The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 21, 2018

PiRate Ratings–College Football Week 0

It’s here!  After a long hot, humid Summer that still wears on, the college football season has a dress rehearsal weekend where you are invited to see a couple of FBS games on Saturday, plus a couple more FBS vs. FCS games.

We still have no word from the two coaches in limbo.  As of this writing, neither Urban Meyer nor D.J. Durkin know their fate for the 2018 season and beyond.  Because of these two coaches being in limbo, so are the PiRate Ratings for Week 1.

We are calling this Week 0, and we are keeping the preseason ratings about where they were when we previewed each of the 10 conferences and the independents.  The six FBS teams in action this weekend have had their ratings tweaked minimally due to some injuries and suspensions, but this has amounted to tenths of a point for each team.

Without further adieu, the PiRates are ready to officially debut with the ratings.

This Week’s PiRate Ratings Spreads

August 25, 2018
Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias
New Mexico St. Wyoming -13.9 -10.8 -13.7
Colorado St. Hawaii 14.7 14.2 17.4
FBS vs. FCS
Home Visitor PiRate
Massachusetts Duquesne 17.4
Rice Prairie View 13.7

This Week’s PiRate Ratings 

Note: We will not offer retrodictive rankings this season–it is too time-consuming to use this algorithm.

PiRate Ratings
# Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 Alabama 132.0 129.3 133.8 131.7
2 Clemson 131.7 128.4 132.6 130.9
3 Georgia 130.9 126.3 132.4 129.8
4 Washington 128.1 125.0 130.7 127.9
5 Michigan St. 127.7 125.1 128.1 127.0
6 Ohio St. 125.1 122.3 125.6 124.3
7 Notre Dame 125.6 121.5 123.7 123.6
8 Auburn 122.0 121.2 124.4 122.5
9 Wisconsin 123.1 119.2 123.4 121.9
10 Michigan 121.7 120.6 122.7 121.6
11 Mississippi St. 122.5 119.2 122.7 121.5
12 Penn St. 121.2 117.7 121.6 120.2
13 Stanford 120.3 117.5 121.0 119.6
14 Miami 120.3 118.2 120.0 119.5
15 Oklahoma 119.5 117.7 119.8 119.0
16 Boston College 117.3 113.7 117.2 116.1
17 Oregon 114.4 114.5 115.1 114.7
18 Missouri 114.4 112.7 116.0 114.3
19 Northwestern 114.8 112.6 115.4 114.3
20 Virginia Tech 114.3 113.7 114.0 114.0
21 N. Carolina St. 113.8 113.0 113.6 113.5
22 Texas 113.2 111.9 112.8 112.6
23 S. Carolina 112.9 111.7 112.2 112.3
24 Florida 112.9 110.6 113.3 112.2
25 Oklahoma St. 113.2 110.8 112.7 112.2
26 Duke 113.3 110.4 112.4 112.1
27 T C U 112.7 112.0 111.5 112.0
28 Iowa 113.2 110.0 112.0 111.7
29 Georgia Tech 112.2 110.9 111.8 111.7
30 U S C 112.5 110.7 111.8 111.7
31 Florida St. 111.5 110.9 111.3 111.2
32 Utah 111.0 109.0 111.9 110.7
33 Central Florida 110.8 110.4 110.7 110.6
34 L S U 110.1 110.3 110.7 110.4
35 Texas A&M 110.7 109.6 110.7 110.3
36 Boise St. 110.2 109.3 110.9 110.1
37 Iowa State 110.7 108.8 110.2 109.9
38 California 110.3 107.5 110.1 109.3
39 West Virginia 110.0 108.8 109.1 109.3
40 Arizona 109.9 107.6 110.0 109.1
41 Wake Forest 109.8 107.5 107.3 108.2
42 Arkansas 109.3 106.4 107.6 107.8
43 Purdue 107.9 106.3 106.6 106.9
44 Kansas St. 107.4 106.0 106.8 106.7
45 Fresno St. 107.0 105.4 106.7 106.4
46 Kentucky 106.8 105.3 106.3 106.1
47 Washington St. 107.0 105.8 105.4 106.1
48 Ole Miss 105.3 105.1 106.1 105.5
49 Memphis 104.2 106.3 105.7 105.4
50 Pittsburgh 105.5 105.2 104.7 105.2
51 Louisville 105.1 105.3 104.6 105.0
52 Syracuse 106.2 104.2 104.6 105.0
53 Texas Tech 106.0 104.0 104.2 104.7
54 N. Carolina 105.3 104.3 104.5 104.7
55 Arizona St. 105.4 103.3 103.8 104.2
56 Minnesota 104.7 103.6 104.0 104.1
57 Florida Atlantic 102.0 103.0 103.3 102.8
58 Baylor 102.9 100.6 102.3 101.9
59 U C L A 102.5 102.2 100.0 101.5
60 Virginia 101.5 102.0 99.9 101.1
61 Maryland 102.2 100.2 100.5 101.0
62 Houston 99.9 101.4 101.0 100.8
63 Colorado 98.9 100.4 100.1 99.8
64 Navy 98.7 101.7 98.5 99.7
65 San Diego St. 98.7 99.5 99.8 99.3
66 Nebraska 100.5 98.7 97.8 99.0
67 Tennessee 98.8 99.5 98.4 98.9
68 Wyoming 98.5 98.6 98.8 98.6
69 Utah St. 96.8 98.3 98.1 97.7
70 South Florida 96.0 99.3 96.9 97.4
71 Rutgers 98.4 97.0 96.2 97.2
72 Indiana 97.8 96.3 97.3 97.1
73 Toledo 96.3 98.4 96.4 97.0
74 Northern Illinois 96.3 97.9 96.6 96.9
75 Vanderbilt 96.8 97.5 96.2 96.9
76 BYU 95.9 97.0 96.3 96.4
77 Ohio U 95.1 96.5 96.4 96.0
78 Temple 95.8 95.8 96.2 95.9
79 Army 95.6 96.4 95.5 95.9
80 Marshall 94.3 97.1 95.0 95.5
81 Buffalo 94.3 96.7 95.4 95.5
82 Louisiana Tech 93.8 96.4 95.2 95.1
83 Tulane 94.4 94.6 94.0 94.3
84 SMU 95.1 93.8 94.0 94.3
85 N. Texas 93.0 96.3 93.6 94.3
86 Illinois 94.0 93.5 92.9 93.5
87 Troy 91.8 93.7 93.7 93.1
88 Miami (O) 91.5 93.9 93.4 92.9
89 Western Michigan 91.5 93.8 92.9 92.8
90 Middle Tennessee 91.4 93.4 93.0 92.6
91 Kansas 93.9 92.3 91.6 92.6
92 Nevada 92.4 92.5 92.6 92.5
93 U A B 91.1 93.6 91.5 92.1
94 Tulsa 91.8 90.3 92.3 91.5
95 Air Force 91.7 91.7 90.9 91.4
96 Massachusetts 89.8 92.4 92.0 91.4
97 Akron 90.5 92.1 90.7 91.1
98 U N L V 89.1 90.8 89.6 89.8
99 Eastern Michigan 89.1 90.5 89.8 89.8
100 Old Dominion 87.5 91.3 89.0 89.3
101 Arkansas St. 88.0 89.8 89.7 89.2
102 Appalachian St. 87.5 89.1 88.7 88.4
103 UL-Monroe 87.3 86.7 88.1 87.4
104 Cincinnati 87.1 88.5 86.5 87.3
105 Oregon St. 88.5 86.0 86.9 87.1
106 Colo. State 85.6 87.1 86.1 86.3
107 New Mexico 85.7 87.6 85.3 86.2
108 Central Michigan 84.8 88.5 85.2 86.2
109 Bowling Green 85.1 85.4 85.7 85.4
110 Florida Int’l. 82.0 86.8 82.6 83.8
111 Connecticut 84.1 84.4 82.8 83.8
112 N. Mexico St. 82.0 85.3 82.5 83.3
113 Southern Miss. 81.6 85.0 82.1 82.9
114 Georgia Southern 82.5 83.7 82.4 82.9
115 South Alabama 81.4 83.8 82.6 82.6
116 U T S A 80.2 85.6 81.6 82.5
117 East Carolina 83.1 82.2 82.0 82.4
118 W. Kentucky 80.4 84.6 81.2 82.1
119 Kent St. 80.2 81.6 79.5 80.4
120 Louisiana 78.9 81.1 79.9 80.0
121 Georgia St. 77.6 80.6 78.4 78.9
122 Ball St. 77.7 80.4 77.4 78.5
123 Charlotte 76.2 78.7 76.3 77.1
124 San Jose St. 76.6 77.4 74.8 76.3
125 Liberty 75.2 73.9 74.2 74.5
126 Coastal Carolina 73.2 76.4 73.6 74.4
127 Hawaii 74.4 76.4 72.2 74.3
128 Rice 71.4 74.5 69.7 71.9
129 Texas State 70.4 73.9 69.9 71.4
130 U T E P 69.3 72.5 68.6 70.1

PiRate Ratings By Conference

American Athletic Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average AAC Overall
Central Florida 110.8 110.4 110.7 110.6 0-0 0-0
South Florida 96.0 99.3 96.9 97.4 0-0 0-0
Temple 95.8 95.8 96.2 95.9 0-0 0-0
Cincinnati 87.1 88.5 86.5 87.3 0-0 0-0
Connecticut 84.1 84.4 82.8 83.8 0-0 0-0
East Carolina 83.1 82.2 82.0 82.4 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average AAC Overall
Memphis 104.2 106.3 105.7 105.4 0-0 0-0
Houston 99.9 101.4 101.0 100.8 0-0 0-0
Navy 98.7 101.7 98.5 99.7 0-0 0-0
Tulane 94.4 94.6 94.0 94.3 0-0 0-0
SMU 95.1 93.8 94.0 94.3 0-0 0-0
Tulsa 91.8 90.3 92.3 91.5 0-0 0-0
AAC Averages 95.1 95.7 95.1 95.3
Atlantic Coast Conference
Atlantic Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average ACC Overall
Clemson 131.7 128.4 132.6 130.9 0-0 0-0
Boston College 117.3 113.7 117.2 116.1 0-0 0-0
N. Carolina St. 113.8 113.0 113.6 113.5 0-0 0-0
Florida St. 111.5 110.9 111.3 111.2 0-0 0-0
Wake Forest 109.8 107.5 107.3 108.2 0-0 0-0
Louisville 105.1 105.3 104.6 105.0 0-0 0-0
Syracuse 106.2 104.2 104.6 105.0 0-0 0-0
Coastal Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average ACC Overall
Miami 120.3 118.2 120.0 119.5 0-0 0-0
Virginia Tech 114.3 113.7 114.0 114.0 0-0 0-0
Duke 113.3 110.4 112.4 112.1 0-0 0-0
Georgia Tech 112.2 110.9 111.8 111.7 0-0 0-0
Pittsburgh 105.5 105.2 104.7 105.2 0-0 0-0
N. Carolina 105.3 104.3 104.5 104.7 0-0 0-0
Virginia 101.5 102.0 99.9 101.1 0-0 0-0
ACC Averages 112.0 110.6 111.3 111.3
Big 12 Conference
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average B12 Overall
Oklahoma 119.5 117.7 119.8 119.0 0-0 0-0
Texas 113.2 111.9 112.8 112.6 0-0 0-0
Oklahoma St. 113.2 110.8 112.7 112.2 0-0 0-0
T C U 112.7 112.0 111.5 112.0 0-0 0-0
Iowa State 110.7 108.8 110.2 109.9 0-0 0-0
West Virginia 110.0 108.8 109.1 109.3 0-0 0-0
Kansas St. 107.4 106.0 106.8 106.7 0-0 0-0
Texas Tech 106.0 104.0 104.2 104.7 0-0 0-0
Baylor 102.9 100.6 102.3 101.9 0-0 0-0
Kansas 93.9 92.3 91.6 92.6 0-0 0-0
Big 12 Averages 108.9 107.3 108.1 108.1
Big Ten Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average BTen Overall
Michigan St. 127.7 125.1 128.1 127.0 0-0 0-0
Ohio St. 125.1 122.3 125.6 124.3 0-0 0-0
Michigan 121.7 120.6 122.7 121.6 0-0 0-0
Penn St. 121.2 117.7 121.6 120.2 0-0 0-0
Maryland 102.2 100.2 100.5 101.0 0-0 0-0
Rutgers 98.4 97.0 96.2 97.2 0-0 0-0
Indiana 97.8 96.3 97.3 97.1 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average BTen Overall
Wisconsin 123.1 119.2 123.4 121.9 0-0 0-0
Northwestern 114.8 112.6 115.4 114.3 0-0 0-0
Iowa 113.2 110.0 112.0 111.7 0-0 0-0
Purdue 107.9 106.3 106.6 106.9 0-0 0-0
Minnesota 104.7 103.6 104.0 104.1 0-0 0-0
Nebraska 100.5 98.7 97.8 99.0 0-0 0-0
Illinois 94.0 93.5 92.9 93.5 0-0 0-0
Big Ten Averages 110.9 108.8 110.3 110.0
Conference USA
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average CUSA Overall
Florida Atlantic 102.0 103.0 103.3 102.8 0-0 0-0
Marshall 94.3 97.1 95.0 95.5 0-0 0-0
Middle Tennessee 91.4 93.4 93.0 92.6 0-0 0-0
Old Dominion 87.5 91.3 89.0 89.3 0-0 0-0
Florida Int’l. 82.0 86.8 82.6 83.8 0-0 0-0
W. Kentucky 80.4 84.6 81.2 82.1 0-0 0-0
Charlotte 76.2 78.7 76.3 77.1 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average CUSA Overall
Louisiana Tech 93.8 96.4 95.2 95.1 0-0 0-0
N. Texas 93.0 96.3 93.6 94.3 0-0 0-0
U A B 91.1 93.6 91.5 92.1 0-0 0-0
Southern Miss. 81.6 85.0 82.1 82.9 0-0 0-0
U T S A 80.2 85.6 81.6 82.5 0-0 0-0
Rice 71.4 74.5 69.7 71.9 0-0 0-0
U T E P 69.3 72.5 68.6 70.1 0-0 0-0
CUSA Averages 85.3 88.5 85.9 86.6
FBS Independents
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average Overall
Notre Dame 125.6 121.5 123.7 123.6 0-0
BYU 95.9 97.0 96.3 96.4 0-0
Army 95.6 96.4 95.5 95.9 0-0
Massachusetts 89.8 92.4 92.0 91.4 0-0
N. Mexico St. 82.0 85.3 82.5 83.3 0-0
Liberty 75.2 73.9 74.2 74.5 0-0
Indep. Averages 94.0 94.4 94.0 94.2
Mid-American Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average MAC Overall
Ohio U 95.1 96.5 96.4 96.0 0-0 0-0
Buffalo 94.3 96.7 95.4 95.5 0-0 0-0
Miami (O) 91.5 93.9 93.4 92.9 0-0 0-0
Akron 90.5 92.1 90.7 91.1 0-0 0-0
Bowling Green 85.1 85.4 85.7 85.4 0-0 0-0
Kent St. 80.2 81.6 79.5 80.4 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average MAC Overall
Toledo 96.3 98.4 96.4 97.0 0-0 0-0
Northern Illinois 96.3 97.9 96.6 96.9 0-0 0-0
Western Michigan 91.5 93.8 92.9 92.8 0-0 0-0
Eastern Michigan 89.1 90.5 89.8 89.8 0-0 0-0
Central Michigan 84.8 88.5 85.2 86.2 0-0 0-0
Ball St. 77.7 80.4 77.4 78.5 0-0 0-0
MAC Averages 89.4 91.3 90.0 90.2
Mountain West Conference
Mountain Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average MWC Overall
Boise St. 110.2 109.3 110.9 110.1 0-0 0-0
Wyoming 98.5 98.6 98.8 98.6 0-0 0-0
Utah St. 96.8 98.3 98.1 97.7 0-0 0-0
Air Force 91.7 91.7 90.9 91.4 0-0 0-0
Colo. State 85.6 87.1 86.1 86.3 0-0 0-0
New Mexico 85.7 87.6 85.3 86.2 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average MWC Overall
Fresno St. 107.0 105.4 106.7 106.4 0-0 0-0
San Diego St. 98.7 99.5 99.8 99.3 0-0 0-0
Nevada 92.4 92.5 92.6 92.5 0-0 0-0
U N L V 89.1 90.8 89.6 89.8 0-0 0-0
San Jose St. 76.6 77.4 74.8 76.3 0-0 0-0
Hawaii 74.4 76.4 72.2 74.3 0-0 0-0
MWC Averages 92.2 92.9 92.2 92.4
Pac-12 Conference
North Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average P12 Overall
Washington 128.1 125.0 130.7 127.9 0-0 0-0
Stanford 120.3 117.5 121.0 119.6 0-0 0-0
Oregon 114.4 114.5 115.1 114.7 0-0 0-0
California 110.3 107.5 110.1 109.3 0-0 0-0
Washington St. 107.0 105.8 105.4 106.1 0-0 0-0
Oregon St. 88.5 86.0 86.9 87.1 0-0 0-0
South Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average P12 Overall
U S C 112.5 110.7 111.8 111.7 0-0 0-0
Utah 111.0 109.0 111.9 110.7 0-0 0-0
Arizona 109.9 107.6 110.0 109.1 0-0 0-0
Arizona St. 105.4 103.3 103.8 104.2 0-0 0-0
U C L A 102.5 102.2 100.0 101.5 0-0 0-0
Colorado 98.9 100.4 100.1 99.8 0-0 0-0
Pac-12 Averages 109.1 107.4 108.9 108.5
Southeastern Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average SEC Overall
Georgia 130.9 126.3 132.4 129.8 0-0 0-0
Missouri 114.4 112.7 116.0 114.3 0-0 0-0
S. Carolina 112.9 111.7 112.2 112.3 0-0 0-0
Florida 112.9 110.6 113.3 112.2 0-0 0-0
Kentucky 106.8 105.3 106.3 106.1 0-0 0-0
Tennessee 98.8 99.5 98.4 98.9 0-0 0-0
Vanderbilt 96.8 97.5 96.2 96.9 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average SEC Overall
Alabama 132.0 129.3 133.8 131.7 0-0 0-0
Auburn 122.0 121.2 124.4 122.5 0-0 0-0
Mississippi St. 122.5 119.2 122.7 121.5 0-0 0-0
L S U 110.1 110.3 110.7 110.4 0-0 0-0
Texas A&M 110.7 109.6 110.7 110.3 0-0 0-0
Arkansas 109.3 106.4 107.6 107.8 0-0 0-0
Ole Miss 105.3 105.1 106.1 105.5 0-0 0-0
SEC Averages 113.2 111.8 113.6 112.9
Sunbelt Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average SBC Overall
Troy 91.8 93.7 93.7 93.1 0-0 0-0
Appalachian St. 87.5 89.1 88.7 88.4 0-0 0-0
Georgia Southern 82.5 83.7 82.4 82.9 0-0 0-0
Georgia St. 77.6 80.6 78.4 78.9 0-0 0-0
Coastal Carolina 73.2 76.4 73.6 74.4 0-0 0-0
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average SBC Overall
Arkansas St. 88.0 89.8 89.7 89.2 0-0 0-0
UL-Monroe 87.3 86.7 88.1 87.4 0-0 0-0
South Alabama 81.4 83.8 82.6 82.6 0-0 0-0
Louisiana 78.9 81.1 79.9 80.0 0-0 0-0
Texas State 70.4 73.9 69.9 71.4 0-0 0-0
Sun Belt Averages 81.9 83.9 82.7 82.8
PiRate Ratings By Conference
# League PiRate Mean Bias Average
1 SEC 113.2 111.8 113.6 112.9
2 ACC 112.0 110.6 111.3 111.3
3 BTEN 110.9 108.8 110.3 110.0
4 P-12 109.1 107.4 108.9 108.5
5 B12 108.9 107.3 108.1 108.1
6 AAC 95.1 95.7 95.1 95.3
7 IND 94.0 94.4 94.0 94.2
8 MWC 92.2 92.9 92.2 92.4
9 MAC 89.4 91.3 90.0 90.2
10 CUSA 85.3 88.5 85.9 86.6
11 SBC 81.9 83.9 82.7 82.8

This Week’s Bowl Projections

Bowl Conferences Team 1 Team 2
New Mexico MWC CUSA Nevada Southern Miss.
Cure CUSA SBC Navy Georgia Southern
Las Vegas MWC Pac-12 Fresno St. Arizona
Camellia MAC SBC Buffalo Appalachian St.
New Orleans CUSA SBC UAB UL-Monroe
Boca Raton MAC CUSA Toledo Marshall
Frisco AAC MAC Tulane Western Michigan
Gasparilla AAC CUSA USF North Texas
Bahamas AAC CUSA UCF Florida Atlantic
Idaho Potato MAC MWC Northern Illinois Utah St.
Birmingham AAC SEC Memphis [Army]
Armed Forces AAC Big 12 Houston [UCLA]
Doll. General MAC SBC Ohio Troy
Hawaii CUSA MWC Louisiana Tech Wyoming
Ht. of Dallas Big Ten CUSA [BYU] Middle Tennessee
Quick Lane ACC Big Ten Louisville Minnesota
Cactus Big 12 Pac-12 Iowa St. Washington St.
Independence ACC SEC Duke LSU
Pinstripe ACC Big Ten Georgia Tech Purdue
Texas Big 12 SEC TCU Mississippi St.
Music City ACC/B10 SEC Virginia Tech Tennessee
Camp. World ACC Big 12 Boston College West Virginia
Arizona MWC SBC San Diego St. Arkansas St.
Alamo Big 12 Pac-12 Oklahoma St. USC
Belk ACC SEC North Carolina St. South Carolina
Peach At-large At-large Miami (Fl) Texas
Military AAC ACC Temple Wake Forest
Sun ACC Pac-12 Florida St. California
San Francisco Big Ten Pac-12 Iowa Oregon
Liberty Big 12 SEC Kansas St. Texas A&M
Holiday Big Ten Pac-12 Michigan Utah
Gator ACC/B10 SEC Northwestern Florida
Outback Big Ten SEC Penn St. Missouri
Fiesta At-large At-large Ohio St. Boise St.
Citrus ACC/B10 SEC Wisconsin Auburn
Rose Big Ten Pac-12 Michigan St. Stanford
Sugar Big 12 SEC Oklahoma Georgia
FBS PLAYOFFS
Cotton FBS FBS Alabama Washington
Orange FBS FBS Clemson Notre Dame
Nat’l Champ. Orange Cotton Clemson Alabama
Teams in [Brackets] are at-large selections

This Week’s Selections–This will normally run on Thursdays and include both NCAA and NFL selections.  Since there are only 2 possible games this week, we will not make any selections.  We will not limit ourselves to just Money Line Parlays this season.  We will go with whatever we feel least indecisive about publicly listing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 17, 2018

2018 Big Ten Conference Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

Even before Ohio State had to put Meyer on paid leave, our summer PiRate Ratings had another team rated a little bit ahead of the Buckeyes. Michigan State won 10 games last year with wins over Michigan and Penn State. The Spartans were not as bad as they looked in the blowout loss in Columbus, and with practically the entire team returning plus the additions of some excellent talent that redshirted or saw minimal action, the Spartans begin the season ranked slightly higher than OSU.
Coach Mark Dantonio’s offense was not up to par last year, as Sparty averaged just 25 points and less than 350 yards per game. Things will be different this year, as returns 10 starters and a majority of the 2nd 11. Quarterback Brian Lewerke is not Khalil Tate, but the junior signal caller is primed to improve greatly on his passing numbers and equal or top his running numbers. Lewerke is known for breaking long runs in an unconventional manner. While he can break free on zone read plays, he has been known to make a simple quarterback sneak a long-gainer, and he can scramble as well as any contemporary.
Running back L.J. Scott can do a lot of damage between the tackles and then exploding outside once he gets through the line. He is powerful and has speed, and he excels at every part of the game, as a power runner with quick bursts to stretch the play wide; as a pass receiver (Ohio State got burned by a screen pass play to him); and as an incredible pass-protecting blocker).
The trio of Felton Davis, Cody White, and Darrell Stewart won’t confuse fans for the receivers at Oklahoma, but these guys are more than capable of making a defense that is expecting run pay dearly. Davis gives Lewerke the jump ball receiver in the end zone with his size and leaping ability.
An experience line with talent throughout should allow MSU to increase its offensive production to more than 30 points and 400 yards per game this year. Combine that with a highly-rated defense, and the Spartans can contend for a Playoff bid.
The strength of the defense is in the secondary, where free safety David Dowell intercepted 5 passes, knocked away 4 more, and recovered 2 fumbles. Cornerback Josiah Scott is a potential All Big Ten player as well.

Michigan State is solid at linebacker with Joe Bachie and Andrew Dowell returning, the team’s top two 2017 tacklers. Bachie intercepted three passes. If the Spartans are to reach the pinnacle, their pass rush will have to make a jump forward. End Kenny Willekes is capable of dumping the quarterback two or three times a game, but somebody else will need to step forward to prevent him from being double-teamed.

Michigan State might win an extra game with its special teams. Kicker Matt Coghlin was a perfect 38-38 on PATs and 15 of 19 on field goals. Punter Jake Hartbarger averaged 42 yards per punt with just 12 of his 69 punts returned for a measley 2.3 yards per return.

Ohio State has had to replace a head coach just prior to the start of a season in the recent past. In 2011, coming off a 12-1 season, Jim Tressel was dismissed, with Luke Fickell taking over as the interim. Ohio State fell to 6-7 and 3-5 in the Big Ten with the best talent in the conference not jelling. Urban Meyer became coach the next season and ran the table.

No matter who wears the headsets on the sideline on September 1st when the Buckeyes welcome a rebuilding Oregon State team to the Giant Horseshoe, Ohio State will look like Ohio State. The 2011 team commenced its season with a 42-0 win over Akron. It will be September 15, before the coaching issue might matter, when Ohio State plays TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Ohio State rarely must rebuild when they lose highly-talented players every year, and this year is no different. Quarterback J.T. Barrett passed for 35 touchdowns and ran for a dozen more in his final year in Columbus. Normally, replacing a star talent like Barrett would lead to a major drop in offensive production, but not at this football factory. Ohio State’s probable third string quarterback until the number two guy transferred was a former high school phenom who out-dueled Josh Rosen, never lost a game in his high school career, and has been compared to Doug Flutie. Tate Martell will have to wait his turn, while Dwayne Haskins runs the offense. Haskins has the better arm and can force defenses to keep an extra man in the passing zones, while Martell is the scrambler type, the type that wouldn’t lose a game of tag, but with the need to work on his passing mechanics a little more.
The Buckeyes are loaded at running back with the return of J. K. Dobbins (1,403 yards 7.2 avg) and Mike Weber (626 yards 6.2 avg 10 TDs). Weber is a little more powerful, but Dobbins is the better pass-catching threat.

As good as the running back unit is, the receiver unit is better, again not as good as Oklahoma, but as good as any other Big Ten foe. Parris Campbell is the current Percy Harvin for this offense. The speedy hybrid receiver is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, be it on the speed sweep or via the pass (or as a kick returner). When you can catch a pass at the line of scrimmage and take it all the way, defenses must tell their safeties to retreat, and that opens the middle for bigger receivers as well as gives running backs more room to break free.

The Buckeye offensive line is the best in the East Division and second best in the league. Their version of Michael Jordan is a tall and strong guard who opens holes inside and stops enemy pass rushers. Tackle Isaiah Prince makes the left side of the Ohio State line mighty tough. The line should allow the Buckeyes to top 40 points and 500 yards again this year, unless there is a mini-train wreck with Meyer being dismissed.

Ohio State begins the season just behind Michigan State because their defense lost a lot of talented players, including the top three tacklers, two of 2017’s top pass rushing trio, and players responsible for 2/3 of the interceptions. One position that will be strong is at end, where Nick Bosa returns following a year where he finished third in the league with 16 tackles for loss and tied for first with 9 sacks. Robert Landers assumes the vacant end position.

Tuf Borland anchors the second line of defense, but this is one area of concern in 2018. Ohio State is thin at linebacker, and it wouldn’t surprise us if they eventually transition to more of a 4-2-5 team if they can uncover enough quality in their backfield. Ohio State has some re-tooling to do in the back line of defense, where cornerback Damon Arnette and safety Jordan Fuller need some help.

If Meyer is not able to coach this team, Ohio State will be at least a touchdown to 10 points weaker in 2018. Still, the Buckeyes would be a contender for the East Division crown, but not the top or even second choice to do so.

This is a pivotal year for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. The former NFC Champion coach with the 49ers has not worked the same magic at his alma mater that he was able to do at Stanford. This year gives him his best chance, and if the Wolverines don’t look as powerful as they did during the Bo Schembechler days, the fans in Ann Arbor may demand change.
The Maize and Blue have the talent to compete and even contend for a playoff bid this year, and if Harbaugh can get his new quarterback to play like he did against Auburn and Texas A&M while leading the Ole Miss offense, the pieces are in place for the Champions of the West to make a run at the championship of the Big Ten East.
Shea Patterson took his redshirt off late in the 2016 season at Ole Miss and looked like the next Archie Manning with his exceptional running ability and passing arm. Seven games into his sophomore season, Patterson’s season ended with a knee injury against LSU. Still, in just 6 1/2 games with the Rebels, his 2,259 passing yards and 17 touchdowns topped the entire Michigan offense in 13 games by more than 300 yards!

Michigan still has issues in the offensive line, where three starters return but only guard Ben Bredeson being all-conference quality. Patterson may be on the run too many times this year if the blocking cannot improve, and the ground game may stall like it did last year against teams like Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and South Carolina, the five teams that beat them.

If the line blocks just a tad bit better than average, the Michigan ground game will succeed. Patterson can take some of the defensive keying off Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, which should help the two running backs top their combined rushing for 1,679 yards and 17 touchdowns. Give Higdon a little room, and he can explode for 7-10 yards quickly. Evans is better equipped to earn the tough yards when they are needed.
Michigan has a young but somewhat experienced group of receivers. Last year’s starters did not shine, and this year’s replacements could easily make UM fans forget the 2017 starters. The best receivers may be tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry, and Michigan could succeed with the double tight end alignment this year. Patterson went to his tight ends in Oxford last year for some nice gains and conversions.

Make no mistake about it; Michigan’s bread and butter is their defense, and as good as the Wolverines were at stopping enemy offenses last year, 2018 could be very special. UM finished tops in the nation in passing yards allowed and third in total yards. Their secondary is even better this year, and we believe the Wolverines can lower last year’s points allowed per game from 18.8 to 15, especially if the offense sustains more drives.
In 19 years out of 20, a secondary this talented would be the tops in the land. This is that 20th year, when Washington has one of the best secondaries of all time. Michigan ranks just behind with the top two cornerbacks in the league. Lavert Hill and David Long may not put up the jazziest of numbers, but quarterbacks tend to throw the ball elsewhere. Think of it like issuing an intentional walk to a 50-homer guy in baseball.

The middle trio of this defense features two All Big Ten players in Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush. Both are complete players that can stop the run, dump the quarterback, and defend against the pass. Bush might contend for the Butkus Award this year.

The defensive line is the weakest unit on this team, but it is still a big asset that is almost as strong as their rivals’ to the South’s d-line. End Rashan Gary should make first team all-conference if he stays healthy. Opposite side end Chase Vinovich could have been playing for pay this year, but he chose to return to Ann Arbor, and with another great year, his draft stock should go up.

Michigan begins the season playing what could be a playoff qualifier. The Wolverines travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame in the top game of the opening week of football. The winner of that game should carry the momentum forward to a 7-0 start through mid-October. Michigan has some tough games in the second half, having to face Sparty in East Lansing and Ohio State at the Giant Horseshoe plus host Wisconsin and Penn State. This team has the talent to go 11-1 or 10-2, but with just a little less production, UM could find itself back at 5-4 in the league, which would be dangerous for Harbaugh’s chances to return in 2019.

Penn State coach James Franklin worked his magic at Vanderbilt, doing the unthinkable by winning nine games in back-to-back seasons, both years finishing in the top 25, and by beating Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in the same season. So, it should come as no surprise that he would do wonders in Happy Valley, as the Nittany Lions just enjoyed their first back-to-back 11-win seasons since Joe Paterno was still walking the sidelines.

Coming off a Big Ten championship in 2016, the Nittany Lions may have been a little better last year, even though they came up a game short in the East Division standings. The two losses were by a combined four points, so the Nittany Lions were oh so close from running the table and making it to the Playoffs.

We expect Penn State to take a slight backward turn this year, because their defense is almost entirely new this year. Only one two starters return on this side of the ball, and none of them played in the secondary last year. Amani Oruwariye actually made the All Big Ten Second team last year as a key reserve, so the defensive backfield is not in as bad a shape as it appears to be.

Linebacker U must have talent in the middle of their defense, and this year is no different. Koa Farmer, a converted safety and Cameron Brown give the defense a pair of talented stoppers.

The front four has talent as well, led by end Shareef Miller. In a league with multiple star defensive ends, Miller takes a back seat to nobody. He led Penn State with 11 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks.

The Penn State defense will not be as stingy as last year, when they finished 6th nationally in scoring defense, but the decline will not be severe. Expect Penn State to give up about 21 to 23 points per game this year.

The offense returns its star quarterback, but it loses its heart, as superstar running back Saquon Barkley has taken his 1,271 rushing yards, 632 receiving yards, the nation’s best kick returning, and his 23 total touchdowns to the New York Giants. Miles Sanders might rush for 1,000 yards replacing Barkley, but he won’t be the all-purpose player that comes around to a school about as often as Halley’s Comet.

Trace McSorley needs to have an incredible finish to his career to move up the ranks in a very heavily talented field of draft-eligible quarterbacks. He’d probably be an undrafted free agent if this were next May. He’s a tad undersized and lacks the arm strength to contend with players like Patterson at Michigan, but for Penn State’s offense, he is more than adequate, bordering on stardom.

McSorley will need wideout Juwan Johnson to have a breakout year, as he is the only one of three 50+ catch receivers left on the roster. Johnson provides a big target and has a nice combination of speed and agility to go with excellent hands. If DeAndre Thompkins can be the 1A receiver and play like he did as a secondary talent last year, then the Penn State passing game should be in good shape.

The best news on this side of the ball is that the offensive line might be the most improved of any in the league. Five players with significant starting experience plus three others that will earn extensive playing time should give McSorley the time he needs to locate open receivers and open some holes for the running game.

Maryland is a team with a lot of dissension at the present time. Coach Durkin has the support of his players, and if he is fired, we expect the this program to be affected more than Ohio State’s losing Meyer would be. This team was on the cusp of contending for bowl eligibility, but it would not surprise us if the Terrapins fell to the bottom of the division and even go 0-9 if the players don’t rally around interim head coach Matt Canada, who just arrived from LSU.

The Terp offense will move on the ground more than through the air this year after being exactly equal in 2017 with 162 yards rushing and 162 yards passing per game. The running back tandem of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison should team up for about 1,800 yards with the improved blocking expected from an experience offensive line that welcomes back the top five players from last year.

Maryland leads the nation in only one quarterback statistic, and unfortunately, that is number of quarterbacks used. The recent history has been quite negative as to the incredible number of QBs in need of disability insurance. Last year was more of the same in College Park, as the first two were done for the year in Mid-September. To complicate matters further, Maryland will switch from a shotgun alignment to an under-center alignment this year. Redshirt Freshman Kasim Hill and sophomore Tyrell Pigrome have very limited experience, but one of the two will start against Texas on September 1.

Maryland basically threw the ball to two players last year, and one returns in 2018. Taivon Jacobs turned 47 catches into 553 yards and 5 TDs last year. Jacobs will not be able to make up for the receptions and yards lost when D. J. Moore became a first round pick in the NFL Draft.

Maryland needs to re-tool a little on the defensive side, but there are some athletes here that can shine. The Terps use the 3-3-5 defense, and the secondary will be the strongest unit on the team. Safety Darnell Savage intercepted three passes last year and returned one for a touchdown. He led UM with 8 passed defended. Nickel back Antoine Brooks finished second on the team with 77 tackles last year, and he proved to be an excellent run defender, finishing with a team-leading 9 1/2 tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker Isaiah Davis is the lone returning starter at linebacker. The Terps need Buck linebacker Jesse Aniebonam to emerge as a force coming back from injury after starring there in 2016, when he made 9 QB sacks.

With Durkin as coach, we were prepared to give Maryland a 50-50 shot at bowl eligibility this year and a 90% chance of getting five wins. If Durkin is dismissed, this team could fall to 2-10, and there will be a long coaching search trying to find somebody to right the ship.

Rutgers found a way to win four games last year with an offense that averaged just 18 points and 263 yards per game. The Scarlet Knights scored just 71 points in their eight losses. Coach Chris Ash is a defensive specialist, having been the defensive coordinator at Ohio State and Arkansas before coming to RU. Quietly, he doubled the win total between his first and second year, and he returns more experience this year than either of his first two seasons in New Brunswick.

The offense should experience some improvement this year, but don’t expect too much. Quarterback Giovanni Rescigno shared the job last year with less than stellar results, so there is only one way to go from 47% completions and 5.2 yards per pass attempt. Tight end Jerome Washington returns after leading RU with just 28 receptions and 282 yards. Former Boston College running back Jonathan Hillman and talented sophomore Raheem Blackshear will get the brunt of the rushing attempts. Blackshear has the ability to break a long gain via the run or the pass, but his diminutive size will limit the amount of touches he can get and stay healthy. The offensive line is anything but an asset, as the Scarlet Knights frequently allowed pass rushers to get into the backfield quickly.

The RU defense will most likely carry the team on its shoulders again this season. This unit limited Purdue to 12 points, but it is not one of the league’s premier stop troops. Eight starters return from 2017, so Rutgers’ numbers on this side of the ball could improve a little after finishing 11th against the run and 10th against the pass.

Linebackers Deonte Roberts and Trevor Morris finished one-two in tackles last year, and they could both top 100 tackles this year. There are multiple players with experience returning to the secondary, but none appear to be ready to challenge for all conference honors. The pass rush was close to nonexistent last year, and the top pass rusher used up his eligibility.

Indiana was on the verge of turning the program around into an annual bowl-contender until they decided it was time for Kevin Wilson to go. Wilson ended up at Ohio State as an assistant, while Tom Allen took over in Bloomington. After a 5-7 finish last year, it could be difficult to contend fro a 6-win season and bowl bid this season.

The defense gave Indiana a chance to compete in several games last year, and this year, a major rebuilding task will send the defensive averages up by about 7-10 points per game. The offense will not be that much better if any better at all, so the Hoosiers may have to fight to stay out of the basement if Maryland doesn’t implode.

The old saying goes that if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. What does it say when you have three? Allen was not all that pleased with the depth chart here, and late in Spring, he signed former Arizona Wildcat starter Brandon Dawkins to join the competition between Sophomore Peyton Ramsey and true freshman Michael Penix. Dawkins performed admirably under center in Tucson, but he was not going to see a lot of time with Khalil Tate on the roster. He is an excellent dual-threat player and should eventually become the starter.

The Hoosiers have a decent but not flashy running back duo that should help IU top the 130 rushing yards per game from last season. Morgan Ellison and Cole Gest should both get 7-12 attempts per game.

Two of the three starters returning on defense play in the secondary. Cornerback Andre Brown is not one of the top 10 at his position in the Big Ten. Jonathan Crawford is a decent but not exceptional strong safety. The Hoosiers have numerous inexperienced players with promising talent, but this secondary is vulnerable.

At least the secondary has some experience. The front seven is void of experienced starters. There are a couple of players in the trenches that look like Big Ten athletes. Tackle Jacob Robinson should make some big plays from the inside, but IU is weak everywhere else up front.

They were oh so close last year, but came up a bit short. Wisconsin ran the table in the regular season beating Northwestern by two games, while no other team in the West Division finished above .500 in league play. The Badgers are still the favorite to repeat as division champions, but they won’t be as good this year as they were in 2017. The Badger offense will need to be the best defense this year, because UW lost a considerable amount of talent on the other side of the ball from the league’s top defense.

The Badgers are noted for having excellent offensive linemen, tight ends, and powerful running backs. Expect more of the same in 2018, as the nation’s best offensive line is loaded with talent and experience. There is such incredible depth here that some of the backups could start for other Top 25 teams! Three of the players could make All-American! Tackle Michael Deiter could be the first tackle picked in the 2019 NFL Draft, but he is the second best on the team, and he is actually better utilized at guard. Dave Edwards is a beast. He is strong, quick, and agile, having been an option quarterback in high school.

Wisconsin lost a fine tight end in Troy Fumagalli (46 catches 547 yards), but when they still have two fine players nominated to the John Mackey Award Watch List. Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston can block like guards but can sneak into the secondary and turn a short pass into a nice gain.

Fumagalli was the leading pass receiver, but the three two wideout receivers are back this year. Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor, and Danny Davis combined for just 87 pass receptions, but the trio averaged 16 yards per reception with 16 touchdowns.

Alex Hornibrook returns as the starting quarterback, and if he moves forward as much this season as he did last season, he could challenge McSorley and Lewerke for first team all-conference honors. His top job though will be handing the ball off to Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 1,977 yards as a freshman.

If the Badgers stumble this year, it will be because their defense allows opponents to score points faster than the offense can respond. After giving up less than 14 points per game, less than 100 rushing yards, and just 262 total yards per game. The Badgers are still strong at linebacker with last year’s top two tacklers returning. T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly combined for 169 tackles with 22 for lost yardage; they picked up 5 passes, with Edwards taking one to the house.

Nose Tackle Olive Sagapolu can stop the two A-gaps without doing much of anything. At 346 pounds, he is tough to move out of the way and can force running attacks to direct plays to the next gap over. The Badgers are totally inexperienced at the end positions, and this will be a concern at the start of the season.

In the defensive backfield, safety D’Cota Dixon is the lone returning starter, and while he is excellent against the run, he is not a pass defense star.

Wisconsin will have time to get their new defensive players some playing time against three beatable opponents. The September 22nd game at Iowa could go a long way in determining the West Division champion.

Northwestern returns enough talent on both sides of the ball to give Wisconsin and Iowa fierce competition for the West Division flag. The University spent $260 million building the finest indoor facility in the nation, right on Lake Michigan, and the Wildcats are going to ramp up recruiting and possibly become the football equivalent of Duke Basketball, where the finest combination of athletic and academic successes end up in Evanston. This is down the road; for now, Coach Pat Fitzgerald tries to improve on a 10-3 season that included a narrow win over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.

Clayton Thorson may not be an all-conference selection, but the senior quarterback has a good shot to hear his name announced in the 2019 NFL Draft. Thorson’s 2017 season was a bit off the 2016 season, but with his size and strength, NFL teams will have an interest in him. He has a a pair of experienced wide receivers returning, and Ben Skowronek and Flynn Nagel were the leading receivers last year.

Thorson relied on a lot of passes to his backs, and he will miss Justin Jackson’s 44 receptions and 1,311 rushing yards. Jeremy Larkin actually had better averages than Jackson in limited touches, as he has breakaway speed when he gets a little open space. The offensive line should be strong on the right side, but the left side could pose problems against some tough defensive stars.

Defensively, the Wildcats are stronger in the front seven and lacking in experience in their back line. Linebackers Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall combined to make 192 tackles with 26 for loss. Hall blitzed and sacked the QB five times. Up front, Samdup Miller and Joe Gaziano teamed for 14 1/2 sacks and 21 1/2 total tackles for loss. The secondary has just one returning starter. Montre Hartage intercepted a couple of passes, but this unit is lacking in stars.
Usually, Big Ten teams begin the season with a winnable game against a Group of 5 opponent. This year, Northwestern begins the season on the road in a pivotal conference game against Purdue. Then, in November, when Big Ten teams rarely play out of conference, the Wildcats host Notre Dame. The schedule is not favorable for a run at a division flag.

On the other hand, Iowa has a very favorable schedule to make a run at the division flag, even if like Wisconsin, they have a lot of replacing to do on the defensive side. Coach Kirk Ferentz enters his 20th season in Iowa City, and as a gift, the Hawkeyes are the only team in the Big Ten that does not play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State.

On the offensive side, they Hawkeyes are led by their best player, quarterback Nate Stanley. Stanley came from out of almost nowhere to take over at QB last year and surprised the nation with 26 touchdown passes and 2.432 passing yards. Included in those stats were 5 TD pass games against Iowa State and Ohio State.

Like many teams in this league, Iowa uses a lot of two tight end sets, and the Hawkeyes return both starters this year. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson teamed up to grab 54 passes good for 814 yards and 14 touchdowns. They will team up with top wideout Nick Easley to make Iowa’s passing game strong. The running game may be a work in progress with last year’s two top backs no longer around. Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin saw limited action in 2017 and looked capable of becoming contributors this year, but the Iowa running game may be down a little this year.

The defensive liability that will hurt the Hawkeyes this year is the middle of the defense. All of last year’s top linebackers are gone, and there isn’t much experience returning. Iowa will be vulnerable early against the short passing game and play-action passes until the new linebackers get enough reps to understand how to play at full speed. This is not the case up front, where the defensive line should be rather strong this year. Ends Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse should get to the enemy quarterback a fair amount of times and stop running backs on stretch plays often enough to encourage offenses to try something else.

The secondary may have four new starters this year, even though there is returning starting experience. The Hawkeyes will miss star defensive back Joshua Jackson and his eight interceptions.

Who saw this coming last year? Purdue was picked to maybe contend for fifth place in the division and hopefully win four or five games. Under new coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers looked more like the Drew Brees team that played at Ross-Ade Stadium 20 years ago than recent Purdue squads. Purdue Missouri, Minnesota, and Iowa in the regular season, and then secured a winning season by topping Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl.
It is more of the same for the Boilermakers offensively this year, but like most of the division, they must rebuild on the other side of the ball. The offense improved only marginally in scoring average in Brohm’s first season in West Lafayette, but the defense shaved 18 points off the scoring average allowed.

A tight race for the starting quarterback job is still too close to call. Last year, Elijah Sindelar got a majority of the snaps, but he did so only because David Blough was out for the year with an injury. Sindelar played the last few weeks on a torn ACL, but both should be ready to begin the year. It could easily continue to be undecided into the season, as both could play.

The Boilermakers need true freshman Rondale Moore to live up to his credentials as soon as possible, because there isn’t a go-to guy on the roster. Most of the returning receivers are capable second and third options, but only if there is a play-making first option.

The running game should be slightly improved, even though last year’s starter has graduated. Markell Jones and Tario Fuller will carry the ball behind an experienced line featuring Rimington Award contender Kirk Barron at center.

Purdue’s run defense was one of the better groups in the nation last year, but most of the stars that made it so powerful won’t be on the sidelines this year. One of those who will be back is middle linebacker Markus Bailey, who finished second on the team in tackles and first in sacks. He played on the strongside last year, but he will return to the middle in 2018.

The front four has questions, especially at end, while there are concerns at the cornerback spots as well. Safeties Jacob Thieneman and Navon Mosley return as starters, but they were more of supporting role players than stars.

Purdue has two strong non-conference opponents on their schedule in Missouri and Boston College, and most of the winnable conference games are on the road this year. If Brohm can take the Boilermakers back to a bowl this year, it may be an even better coaching job than last year. It also may get him a lot of offers to coach at more successful programs.

Minnesota used to be as big a power in college football as Ohio State is today. That was nearly 60 years ago, but this school still has the resources to return to greatness. Second year coach P. J. Fleck knows how to recruit and coach, as he made Western Michigan a New Year’s Bowl participant. Fleck is a motivational coach in the mold of James Franklin, but don’t underestimate his ability to get the most out of the talent on hand. The Golden Gophers fell one victory short of qualifying for a bowl last year, but with a majority of his starters returning on both sides of the ball, Fleck should play game number 13 in December.

Minnesota couldn’t move the ball or score points well enough to find that elusive sixth win. Narrow losses to Maryland, Michigan State, and Iowa could have been wins with just a little more offense. Quarterback play was a major liability in 2017, so the fact that Minnesota will have a new signal caller in 2018 is not a bad thing. It was thought that either redshirt freshman Tanner Morhan or juco transfer Vic Viramontes will be under center when the Gophers take on New Mexico State in week one. However, in recent days it appears that true freshman walk-on Zack Annexstad might be the starter.

Annexstad is not your typical walk-on. He turned down scholarship offers at multiple FBS schools to pay to attend his father’s alma mater. He has the stronger arm and has the skills to lead this team to at least seven more points per game than last year.
UM is set at running back, where Rodney Smith narrowly missed topping 1,000 yards and could easily match or top his fine sophomore campaign, where he rushed for 1,158 yards. It’s at receiver where the Gophers are not yet quite up to standards of the top teams in the league. Tyler Johnson is a fine receiver, capable of turning a short pass into a long gain, but he cannot do it all himself. Freshmen and untested sophomores will man the other positions. The Gophers plan to create shade for the fans in the stadium, and they signed two of the largest offensive linemen in the game. Tackle Daniel Faalele tips the scale at 400 pounds on a 6 foot 9 inch frame. Curtis Dunlap is only 6-5 and 370. Both should add depth to an improving offensive line this year.

Unlike most of their division brethren, Minnesota has experience returning throughout the defensive side of the field. In fact, they have a star in each unit. End Carter Coughlin led the team with 6 1/2 sacks. Linebacker Thomas Barber led the team and finished third in the league with 115 tackles, including 10 1/2 for loss. Safety Antoine Winfield looked like an all-conference player when he was healthy in the four games he played.

Minnesota gave up 22.8 points per game and 347 yards per game, which in the Big 12 would have been outstanding. It’s just average in the Big Ten, and the Gophers have a chance to improve those numbers to 20 points and 330 yards given up. A non-conference schedule that should give them three wins means, they only have to go 3-6 to get back to a bowl. That’s a strong possibility.

There is a generation of college football fans that do not know that Nebraska was once what Alabama is today. The Cornhuskers last won the national championship 21 years ago and last looked like the best team ever 23 years ago. The Cornhuskers are a far cry from even respectability, but new coach Scott Frost should stir up excitement at his alma mater. Too bad he doesn’t have eligibility left, because Nebraska could use him under center. Two freshmen are competing for the starting quarterback job, Tristan Gebbia and Adrian Martinez. For the time being, both may play in the early games in hopes that one will emerge as the clear choice.

Whoever is in at quarterback, he will have a fine pair of receivers to aim his throws to. Stanley Morgan, Jr. and J.D. Spielman teamed for 116 receptions and 1,1816 yards. Morgan’s father was a star with the New England Patriots and likely headed to the NFL in another year.
In past years, it was not unusual for Nebraska to rush for 400 to 500 yards with 1st team All-American backs. Things have changed in Lincoln, as the Cornhuskers finished 13th in the league in rushing with just 107.5 yards per game last year. No back topped 500 yards rushing for the season, and leading returnee Tre Bryant fell short of 300 yards. A combination of having Frost’s hurry up spread offense and a better blocking wall should help Nebraska increase their rushing average by 30-50 yards per game this year.
The defense formerly and famously known as the Blackshirts in the dynasty years of this program looked more like the black and blue in recent years. Nebraska gave up 36.4 points and 436.2 yards per game last year, including 42 points to Oregon 56 to Ohio State, and a final three swoon that saw Minnesota, Penn State, and Iowa all top 50 points. Expect these numbers to shrink in 2018. We would not be shocked if NU shaved 10 or more points and 50 or more yards off those poor averages.

The front seven will lead the way in 2018. Nebraska switches to a 3-4 after being an even-front team last year. The move to defensive end from outside linebacker should help Ben Stille team up with Carlos Davis and Freedom Akinmoladun top the 7 sacks the trio produced last year. Linebacker Dedrick Young is the leading returning tackle, and he’ll team with juco transfer Will Honas to give the Cornhuskers a better second line of defense. Expect more aggressive play in the secondary this year, as defensive coordinator Erik Chinander prefers a defense that concentrates on forcing turnovers.
There is a path to six wins for Frost in his first year at Memorial Stadium, but it isn’t going to be easy. After an opening game at home with Akron, the next three games are a bit tricky.
Illinois finished last in offense and 12th in defense in the Big Ten last year, and Coach Lovie Smith realized that desperate measures were needed. After Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez, Smith hired his offensive coordinator, Rod Smith to try to jump start the Illini offense. Quarterback Cam Thomas flashed just enough talent in a relief appearance against Purdue last year to give Illinois fans hope that he can move the team with consistency. The cupboard isn’t bare in the receiving corps, as Mike Dudek, Ricky Smalling, and tight end Louis Dorsey all saw extended playing time in 2017 and combined to catch 77 passes. Mike Epstein led the team with 346 rushing yards, even though he wasn’t the starter. He should top 500 this year. The entire offensive line returns, so expect Illinois to do much better than the paltry 15.4 points and 280 yards per game this year.

Defensively, Illinois gave up 31.5 points and 418 yards per game last year and won only two games, against Ball State and Western Kentucky. In Big Ten play, they went 0-9 and only really challenged in one game. There really is no reason to believe those numbers will improve this year. The defensive line and secondary is the weakest in the Big Ten, and the linebacker trio is only marginally better.

This could be the end of the line for Smith as coach of the Illini. With a 5-19 record in two years, another double-digit loss season might not be acceptable.

Here is how the Big Ten Conference Media voted in the preseason poll, which was taken before Meyer and Durkin were put on leave.

Big Ten
East 1st Place Points
1. Ohio St. 23.5 191.5
2. Michigan St. 2 142
3. Penn St. 1 141.5
4. Michigan 1.5 140.5
5. Maryland 0 75.5
6. Indiana 0 60
7. Rutgers 0 33
West 1st Place Points
1. Wisconsin 28 196
2. Iowa 0 155
3. Northwestern 0 138
4. Nebraska 0 104
5. Purdue 0 98.5
6. Minnesota 0 64.5
7. Illinois 0 28

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat, and as we have mentioned, we expect considerable movement in these ratings, especially in the East Division if Meyer and/or Durkin are dismissed. LATE NOTE: It was announced Friday afternoon that the Meyer investigation would conclude on Sunday.

Big Ten Conference
East Division
Team BTen Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Michigan St. 0-0 0-0 127.7 125.1 128.1 127.0
Ohio St. 0-0 0-0 125.1 122.3 125.6 124.3
Michigan 0-0 0-0 121.7 120.6 122.7 121.6
Penn St. 0-0 0-0 121.2 117.7 121.6 120.2
Maryland 0-0 0-0 102.2 100.2 100.5 101.0
Rutgers 0-0 0-0 98.4 97.0 96.2 97.2
Indiana 0-0 0-0 97.8 96.3 97.3 97.1
West Division
Team BTen Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Wisconsin 0-0 0-0 123.1 119.2 123.4 121.9
Northwestern 0-0 0-0 114.8 112.6 115.4 114.3
Iowa 0-0 0-0 113.2 110.0 112.0 111.7
Purdue 0-0 0-0 107.9 106.3 106.6 106.9
Minnesota 0-0 0-0 104.7 103.6 104.0 104.1
Nebraska 0-0 0-0 100.5 98.7 97.8 99.0
Illinois 0-0 0-0 94.0 93.5 92.9 93.5
Big Ten Averages 110.9 108.8 110.3 110.0

 

New Coaches
Not counting the two interim head coaches, Scott Frost is the lone new head coach in the league this year. Frost left undefeated Central Florida to return to his alma mater Nebraska. He turned UCF from an 0-12 team to a 14-0 team in just two years. If he can get Nebraska to a bowl in year one and then compete for 9 wins in 2019, he will have some property named after him in Lincoln.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. Ohio State and Maryland could see their ratings change by large amounts depending on the outcome of the two coaching investigations.

Team Conference Overall
East
Michigan St. 9-0 13-0*
Ohio St. 8-1 11-1
Michigan 7-2 10-2
Penn St. 6-3 9-3
Maryland 3-6 5-7
Rutgers 2-7 5-7
Indiana 0-9 2-10
West
Wisconsin 7-2 10-3
Iowa 7-2 10-2
Northwestern 5-4 7-5
Minnesota 5-4 8-4
Purdue 3-6 4-8
Nebraska 1-8 4-8
Illinois 0-9 2-10
* Michigan State to win Big Ten Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA
2. Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL
3. Outback Bowl in Tampa, FL
4. Holiday Bowl in San Diego, CA
5. Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, FL or Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN
6. Pinstripe Bowl in New York, NY
7. San Francisco Bowl in San Francisco, CA
8. Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, MI
9. Armed Forces Bowl in Forth Worth, TX
10. Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, TX

Coming Tomorrow–The Atlantic Coast Conference

August 29, 2017

PiRate Ratings College Football Forecast for August 31-September 3, 2017

This Week’s College Football Spreads

Home Visitor PiRate Mean Bias
Alabama (N) Florida St. 6.6 3.8 6.3
Arizona St. New Mexico St. 23.0 25.7 22.8
Auburn Georgia Southern 46.7 42.9 47.2
Boise St. Troy St. 8.3 6.2 8.2
Central Florida Florida Intl. 17.1 19.6 16.6
Clemson Kent 48.3 42.9 46.2
Coastal Carolina Massachusetts -10.5 -7.8 -8.4
Colorado Colorado St. 9.4 8.3 7.0
Eastern Mich. Charlotte 22.1 18.5 21.7
Florida (N) Michigan -1.1 -1.0 -0.8
Florida Atlantic Navy -12.5 -9.8 -11.1
Georgia Appalachian St. 19.6 23.9 19.1
Georgia Tech Tennessee 4.8 3.9 4.8
Illinois Ball St. 14.4 14.0 11.2
Indiana Ohio St. -25.1 -21.6 -23.9
Iowa Wyoming 16.2 18.4 17.1
LSU (N) BYU 20.5 19.8 20.6
Marshall Miami (Ohio) -9.4 -9.8 -11.1
Memphis Louisiana-Monroe 30.8 28.9 33.3
Michigan St. Bowling Green 16.0 20.5 14.9
Middle Tenn. Vanderbilt -17.7 -14.9 -15.8
Minnesota Buffalo 30.6 26.1 28.4
Mississippi South Alabama 26.8 22.4 22.0
NC St. (N) South Carolina 8.8 8.4 9.3
Nebraska Arkansas St. 19.4 19.2 17.0
North Carolina California 16.1 17.1 16.6
Northern Ill. Boston College -13.3 -14.1 -12.6
Northwestern Nevada 34.5 28.0 31.8
Notre Dame Temple 15.7 13.1 15.3
Oklahoma UTEP 52.6 46.1 52.3
Oklahoma St. Tulsa 14.5 14.5 16.1
Penn St. Akron 43.6 36.7 43.9
Purdue (N) Louisville -22.0 -18.5 -21.7
Rutgers Washington -29.9 -25.5 -31.8
Southern Miss. Kentucky -24.5 -21.2 -24.1
Texas Maryland 14.0 12.3 14.3
Texas-San Antonio Houston -10.3 -7.3 -8.0
UCLA Texas A&M 4.0 5.5 4.8
USC Western Mich. 22.4 25.8 21.1
Virginia Tech West Va. 9.0 7.5 9.6
Wisconsin Utah St. 37.6 34.4 36.9

(N) means neutral site game

We’ve had a small appetizer of college football games, and the first main course shall be served over the course of five days, commencing with a couple of choice morsels Thursday night. The PiRates will be focused on these games this weekend.

Ohio State at Indiana–It is rare for Big Ten teams to open with a conference game. This one should be a tad more interesting than it looks on the surface. Indiana released former head coach Kevin Wilson from his contract last year (actually a forced resignation), due to an issue with a player with more than an injured back who was told to keep playing.  Wilson didn’t wait long to have a new job. He is now the offensive coordinator at ….. Ohio State! Add Wilson’s chip on his shoulder to Coach Urban Meyer’s boulder chip on his shoulder from his Buckeyes’ being shut out by Clemson in the Playoff Semifinals, and Ohio State will most likely do everything it can to run the score up on IU. It is not supposed to matter, but if the Buckeyes win this game 63-0, the pollsters will immediately overreact and move them up in the polls, maybe up to number one.

Tulsa at Oklahoma State–Are the Cowboys strong enough to challenge rival Oklahoma and compete for the Big 12 Championship? This might be the best Oklahoma State team since the 2011 team came within an upset loss to Iowa State from playing for all the marbles. Tulsa might be a little better than the 10-3 team of last year, possibly the Golden Hurricane’s best team since maybe 1982 and definitely as good as recent dominant TU teams in this century. A close game doesn’t necessarily mean that Oklahoma State isn’t a playoff contender. This game could be rather close for quite a long time.

Colorado vs. Colorado State (in Denver)–The Rams’ offense looked lethal against Oregon State, and a team usually improves the most in the week between game one and game two. CU does benefit from having 2017 game film on CSU, but this advantage does not offset the one game of experience that the Rams have. If CSU pulls off the mild upset, the Rams could be in line to become the top Group of 5 contender for the New Year’s 6 Bowl tie-in. This just might be the actual best game of the week, but few people will watch this one outside the Centennial State.

Maryland at Texas–Tom Herman makes his debut in Austin, and the Longhorn faithful believe the days of wine and roses will return sooner rather than later. Maryland will not back down and be easy fodder for the Longhorns, and there is an extra factor in this game that could lead to a lower than expected game score. Who better to know the weaknesses of the Urban Meyer-style spread offense than somebody that was a defensive assistant under Meyer? In this game, former offensive coordinator Herman will lead UT against former Meyer defensive assistant D. J. Durkin, the head coach on the opposite sideline. This game becomes a real life chess match worth watching.

Wyoming at Iowa–Okay, you may not be all that excited about this game, but we are. First and foremost, some of the PiRates have a love and affinity for the Western part of this nation’s flyover real estate, Iowa and Wyoming included. Also, we are big time supporters of Cowboy coach Craig Bohl and Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz. These two gentlemen know their stuff, and their teams have an incredible grasp of the fundamentals and the “little things”. These two teams may win games in ways that are not easily seen in the box score. We look for this one to be nip and tuck, and it would not shock us if the visitors from Laramie pulled off the upset.

South Carolina vs. North Carolina State (in Charlotte)–The ACC has the small advantage over the SEC these days. The Wolf Pack appear to be primed to challenge Louisville for third best in the ACC Atlantic and maybe even become a dark horse contender for the division flag, while the Gamecocks are on the cusp but not yet playing like a challenger, even in the parity known as the SEC East. Our opinion on this one is that NCSU should win by more than a touchdown if not more than two. However, this should become a shootout, as South Carolin’a offense should annex a lot of territory in this game.

Florida vs. Michigan (in Arlington, TX)–We have been flip-flopping on this game since June. At first, we believed that Michigan could be in danger of falling back to 6-6 or even 5-7, while we believed that Florida was like a snake in high grass waiting to pounce on all the mice in their division of their league. Then, after looking at returning depth and experience, it appeared to us that Michigan had a lot of experienced backups who, with a year of seasoning, could be rather competent regulars in 2017. We were concerned about the Florida quarterback situation, and then Coach Jim McElwain secured the signature of former Notre Dame starter Malik Zaire. It tilted the needle over to the Gator side, but then McElwain was forced to suspend star receiver Antonio Callaway and a half dozen other players for this game. Callaway may have been the one piece in the puzzle that Michigan would have found no real answer in stopping. Now, the needle tilts toward the Maize and Blue. By the way, Michigan will wear maize-colored jerseys in this game, something they have not done in 89 years.

Alabama vs. Florida State (in Atlanta)–Obviously, this is the top game of the week and maybe the top game of the regular season. There are so many layers to peel off in this preview, more than we have space to devote to it. In an abridged version, can Florida State’s offensive line protect quarterback Deondre Francois long enough for him to find a group of raw receivers? Frnacois spent too much time with his back on the turf in 2016, and it will take a major improvement on the Seminoles part to hold off stars like Da’Ron Payne and get past the Crimson Tide trench to linebackers the quality of Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton. On the other side of the ball, Alabama cannot get by predominantly on a power running game. Jalen Hurts has the talent to throw for 200+ yards in this game. This game brings back memories of 50 years ago, when Alabama returned almost their entire two-deep from a defense that gave up 44 points in 11 games the year before and returned Ken Stabler from an offense that scored more than 27 points a game. The Tide were 20+ point favorites in this game and was lucky to escape with a 37-37 tie. Notably, in this game the great Bear Bryant was equipped with a microphone. There were issues with the scoreboard, and late in the game, Bryant was overheard on the mic saying, “What the H is the score any way?”

Texas A&M at UCLA–The losing team’s coach will sit on a seat that is about 10 degrees warmer Monday than it is now. Texas A&M has enough talent to compete for third in the SEC West and challenge for a 10-win season, but the Aggies looked as strong last year as well. After TAMU began the season 6-0, the team collapsed, finishing 2-5. The defense wore down after the overtime win over Tennessee, and the Aggies two wins after that big game came against New Mexico State and UT-San Antonio. UCLA struggled after quarterback Josh Rosen exited with a shoulder injury. However, the Bruins were just 3-2 prior to the injury in the Arizona State game, so Coach Jim Mora, Jr. overhauled the Bruin offense in the off-season and made numerous changes to his offensive coaching assistants. The Bruins also must rebuild a good bit on the defensive side of the ball, so the offense better gel quickly. So, don’t go up to the junior Mora and ask if his team can still make the playoffs this year.

There are a host of additional games on this week’s schedule that hold some bit of unique interest. Those games include:

FIU at Central Florida–Butch Davis returns to the sidelines for FIU and has enough talent to surprise in 2017. UCF believes they can challenge rival USF in the East.

Navy at FAU–Lane Kiffin’s debut with the Owls against the tricky triple option offense of Navy makes this one look like a track meet. It wouldn’t surprise us if more than 75 total points are scored in this one.

Temple at Notre Dame–The Owls begin life without Coach Matt Rhule. New head man Geoff Collins faces a total rebuild in Philly, while Notre Dame looks to recover from a poor 2016 season with a half-dozen new assistants.

Troy at Boise State–We have an eye on Boise at the start of the season. Boise State could be at a crossroads, where their dynasty seasons could be over. Then again, this could also be the low-point of a major rebuild. Troy was down for a few years, but the Trojans returned to Sun Belt fame last year with a 10-3 season and co-championship. It won’t get the headlines that the big games receive, but this game should be an excellent contest.

Kentucky at Southern Mississippi–Last year Southern Miss pulled off an incredible upset at Kentucky to begin the 2016 season, and it looked like Mark Stoops was in a bit of trouble in Lexington. However, the Wildcats turned things around to win seven games that included a trip to the Taxslayer Bowl. Now, there are football experts that believe Kentucky can compete for the 2017 SEC East title. The Blue and White return the bulk of an offense that averaged 30 points and 420 yards per game, while the defense should be a little better than last year. Southern Miss is not as strong as last year, but still good enough to knock off UK in Hattiesburg, especially if the expected rain makes this game sloppy.

Appalachian State at Georgia–Appy State came close to upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville to begin the 2016 season. Can the Mountaineers go down between the hedges and make like miserable for the Bulldogs? Georgia’s defense should control this game, holding ASU to about 200-250 total yards, while the offense may not be flashy, but should produce 200 rushing yards. If Georgia wins by less than 17 points, it will be cause for concern. We will look at all the SEC East teams carefully this week to see if one or two emerge as the true top squads.

Houston at UT-San Antonio–UTSA is a contender in the West Division of CUSA, and in a normal week, the Roadrunners would be expected to make this a close game. Houston must play this one with little practice thanks to Hurricane Harvey, and it is Major Applewhite’s debut with the Cougars. This will be interesting to see how much lost preparation hurts UH.

Georgia Southern at Auburn–We don’t expect this game to be close. It could easily be 21-0 in the first quarter. What we are looking for in this one is how well Tiger quarterback Jarrett Stidham runs Gus Malzahn’s offense. If Stidham replicates the stats from his last three FBS games (2015 against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State), then watch out, because this Auburn team just might be good enough to go to the 2017-18 playoffs. Stidham’s stat line in those three games was 51-81-2 for 934 yards and 6 TDs. If he averages 11.5 yards per pass attempt for Auburn, then even Alabama better beware.

Purdue vs. Louisville (in Indianapolis)–This game features Jeff Brohm making his Boilermaker coaching Purdue against former mentor Bobby Petrino and some QB named Lamar Jackson, who owns some trophy he received from the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan named for former coach John Heisman. It would not be shocking if UL won this one by a score similar to 62-24, but what makes this game interesting is to see how a Big Ten team looks running a spread passing game.

South Alabama at Ole Miss–South Alabama upset Mississippi State and San Diego State last year, two teams that played in bowls. So, it would not be a big shock if the Jaguars won in Oxford. However, if USA wins, the blame will be on Ole Miss and interim coach Matt Luke rather than on the performance. Luke is most likely in a position where he has little chance of keeping the job full time, even though he deserves a head coaching job. It would not surprise us if a big name coach was patrolling the home team sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium next year.

LSU vs. BYU (in New Orleans)–This game was moved from Houston to New Orleans due to the hurricane. It gives the Tigers a tiny bit more advantage, but we didn’t think this game would be all that close in Houston. BYU has a game under its belt, and the Cougars did not show their entire arsenal. What they showed was only adequate at best. This game takes on added interest not because of the weather, but because whether Ed Orgeron can prove that the removing of the interim label was the right move in Baton Rouge. LSU has a considerable amount of talent, just behind Alabama and Auburn and as much as Texas A&M. The Tigers have a chance to win 10 games this year, but there is always that bit of doubt about a new coach. Orgeron has done well as the interim at USC and LSU, but his tenure as head coach at Ole Miss was a major disappointment.

Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee–Both Nashville-area teams played in bowls last year, and this game has become quite the local rivalry. MTSU has one of the top quarterbacks in the Group of 5, who happens to be the coach’s son. Brent Stockstill will draw NFL scouts to Murfreesboro this year, as the Blue Raiders look to have a potent offense capable of putting up 40 points and 500 yards per game. On the other side of the field, Derek Mason has begun to make Vanderbilt look more like Stanford East. The only ingredient missing in recent years has been the most important spot–at quarterback. Now, Vanderbilt has a competent passer, who while not another Andrew Luck or even Keller Chryst, he is competent enough to lead Vanderbilt to the cusp of division contention. Kyle Shurmur, son of Minnesota Viking OC Pat Shurmur, may have the knowledge of the game that a typical NFL quarterback may have. If he can show a bit more arm strength and a slightly quicker release, Vanderbilt’s offense will begin to look like Stanford’s, as the Commodored already have a strong running game and a stingy defense. If MTSU wins this game, then Syracuse and Minnesota will take notice, as the Blue Raiders will be capable of starting 3-0 against FBS competition. If Vanderbilt wins this game, then Kansas State needs to take note, because the Commodores will be 2-0 when the Wildcats come to the Music City on September 16.

Tennessee at Georgia Tech (in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta)–Volunteer coach Butch Jones knows that he must win and win big in 2017, or else he will have a garage sale in January, where he disposes of a lot of orange-colored clothing and accessories. Tennessee was a disappointing 9-4 team last year and must try to improve with an unproven quarterback, something that usually only works if said raw QB wears crimson-colored clothing. Georgia Tech has an experienced offensive line returning to block for the spread option offense. Usually, if an offensive line is as experienced as the Techsters, the offense automatically improves some from the previous season. However, in this offense, the experience of the quarterback is much more important than the line, because in many cases the key defender at the point of attack is not blocked at all. Hence, the QB reads the defense and options off the reaction of the key defender. Coach Paul Johnson has not officially named his starting quarterback, but we think it will be former slot back TaQuon Marshall. The ultra-quick Marshall has the potential to be a great option quarterback, but getting his Baptism under orange fire is not the ideal way to begin a career. If Johnson goes with last year’s backup Matthew Jordan, then Tennessee’s defense should be good enough to hold the Yellow Jackets under 21 points. This is good, because the Vols may struggle on offense in September.

Note–Ratings and Bowl Projections return next week, as we did not update them after the small sampling of games last week.

Money Line Parlays makes its seasonal debut Thursday morning, August 31, 2017.

August 20, 2016

2016 Big Ten Conference Football Preview

The Power 5 Conference previews begin today, and in the unusual spot of lowest ranked of the Big 5 stands the 14-member Big Ten. In actuality, just three points separates the fifth best conference from the second best this year, so the Big Ten is basically in a four-way tie for second best conference this year.

Being the fifth best league does not mean the Big Ten will not have a team in the third FBS College Football Playoffs. In fact, three teams have the talent to run the table and earn one of the four coveted spots. And overall, the PiRates believe 11 teams could be bowl eligible this year. This means that at least one and probably two teams will fill vacant spots as at-large candidates.

The power once again rests in the East Division, where six of the seven members have a chance to get to six wins. In recent years, it has come down to the Ohio State-Michigan State game, but this year we believe a third team will crash the party. Second year head coach Jim Harbaugh has quickly rebuilt the Michigan Wolverines to a point where the Maize and Blue are ready to return to greatness not seen in a decade. The Wolverines improved immediately in year one, becoming tougher on both sides of the ball and doubling their wins from the year before from five to ten.

The same improvement in year two could make Michigan a national title contender. The offense loses a good quarterback in Jake Rudock, who was drafted by the Detroit Lions, but unlike recent years, there is a competition among multiple quality quarterbacks, and whoever wins the battle will be a talented and competent leader. Expect Michigan’s passing game to remain as strong as last year, whether former Houston QB John O’Korn or Wilton Speight wins the job.

Whoever winst that job will have a bevy of highly-talented receivers catching the passes. Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh combined for 108 catches and 14 touchdowns as the starting wideouts last year, while tight end Jake Butt added 51 catches.

Running back De’Veon Smith is another pass-catching weapon, but his main goal is continuing to improve as a multi-talented runner who can plunge forward up the middle for an extra yard or two and break a long run to the outside. Backup Ty Isaac is capable of taking over a game if he can become more consistent.

Where Michigan should win most games this year is up front, as their offensive line has no peers inside the league. There is talent throughout the two-deep, led by center Mason Cole, guard Kyle Kalis, and tackle Erik Magnuson.

The other side of the ball is strong and potentially dominating up front, as the defensive line has a quartet of brick walls. Opponents will run away from the side end Chris Wormly lines up on, and quarterbacks will worry about his rushing when dropping back to pass. Taco Charlton will see improved stats this year, as he faces more plays to his end of the line.

The pass defense was a little vulnerable at times, but the back seven should be better this year, led by potential All-American cornerback Jabrill Peppers.

If it wasn’t for a schedule that includes road games with Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State, the media and other experts might be calling for a 12-0 regular season. Maybe, just the Pirates believe it is possible this year.

Ohio State looks to be in a rebuild season, but in Columbus, rebuilding means a possible 9-3 season. The Buckeyes lost so much from last year’s 12-1 season on both sides of the ball. Sure, there is still a ton of talent left on this squad, but we believe OSU will be about a touchdown weaker overall.

J.T. Barrett returns at quarterback after splitting the job with Cardale Jones, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Barrett is a better fit in Coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, but defenses might be able to sneak defenders toward the line without worrying as much about being beaten deep by the arm of Jones.

The biggest replacement Meyer must make is at running back, where Ezekiel Elliott might be the leading candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year in Dallas. Finding capable receivers to replace Michael Thomas, Jalen Marshall, and Braxton Miller will be nearly as difficult.

The offensive line must replace three starters, but there was a lot of talented depth here last year, and we don’t see this becoming much of a problem this year.

Defensively, the Buckeyes return one starter to the line, one at linebacker, and one in the secondary. Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan and end Tyquan Lewis could both become All-Americans, while end Sam Hubbard has all-league potential.

Road games with Oklahoma and Michigan State should be too much for the inexperienced Buckeyes to handle this year, so it could be a bowl other than the New Year’s 6 this year.

Michigan State faces a similar but less rebuilding effort this year after making the NCAA Playoffs in 2015. Coach Mark Dantonio’s Spartans won a lot of close games last year in their road to the Big Ten title, and a small rebuild should mean that some of those close wins last year could become close losses this year. Replacing quarterback Connor Cook may be the toughest replacement in the entire league, and number two might be finding one or more players to replace the production of defensive star Shilique Calhoun.

Penn State coach James Franklin is 14-12 in his first two seasons in Happy Valley, and another 7-6 year will leave Nittany Lion fans very unhappy. Although most of the offense returns this year, one player missing is quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Although Hackenberg had issues with the Franklin offense, he still was good enough to become an NFL Draft pick, and nobody on the current roster has his skills.

The Defense loses a lot of talent, but possibly more important is the loss of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who will be directing the defense at Tennessee this year. September 10 could be an important Saturday for Franklin’s future in State College. A loss at Pittsburgh could get the alumni moving to find a replacement.

Indiana and Maryland don’t figure to contend for an upper division spot this year, but both teams have enough talent to go 3-0 outside of league play and find three more wins to get to 6-6. Rutgers is not in that same boat. The Scarlet Knights will be fortunate to avoid double digit losses.

Although the West Division is not as strong, the competition might be fiercer. Four teams have the potential to end up in the Big Ten Championship Game, while a fifth should be bowl eligible.

Iowa is the slight favorite to repeat as division champions, but Nebraska might be the most improved team in the division. The two rivals meet in Iowa City on Black Friday.

Wisconsin has the talent to win double digit games in most years, but not this year with a schedule that only a masochist could design. The Badgers face the two Michigan schools on the road and must face Ohio State at home, and then add a game at Lambeau Stadium against national title contender LSU. They also play at Iowa, and all of these games occur by October 22.

Northwestern is a mystery team this year to some extent. The Wildcats return a lot of talent from a 10-3 team, but overall that talent is not as strong as the other contenders. Coach Pat Fitzgerald finds a way to squeeze every yard and point out of his offense, while the defense always plays better on the whole than the sum of its parts.

Minnesota begins its first full season under Coach Tracy Claeys, who took over after Jerry Kill retired after the season began last year. The Gophers should be about as good this year as last, which means a probable lower-tier bowl.

Illinois and Purdue do not have the talent to compete for bowl eligibility, but both teams are capable of pulling off an upset. Last year, they both upset Nebraska and could have knocked the Cornhuskers out of a bowl.

The Big Ten does not sanction an official media preseason poll, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer does the job for the league in an unofficial capacity. Here is that Cleveland.com poll.

Big Ten–East Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Ohio St. 31 260.5 27
2 Michigan 14 241 11
3 Michigan St. 1 195.5  
4 Penn St. 0 155.5  
5 Indiana 0 110  
6 Maryland 0 81.5  
7 Rutgers 0 52  
         
Big Ten–West Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Iowa 33 265 1
2 Nebraska 3 206  
3 Wisconsin 2 194.5  
4 Northwestern 1 171.5  
5 Minnesota 1 132  
6 Illinois 0 76.5  
7 Purdue 0 46.5  

 

Here are our initial PiRate Ratings for the league.

Big Ten Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Michigan 120.0 118.0 120.4 119.5
Ohio St. 113.3 113.5 113.5 113.4
Michigan St. 113.1 112.4 111.1 112.2
Penn St. 109.5 111.3 108.0 109.6
Indiana 101.5 106.0 100.9 102.8
Maryland 100.9 104.2 98.1 101.1
Rutgers 99.0 96.2 97.3 97.5
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Iowa 114.6 110.9 114.2 113.2
Nebraska 110.4 105.9 110.5 108.9
Wisconsin 109.1 105.9 109.5 108.2
Northwestern 109.7 103.5 108.1 107.1
Minnesota 104.8 102.8 104.7 104.1
Illinois 100.6 97.2 99.8 99.2
Purdue 99.4 96.6 98.3 98.1

 

The PiRate Ratings are meant to be used only to predict the outcomes of the next week of games, and are not best used to predict beyond that point. Because we use algorithms that include automatic adjustments by each team based on depth and experience, two different teams can win by the exact score we predict, and their new ratings might change differently.

Thus, using our ratings to predict won-loss records and bowl projections is a bit comical, but then we all need some laughs every now and then. So, laugh away at our projected standings and bowls.

Big Ten Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
East Division      
Michigan 9-0 13-0 * Playoffs–Fiesta
Ohio St. 7-2 9-3 Citrus
Michigan St. 7-2 9-3 Outback
Penn St. 6-3 8-4 Music City
Indiana 3-6 6-6 [Cactus] *
Maryland 3-6 6-6 [Birmingham] *
Rutgers 1-8 3-9  
       
Team Conference Overall Bowl
West Division      
Iowa 7-2 10-3 Holiday
Nebraska 5-4 8-4 Pinstripe
Northwestern 5-4 8-4 Foster Farms
Wisconsin 5-4 7-5 Quick Lane
Minnesota 4-5 7-5 Heart of Dallas
Illinois 1-8 3-9  
Purdue 0-9 3-9  
       
* Indiana’s Cactus Bowl Bid is an at-large selection
* Maryland’s Birmingham Bowl Bid is an at-lerge selection

Coming up tomorrow: The Big 12 Conference was close to going on life support until Oklahoma made the playoffs last year.  Now, with the possibility of new blood coming soon, and the likelihood that the Sooners could be better this year, there’s hope for the league.  Find out which teams are contenders, which are pretenders, and what team could surprise a lot of people this season.

 

August 17, 2015

2015 Big Ten Preview

The Big Ten was once referred to as the Big Two and Little Eight during the late 1960’s and 1970’s.  For more than a decade, either Ohio State or Michigan won the conference championship and played in the Rose Bowl, and in most seasons, the participant was chosen in the season finale between the two schools.
In 1968, Ohio State defeated Michigan 50-14 to earn the conference championship and Rose Bowl bid.  After beating O.J. Simpson’s USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes won the National Championship as well.  In 1969, Ohio State had a team similar to the Buckeye team of this season.  Considered unbeatable, the Buckeyes destroyed eight consecutive opponents before facing a 7-2 Michigan team in the season finale.  Michigan had a first year head coach in Bo Schmebechler, a fiery sort who would suffer a heart attack just a month later.  Ohio State began the game looking like they would win and go on to defend their national title in the Rose Bowl, but something happened.  Michigan’s defense toughened, and All-Conference quarterback Rex Kern began throwing interceptions.  Michigan capitalized and pulled off the big upset to win the league crown and Rose Bowl berth.

The following year, Ohio State ran the table in the regular season, getting revenge over the 9-0 Wolverines, and entering the Rose Bowl with a chance to cop another national title, with Texas losing earlier in the day in the Cotton Bowl.  However, Stanford and Heisman Trophy winning QB Jim Plunkett was too much for the conservative Buckeyes.

Michigan went undefeated in the regular season in 1971, and the Wolverines lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.  1972 was Ohio State’e turn to ruin Michigan’s national title hopes.  The Wolverines had the best defense in college football in six years, but the Buckeyes pulled off the 14-11 upset to foil the Rose Bowl Game of The Century between #1 USC and #2 Michigan.

1973 once again saw both powers enter the big game undefeated, and in this case, they  still were both undefeated after the game, following a 10-10 tie.  Ohio State was voted to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes defeated USC.  Ohio State won the big game in 1974 but lost the Rose Bowl to USC.

1975 was supposed to be Ohio State’s best year in the Woody Hayes era.  The Buckeyes returned the bulk of the team from the year before.  Michigan was down just a tad with a younger than average squad.  The Buckeyes ran the table against a strong schedule that included non-conference wins over Penn State (an independent then) and UCLA (by 21 points).  They knocked off an 8-0-2 Michigan squad to head to Pasadena to face the Bruin team they blew off the LA Coliseum field in September.  The Bruins got their revenge, and the Buckeyes did not get that final title for Woody.

1976, 77, and 78 were Michigan’s years to shine.  The Wolverines appeared to be primed to compete for three consecutive national titles.  They would beat Ohio State all three seasons, but letdowns in one game each year and then Rose Bowl losses each year spoiled their national title hopes.  During this time, Ohio State began to fade, and Coach Hayes was let go after an embarrassing incident that occured at the end of the 1978 Gator Bowl.

In 1979, Ohio State returned to glory with new coach Earl Bruce.  The Buckeyes ran the table with a close 18-15 win over the Wolverines, and they appeared to be in control of the Rose Bowl, until USC scored late to win 17-16.
In 1980, neither team was as strong as it had been in the 1970’s, but Michigan went undefeated in league play to enter the Rose Bowl at 9-2.  It was Coach Schembechler’s weakest Rose Bowl team yet, and he was 0-5 in previous Rose Bowls.  This time, the Wolverines upset Washington to finally give Bo his Roses.

13 years of dominance between the Big Two came to an end in 1981, as Iowa became the first “Little 8” team to appear in the Rose Bowl since the Cardiac Kids of Indiana won the 1967 Big Ten Championship.

Which brings us back to the current time: The Buckeyes appear to be on the cusp of becoming as dominant as they were in the past.  Urban Meyer pulled off the big surprise last year, and now Ohio State looks to be 7-10 points better this year than last.  Once again, Michigan has a fiery new coach in Jim Harbaugh.  But, there are differences this year compared to 1969.  First, Michigan State is the team most likely to play the role of 1969 Michigan.  The Spartans are talented enough this year to win the national title themselves.  Penn State is sitting pretty with a loaded team needing a potentially star quarterback to “get it” and put it all together.  Michigan went 5-7 last year and will be pleased with any forward movement.  8-4 might earn Harbaugh Coach of the Year honors.

The West Division has its intrigue as well.  Wisconsin has a new coach.  Former Badger offensive coordinator Paul Chryst returns to Madison after a three-year sojourn in Pittsburgh.  He will continue the Barry Alvarez/Bret Bielema/Gary Andersen philosophy of pounding the ball and throwing to twin tight ends, but UW has some reloading to do.

Nebraska also has a new coach, but Mike Riley will bring a new philosophy to the plains.  The Cornhuskers will rely more on a wide-open offense with more balance, something Bill Callahan tried to install in Lincoln a decade ago and failed miserably.

Iowa and Northwestern have talent but not enough to compete for a division title, which opens the door for the one team with both talent and the same coach that has been there long enough to establish his system.  Our surprise pick to win the West Division this year is the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  In what appears to be a minor rebuilding year at TCF Bank Stadium, we believe Coach Jerry Kill’s squad will benefit from a favorable schedule where the Gophers will face Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while having enough talent to win at Iowa, Northwestern, and Purdue to win the division in a tiebreaker over the Badgers.

Here is the Big Ten Media’s Preseason Poll.  It is no surprise who their pick is to win, but notice that it is unanimous, and that the second best team is also unanimous.

Big Ten Conference Media Poll
Pos. Team 1st Place Total Champ. Votes
East Division
1 Ohio St. 40 280 40
2 Michigan St. 0 240 0
3 Penn St. 0 186.5 0
4 Michigan 0 163.5 0
5 Maryland 0 95.5 0
6 Rutgers 0 78 0
7 Indiana 0 76.5 0
West Division
1 Wisconsin 32 272 0
2 Nebraska 5 231.5 0
3 Minnesota 3 197 0
4 Iowa 0 158.5 0
5 Northwestern 0 125 0
6 Illinois 0 77 0
7 Purdue 0 59 0

The Big Ten has never polled a preseason all-conference team, but they do vote on offensive and defensive players of the year.  We have substituted our top-rated players at each position in place of the All-Big Ten and then included the players of the year voting below.

Big Ten Preseason All-Conference Team
Offense Player School
Quarterback Connor Cook Michigan St.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott Ohio St.
Running Back Corey Clement Wisconsin
Wide Receiver Leonte Carroo Rutgers
Wide Receiver DaeSean Hamilton Penn St.
Wide Receiver Braxton Miller Ohio St.
Tight End Josiah Price Michigan St.
Tackle Taylor Decker Ohio St.
Tackle Jack Conklin Michigan St.
Guard Pat Elfein Ohio St.
Guard Josh Campion Minnesota
Center Jack Allen Michigan St.
Defense Player School
End Joey Bosa Ohio St.
End Shilique Calhoun Michigan St.
Tackle Anthony Zettel Penn St.
Tackle Adolphus Washington Ohio St.
Linebacker Darron Lee Ohio St.
Linebacker Vince Biegel Wisconsin
Linebacker Ed Davis Michigan St.
Cornerback William Likely Maryland
Cornerback Nick VanHoose Northwestern
Safety Vonn Bell Ohio St.
Safety Jordan Lucas Penn St.
Special Teams Player School
Punter Peter Mortell Minnesota
Kicker Brad Craddock Maryland
Return Specialist Janarion Grant Rutgers
Return Specialist De’Mornay Pierson-El Nebraska

Note in the offensive player of the year that “Ohio State quarterbacks” received 2 first place votes and 9 votes overall.  We don’t know if this included Braxton Miller as one of three, but all three Ohio State players finished in the top 10 of the voting.

Preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year voting (1st Pl.)
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State RB, 105 (31)
2. Connor Cook, Michigan State QB, 57 (3)
3. Cardale Jones, Ohio State QB, 19 (2)
4. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB, 15 (1)
5. Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB, 15
6. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB, 9
6. Ohio State quarterbacks 9 (2)
8. Braxton Miller, Ohio State H-back, 3
9. Wes Lunt, Illinois QB, 2
Preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year voting (1st Pl.)
1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State DE, 111 (37)
2. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State DE, 50
3. Anthony Zettel, Penn State DT, 25
4. Darron Lee, Ohio State LB, 18
5. William Likely, Maryland CB, 8 (1)
6. Maliek Collins, Nebraska DE, 5
7. Vince Biegel, Wisconsin LB, 2
7. Ed Davis, Michigan State LB, 2
7. Vonn Bell, Ohio State S, 2
10. Joe Bolden, Michigan LB, 1
10. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan S, 1
10. Darius Hamilton, Rutgers DT, 1
10. Eric Murray, Minnesota CB, 1
10. Michael Caputo, Wisconsin S, 1

Here are our PiRate, Mean, Bias, and Average ratings to start the season.  More about Ohio State’s preseason PiRate Rating follows below.

Big Ten Conference
East Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Ohio St. 137.2 % 125.6 138.4 133.7
Michigan St. 123.2 116.6 123.8 121.2
Michigan 113.5 109.6 112.6 111.9
Penn St. 111.0 112.6 111.6 111.7
Indiana 97.4 98.8 97.3 97.8
Rutgers 98.5 95.9 96.9 97.1
Maryland 98.7 94.6 97.3 96.9
West Division
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Wisconsin 113.0 113.6 113.0 113.2
Minnesota 110.3 109.6 110.4 110.1
Nebraska 110.7 106.9 110.0 109.2
Northwestern 103.2 104.6 102.3 103.4
Illinois 104.7 101.6 103.2 103.2
Iowa 100.4 103.6 100.5 101.5
Purdue 100.6 100.6 98.8 100.0
B10 Averages 108.7 106.7 108.3 107.9

% Ohio State’s 137.2 preseason PiRate Rating is the highest to start a season since Nebraska in 1995.  No Mean or Bias ratings date back that far, so only the PiRate Rating has been considered.  Because the ratings have undergone a little bit of tweaking in recent years, the 137.2 rating would equate to a 140.8 rating using the old calculations.  Nebraska in 1995 began the season at 142.6.  Other teams rated higher than 140 to begin the season were: Alabama in 1979, USC in 1972, and Nebraska in 1971.  We began this rating system in October of 1969, so Ohio State’s preseason rating did not exist.  We guess that their rating would have been the highest ever had it existed, and we do not have any saved data prior to 1971.

Predicted Records & Bowl Projections

The Big Ten has tie-ins with nine different bowls, not counting any possible playoff spots.  Because, we believe that the conference will comprise half of the 2015-16 playoff spots this year, it means the league will have 11 slots to fill.  We only believe nine teams will become bowl eligible, so the bottom tier bowls, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas, will need to find at-large teams to replace the Big Ten representative.  Here are our won-loss predictions and bowl projections for the league.

PiRate Ratings Predicted Records
Pos Team Conf. Overall Bowl
East Division
1 Ohio St. 8-0 13-0 * Playoffs
2 Michigan St. 7-1 11-1 Playoffs
3 Penn St. 6-2 10-2 Rose
4 Michigan 4-4 7-5 Pinstripe
5 Rutgers 1-7 5-7 None
6 Maryland 1-7 4-8 None
7 Indiana 1-7 4-8 None
West Division
1 Minnesota 7-1 10-3 ^ Holiday
2 Wisconsin 7-1 10-2 Citrus
3 Nebraska 5-3 8-4 Outback
4 Iowa 4-4 7-5 Music City
5 Northwestern 3-5 6-6 Foster Farms
6 Purdue 2-6 4-8 None
7 Illinois 0-8 3-9 None
* Wins Title Game
^ Loses Title Game

Coming Next: The Big 12 Conference

August 21, 2013

2013 Big Ten Conference Preview

2013 Big Ten Conference Preview

 

1997:  That’s the last year the Big Ten Conference could celebrate a national championship on the gridiron.  Michigan shared national honors with Nebraska (then in the Big 12) that year.  To find the last undisputed national champion, you must go all the way back to 1968, when Ohio St. beat O.J. Simpson and the Southern Cal Trojans in the Rose Bowl to sew up a national title that really should have been shared with Penn St.

 

In many other years, the Big Ten had opportunities to win a national title.  Ohio St. came back in 1969 with an even better team than in 1968, but the Buckeyes fell at Ann Arbor in the season finale.  OSU went 9-0 in 1970 but lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl in a monumental upset.

 

Ohio St. blew another national championship with a Rose Bowl upset loss to UCLA in the 1975 season, and the Buckeyes lost in two BCS National Championship Games in this century.

Michigan had opportunities to win the national title in 1976 and 1977, but the Wolverines lost the Rose Bowl both years.

 

After finishing 12-0 in a year in which they were on probation, Ohio St. looks poised to challenge for national honors yet again.  The Buckeyes should be favored in all 12 games and in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game.  If OSU runs the table again this season, they should finish in one of the top two spots in the BCS ratings.

 

The Leaders Division should not offer much competition for the Buckeyes this season.  Penn St. is ineligible, and the Nittany Lions are one of two division teams capable of giving Ohio St. a good ball game.  Wisconsin fell to 8-6 last year, and Coach Bret Bielema fled to Arkansas.  New coach Gary Andersen did wonders at Utah St., but he inherits a bit of a mess in the defensive secondary.  UW must face OSU in Columbus, and it does not look promising for the boys from Madison.

 

It does look promising in Hoosierland.  Third year coach Kevin Wilson has Indiana primed to take a step forward and become bowl eligible in Bloomington.  IU should move the ball and score on every opponent on the schedule, as the Hoosiers return 10 starters from a team that hung 49 points on Ohio St. last year and averaged more than 30 points per game.  A defense that should show significant improvement means Indiana will win at least two more games this year and play in a bowl.

 

Purdue starts over with new coach Darrell Hazell, who led Kent St. to a school record 11 wins last year and just missed out on an Orange Bowl berth.  The Boilermarkers have been a mediocre bunch since 2008 and have a 54-58 record since 2004.  Year one in West Lafayette will find a lot of Boilermaker fans drowning their sorrows in a lot of XXX Root Beer.

 

Illinois continues to rebuild under Coach Tim Beckman.  A very porous 2012 defense could regress more in season two in Champaign-Urbana.

 

The Legends race promises to be exciting all season long with four teams competing for the division title.

 

Nebraska benefits with home games against Michigan St. and Northwestern and not having Ohio St. on the schedule.  Bo Pelini has won either nine or ten games in each of his five seasons in Lincoln, and this team has a good chance to get to 11 this year, if the defense can be rebuilt.  The offense is first-rate all the way, and it would not surprise us if the Cornhuskers top 500 yards per game on the attack.

 

Michigan and Michigan St. have tougher schedules and have a more difficult path to the Legends flag.  Michigan must play Ohio St. and Penn St. from the other division, and the Wolverines face Michigan St. and Northwestern on the road.  The schedule could force the Wolverines to beat Ohio St. in back-to-back weeks to win the Big Ten Championship (of course the same is true for Ohio St.).

 

Michigan St. regressed in 2012, and Coach Mark Dantonio must replace Le’Veon Bell, who led the league with almost 1,800 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns.  Look for the Spartans’ defense to continue to be tough against the pass and even tougher against the run, keeping Sparty in every ball game.  MSU faces Michigan, Nebraska, and Northwestern in November, the latter two in consecutive road games.

 

Northwestern finally won a bowl game last year, and the Wildcats return a lot of talent from a 10-win team.  Coach Pat Fitzgerald squeezes every ounce of potential out of his team, and NU must be considered a contender for the Legends title in 2013.  The Wildcats have two experienced quarterbacks who bring different talents to the offense; a speedy running back who can break loose for a long gain on any play; and three very capable receivers.  If the defense can replicate last year’s production, it would not surprise us if the Wildcats give Ohio St. a big scare when the Buckeyes visit Evanston on October 5 for a homecoming date.  NU gets an extra week to prepare for this game, while Ohio St. will be coming off the Wisconsin game.

 

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been called the best overall coach in college football, but his Hawkeyes have not challenged for a Rose Bowl bid since 2009.  UI has a 19-19 mark in the last three seasons, and 2013 does not look to be a banner year in Hawkeye country.  A mediocre passing game could cause troubles for a power running game that has potential to be quite good.  The defense is always good, but it may be forced to stay on the field a bit too much this year.  The non-league portion of the schedule gives this team an excellent shot at going 4-0, so it could take just two wins in the conference to propel the Hawkeyes to a bowl.

 

Minnesota did just that last year.  The Gophers beat four non-league teams, three of them patsies, and then defeated Purdue and Illinois to become bowl eligible.  2013 looks to be a little more difficult as the Gophers may not be able to win more than one time in the Big Ten.

 

New Teams: None

 

Departures: None

 

2014 Additions: Maryland comes in from the ACC and Rutgers joins from the Big East.  The Big Ten will finally get rid of the Leaders and Legends divisions and go to geographical alignments.

 

East West
Indiana Illinois
Maryland Iowa
Michigan Minnesota
Michigan St. Nebraska
Ohio St. Northwestern
Penn St. Purdue
Rutgers Wisconsin

 

The league will move to a nine-game conference schedule beginning 2016.

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

Big Ten Conference

Leaders Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Ohio St.

0-0

0-0

118.8

116.5

119.1

Wisconsin

0-0

0-0

114.9

112.8

114.5

Penn St.

0-0

0-0

111.4

114.3

110.8

Indiana

0-0

0-0

102.9

104.2

102.1

Purdue

0-0

0-0

98.8

96.2

97.2

Illinois

0-0

0-0

94.0

97.7

93.8

     

 

 

 

Legends Division

Team

Conf.

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Michigan St.

0-0

0-0

116.4

115.8

115.4

Nebraska

0-0

0-0

116.4

113.8

115.6

Michigan

0-0

0-0

115.7

112.2

115.2

Northwestern

0-0

0-0

114.5

111.6

114.5

Minnesota

0-0

0-0

102.1

102.5

101.0

Iowa

0-0

0-0

101.7

101.5

100.8

     

 

 

 

League Averages    

109.0

108.3

108.3

 

 

Official Preseason Media Poll

Pos Team Points 1st Place

Leaders Division

1

Ohio St.

155.5

26

2

Wisconsin

128

1

3

Penn St.

104

0

4

Indiana

74.5

0

5

Purdue

52.5

0

6

Illinois

31.5

0

       

Legends Division

1

Michigan

135.5

14

2

Nebraska

132.5

14

3

Michigan St.

101.5

4

4

Northwestern

95.5

0

5

Iowa

43

0

6

Minnesota

38

0

       

Big Ten Championship Game Votes

1

Ohio St. over Nebraska

12

2

Ohio St. over Michigan

11

3

Ohio St. over Michigan St.

2

4

Michigan over Ohio St.

1

       

* Media allowed to split vote in the B10 polls

 

The Big Ten does not release an official preseason all-conference team, so we will list the key players for each team with stats from 2012 in parentheses.

 

Leaders Division

 

Illinois

Nathan  Scheelhaase—QB (60.6% comp/4 TD/8 Int.) Good runner

Donovan Young—RB (571 yards/4.4 avg)

Ryan Lankford—WR (37-469/5 TD)

Mason Monheim—LB (85 tackles/6 TFL)

Jonathan Brown—LB (59 tackles/9.5 TFL)

Justin DuVernois—P (41.9 avg/39.2 net)

 

Indiana

Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld, and Tre Robinson—QB (3 battling for #1)

Cody Latimer—WR (51-806/6 TD)

Shane Wynn—WR (68-660/6 TD)

Ted Bolser—TE (41-445)

Dan Feeney—OL

David Cooper—LB (86 tackles/9 TFL)

Greg Heban—DB (91 tackles/3 Int./11 Passes Defended/7 TFL)

 

Ohio St.

Braxton Miller—QB (#1 Heisman Trophy Contender.  1,350 rush yds. with sacks removed/13 rush TD/58.3% comp./8.0 ypa/15 TD/6 Int.)

Corey Brown—WR (60-669)

Devin Smith—WR (30-618/6 TD)

Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell, and Jack Mewhort—OL

Ryan Shazier—LB (115 tackles/5 sacks/17 TFL/12 Passes Defended)

Bradley Roby—DB (63 tackles/19 Passes Defended)

Christian Bryant—DB (71 tackles/13 Passes Defended)

 

Penn St.

Zach Zwinak—RB (1,000 rush/4.9 avg/6 TD/20-177 rec)

Allen Robinson—WR (77-1013/11 TD)

Kyle Carter—TE (36-453)

John Urschel—OL

Deion Barnes—DL (6 sacks/10 TFL)

Mike Hull—LB (58 tackles/4 sacks/5 Passes Defended)

 

Purdue

Rob Henry—QB (should top last year’s QB production of Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush [2,884])

Bruce Gaston—DL (28 tackles/5.5 TFL)

Will Lucas—LB (68 tackles/6.5 TFL)

Landon Feichter—DB (80 tackles/4 Int./7 Passes Defended)

Frankie Williams—DB (45 tackles/11 Passes Defended)

Ricardo Allen—DB (45 tackles/4 TFL/5 Passed Defended)

 

Wisconsin

Curt Phillips and Joel Stave—QB (Phillips is the better runner/Stave is the better passer.  The two combined for 1,644 passing yards and 11 TD in 2012)

James White—RB (806 rush/6.4 avg/12 TD)

Melvin Gordon—RB (621 rush/10.0 avg/3 TD)

Jared Abbrederis—WR (49-837/5 TD)

Jacob Pedersen—TE (27-355/4 TD)

Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, and Ryan Groy—OL

Beau Allen—DL (37 tackles/7.5 TFL)

Chris Borland—LB (104 tackles/4.5 sacks/10 TFL/6 Passes Defended)

Dezmen Southward—DB (69 tackles/8 TFL/5 Passes Defended)

 

Legends Division

Iowa

Mark Weisman—RB (815 rush/5.1 avg/8 TD)

C. J. Fiedorowicz—TE (45-433)

Austin Blythe and Brandon Scherff—OL

Anthony Hitchens—LB (124 tackles/5.5 TFL)

James Morris—LB (113 tackles/9 TFL/5 Passes Defended)

Mike Meyer—K (100% PAT/81% FG/5-8 from 40+ yds)

 

Michigan

Devin Gardner—QB (59.5% comp./9.7 ypa/11 TD/5 Int.)

Fitz Toussaint/Derrick Green—RB.  Toussaint returns after rushing for 514 yards  in an injury-plagued season.  Green is a true freshman that could be another Jerome Bettis.  He has put on 20 pounds since last season.

Jeremy Gallon—WR (49-829)

Taylor Schofield and Michael Lewan—OL

Frank Clark—DL (25 tackles/9 TFL)

Thomas Gordon—DB (81 tackles/4 TFL/4 Passed Defended)

Brendon Gibbons—K (100% PAT/89% FG/3-5 from 40+ yds)

 

Michigan St.

Andrew Maxwell—QB (52.5% comp./13 TD/9 Int.

Bennie Fowler—WR (41-524/4 TD)

Travis Jackson and Jack Allen—OL

Marcus Rush—DL (38 tackles/7.5 TFL/5 QB Hurries)

Max Bullough—LB (111 tackles/12.5 TFL/5 Passes Defended 1st round potential)

Denicos Allen—LB (79 tackles/10 TFL/4 Passes Defended)

Isaiah Lewis—DB (80 tackles/8 Passes Defended)

Darqueze Dennard—DB (52 tackles/3 Int./10 Passes Defended)

Mike Sadler—P (43.3 avg/38.5 net)

 

Nebraska

Taylor Martinez—QB (1,019 rush/10 rush TD/62.0% comp./23 TD/12 Int.)

Ameer Abdullah—RB (1,137 rush/5.0 avg./8 TD)

Kenny Bell—WR (50-863/8 TD)

Spencer Long and Jeremiah Sirles—OL

Jason Ankrah—DL (26 tackles/6 FL)

Ciante Evans—DB (56 tackles/9 Passes Defended)

 

Northwestern

Kain Colter & Trevor Siemian—QB NU has the best platoon at this position of any team in the FBS.  Colter is the better runner, and Siemian is the better pro-style passer.  The two combined for 847 yards and 13 TD (sacks removed) and passed for 2,184 yards with a 14/7 TD/Int.

Venric Mark—RB (1,366 rush/6.0 avg/12 TD) Also PR (15-18.7/2 TD)

Brandon Vitabile—OL

Tyler Scott—DL (42 tackles/9 sacks/12.5 TFL/5 Passes Defended)

Damien Proby—LB (112 tackles/4.5 TFL)

Ibraheim Campbell—DB (89 tackles/14 Passes Defended)

Nick VanHoose—DB (33 tackles/3 Int./10 Passes Defended

Jeff Budzien—K (100% PAT/95% FG)

 

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.

 

Leaders Division

 

Team

Illinois Fighting Illini

               
Head Coach

Tim Beckman

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

Champaign-Urbana, IL

               
2012 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

2-10

               
Grades              
Run Offense

48

Pass Offense

65

Run Defense

54

Pass Defense

65

               
Ratings              
PiRate

94.0

Mean

97.7

Bias

93.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

81

Mean

68

Bias

82

               
Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

2-10

 

 

Team

Indiana Hoosiers

               
Head Coach

Kevin Wilson

               
Colors

Cream and Crimson

               
City

Bloomington, IN

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

54

Pass Offense

91

Run Defense

47

Pass Defense

71

               
Ratings              
PiRate

102.9

Mean

104.2

Bias

102.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

46

Mean

49

Bias

46

               
Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

 

Team

Ohio St. Buckeyes

               
Head Coach

Urban Meyer

               
Colors

Scarlet and Gray

               
City

Columbus, OH

               
2012 Record              
Conference

8-0

Overall

12-0

               
Grades              
Run Offense

93

Pass Offense

78

Run Defense

86

Pass Defense

81

               
Ratings              
PiRate

118.8

Mean

116.5

Bias

119.1

               
Rankings              
PiRate

13

Mean

7

Bias

13

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1 (win Big Ten Conf. Championship)

Overall

12-1

 

 

Team

Penn St. Nittany Lions

               
Head Coach

Bill O’Brien

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

State College, PA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

74

Pass Offense

82

Run Defense

77

Pass Defense

72

               
Ratings              
PiRate

111.4

Mean

114.3

Bias

110.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

34

Mean

14

Bias

35

               
Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-4

 

 

Team

Purdue Boilermakers

               
Head Coach

Darrell Hazell

               
Colors

Old Gold and Black

               
City

West Lafayette, IN

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

47

Pass Offense

77

Run Defense

60

Pass Defense

66

               
Ratings              
PiRate

98.8

Mean

96.2

Bias

97.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

62

Mean

79

Bias

74

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

3-9

 

 

Team

Wisconsin Badgers

               
Head Coach

Gary Andersen

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Madison, WI

               
2012 Record              
Conference

4-4 (won Big Ten Championship)

Overall

8-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

92

Pass Offense

71

Run Defense

85

Pass Defense

76

               
Ratings              
PiRate

114.9

Mean

112.8

Bias

114.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

27

Mean

21

Bias

28

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

10-2

 

 

Team

Iowa Hawkeyes

               
Head Coach

Kirk Ferentz

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Iowa City, IA

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

4-8

               
Grades              
Run Offense

67

Pass Offense

67

Run Defense

67

Pass Defense

66

               
Ratings              
PiRate

101.7

Mean

101.5

Bias

100.8

               
Rankings              
PiRate

49

Mean

55

Bias

53

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Michigan Wolverines

               
Head Coach

Brady Hoke

               
Colors

Maize and Blue

               
City

Ann Arbor, MI

               
2012 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

79

Pass Offense

89

Run Defense

79

Pass Defense

75

               
Ratings              
PiRate

115.7

Mean

112.2

Bias

115.2

               
Rankings              
PiRate

23

Mean

24

Bias

23

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Michigan St. Spartans

               
Head Coach

Mark Dantonio

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

East Lansing, MI

               
2012 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

7-6

               
Grades              
Run Offense

71

Pass Offense

81

Run Defense

94

Pass Defense

80

               
Ratings              
PiRate

116.4

Mean

115.8

Bias

115.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

20

Mean

10

Bias

22

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Minnesota Golden Gophers

               
Head Coach

Jerry Kill

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Minneapolis

               
2012 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-7

               
Grades              
Run Offense

72

Pass Offense

65

Run Defense

65

Pass Defense

67

               
Ratings              
PiRate

102.1

Mean

102.5

Bias

101.0

               
Rankings              
PiRate

48

Mean

48

Bias

52

               
Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

Nebraska Cornhuskers

               
Head Coach

Bo Pelini

               
Colors

Scarlet and Cream

               
City

Lincoln, NE

               
2012 Record              
Conference

7-1 (lost Conf. Championship Game)

Overall

10-4

               
Grades              
Run Offense

86

Pass Offense

81

Run Defense

78

Pass Defense

81

               
Ratings              
PiRate

116.4

Mean

113.8

Bias

115.6

               
Rankings              
PiRate

19

Mean

16

Bias

21

               
Prediction              
Conference

7-1 (lose Conf. Championship Game)

Overall

11-2

 

 

Team

Northwestern Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Pat Fitzgerald

               
Colors

Purple and White

               
City

Evanston, IL

               
2012 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

10-3

               
Grades              
Run Offense

82

Pass Offense

77

Run Defense

85

Pass Defense

76

               
Ratings              
PiRate

114.5

Mean

111.6

Bias

114.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

29

Mean

25

Bias

27

               
Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

August 25, 2012

2012 Big Ten Conference Preview

PiRate Disclaimer: Most of the PiRates grew up appreciating the Big Ten Conference as our favorite overall conference.  We remember fondly the days of Ohio State and Michigan dominating this league like the New York Yankees dominated the American League.  We remember Michigan State under Duffy Dougherty getting robbed of a chance to be 1966 National Champions because Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian realized that sitting on the ball and playing for a tie would give the Irish the national championship thanks to ND having dozens of AP writers in toe.  We even remember Dick Butkus leading Illinois on a victory lap around the Rose Bowl after the press deemed the Illini out of shape and not able to defeat Washington.  We remember perhaps the greatest modern day Horatio Alger story in college football history—the 1967 Indiana Hoosiers, who in our opinion would make a better movie than “Hoosiers” itself.  Indiana won one game in 1966 and figured to come in last again, but John Pont’s Cardiac Kids won the Big Ten title by coming from behind late in the game seven times!

 

Since 1998, the head PiRate has become an adopted Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer, as he fell in love and married the best Wisconsin girl God ever created.  The Badger state welcomed him with open arms (their loss).  So, this preview is made with extra special love to the most wonderful people on Earth—Midwesterners.

 

The Big Ten figures to take a little hit this year with two continual powerhouse programs unable to appear in the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game.

 

Penn State’s problems have been the third biggest story in the general media after the 2012 election and the Olympics.  There is no need to make any comments here, except to say that the Nittany Lions are through as a football power for the next generation.

 

Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play, and the Buckeyes could win the Leaders Division this year if a lot of the breaks go their way. 

 

The PiRate and PiRate Vintage Ratings show the Big Ten to be down this year by a couple of points.  It is enough to drop them to fourth best conference in our ratings.  However, better days are in the future, as Ohio State and Michigan will soon be just as powerful as they were 40 years ago, but this time Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Iowa will be there to provide top-rate competition.

 

Unlike most conferences, the Big Ten does not release an official media poll of all 12 teams.  So, we have substituted the over/under wins lines from the sportsbooks.

 

 

BigTen Leaders

+/-

Rank

Team

Wins

1

Wisconsin

9.5

2

Ohio State

9

3

Illinois

6.5

4

Purdue

6.5

5

Penn State

5.5

6

Indiana

3.5

 

 

 

 

Big Ten Legends

 

Rank

Team

Wins

1

Michigan

9

2

Nebraska

8.5

3

Michigan State

8.5

4

Iowa

7.5

5

Northwestern

6.5

6

Minnesota

5.5

 

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

BigTen Leaders

PiRate

1

Wisconsin

118.4

2

Ohio State

113.7

3

Illinois

105.9

4

Purdue

103.3

5

Penn State

97.7

6

Indiana

92.9

 

   

Rank

Big Ten Legends

PiRate

1

Michigan

123.1

2

Nebraska

117.6

3

Michigan State

113.8

4

Iowa

104.2

5

Minnesota

99.5

6

Northwestern

98.3

 

   

 

   

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

BigTen Leaders

Vintage

1

Ohio State

114

2

Wisconsin

112

3

Purdue

107

4

Illinois

105

5

Penn State

102

6

Indiana

97

 

   

Rank

Big Ten Legends

Vintage

1

Michigan

116

2

Nebraska

111

3

Michigan State

110

4

Iowa

107

5

Northwestern

100

6

Minnesota

97

 

 

Team

Illinois Fighting Illini

               
Head Coach

Tim Beckman

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

Champaign-Urbana, IL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

105.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

44

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

What a topsy-turvy season the folks in Champaign-Urbana had in 2011.  Illinois won its first six games, outscoring opponents by an average of 35-18.  Then, they lost their last six regular season games by an average of 11-22.  The Illini averaged 448 yards in their six wins and 269 in the six losses.

 

It brought the end to the Ron Zook era, and it christened the Tim Beckman era.  Beckman come from Toledo, where his 2011 Rocket team scored 60 points one week and lost and then turned around the next week and gave up 63 points and won.

 

Beckman is a proponent of the Spread Offense, and he inherits a talented dual-threat quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, who ran for a team leading 624 yards (885 with sacks removed) and passed for more than 2,100 yards, should produce big results in the new offense.  Backup quarterback Miles Osei will see action too.  In fact, it has been rumored that Illinois might put Osei on the field with Scheelhaase in a two-quarterback formation.

 

Scheelhaase will miss having leading receiver A. J. Jenkins around.  The first round NFL pick caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and will be hard to replace.  Spencer Harris was a distant number two with 26 receptions, but he gained less than nine yards per catch.  The Illini have multiple options at tight end, and Beckman will employ a double tight end formation at times with Evan Wilson and Jon Davis.  The duo combined for 31 receptions last year.  Keep an eye on true freshman Justin Hardee.  He has impressed in preseason practice.

 

Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson will split time at the running back spot, but the Illini will not get a lot of production out of this position.  If the tandem can combine for 850 rushing yards, while Scheelhaase adds another 800, it will be sufficient.

 

Guard Graham Pocic and tackle Hugh Thornton lead an average offensive line.  Center Jake Feldmeyer, guard Alex Hill, and tackle Michael Heitz round out the starting lineup.

 

Beckman brought in co-offensive coordinators in Billy Gonzales (from LSU) and Chris Beatty (from Vanderbilt).  The new offense will be more balanced and less dependent on the running game.  Expect a little more consistency this season and better overall numbers.

 

It will be hard to improve much defensively, as Illinois gave up just 286 yards and less than 20 points per game last year.  Missing from that team is the top sack and tackle for loss man in the conference (Whitney Mercilus 16 & 22 ½) along with the top linebacker and top defensive back.

 

Three defensive line starters are back, led by Akeem Spence at nose tackle.  He contributed 69 tackles in 2011.  Michael Buchanan finished second with 7 ½ sacks and added 13 ½ tackles for loss.  He will see more double teams this year.

 

Jonathan Brown isn’t another Dick Butkus, but he could be the best middle linebacker in the league this year not playing in Madison, WI.  Brown made 108 stops last year with six sacks and 19 ½ tackles for loss.  He will have two new mates starting next to him this year.

 

Terry Hawthorne is a quality cornerback.  He led Illinois with three interceptions and 11 passes defended last year.  Justin Green was a part-time starter and will take over full time at the opposite corner.  Supo Sanni is a competent safety.

 

Illinois will not win its first six games this year, but it will not lose its last six either.  We see the Illini splitting their eight conference games and winning three outside of the league, which means Beckman will guide this team to a bowl game.

 

Team

Indiana Hoosiers

               
Head Coach

Kevin Wilson

               
Colors

Cream and Crimson

               
City

Bloomington, IN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

1-11

               
PiRate Rating

92.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

83

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

75

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

0-8

Overall

3-9

 

In nine seasons as an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson saw the Sooners lose 24 games.  In one year in Bloomington, his team lost 11.  The Hoosiers had a tough adjustment from the prior staff to the new philosophy.  IU’s only 2011 win came against FCS opponent South Carolina State.  The Hoosiers lost to Ball State and North Texas.

 

Wilson welcomes back enough lettermen to see improvement in year two, but this team has a long way to go before it is competitive in the Big Ten.

 

Tre Roberson took over as starting quarterback as a true freshman last year, and he proved to be a decent run-pass threat.  Roberson rushed for 426 yards and passed for 937.  Should Roberson falter this year, junior college transfer Cameron Coffman will be there to take over.  He comes from a passing offense similar to what Wilson used at Oklahoma.

 

Wide receiver Kofi Hughes led IU with just 35 receptions and 536 yards last year.  Hughes faces a one game suspension over a violation of team rules.  Jamonne Chester finished third last year with 21 receptions, but Cody Latimer may supplant him in the lineup.  Latimer started twice last year and grabbed 12 passes.  Tight end Ted Bolser should see his catches increase from 14 to 25-30.  Overall, this is the best unit on the entire team, but Hughes is the only potential star.

 

Considering the passing game did not scare opponents, it is a wonder the ground game rushed for more than 160 yards per game last year.  Indiana topped 200 rushing yards against Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue and topped 300 against Northwestern.  This unit must be improved, because last year’s starter apparently has lost his job to a true freshman.  Stephen Houston rushed for more than 800 yards and averaged more than five yards per attempt, but Tevin Coleman has an extra gear and could take Indiana to new heights on the ground.

 

3 ½ starters return to the offensive line, but there are no stars here.  Center Will Matte and guards Bernard Taylor and Collin Rahrig have full-time starting experience, while tackle Peyton Eckert started half the games last year.  This is not a Big Ten-caliber blocking wall, but it is improved over last year.

 

The way IU gave up rushing yards last year, you would think they were playing the Ohio State’s and Michigan of the early 1970’s.  Opponent rushed for an average of 244 yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt.  In conference play, they gave up more than 270 rushing yards per game!  Needless to say, the Hoosiers finished 0-8 in the conference.

 

This is still a weak defense compared to the rest of the BCS schools, but at least they are not as far behind as they were last year.  There are even a couple of players that would start at four or five other Big Ten programs.  Tackle Adam Replogle returns after leading the team with four sacks and seven tackles for loss.  Larry Black forms a decent tandem inside. 

 

The linebacker unit needs much improvement for this team to be competitive, but there just isn’t enough talent here to pull it off.  Chase Hoobler is the only returning starter.

 

The secondary has some experience returning, but once again, some of last year’s regulars will be supplanted by new starters.  Kenny Mullen has taken over at cornerback for Greg Heban.  Lawrence Barnett is set to start at the other cornerback spot, but he faces a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.  Mark Murphy and Drew Hardin will man the safety positions. 

 

Indiana has a chance to begin the year 3-0 with a schedule that opens with Indiana State, UMass, and Ball State.  After that, the Hoosiers could drop their final nine games. 

 

 

Team

Ohio State Buckeyes

               
Head Coach

Urban Meyer

               
Colors

Scarlet and Gray

               
City

Columbus, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

113.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

10

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Urban Meyer has an impressive resume at his three previous coaching stops.  At Bowling Green, he took over a 2-9 team and went 8-3 and 9-3 in two years, making stars of quarterback Josh Harris and receiver Robert Redd.  The BGU offense improved by more than 150 points both years.

 

At Utah, he inherited a 5-6 team and guided the Utes to 10-2 and 12-0 records.  Utah improved on offense by 95 and 200 points.  Alex Smith became a 1st round draft choice.

 

At Florida, Urban renewal was not as tough a job as it had been at his two previous stops.  He inherited a team loaded with talent from the Ron Zook recruiting classes.  Florida had finished a disappointing 7-5 and went 9-3 in his first year.  They won the national championship his next year and two years after that, and Tim Tebow became a legend.

 

Ohio State is in about the same boat as Florida was when Meyer arrived at the Swamp.  Meyer will immediately right the ship at the big horseshoe.  Ohio State will compete for the Leaders Division title in year one, and the big improvement will come on the offensive side of the ball.

 

Braxton Miller is a great fit for Meyer’s spread offense.  He led the Buckeyes in rushing with 715 yards, over 900 with sacks eliminated.  He did not attempt many passes until the final two games, finishing with 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns and completing 54% of his passes in just 157 attempts.  Will Miller time become the next big hit?  It could if he rushes for 1,000 and passes for 2,500 this year, which he could.

 

Even thought OSU passed for just 127 yards per game last year, the Buckeyes are talented and deep at receiver.  Of the 11 players that caught more than one pass, 10 return this year.  Devin Smith led the Buckeyes with just 294 yards, but he did it on 14 receptions, scoring 29% of the time he caught a pass.  Former tight end Jake Stoneburner moves into the slot, where he will be a matchup nightmare at 6-5.  Philly Brown, Chris Fields, and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett round out a receiving corps that could very well double the amount of receptions this year.

 

Jordan Hall can become Ohio State’s version of Percy Harvin.  He will be a running back first, but he will frequently line up in a slot or wing position and run a pass route.  Unfortunately, he may not be running any routes until Mid September due to foot surgery.  Hall’s absence opens up a spot for Carlos Hyde and gives true freshman Bri’onte Dunn a chance to play immediately.  Hyde is more of the quintessential back Woody Hayes used to love like Tom Matte, Jim Otis, and Pete Johnson.  He can make a hole when one isn’t there and turn no gain into a three yard gain.

 

The offensive line has room for improvement to meet Ohio State standards.  Center Corey Linsley, guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell, and tackles Jack Mewhort, Reid Fragel, and Taylor Decker were all top recruits, and we expect the blocking to improve in the new offense.

 

The Buckeye defense was good last year, but in Columbus, good is never good enough.  OSU surrendered 21 points and 324 yards per game in 2011, but that was a major deterioration from the last five years, when the Buckeyes gave up an average of less than 14 points and 270 yards per game.  Of course, if Ohio State just repeats last year’s averages, the Buckeyes could find themselves at the top of the Leaders Division.

 

One of the first moves Meyer made, and it was quite classy, was to retain interim head coach Luke Fickell.  Eight full-time starters and a host of talented reserves return to this side of the ball.  But wait, there’s more.  The incoming freshman class signed four of the best high school defensive line recruits that has ever signed with one school.  It wouldn’t be surprising if all four contributed as freshmen.

 

The returning linemen are not going to concede their possessions to the plebes.  All four starters return to the trenches.  End John Simon led the Buckeyes with seven sacks and 16 TFL.  He could be a 1st team All-American in his final year.  Nose Tackle Johnathan Hankins controls two gaps and still finds time to disrupt offenses.  He pushed through the line and made 11 stops for loss last year.  Keep an eye on these names: Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, Se’Von Pittman, and Adolphus Washington.  This quartet of true freshmen is the future here.

 

It is at linebacker where OSU may be vulnerable.  Three new starters must be found.  Middle linebacker Curtis Grant needs to live up to his billing, and if he does, this unit will be just fine. 

 

The back line has no peers in the Big Ten.  Safeties C. J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are auditioning for the NFL.  The team combined for 143 tackles and 16 passes defended.  Cornerbacks Travis Howard and Bradley Roby did not produce fancy stats, but ate the clock in a lot of games and kept the defense off the field.  There were not a lot of tackles to be made.

 

To add to the OSU riches, the Buckeyes have the best special teams units in the league and one of the best in all of college football.  Kicker Drew Basil was true on 16 of 19 field goal attempts.  Punter Ben Buchanan seldom gave punt returners a chance to return a punt.  When he wasn’t lining up at running back, Hall was a big weapon on kick and punt returns, and wideout Fields returned just five punts, but took one to the house.

 

Meyer’s first year teams usually improve immediately on the attack side and see modest to minor improvement on defense, and that is exactly what should happen here this year.  Games at Michigan State and Wisconsin plus the home finale with that team from up north are the three games that will decide their fate this year, because OSU should win the other nine.  If the Buckeyes defeat Wisconsin at Camp Randall in mid-November, they will win the division, but of course, they are ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game.  Watch out for 2013.  Jim Tressel won his national title in his second year, and it would not surprise us if Meyer did it again.

 

 

Team

Penn State Nittany Lions

               
Head Coach

Bill O’Brien

               
Colors

Dark Blue and White

               
City

State College, PA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

97.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

71

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

59

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

5-7

 

It is so depressing to see such a gloried program crash and burn just like Rome.  Many people don’t even realize that Penn State was a powerhouse even before Joe Paterno took over as coach in 1966.  Rip Engle coached there for 16 seasons and never once had a losing record.  His teams were the reason the Liberty Bowl was created (it began in Philadelphia and Penn State played in it twice while it was there).  Before Engel, Bob Higgins led the Nittany Lions to multiple winning records.  In fact, PSU did not have a losing record from 1939 to 1987 (49 years!).

 

This program will not compete for at least 15-20 years with the sanctions in place.  The Lions will begin the season as an average team, but as attrition eats into the roster weekly, the team will get weaker and weaker.  By November, it would not surprise us if they were two touchdowns weaker than they will be on September 1.

 

New coach Bill O’Brien is an excellent offensive mind.  He served as Offensive Coordinator under Bill Belichick at New England.  However, he does not have any Tom Brady clones.  There are no Wes Welker’s or Rob Gronkowski’s.  There isn’t even a Stevan Ridley on this roster.  So don’t expect Penn State to break any offensive records.  They will be lucky to score 17 points and gain 300 yards per game this year with now just two starters left on this side of the ball.

 

Matt McGloin begins the season as the starting quarterback, but he will be pressed by Paul Jones.  McGloin completed 54% of his passes for 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns, but he needs good pocket protection, something that may not be available from week-to-week.  Jones is in his third year in Happy Valley, but he has yet to see the field due to academic issues.  He has the ability to scramble out of danger, which may be something Penn State quarterbacks have to do a lot this year.  It is uncertain whether O’Brien will continue the use of the Wildcat offense, but if he does, Bill Belton returns to pilot that attack.  The Lions did not have much of a passing game last year, completing less than 50% as a team and averaging a paltry 6.1 yards per attempt.  So, the drop won’t be so bad.

 

There isn’t much talent left at receiver as the top three talents chose to get out of Dodge before sunset.  Justin Brown went to Oklahoma; Devin Smith was dismissed; and Kevin Haplea transferred to Florida State.  What’s left?  Allen Robinson caught three passes for 29 yards.  Alex Kenney caught some fine passes—in spring practice.  If he can stay healthy, tight end Gary Gilliam will be more of a third tackle than a receiver, but he will provide a huge target for a hurried quarterback.

 

Penn State’s running game took a major hit, as Silas Redd became the top free agent this summer.  He took his game to Southern Cal, leaving Penn State with Belton as the feature back.  Derek Day may never have seen the field this year prior to the turmoil, but he will now see considerable action as will Curtis Dukes.  Redd averaged 113 rushing yards per game last year.  It will be difficult for all the backs to replicate that amount this year.

 

The Lions were facing a minor rebuilding mode in their interior line, so the fact that they retained all five of their projected starters is only a modest plus.  Center Matt Stankiewitch is the closest thing to a star, but there are a half dozen better centers in the Big Ten.

 

PSU did not suffer as many defections on defense as they did on offense, but the losses on this side of the ball will sting, especially in the secondary.  Both of the expected starting cornerbacks are gone, and it leaves PSU will no quality depth.  Stephon Morris is an average pass defender, but he is the best they’ve got.  The safeties are inexperienced, and this unit will be exploited this year, especially as the season wears on.

 

The great linebacker tradition still lives on with Gerald Hodges.  He led the team with 106 tackles and registered 10 for losses.  He may be called on to blitz from the outside much more this year, because opponents will plan their attack to the other side of the line.  This unit took a hit with the defection of Khairi Fortt, who wound up at UC-Berkeley.

 

Up front, PSU only lost a promising incoming freshman, but they lost their best defender through the normal method—graduation.  No player on this roster will replace Devon Still, who led the team with 17 tackles for loss.

 

The kicking game took the biggest hit of all.  Placekicker/punter Anthony Fera went to Texas, where he can concentrate on placekicking and not have to be the punter too. 

 

Let’s analyze the schedule and how we think the last season the folks in State College will be able to see a competitive team for a generation.  The opening game against Ohio U is winnable.  The enthusiasm and healthy roster gives the Lions the edge.  Game two at Virginia figures to be quite a challenge, as the defense will keep this game close.  The Lions will then have to deal with Navy’s option game, and they should still be able to compete in this one.  The September 22 games at home against Temple should be the last game where the Lions have a decent number of healthy players.  We would be shocked if Penn State was not 2-2 or 3-1 after that game.  Then, things get rough.  A visit to Illinois may not be fun.  They come home to face a physical Northwestern team.  After a week off to lick their collective wounds, the Lions go to Iowa where the Hawkeyes do not treat visitors well, even painting the visiting locker room pink to instill a docile emotion.  The schedule continues to remain tough the next three weeks with sure losses against Ohio State, at Purdue, and at Nebraska.  If they have enough players left, Indiana is beatable in Beaver Stadium.  They finish at home against Wisconsin, and the Badgers should mutilate them by playing steamroller football.  It adds up to a losing record.  It can be mediocre (5-7), or it can be catastrophic (2-10).  This program has never suffered through a double-digit loss season.  Whether it happens this season or in one of the next couple is the question to be answered.  Penn State has 0-12, 1-11, and 2-10 seasons in its future.  Indiana fans can give PSU fans advice on how to handle it.

 

 

Team

Purdue Boilermakers

               
Head Coach

Danny Hope

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

West Lafayette, IN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

103.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

40

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-5

 

After enduring three consecutive losing seasons, there was hope in West Lafayette last year.  Purdue almost dropped their opener to Middle Tennessee and was outgained by 40 yards.  A late score pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat.  That win eventually proved to be the difference in going 6-6 instead of 5-7, and Coach Danny Hope’s Boilermakers earned a trip to Detroit and defeated Western Michigan in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl to finish with a winning record.

 

Hope has enough talent coming back this year to continue the winning, but only on a modest level.  Home games with Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Marshall, Penn State, and Indiana will leave PU needing just one more win to go bowling again.

 

The offense is slowly becoming potent once again, as the Boilermaker train gained 377 yards and 27 points per game last year.  Quarterback Caleb TerBush and former Miami starter Robert Marve both return after spending time as the starter last year.  Both expect to see action again this year.  They teamed up for more than 2,500 passing yards and 17 touchdowns.

 

Whoever is tossing the passes, he will be looking for one man in particular.  Antavian Edison has big play potential.  He led PU with 44 receptions in 2011.  O. J. Ross is an excellent possession receiver.  Keep an eye on Gary Bush; he has the potential to be a big play specialist, but he has yet to show it in game action.  Purdue can deploy two effective tight ends.  Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright should share about 40 receptions this year.

 

The Boilermakers will miss having their top runner at the start of this season, and Ralph Bolden could be out the entire season due to a torn ACL suffered last year.  Akeem Shavers should fill in and keep the ground game credible.

 

The offensive line is not star-studded, but it is better than average.  The left side is noticeably superior to the right side with guard Peter Drey and tackle Trevor Foy drawing the attention of NFL scouts.

 

Expect continued offensive improvement this year; the Boilermakers should top 28 points per game and could top 400 yards per game.

 

All is not as rosy on the other side of the ball, as the defense has not been dominating since 2004.  The front four returns three talented starters, led by all-Big Ten tackle Kawann Short.  Short made 17 tackles behind the line and could vie for the Outland Trophy this year.  Fellow tackle Bruce Gaston gives PU an unorthodox pass rush strength, as the two tackles are the best sack specialists, while the ends are better run stoppers.  Robert Maci could change that this season.

 

The Boilermakers have potential in the second line of defense.  Linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas finished with 91 and 82 tackles respectively last year and teamed for 17 tackles for negative yardage. 

 

The Boilermakers are set at cornerback with two fine returning starters.  Ricardo Allen led the team with three picks last year.  Safety is a concern with two new starters taking over.  Max Charlot saw considerable action as a reserve, but Taylor Richards saw very little.

 

Purdue needs to win one game against the non-creampuffs on the schedule.  The two most vulnerable opponents are Minnesota and Iowa, but both games are on the road.  Maybe, the Boilermakers can upset Michigan at home.  We have confidence that Hope springs eternal in West Lafayette.

 

Team

Wisconsin Badgers

               
Head Coach

Bret Bielema

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Madison, WI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

118.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

14

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3

 

Back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances that ended in close losses have been the only dark spot on UW’s record the last few years.  2012 figured to be a minor rebuilding year, but incidents that took place after the Rose Bowl left the Badgers as prohibitive favorites to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

 

Ohio State became ineligible for post-season play, and Penn State self-destructed.  Coach Bret Bielema signed yet another all-conference quarterback from the ACC, and Montee Ball decided not to put his name in the NFL Draft hat.  At least for one more year, UW is the team to beat in this division.

 

Danny O’Brien took a circuitous route to Madison.  He was headed to Vanderbilt to rejoin his mentor James Franklin, but Maryland filed a grievance against the Commodores for talking with O’Brien before they were supposed to.  So, O’Brien followed in the footsteps of Russell Wilson and ended up in Madtown.

 

Just how well O’Brien can fill the shoes of Wilson will determine how far the Badgers can go.  As a freshman, with Franklin’s guidance, O’Brien tossed for more than 2,400 yards and earned the ACC Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award.  O’Brien will not come close to matching Wilson’s senior stats (73% completion rate, 33 touchdowns, #1 in NCAA Passing Efficiency).  So, there will be a drop in passing efficiency.

 

There is a small bit of concern at running back, where an expected Heisman Trophy finalist is recovering from a severe mugging earlier this month.  Montee Ball took several blows to the head and suffered a concussion and injured jaw.  His timing was thrown off by the missed practices, and he has not faced any live tackling.  He rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011, and he showed his receiving tools with 24 receptions and six additional touchdowns, averaging 17 points per game by himself!  Ball is not the only option at the running back position.  James White could easily top 1,000 yards rushing if given a few more attempts.  He finished with 713 yards and six scores with an average per carry almost identical to Ball.  When the Badgers insert a fullback in the game to block, they will have a capable man in Sherard Cadogan, who moonlights as a tight end.

 

The receiving game returns its big star, who happens to be the leading returning receiver in the Big Ten.  Jared Abbrederis  caught 55 passes for 933 yards and eight scores.  When the UW running game is going, defenses have to try to stop him without double covering him, and he is deadly in the play-action passing game.   What’s a Wisconsin offense without terrific tight ends?  Jacob Pedersen is the top TE in the league; he caught 30 passes a year ago and scored eight times.  Brian Wozniak will get his hand on a dozen passes this year as UW uses two tight ends several plays per game.

 

UW may have to be nicknamed “Offensive Line U.”  They are noted for having superstars at center and especially at the all-important left tackle position.  The Badgers return both of their stars at those positions.  Travis Frederick has no Big Ten rival at center, and Alabama’s Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones is the only center in the nation better than Frederick.  Jones may also be the only legitimate barrier to tackle Ricky Wagner becoming the third consecutive UW left tackle to take home the Outland Trophy (Gabe Carimi and Joe Thomas).  Wagner should become the first offensive lineman picked in next year’s draft, as he is every bit as talented as former USC tackle Matt Kalil.

 

There is one more concern on this side of the ball.  Former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is now the head coach at Pitt, and new OC Matt Canada has an entire different offensive pedigree, being a proponent of the spread read-option.  He will leave the power running/play-action passing game intact this year and probably open up the playbook to include more dropback passes.  Chryst’s offenses at UW were about two touchdowns better per game than what former coach Barry Alvarez had before hiring him to run the offense, and UW’s attack became even more explosive in recent years.  It will be impossible to match last year’s offensive numbers (44.1 points/469.9 yards/23.3 FD/235.6 rush/234.3 pass/10.0 per pass attempt).  Look for a drop to about 32 points and 425 yards per game.

 

All is not terrific on the defensive side of the ball.  There are a few questions in the secondary.  The Badgers proved vulnerable against the pass of the better opposing quarterbacks, giving up 571 yards through the air to Michigan State in the two games against the Spartans and 276 against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.  The Badgers  must find a replacement for their top pass defender.  Aaron Henry who was one of three defenders with four interceptions, and he was the best run stopper in the back line as well.  Also gone is top cornerback Antonio Fenelus, another one of the three defenders with four interceptions.  UW will definitely be more vulnerable to the deeper passing routes, but they still have safety Shelton Johnson on hand (the other defender with four interceptions.)

 

The second line of defense features the greatest one-two punch at linebacker in Big Ten history.  Mike Taylor and Chris Borland finished one-two in the league with 293 combined tackles (150 for Taylor 143 for Borland).  That’s 21 tackles per game, and it is all the more impressive when you look at some facts.  First, this duo frequently missed large chunks of playing time in the second half of nine blowout wins.  Also, there were no tackles on a large percentage of plays by Wisconsin’s opponents.  138 times, opposing quarterbacks threw incomplete passes.  A high number of opponents chose to go out of bounds rather than take the punishment UW doled out. 

 

Just one full-time starter returns up front in the trenches, but the reserves saw a lot of game action.  Tackle Ethan Hemer returns to one interior spot, while Beau Allen becomes the new starter at the other tackle spot.  Allen actually finished second on the team in sacks as a key reserve in 2011.  At the terminal positions. Brendan Kelly started eight times, while David Gilbert returns after starting four games prior to suffering a season-ending injury.

 

By default UW should make it back to the Big Ten Championship Game.  Whether they make it as division champs or as runners up to Ohio State is the only question.  We tend to side with the probability that the Badgers will win the division and win 10 or more games for the fourth year in a row and the sixth year in the last eight.

 

 

Team

Iowa Hawkeyes

               
Head Coach

Kirk Ferentz

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Iowa City, IA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

104.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

37

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

8-4

 

Coach Kirk Ferentz has turned down opportunities to coach in the NFL.  Many experts believe he is the best college football coach.  If he can guide the Hawkeyes to the Legends Division title this year, then Iowa officials need to add a hyphen and his name to Kinnick Stadium.

 

The Hawkeyes suffered heavy attrition on both sides of the ball.  The two best offensive playmakers and ¾ of the defensive line must be replaced.

 

At least quarterback James Vandenberg returns for his senior season.  Vandy completed 59% of his passes for 25 touchdowns a year ago.  Drew Tate and Ricki Stanzi, he is not, but Vandenberg seldom makes big mistakes.  Look for his numbers to improve in his final year as new offensive coordinator Greg Davis will emphasize the passing game more than his predecessor Ken O’Keefe.

 

Vandenberg is going to dearly miss Marvin McNutt, who led the Big Ten with 1,315 receiving yards and scored 12 touchdowns.  There are no players that will take up that slack.  The new go-to guy is Keenan Davis, who finished second with 50 receptions and 713 yards.  He benefitted from having pass defenses concentrate on stopping McNutt, and now those defenses will key on him.  Tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz is no Jacob Pedersen, but he is one of the best of the rest.  Look for his receptions to more than double from last year (16 rec./167 yds./3 TD).

 

It may be even harder to replace star running back Marcus Coker.  Coker quit the team following a suspension for the Insight Bowl.  Three other players with eligibility left the program as well.  That leaves Damon Bullock as the starter for 2012.  Bullock rushed for a whopping 20 yards on 10 carries.  This is an area where a true freshman, or two, could see immediate playing time.  Greg Garmon comes to Iowa City with impressive credentials.

 

The apple did not fall far from the tree.  Coach Ferentz has always been an offensive line specialist, and he helped create one of the better centers in college football.  His son James is the top blocker on the team.  His older son Brian is the offensive line coach.  Iowa has to plug three holes in the interior, and they lost a 1st Round Draft choice in Riley Reiff.

 

The biggest question on the defensive side is the interior line.  End Dominic Alvis is the only returning regular, and he was not a standout defender.  End Steve Bigach moved outside from tackle after seeing a lot of action in reserve.  There is virtually no experience returning to the tackle positions, and this will be a concern for new defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

 

One area that will not be a concern is at linebacker, where the Hawkeyes return their top two 2011 tacklers.  Christian Kirksey and James Morris both registered 110 tackles.  New starter Anthony Hitchens saw enough action to make 25 tackles.

 

The back line of defense lost two quality players that both went in the NFL draft.  Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine only accounted for six defended passes.  Micah Hyde and Tanner Miller might have been the top two pass defenders last year, and they both return.  Hyde led with 11 passes defended, while Miller matched Hyde with three interceptions.

 

Iowa benefits with an easy September schedule.  Games against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago, and at home against Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Minnesota will not be “gimmes,” but the Hawkeyes have an excellent chance to start 5-0.  There are four additional winnable games, and we believe Iowa will find a way to win three of them.  Call it an eight-win season, which will be quite pleasing for a rebuilding year.  Rarely does a team win more games when they have to rebuild.

 

 

Team

Michigan Wolverines

               
Head Coach

Brady Hoke

               
Colors

Maize and Blue

               
City

Ann Arbor, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

123.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

7

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-2

 

It had been five years since Michigan was a force on the football field.  Losing to Appalachian State brought Lloyd Carr’s career to an end in 2007.  Rich Rodriguez could only go 15-22 in three seasons, and his teams lost to Ohio State by a combined 100-24.  Brady Hoke turned things around in one season, as the Wolverines went 11-2 including a win in the Sugar Bowl.  They finally ended the losing streak to their arch-rival.

 

The only obstacle that might prevent Michigan from becoming a national title contender this year is a brutal road schedule.  The Wolverines open at Cowboys Stadium against defending national champ Alabama.  They also must face Notre Dame, Purdue, Nebraska, and Ohio State on the road.  Throw in a trip to Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug, and Michigan will not be able to take it to the next level this year.  However, the maize and blue could make it to the conference title game in a year where three contenders could make a 6-2 league mark good enough to win the division.

 

The PiRate Ratings actually believe Michigan can compete against Alabama and should be favored in the rest of their games (remember that the PiRate Ratings are only good for the next week’s games and cannot really be used to look ahead).

 

Can quarterback Denard Robinson really be improved from last year?  How do you top 1,176 yards rushing and 2,173 yards passing and 36 total touchdowns?

 

Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy give Hoke two other fine players should anything happen to Robinson.

 

Robinson was not the only1,000-yard rusher last year.  Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint gained 1,041 yards and scored nine touchdowns, while averaging 5.6 yards per attempt.  However, he was arrested for drunk driving this year, and he faces a possible suspension at the start of the year.  Without Toussaint, Michigan’s chances of upsetting Alabama go from slim to almost none.  Sophomore Thomas Rawls has the potential to be a fine back with a combination of power and speed, but he has limited game experience.  Against Minnesota last year, with Michigan ahead by 40 points, Rawls rushed 10 times for 73 yards, including a 25-yard breakaway.  Vincent Smith returns and serves as the back in obvious passing downs.  He caught 11 passes last year, with two going the distance.

 

Another possible holdout for the first game is wideout Roy Roundtree.  He is recovering from knee surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season.  Michigan is very deep at this position with five or six players capable of contributing to the cause.  Jeremy Gallon joins Roundtree as a big play artist.  Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and true freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson all have the talent to play key roles.  Also, backup quarterback Gardner could play some on the flank.  Because there is not much talent at tight end, UM could use more no tight end sets this year.

 

Hoke made his mark on the defensive side of the ball, as the Wolverines looked more like a Bo Schembechler defense last year than the defenses of Rich Rod.  Nine of the top 11 tacklers return for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.  Mattison was the UM DC for a couple of seasons in the 1990’s, and those two teams gave up 17 and 15 points per game.  In his first year back in A2, the Wolverines improved from 35.2 to 17.4 points per game allowed and sliced close to 130 yards allowed per game. 

 

The principle concern on this side is the interior line, where UM lost three starters including Mike Martin, who matriculated to the NFL.  End Craig Roh is a marginal NFL prospect.  He is one of two returning Wolverines to record four sacks and eight tackles for loss last year.  End Brennen Beyer is one of the quickest linemen off the ball, and while he may be a small liability against the run, he should emerge as a sack leader.

 

UM is set at linebacker with the return of three talented players.  Kenny Demens led the team with 94 tackles with five going for negative yardage.  Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan teamed for 100 tackles.  Ryan had three sacks and 11 TFL.

 

Safety Jordan Kovacs offers excellent run support from the back line.  He finished with 75 tackles, including four sacks off blitzes and eight total tackles for loss.   Fellow safety Thomas Gordon and cornerback J. T. Floyd give this unit three experienced defenders.

 

If this Michigan team could play last year’s schedule, we would give the Wolverines a 50-50 shot of going 12-0.  The schedule is too tough to expect 12-0 in 2012.  Michigan figures to lose at least two of those tough games, but two losses could be enough to win the Legends Division title.  I wouldn’t want to face this team in December.

 

Team

Michigan State Spartans

               
Head Coach

Mark Dantonio

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

East Lansing, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

113.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

20

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-3

 

Coach Mark Dantonio served as an assistant to Nick Saban and Jim Tressel, so it is obvious that he is a strict disciplinarian and conservative-minded leader.  That is exactly what this program needed when he took over for John L. Smith in 2007.  The Spartans had suffered through three straight losing seasons, and he righted the green ship in year one, guiding MSU to seven wins and a bowl appearance.  State has now been to a bowl all five years since Dantonio arrived in East Lansing.  It is time for the Spartans to advance to the next level and play in a BCS Bowl Game.  They finally knocked off an SEC team in a New Year’s Day Bowl, and now it is time to win the Big Ten Championship.

 

Well, it may not be time this year, because Michigan State lost a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball.  The Spartans may come up short against a couple teams that can score on any defense.

 

The first order of business is to find a replacement for quarterback Kirk Cousins, the school’s all-time leading passer.   Cousins gained more than 3,300 yards through the air last year and connected on 64% of his passes.  Andrew Maxwell takes over after seeing very limited action last year.  He threw 26 passes and completed 18 for 171 yards.  There will be a significant drop in production this year.

 

To make matters worse for the passing game, the top four receivers from last year are missing.  These four combined to catch more than 70% of Cousins’ completed passes.  The leading returnee is Dion Sims, and he caught a total of just a dozen passes and averaged a meager 8.2 yards per catch.  What this means is that MSU might drop from 250+ passing yards per game to less than 200.

 

The running game must take up the slack of the lost passing yardage.  Look for Dantonio to try to shorten games and control the clock with a potential all-conference runner.  Le’Veon Bell started just six games in 2011, but he gained 948 yards and scored 13 times.  He could run the ball 25-30 times per game this year, and at that rate, we expect he could rush for 125 yards per game.  Larry Caper will probably see his attempts double this season.  Bell and Caper may also be the two best pass receivers, and they could be Maxwell’s go to targets in 3rd and short situations.

 

There is a reason the running game should thrive even though the passing game is not going to divert a lot of attention away by enemy defenses.  The MSU offensive line is loaded with talent.  MSU has two tough blockers at the tackle positions, and they will open running lanes with multiple dominating blocks.  Fou Fonoti and Dan France will team with guard Chris McDonald and center Travis Jackson to give MSU four exceptional blockers up front.  Number five is there if Blake Treadwell can return at any point in the season.  Treadwell suffered a hairline tibia fracture and will not be able to practice until well into September.

 

Michigan State’s offense could regress from 31 to 24 points and from 390 to 330 yards per game, and still the Spartans could contend for the Legends Division title.  The defense will be tougher this year than last, and with a more conservative game plan, they probably won’t have to defend as many plays in 2012.  Dantonio could play it close enough to the vest to bring total scrimmage plays per game down to about 120. 

 

The Spartans might have the best stop troops in the league, as there are no liabilities at any of the 11 positions.  The defensive line was tough to run on last year, and it was even better rushing the passer.  Ends Marcus Rush and William Gholston are as good as they come, as both are equally strong against the run and the pass.  They teamed up for 128 tackles, nine sacks and 28 tackles for loss, and they added seven defended passes.  There will be two new starting tackles, but both have prior playing experience.

 

Middle linebacker Max Bullough and Sam linebacker Denicos Allen are as fine a pair of linebackers as anybody in the league that doesn’t have a red “W” on his helmet.  The two athletic defenders united to make 172 tackles with 25 ½ going for negative yards.  Allen finished second in the league with 11 sacks.  If he can remain healthy for a full year, star linebacker Chris Norman could really shine.  He has the potential to make 90 or more tackles.  There is fine depth at this position, and MSU should continue to make life miserable for opposing offenses.

 

Three of the four starters from the secondary are back.  Cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis are tough pass defenders.  The three combined for 10 interceptions and 22 passes defended.  Adams has to be respected on the corner blitz, as he can quickly get to a quarterback.

 

Kicker Dan Conroy may be counted on for more field goal attempts this year.  He was true on 17-23 and has a leg powerful enough to connect from beyond 50 yards.

 

The Spartans are still division title contenders despite the heavy losses on the offensive side.  Instead of winning close games 31-24, they need to win 16-13 this year.  The non-conference schedule includes games against Boise State and Notre Dame plus two in-state directional rivals—Central and Eastern Michigan.  We actually believe the Spartans will stop Boise in the opener and gain enough momentum to go 4-0 before hosting Ohio State on September 29.  If they can get by the Buckeyes, then Dantonio’s troops just might keep rolling.  The October 20 game at Michigan is the toughest one on the schedule, and you never know what is going to happen when these rivals meet.  While Michigan State could be strong enough to go 11-1 and repeat as Legends Division champions, we believe they will come up short and have to settle for another non-BCS bowl.

 

 

Team

Minnesota Golden Gophers

               
Head Coach

Jerry Kill

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Minneapolis, MN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

99.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

63

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

76

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

6-6

 

Here is another case where the administration and fans believe their school deserves to become a big-time program.  They ran off a coach that guided the Gophers to eight bowl games in nine years, but nary a one came on New Year’s Day, especially in Pasadena.  They expected better than six, seven, eight, nine, and even 10-win seasons.  Recruiting a Lawrence Maroney did not suffice, because former coach Glen Mason could not recruit the next Drew Brees.

 

The Land of 10,000 lakes is not the land of 10,000 recruits.  Landing the quick players that grace the roster at Ohio State and Michigan is not that easy.  Many players just do not want to come to Minnesnowta, especially when they could go to a school where they can study outdoors in January without having to wear a mouton coat.

 

Since Mason left the Cities, UM has been to one bowl game, which they lost.  In three of the five seasons, the Gophers won three or fewer games.  Let this be a lesson to those of you at other schools that mistakenly believe your program is good enough to compete with LSU, Oklahoma, and USC, when your history shows you have competed with Kansas, Arizona, and Maryland.

 

Minnesota might be able to return to the way things were when Mason coached the Gophers, but the times have long passed when UM was a legitimate power every year.  Murray Warmath hasn’t been around in more than 40 years, and Sandy Stephens and Bobby Bell have been gone for a half-century. 

 

Okay, that’s the end of our lecture.  As for the 2012 Minnesota team, expect second year coach Jerry Kill’s squad to threaten for bowl eligibility.  The biggest change is in the schedule as Minnesota gives up Southern Cal for UNLV and FCS power North Dakota State for New Hampshire.  Expect the Gophers to go 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, so a 2-6 conference mark will get them to Detroit in late December.

 

Quarterback MarQueis Gray is a poor man’s Denard Robinson.  Last year, he led the Gophers with 966 yards rushing (more than 1,000 with sacks removed), and he passed for close to 1,500 yards.  His completion percentage hovered just over 50, but the Gophers threw several longer passes trying to stretch defenses and open running lanes.

 

Minnesota only completed 11.2 passes per game last year, and 4.3 of them went to Da’Jon McKnight.  He needs to be replaced this year, and none of the holdovers caught 20 balls in 2011.  There is room here for a true freshman to contribute, and Andre McDonald could be that person.  Brandon Green and Malcolm Moulton teamed for 29 receptions, and both return to add to that total this year.  Expect more contribution from tight ends John Rabe and Drew Goodger.  Both are quick for their size.

 

A new set of running backs needs to emerge, but UM was not exceptionally talented here last year.  Junior college transfer James Gillum and sophomore Donnell Kirkwood could even be a mild upgrade at this position.

 

With the unfortunate forced retirement of tackle Jimmy Gjere due to multiple concussions, the offensive line remains the weakest unit in the division.  Neither Zach Mottla nor Jon Christenson has separated himself from his teammate, so the two players may split time at center.  Zac Epping started eight games at one guard spot, while Tommy Olson started three but has more upside potential than Epping.  Tackle Ed Olson is the only lineman that has started more than one season.

 

With an experienced Gray returning for his senior season, the UM offense should continue to improve on the scoreboard.  We believe the Gophers will top 21 points per game this year and maybe approach 24, something they have not done since 2007.

 

The defense did not improve in Kill’s first season at TCF Bank Stadium.  Even with most of the starters returning, UM gave up 11 more yards per game.  This year, the top two tacklers and five of the top nine have left.

 

The defensive line will be vulnerable to hard-nosed Big Ten opponents.  Ends D. L. Wilhite and Ben Perry started a combined 21 games and made just 31 tackles with four sacks.  Two new starters need to be plugged in at tackle.

 

If you can call it an asset, linebacker is the one unit that is not that far behind the better Big Ten teams.  Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis return as regulars after combining for 160 tackles, but too many of those tackles came at the end of five-yard runs.

 

The back line needs immediate help from incoming freshmen.  Minnesota was overly generous in its pass defense, giving up a completion in better than two thirds of their opponents’ pass attempts.  Cornerback Troy Stoudermire intercepted a pair of passes and broke up three more, but those numbers are not the type you need from your top pass defender.  There are four true freshman that might get the opportunity to play right away; Martez Shabazz could start from day one.

 

The Gophers won two conference games last year.  They clobbered Illinois in the season finale, and they edged Iowa in a big upset to win the Floyd of Rosedale  Trophy.  If Kill’s team can find a way to repeat the 2-6 league mark, they have a great chance of earning a bowl bid.

 

 

 

 

Team

Nebraska Cornhuskers

               
Head Coach

Bo Pelini

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Lincoln, NE

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

117.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

18

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-2

 

The State of Nebraska does not have a lot of high school football talent, mainly because there are not that many high schools playing 11-man football.  8-man football is very popular there due to many small towns being too far away from other towns, and thus the male population of these schools cannot support regular 11-man football.

 

Still, because of reputation alone, Nebraska continues to remain a football power.  In their second year in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers are a strong contender with the two Michigan schools for the Legends Division title.

 

The first order of business for Coach Bo Pelini was finding a replacement for his brother Carl, who left to become the head man at Florida Atlantic.  The new defensive coordinator for the “Blackshirt Defense” is D-line coach John Papuchis.

 

The strength of the Blackshirts is in the secondary.  The ‘Huskers are loaded with talent and depth here.  While NU did not pick off a lot of passes, they did continue to break up a lot of passes.  Safety Daimion Stafford knocked away 10 passes.  Cornerback Andrew Green did it nine times, picking up one interception.  P. J. Smith and Harvey Jackson will both see time at safety, while Antonio Bell has come from deep in the depth chart to the top at the other cornerback spot.  There has to be room on the roster from Memphis transfer Mohammed Seisay as soon as he recovers from an ankle injury.

 

There is quality but not as much depth at linebacker where Will Compton returns in the middle.  Compton finished second last year with 82 tackles.  Sean Fisher started four games coming off an injury.  He should return to his pre-injury form this season.  It will be difficult replacing top tackler Lavonte David, who finished up his career with 133 tackles and 13 TFL.  Alonzo Whaley will split the open position with David Santos and Zaire Anderson.

 

Up front, nose tackle Baker Steinkuhler is the son of the great Dean Steinkuhler (Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy winner in 1983).  He is a star in his own right.  Ends Cameron Meredith, Jason Ankrah, and Eric Martin will all contribute. 

 

Look for the Blackshirts to improve this year, but they will not replicate what the 2009 or 2010 units did.

 

Nebraska has a respectable but not spectacular offense.  Taylor Martinez is better than Gray at Minnesota but not as good as Robinson at Michigan.  Last year, he ran for 874 yards (just over 1,000 if you eliminate the sacks) and passed for 2,089 yards and 13 touchdowns.  True freshman Tommy Armstrong is the future here, and his future could begin this year if Martinez falters are gets hurt.

 

The offense still runs through the I-backs, and Rex Burkhead is the best runner in the league not named Ball.  Last year, he gained 1,357 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.  Ameer Abdullah backs him up, but he does not have the explosive burst that Burkhead has.  The Cornhuskers still rely on a fullback to block for their I-back.  Mike Marrow may be pushed by true freshman Andy Janovich.

 

Nebraska did not pass the ball 30-35 times a game like most teams.  They attempted just 22.5 passes per game and completed 12.6.  So, there were not a lot of receptions to go around.  Even though he had just 32 receptions, Kenny Bell is one of the better receivers in the Big Ten.  Quincy Enunwa is almost as good at the other wideout.  However, the real strength is in the middle where two tight ends could become stars.  Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed combined for 29 receptions and 446 yards.  When defensive backfields forget they are not just decoys, these two can burn them for 25-30 yards down the middle.

 

No dynasty can continually find A-1 talent at all the skill positions.  It takes great offensive line play to keep a team consistently among the top offenses every year, and Nebraska has a bevy of talented blockers.  Spencer Long is a stud at left guard.  Seung Hoon Choi is an emerging talent at the other guard spot.  Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles are sufficient tackles.  There is a bit of a question at center, where Justin Jackson and Cole Pensick still compete for the starting job.

 

Pelini has gone 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, and 9-4 in his four years in Lincoln.  For two thirds of the colleges in America, that would be cause for celebration.  In Lincoln, the fans wonder what happened when their team loses four times.  The last time the Cornhuskers lost just three times, they fired Frank Solich.  Nebraska has the talent to lose three or fewer times this season.  In fact, if this team does not win 10 games, Pelini may start to come under fire.

 

 

Team

Northwestern Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Pat Fitzgerald

               
Colors

Purple and White

               
City

Evanston, IL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

98.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

68

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

62

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

6-6

 

After numerous attempts to win a World Series, with many chants of “wait ‘til next year,” next year eventually came for the Brooklyn Dodgers, when they beat the Yankees in seven games to win the 1955 World Series in their eighth attempt.  One of these years, “next year” is going to happen for Northwestern, and the Wildcats will win their first bowl since the 1949 Rose Bowl.  The Wildcats have lost their last nine bowl games.

 

On the positive side, NU is now a regular bowl participant after suffering through multiple decades as the worst Division 1 program.  The 2012 edition should continue the new tradition, but whether or not they can actually win a bowl game is another thing altogether.

 

The first order of business is to find a replacement for graduated quarterback Dan Persa.  Persa threw for 2,376 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing better than 73% of his passes.  The leading candidate to replace him is also the leading returning rusher and receiver.  Kain Colter is a renaissance man.  He ran for 654 yards and nine touchdowns; he caught 43 passes and scored three touchdowns; and he passed for 673 yards and six more touchdowns.  Backup Trevor Siemian could relieve Colter at quarterback, and Coach Pat Fitzgerald could leave Colter in the game to cause opposing defensive coordinators major headaches. 

 

The loss of top wide receiver Jeremy Ebert to the New England Patriots will be tough to overcome, especially when you add the fact that Colter was the next best pass receiver. Also missing is super back receiver Drake Dunsmore, so this unit really needed some new blood.  And, thanks to Southern Cal having enough receivers to stock two teams, NU got their transfusion.  Kyle Prater is the highest-rated offensive player to don the purple and white in more than 50 years.  He may be a bit rusty after not playing in his two years with the Trojans.

 

Venric Mark moved up all the way to the top of the depth chart, and he will start at running back this year with Mike Trumpy backing him up.  The offense gives the backs a good opportunity to run with some daylight, and we believe both backs will thrive this year, maybe combining for 1,000 yards.

 

The offensive line may be the biggest asset on the entire team, and it is the reason why Northwestern should continue to move the ball and score points this year.  Center Brandon Vitabile and guard Brian Mulroe will open holes up the middle in the spread offense.

 

Northwestern has consistently scored between 25 and 30 points per game in recent years.  Expect more of the same in 2012.

 

If the Wildcats fail to become bowl eligible for the sixth year in a row, it will be due to a defense that may not be up to the task against BCS schools.  Six of the nine leading tacklers from last year have moved on.  The player NU will miss the most is safety Brian Peters, who came within two defended passes of tying for the Big Ten lead.  Safety Ibraheim Campbell is the lone returnee to the secondary, and he was the leading tackler on the team last year.  As the PiRates say, “When a defensive back leads the team in tackles, that defense has given up too many yards.”  NU gave up 408 yards and 28 points per game.

 

Dave Nwabuisi and Damien Proby return to the linebacker unit after teaming for 144 tackles and 11 ½ stops for loss.  Neither is an exceptional pass defender.  Chi Chi Ariguzo could be though.  The former top reserve takes over at the weakside linebacker position and could be a pleasant surprise.

 

Up front, NU was too generous last year.  The Wildcats did not generate much of a pass rush, and they had trouble stopping good running teams.  Army’s option offense torched them for 381 yards on the ground.  End Quentin Williams was one of three NU players with three sacks, and he is the only one returning this year.  However, he may be relegated to a backup spot and used as a designated pass rusher in favor of redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson.

 

The 2012 schedule is considerable stronger this year, and it could potentially be too much for the Wildcats.  The season begins with a trip to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse in what looks like an excellent and exciting matchup.  The Wildcats return to Ryan Field to face a Vanderbilt team that is two touchdowns better than the Commodore team they faced in 2010.  They follow that up with a visit from a much improved Boston College team, and then they host South Dakota before starting Big Ten play.  If NU can get halfway decent play out of its defense and not give up 250 passing yards per game, they could go 3-1 in these non-conference games and give themselves a shot at getting back to a bowl.  The conference schedule brings Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois to Ryan Field, while NU can win at Penn State and Minnesota.  We believe they will win at least three conference games, so 3-1 outside of the league will make them bowl eligible.

 

 

Coming Sunday Night, August 26: The Pac-12 Conference Preview.  Will Southern Cal live up to its hype this year?  Can Oregon continue to average more than 40 points a game?  Can Stanford win without Luck on their side?  Can UCLA matter in football once again?  This conference always has a good story line.

November 28, 2011

PiRate Ratings: College Football for December 1-10, 2011

It’s Open Season On Coaching Jobs

It started early this year.  New Mexico was forced to dismiss Mike Locksley early, and the Lobos were quick to name former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie as their new coach.  Ohio State’s job was available as soon as the Buckeyes lost their second game.  To say the brass in Columbus did not know who they wanted from the start was an “Urban” myth.

 

Ole Miss terminated Houston Nutt.  Arizona and Mike Stoops parted ways.  Joe Paterno lost his job over off the field issues.  Then, Bob Toledo was sent on his way from Tulane.

 

The floodgates soon opened, and by Sunday, the list of coaching vacancies had swelled.  At its worst, Akron fired Rob Ianello over the phone while he was driving to his mother’s funeral.  What a tasteless act!  A pox on the program, the Zips should be punished with 30 losing seasons in a row and a bankrupt athletic department.  How would any honest, hard-working coach ever want to sign on with the Zips?

 

If you ever wanted to find a living example of the Peter Principle, then look at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  Ron Zook proved for the second time that he is not up to the task of handling a major college football program.  The Illini dismissed Zook Sunday following their sixth consecutive loss after beginning the season 6-0 with talent strong enough to contend for the Leaders Division title.  Zook should be a recruiter and an assistant coach.  He admitted earlier this season that he did not know the score of more than one game when he made decisions to go for two points following a touchdown.

 

More vacancies are sure to come.  Rick Neuheisel is expected to be fired as soon as his UCLA Bruins lose at Oregon this week.  He could even lose his job if the Bruins upset the Ducks and earn a Rose Bowl bid.  With Meyer filling the Ohio State vacancy and former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez filling the Arizona vacancy, the vacancy in Westwood becomes the cream of the crop if it indeed becomes a vacancy.  You have to believe the Penn State job will not be as enticing.

 

As The Leach Turns

Mike Leach, an honorary member of the PiRate Ratings, will be considered for many of the coaching vacancies this year.  Fans at Kansas, Ole Miss, Washington State, Arizona State, Tulane, Florida Atlantic, and UAB have already begun to talk about Leach being at or near the top of their wish list.  As soon as Neuheisel is let go at UCLA, Leach fever will break out in Westwood.

 

Leach does not understand the principle of tactfulness.  Like Howard Cosell, he tells it like it is, and the “good ole boys network” does not like 100% honesty coming forth from their employees.  It’s the company line or the unemployment line, and Leach is doing quite well as a sports talk show host.  Throw in a wrongful termination suit against Texas Tech (which appears to be justified) and a lawsuit against ESPN, and Ron Zook may have a better chance getting hired for one of these coaching vacancies. 

 

Gary Barnett took a Northwestern program that had been 0-11 or 1-10 over 50% of the time in the 20 years prior to his coming to Evanston.  He guided the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl.  He went to Boulder and guided Colorado to a Big 12 Championship, yet he found himself unemployed following an incident in which he used tactics to encourage a female placekicker to quit the team.  No school ever approached him following his termination, and Leach could very well be in the same boat.

 

The Big East Isn’t As Messy Now

After a wild week of games on the Eastern Seaboard, the race for the automatic bid to a BCS Bowl comes down to three teams in the Big East’s final weekend.  Louisville defeated South Florida to become one of the three finalists.  The Cardinals do not control their own destiny, and they will be on the sidelines anxiously awaiting the results of games to be played Thursday and Saturday.

 

West Virginia ventures to Tampa Thursday night to take on South Florida.  If the Mountaineers win, then Cincinnati is eliminated from the race.  If West Virginia loses, then Cincinnati would then control their own destiny.  The Bearcats host Connecticut Saturday.

 

If West Virginia and Cincinnati both win, then West Virginia is the Big East Champion in a three-way tiebreaker.  If West Virginia wins and Cincinnati loses to Connecticut, then Louisville is the winner in a two-way tiebreaker.  If West Virginia loses and Cincinnati wins, then Cincinnati bests Louisville in a two-way tiebreaker.  Of course, if both West Virginia and Cincinnati both lose, Louisville wins the conference outright.

 

According to game theory, Louisville has two options to win the conference championship, while WVU and Cinti have just one.  So, Louisville is the favorite to get the BCS bowl bid.  Regardless of which team wins, that team will be the 10th and final BCS bowl selection, and they will play the ACC Champion in the Orange Bowl, which has the final pick this year.

 

This Week’s PiRate Ratings

#

Team

PiRate

1

L S U

137.8

2

Alabama

135.1

3

Southern Cal

130.9

4

Oregon

129.5

5

Stanford

127.2

6

Wisconsin

127.1

7

Oklahoma

126.8

8

Oklahoma St.

126.3

9

Arkansas

123.6

10

Florida St.

120.3

11

Houston

119.9

12

Boise St.

119.9

13

Michigan

119.2

14

Georgia 

118.6

15

Michigan St.

118.6

16

Texas A&M

118.5

17

Virginia Tech

116.8

18

Texas

116.8

19

Notre Dame

116.7

20

S. Carolina

115.9

21

Kansas St.

114.2

22

T C U

114.1

23

California

113.9

24

Missouri

113.6

25

Baylor

113.1

26

Nebraska

112.0

27

Vanderbilt

111.3

28

Florida 

110.6

29

B Y U

109.9

30

Louisiana Tech

109.3

31

Utah

109.0

32

Arizona St.

108.9

33

Miami (FL)

108.8

34

Mississippi St.

108.7

35

Washington

108.5

36

Clemson

108.3

37

Ohio St.

108.1

38

W. Virginia

106.8

39

Tulsa

106.4

40

Cincinnati

106.4

41

Georgia Tech

105.8

42

N. Carolina St.

105.7

43

Penn St.

105.4

44

Boston Coll.

105.1

45

N. Carolina

105.0

46

Pittsburgh

104.8

47

Oregon St.

104.4

48

Iowa

104.3

49

U C L A

104.2

50

Nevada

103.8

51

Louisville

103.7

52

Iowa St.

103.6

53

Auburn

103.5

54

Southern Miss.

103.3

55

Northwestern

103.3

56

Virginia

102.8

57

Arizona

102.8

58

Washington St.

102.1

59

Tennessee

101.7

60

S. Florida

100.7

61

Air Force

100.4

62

Wake Forest

100.3

63

Toledo

99.9

64

Temple

99.4

65

Utah St.

98.9

66

Rutgers

98.8

67

Purdue

98.3

68

Illinois

98.0

69

San Diego St.

97.2

70

Connecticut

97.2

71

Minnesota

97.2

72

Texas Tech

96.9

73

Wyoming

95.6

74

Navy

95.4

75

Colorado

95.4

76

Western Michigan

95.3

77

Duke

95.3

78

Central Florida

95.2

79

Northern Illinois

95.0

80

Kentucky

94.9

81

Arkansas St.

94.5

82

San Jose St.

93.6

83

S M U

91.9

84

Hawaii

91.7

85

Maryland

91.6

86

East Carolina

91.4

87

Fresno St.

91.2

88

Syracuse

91.0

89

Miami (O)

90.2

90

Western Ky.

89.6

91

Florida Int’l

89.2

92

Ohio U

89.1

93

Kansas

89.1

94

Ole Miss

88.7

95

UL-Lafayette

86.8

96

U T E P

85.5

97

Idaho

85.3

98

Marshall

84.9

99

UL-Monroe

84.8

100

Bowling Green

84.2

101

Rice

83.9

102

Colorado St.

83.6

103

Army

83.0

104

Ball St.

82.9

105

Eastern Michigan

82.0

106

Indiana

82.0

107

Kent St.

81.9

108

New Mexico St.

80.2

109

North Texas

79.3

110

U A B

78.8

111

U N L V

77.3

112

Central Michigan

76.5

113

Buffalo

76.0

114

Troy

75.9

115

Middle Tennessee

72.7

116

New Mexico

71.1

117

Tulane

70.5

118

Memphis

68.0

119

Florida Atlantic

65.2

120

Akron

57.4

 

 

PiRate Ratings By Conference

* = team has clinched conference or division title

 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Atlantic Division

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

FloridaState

5-3

8-4

120.3

Clemson

6-2 *

9-3

108.3

North CarolinaState

4-4

7-5

105.7

BostonCollege

3-5

4-8

105.1

WakeForest

5-3

6-6

100.3

Maryland

1-7

2-10

91.6

       
Coastal Division

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Virginia Tech

7-1 *

11-1

116.8

Miami-FL

3-5

6-6

108.8

Georgia Tech

5-3

8-4

105.8

North Carolina

3-5

7-5

105.0

Virginia

5-3

8-4

102.8

Duke

1-7

3-9

95.3

 

Big East Conference

 

 

 

 

Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

West Virginia

4-2

8-3

106.8

Cincinnati

4-2

8-3

106.4

Pittsburgh

3-3

5-6

104.8

Louisville

5-2

7-5

103.7

South Florida

1-5

5-6

100.7

Rutgers

4-3

8-4

98.8

Connecticut

3-3

5-6

97.2

Syracuse

1-5

5-6

91.0

 

Big Ten

       
Leaders Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Wisconsin

6-2 *

10-2

127.1

Penn State

6-2

9-3

105.4

Ohio State

3-5

6-6

108.1

Illinois

2-6

6-6

98.0

Purdue

4-4

6-6

98.3

Indiana

0-8

1-11

82.0

       
Legends Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Michigan

6-2

10-2

119.2

Michigan State

7-1 *

10-2

118.6

Nebraska

5-3

9-3

112.0

Iowa

4-4

7-5

104.3

Northwestern

3-5

6-6

103.3

Minnesota

2-6

3-9

97.2

 

Big 12

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Oklahoma

6-2

9-2

126.8

Oklahoma State

7-1

10-1

126.3

Texas A&M

4-5

6-6

118.5

Texas

4-4

7-4

116.8

Kansas State

6-2

9-2

114.2

Missouri

5-4

7-5

113.6

Baylor

5-3

8-3

113.1

Iowa State

3-5

6-5

103.6

Texas Tech

2-7

5-7

96.9

Kansas

0-9

2-10

89.1

 

Conference USA

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Southern Mississippi

6-2 *

10-2

103.3

Central Florida

3-5

5-7

95.2

East Carolina

4-4

5-7

91.4

Marshall

5-3

6-6

84.9

U A B

3-5

3-9

78.8

Memphis

1-7

2-10

68.0

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Houston

8-0 *

12-0

119.9

Tulsa

7-1

8-4

106.4

S M U

5-3

7-5

91.9

U T E P

2-6

5-7

85.5

Rice

3-5

4-8

83.9

Tulane

1-7

2-11

70.5

 

Independents

       
Team

 

Overall

Rating

Notre Dame  

8-4

116.7

B Y U  

8-3

109.9

Navy  

4-7

95.4

Army  

3-8

83.0

 

Mid American Conference

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Temple

5-3

8-4

99.4

Miami (O)

3-5

4-8

90.2

Ohio U

6-2 *

9-3

89.1

Bowling Green

3-5

5-7

84.2

Kent St.

4-4

5-7

81.9

Buffalo

2-6

3-9

76.0

Akron

0-8

1-11

57.4

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Toledo

7-1

8-4

99.9

Western Michigan

5-3

7-5

95.3

Northern Illinois

7-1 *

9-3

95.0

Ball State

4-4

6-6

82.9

Eastern Michigan

4-4

6-6

82.0

Central Michigan

2-6

3-9

76.5

 

Mountain West Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Boise State

5-1

10-1

119.9

T C U

6-0 *

9-2

114.1

Air Force

3-4

7-5

100.4

San Diego State

4-3

7-4

97.2

Wyoming

4-2

7-4

95.6

Colorado State

1-5

3-8

83.6

UNLV

1-5

2-9

77.3

New Mexico

1-5

1-10

71.1

 

Pac-12 Conference

       
North Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Oregon

8-1 *

10-2

129.5

Stanford

8-1

11-1

127.2

California

4-5

7-5

113.9

Washington

5-4

7-5

108.5

Oregon State

3-6

3-9

104.4

Washington State

2-7

4-8

102.1

       
South Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

U S C

7-2

10-2

130.9

Utah

4-5

7-5

109.0

Arizona State

4-5

6-6

108.9

U C L A

5-4 *

6-6

104.2

Arizona

2-7

4-8

102.8

Colorado

2-7

3-10

95.4

 

Southeastern Conference

East Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Georgia

7-1 *

10-2

118.6

South Carolina

6-2

10-2

115.9

Vanderbilt

2-6

6-6

111.3

Florida

3-5

6-6

110.6

Tennessee

1-7

5-7

101.7

Kentucky

2-6

5-7

94.9

       
West Division      
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

L S U

8-0 *

12-0

137.8

Alabama

7-1

11-1

135.1

Arkansas

6-2

10-2

123.6

Mississippi State

2-6

6-6

108.7

Auburn

4-4

7-5

103.5

Ole Miss

0-8

2-10

88.7

 

Sunbelt Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

Arkansas State

7-0 *

9-2

94.5

Western Kentucky

7-1

7-5

89.6

Florida International

5-3

8-4

89.2

U. of Louisiana

6-2

8-4

86.8

Louisiana-Monroe

2-5

3-8

84.8

North Texas

3-4

4-7

79.3

Troy

2-5

3-8

75.9

Middle Tennessee

1-6

2-9

72.7

Florida Atlantic

0-7

1-10

65.2

 

Western Athletic Conference

       
Team

Conf.

Overall

Rating

LouisianaTech

6-1 *

8-4

109.3

Nevada

4-2

6-5

103.8

Utah State

4-2

6-5

98.9

San Jose State

3-4

5-7

93.6

Hawaii

3-4

6-6

91.7

Fresno State

3-4

4-8

91.2

Idaho

1-5

2-9

85.3

New Mexico State

2-4

4-8

80.2

 

 

Final Regular Season Games (12/1 to 12/10)

This Week’s Games–PiRate Ratings

   

 

 

 

Thursday, December 1  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

West Virginia SOUTH FLORIDA

3.1

27-24

1   

   

 

 

 

Friday, December 2  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

Northern Illinois   (n) Ohio U

5.9

30-24

3   

OREGON U c l a

28.3

38-10

30 1/2

   

 

 

 

Saturday, December 3  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

CINCINNATI Connecticut

12.2

32-20

9 1/2

PITTSBURGH Syracuse

16.8

27-10

13   

KANSAS ST. Iowa St.

13.6

31-17

12   

Wyoming COLORADO ST.

9.5

24-14

5   

T C U U n l v

39.8

47-7

40 1/2

OKLAHOMA ST. Oklahoma

2.0

35-33

3   

Texas BAYLOR

1.2

29-28

-2 1/2

NEVADA Idaho

21.0

42-21

19   

BOISE ST. New Mexico

51.8

52-0

52   

B y u HAWAII

14.2

35-21

8   

Utah St. NEW MEXICO ST.

16.2

37-21

14   

SAN DIEGO ST. Fresno St.

8.5

33-24

6 1/2

ARKANSAS ST. Troy

21.1

34-13

13   

NORTH TEXAS Middle Tennessee

9.6

27-17

7   

Louisiana-Monroe FLORIDA ATLANTIC

17.1

34-17

11 1/2

HOUSTON Southern Miss.

19.6

41-21

16 1/2

L s u    (n) Georgia

17.7

35-17

10   

Virginia Tech    (n) Clemson

8.5

28-19

4 1/2

Wisconsin     (n) Michigan St.

8.5

35-26

7 1/2

   

 

 

 

Saturday, December 10  

PiRate Spread

 

 

Favorite Underdog

Score

Line

Navy     (n) Army

12.4

24-12

NL

 

Bowl Predictions

At this point of the season, we are no longer making predictions on bowl games.  Instead, we are perusing the media for incites into which way the bowls are leaning.  For instance, from sport talk radio this morning, we have heard the rumor that the Gator Bowl is going to go after Florida and Ohio State due to the Urban Meyer factor.  Thus, when we predict this matchup, it is no longer our true prediction, but our repetition of the rumor.  We do not rely on any online bowl speculations; we are looking for legitimate media reports.  If there are no specific reports concerning a particular bowl, then we do the speculating based on an educated guess.

 

Teams in Italics have already accepted the bowl bid

* = At-large Team

 

As of today, we are projecting 71 teams to be bowl eligible after this weekend.  The 70th spot will come down to a choice between Ball State and Illinois, unless something occurs with Penn State.  There is a move afoot for the bowls not to invite the Nittany Lions, but as of this writing, there is no legal means to do so.

 

Bowl

Conference

Conference

Team

Team

New Mexico

MWC #4

Pac12 #7 / WAC

San Diego St.

Temple *

Famous Idaho Potato

MAC #3

WAC

Toledo

Utah St.

New Orleans

Sunbelt #1

C-USA

U. of Louisiana

Marshall

Beef O’Brady’s

Big East #6

C-USA

South Florida

Florida Int’l *

Poinsettia

MWC #2

WAC

T C U

Louisiana Tech

MAACO

MWC #1

Pac 12 #5

Boise St.

Arizona St.

Hawaii

WAC

C-USA

Nevada

S M U

Independence

ACC #7

MWC #3

North Carolina

Wyoming

Little Caesar’s Pizza

Big 10 #8

MAC #2

Northwestern

Western Mich.

Belk

ACC #5

Big East #3

North Carolina St.

West Virginia

Military

ACC #8

Navy

Wake Forest

Air Force *

Holiday

Pac 12 #3

Big 12 #5

California

Baylor

Champs Sports

Big East #2

ACC #3

Notre Dame

Florida St.

Alamo

Big 12 #3

Pac 10 #2

Texas

Washington

Armed Forces

C-USA #3

B Y U

Tulsa

B Y U

Pinstripe

Big East #4

Big 12 #7

Rutgers

Iowa St.

Music City

SEC # 7

ACC #6

Mississippi St.

Virginia

Insight

Big 12 #4

Big 10 #4 or 5

Kansas St.

Iowa

Meineke Car Care of Texas

Big 12 #6

Big 10 #6

Texas A&M

Penn St.

Sun

ACC #4

Pac 12 #4

Georgia Tech

Utah

Kraft Fight Hunger

Pac 10 #6

Army/ACC

Ohio U *

Illinois *

Liberty

SEC#8-9/BigEast

C-USA #1

Vanderbilt

Southern Miss.

Chick-fil-A

SEC #5

ACC #2

Auburn

Clemson

TicketCity

Big 10 #7

C-USA

Purdue

Pittsburgh *

Capital One

Big 10 #2

SEC #2

Michigan St.

Arkansas

Gator

Big 10 #4 or 5

SEC #6

Ohio St.

Florida

Outback

SEC #3 or 4

Big 10 #3

South Carolina

Nebraska

Rose

BCS Pac12

BCS Big 10

Oregon

Wisconsin

Fiesta

BCS Big 12

BCS At-Large

Oklahoma St.

Stanford

Sugar

BCS SEC

BCS At-Large

Houston *

Michigan

Orange

BCS ACC

BCS At-Large

Virginia Tech

Cincinnati

Cotton

Big 12 #2

SEC #3 or 4

Oklahoma

Georgia

BBVA Compass

Big East#5/CUSA

SEC #8 or 9

Louisville

Western Ky. *

GoDaddy.com

Sunbelt # 2

MAC #1

Arkansas St.

Northern Illinois

National Championship

*** BCS #1 ***

*** BCS #2 ***

L S U

Alabama

 

 

*** Returning next week: Our computer simulated college football playoffs.  We will use the same formula we have used in past years—a 12-team college football playoff. 

August 21, 2010

2010 Southeastern Conference Football Preview

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

 

2010 Southeastern Conference Preview

We close out the conference previews with a look at the biggie.  The SEC has produced the last four national champions and five in the past decade, compared to two from the Big 12, one from the Big Ten, one from the Pac-10, and one from the Big East.  Not since Georgia in 2005 has the SEC Champion not played in the BCS National Championship Game.

We are going to predict this trend ends this season, but not without a lot of controversy.  We believe the SEC Champion, like all the other five BCS Conference champions will lose at least one game.  As we have stated in earlier previews, we believe both Boise State and TCU will win all their games and meet in Glendale for the rubber match bowl game.

One coach finds himself on a hot seat that he may not be able to cool down.  One coach is on a mildly warm seat due to fans that have ridiculously high and impossible standards.  One coach may want to hang it up at the end of this year after many years in the business.  One coach already decided to get out, leaving just before August practices began.  It is possible that four jobs in the elite conference will be available after the season. 

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 East SEC W-L
1 Florida 7-1 11-2
2 South Carolina 5-3 8-4
3 Georgia 5-3 9-3
4 Kentucky 2-6 6-6
5 Tennessee 1-7 4-8
6 Vanderbilt 0-8 1-11
       
Pos West SEC W-L
1 Alabama 7-1 12-1
2 Auburn 5-3 9-3
3 Arkansas 5-3 9-3
4 L S U 4-4 7-5
5 Ole Miss 4-4 8-4
6 Mississippi State 3-5 6-6

 

SEC Championship Game: Alabama over Florida

 

BCS Bowl (Sugar): Alabama

BCS Bowl: Florida

Capital One Bowl: Auburn

Outback Bowl: Georgia

Cotton Bowl: Arkansas

Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina

Gator Bowl: L S U

Music City Bowl: Mississippi State

Liberty Bowl: Ole Miss

PapaJohns.com Bowl: Kentucky

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

S E C  East

 

Team

Florida Gators
               
Head Coach Urban Meyer
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Gainesville, FL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 13-1
               
PiRate Rating 121.4
               
National Rating 10
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 11-2
               
Strengths: QB, RB, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, LB, DB, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Receiver (small weakness)
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Miami (O), South Florida, Appalachian State, @ Florida State
   
Key Games: @ Alabama, LSU, Georgia (n), South Carolina
   
Offense Pred. 28-32 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 15-19 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

The Gators went 13-1 last year, and it was considered a major disappointment.  The team that returned almost every starter from a national championship was expected to go 14-0 and become the next 2001 Miami, 1995 Nebraska, 1971 Nebraska, and 1945 Army in college football.

 

Head Coach Urban Meyer briefly stepped down only to come back a few days later.  Unfortunately, Tim Tebow, Riley Cooper, Aaron Hernandez, Ryan Stamper, Joe Haden, Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, and Carlos Dunlap don’t have the option of coming back.  The Gators lost nine players to the NFL.  How can they possibly still be considered the top contender in the SEC East?  Simple: they still have the best overall talent in the division.

 

Quarterback John Brantley completed 36 of 48 passes for 410 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions in mop-up situations last year.  Not a real dual-threat runner like Tebow, he will set up in the pocket and throw downfield.  Remember, Meyer won a national title here with Chris Leak doing the same thing.

 

Brantley has fewer weapons at his disposal than Tebow had.  The loss of Cooper and Hernandez (119-1,811/14) leaves Deonte Thompson as the leading holdover.  Thompson will get help from the speedy Andre DeBose and the big-bodied Carl Moore.  Slotback Chris Rainey caught only 10 passes last year, and he will have to quadruple that mark this year for the Gators to be successful.

 

The running game will need more production from real backs, because Brantley will run much less than Tebow.   Rainey will team with Chris Demps and Emmanuel Moody to carry the load.  Expect the trio to top 1,800 rushing yards this year.

 

The offensive line returns four talented blockers, including all-American center Mike Pouncey and 6-5, 360-pound guard Carl Johnson.

 

Losing three defensive players who were drafted in the 1st two rounds of the NFL Draft and two other players in later rounds, UF will be a little weaker on this side of the ball, but not too much weaker to miss out on a return trip to a BCS Bowl.

 

The Gators have strength at defensive tackle thanks to the return of Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard.  Very few teams will run the ball up the middle against them.  Meyer recruited a lot of grade A d-line talent, and three could see immediate action as true freshmen.  Keep an eye on Ronald Powell and Sharrif Floyd.

 

A.J. Jones is the lone starter returning at linebacker.  Jones plays the run and the pass well, but UF will be weaker in the second line of defense.

 

The secondary will be strong once again with the return of two starters and several talented letterwinners.  Enemy quarterbacks will throw away from cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

 

Florida must play Alabama in the regular season at Tuscaloosa on October 2.  They will probably face the Tide in Atlanta two months later in a rematch game.

Team Georgia Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Mark Richt
               
Colors Red and Black
               
City Athens, GA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 115.5
               
National Rating 23
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: RB, Receiver, Offensive Line ***, Linebacker, Special Teams
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: UL-Lafayette, @ Colorado, Idaho State, Georgia Tech
   
Key Games: @ South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida (n), @ Auburn
   
Offense Pred. 27-31 points & 375-400 yards
               
Defense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

It is ridiculous that many Georgia fans want to get rid of Coach Mark Richt, when he just guided the Bulldogs to the most successful decade in their history.  Vince Dooley did not post 10-consecutive seasons as victorious as the decade Richt produced in Athens.  Pay close attention to what happened in Minnesota when Glen Mason was fired.

 

Editorial aside, Georgia has another fine team this season.  10 starters return on the offensive side; the one position that needs to be filled just happens to be at quarterback.  Richt has basically one option here.  Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray has the job from day one, because true freshman Hutson Mason is the only real backup.

 

If Murray is worth his salt as a passer, he will have a lot of weapons at his disposal.  A.J. Green has all-American potential after grabbing 53 passes for 808 yards in an injury-plagued season.  Tavarres King and Orson Charles should both top 40 receptions.  Former quarterback Logan Gray moves to receiver, where he should contribute this year.

 

At running back, Washaun Ealey played in the final nine games and rushed for 717 yards.  Caleb King added 594 yards.  Both have a combination of power and speed and can hit anywhere on the line of scrimmage.

 

The offensive line returns all five starters from last season, and this quintet ranks second nationally to Wisconsin’s line.  Guards Chris Davis and Cordy Glenn make a terrific tandem, and when you throw in center Ben Jones, the Bulldogs will be able to run the ball inside with authority and keep defensive pass rushers from coming up the middle.

 

In the last five seasons, Georgia gave up 16.4, 17.6, 20.2, 24.5, and 25.9 points per game.  This annual deterioration has led to a change at defensive coordinator.  Enter NFL veteran Todd Grantham, and enter the 3-4 defense.

 

We are a bit concerned about the new front three, as nose guard DeAngelo Tyson is not the answer there for a 3-4 front.  Former offensive lineman Justin Anderson may eventually take over in the interior.  At 330 pounds, he is better suited to growing roots over center.

 

If the new defensive line can keep blockers away from the UGa linebackers, the defense will have a chance to improve for the first time in five years.  Watch for Justin Houston to become a fixture in opponents’ backfields.  He could register double figure sacks and 20+ tackles for loss.

 

Brandon Boykin is the only returning starter in the secondary, and there isn’t much experience taking the place of the three departed starters.  Look for the ‘Dogs to give up more passing yards this year.

 

Georgia faced a key game in week two, when they visit South Carolina.  The winner will get a chance to play for the division title later in the season against Florida, while the loser will be out of the race.

Team Kentucky Wildcats
               
Head Coach Joker Phillips
               
Colors Royal Blue and White
               
City Lexington, KY
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-6
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 101.9
               
National Rating 55
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 6-6
               
Strengths: Receiver, Special Teams, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: @ Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron, Chas. Southern
   
Key Games: @ Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina, @ Miss. St., Vandy, @ Tenn.
   
Offense Pred. 24-28 points & 300-325 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-27 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

Joker Phillips takes over as head coach in Lexington after directing the Wildcats’ offense.  Kentucky has used intelligent non-conference scheduling to gain bowl eligibility four years in a row.  The trend should continue in Phillips’ first season.

 

This will be a weaker Kentucky team, but the Wildcats will benefit from having the easiest schedule in the league.  They should sweep their four non-SEC foes for the fourth year in a row and win two conference games to make it back to a bowl for the fifth straight year.

 

Phillips has to make a decision at quarterback.  He has senior Mike Hartline and sophomore Morgan Newton as his two main options.  Hartline is a more conservative passer who seldom takes chances.  He’s got a more accurate arm, but he doesn’t have much zip on the ball.  Newton can hum the ball deep and has a quick release, but he doesn’t always put the ball where he aims.  Expect both to play, and redshirt freshman Ryan Mosakowski could see some game time as well.

 

There is another option at quarterback.  Randall Cobb is the Wildcat Offense quarterback, but he is a starting wideout.  Cobb led UK with 39 receptions and 447 yards last year.  He finished second in rushing with 573 yards, and he passed for 89 more.  If the single wing were still in vogue, he would be an all-star tailback.

 

Speaking of tailbacks, Derrick Locke returns after rushing for 907 yards.  Expect Locke to run the ball 200-225 times for more than 1,000 yards this season.

 

Besides the previously mentioned Cobb, Kentucky returns four other receivers that saw considerable action, so whoever ends up in the pocket should have some good targets running routes.

 

The offensive line could be a liability this year, as just one starter returns.  Guard Stuart Hines has all-conference potential, but three of the new starters have seen a lot of action in SEC games.  Don’t expect too many more sacks allowed by this unit.

 

The 2009 UK defense turned out to be outstanding.  Ask Tim Tebow about the pass rush.  This year, the defensive line could even be a bit better.  Ends DeQuin Evans and Taylor Wyndham (the concussion-delivering blow to Tebow) will give the ‘Cats a good pass rush from the outside.  The tackles are not as talented as the ends, and opponents will run the ball up the middle against them.

 

Only one starter returns at linebacker.  Danny Trevathan finished second in tackles last year with 82, and he had five tackles for loss.  Phillips may have some depth issues here, because several expected backups have left.

 

Half of last year’s great secondary returns.  Cornerback Randall Burden intercepted two passes and knocked down eight others.  Safety Winston Guy was an excellent run stuffer, and he broke up five passes.  The pass defense won’t come close to matching last year’s exceptional output (just 48.5% completions allowed), but it will still be quite good.

 

Kentucky has not defeated rival Tennessee since 1984, but we believe this is the season that streak ends.

Team South Carolina Gamecocks
               
Head Coach Steve Spurrier
               
Colors Garnet and Black
               
City Columbia, SC
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 121.6
               
National Rating 9
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 8-4
               
Strengths: Running Back, Receiver, Defensive Back
               
Weaknesses: Offensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Southern Miss, Furman, Troy, @ Clemson
   
Key Games: Georgia, @ Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, @ Florida
   
Offense Pred. 26-30 points & 360-380 yards
               
Defense Pred. 18-22 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

It could be now or never for Coach Steve Spurrier in Columbia.  He has enough talent to break through into the top two in the division, if he can get halfway decent production from his quarterbacks.

 

Spurrier tends to eat at his quarterbacks when they don’t play every down like they have the name “Wuerffel” on the back of their jerseys.  He has bad-mouthed two-year starter Stephen Garcia since the end of last season, and it appears he will carry the insults to the opening game.  Garcia passed for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he scrambled at times when the pocket broke down.  Still, Spurrier is threatening to start true freshman Connor Shaw in the first game.

 

Another true freshman might start from day one and become the best running back the Gamecock’s have had since George Rogers.  Marcus Lattimore is the real deal.  He was the top running back recruit in the nation last year.  Returning starter Kenny Miles and backups Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles return, so the USC running game may produce the most yards here since Lou Holtz was coaching.

 

The receiving corps welcomes back leading pass catcher Alshon Jeffery, who finished 2009 with 46 receptions for 763 yards and six touchdowns.  He will team with Tori Gurley to form a formidable pair of wideouts.  If tight end Weslye Saunders can improve on his 32 receptions, the Gamecocks are going to be potent on the attack.  Saunders was one of the college stars present at that South Beach agent party, so he could miss some or even all of 2009.

 

The offensive line has played inconsistently the last couple of years, but it should be a team strength this season with four returning starters. 

 

The USC defense gave up just 20 points and 300 yards per game last year, and seven starters return to keep it strong in 2010.  Two starters return to the front four, including all-conference end Cliff Matthews.  Matthews made 47 tackles with seven sacks and three other tackles for loss, and he proved valuable against the pass with three knocked down passes.

 

At linebacker, leading tackler Shaq Wilson returns after making 85 stops last year.  Rodney Paulk returns to the middle linebacker spot after missing two seasons due to injury.  If he is close to 100% after suffering an ACL injury, the Gamecocks will be strong here.

 

The secondary is the strength of the defense.  USC has a top notch pair of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Chris Culliver.  They broke up 17 passes last year, and they should pick up a couple more interceptions this season.

 

Everything is in place for Spurrier to take USC to the next level.  They have a chance in all eight conference games, as they get to host Alabama and Georgia, and they play Florida in Gainesville in a year where the Gators will have a minor rebuilding season.  If the Gamecocks repeat with a 7-6 season, Spurrier may hang it up.

Team Tennessee Volunteers
               
Head Coach Derek Dooley
               
Colors Orange and White
               
City Knoxville, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 101.9
               
National Rating 54
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 4-8
               
Strengths: Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: UT-Martin, Oregon, UAB, @ Memphis
   
Key Games: @LSU, @ Georgia, @ S. Carolina, Ole Miss, @ Vandy, Kentucky
   
Offense Pred. 16-20 points & 275-300 yards
               
Defense Pred. 20-24 points & 300-325 yards
               
Outlook

Welcome to the annual soap opera known as “All My Coaches.”  The Volunteers have their third coach in three seasons and fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons.  Add to this that several players have left and more have suffered injuries, and this is going to be the weakest team on the hill in Knoxville in more than 30 years.

 

The offense starts with a new quarterback that threw for 39 yards in very limited action at Louisville two years ago.  Matt Simms is the son of Phil Simms.  The junior transfer will compete with true freshman Tyler Bray, but whoever winds up as the starter will not come close to matching the stats compiled by departed starter Jonathan Crompton.

 

Three talented receivers will give the new QB a decent chance at having some success against weaker pass defenses.  Wideouts Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore and tight end Luke Stocker teamed up for 115 receptions, 1,609 yards, and 16 touchdowns.  True freshman Justin Hunter could see extensive action.

 

The running game has to start from scratch with the loss of the top two rushers.  Tauren Poole and David Oku are serviceable backs, but neither will threaten to run for 1,000 yards.

 

The weakest unit on the team is the offensive line.  All five starters are gone.  Guard Jarrod Shaw started three games last season, and the rest of this unit has no career starts.

 

This will be the weakest offense at UT since before Doug Dickey’s time as coach in the mid-1960’s.

 

The defense should be better off than the offense, but there are no Reggie White’s or John Henderson’s on this team.  There are also no Eric Berry’s.  Berry finished his career with seven tackles for loss and nine passes defended last season.  The all-American strong safety was the fifth overall pick in the draft.

 

Darren Myles was going to be the new stud of the secondary, but he was dismissed from the team this spring.  Expect opponents to shred this secondary for 200+ passing yards this season.

 

The defensive line took a major hit with injuries, and there will be a problem stopping the run and rushing the passer.  Southern Cal transfer Malik Jackson could see immediate playing time.  Chris Walker will be the lone serious QB sack threat.

 

Tennessee has a similar history to Penn State when it comes to producing linebackers.  They have two fine ones this year who should combine for 100-120 tackles.  LaMarcus Thompson and Nick Reveiz won’t make all-conference teams, but they won’t be liabilities either.

 

Tennessee should win three of their four non-conference games this year, but once conference play begins, the Vols may have to wait to November to get a league win.  Coach Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville could produce a 4-8 record.  Since the Vols started playing football in 1902, they have never lost eight games in a season.

Team Vanderbilt Commodores
               
Head Coach Robbie Caldwell
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Nashville, TN
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 96.1
               
National Rating 68
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 1-11
               
Strengths: Running Back
               
Weaknesses: QB, Receiver, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, LB, Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Northwestern, @ Connecticut, Eastern Mich., Wake Forest
   
Key Games: @ Ole Miss, @ Kentucky, Tennessee
   
Offense Pred. 13-16 points & 275-300 yards
               
Defense Pred. 23-26 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

Vanderbilt was supposed to contend for another bowl game last year and maybe win as many as eight games with a veteran squad returning from a seven-win season that included a bowl victory.  Instead, the Commodores suffered through numerous injuries and crashed to a 2-10 season.  The offense could not move the ball on Army much less a conference foe.  Vanderbilt averaged just 8.9 points and 234 yards of offense in conference play, numbers not seen in the SEC since the mid-1960’s.

 

To add insult to injury, Bobby Johnson decided in July that he could take no more of this.  He retired, leaving the job to Robbie Caldwell.  Vanderbilt is a team that must stay healthy to have a chance in the SEC, and immediately after practice began, serious injuries put a major crimp in the offense.  It is going to be a long season in Nashville, and the Commodores are going to be underdogs in all but one game.

 

Larry Smith returns at quarterback after suffering through a sophomore slump season that ended in the first quarter of the ninth game.  He will compete with holdovers Jared Funk and Charlie Goro and junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Aaron Rodgers.  We expect Smith to start the opener with Northwestern, but we wouldn’t be surprised if more than one quarterback played in that game.

 

The running back situation appeared to be a team strength until practice began.  Sophomore Warren Norman rushed for 783 yards as a freshman, while fellow freshman Zac Stacy added 478.  Stacy sprained his MCL in practice and is out for the first couple of games.  Backup backs Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate (younger brother of Golden Tate) are nursing injuries as well, so depth will be an issue here.

 

The Commodores are rather weak at receiver.  There is not a deep ball threat on the roster, and there is only one consistent possession man.  John Cole led the team with just 36 receptions and 382 yards.  Tight end Brandon Barden finished second with 29 catches for 357 yards.  No receiver had more than one touchdown reception.  Expect another year of struggles through the air.

 

The offensive line lost its one all-conference caliber blocker when tackle James Williams was lost to academic difficulties.  One starter returns to the blocking corps–guard Kyle Fischer.

 

This looks like an offense that will possibly score fewer than 10 points per game in conference play for a second consecutive season.

 

The Vanderbilt defense was decent last year, but the offense forced it to defend too many plays, more than 70 to be exact.  Injuries and graduation will make this side of the ball weaker than last year.  Tackle Adam Smotherman tore his ACL in Spring drills, and he will not be 100% at all this season.  He will probably miss some games as well.  End Theron Kadri will become the sack specialist on this team, but we don’t expect Vanderbilt to top 20 sacks with this defense.

 

Chris Marve is an all-conference talent at middle linebacker after leading the Commodores with 121 tackles last year.  He will have two new partners starting with him in the second line of defense.

 

The back line of defense loses its leading pass defender, but cornerback Casey Hayward returns after intercepting two passes and batting away seven others.

 

We cannot see the Commodores breaking through with a conference victory this season.  Vanderbilt’s non-conference schedule is the toughest of any SEC team.  They face Northwestern, Connecticut, and Wake Forest, and we see these opponents defeating the Commodores in close games.  That leaves an October 9 home game with Eastern Michigan as possibly the only chance to pick up a victory.

S E C  WEST

Team Alabama Crimson Tide
               
Head Coach Nick Saban
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Tuscaloosa, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 126.1
               
National Rating 2
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 12-1
               
Strengths: Quarterback **, Running Back ***, Defensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Back
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: San Jose State, Penn State @ Duke, Georgia State
   
Key Games: @ Arkansas, Florida, @ S. Carolina, Auburn
   
Offense Pred. 34-38 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 15-19 points & 275-300 yards
               
Outlook

What can the Tide do for an encore?  They had maybe two tough games in their march to a 14-0 record and national championship.  The had the Heisman Trophy winner as well.  How can a team lose nine starters on their defensive side and still be a legitimate contender for another national championship?

 

That’s simple.  When you have a top five recruiting class three years in a row, you have exceptional talent past your two-deep.  There are players on this team that may see no more than a few snaps of game action per year that could be starting for other bowl teams.

 

Let’s start on offense, where the Tide will be tough to slow down.  The second best running attack in college football starts with the best individual back.  Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is back after rushing for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He added 32 receptions for 334 yards and three more scores.  Backup Trent Richardson rushed for 751 yards and eight scores, earning 1st Team Freshman All-American honors! 

 

Handing the ball off to this dynamic duo is a quarterback that has never lost a game at the college or high school level.  Greg McElroy didn’t get much publicity with Ingram running roughshod over opponents, but he completed better than 60% of his passes for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns to just four interceptions.  He could top 3,000 yards this year.

 

McElroy’s receivers are not as talented as the running backs, but they are still quite talented in their own right.  Julio Jones led the Tide with 43 catches, even though he missed the better part of seven games.  Marquis Maze is a deep threat in his own right, and he will see mostly single coverage.

 

The offensive line returns three starters but has several talented newcomers, including redshirt freshman tackle D.J. Fluker, who has all-conference written all over his chest.

 

The defense has some major reloading to do.  13 of the top 16 tacklers are gone, and that number could become 14 of 16. Middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower and strong safety Mark Baron are the only two returning starters, and Hightower only started four times before going down for the season with an ACL injury. 

 

Baron could be a 1st Team all-American this year.  He led the SEC with 18 passes defended (7 Int./11 PBU).  There is very little experience joining him in the secondary, but there is a lot of raw talent waiting for Coach Nick Saban to mold into the next tough pass defense.

 

Sophomore Nico Johnson made the SEC All-Freshman team last year in limited action, and he will team with Hightower to form a splendid pair at linebacker.

 

The front line could have another major blow.  End Marcell Dareus, a sack machine, may be declared ineligible for part or all of the season for his attendance at the South Beach agent party.

 

Alabama will give up more points and yards this year, but they will still finish in the top 20 in the nation in total defense.

 

The schedule is really tough for all SEC West teams this year, as every team could easily be bowl eligible.  Throw in a game with Florida, and it doesn’t look possible for a third consecutive undefeated regular season.  Call it a one-loss year and trip to the Sugar Bowl.

Team Arkansas Razorbacks
               
Head Coach Bobby Petrino
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fayetteville, AR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 124.9
               
National Rating 4
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Quarterback ***, Receiver
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Tenn. Tech, UL-Monroe, Texas A&M (n), UTEP
   
Key Games: @ Georgia, Alabama, @ Auburn, Ole Miss, @ S.Car, LSU
   
Offense Pred. 40-44 points and 450-475 yards
               
Defense Pred. 24-28 points & 375-400 yards
               
Outlook

Arkansas has half of the best team in the nation.  Their offense is unrivaled by any team.  They may not finish atop the total offense and scoring offense statistics, but the teams that beat them out won’t play SEC defenses.  If the Razorbacks played a CUSA schedule, they might average close to 55 points per game this year.

 

Ryan Mallett is the best quarterback in the SEC and one of the five best in the nation.  Last year, he passed for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns versus just seven interceptions.  His 55.8% completion rate was lower than others, because Mallett tends to throw deeper passes.  He averaged nine yards per attempt and more than 16 yards per completion.

 

The vertical passing game works so well, because Arkansas has the best group of receivers in the SEC.  Three Hog pass catchers can burn a secondary for a quick six on a go route.  Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, and Joe Adams teamed up for 118 receptions, 2,143 yards (18.2 avg), and 19 touchdowns.  Tight end D.J. Williams added 32 receptions, and he can take a pass over the middle and go the distance.

 

Pass defenders will have to cede territory in their alignments, and that will make the running game have more room to run when backs break free from the line.  Arkansas doesn’t run the ball much, and they have little need to do so, but when they do, expect the backs to improve on last season’s average per attempt.  Ronnie Wingo and Broderick Green should average a combined five yards per rush this year.

 

The offensive line returns four starters from last year, and this group will give Mallett ample time to locate his deadly receivers.

 

The defense is a different kettle of fish.  Arkansas gave up 25 points and 400 yards per game last year, giving up 52 points to Georgia. 

 

Two starters return to the defensive line, but neither was a star.  The two new starters saw extensive time last year, so this unit will be about as mediocre as it was last year.  Look for true freshman Bryan Jones to see immediate action in the trenches.

 

The Hogs will be improved at linebacker.  Two starters, the numbers one and three tacklers, return.  Jerry Franklin collected 94 tackles and played admirably against both the run and pass.  Jerico Nelson was a better run-stopper than pass defender.  New starter Freddy Burton started seven games last year, so he can be considered a half-starter.

 

The defensive backfield is the weak spot of the defense.  The Razorbacks gave up far too many big plays last year.  Arkansas gave up 248 passing yards per game last year.  With three starters returning, there should be some improvement.  However, none of them intercepted a pass.

 

Expect another entertaining season out of Coach Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks.  We believe they will average more than 40 points per game.  We also think they may be the team that upsets Alabama.  However, they have too many holes on defense to run the table.  Call it a second or third place finish in the tough West.  Jerry Jones would love for his alma mater to play in his stadium at bowl season.

Team Auburn Tigers
               
Head Coach Gene Chizik
               
Colors Navy and Burnt Orange
               
City Auburn, AL
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 117.8
               
National Rating 19
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-3
Overall 9-3
               
Strengths: Receiver, Offensive Line, Linebacker
               
Weaknesses: Defensive Line
               
Schedule              
Non-Conf: Arkansas State, Clemson, La.-Monroe, Chattanooga
   
Key Games: S. Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, @ Ole Miss, Georgia, @ Alabama
   
Offense Pred. 28-32 points & 400-425 yards
               
Defense Pred. 22-26 points & 350-375 yards
               
Outlook

What a difference a year made!  In their last season with Tommy Tuberville in charge of this program, Auburn averaged 17 points and 300 yards per game in offense and gave up 18 points and 320 yards.  In their first season under Gene Chizik, and with offensive guru Gus Malzahn’s offense being implemented, Auburn’s offense improved to 33 points and 430 yards per game.  Unfortunately, their defense weakened to 28 points and 375 yards allowed.

 

The end result was an 8-5 record that included a bowl win over Northwestern.  In year number two, Chizik has the pieces in place to win more games and even possibly challenge for the SEC West division title.

 

Former Florida signee Cam Newton takes over at quarterback this year.  He is a dual-threat that could add to the running game, but he won’t pass for as many yards as this team had in 2009.

 

Newton’s excellent running ability will help take some heat off the backs.  Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb combined for just 850 subbing for departed star Ben Tate, and we believe they will team for 1,600 or more yards.  True freshman Michael Dyer is a tank with quickness, and he could take away some of the snaps from the other two.

 

Newton has an outstanding receiver to aim for in Darvin Adams, who caught 60 passes for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Terrell Zachery added 26 receptions for 477 yards and five scores.  Fannin also proved to be a valuable weapon out of the backfield, taking 42 passes.  Look out for true freshman Trovon Reed, who could actually supplant one of the starters.

 

Four starting offensive linemen return to provide excellent pass protection and to open holes for the running backs.  Center Ryan Pugh and tackle Lee Ziemba are both stars.