The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 24, 2012

2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

The Atlantic Coast Conference has not had a National Champion since Florida State won the title in 1999 (defeating future ACC rival Virginia Tech).  The league suffered through several down years with teams playing in the conference championship game and finishing with three, four, and even five losses.  Just last year, conference champion Clemson gave up 70 points in the Orange Bowl.

 

Prospects look brighter this season as the sports “experts” believe Florida State is a strong national title contender once again.  Clemson and North Carolina State are improved enough to reach double digit wins.  The other three Atlantic Division teams will compete for bowl eligibility.  In the Coastal Division, North Carolina is not bowl eligible this year, and the Tar Heels could finish in first place in the division.  There is a chance a 5-3 and definitely a 6-2 team could face the Atlantic Division winner at the end of the year.

 

Here is the league’s official preseason media poll.

 

 

 

ACC Atlantic

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Florida State

72

543

(60)

2

Clemson

17

470

(13)

3

North Carolina State

5

402

(1)

4

Wake Forest

0

241

 

5

Boston College

0

181

 

6

Maryland

0

148

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACC Coastal

 

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Virginia Tech

83

558

(18)

2

Georgia Tech

10

421

(3)

3

North Carolina

2

341

 

4

Virginia

0

326

 

5

Miami (Fla.)

0

245

 

6

Duke

0

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numbers in ( ) are votes to win ACC Championship Game

 

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings vary only slightly from the media poll.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

ACC Atlantic

PiRate

1

Florida State

120.0

2

Clemson

115.0

3

North Carolina State

103.1

4

Boston College

102.9

5

Wake Forest

98.6

6

Maryland

95.6

 

   

Rank

ACC Coastal

PiRate

1

Virginia Tech

111.8

2

North Carolina

109.0

3

Georgia Tech

107.4

4

Virginia

100.0

5

Miami (Fla)

99.3

6

Duke

98.4

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

ACC Atlantic

Vintage

1

Florida State

115

2

Clemson

113

3

North Carolina State

110

4

Boston College

107

5

Maryland

100

6

Wake Forest

99

 

   

Rank

ACC Coastal

Vintage

1

Virginia Tech

109

2

Georgia Tech

109

3

North Carolina

108

4

Virginia

105

5

Miami (Fla)

103

6

Duke

103

 

 

Team

Boston College Eagles

               
Head Coach

Frank Spaziani

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Chestnut Hill, MA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

102.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

39

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

Last year, the Eagles suffered through their first losing season since 1998, and it continued a pattern that has been developing for four years.  BC’s win total has decreased four years in a row from 11 to nine to eight to seven to four.

 

Fourth year coach Frank Spaziani will get a pink slip if this trend continues in 2012.  The pattern should end this year, because of the 22 starters that should take the field for the opener against Miami, 20 of them started at least one game last year.

 

Expect big changes on the offensive side, even though all 11 positions will have a player with starting experience.  Spaziani hired Doug Martin as his new offensive coordinator.  Martin is a passing specialist.  He couldn’t turn the corner as head coach at Kent State, but the Golden Flashes moved the ball through the air.  In Martin’s one season as the OC at New Mexico State, the Aggies improved by nine points and 100 passing yards per game.

 

Whether quarterback Chase Rettig is up to the chase is another story.  In two seasons, Rettig has thrown as many interceptions as touchdown passes, and his completion percentage has been just a tad over 50%.  Rettig is not a running threat, so the Eagles need a major jump by the junior this year if they are to challenge for a winning record.

 

All the key personnel returns at the receiver positions, but one key piece will be sidelined until late October.  Bobby Swigert led in receptions as a possession receiver, and Colin Larmond led in yards as more of a breakaway threat.  Alex Amidon is another deep threat, while tight end Chris Pantale continues the tradition of excellent play at that position by Eagle tight ends.  This quartet was responsible for about 70% of the pass receptions last year.  Pantale will miss the first half of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

 

Deuce Finch and Andre Williams return to share the running back position after Montel Harris was dismissed from the team in the early part of last season.  This duo combined for 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns, but they cannot match what Harris did.  With the new emphasis on the passing game, expect BC’s rushing numbers to stay around 100-120 yards per game.

 

Four full-time starters return up front, and the fifth started a game last year.  The left side of the line is strong and talented with guard Bobby Vardaro and tackle Emmett Cleary.  Ian White moves from guard to center.

 

We expect the Eagles to increase their points and yardage this season.  Of course, they have easy marks to better, as they scored 18 points and gained less than 300 yards per game in 2011.  Expect a jump by five points and 50-75 yards.

 

The defense would have been better if it didn’t have to stay out on the field so long.  BC’s opponents averaged seven more scrimmage plays per game than the Eagles averaged.

 

The strength of the 4-3 alignment is at linebacker, where weak side linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis returns after finishing second on the team with 74 tackles, including six for negative yardage.  Steele Divitto returns to the other outside position.  He finished third with 72 tackles and picked up a couple of sacks.  Sean Duggan started a trio of 2011 games as a true freshman, and he finished with 39 stops.  He has to replace Luke Kuechly, a first-round NFL draft pick.  Even without their all-American, BC is solid here.

 

The defensive front four suffered with injuries last season, and several youngsters saw extended playing time.  End Brian Mihalik was pressed into duty as a true freshman and now has game experience.  He will team with Kasim Edebali at the opposite terminal position.  The Eagles made just 11 sacks all season, and these two anchors need to approach that number by themselves for the Eagles to compete for a bowl bid.  Tackles Dillon Quinn, Dominic Appiah, and Kaleb Ramsey give the Eagles three quality players at the inside position.

 

The secondary never had a chance last year due to the weak pass rush.  The Eagles were repeatedly exploited in the underneath zones.  Two starters return this season, but the two new starters saw a lot of action as freshmen.  None of these four players will challenge for all-ACC honors, and if the pass rush is morbid again this season, BC’s defense will suffer through another long season.

 

Boston College has a history of producing some excellent kickers, but even this phase of the game suffered last year.  Nate Freese connected on a 52-yard field goal, but he was just 10-16 for the season. 

 

The schedule presents another obstacle in the Eagles’ path to bowl eligibility.  Outside the ACC, BC has just one guaranteed win, and that is against a really good FCS team in Maine.  The Eagles face Northwestern and Army on the road and host Notre Dame.  We can see BC winning two of the four non-league games.  The Eagles draw Miami, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech from the Coastal Division and of course must face the big three out of the Atlantic.  3-5 in league play looks like the ceiling, so BC could very well come up one game short.

 

 

 

 

Team

Clemson Tigers

               
Head Coach

Dabo Swinney

               
Colors

Orange and Purple

               
City

Clemson, SC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

115.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

11

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

A season that included Clemson’s first ACC Championship in 20 seasons plus two wins over Virginia Tech and wins over Florida State and Auburn were almost forgotten after the debacle at the Orange Bowl.  CU lost to Geno Smith and West Virginia 70-33!  After an 8-0 start, the Tigers limped home at 2-4, and the fans in Clemson were not all that happy.

 

Coach Dabo Swinney took immediate action to improve the defense by luring away Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables.  Venables is going to make as much as some mid-major head coaches this year, and he will earn that if he can turn this defense around.  Defense is the definite Achilles ’ heel of this team.

 

CU gave up close to 30 points and 400 yards per game in 2011.  In the final eight games, they gave up 36.6 points per game and 423 yards per game.  Venables has not been all too pleased by what he has to work with so far.  He told the media that he was only comfortable with about a dozen players, and a defense cannot get by on that many.

 

The defensive line lost its top three players from last year, and it is the reason CU will not repeat as Atlantic Division champions this season.  End Malliciah Goodman is the lone holdover here.  He made 59 tackles and just two sacks, and his sack total should triple or even quadruple this year with the losses of Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson.

 

The second line of defense returns all three starters from a year ago.  Corrico Wright recorded 80 tackles with five for loss.  Jonathan Willard added 75 tackles.  Quandron Christian contributed 36.  Tony Steward is trying to come back from two torn ACL’s, and he had the potential to be an All-ACC player.  It looks like he could be forced to miss this year rehabbing the knee.

 

Rashard Hall led CU in tackles with 89.  It is never a good thing when your leading tackler is a safety, unless your team leads every game 14-0 after seven minutes.  Hall only recorded three defended passes.  Xavier Brewer starts at the other safety position.  Brewer picked off one pass and knocked away seven others.  There isn’t much depth in the secondary, and injuries will be a major problem here.  Hall had a minor surgery after last season.

 

The Clemson offense is in much better shape, and the Tigers can still win games in which they give up four touchdowns.  Tajh Boyd completed 60% of his passes with 33 touchdowns in his first season as a full-time starter.  He added five more on the ground.  Boyd quickly picked up offensive coordinator Chad Morris’s offense, and CU made a jump by almost 10 points and more than 100 yards per game.

 

Two of the ACC’s top receivers (possibly the two best) return this year, but one will miss the first two games of the season following an off-season arrest.  Sammy Watkins will be missed against Auburn.  He led CU with 82 receptions, 1,219 yards, and 12 touchdowns.  DeAndre Hopkins finished with 72 catches and 978 yards.  Tight end Dwayne Allen must be replaced, but the Tigers have a couple of talented replacements in Brandon Ford and Stanton Seckinger.

 

Clemson is not a one-dimensional team.  The Tigers can do damage on the ground as well.  Andre Ellington returns after gaining 1,178 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns.  A concern is the loss of backup Mike Bellamy who failed to stay academically eligible.

 

Rebuilding is needed on the offensive line, the one possible liability on this side of the ball.  The Tigers must break in three new starters in the trenches.  Center Dalton Freeman has NFL potential.  He earned 1st Team All-ACC accolades last year.  Brandon Thomas returns at one tackle position, while the new starting tackle figures to be Shaq Anthony.  The two new starters at guard are Tyler Shatley and David Beasley.

 

Chandler Catanzaro is one of the best placekickers since “Iggy kicked the piggy” back in the 1980’s.  He hit on 22 of 27 field goals, including 9 of 12 from 40 yards and out.

 

Clemson has seven sure wins on their schedule.  How well they perform in five key contests will determine if the Tigers can win 10 games again.  We think they can, but only if they win their bowl game this year.

 

 

Team

Florida State Seminoles

               
Head Coach

Jimbo Fisher

               
Colors

Garnet and Gold

               
City

Tallahassee, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

120.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

8

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

12-1

 

The Seminoles have not competed for the national championship since 2000, when they fell to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.  The Seminoles are the media darling this season, as multiple media personnel are picking FSU to win all the marbles.

 

Third year coach Jimbo Fisher returns a load of talent, and the Seminoles have the horses on both sides of the ball to make the media look like geniuses.

 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles may begin to resemble the great units produced by Mickey Andrews in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  FSU is loaded on this side of the ball, possibly the top line and set of linebackers in the league.

 

The defensive line is as strong as LSU’s or Alabama’s.  Ends Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins remind us of Eric Curry and John Copeland at Alabama in 1992.  These two bookends teamed up for 15 sacks and 23 total tackles for loss.  Werner can drop back in pass coverage and defend like a linebacker.  Three excellent tackles return in the inside with Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud starting and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Timmy Jernigan backing them up.  FSU may actually see their excellent sack total of 41 going up this year.

 

Nigel Bradham led the ‘Noles in tackles for three years in a row, and he will be hard to replace.  However, Vince Williams and Christian Jones return after teaming for 110 tackles.

 

Safety Lamarcus Joyner led FSU with four interceptions and he joins cornerback Xavier Rhodes as the holdovers in the secondary.   If there is a concern, it is in the secondary, but FSU will have three games to break in the new starters before they face a quarterback that can exploit them. 

 

The offense was not quite up to standard at times last year, but numerous injuries made it difficult to stay consistent.  Quarterback E. J. Manuel was one of those players needing medical attention.  When healthy, Manuel completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He averaged better than 8.5 yards per attempt.

 

All of Manuel’s key receivers return this year.  Rodney Smith, Rashad Greene, and Christian Green teamed for 100 receptions and 1,607 yards; all three can take a five-yard pass and turn it into a 50-yard gain.

 

Devonta Freeman led the Seminoles with 579 rushing yards last year, but he will back up Chris Thompson this year.  This is one area where there is need for improvement.  A good pass defense may be able to slow the FSU offense down and produce an upset.

 

Several players saw time in the offensive line last year due to injuries.  Center Bryan Stork was the regular when he was healthy.  He can play anywhere on the line.  Tre Jackson and Josue Matias will start at guard, while Daniel Glauser and Cameron Erving get the nod at tackle.  If Jacob Fahrenkrug can return from an ankle injury at some point this year, he will provide a major boost.

 

Don’t get us wrong:  Florida State has its best team in a decade, and they can run the table with the talent they have.  However, we are not ready to coronate this team as the top team in the land.  Our ratings show the ACC Atlantic Division to be much improved overall this year.  The top three teams could possibly split the three games.  Outside of conference play, the ‘Noles begin the season against Murray State and Savannah State, so their Strength of Schedule will suffer.  Their other two non-league games are in-state, at South Florida and home with Florida.  If they have one loss, their SOS will not hold up against a one-loss Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, USC, or Oregon team.

 

 

 

Team

Maryland Terrapins

               
Head Coach

Randy Edsall

               
Colors

Red, White, Black, and Gold

               
City

College Park, MD

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

95.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

74

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

66

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

4-8

 

As so often happens, a school’s fan base and athletic administrators frequently believe they can do better and deserve better than they have.  They rush to making inaccurate decisions based on faulty logic by looking at their product through rose-colored glasses.  Such was the case with Maryland. 

 

Ralph Friedgen had just guided the Terrapins to a 9-4 season and 31-point win in the Military Bowl.  It wasn’t enough for the Terps.  They expected the ACC title in 2010, but they lost by 14 to Florida State.

 

Friedgen was probably only going to coach another season, and Maryland had a budding superstar coach-in-waiting.  The athletic administration not only dropped the ball when they dismissed Friedgen, they bungled the timing as well, allowing James Franklin to slip to Vanderbilt.  Maryland suffered through a 2-10 season with one of those wins coming against Towson State, while Franklin turned Vanderbilt into a bowl team in one year.

 

Coach Randy Edsall came to College Park with a solid reputation.  He turned Connecticut into the Big East Champion and Fiesta Bowl participant.  It took him 12 years to do it, and it he will not be given nearly that long to turn the trick here.  He faces an uphill climb, because there isn’t enough football talent in this general area, and there are many competitors from the Big Ten and SEC, as well as other ACC schools vying for said talent.

 

Edsall was further put behind the eight-ball with a major blow at the most important position.  Former quarterback Danny O’Brien did not mesh with Edsall’s philosophy of moving the ball.  After a subpar year in which O’Brien suffered a broken arm and missed the last two games, this after he had been previously benched for runner C. J. Brown.  O’Brien thus became the next Russell Wilson.  As a college graduate, he became eligible to transfer to another school and play immediately.  His first choice was to follow his former offensive mentor Franklin to Vanderbilt, but Maryland charged that Vanderbilt had illegally talked to O’Brien and filed a complaint against the Commodores.  O’Brien decided to pull a Wilson and ended up as the new starter at Wisconsin.

 

That left Brown as the obvious starter and only experienced quarterback on the roster.  Last week, Brown suffered a knee injury that forces him out of action for this season, and that leaves the Terps with two true freshmen to share the quarterback spot.  Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe have potential to be decent quarterbacks, but maybe not until 2014.  Starting in the much improved ACC in 2012 is not going to get the job done, and opposing defenses will crowd the box with the intent to stuff the run and force the rookies into throwing mistakes. 

 

Maryland has some talent at receiver.  Kevin Dorsey could start for any ACC team other than Florida State. He led the Terps with 45 receptions, 573 yards, and three touchdowns last year as the one of two bright spots on the offense.  Tight end Matt Furstenburg is one of the top two or three ACC players at his position.  He should become an even more important target this year (31 receptions 348 yds. 2 TD) because inexperienced QBs tend to throw to the biggest target they can find. 

 

Justin Pickett is a step down from Davin Meggett at running back, and he is going to find it hard to locate many running lanes if opponents bring an eighth player into the box and do not respect the quarterbacks’ throwing ability.

 

Maryland’s interior line is strong inside and mediocre on the outside.  Center Sal Conaboy and guards Bennett Fulper and De’Onte Arnett are credible, but tackles Justin Gilbert and Nick Klemm are not going to give the frosh QBs ample time to set up in the pocket and not get nervous feet.

 

Expect Maryland’s offense to stall at several times against the better teams.  Having three not-so-tough non-conference games and a home conference game against Wake Forest will allow the attack side to pad their stats and come close to replicating or even topping last year’s final numbers.

 

If the defense does not find itself on the field for 33-35 minutes a game this year, the Terps should be quite improved on the stop side.  Most of the key contributors return from a unit that gave up 34.3 points and almost 460 total yards per game, so improvement should be a given.

 

Up front in the 3-4 alignment, Maryland has one of the top tackle/ends in the nation.  Joe Vellano is not your typical defensive tackle.  He doesn’t just occupy blockers so his linebackers can make the headlines.  Vellano makes the tackles, and he did so 94 times last year including 7 ½ for losses.  He will be joined by nose tackle A. J. Francis and end Andre Monroe, the sack specialist.  As a freshman, Monroe led the Terps with five sacks.  If this group doesn’t have to stay on the field all day, they should give make new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart look like a genius.

 

The quartet of linebackers is led by the league’s leading returning tackler.  Demetrius Hartsfield was one of two Terps to top 100 tackles last year, coming in at 108.  Seven of those stops produced a loss of yardage.  Darin Drakeford, Kenny Tate, and L. A. Goree give the Terps four returning starters here.  Goree is imposing as a blitzer.

 

It’s the back line of defense that will keep this defense from shaving 10 points off the scoring average allowed.  Safety Eric Franklin recorded 106 tackles last year, but he picked off nary a pass.  Dexter McDougle is the top cover corner on the team, and he led the Terps with three interceptions and nine passes defended.  An untested Jeremiah Johnson is set to start at the opposite corner.

 

Maryland’s kicking game needs improvement as well.  Nick Ferrara handled both kicking and punting duties, and he tired during the season.  He only connected on 12-20 field goals, just 1-4 from 40 yards and out.

 

The only reason the Terps should improve in the win column is the easier schedule.  They open with William & Mary at home, Temple on the road, and Connecticut at home.  This gives them a legitimate shot at starting 3-0, but then the only real winnable game the rest of the way is a home tilt against Wake Forest.  We expect them to lose their final seven games.

 

 

Team

North Carolina State Wolfpack

               
Head Coach

Tom O’Brien

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Raleigh, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

103.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

52

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

23

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

Tom O’Brien has been waiting eagerly for this season.  His Wolfpack appear to be better than the last two teams that finished 9-4 and 8-5 with back-to-back bowl wins.  In fact, North Carolina State may be one upset away from playing in the ACC Championship Game this year.  Fans in Raleigh anxiously await the big home game on October 6 against the Seminoles.

 

The offense is in capable hands with Mike Glennon at quarterback.  Glennon took over for Russell Wilson and by the end of the year, he was possibly the equal of Wilson.  O’Brien states that he has taken another step forward since the end of last year and could be primed for a season reminiscent of Phillip Rivers.  Glennon completed 62.5% of his passes for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns, and we expect him to approach 3,500 this year.  The question here is what happened should Glennon get injured, because it appears that a true freshman will back him up.  Manny Stocker is not the answer if he is forced into action in league play.

 

The Pack took a hit in the receiving corps with the loss of its top two pass catchers, including T. J. Graham who went in the third round of the NFL Draft.  Tobias Palmer will become the new top threat after catching 37 passes and scoring five touchdowns.  State has two quality tight ends in Mario Carter and Anthony Talbert, and O’Brien could use some two tight end formations in passing downs.

 

James Washington and Tony Creecy will split the running back duties, with Washington probably getting ¾ of the rushing attempts.  He could approach the 1,000-yard mark this year after gaining almost 900 last year.

 

Having a talented offensive line that can protect a quarterback can make an average passing game good and a good passing game great.  NCSU has a talented offensive line.  Center Camden Wentz is another great ball-snapper in a league full of great centers.  Zach Allen is set at one guard, and R. J. Mattes slides inside from tackle to man the other guard spot.  Rob Crisp and Andrew Wallace will be the new starting tackles.

 

Defensively, it all starts with the secondary, where the best pass defender not getting a paycheck resides at cornerback.  David Amerson is the NCAA’s Nnamdi Asomugha.  He ran away with the national interception title with 13, and he got his paws on five others.  The starting safeties, Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff teamed up for eight interceptions and 172 tackles.  Some opposing quarterbacks will be apprehensive about throwing into this secondary and even intimidated, just like many batters are scared to dig into the batting box against Aroldis Chapman.  It will make the pass defense even better.

 

One reason the pass defense is so good is the pass rush up front.  As a redshirt freshman, end Art Norman posted seven sacks and an incredible 30 QB hurries.  Some of those rushed passes ended up producing a sudden change of possession.  The talent at end is so good, Norman will not start.  He will be used as a designated pass rusher.  Brian Slay and Darryl Cato-Bishop are the two starters, and both are excellent run-stoppers.  Cato-Bishop is almost the equal of Norman as a pass rusher. 

 

Linebacker is where State has troubles.  All three starters and the top reserve from a year ago are gone.  The three projected starters played in just one game last year, but two of the players missed the season.  Still, it figures to be the one reason why NCSU may not win the ACC Atlantic Division.

 

The Wolfpack open the season in Atlanta against Tennessee, and this game will be an excellent gauge of their improvement.  The Vols are now beatable thanks to the recent loss of their top offensive player.  If State gets by Tennessee, they should be 5-0 when the Seminoles invade Carter-Finley Stadium.  If they can pull off the upset, they get a week off to come down from the high before resuming the conference schedule.  Only a November contest at Clemson would stand in their way of maybe doing something memorable. 

 

We tend to believe that beating Florida State and Clemson is asking a bit too much for a team that will have three new linebackers.  However, this looks like a solid 10-win team.

 

 

Team

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

               
Head Coach

Jim Grobe

               
Colors

Black and Old Gold

               
City

Winston-Salem, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

98.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

69

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

After going 28-12 between 2006 and 2008, Wake Forest has now suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, but at least they met that fate last year after losing their bowl game.  Coach Jim Grobe faces a minor rebuilding project in Winston-Salem this year, and the Demon Deacons must deal with a tougher Atlantic Division as well.  The non-conference schedule features the same two bowl teams that handled Wake last year, and both of those teams look to be better.  This does not look like a stellar year for Grobe and his Deacs.

 

Usually when a team returns its starting quarterback, there is a strong chance that the offensive numbers will improve.  However, we suspect that it will not happen here this season.  Tanner Price topped 3,000 yards passing last year with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions.  He is saddled with an offensive line that suffered major graduation losses, as well as the loss of an NFL draft pick and the team’s best running back.  Opposing defenses are going to disrupt his rhythm this year, and Tanner will see his numbers regress.

 

The loss of Chris Givens is going to hurt more than just replacing his 83 receptions and 1,330 yards.  The other receivers found looser coverage on them because defenses had to devote two defenders to Givens.  Michael Campanaro will be the new go-to guy, but he will not command the same respect as Givens.  So, defenses will be able to play all the receivers a little tighter.  Redshirt Sherman Ragland has the potential to emerge as a starter and contribute.

 

Joshua Harris and Orville Reynolds will try to replace Brandon Pendergrass at running back.  The duo combined for 541 yards and an average of 4.2 yards per carry.  Don’t look for a major rushing average this year, as the offensive line will have to learn on the fly.

 

The only returning regular in the trenches is center Garrick Williams, and the best of the reserves from last year is tackle Colin Summers.  So guess which two offensive linemen were hurt and missed the Deacons most recent scrimmage?  You guessed it.  Williams is nursing a hamstring injury, and Summers sustained a calf injury.  Leg injuries to an offensive lineman is like an elbow injury to a pitcher.

 

Things are not dire on the defensive side of the ball, but then again, they are not peaches and cream either.  Wake gave up 27.4 points and 397.8 yards per game last year, and we do not expect those numbers to be much better if at all this season.

 

The Deacs are strongest in the secondary, thanks to two exceptional cornerbacks.  Bud Noel was the top defensive newcomer in the ACC last year.  He led the league in passes defended with 21, although unlike Amerson at NCSU, 19 of those were broken up passes and just two were interceptions.  Kenny Okoro had 10 passes defended, but like Noel, 90% of those were batted away passes and just one was an interception.

 

Three starting linebackers return, but none of them are stars, and two could be replaced by new starters.  Only Riley Haynes is guaranteed to keep his spot in the lineup.  Ziggy Allen and Mike Olson have apparently moved to number one on the depth chart ahead of Joey Ehrman and Scott Betros.

 

The Deacons play their 3-4 defense a little differently than most teams.  Usually the nose guard has to be big enough to blot out the sun in a day game, but Nikita is svelte for a 3-4 nose.  He is not a boulder that ties up space.  He is a disrupter who can get in the backfield and destroy an offensive play before it can develop.  Last year, he led Wake with 14 tackles for loss.  On either side of him are Kris Redding and Zach Thompson, two ends that will not show up on any media voter’s all-ACC teams.

 

Wake Forest has four winnable games at home this year (Liberty, Army, Duke, and Boston College, as well as another on the road (Maryland).  We may be generous in believing that they can win four of these five games, but Grobe always seems to find a way to get his teams to outperform.  

 

 

Team

Duke Blue Devils

               
Head Coach

David Cutcliffe

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Durham, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

98.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

67

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

56

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

The Blue Devils have been much more competitive under David Cutcliffe than they were for the last several years prior to his arrival in Durham.  His four years at Duke show a 15-33 record compared to a 4-42 record the previous four years.  His 3-9 team lost four close games last year.  In 2010, Duke also lost four close games and finished 3-9.  The year before that, they needed just one more victory to become bowl eligible and lost two close games.

 

That is the problem with a team that never has enough depth.  They can get up and play close games with several opponents but come up short when they tire.

 

The same fate may strike Duke again this year.  The Blue Devils have several talented players, just not enough to win the close games in the final quarter in the sunny South, where heat and humidity demands teams to have depth.

 

The Duke offense is the better of the two sides, but unless a better running game emerges, the Devils will not be strong enough to beat three ACC opponents and contend for Bowl Eligibility.

 

Duke rushed for just 94.1 yards per game on 30.4 attempts for an average of just 3.1 yards per try.  Factoring out the 19 sacks, the Blue Devils still failed to reach 100 yards per game.

 

Juwan Thompson and Josh Snead will be called upon to take some of the heat off the Duke passing game.  Thompson rushed for 457 yards to lead the team, but it is Snead that holds the key to whether Duke will improve on the ground.  He has breakaway speed.  His development allowed Cutcliffe to move Desmond Scott to receiver.

 

Scott immediately solves a problem that was facing the Duke offense.  In the off-season, a tragic accident almost took the life of receiver Blair Holliday.  Holliday’s amazing recovery from a terrible accident will inspire his teammates this year.  Scott will be the starting wideout in Holliday’s place.  He will team with Jamison Crowder and Conner Vernon to give Duke three quality receivers that should team for 130 receptions.  Garrett Patterson moves over to the offensive side and teams with Nick Hill to be the principle reserves.

 

Throwing the ball to these receivers is an experienced senior with more than two years served as a starter.  Sean Renfree completed 65% of his passes for 2,891 yards last year.  His 11 interceptions were a bit high, and his 14 touchdown passes were a tad low.

 

One star does not make an offensive line exceptional, but at least it is better than no stars.  Guard Laken Tomlinson leads an offensive line that provides excellent protection for their quarterback but has trouble opening holes for their running back.  However, if the line can push the defense back just long enough to gain two yards on third and one, it will make this offense work.

 

This could be the year where Duke’s defense begins to show improvement.  The last time the Blue Devils had this much experience returning from the season before, they gave up 10 fewer points and almost 70 less yards per game and improved the won-loss record by three games.  Of course, improved does not necessarily mean dominant.  This is still probably the weakest defense in the league with no players on the all-conference radar screen.

 

Up front, Justin Foxx and Kenny Anunike are serviceable ends.  They teamed for six sacks and 9 ½ tackles for loss, but they were the top pass rushing threats.  Most teams third and fourth best pass rushers team for six sacks and 9 ½ TFL.

 

The expected best linebacker on the team would have been Kelby Brown, but he will not play this year because he never fully recovered from an ACL injury from last year.  David Helton was the leading candidate to replace Brown, but he was knocked senseless in practice and will miss some time with a concussion.  Remember, Duke cannot afford to go deep into their depth chart to find new starters, so this is a major concern.

 

Cornerback Ross Cockrell could be the best defender on the team.  He broke up nine passes and picked off another last year, and he finished the season with 56 tackles.  Safety Walt Canty had 87 tackles and defended six passes.

 

The non-conference schedule includes a trip to Stanford and three winnable home games against Florida International, North Carolina Central, and Memphis.  Duke tends to stub its toe in these “winnable games” every year.  Richmond beat them last year for the second time in three years (they didn’t play Duke in 2010).  The Blue Devils must go 3-1 outside of the ACC to even begin to think about finding three more wins.  As the injuries pile up, so goes the chances of finding those three wins.  We don’t see it happening this year.

 

 

Team

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

               
Head Coach

Paul Johnson

               
Colors

Old Gold and White

               
City

Atlanta, GA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

107.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

27

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

Here is a team that may be getting overlooked by the media.  Georgia Tech finished in a tie for second in the ACC Coastal Division last year, and the Yellow Jackets should field their best team in three years with an experienced quarterback and group of ball carriers.

 

In Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense, a cerebral quarterback who can think quickly on the run is as important as a passing quarterback having multiple years passing in the same offense.  Tevin Washington is not the best passer in the league or even on this team, but he knows how to operate the veer and all its sister plays.  Washington led Tech with 986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last year.  He completed just 49.3% of his passes for 1,652 yards, but he averaged 11 yards per attempt!  That is because when Tech throws, a majority of those passes are deep routes off play-action.  Just the threat of having four receivers spread wide that can run deep, forces defenses to play the option with seven in the box.  When they did not respect it, Tech made them pay, as Washington threw a touchdown pass every 13.6 attempts.

 

The top two running backs return from last year.  Fullback David Sims forced defenses to assign more than one defender to bring him down, and he gained 698 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt with seven scores.  Slotback Orwin Smith was even more deadly as the pitch back than he was as a receiver.  He took pitches off the option and made many of them long gainers.  Smith averaged better than 10 yards per carry, but he usually only received a pitch out when he had open space in front of him.

 

Smith is the leading returning receiver this year.  He caught 13 passes but averaged 23.5 yards per reception.  The rest of this unit will be used more for blocking ability than route running, as the playbook leads to their big play potential.

 

When this offense returns a lot of experience in the interior line, it spells trouble for opposing defenses.   Four starters return this year, and the new starter was headed toward cracking the lineup last year before he was lost to injury.  Guard Will Jackson and center Jay Finch have all-conference potential, while guard Omoregie Uzzi and tackle Ray Beno are better than average.  Morgan Bailey will slide into the vacant tackle position, and Tech will be off and running in 2012.

 

Critics of this offense say that these teams are too one-dimensional, but they are wrong on this.  How can you call a team that averages better than 11 yards per pass attempt not a passing threat?  Just put eight men in the box against this offense and watch how quickly Tech can pass the ball for six points.  You won’t see it happen, so there is your answer.  Look for the Ramblin’ Wreck to top 325 yards on the ground and 35 points per game for the first time in Johnson’s tenure.

 

The defense has slipped here the last few years.  From 2008 to 2011, Tech gave up 20.3, 24.8, 25.2, and 26.1 points per game.  If that trend continues this year, then GT will continue to fall short in the standings by a game or two.  However, if the numbers improve back to 24 points or less, the Yellow Jackets might sting the rest of the division and head to the conference title game.

 

No unit really stands out on this team, but the secondary is its top piece of the puzzle.  Unfortunately, one of the key starters here will be unavailable for the opener.  Louis Young is suspended for the first game, but he also has an arm injury.  He and fellow cornerback Rod Sweeting form a formidable tandem on the outside.  Safety Isaiah Johnson is equally talented at stopping the run and the pass.

 

Jeremiah Attaochu leads the four-man defensive line.  He led Tech with six sacks and 11 ½ tackles for loss last year.  The Jackets need a better showing from the opposite end.  Izaan Cross did not record a sack.

 

The middle of the defense has its opening game issues as well.  Expected starter Daniel Drummond is suspended the first game and one half of the second following his arrest for piloting a boat while intoxicated.  That leaves Quayshawn Nealy as the only truly experienced linebacker for the first game.

 

The first game is not your typical opener for a team in the ACC.  Georgia Tech does not play an FCS school in a guaranteed win game.  No, the Jackets play the one team that they have to beat in order to win the Coastal Division or at least finish second behind ineligible North Carolina.  Georgia Tech opens with Virginia Tech on the road on the Monday night game that substitutes for Monday Night Football.  They also have road games against Clemson and North Carolina as well as at rival Georgia.  So, it is a tough pill to swallow that they will not be at full strength for their most important game.  Also, Virginia Tech has had all year to prepare for stopping the option.  It puts Georgia Tech at a great disadvantage, and it gives Virginia Tech a great leg up.

 

 

Team

Miami Hurricanes

               
Head Coach

Al Golden

               
Colors

Royal Purple and Gold

               
City

Coral Gables, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

               
PiRate Rating

99.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

64

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

52

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

Here is a program that never seems to stay out of trouble for long.  When they were winning national championships between 1983 and 2001, they had to deal with numerous off the field issues.  Just a couple of years ago, they had additional major issues which forced the school to self-impose a bowl ban and rule multiple players suspended for multiple games.

 

Miami is once again eligible to go to a bowl game, but the Hurricanes will not be bowl eligible in the won-loss record.  This could be their worst team since the 1977 went 3-8.

 

Second year coach Al Golden lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and Miami will be weaker on offense and defense.  The offense returns just four starters, but one of those four has been displaced on the depth chart.

 

Quarterback Stephen Morris started last year against Maryland, but he was benched in favor of Jacory Harris.  Morris completed a touchdown pass in the final minute of that game, but it was to the wrong jersey, as the interception led Maryland to victory.  Since Harris finished up his career with a decent season, look for UM to regress in the passing game this year.

 

Miami’s two outstanding receivers from 2011 are now playing in the NFL.  Tommy Streater and Travis Benjamin combined for 1,420 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.  That leaves Allen Hurns and Phillip Dorsett as their replacements.  This duo gained just 562 yards in receptions.  Miami should rely more on its tight ends this year, as the Hurricanes have two (Asante Cleveland and Clive Walford) that can get open over the middle.

 

The running game has to replace a game-changer as well.  Lamar Miller rushed for 1,272 yards last year and left early for the NFL.  Mike James and Eduardo Clements will not be able to make up the lost yards.  Look for UM’s rushing numbers to fall by at least 20 yards per game and possibly as many as 35-40.

 

The Hurricanes have issues in the offensive line, where two starters return.  Seantrel Henderson is not one of those starters, but he is without a doubt the best lineman on the team when he is healthy and not having to deal with personal issues.  He just was cleared to practice this week, and he spent time away from Miami dealing with two funerals.  He will not be ready for the start of the season, and Miami starts out with two tough road games.

 

Miami has further issues clouding its defense.  The best player on the team, safety Ray Ray Armstrong was dismissed from the team for the rules violations that forced Miami to sanction itself.  Expected starting tackle Curtis Porter has health issues and may not play following an appendectomy.  Linebacker Eddie Johnson was supposed to platoon with converted safety Thurston Armbrister at the Will linebacker spot, but he has been absent in practice.

 

The Hurricanes still have some quality talent on this side of the ball; they just don’t have enough.  End Anthony Chickillo returns after leading UM with five sacks.  Middle linebacker Denzel Perryman has the ability to record 100 tackles.  Safety Vaughn Telemaque has started 36 games in the secondary. 

 

The schedule does Golden and his team no favors.  They open with consecutive road games against Boston College and Kansas State and should be 0-2 when they face Bethune-Cookman in their home opener.  BCU will not be a pushover in this game, but you have to figure Miami will win.  It is the only game we are confident in calling a sure win for the Hurricanes this year.  If they get all the breaks (the healthy return of Henderson/Morris has a breakout season/defense gels), Miami could win four or five games.  If UM has to struggle to beat BCU to win its first game, it isn’t impossible that they could go 1-11.  We will split the difference and call for three wins.

 

 

Team

North Carolina Tar Heels

               
Head Coach

Larry Fedora

               
Colors

Carolina Blue and White

               
City

Chapel Hill, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

109.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

32

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

The Tar Heels are in timeout.  There will be no bowl game for them this year due to multiple infractions.  Too bad for UNC; this is their best team since Mack Brown guided the Heels to an 11-1 season in 1997. 

 

New head coach Larry Fedora guided Southern Mississippi to the CUSA Championship last year.  He brings along his spread offense and 4-2-5 defense, and he believes he has the pieces in place to make both formations work immediately.

 

Bryn Renner led the ACC in passing efficiency last year.  He completed 68.3% of his passes for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns and averaged 8.8 yards per attempt.  He is not much of a runner, so it remains to be seen how well he will fit into the spread.  Fedora’s quarterback at Southern Miss ran the ball five or six times per game last year.

 

One player that should thrive in the new offense is running back Giovani Bernard, the league’s Rookie of the Year and a 1st team Freshman All-American after he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 45 passes.

 

The receiving corps took a major blow when T. J. Thorpe broke his foot earlier this month.  Thorpe was a major weapon as a kick returner, and he was expected to be the Devin Hester of this team in 2012.  Still, UNC has two quality pass catchers in Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd.  Boyd can take it to the house on just about any catch where he sees daylight.

 

The offensive line returns four starters, and they take up a lot of space, averaging almost 320 pounds.  The spread offense really needs more quickness than size, but you cannot go wrong with guards Travis Bond and Jonathan Cooper as well as tackle James Hurst.

 

The defense is not as strong and talented as the offense, and it could become a liability if the offense does not hold onto the ball for sustained drives.  Fedora’s USM team had to defend for an averaged of 74 plays last year, which is about eight more than average.

 

Up front, end Kareem Martin tries to make up for the loss of All-American Quinton Coples.  Martin finished third behind Coples’ 7 ½ sacks and 15 Tackles for loss (and All-American linebacker Zach Brown’s 5 ½ sacks and 13 ½ TFL) with four sacks and seven stops for loss.  Tackle Sylvester Williams is an excellent inside-out pass rusher, so the Tar Heels should still be able to pressure quarterbacks this year.

 

Brown was the top tackler on the team as well as top pass interceptor.  Middle linebacker Kevin Reddick now takes on the role of top defender.  He made 71 stops last year.

 

The new position in the defense is the “Ram.”  It is a hybrid linebacker/safety which will call on the player to blitz, provide extra run support, and play pass defense.  Gene Robinson will wear the horns this year.  Tre Boston and Tim Scott give Carolina two additional standouts in the secondary.

 

If Carolina was using the same offense and defense as last year, we might have been inclined to select this team as a surprise dark horse to run the table this year.  All the tough games are at home, and the non-conference slate is not that difficult with just one game against anybody good.  However, because they are on probation and must break in new formations on both sides of the ball, we expect UNC to lose three times, twice in the ACC.  They may still finish in first place in the Coastal Division.

 

 

Team

Virginia Cavaliers

               
Head Coach

Mike London

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Charlottesville, VA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

100.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

62

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

48

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

Mike London turned around the fortunes of Virginia in rapid time.  The former coach of the FCS National Champion Richmond Spiders, proved that he was ready to step up to the big time.  He must do a lot of reclamation work with his defense, but we believe he will keep the Cavs in contention for a repeat trip to a bowl.

 

Returning starting quarterback Michael Rocco may not be the best passer in the ACC, but he must be vastly improved this year.  That’s because he is expected to hold onto his spot after the Cavs landed former top high school recruit Phillip Sims.

 

There will be a two-man platoon at running back with Perry Jones and Kevin Parks form an impressive tandem.  The two men combined for 1,624 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

 

Replacing Kris Burd at wideout won’t be easy.  Burd led the Cavs with 66 receptions, twice as many as the next guy.  That next guy, Tim Smith, returns and looks to add on to a season where he caught 33 passes for 565 yards.  No other receiver on this roster caught more than 20 passes.

 

Three starters return up front, and one of them, Luke Bowanko, is making the switch from guard to center.  Tackle Oday Abousji is a mountain at 6-6 and 310 pounds, and the NFL scouts are gushing at his ability.  Morgan Moses gives UVA high quality at this position.

 

Virginia may score more points this year, but they are going to give up more points as well.  London has a lot of holes to fill with the loss of eight players that saw multiple starts in games.

 

One position that has experienced talent is at end, where Jake Snyder and Bill Schautz return.  The two were much better run stoppers than pass rushers, and London used designated pass rushers in obvious passing downs.  Cam Johnson led the Cavs with four sacks and 11 TFL, but he does not return.  Four players will share reps at the defensive tackle positions, but combined they bring one career start.

 

The top two tacklers return to the next unit.  Linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds teamed up for 191 tackles with 14 going for negative yardage.

 

It is the back line of defense that makes this team so vulnerable this year.  Only one regular returns to the secondary, and depth is a major issue here.  True freshman may be called on to play the nickel and dime backs.

 

Virginia opens the season at home against Richmond and Penn State.  They could be 2-0, but they could fall to 2-2 with back-to-back road games against Georgia Tech and TCU.  That’s the way we see this season going.  There will be happy days half the time and sad days the other half.  Of course if you win half your games, you get a bowl bid.

 

 

Team

Virginia Tech Hokies

               
Head Coach

Frank Beamer

               
Colors

Maroon, Orange, and White

               
City

Blacksburg, VA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

111.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

26

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

 

Hokie coach Frank Beamer has been in this situation before.  He had to start over on offense with a team that returned the bulk of his defense back in 2006.  Tech’s offense struggled at times and scored more than 100 fewer points than in 2005, but the Hokies still finished 10-3 thanks to having the best defense in the nation.

 

Beamer’s offense returns just three starters, but fortunately one of them is his outstanding quarterback.  Logan Thomas is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in college football.  He is built like a defensive end, the modern day Joe Kapp if you will.  At 6-6 and 260, he could mow linebackers and safeties over.  Last year, Thomas passed for more than 3,000 yards and completed almost 60% of his tosses, and he rushed for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns.

 

Receiver Marcus Davis is the only other returning starter at a skill position.  He was just number three in receptions last year, but he was number one in yards per catch.  He provides a big target for Thomas at 6-4 and oftentimes, he could jump higher than defenders for the ball.  D. J. Coles and Dyrell Roberts should both see their receptions increase this year.  Both have size and quickness, and opposing teams will have a hard time playing cover two zones on this team.

 

Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill in the entire league are those worn by departed 1st Round Draft choice David Wilson, who led the ACC with 1,709 yards rushing.  Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes will begin the season as the starter.  When VT uses a fullback, Joey Phillips is a bull as a lead blocker.

 

Andrew Miller is the only holdover in the offensive line.  This could be a problem early in the season, especially since the Hokies open with their most important game of the season.

 

The biggest and most important holdover on defense is coordinator Bud Foster.  Since he arrived in Blacksburg in the mid-1990’s, Tech has given up an average of 16.4 points per game and has made it to a bowl every year!

 

Having to replace six starters last year, VT gave up just 17.6 points and 304.6 yards per game.  12 of the top 15 tacklers return from that squad this year, so it is easy to surmise that this might be the top defense in the nation this year that isn’t a member of the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.

 

One of those top defenders will not be ready for the season opener.  Short-side linebacker Tariq Edwards just had a pin removed from his leg, and he is not expected to be ready for the important first game.  Edwards is a force against the run, as a pass rusher, and as a pass defender, and the Hokies are not as strong without him.

 

Everywhere else on the front and second lines, Tech is loaded with experienced players.  Ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle teamed up for 13 sacks and 49 QB hurries.

 

The back line is the only possible liability where two starters must be replaced.  The two returnees, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller could both earn all-league honors. 

 

That first game is the Monday night opener at home against Georgia Tech.  It could be more exciting than any other Monday night game this year.  The winner will become the prohibitive favorite to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game.  We know Tech will most definitely win this game (but which one?)  Tune in next Wednesday, August 29 to see our PiRate picks.

 

Coming Saturday evening, August 25: The Big Ten Conference Preview.  With 1/3 of the Leaders Division ineligible for the Big Ten Championship, can any team challenge Wisconsin?  The Legends Division race shapes up to be a spectacular three-team competition.

Advertisements

August 13, 2010

2010 Conference USA Preview

Go To: www.piratings.webs.com , where we “beat the spread” 60.4% in 2009!

 

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.  Many hours of research go into our weekly selections against the spread.

 

2010 Conference USA Preview

28.8 points per game—that is the average score put up by members of Conference USA in conference games last year.  These teams averaged 417 yards of offense per game.  If wide open offenses and 150 scrimmage plays per game are up your alley, you have found the conference to follow.

The most outstanding of these offenses belongs to the Houston Cougars.  This is the third time in the school’s history that Houston has been so dominating on offense.  In the late 1960’s, it was the veer offense.  The Cougars were the last team to reach 100 points in a game when they did so against Tulsa in 1968.  In the late 1980’s, it was the run and shoot offense.  Houston came within five points of repeating the triple digit score when they hung 95 on SMU.  Now, with Case Keenum running a four wide receiver spread offense, could the Cougars possibly be primed to challenge the triple digit mark again?  Two opportunities present them with a great chance in the month of September.  It will be fun to watch—unless you are a fan of one of the two teams that could see it happen. 

C U S A Predictions
Pos Team Conf Overall
C U S A  EAST
1 Southern Mississippi 6-2 9-4
2 Central Florida 6-2 8-4
3 U A B 4-4 6-6
4 Marshall 4-4 6-6
5 East Carolina 2-6 2-10
6 Memphis 0-8 0-12
       
Pos Team Conf Overall
C U S A  WEST
1 Houston 7-1 10-3
2 S M U 6-2 7-5
3 Tulsa 6-2 8-4
4 U T E P 4-4 7-5
5 Rice 4-4 4-8
6 Tulane 0-8 2-10

 

CUSA Championship Game: Houston over Southern Mississippi

 

Liberty Bowl—Houston

Hawaii Bowl—Southern Mississippi

Armed Forces Bowl—S M U

St. Petersburg Bowl—Central Florida

New Orleans Bowl—U T E P

Eagle Bank Bowl–Tulsa

 

Team By Team Breakdown

CUSA East

 

Team East Carolina Pirates
               
Head Coach Ruffin McNeill
               
Colors Purple and Gold
               
City Greenville, NC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 9-5
               
PiRate Rating 89.6
               
National Rating 89
               
2010 Prediction  
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: Things will be much more exciting in Greenville this season when the Pirates have the ball.  New coach Ruffin McNeill brings the Texas Tech “Air Raid” offense with him from Lubbock.  He also brings former TTU receivers coach Lincoln Riley as his offensive coordinator (youngest coordinator in FBS by three years!)

Gone is the ball-control offense that wasn’t flashy but was effective enough to win back-to-back CUSA titles for former coach Skip Holtz.  ECU will throw the ball more than 40 times a game (maybe over 50).  There is a minor battle going on to decide which of four quarterbacks will start against Tulsa in game one.  It appears that former Boston College QB Dominique Davis will get the nod over Brad Wornick and Rio Johnson, but it would not surprise us if eventually true freshman Shane Carden emerges as the full-time starter. 

The receiving corps returns two key players who could both approach 100 receptions this season. Dwayne Harris and Darryl Feeney teamed for 131 receptions in 2009.  Harris is more of the possession receiver, while Feeney is the breakaway threat.

ECU has had some off the field issues with multiple running backs, and this year’s starter by default has not been immune to that.  Jonathan Williams will get one last chance to live up to his high recruit status, but he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry last year.  The Pirates will run the ball 20-25 times with several draw plays.

The offensive line returns three starters, but the two that graduated were both All-CUSA performers.  Throw in the fact that they must learn an entirely new blocking scheme, and you can expect sacks to possibly triple from the 14 of last year.

We believe the new passing offense will produce a lot of yards through the air, while sacks and weaker blocking will haunt the running game.  Look for about 75 yards rushing and 300-325 passing yards, but only about 24-28 points per game.

Defense: We’re talking trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for players, as in nine lost starting players from 2009.  To make matters worse, not a single player in the front seven returns this year to a defense that will be on the field for at least 5-10 more plays this year.

The only experience is in the secondary, where both cornerbacks, Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons, combined for 121 tackles.  Davis intercepted two passes and knocked away a dozen.  They benefitted from one of the best pass rushes in the league, and they won’t be so fortunate this year.  Even with the experience and talent, expect enemy quarterbacks to find the going easier against the Pirate secondary.

Worse than the lack of a returning starter up front is the possibility that as many as three of the four starters in the trenches could be freshmen or sophomores.  Senior Dustin Lineback should emerge as the star of the linebacking unit, but he only recorded 29 tackles last year.

When you factor into the equation that the new offense will struggle at times and force the defense back on the field much more than last year, it looks like this will be a long year for ECU.  Look for the Pirates to give up 30-35 points and 400+ yards per game.

Schedule: Out of conference games at Virginia Tech and North Carolina are sure losses.  Home games with North Carolina State and Navy also look like losses.  The Pirates get Memphis at home, and that is the only sure win.  We figure they will pick up one more along the way.  2-10 would be a big disappointment, but ECU will take a lot of lumps in transitioning to the new offense.

 

Team Marshall Thundering Herd
               
Head Coach Doc Holliday
               
Colors Green and White
               
City Huntington, WV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 88.7
               
National Rating 91
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Here is another school with a new coach.  Marshall gave the Okay to Doc Holliday to corral the Thundering Herd talent into winners at the CUSA gunfight.  He has enough talent to succeed in year one.  

Holliday has worked for Urban Meyer, so you can expect some form of the spread offense.  The first order of business is to identify who will be piloting the new scheme.  Willy Korn was a high school phenom when he signed with Clemson.  Things didn’t pan out there, and he transferred to Marshall where it was expected he would beat out 2009 incumbent Brian Anderson.  However, our spies in Huntington tell us that Anderson is going to keep his job as starter.  Korn may not even be the number two, because hot shot freshman Eddie Sullivan has a really big arm and fast shoes.  This position is in very good hands.

Anderson will have a quartet of fine receivers to throw to this year.  2009 leader Antavious Wilson caught 60 passes for 724 yards last year.  Aaron Dobson is the speedster of the group.  He won’t catch 60 passes, but the 30-40 he does grab should average more than 15 yards per reception and produce double-digit touchdowns.  Tight end Lee Smith is the hands down best at his position in the conference.

The offensive line is better blocking for the run than pass, but we believe they will pick up the new scheme quickly.  All five projected starters are experienced upperclassmen. 

The formerly strong running game is the one concern on this side of the ball.  The Herd lost a 1,000-yard rusher last year, and 2010 figures to be a season where the leading runner could gain less than 800 yards.  If Korn sees action, he could be used as the running alternative to Anderson.

We believe Marshall’s offensive numbers will increase minimally this year.  Look for 24-26 points and 350-375 total yards.

Defense:  Former Marshall coach Mark Snyder was supposed to be a defensive wizard, after he molded some great defenses at Ohio State.  The Buckeye defenses actually improved under Jim Heacock after Snyder left.  His Herd defenses were mediocre, and that cost him his job. 

This year, the pieces are in place for another mediocre showing.  Marshall will fare well against most opponents’ running games, but they will suffer against the slate of excellent opposing quarterbacks they will face this season.  The secondary is a big concern following the loss of its top two stars.  Free safety Omar Brown and cornerback Ahmed Shakoor return, but there is not much experience or depth in this unit.

The defensive line also returns half of its starting contingent, but there is more depth up front than in the back line.  End Vinny Curry could make 1st Team All-CUSA this year after he registered 8 ½ stops behind the line last year.

The middle trio is the strength on this side of the ball.  Linebackers Kellen Harris and Mario Harvey are both excellent run-stoppers.  They will be called on to contribute more in pass coverage this year to hide the liabilities behind them.

The new offense may force the defense to play a couple more plays per game, and we believe Marshall will give up a couple more points and yards per game this season.  Look for 25-28 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: Marshall opens the season at the Giant Horseshoe in Columbus against Ohio State, and then the home-opener the following week is against West Virginia.  The Herd will be 0-2 when they go to Bowling Green in week three.  That will be a must-win game if Marshall is to earn six wins again this season.  They host Ohio U the following week before beginning conference play.  Their first two games in the league come against the top two teams in their division—Southern Mississippi and Central Florida.  They could be 1-5 by then and figure to be 2-4.  Home games with UTEP, Memphis, and Tulane will make the back end of the schedule much more fun for Herd fans.  Look for Marshall to flirt with a winning season but fall short and finish 6-6 or 5-7.

 

 

Team Memphis Tigers
               
Head Coach Larry Porter
               
Colors Blue and Gray
               
City Memphis, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 77.7
               
National Rating 114
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12

 

Offense:  Welcome to a big mess!  Memphis doesn’t have much going for it these days.  If you walk around town, the natives will tell you they wish they lived somewhere else.  There is a malaise there.  You can get away from it by making a trip to the Rendezvous for a plate of ribs, but 2010 is not a fun time for the Bluff City.  Ditto that for Memphis Tiger fans.  Tommy West did not go quietly when he was given his walking papers.  He warned the administration that they needed to make a significant renewed effort to revitalize the football program, or else drop football.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will this football program.  It has been rumored that Memphis will be admitted to the Big East Conference in a few years, but Big East officials deny this.  If it doesn’t happen, Memphis could become the next Villanova.

Okay, let’s talk some real football.  New coach Larry Porter comes from LSU, where the coaching staff has been under fire now for a couple of seasons.  He steps out of one frying pan into another.  The Tigers will have new players starting at quarterback, running back, and two of the receiver positions.  They lost their top two rushers and top two receivers. 

The new quarterback will be under close media scrutiny from day one.  Cannon Smith is the son of Federal Express ex-CEO Fred Smith.  Smith has offered up a 10 million dollar “bribe” to any major conference if they accept Memphis as a member.  Most of us have seen cases where the son of the big shot got preferential treatment (like George Herbert Walker Bush’s son and Joseph Kennedy’s sons).  Smith played in one game for Miami (FL) two years ago, but even if he is worthy of being the starter, there will be too much pressure on him to prove it to the rest of the world.

Making matters worse, there isn’t that much talent for Smith to throw the ball.   Sophomore Marcus Rucker is the best of this bunch, but he had just 18 receptions in 2009.

Don’t expect the next DeAngelo Williams or Curtis Steele to suit up for Memphis this year.  True freshman Jerrell Rhodes will likely get the most carries with Lance Smith supplementing.

The offensive line is better than average but not great.  All 2009 starters return, but they will be called to sustain their blocks up to a half-second longer for the inexperienced quarterbacks and receivers to hook up.  Without Steele, they will have to do more in run blocking as well.

We are extremely pessimistic on this year’s team.  We believe Memphis will struggle to score 17 points per game and be fortunate to produce 325 total yards per game.

Defense: The picture on this side of the ball makes the offense look peachy.  The Tigers are going to crash and burn on this side of the ball in 2010.  Only five starters return to a defense that couldn’t stop the pass last year. 

In their final four games, Memphis surrendered 415 passing yards per game last year, and they lost their top two secondary starters.  Cornerback DA Griffin was out for those four games, and his return gives the Tigers a little solace.

Middle linebacker Jamon Hughes led Memphis with 87 tackles last year.  He could be the lone player on this side of the ball to make the All-CUSA team.

Up front, there is some quality and depth.  Three starters return, and the projected fourth starter saw significant action.  Porter recognizes a need for a better pass rush, and he moved Winston Bowens from linebacker to end.

Memphis gave up 35 points per game last year, and they will not improve this year.  Expect 35-40 points and 450-475 yards allowed.

Schedule:  The non-conference schedule isn’t all that difficult, and in a good year, the Tigers could have possibly won all four of these games.  With the major rebuilding project here, they are likely to lose all four.  They open at Mississippi State and play at Louisville in October.  They host Middle Tennessee and Tennessee.  Throw in Houston, Tulsa, and UTEP from the other division, and the almost sure losses add up to seven.  Inside divisional play, Southern Miss and Central Florida are two more sure losses.  That leaves three games—East Carolina, Marshall, and UAB for Memphis to try to find one win.  It may not happen this year.  0-12 is a possibility.  Cheer up Memphis fans.  Basketball season begins soon.

 

 

Team Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
               
Head Coach Larry Fedora
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Hattiesburg, MS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 91.1
               
National Rating 84
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-4

 

Offense: Coach Larry Fedora has produced two excellently balanced offenses in his first two seasons in Hattiesburg.  The Golden Eagles might be just as balanced this year, but that just means that the decimated attack drops off equally in the running and passing stats. 

The offensive line is the major concern.  Only center Cameron Zipp has any starting experience.  He will be surrounded by upperclassmen who have never started a game, and that is a little bit of a concern.

If the line can gel just enough to be considered average, the rest of this offense should be okay.  Quarterback Austin Davis isn’t Case Keenum or G.J. Kinne, but he is a fine passer.  The Eagles have the best backup quarterback in the conference.  Martevious Young had a 16/3 TD/Int ratio last year when he filled in for the injured Davis. 

Only one starting wide out returns.  DeAndre Brown was a consensus freshman All-American last year after catching 47 passes for 785 yards and nine scores.  Junior college transfer Kelvin Bolden was a high school teammate of Brown, and he has the speed to make defenses pay if they try to stop the bigger Brown.

Southern Miss lost its career rushing leader when Damien Fletcher graduated.  Look for Fedora to use a three-player platoon with V.J. Floyd getting first crack as the starter.  Watch out for freshman Kendrik Hardy, who could see a lot of action in short yardage situations.

Southern Miss will not be as explosive on offense this year.  Look for a drop to 25-28 points and 375-400 total yards per game.

Defense:  This side of the ball is in much better shape.  The Golden Eagles will improve here, and with enough improvement, they could be playing on December 4 as the East Division representative in the CUSA Championship Game.

The entire front seven returns from last year, and that includes four juniors and three seniors.  Tackle Anthony Gray and end Cordarro Law have legitimate NFL talent.  They combined for 21 ½ tackles behind the line last year.

The three linebackers were the top three tacklers on the team.  All three (Martez Smith, Korey Williams, and Ronnie Thornton) could make one of the three-deep All-CUSA teams.  The entire trio plays the run and the pass exceptionally well.

The secondary is the only weak spot on the defense, but with an experienced front seven, their inefficiencies may be hidden.  One player who won’t have to hide is cornerback C. J. Bailey.  He knocked away 13 passes last year.

Throw in a great punt returner in Tracy Lampley, and USM might have the best overall defense in the league this season after giving up 26 points per game last year (42 to Middle Tennessee in the New Orleans Bowl loss).  We believe the Eagles will shave both points and yards off 2009’s averages.  Look for 22-24 points and 350-375 yards allowed.  In this league, those numbers will be good enough to lead. 

Schedule: The opener is a toughie at South Carolina on Thursday night, September 2.  Home games follow with Prairie View and a rebuilding Kansas.  Southern Miss wraps up non-conference play with a visit to a rebuilding Louisiana Tech, so a 3-1 start is quite possible.  In league play, it all comes down to the last three weeks of November, when the Eagles play at Central Florida, host Houston, and finish at Tulsa.  They could lose two of those games and still win the division title.  The game with UCF should determine which of those two schools win the division flag.  We tend to favor USM by the thinnest of margins—maybe 50.1% to 49.9%.

 

 

Team U A B  Blazers
               
Head Coach Neil Callaway
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Birmingham, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 90.4
               
National Rating 87
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: How do you replace Superman?  You can’t, and UAB cannot replace departed quarterback Joe Webb.  Webb was a one-man offense for the Blazers last year, leading the team in rushing with more than 1,400 yards (1,600+ when you factor out sacks) and 11 touchdowns, while passing for 2,300 yards and 21 touchdowns.  He accounted for 32 of UAB’s 39 touchdowns!

Fourth year head coach Neil Callaway has three options to choose from in selecting Webb’s replacement.  While all three are decent runners, none can do what Webb did.  Sophomore David Isabelle, Junior Bryan Ellis, and Juco Emmanuel Taylor have been splitting the snaps in practice so far, and it will take at least one or two scrimmages to determine the winner.

There is quality and experience at wide receiver and tight end.  Wide out Frantrell Forrest and tight end Jeremy Anderson return after finishing one-two in catches last year.  Both combine decent size and speed with good hands, so if the new QB has any accuracy, UAB should be able to move the ball overhead.

The running back spot was more of a decoy and pass blocker last year.  It was so bad that Isabelle was the team’s second leading rusher, and he saw very limited action backing up Webb.  Like the QB position, three players are vying for the one spot.  Justin Brooks is the best downhill runner able to create holes with punishing plunges.  Pat Shed is the dangerous long-gain threat able to make quick cuts and evade tackles.  Daniel Borne is a combination of the other two.  All three will fail to equal the rushing numbers put up by Webb, but they could give the Blazers a more balanced look.

The offensive line is a major asset this year.  It could even be in the top three in the league.  Four starters return from last year, led by tackle Matt McCants, a 6-7 monster.

Look for UAB’s offense to take a step backward in both point and yardage production, but the Blazers will not be a slouch for any opposing defense in this league.  Expect about 23-26 points and 375-400 total yards.

Defense:  Here is where there is much optimism for 2010.  UAB gave up more than 32 points per game last year, but things are looking up on this side of the ball.  12 of the top 13 tacklers return, including the entire defensive line (technically one of these starters, Daniel White, started at outside linebacker).  Three of those linemen, tackles Elliott Henigan and D. J. Reese and end Bryant Turner, have good shots at making one of the All-CUSA teams.  They teamed for 23 stops behind the line, and that number will go up by at least five this year.

Linebackers Lamanski Ware and Marvin Burdette return, but this unit lacks a little something.  None of the linebackers are 1st team all-league material.

The secondary is solid this season.  Free safety Hiram Atwater is one of the three best defensive backs in the league.  He led UAB with 89 tackles last year.  Cornerback Terrell Springs broke up 10 passes last year while finishing third in tackles.

Callaway hopes his secondary players don’t lead the team in tackles this season, but it is likely to happen.  Still, the Blazers will improve on this side of the ball and surrender less than 30 points per game for the first time since Watson Brown was the head coach.  Look for 25-28 points and 380-410 yards allowed

Schedule:  UAB is lucky this year.  They avoid both Houston and Tulsa from the other division.  Out of league play, the Blazers have two winnable games with Florida Atlantic and Troy coming to Legion Field.  Road games at Tennessee and Mississippi State appear to be double-digit losses, even though both SEC teams will finish near the bottom of their respective divisions.  There are a couple of key games that will decide whether UAB can get to six wins for the first time since 2004.  The Blazers host UTEP, Marshall, ECU, and Memphis.  If they win all four, they are looking at 6-6.

 

 

Team U C F Knights
               
Head Coach George O’Leary
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Orlando, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 94.5
               
National Rating 76
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense:  UCF has not registered back-to-back winning seasons since 2001 and 2002.  On the other hand, they have not had back-to-back losing seasons either.  It has been feast during the odd years and famine during the even years.  Head Coach George O’Leary’s team looks primed to break that trend easily this year.  The Knights are the co-favorites in this division.

If O’Leary can find an adequate new quarterback to replace Brett Hodges, UCF will become the overwhelming favorite to win the East Division for the second time in four years.  Rob Calabrese has won the starting job twice before, but he apparently wasn’t ready to lead the team.  O’Leary believes the third time is the charm.  The only fly in the ointment may be that he could feel the nerves after being booed at home last year.

The rest of the offense is fairly well set.  At running back, Central Florida returns every player who contributed in the ground game last year, including Brynn Harvey.  Harvey rushed for more than 1,100 yards, scoring 14 times.  He won’t be available until the third or fourth game due to a knee injury he suffered in spring drills, but Jonathan Davis, Ronnie Weaver, and Brendan Davis will fill in admirably until Harvey is full speed once again.

The Knights have a terrific trio of wide receivers returning.  A.J. Guyton, Kamar Aiken, and Jamar Newsome combined for 104 catches and 1,471 yards.

Helping make this offense go is an experienced and very deep offensive line.  Four starters return and eight of the two-deep return.  O’Leary landed a bonanza of quality recruits here, so there is depth galore.

Look for UCF to score 24-28 points and gain 340-370 yards per game on offense this year.  If they can average 28 points per game, they will be tough to beat in the conference.

Defense: Since O’Leary took over in 2004, the Knight defense has given up 33, 29, 29, 27, 24, and 23 points per game per season.  Do you see the pattern?  Expect that patter to continue again this season, because UCF is loaded on this side of the ball.

The Knights have an outstanding set of ends in David Williams and Bruce Miller.  The two senior terminals specialize in making tackles on the offensive side of scrimmage.  Miller registered 13 sacks and five other tackles for loss.  The tackles are inexperienced, but they both tip the scale at 300+ pounds.  It will take more than one blocker to drive them off the line.

The linebacking trio returns two 2009 starters, but it is just like having all three back, because 2008 star Chance Henderson returns after missing last year with an injury.  Lawrence Young and Derrick Hallman combined for 23 ½ tackles for loss.

The secondary ranks with Southern Miss and UAB as the best in the conference.  The Knights are toughest at cornerback where Josh Robinson and Justin Boddie form the best outside defending pair in the league. 

UCF will give up less than 23 points per game this year.  Call if 18-22 points and 325-350 yards a contest.

Schedule: The Knights open with four consecutive non-conference games and then get a week off before starting league play.  They should be 2-2 at that point after beating South Dakota, losing to North Carolina State in a close game, winning at Buffalo, and losing at Kansas State.  They host Southern Miss on November 13, but they must face Houston on the road the week before.  We expect the Cougars to be clicking on all cylinders by then and think that game will be a loss for UCF.  It will all come down to the USM game.  At this moment in time, we favor the Eagles by about a half-point.

 

 

CUSA West

 

Team Houston Cougars
               
Head Coach Kevin Sumlin
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Houston, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 104.3
               
National Rating 46
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the event you’ve all been waiting for.  Step right up and see the magical Case and his band of merry men prowl and loot through the land.

As we told you at the beginning of this preview, this is the third time that Houston has become an offensive titan in college football.  In 1968, running what we call the Houston veer today, the Cougars averaged 42.5 points per game while rushing for better than 300 yards and passing for more than 200 yards per game.  On November 23, 1968, they reached the century mark in a game against Tulsa (Country music star Larry Gatlin rushed for the touchdown that gave Houston 93).  That team topped 70 points two other times.  Flash forward to 1989.  Houston, out of the run and shoot offense, rode the arm of Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware to the tune of 53.5 points per game.  That team passed for more than 400 yards per game and almost repeated the feat of the 1968 team when they hung 95 points on SMU and topped 60 points four other times.

While we don’t believe this Houston team will score 50 points per game, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise.  The Cougars have topped 40 points per game the last two years, while averaging 563 yards of total offense both seasons.

Quarterback Case Keenum has a shot at becoming the next Heisman Trophy winner at UH.  He completed better than 70% of his passes last season.  Before you think that most of them were little dump passes, consider this:  he averaged better than eight yards per attempt and 11.5 yards per completion.  As a team, Houston put up 434 passing yards per game.  There is no reason to believe Keenum will not match or even exceed those numbers in his senior season.  He should be a first or second round pick in next year’s draft.

Keenum will benefit from the return of his big four receivers.  James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards, and Charles Sims caught more passes (350) than 117 of the other 119 FBS schools!  This quartet gained 4,023 yards and scored 28 touchdowns.

Unlike most mega-passing teams, Houston can run the ball quite competently.  Both of last season’s big two rushers were set to return, but Charles Sims was declared academically ineligible.  Bryce Beall returns after rushing for 670 yards and seven scores.  He added 32 receptions and scored three times through the air.  Factoring out sacks, Houston exceeded five yards per rush.

The offensive line lost two starters, but the reserved picked up considerable playing time last year.  They gave up only 24 sacks in over 700 passing attempts, and that feat can be repeated again this year.

How much better could this Houston offense be in 2010?  If the defense can improve enough to give the offense a few more plays, and if the key players can stay healthy, this team could challenge the 50-point barrier.  It would not surprise us if Keenum throws for “just” 5,400 yards after topping 5,600 last year, because the running game could top 150 yards per game.  You won’t see a better offense in college football. 

Defense: This is the bugaboo for this team.  If the defense was just average, we would be discussing which BCS Bowl the Cougars would be headed to in January.  Houston gave up more than 30 points and 450 yards per game last year, and if the defensive line doesn’t improve by leaps and bounds, the Cougars could lose two or three games this year by scores of 45-35.

The line gave up a disgusting 227 rushing yards and better than five yards per carry.  In their four losses, the Cougars gave up an average of 253 rushing yards.  One of last year’s starting defensive linemen, Isaiah Thompson, has been moved from nose tackle to offensive guard, as Houston moves to a 3-4 defense.  That leaves UH with just one veteran on the front three. 

The quartet of linebackers has the potential to be much better than last year’s three-man unit.  Inside ‘backer Marcus McGraw was the star of last year’s defense, and he should repeat as 1st Team All-CUSA.  He is equally tough against the run and the pass, and he is going to be a demon on the zone blitz.

The secondary returns two very capable starters in cornerback Jamal Robinson and free safety Nick Saenz.  Robinson intercepted five passes and knocked away eight others.

The Cougars are still not world-beaters on this side of the ball, but they should give up less than 30 points and 425 yards per game this year.

Schedule: A tougher schedule will keep the Cougars out of the BCS Bowl picture.  After an easy opener at home against Texas State and a conference opener at home with UTEP, UH plays at UCLA.  The Cougars must also face an improving Mississippi State team and close the season at Texas Tech.  We can only see a 2-2 mark out of league play.  In the conference, Houston must face Southern Miss and Central Florida from the East.  A road game at SMU should be one of the most entertaining games of the year with a score that looks like a basketball game.  We think Houston will fall one time in league play, but they should still win their division.  The Cougars are our choice to win the CUSA Championship Game and face a beatable SEC team in the Liberty Bowl.

 

 

Team Rice Owls
               
Head Coach David Bailiff
               
Colors Dark Blue and Gray
               
City Houston, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 86.4
               
National Rating 95
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: The fall was sharp.  Rice followed up its first 10-win season in 60 years with a 10-loss season last year.  Nine starters return on offense, and one of those starters could be benched in favor of a transfer from the Big Ten.

Let’s start with the offensive line.  All five starters and four of the second unit return from last year to make this one of the most experienced blocking corps in the nation.  Guards Jake Hicks and Davon Allen and tackle Scott Mitchell will contend for all-conference honors.  Look for great pass protection and better run-blocking this year.

Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi returns after starting two-thirds of Rice’s games last year.  He passed for just under 1,600 yards last year, and that mark could easily double in 2010.

Fanuzzi will need some newcomers to step up from the group of receivers.  The Owls lost three of their top four from 2009, and the receivers who do return did nothing spectacular. 

The running game should make a major move forward.  After averaging a meager 109 yards on the ground in 2009, the Owls welcome Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie.  McGuffie is the highest-rated recruit to play at Rice in some time, and he should run the ball more than 20 times per game.

Rice won’t approach 2008’s offense numbers, but the Owls will combine a solid running game with a decent passing game to top last year’s output.  Call if 23-26 points and 325-350 total yards per game.

Defense:  This is where improvement must be made.  Rice gave up 43 points and 464 yards per game in 2009.  Nine starters return on this side of the ball too, including the entire defensive line.  The line also returns five other contributors from last year, and it should be much tougher to run on Rice this year.  Look for the pass rush to be much better as well with the return of ends Cheta Ozougwu and Scott Solomon.

Rice plays a 4-2-5 defense, and they have a decent pair of linebackers this season.  Neither will earn all-conference honors.

The biggest weakness is a porous secondary that surrendered 273 passing yards per game and allowed 67% of enemy passes to be completed.  Opposing quarterbacks averaged better than nine yards per attempt against them.  Any quarterback that averages better than nine yards per attempt for the season, and isn’t an option quarterback throwing eight passes a game, would be a Heisman Trophy finalist.  Safety Travis Bradshaw led the Owls with 121 tackles a year ago and earned 3rd team all-conference accolades.

Rice could improve by 10 points per game on defense this year.  Let’s call it about 30-35 points and 410-440 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: The Owls need to fire the schedule-maker.  He has guaranteed that they go no better than 1-3 outside of the league and maybe even 0-4.  The only winnable non-league came will be at North Texas.  Rice hosts Northwestern and Baylor, two private schools that could both be bowl-bound this year.  The fourth non-conference game is the opener at Reliant Stadium against Texas.  In league play, Rice could split their eight games and go 4-4, but they have no chance at a winning season unless they win six league games. 

 

 

Team S M U  Mustangs
               
Head Coach June Jones
               
Colors Crimson and Blue
               
City Dallas, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 92.3
               
National Rating 83
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Coach June Jones may draw comparisons to Annie Sullivan before he retires from the game.  Like Sullivan, you can call Jones a “miracle worker.”  He took a weak Hawaii program and created a little dynasty on the island, culminating with a trip to the Sugar Bowl in his last season there.  In just two short seasons in Dallas, he has brought SMU out of a quarter century of doldrums.  The Mustangs returned to a bowl last year for the first time since their pre-Death Penalty days of the 1980’s.

Jones is a mastermind with the passing game, but SMU’s exceptional pass offense will get pushed to the back of the sports pages playing in the same division as Houston.  Quarterback Kyle Padron took over as starter midway through the season following an injury to since departed Bo Levi Mitchell.  The true freshman completed better than 67% of his passes last year for more than 9.5 yards per attempt.  If he can replicate those numbers for a full season, he could top 3,400 yards this year.

SMU lost the services of its best pass receiver in school history.  Emmanuel Sanders took his 98 receptions to the NFL.  Aldrick Robinson has NFL potential.  He caught 47 passes for 800 yards (17.0 avg./catch) last year. 

Missing from the running game is Shawnbrey McNeal, who gained close to 1,200 yards last year.  Jones is very high on true freshmen Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope.  Fields can take a simple dump pass or quick pitch and turn it into a touchdown ala Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.  Pope has the power to run over defenders. 

The offensive line will be manned by five juniors, four of whom started last year.  Three of the four received some form of postseason honors.

Jones should mold another fine offense in Dallas this year.  Look for the Mustangs to improve to 35+ points and 425+ yards per game this year.

Defense: SMU trimmed 11 points and 80 yards off their poor showing of 2008.  Enough talent returns this year to believe that the Mustangs will continue to show improvement.  The defensive line is the strongest unit on this side.  Ends Marquis Frazier and Taylor Thompson teamed up for 9 ½ sacks.  True freshman Mike O’Guin could step in as the new starting nose tackle.  O’Guin tips the scale at 320 pounds, and he will not be easily moved out of the middle.

Three of the starting four linebackers return.  The best of the quartet is outside ‘backer Pete Fleps, who made 83 tackles.

The secondary could be a problem this year, and in a conference where teams pass the ball 40 to 60 times a game, that could become a big problem.  Cornerback Sterling Moore broke up 11 passes last year, but the Mustangs lost two honorable mention all-conference players who teamed up for eight interceptions and 17 passes knocked away.

A solid pass rush could help hide the liabilities in the secondary, but we believe SMU will give up 225-250 passing yards and 375-400 total yards this year, which leads to about 24-28 points surrendered.

Schedule: The non-conference portion of this schedule is rough.  Look for a 1-3 mark as the Mustangs venture to Texas Tech and Navy and host TCU.  Only a home game with anemic Washington State gives them a shot at a win.  Once league play begins, SMU will be able to compete with anybody on their schedule, even Houston and Tulsa.  We actually believe the Mustangs will pen a loss on Houston and be in the division race until the end.  Road games against Rice and UTEP may determine if SMU can sneak through with a division title.  The Mustangs avoid the top two teams from the East.

 

 

Team Tulane Green Wave
               
Head Coach Bob Toledo
               
Colors Olive Green and Sky Blue
               
City New Orleans, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 72.2
               
National Rating 119
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: It has been eight long years since Tulane last enjoyed a winning season.  The Green Wave has lost eight or more games for five consecutive seasons, and the stigma of Hurricane Katrina still haunts this program.  The Green Wave offense has fallen on hard times, averaging less than 17 points per game the last two seasons.

If TU is to improve on a 3-9 season of a year ago, the offense will have to make a huge leap forward.  Sophomore quarterback Ryan Griffin won’t have to share duties with Joe Kemp this year, as Kemp has been moved to wide receiver.  Griffin could be the best Tulane quarterback since Patrick Ramsey by the time he graduates, but he needs better receivers.  Only one receiver with any real experience returns this year, and Casey Robottom isn’t going to be confused with DeAndre Brown or James Cleveland.

In two seasons, Albert Williams has accumulated 143 rushing yards.  He will be asked to carry the load this year and fill the shoes of last year’s star Andre Anderson.  Expect a major regression here, as TU could rush for less than 100 yards per game.

The offensive line returns four starters, and they have the potential to be an excellent pass blocking front for Griffin.  Center Andrew Nierman is among the best in the league at his position.

It doesn’t look promising for Coach Bob Toledo in his fourth year in New Orleans.  We don’t see him righting the ship in the Crescent City.  Look for Tulane to continue to struggle to score points and access territory.  Call it 17 points and 300-325 yards per game. 

Defense:  The offense looks like a juggernaut compared to this side of the ball.  Tulane has been weak on this side for a long time.  In the last seven years, opponents have averaged an aggregate of 34 points and 415 yards per game.  With but four starters returning on this side of the ball, the Green Wave could be looking at even worse numbers in 2010.

Only one starter returns to the front seven, so this will be a major headache this season.  Tackle Justin Adams is the lone returnee up front, and he is coming off a season in which he registered just 17 tackles.

The secondary has three returning starters, but they will be asked to defend some of the best receivers in the nation for a longer amount of time this year.  None of these experienced defenders will show up on an all-conference team.

We believe Tulane is headed toward a Washington State-type of season.  Look for the Greenies to yield more than 40 points and 450 yards per game this year.

Schedule: Tulane is fortunate that they open at home against Southeast Louisiana.  That could be the only game they win this year.  The Green Wave host Ole Miss and Army and travel to Rutgers out of league play, and these three games look like big losses.  In conference play, it just doesn’t look promising that they can pick up a win.  It doesn’t help that they must play Southern Miss, Central Florida, and Marshall from the other division. 

 

 

Team Tulsa Golden Hurricane
               
Head Coach Todd Graham
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Tulsa, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 92.8
               
National Rating 81
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: For a team that averaged 29 points and 410 yards per game last year, it was funny to hear fans mutter, “What’s wrong with our offense?”  Tulsa averaged 44 points and 557 yards per game over the course of the last two years.

The offense should rebound with another stellar season this year, but there are a couple causes for concern.  Offensive coordinator Herb Hand left his position in late July to take a non-coordinator position at Vanderbilt.

Coach Todd Graham hopes the team can hit the ground running and not miss a beat.  He has an experienced attack unit that should be able to get over the loss of their top offensive assistant.

Quarterback G. J. Kinne began his career at Texas before transferring to Tulsa.  He fired the ball 345 times last year and completed 61% for 2,732 yards and 22 touchdowns.  He takes a back seat only to Case Keenum in this conference.  With better pass protection this year, he should add at least 1,000 yards to his 2009 total.

Tulsa has one of the three or four best receivers in CUSA.  Damaris Johnson caught 78 passes for 1,131 yards last year. He is also the best combined kick/punt returner in the league.  Joining him on the other side of the line should be Jameel Owens a transfer from Oklahoma.  Owens has the physical tools to be a great possession receiver.

The running backs are used more for their blocking and pass catching abilities than their running abilities.  Kinne was the leading rusher from the spread formation.  Fullback/H-back Charles Clay rushed for just 236 yards last year, but he caught 39 passes and scored 12 total touchdowns.  At 6-3 and 235, he seldom goes down on first contact.  Graham will rely on as many as six players to share the rushing load.

The offensive line had some difficulties last year, and with four starters and all of the second five returning, look for some improvement.  You will not see the quarterbacks go down 46 times like last year.

Tulsa will rebound with a move back over 35 points and 450 yards per game this year.  If the line improves enough, the Golden Hurricane could top 40 points per game.

Defense: Tulsa has not fielded a strong defense since Dave Kragthorpe was the head coach and Graham was the defensive coordinator.  Graham has indicated that he will take more control over the defense this year.

Six starters have been lost from last year, so it will take a monumental coaching effort to keep Tulsa from giving up 30 or more points per game.  Two starters return up front, but Graham brought in three junior college recruits who could all see considerable time in the trenches this season.  Best of the lot is nose guard Darrell Zellars.

Tulsa uses a 3-3-5 defense with two players, a bandit and a spur, playing a hybrid linebacker/safety position.  Spur DeAundre Brown returns after leading TU with 102 stops last year.  He only picked off one pass, and that was Tulsa’s major weakness on defense.  In fact, no returnee had more than one pick last year.

We see some form of improvement in the 2010 numbers, but how much is a mystery.  Our best guess if 25 points and 375 yards allowed.

Schedule: The non-conference schedule is not overly imposing.  The Golden Hurricane should win at least two and maybe three of their four games.  They face Bowling Green and Central Arkansas at Chapman Stadium, and they go on the road to a rebuilding Oklahoma State and Notre Dame.  In league play, it will all come down to a couple of games.  TU plays at SMU on October 9, at Houston on November 13, and closes the regular season with Southern Miss at home.  If they win two of those games, they will reach double figure victories for the third time in the last four years.  We see at least nine regular season wins.

 

 

Team U T E P  Miners
               
Head Coach Mike Price
               
Colors Orange and Navy
               
City El Paso, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 82.3
               
National Rating 103
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: UTEP has been successful on this side of the ball for the last six years, and 2010 should not be an aberration.  Coach Mike Price returns the best quarterback in the conference not wearing a Houston or Tulsa uniform.  Trevor Vittatoe needs just 2,122 passing yards to become the school’s all-time leading passer.  If he stays healthy, he should do that by late October.  Vittatoe took a step backward last season, but he will have a better offensive line blocking for him this year.

Two quality receivers return for the Miners in wide out Kris Adams and tight end Jonny Moore.  Junior receiver Donavon Kemp has breakaway speed, and if he can learn to hold onto the ball, he could be an “X-factor” in this offense.

The running game has one outstanding rusher but very little depth.  Donald Buckram rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the two new starters have past starting experience.  UTEP should move the ball with consistency against every team on the schedule.

This looks like another 30+-point scoring team in the conference.  Call it 32 points and 425 yards this year.

Defense: Poor defensive play has been the Miners’ downfall during the Price era.  The natives are getting restless in El Paso, and another poor showing could bring that era to an end.

The Miners will have troubles up front, where three starters have graduated.  End Robert Soleyjacks is the lone holdover; he made just 19 tackles a year ago.

The linebacking unit loses the defense’s top player from 2009, and there is nobody on the roster who can replace Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and his 108 tackles.

The news is not any better in the secondary.  Both cornerbacks and the free safety graduated, taking with them 20 deflected passes.  Strong safety Braxton Amy was granted a sixth season of eligibility after missing the last eight games of 2009 to injury.

UTEP will not contend for the division crown because they will not be able to stop the Keenum’s Kinne’s, and Padron’s of the conference.  Look for the Miners to yield 31-34 points and 450 yards per game.

Schedule: UTEP has a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2005 thanks to an easy non-league slate.  The Miners host Arkansas-Pine Bluff and New Mexico State, and they face New Mexico in Albuquerque.  They can win all three of those games.  Only a visit to Arkansas will be bad news.  UTEP avoids UCF and Southern Miss from the East.  They get Memphis, UAB, and Marshall.  We believe they can split their conference games this year and win seven games overall.

 

 

Coming Tomorrow: The WAC Preview—Boise State is primed to run the table once again if the Broncos can get past a tough opening game opponent.

September 22, 2009

The Best Week Of The Season For College Football

Every year, there is one week of the college football season where the schedule presents more than a dozen games that are not just interesting, they are foretelling.  While the season’s final two weeks usually mean everything, usually a mid-season week turns out to be the week where teams either put up or shut up.  We here at the PiRate Ratings believe this is that week.  Let’s look at the 25 games where we see a major interest in watching or listening to this week. 

 

Thursday Night

7:30 PM: Ole Miss at South Carolina—The Rebels play their first important game of the year after clobbering two patsies.  The Gamecocks aren’t a Top 25 team, but in Columbia, they are tough to beat.  It won’t hurt that USC had already played a Thursday night game.  This should be a high scoring game, weather permitting (chance of thunderstorms), and it could be another one of those recent SEC “Arena Football League Games.”

The PiRate computer says Ole Miss should win by 13.3, while the old Mean rating picks the Rebels by 5.  Vegas has Ole Miss by 3 as of midday Monday.  PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

Saturday Games (all times EDT)

12 Noon: Indiana at Michigan—This Hoosier team is 3-0, but make no comparison between it and the cardiac kids of 1967, or even the Bill Mallory teams of 1987 and 1988.  We’ll soon find out if it is another version of the 2007 team.  Indiana struggled to beat Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan.  Michigan could be on the verge of challenging Penn State, Iowa, and Ohio State for conference supremacy.  They proved themselves valid with a win over Notre Dame, and now they get a chance to move upward.  The PiRate computer picks Michigan by 20.3, and the Mean picks the Wolverines by 14.  PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

12 Noon: Michigan State at Wisconsin—In August, it looked like this game could be a battle of unbeaten teams, but the Spartans have slipped up with a 1-2 start.  This game becomes a must-win game for MSU, because they face Michigan next week.  Coach Mark Dantonio’s team could be looking at 1-5 or even 1-6 if they slip up this week.  As for the Badgers, this is their sixth consecutive year starting 3-0.  Except for 2006, the season hasn’t finished up like it started.  This could be the pivotal game in the UW coaching career for Bret Bielema.  A win here sets them up for a huge rivalry match at Minnesota next week where a win would send the Badgers to Ohio State with a chance to move into Rose Bowl contention.  Wisconsin avoids Penn State and gets Iowa and Michigan at home this year.  A loss could start the ball rolling toward 7-5 or even 6-6. PiRate Rating: Wisconsin by 0.6/Mean: Wisconsin by 4/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

12 Noon: South Florida at Florida State—We’ve been looking at this matchup for quite some time.  This should be a hard-fought thriller.  USF has wanted a shot at any of the three big teams in the Sunshine State, and the economy has made this one possible.  Florida State’s opening game loss to Miami could be explained.  The letdown against Jacksonville State wasn’t totally surprising.  The 26-point win at BYU was a shock.  That makes Miami look all the more talented.  USF has yet to play quality opposition, and this game will give us a good gauge of the ACC against the Big East.  If the Bulls can win this one, then they should be 5-0 when they host Cincinnati on Thursday, October 15.  PiRate Rating: FSU by 14.3/Mean Rating: FSU by 9/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

12 Noon: Fresno State at Cincinnati—Fresno State has played well in losses to Wisconsin and Boise State, but now they face the hardest game on their schedule.  We don’t think the Bulldogs have much chance of adding another big upset to their 21st Century resume, but we do see this as a gauge game.  Cincinnati has looked like a Top 10 team and maybe contender for the National Championship Game through three games.  If Cinti can do to Fresno State what they did to Rutgers, they will move into the Top 12.  If they cannot win by more than three touchdowns, then it makes Boise State look all the more better.  PiRate Rating: Cinti by 21.7/Mean Rating: Cinti by 20/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

12 Noon: Southern Mississippi at Kansas—The Golden Eagles aren’t ranked, but Coach Larry Fedora has a strong team in Hattiesburg.  Southern Miss is 3-0 after their great comeback win over Virginia.  Tough road games remain against Houston, Marshall, and East Carolina, so they probably have little or no chance of running the table and sneaking into the BCS Bowl picture.  Kansas will vie with Missouri and Nebraska for the Big 12 North title this year.  They just missed the last two years, and a big win in this game could set the table for finally breaking through.  An impressive win here, followed by wins over Iowa State and Colorado would have the Jayhawks at 6-0 when Oklahoma invades Lawrence on October 24.  KU QB Todd Reesing may be the best passer without much chance of getting drafted.  At 5-11, he’s considered too small for the NFL.  PiRate Rating: Kansas by 17.1/Mean Rating: 14/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

12 Noon: North Carolina at Georgia Tech—This game is interesting because the Tar Heels catch Georgia Tech coming off a disastrous road loss to Miami.  If Coach Butch Davis has UNC ready to challenge on the national scene, then the Heels need to do something close to what Miami did to the Yellow Jackets.  They will stack the box to take away the option and force Josh Nesbitt to beat them through the air.  It can be done, but it won’t be easy.  A Tech win means the winner of the Virginia Tech-Miami game will be in the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division.  PiRate Rating: Tech by 1.9/Mean Rating: Tech by 2/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

12:20 PM: L S U at Mississippi State—The AP and USA Today polls have LSU at number 7, but the Tigers are only the fourth highest-ranked SEC team.  The win at Washington looks much more impressive now, but the lackluster win over Vanderbilt becomes a great comparison here.  New Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen saw his Bullies stop Vanderbilt in Nashville more impressively than LSU’s win over the Commodores in Tiger Stadium.  This game hasn’t been close since Jackie Sherrill was coaching in Starkville.  We think it might be this year, and with some lucky bounces, MSU could actually be there at the end.  PiRate Rating: LSU by 15.9/Mean Rating: LSU by 12/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

1:00 PM: Marshall at Memphis—Here’s a game that should determine a bowl spot for the winner and doom the loser to the wrong side of .500 for the season.  We think Marshall is primed to break out and save Coach Mark Snyder’s job this year.  It’s been six years since the Thundering Herd last enjoyed a winning season, and we see at least seven wins in their near future.  This is the C-USA opener for both teams.  The schedule sets up well for Marshall if they can win this road game.  They get East Carolina and Southern Miss. at home, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to us if they could sneak into contention in the East.  PiRate Rating: Marshall by 3.5/Mean Rating: Marshall by 2/PiRate Viewer Rating: B+

 

3:00 PM: UNLV at Wyoming—The Rebels have never been a Division 1-A (FBS) heavyweight.  The 2000 season is the only good year they’ve had since moving up in classification 30 years ago.  UNLV has a chance to get back to a bowl game this year, as long as quarterback Omar Clayton can remain healthy.  On a gimpy knee, he guided the Rebels to a comeback victory over Hawaii.  This becomes a must win game, and Wyoming is beatable.  However, in Laramie, the Cowboys play tough.  Tell Mack Brown that the Cowboys are an easy pushover.  One slip up by UNLV this week makes their bowl hunt much more difficult.  PiRate Rating: UNLV by 3.4/Mean Rating: UNLV by 5/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

3:30 PM: Arkansas at Alabama—Arkansas’s passing game will show everybody whether Alabama’s pass defense is national championship caliber.  We don’t expect the Hogs to threaten an upset here, but this game should tell us whether Alabama is good enough to run the table and get to the SEC Championship Game for a second consecutive season.  To this point in the season, Alabama has actually looked like the top team in the conference if not the nation.  If the Tide is going to rise and become the South’s elite, they need to win this one by 20 or more points.  PiRate Rating: Bama by 20.8/Mean Rating: Bama by 20/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

3:30 PM: California at Oregon—The Bears didn’t look like a championship caliber team in their win at Minnesota last week, while Oregon handled Utah.  Cal has a home date with Southern Cal next week, but the players better concentrate on this game.  Autzen Stadium is still one of the toughest places to play as a visitor, and Oregon isn’t Washington State.  If Cal doesn’t come out ready for bear, the game with Southern Cal could be for 5th place in the standings.  Jahvid Best needs to put two good halves together to move up on the Heisman Trophy list.  PiRate Rating: Cal by 15.5/Mean Rating: Cal by 3/PiRate Viewer Rating: A+

 

3:30 PM: TCU at Clemson—With BYU and Utah losing to BCS conference teams this past weekend, the Horned Frogs may be the last legitimate shot for a Mountain West team to make it to a BCS Bowl Game.  A win at Clemson could move TCU up into the top 12.  We don’t think this Horned Frog team has the same tough defense as the recent teams in Ft. Worth.  Clemson could easily be 3-0 today, but several questionable miscues cost them against Georgia Tech.  After watching Miami destroy Tech, could the Yellow Jackets be overrated, and thus could Clemson not be as tough as they were supposed to be?  This game may not supply the answers, but at least the winner will move up on the early bowl bubble.  PiRate Rating: Clemson by 4.5/Mean Rating: Tossup/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

3:30 PM: Pittsburgh at North Carolina State—We here at the PiRate Ratings must remain impartial, as the only thing we truly root for is to be correct when we pick games.  However, a couple of us would be happy if Dave Wannstedt had a BCS Bowl team.  This may be Pittsburgh’s best team since 1982.  Then, again, this could be another year like 2000.  We should have a lot more evidence to make that call after this game.  The Panthers have a one-two punch in quarterback Bill Stull and blazing fast running back Dion Lewis.  North Carolina State is a little better than average but not the juggernaut they were seven years ago.  It Pittsburgh can win in Raleigh, a double-digit win season is possible.  PiRate Rating: Pitt by 2.0/Mean Rating: 6/PiRate Viewer Rating: B+

 

3:30 PM: Miami (Fla.) at Virginia Tech—This game is the one of the top three of the day.  Two games into the season, this edition of Hurricanes is more like Camille than a tropical depression.  Quarterback Jacory Harris may be the top passer in the ACC, and he may soon move high up on the list of NFL prospects in the next couple of years.  He has a live and accurate arm, and his ability to pass on the run makes it difficult to sack him.  Virginia Tech beat Nebraska last week in a close game, and the Hokies have won 38 of the last 43 games at Lane Stadium.  If Miami can win this game, it will set up an even more interesting battle against Oklahoma next week.  PiRate Rating: Virginia Tech by 6.7/Mean Rating: Virginia Tech by 4/PiRate Viewer Rating: A+

 

4:30 PM: Troy at Arkansas State—There are two key games in the Sunbelt Conference this week.  Troy has been the Southern Cal of the SBC as of late, but the Trojans may not be quite as strong this year.  Arkansas State had an extra week to prepare for this game and gets the Trojans in Jonesboro.  These teams have split the last four games in this series, and the Red Wolves have what it takes to pull off the mild upset.  An ASU win throws this race wide open.  PiRate Rating: Troy by 2.4/Mean Rating: Troy by 1/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

6:00 PM: Florida at Kentucky—Two years ago, Kentucky upset number one LSU in Lexington.  No, we don’t expect a repeat Saturday.  The Wildcats start a grueling stretch of games that call for the Cats to play Alabama, at South Carolina, and at Auburn after this game, so UK could easily be 2-4 when Louisiana Monroe comes to town on October 24.  Florida needs something to show the pollsters and computers that they deserve their lofty ranking.  What should be an unbelievable year like Nebraska in 1995 could fail to materialize over the lack of all-conference receivers.  Can Tim Tebow do it all on the offensive side?  Think Larry Csonka with Bob Griese’s arm.  You bet he can lead the Gators to Pasadena in January.  PiRate Rating: Florida by 32.7/Mean Rating: Florida by 20/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

6:00 PM: Colorado State at BYU—Had the Cougars won last week in a grueling game, we were prepared to check this game as a possible letdown game and go with the Rams and the points.  The Cougars exited Lavell Edwards Stadium thoroughly bewitched, bothered, and bewildered after losing to Florida State 54-28.  Colorado State is 3-0 for the first time since 1994.  That team went 10-1 in the regular season including a 28-21 win at BYU.  We don’t expect a repeat in 2009, but a good showing could be the next step on the long climb back to the top in the MWC.  The Rams should win eight games this year, but this won’t be one of them.  PiRate Rating: BYU by 16.9/Mean Rating: BYU by 16/PiRate Viewer Rating: B+

 

7:00 PM: Arizona State at Georgia—Arizona State has never played in an SEC stadium (unless you count the 1951 visit to then Southwest Conference member Arkansas).  In their only two games against SEC teams, the Sun Devils lost at home to Georgia last year and at home to LSU in 2005.  ASU Coach Dennis Erickson knows a little about winning in the Deep South, having claimed a national title at Miami.  He may have an average squad or some degree better, but wins against Idaho State and Louisiana Monroe has yet to prove anything.  Georgia has already played three tough games, winning two SEC battles already.  The Bulldog defense has yet to shut anybody down, but the offense has looked impressive in wins over South Carolina and Arkansas.  This game will tell us a lot more about these two conferences as the season progresses, but it should be exciting itself.  The weather could be a major factor as well.  PiRate Rating: Georgia by 15.6/Mean Rating: Georgia by 7/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

7:00 PM: Army at Iowa State—Say What?  This game is an important one?  You betcha!  It looks like the “trade” of Gene Chizik to Auburn for Paul Rhoads could prove to be a win-win decision.  Iowa State could be looking at a possibility of sneaking into the eighth or ninth Big 12 bowl slot if they can win this game.  Kansas State, Texas A&M, Colorado, and Baylor present winnable games if the Cyclones can stop the option game of the Cadets.  On the other side of the equation, Army needs only to become bowl eligible to earn a guaranteed bowl bid.  The Cadets are 2-1 and have winnable games left against Tulane, Vanderbilt, Temple, VMI, North Texas, and of course Navy.  If Army wins this game, then we are confident in saying they will earn their first bowl trip since 1996.  This game becomes, in essence, a bowl qualifier.  That’s why it makes our list of the key 25 games this week.  PiRate Rating: ISU by 12.4/Mean Rating: ISU by 10/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

7:00 PM: Middle Tennessee at North Texas—This is the second key Sunbelt Conference game this week.  Middle Tennessee is the only SBC team to own four wins on the road against teams from BCS conferences, and the Blue Raiders made it number four last week by winning at Maryland (the second consecutive win over the Terps).  North Texas showed signs of life this year in winning at Ball State and giving Ohio U a great battle, but quarterback Riley Dodge went down with an injury in the third quarter of that game.  He missed last week’s blowout loss at Alabama, but he will return this week.  He gives the Mean Green a chance in this game.  PiRate Rating: Middle Tenn by 8.7/Mean Rating: Middle Tenn by 8/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

7:30 PM: Arizona at Oregon State—Both teams lost to undefeated, out-of-conference opponents last week, but the winner of this game could challenge in the Pac-10.  We don’t think either can go on the road and beat both Cal and USC (both play these two powers on the road), but the winner of this game should stay in contention for one of the Pac-10’s top four bowls.  PiRate Rating: Oregon State by 3.9/Mean Rating: Oregon State by 2/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

8:00 PM: Iowa at Penn State—Could this game be for the Big 10 Championship?  It’s possible.  Iowa stumbled out of the gate with Northern Iowa, but impressive wins over Iowa State and Arizona have the Hawkeyes 3-0 for the third time in four years.  This is more than just any big game for Penn State; the Nittany Lions came into this game last year ranked number three at 9-0 and lost 24-23 in Iowa City.  Penn State is undefeated again and ranked number five this time, but Joe Pa’s team has played three patsies.  The winner of this game will be the leader in the clubhouse in the Big 10, but with Michigan, Ohio State, and even Wisconsin still around, they won’t have it wrapped up.  PiRate Rating: Penn State by 5.6/Mean Rating: Penn State by 4/PiRate Viewer Rating: A+

 

9:00 PM: Washington at Stanford—Can you believe this game?  Washington is the second ever team to crack the AP poll rankings in September after being winless the year before (Florida in 1980).  Stanford is close to being 3-0, and the Cardinal have not been this good since 2001.  Simply put, the winner of this contest is going to a bowl game this year.  You’ll see two great quarterbacks in this one.  Stanford’s Andrew Luck is just a freshman, but he’s averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt and completing 62.3% of his passes.  Washington’s Jake Locker is leading the Pac-10 in total offense.  PiRate Rating: Stanford by 9.5/Mean Rating: Stanford by 8/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

9:15 PM: Texas Tech at Houston—These teams haven’t played each other since the Southwest Conference days, and it should be one of the most exciting games of the season.  You have two teams that average better than 400 passing yards per game.  Houston’s Case Keenum has a shot at an NFL career in a couple of years, while Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts may be the best quarterback Coach Mike Leach has placed in his offense.  PiRate Rating: Texas Tech by 6.2/Mean Rating: Texas Tech by 3/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.