NCAA Preview: Week 10
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
Do you believe in the Mean Green? You should. They're going bowling, something they earned last night in a 28-16 win over Rice, giving North Texas its first season of six or more wins since 2004. Meanwhile, down in Houston, the Coogs weren't their sharpest they've been, but they did enough to get a 35-23 win over South Florida.
Those games kicked off the weekend for the Texas FBS programs. But that was just the beginning. Six more games involving Texas programs are slated for Saturday. As always, I preview them all, ordering them based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions.
(as in I'm confident only a Texan could survive this)
UTEP (1-6/0-4 CUSA) at No. 12 Texas A&M (6-2/3-2), 8 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
> Why my confidence is high: The good news for UTEP fans: Your team gets to play on national TV in a prime time slot. The bad news: You won't like what you see. The Miners will likely be without their starting quarterback, which is bad enough, but it spoils the homecoming of Jameill Showers, who transferred to El Paso from A&M after Johnny Manziel beat him out for the 2012 starting job. Showers injured his throwing shoulder in last week's 45-7 loss to Rice. Manziel, meanwhile, shook off an injury in the Oct. 19 loss to Auburn and coasted to 319 yards of offense in the 56-24 win over Vanderbilt. He looked almost 100 percent, but Texas A&M won't need him for a full 60 minutes this weekend. This is about as lopsided a matchup as there is this late in the season. Texas A&M will win big, officially knocking out UTEP from bowl contention.
> Key stat: 106.14, the average rushing yards per game by UTEP's Aaron Jones, the highest per-game average of any freshman in the nation and good for 20th in the country overall. He's been the bright spot in an otherwise dark season.
> The mob says: Texas A&M by 45.5
> So says I: Texas A&M 56, UTEP 20
Kansas (2-5/0-4 Big 12) at Texas (5-2/4-0)
> Why my confidence is high: After the season nearly came crashing down, Texas recovered with season-saving wins against Kansas State and Iowa State. They weren't overly impressive, but at the time, they halted the downward spiral. The upward ascent is now nearing full speed, thanks to the one-sided wins over Oklahoma and at TCU last weekend. The momentum will continue to build this weekend against Kansas, which hasn't win a Big 12 game in a long time, and it's not about to end that streak. Kansas has reached the point where it's experimenting with its lineup, burning the redshirt of freshman QB Montell Cozart and steadily increasing his playing time each week. And why not? Starter Jake Heaps, the BYU transfer, proved in the first five games that he alone couldn't engineer a turnaround, thus the increased exposure for Cozart. He appears to be the future, but it will have to wait another year (or at least a week). The Texas defense is suddenly playing up to the talent it has recruited over the years, and it will overwhelm both Kansas QBs on Saturday. Mack Brown's midseason redemption tour will carry on for at least another week.
> Key stat: 5.5, Kansas's average yards per attempt when passing, ranking the Jayhawks 120th in the nation out of 125 FBS teams. KU has been worse in Big 12 play, averaging 5.1 after putting up 5.9 in non-conference games.
> The mob says: Texas by 28
> So says I: Texas 47, Kansas 17
No. 6 Baylor (7-0/4-0 Big 12), bye
> Key stat: 28-10, the combined record of Baylor's final five opponents, three of them ranked in the BCS top 25. Baylor's first seven opponents are a combined 24-29.
SMU (3-4/2-1 AAC), bye
> Key stat: 3, the number of times an SMU opponent hasn't scored after reaching the end zone in 35 tries, ranking SMU 113th in the nation. SMU, on the other hand, has failed to score seven times in its 34 trips to the opponent's red zone.
(as in I'm confident the Big 12 eventually will need to expand)
West Virginia (3-5/1-4 Big 12) at TCU (3-5/1-4)
> Why my confidence is medium: Let's call this matchup on Saturday the "Newcomers Bowl" -- because the loser of this game between the second-year Big 12 programs will become a longshot to make a bowl game at all. This meeting on Saturday will have to suffice. It's pretty stunning how much both programs have struggled since leaving behind their former conferences. TCU had won 10 or more games in four straight seasons until 2012, its first year in the Big 12, and it's already been guaranteed it won't get there again. WVU had won nine or more games in the previous four seasons before leaving the Big East. Now, like TCU, it's in a struggle just to earn the conference's final bowl slot. The loser here must go undefeated the rest of the way. WVU has Texas remaining on its schedule; TCU has two tough games, at K-State and hosting Baylor. Because of that, TCU is in the more desperate situation. It has to win on Saturday. I think the Frogs get it done, mostly thanks to their defense, and also behind what I predict will be a better outing for Casey Pachall than what he showed in his return against Texas last weekend.
> Key stat: 3.9, the average yards gained per play by the TCU offense in last week's 30-7 loss to Texas, the worst single-game effort by the Frogs this season in what had already been a very down season on offense.
> The mob says: TCU by 12.5
> So says I: TCU 27, West Virginia 17
Texas State (5-3/2-2 Sun Belt) at Idaho (1-7)
> Why my confidence is high: Texas State has flirted with disaster the last two weekends, needing some late-game heroics to prevent losses to two other teams -- Georgia State and South Alabama -- making the transition to FBS football. That's the reason for medium confidence in Texas State's trip to Idaho, which could make an argument for being the worst FBS team in the nation. Only one defense in the country gives up more yardage per game than Idaho's 544.8 (that team, ironically, is New Mexico State, which like Idaho is not affiliated with a conference this season). Idaho's best showing was 410 yards allowed to Temple, Idaho's only win, yet 1-7 Temple is also in contention for the dubious title of America's Worst Team. Texas State must take advantage of that Idaho defense. The Bobcats have been a model of inconsistency offensively, failing to reach 300 total yards of offense three times, but also going for 400 or more on three other occasions. That's partly what you'll get with a true freshman QB. After sitting on the bench the first three games, Tyler Jones has emerged as the starter despite just arriving in Texas State this summer. He's had as many downs as ups, but he appears to be both the present and the future now. I expect him to be part of a Texas State win Saturday, but I think this one plays closer than what would be expected from a team nearing bowl eligibility and one that's already been eliminated.
> Key stat: 708, the number of rushing yards by Texas State sophomore RB Robert Lowe, ranking him 34th in the nation and third overall among Texas FBS running backs.
> The mob says: Texas State by 10.5
> So says I: Texas State 33, Idaho 24
(as in I'm confident that I'd be doing this during a deadly storm)
No. 18 Oklahoma State (6-1/3-1 Big 12) at No. 12 Texas Tech (7-1/4-1)
> Why my confidence is low: One of these teams just might get eliminated from the Big 12 title race. There is a chance that every Big 12 team loses at least two conference games, but do you really want to take that chance? OSU came into the season as the favorite to win the Big 12, yet Texas Tech has looked the part more this year. The Red Raiders even showed well in their only loss of the year, the 38-30 defeat at OU. The Cowboys, however, really stumbled into conference play. They started out with the upset loss at West Virginia, barely rebounded against K-State the next week (a 33-29 win), then looked sloppy in beating TCU by two touchdowns. In last week's 58-27 win at Iowa State, OSU looked much more like a contender. But buried in the box score: 10-of-27 passing for 78 yards. Yes, OSU ran at will on Iowa State (342 yards on 47 carries), but OSU's trouble in the passing game -- something the program had mastered until this year -- resurfaced. That one trouble area, plus the fact Tech gets to host this game, is why I'm leaning ever so slightly toward the Red Raiders. After a narrow loss to one north-of-the-border rival, I think they rebound with a narrow win against the other one.
> Key stat: 70, the difference in passing yards per game by OSU in conference and non-conference games. The Cowboys averaged 311 passing yards in three non-conference games, but that has dropped to 241 in Big 12 play.
> The mob says: Texas Tech by 2.5
> So says I: Texas Tech 37, OSU 35
UTSA (3-5/2-2 CUSA) at Tulsa (2-5/1-2)
> Why my confidence is low: The only way the Roadrunners can make a bowl trip is if there aren't enough bowl-eligible teams come the end of the season. Winning on Saturday would really help UTSA accomplish both. A win would put UTSA two away from six wins while simultaneously putting Tulsa one loss away from bowl elimination. So when looking at these programs' combined records, don't think for a second there is lost motivation. Both programs need this win. I think that Tulsa needs it more. However, I think UTSA gets the upset. I'm obviously not very confident in that pick, though, but the deciding factor is UTSA's advantage defensively against Tulsa's running game. Despite returning the entire 2012 backfield -- QB Cody Green and RBs Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas -- Tulsa is averaging nearly 100 fewer rushing yards per game in 2013. UTSA's fared relatively well against the run. Giving up 264 yards to Arizona in Week 3 seems to be an aberration. UTSA has held two other run-based teams (OSU and UTEP) below 100 total yards in a game. Overall, UTSA is only allowing 4.12 yards per carry, and taking away that game at Arizona, it drops to 3.8. That's pretty good -- and should be good enough to help carry UTSA to a nice road win.
> Key stat: +3, UTSA's turnover margin in the 52-31 win over UAB last weekend, the only time this season UTSA has finished a game with a positive ratio. UTSA came into that game -12 in the turnover margin.
> The mob says: Tulsa by 3
> So says I: UTSA 28, Tulsa 24
Charting My Predictions:
Last week straight up: 6-4
Last week against the spread: 4-6
Season straight up: 52-21
Season against the spread: 33-39-1
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.