Greg Tepper's Blog
NCAA Preview
Posted by Jake Shaw on 2 November 2012

Jake Shaw previews the NCAA action across Texas this weekend.

 By Jake Shaw

For the first time since 2008, Texas and Texas Tech meet on a weekend where both programs are ranked. And we all remember what happened in that 2008 thriller, perhaps an omen of another outstanding game to come this weekend in Lubbock.

But that's just one of the 10 games on the schedule for Texas FBS programs, and I give each game equal treatment. As always, I order the following previews based on the amount of confidence I have in my predictions of the final outcome.


My confidence level: Very high
(as in I'm confident that eventually the
Aggies and Longhorns will get back together)

> No. 23 Texas (6-2/3-2 in Big 12) at No. 18 Texas Tech (6-2/3-2), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN2
The outcome of last year's game -- a 52-20 thumping that gave Texas its eighth win in the last nine meetings with Texas Tech -- made it seem like the programs were headed in opposite directions. Sure enough, Texas went on to a nine-win season, while the Red Raiders missed a bowl game for the first time in a long time. How things have changed. Texas had to scrape together a last-second win at Kansas last week to reach bowl eligibility. Texas Tech may have lost in the Sunflower State last weekend as well, but make no mistake, these teams are headed in different directions once again. Texas's defense looks lost. The offense does too, lately, not including the two Case McCoy-led touchdown drives that rescued the Longhorns in Lawrence. David Ash, benched in that Kansas game, is back as the starter, and he and the running game will have a far harder time against a Tech defense that has proven to be legitimately good. The Tech defense wasn't to blame for the loss to Kansas State -- it held tight for a while until the offense just kept putting it in a hole. That won't happen this week. Expect QB Seth Doege to return to form against a Texas defense that has been torched by the better Big 12 offenses. And with the Texas Tech defense having the upper hand against UT, Tech will get a rare win in this series.
Key stat: 439, the yards gained on the ground by Texas in last year's 52-20 rout of Texas Tech. That's just one less yard than the combined number of rushing yards Texas Tech has given up in its past four games (89 to OU; 168 to West Virginia; 71 to TCU; 111 to Kansas State).
The mob says: Texas Tech by 8
So says I: Texas Tech 40, Texas 30

> Kansas (1-7/0-5 in Big 12) at Baylor (3-4/0-4), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSN
The season is on the brink for the Bears. Though it will take three losses to officially eliminate Baylor from bowl eligibility, a loss on Saturday would make the 2012 season all but over. If Baylor can't beat Kansas at home, what are the chances it beats Oklahoma State and Kansas State at home? Oklahoma on the road? Texas Tech in Dallas? Infinitely smaller, which makes this game against Kansas so crucial. Had the Jayhawks not come within 12 seconds of beating Texas, I'd pick Baylor in a landslide. But Kansas, despite its one win, is improving. Kansas is giving up about 100 fewer yards defensively compared to last season. New coach Charlie Weis was supposed to be an offensive whiz, but among the NFL traits he brought to Kansas is physical play. Kansas reportedly practices in full pads -- complete with hitting -- on days after games. But while the defense has made strides, the offense is still lagging behind. Even while rushing for 273 yards against Texas last weekend, Kansas still only gained 273 yards. The Jayhawks haven't topped 400 yards but once all year. And while they might do it against Baylor's porous defense Saturday, they won't do it enough to hang around with Baylor QB Nick Florence and company.
Key stat: 15.7, the difference in yards gained and given up by Baylor per game. While the offense puts up 569.4 yards per game, the third-highest total in the nation, the defense gives up an FBS-worst 553.7 yards per game.
The mob says: Baylor by 18
So says I: Baylor 49, Kansas 35

> Texas State (3-4/1-1 in WAC) at Utah State (7-2/3-0), 2 p.m. Saturday, No local TV (KMYU in Utah)
When reviewing film of Utah State, I can guarantee one game stood out most to Texas State head coach Dennis Franchione. Utah State has an excellent defense, ranking in the Top 10 nationally in total defense, but what it did to San Jose State in mid-October was something else. San Jose State rushed it 41 times agains the Aggies. San Jose State gained four yards on those carries. An average of 0.1 yards per carry. Sure, Utah State allowed over 400 passing yards that game, but that's not good enough news for Texas State, which has rushed it 43 more times than it has passed it this year. Bobcat QB Shaun Rutherford is capable of doing it through the air, but in the event that's all Utah State will allow, I don't think he has it in him to carry Texas State's offense all on his own, not against this caliber of defense. Unless Texas State can become the first team to have a big rushing day against Utah State, this game won't be that close.
Key stat: 4.38, the yards Utah State's defense allows per play, the eighth-best number in the country.
The mob says: Utah State by 26.5
So says I: Utah State 37, Texas State 10

> UTSA (5-3/1-2 in WAC) at No. 25 Louisiana Tech (7-1/2-0), 3 p.m. Saturday,
This three-week stretch against the strength of the WAC -- a four-week run when you include Rice before that -- has tested the resolve not only of UTSA, but its fan base. UTSA has lost the past three games to Rice, San Jose State and Utah State by an average of about 4 TDs per game, and Vegas is predicting something even worse this weekend. It's times like these the bigger picture must get more attention than the here and now. It's no fun losing and losing badly -- especially after the 5-0 start fooled some into thinking UTSA was accelerating faster than normal -- but building an FBS program from scratch takes time. There are a lot of bumps along the way to establishing a program, and this weekend will be a big one. Louisiana Tech doesn't play much defense -- so the Roadrunners could have success there -- but the way La Tech plays on offense, it doesn't need much defense. The Bulldogs are second in the nation in total offense. Even in their only loss of the season, to Texas A&M, they chalked up 622 yards. They put up 839 against Idaho. La Tech had an off week last Saturday, only beating New Mexico State 28-14 on the road, yet La Tech still rang up 530 yards. The good news for UTSA? Next week's opponent is McNeese State.
Key stat: 48.81, the third-down conversion percentage by UTSA's opponents, a figure ranked 113th in the country.
The mob says: Louisiana Tech by 32
So says I: Louisiana Tech 59, UTSA 20

> UTEP (2-7/1-4 in CUSA), bye
Out of the bowl picture, it's time the Miners look to the future, and not just who's the head coach. With pride about the only thing to play for, the Miners should try to determine which younger roster players will most factor into the next 2-3 years. Start with the quarterback position, where senior Nick Lamaison is on his way out, and backup Carson Meger hasn't done enough to make UTEP comfortable naming him the starter. That should mean much more time for redshirt freshman Blaire Sullivan, who in his most extensive time of the season passed for 105 yards and led four touchdown drives last weekend after Houston had built a 45-7 lead. Other positions should be re-evaluated as well, but UTEP has the chance to groom its potential quarterback of the future in three straight games after this week off.
Key stat: 54.1, UTEP's completion percentage in the passing game, ranking UTEP 109th in the country.


My confidence level: Medium
(as in I'm confident the latest Alabama/LSU showdown, unlike the previous two matchups,
will be must-see TV on Saturday night)

> TCU (5-3/2-3 in Big 12) at No. 21 West Virginia (5-2/2-2), 2 p.m. Saturday, FOX
It could be argued that no two Big 12 teams have more to prove than TCU and West Virginia. For starters, both came into the conference with legitimate hope of winning a league title. Two-thirds of the way through the season, both have two losses and have slim hopes of staying in the race. One of these teams will get the third loss and essentially lose any chance of playing for the conference hardware. TCU's losses are far more explicable. Attrition has ravaged the roster, forcing the Frogs to employ numerous freshmen, both in backup and starting roles. Some have produced, namely DE Devonte Fields. Others -- like QB Trevone Boykin, who's likely to start despite a late injury in the loss to OSU last week -- have been hit and miss. West Virginia, meanwhile, was a national darling before back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. Neither game was competitive. The bad omen for WVU is that TCU has a defense on par with those two teams that walloped the Mountaineers. But counteracting that is 1) A bye week that will let WVU work through its offensive issues; 2) Getting TCU at home, as the Frog defense gives up 85 more yards per game, while the offense produces 111 fewer yards than compared to home; and 3) Getting a TCU team that appears to be wearing down because of the numerous hits to the lineup. If TCU were at full strength, I'd go with the Frogs. But they're on a slide right now, and even as bad as WVU's defense is, I think the offense recovers enough to get the win.
Key stat: 36 and 124, the respective national ranks of West Virginia's rush defense and pass defense. The Mountaineers are very solid against the running game but struggle to stop any passing attack.
The mob says: West Virginia by 6.5
So says I: West Virginia 34, TCU 27

> Rice (3-6/1-4 in CUSA) at Tulane (2-6/2-2), 2:30 p.m. Saturday, No TV
Don't laugh, but Tulane enters this game on a relative hot streak. After starting the season with a five-game losing streak -- running its streak of defeats to 15 straight -- Tulane has now won two of its past three games. The one loss was a four-point decision on the road against UTEP. By Tulane's recent standards, the Green Wave is (metaphorically) on fire. Credit quarterback Ryan Griffin for the sudden change in fortune. He started the first two games of the year, threw for a combined 314 yards, then missed the next three with a shoulder injury. He has returned with a vengeance, passing for 302, 363 and 466 yards in the past three games, respectively. The latest total came in a 55-45 win over UAB that earned Griffin CUSA's offensive player of the week. The passing game will be the Rice defense's focal point, especially since Tulane has rushed for 343 yards. On the season. In 194 carries. Tulane can't run it at all, and the Green Wave also can't stop it, giving up at least 200 yards in all but two games. Even in those two games, Tulane's opponents rushed for at least 151. And that's why my gut says go with Rice. The Owls love to run it, and run it well they do. Keeping up that trend, Rice will run the ball to play both offense and defense (keeping Tulane off the field), but this one won't be settled until late.
Key stat: 127, the difference in number of runs and passes called by the Rice offense. The Owls have a whopping 411 rush attempts this season compared to only 284 throws. Rice's 411 rushing attempts are the eighth-most in the country and 71 more than the closest Texas program (North Texas, 340).
The mob says: Rice by 4.5
So says I: Rice 37, Tulane 33

> Arkansas State (5-3/3-1 in Sun Belt) at North Texas (3-5/2-2), 4 p.m. Saturday, No TV
Overlooking the games at Oregon and Nebraska -- two games that most low-major conference teams would've lost by significant margins, as Arkansas State did -- the game that stands out most is ASU's home loss to Western Kentucky. At least it should from North Texas's perspective. It was in that game a team comparable to UNT beat ASU by establishing and maintaining the running game for 60 minutes. Western Kentucky rushed it 41 times for 243 times, averaging 5.93 yards per carry. That's a higher per-run average than what both Oregon (5.21) and Nebraska (5.88) averaged against ASU. Thus, it's pretty simple. UNT needs huge games from RBs Antoinne Jimmerson (92-487, 5 TDs) and Brandin Byrd (142-585, 2 TDs), and maybe a little help from Jeremy Brown (51-250, 2 TDs) as well. That would take some pressure off QB Derek Thompson, who does need it relieved after his season-high 3 INTS last weekend were the biggest factors in the loss at Middle Tennessee State. The Mean Green can afford just one more loss if it wants a shot at the postseason, and with its final two games coming on the road against teams with a combined 12-5 record, this game Saturday is truly a must-win contest. It will all come down to how successful UNT can perform on the ground.
Key stat: 117, the difference in average rushing yards per game by UNT at home compared to the road. UNT has averaged 260 rushing yards per game in Denton compared to 143/game on the road.
The mob says: Arkansas State by 4.5
So says I: Arkansas State 30, UNT 24


My confidence level: Low
(as in I'm confident the head coach of this team is not a total low-life)

> No. 15 Texas A&M (6-2/3-2 in SEC) at No. 16 Mississippi State (7-1/3-1), 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN
My confidence is low with this pick because my prediction is probably outlandish. The Aggies win this one, and they win it big. Mississippi State may be the biggest paper tigers in college football (IMO -- in my opinion). Three of Mississippi State's games have been blowouts -- the season-opening win over an FCS club and the past two weeks, a win over MTSU and a huge loss to Alabama. In between has been a pretty easy schedule full of games that MSU only won by about 13 points per game. It's been a slate of games that would've resulted in a lot of teams going 7-0 before that Bama game. This week's strength of schedule rankings don't show the whole truth. While Mississippi State's schedule is ranked the 26th hardest in the country, before playing Alabama, it was rated 75th. Texas A&M, meanwhile, had the ninth-toughest schedule of any team. Then came Auburn, and the only negative for Texas A&M from that lopsided win was the drop in SOS ranking. Playing Auburn dropped A&M from No. 9 to No. 22 in the rankings. What it all means -- MSU has only been slightly better than its schedule of lesser opponents, while Texas A&M has been convincingly beating a much tougher schedule (aside, of course, from tight losses to the two elite teams on its schedule). Texas A&M could make a bundle of mistakes this weekend, which is what it will take for its offense to be ineffective. But with the rhythm it's in, I don't see that playing out.
Key stat: 12.5, the difference between the programs' average scoring per game. The Aggies score 45.5 points per game compared to MSU's 33.0.
The mob says: Texas A&M by 7
So says I: Texas A&M 37, Mississippi State 20

> Houston (4-4/3-1 in CUSA) at East Carolina (5-4/4-1), 11 a.m. Saturday, FSN
A good way to break down a team is to check out how it plays in wins compared to losses. The best way to do that might be checking out the net yardage differences in those games, i.e. the change in yards gained and given up. Let's start with East Carolina. The Pirates average 412.4 yards per game offensively in wins and give up 345.4 in such games. But in losses, ECU's offensive yards drop to 334.0/game, while the defense allows 494.3/game. Add those up, and there's a change of 229.3 yards per game in ECU's wins compared to its losses. That essentially means when the Pirates win, they're playing really well. When they lose, they're awful. It might not matter who they play, they're going to lose when they're that bad. Houston's net difference, by the way, is just over 115. That shows that Houston is a far steadier team -- even though the Coogs have four losses, they pretty much are what they are. When UH loses, as its fan base has learned, is when it can't hang onto the ball. Otherwise, the offense and defense pretty much play the same each week. I'm making the call that Houston doesn't get careless this weekend and plays to its strengths. While I'm not sure which ECU team shows up, I think Houston at the top of its game is the better team anyway.
Key stat: 4-0, Houston's record when running back Charles Sims rushed for at least 100 yards. UH is 0-4 when he doesn't. East Carolina gives up 166.33 rushing yards per game.
The mob says: Houston by 3.5
So says I: Houston 40, ECU 33

> SMU (4-4/3-1 in CUSA) at Central Florida (6-2/4-0), 6 p.m. Saturday, CBSSN
Last week's 54-17 win at Marshall clinched what nobody saw coming: A bowl trip for UCF. It's not that the Golden Knights were supposed to be bad. It's that they've been bad, at least by the NCAA's ruling. The taskmaster of college football slapped a bowl ban on UCF before the season, but since the program's appeal won't be heard until after the season, UCF is once again eligible for this postseason. And it's playing like it wants to make it worthwhile. The win over Marshall was UCF's first game since finding out it can make a bowl, and it was easily the best performance of the year. UCF racked up 568 yards offensively, a season high by 114 yards, and averaged 9.16 yards per play. Defensively, UCF held Marshall to 364 yards, 127 fewer than Marshall's previous season low. In fact, Marshall had gained more than 500 yards in six of eight games this year. SMU is playing its best ball of the year. The defense is forcing turnovers and the offense isn't giving it away as much as it had been. But I just don't think SMU's best matches up with UCF's best, especially on the road.
Key stat: -3, UCF's turnover margin against Marshall last week, which didn't prevent the Golden Knights from winning in a blowout. UCF had been +6 on the season before that game.
The mob says: Central Florida by 12
So says I: UCF 34, SMU 20


All times CST; all rankings from the Current BCS standings; all betting lines taken from</

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