The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 31, 2014

Pirate Ratings–Super Bowl Special

The PiRates have been a little occupied in the last fortnight with familial health issues, and we were not able to go to sea to our secret island where we gain the information to find out booty.

 

In real terms, multiple geriatric relatives needed special TLC, so we could not get to the university computer where we have access to simulations.

 

Here is how our three ratings see this game.

 

N F C A F C PiRate Mean Bias
Seattle Denver -0.5 -0.4 -0.5

 

Here is how we see the game based on studying the units on both sides.

 

When Denver has the ball:

 

The Broncos’ offensive line is A+ in pass protection and B+ in creating running holes.  The Seahawks defensive line and linebackers are A+ in pass rush and A- in stopping the run.  We give a slight edge here to the Seahawks.

 

The Broncos’ receivers and the Seahawks’ secondary are close to even.  Denver’s receivers get a little better grade because of the A++ quarterback, but overall we will call this one a push.

 

Peyton Manning added to the passing attack gives Denver a slight advantage against Seattle’s pass defense.

 

Knowshon Moreno may not be 100%, and Montee Ball is a considerable drop in talent for the Broncos’ running game.  Seattle gets a slight advantage here.

 

When Seattle has the ball:

 

The Seahawks’ offensve line gets an A- in pass protection and a B+ in creating running holes.  Denver’s defensive line and linebackers get an A in pass rush and a B in stopping the run.  Russell Wilson may have to scramble more than average, but the Seahawks might be able to control the clock and sustain drives with key gains on the ground.

 

The Seahawks’ receivers are clear and away superior to the Broncos’ makeshift secondary.  Without a potent pass rush and terrific blitz package for this game, Denver will have trouble stopping Seattle from completing short passes and stretching the field horizontally.  Seattle receives the largest advantage of the game here.

 

Wilson may not have a field day passing, and he might have to run the ball a couple times to shake the Denver pass defense, but his job will be easier than Manning’s job.

 

Marshawn Lynch may not have a John Riggins type game, but if he converts a bushel of first downs in short yardage situations and breaks open just one run, it may be enough to bring a Lombardi Trophy to King County.

 

Special Teams: If it comes down to a field goal, nobody is better than Denver’s Matt Prater.  However, this site notoriously has swirling winds, and the wind could make kicking an interesting propostion.

 

Our “Expert” Opinion—Seattle and Denver were definitely the two best teams in the NFL this season, and it should be a quite memorable Super Bowl, similar to the Indianapolis-New Orleans Super Bowl.

 

Seattle has been credited with being a terror at home and just good on the road, but the statistics paint a different story.  The Seahawks are just plain great no matter where the game is played.

 

Don’t believe for a second that we think this is a mismatch.  Yes, as you can read, we have the Seahawks favored to win the game with about a 60-65% chance of the outcome.  If you are the type to throw away your hard-earned income, the smart play would be to take Seattle and the points.

 

Our prediction is that Seattle will win by 4-6 points, even though our three computer ratings call it a virtual tossup and favor Denver by less than a point.

 

Seattle—21 to 31 points

Denver—16 to 25 points

 

Note—Beginning next week, we will switch to college basketball coverage.  The Big Dance is just 6 weeks away.

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January 2, 2014

PiRate Ratings–NFL Wildcard Round Preview

Wildcard Playoff TV Schedule

Day

Time (ET)

Game

TV

Radio

Saturday, January 4

4:35 PM

Kansas City @ Indianapolis

NBC

Westwood 1

Saturday, January 4

8:10 PM

New Orleans @ Philadelphia

NBC

Westwood 1

Sunday, January 5

1:05 PM

San Diego @ Cincinnati

CBS

Westwood 1

Sunday, January 5

4:40 PM

San Francisco @ Green Bay

Fox

Westwood 1

   

To find a local Westwood 1 radio affiliate, check this link:

http://westwoodonesports.com/stations/

Weather Forecasts For Kickoff and Next 3-4 hours

Indianapolis—Dome Stadium (no weather effect)

Philadelphia—Partly Cloudy / Temperatures remaining steady near 28 degrees and light winds

Cincinnati—90 % chance of rain/snow mix / Temperatures falling through the 30’s with moderate winds

Green Bay—Brutally cold with temperatures falling from about 5 at kickoff to -5 but dry.

 

 

PiRate Spreads

Home Visitor

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Indianapolis Kansas City

2.9

4.6

2.9

Philadelphia New Orleans

-0.2

0.3

-0.6

Cincinnati San Diego

8.1

8.1

8.4

Green Bay San Francisco

-5.1

-6.2

-6.1

 

 

Computer Simulations (100x)

Kansas City at Indianapolis

Kansas City Wins: 37

Indianapolis Wins: 63

Average Margin: Indianapolis 24.4  Kansas City 22.7

KC Outlier Win: 30-10

Ind Outlier Win: 27-7

 

New Orleans at Philadelphia

New Orleans Wins: 29

Philadelphia Wins: 71

Average Margin: Philadelphia 31.1  New Orleans 23.8

NO Outlier Win: 38-20

Phi Outlier Win: 34-13

 

San Diego at Cincinnati

San Diego Wins: 44

Cincinnati Wins: 56

Average Margin: Cincinnati 25.2  San Diego 24.5

SD Outlier Win: 28-12

Cin Outlier Win: 31-10

(8 simulations had an OT victory—5 for Cin and 3 for SD)

(Lowest Standard Deviation in this round of sims)

 

San Francisco at Green Bay

San Francisco Wins: 62

Green Bay Wins: 38

Average Margin: San Francisco 26.3  Green Bay 22.0

SF Outlier Win: 37-16

GB Outlier Win: 28-17

(GB’s 11-point outlier margin occurred 7 other times)

 

September 6, 2012

PiRate Ratings College Picks For Week 2: September 6-8, 2012

Welcome back to week two of the college football season where if you really want to, you can lay 64 ½ points and get Florida State over Savannah State at some books.  We don’t fool with FCS teams, mainly because it isn’t easy to find action on games like that, and we try to emulate reality here.  We want to try to beat the legitimate lines, even if our picks are just for fun.

 

Last week, we were mediocre and finished 6-7-0 with our college selections.  Our teasers finished 4-2-0 and our single $-line parlay won.  We blew it on the straight sides to the tune of 1-5.

 

We are known for our teasers and moneyline parlays, so we are going to stick with those this week.

 

1. Moneyline Parlay @ -106

North Carolina over Wake Forest

Ole Miss over UTEP

Stanford over Duke

 

2. Moneyline Parlay @ -105

Ohio State over Central Florida

Bowling Green over Idaho

LSU over Washington

Indiana over UMass

Michigan over Air Force

Oklahoma State over Arizona

 

3. 10-point Teaser

Utah State +17 ½ vs. Utah

Virginia Pk vs. Penn State

Indiana – ½ vs. UMass

 

4. 10-point Teaser

North Carolina +2 vs. Wake Forest

Notre Dame +24 ½ vs. Purdue

Texas A&M +8 ½ vs. Florida

 

5. 10-point Teaser

Cincinnati & Pittsburgh OVER 39

Air Force & Michigan OVER 51 ½

Notre Dame & Purdue OVER 42

 

6. 13-point Teaser

Bowling Green -3 vs. Idaho

Clemson -14 vs. Ball State

Rice +22 ½ vs. Kansas

Ole Miss +5 ½ vs. UTEP

 

7. 13-point Teaser

Auburn +16 vs. Mississippi State

Texas A&M +11 ½ vs. Florida

Stanford -2 vs. Duke

Oklahoma State – ½ vs. Arizona

 

8. 13-point Teaser

Kentucky & Kent State OVER 30

Georgia & Missouri OVER 42

Iowa & Iowa State UNDER 60

Auburn & Mississippi State OVER 34

 

9. 13-point Teaser

Temple & Maryland UNDER 58 ½

Texas A&M & Florida OVER 39

Stanford & Duke UNDER 71 ½

Illinois & Arizona State OVER 35 ½

 

August 16, 2010

2010 Big East Conference Preview

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

 

2010 Big East Conference Preview

 

Today, we begin coverage of the BCS Conferences.  The Big East gets little respect from among the “Big Six” leagues, and the last two BCS Bowl seasons have instilled that opinion.  Undefeated Cincinnati fell in the Sugar Bowl to Florida by 27 points last year and by 13 points to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl the year before.  West Virginia lost to Florida State in the Gator Bowl.  On the bright side, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, South Florida, and Rutgers won their bowl games last year.

The Big East race figures to be exciting this year as five teams could vie for the conference title.  The next two could surprise a few teams.  Only Louisville figures to have no chance of becoming bowl eligible.

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 B E Overall
1 Pittsburgh 6-1 9-3
2 West Virginia 6-1 10-2
3 Connecticut 5-2 9-3
4 Cincinnati 4-3 7-5
5 South Florida 4-3 7-5
6 Rutgers 2-5 6-6
7 Syracuse 1-6 4-8
8 Louisville 0-7 3-9

 

BCS Bowl: Pittsburgh

Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame (contractually allowed to take any BE bid)

Meineke Car Care Bowl: West Virginia

Pinstripe Bowl: Connecticut

PapaJohns.com Bowl: South Florida

St. Petersburg Bowl: Cincinnati

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Cincinnati Bearcats
               
Head Coach Butch Jones
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Cincinnati, OH
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-0
Overall 12-1
               
PiRate Rating 110.8
               
National Rating 35
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Bearcats lost a lot of manpower, most notably their head coach.  Brian Kelly left the Queen City for Notre Dame.  New head man Butch Jones has done this before.  He replaced Kelly at Central Michigan in 2007. 

Jones inherited Dan LeFevour from Kelly at CMU.  He inherits Zach Collaros here.  Collaros replaced Tony Pike in the middle of the season after Pike was injured, and Collaros completed 75% of his passes and gained an amazing 11.6 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns to just two inteceptions!    Expect him to be one of the leading runners in this offense, as he rushed for better than six yards per attempt.  Collaros will be one of three league quarterbacks competing for 1st Team All-Big East honors.

The receiving corps is missing its leader from a year ago.  Mardy Gilyard will be catching Sam Bradford’s passes this year in St. Louis after grabbing 87 balls for almost 1,200 yards last year.  Look for Armon Binns to top 80 catches this season.  He caught 61 passes for 888 yards and 11 touchdowns.  D.J. Woods had 51 catches as a third option last year, and he should help free up space for Binns.  Tight end Ben Guidugli is a better pass receiver than run blocker, and he should catch at least 30 passes this year.

The running game was not a strength last year.  UC rushed for just 166 yards in their last three games.  Starting tailback Isaiah Pead rushed for over 800 yards, but he is actually more valuable as a pass receiver coming out of the backfield.

The offensive line returns three starters, including a pair of all-conference guards in Alex Hoffman and Jason Kelce.

The Bearcats scored 39 points per game last year.  While they won’t repeat that output, they could still lead the Big East in offense.  We figure they should score about 30-33 points and produce 400-425 yards of offense.

Defense: It was a “Tale of Two Seasons” for UC on this side of the ball in 2009.  After surrendering 15, 3, 18, 20, 13, 17, 10, and 7 points in their first eight games, they gave up 45, 21, 36, 44, and 51 in their final five.  They lost six starters from this side of the ball, so opponents could beat the Bearcats in multiple shootout games.

Three defensive line starters must be replaced.  The lone returnee is tackle Derek Wolfe, who recorded five sacks and three other stops for loss.  Both new starting ends saw a lot of action last year; Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano combined for 15 stops behind the line, so this unit isn’t as inexperienced as it looks.

Two starters return at linebacker.  J.K. Schaffer had 100 tackles, and he proved to be an excellent pass defender.  He had three interceptions and knocked away three other passes.  The loss of leading tackler Andre Revels will hurt.

The secondary could be a liability this year.  UC gave up 63.6% completions and 230 yards last year.  They lose their top pass defender, so teams could pass them silly.

The Bearcats will give up more points and yards this year.  Expect their defensive numbers to fall to 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed.

Schedule: UC should equal their 2009 loss total in the first week of the season.  The Bearcats venture to Fresno State.  FSU nearly beat them last year at Nippert Stadium.  Other non-conference games include Indiana State and Miami (Ohio) at home, North Carolina State on the road, and Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium (The Cincinnati Bengals’ home stadium). 3-2 is the best they can do in these games.

In the Big East, UC hosts South Florida, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh.  They could force a multiple-team tie at the top at 5-2 if they can upset Pitt or West Virginia, but we believe their defense will be too generous.  Call it another winning season and bowl bid, but the bowl will be before New Year’s Day.

Team Connecticut Huskies
               
Head Coach Randy Edsall
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Storrs, Ct
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 113.2
               
National Rating 27
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Connecticut football gets no respect.  They are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the BCS.  The Huskies are known for their basketball.  They compete in the greater New York City Metro area, where football is all about the Giants and Jets first, Rutgers second, and everybody else third.

Any defense that fails to give UConn respect this season will be licking its wounds on Sunday morning.  The Huskies are loaded on this side of the ball with most of their weapons from 2009 returning plus the addition of a summer transfer escaping the Kiffin Circus.

Coach Randy Edsall has spurned offers to move elsewhere, and he has methodically built the Huskies into a 21st Century version of Woody Hayes’ Ohio State “Three yards and a cloud of dust.”  Connecticut can pound the ball up the middle and slant off-tackle from their shotgun spread offense with the same results Hayes got from his full-house T in the 1950’s and I in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Huskies had two, 1,000-yard backs last year—Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon.  Dixon departs, but fret not Husky fans; enter Southern Cal transfer D.J. Shoemate, who will not have to sit out a year.  Shoemate is not only a big punishing runner, he is a great pass receiver.  Shoemate and Dixon will give UConn another great tandem and should combine for more than 2,500 total yards and 30+ touchdowns.

Those two cannot do it alone.  They have to have room to run, and the Huskies have an exceptional blocking wall up front, buoyed by the return of four starters.  This unit is the class of the league, and they will provide those holes for UConn to lead the league in rushing.

If any improvement can be made in the passing game, Connecticut could emerge as league champions.  Quarterback Zach Frazer was highly regarded when he signed out of high school with Notre Dame.  The senior should enjoy his best season this year as the full-time starter.  He completed just 53.2% of his passes last year and he was intercepted nine times (4.1%).  Backup Cody Endres is more of a pure passer, but he doesn’t have the wheels Frazer has.

The biggest concern on this side of the ball is an inexperienced receiving corps.  Kashif Moore is the leading returning pass catcher, but he only caught 22 passes.  However, one of those catches was perhaps the top touchdown reception in the country.  He took an off-target pass on the sideline and caught it one-handed, scoring without breaking stride against South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

Connecticut won’t look flashy, but the Green Bay Packers won a lot of championships by not being flashy.  Expect the Huskies to top 200 yards per game on the ground and approach 400 total while topping 30 points per game.

Defense: An offense that churns out rushing yards and eats the clock tends to make an average defense look much better.  With three starters returning to the defensive line and two to the linebacking corps, the Huskies should continue to play well on this side of the ball.

One player missing from the line is 2nd Team All-Big East linebacker, move to end, Greg Lloyd.  A knee injury has forced him to take a medical redshirt.  Trevardo Williams will take his place; he saw action in all 13 games last year.  He’ll join Jesse Joseph, Kendall Reyes, and Twyon Martin to form a formidable, but not spectacular, front line.

The second line of defense returns the team’s number one and three tacklers.  Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus should both earn 1st Team All-Big East honors this year after teaming for 170 tackles, 16 ½ for losses, including 8 ½ sacks.

The weak spot of this defense will be the secondary, as two all-conference players have departed.  Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson had six broken up passes and one interception.

The pass defense will be what keeps the Huskies from winning the conference championship this year.  Still, this is a team capable of topping last year’s 8-5 season.  The five losses came by 2, 3, 4, 4, and 2 points.

Schedule: The opening game will be very interesting, as UConn travels to the Big House to take on Michigan.  That game should be a toss-up.  The other four non-conference games should be wins, as the Huskies host Texas Southern, play at Temple, and then host rebuilding Buffalo and a weak Vanderbilt team.

The Huskies get the top two Big East teams at home, facing West Virginia on Friday, October 29 and Pittsburgh on Veterans’ Day, Thursday, November 11.  The schedule sets up perfectly for Connecticut to win both of these games; they precede West Virginia with lowly Louisville and get a week off to prepare for the Panthers.

If the passing game develops at all, and the secondary gets enough help from the pass rush to be just average, you could be looking at the next Big East champions.  We’ll go with 9-3 and a trip to Yankee Stadium for the first Pinstripe Bowl.

Team Louisville Cardinals
               
Head Coach Charlie Strong
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Louisville, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 95.1
               
National Rating 74
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-7
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: Just a few years ago, Louisville wasn’t far from becoming the next Florida State.  Then Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense was the best in the nation, scoring 50 points per game en route to an 11-1 season in 2004.  Two years later, UL finished 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

Things changed in the three years Steve Kragthorpe coached the team.  The once mighty offense crashed and burned, falling all the way to 18 points and 334 yards last year.  Enter a new head coach.  Charlie Strong comes in after serving as Florida’s defensive coordinator.  He will try to institute Urban Meyer’s spread offense here.

Strong made a great move in bringing in former UNLV head coach Mike Sanford to run the offense.  Sanford was Utah’s offensive coordinator when Meyer was there.  Unfortunately, Strong could not bring Alex Smith with him.

Three players are competing for the quarterback job, and if the coaches know who will start, they are not letting on.  Adam Froman, Justin Burke, and Will Stein have been alternating snaps in practice.  True freshman Dominique Brown was an option quarterback in high school, and he could be tried at other positions.  However, for now, he will be in the mix here.  No matter who lines up behind center for the opening game, don’t expect anything Earth-shattering.

The running game has a chance to develop into something with the healthy return of Victor Anderson.  Playing only in eight games and never really fully healthy, he gained 473 yards and scored five times. 

Two of last year’s starting wide outs graduated, leaving lone holdover Doug Beaumont and tight end Cameron Graham as the only two experienced receivers.  Neither will remind anybody of Harry Douglas.  Of the new starters, watch for giant 6-9 wide out Josh Chichester to be utilized in short yardage and goalline situations where he the ball will be tossed in the air for him to jump up and take.

The offensive line is the strength of this offense, as four starters return.  There aren’t any all-stars here, but there is a lot of depth.

Look for Louisville to struggle at times in this new offense.  They will have to rely too much on the running game, and another injury to Anderson would be too much to overcome.  Expect about 16-20 points and 325-350 yards.

Defense: This is the reason Louisville will stay in last place for the third straight season.  The Cardinals actually improved defensively the last two years, but since the offense regressed even more, the won-loss record worsened.  Only four starters return on this side of the ball, and even with the defensive acumen of Coach Strong, he will not be able to mold UL into a fantastic defense this year.

The defensive line lacks talent, but has some experience.  The only quality player up front graduate, so this will be a major liability this year.

Don’t expect much better performance from the linebackers.  Only one of three starters returns, and the two who graduated were the top two tacklers.  It would be a major plus if Southern Cal transfer Jordan Campbell actually showed up on campus before the season began.  He could lead the Cardinals in tackles and form a decent one-two-three punch with Antwon Canady and Dexter Heyman. 

The secondary has a chance to be better than average, especially if former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey can become eligibile.  Dorsey could start from day one.  Returning regular Johnny Patrick and new starter Anthony Conner give the Cards a nice set of cornerbacks.

Louisville has a long road ahead before they rebuild enough to return to the plus side of .500.  Expect baby steps in year one of the Strong administration.  The Cards will give up 28 points and 375+ yards per game.

Schedule: As usual, UL opens with Kentucky for the Governor’s Cup.  The Wildcats have won the last three, and they should make it four in a row.  UL then gets Eastern Kentucky at home, and the Colonels gave both Indiana and Kentucky fits last year.  A road game against Oregon State could get ugly, and then after a week off, a road game against Arkansas State should give the Cards a second chance at a win.  Memphis comes to Papa John’s Stadium the following week, and the Tigers will treat this like a bowl game.  It will be hard fought.  It will also be UL’s last chance at a win this year, as they are clearly the weakest team in the Big East.  They must play at Syracuse and Rutgers, the teams that should finish in 7th and 6th place.

Team Pittsburgh Panthers
               
Head Coach Dave Wannstedt
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Pittsburgh, PA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-2
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 110.5
               
National Rating 37
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-1
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: Since returning to his alma mater, Coach Dave Wannstedt has been a recruiting monster.  The Panthers have not signed so many talented players since Jackie Sherrill patrolled the sidelines in the early 1980’s.  Last year, Pitt topped 30 points per game, and even though they lost a majority of their starters, there is enough talent returning to make this another successful season on this side of the ball.

Let’s start with the player that earned 2nd Team All-American honors as a true freshman.  Dion Lewis drew comparisons to the great Tony Dorsett after rushing for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He found time to catch 25 passes for another 189 yards.  Backup Ray Graham injured his knee in a scrimmage over the weekend.  If he is okay, expect him to get a few more carries this year.  He rushed for 349 yards, and actually averaged a tad more per carry than Lewis.

The backs may have to shoulder the load this year, because the Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback after losing Bill Stull to graduation.  Sophomore Tino Sunseri has limited experience, but he’s got a rifle for an arm.

The receiving corps took a minor hit with the departure of the numbers two and three receivers, but top man Jon Baldwin returns after averaging nearly 20 yards on 57 receptions.  Wannstedt likes to throw to his tight ends, and he has two youngsters with a lot of promise in Mike Cruz (6-5, 270) and Brock DeCicco (6-5, 235).

The offensive line is strong at tackle, but the inside blockers are untested.  Lucas Nix and Jason Pinkston could both make all-conference teams (Pinkston was 1st Team All-Big East in 2009), but three new starters must be found at center and guard.

Even with the questions in the blocking wall, we think the Panthers will continue to move the ball with force.  The backs will run the ball off tackle, and the passing game will continue to stretch the defense vertically.  Look for 26-30 points and 375-400 yards.

Defense: The stop side has improved the last three years, and Pitt gave up just 19.8 points per game last year.  The Panthers led the nation in quarterback sacks with 47 and return most of the players who contributed to the great pass rush.

One cause for concern is the status of star end Greg Romeus.  He led the Panthers with eight sacks last year, but as of this writing, he has seen only limited action in practice due to muscle spasms.  He should be okay for the regular season, but this will be a story to follow as September draws near.  Jabal Sheard had five sacks, and he gives Pitt the best pair of ends in the league.

Three outstanding linebackers comprise the second line of defense.  Greg Williams, Max Gruder, and Dan Mason may not be 1st team All-Big East material yet, but any of the three could earn 2nd team honors this year.

The secondary benefits greatly from having the best pass rush in the nation up front.  The only question mark on this side of the ball is at cornerback where two new starters will line up.  Both Antwuan Reed and Ricky Gary saw a goodly amount of action last year, but neither will match the production of Aaron Berry (11 passes defensed).  Safeties Jarred Holley and Dom DeCicco both picked off three passes last year and knocked away three others.

Look for another stellar year on this side of the ball.  The Panthers might give up a few more points and a dozen more yards per game this year, but their schedule is much tougher.  Call it 21-24 points and 325-350 yards allowed.

Schedule: It starts with a road trip to Utah, where the Utes usually win out-of-conference games.  The following week, they host FCS power New Hampshire.  After a week off, they host the Miami Hurricanes.  After a breather at home with Florida International, they travel to Notre Dame.  By this point, Pitt will be out of the national title picture because they will be 3-2 or 2-3 (we say 3-2).  Once conference play begins, Pitt should be 3-0 when they visit Connecticut on Thursday, night, November 11.  We believe they will lose that game, and they will have to sweep their final three games to win the title.  They close with South Florida on the road, West Virginia in the backyard brawl, and Cincinnati on the road.  It is a very tough closing four games, but we believe Pitt has the talent to go 6-1 in the league and earn the BCS Bowl bid.

Team Rutgers Scarlet Knights
               
Head Coach Greg Schiano
               
Colors Scarlet and White
               
City New Brunswick, NJ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 96.6
               
National Rating 65
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-5
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Last year’s 9-4 season was a bit of a disappointment in New Brunswick.  Rutgers was supposed to contend for the conference title, and they opened the season with a 47-15 loss to Cincinnati when then starting QB Domenic Natale threw three interceptions in the first half.

This year’s offense could take another step backward.  Quarterback Tom Savage returns after taking over the starter’s role in the second half of that awful first game, but he will have a tough time passing this season behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Only two starters return to the offensive line; one of those lost was guard Anthony Davis, the 11th overall player in the NFL Draft.  There is not much experience here either.  Tackle Art Forst is an all-star, but he’s the only star up front.

The receiving corps lost a stud in Tim Brown.  Brown led the Scarlet Knights in receptions, yards, yards per catch, and scored three more touchdowns than the rest of the receivers combined!  There is still talent remaining with Mohammed Sanu.  Sanu caught 51 passes and can get open deep.  He also lines up behind center in the Wildcat Formation, and he was tough to stop.

Rutgers has dropped from 32.8 to 29.0 to 28.8 points per game the last three seasons.  Look for that downward slide to continue.  Call it 24-27 points and 325-350 yards this year.

Defense: The defense was a bright spot for this team after the disastrous opening game.  In the other 12 games, RU gave up less than 16 points and less than 290 yards per game.

Three starters return to the defensive line, including end Alex Silvestro, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection.  Three of the second four return and saw a lot of action, so this unit will once again be strong.

There is room for improvement in the linebacking corps, after the Knights lost their star Mike ‘backer to the NFL.  Antonio Lowery is the best of the group, but he won’t make the 1st or 2nd team all-conference squad.

The secondary loses a first round NFL pick, so it will be tough for this group to match last year’s success.  Opponents passed away from Devin McCourty, and his replacement could be a freshman.

Look for Rutgers to give up 20+ points this year and 320-340 yards.  It will be a weaker defense, but not weak.

Schedule: The Knights will get off to a 2-0 start with games against Norfolk State and Florida International.  After a week off, they host North Carolina, who could have some major issues.  Game four with Tulane should be a breather.  The other non-conference game is against Army at the new Meadowlands Stadium.  Rutgers could go 5-0 outside the league, and they should be no worse than 4-1.  The conference record won’t be as rosy.  Road games with Pittsburgh, South Florida, Cincinnati, and West Virginia are almost sure losses.  Connecticut and Syracuse won’t be easy wins, or wins at all, at home.  The Knights could be 1-6 in league play, but more likely 2-5.  With the easy non-conference schedule, they should squeak into a bowl at 6-6.

Team South Florida Bulls
               
Head Coach Skip Holtz
               
Colors Green and Gold
               
City Tampa, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 106.1
               
National Rating 44
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: Skip Holtz did not have a flashy offense as head coach at East Carolina, so don’t expect the Bulls to look like Cincinnati.  Holtz’s teams played solid, hard-nosed football and rarely beat themselves.

Holtz gets a solid, hard-nosed quarterback in year one in Tampa.  B. J. Daniels is just a sophomore, but he may already be the best quarterback in the league.  He should top 1,000 yards on the ground and 2,000 yards through the air in his first full year as the starter.  If he can grasp the new offense and play to his potential from game one, there is no reason not to think he will be 1st Team All-Big East.

Holtz benefitted from having running backs like Chris Johnson at ECU, but he won’t have a future NFL star on the roster this year.  He’ll have to mold a running game around Daniels and backs Moise Plancher and Demetrius Murray. 

USF will stuggle somewhat at receiver.  A. J. Love might have been a real star this year, but even if he returns from an ACL injury in October, he will not be 100% at any time.  Sterling Griffin may have become the major threat with Love out, but he too is out until October with an ankle injury.  He too won’t be near 100%, and he could redshirt this year.  Dontavia Bogan will have to carry the load, and he is not good enough to catch 80 passes for 1,000 yards.

The offensive line returns all five starters, led by center Sampson Genus.  The opened holes for the running game to average 4.4 yards per carry, but they were not the best pass blockers, giving up 38 sacks.

USF will struggle at times this year, because their offense will be one dimensional, at least until one or both of their star receivers can return.  Look for about 23-26 points and 330-350 yards per game.

Defense: How much weaker will this side of the ball be this year?  They lost four NFL draft picks.  Their top five tacklers are gone.  They lost almost 70% of their sack-makers and 77% of their pass interceptors.

The one bright spot is the hiring of Mark Snyder as defensive coordinator.  He was the head coach at Marshall, and prior to that he was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State (they won their national title during his tenure).

Up front, the Bulls return their starting tackles, but both ends must be replaced.  Those ends were 1st and 7th round draft picks and combined for 10 sacks and 26 stops for loss.  Their replacements have potential, but hardly any experience.

The leading returning tackler starts at Will linebacker.  Sabbath Joseph made 48 tackles and broke up four passes.  Both of the new starters saw considerable action last year, so this unit is in good shape.

The secondary cannot replace Nate Allen and Jerome Murphy, two first day draft choices.  Those two combined for 162 tackles, eight interceptions, and 12 passes broken up.  Expect opposing quarterbacks to throw for as much as 50 yards more per game against USF.

This is going to be a tough first year for Holtz in Tampa.  His familial motivational skills should be good enough to produce a couple of inspired performances, but expect USF to give up 23-27 points and 325-350 yards.

Schedule: Holtz will definitely start his USF career at 1-0, as the Bulls get Stony Brook at home.  He will then endure his first loss the following week at Florida.  After a week off, the Bulls will move to 3-1 with breathers against Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic.  A November 27 game at Miami will give the Bulls a second out-of-conference loss.  They will need to go 3-4 in the Big East to become bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive year.  We think they will win four league games, and if the two star receivers can return and contribute something close to 100%, they could win an extra game.  At 5-2, they could also end up in a multiple tie for first.

Team Syracuse Orange
               
Head Coach Doug Marrone
               
Colors Orange
               
City Syracuse, NY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 101.7
               
National Rating 56
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-6
Overall 4-8

 

Offense: Second year coach Doug Marrone has the Orange pointed in the right direction.  SU may have to take a detour for one year, because their offense lost six starters. 

Quarterback Ryan Nassib may be better only than whoever starts at Louisville.  The sophomore saw limited action last year behind former Duke basketball star Greg Paulus.  Nassib completed just 52.9% of his passes, many of those being short tosses.

The receiving corps is in the same shape; it is maybe better than one other league team.  Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales both caught fewer than 30 passes last year, and neither has breakaway potential.  Marrone moved defensive back Dorian Graham to receiver, and he plans on using tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens a lot more this year, possibly going deep over the middle.

The running game returns a familiar face in Delone Carter.  Carter rammed forward for 1,021 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Antwon Brinkley will supplement Carter. 

The offensive line has some reworking to do.  Only two player return to the starting five.  They will be asked to block more for the run, and multiple double team blocks could break the bulldozing backs through for several four and five yard gains.  The ‘Cuse will run the ball between the tackles to force safeties to creep up, and then they will throw deep to the tight ends.  It could be just successful enough to allow the Orange to surprise a team or two.

We believe SU will score about 20-24 points and 325-350 yards a game this year.

Defense: Expect big improvement on this side of the ball, maybe enough to give SU a chance at bowl eligibility.  Nine Starters return after SU improved last year by almost five points per game.

Leading the charges up front is end Chandler Jones, who made 10 stops behind the line.  The entire second unit returns, so there should be some good depth here.

The linebacking corps could have been the best in the league, but Will linebacker E. J. Carter transferred to North Carolina State.  Sam linebacker Doug Hogue and Mike linebacker Derrell Smith return after combining for 154 tackles, 16 sacks, 10 ½ other tackles for loss, and seven passes defended.

Three experienced starters return to the secondary, and two others who saw starting time return as well.  This was a weak spot last year, as the ‘Cuse gave up 65% completions and 235 yards per game.  This group might get burned occasionally by long gains, but they will come up with more big plays this season.

Look for continued improvement overall on this side.  Syracuse will give up 23-26 points and 320-340 yards per game.

Schedule: The Orange won three non-conference games last year, and they should do so again this year (a small chance for four).  They play at Akron and Washington to start the season and host Maine and Colgate the next two weeks.  They close the season at home with Boston College.  They host Louisville in conference play, but it will be difficult (not completely impossible) to find another conference win.  We’ll call for SU to equal last year’s record, but we are not in agreement here.  One of us five believes this is a 7-5 team.

Team West Virginia Mountaineers
               
Head Coach Bill Stewart
               
Colors Navy and Old Gold
               
City Morgantown, WV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-2
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 112.9
               
National Rating 29
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-1
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: The Mountaineers’ offense has suffered some since Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan.  Coach Bill Stewart tweaked the offense, and the production dropped by two touchdowns and 90 yards.  Even though he has enjoyed back-to-back 9-4 seasons, WVU fans expected more.  The Mountaineers have a ton of talent, especially on the defensive side this year.  They should contend for the conference championship.

The offense goes through the legs of running back Noel Devine.  Devine should be an early round draft pick next year.  Even though he was banged up last year, he rushed for 1,465 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.  He’s a threat to break one every time he touches the ball.  When WVU needs a crucial yard or two or gets close to the goal line, fullback Ryan Clarke is the man to do the job.  He ran the ball 60 times for 250 yards and scored eight touchdowns. 

The Mountaineers have a new quarterback this year, but Geno Smith should be able to equal the production that last year’s QB, Jarrett Brown, had.  Former star QB Pat White’s younger brother Coley could see some time as well.

The receiving corps needs to find a breakaway threat to stretch the defense for Devine.  Leading receiver Jock Sanders averaged less than 10 yards per catch last year.  Tavon Austin could be the answer.

An experienced offensive line with four starters returning should open holes and protect the new quarterback and provide better rushing and passing numbers.

Look for the Mountaineers to top 30 points per game this year and gain about 400 total yards per game.

Defense: WVU uses a 3-3-5 alignment, and their front three is beefy and experienced, and there is quality depth.  End Julian Miller is a sack machine, picking up nine last season.  He made five other tackles for loss.  The Mountaineers should record 30+ sacks this season.

The top two tacklers return to their linebacking positions.  Pat Lazear and J. T. Thomas combined for 154 tackles, 13 stops behind the line, and eight passes defended.

Four starters return to the secondary, led by two 1st Team All Big-East performers.  Cornerback Brandon Hogan broke up 11 passes and intercepted one last year, while free safety Robert Sands led the team with five picks and eight others broken up.  Rover safety Sidney Glover is equally effective against the run pass.

West Virginia has one of the top two defenses in the league.  Look for the Mountaineers to give up 17-21 points and 300-325 yards per game this year.

Schedule: The schedule is a bit tricky because four of the Mountaineers five non-conference opponents are hard to figure out this year.  There is no mystery to a home game with Coastal Carolina.  A Friday night, 9/10, game at Marshall will be tough.  Marshall coach Doc Holliday knows this team well having been the chief recruiter here.  The following Saturday, WVU hosts Maryland.  Terp coach Ralph Friedgen will more than likely be on a very hot seat at that point, and it could be a must-win game for them.  WVU then goes on the road to LSU.  Les Miles’ seat is even hotter than Friedgen’s, and a loss to WVU will probably seal his fate.  After a week off, the Mountaineers host UNLV, a team in transition with a capable quarterback.  We believe WVU can go 4-1 in these five games.  The Mountaineers have four conference home games, and they could be 5-0 when they go to Pittsburgh on the day after Thanksgiving.  The Backyard Brawl could decide the league title.  We’ll say this team will finish 6-1 but lose the tiebreaker to Pitt.

Coming Tomorrow: The Atlantic Coast Conference has six teams capable of landing in the Top 25.  Could a Memorial Day weekend party in Florida affect the outcome?

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.

August 14, 2010

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

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

 

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

No team has dominated a conference for an entire decade the way Boise State has dominated the WAC since Alabama toyed with the SEC for 10 years after Bear Bryant went to the wishbone.  The Broncos last eight years in conference play have produced a league mark of 62-2!  Things will change next year, when BSU moves to the Mountain West.  It appears impossible for the Broncos to top last year’s 14-0 record, but this year’s team might be considerably stronger.

Nevada is the clear-cut second best team, and Fresno State is the clear-cut third best team.  After those two, there are three teams that are equally mediocre and three teams that will be fodder for the top six.  With Boise primed to make a run for a National Championship, there is a legitimate possibility that there will not be enough bowl eligible teams for the allotted bowl spots.

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 WAC Overall
1 Boise State 8-0 12-0
2 Nevada 7-1 10-3
3 Fresno State 6-2 9-3
4 Utah State 4-4 5-7
5 Hawaii 4-4 6-7
6 Louisiana Tech 4-4 5-7
7 Idaho 2-6 3-10
8 New Mexico State 1-7 2-10
9 San Jose State 0-8 2-11

 

BCS Bowl: Boise State (possible National Championship Game)

Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Nevada

Hawaii Bowl: Will need an at-large team

New Mexico Bowl: Will need and at-large team

 

Hawaii is guaranteed a spot in the Hawaii Bowl if they have seven or more wins.  If not, this bowl gets the third choice after the Humanitarian and Kraft Bowls select.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Boise State Broncos
               
Head Coach Chris Petersen
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Boise, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 121.7
               
National Rating 8
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Better?  You betcha.  The Broncos return 10 starters on this side of the ball as well as every player that ran the ball and every receiver that caught a pass!

Let’s start with the nation’s number two quarterback in passing efficiency in 2009, trailing only some guy named Tebow.  Kellen Moore made 3rd Team All-American last year, and he could move up two spots if his team runs the table this year.  We expect him to be making a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan in December.  Moore completed 64.3% of his passes for 3,536 yards.  His TD/Int ration was an astonishing 39/3.  He was a down-the-field passer, so those stats were not inflated by having some speedster frequently turning a two-yard pass into a 65-yard touchdown.

Moore’s only problem may be trying to decide which open receiver to throw the ball.  His top two options are 2009 1st Team All-WAC Austin Pettus and Titus Young.  Those two combined for 142 receptions and 24 touchdowns.  Tyler Shoemaker is the bruiser of this group, and he can go across the middle and make the tough catch in a sea of defenders.

When Boise runs the ball, they will have a trio of special backs toting the pigskin.  Jeremy Avery ran for more than 1,150 yards, and Doug Martin added 765.  Martin led the ground contingent with 15 touchdowns.  Third back D. J. Harper accounted for just 285 yards, but he is the best breakaway threat of the three.  He averaged 6.5 yards per rush a year ago.

The offensive line returns four starters a year after allowing just five QB sacks, only three after the first game.  The entire second team has some starting experience, so Coach Chris Petersen can feel confident relieving his starters for a series.

Boise State averaged 42.2 points and 450 total yards last year, and those numbers should be eclipsed by this veteran squad.  Look for 45-50 points and 450-475 yards per game this season.

Defense: Now the bad news: Uh, the only bad news is for the rest of the league, because Boise State will be more improved on this side of the ball than on offense!

The Broncos gave up 17 points and 300 yards per game last year, and 10 starters also return on this side of the ball.  Almost the entire second team returns as well, and it would not surprise us to see BSU finish in the top five in both total offense and total defense.  We’re talking 1997 Nebraska-type dominance if that happens.

If there is a liability of any kind with this defense, it is at linebacker.  Boise uses a 4-2-5 defense, and the two linebackers get lost among all the stars on the stop side.  Aaron Tevis and Daron Mackey combined for just 90 stops a year ago, and they were merely above-average players in the WAC.

In the trenches, the Broncos can rely on four experienced upperclassmen, including a sure future NFL (assuming the NFL plays in 2011 or 2012) end.  Ryan Winterswyk made 17 tackles on the other team’s side of the line—nine sacks and eight tackles of runners.  Tackle Billy Wynn is just as potent at causing teams to lose yardage.

The secondary is even stronger this year.  Nickel back Winston Venable is a monster against both the run and the pass, and when he is on the field, opposing teams may think there is more than one #17 running around.  Cornerback Brandyn Thompson and strong safety Jeron Johnson should both make 1st Team All-WAC after teaming for 10 interceptions last year.

Schedule: It all comes down to the first game of the season.  Boise travels over 2,000 miles across two time zones to face Virginia Tech at the Washington Redskins’ stadium on Monday night, September 6.  The Broncos proved they could beat a BCS conference champion last year when they completely shut down Oregon in the opener.  That game was at home.  If the Broncos beat the Hokies, we don’t see anybody else threatening them.  A home game with Oregon State and a road game against Nevada might be the only other games where they cannot win by three touchdowns or more.  It will be either 1-0 on the way to 12-0 or 0-1 on the way to maybe 10-2.  At 12-0, they would be riding a 26-game winning streak and deserve to go to Glendale, Arizona, on January 10.

Team Fresno State Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Pat Hill
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fresno, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 99.6
               
National Rating 60
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Fresno State has always fielded exciting, well-balanced offenses under Coach Pat Hill.  This year will be no different.  The Bulldogs may have lost their top player on this side of the ball, but they return eight starters and should have another successful season moving the ball.

It will be hard to replace running back Ryan Mathews after he led the league with more than 1,800 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.  We expect Robbie Rouse to step in and rush for 1,000+ yards in his first year as a starter.  He showed flashes of brilliance last year in a backup role.

In a league of outstanding quarterbacks, Ryan Colburn rarely gets a mention in the press outside of Fresno.  Colburn is a capable, but not flashy passer.  He completed 61% of his tosses for 2,459 yards last year, but he needs to cut down on his 3.7% interception rate.

The Bulldogs lost three of their top four receivers, but there is good talent left.  Jamel Hamler and Devon Wylie can turn a short pass into a long gain.

The offensive line welcomes back all five starters.  This unit could be a little better than Boise State’s interior line.  Best among this quintet are center Joe Bernardi and tackle Kenny Wiggins, two seniors that should have a chance to play professionally (maybe in Canada).

Fresno State may take a small step backward on this side of the ball, but the Bulldogs will still be an offensive threat in every game.  Look for about 28 points and 400 yards per game.

Defense: FSU surrendered 214 rushing and 200 passing yards last year, and we see that problem continuing in 2010.  The Bulldogs return the majority of their contributors from 2009, but we see only three really good players on this side of the ball.

One of those three is end Chris Carter.  The 1st Team All-WAC performer accounted for almost half of the team’s sacks (5 out of FSU’s poor 11) and added eight other tackles for loss.  He’s the only star player in the trenches, and he will see double teams on most plays this year.  The Bulldogs gave up a profane six yards per rush last year, so teams will run the ball at them until they can prove they can slow it down.

The second line of defense is much better than the first and considerably better than the unit behind them.  Linebacker Ben Jacobs led FSU with 106 tackles last year, but too many were five or more yards down the field.  Neither he, nor outside linebacker Kyle Knox recorded a sack.

The secondary is pedestrian, but it was hard to cover the WAC’s receivers when there was no pass rush.  Strong safety Lorne Bell earned 2nd Team All-WAC honors, but he is better in run support than in pass coverage.

Fresno State will give up a lot of points again this season, and it will prevent the Bulldogs from contending with the big two in the league.  Look for 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed—about the same as last year.

Schedule: Outside of the WAC, Fresno plays its usual contingent of BCS schools.  This year, they host Cincinnati and Illinois and visit Ole Miss.  They get a breather with FCS member Cal Poly.  Boise State is a road game, and they have no chance in that one.  They get Nevada at home and could sneak up on the Wolf Pack.  6-2 in the league is a strong possibility, and we believe the Bulldogs can upend two of the three BCS conference teams they play.  Call it nine wins and a bowl in 2010.

Team Hawaii Warriors
               
Head Coach Greg McMackin
               
Colors Green, Black, and White
               
City Honolulu, HI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 85.0
               
National Rating 97
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-7

 

Offense: Hawaii has once again become a great vacation trip for BCS schools.  Since June Jones left for SMU three years ago, the Warriors have fallen on hard times.  The UH offense went from a 40+ per game juggernaut to a 20-point per game patsy.

Don’t look for any improvement on this side of the ball in 2010.  Coach Greg McMackin has too many holes to fill to expect a better showing.  In fact, things could get worse.  Only five starters return, but only one of them is from the offensive line.  Tackles Austin Hansen and Laupepa Letuli give the Warrior a good couple of anchors.

Quarterback Brian Moniz returns to pilot the attack after starting eight times last year.  He is a good runner as well as passer, but he won’t be confused with Colin Kaepernick.

Moniz will benefit from the return of receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.  The two combined for 172 receptions and 2,280 yards.  Speedy Rodney Bradley gives Moniz a third good option.

The running game has not been much of a factor in recent years.  As long as the back in the game can block for the quarterback, run a good safety valve route and cut on a draw play, he has done his job.  Alex Green should fit the bill nicely, and he should catch 25-30 passes this year.

With the troubles up front, we just cannot see Hawaii topping 24 points per game this season.  Look for 21-24 points and 375-400 yards.  The Warriors turned the ball over a lot last year, and that trend may continue in 2010. 

Defense: There should be improvement on this side of the ball, but it may not show up that much in the stats.  If the offense gives up the ball quickly due to incompetence, the defense will stay on the field longer.

Seven starters return on this side of the ball, but the top two tacklers from a year ago are gone.  One area that should not be a problem is the secondary.  All four starters return after giving up just 203 passing yards per game (low for this league).  All four (corners Jeramy Bryant and Lametrius Davis and safeties Mana Silva and Spencer Smith) proved to be excellent pass defenders, combining for 10 interceptions and 24 passes batted away.

The front seven is more of a problem.  Hawaii did a poor job against the run last year, and it could continue this season.  Two starters must be replaced up front, and two starters must be replaced at linebacker.  None of this year’s front seven will contend for even honorable mention all-conference.

Hawaii will give up 30-35 points and 400-425 yards per game.  

Schedule: The opener should draw a lot of national attention.  UH entertains bad boy Lane Kiffin and his Southern Cal Trojans on Thursday night, September 2.  They follow it up with a trips to West Point to face Army on 9/11 and to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on 9/18.  It could actually be snowing in the Front Range on that date.  The Warriors return home to face Charleston Southern, which should be their first win.  UH concludes the season with UNLV.  The Rebels could possibly be playing for bowl eligibility in that game.  In league play, UH has road games with Fresno State and Boise State and will come home with their tails beneath their legs. 

We believe the Warriors will break even in league play, but they will fall one game short of bowl eligibility again.

Team Idaho Vandals
               
Head Coach Robb Akey
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Moscow, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 90.3
               
National Rating 88
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-10

 

Offense: 2009 was one of those years when the stars aligned just right for Coach Robb Akey’s Vandals.  Idaho won five close games, including a 43-42 Humanitarian Bowl thriller over Bowling Green, on its way to its first winning season of the century.  With the graduation of most of their offensive line, their top running back, and their top receiver, it looks like the one year recovery will be an anomaly. 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is the return of quarterback Nathan Enderle.  After the big two, he may be the third best QB in the WAC.  Last year, he passed for 2,906 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Enderle’s top target has graduated, and Max Komar was vital to this team’s success.  Maurice Shaw returns after averaging more than 20 yards on his 32 receptions.  He should form a solid trio with Preston Davis and tight end Daniel Hardy, but Komar will be sorely missed.

Idaho used a platoon at tailback, and two of the three principle members of that platoon return.  Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson combined for 1,108 yards, so the Vandals’ running game is in good hands this year.

Because the rebuilding blocking wall will be a liability this year, expect both the rushing and passing yardage to fall back in 2010.  Call it about 23-26 points and 380-420 yards per game.  

Defense: Idaho didn’t win because of great defensive play in 2009.  They gave up 36 points and 433 yards per game!  With 10 starters returning, there should be some improvement, but we don’t see enough improvement to justify picking Idaho to return to a bowl.

The entire front seven returns intact.  They were not particularly strong against the run or the pass.  While the Vandals gave up just a tad over 150 rushing yards per game, opponents averaged 4.7 yards per rush.  They were too busy picking the secondary to shreds to run the ball much more than 30 times per game.

The strength of the front seven is on the outside where end Aaron Lavarais and outside linebacker Jo Jo Dickson will contend for all-conference honors.

The secondary will not fare much better than their dismal performance last year after giving up 278 passing yards per game and allowing better than 66% completions.  Without a much better pass rush, look for the Vandals to maybe give up 300 yards per game through the air.

Idaho will once again give up 30+ points per game, but maybe it will be less than last year’s 36.  Let’s go with 32-35 points and 425-450 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Vandals should start off the season on a winning note when they open with North Dakota at home.  Then, they must play at Nebraska, where they could lose by six touchdowns.  A home game with UNLV should tell the fans whether they have any reason to remain optimistic, and we believe the Rebels will leave Moscow with a win.  A trip to Colorado State the following week will either put the nail in the coffin for the 2010 season or give the Vandal hope.  The Rams will treat that game as a must-win contest.  A final non-conference game at Western Michigan won’t give them a win.  Idaho hosts both Nevada and Boise State, which should be considered a curse this year.  They cannot compete with either, and it would be better for the Vandals to have two other home games.  At least, UI gets New Mexico State and San Jose State at home—those are their two conference wins for 2010.

Team Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
               
Colors Red and Blue
               
City Ruston, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 66
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: After half of the coaches in FBS football turned down the Tennessee job last year, Tech coach Derek Dooley took the job.  Welcome new coach Sonny Dykes.  Dykes turned around the Arizona Wildcats’ offense after learning the “Air Raid” Spread offense at Texas Tech under Mike Leach.  Expect a complete overhaul of the offense this year, as the Bulldogs return to a wide open offense like teams of yesteryear in Ruston.

Unfortunately, Tech won’t have Tim Rattay, Luke McCown, or Terry Bradshaw lining up at quarterback.  Actually, neither Dooley nor offensive coordinator Tony Franklin know who will be lining up at quarterback in the opener.  As August practices began, it was a four-way race between incumbent Ross Jenkins, Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger, last year’s backup Colby Cameron, and junior college transfer Tarik Hakim.  Whoever wins the battle will be throwing the ball anywhere from 40 to 60 times a game.

Tech has a fine stable of pass receivers thanks to the school that stole their prior coach.  Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige left Orangeville last year to escape the tornado known as Lane Kiffin.  Paige will join holdovers Cruz Williams and Phillip Livas to form a solid first team.  In this offense, expect at least five other receivers to catch more than 25 passes. 

Another escapee from the Kiffin asylum is tailback Lennon Creer.  We expect Creer to step in and start from day one, but the Bulldogs backs will not match the production of graduated star Daniel Porter.

The offensive line returns four starters, but there could be some rough times in the transition from a predominantly running attack to an offense that will pass the ball at least 60% of the time and as much as 80-85% of the time.

LT averaged 29 points per game last year, and we think the Bulldogs will shatter that mark this season.  Look for 31-35 points and 400-425 yards per game in year one of the “air raid.”

Defense: This is the reason Dykes won’t turn things around in year one.  Tech gave up 26 points per game last year, and the defense is noticeably weaker this season.

The problems start up front where only one starter returns to the four-man trench.  Included in the graduation losses was two-time All-WAC star D’Anthony Smith.

The three-man linebacking corps returns two starters, including 2009 1st Team All-WAC Mike linebacker Adrien Cole.  Cole led the Techsters with 93 tackles last year.

The secondary is better than average and returns three starters, but they may have trouble matching last year’s numbers due to the weaker pass rush. 

We expect LT to give up more than 28 points and maybe as much as 33 points per game to go along with 375-400 yards per game.

Schedule: Finally it will happen!  Louisiana Tech will play Grambling for the first time ever to kick off the 2010 season.  The schools are within walking distance, but they have been separated by mountains of Southern philosophical opinion for years.  It should be an interesting game, but any chance for Grambling to pull off the upset disappeared when they weren’t able to gain approval for a medical hardship redshirt for their starting quarterback.  Tech will be 1-0 when they venture to Aggieland to take on Texas A&M, and that game should be a shootout.  Ditto the following two weeks’ games with Navy and Southern Miss.  When Tech enters WAC play, they may be just 1-3, but they could be averaging 40 points per game.  We see them splitting their league games, coming up one win short of bowl eligibility.

Team Nevada Wolf Pack
               
Head Coach Chris Ault
               
Colors Blue and Silver
               
City Reno, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.6
               
National Rating 51
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: Coaltown, Alydar, Sham, the 1961 Detroit Tigers, the 1962 Detroit Lions—what do these have in common?  Coaltown, Alydar, and Sham were great horses that might have won the Triple Crown in their three-year old campaigns, but they happened to race against Citation, Affirmed, and Secretariat.  The 1961 Tigers won more than 100 games and was probably better than the 1968 World Champions.  The 1962 Lions were probably the best ever in the Motor City.  Those Tigers played second fiddle to the Maris and Mantle Yankees.  Those Lions played second fiddle to the greatest NFL team in history—the 1962 Green Bay Packers.

Nevada is this year’s Coaltown.  The Wolf Pack is clearly the second best team in the WAC and one of the best teams in WAC history (in the current alignment) not wearing an orange and blue uniform.

Coach Chris Ault’s team ran the pistol offense to near perfection a year ago.  Nevada outpaced Georgia Tech and the three service academies that run triple option and averaged a nation’s best 345 yards rushing per game.  They had three players top 1,000 rushing yards.  Not even the great Oklahoma teams of the 1970’s that rushed for more than 400 yards a game had such a trio.

Two of those three stars return this season.  One is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  He rushed for almost 1,200 yards (actually well over 1,300 when you factor out sacks) and 16 touchdowns.  He tossed another 20 touchdown passes on his way to 2,052 yards passing.

Joining Kaepernick in the pistol backfield will be Vai Taua, the other 1,000 yard back.  He totaled 1,345 yards with 10 touchdowns.  Backup Mike Ball will take over as the number two running back.  He averaged almost 10 yards per try in limited action last year, so he could replace Luke Lippincott as the third 1,000-yard rusher this year.

The receiving corps isn’t exactly chopped liver.  The four main receivers return after combining for 130 receptions and 14 touchdowns.  Brandon Wimberly was the WAC Freshman of the Year after grabbing 53 passes for 733 yards.

The offensive line lost two All-WAC performer, but we think this unit will be close to last year’s unit in blocking ability. 

Unless one of the option teams has an incredible season, there is no reason not to believe that Nevada will top the rushing charts again this season.  Look for another 325-350 effort on the ground with an additional 175-200 yards through the air.  The Wolf Pack should top 40 points per game after threatening that mark the last two seasons.

Defense: This side of the ball is missing just enough to prevent Nevada from competing with Boise State for the title.  As it is, the Wolf Pack is still the second best team by far.  Three of the top four tacklers must be replaced, so it is likely that Nevada will have to outscore opponents this season.

Up front, one of the returning starters is end Dontay Moch, who earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.  Moch registered 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including  6 ½ sacks.  At 6-1, he may be on the small side to be a star at the next level.

Brandon Marshall gives Nevada an outstanding strong-side linebacker.  Marshall dumped defenders for loss 9 ½ times in 2009, and he batted away four passes as well.

It is the secondary where Nevada cannot stop Boise State and thus cannot win the WAC this year.  The ‘Pack surrendered almost 300 yards through the air and 61.5% completions in 2009, and no starter had more than one interception.  Former Utah quarterback Corbin Louks has been brought to Reno to anchor the secondary at free safety. 

Nevada will once again give up more than four touchdowns per game.  Look for about 30 points and 425 yards allowed per contest.

Schedule: Nevada gets two breathers to open the season.  They host Eastern Washington and Colorado State.  A third consecutive home game against California could give the Wolf Pack a good chance to pull off the minor upset and crack the polls.  The following week finds them venturing to BYU for a potentially great shootout.  A week later, Nevada plays at UNLV.  They could be 5-0 when WAC play starts, and they will be no worse than 3-2.  They should be 4-0 in conference play when they go to Fresno State on November 13.  After a breather with New Mexico State, they host Boise State on Friday, November 26.  It isn’t impossible, but highly improbable they will win this game unless Boise State falls apart with numerous injuries.  Still, this should be Ault’s best team in Reno since he returned for the third time in 2004.  Call if a double-digit winning year.

Team New Mexico State Aggies
               
Head Coach DeWayne Walker
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Las Cruces, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-10
               
PiRate Rating 78.4
               
National Rating 109
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: One word can best sum up the Aggies’ offense—offensive.  NMSU scored just 11.5 points per game and tallied just 229 total yards per game.  That looks like stats you would see from a college team in the days when players went both ways.  The Aggies had no passing game whatsoever, and they were not an option team.  They averaged just 88 yards per game and completed less than half of their passes.

Quarterback Jeff Fleming might do better if he could throw to himself.  He just doesn’t have much talent in which to throw the ball.

Things are much better with the running game.  Seth Smith ran for more than 1,000 yards even though defenses placed an extra defender and sometimes two extra defenders up close to stop the run.

The offensive line returns three starters, but the Aggies pick up a plum in former Texas Longhorn tackle Aundre McGaskey.

With stats like last year, there is only one way to go for Coach DeWayne Walker’s offense, but we don’t expect State to fool many defenses this year.  Look for a slight improvement to 14-17 points and 250-275 yards per game. 

Defense: When your offense cannot sustain many drives and convert first downs, your defense will be on the field much longer than average.  Opponents ran an average of eight more plays per game against the Aggies last year, and more of the same will happen this season.

One unit that will be better is the back line.  All four starters return to the secondary.  This quartet of Stephon Hatchett, Alphonso House, Jonte Green, and Davon House teamed up for 32 batted passes and five picks.

The defensive line will be a little better this year, and that will make the secondary that much better.  Ends Pierre Fils and Donte Savage teamed up to make 13 QB sacks.

It’s at linebacker where there will be difficulties this year.  The Aggies must break in three new starters, only one of whom saw any real action last year.

The Aggies will give up 28-32 points and 400-425 yards again this season.  They are still a long way from competing for bowl eligibility.

Schedule: The one plus for New Mexico State is that as weak as they are, their in-state rival is weaker.  The Aggies should beat New Mexico.  They won’t be so lucky with San Diego State, UTEP, or Kansas.  NMSU gets upstart San Jose State at home, so we believe they will win twice this season.  That is one less than last year.

Team San Jose State Spartans
               
Head Coach Mike MacIntyre
               
Colors Dark Blue and Gold
               
City San Jose, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 82.7
               
National Rating 101
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-11

 

Offense: New Spartan head coach Mike MacIntyre takes over at San Jose after earning the national Assistant Coach of the Year award as the defensive coordinator at Duke.  Too bad he won’t get to defend against his own offense.  The Spartans scored just 13.8 points and produced 284 yards of total offense in 2009. 

Quarterback Jordan La Secla returns after passing for 1,926 yards at a 60% completion rate.  He tossed more interceptions than touchdown passes.

La Secla will have to make do without the top two receivers from last year.  Kevin Jurovich graduated, while Marquis Avery was declared academically ineligible.  Throw in the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze to Arkansas State, and it looks like another long season on this side of the ball.

The running game was abysmal last year; don’t expect much improvement, after the Spartans averaged a meager 77 yards per game.

The offensive line is probably the strongest component of the offense, but it is still below average in the WAC. 

If MacIntyre can squeeze 17 points and 300 yards out of this offense, it will be a huge success.

Defense: San Jose State must replace four of their front seven defenders, so there won’t be much improvement on this side of the ball.  The Spartans didn’t fare much better on defense than offense last year. 

SJSU surrendered 259 rushing yards (6.1 yds./rush) last year, and with three of the front four having to be replaced against a slate of teams that can pound the ball down the field, the Spartans might actually fare worse this year.

All four starters return to the secondary.  Unfortunately, this quartet had to stop a lot of running plays last year and didn’t face many passing plays, as opponents ran the ball almost 65% of the time.

After giving up 35 points and 443 yards per game last year, the numbers could actually head south this year.  Look for maybe 36-40 points and 450-475 yards allowed.

Schedule:  By the time San Jose State faces a team they can beat, their players will be demoralized after beginning the season on the road with Alabama and Wisconsin. The Spartans will be 0-2, nursing a lot of bumps and bruises, and facing a scoring deficit of about 90-10!  They should find a way to beat Southern Utah in game three.  The following week finds them heading to Utah, where the Utes will remember the scare this team gave them last year.  Look for another blowout loss.  Then, SJSU faces UC Davis.  They should get a nice win in that one, but that will be their last of the season.  We see them losing all eight league games.

Team Utah State Aggies
               
Head Coach Gary Andersen
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Logan, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 95.3
               
National Rating 72
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: Coach Gary Andersen was a defensive genius as Utah’s defensive coordinator.  In his first year in Logan, he looked more like Urban Meyer.  If it wasn’t for a couple of key injuries, Utah State might have been looking at a winning season and bowl bid this year for the first time since 1997.

Running back Robert Turpin tore his ACL earlier this year and appears to be out for the season.  He led the Aggies with close to 1,300 rushing yards.  In his place, Michael Smith will carry the load.  Don’t expect 1,300 yards, but Smith has breakaway speed and can turn a small hole into a big gain.

Quarterback Diondre Borel ranks with Nathan Enderle as one of the WAC’s two best passers not named Moore or Kaepernick.  Borel had a splendid junior season in 2009 passing for 2,885 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. 

The Aggies had a lot of options in the passing game, but they have been henpecked with injuries.  Turpin was a great receiver out of the backfield.  2009’s top receiver, Stanley Morrison, caught 33 passed and averaged 19 yards per catch.  He is gone for the season with a broken foot.  Then, just before practice began, wide out Eric Moats dropped a refrigerator on his foot.  He needed stitches, and as of this writing, he has yet to practice.  Junior college star Matt Austin was supposed to be a starter last year, but he missed the entire season.  He returns and will have to live up to his potential immediately.

The offensive line returns four starters, so if Borel has any talent running routes, he will have time to find them. 

Even with all the injuries, we believe USU will move the ball and score points this year, just not enough to move from middle of the pack to within shouting distance of Fresno State.  Look for 25-30 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Defense: Defense was a major problem last year, as USU gave up 34 points and 455 yards per game.  They could not stop the run or the pass.  With eight starters returning, expect some form of improvement.

The three linebackers are as good as any other WAC unit short of Boise State.  Bobby Wagner, Kyle Gallagher, and Junior Keiaho should team for more than 200 tackles.  Hopefully, not too many will be more than five yards downfield.

The defensive line returns three starters, but there is nothing special up front.  Actually, new starter Levi Koskan recorded more three more sacks than the three returning starters, who recorded ZERO SACKS!

The secondary had no chance last year with no pass rush.  Two starters return, and the two new starters saw considerable action last year.

If the Aggies can trim a touchdown off their defensive scoring average, they have a shot to emerge as the fourth bowl eligible WAC team.  Look for the defense to yield 26-31 points and 425-450 yards.

Schedule: The Aggies start the season at Oklahoma.  Assuming they have any depth left after that game, they should slaughter Idaho State.  If they are relatively healthy, game three could determine whether or not they can get over the hump and become the Idaho of 2009.  The Fresno State game in Logan is a make or break game.

Following that game, USU plays at San Diego State and then hosts BYU on Friday, October 1.  They should go 1-3 out of league play, so they will need five WAC wins to become bowl eligible.  They will have to beat either Fresno State or Louisiana Tech plus Hawaii to get there.  We believe they will come up one win short.

 

Coming Tomorrow: The Mountain West Conference—Can anybody beat TCU?  Are there six bowl eligible teams?

August 13, 2010

2010 FBS Independents Preview

2010 FBS Independents Preview

 

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 Overall
1 Navy 9-3
2 Notre Dame 8-4
3 Army 6-6

 

Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame

Poinsettia Bowl: Navy

 

Notre Dame is eligible for all bowls that have a Big East representative, including the BCS.

 

Navy is guaranteed a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl this season if the Midshipmen are bowl eligible.

 

Army is the first backup choice for the Armed Forces Bowl if there is an opening there and the Black Knights have six wins prior to their game against Navy.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Army Black Knights (Cadets)
               
Head Coach Rich Ellerson
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City West Point, NY
               
2009 Record              
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 84.2
               
National Rating 100
               
2010 Prediction              
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Call this the gingerbread man offense.  At West Point these days, it is “run, run, as fast as you can.”  Second year head coach Rich Ellerson has the Black Knights poised to join the nation’s elite when it comes to running the football.  Army rushed for 204 yards in 2009, and in year two of Ellerson’s option attack, Army could add more than 50 yards to that average.

Quarterback Trent Steelman earned the starting nod as a true freshman, and he led the Cadets with 706 rushing yards.  Factor out sacks, and that number topped 850.  All three 2009 starters in the option running attack return with Steelman, and the top two reserves are back as well.  However, starting fullback Kingsley Ehie has been moved to linebacker.  Taking his place is Air Force transfer Jared Hassin.  He could provide the stability and durability needed at fullback in an option attack.  If he forces defenses to assign two players to stop, then watch out!  Army will march down the field like General Sherman marched through Georgia. 

Patrick Mealy is a threat to take an option pitch and turn it into a big gain down the sidelines.  He averaged better than six yards per carry last year. 

The running game must click, because the passing game is virtually nonexistent.  Army completed just 45% of its passes last year.  In some option attacks, passing percentages are lower than the norm because the attempts are mostly long tossed off play-action.  Army averaged only 11.8 yards per completion last year, so that was not the case.  To make matters worse, the only two real pass catchers from that team are now officers in the United States Army.  The leading returnee is slotback Jameson Carter, who grabbed just four passes for 46 yards!

The offensive line returns four starters, and they will make the running game go, even against defenses that put eight or even nine in the box.

We have every reason to believe Army will compete with the other service academies and Georgia Tech for the top rushing average this season.  Look for 275-300 yards per game on the ground and about 50-75 through the air.  That should give them about 24 points per game in 2010, a 60% increase over 2009.

Defense: Army played admirably on this side of the ball last year in their first year using the 3-4 defense.  The Cadets gave up just 22 points per game.  Having an offense that can control the ball and eat up clock is a major plus for the defense, as Army games averaged just 124 total scrimmage plays.

Adding to the optimism this year is the fact that eight starters, including the top six tacklers, return to the fold.  Three of those come from the second line of defense, where Andrew Rodriguez, Stephen Anderson, and Steve Erzinger finished one-two-three in tackles.  Anderson and Erzinger both made 6 ½ tackles behind the line and combined for 3 ½ QB sacks.

The back line of defense is solid with the leadership of free safety Donovan Travis.  Travis led the Black Knights with four picks, while finishing fourth overall in tackles.  Army gave up just 153 passing yards last year at a low 55.6% completion rate.  Usually option teams have a hard time against the pass because there isn’t a scout team player that can pass the ball like a pro-style quarterback.  That wasn’t a problem at West Point last year, and it should not be one this season.

Army has a fantastic pass rusher at end.  Josh McNary recorded 12 ½ sacks last year, and he should be close to 100% when the season starts.  He suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, and he missed spring drills.

With an improved offense holding onto the ball for a minute or two more per game this year, Army has a chance to post its best defensive numbers this century.  Look for the Cadets to give up 20 points and 300 yards this season.

Schedule: We applaud Army and Notre Dame for returning to the Bronx, where they faced off for more than two decades at the old Yankee Stadium.  The 1946 scoreless tie may still be the greatest defensive showcase in the history of the game.  Army won’t win this game, but it should be well worth the three hours to watch it.  With a little luck, it could even snow on November 20.  The Cadets have a relatively easy schedule outside of neutral site games with the Irish, Rutgers, and Navy.  Road games at Eastern Michigan, Duke, Tulane, and Kent State are all winnable.  Home games with Hawaii, North Texas, Temple, and VMI are winnable.  Air Force is a tossup game.  We think Duke may get the best of them, and Temple will be able to stop the ground game.  If Army beats Air Force or Navy, they will post a winning season.  6-6 is about as pessimistic a prediction that we can make (one of us believes 9-3 is possible).

 

Team Navy Midshipmen
               
Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo
               
Colors Navy and Gold
               
City Annapolis, MD
               
2009 Record              
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 100.0
               
National Rating 58
               
2010 Prediction              
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Navy averaged 28 points and 356 total yards per game last year.  With the return of most of their key players, those figures will improve in 2010.  It all starts with quarterback Ricky Dobbs.  The perfect man for the option attack, Dobbs rushed for 1,203 yards and an unbelievable 27 touchdowns last year.  He added six more through the air and almost averaged 10 yards per pass attempt.

Joining Dobbs in a running attack that averaged over 280 rushing yards per game is fullback Vince Murray, who narrowly missed rushing for 1,000 yards last year.  He averaged 5.3 yards per pop and required more than one defender to bring him down.  That opened up the outside for Dobbs and his pitch backs.

The best of those pitch backs was Marcus Curry, but he was dismissed from the team after failing a drug test.  His loss won’t be catastrophic, because this part of the option scheme is the easiest to replace.

An experienced offensive line that is both quick and intelligent will open holes for the backs to shoot through for big gains.  Tackle Jeff Battipaglia is the perfect option blocker who can seal off the inside.

Navy could top 300 yards rushing this season, but we have a sneaky suspicion that their rushing total could drop a little.  The reason: Dobbs may throw the ball a bit more this year.  It has been five years since Navy averaged more than 100 yards passing per game, but it could happen this year.  Thus, we look for the Midshipmen to score 31-35 points per game and produce 350-375 yards per game.

Defense: Navy fielded its best defense in several years last season, and the Middies lost a bit too much to expect a repeat of that showing.  One area that should not be much of a concern is the secondary where three starters return.  Rover Wyatt Middleton led Navy with four interceptions and seven passed knocked down, while top cornerback Kevin Edwards batted away six balls and picked off another.  Free Safety Emmett Merchant got in for two interceptions and four batted passes.  Look for new cornerback Kwesi Mitchell to make this an excellent quartet.

Linebacker is another story.  The Midshipmen return just one part-time starter to the four-man crew.  Tyler Simmons recorded 68 tackles, so he saw extensive playing time, but the other three projected starters combined for less than 10 tackles last year.

The defensive line is in better shape with the return of nose tackle Chase Burge and end Jabaree Tuani. 

Navy’s defense will be a bit more generous in 2010, but the Midshipmen can equal their 10-win season even if they give up five more points per game.  Look for defensive averages of 24 points and 350-375 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: The slate is an easier one than 2009.  Navy has home games with Georgia Southern, SMU, Duke, Central Michigan, and Arkansas State.  They face Maryland, Notre Dame, and Army on neutral sites, and they play at Louisiana Tech, Air Force, Wake Forest, and East Carolina.  Nine regular season wins look almost like a given, and we believe they will retain the Commander-in-Chief trophy with a sweep of their rivals.

 

 

Team Notre Dame Fighting Irish
               
Head Coach Brian Kelly
               
Colors Navy and Gold
               
City South Bend, IN
               
2009 Record              
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 111.1
               
National Rating 33
               
2010 Prediction              
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: Brian Kelly arrives from Cincinnati to resurrect a program that has fallen on hard times.  The Irish lost 21 games in the last three years, the worst in its storied history.  Kelly is the best fit in South Bend since Frank Leahy.  Now if he can just recruit the next Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, and Leon Hart.

The Irish will change from a pro-style attack to the spread.  Kelly will have to break in a new quarterback, and the projected starter is coming off ACL Surgery.  Dayne Crist saw limited action in 2009, and he may have some mobility problems running the new offense.

When Crist sets up to pass, he won’t have Notre Dame’s all-time leading pass receiver running down the field.  Golden Tate graduated and took his 93 receptions for almost 1,500 yards to the Seattle Seahawks.  Fret not:  the Irish still have Michael Floyd, who is a threat to go all the way every time he catches a pass.  If he can stay on the field for 12 games, Floyd could top 80 receptions and 1,300 yards.   Tight end Kyle Rudolph made 1st Team Freshman All-American in 2008 and followed that up with a stellar 2009 season.  At 6-6 and 265, he supplies Crist with an excellent target in the short passing game.

Kelly will retain the running back platoon from last year, and the Irish can go four deep with quality results.  Armando Allen and Robert Hughes combined for more than 1,110 yards last year, but watch out for redshirt freshman Cierre Wood.  Wood was the star of the Spring Game.  Punishing bruiser Jonas Gray will contribute in short yardage situations.

The offensive line is a possible liability.  Three starters are missing, and the radical change of blocking schemes could make this a tough go in year one of the Kelly era.  One player Kelly will not have to worry about is guard Chris Stewart.  Stewart is a monster at 6-5 and about 350 pounds. 

It is hard to gauge just how Notre Dame will perform.  On paper, it looks like a significant drop in points and yards could occur.  However, Kelly’s Cincinnati team improved by 15 points and 100 yards in his first season, while his Central Michigan team improved by 25 yards.  Due to a softer schedule, we feel that the Irish can score 25-28 points and produce over 400 yards per game.

Defense: Here is where immediate progress will be seen.  Notre Dame’s defense had become downright mediocre in recent years.  Last year, they gave up close to 400 yards per game.  They surrenders close to 500 yards to Stanford in the season finale.

Kelly has a lot of experience and a good deal of talent to work with on this side of the ball, and we expect the new 3-4 alignment to pay off in year one.

Start in the trenches where three experienced players will take up a lot of space and free the linebackers to become heroes.  Nose tackle Ian Williams tops 300 pounds, and he will be a force in the trenches.  He will command double teams, and that will allow the teammates behind him to pursue with reckless abandon.

Look for sophomore linebacker Manti T’eo to begin to live up to his press accolades.  T’eo was the top linebacker recruit in the nation in 2008, and he should lead the Irish in tackles in this new scheme.  Brian Smith and Darius Fleming could finish number two and number three.

The secondary is a cause for concern.  After giving up almost 230 passing yards per game in 2009, they lose their top pass defender and top overall tackler in Kyle McCarthy.  There is some talent here, but depth could be a concern following the unexpected departure of two players and the possible departure of a third player.

We believe Notre Dame will improve to 20-22 points allowed and 350-375 yards allowed this year, but will that be enough to put the Irish back in a bowl?

Schedule: The answer to that previous question is “Yes!”  Notre Dame has seven home games plus two neutral site games that will be home games.  The three road games, at Michigan State, Boston College, and Southern Cal, are winnable because none of these three teams will be world-beaters this year.  The neutral games come against Navy at the new Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and against Army at Yankee Stadium.  The Irish should win both of those games, but Navy could upset them for the third time in four years.  The home schedule includes games with Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Utah.  All of these teams could sneak up and surprise the Irish, and we think at least two of them will.  Call it an 8-4 season and return to a bowl.

Coming Tomorrow: The Conference USA Preview–the conference that most closely resembles the old American Football League of the 1960’s, where teams can score 50 points and still have to hold on for victory.

August 10, 2010

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

Two teams have dominated this league since its inception as a football conference.  In the early years, North Texas repeatedly won conference championship after championship.  In recent years, Troy has dominated the league, while North Texas has fallen on rough times.

2010 could be a year of change.  Middle Tennessee has played second fiddle in this league for most of their existence as a Division 1-A (FBS) participant.  The Blue Raiders have been to two bowls as the conference runner-up.  With a load of talent returning from a 10-win season that included a bowl victory, Coach Rick Stockstill’s squad could be poised to become the new dominant team in the SBC.

As for Troy, this could be a small blip for the Trojans, as they face a major rebuilding season.  Troy graduated quarterback Levi Brown who threw for over 4,000 last year, and the Trojans lost six of their top seven tacklers.

Former conference power North Texas could be on the rise again.  With all-SBC running back Lance Dunbar returning (1,378 yards rushing), the top six pass catchers (includes Dunbar), and most of the two-deep in the offensive line, the Mean Green will post much better offensive numbers.  They scored 27 points per game last year, so that number could rise to 30+ this year.  A weak defense will prevent North Texas from winning the conference championship.

The Sunbelt is guaranteed two teams in bowl games once again this season.  With the two more teams getting bowl bids this year (addition of two bowls and elimination of one bowl), there is a chance a third team could receive an invitation, as other conferences fail to provide their allotted quota of teams to contracted bowl games.  Four teams could potentially reach seven or more wins this season, as the league appears to have great balance in the middle.  The fly in the ointment: except for Middle Tennessee, the rest of the league will all win zero or one of their non-conference games.

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 Conf. Overall
1 Middle Tennessee 7-1 10-2
2 North Texas 6-2 7-5
3 Troy 5-3 6-6
4 Florida Atlantic 5-3 5-7
5 Louisiana 5-3 5-7
6 Arkansas State 3-5 3-9
7 Florida International 3-5 3-9
8 Western Kentucky 2-6 2-10
9 La.-Monroe 0-8 1-11

 

G M A C Bowl: Middle Tennessee

New Orleans Bowl: North Texas

 

The Sunbelt Conference gets priority for filling a vacant spot in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl if there is a third team with seven wins.

 

The Sunbelt is also a backup for the St. Petersburg Bowl and a second tier backup for the Papa John’s Bowl.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Arkansas State Red Wolves
               
Head Coach Steve Roberts
               
Colors Scarlet and Black
               
City Jonesboro, AK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 76.9
               
National Rank 116

 

Offense: The Red Wolves lost five of their six starting skill position players.  New quarterback Ryan Applin could top the production of last year’s starter Cory Leonard, but Leonard only threw for 1,416 yards and seven TDs.  Applin’s shoulder will be a concern early after undergoing surgery in the spring.

Tight end Kedric Murry is the lone returning skill starter.  He caught just seven passes a year ago, so the receiving corps will be noticeably weaker.  At running back, 2009 top rusher Reggie Arnold is gone, but Derek Lawson should equal or top Arnold’s production this year.

The strength of this team is its offensive line.  Rarely does a Sunbelt team return an experienced two-deep unit like this year’s ASU OL.  They will open holes for the backs and give Applin plenty of time.

Even with all the new skill position players, we see Arkansas State’s offense faring better in 2010 than in 2009 when they averaged 23 points and 329 yards per game.  Look for 25-28 points and 350 yards per game.

Defense: The Red Wolves have fielded respectable defenses for the last five seasons, but ASU’s defensive line has been decimated due to graduation.  Even though the top four tacklers return, two of those four are defensive backs.  Gone is all-SBC end Alex Carrington and his 14 ½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 

ASU also lost their two starting cornerbacks and their nickel back.  The Red Wolves gave up 219 yards per game through the air and 61% completions, and that number could be worse this season.

We see ASU yielding 27-32 points per game and 350-380 total yards per game.

Schedule: Games at Auburn, Indiana, and Navy are not winnable.  A  homecoming game with Louisville could determine whether ASU can top last year’s four win total.  They get the two weakest conference foes at home, so three wins is about what to expect.  You can expect a coaching change in Jonesboro if three is all there is.

Team Florida Atlantic Owls
               
Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger
               
Colors Red, White, and Blue
               
City Boca Raton, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 78.1
               
National Rank 111

 

Offense: FAU had an explosive offense that scored more than 27 points per game and gained more than 430 yards per game last year, but the Owls still finished with a losing season due to a weak defense.  This year, the offense will be noticeably weaker.  Only two full-time starters return on offense, and neither one is a quarterback or offensive lineman. 

Quarterback Jeff Van Camp started five games last year, and the Owls won three of those starts.  He averaged a very respectable 7.5 yards per attempt, but you can expect that number to fall this year.  With an entirely new offensive line and only one of the top six receivers from 2009 returning, FAU’s passing game will suffer, falling from 280 yards per game to as low as 180 this year.

The one bright spot on offense is the return of running back Alfred Morris.  Morris rushed for almost 1,400 yards and 11 scored last year, but those numbers will drop as well.

Look for FAU’s offense to ground to just 20-23 points per game and 300-330 total yards.

Defense: As much as the offense regresses this year, the defense could show signs of great progress this year.  The defensive line suffered some late losses in depth, but three starters (two juniors and a senior) return up front, including potential all-league end Kevin Cyrille.  Cyrille registered 11 ½ stops behind the line last year.

The back seven was as weak as the front four last year, but the good news is they can only improve.  FAU gave up 233 passing yards at a better than 67% completion rate for enemy quarterbacks.  The only reason the passing yardage number wasn’t 300+ per game is that the Owls gave up more than six yards per rushing attempt. 

We see the Owls giving up about 28 points and 400 yards per game this year, which unfortunately would be a vast improvement over last season.

Schedule: The Owls have just four home games this year, as well as a very tough out-of-conference slate.  FAU plays at UAB, Michigan State, South Florida, and Texas and should lose all four games.  They don’t face the league’s two best teams until after Thanksgiving, but those games will come back-to-back following the trip to face the Longhorns. 

Florida Atlantic could challenge for bowl eligibility, but they would have to pull off an upset at UAB and beat all six of the SBC teams they face before Thanksgiving.  We see them winning five of those first six league games, but that will lead to a repeat of last year’s 5-7 season.

Team Florida International Panthers
               
Head Coach Mario Cristobal
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Miami, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 78.2
               
National Rank 110

 

Offense: The Golden Panthers have improved in total yardage for four consecutive seasons, and this year should make it five in a row.  Former Mississippi State starting quarterback Wesley Carroll takes over behind center.  Carroll was Miss. State’s starting quarterback in 2007 when the Bulldogs went to a bowl.

Carroll has a full house of returning receiver talent, as the top eight pass catchers return, including breakaway threat Greg Ellingson and possession receiver T.Y. Hilton.

FIU has never been a rushing power, averaging just 100 yards per game the last five years.  Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden will team with Darriet Perry to form the best tandem the Panthers have had.

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but the drop off shouldn’t be much.

We see FIU scoring 25 points per game and gaining about 340 yards per game this year.

Defense: This has been FIU’s Achilles heel since the program was established in 2002.  The Golden Panthers yielded 35+ points and almost 500 yards per game in 2009, and those numbers will not improve by much if any this year.

Up front, the line was decimated by graduation losses.  FIU couldn’t stop the run last year, giving up 230+ rushing yards per game, and opponents could match or better that this year.

While most of the leading players in the back seven return, it is misleading to think having these top tacklers returning will lead to much better defensive production.  These players made a lot of tackles because they did not prevent many passes from being completed.  One player who did contribute in the pass defense was cornerback Anthony Gaitor.  Gaitor knocked away seven passes and picked off two others.

We look for marginal improvement on this side of the ball, about 30-32 points per game and 430-450 yards per game.

Schedule: This is a killer schedule, and it will prevent FIU from breaking through with a winning season.  FIU will start 0-4 after facing Rutgers, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, the latter three on the road.  Home games with the two weakest teams give them a slim chance at breaking even in the league, but it looks more like a repeat of last year—three wins.

Team Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
               
Head Coach Rickey Bustle
               
Colors Vermillion and White
               
City Lafayette, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 82.6
               
National Rank 102

 

Offense: The Ragin’ Cajuns always seem to do just enough on offense to stay competitive in conference games without ever looking flashy or producing gaudy statistics.  Last year, ULL scored just 22.2 points per game, which paved the way for four of their six wins being by four points or less.

Quarterback Chris Masson won’t win any all-league honors, but he won’t hurt his team’s chances either.  He should pass for about 200-240 yards per game and complete close to 60% of his tosses.

Masson has a couple of quality receivers to pass to, namely tight end Ladarius Green and wide out Marlin Miller.  At 6-6, Green is an inviting target.  He could be playing for pay in 2012.

The Ragin’ Cajuns used to be a predominately running team, but they only averaged 137 yards per game last year.  2010 should see similar results.

The offensive line lost three starters to graduation, but the entire second five returns.  There should be little or no drop in production this year.

Louisiana should average about 23-26 points and 375-400 yards per game this year.

Defense: This is where great progress must be made if ULL is to contend for a bowl bid this year.  The last three years have been poor for the stop troops in Lafayette.  ULL has given up more than 30 points and 400 yards all three seasons.  Things are looking up in 2010.  The improvement may be subtle due to a schedule that has them playing two SEC opponents, but the Cajuns will be tougher on this side of the ball.

The front seven should see the bulk of the improvement, as opponents will find it harder to run the ball, and quarterbacks will see more pressure than they have the last three seasons.

Schedule: Yet another team that will more than likely lose all four non-conference games, Louisiana faces a tough slate of opponents.  It starts with a visit between the hedges to face Georgia.  A Friday night home game with Oklahoma State will give the Cajuns a chance to pull off a big upset.  Road games in consecutive weeks at Ohio U and Ole Miss should produce two rough losses.  ULL gets a week off prior to hosting Middle Tennessee, and this could be the upset of the year in the Sunbelt.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have enough talent to threaten in the league if 6-2 is good enough to win the conference.  We think they will fall short by just a bit.  5-3 will lead to a 5-7 mark overall unless ULL can upset Oklahoma State.

Team Louisiana Monroe Warhawks
               
Head Coach Todd Berry
               
Colors Red and Gold
               
City Monroe, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 74.8
               
National Rank 117

 

Offense: UL-Monroe fired former Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie and hired former Army coach Todd Berry.  Expect a drop from a typical Navy season to a typical Army season.  Don’t blame it on Berry; blame it on a loss of talent.

On the offensive side of the ball, ULM has enough talent to move the ball on the middle of the pack and weaker conference defenses.  It starts in the running game, where Frank Goodin returns to tote the pigskin.  Goodin rushed for 1,126 yards and 13 scores last year, while topping five yards per carry.

Quarterback Trey Revell returns after tossing for 1,739 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the four hands that caught 78 of his passes and nine of those scores are gone.  Throw in an inexperienced offensive line, and the passing game will suffer this year.

Look for about 175 rushing yards and 175 passing yards for 21-25 points per game.

Defense: Only four starters return on this side of the ball.  The Warhawks were a competent defensive team last year, but that is going to change.  Three of the four linebackers (actually ULM used a 3-3-5, but the Hawk back was more of a linebacker) from last year are gone, and two of the three starters in the trenches are gone as well.

The two returning defensive backs are among the best in the league, but they may be called on to stop more running plays this year.  Darius Prelow and Nate Brown combined for 18 passes batted away last year.

We look for ULM to give up 400+ total yards and 30-35 points per game this year.

Schedule: The Warhawks have a winnable game out of the league this year, as they host FCS rival Southeast Louisiana.  Who do they play in the other three games?  How about Arkansas, Auburn, and LSU, all on the road?  Because they must face Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, we do not see ULM winning a conference game this season.  1-11 looks possible.

Team Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
               
Head Coach Rick Stockstill
               
Colors Blue and Gray
               
City Murfreesboro, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 88.8
               
National Rank 90

 

Offense: The Blue Raiders appear to be the class of the league this year thanks to a dominant offense that could threaten 40 points per game this year.  Middle is coming off its first 10-win season and bowl victory since moving up to the big time.

Quarterback Dwight Dasher may be too small to become a legitimate NFL prospect, but he could be a star in the Canadian Football League.  Last year, the 5-10 speedster gained more than 1,150 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns, while passing for almost 2,800 yards and 23 more touchdowns!

Dasher has one of the league’s best set of receivers.  Garrett Andrews is a threat to go the distance on any catch.  Three newcomers could contribute immediately.

As if those riches weren’t enough, The Blue Raiders have two backs besides Dasher capable of rushing for 100+ yards in a game.  Phillip Tanner and D.D. Kyles could combine with Dasher to rush for 225-250 yards per game.

The offensive line returns four of five starters.  Expect the sacks allowed total to drop from 19 to as low as 10 this year.

MTSU is capable of topping 40 points and 500 yards per game this season, and we expect at least 35 points and 450 yards.

Defense: Middle Tennessee’s defense won’t get much credit, but if the Blue Raiders are to win their first SBC title this year, the defense will have to continue to shine in anonymity.  This side has yielded about 24 points and 350 yards per game the last two years, and they could be poised to kick it up a notch in 2010.

The defensive front seven is a small concern this season, and if the Blue Raiders fail to take the league title, and they aren’t torn apart by numerous injuries, it will be the lack of pass rush and coverage in the short zones that may do them in.

The secondary is the class of the league, and in a league known for its passing, that is important.  Rod Issac, Kevin Brown, and Jeremy Kellem teamed up to intercept seven passes and knock down 15 others.

Schedule: The Blue Raiders have the best non-conference schedule in the Sunbelt Conference.  An opening game at home on Thursday night against a beatable Minnesota team precedes a breather against former Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay.  A visit to a weak Memphis team the week after could leave the Blue Raiders at 3-0 and poised to crack the Top 25.  The final non-league tilt comes in October against Georgia Tech.  MTSU hosts Troy on October 5, and the winner of that game should take the conference flag.  A September 25 visit to Lafayette to take on Louisiana could be a big trap game.  If they can win that game and knock off Troy, then the Yellow Jackets could be all that stops the Blue Raiders from running the table.

Team North Texas Mean Green
               
Head Coach Todd Dodge
               
Colors Green and White
               
City Denton, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 81.7
               
National Rank 105

 

Offense: The Mean Green scored 27 points per game last year, but they only won twice.  Expect both numbers to head north this season as this team returns a lot of talent.  Last year’s starting quarterback, Riley Dodge (son of the coach), returns.  However, he suffered a shoulder injury and has been moved to a wide out position.  Dodge is a true athlete, so it wouldn’t surprise us if he caught 50 passes this season and still see a few snaps at his old position.

Nathan Tune and Derek Thompson will vie for the starting quarterback job.  Tune saw considerable action last year, while Thompson was forced to burn a redshirt in the middle of the final game last year.  Neither can run the ball the way Dodge did, but both can hum the ball down the field.

Whoever is throwing the ball will have the conference’s elite group of receivers.  Besides Dodge, Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford joins the squad that returns its top six pass catchers from 2009.

Those receivers will find the going easier than normal because defenses will have to stop the running game first.  North Texas returns the league’s number two rusher in Lance Dunbar, who gained 1,378 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last season.

Making this offense lethal this year is a very experienced and capable offensive line featuring tackle Esteban Santiago.

We believe North Texas will average better than 30 points and 425 yards per game this year, and they could top 200 yards rushing and passing in more than half their games.

Defense: Normally, when a team surrenders 36 points per game, it would be considered pathetic.  However, in Denton last year, this represented a 12-point improvement over the year before.  Expect another 12-point improvement this year.

The defensive line is in much better shape this year with three starters returning up front.  End Brandon Akpunku recorded six sacks and 5 ½ other tackles for loss.  The second four provide excellent depth here with three upperclassmen backing up the starters.

The second line of defense features a potential All-SBC linebacker in Craig Robertson.  Robertson led the Mean Green in tackles last season, but he will need to make more of those closer to the line of scrimmage this year if UNT expects to contend for the conference championship.

This should be the best secondary in Denton in years.  With a better pass rush, look for the back unit to defend more passes. 

We believe North Texas will chop another 8-12 points off their defensive yield and give up about 24-28 points and 375 yards per game.

Schedule: North Texas has a chance to win two or three of their non-conference games, but it isn’t a given.  A home game with Rice on September 11 and a visit to Army the following week will determine if the Mean Green will go to a bowl this season.  An opener at Clemson could be ugly.  The season finale is at home with a Kansas State squad that could need one win to become bowl-eligible.  Kansas State lost to Louisiana in Lafayette last year.

In the conference, North Texas hosts Troy and plays at Middle Tennessee in back-to-back weeks at the start of November.  We think they will split those games.  If they can win at Florida Atlantic, they have a chance to sneak through and win or share for the Sunbelt title as the surprise team.  Even if they fall short, we think the Mean Green will play a 13th game in December.

Team Troy Trojans
               
Head Coach Larry Blakeney
               
Colors Red and Gray
               
City Troy, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 86.9
               
National Rank 94

 

Offense: How do you replace the best quarterback in school history?  Levi Brown completed 64% of his passes for 4,254 yards last year.  New quarterback Jamie Hampton has six career starts under his belt, so he isn’t entirely raw.

Hampton has the league’s best returning trio of receivers.  Jerrel Jernigan, Tebarius Gill, and Chip Reeves teamed for 140 catches and 2,045 yards, with Jernigan accounting for better than half of that amount.

Troy used a running back by committee approach last year, but starter DuJuan Harris is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if he returns to his 2008 form.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the two new starters are experienced upperclassmen. 

Troy averaged 34 points and 486 yards per game last year.  Expect a drop in those gaudy numbers, but the Trojans will still be a potent offensive machine.  28 points and 400 yards would still lead to a good season.

Defense: Welcome to troubles!  Troy was decimated by graduation losses on this side of the ball.  Six of the top seven tacklers are gone including three defensive linemen who are on NFL preseason rosters.

Four new DL starters will be in the trenches, and even though Coach Blakeney has recruited well, this quartet will not come close to matching last year’s numbers of 138 rushing yards allowed and 33 sacks.

Two linebackers have moved on, leaving Daniel Sheffield as the lone returnee in the front seven.  New middle linebacker Xavier Lamb should emerge as the leading tackler this year.

The last line of defense returns two starters, including the best pass defender in the league.  Cover corner Bryan Willis is a shutdown defender, but we don’t believe he will match last year’s total of 4 interceptions and 12 knockdowns.  Passers will have an extra half-second or more to locate open receivers on most plays.

Troy gave up 30 points and 425 yards per game last year, and those numbers will be worse this year.  Look for 35 points and 450 yards out of this rebuilding defense.

Schedule: Road games at South Carolina and Oklahoma State are sure losses.  A home game with Bowling Green is very winnable.  A trip to UAB on September 18 could determine whether Troy can get to seven victories and earn a bowl bid.  Middle Tennessee hosts Troy on Tuesday, October 5, in a nationally televised game.  We expect the Blue Raiders to exact revenge on the Trojans and end their reign of supremacy.  A road game at Florida Atlantic on December 4 could be a must-win game for bowl-eligibility and a possible third bid from the league. 

Team Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
               
Head Coach Willie Taggart
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Bowling Green, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12
               
PiRate Rating 72.7
               
National Rank 118

 

Offense: Things are looking up for the Hilltoppers this year, but when you go 0-12, things can’t look much worse.  New coach Willie Taggart comes from Stanford, and he will install a pro-style offense using 1st team All-SBC running back Bobby Rainey the same way Toby Gerhart was used in Palo Alto.  Expect Rainey to get 300 rushing attempts this year, if WKU can stay in games and not have to resort to throwing the ball 85% of the time in the second half.  Rainey could easily lead the nation in rushing if he gets 300 attempts.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes did a lot of running himself last year—running for his life after a helpless group of pass blockers played like matadors.  Jakes has the potential to be the third best passer in the league if he gets just average protection up front.

Unfortunately, Jakes has little in talent on the other end of his passes.  The seven returning receivers from last year all failed to average 10 yards per catch.  A lot of that had to do with Jakes having to throw quickly to avoid the rush, but yards after the catch is not where this group excels.

The aforementioned offensive line will make strides toward improvement, but don’t expect a major transformation.  If they can allow 10 fewer sacks, WKU will move the ball and eat the clock this year.

Western scored 20 points per game last year and 25 in league play.  Expect the ‘Toppers to approach 24-26 points and 350-375 yards this year.  The big plus will be a ball-controlled rushing game that is capable of reducing total plays per game by as much as 10

Defense: WKU surrendered 40 points and almost 480 yards per game last year, and even with nominal improvement on this side of the ball, we expect the offense to keep this unit on the sidelines for a couple minutes more per game this year.

Taggart will switch Western to a 4-3 defense this year, and the new DL should improve on the 245 rushing yards allowed.   All players who contributed significantly last year in the two-deep return this season.

The second line of defense welcomes back all three of its four top players, and the trio of returning starters should be much improved this year.  Thomas Majors could earn 1st team all-conference honors.

The back line of defense was the weakest in all of FBS football last year, giving up 67.8% completions and 28 touchdowns!  Three starters return, and this unit must improve some, but it will still be a major liability.

We expect WKU to chip off as much as a touchdown from the points allowed this year, but 33-35 points per game is still too much for the Hilltoppers to turn things around.

Schedule: WKU has guaranteed themselves an 0-4 start prior to getting a week off on October 2.  The Hilltoppers open at Nebraska, at Kentucky, home versus Indiana, and at South Florida.  They will be banged up and need that week off before starting conference play.  Their first two conference games come at FIU and home with ULM.  If they don’t win one of those two games, it could lead to a repeat 0-12 season.  We think they will win one of those games and maybe pick up another upset in the second half.  2-10 would be a beginning toward becoming competitive in the future.

Coming Tomorrow: The Mid-American Conference Preview.  Will the Owls fly high in the MAC sky?

March 16, 2010

A PiRate Bracketnomics Sample–The Play-in Round

A PiRate Bracketnomics Sampler

The Play-in Game

 

Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Time: 7:30 PM EDT

Site: Dayton, OH

Teams: Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions (17-15) vs.

             Winthrop Eagles (19-13)

For those of you who have not read out Bracketnomics tutorial from Sunday, March 14, you need to scroll down and peruse it carefully so this will mean something to you.

Almost all bracket competitions around the country allow you to submit your picks as late as Thursday morning, one hour before game time.  You get the play-in winner as a free pick in your bracket, mostly because it is a logistical nightmare to add a separate space on the competition form.

We always believe you should wait until the latest possible time to submit your picks.  You never know when a team’s star player might come down with a cold or flu, and that is vital information.

Now, let’s take a look at tonight’s play-in game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop.  We will show how the PiRate Bracketnomics formula applies.

Here are the raw numbers for both of the teams.

Stat UAPB Winthrop
Scoring Margin -0.3 1.0
FG% Difference 0.4 -1.5
Rebound Margin 6.6 1.7
Turnover Margin -2.9 3.2
Steals/G 6.8 8.8
R+T 1.9 8.5
Schedule Strength 45.5 46.7
W-L Away Games 9-14 7-11
Raw Score -11.46 -2.29
Favorite   9.2

 

The PiRate system sees this game as a great one of contrasts.  UABP has a superior inside game, but they Golden Lions cannot handle the ball well enough to withstand the Eagles’ superior perimeter defense.  Winthrop will force numerous turnovers and pick up a couple of easy baskets in this game, and then their defense will turn up the screws and force UAPB to rush their shots.

We see this as a sloppy, low-scoring game and will take Winthrop to win by 9 points in the neighborhood of 64-55.  The Eagles will provide no competition for Duke on Friday.

Coming tomorrow, we will tell you which teams are contenders, which are pretenders, and which are possible dark horses.  We will give you these tidbits today.  One team rated much higher than all the others (and is thus our pick to win it all), and that school is from one of the Big Six conferences and in the Top 10.  One of the smaller conference teams was the only one of the 65 to score in the top echelon of every important statistic, with strength of schedule being their only liability, while another mid-major came very close to matching that feat and had a decent strength of schedule.

Only two teams of the 65 were eliminated immediately based on a negative R+T rating, and a record 22 teams this year possess the usual necessary criteria to win four times and advance to the Final Four.  A dozen more rate so close to the necessary number, that we wouldn’t be shocked if any of 35 teams make it to Indianapolis in April. 

Many pundits proclaim this to be an off year in college basketball with no real dominant team, but our ratings show it to be a balanced year with many teams good enough to dominate this tournament in a real off year.

So, come back tomorrow for an in-depth look at bracket picking plus a detailed look at Thursday’s and Friday’s 32 first-round games.

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