The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 28, 2013

2013 AFC East Preview

2013 A F C East Preview

The AFC East Division looks like a case of New England and the Three Dwarfs.  Miami has some promise, but they have lost a major component of their offense with the injury to Dustin Keller.  The Jets appear to be doing everything they can to rid themselves of Rex Ryan and guarantee themselves Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.  Buffalo sure wishes they had not dumped Ryan Fitzpatrick, as they appear ready to start a rookie free agent at QB in their first game.

 

Even with the loss of Rob Gronkowski to injury for at least part of the season, and with the riddance of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez, it should still be a cruise to first place for New England.  A 10-6 record would be a down year, but the Pats would probably win the East by at least three games if they go 10-6.

 

Look for the NFC South and AFC North to take advantage of the weakened division, as the better teams in both divisions should go 3-1 or even 4-0.  This will help teams like Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New Orleans, and even Carolina in the playoff picture.

 

We have added a new wrinkle to our coverage this year.  In the past, friends of ours have asked us if we knew how to recreate the exact colors of their favorite team so that they could print those colors on their computer.  We have found this information from multiple sites in the last couple of months, and we are going to show you the RGB numbers so you can replicate those colors.  These can be used in graphics programs, but it can easily be used in MS-Word and MS-Excel.

 

Here are the official colors for the AFC East

West

Color

Red

Green

Blue

Buffalo Bills

Royal Blue

0

51

141

 

Scarlet

198

12

48

Miami Dolphins

Aqua

0

98

101

 

Coral

249

70

28

New England Patriots

Nautical Blue

0

34

68

 

Red

198

12

48

New York Jets

Hunter Green

44

94

79

 

White

255

255

255

 

 

2012 Final Standings & PiRate Ratings

AFC East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

W-L-T

Pts

Opp

New England Patriots

112.7

111.2

110.2

12-4-0

557

331

Miami Dolphins

98.8

98.9

98.9

7-9-0

288

317

New York Jets

95.0

94.0

93.3

6-10-0

281

375

Buffalo Bills

94.6

94.2

93.9

6-10-0

344

435

 

 

2013 Preseason PiRate Ratings

East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

New England Patriots

109.2

103.6

109.9

Miami Dolphins

98.5

99.1

99.3

New York Jets

96.3

93.1

96.1

Buffalo Bills

94.7

92.9

95.0

 

PiRate Previews

Team

Buffalo Bills

               
Head Coach

Doug Marrone

O-Coord.

Nathaniel Hackett

D-Coord.

Mike Pettine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

E. J. Manuel  (Jeff Tuel ?)

Running Back

C. J. Spiller

Fullback

Frank Summers

Wide Receiver

Stevie Johnson

Wide Receiver

T. J. Graham

Tight End

Scott Chandler

Left Tackle

Cordy Glenn

Left Guard

Colin Brown

Center

Eric Wood

Right Guard

Kraig Urbik

Right Tackle

Erik Pears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Alex Carrington

Nose Tackle

Marcell Dareus

Right End

Kyle Williams

Left OLB

Mario Williams

Left ILB

Nigel Bradham

Right ILB

Kiko Alonso

Right OLB

Manny Lawson

Left CB

Leodis McKelvin

Right CB

Stephon Gilmore

Strong Safety

Da’Norris Searcy

Free Safety

Jairus Byrd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Dustin Hopkins

Punter

Shawn Powell

K-Return

Leodis McKelvin

P-Return

Leodis McKelvin

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

5-11

Division

3rd

 

Team

Miami Dolphins

               
Head Coach

Joe Philbin

O-Coord.

Mike Sherman

D-Coord.

Kevin Coyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Ryan Tannehill

Running Back

Lamar Miller

Fullback

Evan Rodriguez

Wide Receiver

Brian Hartline

Wide Receiver

Mike Wallace

Tight End

Charles Clay

Left Tackle

Jonathan Martin

Left Guard

Richie Incognito

Center

Mike Pouncey

Right Guard

John Jerry

Right Tackle

Tyson Clabo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Olivier Vernon

Left Tackle

Randy Starks

Right Tackle

Paul Soliai

Right End

Cameron Wake

Sam LB

Koa Misi

Mike LB

Dannell Ellerbe

Will LB

Phillip Wheeler

Left CB

Brent Grimes

Right CB

Dimitri Patterson

Strong Safety

Reshad Jones

Free Safety

Chris Clemons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Caleb Sturgis

Punter

Brandon Fields

K-Return

Marcus Thigpen

P-Return

Marcus Thigpen

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

6-10

Division

2nd

 

Team

New England Patriots

               
Head Coach

Bill Belichick

O-Coord.

Josh McDaniels

D-Coord.

Matt Patricia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Tom Brady

Running Back

Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen

Fullback

James Develin

Wide Receiver

Danny Amendola

Wide Receiver

Kenbrell Thompkins

Tight End

Zach Sudfeld (Rob Gronkowski ?)

Left Tackle

Nate Solder

Left Guard

Logan Mankins

Center

Ryan Wendell

Right Guard

Dan Connolly

Right Tackle

Sebastian Vollmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Rob Ninkovich

Left Tackle

Vince Wilfork

Right Tackle

Tommy Kelly

Right End

Chandler Jones

Sam LB

Dont’a Hightower

Mike LB

Brandon Spikes

Will LB

Jerod Mayo

Left CB

Aqib Talib

Right CB

Alfonzo Dennard

Strong Safety

Steve Gregory

Free Safety

Devin McCourty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski

Punter

Zoltan Mesko

K-Return

Leon Washington

P-Return

Julian Edelman

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

12-4

Division

1st

 

Team

New York Jets

               
Head Coach

Rex Ryan

O-Coord.

Marty Mornhinweg

D-Coord.

Dennis Thurman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Geno Smith

Running Back

Bilal Powell/Chris Ivory

Fullback

Tommy Bohanon

Wide Receiver

Stephen Hill

Wide Receiver

Jeremy Kerley

Tight End

Jeff Cumberland

Left Tackle

D’Brickashaw Ferguson

Left Guard

Vladimir Ducasse

Center

Nick Mangold

Right Guard

Willie Colon

Right Tackle

Austin Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Muhammad Wilkerson

Nose Tackle

Kenrick Ellis

Right Tackle

Sheldon Richardson

Left OLB

Garrett McIntyre

Left ILB

Demario Davis

Right ILB

David Harris

Right OLB

Calvin Pace

Left CB

Dee Milliner

Right CB

Antonion Cromartie

Strong Safety

Dawan Landry

Free Safety

Antonio Allen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Nick Folk

Punter

Robert Malone

K-Return

Clyde Gates

P-Return

Jeremy Kerley

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

4-12

Division

4th

 

August 27, 2012

2012 Big 12 Conference Preview

A year ago at this time, the Big 12 Conference appeared to be on life support.  Colorado and Nebraska had already left.  Missouri and Texas A&M were in their last season.  The Pac-12 was still trying to lure four Big 12 teams away.  Even the ACC was rumored to be willing to offer Texas the moon and the stars.

 

The Big 12 raided the Big East and took West Virginia and a TCU program that had already committed to the Big East.  Not only did it save this conference and keep it at 10 schools, it received two conference champions to boot. 

 

Not only is the Big 12 stronger than ever, from number one to number eight, it is the equal of the strongest conference in the nation.

 

Looking at the aggregate schedules this year, the Big 12 has a chance to do something special.  It is possible that the league could go 30-0 in non-conference games.  There are just two non-conference games where the Big 12 team will be the underdog.  Because of this, eight teams should become bowl eligible, and if Iowa State can upset Iowa, then nine teams could gain bowl eligibility.

 

Here is the pre-season media poll.

 

 

Big 12

Votes

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Oklahoma

32

396

2

West Virginia

7

339

3

Texas

0

291

4

Oklahoma State

0

267

5

T C U

1

260

6

Kansas State

1

257

7

Baylor

0

162

8

Iowa State

0

121

9

Texas Tech

0

116

10

Kansas

0

46

 

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings disagree somewhat with the media poll, but not at the top.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Big 12

PiRate

1

Oklahoma

130.6

2

Oklahoma State

125.2

3

Texas

121.4

4

Kansas State

119.9

5

West Virginia

113.0

6

Texas Tech

111.8

7

Baylor

111.6

8

T C U

111.2

9

Iowa State

105.9

10

Kansas

101.7

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

Big 12

Vintage

1

Oklahoma

117

2

Texas

113

3

Kansas State

110

4

Oklahoma State

109

5

West Virginia

107

6

T C U

107

7

Texas Tech

104

8

Baylor

100

9

Iowa State

96

10

Kansas

92

 

 

 

Team

Baylor Bears

               
Head Coach

Art Briles

               
Colors

Green and Gold

               
City

Waco, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-3

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

111.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

63

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-6

 

Can a team that has not been a semi-power in college football almost two decades produce another ranked team following the loss of the Heisman Trophy winner, a 1st round NFL pick wide receiver, and a 6th round NFL pick running back?  Consider also, that these three players led the Big 12 in passing, receiving, and rushing.  Of course, the Bears are coming back to Earth this season, but it won’t be a bear hunt like it was between 1995 and 2007.  Yes, Baylor will struggle in league play this year.  However, as we stated in the preface above, most of the Big 12 teams will enter conference play with 3-0 records and need go only 3-6 in the league to become bowl eligible.  Baylor is one of five league teams that figures to be in the 3-6/4-5 range this year.

 

Have you ever heard of a baseball player named George Selkirk?  I doubt you ever heard of Bob Fothergill.  Most of you remember Lou Brock and Carl Yastrzemski.  Besides being baseball players, these four gentlemen share something in common.  Selkirk replaced Babe Ruth in right field.  Fothergill replaced Ty Cobb in the batting order.  Brock replaced Stan Musial, and Yaz replaced Ted Williams.  Selkirk hit over .300 with 20-HR power.  Fothergill hit over .360 for the immediate seasons after he replaced Cobb.  Brock led the Cardinals to an amazing pennant and World Series Championship.  Yaz became a big star with the Red Sox, eventually becoming baseball’s last Triple Crown winner.

 

Will Nick Florence become another Selkirk and company?  He only has one year to replace Robert Griffin III.  In three years as the understudy, he passed for 1,992 yards with eight touchdowns and nine picks.  He could top the 3,000-yard mark this season, but remember RG3 passed for almost 4,300 yards last year.  Obviously Baylor’s offense will retreat by at least two touchdowns if not more this season.

 

Replacing Kendall Wright and his 108 receptions, 1,663 yards, and 14 touchdowns will also be impossible.  BU has a potential all-American on its roster here, but Terrance Williams will see defenses concentrate their efforts on stopping him.  Last year, Williams was the “other guy,” and defenses played him looser than they will this year.  Williams caught 59 passes and averaged more than 16 yards per catch with 11 touchdowns.  His reception total will swell this year, but his average per catch will likely go down some.

 

Tevin Reese was another receiver that benefitted from being the secondary option and the defenses’ third priority last year.  He should top the 51 receptions he made in 2011, but like Williams, his yards per catch average will not be as high as last year’s 17.2.

 

Tight ends Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk will see more balls thrown their way this year.  As reserves last year, they combined for 24 receptions and 246 yards. 

 

Jarred Salubi takes over at running back for Terrance Ganaway, and former Oregon back Lache Seastrunk will get a lot of action here is as well.  This duo could approach the yardage gained by Ganaway last year (1,547), but they will not team for 21 rushing touchdowns.

 

The offensive line returns three starters, but guard Cameron Kaufhold has lost his spot to Jake Jackson.  Center Ivory Wade and guard Cyril Richardson give the Bears a solid inside blocking wall.

 

Most schools would be happy with 28-32 points and 375-400 total yards, which is where we think this offense will be in 2012.  Of course, BU scored more than 45 points per game and gained almost 600 yards per game last year.  The Babe has left the building.

 

If Baylor is to get to six wins in 2012, the defense will need to show marked improvement over last year.  No BCS school surrendered 37+ points and close to 500 yards per game and won 10 games until this team did it last year.

 

Eight starters return to this side of the ball.  The secondary is the best unit of the three, as all four starters return from 2011.  But, these four were chiefly responsible for BU giving up 291 passing yards per game.  Nickel back Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks Joe Williams and K. J. Morton gave up some big plays, but the trio teamed up for 27 defended passes.  Morton picked off four balls.

 

The rest of the defense is rather mediocre.  Ends Terrance Lloyd and Gary Mason teamed up for just five sacks, and neither proved to be a force against the run.  Middle linebacker Rodney Chadwick was not the answer at the key spot of the 4-2-5 defense, and sophomore Bryce Hager replaced him.

 

The opening game this Sunday afternoon against SMU may be similar to Baylor’s opening game against TCU last year.  BU won that one 50-48.  The Bears get 13 days to prepare for might Sam Houston State.  We are not being facetious here; the Bearkats could make this game close.  Baylor faces UL-Monroe in Monroe on the following Friday, and if the Bears are 3-0 on September 22, they will be in the hunt for a bowl game.  

 

 

Team

Iowa State Cyclones

               
Head Coach

Paul Rhoads

               
Colors

Cardinal and Gold

               
City

Ames, IA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

105.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

80

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

5-7

 

Paul Rhodes has taken a page from former ISU coach Dan McCarney.  He has surprise league experts every year and produced better results than expected.  The Cyclones have now played in bowls in two of his three seasons in Ames.  His other year, they finished 5-7 and lost an overtime thriller to Nebraska that would have given them a sixth win.

 

Iowa State should continue to surf on the edge of bowl eligibility this year, as the Cyclones return enough talent to continue to hang around.

 

On the offensive side of the ball, ISU returns both of their co-starting quarterbacks this year, and both will play regularly this season.  Steele Jantz would have been the clear-cut number one had he not been injured early in the year.  Jared Barnett kept the offense going when Jantz was unable to play.  The duo teamed for better than 2,700 passing yards, but their TD/Int ratio was 16/17. 

 

The receiving corps has experience, but none of the players will play in the NFL one day.  Tight end Kurt Hammerschmidt should more than double his receptions this year after catching just 13 passes a year ago.  Aaron Horne has the potential to break out with a big season, after he caught 38 passes in a reserve role last year.

 

James White and Jeff Woody both return to the backfield after teaming for more than 1,100 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.  White is the speed back, and Woody is the power back.

 

The offensive line is not going to generate many headlines, but it actually is the best unit on the offense.  Three starters return, most notably center Tom Farniok.

 

ISU averaged 23 points and 390 yards per game last year.  We believe those numbers are approachable and possibly beatable this season.

 

The defense is more of a question as the season starts.  For starters, the defensive line has to be rebuilt, as three starters must be replaced.  Nose tackle Jake McDonough was pushed around a bit last year, but he made 35 tackles with 4 ½ going for losses.  Willie Scott and Roosevelt Maggitt are the new starting ends, while Cleyon Laing gets the vacant tackle spot.  Former Wyoming starter Ben Durbin will see action here as the fifth lineman.  He can rotate at three of the four line spots.

 

ISU’s top two tacklers return at linebacker.  A. J. Klein (116 tackles) and Jake Knott (115 tackles) need to improve on their 11 ½ TFL.

 

Iowa State had trouble stopping the pass, but then again, the Cyclones had to face seven premier quarterbacks last year.  Jacques Washington picked up 90 tackles at the free safety spot.  He only caught one enemy pass, but he broke up eight others.  Cornerback Jeremy Reeves tied with Knott for second on the team with two interceptions.

 

Iowa State is one of two teams that will be an underdog in at least one non-conference game.  They are a slight underdog at home against Tulsa, and they will more than likely be an underdog against Iowa.  Their third non-league game comes against Western Illinois.  Coach Paul Rhoads has outperformed expectations every year since he came from Auburn to Ames to replace Gene Chizik, who left Ames for Auburn.  This looks like a year where his Cyclones will fail to qualify for a bowl.  If there are any surprises with this team, we expect it to be on the wrong side of the norm.

 

 

Team

Kansas Jayhawks

               
Head Coach

Charlie Weis

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Red

               
City

Lawrence, KS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-9

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

101.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

56

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

95

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-8

Overall

3-9

 

Charlie Weis was well-liked by his players at Notre Dame.  That’s why some of them left South Bend and ended up on the roster in Lawrence.  In fact two starters on offense began their careers playing for Weis in South Bend.

 

Dayne Crist is one of those players.  He will start under center this year.  At Notre Dame, he was the starter in 2010, but he was benched last year.  Expect Crist to top 2,500 passing yards this year, but he will have to run for his life more than he ever did with the Irish.  If he cannot make it through a full season, redshirt freshman Mike Cummings will take over.  KU fans need to pray for Crist’s safety.

 

The cupboard isn’t necessarily bare at receiver.  Expect last year’s top two receivers, D. J. Beshears and Kale Pick, teamed for 74 receptions and 781 yards.  We expect those two to team for more than 100 catches this year.  Another transfer from ND is tight end Mike Ragone.  Ragone is a sixth-year player after missing two seasons with injuries.  When he was healthy, he was considered one of the top recruits at his position, and he started for the Irish.

 

Kansas will have to get by without its best running back for the first three games following a DUI arrest.  James Sims might have challenged for 1,000 rushing yards this year, but he won’t come close to that number now.  Tony Pierson may actually have better skills, and he may not relinquish his newfound status.

 

KU’s offensive line is a liability.  Weis is a good teacher, and he will mold this unit into a competent quintet, but there will be games where enemy defensive lines get the better of them.  Guard Duane Zlatnik and tackle Tanner Hawkinson will protect Crist’s blind side.

 

The defense was on the defensive too much last year.  The Jayhawks gave up more points against Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Texas A&M (64.0 ppg) than their basketball team gave up in many games.  All of KU’s defensive units have a long way to go to become competitive in the Big 12.

 

Up front, end Toben Opurum is one player that belongs in this league.  He led the ‘Hawks with four sacks and 10 ½ stops for loss.  Those four sacks represented 40% of the team total.  His counterpart, Keba Agostinho, recorded just one sack and two TFL.

 

In the second line of defense, middle linebacker Darius Willis made 81 tackles with eight for loss, but he will be unseated by another former Notre Dame player.  Anthony McDonald is a graduate student, and he will play one year in Lawrence (like Crist and Ragone).

 

The back line returns three starters, but this is clearly the weakest secondary in the Big 12.  KU allowed QBs to complete 70% of their passes.  These were not cheap passes thrown two yards downfield either.  Cornerbacks Tyler Patmon and Greg Brown teamed up for 10 defended passes.  Safety Bradley McDougald made 89 tackles, picked off two passes, and broke up five others.

 

Games against South Dakota State and Rice give KU a shot at a 2-0 start.  After that any win would be an upset.  We figure Weis is good for one upset, so we’ll go with 3-9 as the ceiling this year.

 

 

Team

Kansas State Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Bill Snyder

               
Colors

Royal Purple and White

               
City

Manhattan, KS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-2

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

119.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

24

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-5

 

Coach Bill Snyder has used the same formula for his previous 20 seasons in “The Little Apple.”  He schedules winnable non-conference games to increase his team’s confidence.  He relies on a ball-controlling power running game mixed with longer than average passing routes to spread the field vertically.  Defensively, his teams play a bend, but don’t break style that forces opponents to make sustained drives.

 

Last year, Snyder guided the Wildcats to a surprising 10-win season, when they looked to be in rebuilding mode.  This year, he has considerably more talent returning than he had at the beginning of last season.  However, this league is much tougher in 2012, and his conference schedule is really difficult with road games against Oklahoma, West Virginia, and TCU.

 

If any team could go back to the Single Wing offense and succeed with it, KSU would be the one.  Quarterback Collin Klein is really more like a single wing tailback.  He ran the ball about 25 times per game last year, gaining 1,141 yards and scoring 27 touchdowns!  He is a modern day Bronko Nagurski.  As a passer, Klein completed 57% of his tosses for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns.

 

Klein’s top three receivers return this year (top four when you add the running back).  Tramaine Thompson is the breakaway threat.  He caught just 21 passes, but he averaged better than 16 yards per catch.  If he can remain healthy and play a full season, he could improve to 40-50 receptions.  Chris Harper has similar traits, but he is more durable.  Harper led KSU with 40 receptions last year.

 

John Hubert narrowly missed joining Klein in the 4-digit club last year, as he rushed for 970 yards.  He also caught 24 passes.  Angelo Pease gained 144 yards in a limited role, but he can pick up a tough couple of yards when the situation warrants it.

 

The offensive line is the only liability here, and if it cannot get the job done, K-State will suffer on this side of the ball.  Center B. J. Finney and guard Nick Puetz are the only starters returning.  Two redshirt freshmen will start against Missouri State this weekend.

 

The defense is about as talented this year as it has been for the last three seasons since Snyder returned to the sidelines.  It is around the middle of the pack with all three units.  Up front, Adam Davis proved to be a nice addition last year at the end position.  He dumped enemy passers four times and threw runner for losses four more.  His counterpart, Meshak Williams, was more of a third down end, and he led the Wildcats with seven sacks and 10 TFL.

 

Mike linebacker Arthur Brown is the star of the defense.  He led the Wildcats with 101 tackles, 9 ½ going for negative yardage.  Tre Walker returns to the Will linebacker spot.  He was a better pass defender than run stopper, which may be more important in this league any way.

 

One of the top pass defenders in the league is cornerback Nigel Malone.  Malone led the Big 12 with seven interceptions last year and earned 1st Team All-Big 12 honors.  Safeties Ty Zimmerman and Thomas Ferguson and cornerback Allen Chapman round out this group.

 

Kansas State has one of the better field goal kickers around.  Anthony Cantele connected on 17 of 23 field goal attempts, and was 4 of 7 from beyond 40 yards with a high of 54.

 

After a 3-0 start against rather easy competition, the Wildcats will be able to test their confidence at Oklahoma on September 22.  We think they will leave Norman with much less confidence.  Still, this team should rebound from that loss and win enough games to return to a bowl.

 

 

Team

Oklahoma Sooners

               
Head Coach

Bob Stoops

               
Colors

Cream and Crimson

               
City

Norman, OK

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-3

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

130.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

117

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

4

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-1

 

On July 15, when we first began to run the numbers through our computer programs, Oklahoma emerged as the top-ranked team before personnel losses began to chip away at their rating.  When you lose two starting offensive linemen who both were expected to be all-conference performers, it costs you on the scoreboard.  Of course, OU picked up a couple points when they received wideout Justin Brown in the Penn State fire sale.

 

Such is life trying to be a 21st Century ratings compiler for college football.  The Sooners will still contend for the national title, but if their two studs had been able to play, this team would have been number one in the PiRate Ratings and number two in the PiRate Vintage Ratings.

 

Landry Jones should still have a stellar senior season.  Already the school’s number one passer, Jones should add another 4,500 yards onto that record this season.  He needs to cut down on his interceptions, as he threw 15 to the wrong team last year.

 

Jones loses his go-to guy this year (he actually lost him in the final weeks last year and OU dropped two games).  Ryan Broyles is now Matt Stafford’s new best friend in Detroit.  Jones will have to make do without three of his expected key receivers this year.  Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks, and Kameel Jackson were all suspended indefinitely for violations.  The trio combined for 75 receptions last year.  Brown will immediately need to become a star.  At Penn State last year, he caught 35 passes.  Kenny Stills will need to step up as well and top 1,000 receiving yards after gaining nearly 850 last year.  Juco transfer LaColtan Bester will need to contribute immediately as well.  He will back up Brown.

 

OU’s top two running backs return after teaming for more than 1,200 yards last year.  Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch both averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

 

The offensive line is an even bigger question than the receiving corps, because the Sooners did not have the luxury of picking someone from Penn State’s roster.  Expected starting guar Gabe Ikard has made the switch to center to replace Ben Habern.  With guard Tyler Evans out, Coach Bob Stoops had to find two new guards.  Bronson Irwin and Adam Shead are capable blockers, but they are not 1st Team All-Big 12 linemen at this point of their careers.  Tackles Daryl Williams and Lane Johnson would have been the least talented of the projected starters, but now they are second and third best.

 

There is much more stability on the defensive side, but the stop troops are far from perfect.  OU gave up 44 points to Oklahoma State, 45 to Baylor, and 41 to Texas Tech.

 

The strength of this side is at linebacker, where two potential future pros return.  Corey Nelson and Tom Wort teamed for 130 tackles with 13 going for losses.  They added eight passes defended.

 

Two of the Sooners’ top three tacklers were defensive backs, and that is something that cannot happen this year if OU is to contend for the national title.  Cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Tony Jefferson were responsible for 158 tackles.  Jefferson picked off four passes.  Cornerback Demontre Hurst finished among the conference leaders with 12 passes defended.

 

The Sooners have a rebuilding job to do up front.  They lost two NFL Draft picks (Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander), who teamed up for 14 sacks and 32 TFL.  David King and R. J. Washington replace the two stars on the terminals after combining for seven sacks as reserves.

 

Oklahoma only plays two non-conference games before starting league play, and they will win both by large margins (UTEP and FAMU).  They host Notre Dame in the middle of league play.  We tend to believe that they will fall at least one time, and it will come in the final three weeks against either West Virginia, Oklahoma State, or TCU.  Of course, they cannot overlook Texas.  A loss in November may be very difficult to overcome in the now lame duck BCS standings.  This league does not have a championship game, so the league champion needs to go undefeated in November to make it to the National Championship Game.  The odds are now stacked against Oklahoma.

 

 

Team

Oklahoma State Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Mike Gundy

               
Colors

Orange and Black

               
City

Stillwater, OK

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

125.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

25

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-2

Overall

10-2

 

Coach Mike Gundy has gone from “A Man” who “could take it” at 40 to “The Man” who can dish it at 45.  Last year, Gundy’s Cowboys had the school’s best season since 1945.  That 1945 undefeated team beat Oklahoma 45-0; last year’s team won 44-10.

 

The best pass-catch combo in the nation will be impossible to replace.  Brandon Weeden is now the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns, and Justin Blackmon is now a future star for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Wes Lunt is a true freshman, replacing a quarterback that was 28 years old last year.  The number two man is redshirt freshman J. W. Walsh.  Expect a drop in pass yardage by maybe 150 yards per game.

 

Besides losing Blackmon (122 receptions), the Cowboys must find a replacement for number two receiver Josh Cooper, who made 71 catches last year.  Tracy Moore becomes the new leader after finishing third with 45 receptions.  Josh Stewart should emerge as a dependable slot receiver.  He should at least triple his number of catches this year (19 in 2011).

 

OSU will need to rely more on its running game this year.  Gundy knows a thing or two about the running game at his alma mater.  As QB in Stillwater in the late 1980’s, he handed the ball off to backs named Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas.  We’re not saying that Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith can be mentioned in the same breath as Sanders and Thomas, but we would not be surprised if the two backs combined for 2,000 rushing yards this year.

 

A quality offensive line from last year gave up just 12 sacks in 13 games.  Only guards Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush return from that starting unit.  New center Evan Epstein is serviceable, and he saw action at Air Force before coming here.  Parker Graham and Daniel Koenig have limited playing experience.  Expect the sack total to at least double this year.

 

In this league, giving up 27 points and 450 yards is cause for celebration.  In fact, in conference games only, OSU finished first in scoring defense.  Eight starters return from last year, but one is no longer listed as a starter on the depth chart.  End Cooper Bassett has moved ahead of Nigel Nicholas.  Bassett’s 17 tackles last year included four for losses. 

 

All three starting linebackers return this season.  Alex Elkins, Caleb Lavey, and Shaun Lewis should improve upon their joint effort of 225 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, and 19 ½ TFL.

 

Free safety Dattawion Lowe led the team with 97 tackles.  He intercepted just one pass.  Cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert both picked off five passes and combined to break up 25 more.

 

Quinn Sharp handles both punting and kicking duties, and he is exceptional at both jobs.  He was a 1st team All-American, making 22 of 25 field goals and averaging better than 46 yards per punt.

 

The Schedule is a big ally for the Pokes this year.  They should start 3-0 with a non-league slate of Savannah State, Arizona (which could be tough in Tucson), and UL-Lafayette.  They get an extra week to prepare for Texas when the Longhorns come to at Boone Pickens Stadium, and then they get another week off before travelling to Kansas, hosting Iowa State and hosting TCU.  By this time, it would not be much of a surprise if OSU was 7-0.  We believe another double-digit win season is coming to Stillwater.

 

 

Team

Texas Longhorns

               
Head Coach

Mack Brown

               
Colors

Burnt Orange and White

               
City

Austin, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

121.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

12

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-3

Overall

9-3

 

After a rare losing season in 2010, Coach Mack Brown’s Longhorns rebounded with a respectable 8-5season last year.  Of course in Austin, going 5-7 and 8-5 better be followed up with a double-digit win season, or else the coach may be thrown on the grill with a couple of sirloins. 

 

The pieces are in place for Texas to win 10 or 11 games this year, but the league is really strong at the top this season.  We feel the Longhorns will have to win their bowl game to get that tenth win.

 

After scoring around 35-50 points per game during the times of dominance, the Longhorns averaged just 24 points per game in 2010 and 28 last year.  The offense figures to return to an average in the 30’s this year.  Both of last year’s co-regular quarterbacks return this season.  David Ash will begin the year as the starter.  As a true freshman, Ash completed 56.6% of his passes with four touchdowns but eight interceptions in 173 attempts.  Case McCoy (Colt’s little brother) completed 61.4% of his passes with seven touchdowns and four interceptions in 145 attempts.  Ash is the better runner, while McCoy has the better arm.  Both need to cut down on their interceptions.

 

Last year’s three starting wide receivers are back again this year, so the passing game should see improvement.  Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, and Marquise Goodwin split the receptions rather democratically, teaming for 122 catches and 1,637 yards.  All three showed the ability to run after the catch.  The ‘Horns have three quality tight ends in D. J. Grant, Greg Daniels, and Barrett Matthews.

 

The one-two running punch of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron is not the most talented tandem in the league, but they get the job done.  Last year, the teammates combined for 1,205 rushing yards and 10 TDs.

 

With all the turmoil up in Norman, UT now has the top offensive line in the Big 12.  Guards Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins have no peers in the league, and they will team up with center Dominic Espinosa to open nice holes inside.  Tackle Josh Cochran started as a true freshman last year and could sneak onto the second or third All-Big 12 team.

 

There was little slippage on the defensive side the last two seasons.  Yes, the Longhorns gave up 55 points to Oklahoma, and they gave up 48 to Baylor.  They also “held” Oklahoma State to 38, which was more than 10 below their average.

 

This year, Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz has a top-flight defensive line and secondary.  If the linebackers can develop quickly, Texas could return to allowing less than 21 points per game.

 

Almost every college team would take ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat as their starters.  Okafor, a 1st Team All-American, Should be a first round pick in the next NFL Draft.  He comes off a season in which he made seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and 17 QB hurries.  Jeffcoat led UT with eight sacks and 21 TFL.

 

Jordan Hicks is the only returning starting linebacker.  He was a fairly good pass defender but average run stopper.  Middle linebacker Steve Edmond has the potential to become a star.  As a freshman reserve last year, he made 16 tackles.

 

The secondary will shine once again this season.  Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom teamed up for six interceptions and 36 passes defended.

 

Coach Brown has signed a kicker and a punter that graduated from other colleges.  It makes this team much stronger to have former Penn State kicker Anthony Fera over a true freshman.  Fera was perfect on his PATs and hit on 14 of 17 field goal tries for the Nittany Lions.  Alex King comes to Austin from Duke, where he averaged better than 42 yards per punt.

 

UT opens with three easy wins (Wyoming, New Mexico, and Ole Miss).  They get a week off to prepare for Oklahoma State, but they have to play that one on the road.  They follow that game with a home tilt against West Virginia and then the Red River rivalry game in Dallas against Oklahoma.  They could be 3-3 or 5-1 after this game, but they will more likely be 4-2.  After these three tough games, the Longhorns should run the table through November and be no worse than 8-3 when they head to Kansas State.  We think Texas improves their won-loss record again this year, but the Longhorns will not win the Big 12 title.

 

 

Team

T C U Horned Frogs

               
Head Coach

Gary Patterson

               
Colors

Purple and White

               
City

Ft. Worth, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-0

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

111.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

34

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-5

 

TCU is in a similar situation that is facing Temple.  The Horned Frogs were members of the old Southwest Conference through the 1995 season.  They were perennial fodder for Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, and before they left for the SEC, Arkansas.  Yearly, they fought with Rice to avoid the basement.  When the Big 12 was created, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor joined the former Big Eight teams to create the membership.  TCU was not invited, and the Horned Frogs joined the WAC for five years.  In that time, the Frogs rode the legs of some fantastic runners, including LaDainian Tomlinson, and became relevant in football for the first time since the mid-1950’s.  In 2001, the moved to CUSA for four years.  Current coach Gary Patterson became the coach and began to make defense the staple in Ft. Worth.  TCU joined the Mountain West in 2005 and dominated the league for the next seven seasons, moving as high as number three in the final polls after going 13-0 and winning the Rose Bowl in 2010-11. 

 

The Horned Frogs were supposed to become Big East members this year, but when a spot opened up in the league they always wanted to be a part of, they jumped at the chance.  Too bad, this comes in 2012 and not two years ago, because this could be the weakest TCU team in eight years.

 

At least, the Horned Frogs return their quarterback from the 2011 MWC champion team.  Casey Pachall was second only to Kellen Moore in the MWC.  He is third, fourth, or fifth best in this league.  In 2011, he completed 66.5% of his passes for more than 2,900 yards and with a TD/Int ratio of 25/7.  Redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin backs him up, and it will be quite a drop if Pachall were to be injured.

 

Pachall has a nice team of receivers with talent and experience.  Josh Boyce led the team with 61 receptions, 998 yards, and nine touchdowns last year.  Skye Dawson gained an even 500 yards on 45 grabs.  Brandon Carter showed some breakaway speed when he caught 23 passes and averaged better than 15 yards per catch. 

 

The running game took a small blow this summer.  TCU would have returned a trio of quality backs that all topped 700 yards rushing last year.  However, one of those backs, Ed Wesley has already graduated, and at the 11th hour, he decided to turn pro.  After placing his name in the supplemental draft, he went unselected and then signed a free-agent contract with Dallas and was released.

 

That leaves Waymon James and Matthew Tucker to possibly both top 1,000 rushing yards this season.  Tucker has the punch to crack through the inside of the line and burst to the outside, running to daylight.  James is more of a speedster that gets to the outside quickly.

 

The big problem on offense is the offensive line, where just two starters return.   Blaize Foltz is a quality guard, and center James Fry is more than adequate.  There are a host of options to fill out the other three spots.  Tayo Fabuluje, a BYU transfer, figures to be one of the new regulars.

 

The great TCU defense will take a step backwards this season.  Joining this league will inflate the numbers without any changes in the talent level.  Unfortunately, there has also been a change in the talent level.  10 talented contributors out of the Horned Frogs’ top 15 defensive players are no longer on campus.  One of those five returning players, end Ross Forrest, has missed practice time nursing an injury.  Forrest joins holdovers Stansly Maponga and tackle David Johnson to make the D-line the only defensive area that is not a concern to Patterson.  Chuck Hunter rounds out the front four.

 

The Horned Frogs have dealt with some adversity in their two-man linebacking crew.  Kenny Cain returns as the Frogs’ leading 2011 tackler, but two of the players expected to spend time in the lineup with Cain have missed practice time with injuries.  When fully healthy, look for Joel Hasley to emerge as the other LB starter.

 

The secondary has to almost start over from scratch.  Cornerback Jason Verrett returns after intercepting just one pass last year.  However, there are four positions that will be manned by inexperienced or mildly experienced players, and that spell trouble in the wide open Big 12.

 

TCU has a major weapon at kicker.  Jaden Oberkrom may have the strongest kicking leg in the Lone Star State since Tony Franklin and Russell Erxleben kicked in the 1970’s.  Oberkrom nailed a 60-yard field goal in high school, and he has hit two 61-yard field goals in scrimmages this year. 

 

TCU’s non-league slate should be worth three wins.  Beginning conference play with Kansas and Iowa State should allow them to start 5-0.  Their first big test comes at Baylor on October 13, and the Frogs can win that game.  A home game against Texas Tech follows, and there is a chance TCU will be 7-0 when they venture to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State.  A trip to West Virginia follows, and the Horned Frogs could be hit with back-to-back losses for the first time since September 2007.  With their confidence reeling, the final three games against Kansas State, Texas, and Oklahoma could give this team their first five-game losing streak in 15 years.

 

 

Team

Texas Tech Red Raiders

               
Head Coach

Tommy Tuberville

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Lubbock, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-7

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

111.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

50

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

6-6

 

Tommy Tuberville is quickly finding out how hard it can be to follow a legend.  Tubs replaced Terry Bowden at Auburn, but Bowden was not in the same legend league with Mike Leach.  The Texas Tech fans wanted their team to continue throwing the ball all over the field on any play in any down and distance.  Tuberville came from the old school, where you won games by establishing a strong ground game that kept your defense off the field.  What he inherited in Lubbock was like trying to put Charlie Sheen in charge of a dairy.

 

TTU suffered through its first losing season since 1992, and the fans in Lubbock want an instant turnaround in 2012.  It isn’t going to happen this year, as the Red Raiders at best will win one additional conference game, which should make them bowl eligible.

 

Tuberville welcomes back eight offensive starters, led by quarterback Seth Doege.  Doege quietly passed for more than 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns, but he underperformed down the stretch, and TTU lost its final four games.  Redshirt freshman Michael Brewer could cut into Doege’s playing time, as he is a prototypical Tuberville quarterback.

 

There are no Michael Crabtree’s on this roster.  Eric Ward is a fine possession receiver. He will catch six to 10 passes per game and pick up at least a half dozen first downs or score a touchdown when TTU is deep in the red zone, but he will not catch a five yard pass and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown.

 

We can feel it in our bones; Tubs wants to get more production out of his running game.  He wants a Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown banging through the line and running for big gains.  Eric Stephens, Kenny Williams, and DeAndre Washington won’t pull a Williams and Brown act and make Tech unstoppable on the ground.  In fact, as of this writing, Stephens and Washington aren’t 100% healthy.  When all three are healthy again, expect Tech to rush for more than they have rushed in many years—maybe even 150 yards per game.

 

The offensive line needs two new starters, but there is some talent here.  Center Deveric Gallington and tackles (former guard) Terry McDaniel and LaDrian Waddle make up three-fifths of a fine blocking corps.  Le’Raven Clark and Alfredo Morales should keep this unit up to its usual standards.

 

Tuberville has suffered through the tribulations of coaching in a wide-open passing league, and he has not figured out how to get his troops to stop enemy movement.  Tech gave up close to 40 points and 500 yards per game last year.  At Auburn, his defense were usually good for about 16 points and 300 yards allowed.

 

Nine starters return on this side of the ball, but two will not begin the season on the first team.  End Dartwan Bush gives way to Jackson Richards.  Richards is quicker off the ball, and Tech needs to find someone that can rush the quarterback.  16 sacks won’t cut it in the Big 12.

 

The back seven starters by the end of the year returned intact this season until a week and a half ago.  Linebackers Terrance Bullitt, Sam Eguavoen, and Daniel Cobb teamed up for 156 tackles and 18 tackles for loss.  Junior college transfer Will Smith will take over for Cobb following his dismissal from school due to an felony arrest.

 

As we preach here many times, your defense cannot be outstanding if your secondary is making all the tackles.  Tech’s top two 2011 tacklers were safeties Cody Davis and D. J. Johnson (176 total).  Davis had no interceptions, and Johnson had two.

 

The Red Raiders have three easy non-conference games and will start 3-0.  They could outscore Northwestern State (La), Texas State, and New Mexico by 100 points or more.  Tech will continue to struggle against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Kansas State, and they will not like facing West Virginia even on homecoming.  It adds up to a probable 6-6 season.

 

Team

West Virginia Mountaineers

               
Head Coach

Dana Holgorsen

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Morgantown, WV

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2 (Big East)

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

113.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Ratings

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

35

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-4

 

The knock against Geno Smith was that he produced fat stats playing the weak Big East defenses.  Smith will get the chance to prove his critics wrong this year.  Of course, if anybody still holds that belief after watching what he did to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, they probably aren’t intelligent enough to waste the time needed to explain.

 

Smith thrived in Coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.  His passing yardage ballooned up to 4,385 with 31 touchdowns against just seven picks. 

 

It helps that the top three targets from last year return to give Smith an excellent opportunity to top 4,500 yards this season.  Tavon Austin led finished second in the Big East with 101 receptions and third with 1,186 receiving yards.  He was not even the best receiver on his team!  Stedman Bailey led the Big East with 1,279 yards on 72 receptions, scoring 12 times.  It’s hard to believe that number three receiver Ivan McCartney (49-585) might lose his spot in the starting lineup to a true freshman, but it appears that Jordan Thompson might be that freshman.  If this is the case, this receiving corps might be impossible to stop.  It could become this year’s Oklahoma State (where Holgorsen was offensive coordinator until last year).

 

A knee injury to starting running back Dustin Garrison has thrust Shawne Alston into the starting lineup.  Alston is more of a three yards and cloud of dust bulldozer, whereas Garrison was a quick as lightning mighty mite. 

 

The offensive line returns four players that have been full-time starters at one point in their career.  The three inside players (center Joe Madsen and guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins) could be the top three inside trio in the league.

 

Holgorsen’s wide open approach forced the Mountaineer defenders to defend more plays and stay on the field for more minutes per game, because the offense scored quickly and gave the ball back to the other team.  If WVU can replicate the same defensive numbers of last year, it will be a successful Big 12 debut.

 

The defense gets more talented the farther back you go.  In the secondary, six of the top eight players return, but the two lost may have been the best two.  Still, this group has some fine players.  Darwin Cook made 85 tackles from his safety position, and he picked off a couple of passes.  Corners Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins teamed for 15 defended passes. 

 

WVU will switch from a 3-3-5 to a 3-4 alignment this year, but there will be little change in the personnel.  Terrence Garvin simple becomes a full-time linebacker rather than a hybrid linebacker/safety.  Garvin contributed to the defensive effort with 72 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, two interceptions, and five passes defended.  Jewone Snow returns at the buck linebacker position, but he needs to do better than 1 ½ sacks if he is to remain a pass rusher.

 

Up front, end Will Clarke returns after posting five tackles for loss.  Nose tackle Jorge Wright might need to add some meat to his bones to avoid getting pushed back by all the quality centers and guards in this league. 

 

WVU should be an exciting team to watch in their first year in the Big 12.  They perfectly fit the mold of a Big 12 team even though they are the farthest outpost in the league.  Look for the Mountaineers to win eight or maybe nine regular season games.

 

Coming Tuesday evening, August 28: A look at the Southeastern Conference, where the Western Division is more like the ninth division of the NFL.  Will LSU and Alabama do it again?  How will Arkansas be affected by a coaching change?  Who is going to win a wide open SEC East race?  How will the two new members affect the way the game is played in the perennial top conference?

 

Note: Our initial PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings will be posted Wednesday, August 29.  We will take our initial stab at selecting some pointspread winners Thursday morning.  Our NFL ratings will be released Tuesday, September 4.  Our first Presidential election ratings will be released following the end of the second convention in Charlotte.

August 23, 2011

2011 Big East Conference Preview

2011 Big East Conference Preview

To some football analysts (so-called experts), the Big East Conference does not deserve and automatic bid to a BCS Bowl game.  Not since Louisville in 2006 has a team from this league won a BCS Bowl and finished in the top 5 in the same season.  It has been four seasons since the league champion won a bowl game (West Virginia over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl when they had Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Noel Devine).  Cincinnati ran the table in 2009, but they showed they were not up to top tier standards when Florida blew them out 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl.

 

2011 does not look like the season where a Big East team challenges for a national title.  Things should change in 2012 when TCU joins the circuit.  For now, this season should be an excellent one for competition in the middle of the standings.  Last year, three teams finished tied for first at 5-2, and a fourth finished 4-3.  While we believe that one team may win the title going away this year, it isn’t impossible that another logjam at the top of the standings could be in the offing again this season.

 

Pittsburgh

Todd Graham takes over as head coach after winning at both Rice and Tulsa.  In Graham’s five years as a head coach, his teams have averaged more than 37 points per game, 287 passing yards per game, and 475 total yards per game.  In the last five years, Pitt has averaged less than 28 points per game, 208 passing yards per game, and 358 total yards per game.  To say that Panther fans are hyped is an understatement.

 

Graham’s first year at Heinz Field may not be as “offensive” as the fans expect, but there is enough talent to grab a piece of the Big East crown, especially since Pitt’s defense is going to be as good or better as last year’s stellar stop unit.

 

The offense will change from a multiple pro look to more of a spread look similar to that run by Auburn.  Piloting the new no-huddle, hurry-up attack is Tino Sunseri.  Sunseri completed 64.5% of his passes for 2,572 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, but those numbers will look like beginner’s numbers compared to what he should do this season.  He worked hard over the summer and now has better arm strength to go with a little more muscular frame.  Expect big things from Sunseri—maybe 3,500 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, as well as the possibility of national recognition.

 

The Panthers have to replace their leading receiver from last year, but this area is not much of a concern this year.  Mike Shanahan finished second with 49 receptions and 589 yards, while sophomore Devin Street proved to be a breakaway threat while grabbing 25 passes.  He started four times and played some at H-Back and some at wideout.  Hubie Graham will be the H-Back this year now that he is eligible after transferring from Illinois.

 

The running game will not suffer in the new offense.  Graham’s Tulsa teams averaged more than 200 yards rushing per game in his four years there.  Even with the loss of Dion Lewis, Pitt is in good shape here with the return of Ray Graham, who gained 922 yards while averaging better than six yards per try.  The one big question mark on this side of the ball is the depth at this position.

 

The Panthers are in good shape in the offensive trenches with seven quality players capable of starting.  Chris Jacobson is solid at one guard spot with Jordan Gibbs flanked outside him at tackle.  Ryan Turnley will move into the starting spot at center, while Lucas Nix will line up at either right guard or right tackle.  Depending on where Nix goes, either guard Corey King or tackle Greg Gaskin will fill out the line.

 

This offense might have a slight adjustment period getting used to the new offense, but once it gels, Pitt fans will get exactly what they were hoping for.  Pitt has averaged 35 points per game exactly one time in its entire history—1977.  We think this team is capable of achieving that mark in year one of the Graham regime.

 

We are even more optimistic on the stop side of the ball.  Not only is Pitt talented, all three units have quality depth.  This is hands down the best defense in the league, and the only reason Pitt may give up a few more yards and points per game this year is because the new offense will cause an extra 10 plays per game on average, about five more for the defense to be on the field.

 

The Panthers run a hybrid 3-4 defense that looks a lot like the old Oklahoma 5-2 defense of the 1970’s.  Pitt’s second team defensive line may be the second best D-line in the conference.  The first team line is composed of ends Aaron Donald and Chas Alecxih and nose tackle Myles Caragein.  Alecxih produced nine tackles for loss including 7 ½ sacks.  Donald played sparingly as a true freshman and proved to be a very capable pass rusher.  Caragein plugged the middle, allowing the inside linebackers to roam freely.

 

The four-man linebacker crew is without a doubt the best in the league.  Panther linebacker (a glorified term for a walkaway end) Brandon Lindsey could emerge as a Butkus and Bednarik Award contender.  Last year, he recorded 10 sacks and 17 ½ stops behind the line, the latter leading the Big East.  Inside linebacker Max Gruder finished second on the squad with 84 tackles.  His sidekick at the other inside linebacker position is Tristan Roberts, but he is being pushed hard by Shane Gordon.  Look for the two to split time here.  Spur linebackers (a combo linebacker and safety) Todd Thomas and Greg Williams will platoon the position.

 

More riches abound at the cornerback position.  Graham considers three players as regulars, even though just two can start.  Antwuan Reed, K’Waun Williams, and Buddy Jackson should force quarterbacks to look away from the sidelines or throw short.  Safety Jarred Holley led Pitt with five interceptions last year, and he will be joined by bandit safety (a hybrid safety/cornerback) Jason Hendricks.

 

Pitt gave up 19 points and 305 yards per game last year.  We believe those numbers will suffer slightly in the new up-tempo style, but don’t fret Panther fans; your team still has the top defense in the Big East.

 

If the offense can gel and play up to its potential in September, Pitt could actually contend for national honors.  We think the Panthers are a strong favorite to win the Big East with a decent shot at running the table in conference play.  Can the Panthers go 12-0?  It is a slight possibility.  There are four possible roadblocks.  A road game at Iowa could be tough on September 17.  The Hawkeyes are rebuilding, but they are always tough at Kinnick Stadium.  A week later, Notre Dame comes to Steeltown.  It should be the game of the week.  On October 15, Pitt entertains Utah, which is always dangerous.  Then, of course, there is the backyard brawl, and this year, Pitt travels to Morgantown to face West Virginia.  The Mountaineers could be in line to win the Big East with a win in this game, so it should be a great renewal of the rivalry with two teams capable of scoring a lot of points.

 

Cincinnati

We must admit that we were a bit surprised when our computer ratings spat out the Bearcats as the second best Big East team at the start of the 2011 season.  Coming off a 4-8 season under first year coach Butch Jones, the Bearcats will be much stronger on defense, but a rebuilding offensive line will make it hard to duplicate the offensive effectiveness of recent years.

 

The Bearcats are well-equipped at the offensive skill positions.  Quarterback Zach Collaros is one of four or five highly accomplished passers in the league.  Collaros passed for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns last year while finishing second on the team in rushing.

 

Isaiah Pead returns to his running back spot after gaining 1,029 yards at a 6.6 yards per attempt rate.  He did not start every game, so he could push that number over 1,200 yards this season.  True freshman Jameel Poteat could see extensive action in a backup role.

 

Bearcat receivers finished one-two in receptions in the Big East last year, and number two is back for an encore.  D. J. Woods was good for 57 catches and 898 yards with eight touchdowns.  Junior college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins should inherit the spot vacated by Armon Binns.

 

It is the blocking corps that worries us and makes us wonder if our computer didn’t byte on a bad bit when it calculated Cinti’s rating.  Only two starters return to the line.  One of those is tackle Alex Hoffman, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection last year.

 

UC averaged 27 points and 417 yards per game last year.  We expect those numbers to drop a little bit this year.  Look for 24-25 points and 375 yards.

 

After Pittsburgh, the Bearcats may have the best defense this season (West Virginia may have something to say about that).  The top 11 tacklers and 17 of the top 18 from 2010 are back.  15 players that started at some point will contend for the 11 starting positions.

 

The four-man defensive line will be strong.  Tackles Derek Wolfe and John Hughes will be tough to run on, while end Brandon Mills will contend for the conference lead in sacks and tackles for loss.

 

J. K. Schaffer and Maalik Bomar led the team with 111 and 70 tackles respectively.  The two linebackers combined for 17 ½ tackles for loss.

 

In the backfield, UC is stocked with depth albeit not quite up to par with the secondary at Pitt.  The Bearcats did not stop many passes last year, and if they are to live up to this rating, they must improve on their 2010 showing.  The entire two-deep returns and adds juco star Maclcolm Murray, who could crack the starting lineup by the season opener.  True freshman Trenier Orr is working his way up the depth chart.

 

The Bearcats gave up 28 points and 370 yards per game last year.  It should be easy besting those numbers this year with all the experience and depth.  If UC can shave a touchdown and 50 yards off those numbers, they might be able to live up to our lofty expectations.

 

Cinti’s non-conference schedule features two very winnable games, one possible trap game, and two games against teams that should be favored to beat the Bearcats.  All five of these games precede the Big East schedule.  If UC is 4-1 headed into the off week of October 8, the rest of the league better beware.  The Bearcats host West Virginia, but they must face Pittsburgh and South Florida on the road.  A 5-2 league mark is possible.

 

West Virginia

Welcome back to our prime time soap opera.  In today’s episode, Bill tries to go behind Dana’s back to spread nasty rumors and get him fired, but he gets caught and Bill loses his job.

 

Yes, that soap opera was no fantasy story.  Former coach Bill Stewart really did try to get his future replacement, Dana Holgorsen, fired by feeding a media source information to try to slander his offensive coordinator.  Instead, it was Stewart that was sent packing.  Holgorsen now ascends to head coach a year earlier than expected.

 

Holgorsen authored the offensive revival at Oklahoma State, after tutoring Case Keenum as OC at Houston and serving on Mike Leach’s Texas Tech staff.  The explosive spread offense used by the Mountaineers during the Rich Rodriguez era will return in spades this year.  However, WVU’s defense will take a major step backward.

 

Geno Smith may not be the running threat that Pat White was, but he has a better arm.  Smith tossed for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 65% of his passes in 2010.  Those numbers led the league in passing efficiency.  WV averaged about 32 passes per game last year; that number could top 40 this year.  Smith could easily top 3,500 yards passing.

 

Smith has three excellent options to fire his passes to this year.  Tavon Austin, Brad Starks, and Stedman Bailey teamed for 101 receptions 1,421 yards, and 16 touchdowns last year.  Starks could lose his starting spot to Ryan Nehlen, and we could see this trio topping 150 receptions, 2,000 yards, and 20 touchdowns this year.

 

Noel Devine is no longer around in the Mountaineer backfield after it seemed like he was there for a decade.  His replacement will be a three-headed monster known as Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison, and Vernard Roberts.  All three are true freshmen, so there will be a decline at this position.

 

The offensive line had to do some shuffling following the Spring Game injury of 2nd Team All-Big East guard Josh Jenkins.  The best center in the league returns in Joe Madsen.  Don Barclay returns at left tackle after earning 1st Team All-Big East accolades in 2010.

 

The Mountaineers’ offense ground to a near halt at times last year.  In a period of four weeks, WVU scored just 14, 13, and 17 points against three conference opponents.  Expect a dramatic increase in offensive production this year.  The Mountaineers could top 30 points and 425 yards per game in year one of the Holgorsen era.

 

Now, to the defense:  West Virginia’s stop troops were almost as tough as TCU’s last year.  The Mountaineers gave up just 13.5 points, 86 rushing yards, and 261 total yards last year.  This year’s defense is missing five all-conference players and seven starters overall.  Factoring into the equation the real possibility that the new offense will not produce long, time-consuming drives (WVU ran 105 more scrimmage plays than their opponents) and cause this team to defend as much as a dozen more scrimmage plays this year, WVU will not come close to matching their 2010 numbers.

 

One starter returns to the front line of the 3-3-5 defense, but the designated pass rusher from last year gives WVU the equivalent of two starting ends returning.  Julian Miller earned a spot on the 2nd Team All-Big East list after coming up with 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks.  Bruce Irvin led the league with 14 sacks and also made the 2nd Team All-Big East list.

 

The biggest rebuilding will take place in the second line of defense, as middle linebacker Najee Goode is the only holdover.  Goode contributed 8 ½ tackles for loss.

 

The back line is the strength of this side of the ball.  Safety Terence Garvin led the team with 76 tackles.  Cornerback Keith Tandy finished tied for first in the league with 17 passes defended.  Six of those were interceptions, and it earned him a 1st Team All-Big East Selection.

 

How much the defense regresses will determine how far WVU falls in the standings.  They tied for first last year.  We could see them challenging for first again this year, but we believe they will probably come in two games back and in third.  The Mountaineers will pick up three or four non-conference wins (LSU and Maryland on the schedule), so Holgorsen will guide his forces back to a bowl game.

 

Connecticut

2010 was the cherry on top season for the Huskies, as Randy Edsall guided UConn to the conference title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.  Edsall left for Maryland, and the new man is former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni.  Pasqualoni won 107 games in 14 years at Syracuse, including four Big East Championships.  The ‘Cuse went to bowl games nine times in the 14 seasons.

 

The cupboard is not bare in Huskietown, but there is quite a bit of rebuilding to do, especially on offense where five starters have departed and one unit has been decimated with the loss of four key parts.

 

That one unit comes on the offensive side of the ball, where UConn already faced some major losses.  Starting Wide receiver Michael Smith led the Huskies last year with 46 receptions and 615 yards.  He was declared academically ineligible.  Three more receivers expected to figure in the mix all quit.  Gone are Malik Generett, Gerrard Sheppard, and Leon Kinnard.  That leaves just six receivers on the roster, and two of those six are nursing minor injuries.  Kashif Moore and Isiah Moore are capable second and third options, but now they will have to become the feature receivers.

 

Just who will throw the passes is still a mystery.  As late as mid-August, Pasqualoni had not settled on a starting quarterback.  True freshman Michael Nebrich appears to have a slight edge over redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, but sophomore Michael Box and junior Johnny McEntee are also in the mix.  Nebrich will probably be under center when Connecticut hosts Fordham on September 1.  Last year’s co-quarterbacks did not produce bang-up numbers, so the eventual starter will not be that far behind what they had and could even be a little better.

 

The news is not as good at the running back position.  Jordan Todman has used of his eligibility after rushing for a conference-leading 1,695 yards with 14 touchdowns.  Number two rusher Robbie Frey is also missing.  Former Southern Cal fullback D. J. Shoemate takes over as the starter after rushing for 115 yards in limited action last year.  Shoemate had a problem holding onto the ball and was relegated to the bench.

 

The brightest spot of the offense is a talented and experienced offensive line.  Center Moe Petrus has been a 1st Team All-Big East pick in the past.  Tackle Mike Ryan made the 1st Team all-conference squad last year.

 

Connecticut will make a lot more mistakes on this side of the ball this season.  The Huskies limited mistakes last year, finishing the season +12 in turnover margin.  Don’t expect a repeat, even with a defense that could be just as good or even better than last year.  Look for about 20-24 points and 275-300 total yards out of this offense.

 

If the Huskies can plug some holes at linebacker, the defense could be a major plus in 2011.  UConn gave up 22 points and 367 yards per game last year, but it was a hit or miss season.  Against the weaker teams, the defense shut them down.  Against the stronger teams, the defense faltered.  Oklahoma, Michigan, Rutgers, and West Virginia combined to gain 1,864 yards (466/g), while the other nine opponents totaled 2,904 yards (323/g).

 

In the trenches, tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin return as starters.  They combined for 15 stops for loss.  Reyes was able to intercept two passes and knock away four others.  End Jesse Joseph returns after leading the team with 8 ½ sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

 

The secondary returns intact with cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz looking to top their production of 2010 when they teamed for 20 passes defended.  Safeties Jerome Junior and Harris Agbor round out the secondary.

 

Only one experienced player returns at linebacker, and a freshman could actually become one of the new starters.  Sio Moore is the lone holdover from last year.  He was selected to the All-Big East 2nd Team after he recorded 110 tackles with 11 ½ stops for loss.

 

It is hard to predict what we believe the defense will allow this season.  It all hinges on what the offense does.  If Shoemate can hang onto the ball and produce a year similar to what Todman produced, Connecticut could control the clock, and the defense could be okay.  If the offense never gets untracked and cannot keep the defense off the field, the defense could take a step backward even with all the returning players.  We believe in finding a happy medium and will call for numbers just a little weaker than last season.

 

UConn benefitted from having a lot of scoring punch in their special teams last year.  Kicker Dave Teggart connected on all 36 of his point after attempts as well as 25 of 31 field goal attempts.  He was two for two beyond 50 yards.  Kick Returner Nick Williams averaged an eye-popping 35+ yards per return with two touchdowns.  Both specialists return and could be a major factor once again.

 

The schedule will save the Huskies this year.  The non-conference slate includes games with Fordham, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Buffalo, and Western Michigan.  The Huskies will do no worse than 4-1 in these games.  With Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisville visiting Rentschler Field, UConn will win the two conference games they need to return to a bowl game.  It will not be a BCS Bowl this year.

 

South Florida

The Bulls finished 3-4 in league play last year, 3-4 in 2009, and 2-5 in 2008.  They have finished with winning records the past three years thanks to a non-conference record of 16-2.  Second year coach Skip Holtz lost half of his 2010 starters, but his main returnee is causing him sleepless nights.

 

Quarterback B. J. Daniels is nursing an injured hamstring.  The third year starter does not have much depth backing him up.  Without him, USF is not going to move the ball through the air and will be less predictable on the ground.  Daniels did not have a stellar sophomore year after having a breakout year as a redshirt freshman.  If he cannot go at the start of the season, backup Bobby Eveld will get the nod.  Eveld completed 56% of his 75 passes, but behind him are a couple of true freshmen who are not ready to play at the BCS level.

 

Holtz’s top receiver from last year has used up his eligibility.  Dontavia Bogan led the team with 47 receptions, 19 more than the next guy.  That guy was Evan Landi, who returns after averaging close to 14 yards on his 28 receptions.  Former starter Sterling Griffin missed all of last year, and he should give Daniels or Eveld a decent second option.  Griffin caught 14 passes in 2009.

 

The backfield shows promise even if it does not return its starter from last year.  Demetrius Murray returns after rushing for 542 yards and four scores, but he could be supplanted by former Colorado Buffalo top recruit Darrell Scott.  Scott is eligible after sitting out last year.

 

The offensive line has to replace three starters.  The two returning starters are guards Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren. 

 

USF averaged 24 points and just over 300 yards per game last year.  It was considered a major underachievement.  Even with the loss of personnel and the injury to Daniels, we have to believe that the Bulls will be able to better those stats.  Look for 25-28 points and 325-350 total yards in 2011.

 

The defense has some holes to fill as well.  Gone are last year’s top tackler and tackler for lost yardage, co-top sack producer, and top passes defender.  Six starters return, and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should find enough talent to mold a decent stop unit.

 

The biggest rebuilding job is in the trenches where three of four defensive linemen must be replaced.  Nose tackle Cory Grissom is the lone returnee.  At about 320 pounds, he can control two gaps on the line, but he will not make many tackles.  The true star of this unit is likely to be end Ryne Giddins.  In limited action as a redshirt freshman last year, he made six tackles for loss with 3 ½ sacks.

 

Linebackers Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore return after combining for 134 stops.  At the Sam Linebacker position, Reshard Cliett and Curtis Weatherspoon are likely to share reps this year.

 

The secondary is in good hands with the return of three starters, but none of the trio can be considered a game-changer.  Cornerback Quenton Washington recorded 59 tackles last year, but he only intercepted one pass.  Free safety Jerrell Young intercepted three passes to lead the team in 2010.

 

The Bulls don’t open the season with a cupcake like other teams.  They face Notre Dame in South Bend.  Other non-league tilts include three cupcakes—Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP.  The Bulls host Miami in November, and who knows how the Hurricanes will be playing by this point of the season.  They could even be facing the “death penalty” and players could be jumping off ship by this time.  Even if USF finishes below .500 in the league this year, they can return to bowl eligibility once again.

 

Syracuse

Coach Doug Marrone pulled off the biggest surprise of the league last year.  His Orangemen beat South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Rutgers to finish with SU’s first winning Big East record since 2004.  The Orangemen played in their first bowl since that season and defeated Kansas State in the most exciting bowl game of the season—the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

 

SU won with their defense in 2010, but that defense was decimated by graduation losses.  Only five starters return, and one of those will miss the first game and maybe more.  All is not gloom and doom, because they get back two key players that missed most of last year.

 

It is the secondary where all this good and bad news resides.  Free safety Phillip Thomas suffered a broken jaw and will miss at least the season opener.  Thomas is the leading returning tackler with 92.  Shamarko Thomas returns to the strong safety position.  He finished fourth with 67 tackles last year.  The two players returning from injuries should be the starting cornerbacks.  Kevyn Scott has 17 starts under his belt, while Ri’Shard Anderson saw action in seven games two years ago as a freshman.

 

Two new starters will open up at linebacker, one of whom could be a true freshman.  Marquis Spruill is the lone returning starter; he registered nine tackles for loss in 2010.

 

Up front, two defensive linemen return.  End Mikhail Marinovich recorded just three sacks and needs to improve on that number.  His counterpart, Chandler Jones, is the star of the stop side.  Jones earned 2nd team all-conference honors after recording four sacks, 9 ½ total tackles for loss, and five additional QB hurries.  He also knocked away four passes.

 

After giving up just 19 points and 300 yards last year, look for those numbers to head south in 2011.  We foresee the ‘Cuse giving up 23-28 points and about 340 yards per game.

 

The offense really did not improve much upon 2009’s production, increasing scoring by just a point per game while actually gaining fewer yards.  This year, The Orangemen should produce the most points and yards in at least seven years. 

 

There is one big distraction as this team enters fall drills.  Speedy receiver Marcus Sales is suspended indefinitely following a drug arrest.  His trial does not begin until February of 2012, so he could play the 2011 season.  Whether or not Marrone allows him to participate is another question.  Sales had 26 receptions with a 16 yard average per catch.  Syracuse still has some quality receivers on hand.  Van Chew led the team with 41 receptions.  Alec Lemon caught 32 passes.  Both players should add to their totals this season.  Tight end Nick Provo is a proven option in the middle, and he should see more passes come his way this year after grabbing 33 receptions.

 

Quarterback Ryan Nassib returns for his junior season, his second as a starter.  Nassib passed for 2,300+ yards with 19 touchdowns.  Nassib will throw more passes this season, and he should top 2,500 yards.

 

The running game will miss star back Delone Carter, who departs after rushing for more than 1,200 yards last year.  Antwon Bailey rushed for 554 yards and a couple of scores with a 4.9 yard per carry average.  He is strictly a speed back, so when SU needs to pound the ball and convert short yardage situations, expect true freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore to see a lot of action.

 

Four starters return to the offensive line, led by tackle Justin Pugh.  Pugh earned 2nd Team All-Big East accolades last year.  Guard Andrew Tiller could be on the cusp of making an all-conference team.

 

Syracuse is known for having great place kickers.  Ross Krautman is the current top kicker in the Big East.  He nailed 18 of 19 field goal attempts last year, including 6 of 7 from beyond 40 yards.

 

We see the ‘Cuse averaging about 24-27 points and 325-350 yards per game this year.  They will fall in the conference standings, but there is still a chance the Orangemen can become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.  Four of five non-conference games are winnable, with Wake Forest, Rhode Island, and Toledo visiting the Carrier Dome.  A visit to Tulane is winnable as well, while the trip to Southern Cal should be a losing proposition.  The Orangemen should only need two conference wins to get to six.  Rutgers, USF, and Cincinnati visit the Carrier Dome.  SU could win two of those games.

 

Rutgers

After five consecutive winning seasons and four consecutive bowl wins, the Scarlet Knights took a step backward last year, finishing with just four wins.  RU coach Greg Schiano made some changes, gutting the Spread Formation and bringing in former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.  The Knights will switch back to a pro-style offense this year.

 

Rutgers’ biggest problem on offense last year was pass protection.  The offensive line gave up an unbelievable 61 sacks!  That is no typo.  Louisville dumped RU QBs nine times.  Army’s double eagle flex did the trick eight times.  The number was seven for both Pitt and Cincinnati.

 

Cignetti was a quarterback coach with the Saints and 49ers, and he will spend extra time tutoring RU quarterback Chas Dodd.  The sophomore started the final eight games and passed for 1,637 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Should Dodd need to be replaced, two freshmen could be in line as the next two options. 

 

If Dodd can get adequate pass protection, he will have a stable of quality receivers to choose from.  Mark Harrison, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Coleman, Quron Pratt, and Tim Wright and tight end D. C. Jefferson make the receiving corps as strong as any in the league.  Harrison showed breakaway ability last year when he caught 44 passes for 829 yards and nine touchdowns.  Sanu was more of a possession receiver, and he also caught 44 passses.

 

On paper, the running game appeared to be weak, but it was not so.  Factoring out sacks, the backs averaged 4.2 yards per rush.  Fullback Joe Martinek could be an important key this season.  In the new offense, he will block for a quartet of excellent backs.  Jeremy Deering may miss the start of the season with a head injury, after he averaged 4.6 yards per carry last year.  However, a true freshman may be the featured back this year.  Savon Huggins rushed for 1,891 yards and 35 touchdowns as a high school senior.  Jawan Jamison and De’Antwan Williams will see action.

 

The offensive line has nowhere to go but up, and with four starters returning, it will be improved.  Guard Desmond Wynn is the best of the bunch; his counterpart could be former prized recruit Antwan Lowery over returning starter Art Forst.  Desmond Stapleton and Andre Civil will man the tackle positions, while David Osei will be the new center.

 

Rutgers’ offense should make strides toward becoming powerful this year, but there will be some adjusting with the new offense.  Look for about 25-30 points and 375-400 yards per game.

 

Rutgers will need to outscore opponents to win, because their defense is going to resemble Swiss cheese at times.  The Scarlet Knights gave up 27 points and 375 yards per game last year, and with six key players gone, that number could weaken in 2011.

 

The strongest unit on defense will be at linebacker.  Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene return after teaming for 156 tackles with 8 ½ for losses. 

 

Up front, Rutgers uses a 4-man line, but one of the ends is more of a linebacker than a true end.  Marvin Booker and Ka’Lial Glaud will probably alternate at that hybrid position.  At the other end position, Manny Abreu has a leg up on Marcus Thompson and Micheal Larrow, but as of this writing, Larrow is the only healthy player of the three. 

 

The secondary is deep with average talent.  Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones will be challenged by Mason Robinson and Marcus Cooper.  Safeties Duron Harmon and David Rowe make this unit deep albeit not outstanding.

 

With an offense that might hold onto the ball a little longer, RU could improve a little bit on the defensive side.  Still, this defense is anything but dominating, and the Scarlet Knights will have weeks where opponents torch them for 30-40 points.

 

The schedule is manageable, and RU could actually eke out enough wins to become bowl eligible.  Non-conference tilts with North Carolina Central, Ohio U, Navy, Army, and North Carolina are all winnable, but four of those opponents are dangerous. 

 

Louisville

Charlie Strong’s first year at UL was a success; he guided the Cardinals to a 7-6 record and bowl win.  If he repeats that effort in 2011, he should receive votes for National Coach of the Year!

 

UL has endured major losses on both sides of the ball, and it looks to us as though the Cards are headed back to the basement this year.

 

Just three starters return to an offense that was credible but not spectacular a year ago.  The Cards’ two-man quarterback tandem both moved on, and the new quarterback figures to be Will Stein.  Stein threw a grand total of 14 passes last year, completing nine for just 72 yards.  True freshman Teddy Bridgewater is the QB of the future.

 

Stein has some talent at the receiver position.  Josh Bellamy is an All-American trash-talker, but he may be able to back it up.  He snatched 29 passes and scored five touchdowns last year.  Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris will be aided by promising true freshman Eli Rogers.

 

The big loss on offense is at running back, where Bilal Powell leaves after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Victor Anderson replaces Powell; he rushed for 286 yards last year.

 

The offensive line has just one returning starter, and he is center Mario Benavides.  No other offensive lineman on the roster has ever started a game, so the Cards could have some troubles moving the ball this season.

 

After averaging 26 points and 370 yards a game last year, the drop could be as far as 17 to 20 points and 300-325 yards this season.

 

While seven starters return on the defensive side, the Cards took a major hit on this side of the ball with the departure of six of the top 10 tacklers.  The biggest concern is in the trenches, even though three starters return.  Ends B. J. Butler and Greg Scruggs combined for just 37 tackles, and Butler missed Spring Practice with an injury.  The Cards will miss designated pass rusher Rodney Gnat and his team-leading nine sacks.

 

Linebackers Daniel Brown and Dexter Heyman combined for 14 ½ tackles for loss, but neither will challenge for 1st Team All-Big East honors.

 

Safeties Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton led the Cards with 88 and 74 tackles respectively.  They combined for just one interception.  Cornerback appears to be a major liability.  Johnny Patrick was high NFL draft choice after leading the conference with 17 passes defended.  Expected starter Darius Ashley was picked up twice on DUIs and is indefinitely suspended. 

 

Louisville will have a difficult time avoiding the Big East cellar.  However, there is still a small chance the Cards could become bowl eligible.  The non-conference slate gives them a small chance to win five games and a decent chance to win four.  UL plays Murray State, Florida International, Kentucky, Marshall, and North Carolina.  If they can win at least four of those five, they could go 2-5 in the league and repeat at 6-6 in the regular season.

 

2011 Big East Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

West Virginia

21

188

Pittsburgh

2

162

South Florida

1

151

Syracuse

 

98

Cincinnati

 

96

Connecticut

 

76

Louisville

 

60

Rutgers

 

33

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Pittsburgh

111.5

7-0/11-1

Cincinnati

108.7

3-4/6-6

West Virginia

106.6

5-2/8-4

Connecticut

102.1

3-4/7-5

S. Florida

101.4

5-2/9-3

Syracuse

94.8

2-5/6-6

Rutgers

94.5

1-6/6-6

Louisville

92.2

2-5/5-7

 

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