Jake Shaw previews the weekend’s college action across Texas.
For the first time this college football season, every single Texas FBS program will play this weekend. The state’s 12 teams, however, represent a myriad of different situations. We’ve got some heavy favorites, some huge underdogs, a few tough road tests and even two cross-town rivalry games. And each contest gets equal treatment.
Below, I preview every program’s game as well as predict the final score. Like always, I order the previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions of the final outcome.
Shall we begin?
(as in I’m confident game officials in all sports will still get heavily criticized
even after this whole NFL replacement ref mess)
> No. 15 TCU (3-0, 1-0 in Big 12) at SMU (1-2, 0-0 in CUSA), 6 p.m. Saturday, FSN
After finishing with the 26th rated defense in the country in 2011, SMU — which brought seven starters back from that unit — truly (and I’ll even say legitimately) believed it could contend for a Top 10 defensive ranking. It will be a long road to reach that level. SMU is rated dead last among the 124 FBS programs in total defense. The Mustangs are allowing 561.3 yards per game and gave up a combined 14 TDs in the losses to Baylor and Texas A&M. This could be somewhat overlooked if SMU’s offense were moving the ball well. But it’s not. The offense is putting up nearly 180 fewer yards than its defense is allowing. Even in the 52-0 win over SFA, SMU only tallied 328 yards. So with things looking so bleak, SMU must hope for two things: The off week allowed the team to correct a lot of their mistakes, and that TCU’s turnover trend (seven in three games) doesn’t end this week. That’s about the only negative you can find about TCU through three games. Otherwise, the defense has been dominant (allowing just one TD all season) and the offense explosive (485 yards per game).
Key stat: 40-33, the score when these Iron Skillet rivals met last year, an SMU win in overtime that truly shocked the Frogs. No doubt that score will be on their minds this weekend as they try to get payback.
The mob says: TCU by 16
So says I: TCU 41, SMU 17
> Nevada (3-1, 1-0 in MWC) at Texas State (2-1, 0-0 in WAC), 1 p.m. Saturday, Longhorn Network
If the Bobcats were looking for a team to emulate, Nevada would be a pretty good choice. The teams already run versions of the same offense, the pistol formation that lines up the quarterback in shotgun with a running back (or in Texas State’s case, two RBs) behind the QB. The pistol formation has helped Nevada coach Chris Ault finish with a winning record in six of his eight seasons, including a 13-1 mark in 2010. Texas State, in its first season among the FBS programs, would be content matching that kind of success. But it will take some time, and a win will be hard to come by this weekend. The weakness of Nevada — stopping the opposing passing attack — happens to be Texas State’s weakness as well. Thought QB Shaun Rutherford lit up SFA last weekend through the air, he’s still a better runner than passer, so unless he has a similarly effective game, Nevada should win this game going away.
Key stat: 301.3, that yards per game Nevada is allowing opponents through the air. Texas State, conversely, averages just 212.7 passing yards per game, a total spiked by Rutherford’s 301 yards against SFA last weekend.
The mob says: Nevada by 19.5
So says I: Nevada 48, Texas State 27
> UTSA (4-0, 0-0 in WAC) at New Mexico State (1-3, 0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN Gameplan (PPV)
“It’s about to get real” — #ThingsNeverSaid before playing New Mexico State. All apologies to New Mexico’s Aggies, but NMSU has just one winning season this century and likely won’t get there this year either. But New Mexico State is an undeniable upgrade from what UTSA has played this season. The Roadrunners may be 4-0, but two wins came against DII opponents, and the others were against programs also making the jump up to the FBS ranks, so things undeniably are about to get real for UTSA. As for NMSU, after this comes two straight road games, then a home date with potential BCS buster Louisiana Tech, followed by another road trip to Auburn. NMSU, thus, will be treating this game as a must-win, as it’s the most winnable game among its final eight contests. The Roadrunner defense, which ranks 21st nationally, needs to prove it on Saturday. NMSU really struggles running, averaging less than 90 yards per game, and UTSA only gives up 63 per game, so this is one area UTSA needs to win. And if UTSA can keep NMSU at or below its average of 262 passing yards per game, UTSA will have a chance to pull off the upset.
Key stat: 7, the difference between the number of UTSA takeaways on defense and turnovers on offense. The Roadrunners’ +7 turnover margin is tops in the country.
The mob says: New Mexico State by 1
So says I: New Mexico State 27, UTSA 23
(as in I’m confident Nebraska’s search for a new AD will go
through the state of Texas — I’m looking at you, Baylor and TCU)
> No. 25 Baylor (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at No. 9 West Virginia (3-0, 0-0), 11 a.m. Saturday, FX
The irony about offensive shootouts — which is what everyone is expecting when these two teams meet, including the mob, which set the over/under at 80 points — is that the games are often decided by a play by the defense. The quarterbacks (Baylor’s Nick Florence and WVU’s Geno Smith, who each already have 1,000+ yards and 10+ TDs) will pile on their numbers again this weekend. Consequently, so will the receivers (both schools have two players among the Top 15 in the nation). But a few plays here and there — a crucial forced three-and-out, a forced turnover, a stop in the red zone holding a team to a field goal — could be the difference. The defense that comes up with the most game-changing plays could provide the upper hand. You’ve got to give it to Baylor; as rough as it’s been stopping the opposing team, the Bears have forced 10 turnovers in three games, including 6 INTs by six different players. If the Bears do one thing well defensively, it’s force the team to make mistakes. That’s what will give Baylor a chance to win. But with WVU looking to make a statement in its first Big 12 game, I don’t know if that will be enough for the Bears.
Key stat: 9, the number of consecutive wins by Baylor, which is both second in the nation and the second-longest in school history.
The mob says: West Virginia by 13
So says I: West Virginia 52, Baylor 38
> Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 in SEC) at Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 in SEC), 11:21 a.m. Saturday, SEC Network (ESPN3)
While much of the country wonders if Bobby Petrino is really that valuable, don’t expect Texas A&M to feel any sympathy for the Hogs. Not after the last three years, when A&M entered games expecting to win, only to lose in demoralizing fashion. This is a big chance for payback for the Aggies. Not only can they earn their first SEC win as an official member of the conference, the Aggies are looking for their first win against an SEC school since 1991, when Texas A&M beat (you guessed it) Arkansas, 13-3. Perhaps that bodes well for the Aggies — they beat Arkansas the last time they were conference rivals, and 21 years later, here they are again playing for a conference win. Texas A&M, though, doesn’t need any positive history for help. The present is good enough. Arkansas has been in a downward spiral ever since Petrino’s fateful motorcycle ride, and the results on the field — a shocking overtime to Louisiana-Monroe, a shutout against Alabama, and falling to Rutgers at home even with QB Tyler Wilson back from an injury — have just pushed the Razorbacks deeper into the abyss. And with a 101st ranked defense, Arkansas’s dysfunctional offense is getting little help. Before the season, Arkansas might’ve been the two-TD favorite. But the Ags are the clear favorites. So long as the offense remains efficient, I expect the Aggies to score in the 30s and the defense to harass Wilson all game long.
Key stat: 2, the number of turnovers forced by the Texas A&M defense. One hundred and fourteen other FBS programs have created more turnovers. That’s about the only criticism of a unit ranked 12th in the nation in total defense.
The mob says: Texas A&M by 13.5
So says I: Texas A&M 37, Arkansas 21
> North Texas (1-3, 0-1 in Sub Belt) at Florida Atlantic (1-3, 0-1), 4 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3
Like a cornerback that just got burned, North Texas needs to forget what happened last week. It was better than Troy in all the numbers except for the ones on the scoreboard. FAU, though, might be just the right team to bear the brunt of UNT’s frustration. After beating Wagner (who?) in the opening game of the season, FAU has lost its last three and has been beaten up by Georgia and Alabama the past two weekends. FAU did hang around Georgia for a quarter, tying the game at 14 in the first minute of the second quarter, but it then allowed 42 consecutive points. And last week, Alabama slept-walked through a 40-7 win, only allowing FAU to reach the end zone in the game’s final minutes. Of course, UNT will present a step down in competition compared to those top 10 teams, but this will be an even Meaner Green traveling to Florida, one that must beat arguably the worst team in the Sub Belt if they want to get to the postseason. North Texas can’t afford to lose this; because of that, I expect the Mean Green to put together a great game offensively and defensively, returning home to Texas with a win.
Key stat: 189.5, the number of rushing yards per game by North Texas, up more than 30 yards over last season’s average despite playing against two great defenses (Kansas State and LSU). Antoinne Jimmerson (47-305, 2 TDs) and Brandin Byrd (72-293, 2 TDs) give UNT a pretty solid one-two punch.
The mob says: North Texas by 7
So says I: North Texas 30, Florida Atlantic 20
(as in I’m confident Gary Patterson will remain kind and gentle if he gets upset by SMU again)
> Houston (0-3, 0-0 in CUSA) vs. Rice (1-3, 0-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSN
Rice’s potential loss could be Houston’s big break. Potential is the operative word, because Rice still hasn’t declared whether QB Taylor McHargue will play in the annual Bayou Bucket game. He left the loss to Marshall last week late in the fourth quarter after injuring his shoulder on a diving touchdown run. Driphus Jackson, who will get his first career start if McHargue can’t go, finished the game and played admirably, but Rice beats Marshall last week if McHargue is on the field. And that’s why my confidence is so low with this pick. With McHargue, I see Rice winning a shootout. Without him, give me the Coogs also in a shootout, but with a little more distance between themselves and the Owls. Houston is off to a terrible start, but its offense will move the ball against a terrible Rice defense. Without McHargue, I just don’t see the Owls moving with the same proficiency, even as bad as Houston’s defense has been. McHargue didn’t practice Wednesday, and though Jackson claims he’s ready for the big-time, I need to see it before I believe it. Give me UH over a McHargue-less Rice.
Key stat: 541, the combined average of yards given up per game by the Rice and Houston defenses. Rice allows 546 per game; Houston allows 536 per game. Both schools, meanwhile, average about 470 yards of offense per showing.
The mob says: Houston by 5
So says I: Houston 54, Rice 44
> Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at Iowa State (3-0, 0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, FCS
Lest anyone forget the result of Texas Tech’s two most recent games against the Cyclones, Tommy Tubberville posted the scores from the games (52-38 and 41-7 ISU wins) on the locker-room walls. The Red Raiders enter the game as narrow favorites, despite the recent series results and despite going on the road, partly because of its national rankings — not in the polls, though a win would get them there. Tech ranks first in total defense in the country and second in offense, but as they’ve heard over and over again, it has come against a very soft schedule. Ames, Iowa will provide the perfect proving ground. Iowa State isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, averaging 254 yards passing and 175 rushing per game, but this will be far and away the best offense the Tech defense has seen. Flipping to the other sides of the ball, the Tech offense has gone up against the 107th-rated (Texas State) and 97th-rated (New Mexico) defenses in the FBS, so Iowa State’s 14th-ranked unit will similarly give the Red Raiders their first true test. This might be a must-win for Tech, which faces five straight ranked opponents after this weekend. To be frank, this is the hardest game of the week to predict, since it’s very difficult to judge Texas Tech’s early results. This weekend, however, will make things much more clear for the future.
Key stat: 1:29:12, the amount of game time since Iowa State last allowed a touchdown, and that’s been against far tougher competition than what Tech has faced.
The mob says: Texas Tech by 2.5
So says I: Iowa State 28, Texas Tech 27
> UTEP (1-3, 0-0 in CUSA) at East Carolina (2-2, 1-0 in CUSA), 6 p.m. Saturday, WITN (local North Carolina TV)
This game might come down to the arm of Nick Lamaison. Last week, the UTEP quarterback had a great game (259 yards, 2 TDs) but got no help from a running game that averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. This week, the Miners face an ECU defense that falls right along those lines. East Carolina has been great against the run, conceding less than 120 yards/game in a schedule that includes two BCS opponents, but the opposition has victimized the Pirates through the air, averaging more than 305 yards and two TDs per game. That adds up to a very favorable matchup for Lamaison. And if UTEP can get the running game moving, I really like this matchup in the Miners’ favor, because East Carolina’s glaring weakness is the running game (3 yards/carry), matching UTEP’s weakness: stopping it (teams are averaging 5.46 yards/carry). Conversely, UTEP has been much better stopping the pass, while ECU has struggled in that area. The numbers favor the Miners, and even though it’s a road game against a team it barely beat, 22-17, a year ago in El Paso, I expect UTEP to get the win.
Key stat: 7, the number of sacks ECU allowed in last week’s loss to North Carolina, a positive sign considering UTEP’s 10 sacks on the season rank 28th in the country.
The mob says: East Carolina by 4
So says I: UTEP 24, East Carolina 20
> No. 12 Texas (3-0, 0-0 in Big 12) at Oklahoma State (2-1, 0-0), 6:50 p.m. Saturday, Fox
Apparently I’m in the minority about Texas. Yes, the Longhorns have improved since the down 2010 season, but Top 15? I’m not sold yet. But the mob is. This Vegas line opened with OSU as 2-3 point favorites. In a matter of days, the line has completely reversed, putting the visiting ‘Horns as the favorite. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty with OUS’s QB situation; the starter, true freshman Wes Lunt, is an unknown for this game after an injury nearly two weeks ago. That would put Denton native J.W. Walsh in at starter, and even though he has spent one more year in Stillwater than Lunt, he has less experience. And Texas hasn’t disclosed whether starting RB Joe Bergeron, also a bit banged up, will play Saturday (makes you think there should be some reform to injury updates, but I digress). Something else to consider: A Cowboy defense that in its one game against a program with a pulse (at Arizona) allowed 59 points and 501 yards — and didn’t create a single turnover, something that’s been a hallmark of DC Bill Young’s defenses. Last year, OSU forced 44 turnovers; this year, OSU has just three in three games. If the Cowboys can’t force UT into some mistakes, then I don’t think OSU has the defense to slow UT’s running game, with or without Bergeron. That leaves it up to the Cowboys offense to move the ball on Texas’ defense. And that’s when we get back to the QB situation in Stillwater. Without Lunt, I don’t think the Cowboys can rely on Walsh, a better runner than passer, to move the offense enough to get the win. The way I see it: Texas leads late, and the defense comes up with one final stop late in the fourth to preserve the win.
Key stat: 60, the percentage of time the Texas offense is converting on third down, while its defense is holding opponents to 28 percent. The numbers are good for a No. 3 ranking on the offensive side and No. 19 defensively.
The mob says: Texas by 3
So says I: Texas 27, OSU 22
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com