The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 18, 2018

2018 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has gotten tougher in recent years, and even though one team has dominated the league, they have been upset in conference play both of the last two years. Last year, Clemson lost at last place Syracuse. Coastal Division winner Miami fell at Pittsburgh, and the Panthers failed to get bowl eligible.
What does this mean? The ACC has quality teams from top to bottom, and on any given Saturday, a highly-ranked team might be very disappointed at the end of the day.
Clemson
Running Game: The Tigers are in excellent shape with the return of their top three runners from last year. Quarterback Kelly Bryant may see fewer snaps this year, because Coach Dabo Swinner signed the nation’s top passer, but Bryant is a game-changer with his wheel. Backs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne have similar running styles. They can blast through small holes and head into the clear. All three had a 100-yard game last year. CU should rush for about 200 yards per game and average about five yards per attempt.

Passing Game: Here is where things get interesting. True freshman Trevor Lawrence is not a dual-threat like Bryant, but he comes to Clemson with an NFL quarterback’s arm. Lawrence has a quick release and quite a zip on his passes. At 6-6, he still has just enough quickness to avoid the pass rush and fire off-balance to an open receiver. He needs to work on his accuracy a little and realize that he cannot make all the passes in college that he made against inferior high school defenses, but he comes to Clemson with the potential of a Peyton Manning or John Elway.  The receivers are not as strong as a year ago, but the Tigers still have loads of talent here. Hunter Renfroe is an excellent possession receiver. Tee Higgins can go deep and can turn a short pass into a long gain. Tight end Milan RIchard is an excellent target. Clemson should top 225 passing yards per game and top 30 points per game.
Defensive Line: Quite simply, Clemson’s defensive line is the best in college football, and all four starters return. When quarterbacks have little time to set up in the pocket or make a zone read decision, offenses fail, and CU’s defensive line makes them fail a lot. This unit is so strong that the second string might be the third best in other leagues. We compare this defensive line with the 1992 Alabama defensive line, in other words, one of the best ever assembled. It may even be better than a couple of NFL teams. Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, and Austin Bryant would all start if they were in the NFL this year.
Linebackers: This is the weakest part of the defense, if you can call a top 10 unit weak. Leading tackler Kendall Joseph will be a first team all-ACC player. Middle linebacker Tre Lamar is a headhunter.

Secondary: This unit is the best in the league and a top 5 secondary overall. Safety Tanner Muse and cornerback Trayvon Mullen are the returning starters. A.J. Terrell and Mark Fields have significant experience at corner, but there could be some depth issues if this unit suffers a lot of injuries like it did last year.

Special Teams: Clemson won’t win games with their special teams, but they probably won’t lose any this way either. The loss of Ray-Ray McCloud will hurt the return game.

Outlook: They have been upset against teams they had no business losing to the last two years, but if they lose a regular season game this year, it will be ridiculous. There is so much talent throughout the roster, and the nation’s best defense could easily hold opponents under 10 points a game. This team should be 13-0 and Playoff bound yet again, where it would not surprise us if they play a familiar foe for the National Championship.
Boston College
Running Game: How good is sophomore running back A.J. Dillon? How about potentially being the next Jim Brown? Dillon is the best running back in college football, even if he must take a backseat in the headlines to Bryce Love and Jonathan Taylor. Dillon convinced us how incredible he is when he destroyed Louisville last year. On one 75-yard run, there was no hole when he took the hand-off; the Cardinal defense had multiple defenders wrapping him up, and he shed them to momentarily break free. Then, at about three yards, he basically threw another defender to the ground in a self-pancake block. In the clear, he showed his incredible speed and ran away from the defensive backs for a touchdown, one of four on the day. Dillon will force defenses to bring eight and even nine into the box. The great news is that the entire starting offensive line returns.

Passing Game: Anthony Brown is a better runner than passer, but he will get excellent protection and should make some big plays on play-action passing when defenses have to think about stopping Dillon first. B-C has always been a sort of Tight End U, and they have an excellent tandem in Tommy Sweeney and Chris Garrison (51-664/5 combined)

Defensive Line: The Eagles were too generous against the run last year, giving up 4.8 yards per rush. Notre Dame ran for 515 yards on this unit. End Zach Allen is the star of this unit, and enemy blockers will have to double team him to keep him away from the quarterback. Allen projects as a 1st round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Linebackers: This could be an improved unit if it stays healthy. John Lamot showed promise as a freshman. Conor Strachan is healthy again after missing last year. In 2016, he made 80 tackles with 11 for loss.

Secondary: The secondary played admirably well last year and should be quite strong again this year. Free safety Lukas Denis is a bandit and picked off 7 passes, while strong safety Will Harris stops running plays before they can get too far.

Special Teams: Michael Walker is an effective returner, but kicking game is nothing special.

Outlook: Boston College should go 4-0 outside of the ACC, and with Dillon running behind a strong offensive line, Coach Steve Addazio should be able to keep his defense off the field enough to keep them fresh and hide his depth issues on this side of the ball. B-C could be a dark horse challenger for second in the Atlantic Division, and the Eagles should return to a bowl this year, and most likely win a game or two more than last year.

N. Carolina St.
Running Game: Unless true freshman Ricky Person takes over early and dominates like his press clippings predict, the Wolf Pack running game is likely to retreat from recent seasons. Expected starter Reggie Gallaspy has yet to get through a season healthy. Person already has missed practice time with injuries. NC St. may not average 125 rushing yards per game this year.

Passing Game: Ryan Finley needs to live up to his hype. NFL scouts believe he is a late 1st round draft pick, but Finley had a terrible stretch late in the year when his completion percentage fell under 60%, and he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes, while averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt. He recovered to look like a Heisman Trophy contender in the Sun Bowl, when he torched Arizona State. Finley benefits by having one of the nation’s top receivers on the roster. Kelvin Harmon caught 69 passes for 1,017 yards last year and could top 80 and 1,200 this year. Stephen Louis gives Finley an excellent number two receiver. The offensive line is better at pass blocking than run blocking, and there is experience and depth here.
Defensive Line: While not exceptionally talented and somewhat inexperienced, this is the best unit on this side of the ball. The Wolf Pack were much better at stopping the run than the pass last year, but the players responsible for stuffing runners at the line are no longer here. Tackle Eundraus Bryant and end Darian Roseboro give NC St. a couple of above-average linemen.

Linebackers: This unit is a big concern. After losing its leading tackler, there isn’t much talent or depth remaining. Germaine Pratt is the best of the two-deep, but he is not one of the top 10 linebackers in the league.

Secondary: Expect a little better play from the defensive backfield this year, but if an adequate pass rush doesn’t form, the statistics could be little changed from last year, when the Pack surrendered 253 passing yards per game. There has been an upgrade in talent here, with former Tennessee safety Stephen Griffin eligible this year.

Special Teams: Punter A.J. Cole is very good. The Wolf Pack need a kicker to emerge with consistency, and freshman Christopher Dunn may become the new regular. The return game was excellent last year, but they lose their key man.

Outlook: Make no mistake about this–Coach Dave Doeren has slowly built up this program to where it was during the Dick Sheridan years. Even with a rebuilding defense, the offense can carry this team to a top 25 ranking. Except for the game at Clemson, State can beat any other team on their schedule, and we expect the Wolf Pack to at least match last year’s nine-win total.

Florida St.
Running Game: Are two very good running backs as good as one superior running back? It depends. If the one superior back goes out injured, the team is toast. If one of the two really good teammates goes out injured, at least you still have one remaining. Florida State’s top two backs are very good, but neither will remind anybody of Dillon. Cam Akers topped 1,000 yards last year, but he did a lot of his damage against weaker teams. He did explode for 121 yards against Miami, so there is promise that he will be more consistent this year. Jacques Patrick missed a couple game due to injury but still managed to add 748 rushing yards. The Seminoles’ offensive line is also very good but not a great unit.
Passing Game: Florida State will take their quarterback competition down to the wire before naming a starter for the Virginia Tech game on Labor Day. After enjoying a successful freshman campaign in which he threw for 3,350 yards and 20 TDs, Deondre Francois was touted as a phenom last year on the eve of the opener against Alabama. Francois didn’t last through the opener, ending his season with a knee injury. He will need some new game experience to remove the rust, and he will most likely be number two on the depth chart. James Blackman isn’t as mobile as Francois, and he has issues sometimes with finesse passes, but he has the best arm on the roster. Blackman looked like the leader of this team when he torched Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl with 4 TD passes. Bailey Hockman is a pure dropback passer with a strong and accurate arm but with no game experience. Whoever wins the starting job, he will have some talented receivers catching his passes. Nyqwan Murray can catch the ball in a crowd and knows how to turn upfield and gain extra yards once he catches the ball. There are depth issues here.

Defensive Line: The Seminoles have half of an excellent front four. Tackle Demarcus Christmas and end Brian Burns can compete for All-ACC honors. If tackle Marvin Wilson can play the way his pedigree predicted, FSU could improve their run defense and give up less than 125 yards per game. The pass rush is adequate but not exceptional.

Linebackers: This is a rebuilding project. The Seminoles lost all three starters, including two NFL picks. The leading returnee had just 12 tackles. The development of the new starters will determine if FSU can slow down the great backs in this league and prevent short passing games from picking them apart.

Secondary: The Seminoles should be okay at cornerback with two fine starters and a decent backup, but there could be issues at safety.

Special Teams: This unit should be better than average, but the Seminoles are not likely to pick up any extra wins by relying on it to be decisive.

Outlook: Coach Willie Taggart’s hurry-up spread offense may take some time for his players to adjust to after playing a power, pro style under Jimbo FIsher. The Seminoles will start slow but pick up momentum as the season continues. Their bowl streak should continue, but the bowl is likely to be earlier in December than they like.

Wake Forest
Running Game: The ground game under Coach Dave Clawson has improved for three consecutive years after being dead last in the nation in 2014. Matt Colburn approached 1,000 yard territory last year, as he averaged 5.4 yards per rush. With the loss of dual-threat quarterback John Wolford, expect Colburn to run the ball a few more times per game. His second half was better than the first, so it would not be surprising if he rushed for 1,200 or more yards in 2018. With all five offensive line starters back, the Demon Deacons could top 200 rushing yards per game if new quarterback Kendall Hinton can pick up where Wolford left off.

Passing Game: This is where Wake Forest will really miss Wolford. Hinton will most likely fail to match his 3,192 passing yards and incredible 29 touchdown passes. Wake Forest shattered its all time scoring and total offense high marks last year, averaging more than 35 points and 465 yards per game. They need to come close to matching that this year, because they will have to outscore opponents once again.

Defensive Line: Not much has changed in Winston-Salem on this side of the ball, as Wake Forest is mediocre in its front seven. They had one star in Duke Ejiofor, who now plays for the Houston Texans. The pass rush will be weak, and backs like Dillon and Akers will be smiling when they line up against this defense.

Linebackers: This unit is weaker than the defensive line. One starter returns in middle linebacker Demetrius Kemp. Most of his tackles were made after successful plays by the opponent.

Secondary: This is the strongest unit on the team, but it is still not stellar, just average. Three starters return. Corners Amari Henderson and Essang Bassey and strong safety Cameron Glenn teamed for 7 interceptions and 33 passes defended.

Special Teams: Dom Maggio is one of the top punters in the ACC, but Wake Forest lost All-conference kicker Mike Weaver. Greg Dortch is a fine but not outstanding return man.

Outlook: Coach Clawson has another good offense that will have to win games by scoring a lot of points. The Deacons will do that six or seven times, but they will take a small step backwards this year.

Louisville
Running Game: Lamar Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three years as Louisville’s quarterback. His running ability will be harder to make up for than his passing ability. Jawon Pass is not close to Jackson as a runner. Louisville will not rush for 245 yards this year. Top back Dae Williams rushed for just 235 yards last year, but he is capable of topping 1,000 yards. Still, UL will most likely rush for less than 200 yards per game this year, even with an experienced offensive line returning.

Passing Game: Pass can hum that pigskin. He has a strong arm, and he’s more likely to be like past Bobby Petrino quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He might top 300 passing yards per game, and with Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins, and Dez Fitzpatrick returning to catch those passes, the Cardinal offense will still thrive. The terrific trio averaged almost 16 yards per catch and scored 20 TDs on their 147 receptions.

Defensive Line: Uh-oh! Louisville’s defensive line was not outstanding last year, but it was experienced. Nary a starter returns this year. There is one star returning in former designated pass rusher end Jon Greenard, who tallied 7 sacks in 2017.

Linebackers: It’s a similar issue at linebacker, as the Cardinals must replace two of three starters. The lone returnee, Dorian Etheridge, finished second on the team in tackles, but he did not create big plays. True freshman Robert Hicks may hit the field immediately this year.

Secondary: We failed to mention that 9 of 11 starters on this side of the ball finished their college careers last year. That leaves just one starter left in this unit. Russ Yeast was a part-time starter, and he produced no big statistics.

Special Teams: The Cardinals have exceptional kicking but nothing special in their return game. Kicker Blanton Creque is accurate up to 50 yards, while punter Mason King is one of the best in the league.
Outlook: With Jackson and a more experienced defense, Louisville could only manage an 8-5 season. Frequently, teams outscored the Cardinals. Expect the Cardinals to take a step backwards. A 6-6 regular season with a minor bowl would be a successful season for this young roster.

Syracuse
Running Game: Dino Babers’ teams are known for their wide-open passing attacks, but Syracuse had several excellent games on the ground last year. Miami’s game plan was to force the Orangemen to run the ball, as they played a lot of safe zone coverages. SU ran the ball well enough to keep the game close. The key players return this year, including Dontae Strickland. Quarterback Eric Dungey actually led the team in rushing, and his return means he could team with Strickland to combine for about 1,200 yards. The offensive line improved somewhat in year two of the Babers era, and it should be as good or even better this season.
Passing Game: Dungey passed for 2,495 yards with 14 touchdowns last year, but for the third consecutive season, he missed games due to injury. Even if he stays healthy this year, he will have a hard time matching his per game average from 2017, because SU lost Steve Ishamel and Ervin Phillips and their 194 catches. Syracuse will spread their receptions out among four or five wideouts this year.

Defensive Line: Three starters return to the trenches led by end Alton Robinson, who led the Orangemen with 5 sacks. Tackle Chris Slayton is strong against the run.

Linebackers: This is the weakest unit on the entire team. SU will have to rely on juco transfers this year, as graduation took their number one, two, and four tacklers.

Secondary: The Orangemen have three experienced defensive backs returning, but this is another liability. Syracuse gave up 7.8 yards per pass attempt, and only 4 interceptions (3 from the secondary).

Special Teams: Sean Riley is decent as a return specialist, and Sterling Hofricher is a capable punter, but the Orangemen need a new placekicker. Hofricher might have to take over and handle both jobs.

Outlook: If Syracuse didn’t have to play Notre Dame this year, we might be inclined to pick this team to sneak into bowl eligibility with six wins. With the Irish added, the schedule is a bit too difficult to expect Syracuse to get past 5 wins.

Miami
Running Game: When you look at the sum of the parts, Miami didn’t have the look of 10-3 team. The Hurricane running game was nothing special, finishing 10th in the ACC, but on closer look, Mark Richt’s team finished third in average yards per rush behind Louisville with Jackson and Georgia Tech with their option offense. With quarterback Malik Rosier and top back Travis Homer returning, behind an offensive line that should be on par with 2017, look for the running game to be as good or better than last year.

Passing Game: Rosier’s 2017 season might have inspired Charles Dickins to write A Tail of Two Passers in One Body. It was the best of times for the signal caller during the first ten games, and the worst of times in the final three. Rosier is more of a gunslinger than a West Coast Offense prototype. He’s near the top in the nation at throwing the deep ball, but he can be impatient with everything else. In the first ten games, his efficiency rating was 141.7, and he averaged better than 8 yards per attempt. In the last three games, his efficiency rating fell to 92.0 with a 44.9% completion rate and five interceptions. Rosier lost his top targets from last year, but he has some athletic replacements that can run deep routes and get enough separation for the Hurricanes to get some quick scores again.

Defensive Line: Enemy quarterbacks will not look forward to playing the Hurricanes with their strong pass rush. Joe Jackson and Jonathan Garvin will get their share of sacks and hurries, and their quick rush might help UM carry on that great Turnover Chain tradition. Miami could be a little more generous against the run this year.

Linebackers: This is by far the best trio in the league and one of the five best in the nation. This trio will be back for the third year, and you can expect Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman, and Michael Pinckney to top 200 total tackles if they stay healthy. 22 1/2 of this groups tackles last year were for lost yardage.

Secondary: Three starters return to a unit that liked to wear that chain following interceptions. Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson both intercepted four passes in 2017, and Johnson forced three fumbles as well. Rarely can a defense finish first in its conference in turnover margin in consecutive seasons, but this unit could pull off that feat this year if the offense does its part.

Special Teams: The Hurricanes are not strong here, and this could actually cost them a close game. Punter Zach Feagles averaged just 38.6 yards per punt, and he could be the strongest link in this unit. True freshman kicker Bubba Baxa can kick the ball a mile, but he has to become more consistent with kicking it straight.

Outlook: The Hurricanes are the team to beat in the Coastal Division for the second consecutive season. Unfortunately, they still have a ways to go before they can challenge Clemson for the ACC Championship. Another 10-win season is probable, only this time the losses won’t all come at the end.

Virginia Tech
Running Game: Coach Justin Fuente shared the wealth in his running game last year, basically because no back emerged as the go to guy. Deshawn McClease, Jalen Holston and Steven Peoples will share most of the carries again this year. The Hokies failed to average four yards per rush last year, and it brought down the scoring average. The offensive line may be slightly improved this year for the running attack.

Passing Game: Josh Jackson played like a talented freshman last year as the young starter. He put up some rather good numbers with 2,991 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, but down the stretch, his passing efficiency fell to 106.7 in the final 5 games. With Cam Phillips off to the Buffalo Bills, Sean Savoy and Eric Kumah become the top targets.

Defensive Line: This is where the Hokies will shine. Three starters plus the top reserve return to the trenches. Bud Foster is still around coaching the defense, and Virginia Tech will always be tough to run against. Tackle Ricky Walker made 41 tackles, with 12.5 for loss. He’s nearly impossible to run on, and he can get after the quarterback from the inside.

Linebackers: Other than running back, this is the one potential problem area. Mook Reynolds is the only returning starter, and he recorded nine tackles for loss last year. There isn’t much depth here.

Secondary: This is one of the best defensive backfields in the ACC, but it is less experienced than it was last year. Reggie Floyd is the top star here. The strong safety intercepted three passes last year, including a pick six against North Carolina.

Special Teams: For years, Virginia Tech was noted for its excellent special teams. 2017 was no different, but the stars that made this unit so good have left Blacksburg. Punter Oscar Bradburn returns, but the rest of this unit is somewhat untested.

Outlook: The Hokies will be a good but not great team in 2018. The defense lost a bit too much to repeat its performance of last year, and the offense is not ready to simply outscore the better teams. More of the projected tossup games are on the road, so we expect an 8 or 9 win season this year.

Duke
Running Game: Half of Duke’s excellent tandem of 2017 returns this year. Brittain Brown rushed for 701 yards at a 5.4 average per rush. He’s got good hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield. The offensive line has less experience entering the season, but the line was not a strong point last year and could actually be a little better this year.

Passing Game: Daniel Jones is a better runner than a passer to this point in his career. His TD/INT ratio was 14/11, and he averaged less than 6 yards per pass attempt. He was better as a freshman in 2016, and he finished the season playing his best ball, so prospects are good that 2018 could see a jump forward. All of his key targets from last year return, including T.J. Rahming, who led with 65 receptions and 795 yards. Expect David Cutcliffe to get a lot more out of this phase of the game this year; Duke could average 250 passing yards per game.

Defensive Line: Duke concentrates its pass defense on keeping maximum personnel in coverage, and their pass rush is not all that terrific. The line is not a strong point, and even thought three of four starters return, it isn’t one that will scare opposing ACC backs.

Linebackers: Here is where the Blue Devils make their plays. The linebacker duo return to try to improve on 25 tackles for loss. Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris could start for most Power 5 teams.

Secondary: Two players with extensive starting experience return to the 5-man secondary, including cornerback Mark Gilbert. Gilbert intercepted six passes a year ago and broke up 15 more.

Special Teams: Duke must audition for a new kicker and punter. There is experience in the return game, but the talent is average here.

Outlook: A 7-6 season that included a bowl win over Northern Illinois was about what was expected last year. This year, the Blue Devils should maintain the status quo or improve ever so slightly on last year’s success.

Georgia Tech
Running Game: It’s the option attack, so the running game is always going to be some variation of good. When they averaged 307 yards per game to lead the ACC last year and finish fifth overall in the FBS, it almost was like a minor disappointment. Any time the option attack returns an experienced quarterback, it almost always improves over the previous year, and TaQuon Marshall returns after rushing for 1,146 yards and 17 touchdowns. Marshall has the ability to free-lance a little more than the average option quarterback. Once in the clear, he accelerates like a top-rated running back. Georgia Tech returns both starting A Backs and their starting B Back. B Back KirVonte Benson (old-fashioned fullback position) is a powerful runner, who gives Tech two returning 1,000 yard rushers. He’s powerful with a low center of gravity, and it isn’t uncommon for him to push the defense an extra five yards after multiple defenders make contact.

Passing Game: It’s the option attack, so the passing game is always going to be a decoy until the quarterback lulls the defense into thinking he will never pass. Marshall is a runner first, second, and third. He has just enough passing talent to run play-action and throw the bomb. Even when it is not completed, it warns the safeties to remember that the next one could be completed. The offensive line is built for run blocking, so Tech cannot get too fancy with their passing game. Still, there is room for improvement. While 8.6% of his passes resulted in touchdowns, 4.3% of his passes resulted in interceptions.

Defensive Line: This is a work in progress. Coach Paul Johnson brought in Nate Woody as his new defensive coordinator, and Woody brings the 3-4 defense to Atlanta. Tech was a 4-2-5 team last year, and the front line will have some rough adjustments, as it becomes more of a protector for the linebackers.

Linebackers: Although not a juggernaut, the quartet of linebackers makes this the best unit on this side of the ball. Outside backer Victor Alexander should thrive in this new set, and Brant Mitchell should add about 30 more tackles to his stat sheet than he did last year.

Secondary: This could be trouble. The problem with option teams is they seldom have a scout team quarterback and receivers that can help their pass defense practice in real game-like situations. Add to this that just one starter returns from the five that started last year, and Tech could give up 230 to 250 passing yards per game.

Special Teams: Pressley Harvin is one of the nation’s top punters, and he’s just a sophomore. Tech hopes Shawn Davis can improve from a so-so year, as the Yellow Jackets made just 7 field goals. The return game is average at best.

Outlook: After suffering a 5-6 season with a game wiped out due to a hurricane, Georgia Tech should recover and become bowl eligible once again. With a few breaks, they could even challenge for the division title.

Pittsburgh
Running Game: The offense grounded to a halt last year, as Pitt could only muster 148 rushing yards per game and had consistent star running back like James Conner. Darrin Hall could be that missing ingredient this year after flashing signs of greatness in 2017. Against Duke, he broke two long touchdown runs and scored three total on the way to a 254-yard day. Hall will run behind a stronger offensive line this year, even though there will be some new faces starting.

Passing Game: Three quarterbacks took turns starting last year, and the third one in that group returns as the starter at the beginning of 2018. Kenny Pickett went 1-1 as the starter at the close of the season, performing quite well and earning the starting nod in 2018. He engineered the victory over Miami when the Hurricanes were 10-0 and ranked number two in the nation. The problem is that none of last year’s starting receivers are back. Rafael Araujo-Lopes was a regular who just so happened to come of the bench, so it is like having one starter back.

Defensive Line: A deceptively good defense last year, Pitt should be more obvious about their goodness this season. The Panthers were strong against the run, and they should be so again this year. End Dewayne Hendrix leads a talented and deep front four, as Pitt substituted and played a lot of players up front last year.

Linebackers: All three starters return, making this the strength of the team. Leading tackler Oluwaseun Idowu recorded 94 tackles with 11 1/2 for loss and 5 sacks. Second leading tackler Saleem Brightwell had 73 tackles.

Secondary: The defensive backfield makes a lot of changes this year as three starters depart. Coach Pat Narduzzi has some highly-prized recruits to come in and help out against the pass.

Special Teams: Any time Pitt gets to the opponents’ 40 yard line, they are in field goal range for Alex Kessman. His leg is among the strongest in the nation in college or the NFL, but his accuracy has not caught up to his strength. Replacing All-ACC punter Ryan Winslow won’t be easy. Replacing star returner Quadree Henderson won’t be possible.

Outlook: Pittsburgh faces the strongest non-conference schedule this year, and it could prevent the Panthers from returning to the plus side of .500. The Panthers have road games with Central Florida and Notre Dame plus a home game with Penn State, and they could be 1-3 out of the ACC. It would take a 5-3 conference mark to become bowl eligible, and that is asking a bit too much for this roster.

N. Carolina
Note: 13 players face 1 to 4 game suspensions for selling their school issued tennis shoes. The opening week PiRate Rating will reflect the change in personnel for the Cal game.

Running Game: Both running backs that shared most of the load last year (Jordan Brown & Michael Carter) return, but they will be running behind a rebuilt offensive line that must replace three full-time starters plus a fourth player that started most of the games. It may be hard to top the 145 rushing yards per game from last year.

Passing Game: Chazz Surratt lost his spot as starter last year due to injury. This year, a 4-game suspension gives the job to last year’s replacement Nathan Elliott. Elliott started the last four games and had mixed results. Elliott has one star target in the receiving corps. Anthony Ratliff-Williams had just 35 catches last year, but he gives Elliott a big receiver to leap over defenders to make circus catches, while supplying speed to break long gains from short and medium length passes.

Defensive Line: The Tar Heels couldn’t stop opposing offenses last year, giving up 31.3 points and 436 yards per game. While there are experienced players returning to the trenches, this group could not stop the run. Expect a little improvement as most of the two-deep is back.

Linebackers: Like the defensive line, there is room for improvement, but unlike the line, there isn’t much experience returning past leading tackler Cole Holcomb.

Secondary: There is some talent and experience in the backfield. K.J. Sails led the Heels with 13 passed defended. Myles Dorn had 71 tackles and two interceptions.

Special Teams: This has been a strong point during the Larry Fedora era. Kick returner Anthony Ratliff-Williams returned 2 of his 34 kick returns for touchdowns. He will handle punt returns this year as well. Hunter Lent took over as Punter in the middle of the season last year and performed brilliantly with a 44.9 average.

Outlook: This could be a win or else year for Fedora, and with all the suspensions early in the season against a tough September schedule, the Tar Heels could be doomed early and struggle to stay out of the basement for a second consecutive season.

Virginia
Running Game: Bronco Mendenhall shocked the league by guiding Virginia to bowl eligibility coming off a 2-11 first season in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers certainly didn’t win six games with their running game. UVA averaged just 93.5 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per rush. Nearly 70% of the team’s rushing yardage came from one player, and Jordan Ellis returns as that player. He may struggle to do much better this year behind a raw offensive line, which might be the weakest in the league.

Passing Game: Kurt Benkert’s arm got Virginia to the Military Bowl last year, but Benkert graduated. Stepping in to replace him is junior college transfer Bryce Perkins. Perkins is a dual-threat quarterback, something Mendenhall has not had at Virginia. Perkins has speed like a top running back, but he is no slouch as a passer. H-Back Olamide Zaccheaus caught a team-leading 85 passes a year ago, while tight end Evan Butts added 32 catches.

Defensive Line: The Cavaliers yielded just under 200 rushing yards per game last year, but with both ends missing from last year’s 3-4 front, and with some missing pieces in the next line of defense, that number will most likely zoom over 200 this year. Don’t expect much pass rush from this group either.

Linebackers: Things are a lot better in this unit, but the Cavaliers are still missing two fine starters from last year. Jordan Mack and Chris Peace are talented all around, stopping runs for little gain and getting into the backfield when they blitz. Still, this unit loses All-Conference and leading tackler Micah Kiser (143 tackles/5 sacks/2 fumble recoveries).

Secondary: They didn’t get much credit, but the secondary was one of the top four or five in the ACC last year. Three starters return. Bryce Hall, Brenton Nelson, and Juan Thornhill combined for 9 interceptions and 26 passes defended. There’s depth here, so this will be the strength of the defense.

Special Teams: This unit will help Virginia win a close game at some point in the season. Kick returner Joe Reed averaged 30 yards per return and took back 2 for touchdowns. Punter Lester Coleman averaged close to 44 yards per punt. A better year is expected out of kicker A.J. Mejia.

Outlook: Nobody expected this team to make a bowl game last year, and the media is not giving any love to the team this year. This team has the talent to challenge for bowl eligibility, and if Perkins can move the offense like he did in junior college in Arizona, the Cavaliers could surprise again with another 6-6 regular season. If Perkins does not shine, then 4-8 is more likely.

Here is how the ACC Media voted in the preseason poll

ACC
Atlantic 1st Place Points
1. Clemson 145 1,031
2. Florida St. 1 789
3. North Carolina St. 2 712
4. Boston College 0 545
5. Louisville 0 422
6. Wake Forest 0 412
7. Syracuse 0 232
Coastal 1st Place Points
1. Miami (Fla.) 122 998
2. Virginia Tech 16 838
3. Georgia Tech 8 654
4. Duke 1 607
5. Pittsburgh 0 420
6. North Carolina 1 370
7. Virginia 0 257

 

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat

Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division
Team ACC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Clemson 0-0 0-0 131.7 128.4 132.6 130.9
Boston College 0-0 0-0 117.3 113.7 117.2 116.1
N. Carolina St. 0-0 0-0 113.8 113.0 113.6 113.5
Florida St. 0-0 0-0 111.5 110.9 111.3 111.2
Wake Forest 0-0 0-0 109.8 107.5 107.3 108.2
Louisville 0-0 0-0 105.1 105.3 104.6 105.0
Syracuse 0-0 0-0 106.2 104.2 104.6 105.0
Coastal Division
Team ACC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Miami 0-0 0-0 120.3 118.2 120.0 119.5
Virginia Tech 0-0 0-0 114.3 113.7 114.0 114.0
Duke 0-0 0-0 113.3 110.4 112.4 112.1
Georgia Tech 0-0 0-0 112.2 110.9 111.8 111.7
Pittsburgh 0-0 0-0 105.5 105.2 104.7 105.2
N. Carolina 0-0 0-0 105.3 104.3 104.5 104.7
Virginia 0-0 0-0 101.5 102.0 99.9 101.1
ACC Averages 112.0 110.6 111.3 111.3

New Coaches
Willie Taggart’s stay in the Pacific Northwest lasted just one year. The former South Florida coach left Oregon to return to the Sunshine State and takes over the reins from Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. Taggart comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree, or should we say just the Harbaugh coaching tree. He actually played and then coached under papa Jack Harbaugh at Western Kentucky, before he became a Stanford assistant under son Jim. In his short stints at Western Kentucky, South Florida, and Oregon, he has improved the won-loss record every year but one, in which he equaled that one.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. Ohio State and Maryland could see their ratings change by large amounts depending on the outcome of the two coaching investigations.

ACC
Team Conference Overall
Atlantic
Clemson 8-0 13-0*
North Carolina St. 7-1 11-1
Boston College 4-4 8-4
Florida St. 4-4 7-5
Wake Forest 3-5 6-6
Syracuse 2-6 5-7
Louisville 1-7 4-8
Coastal
Miami 8-0 12-1
Duke 6-2 9-3
Virginia Tech 5-3 8-4
Georgia Tech 5-3 8-4
North Carolina 2-6 4-8
Pittsburgh 2-6 3-9
Virginia 0-8 4-8
*Clemson to win ACC Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Camping World Bowl in Orlando, FL
2. Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL ***
3. Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC
3. Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN or Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, FL
3. Pinstripe Bowl in New York, NY
3. Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX
7. Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA
7. Military Bowl in Annapolis, MD
7. Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, MI
The ACC has secondary agreements with the Birmingham and St. Petersburg Bowls.
*** Citrus (if top possible team is higher-ranked than SEC or Big Ten team)

Coming Tomorrow–The Southeastern Conference

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August 31, 2017

Money Line Parlay Picks for August 31-September 4, 2017

If you have been following the PiRate Ratings for a few years, you will know that we have issued selections on games every year since this page was created. Over the course of many football seasons, our money line parlay selections have been the most popular feature we have published. There is good reason for this–they have been successful. Last year, our selections returned better than 8% on investment, which was so-so, but it was still a winning season, making it three successful seasons in a row.
Regular readers here may also remember that our money line parlay selections have tended to perform their best in October and November, so keep that in mind if you use our free advice as a wagering tool. You should know this (and if you are a regular you have read this many times in this feature–we NEVER wager on sports contests. This is strictly an exercise in mathematical fun, which makes it so much easier for us to publish these parlays.

The true opening week of the football season does not give us NFL regular season games, so we have a reduced amount of games available in our menu. Therefore, we are issuing just one parlay for this week.

This parlay gives us a calculated odd of +138, so for every $100 of imaginary bank account we invest, if this parlay wins we will receive $238 back ($138 + the $100 we invested). Of course if this play loses, then we lose the $100 of imaginary investment.
Without further adieu, here is our selection for Labor Day Weekend.

1. Money Line Parlay at +138
Ohio State over Indiana
Nebraska over Arkansas St.
North Carolina over California
Georgia over Appalachian St.
Alabama over Florida St.

If you are interested in knowing how we calculate the odds of our parlays, we use offshore books only in finding the best overall odds for the games we wish to play. Since we do not work for these sports books, we will not give them free advertising and name names. However, if you look at offshore money line odds online at any of numerous sites, it should not be that difficult to find one particular site with the most favorable odds. Most sites have a money line parlay calculator, and if not, you can find this at many different sites. Parlay odds can be figured by doing some math, but you can save a lot of time by using these calculators.

We always round down to the nearest whole dollar when calculating the payout odds of the parlays. In actuality, today’s parlay should return $238.46 for every $100 invested (or $138.46 profit) rather than $238.

August 29, 2017

PiRate Ratings College Football Forecast for August 31-September 3, 2017

This Week’s College Football Spreads

Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias
Alabama (N) Florida St. 6.6 3.8 6.3
Arizona St. New Mexico St. 23.0 25.7 22.8
Auburn Georgia Southern 46.7 42.9 47.2
Boise St. Troy St. 8.3 6.2 8.2
Central Florida Florida Intl. 17.1 19.6 16.6
Clemson Kent 48.3 42.9 46.2
Coastal Carolina Massachusetts -10.5 -7.8 -8.4
Colorado Colorado St. 9.4 8.3 7.0
Eastern Mich. Charlotte 22.1 18.5 21.7
Florida (N) Michigan -1.1 -1.0 -0.8
Florida Atlantic Navy -12.5 -9.8 -11.1
Georgia Appalachian St. 19.6 23.9 19.1
Georgia Tech Tennessee 4.8 3.9 4.8
Illinois Ball St. 14.4 14.0 11.2
Indiana Ohio St. -25.1 -21.6 -23.9
Iowa Wyoming 16.2 18.4 17.1
LSU (N) BYU 20.5 19.8 20.6
Marshall Miami (Ohio) -9.4 -9.8 -11.1
Memphis Louisiana-Monroe 30.8 28.9 33.3
Michigan St. Bowling Green 16.0 20.5 14.9
Middle Tenn. Vanderbilt -17.7 -14.9 -15.8
Minnesota Buffalo 30.6 26.1 28.4
Mississippi South Alabama 26.8 22.4 22.0
NC St. (N) South Carolina 8.8 8.4 9.3
Nebraska Arkansas St. 19.4 19.2 17.0
North Carolina California 16.1 17.1 16.6
Northern Ill. Boston College -13.3 -14.1 -12.6
Northwestern Nevada 34.5 28.0 31.8
Notre Dame Temple 15.7 13.1 15.3
Oklahoma UTEP 52.6 46.1 52.3
Oklahoma St. Tulsa 14.5 14.5 16.1
Penn St. Akron 43.6 36.7 43.9
Purdue (N) Louisville -22.0 -18.5 -21.7
Rutgers Washington -29.9 -25.5 -31.8
Southern Miss. Kentucky -24.5 -21.2 -24.1
Texas Maryland 14.0 12.3 14.3
Texas-San Antonio Houston -10.3 -7.3 -8.0
UCLA Texas A&M 4.0 5.5 4.8
USC Western Mich. 22.4 25.8 21.1
Virginia Tech West Va. 9.0 7.5 9.6
Wisconsin Utah St. 37.6 34.4 36.9

(N) means neutral site game

We’ve had a small appetizer of college football games, and the first main course shall be served over the course of five days, commencing with a couple of choice morsels Thursday night. The PiRates will be focused on these games this weekend.

Ohio State at Indiana–It is rare for Big Ten teams to open with a conference game. This one should be a tad more interesting than it looks on the surface. Indiana released former head coach Kevin Wilson from his contract last year (actually a forced resignation), due to an issue with a player with more than an injured back who was told to keep playing.  Wilson didn’t wait long to have a new job. He is now the offensive coordinator at ….. Ohio State! Add Wilson’s chip on his shoulder to Coach Urban Meyer’s boulder chip on his shoulder from his Buckeyes’ being shut out by Clemson in the Playoff Semifinals, and Ohio State will most likely do everything it can to run the score up on IU. It is not supposed to matter, but if the Buckeyes win this game 63-0, the pollsters will immediately overreact and move them up in the polls, maybe up to number one.

Tulsa at Oklahoma State–Are the Cowboys strong enough to challenge rival Oklahoma and compete for the Big 12 Championship? This might be the best Oklahoma State team since the 2011 team came within an upset loss to Iowa State from playing for all the marbles. Tulsa might be a little better than the 10-3 team of last year, possibly the Golden Hurricane’s best team since maybe 1982 and definitely as good as recent dominant TU teams in this century. A close game doesn’t necessarily mean that Oklahoma State isn’t a playoff contender. This game could be rather close for quite a long time.

Colorado vs. Colorado State (in Denver)–The Rams’ offense looked lethal against Oregon State, and a team usually improves the most in the week between game one and game two. CU does benefit from having 2017 game film on CSU, but this advantage does not offset the one game of experience that the Rams have. If CSU pulls off the mild upset, the Rams could be in line to become the top Group of 5 contender for the New Year’s 6 Bowl tie-in. This just might be the actual best game of the week, but few people will watch this one outside the Centennial State.

Maryland at Texas–Tom Herman makes his debut in Austin, and the Longhorn faithful believe the days of wine and roses will return sooner rather than later. Maryland will not back down and be easy fodder for the Longhorns, and there is an extra factor in this game that could lead to a lower than expected game score. Who better to know the weaknesses of the Urban Meyer-style spread offense than somebody that was a defensive assistant under Meyer? In this game, former offensive coordinator Herman will lead UT against former Meyer defensive assistant D. J. Durkin, the head coach on the opposite sideline. This game becomes a real life chess match worth watching.

Wyoming at Iowa–Okay, you may not be all that excited about this game, but we are. First and foremost, some of the PiRates have a love and affinity for the Western part of this nation’s flyover real estate, Iowa and Wyoming included. Also, we are big time supporters of Cowboy coach Craig Bohl and Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz. These two gentlemen know their stuff, and their teams have an incredible grasp of the fundamentals and the “little things”. These two teams may win games in ways that are not easily seen in the box score. We look for this one to be nip and tuck, and it would not shock us if the visitors from Laramie pulled off the upset.

South Carolina vs. North Carolina State (in Charlotte)–The ACC has the small advantage over the SEC these days. The Wolf Pack appear to be primed to challenge Louisville for third best in the ACC Atlantic and maybe even become a dark horse contender for the division flag, while the Gamecocks are on the cusp but not yet playing like a challenger, even in the parity known as the SEC East. Our opinion on this one is that NCSU should win by more than a touchdown if not more than two. However, this should become a shootout, as South Carolin’a offense should annex a lot of territory in this game.

Florida vs. Michigan (in Arlington, TX)–We have been flip-flopping on this game since June. At first, we believed that Michigan could be in danger of falling back to 6-6 or even 5-7, while we believed that Florida was like a snake in high grass waiting to pounce on all the mice in their division of their league. Then, after looking at returning depth and experience, it appeared to us that Michigan had a lot of experienced backups who, with a year of seasoning, could be rather competent regulars in 2017. We were concerned about the Florida quarterback situation, and then Coach Jim McElwain secured the signature of former Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire. It tilted the needle over to the Gator side, but then McElwain was forced to suspend star receiver Antonio Callaway and a half dozen other players for this game. Callaway may have been the one piece in the puzzle that Michigan would have found no real answer in stopping. Now, the needle tilts toward the Maize and Blue. By the way, Michigan will wear maize-colored jerseys in this game, something they have not done in 89 years.

Alabama vs. Florida State (in Atlanta)–Obviously, this is the top game of the week and maybe the top game of the regular season. There are so many layers to peel off in this preview, more than we have space to devote to it. In an abridged version, can Florida State’s offensive line protect quarterback Deondre Francois long enough for him to find a group of raw receivers? Frnacois spent too much time with his back on the turf in 2016, and it will take a major improvement on the Seminoles part to hold off stars like Da’Ron Payne and get past the Crimson Tide trench to linebackers the quality of Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton. On the other side of the ball, Alabama cannot get by predominantly on a power running game. Jalen Hurts has the talent to throw for 200+ yards in this game. This game brings back memories of 50 years ago, when Alabama returned almost their entire two-deep from a defense that gave up 44 points in 11 games the year before and returned Ken Stabler from an offense that scored more than 27 points a game. The Tide were 20+ point favorites in this game and was lucky to escape with a 37-37 tie. Notably, in this game the great Bear Bryant was equipped with a microphone. There were issues with the scoreboard, and late in the game, Bryant was overheard on the mic saying, “What the H is the score any way?”

Texas A&M at UCLA–The losing team’s coach will sit on a seat that is about 10 degrees warmer Monday than it is now. Texas A&M has enough talent to compete for third in the SEC West and challenge for a 10-win season, but the Aggies looked as strong last year as well. After TAMU began the season 6-0, the team collapsed, finishing 2-5. The defense wore down after the overtime win over Tennessee, and the Aggies two wins after that big game came against New Mexico State and UT-San Antonio. UCLA struggled after quarterback Josh Rosen exited with a shoulder injury. However, the Bruins were just 3-2 prior to the injury in the Arizona State game, so Coach Jim Mora, Jr. overhauled the Bruin offense in the off-season and made numerous changes to his offensive coaching assistants. The Bruins also must rebuild a good bit on the defensive side of the ball, so the offense better gel quickly. So, don’t go up to the junior Mora and ask if his team can still make the playoffs this year.

There are a host of additional games on this week’s schedule that hold some bit of unique interest. Those games include:

FIU at Central Florida–Butch Davis returns to the sidelines for FIU and has enough talent to surprise in 2017. UCF believes they can challenge rival USF in the East.

Navy at FAU–Lane Kiffin’s debut with the Owls against the tricky triple option offense of Navy makes this one look like a track meet. It wouldn’t surprise us if more than 75 total points are scored in this one.

Temple at Notre Dame–The Owls begin life without Coach Matt Rhule. New head man Geoff Collins faces a total rebuild in Philly, while Notre Dame looks to recover from a poor 2016 season with a half-dozen new assistants.

Troy at Boise State–We have an eye on Boise at the start of the season. Boise State could be at a crossroads, where their dynasty seasons could be over. Then again, this could also be the low-point of a major rebuild. Troy was down for a few years, but the Trojans returned to Sun Belt fame last year with a 10-3 season and co-championship. It won’t get the headlines that the big games receive, but this game should be an excellent contest.

Kentucky at Southern Mississippi–Last year Southern Miss pulled off an incredible upset at Kentucky to begin the 2016 season, and it looked like Mark Stoops was in a bit of trouble in Lexington. However, the Wildcats turned things around to win seven games that included a trip to the Taxslayer Bowl. Now, there are football experts that believe Kentucky can compete for the 2017 SEC East title. The Blue and White return the bulk of an offense that averaged 30 points and 420 yards per game, while the defense should be a little better than last year. Southern Miss is not as strong as last year, but still good enough to knock off UK in Hattiesburg, especially if the expected rain makes this game sloppy.

Appalachian State at Georgia–Appy State came close to upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville to begin the 2016 season. Can the Mountaineers go down between the hedges and make like miserable for the Bulldogs? Georgia’s defense should control this game, holding ASU to about 200-250 total yards, while the offense may not be flashy, but should produce 200 rushing yards. If Georgia wins by less than 17 points, it will be cause for concern. We will look at all the SEC East teams carefully this week to see if one or two emerge as the true top squads.

Houston at UT-San Antonio–UTSA is a contender in the West Division of CUSA, and in a normal week, the Roadrunners would be expected to make this a close game. Houston must play this one with little practice thanks to Hurricane Harvey, and it is Major Applewhite’s debut with the Cougars. This will be interesting to see how much lost preparation hurts UH.

Georgia Southern at Auburn–We don’t expect this game to be close. It could easily be 21-0 in the first quarter. What we are looking for in this one is how well Tiger quarterback Jarrett Stidham runs Gus Malzahn’s offense. If Stidham replicates the stats from his last three FBS games (2015 against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State), then watch out, because this Auburn team just might be good enough to go to the 2017-18 playoffs. Stidham’s stat line in those three games was 51-81-2 for 934 yards and 6 TDs. If he averages 11.5 yards per pass attempt for Auburn, then even Alabama better beware.

Purdue vs. Louisville (in Indianapolis)–This game features Jeff Brohm making his Boilermaker coaching Purdue against former mentor Bobby Petrino and some QB named Lamar Jackson, who owns some trophy he received from the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan named for former coach John Heisman. It would not be shocking if UL won this one by a score similar to 62-24, but what makes this game interesting is to see how a Big Ten team looks running a spread passing game.

South Alabama at Ole Miss–South Alabama upset Mississippi State and San Diego State last year, two teams that played in bowls. So, it would not be a big shock if the Jaguars won in Oxford. However, if USA wins, the blame will be on Ole Miss and interim coach Matt Luke rather than on the performance. Luke is most likely in a position where he has little chance of keeping the job full time, even though he deserves a head coaching job. It would not surprise us if a big name coach was patrolling the home team sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium next year.

LSU vs. BYU (in New Orleans)–This game was moved from Houston to New Orleans due to the hurricane. It gives the Tigers a tiny bit more advantage, but we didn’t think this game would be all that close in Houston. BYU has a game under its belt, and the Cougars did not show their entire arsenal. What they showed was only adequate at best. This game takes on added interest not because of the weather, but because whether Ed Orgeron can prove that the removing of the interim label was the right move in Baton Rouge. LSU has a considerable amount of talent, just behind Alabama and Auburn and as much as Texas A&M. The Tigers have a chance to win 10 games this year, but there is always that bit of doubt about a new coach. Orgeron has done well as the interim at USC and LSU, but his tenure as head coach at Ole Miss was a major disappointment.

Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee–Both Nashville-area teams played in bowls last year, and this game has become quite the local rivalry. MTSU has one of the top quarterbacks in the Group of 5, who happens to be the coach’s son. Brent Stockstill will draw NFL scouts to Murfreesboro this year, as the Blue Raiders look to have a potent offense capable of putting up 40 points and 500 yards per game. On the other side of the field, Derek Mason has begun to make Vanderbilt look more like Stanford East. The only ingredient missing in recent years has been the most important spot–at quarterback. Now, Vanderbilt has a competent passer, who while not another Andrew Luck or even Keller Chryst, he is competent enough to lead Vanderbilt to the cusp of division contention. Kyle Shurmur, son of Minnesota Viking OC Pat Shurmur, may have the knowledge of the game that a typical NFL quarterback may have. If he can show a bit more arm strength and a slightly quicker release, Vanderbilt’s offense will begin to look like Stanford’s, as the Commodored already have a strong running game and a stingy defense. If MTSU wins this game, then Syracuse and Minnesota will take notice, as the Blue Raiders will be capable of starting 3-0 against FBS competition. If Vanderbilt wins this game, then Kansas State needs to take note, because the Commodores will be 2-0 when the Wildcats come to the Music City on September 16.

Tennessee at Georgia Tech (in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta)–Volunteer coach Butch Jones knows that he must win and win big in 2017, or else he will have a garage sale in January, where he disposes of a lot of orange-colored clothing and accessories. Tennessee was a disappointing 9-4 team last year and must try to improve with an unproven quarterback, something that usually only works if said raw QB wears crimson-colored clothing. Georgia Tech has an experienced offensive line returning to block for the spread option offense. Usually, if an offensive line is as experienced as the Techsters, the offense automatically improves some from the previous season. However, in this offense, the experience of the quarterback is much more important than the line, because in many cases the key defender at the point of attack is not blocked at all. Hence, the QB reads the defense and options off the reaction of the key defender. Coach Paul Johnson has not officially named his starting quarterback, but we think it will be former slot back TaQuon Marshall. The ultra-quick Marshall has the potential to be a great option quarterback, but getting his Baptism under orange fire is not the ideal way to begin a career. If Johnson goes with last year’s backup Matthew Jordan, then Tennessee’s defense should be good enough to hold the Yellow Jackets under 21 points. This is good, because the Vols may struggle on offense in September.

Note–Ratings and Bowl Projections return next week, as we did not update them after the small sampling of games last week.

Money Line Parlays makes its seasonal debut Thursday morning, August 31, 2017.

August 23, 2016

2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Preview

Just five seasons ago, the old Big East Conference could make an arguable case that their league was more powerful than the Atlantic Coast Conference. No ACC Team made the final top 20 in the AP Poll that year. Conference champion Clemson fell to Big East Champion West Virginia 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.

There was talk among some that the Big East should be the fifth power conference, as the ACC had not enjoyed a powerful team that competed for a national champion for the past 11 seasons.

It started with Clemson and Florida State becoming strong once again, but it did not end there. North Carolina and Georgia Tech challenged for top 10 finishes. Louisville and Pittsburgh joined the league bringing quality football. Duke, long the doormat, enjoyed a resurgence not seen in Durham for more than 50 years.

Now, the ACC begins the season as the PiRate Ratings’ number two conference. The difference between number two and number five is small, but it is a first for this league. With quality teams from top to near bottom, this league should produce several quality bowl-eligible teams this year, and if the ball bounces right for one team, which could be any of four or five in this league, it would not be surprising to see another Playoff representative, making it three for three.

In the past three seasons, Florida State won the national title, then the Seminoles lost to Oregon in the semifinals of the NCAA Playoffs, and last year, Clemson handily defeated Oklahoma before falling in a great final to Alabama. Tallying 40 points and more than 500 yards against Alabama is a rarity about as frequently seen as Sir Edmund Halley’s Comet.

2016 looks to be another big season for this league. Three teams in the Atlantic Division have the talent to run the table and earn a playoff spot, but because there are three, more than likely, they will beat each other with Clemson playing at Florida State, Florida State playing at Louisville, and Louisville playing at Clemson.

Boston College and North Carolina State have better talent this season than last, but it will be hard for either team to steal a victory over the big three. The Eagles must play the Wolfpack in Raleigh on Homecoming, so NCSU has a leg up for the four-spot.

Syracuse begins anew with famed offensive wizard Dino Babers coming to the Carrier Dome from Bowling Green. He inherits a squad not ready to speed up the game and average more than 80 scrimmage plays per game. The Orangemen averaged 20 fewer plays per game than that last year, and the talent is not there for Syracuse to spread the field and run and throw like Baylor.

Wake Forest may be a touchdown better team this year than they were last year, and third-year head coach, and predeccesor to Babers at Bowling Green, Dave Clawson should see his Demon Deacons compete for bowl eligibility. We think the Deacs will come up a game or two short, but opponents will not consider playing WF as a breather game. Florida State and Louisville almost fell last year, and we believe some higher-rated team will go down in 2016. There are six or seven winnable games, so Clawson’s crew could get a 13th game in December.

The Coastal Division could be a four or five-team race this year. Pittsburgh begins the season as the highest ranked team in the division, but the Panthers’ schedule is unfavorable, and depth issues could become a concern quite early. Pitt hosts Penn State in week two and then plays at Oklahoma State and North Carolina on the road the following two weeks. Then, beggining October 27, the Panthers host Virginia Tech and play back-to-back road games against Miami and Clemson. We believe that the highest rated Coastal team could actually end up in fourth place in the standings.

The three teams that could finish ahead of Pitt are North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Miami. Of the trio, Miami has the most favorable schedule for tiebreaking purposes. We expect the Tar Heels, Hokies, and Hurricanes to possibly finish in a three-way tie for first, as none of the top four teams are solid enough to run the table.

Georgia Tech and Duke are headed in opposite directions this year from last year, but not by a lot. The Yellow Jackets are a dark horse team this year after finishing 3-9 last year while losing pretty. Close losses to Notre Dame, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Georgia made the Yellow Jackets a 9-3 team with just a tad more talent and fewer turnovers. With an experienced quarterback returning to run the spread option offense, and with power and speed in the skill positions, look for the Techsters to engineer a much better offense this season, adding 5-7 points per game to their average. A potentially porous defense may be the only thing keeping Coach Paul Johnson’s team from competing for the division flag, something Tech won just two seasons ago.

Coach David Cutcliffe deserves a lot of credit for guiding Duke to four consecutive bowl games and three consecutive winning seasons. The last time the Blue Devils finished with three consecutive winning seasons was 1961-62-63. This year, the Blue Devils have a lot of talent to replace on both sides of the ball, but there is still enough talent to contend for a fifth consecutive bowl eligible season. At this point, we think they will come up a bit short.

Virginia begins a new philosophy with first year head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The former BYU head coach brings a history of winning with whatever talent he has available. Mendenhall has won with a predominant passing game and with a three yards and cloud of dust running team. Mendenhall is a defensive coach by trade, so he brought along former East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeal to run the Cavaliers’ offense. Look for UVa to be more exciting this year, but the record may be about the same.

Here is how the ACC Media selected the order of finish for this season.

# Atlantic Division 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Clemson 148 1,293 144
2 Florida St. 42 1,176 39
3 Louisville 1 961 1
4 North Carolina St. 0 704  
5 Boston College 0 441  
6 Syracuse 0 426  
7 Wake Forest 0 347  
         
# Coastal Division 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 North Carolina 121 1,238 7
2 Miami (Fla) 50 1,108  
3 Pittsburgh 14 859  
4 Virginia Tech 3 697  
5 Duke 2 597  
6 Georgia Tech 1 588  
7 Virginia 0 261  

Here are the initial PiRate Ratings for the ACC

Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Clemson 126.8 116.4 125.7 123.0
Florida St. 122.9 115.4 121.9 120.1
Louisville 118.6 111.8 118.0 116.1
North Carolina St. 108.0 104.7 107.6 106.8
Boston College 105.1 103.6 104.9 104.5
Syracuse 105.2 101.0 103.1 103.1
Wake Forest 102.3 99.2 101.5 101.0
         
Coastal Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Pittsburgh 117.1 111.7 116.4 115.1
North Carolina 117.4 109.2 117.1 114.6
Miami 116.6 108.0 115.9 113.5
Virginia Tech 111.0 110.8 111.5 111.1
Georgia Tech 108.1 104.2 107.4 106.6
Virginia 104.4 101.2 103.8 103.1
Duke 99.4 100.7 98.0 99.4
         
ACC Averages 111.6 107.0 110.9 109.9

The PiRate Ratings are meant to be used only to predict the outcomes of the next week of games, and are not best used to predict beyond that point. Because we use algorithms that include automatic adjustments by each team based on depth and experience, two different teams can win by the exact score we predict, and their new ratings might change differently.
Thus, using our ratings to predict won-loss records and bowl projections is a bit comical, but then we all need some laughs every now and then. So, laugh away at our projected standings and bowls.

Atlantic Coast Conference Projected Standings
Atlantic Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Florida St. 7-1 12-1 * NY6–Orange
Clemson 7-1 11-1 NY6–Cotton
Louisville 6-2 10-2 Russell Athletic
North Carolina St. 4-4 7-5 Military
Boston College 2-6 6-6 Quick Lane
Wake Forest 2-6 5-7  
Syracuse 1-7 3-9  
       
Coastal Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Miami (Fla) 6-2 9-4 Belk
North Carolina 6-2 10-2 Taxslayer
Virginia Tech 6-2 8-4 Pinstripe
Pittsburgh 5-3 8-4 Sun
Georgia Tech 3-5 6-6 Independence
Duke 2-6 4-8  
Virginia 0-8 3-9  

Coming Tomorrow–It has been said that there are three equally tough conferences in American Football–the AFC, the NFC, and the SEC.  Once again, the Southeastern Conference begins the year as the clear-cut best league in college football, and three teams have legitimate National Championship aspirations.

 

Also Coming Tomorrow–Our updated ratings and selections for week one of the college football season–all one game.  California and Hawaii kick off the college season Friday night in Australia (Saturday Australia Time).  Then, one week from Thursday, the season begins in earnest.

November 11, 2014

PiRate Ratings College Football Playoffs and Bowl Projections

The College Football Playoff Committee had a couple of surprises in their release of their rankings Tuesday night, when they moved Oregon ahead of Florida State and TCU ahead of Alabama.

The Crimson Tide will move into the top four next week, possibly jumping the rest of the field to number one if they shellac Mississippi State this weekend. Of course, a loss to the Bulldogs probably puts Alabama into the Orange Bowl or even Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, depending on what happens in the Iron Bowl.

The sixth-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils sit pretty as well. If ASU wins out, which is a tough if with a home finale at Arizona needing to be won before a Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon, they will most certainly be one of the top four.

Ohio State and Baylor need a lot of help, and Nebraska and Duke are one-loss teams with no chance at making it to the playoffs.

The race for the best Group of Five team and recipient of a Big Six bowl invitation is a three-team race between Marshall, Colorado State, and Boise State. The Rams have been moving up every week, but it with New Mexico and Air Force left on the schedule, CSU cannot leapfrog over an undefeated Marshall team.

Here is our bowl outlook per conference. Note, that this outlook was written before Tuesday night’s games were played.

Note: Records shown are projected final regular season records, with conference record followed by total record.

Group of Five

American Athletic Conference
Memphis won at Temple last week, and the Tigers now have the championship in their site. Cincinnati, East Carolina, and Central Florida are still in contention, while Houston suffered a big loss at Tulane.

Since the champion of this league is not guaranteed any particular bowl, the probably bowl teams are merely playing for the trophy. The bowl bids will go to the teams that make the most sense for each bowl.

With Temple’s loss last week, the Owls are likely looking at being left out of the bowl picture unless they upset Penn State or Cincinnati.

1. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis 7-1/9-3 (vs. Florida)
2. St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida 6-2/8-4 (vs. Miami)
3. Miami Beach Bowl: Cincinnati 7-1/9-3 (vs. BYU)
4. Military Bowl: East Carolina 6-2/9-3 (vs. Virginia Tech)
5. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston 5-3/7-5 (vs. South Alabama [at-large])

Also Bowl Eligible: Temple 4-4/6-6

Conference USA
Marshall will get a bit of a test at home this week against a hot Rice team, and they could have a trap game at UAB a week later, but the Thundering Herd appears to be somewhat safe in getting into the CUSA Championship Game with a 12-0 record. Louisiana Tech could be a tough opponent, but MU should be able to sneak by and earn a Big Six Bowl bid. One loss will probably doom those chances.

Louisiana Tech must get by Rice on November 29 to win the West Division, but that game is in Ruston, so the Bulldogs will be a hefty favorite.

1. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Marshall 8-0/13-0 (vs. Michigan St.)
2. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech 8-0/9-4 (vs. Utah St.)
3. Bahamas Bowl: Rice 5-3/7-5 (vs. Toledo)
4. Boca Raton Bowl: Middle Tennessee 6-2/7-5 (vs. Northern Illinois)
5. New Mexico Bowl: U T E P 5-3/7-5 (vs. Air Force)
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Western Kentucky 3-5/6-6 (vs. Michigan)
7. Independence Bowl (at-large): U A B 4-4/6-6 (vs. North Carolina)

Mid-American Conference
Reminder: This review was written prior to kickoff of the two MAC games Tuesday night.

The MAC is out of the Big Six Bowl picture this year. The Toledo-Northern Illinois winner will still be too far behind the other contenders from the AAC, CUSA, and Mountain West.

As of this writing, it looks like seven MAC teams will be bowl eligible, but only five teams will receive invitations.

1. Bahamas Bowl: Toledo 8-0/10-3 (vs. Rice)
2. Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois 5-3/8-4 (vs. Middle Tennessee)
3. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Bowling Green 6-2/8-5 (vs. Nevada)
4. Camellia Bowl: Central Michigan 6-2/8-4 (vs. Texas St.)
5. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Western Michigan 6-2/8-4 (vs. Louisiana-Lafayette)

Also Bowl Eligible: Akron 5-3/7-5 & Ohio 4-4/6-6

Mountain West Conference
Boise State and Colorado State are two MWC teams that nobody in a Power Five conference wants to play at this point. The Broncos and Rams are capable of defeating a 9-3 team from any of the big conferences.

All of the strength in this league lies in the Mountain Division, as the West Division should be won with a 5-3 conference mark, while three from the other division will be 6-2 or better. With the top two teams headed to possible 11-win seasons, this league deserves better bowl destinations, but they probably will not get them.

1. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise St. 7-1/11-2 (vs. Stanford)
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Colorado St. 7-1/11-1 (vs. Navy)
3. Hawaii Bowl: Utah St. 6-2/9-4 (vs. Louisiana Tech)
4. New Mexico Bowl: Air Force 4-4/8-4 (vs. UTEP)
5. New Orleans Bowl: San Diego St. 5-3/7-5 (vs. Arkansas St.)
6. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada 5-3/8-5 (vs. Bowling Green)

Sunbelt Conference
We erred in recent weeks. Georgia Southern is not eligible for a bowl this season unless there are not enough FBS teams bowl eligible. There will be more than enough, so GSU is playing simply for the pride of becoming co-champs of the SBC.

Louisiana-Lafayette figures to be the other co-champ, and the Ragin’ Cajuns have been to the New Orleans bowl so many years in a row, the Sports Information Department in Lafayette can almost place this game on the schedule on their media guide.

Because we believe ULL would like to go somewhere else this year, we are placing them in another bowl.

1. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette 8-0/9-3 (vs. Western Michigan)
2. New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas St. 6-2/8-4 (vs. San Diego St.)
3. Camellia Bowl: Texas St. 5-3/7-5 (vs. Central Michigan)
4. Armed Forces Bowl (at-large): South Alabama 5-3/6-6 (vs. Houston)

Independents (not including Notre Dame)
BYU is a lock to become bowl eligible, while Navy should get there as well. Army is not yet eliminated from bowl eligibility, but the Black Knights must eliminate Western Kentucky from bowl eligibility this week, or else the season will end against Navy.

1. Miami Beach Bowl: B Y U 7-5 (vs. Cincinnati)
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy 7-5 (vs. Colorado St.)

The Power Five Conferences
Atlantic Coast Conference
Florida State looks less and less impressive every week, and another poor first half performance this week against Miami could be too difficult to overcome. The Seminoles falling to number three in the Playoff rankings should wake the team up, and FSU could go out and play their best game of the season this weekend.

Duke is not getting any respect at 8-1, and even ACC pundits believe Virginia Tech could upset the Blue Devils this week.

Clemson remains in contention for a Big Six Bowl, but if Duke goes 11-2, the Tigers will have to settle for the best of the rest.

Virginia, Syracuse, and Wake Forest figure to miss out on bowls, while the loser of this week’s North Carolina-Pittsburgh game will probably join that trio.

1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Florida St. 8-0/13-0 (vs. Mississippi St.)
2. Orange Bowl: Duke 7-1/11-2 (vs. Ohio St.)
3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson 7-1/10-2 (vs. Kansas St.)
4. Gator Bowl: Notre Dame 9-3 (vs. Ole Miss)
5. Belk Bowl: Georgia Tech 5-3/8-4 (vs. LSU)
6. Sun Bowl: Louisville 5-3/8-4 (vs. Arizona)
7. Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College 4-4/7-5 (vs. Rutgers)
8. Military Bowl: Virginia Tech 3-5/6-6 (vs. East Carolina)
9. Independence Bowl: North Carolina 4-4/6-6 (vs. UAB [at-large])
10. Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina St. 2-6/6-6 (vs. Illinois)
11. St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami 5-3/8-4 (vs. Central Florida)

Big Ten Conference
Ohio State might be a contender for national champion if they had not fallen to a mediocre Virginia Tech team. We believe the Buckeyes are strong enough today to compete against any of the four top teams.

If Michigan State wins out to finish 10-2, the Spartans should be in good shape for a Big Six bowl. If Sparty falls again, then either Nebraska or Wisconsin could sneak into the bonanza.

If Nebraska goes 10-2, the Cornhuskers could bully their way over many others into a Big Six Bowl.

Michigan is now just one win away from bowl eligibility, and the Wolverines must beat Maryland to get that bid, because upsetting Ohio State does not look possible. So, this Saturday’s game with the Terps could be Brady Hoke’s last win in Ann Arbor.

Illinois is just 4-5 with three games to go, but we believe the Illini will win two more games to give this league 11 bowl eligible teams.

1. Orange Bowl: Ohio St. 8-0/12-1 (vs. Duke)
2. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Michigan St. 7-1/10-2 (vs. Marshall)
3. Cotton Bowl: Nebraska 6-2/10-2 (vs. TCU)
4. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Wisconsin 7-1/10-3 (vs. Auburn)
5. Outback Bowl: Iowa 4-4/7-5 (vs. Georgia)
6. Holiday Bowl: Minnesota 4-4/7-5 (vs. USC)
7. Music City Bowl: Penn St. 2-6/6-6 (vs. Tennessee)
8. San Francisco Bowl: Maryland 4-4/7-5 (vs. Washington)
9. Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers 2-6/6-6 (vs. Boston College)
10. Quick Lane Bowl: Illinois 3-5/6-6 (vs. North Carolina St.)
11. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Michigan 4-4/6-6 (vs. Western Kentucky)

Big 12 Conference
TCU has moved into the top four of the most recent rankings, and we believe the Horned Frogs will win out to finish 11-1, but we do not have TCU in our playoff predictions. We also believe Baylor will finish 11-1 and not get into the playoffs. Alabama can beat Mississippi State and Auburn to win the SEC West, and then after dismissing Florida in the SEC Championship Game, the Tide could actually end up ranked number one. Losing on the road against the top team would not be enough to drop Mississippi State out of the playoff race, and if Oregon and Florida State keep winning, we believe TCU will be the team falling out of the top four.

We have moved Texas into the bowl probables at the expense of Oklahoma State. Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas are not in the picture.

1. Cotton Bowl: T C U 8-1/11-1 (vs. Nebraska)
2. Fiesta Bowl: Baylor 8-1/11-1 (vs. Arizona St.)
3. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma 6-3/9-3 (vs. UCLA)
4. Russell Athletic Bowl: Kansas St. 7-2/9-3 (vs. Clemson)
5. Liberty Bowl: West Virginia 5-4/7-5 (vs. Missouri)
6. Cactus Bowl: Texas 5-4/6-6 (vs. Utah)

Pac-12 Conference
Arizona State’s win over Notre Dame was a shot in the arm for the entire conference. If the Sun Devils don’t overlook a weakening Oregon State team in Corvallis and then take care of business against Washington State, the regular season finale at Arizona will be the most important game for this team since the 1997 Rose Bowl or 1975 Fiesta Bowl.

Arizona State is not automatically going to win the Pac-12 South. UCLA, USC, and Arizona still have shots to get into the conference championship game.

In the North, Oregon is already assured of the division title, and if they win out, they will get a chance to play for the national title for the second time in five seasons.

We have dropped Oregon State from the bowl probable list this week. The Beavers would have to win two out of their final three to get to 6-6, and their final three come against Arizona State, Washington, and Oregon. We believe 0-3 is likely.

1. PLAYOFFS—Sugar Bowl: Oregon 8-1/12-1 (vs. Alabama)
2. Fiesta Bowl: Arizona St. 8-1/11-2 (vs. Baylor)
3. Alamo Bowl: U C L A 7-2/10-2 (vs. Oklahoma)
4. Holiday Bowl: U S C 6-3/8-4 (vs. Minnesota)
5. San Francisco Bowl: Washington 4-5/8-5 (vs. Maryland)
6. Sun Bowl: Arizona 6-3/9-3 (vs. Louisville)
7. Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford 5-4/7-5 (vs. Boise St.)
8. Cactus Bowl: Utah 4-5/7-5 (vs. Texas)
9. Texas Bowl (at-large): California 3-6/6-6 (vs. Texas A&M)

Southeastern Conference
If Alabama wins this week against Mississippi State, which we believe they will, and if Mississippi State recovers to beat Ole Miss, while the Crimson Tide beat Auburn and win the SEC Championship Game, we cannot see how the committee cannot take both teams.

Nobody else in the league has a chance to sneak into the top four without about seven or eight other teams losing. Auburn and LSU played their way out of the tournament last week, while Georgia did so the week before.

Kentucky was once 5-1 and looking like a lock to make it to a bowl game for the first time in four seasons. But, four consecutive losses have UK at 5-5 with Tennessee and Louisville remaining on the schedule. We have the Wildcats out.

South Carolina must beat either Florida or Clemson to earn a bowl bid, and we do not see the Gamecocks doing so.

1. PLAYOFFS—Sugar Bowl: Alabama 7-1/12-1 (vs. Oregon)
2. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Mississippi State 7-1/11-1 (vs. Florida St.)
3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Auburn 5-3/9-3 (vs. Wisconsin)
4. Outback Bowl: Georgia 5-3/9-3 (vs. Iowa)
5. Gator Bowl: Ole Miss 5-3/9-3 (vs. Notre Dame)
6. Belk Bowl: L S U 5-3/9-3 (vs. Georgia Tech)
7. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M 4-4/8-4 (vs. California [at-large])
8. Liberty Bowl: Missouri 5-3/8-4 (vs. West Virginia)
9. Music City Bowl: Tennessee 4-4/7-5 (Penn St.)
10. Birmingham Bowl: Florida 5-3/7-5 (vs. Memphis)

October 29, 2014

PiRate Ratings College Football Playoffs and Bowl Projections

For the projected bowl matchups, as well as ratings and predicted spreads, go to our website at:

http://www.piratings.webs.com

The committee has anted up and thrown out its opening bid, and the public is ready to call its bluff. The three of a kind known as the SEC West will not be the ultimate winning hand in this revolving poker game.

If you haven’t seen the opening ratings for the college football playoffs, it goes like this:

1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
3. Auburn
4. Ole Miss
5. Oregon
6. Alabama
7. T C U
8. Michigan State
9. Kansas State
10. Notre Dame
11. Georgia
12. Arizona
13. Baylor
14. Arizona State
15. Nebraska
16. Ohio State
17. Utah
18. Oklahoma
19. L S U
20. West Virginia
21. Clemson
22. U C L A
23. East Carolina
24. Duke
25. Louisville

If the season ended today, there would be omelets served in New Orleans on New Year’s Day, as Ole Miss and Mississippi State would hook up to make the Sugar Bowl, the Egg Bowl, part deux. Florida State and Auburn would hook up in the Rose Bowl.

Of course, the season did not end Saturday, and these ratings are going to change, as these teams lose games. Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play in the real Egg Bowl, producing one loser. Ole Miss and Auburn play this week. Alabama still must play LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Auburn and Georgia must play. These teams will cannibalize each other, and it could end up with all the SEC teams suffering two losses.

Florida State has a trap game tomorrow night at Louisville, and the Seminoles may or may not have a legitimate running back able to play, while former Auburn star back Michael Dyer just emerged from a two year sabbatical to torch North Carolina State for 173 yards.

In the Big Ten, Michigan State and Ohio State must still face off in a couple weeks, and the winner of this game could face a one-loss Nebraska team in the Big Ten Championship Game, although we are not ready to say the Cornhuskers are headed to an 11-1 finish.

Oklahoma must still play Baylor in the Big 12, while Baylor must also still play Kansas State. TCU has games remaining against West Virginia and Kansas State. There could be no one-loss teams left here by December 7.

Out West, the Pac-12 is very competitive, and there are still one-loss teams in Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah. UCLA, USC, Stanford, Washington, and Oregon State could all play spoiler.

Notre Dame still has one loss, but the Irish have tough road games against Arizona State and USC.

For those fans that want an eight-team playoff, you really have a chance to consider the rest of the season a 16-team playoff, because any of the top 16 could possibly move up into the top four depending on how all these crucial games turn out.

Let’s take a look at how we see the rest of the season playing out. It is surely not going to be this way, but we want to make it interesting to read, while still looking possible.

All won-loss records shown are predicted final records and not current records.

The Group of Five

These five conferences are the leagues competing for one guaranteed spot in the New Year’s Eve/Day Big Four Bowls (Orange, Fiesta, Cotton, Peach). As of today, East Carolina from the American Athletic Conference is the highest only rated team, but we believe the Pirates will stub their toe one more time this year and allow another team to pass them. Marshall, Central Florida, and Boise State appear to be the only two other teams capable of moving into the top spot.

American Athletic Conference
UCF lost two games early, but the Knights have run off five straight wins and look to be on a roll. Their season-ender at ECU will decide the league title, and we are going to stick with George O’Leary’s squad until somebody beats them.

East Carolina has a couple of tough games to play before hosting UCF on December 4. They venture to Temple this weekend and follow that up with a road game at Cincinnati after a bye week.

Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis still hold feint hopes of backing into the crown, while Temple is looking for bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011, and the Owls have a tough closing schedule.

1. St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida (8-0/10-2)
2. Miami Beach Bowl: East Carolina (7-1/10-2)
3. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (6-2/8-4)
4. Military Bowl: Cincinnati (6-2/8-4)
5. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (6-2/8-4)

Also Bowl Eligible: Temple (4-4/6-6)

Conference USA
Marshall has a better than 50-50 chance of running the table, and we believe the Thundering Herd has the best chance of winning the big prize for the Group of 5 teams. A road game against mediocre UAB and the conference title game, most likely against Louisiana Tech, are the only two possible road blocks. Coach Doc Holliday figures to be a key player in the Power 5 coaching carousel, as he may be the best recruiter in the business. He could be a wildcard in the Florida coaching search.

It looks like as many as seven CUSA teams will become bowl eligible for five guaranteed bids, but three will be mired at 6-6. Geography may help the league place all their bowl eligible teams in bowls if Marshall garners the big prize.

1. Peach Bowl: Marshall (8-0/13-0)
2. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech (7-1/8-5)
3. Bahamas Bowl: U T E P (5-3/7-5)
4. Boca Raton Bowl: Middle Tennessee (5-3/7-5)
5. New Mexico Bowl: Rice (4-4/6-6)
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Western Kentucky (3-5/6-6)
7. Independence Bowl (at-large invitation): U A B (4-4/6-6)

Mid-American Conference
Toledo is the highest-rated team, but the Rockets are too far down in the pecking order to contend for a New Year’s Big Four Bowl. Until a MAC team beats Toledo, we are going to call for the Rockets to run the table in the regular season. But, like in more than half the seasons, we believe the upset could send the underdog team to the top bowl.

The parity among the rest of the league means that as many as eight teams could get to six wins this year. The MAC is only allotted five bowls, so three teams could be left jilted at the end of the year, unless a Midwestern or Northeastern Bowl needs an at-large team.

1. Bahamas Bowl: Bowling Green (6-2/9-4)
2. Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo (8-0/9-4)
3. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan (6-2/8-4)
4. Camellia Bowl: Central Michigan (6-2/8-4)
5. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Northern Illinois (4-4/7-5)

Also Bowl Eligible
Akron (5-3/7-5)
Ball State (5-3/6-6)
Ohio (4-4/6-6)

Mountain West Conference
Boise State’s loss at Air Force on September 27 is the only reason the Broncos are not the leading candidate from the Group of 5 leagues to make a New Year’s bowl. Their other loss is to Ole Miss, which is much better than East Carolina’s lone loss to South Carolina. If ECU loses again, and Marshall loses at all, the Broncos can earn the big bowl by winning out. A season finale against Utah State and a conference championship game against a weaker opponent is all that stands in their way of going 11-2.

Colorado State has just one loss this year, but it was to Boise State. The Rams could easily run the table and finish 11-1, and even with a win at Boston College, CSU does not figure to pass Boise State if the Broncos do not lose. Backroom politics could provide the Rams or Boise a shot at moving up to a better bowl even though there are no real rules for such a thing to happen. It has happened in the past.

1. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State (7-1/11-2)
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Colorado State (7-1/11-1)
3. Hawaii Bowl: Utah State (6-2/9-4)
4. New Mexico Bowl: Air Force (4-4/8-4)
5. New Orleans Bowl: Nevada (5-3/8-5)
6. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: San Diego State (5-3/7-5)
7. Cactus Bowl (alternate affiliate): Fresno State (5-3/6-6)

Sunbelt Conference
The Sunbelt Conference is perpetually the weakest overall league, but it most frequently produces surplus bowl eligible teams that get selected to Southern bowls needing at-large teams. Look for more of the same this year, as there will be at least five bowl eligible SBC teams for just three bowl tie-ins. We believe four of the five bowl eligible teams will be playing late in December or early in January.

Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Southern do not play each other this season, and chances are decent that they both will finish unbeaten in league play to split the title. ULL has been to the New Orleans Bowl three years running, and they might as well start putting this game on their regular schedule, because the folks in the Big Easy would like nothing more than to invite the Ragin’ Cajuns for a fourth straight year.

1. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Georgia Southern (8-0/10-2)
2. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-0/9-3)
3. Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (6-2/8-4)
4. Independence Bowl (at-large invitation): South Alabama (5-3/6-6)

Also Bowl Eligible: Texas State (5-3/7-5)

Independents
Notre Dame is part of the Power 5 and not included in this section. Army, BYU, and Navy are all guaranteed specific bowls if they become bowl eligible. BYU is fading fast, but the Cougars should get that sixth win with UNLV and Savannah State still on the schedule. Navy might need an unbelievable 13th consecutive win over Army to get to six wins, but as of this week, we believe the Midshipmen will do it. Army will not get there this year, as the Black Knights have losses to Yale and Kent State. Navy will be their bowl game on December 13 in Baltimore.

1. Miami Beach Bowl: B Y U (6-6)
2. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy (6-6)

The Power 5

Atlantic Coast Conference
Florida State can ill afford to drop an ACC game and expect to stay ahead of a host of other one-loss teams. The Seminoles have a lot of outside interference getting in their way at the present time, and a Thursday night nationally televised game at Louisville looks tricky at the moment. FSU must consider this game their “Sweet 16” round game in the playoffs, with their “Elite 8” game coming in the ACC Championship Game.

Duke is still technically alive for the Playoffs, but the Blue Devils would have to run the table and then handily defeat a 12-0 FSU team to have even a remote chance of finishing in the top four. A Duke team at 11-2 and as the highest ranked ACC team after Florida State, could force the Orange Bowl to invoke their clause, where they could invite Big Ten and SEC opponents, forcing Duke into the Buffalo Wild Wings (formerly Capital One) Bowl.

Notre Dame is included in the ACC grouping, and the Irish need to finish 11-1 or 10-2 to earn a Big Four New Year’s bowl. We believe they will.

Clemson is still in the mix for an Orange Bowl bid, but the Tigers must handle arch-rival South Carolina and still have a tricky game at Georgia Tech. We aren’t sure CU has the horses this year to win both games.

Louisville has a lot riding on their big game tomorrow night against Florida State. If the Cardinals win, they could possibly get on a roll, win at both Boston College and Notre Dame and finish 10-2 to get into the mix for the Orange Bowl. If they lose a heartbreaker, things could go the other way, and UL could be 6-5 when they host Kentucky on November 29.

The Coastal Division is looking more and more mixed up. Duke controls their own destiny, while the other six teams could all finish 6-6 or better. We believe one team will sink in the sunset while allowing the other teams to get bowl eligible. Virginia has suffered some disheartening losses this year, and we believe the Cavaliers will fall apart and fail to get to six wins.

Even with Notre Dame included in the bowl tie-ins, because both the Irish and Florida State appear to be headed to games outside the ACC contracts, this league will fall two teams shy in their obligations to bowls, opening up room for two other Southern bowl eligible teams to gain tickets to the waltz.

1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Florida State (8-0/13-0)
2. Cotton Bowl: Notre Dame (10-2)
3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Duke (7-1/11-2)
4. Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson (7-1/9-3)
5. Gator Bowl: Georgia Tech (5-3/8-4)
6. Belk Bowl: Louisville (4-4/7-5)
7. Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech (4-4/7-5)
8. Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (4-4/7-5)
9. Military Bowl: North Carolina (4-4/6-6)
10. Quick Lane Bowl: Miami (5-3/8-4)

Big Ten Conference
The Michigan State and Ohio State winner should sneak up into the top four if that team wins the Big Ten Championship Game as well. We believe that will happen, and the loser of the OSU-MSU game will still earn a Big Four New Year’s bowl with two losses.

With two teams expected to play in part of the overall Big Six bowl games, the Big Ten may not have enough bowl eligible teams for all their allotted spots. Teams like Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, and Northwestern still have work to do to get to six wins. Indiana and Purdue are not included as possible bowl eligible teams at this point. For sanity’s sake, and to provide a surplus of one team to become an a quality at-large bowl invitee, we will call for UM, RU, IU, and NU to all finish 6-6.

1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Michigan State (8-0/12-1)
2. Orange Bowl: Ohio State (7-1/10-2)
3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Nebraska (5-3/9-3)
4. Outback Bowl: Wisconsin (6-2/9-4)
5. Holiday Bowl: Iowa (5-3/8-4)
6. Music City Bowl: Penn State (3-5/7-5)
7. San Francisco Bowl: Minnesota (4-4/7-5)
8. Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (2-6/6-6)
9. Quick Lane Bowl: Illinois (3-5/6-6)
10. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Maryland (3-5/6-6)
11. St. Petersburg Bowl (at-large invitation): Northwestern (5-3/6-6)

Big 12 Conference
This is the league where a one-loss team has the unfortunate best chance to miss out on the playoffs to a one-loss Big Ten team. TCU and Baylor may not garner the same prestige as Michigan State and Ohio State, and thus the loser of this political game may have to settle for a Cotton Bowl bid, while a second Big 12 team winds up in the Fiesta Bowl, and a third team could go to Atlanta in the Peach Bowl against the Group of 5 invitee.

Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas are virtually out of contention for bowl eligibility. With three teams expected to play in New Year’s bowls and just six probably bowl eligible teams, this league will not meet its obligations to supply seven bowls with teams.

1. Cotton Bowl: T C U (8-1/11-1)
2. Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma (7-2/10-2)
3. Peach Bowl: Baylor (7-2/10-2)
4. Alamo Bowl: Kansas State (6-3/8-4)
5. Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia (6-3/8-4)
6. Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma St. (4-5/6-6)

Pac-12 Conference
The Pac-12 still has four one-loss teams in both Arizona’s, Utah, and Oregon. We believe one team will emerge at 12-1, but because we are picking Arizona to be that team, the Wildcats would have to leapfrog Michigan State, after the Spartans beat Ohio State and either Wisconsin or Nebraska.

Oregon may find itself a victim of geographical circumstances if the Ducks do not win out and finish 12-1. At 11-2, Oregon might take a backseat to two-loss teams more than 1,000 miles closer to bowls available.

If no team from this league makes the playoffs, there will be surplus bowl eligible teams, and this league will be at the top in priority when other bowls start to look for at-large invitees.

1. Fiesta Bowl: Arizona (8-1/12-1)
2. Alamo Bowl: Oregon (7-1/11-2)
3. Holiday Bowl: Arizona St. (7-2/10-2)
4. San Francisco Bowl: U C L A (6-3/9-3)
5. Sun Bowl: U S C (6-3/7-5)
6. Las Vegas Bowl: Washington (4-5/8-5)
7. Cactus Bowl: Stanford (5-4/7-5)
8. Texas Bowl (at-large invitation): Utah (4-5/7-5)
9. Armed Forces Bowl (at-large invitation): Oregon State (3-6/6-6)

Southeastern Conference
The league that perpetually wears the black hat or is like rooting for the Yankees once again appears to be the strongest of all, but cannibalization in November is going to remove at least one of the projected three playoff spots.

Mississippi State is number one and undefeated, but we do not believe the Bulldogs have a snowball’s chance of winning three incredibly tough games they would have to win to be 13-0 on December 7. With Alabama, Ole Miss, and a possible SEC Championship Game bout with Georgia lurking ahead in the next five weeks, nobody could be expected to win all three.

Alabama is the enigma. The Crimson Tide is not a juggernaut and cannot be expected to totally shut down opponents with their defense like in past years. However, their offense is capable of looking more like the Denver Broncos. Alabama has tough games left against LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn, and we believe they will stub their toe at least once and miss out on the SEC Championship Game.

Auburn also has three tough games in their way of making it to the SEC Championship Game, and it is too tough for the Tigers to beat Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama.

Ole Miss could easily lose to Auburn this week and Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to finish 9-3. They could also beat both teams to make it to the SEC Championship Game, but Georgia’s defense looks like it could stop the Rebels’ offense.

Somebody from the West must win the division flag and advance to the Championship Game, so we will go with Alabama for now, but we will also call for the Tide to lose to Georgia.

Georgia, the team from the East with little remaining resistance, looks to have a huge advantage to work out the kinks in their offense, get Todd Gurley back in November, and run the table, including winning the SEC Championship Game to sneak into the Playoffs. They will not be battered and bruised like the SEC West Champ.

In other bowl developments, look for Florida to miss out and finish 5-6. The Gators might try to arrange some type of backroom deal to get an invitation because they did not get to play Idaho, which would have been a for sure win to make them 6-6, but until the political stiffs come to that conclusion, we will leave the Gators out of the picture.

Kentucky and Tennessee are the two teams to watch. The Wildcats looked like a possible Buffalo Wild Wings or Outback Bowl contender two weeks ago, but consecutive losses to LSU and Mississippi State have put the Blue and White at the back of the pecking order. If the ‘Cats lose at Missouri this week, it is going to get iffy for the Blue Mist at 5-4. With games against Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisville, 5-7 is very possible.

As for Tennessee, the Volunteers are definitely the best 3-5 team in America with four top 20 losses. The schedule eases up quite a bit for the Big Orange in November, and it isn’t impossible that UT will win all four to finish 7-5. We believe 6-6 is almost assured, and Butch Jones will guide his squad into a bowl.

1. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Georgia (7-1/12-1)
2. PLAYOFFS—Sugar Bowl: Mississippi State (7-1/11-1)
3. Orange Bowl: Alabama (7-1/11-2)
4. Outback Bowl: Auburn (5-3/9-3)
5. Gator Bowl: Ole Miss (5-3/9-3)
6. Music City Bowl: L S U (5-3/9-3)
7. Belk Bowl: South Carolina (4-4/8-4)
8. Liberty Bowl: Tennessee (3-5/6-6)
9. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M (3-5/7-5)
10. Birmingham Bowl: Missouri (4-4/7-5)

September 6, 2012

PiRate Ratings College Picks For Week 2: September 6-8, 2012

Welcome back to week two of the college football season where if you really want to, you can lay 64 ½ points and get Florida State over Savannah State at some books.  We don’t fool with FCS teams, mainly because it isn’t easy to find action on games like that, and we try to emulate reality here.  We want to try to beat the legitimate lines, even if our picks are just for fun.

 

Last week, we were mediocre and finished 6-7-0 with our college selections.  Our teasers finished 4-2-0 and our single $-line parlay won.  We blew it on the straight sides to the tune of 1-5.

 

We are known for our teasers and moneyline parlays, so we are going to stick with those this week.

 

1. Moneyline Parlay @ -106

North Carolina over Wake Forest

Ole Miss over UTEP

Stanford over Duke

 

2. Moneyline Parlay @ -105

Ohio State over Central Florida

Bowling Green over Idaho

LSU over Washington

Indiana over UMass

Michigan over Air Force

Oklahoma State over Arizona

 

3. 10-point Teaser

Utah State +17 ½ vs. Utah

Virginia Pk vs. Penn State

Indiana – ½ vs. UMass

 

4. 10-point Teaser

North Carolina +2 vs. Wake Forest

Notre Dame +24 ½ vs. Purdue

Texas A&M +8 ½ vs. Florida

 

5. 10-point Teaser

Cincinnati & Pittsburgh OVER 39

Air Force & Michigan OVER 51 ½

Notre Dame & Purdue OVER 42

 

6. 13-point Teaser

Bowling Green -3 vs. Idaho

Clemson -14 vs. Ball State

Rice +22 ½ vs. Kansas

Ole Miss +5 ½ vs. UTEP

 

7. 13-point Teaser

Auburn +16 vs. Mississippi State

Texas A&M +11 ½ vs. Florida

Stanford -2 vs. Duke

Oklahoma State – ½ vs. Arizona

 

8. 13-point Teaser

Kentucky & Kent State OVER 30

Georgia & Missouri OVER 42

Iowa & Iowa State UNDER 60

Auburn & Mississippi State OVER 34

 

9. 13-point Teaser

Temple & Maryland UNDER 58 ½

Texas A&M & Florida OVER 39

Stanford & Duke UNDER 71 ½

Illinois & Arizona State OVER 35 ½

 

August 24, 2011

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

 

Last year, Virginia Tech and Florida State met in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in the history of the game.  The Hokies won to advance to the Orange Bowl, where they ran into the new “greatest quarterback ever” in Andrew Luck and Stanford.

 

This year, it looks like a strong possibility that the two powers will once again meet in the ACC Championship Game.  Both teams are national title contenders as well.  Florida State appears to be the stronger team as the season starts, but Virginia Tech doesn’t have a Boise State or Alabama at the start of the schedule this year.  Two teams, North Carolina and Miami, were hit with summer news that could greatly affect their showing this season.  Butch Davis was fired at North Carolina, while Miami may be looking at a possible death penalty.  This could be the season where some of the former bottom feeders move up at the expense of programs in trouble.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

 

Florida State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

E. J. Manuel takes over as starter for Christian Ponder.  He started twice last year and completed 70% of his passes and passed for an excellent 9.3 yards per attempt.  Manuel is also a much better runner than Ponder, so this position will actually be as strong or even stronger this year—as long as Manuel stays healthy.

 

Receivers

Had Taiwan Easterling not decided to become a future Chicago Cub, this might have been one of the 10 best in the nation.  It will still be one of the two best in the ACC.  Bert Reed is an excellent possession receiver; he led the Seminoles with 58 receptions.  Willie Haulstead is more of a deep threat; he led the ‘Noles with 15.4 yards per reception and six touchdowns.  Tight end Beau Reliford caught just 19 passes, but he should contribute more this season.

 

Running Backs

The situation is in limbo here.  Starter Chris Thompson has a bad back, and he is not getting many reps in practice and has missed multiple practices.  Last year, he led FSU with 845 yards while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.  Backups Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas are both capable.  Jones has been a number one back in the past. 

 

Offensive Line

This is Coach Jimbo Fisher’s only concern on this side of the ball, and it really isn’t much of a concern.  Tackle Zebrie Sanders is recovering from a groin injury, and center David Spurlock has missed time and only recently began practicing in full pads.  Tackle Andrew Datko is the star of this unit.

 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Simply, this is the best front four in the ACC and one of the top five nationally.  End Brandon Jenkins finished second in the league with 13 ½ sacks and 21 ½ tackles for loss.  If he goes pro, he could be the first defensive lineman taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.  Tackles Jaccobi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins make it difficult for enemy backs to run between the tackles.  As a unit, FSU led the nation with 48 sacks.

 

Linebackers

Nigel Bradham is the only returning starter to this unit.  Bradham led the Seminoles with 98 tackles and recorded five sacks and five passes defended.  Christian Jones has the potential to be an all-conference player in his sophomore season.

 

Secondary

All four starters return, but not all are guaranteed a starting spot this year.  The two-deep is hands down the best in the league.  Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes teamed for 33 passes defended.  Lamarcus Joiner will start at one of the safety spots, meaning either Terrance Parks or Nick Moody will drop to second team.

 

OTHER

Punter Shawn Powell and place kicker Dustin Hopkins are the best in the ACC at their positions.  Hopkins has enough leg to connect from 60 yards.  Reid is one of the best punt returners in the nation.

 

SUMMARY

We believe FSU will score 35-40 points and gain 400-425 yards per game, while yielding about 17 points and 325-350 yards per game.  Their schedule has one big obstacle in it—a rematch with number one Oklahoma at Doak Campbell Stadium.  In league play, the Seminoles must visit Clemson and Boston College.  The finale with Florida may not be the tough game it has been in the past.

 

It is a big if to expect FSU to beat Oklahoma, but it is possible.  If they win that one, then their destination could easily be New Orleans, and we are not talking the Sugar Bowl.  11-1 headed into the ACC Championship is very possible.

 

Clemson

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Dabo Swinney’s best recruiting effort may have taken place after the season.  Chad Morris comes in from Tulsa to take over at Offensive Coordinator.  So, expect a move to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense.  Can new starter Tajh Boyd impersonate G. J. Kinne?  Behind him are two true freshmen.  Boyd played in seven games and completed just 52% of his passes as a freshman.

 

Receivers

Wideout DeAndre Hopkins and Tight end Dwayne Allen give Boyd a couple of quality targets, but after that, the book is out on the rest of this group.  Hopkins led CU with 52 receptions, 637 yards, and four touchdowns.  Allen could compete for a final spot on the Mackie Award list.  True freshman Sammy Watkins could be the difference in making this a great unit or a better than average unit.

 

Running Backs

The Tigers lose Jamie Harper, who is now a Tennessee Titan.  Andre Ellington returns after starting six games and rushing for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns.  If he stays healthy, he could double that amount this year.

 

Offensive Line

The biggest concern here is the learning curve.  Four starters return from last year, but all the blocking schemes will be radically different.  Center Dalton Freeman has the talent to receive votes for the Rimington Award.  Guard Antoine McClain and tackle Landon Walker could appear on one of the postseason all-conference teams.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is going to be a liability and the reason why CU will not compete with Florida State for the ACC Atlantic Division title.  Da’Quan Bowers and his 26 tackles for loss is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.  Jarvis Jenkins is now a Washington Redskin.  The new replacements are not in their league.  The two returning starters are good ones, but neither will record 26 tackles for loss, and they probably will not combine for that many.  Andre Branch is good enough to become a star end in the ACC.  Brandon Thompson is a quality tackle, but this unit will take a big step backward.

 

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Corico Hawkins is the only returning starter to this unit.  He came up with 10 stops for loss last year, but he did not help much versus the pass.  A couple of true freshmen could see considerable playing time this year.  For now, sophomore Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard will flank Hawkins.

 

Secondary

Xavier Brewer is the star of this unit.  The cornerback defended 10 passes last year.  Coty Sensabaugh was a late signee four years ago, and now the senior will finish his career as a starter.  Rashard Hall returns at one safety, while Jonathan Meeks will be the new starter at the other safety position.  Overall, this is an above average secondary but not a great one.

 

OTHER

Clemson’s schedule gives the Tigers an excellent chance to start 3-0 prior to hosting Florida State on September 24.  Home games with Troy, Wofford, and Auburn give CU a great chance to go 3-0.  Then, the Tigers host FSU and play at Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks.

 

SUMMARY

Clemson averaged just 24 points per game and 335 yards per game last year.  With the new offense, CU should score 30-35 points per game and gain around 400 yards.  However, the new offense will make things harder for the green defense.  CU gave up just 19 points per game last year, but we see the Tigers giving up about a touchdown more in 2011.  Clemson should win eight or nine games and go bowling once again.

 

Boston College

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Chase Rettig is the clear number one this season, as the three quarterbacks that saw action last year all return.  Rettig passed for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns, but he threw nine interceptions and completed just 51% of his passes last year as a freshman.

 

Receivers

Boston College has been known for its tight ends, and Chris Pantale is the current star.  He caught 31 passes last year and could top that number this season.  Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert return after combining for 55 receptions and six touchdowns.  There is a lot of experienced depth here, but it is not the most talented.

 

Running Backs

Montel Harris rushed for 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns last year, but he is going to miss some time at the start of the season due to a knee injury.  Backup Andre Williams is also a little banged up, so the Eagles are thin at this position as they start the season.  Rolandan Finch will get first crack at filling this spot until Williams and Harris are ready to go.  BC has averaged less than four yards per rush every year since Derrick Knight graduated as the all-time rushing leader in 2003.

 

Offensive Line

The Eagles have been known for developing excellent lines, but this year’s OL will be a liability for 3rd year coach Frank Spaziani.  Only two starters return, and one of those two will miss the start of the season.  Guard Nathan Richman has a back injury and will not be ready for the start of the season.  Tackle Emmett Cleary is a titan at 6-07 and 300 pounds.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Eagles must start over almost from scratch in the trenches.  Three of the four starters from 2010 have left the building; BC gave up just a little over 80 rushing yards per game last year, and that number was not inflated by a lot of sacks.  Only tackle Kaleb Ramsey returns.  Ramsey made 7 ½ stops behind the line and finished with 39 tackles.  Max Holloway was a part-time starter last year.  He will start full-time at one end spot after leading the team with 14 tackles for loss and four sacks.

 

Linebackers

This is where the defense shines, and the reason the Eagles have a chance to repeat as the number two defense in the league.  It starts with return of consensus All-American Luke Kuechly, who led the nation with 183 tackles.  He also intercepted three passes and batted away three others.  Nick Clancy has been impressive in August drills, and he could become the new starter at the Sam position, while Kevin Pierre-Louis returns to the Will position.  Pierre-Louis was a Freshman All-American last year after recording 93 tackles.  If Clancy can repeat in games what he has done in scrimmages, this could become a top three unit.

 

Secondary

As optimistic as things are at linebacker, the secondary is almost as much pessimistic.  The dismissal of expected starting safety Okechukwu Okoroha and the back injury to cornerback Donnie Fletcher has left BC thin in the backfield.  Fletcher will miss the opening of the season.  The new safety figures to be Spenser Rositano, a true freshman.  Jim Noel started eight games last year and picked off four passes.  He will start at the other safety spot.  Cornerback Al Louis-Jean, a true freshman, will replace Fletcher until he is ready to return, while redshirt freshman Dominique Williams figures to start at the other corner spot.

 

OTHER

Boston College has yielded less than 20 points per game six of the last seven years and his not given up more than 333 yards in any of those seasons.  They have surrendered just 92 rushing yards per game in the last six seasons.

 

SUMMARY

This is a tricky season to predict Boston College’s outcome.  The Eagles could be as much as a touchdown weaker than normal to start the season due to key injuries, and their opener comes against Northwestern, a team that can beat them.  In week two, they have a trap game at Central Florida, before opening conference play in Chestnut Hill against an improved Duke team.  BC could be 3-0, 2-1, or 1-2 by this time, and that will give an excellent barometer for what will happen at the back end of the schedule.  Games four and five are as close to sure wins as they will have (hosting UMass and Wake Forest). The Eagles end the season on the road against Notre Dame and Miami.  Road games against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland will make for a tough October stretch.  If BC is to go bowling for the 13th consecutive season, they need to start 4-1 at the least.

 

North Carolina State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

There will be a drop-off from what they had to what they will get this year out of this position.  Russell Wilson left Raleigh with the thoughts of playing professional baseball.  He ended up playing college football in Madison, Wisconsin.  Mike Glennon takes over after completing nine passes for 78 yards last year.  Glennon saw action in three games last year, but he did play in seven as a freshman.  He won’t replicate Wilson’s numbers, but he will have some good games—and some bad games.  His mobility is a question at this point; he is not a dual threat like Wilson.

 

Receivers

The Wolfpack must replace their top two receivers from 2010.  Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams teamed for 112 receptions and 1600+ yards.  T. J. Graham should become the go-to guy this year.  He caught 25 passes and scored four touchdowns.  Coach Tom O’Brien is concerned with this position, because the talent level drops off quite a bit after Graham.  Tight end George Bryan will be called on to be a primary receiver after catching 35 passes last year.  Look for more dropped passes and fewer yards per reception.

 

Running Backs

Mustafa Greene led NCSU with 597 rushing yards last year, but a foot injury will keep him from playing until October.  O’Brien will choose from among four contenders to replace Greene for the first month.  James Washington, Brandon Barnes, Curtis Underwood, and Anthony Creecy could all see action.  Washington and Underwood have the most experience, but Creecy has the best moves.

 

Offensive Line

What was already a concern became something a bit more concerning after the ‘Pack saw one guard leave the program and two others suffer knee injuries that will keep them out for at least the first month of the season.  Nobody on the roster will earn an all-conference award this year.  Center Camden Wentz, guard Zach Allen, and tackle R. J. Mattes at least have experience on their side.  NCSU only averaged 3.5 yards per rush last year, and the OL gave up 39 sacks with a mobile quarterback under center.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There’s more bad news on this side of the ball.  The one star in the trenches, J. R. Sweezy, is out six weeks with a foot injury.  That leaves end Jeff Rieskamp as the only player with real experience.  Rieskamp only picked up two QB sacks, but he did force 17 QB hurries. 

Linebackers

This trio is second in the conference in talent only to the group at Boston College.  Audie Cole recorded five sacks and picked up 10 ½ tackles for loss last year.  Terrell Manning added five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.  Rickey Dowdy figures to be the new starter after moving from defensive end.  The Wolfpack will miss Nate Irving, who led the team with 97 tackles and 20 ½ tackles for loss.

 

Secondary

All four starters return from 2010, but this unit is not a major plus.  Cornerback C. J. Wilson led the team with 10 passes defended, but his counterpart, David Amerson, only had one.  Safety Earl Wolff finished third on the team with 91 tackles and proved to be an effective safety blitzer.  Brandon Bishop led the team with four interceptions.

 

OTHER

O’Brien’s four years in Raleigh have seen his teams post 5-7 seasons in the odd years and advance to bowls in the even years.  The ease of the schedule could give him a chance to break that string.  After scoring almost 32 points per game and gaining more than 400, we do not see the Wolfpack matching those numbers this year.  Call it 22-26 points and 350-375 yards.  The defense could come close to matching last year’s record of 21 points and 340 yards. 

 

SUMMARY

Home games with Liberty, South Alabama, Central Michigan, and North Carolina plus a road games with Wake Forest and Virginia give NCSU a great shot for six wins.  A game at Cincinnati on Thursday, September 22, could be the best shot at a seventh win.  Do not expect another nine-win season.

 

Maryland

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New head coach Randy Edsall brought in former BYU head coach and LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to run the Terp offense.  Crowton has an excellent quarterback to work with and an up and coming backup.  Danny O’Brien completed 57% of his passes last year for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns.  C. J. Brown shows promise, and if O’Brien falters or is injured, he is more than capable of playing for extended time.

 

Receivers

The Terps lost their top two receivers from a year ago, including Torrey Smith.  Smith caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns.  The new group of receivers should improve as the season progresses, but the road could be bumpy early.

 

Quintin McCree, Ronnie Tyler, and Kevin Dorsey combined for just 44 receptions and 524 yards.  There is some depth here with true freshman Marcus Leak a highly-prized recruit.  Tony Logan could challenge for a starting nod, and Kenny Boykins should contribute.

 

Tight end Matt Furstenburg added a dozen receptions but led the team with 17.2 yards per catch.

 

Running Backs

Davin Meggett takes over full-time here after splitting time with Da’Rel Scott last year.  Meggett rushed for 720 yards, seldom losing yardage.  He should go over 1,000 this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return, but there are no stars on this unit.  The dismissal of guard Justin Lewis and the double broken legs of tackle Pete DeSouza from a motorcycle accident makes this a thin unit. Center Bennett Fulper, guard Andrew Gonnella and tackle R. J. Dill are the experienced veterans.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

All four starters from 2010 return this year, but end Justin Anderson has an injured foot.  He had lost his starting spot to Isaiah Ross.  The strength of this unit is at tackle.  A. J. Francis and Joe Vellano teamed for 107 tackles and 17 ½ stops for loss.  True freshman Keith Bowers could see the field early.

 

Linebackers

There is no depth at linebacker, so the three starters better stay healthy and be able to play for long stretches.  Kenny Tate moves to linebacker from safety after he made 100 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  He intercepted three passes and broke up four others.  Demetrius Hartsfield finished third on the team with 88 tackles.

 

With no real depth here, Edsall moved Avery Graham from cornerback to a backup linebacker spot.  Graham is 5-10 and weighs just 195 pounds.

 

Secondary

Cornerbacks Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes return after recording 18 passes defended, but only one interception.  Matt Robinson and Eric Franklin will not be able to match the efforts by last year’s safeties.

 

OTHER

Logan is an excellent punt returner.  In 2010, he took two punts to the house while averaging 18.1 yards per return.

 

SUMMARY

Edsall has a chance to send the Terps to a bowl this year, but the team will not match last year’s results.  The schedule offers them no favors.  Out of the league, the Terps host West Virginia, Temple, and Towson.  They face Notre Dame at Fedex Field (Washington Redskins home), which is basically a home game.  It looks like Maryland will go 2-2 in those games.  Maryland will have to break even in the league just to get to 6-6.

 

Wake Forest

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Tanner Price edged out Ted Stachitas in the spring.  As a freshman, Price led the Demon Deacons with 1,349 passing yards and seven touchdowns.  He completed 56.8%, but he only averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.  True freshman Kevin Sousa is the top incoming recruit, but he may not see the field this year.

 

Receivers

This unit is not all that strong, but it has to be an improvement over last year, when WF averaged just 144 passing yards per game.  Chris Givens returns after leading the Deacs with 35 receptions and four touchdowns.  However, Givens has a hamstring injury, and his status for the start of the season is unclear.  Danny Dembry (8 receptions) may start in his place.  Michael Campanero should more than double his number of catches in 2011, but he only caught 10 last year.  Tight end Andrew Parker is more of a run-blocker, while Cameron Ford is the better route runner.

 

Running Backs

The Demon Deacons averaged more than four yards per carry last year for the first time in five years.  Josh Harris returns after gaining 720 yards and scoring seven times.  He averaged 5.7 yards per rush.  Two quality backs will back him up.  Brandon Pendergrass and Nick Knott should both see action this season.

 

Offensive Line

Four starters return to the line, so this unit should fare better this year.  However, they are prone to giving up sacks.  Four of the five are seniors, so this unit will keep mistakes to a minimum.  Guard Joe Looney is the one candidate likely to appear on an all-conference ballot. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe switched the team from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in the middle of last year’s season.  It made Nikita Whitlock a nose guard instead of a defensive tackle.  Semantics aside, Whitlock recorded 10 ½ tackles for loss.  He got better as the season progressed.  Zach Thompson and Tristan Dorty will be the two new starters at end.  Dorty was a linebacker last year and made 7 ½ tackles for losses.

 

Linebackers

Kyle Wilber figures to be the star of this unit.  He comes off a season in which he led the team with 14 ½ stops behind the line and six sacks.  He also got his paws in on four balls to send them harmlessly to the ground.  Scott Betros, Justin Jackson, and Joey Ehrmann figure to make up the rest of the quartet.  Wilber has been nursing a sore hamstring, and in his absence, Zachary Allen has been subbing for him.  While not overpowering, this unit should improve this year if Wilber can get healthy.

 

Secondary

Three starters return, led by safety Cyhl Quarles, who recorded 71 stops last year.  Kenny Okoro and Merrill Noel will start at the corners, while Joe Bush starts at the other safety spot.  This unit has room for improvement after giving up 238 passing yards per game in 2010.

 

OTHER

Kicker Jimmy Newman was almost perfect last year.  He connected on all of his PAT attempts and was 12 of 13 in field goal attempted.

 

SUMMARY

The non-conference part of the schedule is Jekyll and Hyde.  Wake Forest plays at Syracuse and hosts Notre Dame, two games the Deacons figure to lose.  They host Gardner-Webb, the only sure thing on the schedule this year.  They host Vanderbilt in the season finale, and that game should be a close one.  Wake Forest will go 2-2 or 1-3 in those four games.  In the ACC, the Deacs host North Carolina State and Maryland, the two teams that figure to be just above them in the preseason polls.  Road games with North Carolina and Duke could be winnable based on how WF has performed leading up to those games.

 

There are not enough winnable games on the schedule to see any way Wake Forest could get to six wins.  Four wins seem about right.

 

COASTAL DIVISION

 

Virginia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Replacing all-time leading passer Tyrod Taylor will be tough.  Taylor passed for 2,743 yards with a 24/5 TD/int ratio, while rushing for more than 900 yards (sacks removed).

 

Logan Thomas is big and mobile.  At 6-6 and almost 250 pounds, he is built like a tight end and was recruited to Tech as an H-Back.  Thomas saw limited action as a freshman, completing 12 of 26 passes for just 107 yards, while rushing for 29 yards on five carries. 

 

Receivers

Coach Frank Beamer has three receivers capable of challenging for all-conference honors.  Jarrett Boykin leads the way after grabbing a team-high 53 receptions in 2010.  He averaged 16 yards per catch.  Danny Coale averaged nearly 19 yards on his 39 receptions, while former QB Marcus Davis added 19 receptions.  Chris Drager has moved from tight end to defensive end and back to tight end. Eric Martin shows promise and could be used in a double tight end formation.

 

Running Backs

David Wilson has 1,000-yard potential, and the Hokies will not miss much of a beat after losing two key backs, one of whom signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  Three players are competing for the backup position.  Josh Oglesby is the leader, followed by Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes.

 

Offensive Line

This shaped up to be one of the best in the country until injuries hit two starters.  Guard Greg Kosal suffered a shoulder injury, and tackle Blake DeChristopher went down with a pectoral injury.  Both players are well-ahead of schedule in their return, but neither may be ready for the season-opener.  David Wang is working as Kosal’s replacement, and Nick Becton, Michael Via, or Vinston Painter will fill in at tackle.

 

Center Andrew Miller takes over the starting role after seeing extensive playing time as a freshman.  He is a former high school state wrestling champion and the strongest player on the line.  Guard James Brooks made the 2nd team all-conference squad last year.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been at VT for a quarter century.  Last year, a young defensive line led to the Hokies giving up more than 20 points per game and 300 yards per game for the first time since 2003.  This year’s defensive line is a concern once again with three new starters.

 

The one holdover is tackle Antoine Hopkins.  His brother Derrick will start opposite him.  The new ends are James Gayle and J. R. Collins, with redshirt freshman Zack McCray and true freshman Luther Maddy backing them up.  The potential is there for this unit to be tougher to run on than last year and with an equal pass rush.

 

Linebackers

The Hokies have both quality and quantity here, as they can go two-deep with little drop-off in talent.  Bruce Taylor is a probably 1st team All-ACC middle linebacker.  He led VT with 91 tackles and 15 ½ for loss last year with six sacks and 12 QB hurries.  He also showed his worth as a pass defender, separating the receiver from the ball four times.  Telvion Clark and Tariq Edwards are competing for one outside spot, while Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is competing with Nick Dew for the other spot.

 

Secondary

The Hokies have excellent talent, but they are not as deep here as Beamer would like to be.  Cornerback Jayron Hosley is the best in the league at his position.  He led the ACC with nine interceptions and finished tied for first with 17 passes defended.  Kyle Fuller replaces all-star Rashad Campbell; Fuller had six passes defended as a reserve last year.

 

Safeties Antoine Exum and Eddie Watley switched positions this summer, with Exum moving to free safety and Whitley moving to rover.  

 

OTHER

This is a much easier schedule for VT than the last two.  Appalachian State replaces Boise State and Alabama as the season opener.  Road trips to East Carolina and Marshall book-end a home game with Arkansas State.  The Hokies get Clemson, Miami, and Boston College at home and avoid Florida State.  They could easily run the table in the regular season.  One loss will eliminate them from any national championship talk.  They have to go 13-0 and hope two other big name teams do not do so as well.

 

SUMMARY

We believe Thomas will emerge as an excellent quarterback, but he will not be as consistent as his predecessor.  His percentage will be lower, but his yards per reception could be higher.  Look for VT to average 28-30 points per game and 375-400 yards per game.  On defense, the Hokies will recover from last year’s aberration and give up less than 20 points and 300 yards again.  A 12-0 regular season is a strong possibility, but remember this team has lost some early games to teams they should have beaten handily.  Remember James Madison last year and East Carolina in 2008?

 

Miami

Note: The PiRate Ratings have not been able to adjust for the recent news that emerged from Miami.  School President Donna Shalala revealed that 15 current players are being investigated for receiving illegal benefits from Miami booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro.  Those names were not release, but Shapiro implicated 12 players.  Since we do not know at this point just how involved things are, we cannot begin to deduct points from their rating.  We can try to put a number on the intangible destruction of the program as a whole, but for now, their PiRate Rating shows them as the second best team in the Coastal Division.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Miami quarterbacks were a bit too generous with the ball last year, throwing 26 interceptions (2/game, almost 6% of all passes).  New head coach Al Golden faces an additional headache because the projected starter is one of the 12 current Hurricanes implicated by Shapiro.  Jacory Harris may or may not get to suit up this year for his senior season.  Harris has quite an arm, but he has not been accurate.

 

Sophomore Stephen Morris will inherit the position if Harris is declared ineligible.  Morris started the four times last year and posted stats similar to Harris—54% completions 6% interceptions.  He did average better than 15 yards per completion. 

 

Receivers

Again, it is unsure if this position will be decimated with ineligibility.  Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson combined for 58 receptions and 900 yards last year; both were accused by Shapiro.  That would leave LaRon Byrd as the only experienced receiver.  He caught 41 passes, but Byrd does not have the elusiveness of the other two.  True freshman Phillip Dorsett could be thrust into action immediately.

 

The top two tight ends, USC transfer Blake Ayles and Chase Ford, have both missed practices with injuries.  Ayles was a 5-star recruit when he entered Trojanland four years ago.

 

Running Backs

Lamar Miller is a speedster, who can break open a long gain with the slightest of daylight.  He averaged six yards per carry and scored six times.  Mike James will back him up.

 

Offensive Line

This unit has a lot of depth, even with the loss of tackle Seantrel Henderson, who underwent back surgery and should miss the season.

 

Guard Brandon Washington made the 1st Team All-ACC squad, while center Tyler Horn earned 3rd Team honors.  Harland Gunn will start at guard.  Joel Figueora is a sixth year senior who can play either guard or tackle.  Redshirt Malcolm Bunche could start at tackle, while Jermaine Johnson and Jon Feliciano will provide depth.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This area is going to take a major hit if its five implicated players are declared ineligible.  Projected starting tackle Marcus Forston, starting ends Marcus Robinson and Olivier Vernon, and key backups Adewale Ojomo and Dyron Dye are the heart and soul of the line.  Forston, Vernon, and Ojomo represent 114 tackles, 14 sacks, 30 tackles for loss.

 

Tackle Micanor Regis was not implicated by Shapiro.  He made 42 tackles with eight for loss.  True freshman Anthony Chickillo could join seldom used Andrew Smith at end.

 

Linebackers

One player was accused from this unit, but he is the best defender on the team.  Sean Spence finished second on the team last year with 111 tackles, 17 for loss.  Spence also knocked away six passes.  If he becomes ineligible, outside linebacker Ramon Buchanan will become the leader of this unit.  The vacant middle linebacker spot will go to Jordan Futch, with true freshman Gionni Paul providing backup.

 

Secondary

75% of the expected starting defensive backfield is on Shapiro’s List.  Cornerback JoJo Nicolas and Safeties Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque combined for 173 tackles and 15 passes defended.  This unit will become a major liability if these players are declared ineligible, and Miami will give up at least 100 extra yards through the air than they would have with the three starters in the lineup.

 

OTHER

Shapiro accused 12 players, but the university is investigating 15.  Aside from the possible loss of eligibility, the total repercussions are greater than just the loss of 12 or 15 players.  Others will “quit” on the team, and the situation will steamroller into a catastrophe.  The Hurricanes were in line to achieve 10 to 12 wins this year if the quarterbacks could cut down on interceptions.  It could get ugly in Coral Gables, and “The U” could be looking at a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule offers few breathers.  Miami begins the season playing at Maryland on Labor Day.  Then, the ‘Canes host Ohio State in what will receive some sarcastic billing as convicts vs. convicts.  A home game with Kansas State now becomes a losable game.  Bethune-Cookman is the only sure win if all the players are lost.

 

With all the players available, Miami could go 10-2.  Without them, the Hurricanes could finish with four or five wins.  They are somewhere between 17 and 25 points weaker per game if the players are declared ineligible.  Golden inherits a mess, and we would not be surprised if he leaves after just one season.

 

North Carolina

Here is another situation, but it pales in comparison to the one in Miami.  Butch Davis was fired as head coach late in the off-season, and defensive coordinator Everett Withers was appointed as interim head coach.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Bryn Renner gets first crack at replacing T. J. Yates.  Yates completed 67% of his passes for 3,418 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, topping the eight-yard per attempt mark.  Renner threw two passes, completing one for 14 yards.  The Tar Heels passed for 264 yards per game in 2010, and it would be a stretch to think Renner can match that number.  Look for a considerable decline here.

 

Receivers

Renner has the top two receivers returning from 2010.  Dwight Jones led the club with 62 receptions and 946 yards.  Erik Highsmith finished second with 348 yards.  Jheranie Boyd is the wildcard here.  He took a pass from Yates and ran 97 yards for a score against LSU in last year’s opener, en route to a 221-yard night.  He was only 8 for 89 after that.  He also was used to run the wide reverse and gained 62 yards on 10 attempts.  This unit is loaded.

 

Running Backs

This unit loses its top three players from last year.  It welcomes back Ryan Houston, who missed last year with an injury.  Houston is not fast, but he requires two or more defenders to bring him down.  Houston will remind some fans of Jerome Bettis.  However, he has not participated in contact drills due to his shoulder surgery earlier this year.  The roster is thin after Houston with redshirt and true freshmen backing him up.

 

Offensive Line

This is where the Carolina offense needs to improve the most.  The Tar Heels’ line gave up 37 sacks last year.  Three starters return this year—center Cam Holland, guard Jonathan Cooper, and tackle James Hurst.  Cooper was a 2nd Team All-ACC player, while Hurst earned Freshman All-American accolades.  Travis Bond started against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, and he will man the vacant guard position, while Brennan Williams will take over at tackle.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

What could have been the top DL in the nation last year turned into an average line due to the ineligibility of two top players.  End Quinton Coples took advantage of his chance to start and bankrolled it into a spot on the All-ACC first team.  He finished third in the league with 10 sacks and was credited with 12 QB Hurries.  Donte Paige-Moss starts at the other end spot.  Moss recorded 13 ½ stops behind the line.  Withers can count on three players to rotate at the tackle positions.  Tydreke Powell, Sylvester Williams, and Jordan Nix are all listed as 1st string players.  While not as talented as what 2010 could have been, this is one of the best lines in the league.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year; Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown finished one-two in tackles with 74 and 72 respectively.  Reddick has all-conference potential.  Darius Lipford will be the new starter.  This unit is about average for the ACC.

 

Secondary

A hand injury to expected starting cornerback Jabari Price will keep him out for at least all of September.  Charles Brown will miss the opener after having to sit out a game, so two new cornerbacks will start at the beginning of the season.  Safety Tre Boston might start at cornerback until Brown and Price are back.  Matt Merletti will start at one safety position.  Wide receiver Todd Harrelson moves to cornerback to fill in, and true freshman Tim Scott might start the opening game.

 

Brown is the star of this unit, but UNC will sorely miss Da’Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams.  Opponents will find holes in the Carolina secondary.

 

OTHER

There is only one cupcake on the schedule, and James Madison must be taken seriously; just ask Virginia Tech!  The remainder of non-league games include home games with Rutgers and Louisville and a trip to East Carolina.  UNC will be fortunate to go 3-1 in those four games.  UNC draws Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina State from the Atlantic and avoids Florida State.  It looks like a 4-4 conference mark will be their limit this year; interim coaches are hit or miss.

 

SUMMARY

The Tar Heels will try to rely on more lengthy drives rather than trying to make quick touchdowns.  They averaged just 25 points per game but gained close to 400 yards per game.  The yardage definitely will drop, but the scoring could be about the same and not much less if any.

 

Defensively, the ‘Heels will go as far as their front four will take them.  The back seven is a little suspect, especially in the secondary.  Opponents will complete 60% of their passes and gain more than 200 yards through the air.  We believe UNC will surrender about as many points as they score.  It looks like another so-so season in Chapel Hill, but cheer up Carolina Fans—basketball season is not that far away.

 

Duke

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

If Harris is ineligible at Miami, Duke’s Sean Renfree will be the only returning quarterback in the Coastal Division.  Renfree is on the cusp of breaking out into Coach David Cutcliffe’s next star passer.  He tutored a couple of guys with the last name of Manning, so he knows how to develop passers.

 

Renfree threw for more than 3,100 yards and completed better than 61% of his passes last year.  14 of those passes went for touchdowns, but 17 went into the wrong pair of hands.  If he can reduce his mistakes this year, we could be looking at an All-ACC performer.

 

Receivers

Renfree has some quality players to pass to.  Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner could both finish in the top five in the league in receptions and yardage after combining for 133 catches for 1,709 yards last year.  Brandon Braxton will at least double his amount of receptions this year after grabbing 14 passes in 2010.  Tight end Cooper Helfet added 34 receptions, so this group has talent. Keep an eye on true freshman Jamison Crowder.

 

Running Backs

At Duke, 110 yards per game is an exemplary amount of rushing yards.  It was the most in five seasons in Durham.  Desmond Scott, Josh Snead, and Juwan Thompson all return after sharing the load last year, and the Duke running game should top 100 yards again this season.  The quartet will also top four yards per carry, making this unit abnormally strong in 2011—at least for Duke.

 

Offensive Line

This is the major question mark on this side of the ball.  The Blue Devils’ offensive line has been rather offensive in recent years.  The loss of starting center Brian Moore for an indefinite amount of time (fractured forearm) clouds the issue even more.

 

Cutcliffe has recruited well the last couple of years, and we have a sneaky suspicion that the offensive line will improve to mediocrity this season.  At Duke, mediocre is a milestone.

 

Dave Harding was an outstanding freshman last year in a part-time starter role.  He will move in from guard and take over at center.  Perry Simmons and Kyle Hill will protect the flanks and open up holes at their tackle positions.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The biggest addition to the defensive line will not suit up once this season.  He is new defensive line coach Rick Petri.  Petri has over 30 years of successful experience.

 

Petri will mold a defensive line that improves on the 200+ yards allowed rushing and only 12 sacks.  Duke switches to a 4-2-5 defense this year.  Sydney Sarmiento and Charlie Hatcher return to the inside.  Sarmiento shows promise and could emerge as a star in the next couple of years, while Hatcher is a two-gap plugger.  He finished second on the team last year with 7 ½ tackles for loss.  End Kenny Anunike is nursing a bad ankle and could miss the opener, but redshirt freshman Dezmond Johnson could step in and produce for the Blue Devils.

 

Linebackers

This is the biggest liability on the team.  Mike linebacker Kelby Brown is smaller than some safeties, and he is coming back from a knee injury.  Austin Gamble will team up to form a rather weak two-man tandem. Brown hustles and makes a lot of plays, but frequently backs get an extra yard or two.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to a unit that is not that far from respectability.  Safety Matt Daniels is the star of this unit.  He played admirably against both the run and pass last year, coming up with six stops behind the line and batting away seven passes with an interception.  Lee Butler returns at a safety position after posting nine passes defended.  August Campbell will take on the new hybrid safety/linebacker position.

 

Ross Cockrell led the Blue Devils with three interceptions.  He returns at one cornerback spot, while Zach Greene figures to start at the other spot.

 

OTHER

Duke missed a seven-win season by a thin margin last year.  Close losses to Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College, and North Carolina left Duke at 3-9 instead.  If the offense improves by four to five points, and the defense does the same, Duke could be looking at its first six-win season since 1994.

 

SUMMARY

We admit here at the PiRate Ratings that we have the highest esteem for Coach Cutcliffe and believe he will guide Duke back to a bowl game—if not this year, then next.  Duke can win six games this year.

 

The schedule has become somewhat easier since the start of summer.  Duke’s opening game against Richmond got a lot easier when the Spiders had to replace their coach following his DUI arrest less than two weeks before the game.  The Blue Devils also face Miami and North Carolina, two more teams facing dilemmas.

 

Add Tulane and Florida International as well as home games with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest and a road game with Virginia, and you can make a case for six wins.

 

Virginia

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Uh-oh!  Virginia is in a bit of a mess here.  It’s nice to have four options at quarterback, but Coach Mike London is having to choose from a weakness and not a strength.  The loss of Marc Verica will cause UVA to drop drastically in the passing game. 

 

Sophomore Michael Rocco appears to hold a slight edge at this point after throwing 25 passes last year.  True freshman David Watford could eventually be the man under center, while Michael Strauss and Ross Metheny are in the mix.  Whoever ends up playing, expect a possibility of 100 less passing yards this season.

 

Receivers

The Cavs must replace their top play-maker from 2010.  Dontrelle Inman averaged 18 yards on his 51 receptions, and there is nobody on the roster capable of matching those numbers.

 

Kris Burd actually led in receptions with 58, but he is the only receiver capable of becoming a breakaway threat.  True freshman Darius Jennings could emerge as a key player in his first season.

 

Running Backs

Perry Jones was a co-primary option last year and rushed for 646 yards and a touchdown.  The absence of Keith Payne and his ability to convert on third and short and at the goal line will cost more than his 750 rushing yards.

 

Offensive Line

The only reason for optimism on offense this year is a rather decent and experienced offensive line.  Four starters return, including tackle Morgan Moses, who stood out as a freshman last year.  Center Anthony Mihota, guard Austin Pasztor, and tackle Oday Aboushi are the other three returning starters.  This unit is the only real plus on the 2011 offense.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Virginia could not stop enemy backs last year and was torched for more than 200 rushing yards per game and better than five yards per rush allowed.  The pass rush only produced 19 sacks, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

 

London will play three tackles in a rotation.  Matt Conrath, Nick Jenkins, and Will Hill will split time inside.  At end, Jake Snyder and Cam Johnson will start.  Johnson is the stud of this unit; he led the Cavs with 6 ½ sacks and 14 ½ tackles for loss.  Expect some improvement in the trenches.

 

Linebackers

This is the major liability on this side of the ball, even though all three starters return from 2010.  Middle linebacker Steve Greer, Will linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, and Sam Linebacker Aaron Taliaferro are competent but not spectacular.  The trio made 161 stops last year but only 1 ½ sacks on blitzes.

 

Secondary

The back line is quite talented, and with the addition of some quality recruits, it will have depth this year as well.  Cornerback Chase Minnifield led the Cavs with 10 passes defended including six interceptions. Safety Rodney McLeod provided excellent run support, but he needs to improve in the passing game.  True freshman Tra Nicholson takes over at the other cornerback spot.  Three other true freshmen, cornerback Brandon Phelps and safeties Anthony Harris and Darius Lee will see playing time.

 

OTHER

Virginia’s schedule will give them a chance to top last year’s four wins.  The Cavaliers should be favored in three of their four non-ACC games.  They host William & Mary in the opener, but UVA lost to W&M two years ago.  The Tribe will be tough to beat.  Virginia travels to Indiana and hosts Southern Miss and Idaho.  It is a tricky non-league slate; the Cavs could win all or lose all, but we believe they should go 3-1 or 2-2.  In ACC play, Virginia must play at Miami and North Carolina, the two schools with predicaments. If those games had been at Scott Stadium, then UVA might be figured to win both. 

 

SUMMARY

The Cavaliers return 17 starters, but three of the four missing were the top three players on offense.  We believe the new offense will have a tough time exceeding last year’s offense.  The defense will definitely be better, but the question remains: how many more plays will the stop side have to defend if the offense does not gel?

 

We believe Virginia is looking a repeat of last year.

 

Georgia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Joshua Nesbitt was known only for his running skills, but he ran the option like a magician.  He was on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season before he went out for the season against Virginia Tech in game nine.  Tevin Washington started the last three regular season games plus the bowl game, and he put up similar numbers to Nesbitt.  Look for Washington to lead the team in rushing, but his passing may be no better than Nesbitt.  Tech completed just 38.1% of their passes in 2010, numbers that sound like the 1940’s and 1950’s.

 

Receivers

The top four receivers return to the fold.  Okay, the top four receivers caught a grand total of 40 passes, so this position is more about downfield blocking and getting open deep when the defense thinks you will decoy or block yet again.  Stephen Hill got open and led the team with 15 receptions; he averaged close to 20 yards per catch.

 

Running Backs

The Yellow Jackets will miss Anthony Allen, who led the ACC with 1,316 yards.  The new B-Back (fullback) is former quarterback David Sims.  He has won the job after being fourth on the depth chart in spring.  Don’t expect 1,300 yards from this position, but Sims will get the job done and force an extra defender into the box to prevent him from gaining three, four, and five yards with consistency.

 

Both starting A-backs (slot backs) return this year.  Orwin Smith and Roddy Jones combined for 869 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry, mostly on pitches from Nesbitt. 

 

Tech must cut down on the high number of fumbles this year.  They were -6 in turnover margin because of the numerous fumbles in the option plays.

 

Offensive Line

Even though option offenses can cover up liabilities in the blocking corps, this is still a big concern.  Two players expected to start will not be available at the beginning of the season.  Will Jackson and Phil Smith are out with injuries.  Jackson was selected as a Freshman All-American last year.  Backup guard Ryan Bailey is also out with an injury, so GT has some issues here. 

 

True freshman Trey Braun will start at one of the guard spots.  Omoregie Uzzi, the top blocker, will start at the other guard spot.

 

In the option offense, the line must make a lot of calls prior to the snap, and it requires a lot of thinking prior to reacting.  With the line in despair, this could be a problem early in the season.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is the only area on this side of the ball that does not have a lot of holes to fill.  As it is, the defensive line is average at best.

 

All three starters return.  Nose tackle Logan Walls can adequately plug the middle.  He only made 23 tackles, but he kept blockers away from the inside linebackers.  Ends Izaan Cross and Jason Peters combined for 11 ½ tackles for loss, and Cross knocked away four passes.  This group is not the best pass rushing trio, and they allowed enemy runners to average 4.5 yards per carry.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return, but it is new starter Jeremiah Attaochu that should become the star of this mediocre quartet.  As a freshman in a reserve role, the outside linebacker registered 23 tackles with three sacks.  Steven Sylvester will man the other outside linebacker spot, while Julian Burnett and Daniel Drummond will start on the inside.  Sylvester led the Techsters with 10 ½ tackles for loss.

 

Secondary

This unit is in shambles, and it is the reason the PiRate Ratings list them as the last place team in the Coastal Division to start the season.

 

Not having much depth to start with, GT lost two players that were expected to contribute.  Fred Holton tore his Achilles tendon and is done for the season, while Ryan Ayers transferred to Liberty.

 

Louis Young will start at one cornerback.  In limited action in 2010, he made 10 tackles.  Rod Sweeting takes over at the opposite corner after recording eight passes defended.  Safeties Rashaad Reid and Isaiah Johnson have some experience, but neither will be able to replace Dominique Reese, who was tough against both the run and pass.  Look for GT to give up more than 225 yards per game through the air.

 

OTHER

Tech’s special teams were not that special last year.  They had trouble covering punts, and there was virtually no help with punt returns.  Expected kick returner B. J. Bostic begins the season in street clothes and may be a medical redshirt.

 

SUMMARY

Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing with an averaged of 323 yards per game, and they could lead the nation again this season.  However, teams will put eight and nine in the box and force Tech to pass.  An option team needs to be able to average over eight yards per pass attempt to scare defenses into staying honest; Tech averaged just 6.5 yards and will more than likely do no better this year.  It adds up to some stagnation on offense, so we do not see the Yellow Jackets equaling their offensive production of 2010 (26 points and 407 yards).

 

Defense is going to be a sore spot, and second year coordinator Al Groh has a short fuse that could cause some dissension if early problems develop.  We do not like the prospects for this program in 2011.

 

Only an easy September schedule could save the season.  GT hosts Western Carolina to start the season and then visits Middle Tennessee.  They return to host Kansas and North Carolina to close out the month.  The Jackets need to be 4-0 if they plan on going to a bowl game, because the schedule is tough once October arrives.  If GT starts 2-2, then they will finish with four or five wins.

 

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida State

65

420

Clemson

4

286

N. C. State

 

270

Boston College

2

224

Maryland

 

211

Wake Forest

 

80

 

 

 

Coastal Division

 

 

Virginia Tech

66

421

Miami

4

328

North Carolina

 

287

Georgia Tech

1

226

Virginia

 

132

Duke

 

96

 

 

 

ACC Championship

 

Florida State

 

50

Virginia Tech

 

18

Clemson

 

2

Boston College

 

1

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida St.

123.3

8-0/13-0 *

Clemson

110.3

5-3/8-4

Boston Coll.

109.7

3-5/6-6

N.C. State

109.1

4-4/7-5

Maryland

106.5

4-4/6-6

Wake Forest

98.5

1-7/3-9

   

 

Coastal Division  

 

Va. Tech

116.1

8-0/12-1

Miami

115.2

3-5/5-7 ^

N. Carolina

106.8

4-4/7-5

Duke

99.8

3-5/6-6

Virginia

97.9

2-6/4-8

Georgia Tech

97.5

3-5/6-6

   

 

* Florida State picked to beat Va. Tech
in the ACC Championship Game

 

 

 

 

^ This prediction based on possibility of 12
to 15 players being declared ineligible.
If they play, Miami is picked to win 9 games.

 

March 20, 2011

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament PiRate Criteria Ratings

All Times EDT

Number in (Parentheses) indicates PiRate Criteria Rating

For a detailed explanation of the PiRate Criteria Rating, click on the following link:

https://piratings.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/bracketnomics-505-2011-edition/

 

12:15 PM on CBS

North Carolina (15) vs. Washington (13)

CBS gives you the most exciting 3rd round game to start off your Sunday.  These teams can get up and down the floor and score quickly.  We expect it to be more like the late 1960’s when North Carolina and Davidson met in the NCAA Tournament for a couple of historic games.

 

The Tar Heels are the slight favorite, but this game could go either way.  When you have two teams capable of topping 85 points, it comes down to which team can control the boards and force more turnovers.  North Carolina should win the battle on the boards, but Washington should win the turnover battle and force more steals.

 

We thought about taking the Huskies, but Coach Roy Williams has a long history of getting to the Sweet 16, while Coach Lorenzo Romar has a shorter history of doing so.

 

We think this will still be undecided with five minutes to go, but the Tar Heels have three go-to guys that can win this game (Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, while UW has two (Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning).  Three to two odds makes for a 60% chance that nothing will be finer in Carolina today.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 83  Washington 76

 

2:45 PM on CBS

Duke (15) vs. Michigan (Elim)

Shortly after we released the 68-team preview last week, the news that Kyrie Irving was ready to play once again changed Duke’s criteria score.  We have not set way to add points in cases like this; we have to make a semi-educated guess.  Before Irving went down to injury, Duke was 8-0, outscoring opponents by a score of 89-66.  He returned to play against Hampton, so in the nine games in which he has contributed, Duke’s average scoring margin is 89-64.  We figure Irving’s presence makes Duke seven to 10 points better.  That would place their PiRate Criteria score right there with Kansas for the top spot.

 

Michigan caught the biggest break in this tournament.  They played a Tennessee team that completely quit once a six-point Volunteer lead was wiped away.  The Wolverines outscored Tennessee 52-16 the final 24 minutes of their game.

 

Duke will not wilt if Michigan erases a six-point Blue Devil lead.  This team is better than last year’s national champion with Irving teaming up with Nolan Smith.  Last year’s champion was a little stronger inside, but with Irving, Smith, Kyle Singler, Mason and Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins, Coach Mike Krzyzewski has too many weapons to completely stop.

 

Michigan relies on three-point shooting and great penetration.  Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway, Junior can take the maize and blue on their shoulders and make life miserable for opposing teams that are not overly aggressive defensively.  Duke is not one of those teams.

 

The Blue Devils will stifle the Michigan offense and score enough fast break points and second-chance points to win this one by double digits.

 

Prediction: Duke 76  Michigan 61

 

5:15 PM on CBS

Ohio State (21) vs. George Mason (8)

George Mason has done it before.  The Colonials knocked off Connecticut and North Carolina among others when they made their historic run to the Final Four in 2006.  This GMU team has more talent and almost as much experience, making the Colonials a legitimate contender to advance to the Sweet 16.

 

One problem for GMU: they are facing the team with the second best PiRate Criteria score.  Ohio State has too much firepower for Coach Jim Larranaga to pull magic out of a hat again.

 

Jared Sullinger is too strong and quick inside for the Colonials to stop, and Ryan Pearson will not be able to have a big game against the Buckeyes’ inside defense.  Jon Diebler and William Buford will see a lot of open looks from outside, and we cannot see both having an off day.

 

Prediction: Ohio State 74  George Mason 59

 

6:10 PM on TNT

Texas (18) vs. Arizona (3)

The Longhorns almost could not hold onto a big lead in their first game, while Arizona never could break away from Memphis in theirs.

 

We believe Texas will be more focused on this game and put together 40 minutes of total basketball.  The Longhorns present tough matchup problems with four starters that are great combo inside-outside players.  When they get their mind into the game, they can control a game at both ends of the floor.

 

Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson, and Cory Joseph should be focused after watching a huge lead against Oakland almost evaporate entirely in the final minutes.

 

Arizona benefitted from playing a weak second-round opponent.  The Wildcats are not back to where they were in the Lute Olson days.  In Derrick Williams, they have an inside player that can dominate in the paint, but he can be neutralized by an opponent that gets the Wildcats into a running transition game.

 

Texas is not a pure running team, but the Longhorns can take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.  They will do so today.

 

Prediction: Texas 78  Arizona 65

 

7:10 PM on TBS

Purdue (16) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (-1)

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart may be on the radar of two or three big-time coaching searches.  The second year coach has proven to be an excellent tournament tactician.

 

This Ram team does not figure to advance into the second week of the tournament, because in the past, teams with negative PiRate Critieria scores only made it to the Sweet 16 if their first two opponents had either negative scores or ELIM scores.

 

Purdue is only 11-6 since their 15-1 start.  If E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson do not combine for at least 35 points and 20 rebounds, the Boilermakers can be beaten.  We tend to believe that both stars will shine brightly today, and the lads from West Lafayette will be preparing for a mighty rivalry game later in the week.

 

Prediction: Purdue 73  V C U 64

 

7:45 PM on truTV

Syracuse (17) vs. Marquette (3)

When a conference places 11 teams in the Big Dance, it goes that there could be matchups of teams from that conference facing off in earlier rounds.  For the second time this weekend, the Big East has another “conference game” in the NCAA Tournament.

 

In the regular season, Marquette won a close game in Milwaukee, 76-70.  It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Orangemen following an 18-0 start.  Once the ‘Cuse got over their midseason swoon, they recovered to win six in a row before meeting the hot Huskies from Connecticut in the Big East Tournament.

 

Is a 14-loss team good enough to advance to the Sweet 16?  This is not your father’s Marquette teams.  Bo Ellis, Lloyd Walton, Dean Meminger, and Butch Lee are not walking through that door.  Al McGuire won’t be receiving a couple of technical fouls.

 

The Golden Eagles have one thing going for them; they know how to attack Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense.  They should get enough open looks to keep this game close, and if they can come close on the boards, they will be there at the end.

 

We expect a close game, but Syracuse will dictate the tempo.  Expect a lower-scoring game, with Syracuse’s Rick Jackson being just a little too much for Marquette’s interior defense to handle.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 68  Marquette 62

 

8:40 PM on TNT

Kansas (23) vs. Illinois (1)

Kansas remembers well what happened one year ago just down I-44 in OKC from where they are playing today.  The Jayhawks exited the tournament as one of the co-favorites to win it all, when Northern Iowa pulled off a major shocker.

 

We do not see KU meeting a similar fate in Tulsa today.  This team is loaded with talent, both inside and outside, and they have no major liabilities to be exploited.  Markieff and Marcus Morris are the best set of twins in college basketball since the Van Arsdale brothers (Dick and Tom) in the 1960’s. The two combine for 31 points and 15+ rebounds per game.  Off the bench, beefy Thomas Robinson provides extra inside punch.

 

The taller of the twins, Markieff can set up outside and bury the three-pointer or pass high-low to his brother.  It is hard to stop both, so opponents have to sell out to stop the inside threat first.

 

Illinois greatly underachieved this season.  The Illini should have contended for second place in the Big Ten and should have won five or six additional games.  A team talented enough to beat North Carolina by 12 points as well as Oakland, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and Penn State handily also lost to Illinois-Chicago and Indiana.  For the Illini to have a chance in this game, they will have to penetrate the KU defense and force fouls.  For two reasons, we do not believe that will work today.  First, the officiating in this tournament has been very relaxed.  Second, we do not believe Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey can get through the front line of defense enough times to change the outcome of the game.

 

Prediction: Kansas 80  Illinois 68

 

9:45 PM on TBS

Notre Dame (11) vs. Florida State (2)

Too bad this one isn’t being played at the Fiesta Bowl.  These former football rivals will meet in Chicago where the St. Patrick’s Day celebrants should be back to normal today.  We consider Notre Dame to have a slight near-home court advantage, and the Irish really do not need anything extra to win this game.

 

Florida State gets extra points for Chris Singleton’s return from injury.  However, Singleton scored just five points and grabbed just two rebounds in 16 minutes of play in the win over Texas A&M; this was not very Kyrie Irving-like.  He is not ready to take the Seminoles on his shoulders and lead them into the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Notre Dame 65  Florida State 59

 

Coming Later This Week: We will update the PiRate Criteria Scores based on the two games each of the Sweet 16 teams playe

March 14, 2011

2011 PiRate NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:01 pm

1. Which teams meet the upper range criteria in every category?  That means they outscored their opponents by eight or more per game; their field goal percentage was greater than 7.5% better than their opponents; they outrebounded their opponents by five or more per game; they forced at least three more turnovers per game than they committed; and they stole the ball 7.5 or more times per game.

 

ANSWER—No teams this year meet all the perfect criteria described above.  Six teams come close to meeting the perfect criteria, but all fall short in at least one statistic.  This means there is no clear-cut favorite—only six teams that most closely resemble the great champions of the past.  Of the six, three come from power conferences.  These three are Kansas, Ohio State, and Syracuse.

 

Kansas fails to meet the turnover margin requirement, but the Jayhawks surpass all the other qualifications.  Ohio State comes up a tad bit short in field goal percentage margin, rebounding margin, and steals per game, but just misses in all three.  Syracuse misses in rebounding and turnover margin, but they Orangemen do not miss by much. 

 

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?  Which teams have an incredibly low R+T Rating (<2.0)?

 

ANSWER—Three teams can immediately be eliminated due to negative R+T Ratings.  It comes as no surprise that Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio, two teams facing off in the First Round in Dayton, have negative R+T ratings.  The third team is Michigan.  The Wolverines were outrebounded by 1.9 boards per game, and they only had a +1.4 turnover margin with just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Five other teams finished with R+T ratings less than 2.0.  This usually means one and done for these teams, unless they have outstanding FG% margins or cupcake opponents with worse criteria numbers.  Those five teams are: Penn State, Richmond, St. Peter’s, UCLA, and UCSB.

 

3. Which teams are capable of winning it all?

 

ANSWER—We separate the contenders from the pretenders by looking at the total PiRate Criteria score and then looking to see if the high criteria scoring teams receive merit on every individual statistic.

 

Last year, Duke was head and heels better than the other 64 teams.  The Blue Devils had the highest score overall, and they satisfactorily rated in every PiRate category.

 

No teams appear to be as strong this year as the Blue Devils were last year, but nine teams meet most of the minimum requirements to be considered Final Four contenders this year.

 

It should come as no surprise that the top two teams, Ohio State and Kansas, rank at the top in the Criteria.  Kansas actually has the highest score of the 68 teams, a score of 23.  The Jayhawks outscored their opposition by 17.2 points, shot 11.7% better from the field than their opponents, and outrebounded their opponents by 7.8 boards per game.  These stats are worthy of a powerhouse.  However, KU enjoyed just a 0.9 turnover margin and stole the ball 7.9 times per game, giving the Jayhawks an R+T Rating of 9.5.  We tend to look for teams with an R+T Rating in excess of 10, so KU is not a great favorite to go all the way. 

 

Ohio State’s total Criteria score is 21, good for second best.  However, the Buckeyes enjoy an R+T Rating of 13.2, which is a number we really like in a Final Four contender.  This number correlates to 13 extra scoring opportunities that their opposition does not receive.  OSU outscores their opponents by 17.3 points per game, shot 6.9% better from the field than they allows, outrebounded their opponents by 4.9 per game, had a turnover margin of +4.8, and stole the ball 7.2 times per game. 

 

San Diego State comes in third with 19 total criteria points.  BYU, Pittsburgh, and Texas come in next with 18 points; the Panthers have an R+T rating above 10.  The other three teams with PiRate Criteria scores showing themselves to be strong contenders for a Final Four berth are Syracuse, Purdue, and Duke

 

Florida, North Carolina, and UNLV are actually almost in a statistical tie with Duke, meaning those three are dark horse candidates for the Final Four.

 

Overall, this is the weakest field by far in the six tournaments where we have ranked the teams according to our criteria.  Looking back, this could be the weakest field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. 

 

North Carolina State, Kansas, and Villanova won national titles in the past with less than stellar numbers.  We do not have all the statistics from those years, so we cannot really calculate criteria numbers for those three champions.  Could this be a season in which one team gets hot for six games and comes from out of the pack to win it all?  It could happen, but we are sticking with this mechanical system and going with its results.  Kansas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Texas appear to be the best PiRate Criteria matches to past Final Four teams, and they are the quartet we officially pick to make it to Houston.  Syracuse becomes the wildcard team that could sneak into the mix.

 

Here is a look at the First Four Round One games and the 32 second round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

 

First Four Round

 

#16 Texas-San Antonio 19-13 (Elim) vs. #16 Alabama State 17-17 (Elim)

At first, we thought this was highly ironic, but upon further review, we consider it sort of a compliment.  These two teams both must be eliminated based on negative R+T ratings.  Of course, one of them must win this game so that they can advance to a 25-point or more loss in the next round.

 

Most of you filling out your brackets do not have to worry about these games in Dayton.  You get to turn in your choices after these games have been played.

 

UTSA has better criteria numbers after you factor out both teams’ R+T numbers. 

 

Prediction: Texas-San Antonio 64  Alabama State 55

 

 

#12 U A B 22-8 (2) vs. #12 Clemson 21-11 (1)

If you have been following the “experts” since the pairings were announced Sunday evening, then you know that these two teams do not belong in the tournament in their opinion.  It is not our mission statement to declare which teams should and should not have been included in the Big Dance, but we will tell you that Harvard and Saint Mary’s enjoyed Criteria scores several points better than these two teams, while Colorado and Virginia Tech had equal numbers to these two.

 

This game should be as close as the criteria scores show.  UAB has a one-point advantage in the criteria, but the Blazers just do not excel in any stage of the game.  Clemson’s strong point is forcing turnovers by way of steals, and that leads to a lot of cheap baskets.  Cheap baskets pay off big time in the NCAA Tournament, so we will take the Tigers in this one.

 

Prediction: Clemson 74  UAB 67

 

#11 Southern Cal 19-14 (-1) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth 23-11 (-1)

The winner of this game is going home two days later.  Neither team merits inclusion in the Big Dance this year. 

 

Southern Cal has no apparent weakness according to the PiRate Criteria.  In fact, they have a great resume—for an NIT team.

 

The Trojans outscore their opponents by four points per game, and they outshoot them by 3.3%.  They have a small rebounding margin of 1.2, and they have an even smaller turnover margin of 0.6.  They average six steals per game and have a R+T rating of 2.1.  On top of these modest numbers, their schedule was average.

 

VCU is much in the same boat as USC with two exceptions.  They have a negative turnover margin, but they also average 8.5 steals per game.

 

The only other difference in these teams is their records away from home.  USC won only 41% of their games, while VCU won 60%.

 

This one is quite tough to pick, but we will go with the Trojans due to their superior inside talent.  We expect USC to win the rebounding edge by at least five.

 

Prediction: Southern Cal  65  V C U  60

 

#16 UNC-Asheville 19-13 (-5) vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock 19-16 (-13)

Obviously, we have two teams that would not even merit NIT bids had they lost in the championship games of their conference tournaments.  UALR has one of the lowest Criteria Scores in the seven years we have been calculating this data.

 

UNC-Asheville actually has a couple of positive Criteria stats.  Their R+T is 5.5, which had it come against a more difficult schedule, would have made them worthy of becoming a possible team to watch in the Round of 64.

 

We will go with UNCA here, as schedule strength is about the same for both teams.

 

Prediction: UNC-Asheville 69  Arkansas-Little Rock 59

 

 

Second-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Ohio State 32-2 (21) vs. #16 UTSA (Elim)/Alabama State (Elim)

This game will be over quickly.  There will be no scare, not even for two TV timeouts.  The second highest Criteria score versus one of the teams with an R+T Rating of “Eliminate.”

 

The Buckeyes outscored their opponents by more than 17 points per game.  Their strength of schedule was 13 points better than UTSA and 16 points better than Alabama State. 

 

We will go under the theory that UTSA will be the opponent in this game.  Using our Criteria Rating, Ohio State figures to be 30-40 points better than UTSA.  Coach Thad Matta will definitely empty his bench early in this game, so the Buckeyes may “only win” by 25-30. 

 

Prediction: Ohio State 78  Texas-San Antonio 50

 

#8 George Mason 26-6 (8) vs. #9 Villanova 21-11 (5)

George Mason is the higher seed in this game, so if they win, it cannot really be considered an upset.

 

Villanova was on course to be a four-seed when the Wildcats were 16-5 and contending for the Big East Conference regular season title.  The Wildcats could not compete down low against the more physical teams in their league.

 

George Mason has a higher PiRate Criteria Score, but it is not an insurmountable advantage.  The key stat for this game is the R+T Rating.  For GMU, it is 6.8.  For VU, it is 4.9.  Considering that Villanova played a harder schedule, these numbers basically cancel each other out, thus making this a tossup game.

 

There are two variables to consider here.  George Mason performed much better on the road, and Villanova is banged up a bit.

 

Prediction: George Mason 66  Villanova 62

 

#5 West Virginia 20-11 (6) vs. #12 UAB (2)/Clemson (1)

We believe the Mountaineers will be facing Clemson in this game, but the prediction will hold up if they play UAB. 

 

West Virginia is not as good this season as last season, and the Mountaineers will not advance to the Final Four, or even the Elite Eight.  They are liable to be out by the end of the weekend.  However, they are strong enough to get into the Round of 32. 

 

The Mountaineers best attribute is that they put up decent numbers against one of the toughest schedules in the country.  Of the NCAA Tournament teams, only Georgetown played a tougher schedule.  They will have to limit turnovers, or else this game will be close and go down to the wire.  We believe Coach Bob Huggins will be able to keep the pace at a level he likes and not allow Clemson (or UAB) to force the Mountaineers into enough mistakes to turn the tide.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Clemson 62 (Or UAB 58)

 

#4 Kentucky 25-8 (14) vs. #13 Princeton 25-6 (-2)

Princeton has pulled off the big upset in the past, and they came within a missed jumper at the buzzer of becoming the only #16 seed to beat a #1 seed.  However, that was two decades ago.  The Tigers have not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years, and that big win over UCLA was 15 years ago. 

 

Kentucky is not the type of team that will allow Princeton’s style of play to affect their style of play.  The Wildcats should actually play better than their norm with fewer mistakes. 

 

We believe that Princeton will actually crumble under relentless man-to-man pressure and turn the ball over enough times in the opening minutes of the game to allow the Wildcats to open a quick double-digit lead.  This group of Cats tends to fiddle around a little once they get a quick double-digit lead and then play uninspired ball until the opponent makes a run.  Then, they go on the attack at the right time and put the game away.

 

Adolph Rupp had a team just like this in 1958.  They were called “The Fiddlin’ Five.”  They were also called National Champions.  We won’t go so far as to put UK into this category, but we will advance the Wildcats into the next round and then into the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 72  Princeton 59

 

#6 Xavier 24-7 (8) vs. #11 Marquette 20-14 (3)

If you are looking for a tough, hard-fought game with two Midwestern teams, then tune into this game Friday evening.

 

If the Musketeers were a little more competent at forcing turnovers, they could be a dark horse candidate to advance to the Elite Eight.  XU shoots the ball well and plays well on defense when it comes to preventing a lot of easy shots.  They do well on the boards, and against a team that cannot exploit their ball-handling and ball-hawking deficiencies, they will hold their own inside.  The only other possible problem for the Musketeers is a lack of depth, but in the NCAA Tournaments, TV timeouts are longer.  It is hard to wear a team down with such long breaks every four or so minutes.

 

Marquette does not have enough depth to take advantage of Xavier’s lack of depth, so this factor will become a non-factor.  The Golden Eagles got to this tournament due to their ability to put the ball into the basket.  Marquette needs to shoot better than 46% to win, while Xavier is adept at holding teams under 45% as a rule.

 

Prediction: Xavier 71  Marquette 65

 

#3 Syracuse 26-7 (17) vs. #14 Indiana State 20-13 (-4)

Syracuse has been getting very little national exposure since their 18-0 start ended with an 8-7 finish.  The Orangemen are a team to watch in this tournament.  If not for a pedestrian 71% winning percentage away from the Carrier Dome, we would have them as one of the top four teams in this tournament.

 

Coach Jim Boeheim’s team outscores their opposition by 10.3 points per game; they outshoot them by 7.6%, and they outrebound them by 3.6 boards per game.  Their turnover margin is +1.9, and they averaged almost nine steals per game.  Their R+T Rating is 7.6, and their Strength of Schedule is somewhere between above-average and very good.  This is the Criteria Score of a team that will advance to the Sweet 16 and compete for an Elite Eight and Final Four berth.

 

Indiana State needs the return of Larry Bird to win this game.  They are too perimeter-oriented.  The Sycamores do not have the beef down low to contend in the paint, and even though Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, teams rarely beat the Orangemen by firing up 25 long-range bombs.

 

This one smells like a blowout.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 81  Indiana State 62

 

#7 Washington 23-10 (13) vs. #10 Georgia 21-11 (2)

Washington is one of those teams that can play with anybody in this tournament—when they are playing up to their potential.  The Huskies could also exit in the first round if they play like they did the weekend they went to Oregon and Oregon State.

 

Georgia is much more consistent, but their best effort will not defeat the Huskies’ best effort.

 

Washington lacked the seasoned experience this season, and it showed when they ventured away from Seattle.  The Huskies lost to weaker opponents because they lacked the composure to win on foreign courts.  That changed when they arrived in Los Angeles for the Pac-10 Tournament.  Isaiah Thomas took over command of the team and led them to the tournament title.  This makes UW a scary and dangerous team capable of returning to the Sweet 16.

 

Georgia must really dominate the glass in this game, because we believe they will turn the ball over too many times against UW’s pressure man-to-man defense.  It is our opinion that the Bulldogs will play a little timidly at the start of this game and find themselves in a hole.

 

The Bulldogs had trouble against Alabama’s defense, and Washington is similar but with a much better offense.

 

Prediction: Washington 78  Georgia 70

 

#2 North Carolina 26-7 (15) vs. #15 Long Island 27-5 (-1)

 

Long Island is just the type of team that can forget that their opponent is a dynasty program that chews up and spits out little programs like this.

 

Teams from Brooklyn don’t intimidate easily, especially when they are led by a trio of Texans.  So, LIU will not be intimidated, but will they be talented enough to make a game of this contest?

 

That’s the rub.  They lack the defensive ability to slow down the Tar Heels, while Coach Roy Williams’ team will be able to hold the Blackbirds under their scoring average.  The big problem for LIU will be holding onto the ball, and we could see North Carolina forcing 20 turnovers in this game.  When the Tar Heels force more turnovers than they commit, they are almost unbeatable.  This game could be interesting for a short time, but it will eventually get out of hand.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 88  Long Island 70

 

West Regional

 

#1 Duke 30-4 (15) vs. #16 Hampton 24-8 (-8)

Duke has nothing to worry about here.  This will be like one of their November/December home games where they quickly put the cupcake away with a barrage of power and speed.  You know the type: a 37-point win over Princeton; a 34-point win over Miami of Ohio; a 52-point win over Colgate.

 

Hampton got to the Dance using an aggressive defense and three-point shooting barrage on offense.  Duke will not be affected by the defensive pressure, and they will cut off the open shots from the outside.  It will be a mercy killing, and it will be quick.  Look for the Blue Devils to be up by more than 15 points before the halfway point of the first half.  By the time Coach K empties the bench, the Blue Devils should be up by 25-30 points.

 

Prediction: Duke 81  Hampton 61

 

#8 Michigan 20-13 (Elim) vs. #9 Tennessee 19-14 (10)

Michigan is the highest-rated team that fails to meet our R+T Rating requirement, so the Wolverines are automatically tabbed as a first-round loser.

 

Coach Jim Beilein has been in a similar position before.  He guided a West Virginia team with not-so-flashy Criteria numbers to the Elite Eight, where they forced Louisville to come from 20 points down to rally for the victory.  That WVU team had one of the worst negative rebounding numbers of any team in Elite Eight history, but that team made few mistakes and had a nice turnover margin.

 

This Michigan team was only outrebounded by two a game, but they do not create enough extra possessions with their miniscule turnover margin of 1.4 and their average of just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Tennessee has been up and down, and the Volunteers are not going to make a repeat run to the Elite Eight this year.  However, Coach Bruce Pearl’s troops will control the boards in this game and maybe force more turnovers than they commit.  We figure that Tennessee will have 10 more opportunities to score in this game, and that is too many for the Wolverines to make up with their three-point shooting.

 

Prediction: Tennessee 74  Michigan 69

 

#5 Arizona 27-7 (3) vs. #12 Memphis 25-9 (-1)

Memphis was not going to earn an at-large bid this season had they failed to win the Conference USA Tournament.  They received an ideal first round opponent, and the Tigers actually have a fighting chance to pull off yet another classic #12-seed over #5-seed upset.

 

Arizona needs to pound the ball inside and rely on numerous offensive rebounds to win this game.  Other teams might be able to exploit Memphis’s poor ball-handling skills, but the Wildcats do not have the defensive acumen to take advantage here.

 

Memphis will try to make this an up-tempo game where they can neutralize Arizona’s height advantage inside.  It has a chance of working, but Arizona probably has too much power inside and just enough quickness to stop the Tigers’ transition game.

 

Prediction: Arizona 76  Memphis 69

 

#4 Texas 27-7 (18) vs. #13 Oakland 25-9 (3)

This has become a popular upset pick in the media.  Oakland has generated a lot of positive press, and many “experts” are calling for the upset in this game.  We are not one of them.  Not only do we believe the Longhorns will take care of Oakland with relative ease in this game, we believe Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the next two or three rounds. 

 

Let’s look at Texas’ Criteria Rating.  At 18, the ‘Horns rate as our sixth best team in the tournament.  They have a 13.5 point scoring margin, a 7.1% field goal margin, a 6.6 rebounding margin, and a 1.2 turnover margin.  Their only Achilles Heel is a low amount of steals resulting in a R+T Rating of 8.3.  Had that number been above 10, we would be selecting Coach Rick Barnes’ team for the Final Four.

 

Oakland won this year with strong rebounding and an excellent ability to force their opponents into bad shots.  Center Keith Benson is a future NBA player, but he is not enough to propel the Golden Grizzlies into the next round.

 

Prediction: Texas 77  Oakland 65

 

#6 Cincinnati 25-8 (9) vs. #11 Missouri 23-9 (10)

On paper, this looks like the best game of this round between a team with contrasting styles.

 

Cincinnati is one of the top defensive teams in the tournament.  The Bearcats are tough inside, and they have quality depth to continue playing hard in the paint. 

 

Missouri uses the “40 minutes of Hell” approach that Coach Mike Anderson learned under his mentor Nolan Richardson.  The Tigers press full court and run the fast break as often as they get the chance.  They are perimeter-oriented and can score a lot of points in a hurry.

 

When we try to decide tossup games, we look to the all-important defense and rebounding stats, since that is what wins close games in the Big Dance. 

 

Missouri is vulnerable in both of these crucial areas.  They have given up a lot of cheap baskets this year when teams solved their press.  The Tigers were outrebounded by 1.7 boards per game.

 

Cincinnati owns a +2.7 rebounding margin, and the Bearcats held onto the ball quite competently.  We believe Coach Mick Cronin’s crew will advance.

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 68  Missouri 65

 

#3 Connecticut 26-9 (9) vs. #14 Bucknell 25-8 (-4)

Ask Kansas Coach Bill Self if it is wise to underestimate Bucknell.  The Bison know how to hold onto the ball and work for intelligent shots.  Give them an opening, and they can bury you with a high field goal percentage.

 

Connecticut did the unthinkable by winning five games in five days.  Their defense does not get the merit it deserves, because Kemba Walker gets more attention for his offensive antics.  The Huskies actually held teams under 40% from the field.

 

Coach Jim Calhoun knows how to prepare a team for tournament action.  He will have UConn ready for this game, and the Huskies will not overlook the Bison.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 73  Bucknell 58

 

#7 Temple 25-7 (5) vs. #10 Penn State 19-14 (-1)

Temple’s score must be tempered by the fact that they are a wounded team coming into this tournament.  Two starters suffered injuries late in the season, and one is out for the remainder of the year, while the other may or may not be ready to play.  We must throw out Temple’s score of “5” in the PiRate Criteria, because 40% of the key players that produced that number will either not play or be greatly less effective.

 

Penn State is a lot like Southern Cal in this tournament.  The Nittany Lions have the look of a strong NIT team.  Aside from a so-so record against a strong schedule, they really have little to offer outside of one star player. 

 

We believe this Keystone State rivalry game will be close, and it could come down to the last shot.  Because the Owls are limping, we will go with the Big Ten representative.

 

Prediction: Penn State 59  Temple 56

 

#2 San Diego State 32-2 (19) vs. #15 Northern Colorado 21-10 (-6)

Most of you reading this probably cannot remember Texas Western University, but you may have scene the movie where the Miners were too quick for Kentucky and pulled off the big upset to win the 1966 National Championship.  Maybe some of you remember the Long Beach State 49ers ascension into the top 10 under Jerry Tarkanian and then Lute Olson.  Still more can remember when Tark the Shark moved to UNLV and turned the Runnin’ Rebels into a national power.

 

San Diego State is the next Western team to fit this bill.  The Aztecs are legitimate contenders to advance deep into this tournament.  They have few exploitable weaknesses, and they are the best team West of the Rockies.  Coach Steve Fisher knows how to get teams ready for tournament play, as he has three Final Fours on his resume and one National Championship.

 

SDSU’s PiRate Criteria numbers are flashy.  Their scoring margin is 13.3 points per game.  Their FG% margin is 7.1%.  They outrebound their opposition by almost seven per game, and they force 1.6 more turnovers than they commit.  Their one weak spot is a pedestrian 6.2 steals average.  If they run up against a more powerful team inside, they could have trouble getting enough extra scoring opportunities.

 

Northern Colorado will not be one of those teams that can cause trouble for the Aztecs.  The Bears are a good rebounding team, but their rebounding prowess came against a schedule that rates 10 points weaker than San Diego State’s schedule.

 

Prediction: San Diego State 73  Northern Colorado 51

 

Southwest Regional

#1 Kansas 32-2 (23) vs. #16 Boston U 21-13 (-11)

Kansas is a team on a mission.  The Jayhawks will not allow a repeat of what happened last year, and that extra incentive should be enough to send KU to Houston.

 

Kansas has the top PiRate Criteria Score this year.  They meet the basic requirements that most prior National Champions have met—scoring margin: 17.2; FG% margin: 11.7; Rebounding margin: 7.8; Turnover Margin: 0.9; Steals per game: 7.9; R+T Ratings: 9.5.

 

How do you beat this year’s KU team?  Kansas State and Texas pulled it off by matching up well inside and going head-to-head with them in the paint.

 

Boston U has the second lowest PiRate Criteria score of the 65 teams that have positive R+T Ratings.  The Terriers are way overmatched in this game, and they will have to be glad they just made it here.

 

Prediction: Kansas 90  Boston U 62

 

#8 U N L V 24-8 (15) vs. #9 Illinois 19-13 (1)

If our ratings are worth their salt, then this game should not be all that close.  UNLV may be just the third best team in the Mountain West, but the MWC was better overall this year than the Pac-10.  Third best in the MWC makes the Runnin’ Rebels one of the dozen or so teams capable of making a two weekend run.

 

Coach Lon Kruger has taken two different teams to the Elite Eight (Kansas State and Florida).  His teams play intelligently without being flashy.

 

UNLV went 24-3 against teams not named Brigham Young or San Diego State.  They are not particularly strong on the boards, and this will eventually be their downfall.  The Rebels shoot the ball brilliantly, and they alter enough opponent shots to force a lower field goal percentage.  They also take care of the ball and do not make a lot of floor mistakes.

 

Illinois is an inconsistent, underachieving team.  This can be dangerous for the prognosticator, because it is difficult if not impossible to predict which schizophrenic state will appear for each game.

 

The Illini are not particularly strong on the glass or at taking care of the ball, and that is a recipe for disaster when the opponent is as good as UNLV.  Even if Illinois comes out playing their best basketball, it may not be enough to beat UNLV playing their typical game.

 

Prediction: U N L V  72  Illinois 64

 

#5 Vanderbilt 23-10 (5) vs. #12 Richmond 26-7 (2)

Here is another game getting a lot of attention due to its upset potential.  Historically, the #12 seed produces the a lot of great upsets.

 

This game could go either way.  Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, and it just so happens that both teams’ have the assets capable of exploiting the other’s weaknesses.

 

Let’s start with Vanderbilt.  The Commodores are not particularly strong on the defensive perimeter.  Worthy opponents have been able to beat them off the drive and get a lot of open inside shots.  This weak perimeter defense has also led to frontcourt players having to help, thus leaving open holes near the basket.

 

Richmond’s offense is a modified version of the Princeton Offense.  The Spiders have the talent to get open shots inside and in the five to ten-foot range.

 

Richmond cannot rebound against more physical teams.  The Spiders make up for their rebounding liabilities by seldom throwing the ball away.

 

Vanderbilt has an excellent physical presence inside with three beefy players that can rebound the ball on offense and defense.

 

So, which team gets the edge in our PiRate Ratings?  We always look to defense in rebounding in tossup games.  Vanderbilt holds the rebounding edge, while Richmond holds the defensive edge.  It is basically a wash, so we have to look elsewhere.  While Richmond has been much better away from home, Vanderbilt’s schedule is seven points more difficult.  We’ll go with the power conference team, but not by much

 

Prediction: Vanderbilt 70  Richmond 67

 

#4 Louisville 25-9 (12) vs. #13 Morehead State 24-9 (3)

This should be an interesting game, but in the end the big brothers are going to defeat their little brothers in this battle of two Bluegrass State teams.

 

40 years ago this week, another little brother upset a big brother on their way to a surprise appearance in the Final Four (later vacated).  In 1971, Western Kentucky did not just upset Kentucky, the Hilltoppers ran the Wildcats off the floor.  Can there be a repeat two score later?  No!

 

Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are vulnerable on the boards, and Morehead State has the nation’s best rebounder in the nation in Kenneth Faried.  However, the Eagles do not have enough talent or depth to keep up with Louisville.  They may emerge with a slight rebounding edge in this game, but it will not be enough to make up for all the open shots the Cardinals will get.

 

Louisville is going to run into trouble when they meet up with a team that can rebound and play credible defense.  That would be Kansas in the Sweet 16.  Until then, they have a relatively easy route to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Louisville 78  Morehead State 62

 

#6 Georgetown 21-10 (8) vs. #11 Southern Cal (-1)/Va. Commonwealth (-1)

Last year, we discussed Georgetown’s vulnerabilities and the probability that they would fail to make it past the first weekend.  We expected the Hoyas to fall as a favorite in their second game, but they were a one and done team.

 

This year’s team is not much better than last year’s Hoya team, but they received a much more favorable draw.

 

Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas once again have a rather low R+T Rating thanks to a turnover margin of -1.9 and a low amount of steals per game.  They will exit from the tournament in the next round unless there is a monumental upset in their pairing.

 

Neither USC nor VCU has the talent to take advantage of Georgetown’s deficiencies.  The three teams combined have a R+T rating below Purdue’s.

 

One additional note: The Hoyas will be a tad bit better than their Criteria Score in the tournament.  Chris Wright suffered a hand fracture in the middle of the schedule, and he is expected to be near 100% for the tournament.  You have to add maybe one point to their Criteria Score, but that is not enough to put them over the top in their second game.

 

Prediction: Georgetown 69  Southern Cal 61 (or VCU 60)

 

#3 Purdue 25-7 (16) vs. #14 St. Peter’s 20-13 (-7)

If only… Purdue fans will never know just how good their team might have been with Robbie Hummel joining JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore playing together.  This would have been the best Boilermaker team since Rick Mount led Purdue to the Championship Game against UCLA in 1969.

 

The Boilermakers no longer have that one glaring weakness that Gene Keady’s teams had and thus prevented Purdue from getting past the second round.  This team does well on the boards like most of those past Purdue teams, but they are particularly strong when it comes to forcing turnovers and taking advantage by converting steals into points.  It is the way many teams go on runs that put opponents out of commission.

 

St. Peter’s just barely avoided being immediately eliminated with a negative R+T Rating.  They squeaked by at 0.1.  It might as well be a negative number, as the Peacocks were outrebounded by 0.4 per game and had a turnover margin of -0.9 against a schedule that was four points below average and seven points weaker than the schedule Purdue faced.

 

Prediction: Purdue 73  St. Peter’s 56

 

#7 Texas A&M 24-8 (8) vs. #10 Florida State 21-10 (2)

The Big 12’s third best team has enough talent to challenge for a Sweet 16 berth.  We’ll leave the next round for another time and talk about this game.

 

The Aggies have no glaring weakness, and they have a few strengths, namely rebounding and defense (which wins games in the NCAA Tournament).  They are much like Kansas Lite.  A&M was not a team of surprises during the regular season.  They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and failed to upset the teams better than they were.  We expect the trend to continue.  They are better than the Seminoles.

 

Florida State does not take good care of the ball, and that costs them in confrontations against good opponents.  The Seminoles do not play particularly well away from Tallahassee, and they should be making a quick exit from the Dance.

 

Prediction: Texas A&M 73  Florida State 65

 

#2 Notre Dame 26-6 (11) vs. #15 Akron 23-12 (-9)

This is the best Irish team since Digger Phelps led Notre Dame in the late 1980’s.  Throw in the fact that this team has a chip on its shoulders following a first round exit last year, and the Irish have to be considered the Sweet 16 favorite in their four-team pairing this weekend.

 

The Irish finished the regular season with a scoring margin of 10.4 points per game.  Down the stretch, they went 7-2 against teams in this tournament.  The Selection Committee placed Notre Dame in a bracket that should provide a very memorable Sweet 16 contest against one of their most bitter arch-rivals.

 

Akron has a big seven-foot center, but the Zips do not rebound the ball all that well.  Zeke Marshall, the aforementioned big man, concentrates his efforts on blocking shots, and he frequently is not in position to rebound the ball.  So, the blocked shot frequently turns into a made basket off an offensive rebound.  The Zips did not fare well on the road this year, and with a considerably weaker schedule than average, this does not bode well.

 

Prediction:  Notre Dame 81  Akron 57

 

Southeast Regional

#1 Pittsburgh 27-5 (18) vs. #16 UNC-Asheville (-5)/U A L R (-13)

One of us here at the PiRate Ratings might be dating himself, but he sees a lot of the 1962 Cincinnati Bearcats in this year’s Pitt team.  The Panthers have a dominating inside power game that will pulverize any finesse team that cannot hit 10 three-pointers.  Neither UNCA nor UALR has a remote chance to make this game a close contest.

 

Pitt outscored their opposition by 13.1 points per game.  This stat looks even better when you factor in that they compiled this gaudy stat playing in a league that produced 11 NCAA Tournament teams.  The Panthers outshot their opponents by 7.6%, and they totally dominated the glass with a 10.4 rebounding advantage.  If you are thinking the way to beat them is to play a packed in zone, think again.  Ashton Gibbs can bury you from outside with his near 50% three-point accuracy, and Brad Wannamaker can still get the ball inside to one of the bruisers waiting to punish you with a thunder dunk.

 

Only a negative turnover margin prevents the Panthers from being there with Kansas as a co-favorite for winning all the marbles.

 

Pitt’s cupcake opponent will have to be happy with winning their First Four game, because they will be humiliated in this game.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78  UNC-Asheville 54 (or UALR 48)

 

#8 Butler 23-9 (7) vs. #9 Old Dominion 27-6 (10)

This is the second best matchup in this round, and the winner will put a scare into Pittsburgh in the next round and even have a decent shot at the upset.

 

Butler is now the hunted rather than the hunter.  The Bulldogs will not sneak up on anybody this year.  More importantly, they are not as talented as they were last year.  The Bulldogs fared much better on the road last year than this season.  However, down the stretch, Butler started to look like a team proficient enough to get past the first weekend once again.

 

Old Dominion has the talent to advance past the first weekend as well.  The Monarchs are a miniature version of Pittsburgh, the team they would face in the next round should they win this game.

 

ODU is the nation’s number one rebounding team with a +12.2 margin.  The Monarchs’ schedule was not outstanding, but it was on par with several teams from the so-called power conferences, and they finished 6-4 against teams in this tournament.  This is a better ODU team than the one that upset Notre Dame in the first round last year, and this game should be one you do not want to miss.

 

 

Prediction: Old Dominion 72  Butler 70 in overtime

 

#5 Kansas State 22-10 (9) vs. #12 Utah State 30-3 (14)

This is the one game where a number 12 seed winning would not really be all that much of an upset.  Utah State should have been a top eight seed in this tournament.  If we were conspiracy buffs, we would say that the Selection Committee searched for a team that the Aggies do not match up with all that well and placed them in this spot to verify their actions.

 

Kansas State does not take care of the ball well enough to advance very deep into this tournament, but their first game opponent cannot take advantage of that weakness.

 

Utah State has dominated their opponents by forcing them to play a patient half-court game with very little scoring in transition.  They prefer to work the ball patiently for a good shot and then force opponents to take a low-percentage shot.  Thus, the Aggies outrebound their opponents, but they do so by forcing more bad shots than by out-leaping their opponents.

 

Kansas State has the talent to force Utah State to play at a quicker tempo and force them to defend one-on-one.  Jacob Pullen is a poor man’s (and smaller) Derrick Rose.  He can break down most opponents off the dribble, and he should be able to force USU to resort to some type of combination defense to keep him from going wild.

 

What scares us most about Utah State is that they had two opportunities to show they are deserving of their lofty ranking.  They lost to BYU and to Georgetown, and they never really threatened to pull of the upset in either game.

 

This is one game where we are going to go against our own chalk.  Kansas State’s schedule was seven points tougher, and the Wildcats can exploit the Aggies’ weaknesses.

 

Prediction: Kansas State 70  Utah State 63

 

#4 Wisconsin 23-8 (7) vs. #13 Belmont 30-4 (9)

This game has become the most-picked upset special around the nation.  Belmont is being compared with Butler of last year.  The Bruins are lofty of all this attention-gathering admiration, but Wisconsin is not the Washington Generals.

 

Belmont has the highest scoring margin in the nation at 18.4 points per game.  The Bruins outshot their opposition by 5.7% per game, and they took a lot of three-point attempts.  They outrebounded their opponents by 3.9, and they had an eye-popping 5.3 turnover margin.  They share the top steals per game average in this tournament with Missouri at 9.7, and their R+T Rating is the best in the tournament at 16.2 (three better than number two Ohio State).

 

Of course, these statistics were compiled against inferior competition.  Belmont’s schedule strength is nine points below the national average and a dozen below their first round opponent.  Against the opponents that made it to this tournament, they were 1-3.  They beat Alabama State by 13.  The three losses were on the road to in-state rivals Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt, but they led in the second half of those games.

 

The last time Belmont was in the Big Dance, the Bruins came within a missed last shot of sending Duke home.   

 

Wisconsin was not expected to be this good in 2011.  This was supposed to be a minor rebuilding season for the Badgers.  The Badgers usually run Coach Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense with great efficiency, rarely turning the ball over.  They outscored their opponents by 9.9 points per game, and they outshot they outrebounded them by 3.8 boards per game. 

 

The Badgers have been a hot and cold team this year.  When they have been hot, they have been nearly unbeatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  When they have been cold, they have been easily beatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  They finished the season as cold as ice, so the Badgers must be considered a slight underdog in this game.

 

Prediction: Belmont 74  Wisconsin 70

 

#6 St. John’s 21-11 (9) vs. #11 Gonzaga 24-9 (13)

Here is a game where we believe the seedings should be switched.  Gonzaga has been here enough times to be considered a regular in the NCAA Tournament, like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, and Connecticut.  This makes a baker’s dozen consecutive appearances in the Big Dance for the Bulldogs. 

 

In past years, Gonzaga had a big scorer that could take over games.  Adam Morrison comes to mind.  This year, the Zags are more difficult to prepare for, because they are more team-oriented.  There is not a big star on the roster, but all five starters are capable of taking the team on his shoulders with a hot night.

 

In their nine-game winning streak to close the season, Gonzaga eliminated Saint Mary’s from the Dance party with two victories.  The Bulldogs scoring margin in those nine games was 76-58.  This is a good team playing its best ball of the year, and we expect Coach Mark Few to win yet another NCAA Tournament game.

 

St. John’s comes into the tournament minus one of its stars.  Starting forward D. J. Kennedy went down for the season with a knee injury in the Big East Tournament, and the Red Storm is now suspect in the paint.  Their Criteria Score of nine should be discounted by two to three points.  It is enough to take this contest from tossup status to near-comfortable status for Gonzaga.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 74  St. John’s 66

 

#3 Brigham Young 30-4 (18) vs. #14 Wofford 21-12 (-1)

So, you didn’t get a chance to see Pete Maravich play at LSU in 1968, 1969, or 1970, eh?  We must admit that nobody will ever be the collegiate equal for Maravich, but Jimmer Fredette may be the closest thing to him.

 

Throw out the floppy socks and floppy Beatles haircut and throw out some of the most unbelievable passes in the history of the game (so unbelievable that Maravich’s teammates frequently could not see them coming), and Fredette is not that far behind Maravich.

 

The sports nation will be turning its eyes to this game just to see if Fredette can make a run at a single game scoring mark.  If we remember correctly, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr set the mark back in 1970 with 61 points against Ohio U in a regional qualifier game.

 

BYU may have been a strong Final Four contender had Brandon Davies not loved his girlfriend so much.  The Cougars averaged 8.7 fewer points per game once Davies was suspended. 

 

Wofford will not be able to take much advantage of Davies’ absence.  The Terriers fared well in all PiRate Criteria categories, but they did not meet even the minimum “numbers to look for” in any category, and their schedule strength was five points below the norm. 

 

Prediction: Brigham Young 75  Wofford 63

 

#7 U C L A 22-10 (-3) vs. #10 Michigan State 19-14 (1)

If only this were a few years ago.  Neither of these historically dominating teams is going to make waves in this year’s tournament, and the winner will be around for just one more game.

 

UCLA would be a national title contender if Kevin Love had stuck around for four years.  Imagine Love as a senior on this team.  Can you say Bill Walton-like numbers?  Alas, the Bruins must get by with a couple of well above-average forwards instead of the best three-man tandem in the nation.

 

The Bruins have the worst turnover margin of any team in this tournament.  At -3.4, UCLA would need to dominate on the boards, and while they usually win that battle, it is anything but dominating.

 

Michigan State’s one asset year in and year out under Coach Tom Izzo has been their rebounding acumen.  For most teams, a +4.3 edge on the boards would be considered outstanding, but in East Lansing, this is considered a down year. 

 

Neither team has done all that well away from their home court this season, and there really is only one stat where one team stands out ahead of the other.  MSU’s schedule was four points tougher than UCLA’s schedule.  That’s our spread for this game.  

 

Prediction: Michigan State 64  UCLA 60

 

#2 Florida 26-7 (15) vs. #15 UC-Santa Barbara 18-13 (-10)

The Gators looked like a potential Final Four team in the last month, at least when they were not playing Kentucky.  UCSB is not Kentucky. 

 

Florida tends to commit too many floor mistakes to win four games in this year’s tournament.  They have enough talent to get through the first weekend, but we do not see the Gators extending their stay after that.

 

UCSB upset Long Beach State to get here, and the Gauchos are one of the weakest teams in the tournament according to our Criteria Score.  With negative rebounding and turnover margins, they just barely escape automatic elimination with a R+T rating of 0.3. 

 

Prediction: Florida 76  U C S B  54

 

 

 

Our Bracket

 

You have seen the 32 teams that we believe will win the second round games.  Here is how we fill out the rest of our bracket.

 

Third Round Winners

Ohio State over George Mason

Kentucky over West Virginia

Syracuse over Xavier

North Carolina over Washington

Duke over Tennessee

Texas over Arizona

Connecticut over Cincinnati

San Diego State over Penn State

Kansas over UNLV

Louisville over Vanderbilt

Purdue over Georgetown

Notre Dame over Texas A&M

Pittsburgh over Old Dominion

Kansas State over Belmont

Gonzaga over Brigham Young

Florida over Michigan State

 

Sweet 16 Winners

Ohio State over Kentucky

Syracuse over North Carolina

Texas over Duke

San Diego State over Connecticut

Kansas over Louisville

Purdue over Notre Dame

Pittsburgh over Kansas State

Florida over Gonzaga

 

Elite 8 Winners

Ohio State over Syracuse

Texas over San Diego State

Kansas over Purdue

Pittsburgh over Florida

 

Semifinal Winners

Ohio State over Texas

Kansas over Pittsburgh

 

National Championship

Kansas over Ohio State

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