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.

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 13, 2010

2010 FBS Independents Preview

2010 FBS Independents Preview

 

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

Predictions

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

 

Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame

Poinsettia Bowl: Navy

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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