The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 29, 2013

2013 NFC East Preview

2013 N F C East Preview

The NFC East Division promises to be one of the most exciting divisional races this year, as the top team may come back to the pack and the bottom team may be vastly improved.  Due to the handicapped scheduling, Washington must face Atlanta and San Francisco in its extra two games, while Philadelphia gets Tampa Bay and Arizona.

 

We believe this is the last year where the New York Giants have enough talent to challenge for another Super Bowl run.  Eli Manning has enough parts left to guide the Giants back to the top of the division, even if the team is starting to age and lose key parts.  9-7 may be good enough to get into the playoffs in this balanced division, but the Giants schedule includes games against Carolina and Seattle.  They could lose both, but the key is to go 4-2 in divisional play.

 

Dallas and Washington might split 100 games against each other 50 to 50.  These teams have definite assets and liabilities that other teams can exploit or be exploited by.  They look like 8-8 teams to us.  Dallas faces New Orleans and St. Louis, and they could win both, split, or lose both.  If they happen to win both, then Jerryworld could be happy after 17 weeks.

 

Philadelphia is a big wildcard this year.  Can Chip Kelly’s college offense resurrect the Eagles?  As long as Michael Vick stays healthy, this offense will work in the NFL.  However, we don’t believe Vick can start 16 games without getting banged up.  Thus, we expect the Eagles to be better at the start of the season than at the end.  We could see Philly starting 5-5 and being right there in the playoff hunt going into their bye week.  If Vick is still healthy, then the Eagles could still have a chance.  If he is banged up, then the last six games could be ugly.  A 5-5 start could easily become a 1-5 ending for a 6-10 record.

 

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 East

East

Color

Red

Green

Blue

Dallas Cowboys

Dark Blue

0

33

71

 

Metallic Silver Blue

130

138

135

 

White

255

255

255

New York Giants

Dark Blue

11

34

101

 

Red

167

25

48

 

White

255

255

255

Philadelphia Eagles

Midnight Green

0

73

83

 

Black

17

28

36

 

Metallic Silver

130

138

135

Washington Redskins

Burgundy

130

36

51

 

Gold

255

182

18

 

White

255

255

255

 

 

2012 Final Standings & PiRate Ratings

NFC East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

W-L-T

Pts

Opp

New York Giants

106.6

105.8

105.2

9-7-0

429

344

Washington Redskins

102.7

103.8

104.6

10-6-0

436

388

Dallas Cowboys

99.2

99.3

99.4

8-8-0

376

400

Philadelphia Eagles

91.7

90.8

90.2

4-12-0

280

444

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013 Preseason PiRate Ratings

East

PiRate

Mean

Biased

New York Giants

101.7

102.0

100.8

Dallas Cowboys

100.3

102.1

100.2

Washington Redskins

100.0

99.6

99.3

Philadelphia Eagles

94.4

95.1

94.0

 

PiRate Previews

 

Team

Dallas Cowboys

               
Head Coach

Jason Garrett

O-Coord.

Bill Callahan

D-Coord.

Monte Kiffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Tony Romo

Running Back

DeMarco Murray

Wide Receiver

Dez Bryant

Wide Receiver

Miles Austin

Wide Receiver

Terrance Williams

Tight End

Jason Witten

Left Tackle

Tyron Smith

Left Guard

Nate Livings

Center

Travis Frederick

Right Guard

Mackenzy Bernadeau

Right Tackle

Doug Free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Anthony Spencer

Left Tackle

Jason Hatcher

Right Tackle

Sean Lissemore

Right End

DeMarcus Ware

Sam LB

Justin Durant

Mike LB

Sean Lee

Will LB

Bruce Carter

Left CB

Brandon Carr

Right CB

Morris Claiborne

Strong Safety

Barry Church

Free Safety

Will Allen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Dan Bailey

Punter

Chris Jones

K-Return

Lance Dunbar

P-Return

Dwayne Harris

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

8-8

Division

2nd Tie

 

Team

New York Giants

               
Head Coach

Tom Coughlin

O-Coord.

Kevin Gilbride

D-Coord.

Perry Fewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Eli Manning

Running Back

David Wilson

Fullback

Henry Hynoski

Wide Receiver

Hakeem Nicks

Wide Receiver

Victor Cruz

Tight End

Brandon Myers

Left Tackle

Will Beatty

Left Guard

Kevin Boothe

Center

David Baas

Right Guard

Chris Snee

Right Tackle

David Diehl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Justin Tuck

Left Tackle

Linval Joseph

Right Tackle

Cullen Jenkins

Right End

Jason Pierre-Paul

Sam LB

Keith Rivers

Mike LB

Dan Connor

Will LB

Spencer Paysinger

Left CB

Corey Webster

Right CB

Prince Amukamara

Strong Safety

Antrel Rolle

Free Safety

Ryan Mundy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Josh Brown

Punter

Steve Weatherford

K-Return

David Wilson

P-Return

Rueben Randle

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

9-7

Division

1st

 

Team

Philadelphia Eagles

               
Head Coach

Chip Kelly

O-Coord.

Pat Shurmur

D-Coord.

Billy Davis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Michael Vick

Running Back

LeSean McCoy

Wide Receiver

Riley Cooper

Wide Receiver

DeSean Jackson

Tight End

Brent Celek

TE/H-Back

James Casey

Left Tackle

Jason Peters

Left Guard

Evan Mathis

Center

Jason Kelce

Right Guard

Todd Herremans

Right Tackle

Lane Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Cedric Thornton

Nose Tackle

Isaac Sopoaga

Right End

Fletcher Cox

Left OLB

Connor Barwin

Left ILB

Mychal Kendricks

Right ILB

DeMeco Ryans

Right OLB

Trent Cole

Left CB

Bradley Fletcher

Right CB

Cary Williams

Strong Safety

Nate Allen

Free Safety

Patrick Chung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Alex Henery

Punter

Donnie Jones

K-Return

Damaris Johnson

P-Return

DeSean Jackson

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

6-10

Division

4th

 

Team

Washington Redskins

               
Head Coach

Mike Shanahan

O-Coord.

Kyle Shanahan

D-Coord.

Jim Haslett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected Starting Lineup

Position

Player

 

Offense

Quarterback

Robert Griffin, III

Running Back

Alfred Morris

Fullback

Darrel Young

Wide Receiver

Pierre Garcon

Wide Receiver

Josh Morgan

Tight End

Fred Davis

Left Tackle

Trent Williams

Left Guard

Kory Lichtensteiger

Center

Will Montgomery

Right Guard

Chris Chester

Right Tackle

Tyler Polumbus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense

Left End

Jarvis Jenkins

Nose Tackle

Barry Cofield

Right End

Stephen Bowen

Left OLB

Ryan Kerrigan

Left ILB

London Fletcher

Right ILB

Perry Riley

Right OLB

Brian Orakpo

Left CB

DeAngelo Hall

Right CB

Josh Wilson

Strong Safety

Brandon Meriweather

Free Safety

Bacarri Rambo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Teams

Kicker

Kai Forbath

Punter

Sav Rocca

K-Return

Niles Paul

P-Return

Santana Moss

 

 

Predictions

 

Record

8-8

Division

2nd Tie

 

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December 4, 2012

PiRate Ratings and Spreads For NFL Week 14: December 6-10, 2012

Playoff Scenarios

 

A F C East

New England has secured the AFC East title and has a chance to earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs if they can run the table, and Houston loses to somebody else besides the Patriots.

 

The other three teams have mathematical chances of sneaking in as wildcards, but to say they are slim is still overstating those chances by a large margin.  Buffalo could rebound to finish 8-8.

 

A F C North

This race became much more interesting with the Steelers upsetting the Ravens in Baltimore.  Now, the Ravens lead is two games and is no longer infallible.  We see the second place teams Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both winning their next two games, and they should both be 9-5-0 when they face off at Heinz Stadium in week 16.  The winner of that game will be playoff bound, while the loser will need help or be out of the picture.

 

The winner of that week 16 game could finish tied with Baltimore, but the Ravens hold the tiebreaker edge over both teams.

 

A F C South

Houston can secure home field advantage for the playoffs if the Texans win at New England and don’t crumble afterwards.  We see the Texans losing this week and possibly in week 17 at Indianapolis.

 

Speaking of the Colts, Andrew Luck and company are in excellent shape in the wildcard race, and with games remaining with Tennessee and Kansas City, we see this team winning at least 10 games.  They must face Houston twice in the final three weeks, but we believe they will split those games to lock up a wildcard spot.  If they could somehow sweep the Texans, Indy could still emerge as division champs.

 

A F C West

Denver essentially took over command in this division when they came from behind to beat San Diego.  The Chargers collapsed, and the Broncos have run away with the division.  We are a bit concerned about their game at Oakland, because the Raiders always have their A-game against the Broncos.  If they can top the Raiders, the Broncos can run the table and possibly squeeze into the number two spot or even the top spot in the conference.

 

N F C East

Hail to the Redskins!  Washington has bested its two key division rivals in back-to-back games, and now RGIII and his Capital Punishers look to grab a division title.  We think the Redskins and Giants will finished tied for the division lead at 9-7, and if that is so, Washington will win the tiebreaker based on better division record.

 

The Giants can never be counted out, but they are not hitting on all cylinders.  With Atlanta and Baltimore still on the schedule, Eli Manning may not be able to win three more games to clinch a playoff bid.

 

Dallas looks like a stereotypical 8-8 team.  Only if the Giants and Redskins totally collapse will the Cowboys sneak into the playoffs.

 

N F C North

This division has begun to fade rather than improve as the northern chill takes over in the old Black and Blue Division.  Green Bay and Chicago will decide who is the division champ and who is the wildcard when they face off at Lambeau Field in two weeks.

 

Minnesota still has a remote chance to be a wildcard, but at 6-6, the Vikings must win out.  Their final four games include tough road games against Houston and St. Louis, as well as home games against the Bears and Packers.  It’s not happening this year.

 

N F C South

Atlanta almost has home field advantage wrapped up to the Super Bowl.  The Falcons own a 2 ½ game lead over San Francisco and could secure the number one seed in two weeks.  That would leave Atlanta with two meaningless games, but that week 17 game could be very important.

 

The Falcons’ week 17 game comes against Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers are fighting for a wildcard spot.  The Bucs have a shot at entering that game at 9-6, and then that finale becomes very important.  Tampa Bay almost has to be 10-6 to make it as a wildcard.

 

N F C West

San Francisco may be the best team in the NFC, but the St. Louis Rams believe otherwise.  At 8-3-1, the 49ers are almost a lock to win the division, but they cannot be considered an overwhelming favorite to advance to the Super Bowl.

 

Seattle proved they can win on the road with a key victory in Soldier Field over the Bears.  The Seahawks have three remaining home games and a road game against Buffalo.  The opportunity is there for Pete Carroll’s team to run the table and possibly steal the division title away from San Francisco, but we believe the Seahawks will lose at least one time and have to settle for the wildcard.

 

PiRate Playoff Projection

 

A F C

1. New England

2. Houston

3. Denver

4. Baltimore

5. Pittsburgh

6. Indianapolis

 

N F C

1. Atlanta

2. San Francisco

3. Green Bay

4. Washington

5. Seattle

6. Chicago

 

Wildcard Round

Indianapolis at Denver

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Chicago at Green Bay

Seattle at Washington

 

Divisional Round

Pittsburgh at New England

Denver at Houston

Seattle at Atlanta

Green Bay at San Francisco

 

Conference Championship

Denver at New England

San Francisco at Atlanta

 

Super Bowl

New England vs. Atlanta

 

New England wins Super Bowl

 

Here are this week’s PiRate Ratings

NFC East PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
New York Giants 105.9 104.7 104.1 103.5 3
Washington Redskins 100.5 101.1 101.4 102.0 2
Dallas Cowboys 98.8 99.3 99.5 100.0 1.5
Philadelphia Eagles 93.6 92.5 92.0 91.5 3.5
           
NFC North PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
Chicago Bears 106.2 104.6 103.7 103.0 2.5
Green Bay Packers 105.4 103.9 101.8 102.5 2.5
Detroit Lions 98.5 97.5 98.5 96.5 2.5
Minnesota Vikings 96.7 97.7 98.1 99.0 3.5
           
NFC South PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
Atlanta Falcons 105.6 106.8 106.6 108.5 2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 102.2 101.5 99.7 101.0 2.5
New Orleans Saints 101.5 100.9 100.8 100.5 2.5
Carolina Panthers 94.5 94.2 96.2 94.0 1.5
           
NFC West PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
San Francisco 49ers 108.3 107.1 104.2 106.0 2.5
Seattle Seahawks 104.4 104.3 104.3 104.5 5
St. Louis Rams 97.8 98.5 98.8 99.5 3.5
Arizona Cardinals 96.6 94.6 95.9 92.5 2
           
AFC East PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
New England Patriots 111.2 109.4 106.0 107.5 1.5
Miami Dolphins 98.9 98.8 98.6 99.0 1.5
New York Jets 97.9 96.9 96.2 96.0 2
Buffalo Bills 96.7 97.7 101.0 99.0 3.5
           
AFC North PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
Baltimore Ravens 103.6 104.4 104.8 105.5 4.5
Cincinnati Bengals 102.6 103.1 103.2 104.0 3
Pittsburgh Steelers 101.7 103.1 102.6 105.0 4
Cleveland Browns 95.6 96.1 97.8 97.0 2
           
AFC South PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
Houston Texans 107.8 108.3 108.5 109.0 3
Indianapolis Colts 95.6 99.4 101.3 104.0 4.5
Tennessee Titans 93.5 93.9 94.0 94.5 2.5
Jacksonville Jaguars 91.2 91.7 91.9 92.5 0.5
           
AFC West PiRate Mean Biased Vintage HFA
Denver Broncos 108.3 108.1 105.9 108.0 3
San Diego Chargers 98.0 97.4 99.2 97.0 2.5
Kansas City Chiefs 90.8 91.0 91.1 91.5 2.5
Oakland Raiders 90.0 91.5 92.3 93.5 3.5

 

Here are this week’s PiRate spreads

Favorite Underdog PiRate Mean Bias Vintage Vegas Totals
Denver OAKLAND 14.8 13.1 10.1 11.0 10 1/2 49 1/2
Baltimore WASHINGTON 1.1 1.3 1.4 1.5 -2 1/2 47   
CLEVELAND Kansas City 6.8 7.1 8.7 7.5 5 1/2 37 1/2
PITTSBURGH
San Diego
7.7 9.7 7.4 12.0 NL NL
INDIANAPOLIS Tennessee 6.6 10.0 11.8 14.0 5 1/2 48   
New York Jets JACKSONVILLE 6.2 4.7 3.8 3.0 2 1/2 38 1/2
Chicago MINNESOTA 6.0 3.4 2.1 0.5 3    39 1/2
Atlanta CAROLINA 9.6 11.1 8.9 13.0 3 1/2 47 1/2
TAMPA BAY Philadelphia 11.1 11.5 10.2 12.0 7    47   
BUFFALO St. Louis 2.4 2.7 5.7 3.0 3    42   
CINCINNATI Dallas 6.8 6.8 6.7 7.0 3    45 1/2
SAN FRANCISCO Miami 11.9 10.8 8.1 9.5 10    39   
NEW YORK GIANTS
New Orleans
7.4 6.8 6.3 6.0 5    53 1/2
SEATTLE
Arizona
12.8 14.7 13.4 17.0 10 1/2 34 1/2
GREEN BAY Detroit 9.4 8.9 5.8 8.5 6 1/2 52   
NEW ENGLAND Houston 4.9 2.6 -1.0 0.0 3 1/2 51 1/2

 

September 26, 2011

PiRate Ratings: College Football for September 29-October 1, 2011

Conference Action Gets Into Full Swing

Historically week five is the start of conference action in earnest.  Teams that play eight conference games have either already played one conference foe or will be doing so this week.  Let’s take a look at some of the key games on tap.

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

In an early contest of unbeatens, surprising Clemson visits Virginia Tech.  It’s possible these two teams could meet again in December.  The last time either of these teams were 4-0, they lost their fifth game, which both times happened to come against Georgia Tech.

 

Speaking of Georgia Tech, the 4-0 Yellow Jackets visit a wounded North Carolina State team in Raleigh, where the Wolfpack are reeling from a Thursday night drubbing in the Queen City of Ohio.  Tech lost big at home to State last year, but the Wolfpack lost Russell Wilson to college free agency.

 

Wake Forest appears to be stronger this season and possibly talented enough to gain bowl eligibility.  The Demon Deacons face an important road game at disappointing Boston College.  The Eagles must win this game, or they are virtually assured of suffering their first losing season this century.

 

Big East Conference

South Florida is the only remaining unbeaten team in the Big East, and the Bulls put their 4-0 mark on the line in a Thursday night game at 2-2 Pittsburgh.  The Panthers appeared to be in a malaise against Notre Dame after losing at Iowa the week before.  This is the fourth time in the last five years that USF has opened 4-0.

 

Syracuse, fresh off a controversial win over Toledo (one that was given to them by one of the worst officiating calls in years), hosts Rutgers in a game that will have a lot of Big Apple fans interested.  The loser will have to hustle to find enough wins to earn a bowl bid, while the winner will be in very good shape.

 

Big Ten

There are a few really big games across the land this week, and the primetime highlight game will take place in Madison, Wisconsin.  The 4-0 Wisconsin Badgers will take on the 4-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers in what will be the boys from Lincoln’s very first Big Ten Conference game.  This game could be a preview of the Big Ten’s very first conference championship game in December.

 

Illinois has not been 4-0, or 5-0 for that matter, since they went 9-0-1 and won the Rose Bowl in 1951.  The Illini own a win over Arizona State, so the 4-0 record is not a complete sham.  They host in-state rival Northwestern this weekend.  If you remember last year’s game, these two faced off at Wrigley Field in a game that forced both teams to go in the same direction for the entire day.  After the teams fought to a 24-24 tie, Illinois ran off two touchdowns and a field goal in a short amount of time to put this one away.

 

Michigan State visits the giant horseshoe to take on Ohio State in a battle of once-beaten teams.  Both teams feasted on weak opponents last week, and they should be ready to square off in a hotly-contested conference opener.  Ohio State must go to Lincoln next week to face Nebraska in the Cornhusker’s first ever Big Ten home game, while the Spartans get a week off to prepare for arch-rival Michigan.  The schedule is tailor-made for an MSU run to the division title, if they can get by the Buckeyes. 

 

After a two-year hiatus from the schedule, the Little Brown Jug is up for grabs this week, as Michigan hosts Minnesota.  Brady Hoke has Michigan off to a 4-0 start, and the Wolverines have a good shot at starting 6-0 before visiting Michigan State in Mid-October.  As long as he stays healthy, Denard Robinson has to be considered a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.  Minnesota has rarely had the opportunity of housing the jug, as since Minnesota last earned a share of the Big Ten title in 1967, the Gophers have won this game in 2005, 1986, and 1977, while losing 33 others (they did not play in four different seasons).

 

Big 12

This conference is the cat of college football, as it has nine lives.  Just when it appeared as though final rites were ready to be administered for the second year in a row, an eleventh hour reprieve has saved the league for at least a short time.  We believe Texas A&M is still headed to the SEC, and we won’t believe Missouri isn’t going to be the 14th team until it is carved in stone.

 

Texas visits Iowa State in a surprising battle of unbeatens.  The Cyclones have enjoyed a string of fortunate happenings so far, but we believe that string has reached the end of the line.  Texas is not the powerhouse of old, but the Longhorns’ defense should be tough enough to move Mack Brown’s boys to 4-0 before the Red River Rivalry game a week later.

 

Baylor visits the Little Apple to face Kansas State in another surprising game of unbeatens.  The winner of this game is almost assured of an eight-win season with the possibility of getting to nine, while the loser is likely to fall back to 7-5 with the possibility of falling to 6-6.  BU quarterback Robert Griffin III leads the nation in passing efficiency.

 

Pac-12

After a week off, Stanford hosts a mediocre UCLA team.  For a leading Heisman Trophy contender, Andrew Luck has almost remained anonymous through three games.  He may have to wait four more weeks until the Cardinal face Southern Cal at the L.A. Coliseum before he gets a big enough stage to state his case.  He is currently number 11 in passer efficiency rating.

 

The Utah Utes play their first Pac-12 Conference home game when the Washington Huskies visit Salt Lake City.  While neither team is likely to figure in their respective divisional races, both should be bowl eligible at the conclusion of their schedules.

 

Arizona State is in the driver’s seat in the Southern Division after blitzing Southern Cal Saturday night.  Coach Dennis Erickson has been there before, and his Sun Devils take on one of his former teams this week in winless Oregon State.  The Beavers have not been this weak since they were this weak every year from about 1970 to 1998.

 

Southeastern Conference

Outside of Madison, Wisconsin, the other big conference headliner this week finds Alabama going to the Swamp to take on Florida.  Both teams are 4-0.  Both teams rank near the top in both total offense and total defense.  Florida averages 40.3 points per game with 462 yards of total offense, while yielding nine points and 232 yards per game.  Alabama averages 38.5 points and 456 yards per game, while yielding just eight points and 184 yards per game.  The winner of this game will need to get by LSU to have a chance to play for the national title later in the season.

 

It will be a Bulldog battle in Athens, when Georgia faces Mississippi State.  The loser will have three losses, and if that team is the home team, it could be the beginning of the end for Coach Mark Richt.  A Georgia win keeps the Bulldogs in contention for the SEC East title, especially if Florida loses to Alabama.  Georgia does not play Alabama, Arkansas, or LSU.

 

South Carolina hosts Auburn, and the Gamecocks will be looking for revenge after losing twice to the defending national champs last year.  Running back Marcus Lattimore is the co-best rusher in the nation along with LaMichael James at Oregon (not counting Mr. Robinson in Ann Arbor). 

 

L S U owns wins over three top 25 teams in the four games they have played thus far.  The Tigers are home for their next four games, and they could be 8-0 when they visit Tuscaloosa in early November.  This week, Kentucky should be fodder for the Bayou Bengals.

 

Here is a look at this week’s FBS teams ranked from 1 to 120. 

 

#

Team

PiRate

1

Alabama

133.5

2

Oklahoma

131.2

3

Stanford

130.4

4

L S U

129.4

5

Oregon

127.6

6

Oklahoma St.

126.2

7

TexasA&M

125.6

8

Boise St.

124.7

9

Florida 

123.1

10

Wisconsin

123.0

11

Notre Dame

120.3

12

Florida St.

118.9

13

Arkansas

117.7

14

S. Carolina

117.4

15

Missouri

116.6

16

Nebraska

116.5

17

Arizona St.

115.6

18

Virginia Tech

114.4

19

Utah

114.2

20

Michigan

114.1

21

Clemson

113.7

22

Georgia 

112.9

23

Michigan St.

112.7

24

Texas

112.5

25

Southern Cal

112.4

26

Miami(FL)

111.5

27

Mississippi St.

111.3

28

Washington

111.0

29

Cincinnati

109.9

30

California

109.7

31

T C U

109.3

32

Tennessee

108.9

33

Penn St.

108.7

34

Baylor

108.2

35

W. Virginia

107.9

36

Iowa

107.8

37

Arizona

106.6

38

Pittsburgh

106.6

39

TexasTech

106.5

40

Ohio St.

106.4

41

Georgia Tech

106.3

42

Illinois

106.1

43

S. Florida

105.7

44

N. Carolina

105.0

45

Auburn

104.9

46

U C L A

104.7

47

Washington St.

104.5

48

Kansas St.

104.1

49

Air Force

103.6

50

Tulsa

103.5

51

Vanderbilt

103.4

52

N. Carolina St.

102.7

53

Navy

102.6

54

Iowa St.

102.4

55

Oregon St.

102.3

56

San Diego St.

102.0

57

Maryland

101.8

58

WakeForest

101.8

59

Nevada

101.8

60

B Y U

101.6

61

S M U

100.5

62

Northwestern

100.1

63

Houston

99.5

64

Colorado

99.4

65

Connecticut

99.1

66

Duke

99.1

67

Minnesota

98.4

68

BostonColl.

98.4

69

Hawaii

98.4

70

Central Florida

97.4

71

Temple

97.4

72

Fresno St.

97.2

73

LouisianaTech

96.7

74

Southern Miss.

96.6

75

Purdue

96.5

76

Virginia

96.4

77

Utah St.

95.8

78

Rutgers

95.6

79

Western Michigan

95.1

80

Toledo

94.5

81

Ole Miss

94.4

82

East Carolina

93.7

83

Syracuse

93.4

84

San Jose St.

92.1

85

Louisville

91.9

86

Kentucky

91.7

87

Colorado St.

91.7

88

Arkansas St.

91.3

89

Kansas

91.1

90

Northern Illinois

91.0

91

Rice

90.2

92

OhioU

90.2

93

FloridaInt’l

89.6

94

Wyoming

89.5

95

Bowling Green

89.2

96

Miami(O)

88.9

97

UL-Monroe

85.4

98

Marshall

84.3

99

Ball St.

83.9

100

Troy

83.8

101

Tulane

83.1

102

U N L V

82.9

103

U A B

82.5

104

Idaho

82.2

105

Indiana

81.7

106

Army

81.0

107

UL-Lafayette

80.4

108

U T E P

79.9

109

CentrralMichigan

79.5

110

New Mexico St.

79.5

111

New Mexico

78.5

112

MiddleTennessee

77.9

113

Buffalo

77.8

114

Kent St.

75.6

115

FloridaAtlantic

75.6

116

North Texas

75.4

117

Eastern Michigan

74.5

118

WesternKy.

73.1

119

Akron

66.7

120

Memphis

61.9

 

Here are the PiRate Ratings By Conference

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

FloridaState

0-1

2-2

118.9

Clemson

1-0

4-0

113.7

North CarolinaState

0-1

2-2

102.7

Maryland

1-0

1-2

101.8

WakeForest

1-0

2-1

101.8

BostonCollege

0-1

1-3

98.4

       
Coastal Division

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Virginia Tech

0-0

4-0

114.4

Miami-FL

0-1

1-2

111.5

Georgia Tech

1-0

4-0

106.3

North Carolina

1-1

3-1

105.0

Duke

1-0

2-2

99.1

Virginia

0-1

2-2

96.4

 

 

Big East Conference

 

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Cincinnati

0-0

3-1

109.9

West Virginia

0-0

3-1

107.9

Pittsburgh

0-0

2-2

106.6

South Florida

0-0

4-0

105.7

Connecticut

0-0

2-2

99.1

Rutgers

0-0

2-1

95.6

Syracuse

0-0

3-1

93.4

Louisville

0-0

2-1

91.9

 

 

Big Ten

       
Leaders Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Wisconsin

0-0

4-0

123.0

PennState

0-0

3-1

108.7

OhioState

0-0

3-1

106.4

Illinois

0-0

4-0

106.1

Purdue

0-0

2-1

96.5

Indiana

0-0

1-3

81.7

       
Legends Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Nebraska

0-0

4-0

116.5

Michigan

0-0

4-0

114.1

MichiganState

0-0

3-1

112.7

Iowa

0-0

3-1

107.8

Northwestern

0-0

2-1

100.1

Minnesota

0-0

1-3

98.4

 

 

Big 12

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Oklahoma

1-0

3-0

131.2

OklahomaState

1-0

4-0

126.2

TexasA&M

0-1

2-1

125.6

Missouri

0-1

2-2

116.6

Texas

0-0

3-0

112.5

Baylor

0-0

3-0

108.2

TexasTech

0-0

3-0

106.5

KansasState

0-0

3-0

104.1

IowaState

0-0

3-0

102.4

Kansas

0-0

2-1

91.1

 

 

Conference USA

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Central Florida

0-0

2-2

97.4

Southern Mississippi

0-1

3-1

96.6

East Carolina

1-0

1-2

93.7

Marshall

1-0

1-3

84.3

U A B

0-2

0-3

82.5

Memphis

0-0

1-3

61.9

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Tulsa

1-0

1-3

103.5

S M U

2-0

3-1

100.5

Houston

0-0

4-0

99.5

Rice

0-0

1-2

90.2

Tulane

1-1

2-2

83.1

U T E P

0-1

2-2

79.9

 

 

Independents

       
Team

 

Overall

Rating

Notre Dame  

2-2

120.3

Navy  

2-1

102.6

B Y U  

2-2

101.6

Army  

1-3

81.0

 

 

Mid American Conference

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Temple

1-0

3-1

97.4

OhioU

0-0

3-1

90.2

Bowling Green

1-0

3-1

89.2

Miami(O)

0-1

0-3

88.9

Buffalo

0-1

1-3

77.8

Kent St.

0-0

1-3

75.6

Akron

0-1

1-3

66.7

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Western Michigan

1-0

2-2

95.1

Toledo

0-0

1-3

94.5

Northern Illinois

0-0

2-2

91.0

BallState

1-0

3-1

83.9

Central Michigan

0-1

1-3

79.5

Eastern Michigan

0-0

2-2

74.5

 

 

Mountain West Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

BoiseState

0-0

3-0

124.7

T C U

1-0

3-1

109.3

Air Force

0-1

2-1

103.6

San DiegoState

0-0

3-1

102.0

ColoradoState

1-0

3-1

91.7

Wyoming

0-0

3-1

89.5

UNLV

0-0

1-3

82.9

New Mexico

0-1

0-4

78.5

 

 

Pac-12 Conference

       
North Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Stanford

1-0

3-0

130.4

Oregon

1-0

3-1

127.6

Washington

1-0

3-1

111.0

California

0-1

3-1

109.7

WashingtonState

0-0

2-1

104.5

OregonState

0-1

0-3

102.3

       
South Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

ArizonaState

1-0

3-1

115.6

Utah

0-1

2-1

114.2

U S C

1-1

3-1

112.4

Arizona

0-1

1-3

106.6

U C L A

1-0

2-2

104.7

Colorado

0-0

1-3

99.4

 

 

Southeastern Conference

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Florida

2-0

4-0

123.1

South Carolina

2-0

4-0

117.4

Georgia

1-1

2-2

112.9

Tennessee

0-1

2-1

108.9

Vanderbilt

1-1

3-1

103.4

Kentucky

0-1

2-2

91.7

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Alabama

1-0

4-0

133.5

L S U

1-0

4-0

129.4

Arkansas

0-1

3-1

117.7

MississippiState

0-2

2-2

111.3

Auburn

1-0

3-1

104.9

Ole Miss

0-2

1-3

94.4

 

 

Sunbelt Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

ArkansasState

0-0

2-2

91.3

FloridaInternational

1-1

3-1

89.6

Louisiana-Monroe

0-0

1-3

85.4

Troy

1-0

1-2

83.8

U.ofLouisiana

1-0

3-1

80.4

MiddleTennessee

0-1

0-3

77.9

FloridaAtlantic

0-0

0-3

75.6

North Texas

0-1

1-3

75.4

Western Kentucky

0-0

0-3

73.1

 

 

Western Athletic Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Nevada

1-0

1-2

101.8

Hawaii

0-0

2-2

98.4

FresnoState

1-0

2-2

97.2

LouisianaTech

0-0

1-3

96.7

UtahState

0-0

1-2

95.8

San JoseState

1-1

1-3

92.1

Idaho

0-1

1-3

82.2

New MexicoState

0-1

1-3

79.5

 

 

Here is a look at this week’s games with the PiRate Ratings, Predicted Scores, and Official Opening Lines.

 

This Week’s Games–PiRate Ratings

   

 

 

 

Thursday, September 29  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

PITTSBURGH South Florida

4.4

27-23

Pk

Houston U T E P

17.1

45-28

17 1/2

   

 

 

 

Friday, September 30  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

B Y U UtahState

8.8

28-19

12 1/2

   

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

Saturday, October 1  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

NAVY Air Force

2.5

27-24

2 1/2

ILLINOIS Northwestern

9.0

26-17

7 1/2

MICHIGAN Minnesota

19.2

35-16

20   

BOSTONCOLLEGE WakeForest

0.1

27-27 to ot

-1   

SYRACUSE Rutgers

0.3

24-24 to ot

1   

TEMPLE Toledo

5.4

28-23

6   

WEST VIRGINIA Bowling Green

22.2

38-16

17   

VIRGINIA Idaho

18.2

35-17

17   

TENNESSEE Buffalo

35.1

42-7

28   

ARMY Tulane

0.9

21-20

6   

Penn St. INDIANA

24.0

31-7

18   

Georgia Tech NORTH CAROLINA ST.

0.6

28-27

10   

CONNECTICUT Western Michigan

7.0

24-17

3   

EASTERN MICHIGAN Akron

10.3

27-17

9 1/2

Cincinnati MIAMI(O)

18.5

42-23

13   

OHIOU Kent St.

17.1

34-17

13 1/2

TexasTech KANSAS

12.4

33-21

9 1/2

BOISE ST. Nevada

26.4

45-19

28   

Washington St. COLORADO

1.6

26-24

-3   

Northern Illinois CENTRAL MICHIGAN

9.0

28-19

10   

STANFORD U c l a

29.2

42-13

21   

Texas IOWA ST.

6.6

30-23

9   

Michigan St. OHIO ST.

2.8

24-21

-2 1/2

Alabama FLORIDA

6.9

24-17

5   

LOUISVILLE Marshall

10.1

28-18

10 1/2

TexasA&M (n) Arkansas

7.9

38-30

3 1/2

SOUTHERN CAL Arizona

9.8

26-16

12 1/2

UTAH Washington

6.7

28-21

7 1/2

COLORADO ST. San Jose St.

2.6

26-23

3 1/2

ARIZONA ST. Oregon St.

16.8

34-17

17   

Baylor KANSAS ST.

0.6

35-34

3 1/2

OKLAHOMA Ball St.

51.3

61-10

38   

LOUISIANATECH Hawaii

2.3

33-31

4   

GEORGIA Mississippi St.

22.0

38-16

7 1/2

SOUTH CAROLINA Auburn

16.0

40-24

11 1/2

SOUTHERN MISS Rice

9.4

37-28

14   

VIRGINIATECH Clemson

4.2

24-20

7 1/2

NEW MEXICO New Mexico St.

1.0

21-20

-1 1/2

North Carolina EAST CAROLINA

8.8

35-26

6   

WISCONSIN Nebraska

10.0

34-24

8   

L S U Kentucky

41.2

48-7

28   

Notre Dame PURDUE

20.8

35-14

13   

FRESNO ST. Ole Miss

6.3

30-24

4   

Arkansas St. WESTERN KENTUCKY

15.7

41-25

10 1/2

Duke FLORIDAINT’L

6.5

27-20

NL

TROY U a b

3.8

28-24

NL

UL-LAFAYETTE FloridaAtlantic

7.8

28-20

9   

MIDDLETENNESSEE Memphis

18.5

39-20

21   

TULSA North Texas

31.1

52-21

21 1/2

T C U S m u

11.3

28-17

11 1/2

 

August 26, 2011

2011 Big 12 Conference Preview

2011 Big 12 Conference Preview

 

13 months ago, it appeared as if the Big 12 Conference was about to become the Deep-Sixed Conference.  Nebraska left for the Big Ten, and Colorado followed Horace Greeley’s advice and went west.

 

Before the flies could descend on the lifeless body, Commissioner Dan Beebe was able to rescue the league at the 11th hour.  It looked like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech were going to join Colorado in the Pac-16.

 

Then, Texas thought about exploring its options as an Independent, with the hopes of joining Notre Dame in a long-term agreement to play in a lot of sports.  Texas A&M let it be known that they wanted to become a member of the Southeastern Conference.  Missouri begged its way into the Big Ten.

 

None of this happened.  Texas got their wish granted with the Longhorn Network becoming the dominant financial bonanza.  ESPN threw enough revenue to keep the now 10-team league alive—for at least another year.

 

13 months later, the SEC is now looking like a 13-team league for 2012.  Texas A&M decided that the Longhorn Network made the Lone Star State not big enough for both.  On Thursday, August 25, they officially informed the Big 12 that they were exploring their options for leaving the conference and would “help” the league find a replacement.

 

This is legalese for: “Screw it, Texas.  We are going to the SEC.”  A&M will become the SEC’s 13th member.  SMU is lobbying hard to replace them, but the Mustangs still have that huge black cloud hanging over them from becoming the one team (for now) ever to suffer the football death penalty.  Some in the Southwest thing SMU should never be allowed to become a major player again, just like many in Europe are not ready to see Germany become a military power again.

 

Of course, the SEC cannot stay at 13 teams for long.  At the most, look for it to be a one-year experiment.  Team number 14 is assured, while teams 15 and 16 are probable.  Missouri is ripe to become one of those three teams, as it offers everything the SEC wants.  It brings in to play the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, two of the top 30.  It brings in a huge chunk of the Illinois market, including Chicago, as their flame-throwers broadcast downstate to all the cities in Central and parts of Southern Illinois.  Missouri’s football program is strong enough to compete, yet just weak enough for Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas to not object.  Their basketball program has been consistently good for a long time, so the Tigers become a logical choice to bolt as well.

 

For this season, it will be interesting to see if Texas A&M becomes the recipient of a lot of questionable calls on the field.  Nebraska Athletics’ Director Tom Osborne believed the Cornhuskers were “jobbed” several times last year.

 

OKLAHOMA

OFFENSE

Quarterback

He is not quite as talented as Andrew Luck, but Landry Jones could win the Heisman Trophy over him this year, especially if the Sooners finish with a better record.

 

Jones threw 617 passes last year, completing 405 for 65.6%.  He accumulated 4,718 yards (average of 337 yards per game) and threw 38 touchdown passes.  Barring injury, he will shatter the all-time passing yardage record at OU; he needs only 487 yards to pass Sam Bradford, the man he replaced in Norman.  If he stays healthy for all 13 games, even if he gets pulled in the second half of multiple blowouts, Jones should top the 4,500 yard plateau once again (OU will play one less game without a conference championship game).

 

Behind Jones, Drew Allen and Blake Bell are battling it out for the second option.

 

Receivers

Coach Bob Stoops welcomes back his top two receivers, and they are both superstars.  Ryan Broyles only caught 131 passes last year to lead the nation in receptions.  He amassed more than 1,600 yards and scored 14 times.  Kenny Stills was a 1st Team Freshman All-American last year after catching 61 passes for 786 yards. 

 

Tight end James Hanna is used more as a decoy, but when Jones throws to him, good things happen.  He averaged 16+ yards per catch last year and scored touchdowns on 39% of his receptions!  Imagine trying to stop Broyles and Stills, only to have Hanna burn you for a quick six.

 

DeJuan Miller is the third receiver in the three wide receiver formation.  He’s coming off an injury year in which he caught 15 passes in limited action.  If he returns to form, this becomes the best receiving corps in all of college football.  If he cannot play at his pre-injury talent level, then the Sooners will be the co-number one receiving unit—with their in-state rival.

 

Running Backs

DeMarco Murray is now in the NFL after finishing his OU career with a 1,200+ yard season.  Stoops and offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell will probably go with a platoon here.  Brennan Clay will be the starter for the opener, but true freshman Brandon Williams and Roy Finch will see plenty of action.  Clay is nursing a pinched nerve in his neck, so he could be in danger of missing some playing time.  When he is hit in the right place, he loses feeling in half his body, including the part that holds onto the ball. 

 

Offensive Line

This is the only minor concern on this side of the ball, and we are using the word “concern” only in the context of being concerned that it might prevent the Sooners from averaging 45 points per game this season.

 

Center Ben Habern and guard Gabe Ikard are legitimate all-conference players.  Guard Tyler Evans and tackle Donald Stephenson are returning starters.  Daryl Williams at 6-6 and 313 pounds has the potential to be a star, but as a redshirt freshman, he has a lot of learning to do.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This was going to be a major strength this year, but one of its top stars may not be eligible to play.  End Ronnell Lewis is waiting to learn if he has met the academic requirements from his summer classes to regain his eligibility.  The junior, a former linebacker, is one of the top defensive ends in the conference, and his loss would cost Oklahoma a point or more in the PiRate Ratings.  David King is bigger than but not as mobile as Lewis, and he will replace Lewis if he cannot go.

 

Frank Alexander is set at the other end position.  He finished 2010 with seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss.  Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker will open the season at the tackle positions, with former starter Stacy McGee rotating in.

 

This is not a championship-quality defensive front four without Lewis.  It is also not as deep as it could have been, as backup Daniel Noble had to give up football.  The Sooners may be strong enough to make it through the regular season with a sub-spectacular defensive line, but they will not beat the likes of Stanford or Alabama without some improvement here.

 

Linebackers

Coming out of Spring Practice, OU had one of the top three linebacker units in the nation.  Since then, they have lost their middle linebacker through tragedy and their Will linebacker through injury.

 

Austin Box died from an overdose of pain medication.  He would have contended for all-conference honors.  In his place, Tom Wort will perform admirably and could lead the team in tackles.  He started nine times last year and made 66 tackles with 7 ½ for losses.

 

Travis Lewis was the leading tackler last year with 109, and he was the best pass defender among Big 12 linebackers.  He intercepted three passes and batted away five others.  Unfortunately, he is lost for at least three weeks with a broken toe.  He probably will be held out until the Texas game.  In his place, Corey Nelson will see a lot of action.  Nelson made 21 tackles in 2010.

 

Tony Jefferson returns to the Sam linebacker spot.  He registered 65 tackles with seven going for losses.  He got his paws on seven passes and picked off two more.

 

Secondary

There is one small question with the OU secondary this year.  His name is Jamell Fleming, and he led the league in passes defended last year with 19, while interception five passes.  He earned 1st Team All-Big 12 honors and was set to compete for All-American merit this year.  That is until Stoops booted him from the team in the spring for what appeared to be academic issues.  He is back on the team and listed as a reserve, while Gabe Lynn is listed as the replacement at cornerback.  Lynn is a good defender, but Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi would not bench Curtis Granderson for Andruw Jones and expect to be the same team.

 

Demonte Hurst starts at the other cornerback position.  He intercepted just one pass last year, but he broke up 11 others.  The Sooners will start two new safeties this year.  Aaron Colvin and Janvon Harris saw extensive playing time as reserves, but they will not be as effective as last year’s safeties.

 

OTHER

The last six years have not been as successful as the previous five for Stoops.  After going 60-7 between 2000 and 2004, they have fallen all the way to 62-19 since.

 

The Sooners gave up 362 yards per game last year, which represents the second time in three years that OU has surrendered more than 360 yards per game.  Two years ago, they gave up just 273 yards and 14.5 points per game.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule is not a perfect one for a team hoping to go undefeated and advance to the National Championship Game.  Tulsa will not be an easy win in the opening game.  The Sooners get a week off to prepare for Florida State but must play the Seminoles in Tallahassee.  A home game with Missouri the following week is setting up as a trap game.  After a breather with Ball State, OU has the annual Red River Shootout with Texas in Dallas.  In the second half of the season, a home game with Texas A&M and the finale on the road at Oklahoma State presents two other tough games.  Oklahoma is capable of running the table this year, but with the defensive losses, we do not believe they can pull it off.  They could even find themselves having to split the conference title if one of the top contenders can knock them off.

 

Texas A&M

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback midway through the season and guided the Aggies to a 6-0 finish after a 3-3 start.  He completed 65% of his passes for 1,638 yards and 13 touchdowns.  He should top the 3,200 yard mark this year and could approach 3,500.  If he goes down with an injury, there are only true freshmen and redshirt freshmen to back him up. 

 

Receivers

All four starters return from 2010, so A&M should be even better through the air this season.  Coach Mike Sherman knows how to put together great passing plans.  Jeff Fuller led the Aggies with 1,066 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.  His 72 receptions tied him for the team lead with Ryan Swope, who gained 825 yards through the air.  Swope also proved to be valuable on reverse plays.  Uzoma Nwachukwu caught 44 passes, and tight end Nehemiah Hicks added 11 receptions. 

 

Running Backs

Cyrus Gray led the Aggies with 1,133 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and he returns for his senior season.  He also contributed 34 receptions.  Backup Christine Michael gained 631 yards and caught 13 passes.  The Aggies are in very good shape here.

 

Offensive Line

Four starters return to what could be one of the top lines in the country.  Center Patrick Lewis was an honorable mention all-conference player last year.  Tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel were two of the best freshmen linemen in the nation.  Guard Brian Thomas also made the honorable mention all-conference team.  The vacant guard spot will go to either Shep Klinke or Evan Elke.  Elke has past starting experience.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Aggies switched to a 3-4 defense last year, and the defensive line was more of a blocking and containing trio.  It allowed the linebackers to flow without much interference, and A&M gave up just 130 rushing yards per game while dumping quarterbacks 30 times.

 

The Aggies will start Jonathan Mathis and Tony Jerod-Eddie at the ends.  The two combined for 90 tackles with six going for losses.  A two-way race at the nose tackle has yet to be decided.  Kirby Ennis and Eddie Brown will probably platoon at the position.

 

Linebackers

It will be tough to replace the two linebackers that left the Aggies.  Michael Hodges led the team with 115 tackles, earning 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors.  Von Miller departed as a 1st Team All-American, the Butkus Award, and a first round pick of the Broncos.

 

Caleb Russell will get first crack at Miller’s Joker (rush) linebacker position.  Damontre Moore, Brandon Alexander, and Tyrell Taylor are also in the mix there.  The other outside linebacker position belongs to Sean Porter, who performed well both against the run and pass last year.  He recorded seven tackles for loss and six passes defended.

 

Garrick Williams is firmly entrenched at one inside spot after finishing with 112 tackles last year.  Jonathan Stewart will split time with true freshman Donnie Baggs at the vacant inside spot.

 

The Aggies are deep here, but they are not as talented as they were last year.

 

Secondary

All four starters return here, and the Aggies will have a top-notch pass defense this season.  Cornerbacks Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick teamed for 18 passes defended.  Safeties Steven Campbell and Trent Hunter teamed for 95 tackles.

 

OTHER

Barring some unforeseen event, Texas A&M will become the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference in the summer of 2012.  You should take note of their games this year to see if they are getting hosed by Big 12 officials during conference games. 

 

Judie is an excellent kick returner.  He returned two kicks for touchdowns last year and averaged more than 30 yards per return.

 

SUMMARY

Texas A&M plays one SEC team this year, and it should be a must watch game.  The Aggies will face Arkansas at Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington on October 1.  Their other non-conference games are SMU and Idaho, both hosted at Kyle Field.

 

In conference play, they have five home and four road games, but the big one is on enemy turf.  A&M plays Oklahoma in Norman on November 5.  Of course, there is the matter of ending their tenure in the Big 12 with that team with the big TV network. The Aggies face the Longhorns on Thanksgiving Day, and it should be one for the history books.

 

Sherman guided the Packers to four NFL playoff berths, and he has guided A&M to consecutive bowl games after a 4-8 first season in 2008.  Look for the Aggies to contend for the conference title, but only if they face honest officiating.  They should win at least 10 games.

 

Oklahoma State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Mike Gundy has been there before.  As quarterback of OSU in the late 1980’s, he began the 1988 season without the school’s all-time leading runner, Thurman Thomas.  It was thought he would be forced to pass much more with the loss of such a superstar.  All he had behind him was some the team’s return specialist from the previous two years.  His name was Barry Sanders.

 

You know the rest.  Gundy did pass the ball a lot, mostly to Hart Lee Dykes.  Defenses had to play honest and could not creep up to the line.  Sanders simply rushed for an all-time record with 2,628 yards rushing.  The Cowboys’ offense was unstoppable, averaging 48.7 points per game.  They finished 10-2, losing to Nebraska 63-42 and to Oklahoma 31-28.

 

There are a lot of similarities to the 1988 offense and this year’s offense.  The Cowboys must replace a top running back but have one waiting in the wings that could shine—okay, not like Sanders, but he could easily go over 1,000 yards rushing.

 

That brings us to the quarterback position.  Brandon Weeden will challenge Landry Jones for the passing yard leadership in the Big 12 and maybe in the nation if Case Keenum cannot return to form at Houston.

 

Weedon completed 67% of his passes for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns last year.  His yards per attempt was 8.4; anything above eight is considered excellent, and to post a number this high while averaging about 40 passes a game is almost unheard.

 

The only fly in the ointment is the loss of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia.  Todd Monken takes over after serving as an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  He may not be as pass happy as Holgorsen was.

 

Receivers

It is debatable whether the Cowboys have a better receiving corps than their rivals up the road in Norman.  We can tell you one thing for sure:  the two schools’ top receiver is the co-best receiver in the nation.

 

OSU’s co-best is Justin Blackmon.  Blackmon caught 111 passes and averaged more than 16 yards per reception last year.  He scored 20 touchdowns and earned a spot on the 1st Team All-American squad.

 

Josh Cooper caught 68 passes and returns to his slot receiver position.  Hubert Anyiam missed a good portion of the season, and in limited action, he grabbed 11 passes, scoring three touchdowns.  Tracy Moore started six times and caught 17 passes.  This supporting cast will make it very tough for opponents to concentrate on Blackmon.

 

Running Backs

The aforementioned back that could take over for departed 1,500+-yard rusher Kendall Hunter is Joseph Randle.  Randle rushed for 452 yards in five starts last year.  He should top the 1,000-yard mark and could approach the 1,500 yards gained by Hunter.  If he cannot rush 25 times per game, look for Jeremy Smith to split time with him.  Smith is more of a power back and should get a lot of carries in short yardage situations.

 

Offensive Line

Last year, the Cowboys had the top offensive line in the league.  They opened holes in the running game, allowing backs to rush for 174 yards per game at an average of five yards (5.3 when factoring out the meager 10 sacks allowed). 

 

How can they possibly match those stats this year?  Easy: they return all five starters to what could be the best offensive line in college football (fans in Tuscaloosa may have an argument).

 

This quintessential quintet features two reigning 1st Team All-Big 12 selections—guard Lane Taylor and tackle Levy Adcock.  Grant Garner returns at center, and Jonathan Rush returns at guard.  Nick Martinez is the other returning starter but he will lose his spot to Juco transfer Michael Bowie.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

It is not gloom and doom on this side of the ball, but OSU will give up a lot of points and yards to teams with good offenses.  The defensive line returns just one full-time starter from 2010, and this quartet will give up more rushing yards than last year’s team (134/game).

 

End Richetti Jones is the lone returnee here.  He made 34 tackles with seven for losses last year.  Senior Jamie Blatnick was a part-time starter at the other end spot, and he recorded 27 tackles with 5 ½ sacks.

 

Christian Littlehead and Nigel Nicholas are set to start at the tackle positions.  Nicholas made four stops for loss in limited action.

 

Linebackers

Only one starter returns here as well.  Shaun Lewis made the Freshman All-American team last year after making 58 tackles with eight going for losses.  Caleb Lavey made 10 tackles in limited action and will start in the middle, while Juco transfer Alex Elkins will man the other spot.

 

Secondary

OSU gave up 276 passing yards per game and allowed 62.5% of enemy passes to be completed last year, so there is a lot of room for improvement here.  Three starters return, but unless the Cowboys get a better pass rush, not much improvement will be made.

 

Safeties Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas teamed up for 118 tackles.  They both intercepted three passes and teamed for 15 other passes broken up.  Martin is the star of this unit.  Cornerback Broderick Brown finished with 77 tackles and 10 passes defended.  Justin Gilbert will start at the vacant cornerback spot after making 18 tackles in limited action.

 

OTHER

Yes, this does remind us a lot of the 1988 Oklahoma State team.  The Cowboys’ offense could average more than 45 points per game and even approach the 1988 numbers of 48.6.  And like that team, they are liable to give up 28 points per game.

 

Quinn Sharp finished in the top 5 with a 40.7 net punting average and 46.2 punting average.  He also proved to be very valuable on kickoffs, as most of them went for touchbacks. 

 

Josh Cooper and Justin Gilbert are two more special teams’ weapons.  Cooper returned a punt for a score, while Gilbert returned two kickoffs for scores.

 

SUMMARY

Oklahoma State should start 3-0 with wins over Louisiana, Arizona, and Tulsa.  Game four finds them playing at Texas A&M in what will make or break their season.  Upset the Aggies, and OSU could possibly run the table until the finale.  They host the Sooners on December 3, on what would have been the date for the Big 12 Championship Game.  Wouldn’t it be something if it still were and both teams were 11-0 entering the game?  We don’t see it as a legitimate possibility, but it is not impossible either.

 

Missouri

OFFENSE

Quarterback

The Tigers must start from scratch here.  Blaine Gabbert did not prove to be another Chase Daniel or Brad Smith, but he may prove to be a better NFL quarterback one day.  Gabbert departed Mizzou after throwing for 3,186 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. 

 

James Franklin takes over after serving as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation as a true freshman last year.  Franklin rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while passing for 106 yards and another touchdown.

 

Coach Gary Pinkel will rely as much on Franklin’s legs as his arm, as the Tigers probably revert back to the philosophy used during the Smith era.

 

Receivers

Franklin will have an experienced and talented corps of receivers on hand, as MU returns its starting tight end as well as the three starting receivers.  T. J. Moe led the team in receptions last year with 92, followed closely by tight end Michael Egnew with 90.  The tandem combined for more than 1,800 receiving yards and 11 scores.  Moe also proved valuable as a reverse runner.

 

Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp combined for 89 receptions, 1,076 yards, and six touchdowns.  Backups Brandon Gerau and Rolandis Woodland should see more action this season.  Woodland has breakaway potential.

 

Running Backs

Missouri utilized a three running back approach last year, and all three return this season.  Kendial Lawrence will serve as the starter, with De’Vion Moore and Henry Josey seeing about the same amount of snaps.  The trio combined for 1,376 yards and 17 touchdowns.  All three averaged more than five yards per attempt.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to an offensive line that can be classified as about average for this conference.  Tackle Dan Hoch is the big man at 6-07 and 315 pounds.  He earned a spot on the All-Big 12 2nd Team.  Unfortunately, Elvis has left the building.  Elvis Fisher suffered a season-ending knee injury and will be replaced by Justin Britt.

 

Center Travis Ruth has a strained Achilles’ tendon and could miss the opener against Miami of Ohio, while guard Austin Wuebbels could join him on the sidelines due to a strained neck.  Guard Jayson Palmgren is healthy and will start.

 

If Ruth is not ready to go in game one, then Palmgren will slide over to center, and Jack Meiners will start at guard.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

This is the strongest unit on this side of the ball, and three starters return from a line that performed adequately last year.  MU gave up 153 rushing yards and forced 38 sacks.

 

The Tigers should have an upgrade at tackle with the arrival of top Juco transfer Sheldon Richardson.  He will split time with last year’s starter Dominique Hamilton, though Hamilton will start the opener.  Terrell Resonno will join him in the middle.

 

Jacquies Smith returns to his end position after recording 5 ½ sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Brad Madison will be the new starter on the opposite flank.  As a third end last year, he actually earned 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors with a team-high 7 ½ sacks and 11 stops for loss.

 

Linebackers

This unit will improve within a month, but it will suffer until middle linebacker Will Ebner is back to 100% following a concussion.  Zaviar Gooden will have to take up the slack from his weak side position.  Gooden led Mizzou with 85 tackles in 2010.  Sophomore Andrew Wilson inherits the vacant strong side spot after coming up with 42 tackles as a reserve last year.  

 

Secondary

A suspect secondary will get you beat in this pass-happy league.  Missouri’s defensive backfield is teetering on the brink of becoming suspect.  Only one starter returns from last year.  Safety Kenji Jackson finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles and had five passed defended.

 

Matt White will get first crack at the vacant safety spot, while the new starting cornerbacks are Kip Edwards and E. J. Gaines.  This trio saw decent playing time last year, teaming up for 80 tackles and 10 passes defended.

 

OTHER

Pinkel has fielded six consecutive winning seasons, the first time that has happened in Columbia since 1978-1983.

 

The Tigers are an excellent option to become the SEC’s 14th, 15th, or 16th team.  See the introduction of this feature for the reasons.

 

SUMMARY

Missouri is not as strong this year as it was last year.  Don’t expect another 10-2 regular season and victory over Oklahoma.  However, don’t expect the Tigers to be home for the holidays either.  There is still enough talent left to produce a seventh consecutive bowl team.

 

The non-conference schedule has one tough road game at Arizona State and two easy wins at home with Miami of Ohio and Western Illinois.  MU must face both Texas A&M and Oklahoma on the road, but they can compete in the remaining seven conference games.  Look for eight wins this season.

 

Texas

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Mack Brown does not give out much information to the media, and thus it is always tough to know for sure how their depth chart looks.  One place where we can make a very educated guess is at quarterback,  Garrett Gilbert will hold off Case McCoy and David Ash to return as a starter.  Gilbert completed 59% of his passes for 2,744 yards, but his TD/int ratio was a poor 10/17.  He rushed for more than 500 yards (factoring out his sacks).  His tendency to throw to the wrong colored jersey led to the Longhorns posting a -12 turnover margin.

 

Receivers

Mike Davis is the only sure starter here.  He finished 2010 with 47 receptions and two touchdowns.  Four receivers, including two that figured to start have left the program, leaving this position in limbo.

 

Among the others that should see playing time are Darius White, Miles Onyegbule, John Harris, and true freshman Jaxon Shipley.  There is talent here, but it will take time for new co-offensive coordinators develop Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite to mold it into a cohesive unit.

 

Tight ends Blaine Irby and D. J. Grant have virtually no game experience between them.  Barrett Matthews has been move to H-back where he will see his receptions jump from 10.

 

Running Backs

There will probably be co-number ones here this year with two others seeing action.  Joe Bergeron should be the starter with top freshman recruit Malcolm Brown seeing the field almost as much as Bergeron.  Cody Johnson will be the short yardage conversion back, while Fozzy Whitaker will get some carries.  Johnson rushed for a team-leading 592 yards and six touchdowns, while Whitaker added 351 yards.

 

Offensive Line

This is a so-so unit for Texas.  Brown has not been pleased with its progress in practice and has done a lot of switching around.  Here is how we believe they will line up for the season-opener on September 3:

LT: Tray Allen

LG: Trey Hopkins

C: Dominic Espinosa

RG: David Snow, who started some at center last year

RT: Mason Walters, who started at guard last year

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Longhorns were actually rather good on this side of the ball last year, but they found themselves defending short fields due to the offense’s inability to hold onto the ball.  The biggest loss on this side of the field this year is the loss of coordinator Will Muschamp to Florida.  Muschamp was the coach in waiting, but he decided he could wait no more.

 

New coordinator Manny Diaz comes from Mississippi State, where he molded a decent Bulldog defense in his one year in Starkville.  Diaz welcomes the return of two starters up front.  End Alex Okafor only recorded 2 ½ sacks, but he did force 13 QB hurries.  New starting end Jackson Jeffcoat had 2 ½ sacks and seven hurries.

 

At the tackle spot, Kheeston Randall returns to the nose alignment after earning 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors last year.  Randall led the team with 13 tackles for loss.  At the other tackle, Calvin Howell is the new starter, after making just two tackles last year.

 

Sam Acho and his nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss will be missed.

 

Linebackers

This unit is still talented and deep.  In fact the two-deep could be the best in the conference.  Keenan Robinson led UT with 113 tackles last year.  He posted eight tackles for loss and had four passes defended.  Middle man Emmanuel Acho finished second with 87 tackles.  He recorded 12 stops behind the line, and he added seven passes defended.  Jordan Hicks made 23 tackles as a key reserve.

 

Secondary

The Longhorns were tough to pass on last year, but they will be a little easier to exploit this season, especially in September.  That’s because safety Christian Scott will miss an indefinite amount of time with a suspension.

 

Once again, Brown and company remain tight-lipped about their depth chart, but we believe from following events that the ‘Horns will open with Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom at cornerback. Adrian Phillips could be moving from corner to safety to replace Scott, while Nolan Brewster starts at the other safety position and Kenny Vaccaro handles the nickel back spot.

 

Texas gave up 162 passing yards in 2010, but they will give up more this year.

 

OTHER

Brown has been a head coach for 26 seasons.  At Tulane, he took a program on the decline and guided it to a bowl game in his third season, before leaving for North Carolina.  After two 1-10 seasons in Chapel Hill, he guided the Tar Heels to eight consecutive winning seasons.  He took over a Texas program that was coming off a 4-7 season and went 9-3 in his first year in Austin.  Until last season, he had won at least nine games every year here. 

 

SUMMARY

The unexpected loss to UCLA due to a rash of turnovers ambushed the season for the Longhorns last year.  Look for Texas to get their revenge at the Rose Bowl on September 17.  They might lose the week before to BYU, but they could easily start 4-0 with an opening win over Rice and a conference opening win at Iowa State.

 

At 4-0, or 3-1, they would then face Oklahoma, and be sky-high in hopes of revenge in that game.  UT outgained the Sooners last year, and they will be confident that they can pull off the upset.  The next week, Texas hosts Oklahoma State and may be ripe for a letdown against a team that can make them pay.

 

The second half of the schedule presents some tough games with Texas Tech and Kansas State at home and Missouri, Texas A&M, and Baylor on the road.  The Baylor game comes after the A&M game.

 

Texas will have a hard time getting back to the top of the conference standings, but it would not surprise us to see them finish near the top this year.  They should win at least eight games and could win 10.

 

Texas Tech

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When Tommy Tuberville took over the head coaching reins here, you just knew the passing yardage would decline in favor of power running.  Still, the Red Raiders gained more than 300 yards through the air last year. 

 

Now, Tuberville must break in a new quarterback, as Taylor Potts has graduated.  Seth Doege will begin the year as the starter, and he will not be called on to throw the ball 47 times a game like TT did last year.  Expect a dramatic decrease in passing yards down to a very un-Leach-like 30-35 passes per game, as the Raiders move to the Pistol Offense.  Tech will run the zone read option play and try to find a happy medium between running and passing.

 

Sophomore Jacob Karam will contend with redshirt freshman Scotty Young for the backup spot. 

 

Receivers

Tech will miss the services of their top two receivers.  Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis had 161 receptions between them and 1,778 yards. 

 

Alex Torres is the leading returning receiver.  He caught 39 passes for 481 yards and three touchdowns last year.  Tramain Swindall caught 33 passes and Austin Zouzalik added 31.  Jacoby Franks caught 25.  Added to this mix are Darrin Moore and Bradley Marquez.  It is a talented and deep group, but it is not on par with the Oklahoma teams or Missouri.

 

Running Backs

Eric Stephens may not be the next Byron Hanspard, but he may be the first Texas Tech back to crack the 1,000-yard rushing mark since Ricky Williams in 1998.  Stephens gained 668 yards on the ground supplementing starter Baron Batch last year.  He averaged better than five yards per carry and figures to exceed 200 attempts this year.

 

Offensive Line

Tech has four starters returning, but center Justin Keown will miss all of September and possibly some of October after sustaining a knee injury.  Guard Deveric Gallington will move over to center, while tackle Terry McDaniel fills in at guard.

 

Mickey Okafor and LaAdrian Waddle return to their tackle positions, while Lonnie Edwards does the same at guard.  Edwards and Okafor are all-conference quality blockers, and this line should open holes for the new offense.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Former TCU assistant Chad Glasgow is the new defensive coordinator here, and he brings the 4-2-5 defense with him.  The Raiders return two of front line players that started multiple games last year, and both are tackles.  Donald Langley and Kerry Hyder combined for just 27 tackles.

 

Scott Smith will start at one end position but not until the fifth game, as he is serving a four-game suspension.  In his place, Juco transfer Leon Mackey will start at least those four games and maybe more.  Aundrey Barr will man the other end spot.  It will be an average front four this year.

 

Linebackers

There has been some shuffling around with this unit, as the second line of defense drops in numbers by one.  Tech returns one starter here in Sam Fehoko, but he may not even make the two-deep this year.

 

As of this writing,  Blake Dees and Cqulin Hubert are getting the first team reps, while Tyrone Sonier and Sam Eguavoen are running with the second team.  Dees and Eguavoen are true freshmen.

 

Secondary

This unit returns four players with extensive starting experience.  At the cornerback spots, Jarvis Phillips intercepted four passes in his first three games as a freshman last year, and then he could not live up to his hype.  Glasgow has moved him to the second team and moved Tre’ Porter here from safety.  Derrick Mays will start opposite Porter.

 

D. J. Johnson, Cody Davis, and Terrance Bullitt will start at safety.  Davis made 87 tackles last year, while Johnson and Bullitt combined for 66.  The trio successfully defended 13 passes

 

OTHER

Tuberville has now taken three different schools to bowl games, just like his counterpart over in Austin. 

 

SUMMARY

Tech has an excellent shot to start 3-0 with a non-conference schedule that includes Texas State at home, New Mexico in Albuquerque, and Nevada at home (the only tough game of the three).  They play four home games, four road games, and one neutral game in the conference.  The Red Raiders have a decent chance at getting to seven wins and making it to another bowl game.

 

Baylor

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Outside the state of Oklahoma, Baylor has the next best quarterback in the league.  Robert Griffin guided the Bears to their first bowl game since the breakup of the old Southwest Conference.  Griffin completed 67% of his passes for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns, while running for almost 800 yards (sacks removed) and eight touchdowns.

 

Backup Nick Florence returns as well.  He has a lot of prior starting experience, taking over for Griffin two years ago when he was lost for the season.

 

Receivers

Baylor appeared to have one of the top receiving corps in the conference, but the Bears lost one of their better options.  Josh Gordon was suspended and then quit the team, leaving Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, and Tevin Reese to pick up the slack.

 

Wright led BU with 78 receptions and 952 yards.  Williams and Reese split 88 receptions, but none of the three have the explosiveness of Gordon, who averaged 17 yards per catch.

 

Jordan Najnar takes over at tight end after transferring from Stanford and sitting out a year.

 

Running Backs

Baylor loses a 1,000-yard rusher in Jay Finley.  Jared Salubi will replace him, but he is not going to top 1,000 yards on the ground.  Salubi has the ability to break off some long gains, but he is not the type of back to rush 20 times per game.  Look for Terrance Ganaway to split the load with him.

 

Offensive Line

Coach Art Briles can smile here as four experienced starters return to the fold.  Center Philip Blake, guards Robert T. Griffin and Cameron Kaufhold, and tackle Ivory Wade plus four from the second team make this an experienced unit with enough depth to play in 100-degree weather.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Baylor has no real strengths on this side of the ball, and the front line is mediocre at best.  However, it is the best unit on the defense.  BU gave up 435 total yards per game and 30.5 points per game last year, and the Bears will probably regress some this season.

 

Tevin Elliott starts at one end position.  He led the Bears with five sacks and nine stops for loss last year.  Gary Mason returns to the other end position after starting 11 times.  Nicolas Jean-Baptiste starts at the nose, and at 315 pounds, he can cover both gaps.  Tracy Robertson will be the new starter at the other tackle position.

 

Linebackers

Baylor gets a little weaker the farther back you go.  Their tandem linebacker unit returns Elliot Coffey to the middle.  Coffey finished with 61 tackles and 4 ½ for losses.  Brody Trahan will start at the outside backer spot.   

 

Secondary

The five-man secondary is the weakest part of the defense, as it returns just one starter.  Cornerback Chance Casey made 48 tackles and had just four passes defended.  Tyler Stephenson will start at the opposite cornerback slot.  The three safeties will be Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, and Mike Hicks, who combined for 46 tackles.

 

The Bears do have one defensive back that has played on a conference championship team.  He is Demetri Goodson.  He was a guard on another team—The GONZAGA BASKETBALL team.

 

OTHER

Baylor lost its top five tacklers from its defense, and that portends some bad results.  With seven or maybe eight opponents capable of lighting up the scoreboard, BU will give up as many as 35 points per game this season.

 

SUMMARY

An opening game with TCU will determine just how far BU will slide this season.  If they lose by 14 or less, they could be good enough to win six games again.  If TCU beats them by more than two touchdowns, it could be a return to three or four wins.

 

The Bears face S F Austin and Rice prior to beginning conference play.  Unfortunately, two of the three games against teams figured to be ranked below the Bears must be played on the road, so it will be tough to get those six wins.  Four or five wins seems about right for this team.

 

Kansas State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Collin Klein appears to have beaten out Justin Tuggle for the starting job here.  Klein completed 11 of 18 passes last year for 138 yards and a score.  Those stats would be just fine for one half of a game, but obviously the former wide receiver lacks the experience to equal the production of graduating signal caller Carson Coffman.

 

Tuggle started his career at Boston College, and he comes to the Little Apple from a Juco.

 

Receivers

The top man from a year ago has departed, and that leaves KSU in a little bit of a rebuilding mode here.  Coach Bill Snyder will rebuild around Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson, and Brodrick Smith.  This trio combined for 58 receptions and 779 yards; all three can get open in possession situations and pick up a few extra yards after the catch.

 

Tight end Travis Tannahill caught only seven passes last year, and he should get into double digits this year.

 

Running Backs

Snyder’s teams have been able to run the ball through the years, and he always seems to find a couple of good backs.  He has one here, and KS may forget they lost Daniel Thomas and his 1,585 rushing yards.

 

Bryce Brown was the top running back in the nation as a high school senior.  He enrolled at Tennessee and rushed for 460 yards as a true freshman.  He chose not to stay at Tennessee when Lane Kiffin went to USC, and he ended up here.  He sat out last year, and he figures to immediately be a force in the Big 12.  Look for Brown to top 1,000 yards in his first year in Manhattan.

 

Braden Wilson will become a very important blocker.  The 244-pound rock will clear the way for Brown.

 

Offensive Line

The Wildcats are in good shape at the tackle positions, but they are suspect at the inside slots.  Clyde Aufner and Manase Foketi are capable tackles, but KS will be exploited inside with center B. J. Finney and guards Keenan Taylor and Colten Freeze.  Freeze has three career starts under his belt, while the others have none.  Finney was a walk-on.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The K-State D-line took a hit when end Brandon Harold did not show up to fall camp.  His loss will be felt here.  Ray Kibble is now the only experienced starter returning to the trenches.  He had all of a half sack last year.

 

End Meshak Williams is a promising Juco transfer, and Ralph Guidry has some starting experience, but neither player is going to wind up on an all-conference list.

 

Harold’s replacement figures to be Jordan Voelker, who saw limited action last year.

 

Kansas State gave up 231 yards per game on the ground last year (5.9/rush) and only tallied 20 sacks.  Those stats could look good compared to this year’s numbers.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return to this unit, making it better than average.  Blake Slaughter started at middle linebacker, but Miami transfer Arthur Brown has surpassed him on the depth chart.  Tre Walker starts at one outside spot, while former regular Emmanuel Lamur takes back his old spot. 

 

Jarrell Childs, Alex Hrebec, and Slaughter will form a talented second unit, and Snyder will rotate freely here this season.

 

Secondary

This unit is talented enough to compete against the good passing teams, but a weak front four will cause the quartet to defend a second or two more than they should. 

 

The fact that the top two tacklers last year played in the secondary was not a good sign.  Cornerback David Garrett and safety Tysyn Hartman finished one-two with 92 and 86 tackles respectively.  Garrett proved to be a real stud against the run, coming up with 15 tackles for loss (5th in the league).  He also pulled off 10 passes defended.

 

Ty Zimmerman finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles from his strong safety location, and he led the Wildcats with three interceptions.  The new cornerback figures to be Nigel Malone, another Juco transfer.

 

OTHER

Kansas State plays their home games in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.  It is the only college or professional stadium named for an entire family.

 

SUMMARY

The Wildcats used to play four weak sisters out of conference to guarantee four easy wins.  Now, with the new format, they can only play three non-conference games, and one of those three comes against the Miami Hurricanes.  Of course, by the time they go to Miami, “The U” could be a weak sister.  K-State faces Eastern Kentucky and Kent State in their other non-conference tilts, so they will be no worse than 2-1 and possibly 3-0 by the time conference play begins.

 

The schedule is perhaps the most favorable in the league.  If the Wildcats can get any pass defense going, they could be the surprise team in the league.  Look at how the schedule helps the Wildcats.

 

They play five home games in the league, and two of their road games are winnable.  Having Baylor and Iowa State at home will give them an excellent chance for two conference wins, and Kansas should be beatable for the third year in a row.

 

Although our initial rating for this team places them down in the bottom three, the schedule and the experience of Snyder tell us this team could be headed back to another bowl game.

 

Iowa State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jerome Tiller and Steele Jantz fought a tough battle in fall camp, but Tiller has emerged as the leader at this position.  He completed just 47.6% of his passes last year and averaged a miniscule 4.4 yards per attempt.

 

Jantz put up some nice numbers in junior college, but Coach Paul Rhoads did not think he was ready.  The Cyclones are tied for last place in the league at this position.

 

Receivers

Making matters worse for the passing game is the loss of last year’s two best receivers, as well as a third part-time starter.  Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds combined for 54 receptions and 638 yards, while Josh Lenz added 14 catches.  This is a weak unit, and when combined with the quarterback, it makes for an almost nonexistent passing attack.  ISU averaged only 174 passing yards per game last year, and we expect them to be hard-pressed to match that paltry number.  True freshman Aaron Horne could become the leading receiver.

 

Running Backs

When it rains, it pours.  ISU lost their top running back from last year, and their quarterback was their next best runner.  What’s left is a two-man tandem that combined for 409 rushing yards in reserve.  Shontrelle Johnson averaged 6.2 yards per rush in limited action as a true freshman, but defenses will move eight into the box to stop the running game.

 

Offensive Line

This is not a spectacular line, but it is the only bright spot on the offense.  That bright spot is like the light at the end of a tunnel that is still a quarter mile away. 

 

Three starters return to the blocking corps this year.  Tackles Brayden Burris and Kelechi Osemele will give Tiller some protection, but ISU gave up 33 sacks last year with a mobile quarterback under center.  Tiller is almost as mobile as Austen Arnaud, so maybe he can benefit from having two experienced tackles.

 

Hayworth Hicks returns to one guard spot, while Ethan Tuftee will take over at the other guard position.  Tom Farniok takes over at center.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Let’s not throw salt on an open wound, but the defensive side of the ball is not much better if at all than the offense.  The Cyclones gave up more than 400 yards per game and almost 29 points per game, and they may not improve any this year.  Their talent level should be a little better, but the offense may not give them any breaks.  Look for this unit to be on the field for as many as 75 plays per game.

 

The defensive line returns nose tackle Stephen Ruempolhamer and end Jacob Lattimer.  These two teamed for 72 tackles and 12 ½ stops for loss.  Jake McDonough  and Roosevelt Maggitt will become the two new starters.  These two combined for 47 tackles and five tackles for loss in reserve roles.

 

Linebackers

If there can be a strength to any unit on this team, here is where it is.  Jake Knott and A. J. Klein finished one-two in tackles, combining for 241 with 14 of them for lost yardage.  They also combined for 13 passes defended and seven interceptions.  Knott could contend for 1st Team All-Big 12 honors if he gets any help from a front line.  Matt Tau’fo’ou will be the new starter in the second tier.  He made 20 tackles in a reserve role last year.

 

Secondary

Iowa State gave up 222 passing yards per game and a 64% completion percentage last year, which was not awful for this league.  Three starters return this year, and if the front seven can improve on a lousy 11 sacks, then maybe Iowa State could surprise an opponent or two.

 

Cornerbacks Leonard Johnson and Jeremy Reeves both defended eight passes, while teaming for 126 stops.  Safety Ter’ran Benton needs to improve on just one pass defended.  Jacques Washington will start at the vacant safety position.  As a freshman, he made 12 tackles.

 

OTHER

Iowa State has seen their passing yardage decline from 248 to 185 to 174 yards per game the last three years.  Look for that slide to continue in 2011.

 

SUMMARY

Iowa State has a difficult non-conference schedule.  They open the season with Northern Iowa, and the Panthers have beaten them before.  Northern Iowa almost knocked off Iowa two years ago.  After the UNI game, the CyHawk Trophy game brings Iowa to Ames.  ISU then must face Connecticut on the road with one fewer preparation day.  The Cyclones could be 0-3 and realistically 1-2 when they begin conference play with Texas.  That is followed by road games against Baylor and Missouri and a home game with Texas A&M.  By then, the Cyclones could be 1-6 or even 0-7.  It is going to be a long year in Ames, and the next exciting game will be the 2012 Iowa Caucus.

 

Kansas

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Turner Gill thought he had the answer here in freshman Brock Berglund, who figured to start from day one in Lawrence.  However, Berglund is going to miss the season following an assault arrest in Colorado.  As a result, Jordan Webb will regain his starting spot.

 

Webb threw for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns, but he also threw eight interceptions.  The other passers also had more interceptions than touchdowns.

 

Webb has a strong arm, and he can stretch a defense.  The only trouble is he needs receivers with quicker legs and better pass blocking.  KU averaged just 9.6 yards per reception and 5.5 yards per attempt.

 

Receivers

Two starters return to this unit, but there is nothing to be excited about with this group.  Daymond Patterson almost averaged as much running reverses as he did catching passes.  He led the Jayhawks with 60 receptions but averaged just 8.1 yards per catch.

 

Tight end Tim Biere caught 19 passes, but no other receiver on this year’s offense had more than 10.  Christian Matthews and Chris Omigie will be the new starters here.  They combined for eight receptions last year.

 

Running Backs

James Sims returns after leading KU with 742 yards last year.  He will get help from three freshmen who all have potential to become the go-to guy.  Look for Brandon Bourbon, Darrian Miller, and Anthony Pierson to all get their chance, and it would not surprise us to see all three play this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to the blocking corps, but this group is about as weak as the five at Iowa State.  Center Jeremiah Hatch, guard Duane Zlatnick, and tackle Tanner Hawkinson bring experience to the mix, and Hatch is the leader of this unit.

 

The new starters will be Trevor Marrongelli at guard and Jeff Spikes at tackle.  Both players are upperclassmen, so this unit will have experience if not a lot of talent.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Jayhawks had an unexpected change in coordinators.  Carl Torbush had to retire after contracting cancer.  He appears to be okay, but he will not coach.  Vic Shealy is the new defensive coordinator, and he is a student of the 3-4 defense.

 

Shealy quickly moved to switch KU to a 3-4.  He immediately identified John Williams as the anchor at nose tackle.  Williams was a reserve last year and moves ahead of some former starters at this position.  Former starter Richard Johnson will back him up.

 

Keba Agostinho will start at one end, and Kevin Young and Pat Lewandowski will platoon at the other end in the revamped defense.  Look for some growing pains, as the players will need time to learn the new defense.

 

Linebackers

What figured to be a rather weak three-man unit now must add another linebacker to the fold.  We are on the fence here; will the dilution make the problem worse, or will an extra backer make this unit stronger?  We tend to believe the latter is true, but until the players learn the new techniques, there are going to be some rough times.

 

Former end Toben Opurum moves to one outside linebacker position, while Juco transfer Tunde Bakare inherits the opposite outside position.  Look for Opurum’s tackles to more than double from his 2010 output of 21.

 

Darius Willis and Steven Johnson will man the inside positions.  Johnson led the Jayhawks with 95 tackles.  Willis followed Gill from Buffalo, where he played sparingly as a freshman.

 

Secondary

Four full-time or part-time starters return to a unit that did not succeed last year.  KU allowed enemy passes to be completed almost 66% of the time and gave up 223 yards.  Isiah Barfield and Greg Brown are the cornerbacks; they teamed for 14 passes defended.  Bradley McDougald played both safety and wide receiver last year, something we do not expect him to repeat.  He made 16 tackles.  Lubbock Smith started half the games at safety, but Keeston Terry will replace him there this year.  Tyler Patmon will see his share of playing time, mostly as a nickel back.

 

OTHER

The downward trend in wins has gone from 12 to 8 to 5 to 3.  Unless a lot of the young players play above their heads, that string could continue.  At best, it may only stop due to an equaling of last year.

 

SUMMARY

Kansas could be looking at a 1-2 start prior to conference play.  The Jayhawks open with McNeese State, which is the only sure win on the schedule.  A week two game with Northern Illinois is a trap game for sure, and Georgia Tech will be waiting to put a major sting on KU in Atlanta in week three, following last year’s big upset.

 

The Iowa State game is on the road, while the Kansas State and Baylor games are at Memorial Stadium.  Those are the three chances for conference wins, and we would be more surprised at a 3-6 conference record than an 0-9 record.

 

2011 Big 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Oklahoma

41

428

Texas A&M

1

362

Oklahoma St.

1

360

Missouri

 

281

Texas

 

265

Baylor

 

194

Texas Tech

 

191

Kansas St.

 

140

Iowa St.

 

93

Kansas

 

51

 

 

2011 Big 12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Oklahoma

132.8

8-1/11-1

Texas A&M

130.6

8-1/10-2

Oklahoma St.

119.8

7-2/10-2

Missouri

116.7

5-4/7-5

Texas

108.3

4-5/6-6

Texas Tech

105.5

4-5/7-5

Baylor

104.0

3-6/5-7

Kansas St.

101.5

4-5/7-5

Iowa State

100.9

1-8/2-10

Kansas

95.4

1-8/2-10

 

 

Coming Monday, August 29, a preview of the Southeastern Conference.

August 19, 2010

2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

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2010 Big 12 Conference Preview

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

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

Predictions

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

 

Big 12 Championship Game: Oklahoma over Nebraska

 

BCS Bowl (Fiesta): Oklahoma

BCS Bowl: Nebraska

Cotton Bowl: Texas

Alamo Bowl: Missouri

Insight Bowl: Texas Tech

Holiday Bowl: Texas A&M

Texas Bowl: Baylor

Pinstripe Bowl: Colorado

Dallas Football Classic: Kansas State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

North Division

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

 

Strengths: Offensive Line, Receivers, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Special Teams

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

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

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

Interdivision: Baylor, Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma

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

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

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

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Special Teams

Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line, Linebacker

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

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

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

Interdivision: Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma, @ Texas

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

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

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

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

Interdivision: @ Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Weaknesses: Receiver (not that much of a weakness)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Weaknesses: Quarterback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Division

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

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Back (small strength)

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

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

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

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

Interdivision: Kansas, @ Colorado, Kansas State

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line

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

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

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

Interdivision: Nebraska, @ Kansas State, @ Texas

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Weaknesses: Quarterback (small weakness)

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

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

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

Interdivision: @ Nebraska, Iowa State, @ Kansas State

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

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

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

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

 

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver, Linebacker

Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Special Teams

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

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

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

Interdivision: Missouri, @ Kansas, Nebraska

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

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

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

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

 

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

Weaknesses: Offensive Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 1, 2009

2009 Big 12 Conference Preview

2009 Big 12 Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

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

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

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Nebraska hosts Oklahoma a week before taking on Kansas for what could be the North Division title, the Cornhuskers’ home field advantage might be as little as two points.  However, if that same Nebraska team takes on Louisiana-Lafayette a week after scoring a huge upset over a top 10 team, they could enjoy a seven to 10 point home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Big 12 Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

   
   

 

Prediction *

   
  Team

PiRate

Big 12

Overall

 
  North

 

 

 

 
  Kansas

110

5-3

9-4

#
  Nebraska

109

5-3

8-4

 
  Missouri

105

2-6

4-8

 
  Colorado

102

4-4

7-5

 
  Kansas State

97

4-4

7-5

 
  Iowa State

92

0-8

3-9

 
   

 

 

 

 
  South

 

 

 

 
  Oklahoma

136

8-0

13-0

#
  Texas

135

7-1

11-1

 
  Oklahoma State

118

6-2

10-2

 
  Texas Tech

112

3-5

7-5

 
  Baylor

109

4-4

6-6

 
  Texas A&M

94

1-7

4-8

 
               

 

Big 12 North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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