The Pi-Rate Ratings

December 10, 2011

PiRate Ratings: College Football Bowls 2011-12

Filed under: College Football — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 8:19 pm

Check Back Monday For Round One Of Simulated College Playoffs

The first round of the 2011-12 college football simulated playoffs were simulated Friday, and the results will be posted Monday, December 12.  Check back to see which four teams won and which four lost as we pare down from the Dandy Dozen to the Elite Eight.

 

Now to get back to reality, here are the ratings for the real season—the one that ends with 34 dull bowls and one that means anything.

 

Even the old pre-BCS system would be preferable to the way things are today.  The New Year’s bowl games are not worth tuning in any more.  The one event that is meaningful on New Year’s is the NHL Winter Classic.

 

Let’s look at how New Year’s Day (actually January 2 this year) might have been if the old system was still in place.

 

Sugar Bowl:  L S U vs. Stanford

Cotton Bowl: Kansas State vs. Alabama

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

Orange Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Clemson

 

These four games would all be meaningful, and three of the four could have played a part in the National Championship.  If Stanford upset LSU in the early game, then Alabama and Oklahoma State would still have a shot at the title, and all four teams could have ended up with one of the big four or five national championships.  In our opinion, it is better to have split champions than to exclude a team from having a chance.  It is much better for the bowls, because to be frank, we will not watch the first 34 bowls.  On New Year’s Day, we will have NFL Playoffs this year, but we will not watch the bowls on January 2; there is nothing entertaining about them, especially with one game being played against two 6-6 teams.

 

Final Regular Season PiRate Ratings

#

Team

PiRate

1

L S U

139.6

2

Alabama

135.1

3

Oklahoma St.

131.5

4

Southern Cal

130.9

5

Oregon

128.3

6

Stanford

127.2

7

Wisconsin

126.8

8

Arkansas

123.6

9

Oklahoma

121.6

10

Florida St.

120.3

11

Boise St.

120.0

12

Michigan

119.2

13

Michigan St.

118.9

14

TexasA&M

118.5

15

Georgia 

116.8

16

Baylor

116.8

17

Notre Dame

116.7

18

S. Carolina

115.9

19

T C U

114.5

20

Houston

114.4

21

Kansas St.

113.9

22

California

113.9

23

Clemson

113.6

24

Missouri

113.6

25

Texas

113.1

26

Nebraska

112.0

27

Virginia Tech

111.5

28

Vanderbilt

111.3

29

B Y U

111.0

30

Florida 

110.6

31

LouisianaTech

109.3

32

Utah

109.0

33

Arizona St.

108.9

34

Southern Miss.

108.8

35

Miami(FL)

108.8

36

Mississippi St.

108.7

37

Washington

108.5

38

Ohio St.

108.1

39

Nevada

107.6

40

W. Virginia

106.9

41

Cincinnati

106.5

42

Tulsa

106.4

43

Georgia Tech

105.8

44

N. Carolina St.

105.7

45

Penn St.

105.4

46

U C L A

105.4

47

BostonColl.

105.1

48

N. Carolina

105.0

49

Pittsburgh

104.6

50

Oregon St.

104.4

51

Iowa

104.3

52

Iowa St.

103.9

53

Louisville

103.7

54

Auburn

103.5

55

Northwestern

103.3

56

Virginia

102.8

57

Arizona

102.8

58

Washington St.

102.1

59

Tennessee

101.7

60

S. Florida

100.6

61

Air Force

100.4

62

WakeForest

100.3

63

Toledo

99.9

64

Temple

99.4

65

Rutgers

98.8

66

Utah St.

98.4

67

Purdue

98.3

68

Illinois

98.0

69

San Diego St.

97.3

70

Minnesota

97.2

71

Connecticut

97.1

72

TexasTech

96.9

73

Arkansas St.

95.8

74

Colorado

95.4

75

Wyoming

95.3

76

Western Michigan

95.3

77

Duke

95.3

78

Central Florida

95.2

79

Kentucky

94.9

80

Navy

94.9

81

Northern Illinois

94.8

82

San Jose St.

93.6

83

S M U

91.9

84

Maryland

91.6

85

East Carolina

91.4

86

Syracuse

91.2

87

Fresno St.

91.1

88

Hawaii

90.6

89

Miami(O)

90.2

90

WesternKy.

89.6

91

OhioU

89.3

92

FloridaInt’l

89.2

93

Kansas

89.1

94

Ole Miss

88.7

95

UL-Lafayette

86.8

96

UL-Monroe

86.0

97

U T E P

85.5

98

Marshall

84.9

99

North Texas

84.8

100

Bowling Green

84.2

101

Rice

83.9

102

Colorado St.

83.9

103

Army

83.5

104

Ball St.

82.9

105

Eastern Michigan

82.0

106

Indiana

82.0

107

Kent St.

81.9

108

Idaho

81.5

109

New Mexico St.

80.7

110

U A B

78.8

111

U N L V

76.9

112

Central Michigan

76.5

113

Buffalo

76.0

114

Troy

74.6

115

New Mexico

71.0

116

Tulane

70.5

117

Memphis

68.0

118

MiddleTennessee

67.2

119

FloridaAtlantic

64.0

120

Akron

57.4

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

FloridaState

5-3

8-4

120.3

Clemson   √

6-2

10-3

113.6

North CarolinaState

4-4

7-5

105.7

BostonCollege

3-5

4-8

105.1

WakeForest

5-3

6-6

100.3

Maryland

1-7

2-10

91.6

       
Coastal Division

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Virginia Tech

7-1

11-2

111.5

Miami-FL

3-5

6-6

108.8

Georgia Tech

5-3

8-4

105.8

North Carolina

3-5

7-5

105.0

Virginia

5-3

8-4

102.8

Duke

1-7

3-9

95.3

 

Big East Conference

 

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

West Virginia   √

5-2

9-3

106.9

Cincinnati

5-2

9-3

106.5

Pittsburgh

4-3

6-6

104.6

Louisville

5-2

7-5

103.7

South Florida

1-6

5-7

100.6

Rutgers

4-3

8-4

98.8

Connecticut

3-4

5-7

97.1

Syracuse

1-6

5-7

91.2

 

Big Ten

       
Leaders Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Wisconsin   √

6-2

11-2

126.8

PennState

6-2

9-3

105.4

OhioState

3-5

6-6

108.1

Illinois

2-6

6-6

98.0

Purdue

4-4

6-6

98.3

Indiana

0-8

1-11

82.0

       
Legends Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Michigan

6-2

10-2

119.2

MichiganState

7-1

10-3

118.9

Nebraska

5-3

9-3

112.0

Iowa

4-4

7-5

104.3

Northwestern

3-5

6-6

103.3

Minnesota

2-6

3-9

97.2

 

Big 12

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

OklahomaState   √

8-1

11-1

131.5

Oklahoma

6-3

9-3

121.6

TexasA&M

4-5

6-6

118.5

Baylor

6-3

9-3

116.8

KansasState

7-2

10-2

113.9

Missouri

5-4

7-5

113.6

Texas

4-5

7-5

113.1

IowaState

3-6

6-6

103.9

TexasTech

2-7

5-7

96.9

Kansas

0-9

2-10

89.1

 

Conference USA

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Southern Mississippi   *

6-2

11-2

108.8

Central Florida

3-5

5-7

95.2

East Carolina

4-4

5-7

91.4

Marshall

5-3

6-6

84.9

U A B

3-5

3-9

78.8

Memphis

1-7

2-10

68.0

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Houston

8-0

12-1

114.4

Tulsa

7-1

8-4

106.4

S M U

5-3

7-5

91.9

U T E P

2-6

5-7

85.5

Rice

3-5

4-8

83.9

Tulane

1-7

2-11

70.5

 

Independents

       
Team

 

Overall

Rating

Notre Dame  

8-4

116.7

B Y U  

9-3

111.0

Navy  

4-7

95.4

Army  

3-8

83.0

 

Mid American Conference

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Temple

5-3

8-4

99.4

Miami(O)

3-5

4-8

90.2

OhioU

6-2

9-4

89.3

Bowling Green

3-5

5-7

84.2

Kent St.

4-4

5-7

81.9

Buffalo

2-6

3-9

76.0

Akron

0-8

1-11

57.4

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Toledo

7-1

8-4

99.9

Western Michigan

5-3

7-5

95.3

Northern Illinois   * 

7-1

10-3

94.8

BallState

4-4

6-6

82.9

Eastern Michigan

4-4

6-6

82.0

Central Michigan

2-6

3-9

76.5

 

Mountain West Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

BoiseState

6-1

11-1

120.0

T C U   *

7-0

10-2

114.5

Air Force

3-4

7-5

100.4

San DiegoState

5-3

8-4

97.3

Wyoming

5-2

8-4

95.3

ColoradoState

1-6

3-9

83.9

UNLV

1-6

2-10

76.9

New Mexico

1-6

1-11

71.0

 

Pac-12 Conference

       
North Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Oregon   √

8-1

11-2

128.3

Stanford

8-1

11-1

127.2

California

4-5

7-5

113.9

Washington

5-4

7-5

108.5

OregonState

3-6

3-9

104.4

WashingtonState

2-7

4-8

102.1

       
South Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

U S C

7-2

10-2

130.9

Utah

4-5

7-5

109.0

ArizonaState

4-5

6-6

108.9

U C L A

5-4

6-7

105.4

Arizona

2-7

4-8

102.8

Colorado

2-7

3-10

95.4

 

Southeastern Conference

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Georgia

7-1

10-3

116.8

South Carolina

6-2

10-2

115.9

Vanderbilt

2-6

6-6

111.3

Florida

3-5

6-6

110.6

Tennessee

1-7

5-7

101.7

Kentucky

2-6

5-7

94.9

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

L S U   √

8-0

13-0

139.6

Alabama

7-1

11-1

135.1

Arkansas

6-2

10-2

123.6

MississippiState

2-6

6-6

108.7

Auburn

4-4

7-5

103.5

Ole Miss

0-8

2-10

88.7

 

Sunbelt Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

ArkansasState   *

8-0

10-2

95.8

Western Kentucky

7-1

7-5

89.6

FloridaInternational

5-3

8-4

89.2

U.ofLouisiana

6-2

8-4

86.8

Louisiana-Monroe

3-5

4-8

86.0

North Texas

4-4

5-7

84.8

Troy

2-6

3-9

74.6

MiddleTennessee

1-7

2-10

67.2

FloridaAtlantic

0-8

1-11

64.0

 

Western Athletic Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

LouisianaTech   *

6-1

8-4

109.3

Nevada

5-2

7-5

107.6

UtahState

5-2

7-5

98.4

San JoseState

3-4

5-7

93.6

FresnoState

3-4

4-9

91.1

Hawaii

3-4

6-7

90.6

Idaho

1-6

2-10

81.5

New MexicoState

2-5

4-9

80.7

 

2011-12 PiRate Spreads For Bowls

     

PiRate Spread

 

 

Bowl Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

New Mexico Temple Wyoming

4.1

28-24

6 1/2

Famous Idaho Potato Utah State Ohio U

9.1

30-21

3   

New Orleans San Diego St. Louisiana-Lafayette

8.5

33-24

5   

Beef O’Brady’s Florida Int’l Marshall

5.3

24-19

4   

Poinsettia T C U Louisiana Tech

5.2

28-23

10 1/2

MAACO Boise St. Arizona St.

11.1

38-27

14   

Hawaii Southern Miss. Nevada

1.2

35-34

6   

Independence Missouri North Carolina

8.6

28-19

4 1/2

Little Caesar’s Pizza Purdue Western Mich.

3.0

31-28

2 1/2

Belk North Carolina St. Louisville

4.0

27-23

2 1/2

Military Air Force Toledo

0.5

35-34

-3   

Holiday California Texas

0.8

22-21

-3 1/2

Champs Sports Florida St. Notre Dame

4.6

26-21

3   

Alamo Baylor Washington

9.3

41-32

9   

Armed Forces B Y U Tulsa

4.6

38-33

2 1/2

Pinstripe Iowa St. Rutgers

3.1

27-24

-2   

Music City Mississippi St. Wake Forest

8.4

20-12

6 1/2

Insight Oklahoma Iowa

17.3

34-17

14   

Meineke Car Care of Texas Texas A&M Northwestern

16.2

44-28

10   

Sun Utah Georgia Tech

3.2

34-31

-3 1/2

Kraft Fight Hunger U C L A Illinois

7.4

28-21

-2 1/2

Liberty Vanderbilt Cincinnati

4.8

31-26

2 1/2

Chick-fil-A Auburn Virginia

0.7

24-23

1   

TicketCity Houston Penn State

9.0

29-20

5 1/2

Capital One South Carolina Nebraska

3.9

20-16

2   

Gator Florida Ohio St.

4.5

21-16

2   

Outback Michigan St. Georgia

2.1

30-28

-3 1/2

Rose Oregon Wisconsin

1.5

37-35

6   

Fiesta Oklahoma St. Stanford

4.3

42-38

3 1/2

Sugar Michigan Virginia Tech

7.7

24-16

2   

Orange Clemson West Virginia

6.7

31-24

3 1/2

Cotton Arkansas Kansas St.

9.7

34-24

7 1/2

BBVA Compass Pittsburgh S M U

12.7

27-14

5   

GoDaddy.com Arkansas St. Northern Illinois

1.0

29-28

1 1/2

National Championship L S U Alabama

6.5

16-9

1   

 

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August 25, 2011

2011 Pac-12 Conference Preview

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Preview

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

NORTH DIVISION

Stanford

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

Oregon

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

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

Oregon State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Washington

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

 

SUMMARY

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

 

California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Washington State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

SOUTH DIVISION

Southern California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

Arizona State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

Arizona

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

U C L A

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

Utah

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

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

 

Colorado

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

North Division

 

 

Oregon

29

239

Stanford

13

220

Washington

 

142

Oregon State

 

120

California

 

110

Washington St.

 

51

 

 

 

South Division

 

 

Southern Cal

24

230

Arizona St.

13

207

Utah

4

170

Arizona

1

140

U C L A

 

89

Colorado

 

46

 

 

 

Pac-12 Championship

 

Oregon

 

28

Stanford

 

11

Arizona State

 

3

 

 

2011 Pac-12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

North Division

 

 

Stanford

126.4

9-0/13-0*

Oregon

125.6

8-1/11-1

Oregon State

112.9

5-4/6-6

Washington

112.9

5-4/7-5

California

111.3

3-6/6-6

Washington St.

102.8

3-6/5-7

   

 

South Division  

 

Southern Cal

117.2

7-2/9-3

Arizona St.

116.6

6-3/8-5

Arizona

113.1

3-6/5-7

U C L A

110.9

3-6/4-8

Utah

108.4

2-7/3-9

Colorado

101.8

0-9/1-12

   

 

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

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

August 24, 2011

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

 

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

 

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

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

 

Florida State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

Clemson

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

Boston College

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

North Carolina State

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

Maryland

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

Wake Forest

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

COASTAL DIVISION

 

Virginia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

Miami

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

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

North Carolina

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

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

Duke

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

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

 

Virginia

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

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

 

Receivers

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

 

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

We believe Virginia is looking a repeat of last year.

 

Georgia Tech

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

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

 

Receivers

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

 

Running Backs

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

 

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

 

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

 

Offensive Line

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

 

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

 

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

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

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

 

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

 

Linebackers

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

 

Secondary

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

 

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

 

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

 

OTHER

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

 

SUMMARY

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida State

65

420

Clemson

4

286

N. C. State

 

270

Boston College

2

224

Maryland

 

211

Wake Forest

 

80

 

 

 

Coastal Division

 

 

Virginia Tech

66

421

Miami

4

328

North Carolina

 

287

Georgia Tech

1

226

Virginia

 

132

Duke

 

96

 

 

 

ACC Championship

 

Florida State

 

50

Virginia Tech

 

18

Clemson

 

2

Boston College

 

1

 

 

2011 Big East Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Atlantic Division

 

 

Florida St.

123.3

8-0/13-0 *

Clemson

110.3

5-3/8-4

Boston Coll.

109.7

3-5/6-6

N.C. State

109.1

4-4/7-5

Maryland

106.5

4-4/6-6

Wake Forest

98.5

1-7/3-9

   

 

Coastal Division  

 

Va. Tech

116.1

8-0/12-1

Miami

115.2

3-5/5-7 ^

N. Carolina

106.8

4-4/7-5

Duke

99.8

3-5/6-6

Virginia

97.9

2-6/4-8

Georgia Tech

97.5

3-5/6-6

   

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

August 22, 2011

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

2011 Mountain West Conference Preview

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

 

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

 

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

 

Boise State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

T C U

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Air Force

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

San Diego State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Colorado State

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wyoming

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

U N L V

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

New Mexico

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011 Mountain West Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Boise State

28

236

T C U

3

208

Air Force

 

176

San Diego State

 

160

Colorado State

 

104

Wyoming

 

80

U N L V

 

77

New Mexico

 

39

 

 

2011 Mountain West Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Boise St.

121.7

7-0/12-0

T C U

110.0

6-1/11-1

Air Force

106.6

5-2/8-4

S.D.State

100.3

4-3/6-6

Colo.State

92.4

3-4/6-6

Wyoming

90.4

2-5/4-8

UNLV

85.2

1-6/2-10

New Mexico

81.7

0-7/1-11

 

August 18, 2011

2011 Western Athletic Conference Preview

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

2011 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011 WAC Preseason Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

Hawaii

18

292

Fresno State

11

284

Nevada

11

264

Lousiana Tech

 

184

Utah State

 

166

Idaho

 

141

San Jose State

 

85

New Mexico State

 

60

 

 

2011 WAC PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Nevada

101.4

7-1/8-4

Hawaii

98.4

5-3/8-5

Louisiana Tech

93.5

5-3/5-7

Fresno State

93.0

6-2/7-6

San Jose State

91.1

2-6/2-10

Utah State

90.2

2-6/3-9

Idaho

88.2

4-4/5-7

New Mexico State

78.8

1-7/1-11

 

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

 

August 15, 2011

2011 Sunbelt Conference Preview

2011 Sunbelt Conference Preview

 

The guard may be in process of changing in the Sunbelt Conference.  Florida International and Troy finished tied for first at 6-2 last year, but FIU defeated the Trojans by 17. 

 

Florida International returns an experienced quarterback in Wesley Carroll, good depth at running back with Darriet Perry and Darian Mallary capable of teaming for 1,800 rushing yards, and the top receiver in the league and a possible high NFL draft choice in T. Y. Hilton.  Their offensive line is close to the best in the league and could emerge as the best if someone can step forward at center.  FIU should top 30 points and 400 yards per game this season.

 

Defensively, the Golden Panthers should be as good as or better than last season.  The one question mark will be at linebacker.

 

Louisiana Monroe is the wildcard in this season’s SBC race.  The Warriors return 17 starters from a year ago and should definitely improve on their 4-4 conference mark and 5-7 record overall.  An overtime loss to eventual champion FIU and a one-point loss to Louisiana in the season finale was all that kept ULM from winning the league last year.  The Warriors figure to be at least 7-10 points better in 2011, and when they host FIU on November 19, it could very well be for the 2011 SBC title.

 

Kolton Browning is an excellent dual threat quarterback.  He completed 62% of his passes last year as a freshman.  His top four receivers return this year, and ULM should gain 250 yards through the air this season.

 

The defense must improve after giving up 32 points per game last year.  The Warriors gave up 4.4 yards per carry, and that number will not win a conference championship.

 

Troy is not out, but they are down a bit.  The Trojans were hit hard after the end of the season losing two wide receivers that were expected to contribute heavily in 2011.  Chip Reeves and Jamel Johnson would have been the two leading returning receivers for the league’s best passer, Corey Robinson.

 

Troy should have a much improved defense this season after giving up more than 30 points per game in 2010.  However, the Trojans’ offense may not repeat last year’s results when they averaged 34 points and 450+ yards per game. 

 

Defensively, end Jonathan Massaquoi will contend for defensive Player of the Year honors.  Massaquoi recorded more than 20 tackles for loss with 13 ½ sacks last year.  He will see more double teams with the departure of Mario Addison.

 

Arkansas State could have been 8-4 instead of 4-8.  The Red Wolves will be the most exciting team in the league with their no-huddle hurry-up offense.  An inexperienced offensive line could be their downfall.  If the green OL can protect quarterback Ryan Aplin, ASU’s passing game could top 275 yards per game through the air.  Dwayne Frampton, Allen Muse, and Taylor Stockemer return after combining for 145 receptions, 1,933 yards, and 16 touchdowns last year, and this year junior college transfer Jose Jarboe joins the fold to give the Red Wolves a receiving corps that has no peers inside the league.

 

Unfortunately, the hurry-up offense means the defense may have to hurry to get back on the field for too many plays.  ASU’s defense does not have the depth to stay on the field for 75 plays a game and be effective.

 

Western Kentucky is being picked near the bottom of the conference by the media, but we believe the Hilltoppers will be much improved this year.  WKU was outscored by just 2.6 points per game in league play, and they were only outgained by 20 yards per game.  With most of their skilled players returning on offense as well as some decent depth in the trenches, the Hilltoppers could flirt with a winning record in 2011.  A tough non-conference schedule could prevent that from happening, but we would not be surprised if WKU’s conference record was .500 or better.

 

Running back Bobby Rainey returns after leading the league with 1,649 yards rushing.  If the Hilltoppers can come up with just a little more balance on the attack side, they could threaten the 28 points per game mark.

 

Defensively, WKU was too easy to run on.  The Hilltoppers gave up five yards per carry, and still they were often burned by enemy passing games.  The defense will be quite a bit improved, but it is still not championship quality.

 

Middle Tennessee has never won the SBC title; they have flirted for years with championship material, but the Blue Raiders have been the Fresno State of the Sunbelt.  2011 should see Middle Tennessee take a step back after going to bowls both of the last two seasons. 

 

The Blue Raiders must rebuild on defense, and they were not all that tough on that side of the ball, giving up 120 points and 1,426 yards to Troy, Arkansas State, and FIU, the top three offenses in the league.

 

There could be a diamond in the rough on the offensive side of the ball.  Running back Jeremiah Bryson was headed to Pittsburgh, but he changed his mind to stay closer to home due to family issues.  Bryson could be the best back in Murfreesboro since Dwone Hicks played there a decade ago.

 

It is hard to believe that it has been seven years since North Texas was the original Troy of the Sunbelt.  The Mean Green won the league title four years in a row from 2001 to 2004, but UNT hasn’t tasted success since, going just 13-58 in the past in the last six seasons.  New head coach Dan McCarney will try to resurrect the program.  McCarney brought Iowa State back to respectability, taking the Cyclones to five bowls in six years and coming within a missed kick of winning the Big 12 North twice.  McCarney was Urban Meyer’s top assistant at Florida the last three years. 

 

McCarney dismissed top receiver Darius Carey from the team, and the UNT passing attack will struggle this year.  Sophomore quarterback Derek Thompson will battle Juco transfer Brent Osborn.  Whoever emerges as the starter will be handing the ball to Lance Dunbar about 25 times per game.  Dunbar rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 scores last year, and he caught 28 passes for three more touchdowns.

 

Defensively, the Mean Green were quite improved last year, although they still gave up 30 points and almost 400 yards per game.  Just three years ago, they gave up close to 50 points and 500 yards per game.  There could be additional improvement in 2011, but a tough schedule should prevent UNT from threatening for bowl eligibility.

 

Louisiana starts from scratch with new coach Mark Hudspeth.  Every place Hudspeth has gone, his teams have won, and the folks in Lafayette are excited in hopes that he will turn the program around.  UL’s last winning season was in the previous century, so do not expect miracles in year one.  In fact, the Ragin’ Cajuns could even take a small step back from last season’s 3-9 finish.

 

Quarterback Chris Masson is not going to be confused with Jake Delhomme, but the senior should improve on his 52.9 completion percentage this season.  He played in a shotgun formation last year and will be under center most of the time this season.  Masson has the top tight end target in the league in LaDarius Green.  Green is a threat to get open in the seams of zones and present a monstrous target.

 

An inexperienced offensive line will spell doom for the offense this year, but UL could have some memorable moments.

 

The defense is going to have some rough Saturdays once again.  UL surrendered 37 points and just under 400 yards per game last year, and even an improvement to 30 points allowed will not be enough to move the Ragin’ Cajuns north in the standings.

 

Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger just announced that 2011 will be his last.  Schnellenberger, 77, has a storied history in football.  He was recruited to Kentucky by Bear Bryant and later served on some of the best coaching staffs of all time.  As an assistant at his alma mater in the late 1950’s, he served under future NFL Champion coach Blanton Collier along with Don Shula and Bill Arnsparger.  As an assistant at Alabama, the Crimson Tide won multiple national titles, and he was the key recruiter that landed Joe Namath.  As an assistant in the NFL, he won a Super Bowl ring with Shula at Miami after helping the Rams win two division titles in the late 1960’s.  Throw in a college football championship at the U of Miami, and that is more than enough for any one man.  He was not finished.  He returned to his city of childhood and built Louisville into a major force in college football.  He also started the program at FAU. 

 

We mention all these things, because the 2011 season could be a really lousy way to exit the profession.  The Owls were the weakest offensive team in the SBC last year, and they lost most of their good players, including quarterback Jeff Van Camp and his top three receivers.  FAU had trouble running the ball, and it will be difficult to improve the running game with an inexperienced passing game this season.  The one positive is the return of all starting offensive linemen.

 

Defensively, opponents had little difficulty running or passing against the Owls in 2010, and the scary news is that the 2011 defense could be a little weaker.  Five of the top six tacklers from last year are gone.

 

Sunbelt Conference Preseason Media Poll

Team

First Place Votes

Points

1. Florida Int’l

5

75

2. Troy

2

66

3. Middle Tennessee

 

54

4. Louisiana-Monroe

 

54

5. Arkansas St.

1

49

6. North Texas

 

33

7. Western Kentucky

1

28

8. Louisiana

 

26

9. Florida Atlantic

 

20

     

 

 

The PiRate Ratings

 

   

 

 

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

1. Florida Int’l

87.1

7-1/8-4

2. Louisiana-Monroe

82.3

7-1/8-4

3. Troy

81.3

6-2/6-6

4. Arkansas State

81.3

4-4/5-7

5. Western Kentucky

75.1

3-5/4-8

6. Middle Tennessee

72.8

4-4/5-7

7. North Texas

71.9

3-5/3-9

8. Louisiana

71.7

1-7/2-10

9. Florida Atlantic

68.7

1-7/1-11

Next: The Mid-American Conference Preview, Tuesday, August 16 

March 12, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 12 Update

Bucknell Joins The Dance Party

The Bucknell Bison earned the Patriot League’s automatic bid Friday with a 72-54 victory over Lafayette.  Versatile big man Mike Muscala led the Bison with 18 points while sharpshooter Bryson Johnson added 15.

 

Bucknell improved to 25-8 on the season.  They project to be a 12 or 13-seed.

 

12 More Bids To Go Out Saturday

 

This is the busiest day of the tournament schedule.  13 conferences will crown their champion, and four other conferences will conduct semifinal rounds.  All told, every single one of the 21 games scheduled will be televised nationally.  Do you have enough televisions and a good high-speed computer?

 

Here is a conference-by-conference look at all the action.

 

All Game Times EST

 

Atlantic Coast Conference—Greensboro, NC

Quarterfinal Round

#1 North Carolina  61  #9 Miami  59

#4 Clemson  70  #5 Boston College  47

#2 Duke  87  #7 Maryland  71

#6 Virginia Tech  52  #3 Florida State  51 

 

Semifinal Round

#1 North Carolina (25-6)  vs. #4 Clemson (21-10)  1:30 PM  ESPN 

#2 Duke (28-4)  vs. #6 Virginia Tech (21-11)  3:45 PM  ESPN

 

All four teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament.  The Hokies secured a spot in the Dance with the nail-biting win over the Seminoles.

 

America East Conference

Championship Round

#5 Stony Brook (15-16)  at #2 Boston U (20-13)  12 Noon  ESPN2

 

Boston U won both regular season meetings.  The Terriers won 67-62 at home and 62-49 on the road.  They win with their defense, as they only shoot 40.6% from the field.

 

Atlantic 10 Conference—Atlantic City, NJ

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Dayton  68  #1 Xavier  67

#12 St. Joseph’s  93  #4 Duquesne  90  ot

#2 Temple  96  #10 LaSalle  76

#3 Richmond  55  #6 Rhode Island 45

 

Semifinal Round

#9 Dayton (21-12)  vs. #12 St. Joseph’s (11-21)  1 PM  CBS College

#2 Temple (25-6)  vs. #3 Richmond (24-7)  3:30 PM  CBS College

 

The Bubble teams will have to sweat it out all the way until Sunday.  At least one long shot will advance to the Championship Game.  Neither St. Joe’s nor Dayton is getting an at-large bid, and one of the two will be playing for an automatic bid Sunday.  Both Temple and Richmond are in the Dance.

 

Big 12 Conference—Kansas City

Semifinal Round

#1 Kansas  90  #5 Colorado  83

#2 Texas  70  #3 Texas A&M  58

 

Championship Game

#1 Kansas (31-2)  vs. #2 Texas (27-6)  6 PM  ESPN

 

The Jayhawks are still playing for the overall number one seed, while Texas is probably locked in on a number two seed.  However, with Notre Dame losing, a Longhorn win could put them in the conversation, especially if Duke does not win the ACC Tournament.

 

Big East Conference—New York City

Semifinal Round

#9 Connecticut  76  #4 Syracuse  71  ot

#3 Louisville 83  #2 Notre Dame  77  ot 

 

Championship Game

#3 Louisville (25-8)  vs. #9 Connecticut (25-9)  9 PM  ESPN

 

Connecticut becomes the first team ever to play five games in five days in modern college basketball history.  Will they have anything left in the tank next week when it really counts?  Louisville’s win more than likely killed any chance for the Irish getting a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Big Ten Conference—Indianapolis

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Ohio State  67  #8 Northwestern  61 ot

#4 Michigan  60  #5 Illinois  55

#7 Michigan State  74  #2 Purdue  56

#6 Penn State  36  #3 Wisconsin 33

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Ohio State (30-2)  vs. #4 Michigan (20-12)  1:40 PM  CBS

#6 Penn State (18-13)  vs. #7 Michigan State (19-13)  4 PM  CBS

 

Michigan State has now earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Penn State might move from the Bubble to in the tournament with a win over the Spartans.

 

Big West Conference—Anaheim

Semifinal Round

#1 Long Beach State  74  #7 UC-Riverside  63

#5 UC-Santa Barbara 83  #3 Cal State Northridge 63

 

Championship Game

#1 Long Beach State (22-10)  vs. #5 UC-Santa Barbara (17-13)  8 PM  ESPN2

 

Long Beach State won both meetings against the Gauchos in the regular season, and neither game was close.  The 49ers are not going to become another Butler or even repeat the exploits of Northern Iowa last year, but they could scare a favored team in the first round.  If UCSB wins, then they will make a quick exit in the first round.

 

Conference USA—El Paso, TX

Semifinal Round

#4 Memphis  76  #8 East Carolina  56

#3 U T E P  66  #2 Tulsa  54

 

Championship Game

#3 UTEP (25-8)  vs. #4 Memphis (24-9)  11:30 AM  CBS

 

The host Miners blew Memphis off the floor 74-47 in their only regular season meeting.  That game took place on this court.

 

Ivy League Playoff

Harvard (23-5)  vs. Princeton (24-6)  at Yale University  4 PM  ESPN3.com 

 

If Princeton wins a close game, there is an outside chance that the Ivy League could get two bids.

 

Mid-American Conference—Cleveland

Semifinal Round

#6 Akron  79  #2 Western Michigan  68

#1 Kent State 79  #4 Ball State 68

 

Championship Game

#1 Kent State (23-10)  vs. #6 Akron (22-12)  6 PM  ESPN2

 

The winner goes dancing, while the loser can only hope for a trip to Madison Square Garden in late March.

 

M E A C—Winston-Salem, NC

Semifinal Round

#4 Morgan State  61  #1 Bethune-Cookman  48

#2 Hampton  85  #6 Norfolk State  61

 

Championship Game

#2 Hampton (23-8)  vs. #4 Morgan State (17-13)  2 PM  ESPN2

 

Morgan State goes for a four-peat.  The Bears beat Hampton in the regular season 78-72.

 

Mountain West Conference—Las Vegas

Semifinal Round

#1 B Y U  87  #5 New Mexico  76

#2 San Diego State  74  #3 UNLV 72

 

Championship Game

#1 B Y U  (30-3)  vs. #2 San Diego State (31-2)  7 PM  Versus

 

Is the third time the charm for San Diego State?  The Aztecs’ two losses were to the Cougars.  If they can hold Jimmer Fredette under 35 points, we have a feeling that SDSU will cut down the nets. 

 

Both teams are legitimate threats to make it to the Sweet 16 and possibly a round or two farther.

 

Pac-10 Conference—Los Angeles

Semifinal Round

#1 Arizona  67  #4 Southern Cal  62

#3 Washington 69  #7 Oregon 51

 

Championship Game

#1 Arizona (27-6)  vs. #3 Washington (22-10)  6 PM  CBS

 

This should be an exciting game, even though it will not greatly affect the NCAA Tournament seedings.

 

The two teams split the season series, but the Huskies came close to sweeping.  UW won by 17 at home and fell by a single point in Tucson.  We think this is a tossup game.

 

Southeastern Conference—Atlanta

Quarterfinal Round

1W  Alabama 65  4E Georgia 59  ot

2E  Kentucky  75  3W  Ole Miss 66

1E  Florida  85  5E  Tennessee  74

3E  Vanderbilt  87  2W  Mississippi State  81

 

Semifinal Round

1W  Alabama (21-10)  vs. 2E  Kentucky (23-8)  1 PM  ABC

1E  Florida (25-6)  vs.  3E  Vanderbilt (23-9)  3:30 PM  ABC

 

Alabama played themselves into position to get one of the final at-large bids.  The Crimson Tide fans need to route against a Dayton or St. Joseph’s tournament championship in the Atlantic 10, because there is still little room for error for ‘Bama.

 

Kentucky looks unstoppable at times and then looks like a team that doesn’t belong in the tournament at others.  That’s what you get with a bunch of underclassmen and with no depth.

 

We believe this game will be close for most of the day, but the Wildcats will enjoy one nice spurt in both halves to hold off the Tide by six to 12 points.

 

Florida is playing about as well as either of their two National Champion teams.  It is hard to stop a team with five guys capable of scoring 20 points.  The Gators’ have few weaknesses.

 

Vanderbilt is a lot like Florida, but not as talented.  The Commodores have excellent outside shooters, but they cannot create their own shot like Florida’s outside shooters.  They have a couple of excellent inside scorers, but they can disappear against Florida’s inside players.  We look for the Gators to dominate this one from the beginning and win by double digits.

 

Southland Conference—Katy, TX

Championship Game

#1 McNeese State (21-10)  vs. #7 UT-San Antonio (18-13)  4 PM  ESPN2

 

S W A C—Garland, TX

Semifinal Round

#4 Alabama State  73  #1 Texas Southern  66

#6 Grambling  81  #2 Jackson State  75  ot

 

Championship Game

#4 Alabama State (16-17)  vs. #6 Grambling (12-20)  8:30 PM  ESPNU

 

The winner of this game can definitely plan on heading to Dayton for a First Four game.

 

W A C—Las Vegas

Semifinal Round

#1 Utah State  58  #8 San Jose State  54

#2 Boise State 81  #3 New Mexico State  63

 

Championship Game

#1 Utah State (29-3)  vs. #2 Boise State (20-11) 10 PM  ESPN2

 

Utah State is definitely in the Dance, so if the Broncos can pull off the big upset, another bubble will burst somewhere else.

 

Note: St. Mary’s defeated Weber State Friday night 77-54 in a non-conference game that was scheduled only two months ago.  The Gaels appear to be safe as an at-large team.

March 11, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 11 Update

Patriot League Championship—4:45 PM EST On ESPN2

#6 Lafayette (13-18)  at #1 Bucknell (24-8)

 

Lafayette makes an appearance in the conference championship game for the second consecutive year.  The Leopards fell to rival Lehigh last season and were tabbed the best team in the league in the preseason.  They took a step backward and tumbled to sixth in the league.

 

Bucknell closed 2010 with an 8-2 finish and returned all five starters and most of their key reserves.  The Bison continued to play top-notch ball and ran away with the Patriot League title.  Bucknell is on fire, having won nine games in a row by an average of 72-60 and 22 of their last 24 games.

 

The Bison swept the series against their Keystone State rival, winning 75-56 in Lewisburg and 74-69 in overtime at Easton.  Tonight’s game is on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, so Bucknell will enjoy the home court advantage.

 

In the earlier game in Lewisburg, Bucknell began the second half of a close game by going on a 20-3 run to put the game out of reach.  The Bison held Lafayette to 37% shooting and controlled the boards by 14.  In the game at Lafayette, Bucknell led 61-50 with four and a half minutes to go, but the Bison did not score another point in regulation.  Lafayette scored 11 consecutive points to force overtime and then briefly took a 64-61 lead at the start of the extra period.  The Leopards shot under 40% again and were outrebounded once again.

 

Bucknell goes just seven-deep, and all seven contribute to the offense.  Muscular big man Mike Muscala leads the way with 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.  The 6-11 Muscala has recorded six double-doubles in the last 15 games.  Bryson Johnson is an excellent long-range shooter, and he shoots 47% from three-point range.  As a team, Bucknell shoots 40.6% from behind the arc.

 

Lafayette led the entire game at Holy Cross in the conference tournament quarterfinal.  The Leopards placed five players in double figure scoring, and they stole the ball nine times to knock off the Crusaders.  In the semifinal round at number two seed American, the Leopards trailed by two points in the final seconds when Jim Mower buried a three-pointer as the clock expired to seal a double overtime victory.

 

If the Leopards are to pull off the big upset and advance to a First Four game in Dayton next week, big man Jared Mintz will have to neutralize Muscala.  Mintz gives away two inches in height, but he has the power to hold his own inside.  Mintz leads the Leopards with a 15.8 point scoring average and 5.8 rebound average.  Mower averages 12.4 points per game.

 

Thursday’s Results And Friday’s Games With NCAA Tournament Repercussions

All Times EST

Atlantic Coast Conference—Greensboro, NC

1st Round

#9 Miami  69  #8 Virginia  62

#5 Boston College  81  #12 Wake Forest  67

#7 Maryland  75  #10 North Carolina State  67

#6 Virginia Tech  59  #11 Georgia Tech  43

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Miami (19-13)  vs. #1 North Carolina (24-6)  12 Noon  ESPN2

#5 Boston College (20-11)  vs. #4 Clemson (20-10)  Approx. 2:15 PM  ESPN2

#7 Maryland (19-13)  vs. #2 Duke (27-4)  7 PM  ESPN2

#6 Virginia Tech (20-10)  vs. #3 Florida State (21-9)  Approx. 9:15 PM  ESPN2

 

North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Clemson, and Boston College are in.  Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Miami are on the bubble.  Miami and Maryland must win today, or they are NIT-bound.  Virginia Tech is in a near must-win situation.  They are on the middle of the bubble.

 

Atlantic 10 Conference—Atlantic City, NJ

No Games Played Thursday

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Dayton (20-12)  vs. #1 Xavier (24-6)  12 Noon  CBS College

#12 St. Joseph’s (10-21)  vs. #4 Duquesne (18-11)  2:30 PM  CBS College

#10 LaSalle (15-17)  vs. #2 Temple (24-6)  6:30 PM  CBS College

#6 Rhode Island (19-12)  vs. #3 Richmond (24-7)  9 PM  CBS College

 

Xavier, Temple, and Richmond are in.  Duquesne must win the tournament to get in, so the bubble teams will be pulling for Dayton or Xavier to stop them in the semifinals.  Keep an eye on Rhode Island.  The Rams are capable of upsetting Richmond and Temple to get to the finals.

 

Big 12 Conference—Kansas City

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Kansas  53  #9 Oklahoma State  52

#5 Colorado  87  #4 Kansas State  75

#2 Texas  74  #10 Oklahoma  54

#3 Texas A&M  86  #6 Missouri  71

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Kansas (30-2)  vs. #5 Colorado (21-12)  7 PM

#2 Texas (26-6)  vs. #3 Texas A&M (24-7)  9:30 PM

 

Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas State, and Colorado are in.  The Buffalos secured their bid yesterday, so the rest of this tournament is all about the seedings.

 

Big East Conference—New York City

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Connecticut  76  #1 Pittsburgh  74

#4 Syracuse  79  #5 St. John’s  73

#2 Notre Dame  89  #7 Cincinnati  51

#3 Louisville  81  #11 Marquette  56

 

Semifinal Round

#9 Connecticut (24-9)  vs. #4 Syracuse (26-6)  7 PM  ESPN

#2 Notre Dame (26-5)  vs. #3 Louisville (24-8)  Approx. 9:15 PM  ESPN

 

11, yes 11, teams will receive invitations Sunday evening.  This is the strongest league not just this year, but maybe since the Big East placed three teams in the Final Four in 1985.  This should be a great finish to the tournament, and Notre Dame has a chance to move to a number one seed if the Irish win it.  Any one of these four could still be playing in late March.

 

Big Ten Conference—Indianapolis

1st Round

#8 Northwestern  75  #9 Minnesota  65

#7 Michigan State  66  #10 Iowa  61

#6 Penn State  61  #11 Indiana  55

 

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Ohio State (29-2)  vs. #8 Northwestern (18-12) 12 Noon  ESPN

#4 Michigan (19-12)  vs. #5 Illinois (19-12)  Approx 2:20  ESPN

#2 Purdue (25-6)  vs. #7 Michigan State (18-13)  6:30 PM  Big Ten Network

#3 Wisconsin (23-7)  vs. #6 Penn State (17-13)  Approx. 8:45  Big Ten Network

 

Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois are in.  Michigan State can definitely punch a ticket with an upset over Purdue today, and they are still on the highest part of the bubble if they lose.  Northwestern and Penn State must win the tournament to get in, although the Nittany Lions could get in the discussion with a loss in the finals.  We would not be all that surprised if the Wildcats play Ohio State a close game, at least for 30 to 32 minutes.

 

Big West Conference—Anaheim

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Long Beach State 79  #8 UC-Irvine  72

#5 UC-Santa Barbara  79  #4 Pacific  67

#7 UC-Riverside  70  #2 Cal Poly  66  ot

#3 Cal State Northridge  75  #6 Cal State Fullerton  54

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Long Beach State (21-10)  vs. #5 UC-Santa Barbara (16-13)  9:30 PM  ESPNU

#3 Cal State Northridge (14-17)  vs. #7 UC-Riverside (12-18)  12 Midnight  ESPNU

 

The champion is the only team that will advance.  Long Beach State has a minimal at best chance of winning a first round game if they are the champion.

 

Conference USA—El Paso, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#8 East Carolina  75  #1 U A B  70  ot

#4 Memphis  66  #5 Southern Miss.  63

#3 U T E P  77  #6 Marshall  65

#2 Tulsa  81  #7 Rice  72

 

Semifinal Round

#2 Tulsa (19-12)  vs. #3 U T E P  (24-8)  3 PM 

#4 Memphis (23-9)  vs. #8 East Carolina (18-14)  5:30 PM

 

At this point, no team is guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance.  UAB played their way to the bottom half of the bubble with a loss to ECU.  Memphis and UTEP could possibly get into the conversation if they both advance to the championship game.  For now, we are projecting just the champion to make it into the tournament.  The host Miners enjoy a large home court advantage and should top Tulsa in a thriller today.

 

Mid-American Conference—Cleveland

Quarterfinal Round

#2 Western Michigan 67  #7 Bowling Green  56

#6 Akron  82  #3 Miami (O)  75  2ot

#1 Kent State  73  #8 Buffalo  62

#4 Ball State  76  #5 Ohio U  73  ot

 

Semifinal Round

#2 Western Michigan (20-11)  vs. #6 Akron (21-12)  7 PM

#1 Kent State (22-10)  vs. #4 Ball State (19-12)  9:30 PM

 

The MAC has been down in recent years, but the eventual champion of this tournament could be a formidable opponent as a number 13 or 14 seed for a better team in the first round. 

 

M E A C—Winston-Salem, NC

Quarterfinal Round

#4 Morgan State  77  #5 North Carolina A&T  59

#6 Norfolk State  55  #3 Coppin State 53

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Bethune-Cookman (21-11)  vs. #4 Morgan State (16-13)  6 PM

#2 Hampton (22-8) vs. #6 Norfolk State (12-19)  Approx. 8:15 PM

 

These teams are playing for a probable spot in the First Four.  The first semifinal will be a thriller; the top-seeded Wildcats face the three-time defending champion Bears.

 

Hampton has been a surprise team, and they should have an easier contest and be more rested for the championship.

 

Mountain West Conference—Las Vegas

Quarterfinal Round

#1 B Y U  64  #9 T C U  58

#5 New Mexico  67  #4 Colorado State 61

#2 San Diego State  64  #7 Utah  50

#3 U N L V  69  #6 Air Force 53

 

Semifinal Round

#1 B Y U (29-3)  vs. #5 New Mexico (21-11)  9 PM  CBS College

#2 San Diego State (30-2)  vs. #3 U N L V  (24-7)  11:30 PM  CBS College

 

BYU, San Diego State, and UNLV are in.  Colorado State played themselves into the NIT with the loss yesterday to New Mexico.  As for the Lobos, with a third win over BYU today, they could get into the conversation, but they probably need to earn the automatic bid to go dancing.

 

Pac-10 Conference—Los Angeles

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Arizona 78  #9 Oregon State  69

#4 Southern Cal  70  #5 California  56

#7 Oregon  76  #2 U C L A  59

#3 Washington 89  #6 Washington State 87

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Arizona (26-6)  vs. #4 Southern Cal (19-13)  9 PM  Fox Sports

#3 Washington (21-10)  vs. #7 Oregon (16-16)  11:30 PM  Fox Sports

 

Arizona, UCLA, and Washington are in.  Oregon must win this tournament to get in.  As for Southern Cal, the Trojans might work their way into one of the final bubble spots with an upset over the top-seeded Wildcats tonight.  Last night’s battle of the Evergreen State was one of the most exciting of the tournament season with the Huskies coming from behind to knock off arch-rival Washington State by two.

 

Southeastern Conference—Atlanta

1st Round

#4E  Georgia  69  #5W  Auburn  51

#3W  Ole Miss  66  #6E  South Carolina  55

#5E  Tennessee  74  #4W  Arkansas  68

#3E  Vanderbilt  62  #6W  L S U  50

 

Quarterfinal Round

#1W  Alabama (21-10)  vs. #4E Georgia (20-10)  1 PM

#2E  Kentucky (22-8)  vs. #3W Ole Miss (20-12)  3:30 PM

#1E  Florida (24-6)  vs. #5E  Tennessee (19-13)  7:30 PM

#2W Mississippi State (17-13)  vs. #3E  Vanderbilt (22-9)  10 PM

 

Florida, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt are definitely in.  Tennessee is probably in and would only be out if a lot of surprise winners win the remaining conference tournaments.  The Vols would safely secure a spot with a win over the Gators. 

 

The big game in all of college basketball today is the Georgia-Alabama game.  Call this an extra play-in game.  The winner survives to the Dance, while the loser will be hosting an NIT game next week.

 

Southland Conference—Katy, TX

Semifinal Round

#1 McNeese State  91  #4 Texas State  83

#7 UT-San Antonio  79  #3 Sam Houston State 70

 

Championship Game on Saturday

 

S W A C—Garland, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#4 Alabama State  81  #5 Alabama A&M 61

#6 Grambling  65  #3 Mississippi Valley  62

 

Semifinal Round

#2 Jackson State (17-14)  vs. #6 Grambling (11-20)  3:30 PM

#1 Texas Southern (19-11)  vs. #4 Alabama State (15-17)  9 PM

 

The Champion will probably be forced to play in the First Four.  Jackson State is on a mission after losing in the first round last year as the number one seed.

 

W A C—Las Vegas

Quarterfinal Round

#8 San Jose State  74  #4 Idaho 68

#3 New Mexico State  66  #6 Nevada  60

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Utah State (28-3)  vs. #8 San Jose State (17-14)  9 PM

#2 Boise State (19-11)  vs. #3 New Mexico State (16-16)  11:30 PM  ESPN2

 

Utah State is in and should be the higher seed in their first round game.  If the Aggies are upset, then one more bubble will burst.  The one WAC team that beat USU (Idaho) was knocked out of the conference tournament yesterday.

March 10, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 10 Update

Two Newest Dance Participants

 

Northeast Conference Championship

Long Island  85  Robert Morris  82 ot

 

In what may have been the most exciting championship game of the season, the home-standing Blackbirds and visiting Colonials exchanged leads all night.  Two missed three-point shots in the final seconds, one at the buzzer, was all that prevented this game from going to double overtime.

 

LIU opened with a cold shooting hand, and RMU took the lead.  Once the Blackbirds started hitting their shots, this became a game of runs.  LIU had the hot hand in the second half, but RMU kept getting enough offensive rebounds to keep the Colonials in the game.

 

Jamal Olasewere had a game-high 31 points to go with 11 rebounds; he scored seven points in the overtime.  Team leader Julian Boyd was held to just seven points, but the Blackbirds had excellent showings off the bench.  Jason Brickman tossed in 15 points and dished out eight big assists, while Kenny Onyechi added 13 points.

 

Russell Johnson and Velton Jones teamed up for 42 points for the losers.

 

LIU will be a formidable opponent for their favored foe in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Their style of play could cause severe matchup problems for a bigger, slower team, especially if that team is not the strongest ball-handling team.  If they were to be bracketed against BYU in the first round, it would be the thriller of the first round. 

 

Big Sky Conference Championship

Northern Colorado  65  Montana  60

 

This game was anticlimactic following the NEC Championship.  Montana kept the pace slow, and the Grizzlies shot out to a 7-0 lead in the first two and a half minutes.  UNC made a run to take its first lead at 17-16 on a three-point shot by Tate Unruh.

 

The lead switched hands several times the remainder of the half with the buzzer sending the teams to the locker tied at 31-31.

 

Montana maintained a small lead for most of the second half, until star guard Devon Beitzel took over.  His three-pointer at the 4:56 mark gave the Bears the lead for good.  Beitzel continued shooting and then forced Montana to foul him, and the Bears hung on to win.

 

Beitzel did not score until late in the first half, but the Big Sky Conference’s leading scorer finished with 27 points.

 

Montana center Brian Qvale hit a layup with 16 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 62-60, but following two made Beitzel free throws, Art Steward committed a turnover to seal the game. 

 

Steward led the Grizzlies with 16 points, while Qvale added 11.

 

Northern Colorado will be one of those teams that will be glad just to be there at the NCAA Tournament.  The Bears should make a quick exit in game one, unless they are chosen as one of the First Four #16 seeds.

 

13 Automatic Qualifiers To Date

Team Conference Record
Arkansas-Little Rock Sunbelt 19-16
Belmont Atlantic South 30-4
Butler Horizon 23-9
Gonzaga West Coast 24-9
Indiana State Missouri Valley 20-13
Long Island Northeast 27-4
Morehead State Ohio Valley 24-9
Northern Colorado Big Sky 21-10
Oakland Summit 25-9
Old Dominion Colonial 27-6
St. Peter’s Metro Atlantic 20-13
UNC-Asheville Big South 19-13
Wofford Southern 21-12

 

No Championship Games Are Scheduled For Thursday

 

Wednesday’s Results/Thursday’s Schedule

All Times EST

Atlantic Coast Conference—Greensboro, NC

1st Round

#8 Virginia (16-14)  vs. #9 Miami (Fla) (18-13)  12 Noon

#5 Boston College (19-11)  vs. #12 Wake Forest (8-23)  Approx. 2:15 PM

#7 Maryland (18-13)  vs. #10 North Carolina State (15-15)  7 PM  ESPN2

#6 Virginia Tech (19-10)  vs. #11 Georgia Tech (13-17)  Approx. 9:15 PM

 

Big 12 Conference—Kansas City

1st Round

#9 Oklahoma State  53  #8 Nebraska  52

#5 Colorado  77  #12 Iowa State  75

#10 Oklahoma  84  #7 Baylor  67

#6 Missouri  88  #11 Texas Tech  84

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Oklahoma State (19-12)  vs. #1 Kansas (29-2)  12:30 PM on ESPN2

#5 Colorado (20-12)  vs. #4 Kansas State (22-9)  3PM

#10 Oklahoma (14-17) vs. #2 Texas (25-6)  7 PM

#6 Missouri (23-9) vs. #3 Texas A&M (23-7)  9:30 PM

 

Big East Conference—New York City

2nd Round

#9 Connecticut  79  #8 Georgetown 62

#5 St. John’s  65  #13 Rutgers 63

#7 Cincinnati  87  #15 South Florida 61

#11 Marquette  67  #6 West Virginia  61

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Connecticut (23-9)  vs. #1 Pittsburgh (27-4)  12 Noon  ESPN

#5 St. John’s (21-10)  vs. #4 Syracuse (25-6)  Approx. 2:15 PM  ESPN

#7 Cincinnati (25-7)  vs. #2 Notre Dame (25-5)  7 PM  ESPN

#11 Marquette (20-13)  vs. #3 Louisville (23-8)  Approx. 9:15 PM  ESPN

 

Big Ten Conference—Indianapolis

1st Round

#8 Northwestern (17-12)  vs. #9 Minnesota (17-13)  2:30 PM  ESPN2

#7 Michigan State (17-13)  vs. #10 Iowa (11-19)  4:50 PM  ESPN2

#6 Penn State (16-13)  vs. #11 Indiana (12-19)  7:30 PM  Big Ten Network

 

Big West Conference—Anaheim

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Long Beach State (20-10)  vs. #8 UC-Irvine (13-18)  3 PM

#4 Pacific (16-14)  vs. #5 UC-Santa Barbara (15-13)  5:20 PM

#2 Cal Poly (15-14)  vs. #7 UC-Riverside (11-18)  9 PM

#3 Cal State Northridge (13-17)  vs. #6 Cal State Fullerton (11-19)  11:20 PM

 

Conference USA—El Paso, TX

1st Round

#8 East Carolina  78  #9 Central Florida  60

#5 Southern Miss.  63  #12 Tulane  47

#6 Marshall  97  #11 Houston  87

#10 Rice  58  #7 S M U  57

 

Quarterfinal Round

#8 East Carolina (17-14)  vs. #1 U A B  (22-7)  1PM  CBSC

#5 Southern Miss (22-9)  vs. #4 Memphis (22-9)  3:30 PM  CBSC

#6 Marshall (22-10)  vs. #3 U T E P  (23-8)  7:30 PM  CBSC

#10 Rice (14-17)  vs. #2 Tulsa (18-12)  10 PM  CBSC

 

M A C—Cleveland

Quarterfinal Round

#7 Bowling Green (14-18)  vs. #2 Western Michigan (19-11)  12 Noon

#6 Akron (20-12)  vs. #3 Miami (O) (16-15)  2:30 PM

#8 Buffalo (18-12)  vs. #1 Kent State (21-10)  7 PM

#5 Ohio U (18-14)  vs. #4 Ball State (18-12)  9:30 PM

 

M E A C—Winston-Salem, NC

Note: The MEAC has a unique scheduling format which rewards its top three seeds.  Thus, yesterday, there were both first round and quarterfinal round games scheduled.  The quarterfinal round concludes today.

 

1st Round

#6 Norfolk State  68  #11 Howard 53

 

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Bethune-Cookman  66  #9 South Carolina State 50

#2 Hampton  77  #10 Maryland-Eastern Shore  55

 

Quarterfinal Round Continues

#4 Morgan State (15-13)  vs. #5 North Carolina A&T (15-16)  8 PM

#3 Coppin State (16-13)  vs. #6 Norfolk State (11-19)  7 PM

 

Mountain West Conference—Las Vegas

1st Round

#9 T C U  70  #8 Wyoming  61

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 T C U (11-21)  vs. #1 Brigham Young (28-3)  3 PM

#5 New Mexico (20-11)  vs. #4 Colorado State (19-11)  5:30 PM

#7 Utah (13-17)  vs. #2 San Diego State (29-2)  9 PM

#6 Air Force (15-14)  vs. #3 U N L V  (23-7)  11:30 PM

 

Pac-10 Conference—Los Angeles

1st Round

#9 Oregon State 69  #8 Stanford 67

#7 Oregon 76  #10 Arizona State 69

 

Quarterfinal Round

#4 Southern Cal (18-13)  vs. #5 California (17-13)  3 PM  Fox Sports

#1 Arizona (25-6)  vs. #9 Oregon State (11-19)  5:30 PM  Fox Sports

#2 U C L A  (22-9)  vs. #7 Oregon (15-16)  9 PM  Fox Sports

#3 Washington (20-10)  vs. #6 Washington State (19-11)  11:30 PM  Fox Sports

 

Southeastern Conference—Atlanta

1st Round

#4E  Georgia (20-10)  vs. #5W  Auburn (11-19)  1 PM

#3W  Ole Miss (19-12)  vs. #6E  South Carolina (14-15)  3:30 PM

#4W  Arkansas (18-12)  vs. #5E  Tennessee (18-13)  7:30 PM

#3W  Vanderbilt (21-9)  vs. #6E L S U  (11-20)  10 PM

 

Southland Conference—Katy, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#1 McNeese State 61  #8 Nicholls State 54

#4 Texas State 72  #5 Southeastern Louisiana 68

#7 Texas-San Antonio 97  #2 Northwestern State (LA) 96

#3 Sam Houston State 61  #6 Stephen F. Austin 45

 

Semifinal Round

#3 Sam Houston State (18-12)  vs. #7 Texas-San Antonio (17-13)  7 PM

#1 McNeese State (20-10)  vs. #4 Texas State (16-15)  9:30 PM

 

S W A C–Garland, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Texas Southern 50  #8 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 45

#2 Jackson State 50  #7 Prairie View 38

 

Quarterfinal Round Continues

#3 Mississippi Valley (13-18)  vs. #6 Grambling (10-20)  12:30 PM

#4 Alabama State (14-17)  vs. #5 Alabama A&M (13-14) 9 PM

 

W A C—Las Vegas

1st Round

#8 San Jose State 75  #5 Hawaii 74

#6 Nevada 90  #7 Fresno State 80

 

2nd Round

#4 Idaho (18-12)  vs. #8 San Jose State (16-14)  3 PM  ESPNU

#3 New Mexico State (15-16)  vs. #6 Nevada (13-18)  5:30 PM  ESPNU

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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