The Pi-Rate Ratings

December 9, 2013

PiRate Ratings–College Football for December 14, 2013

One Regular Season Game Left

The Army-Navy game concludes the regular season this Saturday afternoon.  Navy has won 11 in a row in this series, and Black Knights’ coach Rich Ellerson could be coaching his last game for the USMA.  His team is beaten up, while Navy appears to be playing its best ball of the season since the first of November.

 

Since there is just one game, we will give you the ratings for this game here:

 

PiRate: Navy by 15.3

Mean: Navy by 11.6

Bias: Navy by 14.5

 

The Bowl Schedule

2013-14 Bowl Schedule

GAME DATE SITE TIME–ET TV
New Mexico

12/21/2013

Albuquerque 2:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Colorado St. (7-6) vs. Washington St. (6-6)

         
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

12/21/2013

Las Vegas 3:30pm ABC
Opponents:

Fresno St. (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)

         
Famous Idaho Potato

12/21/2013

Boise, ID 5:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

San Diego St. (7-5) vs. Buffalo (8-4)

         
New Orleans

12/21/2013

New Orleans 9:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

UL-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Tulane (7-5)

         
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s

12/23/2013

St. Petersburg 2:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5)

         
Hawai’i

12/24/2013

Honolulu 8:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Boise St. (8-4) vs. Washington St. (6-6)

         
Little Caesars Pizza

12/26/2013

Detroit 6:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)

         
Poinsettia

12/26/2013

San Diego 9:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Utah St. (8-5) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)

         
Military Bowl

12/27/2013

Washington, DC 2:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Maryland (7-5) vs. Marshall (9-4)

         
Texas

12/27/2013

Houston 6:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Minnesota (8-4) vs. Syracuse (6-6)

         
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

12/27/2013

San Francisco 9:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Washington (8-4) vs. BYU (8-4)

         
Pinstripe

12/28/2013

Bronx 12:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)

         
Belk

12/28/2013

Charlotte 3:20pm ESPN
Opponents:

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6)

         
Russell Athletic

12/28/2013

Orlando 6:45pm ESPN
Opponents:

Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3)

         
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

12/28/2013

Tempe, AZ 10:15pm ESPN
Opponents:

Kansas St. (7-5) vs. Michigan (7-5)

         
Armed Forces

12/30/2013

Ft. Worth, TX 11:45am ESPN
Opponents:

Navy (7-4*) vs. Middle Tennessee (8-4)

         
Music City

12/30/2013

Nashville 3:15pm ESPN
Opponents:

Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)

         
Alamo

12/30/2013

San Antonio 6:45pm ESPN
Opponents:

Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon (10-2)

         
Holiday

12/30/2013

San Diego 10:15pm ESPN
Opponents:

Arizona St. (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

         
AdvoCare V100 Bowl

12/31/2013

Shreveport, LA 12:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Boston College (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5)

         
Sun

12/31/2013

El Paso, TX 2:00pm CBS
Opponents:

Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)

         
Liberty

12/31/2013

Memphis 4:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Mississippi St. (6-6) vs. Rice (10-3)

         
Chick-fil-A

12/31/2013

Atlanta 8:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)

         
Heart Of Dallas

1/1/2014

Dallas 12:00pm ESPN-U
Opponents:

North Texas (8-4) vs. UNLV (7-5)

         
Gator

1/1/2014

Jacksonville 12:00pm ESPN-2
Opponents:

Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)

         
Outback

1/1/2014

Tampa 1:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

LSU (9-3) vs. Iowa (8-4)

         
Capital One

1/1/2014

Orlando 1:00pm ABC
Opponents:

Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2)

         
Rose

1/1/2014

Pasadena, CA 5:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Michigan St. (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)

         
Fiesta

1/1/2014

Glendale, AZ 8:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1)

         
Sugar

1/2/2014

New Orleans 8:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)

         
Cotton

1/3/2014

Arlington, TX 7:30pm Fox
Opponents:

Missouri (11-2) vs. Oklahoma St. (10-2)

         
Orange

1/3/2014

Miami 8:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio St. (12-1)

         
BBVA Compass Bowl

1/4/2014

Birmingham 1:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4)

         
GoDaddy.com

1/5/2014

Mobile, AL 9:00pm ESPN
Opponents:

Ball St. (10-2) vs. Arkansas St. (7-5)

         
BCS Championship

1/6/2014

Pasadena, CA 8:30pm ESPN
Opponents:

Florida St. (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1)

         
Teams in Italics are at-large selections      

 

We will have an in-depth preview of each bowl game next week, either Tuesday or Wednesday.

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October 1, 2013

PiRate Ratings: College Football–October 3-5, 2013

Key Games This Week

THURSDAY

U C L A at Utah

The Bruins are in a trap game in Salt Lake City.  Utah is on the bowl bubble.  The Utes will need one upset in conference play to get to that magical six-win mark, and if it happens, it will more than likely be a home game.  If it isn’t this one, then Stanford offers the only other upset opportunity at home.  Obviously, this is the easier one of the two powers to defeat, but easier does not mean easy.  It will be closer to a miracle for the Utes to win either game.

 

As for the Bruins, this game could be disaster if they lose.  After a home game with Cal, UCLA must face Stanford and Oregon back-to-back on the road, and then later visits Arizona.  A loss in this game means the Bruins do not win the South Division.

 

SATURDAY

Washington at Stanford

This is the top game of the week, as two undefeated challengers to Oregon square off in Palo Alto.  Washington’s win over Arizona verified that the impressive wins over Boise St. and Illinois were legitimate.  This team can compete with their opponent this week.

 

Stanford finally put together a complete game in dispensing with Washington St.  The Cardinal offense is complete with power running that requires bringing an extra man in the box to stop and with vertical passing that can burn any defense that brings an extra man in the box to stop the run.

 

If Washington’s defense can hold Stanford to 28 points, the Huskies have an excellent shot at pulling off the road upset.  However, Stanford’s offense is getting better every week, and even a much improved UW defense may have a tough time keeping the Cardinal attack off the board.

 

Maryland at Florida St.

Before last week, Maryland’s 4-0 start was not all that impressive due to the fact that they had beaten four less than mediocre opponents.  When West Virginia ambushed Oklahoma St., and then Oklahoma beat Notre Dame on the road by a touchdown more than they had defeated West Virginia at home, the Terps’ 37-0 win over the Mountaineers began to look much more substantial.  Maybe this Maryland team is really good after all.

 

Florida St. faced some tough opposition with surprising Boston College before getting untracked on offense.  The Seminoles cannot afford to overlook Maryland, but they just might do it.  FSU’s next game is at Clemson, which should decide the Atlantic Division title.  This game should be close, at least for 30-45 minutes.

 

Arkansas at Florida

We expect a low-scoring, old fashion SEC game here.  Florida’s defense should be able to contain the Razorback running game, but the question will be how much Florida can amass on the offensive end.  The winner of this game stays alive for the Gator Bowl, while the loser drops to Liberty and Music City Bowl range.

 

Kansas St. at Oklahoma St.

Will Oklahoma St. lose to West Virginia two weeks in a row?  By this, we mean will the Cowboys be deflated from their loss in Morgantown and not show up against the Wildcats?

 

Kansas St. had an extra week to prepare after losing at Texas two weeks ago, and the Wildcats all of a sudden need to search for four more wins to become bowl eligible.  We think KSU has five wins for sure with the remaining schedule, so they will need to win one game that figures to be tough.  This one is a great opportunity, but we are not sure they have the talent to pull it off.

 

Ole Miss at Auburn

Call this a bowl positioning game.  Ole Miss found out last week that they are not ready to fight the pit bulls of the league.  This week, they will find out if they can compete with the collies or if they can only beat shelties.  This is a must win if the Rebels want to make it to the Chick-fil-A or Gator Bowls.

 

Auburn’s schedule sets the Tigers up for six or seven wins, with this game being the decider on whether it is six or seven.  With seven, Auburn could avoid Shreveport and Birmingham.

 

Missouri at Vanderbilt

Talk about a key game for both teams.  Missouri is 4-0 with three wins over opponents that may prove to be decent but are not close to SEC quality.  Vanderbilt is 3-2 with three wins over patsies and two conference losses to the second waive of SEC power.

 

If Missouri wins this road game, the Tigers will definitely get to eight wins and could add one or two more.  They would make the following week’s game at Georgia a real grudge match.  If the Tigers lose, then it could start a slide of four losses in a row.

 

Vanderbilt needs three more wins to become bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.  The last time the Commodores finished .500 or above in the regular season for three consecutive years was 1957-58-59.  With Kentucky and Wake Forest still to face Vandy, the Commodores will need to win just one additional game to make it to Shreveport or Birmingham and two additional games to return to Memphis or even sneak to Jacksonville.

 

Last year, Tiger quarterback James Franklin suffered a first half injury in this game.  At the time, Missouri was handing it to the Commodores, but after the injury, the Tigers did absolutely nothing, allowing VU to come back and win.

 

Vanderbilt has had its share of distractions this season with four players dismissed following a nasty sex crime incident.  Now, it has to deal with another.  Head Coach James Franklin (no relation to Mizzou QB) has been mentioned in almost every major sports media outlet as one of the top candidates for the Southern Cal coaching job.

 

Georgia Tech at Miami

Virginia Tech stopped the Yellow Jackets’ option attack last week, forcing GT to throw the ball 24 times.  Miami’s defense may not be quite as strong at the Hokies’, but the Hurricane offense is much more potent.  If Miami can get to November undefeated, and it is highly possible if they win this game, then the November 2nd game at Florida St. will be just like the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

 

Georgia Tech is on the Sun-Music City Bowl line, and the Engineers must pick off a big boy in order to move up to a more prestigious bowl possibility.

 

East Carolina at Middle Tennessee

Conference USA’s power is in the Eastern Division this year, as Tulsa and Rice have not lived up to expectations.  The Liberty Bowl representative in this watered down league should come from one of the top three in this division.  These are two of the top three (Marshall), and they face off in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Saturday.

 

ECU may overlook the Blue Raiders, and the Pirates must not get too high after celebrating a big win at North Carolina this past Saturday.  When teams pull of a big upset and then follow it up with a road game the next week, chances are high that they will underperform.  An underperformance should be just enough to make this a tossup game.

 

Illinois at Nebraska

Bo Pelini cannot afford to lose at home to a team that Cornhusker fans perceive to be a non-power.  While we do not believe Nebraska will make a coaching change in midseason like USC and Connecticut, chances are strong that there will be a new man in place in 2014.  A loss in this one will make it difficult for Pelini to keep the corn from rotting before it can mature.

 

Illinois is not chopped liver.  Their lone loss was a competitive game against Washington.  Coach Tim Beckman turned Toledo into an exciting team that won with an offense that could both run and pass for more than 200 yards.  He is in the process of molding the Illini into just that, another dominating offensive team.  This philosophy may never win a Big Ten title, but Illinois has enough firepower to outscore Nebraska in a shootout.

 

Michigan St. at Iowa

This game could be the most interesting of the week.  The Big Ten Legends Division is a muddled race.  Just when one team looks overpowering, they lay an egg.  Just when one team looks mediocre, they get off the mat and become dominating.

 

Michigan St. is starting to look like a team on the decline.  The Spartans struggled with a weak Western Michigan team to open the season.  A win over a hapless South Florida team was not impressive at all.  After an easy blowout of FCS weakling Youngstown St., MSU actually looked its best in a loss at Notre Dame.  Sparty’s defense is more than capable, but the offense is not title-winning quality.

 

Iowa began the season losing at home to Northern Illinois.  It looked like Coach Kirk Ferentz was possibly developing a warm seat in Iowa City.  Following a less than stellar 14-point win over Missouri St., the Hawkeyes beat rival Iowa St. in Ames.  An easy breeze win over Western Michigan set them up for the big rivalry game at Minnesota last week.  Iowa’s defense shut the Gophers down to retain Floyd of Rosedale, the big bronze pig trophy that goes to the Iowa-Minnesota winner.

 

The schedule seems to favor Iowa in the race for the division title.  The Hawkeyes get a week off after this game to prepare for Ohio St.  They get Northwestern and Michigan at home.  The season capper at Nebraska does not look as intimidating as it once did.  A win this week could propel Iowa to the top of the division.  6-2 could easily grab a piece of the division pie, and if Iowa wins this game, they are looking at 6-2 or better.

 

North Texas at Tulane

Go ahead and think in your head that this is obviously a big mistake to put this game in the “key game” category.  However, we have valid reasons.  Obviously, one team must win the Western Division of Conference USA.  Rice and Tulsa are facing off in Tulsa Saturday, and the winner of that game will be the titular leader of the division.  However, both the Owls and Golden Hurricane are paper tigers this year.  We believe a surprise team will cop the flag.  The winner of this game may just be that surprise team.

 

Neither team is overly talented, but both are well-coached.  We believe the Mean Green is a little better than the Green Wave, and the rest of the league might be green with envy when the winner of this game emerges to become the real leader like the winner of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

 

Ohio St. at Northwestern

This is a big trap game.  Northwestern is just as undefeated as Ohio St., but you cannot find a so-called expert that believes the Wildcats have a shot in this game.

 

While the Buckeyes had to face a tough Wisconsin team last week, NU had a bye week.  Coach Pat Fitzgerald has enjoyed an extra week to prepare for this game, and he knows Braxton Miller will be under center.  In our opinion, Ohio St. may be an easier team to prepare against with Miller at QB than with Kenny Guiton.  Miller may be the better overall athlete, but Guiton is the better dropback passer, and Northwestern may be better able to slow down the Buckeye running game without having to worry about getting burned by Guiton’s mad bomber ability.

 

Northwestern has a quality win over a so-so Syracuse team, a decent win at a weak Cal team and unconvincing wins over Western Michigan and Maine.  Their entire season is not riding on this contest, but a heart-breaking close loss could do more damage than a decisive loss.  Of course, a win bolts the Wildcats to the top of the division with a decent shot at grabbing part of a divisional title.

 

This Week’s PiRate Three Ratings

 

PiRate Regular

1

Oregon

134.0

2

Alabama

132.9

3

Stanford

128.5

4

Washington

122.8

5

Ole Miss

122.8

6

Ohio St.

122.0

7

Texas A&M

121.6

8

Baylor

121.5

9

Georgia

121.5

10

L S U

121.2

11

Clemson

119.8

12

Florida St.

119.2

13

South Carolina

118.8

14

Oklahoma

118.7

15

Oklahoma St.

118.4

16

U C L A

118.3

17

Louisville

118.3

18

Florida

118.3

19

Arizona St.

117.6

20

Miami

117.5

21

Arizona

117.5

22

Texas

116.5

23

Wisconsin

116.4

24

Missouri

115.7

25

Michigan St.

114.6

26

Oregon St.

114.2

27

T C U

113.4

28

Northwestern

113.3

29

Michigan

113.1

30

Notre Dame

113.1

31

Georgia Tech

112.4

32

Nebraska

112.0

33

Virginia Tech

111.6

34

Mississippi St.

111.1

35

U S C

110.8

36

Penn St.

110.6

37

B Y U

109.0

38

Kansas St.

108.9

39

Texas Tech

108.6

40

Vanderbilt

108.1

41

Auburn

107.1

42

Utah St.

106.6

43

Iowa

106.3

44

Utah

105.3

45

Cincinnati

104.7

46

Central Florida

104.5

47

Syracuse

104.2

48

Washington St.

103.6

49

Boise St.

103.5

50

North Carolina

103.1

51

Maryland

103.0

52

Indiana

102.9

53

Illinois

102.6

54

West Virginia

102.6

55

East Carolina

102.3

56

Fresno St.

102.1

57

Tennessee

101.9

58

Northern Illinois

101.5

59

Minnesota

101.2

60

Arkansas

100.7

61

Boston College

100.7

62

Pittsburgh

100.3

63

Ball St.

100.1

64

Bowling Green

100.0

65

Iowa St.

99.9

66

Toledo

99.7

67

Rutgers

99.5

68

Marshall

98.9

69

North Carolina St.

98.8

70

Kentucky

98.7

71

Duke

96.5

72

San Jose St.

96.3

73

California

96.2

74

Houston

95.9

75

Navy

95.4

76

Rice

95.0

77

Colorado St.

94.2

78

Louisiana–Lafayette

94.1

79

Virginia

93.7

80

North Texas

93.6

81

Wake Forest

93.3

82

S M U

93.0

83

Kansas

92.9

84

San Diego St.

92.8

85

Purdue

92.5

86

Ohio

92.1

87

Western Kentucky

92.1

88

Buffalo

91.9

89

Arkansas St.

91.9

90

Colorado

91.4

91

Tulsa

91.3

92

Wyoming

90.5

93

Memphis

89.9

94

Louisiana–Monroe

89.3

95

Kent St.

89.0

96

Connecticut

87.6

97

U T S A

87.4

98

South Florida

87.2

99

Nevada

86.9

100

U A B

86.8

101

Middle Tennessee

86.6

102

U N L V

86.3

103

South Alabama

86.0

104

Florida Atlantic

85.9

105

Army

85.4

106

Tulane

84.8

107

Texas St.

84.3

108

Hawaii

84.3

109

Troy

83.8

110

Temple

83.7

111

U T E P

83.2

112

Akron

83.0

113

Louisiana Tech

80.1

114

Central Michigan

79.5

115

New Mexico

78.6

116

Western Michigan

78.2

117

Eastern Michigan

77.7

118

Southern Miss.

77.6

119

Air Force

77.4

120

Miami (O)

75.8

121

New Mexico St.

75.0

122

Massachusetts

72.6

123

Idaho

71.1

124

Florida Int’l

66.0

125

Georgia St.

60.2

 

PiRate Mean

1

Oregon

129.9

2

Alabama

126.6

3

Florida St.

122.2

4

Clemson

120.5

5

Ohio St.

119.8

6

L S U

119.8

7

Georgia

119.6

8

Stanford

119.3

9

Washington

118.7

10

Texas A&M

118.7

11

Arizona St.

118.6

12

Miami

118.2

13

Ole Miss

118.1

14

Louisville

116.9

15

Wisconsin

116.9

16

South Carolina

116.7

17

Florida

114.8

18

Oklahoma

114.7

19

Michigan St.

114.5

20

Penn St.

113.8

21

Baylor

112.9

22

Missouri

112.6

23

Arizona

112.4

24

Virginia Tech

112.3

25

U C L A

112.2

26

Georgia Tech

111.7

27

Michigan

111.2

28

Northwestern

110.9

29

T C U

109.8

30

Notre Dame

109.6

31

Maryland

109.5

32

Nebraska

109.0

33

Oklahoma St.

108.5

34

U S C

108.2

35

Mississippi St.

107.8

36

B Y U

107.8

37

Texas

107.0

38

Auburn

106.9

39

Texas Tech

106.8

40

Illinois

106.8

41

Central Florida

106.8

42

Indiana

106.4

43

Vanderbilt

106.2

44

Iowa

106.1

45

Oregon St.

105.8

46

Arkansas

105.6

47

Houston

105.4

48

Cincinnati

105.2

49

North Carolina

105.2

50

Utah

105.0

51

East Carolina

104.6

52

North Carolina St.

104.5

53

Washington St.

104.4

54

Utah St.

103.5

55

Rutgers

103.4

56

Ball St.

103.4

57

Marshall

103.2

58

Northern Illinois

102.4

59

Syracuse

102.3

60

Tennessee

101.3

61

Kansas St.

101.0

62

Toledo

100.9

63

Minnesota

100.8

64

Fresno St.

100.4

65

Bowling Green

100.2

66

Boston College

99.7

67

Pittsburgh

99.1

68

Kentucky

98.8

69

Rice

98.3

70

Boise St.

98.1

71

Navy

97.4

72

Memphis

97.0

73

Duke

96.5

74

Virginia

96.5

75

Wake Forest

96.0

76

Ohio

95.6

77

West Virginia

95.5

78

North Texas

95.4

79

Colorado

94.8

80

S M U

94.6

81

Colorado St.

94.6

82

Louisiana–Lafayette

94.2

83

Western Kentucky

93.9

84

Army

92.8

85

Wyoming

92.4

86

Buffalo

91.8

87

Kent St.

91.8

88

California

91.7

89

Middle Tennessee

91.7

90

Texas St.

91.7

91

San Jose St.

91.6

92

Iowa St.

90.4

93

San Diego St.

90.4

94

South Alabama

90.3

95

Nevada

90.3

96

Kansas

90.2

97

U T S A

89.7

98

U N L V

89.7

99

Purdue

89.4

100

Tulane

88.8

101

U A B

88.4

102

Louisiana–Monroe

88.4

103

U T E P

87.9

104

Arkansas St.

87.8

105

Tulsa

87.7

106

Akron

87.2

107

Florida Atlantic

86.3

108

Troy

84.9

109

Hawaii

84.6

110

New Mexico

84.0

111

Temple

83.6

112

Connecticut

83.4

113

Louisiana Tech

82.0

114

Eastern Michigan

81.9

115

Air Force

81.5

116

Central Michigan

81.4

117

Massachusetts

81.3

118

South Florida

80.6

119

Miami (O)

79.4

120

Western Michigan

79.2

121

New Mexico St.

78.4

122

Idaho

77.9

123

Southern Miss.

77.0

124

Georgia St.

69.4

125

Florida Int’l

68.2

 

PiRate Bias

1

Oregon

135.3

2

Alabama

134.8

3

Stanford

127.5

4

Washington

123.0

5

Ole Miss

123.0

6

Baylor

122.5

7

Ohio St.

122.2

8

Georgia

122.0

9

L S U

121.9

10

Texas A&M

121.2

11

Clemson

121.1

12

Florida St.

120.7

13

Louisville

120.3

14

Oklahoma

118.8

15

Oklahoma St.

118.6

16

South Carolina

118.2

17

Miami

118.1

18

Arizona St.

117.7

19

U C L A

117.2

20

Florida

117.1

21

Wisconsin

116.7

22

Arizona

116.1

23

Texas

115.2

24

Missouri

114.5

25

T C U

114.2

26

Northwestern

113.8

27

Michigan St.

112.7

28

Georgia Tech

112.7

29

Michigan

112.3

30

Oregon St.

112.2

31

Virginia Tech

111.6

32

Mississippi St.

111.3

33

Notre Dame

111.0

34

Nebraska

110.3

35

U S C

110.3

36

Penn St.

110.2

37

B Y U

109.6

38

Texas Tech

108.5

39

Utah St.

108.3

40

Vanderbilt

107.7

41

Kansas St.

107.5

42

Iowa

107.4

43

Auburn

106.2

44

Central Florida

105.7

45

Maryland

105.5

46

Utah

105.5

47

Cincinnati

105.1

48

Boise St.

105.0

49

Washington St.

104.5

50

East Carolina

103.9

51

Syracuse

103.6

52

Illinois

103.4

53

North Carolina

103.4

54

Indiana

102.8

55

Fresno St.

102.3

56

Northern Illinois

102.1

57

Ball St.

101.6

58

Boston College

101.4

59

West Virginia

101.3

60

Bowling Green

101.2

61

Marshall

101.0

62

Tennessee

100.7

63

Toledo

100.6

64

Minnesota

100.4

65

North Carolina St.

100.0

66

Rutgers

100.0

67

Pittsburgh

99.8

68

Arkansas

99.8

69

Iowa St.

98.7

70

Houston

97.6

71

Kentucky

96.9

72

San Jose St.

96.7

73

Rice

95.5

74

Navy

95.2

75

Duke

95.1

76

Colorado St.

95.1

77

California

94.5

78

North Texas

94.1

79

Virginia

93.9

80

Louisiana–Lafayette

93.5

81

Ohio

93.4

82

San Diego St.

93.1

83

Wake Forest

93.0

84

Western Kentucky

92.8

85

Wyoming

92.5

86

Buffalo

92.4

87

S M U

91.8

88

Arkansas St.

91.7

89

Kansas

91.6

90

Memphis

90.7

91

Purdue

89.9

92

Tulsa

89.6

93

Colorado

89.4

94

Kent St.

89.4

95

Louisiana–Monroe

89.1

96

Army

87.8

97

Connecticut

87.7

98

U T S A

87.5

99

South Alabama

87.0

100

U N L V

87.0

101

Nevada

86.9

102

Middle Tennessee

86.8

103

U A B

86.6

104

Florida Atlantic

86.6

105

South Florida

85.5

106

Texas St.

85.3

107

Tulane

85.0

108

Troy

85.0

109

Hawaii

85.0

110

Akron

83.4

111

U T E P

83.1

112

Temple

82.2

113

Louisiana Tech

79.2

114

Western Michigan

79.1

115

New Mexico

78.5

116

Central Michigan

78.4

117

Air Force

77.5

118

Eastern Michigan

77.1

119

Southern Miss.

77.1

120

New Mexico St.

75.1

121

Miami (O)

74.3

122

Massachusetts

72.8

123

Idaho

70.7

124

Florida Int’l

65.6

125

Georgia St.

61.6

 

Ratings By Conference

 

American Athletic Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Louisville

0-0

4-0

118.3

116.9

120.3

Cincinnati

0-0

3-1

104.7

105.2

105.1

Central Florida

0-0

3-1

104.5

106.8

105.7

Rutgers

0-0

3-1

99.5

103.4

100.0

Houston

1-0

4-0

95.9

105.4

97.6

S M U

0-0

1-3

93.0

94.6

91.8

Memphis

0-0

1-2

89.9

97.0

90.7

Connecticut

0-0

0-4

87.6

83.4

87.7

South Florida

0-0

0-4

87.2

80.6

85.5

Temple

0-1

0-4

83.7

83.6

82.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

League Averages

 

 

96.4

97.7

96.7

 

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Clemson

2-0

4-0

119.8

120.5

121.1

Florida St.

2-0

4-0

119.2

122.2

120.7

Syracuse

0-0

2-2

104.2

102.3

103.6

Maryland

0-0

4-0

103.0

109.5

105.5

Boston College

1-1

2-2

100.7

99.7

101.4

North Carolina St.

0-1

3-1

98.8

104.5

100.0

Wake Forest

0-2

2-3

93.3

96.0

93.0

     

 

 

 

Coastal Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Miami

0-0

4-0

117.5

118.2

118.1

Georgia Tech

2-1

3-1

112.4

111.7

112.7

Virginia Tech

1-0

4-1

111.6

112.3

111.6

North Carolina

0-1

1-3

103.1

105.2

103.4

Pittsburgh

2-1

3-1

100.3

99.1

99.8

Duke

0-2

3-2

96.5

96.5

95.1

Virginia

0-1

2-2

93.7

96.5

93.9

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

105.3

106.7

105.7

 

 

Big 12 Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Baylor

0-0

3-0

121.5

112.9

122.5

Oklahoma

1-0

4-0

118.7

114.7

118.8

Oklahoma St.

0-1

3-1

118.4

108.5

118.6

Texas

1-0

2-2

116.5

107.0

115.2

T C U

0-1

2-2

113.4

109.8

114.2

Kansas St.

0-1

2-2

108.9

101.0

107.5

Texas Tech

1-0

4-0

108.6

106.8

108.5

West Virginia

1-1

3-2

102.6

95.5

101.3

Iowa St.

0-0

1-2

99.9

90.4

98.7

Kansas

0-0

2-1

92.9

90.2

91.6

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

110.1

103.7

109.7

 

 

Big Ten Conference

Leaders Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Ohio St.

1-0

5-0

122.0

119.8

122.2

Wisconsin

1-1

3-2

116.4

116.9

116.7

Penn St.

0-0

3-1

110.6

113.8

110.2

Indiana

0-0

2-2

102.9

106.4

102.8

Illinois

0-0

3-1

102.6

106.8

103.4

Purdue

0-1

1-4

92.5

89.4

89.9

     

 

 

 

Legends Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Michigan St.

0-0

3-1

114.6

114.5

112.7

Northwestern

0-0

4-0

113.3

110.9

113.8

Michigan

0-0

4-0

113.1

111.2

112.3

Nebraska

0-0

3-1

112.0

109.0

110.3

Iowa

1-0

4-1

106.3

106.1

107.4

Minnesota

0-1

4-1

101.2

100.8

100.4

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

109.0

108.8

108.5

 

 

Conference USA

East Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

East Carolina

1-0

3-1

102.3

104.6

103.9

Marshall

0-0

2-2

98.9

103.2

101.0

U A B

0-0

1-3

86.8

88.4

86.6

Middle Tennessee

1-0

3-2

86.6

91.7

86.8

Florida Atlantic

0-3

1-4

85.9

86.3

86.6

Southern Miss.

0-0

0-4

77.6

77.0

77.1

Florida Int’l

0-0

0-4

66.0

68.2

65.6

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Rice

1-0

2-2

95.0

98.3

95.5

North Texas

0-0

2-2

93.6

95.4

94.1

Tulsa

0-0

1-3

91.3

87.7

89.6

U T S A

1-0

2-3

87.4

89.7

87.5

Tulane

1-0

3-2

84.8

88.8

85.0

U T E P

0-1

1-3

83.2

87.9

83.1

Louisiana Tech

0-1

1-4

80.1

82.0

79.2

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

87.1

89.2

87.3

 

 

Independents

Team

 

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Notre Dame

 

3-2

113.1

109.6

111.0

B Y U

 

2-2

109.0

107.8

109.6

Navy

 

2-1

95.4

97.4

95.2

Army

 

2-3

85.4

92.8

87.8

New Mexico St.

 

0-5

75.0

78.4

75.1

Idaho

 

1-4

71.1

77.9

70.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independent Avg’s.

 

 

91.5

94.0

91.6

 

 

Mid-American Conference

East Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Bowling Green

2-0

4-1

100.0

100.2

101.2

Ohio

0-0

3-1

92.1

95.6

93.4

Buffalo

0-0

2-2

91.9

91.8

92.4

Kent St.

1-1

2-3

89.0

91.8

89.4

Akron

0-1

1-4

83.0

87.2

83.4

Miami (O)

0-0

0-4

75.8

79.4

74.3

Massachusetts

0-0

0-4

72.6

81.3

72.8

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Northern Illinois

0-0

4-0

101.5

102.4

102.1

Ball St.

2-0

4-1

100.1

103.4

101.6

Toledo

1-1

2-3

99.7

100.9

100.6

Central Michigan

0-1

1-4

79.5

81.4

78.4

Western Michigan

0-1

0-5

78.2

79.2

79.1

Eastern Michigan

0-1

1-3

77.7

81.9

77.1

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

87.8

90.5

88.1

 

 

Mountain West Conference

Mountain Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Utah St.

2-0

3-2

106.6

103.5

108.3

Boise St.

1-1

3-2

103.5

98.1

105.0

Colorado St.

0-0

2-3

94.2

94.6

95.1

Wyoming

1-0

3-2

90.5

92.4

92.5

New Mexico

0-1

1-3

78.6

84.0

78.5

Air Force

0-4

1-4

77.4

81.5

77.5

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Fresno St.

2-0

4-0

102.1

100.4

102.3

San Jose St.

0-1

1-3

96.3

91.6

96.7

San Diego St.

0-0

1-3

92.8

90.4

93.1

Nevada

2-0

3-2

86.9

90.3

86.9

U N L V

1-0

3-2

86.3

89.7

87.0

Hawaii

0-2

0-4

84.3

84.6

85.0

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

91.6

91.8

92.3

 

 

Pacific 12 Conference

North Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Oregon

1-0

4-0

134.0

129.9

135.3

Stanford

2-0

4-0

128.5

119.3

127.5

Washington

1-0

4-0

122.8

118.7

123.0

Oregon St.

2-0

4-1

114.2

105.8

112.2

Washington St.

1-1

3-2

103.6

104.4

104.5

California

0-1

1-3

96.2

91.7

94.5

     

 

 

 

South Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

U C L A

0-0

3-0

118.3

112.2

117.2

Arizona St.

1-1

3-1

117.6

118.6

117.7

Arizona

0-1

3-1

117.5

112.4

116.1

U S C

0-2

3-2

110.8

108.2

110.3

Utah

0-1

3-1

105.3

105.0

105.5

Colorado

0-1

2-1

91.4

94.8

89.4

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

113.4

110.1

112.8

 

 

Southeastern Conference

East Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Georgia

2-0

3-1

121.5

119.6

122.0

South Carolina

1-1

3-1

118.8

116.7

118.2

Florida

2-0

3-1

118.3

114.8

117.1

Missouri

0-0

4-0

115.7

112.6

114.5

Vanderbilt

0-2

3-2

108.1

106.2

107.7

Tennessee

0-1

3-2

101.9

101.3

100.7

Kentucky

0-1

1-3

98.7

98.8

96.9

     

 

 

 

West Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Alabama

2-0

4-0

132.9

126.6

134.8

Ole Miss

1-1

3-1

122.8

118.1

123.0

Texas A&M

1-1

4-1

121.6

118.7

121.2

L S U

1-1

4-1

121.2

119.8

121.9

Mississippi St.

0-1

2-2

111.1

107.8

111.3

Auburn

1-1

3-1

107.1

106.9

106.2

Arkansas

0-1

3-2

100.7

105.6

99.8

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

114.3

112.4

114.0

 

 

Sunbelt Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Louisiana–Lafayette

0-0

2-2

94.1

94.2

93.5

Western Kentucky

0-1

3-2

92.1

93.9

92.8

Arkansas St.

1-0

2-3

91.9

87.8

91.7

Louisiana–Monroe

0-0

2-3

89.3

88.4

89.1

South Alabama

1-0

2-2

86.0

90.3

87.0

Texas St.

0-0

3-1

84.3

91.7

85.3

Troy

0-1

2-3

83.8

84.9

85.0

Georgia St.

0-0

0-4

60.2

69.4

61.6

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

85.2

87.6

85.8

 

 

Transitioning Teams

Team

 

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Georgia Southern

 

3-1

84.7

87.1

91.8

Old Dominion

 

3-2

83.8

84.6

90.8

Appalachian St.

 

1-3

76.7

75.6

83.8

Charlotte

 

3-2

58.0

62.6

65.1

           
Not figured in regular averages to 100      

 

 

This Week’s PiRate Spreads

Date:

October 3-5, 2013

   

 

 

 

Home Visitor

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Iowa St. Texas

-13.6

-13.6

-13.5

UL-Monroe Western Kentucky

-0.3

-3.0

-1.2

Utah U C L A

-10.0

-4.2

-8.7

Utah St. B Y U

-0.4

-2.3

0.7

San Diego St. Nevada

8.4

2.6

8.7

Navy Air Force

21.0

18.9

20.7

Temple Louisville

-32.6

-31.3

-36.1

Florida St. Maryland

19.2

15.7

18.2

Kansas Texas Tech

-12.7

-13.6

-13.9

Indiana Penn St.

-4.7

-4.4

-4.4

Nebraska Illinois

12.9

5.7

10.4

Virginia Ball St.

-3.4

-3.9

-4.7

Buffalo Eastern Michigan

16.7

12.4

17.8

Iowa Michigan St.

-5.3

-5.4

-2.3

S M U Rutgers

-3.5

-5.8

-5.2

Alabama Georgia St.

75.7

60.2

76.2

Virginia Tech North Carolina

11.5

10.1

11.2

Boston College Army

18.3

9.9

16.6

Miami (O) Central Michigan

-1.2

0.5

-1.6

Troy South Alabama

-0.2

-3.4

0.0

Marshall U T S A

14.5

16.5

16.5

Akron Ohio

-6.6

-5.9

-7.5

U A B Florida Atlantic

3.4

4.6

2.5

Toledo Western Michigan

24.5

24.7

24.5

Syracuse Clemson

-12.6

-15.2

-14.5

Tennessee Georgia

-16.6

-15.3

-18.3

Miami Georgia Tech

8.1

9.5

8.4

Michigan Minnesota

14.9

13.4

14.9

Oklahoma St. Kansas St.

12.5

10.5

14.1

Wake Forest North Carolina St.

-3.5

-6.5

-5.0

Bowling Green Massachusetts

29.9

21.4

30.9

Tulsa Rice

-0.7

-7.6

-2.9

Kent St. Northern Illinois

-10.0

-8.1

10.2

Middle Tennessee East Carolina

-13.2

-10.4

-14.6

Tulane North Texas

-6.3

-4.1

-6.6

California Washington St.

-4.4

-9.7

-7.0

Southern Miss. Florida Int’l

14.1

11.3

14.0

Memphis Central Florida

-11.6

-6.8

-12.0

Idaho Fresno St.

-28.5

-20.0

-29.1

Colorado Oregon

-39.6

-32.1

-42.9

Mississippi St. L S U

-7.1

-9.0

-7.6

Oklahoma T C U

8.3

7.9

7.6

Florida Arkansas

20.6

12.2

20.3

Auburn Ole Miss

-12.7

-8.2

-13.8

South Florida Cincinnati

-14.5

-21.6

-16.6

New Mexico New Mexico St.

5.6

7.6

5.4

UL-Lafayette Texas St.

12.3

5.0

10.2

South Carolina Kentucky

23.1

20.9

24.3

Notre Dame (a) Arizona St.

-4.5

-9.0

-6.7

Vanderbilt Missouri

-5.1

-3.9

-4.3

U T E P Louisiana Tech

5.6

8.4

6.4

Northwestern Ohio St.

-5.7

-5.9

-5.4

Baylor West Virginia

21.9

20.4

24.2

Stanford Washington

8.7

3.6

7.5

Hawaii San Jose St.

-8.0

-3.0

-7.7

   

 

 

 

(a) Game Played in Arlington, TX

 

 

 

Teams Transitioning to FBS

Home Visitor

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Old Dominion Liberty

10.8

9.0

10.8

Charlotte Gardner-Webb

-10.5

-10.1

-10.4

Samford Georgia Southern

-1.2

0.7

-1.6

Citadel Appalachian St.

4.5

3.2

4.9

 

 

Bowl Projections

GAME

Team

vs.

Team

New Mexico

U N L V

vs.

U S C

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Fresno St.

vs.

Arizona St.

Famous Idaho Potato

Boise St.

vs.

Ohio

New Orleans

Texas St.

vs.

Tulsa

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s

(UL-Lafayette)

vs.

Middle Tennessee

Hawai’i

(Notre Dame)

vs.

Rice

Little Caesars Pizza

Ball St.

vs.

Illinois

Poinsettia

Utah St.

vs.

(Washington St.)

Military Bowl

Boston College

vs.

Marshall

Texas

Northwestern

vs.

T C U

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Oregon St.

vs.

B Y U

Pinstripe

Rutgers

vs.

Kansas St.

Belk

Houston

vs.

North Carolina St.

Russell Athletic

Central Florida

vs.

Miami

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

Texas Tech

vs.

Wisconsin

Armed Forces

Wyoming

vs.

Navy

Music City

Georgia Tech

vs.

Ole Miss

Alamo

Oklahoma St.

vs.

U C L A

Holiday

Texas

vs.

Washington

AdvoCare V100 Bowl

(West Virginia)

vs.

Pittsburgh

Sun

Maryland

vs.

Arizona

Liberty

Vanderbilt

vs.

East Carolina

Chick-fil-A

Virginia Tech

vs.

Florida

Heart Of Dallas

North Texas

vs.

Michigan St.

Gator

Nebraska

vs.

Missouri

Outback

South Carolina

vs.

Iowa

Capital One

Michigan

vs.

Texas A&M

Rose

Ohio St.

vs.

Stanford

Fiesta

Oklahoma

vs.

Northern Illinois

Sugar

Georgia

vs.

Florida St.

Cotton

L S U

vs.

Baylor

Orange

Clemson

vs.

Louisville

BBVA Compass Bowl

Cincinnati

vs.

Auburn

GoDaddy.com

Western Kentucky

vs.

Bowling Green

BCS Championship

Oregon

vs.

Alabama

 

August 27, 2013

2013 AFC North Preview

2013 A F C North Preview

The AFC North Division returns the defending Super Bowl Champion this year, but the Baltimore Ravens have lost a lot of veteran talent from that team.

 

We have added a new wrinkle to our coverage this year.  In the past, friends of ours have asked us if we knew how to recreate the exact colors of their favorite team so that they could print those colors on their computer.  We have found this information from multiple sites in the last couple of months, and we are going to show you the RGB numbers so you can replicate those colors.  These can be used in graphics programs, but it can easily be used in MS-Word and MS-Excel.

 

Here are the official colors for the AFC North

 

South

Color

Red

Green

Blue

Baltimore Ravens

Purple

36

23

115

 

Black

17

28

36

 

Metallic Gold

176

140

13

Cincinnati Bengals

Orange

249

70

28

 

Black

17

28

36

Cleveland Browns

Brown

51

43

42

 

Orange

249

70

28

Pittsburgh Steelers

Black

17

28

36

 

Gold

255

182

18

 

2012 Final Standings & PiRate Ratings

AFC North

PiRate

Mean

Biased

W-L-T

Pts

Opp

Cincinnati Bengals

103.5

103.7

103.8

10-6-0

391

320

Baltimore Ravens

102.5

102.9

103.2

10-6-0

398

344

Pittsburgh Steelers

100.0

100.8

101.4

8-8-0

336

314

Cleveland Browns

95.0

95.4

95.7

5-11-0

302

368

 

2013 Preseason PiRate Ratings

North

PiRate

Mean

Biased

Baltimore Ravens

105.0

104.2

105.3

Cincinnati Bengals

102.5

102.7

102.6

Pittsburgh Steelers

100.7

100.0

100.5

Cleveland Browns

94.4

95.4

94.8

 

PiRate Previews

Team

Baltimore Ravens

               
Head Coach

John Harbaugh

O-Coord.

Jim Caldwell

D-Coord.

Dean Pees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Joe Flacco

Running Back

Ray Rice

H-Back

Vonta Leach

Wide Receiver

Torrey Smith

Wide Receiver

Jacoby Jones

Tight End

Ed Dickson

Left Tackle

Bryant McKinnie

Left Guard

Kelechi Osemele

Center

Gino Gradkowski

Right Guard

Marshal Yanda

Right Tackle

Michael Oher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Arthur Jones

Nose Tackle

Haloti Ngata

Right End

Chris Canty

Left OLB

Terrell Suggs

Left ILB

Josh Bynes

Right ILB

Daryl Smith

Right OLB

Elvis Dumervil

Left CB

Ladarius Webb

Right CB

Corey Graham

Strong Safety

James Ihedigbo

Free Safety

Michael Huff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Justin Tucker

Punter

Sam Koch

K-Return

Jacoby Jones

P-Return

Jacoby Jones

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

10-6

Division

1st Tie (1st in tiebreaker)

 

 

Team

Cincinnati Bengals

               
Head Coach

Marvin Lewis

O-Coord.

Jay Gruden

D-Coord.

Mike Zimmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Andy Dalton

Running Back

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Fullback

Orson Charles

Wide Receiver

A. J. Green

Wide Receiver

Mohamed Sanu

Tight End

Jermaine Gresham

Left Tackle

Andrew Whitworth

Left Guard

Clint Boling

Center

Kyle Cook

Right Guard

Kevin Zeitler

Right Tackle

Andre Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Carlos Dunlap

Nose Tackle

Domata Peko

Right Tackle

Geno Atkins

Right End

Michael Johnson

Sam LB

James Harrison

Mike LB

Rey Maualuga

Will LB

Vontaze Burfict

Left CB

Terrence Newman

Right CB

Leon Hall

Strong Safety

George Iloka

Free Safety

Reggie Nelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Mike Nugent

Punter

Kevin Huber

K-Return

Brandon Tate

P-Return

Adam Jones

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

10-6

Division

1st Tie (2nd in tiebreaker)

 

Team

Cleveland Browns

               
Head Coach

Rob Chudzinski

O-Coord.

Norv Turner

D-Coord.

Ray Horton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Brandon Weeden

Running Back

Trent Richardson

Fullback

Chris Ogbonnaya

Wide Receiver

Josh Gordon

Wide Receiver

Greg Little

Tight End

Jordan Cameron

Left Tackle

Joe Thomas

Left Guard

John Greco

Center

Alex Mack

Right Guard

Shaun Lauvao

Right Tackle

Mitchell Schwartz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Ahtyba Rubin

Nose Tackle

Phil Taylor

Right End

Desmond Bryant

Left OLB

Paul Kruger

Left ILB

Craig Robertson

Right ILB

D’Qwell Jackson

Right OLB

Jabaal Sheard

Left CB

Joe Haden

Right CB

Buster Skrine

Strong Safety

T. J. Ward

Free Safety

Tashaun Gipson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Shayne Graham

Punter

Spencer Lanning

K-Return

Johnson Bademosi

P-Return

Travis Benjamin

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

7-9

Division

4th

 

Team

Pittsburgh Steelers

               
Head Coach

Mike Tomlin

O-Coord.

Todd Haley

D-Coord.

Dick Lebeau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger

Running Back

Isaac Redman

Fullback

Will Johnson

Wide Receiver

Emmanuel Sanders

Wide Receiver

Antonio Brown

Tight End

Heath Miller

Left Tackle

Mike Adams

Left Guard

Ramon Foster

Center

Maurkice Pouncey

Right Guard

David DeCastro

Right Tackle

Marcus Gilbert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Ziggy Hood

Nose Tackle

Steve McLendon

Right End

Brett Keisel

Left OLB

Lamarr Woodley

Left ILB

Larry Foote

Right ILB

Lawrence Timmons

Right OLB

Jason Worilds

Left CB

Cortez Allen

Right CB

Ike Taylor

Strong Safety

Troy Polamalu

Free Safety

Ryan Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Shaun Suisham

Punter

Drew Butler

K-Return

Emmanuel Sanders

P-Return

Antonio Brown

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

8-8

Division

3rd

 

March 30, 2013

Bracketnomics 2013: Elite 8–March 30-31, 2013

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 6:56 am

2013 NCAA Tournament— Elite 8 Schedule For Saturday, March 30-31, 2013

 

All times Eastern Daylight

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Time

Network

Region

Site

High Seed

Low Seed

4:30 PM

CBS

E

Washington, D. C.

3-Marquette (26-8)

4-Syracuse (29-9)

7:05 PM

CBS

W

Los Angeles

2-Ohio St. (29-7)

9-Wichita St. (29-8)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time

Network

Region

Site

High Seed

Low Seed

2:20 PM

CBS

S

Arlington, TX

3-Florida (29-7)

4-Michigan (29-7)

5:05 PM

CBS

MW

Indianapolis

1-Louisville (32-5)

2-Duke (30-5)

Tournament Total: 36-20Sweet 16 Record: 3-5 (almost totally busted)

Teams Remaining In Bracket: 2 of 8 (Only Louisville left of Final 4 choices, but they were our pick to go all the way)

Interesting Note: It is still possible that Ohio State and Michigan could meet in the National Championship Game. It would be an interesting rivalry game.

PiRate Criteria Stats (See our explanation on how we select our brackets at: https://piratings.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/bracketnomics-2013-a-statistical-look-at-bracket-selection/  )

Margins

Team

Scoring

FG%

Rebound

Turnover

Steals

R+T

SOS

Rd_WL%

Duke

13.0

6.4

-0.9

3.5

6.6

4.62

60.68

72.2

Florida

18.2

10.4

4.9

3.0

7.1

9.92

57.58

65.0

Louisville

16.3

6.1

3.8

6.3

11.0

13.56

59.41

80.0

Marquette

5.9

5.5

4.6

-0.6

6.8

5.24

58.15

52.9

Michigan

12.7

6.6

3.2

2.8

6.0

7.76

55.94

64.7

Ohio St.

11.4

6.1

3.1

2.9

6.8

7.94

58.57

70.6

Syracuse

12.1

6.8

4.1

2.9

9.0

9.38

59.29

61.1

Wichita St.

8.9

4.6

7.9

0.5

7.6

10.02

53.79

68.4

Game Previews

Marquette vs. Syracuse

When these two teams played in Milwaukee in late February, Syracuse was going through a swoon in which they lost four of five games.  The Orangemen blew a second half lead when Marquette began collapsing the SU zone defense and passing to the gaps for open jumpers.  Marquette forced the issue once Syracuse widened the zone, with Golden Eagle players driving the gaps and drawing fouls.  MU ended up 29-35 at the line, while the Orangemen were just 5-7.  Davante Gardner, benched by Coach Buzz Williams, came into the game a couple minutes into the opening half and scored a career-high 26 points on a perfect 7-7 from the field and an almost perfect 12-13 at the line.  Still, Marquette won at home by just three points, 74-71.

Expect different results in this game.  Remember, games are officiated differently, and no team will get 35 free throw attempts or have the benefit of getting “homer” calls.

This time, on a neutral floor, we expect the result to be different.  The ‘Cuse is a different team than the one that lost in Milwaukee five weeks ago.  Coach Jim Boeheim’s team enjoys an R+T number that equates to four extra scoring chances, and Syracuse has a better field goal percentage margin.  These advantages were accumulated while SU was playing a schedule that was more than a point per game better than Marquette.

PiRate Pick: Syracuse 70  Marquette 61

 

 

Ohio St. vs. Wichita St.

WichitaState looked like a Final Four team in their Sweet 16 win over La Salle, as well as previous wins over Pittsburgh and Gonzaga.  Meanwhile, OhioState has been quite fortunate to escape with wins in their last two games after trouncing Iona in their first tournament game.

This game should be another tight affair, as the two teams match up evenly.  OhioState has a slight, almost inconsequential, edge in field goal percentage margin.  WichitaState has a decided advantage in rebounding margin, but OhioState has a marked advantage in turnover margin.  However, the Buckeyes do not generate a lot of steals, and WichitaState has the R+T advantage by more than two extra scoring chances.  The boys from Columbus take the upper hand due to a considerably stronger strength of schedule, to the tune of almost five points per game.  Coach Thad Matta’s team is also the better team away from home, and that tilts the scale in his favor.

 

PiRate Pick: Ohio St. 78  Wichita St. 73  

 

 

Florida vs. Michigan

Someone must be looking down from above on Gator coach Billy Donovan.  The two teams that Florida would have struggled against, Georgetown and Kansas, were eliminated before Florida was forced to play them.  The Gators faced a Minnesota team that lacked the quickness and outside shooting ability to challenge them.  They got the weakest team in the Sweet 16 instead of the Hoyas or even San DiegoState.  Now, they face a Michigan team that cannot defend well enough to stop the Gator’s halfcourt attack, while Kansas could have shut them down.

Florida will reach another Final Four because they have superior PiRate Criteria numbers across the board.  The Gators enjoy a field goal margin advantage of 3.8%, a rebounding margin advantage of 1.7 per game, a turnover margin advantage of 0.2 (basically a wash but UF has the edge), a steals advantage of 1.1, which gives the Gators an R+T advantage of more than two additional scoring chances.  Add a slightly more difficult strength of schedule, and an infinitesimal advantage in winning percentage away from home, and the Gators have too much going in their favor.  Michigan’s only chance is to bomb away from three-point land, but Florida is one of the toughest teams against the three-pointer.

 

PiRate Pick: Florida 79  Michigan 67

 

 

Louisville vs. Duke

In the Sweet 16, we had a rematch of the 1987 National Championship Game.  Now, we get a rematch of the 1986 National Championship Game.  Syracuse avenged their last-second loss to Indiana and won their Sweet 16 game over the Hoosiers.  Does that mean, we are going with Duke to avenge their title loss?  Not on your life.  Louisville remains our choice to cut down the nets in Atlanta, and our PiRate criteria shows the Cardinals to be a solid but not spectacular pick in this game.

Duke owns two advantages over Rick Pitino’s squad.  The Blue Devils have a slightly better field goal percentage margin and a decent strength of schedule edge.  Louisville owns the rest of the criteria advantages—by 4.7 on the boards, by 2.8 in turnover margin, by 4.4 in steals, by almost nine more scoring chances in R+T, and by 7% in winning percentage away from home.

 

PiRate Pick: Louisville 77  Duke 70

 

Check back Thursday, April 4 for our Final 4 Preview

August 25, 2011

2011 Pac-12 Conference Preview

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Preview

 

Larry Scott didn’t start the fire, but he did ignite it.  After Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten, Scott tried to lure Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to form the first 16-team super-conference.  Sure, the Western Athletic Conference tried a 16-team setup in the 1990’s but the winner did not receive a bid to a major bowl.

 

Although Scott had to settle for Colorado and Utah, he fired the first shot toward what could become four major conferences of 16 teams.  It isn’t far beyond the imagination to see a four-team playoff down the road with a “plus one” format.

 

The strength of the league is in the North Division this year.  The South is faced with the strong possibility of sending its number two team to the first Pac-12 Championship Game, since Southern Cal is still on probation and prohibited from appearing in post-season games.

 

NORTH DIVISION

Stanford

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford has a reputation for producing great quarterbacks over the decades.  Four past passers are in the College Football Hall of Fame—Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway.  Add Trent Edwards, Steve Stentstrom, Turk Schonert, and others.  Could the current quarterback actually be the best of the bunch?  If you believe A-Rod is better than Gehrig and Ruth or Pujols is better than Musial, then maybe you can say the same about Andrew Luck.

 

Luck is the best college quarterback in 2011, and he is the prohibitive favorite to cart off the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and most importantly, the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.  A joke is already going around NFL circles that one or more teams may deliberately “sandbag” this year in an attempt to post the worst record and take the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

 

Luck completed almost 71% of his passes last year for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns.  He averaged almost nine yards per attempt, which is almost unstoppable.  As a runner, he added over 500 yards when sacks are factored out.  As long as he stays 100% healthy, he is the player you want to watch every week—the modern day Babe Ruth of college football.

 

Receivers

Luck lost his top two targets from 2010, but we do not believe it will greatly affect his production.  Great QBs can take average receivers and make them look like stars; just ask Indianapolis Colts fans. 

 

Unlike almost every other college team, Stanford actively includes two tight ends for a considerable amount of playing time.  It allows the Cardinal to get extra blocking for the running game, and it makes it very difficult on diminutive safeties trying to stop 250-pound receivers.

 

The Cardinal have three excellent tight ends capable of making a big play.  Coby Fleener caught 28 passes and averaged 15.5 yards per catch with seven touchdowns last year; he became a star in the Orange Bowl with three touchdown receptions.  Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will also see significant amounts of playing time.

 

Stanford’s new wideouts will do just fine and will not be a liability.  Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu should average about 14-18 yards per catch and combine for about 90-110 receptions.  There is ample depth here with Jemari Roberts, Jamaal-Rashad Patterson, and Drew Terrell.  Terrell is a sleeper; he could emerge as a star.

 

Running Backs

What makes the offense so unstoppable is the running game.  Defenses cannot forget it is there, because the Cardinal can beat you on the ground.  Stepfan Taylor returns after gaining 1,137 yards with 15 touchdowns.  Taylor is also a big weapon in the passing game, and he grabbed 28 passes.  Defenses forget him on a running fake, but Luck is great at faking to him and then passing to him when the defense covers the downfield receivers.

 

Behind Taylor are three other competent backs that will receive playing time.  Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney, and Usua Amanam teamed for 789 yards and seven scores in 2010.  This unit is loaded.

 

Stanford uses a fullback, but he is a blocker 99% of the time.  Last year’s “third guard,” Owen Marecic, was so good, he was a fourth round draft pick.  He also played full-time at linebacker, frequently playing 90-100 scrimmage plays in a game.  The new Marecic will be Ryan Hewitt, but he will only play on this side of the ball.

 

Offensive Line

The line must replace three excellent players from last year, including 1st Team All-American Chase Beeler at center.  Khalil Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein are battling neck and neck to replace him.

 

David DeCastro is entrenched at one guard spot after earning 1st Team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010.  Kevin Danser will start on the other side.  At tackle, Jonathan Martin earned 1st Team All-Pac-10 accolades last year.  Tyler Mabry and Cameron Fleming are in a heated battle for the other tackle position. 

 

While not as talented overall as last year, this unit will still be an asset.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Stanford gave up just 56 points in their final six games last year, and the defensive line really toughened up down the stretch.  They allowed just 89.7 yards rushing 276.8 total yards per game in that stretch.

 

New head coach David Shaw appointed defensive back coach Derek Mason and former San Francisco 49er defensive coach Jason Tarver as co-defensive coordinators.  With the change comes a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense.

 

Terrence Stephens will start at the nose.  At 290 pounds, he is a little on the light side for a two-gap defender.  Ben Gardner and Matthew Masifilo start at the end positions.  This unit is the weakest link on the team, and it will be here where Stanford either wins or loses the Pac-12 title.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year, and of course, there will be an extra linebacker in the alignment this year.  Shayne Skov will start at one inside position, while Chase Thomas will start at an outside position.  They led the Cardinal with 84 and 70 tackles respectively.  Both players co-led the team with 7 ½ sacks, and they combined for 22 tackles behind the line.  They also showed prowess for stopping passes, combining for nine passes defended.

 

Trent Murphy and Max Bergen will be the new starters on this unit.  Bergen made 21 tackles in limited playing time last year.  Blake Lueders could crack the starting lineup this year.  Keep an eye on Alex Debniak.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to this unit, and it should be in good shape.  Safety Delano Howell is the stud of this unit.  He led the Cardinal with five interceptions and 10 passes defended.  Michael Thomas returns to the other safety spot after finishing third on the team with 61 tackles.

 

At cornerback, Johnson Bademosi started nine times last year, while Barry Browning takes over for Richard Sherman, another NFL draft choice.

 

OTHER

Stanford lost a lot of talent via graduation, but the biggest loss will be coach Jim Harbaugh, who graduated to the 49ers.  Shaw has never been a head coach, but we believe he has enough talent to learn on the job without losing a game due to inexperience.

 

The Cardinal were one of four teams to average better than 40 points per game and give up less than 20 points per game (Oregon, Boise St., and TCU were the others).  In the 21st Century, any team that can pull off this feat is capable of contending for a national title.  We believe Stanford’s offense could be just strong enough to control the ball and the clock and allow the defense to mature without giving up 25 points per game.  We would not be surprised if Stanford repeats their averages of last year.

 

SUMMARY

Stanford has a dream schedule for a Pac-12 team.  They open the season with area rival San Jose State and then go on the road to Duke.  They should be 2-0 before opening conference play on the road at a rebuilding Arizona.  They then get a week off before hosting UCLA and Colorado.  A road game with Washington State follows, before Washington, without Jake Locker, comes to Palo Alto.  Stanford should be 7-0 when they head to the Coliseum to face Southern Cal in the first of a tough closing schedule.  By then, the defense should be up to snuff.  Following USC, Stanford has a trap game with Oregon State in Corvallis.  Then, on November 12 is the big rematch with Oregon, and this time it is at Stanford Stadium.  Arch-rival Cal comes in the following week, and then the Cardinal close out at home with Notre Dame, in what could be a battle of 11-0 teams.

 

Stanford has not run the table with a bowl win since 1940 when they became the first college team to use the modern T-Formation.  Could it happen again?  We believe it could, but chances are the defense will stumble at least one time.  The Pac-12 does not get its due in the eastern half of the country, but there is a lot of talent spread throughout the teams, and upsets are more prevalent here than in any of the Big Six conferences.

 

Oregon

Oregon is another of the teams that faced off-the-field issues during the summer.  The football program made several thousand dollars in payments to a recruiting service in Texas for what appeared to look like a third grade art project given in return, as well as the delivery of multiple key recruits out of the Lone Star State.  Running back Lache Seastrunk left UO over the controversy.  The NCAA is investigating.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Darron Thomas made fans forget Jeremiah Masoli.  Thomas made the Ducks fly last year.  He passed for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for more than 550 yards (sacks not included).  He can only hope for a repeat as a 2nd Team All-Pac-12 choice, but he is the best quarterback in the league after the new “franchise” down the road.

 

Receivers

Like Mr. Luck, Thomas loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Jeff Maehl and D. J. Davis teamed for 119 receptions and 15 touchdowns, but their replacements will be quicker and more elusive this season.

 

One of those speedy guys is not quite 100% as of this writing.  Josh Huff has the talent and potential to play on Sundays.  He is recuperating from an ankle injury.  Rahsaan Vaughn will fill in for him until he is ready.  Justin Hoffman will see significant time and will use his size and speed to make big plays.  Lavasier Tuinei is more of a possession receiver, and he is the leading returning pass-catcher with 36 receptions. 

 

Tight end David Paulson returns after catching 24 passes and showing some ability to run to daylight.  He earned 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors last year.

 

Running Backs

Oregon’s Heisman Trophy candidate is LaMichael James.  James led the league with 1,731 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.  If Oregon ran the ball 70% of the time (instead of 61%), James might be a serious candidate to top 2,000 yards on the ground.  James also caught 17 passes, with three going for touchdowns.

 

Slot back Kenjon Barner should change his name to “Burner.”  The track sprinter is a hybrid running back/receiver.  He rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns (6.1 yds/rush) and caught 13 passes with two more scores.

 

This dynamic duo plus the running ability of Thomas gives the Ducks the best running game in the league and one of the best in the nation—the best of the non-triple option teams.

 

Offensive Line

It will be hard to replace the three graduated stars from this unit, but the Ducks could still have the best blocking corps in the Pac-12.  Carson York is a returning 1st Team All-Pac-12 at guard.  Ryan Clanton will be the new starter at the other guard spot.  Mark Asper and Darrion Weems will start at tackle, while the center position is still a two-man race between Hroniss Grasu and Karrington Armstrong.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Here is the first question mark in 2011.  Three starters must be replaced.  End Terrell Turner returns after recording just 32 tackles and 2 ½ sacks.  At the other end spot, Dion Jordan saw limited action in 2010, making 33 tackles and two sacks.  The two new tackles will be Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, who combined for 27 tackles.  The defensive line was exposed by Auburn in the Championship Game, but the Ducks gave up only 117.5 rushing yards per game in the regular season.  Expect that number to jump by about 20 to 25 yards this year.

 

Linebackers

This is the second and even bigger question mark.  The Ducks will be without their top two linebackers from last year.  Casey Matthews led in tackles and played both the run and pass better than most.  Spencer Paysinger was almost as talented.

 

Josh Kaddu is the lone holdover.  He was the weakest of the three starters last year and is not a candidate to become an all-conference player.  Dewitt Stuckey and Michael Clay will be the two new starters.  Clay saw as much time as Kaddu and made 42 tackles.

 

Secondary

This was to be the best defensive backfield in the league, but it is not now.  The front seven may not provide a decent pass rush, diminishing the secondary’s effectiveness.  The bigger factor in the decline is the suspension of one of its key components; cornerback Cliff Harris is out indefinitely after running afoul of the law, and Oregon’s defense begins to show a couple of holes and enough vulnerability to be exploited by quality teams (like LSU, USC, and Stanford) with these factors.  Harris was the premier cover corner in the nation last year.  He intercepted six passes and had an unbelievable 23 passed defended.  He is not replaceable.  He also led the nation with four punts returned for a touchdown, so his loss is worth about as much as Stanford losing Luck.

 

Anthony Gildon will start at one corner after seeing limited action last year.  Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett make a decent pair of safeties, but without Harris, this secondary will be lit up against quality passers.

 

OTHER

It is hard to predict what the investigatory cloud hanging over the program might do for team morale.  Oregon figured to be a top contender for the National Championship Game following their narrow loss to Auburn last year.  However, the cloud hanging over is definitely a black one.  It could eventually cost Coach Chip Kelly his job.  Other players could be implicated as the season progresses.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule is a bit more difficult this season, and we cannot see the Ducks running the table in the regular season.  An opener with LSU at Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington could be interesting if only for the fact that both teams have off-the-field issues.  The Ducks could get lucky if more than one key opponent is unable to play.  Oregon has to play at Stanford, and they host Southern Cal.  We believe at least one of those teams will get them this year.

 

Oregon State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

In a league with multiple NFL quarterback prospects, Ryan Katz gets overlooked.  Katz might be a contender for all-conference designation in other leagues, but in the Pac-12, he does not even challenge for third team.

 

Katz completed 60% of his passes for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.  He should improve upon those numbers in his second season as a starter. 

 

Backup Cody Vaz has potential, but he is nursing a bad back and will miss the start of the season.

 

Receivers

Katz’s top three receivers (Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop, and tight end Joe Halahuni) are back for more after teaming for 107 catches and 12 touchdowns.  However, the sensation of the August practices has been a true freshman.  Brandin Cooks was challenging for a starting bid until he injured his ankle.  When he is fully recovered, look for him to contribute immediately.

 

James Rodgers caught only 16 passes last year in limited action, as he missed most of the season with knee injuries.  He has undergone two surgeries earlier this year, so he may not be ready to play.  He was a star in 2009 when he was last healthy.  Redshirt freshman Obum Gwachman could start in Rodgers place.  This unit will allow Katz to surpass his stats of last year.

 

Halahuni had shoulder surgery earlier this season, and he will miss all of September.  Backup tight ends Tyler Perry and Connor Hamlett face one game suspensions that will be staggered.  Tight end will be a concern in the early part of the season.

 

Running Backs

“The Quizz” is gone.  Jacquizz Rodgers left early and was a fifth round NFL Draft choice.  There will be a drop in talent and production here this year, as Coach Mike Riley uses the committee approach to replace him.

 

True freshman Malcolm Agnew may be the surprise opening day starter for OSU.  Terron Ward and Ryan McCants are contending with Agnew, but all three should see ample playing time. 

 

Offensive Line

Four of the five positions are set in stone.  The four holdovers from last year are center Grant Johnson, guard Burke Ellis, and tackles Michael Philipp and Mike Remmers.  Philipp and Remmers have the potential to become all-conference blockers.  Joshua Andrews was set to start at the vacant guard slot, but he suffered a concussion in practice and could be out for the opener.  Grant Enger had been moved to tight end but was moved back to guard and may start. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Injuries and academics are causing Riley some headaches this pre-season.  Both of his projected starting tackles will not be available for the opening of the season.  Dominic Glover, who recorded 43 tackles with 7 ½ for loss, is not academically eligible, and Riley is not sure when he will be available.  Kevin Frahm injured his meniscus and could be out four weeks. 

 

Redshirt freshman Scott Crichton will start at one end, while Taylor Henry should start at the other spot.  Henry started four games last year.  Rusty Fernando will become the designated pass rusher and come in on passing downs.

 

Manu Tuivailala should start at one of the tackle positions, with the other one still up for grabs as of this writing.  The Beavers will struggle here for the first month of the season.

 

Linebackers

The trio in this unit better overachieve, or else OSU’s defense will give up an increase in points per game for the fifth year in a row.

 

Rueben Robinson returns to the middle linebacker spot after registering 35 tackles in seven starts.  Cameron Collins started twice and saw considerable action in the other games.  He made 39 tackles.  Michael Doctor played in every game as a reserve and registered 11 tackles.  This group is not a top trio, but it is the best unit on this side of the ball.

 

Secondary

Once again, here is a unit that has been hit with injuries.  Top cornerback Brandon Hardin suffered a shoulder injury that required surgical repair.  He is out until October.  Two reserves are out for the season.

 

Safety Lance Mitchell finished third with 74 tackles last year.  He intercepted two passes and knocked away three others.  Anthony Watkins will start at the other safety position.  He got in on 27 tackles as a key reserve last year.  Ryan Murphy should see plenty of playing time.

 

Jordan Poyer figures to start at one cornerback position.  As a reserve in 2010, he had six passes defended.  Rashaad Reynolds will replace Hardin at the other corner.  He made 14 tackles and had no passes defended last year.

 

OTHER

The Beavers have seen their points allowed increase from 22.2 to 22.6 to 23.1 to 25.0 to 26.8 in the last five seasons.  The possibility of extending that negative streak to six is very high.  OSU could give up more than 28 points per game this season with all their injury troubles and a tough schedule against high-scoring opponents.

 

SUMMARY

The Beavers took a step backward last season, finishing with seven losses for the first time in over a decade.  This program has been on a small decline since 2006. 

 

Oregon State was once one of the weakest programs in major college football.  They went close to three decades without a winning season.  There was a quick transition from winning seasons in the 1960’s to losing seasons for the next 30 years.  Could the Beavers be on the cusp of repeating history?  We don’t know the answer, but we are a little pessimistic about 2011.

 

Katz is going to have to improve to a level similar to Thomas at Oregon if the Beavers are to score enough points to win most games.

 

The schedule gives them one cupcake—the opener with Sacramento State.  Conference games at home against UCLA, Arizona, and Washington are winnable, and road games with Cal and Washington State are winnable.  The Beavers must win all five of these games to become bowl eligible, and we cannot see this happening.

 

Washington

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jake Locker had his critics.  He threw too many off-target passes; he held onto the ball too long and took a lot of sacks; he ran the ball when he could have passed it, etc.

 

A quarterback at Southern Mississippi in the late 1980’s had many of the same criticisms bestowed on him.  His name was Favre.  Locker is Favre redux, and the Huskies will quickly realize how much he is missed.  Locker completed just 55.4% of his passes, for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final year at UW.  He added over 500 rushing yards (sacks removed) and six touchdowns. 

 

Keith Price takes over after completing 19 of 37 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.  He has talent and potential, but he will not duplicate Locker’s performance.

 

Receivers

Coach Steve Sarkisian welcomes back two stars on this side of the ball.  One of them is wideout Jermaine Kearse.  Kearse hauled in 63 passes for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. 

 

Devin Aguilar and Kevin Smith will supplement Kearse.  Aguilar caught 28 balls and averaged 12.6 yards per catch. 

 

The Huskies have two young, but inexperienced, quality tight ends; Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the top incoming recruit and should play right away, while redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson will see significant playing time.

 

Running Backs

The other star on this offense is Chris Polk.  As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns, and he nabbed 22 passes for 180 yards.  Polk recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss the start of the season.  Jesse Callier will replace him.  Callier rushed for 400+ yards and actually averaged a little more per rush than Polk.  Fullback Jonathan Amosa will open holes for Polk and Callier.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to the blocking corps.  Center Drew Schaffer, guard Coline Porter, and Tackle Senio Kelemente combined for 36 starts with Kelemente earning some all-conference consideration.

 

Erik Kohler should start at the vacant tackle position, while redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa will take the vacant guard position.  Overall, this is a fair unit. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Huskies gave up more rushing yards last year than the year before, but four tough opponents accounted for most of that deterioration. 

 

The Huskies have depth here.  All four starters return from last year, but one or two may be supplanted by others.  Alameda Ta’Amu is the big man in the trenches.  The 6-3, 330-pound tackle plugs multiple gaps.  True freshman Danny Shelton could start opposite him.  Hau’oli Jamora and Everette Thompson should start at end, with Josh Shirley serving as a designated pass rusher.  Providing depth in the line are Sione Potoa’e and Talia Crichton.  This unit will perform better in 2011.

 

Linebackers

Here is Sarkisian’s headache, and the reason the defense may not improve overall.  Middle linebacker Cort Dennison is a good defender, having made 93 tackles with 8 ½ behind the line and defending five passes.  John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are untested.  Garret Gilliland is available here as well.  This is the weakest trio in the Pac-12, and replacing Mason Foster and his league-leading 161 tackles will be impossible.

 

Secondary

When healthy, this is a tough unit.  However, as of this writing, one of its key components is recuperating from an ankle injury that may prevent him from starting the season opener.  Cornerback Quinton Richardson intercepted two passes among his 10 passed defended, and he will likely be replaced by Greg Ducre for the Eastern Washington game.

 

Safety Nathan Fellner led the Huskies with five interceptions and 13 passes defended.  Cornerback Desmond Trufant posted 48 tackles and defended five passes.  His counterpart will be sophomore Sean Parker, who picked off one pass in limited duty.

 

OTHER

2011 presents UW with a tough schedule.  The non-conference slate includes games with Hawaii and Nebraska (in Lincoln).  In conference play, the Huskies must play at Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State.  The Apple Cup game with WSU has been moved to Qwest Field and will not be as much of a home field advantage.

 

 

SUMMARY

We have a lot of confidence in Sarkisian and his two coordinators, Doug Nussmeier on offense and Nick Holt on defense.  They have just enough talent to compete against everybody but Stanford and Oregon.  UW could win six or seven games again even without Locker at quarterback.

 

California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Jeff Tedford has developed some outstanding quarterbacks here, including current Super Bowl Champion QB Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller.  As OC at Oregon, he had Joey Harrington, A. J. Feely, and Akili Smith.  At Fresno State before that, he tutored Trent Dilfer, David Carr, and Billy Volek.  In other words, Tedford knows a thing or two about quarterback development.

 

This year, he welcomes Zach Maynard from the University of Buffalo.  Maynard has beaten out last year’s starter Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford.  Look for Maynard to easily surpass last year’s off-season for Cal in yardage and touchdowns (2,101 yards and 15 touchdowns).  Look for a return of 200+ yards through the air and 20 touchdowns or more.

 

Receivers

The Bears’ top two receivers return in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, who teamed for 96 receptions and 1,255 yards.  Michael Calvin started three times and caught 13 passes.  Anthony Miller returns at tight end after hauling in 13 passes.  Look for steady improvement here with Maynard throwing the pigskin.

 

Running Backs

Tedford is also known for developing 1,000-yard rushing backs.  Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and the just departed Shane Vereen are prime examples.  Vereen does not have a likely 1,000-yard back replacing him this year.

 

This could be a year in which Cal uses a running back by committee.  Isi Sofele, Covauhgn DeBoskie-Johnson, and C. J. Anderson could split the carries, but the freshman Anderson has the skills to eventually become the feature back.  Cal averaged just 159 yards on the ground, which is a multi-year low in the Tedford era.  Look for better overall results, with the new trio combining for about 175 yards per game.

 

Offensive Line

This will be an improved unit in 2011.  Three starters return, including 1st Team All-Pac-12 tackle Mitchell Schwartz.  Guards Brian Schwenke and Matt Summers-Gavin are the other two veterans of the line.  Dominic Galas will start at center.  He started once in 2009.  Matt Williams is a famous sports name in the Bay area; Cal’s version will start at the vacant tackle position.  This group could give up less than 20 sacks and block well enough for the backs to average better than 4.5 yards per rush.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is rebuilding to do all throughout the defense this year, and the Bears will take a step backward on this side of the ball.  The line returns just one starter from the 3-man unit and loses a 1st team all-conference player in Cameron Jordan.

 

DeAndre Coleman returns at end after registering 18 tackles as a platoon player.  He did not make a sack or hurry a quarterback.  Trevor Guyton started four games and played in seven more, getting in on 29 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  At the nose position is a human eclipse.  Viliami Moala is 6-3 and 350 pounds.  The true freshman is one of Cal’s most prized recruits, and he has won the starting job from day one.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return to this four-man unit, one of whom is a legitimate star.  The Bears lose another star with the departure of leading tackler Mike Mohamed to the NFL Draft.

 

Mychal Kendricks led the Bears with 8 ½ sacks and 15 total tackles for loss.  His fellow inside linebacker mate, D. J. Holt, returns after making 85 tackles.  On the outside, redshirt freshman David Wilkerson will man one spot, while the other one is up for grabs between Chris McCain, Ryan Davis, and Cecil Whiteside, none of whom have played here.

 

Secondary

Two starters return to the back line of defense.  Safety Sean Cattouse is the closest thing to a star on this unit.  He intercepted a pass and broke up seven others last year.  D. J. Campbell will start opposite him after making 21 tackles in reserve last year.

 

Marc Anthony returns at one cornerback slot.  He was credited with eight passes defended with two interceptions.  The new corner will be Steve Williams, who intercepted a pass and knocked away four others in reserve.  Overall, this is a reliable but not spectacular secondary.

 

OTHER

The kicking game is in good shape with the return of two quality players.  Bryan Anger narrowly missed leading the league in punting, while Giorgio Tavecchio has a strong leg and was 4-6 on field goal attempts from beyonf 40 yards.

 

Cal will have to play its home games away from campus this season, as Memorial Stadium undergoes some surgery.  The Bears will host Fresno State at Candlestick Park and play the rest of their home games at AT&T (Giants baseball) Park.  If the Giants are in the NLCS, Cal will have to move its game with USC.

 

SUMMARY

It all depends on the rebuilt defense.  Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows his stuff, and we believe he will mold the new players into a cohesive unit.  They will not stop everybody on the schedule, but just remember what Cal did to Oregon’s offense last year—15 points and 317 yards (Oregon gained almost 450 yards against Auburn).

 

The offense will be much improved and will easily top last season’s averages.  We would not be shocked if the Bears top 28 points per game and 400 total yards per game.

 

The schedule has just one cupcake—a week three game with Presbyterian.  Cal opens with Fresno State at Candlestick Park, and that is a trap game for sure.  Through a quirk in the schedule, the Bears will play 10 conference games this year.  The Colorado game will not count in the league standings, as this game was already on the schedule before the Buffs joined the Pac-12. 

 

Here is the catch.  Cal was 1-4 on the road last year, and in effect, all 12 games this year will be on the road.  If the two municipal parks provide them with the same homefield advantage as Memorial Stadium, then the Bears will go bowling in El Paso, Las Vegas, or a similar venue.  If not, then Tedford could be sitting on a hot seat.

 

Washington State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jeff Tuel is not another Jason Gesser or Alex Brink, but he is going to have a year not too different than the two former stars.  Tuel completed almost 60% of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, and he has the potential to top 3,000 yards in 2011.

 

Marshall Lobbestael has starting experience, and if Tuel is injured, all will not be lost.  He does not have the accuracy of Tuel, but he will not be a deer in the headlights if he must go in.

 

Receivers

The Cougars return three starters here, one of whom was a Freshman All-American last year.  Marquess Wilson could be a 1st Team All-Pac-12 member this year after taking in 55 passes for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns.  He is a threat to take even a one yard pass and turn it into a long touchdown bolt.

 

Jared Karstetter hauled in a team-leading 62 passes and scored seven times.  He is strictly a possession receiver and uses his height to his advantage over smaller cornerbacks.  Isiah Barton and Gino Simone teamed up for 32 receptions and will supplement the two primary options.  Look for true freshman Henry Eaddy to challenge for a starting spot early in the season.

 

A new tight end/h-back must be found.  Coach Paul Wulff will choose between Jared Byers, Andrei Lintz, and Aaron Dunn.  This unit is in good shape overall.

 

Running Backs

WSU has not been able to generate a running game in six years.  The last three seasons have seen the Cougars rush for an average of less than 86 yards!  Of course, giving up 51 sacks in a season is enough to skew those rushing stats.  Removing the sacks, WSU rushed for about 115 yards per game with an average of 3.8 yards per rush.

 

Wulff will rely on a three-man platoon this year and hope to take enough heat off Tuel to prevent defenses from lining up and coming with five and six pass rushers.  Rickey Galvin, Logwone Mintz, and Carl Winston will split the load.  Look for the Cougars to top 100 yards rushing, but only by a little bit.

 

Offensive Line

This won’t be a major asset, but the blocking corps is going to be quite a bit improved in 2011.  Three starters return to this unit, but the new starters have enough experience to be considered quasi-starters.

 

Guard B. J. Guerra is the leader of this unit. He could challenge for 1st team all-conference honors this year.  Fellow guard John Fullington takes over on the other side after starting six times as a freshman.

 

Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales will man the tackle positions.  Jacobson started every game last year, while Gonzales has started seven games in the past.  He missed last season with an injury.

 

Andrew Roxas will be the new starting center.  He has nine career starts under his belt. 

 

This unit is not the equal of Oregon’s or Stanford’s, but they are no longer the weakest in the league here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Cougars are still in need of a lot of improvement on this side of the line.  They gave up 220 yards per game on the ground (average of 5.6/rush) and made just 23 sacks. 

 

Two starters return to the trenches this year.  End Travis Long led the team with five sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss.  Tackle Brandon Rankin made just 19 stops, but five were for losses.  The new starters figure to be Anthony Laurenzi at tackle and Adam Coerper at end.  Coerper is a fast developer; he moved from number four to number one in just a couple weeks.

 

Linebackers

This unit is a little stronger than the one in front.  Two starters return here.  Alex Hoffman-Ellis finished second on the squad with 81 tackles, while middle linebacker C. J. Mizell added 57 stops with six for loss.  Sekope Kaufusi is the new starter at the Sam position.  He made 22 tackles in a limited role last year.

 

Secondary

If there is a strong unit on this side of the ball, this is it.  However, it is hard to call this quartet a major asset. 

 

It is never great when your leading tackler is your strong safety.  Deone Bucannon led WSU with 84 tackles.  He intercepted a couple passes and knocked away five more.  Tyree Toomer is the other starting safety.  He is adequate against the pass but better supporting the run.

 

Cornerbacks Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington combined for 62 tackles but only seven passes defended.  Washington is nursing a sore hamstring, so he will be slow to start the season.

 

OTHER

Washington State’s last winning season was 2003, which was the third consecutive 10-win season.  The Cougars have fallen on rough times since.  Defense has been the major problem, as WSU has given 35 or more points per game the last three years.  We believe that streak will come to an end this season, but not by much.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule should allow Wulff’s Cougars to start 2-0 after they open with Idaho State and UNLV.  Game three will be the bell-weather game.  When the Cougars go to San Diego State, they might even be favored.  If they win the game to move to 3-0, then there is a chance, albeit small, that they could find a way to win three in the conference and make it to a bowl.  We tend to believe they will fall short this year, but they could easily double their win total from last year.

 

SOUTH DIVISION

Southern California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Matt Barkley is the best second best quarterback in a league since Colt McCoy at Texas in 2008 and 2009.  He might be the top quarterback in every other conference in America.  Last year even though he missed a game and parts of another, he completed 62.6% of his passes for 2,791 yards and 26 touchdowns. 

 

The Trojans are stocked here with three other quality passers.  Jesse Scroggins is out indefinitely with an injured hand, but true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler have star potential.  The Trojans will rely more on the pass this year, and we expect them to average more than 250 yards per game through the air.

 

Receivers

As a freshman, Robert Woods may have been one of the three best receivers in the league.  He finished with 65 receptions and six touchdowns last year and could top 80 receptions this season.

 

Behind him, the Trojans are inexperienced.  Marqise Lee could start as a true freshman.  Kyle Prater is a redshirt freshman, but at 6-05, he will be a tough matchup problem.  Brice Butler has played sparingly in two seasons.

 

Tight end/H-back Rhett Ellison hauled in 21 passes and scored three times in 2010.  Look for him to get more balls thrown his way this year.

 

Running Backs

Who would have thought that an internet gossip site could affect a college football team?  Starting tailback Marc Tyler ran his mouth off to TMZ.com, and it cost him his spot in the lineup.  Coach Lane Kiffin suspended him indefinitely over his remarks.  Funny, Kiffin’s name has been dragged through the mud from coast to coast in numerous internet sites, yet he still has a job.

 

Tyler led the Trojans’ ground game with 913 yards and nine touchdowns.  Curtis McNeal figured to be his replacement, but he injured his knee and is doubtful for the season opener.  Dillon Baxter and C. J. Morgan will share the reps at running back until one of the other two is able to play again. 

 

Offensive Line

The Trojans are deep here.  Their two-deep is almost as good as Oregon’s, even though just two starters return.  Center Khaled Holmes is one of the best in the league.  Ditto for tackle Matt Kalil.  John Martinez and Abe Markowitz will start at the vacant guard positions, while Kevin Graf will man the vacant tackle spot.  Look for this group to provide excellent pass coverage for Barkley and surrender less than 20 sacks for the seventh year in a row.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Any defense with Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron coaching is going to be tough up front.  The Trojans have the top defensive line in the league and one of the best in the country.

 

Three starters return, but nose tackle Armond Armstead will have to share his spot with newcomer George Uko, and DaJohn Harris may be relegated to the second team in favor of Christian Tupou.

 

Nick Perry starts at one end, while Wes Horton inherits the other end spot.  Devon Kennard and Kevin Greene will spell the two starters and allow the Trojans to have fresh anchors on the edge.

 

Linebackers

If there is an Achilles’ heel in the defense, it is in the linebacker unit.  It would be hard to find the heel here, because the Trojans’ linebackers are going to make a lot of plays this year.

 

Devon Kennard returns to the middle after making 72 tackles with seven for losses.  Chris Galippo was a part-time starter and made 29 tackles.  Marquis Simmons will split time with Hayes Pullard at the other outside spot.

 

Secondary

This unit is almost as strong as the front line.  The loss of Shareece Wright and his 10 passes defended will be hard to overcome, but new starting cornerback Tony Burnett saw a lot of action last year and made 26 tackles.  He will join Nickell Robey, who led the team with four picks.

 

The two starting safeties are back for more.  Jawanza Starling and T. J. McDonald combined for 126 tackles and nine passes defended.

 

Nickel back Torrin Harris is good enough to be a regular for most teams.

 

OTHER

Kiffin was cleared in the recent investigation of the Tennessee football program.  The Trojans will be off probation after this season, and they will not be eligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game this year.

 

SUMMARY

USC should be 6-0 when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame on October 22, although they must face Arizona State in Tempe on September 24.  They follow that game with Stanford at the Coliseum. A trip to Eugene to face the Quack Attack in November is followed by a visit from cross-town rival UCLA. 

 

Southern Cal should win at least eight games this year, and we would not be surprised if they go 10-2.

 

Arizona State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When healthy, Brock Osweiler is an effective quarterback.  At 6-08, he has no trouble seeing over the line, but he is mobile enough to be an effective runner.  In limited action last year, he completed 57% of his passes for 797 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

 

The Sun Devils will be in a heap of trouble if Osweiler is absent for any length of time.  Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly is the next best option, but he is not ready for Pac-12 football.

 

Receivers

Coach Dennis Erickson has loads of depth here but no true stars.  His projected three starters, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie, and Gerell Robinson, all topped 25 receptions and combined for 94 total with 13 touchdowns.  T. J. Simpson caught 29 passes for 481 yards, but he is still recovering from ACL surgery in the spring.  Juco Transfer George Bell could see action early.

 

Tevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle could form a double tight end set, but ASU does not throw to their tight ends and uses them basically for blocking.

 

Running Backs

The Sun Devils have some depth here.  Cameron Marshall returns after leading the team with 787 yards and nine touchdowns.  James Morrison saw limited action in 2010, but he will move to number two on the depth chart.  Deantre Lewis will not be ready for the start of the season after suffering a gunshot wound that damaged his hamstring.  He finished second with 539 rushing yards.

 

Look for Marshall to threaten the 1,000 yard mark if Lewis does not see the field this year.

 

Offensive Line

Arizona State welcomes back all five starters from 2010, and this is why the Sun Devils have an excellent shot of advancing to the first Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

Center Garth Gerhart is a Remington Trophy contender.  Tackle Evan Finkenberg could contend for all-conference honors.  Guards Andrew Sampson and Mike Marcisz and tackle Aderious Simmons round out the unit.  Look for the total number of sacks allowed to drop by 5-10 from a rather high 31 in 2010.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Erickson’s front four performed admirably last year, giving up just 120 rushing yards, but they did not provide enough of a pass rush.  Both ends, Junior Onyeali and Jamaar Jarrett, return after teaming for 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.  Bo Moos and William Sutton will be the new tackles.  They are one-gap aggressors and not big beefeaters.  Corey Adams is making a charge to replace Moos.

 

Linebackers

This could have been one of the top units in the nation, but the loss of key starter Brandon Magee with a torn Achilles’ tendon has dropped it several rungs on the national ladder.  Vontaze Burfict led the team with 90 tackles last year, but he did not record a sack and only knocked away three passes.  Colin Parker made 57 tackles, while Oliver Aaron made 47 with 7 ½ for losses.  Aaron replaces Magee.  Shelly Lyons could crack the starting lineup in place of Parker.

 

Secondary

Here is the problem with the defense.  ASU gave up 245 passing yards per game and allowed a completion percentage of 63.2%.  Two full-time and one part-time starter must be replaced.  Cornerback Deveron Carr started part-time and made just eight tackles.  At the opposite corner, Osahon Irabor made 40 tackles with three passes defended.  Safety Eddie Elder registered 64 tackles with 5 ½ stops for loss and five passes defended.  Clint Floyd will start at the other safety spot after recording 30 tackles.

 

OTHER

The Sun Devils had a -6 turnover margin last year, and a lot of that had to do with a defense that could not create turnovers.  Expect some improvement on that side of the ball but not much.

 

SUMMARY

This is Arizona State’s year to shine, but injuries could hamper the process.  With Southern Cal ineligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Sun Devils are the best of the rest in this weaker division. 

 

ASU may not have a gaudy record, because their out of conference slate includes games against Missouri and Illinois.  They could easily start 1-3, because their first conference game is against the Trojans.  Even if that happens, the Sun Devils can still rebound and go 6-3 in the league.  That should be good enough for second in this division, and at 7-5, they would be playing Oregon or Stanford for the Pac-12’s automatic BCS bowl berth.

 

Arizona

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nick Foles returns after passing for 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns.  He completed 67+% of his passes.  The situation is muddled after Foles.  Expected backup Bryson Beirne sprained his ACL and is out for several weeks.  Last year’s backup Matt Scott plans to redshirt this year, and that leaves true freshman Daxx Garman as the only other choice should Foles go down.

 

Receivers

Coach Mike Stoops has quality talent here with the return of his top four receivers.  Juron Criner, David Douglas, David Roberts, and Terrence Miller teamed for 207 receptions and 18 touchdowns.  Criner was the breakaway threat, while the other three were excellent possession receivers.

 

Dan Buckner joins the group after transferring from Texas.  He had starting experience with the Longhorns.

 

Running Backs

One of UA’s two platoon backs return this season.  Keola Antolin rushed for a team-leading 668 yards; he scored seven times.  Antolin also caught 28 passes with two more touchdowns.  The talent behind him is average.

 

Offensive Line

Oh no!  That’s the best way to describe this unit, as all five starters are missing.  Center Kyle Quinn is the only player to ever start a game, and he started a grand total of one.  Guards Trace Biskin and Chris Putton are as green as any starter in college football.  Tackles Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus are redshirt freshmen.  ‘Zona is going to regress by a considerable amount, and Foles is in danger of having to run for his life.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The front line is almost in the same boat as the offensive line.  The Wildcats lose two NFL Draft choices.  Tackle Justin Washington is the lone returnee.  He made 46 stops with 11 ½ for loss and will contend for 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors this year. 

 

Sione Tuihalamaka starts at the other tackle position.  He made 23 stops with three going for losses.  The ends will be Mohammed Usman and C. J. Parrish.

 

Linebackers

Paul Vassallo returns to his Will linebacker position after leading the team with 102 tackles and eight for loss.  Derek Earls returns at the middle spot after making 44 tackles.  David Lopez will be the new starter at the Sam position.  This is an average unit.

 

Secondary

If Arizona has a strength on this side of the ball, it is in the secondary.  Free safety Robert Golden finished tied for third in the league with 13 passes defended, but he only intercepted one pass.  He’ll team with Marquis Flowers, who made 11 tackles as a freshman.

 

At Cornerback, Trevin Wade needs to improve on his four passes defended, while Shaquille Richardson becomes a full-timer after coming up with nine passes defended.  Without a strong pass rush, this unit will struggle a little.  

 

OTHER

Arizona has to visit Oklahoma State just prior to playing Stanford, Oregon, and USC in consecutive weeks.  This four-game losing streak could damage the morale of the new starters and doom Arizona to a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The only sure wins on the schedule are the opener with Northern Arizona and the finale with Louisiana.  There are chances for maybe four conference wins, so the Wildcats could get to 6-6.  Who knows?  When Arizona faces Arizona State, if they are 4-4 in league play, the game could even be for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

U C L A

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford is noted for its great tradition of outstanding quarterbacks.  UCLA is noted for its awful tradition of injured quarterbacks.  It seems like every starter since Cade McNown graduated in the 1990’s has suffered some injury.

 

Kevin Prince is just the latest in that trend.  He made it through five games last year, passing for 384 yards out of the new pistol offense.  His knee was not well enough to allow him to set and throw quickly, and the extra running from the new formation sent him to the sidelines. 

 

Backup Richard Brehaut returns after leading the Bruins with almost 1,300 passing yards.

 

Two more QBs could see playing time this year; that is if tradition holds, and quarterbacks go out with injuries.  Nick Crissman was a highly sought-after passer four years ago, while true freshman Brett Hundley is a dual threat.  Hundley might have challenged for a starting spot, but he tore his meniscus playing basketball and will not be ready at the start of the season.  Even before he suited up, the injury bugaboo hit him.  Expect more of the jinx in 2011.

 

Late Note: Brehaut sprained his foot in practice and will miss a few days.  JINX!

 

Receivers

If a healthy quarterback can get in a rhythm and start several games, he will be happy with the group of receivers on hand.  Nearly everybody that caught or even dropped a pass in 2010 is back in 2011.  Leading receiver Taylor Embree strained a calf muscle and will be slowed to start the season.  Embree made 32 receptions but did not convert any into touchdowns.

 

Anthony Barr and Nelson Rosario will start at the other two receiver spots; they teamed for 38 receptions but just one touchdown.  Tight end Cory Harkey made 14 catches.  How many touchdowns did he score? Zero!  Of course, the Bruins only scored nine times through the air.  Randall Carroll is the one legitimate long ball threat.  He will see a lot of action after averaging 16.2 yards on his 15 receptions—and with two whole touchdowns!

 

Running Backs

At last, here is one position that will not cause Coach Rick Neuheisel nightmares.  Jonathan Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards and eight scores, while averaging 5.3 yards per rush.  Backup Derrick Coleman added 487 yards and five scores.  If the passing game develops like it could, the running game could see its yardage drop a little, but the average per carry could top 4.5 yards.

 

Offensive Line

Additional injuries and academic issues have put a dark cloud over this unit.  Guard Stan Hasiak had to enroll in a junior college due to grades.  His expected replacement, Jeff Baca, will miss the start of the season with an ankle injury.  The other guard spot was expected to be filled by Chris Ward.  He suffered a sprained ankle and will miss some practice time.

 

At least tackles Mike Harris and Sean Sheller are healthy and experienced.  Center Kai Maiava missed all of last year, but his healthy return is the one bright spot here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Bruins are in good shape here with a lot of depth and decent talent.  Damien Holmes and Datone Jones make up a quality pair of ends.  That is, if Jones can make a 100% comeback after a medical redshirt year in 2010.  Justin Edison and Cassius Marsh can plug a lot of gaps from their tackle positions. 

 

Linebackers

Will linebacker Sean Westgate made 90 tackles with four sacks and 11 total for losses.  He played tough against the short pass, knocking away four passes.  The unit will build around him.  Patrick Larimore missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  Glenn Love will start at the other linebacker spot after making 16 tackles as a reserve.

 

While not spectacular, this trio will not be the reason UCLA loses games this year.

 

Secondary

What looked like a possible strength has taken a pounding through injuries.  Somebody needs to investigate UCLA’s practice field.  Are they going on pavement or something?

 

Three starters return to the defensive backfield, including strong safety Tony Dye.  Dye led the Bruins with 96 tackles (remember what we said about strong safeties leading in tackles), while breaking up nine passes and pilfering one other.  His counterpart will be Dietrich Riley, who made 21 stops in reserve last year.

 

The cornerbacks are set with Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price.  The duo teamed for 51 tackles and 14 passes defended.  Jamie Graham figured to contend for a lot of playing time after transferring from Vanderbilt, but he suffered a meniscus tear that requires surgery and will be out until at least October.  Anthony Jefferson had to have surgery for a herniated disk in his back and will also be out all of September.

 

OTHER

Neuheisel is on the hot seat.  His three years in Westwood have produced a pair of 4-8 seasons with a 7-6 season in between.  He has two new coordinators this year.  Norm Chow went to Utah, so former 49ers’ offensive guru Mike Johnson takes over.  Joe Tresey is the new DC.  He was Brian Kelly’s DC at Cincinnati for two years.

 

SUMMARY

An opening game against Houston will be very interesting and reveal if UCLA has any chance of moving up from the dregs of the conference.  The next game against San Jose State should produce a win, but game three is against Texas.  The Bruins could be 1-2 and looking at another losing season; they could be 2-1 with a chance to get to seven wins.  If the quarterback play comes around with no injuries, they could even be 3-0.  If that’s the case, and the jinx can be avoided, they could be a dark horse for the South Division title, or at least the eligible team title.

 

Utah

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Welcome to the Pac-12 Jordan Wynn.  Wynn is 1-1 lifetime against conference opponents.  The Utes beat California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, and he almost upset Oregon in the 2009 regular season.

 

Last year in the Mountain West Conference, Wynn completed 62.2% of his passes for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  With new offensive coordinator Norm Chow tutoring him, he should produce better numbers even in a tougher league.

 

Juco transfer Jon Hayes will be the primary backup this year.

 

Receivers

Utah does not have exceptional talent here this year.  The depth is not there.  DeVonte Christopher is a gem; he led the Utes with 660 yards in receptions, averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

 

H-Back Luke Matthews is another big play receiver, but he only got his hand on 18 passes last year.  He will be called on to block more than catch passes. 

 

Reggie Dunn will split time with Dres Anderson at the flanker position, while Kendrick Moeai starts at tight end.

 

Running Backs

Utah must replace its two-platoon set of runners.  They combined for more than 1,400 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns.  Juco transfer John White will get first crack at starting, but Tauni Vakapuna should get a lot of attempts in short yardage situations.  He’s 5-09 and 229 pounds, so tackling him will be like stopping a large boulder coming down a mountain.

 

Offensive Line

This is not a strong unit.  Center Tevita Stevens is more than capable after earning 3rd Team All-MWC honors last year.  Tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have the experience with Bergstrom earning 2nd Team All-MWC honors.  Both projected starting guards will miss the start of the season, and Coach Kyle Whittingham has not yet settled on one of the replacements.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is some talent here, but overall, this is not an exceptional unit.  Star Lotulelei may one day live up to his name, but the nose tackle is an unknown commodity at the moment.  The other tackle will see a platoon between James Aiono and Dave Kruger.

 

Derrick Shelby and Joe Kruger will start at end.  Shelby made 6 ½ stops for loss last year. 

 

Linebackers

This is the strongest unit of a weak defense.  All three starters from last year return, and they finished one, two, and four in tackles.

 

Chaz Walker led the Utes with 113 tackles, while making seven for losses.  Hybrid linebacker/safety Matt Martinez made 91 tackles, while Brian Blechen added 67 stops and proved to be excellent against the pass with nine passes defended, four of them interceptions.

 

Secondary

The Utes have to start over here, as all four 2010 starters are gone.  Cornerbacks Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy have some experience, and Lacy has sprinter’s speed, so he will make up for a few mistakes before it can hurt the team.

 

Juco transfer Keith McGill will join true freshman Eric Rowe and sophomore Michael Walker at safety.

 

OTHER

Whittingham has expressed some concerns with his place kickers, as Coleman Petersen and Nick Marsh have been inconsistent in practice.

 

The Utes will miss punt returner Shaky Smithson, who took two back the distance last year, while averaging 19.1 yards per return to lead the nation.

 

SUMMARY

It is going to be a rough first season in the Pac-12 for the Utes.  Their offense will not equal last season’s production of 33 points and 389 yards, and their defense will give up more than 2010’s 20 points and 337 yards.

 

After an opening game with Montana State, Utah faces USC and BYU on the road.  They get a week off before starting conference play in earnest.  Mixed in the middle of the schedule is a trip to Pittsburgh. 

 

We see a 1-2 non-league record and then a struggle to win three more games.  At least, the Utes play neither Oregon nor Stanford.

 

Colorado

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy return to their alma mater to light a fire in the Buffaloes’ offense.  They inherit co-starter Tyler Hansen, who completed 68% of his passes but averaged less than 10 yards per completion.

 

Juco transfer Brent Burnette could challenge Hansen for the job.  Overall, this is the weakest QB roster in the Pac-12.

 

Receivers

Paul Richardson is sure to start after leading the Buffs with a 15.1 yard average per catch.  He grabbed 34 passes and scored six times.  Logan Gray, a former QB at Georgia, is immediately eligible and will start.  The other position will be split between Toney Clemons and true freshman Tyler McCulloch.  There is potential here, but they may need another season of experience.

 

Running Backs

Rodney Stewart is “the man.”  He was the Buffaloes’ offense last year, rushing for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Bieniemy may sound like a broken record calling his number over and over again this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to a rather decent unit.  Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins form a formidable pair of guards, while David Bakhtiari is a plus at tackle.  Jack Harris earned the other starting tackle nod, but he has never played in a college game in two years at CU.  There is a two-man battle to fill the center spot that would have belonged to Mike Iltis had he not given up football.  Daniel Munyer and Gus Handler are neck and neck.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Buffs are hurting on this side of the ball.  They will have a weaker defense than Washington State this year.  However, the four-man D-line is not all that bad.

 

Josh Hartigan and Chidera Uzo Diribe will make a decent pair of ends.  Hartigan made seven QB sacks as a designated pass rusher last year and will be more of a linebacker than end, while Will Pericak will play more like an end than a tackle.  Curtis Cunningham and Conrad Obi will play inside.  This unit has depth and some talent.

 

Linebackers

Unless you count Hartigan as a true linebacker, this unit is in need of a transfusion.  Jon Major made 57 tackles at the Will position last year, but too many of them were after nice gains by the enemy.  Derrick Webb and Douglas Rippy are not the answer and will be exploited.

 

Secondary

CU will be lit up via the passing game, as the secondary is not Pac-12 caliber.  Safeties Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins will make a lot of tackles, but officials will be signaling “first down” on most of them.  Travis Sandesfeld and Greg Henderson are subpar at cornerback.

 

OTHER

Colorado plays at Hawaii, so the Buffs will have 13 games on their schedule.  The contest with California in week two will not count as a Pac-12 game, since it was previously scheduled as a non-conference game.

 

SUMMARY

Because they play 13 games, there is a good chance CU will suffer through a double-digit loss season.  They play at Hawaii and at Ohio State outside of the league, and they face rival Colorado State at Invesco Field in Denver.  It will be a long first year for Embree.

 

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

North Division

 

 

Oregon

29

239

Stanford

13

220

Washington

 

142

Oregon State

 

120

California

 

110

Washington St.

 

51

 

 

 

South Division

 

 

Southern Cal

24

230

Arizona St.

13

207

Utah

4

170

Arizona

1

140

U C L A

 

89

Colorado

 

46

 

 

 

Pac-12 Championship

 

Oregon

 

28

Stanford

 

11

Arizona State

 

3

 

 

2011 Pac-12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

North Division

 

 

Stanford

126.4

9-0/13-0*

Oregon

125.6

8-1/11-1

Oregon State

112.9

5-4/6-6

Washington

112.9

5-4/7-5

California

111.3

3-6/6-6

Washington St.

102.8

3-6/5-7

   

 

South Division  

 

Southern Cal

117.2

7-2/9-3

Arizona St.

116.6

6-3/8-5

Arizona

113.1

3-6/5-7

U C L A

110.9

3-6/4-8

Utah

108.4

2-7/3-9

Colorado

101.8

0-9/1-12

   

 

* Stanford picked to defeat Arizona State
in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

 Coming Friday Night: A look at what’s left of the Big 12 Conference.

August 24, 2011

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

 

Last year, Virginia Tech and Florida State met in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in the history of the game.  The Hokies won to advance to the Orange Bowl, where they ran into the new “greatest quarterback ever” in Andrew Luck and Stanford.

 

This year, it looks like a strong possibility that the two powers will once again meet in the ACC Championship Game.  Both teams are national title contenders as well.  Florida State appears to be the stronger team as the season starts, but Virginia Tech doesn’t have a Boise State or Alabama at the start of the schedule this year.  Two teams, North Carolina and Miami, were hit with summer news that could greatly affect their showing this season.  Butch Davis was fired at North Carolina, while Miami may be looking at a possible death penalty.  This could be the season where some of the former bottom feeders move up at the expense of programs in trouble.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

 

Florida State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

E. J. Manuel takes over as starter for Christian Ponder.  He started twice last year and completed 70% of his passes and passed for an excellent 9.3 yards per attempt.  Manuel is also a much better runner than Ponder, so this position will actually be as strong or even stronger this year—as long as Manuel stays healthy.

 

Receivers

Had Taiwan Easterling not decided to become a future Chicago Cub, this might have been one of the 10 best in the nation.  It will still be one of the two best in the ACC.  Bert Reed is an excellent possession receiver; he led the Seminoles with 58 receptions.  Willie Haulstead is more of a deep threat; he led the ‘Noles with 15.4 yards per reception and six touchdowns.  Tight end Beau Reliford caught just 19 passes, but he should contribute more this season.

 

Running Backs

The situation is in limbo here.  Starter Chris Thompson has a bad back, and he is not getting many reps in practice and has missed multiple practices.  Last year, he led FSU with 845 yards while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.  Backups Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas are both capable.  Jones has been a number one back in the past. 

 

Offensive Line

This is Coach Jimbo Fisher’s only concern on this side of the ball, and it really isn’t much of a concern.  Tackle Zebrie Sanders is recovering from a groin injury, and center David Spurlock has missed time and only recently began practicing in full pads.  Tackle Andrew Datko is the star of this unit.

 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Simply, this is the best front four in the ACC and one of the top five nationally.  End Brandon Jenkins finished second in the league with 13 ½ sacks and 21 ½ tackles for loss.  If he goes pro, he could be the first defensive lineman taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.  Tackles Jaccobi McDaniel and Everett Dawkins make it difficult for enemy backs to run between the tackles.  As a unit, FSU led the nation with 48 sacks.

 

Linebackers

Nigel Bradham is the only returning starter to this unit.  Bradham led the Seminoles with 98 tackles and recorded five sacks and five passes defended.  Christian Jones has the potential to be an all-conference player in his sophomore season.

 

Secondary

All four starters return, but not all are guaranteed a starting spot this year.  The two-deep is hands down the best in the league.  Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes teamed for 33 passes defended.  Lamarcus Joiner will start at one of the safety spots, meaning either Terrance Parks or Nick Moody will drop to second team.

 

OTHER

Punter Shawn Powell and place kicker Dustin Hopkins are the best in the ACC at their positions.  Hopkins has enough leg to connect from 60 yards.  Reid is one of the best punt returners in the nation.

 

SUMMARY

We believe FSU will score 35-40 points and gain 400-425 yards per game, while yielding about 17 points and 325-350 yards per game.  Their schedule has one big obstacle in it—a rematch with number one Oklahoma at Doak Campbell Stadium.  In league play, the Seminoles must visit Clemson and Boston College.  The finale with Florida may not be the tough game it has been in the past.

 

It is a big if to expect FSU to beat Oklahoma, but it is possible.  If they win that one, then their destination could easily be New Orleans, and we are not talking the Sugar Bowl.  11-1 headed into the ACC Championship is very possible.

 

Clemson

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Dabo Swinney’s best recruiting effort may have taken place after the season.  Chad Morris comes in from Tulsa to take over at Offensive Coordinator.  So, expect a move to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense.  Can new starter Tajh Boyd impersonate G. J. Kinne?  Behind him are two true freshmen.  Boyd played in seven games and completed just 52% of his passes as a freshman.

 

Receivers

Wideout DeAndre Hopkins and Tight end Dwayne Allen give Boyd a couple of quality targets, but after that, the book is out on the rest of this group.  Hopkins led CU with 52 receptions, 637 yards, and four touchdowns.  Allen could compete for a final spot on the Mackie Award list.  True freshman Sammy Watkins could be the difference in making this a great unit or a better than average unit.

 

Running Backs

The Tigers lose Jamie Harper, who is now a Tennessee Titan.  Andre Ellington returns after starting six games and rushing for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns.  If he stays healthy, he could double that amount this year.

 

Offensive Line

The biggest concern here is the learning curve.  Four starters return from last year, but all the blocking schemes will be radically different.  Center Dalton Freeman has the talent to receive votes for the Rimington Award.  Guard Antoine McClain and tackle Landon Walker could appear on one of the postseason all-conference teams.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is going to be a liability and the reason why CU will not compete with Florida State for the ACC Atlantic Division title.  Da’Quan Bowers and his 26 tackles for loss is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.  Jarvis Jenkins is now a Washington Redskin.  The new replacements are not in their league.  The two returning starters are good ones, but neither will record 26 tackles for loss, and they probably will not combine for that many.  Andre Branch is good enough to become a star end in the ACC.  Brandon Thompson is a quality tackle, but this unit will take a big step backward.

 

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Corico Hawkins is the only returning starter to this unit.  He came up with 10 stops for loss last year, but he did not help much versus the pass.  A couple of true freshmen could see considerable playing time this year.  For now, sophomore Quandon Christian and Jonathan Willard will flank Hawkins.

 

Secondary

Xavier Brewer is the star of this unit.  The cornerback defended 10 passes last year.  Coty Sensabaugh was a late signee four years ago, and now the senior will finish his career as a starter.  Rashard Hall returns at one safety, while Jonathan Meeks will be the new starter at the other safety position.  Overall, this is an above average secondary but not a great one.

 

OTHER

Clemson’s schedule gives the Tigers an excellent chance to start 3-0 prior to hosting Florida State on September 24.  Home games with Troy, Wofford, and Auburn give CU a great chance to go 3-0.  Then, the Tigers host FSU and play at Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks.

 

SUMMARY

Clemson averaged just 24 points per game and 335 yards per game last year.  With the new offense, CU should score 30-35 points per game and gain around 400 yards.  However, the new offense will make things harder for the green defense.  CU gave up just 19 points per game last year, but we see the Tigers giving up about a touchdown more in 2011.  Clemson should win eight or nine games and go bowling once again.

 

Boston College

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Chase Rettig is the clear number one this season, as the three quarterbacks that saw action last year all return.  Rettig passed for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns, but he threw nine interceptions and completed just 51% of his passes last year as a freshman.

 

Receivers

Boston College has been known for its tight ends, and Chris Pantale is the current star.  He caught 31 passes last year and could top that number this season.  Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert return after combining for 55 receptions and six touchdowns.  There is a lot of experienced depth here, but it is not the most talented.

 

Running Backs

Montel Harris rushed for 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns last year, but he is going to miss some time at the start of the season due to a knee injury.  Backup Andre Williams is also a little banged up, so the Eagles are thin at this position as they start the season.  Rolandan Finch will get first crack at filling this spot until Williams and Harris are ready to go.  BC has averaged less than four yards per rush every year since Derrick Knight graduated as the all-time rushing leader in 2003.

 

Offensive Line

The Eagles have been known for developing excellent lines, but this year’s OL will be a liability for 3rd year coach Frank Spaziani.  Only two starters return, and one of those two will miss the start of the season.  Guard Nathan Richman has a back injury and will not be ready for the start of the season.  Tackle Emmett Cleary is a titan at 6-07 and 300 pounds.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Eagles must start over almost from scratch in the trenches.  Three of the four starters from 2010 have left the building; BC gave up just a little over 80 rushing yards per game last year, and that number was not inflated by a lot of sacks.  Only tackle Kaleb Ramsey returns.  Ramsey made 7 ½ stops behind the line and finished with 39 tackles.  Max Holloway was a part-time starter last year.  He will start full-time at one end spot after leading the team with 14 tackles for loss and four sacks.

 

Linebackers

This is where the defense shines, and the reason the Eagles have a chance to repeat as the number two defense in the league.  It starts with return of consensus All-American Luke Kuechly, who led the nation with 183 tackles.  He also intercepted three passes and batted away three others.  Nick Clancy has been impressive in August drills, and he could become the new starter at the Sam position, while Kevin Pierre-Louis returns to the Will position.  Pierre-Louis was a Freshman All-American last year after recording 93 tackles.  If Clancy can repeat in games what he has done in scrimmages, this could become a top three unit.

 

Secondary

As optimistic as things are at linebacker, the secondary is almost as much pessimistic.  The dismissal of expected starting safety Okechukwu Okoroha and the back injury to cornerback Donnie Fletcher has left BC thin in the backfield.  Fletcher will miss the opening of the season.  The new safety figures to be Spenser Rositano, a true freshman.  Jim Noel started eight games last year and picked off four passes.  He will start at the other safety spot.  Cornerback Al Louis-Jean, a true freshman, will replace Fletcher until he is ready to return, while redshirt freshman Dominique Williams figures to start at the other corner spot.

 

OTHER

Boston College has yielded less than 20 points per game six of the last seven years and his not given up more than 333 yards in any of those seasons.  They have surrendered just 92 rushing yards per game in the last six seasons.

 

SUMMARY

This is a tricky season to predict Boston College’s outcome.  The Eagles could be as much as a touchdown weaker than normal to start the season due to key injuries, and their opener comes against Northwestern, a team that can beat them.  In week two, they have a trap game at Central Florida, before opening conference play in Chestnut Hill against an improved Duke team.  BC could be 3-0, 2-1, or 1-2 by this time, and that will give an excellent barometer for what will happen at the back end of the schedule.  Games four and five are as close to sure wins as they will have (hosting UMass and Wake Forest). The Eagles end the season on the road against Notre Dame and Miami.  Road games against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland will make for a tough October stretch.  If BC is to go bowling for the 13th consecutive season, they need to start 4-1 at the least.

 

North Carolina State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

There will be a drop-off from what they had to what they will get this year out of this position.  Russell Wilson left Raleigh with the thoughts of playing professional baseball.  He ended up playing college football in Madison, Wisconsin.  Mike Glennon takes over after completing nine passes for 78 yards last year.  Glennon saw action in three games last year, but he did play in seven as a freshman.  He won’t replicate Wilson’s numbers, but he will have some good games—and some bad games.  His mobility is a question at this point; he is not a dual threat like Wilson.

 

Receivers

The Wolfpack must replace their top two receivers from 2010.  Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams teamed for 112 receptions and 1600+ yards.  T. J. Graham should become the go-to guy this year.  He caught 25 passes and scored four touchdowns.  Coach Tom O’Brien is concerned with this position, because the talent level drops off quite a bit after Graham.  Tight end George Bryan will be called on to be a primary receiver after catching 35 passes last year.  Look for more dropped passes and fewer yards per reception.

 

Running Backs

Mustafa Greene led NCSU with 597 rushing yards last year, but a foot injury will keep him from playing until October.  O’Brien will choose from among four contenders to replace Greene for the first month.  James Washington, Brandon Barnes, Curtis Underwood, and Anthony Creecy could all see action.  Washington and Underwood have the most experience, but Creecy has the best moves.

 

Offensive Line

What was already a concern became something a bit more concerning after the ‘Pack saw one guard leave the program and two others suffer knee injuries that will keep them out for at least the first month of the season.  Nobody on the roster will earn an all-conference award this year.  Center Camden Wentz, guard Zach Allen, and tackle R. J. Mattes at least have experience on their side.  NCSU only averaged 3.5 yards per rush last year, and the OL gave up 39 sacks with a mobile quarterback under center.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There’s more bad news on this side of the ball.  The one star in the trenches, J. R. Sweezy, is out six weeks with a foot injury.  That leaves end Jeff Rieskamp as the only player with real experience.  Rieskamp only picked up two QB sacks, but he did force 17 QB hurries. 

Linebackers

This trio is second in the conference in talent only to the group at Boston College.  Audie Cole recorded five sacks and picked up 10 ½ tackles for loss last year.  Terrell Manning added five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.  Rickey Dowdy figures to be the new starter after moving from defensive end.  The Wolfpack will miss Nate Irving, who led the team with 97 tackles and 20 ½ tackles for loss.

 

Secondary

All four starters return from 2010, but this unit is not a major plus.  Cornerback C. J. Wilson led the team with 10 passes defended, but his counterpart, David Amerson, only had one.  Safety Earl Wolff finished third on the team with 91 tackles and proved to be an effective safety blitzer.  Brandon Bishop led the team with four interceptions.

 

OTHER

O’Brien’s four years in Raleigh have seen his teams post 5-7 seasons in the odd years and advance to bowls in the even years.  The ease of the schedule could give him a chance to break that string.  After scoring almost 32 points per game and gaining more than 400, we do not see the Wolfpack matching those numbers this year.  Call it 22-26 points and 350-375 yards.  The defense could come close to matching last year’s record of 21 points and 340 yards. 

 

SUMMARY

Home games with Liberty, South Alabama, Central Michigan, and North Carolina plus a road games with Wake Forest and Virginia give NCSU a great shot for six wins.  A game at Cincinnati on Thursday, September 22, could be the best shot at a seventh win.  Do not expect another nine-win season.

 

Maryland

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New head coach Randy Edsall brought in former BYU head coach and LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton to run the Terp offense.  Crowton has an excellent quarterback to work with and an up and coming backup.  Danny O’Brien completed 57% of his passes last year for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns.  C. J. Brown shows promise, and if O’Brien falters or is injured, he is more than capable of playing for extended time.

 

Receivers

The Terps lost their top two receivers from a year ago, including Torrey Smith.  Smith caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns.  The new group of receivers should improve as the season progresses, but the road could be bumpy early.

 

Quintin McCree, Ronnie Tyler, and Kevin Dorsey combined for just 44 receptions and 524 yards.  There is some depth here with true freshman Marcus Leak a highly-prized recruit.  Tony Logan could challenge for a starting nod, and Kenny Boykins should contribute.

 

Tight end Matt Furstenburg added a dozen receptions but led the team with 17.2 yards per catch.

 

Running Backs

Davin Meggett takes over full-time here after splitting time with Da’Rel Scott last year.  Meggett rushed for 720 yards, seldom losing yardage.  He should go over 1,000 this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return, but there are no stars on this unit.  The dismissal of guard Justin Lewis and the double broken legs of tackle Pete DeSouza from a motorcycle accident makes this a thin unit. Center Bennett Fulper, guard Andrew Gonnella and tackle R. J. Dill are the experienced veterans.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

All four starters from 2010 return this year, but end Justin Anderson has an injured foot.  He had lost his starting spot to Isaiah Ross.  The strength of this unit is at tackle.  A. J. Francis and Joe Vellano teamed for 107 tackles and 17 ½ stops for loss.  True freshman Keith Bowers could see the field early.

 

Linebackers

There is no depth at linebacker, so the three starters better stay healthy and be able to play for long stretches.  Kenny Tate moves to linebacker from safety after he made 100 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  He intercepted three passes and broke up four others.  Demetrius Hartsfield finished third on the team with 88 tackles.

 

With no real depth here, Edsall moved Avery Graham from cornerback to a backup linebacker spot.  Graham is 5-10 and weighs just 195 pounds.

 

Secondary

Cornerbacks Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes return after recording 18 passes defended, but only one interception.  Matt Robinson and Eric Franklin will not be able to match the efforts by last year’s safeties.

 

OTHER

Logan is an excellent punt returner.  In 2010, he took two punts to the house while averaging 18.1 yards per return.

 

SUMMARY

Edsall has a chance to send the Terps to a bowl this year, but the team will not match last year’s results.  The schedule offers them no favors.  Out of the league, the Terps host West Virginia, Temple, and Towson.  They face Notre Dame at Fedex Field (Washington Redskins home), which is basically a home game.  It looks like Maryland will go 2-2 in those games.  Maryland will have to break even in the league just to get to 6-6.

 

Wake Forest

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Tanner Price edged out Ted Stachitas in the spring.  As a freshman, Price led the Demon Deacons with 1,349 passing yards and seven touchdowns.  He completed 56.8%, but he only averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.  True freshman Kevin Sousa is the top incoming recruit, but he may not see the field this year.

 

Receivers

This unit is not all that strong, but it has to be an improvement over last year, when WF averaged just 144 passing yards per game.  Chris Givens returns after leading the Deacs with 35 receptions and four touchdowns.  However, Givens has a hamstring injury, and his status for the start of the season is unclear.  Danny Dembry (8 receptions) may start in his place.  Michael Campanero should more than double his number of catches in 2011, but he only caught 10 last year.  Tight end Andrew Parker is more of a run-blocker, while Cameron Ford is the better route runner.

 

Running Backs

The Demon Deacons averaged more than four yards per carry last year for the first time in five years.  Josh Harris returns after gaining 720 yards and scoring seven times.  He averaged 5.7 yards per rush.  Two quality backs will back him up.  Brandon Pendergrass and Nick Knott should both see action this season.

 

Offensive Line

Four starters return to the line, so this unit should fare better this year.  However, they are prone to giving up sacks.  Four of the five are seniors, so this unit will keep mistakes to a minimum.  Guard Joe Looney is the one candidate likely to appear on an all-conference ballot. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe switched the team from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in the middle of last year’s season.  It made Nikita Whitlock a nose guard instead of a defensive tackle.  Semantics aside, Whitlock recorded 10 ½ tackles for loss.  He got better as the season progressed.  Zach Thompson and Tristan Dorty will be the two new starters at end.  Dorty was a linebacker last year and made 7 ½ tackles for losses.

 

Linebackers

Kyle Wilber figures to be the star of this unit.  He comes off a season in which he led the team with 14 ½ stops behind the line and six sacks.  He also got his paws in on four balls to send them harmlessly to the ground.  Scott Betros, Justin Jackson, and Joey Ehrmann figure to make up the rest of the quartet.  Wilber has been nursing a sore hamstring, and in his absence, Zachary Allen has been subbing for him.  While not overpowering, this unit should improve this year if Wilber can get healthy.

 

Secondary

Three starters return, led by safety Cyhl Quarles, who recorded 71 stops last year.  Kenny Okoro and Merrill Noel will start at the corners, while Joe Bush starts at the other safety spot.  This unit has room for improvement after giving up 238 passing yards per game in 2010.

 

OTHER

Kicker Jimmy Newman was almost perfect last year.  He connected on all of his PAT attempts and was 12 of 13 in field goal attempted.

 

SUMMARY

The non-conference part of the schedule is Jekyll and Hyde.  Wake Forest plays at Syracuse and hosts Notre Dame, two games the Deacons figure to lose.  They host Gardner-Webb, the only sure thing on the schedule this year.  They host Vanderbilt in the season finale, and that game should be a close one.  Wake Forest will go 2-2 or 1-3 in those four games.  In the ACC, the Deacs host North Carolina State and Maryland, the two teams that figure to be just above them in the preseason polls.  Road games with North Carolina and Duke could be winnable based on how WF has performed leading up to those games.

 

There are not enough winnable games on the schedule to see any way Wake Forest could get to six wins.  Four wins seem about right.

 

COASTAL DIVISION

 

Virginia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Replacing all-time leading passer Tyrod Taylor will be tough.  Taylor passed for 2,743 yards with a 24/5 TD/int ratio, while rushing for more than 900 yards (sacks removed).

 

Logan Thomas is big and mobile.  At 6-6 and almost 250 pounds, he is built like a tight end and was recruited to Tech as an H-Back.  Thomas saw limited action as a freshman, completing 12 of 26 passes for just 107 yards, while rushing for 29 yards on five carries. 

 

Receivers

Coach Frank Beamer has three receivers capable of challenging for all-conference honors.  Jarrett Boykin leads the way after grabbing a team-high 53 receptions in 2010.  He averaged 16 yards per catch.  Danny Coale averaged nearly 19 yards on his 39 receptions, while former QB Marcus Davis added 19 receptions.  Chris Drager has moved from tight end to defensive end and back to tight end. Eric Martin shows promise and could be used in a double tight end formation.

 

Running Backs

David Wilson has 1,000-yard potential, and the Hokies will not miss much of a beat after losing two key backs, one of whom signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  Three players are competing for the backup position.  Josh Oglesby is the leader, followed by Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes.

 

Offensive Line

This shaped up to be one of the best in the country until injuries hit two starters.  Guard Greg Kosal suffered a shoulder injury, and tackle Blake DeChristopher went down with a pectoral injury.  Both players are well-ahead of schedule in their return, but neither may be ready for the season-opener.  David Wang is working as Kosal’s replacement, and Nick Becton, Michael Via, or Vinston Painter will fill in at tackle.

 

Center Andrew Miller takes over the starting role after seeing extensive playing time as a freshman.  He is a former high school state wrestling champion and the strongest player on the line.  Guard James Brooks made the 2nd team all-conference squad last year.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been at VT for a quarter century.  Last year, a young defensive line led to the Hokies giving up more than 20 points per game and 300 yards per game for the first time since 2003.  This year’s defensive line is a concern once again with three new starters.

 

The one holdover is tackle Antoine Hopkins.  His brother Derrick will start opposite him.  The new ends are James Gayle and J. R. Collins, with redshirt freshman Zack McCray and true freshman Luther Maddy backing them up.  The potential is there for this unit to be tougher to run on than last year and with an equal pass rush.

 

Linebackers

The Hokies have both quality and quantity here, as they can go two-deep with little drop-off in talent.  Bruce Taylor is a probably 1st team All-ACC middle linebacker.  He led VT with 91 tackles and 15 ½ for loss last year with six sacks and 12 QB hurries.  He also showed his worth as a pass defender, separating the receiver from the ball four times.  Telvion Clark and Tariq Edwards are competing for one outside spot, while Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is competing with Nick Dew for the other spot.

 

Secondary

The Hokies have excellent talent, but they are not as deep here as Beamer would like to be.  Cornerback Jayron Hosley is the best in the league at his position.  He led the ACC with nine interceptions and finished tied for first with 17 passes defended.  Kyle Fuller replaces all-star Rashad Campbell; Fuller had six passes defended as a reserve last year.

 

Safeties Antoine Exum and Eddie Watley switched positions this summer, with Exum moving to free safety and Whitley moving to rover.  

 

OTHER

This is a much easier schedule for VT than the last two.  Appalachian State replaces Boise State and Alabama as the season opener.  Road trips to East Carolina and Marshall book-end a home game with Arkansas State.  The Hokies get Clemson, Miami, and Boston College at home and avoid Florida State.  They could easily run the table in the regular season.  One loss will eliminate them from any national championship talk.  They have to go 13-0 and hope two other big name teams do not do so as well.

 

SUMMARY

We believe Thomas will emerge as an excellent quarterback, but he will not be as consistent as his predecessor.  His percentage will be lower, but his yards per reception could be higher.  Look for VT to average 28-30 points per game and 375-400 yards per game.  On defense, the Hokies will recover from last year’s aberration and give up less than 20 points and 300 yards again.  A 12-0 regular season is a strong possibility, but remember this team has lost some early games to teams they should have beaten handily.  Remember James Madison last year and East Carolina in 2008?

 

Miami

Note: The PiRate Ratings have not been able to adjust for the recent news that emerged from Miami.  School President Donna Shalala revealed that 15 current players are being investigated for receiving illegal benefits from Miami booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro.  Those names were not release, but Shapiro implicated 12 players.  Since we do not know at this point just how involved things are, we cannot begin to deduct points from their rating.  We can try to put a number on the intangible destruction of the program as a whole, but for now, their PiRate Rating shows them as the second best team in the Coastal Division.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Miami quarterbacks were a bit too generous with the ball last year, throwing 26 interceptions (2/game, almost 6% of all passes).  New head coach Al Golden faces an additional headache because the projected starter is one of the 12 current Hurricanes implicated by Shapiro.  Jacory Harris may or may not get to suit up this year for his senior season.  Harris has quite an arm, but he has not been accurate.

 

Sophomore Stephen Morris will inherit the position if Harris is declared ineligible.  Morris started the four times last year and posted stats similar to Harris—54% completions 6% interceptions.  He did average better than 15 yards per completion. 

 

Receivers

Again, it is unsure if this position will be decimated with ineligibility.  Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson combined for 58 receptions and 900 yards last year; both were accused by Shapiro.  That would leave LaRon Byrd as the only experienced receiver.  He caught 41 passes, but Byrd does not have the elusiveness of the other two.  True freshman Phillip Dorsett could be thrust into action immediately.

 

The top two tight ends, USC transfer Blake Ayles and Chase Ford, have both missed practices with injuries.  Ayles was a 5-star recruit when he entered Trojanland four years ago.

 

Running Backs

Lamar Miller is a speedster, who can break open a long gain with the slightest of daylight.  He averaged six yards per carry and scored six times.  Mike James will back him up.

 

Offensive Line

This unit has a lot of depth, even with the loss of tackle Seantrel Henderson, who underwent back surgery and should miss the season.

 

Guard Brandon Washington made the 1st Team All-ACC squad, while center Tyler Horn earned 3rd Team honors.  Harland Gunn will start at guard.  Joel Figueora is a sixth year senior who can play either guard or tackle.  Redshirt Malcolm Bunche could start at tackle, while Jermaine Johnson and Jon Feliciano will provide depth.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This area is going to take a major hit if its five implicated players are declared ineligible.  Projected starting tackle Marcus Forston, starting ends Marcus Robinson and Olivier Vernon, and key backups Adewale Ojomo and Dyron Dye are the heart and soul of the line.  Forston, Vernon, and Ojomo represent 114 tackles, 14 sacks, 30 tackles for loss.

 

Tackle Micanor Regis was not implicated by Shapiro.  He made 42 tackles with eight for loss.  True freshman Anthony Chickillo could join seldom used Andrew Smith at end.

 

Linebackers

One player was accused from this unit, but he is the best defender on the team.  Sean Spence finished second on the team last year with 111 tackles, 17 for loss.  Spence also knocked away six passes.  If he becomes ineligible, outside linebacker Ramon Buchanan will become the leader of this unit.  The vacant middle linebacker spot will go to Jordan Futch, with true freshman Gionni Paul providing backup.

 

Secondary

75% of the expected starting defensive backfield is on Shapiro’s List.  Cornerback JoJo Nicolas and Safeties Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque combined for 173 tackles and 15 passes defended.  This unit will become a major liability if these players are declared ineligible, and Miami will give up at least 100 extra yards through the air than they would have with the three starters in the lineup.

 

OTHER

Shapiro accused 12 players, but the university is investigating 15.  Aside from the possible loss of eligibility, the total repercussions are greater than just the loss of 12 or 15 players.  Others will “quit” on the team, and the situation will steamroller into a catastrophe.  The Hurricanes were in line to achieve 10 to 12 wins this year if the quarterbacks could cut down on interceptions.  It could get ugly in Coral Gables, and “The U” could be looking at a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule offers few breathers.  Miami begins the season playing at Maryland on Labor Day.  Then, the ‘Canes host Ohio State in what will receive some sarcastic billing as convicts vs. convicts.  A home game with Kansas State now becomes a losable game.  Bethune-Cookman is the only sure win if all the players are lost.

 

With all the players available, Miami could go 10-2.  Without them, the Hurricanes could finish with four or five wins.  They are somewhere between 17 and 25 points weaker per game if the players are declared ineligible.  Golden inherits a mess, and we would not be surprised if he leaves after just one season.

 

North Carolina

Here is another situation, but it pales in comparison to the one in Miami.  Butch Davis was fired as head coach late in the off-season, and defensive coordinator Everett Withers was appointed as interim head coach.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Bryn Renner gets first crack at replacing T. J. Yates.  Yates completed 67% of his passes for 3,418 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, topping the eight-yard per attempt mark.  Renner threw two passes, completing one for 14 yards.  The Tar Heels passed for 264 yards per game in 2010, and it would be a stretch to think Renner can match that number.  Look for a considerable decline here.

 

Receivers

Renner has the top two receivers returning from 2010.  Dwight Jones led the club with 62 receptions and 946 yards.  Erik Highsmith finished second with 348 yards.  Jheranie Boyd is the wildcard here.  He took a pass from Yates and ran 97 yards for a score against LSU in last year’s opener, en route to a 221-yard night.  He was only 8 for 89 after that.  He also was used to run the wide reverse and gained 62 yards on 10 attempts.  This unit is loaded.

 

Running Backs

This unit loses its top three players from last year.  It welcomes back Ryan Houston, who missed last year with an injury.  Houston is not fast, but he requires two or more defenders to bring him down.  Houston will remind some fans of Jerome Bettis.  However, he has not participated in contact drills due to his shoulder surgery earlier this year.  The roster is thin after Houston with redshirt and true freshmen backing him up.

 

Offensive Line

This is where the Carolina offense needs to improve the most.  The Tar Heels’ line gave up 37 sacks last year.  Three starters return this year—center Cam Holland, guard Jonathan Cooper, and tackle James Hurst.  Cooper was a 2nd Team All-ACC player, while Hurst earned Freshman All-American accolades.  Travis Bond started against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, and he will man the vacant guard position, while Brennan Williams will take over at tackle.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

What could have been the top DL in the nation last year turned into an average line due to the ineligibility of two top players.  End Quinton Coples took advantage of his chance to start and bankrolled it into a spot on the All-ACC first team.  He finished third in the league with 10 sacks and was credited with 12 QB Hurries.  Donte Paige-Moss starts at the other end spot.  Moss recorded 13 ½ stops behind the line.  Withers can count on three players to rotate at the tackle positions.  Tydreke Powell, Sylvester Williams, and Jordan Nix are all listed as 1st string players.  While not as talented as what 2010 could have been, this is one of the best lines in the league.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year; Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown finished one-two in tackles with 74 and 72 respectively.  Reddick has all-conference potential.  Darius Lipford will be the new starter.  This unit is about average for the ACC.

 

Secondary

A hand injury to expected starting cornerback Jabari Price will keep him out for at least all of September.  Charles Brown will miss the opener after having to sit out a game, so two new cornerbacks will start at the beginning of the season.  Safety Tre Boston might start at cornerback until Brown and Price are back.  Matt Merletti will start at one safety position.  Wide receiver Todd Harrelson moves to cornerback to fill in, and true freshman Tim Scott might start the opening game.

 

Brown is the star of this unit, but UNC will sorely miss Da’Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams.  Opponents will find holes in the Carolina secondary.

 

OTHER

There is only one cupcake on the schedule, and James Madison must be taken seriously; just ask Virginia Tech!  The remainder of non-league games include home games with Rutgers and Louisville and a trip to East Carolina.  UNC will be fortunate to go 3-1 in those four games.  UNC draws Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina State from the Atlantic and avoids Florida State.  It looks like a 4-4 conference mark will be their limit this year; interim coaches are hit or miss.

 

SUMMARY

The Tar Heels will try to rely on more lengthy drives rather than trying to make quick touchdowns.  They averaged just 25 points per game but gained close to 400 yards per game.  The yardage definitely will drop, but the scoring could be about the same and not much less if any.

 

Defensively, the ‘Heels will go as far as their front four will take them.  The back seven is a little suspect, especially in the secondary.  Opponents will complete 60% of their passes and gain more than 200 yards through the air.  We believe UNC will surrender about as many points as they score.  It looks like another so-so season in Chapel Hill, but cheer up Carolina Fans—basketball season is not that far away.

 

Duke

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

If Harris is ineligible at Miami, Duke’s Sean Renfree will be the only returning quarterback in the Coastal Division.  Renfree is on the cusp of breaking out into Coach David Cutcliffe’s next star passer.  He tutored a couple of guys with the last name of Manning, so he knows how to develop passers.

 

Renfree threw for more than 3,100 yards and completed better than 61% of his passes last year.  14 of those passes went for touchdowns, but 17 went into the wrong pair of hands.  If he can reduce his mistakes this year, we could be looking at an All-ACC performer.

 

Receivers

Renfree has some quality players to pass to.  Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner could both finish in the top five in the league in receptions and yardage after combining for 133 catches for 1,709 yards last year.  Brandon Braxton will at least double his amount of receptions this year after grabbing 14 passes in 2010.  Tight end Cooper Helfet added 34 receptions, so this group has talent. Keep an eye on true freshman Jamison Crowder.

 

Running Backs

At Duke, 110 yards per game is an exemplary amount of rushing yards.  It was the most in five seasons in Durham.  Desmond Scott, Josh Snead, and Juwan Thompson all return after sharing the load last year, and the Duke running game should top 100 yards again this season.  The quartet will also top four yards per carry, making this unit abnormally strong in 2011—at least for Duke.

 

Offensive Line

This is the major question mark on this side of the ball.  The Blue Devils’ offensive line has been rather offensive in recent years.  The loss of starting center Brian Moore for an indefinite amount of time (fractured forearm) clouds the issue even more.

 

Cutcliffe has recruited well the last couple of years, and we have a sneaky suspicion that the offensive line will improve to mediocrity this season.  At Duke, mediocre is a milestone.

 

Dave Harding was an outstanding freshman last year in a part-time starter role.  He will move in from guard and take over at center.  Perry Simmons and Kyle Hill will protect the flanks and open up holes at their tackle positions.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The biggest addition to the defensive line will not suit up once this season.  He is new defensive line coach Rick Petri.  Petri has over 30 years of successful experience.

 

Petri will mold a defensive line that improves on the 200+ yards allowed rushing and only 12 sacks.  Duke switches to a 4-2-5 defense this year.  Sydney Sarmiento and Charlie Hatcher return to the inside.  Sarmiento shows promise and could emerge as a star in the next couple of years, while Hatcher is a two-gap plugger.  He finished second on the team last year with 7 ½ tackles for loss.  End Kenny Anunike is nursing a bad ankle and could miss the opener, but redshirt freshman Dezmond Johnson could step in and produce for the Blue Devils.

 

Linebackers

This is the biggest liability on the team.  Mike linebacker Kelby Brown is smaller than some safeties, and he is coming back from a knee injury.  Austin Gamble will team up to form a rather weak two-man tandem. Brown hustles and makes a lot of plays, but frequently backs get an extra yard or two.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to a unit that is not that far from respectability.  Safety Matt Daniels is the star of this unit.  He played admirably against both the run and pass last year, coming up with six stops behind the line and batting away seven passes with an interception.  Lee Butler returns at a safety position after posting nine passes defended.  August Campbell will take on the new hybrid safety/linebacker position.

 

Ross Cockrell led the Blue Devils with three interceptions.  He returns at one cornerback spot, while Zach Greene figures to start at the other spot.

 

OTHER

Duke missed a seven-win season by a thin margin last year.  Close losses to Wake Forest, Maryland, Boston College, and North Carolina left Duke at 3-9 instead.  If the offense improves by four to five points, and the defense does the same, Duke could be looking at its first six-win season since 1994.

 

SUMMARY

We admit here at the PiRate Ratings that we have the highest esteem for Coach Cutcliffe and believe he will guide Duke back to a bowl game—if not this year, then next.  Duke can win six games this year.

 

The schedule has become somewhat easier since the start of summer.  Duke’s opening game against Richmond got a lot easier when the Spiders had to replace their coach following his DUI arrest less than two weeks before the game.  The Blue Devils also face Miami and North Carolina, two more teams facing dilemmas.

 

Add Tulane and Florida International as well as home games with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest and a road game with Virginia, and you can make a case for six wins.

 

Virginia

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Uh-oh!  Virginia is in a bit of a mess here.  It’s nice to have four options at quarterback, but Coach Mike London is having to choose from a weakness and not a strength.  The loss of Marc Verica will cause UVA to drop drastically in the passing game. 

 

Sophomore Michael Rocco appears to hold a slight edge at this point after throwing 25 passes last year.  True freshman David Watford could eventually be the man under center, while Michael Strauss and Ross Metheny are in the mix.  Whoever ends up playing, expect a possibility of 100 less passing yards this season.

 

Receivers

The Cavs must replace their top play-maker from 2010.  Dontrelle Inman averaged 18 yards on his 51 receptions, and there is nobody on the roster capable of matching those numbers.

 

Kris Burd actually led in receptions with 58, but he is the only receiver capable of becoming a breakaway threat.  True freshman Darius Jennings could emerge as a key player in his first season.

 

Running Backs

Perry Jones was a co-primary option last year and rushed for 646 yards and a touchdown.  The absence of Keith Payne and his ability to convert on third and short and at the goal line will cost more than his 750 rushing yards.

 

Offensive Line

The only reason for optimism on offense this year is a rather decent and experienced offensive line.  Four starters return, including tackle Morgan Moses, who stood out as a freshman last year.  Center Anthony Mihota, guard Austin Pasztor, and tackle Oday Aboushi are the other three returning starters.  This unit is the only real plus on the 2011 offense.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Virginia could not stop enemy backs last year and was torched for more than 200 rushing yards per game and better than five yards per rush allowed.  The pass rush only produced 19 sacks, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

 

London will play three tackles in a rotation.  Matt Conrath, Nick Jenkins, and Will Hill will split time inside.  At end, Jake Snyder and Cam Johnson will start.  Johnson is the stud of this unit; he led the Cavs with 6 ½ sacks and 14 ½ tackles for loss.  Expect some improvement in the trenches.

 

Linebackers

This is the major liability on this side of the ball, even though all three starters return from 2010.  Middle linebacker Steve Greer, Will linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, and Sam Linebacker Aaron Taliaferro are competent but not spectacular.  The trio made 161 stops last year but only 1 ½ sacks on blitzes.

 

Secondary

The back line is quite talented, and with the addition of some quality recruits, it will have depth this year as well.  Cornerback Chase Minnifield led the Cavs with 10 passes defended including six interceptions. Safety Rodney McLeod provided excellent run support, but he needs to improve in the passing game.  True freshman Tra Nicholson takes over at the other cornerback spot.  Three other true freshmen, cornerback Brandon Phelps and safeties Anthony Harris and Darius Lee will see playing time.

 

OTHER

Virginia’s schedule will give them a chance to top last year’s four wins.  The Cavaliers should be favored in three of their four non-ACC games.  They host William & Mary in the opener, but UVA lost to W&M two years ago.  The Tribe will be tough to beat.  Virginia travels to Indiana and hosts Southern Miss and Idaho.  It is a tricky non-league slate; the Cavs could win all or lose all, but we believe they should go 3-1 or 2-2.  In ACC play, Virginia must play at Miami and North Carolina, the two schools with predicaments. If those games had been at Scott Stadium, then UVA might be figured to win both. 

 

SUMMARY

The Cavaliers return 17 starters, but three of the four missing were the top three players on offense.  We believe the new offense will have a tough time exceeding last year’s offense.  The defense will definitely be better, but the question remains: how many more plays will the stop side have to defend if the offense does not gel?

 

We believe Virginia is looking a repeat of last year.

 

Georgia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Joshua Nesbitt was known only for his running skills, but he ran the option like a magician.  He was on pace for a 1,000-yard rushing season before he went out for the season against Virginia Tech in game nine.  Tevin Washington started the last three regular season games plus the bowl game, and he put up similar numbers to Nesbitt.  Look for Washington to lead the team in rushing, but his passing may be no better than Nesbitt.  Tech completed just 38.1% of their passes in 2010, numbers that sound like the 1940’s and 1950’s.

 

Receivers

The top four receivers return to the fold.  Okay, the top four receivers caught a grand total of 40 passes, so this position is more about downfield blocking and getting open deep when the defense thinks you will decoy or block yet again.  Stephen Hill got open and led the team with 15 receptions; he averaged close to 20 yards per catch.

 

Running Backs

The Yellow Jackets will miss Anthony Allen, who led the ACC with 1,316 yards.  The new B-Back (fullback) is former quarterback David Sims.  He has won the job after being fourth on the depth chart in spring.  Don’t expect 1,300 yards from this position, but Sims will get the job done and force an extra defender into the box to prevent him from gaining three, four, and five yards with consistency.

 

Both starting A-backs (slot backs) return this year.  Orwin Smith and Roddy Jones combined for 869 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry, mostly on pitches from Nesbitt. 

 

Tech must cut down on the high number of fumbles this year.  They were -6 in turnover margin because of the numerous fumbles in the option plays.

 

Offensive Line

Even though option offenses can cover up liabilities in the blocking corps, this is still a big concern.  Two players expected to start will not be available at the beginning of the season.  Will Jackson and Phil Smith are out with injuries.  Jackson was selected as a Freshman All-American last year.  Backup guard Ryan Bailey is also out with an injury, so GT has some issues here. 

 

True freshman Trey Braun will start at one of the guard spots.  Omoregie Uzzi, the top blocker, will start at the other guard spot.

 

In the option offense, the line must make a lot of calls prior to the snap, and it requires a lot of thinking prior to reacting.  With the line in despair, this could be a problem early in the season.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is the only area on this side of the ball that does not have a lot of holes to fill.  As it is, the defensive line is average at best.

 

All three starters return.  Nose tackle Logan Walls can adequately plug the middle.  He only made 23 tackles, but he kept blockers away from the inside linebackers.  Ends Izaan Cross and Jason Peters combined for 11 ½ tackles for loss, and Cross knocked away four passes.  This group is not the best pass rushing trio, and they allowed enemy runners to average 4.5 yards per carry.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return, but it is new starter Jeremiah Attaochu that should become the star of this mediocre quartet.  As a freshman in a reserve role, the outside linebacker registered 23 tackles with three sacks.  Steven Sylvester will man the other outside linebacker spot, while Julian Burnett and Daniel Drummond will start on the inside.  Sylvester led the Techsters with 10 ½ tackles for loss.

 

Secondary

This unit is in shambles, and it is the reason the PiRate Ratings list them as the last place team in the Coastal Division to start the season.

 

Not having much depth to start with, GT lost two players that were expected to contribute.  Fred Holton tore his Achilles tendon and is done for the season, while Ryan Ayers transferred to Liberty.

 

Louis Young will start at one cornerback.  In limited action in 2010, he made 10 tackles.  Rod Sweeting takes over at the opposite corner after recording eight passes defended.  Safeties Rashaad Reid and Isaiah Johnson have some experience, but neither will be able to replace Dominique Reese, who was tough against both the run and pass.  Look for GT to give up more than 225 yards per game through the air.

 

OTHER

Tech’s special teams were not that special last year.  They had trouble covering punts, and there was virtually no help with punt returns.  Expected kick returner B. J. Bostic begins the season in street clothes and may be a medical redshirt.

 

SUMMARY

Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing with an averaged of 323 yards per game, and they could lead the nation again this season.  However, teams will put eight and nine in the box and force Tech to pass.  An option team needs to be able to average over eight yards per pass attempt to scare defenses into staying honest; Tech averaged just 6.5 yards and will more than likely do no better this year.  It adds up to some stagnation on offense, so we do not see the Yellow Jackets equaling their offensive production of 2010 (26 points and 407 yards).

 

Defense is going to be a sore spot, and second year coordinator Al Groh has a short fuse that could cause some dissension if early problems develop.  We do not like the prospects for this program in 2011.

 

Only an easy September schedule could save the season.  GT hosts Western Carolina to start the season and then visits Middle Tennessee.  They return to host Kansas and North Carolina to close out the month.  The Jackets need to be 4-0 if they plan on going to a bowl game, because the schedule is tough once October arrives.  If GT starts 2-2, then they will finish with four or five wins.

 

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida State

65

420

Clemson

4

286

N. C. State

 

270

Boston College

2

224

Maryland

 

211

Wake Forest

 

80

 

 

 

Coastal Division

 

 

Virginia Tech

66

421

Miami

4

328

North Carolina

 

287

Georgia Tech

1

226

Virginia

 

132

Duke

 

96

 

 

 

ACC Championship

 

Florida State

 

50

Virginia Tech

 

18

Clemson

 

2

Boston College

 

1

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida St.

123.3

8-0/13-0 *

Clemson

110.3

5-3/8-4

Boston Coll.

109.7

3-5/6-6

N.C. State

109.1

4-4/7-5

Maryland

106.5

4-4/6-6

Wake Forest

98.5

1-7/3-9

   

 

Coastal Division  

 

Va. Tech

116.1

8-0/12-1

Miami

115.2

3-5/5-7 ^

N. Carolina

106.8

4-4/7-5

Duke

99.8

3-5/6-6

Virginia

97.9

2-6/4-8

Georgia Tech

97.5

3-5/6-6

   

 

* Florida State picked to beat Va. Tech
in the ACC Championship Game

 

 

 

 

^ This prediction based on possibility of 12
to 15 players being declared ineligible.
If they play, Miami is picked to win 9 games.

 

August 23, 2011

2011 Big East Conference Preview

2011 Big East Conference Preview

To some football analysts (so-called experts), the Big East Conference does not deserve and automatic bid to a BCS Bowl game.  Not since Louisville in 2006 has a team from this league won a BCS Bowl and finished in the top 5 in the same season.  It has been four seasons since the league champion won a bowl game (West Virginia over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl when they had Pat White, Steve Slaton, and Noel Devine).  Cincinnati ran the table in 2009, but they showed they were not up to top tier standards when Florida blew them out 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl.

 

2011 does not look like the season where a Big East team challenges for a national title.  Things should change in 2012 when TCU joins the circuit.  For now, this season should be an excellent one for competition in the middle of the standings.  Last year, three teams finished tied for first at 5-2, and a fourth finished 4-3.  While we believe that one team may win the title going away this year, it isn’t impossible that another logjam at the top of the standings could be in the offing again this season.

 

Pittsburgh

Todd Graham takes over as head coach after winning at both Rice and Tulsa.  In Graham’s five years as a head coach, his teams have averaged more than 37 points per game, 287 passing yards per game, and 475 total yards per game.  In the last five years, Pitt has averaged less than 28 points per game, 208 passing yards per game, and 358 total yards per game.  To say that Panther fans are hyped is an understatement.

 

Graham’s first year at Heinz Field may not be as “offensive” as the fans expect, but there is enough talent to grab a piece of the Big East crown, especially since Pitt’s defense is going to be as good or better as last year’s stellar stop unit.

 

The offense will change from a multiple pro look to more of a spread look similar to that run by Auburn.  Piloting the new no-huddle, hurry-up attack is Tino Sunseri.  Sunseri completed 64.5% of his passes for 2,572 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, but those numbers will look like beginner’s numbers compared to what he should do this season.  He worked hard over the summer and now has better arm strength to go with a little more muscular frame.  Expect big things from Sunseri—maybe 3,500 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, as well as the possibility of national recognition.

 

The Panthers have to replace their leading receiver from last year, but this area is not much of a concern this year.  Mike Shanahan finished second with 49 receptions and 589 yards, while sophomore Devin Street proved to be a breakaway threat while grabbing 25 passes.  He started four times and played some at H-Back and some at wideout.  Hubie Graham will be the H-Back this year now that he is eligible after transferring from Illinois.

 

The running game will not suffer in the new offense.  Graham’s Tulsa teams averaged more than 200 yards rushing per game in his four years there.  Even with the loss of Dion Lewis, Pitt is in good shape here with the return of Ray Graham, who gained 922 yards while averaging better than six yards per try.  The one big question mark on this side of the ball is the depth at this position.

 

The Panthers are in good shape in the offensive trenches with seven quality players capable of starting.  Chris Jacobson is solid at one guard spot with Jordan Gibbs flanked outside him at tackle.  Ryan Turnley will move into the starting spot at center, while Lucas Nix will line up at either right guard or right tackle.  Depending on where Nix goes, either guard Corey King or tackle Greg Gaskin will fill out the line.

 

This offense might have a slight adjustment period getting used to the new offense, but once it gels, Pitt fans will get exactly what they were hoping for.  Pitt has averaged 35 points per game exactly one time in its entire history—1977.  We think this team is capable of achieving that mark in year one of the Graham regime.

 

We are even more optimistic on the stop side of the ball.  Not only is Pitt talented, all three units have quality depth.  This is hands down the best defense in the league, and the only reason Pitt may give up a few more yards and points per game this year is because the new offense will cause an extra 10 plays per game on average, about five more for the defense to be on the field.

 

The Panthers run a hybrid 3-4 defense that looks a lot like the old Oklahoma 5-2 defense of the 1970’s.  Pitt’s second team defensive line may be the second best D-line in the conference.  The first team line is composed of ends Aaron Donald and Chas Alecxih and nose tackle Myles Caragein.  Alecxih produced nine tackles for loss including 7 ½ sacks.  Donald played sparingly as a true freshman and proved to be a very capable pass rusher.  Caragein plugged the middle, allowing the inside linebackers to roam freely.

 

The four-man linebacker crew is without a doubt the best in the league.  Panther linebacker (a glorified term for a walkaway end) Brandon Lindsey could emerge as a Butkus and Bednarik Award contender.  Last year, he recorded 10 sacks and 17 ½ stops behind the line, the latter leading the Big East.  Inside linebacker Max Gruder finished second on the squad with 84 tackles.  His sidekick at the other inside linebacker position is Tristan Roberts, but he is being pushed hard by Shane Gordon.  Look for the two to split time here.  Spur linebackers (a combo linebacker and safety) Todd Thomas and Greg Williams will platoon the position.

 

More riches abound at the cornerback position.  Graham considers three players as regulars, even though just two can start.  Antwuan Reed, K’Waun Williams, and Buddy Jackson should force quarterbacks to look away from the sidelines or throw short.  Safety Jarred Holley led Pitt with five interceptions last year, and he will be joined by bandit safety (a hybrid safety/cornerback) Jason Hendricks.

 

Pitt gave up 19 points and 305 yards per game last year.  We believe those numbers will suffer slightly in the new up-tempo style, but don’t fret Panther fans; your team still has the top defense in the Big East.

 

If the offense can gel and play up to its potential in September, Pitt could actually contend for national honors.  We think the Panthers are a strong favorite to win the Big East with a decent shot at running the table in conference play.  Can the Panthers go 12-0?  It is a slight possibility.  There are four possible roadblocks.  A road game at Iowa could be tough on September 17.  The Hawkeyes are rebuilding, but they are always tough at Kinnick Stadium.  A week later, Notre Dame comes to Steeltown.  It should be the game of the week.  On October 15, Pitt entertains Utah, which is always dangerous.  Then, of course, there is the backyard brawl, and this year, Pitt travels to Morgantown to face West Virginia.  The Mountaineers could be in line to win the Big East with a win in this game, so it should be a great renewal of the rivalry with two teams capable of scoring a lot of points.

 

Cincinnati

We must admit that we were a bit surprised when our computer ratings spat out the Bearcats as the second best Big East team at the start of the 2011 season.  Coming off a 4-8 season under first year coach Butch Jones, the Bearcats will be much stronger on defense, but a rebuilding offensive line will make it hard to duplicate the offensive effectiveness of recent years.

 

The Bearcats are well-equipped at the offensive skill positions.  Quarterback Zach Collaros is one of four or five highly accomplished passers in the league.  Collaros passed for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns last year while finishing second on the team in rushing.

 

Isaiah Pead returns to his running back spot after gaining 1,029 yards at a 6.6 yards per attempt rate.  He did not start every game, so he could push that number over 1,200 yards this season.  True freshman Jameel Poteat could see extensive action in a backup role.

 

Bearcat receivers finished one-two in receptions in the Big East last year, and number two is back for an encore.  D. J. Woods was good for 57 catches and 898 yards with eight touchdowns.  Junior college transfer Kenbrell Thompkins should inherit the spot vacated by Armon Binns.

 

It is the blocking corps that worries us and makes us wonder if our computer didn’t byte on a bad bit when it calculated Cinti’s rating.  Only two starters return to the line.  One of those is tackle Alex Hoffman, a 2nd Team All-Big East selection last year.

 

UC averaged 27 points and 417 yards per game last year.  We expect those numbers to drop a little bit this year.  Look for 24-25 points and 375 yards.

 

After Pittsburgh, the Bearcats may have the best defense this season (West Virginia may have something to say about that).  The top 11 tacklers and 17 of the top 18 from 2010 are back.  15 players that started at some point will contend for the 11 starting positions.

 

The four-man defensive line will be strong.  Tackles Derek Wolfe and John Hughes will be tough to run on, while end Brandon Mills will contend for the conference lead in sacks and tackles for loss.

 

J. K. Schaffer and Maalik Bomar led the team with 111 and 70 tackles respectively.  The two linebackers combined for 17 ½ tackles for loss.

 

In the backfield, UC is stocked with depth albeit not quite up to par with the secondary at Pitt.  The Bearcats did not stop many passes last year, and if they are to live up to this rating, they must improve on their 2010 showing.  The entire two-deep returns and adds juco star Maclcolm Murray, who could crack the starting lineup by the season opener.  True freshman Trenier Orr is working his way up the depth chart.

 

The Bearcats gave up 28 points and 370 yards per game last year.  It should be easy besting those numbers this year with all the experience and depth.  If UC can shave a touchdown and 50 yards off those numbers, they might be able to live up to our lofty expectations.

 

Cinti’s non-conference schedule features two very winnable games, one possible trap game, and two games against teams that should be favored to beat the Bearcats.  All five of these games precede the Big East schedule.  If UC is 4-1 headed into the off week of October 8, the rest of the league better beware.  The Bearcats host West Virginia, but they must face Pittsburgh and South Florida on the road.  A 5-2 league mark is possible.

 

West Virginia

Welcome back to our prime time soap opera.  In today’s episode, Bill tries to go behind Dana’s back to spread nasty rumors and get him fired, but he gets caught and Bill loses his job.

 

Yes, that soap opera was no fantasy story.  Former coach Bill Stewart really did try to get his future replacement, Dana Holgorsen, fired by feeding a media source information to try to slander his offensive coordinator.  Instead, it was Stewart that was sent packing.  Holgorsen now ascends to head coach a year earlier than expected.

 

Holgorsen authored the offensive revival at Oklahoma State, after tutoring Case Keenum as OC at Houston and serving on Mike Leach’s Texas Tech staff.  The explosive spread offense used by the Mountaineers during the Rich Rodriguez era will return in spades this year.  However, WVU’s defense will take a major step backward.

 

Geno Smith may not be the running threat that Pat White was, but he has a better arm.  Smith tossed for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 65% of his passes in 2010.  Those numbers led the league in passing efficiency.  WV averaged about 32 passes per game last year; that number could top 40 this year.  Smith could easily top 3,500 yards passing.

 

Smith has three excellent options to fire his passes to this year.  Tavon Austin, Brad Starks, and Stedman Bailey teamed for 101 receptions 1,421 yards, and 16 touchdowns last year.  Starks could lose his starting spot to Ryan Nehlen, and we could see this trio topping 150 receptions, 2,000 yards, and 20 touchdowns this year.

 

Noel Devine is no longer around in the Mountaineer backfield after it seemed like he was there for a decade.  His replacement will be a three-headed monster known as Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison, and Vernard Roberts.  All three are true freshmen, so there will be a decline at this position.

 

The offensive line had to do some shuffling following the Spring Game injury of 2nd Team All-Big East guard Josh Jenkins.  The best center in the league returns in Joe Madsen.  Don Barclay returns at left tackle after earning 1st Team All-Big East accolades in 2010.

 

The Mountaineers’ offense ground to a near halt at times last year.  In a period of four weeks, WVU scored just 14, 13, and 17 points against three conference opponents.  Expect a dramatic increase in offensive production this year.  The Mountaineers could top 30 points and 425 yards per game in year one of the Holgorsen era.

 

Now, to the defense:  West Virginia’s stop troops were almost as tough as TCU’s last year.  The Mountaineers gave up just 13.5 points, 86 rushing yards, and 261 total yards last year.  This year’s defense is missing five all-conference players and seven starters overall.  Factoring into the equation the real possibility that the new offense will not produce long, time-consuming drives (WVU ran 105 more scrimmage plays than their opponents) and cause this team to defend as much as a dozen more scrimmage plays this year, WVU will not come close to matching their 2010 numbers.

 

One starter returns to the front line of the 3-3-5 defense, but the designated pass rusher from last year gives WVU the equivalent of two starting ends returning.  Julian Miller earned a spot on the 2nd Team All-Big East list after coming up with 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks.  Bruce Irvin led the league with 14 sacks and also made the 2nd Team All-Big East list.

 

The biggest rebuilding will take place in the second line of defense, as middle linebacker Najee Goode is the only holdover.  Goode contributed 8 ½ tackles for loss.

 

The back line is the strength of this side of the ball.  Safety Terence Garvin led the team with 76 tackles.  Cornerback Keith Tandy finished tied for first in the league with 17 passes defended.  Six of those were interceptions, and it earned him a 1st Team All-Big East Selection.

 

How much the defense regresses will determine how far WVU falls in the standings.  They tied for first last year.  We could see them challenging for first again this year, but we believe they will probably come in two games back and in third.  The Mountaineers will pick up three or four non-conference wins (LSU and Maryland on the schedule), so Holgorsen will guide his forces back to a bowl game.

 

Connecticut

2010 was the cherry on top season for the Huskies, as Randy Edsall guided UConn to the conference title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.  Edsall left for Maryland, and the new man is former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni.  Pasqualoni won 107 games in 14 years at Syracuse, including four Big East Championships.  The ‘Cuse went to bowl games nine times in the 14 seasons.

 

The cupboard is not bare in Huskietown, but there is quite a bit of rebuilding to do, especially on offense where five starters have departed and one unit has been decimated with the loss of four key parts.

 

That one unit comes on the offensive side of the ball, where UConn already faced some major losses.  Starting Wide receiver Michael Smith led the Huskies last year with 46 receptions and 615 yards.  He was declared academically ineligible.  Three more receivers expected to figure in the mix all quit.  Gone are Malik Generett, Gerrard Sheppard, and Leon Kinnard.  That leaves just six receivers on the roster, and two of those six are nursing minor injuries.  Kashif Moore and Isiah Moore are capable second and third options, but now they will have to become the feature receivers.

 

Just who will throw the passes is still a mystery.  As late as mid-August, Pasqualoni had not settled on a starting quarterback.  True freshman Michael Nebrich appears to have a slight edge over redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, but sophomore Michael Box and junior Johnny McEntee are also in the mix.  Nebrich will probably be under center when Connecticut hosts Fordham on September 1.  Last year’s co-quarterbacks did not produce bang-up numbers, so the eventual starter will not be that far behind what they had and could even be a little better.

 

The news is not as good at the running back position.  Jordan Todman has used of his eligibility after rushing for a conference-leading 1,695 yards with 14 touchdowns.  Number two rusher Robbie Frey is also missing.  Former Southern Cal fullback D. J. Shoemate takes over as the starter after rushing for 115 yards in limited action last year.  Shoemate had a problem holding onto the ball and was relegated to the bench.

 

The brightest spot of the offense is a talented and experienced offensive line.  Center Moe Petrus has been a 1st Team All-Big East pick in the past.  Tackle Mike Ryan made the 1st Team all-conference squad last year.

 

Connecticut will make a lot more mistakes on this side of the ball this season.  The Huskies limited mistakes last year, finishing the season +12 in turnover margin.  Don’t expect a repeat, even with a defense that could be just as good or even better than last year.  Look for about 20-24 points and 275-300 total yards out of this offense.

 

If the Huskies can plug some holes at linebacker, the defense could be a major plus in 2011.  UConn gave up 22 points and 367 yards per game last year, but it was a hit or miss season.  Against the weaker teams, the defense shut them down.  Against the stronger teams, the defense faltered.  Oklahoma, Michigan, Rutgers, and West Virginia combined to gain 1,864 yards (466/g), while the other nine opponents totaled 2,904 yards (323/g).

 

In the trenches, tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin return as starters.  They combined for 15 stops for loss.  Reyes was able to intercept two passes and knock away four others.  End Jesse Joseph returns after leading the team with 8 ½ sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

 

The secondary returns intact with cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz looking to top their production of 2010 when they teamed for 20 passes defended.  Safeties Jerome Junior and Harris Agbor round out the secondary.

 

Only one experienced player returns at linebacker, and a freshman could actually become one of the new starters.  Sio Moore is the lone holdover from last year.  He was selected to the All-Big East 2nd Team after he recorded 110 tackles with 11 ½ stops for loss.

 

It is hard to predict what we believe the defense will allow this season.  It all hinges on what the offense does.  If Shoemate can hang onto the ball and produce a year similar to what Todman produced, Connecticut could control the clock, and the defense could be okay.  If the offense never gets untracked and cannot keep the defense off the field, the defense could take a step backward even with all the returning players.  We believe in finding a happy medium and will call for numbers just a little weaker than last season.

 

UConn benefitted from having a lot of scoring punch in their special teams last year.  Kicker Dave Teggart connected on all 36 of his point after attempts as well as 25 of 31 field goal attempts.  He was two for two beyond 50 yards.  Kick Returner Nick Williams averaged an eye-popping 35+ yards per return with two touchdowns.  Both specialists return and could be a major factor once again.

 

The schedule will save the Huskies this year.  The non-conference slate includes games with Fordham, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Buffalo, and Western Michigan.  The Huskies will do no worse than 4-1 in these games.  With Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisville visiting Rentschler Field, UConn will win the two conference games they need to return to a bowl game.  It will not be a BCS Bowl this year.

 

South Florida

The Bulls finished 3-4 in league play last year, 3-4 in 2009, and 2-5 in 2008.  They have finished with winning records the past three years thanks to a non-conference record of 16-2.  Second year coach Skip Holtz lost half of his 2010 starters, but his main returnee is causing him sleepless nights.

 

Quarterback B. J. Daniels is nursing an injured hamstring.  The third year starter does not have much depth backing him up.  Without him, USF is not going to move the ball through the air and will be less predictable on the ground.  Daniels did not have a stellar sophomore year after having a breakout year as a redshirt freshman.  If he cannot go at the start of the season, backup Bobby Eveld will get the nod.  Eveld completed 56% of his 75 passes, but behind him are a couple of true freshmen who are not ready to play at the BCS level.

 

Holtz’s top receiver from last year has used up his eligibility.  Dontavia Bogan led the team with 47 receptions, 19 more than the next guy.  That guy was Evan Landi, who returns after averaging close to 14 yards on his 28 receptions.  Former starter Sterling Griffin missed all of last year, and he should give Daniels or Eveld a decent second option.  Griffin caught 14 passes in 2009.

 

The backfield shows promise even if it does not return its starter from last year.  Demetrius Murray returns after rushing for 542 yards and four scores, but he could be supplanted by former Colorado Buffalo top recruit Darrell Scott.  Scott is eligible after sitting out last year.

 

The offensive line has to replace three starters.  The two returning starters are guards Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren. 

 

USF averaged 24 points and just over 300 yards per game last year.  It was considered a major underachievement.  Even with the loss of personnel and the injury to Daniels, we have to believe that the Bulls will be able to better those stats.  Look for 25-28 points and 325-350 total yards in 2011.

 

The defense has some holes to fill as well.  Gone are last year’s top tackler and tackler for lost yardage, co-top sack producer, and top passes defender.  Six starters return, and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should find enough talent to mold a decent stop unit.

 

The biggest rebuilding job is in the trenches where three of four defensive linemen must be replaced.  Nose tackle Cory Grissom is the lone returnee.  At about 320 pounds, he can control two gaps on the line, but he will not make many tackles.  The true star of this unit is likely to be end Ryne Giddins.  In limited action as a redshirt freshman last year, he made six tackles for loss with 3 ½ sacks.

 

Linebackers Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore return after combining for 134 stops.  At the Sam Linebacker position, Reshard Cliett and Curtis Weatherspoon are likely to share reps this year.

 

The secondary is in good hands with the return of three starters, but none of the trio can be considered a game-changer.  Cornerback Quenton Washington recorded 59 tackles last year, but he only intercepted one pass.  Free safety Jerrell Young intercepted three passes to lead the team in 2010.

 

The Bulls don’t open the season with a cupcake like other teams.  They face Notre Dame in South Bend.  Other non-league tilts include three cupcakes—Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP.  The Bulls host Miami in November, and who knows how the Hurricanes will be playing by this point of the season.  They could even be facing the “death penalty” and players could be jumping off ship by this time.  Even if USF finishes below .500 in the league this year, they can return to bowl eligibility once again.

 

Syracuse

Coach Doug Marrone pulled off the biggest surprise of the league last year.  His Orangemen beat South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Rutgers to finish with SU’s first winning Big East record since 2004.  The Orangemen played in their first bowl since that season and defeated Kansas State in the most exciting bowl game of the season—the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

 

SU won with their defense in 2010, but that defense was decimated by graduation losses.  Only five starters return, and one of those will miss the first game and maybe more.  All is not gloom and doom, because they get back two key players that missed most of last year.

 

It is the secondary where all this good and bad news resides.  Free safety Phillip Thomas suffered a broken jaw and will miss at least the season opener.  Thomas is the leading returning tackler with 92.  Shamarko Thomas returns to the strong safety position.  He finished fourth with 67 tackles last year.  The two players returning from injuries should be the starting cornerbacks.  Kevyn Scott has 17 starts under his belt, while Ri’Shard Anderson saw action in seven games two years ago as a freshman.

 

Two new starters will open up at linebacker, one of whom could be a true freshman.  Marquis Spruill is the lone returning starter; he registered nine tackles for loss in 2010.

 

Up front, two defensive linemen return.  End Mikhail Marinovich recorded just three sacks and needs to improve on that number.  His counterpart, Chandler Jones, is the star of the stop side.  Jones earned 2nd team all-conference honors after recording four sacks, 9 ½ total tackles for loss, and five additional QB hurries.  He also knocked away four passes.

 

After giving up just 19 points and 300 yards last year, look for those numbers to head south in 2011.  We foresee the ‘Cuse giving up 23-28 points and about 340 yards per game.

 

The offense really did not improve much upon 2009’s production, increasing scoring by just a point per game while actually gaining fewer yards.  This year, The Orangemen should produce the most points and yards in at least seven years. 

 

There is one big distraction as this team enters fall drills.  Speedy receiver Marcus Sales is suspended indefinitely following a drug arrest.  His trial does not begin until February of 2012, so he could play the 2011 season.  Whether or not Marrone allows him to participate is another question.  Sales had 26 receptions with a 16 yard average per catch.  Syracuse still has some quality receivers on hand.  Van Chew led the team with 41 receptions.  Alec Lemon caught 32 passes.  Both players should add to their totals this season.  Tight end Nick Provo is a proven option in the middle, and he should see more passes come his way this year after grabbing 33 receptions.

 

Quarterback Ryan Nassib returns for his junior season, his second as a starter.  Nassib passed for 2,300+ yards with 19 touchdowns.  Nassib will throw more passes this season, and he should top 2,500 yards.

 

The running game will miss star back Delone Carter, who departs after rushing for more than 1,200 yards last year.  Antwon Bailey rushed for 554 yards and a couple of scores with a 4.9 yard per carry average.  He is strictly a speed back, so when SU needs to pound the ball and convert short yardage situations, expect true freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore to see a lot of action.

 

Four starters return to the offensive line, led by tackle Justin Pugh.  Pugh earned 2nd Team All-Big East accolades last year.  Guard Andrew Tiller could be on the cusp of making an all-conference team.

 

Syracuse is known for having great place kickers.  Ross Krautman is the current top kicker in the Big East.  He nailed 18 of 19 field goal attempts last year, including 6 of 7 from beyond 40 yards.

 

We see the ‘Cuse averaging about 24-27 points and 325-350 yards per game this year.  They will fall in the conference standings, but there is still a chance the Orangemen can become bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.  Four of five non-conference games are winnable, with Wake Forest, Rhode Island, and Toledo visiting the Carrier Dome.  A visit to Tulane is winnable as well, while the trip to Southern Cal should be a losing proposition.  The Orangemen should only need two conference wins to get to six.  Rutgers, USF, and Cincinnati visit the Carrier Dome.  SU could win two of those games.

 

Rutgers

After five consecutive winning seasons and four consecutive bowl wins, the Scarlet Knights took a step backward last year, finishing with just four wins.  RU coach Greg Schiano made some changes, gutting the Spread Formation and bringing in former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.  The Knights will switch back to a pro-style offense this year.

 

Rutgers’ biggest problem on offense last year was pass protection.  The offensive line gave up an unbelievable 61 sacks!  That is no typo.  Louisville dumped RU QBs nine times.  Army’s double eagle flex did the trick eight times.  The number was seven for both Pitt and Cincinnati.

 

Cignetti was a quarterback coach with the Saints and 49ers, and he will spend extra time tutoring RU quarterback Chas Dodd.  The sophomore started the final eight games and passed for 1,637 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Should Dodd need to be replaced, two freshmen could be in line as the next two options. 

 

If Dodd can get adequate pass protection, he will have a stable of quality receivers to choose from.  Mark Harrison, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Coleman, Quron Pratt, and Tim Wright and tight end D. C. Jefferson make the receiving corps as strong as any in the league.  Harrison showed breakaway ability last year when he caught 44 passes for 829 yards and nine touchdowns.  Sanu was more of a possession receiver, and he also caught 44 passses.

 

On paper, the running game appeared to be weak, but it was not so.  Factoring out sacks, the backs averaged 4.2 yards per rush.  Fullback Joe Martinek could be an important key this season.  In the new offense, he will block for a quartet of excellent backs.  Jeremy Deering may miss the start of the season with a head injury, after he averaged 4.6 yards per carry last year.  However, a true freshman may be the featured back this year.  Savon Huggins rushed for 1,891 yards and 35 touchdowns as a high school senior.  Jawan Jamison and De’Antwan Williams will see action.

 

The offensive line has nowhere to go but up, and with four starters returning, it will be improved.  Guard Desmond Wynn is the best of the bunch; his counterpart could be former prized recruit Antwan Lowery over returning starter Art Forst.  Desmond Stapleton and Andre Civil will man the tackle positions, while David Osei will be the new center.

 

Rutgers’ offense should make strides toward becoming powerful this year, but there will be some adjusting with the new offense.  Look for about 25-30 points and 375-400 yards per game.

 

Rutgers will need to outscore opponents to win, because their defense is going to resemble Swiss cheese at times.  The Scarlet Knights gave up 27 points and 375 yards per game last year, and with six key players gone, that number could weaken in 2011.

 

The strongest unit on defense will be at linebacker.  Steve Beauharnais and Khaseem Greene return after teaming for 156 tackles with 8 ½ for losses. 

 

Up front, Rutgers uses a 4-man line, but one of the ends is more of a linebacker than a true end.  Marvin Booker and Ka’Lial Glaud will probably alternate at that hybrid position.  At the other end position, Manny Abreu has a leg up on Marcus Thompson and Micheal Larrow, but as of this writing, Larrow is the only healthy player of the three. 

 

The secondary is deep with average talent.  Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones will be challenged by Mason Robinson and Marcus Cooper.  Safeties Duron Harmon and David Rowe make this unit deep albeit not outstanding.

 

With an offense that might hold onto the ball a little longer, RU could improve a little bit on the defensive side.  Still, this defense is anything but dominating, and the Scarlet Knights will have weeks where opponents torch them for 30-40 points.

 

The schedule is manageable, and RU could actually eke out enough wins to become bowl eligible.  Non-conference tilts with North Carolina Central, Ohio U, Navy, Army, and North Carolina are all winnable, but four of those opponents are dangerous. 

 

Louisville

Charlie Strong’s first year at UL was a success; he guided the Cardinals to a 7-6 record and bowl win.  If he repeats that effort in 2011, he should receive votes for National Coach of the Year!

 

UL has endured major losses on both sides of the ball, and it looks to us as though the Cards are headed back to the basement this year.

 

Just three starters return to an offense that was credible but not spectacular a year ago.  The Cards’ two-man quarterback tandem both moved on, and the new quarterback figures to be Will Stein.  Stein threw a grand total of 14 passes last year, completing nine for just 72 yards.  True freshman Teddy Bridgewater is the QB of the future.

 

Stein has some talent at the receiver position.  Josh Bellamy is an All-American trash-talker, but he may be able to back it up.  He snatched 29 passes and scored five touchdowns last year.  Andrell Smith and Michaelee Harris will be aided by promising true freshman Eli Rogers.

 

The big loss on offense is at running back, where Bilal Powell leaves after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Victor Anderson replaces Powell; he rushed for 286 yards last year.

 

The offensive line has just one returning starter, and he is center Mario Benavides.  No other offensive lineman on the roster has ever started a game, so the Cards could have some troubles moving the ball this season.

 

After averaging 26 points and 370 yards a game last year, the drop could be as far as 17 to 20 points and 300-325 yards this season.

 

While seven starters return on the defensive side, the Cards took a major hit on this side of the ball with the departure of six of the top 10 tacklers.  The biggest concern is in the trenches, even though three starters return.  Ends B. J. Butler and Greg Scruggs combined for just 37 tackles, and Butler missed Spring Practice with an injury.  The Cards will miss designated pass rusher Rodney Gnat and his team-leading nine sacks.

 

Linebackers Daniel Brown and Dexter Heyman combined for 14 ½ tackles for loss, but neither will challenge for 1st Team All-Big East honors.

 

Safeties Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton led the Cards with 88 and 74 tackles respectively.  They combined for just one interception.  Cornerback appears to be a major liability.  Johnny Patrick was high NFL draft choice after leading the conference with 17 passes defended.  Expected starter Darius Ashley was picked up twice on DUIs and is indefinitely suspended. 

 

Louisville will have a difficult time avoiding the Big East cellar.  However, there is still a small chance the Cards could become bowl eligible.  The non-conference slate gives them a small chance to win five games and a decent chance to win four.  UL plays Murray State, Florida International, Kentucky, Marshall, and North Carolina.  If they can win at least four of those five, they could go 2-5 in the league and repeat at 6-6 in the regular season.

 

2011 Big East Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

West Virginia

21

188

Pittsburgh

2

162

South Florida

1

151

Syracuse

 

98

Cincinnati

 

96

Connecticut

 

76

Louisville

 

60

Rutgers

 

33

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Pittsburgh

111.5

7-0/11-1

Cincinnati

108.7

3-4/6-6

West Virginia

106.6

5-2/8-4

Connecticut

102.1

3-4/7-5

S. Florida

101.4

5-2/9-3

Syracuse

94.8

2-5/6-6

Rutgers

94.5

1-6/6-6

Louisville

92.2

2-5/5-7

 

August 22, 2011

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

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

 

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

 

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

 

Boise State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

T C U

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Air Force

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

San Diego State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Colorado State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wyoming

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

U N L V

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

New Mexico

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011 Mountain West Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Boise State

28

236

T C U

3

208

Air Force

 

176

San Diego State

 

160

Colorado State

 

104

Wyoming

 

80

U N L V

 

77

New Mexico

 

39

 

 

2011 Mountain West Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Boise St.

121.7

7-0/12-0

T C U

110.0

6-1/11-1

Air Force

106.6

5-2/8-4

S.D.State

100.3

4-3/6-6

Colo.State

92.4

3-4/6-6

Wyoming

90.4

2-5/4-8

UNLV

85.2

1-6/2-10

New Mexico

81.7

0-7/1-11

 

August 19, 2011

2011 FBS Independents Preview

2011 FBS Independents Preview

 

While not a conference, there has been expansion in the ranks of the FBS Independents.  In fact, it has expanded by 33.3%.  Okay, that just means that one new team has been added to the ranks this year.  Brigham Young has left the Mountain West Conference to go out on their own.

 

All four independents have bowl guarantees if they become bowl eligible, so it is not such a bad deal to be unaligned with a conference—for now.  If for some reason, this group were to grow by one next year, and that team hails from Austin, Texas, then the Independents will have major relevance again.  At one time, the best teams in the nation were independent.  Remember Florida State, Miami, Syracuse, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame were all independents in the 1980’s, when they dominated nationally.

 

Notre Dame

Coach Brian Kelly has the Irish faithful “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  After a 4-5 start last year, the Irish won their last four games against three bowl teams and a Southern Cal team that would have been eligible for a bowl by an average score of 27-10.

 

Now those fans are expecting a return to a BCS Bowl Game and a possible run to the big game.  It isn’t impossible; Notre Dame is loaded and has only three tough games.  They should be favored to beat two of them.

 

Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees are back to battle for the starting quarterback job.  Crist has the stronger arm, but Rees has a more accurate arm.  The two combined for 3,100+ yards and 27 touchdowns and should top those numbers this season.  Rees started the final four games when the Irish went 4-0.

 

Most of the top receivers return from last year.  Michael Floyd is one of the best in the nation.  He caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and with the rest of this unit having quickness and great hands, defenses will not be able to double up on him all that often.  Theo Riddick is one of the best out of the slot; he finished second on the team last year with 40 receptions.  Tight end Tyler Eifert should compete for the Mackey Award.  He should top 30 receptions this season.  T.J. Jones and John Goodman give the Irish more weapons at this position.

 

Notre Dame has not been a scary running team since Lou Holtz was the coach, but they started to show signs of returning to a more daunting ground team.  In that four game winning streak to end the season, the Irish averaged 4.3 yards per rush and 156 yards per game.  Cierre Wood may not be the next Allen Pinkett, but he could approach the 1,000 yard mark this season.

 

Making the offensive efficient and consistent is a strong and somewhat quick offensive line with four experienced starters returning as well as several quality backups. Center Braxton Cave, guard Trevor Robinson and tackle Zack Martin could all contend for some form of national honors.

 

Notre Dame scored just 26 points per game in 2010, and we can see that number jumping by as much as 10 points this year.  Expect more than 400 total yards per game out of this offense.

 

Kelly’s biggest footprint on this team last year was the defensive improvement, as the Irish allowed just 20 points and 360 yards per game after giving up 26 points and 400 yards the year before.  With most of the key players from last year returning this season, expect more improvement in those numbers.  All three units are top notch.

 

The strongest of these strong units is the quartet of linebackers.  Inside, the tandem of Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese have no equals from among the 3-4 defenses in college football.  Te’o will be a high draft pick if he decides to come out after his junior season.

 

Up front, nose guard might be the only question mark in the defense.  The 3-4 needs a big, beefy guy who can control two gaps, and this may be the only weakness in this defense.  Teams with big beefy backs that can hit between the tackles may be able to find occasional success.  Ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson both have the potential to become NFL draft choices.

 

The secondary is sound thanks to the return of three starters.  Harrison Smith has few peers at the free safety position.  He intercepted seven passes and knocked away seven others last year.  Cornerback Gary Gray is a multi-talented defender.  He covers well and provides an excellent force against the run.

 

The schedule should give the Irish their first route to a BCS bowl game in five years.  Notre Dame plays no cupcakes this year, but most of the opponents are beatable.  A road game with Michigan in week two should be interesting, and a road game in the season finale against Stanford could be another “Game of the Year.”  Of course, there are the additional rivalry games with Michigan State, Purdue, and Southern Cal.  We tend to believe Kelly’s heroes will prevail in most if not all of these games.  In fact, we would not be surprised if the Irish were 11-0 when they head to Palo Alto.

 

Brigham Young

To many teams, winning seven games including a 52-24 bowl victory would be considered a successful season.  In Provo, it is considered an off year.  Relax Cougar fans; your team will improve this season as an independent.  Your schedule is tough, but your offense will be explosive once again.

 

Every skill position player that contributed for more than a play or two will be back.  Start at quarterback, where BYU has been known to produce a few good ones over the last 45 years.  The current future NFL player is Jake Heaps.  As a freshman, Heaps completed 57.2% of his passes for 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns.  We believe his numbers will top 3,300 yards and maybe 3,500 yards with 25+ touchdowns in 2011.

 

On the other end of Heaps’ missiles, the Cougars have two specialists in getting open nine yards deep when it is 3rd and 8.  Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson will not average 15 yards per reception, but they will convert a lot of third downs with receptions against pressure.  Tight end Devin Mahina provides a mighty big target at 6-06, and he should top his totals of last year (11-118).

 

In the past, BYU’s backs were noted for exceptional pass blocking and route running out of the backfield.  Unlike most teams, the Cougars have kept a split back alignment to run the original West Coast Offense.  The running game does not get the credit it deserves, but this team is capable of running the ball 50-60 times and gaining 300 yards.  J.J. DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya combined for more than 1,450 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, while Joshua Quezada added more than 500 yards and five touchdowns.  All three return.  DiLuigi caught 45 passes, and Kariya added 21, so the tradition continues in that respect.

 

Four starters return to a very capable offensive line that allowed just four sacks in the final six games.  Tackle Matt Reynolds may be the best player on the team, and he could be starting in the NFL next year.  Tackle Braden Brown and guard Braden Hansen were 2nd Team All-MWC choices last year.

 

Look for BYU to average more than 35 points and 425 yards per game this season.  Don’t be surprised if there are games in which the Cougars top 200 yards on the ground and 300 through the air, or 250 both ways.  It will be difficult if not impossible to stop them.

 

It is another story on the defensive side of the ball, where there is rebuilding to do.  The top three tacklers will not be around, and six starters are missing.  Coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defensive coordinator duties last year, and he will remain in that position this year.

 

Mendenhall will need to work magic to come up with a championship-caliber secondary.  The Cougars lost three starters including the number one and three tacklers, who accounted for 22 passes defended.  After limiting opposing passers to a low 53% pass percentage and just 192 yards in a league where quarterbacks routinely pass for 250, BYU will give up more than 200 yards and allow as much as 60% completion percentages this season.

 

BYU is in better shape at linebacker.  The return of a healthy Jordan Pendleton  along with Brandon Ogletree gives the Cougars two quality players at this position.  Uona Kaveinga began his career at USC, and he is eligible this year and could start from day one.

 

Another former Trojan, nose guard Hebron Fangupo is perfect for a 3-4 defense.  He should control the A-gaps and give the linebackers the freedom to pursue aggressively.  Ends Eathhyn Manumaleuna and Matt Putnam need to improve and provide more pass rushing to their repertoire, as the Cougars did not disrupt enemy quarterbacks enough last year.

 

BYU gave up 21 points per game last year, but it was a “Tale of Two Cities.”  In the first seven games, they allowed 28 points and 400+ yards per game.  In the final six games, they gave up 14 points and less than 250 yards per game.  We have confidence in Mendenhall; he is a terrific defensive coordinator, and hiring himself for that position verifies he is a smart head coach.  However, the Cougars will take a step backwards on this side of the ball in 2011.  Call it 24-26 points allowed per game.

 

BYU’s schedule is tough.  The Cougars keep Utah and TCU from their old conference.  They go on the road to face Ole Miss, Texas, Oregon State and Hawaii.  They should dominate all the other teams on the schedule.  We believe they can win two or three of those tough games, so call it an 8-9 win season with a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl.

 

Navy

For a short time after the end of the 2010 season, it looked like Coach Ken Niumatalolo might be headed to an AQ school in a big conference, but in the end, he stayed in Annapolis.  After winning 27 games in his three years at the Naval Academy, look for the Midshipmen to take a small step backward for Coach N.

 

When an option team loses an experienced quarterback, they almost always regress a little.  Ricky Dobbs led Navy in rushing while passing for more than 1,500 yards as a senior.  His replacement, Kriss Proctor, threw a total of five passes last year, but he will be a better runner than Dobbs.  Proctor started against Central Michigan, a game in which Navy won 38-37.  He rushed for 201 yards in that game.  In 2009, he ran for 89 yards, including the decisive 40-yard touchdown jaunt to beat Wake Forest.  Proctor could rush for more than 1,000 yards this year, but he may find it hard matching his rushing output with his passing output.

 

Two of the three starting backs return this year, led by fullback Alexander Teich.  Teich is hard to bring down with just one defender, and that makes the spread option go.  He averaged almost six yards a try in 2010 and rarely lost yardage.  B-Back Gee Gee Greene rushed for almost 500 yards caught 18 passes at a 16-yard clip.

 

The receivers will be called on to block more than ever this season.  Brandon Turner has big play potential, especially when the opposing safeties begin to think Navy will never pass.  He averaged 28.2 yards on his four receptions last year.  He could catch as many as 25 passes this year, and if he can average “just” 20 yards per catch, he could take enough pressure off the running game.

 

The offensive line should be a strength this year.  In this offense, offensive lines do not need much time to gel.  With center Brady DeMell and guard John Dowd, Navy has a couple of blockers that will open some holes for Teich.  That will force an extra defender to cover inside, and that will allow Proctor more room to attack the perimeter.

 

Navy’s offense will be potent this year.  Last year, they averaged 30 points and 405 yards per game.  They may not equal those numbers this year, because the Midshipmen will try to control the clock more to keep a green defense off the field.  We can see this team leading the nation in rushing with about 325-350 yards per game, while throwing for only 60-75 yards per game.  It adds up to about 28 points per game.  If the offense can control the ball for about 68 plays and allow only 60-64, Navy can go bowling yet again.

 

Now, for the defense.  Navy’s best defense will be a ball-controlling offense, because the Midshipmen lost too much on this side of the ball.  Eight key players used up their eligibility, including six of the top eight tacklers.

 

Among the holdovers, end Jabaree Tuani is the one real star.  He registered 15 ½ total tackles for loss last year.  Navy was generous against the run last season, giving up 4.6 yards per attempt, and we cannot see any improvement here this year.

 

The four-man linebacker unit returns one starter and one top reserve.  Max Blue  is a little better against the pass than the run.

 

The secondary was not exactly terrific, as it gave up close to 70% completions.  With only one starter returning, teams may pass Navy dizzy this year.

 

An easy schedule will give the Midshipmen enough sure thing wins to propel them back to a bowl, but this team will not win as many games as last year.  If they should happen to lose to Delaware in the opener, then all bets are off.  Navy’s nine-game winning streak over Army could be in jeopardy.

 

Army

Coach Rich Ellerson guided the Knights to a bowl game in just his second season in West Point.  Army finished with a winning record for the first time in 14 years.  In order for the Black Knights of the Hudson to go back to a bowl in 2011, the offense may have to ignite and look somewhat like it did in the days of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard.  The defense is going to leak like a sieve this year.

 

Trent Steelman returns for his third year as a starter at quarterback.  He rushed for more than 800 yards when you factor out sacks, and he scored 11 rushing touchdowns.  While he was not called on to pass very often, he held his own as a passer, completing 53.4% of his passes for 995 yards and seven touchdowns against just three picks.

 

Fullback Jared Hassin is the best at his position from among the handful of teams that run the option.  He rushed for 1,013 and nine touchdowns last year.  At 6-3 and 235, he is a downhill runner with the ability to run for an extra yard or two after contact. 

 

Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs will be dangerous open-field runners when Steelman is force to pitch.  The two combined for 5.7 yards per rush and nine scores in 2010, and we expect more breakaway runs this season.

 

The two starting wide receivers from last year are back for more.  Austin Barr and Davyd Brooks were the leading receivers, but their combined efforts only produced 29 receptions and 453 yards.  Ellerson would probably like to use Brown and Cobbs more in the passing game.

 

Only one starter returns to the offensive line, but in the spread option, it is much easier to break in new linemen.  While there could be a bump or two in the road early in the season, the line should perform fine by the third or fourth game.

 

Army scored 27 points per game last year, while rushing for more than 250 yards per game.  They finished dead last in passing with just 78 yards per game.  Army games take a lot less time to play, and the total number of scrimmage plays in their games last year was less than 125.  That is how the Black Knights have to play to win—control the clock and use long drives to keep the defense on the sidelines.  It worked for Vince Lombardi, and it works for Ellerson.  Look for Army to take the air out of the ball even more this year.  We could even see their games going for just 120 plays.  Thus, we forecast Army to maybe score a couple points less this year but be just as efficient if not more so.

 

The defense is a major problem.  To start off, only five starters return to the fold.  Army runs the old “Desert Swarm” defense (Double Eagle Flex) used by Dick Tomey at Hawaii and Arizona (Ellerson was an assistant), and this defense requires more thinking than most NFL defenses.  New players sometimes get confused themselves, and it only take one missed assignment to create a huge running lane or wide open receiver.  We see this happening more this year than in Ellerson’s first two seasons.

 

Another major problem is the size of the defensive line.  In this defense, size is not as important as quickness and intelligence, as the linemen almost always stunt and switch positions.  However, this leads to a lot of lateral movement at the time of the snap.  Smaller players moving laterally can be annihilated by larger offensive linemen moving north.  One player who should shine is end Jarrett Mackey.  Mackey recorded four sacks in 2010.  Army will sorely miss Josh McNary, who led the team with 10 sacks.

 

The linebackers do a lot of blitzing in this defense.  Middle linebacker Steven Erzinger finished second on the team with 76 tackles, but leading tackler Stephen Anderson is now a commissioned officer.

 

The secondary returns both starting cornerbacks in Richard King and Josh Jackson.  King successfully defended seven passes with four interceptions.

 

Army gave up 24 points and just 338 yards per game last year.  Although undersized, they were able to pester opposing offenses and cause a lot of confusion.  This year, those opponents may not be quite so confused, and the Knights could have a difficult time stopping good running teams.  We look for a step backward here.  However, the schedule includes a bunch of teams that will not be able to exploit Army’s size liabilities.  This will give the Black Knights a chance to challenge for another bowl game.  It could come down to breaking the nine-game losing streak to that team with the goat.

 

Note: There is no official media poll for the FBS Independents.  What we have included here is an average of seven different print magazines and online sources (ours not included).

 

Average of 7 Online and Magazine Predictions

 

Team

Predicted Won-Loss

Notre Dame

10-2

Brigham Young

8-4

Navy

6-6

Army

6-6

 

2011 Independents PiRate Ratings

 

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Notre Dame

123.9

11-1

Brigham Young

108.5

8-4

Navy

96.1

7-5

Army

86.3

5-7

 

Next: The Mountain West Conference Preview—Monday, August 22

August 18, 2011

2011 Western Athletic Conference Preview

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

2011 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011 WAC Preseason Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Hawaii

18

292

Fresno State

11

284

Nevada

11

264

Lousiana Tech

 

184

Utah State

 

166

Idaho

 

141

San Jose State

 

85

New Mexico State

 

60

 

 

2011 WAC PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Nevada

101.4

7-1/8-4

Hawaii

98.4

5-3/8-5

Louisiana Tech

93.5

5-3/5-7

Fresno State

93.0

6-2/7-6

San Jose State

91.1

2-6/2-10

Utah State

90.2

2-6/3-9

Idaho

88.2

4-4/5-7

New Mexico State

78.8

1-7/1-11

 

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

 

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