The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 8, 2019

2019 Conference USA Football Preview

Welcome to the 2019-2020 College Football season on the SS Touchdown, your favorite PiRate ship of analytical merriment.

The PiRates have spent hours upon hours doing research this summer getting ready for another football season.  2018 was an incredible year for our ratings, as we finished at the top of the Prediction Tracker against the spread in college football, and the best against the spread and at picking winners in NFL football.  We have seen a steady bump in additional readers, so we hope we can follow up with another great year.

Today, we begin previewing one NCAA FBS conference per day for the next 11 days.  In past years, we published lengthy previews, but after hearing from a lot of you tell us that you come here for the stats, we are going to try to become the Sergeant Joe Friday of football, “Just the Stats.”  Oh, we’ll throw in a little Joe Gannon and include something from out of left field when something warrants it.

We begin with Conference USA, the #11 rated conference to begin the PiRate Ratings season.

The Official Media Poll

Conference USA Media Poll
East Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes
1 Marshall 14
2 Florida Int’l. 9
3 Florida Atlantic 3
4 Middle Tennessee 0
5 Western Kentucky 0
6 Old Dominion 0
7 Charlotte 0
 

 

West Division
Pos. Team 1st Place Votes
1 North Texas 20
2 Southern Miss. 4
3 Louisiana Tech 0
4 UAB 2
5 UTSA 0
6 Rice 0
7 UTEP 0

For some reason, Conference USA did not release the total vote count by the media.  We only received the First Place Votes and position each team finished in the voting.  Additionally, the media did not vote on an overall champion.

 

The PiRate Ratings

Preseason PiRate Ratings–CUSA
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Florida Int’l. 93.6 93.7 94.4 93.9
Marshall 92.9 92.6 93.8 93.1
Florida Atlantic 91.7 91.1 92.4 91.7
Middle Tennessee 90.5 90.0 90.6 90.4
Western Kentucky 87.5 88.7 89.0 88.4
Charlotte 86.6 87.0 87.0 86.9
Old Dominion 75.1 76.0 75.1 75.4
 

 

West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Southern Miss. 93.4 92.2 93.7 93.1
North Texas 92.5 92.3 93.4 92.7
Louisiana Tech 90.7 90.8 90.8 90.7
U A B 88.2 89.1 88.7 88.7
U T S A 77.5 80.0 77.2 78.2
Rice 77.7 78.8 77.0 77.9
U T E P 67.9 72.6 68.3 69.6
CUSA Averages 86.1 86.8 86.5 86.5

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%.  Then, if the Captain didn’t like the result, he swung his sword and chose them by himself.  Actually, the conference records had to be balanced, and all the half-win votes made it a mess, so it’s probably 100% his opinion.

PiRate Members Predicted Won-Loss
East Division
Pos Team CUSA Overall
1 Florida Atlantic 6-2 8-5
2 Marshall 6-2 9-3
3 Florida Int’l. 5-3 7-5
4 Western Kentucky 4-4 5-7
5 Middle Tennessee 4-4 5-7
6 Charlotte 3-5 5-7
7 Old Dominion 1-7 2-10
 

 

West Division
Pos Team CUSA Overall
1 Southern Miss. 7-1 9-4*
2 Louisiana Tech 6-2 9-3
3 North Texas 6-2 7-5
4 UAB 5-3 8-4
5 UTSA 2-6 3-9
6 Rice 1-7 1-11
7 UTEP 0-8 1-11
* Southern Miss. picked to win CUSA Championship

 

Bowl Projections

Bowl Team
Bahamas Southern Miss.
First Responder Marshall
Gasparilla Cincinnati
New Mexico Louisiana Tech
New Orleans UAB
 

 

Alternate Bowl Teams
Frisco Florida Int’l
Independence North Texas

Coaches That Could Move To FBS Power Conference Schools

Seth Littrell–North Texas

Lane Kiffin–Florida Atlantic

Jay Hopson–Southern Miss.

 

Coaches on The Hot Seat

Dana Dimel–UTEP

Frank Wilson–UTSA

Bobby Wilder–Old Dominion

 

Top Quarterbacks

Mason Fine–North Texas

Tyler Johnson III–UAB

James Morgan–Florida Int’l.

 

Best Offense

North Texas

Florida Int’l.

Marshall

 

Best Defense

Marshall

Louisiana Tech

Southern Miss.

 

Coming Tomorrow–The Mid-American Conference

 

 

 

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August 11, 2018

2018 Conference USA Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

 

Conference USA is an interesting league. Annually, it comes in as the second weakest conference overall to begin each season, sometimes just a fraction ahead of the Sun Belt. Yet. this league produces a plethora of bowl-eligible teams. Last year was no different, as 10 of the 14 schools earned bowl eligibility, and nine received bowl invitations.

Last year, after a slow start that saw his team lose big to Navy and Wisconsin and then suffer a heartbreaking loss at Buffalo, Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team caught fire and won their final 10 games. Included in the season-ending sweep were a CUSA Championship Game title and a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl, both by fat margins. The Owls finished the season averaging better than 40 points and almost 500 total yards per game, but Kiffin will have to rebuild on this side of the ball. Expect defense to help FAU contend for another conference title.

Marshall and Middle Tennessee should be FAU’s chief competition for the title. Coach Doc Holliday is one of the best recruiters in the Group of 5 conferences, and he has a lot of experienced talent returning to Marshall. If not for the fact that the Thundering Herd will have to break in a new quarterback and has no player that has thrown even one pass for the school in a game. Additionally, there will be a new offensive coordinator, as Tim Cramsey comes to Huntington from Sam Houston State and brings a new offense.  Of course, his 2017 SHU offense merely averaged better than 43 points per game and proved to be powerful running and passing the ball.

Middle Tennessee has the top returning quarterback in the division in Brent Stockstill, but the Blue Raiders have an iffy secondary and could be forced to outscore opponents every week.

The West Division looks like a three-team race. North Texas, Lousiana Tech, and UAB could finish in a three-way tie, with Southern Mississippi a distant fourth. Having two of the weakest FBS teams in the same division in Rice and UTEP, means that the other four division rivals can almost count on two conference victories already.

North Texas has the top overall quarterback in the league and maybe the best overall in the Lone Star State in Mason Fine. As a sophomore last season, he finished 6th nationally in passing yards, and he is the leading passing yardage leader among returning quarterbacks. Fine has most of his receiving corps returning this year, so if he gets just a little better pass protection, he could lead the Mean Green to the best season in Denton since Hayden Fry coached there in the late 1970’s. UNT Coach Seth Littrell is on a fast track to taking over a big time program. Every stop along the way, the team he has coached as an assistant set passing and total offense records. Mentoring Fine is not the first time he has trained a top prospect into a big-time talent. He previously tutored Nick Foles at Arizona.

UAB coach Bill Clark takes a back seat to nobody. How’s this for an incredible feat of wizardry? Clark stayed with the program when the school dropped football for two seasons. With just a handful of recruits to work with and a promise of playing again in the future, he recruited enough talent and then “coached ’em up.” Picked to maybe win two games by most pundits last year in their return to the game, UAB enjoyed an 8-win season and bid to the Bahamas Bowl. With 14 starters returning from last year’s first team back in football and a decent recruiting class, UAB should be right there with North Texas in the West Division race.

Skip Holtz is the big name in the West Division of CUSA, and his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have to be considered one of the tri-favorites in this division. His team underperformed a bit last year but still managed to win seven times and make an appearance in the Frisco Bowl, where LT looked more like the team people expected them to be, dusting SMU 51-10. The Techsters have a lot of returning talent, and if said talent plays more like they did in the bowl and less like they did against Southern Miss and Rice, then the Bulldogs could make it back to the top of the division.

Here is how the CUSA media voted in the preseason poll.

Team
East Division 1st Place Votes
1. Florida Atlantic 22
2. Marshall 4
3. Middle Tennessee 0
4. Florida Int’l. 0
5. Western Kentucky 0
6. Old Dominion 0
7. Charlotte 0
Team
West Division 1st Place Votes
1. North Texas 18
2. Louisiana Tech 4
3. UAB 3
4. Southern Miss. 1
5. UTSA 0
6t. Rice 0
6t. UTEP 0

There were no votes for overall conference champion.

The PiRate Ratings basically confirm the media’s preseason opinions.

Conference USA
East Division
Team CUSA Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Florida Atlantic 0-0 0-0 102.0 103.0 103.3 102.8
Marshall 0-0 0-0 94.3 97.1 95.0 95.5
Middle Tennessee 0-0 0-0 91.4 93.4 93.0 92.6
Old Dominion 0-0 0-0 87.5 91.3 89.0 89.3
Florida Int’l. 0-0 0-0 82.0 86.8 82.6 83.8
W. Kentucky 0-0 0-0 80.4 84.6 81.2 82.1
Charlotte 0-0 0-0 76.2 78.7 76.3 77.1
West Division
Team CUSA Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisiana Tech 0-0 0-0 93.8 96.4 95.2 95.1
N. Texas 0-0 0-0 93.0 96.3 93.6 94.3
U A B 0-0 0-0 91.1 93.6 91.5 92.1
Southern Miss. 0-0 0-0 81.6 85.0 82.1 82.9
U T S A 0-0 0-0 80.2 85.6 81.6 82.5
Rice 0-0 0-0 71.4 74.5 69.7 71.9
U T E P 0-0 0-0 69.3 72.5 68.6 70.1
CUSA Averages 85.3 88.5 85.9 86.6

New Coaches

When a large majority of schools gain bowl eliibility, there are not going to be a lot of coaching dismissals. Unless coaches get better jobs, they will return to their respective schools. As mentioned previously, Rice and UTEP ranked in the bottom 10 of all FBS schools last year, and these two teams will welcome new leaders.

Rice hired MIke Bloomgren and hopes to get the same results that Bloomgren produced as offensive coordinator at Stanford. He also has experience coaching with the New York Jets during the Rex Ryan era. The Owls will use power running mixed with play-action passing and hope to improve on 16 points and 330 yards per game on offense. Thanks to home games with Prairie View and UTEP, Bloomgren should double the win total from one to two.

UTEP wore the collar last year, going 0-12 and losing by an average of 25 points per game. The Miners hired 55-year old Dana Dimel, who for the last decade has been the offensive coordinator at Kansas State. Dimel has past head coaching stops at Wyoming and Houston. He succeeded in Laramie but failed in Houston. In year one, he faces a gargantuan rebuilding process, but you cannot really go south from 0-12, unless you repeat with another 0-12 that includes a loss to an FCS team. Northern Arizona will be a tough FCS opponent for the Miners.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

East
Team Conference Overall
Florida Atlantic 8-0 11-2 *
Marshall 7-1 9-3
Middle Tennessee 6-2 7-5
Old Dominion 4-4 6-6
Western Kentucky 3-5 5-7
Florida Int’l. 2-6 3-9
Charlotte 0-8 1-11
West
Team Conference Overall
North Texas 6-2 9-4
UAB 6-2 9-3
Louisiana Tech 6-2 8-4
Southern Miss. 4-4 5-7
UTSA 3-5 5-7
Rice 1-7 2-11
UTEP 0-8 1-11
* Fla. Atlantic picked to win CUSA Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
CUSA does not have a set bowl order. They send teams to bowls to create the best overall matchups.

These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas
Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL
Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL
Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, HI
Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, TX
New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, NM
New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, LA

There are secondary bowl agreements with the Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas, and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, if those bowl need at-large alternates.

Coming Tomorrow–The Mid-American Conference

August 15, 2016

2016 Conference USA Football Ratings Preview

Conference USA has lost a lot of its prestige in recent years because the league has lost several teams with historic football success. At one time, Houston, Tulsa, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis were members of the league.

In current times, CUSA has been able to barely avoid the basement as the weakest conference, maintaining a small edge over the Sun Belt.

The league race should be competitive this year, as three teams appear to be talented enough to contend for the East Division title. The West looks less competitive, but after prohibitive favorite Southern Mississippi, there are two or three teams capable of making a surprise run to the division title.

In the last two years, Marshall and Western Kentucky have been contenders for the automatic New Year’s Six Bowls, but no CUSA team figures to be in contention this year.

Here is a look at the Pre-season media poll. No vote counts were issued or for that matter, the media did not vote on overall conference champion.

CUSA-East
# Team
1 Middle Tennessee
2 Western Kentucky
3 Marshall
4 Florida Atlantic
5 Florida Int’l.
6 Old Dominion
7 Charlotte
   
CUSA-West
# Team
1 Southern Miss.
2 Louisiana Tech
3 Rice
4 UTEP
5 UTSA
6 North Texas

This is how the PiRate Ratings see the divisional races

Conference USA
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Western Kentucky 99.1 93.1 99.8 97.3
Marshall 92.3 96.7 94.1 94.4
Middle Tennessee 92.0 94.6 93.1 93.3
Old Dominion 85.7 89.1 86.3 87.0
Florida Atlantic 84.8 88.5 86.7 86.7
Florida Int’l. 82.3 89.5 84.2 85.3
Charlotte 72.9 81.0 74.5 76.2
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Southern Miss. 92.7 92.1 93.8 92.9
Rice 84.7 94.1 85.1 88.0
Louisiana Tech 85.4 88.6 86.0 86.7
UTSA 78.4 87.1 80.9 82.2
UTEP 74.5 79.5 75.8 76.6
North Texas 74.0 76.6 73.7 74.8
         
CUSA Averages 84.5 88.5 85.7 86.3

 

The PiRate Ratings are best used just to look forward to the next week game schedule.  These ratings cannot really be used to predict won-loss records, so with that caveat, here are the projected won-loss records based on the ratings alone.

Conference USA Projected Standings
East Division  Conference  Overall  Bowl
Marshall 7-1 10-3 * Hawaii
Western Kentucky 7-1 9-3 New Orleans
Middle Tennessee 6-2 7-5 Heart of Dallas
Florida Int’l. 4-4 6-6 Bowl Eligible
Old Dominion 4-4 6-6 Bowl Eligible
Florida Atlantic 3-5 5-7  
Charlotte 0-8 1-11  
       
West Division   Conference   Overall   Bowl
Southern Miss. 8-0 10-3 Boca Raton
Rice 5-3 6-6 New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 4-4 6-6 Arizona
UTSA 3-5 4-8  
UTEP 1-7 3-9  
North Texas 0-8 1-11  
       
* Marshall to win CUSA Championship Game

Next Preview: Wednesday, August 17–Mid-American Conference Preview

 

 

 

 

 

August 11, 2015

2015 Conference USA Preview

In today’s second conference preview, we take a look at Conference USA.  Last year, Marshall was oh so close to earning the league’s first ever major bowl bid, but the Thundering Herd dropped a heartbreaker in their final regular season game to Western Kentucky in a game that looked more like basketball on turf.  WKU won that contest 67-66, as both teams topped 700 total yards.

This year, Western Kentucky figures to be the hunted, while Marshall is the hunter.  The two rivals square off in Bowling Green, KY, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the winner should represent the East Division in the CUSA Championship Game.

Middle Tennessee has never won the conference title or even the East Division title, but the Blue Raiders have consistently stayed in the upper tier of teams every season.  2015 should be no different: look for MT to become bowl eligible but not compete for the division title.

Coach Ron Turner took over a Florida International program that had fallen on hard times, and he guided the Panthers to a 1-11 finish in his first season.  Last year, FIU improved by three games and suffered four close losses.  Look for the Panthers to win more of those close games this year, and FIU could be the surprise contender in the East.  We expect Turner’s crew to compete for bowl eligibility.

Old Dominion eeked out a .500 record last year by winning its final three games by the narrowest of margins.  Gone is the school’s all-time leading passer and all-time leading receiver, but the Monarchs have enough returning talent and a favorable enough schedule to repeat their 6-6 record.

Florida Atlantic will avoid the cellar this year because there is a new team in the FBS, but the Owls are clearly a bottom feeder this season.  Coach Charlie Partridge did a fine job in year one with very little depth, but he guided the Owls to an upset over WKU and had the Owls at 3-4 before the team collapsed in the final month due to fatigue.  It will be another long year in Boca Raton, but Partridge will eventually turn things around.

Welcome the Charlotte 49ers to the world of FBS football.  Unlike a lot of schools that have a long history at lower classifications, Charlotte is only in its third year of football history.  The 49ers finished 5-6 in both of the two prior seasons, but those five wins came against the likes of Johnson C. Smith, Wesley, Chowan, and Campbell.  The 2015 schedule sees 11 FBS schools including a road trip to Kentucky.  It will be a long season for Coach Brad Lambert’s club, as the 49ers will have to play above their talent level to win more than one game.

In the West Division, Louisiana Tech is the clear-cut favorite, but the Bulldogs are not infallible.  Former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel will try to be an excellent game-manager for Coach Skip Holtz, but he has an excellent group of receivers and pass-catching backs, so look for his passing statistics to improve.

Rice has been to bowl games for three consecutive seasons, and the Owls should make it four in a row in 2015.  Coach David Bailiff has to rebuild his defense with the loss of seven of his top nine tacklers, but his offense will control the ball and keep the young defense off the field.

Our surprise sleeper team in the West is Southern Miss.  The Golden Eagles tanked when former coach Larry Fedora left for North Carolina, winning just four games in the last three years.  Third year coach Todd Monken’s offense should begin to look more like the Oklahoma State offense where he coached under Mike Gundy.  USM should score more than 25 points per game for the first time since 2011, and the record should be above .500 in the league.  A tough non-conference schedule which includes games against Mississippi State and Nebraska is the only thing that will prevent the Eagles from topping .500 overall.  Still, we see this team breaking even and earning a bowl bid this year.

Sean Kugler’s UTEP Miners were the big surprise in the league last year, going 7-5 in the regular season and earning a trip to the New Mexico Bowl.  This year, UTEP has too many holes to fill on both sides of the ball to repeat their success.  Look for the Miners to see a record reversal.

North Texas has suffered through nine losing seasons in the last 10 years.  Coach Dan McCarney is considered one of the more competent head coaches in the game, but even the most competent coaches cannot win without the horses.  The Mean Green have ponies, especially on the defensive side of the ball, so it will be another long year in Denton.

UT-San Antonio was supposed to contend for the 2014 CUSA West Division Title and the overall league title, and the Roadrunners began the season by trouncing Houston by 20 points.  Then, the season turned sour in San Antonio, as the Roadrunners walked home to a 4-8 record.  The bulk of the experienced roster is now gone, and this team looks like a threat to wear the collar in league play.

Here is how the media voted at the CUSA media days earlier this summer.

Conference USA Media Poll
Pos. Team
East Division
1 Western Kentucky
2 Marshall
3 Middle Tennessee
4 Florida Atlantic
5 Florida Int’l
6 Old Dominion
7 Charlotte
West Division
1 Louisiana Tech
2 Rice
3 UTEP
4 Southern Miss
5 North Texas
6 UTSA

Here is the media’s preseason all-CUSA team.

Conference USA Preseason All-Conference Team
Offense Player School
Quarterback Brandon Doughty Western Kentucky
Running Back Leon Allen Western Kentucky
Running Back Kenneth Dixon Louisiana Tech
Running Back Devon Johnson Marshall
Running Back Aaron Jones UTEP
Wide Receiver Jared Dangerfield Western Kentucky
Wide Receiver Carlos Harris North Texas
Wide Receiver Zach Pascal Old Dominion
Wide Receiver Trent Taylor Louisiana Tech
Tight End Jonnu Smith Florida Int’l
Offensive Line Jordan Budwig Florida Int’l
Offensive Line Darius Johnson Middle Tennessee
Offensive Line Kaydon Kirby North Texas
Offensive Line Andrew Reue Rice
Offensive Line Clint Van Horn Marshall
Defense Player School
Defensive Line Vernon Butler Louisiana Tech
Defensive Line Jason Neill UTSA
Defensive Line Jarquez Samuel Marshall
Defensive Line Michael Smith Southern Miss
Defensive Line Michael Wakefield Florida Int’l
Linebacker T. T. Barber Middle Tennessee
Linebacker Drew Douglas UTSA
Linebacker D. J. Hunter Marshall
Defensive Back Kevin Byard Middle Tennessee
Defensive Back Crevon LeBlanc Florida Atlantic
Defensive Back Richard Leonard Florida Int’l
Defensive Back Bennett Okotcha UTSA
Defensive Back Wonderful Terry Western Kentucky
Defensive Back Xavier Woods Louisiana Tech
Special Teams Player School
Kicker Trevor Moore North Texas
Punter Tyler Williams Marshall
Kick Returner Autrey Golden UTEP
Punt Returner Richard Leonard Florida Int’l
Long Snapper Matt Cincotta Marshall

Here are our three computer ratings and average for each of the teams.

Conference USA
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Western Kentucky 100.6 98.6 101.7 100.3
Marshall 97.1 96.6 98.0 97.2
Middle Tennessee 93.1 92.6 92.5 92.7
Florida International 88.5 90.6 90.1 89.7
Old Dominion 82.3 89.6 81.5 84.5
Florida Atlantic 82.4 86.6 83.1 84.0
Charlotte 68.7 71.6 68.4 69.6
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Louisiana Tech 98.9 96.6 99.7 98.4
Rice 86.0 90.6 86.2 87.6
UTEP 84.5 89.2 84.6 86.1
Southern Mississippi 85.0 84.8 83.3 84.4
North Texas 81.4 88.6 82.7 84.2
UT-San Antonio 72.5 80.6 72.6 75.2
CUSA Averages 86.2 89.0 86.5 87.2

And, here are the PiRate Ratings won-loss predictions and bowl projections.

PiRate Ratings Predicted Records
Pos Team Conf. Overall Bowl
East Division
1 Western Kentucky 7-1 10-3 * Bahamas
2 Marshall 7-1 11-1 St. Petersburg
3 Middle Tennessee 5-3 6-6 New Orleans
4 Florida Int’l 5-3 6-6 Arizona %
5 Old Dominion 4-4 6-6 At-Large
6 Florida Atlantic 1-7 2-10 None
7 Charlotte 0-8 1-11 None
West Division
1 Louisiana Tech 7-1 9-4 ^ Boca Raton
2 Rice 5-3 7-5 New Mexico
3 Southern Miss 5-3 6-6 Heart of Dallas
4 UTEP 3-5 5-7 None
5 North Texas 2-6 3-9 None
6 UTSA 1-7 1-11 None
* Wins Title Game
^ Loses Title Game
% The Arizona Bowl has no sponsor and may not be played in 2015

Coming Next: The Mid-American Conference

 

 

November 4, 2014

PiRate Ratings College Football Playoffs and Bowl Projections

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

http://www.piratings.webs.com

There are 38 bowls plus the National Championship Game, meaning 76 teams out of the 128 total playing in the FBS. As of today, we project 79 teams to become bowl eligible, so just three 6-6 teams will be left out of the postseason party.

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

The Group of Five

These five conferences are the leagues competing for one guaranteed spot in a Big Six Bowl (actually one of the four NewYear’s Eve/Day big bowls not involved in the playoffs, since no Group of Five team will qualify for the playoffs).

As of today, Marshall from Conference USA figures to be the highest rated Group of Five team, as East Carolina fell out of contention with their loss to Temple. Central Florida’s loss at UConn knocked the AAC from consideration. Should Marshall stumble, the door is now open for both Boise State and Colorado State to sneak into the top position. Boise would be there already had the Broncos not lost at Air Force, while CSU might have placed themselves on the cuff of contention for the playoffs had they won their game at Boise and stood at 9-0 today.

American Athletic Conference
The AAC balloon has deflated with the upset losses of both East Carolina and Central Florida. While the league is out of the Big Six picture for now, it promises to be possibly the most incredible finish of the conference races. Our prognosticators here now believe there is a credible chance that this league could end in a six-way tie for first at 6-2 in conference play between Central Florida, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, and Temple. The league has five guaranteed bowl bids, so one of these six would have to earn an at-large bowl invitation. The AAC should have no problem placing that sixth bowl eligible team in a bowl.

1. Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina (6-2/9-3)
2. Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida (6-2/8-4)
3. Miami Beach Bowl: Cincinnati (6-2/8-4)
4. Military Bowl: Temple (6-2/8-4)
5. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (6-2/8-4)
6. Independence Bowl (at-large invitation): Memphis (6-2/8-4)

Conference USA
Doc Holliday may be the best college football recruiter in America, and his Marshall Thundering Herd may be the best CUSA team in the league’s history. Marshall has five games remaining in November and December standing in its way of a probable Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl bid. A November 22 game at UAB could be tricky, and a probable CUSA Championship Game tilt against Louisiana Tech is the biggest obstacle in the Herd’s trampling of their schedule.

We have removed Western Kentucky from the prospective bowl eligible teams and added UTEP. Rice is making another second half of the season run like Coach David Bailiff’s Owls have done the last two seasons. To run the table the rest of the way in 2014, Rice will have to pull off major upsets on the road against Marshall and Louisiana Tech and handle an improving UTEP team at home.

With Marshall expected to earn the Big Six Bowl invitation, this conference will have six bowl bids, and we predict there will be six bowl eligible teams.

1. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Marshall (8-0/13-0)
2. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech (8-0/9-4)
3. Bahamas Bowl: UTEP (6-2/8-4)
4. Boca Raton Bowl: Middle Tennessee (6-2/7-5)
5. New Mexico Bowl: U A B (4-4/6-6)
6. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Rice (5-3/7-5)

Mid-American Conference
This is a down season of sorts in the MAC, mostly because there is a lot of parity and no dominant team. Northern Illinois is rebuilding, and Toledo and Bowling Green are not quite up to the standards of a typically dominant NIU team. This league figures to produce a glut of bowl eligible squads, probably two more than there is space avaialable in the bowl party.

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

Also Bowl Eligible
Ohio (4-4/6-6)
Ball St. (5-3/6-6)

Mountain West Conference
This league does not have the notoriety it did when TCU was a member and earning trips to the Rose Bowl. Still, there are some quality teams in the MWC, namely Boise State and Colorado State. Utah State, Air Force, and Nevada add to the quality.

Fresno State has been a big disappointment this season, and we have now removed the Bulldogs from the probable bowl eligible list. Wyoming and San Jose State are both in contention, but their schedules are not favorable, so we have not included them in the privileged list.

That leaves six bowl eligible teams in a league with six bowl tie-ins.

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

Sunbelt Conference
We will probably know in two weeks whether or not this league will have undefeated co-champions. Louisiana-Lafayette should have little trouble at New Mexico State this week, but a road game against rival Louisiana-Monroe is not going to be easy, especially since the Warhawks will need to win that game to get to 6-6.

Georgia Southern plays a tough Texas State team in San Marcos and may be looking ahead a week to a trip to Navy. Should the Eagles win this week, and UL-Lafayette wins next week, the two top teams should both finish 8-0 in league play.

Besides the previously mentioned Texas State Bobcats, Arkansas State will finish bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season with four different head coaches. South Alabama is probably headed to a 6-6 finish and no bowl invitation.

1. GoDaddy.com Bowl: Georgia Southern (8-0/9-3)
2. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-0/9-3)
3. Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (6-2/8-4)
4. Armed Forces Bowl (at-large invitation): Texas State (5-3/7-5)

Also Bowl Eligible: South Alabama (5-3/6-6)

Independents (Notre Dame is included in the ACC)
Army must win out to become bowl eligible, and the Black Knights cannot even take Fordham lightly, as they already have a loss to Yale. This will not be the year the men from West Point get back to a bowl. Thus, the Armed Forces Bowl will need to find a replacement team.

BYU is one win away from bowl eligibility and will get that sixth win, if not November 15 against UNLV, then definitely the following week against Savannah State.

Navy still has some work to do. The Midshipmen are 4-5. All three of their final games are tricky, as Georgia Southern and South Alabama are sneaky good, while even a winless Army team would be tough to beat much less this 2-win squad. However, Navy has a week off between each of these games and should win at least two if not all three to gain their automatic bowl bid.

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

The Power 5

We do not use the current rankings to set our playoff and bowl pairings. “If the season ended today” is only good when the season actually ends today. We look into the future to try to predict where the teams will be on December 7.

This week presents multiple contests which serve as eliminator games. It is like a Round of 64 and 32 NCAA Basketball weekend, where by Sunday morning, there will be a Sweet 16.

Here are the top games that will affect the Power 5 rankings this week:

Baylor at Oklahoma: The Bears are still in the thick of the playoff race, while Oklahoma is merely playing for a Cotton Bowl or Fiesta Bowl bid. Baylor won 41-12 last year and outgained the Sooners by more than 220 yards. OU will be ready to play its best game of the season.

Notre Dame at Arizona St.: Call this a pure elimination game for sure. The loser has no chance, while the winner stays in contention from near the back of the pack, but if the winner wins out, they will have a shot at playing in the Rose or Sugar Bowl. Even if the winner misses out on the playoffs, they are sure to get one of the other Big Six bowls.

The Sun Devils need Oregon to keep winning until the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Kansas State at TCU: The winner of this game has an excellent shot at finishing 12-1. The Big 12 may not be as highly ranked as in past years, but a 12-1 team here will have a nice resume.

Alabama at LSU: This is never a gimme game for the Crimson Tide. A loss here would just about end ‘Bama’s chances to make the playoffs but not totally eliminate them. With wins over Mississippi State and Auburn, Coach Nick Saban’s squad could still sneak in as the number four team. A win Saturday combined with wins over Mississippi State, Auburn, and the SEC East champion probably moves the Tide to number two and host of the Sugar Bowl in the playoffs.

LSU would need a lot of help to sneak into the playoffs. The Bengal Tigers would have to beat ‘Bama by double digits and then easily dismiss Arkansas and Texas A&M on the road. Then, Mississippi State would have to lose to both Alabama and Ole Miss, and the champions of the Big Ten and Big 12 would have to lose a second game as well.

Ohio State at Michigan State: This is a pure playoff eliminator. The winner can earn a playoff spot if they finish 12-1, and still it could be tough. The Spartans still have to jump at least one SEC school plus TCU and Oregon, and that loss to the Ducks will keep the quack attack ahead of them if both finish 12-1.

Ohio State needs a lot of help and could still finish on the outside looking in at 12-1.

Oregon at Utah: The Utes are done and can only hope for an Alamo or Holiday Bowl bid as a consolation prize or else settle for a lesser bowl. Oregon is still very much in the playoff picture and should make the final four if they win out. They will not sniff the playoffs with one more loss.

Atlantic Coast Conference
Florida State reminds our founder of the 1958 Kentucky basketball team that won the national championship. That group of Wildcats were known as the “Fiddlin’ Five.” They just fiddled around for 25-30 minutes before going on one big run at the end to win.

Can the Seminoles continue this style of fiddlin’ for 2 ½ quarters before scoring three touchdowns in a five to seven-minute span and win the National Championship for a second consecutive season?

We don’t know the answer, but FSU probably can play this way the rest of the regular season and finish 13-0. The game at Miami on November 15 could be close for awhile, and maybe if Duke wins the Coastal Division, the Blue Devils can make a Championship Game rematch much closer than 2013, when the Seminoles won 45-7.

Elsewhere in the league, we have removed Virginia from bowl eligible likelihood, and this places Coach Mike London back on that hot seat. In the Cavaliers’ place, we have added North Carolina State back into the bowl mix.

Even though three league members might finish 6-6, the entire trio will have bowl preference over a possible 8-4 Miami Hurricanes. If they cannot put 10,000 fans in their home stadium, they aren’t likely to bring many to a bowl game.

In the past, Boston College has not sent many fans to its bowl games, but we believe a site closer to home will help the Eagles sell more tickets.

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

Big Ten Conference
Who would have ever thought that a Nebraska team could go 12-1 in the regular season and just be an afterthought in the NCAA Championship picture? You have to figure that had they stayed in the Big 12, the Cornhuskers would have been a cinch to make the playoffs at 12-1. That shows how far the Big Ten has fallen in prestige. Could it be that this league is now more of a basketball power than football power? Of course, this league has been the bridesmaid in the Final Four since Michigan State won that title more than a dozen years ago.

All eyes will be looking in at East Lansing Saturday, when Michigan State and Ohio State settle the East Division title. The Buckeyes have a huge revenge factor in this game, as they were 12-0 when MSU knocked them out of the BCS Championship picture last year with a stunning 34-24 upset win.

We have removed Penn State and Northwestern from the bowl picture this week, and we have kept Illinois and added Michigan to the mix. With nine bowls guaranteed and ten bowls likely with two league teams playing in Big Six bowls, there will be space for all bowl eligible clubs.

1. Orange Bowl: Ohio State (8-0/12-1)
2. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Michigan State (7-1/10-2)
3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Nebraska (5-3/9-3)
4. Outback Bowl: Iowa (6-2/9-4)
5. Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin (6-2/9-3)
6. Music City Bowl: Maryland (4-4/7-5)
7. San Francisco Bowl: Minnesota (4-4/7-5)
8. Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (2-6/6-6)
9. Quick Lane Bowl: Michigan (4-4/6-6)
10. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois (3-5/6-6)

Big 12 Conference
TCU, Baylor, and Kansas State all still hold playoff hopes, but they will all need some help. Even with one SEC team assured of falling out of the top four, Oregon is still in front of this trio, and the Ducks will have defeated Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah, and probably Arizona State if they finish 12-1.

This league is almost a lock to place two teams in Big Six bowls, even if no team makes the playoffs. With two Big Six bowls plus six other bowl tie-ins, there needs to be eight bowl eligible teams to fill the slots. We believe there will only be six bowl eligible teams, so there will be room for two at-large invitations courtesy of the Big 12.

1. Cotton Bowl: T C U (8-1/11-1)
2. Fiesta Bowl: Baylor (8-1/11-1)
3. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma (6-3/9-3)
4. Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia (7-2/9-3)
5. Liberty Bowl: Kansas State (6-3/8-4)
6. Cactus Bowl: Oklahoma State (4-5/6-6)

Pac-12 Conference
Oregon controls its own destiny in our opinion. If the Ducks win out, at 12-1, they have about a 97% chance of finishing in the top four.

Arizona State needs help to move into the top four even if they win out by defeating Notre Dame, Oregon State, Arizona, and Oregon. Coach Todd Graham may be the best coach under the radar, as he has built winners at Rice, Tulsa, and Pittsburgh prior to coming to Tempe. Arizona State is the largest undergraduate university in FBS football, and the means are there for Graham to make this one of the top programs in the nation.

The Pac-12 has only seven guaranteed bowl bids, because a proposed bowl at the Los Angeles Coliseum around Christmas never materialized. This conference will be the top banana in the at-large priority mix. We believe there will be room for one Pac-12 to accept an at-large bowl bid.

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

Southeastern Conference
The “Good Ole Boys” down South would argue that the top four teams in the SEC should be the four playoff teams, and with Alabama, Mississippi State, and Auburn this season, they might be 75% correct.

However, we see no possibility where three SEC teams will make the playoffs in year one. If it were to happen, there would be hell to pay by the other leagues.

In all honesty, the playoffs should be eight deep, and we believe this will happen in the next five or six years, thus allowing for automatic bids for all the Power 5 conference champions.

When Alabama has something to play for in November, you never bet against the Crimson Tide. They may be out of favor following their loss to Ole Miss and narrow win over Arkansas, but they are still Alabama, just like Kentucky in basketball.

Auburn is probably a little better in 2014 than they were last year when they advanced to the National Championship Game, but the Tigers still must face the Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Mississippi State is only the top-rated team in the land, but the Bulldogs have a November 15 date in Tuscaloosa and figure to end their reign at the top that day. Even a dejected Ole Miss squad could spoil the Maroons playoff chances at the Egg Bowl.

LSU’s season is on the line this Saturday night, and you know the Tigers have that magic at Tiger Stadium when the moon is out.

The East is a mess now with Florida knocking Georgia out of the playoff picture. If Georgia loses to Auburn, which is now a good bet, and Missouri falls at Texas A&M or Tennessee, which is also a high probability, and Florida beats South Carolina and Vanderbilt, which is highly probable, then there will be a three-way tie for first in the division. Let’s look at the tiebreaker system to see which team would be fodder for the West Division champion.

1. Head-to-Head: all three teams will be 1-1 against each other.
2. East Division Records: Georgia would be 4-2; Florida would be 5-1; and Missouri would be either 5-1 or 4-2 depending on whether they lost to A&M or UT. If Missouri lost to the Aggies and beat the Vols, then they would lose in the SEC Championship Game. If the Tigers lost to the Vols instead, then Florida would lose in the SEC Championship Game. For now, we believe the Gators will be that unfortunate team, and it will be hard to can Will Muschamp if he take UF to Atlanta on December 6.

With three teams playing in Big Six bowls, the league will not meet its bowl obligations, probably falling short by two, because we believe Kentucky will lose out to finish 5-7, and South Carolina will come up one game short as well.

1. PLAYOFFS—Sugar Bowl: Alabama (7-1/12-1)
2. PLAYOFFS—Rose Bowl: Mississippi State (7-1/11-1)
3. Cotton Bowl: Auburn (6-2/10-2)
4. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Missouri (5-3/9-3)
5. Outback Bowl: L S U (5-3/9-3)
6. Gator Bowl: Ole Miss (5-3/9-3)
7. Music City Bowl: Tennessee (4-4/7-5)
8. Liberty Bowl: Georgia (5-3/9-3)
9. Belk Bowl: Florida (5-3/7-5)

See more at http://www.piratings.webs.com

August 16, 2013

2013 Conference USA Preview

 

Conference USA takes a major hit across its bough with the defections of four schools, three of which have been to multiple bowls in recent seasons.  In their place, three teams from the Sunbelt and one team from the football defunct WAC take their place.

 

In past seasons, this league has been in contention for a BCS at-large bowl bid, as well as a major challenge to the Mountain West for top non-automatic qualifying conference.  In the new alignment, CUSA falls to just above the Sunbelt.

 

New Teams: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio

Departed Teams: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, S M U

 

2014 Additions: Western Kentucky arrives from the Sunbelt Conference and Old Dominion moves from FCS.  Charlotte will become a member in 2015.

 

2014 Departures: The league loses much of its prestige with Tulsa and East Carolina as well as Tulane to the AAC.

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

Conference USA

East Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

East Carolina

0-0

0-0

98.6

101.7

100.1

Marshall

0-0

0-0

92.8

99.8

94.3

U A B

0-0

0-0

87.6

94.4

87.9

Middle Tennessee

0-0

0-0

86.4

88.1

86.0

Southern Miss.

0-0

0-0

83.0

90.4

83.6

Florida Atlantic

0-0

0-0

82.0

81.6

80.8

Florida Int’l

0-0

0-0

74.7

79.4

74.5

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Tulsa

0-0

0-0

98.1

100.8

99.4

Rice

0-0

0-0

97.0

101.6

98.5

North Texas

0-0

0-0

90.8

89.5

90.6

Louisiana Tech

0-0

0-0

87.0

90.1

86.9

U T S A

0-0

0-0

86.4

86.1

85.1

U T E P

0-0

0-0

85.1

92.1

85.6

Tulane

0-0

0-0

84.2

93.8

84.0

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

88.1

92.1

88.4

 

 

Official Pre-season Media Poll

       

East Division

Pos.

Team

Pts

1st Place

1

East Carolina

95

11

2

Marshall

82

2

3

Middle Tennessee

70

1

4

U A B

54

0

5

Southern Miss

40

0

6

Florida Atlantic

28

0

7

Florida Int’l

23

0

       

West Division

Pos.

Team

Pts

1st Place

1

Tulsa

98

14

2

Rice

76

0

3

Louisiana Tech

72

0

4

U T E P

46

0

5

North Texas

39

0

6

Tulane

31

0

7

Texas-San Antonio

30

0

 

 

Official Pre-season All-CUSA Team

 

OFFENSE

QB     Rakeem Cato, Jr., Marshall

RB     Vintavious Cooper, Sr., East Carolina

RB     Darrin Reaves, Jr., UAB

OL     Jake Alexander, Jr., Tulsa

OL     Stetson Burnett, Sr., Tulsa

OL     Scott Inskeep, Jr., UTSA

OL     Nate Richards, Sr., Rice

OL     Matt Shepperd, Jr., Louisiana Tech

OL     Will Simmons, Sr., East Carolina

WR    Justin Hardy, Jr., East Carolina

WR    Ryan Grant, Sr., Tulane

WR    Tommy Shuler, Jr., Marshall

TE      Gator Hoskins, Sr., Marshall

 

DEFENSE

DL     Christian Covington, So., Rice

DL     Justin Ellis, Sr., Louisiana Tech

DL     Greg Hickman, Sr., FIU

DL     Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DL, Southern Miss

LB      Shawn Jackson, Sr., Tulsa

LB      Derrell Johnson, Sr., East Carolina

LB      Andre Kirk, Jr., Florida Atlantic

DB     Kevin Byard, So., Middle Tennessee

DB     Lorenzo Doss, So., Tulane

DB     Phillip Gaines, Sr., Rice

DB     Marco Nelson, Sr., Tulsa

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

K       Cairo Santos, Sr., Tulane

P       Tyler Williams, So., Marshall

KR     Reggie Whatley, Jr., Middle Tennessee

PR     Trey Watts, Sr., Tulsa

 

 

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100         A+

86-92           A

79-85           A-

72-78           B+

65-71           B

58-64           B-

51-57           C+

44-50           C

37-43           C-

30-36           D

0-29             F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

EAST DIVISION

 

Team

East Carolina Pirates

               
Head Coach

Ruffin McNeill

               
Colors

Purple and Gold

               
City

Greenville, NC

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

52

Pass Offense

81

Run Defense

69

Pass Defense

51

               
Ratings              
PiRate

98.6

Mean

101.7

Bias

100.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

64

Mean

52

Bias

56

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

8-4

 

 

Team

Marshall Thundering Herd

               
Head Coach

Doc Holliday

               
Colors

Kelly Green and White

               
City

Huntington, WV

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

63

Pass Offense

73

Run Defense

48

Pass Defense

46

               
Ratings              
PiRate

92.8

Mean

99.8

Bias

94.3

               
Rankings              
PiRate

86

Mean

62

Bias

80

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-4 (lose CUSA title game)

 

 

Team

U A B Blazers

               
Head Coach

Garrick McGee

               
Colors

Forest Green and Old Gold

               
City

Birmingham, AL

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

57

Pass Offense

69

Run Defense

39

Pass Defense

43

               
Ratings              
PiRate

87.6

Mean

94.4

Bias

87.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

99

Mean

85

Bias

97

               
Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

               
Head Coach

Rick Stockstill

               
Colors

Blue and White

               
City

Murfreesboro, TN

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-2 (Sunbelt Conf.)

Overall

8-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

62

Pass Offense

59

Run Defense

47

Pass Defense

39

               
Ratings              
PiRate

86.4

Mean

88.1

Bias

86.0

               
Rankings              
PiRate

101

Mean

105

Bias

104

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

               
Head Coach

Todd Monken

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Hattiesburg, MS

               
2012 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

0-12

               
Grades              
Run Offense

42

Pass Offense

51

Run Defense

42

Pass Defense

54

               
Ratings              
PiRate

83.0

Mean

90.4

Bias

83.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

112

Mean

100

Bias

111

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

 

 

Team

Florida Atlantic Owls

               
Head Coach

Carl Pelini

               
Colors

Blue, Red, and Silver

               
City

Boca Raton, FL

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6 (Sunbelt Conf.)

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

38

Pass Offense

60

Run Defense

40

Pass Defense

46

               
Ratings              
PiRate

82.0

Mean

81.6

Bias

80.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

113

Mean

121

Bias

115

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

 

Team

Florida Int’l Golden Panthers

               
Head Coach

Ron Turner

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Miami

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6 (Sunbelt Conf.)

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

41

Pass Offense

55

Run Defense

31

Pass Defense

30

               
Ratings              
PiRate

74.7

Mean

79.4

Bias

74.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

122

Mean

124

Bias

122

               
Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

1-11

 

 

WEST DIVISION

 

Team

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

               
Head Coach

Bill Blankenship

               
Colors

Royal Blue and Old Gold

               
City

Tulsa, OK

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

68

Pass Offense

63

Run Defense

65

Pass Defense

58

               
Ratings              
PiRate

98.1

Mean

100.8

Bias

99.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

69

Mean

60

Bias

62

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-3 (win CUSA title game)

 

 

Team

Rice Owls

               
Head Coach

David Bailiff

               
Colors

Blue and Gray

               
City

Houston

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

57

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

63

Pass Defense

60

               
Ratings              
PiRate

97.0

Mean

101.6

Bias

98.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

74

Mean

54

Bias

67

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-2

 

 

Team

North Texas Mean Green

               
Head Coach

Dan McCarney

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

Denton, TX

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

47

Pass Offense

66

Run Defense

52

Pass Defense

55

               
Ratings              
PiRate

90.8

Mean

89.5

Bias

90.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

90

Mean

103

Bias

92

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Skip Holtz

               
Colors

Reflex Blue and Red

               
City

Ruston, LA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-2 (WAC)

Overall

9-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

43

Pass Offense

78

Run Defense

45

Pass Defense

38

               
Ratings              
PiRate

87.0

Mean

90.1

Bias

86.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

100

Mean

101

Bias

100

               
Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners

               
Head Coach

Larry Coker

               
Colors

Navy Blue and Orange

               
City

San Antonio

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-3 (WAC)

Overall

8-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

42

Pass Offense

64

Run Defense

55

Pass Defense

43

               
Ratings              
PiRate

86.4

Mean

86.1

Bias

85.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

102

Mean

112

Bias

108

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

 

 

Team

U T E P Miners

               
Head Coach

Sean Kugler

               
Colors

Dark Navy and Orange

               
City

El Paso, TX

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
Grades              
Run Offense

51

Pass Offense

71

Run Defense

39

Pass Defense

37

               
Ratings              
PiRate

85.1

Mean

92.1

Bias

85.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

108

Mean

94

Bias

107

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Tulane Green Wavy

               
Head Coach

Curtis Johnson

               
Colors

Olive Green and Sky Blue

               
City

New Orleans

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

2-10

               
Grades              
Run Offense

44

Pass Offense

71

Run Defense

39

Pass Defense

39

               
Ratings              
PiRate

84.2

Mean

93.8

Bias

84.0

               
Rankings              
PiRate

110

Mean

87

Bias

110

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

3-9

 

August 13, 2010

2010 Conference USA Preview

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

 

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

 

2010 Conference USA Preview

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

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

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

 

CUSA Championship Game: Houston over Southern Mississippi

 

Liberty Bowl—Houston

Hawaii Bowl—Southern Mississippi

Armed Forces Bowl—S M U

St. Petersburg Bowl—Central Florida

New Orleans Bowl—U T E P

Eagle Bank Bowl–Tulsa

 

Team By Team Breakdown

CUSA East

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

CUSA West

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

December 7, 2009

PiRate Ratings and Spreads For College Football–Regular Season Final

NCAA 2009 College Football Playoff Simulation

The Playoffs You Wished For 

Welcome to season number three of the NCAA College Football Playoff Simulation.  For those reading this blog for the first time, the PiRate College Football Playoffs take the champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC as automatic qualifiers.  Any of the remaining conference champions (including the top independent) that finish in the top 16 in the final regular season BCS Standings also qualify automatically.  At-large teams are then selected in the order of BCS finish until 12 total teams have been selected.  The 12 teams are then seeded by BCS ranking with no maximum number of teams per conference.

 

Here is how the 12 teams were selected for the 2009 playoffs.

 

Top Six Conference Champions

ACC–Georgia Tech 11-2           #9 Seed

Big East–Cincinnati 12-0                   #3 Seed

Big Ten–Ohio State 10-2         #8 Seed

Big 12—Texas 13-0                    #2 Seed

Pac-10—Oregon 10-2                #7 Seed

SEC—Alabama 13-0                             #1 Seed

 

Automatic Qualifiers By Virtue Of Top 16 In BCS

MWC—T C U 12-0                       #4 Seed

WAC—Boise State 13-0             #6 Seed

 

Top Four At-Large To Fill Out 12-Team Field

Florida 12-1                                 #5 Seed

Iowa 10-2                                    #10 Seed

Virginia Tech 10-2                     #11 Seed

L S U 9-3                                      #12 Seed

 

The PiRate Playoff System uses the top 11 bowl games to play the four rounds.  The 5th through 12th seeds must play in the first round, while the top four seeds receive byes to the quarterfinals.

Opening Round

 

Outback Bowl    #5 Florida vs. #12 L S U  Dec 17

Alamo Bowl       #6 Boise State vs. #11 Virginia Tech  Dec 18

Holiday Bowl     #7 Oregon vs. #10 Iowa  Dec 19

Gator Bowl         #8 Ohio State vs. #9 Georgia Tech  Dec 19

 

Quarterfinal Round

 

Cotton Bowl                #4 T C U vs. Outback Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Capital One Bowl       #3 Cincinnati vs. Alamo Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Rose Bowl                             #2 Texas vs. Holiday Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Sugar Bowl                  #1 Alabama vs. Gator Bowl Winner  Jan 1

 

Semifinal Round

 

Fiesta Bowl        Sugar Bowl Winner vs. Fiesta Bowl Winner Jan 9

Orange Bowl     Rose Bowl Winner vs. Capital One Bowl Winner Jan 9

 

National Championship Game

 

Fiesta Bowl Winner vs. Orange Bowl Winner  Jan 23

 

1. This system awards the four best teams with byes.

2. This system not only keeps the bowls alive, but it gives them more importance and prestige, as 11 bowls decide the title.

3. Instead of undefeated Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise State getting left out of the national championship picture, number 13 Penn State is the first team left out.  This is much more fair, as this system will always allow a 12-0 team to have a chance regardless of whether it is Alabama or Boise State.

4. The remaining bowls would not have to settle for 6-6 teams.  The rules could demand at least 7 wins as a minimum.

5. Three of the four rounds would occur during winter break for the schools, thus quashing the myth that players would miss too much time.

 

Check back on December 20 for simulated results of the first round games.

 

Final Regular Season PiRate Ratings

 

The Army-Navy game must still be played, but that game doesn’t warrant an extra week’s worth of ratings.  Neither team can break the top 25 even if they win 222-0.  The game still has bowl implications.  If Army wins, the Cadets will advance to the Eagle Bank Bowl to face Temple.  If Navy wins, then UCLA takes Army’s place in Washington, DC.

NCAA Top 25 For December 7, 2009
Rank Team PiRate Won Lost
1 Alabama 133.0 13 0
2 Texas 131.4 12 0
3 Florida 128.2 12 1
4 T C U 125.4 12 0
5 Oklahoma 124.0 7 5
6 Boise State 120.9 12 0
7 Virginia Tech 120.5 9 3
8 Oregon 119.8 10 2
9 Georgia Tech 119.4 11 2
10 Nebraska 118.8 9 4
11 Texas Tech 117.9 8 4
12 Penn State 117.7 10 2
13 Ohio State 117.6 10 2
14 Miami (Fla) 117.4 9 3
15 Stanford 116.9 8 4
16 Arkansas 115.5 7 5
17 Southern Cal 115.1 8 4
18 Cincinnati 114.9 12 0
19 Iowa 114.8 10 2
20 Arizona 114.0 8 4
21 Oklahoma State 113.9 9 3
22 Pittsburgh 113.7 9 3
23 Ole Miss 113.2 8 4
24 L  S  U 112.5 9 3
25 Oregon State 112.0 8 4
         
Note: Ratings rounded to one decimal point
even though I rank them to two decimal points

 

Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Clemson 6-2 8-5 111.7
Florida State 4-4 6-6 107.6
Boston College 5-3 8-4 107.1
Wake Forest 3-5 5-7 104.8
North Carolina State 2-6 5-7 102.7
Maryland 1-7 2-10 93.0
       
Coastal Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Virginia Tech 6-2 9-3 120.5
Georgia Tech 7-1 11-2 119.4
Miami-FL 5-3 9-3 117.4
North Carolina 4-4 8-4 110.9
Duke 3-5 5-7 98.4
Virginia 2-6 3-9 94.8

 

Big East Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Cincinnati 8-0 12-0 114.9
Pittsburgh 5-2 9-3 113.7
West Virginia 5-2 9-3 106.0
Connecticut 3-4 7-5 105.8
Rutgers 3-4 8-4 102.1
South Florida 3-4 7-5 101.8
Syracuse 1-6 4-8 93.9
Louisville 1-6 4-8 90.5

 

Big Ten
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Penn State 6-2 10-2 117.7
Ohio State 7-1 10-2 117.6
Iowa 6-2 10-2 114.8
Wisconsin 5-3 9-3 108.5
Michigan State 4-4 6-6 101.5
Northwestern 5-3 8-4 99.3
Purdue 4-4 5-7 99.0
Minnesota 3-5 6-6 97.9
Michigan 1-7 5-7 96.6
Illinois 2-6 3-9 96.0
Indiana 1-7 4-8 90.9

 

Big 12
North Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Nebraska 6-2 9-4 118.9
Missouri 4-4 8-4 104.8
Kansas 1-7 5-7 103.9
Kansas State 4-4 6-6 99.4
Colorado 2-6 3-9 97.4
Iowa State 3-5 6-6 94.9
       
South Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Texas 8-0 13-0 131.4
Oklahoma 5-3 7-5 124.0
Texas Tech 5-3 8-4 117.9
Oklahoma State 6-2 9-3 113.9
Texas A&M 3-5 6-6 103.4
Baylor 1-7 4-8 96.6

 

Conference USA
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
East Carolina 7-1 9-4 105.2
Central Florida 6-2 8-4 104.1
Southern Mississippi 5-3 7-5 100.9
Marshall 4-4 6-6 92.4
U A B 4-4 5-7 91.0
Memphis 1-7 2-10 83.4
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Houston 6-2 10-3 107.4
Tulsa 3-5 5-7 91.6
U T E P 3-5 4-8 90.8
S M U 6-2 7-5 88.4
Rice 2-6 2-10 76.4
Tulane 1-7 3-9 71.1

 

Independents
       
Team   Overall Rating
Notre Dame   6-6 105.9
Navy   8-4 100.6
Army   5-6 82.0

 

Mid American Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Temple 7-1 9-3 100.7
Ohio U 7-1 9-4 94.9
Buffalo 3-5 5-7 92.4
Bowling Green 6-2 7-5 91.4
Kent St. 4-4 6-6 84.7
Akron 2-6 3-9 81.5
Miami (O) 1-7 1-11 76.3
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Central Michigan 8-0 11-2 109.0
Northern Illinois 5-3 7-5 95.1
Toledo 3-5 5-7 87.1
Western Michigan 4-4 5-7 86.2
Ball State 2-6 2-10 83.0
Eastern Michigan 0-8 0-12 74.2

 

Mountain West Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
T C U 8-0 12-0 125.4
B Y U 7-1 10-2 111.1
Utah 6-2 9-3 107.7
Air Force 5-3 7-5 100.7
Wyoming 4-4 6-6 87.9
UNLV 3-5 5-7 86.8
Colo. State 0-8 3-9 86.1
S. D. State 3-5 5-7 85.2
New Mexico 1-7 1-11 77.8

 

Pac-10 Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Oregon 8-1 10-2 119.8
Stanford 6-3 8-4 116.9
Southern Cal 5-4 8-4 115.1
Arizona 6-3 8-4 114.0
Oregon St. 6-3 8-4 112.0
California 5-4 8-4 108.6
U C L A 3-6 6-6 105.3
Arizona St. 2-7 4-8 102.1
Washington 4-5 5-7 103.6
Wash. St. 0-9 1-11 70.8

 

Southeastern Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Florida 8-0 12-1 128.2
Tennessee 4-4 7-5 110.9
South Carolina 3-5 7-5 110.9
Georgia 4-4 7-5 110.4
Kentucky 3-5 7-5 104.4
Vanderbilt 0-8 2-10 93.1
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Alabama 8-0 13-0 133.0
Arkansas 3-5 7-5 115.5
Ole Miss 4-4 8-4 113.2
L S U 5-3 9-3 112.5
Auburn 3-5 7-5 107.7
Mississippi State 3-5 5-7 104.2

 

Sunbelt Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Troy 8-0 9-3 99.0
Middle Tennessee 7-1 9-3 96.2
Louisiana-Monroe 5-3 6-6 86.8
Arkansas State 3-5 4-8 85.8
Florida Atlantic 5-3 5-7 84.6
U. of Louisiana 4-4 6-6 83.7
Florida International 3-5 3-9 80.3
North Texas 1-7 2-10 76.4
Western Kentucky 0-8 0-12 73.7

 

Western Athletic Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Boise State 8-0 13-0 120.9
Nevada 7-1 8-4 108.6
Louisiana Tech 3-5 4-8 99.8
Fresno State 6-2 7-4 99.0
Utah State 3-5 4-8 91.9
Idaho 4-4 7-5 89.6
Hawaii 3-5 6-6 87.7
San Jose State 1-7 2-10 78.5
New Mexico State 1-7 3-10 71.0

 

Bowl Lineups

Day Date Time EST Bowl Team   Team
Sat 19-Dec 4:30 PM New Mexico Wyoming vs. Fresno State
Sat 19-Dec 8:00 PM St. Petersburg Rutgers vs. Central Florida
Sun 20-Dec 8:15 PM New Orleans Middle Tenn vs. Southern Miss
Tue 22-Dec 8:00 PM Las Vegas B  Y  U vs. Oregon State
Wed 23-Dec 8:00 PM Poinsettia Utah vs. California
Thu 24-Dec 8:00 PM Hawaii Nevada vs. S  M  U
Sat 26-Dec 1:00 PM Little Caesar’s Pizza Marshall vs. Ohio U
Sat 26-Dec 4:30 PM Meineke Car Care North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh
Sat 26-Dec 8:00 PM Emerald Southern Cal vs. Boston College
Sun 27-Dec 8:15 PM Music City Kentucky vs. Clemson
Mon 28-Dec 5:00 PM Independence Georgia vs. Texas A&M
Tue 29-Dec 4:30 PM Eagle Bank Temple vs. Army/UCLA
Tue 29-Dec 8:00 PM Champs Sports Miami-Fl vs. Wisconsin
Wed 30-Dec 4:30 PM Humanitarian Idaho vs. Bowling Green
Wed 30-Dec 8:00 PM Holiday Nebraska vs. Arizona
Thu 31-Dec 11:00 AM Armed Forces Houston vs. Air Force
Thu 31-Dec 2:00 PM Sun Stanford vs. Oklahoma
Thu 31-Dec 3:30 PM Texas Missouri vs. Navy
Thu 31-Dec 6:00 PM Insight.com Iowa State vs. Minnesota
Thu 31-Dec 7:30 PM Chick-fil-A Tennessee vs. Va. Tech
Fri 1-Jan 11:00 AM Outback Auburn vs. Northwestern
Fri 1-Jan 1:00 PM Capital One Penn State vs. L  S  U
Fri 1-Jan 1:00 PM Gator West Va. vs. Florida State
Fri 1-Jan 5:10 PM Rose Oregon vs. Ohio State
Fri 1-Jan 8:00 PM Sugar Florida vs. Cincinnati
Sat 2-Jan 12:00 PM International South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Sat 2-Jan 2:00 PM Cotton Oklahoma St. vs. Ole Miss
Sat 2-Jan 2:00 PM Papajohns.com Connecticut vs. South Carolina
Sat 2-Jan 5:30 PM Liberty Arkansas vs. East Carolina
Sat 2-Jan 9:00 PM Alamo Texas Tech vs. Michigan St.
Mon 4-Jan 8:00 PM Fiesta Boise State vs. T C U
Tue 5-Jan 8:00 PM Orange Georgia Tech vs. Iowa
Wed 6-Jan 8:00 PM G M A C Troy vs. Central Mich.
Thu 7-Jan 8:00 PM Nat’l Championship Alabama vs. Texas

Coming This Week–What you can do to help bring about a college football playoff

September 22, 2009

The Best Week Of The Season For College Football

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

 

Thursday Night

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

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

 

Saturday Games (all times EDT)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

August 29, 2009

2009 Conference USA Preview

2009 Conference USA Preview

A PiRate Look

In the fifth in our series of conference previews, we take a look at Conference USA, where defense is just a suggestion and offense rules.  The 12 member institutions collectively surrendered 30 points per game last year.

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 Central Florida was to get really lucky and host the mighty King Tebow, it would be expected that the Gator fans would find a way to get to Orlando and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same UCF team hosted Hawaii a week after the Warriors played at Boston College, then the Knights could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  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.

   

Conference USA Preseason PiRate Ratings

     

 

Prediction *

 

 
    Team

PiRate

CUSA

Overall

 
    CUSA East

 

 

 

 
    East Carolina

102

6-2

7-6

#
    Southern Mississippi

101

6-2

8-4

 
    Marshall

96

4-4

6-6

 
    Memphis

90

2-6

3-9

 
    Central Florida

89

3-5

5-7

 
    U A B

88

2-6

3-9

 
     

 

 

 

 
    CUSA West

 

 

 

 
    Houston

101

6-2

8-4

 
    Tulsa

97

7-1

11-2

#
    U T E P

94

6-2

8-4

 
    Rice

92

2-6

3-9

 
    S M U

86

3-5

5-7

 
    Tulane

80

1-7

2-10

 
     

 

 

 

 
   

# Tulsa over ECU in CUSA Championship Game

   

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

   

on expected changes to rating during the year

 

CUSA East

East Carolina: The Pirates return 16 starters from a year ago, including nine on the offensive side.  We give them the edge over Southern Miss solely on the basis of their game with the Eagles being at home to close out the year.  For full disclosure, our founder steadfastly believes USM will win this division.

Quarterback Patrick Pinkney is back for his senior season after completing better than 61% of his passes for 2,675 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 13/7.  We believe he will approach 3,000 yards this year with more touchdown passes and the same or even fewer interceptions.  On the other end of those passes will be a talented group of receivers, including Dwayne Harris (58-654) and the speedy Darryl Feeney (16 yards per reception).

The backfield is a weak spot, as nobody on the roster is capable of striking fear into opponents.  As long as they can pick up five to seven yards on a 2nd & long draw play and convert first downs on 3rd & 1 or 2, they will suffice.

The offensive line returns almost intact, as every starter has experience starting in the past.  Look for ECU to increase their offensive numbers to 28 points and 380 yards per game this season.

ECU’s defense was the only one in the league that was somewhat reliable last year.  Seven starters and 13 of the top 17 tacklers return, so the stop troops should be good again this year. 

Nick Johnson anchors this side of the ball from his middle linebacker spot.  He’s coming off a season where he registered 102 tackles including 10 behind the line.

Up front, C.J. Wilson is a monster at end.  A year ago, he recorded 10 ½ sacks and eight other tackles for loss.  He’ll compete for CUSA Player of the Year.

Two defensive backs should contend for league honors this year.  Cornerbacks Dekota Marshall and Emanuel Davis combined five interceptions and 14 passes broken up.  Behind those two, safety Van Eskridge stops receivers for little or no gain after the catch.

The schedule is favorable within the conference, but a killer outside league play.  Expect Virginia Tech and West Virginia to exact revenge this year, while ECU will probably taste defeat at North Carolina.  The other game is a season opener with Appalachian State, the preseason number one team in the FCS.  Appy State won at Michigan two years ago.  The road game with Tulsa comes immediately after the Thursday night tilt with Virginia Tech, and we expect ECU to suffer in that one.  We also think they will have a chance at revenge in December.

Southern Mississippi: East Carolina won’t have an easy road to a repeat division title this year, because the Eagles are loaded on both sides of the ball with nine starters back on both units.  If Southern Miss can pull off an upset over Kansas in Lawrence on September 26, it isn’t totally out of the realm that they could get on a roll and run the table.  No CUSA team has made it to a BCS bowl yet, so it’s something to think about.

Quarterback Austin Davis performed admirably as a freshman last year.  He passed for 3,128 yards and 23 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.  Defenses will not be able to key on him because back Damion Fletcher rushed for 1,313 yards and 10 scores at a six yard per carry clip.  He’s on the NFL scout’s radar. 

All three starting wide receivers from last year return, and they are an excellent trio of pass catchers.  DeAndre Brown nabbed 67 balls for 1,117 yards and 12 scores.  Gerald Baptiste hauled in 35 balls for 480 yards, and Freddie Parham caught 19 balls but only started six times.  All told, this unit is the equal of Houston’s and superior to the other 10 league members’ receiving units.

Four starters return to the offensive line, but overall this group is not as strong as some others in the league.

Defensively, Southern Miss will be strong in the trenches and in the secondary, but there is a question mark with the linebackers, where the top two tacklers from last year are gone.  In the secondary, cornerback C. J. Bailey and safety Chico Hunter will challenge for all-conference honors.  The secondary surrendered 226 yards per game, and that number should remain about the same this year.  However, it may occur due to more opponent passes.

The defense against the run will be improved after giving up 140 yards per game last year.  No, the increase won’t be large, but we predict an improvement to about 120 yards per game.  There will be some vulnerability due to inexperienced linebackers.

The schedule is set up so that if the Eagles upset Kansas and then knock off Louisville on the road, they could quickly move into the top 15 and venture to Greenville to face ECU with either an 11-0 or 10-1 record.  We think it won’t happen, but Southern Miss will challenge for the East title and definitely improve upon their seven-win season of last year.

Marshall: Coach Mark Snyder starts his fifth season in Huntington, and it will be his last one if the Thundering Herd fails to gain bowl eligibility.  The former Ohio State defensive coordinator has a dark horse contender for the division title this year, so a record of at least 6-6 should be a reality.

The roster took a big hit this summer when former CUSA all-freshman guard Josh Evans transferred.  We think Snyder has molded an adequate albeit piecemeal offensive line with Brandon Campbell moving in at left tackle and Ryan Tillman moving down to left guard.

At quarterback, former starter Mark Cann has fallen all the way to third team, and Brian Anderson will begin the season as the starter.  Cann threw too many interceptions, and Anderson has a more accurate arm.  Anderson’s receiving crew isn’t quite as experienced or talented as the teams Marshall will try to surpass in their division, so back Darius Marshall will be called on to move to the next level after rushing for 1,095 yards last season.  He needs to top 1,300 yards this year for the Herd to compete for the division title.

The Defense is going to be better, but it has a long way to go to gain respect after surrendering 28 points and 418 total yards per game in 2008.  The front four can match up with any CUSA rival.  End Albert McClellan has all the tools and will have a monster year if he can remain healthy.  Cornerback DeQuan Bembry is a ball-hawking pass defender who broke up 11 passes in addition to recording 7 ½ tackles behind the line.

Marshall hosts Southern Illinois to start the season, and it won’t be a sure win.  The Salukis are ranked #7 in the FCS preseason poll.  Games at Virginia Tech and West Virginia are sure losses, while a home tilt with Bowling Green must be a win.  Can Marshall break even in conference play?  Definitely, yes, but it may be hard to get that fifth league victory to cinch a bowl bid.  East Carolina and Southern Miss must come to Huntington, and Marshall has the horses to upset them both.  Road games with Memphis, UTEP, and Central Florida need to produce at least two wins for the Herd to go bowling.  It will be close.  Five wins ends Snyder’s reign.

Memphis: The Tigers somehow stay under the radar for most of the year and emerge at the end as a bowl team.  They have been to bowls five of the last six seasons, even though on paper they don’t appear to have the talent to do so.  This year is no different.  The PiRate stats say they have no chance of breaking even and could win just three games, but common sense says they will beat three teams as underdogs and earn a New Orleans Bowl bid or equivalent.

Coach Tommy West has consistently put out balanced offenses, averaging 407 yards per game over the last six seasons.  This year, we expect those numbers to drop by up to 50 yards per game (417 in ’08).  The Tigers lost too much talent and will rebuild on the attack side.  The major problem is the offensive line, where only one starter returns.  Memphis has done well with experienced lines and quality backs.

The Tigers do have a quality back in Curtis Steele, who rushed for 1,223 yards and a 5.6 average.  His numbers could suffer some because there will be times where he is met in the backfield by multiple defenders.

Quarterback Arkelon Hall is average for this league, and with less time to throw, we expect his interceptions to go up and percentage to drop.

Seven starters return on defense.  Last year, UM gave up just 354 total yards per game, but they gave up 27.2 points per game.  Those 354 yards came on just 60 total plays.  Memphis won’t hold onto the ball for 76 plays per game like last year, so we believe that even though the defense could be more talented, it will be on the field for 100 more plays this year; that could mean 500-600 more total yards.  That’s why we believe Memphis will fail to gain bowl eligibility. 

The schedule is on the rough side.  Memphis opens at home with Ole Miss on Sunday, September 6.  Then, they bus to Murfreesboro to play at Middle Tennessee six days later.  We see the Tigers starting 0-2 before getting a breather with Tennessee-Martin.  A game at Tennessee should make their non-conference record 1-3.  In CUSA play, UM gets Marshall, UTEP, East Carolina, and UAB at the Liberty Bowl and plays at Central Florida, Southern Miss, Houston, and Tulsa.  We just cannot see five winnable conference games.

Central Florida: The Knights were the one CUSA team that didn’t have an explosive offense last year.  To be blunt, UCF stunk last year, gaining just 230 total yards per game.  They couldn’t run the ball, and they threw 176 incomplete passes versus just 132 completions.  A mediocre defense meant UCF had one of the better stop troops in the league, but it wasn’t enough to have a winning season.  This year, the offense can only be better, but the defense will be weaker.

Quarterback Rob Calabrese completed less than 40% of his passes, which would have been bad 50 years ago.  It’s not like he can run the ball like Colin Kaepernick.  If Calabrese doesn’t improve immediately this season, look for former Wake Forest QB Brett Hodges to take over. 

The receivers will make whoever throws the ball a better passer this season, as everybody who caught a pass last year returns.  There’s just as much experience returning at running back, and the offensive line should be about as mediocre as last year.  Look for UCF to gain about 275 total yards per game this year and increase their point production from 16.6 to around 21.  Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to win six games.

The defense has a major Achilles Heel.  The secondary lost all four starters, and the new starters will get burned often by Pinckney, Davis, Anderson, Joe Webb, and especially Case Keenum.

The front seven will be considerably stronger this year with linebacker Lawrence Young leading the way.  Young is equally proficient against the run and the pass.

Perhaps the biggest offensive weapon this year could be late signee Jamie Boyle, a kicker/punter with a cannon for a leg.  Boyle is capable of connecting on a 60-yard field goal.

The schedule gives UCF a remote chance of posting six or seven wins.  Home games with Samford, Buffalo, Memphis, Marshall, and Tulane and road games with UAB and Rice are the winnable contests.  Miami and Texas will both destroy the Knights; road games against Southern Miss, East Carolina and a home game with Houston appear to be out of reach.

U A B: The Blazers have fallen on hard times as of late, winning just nine of 36 games the last three years.  UAB will be stronger on both sides of the ball, but a difficult schedule should keep them at the bottom of the standings.

10 Starters return on offense, including quarterback Joe Webb.  Webb completed 59% of his tosses for 2,367 yards last year, but he threw 16 interceptions.  Webb also can run the ball and led UAB with 1,021 yards on the ground.  Should he go down with an injury, it will be big trouble in Birmingham. 

All the key receivers from last year return and running back Rashaud Slaughter has a great pair of hands to catch balls out of the backfield, many of which are nothing more than forward lateral sweep plays.

The offensive line would have had all five starters returning, but tackle Terence Edge will miss the season.  Still, they should open more holes this year and protect the quarterback for a fraction of a second longer.

The defense gave up 31.3 points and 430 yards per game last year.  Unfortunately, the top two tacklers plus another who tied for third have run out of eligibility.  Additionally, the top pass defender has picked up his sheepskin.  A weak pass rush will expose a weak secondary, and the three linebackers are below average talents.  It looks like another long season at Legion Field.  Speaking of the home stadium, Legion Field’s upper deck has been closed to spectators.  That’s a perfect microcosm for this program. 

CUSA West

Houston: The Cougars set the college football world on fire in 1968, when the Houston Veer offense of then coach Bill Yeoman averaged over 300 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.  They even scored 100 points against Tulsa.  In the late 1980’s, it was the run and shoot offense that passed for more than 400 yards per game.  Houston almost scored 100 points again, beating SMU 95-21 in 1989.  Now, the Cougars of Coach Kevin Sumlin are poised to run up some new gaudy offensive statistics and perhaps score 70 points in a game again this season (yep, they did that against Tulsa last year).

Quarterback Case Keenum won’t repeat the feat of Andre Ware and become the second UH QB to take home a Heisman Trophy, but the junior signal caller will top 5,000 passing yards once again.  He could approach 50 touchdown passes and post just 10 interceptions.  Keenum has a nice stable of receivers to play catch with, led by Tyron Carrier.  Carrier is coming off a season where he caught 80 passes for 1,026 yards.  Keep an eye on L. J. Castle, who can turn a five yard pass into a 70 yard touchdown.

It’s not all about passing at Houston.  Running back Bryce Beall ran for 1,247 yards last year with 13 touchdowns.  He is a danger to break free for long gains, and Keenum frequently passed to him coming out of the backfield.

The offensive line has three returning starters and should be about as good as last year.  JUCO transfer Roy Watts should start immediately at tackle and gives the Cougars the equivalent of a fourth starter.

The defense should be happy that they don’t have to face the Houston offense in a game, because UH couldn’t stop a feather last year.  They surrendered 31 points and 413 yards per game, and only four starters return from that team.  Worse, they lose Phillip Hunt and his 14 QB sacks.

Linebackers Marcus McGraw and C.J. Cavness will have to lead the defense this year.  The two combined for 180 tackles in 2008.  In the backfield, Brandon Brinkley will be assigned to the opponents’ top receiver.  Brinkley led the team with 15 passes broken up and tied for the lead with four interceptions.

An out-of-conference schedule that includes games against Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Texas Tech will prevent the Cougars from having a chance to sneak into the BCS bowl picture.  They also must face both Tulsa and UTEP on enemy turf, so we don’t believe Houston can win the division.

Tulsa:  Houston’s 563 total yards and 41 points per game was not the best in the nation last year; it wasn’t even the tops in the conference or even the West Division.  Tulsa averaged 47.2 points and 570 total yards per game.  While, the Golden Hurricane have just five starters back on offense and lost a quarterback who passed for more than 4,000 yards and 46 touchdowns, they could put up similar numbers this season.

Coach Todd Graham has three quarterbacks that could start for BCS conference teams.  As of this writing, it looks like Texas transfer G.J. Kinne may have a slight edge over JUCO standout Jacob Brewer and freshman Shavodrick Beaver, who spurned a scholarship offer from Michigan.  Then, there’s backup receiver A. J. Whitmore who will receive snaps out of the wildcat formation.  Graham has hinted that more than one of these talented players could be on the field at the same time, and even all four could be out there for a play.  Imagine trying to prepare for that scenario.

Whoever throws the ball, there will be three excellent receivers with breakaway speed on the other end of those tosses.  Damaris Johnson, Slick Shelley, and Trae Johnson combined for 1,845 yards on 112 catches (16.5 avg per catch) and 21 scores.

The running game will take a hit this year after the loss of Tarrion Adams and his 1,500+ rushing yards.  Jamad Williams and Charles Opeseyltan could share the majority of carries and approach 1,500 combined rushing yards.

The offensive line needs a little rebuilding, as three starters are gone.  If Tulsa fails to win the division, this will probably be the reason why.

On the stop side, the 3-3-5 defense returns four starters to the secondary, and the new starter at the bandit strong safety position (DeAundre Brown) started six games and basically gives them five returning starters.  This was TU’s major fault last year, but it should be a better unit this year.

The pass rush will be led by James Lockett from his blitzing spur safety alignment.  He comes off a year where he recorded 16 ½ tackles behind the line.

The schedule will not allow Tulsa to sneak into the BCS bowl picture.  A road game against in-state rival Oklahoma will put an end to those chances on September 19.  The Golden Hurricane could play spoiler when Boise State comes for a visit on October 14.  The key games in the division are against Houston and UTEP.  If they split those two, which we think they will, TU should go 7-1 in league play and repeat as West champions.

U T E P: On paper, this Miner team looks strong enough to win the league championship, but Mike Price’s teams have not played enough defense to win the West Division much less the conference championship.  We think UTEP will score almost as many points as their two main rivals, but the Miners will find a way to lose a conference game against one of the lower-placed teams due to a breakdown on defense. 

The offense averaged 33 points per game and 407 total yards in 2008, and most of the key components return this year.  Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe may not have put up the gaudy numbers equal to Keenum, but he tossed 33 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions.  He played a good portion of the season with a lame ankle, so his numbers could be more Keenum-like this year.

Vittatoe’s top two targets return this season.  Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi teamed for 101 receptions for 1,613 yards and 23 touchdowns.  The running game is as lame as the passing game is spectacular.  Nobody topped 500 yards last year, and we look for three or four players to share the load again this year.  However, we don’t expect the rushing numbers to change much—about 125 yards per game.

The progress of the defense will determine if this club can challenge for conference honors.  UTEP gave up an eye-popping 37 points and 469 yards per game in 2008, and with four of the top five tacklers gone, there isn’t much room for improvement.  UTEP uses a 3-3-5 defense, but they don’t have capable blitzers to disrupt offenses.  There isn’t much depth either, so a couple of injuries to starters could be big trouble.

The schedule is the only reason why the Miners have any chance to win the division this year.  They get both Houston and Tulsa at the Sun Bowl.  We think that they will lose at least one of those games and then fall in an upset on the road to Memphis, Tulane, SMU, or Rice.  Out of conference, the Miners host Buffalo and Kansas and venture to New Mexico State and Texas.  We say they will split those games and gain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2005.

Rice: The Owls had their best team since the 1953 squad beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl with the aid of the only major college penalty that ever resulted in an automatic touchdown, when an Alabama player (Tommy Lewis) raced from the bench to tackle Rice’s back Dicky Maegle.  Rice didn’t need that type of penalty to win the Texas Bowl and finish 10-3; they had the machine gun arm of quarterback Chase Clement.

Clement graduated after passing for 4,119 yards and 44 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.  Also gone are the top two receivers, who merely combined for 198 catches and 33 touchdowns and the top two running backs.  Throw in three new starters in the offensive line and a new offensive coordinator, and the Owls’ offense could plummet from 41 points and 471 yards per game to about 25 points and 375 yards per game.

The defense will be much better this year after surrendering 33 points and 452 yards per game in 2008.  Nine starters return and all 11 second teamers are back as well.  This side of the ball will have excellent depth even though the overall talent is marginally average.  The back seven are the strength of the team, led by Andrew Sendejo from his free safety position.  He paced the Owls with 94 stops a year ago.

The schedule is tough this year, as a home game with Tulane appears to be the only sure conference win.  Outside the league, the Owls face Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the road and host Vanderbilt and Navy.  It looks like 1-3 at best and maybe just two wins in league play.

S M U:  June Jones had two losing seasons in nine years as coach at Hawaii, and he could have two losing seasons in two years at SMU.  It’s going to be close, but we think the Mustangs will fall one game short of a break even season.  Watch out for them in 2010.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell performed quite well as a freshman, tossing 24 touchdowns and picking up 2,865 yards.  He also gave the ball away 23 times, and he should cut down on that number with a year’s experience under his belt.

Two dandy receivers as well as four other key contributors return to the fold this year.  Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders teamed for 126 catches for 2,005 yards and 2o scores.  Until some semblance of a running game forms, this offense will never have a chance to get unleashed.  SMU rushed for just 41 yards per game, the worst amongst FBS schools.  There isn’t a back on the roster capable of striking fear into opponents.

The offensive line has some decent pass blockers, but they just cannot open running lanes.  Center Mitch Enright could challenge for league honors.

The defense was consistently appalling against both the run and the pass last year, giving up 226 yards rushing and 254 yards passing per game.  Eight starters return including six of the top seven tacklers.  Linebacker is the team strength with Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga capable of earning all-conference honors.

The secondary has some ball hawks with Derrius Bell, Rock Dennis, and Bryan McCann teaming up for 20 passes swatted away in ’08.

An opening game with Stephen F Austin will give the offense a chance to put up some fat numbers.  A road game against UAB could move the record to 2-0, and if so, the Mustangs just may gather enough momentum to move north in the standings.  Washington State on the road is not infallible, and it’s foreseeable that SMU could win that one as well.  A week off precedes the first blowout loss when SMU goes to TCU.  A home game with East Carolina could help decide the other division champion.  After a home game with Navy, the Mustangs face consecutive powers Houston and Tulsa on the road, and they should lose them both by big numbers.  

Tulane: This program has never fully recovered from the hurricane.  Last season’s 2-10 record may be hard to top this year and could easily be matched in 2009.

Coach Bob Toledo’s squad couldn’t move the ball or stop opponents for most of 2008 thanks to a young squad and numerous injuries to key players.  Running back Andre Anderson was headed to a 1,500 yard season before going down for the season.  After his injury, the Green Wave could only muster 64 rushing yards per game.

TU will hand the quarterbacking duties over to sophomore Joe Kemp, who beat out last year’s starter Kevin Moore.  Moore tossed 13 interceptions against just eight touchdown passes, and Kemp should better those numbers with ease if he stays healthy. 

Jeremy Williams is the top returning receiver after grabbing 27 balls for 437 yards last season in less than half the season.  He suffered multiple injuries and missed the last seven games.  Without him, the TU passing game dropped off by 75 yards per game.

The offensive line returns three starters from a year ago, but there is a depth problem and the overall talent is among the weakest in the league.

Likewise, there are big problems on the other side of the ball, where Tulane just couldn’t consistently stop anybody.  There are no stars at linebacker and no depth in the secondary.  The front four has some talent, with tackle Reggie Scott leading the way.  Keep an eye on rush end Logan Kelley, who led the Green Wave with seven sacks even though he didn’t start.

The special teams’ unit returns the punter, place-kicker, punt returner, and kick returners from last year.

Tulane last fielded a winning team in 2002, and it will be at least another year for the Greenies to challenge.  The schedule this season includes non-conference games at home against BYU and on the road at LSU.  The other two out-of-league tilts are winnable—McNeese State and at Army, but we think TU will lose at West Point.  The Green Wave will have to pull off an upset to avoid going 0-8 in league play, but we believe they will pull off one upset.

Next up: A look at the Mountain West Conference, where two or even three teams have the talent to earn an at-large BCS bowl bid.

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