The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 10, 2018

2018 Sun Belt Conference Preview

Welcome to the 2018 College Football season! It has been a long Winter, Spring, and Summer in dry dock, but the PiRates have fixed the ship up better than new, and we are anxious to launch our repaired vessel to the Gridiron Sea for 2018-19.

If you read yesterday’s post, we took on a remodeling job with our ratings this year. New analytical data became available to convince us that we needed to tweak the weighting we gave each position on the field, more in the NFL, but still a great deal in the NCAA. Thus, some schools that may have been ranked in the top 25 to start the season did not climb out of the 30’s, while one or two schools that may have faced what we thought might have been rebuilding seasons stayed in the top 25. We will know soon how well the new system fares. The advanced statistics should be more accurate if history holds up, but the sample size is still small enough that some increased standard deviation and variance could give us some nervous Saturdays in September. By the first of October, the ratings should be about the same as they would be if we kept the old algorithms.

Before we start with out first preview, let us notify you that the preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice. Of course, we also have two major stories that will force us to alter the ratings before week one–What happens with Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and how many players from North Carolina will not dress for the California game in Berkeley.

With our ratings, the total average for the 130 teams must be 100.0, so if we remove 10 points from one school and 7 points from another, those lost 17 points have to be redistributed to the other 128 teams. It isn’t as easy as that, because upwards of 40 schools will need to have their opening week ratings lowered due to the high number of roster adjustments in August, and the remaining 90 schools will then pick up fractions of a point to as much as a couple of points.

Now that the preliminary announcements have been made, let’s start with this year’s first conference preview. Bringing up the rear yet again is the Sun Belt Conference, which ranks 11th out of 11 leagues in FBS power rating.

The SBC has changed quite a bit in 2018. Idaho left the conference and FBS football, as the Vandals dropped to FCS. New Mexico State left to become an independent just one year after breaking a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons and celebrating their first bowl win since 1960.

There are now 10 teams in the Sun Belt Conference, but the league has now split into two divisions, and there will be a conference championship game on December 1st.

Last year, Appalachian State and Troy tied for the league championship, with Arkansas State, Georgia State, and former member New Mexico State joining the co-champions in bowl games. Troy won with their defense and a strong passing game, while Appy State won with their balanced offense and tough pass defense.

Here is how the SBC media voted in the preseason poll.

Team Votes
East Division 1st Place Overall
1. Appalachian State 6 46
2. Troy 4 44
3. Georgia State 0 26
4. Georgia Southern 0 22
5. Coastal Carolina 0 12
West Division 1st Place Overall
1. Arkansas St. 9 49
2. Louisiana-Monroe 0 37
3. South Alabama 1 26
4. Louisiana 0 25
5. Texas State 0 13

There were no votes for overall conference champion.

The PiRate Ratings are a tad different to begin the 2018 season. They agree with the media all up and down in the West Division, but the East is different at the top, where Troy begins the season ranked ahead of Appy State, and Georgia Southern leads Georgia State at the beginning of the season.

East Division
Team SBC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Troy 0-0 0-0 91.8 93.7 93.7 93.1
Appalachian St. 0-0 0-0 87.5 89.1 88.7 88.4
Georgia Southern 0-0 0-0 82.5 83.7 82.4 82.9
Georgia St. 0-0 0-0 77.6 80.6 78.4 78.9
Coastal Carolina 0-0 0-0 73.2 76.4 73.6 74.4
West Division
Team SBC Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Arkansas St. 0-0 0-0 88.0 89.8 89.7 89.2
UL-Monroe 0-0 0-0 87.3 86.7 88.1 87.4
South Alabama 0-0 0-0 81.4 83.8 82.6 82.6
Louisiana 0-0 0-0 78.9 81.1 79.9 80.0
Texas State 0-0 0-0 70.4 73.9 69.9 71.4
Sun Belt Averages 81.9 83.9 82.7 82.8

New Coaches
Georgia Southern elevated Chad Lunsford from interim coach to full-time head coach, and Lunsford will move the Eagles back to the option/zone read offense that former coach Willie Fritz used when GSU went 8-4 and played in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Lunsford assumed head coaching duties last year when Georgia Southern began the year 0-6 and averaging just 18 points per game. Under Lunsford, the team finished 2-4 and averaged 23.7 points per game. Expect the Eagles to top 25 points per game and approach 28 to 30 this year.

Louisiana begins the Billy Napier era in Lafayette. Napier has an impressive resume that includes working for Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. He most recently served as offensive coordinator at Arizona State, where the Sun Devils averaged 31.8 yards and 431 yards per game. Napier was offered to remain in Tempe as the offensive coordinator under Coach Herm Edwards, but he took the job in Lafayette instead.

South Alabama welcomes Steve Campbell to Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Campbell enjoyed an outstanding four-year stint at FCS Central Arkansas. He led the Bears to a 33-15 record including back-to-back 10-win seasons and FCS Playoff bids. Campbell served as the offensive line coach at Mississippi State for one season and as offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee for one season as his only paid FBS coaching experience. He was also a graduate assistant under Pat Dye at Auburn.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

East
Team Conference Overall
Troy 8-0 11-2*
Appalachian St. 6-2 9-3
Georgia Southern 4-4 6-6
Georgia St. 2-6 3-9
Coastal Carolina 0-8 1-11
West
Team Conference Overall
Arkansas St. 8-0 10-3
UL-Monroe 6-2 7-5
Louisiana 4-4 6-6
South Alabama 2-6 3-9
Texas St. 0-8 1-11
* Troy picked to win SBC Championship Game

Bowl Tie-ins
The SBC does not have a set bowl order. They send eligible teams to bowls to create the best overall games. These are the bowls tie-ins for 2018.

Arizona Bowl in Tucson, AZ
Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, AL
Cure Bowl in Orlando, FL
Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL
New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, LA

Coming Tomorrow–Conference USA

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August 18, 2017

2017 Sun Belt Conference Preview

You can see it coming. This little league, normally the weakest Group of 5 conference in FBS football is beginning to show some teeth. In most years since its inception, the SBC has had one team capable of producing an upset, and maybe another team capable of knocking off a better Group of 5 school in a bowl game.

That’s starting to change. At least for this year, three and possibly four teams are capable of making a run to a double-digit win season and knock off an Power 5 Conference foe.

There is a little bit of change this year, as the league expands temporarily to 12 teams with the addition of Coastal Carolina as a full-fledged member. You would think the league would divide into divisions and play a conference championship game. Next year, the league contracts to 10 teams as New Mexico State and Idaho depart. NMSU will try to make it as an independent like BYU and U Mass, while Idaho drops to the FCS level. Unfortunately for the Vandals, they are making the move downward at the least favorable time in their recent existence. Idaho has the league’s top home field advantage playing in the Kibbe Dome, and their offense is about to make historical strides forward with Matt Linehan at quarterback.

The Vandals should be in a pack of four teams trying to contend with the big three. Appalachian State, Troy, and Arkansas State figure to be the top three teams in the league, while South Alabama, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Georgia State compete with Idaho for best of the rest. Georgia State should get a momentum boost when the Panthers move into the former Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field, which has been remodeled into a beautiful venue for football.

Here’s how the media voted in its preseason predictions.

2017 Sun Belt Conference Media Poll
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 Appalachian St. 7 136
2 Troy 2 127
3 Arkansas St. 1 122
4 S. Alabama 0 98
5 UL-Lafayette 1 95
6 Idaho 0 84
7 Georgia Southern 0 82
8 Georgia St. 0 48
9 UL-Monroe 0 46
10 N. Mexico St. 1 41
11 Texas St. 0 31
12 Coastal Carolina 0 26

The PiRate Ratings agree on the top three, but there is a bit of difference after that.

Sunbelt Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Appalachian St. 99.8 96.8 100.4 99.0
Troy 94.1 94.4 93.4 94.0
Arkansas St. 88.3 90.1 90.0 89.5
Idaho 86.4 89.1 87.2 87.5
Georgia St. 86.3 85.5 86.2 86.0
UL-Lafayette 84.9 86.8 84.7 85.5
S. Alabama 83.8 86.8 84.0 84.9
N. Mexico St. 84.2 81.5 83.2 83.0
Georgia Southern 80.4 82.1 79.8 80.8
UL-Monroe 79.6 80.2 77.8 79.2
Coastal Carolina 72.1 73.5 73.9 73.2
Texas St. 70.7 74.7 69.4 71.6
         
Sun Belt Averages 84.2 85.1 84.2 84.5

And, here are our not-so-scientific predictions for this year’s standings with bowl projections.

Sun Belt Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Appalachian St. 7-1 10-2 Cure
Troy 7-1 9-3 Arizona
Arkansas St. 7-1 8-4 Camellia
S. Alabama 5-3 6-6 New Orleans
Idaho 4-4 6-6 Idaho
Georgia St. 4-4 6-6 Dollar General
UL-Lafayette 4-4 5-7  
Georgia Southern 3-5 4-8  
UL-Monroe 3-5 3-9  
N. Mexico St. 2-6 3-9  
Coastal Carolina 2-6 3-9  
Texas St. 0-8 1-11  

Coming tomorrow: You sort of get a double dose. There are just four Independents, so we will preview the Independents as well as the American Athletic Conference. Then, beginning Sunday, we start with the Power 5 conferences. College football begins in just eight days!

***A special shout out to our reader Ryan. Yesterday, we issued what we thought was a rather tough trivia question, and Ryan nailed it rather quickly. So, today, we will increase the difficulty with a little tougher trivia. ***

 

TRIVIA
Who are these two legendary coaches? Coach number one was a college head coach who won 70% of his games at his first Division 1 school, a team that played in a now defunct conference. He moved on to be a college head coach at two additional schools, the second of which he was replaced by a second coaching legend who won more than 200 games at the college level and more than 250 when his NFL wins were added. Four decades after winning 70% of his games at the first school, Coach number one was still coaching, now the head coach of an NFL team which he guided to the playoffs multiple times. Coach number two was still coaching four decades later after he replaced coach number one. Coach number two won a national championship during his career.

Name the two coaches. If nobody gets the answer by the time we go to press with tomorrow’s preview, we will give the answer, but we know that our readers tend to be among the most knowledgeable football fans and analytical geniuses, so we expect somebody to come up with the correct answer.

August 15, 2016

2016 Sun Belt Conference Football Ratings Preview

The PiRate Ratings kick off its 2016 college football coverage today with the first of 11 previews. We will preview conferences in order of lowest overall average rating to highest, so as we have every year since this league’s inception, we begin with the Sun Belt Conference today.

Last year, Arkansas State ventured to Appalachian State to decide the conference championship in early November. Both teams were undefeated in conference play at the time, and Appy State was a 10-point home favorite. The Mountaineers led 21-14 just before the half, but the Red Wolves scored 26 straight points and won 40-27 and ran the table to finish 8-0 in the league.

This year, the same two teams, plus third place Georgia Southern will contend for the 2016 SBC crown. The PiRates believe four additional teams will compete for bowl eligibility, with three becoming successful, and four teams will try to stay out of the basement and go winless in the league, and possibly winless overall.

With the more favorable FBS vs. FCS schedules this year, it is our opinion that considerably more than the needed teams will be bowl eligible, so this league is likely to see at least one team end the season bowl eligible and not receive a bowl invitation.

Here is how the Sun Belt Media predicted the order of finish in the pre-season media roundup.

2016 Sun Belt Conference Media Poll
# Team 1st Pl. Total
1 Appalachian St. 5 114
2 Arkansas St. 5 110
3 Georgia Southern 1 98
4 Georgia St. 0 73
5t UL-Lafayette 0 70
5t Troy 0 70
7 South Alabama 0 62
8 Idaho 0 48
9 New Mexico St. 0 37
10 Texas St. 0 30
11 UL-Monroe 0 14

The Beginning PiRate Numbers differ very little from the official poll.

Sunbelt Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Appalachian St. 95.5 95.7 97.1 96.1
Arkansas St. 91.9 94.2 94.4 93.5
Georgia Southern 93.0 91.7 95.5 93.4
Troy 83.6 90.2 85.2 86.4
Georgia St. 81.7 87.1 83.9 84.2
Idaho 78.1 85.2 79.7 81.0
UL-Lafayette 76.3 86.8 78.7 80.6
South Alabama 75.3 85.2 76.2 78.9
New Mexico St. 73.7 76.5 74.9 75.0
UL-Monroe 67.9 73.3 68.3 69.8
Texas St. 68.8 69.5 69.5 69.3
         
Sun Belt Averages 80.5 85.1 82.1 82.6

The PiRate Ratings are best used just to look forward to the next week game schedule.  These ratings cannot really be used to predict won-loss records, so with that caveat, here are the projected won-loss records based on the ratings above.

Sun Belt Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Arkansas St. 8-0 9-3 New Orleans
Appalachian St. 7-1 9-3 GoDaddy
Georgia Southern 7-1 8-4 Cammelia
Troy 5-3 7-5 Cure
UL-Lafayette 5-3 6-6 [Independence] *
Idaho 5-3 6-6 Bowl Eligible
Georgia St. 3-5 5-7
South Alabama 2-6 3-9
UL-Monroe 1-7 2-10
New Mexico St. 1-7 1-11
Texas St. 0-8 1-11

*  This is an at-large bowl bid

Next Preview: Tuesday, August 16–Conference USA

August 15, 2013

2013 Sunbelt Conference Football Preview

2013 Sunbelt Conference Preview

 

Once again, the Sunbelt Conference kicks off our PiRate Ratings Previews for a new college football season.  We preview the conferences in reverse order of overall league average, and the SBC brings up the rear once again.  Whereas in past seasons, this league was not that far behind its non-automatic-qualifying conference brethren, changes due to defections and new additions have damaged the league.

New Teams: Georgia State and Texas State

Departed Teams: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, North Texas

2014 Additions: New Mexico St. and Idaho return to the league they left after 2003, while FCS teams Appalachian St. and Georgia Southern move to FBS

2014 Departures: Western Kentucky moves to CUSA

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

Sunbelt Conference

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Louisiana—Monroe

0-0

0-0

96.8

93.0

98.0

Arkansas St.

0-0

0-0

93.6

87.6

93.5

Louisiana—Lafayette

0-0

0-0

92.4

91.6

92.2

Western Kentucky

0-0

0-0

89.5

93.5

90.3

Troy

0-0

0-0

85.5

87.0

87.1

Texas St.

0-0

0-0

80.6

87.8

79.9

South Alabama

0-0

0-0

79.9

82.7

80.5

Georgia St.

0-0

0-0

60.7

71.5

62.1

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

84.9

86.8

85.5

 

Official Sunbelt Media Poll

 

     

Pos.

Team

Points

1st Place

 

     

1 (tie)

Louisiana-Lafayette

57

4

 

     

1 (tie)

Louisiana-Monroe

57

2

 

     

3

Arkansas St.

45

2

 

     

4

Western Kentucky

44

0

 

     

5

Troy

35

0

 

     

6

Texas St.

23

0

 

     

7

South Alabama

19

0

 

     

8

Georgia St.

8

0

 

 

 

 

Official Pre-season All-Sunbelt Conference Team

Offense
Kolton Browning (Louisiana-Monroe, Sr., QB)
David Oku (Arkansas State, Sr., RB)
Antonio Andrews (WKU, Sr., RB)
J.D. McKissic (Arkansas State, So., WR)
Je’Ron Hamm (ULM, Sr., WR)
Eric Thomas (Troy, Sr. WR)
Wes Saxton (South Alabama, Jr., TE)
Bryce Giddens (Arkansas State, So., OL)
Andre Huval (Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr., OL)
Josh Allen (Louisiana-Monroe, Sr., OL)
Terrence Jones (Troy, Jr., OL)
Sean Conway (WKU, Sr., OL)
 
Defense
Ryan Carrethers (Arkansas State, Sr., DL)
Christian Ringo (Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr., DL)
Kentarius Caldwell (Louisiana-Monroe, Sr., DL)
Alex Page (South Alabama, Sr., DL)
Qushaun Lee (Arkansas State, Jr., LB)
Justin Anderson (Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr., LB)
Andrew Jackson (WKU, Jr., LB)
Sterling Young (Arkansas State, Jr., DB)
Isaiah Newsome (Louisiana-Monroe, Sr., DB)
Tyrell Pearson (South Alabama, Sr., DB)
Jonathan Dowling (WKU, Sr., DB)
 
Special Teams
Brian Davis (Arkansas State, Sr., K)
Will Scott (Troy, Sr., P)
Antonio Andrews (WKU, Sr., Return Specialist)
 
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Kolton Browning (Louisiana-Monroe, Sr., QB)
 
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Andrew Jackson (WKU, Jr., LB)

 

 

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100    A+

86-92      A

79-85      A-

72-78      B+

65-71      B

58-64      B-

51-57      C+

44-50      C

37-43      C-

30-36      D

0-29        F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

Team

UL-Monroe Warhawks

             
Head Coach

Todd Berry

             
Colors

Maroon & Gold

             
City

Monroe, LA

             
2012 Record            
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-5

             
Grades            
Run Offense

57

Pass Offense

76

Run Defense

62

Pass Defense

51

             
Ratings              
PiRate

96.8

Mean

93.0

Bias

98.0

             
Rankings              
PiRate

76

Mean

90

Bias

72

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-1

Overall

8-4

Team

Arkansas State Red Wolves

             
Head Coach

Bryan Harsin

             
Colors

Scarlet & Black

             
City

Jonesboro, AR

             
2012 Record            
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-3

             
Grades            
Run Offense

67

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

52

Pass Defense

49

             
Ratings              
PiRate

93.6

Mean

87.6

Bias

93.5

             
Rankings              
PiRate

83

Mean

108

Bias

84

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-1

Overall

9-3

Team

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns

             
Head Coach

Mark Hudspeth

             
Colors

Vermillion and White

             
City

Lafayette, LA

             
2012 Record            
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-4

             
Grades            
Run Offense

67

Pass Offense

71

Run Defense

49

Pass Defense

43

             
Ratings              
PiRate

92.4

Mean

91.6

Bias

92.2

             
Rankings              
PiRate

87

Mean

98

Bias

88

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-2

Overall

8-4

Team

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

             
Head Coach

Bobby Petrino

             
Colors

Red and White

             
City

Bowling Green, KY

             
2012 Record            
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

             
Grades            
Run Offense

53

Pass Offense

60

Run Defense

48

Pass Defense

55

             
Ratings              
PiRate

89.5

Mean

93.5

Bias

90.3

             
Rankings              
PiRate

93

Mean

89

Bias

93

               
Prediction              
Conference

5-2

Overall

8-4

Team

Troy Trojans

             
Head Coach

Larry Blakeney

             
Colors

Red, Black, and Gray

             
City

Troy, AL

             
2012 Record            
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

             
Grades            
Run Offense

36

Pass Offense

72

Run Defense

41

Pass Defense

47

             
Ratings              
PiRate

85.5

Mean

87.0

Bias

87.1

             
Rankings              
PiRate

106

Mean

109

Bias

99

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-4

Overall

4-8

Team

Texas State Bobcats

             
Head Coach

Dennis Franchione

             
Colors

Maroon and Gold

             
City

San Marcos, TX

             
2012 Record            
Conference

2-4 (in WAC)

Overall

4-8

             
Grades            
Run Offense

52

Pass Offense

38

Run Defense

57

Pass Defense

40

             
Ratings              
PiRate

80.6

Mean

87.8

Bias

79.9

             
Rankings              
PiRate

117

Mean

106

Bias

118

               
Prediction              
Conference

2-5

Overall

4-8

Team

South Alabama Jaguars

             
Head Coach

Joey Jones

             
Colors

Red, White, and Blue

             
City

Mobile, AL

             
2012 Record            
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-11

             
Grades            
Run Offense

50

Pass Offense

46

Run Defense

46

Pass Defense

39

             
Ratings              
PiRate

79.9

Mean

82.7

Bias

80.5

             
Rankings              
PiRate

118

Mean

119

Bias

116

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-6

Overall

2-10

Team

Georgia State Panthers

             
Head Coach

Trent Miles

             
Colors

Royal Blue and White

             
City

Atlanta

             
2012 Record            
Conference

1-7 (in FCS:Colonial Athletic)

Overall

1-10

             
Grades            
Run Offense

17

Pass Offense

35

Run Defense

31

Pass Defense

19

             
Ratings              
PiRate

60.7

Mean

71.5

Bias

62.1

             
Rankings              
PiRate

125

Mean

125

Bias

125

               
Prediction              
Conference

0-7

Overall

0-12

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 

December 16, 2010

PiRate Ratings College Football Bowl Preview, Part One

We will be posting three bowl previews this year.  We will give you the current odds for each game, the PiRate, Mean, and Bias spreads for each game, and our 100 times computer simulation for each game.

Today, we cover the bowls before Christmas Day.  Next week, we will preview the bowls from December 26 through New Year’s Day. Finally, we will preview the bowls after January 1.  Three bowls kick off Saturday, and four more will be played next week.  

Saturday, December 18

New Mexico Bowl

Albuquerque, NM

1 PM EST on ESPN

Brigham Young Cougars 6-6  vs.  Texas-El Paso Miners 6-6

Vegas: BYU by 11 ½

Totals: 50 ½

PiRate: BYU by 18.8

Mean: BYU by 12.3

Bias: BYU by 14.8

100 Sims: BYU 89  UTEP 11

Avg. Sim Score: BYU 33.7  UTEP 20.2

Outlier A: BYU 45  UTEP 17

Outlier B: UTEP 29  BYU 23

 

Humanitarian Bowl

Boise, ID

4:30 PM EST on ESPN

Fresno State Bulldogs 8-4  vs.  Northern Illinois Huskies 10-3

Vegas: Northern Illinois by 1

Totals: 59

PiRate: Northern Illinois by 4.4

Mean: Northern Illinois by 4.1

Bias: Northern Illinois by 9.6

100 Sims: Northern Illinois 58  Fresno State 42

Avg. Sim Score: Northern Illinois 34.6  Fresno State 30.1

Outlier A: Northern Illinois 42  Fresno State 23

Outlier B: Fresno State 37  Northern Illinois 27

 

New Orleans Bowl

New Orleans, LA

8:00 PM EST on ESPN

Troy Trojans 7-5  vs. Ohio U Bobcats 8-4

Vegas: Troy by 2 ½

Totals: 58

PiRate: Ohio U by 3.6

Mean: Ohio U by 2.1

Bias: Ohio U by 16.2

100 Sims: Ohio U 61  Troy 39

Avg. Sim Score: Ohio U 35.1  Troy 29.8

Outlier A: Ohio U 41  Troy 17

Outlier B: Troy 38  Ohio U 27

 

Tuesday, December 21

Beef O’Brady Bowl

St. Petersburg, FL

7:00 PM EST on ESPN

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 8-4  vs. Louisville Cardinals 6-6

Vegas: Louisville by 3

Totals: 57

PiRate: Louisville by 5.7

Mean: Louisville by 1.2

Bias: Louisville by 10.5

100 Sims: Louisville 60  Southern Miss 40

Avg. Sim Score: Louisville 31.1  Southern Miss 27.9

Outlier A: Louisville 35  Southern Miss 13

Outlier B: Southern Miss 40  Louisville 21

 

Wednesday, December 22

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl

Las Vegas, NV

7:00 PM EST on ESPN

Utah Utes 10-2  vs. Boise State Broncos 11-1

Vegas: Boise State by 17

Totals: 61

PiRate: Boise State by 17.7

Mean: Boise State by 14.0

Bias: Boise State by 16.6

100 Sims: Boise State 76  Utah 24

Avg. Sim Score: Boise State 40.3  Utah 24.1

Outlier A: Boise State 51  Utah 20

Outlier B: Utah 38  Boise State 31 (two different results gave Utah a 7-point win)

 

Thursday, December 23

Poinsettia Bowl

San Diego, CA

7:00 PM EST on ESPN

San Diego State Aztecs 8-4  vs. Navy Midshipmen 9-3

Vegas: San Diego State by 4 ½

Totals: 60

PiRate: San Diego State by 5.6

Mean: San Diego State by 0.8

Bias: San Diego State by 4.3

100 Sims: San Diego State 55  Navy 45

Avg. Sim Score: San Diego State 32.8  Navy 30.7

Outlier A: San Diego State 44  Navy 24

Outlier B: Navy 38  San Diego State 26

 

Friday, December 24

Hawaii Bowl

Honolulu, HI

7:00 PM EST on ESPN

Hawaii Warriors 10-3  vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane 9-3

Vegas: Hawaii by 10

Totals: 73 ½

PiRate: Hawaii by 14.6

Mean: Hawaii by 6.2

Bias: Hawaii by 9.9

100 Sims: Hawaii 58  Tulsa 42

Avg. Sim Score: Hawaii 46.4  Tulsa 40.2

Outlier A: Hawaii 59  Tulsa 35

Outlier B: Tulsa 47  Hawaii 38

August 10, 2010

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

Two teams have dominated this league since its inception as a football conference.  In the early years, North Texas repeatedly won conference championship after championship.  In recent years, Troy has dominated the league, while North Texas has fallen on rough times.

2010 could be a year of change.  Middle Tennessee has played second fiddle in this league for most of their existence as a Division 1-A (FBS) participant.  The Blue Raiders have been to two bowls as the conference runner-up.  With a load of talent returning from a 10-win season that included a bowl victory, Coach Rick Stockstill’s squad could be poised to become the new dominant team in the SBC.

As for Troy, this could be a small blip for the Trojans, as they face a major rebuilding season.  Troy graduated quarterback Levi Brown who threw for over 4,000 last year, and the Trojans lost six of their top seven tacklers.

Former conference power North Texas could be on the rise again.  With all-SBC running back Lance Dunbar returning (1,378 yards rushing), the top six pass catchers (includes Dunbar), and most of the two-deep in the offensive line, the Mean Green will post much better offensive numbers.  They scored 27 points per game last year, so that number could rise to 30+ this year.  A weak defense will prevent North Texas from winning the conference championship.

The Sunbelt is guaranteed two teams in bowl games once again this season.  With the two more teams getting bowl bids this year (addition of two bowls and elimination of one bowl), there is a chance a third team could receive an invitation, as other conferences fail to provide their allotted quota of teams to contracted bowl games.  Four teams could potentially reach seven or more wins this season, as the league appears to have great balance in the middle.  The fly in the ointment: except for Middle Tennessee, the rest of the league will all win zero or one of their non-conference games.

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

Predictions

Pos. Team Conf. Overall
1 Middle Tennessee 7-1 10-2
2 North Texas 6-2 7-5
3 Troy 5-3 6-6
4 Florida Atlantic 5-3 5-7
5 Louisiana 5-3 5-7
6 Arkansas State 3-5 3-9
7 Florida International 3-5 3-9
8 Western Kentucky 2-6 2-10
9 La.-Monroe 0-8 1-11

 

G M A C Bowl: Middle Tennessee

New Orleans Bowl: North Texas

 

The Sunbelt Conference gets priority for filling a vacant spot in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl if there is a third team with seven wins.

 

The Sunbelt is also a backup for the St. Petersburg Bowl and a second tier backup for the Papa John’s Bowl.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Arkansas State Red Wolves
               
Head Coach Steve Roberts
               
Colors Scarlet and Black
               
City Jonesboro, AK
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 76.9
               
National Rank 116

 

Offense: The Red Wolves lost five of their six starting skill position players.  New quarterback Ryan Applin could top the production of last year’s starter Cory Leonard, but Leonard only threw for 1,416 yards and seven TDs.  Applin’s shoulder will be a concern early after undergoing surgery in the spring.

Tight end Kedric Murry is the lone returning skill starter.  He caught just seven passes a year ago, so the receiving corps will be noticeably weaker.  At running back, 2009 top rusher Reggie Arnold is gone, but Derek Lawson should equal or top Arnold’s production this year.

The strength of this team is its offensive line.  Rarely does a Sunbelt team return an experienced two-deep unit like this year’s ASU OL.  They will open holes for the backs and give Applin plenty of time.

Even with all the new skill position players, we see Arkansas State’s offense faring better in 2010 than in 2009 when they averaged 23 points and 329 yards per game.  Look for 25-28 points and 350 yards per game.

Defense: The Red Wolves have fielded respectable defenses for the last five seasons, but ASU’s defensive line has been decimated due to graduation.  Even though the top four tacklers return, two of those four are defensive backs.  Gone is all-SBC end Alex Carrington and his 14 ½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 

ASU also lost their two starting cornerbacks and their nickel back.  The Red Wolves gave up 219 yards per game through the air and 61% completions, and that number could be worse this season.

We see ASU yielding 27-32 points per game and 350-380 total yards per game.

Schedule: Games at Auburn, Indiana, and Navy are not winnable.  A  homecoming game with Louisville could determine whether ASU can top last year’s four win total.  They get the two weakest conference foes at home, so three wins is about what to expect.  You can expect a coaching change in Jonesboro if three is all there is.

Team Florida Atlantic Owls
               
Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger
               
Colors Red, White, and Blue
               
City Boca Raton, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 78.1
               
National Rank 111

 

Offense: FAU had an explosive offense that scored more than 27 points per game and gained more than 430 yards per game last year, but the Owls still finished with a losing season due to a weak defense.  This year, the offense will be noticeably weaker.  Only two full-time starters return on offense, and neither one is a quarterback or offensive lineman. 

Quarterback Jeff Van Camp started five games last year, and the Owls won three of those starts.  He averaged a very respectable 7.5 yards per attempt, but you can expect that number to fall this year.  With an entirely new offensive line and only one of the top six receivers from 2009 returning, FAU’s passing game will suffer, falling from 280 yards per game to as low as 180 this year.

The one bright spot on offense is the return of running back Alfred Morris.  Morris rushed for almost 1,400 yards and 11 scored last year, but those numbers will drop as well.

Look for FAU’s offense to ground to just 20-23 points per game and 300-330 total yards.

Defense: As much as the offense regresses this year, the defense could show signs of great progress this year.  The defensive line suffered some late losses in depth, but three starters (two juniors and a senior) return up front, including potential all-league end Kevin Cyrille.  Cyrille registered 11 ½ stops behind the line last year.

The back seven was as weak as the front four last year, but the good news is they can only improve.  FAU gave up 233 passing yards at a better than 67% completion rate for enemy quarterbacks.  The only reason the passing yardage number wasn’t 300+ per game is that the Owls gave up more than six yards per rushing attempt. 

We see the Owls giving up about 28 points and 400 yards per game this year, which unfortunately would be a vast improvement over last season.

Schedule: The Owls have just four home games this year, as well as a very tough out-of-conference slate.  FAU plays at UAB, Michigan State, South Florida, and Texas and should lose all four games.  They don’t face the league’s two best teams until after Thanksgiving, but those games will come back-to-back following the trip to face the Longhorns. 

Florida Atlantic could challenge for bowl eligibility, but they would have to pull off an upset at UAB and beat all six of the SBC teams they face before Thanksgiving.  We see them winning five of those first six league games, but that will lead to a repeat of last year’s 5-7 season.

Team Florida International Panthers
               
Head Coach Mario Cristobal
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Miami, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 3-9
               
PiRate Rating 78.2
               
National Rank 110

 

Offense: The Golden Panthers have improved in total yardage for four consecutive seasons, and this year should make it five in a row.  Former Mississippi State starting quarterback Wesley Carroll takes over behind center.  Carroll was Miss. State’s starting quarterback in 2007 when the Bulldogs went to a bowl.

Carroll has a full house of returning receiver talent, as the top eight pass catchers return, including breakaway threat Greg Ellingson and possession receiver T.Y. Hilton.

FIU has never been a rushing power, averaging just 100 yards per game the last five years.  Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden will team with Darriet Perry to form the best tandem the Panthers have had.

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but the drop off shouldn’t be much.

We see FIU scoring 25 points per game and gaining about 340 yards per game this year.

Defense: This has been FIU’s Achilles heel since the program was established in 2002.  The Golden Panthers yielded 35+ points and almost 500 yards per game in 2009, and those numbers will not improve by much if any this year.

Up front, the line was decimated by graduation losses.  FIU couldn’t stop the run last year, giving up 230+ rushing yards per game, and opponents could match or better that this year.

While most of the leading players in the back seven return, it is misleading to think having these top tacklers returning will lead to much better defensive production.  These players made a lot of tackles because they did not prevent many passes from being completed.  One player who did contribute in the pass defense was cornerback Anthony Gaitor.  Gaitor knocked away seven passes and picked off two others.

We look for marginal improvement on this side of the ball, about 30-32 points per game and 430-450 yards per game.

Schedule: This is a killer schedule, and it will prevent FIU from breaking through with a winning season.  FIU will start 0-4 after facing Rutgers, Texas A&M, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, the latter three on the road.  Home games with the two weakest teams give them a slim chance at breaking even in the league, but it looks more like a repeat of last year—three wins.

Team Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
               
Head Coach Rickey Bustle
               
Colors Vermillion and White
               
City Lafayette, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 82.6
               
National Rank 102

 

Offense: The Ragin’ Cajuns always seem to do just enough on offense to stay competitive in conference games without ever looking flashy or producing gaudy statistics.  Last year, ULL scored just 22.2 points per game, which paved the way for four of their six wins being by four points or less.

Quarterback Chris Masson won’t win any all-league honors, but he won’t hurt his team’s chances either.  He should pass for about 200-240 yards per game and complete close to 60% of his tosses.

Masson has a couple of quality receivers to pass to, namely tight end Ladarius Green and wide out Marlin Miller.  At 6-6, Green is an inviting target.  He could be playing for pay in 2012.

The Ragin’ Cajuns used to be a predominately running team, but they only averaged 137 yards per game last year.  2010 should see similar results.

The offensive line lost three starters to graduation, but the entire second five returns.  There should be little or no drop in production this year.

Louisiana should average about 23-26 points and 375-400 yards per game this year.

Defense: This is where great progress must be made if ULL is to contend for a bowl bid this year.  The last three years have been poor for the stop troops in Lafayette.  ULL has given up more than 30 points and 400 yards all three seasons.  Things are looking up in 2010.  The improvement may be subtle due to a schedule that has them playing two SEC opponents, but the Cajuns will be tougher on this side of the ball.

The front seven should see the bulk of the improvement, as opponents will find it harder to run the ball, and quarterbacks will see more pressure than they have the last three seasons.

Schedule: Yet another team that will more than likely lose all four non-conference games, Louisiana faces a tough slate of opponents.  It starts with a visit between the hedges to face Georgia.  A Friday night home game with Oklahoma State will give the Cajuns a chance to pull off a big upset.  Road games in consecutive weeks at Ohio U and Ole Miss should produce two rough losses.  ULL gets a week off prior to hosting Middle Tennessee, and this could be the upset of the year in the Sunbelt.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have enough talent to threaten in the league if 6-2 is good enough to win the conference.  We think they will fall short by just a bit.  5-3 will lead to a 5-7 mark overall unless ULL can upset Oklahoma State.

Team Louisiana Monroe Warhawks
               
Head Coach Todd Berry
               
Colors Red and Gold
               
City Monroe, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-3
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 74.8
               
National Rank 117

 

Offense: UL-Monroe fired former Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie and hired former Army coach Todd Berry.  Expect a drop from a typical Navy season to a typical Army season.  Don’t blame it on Berry; blame it on a loss of talent.

On the offensive side of the ball, ULM has enough talent to move the ball on the middle of the pack and weaker conference defenses.  It starts in the running game, where Frank Goodin returns to tote the pigskin.  Goodin rushed for 1,126 yards and 13 scores last year, while topping five yards per carry.

Quarterback Trey Revell returns after tossing for 1,739 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the four hands that caught 78 of his passes and nine of those scores are gone.  Throw in an inexperienced offensive line, and the passing game will suffer this year.

Look for about 175 rushing yards and 175 passing yards for 21-25 points per game.

Defense: Only four starters return on this side of the ball.  The Warhawks were a competent defensive team last year, but that is going to change.  Three of the four linebackers (actually ULM used a 3-3-5, but the Hawk back was more of a linebacker) from last year are gone, and two of the three starters in the trenches are gone as well.

The two returning defensive backs are among the best in the league, but they may be called on to stop more running plays this year.  Darius Prelow and Nate Brown combined for 18 passes batted away last year.

We look for ULM to give up 400+ total yards and 30-35 points per game this year.

Schedule: The Warhawks have a winnable game out of the league this year, as they host FCS rival Southeast Louisiana.  Who do they play in the other three games?  How about Arkansas, Auburn, and LSU, all on the road?  Because they must face Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, we do not see ULM winning a conference game this season.  1-11 looks possible.

Team Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
               
Head Coach Rick Stockstill
               
Colors Blue and Gray
               
City Murfreesboro, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 88.8
               
National Rank 90

 

Offense: The Blue Raiders appear to be the class of the league this year thanks to a dominant offense that could threaten 40 points per game this year.  Middle is coming off its first 10-win season and bowl victory since moving up to the big time.

Quarterback Dwight Dasher may be too small to become a legitimate NFL prospect, but he could be a star in the Canadian Football League.  Last year, the 5-10 speedster gained more than 1,150 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns, while passing for almost 2,800 yards and 23 more touchdowns!

Dasher has one of the league’s best set of receivers.  Garrett Andrews is a threat to go the distance on any catch.  Three newcomers could contribute immediately.

As if those riches weren’t enough, The Blue Raiders have two backs besides Dasher capable of rushing for 100+ yards in a game.  Phillip Tanner and D.D. Kyles could combine with Dasher to rush for 225-250 yards per game.

The offensive line returns four of five starters.  Expect the sacks allowed total to drop from 19 to as low as 10 this year.

MTSU is capable of topping 40 points and 500 yards per game this season, and we expect at least 35 points and 450 yards.

Defense: Middle Tennessee’s defense won’t get much credit, but if the Blue Raiders are to win their first SBC title this year, the defense will have to continue to shine in anonymity.  This side has yielded about 24 points and 350 yards per game the last two years, and they could be poised to kick it up a notch in 2010.

The defensive front seven is a small concern this season, and if the Blue Raiders fail to take the league title, and they aren’t torn apart by numerous injuries, it will be the lack of pass rush and coverage in the short zones that may do them in.

The secondary is the class of the league, and in a league known for its passing, that is important.  Rod Issac, Kevin Brown, and Jeremy Kellem teamed up to intercept seven passes and knock down 15 others.

Schedule: The Blue Raiders have the best non-conference schedule in the Sunbelt Conference.  An opening game at home on Thursday night against a beatable Minnesota team precedes a breather against former Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay.  A visit to a weak Memphis team the week after could leave the Blue Raiders at 3-0 and poised to crack the Top 25.  The final non-league tilt comes in October against Georgia Tech.  MTSU hosts Troy on October 5, and the winner of that game should take the conference flag.  A September 25 visit to Lafayette to take on Louisiana could be a big trap game.  If they can win that game and knock off Troy, then the Yellow Jackets could be all that stops the Blue Raiders from running the table.

Team North Texas Mean Green
               
Head Coach Todd Dodge
               
Colors Green and White
               
City Denton, TX
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 81.7
               
National Rank 105

 

Offense: The Mean Green scored 27 points per game last year, but they only won twice.  Expect both numbers to head north this season as this team returns a lot of talent.  Last year’s starting quarterback, Riley Dodge (son of the coach), returns.  However, he suffered a shoulder injury and has been moved to a wide out position.  Dodge is a true athlete, so it wouldn’t surprise us if he caught 50 passes this season and still see a few snaps at his old position.

Nathan Tune and Derek Thompson will vie for the starting quarterback job.  Tune saw considerable action last year, while Thompson was forced to burn a redshirt in the middle of the final game last year.  Neither can run the ball the way Dodge did, but both can hum the ball down the field.

Whoever is throwing the ball will have the conference’s elite group of receivers.  Besides Dodge, Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford joins the squad that returns its top six pass catchers from 2009.

Those receivers will find the going easier than normal because defenses will have to stop the running game first.  North Texas returns the league’s number two rusher in Lance Dunbar, who gained 1,378 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last season.

Making this offense lethal this year is a very experienced and capable offensive line featuring tackle Esteban Santiago.

We believe North Texas will average better than 30 points and 425 yards per game this year, and they could top 200 yards rushing and passing in more than half their games.

Defense: Normally, when a team surrenders 36 points per game, it would be considered pathetic.  However, in Denton last year, this represented a 12-point improvement over the year before.  Expect another 12-point improvement this year.

The defensive line is in much better shape this year with three starters returning up front.  End Brandon Akpunku recorded six sacks and 5 ½ other tackles for loss.  The second four provide excellent depth here with three upperclassmen backing up the starters.

The second line of defense features a potential All-SBC linebacker in Craig Robertson.  Robertson led the Mean Green in tackles last season, but he will need to make more of those closer to the line of scrimmage this year if UNT expects to contend for the conference championship.

This should be the best secondary in Denton in years.  With a better pass rush, look for the back unit to defend more passes. 

We believe North Texas will chop another 8-12 points off their defensive yield and give up about 24-28 points and 375 yards per game.

Schedule: North Texas has a chance to win two or three of their non-conference games, but it isn’t a given.  A home game with Rice on September 11 and a visit to Army the following week will determine if the Mean Green will go to a bowl this season.  An opener at Clemson could be ugly.  The season finale is at home with a Kansas State squad that could need one win to become bowl-eligible.  Kansas State lost to Louisiana in Lafayette last year.

In the conference, North Texas hosts Troy and plays at Middle Tennessee in back-to-back weeks at the start of November.  We think they will split those games.  If they can win at Florida Atlantic, they have a chance to sneak through and win or share for the Sunbelt title as the surprise team.  Even if they fall short, we think the Mean Green will play a 13th game in December.

Team Troy Trojans
               
Head Coach Larry Blakeney
               
Colors Red and Gray
               
City Troy, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 86.9
               
National Rank 94

 

Offense: How do you replace the best quarterback in school history?  Levi Brown completed 64% of his passes for 4,254 yards last year.  New quarterback Jamie Hampton has six career starts under his belt, so he isn’t entirely raw.

Hampton has the league’s best returning trio of receivers.  Jerrel Jernigan, Tebarius Gill, and Chip Reeves teamed for 140 catches and 2,045 yards, with Jernigan accounting for better than half of that amount.

Troy used a running back by committee approach last year, but starter DuJuan Harris is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if he returns to his 2008 form.

The offensive line returns three starters, and the two new starters are experienced upperclassmen. 

Troy averaged 34 points and 486 yards per game last year.  Expect a drop in those gaudy numbers, but the Trojans will still be a potent offensive machine.  28 points and 400 yards would still lead to a good season.

Defense: Welcome to troubles!  Troy was decimated by graduation losses on this side of the ball.  Six of the top seven tacklers are gone including three defensive linemen who are on NFL preseason rosters.

Four new DL starters will be in the trenches, and even though Coach Blakeney has recruited well, this quartet will not come close to matching last year’s numbers of 138 rushing yards allowed and 33 sacks.

Two linebackers have moved on, leaving Daniel Sheffield as the lone returnee in the front seven.  New middle linebacker Xavier Lamb should emerge as the leading tackler this year.

The last line of defense returns two starters, including the best pass defender in the league.  Cover corner Bryan Willis is a shutdown defender, but we don’t believe he will match last year’s total of 4 interceptions and 12 knockdowns.  Passers will have an extra half-second or more to locate open receivers on most plays.

Troy gave up 30 points and 425 yards per game last year, and those numbers will be worse this year.  Look for 35 points and 450 yards out of this rebuilding defense.

Schedule: Road games at South Carolina and Oklahoma State are sure losses.  A home game with Bowling Green is very winnable.  A trip to UAB on September 18 could determine whether Troy can get to seven victories and earn a bowl bid.  Middle Tennessee hosts Troy on Tuesday, October 5, in a nationally televised game.  We expect the Blue Raiders to exact revenge on the Trojans and end their reign of supremacy.  A road game at Florida Atlantic on December 4 could be a must-win game for bowl-eligibility and a possible third bid from the league. 

Team Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
               
Head Coach Willie Taggart
               
Colors Red and White
               
City Bowling Green, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 0-12
               
PiRate Rating 72.7
               
National Rank 118

 

Offense: Things are looking up for the Hilltoppers this year, but when you go 0-12, things can’t look much worse.  New coach Willie Taggart comes from Stanford, and he will install a pro-style offense using 1st team All-SBC running back Bobby Rainey the same way Toby Gerhart was used in Palo Alto.  Expect Rainey to get 300 rushing attempts this year, if WKU can stay in games and not have to resort to throwing the ball 85% of the time in the second half.  Rainey could easily lead the nation in rushing if he gets 300 attempts.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes did a lot of running himself last year—running for his life after a helpless group of pass blockers played like matadors.  Jakes has the potential to be the third best passer in the league if he gets just average protection up front.

Unfortunately, Jakes has little in talent on the other end of his passes.  The seven returning receivers from last year all failed to average 10 yards per catch.  A lot of that had to do with Jakes having to throw quickly to avoid the rush, but yards after the catch is not where this group excels.

The aforementioned offensive line will make strides toward improvement, but don’t expect a major transformation.  If they can allow 10 fewer sacks, WKU will move the ball and eat the clock this year.

Western scored 20 points per game last year and 25 in league play.  Expect the ‘Toppers to approach 24-26 points and 350-375 yards this year.  The big plus will be a ball-controlled rushing game that is capable of reducing total plays per game by as much as 10

Defense: WKU surrendered 40 points and almost 480 yards per game last year, and even with nominal improvement on this side of the ball, we expect the offense to keep this unit on the sidelines for a couple minutes more per game this year.

Taggart will switch Western to a 4-3 defense this year, and the new DL should improve on the 245 rushing yards allowed.   All players who contributed significantly last year in the two-deep return this season.

The second line of defense welcomes back all three of its four top players, and the trio of returning starters should be much improved this year.  Thomas Majors could earn 1st team all-conference honors.

The back line of defense was the weakest in all of FBS football last year, giving up 67.8% completions and 28 touchdowns!  Three starters return, and this unit must improve some, but it will still be a major liability.

We expect WKU to chip off as much as a touchdown from the points allowed this year, but 33-35 points per game is still too much for the Hilltoppers to turn things around.

Schedule: WKU has guaranteed themselves an 0-4 start prior to getting a week off on October 2.  The Hilltoppers open at Nebraska, at Kentucky, home versus Indiana, and at South Florida.  They will be banged up and need that week off before starting conference play.  Their first two conference games come at FIU and home with ULM.  If they don’t win one of those two games, it could lead to a repeat 0-12 season.  We think they will win one of those games and maybe pick up another upset in the second half.  2-10 would be a beginning toward becoming competitive in the future.

Coming Tomorrow: The Mid-American Conference Preview.  Will the Owls fly high in the MAC sky?

March 2, 2010

And They’re Off…

Let’s Start The Partying

 

It may feel like it’s mid-January in most of the nation, but the calendar doesn’t lie.  It’s time to start the sports reality show called “Big Dancing With The Stars; Trying Not To Be The Biggest Loser.”  Yes, the conference tournaments begin to tip-off tonight.

15 conferences begin tournament play in the next four days.  Let’s take a look at the brackets.

America East Conference

Site: Hartford, CT until the Championship Game.  Championship Game on the home court of the higher seed.

Late Note:#5 seed Binghamton has withdrawn from the conference tournament, making this an 8-team tournament that will now begin Saturday.

Saturday, March 6

G1-#1 Stony Brook (21-8) vs. #9 Albany (7-24)

G2-#4 Boston U (17-12) vs. #6 Hartford (8-21)

G3-#2 Vermont (22-9) vs. #8 Maryland-Balt. Co. (4-25)

G4-#3 Maine (19-10) vs. #7 New Hampshire (12-16)

Sunday, March 7

G5-Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner

G6-Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Saturday, March 13

Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner at higher seed’s home court

Boston U is the hot team as tournament play begins.  The Terriers have an easy first round game thanks to Binghamton pulling out.  Look for a very interesting semifinal match between BU and Stony Brook.

Look for New Hampshire to give Maine a great game and have a great shot at the upset.  Beating Vermont in the next round won’t happen.  The Catamounts have a clear path to the title game, and if Boston can upset Stony Brook, Vermont would host the title game.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Site: Macon, GA

Wednesday, March 3

G1-#1 Lipscomb (17-12) vs. #8 Kennesaw St. (12-19)

G2-#2 Jacksonville (18-11) vs. #7 North Florida (13-17)

Thursday, March 4

G3-#3 Belmont (19-11) vs. #6 Mercer (14-16)

G4-#4 Campbell (19-10) vs. #5 East Tennessee (17-14)

Friday, March 5

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Saturday, March 6

Semifinal Winners

Lipscomb won its last four games to earn a four-way tie for first.  The Bisons got the top-seed based on head to head results against the other three teams.  Their path to the championship game is not an easy one.  In the opening round, they face a Kennesaw team that gave them fits in both games, earning a split.  

Campbell has the most complete game of any team in this tournament, and they could be the team to beat from their number four seeding.  They also split with Lipscomb, and a possible semifinal match with the Bisons could be the game of the tournament.

Belmont and Jacksonville should handle their first round opponents, and in a semifinal match, the Dolphins have the upper hand when matching up.  A Jacksonville-Campbell final game would be interesting.  Both teams defended their home court in the regular season, winning by double digits.

Big Sky Conference

Site: All games played at higher seed

Saturday, March 6

#6 Portland State (12-17) at #3 Montana State (15-13)

#5 Northern Arizona (14-13) at #4 Montana (19-9)

Tuesday, March 9

Lower Remaining Seed at #1 Weber State (19-9)

Higher Remaining Seed at #2 Northern Colorado (24-6)

Wednesday, March 10

Lower Remaining Seed at Higher Remaining Seed

 

Big South Conference

Site: Quarterfinals at higher seed/Semifinals at Coastal Carolina/Finals at higher seed

Tuesday, March 2

G1-#8 VMI (10-18) at #1 Coastal Carolina (26-5)

G2-#7 Charleston Southern (13-16) at #2 Radford (18-11)

G3-#6 Liberty (15-15) at #3 Winthrop (16-13)

G4-#5 High Point (15-14) at #4 UNC-Asheville (14-15)

Thursday, March 4 (at Coastal Carolina)

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Friday, March 5

Lower Remaining Seed at Higher Remaining Seed

The top two teams are clearly the two best in this league, as they dispenses of all the competition coming down the stretch.  Radford has a dominating inside player capable of causing matchup problems for a good team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Keep an eye on Art Parakhouski, a 6-11 hulk from Belarus.  He makes Radford the favorite to meet Coastal Carolina for a great rubber match worth watching.

Colonial Athletic Association

Site: Richmond, VA

Friday, March 5

G1-#8 Towson (9-20) vs. #9 UNC-Wilmington (9-21)

G2-#5 Va. Commonwealth (20-8) vs. #12 Delaware (7-23)

G3-#7 Hofstra (18-13) vs. #10 Georgia State (12-19)

G4-#6 Drexel (16-15) vs. #11 James Madison (12-19)

Saturday, March 6

G5-#1 Old Dominion (23-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

G6-#4 George Mason (17-13) vs. Game 2 Winner

G7-#2 Northeastern (19-11) vs. Game 3 Winner

G8-#3 William & Mary (20-9) vs. Game 4 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

There’s decent parity in this league, and any of the top seven seeds could emerge the victor.  Hofstra is the hottest team in the league, having finished the regular season with six consecutive wins and nine out of ten, including a double digit win at Northeastern.

Old Dominion has a road win against Georgetown this year, and the Monarchs would be a bubble team if they lost in the semifinals or finals.

Horizon League

Site: 1st Round at Higher Seed/All Others at Indianapolis

Tuesday, March 2

G1-#10 Youngstown (8-21) at #3 Green Bay (20-11)

G2-#9 Illinois-Chicago (8-21) at #4 Milwaukee (18-13)

G3-#8 Loyola (Chi) (14-15) at #5 Cleveland St. (15-16)

G4-#7 Detroit (18-13) at #6 Valparaiso (15-16)

Friday, March 5

G5-Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

G6-Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Saturday, March 6

Butler (26-4) vs. Game 6 Winner

Wright St. (19-11) vs. Game 5 Winner

Tuesday, March 9

Semifinal Winners

It’s all about Butler in this tournament.  The Bulldogs are going dancing win or lose, but they could move up to a number three seed by winning on March 9.  Detroit is the only team that gave Butler any trouble this year, so it could become interesting if the Titans beat Valpo, Green Bay, and Wright State to make it to the finals.

M A A C

Site: Albany, NY

Friday, March 5

G1-#7 Canisius (14-16) vs. #10 Marist (1-28)

G2-#8 Loyola (Md) (13-16) vs. #9 Manhattan (10-19)

Saturday, March 6

G3-#1 Siena (24-6) vs. Game 2 Winner

G4-#2 Fairfield (20-9) vs. Game 1 Winner

G5-#3 Iona (21-9) vs. #6 Niagara (17-14)

G6-#4 St. Peter’s (16-13) vs. #5 Rider (16-15)

Sunday, March 7

Game 3 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

Siena’s resume does not allow them a Mulligan in this tournament.  The Saints have no signature wins, and they got their hat handed to them in the Bracketbuster game against Butler.  Siena has to win this tournament or it’s the NIT for them this year.

Fairfield gave Siena two close ballgames this year, and it could be hard for the Saints to beat the Stags three times.  

Iona is flying under the radar.  The Gaels won nine in a row in midseason, and they have the talent to make it to Monday night’s game.

Missouri Valley Conference

Site: St. Louis (Arch Madness)

Thursday, March 4

G1-#7 Missouri State (19-11) vs. #10 Evansville (9-20)

G2-#8 Drake (13-18) vs. #9 Southern Illinois (15-14)

Friday, March 5

G3-#1 Northern Iowa (25-4) vs. Game 2 Winner

G4-#2 Wichita State (23-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

G5-#3 Illinois State (21-9) vs. #6 Indiana St. (17-13)

G6-#4 Creighton (16-14) vs. #5 Bradley (15-14)

Saturday, March 6

Game 3 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Semifinal Winners

Northern Iowa won the regular season title by three games, but don’t consider the Panthers an overwhelming favorite.  A good case could be made for any of the top five teams, and nobody wants to play Ninth-seeded Southern Illinois.

This will be a great tournament, and you should make it a point to watch these games if you have access. 

UNI is a pretty safe bet to garner an at-large bid if they don’t win the automatic bid.  Wichita State was once in the discussion for an at-large bid after a 16-2 start, but the shockers finished 7-6.

Northeast Conference

Site: All Games Played at Higher Seed

Thursday, March 4

G1-#8 Monmouth (12-18) at #1 Quinnipiac (21-8)

G2-#7 Cent. Connecticut (12-17) at #2 Robert Morris (20-11)

G3-#6 St. Francis (Pa) (11-18) at #3 Mt. St. Mary’s (15-14)

G4-#5 Fairleigh Dickinson (11-20) at #4 Long Island (13-16)

Sunday, March 7

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner at higher seed

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner at higher seed

Wednesday, March 10

Semifinal Winners at higher seed

Rarely is the number three seed considered the favorite, but in the NEC, Mt. St. Mary’s must be considered just that.  The Mountaineers won their final 10 games, which included victories over the two top seeds.  MSM has been in the tournament title game the last two years, winning in 2008.  Point Guard Jeremy Goode cut down on his turnovers down the stretch and played more like he was capable of playing.  Look for the 5-9 hotshot to play his best and guide the Mountaineers back to the Championship Game, where they are liable to face Quinnipiac.

Bobcat star James Feldeine was held to just four points in the last meeting with MSM; he will be ready for blood in a title match.

Ohio Valley Conference

Site: 1st Round at higher seed/All Others at Nashville

Tuesday, March 2

G1-#8 Tennessee State (9-22) at #1 Murray State (27-4)

G2-#7 Jacksonville St. (11-18) at #2 Morehead St. (21-9)

G3-#6 Tennessee Tech (14-16) at #3 Austin Peay (17-14)

G4-#5 East. Kentucky (20-11) at #4 East. Illinois (18-11)

Friday, March 5

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Saturday, March 6

Semifinal Winners

Murray State won 27 games during the regular season, but even if the Racers lose in the title game, they will fall to the NIT.

Morehead State is the defending OVC Champion, and the Eagles have the league’s top player in Kenneth Faried (16.8 ppg/13.0 rpg).  Morehead won 17 of 20 down the stretch including a win over Murray St.

Austin Peay is always a force to be reckoned with in this tournament.  The Governors have been a regular in the championship round.

Patriot League

Site: All Games Played at Higher Seed

Wednesday, March 3

G1-#8 Army (14-14) at #1 Lehigh (19-10)

G2-#7 Holy Cross (8-21) at #2 Bucknell (14-16)

G3-#6 Colgate (10-18) at #3 Lafayette (17-12)

G4-#5 Navy (13-16) at #4 American (10-19)

Sunday, March 7

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner at Higher Seed

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner at Higher Seed

Friday, March 12

Semifinal Winners at Higher Seed

A month ago, Bucknell stood at 6-14 and looked like a possible 20-game loser.  The Bison turned it around and rebounded to go 8-2 down the stretch with a win over Lehigh.  One of the two losses was also to Lehigh, so this does not make Bucknell the favorite.

There is no clear-cut favorite in this league.  In fact, sixth-seeded Colgate has been playing as well an any team as the tournament opens.  The Raiders had Lehigh on the ropes a couple weeks ago before falling short at the end.

Southern Conference

Site: Charlotte

Friday, March 5

G1-#3N Chattanooga (14-17) vs. #6S Ga. Southern (9-22)

G2-#4N UNC-Greensboro (7-22) vs. #5S Furman (13-16)

G3-#3S Davidson (16-14) vs. #6N Elon (8-22)

G4-#4S Citadel (15-15) vs. #5N Samford (11-19)

Saturday, March 6

G5-#1N Appalachian St. (20-11) vs. Game 4 Winner

G6-#1S Wofford (23-8) vs. Game 2 Winner

G7-#2N Western Carolina (21-10) vs. Game 3 Winner

G8-#2S Charleston (20-10) vs. Game 1 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Game 5 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner

Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

With Davidson just a middle of the pack team, the Socon Tournament becomes a wide-open race.  The top four seeds all have the talent to run the table, but Wofford must be considered the favorite.  The Terriers won their final 10 games and 19 of 21, after starting 4-6.

Keep an eye on College of Charleston.  Coach Bobby Cremins has talent at the guard spot, and he knows how to get to the Big Dance.

Summit League

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Saturday, March 6

G1-#1 Oakland (23-8) vs. #8 Mo.-Kansas City (12-17)

G2-#2 I U P U I (22-9) vs. #7 Western Illinois (13-16)

Sunday, March 7

G3-#3 Oral Roberts (19-12) vs. #6 N. Dakota St. (11-17)

G4-#4 S. Dakota St. (14-15) vs. #5 I P F W (15-14)

Monday, March 8

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Tuesday, March 9

Semifinal Winners

Oakland’s path to the Championship Game is not all that easy.  Last place UMKC was no pushover, and the Grizzlies didn’t win all that convincingly in the regular season.  A possible semifinal match with the host team, South Dakota State, will be even harder.  The Jackrabbits have the best backcourt in the league, but they are a little weak inside.  That’s where Oakland is strongest with 6-11 center Keith Benson, the league’s top player.

IUPUI won 12 of its final 14 games and blew Oakland off the floor by 24 points.  The Jaguars have an easier path to the title game.

Sunbelt Conference

Site: Hot Springs, AR (in two separate gyms)

Saturday, March 6

G1-#4 Western Kentucky (19-12) VS. #13 New Orleans (8-21)

G2-#5 Arkansas St. (16-13) vs. #12 Ark.-Little Rock (8-21)

G3-#6 Denver (17-12) vs. #11 Florida Int’l (7-24)

G4-#7 UL-Lafayette (13-16) vs. #10 UL-Monroe (11-18)

G5-#8 Fla. Atlantic (14-15) vs. #9 South Alabama (16-14)

Sunday, March 7

G6-#1 Troy (18-11) vs. Game 5 Winner

G7-#2 North Texas (21-8) vs. Game 4 Winner

G8-#3 Middle Tennessee (19-12) vs. Game 3 Winner

G9-Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner

Monday, March 8

Game 6 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner

Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner

Tuesday, March 9

Semifinal Winners

The top four seeds enter this tournament on high notes, but none are higher than Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers went 7-7 during the 14-games missed to injury by beefy forward Sergio Kerusch.  WKU defeated Vanderbilt, Murray State, and Mississippi State in the pre-conference schedule, and they could be headed back to the Big Dance for the third year in a row, as they ride a six-game winning streak entering the tournament.

North Texas comes into this tournament on an eight-game winning streak.  The Mean Green edged WKU in overtime during the time Kerusch was out.

Arkansas State is coming into this tournament as a darkhorse, but watch out for Red Wolves.  Former LSU coach John Brady’s squad swept North Texas; both wins were by double digits.  

West Coast Conference

Site: Las Vegas

Friday, March 5

G1-#5 Loyola Marymount (16-14) vs. #8 Pepperdine (7-23)

G2-#6 San Diego (10-20) vs. #7 Santa Clara (11-20)

Saturday, March 6

G3-#3 Portland (19-9) vs. Game 2 Winner

G4-#4 San Francisco (12-17) vs. Game 1 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Gonzaga (24-5) vs. Game 4 Winner

St. Mary’s (24-5) vs. Game 3 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

For once, this is a three-team race.  Gonzaga swept St. Mary’s and Portland and will more than likely have to face one of the two for the championship.  It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a row, but the Bulldogs have the talent to do so.

St. Mary’s and Portland split a pair of really tight games, so there is no clear cut favorite if they meet in the Semifinals.  The Gaels benefit from getting an extra day off.

If any team from the first day of play has a chance, it is Loyola Marymount.  The Lions beat Gonzaga and Portland in February.  First year coach Max Good took a team picked to be last in the league and brought them home at 7-7 in WCC play.

December 7, 2009

PiRate Ratings and Spreads For College Football–Regular Season Final

NCAA 2009 College Football Playoff Simulation

The Playoffs You Wished For 

Welcome to season number three of the NCAA College Football Playoff Simulation.  For those reading this blog for the first time, the PiRate College Football Playoffs take the champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC as automatic qualifiers.  Any of the remaining conference champions (including the top independent) that finish in the top 16 in the final regular season BCS Standings also qualify automatically.  At-large teams are then selected in the order of BCS finish until 12 total teams have been selected.  The 12 teams are then seeded by BCS ranking with no maximum number of teams per conference.

 

Here is how the 12 teams were selected for the 2009 playoffs.

 

Top Six Conference Champions

ACC–Georgia Tech 11-2           #9 Seed

Big East–Cincinnati 12-0                   #3 Seed

Big Ten–Ohio State 10-2         #8 Seed

Big 12—Texas 13-0                    #2 Seed

Pac-10—Oregon 10-2                #7 Seed

SEC—Alabama 13-0                             #1 Seed

 

Automatic Qualifiers By Virtue Of Top 16 In BCS

MWC—T C U 12-0                       #4 Seed

WAC—Boise State 13-0             #6 Seed

 

Top Four At-Large To Fill Out 12-Team Field

Florida 12-1                                 #5 Seed

Iowa 10-2                                    #10 Seed

Virginia Tech 10-2                     #11 Seed

L S U 9-3                                      #12 Seed

 

The PiRate Playoff System uses the top 11 bowl games to play the four rounds.  The 5th through 12th seeds must play in the first round, while the top four seeds receive byes to the quarterfinals.

Opening Round

 

Outback Bowl    #5 Florida vs. #12 L S U  Dec 17

Alamo Bowl       #6 Boise State vs. #11 Virginia Tech  Dec 18

Holiday Bowl     #7 Oregon vs. #10 Iowa  Dec 19

Gator Bowl         #8 Ohio State vs. #9 Georgia Tech  Dec 19

 

Quarterfinal Round

 

Cotton Bowl                #4 T C U vs. Outback Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Capital One Bowl       #3 Cincinnati vs. Alamo Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Rose Bowl                             #2 Texas vs. Holiday Bowl Winner  Jan 1

Sugar Bowl                  #1 Alabama vs. Gator Bowl Winner  Jan 1

 

Semifinal Round

 

Fiesta Bowl        Sugar Bowl Winner vs. Fiesta Bowl Winner Jan 9

Orange Bowl     Rose Bowl Winner vs. Capital One Bowl Winner Jan 9

 

National Championship Game

 

Fiesta Bowl Winner vs. Orange Bowl Winner  Jan 23

 

1. This system awards the four best teams with byes.

2. This system not only keeps the bowls alive, but it gives them more importance and prestige, as 11 bowls decide the title.

3. Instead of undefeated Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise State getting left out of the national championship picture, number 13 Penn State is the first team left out.  This is much more fair, as this system will always allow a 12-0 team to have a chance regardless of whether it is Alabama or Boise State.

4. The remaining bowls would not have to settle for 6-6 teams.  The rules could demand at least 7 wins as a minimum.

5. Three of the four rounds would occur during winter break for the schools, thus quashing the myth that players would miss too much time.

 

Check back on December 20 for simulated results of the first round games.

 

Final Regular Season PiRate Ratings

 

The Army-Navy game must still be played, but that game doesn’t warrant an extra week’s worth of ratings.  Neither team can break the top 25 even if they win 222-0.  The game still has bowl implications.  If Army wins, the Cadets will advance to the Eagle Bank Bowl to face Temple.  If Navy wins, then UCLA takes Army’s place in Washington, DC.

NCAA Top 25 For December 7, 2009
Rank Team PiRate Won Lost
1 Alabama 133.0 13 0
2 Texas 131.4 12 0
3 Florida 128.2 12 1
4 T C U 125.4 12 0
5 Oklahoma 124.0 7 5
6 Boise State 120.9 12 0
7 Virginia Tech 120.5 9 3
8 Oregon 119.8 10 2
9 Georgia Tech 119.4 11 2
10 Nebraska 118.8 9 4
11 Texas Tech 117.9 8 4
12 Penn State 117.7 10 2
13 Ohio State 117.6 10 2
14 Miami (Fla) 117.4 9 3
15 Stanford 116.9 8 4
16 Arkansas 115.5 7 5
17 Southern Cal 115.1 8 4
18 Cincinnati 114.9 12 0
19 Iowa 114.8 10 2
20 Arizona 114.0 8 4
21 Oklahoma State 113.9 9 3
22 Pittsburgh 113.7 9 3
23 Ole Miss 113.2 8 4
24 L  S  U 112.5 9 3
25 Oregon State 112.0 8 4
         
Note: Ratings rounded to one decimal point
even though I rank them to two decimal points

 

Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Clemson 6-2 8-5 111.7
Florida State 4-4 6-6 107.6
Boston College 5-3 8-4 107.1
Wake Forest 3-5 5-7 104.8
North Carolina State 2-6 5-7 102.7
Maryland 1-7 2-10 93.0
       
Coastal Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Virginia Tech 6-2 9-3 120.5
Georgia Tech 7-1 11-2 119.4
Miami-FL 5-3 9-3 117.4
North Carolina 4-4 8-4 110.9
Duke 3-5 5-7 98.4
Virginia 2-6 3-9 94.8

 

Big East Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Cincinnati 8-0 12-0 114.9
Pittsburgh 5-2 9-3 113.7
West Virginia 5-2 9-3 106.0
Connecticut 3-4 7-5 105.8
Rutgers 3-4 8-4 102.1
South Florida 3-4 7-5 101.8
Syracuse 1-6 4-8 93.9
Louisville 1-6 4-8 90.5

 

Big Ten
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Penn State 6-2 10-2 117.7
Ohio State 7-1 10-2 117.6
Iowa 6-2 10-2 114.8
Wisconsin 5-3 9-3 108.5
Michigan State 4-4 6-6 101.5
Northwestern 5-3 8-4 99.3
Purdue 4-4 5-7 99.0
Minnesota 3-5 6-6 97.9
Michigan 1-7 5-7 96.6
Illinois 2-6 3-9 96.0
Indiana 1-7 4-8 90.9

 

Big 12
North Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Nebraska 6-2 9-4 118.9
Missouri 4-4 8-4 104.8
Kansas 1-7 5-7 103.9
Kansas State 4-4 6-6 99.4
Colorado 2-6 3-9 97.4
Iowa State 3-5 6-6 94.9
       
South Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Texas 8-0 13-0 131.4
Oklahoma 5-3 7-5 124.0
Texas Tech 5-3 8-4 117.9
Oklahoma State 6-2 9-3 113.9
Texas A&M 3-5 6-6 103.4
Baylor 1-7 4-8 96.6

 

Conference USA
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
East Carolina 7-1 9-4 105.2
Central Florida 6-2 8-4 104.1
Southern Mississippi 5-3 7-5 100.9
Marshall 4-4 6-6 92.4
U A B 4-4 5-7 91.0
Memphis 1-7 2-10 83.4
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Houston 6-2 10-3 107.4
Tulsa 3-5 5-7 91.6
U T E P 3-5 4-8 90.8
S M U 6-2 7-5 88.4
Rice 2-6 2-10 76.4
Tulane 1-7 3-9 71.1

 

Independents
       
Team   Overall Rating
Notre Dame   6-6 105.9
Navy   8-4 100.6
Army   5-6 82.0

 

Mid American Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Temple 7-1 9-3 100.7
Ohio U 7-1 9-4 94.9
Buffalo 3-5 5-7 92.4
Bowling Green 6-2 7-5 91.4
Kent St. 4-4 6-6 84.7
Akron 2-6 3-9 81.5
Miami (O) 1-7 1-11 76.3
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Central Michigan 8-0 11-2 109.0
Northern Illinois 5-3 7-5 95.1
Toledo 3-5 5-7 87.1
Western Michigan 4-4 5-7 86.2
Ball State 2-6 2-10 83.0
Eastern Michigan 0-8 0-12 74.2

 

Mountain West Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
T C U 8-0 12-0 125.4
B Y U 7-1 10-2 111.1
Utah 6-2 9-3 107.7
Air Force 5-3 7-5 100.7
Wyoming 4-4 6-6 87.9
UNLV 3-5 5-7 86.8
Colo. State 0-8 3-9 86.1
S. D. State 3-5 5-7 85.2
New Mexico 1-7 1-11 77.8

 

Pac-10 Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Oregon 8-1 10-2 119.8
Stanford 6-3 8-4 116.9
Southern Cal 5-4 8-4 115.1
Arizona 6-3 8-4 114.0
Oregon St. 6-3 8-4 112.0
California 5-4 8-4 108.6
U C L A 3-6 6-6 105.3
Arizona St. 2-7 4-8 102.1
Washington 4-5 5-7 103.6
Wash. St. 0-9 1-11 70.8

 

Southeastern Conference
East Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Florida 8-0 12-1 128.2
Tennessee 4-4 7-5 110.9
South Carolina 3-5 7-5 110.9
Georgia 4-4 7-5 110.4
Kentucky 3-5 7-5 104.4
Vanderbilt 0-8 2-10 93.1
       
West Division      
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Alabama 8-0 13-0 133.0
Arkansas 3-5 7-5 115.5
Ole Miss 4-4 8-4 113.2
L S U 5-3 9-3 112.5
Auburn 3-5 7-5 107.7
Mississippi State 3-5 5-7 104.2

 

Sunbelt Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Troy 8-0 9-3 99.0
Middle Tennessee 7-1 9-3 96.2
Louisiana-Monroe 5-3 6-6 86.8
Arkansas State 3-5 4-8 85.8
Florida Atlantic 5-3 5-7 84.6
U. of Louisiana 4-4 6-6 83.7
Florida International 3-5 3-9 80.3
North Texas 1-7 2-10 76.4
Western Kentucky 0-8 0-12 73.7

 

Western Athletic Conference
       
Team Conf. Overall Rating
Boise State 8-0 13-0 120.9
Nevada 7-1 8-4 108.6
Louisiana Tech 3-5 4-8 99.8
Fresno State 6-2 7-4 99.0
Utah State 3-5 4-8 91.9
Idaho 4-4 7-5 89.6
Hawaii 3-5 6-6 87.7
San Jose State 1-7 2-10 78.5
New Mexico State 1-7 3-10 71.0

 

Bowl Lineups

Day Date Time EST Bowl Team   Team
Sat 19-Dec 4:30 PM New Mexico Wyoming vs. Fresno State
Sat 19-Dec 8:00 PM St. Petersburg Rutgers vs. Central Florida
Sun 20-Dec 8:15 PM New Orleans Middle Tenn vs. Southern Miss
Tue 22-Dec 8:00 PM Las Vegas B  Y  U vs. Oregon State
Wed 23-Dec 8:00 PM Poinsettia Utah vs. California
Thu 24-Dec 8:00 PM Hawaii Nevada vs. S  M  U
Sat 26-Dec 1:00 PM Little Caesar’s Pizza Marshall vs. Ohio U
Sat 26-Dec 4:30 PM Meineke Car Care North Carolina vs. Pittsburgh
Sat 26-Dec 8:00 PM Emerald Southern Cal vs. Boston College
Sun 27-Dec 8:15 PM Music City Kentucky vs. Clemson
Mon 28-Dec 5:00 PM Independence Georgia vs. Texas A&M
Tue 29-Dec 4:30 PM Eagle Bank Temple vs. Army/UCLA
Tue 29-Dec 8:00 PM Champs Sports Miami-Fl vs. Wisconsin
Wed 30-Dec 4:30 PM Humanitarian Idaho vs. Bowling Green
Wed 30-Dec 8:00 PM Holiday Nebraska vs. Arizona
Thu 31-Dec 11:00 AM Armed Forces Houston vs. Air Force
Thu 31-Dec 2:00 PM Sun Stanford vs. Oklahoma
Thu 31-Dec 3:30 PM Texas Missouri vs. Navy
Thu 31-Dec 6:00 PM Insight.com Iowa State vs. Minnesota
Thu 31-Dec 7:30 PM Chick-fil-A Tennessee vs. Va. Tech
Fri 1-Jan 11:00 AM Outback Auburn vs. Northwestern
Fri 1-Jan 1:00 PM Capital One Penn State vs. L  S  U
Fri 1-Jan 1:00 PM Gator West Va. vs. Florida State
Fri 1-Jan 5:10 PM Rose Oregon vs. Ohio State
Fri 1-Jan 8:00 PM Sugar Florida vs. Cincinnati
Sat 2-Jan 12:00 PM International South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Sat 2-Jan 2:00 PM Cotton Oklahoma St. vs. Ole Miss
Sat 2-Jan 2:00 PM Papajohns.com Connecticut vs. South Carolina
Sat 2-Jan 5:30 PM Liberty Arkansas vs. East Carolina
Sat 2-Jan 9:00 PM Alamo Texas Tech vs. Michigan St.
Mon 4-Jan 8:00 PM Fiesta Boise State vs. T C U
Tue 5-Jan 8:00 PM Orange Georgia Tech vs. Iowa
Wed 6-Jan 8:00 PM G M A C Troy vs. Central Mich.
Thu 7-Jan 8:00 PM Nat’l Championship Alabama vs. Texas

Coming This Week–What you can do to help bring about a college football playoff

September 22, 2009

The Best Week Of The Season For College Football

Every year, there is one week of the college football season where the schedule presents more than a dozen games that are not just interesting, they are foretelling.  While the season’s final two weeks usually mean everything, usually a mid-season week turns out to be the week where teams either put up or shut up.  We here at the PiRate Ratings believe this is that week.  Let’s look at the 25 games where we see a major interest in watching or listening to this week. 

 

Thursday Night

7:30 PM: Ole Miss at South Carolina—The Rebels play their first important game of the year after clobbering two patsies.  The Gamecocks aren’t a Top 25 team, but in Columbia, they are tough to beat.  It won’t hurt that USC had already played a Thursday night game.  This should be a high scoring game, weather permitting (chance of thunderstorms), and it could be another one of those recent SEC “Arena Football League Games.”

The PiRate computer says Ole Miss should win by 13.3, while the old Mean rating picks the Rebels by 5.  Vegas has Ole Miss by 3 as of midday Monday.  PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

Saturday Games (all times EDT)

12 Noon: Indiana at Michigan—This Hoosier team is 3-0, but make no comparison between it and the cardiac kids of 1967, or even the Bill Mallory teams of 1987 and 1988.  We’ll soon find out if it is another version of the 2007 team.  Indiana struggled to beat Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan.  Michigan could be on the verge of challenging Penn State, Iowa, and Ohio State for conference supremacy.  They proved themselves valid with a win over Notre Dame, and now they get a chance to move upward.  The PiRate computer picks Michigan by 20.3, and the Mean picks the Wolverines by 14.  PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

12 Noon: Michigan State at Wisconsin—In August, it looked like this game could be a battle of unbeaten teams, but the Spartans have slipped up with a 1-2 start.  This game becomes a must-win game for MSU, because they face Michigan next week.  Coach Mark Dantonio’s team could be looking at 1-5 or even 1-6 if they slip up this week.  As for the Badgers, this is their sixth consecutive year starting 3-0.  Except for 2006, the season hasn’t finished up like it started.  This could be the pivotal game in the UW coaching career for Bret Bielema.  A win here sets them up for a huge rivalry match at Minnesota next week where a win would send the Badgers to Ohio State with a chance to move into Rose Bowl contention.  Wisconsin avoids Penn State and gets Iowa and Michigan at home this year.  A loss could start the ball rolling toward 7-5 or even 6-6. PiRate Rating: Wisconsin by 0.6/Mean: Wisconsin by 4/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

12 Noon: South Florida at Florida State—We’ve been looking at this matchup for quite some time.  This should be a hard-fought thriller.  USF has wanted a shot at any of the three big teams in the Sunshine State, and the economy has made this one possible.  Florida State’s opening game loss to Miami could be explained.  The letdown against Jacksonville State wasn’t totally surprising.  The 26-point win at BYU was a shock.  That makes Miami look all the more talented.  USF has yet to play quality opposition, and this game will give us a good gauge of the ACC against the Big East.  If the Bulls can win this one, then they should be 5-0 when they host Cincinnati on Thursday, October 15.  PiRate Rating: FSU by 14.3/Mean Rating: FSU by 9/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

12 Noon: Fresno State at Cincinnati—Fresno State has played well in losses to Wisconsin and Boise State, but now they face the hardest game on their schedule.  We don’t think the Bulldogs have much chance of adding another big upset to their 21st Century resume, but we do see this as a gauge game.  Cincinnati has looked like a Top 10 team and maybe contender for the National Championship Game through three games.  If Cinti can do to Fresno State what they did to Rutgers, they will move into the Top 12.  If they cannot win by more than three touchdowns, then it makes Boise State look all the more better.  PiRate Rating: Cinti by 21.7/Mean Rating: Cinti by 20/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

12 Noon: Southern Mississippi at Kansas—The Golden Eagles aren’t ranked, but Coach Larry Fedora has a strong team in Hattiesburg.  Southern Miss is 3-0 after their great comeback win over Virginia.  Tough road games remain against Houston, Marshall, and East Carolina, so they probably have little or no chance of running the table and sneaking into the BCS Bowl picture.  Kansas will vie with Missouri and Nebraska for the Big 12 North title this year.  They just missed the last two years, and a big win in this game could set the table for finally breaking through.  An impressive win here, followed by wins over Iowa State and Colorado would have the Jayhawks at 6-0 when Oklahoma invades Lawrence on October 24.  KU QB Todd Reesing may be the best passer without much chance of getting drafted.  At 5-11, he’s considered too small for the NFL.  PiRate Rating: Kansas by 17.1/Mean Rating: 14/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

12 Noon: North Carolina at Georgia Tech—This game is interesting because the Tar Heels catch Georgia Tech coming off a disastrous road loss to Miami.  If Coach Butch Davis has UNC ready to challenge on the national scene, then the Heels need to do something close to what Miami did to the Yellow Jackets.  They will stack the box to take away the option and force Josh Nesbitt to beat them through the air.  It can be done, but it won’t be easy.  A Tech win means the winner of the Virginia Tech-Miami game will be in the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division.  PiRate Rating: Tech by 1.9/Mean Rating: Tech by 2/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

12:20 PM: L S U at Mississippi State—The AP and USA Today polls have LSU at number 7, but the Tigers are only the fourth highest-ranked SEC team.  The win at Washington looks much more impressive now, but the lackluster win over Vanderbilt becomes a great comparison here.  New Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen saw his Bullies stop Vanderbilt in Nashville more impressively than LSU’s win over the Commodores in Tiger Stadium.  This game hasn’t been close since Jackie Sherrill was coaching in Starkville.  We think it might be this year, and with some lucky bounces, MSU could actually be there at the end.  PiRate Rating: LSU by 15.9/Mean Rating: LSU by 12/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

1:00 PM: Marshall at Memphis—Here’s a game that should determine a bowl spot for the winner and doom the loser to the wrong side of .500 for the season.  We think Marshall is primed to break out and save Coach Mark Snyder’s job this year.  It’s been six years since the Thundering Herd last enjoyed a winning season, and we see at least seven wins in their near future.  This is the C-USA opener for both teams.  The schedule sets up well for Marshall if they can win this road game.  They get East Carolina and Southern Miss. at home, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to us if they could sneak into contention in the East.  PiRate Rating: Marshall by 3.5/Mean Rating: Marshall by 2/PiRate Viewer Rating: B+

 

3:00 PM: UNLV at Wyoming—The Rebels have never been a Division 1-A (FBS) heavyweight.  The 2000 season is the only good year they’ve had since moving up in classification 30 years ago.  UNLV has a chance to get back to a bowl game this year, as long as quarterback Omar Clayton can remain healthy.  On a gimpy knee, he guided the Rebels to a comeback victory over Hawaii.  This becomes a must win game, and Wyoming is beatable.  However, in Laramie, the Cowboys play tough.  Tell Mack Brown that the Cowboys are an easy pushover.  One slip up by UNLV this week makes their bowl hunt much more difficult.  PiRate Rating: UNLV by 3.4/Mean Rating: UNLV by 5/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

3:30 PM: Arkansas at Alabama—Arkansas’s passing game will show everybody whether Alabama’s pass defense is national championship caliber.  We don’t expect the Hogs to threaten an upset here, but this game should tell us whether Alabama is good enough to run the table and get to the SEC Championship Game for a second consecutive season.  To this point in the season, Alabama has actually looked like the top team in the conference if not the nation.  If the Tide is going to rise and become the South’s elite, they need to win this one by 20 or more points.  PiRate Rating: Bama by 20.8/Mean Rating: Bama by 20/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

3:30 PM: California at Oregon—The Bears didn’t look like a championship caliber team in their win at Minnesota last week, while Oregon handled Utah.  Cal has a home date with Southern Cal next week, but the players better concentrate on this game.  Autzen Stadium is still one of the toughest places to play as a visitor, and Oregon isn’t Washington State.  If Cal doesn’t come out ready for bear, the game with Southern Cal could be for 5th place in the standings.  Jahvid Best needs to put two good halves together to move up on the Heisman Trophy list.  PiRate Rating: Cal by 15.5/Mean Rating: Cal by 3/PiRate Viewer Rating: A+

 

3:30 PM: TCU at Clemson—With BYU and Utah losing to BCS conference teams this past weekend, the Horned Frogs may be the last legitimate shot for a Mountain West team to make it to a BCS Bowl Game.  A win at Clemson could move TCU up into the top 12.  We don’t think this Horned Frog team has the same tough defense as the recent teams in Ft. Worth.  Clemson could easily be 3-0 today, but several questionable miscues cost them against Georgia Tech.  After watching Miami destroy Tech, could the Yellow Jackets be overrated, and thus could Clemson not be as tough as they were supposed to be?  This game may not supply the answers, but at least the winner will move up on the early bowl bubble.  PiRate Rating: Clemson by 4.5/Mean Rating: Tossup/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

3:30 PM: Pittsburgh at North Carolina State—We here at the PiRate Ratings must remain impartial, as the only thing we truly root for is to be correct when we pick games.  However, a couple of us would be happy if Dave Wannstedt had a BCS Bowl team.  This may be Pittsburgh’s best team since 1982.  Then, again, this could be another year like 2000.  We should have a lot more evidence to make that call after this game.  The Panthers have a one-two punch in quarterback Bill Stull and blazing fast running back Dion Lewis.  North Carolina State is a little better than average but not the juggernaut they were seven years ago.  It Pittsburgh can win in Raleigh, a double-digit win season is possible.  PiRate Rating: Pitt by 2.0/Mean Rating: 6/PiRate Viewer Rating: B+

 

3:30 PM: Miami (Fla.) at Virginia Tech—This game is the one of the top three of the day.  Two games into the season, this edition of Hurricanes is more like Camille than a tropical depression.  Quarterback Jacory Harris may be the top passer in the ACC, and he may soon move high up on the list of NFL prospects in the next couple of years.  He has a live and accurate arm, and his ability to pass on the run makes it difficult to sack him.  Virginia Tech beat Nebraska last week in a close game, and the Hokies have won 38 of the last 43 games at Lane Stadium.  If Miami can win this game, it will set up an even more interesting battle against Oklahoma next week.  PiRate Rating: Virginia Tech by 6.7/Mean Rating: Virginia Tech by 4/PiRate Viewer Rating: A+

 

4:30 PM: Troy at Arkansas State—There are two key games in the Sunbelt Conference this week.  Troy has been the Southern Cal of the SBC as of late, but the Trojans may not be quite as strong this year.  Arkansas State had an extra week to prepare for this game and gets the Trojans in Jonesboro.  These teams have split the last four games in this series, and the Red Wolves have what it takes to pull off the mild upset.  An ASU win throws this race wide open.  PiRate Rating: Troy by 2.4/Mean Rating: Troy by 1/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

6:00 PM: Florida at Kentucky—Two years ago, Kentucky upset number one LSU in Lexington.  No, we don’t expect a repeat Saturday.  The Wildcats start a grueling stretch of games that call for the Cats to play Alabama, at South Carolina, and at Auburn after this game, so UK could easily be 2-4 when Louisiana Monroe comes to town on October 24.  Florida needs something to show the pollsters and computers that they deserve their lofty ranking.  What should be an unbelievable year like Nebraska in 1995 could fail to materialize over the lack of all-conference receivers.  Can Tim Tebow do it all on the offensive side?  Think Larry Csonka with Bob Griese’s arm.  You bet he can lead the Gators to Pasadena in January.  PiRate Rating: Florida by 32.7/Mean Rating: Florida by 20/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

6:00 PM: Colorado State at BYU—Had the Cougars won last week in a grueling game, we were prepared to check this game as a possible letdown game and go with the Rams and the points.  The Cougars exited Lavell Edwards Stadium thoroughly bewitched, bothered, and bewildered after losing to Florida State 54-28.  Colorado State is 3-0 for the first time since 1994.  That team went 10-1 in the regular season including a 28-21 win at BYU.  We don’t expect a repeat in 2009, but a good showing could be the next step on the long climb back to the top in the MWC.  The Rams should win eight games this year, but this won’t be one of them.  PiRate Rating: BYU by 16.9/Mean Rating: BYU by 16/PiRate Viewer Rating: B+

 

7:00 PM: Arizona State at Georgia—Arizona State has never played in an SEC stadium (unless you count the 1951 visit to then Southwest Conference member Arkansas).  In their only two games against SEC teams, the Sun Devils lost at home to Georgia last year and at home to LSU in 2005.  ASU Coach Dennis Erickson knows a little about winning in the Deep South, having claimed a national title at Miami.  He may have an average squad or some degree better, but wins against Idaho State and Louisiana Monroe has yet to prove anything.  Georgia has already played three tough games, winning two SEC battles already.  The Bulldog defense has yet to shut anybody down, but the offense has looked impressive in wins over South Carolina and Arkansas.  This game will tell us a lot more about these two conferences as the season progresses, but it should be exciting itself.  The weather could be a major factor as well.  PiRate Rating: Georgia by 15.6/Mean Rating: Georgia by 7/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

7:00 PM: Army at Iowa State—Say What?  This game is an important one?  You betcha!  It looks like the “trade” of Gene Chizik to Auburn for Paul Rhoads could prove to be a win-win decision.  Iowa State could be looking at a possibility of sneaking into the eighth or ninth Big 12 bowl slot if they can win this game.  Kansas State, Texas A&M, Colorado, and Baylor present winnable games if the Cyclones can stop the option game of the Cadets.  On the other side of the equation, Army needs only to become bowl eligible to earn a guaranteed bowl bid.  The Cadets are 2-1 and have winnable games left against Tulane, Vanderbilt, Temple, VMI, North Texas, and of course Navy.  If Army wins this game, then we are confident in saying they will earn their first bowl trip since 1996.  This game becomes, in essence, a bowl qualifier.  That’s why it makes our list of the key 25 games this week.  PiRate Rating: ISU by 12.4/Mean Rating: ISU by 10/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

 

7:00 PM: Middle Tennessee at North Texas—This is the second key Sunbelt Conference game this week.  Middle Tennessee is the only SBC team to own four wins on the road against teams from BCS conferences, and the Blue Raiders made it number four last week by winning at Maryland (the second consecutive win over the Terps).  North Texas showed signs of life this year in winning at Ball State and giving Ohio U a great battle, but quarterback Riley Dodge went down with an injury in the third quarter of that game.  He missed last week’s blowout loss at Alabama, but he will return this week.  He gives the Mean Green a chance in this game.  PiRate Rating: Middle Tenn by 8.7/Mean Rating: Middle Tenn by 8/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

7:30 PM: Arizona at Oregon State—Both teams lost to undefeated, out-of-conference opponents last week, but the winner of this game could challenge in the Pac-10.  We don’t think either can go on the road and beat both Cal and USC (both play these two powers on the road), but the winner of this game should stay in contention for one of the Pac-10’s top four bowls.  PiRate Rating: Oregon State by 3.9/Mean Rating: Oregon State by 2/PiRate Viewer Rating: B

 

8:00 PM: Iowa at Penn State—Could this game be for the Big 10 Championship?  It’s possible.  Iowa stumbled out of the gate with Northern Iowa, but impressive wins over Iowa State and Arizona have the Hawkeyes 3-0 for the third time in four years.  This is more than just any big game for Penn State; the Nittany Lions came into this game last year ranked number three at 9-0 and lost 24-23 in Iowa City.  Penn State is undefeated again and ranked number five this time, but Joe Pa’s team has played three patsies.  The winner of this game will be the leader in the clubhouse in the Big 10, but with Michigan, Ohio State, and even Wisconsin still around, they won’t have it wrapped up.  PiRate Rating: Penn State by 5.6/Mean Rating: Penn State by 4/PiRate Viewer Rating: A+

 

9:00 PM: Washington at Stanford—Can you believe this game?  Washington is the second ever team to crack the AP poll rankings in September after being winless the year before (Florida in 1980).  Stanford is close to being 3-0, and the Cardinal have not been this good since 2001.  Simply put, the winner of this contest is going to a bowl game this year.  You’ll see two great quarterbacks in this one.  Stanford’s Andrew Luck is just a freshman, but he’s averaging 9.3 yards per pass attempt and completing 62.3% of his passes.  Washington’s Jake Locker is leading the Pac-10 in total offense.  PiRate Rating: Stanford by 9.5/Mean Rating: Stanford by 8/PiRate Viewer Rating: A

 

9:15 PM: Texas Tech at Houston—These teams haven’t played each other since the Southwest Conference days, and it should be one of the most exciting games of the season.  You have two teams that average better than 400 passing yards per game.  Houston’s Case Keenum has a shot at an NFL career in a couple of years, while Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts may be the best quarterback Coach Mike Leach has placed in his offense.  PiRate Rating: Texas Tech by 6.2/Mean Rating: Texas Tech by 3/PiRate Viewer Rating: A-

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