College Preview: Week 6
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
If Thursday night was any indication, an interesting weekend awaits the Texas college football scene.
The Longhorns somehow willed their way to an improbable comeback win at Iowa State, 31-30. Despite the appearance of a lost fumble on its game-winning drive in the final minute -- one that Iowa State recovered -- officials didn't overturn the call on the field. Texas scored two plays later, then intercepted Iowa State with less than 10 seconds to go to preserve the win.
And now, we turn our attention to the rest of the state's FBS programs to see if they can match or exceed Thursday night's drama. Each week, I preview every game involving a Texas program, and like always, I order them based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions.
Onward we go …
(as in I'm confident I'm probably more coordinated than Arkansas coach Bret Bielema)
West Virginia (2-2/1-1 Big 12) at No. 17 Baylor (3-0/0-0)
> Why my confidence is high: Three-fourths of this matchup has improved since West Virginia and Baylor combined for 133 points in WVU's 70-63 win a year ago. The West Virginia defense is much better, ranking 37th nationally, compared to 112th a year ago. Baylor's defense has also improved. The Bears rank 15th, though, admittedly, the offenses they've shut down wouldn't scare many teams. Baylor's offense, meanwhile, didn't seem like it could get better, but it has. The Bears are averaging a fraction under 70 points per game, and that's with the starters watching from the bench in the second half. Only 10 of Baylor's 209 points have come in the fourth quarter. But the one-quarter of this matchup that's gone the other way -- the 79th-rated West Virginia offense -- is why I think Baylor, after a tight first half, will win comfortably going away. WVU's defense will slow Baylor more than it's used to so far, but the pressure to keep Baylor out of the end zone will be too great with the WVU offense lagging way behind.
> Key stat: 1, the number of yards gained on 15 carries by OSU running back Jeremy Smith last week against West Virginia, the second-worst total by an FBS running back with at least 15 carries in the last 10 years. WVU's defense, currently ranked 37th nationally in total defense after finishing 2012 rated 112th, has improved by leaps and bounds from last year.
> The mob says: Baylor by 27
> So says I: Baylor 52, West Virginia 24
No. 20 Texas Tech (4-0/1-0 Big 12) at Kansas (2-1/0-0), 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1
> Why my confidence is high: Once known as an offensive genius, Kansas coach Charlie Weis would be wise to get a few tips from the new kid on the block, Kliff Kingsbury. The first-year Texas Tech head coach actually played for Weis with the Patriots not too long ago. Since then, Weis has put together an average, at best, coaching career, going 35-7 at Notre Dame before one year as the Florida OC, where his offense was constantly criticized. He's off to a 3-12 start, the latest win a come-from-behind 13-10 victory over Louisiana Tech, a minor miracle seeing that Kansas was on the verge of losing before La Tech fumbled inside the KU 10 in the final minute. Kansas put together a nice drive to get the game-winning field goal, but scoring 13 points against a La Tech defense that ranked dead last in the FBS last year doesn't make one an offensive genius. Kingsbury, however, just may be. He was a big part of Johnny Manziel's rise to fame last year as Texas A&M's OC, and now he's deftly guided two different true freshmen QBs through a 4-0 start and a national ranking. As bad as Kansas is right now, those youngsters (be it Baker Mayfield or Davis Webb) will have a tough challenge, because while KU's offense leaves a lot to be desired, the defense is great against the pass, ranking 20th nationally. Kansas could make it tough on Tech for a while, but expect the genius of Kingsbury to shine the most.
> Key stat: 520, the number of yards averaged by the Texas Tech offense per game, up 25 years from last year's team that was guided by a senior quarterback.
> The mob says: Texas Tech by 17
> So says I: Texas Tech 40, Kansas 20
TCU (2-2/0-1 Big 12) at No. 11 Oklahoma (4-0/1-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, FOX
> Why my confidence is high: Dozens of teams in college football have quarterback issues. Few teams, however, have the luxury of an excellent backfield to compensate for the problems. OU is among that few. The Sooner started the year with RS freshman Trevor Knight under center. The offense scored just a combined 50 points in its first two games under Knight. An injury basically forced OU to switch to Blake Bell, and he's responded with 651 passing yards in two games, 310 more than Knight had. But the constant all along has been the OU running attack, averaging more than 250 yards per game. Brennan Clay (339 yards, 2 TDs), Damien Williams (203 yards, TD) and Roy Finch (125 yards) have eased the tension of an offense looking for a leader at quarterback. That Oklahoma strength, however, will be tested, because TCU consistently defends the running game as well as any team. At first, it didn't look that way. TCU gave up 414 rushing yards in its first two games. The total in the last two games: 59 yards, showing that this young TCU team (40 percent of its players are sophomores) is starting to grow up. If the maturation continues this weekend, TCU -- despite its offensive woes so far -- will have a chance to win this. If not, TCU will be below .500 much deeper into the season than it's used to.
> Key stat: 10, the number of scholarship seniors playing for TCU, making the Frogs one of the youngest teams in the nation for the second straight season.
> The mob says: Oklahoma by 10.5
> So says I: Oklahoma 23, TCU 14
No. 9 Texas A&M (4-1/1-1 SEC), bye
> Key stat: 86.6, the increase in the number of yards allowed per game by the Texas A&M defense compared to last year, when the Aggies gave up 390.2 per game. That has gone up to 476.8 yards per game, ranking A&M 114th in the country.
Houston (4-0/0-0 AAC), bye
> Key stat: 11, Houston's advantage in the turnover margin through four games, the best in the nation. Houston has collected 14 takeaways while turning it over just three times. Houston finished the 2012 season with a -4 turnover margin.
(as in I'm confident that I'm surprised the government shutdown affected college football)
UTSA (2-3/1-0 CUSA) at Marshall (2-2/0-0), 1 p.m. Saturday, Time Warner
> Why my confidence is medium: For once, UTSA would probably like to play a team with a balanced attack. Instead, UTSA has played three primarily running teams -- New Mexico, Arizona and UTEP, two of which have far more rushing than passing yards, and another (UTEP) that definitely provers to run. UTSA is 2-1 in those games. But the problems have surfaced against better passing programs. Houston and Oklahoma State combined to pass for 859 yards against UTSA. That accounts for 70 percent of the passing yardage allowed by UTSA in five games. That's the very reason why Marshall looks like a relatively safe pick here. Rakeeen Cato doesn't get much national love, but the junior Marshall QB is on pace for a second straight 4,000 yards season through the air. He has an excellent receiving corps at his disposal, too. Five Marshall receivers have at least 100 yards this year, and all of them are juniors or seniors. UTSA is on its way up as a program, but Saturday poses a minor speed bump on the Roadrunners' scent.
> Key stat: 0, the number of quarterbacks who threw for more yards per game than Cato's 350.1 last season. His 37 touchdown passes ranked third in the nation meanwhile.
> The mob says: Marshall by 14
> So says I: Marshall 40, UTSA 24
Rutgers (3-1/0-0 AAC) at SMU (1-3/0-0), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN News
> Why my confidence is medium: With all the talk about the recently-christened American Athletic conference being a one-team league -- that one team being No. 7 Louisville -- Rutgers is quietly lurking in the background as a potential spoiler. The Scarlet Knights, a nine-win team a year ago, have only lost to No. 23 Fresno State, and that was a one-point decision on the road. Two weeks ago, Rutgers stormed back from a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Arkansas 28-24. What followed was a bye week, giving the Knights time to refocus so that it doesn't slip up against SMU. Because after coming to Dallas, Rutgers faces Louisville on a nationally-televised Thursday night game. Lose to SMU, and that game loses a lot of meaning. That shouldn't happen, not with the way Rutgers is playing so far, and not with the current state of SMU football. The Mustangs were one failed last-minute drive against Montana State away from being 0-4. SMU did get that win (31-30), but the losses to good teams (Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU) were by an average of nearly four touchdowns. Something's not right on the Hilltop, and SMU might be a loss or two away from confronting the need for some major changes. This may be a loss that takes those confrontations to the next level.
> Key stat: 5, the number of wins in the past five years by SMU against FBS programs that finished the season with a winning record, though none have come against programs from teams playing in an auto-qualifying BCS conference.
> The mob says: Rutgers by 6.5
> So says I: Rutgers 27, SMU 19
Texas State (3-1/0-0 Sun Belt) at Louisiana (2-2/0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, espn3.com
> Why my confidence is medium: The program formerly known as Louisiana-Lafayette is going through a rebranding, dropping the "-Lafayette" in its name and commondeering "Louisiana" for its own. When you've won 20 times in the past two-plus seasons, maybe the timing is right to try to raise your profile. The program formerly known as UL-Lafayette went a combined 18-8 in the 2011 and 2012, much in part to the backfield of QB Terrance Broadway and RB Alonzo Harris. The duo combined for nearly 4,000 total yards last season. So far, only Broadway has looked the part this year, averaging more than 250 yards of offense per game. Harris has started off slowly, but he's still averaging nearly 7 yards per carry, he's just not on the same pace for number of carries. If Texas State can keep him down, the Bobcats will have a shot at the upset. And that's one thing the Bobcats have done as well as any team in the country. Well, almost any team. There are two programs giving up fewer rushing yards per game than the 62.5 Texas State allows, but ranking third to Florida and Michigan State ain't too shabby. Texas State must keep that reputation intact, and it must keep this a low-scoring game. Because while Texas State got a career-high 138 yards from RB Robert Lowe -- plus a solid starting debut from true freshman quarterback Tyler Jones (196 yards, TD, INT) -- the Bobcats don't have the firepower to keep up with Louisiana.
> Key stat: 167.17, the passer rating by Jones in Texas State's 42-21 upset of Wyoming last weekend, the best single-game rating by a Texas State QB since Shaun Rutherford's 171.51 in the 38-7 win against Idaho almost exactly one year ago today.
> The mob says: Louisiana by 10
> So says I: Louisiana 34, Texas State 20
(as in I'm confident that I'll switch to this diet someday)
Rice (2-2/1-0 CUSA) at Tulsa (1-3/0-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN
> Why my confidence is low: Tulsa is not who I thought it was. Usually a prime contender for the CUSA title, something's wrong with the Golden Hurricane. They (or is it it when referring to the Hurricane?) rank 78 slots worse than last year in total offense and 66 slots lower defensively. Tulsa, one of the smallest programs in the nation, is on the verge of losing its role of Goliath slayer. If Rice was who I thought it was, this would be an easy pick. Going into the season, the Owls -- on paper at least -- looked like a team that could supplant Tulsa in the upper echelon of the conference. But since giving Texas A&M a battle and knocking off Kansas the following game, Rice has struggled, mostly offensively, and enters this matchup in a real funk. Since that A&M game, QB Taylor McHargue hasn't thrown a touchdown pass but has been picked off three times. Rice's usual steady running backs have averaged less than four yards per carry in the last two weeks afar averaging more than five in the first two. This is a chance for both teams to set a new tone for the season and to snap out of a bad spell. I'd like to think that team will be Rice, but my confidence in the Owls has faded enough that I think Tulsa pulls off a close win.
> Key stat: 69, the number of passing yards by Rice in last week's 18-14 win over Florida Atlantic, the first time since the 2011 season opener at Texas (94 yards) where Rice has thrown for fewer than 100 yards and just the third time in the past seven years.
> The mob says: Tulsa by 3
> So says I: Tulsa 23, Rice 21
Louisiana Tech (1-4/0-1 CUSA) at UTEP (1-3/0-1), 6:30 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN
> Why my confidence is low: The calendar has barely flipped over to October, but this might be an elimination game for both programs, at least when it comes to bowl eligibility. The math is simple: A loss for La Tech, and the Bulldogs (a nine-win team last season) could afford just one more loss this season. UTEP has slightly more room for error, but with five of its final six games on the road (who came up with that ridiculous schedule?), this game approaches must-win territory for the Miners. These teams have both reversed roles this season. La Tech is averaging 39 fewer points per game, but it's also giving up 13 fewer points. UTEP, meanwhile, has picked it up offensively -- the Miners are averaging 12 more points per game -- but the defense has gone soft, giving up 38 points per game, nine more than a year ago. So which of these identity-reversed programs will live to see another day? Give me UTEP, partly because of home-field advantage, and partly because while the La Tech defense has improved, it gives up nearly 200 rushing yards per game, something I think the Miners will exploit.
> Key stat: 3.03, UTEP's average yards per carry in the last two games after rushing for 5.6 yards per carry in the first two.
> The mob says: Pick
> So says I: UTEP 27, Louisiana Tech 24
North Texas (2-2/0-0 CUSA) at Tulane (3-2/1-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FCS
> Why my confidence is low: The Mean Green turned some heads by giving Georgia a scare between the hedges, but while that effort was nice, these are the games that matter. Making the jump from the Sun Belt to CUSA, this is the kind of game that could give UNT a lot of confidence. Beat an improving Tulane team on the road, and UNT would leave New Orleans believing it can compete in its new league. Lose to the program that's finished in last place in its division the past four seasons, and UNT will be left wondering what it must do to get better. Because this is a senior-laden team that has the pieces in place to make a bowl run. To get the win, however, it's due time the UNT running game show up. UNT topped the 2,000-yard mark as a team last year, but after four games, the Mean Green is on a pace to only produce 75 percent of that. Tulane has been vulnerable against the run. Before it gave up just 26 yards to a Louisiana-Monroe team that's among the worst rushing teams in the nation, Tulane was allowing more than 150 yards per game on the ground. UNT must make this the week the running game is restored. If that happens, the Mean Green should get halfway to blow eligibility with more than half the season to go.
> Key stat: 4, the number of sacks allowed by the UNT offensive line, good for a top 20 national ranking. The sturdy line is a big reason why senior QB Derek Thompson is on pace to throw for 500 more yards, 4 more TDs and 5 fewer INTs this season compared to 2012.
> The mob says: North Texas by 2.5
> So says I: North Texas 30, Tulane 28
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.