Jake Shaw previews all of the college football action across Texas.
The cooler weather of late finally makes it feel more like football season. Don't get me wrong, I'll just as happily watch a football game in 100-degree heat than I would in a blizzard. Football pairs best with brisker temperatures -- it just takes Texas a little bit longer to get there than others.
But enough about the weather. Ten of the state's 12 teams are in action this weekend, and all but two of them will play crucial conference games. Below, I preview each of the games as well as predict the final score. Like always, I order the previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions of the final outcome.
Let's do it.
(as in I'm confident Ohio State's insult of TCU two years ago had
something to do with the teams scheduling a home-and-home series starting in 2018.)
>Rice (1-4, 0-2 in CUSA) at Memphis (0-4, 0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, FCSC
The state's most valuable player -- at least in terms of value to the team -- may be Rice QB Taylor McHargue. With him leading the offense, Rice averaged 471 yards and 34 points per game. Without him last week against Houston, those respective numbers dropped to 343 and 14, and that was against a Houston team that came into the game ranked in the bottom five of total defense. Sure, Rice isn't winning much, but McHargue at least keeps Rice in games. And with his return this week, I went from iffy on this game to downright stubborn in my belief Rice will come back from Memphis with its second win of the season. Rice might not have a good defense, but McHargue makes this offense pretty dynamic. Memphis struggles mightily in both areas, ranking in the bottom 20 nationally on both offense and defense. And with the sparse crowds the Liberty Bowl draws, Rice shouldn't have to worry about tough road conditions.
Key stat: 69, the number of rushing yards Rice gained against Houston. The previous lowpoint this year was 167 yards at Kansas. The return of McHargue, who leads the Owls with 89.75 rushing yards per game, should get the running game back in forward motion.
The mob says: Rice by 7.5
So says I: Rice 40, Memphis 27
>Baylor (3-1, 0-1 in Big 12), off
Coaches at Wisconsin and Houston have lost jobs over single-game performances this year, but Baylor has too much invested in DC Phil Bennett to make a rash move. And then there's Bennett's proven track record, which would make dismissing him in the aftermath of Baylor's 70-63 loss to West Virginia even more foolish. But mark my words, Bennett is under even more pressure than he was before to get the Bears' defense fixed. Baylor has too good of an offense to let the other unit bring the team down.
Key stat: 1,172, the average number of yards per game when Baylor plays. Baylor is averaging a 601.5 yards per game, second in the country, but is giving up a national-worst 571.3 yards per game.
>UTSA (5-0, 1-0 in WAC), off
While the team takes an extra week to prepare for a tougher slate of games than the first five on the UTSA schedule, fans should spend the off time trying to figure out how the Roadrunners can make a bowl. By my calculations, UTSA needs three more wins to get eligible, since three wins came against FCS or DII opponents, and I believe UTSA can only count one of those toward bowl eligibility.
Key stat: 20, the amount in dollars for four tickets to a UTSA game by using this voucher from local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. The 20 bucks also gets you 10 pieces of chicken, two large sides, six biscuits and a gallon of sweet tea. If any program in the nation has a better ticket deal, do let me know.
(as in I'm confident Texas Tech's defense won't rate first nationally anymore
after the Oklahoma game this weekend.)
>Texas A&M (3-1, 1-1 in SEC) at Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1), 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
The Aggies may be the new guard and the Rebs the old guard of the grand 'ole Southeastern Conference, but no two SEC programs better represent the potential sea change in the conference than A&M and Ole Miss. Each program, whether they like it or not, are most identified by their spread offenses constructed to put up a lot of points, rather than being built for ball control. Texas A&M enters the game ranked 12th in the nation in total offense, propelled by inarguably the most exciting redshirt freshman QB in the country, Johnny Manziel, who has accounted for about 66 percent of the Aggies' 2,103 yards. Ole Miss, meanwhile, ranks 4th in the NCAA, but before you discount the Rebel offense, remember that it ranked 114th at the end of the 2011 season. Life has been breathed into the Ole Miss attack since the arrival of new coach Hugh Freeze, who like Kevin Sumlin (his counterpart at Texas A&M) is relying on a first-year QB to run his system. Bo Wallace, though, hasn't been nearly as prolific as Manziel, putting up just over 1,000 total yards in one more game than Manziel has played (in his defense, one of those games was against top-ranked Alabama). I think this game comes down to these two quarterbacks, and Manziel is just playing better right now. Expect another big offensive game this Saturday in Oxford, which soon might become closer to the norm in the SEC.
Key stat: 9, the difference in turnover margin between these teams. Texas A&M is +4 in the turnover department while Ole Miss is -5, ranking the Rebs 98th in the country.
The mob says: Texas A&M by 11
So says I: Texas A&M 38, Ole Miss 28
>SMU (1-3, 0-0 in CUSA) at UTEP (1-4, 0-1), 7 p.m. Saturday, TWC
It's good to be home, UTEP must be thinking. In an eight-day span, the Miners lost a physical game at Wisconsin, then traveled a week later to East Carolina, where a weather delay extended a loss by nearly two additional hours. All in all, the two road trips totaled a whopping 6,000 miles. El Paso never looked so good. SMU, conversely, has only hit the road once all year, and that was just a 200-mile round trip to Waco. So it leads to the question: If QB Garrett Gilbert and the SMU offense has been this bad in Dallas, will things get worse in far West Texas? At this point, "yes" is the safer answer. UTEP's offense hasn't set the world on fire itself, but QB Nick Lamaison has been far more trustworthy than Gilbert this year, and RB Nathan Jeffery's 100-yard game last week shows he is back to full strength. I give UTEP the advantage over SMU offensively and defensively. As I mentioned Wednesday, neither team is playing well right now, and both are arguably facing must-win situations with regard to bowl eligibility. But the Miners are the more desperate program now. They can't afford a home conference loss in a game they're favored.
Key stat: 3, the difference in the number of stars award by recruiting site rivals.com to UTEP's 2-star QB Nick Lamaison and SMU's 5-star QB Garrett Gilbert.
The mob says: UTEP by 2.5
So says I: UTEP 27, SMU 23
>Texas State (2-2, 0-0 in WAC) at New Mexico (2-3, 0-1 in MWC), 5 p.m. Saturday, No TV
Like all sports, football isn't short on common clichés, but they exist for a reason. One of them -- stopping a team on first down -- should be one of Texas State's primary goals this weekend. With 241 rushes this season and only 68 pass attempts, New Mexico only throws the ball one out of every five plays. The Lobos are practically allergic to passing. So in order to put New Mexico in situations it would rather avoid, the Texas State must slow UNM on first down as much as possible. Last week, Nevada averaged 8.8 yards on first down on its six scoring drives. But on the drives that didn't end in points, the yards-per-play on first down dropped to 4.5. Run-first teams like Nevada and New Mexico fall into a hole when first down nets only a few yards. Offensively, Texas State must re-establish its running game. Against the Nevada defense, the Bobcats put up just 68 yards. Four weeks ago they ran for 129 against Texas Tech, which boasts (for now) the top total defense in the country, so something was amiss last weekend.
Key stat: 5.47, the yards Texas State's rushing defense has allowed on first down this season, which ranks the Bobcats 104th in the nation.
The mob says: New Mexico by 3.5
So says I: New Mexico 27, Texas State 21
(as in I'm confident the Big 12's supposed apology to OSU for its officials
botching the most important play of the game will satisfy the Cowboys)
>No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) at No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, Fox
The talk out of Austin before the Longhorns played at Baylor last year: "We don't plan on letting anyone win the Heisman against us." So much for that. Here's your second chance, Texas defense. The Mountaineers come to town fresh off QB Geno Smith's 600-plus yard, 8 TD game against the most recent Heisman winner's alma mater, a performance that shot him to the top of the early-season Heisman race. If by Saturday night there's any doubt about Smith's candidacy, the Texas defense will have done its job. Shutting him down is out of the question -- he's too good, and the UT defense showed its flaws in the win at OSU last weekend. Slowing down Smith will require Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, the top two DEs with a combined seven sacks, to create some pressure (along with UT's blitz schemes). Because with time, Smith will dissect the UT secondary. But Texas should have just as much success against the WVU defense, which obviously has trouble stopping the passing game. The key for UT will be to establish the running game to open things up for QB David Ash. After last week's win in Stillwater, Texas fans' hearts might not be able to take another last-second game, but they might have no choice this weekend.
Key stat: 208.37, the passer rating of Geno Smith, a number that would smash the single-season record of 191.8 set last year by Russell Wilson at Wisconsin. Opposing quarterbacks have a more reasonable 128.7 QB rating against Texas, the 63rd best in the country.
The mob says: Texas by 7
So says I: West Virginia 45, Texas 41
>No. 17 Oklahoma (2-1, 0-1 in Big 12) at Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC or ESPN2
The national media will discuss whether Oklahoma's offense will wake up after a 19-point showing against KSU, if QB Landry Jones has regressed, if the Sooners can get back into the national-title hunt, blah, blah, blah. Those are manufactured stories. Like UT, the media often clings to OU-related stories because heck, those programs have earned it with their tradition. But it's foolish to sleep on what Texas Tech has going through four games this year. Downplay its opponents if you want, but leading the nation in total defense -- a year after finishing 114th out of 120 teams -- should not only be the top storyline going into Saturday, it should be Oklahoma's greatest concern. The Sooners had 662 yards against Florida A&M, but that output skews their season average. OU failed to get to 400 in the loss to Kansas State two weeks ago and barely got there (427) in the narrow win at UTEP to open 2012. For the first time in years, perhaps even the history of the series, Tech's defense has the advantage over Oklahoma's offense. And it's not like the new defensive identity in Lubbock has come at the cost of the offense. QB Seth Doege is on pace for about 3,500 passing yards, two RBs (Kenny Williams and Eric Stephens) should both get to 700-plus rushing yards, and Tech is averaging 6 TDs per game. Texas Tech has beaten OU at home every time since losing the 2003 meeting. Most of those were upsets. A win on Saturday would be the least surprising of all. And yet, I just can't pull the trigger. I believe Tech is back, but I'm not convinced OU is gone.
Key stat: 0, the number of turnovers forced by the Texas Tech defense in two home games. All six Red Raider takeaways have come in two road games, a stat that needs to change on Saturday to increase Tech's chances of winning.
The mob says: Oklahoma by 5.5
So says I: Oklahoma 30, Texas Tech 27
>Iowa State (3-1, 0-1 in Big 12) at No. 15 TCU (4-0, 1-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSN
Had Gary Patterson sent a message to Casey Pachall when he had the opportunity -- like, say, after it was made public that his quarterback and leader of the team failed a drug test and admitted hard-core drug use -- might Pachall be playing this Saturday? Would a stern message help change his decision-making process and therefore helped him avoid his latest transgression? It's impossible to know, but we do know Pachall wasn't suspended for that failed drug test, got a relatively minor punishment for it, continued to quarterback this team (very well), was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of a DWI and quickly suspended indefinitely by Gary Patterson. No other storyline is bigger going into TCU's first-ever Big 12 home game. Pachall was the team's star -- he plays the most important position. And this just compounds the nearly two-dozen players TCU has lost to injury, defection or suspension since the end of 2011. At some point, these losses will take too much of a toll both on depth and the team's mindset. Staying focused amidst these off-field problems will pose a bigger challenge than any opponent. Will the Frogs succeed this weekend? I think so, if only because of both home-field advantage and the TCU defense's clear advantage against the Cyclone offense. I think TCU finds a way to win this weekend, but the future is certainly hazy after this Saturday.
Key stat: 12, the number of times TCU has scored in the red zone on its 20 attempts. That adds up to 60 percent of the time, ranking TCU 118th out of 124 FBS programs.
The mob says: TCU by 7 (was 11.5 before Pachall's arrest and suspension)
So says I: TCU 23, Iowa State 17
>North Texas (2-3, 1-1 in Sun Belt) at Houston (1-3, 1-0 in CUSA), 6 p.m. Saturday, CSS
For Houston, this is a chance to make September (except for the game against Rice) a distant memory. For North Texas, it's a chance to validate its move up to Conference USA a year from now and beat a Texas-based FBS program for the first time since 2006. But the two schools share a common goal: consistency. Houston hadn't played a complete game in all facets until last week's win over Rice. The offense put up more than 600 yards and the defense held Rice (without its starting QB) well below its season average. UNT, meanwhile, has played very well defensively, but can't seem to get the running and passing game on the same schedule. On the nights Derek Thompson is hitting his receivers, running backs Antoinne Jimmerson and Brandin Byrd seem to be stuck in neutral -- and vice versa. These teams are so even -- a credit to UNT's improvement and a criticism of Houston's drop off this season -- that I think it comes down to whichever team best puts it all together on Saturday. Based mostly on Houston's 180 against Rice last weekend, I have to go with the Cougars. Had they not played so well in a rivalry game, UNT would've been my pick. But an off week followed with last week's win appears to have reenergized Houston, enough so that the Coogs will get a late score to preserve a close win.
Key stat: 9:08, the difference in average time of possession between North Texas and Houston. North Texas averages 32 minutes and 40 seconds of ball possession every game, ranking the Mean Green 17th in the country, while Houston's 23:34 average time of possession is ranked dead last in the country.
The mob says: Houston by 12
So says I: Houston 38, UNT 28
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com