The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 15, 2018

2018 American Athletic Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

This American Athletic Conference believes the number one team in the nation played within its jurisdiction last year. No, Alabama did not have some type of adjunct relationship with the league. Central Florida was the lone unbeaten team in the nation in 2017. In addition, the Knights did something Alabama was unable to do–beat Auburn.
The PiRate Ratings not only said that UCF was not the top team in the nation, we believed there were four better teams last year. UCF’s running the table reminded us a lot of Penn State in 1968, when the Nittany Lions went 11-0 and beat Kansas in the Orange Bowl. So what did that Penn State team do for an encore in 1969? They merely went 11-0 again with one of the most aggressive defenses and special teams in college football history.
UCF just might run the table again this year, just like that great Penn State team.

However, they will have an extra impediment that Penn State did not have in 1969. Coach Scott Frost took his marbles and went home to alma mater Nebraska. The Knights will try to become the first team since Toledo in 1970 and 1971 to go undefeated in back-to-back seasons with different head coaches. That Toledo team actually ran the table for three consecutive years.
UCF returns a talented quarterback in McKenzie Milton, two talented running backs in Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson, and two highly-skilled receivers Dredrick Snelson and Gabriel Davis that helped team up for 530+ yards and 48+ points per game. The Knights should continue to pile up yards and points again this year, and if the defense can hold serve and put up similar numbers to last year, UCF has a chance to repeat at 13-0. The toughest roadblocks will be road games with North Carolina and Memphis and a home game with Pittsburgh. The regular season finale at South Florida could be a trap game.

Speaking of South Florida, the Bulls are not quite up to UCF’s talent level, and they undergo a slight rebuilding project this year. A splendid offensive team in 2017, USF must break in a new quarterback, a new running back or backs to replace two highly talented backs, and their leading receiver. Things are not all that rosy on the defensive side of the ball, but the Bulls had a lot of talented depth and should be okay on this side of the ball, especially with a defensive mastermind like Charlie Strong as head coach.

Temple continued to win with new coach Geoff Collins taking over for Matt Rhule last year. Collins might have a hard time topping last year’s seven wins, but the rest of the division is not ready to move up, so the Owls might have a shot at another bowl-eligible season. Temple has some stars on both sides of the ball, foremost being rush end Quincy Roche, who recorded seven sacks as a freshman. He’ll join the finest trio of linebackers in the league, and Temple should hold opponents to 21 to 24 points per game this year. If the offense can take a small move forward, Temple can contend with South Florida for second in the division.

The bottom three teams in the East Division fall far short of the top three. Cincinnati appears to be nearing the end of the Luke Fickell era. After a 4-8 season in 2017, the Bearcats look like a team that will find it hard to even equal that mark this year. Pass defense will be a major issue, and even if the pass rush improves this year, UC may take a backward turn against the run. The result should be another year where opponents average north of 30 points per game.

East Carolina and Connecticut face major rebuilding projects and should both win fewer games than a year ago. That’s not an easy task, as they both won just three times in 2017.

Memphis lost just twice in the regular season last year, but both times, it was to Central Florida. The Tigers host UCF in the middle of the season, and the game could match a pair of ranked and undefeated teams. The only reason why Memphis may not top the Knights is the breaking in of a new quarterback. David Moore can run and pass with talent, but he lacks the experience that Milton has at UCF. The Tigers should have a better defense this year with most of the key players back, but the offense is going to backtrack, and with it will go the Tigers’ conference championship hopes in 2018.

When Major Applewhite became Houston’s head coach last year, he heard an edict from the school’s president that 8-4 will get a coach fired there. Applewhite only mustered seven wins in his first year, and 8-4 may be about what to expect in year two. The question is: will 8-4 be good enough in year two? The Cougars lost too much talent on both sides of the ball to make a legitimate move forward. Every full-time starting skill position player at one set position on offense must be replaced. The one exception is D’Eriq King, who began the season as one of the leading receivers on the team and then moved to quarterback in the second half.

Navy has been to 14 bowls in the last 15 years, and with an experienced quarterback returning to run the double slot option offense, the Midshipmen will make it 15 in 16 years. Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s teams usually improve by a couple of games when his quarterback returns, so look for Navy to challenge for double-digit wins this year.

Unlike the East, the bottom three teams in the West could all contend for bowl eligibility this year. Tulane and SMU played a bowl-qualifier in the regular season’s final week last year. Tulane appeared to have the game won at the end, but an incorrect referee’s call gave the game and the Frisco Bowl bid to the Mustangs. The PiRate Ratings don’t call for it, but we believe Coach Willie Fritz will build on this near-miss and push Tulane to bowl eligibility. Expect quarterback Jonathan Banks to increase the Green Wave’s passing efficiency, especially since his starting receiving corps returns in full. While at Georgia Southern, Fritz’s offenses averaged better than 425 yards and 35 points per game, and if TU can match that amount this year, Fritz will be coaching in December.

SMU must start all over with a new coach and new offensive system. The Mustangs should be okay on offense, but their defense is still a mess, and the new offense may force it to stay on the field a tad more this year. It may take 40 points per game for the Mustangs to win six games and make a bowl game again.

Tulsa has the least chance of the three bottom-half teams to make a bowl this year, and a reduction in their athletic budget could signal some lean times in the near future. Last year, the Golden Hurricane could not move the football through the air, and it led to a sub 30 points per game output, and a year after winning 10 games, Tulsa lost 10 games.

Here is how the American Athletic Conference Media voted in the preseason poll.

American Athletic
East 1st Place Points
1. Central Florida 25 175
2. South Florida 5 140
3. Temple 0 132
4. Cincinnati 0 91
5. Connecticut 0 51
6. East Carolina 0 41
West 1st Place Points
1. Memphis 23 171
2. Houston 4 146
3. Navy 3 129
4. SMU 0 72
5. Tulane 0 68
6. Tulsa 0 44
Championship Game Winner Points
Central Florida 19
Memphis 7
South Florida 3
Houston 1

The PiRate Ratings agree almost completely with the media experts with the exception of flip-flopping Tulane and SMU

American Athletic Conference
East Division
Team AAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Central Florida 0-0 0-0 110.8 110.4 110.7 110.6
South Florida 0-0 0-0 96.0 99.3 96.9 97.4
Temple 0-0 0-0 95.8 95.8 96.2 95.9
Cincinnati 0-0 0-0 87.1 88.5 86.5 87.3
Connecticut 0-0 0-0 84.1 84.4 82.8 83.8
East Carolina 0-0 0-0 83.1 82.2 82.0 82.4
West Division
Team AAC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Memphis 0-0 0-0 104.2 106.3 105.7 105.4
Houston 0-0 0-0 99.9 101.4 101.0 100.8
Navy 0-0 0-0 98.7 101.7 98.5 99.7
Tulane 0-0 0-0 94.4 94.6 94.0 94.3
SMU 0-0 0-0 95.1 93.8 94.0 94.3
Tulsa 0-0 0-0 91.8 90.3 92.3 91.5
AAC Averages 95.1 95.7 95.1 95.3

New Coaches
The biggest coaching change in all of Group of 5 football is at Central Florida, where former Oklahoma passing phenom Josh Heupel takes over for former Nebraska star Scott Frost. Heupel comes from the spread passing philosophy of Bob Stoops and Mike Leach. Heupel most recently served as offensive coordinator at Missouri, where Drew Lock routinely topped 300 yards passing. What a lot of fans might not know is that Heupel’s Missouri offense also finished in the top half of the SEC’s rushing statistics. UCF will most likely continue to average more than 40 points and 500 yards per game.

SMU welcomes former Louisiana Tech and California head coach Sonny Dykes, as he too brings the same offense to Dallas that Heupel will bring to Orlando. Dykes was a special offensive assistant at TCU last year, and the Horned Frogs averaged 33.6 points and 419 yards per game.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. What we’re saying is: don’t take these numbers with anything more than a grain of salt.

Team Conference Overall
East
Central Florida 8-0 13-0 *
South Florida 5-3 8-4
Temple 5-3 7-5
Cincinnati 2-6 3-9
East Carolina 1-7 2-10
Connecticut 0-8 1-11
West Conference Overall
Memphis 7-1 10-3
Navy 6-2 10-3
Houston 6-2 8-4
Tulsa 3-5 5-7
Tulane 3-5 4-8
SMU 2-6 3-9
* Central Florida picked to win AAC Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The American Athletic Conference has contracts to fill seven bowls with no set pecking order.

Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX
Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas
Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, AL
Cure Bowl in Orlando, FL
Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX (The Home Soccer Stadium for FC Dallas of the MLS).
Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL
Military Bowl in Annapolis, MD

Coming Tomorrow–We begin previewing the Power 5 Conferences. First up is the Big 12.

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August 18, 2012

2012 Western Athletic Conference Preview

For many years, the Western Athletic Conference was strong enough to produce national title contenders as well as top 10 teams.  In the 1970’s, Arizona State routinely stayed in the top 10 as a WAC member, and rival Arizona moved as high as number 12 in 1975 when they faced the number two Sun Devils.

 

Brigham Young won a national championship in 1984 while a member of the WAC.

 

Even back in the 1960’s, this conference had top 10 teams, as Wyoming appeared in the top 10 for at least one week for three consecutive seasons.

 

In the 1996, the WAC expanded to 16 teams for three seasons.

 

Times have changed.  Defections almost doomed the league in recent years.  Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada, and Fresno State left for the Mountain West Conference, leaving just five football members.  Texas State and Texas-San Antonio were added to bring the number up to seven, but while the two new FBS members are eligible to win the WAC, neither is eligible to play in a bowl.

 

Oddly, the two new FBS members will be WAC members for just this season.  Texas State will move to the Sunbelt Conference next year.  UTSA is set to join Conference USA next year, taking Louisiana Tech with them.  San Jose State and Utah State are joining their former brethren in the Mountain West.  Idaho and New Mexico State have no place to go.  The Vandals might be forced to return to the Big Sky Conference and FCS football if they cannot afford making it as an independent, while NMSU may be forced to drop football altogether.

 

This could be the WAC’s swan song as a football league.  At least three teams figure to compete for the conference championship, where only one team is guaranteed a bowl bid, while two other bowls have secondary agreements with the league.

 

The WAC has two official pre-season polls, one by the coaches and one by the media.

 

 

Coaches’ Poll

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisiana Tech

6

36

2

Utah State

1

31

3

San Jose State

0

24

4

New Mexico State

0

22

5

Idaho

0

17

6

Texas State

0

10

7

U T S A

0

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media Poll

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisiana Tech

25

193

2

Utah State

3

164

3

San Jose State

0

130

4

Idaho

0

102

5

New Mexico State

0

95

6

Texas State

0

57

7

U T S A

0

43

 

The PiRate Ratings and the PiRate Vintage Ratings are similar to the official polls.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Team

PiRate

1

Louisiana Tech

101.1

2

Utah State

91.3

3

San Jose State

87.6

4

Idaho

80.8

5

New Mexico State

75.9

6

U T S A

74.1

7

Texas State

73.6

 

   

 

   

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Team

Vintage

1

Louisiana Tech

101

2

Utah State

96

3

San Jose State

95

4

Idaho

91

5

Texas State

83

6

New Mexico State

81

7

U T S A

77

 

 

Team

Idaho Vandals

               
Head Coach

Robb Akey

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Moscow, ID

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

80.8

               
National Rank

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

91.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

101

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

5-7

 

It was a rough season for the Vandals in 2011, as they crashed to the basement.  Idaho’s defense could not get off the field, surrendering nearly 75 plays per game.  The Vandals gave up almost 280 passing yards per game and 160 rushing yards per game.

 

Idaho returns five starters to this defense, but we expect the Vandals to be improved on this side of the ball this year.  The secondary should see the most improvement for two reasons.  First, two promising pass defenders return for their senior seasons, and second, the schedule is much easier in 2012.

 

Those two aforementioned secondary stars are cornerback Aaron Grymes and safety Gary Walker.  The two combined for 11 passes defended last year, and that number will head north this season.

 

The front seven is about on par with last year, but the easier schedule will make their numbers improve as well.

 

Offensively, Idaho is strong at receiver with the return of wideout Mike Scott, who caught 55 passes for close to 700 yards last year. 

 

Coach Robb Akey recently named University of Washington transfer Dominique Blackman as his starting quarterback, and Blackman should be an upgrade at this position.  Look for him to top 3,000 passing yards this year.  The big and bulky left-hander will benefit from having quality pass blockers on his right (blind) side.

 

The running game is a question mark at this time, since projected starter Ryan Bass is dealing with academic issues and is not currently practicing. 

 

Idaho must face Louisiana Tech and Utah State on the road this year, but the Vandals should be competitive in the rest of their conference games.  The out-of-conference schedule is a bit too difficult to give them a chance to post a winning season, but Idaho will definitely finish with a better record this year.

 

 

Team

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Sonny Dykes

               
Colors

Red and Blue

               
City

Ruston, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-1

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

101.1

               
National Rank

57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

101.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

61

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

6-0

Overall

8-4

 

Sonny Dykes is probably in the last year or two of his tenure in Ruston.  The Bulldog head coach will be on multiple schools’ short list when coaching vacancies occur.  The son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, who was an assistant in Lubbock to Mike Leach, has taken the LT offense and produced spectacular results with the spread passing game.  Tech has increased their passing yardage by around 30 yards per game both seasons under Dykes’ tutelage.  With the league’s best quarterback throwing to the league’s best receivers, the Bulldogs could easily improve by 30 yards per game again in 2012.

 

Colby Cameron became the starting quarterback just past the midway point in the season, and he guided the Bulldogs to six consecutive victories and the WAC championship.  He completed just 55% of his passes, but he tended to throw deeper passes and produced more than 14 yards per completion with a TD/Int ratio of 13/3.

 

Quinton Patton finished second in the WAC with 1,202 receiving yards.  He averaged better than 15 yards per reception and scored 11 touchdowns.  Tulane transfer D. J. Banks should be an excellent possession receiver, and he will get open in the short routes and help Cameron bring up his completion percentage.

 

The running game will not appear on any leaderboards, but the Bulldogs rarely see defenses that concentrate on trying to stop the running game first.  The loss of former Tennessee transfer Lennon Creer will be hard to make up, but the LT offense will not succeed or fail because of the running game.

 

There are some questions on the defensive side of the ball, and thus, the Bulldogs will not be a solid lock to run away with the 2012 WAC title.

 

The front six (LT deploys a 4-2-5 defense) is vulnerable with the loss of four starters from a year ago including two linebackers with more than 100 tackles apiece. 

 

The secondary is in a little better shape with the best tandem of safeties in the league in Chad Boyd and Jamel Johnson.

 

Tech hosts Utah State on November 17 and closes out the season at San Jose State a week later.  Those two games should decide the 2012 WAC championship, and we believe the Bulldogs are the favorite. 

 

 

Team

New Mexico State Aggies

               
Head Coach

DeWayne Walker

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Las Cruces, NM

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-5

Overall

4-9

               
PiRate Rating

75.9

               
National Rank

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

81.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

120

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-5

Overall

3-9

 

Football in the state of New Mexico has taken a turn for the worse in the last few years, as neither FBS school in the Land of Enchantment has competed in recent years.  It has been nine seasons since the Aggies last finished above .500, and it has been 52 seasons since they last appeared in a bowl.  The Aggies could very well be looking at the possibility of dropping scholarship football if they cannot find a conference next year, and this news has not helped an already weak recruiting effort.

 

Coach DeWayne Walker had to rely on the junior college route to try to restock his depleted troops, bringing in a baker’s dozen from the Juco ranks.

 

If he can avoid further injury, quarterback Andrew Manley can move the State offense.  Prior to a season-ending knee injury, he had led the Aggies to an upset win over Minnesota.  He will be burdened with a depleted running back corps, and one of the new Juco players, Akeelie Mustafa, will be called on for immediate support.   

 

Manley has some talent to aim his aerials toward this season.  Kemonte’ Bateman and Austin Franklin form the nucleus of the receiving corps.  It could be even better if the coach’s son, Kevan Walker, can return from a knee injury.  This unit may not have flashy stars, but is has depth.  If NMSU is to challenge for a move out of the lower half of the standings, this receiving corps must live up to its potential.

 

The only good thing to say about the running game is that it is not the running game of the Hal Mumme era.  Looking at it that way is the only way to put a good spin on a running game that struggled last year and lost its top two rushers.

 

The defense faces a major rebuilding job, which may not be such a bad thing.  The Aggies surrendered 37 points and better than 460 yards per game in 2011, and there is nowhere to go but up.  Expect a lot of the Jucos to move into the starting lineup, and when combined with an easier schedule, this should make the defensive numbers a little more respectable in 2012, especially in the trenches.  Expect Kalvin Cruz to contend for all-conference honors, with Nicholas Oliva and Kevin Laudermill contributing to an improved defense against the run and pass rush.

 

There are six winnable games on the 2012 schedule, but we still see the Aggies coming up short.  A loss at Texas State in the finale could be a finale in more ways than one.  If it isn’t the last Aggie game as a member of the FBS, it could be Walker’s last as head coach.

 

 

Team

San Jose State Spartans

               
Head Coach

Mike MacIntyre

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Gold

               
City

San Jose, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

87.6

               
National Rank

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

95.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

85

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

6-6

 

 

The Spartans are a good quarterback away from contending for the WAC championship in 2012.  Third year coach Mike MacIntyre has recruited well, and his Spartans have a chance to become bowl eligible in year three.

 

MacIntyre may have found his good quarterback in Nevada transfer David Fales.  Fales has size and talent to withstand hard pass rushes and pass with poise. 

 

Fales will have help in the backfield this year with the emergence of former Minnesota running back De’Leon Eskridge and Juco standout Alvin Jelks.  Look for the Spartans rushing statistics to improve this year despite the loss of their leading 2011 rusher.

 

The receiving corps is second best in the league and returns the top four pass catchers from a year ago.  Tight end Ryan Otten will earn a paycheck to play football in 2013, and we expect him to surpass his totals of 52 receptions and 739 yards this season.  Jabari Carr is the key to this unit.  The speedy wideout needs to improve on his 33 receptions of a year ago; Carr has the ability to make short passes become long gains.

 

The SJSU defense gave up better than 30 points and 400 yards per game for the third consecutive year last season, and the Spartans could make that four in a row this season.  However, giving up 30 points could still allow the team to compete in this league.

 

While six starters have departed from last year, the top three tacklers return.  Defensive end Travis Johnson is a sack monster, who missed out on the WAC sack leadership by just one.  James Orth returns to the secondary after picking off four passes in 2011.  Keith Smith is a quality linebacker capable of leading the league in tackles.

 

The WAC championship should be decided by the outcomes of three games this year.  If the Spartans can defeat both Utah State and Louisiana Tech, they can emerge as the surprise league champions.  San Jose hosts both conference contenders.  This team may still be a year away from contending, but this is their last chance in the WAC.  It will be much more difficult to compete in the Mountain West next year.

 

Team

Texas State Bobcats

               
Head Coach

Dennis Franchione

               
Colors

Maroon and Old Gold

               
City

San Marcos, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

6-6 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

73.6

               
National Rank

121

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

83.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

118

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

2-4

Overall

3-9

 

After five seasons out of the major college ranks, Dennis Franchione gets another chance to pilot a FBS team as the Bobcats make their debut on the big stage.  Franchione guided Texas State to a 6-6 finish as a FCS independent last year, but in the two games played against FBS opponents, State lost by a combined 95-20.  Expect the Bobcats to take their lumps this season.

 

Shaun Rutherford once teamed with Cam Newton in junior college.  The senior quarterback will not emulate his former teammate at this level, but he gives the Bobcats a chance to compete offensively in the WAC.  A good year from Rutherford would produce about 500 rushing yards and 2,000 passing yards.

 

Franchione can call on some quality depth to anchor his running game.  Texas State is one of the handful of run first teams, and Coach Fran has his full complement of backs returning from 2011.  Marcus Curry and Terrence Franks should get the bulk of the carries, as State looks to run the ball about 45 times per game.

 

The one possible weak spot of the offense is an inexperienced offensive line that must replace three starters.  It is also undersized for this level of football, as the five projected starters average about 275 pounds.

 

The Texas State defense surrendered 400 yards and 28.5 points per game against mostly FCS competition last year.  In the two games against FBS opposition (Texas Tech and Wyoming), the Bobcats gave up a very generous 1,123 yards (561.5 avg), yielding 6.5 yards per enemy rush and 8.6 yards per pass attempt.

 

While most of last year’s starters return to the defensive side, do not expect much improvement with a schedule that goes from two FBS opponents to 11.  Cornerback Darryl Morris and safety Xavier Daniels should finish one-two in tackles, and that never bodes well for a defense, as a linebacker should lead the team in stops.

 

The one place where Texas State takes a back seat to nobody is in the kicking game.  Kicker Will Johnson is both accurate and long.

 

Texas State has just one “gimme” game on the schedule when they host Stephen F. Austin.  The game against new rival UTSA is in San Antonio.  The Bobcats also play both of the weak New Mexico teams and host Idaho, so Coach Fran’s troops have a chance to compete in five games this year.  We expect them to win two or three games.

 

 

Team

Utah State Aggies

               
Head Coach

Gary Andersen

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Logan, UT

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

91.3

               
National Rank

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

96.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

78

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

7-5

 

At times last year, Utah State was the clear-cut best team in the WAC.  The Aggies opened the season by showing up the defending national champion Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium for about 53 minutes of the game.  A couple weeks later, they took BYU to the final gun.  They followed that up with a dismantling of a Wyoming team that would win eight games, and in November, they upset Nevada.  Untimely turnovers ruined USU’s chances of winning the WAC in 2011, but the Aggies have another chance in the league’s swan song.  Utah State has almost the same amount of quality talent as Louisiana Tech, but the big game against the Bulldogs is on the road this season.

 

Coach Gary Andersen saw his offense greatly improve last year thanks to a devastating rushing attack.  Except for the three schools that run the 21st century version of the wishbone (Army, Navy, Georgia Tech), Utah State had the best running attack of the non regular and triple option teams.  The Aggies rushed for 283 yards per game at nearly six yards per attempt last year, but the two men chiefly responsible for that output are no longer around.  Leading rusher Robert Turbin is now a Seattle Seahawk after he led the WAC with 19 rushing touchdowns and finished second with 1,517 yards.

 

Expect a major drop-off in running numbers this season, as the expected tandem of Kerwynn Williams and Joe Hill are not as good as what USU had last year.  

 

The Aggies will make up for the weaker ground game with a much better passing game this year.  Sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton could see his passing yardage more than double in his second season in Logan.  He completed 61% of his passes with a 12/2 TD/Int ratio last year.

 

Keeton has three exceptional targets in receivers Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin, and Cameron Webb.  Look for Webb to have a breakout season this year.

 

The offensive line is one of the best in the league, led by NFL prospect Tyler Larsen at center.

 

The Aggies enjoyed their first winning record in more than a decade because the defense improved by six points and 60 yards per game last year.  Teams could no longer run the ball down USU’s throats.  Expect more of the same in 2012, as all three defensive units should be somewhat improved.

 

The strength of this defense is a fabulous secondary led by two potential All-WAC Cornerbacks and a speedy safety.  Nevin Lawson and Jumaine Robinson teamed for 23 passes defended, while McKade Brady kept opposing offenses from getting long gains.

 

The non-conference schedule presents some tough challenges again for the Aggies with games against in-state rivals Utah and BYU combined with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the Badgers.  An easier league slate should allow Utah State to finish on the plus side of .500 again.  And, if the Aggies can win their two biggest conference games on the road against Louisiana Tech and San Jose State, they will claim the final WAC championship.  They figure to be underdogs in both big games. 

 

 

Team

Texas-San Antonio

               
Head Coach

Larry Coker

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

San Antonio

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

4-6 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

74.1

               
National Rank

120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

77.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

124

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-5

Overall

3-9

 

It is a far cry from a decade ago for Coach Larry Coker.  The former Miami of Florida coach won a national championship in Coral Gables with one of the most dominating teams in modern football.  He returns to FBS football with a team that lost to McMurry, Southern Utah, Sam Houston, UC Davis, and McNeese State last year and played no FBS teams.

 

The Roadrunners will be more talented this season, as practically every letterman that contributed returns this year.  Only two starters from the 22 first teamers are gone, and there are still very few seniors on this roster, as this is just the second season of football in San Antonio.

 

It is difficult to gauge how good the returning talent is, since UTSA played no FBS opponents in their first year of organized football.  Coker expects to employ a two-quarterback system this year with returning starter Eric Soza and junior college transfer Tucker Carter splitting the reps.  Soza, the better runner, completed 56% of his passes last year but threw nine interceptions or about one pick for every 34 pass attempts.  Carter put up some gaudy stats in junior college, and he is the stronger passer.

 

The top unit on the offense is the receiving corps.  Tight ends Jeremiah Moeller and Cole Hubbell and wideouts Brandon Freeman, Kenny Harrison, and Kam Jones will provide the quarterbacks with multiple options on passing plays.

 

UTSA will use a 4-2-5 defense, and the strength is at linebacker, where Steven Kurfehs and Bradon Reeves combined for 130 stops, 12 ½ behind the line.

 

UTSA will play a weak non-conference schedule, which will give the Roadrunners a chance to win two or three games.  However, even in the much weaker WAC, UTSA will be lucky to win one time.

 

Coming Sunday, August 19: A look at the Mid-American Conference, a quarterback-rich league in 2012.

August 14, 2010

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

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

 

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

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

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

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

Predictions

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

 

BCS Bowl: Boise State (possible National Championship Game)

Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Nevada

Hawaii Bowl: Will need an at-large team

New Mexico Bowl: Will need and at-large team

 

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

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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