  With a load of talent returning from a 10-win season that included a bowl victory, Coach Rick Stockstill’s squad could be poised to become the new dominant team in the SBC.

As for Troy, this could be a small blip for the Trojans, as they face a major rebuilding season.  Troy graduated quarterback Levi Brown who threw for over 4,000 last year, and the Trojans lost six of their top seven tacklers.

Former conference power North Texas could be on the rise again.  With all-SBC running back Lance Dunbar returning (1,378 yards rushing), the top six pass catchers (includes Dunbar), and most of the two-deep in the offensive line, the Mean Green will post much better offensive numbers.  They scored 27 points per game last year, so that number could rise to 30+ this year.  A weak defense will prevent North Texas from winning the conference championship.

The Sunbelt is guaranteed two teams in bowl games once again this season.  With the two more teams getting bowl bids this year (addition of two bowls and elimination of one bowl), there is a chance a third team could receive an invitation, as other conferences fail to provide their allotted quota of teams to contracted bowl games.  Four teams could potentially reach seven or more wins this season, as the league appears to have great balance in the middle.  The fly in the ointment: except for Middle Tennessee, the rest of the league will all win zero or one of their non-conference games.

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.


Pos. Team Conf. Overall
1 Middle Tennessee 7-1 10-2
2 North Texas 6-2 7-5
3 Troy 5-3 6-6
4 Florida Atlantic 5-3 5-7
5 Louisiana 5-3 5-7
6 Arkansas State 3-5 3-9
7 Florida International 3-5 3-9
8 Western Kentucky 2-6 2-10
9 La.-Monroe 0-8 1-11


G M A C Bowl: Middle Tennessee

New Orleans Bowl: North Texas


The Sunbelt Conference gets priority for filling a vacant spot in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl if there is a third team with seven wins.


The Sunbelt is also a backup for the St. Petersburg Bowl and a second tier backup for the Papa John’s Bowl.


Team By Team Breakdown


Team Arkansas State Red Wolves
Head Coach Steve Roberts
Colors Scarlet and Black
City Jonesboro, AK
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
PiRate Rating 76.9
National Rank 116


Offense: The Red Wolves lost five of their six starting skill position players.  New quarterback Ryan Applin could top the production of last year’s starter Cory Leonard, but Leonard only threw for 1,416 yards and seven TDs.  Applin’s shoulder will be a concern early after undergoing surgery in the spring.

Tight end Kedric Murry is the lone returning skill starter.  He caught just seven passes a year ago, so the receiving corps will be noticeably weaker.  At running back, 2009 top rusher Reggie Arnold is gone, but Derek Lawson should equal or top Arnold’s production this year.

The strength of this team is its offensive line.  Rarely does a Sunbelt team return an experienced two-deep unit like this year’s ASU OL.  They will open holes for the backs and give Applin plenty of time.

Even with all the new skill position players, we see Arkansas State’s offense faring better in 2010 than in 2009 when they averaged 23 points and 329 yards per game.  Look for 25-28 points and 350 yards per game.

Defense: The Red Wolves have fielded respectable defenses for the last five seasons, but ASU’s defensive line has been decimated due to graduation.  Even though the top four tacklers return, two of those four are defensive backs.  Gone is all-SBC end Alex Carrington and his 14 ½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 

ASU also lost their two starting cornerbacks and their nickel back.  The Red Wolves gave up 219 yards per game through the air and 61% completions, and that number could be worse this season.

We see ASU yielding 27-32 points per game and 350-380 total yards per game.

Schedule: Games at Auburn, Indiana, and Navy are not winnable.  A  homecoming game with Louisville could determine whether ASU can top last year’s four win total.  They get the two weakest conference foes at home, so three wins is about what to expect.  You can expect a coaching change in Jonesboro if three is all there is.

Team Florida Atlantic Owls
Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger
Colors Red, White, and Blue
City Boca Raton, FL
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 5-7
PiRate Rating 78.1
National Rank 111


Offense: FAU had an explosive offense that scored more than 27 points per game and gained more than 430 yards per game last year, but the Owls still finished with a losing season due to a weak defense.  This year, the offense will be noticeably weaker.  Only two full-time starters return on offense, and neither one is a quarterback or offensive lineman. 

Quarterback Jeff Van Camp started five games last year, and the Owls won three of those starts.  He averaged a very respectable 7.5 yards per attempt, but you can expect that number to fall this year.  With an entirely new offensive line and only one of the top six receivers from 2009 returning, FAU’s passing game will suffer, falling from 280 yards per game to as low as 180 this year.

The one bright spot on offense is the return of running back Alfred Morris.  Morris rushed for almost 1,400 yards and 11 scored last year, but those numbers will drop as well.

Look for FAU’s offense to ground to just 20-23 points per game and 300-330 total yards.

Defense: As much as the offense regresses this year, the defense could show signs of great progress this year.  The defensive line suffered some late losses in depth, but three starters (two juniors and a senior) return up front, including potential all-league end Kevin Cyrille.  Cyrille registered 11 ½ stops behind the line last year.

The back seven was as weak as the front four last year, but the good news is they can only improve.  FAU gave up 233 passing yards at a better than 67% completion rate for enemy quarterbacks.  The only reason the passing yardage number wasn’t 300+ per game is that the Owls gave up more than six yards per rushing attempt. 

We see the Owls giving up about 28 points and 400 yards per game this year, which unfortunately would be a vast improvement over last season.

Schedule: The Owls have just four home games this year, as well as a very tough out-of-conference slate.  FAU plays at UAB, Michigan State, South Florida, and Texas and should lose all four games.  They don’t face the league’s two best teams until after Thanksgiving, but those games will come back-to-back following the trip to face the Longhorns. 

Florida Atlantic could challenge for bowl eligibility, but they would have to pull off an upset at UAB and beat all six of the SBC teams they face before Thanksgiving.  We see them winning five of those first six league games, but that will lead to a repeat of last year’s 5-7 season.

Team Florida International Panthers
Head Coach Mario Cristobal
Colors Blue and Gold
City Miami, FL
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 3-9
PiRate Rating 78.2
National Rank 110


Offense: The Golden Panthers have improved in total yardage for four consecutive seasons, and this year should make it five in a row.  Former Mississippi State starting quarterback Wesley Carroll takes over behind center.  Carroll was Miss. State’s starting quarterback in 2007 when the Bulldogs went to a bowl.

Carroll has a full house of returning receiver talent, as the top eight pass catchers return, including breakaway threat Greg Ellingson and possession receiver T.Y. Hilton.

FIU has never been a rushing power, averaging just 100 yards per game the last five years.  Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden will team with Darriet Perry to form the best tandem the Panthers have had.

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but the drop off shouldn’t be much.

We see FIU scoring 25 points per game and gaining about 340 yards per game this year.

Defense: This has been FIU’s Achilles heel since the program was established in 2002.  The Golden Panthers yielded 35+ points and almost 500 yards per game in 2009, and those numbers will not improve by much if any this year.

Up front, the line was decimated by graduation losses.  FIU couldn’t stop the run last year, giving up 230+ rushing yards per game, and opponents could match or better that this year.

While most of the leading players in the back seven return, it is misleading to think having these top tacklers returning will lead to much better defensive production.  These players made a lot of tackles because they did not prevent many passes from being completed.  One player who did contribute in the pass defense was cornerback Anthony Gaitor.  Gaitor knocked away seven passes and picked off two others.

We look for marginal improvement on this side of the ball, about 30-32 points per game and 430-450 yards per game.

Schedule: This is a killer schedule, and it will prevent FIU from breaking through with a winning season.  FIU will start 0-4 after facing Rutgers, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, the latter three on the road.  Home games with the two weakest teams give them a slim chance at breaking even in the league, but it looks more like a repeat of last year—three wins.

Team Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Head Coach Rickey Bustle
Colors Vermillion and White
City Lafayette, LA
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6
PiRate Rating 82.6
National Rank 102


Offense: The Ragin’ Cajuns always seem to do just enough on offense to stay competitive in conference games without ever looking flashy or producing gaudy statistics.  Last year, ULL scored just 22.2 points per game, which paved the way for four of their six wins being by four points or less.

Quarterback Chris Masson won’t win any all-league honors, but he won’t hurt his team’s chances either.  He should pass for about 200-240 yards per game and complete close to 60% of his tosses.

Masson has a couple of quality receivers to pass to, namely tight end Ladarius Green and wide out Marlin Miller.  At 6-6, Green is an inviting target.  He could be playing for pay in 2012.

The Ragin’ Cajuns used to be a predominately running team, but they only averaged 137 yards per game last year.  2010 should see similar results.

The offensive line lost three starters to graduation, but the entire second five returns.  There should be little or no drop in production this year.

Louisiana should average about 23-26 points and 375-400 yards per game this year.

Defense: This is where great progress must be made if ULL is to contend for a bowl bid this year.  The last three years have been poor for the stop troops in Lafayette.  ULL has given up more than 30 points and 400 yards all three seasons.  Things are looking up in 2010.  The improvement may be subtle due to a schedule that has them playing two SEC opponents, but the Cajuns will be tougher on this side of the ball.

The front seven should see the bulk of the improvement, as opponents will find it harder to run the ball, and quarterbacks will see more pressure than they have the last three seasons.

Schedule: Yet another team that will more than likely lose all four non-conference games, Louisiana faces a tough slate of opponents.  It starts with a visit between the hedges to face Georgia.  A Friday night home game with Oklahoma State will give the Cajuns a chance to pull off a big upset.  Road games in consecutive weeks at Ohio U and Ole Miss should produce two rough losses.  ULL gets a week off prior to hosting Middle Tennessee, and this could be the upset of the year in the Sunbelt.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have enough talent to threaten in the league if 6-2 is good enough to win the conference.  We think they will fall short by just a bit.  5-3 will lead to a 5-7 mark overall unless ULL can upset Oklahoma State.

Team Louisiana Monroe Warhawks
Head Coach Todd Berry
Colors Red and Gold
City Monroe, LA
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 6-6
PiRate Rating 74.8
National Rank 117


Offense: UL-Monroe fired former Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie and hired former Army coach Todd Berry.  Expect a drop from a typical Navy season to a typical Army season.  Don’t blame it on Berry; blame it on a loss of talent.

On the offensive side of the ball, ULM has enough talent to move the ball on the middle of the pack and weaker conference defenses.  It starts in the running game, where Frank Goodin returns to tote the pigskin.  Goodin rushed for 1,126 yards and 13 scores last year, while topping five yards per carry.

Quarterback Trey Revell returns after tossing for 1,739 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the four hands that caught 78 of his passes and nine of those scores are gone.  Throw in an inexperienced offensive line, and the passing game will suffer this year.

Look for about 175 rushing yards and 175 passing yards for 21-25 points per game.

Defense: Only four starters return on this side of the ball.  The Warhawks were a competent defensive team last year, but that is going to change.  Three of the four linebackers (actually ULM used a 3-3-5, but the Hawk back was more of a linebacker) from last year are gone, and two of the three starters in the trenches are gone as well.

The two returning defensive backs are among the best in the league, but they may be called on to stop more running plays this year.  Darius Prelow and Nate Brown combined for 18 passes batted away last year.

We look for ULM to give up 400+ total yards and 30-35 points per game this year.

Schedule: The Warhawks have a winnable game out of the league this year, as they host FCS rival Southeast Louisiana.  Who do they play in the other three games?  How about Arkansas, Auburn, and LSU, all on the road?  Because they must face Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, we do not see ULM winning a conference game this season.  1-11 looks possible.

Team Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Head Coach Rick Stockstill
Colors Blue and Gray
City Murfreesboro, TN
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3
PiRate Rating 88.8
National Rank 90


Offense: The Blue Raiders appear to be the class of the league this year thanks to a dominant offense that could threaten 40 points per game this year.  Middle is coming off its first 10-win season and bowl victory since moving up to the big time.

Quarterback Dwight Dasher may be too small to become a legitimate NFL prospect, but he could be a star in the Canadian Football League.  Last year, the 5-10 speedster gained more than 1,150 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns, while passing for almost 2,800 yards and 23 more touchdowns!

Dasher has one of the league’s best set of receivers.  Garrett Andrews is a threat to go the distance on any catch.  Three newcomers could contribute immediately.

As if those riches weren’t enough, The Blue Raiders have two backs besides Dasher capable of rushing for 100+ yards in a game.  Phillip Tanner and D.D. Kyles could combine with Dasher to rush for 225-250 yards per game.

The offensive line returns four of five starters.  Expect the sacks allowed total to drop from 19 to as low as 10 this year.

MTSU is capable of topping 40 points and 500 yards per game this season, and we expect at least 35 points and 450 yards.

Defense: Middle Tennessee’s defense won’t get much credit, but if the Blue Raiders are to win their first SBC title this year, the defense will have to continue to shine in anonymity.  This side has yielded about 24 points and 350 yards per game the last two years, and they could be poised to kick it up a notch in 2010.

The defensive front seven is a small concern this season, and if the Blue Raiders fail to take the league title, and they aren’t torn apart by numerous injuries, it will be the lack of pass rush and coverage in the short zones that may do them in.

The secondary is the class of the league, and in a league known for its passing, that is important.  Rod Issac, Kevin Brown, and Jeremy Kellem teamed up to intercept seven passes and knock down 15 others.

Schedule: The Blue Raiders have the best non-conference schedule in the Sunbelt Conference.  An opening game at home on Thursday night against a beatable Minnesota team precedes a breather against former Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay.  A visit to a weak Memphis team the week after could leave the Blue Raiders at 3-0 and poised to crack the Top 25.  The final non-league tilt comes in October against Georgia Tech.  MTSU hosts Troy on October 5, and the winner of that game should take the conference flag.  A September 25 visit to Lafayette to take on Louisiana could be a big trap game.  If they can win that game and knock off Troy, then the Yellow Jackets could be all that stops the Blue Raiders from running the table.

Team North Texas Mean Green
Head Coach Todd Dodge
Colors Green and White
City Denton, TX
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
PiRate Rating 81.7
National Rank 105


Offense: The Mean Green scored 27 points per game last year, but they only won twice.  Expect both numbers to head north this season as this team returns a lot of talent.  Last year’s starting quarterback, Riley Dodge (son of the coach), returns.  However, he suffered a shoulder injury and has been moved to a wide out position.  Dodge is a true athlete, so it wouldn’t surprise us if he caught 50 passes this season and still see a few snaps at his old position.

Nathan Tune and Derek Thompson will vie for the starting quarterback job.  Tune saw considerable action last year, while Thompson was forced to burn a redshirt in the middle of the final game last year.  Neither can run the ball the way Dodge did, but both can hum the ball down the field.

Whoever is throwing the ball will have the conference’s elite group of receivers.  Besides Dodge, Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford joins the squad that returns its top six pass catchers from 2009.

Those receivers will find the going easier than normal because defenses will have to stop the running game first.  North Texas returns the league’s number two rusher in Lance Dunbar, who gained 1,378 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last season.

Making this offense lethal this year is a very experienced and capable offensive line featuring tackle Esteban Santiago.

We believe North Texas will average better than 30 points and 425 yards per game this year, and they could top 200 yards rushing and passing in more than half their games.

Defense: Normally, when a team surrenders 36 points per game, it would be considered pathetic.  However, in Denton last year, this represented a 12-point improvement over the year before.  Expect another 12-point improvement this year.

The defensive line is in much better shape this year with three starters returning up front.  End Brandon Akpunku recorded six sacks and 5 ½ other tackles for loss.  The second four provide excellent depth here with three upperclassmen backing up the starters.

The second line of defense features a potential All-SBC linebacker in Craig Robertson.  Robertson led the Mean Green in tackles last season, but he will need to make more of those closer to the line of scrimmage this year if UNT expects to contend for the conference championship.

This should be the best secondary in Denton in years.  With a better pass rush, look for the back unit to defend more passes. 

We believe North Texas will chop another 8-12 points off their defensive yield and give up about 24-28 points and 375 yards per game.

Schedule: North Texas has a chance to win two or three of their non-conference games, but it isn’t a given.  A home game with Rice on September 11 and a visit to Army the following week will determine if the Mean Green will go to a bowl this season.  An opener at Clemson could be ugly.  The season finale is at home with a Kansas State squad that could need one win to become bowl-eligible.  Kansas State lost to Louisiana in Lafayette last year.

In the conference, North Texas hosts Troy and plays at Middle Tennessee in back-to-back weeks at the start of November.  We think they will split those games.  If they can win at Florida Atlantic, they have a chance to sneak through and win or share for the Sunbelt title as the surprise team.  Even if they fall short, we think the Mean Green will play a 13th game in December.

Team Troy Trojans
Head Coach Larry Blakeney
Colors Red and Gray
City Troy, AL
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 9-4
PiRate Rating 86.9
National Rank 94


Offense: How do you replace the best quarterback in school history?  Levi Brown completed 64% of his passes for 4,254 yards last year.  New quarterback Jamie Hampton has six career starts under his belt, so he isn’t entirely raw.

Hampton has the league’s best returning trio of receivers.  Jerrel Jernigan, Tebarius Gill, and Chip Reeves teamed for 140 catches and 2,045 yards, with Jernigan accounting for better than half of that amount.

Troy used a running back by committee approach last year, but starter DuJuan Harris is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if he returns to his 2008 form.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the two new starters are experienced upperclassmen. 

Troy averaged 34 points and 486 yards per game last year.  Expect a drop in those gaudy numbers, but the Trojans will still be a potent offensive machine.  28 points and 400 yards would still lead to a good season.

Defense: Welcome to troubles!  Troy was decimated by graduation losses on this side of the ball.  Six of the top seven tacklers are gone including three defensive linemen who are on NFL preseason rosters.

Four new DL starters will be in the trenches, and even though Coach Blakeney has recruited well, this quartet will not come close to matching last year’s numbers of 138 rushing yards allowed and 33 sacks.

Two linebackers have moved on, leaving Daniel Sheffield as the lone returnee in the front seven.  New middle linebacker Xavier Lamb should emerge as the leading tackler this year.

The last line of defense returns two starters, including the best pass defender in the league.  Cover corner Bryan Willis is a shutdown defender, but we don’t believe he will match last year’s total of 4 interceptions and 12 knockdowns.  Passers will have an extra half-second or more to locate open receivers on most plays.

Troy gave up 30 points and 425 yards per game last year, and those numbers will be worse this year.  Look for 35 points and 450 yards out of this rebuilding defense.

Schedule: Road games at South Carolina and Oklahoma State are sure losses.  A home game with Bowling Green is very winnable.  A trip to UAB on September 18 could determine whether Troy can get to seven victories and earn a bowl bid.  Middle Tennessee hosts Troy on Tuesday, October 5, in a nationally televised game.  We expect the Blue Raiders to exact revenge on the Trojans and end their reign of supremacy.  A road game at Florida Atlantic on December 4 could be a must-win game for bowl-eligibility and a possible third bid from the league. 

Team Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Head Coach Willie Taggart
Colors Red and White
City Bowling Green, KY
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12
PiRate Rating 72.7
National Rank 118


Offense: Things are looking up for the Hilltoppers this year, but when you go 0-12, things can’t look much worse.  New coach Willie Taggart comes from Stanford, and he will install a pro-style offense using 1st team All-SBC running back Bobby Rainey the same way Toby Gerhart was used in Palo Alto.  Expect Rainey to get 300 rushing attempts this year, if WKU can stay in games and not have to resort to throwing the ball 85% of the time in the second half.  Rainey could easily lead the nation in rushing if he gets 300 attempts.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes did a lot of running himself last year—running for his life after a helpless group of pass blockers played like matadors.  Jakes has the potential to be the third best passer in the league if he gets just average protection up front.

Unfortunately, Jakes has little in talent on the other end of his passes.  The seven returning receivers from last year all failed to average 10 yards per catch.  A lot of that had to do with Jakes having to throw quickly to avoid the rush, but yards after the catch is not where this group excels.

The aforementioned offensive line will make strides toward improvement, but don’t expect a major transformation.  If they can allow 10 fewer sacks, WKU will move the ball and eat the clock this year.

Western scored 20 points per game last year and 25 in league play.  Expect the ‘Toppers to approach 24-26 points and 350-375 yards this year.  The big plus will be a ball-controlled rushing game that is capable of reducing total plays per game by as much as 10

Defense: WKU surrendered 40 points and almost 480 yards per game last year, and even with nominal improvement on this side of the ball, we expect the offense to keep this unit on the sidelines for a couple minutes more per game this year.

Taggart will switch Western to a 4-3 defense this year, and the new DL should improve on the 245 rushing yards allowed.   All players who contributed significantly last year in the two-deep return this season.

The second line of defense welcomes back all three of its four top players, and the trio of returning starters should be much improved this year.  Thomas Majors could earn 1st team all-conference honors.

The back line of defense was the weakest in all of FBS football last year, giving up 67.8% completions and 28 touchdowns!  Three starters return, and this unit must improve some, but it will still be a major liability.

We expect WKU to chip off as much as a touchdown from the points allowed this year, but 33-35 points per game is still too much for the Hilltoppers to turn things around.

Schedule: WKU has guaranteed themselves an 0-4 start prior to getting a week off on October 2.  The Hilltoppers open at Nebraska, at Kentucky, home versus Indiana, and at South Florida.  They will be banged up and need that week off before starting conference play.  Their first two conference games come at FIU and home with ULM.  If they don’t win one of those two games, it could lead to a repeat 0-12 season.  We think they will win one of those games and maybe pick up another upset in the second half.  2-10 would be a beginning toward becoming competitive in the future.

Coming Tomorrow: The Mid-American Conference Preview.  Will the Owls fly high in the MAC sky?

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