College Preview: Week 15
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
Only three regular season games remain involving Texas FBS teams. But what games they are.
SMU is fighting for its postseason lives. Rice has a chance for its first conference title in nearly six decades. And the winner between Texas and Baylor will, at worst, get a share of the Big 12 title. Oh, and it's also the final game Baylor will ever play at Floyd Casey Stadium.
So what the state lacks in quantity this weekend, it sure makes up with quality. I preview all three games today, and, as always, I order the previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions.
(as in I'm confident a June Jones would feel even better about his employment with a win)
No. 16 UCF (10-1/7-0 AAC) at SMU (5-6/4-3), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN
> Why my confidence is high: With all the talk about job security for a coach down in Austin, the status of SMU's June Jones isn't much more promising. With a loss to UCF on Saturday, the Mustangs will miss out on a bowl game for the first time since the debut of Jones in 2008. By now, he should have this program moving along nicely. Instead, he's had to rely on the transfer of Garrett Gilbert just to stay afloat in 2013. That's a luxury he might not have for the second straight week. Gilbert, who has slipped to second in the nation in total offense per game, missed last week's loss to Houston because of an injury suffered against South Florida two weeks ago. Without him, SMU only averaged 3.43 yards per play, the lowest single-game total of the season. And, of yeah, SMU didn't score a single point, either. Not even in Jones's first season at SMU, when he went just 1-11, were the Ponies shut out in a game. Without Gilbert, SMU didn't have a chance. And that's the stark reality Saturday against UCF, which has already clinched a share of the AAC title. A win in Dallas would give UCF the outright conference championship. I expect UCF to win with or without Gilbert suiting up for SMU. But his presence will make a huge difference in whether UCF wins in a rout or has to work hard for it. My guess: He plays, but perhaps doesn't start. This very well could be his final collegiate game. I doubt he wants to watch the whole thing from the bench if he can help it.
> Key stat: 4, the number of interceptions thrown by Gilbert's backup, freshman Neal Burcham, in just 75 passing attempts. Gilbert, meanwhile, has protected the ball very well this year. He has a 3-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio and is averaging just one interception per 72 pass attempts.
> The mob says: UCF by 10
> So says I: UCF 35, SMU 17
(as in I'm confident Art Briles will finish his career at Baylor)
No. 25 Texas (8-3/7-1 Big 12) at No. 9 Baylor (10-1/7-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX
> Why my confidence is medium: Three or four weeks ago, my confidence would've been high. Back then, Texas was winning, though the Longhorns were barely scraping by. Back then, Baylor wasn't just winning, it was downright embarrassing its competition. But Texas looked like the team it was supposed to be on Thanksgiving night, thrashing Texas Tech 41-16, while a few days later, Baylor got a win over TCU from, of all places, its defense. Baylor returned two interceptions for touchdowns, forced a fumble at the TCU 1 that the offense punched in for a score, and sealed the win with an interception in the end zone. The defense overshadowed an offense that's had a lot of trouble the past two weekends. But the common thread in those losses: Playing on the road. Baylor has been a different team at home. Its offense has been more precise and efficient playing at Floyd Casey Stadium, the home of the Bears from the 1950 season through Saturday night. After this game, Baylor will move back to campus at its beautiful riverfront stadium. This is the final game at the place lovingly known as The Case. There's that motivation. And then there's the chance for, at the very least, a shared Big 12 title, Baylor's first since the final season of the SWC. It could be for the whole thing if Oklahoma trips up Oklahoma State in the Bedlam rivalry (they kick at 11 a.m.). And Baylor can also set multiple school records Saturday, from total wins in a season (11) to consecutive home wins (10). Though Baylor hasn't played the same in the past few weeks, I expect the Bears to return closer to form Saturday afternoon, or at least enough to hold off Texas.
> Key stat: 30, the number of days since Baylor played a home game. After beating OU, 41-12, on November 7, Baylor played three straight games away from Waco, beating Texas Tech in Arlington, losing at Oklahoma State, then beating TCU last weekend in Fort Worth.
> The mob says: Baylor by 15
> So says I: Baylor 40, Texas 30
(as in I'm confident a phone call will come from the White House if Rice wins the CUSA title)
Conference USA Championship: Marshall (9-3/7-1 CUSA) at Rice (9-3/7-1), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2
> Why my confidence is low: Whatever happened (or didn't happen) in Saturday's 17-13 win over Tulane needs to change. Rice only tallied 304 yards in the West Division-clinching win. The Owls averaged only 3.66 yards per play. The last time Rice had similar numbers, it barely got by Florida Atlantic, a win with a similar score (18-14). Because even as good as Rice's defense was against Tulane, it probably won't be enough against the Marshall offense. The Thundering Herd come into the game living up to their nicknames. The Herd have won five straight games, scoring at least 45 points in each of them. In the 59-28 win over East Carolina last weekend, a victory that, like Rice, clinched the division, Marshall put up 539 yards of offense. That was actually the lowest single-game total during this five-game winning streak. Rakeem Cato, the best quarterback you might not have heard of, is a constant threat in the air. He ranks in the national top 20 with 276 passing yards per game. But the running game has elevated the Marshall offense this season. Senior Essray Taliaferro (1,006, 9 TDs) has had a breakout year, crossing into 1,000-yard territory last week, thanks to a 161-yard game against ECU. Stewart Butler, another speed back, has chipped in with 751 yards and 8 TDs of his own. You might not have heard of Cato and company, but Rice has. The programs have played to three-point duals in each of the past two seasons, Marshall winning both. Rice rallied for 10 points in the final three minutes a year ago, including a field goal with no time left on the clock, to force extra time, where Marshall eventually won in double overtime. Rice scored 51 points in that game, and it wasn't enough. Rice might not need that many Saturday, but the Owls will need a lot. I think the Rice offense will do a good job with running the clock behind its running game -- but I also think, in the end, Marshall's offense will have enough success to capture the CUSA crown.
> Key stat: 6, the number of games this year Rice QB Taylor McHargue has been held to fewer than 200 yards of total offense, including last week against Tulane. That only happened in three games a year ago. The good news: McHargue's career high for yardage in a single game came last year against Marshall, when McHargue rushed for 153 and passed for 314.
> The mob says: Marshall by 5
> So says I: Marshall 34, Rice 30
Charting My Predictions:
Last week straight up: 8-0
Last week against the spread: 6-2
Season straight up: 83-30
Season against the spread: 54-57-2
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com. Contact him by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.