College preview: Week 8
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
Saturday will be a little quieter than usual around these parts.
Of the 12 FBS programs in Texas, three are off, and five more have left town to play games on the road. That leaves just four teams with home matchups this weekend.
But even if every Texas team had fled the state, I'd still preview them all, just as I do every week. And like every other Friday, I order my previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my pick.
Let's begin …
(as in I'm confident that no matter what each side says, the rivalry still exists)
No. 24 Auburn (5-1/2-1 SEC) No. 7 Texas A&M (5-1/2-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS
> Why my confidence is high: The numbers are up across the board for Auburn -- or down, in the case of the defense. Auburn is averaging 16 more points per game on offense while allowing 10 fewer compared to the 2012 team. Amazing what a coaching change can do to a program. Gus Malzahn, the architect of the offense that led Auburn to a BCS championship, is turning Auburn around, getting the Tigers ranked for the first time in a few years. Well, say so long to that -- for now. Auburn is headed in the right direction, and Malzahn will lead the Tigers to the end zone a few times (or more) in College Station, but the Auburn defense has seen nothing like A&M's offense this year. It has played one solid offensive team, LSU, and not coincidentally, it gave up a season high 6.92 yards per play. That was on the road, too, a 35-21 loss to LSU. Expect something similar to go down in College Station.
> Key stat: 671, the number of yards Texas A&M accumulated in a 63-21 win at Auburn last year, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense.
> The mob says: Texas A&M by 13.5
> So says I: Texas A&M 45, Auburn 28
Iowa State (1-4/0-2 Big 12) at No. 12 Baylor (5-0/2-0),
> Why my confidence is high: Iowa State wants to spread you out but slowly move the ball up the field. Defensively, the Cyclones try to keep everything in front of them while focusing on stopping the run. Sound familiar, Baylor fans? That's exactly what K-State does so well, and it's exactly what K-State did last week against Baylor. It almost worked; K-State went on a 15-0 run in the third quarter to take a 25-21 lead over Baylor. But the Bears, in their first road test of the year, proved resilient, scoring 14 unanswered in the decisive fourth quarter for a 35-25 win. Iowa State had success with this exact game plan one year ago in Ames, Iowa. But the Cyclones are a shell of themselves now, having lost so many impact players from last year's bowl team, while Baylor -- which will play in front of a large Homecoming crowd -- has carried over its momentum from its late 2012 surge. A win Saturday would be 10 straight Baylor. And the Bears will be a little angry after getting poked over and over last week. Iowa State hasn't lost a game by more than eight points this year, but that will change on Saturday night.
> Key stat: 102, the number of offensive plays run by Iowa State in last year's 35-21 win over Baylor, 28 more than it averaged in its 12 other games.
> The mob says: Baylor by 32
> So says I: Baylor 52, Iowa State 24
Rice (4-2/3-0 CUSA) at New Mexico State (0-6), 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3
> Why my confidence is high: Let's cut to the chase, shall we? If you could break down college football into four major statistics (a big request for you "sabermetricians", if that's even a word), you'd probably go with scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense. Combine those four stats, and you can learn a lot about a team. What we learn about New Mexico State: the Aggies from across the border rank 100 or worse nationally in each of those four categories. The best ranking for NMSU is 100th (total offense). NMSU ranks dead last in two of them (total defense and scoring defense). So for the Rice fans who might have some trepidation after the Owls barely slipped by Florida Atlantic and UTSA in the past two games, have no fear. New Mexico State, playing an independent schedule this year, and getting roughed up at every turn, is a bad team right now with no foreseeable hope for change.
> Key stat: 33, the average margin of defeat for New Mexico State, having lost every game by at least 10 points.
> The mob says: Rice by 17.5
> So says I: Rice 44, New Mexico State 21
Georgia State (0-6/0-1 Sun Belt) at Texas State (3-3/0-2), 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3
> Why my confidence is medium: Two weeks ago, 101,254 people showed up to watch Georgia State -- in it's first official year as an FBS program -- play some football. That's only partly accurate. Georgia State was playing at Alabama, after all, going to Tuscaloosa for a big paycheck and a 45-3 loss to the back-to-back national champs. It was the worst thumping in the short history of the program, but the other five GSU games are better reminders of just how hard it is to build a program from nothing. Georgia State has played three FCS teams this year; only one of them was decided by single digits. Texas State should win this going away. Even though it's also new to the FBS scene, the Bobcats had a solid FCS program before making the move. The Bobcats have shown -- even despite last week's lackluster loss to ULM -- they are learning to win at the FBS level. Texas State has its issues, from totally inconsistent QB play to its 114th ranked passing defense, but if it can't beat Georgia State, things are much worse than even last week's loss might've indicated.
> Key stat: 38, the number of solo tackles by Texas State LB David Mayo, the ninth most in the nation. Mayo has 53 tackles overall for a defense that held ULM to 192 total yards last week.
> The mob says: Texas State by 17
> So says I: Texas State 27, Georgia State 14
Texas (4-2/3-0), bye
> Key stat: 2.29, the difference in yards per carry by UT opponents in the past three games compared to the first three. Texas gave up 926 yards on 155 carries in its first three games, good for 5.97 yards per carry, but has since allowed just 446 yards on 121 carries (3.68 yards per carry) in the past three games.
UTEP (1-5/0-3), bye
> Key stat: 80, the difference in UTEP's national rankings in passing defense (39th in the country) and rushing defense (119th). UTEP allows 247 rushing yards per game, ranking above just six other FBS programs, but the Miners are better against the pass, allowing only 211.3 yards per game.
UTSA (2-5/1-2 CUSA), bye
> Key stat: 0, the number of interceptions by the UTSA defense, joining Temple as the only two programs in the FBS ranks yet to pick off a pass this season. UTSA is -12 overall in turnover margin (123rd nationally) after finishing last season +14, good for a top 10 national ranking.
(as in I'm confident that I want one of these)
No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0/3-0 Big 12) at West Virginia (3-3/1-2), 11 a.m. Saturday, FS1
> Why my confidence is medium: The Red Raiders have really surprised the college football world with their 6-0 start. They're one of just 11 teams that have already qualified for a bowl game, and not surprisingly, all but one of those 11 teams (Ball State) is ranked in the top 25. If you've qualified for a bowl by mid-October, you're a good team. Just how good Tech is, though, will truly be revealed over its final six games. Every game left on the schedule is harder than any of the previous six games. West Virginia may be down right now, but the Mountaineers took down the Big 12's favorite when OSU visited Morgantown. That was a cautionary tale to Tech, one that I think got its attention. If Texas Tech can establish the run much like it did last week, it will take the pressure off its young quarterbacks -- whichever one between Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield plays the most. That's what I'm predicting, giving Tech enough to answer the challenge of its toughest game to date.
> Key stat: 251, the amount of rushing yards gained by Texas Tech last week against Iowa State, accounting for 30 percent of the team's 811 rushing yards for the entire season.
> The mob says: Texas Tech by 7.5
> So says I: Texas Tech 36, West Virginia 27
TCU (3-3/1-2 Big 12) at No. 21 Oklahoma State (4-1/1-1), 11 a.m. Saturday, FOX
> Why my confidence is medium: Despite all of its struggles this season, there are at least two certainties about TCU right now. 1) The defense is still dang good. In fact, it might be playing better than in previous years, considering it has to be better with the offense lagging behind. TCU ranks 16th nationally in total defense even having played some strong offenses like LSU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma (or at least we thought it was strong). 2) TCU will compete down to the wire no matter who it has played. All three of its losses have been to ranked teams, and all of them were in doubt through late in the fourth quarter. Knowing this, OSU's ranking matters little to me. What I see is an OSU team that hasn't figured out how to roll through good defenses like it once did. Four of OSU's total offensive outputs this season would rank better than only one of OSU's from the 2012 season. OSU is averaging more than 100 fewer yards than a year ago. Couple that slump with TCU's strong defensive play, and the Frogs will have another similar result: A close, competitive game, but one that ends in defeat once again.
> Key stat: 3.9, TCU's average yards per carry since joining the Big 12, down from the past three years where TCU averaged at least 5.1 yards per carry for a season.
> The mob says: Oklahoma State by 7
> So says I: Oklahoma State 26, TCU 20
BYU (4-2) at Houston (5-0/2-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN News
> Why my confidence is medium: Once upon a time, a game between these two programs might've lasted four hours the way each team loved to throw the ball. But balance, in the form of strong running games, has come to both BYU and Houston. Both rank in the national top 50 in rushing offense, with BYU (263/game) coming in 13th ahead of Houston (188.8/game) at 49. But whereas BYU has chalked up its yardage against a pretty tough schedule -- it's currently rated 31st -- Houston's hasn't been nearly as challenging (ranking 106th). Last week, against a much-improved Memphis defense, Houston's offense truly struggled, rushing for just 38 yards on 29 carries. Houston managed to get the win, thanks mostly to its defense forcing four fumbles, as well as several big gains in the passing game. But BYU's defense will be a further step up (or maybe two) from what Houston saw against Memphis. I envision Houston having a hard time moving the ball, much like it did last week. But unlike last week, I think it's BYU that gains the separation over the final 20 minutes to gets double-digit win.
> Key stat: 247, the number of yards gained by the Houston offense in the 25-15 win over Memphis last week, just the second time in the last seven years the Coogs have been held under 300 in a game.
> The mob says: BYU by 9
> So says I: BYU 30, Houston 17
North Texas (3-3/1-1 CUSA) at Louisiana Tech (2-4/1-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN
> Why my confidence is medium: When Sonny Dykes left Louisiana Tech after the 2012 season, he took the offense with him to Cal. Almost literally. Louisiana Tech ranked first in the nation in both total offense and scoring offense last year. This year, La Tech has dropped to 80th and 105th, respectively, in those categories. Cal, on the other hand, has improved its ranking by 45 spots, moving up to 23rd this year after finishing 68th in 2012. The loss of all that offense has been a tough pill to swallow for La Tech, but it's been a relief for every team on its 2013 schedule. North Texas will be the beneficiary this week. The running game showed its first signs of life last week; that paired with much-improved quarterback play (Derek Thompson is on pace for more yards, TDs and a higher QB rating this year) will get North Texas above the .500 mark this week.
> Key stat: 1, the number of 100-yard games by a UNT rusher this year, the first which came from Brandin Byrd (20-139, TD) in last week's 34-7 win against Middle Tennessee State, after the team had four last season. North Texas rushed for 303 yards last week, more than it gained in the previous three games combined.
> The mob says: North Texas by 6.5
> So says I: North Texas 28, Louisiana Tech 24
(as in I'm confident that my wife would have stayed with me had I done this)
SMU (1-4/0-1 AAC) at Memphis (1-4/0-2), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN3
> Why my confidence is low: Out of the nine games involving Texas FBS programs this weekend, only this one has me in total doubt. SMU has dominated Memphis in the past two games (more on that below), but frankly, that's a claim almost any program could make. But Memphis appears to be getting better, and the Tigers showed last week -- despite a 25-15 loss at Houston -- that their defense is pretty good. The offense needs some help, sure, but Memphis's defense has been great this year, and that's no exaggeration. Only Duke in the season opener has racked up 300 or more yards against the Tigers. And thus, we have strength against strength -- Memphis's defense against SMU's offense -- and weakness against weakness (the Memphis O vs. the SMU D). Even though the playing at the Liberty Bowl isn't quite like going to Death Valley, I very cautiously give Memphis the edge this week because of home field advantage. Memphis has improved enough to be competitive this year, while SMU is struggling enough that Memphis will do more than just compete this weekend. Memphis just might win.
> Key stat: 86-13, the combined score in the past two meetings between these programs over the past two years, with SMU winning each of them.
> The mob says: Memphis by 3
> So says I: Memphis 20, SMU 18
Charting My Predictions:
Last week straight up: 8-2
Last week against the spread: 3-7
Season straight up: 39-15
Season against the spread: 24-29-1
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.