The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 17, 2017

2017 Mountain West Conference Preview

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 2:37 am

In past years, the Mountain West Conference preview has come several days later.  We preview the conferences in reverse order of their overall power rating, and the MWC starts the 2017 season at its lowest rank in many years.  Part of that reason is that the one power program, Boise State, is not so powerful these days.  The Broncos are still very much a contender to win the Mountain Division and play in the league championship game, but they are not a prohibitive favorite, nor are they the regular favorite.

Last year, five teams competed for the Mountain Division title, while San Diego State cruised to the West Division title with no competition.  It should be more of the same formula this year, as the MWC Championship Game is starting to look like the Aztec Invitational Tournament.

Here is how the MWC Media picked the races in the preseason.

Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 Boise St. 21 161
2 Colorado St. 6 135
3 Wyoming 1 114
4 Air Force 0 82
5 New Mexico 0 68
6 Utah St. 0 28
       
West Divsion
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 San Diego St. 28 168
2 Hawaii 0 135
3 UNLV 0 105
4 Nevada 0 79
5 San Jose St. 0 54
6 Fresno St. 0 47

The Preseason PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings agree with SDSU being the clear cut favorite in the West, but they do not agree with the Mountain Division pick.  It looks like a three-team race in this division.

Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Colo. State 101.3 100.5 101.2 101.0
Wyoming 99.0 96.4 97.8 97.7
Boise St. 98.4 96.6 97.6 97.5
New Mexico 92.8 93.3 93.7 93.3
Air Force 91.5 92.2 91.8 91.8
Utah St. 87.7 86.7 86.9 87.1
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
San Diego St. 99.7 100.7 101.3 100.6
Hawaii 88.8 90.8 88.6 89.4
U N L V 85.3 88.5 85.7 86.5
San Jose St. 86.2 85.5 85.5 85.7
Fresno St. 85.6 84.2 85.7 85.2
Nevada 83.0 86.9 85.3 85.0
         
MWC Averages 91.6 91.9 91.8 91.7

This is our not-so-scientific look at the projected standings and bowl projections.

Mountain West Conference Projected Standings
       
Mountain Division Conference Overall Bowl
Wyoming 7-1 9-4 Idaho Potato
Colorado St. 7-1 9-3 Hawaii
Boise St. 6-2 8-4 Arizona
New Mexico 4-4 6-6 New Mexico
Air Force 3-5 5-7  
Utah St. 1-7 2-10  
       
West Division Conference Overall Bowl
San Diego St. 6-2 9-4 Las Vegas
Hawaii 3-5 5-7  
UNLV 3-5 4-8  
Nevada 2-6 3-9  
Fresno St. 2-6 3-9  
San Jose St. 2-6 3-10  
       
San Diego St. to Win MWC Championship Game

Coming tomorrow: The Sun Belt Conference had always been the lowest rated league each preseason since its inception, but we thought that had changed this year.  Not only did we believe that the SBC moved out of the basement, they climbed up to second best Group of 5 conference.  At first, we believed it was due to a trio of exceptionally strong teams, but then we realized what happened.  It was our mistake.  We forgot to divide the total rating by 12 and divided by 11.  Coastal Carolina joined the league as a full member, and our people did not change the formula until it was too late to change the order of the previews.  We apologize for the error.

 

To make up for this, here is a fun, two-part trivia question for you.  The answers will come in the following previews.

A. Name the four pairs of FBS football schools that play their home games in stadiums less than 10 miles apart.

B. Name the three pairs of FBS football schools  that play their home games in stadiums less than 15 miles apart and are also conference rivals.

Remember, these are FBS schools only.  One hint–there will be one fewer pair that qualify after this season.

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August 17, 2016

2016 Mountain West Conference Football Preview

In our first three previews, the races have projected to be competitive with up to four teams figuring to contend for the divisional titles. In today’s Mountain West Conference preview, there is no such competitiveness. Boise State and San Diego State are prohibitive favorites in the divisional races, so much so that the Broncos received 27 of 29 first place votes in the preseason media poll, while the Aztecs selection as number one in the West was unanimous.

The PiRate Ratings concur–Boise State and San Diego State begin the 2016 season as clear-cut favorites. In the Mountain Division, Air Force is within striking distance, less than a touchdown weaker than BSU to start the season. In the West, SDSU begins the season more than a ten points ahead of the pack.

Our Buccaneers have spotted their first surprise team in this year’s previews. UNLV, picked by the media to finish fifth in the West Division, should better that by a lot this year. The Rebels start the season with the fourth best PiRate Rating in the West, but they benefit by hosting Fresno State, Colorado State, Wyoming, and Nevada, while playing at Hawaii, and this gives second year head coach Tony Sanchez a chance to give UNLV a chance to return to a bowl for the first time in three years. Sanchez lost five games in six years as head coach of Bishop Gorman High School in suburban Las Vegas. In his first season at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Rebels finished 3-9, but it was an almost two touchdown improvement in scoring margin. A defense which figures to improve yet again should allow the Rebels to shed another 7-10 points off their points allowed, and Sanchez will mold a credible offense and guide UNLV to bowl eligibility.

The other surprise team should not be a surprise team at all. New Mexico was selected fifth in the Mountain Division after Coach Bob Davie guided the Lobos to a 7-5 regular season record, the first winning season in Albuquerque since 2007. The Lobos return almost every defensive player that contributed last year, and they also return a competent quarterback in Lamar Jordan. The PiRate believe that UNM will not only return to a bowl game again this season, they will even improve on their won-loss record of last year.

Both San Diego State and Boise State figure to contend for the automatic bid to a New Year’s Six Bowl Game awarded to the top team not from a Power 5 league. The winner of the MWC Championship Game might need to be undefeated this year to take that bid, because there are a couple of teams in the American Athletic Conference capable of going 12-1 this year. Check the PiRate Ratings Friday for a preview of that league.

Here is how the MWC Media Predicted The Race

Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 Boise St. 27 172
2 Air Force 2 126
3 Utah St. 0 111
4 Colorado St. 0 95
5 New Mexico 0 74
6 Wyoming 0 31
       
West Divsion
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 San Diego St. 29 174
2 Nevada 0 129
3 San Jose St. 0 122
4 Fresno St. 0 76
5 UNLV 0 73
6 Hawaii 0 35

The Media did not select an overall champion.

Here are the PiRate Ratings to begin the season.

Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Boise St. 104.4 105.7 106.3 105.5
Air Force 99.9 100.2 100.1 100.1
New Mexico 94.3 97.6 95.6 95.9
Utah St. 93.2 97.1 93.0 94.4
Colorado St. 88.2 90.6 89.0 89.3
Wyoming 82.5 82.5 82.6 82.6
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
San Diego St. 104.9 102.2 108.2 105.1
Nevada 92.3 95.6 93.6 93.9
San Jose St. 91.0 91.0 91.9 91.3
UNLV 89.0 93.6 89.1 90.6
Fresno St. 82.1 87.1 81.9 83.7
Hawaii 77.0 76.5 75.7 76.4
         
MWC Averages 91.6 93.4 92.3 92.4

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

Mountain West Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Mountain Division      
Boise St. 8-0 12-1 * Las Vegas
Air Force 7-1 11-1 Hawaii
New Mexico 5-3 8-4 New Mexico
Utah St. 4-4 6-6 Arizona
Colorado St. 2-6 4-8  
Wyoming 0-8 1-11  
       
West Division      
San Diego St. 8-0 11-2 Poinsettia
UNLV 5-3 7-5 Idaho Potato
Nevada 4-4 6-6 Bowl Eligible
San Jose St. 4-4 5-7  
Fresno St. 1-7 2-10  
Hawaii 0-8 2-11  
       
* Boise St. Projected to Win MWC Championship Game

Coming Tomorrow–The PiRates will release a double feature–The Independents and the American Athletic Conference. Beginning Saturday, we will commence with the Power 5 conference previews.

February 3, 2012

PiRate Ratings NCAA Basketball Report for February 3, 2012

This week’s Low and Mid-Major Conference Teams in the RPI Top 50

  8: U N L V

16: Creighton

18: Colorado State

21: Gonzaga

22: San Diego State

28: St. Mary’s

30:WichitaState

33:Long BeachState

36:MurrayState

37: Brigham Young

38:New Mexico

47: Harvard

48: MiddleTennessee

 

This week, we look at the upper echelon of the non-power conferences, the so-called Mid-Majors.  We list seven conferences in this group that is just below the top eight leagues.

 

Colonial Athletic

1 bid only

Virginia Commonwealth made it to the Final Four last year, and George Mason has been there in recent times, but this league is down in 2012.  Only the conference tournament champion will play in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Virginia Commonwealth (10-2/19-5 RPI 94), Drexel (10-2/18-5 RPI 82), George Mason (10-2/18-6 RPI 113), and Old Dominion (10-2/15-9 RPI 130) are tied for first, well ahead of the rest of the pack.

 

Drexel may be the league’s best representative this year.  The Dragons can rebound with the power conference teams.  Samme Givens, Daryl McCoy, and Dartaye Ruffin team up for about 18 boards per game, and seven players contribute in a balanced scoring load.  Drexel holds opponents under 40% from the field.

 

Virginia Commonwealth still plays a helter-skelter style of ball, but the Rams cannot shoot the ball well.  VCU’s field goal accuracy is barely 40%.  Leading scorer Bradford Burgess shoots just 33.6% from the field.  Coach Shaka Smart has to find a way to get Juvonte Reddic the ball more.  Reddic, who averages 10.9 points per game, connects on better than 50% of his shots.

 

Horizon

1 bid with very slim chance at 2

 

Cleveland State (8-2/18-4 RPI 58) owns a double-digit win at Vanderbilt.  However, the Vikings have fallen in the RPI rankings to a point where they would need to win out and lose in the semifinals or finals of the Horizon League in order to earn an at-large bid.

 

Valparaiso (9-3/16-8 RPI 110)  is close to being as good as they were during their winning years in the early 1990’s.  However, they will not make it to the Big Dance unless they earn an automatic bid.

 

UW-Milwaukee (7-5/14-10 RPI 137), Youngstown State (7-5/12-10 RPI 147), and Butler (7-5/13-11 RPI 125) are the best of the rest. Butler appears to be in danger of missing out on post-season play this year.

 

Mid-American

1 bid only (remote chance for 2)

 

The MAC is not what it once was.  No team in the Western Division can even sniff a double digit RPI.  In the stronger Eastern Division, there are three teams that could compete in an opening round NCAA Tournament game.

 

Akron (7-1/15-7 RPI 56) is on the precipice of being an at-large bubble team.  The Zips are a balanced scoring teams with five players scoring between eight and 11 points per game. Akronis not all that strong on the boards, but the Zips shoot better than 48% from the field.

 

Ohio U (6-2/18-4 RPI 78) has a very tough closing schedule, and the Bobcats are likely to lose as many as they win from here on out.  Poor shooting will doom them in on the road.

 

Buffalo (6-2/13-6 RPI 92) holds opponents well under 40% from the field, and the Bulls can compete with anybody on the boards.  Javon McCrea and Mitchell Watt team for better than 31 points per game. Buffalomight be the most competitive of the three leaders in an opening round NCAA Tournament game.

 

Missouri Valley

2 for sure and possible 3 bids

 

The Valley is fertile in 2012.  Creighton (11-1/21-2 RPI 16) and WichitaState(10-2/19-4 RPI 30) are sure things to earn at-large bids to the Big Dance if they do not win the MVC Tournament. Northern Iowa (5-7/15-9) has the talent to pull off a conference tournament upset. 

 

Creighton has the 21st century version of Larry Bird leading the team.  Doug McDermott averages almost 24 points per game and more than eight rebounds per game.  He connects on better than 62% of his shots, about 52% from behind the three-point line, and 82% at the foul line. 

 

The Blue Jays own wins over San Diego State and Northwestern, and they won at WichitaState.

 

Wichita State defeated UNLV, and the Shockers are a little stronger defensively than Creighton, but a little weaker offensively.

 

Mountain West

3 bids with a chance for 4

 

Even with the defection of BYU, this league is quite strong, perhaps the strongest of this group.

 

Five teams are still in contention for at-large bid status.  UNLV (5-1/21-3 RPI 8) is a sure thing.  The Runnin’ Rebels can score (80+ points per game), defend (9 steals per game and +15 scoring margin), and rebound (+5.4).  Mike Moser averages a double-double (14.7/11.6).

 

San Diego State (5-1/19-3 RPI 22) is only marginally weaker this year than last.  The Aztecs are still talented enough to advance deep into the tournament.  Coach Steve Fisher has two legitimate stars in Chase Tarpley and Jamaal Franklin.  SDSU owns wins over Arizona, California, UNLV, and Long BeachState.

 

New Mexico (4-2/18-4 RPI 38) may be the best of the top three in this league.  The Lobos can slaughter a team in a matter of minutes with deadly accurate shooting and strong defense.  Coach Steve Alford has this team playing like an oldIndianateam.  UNM defeated St. Louis, Wyoming, and ColoradoState, but there is a question about their strength of schedule.

 

Colorado State (3-3/14-7 RPI 18) and Wyoming(3-3/17-5 RPI 91) both have enough talent to win the MWC Tournament.

 

West Coast Conference

3 bids (possibly 4)

 

If the Mountain West is not the strongest Mid-Major, then this league is.  Three teams stand to make the NCAA Tournament, and if someone else can pull off the conference tournament upset, there is a chance that four could receive invitations.

 

St.Mary’s (11-0/22-2 RPI 28) continues to remain among the nation’s elite thanks to Coach Randy Bennett’s ability to recruit all over the planet.  This Gael team has the talent to make it to the Final Four.  They can score from the perimeter and in the paint.  The Gaels are accurate shooters, tenacious defenders, and tough rebounders.  They have defeated Gonzaga and already swept BYU.

 

Gonzaga (7-2/17-4 RPI 21) has defeated Notre Dame, Oral Roberts, Arizona, and Xavier this year.  The Zags lost to BYU last night.

 

BYU (7-3/19-6 RPI 37) moved to within half a game of Gonzaga.  The Cougars have four double figure scorers, led by Noah Hartsock at 17.8 points per game.

 

Western Athletic

1 or 2 bids

 

Nevada (8-0/19-3 RPI 55) is on the at-large bubble.  If the Wolf Pack wins the WAC regular season title with no more than one loss, they could sneak into the Big Dance as one of the final at-large teams if they lost in the conference tournament finals. Nevada owns a win over Washington, and they lost at UNLV by just four points.

 

New MexicoState (5-2/16-7 RPI 89) is strong enough to win the WAC Tournament and earn an automatic bid.  The Aggies will not qualify as an at-large under any circumstance this year, even though they beat New Mexico.

December 16, 2011

PiRate Picks For College And Pro Football–December 16-22, 2011

Filed under: PiRate Picks_College & Pro — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 12:19 pm

We Won’t Get Bowled Over With Too Many Selections

The bowl season commences Saturday with the New Mexico, Famous Idaho Potato, and New Orleans Bowl.  The Beef O’Brady’s, Poinsettia, and MAACO Bowls will be played in the next seven days, giving us a chance to play a troika of college selections.

 

We are going to throw a pair of NFL 13-point teasers to give us five quality selections for the week.

 

1. New Mexico Bowl: Wyoming +7 vs. Temple

This should be an exciting, hard-fought game won in the trenches.  Temple will attempt to grind it out in three yards and a cloud of dust running, while Wyoming will try to spread the field and force the Owls to defend 53 yards wide.  The Cowboy blocking corps will be pressed to protect their QB, and it will provide the viewer with an excellent contrast in styles.  We believe this game will be close, but Wyoming will be able to strike quickly with a cheap score.  We cannot see that happening for Temple, so we will take the underdogs and get a TD straight up.

 

2. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State -1 vs. Ohio U

Utah State had some rough outings early in the season, but the Aggies rebounded to win big down the stretch.  Truth be told, USU just might be the best team in the WAC right now.

 

When Ohio punter Paul Hershey tweeted his dislike for going to Boise for a bowl, it got a lot of press, but not many sports media writers read between the lines.  Hershey obviously was relaying his teammates reaction when they were overlooked for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl.  We seriously question the desire of the Bobcats in this game, while Utah State is very happy to be playing at the blue field.

 

3. 13-point teaser

New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette +18 vs. San Diego St.

Beef O’Brady’s Bowl: Marshall +17 vs. Florida International

Poinsettia Bowl: T C U +3 vs. Louisiana Tech

MAACO Bowl: Boise State -1 vs. Arizona State.

 

4. 13-point NFL teaser

Green Bay – ½ vs. Kansas City

New Orleans +6 ½ vs. Minnesota

Seattle & Chicago OVER 22 ½

Tennessee +6 ½ vs. Indianapolis

 

5. 13-point NFL teaser

Cincinnati & St. Louis OVER 27

Detroit +12 vs. Oakland

New England +5 ½ vs. Denver

Arizona +6 ½ vs. Cleveland

August 22, 2011

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

If only…  If only Brigham Young and Utah had chosen to stay in this conference, and TCU would not have announced their departure after 2011-12, this conference would have leap-frogged over at least one and maybe two automatic qualifying BCS leagues.

 

Imagine a league with Boise State, TCU, BYU, Utah, and Air Force as its top tier and with San Diego State and Colorado State frequently displaying enough talent to beat teams from the “Big Six” conferences.  This league would have had the potential to state its case for inclusion in the AQ conferences.  With the Big 12 on the precipice of breaking up, who knows?  Maybe the MWC could have taken in the leftovers from that league and assumed an automatic qualifying position.

 

2011 should still be an interesting season in this conference.  TCU must still play one more year here, and then the top three teams from the WAC (Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State) will join Boise State in this league.

 

Boise State

The Broncos dominated the WAC like no other team has dominated a conference since Alabama dominated the SEC in the 1970’s.  BSU posted a WAC record of 69-3 in their last nine seasons in their old league (Alabama went 64-4 in the SEC from 1971-1980; Oklahoma went 64-6 in the Big 8 in that same time frame).

 

Will Coach Chris Petersen’s Broncos dominate the MWC like they did the WAC?  It looks like they will in 2011.  Boise returns just enough talent to make another run toward an undefeated season.

 

Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.  The quarterback is already the leading passer in school history.  Last year, he completed better than 71% of his passes at better than 10 yards per attempt.  His TD/Int ratio was 35/6, and there is no reason to believe he cannot duplicate or improve upon those numbers this year.  He is a bit small for the NFL’s likes, but he should still be a second day draft choice next year.  Backup Joe Southwick is more than capable of running the team should Moore go down with an injury.

 

Moore loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Titus Young and Austin Pettis were gems, as they both grabbed 71 passes and teamed for 19 touchdowns.  Both were high draft picks, so there will be a drop-off in talent at this position.  However, Boise might still have the best receiver in the league.  Tyler Shoemaker proved to be a breakaway threat when he averaged better than 18 yards per reception last year.  Tight end Kyle Efaw should see more balls thrown his way this year after grabbing 24 passes and scoring five times in 2010.

 

Another pass-catching threat is running back Doug Martin.  Martin had 28 receptions last year to go with 1,260 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns.  He’s always a threat to break open any run or reception.

 

The offensive line returns three starters; foremost among them is tackle Nate Potter.  The former two-time 1st Team All-WAC should become a 1st Team All-MWC and contend for All-American honors as well.  Center Thomas Byrd is likely to join Potter on the all-conference squad.

 

Maybe the biggest loss on this side of the ball is offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.  Harsin is now the OC at Texas.  Former Houston Oiler quarterback Brent Pease is the new OC after serving as the receivers’ coach here for multiple seasons.

 

We look for Boise State to continue dominating with an explosive offense this year, but we seriously doubt the Broncos will match their 2010 numbers of 45 points and 520 yards per game.  Call it about 38 points and 450 yards per game, as Moore will have to rely a little more on the short passing game.

 

The Bronco defense played one poor half all season.  Unfortunately, it came against Nevada, and it ended the 24-game winning streak.  They allowed just 11 points and 232 yards per game in the other 12 contests.  Expect more of the same in 2011, as the Broncos are strong from front to back.  Their defensive line could be one of the top five in the country.

 

BSU forced 49 sacks last season, and it should be another stellar year for rushing the passer.  Three starters return to the front four, and the new starter saw considerable action last year.  We would not be surprised if all four players earned some form of post-season honors.  Tackle Billy Winn will be a high draft choice next spring.  He comes off a 2010 season that saw him make four sacks and 9 ½ total tackles for loss, while driving blockers away from the linebackers.  End Shea McClellin led the team with 9 ½ sacks and tied for the lead with 13 ½ total tackles for loss.  New starting end Tyrone Crawford finished second on the team last year with seven sacks and tied McClellin with 13 ½ total tackles for loss.  Chase Baker added 4 ½ sacks from his tackle spot.

 

The linebacker position is not quite as strong as the front four, but it is still a big plus.  Both starters from 2010 are back.  Byron Hout and Aaron Tevis combined for 80 tackles a year ago.

 

The five-man secondary returns just two starters, but the new starters will receive a lot of help from having the best pass rushers in the league up front.  The Broncos did not intercept many passes in 2010, but they made up for it with excellent coverage.

 

Another key loss to the team this year is punter/kicker Kyle Brotzman.  Brotzman may be remembered for missing the critical field goals against Nevada, but he was one of the best combo kickers in the nation.

 

The new schedule finds a couple of possible bumps in the road, but we tend to believe Boise is capable of running the table and challenging for a spot in the National Championship Game.  Once again, Boise must travel 2,000+ miles to the east for their opening season game.  This time, the Broncos face Georgia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  If they get by the Bulldogs, then they should be 8-0 when TCU comes to Bronco Stadium.  TCU will not be as strong this year as they have been in recent seasons, and we see Boise winning that one.  So, an opening win over Georgia would more than likely send Boise to a 12-0 season with hopes that there are not two undefeated teams from the AQ conferences.

 

T C U

13-0 and a 3rd place national finish following a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin is a hard act to follow.  The Horned Frogs enjoyed their best season since the 1938 squad won the national title and tiny quarterback Davey O’Brien won the Heisman Trophy.

 

2011 looks like a rebuilding year, but Coach Gary Patterson should be able to coax another winning season and bowl bid out of his troops.

 

The bigger rebuilding job must take place on the offensive side of the ball.  Quarterback Andy Dalton may wish he was still in college rather than be the starting quarterback for the most mismanaged team in the NFL.  Dalton left as the all-time leading passer in TCU history.  This position will take a major hit, because the expected starter, Casey Pachall, has an injured shoulder.  An MRI turned up negative, but a sore shoulder does not lead to a great passer.  If Pachall is not 100% ready to start the season, TCU will be in a heap of trouble.  Behind him are two untested backups.  Matt Brown and Trevone Boykin both have the potential to be excellent dual threat quarterbacks, but both are freshmen; Boykin is a true freshman.

 

Three of the top four receivers from last year have also used up their eligibility.  That leaves Josh Boyce as the only holdover from among that quartet.  Boyce caught 34 passes and averaged an eye-popping 19 yards per reception with six touchdowns.  Antoine Hicks saw limited action and caught 13 passes, but he has the potential to be a big-play receiver.

 

The backfield is the strong spot on this team, and we look for the running game to be featured more often this season.  Last year, the Horned Frogs ran the ball 64% of the time, and that number could approach 70% this year.  Ed Wesley ran for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns, while chief backup Matthew Tucker contributed over 700 yards and seven scores.  3rd teamer Waymon James saw enough action to rush for more than 500 yards and five scores.  All three return, as well as fourth teamer Aundre Dean, who led the team in yards per carry at 7.0.

 

The biggest problem area is the offensive line.  Only one starter returns.  Among those missing is 1st Team All-American and Rimington Award winner Jake Kirkpatrick and 1st Team All-MWC tackle Marcus Cannon.  The OL gave up just nine sacks all season.  Look for a considerable gain in this negative statistic this season.

 

TCU averaged almost 42 points per game while rushing for close to 250 yards and passing for more than 225 yards per game last year.  The Frogs won’t jump that high this season.  Look for a regression to about 28-30 points and 375-400 yards per game.

 

There is rebuilding to do on the defensive side of the ball as well, only not as much as on the offensive side.  Of course, there is nowhere to go but down after the team finished first nationally in points and yards allowed.  The definite strength of the defense is at linebacker where both starters return after garnering All-American honors last year.   Tanner Brock and Tank Carder are future NFL stars.  The duo teamed up to record 166 tackles with 15 ½ tackles for loss, while they found time to record 10 passes defended.

 

The front four is not as talented as Boise State’s great quartet, but they are better than any other MWC team.  End Stansly Maponga earned 2nd Team All-MWC accolades last year.  The other end spot may eventually go to sophomore Jon Koontz over senior Braylon Broughton.  D.J. Yendrey and Ray Burns make a capable pair of tackles.

 

The secondary shows promise, but it is not going to be up to the standards set by last year’s team.  For the second year in a row, TCU allowed fewer than half of enemy passes to be completed, but we expect that streak to end this season.  Cornerback Greg McCoy intercepted a couple of passes and knocked away six others.  New starter Jason Verrett will replace all-conference CB Jason Teague.  At Safety, only one of the three starters returns.  Tekerrein Cuba is a sure thing at one spot, but Patterson has been switching players around at the other two positions. 

 

The schedule is manageable this season.  An opener at Baylor followed by a trip to the Springs to take on Air Force in week two will be a great indicator for this team.  A 2-0 start could give TCU a chance to visit the field of blue with a 9-0 record.  Of course, this team could lose one or both of those first two games.  We believe the Horned Frogs can earn another double-digit win season, but only if Pachall stays healthy, and the new offensive line gels quickly.

 

Air Force

If Boise State had not joined the league, Air Force would have been listed as a co-favorite in the Mountain West this year.  The Falcons have a lot of experience returning from their best team since 1998.  At the military academies, 14 starters are unheard of.  In fact, it has been many years since AFA has returned that 14 starters.

 

The Falcons gave up 21 points and 350 yards per game last year, which was very respectable but nothing like what they did in 2009 (15.7 ppg/288 ypg).  The stop troops may be as good as the 2009 edition, but even so, we do not expect the Falcons to five up less than 18 points per game in 2011 with the schedule they have.

 

Eight starters and eight key reserves return to this side of the ball, so the Falcons will definitely be improved.  As you must have to succeed in this league, Coach Troy Calhoun has a dynamite secondary.  Safety Jon Davis finished second on the team with 93 tackles and tied for first with three interceptions.  Calhoun would like to see his tackles go down and his interceptions go up.  Often, he had to make tackles on running plays after backs broke through the first line of defense.  Cornerback Anthony Wright knocked down six passes and intercepted two others, as the AFA passing game gave up just 148 yards per game last year.

 

The Falcons are equally strong at the linebacker positions.  Calhoun used three and four linebacker sets last year, and he has a full stable of experienced players back this year.  Jordan Waiwaiole led the Falcons with 96 stops with 7 ½ tackles for loss.  Brady Amack added 82 tackles, while Patrick Hennessey got in on 60 stops with 10 for loss.

 

The one weak spot on this side of the ball is the defensive line.  The Falcons were too generous against the run last year, giving up more than 200 yards per game.  TCU rushed for 377 yards in a 38-7 pasting.  The Falcons have no 300-pound linemen, so they will always be vulnerable in the trenches.  Using a 3-4 defense places a large amount of pressure on the nose tackle, and at 260 pounds, Ryan Gardner is at a disadvantage.  Gardner made only 29 tackles in 10, 2010 starts.  End Zach Payne is the star of the front wall.  He came up with 6 ½ stops behind the line.

 

We are optimistic that Air Force will once again feature an exciting and efficient offense.  The main reason is the return of quarterback Tim Jefferson.  Removing sacks, Jefferson rushed for more than 800 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He passed for 1,459 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging better than nine yards per pass attempt.

 

The running game is in great hands with running back Asher Clark joining Jefferson in the option attack.  Clark led AFA with 1,031 rushing yards.  Two fullbacks that combined for more than 1,000 yards must be replaced, but Calhoun never seems to have a lack of talent ready to plug in here.  The new fullback is Wesley Cobb, a seldom used backup the last two years.  Mike DeWitt will back him up.

 

When your leading pass receiver had 18 receptions, it’s hard to call his return a major asset.  However, Jonathan Warzeka is the perfect academy flanker/slot.  His 18 receptions went for 406 yards (22.6/rec) and three touchdowns.  Warzeka provided excellent ability to run on the perimeter when Jefferson pitched him the ball; he averaged 7.6 yards on his 41 carries.  Zack Kauth grabbed 16 passes and averaged 17+ yards per reception, so the Falcons should once again burn defenses that put eight in the box to try to stop the option attack.

 

The offensive line returns three starters, but there is some concern here with expected starting guard Jordan Eason out with a knee injury and backup center Jeffrey Benson, who was expected to slide over to guard to replace Eason, also suffered a knee injury.  Thus, Calhoun will have to do more shuffling.  One player sure to star wherever he ends up on the line is A. J. Wallerstein, a 1st Team All-MWC performer last year.

 

Air Force averaged 31 points and 425 yards per game last year.  There is no reason to believe they will not equal or better those numbers in 2011.  The schedule sets up nicely for the Falcons.  A relatively easy opener with South Dakota is followed by a visit from TCU.  If the Falcons can get revenge on a rebuilding Horned Frog team, they could be headed to their first double-digit win season this century.  If not, a repeat of last year is within their grasp.

 

San Diego State

2010 was a memorable one at Qualcomm Stadium, as the Aztecs won nine games, including a 21-point win over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl.  It was SDSU’s first winning season since 1998 and first nine-win season since the 1977 team went 10-1-0 (Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox was a member of that team).  However, the main force behind the turnaround has moved to the “Big House.”  Coach Brady Hoke is now pacing the sidelines at Michigan.

 

All is not lost.  Rocky Long is the new head man after serving as Hoke’s defensive guru the last two years.  Long won at New Mexico; look at what happened to the Lobos since his departure.

 

This year’s Aztec squad will not be as strong, but there is enough returning talent to send SDSU back to a bowl game.  However, Long was faced with an epidemic to one part of his offense, and it could sink the Aztecs’ bowl hopes.

 

The injury bug hit his receiver corps—big time.  Expected starters Jay Waddell and Dominique Sandifer both suffered season-ending knee injuries.  Incoming freshman Anthony Sheffield failed to qualify academically.  Then, possible replacement starter Larry Clark suffered a knee injury.  Not even Oklahoma could lose four key players at one position and not suffer.  San Diego State was already looking at having to replace their top three receivers from last year.  Now, tight end Gavin Escobar is the only returning receiver that caught at least 10 passes last year.  His backup, Hunter Hewitt, has been suspended for the start of the season, so the Aztecs have a lot of work to do disguising this weakness.  Walk-on Dylan Denso and Marcus Russell may see considerable playing time.

 

Quarterback Ryan Lindley will give the new receivers a chance to become successful.  Outside of Kellen Moore, he is the next best quarterback in the league.  Lindley will leave SDSU as the all-time leading passer if he can pass for about 160 yards per game this year.  He passed for close to 300 yards per game last year, so barring injury or just downright pitiful play at the receiver position, he should own that record by October or early November.

 

Long’s coaching style resembles Woody Hayes more than Mike Leach, so expect the Aztecs to run the ball more this season, especially with the liability at wide receiver.  Both of last year’s key backs return.  Sophomore Ronnie Hillman led the conference by a large margin with 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns, which beat Marshall Faulk’s freshman records.  Backup Walter Kazee added 320 yards and three scores.

 

One place that the Aztecs don’t have to worry is the offensive line.  Four quality starters return from a year ago, and they should open holes for the running backs to sneak through for five yards.

 

After averaging 35 points and almost 460 yards per game last year, expect a reduction in both areas.  Long’s game plans usually seek to control the ball on extended scoring drives and not go for the quick score.  Look for about 28 points and 380-400 yards.

 

The defense has a bit of rebuilding to do.  An already raw defensive line took an extra beating when starter to be Neil Spencer was declared academically ineligible.  Larry Gibbs was expected to compete for Spencer’s end spot, but he suffered a broken foot in Spring drills.  That leaves nose tackle Jerome Long and end J. J. Autele as the only experienced holdovers from last year.  Long, an undersized nose tackle in the 3-3-5 alignment, got in on 30 tackles with 6 going for losses last year.  Autele posted 15 tackles as a backup.

 

The strength of the defense is the three-man linebacker unit.  All-conference star Miles Burris returns to the Sam linebacker position after leading the team with 80 tackles.  He led the conference with 9 ½ sacks and 20 tackles for loss. 

 

The secondary will miss free safety Brandon Davis for the first couple of games.  That will leave cornerback Leon McFadden as the lone returning starter until the third game.  McFadden was the star of last year’s secondary with 14 passes defended (led the conference).

 

The schedule presents SDSU with seven or eight win opportunities. We believe they will get to six, maybe seven wins and go bowling once again.

 

Colorado State

The Rams have suffered through back-to-back 3-9 seasons after going bowling in 2008.  Fourth year head coach Steve Fairchild may begin to feel the heat in Fort Collins, if the green and gold go 3-9 again this season.  Fairchild has enough tools to build a winner this year, but like San Diego State, the Rams have been plagued with a rash of problems in one area.

 

That area is the offensive line.  It started when projected starting guard Connor Smith chose to take his sheepskin and enter the workforce rather than use his final year of eligibility.  Then, key reserve tackle Justin Becker was ruled academically ineligible.  To make matters worse, three more offensive linemen suffered injuries in one week of preseason drills.  The other expected starting guard Jake Gdowski had knee surgery and will more than likely miss the start of the season.  Jason Baird and Mason Hathaway are sidelined with ankle injuries.  CSU is now razor thin here, and any chance for a winning season will hinge on the success of their offense.

 

If the Rams can provide any pass protection, they have no worries at quarterback.  Sophomore Pete Thomas put up some amazing numbers as a freshman.  He completed 64.7% of his passes for 2,662 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.  He did toss 13 interceptions, but almost half of those came in September.  Thomas has the ability to pass for 3,300 to 3,500 yards this year, as the Rams move to more of a pro-style passing attack like those used by the New England Patriots.

 

The Rams have two receivers capable of topping 50 receptions this season.  Lou Greenwood and Byron Steele teamed up for 54 receptions and 787 yards last year.  The Rams have depth here with the return of five backups that registered 15 or more receptions.

 

The running back position is not what it used to be in the Sonny Lubick days.  Nobody on this roster is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, but this offense will not need that to succeed.  If Fairchild can find a back that can consistently pick up three yards on 3rd and two and can punch it in from the two yard line, the Rams will be okay at this position.  Raymond Carter saw limited action here last year after transferring from UCLA.  Carter, at one time a 4-star recruit from Los Angeles, has never lived up to his press credentials, mostly because of multiple knee injuries.  If he can remain healthy, he is capable of rushing for 100 yards against the weaker defenses, but we have to question his durability.  He should be limited to about 15 touches a game.

 

The offense averaged a meager 16.5 points and 335 yards per game in 2010.  If the problems in the offensive line can be solved, CSU will easily surpass these numbers in 2011.  If the OL stays as it is as of mid-August, Thomas could be running for his life rather than running downfield to congratulate his receivers.

 

The defense is much healthier, but it is not as talented as the offense.  The secondary is suspect after giving up nearly 70% completions last year and finishing 3rd to last in passing efficiency defense.  Cornerbacks Elijah-Blue Smith, Momo Thomas, and Shaq Bell have the potential to be good, but only if they get a little help from the pass rush.  The trio combined for just one interception and one pass defended, which is completely unacceptable at this position.

 

The strength, if you can call it that, on this side of the ball will be at linebacker.  Mychal Sisson is a probable 1st team all-conference player after making the 2nd team two years in a row.  He finished second in the league with 15 tackles for loss and recorded 95 total tackles last year.

 

The front four is another liability, and Fairchild could use more 3-4 alignments this year trying to hide the liability and take advantage of more talented linebackers.  The Rams posted just 21 QB sacks, and the chief instigator, Guy Miller, graduated.  Ends Broderick Sargent and C. J. James combined for just 3 ½ sacks.  Davis Burl can play a hybrid position (end/lb), and he has the quickness to pursue across the field and get into the backfield.

 

The Rams were generous a year ago, giving up 35 points and 425 yards per game.  Without an improved pass rush, don’t expect much improvement this year.  However, their schedule will actually give them a chance to challenge for bowl eligibility, especially if Thomas can help the Rams outscore the opposition in 38-35 style games.

 

Games against New Mexico, Northern Colorado, Colorado, Utah State, and San Jose State could actually give the Rams a chance to start 5-0 before enjoying a week off to prepare for Boise State.  The second half of the season includes games with UTEP, UNLC, and Wyoming.  This gives CSU eight winnable games, and we believe they can win at least six of them, but only if the offensive line can protect Thomas.

 

Wyoming

Dave Christensen came to Wyoming after serving as Gary Pinkel’s offensive coordinator at Missouri.  He immediately produced big results in his first season in Laramie in 2009, winning seven games, including the New Mexico Bowl.  In year two, the Cowboys didn’t catch the breaks they caught the year before and finished 3-9.  Both years, Wyoming was outgained and outscored, so the question remains: can Christensen turn this program around and produce a consistent winner?  Wyoming has a storied history in college football, and even though it is the smallest state by population, the ability to recruit all over the Rockies gives this school a chance to succeed.  One look at the lovely campus at more than 7,100 feet in elevation is a great recruiting tool to big sky country (Disclaimer: the photo montage screen saver on the computer typing this preview includes a lovely picture of Laramie, WY, taken by our founder when he lived in the Rockies and frequently hiked in Curt Gowdy State Park just a bit to the east of Laramie).

 

Wyoming will have a new offensive coordinator and new quarterback this year after averaging just 19 points and 286 total yards per game in 2010.  Former Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon produced some stellar passing teams, especially with Tyler Sheehan at quarterback.  Brandon finds the QB cupboard almost bare.  Austyn Carta-Samuels transferred to Vanderbilt when his former OC left for Cal.  Emory Miller was expected to compete for the starting job and given a 50-50 chance of winning it, but he quit the team.  That leaves true freshman Brett Smith as the starter.  Look for Brandon to keep things simple for Smith.  Wyoming will throw short and try to spread the field and cut down on mistakes.  Smith’s completion percentage could be over 60, but his yards per attempt could be under six.

 

The Cowboys lost their top two receivers, leaving Chris McNeill as the leading returnee.  But, he averaged just 9.2 yards per reception last year.  When UW uses a tight end, T. J. Smith can get open in the seams of zones.  He caught just eight passes last year, but he averaged nearly 22 yards per catch.  Look for him to more than double his amount of touches this season.

 

The Cowboys are just fine at the running back position.  Alvester Alexander returns after leading the team with 792 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.  We believe he has 1,000 yard potential, and he could become an important weapon in the short passing game.  In fact, it would not surprise us to see him lead the team in rushing and in receptions.

 

The offensive line is the real strength of this offense, and it will give Smith a chance to learn without fearing continual turf poundings.  After giving up 31 sacks last year, the OL should chop that number by at least 10.  Tackles Kyle Magnuson and John Hutchins create a solar eclipse when they stand up straight.  They will protect the flank and open holes for Alexander.

 

If Smith can just have an average year as a freshman, Wyoming’s numbers will improve on this side of the ball.  We are looking for a typical stat line of 17-27 for 175 yards against an average opponent.  Throw in 150 yards rushing, and Wyoming would average about 20-25 points per game this year.  That would be an enormous improvement; UW has not averaged 20 or more points per game since 2006.

 

There is good news and bad news on the other side of the ball.  Wyoming needs more good news after giving up more than 30 points and 400 yards per game last year.  The Good news is the return of the entire starting front four from last year.  There will be improvement on the 20 sacks and 200+ rushing yards allowed.  End Josh Biezuns led the team with 6 ½ sacks, while his counterpart Gabe Knapton added four.  The healthy return of Mark Willis gives the outside quality depth.

 

Now the bad news: Wyoming must rebuild its back seven line of defense.  Only two starters return here, and the unexpected loss of middle linebacker Oliver Schober is likely to be a major factor in why the Cowboys will not improve much if any on this side of the ball.

 

Brian Hendricks is the lone holdover at linebacker.  He finished third on the team with 80 tackles, but he did not get into the backfield, nor did he cover well on passing plays.  Backup middle linebacker Devyn Harris saw considerable action in 2010, so he has a chance to partially fill the void left by Schober.

 

The secondary performed admirably last year considering there was very little pass rush, and the safeties had to make a lot of stops on running plays.  Cornerback Tashaun Gipson could vie for all-conference honors this year.  He defended a dozen passes last year, intercepting three.

 

It will be hard to hold opponents under 30 points per game this year with the weaknesses in the back seven.  The schedule offers the Cowboys a chance to top last year’s win total, but we do not see this team getting to six wins.  4-8 or 5-7 is about the peak for this season.

 

U N L V

Bobby Hauck replaced Joe Glenn at Montana and in seven seasons, guided the Grizzlies to seven conference championships.  His last team included future Pro Bowl rookie kick returner Mark Mariani. 

 

In his first season in Las Vegas, Hauck’s Rebels finished 2-11, only six fewer losses than he experienced in seven years at Montana.  Glenn left Montana to take a job in the MWC at Wyoming, but he never turned the program around and was dismissed after six seasons.  Is the Montana position a lot like the Boise State position has been?  You can win big at Montana, but don’t try to let the chips ride for bigger stakes?

 

Only time will tell, but in year two in Vegas, Hauck may wish that what happens at Sam Boyd Stadium, stays in Sam Boyd Stadium.  The Rebels will have a hard time improving on the woeful 2-11 season of last year, and they could even win 50% fewer games if they cannot defeat New Mexico.

 

Hauck comes from the three yards and a cloud of dust offense school, and he does not have the horses to make it run.  The current roster was recruited to play in the spread offense, and what talent there is was recruited for speed over girth.

 

Trying to improve on 18 points and 274 yards per game, the first order of business is finding a new quarterback.  Omar Clayton has left the building after finishing second in school history to Randall Cunningham in passing yards.  Caleb Herring should line up under center when the season opens on September 1.  He completed half of his 56 passes last year with four touchdowns and three interceptions (the latter stat too high to win in this league).

 

We expect improvement in the Rebels’ running game this year, but it would be hard to go downhill from last year’s weak results (103 rushing yards per game). Tim Cornett and Bradley Randle teamed for just 655 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but both have looked solid so far in August drills.

 

UNLV has experienced depth at the receiver positions, but the leading receiver from 2010 will miss the start of this season.  Phillip Payne led the Rebels with 40 receptions, while proving to be the only breakaway threat on the team.  He is still recovering from a broken foot.  Payne has the potential to be an all-conference player.  Replacing him until he is ready to go will be tall and lanky Kurt Davis.  Marcus Sullivan has the potential to give the Rebels a solid one-two punch on the perimeter.

 

The offensive line is still a major liability, and expected starting tackle Allen Carroll has been a spectator in practices so far.  The transfer from Washington would be the one true talent on this line, but he has yet to suit up after being medically cleared.  Redshirt freshman Cameron Jefferson is well undersized to play tackle, but he will start at the all-important left tackle position.  Jefferson is 6-6 and only 265 pounds having been a basketball star more than a football star in high school.

 

With an inexperienced line and inexperienced quarterback, defenses may be able to choke off the running game and stop the Rebels’ offense again this season.  We are a little pessimistic on their prospects in year two of the Hauck regime.

 

The defense makes the offense look good.  UNLV had no defense last year.  The Rebels surrendered 40 points and 450 yards per game.  There was no pass rush; enemy backs enjoyed career days; and the secondary played like matadors.  Maybe having major graduation losses on this side of the ball is not such a bad thing.

 

There is one man among boys on this side of the ball.  Linebacker Princeton Jackson comes from Blinn Junior College (Cam Newton’s school) where he was a legitimate superstar in the Juco ranks.  Jackson is quick and strong, and he can make a tackle on either sideline.  He will immediately be the star on this side of the ball and team with Nate Carter and Tani Maka to give the Rebels respectability at this position.

 

You know things are not well when your leading returning sack master recorded just 1 ½ sacks.  UNLV only dumped QBs 12 times in 13 games last year.  B. J. Bell tied for the lead (with a defensive back) with just 1 ½ sacks.  The other starting end, James Dunlap, never touched a QB.  In the interior, Hauck has a couple of beefy bulldozers coming in at 300+ pounds, but there is very little experience or depth here.

 

The secondary might have been an asset this year, but the Rebels’ projected starting strong safety Chris Jones decided to quit playing the game.  The news is a little better at cornerback with the return of the top three players with starting experience.  Will Chandler and Sidney Hodge (the other player with 1 ½ sacks) combined to stop 10 passes last year with Chandler intercepting five of those.  Former starter Quinton Pointer returns after missing 2010 with a knee injury.

 

The schedule does no favors for UNLV.  The Rebels open the season with road games against Big Ten power Wisconsin and improving Washington State.  Then Hawaii comes for a visit.  Game four finds the Rebels hosting a dangerous FCS team in Southern Utah; the Thunderbirds are capable of pulling off the upset.  In conference play, UNLV faces the other two weakest teams on enemy turf, so this could be a very long season in Vegas.  The chances for an 0-12 season are there, but we believe the Rebels can find a way to win two times.

 

New Mexico

How many times have you seen something similar to this story? A publicly traded company has a history of turning a modest profit most quarters with an occasional loss but never a big loss.  The board decides the modest profit is not enough and brings in this promising assistant from one of the Dow Jones 30, and the modest quarterly profits all of a sudden became incredible losses, threatening to make the company the next Eastern Airlines.

 

New Mexico’s most influential supporters were not satisfied with Rocky Long’s typical six and seven-win seasons in a state that just does not have any recruiting base to expect anything more.  Long won nine games in 2007, and he should have been given a lifetime contract.  Instead, a rebuilding season in 2008 brought a 4-8 record and his dismissal. 

 

How do you feel about that now you influential supporters?  You traded five bowls in six years for back-to-back 1-11 seasons and with no prospects for much improvement if any. 

 

New Mexico’s most recent 1-11 season was much worse than the 1-11 season the year before.  The Lobos averaged 16 points and 266 yards (last in the nation) per game while giving up 44 points and 470 total yards per game last year.  Among the losses was a second consecutive defeat to rival New Mexico State, a team that finished 2-10.

 

Third year coach Mike Locksley has appointed two new coordinators, but that is not the problem.  As a popular commercial once made popular, “Where’s the Beef?”  There are not enough FBS-caliber players on the roster, and Vince Lombardi couldn’t win six games with this team.

 

There is talent on offense, but none of it as in the line.  Two starters return to the blocking corps, and this group may be weaker than last year.  Last year’s line gave up 27 sacks and opened holes for just 108 rushing yards at less than three yards per rush.  The top lineman, tackle Darryl Johnson, missed Spring practice.

 

The Lobos went through four quarterbacks last year, and two return for more pain and suffering.  Either B. R. Holbrook or Tarean Austin will start against Colorado State in game one, but with the lack of protection, it would be no surprise if true freshman Dustin Walton is starting at some point during the season.  Holbrook and Austin combined for 1,017 passing yards with a 51% completion rate and a 4/10 TD/int ratio.

 

The top two receivers from last year are back, giving the Lobos a chance to have a little better passing yardage this year.  Ty Kirk and tight end Lucas Reed teamed for 71 receptions and 936 yards.  New wide receiver Lamaar Thomas has world class sprinter’s speed; he started his career at Ohio State, and he could become the top receiver here.

 

Kasey Carrier and James Wright both return to the backfield.  The two gained 677 yards on the ground and scored four touchdowns last year, but it could be harder for them to gain yards with the raw offensive line.

 

It looked like the defense had a chance to improve quite a bit, but major defections/injuries/suspensions have put a major crimp in the trenches of the 4-2-5 alignment.  The big loss is tackle Calvin Smith, who was a big-time recruit.  He transferred to Purdue.  End J. J. Hugine transferred as well.  End Omar Castillo was dismissed from the team, while end Johnathan Rainey broke a bone in his neck and will miss the entire season.  Two juniors who played sparingly a year ago will be counted on to lead the front line.  Joe Harris and Reggie Ellis will join Jaymar Latchison as the only experienced players in the trenches.

 

UNM has some talent at linebacker.  Carmen Messina, Joe Stoner, and Javarie Johnson, and Spencer Merritt give Locksley a decent two-deep.  Messina led the Lobos with 115 tackles with six tackles for loss.  He batted away four passes as well. 

 

The secondary returns four starters from a year ago, but unless the line develops some threat of a pass rush, it will be hard for this quintet to improve by much.  Free safety Bubba Forrest made way too many tackles last year (100).  If he records triple digit stops again this year, the Lobos will be looking up at the rest of the MWC in the standings.

 

The schedule gives UNM a chance to win four times.  Colorado State is vulnerable in the opener due to their offensive line issues.  Sam Houston State visits on September 24, and if the Lobos lose that game, Locksley could be out.  New Mexico State visits Albuquerque the following week, and the Lobos have dropped the last two games to the Aggies.  On November 12, UNM hosts UNLV in a game that could decide which team avoids the basement.

 

New Mexico has so much room to make up on the rest of the league, it is really hard to predict that they will win any of these four winnable games.  We believe that lightning will strike at least one time—again.

 

2011 Mountain West Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Boise State

28

236

T C U

3

208

Air Force

 

176

San Diego State

 

160

Colorado State

 

104

Wyoming

 

80

U N L V

 

77

New Mexico

 

39

 

 

2011 Mountain West Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Boise St.

121.7

7-0/12-0

T C U

110.0

6-1/11-1

Air Force

106.6

5-2/8-4

S.D.State

100.3

4-3/6-6

Colo.State

92.4

3-4/6-6

Wyoming

90.4

2-5/4-8

UNLV

85.2

1-6/2-10

New Mexico

81.7

0-7/1-11

 

August 18, 2011

2011 Western Athletic Conference Preview

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 11:46 am

2011 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

The WAC as we know it has been victimized by the Mountain West Conference.  In a move akin to the American League East losing the New York Yankees, the MWC stole Boise State.  Next year, Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State will join the Broncos in the Mountain West, leaving this conference a mere shell of itself.  The future of this league is in serious jeopardy, and the addition of two new teams to FBS football in 2012 (Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, may not be enough to save this league.

 

Without Boise State, the WAC race will be more open this season.  Four teams have the talent to contend for the conference championship, while a fifth has the capability of finishing over .500.

 

Nevada finished in a three-way tie for first with Boise State and Hawaii, and the Wolf Pack finished #11 in the final poll.  Gone from the school’s best ever team are stellar quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the WAC’s leading rusher Vai Taua, receiver Virgil Green, 1st Team All-WAC tackle Jose Acuna and four of the top tacklers.

 

All is not gloomy in the biggest little town in America.  Coach Chris Ault will simply reload rather than rebuild, and with the absence of a blue turf in league play, Nevada will contend for a second consecutive WAC title.  

 

Tyler Lantrip is not the runner Kaepernick was, but he has a better arm.  Lantrip should pass for more yards this year than Kaepernick did last year (3,022).  He will get a Baptism under fire when the Wolf Pack play their first four games away from Reno.

 

Mike Ball is the new tailback in the Pistol Offense. Ball has speed and quickness to excel in this offense.  He averaged 6.8 yards per carry last year in limited action.  Lampford Mark will get his shares of touches and could challenge for a starting bid.

 

The top receiver in the WAC this year will be Rishard Matthews.  He may not lead in catches or yards, because those stats belong to Hawaii receivers, but Matthews is the best at his position.  The former Oregon recruit led Nevada with 56 receptions and averaged 15.7 yards per catch.  The unexpected loss of Brandon Wimberly, who was shot in the off-season, will force Matthews to face more double teams and combo defenses.

 

The offense will click because the blocking corps is the best in the league.  Junior Chris Barker is the best guard in the league, while center Jeff Meads is one of three really good snappers in the WAC.

 

Nevada averaged 41 points and 519 yards per game last year.  Those numbers will decline a little this year.  The Wolf Pack will not be able to move up and down the field at will, but in the new WAC, they can win the title with a 35 point and 450 yard performance.

 

Nevada’s defense was just as responsible for last year’s title run as the offense.  It surrendered just 21 points per game in a league where 28 points was average.  Seven starters return, including three with all-star accolades in 2010.

 

Up front, tackle Brett Roy is poised to contend for 1st Team All-WAC honors.  He introduced enemy QBs to the turf eight times last year.  The loss of 3rd round draft pick Dontay Moch will hurt.

 

Middle linebacker James-Michael Johnson should repeat as a 1st Team All-WAC defender.  He led the Pack with 88 tackles last year.  In the back line of defense, Isaiah Frey is one of the best cover corners in the league.  He batted away 14 passes and picked off another last year.

 

The non-conference schedule is tough this year.  Nevada opens at Oregon and plays at Texas Tech and at Boise State, all in the first four games.  The schedule gets easier from there with home games against rival UNLV and helpless New Mexico.  In WAC play, Nevada hosts the other three contenders, and this should help the Wolf Pack claim another conference championship.

 

Hawaii recovered from a subpar 2009 with a 10-win season last year.  Once again, it was an aerial circus on the island, as the Warriors averaged 394 yards through the air to lead the nation.  The Run ‘n’ Shoot offense took a major hit with the loss of eight starters, but we would be surprised if Hawaii did not average more than 300 passing yards again this season.

 

One of those trio of returnees is quarterback Bryant Moniz.  Moniz topped 5,000 passing yards last year and threw 39 touchdown passes.  He tends to hold onto the ball a little longer than an average run ‘n’ shoot passer, and he went down 40 times last year, seven against Boise State in the lone game that UH failed to score in double digits.

 

Moniz lost his top two receivers, and they combined for 207 receptions and almost 3,200 yards.  Royce Pollard will be the new 100+-reception receiver for the Warriors.  There are questions at the other receiver positions, as two players figured to be starters are ailing and missing practice.

 

As pass happy as Hawaii is, they still run the ball with authority.  Alex Green rushed for almost 1,200 yards last year, but he must be replaced.  Sterling Jackson will be the new starter, but he lacks the speed and quickness of Green.  He will be more of a between the tackles pounder.

 

The offensive line was above average but not great last year, and four starters have used up their eligibility, including the two best blockers.  It will take a few weeks for the newly rebuilt line to come together, so Moniz may be facing a lot more pressure than last year.

 

The Warriors never get much credit for their defensive play.  They gave up a respectable 25.5 yards per game last year, only 20 in league play.  Coach Greg McMackin believes in aggressive attacking defenses, and he has the players to cause a lot of disruption to enemy offenses.

 

The front seven is the best in the WAC by far, and Hawaii should lead the conference in sacks and in lowest rushing average allowed.  Up front, tackles Vaughn Meatoga and Kaniela Tuipulotu are the best tandem in the conference.  Few teams will find success running line plunges up the gut against Hawaii.

 

The Warriors make hay at the linebacker position with multi-tool players.  Corey Paredes is a WAC Player of the Year candidate.  He led the conference with 151 stops, and he picked off four enemy passes last year while knocking away five others.  Aaron Brown is another linebacker who is strong against both the run and pass.

 

The back line of defense is the vulnerable unit on this side of the ball.  The two starters lost combined for 12 interceptions and 27 total passes defended.  Safety Richard Torres will need to step up and break out with a big year.

 

As usual, Hawaii plays a 13-game schedule, which means they will play six non-conference games this year.  The Warriors should beat UNLV, UC-Davis, and Tulane.  The opener against Colorado is a toss-up, but we believe Hawaii will have several intangible factors in their favor in this one.  Games with Washington and BYU should be losses.  The Warriors will only need to go 3-4 in the league to get back to the Hawaii Bowl.  They could double that amount.

 

Louisiana Tech is not far away from being a serious title contender.  Second year head coach Sonny Dykes has not been able to fully implement his version of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.  He believes the Bulldogs are ready to start making the offense click.

 

If the offense is going to start putting up numbers similar to Texas Tech in the Leach years. New quarterback Colby Cameron is going to have to improve by a great amount.  Last year, in limited action, Cameron could not complete longer passes, unless you count the high percentage of passes completed to the wrong colored jersey.  He ended up with five picks in just 91 attempts.

 

The Bulldogs took a hit with the dismissal of projected starting receiver Ahmad Paige and Tim Molton.  The Bulldogs still have their two leading receivers from last year; Taulib Ikharo and Richie Casey combined for 92 receptions and 962 yards.

 

Lennon Creer is another pass catching threat coming out of the backfield.  He caught 25 passes last year, but his running acumen is what made him a 2nd Team All-WAC performer.  He gained 1,181 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.

 

The offensive line is not the best in the league, but it is not far from it.  The Bulldogs will be nearly lethal inside with excellent guards Kevin Saia and Oscar Johnson (Saia is nursing an injury) and center Stephen Warner.

 

Will this be the year LT breaks out with scary offensive numbers?  Probably not, but their numbers will head north.  Call it 270 passing yards and 425+ total yards with a scoring average of 30-32 points per game.

 

If the Bulldogs are to make an unexpected run for the conference title and earn a bowl bid for the first time in four seasons, their defense must improve.  Tech gave up 31 points and 460+ yards per game in 2010.

 

One area where there will be improvement is up front in the trenches.  The Bulldogs have an excellent pair of ends in Matt Broha and IK Enemkpali.  Broha has developed into a great pass rusher and led LT with nine sacks last year. 

 

Two starters return to the second line of defense.  Linebackers Jay Dudley and Adrien Cole combined for 174 tackles but only 6 ½ for minus yardage.  This number needs to go up, for it will not help improve the defense if too many of those tackles come at the end of five yard gains.

 

The secondary is loaded with depth, and this should be the unit that shows the greatest improvement in 2011.  Look for more interceptions and passes defended this season. 

 

Louisiana Tech hosts Hawaii, so the Bulldogs will play a 12-game schedule.  Four of their five non-conference games will be tough to win, so the Bulldogs will need five conference wins at the least to become bowl eligible.  They are capable of achieving that feat this year.  

 

Fresno State has been so good for so long, it is hard to believe the Bulldogs have never won the WAC.  You have to go back to the days of the old Big West Conference to find FSU’s last title, when the Bulldogs finished 11-1-0 and clobbered Ball State in the old California Bowl.

 

The WAC is down, so Fresno State will benefit, because this will not be Coach Pat Hill’s best Bulldog team.  Too many good players are missing from both sides of the ball.  One of those is quarterback Ryan Colburn, who completed better than 63% of his passes with a 23/9 TD/Int ratio last year.  The new QB has a familiar name on campus.  Derek Carr is the younger brother of former FSU great David.  Carr has five games of experience from 2009, but he missed all of last season.  Look for Carr to struggle early but begin to live up to his family name as the season progresses.

 

Running back Robbie Rouse returns after enjoying a big season in 2010.  He rushed for 1,129 yards and eight scores.  Former UCLA Bruin Milton Knox should see some action as well.

 

Jalen Saunders is the best FSU has at the receiver position, but he is not a threat to crack the 1st or 2nd team all-conference roster.  Saunders caught 30 passes and scored three times.

 

The offensive line is not a team strength.  It could actually be the weakest in the league.  Two starters return, and the three that departed were all-league players.  Expect a considerable retreat in sacks allowed and rushing yards per carry this year.

 

The defense gave up 30 points per game last year, but the Bulldogs allowed just 367 total yards per game.  Their 37 sacks topped the league charts, as Bulldog players finished one-two in the league.  One of those players returns this season.  Tackle Logan Harrell is back after recording 10 ½ sacks and 14 total tackles for loss.    Three new starters will line up in the trenches, so Harrell will see more double team blocks this year.

 

Travis Brown and Kyle Knox are back to wreak havoc from their linebacker positions.  The two teamed up for 153 tackles last year.

 

There are some concerns in the secondary, and if the pass rush is not as good as last year, it will be exploited.  Free safety Phillip Thomas is the star of this unit.  He intercepted three passes and knocked away nine others.

 

Fresno State has a 13-game schedule since they play at Hawaii.  It will be difficult to match last year’s eight wins, but the Bulldogs have a chance to compete in the weaker WAC.  We still see this team becoming bowl eligible.

 

San Jose State has fallen on hard times in the last two seasons, finishing 2-10 and 1-12.  Second year coach Mike MacIntyre has a lot of experience returning from a team that took its lumps early but became much more competitive in the second half of the season.  With 18 starters returning, we see the Spartans could win more games in 2011 than they won in 2009 and 2010 combined.

 

The big bugaboo is at the most important position on the team.  As of this writing in mid-August, MacIntyre has yet to choose a starter, or even a leader of the pack, from among three candidates.  Senior Matt Faulkner has limited experience, but that limited experience is the most on the squad.  Contending with Faulkner are sophomore Dasmen Stewart and redshirt freshman Blake Jurich.  Too bad former Michigan starter Tate Forcier will not be eligible until 2012.

 

SJSU has a nice stable of receivers, and if a quarterback can emerge and at least be decent, this unit could shine in 2011.  Noel Grigsby is a breakaway threat.  He can get open deep and has good hands.  The sophomore could emerge as a 1st Team All-WAC player.

 

The running game has been nonexistent for four years, as the Spartans have averaged 84, 87, 77, and 79 yards per game and less than three yards per carry.  Starter Brandon Rutley had one big run as a freshman when he broke free for a long touchdown against Boise State.  He has yet to show any flashes since then.  Actually, Rutley has been a better pass receiver than runner.  He did break off a long breakaway with a reception last year.  

 

The offensive line will be improved this season, but it will still be an overall liability.  Tackle Andres Vargas is the best of the quintet.

 

SJSU averaged just 16 points per game last year, but in four of their final five games, they averaged better than 30 points per game.  We see the Spartans scoring about 23-25 points per game this year.

 

The good news is that more than 11 (several saw more than 6 starts) defensive starters return in 2011; the bad news is that those starters were not all that good last year, as SJSU surrendered 464 yards per game (502 in league play) and nearly 35 points per game.

 

All joking aside, this defense will be much better this season.  In fact, the Spartans could easily shave 100 yards off what they allowed in WAC games.  It isn’t impossible that they could go from last to first in yards allowed!

 

Start in the secondary, where the four holdovers just might make up the best unit in the league.  The name “Peyton” is an important name in football, and SJSU has one of their own.  Peyton Thompson is the top cover corner in the league.  In 2010, he recorded 12 passes defended, and quarterbacks tended to throw away from him.  Safety Duke Ihenacho missed all of last year, but he should regain his starting job after earning 1st Team All-WAC honors in 2009.

 

The secondary will benefit from an improved pass rush this year.  End Travis Johnson led the Spartans with 7 ½ sacks as well as four QB hurries.  He leads a two-deep of experienced players in the trenches.

 

The second line of defense features the reigning WAC Freshman of the Year.  Keith Smith earned that award after leading the Spartans with 116 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.  

 

San Jose State starts off the season with three tough games, and the Spartans will begin in an 0-3 hole after facing Stanford, UCLA, and Nevada.  Road games with Colorado State and BYU will leave SJSU at no better than 1-5, so 2011 will not be the year the Spartans get back to the plus side of .500.  They can win three or four games though.

 

Utah State has endured losing season after losing season with false expectations of an end to that skein.  Last year looked like ‘the year” when the Aggies upset BYU to open the season 3-2.  A 1-6 finish doomed them to yet another sub-.500 year, as the offense failed to ignite.

 

Coach Gary Andersen will choose between Adam Kennedy and Chuckie Keeton as his starting quarterback.  Thus far, neither has emerged as a primetime player.  The Aggies had poor play at this position last year, so it will not take much to surpass the production of 2010.

 

The rest of the skilled positions are in good shape.  Former all-conference running back Robert Turbin missed last season with an ACL injury, but he appears to be ready to pound his way through defenses.  He rushed for almost 1,300 yards two years ago.

 

Seven of the top eight pass catchers are back for more this year, but it’s the return of two 2009 starters that missed last season that will make this unit much better this season.  Stanley Morrison could top 1,000 receiving yards.

 

The offensive line returns four starters and will be the best this unit has been under Andersen.  Center Tyler Larsen and guards Fuanki Asisi and Philip Gapelu will contend for some all-conference recognition.  Larsen made the 2nd Team Freshman All-American Team last year.

 

Utah State should improve its offensive number back to where they were prior to all the 2010 injuries.  We believe the Aggies could top 27 points and 380 yards per game.

 

Unfortunately, the outlook on the other side of the ball is a bit gloomy.  USU is a little suspect in the front line and only average in the secondary.  One area that will be a team strength is the linebacker position.  Bobby Wagner and Kyle Gallagher are studs.  Wagner is on NFL scouts’ radar.  He led USU with 135 tackles including eight for losses.

 

The secondary took a major graduation hit, but it returns its top player in safety Walter McClenton.  McClenton made 62 tackles, but Andersen would like to see him make less this year; too many of those tackles came about because opposing teams had already defeated the other 10 defenders on the field.

 

Up front, The Aggies were abysmal in 2010.  They recorded just 13 sacks and allowed opposing backs to gain five yards per carry.  Ends Quinn Garner and Levi Koshan are the lone holdovers from the two-deep, and Andersen is switching to a 3-4 defense to try to disguise this weakness.

 

USU surrendered 34 points and 430 yards per game last year.  We do not see much improvement if any this year.  To make matters worse, the Aggies lose both their punter and place kicker from last year.

 

The schedule includes non-league tilts against defending champ Auburn, BYU, and Wyoming.  Unfortunately, the easiest conference opponents, Idaho and New Mexico State, must be faced on the road.  It looks like another long year in Logan.

 

Idaho took a step back last year after earning and winning the most exciting bowl game of 2009.  The Vandals could be looking at a major rebuilding project on the attack side of the ball with the departure of quarterback Nathan Enderle and three of the top four receivers.  However, there is cautious optimism that the newcomers are as talented as those they will replace.

 

The new signal caller is senior Brian Reader.  Reader looked sharp in limited action last year and appears to be primed to equal Enderle’s production.

 

Reader’s passing targets are not the most talented players in the league, but there are a lot of options.  Preston Davis figures to be much improved now that he is fully recovered from an ACL injury in 2010.  Walk-on junior college transfer Mike Scott could emerge as a key contributor.

 

The running game did not show much in 2010, and it will be a liability again this year.  Four backs should split time at this spot, led by former Arizona State Sun Devil Ryan Bass and Kama Bailey.

 

The offensive line is strongest at the terminals, where Matt Cleveland and Tyrone Novikoff are big and strong.  Cleveland should contend for 1st Team All-WAC honors.

 

Idaho averaged 27 points last year, and we expect the Vandals to replicate that number this season. 

 

Even though the Vandals fell from 8-5 to 6-7 last year, the defense showed great improvement, shaving almost eight points off their average allowed.  Some of that had to do with an improved turnover margin.  The news is not all that good on this side of the ball.  UI was going to be strong at linebacker, but their top player, Robert Siavii suffered a season-ending knee injury in Spring practice.

 

The Vandals will rally around middle linebacker TreShawn Robinson, who recorded 10 total tackles for loss last year.  Homer Mauga returns to start at the other linebacker spot.

 

Up front, Idaho had a strong pass rush last year, but the chief instigator of mayhem is gone.  Aaron Lavarias departs after leading the team with 10 sacks.  Tackle Michael Cosgrove is the best of the holdovers.

 

The secondary returns three 2010 starters, but none of the trio figures to make 1st Team All-WAC accolades this year.  If the pass rush is weaker, this group will be exposed and give up more than 250 passing yards per game.

 

Idaho has a fair schedule.  Non-league games with Texas A&M, Virginia, and BYU figure to be automatic losses.  North Dakota figures to be an easy victory.  The season opener with Bowling Green is a rematch of that great 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, and we consider this game a must-win affair for the Vandals.  If they win, and Reader proves to be as capable as Enderler, this team could make this prediction look silly.  If they lose, then Coach Robb Akey could become achy over his future.

 

New Mexico State has been one of the five weakest teams in FBS football in recent years, but luckily for them, the worst team has been in-state rival New Mexico.  Third year coach DeWayne Walker must show some form of improvement this year, or he could be headed away from the Land of Enchantment.

 

The offense scored 14 or fewer points five times last year and averaged less than 16 for the season.  Former Kent State coach Doug Martin takes over as the new offensive Coordinator.  Martin hopes quarterback Andrew Manley can solve the problem at quarterback.  Manley completed just 52% of his passes with a 1/6 TD/Int ratio last year as a true freshman.  Former starter Matt Christian completed just 48% of his passes but had a much better 8/2 TD/Int ratio.  There is only one way to go for this position.

 

The big problem with the passing game is the receiving corps.  Not only are the top two pass catchers from last year missing, those that are returning do not offer much in the area of quickness or mobility.  Taveon Rogers is the closest thing to a star, and he only caught 18 balls last year.  Juco Transfer Kemonte Bateman could emerge as the leader here.

 

Robert Clay figures to start at running back with 2010 leading rusher Kenny Turner at H-back.  The tandem rushed for just 687 yards and two touchdowns.

 

The one bright spot on the offense is an experienced and improving offensive line.  Sioeli Fakalata can play center or guard, and he is the best man in the front line.

 

The Aggies should see improved numbers all around this season.  Look for about 21 points and 325 yards.  However, that will not be enough to move them out of the WAC basement.

 

The defense figures to take another step backwards after giving up 40 points and 450+ yards per game last year.  It doesn’t help when two of your top players are declared academically ineligible.  Those two, tackle Augafa Vaaulu and end Donte Savage figured to be the stars of the front four.  Now, the Aggies are hurting in the trenches.

 

The linebackers are more of a liability than an asset, even though two starters return from last season.  B. J. Adolpho was a 3rd Team All-WAC player last year, but he cannot make plays for the other six players in the front seven.

 

Any hope for defensive improvement must come from the secondary.  We fear that with little or no pass rush, the back four will eventually break down and give up too many big plays.  The Aggies may have the best tandem at cornerback with Donyae Coleman and Jonte Green.  Last year, the pair teamed for 166 tackles, many times being the last hope to prevent breakaway plays.

 

Things do not look hopeful for Walker and his Aggies.  At least they have a game with New Mexico, but that is not a given win.  Even though NMSU’s offense is much improved, they will not be able to outscore the other teams in the WAC.  It will be another long year in Las Cruces.

 

2011 WAC Preseason Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Hawaii

18

292

Fresno State

11

284

Nevada

11

264

Lousiana Tech

 

184

Utah State

 

166

Idaho

 

141

San Jose State

 

85

New Mexico State

 

60

 

 

2011 WAC PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Nevada

101.4

7-1/8-4

Hawaii

98.4

5-3/8-5

Louisiana Tech

93.5

5-3/5-7

Fresno State

93.0

6-2/7-6

San Jose State

91.1

2-6/2-10

Utah State

90.2

2-6/3-9

Idaho

88.2

4-4/5-7

New Mexico State

78.8

1-7/1-11

 

Next: A look at the four independents, Friday, August 19

 

August 15, 2010

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

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

 

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

 

The best of the non-BCS conferences will undergo a change next year, as Utah leaves for the newly named Pac-12.  Boise State will move here from the WAC and continue a great rivalry with TCU.  It wouldn’t shock us to see the Horned Frogs and Broncos meeting for a third consecutive season in a bowl, and it isn’t impossible for that bowl game to be the last one of the year!

The only mystery for this season’s race is who will finish second.  TCU will win the league and should go undefeated in the regular season for the second year in a row.  There is no clear-cut second best team as five teams could wind up in the runner-up spot.

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

Predictions

Pos Team MWC Overall
1 T C U 8-0 12-0
2 Utah 6-2 8-4
3 Air Force 5-3 7-5
4 B Y U 5-3 7-5
5 Wyoming 4-4 6-6
6 San Diego State 4-4 7-5
7 U N L V 3-5 5-8
8 Colorado State 1-7 2-10
9 New Mexico 0-8 1-11

 

BCS Bowl—T C U

Las Vegas Bowl—Utah

Poinsettia Bowl—B Y U

Independence Bowl—Air Force

New Mexico Bowl—San Diego State

Armed Forces Bowl—Wyoming

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Air Force Falcons
               
Head Coach Troy Calhoun
               
Colors Royal Blue and Silver
               
City Colorado Springs, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.0
               
National Rating 52
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Falcons have a feast/famine tug of war on this side of the ball.  Coach Troy Calhoun has molded three fantastic offenses in his first three seasons in Colorado Springs, and we believe the string will continue despite Calhoun having to start almost from scratch up front.

Right guard A.J. Wallerstein started one game at left guard last year, and that represents all of the starting experience for this season’s offensive line.  It isn’t a complete disaster though.  Air Force frequently has a lot of turnover because traditionally, there has been a reliance on seniority.  Also, because the Falcons utilize the option offense, the blocking schemes rely heavily on double team blocks and leaving other defenders unblocked so the quarterback can read and option them.  We are not concerned with the new starters, but there is an issue of depth.  None of the next five are ready to play at this level.

The rest of this offense is loaded and lethal.  Returning quarterback Tim Jefferson went 4-1 as a starter last year.  He connected on 57% of his passes with five touchdowns against two interceptions.  Jefferson connected on longer passes than the two other quarterbacks, and his ability to throw the ball downfield will open more running lanes for a great stable of back.

All the contributing ball carriers return this season.  Fullback Jared Tew and tailback Asher Clark teamed for 1,835 rushing yards and 16 scores.  Z-receiver Jonathan Warzeka added 267 yards on the ground running misdirection plays.

Kevin Fogler benefitted greatly from having Jefferson under center.  He averaged 22.7 yards per catch and scored a touchdown every fifth time he caught a pass.  Warzeka added 18 more catches.

Air Force has averaged 29 points and 380 yards per game in Calhoun’s tenure.  There is no reason to believe those stats won’t be continued again this year.

Defense: The defensive line is a cause for concern with just one of the three regulars from last year returning.  AFA is a little small at Defensive tackle in their 3-4 alignment, so opponents will be able to run the ball up the gut on them. 

The four-man linebacking crew welcomes back both of the outside defenders, Andre Morris and Wale Lawal.  The two combined for 9 ½ stops for loss, but the Falcons will have troubles replacing their two excellent inside linebackers.  John Falgout and Justin Moore finished one-two in tackles.

Only TCU has a better MWC secondary than Air Force, and the Falcons may have a better pair of cornerbacks than the Horned Frogs.  Anthony Wright and Reggie Rembert picked off 10 passes and knocked away six others.

Air Force gave up just 15.7 points and 288 yards per game in 2009.  Those numbers will go up this year.  Expect the Falcons to give up 21-24 points and 320-350 yards per game.

Schedule: The schedule gives the Falcons a leg up on competing for number two in the league.  After an easy opener with Northwestern State that should allow the new offensive line to gain confidence, AF hosts BYU.  The Cougars have run defense issues this year, and we believe Air Force will win that game.  The following week, the Falcons visit Oklahoma, who is loaded this year. 

As usual, AF plays Army and Navy, and we feel that they will win at least one of those games.  The key to the season comes in back-to-back weeks in October.  They face TCU in Ft. Worth on the 23rd, and then they host Utah a week later.  If they have anything left after the TCU loss, they could give the Utes a great game.  We feel that as the season progresses, the lack of depth in both trenches will hurt them.  Call it a repeat of 2009: 5-3 in league play and 7-5 overall before the bowl.

Team Brigham Young Cougars
               
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Provo, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
PiRate Rating 103.2
               
National Rating 50
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: 2010 will be a rebuilding season in Provo.  Brigham Young lost too much talent on this side of the ball, and there will be a substantial drop in production.  The Cougars lost a multi-year starting quarterback (Max Hall) who finished second all-time in passing yards at a school with a dozen excellent former QBs.  Also gone is the school’s career leader in rushing yards; Harvey Unga rushed for almost 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He was dismissed from school and became a supplementary NFL pick.  2009’s top receiver, tight end Dennis Pitta, is now in training camp with the Baltimore Ravens after he led the team with 62 receptions (30 more than any other player).

It could be a blessing or a curse that BYU has two quarterbacks still competing for the starting nod this close to the first game.  They have totally different styles, and according to Coach Bronco Mendenhall, neither player has separated himself from the other.  Jake Heaps is the prototypical straight drop-back passer in the Peyton Manning mode.  He has all the physical tools to be the next in a long line of great passers here.  However, he is a true freshman.  Riley Nelson is more of a scrambler who can pass well on the run.  He saw very limited action last year, but he has starting experience from his days at Utah State.

BYU has no answer at tailback with the loss of Unga.  Unga rushed the ball 208 times last year, and the top reserve ran the ball just 55 times.

Without Pitta, BYU will once again concentrate on throwing the ball to wide outs and less to tight ends.  We believe O’Neil Chambers will emerge as the breakout star of this group.  Chambers caught 32 passes last year.

The one ray of sunshine on this side of the ball is the return of four starting offensive linemen.  Tackle Matt Reynolds has first round NFL draft potential.

BYU has topped 30 points and 425 yards per game for five straight years, but this streak will more than likely end this year.  Call it 25-28 points and 380-420 total yards per game.

Defense: There is more rebuilding to do on this side of the ball than on the other side.  The Cougars lost seven of their top 11 tacklers from 2009, including six starters.  Just two of the front seven return, so BYU will have a tough time against the run and rushing the passer.  It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Cougars give up 150 points in the first four games this year (see schedule below).

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is an experienced secondary.  Three starters return including leading tackler, free safety Andrew Rich.  Rich also tied for the team lead with four interceptions.

The Cougars lost their two best pass rushers, leaving outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton as the only quality sack man.  Pendleton had three sacks and three other tackles for loss.  He is a quality pass defender in the short zones as well.

Up front in the 3-4 alignment, BYU has a decent space-occupier in nose tackle Romney Fuga.  He won’t make 50 tackles, but he will command double team blocks, giving the linebackers a chance to be heroes.

BYU may not give up too many more points this year than last, because opponents will eat the clock running the ball much better this year against them.  Expect the Cougars to yield 22-25 points and 325-350 yards per game.  However, also expect the defense to be on the field for more plays this year.

Schedule: The month of September will be a back-breaker for the defense.  BYU opens with Washington and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Jake Locker.  Then, they must travel to Air Force, where their newly rebuilt defensive front seven will struggle against the option.  A week later, they will melt in Tallahassee against Florida State.  They close out the month with Nevada coming to Lavell Edwards Stadium.  It looks like a 1-3 start for this team.  After the annual first October Friday game (precedes the Church’s National Conference) with Utah State, BYU faces three of the league’s other four expected bowl-eligible teams—San Diego State, at TCU, and Wyoming.  By this point, we expect the Cougars to be out of the conference race just trying to salvage a winning season.  November gives them a chance for three quick wins before closing the season at Utah.  We will call it a seven-win ceiling this year.  And, you can take the Las Vegas bowl off the schedule for the first time in six years.  A trip to San Diego might be a nice alternative.

Team Colorado State Rams
               
Head Coach Steve Fairchild
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Ft. Collins, CO
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 85.8
               
National Rating 96
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: After starting the season 3-0 with wins over Colorado and Nevada, it looked like the Rams were primed to make a bid for a second consecutive bowl game.  Then, the bottom fell out.  CSU lost their final nine, including an embarrassing loss to a New Mexico team that went 1-11.  With only four starters returning on this side of the ball, don’t expect the Rams to match last year’s three-win season.  They will take a step backwards this year.

CSU lost both of their contributing quarterbacks, and the replacement will be one of two freshmen competing for the job.  There is a third quarterback on the roster that could eventually emerge as the starter sometime during the season; Junior Klay Kubiak is the son of Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak.  Klay missed all of last season with an injured shoulder that required surgery.

The quarterbacks won’t have much opportunity to star, because there is very little talent at receiver.  CSU lost its top two pass catchers, who combined for 74 receptions.  Additionally, the Rams lost three receivers since spring that were expected to contribute including a possible starter.  Expect true freshman tight end Crockett Gilmore to see immediate action.

Things look rosier at the running back position.  CSU has enough quality backs to flirt with running an old-fashioned two-back pro-set. 

Raymond Carter was a highly-touted recruit at UCLA.  He becomes eligible here this year and could supplant last year’s two-man platoon of Leonard Mason and John Mosure (a combined 1,416 rushing yards and nine scores).  Watch out for true freshman Tony Drake, who we believe could be a difference maker with his breakaway speed.  His size will keep him from being an every down back.

The offensive line lost four starters.  There is a little starting experience returning, but the Rams will field the weakest interior in the conference.

With a raw quarterback passing to inexperienced receivers and having to run for his life due to weak pass protection, expect Colorado State to struggle to score points and to turn the ball over more this season.  A negative turnover margin is a virtual given.  Look for about 14-18 points and 300 total yards from this side of the ball.

Defense: CSU had a lot more experience scheduled to return on this side of the ball, but the Rams lost both returning defensive ends (one to injury/one to academics), a defensive back expected to see a lot of time, and several reserves in the back seven.  This looks like a train wreck waiting to happen.

The one bright spot is at linebacker.  Will linebacker Mychal Sisson will compete for 1st team All-MWC honors after leading the Rams with 91 tackles, six sacks, and 9 ½ other tackles for loss.  He knocked down five passes too.  Coach Steve Fairchild welcomes back Sam linebacker Ricky Brewer who was suspended last year.

The front four will now have four new starters, and it will be the weakest in the conference.  Expect teams to run the ball at will on the Rams and exploit their lack of a pass rush with play-action passes to keep Sisson occupied.

The secondary will be overwhelmed due to the fact that there will be so little pass rush.  Free safety Elijah-Blue Smith led the Rams with three interceptions and knocked down five others, but teams will throw away from him. 

The statistic is not kept, but we have a suspicion that CSU will finish dead last number 120 in scrimmage play differential.  They were -6 last year, and they could easily be -10 to -15 this year.  Expect this defense to give up 200+ yards rushing and 200+ yards passing while surrendering 31-35 points per game.

Schedule: By the time UNLV comes to Ft. Collins for homecoming on October 16, the Rams could be 0-6 and figure to be no better than 1-5.  Outside of league play, they face Colorado at Invesco Field in Denver, play at Nevada and Miami of Ohio, and host Idaho.  They open MWC play with TCU at home and Air Force on the road.  They have two chances to win a conference game—the homecoming game with UNLV and the revenge game at home with lowly New Mexico.  We will call for a 1-7 league finish and 2-10 overall.  If Fairchild can coax four wins out of this team, he deserves a raise.

Team New Mexico Lobos
               
Head Coach Mike Locksley
               
Colors Cherry and Silver
               
City Albuquerque, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 81.3
               
National Rating 107
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: Lobo fans wanted someone else to coach this team after watching Rocky Long’s teams play conservative football and simply go to bowl game after bowl game.  So, they forced him out.  They got Mike Locksley’s new offense—the one that gained 315 total yards and scored 16 points per game.  We hope they enjoyed what they got.

Locksley may only last one more season in Albuquerque, because this year’s offense could make last year’s look like Boise State.

A true freshman will open up at quarterback.  Tarean Austin is a speedy multiple-threat player who could lead the team in rushing as well as passing.  Let’s hope he can run enough to avoid the oncoming slew of defenders shooting through the line.  Austin’s backup will be another freshmen—Darain “Stump” Godfrey.

New Mexico returns their top three running backs from last year.  None of them will be confused for DonTrell Moore.  The trio combined for 987 yards and five touchdowns last year, and with an even weaker offensive line, they may not equal that mark this season.

The receiving corps has some experience returning, but like the running game, Hank Baskett won’t be walking out on the field.  Ty Kirk led the Lobos with 36 receptions and 427 yards. 

The offensive line will struggle.  Two starters return, and there is much less experience here, but last year’s regulars were not world-beaters.  This year’s unit cannot be much worse.

Look for UNM to average about 14-18 points and 280-320 yards.   

Defense: As weak as the offense was last year, the defense was worse.  Without the defensive genius of Long, the Lobos gave up 13 more points and 83 more yards per game in 2009.  If the offense could hold onto the ball, the defense could show a little improvement this year.

The Lobos have strength in numbers up front.  Three starters return to the four-man line, including one of UNM’s two potential 1st Team All-MWC performers.  End Johnathan Rainey finished second in the league (to the great Jerry Hughes) in sacks with 9 ½.  He added six more tackles for loss for good measure.  When he was busy dealing with double teams, counterpart Jaymar Latchison found time to pick up 4 ½ sacks and four other tackles for loss.

The other potential 1st Team All-MWC performer would be repeating that feat if he made it again this year.  Middle linebacker Carmen Messina led the country with 162 tackles and eight for loss.  He will have two new partners on either side of him.

The secondary gave up 254 yards per game and 63% completions last year, even with the great press rush.  The Lobos need to find two new safeties.  Both cornerbacks return, but they were the two weakest corner starters in the league.

The defense will be a little more talented, but it may not show in the stats.  Because opponents emptied the bench early in five of their games last year, and New Mexico figures to be in these games a little longer this year, expect opponents to leave their starting offense in deeper into the game.  The result—opponents will still score a lot of points.  Expect 31-35 points and 400-425 yards allowed once again.

Schedule: The Lobos have a chance in two of their non-conference games, and we think they will win one of the two.  Expect an 0-2 start with a road game against Oregon and a home game with Texas Tech.  After losing at home to Utah and on the road at UNLV, the Lobos get UTEP at home and travel to New Mexico State.  If they are 0-6 at this point, then they will end up 0-12.  We believe they will be lucky once and finish 1-11 again this year.  Locksley won’t be so lucky.

Team San Diego State Aztecs
               
Head Coach Brady Hoke
               
Colors Scarlet and Black
               
City San Diego, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 92.8
               
National Rating 80
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Second year head coach Brady Hoke has the Aztecs on the right path, and he could soon replicate here what he did at Ball State.  Hoke’s 2010 Aztecs are going to be much improved on this side of the ball, and with a little bit of help from the other side of the ball, San Diego State could be playing a 13th game in December.

Look for SDSU to move to a two-back pro-set and use the West Coast Offense this year.  The Aztecs are stocked anew in the backfield, and they will force defenses to stop the run first.  Brandon Sullivan moves from tailback to fullback after leading the team in rushing in 2009.  Last year’s number two rusher, Walter Kazee, may have trouble getting on the field this year.  Two outstanding freshmen may get most of the reps at halfback.  Ronnie Hillman is a blazing runner who can take a simple pitch and turn it into a long gain.  Ezell Ruffin moves to halfback from wide receiver in high school.  He is almost as speedy as Hillman, but at 205 pounds, he packs some brute force punch in his game.  The Aztecs could double their running production after rushing for less than 80 yards per game.

If the running game takes some heat off the passing game, then SDSU will have a potent attack.  Quarterback Ryan Lindley could challenge for 1st Team All-MWC accolades.  With very little running game to supplement last year’s offense, Lindley passed for 3,054 yards and 23 touchdowns.  If he can cut down on his 16 interceptions of a year ago, he could challenge Andy Dalton for top honors in the league.

Lindley has a surplus of talent at receiver where two fine wide outs return.  DeMarco Sampson caught 62 passes for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, while speedy Vincent Brown added 45 receptions for 778 yards (17.3 avg.) and six scores.  There is depth behind these two.  For a West Coast offense to click, the tight end must be a pass catching weapon, and Alston Umuolo is that.  He grabbed 22 throws a year ago, and that number will improve to 30+ this year.

SDSU’s offensive line welcomes back four starters, and the new starter is a quality junior college transfer.  Expect much improved numbers in the running game and better protection for Lindley.

We believe San Diego State can improve from 23 to 28-31 points per game this season and from 342 to 375-400 yards of offense.

Defense: New Mexico’s loss was the Aztecs’ gain.  Rocky Long took over as defensive coordinator last year, and SDSU improved on defense by almost as many points and yards as New Mexico worsened.  With the entire three-man line returning up front, look for improved play against the run and a better pass rush.

Neither B J Williams nor Ernie Lawson proved to be a dominant pass rushing end last year, but with a better secondary this year, quarterbacks could be forced to hold onto the pigskin a bit longer.  Expect their sacks totals to rise.

The one suspect part of this defense is at linebacker, where two of last year’s three starters are gone and one other linebacker has been moved back one level. 

The back line of the 3-3-5 defense is loaded with talent and experience.  The aforementioned player that moved from linebacker is Andrew Preston.  He will man the “Aztec” position, a third safety that plays closer to the ball than a regular safety.  Preston played enough last year to record 46 tackles with four for loss. 

Expect more defensive improvement in the stat sheet this year.  We anticipate this team giving up 22-26 points and 350-375 yards per game.

Schedule: San Diego State scheduled well this year.  They should win three non-conference games, and they could stay surprisingly close in the one they lose.  Nicholls State will provide SDSU with an excellent chance to work out the kinks in game one.  A trip to New Mexico State should move the Aztecs to 2-0.  The following week, they could put a scare in Missouri at Columbia, but we expect them to lose by less than two touchdowns.  A home game with Utah State should give them a third win before MWC play begins.

The Aztecs host Air Force, Colorado State, Utah, and UNLV, while they go to BYU, New Mexico, Wyoming, and TCU.  They could be as good as 6-2 in the league or as bad as 3-5.  We’ll call for them to go 4-4, which will make them bowl-bound for the first time since 1998.

Team T C U  Horned Frogs
               
Head Coach Gary Patterson
               
Colors Purple and White
               
City Ft. Worth, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-1
               
PiRate Rating 124.1
               
National Rating 6
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Nine starters return to an offense that amassed 38.3 points and 457 yards per game last year.  That offense was quite balanced, churning out 240 rushing and 217 passing yards.  TCU will be virtually unstoppable on this side of the ball this year, and it wouldn’t surprise us any if the Horned Frogs challenged for 45-50 points and 500+ yards per game!

It all starts with the league’s top quarterback.  Andy Dalton will compete for the Heisman Trophy in his senior year.  As a junior, Dalton completed 61.6% of his passes for 2,756 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 512 (600+ without the sacks) yards and three more scores.

The leading rusher from last year has graduated, but TCU uses a running back-by-committee approach, and the Horned Frogs return several quality backs this year.  Expect another season of 200+ yards per game running, maybe as much as 275.

The receiving corps is downright scary and could be as good as Houston’s group of stars.  The top four receivers are back.  Jermey Kerly led with 44 catches and 532 yards.  Jimmy Young had 33 receptions for 517 yards.  Antoine Hicks caught just 23 passes, but he averaged an eye-popping 20.8 yards per catch with six scores.  Bart Johnson caught 33 more.  To this fine quartet, add two exceptionally talented youngsters.  Redshirt freshman Josh Boyce and sophomore Skye Dawson will see considerable playing time, and it wouldn’t surprise us if both finished with more than 25 receptions.  Dawson is even faster than Hicks and can turn a line of scrimmage bullet into a 75-yard touchdown.

Throw in the best offensive line in the league and possibly one of the five best in the nation, and you have an offense that will move the ball in every game.  Tackle Marcus Cannon has first round NFL draft potential.  Center Jake Kirkpatrick should make it to a pro roster next year as well (assuming there is a next year in the NFL).

The only drawback in trying to predict the points and yardage for this team is determining how often the bench warmers will be playing for long stretches in their games.  We’ll go with 42+ points and 500+ yards per game.

Defense: Here is the even scarier news: TCU’s defense is even better than their offense.  There is no weakness anywhere on this side.  All three units rank among the best in the nation.  Coach Gary Patterson’s Frogs have given up 12.3, 18.7, 11.3, and 12.8 points in the last four seasons, and it is not impossible for this year’s team to give up single digits in points per game.  The Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense last year by holding teams to 80 yards rushing and 159 yards passing. 

TCU utilizes a 4-2-5 defense, and they have both quality and depth at every position.  Up front, three starters return including two all-conference performers, tackle Cory Grant and end Wayne Daniels.  Even with the loss of All-American Jerry Hughes, this team won’t miss a beat.  His replacement, either Braylon Broughton or Stansly Maponga, will not record 11 ½ sacks, but the other three starters will make up for that lost amount.

The linebacking duo features 1st Team All-MWC Tank Carder.  Carder is one of the best all-around linebackers in college football.  In 2009, he made 89 tackles with 10 for loss.  In pass coverage, he batted away 10 passes and picked off one.  Look for him to compete for a spot on the All-American team this season.

The back five feature a trio of great safeties, but it is the two new cornerbacks that could be the best defenders in the secondary.  Greg McCoy and Jason Teague saw a lot of action last year and combined for four interceptions and seven knocked down passes.

It is tough to improve on number one, but TCU can get better statistically on this side of the ball.  We are going to guess they will give up 10-12 points and 185-225 yards per game.  They could lead the nation in both categories.

Schedule: TCU opens with Oregon State on September 4 at the Cowboys’ Stadium in nearby Arlington.  The Beavers are good and could contend for a Rose Bowl berth, but they are usually a slow-starting team.  We believe TCU will win this game by double digits and continue to roll from there.  They could lead Tennessee Tech by 50 points before halftime.  Game three at home with Baylor will be interesting, and the Bears will be pumped for this game, but the Horned Frogs should score a 17 or more point win.  Game four at SMU comes on a Friday night, and the battle for the Iron Skillet will be heated.  The Mustangs need a little more defense before they can make a game of it with TCU.  The only conference team that could give them a scare is Utah.  The game comes November 6, and it will be at Salt Lake City.  We expect the Horned Frogs to win convincingly in a game that should be on national TV, and it just could propel them into one of the top two spots in the BCS.

We believe there is an outside chance that TCU and Boise State could hook up for a bowl rubber match.  Two years ago, it was the Poinsettia Bowl, and TCU won 17-16.  Last year, it was the Fiesta Bowl, and Boise State exacted revenge with a 17-10 win.  This year, both could return to Glendale, but this one would be for all the marbles.  The SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten champions must all lose one game after October 1 for this to happen, but if it does, it should be the most talked about national championship game in decades.  It could do for the NCAA what the New York Jets’ Super Bowl victory over Baltimore did for the NFL.

Team U N L V  Rebels
               
Head Coach Bobby Hauck
               
Colors Scarlet and Gray
               
City Las Vegas, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 94.1
               
National Rating 78
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 3-5
Overall 5-8

 

Offense: New head coach Bobby Hauck comes to Las Vegas from Montana, where he guided the Grizzlies to the FCS Championship Game three times.  His arrival in Vegas comes at the right time, because former coach Mike Sanford left him a full cupboard on this side of the ball.

UNLV will transition from a shotgun spread offense to an old-fashioned quarterback under center offense.  Senior quarterback Omar Clayton, a former walk-on, comes back for his third season as starter after topping 60% in completions last year.  We believe he will improve his yards per attempt and cut down on interceptions this year.  Backup Mike Clausen saw a lot of action last year, as he is a better runner than Clayton.  Clausen suffered an ankle injury in early fall practice, but he should be okay for the season.

The Rebels had three productive receivers last year, and two of them return this season.  Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson teamed for 101 catches and eight scores.

UNLV returns the two running backs that saw most of the game action last year.  While neither is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards, C J Cox  and Channing Trotter will get the tough yards—three yards on third and two.  Redshirt freshman Bradley Randle is more of an outside threat, and we believe he will become part of the rotation this year.

Four starters return to the offensive line.  The tackles, Matt Murphy and Evan Marchal, rank near the top in the league.

Hauk’s first Vegas attack should average 25-28 points and 360-380 yards per game.  If the Rebels can cut down on turnovers, they could surprise a few teams.

Defense: This is the reason Mike Sanford was let go.  He could never mold together a decent defense, as UNLV gave up more than 32 points per game the last two seasons, while falling one win short of bowl eligibility both times.

The Rebels will be more of an attacking defense this year.  They may give up an occasional big play, but they should force more turnovers as well.  Six of the two-deep from the defensive line return this season.  Tackle Ramsey Feagai tips the scale at 350 pounds!  He won’t get to the quarterback, but he should plug the inside just by holding his ground.  His counterpart at the other tackle is “puny 300-pounder”  Isaako Aaitui.  Opponents will not run many line plunges between their tackles, but the Rebels will continue to search for pass rushing answers, and they will probably resort to a lot of blitzing on passing downs.

Two linebackers return to the starting lineup, and they could finish one-two in tackles this year.  Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo teamed up for 126 stops a year ago.

The secondary is the strength of this unit.  All four starters come back for another season, and they absolutely must improve on last year’s poor showing when they gave up 236 yards and 65% completions.  They combined for just two interceptions.

Expect immediate improvement in this defense, especially in yards allowed.  We’re looking for the Rebels to give up 25-30 points and 380-420 yards.

Schedule: If they had a couple more patsies, we might be inclined to call UNLV a sleeper team.  The out-of-conference schedule is too difficult.  The Rebels host Wisconsin and Nevada and play at Idaho, West Virginia, and Hawaii.  They should be 2-3, 3-2 at best.  They are better than Colorado State and New Mexico and should win those two games.  We think they could pull one upset, maybe over Wyoming or Air Force and finish with five wins for the third consecutive season.

Team Utah Utes
               
Head Coach Kyle Whittingham
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Salt Lake City, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 104.0
               
National Rating 47
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: This will be Utah’s last year in the Mountain West, as they move to the Pac-12 next year.  They should go out with a bang and not a whimper thanks to a strong offense.

Coach Kyle Whittingham welcomes back two experienced quarterbacks this season.  Jordan Wynn will get the nod over Terrance Cain.  Wynn started the final five games of the year, and Utah averaged 34 points in those games. 

Wynn lost his top receiver, David Reed and his 81 receptions for 1,188 yards.  Jereme Brooks caught 56 passes and led with seven touchdowns, while earning 2nd Team All-MWC last year. 

The running game will be special this season with the return of Eddie Wide.  Wide rushed for 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning 1st Team all-league honors.

Like several of the other top teams in this league, the Utes have a talented and experienced offensive line returning.  Four starters are back including two who made all-conference.  Center Zane Taylor and guard Calb Schlauderaff will hear their names called early in the next NFL draft.

Utah averaged 30 points per game for the season, and we expect that number to top 35 this year.  We also expect total yards to top 400.

Defense: Here is the reason Utah will not give TCU a serious challenge for the title.  The Utes regressed on this side of the ball last year, and they don’t look any better this year.  In fact, we expect them to be even more generous with the loss of their top four tacklers.

Three of four defensive line starters are back.  Tackle Sealver Siliga had 49 tackles with 6 ½ for loss, while getting his hand on four passes.

The linebacking corps has been decimated by graduation.  Rover J J Williams had one start last year and made 20 tackles.  Keep an eye on true freshman V. J. Fehoko, who could emerge as a starter at some point in the season.  He is one of the highest-rated recruits Utah has had.

The secondary has just one starter returning, and that is lightning fast cornerback Brandon Burton.  Burton knocked down 10 passes and intercepted one other last year.  Justin Taplin-Ross saw considerable action at strong safety last year, but he has been shifted to free safety.

Utah will surrender 20-24 points and give up 320-340 yards per game this year, and that will be just enough to keep them from competing with TCU. 

Schedule: Utah opens the season with Big East runner-up Pittsburgh on a Thursday night at Eccles Stadium.  Other non-conference games include road games at Iowa State and Notre Dame and a home game with San Jose State.  The Utes could win all four games, which would help TCU’s strength of schedule when the Frogs come to SLC.  Utah could also lose three of those four and struggle to reach eight wins in their final go around in the conference.  We will call for a 2-2 non-conference record and 6-2 league mark.

Team Wyoming Cowboys
               
Head Coach Dave Christensen
               
Colors Brown and Prairie Gold
               
City Laramie, WY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 95.6
               
National Rating 71
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Dave Christensen inherited a veteran club from Joe Glenn and guided the Cowboys to a 7-6 record and bowl win in his first season in Laramie.  His second team should be as good as his first, and his second attack squad should be better.

Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors last year.  He completed 59% of his passes for more than 1,950 yards and ran for more than 600 yards when you factor out almost three dozen sacks.  His specialty was pulling victory out in the last minutes of games.  Christensen developed Chase Daniel at Missouri, and he Carta-Samuels should rapidly improve in his second season.

The Cowboys had one great receiver and six average ones last year.  Fortunately, the great one returns for his senior year.  David Leonard grabbed 77 passes last year, many of them in tight quarters, as Wyoming was a five yards and cloud of dust passing team.

The running attack had a freshman leading the way in 2009, as Alvester Alexander ran for 640 yards and seven scores. 

The offensive line lost two seasoned veteran starters last year, but two of the three returnees could earn postseason honors.  Guard Sam Sterner is the second or third best in the league at his position, while tackle Clayton Kirven could sneak onto the All-MWC team.

The Cowboys should top 20 points per game for the first time in four years and 325+ yards per game for the first time in five years.

Defense: Seven of the team’s top eight tacklers return this year, so Wyoming’s defense should improve more than the offense.  The strength on this side is the secondary, where all four starters return.  The quartet of Marcell and Tashaun Gipson at cornerback and Shamiel Gary and Chris Prosinski at safety combined for six interceptions and 22 passes broken up.  Prosinski led the Cowboys with 140 tackles, and I am sure Christensen would prefer he wouldn’t have to make so many this season.

Christensen has made a courageous move up front.  Because all three defensive linemen graduated, he took his two outside linebackers and moved them to end and switched to a 4-3.  Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns recorded 193 tackles with 14 recorded for lost yardage. 

Middle linebacker Brian Hendricks becomes the lone holdover in the second line with the moving forward of his two comrades.  Hendricks made 116 stops last year.  Ghaali Muhammad made 21 tackles in a reserve role last year and will start at one linebacker spot.  The other will probably go to Keith Lewis, who has three years of reserve experience.  Freshman Devyn Harris could see as much time at that spot.

Look for a little more consistency out of the Wyoming defense this year.  We believe they will give up around 25-27 points and 375-400 yards again this season, but they play a tougher schedule.

Schedule: The Cowboys face three teams that went undefeated in the regular season last year—Boise State at home and Texas and TCU on the road.  Other non-league games include Southern Utah at home and Toledo on the road.  The key to the season are the two games that come after Texas and Boise State and precede TCU.  Wyoming hosts Air Force on September 25 and goes to Toledo the next week.  They must win both of these games and sit at 3-2 at this point in order to get to six wins.  We believe they can do it.  Their two new defensive ends with past linebacker experience just may be able to shut down the option game, and their improving offense should be able to score enough points at the Glass Bowl.

Coming Tomorrow: We begin breaking down the BCS conferences.  First up: The Big East Conference—Five teams have a shot at the conference title.

March 17, 2010

Brackets, Brackets, Brackets & A Preview Of The First Round

Question:  How many of you reading this are beginning to come down with some symptoms that will force you to call in sick for work the next two days?  Big Dance Fever seems to strike hard every year at this time.

Now that you are in your pajamas in bed with your TV set to CBS, your computer set to March Madness on Demand, and your brackets as your bed partner, you can begin your two day miraculous recovery.

Before you send off your bracket picks, take a look at the PiRate method for picking teams to advance.  You should re-read the Sunday, March 14, 2010 blog to better understand this method.

Without further adieu, let’s dig in.

1. Which teams meet the upper range criteria in every category?  That means they outscored their opponents by eight or more per game; their field goal percentage was greater than 7.5% better than their opponents; they outrebounded their opponents by five or more per game; they forced at least three more turnovers per game than they committed; and they stole the ball 7.5 or more times per game.

ANSWER—Only two teams met this criteria this year, and neither are members of a big six conference.  Murray State not only met all criteria, they met the upper limits.  The Racers outscored opponents by 17 points per game.  They had a field goal percentage margin of 11.7%.  They outrebounded opponents by six per game and forced 2.7 more turnover per game than they committed.  Best of all, Murray averaged 10 steals per game.  Their R+T was an outstanding 12.48.  Alas, Murray’s schedule strength was just 46.02, and that is too low to consider the Racers a threat to make it to the Elite 8.  Sweet 16 is not totally out of the question.

The second team that met this criteria, but not as well as Murray State, was Brigham Young.  The Cougars outscored opponents by 17.8 points per game.  They shot 7.9% from the field better than their opponents.  They outrebounded the opposition by 5.1.  Their turnover margin was 4.1.  They averaged 8.5 steals per game, and their R+T was an amazing 13.46.  BYU’s schedule strength was 52.52, which is adequate enough to see the Cougars as a serious threat to advance to the second week in this tournament.

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?

ANSWER—Usually upwards of 8-10 teams can be eliminated every season due to poor R+T ratings.  In the Big Dance, this rating, which measures the number of extra scoring opportunities, is vital to winning.  Only two teams can be eliminated right off the bat, and not many people would think of picking them to win any way.  Those two teams are New Mexico State and UC-Santa Barbara.

Several teams just barely qualified with R+T ratings just above zero.  Two of those that just qualified are top 20 teams.  Georgetown and Vanderbilt could be ripe for upset bids in either the first or second round. 

The Hoyas face Ohio U in the first round, and the Bobcats don’t have the merits to pull the upset.  In a second round match, Tennessee definitely meets the criteria to advance to the Sweet 16, so the Volunteers could be a strong pick to knock off Georgetown and advance to St. Louis.

Vanderbilt draws Murray State in the first round, and the Racers could easily pull off the first upset by a double-digit seed.  Murray would then face either Butler or UTEP in a second round game, and the Racers would have a legitimate chance to advance to the second week.

3. Forget all this talk of first round upsets.  Which teams are capable of winning it all?

ANSWER—We thought you’d never ask.  Every year when we compose these ratings, we apply the PiRate formula and look for teams scoring 15 or above to find the real contenders.  Because we have added won-loss record away from home this year, we have elevated that real contender number to 18.  17 teams met that criteria this year.  Before we list them in order, we must clarify something.  After the first two rounds, and after the second two rounds, we recalculate these ratings.  Some teams still alive will cease to meet the minimum score and no longer be considered a serious threat, while one or two teams might move into this elite group.

This year, one team fared much better than all the others.  Thus, that team becomes our favorite to win all the marbles in Indianapolis.

Is that team Kansas or Kentucky?  Guess what?  It is neither.  The one team that scores almost six points better than any other is none other than Duke.  Could Coach K be on his way to title number three in Durham?  We love his seeding, and we definitely see the Blue Devils winning their first four to earn a ticket to Indianapolis.  As a matter of fact, as we see it, the selection committee did several huge favors for the Blue Devils.  First, they get the winner of the play-in game, so they will have a great scouting report.  Of course, this game will be a breather.  On Sunday, Duke will play either Cal or Louisville, and it could actually be the toughest of their four games on the way to the Final Four.  Because Villanova and Purdue are fading as fast as the sun in Barrow, Alaska, in October, there’s a chance that both could be gone before the Sweet 16.

After Duke, six other teams scored 20 or more points in the criteria rating.  They are Kansas, Kansas State, BYU, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Baylor in that order.

Kentucky comes in at number eight, followed closely by New Mexico, Villanova, Michigan State, Maryland, Texas, Tennessee, Old Dominion, Murray State, and Georgetown.  Yes, the Hoyas still qualify as one of the real contenders, but just by a razor’s edge.  Their R+T score is rather low.

The best of the rest (those that just barely missed the 18-point score) are: Siena, Utah State, Washington, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.  These 22 teams are the ones that you should consider for your Sweet 16.

Here is a look at the 32 first round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

First-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Kentucky (19.8) vs. #16 East Tennessee (1.6)

This is your typical one vs. 16 mismatch.  Kentucky will not win by 50 like they might have in the days of Rick Pitino; they might outscore the Buccaneers by 20 points in two separate segments in this game and yet win by only 20 points.

The Wildcats will dominate the glass, and ETSU won’t be able to force enough turnovers to make this a game.  We see UK holding the Bucs to about 35% shooting and 60 or fewer points.

Prediction: Kentucky 74  East Tennessee 53

 

#8 Texas (19.0) vs. #9 Wake Forest (4.9)

The Longhorns were a big disappointment after being ranked at the top at 17-0 earlier in the year.  Looking at their stats, it’s definitely hard to see how they lost nine times in their final 16 games.

Texas just barely misses qualifying as superior in every PiRate Bracketnomics’ category.  They outscored opponents by 11.5 points per game, shot 6.7% from the field better than their opponents, finished +6.8 in rebounding and +1.1 in turnover margin, and they averaged 7.8 steals per game.  They compiled these stats playing in one of the two toughest leagues.

Wake Forest lost five of their final six games and fell several places in their seeding.  The Demon Deacons have a negative turnover margin, which is always a tough thing to overcome in the Big Dance.

This game should be interesting due to the fact that neither team is playing as well as they could.  We think Texas will play a little more cohesively in the opening round and survive and advance. 

Prediction: Texas 77  Wake Forest 72

 

#5 Temple (14.5) vs. #12 Cornell (10.2)

A lot of prognosticators are going with Cornell to become yet another 12-seed upset winner and even advance to the Sweet 16, becoming the first Ivy League team to make it that far since Penn lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 in 1980.

The Big Red earned the respect of the nation when they played at Kansas and lost by just five points.

This was Temple’s best team in years—maybe the best since 1988.  The Owls, as they have for decades, play tough defense on the perimeter, denying the ball from being passed inside and getting tight on three-point shooters.  They don’t force many turnovers, but they commit less than 11 per game. 

Cornell coach Steve Donahue was an assistant to Temple coach Fran Dunphy, so these coaches know what to expect in this game.  We’re going with this five-seed to avoid the upset.

Prediction: Temple 68  Cornell 60

 

#4 Wisconsin (16.1) vs. #13 Wofford (5.3)

The Badgers cannot take the Terriers lightly.  Wofford is another 13-seed team capable of pulling off an upset.  Expect 40 minutes of half-court offense with less than 130 total points scored.

Both teams tend to rely on one player to bear the scoring burden.  For Wisconsin, guard Trevon Hughes is the go-to guy.  For Wofford, forward Noah Dahlman is the key offensive threat.

It will be easier for Wisconsin to shut down Dahlman than Wofford to shut down Hughes, and Hughes has a little better quartet of teammates. 

Prediction: Wisconsin 63  Wofford 56

 

#6 Marquette (12.2) vs. #11 Washington (16.9)

This will be one game you will want to tune in if you have March Madness on Demand.  We think it will be very entertaining.

Marquette will move the ball around the perimeter and take a lot of threes.  If they hit 35% or better, they will be tough to beat.  However, the Golden Eagles are weak on the boards, and if those treys don’t fall, they cannot win.

Washington is not getting much respect coming out of the weak Pac-10.  The Huskies won their final seven games including the league tournament to earn an automatic berth here.  They can score points in bunches, and even though they are on the small side, they are the best rebounding team in the Pac-10.  That happens to be Marquette’s weakness.  That happens to be why UW will still be playing Sunday.

Prediction: Washington 82  Marquette 75

 

#3 New Mexico (19.6) vs. #14 Montana (3.2)

At first glance, this looks like another blowout that you see when a number three takes on a number 14.  However, Montana is not to be disregarded without a fight.  The Grizzlies found themselves down by more than 20 points to Weber State in the Big Sky Championship Game and came back to win.

Montana plays tough defense and works patiently for intelligent shots.  This style of play may be a bit boring, but it can be quite effective if the players stay within the frame of the philosophy.

New Mexico wins games through tough hustle.  The Lobos are tough on the boards, and they seldom turn the ball over more than a dozen times per game.  They can pose tough matchup problems for a lot of teams, because they can post up their guards and bring their forwards out high to shoot the three.  We’ll go with the Lobos to win, but it may be a lot more difficult than most people expect.

Prediction: New Mexico 72  Montana 63

 

#7 Clemson (12.3) vs. #10 Missouri (14.7)

This will be a helter-skelter game from start to finish.  These teams are both reliant upon forcing turnovers and converting them into fast break points.  We expect a lot of physical play with the referees letting a lot of contact go.

Missouri relies a little too much on its outside game, while Clemson has some inside presence.  In the Big Dance, the teams that can get offensive putbacks are usually the teams that survive and advance.  We don’t think Missouri will have an answer for Clemson forward Trevor Booker.

Prediction: Clemson 77  Missouri 72

 

#2 West Virginia (23.5) vs. #15 Morgan State (-0.2)

Morgan State has been here before.  The Bears lost to Oklahoma in the first round last year.  Coach Todd Bozeman likes for his team to move the ball up the floor quickly and bang it inside.  That might work in the MEAC, but this is not the MEAC.

West Virginia looks a little sloppy at times, and the Mountaineers don’t shoot the ball all too well, but they play tough defense and dominate on the boards.  WVU enters this tournament with a chip on its shoulder after flopping in the first round against Dayton last year.  Coach Bob Huggins’ squad has played in several nail-biters this year, and they should be ready to play.

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Morgan State 52

 

South Regional

#1 Duke (34.4) vs. #16 Arkansas Pine Bluff (-11.5)

Well, we blew the play-in game, but luckily that’s a Mulligan in bracket picking.

Duke will get a breather game in their opener.  The Blue Devils will apply pressure man-to-man defense and force the Golden Lions to commit numerous turnovers.  Duke’s big guys will repeatedly get offensive rebounds when the Blue Devils miss shots, and those players will clean the defensive glass as well.

UAPB should be fortunate that they won the play-in game.  They will give up more points in the first half of this game than they did in the entire game Tuesday night.

Prediction: Duke 87 Arkansas Pine Bluff 59

 

#8 California (11.4) vs. #9 Louisville (9.5)

Louisville beat Syracuse twice this year, but the Cardinals are not nearly as good this year as they were last year.   This UL team lacks the little something extra to advance very far in this tournament.

Cal won their first outright Pac-10 regular season title since Darrall Imhoff led the Bears to the National Championship Game against Ohio State in the 1959-60 season.  This edition of Bears is the polar opposite to that earlier version.  Cal is strictly a perimeter-oriented team that must shoot the ball well in order to win.

This one is a true tossup game.  It will be a contest of better offense vs. better defense.  Cal has to travel almost 3,200 miles, and the long trip could be their undoing.

Prediction: Louisville 72  California 68

 

#5 Texas A&M (12.7) vs. #12 Utah State (17.3)

This is one of those 5-12 games where the PiRate system shows the underdog to be the better team.  Utah State would be the outright favorite in this game if they played a little better defensively, especially on the perimeter.

Texas A&M played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and the Aggies showed they could go head-to-head with them.  Their defense is tough, and the Aggies from Texas should hold the Aggies from Utah well below their scoring and shooting averages.  A&M doesn’t shoot the ball all that well, and this should be a close game.  We’ll go against the PiRate chalk and take the Big 12 team.

Prediction: Texas A&M 70  Utah State 66

 

#4 Purdue (15.4) vs. #13 Siena (17.8)

This year, we like the 13-seeds better than the 12-seeds as upset possibilities.  Purdue would probably have been a 10-seed or even missed the tournament altogether had Robbie Hummel been injured all season.  Without Hummel, the Boilermakers are not much better than your average NIT team.

Siena defeated Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament and Ohio State in the first round last year.  The Saints may be a little better this year thanks to a balanced team.  Siena has four starters that can score 20 points on any given night.  They have an inside presence with Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter combining for more than 19 rebounds per game.  Throw in a +3 turnover margin, and the Saints get seven more scoring opportunities per game than their opposition. 

We will call the upset in this game, but we give a warning.  Star players have missed NCAA Tournament games in the past, and those starless teams found a way to win.  Loyola Marymount won three games in the Big Dance after Hank Gathers died.  Going back several years to 1965, Wichita State made it to the Final Four after losing their top two players to eligibility.

Prediction: Siena 70  Purdue 65

 

#6 Notre Dame (6.5) vs. #11 Old Dominion (18.8)

This should be an entertaining game with a lot of inside action.  Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody missed multiple games due to injury in February, and the Irish defense stepped up and did the job.  With the big forward back, the Irish are playing their best ball of the season.  While they finished the season winning just eight of their final 13 games, those five losses came by a combined nine points.

Old Dominion is one of those teams like Butler and St. Mary’s that big-six conference teams don’t want to play.  The Monarchs dominate on the boards and seldom give up a high-percentage shot. 

We look for this one to stay close throughout, and the difference could be which team has the better outside shooting day.  If one team has a decent enough outside shooting day to force defenses to stretch, their inside game will become too strong to lose.

While ODU has much better total numbers, we think Notre Dame will get the job done.

Prediction: Notre Dame 71  Old Dominion 66

 

#3 Baylor (21.39) vs. #14 Sam Houston St. (10.33)

Watch out for Baylor!  The Bears rate in that elite group of teams capable of getting to Indianapolis.  In the Bracketnomics Class blog, we mentioned that you needed to be alert for a team that shoots 48% from the field and allows only 38%.  Baylor is one of two teams that meet this criteria.

The Bears also dominate on the glass, and if it weren’t for a negative turnover margin, we would pick them as a Final Four team.  Some future opponent will exploit this liability and defeat them, but it won’t be Sam Houston.

The Bearkats are an interesting and fun team to watch play.  They begin firing threes the moment they enter the gym.  It won’t get the job done in this game.

Prediction: Baylor 81  Sam Houston 67

 

#7 Richmond (10.0) vs. #10 St. Mary’s (10.1)

This game could come down to pace.  If Richmond presses the tempo and makes this a maximum possession game, the Spiders will have a decided advantage.  Richmond needs to speed the game up to force St. Mary’s into unforced errors.

Seldom in the opening round of the tournament do we ever see a team consciously trying to speed up the game.  Nerves and uncertainty usually slow these games down until midway through the second half.

St. Mary’s will win this game if the total number of field goal attempts is 115 or less.  If the pace is average to below average, their seven-man rotation will be able to avoid fatigue.  Center Omar Samhan can control the lane in this game and give the Gaels a strong advantage inside.

Prediction: St. Mary’s 73  Richmond 67

 

#2 Villanova (19.5) vs. #15 Robert Morris(-2.9)

This game should be a mismatch, but it could take some time before the Wildcats pull away.  VU finished the regular season on a 4-6 slide, but the Wildcats lost five of those games to NCAA Tournament teams from their conference.

Once this game begins, we look for the Colonials to keep it within striking distance for a couple of time outs before Villanova slowly pulls away.

Prediction: Villanova 78  Robert Morris 63

 

Midwest Regional

 

#1 Kansas (28.7) vs. #16 Lehigh (0.22)

If there is a chance that one team will top 100 points in the first round without going into multiple overtimes, this game is the one.  Kansas will begin its march to the Final Four with a tune-up game. 

Lehigh will take 25 or more three-pointers in this game, but we believe the Jayhawk defense will force many bad shots from the outside.  KU will then score 1.3-1.5 points per possession.  We’re sorry if you get stuck with this game and cannot get another.

Prediction: Kansas 94  Lehigh 61

 

#8 UNLV (11.7) vs. #9 Northern Iowa (11.7)

How about this for tossup game status?  Not only is this an eight-nine game, their criteria scores are equal.

This game comes down to how well the Panthers can stop the Runnin’ Rebels outside shooting game.  We think UNI will be able to hold the UNLV backcourt of Tre’Von Willis, Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall, and reserve Kendall Wallace under their norms.  At the same time, look for UNI brute center Jordan Eglseder and forward Adam Koch to dominate on the inside.  Combine that with a defense that fits the opponents’ offense like a glove, and we see the Missouri Valley team advancing.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 58  UNLV 53

 

#5 Michigan State (19.5) vs. #12 New Mexico St. (3.4)

We cannot see a 12-seed upset in this game.  The Aggies have a negative R+T rating, which means they typically allow more scoring opportunities than they create.  Against a seasoned NCAA Tournament team, one coming off a visit to the national title game, that won’t be the winning recipe.

Michigan State will win the rebounding battle by 10 or more in this game.  If the Spartans don’t turn the ball over 18 or more times, they will be comfortably ahead by the first TV timeout of the second half.

Guard Chris Allen is expected to return to action after serving a one-game suspension for arguing with the coaching staff.

Prediction: Michigan State 75  New Mexico State 62

 

#4 Maryland (19.5) vs. #13 Houston (1.9)

Houston got hot and won the CUSA tournament after being picked to contend for the conference championship and finishing in the middle of the pack.  The Cougars cannot rebound.  While Maryland is only so-so on the boards, the Terps will win this battle by at least five caroms.

Houston relies on putting pressure on the ball and trying to play in the passing lanes to get steals and force turnovers.  Maryland takes care of the ball and can exploit this type of defense.

Throw in the fact that the Terps play tough defense, and this one looks like a huge mismatch.  Maryland comes mighty close to qualifying for the special field goal percentage criteria.  They connect on 47.2% of their shots and hold opponents to 38.8%.

Prediction: Maryland 83  Houston 70

 

#6 Tennessee (18.9) vs. #11 San Diego State (15.6)

This has the makings of a good game between similar styles.  Tennessee likes to force turnovers and run the break for quick baskets.  In the half-court offense, they try to work the ball inside.  The Volunteers aren’t the best outside shooting team.

San Diego State plays like your typical Steve Fisher-coached team.  The Aztecs have a dominating inside game and hold a +6.7 rebounding edge over their opposition.  The Aztecs aren’t great three-point shooters either, but inside the arc, they shoot almost 55%.

Tennessee is mad at being lowered to a number six seed in a year where they knocked off Kansas and Kentucky, but the Vols went only 10-7 away from home.  They are primed to make a run to the Sweet 16 if the team has enough gas in the tank.

Prediction: Tennessee 72  San Diego State 65

 

#3 Georgetown (18.0) vs. #14 Ohio U (0.7)

This game is a mismatch similar to your typical 1-seed vs. 16-seed game.  Ohio should have been a lower seed.  The Bobcats finished below .500 in a weak MAC this year, and they have no chance against the Hoyas.

Georgetown is not as complete this year as in past seasons.  They are a definite upset possibility, but it won’t happen in this round.  The key to the Hoyas advancing to the Sweet 16 will be how much the regulars can rest in this one. 

Prediction: Georgetown 72  Ohio 59

 

#7 Oklahoma State (6.2) vs. #10 Georgia Tech (9.5)

A very strong Big 12 allowed the Cowboys to move up to a seven-seed, when their performance looks more like a 10-seed.  Georgia Tech belongs as a 10-seed, so this game should be close and exciting.

OSU is a hot and cold team that won’t be around next week.  They either hit from behind the arc or get beat. 

Georgia Tech isn’t a world-beater, but the Yellow Jackets play somewhat consistently.  They will control the boards in this game, but they are turnover prone.  OSU’s shot at winning hinges on how many times they can force Tech into floor mistakes.  We think they will come up a bit short, but this game should be 40 minutes of entertaining ball.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 72  Oklahoma State 68

 

#2 Ohio State (16.8) vs. #15 UCSB (-4.5)

The Buckeyes won 16 of their final 18 games including the regular season and tournament championship in the Big Ten.  Evan Turner is a mini-Magic Johnson.  He can do it all, and he deserves serious consideration for national player of the year.  He isn’t a one-man team, but the Buckeyes’ only liability is a lack of depth.  They go only seven deep, and the two key reserves don’t contribute all that much.

UCSB is one of the two teams that must be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating.  Their stay in the Dance will last just one number, and they will feel like their rival cut in on them in the middle of the song.

Prediction: Ohio State 76  UCSB 54

 

West Regional

 

#1 Syracuse (23.6) vs. #16 Vermont (-3.8)

The ‘Cuse is primed for another run to the Final Four.  Except for a lack of depth, this team would be even with Duke and Kansas.  It won’t bother them in the first two rounds, as the Orange won’t be extended by pressure defense.

This is not the Vermont team of 2005 that actually won an opening round game.  This version of Catamounts is just happy to be here, and they will put up no fuss and wave bye-bye after 40 minutes of tournament action.

We expect Vermont to keep it close for maybe 8-12 minutes before Syracuse goes on a big run and puts this one away before the intermission.

Prediction: Syracuse 90  Vermont 64

 

#8 Gonzaga (13.4) vs. #9 Florida State (14.4)

We don’t believe this will be Gonzaga’s year to advance to the Sweet 16.  The Bulldogs don’t dominate on the glass and pick up nothing in turnover margin. 

This Florida State team reminds us a lot of the Seminole teams of Hugh Durham.  They play aggressive man-to-man defense and work the ball for intelligent shots. 

Gonzaga needs a good shooting effort every time in order to win, and the Seminoles hold opponents to just 37.4% from the field. 

Prediction: Florida State 67  Gonzaga 63

 

#5 Butler (14.2) vs. #12 UTEP (15.8)

This is a game that all five of us here would like to attend.  We think it will be the best of the 5-12 games, and it won’t be an upset if UTEP wins.  These teams are fairly even, and both are talented enough to advance to the second week.

If the question were, “which game has the best chance of going to overtime?” this game would receive strong consideration. 

We will go with the Miners to win a great game and become the favorite in the next round in a possible second classic matchup against another double-digit seed.  This is the 12-seed that has the best chance of pulling off the “upset.”  We don’t call a 50-50 game an upset.

Prediction: UTEP 79  Butler 77 in overtime

 

#4 Vanderbilt (11.2) vs. #13 Murray State (18.0)

Murray State rates as one of four teams not from a big six conference that we believe has the talent to make it to the Sweet 16.  The Racers are actually the most complete team in the tournament and best fit the criteria to go to the Final Four, but their schedule strength lowers their criteria out of that rarified air.

Murray outscores their opponents by 17 points per game.  They shoot better than 50% from the field, and they allow only 38.6% shooting on defense.  They control the boards with a +6.0 margin, and they force more than 17 turnovers per game with 10 steals per game.

Vanderbilt was a fatigued team down the stretch, closing 8-5 after opening 16-3.  In that last 13 games, they outscored their opponents by just two per game.  The Commodores just barely avoid being eliminated from consideration with an R+T of 0.6.  They outrebound their opponents by 0.7 per game and have a slightly negative turnover margin.  They rely too much on free throw shooting, and fouls are not called as frequently in the Big Dance.

We look for this to be a great game, but we’re going with another #13 seed to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Murray State 75  Vanderbilt 69

 

#6 Xavier (15.1) vs. #11 Minnesota (10.4)

Morgan State, Butler, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue are a good list of teams in the Big Dance.  Minnesota owns wins over these seven Samurais.  Xavier doesn’t have a showcase win this year, and the Musketeers are not as tough as they have been in recent seasons.

Tubby Smith’s teams always play well in the Big Dance, while this is the first go around for Xavier coach Chris Mack.  In yet another mild upset, we believe Minnesota will advance to the second round.

Prediction: Minnesota 69  Xavier 66

 

#3 Pittsburgh (8.7) vs. #14 Oakland (4.3)

For those of you who believe the Selection Committee tries to put certain teams together, you might not see the irony in the pairing of these two teams.  First, Oakland is not from California.  The Golden Grizzlies are from Rochester, Michigan.  Pittsburgh is located in the Oakland suburb of the Steel City.  So, when we say the team from Oakland will win the game, we aren’t talking about the Golden State Warriors, and we’re not talking about the team with the word “Oakland” on their jerseys.

This is not the year for the Panthers.  Their numbers aren’t all that good, and they will not advance to the Elite 8 this year.  However, they will cruise in the opening round after maybe facing a struggle through the first couple of TV timeouts.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 67  Oakland 58

 

#7 BYU (24.5) vs. #10 Florida (10.5)

Many prognosticators are calling for the Gators to pull the small upset in the opening round, but we cannot see it happening.

BYU ranks along with Murray State as having the most complete criteria components in the tournament.  The Cougars outscore their opposition by nearly 18 per game.  They do tend to rely on a lot of foul shooting and three-point shots, but BYU also gets a lot of easy baskets via the fast break and secondary offense.  Their R+T rating is a whopping 13.5, as they own a +5.1 rebounding margin, +4.1 turnover margin, and pick off 8.5 passes per game.  Since they have a shooting percentage of 48.6%, they will score a lot of points.

Florida returns to the Big Dance for the first time since they won their second consecutive national title in 2007.  This team is lacking what those two champions had—a dominating inside game.  Center Vernon Macklin is capable of putting up decent numbers, but the Gators rely on perimeter players Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton to get the job done.  Walker is just 5-8, and he will have a tough time against the tall and lanky BYU guards.

Look for Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery to outduel the Florida guards, and the Cougars will prevail in a fast-paced game.

Prediction: BYU 85  Florida 77

 

#2 Kansas State (25.9) vs. #15 North Texas (-3.22)

After Duke, Kansas State may have drawn the best possible bracket.  The Wildcats have the talent to win this regional and possibly set up a fourth game with their in-state rival in the National Semifinal. 

This will be a fun team to watch.  Kansas State coach Frank Martin is a combination of Al McGuire and Bobby Knight with a little Bob Huggins thrown in.  He’s the coach most likely to implode or spontaneous combust during a game.  His antics are working this year, and his players respond by playing like their life is on the line.

North Texas will get killed on the boards in this game, and they don’t have a ball-hawking defense to even it out with a great turnover margin.  Unlike conference rival Western Kentucky, the Mean Green will not carry on the Sunbelt Conference’s recent success in the tourney.

Prediction: Kansas State 82  North Texas 65

 

Our Bracket

 

You have seen the 32 teams we believe will win the first round games.  Here is how we fill out the rest of our bracket.

Second Round Winners

 

Kentucky over Texas in a close game

Wisconsin over Temple

New Mexico over Washington

West Virginia over Clemson

Duke over Louisville

Texas A&M over Siena

Baylor over Notre Dame

Villanova over St. Mary’s

Kansas over Northern Iowa

Michigan State over Maryland in a great game

Tennessee over Georgetown

Ohio State over Georgia Tech

Syracuse over Florida State

UTEP over Murray State

Minnesota over Pittsburgh

Kansas State over BYU in a thriller

Sweet 16 Winners

Kentucky over Wisconsin

West Virginia over New Mexico

Duke over Texas A&M

Baylor over Villanova

Kansas over Michigan State but a fantastic upset bid

Ohio State over Tennessee

Syracuse over UTEP

Kansas State over Minnesota

Elite 8 Winners

West Virginia over Kentucky

Duke over Baylor

Kansas over Ohio State

Kansas State over Syracuse

Semifinal Winners

 

Duke over West Virginia

Kansas State over Kansas (The Wildcats finally beat KU in their fourth try)

National Championship

 

Duke over Kansas State

Might Coach K pull a John Wooden and announce his retirement after winning the semifinal game?  Might he be tempted to take a very large pay raise to coach the Nets for a year or two and then enjoy real retirement like his mentor The General is enjoying?

December 7, 2009

PiRate Ratings and Spreads For College Football–Regular Season Final

NCAA 2009 College Football Playoff Simulation

The Playoffs You Wished For 

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

 

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

 

Top Six Conference Champions

ACC–Georgia Tech 11-2           #9 Seed

Big East–Cincinnati 12-0                   #3 Seed

Big Ten–Ohio State 10-2         #8 Seed

Big 12—Texas 13-0                    #2 Seed

Pac-10—Oregon 10-2                #7 Seed

SEC—Alabama 13-0                             #1 Seed

 

Automatic Qualifiers By Virtue Of Top 16 In BCS

MWC—T C U 12-0                       #4 Seed

WAC—Boise State 13-0             #6 Seed

 

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

Florida 12-1                                 #5 Seed

Iowa 10-2                                    #10 Seed

Virginia Tech 10-2                     #11 Seed

L S U 9-3                                      #12 Seed

 

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

Opening Round

 

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

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

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

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

 

Quarterfinal Round

 

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

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

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

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

 

Semifinal Round

 

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

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

 

National Championship Game

 

Fiesta Bowl Winner vs. Orange Bowl Winner  Jan 23

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Final Regular Season PiRate Ratings

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bowl Lineups

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

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

November 30, 2009

PiRate Ratings and Spreads For College Football–November 30-December 12

It’s The Week We’ve All Been Waiting For

 

It seems like just last week the college football season kicked off, and here it is the end of the regular season.  A handful of games can potentially scramble the bowl bids that will go out Sunday.  With the holidays bringing the five PiRates together under the same roof in northwest Wisconsin for too much turkey and other booty, we stayed up late gathering information for this special bowl edition.  We think through hard work and phone calls to contacts in multiple locations, we have one of the best views of the bowl games.

This edition will not be a speculative one.  We are actually trying to use information we have gathered to report where we believe the bowls are looking with six days to go.

The BCS Bowls

National Championship Game:  Obviously the winner of this week’s Alabama-Florida game in the SEC Championship will finish number one.  If Texas wins, then everything is rather easy.  The Longhorns will finish number two.  Here’s where things get dicey.  If Texas loses, there will be controversy no matter which team makes it to Pasadena.  TCU would be the logical choice, but Cincinnati could edge ahead of the Horned Frogs with a convincing win over Pittsburgh.  And, if Alabama were to edge Florida by a point or win in overtime, there is still a possibility that Alabama and Florida could meet in a rematch.  Remember something; part of the BCS equation is human voting.  The fourth estate has never been confused for being honest and just.  All it takes is for a few voters to move TCU down one spot, and the fix would be in.

We believe Nebraska’s lack of offense will make this all superfluous.  Texas will win by double digits this week and face the SEC winner for the national championship.  We’ve taken a vote here in the Northwoods; one of us believes Florida will win this week.  One of us believes Alabama will win, and the other three consider it a tossup.  It should be the next “greatest game,” in the mold of Ohio State and Michigan in 2006, Florida State and Florida in 1996, Notre Dame and USC in 1988, and the two greatest late season matchups of #1 vs. #2—Oklahoma and Nebraska in 1971 and Notre Dame and Michigan State in 1966. 

Orange Bowl: The winner of this week’s Clemson-Georgia Tech game for the ACC Championship will automatically go to Miami.  We believe Clemson has a better than 50% chance of pulling off the upset.  In their regular season game, Clemson’s comedy of errors led to the Yellow Jackets getting a big lead.  The Tigers made a great comeback and almost pulled it off.  We thing CU gets revenge this week and heads to Miami with a weak 8-4 record.  The Orange Bowl will get the third selection in the at-large draft if Texas wins.  The Sugar and Fiesta Bowls will have already picked because they will have lost teams to the National Championship Game.  With Alabama or Florida and Iowa already taken off the board, this pick will come down to either the Big East champion, Boise State, or TCU.  If Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh, we don’t see the Bearcats being chosen even though they would be 12-0.  Cincinnati played in Miami last year.  It would come down to TCU and Boise State.  Believe it or not, Boise’s fans travel better, so we will go with Boise State here.

If Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati, the Panthers will probably wind up here, and Boise State would head to the Fiesta Bowl.

Fiesta Bowl: Assuming Texas wins, the Fiesta Bowl will get the second and fourth picks in the at-large draft.  The SEC loser will be off the table, and we believe the best choice for this bowl will be Iowa.  After the Orange Bowl picks Boise State, TCU becomes the logical choice.  If Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati, then Boise State would land here.

Sugar Bowl: Without a doubt, the loser of the SEC Championship will play here if both SEC teams don’t play again in Pasadena.  The Sugar Bowl gets the first pick to replace the number one team being lost to the National Championship Game.  The Sugar Bowl also gets the last pick in the at-large draft.  Since this cannot be a Hobson’s Choice, Cincinnati would land here as the only option if the Bearcats beat Pittsburgh.  If Pittsburgh wins this week, then TCU would land here.

Rose Bowl: Ohio State is already assured of playing here.  The winner of Thursday night’s Oregon-Oregon State game will be the opponent.  There can be no other options this year.

The Top-Tier Non-BCS Bowls

 

Capital One Bowl: LSU seems to be a shoo-in for this bowl after Ole Miss fell to Mississippi State.  Penn State will land here if Iowa is chosen over the Lions for a BCS Bowl.  We see no reason for Penn State fans to believe they can beat out Iowa, especially if the bowl in question is the Fiesta Bowl.

Outback Bowl: The top remaining SEC East team is supposed to play here, while the top remaining SEC West team is supposed to play in the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss played in Dallas last year, and there was talk that there could be a trade-off with Ole Miss heading to Tampa.  However, late news seems to support the Rebels playing in the Cotton Bowl again, so Tennessee looks like the choice here.  The Big Ten representative will be Wisconsin unless the Badgers lose in Hawaii this weekend.  If that happens, it changes a lot of other bowls. 

Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State should receive this invitation, since the Cowboys have the second best record, but Nebraska or over Oklahoma could leapfrog them.  For now, we will stick with the most politically correct pick and go with Oklahoma State.  According to late-breaking news, the SEC representative will be Ole Miss. 

Gator Bowl: Notre Dame’s fold means the Big East gets this spot.  The loser of the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game will end up in Jacksonville.  We believe Georgia Tech will lose to Clemson this week, so the Yellow Jackets will play here.  Our pick then is Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.  If the Yellow Jackets win the ACC, then it appears that Miami would be the ACC representative.

Holiday Bowl: Southern Cal will get this bid if Oregon beats Oregon State.  If the Beavers beat the Ducks, then Oregon will drop to this bowl.  Nebraska is the logical Big 12 choice for this game.

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Georgia’s win over Georgia Tech will put the Bulldogs at the top of the list for this game, but a second year in a row of fewer hotel rooms needing to be booked (Georgia Tech played here last year) probably sends the Bulldogs somewhere else.  The likely ACC opponent will be Virginia Tech, and the SEC will try to find the best opponent.  Auburn would be the best choice, providing a match-up of offense against defense, but most of their fans can drive to this game.  We’re going with Auburn because officials from this bowl repeatedly attended their games.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

The Mid-Level Bowls

 

Las Vegas Bowl: Even though they have been to this bowl four years in a row, it looks like Brigham Young is headed here again.  The Mountain West would like Utah to go here, but BYU will sell their allotment for this one, while the Utes will not.

The Pac-10 opponent could be a host of teams, but we think it will be either Stanford or Oregon State.  One of those two will play here, while the other plays in the Emerald Bowl.  We’ll go with Stanford here.  If Oregon State beats Oregon, then Southern Cal or California might fall to this game.

Meineke Car Care Bowl: This bowl will have a choice of Florida State or Boston College.  With Bobby Bowden announcing his retirement tomorrow, the Seminoles will jump over the Eagles.  Rutgers should get the Big East invitation in this game.

Music City Bowl: This could be an interesting rivalry game.  How about North Carolina facing South Carolina?  Since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1991, these two teams have played just once.

Liberty Bowl: Arkansas looks like the best option here.  The Razorbacks will fill up the stadium.  The Conference USA champion automatically plays here, so that means either Houston or East Carolina will be the opponent.  Houston and Arkansas would make this a 100-pass, 4-hour game with maybe 100+ points scored.

Sun Bowl: If Oregon wins Thursday, we believe California will be the Pac-10 representative.  Oklahoma looks like the best fit for the Big 12.

Champs Sports Bowl: If Clemson wins over Georgia Tech, Miami should fall to this bowl.  If Georgia Tech wins over Clemson, then Miami moves up to the Gator and Clemson falls here.  Northwestern should be the Big 10 opponent, but if Wisconsin loses to Hawaii, NU could move up and the Badgers could fall here.

Alamo Bowl: Texas Tech should receive this bid, and their opponent should be Michigan State.  It could take 40 points to win this game.

The Bottom Tier

 

St. Petersburg Bowl: This second year bowl has a chance to make a big splash by bringing together two in-state teams that played each other the last four years but not this year.  Central Florida and South Florida could sell this game out.  We think it is a strong possibility, but the chances for this dream game have dropped some the last few days.

New Mexico Bowl: Unless some back room deals are made, the Mountain West opponent will be Wyoming.  There could be some wheeling and dealing to bring an at-large team here and ship Wyoming to the Humanitarian Bowl, but for now, we’ll keep the Cowboys here.  The WAC opponent will be either Nevada or Fresno State.  If Hawaii upsets Wisconsin, then there will be one extra WAC team available.  For now, we’ll stick with Nevada.

New Orleans Bowl: Troy won the Sunbelt Conference Championship and earns the automatic bid here.  There is a rule where the SBC champion could move to a higher-paying bowl, but for that to happen, the SBC must supply two additional seven-win teams.  There are only two of these teams, so Troy will play here barring some “exception.”   The C-USA opponent should be Southern Mississippi.

Poinsettia Bowl: All signs point to BYU playing here, but we just don’t see the Las Vegas bowl passing over the Cougars for Utah.  So, we’re going against the grain and picking Utah to end up in San Diego.  Arizona looks like the Pac-10 opponent.  If the Wildcats upset USC, then there is a small chance they could move up.

Hawaii Bowl:  Here’s where a giant monkey wrench could be thrown into the bowl games.  Hawaii will get this bid with a win over Wisconsin.  We might be biased, but we think the Badgers can pull this one out.  So, in that case, Fresno State should be the WAC representative.  The hot CUSA choice is SMU, which would bring June Jones back to the island.  Since this bowl desperately wants a Hawaii-SMU game, look for this week’s Hawaii-Wisconsin game to be one of the most partially-biased officiated games.

Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl: This bowl could be in for a mess.  Central Michigan played here last year, so it looks like the Chippewas are headed to Mobile, Alabama.  A bigger problem is that there will not be a Big 10 team available for this game.  Because the at-large pool must take all the seven-win teams before any 6-6 team can be selected, this bowl might have to invite two MAC teams, neither of which are the conference champion.

Ohio U should be the official MAC selection.  This bowl would love to bring Notre Dame here, but even if one 6-6 team can be chosen, it looks like the Irish will vote not to play in any bowls.  Middle Tennessee, at 9-3, would be the best at-large option, but we believe the Blue Raiders will be invited somewhere else first.  So, this bowl will have to look for two MAC teams that have not played.  That leaves Northern Illinois against Bowling Green.

Emerald Bowl: Boston College will be the last available ACC team, and they will fortunate to sell half of their ticket allotment.  Oregon State or Stanford will be the opponent here, and since we pegged Stanford for the Las Vegas Bowl, we’ll put the Beavers here.

Independence Bowl: This bowl is tired of having teams that don’t want to be here, but it will be the case once again with the SEC.  Georgia could very well end up here if the Chick-fil-A looks elsewhere.  The Big 12 representative will come down to either Texas A&M or Iowa State.  If Georgia is chosen to play in Atlanta, then this bowl will jump at the chance to pit Auburn with Iowa State for obvious reasons (Auburn coach Gene Chizik was at Iowa State and Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads was at Auburn).  Under the assumption that Auburn will play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, we’ll slate Georgia here against Texas A&M.

Eagle Bank Bowl: This second year bowl faces the possibility that neither of its two tie-ins will be able to supply a team.  Army has to beat Navy to earn their bid.  We believe that will happen, and the Cadets will make life easier for this bowl.  The ACC will definitely not have an available team for this bowl, so an at-large team will be selected.  Temple will be making its first bowl trip in almost two decades, so the Owls will be a good choice.  If Army loses to Navy, then a 6-6 team will end up here.  Since Notre Dame will not be available if they vote not to go to a bowl, Marshall may get this bid, even though Coach Mark Snyder just resigned.

Humanitarian Bowl: With Boise State almost assured of making it to a BCS Bowl if Texas beats Nebraska, this bowl will look to Idaho to replace the Broncos.  With TCU earning a BCS bowl, the MWC will not have an available team for this game.  With all the seven-win teams coming from over 1,500 miles away from Boise, it looks like UCLA could become the one 6-6 bowl team and play here.

Armed Forces Bowl:  The MWC team should be Air Force, as it is a no-brainer to have a service academy playing here.  The C-USA opponent should be the loser of the ECU-Houston game this week.  Houston would be a great counterpart.

Texas Bowl: Navy has already secured one of these spots.  Iowa State or Texas A&M will be the opponent depending on which way the Independence bowl goes.

Insight.com Bowl: Minnesota will be the last Big Ten team in the bowl pecking order, so the Gophers will get this bid.  Missouri is the likely Big 12 opponent.

International Bowl:  Connecticut is the logical choice as the Big East representative.  Ohio U may be shipped here, as they cannot play in the Pizza Bowl against either Bowling Green or Northern Illinois (they beat both).

PapaJohns.com Bowl: Kentucky should be the last available SEC team, and the Wildcats will travel well to Birmingham.  West Virginia would be an excellent opponent here.

NCAA Top 25 For November 30, 2009
Rank Team PiRate Won Lost
1 Texas 134.2 12 0
2 Florida 133.2 12 0
3 Alabama 128.0 12 0
4 T C U 125.4 12 0
5 Oklahoma 124.0 7 5
6 Boise State 120.9 12 0
7 Virginia Tech 120.5 9 3
8 Oregon 119.7 9 2
9 Georgia Tech 119.3 10 2
10 Texas Tech 117.9 8 4
11 Penn State 117.7 10 2
12 Southern Cal 117.7 8 3
13 Ohio State 117.6 10 2
14 Miami (Fla) 117.4 9 3
15 Stanford 116.9 8 4
16 Nebraska 116.1 9 3
17 Arkansas 115.5 7 5
18 Iowa 114.8 10 2
19 California 114.6 8 3
20 Cincinnati 114.4 11 0
21 Pittsburgh 114.2 9 2
22 Oklahoma State 113.9 9 3
23 Ole Miss 113.2 8 4
24 L  S  U 112.5 9 3
25 Oregon State 112.1 8 3
         
Note: Ratings rounded to one decimal point
even though I rank them to two decimal points
Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Clemson 6-2 8-4 111.8
Florida State 4-4 6-6 107.6
Boston College 5-3 8-4 107.1
Wake Forest 3-5 5-7 104.8
North Carolina State 2-6 5-7 102.7
Maryland 1-7 2-10 93.0
       
Coastal Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Virginia Tech 6-2 9-3 120.5
Georgia Tech 7-1 10-2 119.3
Miami-FL 5-3 9-3 117.4
North Carolina 4-4 8-4 110.9
Duke 3-5 5-7 98.4
Virginia 2-6 3-9 94.8
Big East Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Cincinnati 7-0 11-0 114.4
Pittsburgh 5-1 9-2 114.2
West Virginia 4-2 8-3 105.9
Connecticut 2-4 6-5 105.8
Rutgers 3-3 8-3 102.2
South Florida 3-3 7-4 101.8
Syracuse 1-6 4-8 93.9
Louisville 1-6 4-8 90.5
Big Ten
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Penn State 6-2 10-2 117.7
Ohio State 7-1 10-2 117.6
Iowa 6-2 10-2 114.8
Wisconsin 5-3 8-3 105.3
Michigan State 4-4 6-6 101.5
Northwestern 5-3 8-4 99.3
Purdue 4-4 5-7 99.0
Minnesota 3-5 6-6 97.9
Michigan 1-7 5-7 96.6
Illinois 2-6 3-8 96.2
Indiana 1-7 4-8 90.9
Big 12
North Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Nebraska 6-2 9-3 116.1
Missouri 4-4 8-4 104.8
Kansas 1-7 5-7 103.9
Kansas State 4-4 6-6 99.4
Colorado 2-6 3-9 97.4
Iowa State 3-5 6-6 94.9
       
South Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Texas 8-0 12-0 134.2
Oklahoma 5-3 7-5 124.0
Texas Tech 5-3 8-4 117.9
Oklahoma State 6-2 9-3 113.9
Texas A&M 3-5 6-6 103.4
Baylor 1-7 4-8 96.6
Conference USA
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Central Florida 6-2 8-4 104.1
East Carolina 7-1 8-4 103.9
Southern Mississippi 5-3 7-5 100.9
Marshall 4-4 6-6 92.4
U A B 4-4 5-7 91.0
Memphis 1-7 2-10 83.4
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Houston 6-2 10-2 108.7
Tulsa 3-5 5-7 91.6
U T E P 3-5 4-8 90.8
S M U 6-2 7-5 88.4
Rice 2-6 2-10 76.4
Tulane 1-7 3-9 71.1
Independents
       
Team   Overall Rating
Notre Dame   6-6 105.9
Navy   8-4 100.6
Army   5-6 82.0
Mid American Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Temple 7-1 9-3 100.7
Ohio U 7-1 9-3 95.0
Buffalo 3-5 5-7 92.4
Bowling Green 6-2 7-5 91.4
Kent St. 4-4 6-6 84.7
Akron 2-6 3-9 81.5
Miami (O) 1-7 1-11 76.3
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Central Michigan 8-0 10-2 108.9
Northern Illinois 5-3 7-5 95.1
Toledo 3-5 5-7 87.1
Western Michigan 4-4 5-7 86.2
Ball State 2-6 2-10 83.0
Eastern Michigan 0-8 0-12 74.2
Mountain West Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
T C U 8-0 12-0 125.4
B Y U 7-1 10-2 111.1
Utah 6-2 9-3 107.7
Air Force 5-3 7-5 100.7
Wyoming 4-4 6-6 87.9
UNLV 3-5 5-7 86.8
Colo. State 0-8 3-9 86.1
S. D. State 3-5 5-7 85.2
New Mexico 1-7 1-11 77.8
Pac-10 Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Oregon 7-1 9-2 119.7
Southern Cal 5-3 8-3 117.7
Stanford 6-3 8-4 116.9
California 5-3 8-3 114.6
Oregon St. 6-2 8-3 112.1
Arizona 5-3 7-4 111.4
U C L A 3-6 6-6 105.3
Arizona St. 2-7 4-8 102.1
Washington 3-5 4-7 97.6
Wash. St. 0-9 1-11 70.8
Southeastern Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Florida 8-0 12-0 133.2
Tennessee 4-4 7-5 110.9
South Carolina 3-5 7-5 110.9
Georgia 4-4 7-5 110.4
Kentucky 3-5 7-5 104.4
Vanderbilt 0-8 2-10 93.1
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Alabama 8-0 12-0 128.0
Arkansas 3-5 7-5 115.5
Ole Miss 4-4 8-4 113.2
L S U 5-3 9-3 112.5
Auburn 3-5 7-5 107.7
Mississippi State 3-5 5-7 104.2
Sunbelt Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Troy 8-0 9-3 99.0
Middle Tennessee 7-1 9-3 96.2
Louisiana-Monroe 5-3 6-6 86.8
Arkansas State 2-5 3-8 86.2
U. of Louisiana 4-4 6-6 83.7
Florida Atlantic 4-3 4-7 83.2
Florida International 3-4 3-8 81.7
North Texas 1-7 2-10 76.4
Western Kentucky 0-7 0-11 73.3
Western Athletic Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Boise State 7-0 12-0 120.9
Nevada 7-1 8-4 108.6
Fresno State 6-2 7-4 99.0
Louisiana Tech 2-5 3-8 97.2
Utah State 3-5 4-8 91.9
Idaho 4-4 7-5 89.6
Hawaii 3-5 6-6 87.7
San Jose State 1-6 2-9 81.1
New Mexico State 1-6 3-9 71.0
This Week’s Games–PiRate & Mean Ratings
Home Team in CAPS (N) Denotes Neutral Site      
         
Thursday, December 3   PiRate Spread    
Favorite Underdog Score Mean
Arkansas State WESTERN KY. 10.2 34-24 9
OREGON Oregon State 10.3 38-28 9
         
Friday, December 4   PiRate Spread    
Favorite Underdog Score Mean
Central Michigan  (Det.) Ohio U 14.9 35-20 7
         
Saturday, December 5   PiRate Spread    
Favorite Underdog Score Mean
CONNECTICUT South Florida 7.3 27-20 7
PITTSBURGH Cincinnati 2.8 24-21 0
West Virginia RUTGERS 0.7 28-27 0
Houston EAST CAROLINA 1.8 37-35 5
ILLINOIS Fresno State 0.7 31-30 -3
LOUISIANA TECH San Jose St. 19.1 40-21 16
BOISE STATE New Mexico St. 53.4 63-10 44
SOUTHERN CAL Arizona 10.6 24-13 6
Florida (Atlanta) Alabama 5.2 21-16 2
California WASHINGTON 14.0 35-21 8
FLORIDA INT’L Florida Atlantic 0.5 27-26 1
Texas (Dallas) Nebraska 19.6 27-7 14
Wisconsin HAWAII 13.6 38-24 11
         
Saturday, December 12   PiRate Spread    
Favorite Underdog Score Mean
Navy  (N-Philadelphia) Army 18.6 35-16 8
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