The Pi-Rate Ratings

September 13, 2020

PiRate Ratings–College Football September 13, 2020

This Week’s PiRate, Mean, and Bias Spreads

Week 3Sep. 18-19
Oklahoma St.Tulsa16.918.119.6
Georgia St.Louisiana-16.9-16.7-17.0
Western Ky.Liberty11.29.411.4
DukeBoston College3.03.92.4
MarshallAppalachian St.-2.0-1.4-4.3
Notre DameUSF24.324.626.1
North CarolinaCharlotte26.526.627.5
Georgia TechUCF-7.1-8.2-9.4
Ga. SouthernFla. Atlantic12.912.214.1
Middle Tenn.Troy-1.5-2.5-1.7
North TexasSMU-21.5-19.8-20.1
UL-MonroeTexas St.
LouisvilleMiami (Fla.)
Southern Miss.La. Tech3.42.50.9
NC St.Wake Forest-3.3-4.2-3.3

This Week’s FBS vs. FCS Games

Coastal CarolinaCampbell22.3
CincinnatiAustin Peay27.4
UTSAS F Austin12.0
Arkansas St.Cent. Arkansas11.8
UTEPAbilene Chr.-0.7

This Week’s PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings

2L S U123.2122.5125.8123.8SEC-W
8Notre Dame117.2116.2117.2116.9ACC
10Texas A&M115.7115.8115.9115.8SEC-W
11Oklahoma St.113.4112.8113.6113.3B12
12N. Carolina111.9112.4113.3112.5ACC
15Virginia Tech109.2109.2111.3109.9ACC
19S. Carolina109.3107.0108.7108.3SEC-E
22Iowa St.107.9107.1107.5107.5B12
23Miss. St.106.7106.1108.4107.1SEC-W
27Florida St.105.5103.9105.4104.9ACC
29T C U105.0102.8105.1104.3B12
30Kansas St.104.2103.0104.1103.8B12
32Ole Miss104.1102.5103.8103.4SEC-W
33Appal. St.102.8101.9103.9102.9SUN-E
34Miami (Fla.)101.5104.1101.7102.4ACC
35W. Virginia101.4101.5101.5101.5B12
38Georgia Tech100.699.999.6100.0ACC
40Boston Coll.99.699.399.699.5ACC
41Wake Forest98.399.498.398.7ACC
43Texas Tech97.296.097.496.9B12
45W. Kentucky95.997.096.796.5CUSA
48Arkansas St.95.796.995.696.1SUN-W
49Florida Int’l.95.495.295.895.5CUSA
55NC State93.593.793.693.6ACC
56Georgia Sou.92.793.794.093.5SUN-E
57U A B92.693.492.192.7CUSA
59Coastal Car.91.892.492.292.1SUN-E
60E. Carolina92.192.690.991.9AAC
61Southern Miss.88.589.087.288.2CUSA
63Georgia St.87.887.587.787.7SUN-E
64La. Tech86.588.087.787.4CUSA
68S. Alabama85.186.484.885.4SUN-W
70Middle Tenn.
71Fla. Atlantic81.383.081.481.9CUSA
73North Texas78.179.378.578.7CUSA
74Texas St.79.079.677.378.6SUN-W
75U T S A77.177.076.576.9CUSA
76U T E P63.466.063.064.1CUSA

By Conference

American Athletic Conference
East Division
E. Carolina92.192.690.991.9
AAC Averages100.699.999.5100.0
Atlantic Coast Conference
Notre Dame117.2116.2117.2116.9
N. Carolina111.9112.4113.3112.5
Virginia Tech109.2109.2111.3109.9
Florida St.105.5103.9105.4104.9
Miami (Fla.)101.5104.1101.7102.4
Georgia Tech100.699.999.6100.0
Boston Coll.99.699.399.699.5
Wake Forest98.399.498.398.7
NC State93.593.793.693.6
ACC Averages105.1105.6105.5105.4
Big 12 Conference
Oklahoma St.113.4112.8113.6113.3
Iowa St.107.9107.1107.5107.5
T C U105.0102.8105.1104.3
Kansas St.104.2103.0104.1103.8
W. Virginia101.4101.5101.5101.5
Texas Tech97.296.097.496.9
Big 12 Averages105.7105.0105.6105.4
Conference USA
W. Kentucky95.997.096.796.5
Florida Int’l.95.495.295.895.5
U A B92.693.492.192.7
Southern Miss.88.589.087.288.2
La. Tech86.588.087.787.4
Middle Tenn.
Fla. Atlantic81.383.081.481.9
North Texas78.179.378.578.7
U T S A77.177.076.576.9
U T E P63.466.063.064.1
CUSA Averages85.786.385.685.9
FBS Independents
Ind. Averages95.496.595.495.8
Southeastern Conference
East Division
S. Carolina109.3107.0108.7108.3
West Division
L S U123.2122.5125.8123.8
Texas A&M115.7115.8115.9115.8
Miss. St.106.7106.1108.4107.1
Ole Miss104.1102.5103.8103.4
SEC Averages110.4109.9110.9110.4
Sunbelt Conference
East Division
Appal. St.102.8101.9103.9102.9
Georgia Sou.92.793.794.093.5
Coastal Car.91.892.492.292.1
Georgia St.87.887.587.787.7
West Division
Arkansas St.95.796.995.696.1
S. Alabama85.186.484.885.4
Texas St.79.079.677.378.6
SBC Averages91.091.590.991.2

Conference Ratings

2Big 12105.4
3Atlantic Coast105.4
6Sun Belt91.2
7Conference USA85.9

This Week’s TV Schedule

Friday, September 18
Time (ET)NetworkHomeVisitor
7:00 PMESPN3Coastal CarolinaCampbell
Saturday, September 19
Time (ET)NetworkHomeVisitor
12:00 PMFoxBaylorHouston
12:00 PMESPNOklahoma St.Tulsa
12:00 PMESPN3DukeBoston College
12:00 PMESPN2Georgia St.Louisiana
12:00 PMACCPittsburghSyracuse
12:00 PMABCTulaneNavy
12:00 PMESPNUWestern KentuckyLiberty
12:00 PMESPN+CincinnatiAustin Peay
1:30 PMCBSSNMarshallAppalachian St.
2:30 PMUSANotre DameSouth Florida
3:00 PMABCGeorgia TechCentral Florida
3:30 PMESPN3North CarolinaCharlotte
3:30 PMESPN3UTSAS. F. Austin
4:00 PMACCClemsonThe Citadel
4:00 PMESPN2Georgia SouthernFlorida Atlantic
4:00 PMESPNUMiddle TennesseeTroy
6:00 PMCBSSNNorth TexasSMU
7:00 PMESPN+LouisvilleMiami (Fla.)
7:30 PMABCArkansas St.Central Arkansas
7:30 PMESPNUUL MonroeTexas St.
8:00 PMACCNC StateWeake Forest
9:00 PMESPN3UTEPAbilene Christian

August 29, 2009

2009 Conference USA Preview

2009 Conference USA Preview

A PiRate Look

In the fifth in our series of conference previews, we take a look at Conference USA, where defense is just a suggestion and offense rules.  The 12 member institutions collectively surrendered 30 points per game last year.

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

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Central Florida was to get really lucky and host the mighty King Tebow, it would be expected that the Gator fans would find a way to get to Orlando and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same UCF team hosted Hawaii a week after the Warriors played at Boston College, then the Knights could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.


Conference USA Preseason PiRate Ratings



Prediction *






    CUSA East




    East Carolina




    Southern Mississippi












    Central Florida




    U A B








    CUSA West












    U T E P








    S M U













# Tulsa over ECU in CUSA Championship Game


*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but


on expected changes to rating during the year



East Carolina: The Pirates return 16 starters from a year ago, including nine on the offensive side.  We give them the edge over Southern Miss solely on the basis of their game with the Eagles being at home to close out the year.  For full disclosure, our founder steadfastly believes USM will win this division.

Quarterback Patrick Pinkney is back for his senior season after completing better than 61% of his passes for 2,675 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 13/7.  We believe he will approach 3,000 yards this year with more touchdown passes and the same or even fewer interceptions.  On the other end of those passes will be a talented group of receivers, including Dwayne Harris (58-654) and the speedy Darryl Feeney (16 yards per reception).

The backfield is a weak spot, as nobody on the roster is capable of striking fear into opponents.  As long as they can pick up five to seven yards on a 2nd & long draw play and convert first downs on 3rd & 1 or 2, they will suffice.

The offensive line returns almost intact, as every starter has experience starting in the past.  Look for ECU to increase their offensive numbers to 28 points and 380 yards per game this season.

ECU’s defense was the only one in the league that was somewhat reliable last year.  Seven starters and 13 of the top 17 tacklers return, so the stop troops should be good again this year. 

Nick Johnson anchors this side of the ball from his middle linebacker spot.  He’s coming off a season where he registered 102 tackles including 10 behind the line.

Up front, C.J. Wilson is a monster at end.  A year ago, he recorded 10 ½ sacks and eight other tackles for loss.  He’ll compete for CUSA Player of the Year.

Two defensive backs should contend for league honors this year.  Cornerbacks Dekota Marshall and Emanuel Davis combined five interceptions and 14 passes broken up.  Behind those two, safety Van Eskridge stops receivers for little or no gain after the catch.

The schedule is favorable within the conference, but a killer outside league play.  Expect Virginia Tech and West Virginia to exact revenge this year, while ECU will probably taste defeat at North Carolina.  The other game is a season opener with Appalachian State, the preseason number one team in the FCS.  Appy State won at Michigan two years ago.  The road game with Tulsa comes immediately after the Thursday night tilt with Virginia Tech, and we expect ECU to suffer in that one.  We also think they will have a chance at revenge in December.

Southern Mississippi: East Carolina won’t have an easy road to a repeat division title this year, because the Eagles are loaded on both sides of the ball with nine starters back on both units.  If Southern Miss can pull off an upset over Kansas in Lawrence on September 26, it isn’t totally out of the realm that they could get on a roll and run the table.  No CUSA team has made it to a BCS bowl yet, so it’s something to think about.

Quarterback Austin Davis performed admirably as a freshman last year.  He passed for 3,128 yards and 23 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.  Defenses will not be able to key on him because back Damion Fletcher rushed for 1,313 yards and 10 scores at a six yard per carry clip.  He’s on the NFL scout’s radar. 

All three starting wide receivers from last year return, and they are an excellent trio of pass catchers.  DeAndre Brown nabbed 67 balls for 1,117 yards and 12 scores.  Gerald Baptiste hauled in 35 balls for 480 yards, and Freddie Parham caught 19 balls but only started six times.  All told, this unit is the equal of Houston’s and superior to the other 10 league members’ receiving units.

Four starters return to the offensive line, but overall this group is not as strong as some others in the league.

Defensively, Southern Miss will be strong in the trenches and in the secondary, but there is a question mark with the linebackers, where the top two tacklers from last year are gone.  In the secondary, cornerback C. J. Bailey and safety Chico Hunter will challenge for all-conference honors.  The secondary surrendered 226 yards per game, and that number should remain about the same this year.  However, it may occur due to more opponent passes.

The defense against the run will be improved after giving up 140 yards per game last year.  No, the increase won’t be large, but we predict an improvement to about 120 yards per game.  There will be some vulnerability due to inexperienced linebackers.

The schedule is set up so that if the Eagles upset Kansas and then knock off Louisville on the road, they could quickly move into the top 15 and venture to Greenville to face ECU with either an 11-0 or 10-1 record.  We think it won’t happen, but Southern Miss will challenge for the East title and definitely improve upon their seven-win season of last year.

Marshall: Coach Mark Snyder starts his fifth season in Huntington, and it will be his last one if the Thundering Herd fails to gain bowl eligibility.  The former Ohio State defensive coordinator has a dark horse contender for the division title this year, so a record of at least 6-6 should be a reality.

The roster took a big hit this summer when former CUSA all-freshman guard Josh Evans transferred.  We think Snyder has molded an adequate albeit piecemeal offensive line with Brandon Campbell moving in at left tackle and Ryan Tillman moving down to left guard.

At quarterback, former starter Mark Cann has fallen all the way to third team, and Brian Anderson will begin the season as the starter.  Cann threw too many interceptions, and Anderson has a more accurate arm.  Anderson’s receiving crew isn’t quite as experienced or talented as the teams Marshall will try to surpass in their division, so back Darius Marshall will be called on to move to the next level after rushing for 1,095 yards last season.  He needs to top 1,300 yards this year for the Herd to compete for the division title.

The Defense is going to be better, but it has a long way to go to gain respect after surrendering 28 points and 418 total yards per game in 2008.  The front four can match up with any CUSA rival.  End Albert McClellan has all the tools and will have a monster year if he can remain healthy.  Cornerback DeQuan Bembry is a ball-hawking pass defender who broke up 11 passes in addition to recording 7 ½ tackles behind the line.

Marshall hosts Southern Illinois to start the season, and it won’t be a sure win.  The Salukis are ranked #7 in the FCS preseason poll.  Games at Virginia Tech and West Virginia are sure losses, while a home tilt with Bowling Green must be a win.  Can Marshall break even in conference play?  Definitely, yes, but it may be hard to get that fifth league victory to cinch a bowl bid.  East Carolina and Southern Miss must come to Huntington, and Marshall has the horses to upset them both.  Road games with Memphis, UTEP, and Central Florida need to produce at least two wins for the Herd to go bowling.  It will be close.  Five wins ends Snyder’s reign.

Memphis: The Tigers somehow stay under the radar for most of the year and emerge at the end as a bowl team.  They have been to bowls five of the last six seasons, even though on paper they don’t appear to have the talent to do so.  This year is no different.  The PiRate stats say they have no chance of breaking even and could win just three games, but common sense says they will beat three teams as underdogs and earn a New Orleans Bowl bid or equivalent.

Coach Tommy West has consistently put out balanced offenses, averaging 407 yards per game over the last six seasons.  This year, we expect those numbers to drop by up to 50 yards per game (417 in ’08).  The Tigers lost too much talent and will rebuild on the attack side.  The major problem is the offensive line, where only one starter returns.  Memphis has done well with experienced lines and quality backs.

The Tigers do have a quality back in Curtis Steele, who rushed for 1,223 yards and a 5.6 average.  His numbers could suffer some because there will be times where he is met in the backfield by multiple defenders.

Quarterback Arkelon Hall is average for this league, and with less time to throw, we expect his interceptions to go up and percentage to drop.

Seven starters return on defense.  Last year, UM gave up just 354 total yards per game, but they gave up 27.2 points per game.  Those 354 yards came on just 60 total plays.  Memphis won’t hold onto the ball for 76 plays per game like last year, so we believe that even though the defense could be more talented, it will be on the field for 100 more plays this year; that could mean 500-600 more total yards.  That’s why we believe Memphis will fail to gain bowl eligibility. 

The schedule is on the rough side.  Memphis opens at home with Ole Miss on Sunday, September 6.  Then, they bus to Murfreesboro to play at Middle Tennessee six days later.  We see the Tigers starting 0-2 before getting a breather with Tennessee-Martin.  A game at Tennessee should make their non-conference record 1-3.  In CUSA play, UM gets Marshall, UTEP, East Carolina, and UAB at the Liberty Bowl and plays at Central Florida, Southern Miss, Houston, and Tulsa.  We just cannot see five winnable conference games.

Central Florida: The Knights were the one CUSA team that didn’t have an explosive offense last year.  To be blunt, UCF stunk last year, gaining just 230 total yards per game.  They couldn’t run the ball, and they threw 176 incomplete passes versus just 132 completions.  A mediocre defense meant UCF had one of the better stop troops in the league, but it wasn’t enough to have a winning season.  This year, the offense can only be better, but the defense will be weaker.

Quarterback Rob Calabrese completed less than 40% of his passes, which would have been bad 50 years ago.  It’s not like he can run the ball like Colin Kaepernick.  If Calabrese doesn’t improve immediately this season, look for former Wake Forest QB Brett Hodges to take over. 

The receivers will make whoever throws the ball a better passer this season, as everybody who caught a pass last year returns.  There’s just as much experience returning at running back, and the offensive line should be about as mediocre as last year.  Look for UCF to gain about 275 total yards per game this year and increase their point production from 16.6 to around 21.  Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to win six games.

The defense has a major Achilles Heel.  The secondary lost all four starters, and the new starters will get burned often by Pinckney, Davis, Anderson, Joe Webb, and especially Case Keenum.

The front seven will be considerably stronger this year with linebacker Lawrence Young leading the way.  Young is equally proficient against the run and the pass.

Perhaps the biggest offensive weapon this year could be late signee Jamie Boyle, a kicker/punter with a cannon for a leg.  Boyle is capable of connecting on a 60-yard field goal.

The schedule gives UCF a remote chance of posting six or seven wins.  Home games with Samford, Buffalo, Memphis, Marshall, and Tulane and road games with UAB and Rice are the winnable contests.  Miami and Texas will both destroy the Knights; road games against Southern Miss, East Carolina and a home game with Houston appear to be out of reach.

U A B: The Blazers have fallen on hard times as of late, winning just nine of 36 games the last three years.  UAB will be stronger on both sides of the ball, but a difficult schedule should keep them at the bottom of the standings.

10 Starters return on offense, including quarterback Joe Webb.  Webb completed 59% of his tosses for 2,367 yards last year, but he threw 16 interceptions.  Webb also can run the ball and led UAB with 1,021 yards on the ground.  Should he go down with an injury, it will be big trouble in Birmingham. 

All the key receivers from last year return and running back Rashaud Slaughter has a great pair of hands to catch balls out of the backfield, many of which are nothing more than forward lateral sweep plays.

The offensive line would have had all five starters returning, but tackle Terence Edge will miss the season.  Still, they should open more holes this year and protect the quarterback for a fraction of a second longer.

The defense gave up 31.3 points and 430 yards per game last year.  Unfortunately, the top two tacklers plus another who tied for third have run out of eligibility.  Additionally, the top pass defender has picked up his sheepskin.  A weak pass rush will expose a weak secondary, and the three linebackers are below average talents.  It looks like another long season at Legion Field.  Speaking of the home stadium, Legion Field’s upper deck has been closed to spectators.  That’s a perfect microcosm for this program. 


Houston: The Cougars set the college football world on fire in 1968, when the Houston Veer offense of then coach Bill Yeoman averaged over 300 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game.  They even scored 100 points against Tulsa.  In the late 1980’s, it was the run and shoot offense that passed for more than 400 yards per game.  Houston almost scored 100 points again, beating SMU 95-21 in 1989.  Now, the Cougars of Coach Kevin Sumlin are poised to run up some new gaudy offensive statistics and perhaps score 70 points in a game again this season (yep, they did that against Tulsa last year).

Quarterback Case Keenum won’t repeat the feat of Andre Ware and become the second UH QB to take home a Heisman Trophy, but the junior signal caller will top 5,000 passing yards once again.  He could approach 50 touchdown passes and post just 10 interceptions.  Keenum has a nice stable of receivers to play catch with, led by Tyron Carrier.  Carrier is coming off a season where he caught 80 passes for 1,026 yards.  Keep an eye on L. J. Castle, who can turn a five yard pass into a 70 yard touchdown.

It’s not all about passing at Houston.  Running back Bryce Beall ran for 1,247 yards last year with 13 touchdowns.  He is a danger to break free for long gains, and Keenum frequently passed to him coming out of the backfield.

The offensive line has three returning starters and should be about as good as last year.  JUCO transfer Roy Watts should start immediately at tackle and gives the Cougars the equivalent of a fourth starter.

The defense should be happy that they don’t have to face the Houston offense in a game, because UH couldn’t stop a feather last year.  They surrendered 31 points and 413 yards per game, and only four starters return from that team.  Worse, they lose Phillip Hunt and his 14 QB sacks.

Linebackers Marcus McGraw and C.J. Cavness will have to lead the defense this year.  The two combined for 180 tackles in 2008.  In the backfield, Brandon Brinkley will be assigned to the opponents’ top receiver.  Brinkley led the team with 15 passes broken up and tied for the lead with four interceptions.

An out-of-conference schedule that includes games against Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Texas Tech will prevent the Cougars from having a chance to sneak into the BCS bowl picture.  They also must face both Tulsa and UTEP on enemy turf, so we don’t believe Houston can win the division.

Tulsa:  Houston’s 563 total yards and 41 points per game was not the best in the nation last year; it wasn’t even the tops in the conference or even the West Division.  Tulsa averaged 47.2 points and 570 total yards per game.  While, the Golden Hurricane have just five starters back on offense and lost a quarterback who passed for more than 4,000 yards and 46 touchdowns, they could put up similar numbers this season.

Coach Todd Graham has three quarterbacks that could start for BCS conference teams.  As of this writing, it looks like Texas transfer G.J. Kinne may have a slight edge over JUCO standout Jacob Brewer and freshman Shavodrick Beaver, who spurned a scholarship offer from Michigan.  Then, there’s backup receiver A. J. Whitmore who will receive snaps out of the wildcat formation.  Graham has hinted that more than one of these talented players could be on the field at the same time, and even all four could be out there for a play.  Imagine trying to prepare for that scenario.

Whoever throws the ball, there will be three excellent receivers with breakaway speed on the other end of those tosses.  Damaris Johnson, Slick Shelley, and Trae Johnson combined for 1,845 yards on 112 catches (16.5 avg per catch) and 21 scores.

The running game will take a hit this year after the loss of Tarrion Adams and his 1,500+ rushing yards.  Jamad Williams and Charles Opeseyltan could share the majority of carries and approach 1,500 combined rushing yards.

The offensive line needs a little rebuilding, as three starters are gone.  If Tulsa fails to win the division, this will probably be the reason why.

On the stop side, the 3-3-5 defense returns four starters to the secondary, and the new starter at the bandit strong safety position (DeAundre Brown) started six games and basically gives them five returning starters.  This was TU’s major fault last year, but it should be a better unit this year.

The pass rush will be led by James Lockett from his blitzing spur safety alignment.  He comes off a year where he recorded 16 ½ tackles behind the line.

The schedule will not allow Tulsa to sneak into the BCS bowl picture.  A road game against in-state rival Oklahoma will put an end to those chances on September 19.  The Golden Hurricane could play spoiler when Boise State comes for a visit on October 14.  The key games in the division are against Houston and UTEP.  If they split those two, which we think they will, TU should go 7-1 in league play and repeat as West champions.

U T E P: On paper, this Miner team looks strong enough to win the league championship, but Mike Price’s teams have not played enough defense to win the West Division much less the conference championship.  We think UTEP will score almost as many points as their two main rivals, but the Miners will find a way to lose a conference game against one of the lower-placed teams due to a breakdown on defense. 

The offense averaged 33 points per game and 407 total yards in 2008, and most of the key components return this year.  Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe may not have put up the gaudy numbers equal to Keenum, but he tossed 33 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions.  He played a good portion of the season with a lame ankle, so his numbers could be more Keenum-like this year.

Vittatoe’s top two targets return this season.  Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi teamed for 101 receptions for 1,613 yards and 23 touchdowns.  The running game is as lame as the passing game is spectacular.  Nobody topped 500 yards last year, and we look for three or four players to share the load again this year.  However, we don’t expect the rushing numbers to change much—about 125 yards per game.

The progress of the defense will determine if this club can challenge for conference honors.  UTEP gave up an eye-popping 37 points and 469 yards per game in 2008, and with four of the top five tacklers gone, there isn’t much room for improvement.  UTEP uses a 3-3-5 defense, but they don’t have capable blitzers to disrupt offenses.  There isn’t much depth either, so a couple of injuries to starters could be big trouble.

The schedule is the only reason why the Miners have any chance to win the division this year.  They get both Houston and Tulsa at the Sun Bowl.  We think that they will lose at least one of those games and then fall in an upset on the road to Memphis, Tulane, SMU, or Rice.  Out of conference, the Miners host Buffalo and Kansas and venture to New Mexico State and Texas.  We say they will split those games and gain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2005.

Rice: The Owls had their best team since the 1953 squad beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl with the aid of the only major college penalty that ever resulted in an automatic touchdown, when an Alabama player (Tommy Lewis) raced from the bench to tackle Rice’s back Dicky Maegle.  Rice didn’t need that type of penalty to win the Texas Bowl and finish 10-3; they had the machine gun arm of quarterback Chase Clement.

Clement graduated after passing for 4,119 yards and 44 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.  Also gone are the top two receivers, who merely combined for 198 catches and 33 touchdowns and the top two running backs.  Throw in three new starters in the offensive line and a new offensive coordinator, and the Owls’ offense could plummet from 41 points and 471 yards per game to about 25 points and 375 yards per game.

The defense will be much better this year after surrendering 33 points and 452 yards per game in 2008.  Nine starters return and all 11 second teamers are back as well.  This side of the ball will have excellent depth even though the overall talent is marginally average.  The back seven are the strength of the team, led by Andrew Sendejo from his free safety position.  He paced the Owls with 94 stops a year ago.

The schedule is tough this year, as a home game with Tulane appears to be the only sure conference win.  Outside the league, the Owls face Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the road and host Vanderbilt and Navy.  It looks like 1-3 at best and maybe just two wins in league play.

S M U:  June Jones had two losing seasons in nine years as coach at Hawaii, and he could have two losing seasons in two years at SMU.  It’s going to be close, but we think the Mustangs will fall one game short of a break even season.  Watch out for them in 2010.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell performed quite well as a freshman, tossing 24 touchdowns and picking up 2,865 yards.  He also gave the ball away 23 times, and he should cut down on that number with a year’s experience under his belt.

Two dandy receivers as well as four other key contributors return to the fold this year.  Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders teamed for 126 catches for 2,005 yards and 2o scores.  Until some semblance of a running game forms, this offense will never have a chance to get unleashed.  SMU rushed for just 41 yards per game, the worst amongst FBS schools.  There isn’t a back on the roster capable of striking fear into opponents.

The offensive line has some decent pass blockers, but they just cannot open running lanes.  Center Mitch Enright could challenge for league honors.

The defense was consistently appalling against both the run and the pass last year, giving up 226 yards rushing and 254 yards passing per game.  Eight starters return including six of the top seven tacklers.  Linebacker is the team strength with Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga capable of earning all-conference honors.

The secondary has some ball hawks with Derrius Bell, Rock Dennis, and Bryan McCann teaming up for 20 passes swatted away in ’08.

An opening game with Stephen F Austin will give the offense a chance to put up some fat numbers.  A road game against UAB could move the record to 2-0, and if so, the Mustangs just may gather enough momentum to move north in the standings.  Washington State on the road is not infallible, and it’s foreseeable that SMU could win that one as well.  A week off precedes the first blowout loss when SMU goes to TCU.  A home game with East Carolina could help decide the other division champion.  After a home game with Navy, the Mustangs face consecutive powers Houston and Tulsa on the road, and they should lose them both by big numbers.  

Tulane: This program has never fully recovered from the hurricane.  Last season’s 2-10 record may be hard to top this year and could easily be matched in 2009.

Coach Bob Toledo’s squad couldn’t move the ball or stop opponents for most of 2008 thanks to a young squad and numerous injuries to key players.  Running back Andre Anderson was headed to a 1,500 yard season before going down for the season.  After his injury, the Green Wave could only muster 64 rushing yards per game.

TU will hand the quarterbacking duties over to sophomore Joe Kemp, who beat out last year’s starter Kevin Moore.  Moore tossed 13 interceptions against just eight touchdown passes, and Kemp should better those numbers with ease if he stays healthy. 

Jeremy Williams is the top returning receiver after grabbing 27 balls for 437 yards last season in less than half the season.  He suffered multiple injuries and missed the last seven games.  Without him, the TU passing game dropped off by 75 yards per game.

The offensive line returns three starters from a year ago, but there is a depth problem and the overall talent is among the weakest in the league.

Likewise, there are big problems on the other side of the ball, where Tulane just couldn’t consistently stop anybody.  There are no stars at linebacker and no depth in the secondary.  The front four has some talent, with tackle Reggie Scott leading the way.  Keep an eye on rush end Logan Kelley, who led the Green Wave with seven sacks even though he didn’t start.

The special teams’ unit returns the punter, place-kicker, punt returner, and kick returners from last year.

Tulane last fielded a winning team in 2002, and it will be at least another year for the Greenies to challenge.  The schedule this season includes non-conference games at home against BYU and on the road at LSU.  The other two out-of-league tilts are winnable—McNeese State and at Army, but we think TU will lose at West Point.  The Green Wave will have to pull off an upset to avoid going 0-8 in league play, but we believe they will pull off one upset.

Next up: A look at the Mountain West Conference, where two or even three teams have the talent to earn an at-large BCS bowl bid.

Create a free website or blog at