College preview: Week 5
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
Five weeks into the season, things seemed to have quieted down a bit.
The restless natives in Austin aren't as vocal this week, what with UT heading into a bye weekend after a nice win over Kansas State. The Aggies have another SEC showdown, but it pales in comparison to the hype of the Alabama game two weeks ago. The high-flying offenses at Baylor and Texas Tech have the weekend off, as does North Texas, which made Georgia sweat out a win between the hedges.
But the state still has a pretty thick schedule, from two intra-state matchups (SMU at TCU; Houston at UTSA) to Rice, UTEP and Texas State all looking to bounce back from losses.
Below, I offer my two cents on all the matchups involving Texas's FBS programs. Like every week, I order my previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my (admittedly shaky) predictions.
Let's get it started …
(as in I'm confident this crazy onside kick
wasn't even the strangest play of the college football weekend)
No. 10 Texas A&M (3-1/0-1 SEC) at Arkansas (3-1/0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
> Why my confidence is high: Something's just not adding up here. I realize Arkansas is a bit better than last year's train wreck of a team, but to only be three-point underdogs to Texas A&M just doesn't pass the sniff test, especially when you consider Arkansas QB Brandon Allen remains questionable to play Saturday night. What gives? Sure, this year's Aggie defense doesn't remind anyone of the Wrecking Crew, but the Aggies only need decent defensive work, so long as Johnny Manziel is leading the offense. And this may be A&M's first road game of the year, but it's not like the Aggies are rolling into Baton Rouge this weekend. Arkansas still has a lot of issues to work out, evidenced by the collapse at Rutgers last weekend that saw the Hogs blow a 24-7 fourth-quarter lead. My favorite Aggie "insider" tells me the Arkansas "run defense" and A&M's "first road game" are the reasons the Aggies are narrow favorites. My head then reminds me Alabama's incredible defense barely held A&M to six touchdowns. Arkansas won't do the same, and even if it does, it won't be able to keep pace offensively with the Ags. I just don't see this one staying close.
> Key stat: 78, the average national ranking in total offense of Arkansas's three FBS opponents (which doesn't include its game against FCS Stamford). Texas A&M's offense, meanwhile, ranks third nationally in total offense, piling up 602 yards per game.
> The mob says: Texas A&M by 3
> So says I: Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 29
SMU (1-2/0-0 AAC) at TCU (1-2/0-1 Big 12), 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1
> Why my confidence is high: Just think about where SMU would be right now had it played Baylor in a non-conference game this year. The Mustangs canceled their game against Baylor and replaced the Bears with Montana State, a game SMU needed a last-minute comeback to win, 31-30. Sandwiched around that game were blowouts to former SWC rivals Texas Tech (41-23) and Texas A&M (42-13). Next comes yet another rivalry game, the Battle of the Iron Skillet, and the oddsmakers think SMU's result won't be that different from the others. But there's one area that could help SMU hang with TCU in this matchup -- its passing game. The Ponies rank 103rd nationally running it and 93rd in scoring offense, but the always-maligned Garrett Gilbert has actually steered the SMU offense to a top 10 national ranking in passing offense. Gilbert (1,015 yards) needs to keep it up, because that's one area where TCU is more vulnerable than usual, ranking 62nd nationally stopping the pass. The ranking would be worse if you throw out TCU's game against SE Louisiana (132 passing yards, compared to 207 allowed on the ground). The SMU offense must get it done through the air to compensate for its lackluster running game. And it needs to finish more drives than it has been doing so far. Otherwise, this game won't look any different from the outcomes against its former rivals.
> Key stat: 60, the percent chance of rain in Fort Worth on Saturday morning, which could have an impact on the passing games. If it's a sloppy game, TCU (163 rushing yards/game) has a huge advantage over SMU (113/game).
> The mob says: TCU by 20
> So says I: TCU 37, SMU 21
UTEP (1-2/0-1 CUSA) at Colorado State (1-3/0-0 MWC), 2:30 Saturday, CBSSN
> Why my confidence is high: The Miners have a nice stable of running backs. Freshman Aaron Jones has lived up to his billing as the Miners' top 2013 signee, leading the team in rushing (43-252, 3 TDs), while fellow freshman Darrin Laufasa (18-103, 2 TDs) and sophomore LaQuintus Dowell (9-93, TD) have also shown flashes of potential. But what UTEP really needs is a healthy Nathan Jeffery. He struggled to stay healthy in 2012, missing parts or all of four games last fall. When he was at full speed, though, he was one of the conference's best, rushing for at least 134 yards in four games. Jeffery sat out last week's deflating 32-13 home loss to UTSA, and UTEP struggled without him. The Miners rushed for just 99 yards as a team -- 25 coming on one run alone. UTEP will need everything it can get from Jeffery -- as well as his teammates -- against a CSU team that's better than its record indicates. The Rams are pretty decent against the run, ranking just outside the top 50 despite playing a schedule that includes road games at Tulsa and Alabama, as well as the annual rivalry against Colorado. UTEP must return to the form that saw it rush for an average of 286 yards in the first two games. I expect improvement with a healthy Jeffery back in the lineup, just not enough to get the win.
> Key stat: 1, the difference in rushing yards per game by UTEP's offense and UTEP's defense. The Miners have averaged 224 rushing yards in the first three games, but the defense is allowing 225 rushing yards per game.
> The mob says: Colorado State by 13.5
> So says I: Colorado State 30, UTEP 14
Florida Atlantic (1-3/0-2 CUSA) at Rice (1-2/0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, FCS
> Why my confidence is high: Rice has elevated its program to the point where it doesn't just have must-win games, it has should-win games. And it just so happens that a must-win collides with a should-win this week. FAU is not a good team. It hasn't posted a winning season since 2008. Rice, meanwhile, is going in the right direction, no matter what happened in last week's 31-26 loss to rival Houston. This is a game Rice should win on talent differential alone, but it's also a game Rice must win if it plans to make consecutive bowl trips. Three straight road games face the Owls after Saturday -- going into that stretch with a 1-3 record would make life pretty difficult for Rice. I do expect a bounce-back effort from Rice, thinking the Owls will look more like the team that averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the first two games and less like the one that struggled against UH, rushing for 3.87 yards per attempt. The Owls will hit a high note before the upcoming three-game road trip.
> Key stat: 1, the number of home games Florida Atlantic will play in its first six games of the 2013 season. That sole home game came last week, a 42-35 loss to Middle Tennessee State. FAU played its first three games on the road and will travel to UAB after playing in Houston this week.
> The mob says: Rice by 13.5
> So says I: Rice 33, FAU 18
No. 19 Baylor (3-0/0-0 Big 12), bye
> Key stat: 2, the number of opponents Baylor's defense has held under 300 yards in a game this season, including last week in the 70-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe, whose 295 yards were 265 fewer than what it gained against Baylor last season. Baylor only held two opponents under the 300-yard mark twice in the previous 35 games.
No. 24 Texas Tech (4-0/1-0 Big 12), bye
> Key stat: 2, the number of times an opponent has scored a touchdown against Texas Tech's defense in nine red red zone appearances. That equates to just 22 percent, the fourth-best average in the country. Conversely, Texas Tech has scored just 10 TDs on its 20 red-zone trips, giving Tech's offense the 93rd best conversion rate in the nation.
Texas (2-2/1-0 Big 12), bye
> Key stat: 10, the number of tackles for a loss by the Texas defense in the 31-21 win over Kansas State. UT only had 10 TFLs in the previous three games combined.
North Texas (2-2/0-0 CUSA), bye
> Key stat: 13, the number of turnovers forced by the UNT defense in the first four games, an average of a little more than 3 per game -- twice the per-game average of the 2012 team that only forced 19 turnovers.
(as in I'm confident that I wouldn't hurl if this happened to me)
Wyoming (3-1/1-0 MWC) at Texas State (2-1/0-0 Sun Belt), 6 p.m. Saturday, LHN
> Why my confidence is medium: With the FBS level now up to 125 teams (and even more on the way next year), many good players get lost in the headlines. So while most of the country doesn't know much about Wyoming QB Brett Smith, Texas State fans should become all too familiar with him on Saturday. The game hinges on just how well the Bobcat defense can defend Smith. A true dual-threat quarterback, Smith has thrown for at least 264 yards in every game this year, including throwing for 383 in the 37-34 loss at Nebraska, the only loss for the improving Cowboys. (That 383, by the way, is more than Texas State starter Tyler Arndt has on the season.) But Smith can tuck it and run. His 292 rushing yards are just 130 fewer than Texas State has put up as a team. Smith might not end up on any end-of-year award lists, but he's a fine football player. If he continues to look the part on Saturday, it won't be a good day for Texas State.
> Key stat: 163, the difference in rushing yards allowed per game by the Texas State defense (62, ranking 4th nationally) and rushing yards gained per game by the Wyoming offense (225, 29th nationally).
> The mob says: Wyoming by 11
> So says I: Wyoming 34, Texas State 20
(as in I'm confident that I'd be willing to replace my nose this way)
Houston (3-0/1-0 AAC) at UTSA (2-2/1-0 CUSA), 3 p.m. Saturday, FSN
> Why my confidence is low: Houston saw what happens when the season starts with a thud. The Coogs opened up 2012 by losing its first three games, putting UH in a hole it never climbed out of. Houston finished the season 5-7. Now it's time to see what the Coogs can do with the exact opposite three-game start to 2013. The numbers through three games show a ton of internal improvement, from Houston giving up 19 fewer points per game, to Houston's overall QB rating up 15 points, to the rushing game -- that lost Charles Sims to transfer, mind you -- rushing for 100 yards more per game than in 2012 while getting one more yard per carry than last year. Believe it or not, though, third-year UTSA just might have the best run defense UH has faced so far. UTSA is giving up a modest 160 yards on the ground per game, and that's come despite facing rushing offenses nationally ranked 5th (Arizona), 18th (New Mexico) and 32nd (UTEP). All but one of those games ended with a win for the Roadrunners. When UH schedule this game years ago, it probably looked like an automatic win. It won't be so easy, no matter how much UH has improved, but the Coogs (in my estimation at least) will do well enough to remain unbeaten.
> Key stat: 127, the average receiving yards per game by UH sophomore WR Deontay Greenberry, which ranks 5th nationally. Greenberry gives UH a huge threat in the passing game to balance out the team's 20th ranked rushing offense.
> The mob says: Houston by 3
> So says I: Houston 34, UTSA 27
Charting My Predictions:
Last week straight up: 4-3
Last week against the spread: 3-3-1
Season straight up: 24-10
Season against the spread: 13-20-1
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.