The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 16, 2018

2018 Big 12 Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

Today, the PiRates begin to preview the Power 5 conferences. With five leagues and four playoff spots, one Power 5 conference is guaranteed to miss out every year. Last year, with two SEC teams making it, two Power 5 leagues did not make the cut. The Big 12 was one of the fortunate leagues as Oklahoma won the revived Big 12 Conference Championship Game and gave Georgia all it could handle in the National Semifinals before losing in overtime.
The Sooners still have quite a lot of talent remaining in Norman, but Coach Lincoln Riley faces a minor reloading project. Because Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Iowa State are solid this year, and because this league is the only one in which every team plays every other, we believe the champion could easily be 7-2 and miss out on the playoffs.

Oklahoma has stolen the title of Quarterback U. from BYU and Stanford in the last 20 seasons. From Josh Heupel to to Jason White to Paul Thompson to Sam Bradford to Landry Jones to Trevor Knight, the Sooners always had an A+ passing attack and sometimes complimentary running threat. However, Baker Mayfield was in an A++ class by himself. Mayfield averaged 11.5 yards per passing ATTEMPT when most NCAA teams do not average 11.5 yards per completion these days! He threw 43 touchdown passes versus just 6 interceptions. Oklahoma averaged 362 passing yards per game to go with 218 rushing yards per game and Riley’s first year offense scored 45 points per game.
Mayfield is now the new hope in Cleveland, and Oklahoma turns to another future pro as their new quarterback. Kyler Murray will be playing for pay soon, but it will not be in football. He signed with the Oakland Athletics for $4.66 million, and one has to wonder if every time Murray drops back to pass against blitzing monsters, he will subconsciously think about that contract and throw the ball a bit too soon to avoid an injury that would end his baseball career before it starts.
Oklahoma will still be the decided favorite to win the Big 12 thanks to the running game. Backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon teamed up to run the ball 309 times for 1,905 yards. They combined to catch 33 passes for 420 additional yards. They scored 25 total touchdowns, and the dynamic duo have another fine offensive line opening holes for them this year.
Murray will have a trio of top flight receivers catching his passes this year. Marquise Brown, CeeDee Lamb, and Mykel Jones all have the quickness to turn a 7 yard route into a 50 yard touchdown.

If Oklahoma falters this year, or should we say when, it will be because the opponent scored points easier than they could. The Sooner defense is vulnerable this year with a green secondary and a questionable pass rush following the loss of some incredible talent. Linebacker Kenneth Murray and cornerback Parnell Motley return, but the Sooners lost too much talent from a defense that gave up 27 points per game last year, and a couple opponents will top 40 points and most likely beat OU in 2018. The schedule doesn’t offer much help, as the Sooners always play Texas in Dallas and face West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State on the road. 10-2 looks like the ceiling for this team.

Tom Herman’s first season at Texas was somewhat positive and somewhat disappointing. The Longhorns did not immediately take to his spread offense, and the offense was not as strong last year as it was during Charlie Strong’s final season. The defense was strong and kept the burnt orange in many games. Narrow losses to USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech could easily flip to the win column this year, as UT is poised to be a serious contender in the conference race and stands a good chance of making the Big 12 Championship Game.

Sam Ehlinger appears to have a slight lead over Shane Buechele to be under center when the Longhorns kick off the season against Maryland. The Longhorn roster is short on talent at running back and receiver, and the offensive line is good but not outstanding, but there is room for improvements. Expect Texas to increase their offensive output by a little.

It’s the defense that will allow the ‘Horns to possibly contend for the Big 12 title. Ironically, Herman, the offensive guru lowered the point total given up by 10 points a game over prior defensive guru coach Strong. Texas gave up 21 points per game in 2017, which is about like giving up 15 points a game in other Power 5 conferences. As good as the defense was last year, this year’s edition will be better, maybe much better. The roster is packed with talented stars, especially in the trenches, where ends Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager are the best duo in the league. Anthony Wheeler anchors the second line of defense from his middle linebacker position. He’ll team with Gary Johnson and Malcolm Roach to form the best trio in the league. Arguably, Texas also has the best secondary in the league with potential All-American Kris Boyd returning at cornerback.

The schedule is as favorable for the Longhorns as it is unfavorable for Oklahoma, so we believe Texas has a grand chance at earning one of the two playoff spots.

West Virginia is the sexy choice this year to win the Big 12. The Mountaineers have the top quarterback in the league, when he remains healthy. Will Grier was 6-0 as the quarterback at Florida in 2015. He is 12-4 lifetime at Florida and West Virginia, but he has not complete either season in his short career. His season ended last year in the Texas game when he suffered a fractured finger. When healthy, Grier is a difference maker. He was fifth nationally in passer efficiency rating.

Grier has two elite receivers returning in Gary Jennings and David Sills. The duo teamed up for 157 receptions last year; Jennings is the possession receiver, and Sills is the touchdown machine. For any passing team to be consistently good, the pass blocking has to be outstanding, and the Mountaineers have that type of interior line, as good as the line at Oklahoma.

What will likely keep WVU in the 8-win area is a porous defense. The Mountaineers gave up 31.5 points per game and did so by allowing more than 200 yard rushing and 200 yard passing. It may be considered a good thing that most of that weak defense is no longer around, but the Mountaineers will actually take a step back this year with major concerns on the front line and in the secondary. There is talent in every unit, but not enough to be a force in the league. Linebacker David Long returns after making 15 1/2 tackles for loss last year. Defensive end Ezekiel Rose led the team with 5 sacks, while Dravon Askew-Henry mans the highly important spur safety (a hybrid safety-linebacker position that can make the defense a 3-4 or 3-3-5) spot.

West Virginia has two tough non-conference opponents to face prior to Big 12 play. They open with Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina, and two weeks later, they play at North Carolina State. The close the season with a home game against Oklahoma, which could have serious conference championship implications for one or both teams.
Oklahoma State’s string of three consecutive double-digit win seasons is in serious jeopardy in 2018. The Cowboys’ spectacular passing game will take a major hit this year. Mason Rudolph led the nation with more than 4,900 passing yards last year. That number in 13 games topped every NFL quarterback by almost 400 yards! Rudolph is now a backup to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. New OSU quarterback Dru Brown has never taken a snap as the Cowboy quarterback, but he’s not a newcomer to FBS football. Brown started the past two years for Hawaii, and he will assume the controls of Coach

Mike Gundy’s offense and bring a new style to the team. Brown does not have Rudolph’s arm strength or quick release, but he can take off and run for a lot of yards in a scramble. OSU might even add a wrinkle or two where Brown fakes to top-flight running back Justice Hill and boots in the opposite direction. Defenses will have to concentrate extra defenders when Hill is a running threat. He burned defenses for 1,467 rushing yards and 15 TDs, while coming out of the backfield to catch 31 passes.
Losing two star receivers that caught 133 passes for 2,705 yards and 21 socres is going to make the passing numbers go down more than having Brown replace Rudolph. OSU still has talent in the receiving corps, but James Washington and Marcell Ateman are not easily replaced.

The Cowboy offensive line is rebuilding this year, and the holes and pass protection just won’t be there like they were the last three years. Oklahoma State averaged 45 points per game in 2017 and finished second in the nation with 569 total yards per game. The numbers could take a 10-point and 100-yard hit this year. The defense might be marginally improved over last season, but after giving up 29.4 points per game, improving to 28 per game may mean the win total will be reduced by two or three.

TCU has more offensive retooling to do than Oklahoma State, as they lost quarterback Kenny Hill, running back Kyle Hicks, their top three receivers, and three offensive linemen. The Horned Frogs feature defense first, and there is enough talent returning to continue the stellar play on this side of the ball in 2018, but not excellent enough to return to the Big 12 Championship Game. There is talent in all three units, led by end Ben Banogu. Last year, Banogu made 16 1/2 tackles behind the line including 8 1/2 sacks. He forced three fumbles in the process.

Stong-side linebacker Ty Summers can stop the run at the line for little or no gain, and he can cover the short passing zones with competence. Safety Niko Small leads a talented secondary that should continue to limit opponent passing by about 25-30 yards under their average.

TCU led all Big 12 teams in scoring defense, rushing defense, and passing defense. It will take a repeat of that feat to contend for second place in the league, and even if the Frogs repeat, the offense may be off just enough to come up a win short.

Iowa State was a major surprise in 2017, as the Cyclones topped Oklahoma in Norman and TCU in October on the way to an 8-5 season. Coach Matt Campbell, who had previously done wonders at Toledo, became a hot commodity in the big-time coaching market, and another 8-win season in Ames could see several rich offers coming his way. The Cyclones left something on the table last year, as narrow losses to Iowa in overtime, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State could have made 2018 a historic high in Ames.

The Cyclones actually return more starters than any of the other contenders in the league, but overall, they are still a few players short from becoming a serious contender. Quarterback Kyle Kempt was the major cog that turned the season around for ISU, as he torched Oklahoma’s defense for 343 passing yards and three touchdowns. His being granted a 6th year of eligibility means that ISU is an outside contender for the Big 12 Championship Game. Stubby back David Montgomery bulled his way to 1,146 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He won’t run the toss sweep down the sideline for a long touchdown, but he rarely goes down on first contact, and it frequently takes two defenders to bring him to the ground.

The receiving corps lost a stud in Allen Lazard, who is turning heads in Jacksonville as an undrafted free-agent that will most likely make the Jaguars’ roster. Hakeem Butler was a fine second option last year, and he should be the go-to guy this year, as the other receivers on the roster are possession receivers lacking the ability to turn a 7-yard pattern into a 50-yard gain.

Iowa State’s big jump happened because the defense no longer resembled 11 matadors against bulls with the letter “O” somewhere on their helmets. The Cyclones finished a close second to TCU in scoring defense last year. Enough talent returns this year to keep this unit strong. The front seven is second or third best in the league. As weak-side edge rusher JaQuan Bailey goes, so goes the ISU pass defense. Bailey has the ability to meet the quarterback about one second after the quarterback takes his fifth step in his drop. Defenses will have to double up on him, so it will be important for outside linebacker Willie Harvey to step up and improve on last year’s numbers.

Kansas State enters most seasons as an also-ran in the league, but the Wildcats always beat one or two teams they are not supposed to beat. KSU knocked off Oklahoma State in Stillwater and then knocked off Iowa State to earn a Cactus Bowl bid at the 11th hour last year. The Wildcats lost close games to Vanderbilt, Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, meaning they were not farm from being 12-1. Only TCU dominated them on the scoreboard. Expect more of the same in 2018, as Coach Bill Snyder guides his team to one or two upsets and earns yet another bowl bid.

Texas Tech has not been a factor in the Big 12 race since Mike Leach was fired. The Red Raiders tried the Tommy Tuberville way for a few years and fell back into the middle of the pack. Former TTU quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has taken the program down another couple notches, as the Raiders have struggled to get six wins during his tenure. If Kingsbury cannot right the ship this year and take his team up a notch or so, there probably will be a new man walking the sidelines at Jones Stadium next year. Prospects are not all that excellent for this TTU edition. The team has not been able to produce a running game that forces defensive coaches to have to stop it, so the passing game has to “struggle” to put up gawdy numbers. Too often, the defense stays on the field too long and tires, eventually succumbing to opposing offenses that punish tired defenses. The Red Raiders gave up 444 yards per game and 32+ points per game last year, and the schedule offers them no favors with out of conference games against Ole Miss and Houston. Additionally, the one toss-up game on the conference schedule, versus Kansas State, will be played in the Little Apple, making KSU a decided favorite.

Baylor has a long way to go to return to prominence. Matt Rhule turned the program around at Temple, but quite frankly, that was easier than having to win in the Lone Star State where 100 FBS teams recruit the state like they play their home games in Dallas. The Bears were plainly the ninth best team in the league, both offensively and defensively. They lost at home to Liberty, and had it not been for the worst FBS team also being a Big 12 team, BU could have gone 0-12 last year. There is a little talent in Waco this year, but it will take a gargantuan improvement for the Bears to improve from one to six wins. Having the easiest opening schedule of any Big 12 team could allow Baylor to enter October with two or three wins, but they may lose out the rest of the way.

Kansas is worse in the Big 12 than the Cleveland Browns are in the AFC North Division. The Jayhawks went 1-11 last year with the lone win coming against FCS member Southeast Missouri State, a team that went 3-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Coach David Beaty is now 3-33 in Lawrence through three years. He won’t see a fifth season if he is 4-44 after this season. The Jayhawks should be a better team this year, especially on defense, but then it is harder to be worse when you finish in last place in the league in offense and defense and lose to the next weakest team at home by more than four touchdowns!

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

Big 12 1st Place Points
1. Oklahoma 46 509
2. West Virginia 2 432
3. TCU 1 390
4. Texas 1 370
5. Oklahoma St. 0 300
6. Kansas St. 2 283
7. Iowa St. 0 250
8. Texas Tech 0 149
9. Baylor 0 125
10. Kansas 0 52

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat after the top.

Big 12 Conference
Team B12 Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Oklahoma 0-0 0-0 119.5 117.7 119.8 119.0
Texas 0-0 0-0 113.2 111.9 112.8 112.6
Oklahoma St. 0-0 0-0 113.2 110.8 112.7 112.2
T C U 0-0 0-0 112.7 112.0 111.5 112.0
Iowa State 0-0 0-0 110.7 108.8 110.2 109.9
West Virginia 0-0 0-0 110.0 108.8 109.1 109.3
Kansas St. 0-0 0-0 107.4 106.0 106.8 106.7
Texas Tech 0-0 0-0 106.0 104.0 104.2 104.7
Baylor 0-0 0-0 102.9 100.6 102.3 101.9
Kansas 0-0 0-0 93.9 92.3 91.6 92.6
Big 12 Averages 108.9 107.3 108.1 108.1

New Coaches
There are no new coaches in the Big 12 this year, but there are a couple on very hot seats, and 2019 might see some new faces.

David Beaty needs to show some kind of advancement at Kansas, or the Jayhawks will be in the market for a new coach, possibly one from the Dakotas and the FCS ranks.
Kliff Kingsbury needs to win at least seven regular season games and look competitive in the losses, or else Texas Tech may look to move in another direction, maybe hiring a power-style coach.

Dana Holgorsen cannot afford to see West Virginia disappoint this season with so much offensive firepower. Anything short of nine wins would be a disappointment, and there are some restless fans in Morgantown.

Matt Campbell can do no wrong in the eyes of the fans at Iowa State. However, another 8-win season would most likely see him receive job offers with contracts too rich for Iowa State to match or top. His name has already been bantered among heavy-hitters at Ohio State should Urban Meyer be dismissed.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. What we’re saying is: don’t take these numbers with anything more than a grain of salt.   

Team Conference Overall
Oklahoma 9-0 13-0*
Oklahoma St. 7-2 10-3
Texas 7-2 10-2
TCU 6-3 8-4
Iowa St. 5-4 7-5
West Virginia 5-4 7-5
Kansas St. 3-6 5-7
Baylor 2-7 4-8
Texas Tech 1-8 3-9
Kansas 0-9 2-10

 

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA
2. Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX
3. Camping World Bowl in Orlando, FL
4. Texas Bowl in Houston, TX
5. Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN
6. Cactus Bowl in Tucson, AZ
7. Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX

Coming Tomorrow–The Pac-12 Conference

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August 24, 2012

2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

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

 

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

 

Here is the league’s official preseason media poll.

 

 

 

ACC Atlantic

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Florida State

72

543

(60)

2

Clemson

17

470

(13)

3

North Carolina State

5

402

(1)

4

Wake Forest

0

241

 

5

Boston College

0

181

 

6

Maryland

0

148

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACC Coastal

 

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Virginia Tech

83

558

(18)

2

Georgia Tech

10

421

(3)

3

North Carolina

2

341

 

4

Virginia

0

326

 

5

Miami (Fla.)

0

245

 

6

Duke

0

104

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numbers in ( ) are votes to win ACC Championship Game

 

 

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

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

ACC Atlantic

PiRate

1

Florida State

120.0

2

Clemson

115.0

3

North Carolina State

103.1

4

Boston College

102.9

5

Wake Forest

98.6

6

Maryland

95.6

 

   

Rank

ACC Coastal

PiRate

1

Virginia Tech

111.8

2

North Carolina

109.0

3

Georgia Tech

107.4

4

Virginia

100.0

5

Miami (Fla)

99.3

6

Duke

98.4

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

ACC Atlantic

Vintage

1

Florida State

115

2

Clemson

113

3

North Carolina State

110

4

Boston College

107

5

Maryland

100

6

Wake Forest

99

 

   

Rank

ACC Coastal

Vintage

1

Virginia Tech

109

2

Georgia Tech

109

3

North Carolina

108

4

Virginia

105

5

Miami (Fla)

103

6

Duke

103

 

 

Team

Boston College Eagles

               
Head Coach

Frank Spaziani

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Chestnut Hill, MA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

102.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

39

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Team

Clemson Tigers

               
Head Coach

Dabo Swinney

               
Colors

Orange and Purple

               
City

Clemson, SC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

115.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

11

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Florida State Seminoles

               
Head Coach

Jimbo Fisher

               
Colors

Garnet and Gold

               
City

Tallahassee, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

120.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

8

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

12-1

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Team

Maryland Terrapins

               
Head Coach

Randy Edsall

               
Colors

Red, White, Black, and Gold

               
City

College Park, MD

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

95.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

74

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

66

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

4-8

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

North Carolina State Wolfpack

               
Head Coach

Tom O’Brien

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Raleigh, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

103.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

52

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

23

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

               
Head Coach

Jim Grobe

               
Colors

Black and Old Gold

               
City

Winston-Salem, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

98.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

69

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Duke Blue Devils

               
Head Coach

David Cutcliffe

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Durham, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

98.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

67

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

56

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

               
Head Coach

Paul Johnson

               
Colors

Old Gold and White

               
City

Atlanta, GA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

107.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

27

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-4

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Miami Hurricanes

               
Head Coach

Al Golden

               
Colors

Royal Purple and Gold

               
City

Coral Gables, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

               
PiRate Rating

99.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

64

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

52

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

North Carolina Tar Heels

               
Head Coach

Larry Fedora

               
Colors

Carolina Blue and White

               
City

Chapel Hill, NC

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

109.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

32

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Virginia Cavaliers

               
Head Coach

Mike London

               
Colors

Blue and Orange

               
City

Charlottesville, VA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

100.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

62

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

48

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Virginia Tech Hokies

               
Head Coach

Frank Beamer

               
Colors

Maroon, Orange, and White

               
City

Blacksburg, VA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

111.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

109

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

26

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

August 19, 2010

2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

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2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

The Big 12 Conference almost ceased to exist this summer.  It looked like eight of the 12 teams would leave and end up in the Big Ten, Pac-10, and even SEC.  After the dust cleared, the conference was left with 10 teams.  Colorado was the only member of six possible teams to accept the Pac-10 bid.  Nebraska, tired of seeing Texas control the league, gladly accepted a bid to the Big Ten.  The rest of the league will hold a grudge in this final season before divorce becomes official.  Speaking of officials, this league will need close scrutiny this year.  After Nebraska felt they had been robbed in the Big 12 Championship Game, can they expect any better treatment this year? 

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

Predictions

Pos North B12 W-L
1 Nebraska 8-0 12-1
2 Missouri 4-4 8-4
3 Colorado 4-4 6-6
4 Kansas 3-5 5-7
5 Kansas State 2-6 6-6
6 Iowa State 1-7 3-9
       
Pos South B12 W-L
1 Oklahoma 7-1 12-1
2 Texas 6-2 10-2
3 Texas Tech 5-3 8-4
4 Texas A&M 4-4 7-5
5 Baylor 3-5 6-6
6 Oklahoma State 1-7 5-7

 

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma over Nebraska

 

BCS Bowl (Fiesta): Oklahoma

BCS Bowl: Nebraska

Cotton Bowl: Texas

Alamo Bowl: Missouri

Insight Bowl: Texas Tech

Holiday Bowl: Texas A&M

Texas Bowl: Baylor

Pinstripe Bowl: Colorado

Dallas Football Classic: Kansas State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

North Division

Team Colorado Buffaloes
               
Head Coach Dan Hawkins
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Boulder, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 105.5
               
National Rating 45
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Offensive Line, Receivers, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 24-27 points / 320-340 yards

Expected Defense: 24-27 points / 340-360 yards

Schedule: Out of Conference: Colorado State (n), @ California, Hawaii, and Georgia

Interdivision: Baylor, Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma

Outlook: The Buffaloes need to settle on one quarterback, and Tyler Hansen is that man.  Hansen should get more time to pass and pass for 2,500 or more yards, and we don’t expect CU QBs to be sacked 44 times again.  Rodney Stewart could top 1,000 yards rushing.  Transfers from Michigan, USC and UCLA should bolster the receiving corps.  The offensive line returns the entire two-deep from last year, including nine players with starting experience.

A better pass rush should help the defense improve a little, but we don’t expect the Buffs to challenge for a top four position in the league.  Coach Dan Hawkins must win this year, or he will be out of a job.  We don’t know if 6-6 and a minor bowl will be enough, but that is what we think will happen.

Team Iowa State Cyclones
               
Head Coach Paul Rhoads
               
Colors Cardinal and Gold
               
City Ames, IA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 94.4
               
National Rating 77
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-9

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Expected Offense: 22-26 point / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 24-28 points / 425-450 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Northern Illinois, @ Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Utah

Interdivision: Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma, @ Texas

Outlook: Coach Paul Rhoads placed the Cyclones in a bowl in his first year in Ames, but ISU will revert back to their losing ways this year.  The offense will be somewhat improved, but it was ranked last in the Big 12 last year.  Quarterback Austin Arnaud will hand the ball to Alexander Robinson a lot this year, and if Robinson stays healthy, he could top 1,250 yards on the ground.  Arnaud can run and pass with equal competency, so he should take some of the pressure off Robinson.  Other than Jake Williams, ISU will have to rely on several average receivers.  None of his teammates will allow Williams to avoid double coverage.  The offensive line features tackle Kelechi Osemele, a 2nd Team All-Big 12 selection last year.

Seven key defensive performers graduated, so the Cyclones will take a large step backwards.  The front seven will be much weaker, and opponents will run the ball for more yards and pass against less pass rushing pressure.  Even with a decent secondary, the weaker pass rush will force them to cover a half-second to a second longer.  Expect the pass yardage allowed to go up as well.

ISU should win two of their four non-conference games, but we can only see them winning one Big 12 contest.  Call it a 3-9 rebuilding season.

Team Kansas Jayhawks
               
Head Coach Turner Gill
               
Colors Dark Blue and Red
               
City Lawrence, KS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 102.0
               
National Rating 53
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7

 

Strengths: Not many, but the Offensive Line and Defensive Line are small positives

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 22-26 points / 330-350 yards

Expected Defense: 24-28 points / 360-380 yards

Schedule: Out of conference: North Dakota State, Georgia Tech, @ Southern Mississippi, New Mexico State

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State

Outlook: Turner Gill takes over after bringing Buffalo from also-ran to MAC Champion in short time.  It will take time here for his system to bear fruit, but we are confident that he can recruit the Midwest and Southwest and return the Jayhawks to prominence.

KU will debut a new quarterback this year, as Kale Pick and Jordan Webb are locked in a competitive battle.  Pick threw five passes, while Webb has yet to take a college snap.  An interesting battle brews at running back, where last year’s leading rusher Toben Opurum and 6th year player and former linebacker Angus Quigley could form a decent tandem.  KU lost two star receivers who combined for 186 receptions and more than 2,300 yards, so this will be a liability.  Four starters return to the line, and they will undergo some restructuring to fit Gill’s change of offense.

In a pass happy league, a weak secondary is bad news.  KU has some bad news.  The returning defensive backs combined for just two interceptions.  This side of the ball will have to learn a new system as well, and the defensive line is the only average unit using Big 12 standards.  A real plus for the Jayhawks is not having to play Oklahoma or Texas from the South.

Gill has enough talent to repeat last year’s 5-7 record.  The offense will not be as potent, but it will eat more clock.  That will help the defense hold opponents under 30 points per game.

Team Kansas State Wildcats
               
Head Coach Bill Snyder
               
Colors Royal Purple and White
               
City Manhattan, KS
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 67
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

Expected Offense: 22-25 points / 325-350 yards

Expected Defense: 21-24 points / 325-350 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: UCLA, Missouri State, Central Florida, @ North Texas

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas

Outlook: Kansas State’s offense will move on the legs of running back Daniel Thomas.  He raced for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and he could top 1,400 this season.  An experienced offensive line returns, and they are better run blockers than pass blockers.

Quarterback Carson Coffman started four games last year, but he was unspectacular.  With a below average receiving corps, expect KSU to struggle when they get behind in games.

On defense, the line is talented, and there is depth.  They should clear out enough space for the new linebackers to have decent first years as starters.  However, there is not a great pass rusher on the roster.

Look for Kansas State to sweep their four non-conference opponents, which means they only will need two league wins to earn a bowl bid.  That’s what they will get.

Team Missouri Tigers
               
Head Coach Gary Pinkel
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Columbia, MO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 111.6
               
National Rating 32
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-4

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back

Weaknesses: Receiver (not that much of a weakness)

Expected Offense: 31-35 points / 425-450 yards

Expected Defense: 20-24 points / 350-375 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Illinois (n), McNeese State, San Diego State, Miami (O)

Interdivision: @ Texas A&M, Oklahoma, @ Texas Tech

Outlook: Blaine Gabbert returns at QB where he passed for almost 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns to just nine picks.  Not the runner Chase Daniel was, he can still pull the ball down and cross the sticks for a first down.  Running back Derrick Washington saw his production drop from over 1,000 yards in 2008 to 865 last year; with an improved offensive line, look for that number to climb back over 1,000.  The only question on offense is at receiver.  Mizzou lost two great pass catchers that combined for 159 receptions and 20 touchdowns.  To make matters worse, Jerrell Jackson, who was expected to be the leading receiver this year, will miss the first three games with a fractured wrist.  Don’t expect him to return and catch half a dozen passes in September.

The Tigers gave up a couple of big plays at the wrong time last year, and it cost them two conference wins and the North Division title.  Expect improved play on this side of the ball as all three units will be improved thanks to the return of eight of the top nine tacklers.  Missouri only picked off eight passes last year.  The entire secondary returns, and the Tigers will intercept double digit passes this season.  The pass rush can only get better with the return of end Aldon Smith.  He recorded 11 ½ sacks last year.  Led by Andrew Gachkar and Will Ebner, the linebacking unit will be tough against the run.

The pre-conference schedule should allow Missouri to start 4-0.  They could be 6-0 by the time they face Oklahoma on homecoming.  We are being as pessimistic as we can when we call for the Tigers to go 4-4 in league play.  They could be 6-2 if they stay healthy and prevent the big plays on defense.

Team Nebraska Cornhuskers
               
Head Coach Bo Pelini
               
Colors Scarlet and Cream
               
City Lincoln, NE
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 120.7
               
National Rating 13
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1

 

Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Quarterback

Expected Offense: 28-32 points / 350-375 yards

Expected Defense: 14-18 points / 275-300 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Western Kentucky, Idaho, @ Washington, South Dakota State

Interdivision: Texas, @ Oklahoma State, @ Texas A&M

Outlook: If Nebraska had just an average quarterback, they would be our pick for one of the two BCS Championship Game teams.  Zac Lee, Cody Green, and Taylor Martinez are still locked in a battle to determine the starter, but we would be surprised if anybody other than Lee line up under center for the first game.  Roy Helu will have a tough time carrying the offense if no passing game develops.  Helu rushed for 1,147 yards and 10 scores last year.  The ‘Huskers return some talented receivers, and they should help the quarterbacks improve their passing numbers.  Niles Paul might be a 1,000 yard receiver at eight other Big 12 schools, but he’ll have to settle for 40-50 receptions and 800-900 yards here.  The offensive line took a major hit when center Mike Smith broke his leg, but Coach Bo Pelini will field another excellent interior.

Nebraska’s defense will take a step back, because it is impossible to replace Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante, Matt O’Hanlon, and Barry Turner all in one season.  A weaker defense means that NU will give up more than 14 points per game.  The defensive line still has star talent with end Pierre Allen and tackle Jared Crick.  Crick made 15 total tackles for loss including 9 ½ sacks.  Allen added five sacks and 12 total tackles for loss.  They also combined for nine batted away passes.  There’s royalty in the secondary with the return of Prince Amukamara.  He led the ‘Huskers with 16 passes defended (5 Int/11 PBU). 

Alex Henery is one of the best dual punter/kickers in college football, and Niles Paul is a gem as a kick and punt returner.

We believe that Nebraska has a decent shot at running the table in the regular season.  The October 16 game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with Texas is going to be unbelievable, and the Longhorns are going to be treated like Sarah Palin with a chainsaw outside Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.  We think the Cornhuskers will enter the Big 12 Championship game ranked number one and suffer defeat at the hand of their oldest rival.  Still, they should get a bid to a BCS bowl.

South Division

Team Baylor Bears
               
Head Coach Art Briles
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Waco, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 103.7
               
National Rating 48
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-6

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Back (small strength)

Weaknesses: Running Back (other than QB), Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Expected Offense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Sam Houston, Buffalo, @ TCU, @ Rice

Interdivision: Kansas, @ Colorado, Kansas State

Outlook: It starts and ends with quarterback Robert Griffin.  In just over two games, Griffin had passed for 481 yards with four TDs and no interceptions before he went down with a season-ending ACL injury.  If he stays healthy for 12 games, he should pass for close to 3,500 yards and lead Baylor to its first bowl game in 16 years.  The running backs suffered with the loss of Griffin, because defenses had to respect Griffin’s ability to take off and run.  Expect improvement in the rushing attack, but don’t expect the Bears to top 150 yards per game on the ground Jay Finley did rush for 1,072 yards in 2008, but he will not get enough touches to repeat that.  Griffin has a couple of good target to pass to in Kendall Wright and Lanear Sampson, but another receiver needs to emerge.  Three starters return to the offensive line, and Griffin will make their job much easier.

The defense lost six starters, including four of their top five tacklers.  A weaker than Big 12 average defensive line will cause BU some trouble as opponents run the ball to eat the clock and keep Griffin off the field.  The Bear pass rush won’t scare many enemy quarterbacks either.  BU has one talented linebacker in Antonio Johnson.  Johnson’s 77 tackles and two sacks are the most of any returnee.  The defensive backfield would have been a bigger strength had Ahmad Dixon actually showed up.  He was the highest recruit the Bears have had in years and would have started immediately at free safety.  Baylor still has some talent here with cornerbacks Clifton Odom and Chance Casey returning.

Baylor has three winnable non-conference games and three or four more in the Big 12.  We believe they will go 3-5 in the Big 12 and 6-6 overall, which will earn a bid to one of the lower Lone Star state bowl games.

Team Oklahoma Sooners
               
Head Coach Bob Stoops
               
Colors Cream and Crimson
               
City Norman, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 125.6
               
National Rating 3
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 12-1

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: None really.  If you had to get picky, maybe in the seams of the middle zones on pass defense.

Expected Offense: 35-40 points / 450-475 yards

Expected Defense: 18-22 points / 300-325 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Utah State, Florida State, Air Force, @ Cincinnati

Interdivision: Iowa State, @ Missouri, @ Texas A&M

Outlook: Can a team that lost the first pick in the draft, three other 1st Round picks, three other draft picks, and three more players that are still in NFL training camps be better than they were a year ago?  It sounds crazy, but OU could not only be better, they could be the best!  Losing Sam Bradford will hardly be noticed, as he only threw 69 passes last year.  Landry Jones returns at quarterback after passing for just under 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns.  He needs to cut down on his 14 interceptions.  At running back, DeMarco Murray and Jermie Calhoun will team for 1,500 yards, and the Sooners will be a much more balanced team this year.  Murray will not be asked to carry the ball 20 times any more, and he should stay healthy.  The most lethal unit on this team is pass catchers.  Ryan Broyles and Dejuan Miller could both earn all-conference recognition; throw in super freshman Kenny Stills with tight ends Trent Ratteree and James Hanna, and you have one of the nation’s top receiving corps.  The offensive line is the weakest unit of the attack side, and yet it is still one of the four best in the Big 12.

On Defense, the Sooners lost five star players.  Don’t pity them; the players they have coming back are just as good or will soon be.  In the trenches, end Jeremy Beal is the best at his position in the Big 12.  He dumped quarterbacks 11 times last year and stopped runners for losses eight times.  He can drop back in pass coverage on zone blitzes and play pass defense like a linebacker.  Speaking of linebacker, Travis Lewis returns to the second line of defense after earning 1st Team All-Big 12 accolades.  He will have two new partners, and both are stars of the future.  The Sooners have two starters returning to the secondary, led by safety Quinton Carter, who grabbed four enemy quarterback passes while batting away five others.

Oklahoma has the talent to run the table and be 13-0 following a win in the Big 12 Championship Game.  If so, we know where they will be playing in January.  We are going to go out on a small limb and pick one Big 12 team to knock them off in an upset, just like Colorado did to them in 2007.  Call it a 12-1 regular season plus Fiesta Bowl bid.

Team Oklahoma State Cowboys
               
Head Coach Mike Gundy
               
Colors Orange and Black
               
City Stillwater, OK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 99.8
               
National Rating 59
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 5-7

 

Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line

Expected Offense: 20-24 points / 325-350 yards

Expected Defense: 23-27 points / 350-375 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Washington State, Troy, Tulsa, @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Interdivision: Nebraska, @ Kansas State, @ Texas

Outlook: It will be a long season in Stillwater, as the Cowboys must rebuild on both sides of the ball.  OSU returns just four offensive and three defensive starters to a team that many felt underachieved last year.  The rabid fans, in their desire not to play second fiddle in the Sooner State, may chase Coach Mike Gundy out of town if the ‘Pokes fail to make it back to a bowl.

Gundy brought Dana Holgorsen in from Houston to take over as offensive coordinator.  Holgorsen will institute the spread passing game used by the Cougars (which gained 512 yards and 45 points against OSU last year).  His first order of business was to pick a quarterback, and Brandon Weeden will not be confused for Casey Keenum.  Weeden spent five years pitching in the Minor Leagues and has seen a lot more action on the mound than under center.  Having running back Kendall Hunter 100% healthy once again could be the saving grace for this side of the ball.  When healthy in 2008, he rushed for 1,555 yards and earned All-American honors.  He played in just three games last year.  The loss of Dez Bryant to the NFL Cowboys won’t hurt too much, since Bryant hardly played last year.  Holgorsen will use as many as 10 receivers in his pass-happy offense.  Hubert Anyiam should be the star of the group.  The offensive line will be a major liability, as just two starters return.

Oklahoma State allowed just 96 yards rushing last year, but with five (and maybe six pending the outcome of an arrest) of the front seven gone, that number could increase by over 50% this season.  Ugo Chinasa spearheads a respectable pass rush.  In the secondary, amazingly Andrew McGee returns to play after suffering a broken neck last season.  He will team with safety Markelle Martin to provide experience in the back line of defense.

Okie State has a good shot at winning all non-conference games, so they will only need two Big 12 wins to become bowl eligible.  We actually believe they will have a difficult time winning any league game and will call for the Cowboys to go 1-7 in the conference. 

Team Texas Longhorns
               
Head Coach Mack Brown
               
Colors Burnt Orange and White
               
City Austin, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 13-1
               
PiRate Rating 119.3
               
National Rating 16
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-2

 

Strengths: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Quarterback (small weakness)

Expected Offense: 31-34 points / 375-400 yards

Expected Defense: 15-19 points / 275-300 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: @ Rice (Reliant Stad.), Wyoming, UCLA, Florida Atlantic

Interdivision: @ Nebraska, Iowa State, @ Kansas State

Outlook: When any other team loses as much talent as the Longhorns, you can expect a long season.  In Texas, they just insert the next star at each position.  The ‘Horns lost their all-time leading passer, a receiver that caught 116 passes for 1,485 yards, and four starting offensive linemen, and yet UT will still have a lethal offense.  Quarterback Garrett Gilbert got his Baptism under fire last year in the National Championship Game when Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game in the first half.  Gilbert brought the Longhorns back in the second half and gave them a chance.  If he could do that against Alabama, what do you think he will do against Iowa State?  Expect more contribution from the running game with Tre’ Newton and Fozzy Whittaker carrying the load this year.  Texas has a stable of fine receivers as well, led by James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams, and John Chiles.  Chiles is an ex-quarterback, and he could be used in some trick plays.

Coach Mack Brown can sleep easier at night with Will Muschamp at his side.  The head coach-in-waiting has made the Longhorn defense the envy of the nation.  His 2010 team will do just fine once he finds a way to plug some holes in the defensive line.  Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall form the conference’s best pair of tackles.  Acho made 10 sacks last year.  Emmanuel Acho heads the second line of defense.  He is a tough run-stopper.  In the secondary, cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams form the best tandem of cover men in the league, but the loss of All-American Earl Thomas will make this a little weaker pass defense.

Texas must play at Nebraska, and if the officiating is honest, we do not believe the Longhorns can win this grudge match-to-be.  The Longhorns have a 50-50 shot with Oklahoma, and they have about a 20% chance of losing to Texas Tech, Texas A&M, or Kansas State.  We’ll call it a 6-2 league mark and 10-2 overall.

Team Texas A&M Aggies
               
Head Coach Mike Sherman
               
Colors Maroon and White
               
City College Station, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 113.5
               
National Rating 26
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Special Teams

Expected Offense: 34-38 points / 475-500 yards

Expected Defense: 26-30 points / 375-400 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: Stephen F Austin, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Arkansas (n)

Interdivision: Missouri, @ Kansas, Nebraska

Outlook: The Aggies have one of the best offenses in a BCS conference.  With Quarterback Jerrod Johnson running the team, if the offensive line can give him adequate protection, A&M could top 40 points per game.  Johnson passes for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns last year, while running for 506 and eight more scores.  Johnson’s ability to take off with the ball really helped the running game to click.  The Aggies return two running backs capable of topping 1,000 yards.  Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray combined for 1,601 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.  At receiver, Johnson has his big three pass catchers returning this year.  Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Tannehill, and Jeff Fuller teamed for 127 receptions (each had at least 40) and 17 touchdowns.  Tannehill is a converted QB, so he could be used on a trick play as a passer.

The defense switches to a 3-4 alignment this year, and there isn’t a star in the trenches.  Last year’s star defensive lineman has been moved to rush linebacker.  Von Miller led the league with 17 sacks, and Coach Mike Sherman hopes he can continue to get into the backfield as a linebacker.  In the secondary, last year’s leading tackler, Trent Hunter, returns after making 95 tackles.

With a powerful offense and an improving defense, there is only one way to go for the Aggies.  Expect Texas A&M to be in almost every game this year and win at least half of their Big 12 contests.  Toss in at least three non-conference wins, and the Aggies will have a winning season.

Team Texas Tech Red Raiders
               
Head Coach Tommy Tuberville
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Lubbock, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 112.6
               
National Rating 30
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Back, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Offensive Line

Expected Offense: 26-30 points / 350-375 yards

Expected Defense: 21-24 points / 325-350 yards

Schedule: Non-conference: S M U, @ New Mexico, Weber State, Houston

Outlook: What a change of philosophies!  The only thing we can compare it to is the change that the University of Cincinnati’s basketball team made when Oscar Robertson graduated in 1960 after taking the Bearcats to three consecutive top five finishes and back-to-back Final Fours.  Coach George Smith left, and UC replaced him with Ed Jucker, who instituted a power offense and pressure defense that produced scores like 70-55 rather than 105-90.

Enter Coach Tommy Tuberville to replace Mike Leach.  Say goodbye to 50 passes a game and hello to 20 runs between the tackles.  Say goodbye to 150 scrimmage plays per game.  Tuberville will not change Tech into a 75% running team, but he will run the ball hard when it is 3rd and two, or 2nd and five.

The Red Raiders return enough quality pieces to continue their winning ways.  Quarterback Taylor Potts has apparently beaten out Steven Sheffield for the starting position.  The two combined for 4,659 passing yards and 36 touchdowns last year.  Whoever starts at quarterback will have nearly every receiver from last season back for more.  Detron Lewis and Alexander Torres lead the way.  Running backs should get more carries in the new system, and Baron Batch has the ability to top 1,000 yards.  He scored 14 touchdowns on just 168 carries last year, and he caught 57 passes out of the backfield.  The offensive line is the only worry.  Tuberville likes quicker, less bulky blockers, but he inherits a couple of 350-pound stationary blockers.

Like many other teams, Tech is switching to the 3-4 defense.  With just one returning defensive line starter, that is a good thing.  Nose tackle Coby Whitlock has the skills to cause havoc in the trenches.  Linebackers Brian Duncan and Bront Bird are strong run-stoppers and very good pass defenders.  The one weakness with the front seven is in pass rushing.  There doesn’t look like there is a competent sack machine in the lot.  That could hurt the secondary, which is the strength of this side.  Free Safety Cody Davis was a 1st Team Freshman All-American last year.

Tuberville is used to winning, and he should guide the Red Raiders back to a bowl.  They could pick up an upset along the way and play spoiler.  By the way, that Cincinnati basketball team fared okay with the change to Ed Jucker.  The Bearcats won the next two National Championships and came within a minute of winning a third in a row.

Coming Tomorrow: The Big Ten started all the conference shuffling and only added one team—to this point.  Find out if there will be any shuffling at the top of the conference standings and whether Rich Rodriguez can keep his job.

September 1, 2009

2009 Big 12 Conference Preview

2009 Big 12 Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

If Rip Van Winkle had awakened in a wheat field in Kansas from his 20-year slumber last year, he might have been able to understand all the big changes throughout the world in his score-long slumber.  He might have been able to predict the coming of the Internet, the election of an African-American as President, even another Major League baseball team in Washington, D.C. occupying the cellar once again.  However, he would have never recognized the Big 12 Conference state of affairs on the gridiron.

He might have been confused and believed that when he saw Oklahoma’s football passing stats and read 349 yards passing and 25 completions that he was looking at their yardage from the entire season.  He’d see that Texas passed for 308 yards on 26 completions and say to himself that the Longhorns must really be running that wishbone to such perfection that they only needed to throw the ball 34 times all year.  Then, when he discovered these yardages were the average per game for these two teams, he would have sworn he was no longer in Kansas.  Then, just to fool around with him, you could tell him that Kansas State had been one of the most successful programs in college football while he slept, but they had fallen back on hard times and hired their 70-year old former head coach.  It’s hard for us who have been awake the entire time to believe the complete 180 degree turnaround in this conference.

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 Nebraska hosts Oklahoma a week before taking on Kansas for what could be the North Division title, the Cornhuskers’ home field advantage might be as little as two points.  However, if that same Nebraska team takes on Louisiana-Lafayette a week after scoring a huge upset over a top 10 team, they could enjoy a seven to 10 point 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.

 

Big 12 Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

   
   

 

Prediction *

   
  Team

PiRate

Big 12

Overall

 
  North

 

 

 

 
  Kansas

110

5-3

9-4

#
  Nebraska

109

5-3

8-4

 
  Missouri

105

2-6

4-8

 
  Colorado

102

4-4

7-5

 
  Kansas State

97

4-4

7-5

 
  Iowa State

92

0-8

3-9

 
   

 

 

 

 
  South

 

 

 

 
  Oklahoma

136

8-0

13-0

#
  Texas

135

7-1

11-1

 
  Oklahoma State

118

6-2

10-2

 
  Texas Tech

112

3-5

7-5

 
  Baylor

109

4-4

6-6

 
  Texas A&M

94

1-7

4-8

 
               

 

Big 12 North

Kansas: This actually came as a surprise to us at first.  Three of us actually originally believed KU was headed to a lower division finish.  The other two figured third or possibly second at best for the Jayhawks.  When the PiRate formula kicked out the data showing Kansas a point better than Nebraska, we began to look more closely at their roster.

The Jayhawks have excellent offensive skill position players.  Quarterback Todd Reesing returns for his final season after completing 66.5% of his passes for 3,888 yards and 32 touchdowns.  In a league with four or maybe five sure future NFL draft picks, it’s debatable whether Reesing will hear his name called on the second day in 2010.  At 5-11, the NFL evaluators discount all his other abilities.  At the collegiate level, he’s as dangerous as any conference peer.

KU returns two receivers who topped 1,000 yards in receptions in 2008.  Former quarterback Kerry Meier (97 receptions in ’08) may be the only player ever to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season and catch more than 1,000 yards in passes.  Dezmon Briscoe (92-1,407/15 TD) is the stud and future starter on an NFL roster. 

The ‘Hawks use a running back by committee approach, and all the key components from last year return.  Jake Sharp led the way with 860 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He’s a threat coming out of the bullpen on passing plays as well.

KU’s offense average 33.4 points and 432 total yards per game last year, and those numbers could be surpassed, but only if the offensive line comes through.  For Kansas to realize their division winning potential, they have to open more running lanes.  They won’t win the division with a rushing average under four yards per carry.

The Jayhawk defense must also improve for the record to improve by the two extra games needed to be moved from the loss column to the win column.  It’s a mystery how the linebackers will perform.  All three starters have graduated.  Arist Wright has a little starting experience in three years in Lawrence, and he will anchor the unit from the middle.

The defensive line is in better shape with three starters returning from a year ago.  Jake Laptad had seven sacks, and Caleb Blakesely and Jamal Greene took up a lot of space in the middle allowing the linebackers to be heroes.

The secondary is the strength of this side of the ball.  Kansas used 5 defensive backs a lot last year, and all five return!  Darrell Stuckey intercepted five passes and knocked down seven more.  Justin Thornton knocked down 11 balls.  There’s some fine depth behind this group. 

Kansas gave up 28.8 points and 397 yards per game, with 274 of those yards coming through the air.  If they can lower the pass defense to 250 yards and get 30 sacks, it just might be enough to get to the Big 12 Championship Game.  If not, the Jayhawks are still going bowling for the fifth time in seven seasons.  As an impartial quintet of observers, we must admit we tend to pull for Coach Mark Mangino and the terrific bunch of KU fans.  Two of us have tailgated with them in the past and loved hearing stories about Pepper Rodgers, Bobby Douglass, and John Riggins.

Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini turned the Cornhuskers around in one year, and now he’s ready to begin the transformation back to dominance in Lincoln.  After a season in which the average score of their games was 35-29, expect to see a drop on both sides of the scoreboard.  Yes, the black shirts are on their way back.

The defensive line will be a strength, second in the league to the Sooners.  We expect the ‘Huskers to dump enemy quarterbacks more than 35 times and hold opposing running backs to about 3.2 yards per rush.  Maybe the most exciting defensive tackle in years plays in this line.  Ndamukong Suh became the first defensive lineman to lead the Cornhuskers in tackles since 1973.  He made 76 tackles, 7 ½ sacks, 11 ½ additional tackles for loss, batted down three passes, and picked off two more.  You want more?  He hauled both of those interceptions back for touchdowns, and then he auditioned for “Dancing With The Network Stars” by doing his “Ducky Dance.”  Who needs Emmitt Smith?  Hey Ndamukong: Do you have Kelly Pickler for a Twitter follower?

The defensive backfield will be much improved this season.  They gave up 233 yards per game and 57.7% completions, which in this league is well above average.  Safeties Larry Asante and Matt O’Hanlon teamed for 119 tackles and nine deflected passes.  Third safety Rickey Thenarse gives this unit great depth.  The same can be said for nickel back Mathew May.  He backs up two great cornerbacks in Prince Amukamara and Anthony West.

The one weak spot on the defense is the second line.  The linebackers are not as talented as the other two units.  This unit will have to grow up quickly, because NU must win by holding down the great offenses in the league.

The Cornhusker offense is going to be more like the dinosaur offenses of the old Big Eight.  Nebraska will rely on a power running game to eat up the clock and wear down opposing defenses.  Running back Roy Helu rushed for 803 yards last year, and he will need to add about 400 yards to that total this year.  The depth behind him is questionable, and true freshman Rex Burkhead will be the principle backup.  Helu rushed for more than 150 yards against Oklahoma, so he’s capable of challenging for the league rushing title.

Joe Ganz used up his eligibility last year, and NU will be breaking in a new set of quarterbacks.  Projected starter Zac Lee has one completed pass for five yards for experience.

The wide receivers are not up to the standards of the big hitters in this league after losing the top two receivers from 2008.  Tight end Mike McNeill is the best player on this unit; he comes off a season where he caught 32 passes for 442 yards and six scores.

The offensive line has had some shuffling since practice began in August, and there has been a question of health with one projected starter, but we think this unit will be just fine.  Center Jacob Hickman will contend for all-conference honors. 

An added offensive weapon is kicker Alex Henery.  He connected on 18 of 21 field goal attempts including a 57 yarder.  Two of those three misses were from beyond 50 yards.

It may be the schedule that prevents NU from winning the North Division.  They play Kansas in Lawrence and Colorado in Boulder in their division and must host Oklahoma from the South.  We expect NU and KU to finish tied in the standings, but the Jayhawks will win the key game against the Cornhuskers.

Missouri: That whistling sound you hear is the Missouri Tiger football team coming down like a bomb released over London during WWII.  The team was wiped out by graduation.  Included in the decimation were quarterback Chase Daniel, tight end Chase Coffman, wide out Jeremy Maclin, tackle Colin Brown, linebacker Michael Keck, safety William Moore, and defensive tackles Ziggy Hood and Stryker Sulak, all of whom were taken in the NFL Draft.  A Tiger squad that averaged 42.2 points and 484 yards per game will see a major drop in those numbers.

Sophomore Blaine Gabbert is the new quarterback. He completed five of 13 passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns, and he is being asked to replace the overwhelming all-time passing leader in Columbia, who threw for 4,335 yards and 39 scores last year.  Gabbert will be at a further disadvantage because Mizzou’s top three receivers, who accounted for 264 catches for 3,080 yards and 30 scores are no longer around.  Jared Perry will be the top man after finishing fourth last year with 41 receptions.

The one big holdover weapon is running back Derrick Washington.  He rushed for 1,036 yards and 17 touchdowns in ’08.  Depth here is a concern, and true freshman Kendial Lawrence could see significant action.

The offensive line welcomes back three starters, led by all-league candidate Kurtis Gregory at guard.  The OL should provide enough blocking for the Tiger backs to top four yards per carry and enough protection to give Gabbert a fair shot to find the open receiver.

On the defensive side, MU was mediocre last year, giving up 27.2 points and 412 yards per game.  We’ll give them some credit because they faced Juice Williams, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Ganz, Zac Robinson, Colt McCoy, Josh Freeman, Todd Reesing, Sam Bradford, and C. J. Bacher—Whew! The numbers could improve simply because the offense runs more clock when they have the ball.

Actual talent improvement is evident at linebacker.  Sean Weatherspoon is the best player on the team and the best linebacker in college football; he should take home the Butkus Award this year.  Last year, he registered an unbelievable 155 tackles with five QB sacks, 13 ½ additional tackles for loss, seven passes knocked away, and three interceptions.  He’ll make his two partners better players, because opponents will go to great lengths to try to eliminate him from the play.

The defensive line and the secondary have issues.  Three starters are gone from both units.  It’s for this reason that we cannot see Missouri competing in the North Division.  In fact, we don’t see how they can forge a winning record.  Not enough pass rush and too many big plays allowed by a green secondary cannot be hidden in this league.

Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins begins his fourth season in the People’s Republic of Boulder, and he could be exiled if the Buffs fail to make it to a bowl this year.  It’s going to be a touch and go situation.  CU has some real talent in places and big holes in other places.  Only four starters return on defense, and it was defense that allowed the Buffs to win five games last year.

When CU won big under former coach Gary Barnett, they did so with a bruising running game.  This Buffalo team will try to revert back to those days, because every running back who contributed in 2008 is back this year.  Rodney Stewart has sneaky speed and quickness and can hit a small hole quickly.  His small frame makes him vulnerable to injury, and he missed time last year.  Darrell Scott is more of a north-south runner, but he too missed time due to injury. 

After the first couple of weeks of August practice, Hawkins had yet to name a starting quarterback.  His son Cody was the starter for most of the last two seasons, but he may be on the verge of losing his spot to Tyler Hansen, a better runner.  If Hansen wins the job, that is a sign that CU will rely more on the run than the pass.

The rebuilding defense is strongest at linebacker.  Shaun Mohler and Jeff Smart return after finishing one-two in tackles (215 combined).  The secondary has one star-in-the-making in cornerback Cha’Pelle Brown, who knocked away 10 passes.

Up front, the defensive line will be the reason CU doesn’t compete in the North Division title race.  No full-time starters return, and three untested sophomores will be pressed into action.

Colorado had troubles with their kicking game last year, and that’s an anomaly kicking in the 5,400 feet elevation of Folsom Field.

An improved offense that can control the ball against average defenses combined with a schedule that includes eight or nine winnable games gives CU a decent shot of getting to seven wins and a bowl game.

Kansas State: Old with the new, and in with the old.  Soon to be 70-year old Bill Snyder returns to the Little Apple after a three-year retirement.  Combining his final two years, where the Wildcats bounced under .500, with the three forgettable seasons of Ron Prince, K-State has gone 26-33 the last five years.  Snyder picked a great time to return, because the ‘Cats have the chance to win a couple extra games this year and return to a bowl.

The defense should be one of the most improved units in the nation.  Yes, you can say it cannot get worse.  Last year, KSU gave up 35.8 points and 479 total yards per game.  Nebraska and Texas Tech topped 600 total yards against them.  Kansas State returns its top six tacklers.  Three starting defensive linemen return, but Brandon Harold is going to miss some games with a leg injury.

State will go almost exclusively with a 4-2-5 defense, and it’s a smart move.  They have much more depth in the secondary than they do at linebacker.  Linebackers Alex Hrebec and John Houlik may not make even Honorable Mention All-Big 12, but their 2009 performance will be much better than 2008.

The secondary will benefit from having all the depth, but without a better pass rush up front, enemy QBs will pick them apart.

The offense will struggle early, as it has to break in a new quarterback.  Carson Coffman and Grant Gregory were still competing for the starting job at the time of this writing.  Whoever wins the job will benefit from having star receiver Brandon Banks return after grabbing 67 passes for 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns.  Tight end Jeron Mastrud ranks only behind Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham for best in the league.

2008 Leading running back Lamark Brown has been moved back to receiver, but he didn’t have much success carrying the ball and can easily be replaced.  Keithen Valentine should surpass Brown’s season total by the sixth or seventh game.

The offensive line suffered a blow when senior guard Brock Unruh was lost for the season due to injury.  That leaves two starting holdovers in the trenches.  Tackle Nick Stringer will land a spot somewhere on the All-Big 12 team.

With non-conference contests with Massachusetts, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Tennessee Tech, the worst KSU can do in the pre-conference is 3-1.  If they upset UCLA and enter conference play at 4-0, they have it made in the shade in the bowl picture.  Even at 3-1, the Wildcats have an excellent shot at getting to 6-6.  They get Texas A&M and Missouri at home and play Iowa State in Kansas City.  

Iowa State: In what looked like a trade, Auburn sent defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads to Ames for Coach Gene Chizik.  Rhoads got the short end of the stick in that one, but at least he inherits a nice bunch of holdovers from last year.  Iowa State will more than likely remain in the basement of the North Division, but the gap to the other teams will shorten this year.

He won’t be confused for a Bradford, McCoy, Robinson, Griffin, or Reesing, but quarterback Austen Arnaud is a poor man’s Seneca Wallace.  He passed for 2,792 yards and 15 touchdowns (61.6% completions) last year.  His top receiver from last year, R. J. Sumrall has picked up his sheepskin, but all the other key contributors from last year are back.  Junior college transfer Darius Reynolds has earned a spot in the starting lineup.

Alexander Robinson rushed for 703 yards (4.6 avg) and scored six times, and he has help this year.  Former Florida Gator Bo Williams was supposed to come in and assume the starter’s job, but he won’t even be second team when the season begins.  Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz’s stock is on the rise, and he is a great fit in the new spread offense.

The offensive line may have a few tough times in the early part of the schedule, but they should be okay once the players get uses to multiple shifts in positions.  ISU averaged 25.3 points and 387 yards per game last year, and we can see those numbers climbing to 28 points and 400 yards in 2009.

A porous 2008 defense gave up almost 36 points and 453 yards per game, and the numbers could be just as weak or even weaker this year.  The defensive line and secondary may take a step back, while the linebackers move forward a tad.  Safety James Smith has the best shot of earning post-season accolades.  He led ISU with 85 tackles last year.

Middle linebacker Jesse Smith leads the one not-so-weak area.  He registered five tackles for loss and six deflected passes last year.

The Cyclones have a decent chance to open 3-1 with a non-conference schedule that includes North Dakota State, Iowa, Kent State, and Army.  For the second year in a row, ISU may not win a conference game, but they will lose them by fewer points per game.

Big 12 South

Oklahoma:  The Big 12 will be a two-team race this year.  Oklahoma and Texas should combine for either 22 or 23 regular season wins.  The two could play each other 12 times and split them six to six.  The PiRate formula says OU begins the season one point better than Texas.  By the seventh week of the season, who know?

Let’s start with the supposed weakness this year.  Everybody is saying the offensive line is going to cause the offense to fall backward just enough to finish second.  We say, hogwash!  We’ve studied the OL in depth, and we’re here to tell you this line is more underrated than former NBA coach Bill Sharman.  Trent Williams is a top-rate tackle.  He could have been a first day draft pick in the NFL this spring.  When center Ben Habern recovers from his lower back injury, he will be one of the top snappers in the league.  Brian Simmons will team with Williams on the left side to provide exceptional leadership.  This unit will dedicate themselves to top performance much in the way Florida did so after the loss to Ole Miss.  Expect total effort and attention to details.

The receivers may not be as talented this year, but if that’s OU’s only real weakness, Coach Bob Stoops will be smiling as his team takes the field in Pasadena in the second week in January.  Tight end Jermaine Gresham is the favorite for the Mackey Award this year after catching 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns.  He should top 1,000 yards and 15 scores this year.

We’ve saved the best parts of the offense for last.  The Sooners return two 1,000 yard rushers who combined for 34 touchdowns.  Chris Brown (217-1,220) and DeMarco Murray (179-1,002) have an excellent chance to repeat the feat and even increase those numbers.

So, what can Mr. Heisman Trophy do for an encore?  He can copy Tim Tebow and follow it up with the National Championship.  It doesn’t seem possible that Bradford could improve on 4,720 passing yards, 50 touchdowns, 67.9% completions, and just eight interceptions.  He doesn’t need to have a season equal to last.  In fact, it might be to OU’s advantage to hold onto the ball a little longer this year and allow the defense to star.  Sooner games lasted an average of 151 plays per game, while Florida games lasted an average of only 127 plays per game.

The defense was not up to championship standards last year, but it should be this year.  After giving up 24.5 points and 368 yards per game, an improvement to 20 points and 340 yards should be enough to put Oklahoma in Pasadena.

The one slightly vulnerable area on this side of the ball is the secondary, where two new safeties will start.  Cornerback Dominique Franks picked off four passes and batted away 10 passes.  He could be a 1st Team All-Big 12 this year.

The top linebacker this year is Travis Lewis, who led the team in tackles in 2008 with 144, 12 total tackles for loss.  He intercepted four passes.  Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds make it the best linebacker unit in the conference.

Up front, OU will be downright stingy against the run and a nightmare to opposing quarterbacks.  End Jeremy Beal had 8 ½ sacks and another seven tackles for loss.  Gerald McCoy, Auston English, and Adrian Taylor were nearly as tough.

It all comes down to the Red River Shootout on October 17.  Yes, Oklahoma State could give the Sooners a good game, and Texas Tech will be out for revenge, but we just don’t see any team other than Texas competing with them.  They will either go 13-0 and qualify for the National Championship Game, or go 11-1 and end up in a BCS Bowl.

Texas:  This isn’t the number two team in the division, so don’t take that impression from them being here.  No, we aren’t saying Texas will disappoint.  We are saying that OU is 1A and UT is 1B.

Texas is a decent running back from being unstoppable.  If Fozzy Whittaker or Vondrell McGee can supply a little more relief for McCoy, defenses will not be able to slow this offense down.

Colt McCoy is due to win the Heisman Trophy.  He completed an insane 76.7% of his passes last year.  These were not glorified handoffs.  He averaged 11.6 yards per completion and almost nine yards per attempt.  McCoy’s TD/INT ratio was 34/8.

Quan Cosby and his 92 receptions, 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns has moved on, but the Longhorns still have Jordan Shipley, who hauled in 89 passes for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Keep an eye on flex tight end Dan Buckner.  He has big play potential and will not command the tough coverage given to Shipley.

The offensive line has three all-stars.  Center Chris Hall, guard Charlie Tanner, and tackle Adam Ulatoski will play for pay next year.

The defense was better than Oklahoma’s last year, and it was the difference in their game.  The Longhorns have a little bit of housekeeping to do up front, where only tackle Lamarr Houston returns from last season.  Kheeston Randall is big and agile, and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a star.

Texas is set at linebacker, where Sergio Kindle dumped enemy quarterbacks 10 times last year.  In the secondary, safeties Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon broke up 24 passes last year. 

The kicking game is so strong, there are two potential star placekickers and two punters who contribute.  John Gold is the regular punter, and Justin Tucker is the rugby-style punter.

Texas Tech will bear the brunt of Texas’s wrath when the Red Raiders visit September 19.  The Longhorns must face Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but this year looks like a two-team race.

Oklahoma State:  We’re not saying it will happen, but can you remember back to 1971?  Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado, all of the Big Eight Conference, finished one-two-three in the final poll.  Oklahoma State could easily finish 10-2 this year with a scoring margin of 20 points per game.

The Cowboys’ offense is every bit as good as the two titans ahead of them in the league.  Quarterback Zac Robinson passed for 3,064 yards and 25 touchdowns and ran for 562 yards and eight more scores.  Running back Kendall Hunter rushed for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns, and backup Keith Toston added another 686 yards (6.7 avg).  Receiver Dez Bryant caught 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns.  All these skill players return this year.  To make matters worse, for opponents that is, the Cowboy offensive line returns three very competent starters and adds two very highly-rated newcomers in reserve.  OSU gained 5.5 yards per rush in 2008, and there’s no reason to think they won’t continue with that success.

Defensively, the ‘Pokes are just an average team looking to improve to respectability.  Their front four and back four have a lot of gaping holes.  OSU surrendered 28.1 points and 406 yards per game last year, and those numbers will only marginally improve in 2009.  The Cowboys use a variation of the 4-3, and Star linebacker Andre Sexton returns after leading the team with 100 tackles.  Middle linebacker Orie Lemon added 90 and batted away eight passes.  Third linebacker Patrick Lavine recorded 70 tackles. 

Oklahoma State has excellent kick and punt returners.  Bryant scored twice on punt returns last year, and Perrish Cox took two kickoffs back for touchdowns.

If the Cowboys can win the opener at home with Georgia, they will possibly move into the Top Five.  We can see them competing and even winning the Georgia game, but we don’t see them beating Texas or Oklahoma.

Texas Tech: Red Raider coach Mike Leach keeps plugging in new pieces to his intricate offense in Lubbock.  Graham Harrell has left the building after ending his senior season with 5,111 passing yards and 45 touchdowns.  Top receiver Michael Crabtree is busy not accepting contract offers with the San Francisco 49ers these days.  Back Shannon Woods is no longer around, as are three offensive line starters.  Yet, Texas Tech should score 35-40 points per game and gain 450-500 yards.

New quarterback Taylor Potts has already received accolades from Leach who called him the best quarterback he’s ever coached.  Potts saw limited action last year and passed for 260 yards on 63.9% completions.

Baron Batch split time with Woods and returns to the backfield after rushing for a team leading 758 yards and seven scores last year.

The offensive line has its strengths and its weaknesses.  Guard Brandon Carter and tackle Marlon Winn are seasoned vets, while center Shawn Byrnes and guard Mickey Ofafor have limited experience. 

The defense returns enough starters to keep improving.  It will be strongest up front with nose tackle Colby Whitlock returning.  Linebacker isn’t a strong area, but it’s no great liability.  Brian Duncan led the team from his middle ‘backer spot with 94 stops.

The secondary features cornerback Jamar Wall, who batted away 11 passes and took away two more.

Tech should win all four out-of-conference games (North Dakota, Rice, Houston, and New Mexico), but games at Texas, at Nebraska, at Oklahoma State and at home with Oklahoma should be losses.  The season ender against Baylor at the Mistake on the Turnpike, AKA Cowboys Stadium, could be a tossup, and the Bears could be playing for bowl eligibility.  Call it an eight or nine win season in Lubbock.  

Baylor: This is the year if the Bears are ever going to get over the hump and pick up that elusive sixth win.  Coach Art Briles has 16 starters returning.

Quarterback Robert Griffin is in the next wave of signal callers after the big three.  He comes off a season in which he passed for 2,091 yards with 15 touchdowns versus just three interceptions and ran the ball for 843 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Griffin has a wealth of returning talent at the receiver positions.  Kendall Wright and David Gettis combined for 79 catches and 1,040 yards.  Tight end Justin Akers isn’t an every down player because Baylor frequently spreads the field and goes four wide, but when he’s in the game, he is hard to bring down after the catch.

Jay Finley led the Bears with 865 rushing yards and could possibly top 1,000 if the offense moves to the next level.  He may be used more as a receiver this year, because he’s tough to stop in the open field.

The one fly in the ointment is the offensive line.  There will be three new starters up front.  If they don’t continue the success that last year’s line enjoyed when they opened holes that led to 4.9 yards per rush, then BU won’t be playing in December or January.

 

On the defensive side, the top four tacklers and six of the top seven return.  The question mark is on the defensive line where two new starters will need to step up and keep blockers away from the linebackers.

Those linebackers are the best trio in years.  Antonio Jones, Joe Pawelek, and Antonio Johnson teamed up to make 271 stops intercept six passes (all Pawelek), and break up 10 more.

The back line features three returning starters who did not perform up to Big 12 standards last year.  BU allowed 67.4% of enemy passes to be caught for 255 yards per game. 

Baylor opens at Wake Forest, and it should be a great game.  We’ll call that a Demon Deacon win.  Connecticut comes to Waco, and that won’t be an easy win.  Northwestern State and Kent State should be cinch wins.  If they win three of these first four games, they will still need three conference wins to gain bowl eligibility.  They will have to pull of one upset.  It’s a 50-50 chance.

Texas A&M: Since R. C. Slocum was shown the door after winning consistently for two decades, this program has fallen off the map, going 36-37 since then.  Second year coach Mike Sherman may not be given much time to turn things around in College Station, and the alumni could demand action this year if A&M finishes 5th or 6th in the division.  We say the Aggies will do just that.

10 starters return to the offense, led by quarterback Jerrod Johnson.  Johnson has talent, but in this division, he’s a distant 6th among the QBs.  The once proud running game here disappeared as the Aggies rushed for just 89 yards per game.  Cyrus Gray averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year, but he only carried the ball 94 times. 

A&M returns their top three and five of their top six receivers.  Ryan Tannehill may not start after leading the team in receptions with 55.  Jeff Fuller and tight end Jamie McCoy should see more touches after bringing in 50 and 43 passes respectively.

The offensive line is the best part of this side of the ball.  The addition of LSU transfer Matt Allen, and the emergence of tackle Danny Baker means there will be much more depth here this year.  Look for the Aggies to improve their rushing numbers back into the low triple digits and pass for 260-285 yards.

The defense will be weaker overall this year with very little pass rush and very little ability to stop the passing attacks of the other five South Division rivals.  The Aggies lost too much on this side of the ball to contend for any wins inside the division.  They better defeat Iowa State at Kyle Field, or else they could go 0-8 in Big 12 play.

Next up: The Southeastern Conference where football definitely is a religion, and The Gators, led by the great leader Tebowses, are the chosen people.

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