Jake Shaw previews a big weekend of college action across the Lone Star State.
UTEP kicked off the weekend last night at Tulsa, and North Texas will finish up the week with a game on Tuesday night against Louisiana-Lafayette. But in between those games is a veritable feast of Texas college football action, from rivalries (Texas/OU; TCU/Baylor) to teams looking to pull off the upset (Texas Tech against West Virginia) to programs looking to avoid that fate (Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech).
Like every week, I preview each contest involving a Texas FBS program, and as always, I order the previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions of the final outcome.
Let's get it started …
(as in I'm confident that even though I never agreed with Beano Cook, I always found him entertaining)
> No. 5 West Virginia (5-0, 2-0 in Big 12) at Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN
Nobody got too excited about Texas Tech's national No. 1 ranking in total defense after the first three games. Sure, it was quite the achievement for a unit beleaguered in 2011, but everyone mostly tapped the breaks on the numbers, knowing that the true test would soon come when Tech faced Big 12 offenses. Last week's effort against Oklahoma was an incomplete; Tech gave up 40-plus points and OU scored on six of its first seven drives, but the Sooners totaled less than 400 yards of offense. So while the jury is still out on Tech's defense, the verdict is in for West Virginia's: It's bad. Really bad. The type of defense that could prevent WVU from playing for it all. And that's what gives Tech a chance in this game. The Red Raiders have the ability to match West Virginia on the scoreboard, though the Mountaineers clearly have the better offense. Tech's defense, though, has the advantage over the WVU defense. It's up to the Red Raiders to make that meaningful. The front four must do what Texas did last weekend -- get pressure on Geno Smith. If it doesn't, blitzing doesn't work too well. Smith is one of the best in college football making quick reads. And Texas Tech also must do what Texas couldn't, and that's fare much better against WVU's overlooked running game. I think the Red Raiders will succeed there … but I also see West Virginia exploiting Tech's secondary. This one will be a shootout, but I expect WVU to be the last team firing.
Key stat: 289.4, the difference between the number of passing yards West Virginia averages per game (406.8), the second highest total in the nation, and what the Texas Tech defense allows (117.4) per game, the lowest number in the nation.
The mob says: West Virginia by 3.5
So says I: West Virginia 51, Texas Tech 44
> UAB (1-4, 0-1 in CUSA) at Houston (2-3, 1-0), 11 a.m. Saturday, FSN
Kids don't just hop on a bicycle for the first time and start cycling around the neighborhood. A few falls usually precede mastering the bike. So why is it we were all stunned when Houston's offense struggled to start the season? New quarterback, new wide receiving corps (from top to bottom), new coaches and new coordinators -- anyone was foolish to expect Case Keenum-like results early on. The scary thing for UAB, and the rest of Houston's schedule, is that it appears the Coogs have learned to ride their bikes. After the 0-3 start, where Houston averaged less than 5 yards per play, the Coogs have won two straight behind an offense that suddenly gets it. In wins over Rice and UNT, Houston has upped its yardage to 7.5 per play, pushing its offense into a Top 10 national ranking -- back where it truly belongs. Not surprisingly, turnovers are down now, too. After losing 10 in the first three games, UH has lost three the past two weeks, helped by zero last week. Then there's the running game, which has churned out 549 of its 916 yards in the past two weeks. And unfortunately for UAB, they'll provide little more than a speed bump to Houston's high-flying offense. Though UAB allows just less than 400 yards per game, that stat is skewed by last week's effort, a 52-3 win over an FCS club in which UAB only gave up 125 yards. Before that, the best UAB had done was 347 -- every other game teams racked up at least 453 yards.
Key stat: 10.5, the points per game scored by UH junior RB Charles Sims, the second-highest number by a Texan (to UT's Joe Bergeron) and good for the 14th best per-game average nationally. Five of Sims' 7 TDs have come in the past two weeks.
The mob says: Houston by 14
So says I: Houston 50, UAB 35
> SMU (2-3, 1-0 in CUSA) at Tulane (0-5, 0-1), Noon Saturday, Comcast Sports South
Eight teams including Tulane entered last weekend without a win on the season. That list was cut in half (Memphis, Idaho, UAB and Army ended their slides) by Saturday night, so the Green Wave has probably labeled this game as one if its better chances to end the skid. Not so fast, Tulane. With an offense ranked dead last in the nation and a defense that's not much better (115th out of 124 teams), it's the Tulane opponents who are labeling the games as wins. SMU clearly is having trouble offensively, averaging 50 fewer yards per game than last year, scoring three fewer points than last season, and even turning it over more (nearly 3 a game in 2012, compared to less than two per game in '11). But this could be the game QB Garrett Gilbert breaks out, if only because Tulane simply can't stop the opposition. SMU needs to win this one with ease. If not, even a .500 record won't mask the troubles the Mustangs have had through half of the 2012 season.
Key stat: 10, the number of interceptions thrown by Gilbert this year. Only six teams in the country have had passing attempts picked off more than the Mustangs.
The mob says: SMU by 14
So says I: SMU 38, Tulane 17
(as in I'm confident theTexas/OU loser this weekend will be knocked out of the Big 12 title race)
> TCU (4-1, 1-1 in Big 12) at Baylor (3-1, 0-1), 6 p.m. Saturday, FSN
Having entered the season billed as a Big 12 title contender, TCU is perhaps shifting to life in the middle of the Big 12 pack. Frankly, any program that endured as many personnel losses -- climaxing with the loss of QB Casey Pachall -- as the Frogs have would be in the same position. At some point, too much youth and inexperience will force a program to reexamine its expectations. Having said all that, don't count TCU out of this season or this game. A full week of practice should help QB Trevone Boykin and the offense find some cohesion, and Baylor's defense is arguably the worst of any auto-BCS program. The Baylor offense, however, is as good as any in the land. It has not slowed down a beat despite losing RGIII and four other offensive players to the NFL draft last spring. Nick Florence is shredding defenses much like RGIII shredded TCU last year. Will Gary Patterson make enough defensive adjustments to prevent a repeat? I don't think so. Baylor will move the ball and score a lot -- and just a little more than TCU.
Key stat: 31, the number of penalties by TCU in the past three games after totaling just six in the first two games of the season. Of TCU's 378 penalty yards, 313 have come in the last three games. The rise in penalties is another indicator of TCU's reliance on inexperienced, young players this year.
The mob says: Baylor by 8
So says I: Baylor 43, TCU 37
> No. 22 Texas A&M (4-1, 2-1 in SEC) vs. No. 23 Louisiana Tech (5-0, 0-0 in WAC),
8:15 p.m. Saturday in Shreveport, ESPNU
Would anybody have dared to guess that when these teams met -- six weeks after originally intended -- that both would be in Top 25? Louisiana Tech, maybe. With so many returnees from an eight-win team and a relatively manageable schedule, the Bulldogs were in position to make this early run. The Aggies were supposed to be on a learning curve, but as most everyone knows by now, redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel was ready for the big time. Manziel rates fifth nationally in total yards by an individual player. When he's not throwing it (1,282 yards), he's scrambling out of pressure and breaking off long runs (495 yards). But La Tech has this whole offensive thing down, too. Colby Cameron, an experienced senior, ranks in the Top 25 nationally in yards. With 1,456 of his 1,499 yards coming through the air, La Tech relies on a trio of running backs, all with at least 243 yards and averaging at least 5.32 yards per carry. By now, you should get my drift. This will be an offensive shootout reminiscent of A&M's not too distant days in the Big 12. But with A&M boasting a far more trustworthy defense, the Aggies will be the team entering next weekend with its ranking intact.
Key stat: 49.33, the percentage of time Texas A&M converts on third down, good for the 20th best ranking in the country. Texas A&M opponents, meanwhile, only convert 31.03 percent of the time, the 18th best figure in the FBS.
The mob says: Texas A&M by 8
So says I: Texas A&M 55, Louisiana Tech 42
(as in I'm confident that Mike Leach cares about what people think about what he says)
> No. 13 Oklahoma (3-1, 1-1 in Big 12) vs. No. 15 Texas (4-1, 1-1), 11 a.m. Saturday in Dallas, ABC
No matter how many times these teams have played in the past -- Saturday will mark the 107th meeting, a series UT leads 59-42-5 -- there's always a new storyline or two. This year, it might come down to the questionable rise of David Ash against the questionable fall of Landry Jones. Whether Ash is here to stay, or whether Jones really has dropped down a level, remains to be seen, but it's inarguable the two are headed in different directions. Ash had nowhere to go but up after starting off-and-on as a true freshman last year. Jones just needed to maintain his numbers after becoming the full-time starter in 2010 -- but he hasn't. His QB rating has dipped from a career-high 146.30 in 2010 to 141.56 last season to 135.31 through four games this year. Ash, surprisingly, has produced a 180.06 QBR, the third-best rating of any quarterback in college football. He's more than just dependable lately -- he's a playmaker, and last week's effort against WVU (22-29, 269 yards, TD, no INTs) shows he's ready to do it on a bigger stage. I think the winner most likely will be determined by these two players' trends. If Ash comes back to earth, advantage Sooners. If Jones can't recapture his past production, advantage Longhorns. For this Saturday at least, give me the youngster.
Key stat: 61, the total number of points separating these two programs in their 106 previous meetings. Though Texas has won 17 more times than the Sooners, last year's 38-point OU win was the third by at least 5 TDs since 2000, helping the Sooners close the scoring gap.
The mob says: Oklahoma by 3
So says I: Texas 31, Oklahoma 28
> UTSA (5-0, 1-0 in WAC) at Rice (1-5, 0-3), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox College Sports
This weekend is full of fascinating games, but this one really stands out for one reason: It just might show the importance of Big Mo, i.e. momentum. Rice is the deeper, more experienced team. That's undeniable just based off the fact UTSA is in only its second year of existence. Rice probably has the better talent as well, though that's something that's a bit less objective than depth and experience. So it makes me wonder just how much UTSA's full head of steam will help the Roadrunners against the Owls, who are heading with equal velocity in the opposite direction. Rice's season really turned on the injury to QB Taylor McHargue. He left the Marshall game late -- and Rice went on to lose in OT -- then he missed the blowout loss to Houston, and last week he just didn't look right in the loss at Memphis. UTSA hasn't been spectacular, but the Roadrunners are perhaps playing the most fundamentally sound of any team in the country. The Roadrunners lead the nation in turnover margin at +11; they are second in the nation in TOP; they have yet to allow a sack; they spread the wealth somewhat evenly on offense (701 passing yards; 537 rushing yards); and the defense has been very good against the run, allowing just 88 yards per game against its three FCS/FBS opponents. But notice there are only three such opponents; UTSA's other two wins came against DII programs. UTSA's strength of schedule ranks dead last in college football. So while Rice has fallen flat so far, the Owls will be far better than anything UTSA has seen. I don't think there's enough momentum for UTSA to overcome that.
Key stat: 42, the number of rushing plays of at least 10 yards that Rice's defense has given up this year, ranking the Owls 119th in the country. UTSA, conversely, leads the nation with just 6 runs of 10-plus yards allowed.
The mob says: Rice by 3
So says I: Rice 31, UTSA 25
> Idaho (1-5, 1-0 in WAC) at Texas State (2-3, 0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, FSN alternate channel (check local listings)
Reports have surfaced that Idaho may do the exact opposite of what Texas State is currently undertaking: moving down to the FCS from the FBS ranks. The WAC's days are numbered, and with no suitors waiting at Idaho's door, the Vandals' days in the highest level of college football might be numbered too. Thus, it's pretty important, even just for the sake of reputation, that Texas State wins on Saturday. To do so, it's pretty simple where the Bobcats must succeed: Defending the passing game well. Idaho has rushed for under 100 yards as a team in all but one game this year. Playing at Bowling Green, Idaho gained a piddly six yards on the ground. The air game has been better with a 234-yards-per-game average. This falls right into Texas State's strength, or at least its greater competency. The past two weeks teams have rushed for an average of 315 yards per game against the Bobcats, whereas Texas State's defensive numbers against the pass are far more favorable over the last two weeks. If Texas State can take advantage of Idaho's weak running game, it will take pressure off an offense that's been held under 300 yards for two straight weeks.
Key stat: 100, the number of yards Texas State rushed for in the last two losses after gaining 535 in the first three games of the season.
The mob says: Texas State by 2.5
So says I: Texas State 27, Idaho 23
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com