The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 22, 2017

2017 Pac-12 Preview

The Pac-12 has not had a member win the National Championship in quite some time. Washington and Oregon made trips to the Playoffs in recent years, but they came up short. USC won multiple national titles earlier in this century, and Washington shared one with Miami back in 1991, but this once toughest conference has come up short ever since Vince Young scored the winning touchdown for Texas against USC in 2005.

The Trojans might have won an additional national title in this century had the four team playoffs been in existence in 2002. While unbeated Ohio State and unbeaten Miami played a memorable championship game, it was USC that was clearly the best team in the nation at the end of the year. The Trojans went 11-2, and 12 of the 13 teams on their schedule went to bowls. The Tojans split the title with LSU in 2003 and won the title outright in 2004. They went 38-2 in a three-year period losing only to Young and Texas and Aaron Rodgers and Cal. Since that time, 11 of the last 12 national champions have come from South of the Mason-Dixon Line. Can this be the year the Pac-12 breaks through with another national champion?

USC and Washington both appear to be contenders for playoff bid during the preseason. In today’s college football world, the quarterback is just as vital as the position in the NFL. The Trojans and Huskies both have top 5 signal callers directing their attacks. Sam Darnold took over a 1-3 Trojan team and guided USC to nine consecutive victories. Washington’s Jake Browning led the Huskies to the Playoff semi-finals, before UW bowed out against Alabama.

There are three other teams with the type of quality QB that can lead a school to a conference championship. Washington State’s Luke Falk is now a senior, and when QB’s under Mike Leach’s tutelage reach their fourth year in the program, they tend to lead the conference and the nation in total offense. Look for WSU to continue to advance forward from the surprise 2016 season.

Josh Rosen leads the UCLA offense, but like so many past Bruin quarterbacks, injuries have sort of derailed his career. A healthy Rosen is capable of leading the Bruins to a record reversal or better in Westwood. A 4- 8 disappointment in 2016, led Coach Jim Mora, Jr. to overhaul his assistant coaching corps.

Oregon is another team that disappointed in 2016. It cost Mark Helfrich his job. Enter new coach Willie Taggart, who turned around programs at Western Kentucky and South Florida. At his two prior stops, Taggart’s first editions have taken their lumps learning to play his style of ball, but he did not have a quarterback with the talent of Justin Herbert at either past school. Look for the Ducks to turn things around quickly and become bowl-eligible again this season. Give Taggart three years, and Oregon will be challenging for the Pac-12 North title again.

Here is how the Pac-12 Media voted in the preseason.

 

Pac-12 North Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Washington 49 309 22
2 Stanford 1 247 0
3 Washington St. 1 206 0
4 Oregon 1 163 1
5 Oregon St. 0 101 0
6 California 0 64 0
         
Pac-12 South Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 USC 49 309 28
2 Utah 1 220 1
3 UCLA 1 209 0
4 Colorado 1 182 0
5 Arizona St. 0 109 0
6 Arizona 0 61 0

The PiRate, Mean, and Bias Ratings agree on the division leaders, but our ratings show a different order to start the season. Bear in mind that our ratings factor depth and other factors that could help a team improve (or decline) in the ratings more than another team with the same results, based on this factor. USC is one of those teams that has a chance to improve more than average, so by late November, the Trojans could be rated higher than Washington, even if both teams go 11-1 and face off in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Pac-12 Conference
North Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Washington 129.3 125.1 130.3 128.2
Washington St. 119.4 116.1 118.6 118.0
Stanford 118.5 116.2 117.1 117.3
Oregon 110.6 107.2 109.6 109.1
Oregon St. 102.5 101.7 101.1 101.8
California 97.8 95.3 95.7 96.3
         
South Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
U S C 120.4 120.1 120.8 120.4
Colorado 114.1 111.5 111.8 112.4
U C L A 108.6 107.7 108.0 108.1
Utah 105.4 108.1 105.6 106.4
Arizona St. 103.7 103.7 102.5 103.3
Arizona 98.3 97.1 95.9 97.1
         
Pac-12 Averages 110.7 109.1 109.8 109.9

And, here are our not-so-scientific predictions for won-loss and bowl projections.

Pac-12 Conference Projected Standings
North Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
Washington 9-0 12-1 Fiesta
Washington St. 7-2 10-2 Alamo
Stanford 6-3 9-3 Holiday
Oregon 5-4 8-4 Foster Farms
Oregon St. 2-7 4-8  
California 1-8 2-10  
       
South Division
Team Conference Overall Bowl
USC 7-2 11-2 PLAYOFFS
Utah 5-4 8-4 Sun
UCLA 5-4 7-5 Las Vegas
Colorado 4-5 7-5 Cactus
Arizona St. 1-8 3-9  
Arizona 1-8 3-9  
       
USC to win Pac-12 Championship Game

Coming Tomorrow: The Atlantic Coast Conference–Does Florida State deserve its lofty preseason rating? How much will Clemson suffer without Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, and Wayne Gallman? Can Louisville challenge the two behemoths? Is there a dark horse team lurking, maybe North Carolina State? In the Coastal, can any team finish better than 6-2 in league play, or will there be a major logjam with four or five teams contending for the division flag?

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August 19, 2016

2016 American Athletic Conference Football Preview

Today, we conclude with our previews of the Group of 5 conferences and throw in the four independents to boot. The American Athletic Conference produced the Group of 5 at-large representative to the New Year’s 6 Bowls last year. Houston represented the little brothers well last year, when the Cougars bested Florida State in the Peach Bowl last year.

Houston should be right in the thick of the AAC and NY6 Bowl race this year, but we believe that another league member is talented enough to take this year’s automatic NY6 Bowl bid, and if they can pull off one upset, maybe even challenge for the #4 seed in the playoffs.

Coach Willie Taggart has his South Florida team ready to make a run toward an undefeated season this year. The Bulls must pull off the upset against Florida State, but USF gets to host the Seminoles in that game a week after FSU must face Louisville on the road.

USF returns an exceptional dual threat quarterback in Quinton Flowers. Flowers topped 1,000 yards rushing (not counting QB sacks, or if NFL statistic rules were used) last year, while averaging more than 8 yards per passing attempt. Seven of his top eight targets from last year return to give the Bulls an improved passing attack. That should allow multi-talented running back Marlon Mack to see less eight-man defensive fronts and give him a chance to improve on his 1,381 rushing yards from a year ago.

Defensively, USF 10 of their top dozen tacklers from a year ago, including potential All-American Deatrick Nichols as a cover cornerback. USF should trim about 5 points and 30-50 total yards off what the defense allowed last year, and that should give the Bulls a fighting chance to conquer that one great matador in their path to a perfect season.

Houston is still the class of the West Division. The Cougars came within an upset loss against Connecticut in November last year of possibly getting into the Playoff picture. Second year head coach Tom Herman proved to be a talented protege of his mentor Urban Meyer, as he guided the Cougars to a 13-1 season. Only a few questions on the defensive side keep us from making UH our clear-cut favorite for the NY6 Bowl, but they only trail USF by a tiny margin as the season begins. What hurts the Cougars is an opening game against Oklahoma at NRG Stadium, and we cannot see the Cougars’ defense being ready to stop the Sooners’ offense. Starting 0-1, Houston will be behind the eight-ball all season. Road games against Cincinnati, Navy, and Memphis may be more than UH can handle, so the Cougars could be a two-loss team heading into the AAC Championship Game.

Here is how the Media picked this year’s AAC race.

American Athletic Conference–East Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 South Florida 15 164 2
2 Temple 9 144 1
3 Cincinnati 6 130  
4 Connecticut 0 89  
5 East Carolina 0 55  
6 Central Florida 0 48  
         
American Athletic Conference–West Division
# Team 1st Pl. Total Champ.
1 Houston 30 180 27
2 Navy 0 128  
3 Memphis 0 124  
4 Tulsa 0 92  
5 SMU 0 65  
6 Tulane 0 41  

And, here are how our PiRates rate the teams to begin the 2016 season.

American Athletic Conference
East Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
South Florida 108.3 105.7 109.5 107.8
Cincinnati 101.5 102.7 102.5 102.3
Temple 102.2 101.2 103.1 102.2
Connecticut 98.3 96.1 98.6 97.7
East Carolina 91.6 94.6 91.7 92.6
Central Florida 85.9 88.6 85.9 86.8
         
West Division        
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Houston 110.1 108.3 111.9 110.1
Tulsa 99.7 102.2 100.4 100.8
Memphis 102.7 97.8 100.8 100.5
Navy 99.2 99.0 98.6 99.0
SMU 93.7 92.1 93.2 93.0
Tulane 82.2 86.1 82.0 83.4
         
AAC Averages 98.0 97.9 98.2 98.0

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.

American Athletic Conference Projected Standings
Team Conference Overall Bowl
East Division      
South Florida 8-0 12-1 * Cotton–NY6
Temple 6-2 9-3 Military
Cincinnati 4-4 6-6 Birmingham
Connecticut 3-5 4-8  
East Carolina 2-6 3-9  
Central Florida 1-7 2-10  
       
Team Conference Overall Bowl
West Division      
Houston 8-0 10-3 St. Petersburg
Navy 6-2 8-4 Armed Forces
Tulsa 5-3 8-4 Miami Beach
Memphis 4-4 7-5 Bahamas
SMU 1-7 3-9  
Tulane 0-8 3-9  
       
* South Florida to win AAC Title and automatic NY 6 Bowl Bid

Coming Later Today–A look at the four independents.

 

 

 

August 17, 2012

2012 Sunbelt Conference Preview

The Sunbelt Conference has been the lowest-rated conference every year since its inception, but the gap has narrowed quite a bit in the last few seasons.  In fact, had we not brought the Vintage rating into the equation this year, The SBC would have moved out of the basement for the first time.  Taking just the regular PiRate Rating into account, the Sunbelt mean rates .62 points ahead of the WAC.

 

Four new teams have ascended to the ranks of the Football Bowl Subdivision of Division I this year.  One of those four is a new member of this conference.  Welcome to the South Alabama Jaguars, a long-time member of the SBC in other sports.  Their coach is former Alabama Crimson Tide star receiver, Joey Jones.

 

Last season, Arkansas State used an explosive hurry-up, no-huddle offense to sweep its conference slate and win the Sunbelt title for the second time.  The Red Wolves lost the GoDaddy.com bowl 38-20 to MAC champion Northern Illinois and finished with a 10-3 record.

 

Then head coach Hugh Freeze capitalized on his first season at the helm to grab the Ole Miss job. 

 

Another first-year coach, Mark Hudspeth, guided his Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns to their first winning record since joining the SBC.  UL won the New Orleans Bowl to finish 9-4.

 

Florida International was the consensus pick by the media to repeat as league champions, but the Golden Panthers finished fourth in the league.  FIU still earned a bowl bid and lost to Marshall in the Beef O’Brady’s bowl.

 

One more team became bowl eligible, but lost out in the selection process.  Western Kentucky, picked to finish in the bottom third of the league (but picked by us to be the surprise team and contend for a winning record) lost its first four games, but then won seven of their last eight, losing only at LSU, to finish 7-5 and alone in second place in the league standings at 7-1.  The Hilltoppers lost by four points to league champ ASU, but by the end of the season WKU was the best team in the conference.

 

Troy and Middle Tennessee, the two former kings of this league suffered through losing seasons, and it sets up a great race for 2012.

 

At the League’s Media Day last month, the preseason poll was released, and Florida International was the overwhelming favorite to regain the title they lost last year.  Here is how the vote went:

 

   

Votes

Pos

Team

1st Pl

Total

1

Florida International

5

92

2

ArkansasState

2

85

3

Louisiana

2

81

4

Western Kentucky

1

70

5

Troy

0

60

6

Louisiana-Monroe

0

47

7

Middle Tennessee

0

46

8

North Texas

0

36

9

FloridaAtlantic

0

23

10

South Alabama

0

14

South Alabama is ineligible in this transition year

 

The PiRate and Vintage ratings bear out similar results, but in a slightly different order.

 

Here is a look at each rating

 

The PiRate Rating

Pos

Team

PiRate

1

Western Kentucky

92.0

2

Florida International

92.0

3

Louisiana

89.6

4

ArkansasState

88.6

5

North Texas

86.0

6

Louisiana-Monroe

85.5

7

Troy

83.5

8

FloridaAtlantic

75.8

9

Middle Tennessee

75.1

10

South Alabama

73.0

  SBC Mean

85.56

 

The PiRate Vintage Rating

Pos

Team

Vintage

1

Western Kentucky

94

2

Florida International

93

3

Troy

91

4

Louisiana

89

5

ArkansasState

87

6

Middle Tennessee

87

7

Louisiana-Monroe

85

8

North Texas

84

9

FloridaAtlantic

82

10

South Alabama

78

  SBC Mean

87

 

 

Team

Arkansas State Red Wolves

               
Head Coach

Gus Malzahn

               
Colors

Scarlet and Black

               
City

Jonesboro, AK

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-0

Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

88.6

               
National Rank

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

87.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

107

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

5-3

Overall

7-5

 

Gus Malzahn could have been the Vanderbilt head coach last year, but an eleventh hour backroom decision kept him at Auburn for one more year.  Now, Malzahn tries to take over at Arkansas State, where former coach Hugh Freeze guided the Red Wolves to the 2011 SBC championship.

 

Conference Player of the Year Ryan Aplin returns to pilot the offense, and for a short time, it appeared that he would be blessed with a former two-time 1,000-yard rusher from the SEC.  However, former Auburn star Michael Dyer was denied eligibility for this season.

 

Aplin should have some decent receiving targets, but Malzahn may take more advantage of Aplin’s wheels than Freeze did.  Whereas ASU passed for close to 300 yards in 2011, look for the Wolves to run the ball more this season.

 

Defense is this team’s Achilles Heel, as the unit was decimated by graduation.  All three units will need to rebuild, and we believe opponents could gain an additional 50-60 total yards per game and up to a touchdown more per game this season.

 

Still, Malzahn has a conference title contender as long as Aplin stays healthy.

 

 

Team

Florida Atlantic Owls

               
Head Coach

Carl Pelini

               
Colors

Red, White, and Blue

               
City

Boca Raton, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

1-11

               
PiRate Rating

75.8

               
National Rank

117

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

82.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

119

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-17

Overall

2-10

 

It was a sad swan song for former coach Howard Schnellenberger, as FAU did not have the horses to compete in the SBC last year.  The Owls wore the collar in league play and managed to squeak by UAB late in the year to win just one time.  FAU was outscored by an average of three touchdowns per game in conference play, and were outgained by 130 yards per game.

 

New coach Carl Pelini arrives from Nebraska where he was his brother Bo’s defensive coordinator.  He won’t see anything resembling the “Blackshirt Defense” from Lincoln.

 

Pelini became the DC at Nebraska in 2008, and in his first year in Huskerland, NU improved the defensive numbers by almost 10 points and 130 yards per game.  His teams are noted for aggressive pass defense, and it would not be a surprise if the Owls’ pass defense improves by 20 or 30 yards per game this year.

 

The problem is on the other side of the ball, as FAU just couldn’t block anybody last year, and the offensive line does not appear to be ready to make a giant leap forward.  Additionally, Pelini plans to install a spread offense and run the option, something this roster is not equipped to handle successfully.

 

The Owls are going to take their lumps again this season, but the 2012 schedule gives them a chance to double their win total.

 

 

Team

Florida International Panthers

               
Head Coach

Mario Cristobal

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Miami, FL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

92.0

               
National Rank

89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

93.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

93

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

6-2

Overall

7-5

 

The Sunbelt has two co-favorites this year in our opinion.  Florida International is definitely one of those two high-echelon teams.  If the Panthers can get a full season similar to what quarterback Jake Medlock did in his handful of 2011 starts.

 

Running back Kedrick Rhodes is the lone 1,000 yard rusher returning to the league, and he figures to be the leading rusher in the conference this season.

 

The FIU passing game will have to replace the school’s top ever pass receiver, as T Y Hilton used up his eligibility and departs after grabbing more than 70 passes and gaining more than 1,000 receiving yards.

 

As good as the offense is, the defense will be even better this year.  The Panthers return 17 of their top 18 tacklers from a year ago, including the entire back seven starters from a defense that was rather stingy last year. 

 

The conference race should be decided in a handful of key games this season.  FIU plays at Louisiana in late September, hosts Arkansas State on the following Thursday, and hosts Western Kentucky in late October.  Winning two out of those three should give them the conference championship, while winning one out of three could still give them a chance to share the title.

 

 

Team

Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

               
Head Coach

Mark Hudspeth

               
Colors

Vermillion and White

               
City

Lafayette, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

89.6

               
National Rank

95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

89.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

104

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

5-3

Overall

7-5

 

Mark Hudspeth has been a proven winner wherever his whistle has resided.  He built North Alabama into a Division II power, and then he joined Dan Mullen’s staff at Mississippi State and directed the passing game.  In his first year in Lafayette, the Ragin’ Cajuns improved by large numbers in the passing game, and UL tripled its win output from the year before.

 

Blaine Gautier was the top benefactor of the new offensive wizard.  He was a completely different player running the new offense, and the Cajuns improved by 10 points per game.  Gautier easily finished first in the league in passing efficiency, and more of the same is to be expected in his senior season.  UL should have the top offense in the league this year, and the Cajuns could top 35 points per game.

 

The questions are on the other side of the ball, where UL experienced heavy losses from 2011.  The front seven is an uncertainty this year, especially up front where three new starters must be found in the trenches.  If former Georgia tackle Jalen Fields can recuperate from surgery (he is out for the season opener against Lamar), and if former Ole Miss end Delvin Jones can be cleared to play this year, UL should be just fine up front.

 

UL has the advantage of having the league’s best kicking weapon.  Brett Baer is almost a sure thing inside 50 yards.

 

In what should be a tightly-fought race, we think the Cajuns might fall one game short of grabbing a piece of the 2012 Sunbelt title, but that is one game closer than last year.

 

 

Team

Louisiana Monroe Warhawks

               
Head Coach

Todd Berry

               
Colors

Red and Gold

               
City

Monroe, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

85.5

               
National Rank

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

85.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

113

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

3-5

Overall

3-9

 

This is a program that always seems to come up a game or two short from a breakthrough season every year.  The Warhawks have regressed the last two years, and this could be a pivotal year for Coach Todd Berry.  Like his rival in Lafayette, ULM should be improved on offense but take a step back on the stop side, a year after improving the defensive numbers by one full touchdown per game.

 

Quarterback Kolton Browning does not rank up there with Gautier and Aplin, but he is as good as any other signal caller in this league.  Browning is a dual threat, and if he stays healthy taking all the punishment he will get as a runner, he could top 275 yards per game in total offense.

 

The rest of the offense is capable but not flashy.  The running game should average around four yards per attempt, and the passing game should produce close to 250 yards per game.

 

The ULM defensive line will be a liability this year, and the second line of defense may not be much of an asset.  There is some quality in the secondary, but without a viable pass rush, their numbers could take a step back.

 

ULM has a tough out of conference schedule this year with games against Arkansas, Auburn, and Baylor looking like sure losses, and a short trip to New Orleans to play Tulane gives the Hawks a chance to win one time outside the league.

 

 

Team

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

               
Head Coach

Rick Stockstill

               
Colors

Blue and Gray

               
City

Murfreesboro, TN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

75.1

               
National Rank

119

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

87.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

108

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

 

It was a long year in Murfreesboro in 2011, and not just on the gridiron.  A long, continued black eye over the building of a Moslem mosque divided the city and brought national attention to this large bedroom community of Nashville.

 

The Blue Raiders did not divert attention away with their worst showing of the decade.  The defense could not get off the field, and the offense could not succeed having to play catch-up early and often.  Wins over lowly Memphis and Florida Atlantic were overshadowed by losses to Louisiana Monroe and North Texas by a combined 101-21!

 

Expect the Blue Raiders to bounce back some this year, but don’t plan on seeing this team play a 13th game.  Middle Tennessee has a long way to go to get back to where they once belonged.

 

Logan Kilgore is a serviceable quarterback, but he will not carry the offense on his shoulders.  This team needs a quality running game to give Kilgore a chance to succeed through the air.  Jeff Murphy should see playing time in the pocket and could eventually displace Kilgore.

 

In 2009 and 2010, when the Raiders went to back-to-back bowls, the running game was potent.  It was closer to impotent last year during the last two months of the season.  Newcomer Drayton Calhoun inherits the starting position after originally signing with LSU.  Calhoun has track sprinter’s speed, and he can take it to the house with just a little daylight.  He should allow the MTSU offense to approach 28-30 points per game this season.

 

The defense must replace the top four tacklers from a year ago, including the top player in the secondary.  While six of the top seven return up front, the secondary will be a major liability even if opposing quarterbacks see more pressure from the Raider pass rush.

 

Middle opens with McNeese State on Thursday, August 30, and the game could have added meaning if Tyrann Mathieu ends transferring there.  The Honey Badger will merit national exposure for this game, and McNeese is talented enough already to compete with and even upset Middle.

 

Team

North Texas Mean Green

               
Head Coach

Dan McCarney

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

Denton, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

86.0

               
National Rank

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

84.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

115

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

5-3

Overall

6-6

 

If you are looking for this year’s Western Kentucky surprise team, then look no further.  Dan McCarney took over a mess in Denton last year, and the Mean Green started to compete like it was 2001-2004 again.  UNT split their eight conference games and even upset Indiana last year. 

 

Another difficult non-conference schedule will keep North Texas from winning seven games like WKU last year, but the Mean Green could actually contend for the SBC title this year.  McCarney did the same thing at Iowa State, twice coming within one last-minute field goal attempt of winning the Big 12 North Division title with the Cyclones.

 

McCarney’s teams are noted for hard-nosed play.  They play it close to the vest and try to limit turnovers.  They were +8 in turnover margin in their five wins last year.

 

Look for the Mean Green to improve their offensive production this year with most of last year’s key contributors returning this year.  The real star of this team is the offensive line, and four starters return.  The one new starter, Cam Feldt, could actually be the best athlete in the line.  He began his career at Arkansas and is the highest-rated player on this roster.

 

In a league noted for offense, to compete for the conference crown, you must have a strong defense, and that may be the one reason why UNT will come up short this season.  Injuries in August to tackle Ryan Boutwell and defensive back Freddie Warner combined with the loss for the season of fine linebacker Michael Stojkovic means UNT will be more green and less mean on this side of the ball.  Still, McCarney has a knack for getting more out of less, and we believe this team can break even overall and contend in conference play.

 

 

Team

South Alabama Jaguars

               
Head Coach

Joey Jones

               
Colors

Red & Blue

               
City

Mobile, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

6-4 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

73.0

               
National Rank

122

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

78.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

123

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

0-8

Overall

2-11

 

This will be a rough welcome for the Jaguars to FBS play.  The program began playing just three seasons ago, and USA went 7-0 and 10-0 in their first two years playing the likes of Georgia Military Junior College, Edward Waters, Henderson State, and Louisburg Junior College.  Last year, the schedule included games against North Carolina State and Kent State.  The Jags lost to the Wolf Pack 35-13 and to the Golden Flashes 33-25.  USA can compete in their first year in the big leagues, but until they prove they can beat a FBS team, we are picking them to lose most of their games.

 

Head coach Joey Jones has scheduled wisely.  The first two games are winnable, and we expect the Jaguars to start 2-0 with wins over UT-San Antonio and Nicholls State. 

 

C. J. Bennett and Ross Metheny will compete for the starting quarterback job.  Bennett started last year, but Metheny is a transfer from Virginia with FBS starting experience.  The receiving corps is not yet up to FBS standards, so expect the passing game to stall at times.

 

The running attack was not all that strong against last year’s competition, and when you factor in sacks, we expect the Jags to average less than 100 rushing yards per game this year.

 

The defense may not be all that bad, but the stop troops will wear down as the offense sputters.  The Jags will give up 150-175 rushing yards per game, and that will allow opposing offenses to convert a lot of third downs.  The more the defense stays on the field, the better opposing quarterbacks will exploit weaknesses in the secondary coverage.

 

 

Team

Troy Trojans

               
Head Coach

Larry Blakeney

               
Colors

Red and Gray

               
City

Troy, AL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

83.5

               
National Rank

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

91.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

99

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

5-3

Overall

5-7

 

After dominating the Sunbelt for four seasons from 2001 to 2004, North Texas fell to 2-9 in 2005 and never since has competed in the Sunbelt.  Troy nearly dominated from 2006 to 2010, winning or sharing the league title all five seasons.  Last year, the Trojans experienced a North Texas like fall to 3-9.  Wherefore go the Trojans this year?  Are they doomed to repeat the ill-fated Mean Green and continue to decline for the next half-dozen years?  We think not, but we also believe this team has too far to go to get back to the top.

 

It was the offense that really deserted the Trojan faithful last year, as Troy averaged 12 points and almost 75 yards less in 2011 than in 2010.  The defense gave up 465 yards per game and almost 34 points per game, but that was not much weaker than the 2010 team surrendered in an 8-5 season.

 

Troy rushed for just 66 yards per game in conference play, and that stat wasn’t really skewed by quarterback sacks.  The team could not even run against Florida Atlantic!

 

Opponents concentrated on stopping the passing game, and while Troy upped their passing yardage from the year before, the percentage and yards per attempt fell, and turnovers rose.

 

If Troy can get any semblance of a running game going, the passing game could be explosive.  Quarterback Corey Robinson can be as effective as Aplin or Gautier if he gets some help from the running game.  He has the league’s best set of receivers in Eric Thomas, Chandler Worthy, Justin Albert, and B. J. Chitty.  Worthy is a threat to go the distance on any reception.

 

Troy will win once again with offense, but the defense must improve a little or else 2012 will be another long season in Troy.

 

 

Team

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

               
Head Coach

Willie Taggart

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Bowling Green, KY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

7-5

               
PiRate Rating

92.0

               
National Rank

88

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

94.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

87

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

6-2

Overall

7-5

 

Willie Taggart is proving to be as effective as a head coach as his former mentor, Jim Harbaugh.  Taggart helped Harbaugh’s Stanford offenses become dominating on the ground, and he quickly did the same thing in Bowling Green.

 

Last year, WKU was expected to fare little better than the 2-10 of 2010.  We selected them as our surprise team of the conference, and they did not disappoint.  Thanks to a hard-nosed running attack combined with passing to tight ends (recognize the pattern?), the Hilltoppers earned their first winning record since becoming a FBS school.

 

You would expect Western to have to rebuild do to the loss of the fine running back that led the league in rushing by 500 yards over the number two man.  Bobby Rainey leaves Bowling Green as the school’s all-time leading rusher.  He finished last year with almost 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns.

 

Fret not Hilltopper fans.  Taggart went out and signed perhaps an even better runner.  Anthony Wales is the highest-rated recruit in the league.  Wales may not start immediately, and Taggart might be smart limiting his carries in the first two games.  The Hilltoppers will have no trouble defeating Austin Peay, and they will not compete at Alabama the following week.  By holding him back with limited carries until the third game, WKU could give in-state rival Kentucky some big surprises by making him the feature back in that game.

 

Tight end Jack Doyle has no peer in the SBC.  He returns after leading the team with 52 receptions good for 614 yards.  At 6-6 and more than 250 pounds, it takes two and sometimes three defensive players to bring him down.  He can turn a three yard route into a 15-yard gain.

 

Quarterback Kawaun Jakes returns for his senior season, and he should pass for about 2,000-2,220 yards while running for another 200.  It doesn’t hurt that he has most of his offensive line contributors back, and three holdovers could contend for all league honors.

 

The defense improved by more than eight points per game allowed last year, even though they surrendered about the same amount of yards.  The interior line is going to be much improved with the return of end Quanterus Smith.  Smith led WKU with 11 stops behind the line (second in the league in sacks) and added four quarterback hurries.

 

Mike Linebacker Andrew Jackson registered 17 total tackles for loss last year, while picking up 109 total stops.  Teams cannot run away from him.

 

Western would be our consensus pick to win the SBC title this year, but the Hilltoppers face Louisiana, Florida International, Arkansas State, and Troy on the road.  They will do no better than split these four games, but they should win all four home conference games.

 

Coming Tomorrow, August 18: A look at what’s left of the not so wacky WAC.

August 10, 2010

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

2010 Sunbelt Conference Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions

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

 

G M A C Bowl: Middle Tennessee

New Orleans Bowl: North Texas

 

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

 

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

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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