NCAA Preview

Jake Shaw previews this weekend’s college action across Texas.

Thirty-three percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams in Texas have this weekend off. That still leaves eight other programs playing this weekend, showing that even when it comes to college football, nobody does it bigger than Texas.

As always, I preview every program’s upcoming game as well as predict the outcome. And I order then based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions of the final scores.

Here we go …

 

My confidence level: Very high
(as in I’m confident there would be far less fury over NFL officiating
if the public didn’t know these are replacement refs)

> Virginia (2-1) at No. 17 TCU (2-0), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN
The hits keep coming for TCU. We know what happened in the offseason, no need to rehash that. The black cloud, however, hasn’t left, as a mounting number of injuries climaxed this week with the announcement leading rusher Waymon James is out for the season after a simple cut on a run against Kansas resulted in a knee injury. It’s hard to find a bright side to this, but there might be one. If TCU keeps winning, critics will have no ammunition against the Frogs. Winning consistently in the Big 12 despite the adversity would silence the shouts that TCU doesn’t have the depth and experience to get through a much tougher schedule. That remains to be seen, but TCU definitely has enough to beat a Virginia team that isn’t as good as its 2-1 record. Virginia gave up 56 points to Georgia Tech last weekend, the most it has allowed this century. The offense, outside of a 43-19 win over Richmond to open the season, hasn’t been any better. UVA ranks 109th in the nation rushing the ball and 75th in scoring. What I’ll be watching for most is how James’ loss affects the offensive game plan. Remember, the presumed starter, Ed Wesley, left the team abruptly before the season. TCU still has Matthew Tucker, a career 2,000-yard rusher, but the once deep position is now tenuous at best. I wonder if TCU will rely on QB Casey Pachall more or stick to the balanced attack. That will start getting answered on Saturday.
Key stat: 12, the number of years since TCU kicked off a home game at 11 a.m. The Frogs will get an early start on Saturday so that they can appear on national TV, but TCU hadn’t kicked off a home game an hour before noon since the 2000 season, when TCU crushed Northwestern 41-14 in the final season under Dennis Franchione.
The mob says: TCU by 17.5
So says I: TCU 37, Virginia 17

> South Carolina State at Texas A&M (1-1), 6 p.m. Saturday, FS South
The Aggies won’t play SEC compadre South Carolina this year (and it may not be a while because of the SEC’s cross-divisional scheduling), so they’ll have to settle for SC State instead. Too bad, because A&M against the other USC would be a great game. This won’t be. South Carolina got a taste of playing an FBS program last weekend, and they probably don’t want a second helping. Arizona throttled SC State, 56-0. SC State didn’t reach the century mark in either rushing or passing, finishing with only 154 yards of offense while crossing midfield just once. Texas A&M’s defense already has registered 12 sacks in two games (5 from Damontre Moore, an OLB last year before switching to DE), and the Aggies might get to 20 as a team on Saturday. But what the Aggie defense needs to work on is takeaways. Through two games, Texas A&M has forced just a single turnover. The defense could take another step up the ladder if it could start forcing turnovers. Conversely, the offense — led by a redshirt freshman QB, mind you — has yet to turn the ball over this season.
Key stat: 0, the number of carries for standout RB Christine Michael after he was suspended on game day against SMU. In his absence, QB Johnny Manziel (13-124, 2 TDs) and true freshman RB Trey Williams (12-42, TD) picked up the slack. Expect Michael to return to form this weekend.
The mob says: The mob can’t count high enough to set this line
So says I: Texas A&M 59, South Carolina State 0

> NW Oklahoma State (0-2) at UTSA (3-0), 1 p.m. Saturday, no TV
Division II Northwestern Oklahoma State is coming off a 4-6 season — with losses to programs with names such as Bacone, Oklahoma Panhandle State, Southern Nazarene and Langston University — and 2012 hasn’t started any better. NWOSU is 0-3, losing by an average of 33 points per game to the hard-to-pronounce Ouachita Baptist, Colorado State (the one in Pueblo, not the one in the Mountain West), and Truman State, who should’ve gone with the A-bombs rather than run-of-the-mill Bulldogs for their mascot. Frankly, UTSA can take this game about as seriously as I’m taking this preview and still coast to a win. This is Savanhah State/OSU Lite. These teams don’t belong on the same field. I’m happy for the Roadrunners, who will start their inaugural FBS season with a shiny 4-0 record, but I look forward to seeing what they do against real competition.
Key stat: 4, the consecutive number of wins by UTSA, going back to the final game of the 2011 season. That currently ties the Roadrunners with Florida, Texas, Ohio, Rutgers and Minnesota for the sixth-highest streak in the NCAA.
The mob says: The mob distances itself from Division II teams
So says I: UTSA 44, NWOSU 6

> No. 12 Texas (3-0), off
Both Texas and its opponent next weekend, Oklahoma State, have this weekend off. The two programs will meet at 7:50 p.m. next Saturday as part of Fox’s new lineup of primetime college football coverage. Last year, despite UT’s well-documented offensive woes, the Longhorns played eventual Big 12 champion OSU to a 36-28 loss.
Key stat: 514.3, the average yards of offense per game for Texas through three games, only good for sixth in the Big 12. Still, it’s a major improvement for a team that averaged 392.5 yards of offense per game last fall.

> Texas Tech (3-0), off
This is a popular weekend to take a break. Just like UT and OSU, both Tech and its opponent next weekend, Iowa State, have this Saturday off. The pressure will be on Tech in two weeks, however, considering Iowa State wrecked the Raiders’ season a year ago. Texas Tech was coming off its historic win at OU before a humbling, season-crushing loss the following week to Iowa State, 41-7.
Key stat: 1, Texas Tech’s defensive ranking in the Big 12 after its non-conference schedule. The Red Raiders have only allowed 160 yards per game; the next closest team, Oklahoma, is allowing 225 yards per game.

> SMU (1-2), off
June Jones doesn’t necessarily need to go back to the drawing board, but he and his offensive staff need to make a lot of tweaks over the bye weekend. His passing attack has thrown more INTs than TDs so far, and the inability to effectively move the ball is putting far too much pressure on a defense that has played well early in games before caving into the pressure.
Key stat: 21, SMU’s average points per game in its last 10 games, where SMU has gone 4-6. In the previous six games, dating back to the start of the 2011 season, SMU averaged 33 points per game and was 5-1 in that stretch.

> Houston (0-3), off
Of the four Texas teams not playing this weekend, Houston needed the reprieve more than any other. The Coogs have opened the season 0-3 for just the second time in school history, the last time occurring in 2001, when they went winless in 11 tries. The points of emphasis on the off weekend: Getting healthy; figuring out how to ramp up a rushing attacked ranked 94th in the country; and working on getting defensive stops — Houston ranks 117th in the NCAA in points allowed per game. As I’ve said before, however, nothing would turn around a season like a win over Rice, who Houston faces a week from Saturday at Reliant Stadium. It might not be too early to call it a must-win game.
Key stat: 86, the number of yards QB David Piland covered on his touchdown run against UCLA with under five minutes left in the game. Though the score had no impact on the outcome, it prevented Houston from getting shutout for the first time since a 48-0 loss to Texas in 2000.

 

My confidence level: Medium
(as in I’m confident the rest of the nation’s uniforms won’t be Oregonized in the next couple of decades)

> Marshall at Rice (1-2), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Comcast Sports Southwest (CSS)
This is the kind of game that separates fans into two categories: Those who enjoy watching teams score points like a defense isn’t on the field, and those who do actually want to notice a defense. For the latter group, avoid this game. Rice ranks 117th in the nation in total defense; Marshall has just managed to slip inside the top 100, though just barely: Marshall’s defense is ranked 99th. Some of that is the product of each team’s schedule. Rice has played UCLA (No. 2 in the NCAA in total offense) and Louisiana Tech (No. 5), while Marshall’s numbers were skewed by playing West Virginia (No. 3) in the season opener. Even so, don’t expect either defense to turn into a steel curtain Saturday. Both teams have good offenses. Marshall, with its top-ranked passing attack, would rank higher than No. 10 overall if not for a rushing game only putting up 125 yards per game. Rice is the opposite, ranking higher in rushing (37th) than passing (88th). Rice isn’t known for its strong home field advantage, but I think Marshall could slip a bit playing its first game outside of the state of West Virginia. Rice will need to grind out some clock with RBs Charles Ross, who’s coming off his first 100-yard game since 2009, and Turner Peterson, while mixing in some run-options with QB Taylor McHargue. The more we see of the Rice offense, the less we see of Marshall QB Rakeem Cato (1,222 yards, 8 TDs passing) and his dynamic WR duo of Aaron Dobson and Tommy Shuler, who have identical receiving numbers (24-247). If Rice successfully plays keep away, I think the Owls open C-USA play with a win.
Key stat: 0, the number of times Marshall has won in the state of Texas in eight tries, including a loss at Rice in 2008.
The mob says: Marshall by 2.5
So says I: Rice 40, Marshall 37

> SFA (1-2) at Texas State (1-1), 6 p.m. Saturday, no TV
The word “or” isn’t usually a sign of something negative. Unless it applies to quarterbacks, which is the case with Texas State. Shaun Rutherford, the opening-day starter who was electric in Texas State’s upset of Houston, remains listed as the starter, but so does backup Tyler Arndt. Texas State officially has “Shawn Rutherford — or — Tyler Arndt” topping the depth chart for Saturday’s game. Few teams, in my opinion, can get away with this, especially when Rutherford and Arndt have such different strengths. If Arndt is in the game, I think Texas State is advertising it’s going to pass the ball, and I don’t think Texas State has a dominant enough offense to tip off the defense and still make things work. And though you’d think this is the weekend for Texas State to test the dual-QB approach, SFA is no slouch. Texas State only beat the Lumberjacks by nine points last year, and SFA’s defense comes into Saturday giving up just 77 rushing yards per game. Texas State, as long as Rutherford is in the game, will put that SFA average to the test. And that, perhaps, is the reason for the “or” on the depth chart. Perhaps Texas State believes the passing game — and thus Arndt — is what will be the difference on Saturday.
Key stat: 6.03, the average yards gained on first-down rushed by Texas State, nearly 1.5 yards higher than its overall average. The strong showing on first downs is vital in a run-first offense.
The mob says: No line
So says I: Texas State 37, SFA 27

> UTEP (1-2) at Wisconsin (2-1), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Not much has changed defensively in Madison, Wisconsin. Sure, the Badgers have slipped a little, but the reason for an ugly 2-1 start — ugly is defined by a loss at Pac-12 doormat Oregon State and narrow home wins over Northern Iowa and Utah State — has been all on the offensive side. That’s pretty astounding, considering Wisconsin retained one of the four 2011 Heisman finalists, RB Montee Ball. His 2012 campaign might already be over, and not just because Wisconsin probably won’t matter on the Big 10 scene. Ball may be averaging 106.7 yards per game, but he’s doing it with a 3.8 yards/carry clip while scoring just two TDs. This all adds up to a game UTEP has a chance to win, no matter what the guys in Vegas think. UTEP’s defense hasn’t been the problem this year, so the Miners will have a chance to make this a low-scoring game. The offense, on the other hand, finally got clicking last week (albeit against a bad NM State team). Still, QB Nick Lamaison showed he’s a competent player that can make plays when given time. UTEP will need him to make enough plays to keep the offense balanced. He’ll get help from Nathan Jeffery, who is finally healthy after getting dinged up following a huge game (177 yards) against OU in the opener. Jeffery will be the X-factor in this one. If he’s fully recovered from a nagging groin injury, he gives UTEP the kind of player that can break off a few big plays, which I think UTEP will need to get the win.
Key stat: 30, the percentage of time UTEP is converting on third down through three games this season. Only 15 NCAA teams have a worse percentage. UTEP is even worse on fourth down, having converted just once in six tries.
The mob says: Wisconsin by 17
So says I: Wisconsin 24, UTEP 13

 

My confidence level: Low
(as in I’m confident that I’m excited that Notre Dame has “finally found their man”)

> Baylor (2-0) at Louisiana Monroe (1-1), 7 p.m. Friday, ESPN
Here’s the question for Louisiana-Monroe — the early season’s version of Cinderella who’s trying to crash the BCS ball: Would it prefer to play against the tough-defensively/soft-offensively SEC, or the vice versa of the Big 12? That will be answered in primetime Friday night. ULM just barely squeezed out enough points in the season-opening stunner at Arkansas, rallying from a 21-point second-half deficit to force OT, where QB Kolton Browning led ULM to an eventual 34-31 win. Same story last week, but different ending. ULM scored 14 unanswered in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but its field goal was blocked in OT, while Auburn made its attempt to escape with a 31-28 win. Baylor doesn’t have a defense on par with either of those programs, but its offense is light years ahead. Arkansas is rated 88th in the nation in offense; Auburn is 104th. Baylor, despite losing RGIII, is eighth after two games, and averaging nearly eight yards per snap. That’s not a good thing for a ULM defense giving up over 6 yards per play to those suspect SEC offenses. If Arkansas and Auburn could move the ball well against ULM, Baylor shouldn’t have trouble doing the same. So the Bears will just need enough defense — namely by making some big plays, such as the seven turnovers they’ve created in the first two games — to get this win.
Key stat: 9, the number of times Louisiana-Monroe has successfully converted on fourth down in 11 attempts. One of those attempts was a walk-off touchdown run by Browning at Arkansas.
The mob says: Baylor by 7.5
So says I: Baylor 45, Louisiana-Monroe 35

> Troy (1-2) at North Texas (1-2), 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3
The biggest positive coming from the 14-point loss to Kansas State last weekend — other than going toe-to-toe with a top 15 team — was the play of UNT QB Derek Thompson. Just a week after a forgettable outing against Texas Southern (11-24, 145 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT), Thompson was UNT’s top weapon against K State, completing 25 of his 28 attempts for 208 yards, one score and no INTs. Perfect timing for Thompson, who last year shredded Troy’s secondary for 331 yards and two touchdowns. He did that on the road as well, helping UNT get to 4-6 on the season while staving off bowl elimination. This year’s game is just as vital to North Texas’ bowl aspirations, even if it comes a lot earlier in the calendar. Already down a game in the win column, and with three of the next four games on the road — and remembering this is the Sun Belt opener for both teams — UNT really needs this win. The Mean Green did well against Kansas State’s offense, but Troy is a different beast. The Trojans are averaging more than 530 offensive yards per game. And like UNT, Troy is coming off a momentum-building loss, if there is such a thing, after nearly beating Mississippi State last week. Troy lost, 30-24, but out-gained the SEC program by 115 yards. The deciding factors were the turnovers; Troy gave up the ball four times to MSU’s zero. If UNT forces more mistakes from Troy’s potent offense, I see the Mean Green evening their record out at 2-2.
Key stat: 10, the number of times UNT has scored when reaching the red zone 11 times this year, good for a top 25 national ranking. Defensively, UNT ranks 13th in the country, having prevented opponents from scoring three of the eight times the opponent has reached the red zone.
The mob says: Pick
So says I: North Texas 41, Troy 37

All times CST; all rankings from the Associated Press Top 25; all lines taken from yahoo.com.

 


Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com