The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 17, 2018

2018 Big Ten 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.

Even before Ohio State had to put Meyer on paid leave, our summer PiRate Ratings had another team rated a little bit ahead of the Buckeyes. Michigan State won 10 games last year with wins over Michigan and Penn State. The Spartans were not as bad as they looked in the blowout loss in Columbus, and with practically the entire team returning plus the additions of some excellent talent that redshirted or saw minimal action, the Spartans begin the season ranked slightly higher than OSU.
Coach Mark Dantonio’s offense was not up to par last year, as Sparty averaged just 25 points and less than 350 yards per game. Things will be different this year, as returns 10 starters and a majority of the 2nd 11. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is not Khalil Tate, but the junior signal caller is primed to improve greatly on his passing numbers and equal or top his running numbers. Lewerke is known for breaking long runs in an unconventional manner. While he can break free on zone read plays, he has been known to make a simple quarterback sneak a long-gainer, and he can scramble as well as any contemporary.
Running back L.J. Scott can do a lot of damage between the tackles and then exploding outside once he gets through the line. He is powerful and has speed, and he excels at every part of the game, as a power runner with quick bursts to stretch the play wide; as a pass receiver (Ohio State got burned by a screen pass play to him); and as an incredible pass-protecting blocker).
The trio of Felton Davis, Cody White, and Darrell Stewart won’t confuse fans for the receivers at Oklahoma, but these guys are more than capable of making a defense that is expecting run pay dearly. Davis gives Lewerke the jump ball receiver in the end zone with his size and leaping ability.
An experience line with talent throughout should allow MSU to increase its offensive production to more than 30 points and 400 yards per game this year. Combine that with a highly-rated defense, and the Spartans can contend for a Playoff bid.
The strength of the defense is in the secondary, where free safety David Dowell intercepted 5 passes, knocked away 4 more, and recovered 2 fumbles. Cornerback Josiah Scott is a potential All Big Ten player as well.

Michigan State is solid at linebacker with Joe Bachie and Andrew Dowell returning, the team’s top two 2017 tacklers. Bachie intercepted three passes. If the Spartans are to reach the pinnacle, their pass rush will have to make a jump forward. End Kenny Willekes is capable of dumping the quarterback two or three times a game, but somebody else will need to step forward to prevent him from being double-teamed.

Michigan State might win an extra game with its special teams. Kicker Matt Coghlin was a perfect 38-38 on PATs and 15 of 19 on field goals. Punter Jake Hartbarger averaged 42 yards per punt with just 12 of his 69 punts returned for a measley 2.3 yards per return.

Ohio State has had to replace a head coach just prior to the start of a season in the recent past. In 2011, coming off a 12-1 season, Jim Tressel was dismissed, with Luke Fickell taking over as the interim. Ohio State fell to 6-7 and 3-5 in the Big Ten with the best talent in the conference not jelling. Urban Meyer became coach the next season and ran the table.

No matter who wears the headsets on the sideline on September 1st when the Buckeyes welcome a rebuilding Oregon State team to the Giant Horseshoe, Ohio State will look like Ohio State. The 2011 team commenced its season with a 42-0 win over Akron. It will be September 15, before the coaching issue might matter, when Ohio State plays TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Ohio State rarely must rebuild when they lose highly-talented players every year, and this year is no different. Quarterback J.T. Barrett passed for 35 touchdowns and ran for a dozen more in his final year in Columbus. Normally, replacing a star talent like Barrett would lead to a major drop in offensive production, but not at this football factory. Ohio State’s probable third string quarterback until the number two guy transferred was a former high school phenom who out-dueled Josh Rosen, never lost a game in his high school career, and has been compared to Doug Flutie. Tate Martell will have to wait his turn, while Dwayne Haskins runs the offense. Haskins has the better arm and can force defenses to keep an extra man in the passing zones, while Martell is the scrambler type, the type that wouldn’t lose a game of tag, but with the need to work on his passing mechanics a little more.
The Buckeyes are loaded at running back with the return of J. K. Dobbins (1,403 yards 7.2 avg) and Mike Weber (626 yards 6.2 avg 10 TDs). Weber is a little more powerful, but Dobbins is the better pass-catching threat.

As good as the running back unit is, the receiver unit is better, again not as good as Oklahoma, but as good as any other Big Ten foe. Parris Campbell is the current Percy Harvin for this offense. The speedy hybrid receiver is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, be it on the speed sweep or via the pass (or as a kick returner). When you can catch a pass at the line of scrimmage and take it all the way, defenses must tell their safeties to retreat, and that opens the middle for bigger receivers as well as gives running backs more room to break free.

The Buckeye offensive line is the best in the East Division and second best in the league. Their version of Michael Jordan is a tall and strong guard who opens holes inside and stops enemy pass rushers. Tackle Isaiah Prince makes the left side of the Ohio State line mighty tough. The line should allow the Buckeyes to top 40 points and 500 yards again this year, unless there is a mini-train wreck with Meyer being dismissed.

Ohio State begins the season just behind Michigan State because their defense lost a lot of talented players, including the top three tacklers, two of 2017’s top pass rushing trio, and players responsible for 2/3 of the interceptions. One position that will be strong is at end, where Nick Bosa returns following a year where he finished third in the league with 16 tackles for loss and tied for first with 9 sacks. Robert Landers assumes the vacant end position.

Tuf Borland anchors the second line of defense, but this is one area of concern in 2018. Ohio State is thin at linebacker, and it wouldn’t surprise us if they eventually transition to more of a 4-2-5 team if they can uncover enough quality in their backfield. Ohio State has some re-tooling to do in the back line of defense, where cornerback Damon Arnette and safety Jordan Fuller need some help.

If Meyer is not able to coach this team, Ohio State will be at least a touchdown to 10 points weaker in 2018. Still, the Buckeyes would be a contender for the East Division crown, but not the top or even second choice to do so.

This is a pivotal year for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. The former NFC Champion coach with the 49ers has not worked the same magic at his alma mater that he was able to do at Stanford. This year gives him his best chance, and if the Wolverines don’t look as powerful as they did during the Bo Schembechler days, the fans in Ann Arbor may demand change.
The Maize and Blue have the talent to compete and even contend for a playoff bid this year, and if Harbaugh can get his new quarterback to play like he did against Auburn and Texas A&M while leading the Ole Miss offense, the pieces are in place for the Champions of the West to make a run at the championship of the Big Ten East.
Shea Patterson took his redshirt off late in the 2016 season at Ole Miss and looked like the next Archie Manning with his exceptional running ability and passing arm. Seven games into his sophomore season, Patterson’s season ended with a knee injury against LSU. Still, in just 6 1/2 games with the Rebels, his 2,259 passing yards and 17 touchdowns topped the entire Michigan offense in 13 games by more than 300 yards!

Michigan still has issues in the offensive line, where three starters return but only guard Ben Bredeson being all-conference quality. Patterson may be on the run too many times this year if the blocking cannot improve, and the ground game may stall like it did last year against teams like Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and South Carolina, the five teams that beat them.

If the line blocks just a tad bit better than average, the Michigan ground game will succeed. Patterson can take some of the defensive keying off Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, which should help the two running backs top their combined rushing for 1,679 yards and 17 touchdowns. Give Higdon a little room, and he can explode for 7-10 yards quickly. Evans is better equipped to earn the tough yards when they are needed.
Michigan has a young but somewhat experienced group of receivers. Last year’s starters did not shine, and this year’s replacements could easily make UM fans forget the 2017 starters. The best receivers may be tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry, and Michigan could succeed with the double tight end alignment this year. Patterson went to his tight ends in Oxford last year for some nice gains and conversions.

Make no mistake about it; Michigan’s bread and butter is their defense, and as good as the Wolverines were at stopping enemy offenses last year, 2018 could be very special. UM finished tops in the nation in passing yards allowed and third in total yards. Their secondary is even better this year, and we believe the Wolverines can lower last year’s points allowed per game from 18.8 to 15, especially if the offense sustains more drives.
In 19 years out of 20, a secondary this talented would be the tops in the land. This is that 20th year, when Washington has one of the best secondaries of all time. Michigan ranks just behind with the top two cornerbacks in the league. Lavert Hill and David Long may not put up the jazziest of numbers, but quarterbacks tend to throw the ball elsewhere. Think of it like issuing an intentional walk to a 50-homer guy in baseball.

The middle trio of this defense features two All Big Ten players in Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush. Both are complete players that can stop the run, dump the quarterback, and defend against the pass. Bush might contend for the Butkus Award this year.

The defensive line is the weakest unit on this team, but it is still a big asset that is almost as strong as their rivals’ to the South’s d-line. End Rashan Gary should make first team all-conference if he stays healthy. Opposite side end Chase Vinovich could have been playing for pay this year, but he chose to return to Ann Arbor, and with another great year, his draft stock should go up.

Michigan begins the season playing what could be a playoff qualifier. The Wolverines travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame in the top game of the opening week of football. The winner of that game should carry the momentum forward to a 7-0 start through mid-October. Michigan has some tough games in the second half, having to face Sparty in East Lansing and Ohio State at the Giant Horseshoe plus host Wisconsin and Penn State. This team has the talent to go 11-1 or 10-2, but with just a little less production, UM could find itself back at 5-4 in the league, which would be dangerous for Harbaugh’s chances to return in 2019.

Penn State coach James Franklin worked his magic at Vanderbilt, doing the unthinkable by winning nine games in back-to-back seasons, both years finishing in the top 25, and by beating Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in the same season. So, it should come as no surprise that he would do wonders in Happy Valley, as the Nittany Lions just enjoyed their first back-to-back 11-win seasons since Joe Paterno was still walking the sidelines.

Coming off a Big Ten championship in 2016, the Nittany Lions may have been a little better last year, even though they came up a game short in the East Division standings. The two losses were by a combined four points, so the Nittany Lions were oh so close from running the table and making it to the Playoffs.

We expect Penn State to take a slight backward turn this year, because their defense is almost entirely new this year. Only one two starters return on this side of the ball, and none of them played in the secondary last year. Amani Oruwariye actually made the All Big Ten Second team last year as a key reserve, so the defensive backfield is not in as bad a shape as it appears to be.

Linebacker U must have talent in the middle of their defense, and this year is no different. Koa Farmer, a converted safety and Cameron Brown give the defense a pair of talented stoppers.

The front four has talent as well, led by end Shareef Miller. In a league with multiple star defensive ends, Miller takes a back seat to nobody. He led Penn State with 11 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks.

The Penn State defense will not be as stingy as last year, when they finished 6th nationally in scoring defense, but the decline will not be severe. Expect Penn State to give up about 21 to 23 points per game this year.

The offense returns its star quarterback, but it loses its heart, as superstar running back Saquon Barkley has taken his 1,271 rushing yards, 632 receiving yards, the nation’s best kick returning, and his 23 total touchdowns to the New York Giants. Miles Sanders might rush for 1,000 yards replacing Barkley, but he won’t be the all-purpose player that comes around to a school about as often as Halley’s Comet.

Trace McSorley needs to have an incredible finish to his career to move up the ranks in a very heavily talented field of draft-eligible quarterbacks. He’d probably be an undrafted free agent if this were next May. He’s a tad undersized and lacks the arm strength to contend with players like Patterson at Michigan, but for Penn State’s offense, he is more than adequate, bordering on stardom.

McSorley will need wideout Juwan Johnson to have a breakout year, as he is the only one of three 50+ catch receivers left on the roster. Johnson provides a big target and has a nice combination of speed and agility to go with excellent hands. If DeAndre Thompkins can be the 1A receiver and play like he did as a secondary talent last year, then the Penn State passing game should be in good shape.

The best news on this side of the ball is that the offensive line might be the most improved of any in the league. Five players with significant starting experience plus three others that will earn extensive playing time should give McSorley the time he needs to locate open receivers and open some holes for the running game.

Maryland is a team with a lot of dissension at the present time. Coach Durkin has the support of his players, and if he is fired, we expect the this program to be affected more than Ohio State’s losing Meyer would be. This team was on the cusp of contending for bowl eligibility, but it would not surprise us if the Terrapins fell to the bottom of the division and even go 0-9 if the players don’t rally around interim head coach Matt Canada, who just arrived from LSU.

The Terp offense will move on the ground more than through the air this year after being exactly equal in 2017 with 162 yards rushing and 162 yards passing per game. The running back tandem of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison should team up for about 1,800 yards with the improved blocking expected from an experience offensive line that welcomes back the top five players from last year.

Maryland leads the nation in only one quarterback statistic, and unfortunately, that is number of quarterbacks used. The recent history has been quite negative as to the incredible number of QBs in need of disability insurance. Last year was more of the same in College Park, as the first two were done for the year in Mid-September. To complicate matters further, Maryland will switch from a shotgun alignment to an under-center alignment this year. Redshirt Freshman Kasim Hill and sophomore Tyrell Pigrome have very limited experience, but one of the two will start against Texas on September 1.

Maryland basically threw the ball to two players last year, and one returns in 2018. Taivon Jacobs turned 47 catches into 553 yards and 5 TDs last year. Jacobs will not be able to make up for the receptions and yards lost when D. J. Moore became a first round pick in the NFL Draft.

Maryland needs to re-tool a little on the defensive side, but there are some athletes here that can shine. The Terps use the 3-3-5 defense, and the secondary will be the strongest unit on the team. Safety Darnell Savage intercepted three passes last year and returned one for a touchdown. He led UM with 8 passed defended. Nickel back Antoine Brooks finished second on the team with 77 tackles last year, and he proved to be an excellent run defender, finishing with a team-leading 9 1/2 tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker Isaiah Davis is the lone returning starter at linebacker. The Terps need Buck linebacker Jesse Aniebonam to emerge as a force coming back from injury after starring there in 2016, when he made 9 QB sacks.

With Durkin as coach, we were prepared to give Maryland a 50-50 shot at bowl eligibility this year and a 90% chance of getting five wins. If Durkin is dismissed, this team could fall to 2-10, and there will be a long coaching search trying to find somebody to right the ship.

Rutgers found a way to win four games last year with an offense that averaged just 18 points and 263 yards per game. The Scarlet Knights scored just 71 points in their eight losses. Coach Chris Ash is a defensive specialist, having been the defensive coordinator at Ohio State and Arkansas before coming to RU. Quietly, he doubled the win total between his first and second year, and he returns more experience this year than either of his first two seasons in New Brunswick.

The offense should experience some improvement this year, but don’t expect too much. Quarterback Giovanni Rescigno shared the job last year with less than stellar results, so there is only one way to go from 47% completions and 5.2 yards per pass attempt. Tight end Jerome Washington returns after leading RU with just 28 receptions and 282 yards. Former Boston College running back Jonathan Hillman and talented sophomore Raheem Blackshear will get the brunt of the rushing attempts. Blackshear has the ability to break a long gain via the run or the pass, but his diminutive size will limit the amount of touches he can get and stay healthy. The offensive line is anything but an asset, as the Scarlet Knights frequently allowed pass rushers to get into the backfield quickly.

The RU defense will most likely carry the team on its shoulders again this season. This unit limited Purdue to 12 points, but it is not one of the league’s premier stop troops. Eight starters return from 2017, so Rutgers’ numbers on this side of the ball could improve a little after finishing 11th against the run and 10th against the pass.

Linebackers Deonte Roberts and Trevor Morris finished one-two in tackles last year, and they could both top 100 tackles this year. There are multiple players with experience returning to the secondary, but none appear to be ready to challenge for all conference honors. The pass rush was close to nonexistent last year, and the top pass rusher used up his eligibility.

Indiana was on the verge of turning the program around into an annual bowl-contender until they decided it was time for Kevin Wilson to go. Wilson ended up at Ohio State as an assistant, while Tom Allen took over in Bloomington. After a 5-7 finish last year, it could be difficult to contend fro a 6-win season and bowl bid this season.

The defense gave Indiana a chance to compete in several games last year, and this year, a major rebuilding task will send the defensive averages up by about 7-10 points per game. The offense will not be that much better if any better at all, so the Hoosiers may have to fight to stay out of the basement if Maryland doesn’t implode.

The old saying goes that if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. What does it say when you have three? Allen was not all that pleased with the depth chart here, and late in Spring, he signed former Arizona Wildcat starter Brandon Dawkins to join the competition between Sophomore Peyton Ramsey and true freshman Michael Penix. Dawkins performed admirably under center in Tucson, but he was not going to see a lot of time with Khalil Tate on the roster. He is an excellent dual-threat player and should eventually become the starter.

The Hoosiers have a decent but not flashy running back duo that should help IU top the 130 rushing yards per game from last season. Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest should both get 7-12 attempts per game.

Two of the three starters returning on defense play in the secondary. Cornerback Andre Brown is not one of the top 10 at his position in the Big Ten. Jonathan Crawford is a decent but not exceptional strong safety. The Hoosiers have numerous inexperienced players with promising talent, but this secondary is vulnerable.

At least the secondary has some experience. The front seven is void of experienced starters. There are a couple of players in the trenches that look like Big Ten athletes. Tackle Jacob Robinson should make some big plays from the inside, but IU is weak everywhere else up front.

They were oh so close last year, but came up a bit short. Wisconsin ran the table in the regular season beating Northwestern by two games, while no other team in the West Division finished above .500 in league play. The Badgers are still the favorite to repeat as division champions, but they won’t be as good this year as they were in 2017. The Badger offense will need to be the best defense this year, because UW lost a considerable amount of talent on the other side of the ball from the league’s top defense.

The Badgers are noted for having excellent offensive linemen, tight ends, and powerful running backs. Expect more of the same in 2018, as the nation’s best offensive line is loaded with talent and experience. There is such incredible depth here that some of the backups could start for other Top 25 teams! Three of the players could make All-American! Tackle Michael Deiter could be the first tackle picked in the 2019 NFL Draft, but he is the second best on the team, and he is actually better utilized at guard. Dave Edwards is a beast. He is strong, quick, and agile, having been an option quarterback in high school.

Wisconsin lost a fine tight end in Troy Fumagalli (46 catches 547 yards), but when they still have two fine players nominated to the John Mackey Award Watch List. Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston can block like guards but can sneak into the secondary and turn a short pass into a nice gain.

Fumagalli was the leading pass receiver, but the three two wideout receivers are back this year. Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor, and Danny Davis combined for just 87 pass receptions, but the trio averaged 16 yards per reception with 16 touchdowns.

Alex Hornibrook returns as the starting quarterback, and if he moves forward as much this season as he did last season, he could challenge McSorley and Lewerke for first team all-conference honors. His top job though will be handing the ball off to Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 1,977 yards as a freshman.

If the Badgers stumble this year, it will be because their defense allows opponents to score points faster than the offense can respond. After giving up less than 14 points per game, less than 100 rushing yards, and just 262 total yards per game. The Badgers are still strong at linebacker with last year’s top two tacklers returning. T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly combined for 169 tackles with 22 for lost yardage; they picked up 5 passes, with Edwards taking one to the house.

Nose Tackle Olive Sagapolu can stop the two A-gaps without doing much of anything. At 346 pounds, he is tough to move out of the way and can force running attacks to direct plays to the next gap over. The Badgers are totally inexperienced at the end positions, and this will be a concern at the start of the season.

In the defensive backfield, safety D’Cota Dixon is the lone returning starter, and while he is excellent against the run, he is not a pass defense star.

Wisconsin will have time to get their new defensive players some playing time against three beatable opponents. The September 22nd game at Iowa could go a long way in determining the West Division champion.

Northwestern returns enough talent on both sides of the ball to give Wisconsin and Iowa fierce competition for the West Division flag. The University spent $260 million building the finest indoor facility in the nation, right on Lake Michigan, and the Wildcats are going to ramp up recruiting and possibly become the football equivalent of Duke Basketball, where the finest combination of athletic and academic successes end up in Evanston. This is down the road; for now, Coach Pat Fitzgerald tries to improve on a 10-3 season that included a narrow win over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.

Clayton Thorson may not be an all-conference selection, but the senior quarterback has a good shot to hear his name announced in the 2019 NFL Draft. Thorson’s 2017 season was a bit off the 2016 season, but with his size and strength, NFL teams will have an interest in him. He has a a pair of experienced wide receivers returning, and Ben Skowronek and Flynn Nagel were the leading receivers last year.

Thorson relied on a lot of passes to his backs, and he will miss Justin Jackson’s 44 receptions and 1,311 rushing yards. Jeremy Larkin actually had better averages than Jackson in limited touches, as he has breakaway speed when he gets a little open space. The offensive line should be strong on the right side, but the left side could pose problems against some tough defensive stars.

Defensively, the Wildcats are stronger in the front seven and lacking in experience in their back line. Linebackers Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall combined to make 192 tackles with 26 for loss. Hall blitzed and sacked the QB five times. Up front, Samdup Miller and Joe Gaziano teamed for 14 1/2 sacks and 21 1/2 total tackles for loss. The secondary has just one returning starter. Montre Hartage intercepted a couple of passes, but this unit is lacking in stars.
Usually, Big Ten teams begin the season with a winnable game against a Group of 5 opponent. This year, Northwestern begins the season on the road in a pivotal conference game against Purdue. Then, in November, when Big Ten teams rarely play out of conference, the Wildcats host Notre Dame. The schedule is not favorable for a run at a division flag.

On the other hand, Iowa has a very favorable schedule to make a run at the division flag, even if like Wisconsin, they have a lot of replacing to do on the defensive side. Coach Kirk Ferentz enters his 20th season in Iowa City, and as a gift, the Hawkeyes are the only team in the Big Ten that does not play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State.

On the offensive side, they Hawkeyes are led by their best player, quarterback Nate Stanley. Stanley came from out of almost nowhere to take over at QB last year and surprised the nation with 26 touchdown passes and 2.432 passing yards. Included in those stats were 5 TD pass games against Iowa State and Ohio State.

Like many teams in this league, Iowa uses a lot of two tight end sets, and the Hawkeyes return both starters this year. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson teamed up to grab 54 passes good for 814 yards and 14 touchdowns. They will team up with top wideout Nick Easley to make Iowa’s passing game strong. The running game may be a work in progress with last year’s two top backs no longer around. Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin saw limited action in 2017 and looked capable of becoming contributors this year, but the Iowa running game may be down a little this year.

The defensive liability that will hurt the Hawkeyes this year is the middle of the defense. All of last year’s top linebackers are gone, and there isn’t much experience returning. Iowa will be vulnerable early against the short passing game and play-action passes until the new linebackers get enough reps to understand how to play at full speed. This is not the case up front, where the defensive line should be rather strong this year. Ends Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse should get to the enemy quarterback a fair amount of times and stop running backs on stretch plays often enough to encourage offenses to try something else.

The secondary may have four new starters this year, even though there is returning starting experience. The Hawkeyes will miss star defensive back Joshua Jackson and his eight interceptions.

Who saw this coming last year? Purdue was picked to maybe contend for fifth place in the division and hopefully win four or five games. Under new coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers looked more like the Drew Brees team that played at Ross-Ade Stadium 20 years ago than recent Purdue squads. Purdue Missouri, Minnesota, and Iowa in the regular season, and then secured a winning season by topping Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl.
It is more of the same for the Boilermakers offensively this year, but like most of the division, they must rebuild on the other side of the ball. The offense improved only marginally in scoring average in Brohm’s first season in West Lafayette, but the defense shaved 18 points off the scoring average allowed.

A tight race for the starting quarterback job is still too close to call. Last year, Elijah Sindelar got a majority of the snaps, but he did so only because David Blough was out for the year with an injury. Sindelar played the last few weeks on a torn ACL, but both should be ready to begin the year. It could easily continue to be undecided into the season, as both could play.

The Boilermakers need true freshman Rondale Moore to live up to his credentials as soon as possible, because there isn’t a go-to guy on the roster. Most of the returning receivers are capable second and third options, but only if there is a play-making first option.

The running game should be slightly improved, even though last year’s starter has graduated. Markell Jones and Tario Fuller will carry the ball behind an experienced line featuring Rimington Award contender Kirk Barron at center.

Purdue’s run defense was one of the better groups in the nation last year, but most of the stars that made it so powerful won’t be on the sidelines this year. One of those who will be back is middle linebacker Markus Bailey, who finished second on the team in tackles and first in sacks. He played on the strongside last year, but he will return to the middle in 2018.

The front four has questions, especially at end, while there are concerns at the cornerback spots as well. Safeties Jacob Thieneman and Navon Mosley return as starters, but they were more of supporting role players than stars.

Purdue has two strong non-conference opponents on their schedule in Missouri and Boston College, and most of the winnable conference games are on the road this year. If Brohm can take the Boilermakers back to a bowl this year, it may be an even better coaching job than last year. It also may get him a lot of offers to coach at more successful programs.

Minnesota used to be as big a power in college football as Ohio State is today. That was nearly 60 years ago, but this school still has the resources to return to greatness. Second year coach P. J. Fleck knows how to recruit and coach, as he made Western Michigan a New Year’s Bowl participant. Fleck is a motivational coach in the mold of James Franklin, but don’t underestimate his ability to get the most out of the talent on hand. The Golden Gophers fell one victory short of qualifying for a bowl last year, but with a majority of his starters returning on both sides of the ball, Fleck should play game number 13 in December.

Minnesota couldn’t move the ball or score points well enough to find that elusive sixth win. Narrow losses to Maryland, Michigan State, and Iowa could have been wins with just a little more offense. Quarterback play was a major liability in 2017, so the fact that Minnesota will have a new signal caller in 2018 is not a bad thing. It was thought that either redshirt freshman Tanner Morhan or juco transfer Vic Viramontes will be under center when the Gophers take on New Mexico State in week one. However, in recent days it appears that true freshman walk-on Zack Annexstad might be the starter.

Annexstad is not your typical walk-on. He turned down scholarship offers at multiple FBS schools to pay to attend his father’s alma mater. He has the stronger arm and has the skills to lead this team to at least seven more points per game than last year.
UM is set at running back, where Rodney Smith narrowly missed topping 1,000 yards and could easily match or top his fine sophomore campaign, where he rushed for 1,158 yards. It’s at receiver where the Gophers are not yet quite up to standards of the top teams in the league. Tyler Johnson is a fine receiver, capable of turning a short pass into a long gain, but he cannot do it all himself. Freshmen and untested sophomores will man the other positions. The Gophers plan to create shade for the fans in the stadium, and they signed two of the largest offensive linemen in the game. Tackle Daniel Faalele tips the scale at 400 pounds on a 6 foot 9 inch frame. Curtis Dunlap is only 6-5 and 370. Both should add depth to an improving offensive line this year.

Unlike most of their division brethren, Minnesota has experience returning throughout the defensive side of the field. In fact, they have a star in each unit. End Carter Coughlin led the team with 6 1/2 sacks. Linebacker Thomas Barber led the team and finished third in the league with 115 tackles, including 10 1/2 for loss. Safety Antoine Winfield looked like an all-conference player when he was healthy in the four games he played.

Minnesota gave up 22.8 points per game and 347 yards per game, which in the Big 12 would have been outstanding. It’s just average in the Big Ten, and the Gophers have a chance to improve those numbers to 20 points and 330 yards given up. A non-conference schedule that should give them three wins means, they only have to go 3-6 to get back to a bowl. That’s a strong possibility.

There is a generation of college football fans that do not know that Nebraska was once what Alabama is today. The Cornhuskers last won the national championship 21 years ago and last looked like the best team ever 23 years ago. The Cornhuskers are a far cry from even respectability, but new coach Scott Frost should stir up excitement at his alma mater. Too bad he doesn’t have eligibility left, because Nebraska could use him under center. Two freshmen are competing for the starting quarterback job, Tristan Gebbia and Adrian Martinez. For the time being, both may play in the early games in hopes that one will emerge as the clear choice.

Whoever is in at quarterback, he will have a fine pair of receivers to aim his throws to. Stanley Morgan, Jr. and J.D. Spielman teamed for 116 receptions and 1,1816 yards. Morgan’s father was a star with the New England Patriots and likely headed to the NFL in another year.
In past years, it was not unusual for Nebraska to rush for 400 to 500 yards with 1st team All-American backs. Things have changed in Lincoln, as the Cornhuskers finished 13th in the league in rushing with just 107.5 yards per game last year. No back topped 500 yards rushing for the season, and leading returnee Tre Bryant fell short of 300 yards. A combination of having Frost’s hurry up spread offense and a better blocking wall should help Nebraska increase their rushing average by 30-50 yards per game this year.
The defense formerly and famously known as the Blackshirts in the dynasty years of this program looked more like the black and blue in recent years. Nebraska gave up 36.4 points and 436.2 yards per game last year, including 42 points to Oregon 56 to Ohio State, and a final three swoon that saw Minnesota, Penn State, and Iowa all top 50 points. Expect these numbers to shrink in 2018. We would not be shocked if NU shaved 10 or more points and 50 or more yards off those poor averages.

The front seven will lead the way in 2018. Nebraska switches to a 3-4 after being an even-front team last year. The move to defensive end from outside linebacker should help Ben Stille team up with Carlos Davis and Freedom Akinmoladun top the 7 sacks the trio produced last year. Linebacker Dedrick Young is the leading returning tackle, and he’ll team with juco transfer Will Honas to give the Cornhuskers a better second line of defense. Expect more aggressive play in the secondary this year, as defensive coordinator Erik Chinander prefers a defense that concentrates on forcing turnovers.
There is a path to six wins for Frost in his first year at Memorial Stadium, but it isn’t going to be easy. After an opening game at home with Akron, the next three games are a bit tricky.
Illinois finished last in offense and 12th in defense in the Big Ten last year, and Coach Lovie Smith realized that desperate measures were needed. After Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez, Smith hired his offensive coordinator, Rod Smith to try to jump start the Illini offense. Quarterback Cam Thomas flashed just enough talent in a relief appearance against Purdue last year to give Illinois fans hope that he can move the team with consistency. The cupboard isn’t bare in the receiving corps, as Mike Dudek, Ricky Smalling, and tight end Louis Dorsey all saw extended playing time in 2017 and combined to catch 77 passes. Mike Epstein led the team with 346 rushing yards, even though he wasn’t the starter. He should top 500 this year. The entire offensive line returns, so expect Illinois to do much better than the paltry 15.4 points and 280 yards per game this year.

Defensively, Illinois gave up 31.5 points and 418 yards per game last year and won only two games, against Ball State and Western Kentucky. In Big Ten play, they went 0-9 and only really challenged in one game. There really is no reason to believe those numbers will improve this year. The defensive line and secondary is the weakest in the Big Ten, and the linebacker trio is only marginally better.

This could be the end of the line for Smith as coach of the Illini. With a 5-19 record in two years, another double-digit loss season might not be acceptable.

Here is how the Big Ten Conference Media voted in the preseason poll, which was taken before Meyer and Durkin were put on leave.

Big Ten
East 1st Place Points
1. Ohio St. 23.5 191.5
2. Michigan St. 2 142
3. Penn St. 1 141.5
4. Michigan 1.5 140.5
5. Maryland 0 75.5
6. Indiana 0 60
7. Rutgers 0 33
West 1st Place Points
1. Wisconsin 28 196
2. Iowa 0 155
3. Northwestern 0 138
4. Nebraska 0 104
5. Purdue 0 98.5
6. Minnesota 0 64.5
7. Illinois 0 28

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat, and as we have mentioned, we expect considerable movement in these ratings, especially in the East Division if Meyer and/or Durkin are dismissed. LATE NOTE: It was announced Friday afternoon that the Meyer investigation would conclude on Sunday.

Big Ten Conference
East Division
Team BTen Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Michigan St. 0-0 0-0 127.7 125.1 128.1 127.0
Ohio St. 0-0 0-0 125.1 122.3 125.6 124.3
Michigan 0-0 0-0 121.7 120.6 122.7 121.6
Penn St. 0-0 0-0 121.2 117.7 121.6 120.2
Maryland 0-0 0-0 102.2 100.2 100.5 101.0
Rutgers 0-0 0-0 98.4 97.0 96.2 97.2
Indiana 0-0 0-0 97.8 96.3 97.3 97.1
West Division
Team BTen Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Wisconsin 0-0 0-0 123.1 119.2 123.4 121.9
Northwestern 0-0 0-0 114.8 112.6 115.4 114.3
Iowa 0-0 0-0 113.2 110.0 112.0 111.7
Purdue 0-0 0-0 107.9 106.3 106.6 106.9
Minnesota 0-0 0-0 104.7 103.6 104.0 104.1
Nebraska 0-0 0-0 100.5 98.7 97.8 99.0
Illinois 0-0 0-0 94.0 93.5 92.9 93.5
Big Ten Averages 110.9 108.8 110.3 110.0

 

New Coaches
Not counting the two interim head coaches, Scott Frost is the lone new head coach in the league this year. Frost left undefeated Central Florida to return to his alma mater Nebraska. He turned UCF from an 0-12 team to a 14-0 team in just two years. If he can get Nebraska to a bowl in year one and then compete for 9 wins in 2019, he will have some property named after him in Lincoln.

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.

Team Conference Overall
East
Michigan St. 9-0 13-0*
Ohio St. 8-1 11-1
Michigan 7-2 10-2
Penn St. 6-3 9-3
Maryland 3-6 5-7
Rutgers 2-7 5-7
Indiana 0-9 2-10
West
Wisconsin 7-2 10-3
Iowa 7-2 10-2
Northwestern 5-4 7-5
Minnesota 5-4 8-4
Purdue 3-6 4-8
Nebraska 1-8 4-8
Illinois 0-9 2-10
* Michigan State to win Big Ten Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA
2. Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL
3. Outback Bowl in Tampa, FL
4. Holiday Bowl in San Diego, CA
5. Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, FL or Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN
6. Pinstripe Bowl in New York, NY
7. San Francisco Bowl in San Francisco, CA
8. Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, MI
9. Armed Forces Bowl in Forth Worth, TX
10. Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, TX

Coming Tomorrow–The Atlantic Coast Conference

August 20, 2016

2016 Big Ten Conference Football Preview

The Power 5 Conference previews begin today, and in the unusual spot of lowest ranked of the Big 5 stands the 14-member Big Ten. In actuality, just three points separates the fifth best conference from the second best this year, so the Big Ten is basically in a four-way tie for second best conference this year.

Being the fifth best league does not mean the Big Ten will not have a team in the third FBS College Football Playoffs. In fact, three teams have the talent to run the table and earn one of the four coveted spots. And overall, the PiRates believe 11 teams could be bowl eligible this year. This means that at least one and probably two teams will fill vacant spots as at-large candidates.

The power once again rests in the East Division, where six of the seven members have a chance to get to six wins. In recent years, it has come down to the Ohio State-Michigan State game, but this year we believe a third team will crash the party. Second year head coach Jim Harbaugh has quickly rebuilt the Michigan Wolverines to a point where the Maize and Blue are ready to return to greatness not seen in a decade. The Wolverines improved immediately in year one, becoming tougher on both sides of the ball and doubling their wins from the year before from five to ten.

The same improvement in year two could make Michigan a national title contender. The offense loses a good quarterback in Jake Rudock, who was drafted by the Detroit Lions, but unlike recent years, there is a competition among multiple quality quarterbacks, and whoever wins the battle will be a talented and competent leader. Expect Michigan’s passing game to remain as strong as last year, whether former Houston QB John O’Korn or Wilton Speight wins the job.

Whoever winst that job will have a bevy of highly-talented receivers catching the passes. Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh combined for 108 catches and 14 touchdowns as the starting wideouts last year, while tight end Jake Butt added 51 catches.

Running back De’Veon Smith is another pass-catching weapon, but his main goal is continuing to improve as a multi-talented runner who can plunge forward up the middle for an extra yard or two and break a long run to the outside. Backup Ty Isaac is capable of taking over a game if he can become more consistent.

Where Michigan should win most games this year is up front, as their offensive line has no peers inside the league. There is talent throughout the two-deep, led by center Mason Cole, guard Kyle Kalis, and tackle Erik Magnuson.

The other side of the ball is strong and potentially dominating up front, as the defensive line has a quartet of brick walls. Opponents will run away from the side end Chris Wormly lines up on, and quarterbacks will worry about his rushing when dropping back to pass. Taco Charlton will see improved stats this year, as he faces more plays to his end of the line.

The pass defense was a little vulnerable at times, but the back seven should be better this year, led by potential All-American cornerback Jabrill Peppers.

If it wasn’t for a schedule that includes road games with Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State, the media and other experts might be calling for a 12-0 regular season. Maybe, just the Pirates believe it is possible this year.

Ohio State looks to be in a rebuild season, but in Columbus, rebuilding means a possible 9-3 season. The Buckeyes lost so much from last year’s 12-1 season on both sides of the ball. Sure, there is still a ton of talent left on this squad, but we believe OSU will be about a touchdown weaker overall.

J.T. Barrett returns at quarterback after splitting the job with Cardale Jones, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Barrett is a better fit in Coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, but defenses might be able to sneak defenders toward the line without worrying as much about being beaten deep by the arm of Jones.

The biggest replacement Meyer must make is at running back, where Ezekiel Elliott might be the leading candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year in Dallas. Finding capable receivers to replace Michael Thomas, Jalen Marshall, and Braxton Miller will be nearly as difficult.

The offensive line must replace three starters, but there was a lot of talented depth here last year, and we don’t see this becoming much of a problem this year.

Defensively, the Buckeyes return one starter to the line, one at linebacker, and one in the secondary. Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan and end Tyquan Lewis could both become All-Americans, while end Sam Hubbard has all-league potential.

Road games with Oklahoma and Michigan State should be too much for the inexperienced Buckeyes to handle this year, so it could be a bowl other than the New Year’s 6 this year.

Michigan State faces a similar but less rebuilding effort this year after making the NCAA Playoffs in 2015. Coach Mark Dantonio’s Spartans won a lot of close games last year in their road to the Big Ten title, and a small rebuild should mean that some of those close wins last year could become close losses this year. Replacing quarterback Connor Cook may be the toughest replacement in the entire league, and number two might be finding one or more players to replace the production of defensive star Shilique Calhoun.

Penn State coach James Franklin is 14-12 in his first two seasons in Happy Valley, and another 7-6 year will leave Nittany Lion fans very unhappy. Although most of the offense returns this year, one player missing is quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Although Hackenberg had issues with the Franklin offense, he still was good enough to become an NFL Draft pick, and nobody on the current roster has his skills.

The Defense loses a lot of talent, but possibly more important is the loss of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who will be directing the defense at Tennessee this year. September 10 could be an important Saturday for Franklin’s future in State College. A loss at Pittsburgh could get the alumni moving to find a replacement.

Indiana and Maryland don’t figure to contend for an upper division spot this year, but both teams have enough talent to go 3-0 outside of league play and find three more wins to get to 6-6. Rutgers is not in that same boat. The Scarlet Knights will be fortunate to avoid double digit losses.

Although the West Division is not as strong, the competition might be fiercer. Four teams have the potential to end up in the Big Ten Championship Game, while a fifth should be bowl eligible.

Iowa is the slight favorite to repeat as division champions, but Nebraska might be the most improved team in the division. The two rivals meet in Iowa City on Black Friday.

Wisconsin has the talent to win double digit games in most years, but not this year with a schedule that only a masochist could design. The Badgers face the two Michigan schools on the road and must face Ohio State at home, and then add a game at Lambeau Stadium against national title contender LSU. They also play at Iowa, and all of these games occur by October 22.

Northwestern is a mystery team this year to some extent. The Wildcats return a lot of talent from a 10-3 team, but overall that talent is not as strong as the other contenders. Coach Pat Fitzgerald finds a way to squeeze every yard and point out of his offense, while the defense always plays better on the whole than the sum of its parts.

Minnesota begins its first full season under Coach Tracy Claeys, who took over after Jerry Kill retired after the season began last year. The Gophers should be about as good this year as last, which means a probable lower-tier bowl.

Illinois and Purdue do not have the talent to compete for bowl eligibility, but both teams are capable of pulling off an upset. Last year, they both upset Nebraska and could have knocked the Cornhuskers out of a bowl.

The Big Ten does not sanction an official media preseason poll, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer does the job for the league in an unofficial capacity. Here is that Cleveland.com poll.

Big Ten–East Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Ohio St. 31 260.5 27
2 Michigan 14 241 11
3 Michigan St. 1 195.5  
4 Penn St. 0 155.5  
5 Indiana 0 110  
6 Maryland 0 81.5  
7 Rutgers 0 52  
         
Big Ten–West Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Iowa 33 265 1
2 Nebraska 3 206  
3 Wisconsin 2 194.5  
4 Northwestern 1 171.5  
5 Minnesota 1 132  
6 Illinois 0 76.5  
7 Purdue 0 46.5  

 

Here are our initial PiRate Ratings for the league.

Big Ten Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Michigan 120.0 118.0 120.4 119.5
Ohio St. 113.3 113.5 113.5 113.4
Michigan St. 113.1 112.4 111.1 112.2
Penn St. 109.5 111.3 108.0 109.6
Indiana 101.5 106.0 100.9 102.8
Maryland 100.9 104.2 98.1 101.1
Rutgers 99.0 96.2 97.3 97.5
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Iowa 114.6 110.9 114.2 113.2
Nebraska 110.4 105.9 110.5 108.9
Wisconsin 109.1 105.9 109.5 108.2
Northwestern 109.7 103.5 108.1 107.1
Minnesota 104.8 102.8 104.7 104.1
Illinois 100.6 97.2 99.8 99.2
Purdue 99.4 96.6 98.3 98.1

 

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.

Big Ten Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
East Division      
Michigan 9-0 13-0 * Playoffs–Fiesta
Ohio St. 7-2 9-3 Citrus
Michigan St. 7-2 9-3 Outback
Penn St. 6-3 8-4 Music City
Indiana 3-6 6-6 [Cactus] *
Maryland 3-6 6-6 [Birmingham] *
Rutgers 1-8 3-9  
       
Team Conference Overall Bowl
West Division      
Iowa 7-2 10-3 Holiday
Nebraska 5-4 8-4 Pinstripe
Northwestern 5-4 8-4 Foster Farms
Wisconsin 5-4 7-5 Quick Lane
Minnesota 4-5 7-5 Heart of Dallas
Illinois 1-8 3-9  
Purdue 0-9 3-9  
       
* Indiana’s Cactus Bowl Bid is an at-large selection
* Maryland’s Birmingham Bowl Bid is an at-lerge selection

Coming up tomorrow: The Big 12 Conference was close to going on life support until Oklahoma made the playoffs last year.  Now, with the possibility of new blood coming soon, and the likelihood that the Sooners could be better this year, there’s hope for the league.  Find out which teams are contenders, which are pretenders, and what team could surprise a lot of people this season.

 

August 17, 2015

2015 Big Ten Preview

The Big Ten was once referred to as the Big Two and Little Eight during the late 1960’s and 1970’s.  For more than a decade, either Ohio State or Michigan won the conference championship and played in the Rose Bowl, and in most seasons, the participant was chosen in the season finale between the two schools.
In 1968, Ohio State defeated Michigan 50-14 to earn the conference championship and Rose Bowl bid.  After beating O.J. Simpson’s USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes won the National Championship as well.  In 1969, Ohio State had a team similar to the Buckeye team of this season.  Considered unbeatable, the Buckeyes destroyed eight consecutive opponents before facing a 7-2 Michigan team in the season finale.  Michigan had a first year head coach in Bo Schmebechler, a fiery sort who would suffer a heart attack just a month later.  Ohio State began the game looking like they would win and go on to defend their national title in the Rose Bowl, but something happened.  Michigan’s defense toughened, and All-Conference quarterback Rex Kern began throwing interceptions.  Michigan capitalized and pulled off the big upset to win the league crown and Rose Bowl berth.

The following year, Ohio State ran the table in the regular season, getting revenge over the 9-0 Wolverines, and entering the Rose Bowl with a chance to cop another national title, with Texas losing earlier in the day in the Cotton Bowl.  However, Stanford and Heisman Trophy winning QB Jim Plunkett was too much for the conservative Buckeyes.

Michigan went undefeated in the regular season in 1971, and the Wolverines lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.  1972 was Ohio State’e turn to ruin Michigan’s national title hopes.  The Wolverines had the best defense in college football in six years, but the Buckeyes pulled off the 14-11 upset to foil the Rose Bowl Game of The Century between #1 USC and #2 Michigan.

1973 once again saw both powers enter the big game undefeated, and in this case, they  still were both undefeated after the game, following a 10-10 tie.  Ohio State was voted to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes defeated USC.  Ohio State won the big game in 1974 but lost the Rose Bowl to USC.

1975 was supposed to be Ohio State’s best year in the Woody Hayes era.  The Buckeyes returned the bulk of the team from the year before.  Michigan was down just a tad with a younger than average squad.  The Buckeyes ran the table against a strong schedule that included non-conference wins over Penn State (an independent then) and UCLA (by 21 points).  They knocked off an 8-0-2 Michigan squad to head to Pasadena to face the Bruin team they blew off the LA Coliseum field in September.  The Bruins got their revenge, and the Buckeyes did not get that final title for Woody.

1976, 77, and 78 were Michigan’s years to shine.  The Wolverines appeared to be primed to compete for three consecutive national titles.  They would beat Ohio State all three seasons, but letdowns in one game each year and then Rose Bowl losses each year spoiled their national title hopes.  During this time, Ohio State began to fade, and Coach Hayes was let go after an embarrassing incident that occured at the end of the 1978 Gator Bowl.

In 1979, Ohio State returned to glory with new coach Earl Bruce.  The Buckeyes ran the table with a close 18-15 win over the Wolverines, and they appeared to be in control of the Rose Bowl, until USC scored late to win 17-16.
In 1980, neither team was as strong as it had been in the 1970’s, but Michigan went undefeated in league play to enter the Rose Bowl at 9-2.  It was Coach Schembechler’s weakest Rose Bowl team yet, and he was 0-5 in previous Rose Bowls.  This time, the Wolverines upset Washington to finally give Bo his Roses.

13 years of dominance between the Big Two came to an end in 1981, as Iowa became the first “Little 8” team to appear in the Rose Bowl since the Cardiac Kids of Indiana won the 1967 Big Ten Championship.

Which brings us back to the current time: The Buckeyes appear to be on the cusp of becoming as dominant as they were in the past.  Urban Meyer pulled off the big surprise last year, and now Ohio State looks to be 7-10 points better this year than last.  Once again, Michigan has a fiery new coach in Jim Harbaugh.  But, there are differences this year compared to 1969.  First, Michigan State is the team most likely to play the role of 1969 Michigan.  The Spartans are talented enough this year to win the national title themselves.  Penn State is sitting pretty with a loaded team needing a potentially star quarterback to “get it” and put it all together.  Michigan went 5-7 last year and will be pleased with any forward movement.  8-4 might earn Harbaugh Coach of the Year honors.

The West Division has its intrigue as well.  Wisconsin has a new coach.  Former Badger offensive coordinator Paul Chryst returns to Madison after a three-year sojourn in Pittsburgh.  He will continue the Barry Alvarez/Bret Bielema/Gary Andersen philosophy of pounding the ball and throwing to twin tight ends, but UW has some reloading to do.

Nebraska also has a new coach, but Mike Riley will bring a new philosophy to the plains.  The Cornhuskers will rely more on a wide-open offense with more balance, something Bill Callahan tried to install in Lincoln a decade ago and failed miserably.

Iowa and Northwestern have talent but not enough to compete for a division title, which opens the door for the one team with both talent and the same coach that has been there long enough to establish his system.  Our surprise pick to win the West Division this year is the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  In what appears to be a minor rebuilding year at TCF Bank Stadium, we believe Coach Jerry Kill’s squad will benefit from a favorable schedule where the Gophers will face Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while having enough talent to win at Iowa, Northwestern, and Purdue to win the division in a tiebreaker over the Badgers.

Here is the Big Ten Media’s Preseason Poll.  It is no surprise who their pick is to win, but notice that it is unanimous, and that the second best team is also unanimous.

Big Ten Conference Media Poll
Pos. Team 1st Place Total Champ. Votes
East Division
1 Ohio St. 40 280 40
2 Michigan St. 0 240 0
3 Penn St. 0 186.5 0
4 Michigan 0 163.5 0
5 Maryland 0 95.5 0
6 Rutgers 0 78 0
7 Indiana 0 76.5 0
West Division
1 Wisconsin 32 272 0
2 Nebraska 5 231.5 0
3 Minnesota 3 197 0
4 Iowa 0 158.5 0
5 Northwestern 0 125 0
6 Illinois 0 77 0
7 Purdue 0 59 0

The Big Ten has never polled a preseason all-conference team, but they do vote on offensive and defensive players of the year.  We have substituted our top-rated players at each position in place of the All-Big Ten and then included the players of the year voting below.

Big Ten Preseason All-Conference Team
Offense Player School
Quarterback Connor Cook Michigan St.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott Ohio St.
Running Back Corey Clement Wisconsin
Wide Receiver Leonte Carroo Rutgers
Wide Receiver DaeSean Hamilton Penn St.
Wide Receiver Braxton Miller Ohio St.
Tight End Josiah Price Michigan St.
Tackle Taylor Decker Ohio St.
Tackle Jack Conklin Michigan St.
Guard Pat Elfein Ohio St.
Guard Josh Campion Minnesota
Center Jack Allen Michigan St.
Defense Player School
End Joey Bosa Ohio St.
End Shilique Calhoun Michigan St.
Tackle Anthony Zettel Penn St.
Tackle Adolphus Washington Ohio St.
Linebacker Darron Lee Ohio St.
Linebacker Vince Biegel Wisconsin
Linebacker Ed Davis Michigan St.
Cornerback William Likely Maryland
Cornerback Nick VanHoose Northwestern
Safety Vonn Bell Ohio St.
Safety Jordan Lucas Penn St.
Special Teams Player School
Punter Peter Mortell Minnesota
Kicker Brad Craddock Maryland
Return Specialist Janarion Grant Rutgers
Return Specialist De’Mornay Pierson-El Nebraska

Note in the offensive player of the year that “Ohio State quarterbacks” received 2 first place votes and 9 votes overall.  We don’t know if this included Braxton Miller as one of three, but all three Ohio State players finished in the top 10 of the voting.

Preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year voting (1st Pl.)
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State RB, 105 (31)
2. Connor Cook, Michigan State QB, 57 (3)
3. Cardale Jones, Ohio State QB, 19 (2)
4. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB, 15 (1)
5. Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB, 15
6. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB, 9
6. Ohio State quarterbacks 9 (2)
8. Braxton Miller, Ohio State H-back, 3
9. Wes Lunt, Illinois QB, 2
Preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year voting (1st Pl.)
1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State DE, 111 (37)
2. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State DE, 50
3. Anthony Zettel, Penn State DT, 25
4. Darron Lee, Ohio State LB, 18
5. William Likely, Maryland CB, 8 (1)
6. Maliek Collins, Nebraska DE, 5
7. Vince Biegel, Wisconsin LB, 2
7. Ed Davis, Michigan State LB, 2
7. Vonn Bell, Ohio State S, 2
10. Joe Bolden, Michigan LB, 1
10. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan S, 1
10. Darius Hamilton, Rutgers DT, 1
10. Eric Murray, Minnesota CB, 1
10. Michael Caputo, Wisconsin S, 1

Here are our PiRate, Mean, Bias, and Average ratings to start the season.  More about Ohio State’s preseason PiRate Rating follows below.

Big Ten Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio St. 137.2 % 125.6 138.4 133.7
Michigan St. 123.2 116.6 123.8 121.2
Michigan 113.5 109.6 112.6 111.9
Penn St. 111.0 112.6 111.6 111.7
Indiana 97.4 98.8 97.3 97.8
Rutgers 98.5 95.9 96.9 97.1
Maryland 98.7 94.6 97.3 96.9
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Wisconsin 113.0 113.6 113.0 113.2
Minnesota 110.3 109.6 110.4 110.1
Nebraska 110.7 106.9 110.0 109.2
Northwestern 103.2 104.6 102.3 103.4
Illinois 104.7 101.6 103.2 103.2
Iowa 100.4 103.6 100.5 101.5
Purdue 100.6 100.6 98.8 100.0
B10 Averages 108.7 106.7 108.3 107.9

% Ohio State’s 137.2 preseason PiRate Rating is the highest to start a season since Nebraska in 1995.  No Mean or Bias ratings date back that far, so only the PiRate Rating has been considered.  Because the ratings have undergone a little bit of tweaking in recent years, the 137.2 rating would equate to a 140.8 rating using the old calculations.  Nebraska in 1995 began the season at 142.6.  Other teams rated higher than 140 to begin the season were: Alabama in 1979, USC in 1972, and Nebraska in 1971.  We began this rating system in October of 1969, so Ohio State’s preseason rating did not exist.  We guess that their rating would have been the highest ever had it existed, and we do not have any saved data prior to 1971.

Predicted Records & Bowl Projections

The Big Ten has tie-ins with nine different bowls, not counting any possible playoff spots.  Because, we believe that the conference will comprise half of the 2015-16 playoff spots this year, it means the league will have 11 slots to fill.  We only believe nine teams will become bowl eligible, so the bottom tier bowls, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas, will need to find at-large teams to replace the Big Ten representative.  Here are our won-loss predictions and bowl projections for the league.

PiRate Ratings Predicted Records
Pos Team Conf. Overall Bowl
East Division
1 Ohio St. 8-0 13-0 * Playoffs
2 Michigan St. 7-1 11-1 Playoffs
3 Penn St. 6-2 10-2 Rose
4 Michigan 4-4 7-5 Pinstripe
5 Rutgers 1-7 5-7 None
6 Maryland 1-7 4-8 None
7 Indiana 1-7 4-8 None
West Division
1 Minnesota 7-1 10-3 ^ Holiday
2 Wisconsin 7-1 10-2 Citrus
3 Nebraska 5-3 8-4 Outback
4 Iowa 4-4 7-5 Music City
5 Northwestern 3-5 6-6 Foster Farms
6 Purdue 2-6 4-8 None
7 Illinois 0-8 3-9 None
* Wins Title Game
^ Loses Title Game

Coming Next: The Big 12 Conference

September 1, 2013

2013 NFC West Division Preview

2013 N F C West Preview

Do you remember how the season began for the four NFC West teams last year?  After four weeks, who was in first place?  Was it NFC Champion-to-be San Francisco?  Was it the Seattle Seahawks thanks to their gift of a win at home over the Packers on Monday Night Football?  Or, maybe it was the St. Louis Rams with new coach Jeff Fisher?

 

Wrong on all three guesses.  Future last place team Arizona led at 4-0, with three wins over teams expected to be really good.  The Cardinals topped Seattle in week one, then won at New England in week two.  When they defeated Philly in week three, it was meaningful since the Eagles were supposed to challenge for the NFC East crown.  Even an overtime win over Miami in week four looked impressive.  At 4-0, pundits believed this was a much better team than the one that went to the Super Bowl a few years earlier.

 

St. Louis stood at 2-2 after four weeks with wins over two teams that would make the playoffs.  Seattle was also 2-2, but everybody knew they should have been 1-3 and would have been 1-3 had the real referees been there on that fateful Monday night.

 

The San Francisco 49ers were 3-1, with the loss coming to a Minnesota team that nobody believed could go 8-8 much less the 10-6 that they eventually would achieve.

 

That, my friends, is just one example why the NFL is so hard to predict.  Who could believe that the mighty Cardinals of September 2012 would turn into the lowly Cardinals of December 2012.  Nine consecutive losses followed that 4-0 start, and the first eight of those were rather close games.  The ninth loss was a 58-0 pasting at Seattle, who by this time was looking like the best team in the NFL.

 

The swoon cost highly competent head coach Ken Whisenhunt his job.  Whis ended up at San Diego as the new offensive coordinator.  In his place comes the hot offensive coordinator of 2012.  Bruce Arians took over at Indianapolis after Chuck Pagano had to take medical leave, and he merely guided the surprising Colts to a playoff spot.  We believe Arians knows his stuff.  The former offensive assistant at Alabama under Bear Bryant has just one head coaching position on his resume.  He guided Temple to two winning seasons in the 1980’s at a time when winning seasons at Temple were as hard to come by as winning seasons with the Houston Astros.  Arians will get everything possible out of the Cardinal offense, and the team has improved its defense through the draft.  Quarterback Carson Palmer will bring the vertical passing game to the desert, and Larry Fitzgerald should rebound with a 1,000+ yard receiving year.  Michael Floyd showed flashes of brilliance last year even with the Cardinals shuffling quarterbacks like a deck of cards.  He will command enough attention to keep defenses honest, and he will also help the tight ends find more open spaces in the shorter zones.

 

In our opinion, the key to the offense this year is Rashard Mendenhall.  If the former Steeler star can rebound after suffering through an ACL injury last year, then this offense will move the ball and score more points this year.  If he is just a mere shell of his former self, then Palmer will be forced to throw the ball down the field too many times.  It will lead to inconsistency and predictability—failure!

 

St. Louis actually won the division last year if you go by division standings alone.  The Rams swept Arizona, went 1-0-1 against San Francisco, and split with Seattle.  Losses to lowly Detroit and Miami kept the Rams out of the playoffs.  The Rams may see the most benefit from their draft and free agent pickup of anybody.  First round picks Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree will start from the beginning.  Third round pick T. J. McDonald has cracked the starting lineup as well.  Free agent acquisitions Jared Cook and Jake Long will have big impacts.  Cook could be the steal of the free agent signees this year, as he never developed at Tennessee.  He has looked like the star he was pegged to become under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.  Fisher’s offenses in the past have relied heavily on throwing to the tight end to convert third down situations.  Having a third place schedule could help bump the Rams up to the plus side of .500, but it might be asking too much to expect this team to make the playoffs.

 

Seattle closed the season looking like the 2007 New England Patriots, at least on the scoreboard.  Those five wins that pushed them into the playoffs came by an average score of 39-12!  Russell Wilson proved to be the best of a great crop of new quarterbacks, and there is no reason to doubt that he won’t continue to flourish in the great Northwest.  He came close to averaging eight yards per pass attempt, a mark equivalent to batting .350 in the Major Leagues.  Receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are capable of having better seasons than they did last year, and if Marshawn Lynch can replicate his 2012 season this year, the Seahawks will contend for the conference championship.  If they can get home field advantage, it will be tough to keep this team out of the Super Bowl.

 

San Francisco is our mystery team for 2013.  How can we say that out of the NFC Champion?  First, we are worried that Frank Gore is about to hit that wall that most running backs in their 30’s smash into when their legs refuse to respond as quickly to the signals sent to it from the brain.  He could still lead the team in rushing, but we suspect his average per carry is going to head south this year.  That could force Colin Kaepernick to try to make up for the decline by running a few too many times.  This new trend of quarterbacks running the ball as part of the offensive game plan is still very risky.  Just one hit could turn the fate of the team over to Colt McCoy, and we do not see McCoy as the type that can lead this team back to the Super Bowl.  So, we have a mystery here this year.

 

If Kaepernick can stay healthy for 16 games, and if Gore can get one more big year out of his legs, then this team is by far the best in the NFC.  However, the fall down the pack could be brutal if either star cannot perform up to their 2012 standards.  Add to this uncertainty the fact that this team must start the year without Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, and their draft class has more wounded players than healthy players, and 2013 could be a rough beginning with the first five games coming against Green Bay, Seattle, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Houston.  We would not be surprised if the 49ers are just 2-3 at this point and no better than 3-2.  At that point, if the team is healthy, they could almost run the table, but we believe they will fall a couple times after their week nine bye.eH

 

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 NFC West.

West

Color

Red

Green

Blue

Arizona Cardinals

Cardinal

151

35

63

 

Black

17

28

36

 

White

255

255

255

St. Louis Rams

Millenium Blue

0

33

71

 

New Century Gold

149

119

77

 

White

255

255

255

San Francisco 49ers

Cardinal

151

35

63

 

Metallic Gold

142

110

77

 

Black

17

28

36

Seattle Seahawks

Royal Blue

0

51

141

 

Green

0

133

66

 

Silver

133

136

139

 

 

2012 Final Standings & PiRate Ratings

NFC West

PiRate

Mean

Biased

W-L-T

Pts

Opp

Seattle Seahawks

112.2

110.7

109.7

11-5-0

412

245

San Francisco 49ers

108.4

107.9

107.5

11-4-1

397

273

St. Louis Rams

98.6

98.6

98.5

7-8-1

299

348

Arizona Cardinals

95.0

94.6

94.3

5-11-0

250

357

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013 Preseason PiRate Ratings

West

PiRate

Mean

Biased

San Francisco 49ers

108.4

107.9

108.6

Seattle Seahawks

105.6

105.6

105.5

St. Louis Rams

98.7

99.9

98.0

Arizona Cardinals

95.0

97.5

94.7

 

PiRate Previews

 

Team

Arizona Cardinals

               
Head Coach

Bruce Arians

O-Coord.

Harold Goodwin

D-Coord.

Todd Bowles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Carson Palmer

Running Back

Rashard Mendenhall

Wide Receiver

Larry Fitzgerald

Wide Receiver

Michael Floyd

Tight End

Rob Housler

Tight End

Kory Sperry

Left Tackle

Levi Brown

Left Guard

Daryn Colledge

Center

Lyle Sendlein

Right Guard

Paul Fanaika

Right Tackle

Eric Winston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Calais Campbell

Nose Tackle

Dan Williams

Right Tackle

Darnell Dockett

Left OLB

Sam Acho

Left ILB

Jasper Brinkley

Right ILB

Karlos Dansby

Right OLB

Lorenzo Alexander

Left CB

Patrick Peterson

Right CB

Jerraud Powers

Strong Safety

Yeremiah Bell

Free Safety

Rashad Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Jay Feely

Punter

Dave Zastudil

K-Return

Javier Arenas

P-Return

Patrick Peterson

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

5-11

Division

4th

Team

St. Louis Rams

               
Head Coach

Jeff Fisher

O-Coord.

Brian Schottenheimer

D-Coord.

Tim Walton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Sam Bradford

Running Back

Daryl Richardson

Wide Receiver

Tavon Austin

Wide Receiver

Chris Givens

H-Back

Lance Kendricks

Tight End

Jared Cook

Left Tackle

Jake Long

Left Guard

Shelley Smith

Center

Scott Wells

Right Guard

Harvey Dahl

Right Tackle

Rodger Saffold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Chris Long

Left Tackle

Kendall Langford

Right Tackle

Michael Brockers

Right End

Robert Quinn

Sam LB

Will Witherspoon

Mike LB

James Laurinaitis

Will LB

Alec Ogletree

Left CB

Cortland Finnegan

Right CB

Janoris Jenkins

Strong Safety

T. J. McDonald

Free Safety

Darian Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Greg Zuerlein

Punter

Johnny Hekker

K-Return

Tavon Austin

P-Return

Tavon Austin

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

8-8

Division

3rd

Team

San Francisco 49ers

               
Head Coach

Jim Harbaugh

O-Coord.

Greg Roman

D-Coord.

Vic Fangio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Colin Kaepernick

Running Back

Frank Gore

Fullback

Bruce Miller

Wide Receiver

Anquan Boldin

Wide Receiver

Kyle Williams

Tight End

Vernon Davis

Left Tackle

Joe Staley

Left Guard

Mike Iupati

Center

Jonathan Goodwin

Right Guard

Alex Boone

Right Tackle

Anthony Davis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Ray McDonald

Nose Tackle

Ian Williams

Right End

Justin Smith

Left OLB

Ahmad Brooks

Left ILB

NaVorro Bowman

Right ILB

Patrick Willis

Right OLB

Aldon Smith

Left CB

Carlos Rogers

Right CB

Tarell Brown

Strong Safety

Donte Whitner

Free Safety

C. J. Spillman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Phil Dawson

Punter

Andy Lee

K-Return

LaMichael James

P-Return

LaMichael James

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

12-4

Division

1st

Team

Seattle Seahawks

               
Head Coach

Pete Carroll

O-Coord.

Darrell Bevell

D-Coord.

Dan Quinn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Russell Wilson

Running Back

Marshawn Lynch

Fullback

Derrick Coleman

Wide Receiver

Golden Tate

Wide Receiver

Sydney Rice

Tight End

Zach Miller

Left Tackle

Russell Okung

Left Guard

Paul Mcquistan

Center

Max Unger

Right Guard

J. R. Sweezy

Right Tackle

Breno Giacomini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Red Bryant

Left Tackle

Tony McDaniel

Right Tackle

Brandon Mebane

Right End

Chris Clemons

Sam LB

K. J. Wright

Mike LB

Bobby Wagner

Will LB

Malcolm Smith

Left CB

Richard Sherman

Right CB

Brandon Browner

Strong Safety

Kam Chancellor

Free Safety

Earl Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Steven Hauschka

Punter

Jon Ryan

K-Return

Jermaine Kearse

P-Return

Golden Tate

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

11-5

Division

2nd

This concludes the PiRate Ratings Preseason Previews.  Coming Tuesday, we will debut our opening PiRate Ratings for NFL Week One.

 

On Wednesday, we will carry our college ratings for week two, and on Thursday, we will make our PiRate Picks for college and pro for the weekend.

 

Then, beginning the following week, we expect to release college ratings every Tuesday; NFL ratings every Wednesday; and our picks every Thursday.

August 18, 2010

2010 Pac-10 Football Preview

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

 

2010 Pac-10 Conference Preview

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions

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

 

BCS (Rose) Bowl: Oregon

Alamo Bowl: Arizona

Holiday Bowl: California

Sun Bowl: Washington

Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Oregon State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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