The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 16, 2019

2019 Big 12 Conference Football Preview

In the 1970’s, the Big Ten was jokingly called the Big Two and Little Eight, as Ohio State and Michigan won or shared every Big Ten title between 1968 and 1982.  Oklahoma has won four consecutive Big 12 regular season championships and both of the Big 12 Championship Games since the game returned in 2017.  Lately, the Big 12 race has been more like the American League baseball race for years: who will finish in second behind the Yankees?

Oklahoma enters 2019 as a prohibitive favorite to win their fifth consecutive regular season and third consecutive Championship Game and must be considered a top contender to make the Field of Four NCAA Playoffs.  The Sooners will have to get there without the services of the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, as Kyler Murray is now tossing the ball in the NFL.  The Oklahoma offense will most likely take a small backward step even though Coach Lincoln Riley went out in the free agent market and grabbed a great one in former Alabama starter Jalen Hurts.  Oklahoma’s offense figures to be a little weaker, because the offensive line and receiving corps must be rebuilt (or reloaded).

At the same time, Oklahoma’s defense figures to be somewhat better than last year, but then again, it would be hard for it to be any worse after giving up more than 33 points and 450 yards per game.

Texas returned to prominence last year under second year coach Tom Herman.  After a 7-6 season in 2017, the Longhorns beat Oklahoma in the regular season before blowing a lead in the conference championship game and losing to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.  Texas has numerous holes to fill, especially on defense, where only two starters return.

Iowa State is a team that can be compared to the mountain lion hiding on a bluff ready to pounce and attack an unsuspecting deer.  It should be no surprise that the Cyclones should be quite good this year after posting consecutive eight-win seasons.  ISU returns more starting talent than Oklahoma and Texas, and Matt Campbell might be one of the five best coaches in football, be it college or professional.

Baylor must be considered the dark horse in the race this year.  After enduring a total rebuild after the previous regime left under a dark cloud, Matt Rhule has done a commendable job bringing the Bears back to competitive football.  The Baylor offense could challenge for best in the league, and the defense should be a little improved.  Keep an eye on BU.

There are new head coaches at Texas Tech, Kansas State, Kansas, and West Virginia.  Matt Wells comes to Texas Tech after doing great things at Utah State, but his wide-open offense is quite different from the Air Raid used by former coach Kliff Kingsbury, and the Red Raiders will need time to adjust.

Bill Snyder has retired for the second time, and Kansas State must start over with Chris Klieman, the Dabo Swinney of FCS football.  Klieman won four FCS National Championships at North Dakota State, and he inherits a decent roster.  Still, there will be an adjustment with new systems on both sides of the ball, so the Wildcats will need a year or two in transition to be competitive again.

Dana Holgorsen, in a semi-surprise move, bolted West Virginia for Houston, and the Mountaineers must start over with former Troy coach Neal Brown and without Will Grier at quarterback.  Both sides of the ball suffered heavy losses, so 2019 will be a major rebuilding season.  Still, WVU might sneak into a lower-tiered bowl because one of the bottom four is likely to end up at 6-6.

Then, there is Kansas.  What the Jayhawks are to college basketball, they are the opposite in college football.  Since Mark Mangino was forced out at Kansas over several allegations of abuse, the KU program has been the weakest of any Power 5 Conference school.  Three coaches failed to turn the program around, as the Jayhawks are an incredibly poor 5-75 in the Big 12 since Mangino left.  Enter Les Miles as the new coach.  The Kansas football program will definitely be a little more exciting just because one never knows what Miles might do as the coach.  It would not be shocking to see Kansas go for a first down on fourth down inside their own 20 yard line.  They might run plays from the single wing, double wing, wishbone, or air raid offense–in the same possession!  The only for sure thing is that Les will sample the grass in every stadium the Jayhawks play.  If they happen to actually win a conference game this year, it will be a bonus.  They have a chance to begin the season 2-0, but they will almost assuredly lost the final 10.

Two teams remain in this little preview.  Oklahoma State and TCU have been middle of the pack teams in the last couple seasons, and they appear to still be behind the top four, while they are considerably better than the bottom four.  Because the Big 12 has a nine-game conference schedule, both the Cowboys and Horned Frogs can go 4-0 against the transitioning teams.  This means, they need to win two of their three non-league games to become bowl eligible.

Here is how the Big 12 Media voted in the preseason poll.

 

Big 12 Conference Media Poll

 

Pos. Team 1st Place Votes Overall Votes
1 Oklahoma 68 761
2 Texas 9 696
3 Iowa St. 0 589
4 TCU 0 474
5 Oklahoma St. 0 460
6 Baylor 0 453
7 Texas Tech 0 281
8 West Virginia 0 241
9 Kansas St. 0 191
10 Kansas 0 89
 

 

Championship Game Winner
None Chosen

 

The Initial PiRate Ratings believe the conference race will be a little bit different, and there won’t be a wide moat between Oklahoma and the next three teams.

 

Preseason PiRate Ratings–Big 12

 

Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Oklahoma 120.8 119.4 120.4 120.2
Iowa St. 112.0 112.2 111.9 112.0
Texas 111.6 111.2 110.9 111.2
Baylor 110.1 110.2 109.6 110.0
Oklahoma St. 109.7 110.0 109.0 109.6
Texas Tech 108.1 107.6 107.2 107.6
Kansas St. 107.5 106.8 107.1 107.1
West Virginia 107.6 106.2 107.1 106.9
T C U 102.6 105.6 103.0 103.7
Kansas 95.6 96.5 95.3 95.8
 

 

Big 12 Averages 108.6 108.6 108.1 108.4

 

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

 

Predicted Won-Loss Records

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

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

What you see in these predicted won-loss records are our opinion and not calculated from the ratings.  These are the estimated records based on a vote, with the Captain having 50% of the vote and the crew having the other 50%.  The Captain then rounded up or down those teams picked to have an average wins that were not whole numbers.

 

PiRate Members Predicted Won-Loss

 

Pos Team Conf. Overall
1 Oklahoma 7-2 11-2*
2 Iowa St. 7-2 10-3
3 Baylor 6-3 9-3
4 Texas 6-3 8-4
5 Oklahoma St. 5-4 8-4
6 West Virginia 4-5 6-6
7 TCU 3-6 6-6
8 Kansas St. 2-7 4-8
9 Texas Tech 2-7 5-7
10 Kansas 0-9 2-10
 

 

* Oklahoma picked to win Big 12 Championship Game

 

Bowl Predictions

Bowl Team
Playoffs Not This Year
Sugar Oklahoma
Alamo Baylor
Camping World Iowa St.
Texas Okla st.
Liberty Texas
Cheez-it WVU
First Responders TCU

 

Coaches That Could Move Up To Big-Time Programs

Matt Rhule, Baylor

Matt Campbell, Iowa State

 

Coaches on the Hot Seat

None this year

 

Top Quarterbacks

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

Sam Ehlinger, Texas

Charlie Brewer, Baylor

Brock Purdy, Iowa St.

 

Top Offense

Oklahoma

Texas

Oklahoma St.

 

Top Defense

Iowa St.

Texas

TCU

 

Coming Tomorrow: The Big Ten Conference.  With Urban Meyer into his next round of retirement, Can Jim Harbaugh take Michigan to the Playoffs?  Can Scott Frost work magic at Nebraska like he did at Central Florida?  Will there be a multiple team tie for first in the Western Division with 6-3 conference records?

 

Advertisements

September 26, 2016

College Football Ratings & Spreads For September 29-October 1, 2016

Less Smiles in Baton Rouge

On Sunday, LSU fired Coach Les Miles after Miles’ team lost at Auburn Saturday night in a game that could have gone LSU’s way had the officials decided that the final play was run in time.  The clock ran out on a play in which it was plain to see that the head referee never signaled to start the clock.

Of course, Miles did not lose his job on this one play.  We believe he lost his job because LSU has not been able to secure a star quarterback since Zach Mettenberger left.  Miles actually had two commitments from potential stars and then lost them at the eleventh hour.  Braxton Miller was set to come to LSU, and that would have made the Tigers much stronger.  Gunner Kiel committed to LSU before de-committing and committing to Notre Dame, before de-committing and committing to Cincinnati, before quitting, before returning as the third string QB for the Bearcats.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was let go as well, and former Ole Miss head coach and USC interim Ed Orgeron takes over as the interim in Baton Rouge.  We believe Orgeron has about a 0.3% chance (1 in about 333) of getting the gig full-time.  LSU would have to run the table from here, win the SEC Championship Game, and then win convincingly in the Sugar Bowl for that to happen.

So, who replaces Miles at LSU.  Immediately, the name of Art Briles came up in some circles.  Some say that Briles was merely a scapegoat, and that he will land somewhere in 2017.  There will be numerous openings at schools where winning is all that matters.  We don’t believe Briles will end up in Baton Rouge.

Two names that we feel could be more serious candidates are Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Houston’s Tom Herman.  Prior to becoming the coach in waiting and then the head coach at Florida State, Fisher was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU during a time when the Bengal Tigers produced JaMarcus Russell and won a national championship in 2003.

Herman was Urban Meyer’s offensive guru at Ohio State prior to taking the Houston job.  With the Cougars undefeated and facing a probable run into the top four before playing Louisville in November, if UH runs the table and makes the NCAA Playoffs, there is no way he could leave for another job at that point, and LSU’s recruiting effort for 2017 would be shot by then.

There are a few other options.  Bobby Petrino at Louisville and Todd Graham at Arizona State have proven to be as nomadic as Larry Brown on the basketball court.  A few extra pesos thrown their way can get them to jump.  Then there is the potential NFL route.  USC took Pete Carroll and reaped many rewards.  What if Sean Payton was available before the season ended?  Or, how about Bruce Arians?

 

A Lot of Haves

It’s still early in the season, but there are an inordinate amount of teams still undefeated four weeks into the season.  By December, the number will whittle down to two or three at most, but until then, there are some interesting match ups on the schedule ahead.

It starts this week, when Stanford and Washington square off in Seattle Friday night.  The game will air on ESPN at 9PM Eastern Time for those that want to watch the unofficial crowning of the Pac-12 North champion.  It continues Saturday, when Michigan host Wisconsin at 3:30 PM Eastern Time on ABC.  Then, in prime-time, Louisville ventured to Deaf Valley to face Clemson at 8 PM Eastern on ABC.

In the coming weeks, there are potential unbeaten contests between Tennessee and Texas A&M, Tennessee or Texas A&M against Alabama, Ohio State and Wisconsin, Ohio State and Nebraska, Nebraska and Wisconsin, Washington and Utah, Washington and Arizona State, Utah and Arizona State, Louisville and Houston, and Boise State and San Diego State in the MWC Championship Game.  Oh, and then there is the possibility that Ohio State and Michigan could square off in the Giant Horseshoe on November 26 with “everything” on the line.  The two rivals have been in this boat before.  Both teams were undefeated heading into this game in 1970, 1973, and 2006.

Bowl Projections Begin Today

We usually wait until after the first week in October to post our initial bowl projections, but we went ahead and scooted that up a week this year.  The reason why we did it is that we feel there are already fewer than 80 teams on pace to win six games.  With teams like USC, Oregon, California LSU, Texas Tech, Connecticut, Duke, and others looking at potential 5-7 seasons, it isn’t going to be easy finding some good bowl games.  Then, there are possibilities where a top 20 team could be squaring off against a 6-6 or 5-7 team in a bowl.  Although we do not favor 5-7 or even 6-6 teams getting post-season rewards, we will remind you that three 5-7 teams played in bowls last season, and all three won.  See our projections at the end of this feature.

This Week’s PiRate Ratings

PiRate Ratings
# Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 Alabama 131.2 124.1 131.0 128.8
2 Louisville 127.9 122.3 128.1 126.1
3 Michigan 124.7 122.2 125.2 124.0
4 Ohio St. 123.2 122.5 124.7 123.5
5 Clemson 124.0 115.9 122.9 120.9
6 Tennessee 121.9 118.0 121.8 120.6
7 LSU 122.4 117.0 121.4 120.3
8 Oklahoma 120.1 117.4 120.0 119.2
9 Stanford 121.7 114.7 120.6 119.0
10 Houston 117.8 115.8 120.2 117.9
11 Miami 120.3 113.0 120.2 117.8
12 Florida St. 119.6 112.7 118.8 117.0
13 Washington 119.4 111.9 119.3 116.9
14 Virginia Tech 116.4 116.0 116.9 116.4
15 Texas A&M 116.5 115.0 116.4 116.0
16 Auburn 115.5 113.7 115.4 114.9
17 North Carolina 117.0 110.5 116.6 114.7
18 Pittsburgh 116.1 111.4 115.3 114.3
19 Ole Miss 116.4 110.1 115.9 114.1
20 Oklahoma St. 113.7 114.7 113.6 114.0
21 Wisconsin 114.2 112.2 114.7 113.7
22 TCU 113.3 114.6 113.1 113.7
23 Florida 112.8 115.7 111.1 113.2
24 Iowa 114.3 111.3 113.8 113.1
25 Baylor 112.3 112.4 113.3 112.7
26 Texas 112.2 113.7 111.3 112.4
27 Nebraska 113.0 109.4 113.2 111.9
28 USC 113.5 108.9 110.8 111.1
29 UCLA 111.4 110.2 111.0 110.9
30 Notre Dame 112.5 109.2 110.9 110.9
31 Mississippi St. 111.8 109.6 110.9 110.8
32 Oregon 111.3 109.8 110.5 110.5
33 Colorado 111.6 107.3 112.1 110.4
34 Arkansas 112.3 107.9 109.7 110.0
35 Michigan St. 110.9 109.8 109.2 110.0
36 Boise St. 108.8 109.6 110.6 109.7
37 South Florida 109.9 106.9 110.8 109.2
38 Utah 111.3 105.8 109.2 108.8
39 Kansas St. 107.2 110.2 107.1 108.2
40 Georgia Tech 109.7 105.7 108.7 108.0
41 Georgia 108.2 108.1 107.4 107.9
42 Arizona St. 108.2 108.1 107.0 107.8
43 BYU 109.9 103.8 109.5 107.7
44 Western Michigan 107.1 105.3 108.9 107.1
45 West Virginia 107.6 106.4 107.0 107.0
46 Washington St. 107.7 104.9 107.6 106.8
47 North Carolina St. 107.0 104.8 106.4 106.1
48 San Diego St. 106.0 103.1 108.4 105.9
49 Memphis 107.2 103.1 105.5 105.3
50 Penn St. 104.9 107.1 103.7 105.2
51 Arizona 105.6 103.0 104.6 104.4
52 Toledo 104.4 103.0 105.4 104.3
53 Texas Tech 105.6 103.4 103.5 104.2
54 Missouri 104.4 103.6 104.2 104.1
55 Northwestern 105.7 100.7 104.0 103.5
56 Minnesota 103.9 102.3 103.6 103.3
57 Central Michigan 101.6 103.7 102.6 102.6
58 Indiana 101.2 105.1 100.5 102.3
59 Wake Forest 102.9 101.2 102.3 102.2
60 Maryland 101.6 105.2 99.4 102.1
61 Air Force 101.1 101.7 101.6 101.5
62 California 104.8 97.1 102.5 101.5
63 Cincinnati 100.8 101.5 101.1 101.2
64 Vanderbilt 102.6 98.4 101.2 100.8
65 Duke 100.9 101.3 99.5 100.6
66 Virginia 101.5 99.1 101.0 100.5
67 Boston College 100.7 99.7 100.2 100.2
68 Syracuse 101.9 98.2 100.3 100.2
69 Tulsa 98.7 101.0 99.4 99.7
70 Western Kentucky 100.7 96.3 101.8 99.6
71 South Carolina 99.9 99.2 99.2 99.5
72 Temple 99.1 99.6 99.3 99.4
73 Navy 99.0 98.9 98.5 98.8
74 Appalachian St. 97.7 96.8 99.7 98.1
75 Rutgers 98.3 95.7 96.9 97.0
76 Iowa St. 97.4 97.0 96.2 96.9
77 Purdue 97.7 95.7 96.9 96.8
78 Army 92.6 101.0 95.6 96.4
79 Illinois 97.7 94.4 96.7 96.3
80 Kentucky 95.9 98.2 94.8 96.3
81 Connecticut 97.0 94.7 96.6 96.1
82 Oregon St. 97.6 93.4 95.5 95.5
83 Southern Mississippi 94.4 94.4 95.5 94.8
84 Utah St. 93.7 96.3 93.3 94.4
85 Ohio 91.2 99.8 92.2 94.4
86 Middle Tennessee 93.8 95.1 94.3 94.4
87 East Carolina 93.5 95.6 93.7 94.3
88 Troy 91.4 96.2 93.3 93.7
89 New Mexico 92.3 95.3 93.1 93.6
90 Nevada 91.5 94.6 92.5 92.9
91 Northern Illinois 91.7 92.9 92.4 92.3
92 Central Florida 91.2 93.8 91.3 92.1
93 Georgia Southern 91.3 91.1 93.6 92.0
94 SMU 91.2 90.7 93.5 91.8
95 Louisiana Tech 90.0 92.2 91.1 91.1
96 Marshall 89.0 92.8 90.8 90.9
97 UNLV 87.7 92.3 87.7 89.2
98 Akron 86.7 92.7 88.2 89.2
99 Arkansas St. 87.5 89.5 89.0 88.7
100 Colorado St. 87.2 89.5 87.7 88.1
101 San Jose St. 87.4 87.5 87.6 87.5
102 Old Dominion 86.0 89.3 86.2 87.2
103 Ball St. 86.1 88.2 87.1 87.1
104 Kansas 85.0 92.5 82.3 86.6
105 Tulane 84.3 88.1 84.6 85.7
106 Miami (O) 84.7 85.4 86.2 85.4
107 Bowling Green 85.7 84.5 85.1 85.1
108 Kent St. 84.0 85.3 84.2 84.5
109 Massachusetts 81.1 88.6 82.8 84.2
110 Georgia St. 81.6 86.7 83.3 83.9
111 Wyoming 83.3 83.6 83.5 83.5
112 Florida Atlantic 81.5 84.8 83.0 83.1
113 Rice 80.7 88.0 80.5 83.1
114 South Alabama 79.8 87.4 81.2 82.8
115 Fresno St. 81.5 85.6 81.1 82.7
116 UTSA 79.0 86.5 81.6 82.4
117 Buffalo 79.0 87.6 80.5 82.4
118 Eastern Michigan 80.5 85.1 81.4 82.3
119 UL-Lafayette 77.0 84.9 78.8 80.3
120 Idaho 77.8 83.4 79.2 80.1
121 Florida International 77.2 83.9 77.8 79.6
122 Hawaii 77.2 75.9 76.3 76.5
123 North Texas 75.4 78.3 75.6 76.5
124 New Mexico St. 72.9 75.7 73.7 74.1
125 UTEP 71.7 76.0 73.1 73.6
126 Charlotte 70.8 77.2 72.1 73.4
127 UL-Monroe 70.2 75.3 70.8 72.1
128 Texas St. 69.8 71.0 70.8 70.5

 

PiRate Retrodictive
# Team
1 Alabama
2 Ohio St.
3 Clemson
4 Houston
5 Michigan
6 Tennessee
7 Stanford
8 Washington
9 Louisville
10 Texas A&M
11 Wisconsin
12 Baylor
13 Nebraska
14 Arkansas
15 Florida St.
16 Utah
17 Oklahoma
18 Ole Miss
19 Miami (Fla)
20 LSU
21 Michigan St.
22 Georgia
23 San Diego St.
24 Florida
25 Toledo
26 Western Michigan
27 North Carolina
28 South Florida
29 Boise St.
30 Iowa
31 TCU
32 West Virginia
33 Oregon
34 Navy
35 UCLA
36 Arizona St.
37 Virginia Tech
38 Memphis
39 Notre Dame
40 Oklahoma St.
41 Central Michigan
42 Auburn
43 USC
44 Georgia Tech
45 California
46 Minnesota
47 Colorado
48 Pittsburgh
49 Texas
50 Western Kentucky
51 Texas Tech
52 Kansas St.
53 Penn St.
54 BYU
55 Mississippi St.
56 Air Force
57 Washington St.
58 Georgia Southern
59 Wake Forest
60 Maryland
61 Indiana
62 North Carolina St.
63 Cincinnati
64 Tulsa
65 Missouri
66 Army
67 South Carolina
68 Arizona
69 Southern Miss.
70 Troy
71 Appalachian St.
72 Northwestern
73 East Carolina
74 Temple
75 Utah St.
76 Akron
77 Louisiana Tech
78 Duke
79 Vanderbilt
80 Middle Tennessee
81 Marshall
82 Boston College
83 Rutgers
84 Connecticut
85 Ohio
86 Syracuse
87 Nevada
88 Colorado St.
89 Ball St.
90 Kentucky
91 Illinois
92 SMU
93 Virginia
94 Purdue
95 Oregon St.
96 Bowling Green
97 Tulane
98 San Jose St.
99 Wyoming
100 UL-Lafayette
101 Idaho
102 Central Florida
103 Arkansas St.
104 South Alabama
105 Texas St.
106 New Mexico
107 Northern Illinois
108 Fresno St.
109 Iowa St.
110 Florida Atlantic
111 UNLV
112 Old Dominion
113 UTEP
114 Massachusetts
115 Georgia St.
116 Kansas
117 Rice
118 UTSA
119 Eastern Michigan
120 UL-Monroe
121 New Mexico St.
122 Hawaii
123 Kent St.
124 North Texas
125 Buffalo
126 Miami (O)
127 Florida Int’l.
128 Charlotte

PiRate Rating By Conference

American Athletic Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
South Florida 109.9 106.9 110.8 109.2
Cincinnati 100.8 101.5 101.1 101.2
Temple 99.1 99.6 99.3 99.4
Connecticut 97.0 94.7 96.6 96.1
East Carolina 93.5 95.6 93.7 94.3
Central Florida 91.2 93.8 91.3 92.1
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Houston 117.8 115.8 120.2 117.9
Memphis 107.2 103.1 105.5 105.3
Tulsa 98.7 101.0 99.4 99.7
Navy 99.0 98.9 98.5 98.8
SMU 91.2 90.7 93.5 91.8
Tulane 84.3 88.1 84.6 85.7
         
AAC Averages 99.2 99.2 99.5 99.3
         
Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisville 127.9 122.3 128.1 126.1
Clemson 124.0 115.9 122.9 120.9
Florida St. 119.6 112.7 118.8 117.0
North Carolina St. 107.0 104.8 106.4 106.1
Wake Forest 102.9 101.2 102.3 102.2
Boston College 100.7 99.7 100.2 100.2
Syracuse 101.9 98.2 100.3 100.2
         
Coastal Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Miami 120.3 113.0 120.2 117.8
Virginia Tech 116.4 116.0 116.9 116.4
North Carolina 117.0 110.5 116.6 114.7
Pittsburgh 116.1 111.4 115.3 114.3
Georgia Tech 109.7 105.7 108.7 108.0
Duke 100.9 101.3 99.5 100.6
Virginia 101.5 99.1 101.0 100.5
         
ACC Averages 111.8 108.0 111.2 110.4
         
Big 12 Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Oklahoma 120.1 117.4 120.0 119.2
Oklahoma St. 113.7 114.7 113.6 114.0
TCU 113.3 114.6 113.1 113.7
Baylor 112.3 112.4 113.3 112.7
Texas 112.2 113.7 111.3 112.4
Kansas St. 107.2 110.2 107.1 108.2
West Virginia 107.6 106.4 107.0 107.0
Texas Tech 105.6 103.4 103.5 104.2
Iowa St. 97.4 97.0 96.2 96.9
Kansas 85.0 92.5 82.3 86.6
         
Big 12 Averages 107.4 108.3 106.7 107.5
         
Big Ten Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Michigan 124.7 122.2 125.2 124.0
Ohio St. 123.2 122.5 124.7 123.5
Michigan St. 110.9 109.8 109.2 110.0
Penn St. 104.9 107.1 103.7 105.2
Indiana 101.2 105.1 100.5 102.3
Maryland 101.6 105.2 99.4 102.1
Rutgers 98.3 95.7 96.9 97.0
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Wisconsin 114.2 112.2 114.7 113.7
Iowa 114.3 111.3 113.8 113.1
Nebraska 113.0 109.4 113.2 111.9
Northwestern 105.7 100.7 104.0 103.5
Minnesota 103.9 102.3 103.6 103.3
Purdue 97.7 95.7 96.9 96.8
Illinois 97.7 94.4 96.7 96.3
         
Big Ten Averages 108.0 106.7 107.3 107.3
         
Conference USA
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Western Kentucky 100.7 96.3 101.8 99.6
Middle Tennessee 93.8 95.1 94.3 94.4
Marshall 89.0 92.8 90.8 90.9
Old Dominion 86.0 89.3 86.2 87.2
Florida Atlantic 81.5 84.8 83.0 83.1
Florida International 77.2 83.9 77.8 79.6
Charlotte 70.8 77.2 72.1 73.4
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Southern Mississippi 94.4 94.4 95.5 94.8
Louisiana Tech 90.0 92.2 91.1 91.1
Rice 80.7 88.0 80.5 83.1
UTSA 79.0 86.5 81.6 82.4
North Texas 75.4 78.3 75.6 76.5
UTEP 71.7 76.0 73.1 73.6
         
CUSA Averages 83.9 87.3 84.9 85.4
         
FBS Independents
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Notre Dame 112.5 109.2 110.9 110.9
BYU 109.9 103.8 109.5 107.7
Army 92.6 101.0 95.6 96.4
Massachusetts 81.1 88.6 82.8 84.2
         
Independents Averages 99.0 100.7 99.7 99.8
         
Mid-American Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio 91.2 99.8 92.2 94.4
Akron 86.7 92.7 88.2 89.2
Miami (O) 84.7 85.4 86.2 85.4
Bowling Green 85.7 84.5 85.1 85.1
Kent St. 84.0 85.3 84.2 84.5
Buffalo 79.0 87.6 80.5 82.4
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Western Michigan 107.1 105.3 108.9 107.1
Toledo 104.4 103.0 105.4 104.3
Central Michigan 101.6 103.7 102.6 102.6
Northern Illinois 91.7 92.9 92.4 92.3
Ball St. 86.1 88.2 87.1 87.1
Eastern Michigan 80.5 85.1 81.4 82.3
         
MAC Averages 90.2 92.8 91.2 91.4
         
Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Boise St. 108.8 109.6 110.6 109.7
Air Force 101.1 101.7 101.6 101.5
Utah St. 93.7 96.3 93.3 94.4
New Mexico 92.3 95.3 93.1 93.6
Colorado St. 87.2 89.5 87.7 88.1
Wyoming 83.3 83.6 83.5 83.5
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
San Diego St. 106.0 103.1 108.4 105.9
Nevada 91.5 94.6 92.5 92.9
UNLV 87.7 92.3 87.7 89.2
San Jose St. 87.4 87.5 87.6 87.5
Fresno St. 81.5 85.6 81.1 82.7
Hawaii 77.2 75.9 76.3 76.5
         
MWC Averages 91.5 93.0 91.9 92.1
         
Pac-12 Conference
North Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Stanford 121.7 114.7 120.6 119.0
Washington 119.4 111.9 119.3 116.9
Oregon 111.3 109.8 110.5 110.5
Washington St. 107.7 104.9 107.6 106.8
California 104.8 97.1 102.5 101.5
Oregon St. 97.6 93.4 95.5 95.5
         
South Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
USC 113.5 108.9 110.8 111.1
UCLA 111.4 110.2 111.0 110.9
Colorado 111.6 107.3 112.1 110.4
Utah 111.3 105.8 109.2 108.8
Arizona St. 108.2 108.1 107.0 107.8
Arizona 105.6 103.0 104.6 104.4
         
Pac-12 Averages 110.3 106.3 109.2 108.6
         
Southeastern Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Tennessee 121.9 118.0 121.8 120.6
Florida 112.8 115.7 111.1 113.2
Georgia 108.2 108.1 107.4 107.9
Missouri 104.4 103.6 104.2 104.1
Vanderbilt 102.6 98.4 101.2 100.8
South Carolina 99.9 99.2 99.2 99.5
Kentucky 95.9 98.2 94.8 96.3
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Alabama 131.2 124.1 131.0 128.8
LSU 122.4 117.0 121.4 120.3
Texas A&M 116.5 115.0 116.4 116.0
Auburn 115.5 113.7 115.4 114.9
Ole Miss 116.4 110.1 115.9 114.1
Mississippi St. 111.8 109.6 110.9 110.8
Arkansas 112.3 107.9 109.7 110.0
         
SEC Averages 112.3 109.9 111.5 111.2
         
Sunbelt Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Appalachian St. 97.7 96.8 99.7 98.1
Troy 91.4 96.2 93.3 93.7
Georgia Southern 91.3 91.1 93.6 92.0
Arkansas St. 87.5 89.5 89.0 88.7
Georgia St. 81.6 86.7 83.3 83.9
South Alabama 79.8 87.4 81.2 82.8
UL-Lafayette 77.0 84.9 78.8 80.3
Idaho 77.8 83.4 79.2 80.1
New Mexico St. 72.9 75.7 73.7 74.1
UL-Monroe 70.2 75.3 70.8 72.1
Texas St. 69.8 71.0 70.8 70.5
         
Sun Belt Averages 81.5 85.3 83.0 83.3

Conference Ratings

PiRate Ratings By Conference
# League PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 SEC 112.3 109.9 111.5 111.2
2 ACC 111.8 108.0 111.2 110.4
3 Pac-12 110.3 106.3 109.2 108.6
4 Big 12 107.4 108.3 106.7 107.5
5 Big Ten 108.0 106.7 107.3 107.3
6 Independents 99.0 100.7 99.7 99.8
7 AAC 99.2 99.2 99.5 99.3
8 MWC 91.5 93.0 91.9 92.1
9 MAC 90.2 92.8 91.2 91.4
10 CUSA 83.9 87.3 84.9 85.4
11 Sun Belt 81.5 85.3 83.0 83.3

 

This Week’s Games–September 29-October 1
         
Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias
Thursday, September 29      
Texas Tech Kansas 23.6 13.9 24.2
Houston Connecticut 23.8 24.1 26.6
         
Friday, September 30      
BYU Toledo 9.0 4.3 7.6
Washington Stanford 0.7 0.2 1.7
         
Saturday, October 1      
Boston College Buffalo 24.2 14.6 22.2
Pittsburgh Marshall 29.1 20.6 26.5
Ole Miss Memphis 11.2 9.0 12.4
Massachusetts Tulane -0.2 3.5 1.2
Penn St. Minnesota 4.0 7.8 3.1
Iowa Northwestern 11.6 13.6 12.8
Ohio St. Rutgers 27.9 29.8 30.8
West Virginia Kansas St. 3.4 -0.8 2.9
Duke Virginia 2.4 5.2 1.5
Syracuse Notre Dame -7.6 -8.0 -7.6
Cincinnati South Florida -6.1 -2.4 -6.7
Temple SMU 10.9 11.9 8.8
Charlotte Old Dominion -13.2 -10.1 -12.1
North Texas Middle Tennessee -15.4 -13.8 -15.7
Louisiana Tech UTEP 21.3 19.2 21.0
Florida Int’l Florida Atlantic -12.3 1.1 -3.2
Central Michigan Western Michigan -3.5 0.4 -4.3
Ball St. Northern Illinois -3.1 -1.8 -2.8
Bowling Green Eastern Michigan 7.7 1.9 6.2
Miami (O) Ohio -4.5 -12.4 -4.0
East Carolina Central Florida 5.3 4.8 5.4
Kent St. Akron -0.7 -5.4 -2.0
Maryland Purdue 6.9 12.5 5.5
Georgia Tech Miami (Fla) -7.6 -4.3 -8.5
Nebraska Illinois 18.3 18.0 19.5
Michigan Wisconsin 13.5 13.0 13.5
Clemson Louisville -0.9 -3.4 -2.2
Florida St. North Carolina 5.6 5.2 5.2
Auburn UL-Monroe 48.3 41.4 47.6
Air Force Navy 5.1 5.8 6.1
Southern Miss. Rice 16.7 9.4 18.3
Colorado St. Wyoming 5.9 7.9 6.2
Alabama Kentucky 38.3 39.9 39.2
Georgia Tennessee -10.7 -6.9 -11.4
Appalachian St. Georgia St. 19.1 13.1 19.4
Vanderbilt Florida -7.7 -14.8 -7.4
California Utah -3.5 -5.7 -3.7
Oklahoma St. Texas 4.5 4.0 5.3
Colorado Oregon St. 17.0 16.9 19.6
North Carolina St. Wake Forest 6.6 6.1 6.6
South Carolina Texas A&M -13.6 -12.8 -14.2
UCLA Arizona 8.8 10.2 9.4
USC Arizona St. 8.3 3.8 6.8
Iowa St. Baylor -11.9 -12.4 -14.1
Indiana Michigan St. -6.7 -1.7 -5.7
TCU Oklahoma -3.8 0.2 -3.9
LSU Missouri 21.0 16.4 20.2
South Alabama San Diego St. -22.7 -12.2 -23.7
New Mexico St. UL-Lafayette -1.6 -6.7 -2.6
Idaho Troy -10.6 -9.8 -11.1
New Mexico San Jose St. 7.9 10.8 8.5
Boise St. Utah St. 18.1 16.3 20.3
Washington St. Oregon -0.6 -1.9 0.1
UNLV Fresno St. 9.2 9.7 9.6
Hawaii Nevada -10.3 -14.7 -12.2

This Week’s FBS vs. FCS Games

FBS vs. FCS Week 5  
Home Visitor PiRate
Arkansas Alcorn St. 50
Western Kentucky Houston Baptist 45
Texas St. Incarnate Word 15

Bowl Projections

Bowl Conferences Team vs. Team
New Mexico MWC CUSA New Mexico vs. Old Dominion
Las Vegas Pac-12 MWC USC vs. Boise St.
Cure AAC SBC [Akron] vs. UL-Lafayette
Camellia MAC SBC Ball St. vs. Ga. Southern
New Orleans CUSA SBC W. Kentucky vs. Troy
Miami Beach AAC MAC Cincinnati vs. W. Michigan
Boca Raton AAC CUSA Memphis vs. Sou. Miss.
Poinsettia MWC BYU Air Force vs. BYU
Idaho Potato MAC MWC C. Michigan vs. Colorado St.
Bahamas AAC/CUSA MAC/CUSA Tulsa vs. Toledo
Armed Forces Navy Big 12 Navy vs. Texas Tech
Dollar General MAC SBC Ohio vs. Appy St.
Hawaii CUSA MWC Marshall vs. San Diego St.
St. Petersburg AAC ACC/ND Connecticut vs. Notre Dame
Quick Lane ACC/ND Big Ten Pittsburgh vs. Indiana
Independence SEC ACC/ND [Army] vs. Georgia Tech
Heart of Dallas Big Ten CUSA Maryland vs. Middle Tenn.
Military ACC/ND AAC N. C. State vs. Temple
Holiday Big Ten Pac-12 Michigan St. vs. Colorado
Cactus Big 12 Pac-12 Texas vs. Oregon
Pinstripe ACC/ND Big Ten Wake Forest vs. Minnesota
Russell Athletic ACC/ND Big 12 Florida St. vs. West Virginia
Foster Farms Big Ten Pac-12 Iowa vs. Arizona St.
Texas Big 12 SEC Kansas St. vs. Arkansas
Birmingham AAC SEC South Florida vs. [Duke]
Belk ACC/ND SEC Virginia Tech vs. Georgia
Alamo Big 12 Pac-12 TCU vs. Utah
Liberty Big 12 SEC Oklahoma St. vs. LSU
Sun ACC/ND Pac-12 N. Carolina vs. UCLA
Arizona CUSA/SBC MWC/SBC La. Tech vs. Utah St.
Music City ACC/ND/B10 SEC Penn St. vs. [California]
Orange ACC/ND B10/SEC Louisville vs. Baylor
Citrus ACC/ND/B10 SEC Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
TaxSlayer ACC/ND/B10 SEC Miami (Fla.) vs. Auburn
Peach Semifinal Semifinal Alabama vs. Washington
Fiesta Semifinal Semifinal Ohio St. vs. Clemson
Outback Big Ten SEC Nebraska vs. Florida
Cotton At-Large At-Large Houston vs. Texas A&M
Rose Big Ten Pac-12 Michigan vs. Stanford
Sugar Big 12 SEC Tennessee vs. Oklahoma
Nat’l Champ. Semifinal Winners Alabama vs. Ohio St.

 

 

 

 

 

August 24, 2016

2016 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

Our final conference preview has become an annual conclusion to this 10-day preseason opening to the PiRate Ratings’ football coverage. In every instance since moving from radio to print, the Southeastern Conference has been our preseason number one league, and in most years, the top-rated team has been the overall number one team in the nation. This year, our PiRate Ratings show the top two teams in the league to be number one and number two nationally to begin the season, and the third best team is number four nationally.

In recent seasons, the West Division has been several points better than the East Division. While overall, the West is still better than the East, the difference is not as obvious as in past seasons. In fact, the number one team to begin the 2016 season is the Tennessee Volunteers from the East Division. Coach Butch Jones has been quietly building the Big Orange back to a point where they were in the late 1990’s, the late 1960’s, and during the reign of the great General Robert Neyland.

In 2015, Tennessee lost four times in games they could have won with a little better offensive line and a little more depth in the defense. The Vols have that this year. The team that won its last six games by an average of 22+ points per game is about a touchdown better this season. A four-game stretch between September 24 and October 15 will determine if this team can run the table and play for the SEC Championship. The Vols begin this tricky trek by hosting Florida, a team that Tennessee finds a way to lose to every year. Then, back to back road trips to Georgia and Texas A&M should be the two easier games of the four. FInally, the annual rivalry game against Alabama comes at home this year, and Tennessee would be a 3-6 point favorite if that game were to be played this weekend. After a week off, the road to the finish presents no major impediments with five games that could be won by an average in excess of 30 points per game.

Tennessee has powerful talent in every unit. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs will be one of the top 10 players at his position in the next NFL Draft. Dobbs completed 60% of his passes with a 15/5 TD-Interception ratio, but he averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt. That number needs to go north of 7.0 this year. Dobbs will have some famiiar receviers returning this year, led by the Josh’s (Malone and Smith), who teamed for 13.2 yards per reception on 54 catches last year. There is depth behind this duo, plus the Vols have talent at tight end in Ethan Wolf.

The running game will be solid with the return of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Hurd gained close to 1,300 yards and Kamara added almost 700 last year, and if the two stay healthy, Tennessee could top 225 yards rushing and passing this year.

Making the offense more efficient this year is a no-name blocking corps. There is experience and depth here, but it is the one potential fly in the offense’s ointment.

The Orange have star talent in the defensive trenches, at linebacker, and in the secondary. Up front, end Derek Barnett was one of five SEC defenders to record double-digit sacks last year. He will team with Corey Vereen on the other side of the line, and the two should team for at least 15 sacks and another 15 hurries.

Jaleen Reeves-Maybin led UT with 105 tackles last year, including six sacks and 14 total tackles for loss. The weakside linebacker will team with Darrin Kirkland to form a dynamic duo in the second line of defense.

The secondary is deep and talented, with four returnees from last year that teamed to 34 defended passes. Opponents barely completed 50% of their passes last year, on par with Alabama’s defense.

When Tennessee was a dynasty in the 1930’s through the 1950’s special teams were very special indeed. General Neyland’s teams were noted for blocking punts, punting the ball a long distance with excellent coverage, and a high kick and punt return average. The Vols may have the number one special teams unit in the land this year with a top-rated punter, kicker, kick returner, and punt returner.

The race for second place in the East should come from the other two annually successful teams in the division. Georgia returns a lot of talent, especially on the attack side, but they begin anew with Coach Kirby Smart. Smart has never been a head coach, but former Alabama assistant coaches have a rather good history of success. The Bulldogs have some issues, namely a quarterback issue where a true freshman, an inexperienced junior, and a senior, who has started at two Power 5 schools are competing for the starting job. Top high school recruit Jacob Eason may be a major star in a couple years, but he may not be the best fit to lead this team as a true freshman. Junior Brice Ramsey has a rocket thruster on his throwing arm, and he can throw the ball down the field quickly, but not always where it should go. Senior Greyson Lambert is more of a game manager with experience, and he is likely to get the nod to start the first game.

The Bulldogs have two running backs capable of topping 1,000 yards rushing when healthy, but the problem has been that neither has been healthy. Nick Chubb may be ready to start the season, but he might not be 100%, while Sony Michele may not be ready. Coach Smart is preparing for the opener as if neither will be able to play, and that makes Georgia 7-10 points weaker than if the two stars were totally healthy.

Smart is a defensive genius, and he will mold the Bulldogs into a strong and cohesive unit this year. However, they may not gel until the second half of the schedule, and with North Carolina, Ole Miss, and Tennessee coming in the first half, UGa may be out of the race early.

Florida won the East Division in Coach Jim McElwain’s first season. McElwain, the former offensive coordinator at Alabama and head coach at Colorado State, has less experience returning to Gainesville this year than his friend and former co-worker has in Athens, but the Gators have a year of experience in his system, which equalizes the two rivals. The winner of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is likely to decide second place with a better than small chance of besting Tennessee for the top spot. The Gators will go as far as new quarterback Luke Del Rio (Jack’s son). The Gators should have a decent passing game with three capable receivers, led by Antonio Calloway, who averaged nearly 20 yards per pass reception last year.

The Gators may be a little weaker in the defensive line this year, but the back seven is strong. How well they can stop the stronger running games will determine if they can contend for the division crown.

After the top three, the other four are fairly evenly matched, and they could finish in any combination. Of the four teams, Vanderbilt has the highest initial PiRate Rating, but the Commodores have an unfavorable schedule this year with road games against Kentucky and Missouri probably leading to losses, and leaving the Commodores with just one winnable SEC game. Third year coach Derek Mason should field another competent defense, but once again a weak offense will prevent the Commodores from winning consistently.

Missouri has had so many issues on and off the field in the last 16 months, and now the Tigers start over with a new coach in Barry Odom. Odom is a defensive wizard, having improved defenses at every stop, and he has brought in former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel to run the offense. Because the Tigers’ roster has changed a lot since the end of Spring Practice, it is hard to get a real gauge on their true identity this year. What figured to be one of the strongest defensive lines in the league took a major blow when two expected starters were dismissed. The offensive line took a hit with the unexpected loss of their only experienced lineman, but then Missouri picked up a “free agent” from Memphis in Michael Stannard, who should start immediately at guard.

Kentucky begins the season with the sixth best rating in the East, but the Wildcats have the best chance of the four second division teams of breaking through with a bowl eligible season for fourth year head man Mark Stoops. If they cannot get to six wins, there may not be a year five for Stoops. The concern is finding a capable passer to throw to a stable full of quality receivers so that defenses will play running back Boom Williams more honestly. Drew Barker has to prove he can be an SEC quarterback, as the Wildcats have not had consistency here since Andre Woodson played a decade ago. Kentucky will have to outscore opponents to win, because their defense is somewhat suspect to start the season.

South Carolina begins the year as the obvious choice for number seven in the division and number 14 overall. The Gamecocks went 3-9 last year with just one conference win, and they face a bigger rebuild than any team in the league. First year head coach Will Muschamp did not fare well in his final two years at Florida, going 7-12 in his last 19 games after beginning his career 22-9. The Gamecock offense could struggle to score 20 points per game and gain 350 yards, and their defense might regress from last year’s 28 points and 430 yards allowed. If USC drops the opener at Vanderbilt, they may struggle to win a conference game. There are some gimme non-conference games on the schedule, which should allow Carolina to win three times without a conference opponent going down.

Now to the West. Usually, this is the spot where we tell you how easy the path will be for Alabama to win the division, the league, and the national title. This year, we thought we would offer you something different, as we have another team to place that burden upon. It surprised us too when we placed all our data into our algorithmic equations, and the computer spit out somebody other than the Crimson Tide as the top team in the division. That honor goes to LSU this year.

The Tigers could have begun this season with a new coach, as Les Miles was on a very warm seat last December. The Tigers’ big guys decided to stick with him for another season, as they knew the Bayou Bengals had a stockpile of quality talent returning. When you have Leonard Fournette at running back, the tendency is to hand him the ball 35 times a game and take your chances, and then when you throw the ball, look for Fournette in the flats or short zones. This gave the Tigers 23 touchdowns last year, but somebody else must help take off some of this load. It’s one thing to have a back carry the ball 300 times in the Pac-12, but against the brutal defenses in the SEC week after week, that method doesn’t do so well.

That’s where having two highly skilled wide receivers come in, and Miles must remember that Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are eligible to receive passes. This tandem averaged more than 17 yards per catch last year, but they need to see more passes thrown their way, as they combined for just 71 receptions.

Therein, lies the rub. Somebody has to throw the ball relatively close to these guys’ hands, and in recent years, finding a quarterback to do just that has been somewhat difficult. Junior Brandon Harris has the potential to be that guy. Harris played injured in the second half of 2015, and his production fell off the table. He is healthy once again, and his passes look sharp so far in August. Backing him up will be former Purdue starter Danny Etling, who could challenge for playing time if Harris takes a step back.

Defensively, LSU could look more like their great 2011 team. The Tigers are loaded in the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary. New Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda made Wisconsin the best defensive team in the Big Ten, and he has more than enough players with J.J. Watt’s collegiate talent level to guide the Purple and Gold to the top of the stop charts in the top league in the land. Up front, Gavin Godchaux forces more than one offensive lineman to keep him from penetrating into the backfield, and this frees up the linebackers. End Lewis Neal is a multi-tool defender, able to put QBs on the turf and able to cover the short passing zones. He is a potential All-American this year.

Aranda’s starting Wisconsin linebackers recorded 229 tackles last year, and he didn’t have a player the equal of Kendell Beckwith or Arden Key. Look for these two stars to record crazy defensive numbers this year, and Key might become one of the best blitzing ‘backers in the nation.

We’ve saved the best for last. There is not another secondary outside of the NFL that can match the quartet in Baton Rouge. It begins with Jamal Adams, who led the Tigers with four interceptions last year from his safety spot. Cornerbacks Kevin Tolliver and Tre’Davious White cover receivers like gloves. Free safety Rickey Jefferson covers a lot of real estate between the sidelines, and this group should give the Tigers the extra impetus to get over the hump this year and edge out the big crimson-colored rival.

Don’t count Alabama out, just because they lost enough talent to start an expansion franchise in the NFL. The Tide does not rebuild; they reload, and Coach Nick Saban has enough talent to win the national title again if the younger players play mistake-free.

Alabama still plays somewhat old fashioned, blood and guts football, so the running game is very important to the overall offense. Without Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and top backup Kenyan Drake, there is no way this year’s team can come close to matching last year’s production, even with a strong offensive line opening holes. Those 50-yard touchdown bursts last year will become 7-12 yard excellent gains this year, and that will keep the offense from matching the 35 points per game of last year.

Add to the minor troubles the fact that a new quarterback must replace the highly underrated Jake Coker, who completed 67% of his passes last year and averaged almost eight yards per attempt. Cooper Bateman started just one game last year, and it was the only one ‘Bama lost. He may not be the eventual starter, as true freshman Jalen Hurts has impressed offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin enough to be considered a co-number one at this point in the preseason.

It is imperative that a QB emerges that can throw the ball, because the Tide has the best wide receiver group in the league, and they are going to need to throw the ball more this year in order to open up holes for the running game. Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and Robert Foster should all play for pay one day, and they make the receiving corps one of the best in the nation. What may keep them from teaming for 200 receptions is lackluster quarterback play.

One need never worry much about the Alabama defense. It has been a long time since the Crimson Tide surrendered 20 points per game or 350 yards per game. As long as they don’t have to face DeShaun Watson, look for the Tide to give up about 15-17 points and 275-300 yards per game even with four of the top five tacklers missing from last year.

One of those returnees led the TIde with a dozen QB sacks last year, and end Jonathan Allen could be a first team All-American this year. Middle linebacker Reuben Foster returns after making eight stops behind the line of scrimmage and breaking up nine passes a year ago. On the back line, it starts with All-American Eddie Jackson at the strong safety position. Jackson tied for the league lead with six interceptions last year.

Alabama’s schedule presents the young Tide player with a challenge that will be a little too much to completely conquer. A neutral game with USC to start the season could give the Tide some confidence, as we believe they can win this one. However, road games against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU will not be easy, and we feel like this team may split these four games. Still, 10-2 isn’t that bad when you consider that most other schools replacing this much talent would be lucky to win three or four games.

After the top two, there really isn’t a lot of distance between the numbers three through seven teams in the West Division. The parity is incredible, and all five of these teams should end up with six to eight wins each. We feel at this point that no team will exceed 4-4 in conference play, and maybe four of the five will come in at exactly 4-4.

The initial PiRate Ratings shocked us by placing LSU so high, but they shocked us even more when the computer spit out Mississippi State as the third highest preseason rating. Personally, all of us here figured the Bulldogs would be picked last in the division, which is what the media gurus said when they voted at SEC Media Days. We cannot obviously tell you why the algorithm gave the Maroon Bullies the nod as the third best East Division team to start 2016, because Coach Dan Mullen has to replace his star quarterback, top two receivers, three excpetional offensive linemen, and six quality defensive starters. Mullen is possibly one of the two or three most underrated coaches in college football, and when faced with a similar rebuilding project three years ago, the Bulldogs managed to win seven games. Their schedule takes Mississippi State to LSU, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss, four games they could easily lose. Even if they win one of those four, there is no guarantee they will hold serve at home against Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas, so the Bulldogs are just one of a quartet we believe will split their conference games.

We believed that Ole Miss would be the clear choice for third best in the league, but the computer says they are fourth best this year. As long as quarterback Chad Kelly stays healthy and doesn’t try to force the ball in tiny spaces, the Rebels’ offense should do just fine, even without an SEC-caliber running back or a highly-rated offensive line. When Kelly gets the time to throw, he will have some good receivers getting open. Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow will see their numbers inflate by at least 50%, as the Rebels try to replace All-American Laquon Treadwell’s 82 receptions and 1,153 yards. The Rebels averaged 41 points per game last year, but that number will drop by as many as 7-10 points in 2016.

The Ole Miss defense has a lot of holes to fill, but Coach Hugh Freeze has recruited well, and the Rebels have some talented, albeit inexperienced players to fill these gaps. End Marquis Haynes might be the top defensive player in a lower-rated conference, but in the SEC, he’s just above average. Haynes registered 10 sacks and 16.5 total tackles for loss last year, while adding eight QB hurries. Fadol Brown gives Ole Miss a fine bookend to compliment Haynes. The other defensive star is cornerback Kendarius Webster, but the Rebels lost a lot of talent from the secondary. It adds up to another 4-4 team from the West.

Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn began his tenure on the plains with a 12-win season and came within a whisker of winning the national championship. Since then, his Tiger teams have endured through 8-5 and 7-6 seasons, and if the fortunes don’t begin to turn this year, Malzahn could be interviewing for a new situation. The prospects for this year’s team being much improved are slim, because like all five of the little brothers in the West Division, Auburn has too many holes to plug, and at best the Plainsmen will only top last year’s seven-win record by a game. Whether 8-5 is good enough to keep Malzahn’s job is a question to be answered in the early Winter. As of this writing on August 23, Malzahn has yet to decide on a starting quarterback from among three, and the eventual starter will need a lot of first team reps to be ready for the opening game against Clemson. Add the issue of having to replace the running back that was expected to start with three inexperienced and pedestrian candidates, plus the loss of the top two receivers, and Auburn could struggle to score enough points against the teams that score in rapid succession.

Arkansas should have an improved defense in year four of the Bret Bielema era in Fayetteville. However, the offense lost its quarterback, star running back, and one of its two star receivers. Bielema usually produces an incredible offensive line, so we feel like the Razorbacks have the best potential of the bottom five of pulling some surprises and sneaking into the three-hole. However, if the new quarterback cannot get the job done, the Razorbacks also have the most risk of falling into the pit in this division.

Texas A&M has been through some tough times in the last several months. Not one, but the top two quarterbacks left College Station after the final regular season game last year. Two assistants were suspended without pay for making sexually explicit comments to a group of women fans.

Then, the top-rated quarterback in the high school ranks, Tate Martell, who outdueled UCLA QB Josh Rosen two years ago when their high school teams met, decommitted from Aggieland to sign with Ohio State. This led receiver’s coach Aaron Moorhead to issue an ill-advised Tweet, which then forced Head Coach Kevin Sumlin to discipline yet another assistant.

All this dissension cannot be good for Sumlin, who begins the season on a hot seat, and if the Aggies lose the opener at home to UCLA, it could snowball into something much worse. Games at Auburn, against Arkansas in Jerryworld, at home with Tennessee, at Alabama, at Mississippi State, and at home with LSU would then put the Aggies in jeopardy of getting to six wins should the Bruins come to Kyle Field and get the “W” on September 3.

Here is how the SEC Media picked the order of finish at Media Days in Birmingham last month.

SEC East Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Tennessee 225 2,167 29
2 Florida 57 1,891 5
3 Georgia 45 1,860 7
4 Kentucky 0 933 0
5 Vanderbilt 2 810 1
6 Missouri 0 807 0
7 South Carolina 2 800 1
         
SEC West Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Alabama 246 2,220 223
2 LSU 76 1,984 59
3 Ole Miss 5 1,479 4
4 Texas A&M 3 1,130 1
5 Arkansas 1 1,047 1
6 Auburn 0 890 0
7 Mississippi St. 0 518 0

 

Here are our initial PiRate Ratings for the top league.

Southeastern Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Tennessee 127.7 121.8 128.4 126.0
Florida 113.5 116.8 111.1 113.8
Georgia 112.5 114.0 112.1 112.9
Vanderbilt 106.9 100.7 105.1 104.3
Missouri 103.0 101.8 102.5 102.5
Kentucky 100.4 102.3 99.2 100.6
South Carolina 99.0 99.3 98.1 98.8
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
LSU 127.6 121.1 126.8 125.2
Alabama 126.5 119.0 125.0 123.5
Mississippi St. 120.1 115.9 119.7 118.6
Auburn 114.5 113.8 113.9 114.1
Arkansas 116.4 110.3 114.2 113.7
Texas A&M 112.1 111.4 112.0 111.8
Ole Miss 113.6 107.4 112.1 111.0
         
SEC Averages 113.9 111.1 112.9 112.6

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

Southeastern Conference Projected Standings
East Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Tennessee 8-0 13-0 * Playoffs–Peach
Georgia 5-3 8-4 Citrus
Florida 5-3 8-4 Outback
Kentucky 2-6 5-7  
Missouri 2-6 5-7  
Vanderbilt 1-7 4-8  
South Carolina 1-7 4-8  
       
West Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
LSU 8-0 12-1 NY6–Sugar
Alabama 6-2 10-2 NY6–Rose
Mississippi St. 4-4 8-4 Texas
Ole Miss 4-4 7-5 Liberty
Auburn 4-4 7-5 Music City
Arkansas 4-4 7-5 Taxslayer
Texas A&M 2-6 6-6 Belk

 
This wraps up the conference previews. Coming later today, we will be posting the updated PiRate Ratings and debut the Retrodictive PiRate Rankings, which is sort of comical, since no games have been played. Our first Retro Rankings of the season are actually predictive in nature, because we simply update last year’s final Retro Rankings in a similar manner to how we update our Predictive Ratings. Nevertheless, the Rankings will make their 2016 debut in this post.

Also, by this evening in the Eastern Time Zone, our webpage will be updated with the latest ratings and rankings as well. You can find this at piratings.webs.com. It is a no-frills just the stats ma’am site with stats and no commentary.

Our regular college schedule once the season begins in earnest is to have the updated ratings posted by Monday afternoon and the predicted spreads of the next week’s games online by Tuesday evening.

For those of you interested in our NFL data, we will have our NFL ratings and predicted spreads for the following week by Wednesday evening.

And, for those of you that promise, and we mean PROMISE, not to use our data to bet and lose your house, car, and family at the betting windows in Vegas, we will issue our JUST FOR FUN money line parlays this year. In theory only, if you actually did use just our parlay predictions last year, you might have come out ahead with a 40% return on investment, but this was most likely an anamoly. If we can convine you any more to this fact, we would not bet one dollar on these fun only parlay predictions. It’s simply all about the math for us analytics nerds. After all, we are a team of professional baseball scouts and sports metric analysts that just happened to play one or more of the big three sports. Our parlay predictions are more like how many play fantasy football just for fun not expecting to win anything.

Did you see the part above about NOT using our free predictions to lose your hard-earned, or even easy-earned money?

August 28, 2012

2012 Southeastern Conference Preview

What else can this conference do to top what it has done in the last six years?  It wasn’t enough that the SEC won the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 national championships.  They had to find a way to do one better, so they decided to send a second team to the title game.  When Alabama and LSU met, it really should have been the second time that this big game had been played between conference rivals that had played a tight game in the regular season.  In 2006, we felt that Michigan and Ohio State should have played for the national championship, because Ohio State’s home field advantage was 5.5 points, and the Buckeyes won by three in the regular season.  Of course, Florida showed Ohio State that the SEC was too powerful.

 

The last time the SEC did not win the title, Vince Young quarterbacked Texas to a last minute win over Southern California, with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White. 

 

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC needed another bowl contract, so now this league has ten bowl tie-ins.

 

Texas A&M has three other major tie-ins with the SEC.  Three famous SEC coaches had Aggie ties.  General Robert Neyland played football for a season at A&M, before he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy.  Bear Bryant was the A&M coach prior to taking over at his alma mater.  Gene Stallings played for Bryant at A&M and later became the head coach there.  Stallings became the coach at Alabama and won a national championship there.

 

Missouri has one gigantic contribution to not just the SEC but to all college football.  The Tigers were the team that first introduced the option play to football.  Coach Don Faurot, the father of the Split-T offense, first began to use the regular (double option) at Missouri.  The split-t was the forerunner of the veer and wishbone offenses and even today’s zone read option from the spread formation.

 

The SEC media poll featured 222 voters.  Here is how the voting went.

 

 

SEC East

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Georgia

132

1434

(14)

2

South Carolina

72

1358

(6)

3

Florida

12

1045

(1)

4

Missouri

2

797

 

5

Tennessee

4

718

 

6

Vanderbilt

0

598

 

7

Kentucky

0

266

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEC West

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

L S U

139

1449

(129)

2

Alabama

72

1379

(65)

3

Arkansas

6

1093

(14)

4

Auburn

4

827

(2)

5

Texas A&M

0

653

 

6

Mississippi State

0

554

 

7

Ole Miss

1

261

(1)

 

 

 

 

 

Number in ( ) represents votes to win SEC Championship Game

 

The PiRate Ratings and PiRate Vintage Ratings have minor differences, but are not that much different from the media poll votes.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

SEC East

PiRate

1

Georgia

118.6

2

South Carolina

117.3

3

Florida

116.1

4

Tennessee

115.5

5

Missouri

114.3

6

Vanderbilt

110.6

7

Kentucky

95.2

 

   

Rank

SEC West

PiRate

1

L S U

131.4

2

Alabama

126.5

3

Arkansas

119.5

4

Texas A&M

113.2

5

Auburn

111.5

6

Mississippi State

108.6

7

Ole Miss

100.8

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

SEC East

Vintage

1

Georgia

116

2

South Carolina

114

3

Florida

111

4

Tennessee

109

5

Missouri

108

6

Vanderbilt

103

7

Kentucky

100

 

 

 

Rank

SEC West

Vintage

1

L S U

120

2

Alabama

119

3

Arkansas

112

4

Mississippi State

106

5

Texas A&M

105

6

Arkansas

105

7

Ole Miss

99

 

 

Team

Florida Gators

               
Head Coach

Will Muschamp

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Gainesville, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

116.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

17

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

Can year two of the Coach Will Muschamp era in Gainesville replicate the feats of the two previous coaching geniuses at the Swamp?  In Steve Spurrier’s second year, the Gators went 7-0 in the SEC.  In Urban Meyer’s second year, Florida won a national championship.

 

Muschamp returns 10 defensive starters, although one of those (end Ronald Powell) is injured and will not be available until October.  The Gators were stingy last year, giving up 20 points and 300 yards per game, and this group could chop those numbers down to 17 points and 275 yards per game this year. 

 

Up front, Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter form an excellent tandem at tackle.  Floyd does more than protect his linebackers; he gets into the offensive backfield and disrupts running plays.  Ends Lerentee McCray and Dominique Easley both registered 7 ½ tackles for loss last year.  McCray actually played linebacker last year and switches to the “buck” end (part end/part linebacker).

 

Speaking of linebacker, the Gators’ top defensive player returns to the Mike position.  Jonathan Bostic led the Gators with 94 tackles.  He recorded three sacks and 10 total tackles for loss.  Jelani Jenkins can do it all; he can blitz and dump a passer; he can stop a runner for little or no gain; and he can cover a receiver in the underneath zones like a cornerback.

 

The Gators have an excellent group of defensive backs.  All four starters from last year are back, as well as the nickel and the top reserve.  Safety Matt Elam is a smaller version of Jenkins; he can fill up a stat sheet with sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended.

 

The offense lacked the oomph that past Gator teams had.  The scoring average dropped to its lowest number since 1992.  In SEC, the Gators failed to average 300 yards per game.  Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took the Kansas job, and former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease takes over.

 

Pease does not have a Kellen Moore passing to Titus Young and Austin Pettis.  In fact, the Gators don’t even have a solid number one quarterback.  Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are liable to continue competing for the starting job well into the season.  Driskel will start against Bowling Green on Saturday, but he has not secured the spot.  In limited action for both last year, they teamed for 354 yards and two touchdowns against six interceptions.  Neither completed 50% of his passes.

 

With the losses of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, last year’s number three back takes over as starter.  Mike Gillislee actually had the highest rushing average of the trio, as he rushed for 5.9 yards per try.

 

Muschamp doesn’t have a big star among his wideouts, but Andre Dubose made the most of his 16 catches last year.  He averaged 27 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns.  Frankie Hammond, Quinton Dunbar, tight end Jordan Reed and fullback Trey Burton give the QBs multiple above-average receivers, but none of these guys will become all-Americans.

 

The offensive line must deal with an injury to tackle Matt Patchan, but there is enough depth in the trenches to keep the offense moving.  Guards Jon Halapio and James Wilson join center Jonotthan Harrison in the middle.

 

Caleb Sturgis is the top kicker in the league.  He was 100% accurate on PATs, and he connected on 22 of 26 field goal attempts.  Two of those four misses were from 50 or more yards.  He made three from 50 or more, including a 55-yarder.

 

The Gators have a weird schedule this year, because they were saddled with putting both Texas A&M and Missouri on their slate.  UF closes their conference schedule on November 3, and then they play three non-conference games to end the season.  In past years, they always took advantage of playing two patsies prior to the Tennessee game.  Now, they have a trip to Texas A&M the week before heading to Knoxville.  We like this team’s talent and think they could compete for the East Division crown, but the Gators will have a hard time splitting their first four league games.

 

 

 

Team

Georgia Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Mark Richt

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Athens, GA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

118.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

6

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

 

The Bulldogs lost their first two games and their last two games, but won the 10 games in between last year.  Those four losses came to teams that went a combined 47-6.

 

Coach Mark Richt welcomes back his starting quarterback and five of his top six receivers.  Aaron Murray is one of three potential All-American quarterbacks in the SEC.  He tossed 35 touchdown passes, while completing 59% of his passes for 3,149 yards.

 

Murray has three receivers returning that caught 30 or more passes.  Tavarres King had 47; Malcolm Mitchell had 45; and Michael Bennett had 32.  King and Mitchell can burn a secondary with a quick six.

 

The loss of Isaiah Crowell may end up being addition by subtraction.  Ken Malcome will try to hold off a couple of true freshmen.  Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley were both highly-rated running backs.

 

The one area of concern on this side of the ball is in the trenches.  There are no big stars here, and one of the expected starters (Kolton Houston) cannot gain eligibility because he continues to test positive for a banned steroid used on an injury two years ago during a shoulder surgery.  Two line starters are back.

 

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did a great job with the defense last year, as UGA gave up just 277 yards per game.  With 12 of the top 13 tacklers returning, the Junkyard  Dogs will continue to bark.

 

Let’s start at linebacker, where the ‘Dogs are loaded at this spot, possibly the tops in the land.  Jarvis Jones frequently made it to the drop back point before the quarterback!  He led the SEC with 13 ½ sacks, and he added six more tackles for loss.  Unbelievably, he was credited with 49 QB hurries.  Michael Gilliard finished third on the team with 65 tackles, and he was a jack of all trades with a pair of sacks, seven TFL, and four passes defended.  A couple of linebackers, Chase Vasser and Alec Ogletree face one game suspensions, but the Bulldogs can beat Buffalo without them.

 

The three-man defensive line returns intact this year.  Nose tackle John Jenkins tips the scale at more than 350 pounds.  He can sit and take up two gaps.  Ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington teamed up for nine sacks and 49 QB hurries.

 

The secondary benefitted from an excellent pass rush, and they responded by allowing less than 51%  completions and 176 passing yards per game.  Safety Shawn Williams led the Bulldogs with 72 tackles and four interceptions.  His counterpart at the other safety position is Bacarri Rambo, a first team All-American, is one of a handful of players facing a suspension at the beginning of the year.

 

The Bulldogs are Missouri’s first ever conference game, and they will play at Faurot Field in week two.  It is the only one of the opening five that the Bulldogs could lose.  Game six takes UGA to South Carolina, where the ‘Dogs have a score to settle with the Gamecocks.  This has the look of another double-digit win season between the hedges, and it isn’t impossible for them to settle a score with LSU in the Conference Championship Game.

 

 

Team

Kentucky Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Joker Phillips

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Lexington, KY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

95.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

67

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

The bowl streak ended last year for Coach Joker Phillips’ Wildcats last year.  Kentucky had been bowl eligible for five consecutive years.  The last time UK had a five-year run with a better showing was 1952 to 1956.

 

The trend has been headed the wrong way though, as Kentucky’s records since 2006 have been 8-5, 8-5, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, and 5-7.  Unfortunately for Phillips and his Cats, it looks like the trend will continue in 2012.

 

Kentucky had quarterback issues last year.  Morgan Newton began the season as the starter, and he looked like an SEC quarterback throwing to Division III receivers.  Poor pass protection eventually sent him to the sidelines for the season with multiple injuries.  Maxwell Smith took over, and UK had the same results; the receivers had difficulty getting open, and Smith ate turf too many times.  Eventually, he was forced to the sideline with injuries.  In the finale against Tennessee, Kentucky basically used a single wing offense and ran the ball over 90% of the game.  It shortened the game by about 10 plays, and the Wildcats upset the Vols for the first time since 1984.

 

Newton and Smith both return this year, and they clearly are the weakest quarterback tandem in the league.  The two combined for just 1,612 passing yards and completed just 51% of their passes.  The average yards gained per pass attempt was just 4.9. Smith will get the initial start against Louisville this Sunday.

 

Kentucky’s receivers dropped several passes in almost every game.  As weak as the quarterback talent is when comparing it to the rest of the league, this unit is less talented than many MAC teams.  La’Rod King is the one and only receiver that looked like he belonged on the field last year.  He caught 40 passes for 598 yards and seven touchdowns last year.  The rest of the roster averaged a miserable 7.9 yards per reception.  There isn’t much help coming from any newcomers this year.

 

The running game was not the answer either last year, as the Cats gained just 124.2 yards per game (117 prior to switching to the single wing for the Tennessee game).  The one offensive bright spot on the team, Josh Clemons, was expected to become the next Rafael Little, but he didn’t quite live up to those standards.  He ran all over Central Michigan but he couldn’t get it done against LSU, Florida, and South Carolina.  He suffered a knee injury and needed surgery.  He may not be available for the first couple of games.  CoShik Williams led UK last year with 486 yards rushing, but most of that came against Jacksonville State and Ole Miss.  This is by far the weakest unit in the SEC.

 

The offensive line would be considered the strong point of this offense, but that is like saying that the 1962 New York Mets’ had some good hitters.  Guard Larry Warford is the best player on the team and only one that could end up earning 1st Team All-SEC honors.  Phillips cannot run 40 plays over his blocking hole, and Warford cannot block four pass rushers at the same time.  Look for the Wildcats to continue to struggle on offense this year.

 

The defense was not all that bad last year.  UK surrendered less than 25 points per game, which was an improvement by more than three points from the year before.  Former Cincinnati coach Rick Minter serves as the defensive coordinator.  He probably will see his troops surrender more yardage and points this year, because the offense will not be able to sustain many drives.  Kentucky had to defend 69 plays per game last year, and they could be forced to defend more than 70 this year. 

 

The defensive line returns three starters.  End Collins Ukwu is the top returning man in the trenches.  He finished with 6 ½ tackles for loss and picked up four QB hurries.  Tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph bring the beef up front, as they weigh 328 and 301 pounds respectively.

 

It is an entirely different story at linebacker, where all the key contributors from last year are gone.  Avery Williamson, Miles Sampson, and Tyler Brause will not adequately replace a trio of linebackers that produced a pair of NFL Draft choices.  Kentucky will be much more generous against the run this year.

 

The secondary might be decent if there was any type of pass rush, but we don’t see the Cats putting much fear in the minds of enemy passers.  Safety Martavius Neloms is the leading returning tackler with 71.  Mikie Benton forms a better than average safety tandem with Neloms, but the Cats are really weak on the corners.

 

Everything is relative when you compare teams against each other.  Kentucky’s talent is by far the weakest in the league, but in the SEC, the weakest talent might be able to compete for the Conference USA Championship.  Kentucky will win three games outside of the league, but that is all we can predict them winning.  However, by the time they face Georgia on homecoming on October 20, they will have filled the gym to watch the defending national champions take the floor, and all will be good once again in Lexington, where basketball, bourbon, and babes are the big draws once the horse tracks are closed for the year.

 

 

 

 

Team

Missouri Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gary Pinkel

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Columbia, MO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

114.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

31

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

The Tigers may be really glad that the Big Ten did not ask them to join with Nebraska.  The SEC will give their program a much bigger payday by the time the league’s profit-sharing check arrives next year.

 

Missouri will bring excellent programs to the SEC and give the league three terrific TV markets.  Besides the obvious, Kansas City and St. Louis, they get a lot of coverage in Chicago with a lot of Missouri alums living downstate.  Maybe best of all, Tiger fans will bring their great barbecue tailgating to the South and make the SEC the top culinary conference as well.  Note: We are available to test any KCBBS champion tailgater’s food and give it a blue ribbon.

 

Missouri becomes the second team in the league to wear black and gold and treat a man named James Franklin as their savior.  This Franklin is a quarterback, perhaps the best one in the league (don’t yell Arkansas fans).  Last year Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, while completing better than 63% of his passes.  Factoring out QB sacks (the way the NCAA should figure rushing), Franklin topped 1,000 yards rushing and scored 15 touchdowns.  Redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser is built just like Franklin and will become a good QB in his own right in the future, but if Franklin goes down, Mizzou will be miserable.

 

Franklin has a quality receiving corps to play toss with.  T. J. Moe caught 54 passes and gained 649 yards in the Big 12 last year.  Marcus Lucas gives Franklin a big and fast target, and Lucas should double his production this year (23-414 5 TD in 2011).

 

Other than Franklin, the running game is a liability and may be the reason MU has troubles in SEC games.  With star back Henry Josey expected to miss the season due to a second knee operation, the Tigers lose someone that rushed for 1,168 yards and nine scores, while averaging 8.1 yards per try with several big plays.  Kendial Lawrence is a capable back able to rush for 100 yards a game against a team like Kentucky, but he will not beat Alabama or Florida with his running ability.

 

There is a considerable amount of rebuilding to do in the front line, as four starters must be replaced.  The spread offense that Pinkel uses gives his new starters an advantage, because Franklin’s ability to read defenses on the run will overcome some of the line’s liabilities.  Tackles Justin Britt and Elvis Fisher are SEC-caliber blockers.

 

The Missouri defense was good enough to hold Texas to a field goal last year, but it surrendered 45 points to Oklahoma State, 42 to Baylor, and 38 to Oklahoma.  Factor out the big three, and MU gave up a very respectable 18 points and 313 yards per game.  The Tigers will give up more than that in the SEC, but they won’t see Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, and RG3. 

 

If the Tigers can generate a decent pass rush, the secondary will be really good.  E. J. Gaines is a possible all-league cornerback.  Last year, he led the Tigers and finished third in the Big 12 with 18 passes defended.  Fellow cornerback Kip Edwards may miss the start of the season due to a knee injury, and if he is not ready by week two when Aaron Murray comes to Memorial Stadium, Mizzou is going to have some trouble.

 

Andrew Wilson and Zavier Gooden return to the second line of defense.  Wilson led the Tigers with 98 tackles (9 ½ TFL), while Gooden finished third with 80.  Gooden is tough in pass coverage, while Wilson is the better run-stopper.  Middle linebacker Will Ebner is coming back from an injury year, and if he is healthy, he could lead the team in tackles.

 

End Brad Madison needs to step up and enjoy a big senior year.  He led MU with 4 ½ sacks last year, but he needs to double that amount for the Tigers to even think about competing for the SEC East title.  He’s the only returning starter to the D-line, and this could prevent MU from finishing in the upper half of the division standings.

 

The SEC did the new teams a big favor for their first season.  Both new teams get to host one of the national championship participants.  Alabama comes to Columbia on October 13.  The Tigers should be 5-1 or 4-2 heading into that game.  Make no mistake about it’ Missouri will enjoy another winning season and play in a bowl, but moving to the SEC is like being called up to the Major Leagues from AAA.  Expect the Tigers to lose the most games they have lost since 2006.

 

 

Team

South Carolina Gamecocks

               
Head Coach

Steve Spurrier

               
Colors

Garnet and Black

               
City

Columbia, SC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

117.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

9

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

The “Old Ball Coach” guided USC to its best record since 1982.  The Gamecocks won 11 games and finished in the Top 10.  They begin the season ranked #6 in the polls, and they are considered a strong contender in the SEC East, where they won the division two years ago.

 

The man that makes the offense go is junior Marcus Lattimore.  His two years in Columbia coincided with Spurrier’s Fun and Gun offense taking off and resembling his offenses at Florida.  Lattimore missed four games last year after he suffered a season-ending injury against Mississippi State.  In the six games that he played prior to injury, USC averaged 35.5 points and 416.5 yards per game.  In the seven games that he did not play in (or finish in the case of Miss. St.), the Gamecocks averaged 10 less points per game and 80 fewer yards per game.  Lattimore was on pace to run for about 1,700-1,750 yards and score 20 or more touchdowns.  He must remain healthy, especially early in the season, because his key backups are all banged up. 

 

Connor Shaw took over for good once Spurrier had enough of Stephen Garcia’s off-the-field problems.  Shaw completed 65.4% of his passes with a TD/Int ratio of 14/6.  His yards per attempt fell just short of greatness at 7.7 (anything over 8.0 is considered A1).

 

The Gamecocks have produced a star wide receiver with regularity since Spurrier arrived in Carolina.  They lost a big one in Alshon Jeffrey, but they return some quality talent with the potential to make this the best USC passing game since Steve Tannehill was there in the mid-90’s.  Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, and D. L. Moore will give Garcia a lot of open looks this year.  Tight end Justice Cunningham will be adequate as a receiver, but he is there to open the off-tackle hole for Lattimore.

 

The only reason why we don’t see the Gamecocks taking the East flag and finishing in the top five in the nation is a weaker offensive line.  Three starters depart, including a first team all-league performer (and NFL Draft pick).  Center T. J. Johnson will open some holes in the middle for Lattimore, but expect USC to give up more QB sacks this year, and if Shaw goes down with an injury, Dylon Thompson will not be able to keep the offense rolling.

 

The Gamecocks won several games with a stifling defense the last couple of years.  They lose their biggest piece of this puzzle—coordinator Ellis Johnson has left to take over at Southern Miss.  Additionally, USC must replace six starters including NFL Draft choices in the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary.  Do not expect USC to repeat their exceptional numbers of last year (18.4 points and 268 yards allowed per game).

 

The front seven will still be formidable but not as strong as last year.  Ends Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney are top notch.  They teamed up for 14 sacks and 20 ½ TFL, even though Clowney played in reserve for former All-American Melvin Ingram.

 

The Gamecocks do not have a star replacement for leading tackler Antonio Allen.  Damario Jeffrey may be able to come close to making the 88 tackles Allen made, but they will be about a yard further down the field.  Shaq Wilson and Devonte Holloman return to the linebacking unit after combining for 103 tackles.

 

Stephen Gilmore may be the hardest star to replace.  Gilmore led SC with four interceptions, but teams often threw away from where he covered.  D. J. Swearinger is the lone holdover in the defensive backfield, and he should contend for all-conference honors this year.

 

The Gamecocks will be tested right off the bat, as they open the season on national television against Vanderbilt in Nashville.  The Commodores will be at full strength and fired up to show last year was not a fluke, so this game will be extremely important for both teams.  A week two game with East Carolina could be a trap game, but we believe USC will start 3-0 after they face UAB.  The week four game against Missouri will determine if Spurrier can keep this team in contention for the SEC East flag.  We believe Carolina will just miss winning the East, but if Lattimore stays healthy and rushes the ball more than 300 times, it is possible that Carolina could make it back to the SEC Championship Game.

 

 

Team

Tennessee Volunteers

               
Head Coach

Derek Dooley

               
Colors

Orange and White

               
City

Knoxville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

115.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

28

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

Third year coach Derek Dooley was sitting on a good hand.  He had three-of-a-kind with a king high on offense, and he knew that most of the defenses his Volunteer team was playing against had a pair or worse.  Only one or two defenses had a full house.

 

Then, on the eve of the season, his three-of-a-kind turned into a pair.  Sadly for fans on Rocky Top, what looked like a possible dark horse contender for the SEC East Crown turned into another year of mediocrity.

 

Da’Rick Rogers led the Vols with 1,040 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last year, but he also led the team in suspensions, the most recent leading to his dismissal.  Combined with Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers, and tight end Mychal Rivera, this would have been the top receiving corps in the SEC and one of the top five in the nation.  When Hunter and D. Rogers were both healthy last year (Hunter went down for the count against Cincinnati in game two), the Vols’ offense was nearly unstoppable, and UT would have averaged 35-40 points per game this year.  Without Rogers, expect the Vols to average 25-28 points per game, and that will cost them two or three wins.

 

Tyler Bray had a few disciplinary bumps in the road this summer, but he will not lose any playing time (although pro scouts will take note of his maturity issues).  Bray is one of five fantastic passers in the SEC that should all play in the NFL one day.  He completed just under 60% of his passes last year for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns against just six picks.  His yards per attempt came in just at the spectacular level (8.0), but it was almost 11 when both Hunter and Rogers were playing together.  Bray missed five games last year.  He should top 3,500 yards through the air if he stays healthy this year.

 

Tennessee has not had the pleasure of having a workhorse back the last three years, and this position is still a liability.  Rajion Neal has some potential to take heat off the passing game, but he will remind nobody of Arian Foster.

 

The offensive line is better suited to block for the pass than the run, and that is one reason why the Vols rushed for just 90 yards per game last year.  Six linemen saw considerable starting action, and all six return, so Bray should be able to eat a sandwich and still have time to throw this year.  Tackle Ja’Wuan James begins his third season as a regular and has all-conference ability.  Guard Dallas Thomas will earn an all-conference mention this year.

 

Even in the most recent run of malaise on the hill, the Tennessee defense has performed admirably, giving up just over 21 points per game in the most recent four seasons (23-27 W-L record).  The Vols have produced rather talented defensive backfields, and this year will be more of the same, as five key players return.  Cornerbacks Justin Coleman, Marsalis Teague, and Prentiss Waggner combined to make 85 tackles in 2011.  Waggner led the trio with nine passed defended, two of which were interceptions.  Safeties Brian Randolph and Brent Brewer both return, but junior college transfer Byron Moore will see a lot of time at strong safety as well.  Expect Tennessee to shut down the opposing quarterbacks not named Murray, McCarron, or Franklin, and they will not face one named Wilson.

 

The Volunteers used to be famous for producing All-American linebackers (almost as much as Penn State), but it has been some time since they had a gem.  A. J. Johnson may be the next ruby.  He finished second on the team with 80 tackles as a freshman.  Herman Lathers missed 2011, but if he returns to 2010 form, the Vols will be much tougher to run on than they were last year.

 

The defensive line is not as talented as the secondary or linebackers, and this will be their big problem against the power teams on their schedule.  Dooley is hoping that human eclipse, junior college transfer Daniel McCullers at 6-6 and 377, can be a brick wall in the A-gaps.  Maurice Couch now moves from nose tackle to end, where Dooley can take advantage of his quickness.  The Vols did were not pass rushing monsters last year, finishing with 16 (11th in the league).

 

Dooley will come under fire if Tennessee does not begin to show marked improvement.  We believe he is a capable game manager and mentor, and he inherited a mess in Knoxville when he became the third coach in three years.  Volunteer fans run the risk of becoming another New Mexico or Minnesota if they think they can hire a new coach and return to the way things were in the 1990’s. 

 

As for 2012, the opening game against North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome just became a tossup.  Games against Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and South Carolina will determine if Tennessee flounders around .500 again or wins eight regular season games and returns to a better bowl (Outback or Gator).  We believe 7-5 should warrant Dooley a little insurance.

 

 

Team

Vanderbilt Commodores

               
Head Coach

James Franklin

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Nashville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

110.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

54

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

What Tommy Lasorda did for the Los Angeles Dodgers, James Franklin did for Vanderbilt.  Lasorda took over for Mr. Excitement, Walter Alston, in LA, and the Dodgers responded to his motivational methods.  Franklin came in after Bobby Johnson and his assistant Robbie Caldwell were not the life of the party.  Franklin’s motivational methods were just short of Anthony Robbins.  He also brought in a group of excellent teachers, and Vanderbilt responded immediately.  The Commodores found offense they didn’t have the year before, when Franklin installed the West Coast Offense to replace the spread from the previous three years.

 

It is nice that the Commodores have royal quarterback bloodlines.  Jordan Rodgers can turn to the best quarterback in the world for advice (his brother Aaron), and working with him some in the off-season can only be a big plus.  Rodgers took over as the starter midway through the season, and the Commodores began to move the ball like Jay Cutler was back on campus.  While Rodgers’ numbers were not the best (50% completions and 9/10 TD/int ratio), he proved to be a big scrambler and forced defenses to assign a spy on him rather than drop back into the coverage.  Expect Rodgers to take a giant step forward this year and top 2,500 yards through the air.

 

The Commodores are still behind most of the league at receiver.  Jordan Matthews cannot catch 100 passes, so VU needs to come up with two other quality options.  Matthews led Vandy with 41 catches, and he averaged 19 yards per catch.  Look for his catches to go up and maybe approach 70, but his average will drop.  Chris Boyd and Jonathan Krause teamed for 54 receptions and 644 yards.  Boyd has the ability to emerge as a co-leader with Matthews, while Krause is more of a possession receiver.  The return of John Cole could be a factor if Cole can return to his 2010 form.  The West Coast Offense works a lot better when it has a reliable tight end that can split the seams in Cover 3 and flood a Cover 2 zone.  Austin Monahan needs to play a full season without injury if the Commodores are to return to a bowl this year. 

 

Vanderbilt has one of the better running games in the league.  Zac Stacy emerged as a star last year, rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging close to six yards a try.  Former starter Warren Norman tries to come back after missing all of last year and part of 2010.  He was the Freshman Player of the Year back in 2009, but he has been passed in the depth chart by last year’s freshman contributor Jerron Seymour.  True freshman Brian Kimbrow is the Commodores most coveted recruit in over a decade.  He may be as fast as the star back on the other side of the Cumberland River, the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson.

 

The offensive concern this year is in the offensive line, where Vandy’s projected starters are the smallest in the league.  There are no All-SEC blockers in this group.  The left side, consisting of guard Ryan Seymour and tackle Wesley Johnson should do a good job protecting Rodgers’ blind side.

 

The defense improved just as much as the offense last year, giving up 10 fewer points per game and close to 100 less yards per game and finishing in the middle of the pack in the SEC.  Things will not be as golden this year for the black and gold; the top three tacklers have left the building, including a high draft pick.

 

Gone from the secondary is Casey Hayward, who led the SEC in passes defended with 17, including seven interceptions.  Trey Wilson now becomes the main man in the secondary, after the cornerback intercepted three passes and broke up eight other last year.

 

The defensive line loses its top man in Tim Fugger, who led the team with eight sacks and 13 ½ TFL.  Tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter will have to share some playing time with Vince Taylor, while ends Walker May and Johnell Thomas will rotate with a couple of freshman standouts, Caleb Azubike and Darien Bryant.

 

The middle unit is the big concern.  Leading tackler Chris Marve was the glue that held the improved defense together.  He prevented some breakaway runs last year and will not be adequately replaced.  Archibald Barnes and Chase Garnham are serviceable linebackers but not stars.  Karl Butler would be a nice reserve on most SEC teams.  Expect opponents to find the going much easier this year when they try to run the ball on the Commodores.

 

The schedule features two non-conference games against BCS conference opponents (the only team in the SEC to do so).  The Commodores are also the only team to play six true road games (Texas A&M plays five plus a neutral site game).  They absolutely must go 4-0 outside the league to have a real shot at bowl eligibility, and the early road game at Northwestern will be extremely tough to win following the emotional season opener Thursday night against South Carolina.  Vandy rode a 3-0 start to a 6-6 regular season record last year, and we believe they could start 0-2 this season, which will put them in a hole the rest of the year, one they cannot dig out of.  Call it a five win season.  

 

 

Team

Alabama Crimson Tide

               
Head Coach

Nick Saban

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Tuscaloosa, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

12-1

               
PiRate Rating

126.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

119

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

2

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-1

 

Alabama fans may be willing to change their coach’s name to “Bear Saban.”  If he can win another national championship with this team, he will deserve to place the hounds’ tooth hat on his head.  Alabama lost enough talent from their 2011 National Championship team to produce a bowl eligible team by itself.  However, Alabama’s second team could have won the ACC Championship last year.

 

One first-teamer returning is quarterback A. J. McCarron.  While he is not Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, or Scott Hunter, McCarron is an excellent manager of the offense, and he has enough talent.  He’s more like a Bart Starr; he’ll do just enough to beat you.  Last year, he completed better than 2/3 of his passes, throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions.  He gained eight yards per attempt, which places him in the spectacular category.

 

The Tide will miss having one of the most talented receivers in the country, but Duron Carter never played a down for the Tide, so they will get by just fine without him.  Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Amari Cooper, and Christion Jones are not household names, but by December, a lot of defenses will remember this group.  Add tight end Michael Williams and Jalston Fowler, who might line up as a fullback, h-back, tight end, or even in the slot, and the Tide have a very credible group of receivers.

 

Alabama routinely sends running backs into the NFL, and the latest might be the best yet.  Trent Richardson is going to be sorely missed, but don’t cry for the Tide.  Eddie Lacy will top 1,000 yards this year, but only if he can keep true freshman Eddie Yeldon on the bench.  Yeldon should see the field quite a bit this season.

 

How good is the Alabama offensive line?  Oh, we estimate it is about the 27th best in the country; of course the 26 ahead of them are NFL lines.  This line will open holes that an average high school back could average four yards per attempt.  Barrett Jones returns at center, where he won the Outland Trophy last year and is the leading contender to win it again this year, joining all-time greatest college center Dave Rimington as the only back-to-back winner.  Tackle D. J. Fluker could actually be the first player picked in the 2013 NFL Draft, if the team in question does not need Matt Barkley.

 

Alabama’s defense cannot match what it did last year.  The Tide’s stop troops looked more like Coach Bryant’s teams of the early 1960’s, when offenses had not yet evolved.  Alabama held opponents to 8.2 points and 183.6 yards per game!  That sounds like the days when offenses ran the ball 80% of the time and tried to win 13-7.  Nobody will forget what they did to LSU in the title game, holding the Tigers to 92 total yards with no chance to ever score.  In two games against LSU, they kept the Bayou Bengals out of the end zone and held them to 144 passing yards in more than eight quarters.

 

There is way too much all-star talent to replace on this side of the ball, so expect the Tide to give up a lot more points and yards this year.  They could even be generous and allow opponents to score 14 points per game.

 

The secondary returns just one starter, but the three new regulars already make this the top secondary in the league (thanks to one big loss at LSU).  Safety Robert Lester will become a millionaire next year after his name is announced by Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft.  He will team with Vinnie Sunseri to give ‘Bama the best safety tandem in college football.

 

Alabama lost too much at linebacker to repeat the production.  Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were the two best outside linebackers in the nation.  Opponents had little chance of turning the corner when they ran wide.  Quarterbacks never knew which one was rushing and which was dropping back in pass coverage.  Nico Johnson and C. J. Mosley give the Tide the best inside tandem in the league.

 

Up front, Saban used a lot of defensive linemen last year, so Josh Chapman will be easily replaced.  Look for end Damion Square to become the next big star in the trenches.

 

Usually when a team loses 11 starters off its first team, they will not be as good as the year before.  Alabama is different.  What we see in the SEC is something like a repeat of last year.  We believe the Tide can win 11 regular season games and avoid having to play in the SEC Championship.  Then, if the voters and computers show them to be number two in the BCS, we could have a rematch for the National Championship.  The SEC can do no better than this until the playoffs begin in 2014-15.  Then, they might put three teams in the kitty.  

 

 

Team

Arkansas Razorbacks

               
Head Coach

John L. Smith

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Fayetteville, AR

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

119.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

15

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Poor Razorback fans:  just when it looked like your Hogs had the necessary pieces in place to make a national title run, your coach had to do something really stupid and prove that the male gender sometimes thinks with the wrong part of their body.  Unfortunately, your emergency replacement coach was accused of not being able to think at his prior head coaching stop.

 

When last a head coach in Division 1, John L. Smith was accused of bungling several decisions at Michigan State.  Ask Spartan fans to talk to you about the 2006 game against Ohio State, but be prepared to duck first.

 

Smith finds himself in an impossible position, and he will be blamed when the Razorbacks don’t run the table.  They have possibly the best quarterback in the nation not playing in the Pac-12.  Tyler Wilson thrived last year in Bobby Petrino’s offense.  He picked up where Ryan Mallett left off and passed for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns versus just six interceptions.

 

Wilson lost three outstanding receivers that all heard their names called in the 4th round of the NFL Draft.  Additionally, three other wide receivers expected to either start or see action in reserve left Fayetteville.  That forced Smith to make a big change.  Backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell rarely saw the field thanks to Wilson’s performance.  He was too talented with a lot of athleticism to let ride the bench, so with the endorsement of the entire offensive staff, Mitchell switched to receiver.  He instantly becomes a major asset here, as he will provide Wilson a big target with a lot of speed, and he will be a weapon blocking downfield.  He will team with Cobi Hamilton and true freshman Mekale McKay to give UA the right combination to continue to average over 300 passing yards per game.

 

Can Knile Davis return to his 2010 form after missing all of 2011 with a broken ankle?  That is the big question in Fayetteville this year.  Davis rushed for more than 1,300 yards two years ago.  The Razorbacks have good depth with Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning after splitting carries in replace of Davis.  Both could line up in a slot and become receiving weapons.

 

Three starters return to the offensive line, and there is room for some improvement here.  Travis Swanson gets overlooked due to Jones at Alabama, but he is one of the nation’s top centers.  Guard Alvin Bailey rates near the top in the league at his position.

 

Arkansas averaged 37 points and 440 yards per game last year, and those numbers can be duplicated this season.  Now, it will be up to the defense to rise to the occasion and more closely resemble the defenses at the two teams ahead of them in the standings.

 

This defense will not hold opponents under 300 yards and 14 points per game like both Alabama and LSU, but Arkansas could surprise everyone and still sneak in as SEC West champs if the defense could hold the opposition to 20 points and 350 yards per game.

 

Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith looks the part of an all-conference defender.  He paced the Hogs with 12 ½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2011.  Jarrett Lake and Tenarius Wright are not as talented, so Highsmith will need to make 100+ tackles this year.

 

The defensive line is not up to the standards of an LSU or Alabama, or even a Georgia, Florida, or South Carolina.  UA will be breaking in a new pair of ends, neither of whom can compare to Jake Bequette.

 

The secondary will be vulnerable more this season, as there will not be the same pass rush as last year.  Safety Eric Bennett finished with three interceptions and three more passes broken up last year, but he will not be able to take up the slack by the departure of Tramain Thomas.

 

Last year, Arkansas had to play Alabama and LSU on the road, and this year both teams come to Fayetteville.  Road games at Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State will all be tough.  Any of those six teams can beat Arkansas, so we cannot pick the Razorbacks to challenge in the West this year.  We figure Arkansas will split those six tough games.  At 9-3, Smith may not be welcomed back for a second season.  He did not even get one full year when he signed here.

 

 

Team

Auburn Tigers

               
Head Coach

Gene Chizik

               
Colors

Navy and Burnt Orange

               
City

Auburn, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

111.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

45

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

2010 seems like ages ago.  Auburn did not fare so well without Cam Newton.  Now, the Tigers have to go on without offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the mastermind of the spread offense that led the Tigers to the national championship in 2010.

 

Can Auburn win in the toughest division in college football with a sophomore quarterback that would be more suited to playing tailback in an I-formation?  Kiehl Frazier was a five-star recruit when he arrived at Auburn last year, but he was picked to run the Malzahn spread.  Auburn is switching to a pro offense with new coordinator Scott Loeffler.  Frazier is an excellent runner, but just a so-so passer.  It will be interesting to see how he performs under center.  Backup Clint Moseley seems to be the better fit for this offense, but the coaches obviously believe Frazier can make the transition.

 

Frazier will benefit from the return of the top four receivers on this team.  Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen is expected to see a lot more passes thrown his way this year after catching 24 and scoring seven times last year.  Emory Blake will be counted on once again to make big gains out of short passes.  Blake led the Tigers with 36 receptions and 613 yards. 

 

In the backfield, Onterio McCalebb should capitalize on the switch to the new offense.  He rushed for 641 yards and five scores, and he finished second on the team with 32 receptions and 344 yards.  Tre Mason will see significant time in reserve.

 

The offensive line took an unexpected blow just on the eve of the big opening game in Atlanta against Clemson.  Center Reese Dismukes was suspended following his arrest for public intoxication.  That leaves guards John Sullen and Chad Slade as the only two holdovers from last year.  True freshman Avery Young now moves into the starting lineup.

 

The War Eagle defense will be better this season after giving up 29 points and more than 400 yards per game last year.  While nine starters return from 2011, two thirds of them have lost their spots on the first team to other players.

 

One starter that will keep his job is end Corey Lemonier, who finished among the SEC leaders with 9 ½ sacks and 13 ½ TFL.  He was close on several other attempts to sack QBs, and he finished with 15 hurries.  Fellow end Nosa Eguae lost his spot to Dee Ford.

 

Daren Bates led the Tigers with 104 tackles, and he will keep his spot at the Sam linebacker.  Jake Holland and Justin Garrett are the two new starters, while Jonathan Evans goes to the bench.

 

Chris Davis is the only defensive back to keep his starting job.  The corner finished fourth with 60 tackles, but he did not intercept a pass last year.

 

Auburn faces a tough season-opener against Clemson in Atlanta, and we are concerned with Frazier’s inexperience in this game.  Clemson will be out to prove that they can hold an opposing bowl team under 70 points, and they could smother the Plainsmen.  Games against Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama look very difficult indeed, and we think Auburn will struggle to make it through the season without losing five and maybe six times.

 

 

 

 

Team

Louisiana State Tigers

               
Head Coach

Les Miles

               
Colors

Royal Purple and Gold

               
City

Baton Rouge, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-1

               
PiRate Rating

131.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

1

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-0

Overall

13-0

 

Through the 2011 regular season, LSU looked like one of the top college teams of all time.  The Tigers faced a difficult schedule and came through unscathed, defeating Oregon, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, all of whom were ranked when they played them.  Then, with multiple weeks to prepare for the game, Nick Saban figured out how to stop LSU cold, and the Tigers had to settle for the consolation prize.

 

No competitor wants to go home with a year supply of Rice-a-Roni, and LSU returns this year with a chip on its collective shoulder and a mean streak ready to prove to the public that they are not satisfied with being number two.

 

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger assumes controls of the attack unit.  He saw limited action as the number three man behind Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.  Stephen Rivers, younger brother of Phillip, will be ready to go if Mettenberger fails to live up to his hype.  We are not totally sold on this unit, but whoever ends up playing the most under center, his principal assignment will be to hand the ball off and fake the handoff and throw off play-action. 

 

The Tigers have enough quality running backs to switch to the old full-house T-formation and ram the ball through the defense like Ohio State did in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, Michael Ford,  and Spencer Ware will all see time in the backfield.  This quartet rushed for 2,338 yards and 30 touchdowns last year (5.3 avg per rush).  Now, add a new wrinkle to this mix.  Coach Les Miles moved big defensive tackle J. C. Copeland, at 280 pounds, into fullback, and he will personally escort the running backs through holes with much less interference.  Miles even plans to give Copeland a rushing attempt every now and again.  LSU could rush for 225-250 yards per game this year.  Woody Hayes would be smiling.

 

Receivers Odell Beckham, Russell Shepard, James Wright, Jarvis Landry, and tight end Chase Clement make up a decent group of pass catchers.  They may not catch as many passes as the receivers at Arkansas, but their yards per catch could be better.  Defenses will have to go to great lengths to stop the running game, so the receivers should exploit the fact that there will be more open space when they run their routes. 

 

LSU’s offensive line is almost as good as Alabama’s.  Four starters return, led by tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst, who could both vie for 1st Team All-SEC accolades.  This unit paved the way for the runners to perform like they did, and they weren’t too shabby as pass blockers, except against Alabama.

 

The Tiger defense was one of the best in the nation last year, but only second best in this division.  LSU gave up just 11 points and 260 yards per game.  The Tigers may be vulnerable at times this year due to the loss of six starters from this side of the ball, including the “Honey Badger,” Tyrann Mathieu.  Mathieu tied for the team lead with 76 tackles.  He made 7 ½ tackles for loss, and he had 11 passes defended.  He also scored two touchdowns on punt returns.  However, he decided that synthetic marijuana was more important, and it cost him.  He is now in rehab with the hopes of coming back in 2013.  We wish him luck.

 

The defensive line is where LSU will dominate in 2012.  Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo teamed up for 17 sacks, 28 ½ tackles for loss, and 12 QB hurries.  They are both juniors, but they could be 1st round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft.  Bennie Logan is a pro prospect at tackle.

 

Kevin Minter is the stud of the second line of defense.  The middle linebacker made 61 tackles.  Tahj Jones and Lamin Barrow round out this unit, but this trio is not as talented as the line.  Expect true freshman Deion Jones to eventually take over as a starter.

 

Replacing Mathieu will be difficult, but LSU has other talented players on the back line.  Eric Reid tied with Mathieu in tackles with 76, and he picked off two passes.  However, Miles is replacing the Honey Badger with a true freshman, Jalen Mills, and there will be a drop-off in talent here.  Note: while defensive backs finished one-two in tackles, this was not a sign of a weak defense.  LSU rotated defenders up front, so the number of tackles was more spread out.  Also, opposing teams had to try to pass the ball, so there were fewer opportunities for the line and linebackers to make a lot of tackles.

 

LSU’s non-conference schedule will allow the new players to gel and be ready for SEC play.  Easy wins over North Texas, Washington, and Idaho will allow the Tigers to invade Auburn and come away with a win.  A breeze game against Towson State will allow them to prepare for Florida at The Swamp.  If they beat the Gators, they would have two more tough games before “The Game.”  South Carolina at home and Texas A&M on the road will be tough games, but we believe LSU will wear both down.  At 8-0, they would then get a week off to prepare for the big one, while Alabama is forced to play Mississippi State.  We believe LSU can win that one and then knock off the two Mississippi teams and Arkansas to run the table in the regular season once again.  Could we see another LSU-Alabama national title match?  It isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

 

 

Team

Ole Miss Rebels

               
Head Coach

Hugh Freeze

               
Colors

Cardinal and Navy

               
City

Oxford, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

100.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

70

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

Last year, Hugh Freeze produced a conference champion in his first year as a FBS head coach.  Of course, that happened at Arkansas State.  He takes over an Ole Miss program that has never been able to duplicate what Johnny Vaught did for a quarter century.  Houston Nutt guided the Rebels to back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins in his first two seasons, but the best he could do in conference play was 5-3.  His last two years saw Ole Miss fall into last place with 1-7 and 0-8 league marks.  Freeze takes over a program that will require a large remodel.  He wants to implement the same no-huddle hurry-up offense with a 50-50 run/pass mix, but his roster was recruited to run the spread running game.

 

Nutt used three quarterbacks last year, and two return this season.  However, one of the two is now a running back.  Big-time junior college recruit Bo Wallace was supposed to come in and take over command in the pocket, but last year’s number three man Barry Brunetti earned the starting spot.  Brunetti completed 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards last year.  He is a decent runner, and that may help keep him from being clobbered too many times trying to set up with a weak blocking wall.

 

Ole Miss was not much of a passing team last year, completing just 13 passes per game, so there were not a lot of receptions to be had.  The receiving contingent welcomes back five of the seven players that caught 10 or more passes last year.  Donte Moncrief led the Rebels with 31 receptions and 454 yards.  Ja-Mes Logan added 20 receptions and 274 yards.  Tight end Jamal Mosley caught a dozen passes for 166 yards.  Expect this trio to more than double the 63 combined passes caught this season. 

 

Freeze will use a platoon at running back with Jeff Scott and former quarterback Randall Mackey seeing an equal amount of reps.  Both are speedy backs without much power.

 

The offensive line is weaker than the line at Kentucky, so that tells you why Ole Miss will struggle to move the ball and score in the SEC.  Two starters are left from last season, and neither will earn all-league recognition.  These linemen were brought in to block for the spread and are not the best pass blockers, so expect a rough transition this year.

 

The Rebels will improve on defense first, but the statistics may not show the improvement, because Ole Miss will be forced to defend for five to 10 more plays per game this year.

 

Middle linebacker Mike Marry is the best player on this side of the ball.  Marry led Ole Miss with 81 tackles last year.  Of course, a good many of those tackles came after opponents gained four or five yards.  Aaron Garbutt and converted defensive back Dehendret Collins join Marry at linebacker.  At 200 and 175 pounds, they are well undersized to stop the run, but quick enough to defend the short zones.

 

Freeze moved a former fullback and tight end over to the defensive side, and E.J. Epperson was impressive enough to become one of the starting defensive ends.  C. J. Johnson and Epperson will give Ole Miss some athleticism on the outside.  True freshman Isaac Gross will start immediately at tackle.  This group will have its moments, but they are going to be generous against the good teams.

 

The Ole Miss secondary gave up just 194 passing yards per game last year, but the weak run defense was mostly responsible for the low amount.  Unfortunately, the one star on the back line will not play until October at the earliest.  Safety Charles Sawyer is out with a torn quadriceps muscle. 

 

It is going to be a long year in Oxford, but Rebel fans will be entertained with a more wide open offense.  Texas A&M comes on to the schedule, while Kentucky goes off.  Out of the league, games with UTEP and Texas will be tough.  We’ll give them the game against the Miners plus wins over Central Arkansas and Tulane.  3-9 will be a minor improvement over 2-10.

 

 

Team

Mississippi State Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Dan Mullen

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Starkville, MS

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

108.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

106

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

42

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

What was the difference between Dan Mullen’s great 2010 season and so-so 2011 season?  Their opponents were improved last year.  In 2010, Mississippi State beat Georgia and Arkansas; last year they lost those two games, because Georgia was much better than the year before and Arkansas was much tougher at home than in Starkville.

 

The schedule becomes easier again this year, as the Bulldogs do not have to play Georgia and South Carolina from the East (and avoid Florida).  They keep Kentucky and get Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas at home.

 

Mullen welcomes back a seasoned veteran at quarterback this year.  Tyler Russell split time at QB with Chris Relf, and he now gets full control.  Russell took over at halftime of last year’s UAB game, when the Blazers went to the locker up 3-0 at the half.  Russell led the Bulldogs on three touchdown drives in the second half and became the starter for most of the remainder of the season. If for some reason Russell does not move forward this year, Dak Prescott will take over.  There isn’t that much separating the two.

 

The Bulldogs have a decent group of receivers this year, as the top three guys return.  Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis, and Chris Smith teamed for 90 receptions and 1,111 yards last year.  Marcus Green and Brandon Hill will try to replace Malcolm Johnson, who suffered an injury earlier this summer.

 

State loses 1,000-yard rusher Vic Ballard, but they return two quality backs that could combine for more yards than Ballard.  LaDarius Perkins and Nick Griffin averaged better than five yards per attempt.

 

The offensive line needs some rebuilding, but there is adequate talent here.  Guard Gabe Jackson made the all-SEC second team last year.

 

MSU has three rather talented units on the defensive side of the ball; of course, rather talented is not great in a division that has dominating defenses.  Linebacker is the top unit; top tackler Cameron Lawrence (123 stops).  Lawrence recorded six tackles for loss and defended seven passes.  Deontae Skinner made 69 tackles with nine going for negative yards.

 

In the trenches, tackle Josh Boyd had 4 ½ sacks last year and finished with 51 tackles.  Ends Kaleb Eulls and Denico Autry need to step up quickly to replace the production lost by Fletcher Cox’s graduation.

 

The Maroons have a pair of quality cornerbacks in Johnathan Banks and Corey Broomfield.  The duo teamed up for 130 tackles.  Banks picked off five passes and batted away nine others.  Broomfield may actually split time with Darius Slay.

 

As we discussed before, we believe Mullen will guide this team to a better record than last year, if only because the schedule is much more favorable.  This is a team that could sneak into the Cotton Bowl.

 

 

Team

Texas A&M Aggies

               
Head Coach

Kevin Sumlin

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Nashville, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

113.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

46

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-5

 

The Aggies gave up a lot when they lost their rivalry with Texas.  However, annual games against LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas will more than make up for that loss.  The gigantic check the school receives will place this move over the top in the positive column.

 

Kevin Sumlin takes over at head coach after leading Houston to a spectacular season last year.  On the plus side, SEC fans will love watching his teams play their wide open style of football.  On the minus side, Case Keenum does not get to come too.

 

Sumlin is going with a freshman as his new quarterback.  Johnny Manziel redshirted last year, while Ryan Tannehill threw for almost 300 yards per game.  Behind Manziel on the depth chart are two untested sophomores.

 

SEC fans will quickly get to know Ryan Swope.  The senior wide receiver led the Aggies with 89 receptions, 1,207 yards, and 11 touchdowns.  Uzoma Nwachukwu added 50 catches. 

 

A&M loses their 1,000-yard rusher, Cyrus Gray, but the Aggies return backup Christine Michael, who rushed for 899 yards with a higher average per carry than Gray.  Michael should top 1,000 this year.

 

Four starters return to a blocking wall that opened holes for the offense to run for more than five yards per carry and gave up just nine sacks all year.  The Aggies are exceptionally strong at tackle with Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel returning.

 

Texas A&M might have been the Big 12 Champions last year if their defense had been better on just one or two plays in their six losses.  They blew big leads to Oklahoma State (20-3), Arkansas (35-17), Missouri (28-17), and Texas (13-0), and they lost all five games!  They could have been 8-1/11-1 and won the league.

 

The Aggie defense gave up 28 points and almost 380 yards per game, and these five blown leads cost Mike Sherman his job.  This year, the Aggies will be no better defensively, but their numbers might improve in a more conservative league.  Instead of blowing leads and losing 42-38 to quality teams, they will lose 27-23.

 

The Aggies are strongest at linebacker, where all three 2011 starters return.  Jonathan Stewart led A&M with 98 tackles.  Steven Jenkins contributed 61 stops, and Sean Porter finished with 79.  Porter was the big star, leading the Big 12 with 9 ½ sacks and adding another 7 ½ stops for loss.

 

End Damontre Moore finished just behind Porter with 8 ½ sacks, and he added nine more stops for loss.  Spencer Nealy proved to be a big play defender with eight TFL.  Gavin Stansbury and Kirby Ennis become the two new starters in the line.

 

This will be a double transition season for the Aggies—a new coach and a new league.  While there will be growing pains, we feel like there is enough talent on board to sneak through with a winning record and bowl bid. 

 

Unfortunately for the Aggies, Hurricane Isaac has forced the postponement of their opening game.  They will now play Louisiana Tech on October 13, meaning their home opener with Florida will be their first game, but Florida’s second.  This puts them at a huge disadvantage, because college football teams improve the most between their first and second game.

 

Coming Wednesday, August 29: We reveal the PiRate Ratings for all 124 FBS teams and the lines for week one.  Then, on Thursday, we will take our “just for fun” look at beating the spread.

August 21, 2010

2010 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:43 am

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

 

2010 Southeastern Conference Preview

We close out the conference previews with a look at the biggie.  The SEC has produced the last four national champions and five in the past decade, compared to two from the Big 12, one from the Big Ten, one from the Pac-10, and one from the Big East.  Not since Georgia in 2005 has the SEC Champion not played in the BCS National Championship Game.

We are going to predict this trend ends this season, but not without a lot of controversy.  We believe the SEC Champion, like all the other five BCS Conference champions will lose at least one game.  As we have stated in earlier previews, we believe both Boise State and TCU will win all their games and meet in Glendale for the rubber match bowl game.

One coach finds himself on a hot seat that he may not be able to cool down.  One coach is on a mildly warm seat due to fans that have ridiculously high and impossible standards.  One coach may want to hang it up at the end of this year after many years in the business.  One coach already decided to get out, leaving just before August practices began.  It is possible that four jobs in the elite conference will be available after the season. 

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

Predictions

Pos East SEC W-L
1 Florida 7-1 11-2
2 South Carolina 5-3 8-4
3 Georgia 5-3 9-3
4 Kentucky 2-6 6-6
5 Tennessee 1-7 4-8
6 Vanderbilt 0-8 1-11
       
Pos West SEC W-L
1 Alabama 7-1 12-1
2 Auburn 5-3 9-3
3 Arkansas 5-3 9-3
4 L S U 4-4 7-5
5 Ole Miss 4-4 8-4
6 Mississippi State 3-5 6-6

 

SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Florida

 

BCS Bowl (Sugar): Alabama

BCS Bowl: Florida

Capital One Bowl: Auburn

Outback Bowl: Georgia

Cotton Bowl: Arkansas

Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina

Gator Bowl: L S U

Music City Bowl: Mississippi State

Liberty Bowl: Ole Miss

PapaJohns.com Bowl: Kentucky

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

S E C  East

 

Team

Florida Gators
               
Head Coach Urban Meyer
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Gainesville, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 13-1
               
PiRate Rating 121.4
               
National Rating 10
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
Strengths: QB, RB, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, LB, DB, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Receiver (small weakness)
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Miami (O), South Florida, Appalachian State, @ Florida State
   
Key Games: @ Alabama, LSU, Georgia (n), South Carolina
   
Offense Pred. 28-32 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 15-19 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

The Gators went 13-1 last year, and it was considered a major disappointment.  The team that returned almost every starter from a national championship was expected to go 14-0 and become the next 2001 Miami, 1995 Nebraska, 1971 Nebraska, and 1945 Army in college football.

 

Head Coach Urban Meyer briefly stepped down only to come back a few days later.  Unfortunately, Tim Tebow, Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Ryan Stamper, Joe Haden, Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, and Carlos Dunlap don’t have the option of coming back.  The Gators lost nine players to the NFL.  How can they possibly still be considered the top contender in the SEC East?  Simple: they still have the best overall talent in the division.

 

Quarterback John Brantley completed 36 of 48 passes for 410 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions in mop-up situations last year.  Not a real dual-threat runner like Tebow, he will set up in the pocket and throw downfield.  Remember, Meyer won a national title here with Chris Leak doing the same thing.

 

Brantley has fewer weapons at his disposal than Tebow had.  The loss of Cooper and Hernandez (119-1,811/14) leaves Deonte Thompson as the leading holdover.  Thompson will get help from the speedy Andre DeBose and the big-bodied Carl Moore.  Slotback Chris Rainey caught only 10 passes last year, and he will have to quadruple that mark this year for the Gators to be successful.

 

The running game will need more production from real backs, because Brantley will run much less than Tebow.   Rainey will team with Chris Demps and Emmanuel Moody to carry the load.  Expect the trio to top 1,800 rushing yards this year.

 

The offensive line returns four talented blockers, including all-American center Mike Pouncey and 6-5, 360-pound guard Carl Johnson.

 

Losing three defensive players who were drafted in the 1st two rounds of the NFL Draft and two other players in later rounds, UF will be a little weaker on this side of the ball, but not too much weaker to miss out on a return trip to a BCS Bowl.

 

The Gators have strength at defensive tackle thanks to the return of Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard.  Very few teams will run the ball up the middle against them.  Meyer recruited a lot of grade A d-line talent, and three could see immediate action as true freshmen.  Keep an eye on Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd.

 

A.J. Jones is the lone starter returning at linebacker.  Jones plays the run and the pass well, but UF will be weaker in the second line of defense.

 

The secondary will be strong once again with the return of two starters and several talented letterwinners.  Enemy quarterbacks will throw away from cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

 

Florida must play Alabama in the regular season at Tuscaloosa on October 2.  They will probably face the Tide in Atlanta two months later in a rematch game.

Team Georgia Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Mark Richt
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Athens, GA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 115.5
               
National Rating 23
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: RB, Receiver, Offensive Line ***, Linebacker, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: UL-Lafayette, @ Colorado, Idaho State, Georgia Tech
   
Key Games: @ South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida (n), @ Auburn
   
Offense Pred. 27-31 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

It is ridiculous that many Georgia fans want to get rid of Coach Mark Richt, when he just guided the Bulldogs to the most successful decade in their history.  Vince Dooley did not post 10-consecutive seasons as victorious as the decade Richt produced in Athens.  Pay close attention to what happened in Minnesota when Glen Mason was fired.

 

Editorial aside, Georgia has another fine team this season.  10 starters return on the offensive side; the one position that needs to be filled just happens to be at quarterback.  Richt has basically one option here.  Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray has the job from day one, because true freshman Hutson Mason is the only real backup.

 

If Murray is worth his salt as a passer, he will have a lot of weapons at his disposal.  A.J. Green has all-American potential after grabbing 53 passes for 808 yards in an injury-plagued season.  Tavarres King and Orson Charles should both top 40 receptions.  Former quarterback Logan Gray moves to receiver, where he should contribute this year.

 

At running back, Washaun Ealey played in the final nine games and rushed for 717 yards.  Caleb King added 594 yards.  Both have a combination of power and speed and can hit anywhere on the line of scrimmage.

 

The offensive line returns all five starters from last season, and this quintet ranks second nationally to Wisconsin’s line.  Guards Chris Davis and Cordy Glenn make a terrific tandem, and when you throw in center Ben Jones, the Bulldogs will be able to run the ball inside with authority and keep defensive pass rushers from coming up the middle.

 

In the last five seasons, Georgia gave up 16.4, 17.6, 20.2, 24.5, and 25.9 points per game.  This annual deterioration has led to a change at defensive coordinator.  Enter NFL veteran Todd Grantham, and enter the 3-4 defense.

 

We are a bit concerned about the new front three, as nose guard DeAngelo Tyson is not the answer there for a 3-4 front.  Former offensive lineman Justin Anderson may eventually take over in the interior.  At 330 pounds, he is better suited to growing roots over center.

 

If the new defensive line can keep blockers away from the UGa linebackers, the defense will have a chance to improve for the first time in five years.  Watch for Justin Houston to become a fixture in opponents’ backfields.  He could register double figure sacks and 20+ tackles for loss.

 

Brandon Boykin is the only returning starter in the secondary, and there isn’t much experience taking the place of the three departed starters.  Look for the ‘Dogs to give up more passing yards this year.

 

Georgia faced a key game in week two, when they visit South Carolina.  The winner will get a chance to play for the division title later in the season against Florida, while the loser will be out of the race.

Team Kentucky Wildcats
               
Head Coach Joker Phillips
               
Colors Royal Blue and White
               
City Lexington, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 101.9
               
National Rating 55
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Receiver, Special Teams, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron, Chas. Southern
   
Key Games: @ Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina, @ Miss. St., Vandy, @ Tenn.
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 300-325 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

Joker Phillips takes over as head coach in Lexington after directing the Wildcats’ offense.  Kentucky has used intelligent non-conference scheduling to gain bowl eligibility four years in a row.  The trend should continue in Phillips’ first season.

 

This will be a weaker Kentucky team, but the Wildcats will benefit from having the easiest schedule in the league.  They should sweep their four non-SEC foes for the fourth year in a row and win two conference games to make it back to a bowl for the fifth straight year.

 

Phillips has to make a decision at quarterback.  He has senior Mike Hartline and sophomore Morgan Newton as his two main options.  Hartline is a more conservative passer who seldom takes chances.  He’s got a more accurate arm, but he doesn’t have much zip on the ball.  Newton can hum the ball deep and has a quick release, but he doesn’t always put the ball where he aims.  Expect both to play, and redshirt freshman Ryan Mosakowski could see some game time as well.

 

There is another option at quarterback.  Randall Cobb is the Wildcat Offense quarterback, but he is a starting wideout.  Cobb led UK with 39 receptions and 447 yards last year.  He finished second in rushing with 573 yards, and he passed for 89 more.  If the single wing were still in vogue, he would be an all-star tailback.

 

Speaking of tailbacks, Derrick Locke returns after rushing for 907 yards.  Expect Locke to run the ball 200-225 times for more than 1,000 yards this season.

 

Besides the previously mentioned Cobb, Kentucky returns four other receivers that saw considerable action, so whoever ends up in the pocket should have some good targets running routes.

 

The offensive line could be a liability this year, as just one starter returns.  Guard Stuart Hines has all-conference potential, but three of the new starters have seen a lot of action in SEC games.  Don’t expect too many more sacks allowed by this unit.

 

The 2009 UK defense turned out to be outstanding.  Ask Tim Tebow about the pass rush.  This year, the defensive line could even be a bit better.  Ends DeQuin Evans and Taylor Wyndham (the concussion-delivering blow to Tebow) will give the ‘Cats a good pass rush from the outside.  The tackles are not as talented as the ends, and opponents will run the ball up the middle against them.

 

Only one starter returns at linebacker.  Danny Trevathan finished second in tackles last year with 82, and he had five tackles for loss.  Phillips may have some depth issues here, because several expected backups have left.

 

Half of last year’s great secondary returns.  Cornerback Randall Burden intercepted two passes and knocked down eight others.  Safety Winston Guy was an excellent run stuffer, and he broke up five passes.  The pass defense won’t come close to matching last year’s exceptional output (just 48.5% completions allowed), but it will still be quite good.

 

Kentucky has not defeated rival Tennessee since 1984, but we believe this is the season that streak ends.

Team South Carolina Gamecocks
               
Head Coach Steve Spurrier
               
Colors Garnet and Black
               
City Columbia, SC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 121.6
               
National Rating 9
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Southern Miss, Furman, Troy, @ Clemson
   
Key Games: Georgia, @ Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, @ Florida
   
Offense Pred. 26-30 points & 360-380 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

It could be now or never for Coach Steve Spurrier in Columbia.  He has enough talent to break through into the top two in the division, if he can get halfway decent production from his quarterbacks.

 

Spurrier tends to eat at his quarterbacks when they don’t play every down like they have the name “Wuerffel” on the back of their jerseys.  He has bad-mouthed two-year starter Stephen Garcia since the end of last season, and it appears he will carry the insults to the opening game.  Garcia passed for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he scrambled at times when the pocket broke down.  Still, Spurrier is threatening to start true freshman Connor Shaw in the first game.

 

Another true freshman might start from day one and become the best running back the Gamecock’s have had since George Rogers.  Marcus Lattimore is the real deal.  He was the top running back recruit in the nation last year.  Returning starter Kenny Miles and backups Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles return, so the USC running game may produce the most yards here since Lou Holtz was coaching.

 

The receiving corps welcomes back leading pass catcher Alshon Jeffery, who finished 2009 with 46 receptions for 763 yards and six touchdowns.  He will team with Tori Gurley to form a formidable pair of wideouts.  If tight end Weslye Saunders can improve on his 32 receptions, the Gamecocks are going to be potent on the attack.  Saunders was one of the college stars present at that South Beach agent party, so he could miss some or even all of 2009.

 

The offensive line has played inconsistently the last couple of years, but it should be a team strength this season with four returning starters. 

 

The USC defense gave up just 20 points and 300 yards per game last year, and seven starters return to keep it strong in 2010.  Two starters return to the front four, including all-conference end Cliff Matthews.  Matthews made 47 tackles with seven sacks and three other tackles for loss, and he proved valuable against the pass with three knocked down passes.

 

At linebacker, leading tackler Shaq Wilson returns after making 85 stops last year.  Rodney Paulk returns to the middle linebacker spot after missing two seasons due to injury.  If he is close to 100% after suffering an ACL injury, the Gamecocks will be strong here.

 

The secondary is the strength of the defense.  USC has a top notch pair of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver.  They broke up 17 passes last year, and they should pick up a couple more interceptions this season.

 

Everything is in place for Spurrier to take USC to the next level.  They have a chance in all eight conference games, as they get to host Alabama and Georgia, and they play Florida in Gainesville in a year where the Gators will have a minor rebuilding season.  If the Gamecocks repeat with a 7-6 season, Spurrier may hang it up.

Team Tennessee Volunteers
               
Head Coach Derek Dooley
               
Colors Orange and White
               
City Knoxville, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 101.9
               
National Rating 54
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
Strengths: Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: UT-Martin, Oregon, UAB, @ Memphis
   
Key Games: @LSU, @ Georgia, @ S. Carolina, Ole Miss, @ Vandy, Kentucky
   
Offense Pred. 16-20 points & 275-300 yards
               
Defense Pred. 20-24 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

Welcome to the annual soap opera known as “All My Coaches.”  The Volunteers have their third coach in three seasons and fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons.  Add to this that several players have left and more have suffered injuries, and this is going to be the weakest team on the hill in Knoxville in more than 30 years.

 

The offense starts with a new quarterback that threw for 39 yards in very limited action at Louisville two years ago.  Matt Simms is the son of Phil Simms.  The junior transfer will compete with true freshman Tyler Bray, but whoever winds up as the starter will not come close to matching the stats compiled by departed starter Jonathan Crompton.

 

Three talented receivers will give the new QB a decent chance at having some success against weaker pass defenses.  Wideouts Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore and tight end Luke Stocker teamed up for 115 receptions, 1,609 yards, and 16 touchdowns.  True freshman Justin Hunter could see extensive action.

 

The running game has to start from scratch with the loss of the top two rushers.  Tauren Poole and David Oku are serviceable backs, but neither will threaten to run for 1,000 yards.

 

The weakest unit on the team is the offensive line.  All five starters are gone.  Guard Jarrod Shaw started three games last season, and the rest of this unit has no career starts.

 

This will be the weakest offense at UT since before Doug Dickey’s time as coach in the mid-1960’s.

 

The defense should be better off than the offense, but there are no Reggie White’s or John Henderson’s on this team.  There are also no Eric Berry’s.  Berry finished his career with seven tackles for loss and nine passes defended last season.  The all-American strong safety was the fifth overall pick in the draft.

 

Darren Myles was going to be the new stud of the secondary, but he was dismissed from the team this spring.  Expect opponents to shred this secondary for 200+ passing yards this season.

 

The defensive line took a major hit with injuries, and there will be a problem stopping the run and rushing the passer.  Southern Cal transfer Malik Jackson could see immediate playing time.  Chris Walker will be the lone serious QB sack threat.

 

Tennessee has a similar history to Penn State when it comes to producing linebackers.  They have two fine ones this year who should combine for 100-120 tackles.  LaMarcus Thompson and Nick Reveiz won’t make all-conference teams, but they won’t be liabilities either.

 

Tennessee should win three of their four non-conference games this year, but once conference play begins, the Vols may have to wait to November to get a league win.  Coach Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville could produce a 4-8 record.  Since the Vols started playing football in 1902, they have never lost eight games in a season.

Team Vanderbilt Commodores
               
Head Coach Robbie Caldwell
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Nashville, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 96.1
               
National Rating 68
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11
               
Strengths: Running Back
               
Weaknesses: QB, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, LB, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Northwestern, @ Connecticut, Eastern Mich., Wake Forest
   
Key Games: @ Ole Miss, @ Kentucky, Tennessee
   
Offense Pred. 13-16 points & 275-300 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-26 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

Vanderbilt was supposed to contend for another bowl game last year and maybe win as many as eight games with a veteran squad returning from a seven-win season that included a bowl victory.  Instead, the Commodores suffered through numerous injuries and crashed to a 2-10 season.  The offense could not move the ball on Army much less a conference foe.  Vanderbilt averaged just 8.9 points and 234 yards of offense in conference play, numbers not seen in the SEC since the mid-1960’s.

 

To add insult to injury, Bobby Johnson decided in July that he could take no more of this.  He retired, leaving the job to Robbie Caldwell.  Vanderbilt is a team that must stay healthy to have a chance in the SEC, and immediately after practice began, serious injuries put a major crimp in the offense.  It is going to be a long season in Nashville, and the Commodores are going to be underdogs in all but one game.

 

Larry Smith returns at quarterback after suffering through a sophomore slump season that ended in the first quarter of the ninth game.  He will compete with holdovers Jared Funk and Charlie Goro and junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Aaron Rodgers.  We expect Smith to start the opener with Northwestern, but we wouldn’t be surprised if more than one quarterback played in that game.

 

The running back situation appeared to be a team strength until practice began.  Sophomore Warren Norman rushed for 783 yards as a freshman, while fellow freshman Zac Stacy added 478.  Stacy sprained his MCL in practice and is out for the first couple of games.  Backup backs Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate (younger brother of Golden Tate) are nursing injuries as well, so depth will be an issue here.

 

The Commodores are rather weak at receiver.  There is not a deep ball threat on the roster, and there is only one consistent possession man.  John Cole led the team with just 36 receptions and 382 yards.  Tight end Brandon Barden finished second with 29 catches for 357 yards.  No receiver had more than one touchdown reception.  Expect another year of struggles through the air.

 

The offensive line lost its one all-conference caliber blocker when tackle James Williams was lost to academic difficulties.  One starter returns to the blocking corps–guard Kyle Fischer.

 

This looks like an offense that will possibly score fewer than 10 points per game in conference play for a second consecutive season.

 

The Vanderbilt defense was decent last year, but the offense forced it to defend too many plays, more than 70 to be exact.  Injuries and graduation will make this side of the ball weaker than last year.  Tackle Adam Smotherman tore his ACL in Spring drills, and he will not be 100% at all this season.  He will probably miss some games as well.  End Theron Kadri will become the sack specialist on this team, but we don’t expect Vanderbilt to top 20 sacks with this defense.

 

Chris Marve is an all-conference talent at middle linebacker after leading the Commodores with 121 tackles last year.  He will have two new partners starting with him in the second line of defense.

 

The back line of defense loses its leading pass defender, but cornerback Casey Hayward returns after intercepting two passes and batting away seven others.

 

We cannot see the Commodores breaking through with a conference victory this season.  Vanderbilt’s non-conference schedule is the toughest of any SEC team.  They face Northwestern, Connecticut, and Wake Forest, and we see these opponents defeating the Commodores in close games.  That leaves an October 9 home game with Eastern Michigan as possibly the only chance to pick up a victory.

S E C  WEST

Team Alabama Crimson Tide
               
Head Coach Nick Saban
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Tuscaloosa, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 126.1
               
National Rating 2
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 12-1
               
Strengths: Quarterback **, Running Back ***, Defensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: San Jose State, Penn State @ Duke, Georgia State
   
Key Games: @ Arkansas, Florida, @ S. Carolina, Auburn
   
Offense Pred. 34-38 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 15-19 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

What can the Tide do for an encore?  They had maybe two tough games in their march to a 14-0 record and national championship.  The had the Heisman Trophy winner as well.  How can a team lose nine starters on their defensive side and still be a legitimate contender for another national championship?

 

That’s simple.  When you have a top five recruiting class three years in a row, you have exceptional talent past your two-deep.  There are players on this team that may see no more than a few snaps of game action per year that could be starting for other bowl teams.

 

Let’s start on offense, where the Tide will be tough to slow down.  The second best running attack in college football starts with the best individual back.  Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is back after rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He added 32 receptions for 334 yards and three more scores.  Backup Trent Richardson rushed for 751 yards and eight scores, earning 1st Team Freshman All-American honors! 

 

Handing the ball off to this dynamic duo is a quarterback that has never lost a game at the college or high school level.  Greg McElroy didn’t get much publicity with Ingram running roughshod over opponents, but he completed better than 60% of his passes for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions.  He could top 3,000 yards this year.

 

McElroy’s receivers are not as talented as the running backs, but they are still quite talented in their own right.  Julio Jones led the Tide with 43 catches, even though he missed the better part of seven games.  Marquis Maze is a deep threat in his own right, and he will see mostly single coverage.

 

The offensive line returns three starters but has several talented newcomers, including redshirt freshman tackle D.J. Fluker, who has all-conference written all over his chest.

 

The defense has some major reloading to do.  13 of the top 16 tacklers are gone, and that number could become 14 of 16. Middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower and strong safety Mark Baron are the only two returning starters, and Hightower only started four times before going down for the season with an ACL injury. 

 

Baron could be a 1st Team all-American this year.  He led the SEC with 18 passes defended (7 Int./11 PBU).  There is very little experience joining him in the secondary, but there is a lot of raw talent waiting for Coach Nick Saban to mold into the next tough pass defense.

 

Sophomore Nico Johnson made the SEC All-Freshman team last year in limited action, and he will team with Hightower to form a splendid pair at linebacker.

 

The front line could have another major blow.  End Marcell Dareus, a sack machine, may be declared ineligible for part or all of the season for his attendance at the South Beach agent party.

 

Alabama will give up more points and yards this year, but they will still finish in the top 20 in the nation in total defense.

 

The schedule is really tough for all SEC West teams this year, as every team could easily be bowl eligible.  Throw in a game with Florida, and it doesn’t look possible for a third consecutive undefeated regular season.  Call it a one-loss year and trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Team Arkansas Razorbacks
               
Head Coach Bobby Petrino
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fayetteville, AR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 124.9
               
National Rating 4
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Quarterback ***, Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Tenn. Tech, UL-Monroe, Texas A&M (n), UTEP
   
Key Games: @ Georgia, Alabama, @ Auburn, Ole Miss, @ S.Car, LSU
   
Offense Pred. 40-44 points and 450-475 yards
               
Defense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

Arkansas has half of the best team in the nation.  Their offense is unrivaled by any team.  They may not finish atop the total offense and scoring offense statistics, but the teams that beat them out won’t play SEC defenses.  If the Razorbacks played a CUSA schedule, they might average close to 55 points per game this year.

 

Ryan Mallett is the best quarterback in the SEC and one of the five best in the nation.  Last year, he passed for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns versus just seven interceptions.  His 55.8% completion rate was lower than others, because Mallett tends to throw deeper passes.  He averaged nine yards per attempt and more than 16 yards per completion.

 

The vertical passing game works so well, because Arkansas has the best group of receivers in the SEC.  Three Hog pass catchers can burn a secondary for a quick six on a go route.  Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, and Joe Adams teamed up for 118 receptions, 2,143 yards (18.2 avg), and 19 touchdowns.  Tight end D.J. Williams added 32 receptions, and he can take a pass over the middle and go the distance.

 

Pass defenders will have to cede territory in their alignments, and that will make the running game have more room to run when backs break free from the line.  Arkansas doesn’t run the ball much, and they have little need to do so, but when they do, expect the backs to improve on last season’s average per attempt.  Ronnie Wingo and Broderick Green should average a combined five yards per rush this year.

 

The offensive line returns four starters from last year, and this group will give Mallett ample time to locate his deadly receivers.

 

The defense is a different kettle of fish.  Arkansas gave up 25 points and 400 yards per game last year, giving up 52 points to Georgia. 

 

Two starters return to the defensive line, but neither was a star.  The two new starters saw extensive time last year, so this unit will be about as mediocre as it was last year.  Look for true freshman Bryan Jones to see immediate action in the trenches.

 

The Hogs will be improved at linebacker.  Two starters, the numbers one and three tacklers, return.  Jerry Franklin collected 94 tackles and played admirably against both the run and pass.  Jerico Nelson was a better run-stopper than pass defender.  New starter Freddy Burton started seven games last year, so he can be considered a half-starter.

 

The defensive backfield is the weak spot of the defense.  The Razorbacks gave up far too many big plays last year.  Arkansas gave up 248 passing yards per game last year.  With three starters returning, there should be some improvement.  However, none of them intercepted a pass.

 

Expect another entertaining season out of Coach Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks.  We believe they will average more than 40 points per game.  We also think they may be the team that upsets Alabama.  However, they have too many holes on defense to run the table.  Call it a second or third place finish in the tough West.  Jerry Jones would love for his alma mater to play in his stadium at bowl season.

Team Auburn Tigers
               
Head Coach Gene Chizik
               
Colors Navy and Burnt Orange
               
City Auburn, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 117.8
               
National Rating 19
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Receiver, Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Arkansas State, Clemson, La.-Monroe, Chattanooga
   
Key Games: S. Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, @ Ole Miss, Georgia, @ Alabama
   
Offense Pred. 28-32 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

What a difference a year made!  In their last season with Tommy Tuberville in charge of this program, Auburn averaged 17 points and 300 yards per game in offense and gave up 18 points and 320 yards.  In their first season under Gene Chizik, and with offensive guru Gus Malzahn’s offense being implemented, Auburn’s offense improved to 33 points and 430 yards per game.  Unfortunately, their defense weakened to 28 points and 375 yards allowed.

 

The end result was an 8-5 record that included a bowl win over Northwestern.  In year number two, Chizik has the pieces in place to win more games and even possibly challenge for the SEC West division title.

 

Former Florida signee Cam Newton takes over at quarterback this year.  He is a dual-threat that could add to the running game, but he won’t pass for as many yards as this team had in 2009.

 

Newton’s excellent running ability will help take some heat off the backs.  Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb combined for just 850 subbing for departed star Ben Tate, and we believe they will team for 1,600 or more yards.  True freshman Michael Dyer is a tank with quickness, and he could take away some of the snaps from the other two.

 

Newton has an outstanding receiver to aim for in Darvin Adams, who caught 60 passes for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Terrell Zachery added 26 receptions for 477 yards and five scores.  Fannin also proved to be a valuable weapon out of the backfield, taking 42 passes.  Look out for true freshman Trovon Reed, who could actually supplant one of the starters.

 

Four starting offensive linemen return to provide excellent pass protection and to open holes for the running backs.  Center Ryan Pugh and tackle Lee Ziemba are both stars.

 

Look for Auburn to rush for 225-250 yards and pass for 150-175 yards.  It looks like another big year from the offense.

 

Auburn returns half of their starting defensive line, but the loss of Antonio Coleman makes this unit considerable weaker.

 

Linebacker is a major asset with the return of all three starters.  Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens, and Daren Bates finished one-two-and four in tackles last year.  Expect Jonathan Evans to see considerable time here as well and possibly crack the starting lineup.

 

Neiko Thorpe has all-conference potential at cornerback.  He intercepted two passes and broke up nine others last year.  He joins two safeties with past starting experience, so the pass defense should be a little tighter this season.

 

Auburn hosts both LSU and Arkansas, the two teams they will compete with for second place in the SEC West.  We give them the edge over the other two.

 

Team Louisiana State Tigers
               
Head Coach Les Miles
               
Colors Royal Purple and Gold
               
City Baton Rouge, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 113.0
               
National Rating 28
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5
               
Strengths: Receiver, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: North Carolina (n), West Virginia, McNeese St., UL-Monroe
   
Key Games: @ Florida, @ Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, @ Arkansas
   
Offense Pred. 20-24 points & 300-325 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 290-310 yards
               
Outlook

The Tigers were a major disappointment last year, finishing 9-4 and fielding very little offense.  Coach Les Miles is on a very hot seat, and we believe this will be his last season in Baton Rouge, because the Tigers lost too much talent to improve on last year’s record.

 

Six starters return on offense, but those starters did not shine.  Quarterback Jordan Jefferson completed 61.5% of his passes for 2,166 yards with a TD/Int. ratio of 17/7.  However, Jefferson (and backup QB Jarrett Lee) took 37 sacks because of difficulty reading defensive coverage.  We don’t see the quarterbacking position being all that much improved this season.

 

Two receivers caught almost 56% of all completed passes last year, and one is no longer here.  Terrence Toliver caught 53 passes for 735 yards.  Former quarterback Russell Shepard has moved to receiver full-time and will start immediately.

 

The running game averaged 123 yards per game (skewed by all the sacks).  Take away the four non-conference breathers, and the Tigers averaged just 97 rushing yards per game.  The top two runners are gone, leaving a major hole at this position. 

 

The offensive line lost its top two blockers, so even with three starters returning, we expect little or no improvement here.

 

Opposing defenses will beg LSU to run the ball and take away the passing lanes.  Jefferson will have a hard time of it this season, and we expect the offense to boggle down yet again.

 

It was defense that won most of LSU’s games last year.  Only four starters return to this side of the ball.  Four of the top five tacklers must be replaced.

 

Only one starter returns to the defensive line.  Tackle Lazarius Levingston made eight tackles for loss and batted away four passes.  Drake Nevis will team with Levingston to make a great tandem at tackle and prevent many gains up the middle.  The news isn’t so rosy at end, where there isn’t a real proven pass rusher present.

 

Mike linebacker Kelvin Sheppard led the Tigers with 110 tackles, including 8 ½ for loss.  Expected starter Ryan Baker will be out until October, so the Tigers will have some concerns in their first four games.

 

The secondary is the strongest unit on the entire team, and it returns just two starters.  Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top three players at his position.  He picked off two passes but batted away 13 others.

 

LSU’s defense will still be powerful, but we doubt they will hold opponents to 16 points per game like last year.  The Tigers will struggle to score enough points week after week, but they will still win more than they lose.  But, it won’t be enough to save Miles’ job.  Three years ago, after supposedly being in line to take over the Michigan job, he chose to stay at LSU.  In a strange twist of fate, if Rich Rodriguez were to have a big year at Michigan and this job came open, he might be a candidate here.

Team Ole Miss Rebels
               
Head Coach Houston Nutt
               
Colors Cardinal and Navy
               
City Oxford, MS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 108.3
               
National Rating 41
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Jacksonville St., @ Tulane, Fresno State, UL-Lafayette
   
Key Games: Kentucky, @ Arkansas, Auburn, @ Tennessee, @ LSU, Miss. St.
   
Offense Pred. 31-34 points & 410-430 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 325-350 yards
               
Outlook

Brett Favre left Mississippi to return to the Minnesota Vikings.  Ole Miss has their own version of Favre, so to speak.  They will rent a quarterback for the season with hopes of winning a conference championship.  Enter Jeremiah Masoli, who was booted off the Oregon Ducks’ team for two infractions.  Masoli would have been a Heisman Trophy candidate at OU.  He led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl last season after running for 668 yards and 13 touchdowns and passing for 2,147 yards and 15 touchdowns.

 

The Rebels lost a great all-purpose back in Dexter McCluster.  He topped 1,100 yards last year.  Brandon Bolden returns after running for 614 yards.  Keep an eye of Enrique Davis.  The former highly sought after back has floundered so far, but the junior could be getting ready to come into his own.

 

The Rebels lost their top two receivers from last year, and that may keep Masoli from putting up passing stats like he did at Oregon.  Markeith Summers is the leading returnee with 394 yards on 17 receptions.

 

The offensive line lost three multi-year starters, but both tackles return.  Expect a small step backward in pass protection, but Masoli is much more mobile than last year’s quarterback, Jevan Snead.

 

The defense is in a little better shape with the return of six starters.  Three starters return up front, and the Rebels should be strong against the run and also have another good pass rush.  Jerrelle Powe could make the 1st Team All-SEC list after coming up with 12 tackles for losses last year.

 

Linebackers Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker return to form a good mix in the second line of defense.  Cornell is a better run-stopper and Walker is a better pass defender.

 

The secondary will take a step back with just one starter returning.  Safety Johnny Brown finished second with 81 tackles last year.

 

Coach Houston Nutt’s Rebels benefit from a great schedule.  Ole Miss could easily open 5-0 and should be no worse than 4-1.  The Rebels then get an off week to prepare for their October 16 game at Alabama.  We believe Ole Miss will win eight regular season games for the third consecutive year.

Team Mississippi State Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Dan Mullen
               
Colors Maroon and White
               
City Starkville, MS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 110.8
               
National Rating 36
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Defensive Line
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Memphis, Alcorn State, @ Houston, U A B
   
Key Games: Kentucky, Arkansas, @ Ole Miss
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 360-380 yards
               
Outlook

Coach Dan Mullen’s first year in Starkville almost produced bowl eligibility when the Bulldogs had been picked to possibly lose 10 games.  If not for a mix-up at the line of scrimmage at the end of the LSU game, Miss. State would have gone 6-6 instead of 5-7.

 

We think the Bulldogs will get that extra win this year and earn a trip back to a bowl for the first time in three years.  Seven starters return on both sides of the ball.

 

One position that must be replaced is at quarterback.  Chris Relf has a rifle arm, and he is mobile.  He should add another dimension to the Bulldog offense.  He also should cut down on the number of interceptions State quarterbacks threw last season (17).  Tyler Russell, a redshirt freshman, should also see some playing time this year.

 

There isn’t a lot of talent at wide receiver, but the top two pass catchers do return.  Wideout Chad Bumphis and Tight end Marcus Green have some breakaway potential, but they won’t remind anybody of Mardye McDole.

 

Replacing Anthony Dixon at running back is not possible with the running backs on the roster; Vick Ballard is expected to get the lion’s share of the load, but the roster is really thin behind him.

 

The offensive line returns four experienced starters, and they should give Relf room to run and time to pass.  We would not be surprised if Relf led the Maroons in rushing yards while passing for close to 2,000 yards.

 

The biggest loss on defense may have been defensive coordinator Carl Torbush.  Now, the Bulldogs will have their third DC in three years.  Chris Wilson from Oklahoma and Manny Diaz from Middle Tennessee will share the responsibility.

 

Mississippi State’s defense will rely on a talented defensive line to set the tone.  End Pernell McPhee is one of the best in the league.  He comes off a year in which he had five sacks, 12 total tackles for loss, and four knocked down passes.  New starter Sean Ferguson will give State a strong end tandem.

 

The top two returning tacklers return to the second line of defense.  Linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright combined for 157 stops a year ago.

 

The Bulldogs have a terrific trio of starting defensive backs returning this year.  Safeties Charles Mitchell and Johnathan Banks both intercepted four passes last year; cornerback Corey Broomfield had six!

 

Look for State to improve on this side of the ball and allow fewer points this year.  We believe it will bring them one more win and bowl eligibility.

Coming Next Week: The initial PiRate, Mean, and Biased Ratings for the NFL, and the entire first week of the college football season 

September 2, 2009

2009 Southeastern Conference Preview

2009 Southeastern Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

Welcome to the conference where football is not just a sport; it’s a way of life for millions.  SEC fans at 11 schools act like their teams are football factories and not institutions of higher learning.  The average capacity of the perennial six powers (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in the East and Alabama, Auburn, and LSU in the West) exceeds 92,500, and on home game Saturdays, there are more people in the stands of half these teams than there are in the cities in which they are located.

This year, the SEC begins the season as the top-ranked league.  Throw in the fact that the member teams, for the most part, are playing non-conference schedules as weak as the teams in the Sunbelt Conference, and there’s a good chance that nine bowl eligible teams could emerge (which by the way equals the number of bowl tie-ins).

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Vanderbilt hosts Tennessee at the end of the year, when the Commodores are 4-7 and the Vols are 9-1, then the game could actually be a “home game on the road” for the Vols.  Tennessee might actually receive a couple of points if it appears 75% of the fans at the stadium will be wearing orange.  If that same Vanderbilt team begins the season 2-0 and hosts New Mexico State, then the Commodores would receive about four to six points.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Southeastern Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

 
   

 

Prediction *

 
  Team

PiRate

SEC

Overall

 
  East

 

 

 

 
  Florida

142

8-0

13-0

#
  Georgia

114

5-3

8-4

 
  Tennessee

106

3-5

7-5

 
  Vanderbilt

104

2-6

5-7

 
  South Carolina

103

4-4

6-6

 
  Kentucky

100

1-7

5-7

 
   

 

 

 

 
  West

 

 

 

 
  Ole Miss

120

6-2

10-2

 
  Alabama

120

7-1

11-2

#
  L S U

114

6-2

10-2

 
  Arkansas

108

4-4

8-4

 
  Auburn

105

2-6

5-7

 
  Mississippi St.

91

0-8

1-11

 

 

 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 
 

on expected changes to rating during the year

 
 

# Florida picked to beat Alabama

 
 

in SEC Championship Game

 

 

SEC East

Florida: What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?  It will be a disappointing year if the Gators go 13-0 in the regular season but don’t win every game by more than three touchdowns.  Their 142 preseason PiRate Rating places them in some heavy company.  The only other preseason 140 or higher-rated teams were Nebraska in 1995, Miami of Florida in 2001, and Ohio State in 1975.

Tim Tebow is being called the greatest collegiate player ever.  We don’t know about that, but he is the best college quarterback in the nation in 2009.  He led the Gators in rushing with 673 yards and 12 touchdowns, but Coach Urban Meyer would probably like to cut his carries some to protect him and to showcase his passing arm to the NFL.  We expect Tebow will pass the ball more than the 21 times a game he passed last year.  Look for his attempts to rise to about 28, unless he is out of too many games after Florida has a five touchdown lead at the half, and his passing yardage to top 3,500.

The Gators rushed for 231 yards per game last year, and none of the backs/slot receivers topped 675 yards.  The depth is so great here that five players could top 500 yards.  Jeffrey Demps, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody will run 1-2-3 at the running back position.

The receiving unit will definitely miss all-everything Percy Harvin, who might make life easier for Brett Favre this year.  Louis Murphy is also gone, so this area is the only area of concern.  Riley Cooper, David Nelson, Deonte Thompson, and tight end Aaron Hernandez still make up one of the three best receiving units in the conference.

When you have the best offensive line in the league and second best to Southern Cal’s nationally, the superior skill players become even more dangerous.  The Pouncey brothers, center Maurkice and guard Mike, may both be ready to place their names in the NFL draft next spring.

There’s no catchy way to describe the Gator defense.  It just doesn’t seem like it could be real.  All 11 starters from last year’s top-flight defense plus 10 of the second 11 return!  That’s 21 of the top 22 players from a defense that gave up just 12.9 points and 285 yards per game.  In this day and age, shutouts don’t occur all that often like they did in past decades, but the Gators could post more than one this season. 21 players recorded double digit tackles, and of course, they are all back. 

In the defensive line, Carlos Dunlap had 9 ½ sacks from his end position.  Jermaine Cunningham had six sacks and four other tackles for loss.  Sophomore Jaye Howard isn’t one of the 21 returning key contributors, but he will be a big one this year from his tackle spot.

The head of the second line of defense is middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who led UF with 93 tackles.  Ryan Stamper, A. J. Jones, Dustin Doe, Brandon Hicks, and Lorenzo Edwards all have the potential to make an All-SEC team.

In the secondary, safety Ahmad Black intercepted seven passes last year.  Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden had six interceptions, and they batted away 25 balls.  The Gators allowed just 53.1% completions, and they actually could bring that number under 50% this year.

The only possible games where the Gators could face a little trouble are the October 10 game at LSU, and the Cocktail Party against Georgia in Jacksonville on October 31.  No matter which team wins the other division, we see Florida winning the SEC Championship Game by three touchdowns.  Who will the Gators play for all the marbles?  It would be interesting to see them square off in Pasadena against Southern Cal, but the Trojans would need help.  A 12-0 USC team will not make it if Oklahoma or Texas goes undefeated.  We think one will, and that team will face the Gators.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are a clear second place pick here, but they begin the season a full four touchdowns behind Florida.  Coach Mark Richt faces a minor rebuilding project on the offensive side, but the defense should be a little stronger this year—maybe as good as the defenses of 2002-2006, when UGA gave up an aggregate of 16 points per game.

The defense will rely on a strong trio of linebackers to stop opponents this year.  Rennie Curran is likely to leave for the pros after this year if he simply repeats last year’s production of 115 tackles, three sacks, and 10 total tackles for loss. 

The front four needs to get a better pass rush, or the secondary will not be able to top last year’s numbers.  The secondary gave up 190 yards per game and 55.7% completions, and strong safety Reshad Jones was the big star last year with five interceptions to go with 76 tackles.  If the pass rush doesn’t improve, those numbers will get a little ugly; in addition to facing Tebow and the other SEC passers, this defense will have to face Zac Robinson on his home turf.

Joe Cox will not approach Matthew Stafford’s passing numbers from 2008, but he won’t be a total bust either.  Cox has an accurate arm, but he doesn’t have the velocity of Stafford.

Replacing running back Knowshon Moreno may be a tougher assignment.  Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas, and Caleb King will split the carries, but the three of them combined may not gain the 1,400 yards Moreno gained nor score 16 touchdowns.

Even with the departure of Mohamed Massaquoi, the receiving unit will be the strength of the offense.  A. J. Green is one of the top three receivers in the league.  He led the Bulldogs with 56 receptions and 963 yards in 2008.  Michael Moore should see his totals jump, maybe double, this year after grabbing 29 passes for 451 yards last year.

The offensive line should be better this year than last.  Tackle Clint Boling is a returning 1st Team All-SEC player.  Look for the ‘Dogs to match last year’s low number of 17 sacks.

Richt wasn’t scared to schedule a road game against Oklahoma State to begin the season.  This game will be close to a tossup, and the Bulldogs will have a chance at the upset.  Outside of the Florida game, the rest of the schedule is manageable.  The key to returning to a New Year’s Day bowl is the LSU game.  The winner will still be in contention for an at-large BCS Bowl bid.

Tennessee: Welcome to the Orange Soap Opera!  Did Lane Kiffin come away with permanent damage after working for Al Davis?  And Tom Cable didn’t even punch him in the head.  Actually, Kiffin is being crazy like a fox.  Now if he can coach as good as he can market himself, the Volunteers are going to become a top-flight program once again.

Tennessee had one half of a great team last year.  Their defense gave up 16.8 points and only 264 total yards per game.  Adding defensive guru and Lane’s dad Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and Ed Orgeron as defensive line coach can only make a good situation better.

Coach Kiffin promised his recruits that they would be given a real chance to play as true freshmen, and he has kept his word.  Freshmen dot the two-deep on both sides of the ball.  The top recruit is running back Bryce Brown, who some say was the overall top high school recruit last year.  He will contribute immediately and maybe start ahead of Montario Hardesty.  UT rushed for just 123 yards and 3.6 yards per carry last year, and Brown gives this unit an immediate boost.  If he stays healthy, and if the offensive line can develop its run blocking skills, Brown could rush for 1,000 yards in year one.

The passing game was nothing to shout about last year, as Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens combined for just 146 yards per game and completed less than half of their passes with a TD/INT ratio of 8/8.  Sports pundits said it was the overly difficult offense designed by former offensive coordinator Dave Clawson that accounted for the lack of success. 

The offensive line just wasn’t up to standards last year, and this will be the problem once again.  None of the heralded freshmen are Offensive linemen, and if the returning players don’t improve a good deal, the offense will still struggle against good teams.

The Vols’ best player and maybe the best defensive player in all of college football is strong safety Eric Berry.  Berry intercepted seven passes and knocked down six in 2008.  He recorded 72 tackles, had three QB sacks, and registered 5 ½ other tackles behind the line of scrimmage.  If he played for Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, or Southern Cal, he might be one of the five finalists invited to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York on December 12.

The other two units on the stop side may be a little weaker this year than last, even with the elder Kiffin directing it.  No middle linebacker has come to the forefront, and in Kiffin’s defense, a multi-talented MLB is required.  Rico McCoy is an exceptional outside linebacker.  In the trenches, nose tackle Dan Williams returns after making 8 ½ stops behind the line.  The Vols yielded just 2.8 yards per rush in ’08 and got to enemy quarterbacks 25 times.  They will probably get more sacks this year, but the yards allowed per rush will be higher.

 The schedule gives the Vols a decent shot at getting back to a bowl.  The four out-of-conference games are Western Kentucky, UCLA, Ohio, and Memphis, which will all be played at Neyland Stadium.  The Vols also draw a rebuilding Auburn team at home and finish with Vanderbilt and Kentucky, two teams they have dominated for decades.

Vanderbilt: There’s a television program called “Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” where a masked magician shows the viewing audience how all the big magic tricks are done.  Recently, enquiring minds just had to know who was behind the mask.  They hired someone to get onto that show as an assistant and pull the mask off and find out just who the guy was.  Guess what, it was Commodore head coach Bobby Johnson!  No, not really, but it might as well had been after the way Johnson produced Vanderbilt’s first winning season since 1982 and first bowl win since January 1, 1956!

Looking at the statistics, Vanderbilt was outgained by 64 yards per game, 76 in conference play.  They scored their fewest amount of points since Johnson’s first year.  They completed less than half of their passes and averaged just 3.7 yards per rush.  How did they win?  They came up with timely plays on defense and special teams, and they were +9 in turnover margin.

The offense should show signs of improvement this year.  Larry Smith, who made his first start in the bowl game, looks to have the tools necessary to play in the SEC.  He’s got a quick release, accurate arm, and decent zip on the ball.

Just who will be on the other end of those passes is the problem.  Vanderbilt lost top receiver Sean Walker to graduation, and it wasn’t like the Commodores were loaded at this position last year.  Former star defensive back D. J. Moore played both ways toward the end of the year, and it was his big plays against Kentucky that gave VU that important sixth win.  Vandy may use two tight ends more often this year to take advantage of good depth there.  Look for Brandon Barden, Austin Monahan, and Justin Green to combine for 50 or more receptions. 

Vanderbilt had a hard time running the ball past the line of scrimmage last year, and they have improved this position with the addition of some talented freshmen.  Jared Hawkins led the team with 593 rushing yards, but he may see fewer chances this year with Warren Norman and Zac Stacy getting significant playing time.

The offensive line returns intact with a lot of depth, and there could be some shuffling in the depth chart.  One player who won’t be shuffled is tackle Thomas Welch, the next Vandy OL who will play in the NFL.

The defense will be just as tough as last year, but only if the two new secondary starters can prove they are SEC caliber defenders.  Replacing Moore and safety Reshard Langford won’t be easy.  Look for better play in the front seven to give the secondary a fair chance at covering receivers.

Vanderbilt’s schedule is the reason they may not repeat last year’s feats.  The Commodores play two bowl teams in their four non-conference games.  They must visit Rice, which won’t be an easy win, and they host Georgia Tech at the end of October.  An even bigger concern is the fact that they have no off weeks.  Injuries will pile up, and the depth isn’t strong enough to withstand more than a couple of lost starts.  Vanderbilt won five games in 2007 and 2005; they may make it a pattern and win five in 2009, unless they can pull off a big upset.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier has not turned this program around like everybody theorized would happen when he took the job in 2005.  The Gamecocks have won seven, eight, six, and seven games in his first four seasons, only marginally better than before he arrived.  Add to the disappointment the fact that USC has some rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball, and Spurrier will have to perform wonders to get this team to eight wins.

Last year, the offensive line wrecked the offense.  They played like a quintet of matadors.  The Gamecocks rushed for just 94 yards per game, and the quarterbacks went down 39 times and threw 27 interceptions.  Unless new coaching can make them better, there isn’t much chance that there will be much improvement here.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia has the tools needed to be a good SEC passer, but Tim Tebow would have a hard time succeeding if he was rushed as much as Garcia was last year.  Garcia alternated with departed QB Chris Smelley and proved to be more of a dual threat out of the spread offense.

USC lost their top two receivers in Kenny McKinley and Jared Cook, who combined for 91 receptions and 1,225 yards.  True freshman Alshon Jeffrey could eventually be as talented as McKinley, but it won’t happen this year.  Another true freshman, DeMario Bennett should see playing time as well.  The ‘Cocks will have to rely on a receiver by committee approach.

The running game will be handed over to freshman Jarvis Giles, who at least has the moves to avoid a big loss when the defense is already in the backfield at the time of the handoff.  Freshman Kenny Miles may see some snaps as well.

On the defensive side, things are not as sad and gloomy.  New coordinator Ellis Johnson inherits some rather talented troops, and South Carolina could even better last year’s stats (21.1 points and 292 yards allowed per game).  The front seven is considerably stronger than the secondary, so expect to see the focus of attention on getting a great pass rush. 

Linebacker Eric Norwood finished second in the league with nine sacks, but he’s the only returning starter to the unit.  Defensive end Cliff Matthews heads the front line, but there will be some shuffling following the suspension of opposite terminal Clifton Geathers.

There is experienced talent at safety, but cornerback is a different matter.  True freshman Stephon Gilmore and sophomore Akeem Auguste are the new starters.

South Carolina plays too tough ACC opponents (at North Carolina State, Clemson) as well as both Alabama and Ole Miss from the West Division.  The Gamecocks will have to win one or two road games from among Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas in order to gain bowl eligibility.

Kentucky: In Lexington, it’s the football and baseball programs that are getting it done these days.  Do they play any other sports there?  It’s hard to believe it, but UK has won three consecutive bowl games.  If Coach Rich Brooks can guide his team to another bowl game this year, he should be nominated for national coach of the year. 

The Wildcats relied more on defense to win games last year, and the stop troops gave up just 21.5 points and 332 yards per game.  Seven starters from that side are now gone, including four of the top five tacklers plus 2nd Team All-SEC end Jeremy Jarmon.

UK still has two potential 1st Team All-Americans on the defensive side.  Trevard Lindley is the best cornerback and second best defensive player in the SEC.  He comes off a season in which he intercepted four passes and knocked away 11 others.

Linebacker Micah Johnson was a 1st Team All-SEC choice last year after making 93 tackles with 13 for lost yardage.  He wasn’t even 100% most of the year, so he should have an even better production in ’09.

Up front, the late loss of Jarmon is going to take its toll.  Corey Peters is the only holdover up front.

There was a major reclamation in the 2008 offense, and it’s still a work in progress.  Quarterback Mike Hartline returns for his second season as the starter.  He completed 55.3% of his passes for 1,666 yards last year.  Former QB Randall Cobb is now strictly a receiver, but he will get snaps in the wildcat formation.

Cobb will team with Chris Matthews and Kyrus Lanxter to form a formidable trio at wide out.  Mathews, a junior college transfer, is big, quick, and agile.  Look for him to make a big contribution this year.

The running attack was not as potent last year following the 2007 graduation of Rafael Little.  Leading rusher Tony Dixon has moved on, but his contribution was minimal at 3.3 yards per carry.  Alfonso Smith, Derrick Locke, and Moncell Allen will share the load this season.

Up front, the offensive line returns three starters from a unit that allowed a league low 13 sacks.  Tackle Zipp Duncan is the leader of this unit.

An easy non-conference schedule (Miami-OH, Louisville, Louisiana-Monroe, and Eastern Kentucky) will give the ‘Cats four wins.  A home game with Mississippi State should be win number five.  Their best chance for a sixth win will come from Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee.

SEC West

Ole Miss: Houston Nutt couldn’t have picked a better time to inherit a job.  Former coach Ed Orgeron left him with a full cupboard.  In year two at the Nutthouse, Ole Miss is the sexy pick for SEC West Division champion.  The PiRate Ratings formula gives them the edge over Alabama by .09 points to start the season.  All five of us agree that the Rebels will be plenty good, just not the division winner.

The offense was strong all season, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be just as strong or stronger.  Eight starters return to an attack that averaged 32.1 points and 408 yards per game.

Quarterback Jevan Snead has had to take a backseat to two great quarterbacks.  He left Texas after Colt McCoy got the job.  Now, he plays Sham to Tim Tebow’s Secretariat.  Snead passed for 2,762 yards and 26 touchdowns last year.

The running game is stocked with talent, and it’s not just running backs that carry the ball.  Wide out Dexter McCluster led the Rebels with 655 yards rushing (6.0 avg).  He ran the ball out of the wildcat formation.  He tried to pass the ball five times, and he threw two interceptions without a completion.  Cordera Eason,  Brandon Bolden, and Enrique Davis will split time at running back.

McCluster will team with Shay Hodge and top recruit Pat Patterson to form a trio of wide outs.  Tight end Gerald Harris is used more as a blocker.

Speaking of blockers, the Rebels have a big, but slightly inexperienced offensive line.  Tackle John Jerry is a monster at 6’5 and 350 pounds.

Ole Miss improved defensively as the season progressed.  The Rebels gave up 25 points per game in the first half of the year and 11 points per game in the second half.  It all begins up front, where the four starters (Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman at DE and Lawon Scott or Justin Smith and Ted Laurent at DT) form the best front four in the league.  They will send a lot of backs to the ground before they get back to the line of scrimmage.  If Greg Hardy ever returns to 100% health, then this unit will be dominating.  In limited action last year, he made 8 ½ QB sacks.

The back seven are not as talented as the front four, but they are above average compared to the league as a whole.  Linebackers Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker return after teaming for 86 tackles. 

The secondary is the weakest unit on the stop side.  Three starters return there, with free safety Kendrick Lewis being the closest thing to a star player.  He led the Rebels with 85 tackles, four interceptions, and six passes batted away.

Ole Miss should easily win their four non-league games (Memphis, Southeast Louisiana, UAB, and Northern Arizona).  They avoid both Florida and Georgia from the East.  It will all come down to how they perform in a trio of games to determine whether they can get to Atlanta for a great rematch with Florida.  They host Alabama on October 10, host Arkansas on October 24, and host LSU on November 21.  Even though they get all three of these games at home, we think they will slip up in one of these.  Our founder believes the Thursday night, September 24 game at South Carolina could actually be the hardest game they have on their schedule.

Alabama: It was almost a great story in Tideland in 2008.  Alabama won all 12 of their regular season games and entered the SEC Championship game ranked number one in the nation.  They were a 10-point underdog as the top-ranked team, something that has never happened before in modern times.  They failed to cover and lost by 11 to Florida.  Then, in the Sugar Bowl, they were embarrassed by Utah.

Some teams would fall apart when their prior season ended that way.  We believe the Crimson Tide will be just as hard to beat this year, even with major losses on the attack side.

The offense returns just four starters from last year.  Among the missing are quarterback John Parker Wilson and running back Glen Coffee.  The new quarterback is Greg McElroy, who saw limited action as a freshman last year.  He should be able to approach Wilson’s numbers if he stays healthy, but if he gets injured, ‘Bama is in trouble and will have to go with untested freshmen.

The running game will be okay if Mark Ingram stays eligible to play, and the NCAA investigators don’t go on a fishing expedition trying to declare him ineligible.  Number two back Terry Grant will be used more on passing downs, as he has good hands and great speed to turn a short pass into a long gain.

Julio Jones is in the same boat as Ingram, but if the star wide out loses some games due to the famous fishing trip, the Tide will suffer much more than they would at running back.  Jones led Alabama with 58 receptions and 924 yards.  The next leading returnee, Mike McCoy, had just 16 catches.

Three new starters dot the offensive line.  Guard Mike Johnson is the best of the blockers. 

The Tide defense was stingy last year until the last two games.  In the 12-0 start, they gave up 11.5 points and 249 yards per game.  Most of the key contributors are back for more this year, and the Tide could challenge Florida for top defense in the league.

Middle linebacker Rolando McClain led the defense with 95 tackles and 12 total tackles for loss.  He batted away eight passes as well.  He’ll be joined by three more than capable mates, Don’t’A Hightower, Eryk Anders, and Cory Reamer.

The three-man front is anchored by nose guard Terrence Cody, who at 365 pounds, plugs two gaps by himself.  End Brandon Deaderick is an excellent pass rusher.

The secondary features three returning starters and a top reserve from a year ago.  Cornerbacks  Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson combined for 17 deflected passes in ’08.  Safety Justin Woodall picked off four passed and knocked away eight others.

The kicking game is first-rate with Leigh Tiffin having the best leg in the conference.

The Tide get a big test to start the season, taking on Virginia Tech in Atlanta.  We believe Coach Nick Saban’s club will win that game in a grind-it-out style.  If so, they should be 5-0 when they travel to Oxford to take on Ole Miss on October 10.  The LSU game in Tuscaloosa on November 7 is the only other game where they won’t be favored by a touchdown or more.  Alabama could go 12-0 in the regular season and lose to Florida in the SEC Championship for the second year in a row. 

Note: Brandon Deaderick was shot in the forearm Monday August 31, and his status for the Virginia Tech game is still undecided.

L S U: 8-5 is not an acceptable record at LSU these days.  It’s been rumored that back-to-back 8-5 records could even get a coach in trouble, even though he won a national championship two years ago.  Warning to Bayou Bengal Fans:  11-2 could get a coach a job at Michigan.

The Tigers return seven starters to both the offense and the defense.  Some exceptional talent returns, but there are a couple of holes in the lineup as well.

Quarterback Jordan Jefferson emerged as a potential star during the big comeback against Troy and later proved himself the position during last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.  He has good legs and can run the spread offense better than backup Jarrett Lee.

Jefferson is not the star of this backfield though.  Charles Scott is the top running back in the SEC.  He picked up 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.  Keiland Williams is an able backup who can make his own hole if one isn’t there.

Brandon LaFell may be the best receiver in the league.  He led LSU with 63 receptions for 929 yards and eight touchdowns.

The offensive line returns three starters, and it is strongest at tackle with Ciron Black and Joseph Barksdale.

The Tigers averaged 30.9 points and 368 yards per game in 2008, and we see those numbers improving to 32 points and 400-425 yards per game.  Defensively, LSU gave up too many points and yards last year (24.2 and 326).  Coach Les Myles brought in former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis to fix the problem.

There won’t be a need for much tinkering in the secondary with three quality starters returning.  Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Chris Hawkins and safety Chad Jones combined for 141 tackles, five interceptions, and 18 deflected passes.

All three starting linebackers from last year return, plus team leading tackler Harry Coleman moves up from safety, giving this unit even more athleticism.

The problem area is the defensive line.  Three starters finished their college careers, including the great Tyson Jackson.  End Rahim Alem led the team with eight sacks, and he will lead the rebuilt trenchmen.

The Tigers have one of the best punt and kick returners in the nation in lightning quick Trindon Holliday.  He’s a threat to take any punt back for a score.

LSU is just as talented as Alabama and Ole Miss.  They just get penalized this year for having to play both Florida and Georgia out of the East Division and Alabama and Ole Miss on the road.  They could easily lose all four of these games, and if they do, the natives will be getting restless in Baton Rouge.

Arkansas: Year one wasn’t a pleasant one in Fayetteville for Coach Bobby Petrino.  His Razorbacks were drilled by Alabama, Texas, and Florida in successive games by a combined score of 139-31, and the team never really recovered.  After falling to South Carolina and Mississippi State to drop out of bowl contention, they ended the season on a high note with an upset of LSU.  This year promises to be different.  Arkansas will be bowl eligible once again with an exciting team.

Let’s start the excitement reporting on the attack side.  New quarterback Ryan Mallett left Michigan when Rich Rodriguez came in as coach.  He’s matured physically and mentally in that time, and he could be the best QB in the league after Tebow and Snead.  Mallett has three experienced starters and several able reserves to catch his passes.  We expect the Arkansas passing game to produce 275-300 yards per game this season, but only if the protection improves.  Arkansas QBs were dumped 46 times last year.

Michael Smith returns at running back after topping 1,000 yards last year.  True freshman Ronnie Wingo could see action immediately.

The offensive line needs some repairs after three starters graduated.  One of the returning starters, center Wade Grayson, has been bumped to second string by Seth Oxner, so there should be some improvement there.  Mitch Petrus has a chance to become a 1st Team All-SEC guard after making the 2nd team last year. 

How much the defense improves will determine how many games over .500 this team finishes in 2009.  The top 10 tacklers are back, but the Razorbacks gave up a very generous 31.2 points and 375 yards per game in ’08.  There will be some, but not much improvement this year, as there are liabilities in all three units.

The star of the stop side is tackle Malcolm Sheppard.  He finished second on the team with 68 tackles, and he led with 6 ½ sacks and eight other tackles for loss.

The secondary was burned too many times last year, and it will continue to happen somewhat this season.  There’s been some shuffling in the depth chart, but it appears that the answer has yet to be found.  The loss of Isaac Madison is big.

The linebackers are in better shape than the secondary, but this trio isn’t going to be compared to Alabama or Ole Miss’s trio. 

The Hogs should win all four non-conference games against Missouri State, Texas A&M, Eastern Michigan, and Troy, but the latter three could pull off an upset if Arkansas isn’t ready to play.  The Razorbacks get Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State at home.  They have seven winnable games and, we think they could pull off an upset along the way.  Arkansas could even sneak into the New Year’s Day Bowl picture.

Auburn: The Tigers suffered through a rare losing season, and Coach Tommy Tuberville decided to call it quits at the end.  Like Tennessee, the defense was good enough to win big, but the offense couldn’t adjust to a new philosophy.

Enter Gene Chizik.  An offensive guru, he isn’t.  He’s the architect of defenses that produced undefeated seasons in 2004 at Auburn and 2005 at Texas.  In three years at Iowa State, his teams compiled a 5-19 record. 

Chizik made a great hire at offensive coordinator, taking Gus Malzahn away from Tulsa.  His Tulsa offense scored 47.2 points per game and gained 570 yards per game last year.  Auburn averaged 17.3 points and 302 yards per game.  Look for immediate improvement, but don’t even think about this team averaging 30 points and 400 yards this year.

There has been a change at quarterback, where Chris Todd supplants last year’s starter Kodi Burns.  Burns is a much better runner, while Todd is a much better passer.  Todd didn’t handle former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s spread offense.

Todd doesn’t have any stars running routes to catch his passes.  Leading returning receiver Montez Billings will miss at least four games to start the season, and it will take him a week or two to shake the cobwebs off.  Tight end Tommy Trott has the potential to be a difference maker.

Ben Tate has the potential to be a 1,000 yard rusher for the Tigers.  He gained 664 yards last year after gaining over 900 as a sophomore in 2007.  Mario Fannin is excellent compliment to Tate, and Auburn should increase their rushing numbers from 137 to 150 or more yards per game.

The offensive line has beefed up and should do a better job with four guys back who saw extensive action. 

On the defensive side, the back seven should be tough, but the front four will be short on depth.  In the secondary, cornerback Walter McFadden batted away eight passes, and free safety Zac Etheridge led the Tigers with 75 tackles.

Linebackers Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens anchor the second tier of the defense after teaming for 107 tackles in 2008. 

The defensive line will miss tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and his 10 total tackles for loss.  Ends Michael Goggans and Antonio Coleman are tough to run on, and Mike Blanc holds his position as good as any tackle.

Auburn can win six or seven games and return to a minor bowl this year, but it won’t be easy.  The opening game against Louisiana Tech could be a tough one if the Tigers come out tight on offense.  A week two game with Mississippi State could be interesting, after they won 3-2 last year.  The third game, against West Virginia, is the game that will show how well the War Eagles have improved.  Auburn needs to be at least 2-1 after that game in order to make a run to a bowl.  They need to be at least 6-4 after the Furman game, or it won’t happen.

Mississippi State:  Former Florida quarterback coach Dan Mullen takes over as coach in Starkville this year, but he couldn’t bring his QB with him.  That means, it is going to be a long year in Bulldog country. 

Tyson Lee isn’t terrible, especially if his knee is 100% healthy, but he’s a bit on the small side at 5’11.  True freshman Tyler Russell may take over before the year is out.  He’s got one really good receiver to locate in Brandon McRae, who caught 51 passes last year.  Mullen recruited eight receivers, and two or three will see significant action this year.

At running back, Anthony Dixon is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards again after doing so two years ago.  He runs downhill when he gets the ball, and rarely can one man bring him down.

 The offensive line is a problem both in talent and depth.  Two starters return, and inexperienced underclassmen will see a lot of playing time.  A lack of consistent blocking will keep Mullen’s offense from taking off in year one.

The defense is another story.  The Bulldogs gave up just 328 total yards per game last year, and were one of the best against the pass.  It should continue to impress, as Mullen hired Carl Torbush as coordinator.  Expect maybe a minor increase in yards and points given up because the new offense will add total plays to the games.

The front four welcomes three new starters, and they should give up about 150-160 rushing yards again.  The Bulldogs only recorded 19 sacks, so those numbers won’t go down much if at all.

Only one starting linebacker returns from last year, but the star from 2007, Jamar Chaney, returns after missing all of last year.  Chaney should be the leading tackler if he stays healthy.

The secondary has just one returning starter.  Marcus Washington is a decent cornerback, but this unit will be torched by a few teams.

Mullen will open his career 1-0, because the Bulldogs play Jackson State.  After that, things will head south.  Games at Auburn and Vanderbilt, followed by three consecutive home games against LSU, Georgia Tech, and Houston should leave MSU 1-5 heading to Murfreesboro, TN to face Middle Tennessee.  That game could be an embarrassing loss.  If they lose it, we think they will fold up like a tent and drop the final five games by about 150 points.  A 1-11 season would be a weak start, but give Mullen time.  He just might turn things around in Starkville.

Next up: We save our own neighborhood conference for last.  The Big Ten may not be as strong as the Big 12 and SEC this year, but we believe the competition will be much more exciting with upwards of five teams capable of winning the conference championship.

December 31, 2007

PiRate Look at the Bowls–January 1 through January 6

 

New Year’s Bowl Game Match-ups (1/1-1/6)

Disclaimer: I am giving advice on pointspreads totally as an act of fun.  I do not personally wager money on these games, and I do not advocate you doing so either.  It’s just a game like Monopoly to me.

Here it is New Year’s Eve as this is written, and I still have yet to spend one minute watching or listening to any of the bowls so far.  Who would have thought that the top game in the holiday season would be a Saturday night contest between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants?  The next most important games in this time were the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Broncos and the Minnesota Vikings, and the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans.  These games actually had something on the line, as these teams were fighting to make history or the playoffs.

To the contrary, these bowls have been meaningless to me and most of the country, since they don’t contribute to the national title.  Looking at traffic to this site, it appears more people are interested in the computer simulated playoffs than the actual bowl breakdowns, so I have reduced the coverage of these games.

As I previously stated, if the bowls were used for NCAA playoffs, the Cotton Bowl might have an important quarterfinal round game featuring the eventual National Champion instead of a meaningless game that won’t draw many viewers nor return much bang for their sponsor’s buck.  What if LSU and Southern Cal played in the Cotton Bowl instead of Arkansas and Missouri?  I dare say FOX Sports would get a much higher rating for the game, and AT&T, as the sponsor, would receive a bigger return on their investment.

Here is a brief breakdown of the third wave of bowls.  These used to be the most exciting football games of the year when several of them played a part in the national title decision.  Under the old system, Ohio State would have been playing Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl; LSU would have played Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl (using the theory that LSU played an undefeated Wyoming team in January 1968); Kansas and Virginia Tech would still have played in the Orange Bowl, but with the game having national title repercussions; Oklahoma would have played Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl; and the Cotton Bowl would have featured Texas against Missouri.  At least three bowls would have played a part in the championship picture, and if LSU, Ohio State, and Kansas would have lost, it would have thrown the door open for a host of teams to claim a part of a national title.  Now, we have the winner of one game and one game only.  It will be played six days after New Year’s Day, so the January 1st bowl games are now a waste of time; there’s no reason to watch unless your favorite team is playing.

The one prediction I can make with absolute certitude is that I won’t spend a minute watching or listening to these games. 

Point spreads and totals are those listed as of 9:00 AM ET Monday, December 31, 2007

Times given are Eastern Standard Tome Zone

Tuesday, January 1-11:00 AM ESPN

Outback Bowl-Tampa

Tennessee 9-4  vs.  Wisconsin 9-3

Vegas:  Tennessee by 1½

PiRate: Tennessee by 2

Mean: Tennessee 30  Wisconsin 28

Tennessee has some distractions heading into this game with offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe now the head coach at Duke.

Wisconsin has defensive liabilities that Tennessee can exploit, but the Badgers’ offense is strong enough to make this game a shootout.  Give the Vols an ever so slight edge here, but it’s almost a 50-50 proposition.

Predicted Score: Tennessee 27  Wisconsin 25

Tuesday, January 1-11:30 AM Fox

Cotton Bowl-Dallas

Arkansas 8-4 vs. Missouri 11-2

Vegas: Missouri by 3½

PiRate: Missouri by 2

Mean: Missouri 37  Arkansas 30

Oh how this bowl has fallen from the penthouse to near the outhouse.  This bowl frequently hosted the eventual national champion in past years; now, an invitation to this bowl gets your coach on the hot seat.  Arkansas coach Houston Nutt fled for Ole Miss, after his Hogs were delegated to this now lower-tier bowl.

Chase Daniel versus Darren McFadden gives this game some appeal, but the overwhelming populace will be watching the Tournament of Roses Parade instead of this game.

For those that do tune this one in on their sets, they should see an exciting, high-scoring game.  Give Daniel the slight edge, unless the turf is a sloppy mess.

Predicted Score: Missouri 35  Arkansas 33

Tuesday, January 1-1:00 PM  CBS

Gator Bowl-Jacksonville

Texas Tech 8-4  vs. Virginia 9-3

Vegas: Texas Tech by 6

PiRate: Tossup

Mean: Texas Tech 29  Virginia 27

Here’s another bowl game that has disappeared from the national limelight.  This game used to feature top 10 teams.  Now, it gets middle of the pack teams from their conferences.  Ho hum!  Texas Tech will pass the ball 50-60 times, many of which are nothing more than running plays that begin with a forward toss behind the line of scrimmage.  It’s not much different from the pitchout plays of the pass.

Virginia’s defense has the potential to slow down the Red Raiders, but they won’t be able to stop it.  The Cavs should be able to score just as easily against Tech’s defense, so expect this one to be decided on a big play in the second half, or even go to overtime.

Predicted Score: 34-34 Tie heading to overtime

Tuesday, January 1-1:00 PM  ABC

Capital One Bowl-Orlando

Florida 9-3  vs.  Michigan 8-4

Vegas:  Florida by 10½  

PiRate: Florida by 21

Mean:  Florida 33  Michigan 23

The Heisman Trophy winner gets to play his first game since he received the trophy.  Michigan gets to pay its first game since the 1990’s without Lloyd Carr.  This one should be a dud.  Even if it’s close, there’s no reason to watch unless you are a Gator or Wolverine at heart.  The bigger news in this one is the impending lawsuit between new coach Rich Rodriguez, and his old school.  That will be an interesting event in the coming year.

Predicted Score: Florida 38  Michigan 17

Tuesday, January 1-5:00 PM

Rose Bowl-Pasadena, CA

Southern California 10-2  vs.  Illinois 9-3

Vegas: USC by 13½  

PiRate: USC by 18

Mean: USC 29  Illinois 21

The Grandaddy of them all won’t be much of a battle.  Southern Cal is probably the best team in the nation, even though they won’t have a chance to play for that title.  Yes, they lost twice this year.  So did LSU.  Yes, they fell to Stanford.  LSU lost to Kentucky and Arkansas.  Oh, by the way, Ohio State lost to Illinois, and that’s who the Trojans get to wallop in Pasadena.  In my opinion, a Trojan blowout victory coupled with a small win by either team in the National Championship Game, might give the AP voters reason to think before they cast their final ballots.

Predicted Score: USC 35  Illinois 17

Tuesday, January 1-8:30 PM

Sugar Bowl-New Orleans

Georgia 10-2  vs.  Hawaii 12-0

Vegas: Georgia by 8

PiRate: Georgia by 9

Mean: Georgia 34  Hawaii 28

This will be a game where you will see a future star quarterback in the NFL.  Yes, I’m talking about Matthew Stafford of Georgia.  Stafford is quite underrated, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him outshine Colt Brennan in this game.  Georgia will also be able to control the line of scrimmage when they run the ball, and that will spell doom for the undefeated Warriors.  Wyoming once came to this bowl at 10-0 to face 7-3 LSU.  They had star back Jim Kiick among others.  They gave the Tigers all they could handle-for one half.  LSU dominated in the final 30 minutes and won.  I expect much of the same thing here.

Predicted Score: Georgia 30  Hawaii 21

Wednesday, January 2-8:30 PM  Fox

Fiesta Bowl-Tempe, AZ

Oklahoma 11-2  vs.  West Virginia 10-2

Vegas: Oklahoma by 7½  

PiRate: Oklahoma by 6

Mean: Oklahoma 31  West Virginia 29

This might have been the National Championship Game if Oklahoma had not been upset by Texas Tech and West Virginia had not lost to Pittsburgh in their regular season finale.  Now, this game is overshadowed by the lawsuit filed by the West Virginia against former coach Rich Rodriguez.  Maybe Court TV’s ratings of this trial would be better viewing material than this game.  I don’t like these bowl games being played after New Year’s Day (unless New Year’s Day is a Sunday).  On January 2, the holidays are over, and it’s time to concentrate on the bigger game-the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primaries.

Predicted Score: Oklahoma 28  West Virginia 22

Thursday, January 3-8:30 PM  Fox

Orange Bowl-Miami

Virginia Tech 11-2  vs.  Kansas 11-1

Vegas: Virginia Tech by 3

PiRate: Virginia Tech by 2

Mean: Virginia Tech 27  Kansas 26  

Forget this game!  This is Iowa Caucus night, and that’s the big game that matters on this day.  My picks for the big game are John Edwards and Mitt Romney.  I expect Romney to come from behind with a late touchdown in the fourth quarter due to Mike Huckabee’s second half fumbles.  I expect Edwards to pick up some blocking (from those candidates who fail to receive 15% support) to make and end run and edge Obama and Clinton.

As for the game, I may not know who won until the 2008 football preview magazines hit the stands in the spring.

Predicted Score: Virginia Tech 24  Kansas 22

Saturday, January 5-12:00 PM  ESPN2

International Bowl-Toronto

Ball State 7-5  vs.  Rutgers 7-5

Vegas: Rutgers by 10

PiRate: Rutgers by 12

Mean: Rutgers 32  Ball State 24  

Is this really a bowl?  It’s from Canada.  Maybe this is a hockey match.  It shouldn’t be played if it’s really a football game.  Who gives a flip by January 5? They should have played back around December 20 considering the teams involved.  Saturday is the first round of NFL Playoffs.  You here that, you NCAA dolts?  The playoffs!  That means all the games mean something.  That means multi-millions will be putting everything else aside to tune in to see the first pieces of the Super Bowl puzzle.  Your bowl game wouldn’t generate power if it were moved to Niagara Falls.

Predicted Score: Rutgers 33  Ball State 21

Sunday, January 6-8:00 PM  ESPN

GMAC Bowl-Mobile, AL

Tulsa 9-4  vs.  Bowling Green 8-4

Vegas: Tulsa by 4½

PiRate: Tulsa by 4

Mean: Tulsa 36  Bowling Green 33  

I could have copy and pasted the above description from that Canadian bowl for this one.  This game would have been just as meaningless if it had been played before all the others.  You get more NFL playoffs on Sunday, and the folks in Mobile will spurn this game for the actual one that matters-the Senior Bowl.

Predicted Score: Tulsa 35  Bowling Green 31

This Week’s “Picks”

It seems to be working every week since I instituted this strategy in mid-November, so I will continue to employ the same formula for picking games during the bowls.  So far, these picks are 6-3 against the spread through bowl games of December 30.

Where the PiRates and Mean both fall on the same side of the spread and the difference is more than 2.5 points, that game will be picked against the spread.  When they both agree on the winner, and the line is 10 points or less, that game will be picked on the money line.  There will be no totals or teasers picked. 

Straight Plays Against the Spread

# 1:  Virginia +6 vs. Texas Tech

Money Line Picks

# 2:  Tennessee -120 vs. Wisconsin

# 3:  Missouri -160 vs. Arkansas

# 4:  Georgia -280 vs. Hawaii

# 5:  Oklahoma -270 vs. West Virginia

# 6:  Virginia Tech -150 vs. Kansas

# 7:  Rutgers -380 vs. Ball State

# 8:  Tulsa -195 vs. Bowling Green

UP NEXT: THE ONLY POST-SEASON COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME THAT MATTERS-AN IN-DEPTH PREVIEW OF LSU-OHIO STATE. 

Look for the preview to appear here Friday, January 4.

Blog at WordPress.com.