College Preview: Week 9
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
For fans (or critics) of Texas Football's weekly power poll, Saturday's two intrastate matchups should help sort out the order.
No. 4 Texas plays at No. 6 TCU, while UTEP will try to move out of the cellar when traveling to seventh-ranked Rice. But aside from these all-Texas matchups, there are five other games with underdogs of 10 points or less, meaning games could go any which direction. Basically, the power poll has a chance to see some major changes after this weekend.
Like always, I preview all the games involving Texas's FBS programs. And, as with every other week, I order the previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions.
To the previews we go …
(as in I'm confident I'll choose football over baseball every time)
No. 8 Baylor (6-0/3-0 Big 12) at Kansas (2-4/0-3), 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
> Why my confidence is high: The Bears struggled -- at least compared to all its other games -- the last time it played in the Sunflower State. But going to Lawrence to face Kansas these days is nothing like going to Manhattan, even if K-State has dropped off a bit. Sure, Kansas has been competitive in all but the loss to Texas Tech. It scored the first 13 points of the game against Oklahoma and made TCU sweat out a win the week before. And Baylor needed to overcome a three-touchdown deficit just to force an OT win the last time it played at Kansas, in 2011. But this is a more complete Baylor team, and one with too much to lose to come to Lawrence and assume that just showing up will get the job done. The Bears know that barely beating Kansas won't quiet silence any of their critics -- it will only make their voices louder. I expect Baylor to show up in Lawrence with the goal of ending this game by halftime, something they've done at every home game this year but must prove it can do on the road.
> Key stat: 947, the number of receiving yards by the 14 combined receivers/running backs/tight ends on the Kansas roster, just 96 more than Baylor's leading receiver Antwan Goodley (36-851, 8 TDs) has on his own.
> The mob says: Baylor by 34.5
> So says I: Baylor 52, Kansas 17
UTEP (1-5/0-3 CUSA) at Rice (5-2/3-0), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Comcast Sports
> Why my confidence is high: Just less than a year ago, Rice traveled to El Paso with one goal in mind: Win. No matter how it got there, Rice just needed a victory to complete a stunning turnaround from a 1-5 start to the season and get bowl eligible. The Owls came through, getting a nine-point win that hoisted them into their third bowl in six years after a 45-year drought. Rice needs use that game as a reminder of how to play with a purpose. Rice is winning right now, but it sure doesn't seem to be playing its best football. The Owls are better than what these close wins (18-14 over FAU; 27-21 over UTSA) have shown. They have a chance to win their first outright conference championship since 1957 -- if they elevate their play to what we saw in the 33-24 win at UTEP last year. Otherwise, Rice will win a few more games, including Saturday at home against the Miners, but anything loftier than that probably won't happen.
> Key stat: 39.7, the decrease in yards per game by Rice QB Taylor McHargue compared to last year. McHargue only had two games of less than 200 total yards last year but already has four in seven games this year.
> The mob says: Rice by 17
> So says I: Rice 38, UTEP 24
Temple (1-6/0-3) at SMU (2-4/1-1), 3 p.m. Saturday, espn3
> Why my confidence is high: A couple things can happen when you lose games like SMU did in its non-conference schedule: You get so beat up that it's hard to recover, or you play very well once your competition level drops. Safe to say SMU -- which lost by an average of 26 in its three games against Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU -- is seeing its competition level drop. Only one of its next four opponents (Cincinnati) has a winning record. One of them (UConn) is winless, while this week's opponent also had yet to win until "upsetting" a 3-5 Army team last weekend. The schedule sets up favorably for SMU, but the Mustangs haven't shown yet if they did escape relatively unscathed from the non-conference schedule. They looked as if they would get blown out by Rutgers early in the month, only to overcome a 21-point deficit and force a three-overtime game. Nearly the opposite happened last week, when SMU's 31-3 lead at Memphis ended with a narrow 34-29 win. This should SMU's opportunity, though, to do to a team what its non-conference foes did to it: Beat them, and beat them soundly. I think SMU still has enough in the tank to do so.
> Key stat: 349.3, the passing yards per game by SMU QB Garrett Gilbert, good for a No. 4 ranking in the nation and a 124-yard improvement over last season. Because of SMU's 2-4 record, his major improvement has gone mostly unnoticed.
> The mob says: SMU by 13
> So says I: SMU 44, Temple 20
(as in I'm confident no Texas high school will do this to their home field)
Vanderbilt (4-3/1-3 SEC) at No. 16 Texas A&M (5-2/2-2), 11:21 a.m. Saturday, SEC TV
> Why my confidence is medium: Straight to the point, if college football had an injury update policy like the NFL, I'd either have high confidence or low confidence. But since Texas A&M doesn't have to tell a soul about the health status of QB Johnny Manziel, we're left to assume this game will go one of two ways: Either Texas A&M will score a ton of points behind Manziel and get a big win, or A&M would a few less points but still win. Because Manziel or not, the A&M defense can't be trusted to also not give up a lot of points. Texas A&M has gone from average (56th nationally in defense in 2012) to almost the worst, ranking 120th out of 125 teams. The fewest yards allowed this season was 390, and that was against Sam Houston State. Arkansas ranks 98th nationally in total offense yet came 17 yards short of 500 against the Aggies. Texas A&M will win Saturday, I do believe that. By how much will depend on who's behind center. I'm guessing Manziel guts it out and plays.
> Key stat: 104, the increase in average number of yards allowed per game by the Texas A&M defense compared to 2012. The Aggies are giving up 494 yards per game after allowing 390 per game last season.
> The mob says: Texas A&M by 17
> So says I: Texas A&M 47, Vanderbilt 31
Houston (5-1/2-0 AAC) at Rutgers (4-2/1-1), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN News
> Why my confidence is medium: Only seven teams in the nation have a harder time defending the pass than Houston. Fortunately for the Cougars, one of those teams is Rutgers. That Rutgers ranks so low nationally is pretty astounding, especially when you realize the Scarlet Knights only gave up 74 passing yards to Norfolk State. So when you take away that one FCS opponent, Rutgers is even worse, allowing 353.4 passing yards per game to FBS opponents. That number would rank last in the nation by nearly 10 yards. Houston should be able to move the ball pretty effectively on Rutgers, since true freshman QB John O'Korn has, for the most part, looked more like a veteran. He's thrown for nearly 1,500 yards in only five starts, and his TD to INT ratio (14 to 4) is quite impressive for a first-year player. Houston is also rushing for 165 yards per game, so the Rutgers defense will have its hands full. It then becomes a matter of Houston's defense playing better, especially compared to last week, when it allowed nearly 200 more yards to BYU in the 47-46 loss than it had in its previous worst game. I think Houston's defense is better than it showed last weekend, but I do expect it to be involved in another shootout. Yet once again, it will be the Coogs coming just short.
> Key stat: 14, Houston's advantage in the turnover margin, the top margin in the nation. Houston and Oregon are tied for the most takeaways in the nation with 21, while Houston's seven turnovers rank the Coogs 12th in the country. Three of Houston's turnovers came last week in the one-point loss to BYU.
> The mob says: Rutgers by 7
> So says I: Rutgers 45, Houston 41
North Texas (4-3/2-1 CUSA) at Southern Miss (0-6/0-2), 6 p.m. Saturday, Fox College Sports
> Why my confidence is medium: When your opponent schedules you for their Homecoming game, they usually expect a win. And for almost all its recent history, Southern Miss usually did beat its Homecoming opponent, because before last season, USM had experienced winning seasons every year from 1994 through 2011. Then came 2012, and Southern Miss hasn't won since, and things only seem to be getting worse. The 18-game losing streak almost ended two weeks ago, but USM went scoreless in the fourth while FIU got a lone field goal to win 24-23. USM followed that up with a 41-point loss to East Carolina last week. That's not that far above the norm; USM is losing by an average of 4 TDs per week. So all that to say Southern Miss is as bad as its record shows, making this a must-win for North Texas, at least from the standpoint of it needs to win games it's supposed to win. The fact this game is away from Denton is the only reason I have some skepticism about UNT's chances, but I still am going with the Mean Green.
> Key stat: 2, the number of consecutive wins by North Texas after beating Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech in back-to-back weeks, the first winning streak for North Texas since 2004. UNT had lost 26 straight times in the games following a win.
> The mob says: North Texas by 11
> So says I: North Texas 34, Southern Miss 20
(as in I'm confident I would've survived in this situation)
No. 10 Texas Tech (7-0/4-0) at No. 15 Oklahoma (6-1/3-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX
> Why my confidence is low: One of two things should happen Saturday afternoon in Norman, at least from a Texas Tech perspective. The Red Raiders will either come out playing tight and a slight bit nervously, having not played in a game of this magnitude all season. Or Tech will come out more motivated in ever, using the big stage against its first ranked opponent to show that it is indeed worthy of its top 10 BCS ranking. I'm going with the latter, because as cool as Kliff Kinsburgy's image is projected to be, he does seem to be a guy that doesn't get rattled and, instead, has an air of confidence not easily shaken. The Red Raiders will follow the lead of their coach on Saturday -- at least that's my projection -- to land an upset win at Oklahoma. But it's not only about confidence. Texas Tech is clicking so well offensively that it probably doesn't matter who starts at quarterback, Davis Webb or fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield. The offense has been nearly identical with both behind center. Oklahoma, though, is struggling offensively, and it also hasn't seemed to matter who plays quarterback. Neither Blake Bell nor Trevor Knight have been consistent. Because this remains an offensive league, I'm going with Tech.
> Key stat: 1,359, the number of total passing yards by Oklahoma's offense this season, less than what both Mayfield (1,488 yards) and Webb (1,427) have thrown for.
> The mob says: Oklahoma by 6.5
> So says I: Texas Tech 30, Oklahoma 28
Texas (4-2/3-0 Big 12) at TCU (3-4/1-3), 6:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1
> Why my confidence is low: As well as Case McCoy played in the stunning upset of Oklahoma -- in addition to his game-wining drive he led at Iowa State -- his numbers have been just above average. He passed for 190 yards against Oklahoma -- good, but nothing eye-popping -- and though he racked up 244 against Iowa State, it can on a 5.5 yards-per-attempt average, which is just not good. Then consider that he's not a running threat (13 carries, -5 yards), and I think TCU coach Gary Patterson can come up with a game plan that forces McCoy to lead the offense. First off, TCU already leads the Big 12 in rushing defense and ranks 14th nationally by limiting teams to 3.14 yards per carry. So they're great against the run already, but if the Frogs make that their primary focus Saturday, I don't see Texas getting much traction running it, even considering that Johnathan Gray has turned things on of late (118 yards per game over his last three). That puts the ball, as I've laid out now, in McCoy's hands, and I don't see him having a ton of success. There is, of course, the matter of TCU's stagnating offense. TCU will still need to score, and I think they will, perhaps getting set up with good field position on a turnover or special teams play. TCU also has reached the point of desperation. It must win this game, or else it's in a pretty deep hole. As much as Texas's turnaround has impressed me, I think TCU gets an ugly win in Fort Worth.
> Key stat: 61, the number of runs of 10 yards or more TCU is on pace for this season, down from 67 last year, 81 in 2011 and 98 in 2010. Overall, the Frogs rank 105th nationally in the number of plays going for at least 10 yards.
> The mob says: TCU by 2
> So says I: TCU 22, Texas 21
South Alabama (3-3/1-1 Sun Belt) at Texas State (4-3/1-2), 3 p.m. Saturday, espn3
> Why my confidence is low: Both of these teams are in their sophomore seasons, if you will. Like Texas State, South Alabama officially joined the FBS ranks last year and is in its second year of transition. Both programs took their lumps as freshmen and appear to be improving, but despite having the better overall record, I do wonder if Texas State has started to hit a sophomore slump. Texas State had lost two in a row before barely getting by Georgia State (a first-year FBS team), a winless program in contention to be the worst team in 2013. Texas State did rush it at will against GSU, getting 296 yards on 42 carries, but only three times did it extend a drive into the red zone (scoring all three times, for the record). Still, beating Georgia State by just a single touchdown wasn't quite the impressive turnaround Texas State needed after its two previous losses. South Alabama, likewise, had lost two straight before last week's 17-point win against Kent State, but even the losses were impressive (by a touchdown at Tennessee, and by a point to 4-3 Troy), and South Alabama can claim two wins over winning teams (Tulane and Western Kentucky). The Jags have improved more than Texas State this year, an area most exemplified by the passing games, as you'll see below. Because of that, I think USA leaves San Marcos with a win.
> Key stat: 149, the difference in passing yards per game between South Alabama (277) and Texas State (128.6). Texas State only has an 11-yard edge in rushing (186 to 175).
> The mob says: South Alabama by 2
> So says I: South Alabama 27, Texas State 20
UAB (2-4/1-1 CUSA) at UTSA (2-5/1-2), 4 p.m. Saturday, Time Warner Cable
> Why my confidence is low: Up until the first week of October, UTSA's Eric Soza had quarterbacked 13 games against FBS or FCS opponents. Only one time in those 13 games had he thrown for fewer than 200 yards. He's now done it two weeks in a row, getting 130 at Marshall and 170 two weeks ago against Rice. Worse than his total yards, though, are his average yards per attempt: just 5.25 in those two games, down more than two yards from what he averaged through the first five games. Help may be on the way, Eric. Alabama-Birmingham comings into the game allowing 290 yards per game -- and that's just through the air. That figure ranks UAB 116th in the nation, while only five teams in the nation give up more than UAB's 8.8 yards allowed per attempt. Those five teams are a combined 9-28. Basically, in this day and age, if you can't stop someone from passing, you're going to have a hard time winning. And that's why I think UTSA gets back on track this week. The Roadrunners should benefit from playing a pretty lousy defense, winning for the first time this season in the Alamodome.
> Key stat: 31, the percentage of times UAB converts on third downs, the 109th worst average in the FBS ranks.
> The mob says: UTSA by 6.5
> So says I: UTSA 27, UAB 21
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.