Jake Shaw previews the weekend's college action across Texas.
Of all the weekends of this three-quarter-old football season, this may be the most interesting of them all. One Texas team will travel to the No. 1 team in the country; another will host the second-ranked team in the nation; a third will play with a lot more emotion after the loss of a program legend.
But as usual, all the games get equal treatment with the weekly previews of every FBS Texas program's upcoming game. As always, I order the previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions of the final outcome.
(as in I'm confident at least one USC coach had to know what was going on)
> Kansas (1-8/0-6 in Big 12) at No. 23 Texas Tech (6-3/3-3), 11 a.m. Saturday, FSN
Kansas did nothing to offend the Red Raiders, but the Jayhawks will likely be Texas Tech's whipping boy on Saturday. Texas Tech has a lot of pent up frustration right now, having lost two straight to fall out of a Big 12 race it once had a legitimate shot at winning. Last week's defeat was particularly bitter; the Red Raiders allowed Tecxas to gain a conference-high 7.36 yards per play, nearly a yard more than its season average, while the offense's output came about a half yard shy of its average. I'm beginning to think the Longhorns are just in Texas Tech's head. Kansas isn't. Tech hasn't lost to Kansas since 2001, and that streak will stay alive this week. Expect the Red Raiders to rebound in a big way, playing against a Kansas team that simply can't compete on the road.
Key stat: 97.7, the difference in yards allowed by the Kansas defense on the road (500.5) compared to at home (402.8).
The mob says: Texas Tech by 24
So says I: Texas Tech 45, Kansas 17
> Iowa State (5-4/2-4 in Big 12) at No. 17 Texas (7-2/4-2), 11 a.m. Saturday, LHN
There will be an extra bit of motivation at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium this Saturday. You'll notice it on the first play, when UT plans to run from the wishbone formation to honor the man of which the stadium takes its name. It's doubtful any of the current players knew Royal personally, but in a way, he's responsible for being there. He built the foundation of the program and made it the place to play for high school football players. I expect Mack Brown to emphasize that to his staff and team. Combine that source of inspiration with the sudden momentum gain from last week's quite unexpected win at Texas Tech, and I don't think Iowa State stands a chance this Saturday in Austin.
Key stat: 0, the number of losing seasons in 20 years as head coach at the University of Texas by Royal, who won 11 conference title and two national championships with the Longhorns.
The mob says: Texas by 9.5
So says I: Texas 33, Iowa Sate 21
> Baylor (4-4/1-4 in Big 12) at No. 12 Oklahoma (6-2/4-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSN
Perhaps the most overlooked statistic in the Big 12 this year: The number of touchdown passes given up by the OU defense this season. Only three times have opposing offenses scored on passes against the Sooners, and two of those were by Texas in garbage time of OU's 63-21 win. Meanwhile, the Sooner secondary has intercepted nine passes, essentially three picks for every one touchdown allowed. And this is why Baylor, despite having Nick Florence and his nation-leading 377.4 passing yards per game and 25 touchdown throws, is such a longshot to beat OU for a second straight season. Baylor usually has a big advantage against any team with its air attack. Not so on Saturday in Norman. The Sooners will give up some yardage and maybe even a score or two; Baylor will do that to almost any team. But Baylor's offense won't be nearly as effective as usual. Couple that with Baylor's defense, and the Sooners win this one comfortably.
Key stat: 94.57, the average passer rating of the quarterbacks in their games against the Oklahoma defense. Baylor's Florence has a 165.51 passer rating, the ninth best average in the nation.
The mob says: Oklahoma by 19.5
So says I: Oklahoma 48, Baylor 24
> Southern Miss (0-9/0-5 in CUSA) at SMU (4-5/3-2), 6 p.m. Saturday, FSN
The Mustangs can't let it happen again. Not at home. Not with this much on the line. The last time SMU played a winless team, that team was winless no more when the dust had settled. SMU traveled in mid October to Tulane, 0-5 at the time and losers of 15 consecutive games overall, and laid an egg, losing 27-26 on a Tulane last-minute touchdown drive. Had SMU hung on, the Mustangs would have a great chance to win the West Division of CUSA. Now it still must beat Tulsa and get some additional help. And of course, it must beat Southern Miss, the only winless team left in college football (technically, UMASS is winless, but it's playing its transition year from FCS to FBS). There's a reason USM is winless; it ranks 88th defensively in the nation and 111th offensively. It does nothing well. This is a game SMU needs to win -- and win big.
Key stat: 0, the number of wins by SMU over Southern Miss in three previous tries. Southern Miss won last year's game 27-3 and went on to win the CUSA title.
The mob says: SMU by 12
So says I: SMU 36, Southern Miss 17
> No. 20 Louisiana Tech (8-1/3-0 in WAC) at Texas State (3-5/1-2), 6 p.m. Saturday, LHN
Some Texas State fans might want to hide their eyes from the following numbers, but they do reveal just how tough the transition is from the FCS ranks to the FBS. Against teams with losing records, the Bobcats average a respectable 403.7 yards of offense per game, while the defense has allowed just 337 per game. The numbers change drastically against teams with winning records: Texas State only puts up 246.3 yards per game (a difference of more than 150 yards), while the defense's per-game average rises to 578.5 yards allowed per game, a difference of nearly 250 yards. Unfortunately, Louisiana Tech isn't just a winning team, it might be the best team of anyone on the Bobcats' schedule (with apologies to Texas Tech). And it's all because of a Louisiana Tech offense that, no matter the opponent, rolls up yards and points with ease. Simply put, the Bobcats just won't be able to stop La Tech's offense. It's important for the Bobcat offense, then, to exploit a very leaky LT defense to hang around this game as long as possible.
Key stat: 0, the number of interceptions thrown by La Tech QB Colby Cameron in 358 attempts, 22 shy of the national record set by Russell Wilson last season at Wisconsin. Texas State, conversely, has intercepted 10 passes this season.
The mob says: Louisiana Tech by 20
So says I: Louisiana Tech 45, Texas State 21
> UCF (7-2/5-0 in CUSA) at UTEP (2-7/1-4), 6 p.m. Saturday, Fox College Sports
Two weeks ago sealed it -- another losing season in El Paso, the seventh in a row for Mike Price, who's likely on his way out since his contract expires at season's end. So with the past weekend off, the coaching staff, even if it's not guaranteed to be back next year, has started looking to the future. It starts with freshman QB Blaire Sullivan, who split first-team snaps during practice despite appearing in just two prior games this season. Sullivan sparked UTEP against Houston and also played in garbage time of the early-season rout of New Mexico State. But other youngsters should get a shot, and with so little pressure on this team after being eliminated from the postseason, expect UTEP to pull out all the stops against UCF. The last time that happened, it worked pretty well. UTEP was 0-3 in 2008 when it faced UCF in El Paso, and the Miners spanked UCF 58-13. The difference? UCF was a 4-8 team that year; this year, it's the clear favorite to win the conference's East Division and play for the CUSA title. I don't see history repeating itself.
Key stat: 4, the number of touchdowns Sullivan led UTEP to during the fourth against Houston two weeks ago. The Miners as a team had four total touchdowns in the previous 17 quarters of play.
The mob says: UCF by 12
So says I: UCF 30, UTEP 17
> McNeese State (6-3) at UTSA (5-4/1-3 in WAC), 4 p.m. Saturday, No TV
Never has a fan base been more excited to host McNeese State than UTSA will be on Saturday. The Roadrunners' faithful will likely welcome the Cowboys with open arms. After all, UTSA was 5-0 this season before entering the most challenging portion of its schedule, a four-game stretch against teams with a combined 27-11 record. UTSA emerged from that stretch with a four-game losing streak by an average of 25.75 points per game; UTSA had never lost a game by more than 24 points before that. But UTSA better not take McNeese State too lightly; the Cowboys do have one win against an FBS team this year, taking down Middle Tennessee State 27-21 in the season opener. MTSU is now 6-3 this season, so that win does stand out. This game should reveal the mental makeup of UTSA. Are the Roadrunners broken down from this four-game losing streak, or will they cash in on the experience of playing much better competition? I'm going with the latter. This is a well-coached team that plays fundamentally sound football and lets the other team make the mistakes. Expect UTSA to get back on the winning track this weekend.
Key stat: 2, the number of single-game school records set by junior QB Eric Soza last week after returning from an injury that kept him out of the previous two games. Soza's 314 passing yards and 4 passing touchdowns are both the highest marks in the school's brief history.
The mob says: The mob ignores lines with FCS teams
So says I: UTSA 34, McNeese State 20
> Rice (4-6, 2-4 in CUSA), off
One of less than 20 teams to start the season with 10 straight games before a week off, the Owls should be happy their bye week comes at this point of the season. This week off will give the Owls some time to rest and game plan for two very important games. Win both, and Rice is back in the postseason for the first time since 2008 and only the third time since 1961. So obviously, there's a lot at stake for this program after this weekend. And perhaps even more at stake for head coach David Bailiff, who really needs to turn things around to convince his superiors he's the man for the job. Taking away his 10-3 season in 2008, Bailiff is 17-41 at Rice, hardly an impressive total. Beating SMU at home and closing the season with a win at UTEP would do a lot for his job security.
Key stat: 91, the difference in rushing yards and passing yards accrued by the Rice offense this season. The Owls have 2,043 rushing yards and 2,134 passing yards. Only six teams at the FBS level -- Nevada, Cincinnati, Alabama, Notre Dame, Buffalo and Wisconsin -- have a more balanced offense this season.
(as in I'm confident not even I've been this bad at karaoke)
> No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2/4-2 in SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (9-0/6-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS
Last year, the Aggies had the dubious reputation as being a great first-half team that fell apart in the second half. That reputation is dead and buried, but Texas A&M must copy half of the 2011 team's identity and start fast on Saturday. Alabama is a dominant team for sure, but perhaps no team is better than the Tide at starting the game off right. Alabama is outscoring its opponents 96-34 in the first quarter, the best mark in the SEC. And Alabama scores nearly 40 percent of its points in the second quarter. That makes it essential for Texas A&M -- if it wants to pull off the upset of the season -- to keep it as close as possible early on. If the Aggies fall behind, the crowd will be in it, the Bama defense will get more aggressive, and Texas A&M could be prone to make some mistakes. Fortunately, the Aggies have started games strong this year, including scoring on its first three possessions last week on the road against Mississippi State, a team ranked 15th at the time. If the Aggies can keep that first-half mojo going, they'll have a chance.
Key stat: 3,449, the total number of yards recorded by Texas A&M redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel, the second highest number in the nation. Alabama's defense has only given up 2,060 total yards, the second fewest of any team in the nation.
The mob says: Alabama by 15.5
So says I: Alabama 27, Texas A&M 20
> South Alabama (2-7/1-4 in Sun Belt) at North Texas (3-6/2-3), 4 p.m. Saturday, KTXA
Another tough non-conference slate could be blamed for putting North Texas in this position, having to win its final three games to qualify for a bowl game. But the season turned more on games that were in UNT's control: the home loss to Troy in late September, as well as the past two games, both double-digit losses that North Texas just seemed ill-prepared for. That's a troubling trend this late in the season, and it partially explains why the Mean Green aren't even double-digit favorites against a team playing its first season in the FBS ranks. But I don't foresee too many troubles this week. UNT should pound it away on the ground in an effort to reestablish a rushing game that totaled just 84 yards on 30 carries last week, especially against a South Alabama defense that, taking away its one game against an FCS opponent, allows about 4.5 yards per carry to FBS programs. UNT should win and keep its bowl hopes alive for at least one more week.
Key stat: 34.07, UNT's conversion percentage on third downs. That ranks UNT 108th in the nation, ahead of only 16 teams, including South Alabama (29.93).
The mob says: North Texas by 9.5
So says I: North Texas 28, South Alabama 17
(as in I'm confident I could tackle this football player)
> No. 2 Kansas State (9-0/6-0 in Big 12) at TCU (6-3/3-3), 6 p.m. Saturday, FOX
This game really needs two previews: One with the assumption that Kansas State starts QB Collin Klein, and one with the assumption it doesn't. Because right now, it's an unknown. Klein, likely the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, left last week's win over Oklahoma State in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury. His status hasn't been updated by coach Bill Snyder, and wisely not, since the NCAA doesn't require it, and it's better to keep Gary Patterson and TCU in suspense. With Klein, the Wildcats are dang near unbeatable, having lost just three times in 22 games since he became the full-time starter last season. Without him, this is still a very good team, one that never beats itself and plays solid defense and consistent, if not exciting, offense. Without Klein, I think TCU pulls off an upset. The Frogs have such a good run defense that I see it containing a KSU offense led by backup QB Daniel Sams, a freshman with just eight career pass attempts (six coming last week). With Klein, TCU will still hang around, but the Cats are just too good and have too much on the line to drop this game.
Key stat: 3.09, the average yards per carry by TCU's opponents this season. Kansas State averages 5.36 yards per carry and has two players with at least 700 yards, Klein (703, 17 TDs) and John Hubert (765, 12 TDs).
The mob says: Kansas State by 8
So says I: Kansas State 27, TCU 23
> Tulsa (7-2/5-0 in CUSA) at Houston (4-5/3-2), 4 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN
As up and down as the season has gone -- and as far fetched as a Conference USA title has seemed -- Houston has the chance to radically alter its course on Saturday. Playing at home makes it more than possible. The difference in home and away for Houston equates to about 38 points; UH scores 11 more points in home games and gives up 27 fewer points at Robertson Stadium than it does on the road. Tulsa's disparity is equally dramatic. The Golden Hurricane score six fewer points one the road and give up 17 more points when playing outside of Tulsa. The major difference, however, is that Tulsa has managed to win those games anyway, last week's 19-15 loss at Arkansas notwithstanding. Tulsa is 2-0 in CUSA road games this year and hasn't lost a CUSA road game since a 21-18 defeat to SMU in 2010. So while Houston is far better at home, Tulsa almost nullifies that advantage by stepping up its play in conference road games. With Tulsa playing far more consistently, I have to give it the ever-so-slight edge on Saturday.
Key stat: 232.89, the number of rushing yards Tulsa averages per game, good for the 15th highest total in the country. Teams are rushing for 181.33 yards on average against the Houston defense, which ranks the Cougars 85th in the nation.
The mob says: Tulsa by 2.5
So says I: Tulsa 40, Houston 35
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com