January 10, 2012

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Bowl Final

With its win Monday night, Alabama moved back into the top spot in the MRI to be this season's champion.

It is a far cry from last season when the Auburn Tigers couldn't even crack the top five despite being undefeated and the poll champions.

The win also made Alabama one of the top 10 teams of the last nine years as rated by the MRI. With so much talent returning, there is a good chance that the next version of the Tide could equal or better the 2011 edition.

Alabama was far from the best team of the last nine years. That still belongs to the Vince Young-era Texas Longhorns.

But this version of the Tide showed that a punishing defense can overcome almost anything. Alabama ended first in the country in defense, allowing just 183 yards per game. They didn't necessarily force a lot of turnovers (just 20 all season), but they also didn't give the ball away.

Then again, if the other team can't move the ball, there is no need to take it away. It will be coming back via the punt quite often.

More important for Alabama was that the team was all-around solid. On offense, the Tide rolled up the No. 16 rushing offense. They had a passing game that kept the defense honest.

And they played a schedule ranked No. 37 in the country by the MRI. Since many in the mainstream media claim that LSU had that much tougher a road, here is your comparison.

LSU was only at No. 23 in the country according to the MRI. Not quite the discrepancy one would expect given the complaints about Alabama. (Oklahoma State took home the tough road title, made even tougher by playing after its women's basketball coaching staff was killed in a plane crash. State rival Oklahoma was No. 2.)

As if there was a question, the best league in the country was again the SEC. The conference went 6-3 in bowl games (with one of the losses coming against the league). Not a bad showing. On average, the league was 2 MRI points better than the next challenger, the Big XII.

And for what it's worth, the MRI finished in the top 10 percent of "America" finishing in the 90th percentile in the ESPN College Bowl Mania. Just goes to show that the computer continues to be smarter than most college football fans. So be careful what you criticize.

Check out all the final rankings in the bowl final football MRI for 2011-12.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Bowl Final"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:45 PM

December 5, 2011

Stop crying over Kansas State, the non-snubbed

More than a decade into the BCS era and I am still amazed at the outrage over who is selected to play in the BCS bowls outside of the Championship Game.

There is a lot of money on the line for sure, but the fact remains that the other bowls are most often a side show to the big one. Unless there is a year without a clear No. 1, the other games don't matter, no matter what bowl supporters will tell you.

Fans get to watch their team one more time (and for some teams -- Illinois, UCLA, Purdue -- this isn't a good thing), and that is it.

So when Kansas State was left out of a BCS bowl, and instead is shipped to the Cotton Bowl, it didn't really bother me.

After all, the Wildcats were 36th in the MRI.

Yes, No. 36. That is out of even "on the bubble" range.

The outrage began on Saturday night when there were rumors that Virginia Tech might sneak over Kansas State. It continued through Sunday night and the official announcement.

People on Twitter were considering how much they would need to drink in order to make sense of this travesty.

Sorry, I don't see the problem.

The MRI might be in the minority... or singularity here, but Virginia Tech was much higher in the rankings than Kansas state.

Whereas most of the computers had the Wildcats within the top five, the MRI was not so nice. The MRI did agree with the other buckets of bytes on the ranking of Virginia Tech.

So why was Kansas State so far off?

First let's remember, the MRI utilizes a weighted margin of victory in the rankings. It is an important distinction, and one that makes the BCS computers "inaccurate" in a way.

And second, the MRI is the only computer that actually incorporates the performance on the field. Another way to put it is that the MRI looks at the building blocks of the end results: how well an offense did, how well a defense did, how much a team dominated.

In a sense, the MRI incorporates the "eye test" without needing to see anything because all of the inputs into a win are part of the formula.

And in the eye test, Kansas State loses, big time.

Based on the MRI strength of schedule, the two teams are about even. That may seem hard to believe given the difference between the ACC and Big 12 this season.

But lost in all the upper level strength of the Big 12 was that Kansas State also played Eastern Kentucky and Kent State, along with Miami. They also got the fun games against Kansas, troublemaker Iowa State and a fading Texas A&M.

Virginia Tech's similar weakness was against Appalachian State, East Carolina and Marshall. And then Boston College, Duke and Miami.

The one big difference might be that Virginia Tech got to play against Arkansas State, a team that ended up No. 22 in the MRI. The Hokies were one of the two teams that beat the Red Wolves this year (along with Illinois).

Nothing here separates the teams clearly. Nothing hears warrants the "Don't ever schedule anyone" cries that come from the doubters. Nothing here is enough to say that Virginia Tech did anything different than Kansas State did, because the Wildcats... they didn't exactly schedule LSU, did they?

Next, go back to the margin of victory.

Kansas State won two games by more than a touchdown: Kent State and Kansas. That includes just a three-point win by the Wildcats over Eastern Kentucky. The best win by the Wildcats was a 1-point victory over a No. 15 Baylor, followed by a 4-point win over No. 23 Texas.

Virginia Tech had seven games that they won by more than a touchdown. The best win was an 11-point win over a No. 21 Georgia Tech, followed by its 26-7 beating of Arkansas State (that is still not ranked, although probably deserves to be and will show that in the bowl game against Northern Illinois. Yes, they are good).

If you go further down the list of "inputs" into the MRI, Virginia Tech wins out.

Passing offense: Kansas State, 109th; Virginia Tech, 66th
Rushing offense: Kansas State, 29th; Virginia Tech, 31st
Defense: Kansas State, 74th; Virginia Tech, 13th
Turnover differential: Kansas State +13; Virginia Tech, +6

The numbers aren't totally in favor of the Hokies, but Virginia Tech win the head-to-head battles by a wide margin.

And if you consider how teams that have a high number of close victories and a turnover differential clearly in their favor are more likely to regress the next season, Kansas State almost lucked into this season.

The MRI isn't the end all of computer rankings. It isn't the absolute arbiter of what is correct in college football.

But Virginia Tech outperformed the Wildcats this season. That and they bring a lot of fans to bowl games.

The Sugar Bowl will not be disappointed in their selection, even if Kansas State fans are.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:22 PM

December 4, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 12

I understand the money grab that is the conference championship game.

But I often wonder if conferences are better off not having them.

The Big Ten expanded so they could hold one. The first one was fantastic, especially with Gus Johnson on the call. The Big XII is no longer big enough to have one. The conference might be better off for it.

Here is the thing that bothers me. You can have a team like Houston, who had a great season and probably deserved a huge reward for that season.

It all came undone on Saturday morning. Houston likely won't get a BCS bid now. They won't even go to the best Conference USA bowl game.

The Cougars season is torpedoed because of the championship game.

Talk to Virginia Tech about how they feel. They also missed out, and probably won't get a BCS invite thanks to their loss to Clemson. They had to face the one team that solved the Hokie puzzle this season again. They lost again.

In fact, the ACC Championship game is probably the biggest destroyer of dreams out there. Perhaps it is because the team that usually dominates in the ACC isn't actually as dominant as they seem, but it does feel like there are more upsets in that one game than in any other.

The best SEC team usually wins. The best Big XII team used to win. But not so much in the ACC, and definitely not usually in games like the MAC title game, or the CUSA event.

But enough with that. There are no tears being shed over Houston's loss. It just saves the whiners who would say that the Cougars never got their chance.

As far as this computer is concerned, the two best teams are LSU and Alabama in that order. It took an extra game for LSU to prove it, but they finally got over the hump into first place.

Oklahoma State did everything it could to crash the SEC party at the top of the rankings, but it ended up five points short.

That the difference is less than nine points is important. It means that Alabama and Oklahoma State are essentially even. The real difference in a game between the two would be whomever had home-field advantage.

Even on a neutral field, the Tide would have just a small percentage edge over the Cowboys.

Gundy's gunners tried. They just missed doing enough.

Here is the almost regular season final MRI (save the Army-Navy game). Enjoy the bowl selection show, if you can keep from being too disappointed in the rematch.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 12"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:34 AM

November 27, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 11

Oh Akron. All season long the folks at Hustle Belt (including me) have been laughing at how bad you are.

The school found a way to make things worse. It fired coach Rob Ianello on the way to his mother's funeral.

Insult to injury.

Well, add another insult to the list. Akron could end as the worst team ever in the MRI. That is the worst team of the last nine years.

And Akron won a game. It could have been worse if the Zips had managed to screw up the game against VMI.

The team ended 118th in scoring offense, 116th in scoring defense, 105th in passing yards and 103rd in rushing.

The only worse quartet might be Nickelback.

A lot will depend on how the Zips opponents do for the remainder of the season.

Let's say Ohio loses in the MAC title game. That sends Akron even further south.

But then it becomes a question of how Ohio State, Temple, Cincinnati, Western Michigan and Ohio will do in their bowl games. It is going to take a lot of wins by those teams to pull Akron up past the futility shown by North Texas in 2008.

Things at the top are a little more jumbled. Alabama still leads, but Houston has pulled ahead of LSU. Oklahoma, which still has another game (as do the Cougars and Tigers) could also move up into that top duo. The Cougars and LSU even have a shot at taking the top spot away from the Tide, at least until the bowl games begin.

Every other team is essentially out of the running for the MRI championship. Despite Wisconsin's big gain this week, getting another 20 points in two games will be a difficult feat, especially when whomever is No. 1 will be playing at least one more game.

The same logic applies to Stanford, who will not be in the PAC-12 title game, or Boise State which has no title game.

The complaints will come, especially if Houston takes the title. People will say they don't deserve it because they don't play anyone (although they will get a test in a BCS game now).

But that shouldn't take away from what they would have accomplished, being one of the possibly only two teams to win every game this season.

Outside of Oklahoma, which may have played the strongest slate of any of the contenders, no one has exactly scheduled 12 tough games. LSU might win the "ranked team" battle, but games against Northwestern State and Western Kentucky drop the overall profile.

Alabama soured its own achievements with games against Kent State (allowable some years, but not this one), Georgia Southern and North Texas.

Here is a thought for you. Houston at the end of the year will have a win over UCLA (which may win the PAC-12 thanks to USC's "troubles"), and strong teams in Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.

That is a pretty good showing for the Cougars. Not as impressive as Oklahoma or Alabama or LSU. But still a pretty good year.

A BCS win wouldn't be a bad addition.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 11"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:00 PM

November 23, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 10

All the upsets have people talking.

But all they complain and complain about are the lack of playoffs.

Well, maybe we should look at how this computer sees the world first.

The facts here say that you can lose a game and still be considered the best. Now, you shouldn't go losing to a really bad team, say an FCS team. But you can lose. Heck, you can lose twice and still be considered a good team.

Texas has made an art of that. Four times, and still a top 25 squad (although not for long now that they can't move the ball).

Here is something else to keep in mind if you are a top team: playing an FCS opponent makes you look cheap. Alabama won handily against theirs and yet it cost them much of the lead in the MRI that it had built.

Lots of teams have done their bit to "help" out the FCS teams. But all it has done is water down what those teams have accomplished over the course of the season.

There is a reason why the SEC is no longer the top conference in this computer. Almost half the league took a big hit in its ranking by playing a team outside of the FBS.

That doesn't make the league better; that doesn't make the sport better. All it makes is a lot of money for the school off the backs of its fans, who have to -- for the most part -- watch blowouts.

Play a real team, and get some real respect for it.

But aside from that, here is what we are left with this season: Alabama, LSU, Houston, Oklahoma.

Those are the teams that have "separated" themselves from the rest of the FBS. Even with two losses from Oklahoma; even with a less than stellar schedule from Houston.

Look at those four and tell me why one of them doesn't belong.

You could harp on Houston, but the Cougars can't control their league. They can only control their performance, which has been record setting.

You could say Oklahoma lost twice, but that is why it is last among those contenders. It has proven that it can beat almost anyone else in the country.

And you can say you don't want a rematch. Oh well. Sometimes, those are the breaks. Would anyone really be complaining about a rematch if the two teams weren't in the same conference? I doubt it. Because it would have been almost 3 months since we saw the game.

And it can be even better the second time.

I do have one last gripe before unleashing the rankings. A lot of people are down on the BCS because it may give us that rematch of Alabama and LSU. Or Alabama might sneak in the back door without playing for the SEC title and play another contender out there, like a Stanford in the Championship.

The complaint this time around is that a team that doesn't win its conference shouldn't be playing for the National Championship.

OK, fine, but then if there is a playoff, you can't make the playoff without winning your conference. Does that seem like the playoff you want?

Oh, is that a no? You want there to be more than one team from a conference in the playoff picture?

I am sorry. That isn't what I just heard from you. You said you didn't want a team that didn't win its conference to play for the National Championship, something that might happen if a non-conference winner was allowed into the playoffs as an at-large team.

It is hard to understand why this is such a big deal to have a non-conference champion win the National Title in football, but in basketball it is OK. Conferences aren't the tidy little packages they used to be any longer.

Teams in the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC don't play every other team in the conference. You can't even say that the winner of the Championship games in those conferences is really the best team from that conference. Upsets happen. We like upsets. That is partially why you want a playoff. That is partially why everyone loves college football.

So disregarding a team because they didn't win their conference, even if they might have been the second best team in that conference and just not in the correct geographical, or metaphorical alignment to play for the conference title is silly.

Alabama is good. Alabama is damn good. Who else has stopped LSU like they did this season? They just didn't come out on top because the kicking game let them down.

You want to look me in the eye and tell me that they aren't among the top teams in the country and maybe still the best team out there, even with a loss?

Fine, but you would be wrong.

At least, that is what my computer thinks.

Check out all the rankings in Week 10 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 10"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:00 PM

November 16, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 9

The rankings love teams. The rankings hate teams.

The truth is that the rankings don't actually care.

The rankings care about the results on the field, and by results, we mean everything that goes into the win, or loss, including yardage and turnovers.

You don't get to squeak by in the MRI and think it is OK (unlike in some of the other computer rankings).

You have to lay it out there on the field each week.

And so that is why Alabama returns to the top this week. They have an offense. They have a defense (tops in the country). They just have a silly loss because they can't kick field goals.

Then again, they haven't needed to kick field goals very often.

Behind them is Oklahoma, who also lost. Oklahoma has maybe the toughest game remaining, against Oklahoma State. One of the SEC West teams will need to face Georgia in the championship, but right now, the Bedlam game could decide who goes home with the top spot in the MRI.

Then again, Alabama will do itself no favors this week. Playing Georgia Southern will destroy its strength of schedule, and likely push Oklahoma to the top of the chart anyway (assuming the Sooners can get past Baylor, which isn't a given).

To answer a few quick questions for the week:

  • Notre Dame is now 22.
  • Arkansas State is an FBS team. They play in the Sun Belt. They are 8-2 and lost to Illinois and Virginia Tech (no slouches). Despite that, they have the No. 23 scoring defense in the country. If they win Saturday, they essentially clinch a spot in the New Orleans Bowl.
  • No, I can't explain Texas. They are only going to get worse too, as they have a ton of injuries. But yes, somehow, they are still ranked.
  • Yes, Wisconsin is still the best team in the Big Ten, even if they won't get a chance to play in the championship game for the Non-Paterno Trophy. Two flukes at the end of games don't change that. Losing again might.

One final thought. The Big East was considering a plan to combine with the Mountain West and Conference USA to form a super playoff for the BCS spot that belongs to the conference now.

If you look at the rankings, five teams from the other conferences in that consortium would have a better claim to the BCS spot than the highest ranked Big East team, West Virginia.

And that doesn't count the MAC and Sun Belt teams ahead of the Mountaineers.

Time to blow up the Big East, and take away any claim it had to football superiority. It already lost its shred of respectability on the field.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 9"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:22 PM

November 15, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 8

Only one note on the rankings this week.

I do all of these rankings by hand, and I have a lot of other things that I contribute to, including the job that pays me all the money that I earn (MRISports is not the money maker you would expect).

One of the aspects of the rankings that used to be a big part of my original newsletter was the "Teams people might care about".

Well, sorry, but you will have to hope your team does well enough to crack the Top 25 from now on. That section takes longer than assembling the top 25 each week, and the time is frankly not there any longer.

Plus I am not even sure some of the people who originally read that section for their team even read this anymore.

So from now on, we will list the top 25 with the related stats, and the teams dropped. We will also list the next 10 teams in the rankings in order, with no stats.

At least then you will know if your team is getting close.

Sorry if this offends anyone, but given that a lot of sites have gone pay in the last few years, and I have resisted, although added more ads, I think it is a fair trade-off.

Enjoy all the rankings in Week 8 of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 8"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:26 PM

November 1, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 7

Way to go Oklahoma.

You had to go and destroy the hopes and dreams of all the players on Kansas State.

You had to beat up on the shakiest undefeated team and in the process, move back into No. 2 in the MRI.

And in the process, screw up the showdown between LSU and Alabama which seemed to be for all the marbles in the computer rankings. Now it seems that Saturday's game will only squeeze Oklahoma between the two powers in the SEC West.

It is almost impossible to determine what the results of a single game will do to a team's standing in the MRI. A team's first loss can send them spiraling down, or it could barely affect them.

Chances are that if the game is close the latter will be the truth and the losers will barely move in the rankings. But if the unthinkable blowout happens -- as in the Oklahoma-Kansas State game -- well, say so long to a top ranking.

There is always a chance to rebuild, as we have seen with Michigan, South Carolina, or Oklahoma. But it is pretty late in the season to start catching up again.

It isn't too late to see how all the other teams in the FBS are faring though. Some of them still have opportunities to make noise, as Ohio State did this weekend.

Check out all the rankings in Week 7 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 7"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:37 PM

October 26, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 6

As predicted, an Oklahoma loss would knock back the Sooners, but wouldn't take them out of the running for the MRI title.

The rest of the season had been too good up until the point that they lost.

Ahead of them now are Alabama and LSU, both of which have a week off before meeting in a game that should decide who goes to the SEC Championship game, and potentially the National Championship.

That leaves the rankings open to having a big Sooner win over Kansas State -- now ranked No. 23, although the lowest ranked undefeated team -- vault Oklahoma back into one of the top two spots.

The interesting thing about the loss was it was the type of game that Bob Stoops has become known for losing. It was the type of game we predicted at the beginning of the season would happen to the Sooners and keep them from playing for the National Title.

It was why the MRI didn't think that Oklahoma was going to be able to win it all this season.

After all, Texas Tech was no longer hanging around the bottom rungs of the MRI Top 25. It had already faded.

But as with the 2003 team, this Oklahoma squad is good enough to give itself a huge boost and potentially earn its spot back. It will just take a winning a few big games, and proving it is better than an undefeated Stanford (tough call, but Pac-12 down) or Boise State (easier argument).

Either way, the final six weeks of the season should be very interesting as the teams jockey for position and poll votes.

Check out what this computer has to say in Week 6 of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 6"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:39 AM

October 13, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 4

If you win 55-17 you had a good week. When you win 55-17 against the No. 3 team in the MRI, you had a great week.

That is why Oklahoma was the biggest gainer for the second week in the row. That is an impressive feat in itself.

But thanks to those two weeks, Oklahoma has taken over the No. 1 spot in the rankings, jumping Alabama on a week when the Tide took out Vanderbilt 34-0.

The two teams have begun to separate themselves from the pack, and that includes LSU, which is firmly in at No. 3.

Before the season began, we posited that the Sooners could potentially make a run at the all-time MRI mark, a record held by the 2005-6 Texas Longhorns.

Only fitting that Oklahoma would crush their rivals on the way to that title.

Even if they don't set the mark, the way they are playing, it is possible that Oklahoma could perform the feat of a previous Oklahoma team, that being the one back in 2003. The Sooners that year took such a big lead on the rest of the country, they were able to lose the final two games of the year and still lead the MRI.

With the lead that Oklahoma and Alabama have on the rest of the field, it is entirely possible that it could happen again for one of the two contenders.

On the other side of the coin, the MAC had a dreadful week.

The conference was No. 9 going into the week, but a number of games served to drop the league into last place this week. Buffalo took out Ohio, who had been headlining the conference (including grabbing them a spot in the top 25). Bowling Green took a hard loss to Western Michigan, dropping one of the conference's best team in the MRI far down. The same happened to Ball State in a 42-0 loss to Temple.

And Eastern Michigan was sent spiraling down by another loss, this time to Toledo by 38 points.

That placed the MAC below the Sun Belt in the conference standings.

Things have gone badly for the MAC before in the MRI. They have never been near the top of the conference rankings. But they usually aren't last either, a spot reserved for the Sun Belt. Except in 2009, when the Directional Michigans and Ohio State tackling dummies combined for the worst conference mark.

Check out where the MAC teams lie, and how far back the country is from Oklahoma and Alabama with all the rankings in Week 4 of the MRI.


Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:30 PM

October 3, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 3

And just like that, Saturday provided the MRI with a new leader and a new No. 2.

Alabama's virtual destruction of Florida cemented them as one of the favorites for not only the SEC crown, but the National Title. The only team that looks like it can stop the Crimson Tide from drowning the world of college football is LSU.

The Tiger defense is good enough to slow down Alabama, but the question will be if LSU is good enough to score against the No. 1 scoring defense in the country (8.4 ppg). Given the year so far, it is tough to imagine more than a 10-point performance out of the Tigers come November 5.

Moving into second place is Oklahoma who took out Ball State. Sure Ball State is usually at the bottom of the MRI rankings (except for that one glorious season back in 2008), but entering the weekend, the Cardinals had the best record in the state of Indiana.

But this is Oklahoma, not Indiana or Buffalo. And the Cardinals did what the Cardinals do. They gave up 60 points and went tumbling in the computer rankings.

The big win moved Oklahoma ahead of Texas, a team that is lucky to still be No. 3 as Stanford put the heat on with its late night win over UCLA.

That means this weekend's Red River Shootout/Rivalry/Pac-16 battle will establish one of these two teams as the real challenger for the National Title. Given the results so far, this looks like a no-brainer. But the computer would say otherwise, based on Texas' top 15 defensive performance against the second-ranked strength of schedule so far.

It is only because Texas was so bad last season (and its continuing quarterback confusion) that the Longhorns are being seriously considered a contender.

So when they challenge -- or beat -- Oklahoma next week, it will be this major upset in the eyes of the national media.

All while the computer was saying that the Longhorns were a good team all along.

The other thing happening in the rankings this week was tumbling. Teams like the formerly No. 22 Temple Owls fell after big defeats at the hands of some teams that were not highly regarded in the rankings.

Temple fell all the way to No. 64 after a 20-plus point defeat by Toledo. The Rockets might be better than their record suggested, but Temple had also just defeated Maryland by 31 points. That made this one a shocker to say the least.

The same was true for South Florida which came into the week at No. 3. A 27-point loss on Thursday night to Pittsburgh pushed the Bulls down into the bottom of the Top 25.

The result of that prime time game should have people questioning the just how lucky South Florida was to defeat Notre Dame. After all, the Irish self-destructed multiple times in the game, and it wasn't until later in the contest that Brian Kelly realized Tommy Rees was the better quarterback.

This season looks a whole lot different if just that contest goes the other way.

Also dropping was Texas A&M, which managed to throw away another late lead, this time to Arkansas. This game doesn't prove that Arkansas was better than its big loss to Alabama, or that Texas A&M is worse than the contender everyone thought it was to begin the year.

It just proves that Mike Sherman still doesn't understand how to coach a winning football team.

Actually Arkansas is better than the loss it took to Alabama, although the computer numbers have the Razorbacks at just No. 39. This is mainly due to two factors.

The Razorbacks can't run the football, and the they turn the ball over.

Obviously, these two traits are going to be magnified when Arkansas really gets into the heart of SEC play. Even Auburn might be able to exploit these weaknesses.

Yes, that is a diss on the Tigers, who somehow are 4-1 when it looked like this season was headed to a 3-9 mark. But Auburn is copying their formula from last season, when they were just good enough to win.

So far, Clemson has been the only team to figure out how to overcome this seemingly magical ability, an illusion that has confounded every other team this year, despite the departure of master magician Cam Newton.

You would think karma would have caught up with the Tigers by now. But they keep winning, and making Steve Spurrier throw his visor down in the process.

The computer definitely gives them no love. Auburn is 97th in the country in passing yards, and can't crack the top quarter of teams on the ground

They have the No. 74 scoring defense, despite playing Utah State and Florida Atlantic. And the Tigers are giving up an average of almost 440 yards per game, putting them No. 106 in the country. That is out of character for an Auburn team that lived for the last decade on being strong defensively (until last season when Newton was able to outscore every opponent by himself).

But there is no Newton this year, and this will catch up with them. When the numbers were slightly better on offense last season, the Tigers were able stick in the MRI top 25. Without him, Auburn can do no better than No. 50 currently, despite a 4-1 record.

A run of Arkansas, Florida and LSU could make that the high water mark for the remainder of the year.

Check out all the rankings in Week 3 of the Football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:03 AM

September 26, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 2

By Texas taking a week off, they avoided the fate of conference mate Oklahoma this week. The Sooners had a scare game -- something that the Longhorns have already faced -- and managed to take a nice dip in the MRI rankings.

Texas saw no such drop, and actually watched their score go up by staying off the field.

That isn't to say that Texas was safe in the No. 1 spot.

Alabama, one of the best teams by the eye test, absolutely destroyed Arkansas in a game that many thought would be close.

The Crimson Tide shot up the rankings and took over the No. 2 spot, while approaching the coveted top spot in the rankings.

Big moves this early in the season are expected. It is a part of doing business in a league whose regular season is just 12 games long.

Once a quarter of the season has gone by for most teams, you almost need to put out the rankings. But it is still a small sample size overall, and some teams could be wildly misrated in one direction or another.

The result is a big jump or drop in the rankings, especially after a particularly good win, or a scary close one.

Here are a few teams that took a tumble this week:

  • Wisconsin - Screwed themselves by playing an FCS team. It probably wouldn't have been an issue, except that the opening part of the schedule hadn't exactly been strong to this point. Plus, the results of their previous opponents this week also hurt them. UNLV lost to its FCS foe. Oregon State dropped a conference game in its quest to be the worst team in the PAC-12. And Northern Illinois struggled against its FCS opponent. So while Wisconsin romped against South Dakota -- and got help in is weighted MOV because the FCS now has 6 wins against the FBS -- the strength of the Badgers' overall schedule went way down (Now officially the easiest schedule in the league according to the MRI's numbers). This is why you are better off never playing an FCS opponent in this computer system.
  • Oklahoma - One of the consensus contenders for the national title dropped out of the top 10 after struggling against Missouri. The Tigers are one of the teams fighting for their football lives in the Big XII, and need ever data point on their side to show they are still an important team to have on the schedule. So even if the conferences don't blow up after this season, a few big wins in the past couple of years would help immensely. With the stiff competition that broke Oklahoma's streak of 20 games without trailing at home, the Sooners' offensive numbers took a hit. They lost the rushing battle Saturday and turned the ball over twice without a takeaways. The passing numbers are still strong, but it is a lot harder to make a big move in the passing rating because of the high number of teams running a spread air attack offense.
  • Illinois - The Illini are another team that took a hit offensively. They lost the passing game on Saturday, and the bump from almost 300 yards on the ground wasn't enough to counter a sub-200 yard performance in the air. Illinois also lost the turnover battle. That they came away with the win was also somewhat of a shock, and it won't help their weighted MOV when they posted just a 3-point win over what should be an eight or nine win Western Michigan squad. Also an issue for Illinois on Saturday was the defense that allowed over 300 yards, moving the Illini out of the truly elite category. It may have been just a matter of time before this happened to Illinois, but when you win, you don't expect to get knocked back like this.

Other teams took hits from their first loss. USC and Arkansas both dropped out of the top 25 after their defeats. The Razorbacks truly tumbled after a the previously discussed Alabama matchup.

Last week's surprise in the top 10, Ohio, also fell after losing to Rutgers. It was a game that based on the results so far this year, the Bobcats should have won. But losses on the field -- to both the personnel and the ball -- led to big gains from the Scarlet Knights.

Ohio still managed to hang in the top 25 overall, along with the MAC's Temple which may mark a high point for the conference in the history of the MRI. That is how well the Bobcats had played so far this season. Now it is just a matter of which of the two MAC teams can stay in this, as both are in the Eastern division.

And for those looking for the upset, outsider teams, South Florida -- yes, we are considering a Big East team an outsider -- is still hanging at No. 3 in the rankings after dismantling UTEP. And Boise State jumped up to No. 12 after shutting down a high powered Tulsa squad.

But outside of the two MAC teams, which won't be contenders, and the Boise State team which will be, there are no real outsiders challenging for the title this season in the MRI. There is still time for someone to make a big move, but it is unlikely that anyone could put up the types of numbers that would be required to fly up to the top 10 in the rankings at this point, let alone the top two spots.

Even Boise State might have a hard time cracking the top five given that the teams running at that high of a level right now have a good lead on the Broncos.

Unlike in years past when Boise started highly ranked, they are now climbing uphill, and don't really have the kinds of opponents would would provide the boost remaining on the schedule.

And so this could be the first season in a while where no non-AQ team challenges for the top spot in the rankings. That is a sad development in college football overall, because it actually sets the cause back for a playoff.

If there are no teams routinely challenging for the title, that will lessen the noise about including anyone outside of the big conferences. And that will lead to more of the nonsense that took place over the last couple of weeks, and the superconferences could prevail.

On that happy note, check out all the rankings in week 2 of the MRI football rankings.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:00 PM

September 19, 2011

Big East to Big Least: Departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh was only a matter of time

The Big East became a little more the Big Least on Sunday morning. The impending departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh cut the heart of of the league that had two personalities.

The Big East dominated the college basketball landscape, the behemoth gorilla that gladly took the title of best conference after the ACC was willing to cede the throne to pursue football glory. And the Big East played nicely on the sideline in football, guaranteed the big payday each year in the BCS despite calls for other conferences to have their ticket.

But it was the grab for basketball glory that might have killed the conference in the end. After losing three football teams to the ACC, the Big East decided to go big. Instead of just taking Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati, the league gutted Conference USA of its other basketball powers -- DePaul (yes, back then) and Marquette.

It was a bold move designed to keep football relevance, while creating something special in basketball.

Only no one ever thought about the logistics of a 16-team league. The Big East, while dominant on the court, always seemed to big for itself.

It had scheduling problems, brought on partially by its television contract with ESPN. The World Wide Leader wanted the best matchups on television. So the teams that were considered the best were pitted against each other more often, setting up wide differences in the strength of schedule, and leaving some Big East teams feeling left out of the mix.

And the league's footprint became ridiculously large, a common complaint about Conference USA when it was formed. By the Big East grabbing the best of that league, it transferred the problem to itself.

The whole thing left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Why should the 10th best team from the league get a spot in the NCAA tournament? They were clearly a good team, but rewarding mediocrity just doesn't seem right, even if the talent is a step above.

But the biggest issue might have been the impeding addition of TCU. The Big East was set to go to 17 teams overall, with 9 in football. Scheduling was going to get worse, and the links between the members became more tenuous. Now not even being the best basketball league in the country could hold things together.

That is why you can't blame Syracuse and Pittsburgh for leaving. It is easy to imagine a back room conversation between Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski happening once the TCU addition was announced. You can see the two basketball coaches talking about how to save basketball in this massive grab for football supremacy.

It certainly isn't hard to imagine Coach K telling Jim to come on down to the ACC and bringing back the spirit of the league that was once sold out for football purposes.

And just like that, it was done.

With the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, there is a death rattle in the Big East. The basketball core is still there, but the conference will be back down to seven in football. And that means either pushing Villanova to get its act together, or grabbing yet another team from a smaller conference.

Can anyone truly see the Big East going back to Temple and asking forgiveness? Or will it dip down again and grab another Conference USA team? Is it time for Memphis or Central Florida to get their call?

Because of the basketball side of the house, it is hard to see the league just surrendering. Most of the top remaining basketball programs are the ones that play football. Losing Connecticut, West Virginia and Cincinnati would leave the league with very little to hang its hat on, although DePaul might finally be able to win a game.

Yet the remaining league is so fragile precisely because of the duality of its membership.

That was the elephant in the room during this expansion. Some websites can cry all they want about the ACC being vulnerable to the vultures, but the Big East was always the league whose foundation was the shakiest. Perhaps it was their SEC-biased look at things to make them think that their football little brother could just be picked on.

But this should be a lesson for the rest of the leagues. Expanding to 16 teams doesn't solve problems. It creates them.

Even at 12 teams, leagues were learning it wasn't easy. Scheduling is still a nightmare. The differences between the haves and have nots become greater. Who knows how 14 teams will work? At 16, those issues are magnified, especially because every school has its own agenda for joining the league.

Look at Colorado, which went West to the Pac-12 to gain access to California. If its former conference mates also move to the Pacific, a realignment in the league is almost certain, with Colorado becoming part of the Eastern half. They get shut out of the one thing they wanted from the conference move.

Bigger isn't always better. Sometimes it is just bigger -- bigger headaches, bigger problems and bigger battles of egos in the boardroom.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:23 PM

September 18, 2011

MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 1

With a quarter of the season gone for most teams, it is time to release the first edition of the MRI rankings.

The computer is now in its ninth year of ranking teams based on their performance on the field. The formula takes into account strength of schedule, weighted margin of victory, offensive performance, defensive performance and turnovers.

All of that is wrapped into a neat little formula that generates a number that makes about as much sense as the quarterback efficiency rating. But we here at MRISports like it anyway.

Last season finished with the Boise State Broncos and TCU Horned Frogs taking the top two spots, a major win for the non-AQ teams. The two teams logged two of the top 10 rankings of all time in the MRI, not an easy feat considering that during the 2009 season, no team managed one of the best 10 marks.

The Big XII is the big winner this season so far. Leading the pack is Texas with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, all finding a spot in the top 10. Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State also made it into the top 25, and the Big XII looks to have the deepest and best conference by the numbers right now.

Obviously things will change. There is no way that Iowa State can keep up its fast start on the year. And once the teams get into the conference slate, the losses will affect someone. But as of now, as the conference appears on the verge of dividing permanently, the league is sure making a strong audition.

Not to be outdone, the SEC put four teams in the top 25, three from the West and one (Florida) from the East.

But the biggest shock in the rankings might be the non-AQ team that is up in the top 10. It is not one of the usual suspects. It is not Boise State. It is not TCU. It is not even Central Florida, which took a hit losing to Florida International (which came in at a strong No. 39) this week.

No, it is Ohio from the MAC.

It probably goes without saying that the MAC doesn't often land a team this high in the rankings. There may be a ranked team overall, but the helmet zone is usually free of the MAC. The last team to break through was Miami back in 2003. Not even Ball State's amazing run in 2008 (12-2, No. 25) was good enough.

Ohio does benefit from one of the easiest schedules in the country, and the first three weeks were no exception. New Mexico State, Marshall and FCS' Gardner-Webb may be among the worst teams in college football. The real test will be against Rutgers next time out.

But a win there could firmly plant Ohio in the top 25, or maybe the top 10 all season long. Not that they will get any BCS love, or even votes from the human pollsters. It is a great start to the year so far, including almost 470 yards of offense and a defense allowing less than 300.

Another team that made its mark in the the first three weeks is Georgia Tech, who crashes the party at No. 7. The Yellow Jackets were propelled to the top by a 607 yard rushing effort against Kansas. (On a MAC note: Where was that defense when Northern Illinois was in town? The Huskies should have scored 80 against the Jayhawks.)

But have no fear, fans of tradition and expectations ruling your football. Oklahoma and Alabama, the two favorites to be playing for the National Championship, are still in the running. Then again, it is just for the MRI championship, which went to Boise State last season.

Take what you will from that.

Enjoy all the rankings in Week 1 of the MRI.

Big Ten 3, Big East 2, Pac12 3, ACC 3, MAC 1, MTW 1, CUSA 1

Continue reading "MRI Football 2011 - Rankings Week 1"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:30 PM

September 15, 2011

LSU vs. Mississippi State Preview: Cowbells don't play defense

LSU will play only its second non-holiday Thursday game tonight. So it will be the perfect time to show off its high-powered offense.

That is, if the Tigers had one to show off. Gone are the days of JaMarcus Russell, or even Matt Flynn. Maybe if Jordan Jefferson hadn't gone and done something stupid, the LSU Tigers would be tearing up the field.

But instead, LSU averages about as many yards total per game as Mississippi State does just passing the ball.

So the Tigers will have to be content flexing their defensive muscles once again. LSU is currently 11th in defensive yardage allowed in Division 1. Considering one of the teams ahead of them is Eastern Michigan which has yet to play a real opponent this season, you can consider the Tigers pretty good.

Down right dominating might be a better term, as Oregon and Northwestern State managed an average of just 215 yards per game.

Oregon couldn't run the ball, Northwestern State could barely move.

Now Mississippi State's 500-plus yards of offense will be on display. And the game is in Starkville, so there will be plenty of cowbell.

It still shouldn't be enough to intimidate this LSU team, because it seems like nothing does. The Tigers continue to win, no matter what gets thrown at them. They continue to dominate on defense, no matter what the opponent. They continue to make Les Miles look like a mad, grass-eating genius.

And so this should continue to be a win for LSU, the 69th in the 105-game series between the two teams, that according to the LSU games notes dates back to ... 1986.

Yeah, that is surely a typo. One hundred five meetings in just 25 years. That would be a record.

Good to see that math and factual accuracy are core skills in Baton Rouge.

But even with the odd accounting in the LSU athletic department, one thing is clear: The Tigers dominate this series.

LSU scores against the Bulldogs (and probably should continue to do so, even without a strong offense). Mississippi State allows teams to move the ball. It lost to Auburn, a team it should have dominated given the losses the defending national champion endured. It should have shut down a team that had a hard time getting past Utah State.

If Mississippi State played Minnesota, you would count that as an automatic win, wouldn't you?

But Mississippi State played so poorly that you almost had to check to make sure that Cam Newton wasn't still on the field.

Sure, the Bulldogs came back at the end of the game, but to think that will even be possible against the LSU defense is a joke.

LSU should dominate this game, just based on the results so far this year. You can discount the two throw away games by these two teams and the results are the same. LSU dominates.

At the beginning of the year, the thought was that Mississippi State might pull off an upset at home sometime this season. But after the Auburn debacle, the Bulldogs would be hard pressed to do it against LSU.

The Vegas line is just 3.5 in LSU favor. That looks like a gimme. Take the Tigers to cover.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:56 PM

September 12, 2011

Even fake coaches are making fun of Memphis now

When a fake coach Twitter account starts making fun of your team, you can bet you aren't very good.

Early Monday morning, FakeBobPetrino threw a jab at the Memphis Tigers who were trounced 47-3 by Arkansas State.

"Reason #19 Why The Hogs Don't Play Arkansas State: One loss to The Red Wolves, and they want heads"

A link led to Geoff Calkins' excellent deconstruction of the Memphis football program and the school's athletic director, R.C. Johnson. Perhaps there should have been hints that Memphis was in free fall when Tommy West left the program, whining about support.

Everyone thought it was a big joke. After all, what coach thinks he actually deserves to get fired.

But the loss Saturday was another sign of a team that is drowning.

Calkins asserts that Memphis is the worst team in college football, and the numbers bear him out.

While it is too early to release the MRI numbers -- the data is just not connected enough -- Memphis has already sunk to the bottom of the list, and has a sizable hold on No. 120.

The Tigers were obliterated in week 1 by Mississippi State before the loss to Arkansas State. Since both those teams are 1-1, the weighted margin of victory component has kicked in with full force. So the Tigers sit with a -30.66 MRI score. UNLV is comfortably trailing at just -7.48 for No. 119.

It is easy to see why Memphis is where it is. They barely have 250 yards of offense per game, which isn't worst in the league, but is pretty far down the list.

But the real mess is on the defensive end. Memphis is currently giving up almost 700 yards per game.

No, that isn't a typo. Nevada is next worst at 603 yards, and the Wolf Pack have played just one game, getting run over by Oregon.

To truly stick on the defensive side of the ball for two straight weeks, especially when one of those teams is Arkansas State, is impressive. And while it would be nice to say it can't get any worse, the fact that their offensive numbers aren't yet truly terrible means the Tigers could sink even further in the comparative stats by the end of the season.

This isn't only a one season problem though. Memphis finished last in the MRI in 2010. That version of the team had an MRI of -79.27, which amazingly wasn't the worst performance ever in the rankings. Along with the entire state of New Mexico, Eastern Michigan and Akron, Memphis headed a solid group of five horrid teams.

The season before that, Memphis avoided the basement, but still finished solidly in the bottom 10 teams.

In case the first two weeks stunned the fans too much to remember, this was a team that went to three straight bowl games from 2003 to 2005 and then two more in 2007 and 2008.

But since then, the Tigers have managed just 3 wins -- Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee-Martin and inexplicably UTEP.

This is a team in free fall and it doesn't look like the bottom is coming anytime soon.

This is supposed to be the point in the season when teams can still dream. Even the Conference USA teams that get big payouts for taking a loss play Sun Belt or Division 1-AA schools to pad the records.

Teams like Washington State and Eastern Michigan, perennial doormats, are 2-0 (and highly ranked in the MRI, which is another reason to say it is too early to release the rankings).

If the computer ratings were published today, the MAC would have four teams in the top 25, a conference that averaged a negative MRI score for the last two seasons.

Memphis shouldn't be crying already, but there is probably a run on tissues in the athletic department.

And the story is worse. Calkins wrote that the school loses $2 million per year on football. When even the body bag games don't help cover the cost of a dreadful team like this, any university has to start wondering about the sanity of keeping a team on the field.

There is hope for Memphis. Temple went from being a bottom of the barrel school for football and is looking like it might contend for the conference title this season. This was a team that was finishing among the worst teams in the computer rankings since they started in 2003. Central Florida flipped its fortunes and looks to be a prime candidate in the next round of conference expansion.

But until either the turnaround happens, or someone pulls the plug, Memphis can continue its assault on the record books.

North Texas finished the 2008 season at 1-11, with a -87.61 MRI score, the worst performance registered by the computer. The not so Mean Green averaged 362 yards of offense to their opponents 483. They turned the ball over 33 times compared to just 16 takeaways.

The one win came over a Western Kentucky team transitioning into the FBS. But the start of the season for North Texas was what made it truly awful.

They lost to Kansas State, Tulsa, LSU, Rice and Florida International, by a combined 261-65, while starting 0-5. And at least they had some offense.

As for Memphis, well, it is always good to have something to shoot for.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:45 AM

September 9, 2011

Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon should not be a Heisman contender

Oklahoma State beat up Arizona 37-14 on Thursday evening, and you can almost guarantee one thing that will happen.

Justin Blackmon will move up in ESPN's Heisman Watch rankings.

In Week 1, Blackmon had just eight catches, but continued his streak of 100-yard games. That was enough to garner him four votes in the poll.

He is sure to score better after 12 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns against a Pac-12 team, even if Arizona has now given up almost 600 yards passing in two games.

While the Watch poll is meaningless except for discussion purposes, the discussion becomes a problem. Blackmon gets listed. He gets listed high. So we are subjected to more Blackmon highlights. We will see more Blackmon touchdowns. We will see more Blackmon.

But Justin Blackmon shouldn't be a Heisman candidate in the first place.

The look of shock can be wiped off everyone's faces. Even if a guy can make a fabulous spin move, it doesn't automatically elevate him to Heisman status.


There are reasons only two wide receivers have won the Heisman Trophy.

Most importantly, someone needs to throw you the ball. It is almost silly that while Blackmon earned his four votes in the Heisman Watch, the guy throwing him the ball, who presumably has other targets and contributes more to the game, had just one.

Sure Brandon Weeden tossed two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the opening game. But without Brandon Weeden, there is no Justin Blackmon.

The two are an inseparable pair. Blackmon doesn't get his two touchdowns on Thursday night with perfect fade passes over the defensive back. The ball was placed perfectly for the 6-1 receiver to catch it.

That most DBs in college are under 6-feet tall helps. But that doesn't take away from the ability to target the receiver properly. Blackmon did nothing on the two catches except make sure his feet stayed in bounds.

He didn't need a fantastic jump. He didn't need to make a move on the DB (the Arizona players did a fine enough job on their own of falling over).

He just needed to put his hands up.

It is unfortunate that there are not better stats out there for college football. Yards after catch numbers are just not readily available.

A Google search did pull up that Blackmon was able to gain a little over 10 yards after the catch when the ball was thrown to him at, or behind the line of scrimmage in 2010. It sounds impressive, but consider that he would presumably have more blockers with him on plays such as that.

And that number was no better than what Ryan Broyles put up at Oklahoma last season.

Going into the bowl game (against Arizona), Blackmon had 12 catches of more than 20 yards that went for touchdowns. Unfortunately, that stat wasn't broken down into how far the ball traveled in the air, and how far Blackmon carried it.

But the stat says more about Blackmon's ability to get open, rather than his ability to make plays with the ball. And while it does indicate that Blackmon is a hard man to cover, it doesn't make him the best player in college football. It just makes him better than almost every defensive back on the field.

Break down Blackmon's numbers further, and the discussion becomes even sillier. You can look at his average yards per catch last season of 16.05. It looks impressive; it also lead the FBS.

But if you look at the individual games, the average is inflated by a couple of long plays.

Take the Alamo Bowl. Blackmon had nine catches for 117 yards, for an average of 13 yards per catch. Yet 71 of those yards came on one play. The other eight catches averaged out to just 5.75 yards per catch.

The one play is eye-popping, but the rest of the game is just pedestrian.

That isn't to say that Blackmon doesn't have fantastic singular performances. Against Texas Tech, he had 10 catches for 207 yards, and most of the plays were for more than 20 yards, including his 62-yard touchdown catch.

That is a good day. But you can repeat the exercise of taking away his one play per game, and see how the numbers suddenly don't look so great.

And that doesn't mean he isn't the best receiver in college football. Blackmon's speed and hands make him a must-see. They make teams have to game plan specifically to stop him.

If there were a stat like WAR in baseball, we would see that Blackmon's WAR would be off the charts. He would lead all the wide receivers in the category.

But just as you wouldn't just copy down the league leaders in WAR for an MVP ballot, you would copy down the leaders in a mythical WAR for the Heisman ballot.

Wide receivers don't impact the game as much as a quarterback, or running back who touches the ball 30 times a game. They can't because they just don't see the ball as much.

Blackmon will get his share of touches, and will make a fantastic play (or two). But he will never be as important to the team as the guy who throws him the ball. He will never be the best player in college football, because he is dependent on someone making him great.

And that is why Blackmon shouldn't be in the top five in next week's Heisman Watch. A spin move and two fade catches doesn't suddenly earn you a trip to New York City.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:31 PM

September 7, 2011

They supposed to be SEC: A look back at Week 1's issues

Before week 1 is totally in the rear view mirror, it might be prudent to look back at what the supposed best conference in the country did.

While playing mostly cupcakes, the SEC had quite a bit of trouble exerting its dominance. In no game was that more apparent than Kentucky's limp to a win over Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers' Andrew Jackson summed it up best when the camera crew found him on the bench.

"They supposed to be SEC?"

Kentucky was never supposed to be the strength of the conference, but just playing in the SEC should give the Wildcats an advantage in recruiting. There is no reason Western Kentucky should ever be more than an speed bump.

And there definitely should never be a point when Kentucky is bad enough to get mocked.

Ole Miss set the bar lower, falling to a newly independent BYU team in a collapse that reminiscent of the fall of Atlanta during General Sherman's march to the sea.

That the Rebels managed just 208 yards of offense should have fans crying.

Mississippi wasn't supposed to do much in the supposedly stacked SEC West, but they supposed to be SEC!

Auburn, which lost its best playmaker on both sides of the ball, looked like it was lost against Utah State. The mainstream media was finally questioning a defense that was less than stellar last season.

That the defense showed up in the National Championship game quieted the critics in the blogosphere, but there was a reason that Auburn looked like it was about to self destruct each week last year. Without Cam Newton, this team is less than average as the Aggies showed.

They supposed to be SEC?

Alabama is still sorting out its quarterback situation, which should have been cleared up during its easy win against Kent State.

But the Tide managed to still turn the ball over five times in the win. While most of the turnovers came after Alabama was comfortably ahead, the Tide missed out on an opportunity to fine tune its attack for Penn State.

While the Nittany Lions currently sit with their own quarterback troubles, perhaps it won't be an issue. But this was an Alabama team that was expected to roll at least to a tie for the division title and likely a spot in the SEC title game. They were among the favorites to get to the National Title game.

Instead, this team is a good defense away from finding out that it doesn't have two quarterbacks, but rather no quarterbacks.

They supposed to be SEC?

The mood should be even more grim in the East.

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier seems determined to teach Stephen Garcia a lesson, although the rest of the country is having a hard time figuring out what the lesson is.

When Garcia is in the game, the Gamecocks win. When he is on the bench, they look like they are about to collapse.

South Carolina should have the inside track to the SEC title game for a second season in a row and yet can't get out of its own way in the first game.

It spotted East Carolina 17 points, and was down 24-14 at halftime.

East Carolina! And they supposed to be SEC?

Georgia has an even bigger problem. Boise State exposed its passing defense deficiencies, and provided anyone was watching (which is doubtful considering how some of the coaches voted in the polls this week), should have everyone gunning for Georgia's DBs.

This was a Boise team that lost its top two all-time receivers to graduation, and while Kellen Moore is no slouch, it shouldn't have been this easy.

Mark Richt just watched his job security leave on a plane back to Idaho.

And they supposed to be SEC?

The concerns end there for now, but the competition the rest of the conference faced (outside of LSU, who has its own offensive issues) might as well have been nonexistent (Seriously Vandy? Elon?).

But for a league that wants to be considered the best in the country, the concerns for some of its best teams leave a lot of open questions for week 2.

And they supposed to be SEC.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:30 PM

September 6, 2011

Coaches' Poll embarrasses itself, leaves Auburn ranked

Do we need another reason to believe the poll system is flawed?

As if it were bad enough that the original AP poll ranked teams like TCU and Auburn despite majors losses in personnel, the coaches' poll has upped the ante on stupidity this week.

Still ranked is Auburn, who needed two touchdowns in the last four minutes of the game to beat Utah State. This is an Aggie team that hasn't had a .500 season since 1997, and that is playing in the WAC.

Yet, apparently a last minute comeback is enough to stay ranked at 22. Even the AP voters took notice of the actual game (Auburn fell to 27 this week).

Even better is the position of TCU and Baylor in the pool. One of the two teams is ranked and the other is not. Which one ended up higher? Why, the loser of the contest between the two.

How anyone could believe that TCU still deserved to be ranked at all is a mystery. Baylor did more to give that game away than the Horned Frogs did to win it.

And yet, TCU is rewarded with a spot in the top 25, which Baylor comes in at 26.

Still on the outside? South Florida, who showed that the Bulls still know how to take apart Brian Kelly, even if his address no longer reads Cincinnati.

The Bulls should have won the game at Notre Dame by more. Yet for beating a ranked team, the Bulls got nothing in return but a spot on the also ran list. Again, at least the AP voters paid attention this time around.

You can't say much for the AP preseason picks, but a actual game result was enough for someone to take notice.

(Although Missouri managed to remain ranked in both polls, despite a lackluster effort against Miami (Ohio). The Tigers played the RedHawks essentially even for the entire game, and had just 291 yards of offense. The leading rusher didn't even crack 75 yards. Yet, Missouri remains in the 20s.)

Should we keep going?

How about the positioning of LSU as compared with Alabama and Oklahoma?

The Tigers dominated an Oregon team that last season ran roughshod over the competition. Yet LSU received almost no credit for its impressive defensive effort against the Ducks. The game was held in primetime, after most of the nation's contests had been put away.

There was no reason not to be watching, even if you are the secretary in the Athletic Department who actually votes in the pool instead of the coach.

But of the 59 voters in the poll, just seven picked the Tigers at No. 1.

Perhaps it was LSU's less that stellar offensive effort. But the Tigers didn't need to move the ball far thanks to four turnovers by Oregon. And the Ducks had less than 100 yards rushing with their feared ground game.

How is that not domination?

Meanwhile, Alabama was silently rolling over Kent State, a team with far less talent and less cache than Oregon on the schedule. The Tide still managed to give away the ball five times in the game, although many of those came after the contest was safely going to Alabama.

It doesn't change the fact that LSU played a tougher opponent and overall had the more impressive win.

Oklahoma might still get a pass at No. 1, thanks to 600 yards of offense and an impressive effort against a Tulsa team that gives Sooner faithful fits every time it is in town.

That doesn't explain the nine voters who think that Alabama is still the best team in the country. (Well, we can give Nick Saban a pass for thinking it)

As far as the others receiving votes, there needs to be a reality check among the voters.

Did they all miss the Southern Mississippi - Louisiana Tech game? Admittedly, it wasn't easy to find on television.

But the box score is easy to locate, and last we checked, Louisiana Tech shouldn't be challenging a team that is expected to be tops in Conference USA.

Yes, 12 points were handed the Golden Eagles.

And yet it is the computers who are constantly criticized, yet the computers individually have less influence on the championship than this one poll.

That this is a part of the process in the BCS should make every fan of the game cringe. At least there are at least 10 more chances for the voters to finally get it correct.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:15 PM

September 2, 2011

Northern Illinois vs. Army preview: The fog of war

There has been a lot of discussion about how to fix college athletics. When Division I split into the haves and have-nots, the Ivy League, perhaps the last bastion of goodness in college sports -- at least until Tommy Amaker decided to ruin Harvard -- took its ball and went to play elsewhere.

That is despite having some of the oldest and most successful teams in the way back history of the sport. They didn't want the taint of everything that sours the athletic experience on them.

Sure, they will send their college basketball champion to the NCAA tournament. But there will not be a conference tournament -- no need to grab that money. And there will not be postseason football. No bowl games, no playoffs. Once the season is over, its over.

Now the Ivy League is somewhat lucky. The member schools aren't trying to prop up a state school with lack of funding using a sports program with too much money in its coffers. They are living off of endowments and donations from alumni that could probably pay the salaries for all of the coaches in the SEC several times over, and still pay for the new chemistry lab.

But while the Ivy League turned and ran, two schools stayed that might need to be the model for fixing what is wrong with the college sports world today - Army and Navy.

Read the remainder of this preview, including the five things to watch tonight, over at Hustle Belt.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 6:30 PM

Baylor Bears vs. TCU Horned Frogs preview: How Texas was won

Baylor made a bowl game last season.

Sure they got crushed by Illinois -- yes, Illinois -- but they made a bowl game, which means that Bears fan had something to cheer about for the first time since the kids that were playing on the team were in diapers.

And this season, the Bears are back with most of the team that helped them to that bowl game last year.

They don't have to worry about Nebraska or Colorado showing up on their schedule any longer (although Colorado might not be such a bad thing). And they are still operating under Robert Griffin III.

Not only is Griffin still running the show, but he is surrounded by the rest of his team that averaged 475 yards a game last year.

The same can't be said for TCU, which looks like a shell of itself after losing not just Andy Dalton, but most of the offense that helped the Horned Frogs get to the Rose Bowl.

Expectations are still high for TCU, but will this first game be more than they can handle?

Here are five things to watch:

1. How good is RG3?

Griffin is one of those players who performance gets lost in the weaknesses of his team. He was responsible for more than 4,000 yards of offense and yet, you wouldn't know it. That is because the rest of the country stopped watching Baylor when the Bears started losing games in the Big XII.

He will be facing a Horned Frogs defense that had its own share of losses up front on the defensive line and in the backfield. Because TCU is moving to a five DB set, it will be hard to throw the deep ball, but RG3 should have success battling the Frogs on the ground and in the short game. RG3 should be set.

This game could go a long way to establishing the lead Bear as someone to be reckoned with this season.

2. How does TCU move on?

Don't expect TCU to totally change its offensive scheme, but without an established passer, the running game should definitely take a step forward. That is, provided the line can protect it.

Baylor is returning an experienced front six and the TCU will have a hard time battling against it. The new offensive line will be tested quickly. There will definitely be a battle in the trenches early on.

3. Is there a hangover from the Rose Bowl?

Perhaps the best thing for TCU is that the opening game is on the road. It is still in Texas, but not at home in Fort Worth, which gives the Horned Frogs a little space.

That means no celebration of the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. That means fewer alumni hanging around the sidelines.

And it is Baylor on the other sideline, which means there won't be any celebration of the 2010 version of the Bears either.

Gary Patterson is too smart to allow last season to impact this year. He didn't do it last year after the Fiesta Bowl loss, and it won't happen again.

4. How long does ESPN spend discussing the future of Baylor in the Big XII?

Like Vanderbilt in the SEC, Baylor is an outlier in the Big XII. It isn't a football school. So, if things get crazy over the next few months as teams are pledged to new conferences, will Baylor be left out in the cold?

And where would the Bears be able to latch on in a realignment?

It will definitely be discussed (although TCU avoided it being a target of speculation by already being pledged to the Big East). The over/under is probably at least an hour.

"Oh was there a football game going on?"

5. The line is 3.5. Does TCU have what it takes to cover?

It is not surprising the line is tight on this one. TCU's offense is a big question, its defense is a question, and RG3 and Baylor can do a lot of damage on the ground and in the air.

With the game in Waco, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that there will be an upset Friday night.

And that is the way the MRI is going. Bears win straight up.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:40 PM

September 1, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Boise State Broncos

Boise State Broncos

Last season: 12-1, 1st in the MRI

The good: The offense could be better than last season when the Broncos had 521 yards per game and scored 45. Kellen Moore returns and should be making another run at the Heisman Trophy. He probably has a better shot this season, as Stanford will be breaking in a new head coach and Andrew Luck will be hard pressed to repeat his performance.

Moore has the easier schedule and the better supporting cast returning in order to do his business.

Boise State will also remain tough on defense despite the losses of Winston Venable and Ryan Winterswyk. The Broncos are deep and experienced and have just two difficult games facing them.

The toughest, as always, is the first game of the season. This year it will be Georgia trying to knock Boise out of the picture, and the Bulldogs come in as one of contenders in the SEC (unlike in 2010). The game is in Atlanta, but since 2006, Boise has exactly shied away when they are put on the big stage.

The other difficult trip will be into Fresno State, which is always a difficult game. Every other top team comes to the blue turf (TCU, Air Force).

The bad: The only real question is how Boise State will deal with losing its top two all-time leading receivers. While Moore is good enough to make up for the losses with his grandmother running routes, it is an actual chink in the Bronco armor.

The game against Georgia will certainly be difficult and a tough way to begin the year. If the Broncos do lose (they are 6-1 against BCS teams since 2006, so it will be somewhat of a shocker), they avoid the "letdown" game the next week as they take one of their two byes. There will be no 0-2 start like they brought out of Virginia Tech last season.

Best name: While defensive back Ebinezer Makinde is great because he has the built in nickname of Scrooge, the winner is Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe.

Trending: Flat - There should be nothing stopping Boise State from repeating its top MRI ranking. The Broncos return almost every important piece on offense and defense and have just two difficult road games. The difference this year may be that there are some BCS teams with enough talent disparity over their schedules to rack up the necessary points and dethrone the Broncos. But if Boise wins its first game against Georgia, there is nothing left to keep it from staying in the top five all season long. Look for another run for the title from the Broncos.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:00 PM

Temple Owls vs. Villanova Wildcats preview: An annotated conversation

This preview is another in the series of posts that I will be doing over at Hustle Belt this season.

The college football season kicks off tonight, and the MAC takes center stage with four games. All but one of these games is against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision, and so chances are that the league will come away with at least three wins tonight (mostly because Ball State doesn't play).

The earliest game on the schedule features the battle for the Mayor's Cup in Philadelphia between the Villanova Wildcats and the Temple Owls.

Nova received an invitation to join the Big East over the offseason, but because there were questions about where it would play its home games (the current Villanova Stadium doesn't seat the required number of fans), the Cats missed the deadline to officially apply and begin the transition. This first game of the year which the two teams have split over the past two season has become a measuring stick for just how good Villanova is compared to the teams the next league up.

To preview this game, Geeves and I sat down for a short conversation (as if we truly knew anything) and provide some annotation to keep you the fans up on the relevant information (as if we again truly knew anything).

bmiraski: It's going to be a little bit of a downer game because Villanova lost a bunch of players to graduation - but it's still the only measuring stick it has from season to season.

Geeves: I feel weird to say this, but graduation shmaduation. It's still 'Nova. They're seriously considering the leap to FBS for a reason.

[Nova didn't just lose a lot to graduation, they pretty much have a brand new team when it comes to production. In the FCS, they ranked 123rd in terms of returning rushing, passing, and receiving yards, and tackles from the top 22 defensive players. The Wildcats will have a new quarterback (the three on the roster have a total of six career passing attempts), and have to replace 86 percent of their yards on the ground from last year. The defense is a little better, but they lost 61 percent of their tackles to graduation.]

You can read the full conversation and preview at Hustle Belt.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:30 PM

Fast 40 countdown: TCU Horned Frogs

TCU Horned Frogs

Last season: 13-0, 2nd in the MRI

The good: TCU has played in two straight BCS bowls and should have been in the National Title game after the 2009 season (although its results might not have been any better than Texas').

Despite losing much of the defense to graduation, the Horned Frogs should still be tough to move the ball against. Almost every major contributor this season saw gobs of game action during TCU's run for the roses.

The Mountain West should be a very winnable league again, despite the addition of Boise State. Air Force and San Diego State should still be difficult outs, but TCU's defense should be better than either of the two offenses.

The bad: The Horned Frogs looked for all the world like they would finish at the top of the MRI last season, but a close game against Wisconsin, combined with Boise's thrashing of Utah flipped the two in the final numbers.

TCU has also been decimated by graduation with losses including quarterback Andy Dalton. The offensive line is almost entirely new and there is little chance of duplicating last year's effort of allowing just nine sacks (0 in the bowl game against Wisconsin which was truly a feat).

While the running game should survive intact, it will have a much harder time breaking through with the new men up front.

The Horned Frogs open with two games on the road, at Baylor and at Air Force, and could be 0-2 before gimme wins against Louisiana-Monroe and Portland State. The two openers also don't give the team much time to work on things in game situations, as it is unlikely TCU will be able to pull away early.

TCU also had its game against Boise State switched to Idaho after it announced it was leaving for the Big East, which should be a bittersweet goodbye gift from the conference.

Best name: Tekerrein Cuba

Trending: Down - The losses on offense leave TCU wondering if it can score enough to win ball games. The defense should still be able to keep the bar low, but there are so many new faces on the other side of the ball, it could take time to get things perfect. The Horned Frogs were near the top in the country in all of the crucial MRI stats last season, and it will be difficult to repeat that feat this year. Look for TCU to run near the bottom of the Top 25, although a finish at 9-3 could have them hanging on in the teens by the end of the year.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:21 PM

August 31, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Buckeyes

Last season: 12-1, 4th in the MRI

The good: For all the suspensions and issues with the NCAA, the Ohio State Buckeyes are still one of the most talented teams in the country. That includes the loss of Terrelle Pryor, who may have been the most overrated quarterback ever in the college game.

Pryor had a knack for piling up stats in games that didn't mean much, and then disappearing in those games that did mean a great deal to the Buckeyes.

Sure, he won a lot, and he got better over the course of his career. But when the big game came, there were always questions about which Terrelle Pryor would be on the field.

He may have had flashes of brilliance, and he could create with his legs. But if he were really the star that he was purported to be over the three years he spent in Columbus, someone in the NFL might have spent more than a 3rd round draft pick in the supplemental draft to take him... and turn him into a wide receiver.

So yes, the Buckeyes can still compete in the Big 10 this season, even without Pryor.

They will be going with senior Joe Bauserman at quarterback against Akron, which shouldn't be an issue for even a shorthanded Ohio State group. His performance will show if he can continue in the role throughout the season. So don't be surprised to see Braxton Miller at times to guage how well the freshman who was in for spring has picked up the offense.

Whoever is there will have a solid line in front of him and should have the time needed to get ready for Miami in the third week. Until then, Akron and Toledo will stand as the patsies who will take the fall to continue the tradition in Ohio.

The bad: There is no way to judge how well Luke Fickell will do in his tryout for the permanent head coaching job. Succeeding Jim Tressel, for all of his faults, is a hard task for anyone. You don't want to be the guy who replaces the guy. You want to be the next guy.

Fickell has to replace the guy, and one that was well loved by the players and fans, which is a rarity. Just look at how much blame fell on Pryor's shoulders for the entire mess over the summer. Tressel, who tried to cover up the scandal and back his players, has gotten away without a scratch from the die-hard fans.

The defense is also a little light after last season. Just nine of the 23 sacks from last season are back, and a large chunk of the top tacklers will be missing.

Again, Akron and Toledo won't exactly pressure them (although Toledo could be close), so this could resolve itself before Miami (aka The Extra Benefit Bowl), which will be still be without some of its defense come Sept. 17.

Best name: While Andrew Sweat is a great football name, Jake Stoneburner takes the win. He should resist having this award tattooed on his arm until after he graduates.

Trending: Down - No matter how good the players stepping up in wake of the losses are, Ohio State will be down this season. There is just too much surrounding the program and not enough strong leadership at the top to overcome it. Fickell may turn out to be a great coach, but he isn't Tressel, and that is going to hurt the Buckeyes this season. They play Wisconsin in the division and have to go to Nebraska and feel the wrath of the Black Shirt defense. Add in Michigan State and Ohio State could have three losses in conference for the first time since 2004. The Buckeyes will still probably be good enough to be in the MRI top 25, but closer to the bottom of the ranked team, rather than having their helmet featured week after week.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:00 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma Sooners

Last season: 12-2, 6th in the MRI

The good: Sixteen starters return from last season's team, which finished higher in the computer rankings than last year's champion, Auburn. In other words, this team was good last season, despite two losses and should be even better in 2011.

Landry Jones will garner the majority of the attention this year, and should be in the running for a Heisman invite in December. He has all of his top targets from last year back, including Ryan Broyles who caught an outstanding 131 tosses last year.

The line should again be among the nation's best and no matter who is the lead back, they will game a lot of yards. Replacing DeMarco Murray is not an easy task, but that is what has been said about every running back who has left Oklahoma's program in the Bob Stoops era, and every time, someone steps up.

The defense is even better despite losing three of the top four tacklers from last season, including Jeremy Beal who totaled
19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Every one of the losses is filled with a major contributor from last year. Every one of the losses can be overcome, including the untimely loss of Austin Box.

The Sooners will challenge Alabama for the most talented team on the field this year, and should be headed toward a title run...

The bad: Except Oklahoma has the same problem as Virginia Tech. Every time that the Sooners look to be unstoppable, someone finds a way to stop them. Even in years when they looked like the favorites to win in the National Title game, they have been stopped.

It is as if Bob Stoops hasn't quite found the right formula to win them all since the title run in his second season.

This year, the main candidates to pull the upset are Florida State (somewhat unlikely) and Oklahoma State (somewhat more likely, but doubtful) who both get Oklahoma on the road. Tulsa has the offense to put up numbers on the Sooners, but they don't have the defensive chops to hold down this Oklahoma team.

Which means, someone will have to step up and be that team that gives Stoops a reason to throw his visor on the ground.

Oklahoma doesn't have the same "doomed to lose" feeling that Alabama, or the Hokies do, but it is still there. Just a more unlikely.

Best name: Chuka Ndulue

Trending: Up - Oklahoma has nowhere to go but up. This team could rival 2003's team that so far outpaced the rest of the pack in the MRI that two losses at the end of the season still had them comfortably in first place. It helps that Oklahoma will not have an FCS opponent on the schedule and therefore will remain high in the strength of schedule debate (despite Ball State's presence). As with some of the other projected top teams, the only thing that should stop Oklahoma from winning it all is itself. The Sooners will be at the top of the MRI top 25 all season and should place high on the list of all-time scores should they go undefeated.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:28 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Auburn Tigers

Auburn Tigers

Last season: 14-0, 7th in the MRI

The good: Auburn plays Utah State, Florida Atlantic and Samford, so they should win at least three games.

The bad: Here's to hoping Tiger fans enjoy the crystal football while it remains at Auburn (the NCAA should be calling any time now). The memories of last season's championship run will have to keep Auburn fans warm at night when the liquor and this year's version of the Tigers do not.

Auburn returns just six starters from last season. That means no Cam Newton, no stellar offensive line, no Nick Fairley, no repeat title run.

The Tigers were decimated by graduation and the lure of the NFL, but you can't blame the players who left. The high note that was last season was not going to be duplicated without the singular star that was Newton. Once he decided to go, it was just a matter of time before everyone followed.

Auburn does have Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb back from last season. Dyer put up 1,000 yards in a silent way running behind Newton and McCalebb added over 800.

But the offensive line that cleared the way for those yards is mostly gone. Only Brandon Moseley returns from last year's full time starters. That means there will be a lot more pressure on new quarterback Barrett Trotter and a lot less time to get through the holes and make it up field.

But maybe all the change is a good thing. Last year's Auburn defense (and the 2009 version) were not of the same quality as Tiger fans were used to. Newton was forced to bring the Tigers back into games time and again last season, and Auburn won six games by a touchdown or less thanks to a less than impressive unit.

The defensive lapses were the main reason that Auburn ranked so low in the MRI last year. The team gave up 368 yards per game, and more than 24 points for the second season in a row.

It was more shocking that Auburn went undefeated than anything, which is a testament to how good the offense was.

If anything, this Auburn team is almost impossible to preview because they will have the look of an entirely new squad. Nothing of the flash and dazzle is back.

It could be a long year on the plains.

Best name: While Ikeem Means deserves special mention, this goes to T'Sharvan Bell

Trending: Down - There is no way that Auburn will come close to last season's performance. If the Tigers at least played Vanderbilt, they would have a chance of winning an SEC game. As it stands, every team but Vandy is better than the Tigers in conference. With so many close wins last year, most of the based just on the singular performance of Newton, the losses should quickly pile up for the Tigers. Rolling Toomer's corner is going to be a rare occurrence in 2011. Look for Auburn far down the MRI list this season, possibly in the bottom 20 teams.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:28 PM

Texas A&M officially leaves the Big XII

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin set the domino rally in motion Wednesday morning after he notified the Big XII that the Aggies will leave the conference at the end of the school year.

What will follow is a flurry of action reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine -- a overly complicated shifting of teams across the country to align for what will be a temporary home until the real mega-conferences are formed.

The move had been broadcast for weeks, with the overtures making Texas A&M look like an overactive 5-year-old who drank a gallon of Mountain Dew. It was only a matter of time until the first domino in the chain was tipped.

The Aggies will likely land in the SEC. All the the political talk coming from the conference withstanding, they know a good deal when they see it.

Landing the Texas television market, and opening a channel to easier recruiting in the football hotbed is too hard to pass up.

The real question is who will be the 14th team, or even the 15th or 16th team. Most analysts believe that schools in states where the SEC already has teams are out. That put the favorite targets in North Carolina, and not in Florida, where Florida State and Miami would seem better fits for the football first conference. It also means no Virginia Tech, no Louisville, and no Memphis.

There has also been the notion floated that the SEC could survive just fine with 13 teams in the foreseeable future, which makes sense when your only care is on the football field and you don't have to worry about pesky things like brackets.

However, once the scheduling nightmares occur, there will be movement, and it will set another chain of events into motion.

The more pressing concern is what will happen to the Big XII, which will be reduced to the Big 9. Only one of the 9 is actually BIG though.

Texas can easily seize this opportunity to go independent for football. The Longhorns have their television network. They have their money. They have the ability to schedule any team in the country, and become the southwestern Notre Dame.

And the Longhorns and Irish could expand the four-year agreement they have already made (2015-6, 2019-20) to make one of the more interesting rivalries in the country.

The real question for Texas will be basketball, where they are still a contender. If they choose independence for football (killing the Big XII's automatic BCS slot), the conference will be unlikely to welcome them back.

There are other options available. They could be the big fish in a smaller pond, joining with a middling conference to become that league's Memphis. They could find a way to make independence work in Division I basketball, although it will definitely hurt them in scheduling. They could join the Big East, balancing what will be the 18-team league, and making the trip to Texas to face TCU a trip that makes more sense.

Just like that the Big 12 will be down to eight, and likely without a BCS automatic bid. It either needs to make a big push for expansion, or figure out how to survive as a minor player in the BCS game.

The easiest move is to grab teams already in the geographic area. SMU has already stated they would like to get back in with the big players. It could bring Tulsa along with it.  They might even try to grab Arkansas.

To the north, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Dakota State might be persuaded to jump to the top league. Even some Missouri Valley teams might see the benefit in moving up if it means a bigger stage for basketball, given the league's difficulty in landing consistent NCAA bids.

But the conference must do something to avoid becoming Oklahoma and a couple of guys named Mo.

So now it is time to sit back and watch the dominoes fall. It will certainly be a show.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:20 AM

August 30, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide

Last season: 10-3, 8th in the MRI

The good: The Alabama defense that gave up just 13.5 points per game and 286 yards is back almost intact. Just one starter is gone from last year, and although his name is Marcell Dareus, the Tide should be able to fill the hole. It is hard to believe that a defense like 2010's could get even better, but that appears to be the direction Alabama is heading.

The same story is true on the offensive side of the ball. While Mark Ingram is gone, Trent Richardson is still running for the Tide. Richardson may have been the better back in each of the last two seasons, no matter what the trophy on Ingram's mantle says. If Richardson stays healthy, he is running behind almost the exact same line that cleared the way for 183 yards on the ground per game. That number should only improve this year.

Alabama does need to break in a new quarterback and it appears it will be a two-man job going into the opener against Kent State. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims will split time in the game as they were listed next to each other on the depth chart.

Having two guys who could potentially take the helm is not a bad situation for Alabama to have. And facing Kent State is not a bad time to try them out.

One player will need to emerge from the duo before the trip to Penn State, but for right now, having two young arms with this much talent is a bonus.

The bad: This team should be great, but I am not convinced. Perhaps it is playing the SEC; perhaps it is just having a new quarterback and not knowing who it will be.

But there is something unconvincing about Alabama no matter how good they look on paper.

The problem is that every other contender in the SEC West has its own issues. LSU has trouble with the law. Arkansas has injuries and a new quarterback. Mississippi State has yet to prove it is ready to compete every week with the leaders.

So is Alabama the best of that group? Yes, especially if LSU is without its quarterback for a significant time.

Is Alabama the best team in the country? Talent-wise, you have to say yes, with no offense to Oklahoma, Florida, or other places that recruit top talent.

But until they prove it on the field, this team doesn't have the same feeling as the one in 2009.

Best name: Xzavier Dickson

Trending: Flat - Before Tide fans start tar and feathering the MRI in the media, here is the rationale for saying that Alabama will hang at just about the same level this season in the rankings. In 2009, Alabama had a difficult time climbing above third in the computer rankings until its big win in the National Championship. After that win, the Tide jumped to No. 1. Before the final game, Alabama was just fifth according to the computer. And that was with a defense that far surpassed last season's model and a similar offensive effort. So to think that Alabama will jump much higher in the computer poll before a game has even been played is a little difficult to think right now. The Tide can still finish at the top, but until then, I think they might be underachieving. It is easy to predict an undefeated season right now, especially given the troubles at other schools, but there is always that one game that nags at you. I can't help but feel that a Florida, or an LSU can pull off the upset. Alabama will definitely be in the top five of the MRI this season, it is up to them to determine just which of the five.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:47 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Last season: 11-2, 9th in the MRI

The good: Nine starters from last year's high powered offense return, including the entire offensive line. It would be hard to beat the performance that the line put up last year. The Cowboys surrendered just 10 sacks and cleared the way for 520 yards of offense per game.

But Brandon Weeden is back as the quarterback. He will be working in a new scheme, but only one of his main targets from last season has left. And that means Justin Blackmon will again be going for the deep ball and giving defenses headaches.

The bad: This is a long list. First Dana Holgorsen is gone, which means the high-powered offensive scheme is gone too. What could have been Oklahoma State's main advantage -- the returning quarterback and line -- might not be used as effectively in the new scheme.

Then there is the schedule which despite bringing Oklahoma to town, is brtual. The Cowboys travel to all three top Texas schools, and have a trip to Missouri. They also go to Tulsa, who also have a powerful offense, and will be better prepared for the Cowboys than last season. Just ask Oklahoma about how Tulsa finds ways to make life miserable for its instate opponents.

The defense is also somewhat depleted after last season. While the defensive backfield should be strong, the Cowboys have just two returning starters among the front seven. There is a good deal of experience among the players, but it is a very different group who will be tasked with stopping the run.

For a team that looks great on paper, there are an awful lot of questions going into a very difficult schedule (top 20 in the country, and no FCS opponents).

Best name: Nehemiah Mundy

Trending: Down - There are a lot of people high on Oklahoma State's chances this year thanks to the return of Weeden and Blackmon. But there are a lot of question on how the new offense will run, plus how the defense will be up front. That makes it hard to see Oklahoma State being able to pull of the upsets it will need to on the road, if it wants to compete for the conference title. The losses could stack up sending Oklahoma State tumbling in the national and computer rankings. This looks like an experienced team ready to make a big push, but it feels like a disappointing season is on the way. Look for the Cowboys at the bottom of the MRI top 25, or off the list entirely for most of the year.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:35 AM

Fast 40 countdown: Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada Wolf Pack

Last season: 13-1, 10th in the MRI

The good: Nevada earned the win of the year last season, at least from the view of the big boys. The takedown of Boise State thanks to a couple of missed kicks stopped the Broncos from crashing the BCS title game.

Nevada won't have to pull off the same miracles this season, at least not in conference. The Wolf Pack still play Boise State, but it is now a nonconference game (for one year), since Boise bolted to the Mountain West.

Nevada does return seven starters from last season's defense, and while Dontay Moch is gone, most of the impact players from last year will be on that side of the field.

The Wolf Pack also have one of the best schedules in the WAC, playing all of the toughest league opponents at home (and with four games vs. three on the road).

The bad: This is not last season's team. Gone is Colin Kaepernick. Gone is Vai Taua. Sadly, gone is Brandon Wimberly (after taking a bullet to the gut). A lot of the talent that helped score more than 40 points per game last season (and protect Kaepernick to the tune of just 12 sacks allowed) is gone.

That doesn't mean there aren't talented players on offense for Nevada. And Chris Ault's pistol offense has the ability to move the chains consistently.

But any dreams of repeating last season's overall success should be wiped away. The Wolf Park travel to Oregon, Texas Tech and Boise State. If last year's team were still on the field, Nevada would have a shot at an upset against the Red Raiders and the Broncos. But without those players, this looks more and more like three losses at the start of the season (At San Jose State should be a gimme).

The good news is that the conference is still winnable, as Hawaii will also be missing some of its top stars from last year, and Boise State is gone.

Best name: Necho Beard

Trending: Down - While Nevada will still compete in the WAC, they should be overmatched in the three non-conference away games to begin the season. That is bad news for any hopes at a bigger end of the season showcase than the Poinsettia Bowl. There is a chance they can pull one upset among the top trio of games, but they should be decided underdogs in all three. Look for the Wolf Pack to fall to the bottom of the MRI top 25 this season, or out of the standings entirely, given three likely losses.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:47 AM

August 29, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin Badgers

Last season: 11-2, 11th in the MRI

The good: This was beginning to look like an iffy year for the Badgers at quarterback. Scott Tolzien wasn't the greatest quarterback in the nation, but he was solid enough to keep Wisconsin rolling, with strong support from his running backs.

It was more the presence of Tolzien that helped. He was able to throw the ball. He did it fairly well, and that kept defenses from just stacking up on the Badgers.

Without him, this was going to be a tough season...until Russell Wilson came along. Wisconsin fans will need to send personal thank you cards to Tom O'Brien at North Carolina State for the gift that they will have this year.

In case you didn't know, Russell Wilson was probably the most valuable player in the ACC last season, even though the voters game that honor to Tyrod Taylor. Wilson will present Wisconsin with a mobile threat at quarterback, along with the strong power running skills of Montee Ball.

Together the two should make one of the most impressive offensive duos that the Big 10 has had in a while.

The bad: After a bye midway through the season, and then a virtual bye against Indiana at home, Wisconsin goes on the road to Michigan State and then to Ohio State. The Buckeyes might not be the team that everyone expected coming in to the year, but they still can be difficult to take out in Columbus.

The two road trips, plus a visit from Nebraska should be the toughest games all season and could determine if Wisconsin is playing in Indianapolis in December.

The Badgers could also be set for a letdown following such a strong season. Their one regular season loss came on the road and they put up some of the best turnover numbers and defensive numbers in the country. And Tolzien was only put on his back 14 times.

It almost seems like there is nowhere to go but down.

Best name: Dezmen Southward

Trending: Up - Yes, a team that made the Rose Bowl can actually trend higher, especially so after losing to TCU in heartbreaking fashion. Wisconsin seemed to make up for every potential hit to the program in the offseason, grabbing a new experienced quarterback, hiring a strong co-defensive coordinator to replace Dave Doeren and just looking like a team who was dedicated to winning. Even with the potential letdown year, the Badgers should be better on offense and at least as good on defense in 2011. They will most definitely be in the top 10 of the MRI all season and should be the favorites to get to Indianapolis. If things work out, there is also nothing keeping Wisconsin from showing up in New Orleans for the National Title game.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:49 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last season: 10-4, 12th in the MRI

The good: Taylor Martinez should be entirely healthy by the time the season starts for the Cornhuskers. After being injured midway through the season, the quarterback didn't run as often as he had and that took some of the explosiveness out of the Nebraska offense.

But with Martinez and Rex Burkhead leading the running game, Nebraska should have no problem fitting into the Big 10. The Cornhuskers will bring in a mobile quarterback, which is a style only catching on in the conference.

Sure, Ohio State has had this formula for years, but other teams have been content to go with the old standard of having the running back do what its name implies. Every now and then, a team will find the mobile guy to run the offense. Indiana had Antwaan Randal-El; Michigan had Denard Robinson; and Wisconsin added Russell Wilson this season.

But overall, the quarterbacks in the Big 10 throw the ball and leave the smash mouth portion of the game to the guys that line up behind them.

And yet, that is where the competitive advantage should come in for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are used to defending against both schemes, and should have no trouble shutting down the Big 10 offenses. And they will be able to exploit the experience advantage when running their offense.

The Big 10 teams just haven't caught up to the speed at which the mobile quarterback teams can play. Otherwise Ohio State wouldn't have so many conference titles in the last few seasons. Otherwise, Michigan wouldn't have looked unstoppable prior to Robinson getting hurt.

Nebraska could and should make the most of this opportunity and dominate the conference, the first time around, provided Martinez stays healthy.

The bad: There is not a lot of depth behind Martinez. Two quarterbacks that were supposed to be on the depth chart have left the team, and one -- Bubba Starling -- chose to play baseball instead of heading to Nebraska. If the sophomore goes down again, there is no Zac Lee to take his place.

Plus, the Cornhuskers managed to get the welcome mat pulled out from under them by the scheduling committee. Nebraska plays on the road at Wisconsin, at Penn State, and at Michigan (though they do luck into having Michigan State in Lincoln in the toughest Legends game). The trips to Madison and Ann Arbor will be especially difficult, although Nebraska is used to tough games in Texas and Oklahoma.

And really, when the worst thing you can say about a team is its schedule, that is a good sign.

Best name: Dijon Washington

Trending: Up - It is hard to think that the Cornhuskers will go undefeated this season, especially with the road trips within the conference. But Nebraska should make an appearance in the Big 10 title game, and be in the running for a shot at the National Championship. This is an experienced team, with a strong defense, and a mobile quarterback who was brilliant as a freshman save for a single game during the year. Nebraska almost pulled a major upset of Oklahoma to get into the BCS last season, and the road to one of the big pay games should be easier this time out. Nebraska should be in the top five of the MRI all season long, and have an outside change at the top spot if they can win on the road.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:39 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Missouri

Missouri Tigers

Last season: 10-3, 13th in the MRI

The good: Blaine Gabbert may be gone, but almost the entire offense returns for the Tigers. James Franklin, who took the field in the Wildcat offense last year will be the full time starter in 2011. That might take away a tad from the passing game, but it could be made up for on the ground with Franklin's legs. Perhaps Franklin will become a speedier version of Brad Smith.

De'Vion Moore should be able to improve this season on his 517 yards from last year and Kendial Lawrence should have no problem stepping up, as the running game will likely become more important for Missouri as Franklin is finally forced to pass the ball.

The bad: The defense returns six starters from last season, but you wouldn't realize it if you looked at the stat sheet from last season. The Tigers are missing six of the top ten tacklers from last season. But the defensive line looks to be strong with the return of Jacquies Smith and Brad Madison, who combined for 13 of the 36 sacks last year.

The bigger issue for Missouri is the non-alignment that occurred with the loss of Nebraska and Colorado. The conference is now a single division and Missouri can no longer just feast on the North division and hope for a good draw out of the South.

And the Tigers got no favors in the scheduling of the first round robin. They travel to Oklahoma and Texas A&M, perhaps the two best teams in the conference. They do get Oklahoma State in Columbia along with Texas.

Plus Missouri's nonconference slate includes a trip to Arizona State, which will not be a gimme this season.

Best name: Bud Sasser

Trending: Down - Losing Blaine Gabbert would be tough enough for Missouri, even with the personnel back on offense, but losing Gabbert, adjusting to the conference alignment, and trying to restock the defense is a big chore. The Tigers just don't get the talent that the Texas and Oklahoma schools do to just reload each season instead of rebuilding. And having to travel to the top two teams in the league just leaves no room for improvement, let alone stability in the Missouri game. The Tigers will probably make an appearance at some point in the MRI top 25 (they still get to play Kansas, Iowa State and a couple of easy nonconference games) but they will not be the mainstay near the top 10 as they have been the last four seasons.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:45 AM

August 28, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Hokies

Last season: 11-3, 14th in the MRI

The good: Last season, Virginia Tech gave up more than 20 points per game, which is an oddity for the team from Blacksburg. The normally stingy Hokies were replacing most of the defense from a 10-3 season, and the holes definitely showed during the opening game against Boise State.

This year, there again are holes, but not as significant as the losses going into 2010. Only one impact player from last season is gone, and the players stepping up are some of the strongest players ever to come through Virginia Tech.

And on offense, despite the loss of playmaker Tyrod Taylor, most of the team that helped the Hokies to 34 points per game and an ACC title is back.

The new quarterback, Logan Thomas, is tall and big, meaning he might be able to withstand a bit more of a beating when he decides to run.

And he will have great protection in front of him with almost 100 career starts spread over his offensive line.

Do we even need to mention the special teams? The over/under on blocked punts this season is six.

The bad: There is one major issue with Virginia Tech -- they always manage to blow it.

It doesn't have to be against the toughest opponent, but they find a way to take themselves out of the running for something bigger than just an ACC championship and a BCS berth.

This was the team that was the secret prize out of the Big East. Miami was the "name", but Virginia Tech had the talent to really compete for the ACC around the country at a time when Miami was struggling to just get back to being Miami (and probably now is more like the Hurricanes of old than they would like to be).

Since coming over to the ACC, Virginia Tech has been unstoppable in the conference, winning four titles, and playing in two-thirds of all the championship games. (It might say something about the ACC that the Hokies were just 11-10 in their final three seasons in the Big East; they are now 49-11 in ACC conference games.)

But the dirty secret is that the Hokies have always been better than just the ACC title. They have consistently been picked to be in the running for the national crown. And they have put up double digit wins since 2004.

Yet they find a way to blow it each season. Last year, it wasn't an ACC opponent that got them, it was Boise State and then shockingly James Madison. The two losses to begin the year had every one counting out the Hokies. But who was in the Orange Bowl at the end of the year?

This season seems like another chance to run the table and get to the title game. But there is always that stumble. It is hard to say where it will come. Maybe at Georgia Tech, or home against North Carolina, both on Thursday nights.

Either way, you just get the feeling that Virginia Tech needs something truly special to get over the hump. That "something" was once named Michael Vick, and it is hard to see such a transcendent player on the Hokies this season.

Best name: Ju-Ju Clayton

Trending: Up - It is entirely possible that Virginia Tech loses just one game all season, and that it will come in the bowl game. But history has told us that the Hokies will find a way to stumble sometime this season. The offense should be as good as last year, and the defense should be back to its normal unbreakable self. It is just a matter of when the hiccup will occur that will keep VaTech out of the top five in the MRI, and out of the BCS title picture.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:32 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Arkansas

Arkansas Razorbacks

Last season: 10-3, 15th in the MRI

The good: Arkansas' defense took a step forward last season and was a major reason behind the Razorbacks competing not only in the SEC race, but in the national one as well.

Jerry Franklin, Arkansas' leading tackler the last three seasons, returns and should be a proven leader on a team that should take multiple steps forward this year.

Seven starters are back, and the losses to graduation are nothing that should impact the Razorbacks significantly.

In other words, going against Arkansas should be a major headache for all of the teams on its schedule.

The bad: Ryan Mallett has moved on to the NFL, which means that the reins on the offense are firmly in the hands of Tyler Wilson, who has thrown for only 700 yards in three season at Arkansas.

Wilson saw the field last year when Mallett had some injuries and the results weren't anything to be overly excited about.

That doesn't mean he can't turn it around in 2011.

But he isn't going to have a lot of help in the backfield. The top two leading rushers from last season, Knile Davis and Broderick Green are out for the season after injuries. That means the chores fall to Ronnie Wingo or Dennis Johnson, and neither has a wealth of reps to show that they will have the offense humming.

Just having Davis or Green in the backfield would have gone a long way to letting Wilson get ready for the SEC season during games against Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy.

But everyone has to learn together now, and that could mean a couple of lumps early, especially against Alabama and Texas A&M.

Best name: Quinta Funderburk

Trending: Flat - Because of the injuries and a difficult schedule, Arkansas is going to have trouble improving on last season's success. Even with a strong defense, games at Alabama and at LSU will be tough. Add in the annual showdown with Texas A&M and a meeting with South Carolina, and the loss column could show the number '4' by the end of the year. Wilson and the running back duo need to step up quickly to keep Arkansas in the hunt. Still there is reason to believe the Razorbacks will be hanging around in the middle of the MRI top 25 all year.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:58 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois

Last season: 11-3, 16th in the MRI

The good: The Northern Illinois offense tore up the MAC last season, outgaining opponents in conference games by almost 200 yards per contest. That was mostly due to the skills of Chandler Harnish who is back for another year behind center. That center, Scott Wedige, and the rest of the Huskie line are one of the most experienced groups in FBS and Harnish should have plenty of time to construct a repeat of last year's success.

Northern also has one of the easiest schedules in the country, thanks mostly to feasting on its own MAC brethren. That does include the neutral site game against Wisconsin, or a trip to Kansas, both of which could be demoralizing games for the Huskies.

The bad: Why would those games be the low point of the year? Because Northern returns just two starters on the defensive side of the ball.

That does mean that the defense is inexperienced, but it does mean that this a new group, almost from top to bottom, trying to duplicate what was a amazing season in 2010. This Huskie team was a tipped ball away from taking the MAC title game, and possibly getting an upset invite to a bigger bowl than the top to Boise that they did get.

Because the team had such a great season, Jerry Kill was hired away by Minnesota, and Dave Doeren, the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin was brought in to replace him.

Doeren starts with a clean slate on defense, but it isn't going to be easy to recreate 2010 in DeKalb.

Best name: Dechane Durante, with Jamal Womble taking a close second

Trending: Down - Everything went well for Northern Illinois last season and it would be difficult for any team to duplicate the success of the Huskies. But losing most of the starters off the defense that had 30 sacks and gave up less than 19 points per game makes it almost an impossible position. In the final scrimmage for the Huskies, their own offense tore up the defense. And while Northern isn't the typical offense, it is indicative of the types of teams that the Huskies will play against Kansas and Wisconsin. Add Toledo as another difficult contest on the road and you are looking at three losses. A 9-3 record isn't out of the question, but it will definitely be an uphill battle. There is a chance Northern will touch the top 25 in the MRI this season, but it won't get much beyond the bottom tier.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:52 PM

August 27, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: LSU

LSU

Last season: 11-2, 17th in the MRI

The good: This is the most experienced team that Les Miles has coached since his first season with the Tigers. And that year, he had to teach all those old guys a new system and still came away with an 11-2 record.

The defense loses leading tackler Kelvin Sheppard and rusher extraordinarie Drake Nevis, but should have enough back to improve on the 307 yards per game that LSU surrendered last year.

It was a bend but not break season as they only gave up 18.2 points, right in line with the strong defensive Tiger teams of old.

Sure LSU got away with a couple of wacky wins against Tennessee and Florida, and the grass is still dreading Miles' next transformation into a cow, but this was a team that was 15 points away from being in the National Title game.

Two touchdowns could have changed the season for them, and they just might find a way to get those in 2011.

The bad: In case you missed it, returning starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended indefinitely from the program for his part in a bar brawl. Arrest warrants were issued for him and linebacker Josh Johns. The victim is a Marine, and there is a lot of confusion over the details of what occurred that evening.

On top of that Russell Shepard, who tied for second on the team in catches last season, has been suspended for the season opener against Oregon. The reason: he spoke to teammates about what he was questioned about concerning the matter of a certain Willie Lyles. Yes, the same Willie Lyles that is the reason Oregon is also in trouble right now.

Maybe he can sponsor the opening game with the big check he received from all these schools.

This is a far cry from what Miami is going through, but LSU is now pressed to chose between Jarrett Lee, who has nine starts, but has never gotten a real chance to win the starting job permanently in his four years, and transfer Zach Mettenberger, who has no experience at all in the Tiger offense. And with either choice, the winner just lost one of his best options for maybe the toughest games of the season and possibly longer.

Les Miles might get a lot of flack for his in game coaching, but one of his biggest challenges will come off the field in trying to sort out this mess and getting the players who are going to play ready.

Best name: T-Bob Hebert

Trending: Up - LSU should still be better than last season, even with the craziness surrounding the program right now. They will get Shepard back, and they will probably work out just fine with Lee at quarterback, albeit with a little different offensive scheme than if the speedy Jefferson were taking snaps. LSU has Oregon in the opener and Miles is pretty good at game planning when he has some time to do it. It is probably why he will also manage to win at Alabama, pulling the Tide after a bye week. Those two games plus a trip to Starkville will be the biggest factors in just how high up the MRI rankings the Tigers can climb. It might be all the way to number one.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:25 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Utah

Utah

Last season: 10-3, 29th in the MRI

The good: Utah is the recipient of a huge gift in the Pac-12, having been given a schedule that includes neither Stanford or Oregon. This gives them the opportunity to run riot over the middling conference teams and contend for the Pac-12 title in only their first season in the league.

This team has built off of the momentum that came from the highly successful coaching tenure of Urban Meyer, and Kyle Wittingham has created a team with balance on offense combined with a stingy defense.

The Utes return QB Jordan Wynn, along with his favorite target in the form of DeVonte Christopher. With Norm Chow coaching the offense, it's reasonable to expect big things from this experienced offensive unit.

The bad: Utah's secondary was exposed more than once last season, as they suffered heavy defeats during the regular season at Notre Dame and again in their bowl game against Boise State.

Given the strongly pass oriented Pac-12, any weakness in the secondary will be magnified. Combine that with only an average pass rush, and the pressure could well be on the offense to produce in high scoring games.

While the schedule does favor them, Utah does have a handful of tough matchups on the road, especially against BYU and USC in the first few weeks of the season. Make or break will come quickly for this team.

Best name: Seni Fauonuku

Trending: Down - The Utes have reeled off three straight 10+ win seasons, but with their unproven secondary and a handful of tricky road games in their new (and much tougher) conference, anything better than 8-5 would be an acheivement.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 9:00 AM

August 26, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Florida State

Florida State

Last season: 10-4, 18th in the MRI

The good: Florida State snuck into the ACC Championship game last year because North Carolina State couldn't close. The Seminoles lost to the Wolfpack during the regular season, and should have been on the outside looking in at Russell Wilson.

But wishing doesn't change history and Florida State, with a less than impressive team, stumbled into the championship (yes, less than impressive with a 6-2 conference record) and promptly lost to Virginia Tech.

But the loss to Virginia Tech should serve as motivation, along with the bowl win against South Carolina. Florida State had grown as a team last season into a contender for 2011.

That is why Florida State's 15 returning starters should be considered the favorites to take the ACC title this year, and possibly contend on a national level.

Now that is something that hasn't been actually possible in almost 10 years.

Christian Ponder may be gone, but the offensive line is intact to give EJ Manuel plenty of time to grow. That includes left tackle Andrew Datko who allowed one sack all of last season.

Manuel will also have the entire running core back and all but one of last season's top three receivers (Taiwan Easterling is now showcasing his talents in the Chicago Cubs farm system).

On defense, only one real impact player is gone, and the defensive backfield should be among the best in the country in terms of speed and talent.

The bad: The worst thing you can say about Florida State is that the quarterback isn't the same as last season and its schedule could be its downfall.

While Manuel isn't a greenhorn at the position for the Seminoles, he isn't Christian Ponder, and still has to get used to having the constant scrutiny of being the number one guy in Tallahassee.

He has a head start on most of the guys who take over as signal caller for the Noles in that he has had the job at times thanks to injuries.

Florida State faces Oklahoma (in Tallahassee) and travels to Florida, which should be the only two games on the schedule where they are not favored to win. The ACC portion of the schedule shouldn't be an issue provided Florida State stays focused given that they are more talented than every team they face.

Best name: Tank Carradine - an exquisite combination of both power (Tank) and Kung Fu (Carradine)

Trending: Up - If Florida State can pull off an upset in one of the big games on the schedule and win the ACC title, they could find themselves playing in the title game again. Beating Oklahoma won't be simple, but the Sooners will be traveling to the Noles and that could make the difference. Still, they could face them again in the title game, which would make for an interesting rematch. It is easy to see Florida State improving on last season's defensive numbers and tearing through the ACC. Look for the Seminoles in the top 10 of the MRI all season long.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:17 PM

Tracking the Miami scandal: 13 players declared ineligible, await NCAA ruling

Miami did what it could Thursday night, declaring at least 8 and possibly as many as 13 players ineligible. All the players are connected to the current Nevin Shapiro scandal and an ongoing NCAA investigation.

For the Hurricanes, it was the only thing left for them to do in order to salvage the 2011 season.

Miami reacted like a player in chess who is cornered and destined to lose the game. However, the Hurricanes have one more move in which they put the opposing king in check.

By making the players ineligible, Miami forces the NCAA to rule on each of the players individually as opposed to waiting until the ruling on the entire state of the program comes down from on high.

This was the same move that Auburn pulled just before the SEC championship game last season.

Cam Newton was declared ineligible and the NCAA had to make a ruling on if he was to miss any time. But less than 24 hours later, Newton was back on the field.

The Miami case is more complicated. Each player must be ruled on individually, and because the NCAA does not comment on ongoing investigations, it is unknown how much information they have on those involved.

In other words, many of the players could get away with a slap on the wrist -- a one or two game suspension, or just a request to pay back the extra benefits received.

That doesn't mean the program as a whole will get away clean. That ruling could still come later. The Auburn investigation is still ongoing, almost a year after the initial allegations.

But it is somewhat bothersome that these players could get away with barely a punishment. Over the past year, multiple allegations of abuse in the system have come to light.

And while the calls go out to reform the system, there is no talk of the less than effective punishment levied on those that break the rules.

If you take away a few games from a player at the beginning of the season, it doesn't truly hurt them, or discourage teams from continuing to break the rules.

The early games rarely matter for most teams. They are the body bag games. The backups could easily play at most of the top programs without many fans blinking.

If you want to make statements, you have to ban the team from bowls. You have to take away the opportunity for that team to be on television.

Yes, it means the conference is hurt in the process. But by punishing teams and conferences, you open the possibility that the conferences will help police themselves, because no one wants to lose that revenue.

Especially in the days of billion dollar television deals, it only makes sense to stop the madness by taking away the money. Let the programs see how much it hurts to not get the big check in the mail from ESPN, or even just the conference channel.

Meanwhile, we will wait and see what happens to Miami's players, and if any of them can survive. Miami's own king, the entire program, is perilously close to check mate.

MRISports has already broken down what the loss of the players could mean for Miami's season. Check in on the Fast 40 rewind to see what the Hurricanes are looking at in terms of personnel changes.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:11 AM

August 25, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Central Florida

Central Florida

Last season: 11-3, 19th in the MRI

The good: George O'Leary has built a sleeping giant in Orlando. Central Florida under his watch has gone from a winless MAC team to a team that contends for the Conference USA title every season. It is one of the reasons that the Knights should be at the top of potential expansion candidates for the BCS conferences.

This year UCF should be back in the running for the conference crown even if they won't repeat the 11-win season from last year.

The Kinghts have back mobile quarterback Jeff Godfrey behind most of the offensive line that carried them to the title. The top two pure running backs also return, which should have UCF putting up another season of big totals on the scoreboard.

The bad: The Knights lost their defensive coordinator in the offseason to Wisconsin and John Skladany will take over. This is the smallest number of resturning starters onthe defensive side of the ball that Central Florida has had under O'Leary, which could be good moving into a new system.

There is still a great deal of experience left on the team on the defensive side but it will be difficult to repeat the 17 points per game performance of last season.

Central Florida also faces Boston College, one of the top rushing defenses in the country last season, and they travel to SMU, BYU and Southern Mississippi.

Those four games could determine how good an audition that the Knights put on for any potential suitors if the Texas A&M to SEC move happens and multiple conferences are making grabs for teams.
'
Best name: Jose Jose

Trending: Down - Central Florida was just 19th in the MRI, but that was with almost everything going right for the Knights, and 14 games, thanks to the conference title and a bowl. This season looks to be trending worse on the defensive side, even if the Knights manage to put up better numbers when they have the ball. It will be hard to see Central Florida touching the MRI top 25 this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:22 PM

August 24, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Hawaii

Hawaii

Last season: 10-4, 20th in the MRI

The good: Bryant Moniz returns in the ridiculous offense that the Warriors put on the field. At times last season, Moniz looked better than Colt Brennan or Tommy Chang, the two passers ahead of him on the all-time list at Hawaii, ever did. But he had a lot of help from a strong receiving core, one of the best to ever come through the islands, including Greg Salas, who finished as the all-time leader in receiving yardage.

The defense also returns the core of the team including Corey Paredes who led the team with 151 tackles last season (almost double the next player on the list). This is a defense that will be tougher to battle than last year and won't be susceptible to 30 point letdowns.

The added bonus for Hawaii is that this is its last year in the WAC, and one without Boise State clogging the top of the standings. In a year that is wide open, Hawaii has just as good a chance as anyone in the conference to take one last title.

The bad: Notice the only offensive player mentioned above was Moniz. That is because almost his entire set of targets from 2010 is gone.

Not only that, but Moniz will be working behind a line that is only as experienced as last season's model on paper. If you look behind the numbers, Austin Hanson holds all but one of the returning starts from the line.

Plus only Royce Pollard returns in the receiving core, which means breaking in a whole slew of new hands to grab Moniz' throws.

In an offense predicated on passing first and figuring out what to do after that, this is not a good sign, especially since last season, with a similiar number of returning starts, albeit more spread among the line, the Warriors surrendered 40 sacks.

Hope Moniz enjoy looking up at the clear skies in Hawaii.

Best name: While Bubba Poueu-Luna would normally win for the juxtaposition of Southern and island nomenclature, and Penitito Faalologo is just fun to say, the real winner is the one that has no business being crammed onto the back of a jersey. Chauncey Winchester-Makainai, the trophy is yours.

Trending: Down - So the MRI will always tend to overrate Hawaii thanks to their ability to play 14 games. But that shouldn't take away from the ability of the Warriors to consistently turn out winners. There should be a statue to June Jones in the parking lot for all he did to change the culture on the islands into one of winning. This is Greg McMackin's fourth season in charge of the Warriors and he has yet to step out of the shadow of Jones on the island. It probably won't change this season as no season has returned this few starters on offense since before 2004. The WAC is probably still up for grabs given that Boise is no longer there, but it will be tough for Hawaii to work its way this far up the MRI rankings again.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:49 PM

Fast 40 countdown: West Virginia

West Virginia

Last season: 9-4, 21st in the MRI

The good: West Virginia welcomes in Dana Holgorsen who should provide a huge boost in the game planning and offensive production at West Virginia. Holgorsen has turned teams into scoring machines at every stop he has made, and with the talent on the Mountaineers, there is no reason to believe it won't continue in this stop.

West Virginia loses most of its running output from last season, but that will take a back seat in the new offensive scheme and it will rely more on the arm of Geno Smith. Smith turned in an impressive 24-7 TD-INT ratio last season on 65 percent completions.

Almost all his top targets are back along with most of his offensive line.

In other words, West Virginia could be throwing up 40 points per game early in the year and it won't stop once it hits Big East play.

The bad: West Virginia welcomes in Dana Holgorsen. There was a lot of bad blood aired in the media over the summer, which ultimately led to Bill Stewart being sent packing a year early. Stewart and his wife attempted to discredit the new Mountaineer head coach and it backfired.

It is tough to tell if the entire incident is behind the Mountaineer team. Most of the team was brought in by Stewart and while he was the problem, there can be a hangover effect on kids who looked at him as their leader.

To make things worse, the defense is somewhat in rebuilding mode this season as only four starters are back from an impressive group that allowed just 13.5 points and 261 yards per game.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has done wonders with less before at West Virginia, so there is hope he can do it again. After all, this is the Big East. There won't be too many high powered attacks going against the Mountaineers this season.

Best name: Chad Snodgrass

Trending: Flat - While there are a lot of questions around the West Virginia program, they do benefit from playing in the Big East, where there may be only two other teams contending for the league title. Holgorsen's offenses have the ability to compete in shootouts should the defense not fully find its path early on. West Virginia does go to South Florida and Maryland while getting LSU at home, all three of which could be difficult 'W's. Still it is hard to think that West Virginia can't at least come close to last season's win total. Expect the offensive gains and likely defensive drops to offset, having the Mountaineers at the tail end of the MRI Top 25 all season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:43 PM

Fast 40 countdown: South Carolina

South Carolina

Last season: 9-5, 22nd in the MRI

The good: Marcus Lattimore is back, any questions? The fabulous frosh who tore up the SEC and everyone else should give the Gamecocks a major advantage on offense. Stephen Garcia may run himself into the doghouse with Steve Spurrier (although he is still supposed to start this season), but Lattimore can anchor the South Carolina offense no matter who is taking the snaps.

In fact, most of the top skill players from last season return, which could mean that the Gamecocks are ready to unleash more than the 31 points per game they put up last season. If so, it could be a return to the flashy offense that Spurrier used at Florida, although that is the thought each season at South Carolina, and rarely has that been the case.

They also return a ton of experience on defense, making this team the best that Spurrier has been able to assemble in his seven years at the helm. Last year was just the third time ever that South Carolina has won nine games, and this season should be more of the same.

The bad: There are two big games for South Carolina: at Georgia and at Mississippi State. If the Gamecocks can survive those two, they have all the rest of the difficult games in the SEC at home. They avoid LSU and Alabama, and have just four true road games.

In short, there isn't much "bad" about this team, even if Jadeveon Clowney, the top recruit from the 2011 class injured his ankle in practice.

Best name: Jadeveon Clowney

Trending: Up - Hard to believe there could be more upside after last season for South Carolina. But the Gamecocks had a number of letdowns, including a loss to Kentucky and two sour losses to end the season against Auburn in the SEC Championship and to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. You can dismiss the bowl loss, because there was definitely some hangover from the loss to Auburn. But the loss to the Tigers was a complete shocker because of how difficult the first game between the two was for Auburn. The trick will be forgetting last season and only looking ahead as this could be the year Spurrier finally wins the SEC crown and reaches a BCS bowl. Even if the Gamecocks don't break through to the top, they should be in line for an invite to the Sugar Bowl if Alabama runs the table, beating them in the SEC championship. South Carolina should be near the top of the MRI top 25 all season long.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:18 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Iowa

Iowa

Last season: 8-5, 23rd in the MRI

The good: Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has built a reputation for winning games in the trenches. No surprise since Ferentz built his reputation in the NFL coaching offensive lines.

Iowa returns almost the entire offensive line from last season, although it is coming off an underwhelming performance in conference considering what Hawkeye fans are used to.

Still, Iowa gave up just 20 sacks all season and improved by almost 35 yards per game on the ground from 2009. The Hawkeyes should continue to improve on the line this year with more experience and allow them to break in some of the new starters.

The bad: The reason the line needs to be so good is that Iowa is breaking in almost an entirely new offense.

Gone is Ricky Stanzi. Gone is Adam Robinson. And gone is running back Rodney Coe, the Hawkeyes' top recruit, before he even stepped foot on campus. It is as if a hole opened up under the huddle and sucked in all the skill players that suit up for Iowa.

The story isn't any better on defensive side of the ball. Sure, three of the top five tacklers from last season return, but the defensive line is almost entirely new and the core of the unit is gone.

In short, this has all the markers of a rebuilding year for Iowa.

Best name: Trent Mossbrucker, which sounds like a spoof of Brent Musburger.

Trending: Down - Ferentz may be the top college name every time an NFL opening comes up, but that reputation will be put to the test this season. With so little returning on the offensive side, a lot of the success of the team will depend on the line and the defense keeping Iowa in games. The team excelled at forcing turnovers last season and still only managed eight wins. It doesn't feel like there is a chance the Hawkeyes can do that again this season. Look for them outside the top 25 in the back half of the year, after they finishing dominating Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:40 PM

August 23, 2011

Fast 40 countdown rewind: A look back at Miami

Almost two weeks ago, MRISports previewed Miami as part of its Fast 40 countdown.

Just a few days later, Charles Robinson at Yahoo Sports dropped a bombshell on the college football world that is still exploding around the Hurricane program.

Twelve players are alleged to have received extra benefits from former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, and more are under investigation. Many of those players were returning starters or moving into starting roles for Miami this season.

To be sure, the program hangs by a thread.

If enough evidence is found against them, the players will be held out of games, creating a duplicate of what happened to North Carolina in 2010. Even without evidence, university president Donna Shalala might choose to keep the 12 players from taking the field, to avoid issues in the future should the players be retroactively deemed ineligible.

It is a tough situation for new head coach Al Golden. He barely has taken the helm of the ship and the Hurricanes have blown him off course.

To be sure, the former Temple coach has accomplished more with less talent. The Owl program never attracted the caliber of talent that currently sits on the Miami bench. And while the ACC is not the MAC, it is also not the SEC.

Many experts believed that Miami could challenge for the conference crown with the 12 players in the lineup.

The MRI disagreed, citing Jacory Harris' inconsistency as a major reason why Miami would be looking up at another team in the standings all season long.

Everything had gone wrong for Miami last season, and a lot of that was because of the players on the field. Turnover prone and not as punishing on defense as promised, the Hurricanes languished at 5-3 in the ACC. Turnovers also cost them games against Ohio State, South Florida and Notre Dame.

What should have been a promising season turned into a nightmare that cost Randy Shannon his job.

Now with the monster from under the bed chasing Miami not just on the field but off, the team will likely have to rebuild with a shell of what it expected to this season.

Stephen Morris has been taking snaps alongside Jacory Harris at quarterback. As a freshman last season, Morris struggled as much as Harris, tossing just seven touchdowns along with nine picks.

Morris could turn in good performances, such as against Georgia Tech, but against defenses with a little oomph to them, such as Virginia Tech, and Morris looked like the freshman that he was.

Even if he does improve, he will need to do something without two of the top Miami receivers from last season.

The outlook is even bleaker at other positions. Miami will be falling to its third string players if all of the fingered players are held out of the lineup.

The top four defensive ends on the roster would be sitting, leaving Miami with a sophomore with two games of experience and a couple of green players taking their spots if the Hurricanes don't move someone over from tackle.

Three of the starting defensive backs will be gone, leaving Miami with little experience against the ACC passing games. Even Ohio State, which is reeling from losing Terrelle Pryor, could torch the backfield.

The MRI didn't think things were going to go swimmingly for Miami this season, even before the allegations. As the football world saw last year with North Carolina, recovering from this isn't easy, even if nothing is proven during the season.

Miami will likely lose important players as part of this investigation, sending the Hurricanes trending lower and lower this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:01 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Texas A&M

Texas A&M

Last season: 9-4, 24th in the MRI

The good: Perhaps the most important decision made by any team last season occurred at Texas A&M. The Aggies went benched Jerrod Johnson, who was expected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12, and went to Ryan Tannehill, a junior who had taken most of his snaps lined up at wide receiver -- and a pretty good one at that.

Tannehill turned the team around, from 3-3 to begin the season, to 9-3 by the end of the year. A bowl loss to LSU aside, the change made a major diffence in the team.

Ten of the starters from last seaosn's offense are back, the only change coming at right guard where even the new starter has a wealth of experience on the line.

There is no reason to believe that this year's team can't blow away the offensive performance of last year.

The bad: The Aggies lose Michael Hodges (the leading tackler from last year) and Von Miller (a major impact linebacker and first round NFL draft choice). The combined loss is 15 sacks and another 10 tackles for loss.

Replacing the talent and production of those two players will be difficult, but the Aggies have enough experience surrounding the newcomers to potentially pick up the slack.

Texas A&M also must travel to Norman to face the highly talented Oklahoma team. Provided that the Aggies get the expected production from their returning players, the game could be for the Big XII title. It just won't be easy on the road.

Best name: Chase Dube

Trending: Up - The version of Texas A&M that won its final six regular season games is almost all back, so it is hard to discount the impact that the Aggies will have this season. There is the little matter of them wanting to join the SEC which could be a distraction if the players are asked about it every week. But Mike Sherman should have this team near the top of the MRI top 25 all season long.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:48 AM

August 22, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Last season: 8-5, 25th in the MRI

The good: For the first time in almost a decade, Notre Dame looks poised to capitalize on all of the highly rated recruiting classes that were brought into the program. Brian Kelly, who had success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati with much less on the sidelines, will get to bask in the glory of having one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the country.

He has brought in his own class of highly touted players and they should have good role models ahead of them on the sidelines to keep the program moving forward, instead of languishing on the treadmill that has been the norm in South Bend.

With 17 returning starters, including two quarterbacks who each saw significant time, the Irish should be moving up the charts quickly this season.

And the schedule, which is always brutal (and particularly so this year -- #14 in the country according to Phil Steele) somewhat works in their favor. They travel to Michigan and Stanford, but get to tackle Michigan State, Air Force, USC and Navy at home.

Kelly knows there should be no excuse for bad losses in year two, especially with so much returning talent.

The bad: As of today, there was no word on who would be starting at quarterback this year. Kelly is taking his time deciding between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, and this could potentially hurt the Irish in the opener against South Florida.

The starter will have just more than a week to prepare with the offense full time, instead of splitting the reps.

The move is understandable after injuries forced the rotation at quarterback last season, and both players should be more comfortable in the pocket when they take the field in 2011. But it is also something to watch for.

One other focus for Notre Dame should be forcing turnovers, which sounds like something that Captain Obvious would point out. The Irish were 2-4 last season when losing the turnover battle, the wins coming against a USC team without its starting quarterback and against Boston College, which was a pretty easy thing to do in 2010.

With an experienced defense back and more stability on the offensive side of the ball, the Irish should have no problem moving the needle to positive side in the turnover game.

Best name: Kona Schwenke, no. Prince Shambo, no. Lo Wood, you bet.

Trending: Up - MRISports have been openly unkind to Notre Dame over the years. The performance on the field has rarely lived up to the preseason hype that the team has received in the local and national media. But this season is different. The team seems to have found a real winner for its head coach and the talent on the field is such that the Irish could make a run at a BCS bowl and deserve to play in it. More than half of their games come against teams within the Fast 40 countdown and at least half of those are trending flat or up. It won't be easy, but Notre Dame should find itself near the top of the MRI top 25 all season long.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:30 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Air Force

Air Force

Last season: 9-4, 26th in the MRI

The good: It is not often that Air Force has a slew of starters returning, but that is the situation it finds itself in for 2011. 14 starters are back, including eight on the defense that allowed just 21 points per game last season against a tough schedule. If those players improve even half as much, teams will be fearing the Falcons more than in past seasons.

Quarterback Tim Jefferson returns to lead the attack plus three starting offensive lineman and another who played in every game last season. If this year's crop of fullbacks can block like last season, the offense should put up even bigger numbers than 2010.

The bad: Can you say not much? The Falcons actually lose a bit of experience in the receiving core, but the main job of those guys is to block. Hard to believe that the guys coming up won't have that skill before taking the field against South Dakota.

The schedule lines up nicely for Air Force, grabbing TCU at home, but they do travel to Nacy, Notre Dame and Boise State. San Diego State in Colorado Springs is sandwiched in there, and could mean a tough October for the Falcons.

Best name: Ari Uzo-Okereke

Trending: Flat - It almost seems like a slight to say that Air Force will remain pretty much a hanger on at the bottom of the MRI top 25. Everything looks rosy for the team and despite the tough October, they could be headed toward another nine win season. There is plenty to dream on here and it would be no surprise if a couple of upsets had the Falcons atop the Mountain West.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:51 PM

August 21, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: North Carolina State

North Carolina State

Last season: 9-4, 27th in the MRI

The good: Eight members of the starting defense return from a unit that surrendered only 22 points per game last season. It was the best defensive performance by the Wolfpack since 2006 and as a group they had a +7 turnover differential.

They are missing co-top tackler Nate Irving, but the returning talent should be enough to repeat or better last season's strong defensive effort.

The bad: Russell Wilson's two-sport athleticism eventually ran him out of Raleigh. Coach Tom O'Brien couldn't stand having Wilson miss extra workouts during the summer while he was off playing minor league baseball. What is baffling is that Russell Wilson was in such great shape last year that he led the ACC in total offense per game.

He might not have been the most accurate passer in the league, but he was a game changer for the Wolfpack and made the team a real contender in the ACC for the first time since 2002.

He was probably robbed of player of the year honors and definitely makes his new team (Wisconsin) better immediately.

North Carolina State also loses its top two receivers from last season meaning new quarterback Mike Glennon will not have all the stellar targets that Wilson used to compile lots of stats.

Best name: Chaz McQueen

Trending: Down - Maybe this is putting a lot of stock into Wilson last season, but everything we saw at MRISports said that he was the main reason that North Carolina State was a late season win away from playing for the ACC title. The schedule is kind to the Wolfpack to begin the year and they may begin strong, but the ACC should knock them back to Earth.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:20 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Tulsa

Tulsa

Last season: 10-3, 28th in the MRI

The good: It is hard to believe that Tulsa turned in the season it did with most of the starting unit being juniors. The Golden Hurricane return 18 starters from last season, which should set them a step ahead of the rest of Conference USA on the field. CJ Ginne could become the school's all-time leading passer this season, and the offensive line is stacked with experience including transfer Joe King (Texas Tech).

Tulsa also gets SMU and Houston at home, which should give them the inside track to winning the CUSA West and send them to another conference title game.

The bad: Todd Graham left the program to become the head coach at Pitt. In his place steps Bill Blankenship who has never been a college head coach or coordinator. At Tulsa he has coached the running backs and wide receivers, plus special teams over four years, which should have him familiar with the offense. And he does have 20 years of coaching experience at the high school level.

But this is the FBS and it isn't going to be easy to repeat last season's success.

The schedule, which looks favorable in the conference, is brutal outside of it. At Oklahoma, at Boise State and Oklahoma State in Tulsa, isn't the nicest way to greet a new coach in three of the first four weeks. The Golden Hurricane could look like a spring rain before September has finished.

Best name: This should have been Shavodrick Beaver, but he transferred. The Golden Hurricane have a thing with guys named Garrett -- first name or last -- but this one goes to Colt Clontz. (Awesome putting the star with your stats over your buddy's face.)

Trending: Down - Tulsa should still compete in the conference, but the nonconference schedule is so brutal, it would be a miracle if the team was able to match last season's record. With the tough games leading off, don't expect Tulsa to be near the top 25 at all this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 6:56 PM

August 20, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Arizona

Arizona

Last season: 7-6, 30th in MRI

The good: The Wildcats return 12 starters from last season, chief among them their senior duo of QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner. Powerful and accurate, Foles has thrown for more than 7500 yards and 39 TDs in his career. For his part, Criner racked up 1200 yards and 11 TD catches last year alone.

The defense returns 7 starters, and their strength in the secondary means that this team may well force turnovers against the pass-happy Pac-12.

The bad: Line play could well be the Achilles heel of this team. The offensive line lacks a single returning starter, and at 6'5, Foles is the not the most mobile of quarterbacks. For a team this reliant on the pass (88th nationally in rushing and 9th in passing yards), the lack of a strong line may both hurt offensive production and leave Foles vulnerable to sacks and potential injury.

The defensive line is shaky as well despite the presence of 2nd team freshman All-American Justin Washington, which might be exposed against stronger running attacks and limit the chances for their secondary to influence the game.

Top name: Daxx Garman

Trending: Down - Stoops' team looked to be rising in the first eight games of last season, but Arizona came crashing down to finish the season with five straight losses including a heart breaker against ASU and a thrashing by Oklahoma State in their bowl game. The schedule does them no favors, as they begin against Northern Arizona but then face a rematch against OSU followed by match-ups against Stanford, Oregon and USC.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 6:00 AM

Fast 40 countdown: Illinois

Illinois

Last season: 7-6, 31st in the MRI

The good: Nathan Scheelhaase not only has the worst name for any beat writer in the country but he does it all for Illinois. He threw for over 1800 yards last season and he was the second leading rusher on the team. The trend should continue this season with his favorite receiver AJ Jenkins back and the offensive line back including two second team All Big 10 players in Graham Pocic and Jeff Allen.

The bad: Mikel Leshoure is gone which takes away almost 1,700 yards out of the backfield. At Illinois that is not something that can be replaced overnight. Jason Ford is the leading name to take the reps, but he will be hard pressed to replace the production from Leshoure which averaged out to 6 yards per carry.

The defense for the Illini has 11 guys who all saw significant time last season despite losing the top three tacklers, but the unit also gave up more than 350 yards per game. The improvement will need to be there along with the continuation of production. Illinois ended +8 in turnovers for the season despite starting the year at -6 after six games. If the unit can hold serve and improve a little on the yardage numbers, the Illini could make things interesting in the Leaders division (and yes, everyone keeps having to look this up).

Best name: While Illinois seems to have a thing for names of places -- there is a Houston, a Miami and a Denmark -- the winner is Whitney Mercilus. Alas no good video.

Trending: Flat - Ron Zook has had trouble turning out consistency at Illinois and last year was just the second winning season under the former Florida head man. But with the offense intact and the defense returning a great deal of experience, the team could surprise in the conference. Look for another .500-ish record and the Illini to sniff at the Top 25 in the MRI.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:29 AM

August 18, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: San Diego State

San Diego State

Last season: 9-4, 32nd in the MRI

The good: Ronnie Hillman, plain and simple. Hillman ran for more yards as a freshman (1532) than the previous "best back ever" at San Diego State, NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. He is on track, assuming he doesn't do something crazy like jump to the NFL after two year, to break Faulk's all-time record at the school in just three seasons. He will have a lot of help this year as almost the entire offensive line returns. The one new face has 14 games of experience, so it isn't exactly like he is a baby.

In all the Aztecs return eight starters on offense and get both TCU and Boise State at home in the only season that will feature both in the Mountain West.

The bad: The defense coming back is hit and miss, which isn't necessarily terrible when your coach is a defensive minded guy. Good thing that Brady Hoke is gone then and Rocky Long takes his place. The silver lining for Long is that leading tackler Miles Burris returns. Burris recorded 9.5 sacks last year and 10.5 more tackles for loss, leading the conference.

The Aztecs are also missing the top three receivers from last season. While Hillman should be bowling through opponents, the passing game might take a little while to get going with so many targets getting used to more playing time.

Best name: Alston Umuolo

Trending: Down - It is difficult to imagine the Aztecs doing as well as last season, given the coaching change and the changes in personel on defense. The numbers from last season are mixed so it isn't like there is a clear path for the team (-6 on turnovers, but they lost all four games by a total of 15 points). I am counting on Hillman to have another nice season but the overall package to be down just a notch. San Diego State will probably not touch the Top 25 in the MRI this year.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:56 PM

Al Golden, A Cautionary Tale for MAC Coaches Who Might Move Up

This season, I will be contributing over at Hustle Belt, the SBNation blog dedicated to MAC sports. I will mostly be writing on Northern Illinois, but every once in a while, I will be branching out.

The following is the first of a few longer features I plan on writing for them.

You can read the remainder of the piece here.

Welcome to Miami, Florida, the land of sun, surf and scandal.

Perhaps that should have been the sign that greeted Al Golden when he exited the plane from Philadelphia to sign his contract with the Hurricanes, a contract which might be worth as much as Enron stock once the NCAA finishes with the 'U'.

Not that Golden won't get paid. In fact, he might be paid just to go away in order to head off any lawsuits that he might dream up for unfair bargaining practices by the university. It wasn't like they didn't know this was coming when they hired him. And according to USA Today, the school didn't tell him when interviewed for the job.

No, the man who took Temple from a winless laughing stock that was kicked out of the Big East, and turned them into a 17-8 team over the last two seasons -- including its first bowl in 30 years -- was blindsided by this mess. Sure he may have suspected the program wasn't entirely squeaky clean -- this is The U after all -- but nothing could have prepared him for this.

Read more at Hustle Belt.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:28 PM

August 14, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Michigan State

Michigan State

Last season: 11-2, 33rd in the MRI

The good: The Spartan offense put up almost 30 points per game last season and this year could top that. The core of the offense returns including Kirk Cousins who could be the top quarterback in the league this season, depending on what Northwestern's Dan Persa is able to accomplish.

All of the offensive production on the ground also returns and two of the top three receivers from last season.

These Spartans don't need 300, they just have to count on five -- the starting offensive line -- to guide them through the year.

The bad: The schedule isn't kind to Michigan State. They go on the road to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Iowa, and draw Wisconsin and Ohio State from the Leaders side of the conference.

Sure Ohio State will be missing its coach and five of its top players from last season, but it is tough to count out the Buckeyes, who seem to keep moving forward even when the talent moves on to the NFL.

The Spartans also lose three of the top four tacklers from last season, which could be trouble in the run-first Big 10.

Michigan State, like Mississippi State will also be breaking in most of a new linebacking core. If teams are able to run past the defensive line (which could be a big if with the strength the Spartans have there), it could be a long time before someone tracks them down.

Best name: Fou Fonoti

Trending: Up - The record may not match last season's huge win total, but the overall performance should improve. The Spartans will likely get into a few shootouts this season, and they have the guns to win the majority of them. Look for Michigan State to climb back into the MRI top 25 this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 4:56 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Mississippi State

Mississippi State

Last season: 9-4, 34th in the MRI

The good: The SEC West was a brutal division last season, featuring five of the top six teams in the conference. The team that most people probably missed in all the fervor at the top was Mississippi State which turned in its best season since 1999 when the Bulldogs were 10-2.

Sixteen starters return and considering all of the Bulldog losses came against the cream of the crop in the division, there is a big opportunity for Mississippi State to improve on last season.

LSU, Alabama and South Carolina all come to Starkville this season, which could spell upset central. Remember how far Mississippi State pushed Auburn (17-14 loss).

The bad: It is difficult to find a glaring weakness for Mississippi State. Granted the Bulldogs don't bring in the talent that, say a Florida, does, so their returnees aren't always going to be the names that everyone has on the tips of their tongues.

Quick quiz: name last season's starting quarterback. He is back after all.

Right, see, it would take a diehard fan, or someone who studies the SEC constantly to come up with Chris Relf.

The only hole in the wave of returnees is at linebacker, but the Bulldogs do return two backups and get in transfer Brandon Maye from Clemson.

The lack of experience could leave the middle of the field a little soft during the first few weeks.

Best name: Asian Ruff (Again, no video)

Trending: Up - Nothing in the SEC is ever easy, but when you have so much returning along with a favorable setting for all of the toughest games on the schedule, there is a least a little room to breathe. Mississippi State has a chance to be the spoiler for every team hoping to contend for the National Title in the SEC. Look for the Bulldogs to trip someone and find a way into the MRI top 25 this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 4:06 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Florida

Florida

Last season: 8-5, 35th in the MRI

The good: There may not have been a quarterback last season less suited for the offense that his team ran than John Brantley. In the mobile spread option that Urban Meyer ran at Florida, Brantley acted more like a lightning rod for the opposing defenses, and as a result, the fans that remembered the magic of Tim Tebow in the same scheme.

With Meyer gone, and Will Muschamp in charge, the offensive scheme has been turned over to Charlie Weis. For all the things that Weis wasn't as a head coach, there is no denying his success when his duties are restricted to game planning and calling plays.

Brantley plays right into Weis' hands since his arm was always better than his legs. Trey Burton, who should have been behind center last season, moves to running back, where he will still be formidable in the offense (he scored more touchdowns than any other player for the Gators in 2010).

The bad: The Gators lost a ton of talent from last season. Almost the entire offensive line is gone and the defense returns just four starters. This might be a silver lining with the new scheme coming in. And if there were one team that could withstand losses due to accumulated talents it is Florida.

Don't forget that Meyer consistently turned in top quality recruiting classes before he left. The talent stepping into the starter roles this season were all among the best recruits at their position when they showed up on campus.

The talent might still be a little raw, but Florida has a couple of weeks to refine it safely before Tennessee comes to town.

Best name: Hygens Succes

Trending: Flat - The loss of talent and the total change in scheme would be enough to set most teams back for at least a season. That the Gators have so much talent stepping up should allow them to stay steady this season. They also have a brutal schedule including both Alabama and LSU from the West. Florida will be lucky to sniff the top 25 of the MRI at all this season after week 5.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:09 PM

August 12, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Navy

Navy

Last season: 9-4, 36th in the MRI

The good: There is no denying that every time Navy takes the field, they are the most disciplined unit out there -- except maybe when they take on Army. The Midshipmen will be senior laden as usual this season, and return seven offensive starters, including most of the line that helped the triple option average more than 400 yards per game in 2010.

With Paul Johnson gone, Navy has actually started passing the ball too, but the soul of the team is the ability to cause misdirection with the option.

The bad: Gone is Ricky Dobbs who tore up defenses so well that he was considered a Heisman candidate for part of 2010. In his place will be Kriss Proctor who gained 201 yards in his only start of the season, so the ball appears to still be in good hands behind the power line.

The Midshipmen return just three starters on defense, but Navy never has a problem with new players moving up through the system. By the time they are seniors they are ready to take over.

But while Navy restocks instead of rebuilds in the past few seasons, the schedule does take a slight uptick this year, and the without the leadership of Dobbs, chances are that some of last year's close wins and miracles turn into losses.

Best name: Wave Ryder

Trending: Down - Since 2002, Navy has not had a season where they won less than eight games, but with the loss of Dobbs and the big losses on defense, this looks like the year it will happen. The Midshipmen will likely trend toward .500 and drop lower in the MRI than last season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:28 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Southern Mississippi

Southern Mississippi

Last season: 8-5, 37th in MRI

The good: Stability is the key for Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles return 14 starters from last season including Austin Davis -- who has put up the best numbers ever for a quarterback at Southern Miss and that includes some guy named Favre -- and leading tackler Korey Williams who scored an impressive 11.5 tackles for loss in 2010.

With all of the significant contributors returning and a soft schedule where the toughest games are at Virginia and at Navy, the Golden Eagles are primed for an historic season.

The bad: Southern Mississippi has a history of disappointing when they appear this good. Last season looked as promising as this year and the Golden Eagles stumbled into a troubling 5-3 conference mark. It is entirely possible that they will be favored in 10 of their 12 games, and possibly all of them once the season is underway, leaving the disappointment door wide open. Another trip to the Beef O'Brady Bowl is not what this team is after.

And while the Golden Eagles could run the table, the schedule is not such that they will even get a sniff at the non-automatic qualifier spot into the BCS party. When the record gets gaudy, will this team have enough mental toughness to run the table despite the criticism?

Best name: It's unfortunate that two of the best names that Southern Mississippi had will not be on the team this year. So we have to go with the emperor: Octavius Thomas. Sorry, there doesn't appear to be any easily accessed video.

Trending: Up - Despite the past letdowns, Southern Mississippi looks to be in line for a season that happens once in a programs history. The only thing stopping this team from an undefeated season is itself. Look for Southern Mississippi to be a fixture in the MRI top 25 and possibly crack the top 15 by the end of the year. The Golden Eagles are this season's Central Florida.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:46 PM

Fast 40 countdown: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Last season: 8-5, 38th in the MRI

The good: The defense for Pittsburgh will carry them through the season. With a new head coach in Todd Graham, who was previously a defensive coordinator, and his staff from Tulsa (Don't knock the Golden Hurricane, they were 10-3 last season - the losses: East Carolina (by 2) Oklahoma State and SMU (by 3). They were snubbed for a bowl game invite), Pittsburgh is in the perfect position to capitalize on their strength from last season. Plus they have eight returning starters on that side of the ball.

On offense, maybe their best back from last season, Ray Graham is back and while the line gets new blood, there is just one projected starter who didn't see significant time last year.

The bad: There is no telling how much last season's coaching fiasco will weigh on the players. Pittsburgh may have done the wrong thing in forcing Dave Wannestedt out, believing that the results he achieved were below the exaggerated expectations. But they did the right thing canning Mike Haywood after he got into trouble with the law.

They lucked into one of the best coaches over the last four years, and expectations will again be high. Pittsburgh fans have to be patient that Graham will actually come through where the Stache didn't.

Best name: Almost was Chas Alecxih (7.5 sacks last season) since it is basically unpronounceable, but this one goes to Lafayette Pitts.

Trending: Up - Graham jumps in at the perfect time, with an experienced defense and a light schedule. Outside of the conference, Pitt gets both Notre Dame and Utah at home, which could turn the tide on last season's losses. Figure a tough one at Iowa, but the Panthers should be at the top of the Big East and near the bottom of the MRI top 25 all season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:36 AM

August 11, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Miami

Miami

Last season: 7-6, 39th in MRI

The good: If there is any team that you can easily pick out the reason for its failures, it has to be Miami. The Hurricanes were -8 in turnovers last season, including a -4 mark against Ohio State and a combined -11 in the final three games of the season -- all losses including an embarassment in the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame.

Plus 13 starters from last season are returning including quarterback Jacory Harris.

The bad: Jacory Harris is back. Yes, you read that right; the guy everyone wants to be a Heisman candidate returns and it is a bad thng.

Why? Because he is really inaccurate with the football.

In three seasons, he has thrown 39 interceptions and his completion percentage has declined each year. This is not what was expected out of a quarterback who was among the top 10 at his position coming out of high school.

You can blame changes in coaching and possibly a lack of focus on the offensive side of the ball, but that doesn't explain everything. Somewhere some blame has to be taken and Harris has a bullseye firmly on his back, with Stephen Morris waiting his turn to take over.

Maybe a change to former Temple coach Al Golden will help to change this, but even Golden's squads weren't exactly stellar when it came to keeping turnovers in check.

The Hurricanes have also lost Seantrel Henderson for an indeterminate amount of time. Henderson was supposed to switch to left tackle this season and provide more stability on the line, but back surgery sort of puts that plan on hold.

Best name: Harland Gunn

Trending: Down - On paper this team looks like the total opposite of Maryland. Everything went poorly for them and the only way they can go is up, right? Wrong. There is too much riding on Harris and he has proven to be almost totally unreliable. Add in the coaching change and this season doesn't seem to be going in the direction that most predictions show. Look for Miami to finish outside the top 40 in the MRI this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:45 AM

August 10, 2011

Fast 40 countdown: Maryland

Maryland

Last Season: 9-4, 40th in MRI

The good: Maryland returns seven players on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Danny O'Brien, most of his offensive line and seven of the top 10 tacklers from last season on defense. By that measure, all the talent should be there to make a run in the ACC. After all, it isn't like the team with the most skill has won this league any time recently. Oh wait, this is the good.

The schedule definitely works in Maryland's favor as they face all of the toughest opponents at home, or close to home with the exception of Florida State.

The bad: After Ralph Friedgen stole the ACC coach of the year honor last season, he was told to hit the road. The move was met with mixed reaction. The Terps had had arguably their best season since 2006, but certain alums who give a lot of money/clothing to the school weren't too happy with the performance. The house wasn't being protected well enough. And amazingly, it wasn't Debbie Yow doing the firing despite her many threats over the years.

In comes Randy Edsall, who brings with him a record of strong success at Connecticut. OK, even I had to laugh at that.

Edsall helped a team transition from the 1-AA to the big time, and got a lot of credit for winning a Big East conference that his old 1-AA teams would have been competitive in. Why do you think Villanova is still trying to find a way to join up?

Edsall doesn't need to do a complete turnaround here, but new coaches often have struggles molding the offense completely during the first season. Add in a defensive coordinator poached from Southern Mississippi whose units were trending in the wrong direction in terms of points per game. Top it off with a lot of the numbers going in Maryland's direction last season (such as a +15 turnover margin) and you have all the signs of a rebuilding year that didn't necessarily have to be.

Top name: Tyrek Cheeseboro

Trending: Flat - If Friedgen had been back, this could have been one of the surprise teams in the ACC. This team could still surprise, but a lot will depend on how quickly they adapt to a new gameplan and coach. They didn't do themselves any favors starting the year with Miami and West Virginia.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:30 PM

The Welcome Back post, in which our hero reveals he never really left

So, I was gone for a while, did anything happen without me?

Admittedly, it has been difficult to get excited for college football season this year. Maybe it is that the weather in Chicago is more like the weather you would expect in ... let's say hell.

Fall football seems years away rather than weeks, so you can imagine how hard it is to imagine that teams have started practice and will be playing before long.

And in the time I have been gone, I have watched more blogs go away, blogs with great writing and writers, who just saw the time they put into their corner of the world not be worth it any longer.

It is hard to keep something going for a few months, let alone several years. The MRI is now entering its 12th year in some format. Some years have been more populated than others, but it has always been around.

I plan on sticking around despite all the changes in the blog landscape/my life/my career/etc. There may not always be a ton posted, but it will come back if you wait long enough.

If you happen upon this, welcome, and if you are a regular reader, thanks for coming by again. I hope everyone finds something that keeps them interested, even if it is just the rankings from week to week. Heck, that was the whole reason for this site in the first place.

Eventually I did find a reason to come back.

Maybe it was this video that Geeves over at Hustle Belt sent me.

Nothing can get you in mood for football faster than watching a Notre Dame kid get laid out. I would advise watching only until the Auburn and Arkansas players get their helmets locked together, otherwise Soulja Boy will have you wanting to poke your ears with an ice pick.

Whatever it was, I am back, and will be bringing some of the other faces that have been around these parts with me again.

Meanwhile, we have some catching up to do, cause gee, some stuff did happen while we were gone.

1. Ohio State - Can't say I didn't see this coming. In fact, I predicted this years ago. So what if I was a little off on the exact date of the Crisis in Columbus? The best hope for the continuation of some semblance of structure in college athletics is to slam Ohio State with most of the force that the NCAA can bring to bear. Firing a coach should not be the "Get out of jail free" card that it seems to have been in the past. Teams need an example set for them.

2. Oregon - Speaking of examples, could there be a worse role model than the Oregon coaching staff at this point? I can't imagine the school will get a tough punishment for its transgressions, but it was sure funny watching them work up some type of excuse for the money. Did anyone really think that the NCAA was going to fall for some bad paste ups?

3. North Carolina - Sorry Butch. I had faith in you. Too bad you quickly eroded whatever confidence the board had left when you offered a scholarship to your son. At least you know that North Carolina won't be going any further without you there. But then again, this is the ACC; anyone seems to be able to win the conference.

To kick off the year, we are going to give a rise or fall vote to every team that finished in the top 40 of the MRI at the end of last season. Had we done that prior to last season, every major player during 2010 would have been commented on... well, except for one. Auburn finished 41 in the MRI in 2009.

But then again, the MRI only thought they were the 7th best team in the country at the end of last year.

Stay tuned for the countdown over the coming days.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:17 PM

January 10, 2011

The MRI vs. The World, Round 7, after which we crown our champion

And so, we have reached the end, and fittingly, The MRI vs. The World comes down to the end also. Three contestants, including the microchips, are tied for the lead with 22 games correct out of 34 so far.

If Oregon takes the title, the MRI and Jeff Popelka will win. If Auburn and Cam Newton prove the best, Will Harris will again take the title (he is a beast!).

Congratulations to all the contestants, especially Pat Forde and Dennis Dodd who will be bringing up the rear, proving that covering college football as your job doesn’t mean that you know anything about football (or bowl games, maybe. But I can’t give Dodd the benefit of the doubt because he is never near the top, and often near the bottom. His editor knows more than him consistently. Houston, we have a problem).

And special congratulations to the MRI that showed a computer can pick winners as well as the experts and shouldn’t be dismissed off-hand as the talking heads on television often do.

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World, Round 7, after which we crown our champion"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:00 AM

January 3, 2011

The MRI vs. The World 2010, Round 6, where we move on into a post-holiday daze

First off, an apology to all 30 of you out there who actually came to MRISports.com for your bowl picks over the weekend.

Outside forces caused time to run out prior to being able to post all of the picks for the multitude of games that took place.

Have no fear… we will update the previous round with the tables so you can see how things are going and get your helmet fix.

After all, what is better than a rundown of every SEC helmet (since they dominated the Big Ten on New Year’s Day)?

As far as the race for the title, it appears that things will come down to a few remaining games, and the computer is right in the thick of it. The MRI’s fate will definitely hinge on the Sugar Bowl, where it has gone with Big Ten tri-champ Ohio State. That goes against the common line and could have the MRI beating the world in the end.

Right now, there is a four-way tie for first place with 17 correct picks between the computer, MRISports writer Jeff Popelka, ESPN’s Todd McShay, and oh, that guy that programmed the MRI a long way back.

The final result should hinge on the Sugar, Cotton and Compass bowls, although McShay might eliminate himself by having gone with a Sun Belt team in the GoDaddy.com bowl.

Enjoy the remainder of the picks, which will appear here until we get to the championship game (and announce who has come out on top).

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World 2010, Round 6, where we move on into a post-holiday daze"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 6:00 PM

December 31, 2010

The MRI vs. The World, Round 5, in which we say Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Let’s go bowling!

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World, Round 5, in which we say Happy New Year"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:00 AM

December 29, 2010

The MRI vs. The World, Round 4

The MRI has seen better days. Almost one-third of the bowl season is gone and the computer has only seen the team it favored come in the winner four times.

Then again, last time the MRI took on all comers, it started much worse, but so did the rest of the pack.

This year, Todd McShay has pulled out to the lead and doesn’t show any signs of looking back. Out of 11 games, McShay has correctly picked nine of the winners. Scott Van Pelt is right there with him, having correctly picked eight games.

And then come our experts here at MRISports.com. Jeff Popelka has grabbed the brass ring seven times, and Brian McCabe and Ben Miraski each have six winners (along with Will Harris).

The computer is saddened that it couldn’t have performed better so far, but on the bright side, a lot of teams have gotten to see their helmets in lights.

On to the games (to be updated throughout the day as previews come in).

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World, Round 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

December 27, 2010

The MRI vs. The World 2010 - Round 3

Much like what happened to the NFL and the Sunday night game, a snow storm delayed the preview for the Florida International/Toledo game and left it somewhere on I-55 in the middle of Illinois.

Have no fear. The show goes on.

The current leaders are Todd McShay and Scott Van Pelt of ESPN, who have each predicted six games correctly so far this bowl season.

The lead is slim though as Jeff Popelka is hot on their heels with five correct and a whole slew of participants with four.

And bowl season is just getting started.

On to the next few games

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World 2010 - Round 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

December 21, 2010

The MRI vs. The World 2010 - Bowl Predictions against the Experts, Part 2

Three games down and a boat load still to go.

The MRI is off to a good start, going 2-1 in the first set of games. A few bright prognosticators also picked up two wins. Only one man stands on top.

Scott Van Pelt correctly chose all three games and leads the pack, but there is a long way to go until the Tigers and Ducks close us all out.

In this second set of predictions, we will take you out to Christmas Eve, and the Hawaii Bowl.

Updated standings will come in our third installment, and we will continue to update the winning helmet after each game has finished.

Enjoy the picks, the games and your holiday.

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World 2010 - Bowl Predictions against the Experts, Part 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 4:00 PM

December 18, 2010

The MRI vs. The World 2010 - Bowl Predictions against the Experts

It is bowl season, which means it is time for the MRI to take on all comers in the 2010 (and into 2011) version of the MRI vs. the World.

Last time the MRI faced off against the world (in 2009), it used a late sprint to finish in a tie for second overall, beating out such computer haters as Skip Bayless and Kirk Herbstreit. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And for good measure, the computer is bringing back the man it lost to that season, Will Harris of ESPN. Along with Harris, long time rivals Dennis Dodd and Darin Darst of CBS are back. We also have the Congrove computer to provide another microchip to the bunch.

Some expert picks won’t be revealed until after kickoff today, so we will have to wait for their knowledge to be added, along with the official World pick based on the team that gets more fans picks on ESPN’s bowl pickem.

Last time around. the combined knowledge of college football fandom was good enough for last place.

The MRISports.com writers will also be picking each game (straight up for the challenge). They will also lend their (mostly) winning spread records to your sports knowledge with at least one rundown on each game and a pick against the spread.

So sit back on this first day of bowl season and enjoy the MRI vs. the World.

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World 2010 - Bowl Predictions against the Experts"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:30 AM

December 4, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Title game - Virginia Tech vs. Florida State

All hail King Ralph!

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen won the ACC coach of the year award as chosen by the media. All for going from 2-10 to 8-4 this season.

Forget that the Terps barely survived against Navy. Or that they went 1-2 against ranked teams, and that they blew their chance to win the ACC Atlantic.

But Ralph was the best of the 12 because he used an easy non-conference slate, plus a cake walk of a conference schedule to get to eight wins.

If Maryland had actually been that good, maybe they would have ended up higher than No. 44 in the MRI rankings.

The real winner should have been Jimbo Fisher who had all the weight of a rabid fan base against him, and yet managed to get nine wins, including wins of in-state rivals Miami and Florida.

But that would put me in the minority of the voting apparently.

The one good thing that did come out of Friedgen’s win was a quote by Gary Williams, who got to take a shot at former Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow.

Yow had tried her darnedest to push Williams out the door, despite a national championship, despite being the most successful coach in the history of the school. Yow did the unthinkable.

And then she went to North Carolina State to take the same job (Look out Tom O’Brien). Doesn’t anyone making these decision pay attention?

And here is what Williams said:

“It’s just nice to see. It’s nice he got his eighth win against N.C. State, too.”

Gary Williams = Elephant.

On to the game!

Virginia Tech vs. Florida State (+4) at Charlotte - No matter what you want to say about the state of the ACC, at least the two teams playing for the championship of the conference have at least some skill this year. Both finished in the MRI top 25, and although Virginia Tech finished lower down than they normally do in those rankings, they had to come from a long way back after two season-opening losses.

How can you go against the Hokies on a 10-game winning streak? They had every reason in the world to roll over. And yet they fought back to finish with 10 wins, continuing their nation’s best streak of double digit finishes in that column.

So I have to believe that with ACC player of the year Tyrod Taylor (should have been North Carolina State’s Russell Wilson), Virginia Tech will win this one with ease.

The computer… well, it thinks this one will be a little closer. It only gives Virginia Tech a 59.60 percent chance to win.

But the human knows better on this one (I hope). Take the Hokies, lay the four and book your tickets for the Orange Bowl.

The experiment went 4-5 last week to move to 20-16 on the season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:00 AM

December 3, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Title game - Auburn vs. South Carolina

So Auburn got to breathe a sigh of relief Wednesday. The NCAA ruled that Cam Newton could play in the SEC Championship game.

Not a bad deal considering they basically in the same statement convicted his father of wrongdoing. Sure, they didn’t outright say that the elder Newton was going to be in trouble, but there is little doubt left that the NCAA will come down hard on the dad.

Without Newton, the Tigers were toast. There would be no one on the sidelines who could step up and perform as well as Newton and save them from a defeat in the SEC title game without the explosive do-everything quarterback.

Before we look at this game let’s take a stroll around the league for a little fun.

To start, how is it that everyone is just starting to catch on to this whole “John Brantley can’t run the Florida offense” idea?

This is something that should have been obvious a long time ago. The Gators are not built for quarterbacks like Chris Leak any longer. I believe that was something this column warned Gator fans about back in September.

Anyone who has watched the SEC at all over the past few years could see that after one game.

And second, here is a great mash-up of all the great Derek Dooley moments from the past year. The Tennessee Volunteers might not have been very entertaining to watch this season, but their coach can sure put on a show.

Ok, and with that to the game.

Auburn vs. South Carolina (+4.5) at the Georgia Dome - In case you missed it, last time these two teams met, South Carolina almost upset the Tigers at Auburn. An eight-point squeaker of a win served to announce Newton’s arrival on the big stage. Three rushing touchdowns and two passing TDs immediately had him listed on Heisman lists and Auburn started to climb quickly in the rankings.

The Tigers were No. 17 at the time of the first game. Now their entire season depends on if they can repeat their performance at No. 2.

The first contest could be analyzed as a microcosm of the Tigers’ season. Just think of all the games they were down, how many times they had to make up deficits because their defense took either half a game or the whole four quarters to remember that it was OK to hit the opposing team.

Auburn won’t be able to stop anyone for long. At least that is one thing we have learned this season.

But can South Carolina hold down Cam Newton for an entire game? It is something that no one, not even the Gamecocks could do for 60 minutes this season.

Every team has failed to contain the quarterback.

Perhaps the South Carolina coaches should show the team a video of the Bears containing Philadelphia’s Michael Vick on Sunday. Perhaps they should show them a tape of how Mississippi once shut down the last mobile great in the SEC, Tim Tebow.

Or perhaps they should just turn the team loose. The players all know what is on the line Saturday. South Carolina will have its best chance to play in the Sugar Bowl ever.

That’s 15 bowl games, including four under Spurrier, and no Sugar Bowls. Think that the Gamecocks won’t be hungry for this one? Steve Spurrier knows what it is like to be in New Orleans on New Year’s Day (and after in the BCS era).

But no matter how well South Carolina plays, it is hard to believe that they can overcome the drive to play in the national title game.

This one will be close, as almost all of the Tiger wins against top opponents have been this season.

But the key here is that Auburn still wins it. Only not by enough to cover. Take the Gamecocks and the 4.5.

Southern Exposure went 6-2 last week to improve to 45-39-1 on the season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:00 AM

December 2, 2010

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 14 Preview

pac10-logo.pngThis week the Pac-10 is less about drama and more about expectations.

Rivalries aside, this is the week for Oregon to punch their ticket to the title game. In doing so, the Ducks would also deny Oregon State a bowl game, a factor that may portend an even more chippy and physical matchup than the usual slugfest that is the Civil War.

Arizona and Arizona State will also have some heat associated with it, as this is again a rivalry game with bowl implications. ASU has had some miserable losses this year (the most brutal being the game against Wisconsin that was lost on the back of a missed extra point), and they now need a road win against Arizona to become bowl eligible.

In other action, we see one of the worst Apple Cup matchups in recent history, and a USC/UCLA clash that represents a combined 11 wins. Oh joy.

LNwtP-10 went 4-1 last week to bring the season total to 34-30 against the spread.

Thursday game:

Arizona State at Arizona (-6.5) - Arizona is the favorite here in their home stadium, but the once high flying Cats have now suffered three straight losses. Both sides of the ball have suffered in this streak, and now they face a Sun Devil squad that has been one of the toughest luck teams in all of college football. I think that the Wildcats will win at home, but it will be tight. Take ASU and the points.

Saturday games:

Oregon at Oregon State (+15.5) - I still can’t make heads or tails of the Beavers. No one can. This is a team that in back to back weeks lost to Washington State and then turned around to beat USC. Again, there’s no way to know which team shows up. Oregon is still awesome and this won’t be a let down, so if you feel the irresistible urge to play this game, go with the Ducks.

Washington at Washington State (+8) - They play for the Apple Cup. Yay. In this matchup (I pray no one has to actually watch), take Wazzu and the points.

USC at UCLA (+6) - While the large billboards that UCLA took out a couple of years ago proclaimed “The football monopoly in Los Angeles is officially over,” I don’t think that UCLA envisioned that they would continue to struggle while USC would get much worse. They are now much closer than they were five years ago, but that has very little to do with UCLA. Again, this is a game to stay away from, but if you must, take USC and lay the six.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 3:30 PM

November 29, 2010

On the Field: Boise State's loss doesn't mean Gee was right, sort of

At the risk of sounding like a BCS apologist, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee does have a point.

TCU and Boise State would not go undefeated if they played in the Big Ten or SEC. Not with the teams they currently put on the field.

However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a shot at the National Title while playing in their current conferences.

Winning all your games, no matter who you play is still difficult. It might not have the same ring to it to say you beat Utah, Air Force and San Diego State than if you can rattle off the long-hallowed names in college football circles, but it is still an achievement.

What all the arguments against Gee forget is that the playing field isn’t level. Maybe the way that Gee voiced his opinion was not correct, but the sentiment isn’t wrong.

Look down the roster at TCU and you aren’t going to find the highly sought after recruits. You aren’t going to find the same kids that Texas and Texas A&M fought over. You won’t find the starters from countless high school senior bowls across the country.

What you will find are kids like Andy Dalton, who was barely thought of as the 100th best player in his state during his senior year. Across the country, according to Rivals.com, he was only the 23rd best pro-style quarterback.

When the offers came in, there wasn’t an envelope from Texas (who during 2006 was overstocked with pro-style quarterbacks). And there weren’t offers from other pro-style offenses in the big six conferences.

Dalton had interest from exactly four schools: TCU, Memphis, San Diego State and UTEP. He ultimately chose to stay in state with one of the only two offers he had.

The same story could be repeated down the roster. They were all ignored by the big boys, but coaches like Chris Petersen at Boise State and Gary Patterson at TCU took them and cobbled together the best team they could with players who don’t get a sniff at the next level.

When they take the field, they are facing similar competition, just as when Ohio State takes the field in the Big Ten, they face teams with the same recruiting power they have. The end talent might not be exactly the same, but at least it is in the same ballpark.

So when TCU beats every team on its Mountain West schedule, plus Oregon State and Baylor, it says a lot about the skill of that team.

And that skill will will only improve with continued success.

The attention that a national title run draws, even the run itself is stunted by those in power, can only help recruiting. For an example of that, look at the NCAA basketball tournament.

In the latest book by mid-major guru, Kyle Whelliston, One Beautiful Season, he speaks with coaches from smaller conference teams that have finally earned a shot in the NCAA tournament.

Those coaches see more interest from recruits, and over time a different level of recruit, because of the attention their school had.

For most of these schools, their one NCAA tournament game is the only time they get any publicity all season.

So if one shot, one shining moment, can change their fortunes on the recruiting front, imagine what the multi-million dollar spotlight of a BCS game can do for a program.

After all, it isn’t just the $15 million bowl game this season that major college presidents like Gee are worried about. It is the future $15 million bowl games that they might now have to share. If TCU can start to draw bigger and better recruits, it would be hard to ignore them for long.

The real litmus test on how your conference affects recruiting will be Utah.

As the Utes prepare to jump to the Pac-12, they should see an uptick in the type of player they are able to land. It makes it a bit more palatable to spend four years in Salt Lake City if there is a shot at a BCS bowl each season than if the New Mexico Bowl is the best you can hope for in a normal year.

If the recruiting classes improve for the Utes, the rise of those without the football pedigree will continue and the loss of the money that used to be guaranteed for the old guard will cease. That has to shake the world of men like Gee. Leave it to the rich, old, white guy in the bow tie to be prejudiced.

No, TCU and Boise State wouldn’t have had their seasons this year if they were in another conference. Neither would Central Florida, or Nevada, Northern Illinois, or San Diego State, all schools that excelled on the football field this season in their respective conferences.

They might not have the resumes that the big boys are bringing to the table, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing good football.

And when there are at least a few teams in your conference playing good football, as Boise State found out on Friday, it makes it tough to win all your games.

It takes a truly great team to do that, perhaps one like TCU.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:00 AM

November 28, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 11

For the first season since the football MRI began, it looks likely that neither of the two teams that will play for the national title will be ranked in the top two spots at the end of the regular season.

It is still possible for Oregon to move into that hallowed ground, but would take a dominating win in the Civil War against Oregon State and a shaky victory (or another loss) by Boise State against Utah State for it to happen.

Auburn, for its part, has no shot at moving that high, even if they managed to trounce South Carolina next week. Considering they almost didn’t win the first time around against the Gamecocks, it seems unlikely the second meeting will go that differently.

Then again, Auburn could do its part and lose in the SEC championship. Were that to occur, TCU will likely move into the title game.

And they would immediately be the favorite, at least as far as the MRI is concerned.

The Horned Frogs closed out their regular season as the MRI leaders, and with a comfortable margin on Boise State (who despite the loss remained No. 2), Ohio State and Oregon. There is almost no chance that the final weeks of action will change that ranking before the bowl season.

As for Oregon and Auburn, there is a clear reason why they are not among the top two, or even three teams: Defense.

In the past, the MRI leaders have been a combination of offense and defense. They may have scored 50 points per game, but they didn’t need to. They were dominating on the defensive side of the ball to such a degree that maybe three touchdowns would have sufficed.

You see, most MRI leaders ranked among the best in defense and scoring defense.

That list includes TCU, by the way. The Horned Frogs are No. 1 in defensive yards allowed and No. 1 in scoring defense.

Oregon is at least close at 29th in the nation in defense and 15th in scoring defense, which has helped them to a No. 4 ranking.

But Auburn isn’t even in the conversation, ranking 57th in both categories. If there was any question as to why the undefeated Tigers were No. 10 in the MRI this week, they can look at those two numbers as the main reason.

It takes strength in all phases of the game to be considered great. You can’t just outscore your opponent. You have to dominate them on both sides of the ball.

And so while we might end up with a very entertaining title game, with a Las Vegas over/under opening near triple digits, it won’t be showcasing the two best teams in the country.

Check out all the rankings in week 11 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 11"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:00 PM

November 26, 2010

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 13 Preview

Given my turkey induced hangover and some technical difficulties, this will be an abbreviated LNwtP-10.

UCLA at Arizona State (-13.5) - UCLA laid an egg last week at Washington, but this is a huge line against an Arizona State team that has been inconsistent. Take UCLA and the points.

Arizona at Oregon (-20.5) - While I doubt that the Wildcats will go to the preposterous lengths that Cal did to frustrate Oregon, I still look for them to try and slow the pace of the Blur offense. The Ducks win at Autzen, but the Cats are a value at +20.5.

Washington at California (-7) - The Bears got whacked last week and Washington rolled, but I’m not sure this game necessarily follows that template. Still, I’m not excited about the Cal offense without Riley, so if you must, take Locker and the Huskies with the points.

Oregon State at Stanford (-13.5) - I hate the up and down nature of Oregon State this season, and they have really burned me. They humiliated USC last week, but that gives me no confidence that Katz and Co. will keep it together this week. At home, Stanford keeps their foot on the gas and covers.

Notre Dame at USC (-4) - Is Notre Dame the team that lost to Tulsa or humiliated Utah? Do we get the same USC team that was horrendous last week after Barkley went out? Will Barkley play? Will he be effective? With more questions than answers, I’ll take ND and the points.

Lazy Holiday: Washington State (Can you blame them?)

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 6:00 PM

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 13

Well, Pittsburgh won again and remains in the driver’s seat for the BCS birth.

Again and again and again … there is nothing wrong with the college football system. Nothing needs to be changed at all.

NOTRE DAME beat Pittsburgh, … somewhat easily.

And I am stepping down off my soapbox.

There are some compelling Big East-ACC matchups this weekend, but they are upstaged by the annual “Backyard Brawl” between Pitt and West Virginia. A Mountaineer victory will really confuse the BCS bowl picture, but you can bet those in Storrs and upstate New York will be rooting for the Mountain Men.

Last week the Big East portion of the BiACC went 1-3 dropping its pathetic overall record to 20-23-1. I know, … pretty sad.

But don’t fret; I’ve got some good ones for you now. Take a look at what the amazing football conference [Ed. Note: The Big East has slipped back to sixth overall in the conference race, worst among the automatic qualifiers.] has on the docket for Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday

Louisville at Rutgers (+3) - The Redbirds suffered a disappointing loss last week against the Mountaineers, but aim to become “bowl eligible” Friday.

A 4-6 record doesn’t even begin to say how bad Rutgers is. The Piscataway punching bag gave up 69 points last week to Cincinnati. This team has been horribly inconsistent all season except when it comes to being bad.

Louisville’s stingy defense will pester the Scarlet Knights all day. The Redbirds will win and easily cover three at home.

West Virginia at Pittsburgh (-3) - Yes folks, it is time for the BACKYARD BRAWL. A few years back, Pitt ended WVU’s National Title hopes by shocking a Pat White-less Mountaineer squad. Pitt won’t be competing for it all, but it still holds the keys to a BCS birth. West Virginia would love to repay the favor.

A Mountaineer win on Friday really puts the conference in a tizzy. There could be up to three two-loss teams and then it is anybody’s call as to what happens next.

So, let’s do it. West Virginia wins. Just put those three points in the bank.

Saturday:

Cincinnati at Connecticut (-1.5) - Who has any sort of idea about this Bearcat team? Just when you think you have them pegged, they go out and pin 69 on Rutgers.

Just when you think you have this Connecticut team figured out, they go and embarrass Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

You know what this means, don’t you? Yea, neither do I.

Connecticut is at home and controls the ball with a balanced running attack. This will keep Cincy’s high-powered offense off the field more often than not.

I am going with home-field advantage in this one. UConn still has something to play for. Something huge, quite possibly. So, take the Huskies and lay the points.

Boston College at Syracuse (-2.5) - Syracuse really crapped the bed last week against West Virginia. They had a perfect opportunity to stay in the BCS race, but last week’s loss put their destiny in the hands of others. And that is never a good place to be.

BC is having a down year as well, much like the bulk of the ACC. I am not very familiar with this year’s squad, but Notre Dame rolled them in Chestnut Hill, so suffice it to say, they are not too good. The Eagles offense is abysmal, so they must rely on their defense.

Take a very good Syracuse defense and mix it with one of the worst offenses in college football and you come up with a victory for the Orange.

And a victory by more than 3 points, … if you know what I am saying.

South Florida at Miami (-11.5) - Another Big East/ACC Saturday tilt for you football-loving fans.

The Fighting Skip Holtzes have acquitted themselves nicely thus far at 6-4. Some would have hoped for more, but that is not too shabby for the first-year head coach.

Miami is having another disappointing season under Randy Shannon. The natives are restless in Coral Gables so this is a big game for the Hurricanes. An 8-4 finish looks so much better than 7-5.

The minds in Vegas put a lot of points on this one (11.5), but I look for the Hurricanes to come out with wild abandon and put an old-fashioned Miami hurting on the Bulls.

Miami wins easily and by more than two touchdowns.

Patsy Party: Again, insert Big Least joke here.

Posted by Brian McCabe at 8:00 AM

November 25, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC / Southern Exposure Special: ACC, SEC Week 13 Preview

It is crossover central this week in the ACC and SEC, so we decided to preview all the games in one massive rundown. The computer will as usual assist on any game with an ACC team involved. After all, it is doing better than most humans at this point.

The ACC also dips into Big East waters this week, which is a good thing. As we talked about a few weeks ago, that is the only major conference against which the Atlantic Coast seems to have some bragging rights.

As for those games going into SEC country, there could be some issues.

As an added bonus, the ACC championship game will be set after this weekend’s game between North Carolina State and Maryland. Either the Wolfpack will take care of business and move on to the extra game, or Florida State will be back fighting for the championship against Virginia Tech.

But enough banter. On to the games.

Friday:

Auburn at Alabama (-5) - Nothing like starting off with the big one. Only one thing to watch for here. Can the desire for a National Title out motivate the desire for a rival to destroy those title hopes. Since Alabama has been eliminated from the SEC title, and could use a win here to look a little better for a possible at-large berth into the BCS, they have a ton to play for. It won’t be so much about stopping Cam Newton here as it will be about whether their passing game can take advantage of Auburn. The Tigers can stuff the run, so that would be the only chance for offense here. This is a rivalry and should be close. Plus Auburn is not going to go down without a ton of fight so I can’t imagine this one getting wider than a touchdown at any point during this game. Take Auburn and the five.

Saturday:

Boston College at Syracuse (-2.5) - The prodigal son returns home, somewhat in this ACC-Big East showdown. Boston College hasn’t really excelled since leaving the Big East, and that should could be plenty of motivation to stick it to its former conference partner. Nothing like showing that even if you stick in your new conference, you are still better than the teams in the old one. Both teams have clinched at least some sort of bowl berth (and there are a lot of them to go around this season) so no one has that to motivate them. The Orange though have been the more consistent team this season. The computer likes them at 53.89 percent, and that sounds good for getting the Big East into the win column in this mini-showdown. Take Syracuse and lay the points.

Virginia at Virginia Tech (-24) - As much as I would like to think that Virginia Tech would rest its starters halfway through this one, I know there is no chance of that. The Hokies are still scraping to get back some of the respect that they lost in the two season-opening losses. Even though they haven’t lost since, there is a still a bit of tarnish on what is normally a sleek resume. Plus this win would give them 10 on the season, extending their streak. That certainly didn’t look like it would happen prior to week three, four, or even five. The computer says the Hokies are all but a lock to win this one (94.01 percent), so take Virginia Tech and lay the 24.

South Florida at Miami (-11.5) - In the second Big East-ACC showdown, the new guard (South Florida) travels to face the old guard (Miami). It is unfortunate the injuries have piled up this season for Miami. At times, they have looked every bit the Hurricane teams of old, minus a little of the bravado and swagger thanks to a decade of mediocrity. At times, they have just looked pathetic. Count last week’s flop against Virginia Tech in that second category. Now South Florida under Skip Holtz is not yet on par with the great, or really not so great this season, teams in the Sunshine State. But they are improving and they do not want to be overshadowed by that upstart in Orlando. The computer likes Miami to win at 77.66 percent, but my head says they are just too unpredictable right now to lay two scores. Take the Bulls and the 11.5.

Florida at Florida State (-2.5) - And here is where the ACC falters. Going up against the big boys a little further south is never a pleasant experience. Even when Florida State was Florida State, these games against Florida were a nightmare. But of any year to catch the Gators, this would be the one. Too bad that Florida State is also a shadow of even its recent self (although still hoping for an ACC championship game spot and then a BCS berth; yes, the system has issues). Florida has to feel badly going into this one, given its four losses, lack of a division title and just generally blah season. That should give the Gators more than enough reason to take it to the Seminoles. The computer likes Florida State at 69.37 percent, mostly due to home field advantage. The brain says to toss that advantage out the window and take Florida and 2.5.

North Carolina State at Maryland (+2.5) - Maryland, my Maryland, you had two games set up perfectly to get a division title. Both at home, both eliminations for the other team, and yet you couldn’t take care of the first one. So why should the second one be any different. North Carolina State is on a mission. That mission will continue in Jacksonville. The computer likes North Carolina State (58.37 percent) and the human says lay the 2.5.

North Carolina at Duke (+9.5) - Come on, it’s Duke. There is no way Butch Davis will allow North Carolina to blow this one. The computer says Tar Heels (69.37 percent). The human says lay the 9.5.

South Carolina at Clemson (+3) - We said it last week. This one is solely a tune-up for South Carolina when they take on the rushing power of Auburn. Good thing that Clemson took care of that bowl bid by winning last week. The computer likes South Carolina (58.58 percent), and although this game often goes to the team least likely to win it, the brain agrees with the microchips. Take the Gamecocks and lay the field goal.

Wake Forest at Vanderbilt (-5.5) - These are the two worst teams in their leagues. These are among the two worst teams in the country. Will anyone actually watch this game? It should have been scheduled for around 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving to provide some decent background noise for the post-turkey snooze. Instead people will missing out on a game that actually has some significance in the college world (Texas vs. Texas A&M). The computer likes Vanderbilt (58.37 percent) as much as anyone can like either of these teams. The human says take the Commodores too.

Georgia Tech at Georgia (-12.5) - If you are counting at home, that is three games matching the ACC and SEC and three games where we are going with the SEC team. Should we change it up here? As much as this one looked like it was going to go the other way earlier in the season, the Bulldogs have shown enough to earn both the computer’s (75.51) and my respect. But almost two touchdowns seems like a lot to give up when the Georgia Tech offense can really wear down a defense over the course of a game. The Yellow Jackets have scored on some pretty tough defenses this season, so why not believe they can do it here. Take Georgia Tech and the points, but count on a Bulldog win.

Kentucky at Tennessee (-3) - Tennessee seems to have finally learned how to play this season. And they really need to win this one to get to a bowl game. Thanksgiving will come a little late for them, since Kentucky will provide the perfect turkey for them to chow down on. Take the Vols and lay three.

LSU at Arkansas (-3.5) - LSU has vaulted itself into national contender territory with a couple of close wins over some highly ranked opponents. It helps that the Tigers are still hanging around with only a single blemish, a seven-point defeat at the hands of Auburn. That puts them in a prime spot to snag a Sugar Bowl berth with a win here and an Auburn title game appearance. So while the Tigers will be rooting for their namesake against Alabama and South Carolina, they still have to take care of business against Arkansas. And despite all those rankings, they are still the underdogs on the road against the Razorback offense. Probably because the offense is still non-existent in Baton Rouge. This one feels icky to me because this is one of those games where the line doesn’t really push you in one direction and neither team seems poised to take control of this game from the start. Reluctantly I am going with the home field here. Take Arkansas and lay 3.5.

Mississippi State at Mississippi (+2.5) - I really can’t put any faith into Ole Miss any longer. You let the offense-less LSU score 43 on you. You let Tennessee trounce you. Even Mississippi State should be able to handle this one on the road. Lay the 2.5, take the Bulldogs.

Last week, the experiment (ACC) went 4-2 to improve to 16-11 this season. The human went 3-1 in the SEC picks to get to 39-37-1 on the season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

November 24, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 10

Normally the photo that accompanies the MRI rankings is one of the team in first place.

This week it more represents what that team is going to do to its opponent for its 12th and final game, New Mexico.

The Lobos are unfortunate enough to draw TCU just as the Horned Frogs need to make their biggest statement of the season.

With only this game left to impress the voters, New Mexico quarterback Stump Godfrey might soon be resembling his name.

Since Boise State has two games remaining and is already creeping up TCU, impressing everyone involved, including the other BCS bowl reps has to be at the top of their minds. If the Broncos pass them in the standings, the only hope is that someone, anyone thinks that the Horned Frogs will make a decent game in a BCS bowl.

There is only one guaranteed spot for the non-automatic qualifiers. And then the case becomes a hard one to make, even if the eye test would tell BCS bowl rep otherwise.

Without the weight of 50 years of college football history behind them, there is little short of being forced to do it that will get another outsider into the money games.

So all TCU can do is beat up on lowly New Mexico as badly as possible (70?, 80?, A century?), and root for like heck for Nevada and Utah State.

Check out all the rankings in week 10 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 10"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:30 PM

November 20, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 12

Stop the presses! For the second STRAIGHT week the Big Least is playing all intra-conference games. This is just crazy. I have no idea how to react or what to do. I am in hog heaven.

Pittsburgh is 5-4. If Pitt wins out they play in a BCS game.

No, there is nothing wrong with the current system. NOTHING AT ALL. This is utterly mind-boggling.

Well, last week; the Big East portion of the BiACC went 2-1 improving its overall record to 19-20-1. I know … pretty sad.

But don’t fret; I’ve got some good ones for you this Saturday. Take a look at what this amazing football conference has on the docket.

Saturday:

Pittsburgh at South Florida (+3) - The Wannstache Bash rolls into Tampa looking to stay atop this joke of a conference. The Fighting Skip Holtzes are holding strong at 6-3 overall.

There will be no rhyme or reason to this game. It probably won’t be very entertaining to watch.

Pitt’s D will hold B.J. Daniels in check and control the clock with Dion Lewis and Ray Graham out of the backfield.

Pitt will cover three on the road and continue down the most improbable path to a BCS game so far.

Again, there is no need to change the system.

West Virginia at Louisville (+4.5) - The Mountaineers are coming off a big win laying a beat down on the Bearcats. They had their second most productive offensive output of the season. But this week, they meet a defensively tough team in Louisville.

Charlie Strong has been coaching up the boys well thus far and has had an impressive first season at the helm. The Redbirds are ranked FOURTH in the country in points against. Don’t look for a lot of offensive in this game.

Louisville will pull of the upset. Enjoy the extra 4.5 points as well.

Connecticut at Syracuse (-3.5) - Just when you think Syracuse has it pulled together, they lose to Louisville and eek out a 3-point victory over a hapless Rutgers team. So I really have no idea what to expect this weekend.

‘Cuse is only 2-2 at home, but I have a feeling that Maroni is going to put the pedal down and go for it all. The BCS game is feasible, and what a story it would be! What a turnaround it would be!

Take the Orange, lay the points and have fun.

Rutgers at Cincinnati (-13) - Yea, like I have any idea what is going to happen in this game.

Neither team has shown anything close to consistency all season.

Schiano is fading and B. Jones is struggling.

All I know is this:13 is a big number. Take Piscataway’s punching bag and call it a day.

Patsy Party: Again, insert Big Least joke “here.”

[Ed. Note: How about this for the joke: Aren’t all of these games patsy parties?]

Posted by Brian McCabe at 8:00 AM

November 19, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 12

Last week in the SEC was a shocker. No, I am not talking about South Carolina finally winning the East. And no, I am not talking about Cam Newton.

I am talking about those teams that aren’t contending.

Tennessee put up 52 points against an SEC team. It would have taken their previous four games against SEC teams to come up with that many points combined. Perfect timing for Tennessee to look decent — just when it doesn’t matter any longer.

Mississippi looked bad. Like real bad. Like having one of those crises-of-identity bad. They have fallen so far that they are among the 20 worst scoring defenses in the league.

Mississippi State missed their chance at a little glory this season. The vaunted defense disappeared. Last time I tout that unit.

As the results trickled in, I couldn’t believe the scores, or what they were doing to my pick record.

There are still two more weeks of games to make it up though, plus the SEC championship game. It is looking more and more like that will be the deciding factor in whether this column ends up above or below .500 for the season.

To the games.

Troy at South Carolina (-22.5) - The celebration should continue this week for South Carolina. Play a tough game against Florida; clinch the East; play a Sun Belt team. Isn’t that what everyone does? Troy is one of the better Sun Belt teams, which isn’t saying much. That is like saying one of the better WAC teams in 2012. No one will take you seriously. Steve Spurrier will probably rest the starters at some point, but not before making sure his fans are happy that the money will be flowing back into their pockets. Take South Carolina and lay 22.5.

Mississippi at LSU (-16) - When LSU needs to put points on the board, it can. And with Mississippi’s scoring defense now in that danger zone at the bottom of the nation, it shouldn’t be hard for the Tigers to put points on the board even when they don’t need to. According to my computer there is only a 6 percent chance that Mississippi can get on the winning side of this game. That is as close to a lock as it gets. With the defensive struggles for the Rebs, lay the 16.

Arkansas at Mississippi State (+3.5) - Mississippi State had been doing so well. The defense was clicking. Alabama was wounded. It was the perfect time to make a signature statement. If they Bulldogs could have taken out Alabama, the program would be at another level. Even just coming close would have been something. Instead, they took a 20-point beating that made them look no better than a Sun Belt team. So now they have to regroup against an Arkansas team that is back on track and really rolling. Where are you going to lean on this one? Take Arkansas and lay 3.5.

Tennessee at Vanderbilt (+8) - Hey, who was that team in Orange last week? They looked like a real football team. They didn’t look like the team who had been basically embarrassed on the field several times this season. Silly two-point line last week. What were the Vegas heads thinking (or I for that matter? Silly upset special.)? Now the Vols travel to Vanderbilt, who has fallen so far that they are worse than Washington State in the MRI rankings this week. That takes talent for a major squad to pull off. Tennessee needs every game for the rest of the season to make a bowl. Consider this one beat down, part II. Take the Vols and lay eight.

Patsy party: Alabama (Crushed Georgia State. But didn’t Badger them.), Florida (Appalachian State hopes that there is some Michigan in the Gators.)

Lazy Saturday: Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky

Southern Exposure was 3-4 last week to go to 36-36-1 on the season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:00 AM

November 18, 2010

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 12 Preview

pac10-logo.pngOregon survived a scare last week, eking out a win despite a number of “injuries” to Cal players that really slowed down the tempo of their offense.

While this may show that Oregon is not a completely unstoppable juggernaut, it may also prove to be the the kind of scare that keeps them from getting complacent and coming out flat against a quality Arizona team next Friday.

This week features a pretty light slate of games, but it begins with a guaranteed classic between UCLA and Washington. OK, maybe not a classic. Actually it’s probably not even worth watching unless you’ve run through everything on the DVR.

LNwtP-10 went 1-3 last week to bring the season total to 28-27 against the spread.

Thursday games:

UCLA at Washington (-2) - Jake Locker may play, but no one knows if he’ll be effective. He’s struggled all year, and things can only get worse if he’s limited physically and loses the running element of his game. UCLA is a terrible passing team, but they run the ball very effectively and face the worst rush defense in the Pac-10 this week. On senior night, I don’t think the Huskies get it done (with or without Locker), so take UCLA here.

Saturday games:

Stanford at California (+6.5) - It will be interesting to see if Cal lays down either literally or figuratively this week. They really pushed Oregon last week with a combination of craft and gamesmanship, but I’m not sure that they can bring that kind of performance two weeks in a row. Brock Mansion is completing only 45 percent of his attempts for less than five yards per, and I have a hard time believing that Stanford will be as flat this week as they were against Arizona State. In a game with some fireworks due to their rivalry, take Stanford.

USC at Oregon State (+3) - I’m perplexed by this line. OSU lost last week by 17 to a Wazzu squad that hadn’t won a Pac-10 game since Chester A. Arthur was President, and they only get three against a USC team that scores 35 points a game. I’m going against the Beavers until further notice, and suggest that you do the same. USC minus the three.

Lazy Saturday - Oregon, Arizona, Washington State, Arizona State

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 12:00 PM

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 12

Since the computer helps make the picks for this section of MRISports, it seems appropriate to talk about its performance record.

In its lifetime, the computer has picked 3,470 games in football (about a season’s worth of basketball games, which is why it takes so much finger power to generate the basketball MRI and not so much for football).

It has predicted 2,467 of those correctly for a 71.10 percent win rate. Not bad.

After all, the computer can not take into account injuries. It can’t take into account weather. It can’t take into account suspensions.

When teams are closely matched, the computer gets it right about 54 percent of the time. When teams are mismatched, the computer gets it right about 94 percent of the time. After all, there are upsets.

Everything else falls somewhere along that line.

So when Heather Dinich, ESPN’s ACC blogger, comes out to say that her record on picking ACC games this season is just 72.1 percent, I had to stop short.

After all, if I looked at all the games that the computer has picked for ACC teams, it probably has done just about that well.

Part of what fan site FanIQ.com used to do was track the experts in their picks. Fans took great joy in beating the experts, especially since we watched them each week act as if they hadn’t done anything wrong the week before.

At least the writers on this site apologize for our pitiful performances.

But 72.1 percent seems awfully low for someone whose job it is to analyze just one conference in football, know everything about it and just pick winners.

SEC blogger Chris Low is putting up a number over 80 percent.

I know I said a few weeks back that the ACC is unpredictable from week to week, but it isn’t my entire job to look at these teams and games. If it were, I would hope I could do better than 72 percent on just winners.

My computer can almost beat that across the entire country.

Among the major conferences, she is by far the worst at picking the games. Only the Non-AQ picker has a worse record and she has to pick ten games each week across a wide variety of leagues (But the computer would do better).

Shape up Dinich.

Off to the picks for this week.

Virginia at Boston College (-7) - Just like Boston College. Lose five in a row and then rattle off three straight wins. Duke and Wake Forest weren’t so surprising, but Clemson, that was the big shock. Virginia isn’t any better than Duke or Wake by the eye test and the computer agrees. Boston College has a 75.15 percent chance of winning this one and that seems to be good to cover the seven. Take the Eagles and fly.

Continue reading "Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 12"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:30 AM

November 16, 2010

On the Field: Dealing with Rankings Madness

[Ed. Note: So I know I said no more ranting on the rankings. But Sunday night, I kept becoming more and more frustrated with the state of affairs in the voting process. A short email to Jeff Popelka went as follows:

“I understand the Oregon State and Utah arguments, but it is still a little ridiculous that Boise jumped TCU.

The Horned Frogs beat a much better team in SD State. Idaho is ridiculously bad. If Boise didn’t win by 30 they should have been shot.”

Jeff kept his head and wrote back probably the most well-reasoned piece I have seen on the insanity of trying to choose between the four teams currently at the top.

With his permission, enjoy]

Ultimately, this just proves to me that it is impossible to choose between the top teams. If there are three, four or even five unbeatens, I think there may be so little to separate them that such discussions are moot. I’m not sure that either of this week’s wins really told us anything about Boise or TCU.

Instead, we learn more about their opponents (like last week when we learned Utah sucked, and this week when we had it confirmed that San Diego State is pretty good) than about the favorites.

Both teams won, but I think margin of victory for Boise doesn’t really say anything about them, positive or negative. They won; they won pretty big; and that’s about all there is to it. If they had beaten Idaho by 64 (ahem, a Badgers-Hoosiers style blowout), it would have been a much bigger indictment of Idaho than an expression of how good Boise might be.

The eye test tells me TCU is better, but the lack of real comparables means that I have no idea if that’s really true. I thought TCU was better last year, but it turned out that when they did that thing (you know, the one where they put the jerseys on and run around on the field in close proximity to each other), TCU was beaten.

So even if people paid attention, I think that the path we are on, i.e, headed for a single title game, would still be an abomination, and that it has at best about a 25 percent chance of crowning the true national champion.

However, I’m with you in that I still think the polls need to be more accurate, as even under a playoff scenario, they would need a method to whittle down the teams to the desired four or six or eight or whatever number would fit in the tournament bracket.

Until then, I like to watch college football, but I hold no illusions that at some point we’ll actually discover who the real national champion is.

But remember, I’m the same guy who loved the Sopranos ending, so maybe I don’t need the kind of closure that other people seem to require.

[Amen.]

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 3:00 PM

November 14, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 9

Enough ranting on the insanity of the polls. Honestly, it was pretty obvious this week after TCU was passed by Boise State again.

This shouldn’t have happened. If the voters were watching for a second, they would have realized that San Diego State was far superior to Idaho.

San Diego State was a borderline top 25 team. Idaho is lucky it isn’t considered among the worst 10 teams in the country.

San Diego State should have challenged TCU. Idaho shouldn’t even have been on the same field as Boise State.

How do you justify the votes that you move away from TCU because of that? You can’t.

There are more important things to tackle this week, such as the proliferation of major upsets.

Illinois was poised to enter the top 25. How does a team like that lose to Minnesota?

Oregon State was supposed to be good. No top 25 team, but good. That is what Boise State and TCU have been counting on.

So how does that team go out and lay an egg against a team that had lost 19 straight Pac-10 games? There is no answer when you have the weapons the Beavers do.

Should we add in Notre Dame trouncing Utah (another way to discredit the power of TCU)?

Or maybe Tennessee taking out a solid, if middle of the pack, Mississippi team, by 38 points?

This was the week when everything you thought you knew just went out the window.

Even with the close win, TCU stayed at No. 1 in the MRI. The Horned Frogs are just too good and Idaho is just too terrible to lend that much to Boise State’s score.

It helped that Oregon struggled to fend off Cal, and that Auburn is still terrible at defense.

Yup, TCU is that good.

You could compare them to the Oklahoma team in 2003 that lost both the Big XII championship game and the BCS championship, and still remained No. 1. But that wouldn’t be fair.

TCU hasn’t lost a game yet. And other computer champions have had difficult game at the end of their seasons.

The Horned Frogs still have two more games left: the season finale against New Mexico which should be as simple as Boise’s victory over Idaho, and then a bowl game.

For all our sanity, let’s hope it is a BCS game. Anything less would be a severe insult to all our intelligence: computer or otherwise.

Check out all the rankings in week nine of the MRI rankings.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 9"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:00 PM

November 13, 2010

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 11 Preview

pac10-logo.pngWhile the Pac-10 title race may prove to be a parade route for Oregon, there is still a lot to play for among the also-rans.

Stanford for one, still has BCS hopes this season, and its thrashing of Arizona was a clear demonstration of solid BCS credentials. While Arizona didn’t play terribly well, that was due in large part to a superior defensive showing by the Cardinal.

Normally so reliant upon Andrew Luck and their offense, the defense stood firm against a strong Wildcat offense, and Nick Foles had a great deal of trouble moving the ball against them. With Luck and running back Stepfan Taylor combining for six touchdowns, the game was never really in doubt thanks to the strong defensive performance.

Some of the other games were a disaster for the LNwtP-10’s picks, as USC squeaked a one point win over Arizona State, UCLA downed Oregon State, and Cal struggled to see off Wazzu. The lines on these games are really getting more precise.

Bettors need to beware and be careful to make their best plays so as not to get suckered into playing a huge slate of games. (Ed. Note: Unlike us, who I force to pick every game.)

There are plenty of traps out there.

LNwtP-10 went 2-3 last week, bringing the season tally to 27-24 against the spread.

Saturday games:

Washington State at Oregon State (-23.5) - Oregon State is significantly better at home than they are on the road, but I am tired of getting burned by the Beavers. I’ll take Wazzu and the points here.

Stanford at Arizona State (+5) - Arizona State had a tough loss last week by a single point at USC, and their reward is to host red hot Stanford. I’m surprised this number is so small (it’s actually gone down a point and a half since it opened), and this has the feel of a trap game. Can Stanford, with all they have on the line, really fail to win this game by less than a touchdown? Let’s hope not. Stanford minus the 5.

Oregon at California (+19.5) - Oregon is awesome, and even outside of Autzen, that offense is relentless. While a surprising number of Cal fans weren’t too broken up by the season ending injury to Kevin Riley, this team looks really one dimensional after Mansion was picked off twice last week by a soft Wazzu defense. The 19.5 isn’t enough for Cal, I’ll take the Ducks.

USC at Arizona (-4.5) - After their wild victory over ASU last week, the Trojans might once again be the most unpredictable team in the Pac-10. The offense is generally reliable, but the defense is so up and down it is extremely difficult to pick any of their games. Arizona is only a slight favorite here, but I like them at home.

Lazy Saturday: Washington and UCLA

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 10:30 AM

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 11

Hello again, everybody! With Pittsburgh losing to UConn Thursday night, the Big East is up for grabs again. But do not kid yourself … this thing is in Syracuse’s hands and it is theirs to win.

I know … Syracuse, right.

The Big East has been bashed up and down the proverbial field this week. Not one team is ranked in the top 25, but they have an automatic BCS bid. So … UConn might be playing in a BCS game instead of Boise State.

Sure, there is nothing wrong with the BCS. It works just fine. WOW.

All eight teams are in action this week, and for the SECOND time this year, they are all playing intra-conference games. It is unreal. It really should only take 11 weeks for that to happen.

The Big East portion of the BiACC came in with a 1-1 split last week to bring its overall record to a disgustingly mediocre 17-19-1. Folks, that changes this week.

On to the games!

Saturday:

South Florida at Louisville (-2) - Charlie Strong should be a candidate for Coach of the Year, as he has turned around the Redbirds faster than any thought possible. Louisville is astonishingly over .500 and ranked in the top-20 in total points allowed. Impressive.

Meanwhile, the fighting Skip Holtzes are 5-3, but have struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball. Many expected much more this season out of BJ Daniels. The former Florida State commit has but a few more opportunities to make a splash in the 2010 season.

The Bulls struggling offense plus Louisville’s stingy defense equals a victory for the Redbirds at home.

Take Louisville and lay the points.

Cincinnati at West Virginia (-5) - Once considered the class of the Big East, West Virginia has laid an egg the past two weeks, and finds itself in the middle of the pack.

The Mountaineers offense has been lackluster at best as of late. It will need to provide quite a boost the next few weeks if WVU wants to claim the golden BCS ticket.

Butch Jones’ first season with the Bearcats has been a disappointment. Cincy was walloped by the Orange two weeks ago, and the offense didn’t even show up. Plenty of Notre Dame fans would have you believe this has nothing to do with the absence of Brian Kelly, but I disagree. Cincinnati has struggled on defense for a few years, but has had an explosive offense to cover them for years.

Look for this to continue Saturday, as West Virginia will use a shoddy Cincy D to regain some offensive mojo. The Mountaineers will win by more than five.

Lay the points.

Syracuse at Rutgers (+2.5) - As I noted, Syracuse controls its own destiny. Win out and go the BCS.

The Orange have been pedestrian at best on offense, but have ridden a solid defense to their 6-3 record. The team’s best quality might simply be consistency. There is nothing flashy or outwardly impressive, but Syracuse has won twice as many games as it has lost. And at this point of the season, that is a good thing.

There have not been a lot of positives in Piscataway this season. As has been mentioned by many pundits and written here multiple times, Greg Schiano’s star seems to have fizzled out. Rutgers is wildly inconsistent and almost inept on offense. They have only scored more than 30 points once and that was in the season opener against patsy Norfolk State.

Syracuse will be consistent once again and win on the road. Lay the points and take the Orange.

It is a Saturday of favorites in the Big East.

Enjoy the action.

Patsy Party: <Insert “Big Least” joke here.>

Lazy Saturday: None

Posted by Brian McCabe at 8:00 AM

November 12, 2010

Big Number Country - Big Ten Preview, Week 11

How big is the gap between the haves and have-nots in the Big Ten?

There is not one single digit point spread this week.

Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State have all been remarkably consistent this season and have only stumbled when facing each other.

The remaining teams have played more like a yo-yo than a football squad.

Take a team like Illinois. Before last week, they had beaten the teams they were expected to beat, and their only losses were against teams in the top 15 nationally.

But then the Michigan game happens.

Northwestern has been unable play a full 60 minute game this season; Penn State couldn’t run the ball for the first seven weeks; Michigan’s defense has been more lost than found.

This doesn’t mean these teams can’t pull off an upset or two in the final weeks of the season, but I think it’s hard to imagine it happening unless the top teams play down to their level.

In week 8, I had my worst week so far, and I was 1-4 against the spread. That brings the season record to 19-24-1. That gives me a headache as big as Denard Robinson’s.

Saturday’s games

Iowa at Northwestern (+10) - Northwestern spoiled Iowa’s undefeated season last year, and the recent games between these teams have been competitive. However, I don’t think it adds up for the Wildcats this year. They have had trouble closing out games recently, and are still struggling to run the ball effectively. Dan Persa can only do so much on his own. On the other side, Iowa will want to put last week’s performance in the rear view mirror, and they should come out throwing to test a vulnerable secondary. This game plays out to recent form for Northwestern: a close game for three quarters, but Iowa pulls away late to win by two touchdowns. Lay the points.

Indiana at Wisconsin (-21.5) - Indiana was one play from upsetting Iowa last week, but a dropped pass in the end zone doomed the Hoosiers. Now they have to travel to Madison and face another of the conference’s elite. Good luck with that one. Indiana got lucky facing an Iowa team coming off three straight big games, so a letdown was inevitable. With their leaky defense, beating Wisconsin is probably a long shot. John Clay will probably wear out his cleats by the end of the game. Wisconsin has too much to play for to let this one slip away. Wisconsin wins, but only by 17, so take the points.

Minnesota at Illinois (-20.5) - I don’t think Illinois will give up 67 points in this game. The Illini defense will be able to reestablish the solid play it had before last week against Minnesota. The Gophers are suddenly unsettled at quarterback and the defense was run over by Edwin Baker of Michigan State last week. The Illinois defensive line and running back Mikel LeShoure will be the beneficiaries of these weak spots, and the game will be over by halftime. Lay the points.

Michigan at Purdue (+12.5) - If you’re Michigan, how do follow up a game where you score more points than your basketball team does? Easy, you make sure Denard Robinson makes it through the game intact. Robinson should have a game like he had earlier in the season and flash some highlight-reel runs, but at least now there are a few other pieces to help him. Ryan Kerrigan won’t be able to catch Shoelace in this one. Purdue is just looking for a little consistency, but while the quarterback position remains a revolving door, it will be hard to attain. Michigan wins by two touchdowns and guarantees a winning season.

Big Ten Game of the Week

Penn State at Ohio State (-18) - Penn State has been a much improved team over the last few weeks, and pulled off an impressive come from behind victory against Northwestern last week. Quarterback Matt McGloin faces a tough task at the Horseshoe against the best defense he has faced so far. He’ll probably struggle, so the running game will need to produce in order to compete here. The Buckeyes will look to continue piling on in games against weaker competition to improve their BCS chances, but they also might be looking ahead to the showdown against Iowa next week. I look for a close game, but Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense are too much for a defense that is still banged up despite the recent uptick in play. Take the points, but Ohio State wins setting up the big matchup next week.

Lazy Saturday: Michigan State

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 9:00 PM

Big Number Country - Big XII Preview, Week 11

The other shoe finally dropped for Dan Hawkins.

After allowing Kansas to overcome a 28 point fourth quarter deficit, Colorado fired Hawkins. Assistant coach Brian Cabral will take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season.

Much like at Minnesota, this move was not a question of if, but when. Hawkins never had a winning record in his tenure at Colorado, and at times has looked out of his depth coaching in a major conference.

I admit I thought it was a good move to hire Hawkins from Boise State. He helped build that program and left it in a good position to make the next step to national prominence. I thought he would be able to translate the success from Boise State to a bigger stage.

However, Hawkins never could recruit the talent to compete with the conference’s established powers. This rant probably didn’t help him in the eyes of fans and administration.

Colorado will now look to make a big splash as the school begins play in Pac-12 next season, but it may be unable to lure a big name as it is hamstrung by the amount of the buyout due to Hawkins.

I have no idea which way this search will go, but I hope the one rumor I heard this week is untrue.

Do not bring back Bill McCartney.

I know he led the Buffaloes to the national championship in 1990, but he hasn’t been on the sidelines in more than 15 years. It’s safe to assume he would be as out of his depth as Hawkins was. It’s time to stop leaning on the success of the past to please the fans, who would rather blaze a new trail anyway.

Last time I was with you, way back in week 7, my record was 5-1 against the spread, bring my season total over .500 to 19-18.

Saturday’s games

Kansas State at Missouri (-13) - Missouri really needs this game after losing two straight following the big win against Oklahoma. Kansas State is playing well, but still playing quarterback roulette, and beating Texas this season isn’t that big of an accomplishment. The Wildcats will lean heavily on the Daniel Thomas and the running game to control the clock, but I think Missouri will get a bounce back performance from Blaine Gabbert and the Tigers offense. Lay the points.

Iowa State at Colorado (+2.5) - Iowa State has been up and down all season, and it needs this win to become bowl eligible. The Cyclones should be able to beat Colorado based on their performance against Nebraska last week. The question is whether or not the coaching change provides an emotional lift for the Buffaloes. My guess is that Colorado will play better than they did against Kansas, but its strength, a running game led by Rodney Stewart, just does not match up well against a defense that is fairly solid against the run. Lay the points as the Cyclones win by a touchdown.

Texas Tech at Oklahoma (-15) - Oklahoma has been unbeatable at home this season, so this game comes at a good time for the Sooners coming off the loss to Texas A&M last week. With Taylor Potts back behind center, Texas Tech should be able to move the ball effectively, but I don’t expect the defense to hold up as well against the Sooners as it did against Missouri. Based on recent results, it should be a closer game than the spread indicates, so take the points, but I don’t think Oklahoma will lose the game outright at home.

Kansas at Nebraska (-35) - Cornhusker fans can breathe easy, as Taylor Martinez will be back for this game, and that alone should keep Nebraska from facing any challenge from the Jayhawks. There is no way Kansas will be able to mount a comeback this week like they accomplished against Colorado. The Cornhuskers control their fate in the North division and there will be no letdown here. It’s a huge number though, so I’ll say take the points, as the game goes into cruise control in the second half.

Oklahoma State at Texas (+5) - If you want to win the South division, you need to win the games you should, and this is one of those games for Oklahoma State. Normally, a road game in Austin is not a game that should be considered a gimme, but Texas is destined for at best a 6-6 record this season. The Cowboys offense will go through Kendall Hunter in this one, and Texas doesn’t have the offensive firepower to trade scores. Oklahoma State wins for only the second time at Texas, this one by two touchdowns. Lay the points.

Big XII Game of the Week

Texas A&M at Baylor (+3) - When turnovers are limited, good things happen. Texas A&M knows that now, after changing quarterbacks from the turnover prone Jerrod Johnson to Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has limited his mistakes and was able to put in a solid performance in the upset of Oklahoma. Now the Aggies face Baylor, who is looking to stay in the race for a high profile bowl game. Baylor can score points, but the defense is still a work in progress, and has given up too many points this season. Expect a shootout. Lay the points, as the final margin of victory will be about six.

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 7:00 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 11

TNT knows drama; if only it had the SEC football contract.

The Cameron Newton saga playing out currently could almost be an episode of Law and Order playing in reruns on the cable network.

After all, we caught this show the first time it was on, when Reggie Bush played the villain and it took place in Los Angeles.

The new version could be a good spin-off though. Law and Order SEC. Catchy episode screen title: Green backs and Blue Chips.

In the first part of the show, you have Mississippi State and Florida exposing all the evidence against Misters Newton, the father and son duo who have committed some hazy crime against humanity.

While the media play the cops in this drama, jumping on any lead possible to get to the bottom of the case, the pile of evidence against the pair becomes bigger and bigger. Who cares if the evidence chain is built on a shaky search warrant such as the word of a few boosters, or the illegal search and seizure of the younger Newton’s academic record.

This is a cop drama. They will find a way to make it stick. Otherwise we don’t have a show (unless the Newtons were one of those recurring villains; good thing Cam’s eligibility will be up soon).

And that brings us to the second half of the episode, the part that will play out in court almost surely.

Here the NCAA will play the part of the prosecutors.

They will try to move quickly, but will be hampered by the shadiness of the evidence. Some strange legal technicality will keep them from filing the case until the season is long in someone’s memory, because that is how the plot moves in the strange world of college athletics.

We don’t have quick 30-minute pieces. We have sagas that take years to reach a denouement.

If it did move quickly, you can bet that Auburn would pull out every injunction it could to stay in the National title race. Dennis Dodd knows it (basically advocating cheating in the current college sports’ environment.)

And isn’t it worth all the legal hassle just to stay in for a single game. After all, it worked in Illinois for East St. Louis in the high school playoffs. Too bad they couldn’t make it stick for five games.

The benefits of a single-game championship will linger long after the sting of having it taken away is gone.

Eventually this will come to trial, just as on the show. And just like in that made up television world, the actual verdict won’t compare to the drama that played out long before the judge and jury issued their ruling.

Isn’t college football grand?

To the picks for the week.

Mississippi at Tennessee (-2) - When you looked at Tennessee this season, did you ever think there would be the chance that it would have to win its final three games to make a bowl game? That is the situation the Vols find themselves in though. However, the schedule is somewhat kind to them, with games against fellow SEC bottom dwellers Mississippi, Kentucky and Vanderbilt on tap. The toughest game should be the first one against Mississippi. Because the Rebels can run the ball (and Tennessee can’t stop the run at all), this could become a wild one. I see a high scoring game (even if Jeremiah Massoli doesn’t play), and say that the postseason hopes for the Vols end right here. Mississippi and the points.

Continue reading "Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 11"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 4:00 PM

November 11, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - Thursday Night Special

It is a big Thursday night, and instead of forcing Brian to pick the whole slate of games early again — the Big East is just grabbing for television time with these early week starts — we thought we would give him a small break today.

Tonight the conference’s lone undefeated squad in the league, the Pittsburgh Panthers, takes on the UConn Huskies.

With a win Pitt becomes the first team to qualify for a bowl game from the Big East. Yes, it took 11 weeks for someone to get there. Sad that they might end up being the BCS representative from this ragtag bunch of teams.

The MRI is projecting that they will win with only a 58.22 percent certainty, which makes that 5.5 point line that they have to cover look a little shaky.

After all, Connecticut took out West Virginia last week.

But the MRI has done well picking winners in these games, so MRISports is going with Pitt tonight to cover 5.5 and be the first team from the Big East bowling in 2010.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:30 PM

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 11

The ACC is packed with conference games this week. They don’t need to embarrass themselves against the other major conferences any more this season.

The 12 teams have combined for a 27-15 record overall in non-conference games this season, which I am sure that the conference would trot out for you to show how strong they are when they step away from the league.

It is too bad the details get in their way.

Take away the 12-1 record against FCS schools to get to 15-14. Not quite as impressive.

Drop the three Sun Belt wins and the league drops to under .500.

And against the other five conferences with an automatic bid in the BCS, the ACC is just 3-9, with all three wins coming against that stronghold of fabulous football, the Big East.

That’s right. The only league more pathetic than the ACC are their friends to the North.

To make matters worse, this isn’t a new trend. During the last three seasons, the ACC owns a winning record during a season against just one other conference (other than the Big East). That came back in 2008 against the Big XII.

That makes home sweet conference home seem like a welcome break.

And with the parity of pathetic in the conference, a lot of small lines (and likely winning percentages) litter the board.

Let check out the games in week 11 of the ACC.

Continue reading "Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 11"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:00 AM

November 10, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 8

If TCU was the best team in the country according to the MRI before last weekend, it all but cemented its place at the top after its dismantling of Utah.

Now no one apparently watched this, because Auburn’s beating of Chattanooga was valued more highly by the voters than the previously No. 3 team beating the previously No. 5 team.

It seems that maybe we should have been ranking the Mocs all season long. After all, if a win over them deserved that much praise, they certainly had to be a good team, right?

Obviously the voters think so. One of them, Kirk Herbstreit, even said after the game at it seems Utah just wasn’t that good.

Funny that no one seemed to have a problem with the Utes when they were climbing up the rankings. Or did Herbstreit just admit that the voters are poor judges of talent?

After all, they had Pittsburgh ranked at No. 15 to start the season. How is that one working out?

Utah probably wasn’t as good as everyone thought, but it was good. The bigger truth is that TCU is really that good.

Without a star to attract attention, the Horned Frogs have quietly been destroying the competition.

And among the teams that they have beaten are four teams that have been ranked at some point this season. They have beaten them by an average of almost 30 points.

The time has come to start respecting the Horned Frogs.

It is possible that in three more games, TCU could become one of the top three teams in the history of the MRI (since 2003).

That isn’t just champions of the MRI, where at its current score, it is already the fourth best of those if the season ended today.

This is every team from the past eight years.

This isn’t a team to just be admired; this is a team to be celebrated alongside the 2005 Texas Longhorns and 2004’s USC Trojans.

If they win that is.

Check out all the teams that come after the Horned Frogs in week eight of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 8"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

November 6, 2010

"Death to the BCS" fails to land the kill shot

Barring a miracle, the Big Ten champion will be playing in the Rose Bowl this January. The conference has been out of the national title picture since Ohio State tripped up against Wisconsin on October 16.

Never mind that the Buckeyes are still among the nation’s leaders in scoring average, offense and defense, or that their loss came against another one-loss team.

The single blemish essentially ended their hopes with almost half the season remaining.

The BCS eliminates teams with a single loss from the title chase almost by design (unless they play in that bastion of football, the SEC). Calls for a playoff have been rampant — even reaching Capitol Hill — and now Utah’s attorney general is meeting with the Justice Department about possible antitrust violations.

The atmosphere has been ripe for the definitive book against the system, and that is what three writers from Yahoo! attempted to deliver in “Death to the BCS”

Since Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan hail from the home of the BALCO leak and the Reggie Bush scandal, it seemed the perfect group to behead the hated Cartel, as the heads of the major football conferences are referred to.

While the book succeeds in highlighting the many issues with the BCS and the bowl system, it fails in its other stated purpose. It does not deliver a playoff system with the appropriate amount of detail and air-tight financials, the same thing the authors expect from the computers, poll voters and BCS in general.

From revelations about how bowl payouts work to how most athletic programs lose money by attending the smaller bowls (even after conference assistance), Wetzel and crew have compiled enough data to make a CPA blush.

If the devil is in the details, then the authors have found it. They just chose not to share it with the readers.

“Death to the BCS” has exactly one illustration, an expense report detailing a Virginia Tech bowl trip and how they managed to lose money on a more than $1 million payout.

With all the documents assembled to pull the book together, you would think they could share more than one of them. The rest of the data has to be taken on face.

If printing these in the hard-bound book was too expensive, they could have included them on the book’s website (a practice that in the Internet age would seem to be a no-brainer, especially for three sportswriters who work for Yahoo!), but again, nothing.

And that is where some of the arguments begin to fall apart, especially when trying to prop up the playoff system that the authors propose.

Instead of a well documented monetary structure for the 16-team playoff, the authors wait until the last chapter to detail the sketchy way they came to the conclusion that the tournament was worth $750 million. It is a number they reference throughout the book, but without any of the context they wait until the end to provide.

While it is easy to believe the television estimates coming from the networks, the ticket revenues are thumb-in-the-air guesses. The authors pained to lay out who would have been in the tournament last season, and even what a potential outcome would have been. Why not use actual stadium seating capacities and ticket prices based on some hard facts?

Or why not use existing models, such as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or the NIT (since they want the first three rounds to be home games for the higher seed), to project ticket revenues? At least use it as an example of how that money is shared. Instead, figures are thrown into the air like tee shirts from an air gun.

“Death to the BCS” just gets bogged down in itself. It includes chapters with no bearing on the argument for or against the BCS, such as one titled “Superfans” which details how Internet sites for individual teams (and Yahoo!-owned Rivals.com) have become huge draws.

They even contradict themselves by offering that their title game should go to the Rose Bowl, even after preaching that the bowl system and the playoff should have nothing to do with each other.

And preaching is a perfect description for their tone which takes away from the reasoned arguments they do put forth. It is not hard to see why BCS-director Bill Hancock called the book “a 200-page rant” on a Baltimore radio show.

If the book were one of the college football games that the authors love so dearly, their coach would call this a “character-building loss”.

There are some good things in there, but they have a lot to work on.

Article first published as Book Review: Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series Fails to Land the Kill Shot on Blogcritics.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:00 PM

November 5, 2010

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 10 Preview

pac10-logo.pngIn this episode of BCS Football Superheros, Captain Obvious comes to the stunning conclusion that Oregon is pretty good. Number one team in the nation, it turns out.

After a convincing win over USC at the Coliseum, Oregon saw a one-spot rise to the number one spot in the BCS rankings.

The formula for Oregon is pretty simple: Win out and go to the national championship game.

LNwtP-10 went 2-3 last week, bringing the season tally to 25-21 against the spread.

Saturday games:

Washington at Oregon (-35) - Oregon is absolutely dominant, as evidenced by the way that they steamrolled USC last week. This line has shot up after the news came out that Jake Locker wouldn’t play for the Huskies, but ultimately, nothing has really changed. The Ducks will roll at home, and if you feel the urge to play this game, you have no choice but the lay the 35.

California at Washington State (+14) - Wazzu was thumped last week by the extremely unpredictable Sun Devils, and their opponent Cal is reeling from the news that quarterback Kevin Riley is done for the season. These factors would seem to offset in the opinion of Vegas, as this is one of the smallest lines that Washington State has seen all season. Riley has been fairly productive this season, but the Cal offense really only gets going if their running game is working. The one thing we can be sure of this week is that Cal will run the ball to take the pressure off of Brock Mansion. Given that, take Cal and give the 14.

Oregon State at UCLA (+5) - The predictions are starting to look a little chalky. I love Oregon State at the moment and am really down on UCLA after watching their games the last couple of weeks. Ryan Katz has really been coming on for the Beavers, and even on the road you should roll with OSU and give the 5.

Arizona at Stanford (-9.5) - Andrew Luck is great, and Stanford are rolling after their extremely impressive 41-0 win last week over Washington. What’s been overshadowed this season is how good their running game has been (12th in the nation). Arizona, on the other hand, struggled behind backup quarterback Matt Scott last week against a very average UCLA team. Still, with Nick Foles back under center for the Cats and with a defense as stout as theirs, this is a pretty big number. In what I anticipate to be the best game of the whole weekend, Stanford wins, but doesn’t cover the 9.5. Roll with Arizona.

Arizona State at USC (-6) - ASU is a ridiculously difficult team to pin down. In consecutive weeks in conference play, they’ve lost by 33 and won by 42. They boast the 16th best pass offense, but have really struggled to run the ball. For their part, USC was really outclassed last week but the offense is still excellent, and at home, they will cover the six.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 12:00 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 10

Step, step, step. Each week another step to the inevitable showdown between Auburn and Alabama, the two teams that every week appear more and more to be the class of the SEC.

With the Eastern division locked together in a middle-of-the-pack kind of way, the West is where the stars are.

The last true test for Auburn comes next week, when Georgia will see if they can crack the code to outscore Cameron Newton.

Alabama still has two tough contests left, including this week, when they travel to LSU. The Tigers have been known to trip up a king or two in the SEC so why not again this season.

The defense is definitely there, but will they be able to score at all against Alabama?

Let’s break it down.

Florida at Vanderbilt (+14.5) - It is unclear if last week’s win for Florida was the result of them playing better or Georgia regressing back to their four-game-losing-streak form. Either way, Florida didn’t actually win itself any friends. Or did they? Just a week after the pollsters had been lambasted by many in the media for still voting for Florida, they did it again. This time, those old hats who vote in the Legends poll almost had them at No. 25. A win over a .500 Georgia gets you that? When last week it wasn’t even sane to put them on the ballot? This week the Gators get Vandy and this should be another reason for ill-informed voters to move them up the list. Even on the road, Florida is better than a two touchdown favorite and it is scary to think what the line might have been if this were the old Florida teams. The MRI likes Florida at 71.75 percent to win and I like them to cover the 14.5.

Continue reading "Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 10"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:00 AM

November 4, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 10

Much like its East coast partner the Big East, the ACC has become almost impossible to predict from week to week.

Is it parity? In some sick and twisted version of reality, yes. But it is also a commentary on the state of the leagues.

Both conferences are struggling with identity issues. The Big East wants to expand west of the Mississippi river. The ACC already sold its soul — the highest caliber basketball league in the country — in order to grab a sniff of extra revenue from a football championship game.

Before the Big East goes too far, maybe they should ask the ACC how that has worked out for them? A yearly half-empty stadium for the title game in a league that was marginally good to begin with, a league that wasn’t much more than Florida State, sometimes Clemson, sometimes Georgia Tech and everyone else.

And so there exists this morass of junk, a league where the best team according to the numbers, lost to an FCS school. A league where the best team according to the numbers isn’t better than the best team from three leagues that the conference deems less than worthy.

A league which would find itself repeatedly choking on the scraps from the big boys if and when the Big 10, Pac-10 and SEC decide to stop carrying the rest of the nation.

When the power grab was made for Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, who would have thought that the ACC would not once have garnered a second BCS bid since its expansion. They were adding three giants on the football field. This should have been a no-brainer.

Instead Miami and Florida State collapsed, Boston College lost its edge moving south and no other team stepped up to fill the void. Virginia Tech remained the lone bastion of strength.

And so the ACC has become the second laughing stock of college football.

If a touchdown is scored in the conference and no one is around to see it, does it still count for six points?

The MRI went 1-3 last week, in a testament to how sadly unpredictable this league has become (Duke over Navy? Virginia over Miami?) It must have been Halloween, since the Blue Devils and Cavaliers dressed up as real football teams. So far the experiment is 4-5 overall.

To the picks!

Thursday night:

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (-12) - Virginia Tech loves Thursday night football at home. This is what the program was built on when they were still in the Big East. It is what they have thrived on ever since. In 21 ESPN Thursday night games, the Hokies are 16-5. In home games, they are 9-3. So is it any doubt that the MRI loves Virginia Tech to the tune of 77.94 percent in this game. The 12-point line is a pretty big one, especially considering that the clock won’t stop running in this one. But this team has come a long way from Boise State and JMU at the start of the year. Take the Hokies and lay 12.

Continue reading "Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 10"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

MRISports' AP Ballot - October 31

The MRISports writers are still split on who No. 1 should be.

Oregon gets the nod again this week though by a single point over Boise State. The Ducks received two second place votes while Boise was left with a second place vote and a third place ranking for its troubles.

What is clear to our writers is there are four best teams and then everyone else. Even then, after No. 10, it gets a little choppy.

But that is how it should be. Honestly, why do we rank 25 teams at all? With 120 programs playing at the highest level, you just need to be in the top 20 percent to get put up on the board. Shouldn’t we be more selective? Shouldn’t 15 seem more correct so that you almost have to be among the top 10 percent for any kind of recognition.

Maybe the excuse is that we have been doing it this way for too long to change now. Plus what would we do with all those BCS rankings?

Oh right, those should definitely go out the window.

Here is the complete table from the MRI’s writers.

Continue reading "MRISports' AP Ballot - October 31"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

November 3, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 10

The Big East made some big off-the-field football news this week by announcing that all eight football-school presidents have “approved terms for possible expansion” to the Big East conference. Certain journalists and media outlets have suggested that TCU and Villanova are teams that might be considered.

As the Big East portion of the BiACC mentioned last week, the current eight-team conference receives an automatic BCS bid. With non-AQ schools like Boise State, TCU and Utah in the top 10, and no Big East School in the top 25, this automatic bid is going to come under fire.

The Big East must add two more football schools and it must add at least one current FBS team, such as TCU. Villanova would have to move from the FCS, which would not instill any confidence in the powers-that-be around college football.

Therefore, Big East fans, look for the conference to go hard after TCU. This might be the perfect example of two entities that need each other equally.

Half of the conference is staying home this week so if you don’t pay close attention, you will miss of the action, considering one of the two matchups is Wednesday night.

The Big East portion of the BiACC struggled last week and finished 0-3. That gives us a less-than-mediocre 16-18-1 record overall.

Wednesday night:

Rutgers at South Florida(-10) - Wow, your wacky Wednesday wishes for a whooping are willfully whacked.

This game will be close.

Sorry for that alliteration, but it was unavoidable. In case you missed it before: There are only two Big East games this week.

The Pride of Piscataway pour into Tampa to take on the Fighting Skip Holtz’ in a midweek matchup for … medieval times.

While South Florida is gaining in certain realms, the season for both teams has to be considered a disappointment thus far. Both teams had bigger dreams.As many pundits have proffered, has any coach fizzled as fast as Greg Schiano? Wow.

However, 10 is too big of a number for the Bulls to cover. Take the points. While South Florida may win, it won’t win by more than nine.

Saturday:

Louisville at Syracuse (-6) - The Syracuse Orange are in the first place in the Big East and trucking towards a BCS berth. Who would have thunk it? Wow. Just absolutely nuts. The team is hard to analyze and hard to describe. But I have found a way to do so. Syracuse wins much more often than they lose.

Charlie Strong needs two more years, but he will return Louisville to the top 25. He is a solid, defensive-orientated coach with one heck of a pedigree. It is hard to argue that with tutelage from the likes of Urban Meyer and Lou Holtz.

Louisville might be rising, but Syracuse is flying. The Orange cover the six at home on their way to the BCS.

Just nuts!

Patsy Party: None

Lazy Saturday: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, West Virginia

Posted by Brian McCabe at 4:00 PM

November 2, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 7

The year of the little guy continues.

That is the only way to explain it as six spots in the top 25 in the MRI are filled with non-automatic qualifiers for the BCS.

Count ‘em: Three teams from the WAC, two from the Mountain West (both in the top 10) and even one from Conference USA.

Yes, you may have missed it last week when Central Florida snuck in at No. 25 in the rankings. This week, thanks to some defensive woes by other teams, a big win over fellow contender East Carolina, plus a little boost to their schedule strength, they have jumped to No. 16.

‘But how can this be?’ you cry.

This is Conference USA. This team has two losses. What is going on?

Two losses by a combined 11 points to teams have fairly good seasons.

North Carolina State barely beat them by seven. The same North Carolina State team that lost to East Carolina, who Central Florida just beat, and who just took down Florida State.

Yes, that North Carolina State team, who could still win their division in the ACC.

Granted the ACC is the worst of the BCS conferences, but they are a contender for the best team in the conference, so that is still something.

Then Kansas State beat Central Florida by four. Yes, Kansas State is a middle of the pack team in the Big XII, but then maybe Central Florida would be a middle of the pack team in the Big XII this season.

Kansas State isn’t bad. They just aren’t great. They were even looking pretty good until Nebraska walked all over them. They challenged Baylor and Oklahoma State (albeit minus Justin Blackmon).

They might even beat Texas this coming weekend.

So Central Florida is a few snaps away from being 8-0 and in the talk.

Here are some numbers for you:

  • 22nd in rushing yards per game.
  • 30th in scoring.
  • 11th in scoring defense.
  • 9th in defensive yards against.

If there were any other jersey putting up those numbers, we wouldn’t think twice if they appeared among the top teams in the country, especially at 6-2 and when their losses were by 11 points total.

The one troublesome number is Strength of Schedule. Central Florida gets no help playing in Conference USA, where most of the teams lose two of their non-conference games to begin the year (much like the Knights).

But they ring in at No. 86 according to the MRI. For comparison, TCU is at No. 70. That Florida State team comes in at No. 87.

So it hasn’t been the toughest schedule in the country, but it is on par with what a nationally ranked Seminoles team had done. And it will get better before it gets worse, with games against Houston and Southern Mississippi in the next two weeks.

Plus, the Knights are on track to face Houston to SMU in the conference title game, another potential boost.

Note that we aren’t saying they are the best. They are just among the better teams in college football. A number 16-ranking isn’t even in the top 10 percent!

So it may be unconventional, but don’t count out Central Florida just because you can’t name their starting quarterback.

Check out all the rankings in week seven of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 7"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:00 PM

October 29, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 9

Since Alabama lost to South Carolina a few weeks ago, this is the weekend they have been waiting for.

The Crimson Tide are idle, but they won’t be idling as they gather in front of their televisions to root like heck for Ole Miss, Nebraska and USC.

That is because Auburn, Missouri and Oregon face big tests this week and losses by even one or two of these unbeatens could vault Alabama right back into the National Championship race.

The biggest gain for Alabama would be a loss by Auburn, setting up a showdown in the Iron Bowl for the lead in the SEC west. But they will certainly take a slide by any of the contenders currently in their path.

The Tide can’t do anything about Boise State (who already won this week) or TCU (who face a dreadful UNLV team). They will continue to hold their spots as the down men in leapfrog, allowing the big boys to continue to jump over them for the top two spots.

Only all three unbeatens losing this week could give hope to the Broncos and Horned Frogs.

But Alabama will be sitting pretty should any minor shakeup occur, and that will keep the Tide glued to their couches.

On to this week’s games:

Continue reading "Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 9"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 7:00 PM

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 9 Preview

pac10-logo.pngIt may have taken a while, but the real test for Oregon has finally arrived.

While the Pac-10 is legitimately good this year, Oregon has yet to play a team that can compete with their athletes, not to mention their schemes.

USC — even this kinder, gentler version of the Trojans — can still compete with any team in the nation with respect to athleticism and depth.

What we don’t know is whether Lane Kiffin can get his team ready for this sort of matchup. Still, at home, with their offense, USC is bound to be dangerous. Will they win? Let’s find out in this week’s picks.

LNwtP-10 went 1-3 last week, bringing the season tally to 23-18 against the spread.

Saturday games:

California at Oregon State (-3) - When you factor out home field, this is a virtual pick ‘em. Are these teams really equally matched? Kevin Riley’s inconsistency has been frustrating for Cal, who seem to go as he goes. They can run the ball solidly, but in their losses, he’s averaged less than 55% passing and has thrown 6 picks. Ryan Katz knows how that goes, as he’s also pulled the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine, averaging under 50 percent completions in their losses. Given this variability, it seems that the play is to take OSU at home -3.

Arizona at UCLA (+9) - UCLA were destroyed last week at Oregon, and this week they get no let-up with the arrival of Arizona. UCLA still can’t throw the ball effectively (116th in the FBS), and the Arizona defense is stout (6th in scoring defense). If they can get even half the offensive production they got last week, the Wildcats will cover. Lay the 9.

Washington State at Arizona State (-21) - Wazzu has covered three straight games and ASU looked terrible last week (my single worst pick as ASU didn’t show up at all). Erickson may be on the hot seat, so ASU wins, but still can’t cover the 21. Ride WSU for another week with the 21.

Stanford at Washington (+7) - Stanford didn’t look outstanding last week against Wazzu, but no one in the conference looked more inept than Washington. Jake Locker looks much worse than he has the last couple of seasons, and the defense isn’t getting turnovers and is allowing more than 33 points per game. Luck shows off for NFL scouts against a soft defense, and Stanford covers the 7.

Oregon at USC (+6.5) - This may well be Oregon’s season. They get Arizona at home before heading to OSU for the Civil War, so on paper this looks to be their toughest road game of the season. You also have to expect that Monte Kiffin will have some interesting schematic twists in place to try and disrupt this potent Oregon offense. Both teams are great on the offensive side, so this should be a shootout. Consequently, I think that Oregon wins, but I’ll take the 6.5 as a hedge in a tight game.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 3:30 PM

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 9

After a weekend of mild upsets and surprising outcomes, the Big East is back with three intra-conference matchups to satiate your football needs.

The conference is so upside down that Syracuse — Yes, that Syracuse — could come out of the weekend in first place. It is crazy to fathom that this conference is given a guaranteed bid to a BCS game.

I have a feeling that the powers-that-be will have a meeting of the minds this off-season to readdress this bid. It is hard to imagine that one of these eight teams automatically gets to play in one of the biggest bowl games of the season.

Syracuse could be playing Oklahoma in a bowl game. No, I am not kidding.

The Big East portion of the BiACC struggled last week and finished 1-3. That gives us a very mediocre 16-15-1 record overall.

Friday:

West Virginia at Connecticut (+6.5) - Saying both teams struggled last week would be an understatement. The Mountaineers had a chance to play themselves into the top 20, but they fell out of the top 25 after a disastrous loss at home against the aforementioned Orange.

Bill Stewart and his crew have to be reeling this week, but there is still a lot of football to be played.

UConn is coming off embarrassing shutout loss on the road against Louisville. The Huskies had high hopes this season, but after a 3-4 start, the Poulan Weed eater Papa Johns Detroit Bowl looks pretty darn good right about now.

Look for West Virginia to bounce back strong Friday night and roll to a lopsided victory. Lay the points and take the Mountain Men.

Saturday:

Louisville at Pittsburgh (-9.5)

The Wann-stashe Bash did it to me again. I cannot bring myself to pick them, but they keep covering. The Panthers put on an impressive showing last weekend at home against Rutgers and look to build on that this Saturday. Pitt is 4-3 after winning three of its past four games.

Meanwhile, Charlie Strong has his Redbirds playing some seriously good football. Louisville shut out UConn at home last weekend and is improving with every game. Since losing to a ranked Oregon State team, Louisville has won three of four heading into Saturday’s tilt with Pitt.

Again … I just cannot do it …

I look for Louisville to keep up their impressive play and cover 9.5 points. I am not saying it will win the game, but the Redbirds will cover.

Syracuse at Cincinnati (Pick) - Butch Jones’s first season at Cincy has not gone swimmingly. At 3-4, the Bearcats can be declared a disappointment thus far. Losing at home to South Florida last week is inexcusable. They have only won two games convincingly and those foes were Miami (Ohio) and Indiana State. Zach Collaros is putting up the numbers with 20 touchdowns on the season, but the results are just not there.

This game seems to be the definition of teams heading in different directions as Syracuse is turning heads around the country, Big East country that is. The Orange are coming off their biggest victory in two years after winning on the road in Morgantown last weekend. ‘Cuse is second in the Big East and only one win away from becoming bowl eligible.

Yes, people in upper New York, I said BOWL ELIGIBLE. Syracuse is almost bowl eligible.

However, I do not see that happening this week. Cincy’s offense will be too much for the Orange to contain. At a “Pick” status, I see Cincy winning this contest. Take the Bearcats.

Patsy Party: None

Lazy Saturday: Rutgers, South Florida

Posted by Brian McCabe at 10:30 AM

October 28, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 9

The ACC drew the short straw this week and will open with the dreaded Thursday night game.

The good news for the MRISports writers is that the computer has taken over picking these games. Isn’t life great?

Last week the MRI went 3-2 and probably would have been one better had the human part of the equation not read too much into the results.

This week we are going to go off the assumption that the lines are fairly devised. That is after all the assumption the men in Vegas are under when they create them.

Now the MRI was never designed to pick against the spread, but let’s give it a shot for a few weeks and see what happens.

And this week might be the best indicator of whether the MRI’s judgment against the line is accurate as every favorite is … a favorite.

To the games!

Continue reading "Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 9"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

MRISports' AP Ballot - October 24

After yesterday’s long rant on the computers and the human polls, it seems only fair that we put out our ballot.

It isn’t clear though if we are any smarter than the actual voters in those polls (although we would like to think we are).

The MRI writers are just as split over who should be No. 1 as the BCS, the human polls and the computers — both the BCS kind and the MRI — are.

Two first place votes for Oregon and another two for Boise State.

Plus the two voters who didn’t choose Boise State each had the Broncos at No. 3. They weren’t just not the best team, they didn’t even deserve the second-best tag.

Maybe Boise’s win over Louisiana Tech earlier in the week will begin to sway them, but it is doubtful. The Broncos won comfortably, but seemed to be toying with Tech.

They let them back in the game and then used superior talent to win in the end. It is almost as if they were a true AQ team. They seem to use that tactic all the time (to the frustration of bettors everywhere).

Oh well, time to let the readers rip on the writers. Here are our poll results for the week.

Continue reading "MRISports' AP Ballot - October 24"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:00 PM

October 27, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 6

Is it time to bash the computers? They are the most hated component of the BCS after all.

Forget that the human voters often make more mistakes than their microchipped counterparts. Forget it because you won’t ever hear one of those talking heads on television criticize a voter.

Forget it because there is no way that the coaches have any idea what happens across the country every week, yet are expected to form an opinion that we have learned from years past is often passed on to someone else in the athletic office.

Forget it because the qualifications for voting in the Harris poll are that your mom’s cousin once went to school with someone who knows someone and mentioned you at a party.

But we all love to hate the computers, which sounds like sacrilege when it appears alongside the weekly MRI standings.

Admittedly, the MRI isn’t the most accurate tool out there. Usually it predicts about 70 percent of the games correctly.

But it seems to be correct more often than what we are seeing out of the BCS computers.

The New York Times took a preemptive shot at the computers prior to the initial BCS rankings. And they may have a point, frankly admitted to by one of the computer rankers themselves.

“You’re asked to rank teams that don’t play each other, that don’t play long seasons, and you can’t include margin of victory?” said Massey, who provides a “better version” on his Web site, masseyratings.com. “It’s a very challenging problem from a data-analysis standpoint. It does require sacrificing a bit of accuracy. It’s not the best way to do it.”

And lacking accuracy is something all too clear two weeks into the Blasted College System.

How else do you explain Oregon have almost 99 percent of the highest score in both human polls yet they are unable to sniff the No. 1 spot in the overall BCS?

How can two teams that don’t even get 10 percent of the first place votes in the human polls lead the BCS based on the computer rankings (Oklahoma last week and Auburn currently)?

It doesn’t make sense.

Maybe it is that missing component, the margin of victory. After the first few seasons of the BCS, the computers were asked to remove it from their formula.

The was college football after all. The players and coaches were supposed to be civilized. They aren’t supposed to run up the score to improve their rating on a computer.

Those computers that couldn’t make the cut were cut themselves, and the nation was left with just six boxes left standing.

But when one of their own admits that the rankings are flawed without some margin of victory component, shouldn’t someone take notice?

The MRI uses a weighted margin of victory to help rank the teams. You can blow out a bad team, but it won’t necessarily matter as much as if you win by 10 against a good team.

And there is a cap of 35 points on the raw margin before weighting. After a five touchdown lead, even the humans have stopped paying attention, so the computers should do the same.

With the margin of victory added in, perhaps the BCS rankings would resemble reality, where Auburn has had to squeak out almost all of its wins.

Or Boise State and TCU would have a little more love after they trample their admittedly softer schedules. A simple weighting would tone that down, but it would show how much better they are than their schedule alone suggests.

Or maybe Oregon would manage better than an average ranking of eight in the computers. They couldn’t process the Ducks’ 47 point victory over Pac-10 conference foe UCLA as anything more than just a simple check mark in the win column.

The MRI gave Oregon an additional 9.3 points for the dominating win, on top of any other gains from other components, almost 11 percent of its total MRI score.

So what is holding back Oregon (currently 4th) from the top spot in the MRI?

Part of Oregon’s issue may be their strength of schedule to this point. According to the MRI, the Ducks have played the 117th ranked schedule in the FBS, counting among its vanquished an FCS team, two-win Tennessee, winless New Mexico and one-win Washington State (whose one victory was over an FCS school).

Meanwhile Auburn has played the sixth hardest slate in the country. That will change in two weeks when the Tigers face FCS Chattanooga.

If Auburn can hold it together against Mississippi and are still undefeated at that time, it will be interesting to see how the computers react to that scheduling blip. Chances are the BCS microchips will punish them for it (as will the MRI to a degree).

For those out there wondering about the supposedly cream puff schedules of Boise State and TCU, they come in at 39 for the Broncos and 66 for the Horned Frogs.

Plus Boise will not play an FCS school this season and has two good games remaining on their schedule in Hawaii and Nevada. TCU (which did play an FCS opponent) will still get bumps from Utah and San Diego State, although they finish with a cake walk over New Mexico to bring them back to earth.

There is still quite a bit of football left, but the computers have shown one thing so far. Without all the data, you can make any assertion you want.

It just doesn’t make you correct.

Check out all of the (flawed?) rankings in week six of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 6"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:00 PM

October 23, 2010

Big Number Country - Big Ten Preview, Week 8

Raise your hand if you thought Michigan State would be the last unbeaten team in conference this season?

If you raised your hand, you’re lying. I don’t know of anyone, Michigan State fans included, that thought their team would be in this position.

They have been the most consistent team in conference so far, so for once, their fans can feel good in dreaming a little bit.

On the other hand, there are still five games left to play.

Saturday’s games

Michigan State at Northwestern (+ 6): Rain is forecast for this game, and if the playing surface is sloppy, it should favor the Spartans and their run game, provided they can hold onto the ball. Northwestern has no run offense to speak of and the Spartan defense has been surprisingly opportunistic this year. Even if the rain holds off, I think Dan Persa will not complete as high a percentage of passes as he normally does. Plus, this season Northwestern has been good for one boneheaded mistake a game, and Michigan State has the team to take advantage of it. Of course, the games in this series are almost always close, so my analysis might be completely off. But my gut says MSU doesn’t look ahead to the showdown against Iowa and wins comfortably. Lay the points.

Penn State at Minnesota (+9.5): Will Minnesota get a short term boost from Jeff Horton taking over for the fired Tim Brewster? If they do get that intangible emotional lift, they should be able to beat a Penn State team that is both beaten up physically and beaten down mentally. The Minnesota offense is still capable of scoring points and should be able to take advantage of the injuries Penn State has suffered on defense. I know I incorrectly picked Minnesota for the upset last week, and I should probably stay away from making that assertion this week. But I’m going to do it anyway. Playing at home will lift the Gophers over the Nittany Lions. Take the points.

Purdue at Ohio State (-24): Ohio State should be understandably angry after losing last week and having their National Championship hopes dashed. Purdue is understandable riding high after winning their first two conference games after suffering so many key injuries. This is a tough task for Rob Henry to keep the winning going this week on the road. The number is way too high, as Ryan Kerrigan and the Boilermaker defense should be able to keep the score close. But the Buckeye defense will expose Henry’s inexperience early and often. Ohio State wins, but take the points.

Indiana at Illinois (-14): This game could turn out to be a bowl elimination game. Each team needs this win to have a shot at reaching the six wins necessary to play in the postseason. It also happens to be a game of polar opposites. The Indiana offense is high flying and is built around a strong passer in Ben Chappell, but the defense is pretty bad. The Illinois defense has been its strength this season, while the offense is struggling with inconsistency behind a young quarterback. The two strengths should conceivably cancel each other out, leaving this a contest between the Illinois offense and the Indiana defense. The Illini do have running back Mikel Leshoure, so I give them the edge, but not a two touchdown edge. Take the points.

Big Ten Game of the Week

Wisconsin at Iowa (-6): This game is the first game in three game Big Ten Invitational that Iowa is hosting. With Ohio State and Michigan State also visiting Iowa in the coming weeks, the Hawkeyes have every opportunity to put a stranglehold on the conference title. The Hawkeyes vaunted rush defense will need to be on top of their game to withstand the Wisconsin running game, which really imposed its will on the Buckeyes last week. But Wisconsin will need J.J. Watt and the rest of the defensive line to get pressure on Ricky Stanzi, or they will have a long game. So if you like line play, this game is for you. In my opinion, the offensive and defensive lines for Iowa have performed much better overall this season than the ones for Wisconsin. This makes it an easy call for me, as Iowa wins a back and forth game by wearing down the Badgers in the fourth quarter to win by a touchdown.

Lazy Saturday: Denard Robinson

Record

Last Week

Straight Up: 3-2; Against the Spread: 2-3

Overall

Straight Up: 38-9; Against the Spread: 18-20-1

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 9:00 AM

October 22, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 8

So this is what it has come to. A conference has slipped so far among the top six that we don’t even desire to pick games in it any longer.

Such is the case with the ACC, which we have ignored for the past three weeks. And though it has elicited nary a peep from the populace at large, we couldn’t ignore them forever.

And in honor of bringing them back, we have a new member of the staff picking the games, one made of chips and wires.

Yes, the MRI will be selecting your winners in the ACC this week.

The system was never designed to pick against the spread, and so it will only be picking the team more likely to win. But based on those picks, you can make some informed decisions on who to pick on your trip to the local bookie.

So without further ado, let’s see who the MRI loves in the ACC this weekend:

Duke at Virginia Tech (-26.5) - There is little doubt on this one. The MRI loves Virginia Tech. With a percentage chance of winning over 93 percent, I would almost guarantee that Virginia Tech would cover, so go with this combined computer human pick.

Maryland at Boston College (-4) - I really hope no one is watching this game. Maryland, the underdog according to the line, has the better MRI of the two teams, and even at 4-2, is below the mark of the average squad according to the computer. Chalk it up to their pathetic offense and a defense that couldn’t stop your grandmother. The slow turtle you are supposed to fear should be more than simple to outrun. But the MRI likes Maryland in this game (54 percent chance), which means take them to beat the spread.

Georgia Tech at Clemson (-5.5) - Given the running offenses from both teams, the fans will barely get their moneys worth in this game. Over/under on the game time including halftime should be two hours and 45 minutes. The MRI barely likes Clemson and only if you include the home-field advantage. Without that, it barely likes Georgia Tech. So with only a 54 percent chance of Clemson taking this one, the MRI is going to tout Georgia Tech.

Eastern Michigan at Virginia (+24) - Has Eastern Michigan even covered one game this season? Probably, but against the big boys, this is almost a lock. The Cavaliers have a comparable winning chance of their friends across the state, coming in at about 95 percent. So with that, you can be almost assured of a Virginia win and cover.

North Carolina at Miami (-6.5) - Despite their troubles with keeping enough players active to field a team, North Carolina cracked the MRI top 25 this week. That is pretty much a sign that we underestimated the depth of this team and their ability to compete even without their first team. Remember that they are just a couple of plays away from being undefeated this year, which would have all those rumors about Butch Davis’ job silenced in a heartbeat. As you can expect, the MRI like North Carolina in this one with a 54 percent chance of a win on the road. Getting almost a touchdown in addition to that, take the Tar Heels and go to bed a happy bettor.

Lazy Saturday: Florida State, North Carolina State, Wake Forest

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 6:30 PM

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 8

Stop the presses! The Big East conference is getting all loco this week. It must have lost its mind.

Don’t look know, but each team in the conference is playing … wait for it … another team from the conference. Damn, my head is exploding with excitement. Who thought of this groundbreaking, earth-shattering idea? Has it ever happened before? Who can I thank?

Fans, buckle in, strap yourself down or do whatever you have to in order to contain yourself this weekend. We are in for a wild ride.

Seriously, it might even be as fun as the Whizzer used to be at Great America.

OK, nothing is that cool.

The Big East portion of the BiACC went 2-2 last week for a 15-12-1 record overall.

Friday:

South Florida at Cincinnati (-7.5) - BJ Daniels and the Fighting Skip Holtzes have been struggling immensely lately, especially on offensive. They lost to a Syracuse team that was then pummeled by Pitt.

Zach Collaros is really taking command of Butch Jones’ offense and Cincy has been rolling of late. The Bearcats come into the game looking for their third in a row while South Florida is trying to avoid their third straight loss and what would be their fourth of the year.

Don’t look for the Bulls’ bleeding to end this weekend.

Behind home-field advantage and Collaros’ right arm, the Bearcats will win and easily cover the 7.5 points.

Saturday:

Rutgers at Pittsburgh (-13) - As was mentioned last week, the Pride of Piscataway is one of the most unpredictable and fickle teams of this most unpredictable and fickle college football seasons.

After a big ‘W’ two weeks ago against UConn, Rutgers need overtime to beat Army last weekend. No one, even Schiano himself, knows what team will show up on any given Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Wannstache bash absolutely ROLLED Syracuse last week. Who saw that coming? Not me. Not even Dave and his uneven, high-school-like ‘stache.

So what should you do this weekend? Well, I am still need one more week of proof before I change my rule.

Therefore, I will employ my “never-picking-Dave-Wannstedt-because-he-is-Dave-Wannstedt-rule.”

Take the Scarlet Knights and hope Wannstedt has to make a few key decisions. If that happens, all should work out just fine.

Syracuse at West Virginia (-14) - The Orangemen are reeling after the pasting they received from Pitt last weekend. They are off to a 4-2 start, but that is a bit misleading considering three of those victories are against Akron (the worst team in the FBS according to the MRI), Colgate and Maine.

On the other side, the Mountaineers are clearly the class of the Big East conference. With only one hiccup against an undefeated LSU, West Virginia is cruising towards another BCS birth this season.

The Bearded Gunmen have ‘MO’ on their side and don’t expect that momentum to go anywhere soon.

They will easily beat Syracuse at home and will do so by at least 17 points.

Connecticut at Louisville (-1.5) - Both teams can run. Louisville can pass. Both teams play above-average defense.

Both teams are 3-3 and 0-1 in conference play.

Louisville is improving. UConn is regressing.

Louisville is playing at home. Combine that with an impressive run of late and a stiff defense and you have a formula for victory.

Seriously, there is really not anything else to break down for the game.

The Redbirds will cover 1.5 points at home.

Patsy Party: Well …

Lazy Saturday: No one. They are all playing one another. Yay!

Posted by Brian McCabe at 4:30 PM

October 21, 2010

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 8 Preview

pac10-logo.pngWith the initial BCS rankings released this week, you could practically hear the cheers from Eugene as Oregon debuted at number two.

As important as their number one ranking in the AP is to the formula, the computers seem to like what the Ducks have done thus far, and their conference will undoubtedly be strong enough to sustain their strength of schedule going forward.

Oregon clearly has a lot to do in order to finish the season unbeaten, but in all likelihood, an unbeaten run would be enough for them to make it to the title game.

LNwtP-10 went 2-1 last week, bringing the season tally to 22-15 against the spread.

Thursday game:

UCLA at Oregon (-24) - UCLA already has a huge scalp this season in the form of a road win at Texas, and this week they head up to Eugene to face the top ranked Ducks. Darron Thomas and LaMichael James lead the Ducks offense that has scored the most points per game in the FBS this season (nearly 55 ppg), and this week they face a banged up UCLA defense. Still, this UCLA team is led by powerful back Johnathan Franklin and his more than 6.1 yard per carry average. The Bruins like to slow the game down and keep it on the ground, which will challenge the Ducks defense to make stops on third down and get off the field. However, with an Autzen crowd providing one of the best home field advantages in the nation, combined with the excitement of being ranked number one for the first time ever, Oregon should be able to cover the 24.

Saturday games:

Arizona State at California (-3) - This is almost certainly the most underrated matchup of the weekend in this conference. The Sun Devils have been snake bitten this season, losing tight games to quality competition. Steven Threet has been sharp, leading the Devils 15th-ranked passing attack, but their lack of defensive stops has led to a bunch of high scoring games. Cal has a very balanced offense that has had a lot of success in the running game, but the inconsistent play of Kevin Riley has really hurt them. The Golden Bears had looked much sharper until their big letdown last week against USC. ASU seem to be flying under the radar, but this seems like a solid week to play them and take the three.

Washington State at Stanford (-35) - Three straight covers have the Wazzu faithful all fired up in Pullman! Er, something like that. I know some people have been excited, but there really hasn’t been much to cheer about for WSU fans. This week they travel on the road against a team that is at full strength and should be well prepared coming off a bye week. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has already thrown 16 touchdown passes this season, and the soft Cougar pass defense (ranked last in the nation) should be a perfect way to increase that total. The Cougars surrender nearly 500 yards a contest, and with Harbaugh at the controls, you know Stanford won’t hesitate to bury them. I hate to lay this many points, but if you’re going to make a play on this game, take Stanford.

Washington at Arizona (-6.5) - The calculus for games at this point in the season begins to get more difficult. Arizona lost at home to Oregon State, and Washington is coming off of a win over those same Beavers, but is a 6.5 point underdog this week. Arizona does host this matchup, but will be without star quarterback Nick Foles, whose 75% completion percentage will be greatly missed. Backup Matt Scott is not inexperienced, having started a few games last year and having also played much of last week’s game against Washington State, but this is a pretty tough spot. The Wildcats can still rely on a top 10 defense, but 6.5 points is a big number given the problems facing Arizona. The Cats may squeak one out, but take Washington and the 6.5.

Lazy Saturday - USC and Oregon State

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 5:00 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 8

I have no idea what happened last week. Everything that seemed to make sense in the SEC all of a sudden didn’t.

Maybe I can go with the injury excuse in the Auburn - Arkansas game. But even with Ryan Mallett, I am not sure now if Arkansas could have kept up. Cameron Newton is amazing, pure and simple, and Auburn should at least be in the discussion for the best team in the country right now.

Which probably means that they will lose this weekend vs. LSU.

That is what South Carolina did.

Jump out to a big lead. Get cocky because you beat Alabama and now look like you are about to have an easy road to the East division title and then collapse.

Probably should have seen that coming. But again, an injury might have been to blame for some of the pain. When the most explosive part of your offense goes down, the fun can evaporate in quite a hurry.

The only game that went the way it should have was when Mississippi State shut down Florida. Think Urban Meyer is confused as to why he didn’t take a year off? I mean, if any year was the right time to do it, then wouldn’t you think the year after the Gator god left would be it?

He has the building blocks for another great team, but it will take time, and actually getting Trey Burton on the field at quarterback. This season is going nowhere so he might as well start preparing for the future now.

But the Gators have this week off to think about it.

Meanwhile, everyone else plays this week, so let’s go to the games:

Continue reading "Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 8"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:30 PM

October 20, 2010

Heisman Watch 2010 - Week 6, or Revenge of the Plainsman

Just two weeks ago, it looked like this race was a done deal. Denard Robinson was running away with it.

But on the fringes was this guy out on the Plains, doing what Robinson was doing against much tougher competition, leading an entire conference in rushing.

Maybe it was only appropriate that his last name is the unit for force, as now Cameron Newton is the main force inthe Heisman race.

It didn't hurt that Newton had four hours to show the nation just how good he was in the highest scoring game in SEC history.

For a moment forget all the arguments about what conference is the best in the nation. For a moment let's just say it's the SEC (It is by the way. Just look at the results outside the conference: 27-5. I don't care who the competition was -- pretty good -- try and beat that).

This guy leads the SEC in quarterback rating. This guy leads the SEC in rushing yards.

This guy is the top scorer in the conference too, and one score away from the leading scorer in the nation.

So why shouldn't he be considered the best player in the country?

I think the argument is settled for now.

Then again take two weeks and then call me.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2010 - Week 6, or Revenge of the Plainsman"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:00 PM

October 19, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 5

Did anyone notice that? Boise State didn’t capture the No. 1 spot in the first BCS standings.

This despite ESPN’s BCS expert Brad Edwards claiming the whole week prior that it was all but a done deal.

Well, some expert. Boise State came in at No. 3 when the first rankings were released, not even close to the top spot, taken by Oklahoma.

Or was that what ESPN intended all along?

Although Oregon didn’t play this week, they benefited more from Ohio State’s loss to Wisconsin that Boise State, who dominated San Jose State to the tune of 49-0.

The Ducks gained more points in the coaches’ poll and a greater share of the first place votes taken from Ohio State.

But more importantly, Oklahoma stole a few of those top votes in the shakeup following the Ohio State loss. Stole them from a surging juggernaut that was looking to steal more than its now yearly place in the BCS picture.

Boise State was poised to break into the biggest game of the year. So why not put a stop to that before it begins.

When the BCS comes out for the first time, it is important to be placed in the top two, despite what the experts say. One of the top two is almost guaranteed to be in the championship game at the end of the season.

It has happened 10 out of the 12 years the BCS system has been in place and only one time in the past ten years hasn’t it been true.

So it is actually really important to be in the top two at the beginning of the chase.

And can you imagine how the ESPN brass felt about Boise State potentially being not just in one of those positions, but the top spot?

They had just shelled out $495 million for the broadcast rights to these games, and now the crown jewel, the National Championship game (sponsored by Tostitos) was going to be invaded by the boys who play on a blue field?

Not while they can help it.

So they get the coaches and the Harris poll voters scared by plastering their mock BCS rankings on the screen every chance they could get, including during the biggest games of the night.

And maybe, just maybe, enough votes changed to make a difference.

At least that is how I see it.

The computers (which don’t count margin of victory, much to the chagrin of some mathematicians) might be Boise’s only hope, and even that is a long shot.

Unless you are talking the MRI, where for the second straight week, the Broncos top the rankings along with their BCS busting pal, TCU.

It is looking like TCU might eventually come out ahead in the MRI as Boise’s schedule tapers off, but there is still a lot of football to be played and upsets to be had.

Check out the two high-flying westerners and all the rankings in Week five of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 5"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:00 AM

October 16, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 7

Last weekend was tough here at Southern Exposure.

After a race to get my picks in, I watched them crumble one by one as they day went on.

Even Auburn, who was covering until late, decided it wasn’t going to be the week for me by letting Kentucky believe it could play football again.

Oh well. Everyone is bound to have a week like that now and then.

Unlike the rest of the country, we have some games this weekend (nice of the Pac-10 to give almost half the conference the week off.)

So here you go.

Vanderbilt at Georgia (-14.5) - Apparently all Georgia needed to get better was to play Tennessee. But beating up on a Vols team that was still hung over from its inexplicable loss to LSU isn’t going to cure all that ails the Bulldogs. Good thing they have Vanderbilt this week to continue the good times. While the Commodores were all over Eastern Michigan in week six, things return to normal this week against a defense that knows how to shut things down. Aaron Moore has another nice day for Georgia, but don’t expect Vandy to roll over and play dead like Tennesse. Bulldogs win, but Vandy covers.

Arkansas at Auburn (-4) - This is the game I have been waiting for. Nothing we have seen yet has proven to me that the Tigers have it together when defending the pass. It has come back to bite them in every game they have played. Just when they should be salting the game away and forcing the other quarterback to beat them with spectacular play, they trip over themselves allowing mediocre plays to succeed. They haven’t lost yet because of this, but for any Tiger fans, the ulcers tell the story. So here comes Ryan Mallett to put Auburn’s defense to the toughest test of the year. That is why you have to take the Razorbacks and four in this one.

South Carolina at Kentucky (+4.5) - Steve Spurrier has never lost to Kentucky. Even if South Carolina has to come down from the high of beating a No. 1-ranked team, I guarantee that the Ol’ Ball Coach knows that this streak exists and doesn’t want it to end. The Gamecocks have managed to hold down two of the best offenses in the SEC this season in Auburn and Bama last week. Expect the same with the high-powered Kentucky offense, which might be limping in with Derrick Locke on the sidelines. Take South Carolina and lay the points.

Mississippi State at Florida (-7.5) - Oh Florida. I chose you to cover against Alabama and you got steamrolled. I chose you to win a close one against LSU and you let scatterbrained Les Miles pull out some trickeration on you. So what team are you? With Mississippi State’s balanced attack, are you going to be able to key on one thing on defense and pray it doesn’t hurt you. Are you going to have to win a shootout? Florida, speak to me, tell me who you really are?

Silence huh? Well, fine.

I think you can win this game, but you have been so nuts this season, I am going with the Bulldogs to cover. See how you like that. Last time I did that to you, you lost. Go ahead, see if you can blow them out.

So yes, I am going with Mississippi State and the points. But don’t expect that to change our relationship in any way.

Mississippi at Alabama (-20.5) - Here is who you don’t want to be this week: Houston Nutt, or Jeremiah Masoli, or Mississippi in general. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that Nick Saban, Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram are going to enact a certain measure of revenge on the Rebs (Rebel Black Bears that is)?

You want proof?

How about this quote from Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower:

“We haven’t had this feeling in a long time and we don’t want it again.”

So there is absolutely nothing in my mind to keep these guys from scoring and scoring often against Mississippi. This could get ugly.

Take Bama even with the ginormous line.

Patsy Party: LSU figures out how badly they have to mismanage a game to let McNeese State keep it close.

Lazy Saturday: Tennessee licks its wounds

Southern Exposure went 3-4 last week to bring its record to 24-20-1 on the season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:45 AM

October 15, 2010

Big Number Country - Big Ten Preview, Week 7

The theme this week is handling success.

Ohio State is the new number one in the country. Will they still be there after they play in Madison this week?

Michigan State has now beaten Michigan three years in a row and remains undefeated. Can they avoid repeating recent history and stay strong down the stretch?

Illinois looks to be the most improved team in the conference, but can they continue to gain confidence by winning another tough road game?

On a smaller scale, Purdue pulled off an improbable upset against Northwestern. A bowl berth is still in sight, but is there enough there on offense to find three more wins?

It doesn’t take much in the Big Ten to knock a team down that has been riding high, and this week will prove whether or not these teams can handle the added pressure that success can bring.

Saturday’s games

Arkansas State at Indiana (-11.5) - To tell you the truth, until I looked closely at this game, I had no idea Arkansas State was an FBS team. I just kind of assumed they were another FCS cupcake. (Editor’s note: This seems to be an issue here at MRISports. Brian McCabe didn’t know the same thing a couple of weeks back. Perhaps a primer on the Sun Belt is in order.)

They are a Sun Belt team, though not a really good one. This will be a chance for Indiana to get things right after getting rocked by Ohio State last week. The Hoosier defense is still bad, so they may allow some soft scores, but the Chappell-Doss connection heats up again. Since the game is in Bloomington, feel comfortable laying the points.

Illinois at Michigan State (-7) - All I’ve heard this week is how this is a trap game for Michigan State. They’re coming off of two big wins against ranked opponents and MSU teams in the past have been incapable of handling success very well. But I think it is also a trap game for Illinois. They won in Happy Valley last week for the first time ever and now have to play their second consecutive road game.The possibility for a letdown is there for the Illini, too.

I see this as a battle of two superior ground games against two tough rushing defenses. The Illini are much improved, but I don’t think these are your same old Spartans, and either Edwin Baker or Le’Veon Bell eventually breaks a big play that puts the game out of reach. Lay the points

Minnesota at Purdue (-5.5) - With Purdue coming off their surprise win in Evanston, you would think the Boilermakers would be able to handle Minnesota at home. But this might be one of the last chances that Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster gets to try and save his job. I personally believe he’s running out of rope and that it won’t matter anyway in the long run if he wins this game.

Still, he can get one more good game out of his team. Rob Henry is still a young quarterback in only his second start, and it had to have been an emotional victory last week after all the injuries this team has suffered. I’m calling for the upset alert here and say the Golden Gophers win on the road. Take the points.

Iowa at Michigan (+3) - If Michigan State, a team with a good, but not great defense, can cause Denard Robinson to make as many mistakes as he did last week, then you can probably bet that one of the top defenses in the country can do the same. Iowa has the second best rushing defense in the country and should be able to limit the long runs of Robinson. Iowa’s offense is just as balanced as Michigan State, so the Wolverines should be on their heels again this week. Any chance Michigan has in this game is for the defense to pressure Ricky Stanzi into making some of the disastrous mistakes he made last year. But they’re just not good enough to do that, and come Sunday, every editor in the country will be checking to make sure they spell Derrell Johnson-Koulianos right after the wide receiver puts in a big performance. Lay the points, as Michigan fans start to feel like its 2009 all over again.

Big Ten Game of the Week

Ohio State at Wisconsin (+3.5) - This is the first real test for Ohio State. So far their best victory has been against Miami, which looks a little less impressive after the Hurricanes got crushed by Florida State. Wisconsin got back in the win column by beating Minnesota, and can get back in the conference title race by beating the Buckeyes. Terrelle Pryor showed last week he can make plays from the pocket when a defense tries to limit his running opportunities. Pryor will probably have to make hay through the air again this week, as the Badgers have the best rush defense he’s faced so far. But make the plays he will.

The Wisconsin running game is too good to be kept totally in check, so Scott Tolzien will have to supplement whatever John Clay and James White can provide. He’ll have to be smart with the ball, and the Badgers will need to control the clock to wear down an Ohio State defense that is a little thin at a couple of positions. Playing in primetime in front of a Camp Randall crowd will help, but in the end Pryor has become too good to let this one slip away. Ohio State will pull away late, so you can lay the points.

Lazy Saturday: Northwestern, Penn State

Record

Last Week

Straight Up: 3-2; Against the Spread: 3-2

Overall

Straight Up: 35-7; Against the Spread: 16-17-1

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 7:30 PM

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 7 Preview

pac10-logo.pngOh boy. Why do I get the feeling that all the playoff advocates who are hoping for a Boise St. vs TCU match-up are going to be disappointed?

I know Alabama lost. And while I would really like to see Boise in the title game, I get a sinking feeling that when it’s all said and done, a combination of schedule strength and voter reluctance when it matters will leave Oregon and Ohio State — a rematch of the ‘09 Rose Bowl — as the last two standing.

While that may prove to be the right matchup, I really hope that isn’t how it turns out. To be honest, a Boise/Oregon title game would make me very excited.

While last week’s loss dropped Arizona from the ranks of the unbeaten, it actually helps to reinforce the idea that the Pac-10 is an extremely strong conference this season.

Oregon State moved back into the AP Top-25 with the win over the Wildcats, and their losses to a pair of top-5 teams, which happen to be the top two teams in the MRI, are still holding up as simply incredibly tough scheduling. The Civil War is going to be epic.

Oregon has looked dominant to this point and is undoubtedly an excellent team. But this year the conference looks much closer in terms of depth to the SEC and an unbeaten Pac-10 run would be a much greater accomplishment now than it was during the USC dynasty.

This week’s games aren’t quite as compelling as the previous week, but expect some competitive matchups on the short slate.

LNwtP-10 went 3-2 last week, bringing the season tally to 20-14 against the spread.

Saturday games:

California at USC (-2.5) - USC now looks like a fading dynasty, and some might suggest that they are on a track similar to former power Miami. The Trojans still have a ton of NFL talent, but seem unable to put anything together here at the start of the Lane Kiffin era. Don’t misunderstand; they played pretty well last week against an excellent Stanford team. It’s just becoming clear that they aren’t likely to be title contenders even after their sanctions end. In this game, I still like USC, and I like any home dog with Matt Barkley and this offense. Take USC and the 2.5.

Arizona at Washington State (+23) - Wazzu has covered for two straight weeks, and this week the line is much smaller. While a win here is a near impossibility, I’ll take a team that kept it (reasonably) close last week against Oregon. Foles will rack up huge passing yards, but this number is just over that magic three touchdown mark, so take Washington State and the 23, praying for a cover.

Oregon State at Washington (-2) - I wasn’t that far off last week with the assertion that OSU was the best 2-2 team in the land, as they looked strong against a extremely good Arizona team. Their performance seems to hinge on quarterback Ryan Katz, who had a breakout game with 398 yards and a couple of scores. I fully expect that to continue this week, and they should be able to cover the 2 at Washington.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 5:00 PM

October 14, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC: Big East Preview, Week 7

Hello again, everybody.

It is Week 7 in the conference that keeps on giving … mediocre games and matchups. Can you feel this excitement?!?!?

If you like old school, grind it out kind of football, the Big East is for you.

The Big East’s struggles versus FBS opponents have been well documented as of late so we will not go there. As I said, mediocre. Very, very, very mediocre at this time.

Can West Virginia rise above the rest and carry the torch?

Is Charlie Strong for real?

Does Skip have any Lou in him?

Perplexing performances in Piscataway.

These are all interesting topics for an absolutely scintillating conference.

The Big East portion of the BiACC went 3-2-1 last week for a 13-10-1 record overall.

I know you are all waiting for my opinions with bated breath, so without further ado … here is what I am thinking for this weekend:

Thursday:

South Florida at West Virginia (-10) - Because the ball may have already been kicked, this will be brief …

West Virginia covers 10.

Friday:

Cincinnati at Louisville (+3) - Both squads are coming off landslide-like victories over Miami (Ohio) and Memphis respectively. Both squads got off to a rough start, but seem to be trending up under first-year head coaches Butch Jones and Charlie Strong.

This game boils down to the fact that Cincy has simply faced better and stronger competition thus far and that gives them the upper hand. NBA Jam flashback: Zach Collaros is heating up!

Louisville will put up a fight, but Cincy will come away with a road victory … and a road victory by more than three points at that.

Saturday:

Pittsburgh at Syracuse (-1) - This is not going to be a pretty game, and I am not just talking about Wannstedt’s uneven lip beard.

These two teams are the epitome of the Big East (or least, as some like to say) conference.

It is hard to imagine Pittsburgh being any better than just above average. Doug Marrone can do all he wants at Syracuse, but it will most likely never be a football powerhouse.

(And to those who refer to Syracuse’s glory days: McNabb and Harrison were on a good team. Those are not “glory days,” though. Please stop referring to it as such)

I am now off my soapbox.

Both teams played scrappy games last week, and it will look very much the same in this one.

Based on my never-picking-Dave-Wannstedt-because-he-is-Dave-Wannstedt-rule…

Take the Orangemen.

Army at Rutgers (-7) - Just when you think you have Rutgers completely figured out, they go and do something like that … and totally redeem themselves.

After losing at home to TULANE, the Scarlet Knights dug deep and notched an upset victory over UConn last week.

Rutgers plays in Piscataway for the fourth week in a row. What team is going to show up this Saturday is anyone’s guess, but if they are going to build momentum for the rest of their Big East tilts, they need a convincing victory this weekend.

So, with all that said …

Rutgers will not have an answer for the Black Knight ground game.

Take Army and the points.

Patsy Party: NONE!

Lazy Saturday: Connecticut

Posted by Brian McCabe at 6:30 PM

Big Number Country - Previewing Week 7 in the Big XII

Conference action really gets going this week as we pass the halfway point of the season. Each game features an intraconference match-up. No cupcakes this week.

We might see more clarity in the division races after this week as well.

Will Missouri keep pace with Nebraska in the North?

In the South, can Oklahoma State continue to win and put pressure on Oklahoma going forward?

Can Texas Tech and Texas A&M turn their seasons around and compete in the South?

Let’s find out…

Continue reading "Big Number Country - Previewing Week 7 in the Big XII"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 10:00 AM

October 13, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 4

If you want the most outrageous idea, sometimes you have to go to the person least likely to give it.

On Monday morning’s Tony Kornheiser show, Mr. Tony mentioned that he would now be alright with a Boise State - TCU championship game.

Yup, even Tony Kornheiser, probably the last person you would expect to say it, believes that the two small fries in the college football box have proven themselves.

This confession was immediately greeted with the response that if anything could bring about a playoff, it would be TCU and Boise State in the championship game.

And that is probably true. If the big six commissioners couldn’t get the voters to put at least one of their members in the big game, you can bet your bottom dollar (and about 15 million more of them) that their tune would change about the playoff.

They wouldn’t have any trouble convincing university presidents that they couldn’t risk another year without a name school headlining college football.

The change would happen even before the kickoff on January 10, 2011.

So maybe those commissioners should look at the MRI this week, because topping the chart are the TCU Horned Frogs and Boise State Broncos.

There is no guarantee that this will continue for the remainder of the season and Boise State achieved the top spot with a dominating victory this past week (the largest gain of the week). Any automatic qualifier school could easily leapfrog either team with its own dominating win at the right time.

So the challenge for the two schools will be to keep applying the pressure and gaining those style points (the ones the computers don’t see).

Meanwhile, those conference commissioners should begin to worry about who the other computers have topping their lists as the first official BCS rankings approaches.

Check out the high-flying scores for TCU and Boise State and all the rest of the rankings in week four of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:55 PM

October 9, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 6

If you want showdowns, this is the week for you to watch the SEC.

Alabama and South Carolina, LSU and Florida… Tennessee and Georgia?

Well that used to be a big game. Both teams have been struggling this year to at all like their former selves. Georgia looked like they might be getting back on track, now that AJ Green is back in uniform… well, the one he didn’t try to sell.

But consider this hump week in the conference, which is easy now that we are half way through the season.

Let’s go right to the games.

Tennessee at Georgia (-11.5) - Step back for a second and look at that line! Georgia is favored by 11.5 points. Georgia who lost to Colorado last week. Georgia who has looked pitiful in their last few SEC games. Over Tennessee who can’t count to 11, but almost beat a ranked LSU team on the road. Georgia?!? I don’t care how much AJ Green changes things for the Bulldog defense, that is a huge number. There is no doubt this is a trap game. Consider me in the trap. Take Tennessee and the points, and consider this my upset special.

Eastern Michigan at Vanderbilt (-25.5) - Eastern Michigan is one of the worst teams in the country, and for some reason, I am under this impression that Vanderbilt knows how to score. Then again at 116th in the nation in points against, everyone knows how to score against Eastern Michigan. This is a huge number even for that, but I am going to go with it. Vanderbilt gets a nice little win before being embarrassed for the remainder of the SEC season and covers.

Alabama at South Carolina (+6.5) - Last week I went against Alabama and Florida, with all those offensive weapons let me down. Now can I really expect South Carolina to do any better? With a smaller line? I know the Gamecocks have had two weeks to prepare for this game, but I can’t believe that Spurrier knows how to shut down the two best backs in the country. Oh wait, they used to do it to Clemson all the time. See why this game is so hard to pick?

I still believe that Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are too big to stop for South Carolina. They keep running, and running, and running. Lay the points, Tide rolls.

LSU at Florida (-6) - Here is what I don’t get. My computer loves Florida. The microchips loved the Gators before they lost last week to Alabama. The computer loved them after they lost to Alabama. But man, I haven’t seen a top 10 caliber team on the field so far this season. The pieces seem to be there, but they don’t fit together and make a pretty picture. Instead Florida resembles Frankenstein’s monster. And now you put that against LSU’s defense, which is tougher than Alabama’s no matter what the experts might think.

And that is the key here. For all the faults of Les Miles, the Tigers play defense. I am counting on that defense to make some plays and keep this one close. We are going with Florida to win, but LSU covers.

Texas A&M at Arkansas (-5.5) - Did you watch that Oklahoma State - Texas A&M game last Thursday night? Remember the great shootout that game was? Well, strap in, because you are in for another one. Ryan Mallett may not be as mobile as Brandon Weeden, but he sure has an arm. And don’t worry if he throws a few interceptions. The ball will be going back and forth all game long between these two. This one comes down to a field goal so take Texas A&M and the points, and look for the over/under of 61.5 to definitely be tested.

Auburn at Kentucky (+6) - Cameron Newton has Auburn rolling now. They are so good, he can now choose to not use half of the skills that make him so dangerous and still pull out a 50 point win. Kentucky may be better than they usually are, but less than a touchdown spread here just calls out for an Auburn pick. Take the Tigers and lay the six.

Mississippi State at Houston (+5) - Houston is the class of Conference USA and when faced with a C-USA-like defense, they score to the tune of 55 points per game. But against UCLA, a decidedly better defense than anything in C-USA, they managed just 13. I am under no illusions that Mississippi State is UCLA, but I also don’t think that they are Tulane, or another C-USA team in disguise. Houston was supposed to be that team that caused a few non-conference upsets this season with their scoring ability. It didn’t happen against UCLA and now with a freshman Terrance Broadway leading the way at quarterback, it doesn’t happen again. Take Mississippi State and lay five.

Lazy Saturday: Jeremiah Masoli cools his jets.

Southern Exposure went 3-3 last week and is 21-16-1 overall this season.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:30 AM

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 6 Preview

pac10-logo.pngClarity. It’s what many seek, and what Oregon actually provided following their convincing win last weekend over an extremely talented Stanford team.

Oregon is clearly the class of this season’s Pac-10 conference, and it is also possible that their fortunes will include more than the Rose Bowl. Their win was impressive, in both style and substance, and it is not unreasonable for them to now be mentioned as legitimate national championship contenders. [Editor’s note: As long as your name isn’t Brian McCabe.]

However, Oregon has a slew of tough conference games between now and January, and the smart money is against an unbeaten run.

LNwtP-10 went 3-1 last week, bringing the season tally to 17-12 against the spread.

Saturday games:

UCLA at California (-7.5) - Recovered from the knee injury that he suffered last week against Washington State, Kevin Prince looks to keep the UCLA attack going against a Cal team that was narrowly beaten by Arizona last time out. The UCLA passing offense has been abysmal and is now ranked 118th, but the running game has more than made up for the shortfall. Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman lead an attack that has averaged 5.6 yards as a team, and should be full of confidence following their 401 combined rushing yards last week. Cal is looking to slow down the UCLA attack with their talented defense, but they know that they also need continued production from Kevin Riley, who has a passer rating of more than 144 this season. UCLA is going to have more trouble running the ball than they did last week, and the Cal offense can score some points. UCLA likely wins, but expect a close game. Take Cal and the points.

Oregon at Washington State (+36.5) - The Oregon offense can flat out score. LaMichael James is averaging 8 yards a carry, and Darron Thomas is already making people forget Jeremiah Masoli. Thomas has already thrown for 1000 yards, and his 13 touchdowns demonstrate the potency of the offense. Wazzu covered last week, but their inability to run combined with a soft defense makes it difficult for them to even keep games close. Jeff Tuel has been efficient this season, but playing from behind in nearly every game has bolstered his stats. With an average margin of victory this year of nearly 42 points per game, Oregon looks to keep things going this week, even on the road. Until they let you down, lay the points and roll with Oregon.

Oregon State at Arizona (-8) - OSU may well be the best 2-2 team in the nation. With losses to TCU and Boise State hardly an indictment, the Beavers still need some wins to reestablish their legitimacy. This week doesn’t provide much letup, as they head to Tucson to face yet another top 10 team. OSU really needs production from both the Rogers brothers, and Jacquizz finally got back on track with 145 yards and a couple of scores last week. The Wildcats counter with Nick Foles and their powerful passing game, coupled with a surprisingly stout defense. Having narrowly escaped a loss in their 10-9 victory over Cal, smart money stays away from Arizona until they get back to putting the ball in the end zone. Take OSU and the points.

USC at Stanford (-9.5) - USC suffered a one point loss last week against Washington, dropping their contest with the Huskies for the second straight year. Continuing their surprising defensive struggles, the Trojans gave up 420 total yards to Jake Locker, who engineered a drive that was capped with the game winning field goal. The USC offense still looks robust, with quarterback Matt Barkley getting some help from his running game after Allen Bradford ran for 223 yards and a couple of scores. Stanford still look potent on offense, but last week highlighted some defensive frailties that they will have a hard time hiding against USC. In what should be a shootout, don’t expect a margin of victory of much more than a touchdown. With that in mind, take USC and the 9.5.

Arizona State at Washington (-1) - This is a surprising line given Washington’s big win last week over USC. ASU has had a few close losses, playing well against Oregon, OSU and Wisconsin. Still, quarterback Steven Threet has thrown 10 picks with his 9 touchdowns, and mistakes have been a hallmark of their season. Overall, the Sun Devils do throw the ball fairly well, and the Washington defense has not been terribly effective this season, ranking 99th in points against. Jake Locker put up 420 total yards last week, and finally looks to be getting his season and career back on track. In this matchup, expect a return to old fashioned high scoring Pac-10 football. The game is virtual pick ‘em, which may well see Locker with the ball in his hands late in the game. For no good reason, take Washington minus a point.

Lazy Saturday: 10 teams and 5 conference games means a full slate.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 9:00 AM

Big Number Country, Big Ten Preview, Week 6

Rivalry weeks always seem to bring out some interesting stories. For example, would you be willing to bet your own heart on a football game?

This story has been getting a lot of play this week in the run up to the Michigan State-Michigan game. Objectively, I think this a bad idea.

Rivalry games are inherently more intense for a fan than the other games. It brings with it a history that just adds to the stakes. According to the story, this man is highly passionate about his Spartans and is prone to outbursts during games that probably don’t help his stress level. I sure hope the game doesn’t cause him too many problems this week, as it could be tricky tempting fate like that.

But of course, I’m a fan too, so if I were faced with the same decision, I’d probably do the same thing.

Saturday’s games

Indiana at Ohio State (-22) - Indiana has been able to move the ball seemingly at will this year, but that should change this week in Columbus. The Buckeyes defense will be able to slow the Chappell-Doss connection. Ohio State did sleepwalk through the game at Illinois last week, but I would chalk that up to that game being their first true road game of the season. They also played it close to the vest after Terrelle Pryor tweaked his quad. Pryor should be fine, and he should be able to get his stats against a vulnerable defense. His final numbers won’t be awe-inspiring; as I believe the Buckeyes will put it in neutral once they establish a big enough lead. Don’t expect the final margin to be more than two touchdowns. Take the points.

Illinois at Penn State (-8) - Beware; this game might be tough to watch. The combined final score might be in the single digits. Both teams have defenses which are probably better than the representative offenses of the other team. Both are led by young quarterbacks that have been inconsistent at best so far. The running games for both teams will be leaned on to carry the load, so Penn State better find a way for Evan Royster to return from the witness protection program. Needless to say, these teams are very similar, so coaching will make a difference. To that end, Joe Paterno is more capable of finding a way to win a close game than Ron Zook is. Take the points.

Minnesota at Wisconsin (-22) - Wisconsin is out to prove itself this week after being soundly beaten by Michigan State. Minnesota was given every chance to win the game against Northwestern, but still found a way to lose. Add those together, and it should be a long afternoon for the Golden Gophers this week. Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien should have a better day provided his receivers actually hold on to the ball, and running back James White, the one bright spot for the Badgers last week, will continue pushing John Clay for carries. But Clay should be able to start a new streak of 100 yard games this week after the Spartans ended his previous one. I know the number is large, but lay the points, as Wisconsin retains Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Purdue at Northwestern (-9.5) - I think Northwestern has a good team, I really do. I even put them in my top 25 this week, even after barely winning against Minnesota. They find ways to win close games, which is what good teams do, and I think Dan Persa is the best quarterback the Wildcats have had in years. But they have to stop making dumb mistakes which allow weaker teams to stay in the game. It’s going to really bite them against a good team. Purdue isn’t a very good team right now, but this game could still be tricky for the Wildcats to navigate.

The Boilermakers offense is in shambles as quarterback Rob Henry takes over for the injured Robert Marve. But Henry offers a little more mobility than Marve, which could give Northwestern fits. Persa will still be able to spark the offense, even with defensive end Ryan Kerrigan breathing down his neck all game. With so many close games, expect the trend to continue for Northwestern, as they withstand a late Boilermaker rally. Take the points.

Big Ten Game of the Week

Michigan State at Michigan (-4.5) - With both teams undefeated going into this game for the first time since 1999, this game will be the defining moment of the year for one of these teams. Michigan State looks to make a case for being a top-tier team in conference, while Michigan looks to prove their fast start isn’t a mirage like last year. Michigan State is also looking for its third straight victory in this match-up for the first time since the 1960s.

With Mark Dantonio actually returning for this game, after being hospitalized again last weekend, the Spartans should receive a huge emotional lift. But they will still have to stop Denard Robinson, which no team has been able to do yet. But no team that has played Michigan has had as good of a linebacker unit as Michigan State. Greg Jones had a big day against Wisconsin and has the speed to contain Robinson in the middle of the field. The problem for the Spartans lies on the outside. They could not contain Wisconsin runs that were bounced outside and James White got two touchdowns off of that type of play. Look for Robinson to attack the same area of the field.

At this point in the season, it is safe to say, Michigan has an abysmal defense. The pass defense ranks dead last in the country. Kirk Cousins has the ability to exploit this weakness, and if he limits his turnovers, he’ll find his receivers running free in the secondary. Presuming Le’Veon Bell can continue to average 7 yards a carry, the play action passing game will tear the Wolverines apart. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell called an aggressive game last week, going for it multiple times on fourth down, and I see that aggressiveness continuing this week.

The total number (64) won’t be hard to surpass, but I think Michigan State defense is stout enough to limit Michigan from scoring on every drive. I can’t say the same thing about Michigan. Take the points as the Spartans win a shootout, and Little Brother wins again.

Lazy Saturday: Iowa

Record

Last Week

Straight Up: 4-1; Against the Spread: 3-2

Overall

Straight Up: 32-5; Against the Spread: 13-15-1

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 8:45 AM

October 8, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 6

It is week 6, and in honor of this momentous occasion, the Big East conference has decided to employ a crazy idea for its slate of games this week.

Here it is:

Some of its teams will play other teams from … wait for it … the BIG EAST conference. Intra-conference action. What a groundbreaking idea!

I know, you are super-excited to see if the Fighting Skip’s can beat the Orangemen, or you can’t wait to witness Edsall’s ground attack versus what we now be referred to as “The Problem in Piscataway.”

The Big East part of the BiACC went 3-2 last week and is 10-8 on the season.

Friday:

Connecticut at Rutgers (+5.5) - As many college football scribes have pointed out, Greg Schiano has gone from “like totally chic to totally geek.”

No, this isn’t a phenomenal 80’s movie, but no line better encompasses Schiano’s struggles at Rutgers in recent years.

Rutgers employs a stingy defense, but has faced three patsies and a North Carolina squad on the verge of major sanctions.

UConn’s two-headed ground attack of Todman and Frey have been averaging more than 200 yards a game. Look for this to continue this weekend.

UConn will win on the road and will do so by at least 6 points.

Saturday:

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (-6) - The Wann-stache bash rolls into South Bend this weekend coming after a big win over Florida International. However, it was Florida International.

Notre Dame is looking to build on its victory over Boston College and has a bone to pick with Pitt after last year’s defeat.

Sit back and enjoy as Dayne Crist and Armando Allen tear apart Wanny’s D and cruise to a double-digit victory.

Syracuse at South Florida (-7.5) - Both teams have played one true opponent and three patsies. Both teams have lost to that one real opponent and defeated all three patsies.

What I am trying to say is this: It’s a tough game to gauge and even harder to predict.

So here goes …

South Florida is a more complete team on offense with BJ Daniels under center. He is a dual-threat QB and should shred what can best be described as an un-tested Syracuse defense.

The fighting Skip Holtzes will cover the 7.5 points at home.

Memphis at Louisville (-17) - First-year head coaches Joker Phillips and Charlie Strong do battle this weekend in Kentucky.

Memphis is plain bad. They cannot score nor can they stop people from scoring. Now, I am not a genius, but I think this is a bad approach when trying to win football games.

Louisville has showed some fight in close losses to Kentucky and Oregon State and won the games they were supposed to.

Seventeen is a big number, but Memphis has given no indication it will be able to cover that. Take Louisville. Be confident.

UNLV at West Virginia (-28) - UNLV is bad. West Virginia is kind of good.

UNLV gives up more than 30 points per game and averages less than 300 yards a game in total offense. That is NOT good.

Twenty-eight points is a huge spread, especially for a team that averages 25 points per game. But guess what … Bill Stewart is going to push the right buttons this weekend, specifically the Noel Devine button.

Somehow, West Virginia is going to cover 28. Trust me.

Miami (OH) at Cincinnati (-17) - Cincinnati has gotten off to an inauspicious start in Butch Jones’ first season. At 1-3, the Bearcats are struggling, but should come out of this weekend victorious.

Miami can throw the ball quite well. They don’t do much else. The Red Hawks gave up a combined 85 points to Florida and Missouri.

Look for Zach Collaros and Cincy to break out this weekend. It has been a long time coming. Even without Marty Gilyard, Collaros should be able to find his ‘09 form get his team into the end zone early and often.

Cincy will win. And they will win by a tad more than 17.

Patsy Party: NONE!

Lazy Saturday: They are ALL playing … WOW!

Posted by Brian McCabe at 12:00 PM

On The Field: Utah Already Acting Like a Big Boy

It doesn’t take long for a team to start believing that they are one of the big boys.

Utah did Thursday just what any other automatic qualifier would do if they had the chance: drop Boise State from its schedule.

The new member of the Pac-10,…er 12, signed an agreement with newly independent BYU to play a two-game series beginning next year, but needed to make room for the games on its schedule.

So off go the Broncos.

That leaves Boise State scrambling to fill their final open game, a spot that will now likely have to be taken by an FCS school, costing the now perennial contender both strength of schedule points and some dough (although Utah will pay a fee for dumping the Azure Spuds).

This has to be disappointing for Boise State.

First they moved to the Mountain West to upgrade their schedule, but then they lose Utah and BYU, two of the three teams — TCU being the other — that would have helped boost those precious SOS points. Then they were passed over and not even mentioned as the Pac-10 tried to turn into a bloated 16-team leauge. And now they can’t even keep Utah on the non-conference slate.

So instead of everyone lauding Boise for playing both an SEC team (Mississippi) and a Pac-10 team, all focus will turn to their other out of conference choices: Wyoming, Toledo and Tulsa. Not exactly a murderer’s row, and definitely a notch below whenever that last spot is filled in.

All of which means another season of everyone dismissing the Broncos for their lack of opponents.

Although you have to wonder how that Utah game would have been portrayed had it been played.

Would the Utes immediately be recognized as an equal in the Pac-10? Or would they get the “lipstick on a pig” approach, that just because they are in the Pac-10 doesn’t mean they are better; that they are still a Mountain West team at heart and therefore worth less?

At the same time, give credit to BYU, who now have Oregon State and Utah from the Pac-10 and Texas from the Big XII (10?) on the schedule for next season. This will go a long way to offset the five WAC schools that are on the schedule for the next two years (although they at least got Hawaii).

And they have upcoming games against West Virginia and Notre Dame in the works.

Even though the results on the field haven’t been great in the final year before the grand independence experiment, they sure know how to book a game.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:00 AM

October 7, 2010

Heisman Watch 2010 - Week 5, or Big Week Blinders

Note to ESPN: The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the best player in college football in a given year.

The last word is of particular importance in this case, because it seems the writers there choose to ignore it.

They may agree with me that Michigan’s Denard Robinson is by far the leader in what is turning out to be a one-horse race.

But like me they fill out a five name ballot, and they post their results from that five name ballot.

And at number three, they have a player who had a great game, but has not had a season that warrants a No. 3 spot when the votes are counted.

That person is Oregon’s LaMichael James.

It is hard not to notice James’ 257 yards rushing against Stanford. No one else has managed very much against them all season, so it stands out.

But that is one game. His performance against Stanford accounts for more than a third of his yardage for the year, which doesn’t show in my mind that he has been consistent this season.

Add in that he ran for just 94 yards against Arizona State on 28 carries — a very non-Heisman-like 3.4 yard average — and you can see why his 257 seems like an anomaly.

His other huge performance came against Portland State, not exactly the stiffest competition.

Yes, James deserves to be mentioned in the race for the Heisman. He can run and when the season is over, a 94-yard performance will not stand out as much as when you have only played four games.

But to place him at No. 3 right now doesn’t say much for the other athletes in the race, ones who have put up consistent numbers and have shown leadership all season long.

Call me in a few weeks and we can talk, although by then it is possible that Denard Robinson has made this whole conversation moot.

My ballot this week:

  1. Denard Robinson (QB, Michigan) - Could it be anyone else? Almost another 500 yards against Indiana and would probably still be putting up these numbers if his team’s defense wasn’t Swiss cheese and they needed to outscore everyone. Guess that knee isn’t hurting him. Everyone else is a long way behind.
  2. Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State) - A very pedestrian 200 yards and three touchdowns against one of the worst teams in the country. But it was one of the worst teams in the country and Boise State didn’t need him to do anything out of the ordinary to win that game. This will continue to be his issue until he has to light it up against Hawaii in a few weeks.
  3. Terrelle Pryor (QB, Ohio State) - Once again pulled the leadership vote from me this week. After he was knocked out against Illinois, the Buckeyes looked rattled. Pryor’s return sparked the team to another win and cemented his place in the top three for at least another week.
  4. Cameron Newton (QB, Auburn) - Welcome to the race Mr. Newton. Maybe I should remind everyone that Newton led the SEC in rushing until this past week. Louisiana-Monroe didn’t push him so he was content with throwing just the longest pass in Auburn’s history. The two pronged attack will return this week against Kentucky and could power Newton higher in this race quickly.
  5. Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) - Luck battled Oregon hard and turned in some good numbers against the Ducks despite his two interceptions. Let’s see how he does against USC’s defense before we totally dismiss him for one loss.

Others: Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett (had a week off to regroup), Oregon’s LeMichael James (See, I can recognize the ability; just not ready to bet my soul on it yet), Alabama’s Trent Richardson (Everyone else is getting on the Mark Ingram bandwagon. I am sticking with the real workhorse on the team).

Small time performance: Bryant Moniz (QB, Hawaii) - I might need to consider Moniz for a little more than this spot if he keeps this up. We forget that if he hadn’t been knocked from the game against USC, “survived” would have turned into “shocked” for the Trojans. Moniz has been that good this season and continued to do it again this week against Louisiana Tech. He finished with 532 passing yards and four touchdowns while running for another 50. Alone he was 90 percent of the team’s offense. That is getting it done.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

Big Number Country, Big XII Preview, Week 6

I don’t really know how to comment on these, but Kansas head coach Turner Gill has instituted some interesting rules for his players this season. I can understand the need to instill discipline in a team that was lacking any under Mark Mangino, but how much is too much?

I don’t know if an opposite sex curfew during the week is really going to help anyone tackle better or pick up a blitz better on game day. We’ll see if these work out in the long run, but for now I remain skeptical.

In other news, Texas has a week off to digest the fact they are unranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2000. If you want to take it further and move outside of the conference as well, it’s been since 1960 since the AP poll has been without at least one of Texas, Notre Dame, Penn State, or USC. Texas will look to make a case for inclusion again against Nebraska next week.

Thursday’s game

Big XII Game of the Week

Nebraska at Kansas State (+11.5) - A battle of two unbeatens that could go a long way in determining the winner of the Big XII North. The WIldcats have had a strong start to the season, and the season opening victory against UCLA is starting to look like a bigger win. They boast one the conference’s better running backs in Daniel Thomas, but Thomas was slowed in the last game against Central Florida. He faces an even bigger test against the Cornhuskers defense this week.

The key to the game will be WIldcat quarterback Carson Coffman. He’s had an up and down start to the season, but if he can make a few plays early with his arm, it might open up some holes for Thomas. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be the case, but the Kansas State defense holds Taylor Martinez in check as well. Martinez ends up making enough plays to win, but only by a touchdown. Take Kansas State with the points.

Friday’s game

Oklahoma State at Louisiana-Lafayette (+24) - After watching the way the Oklahoma State offense looked against Texas A&M last week, this game should not be close at all. The only thing that could stop Oklahoma State is if they forget their helmets on the bus. Louisiana-Lafayette allowed a fairly mediocre Georgia team without wide receiver A.J. Green to score 55 points in the season opener, which must have Oklahoma State salivating. Brandon Weeden continues his strong start to the season, and the Cowboys win handily. Lay the 24.

Saturday’s games

Baylor vs Texas Tech (-2.5) in Dallas - This is a turning point game for both teams. Texas Tech is looking to avoid going 0-3 in conference play and rebound from an embarrassing loss last week, while Baylor is trying to prove it belongs in the upper echelon of the conference and can compete in the Big XII South. The Baylor offense has looked very good so far, and if Texas Tech plays defense the way it did against Iowa State, Robert Griffin III should have a huge day. Playing at the Cotton Bowl should help Baylor as well, as it won’t be a true road game. Tommy Tuberville is left wondering what has gone wrong in the last month and Baylor wins by 7.

Arkansas at Texas A&M (+6) - If the Aggies have any hope of beating Arkansas, they can not give Razorback quarterback Ryan Mallett additional chances by turning the ball over. That falls squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who in the last two games, has committed nine turnovers, including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. If he protects the ball, the offense has a chance to move and score some points. The Arkansas defense is still pretty good and has had a week off to prepare. Expect Mallett to rebound from a shaky second half against Alabama, while Johnson again makes a mistake at an inopportune time. Arkansas wins on the road. Lay the points.

Utah at Iowa State (+6) - Earlier this season, Iowa State was unable to contain Iowa’s offense. That offense is definitely not a dynamic as that of Utah, a not very encouraging sign for the Cyclones’ chances this week. Truthfully, I don’t see the Iowa State defense stopping the Utah offense, and I don’t think the Iowa State offense is dynamic enough to go point for point with the Utes, despite the presence of running back Alexander Robinson. If the Cyclones weren’t coming off an impressive victory against Texas Tech, I think the number would be even larger. Utah wins big and stays undefeated.

Colorado at Missouri (-12.5) - This turned out to be a decent matchup after the Buffaloes surprisingly beat Georgia last week. Colorado will ride a lot of momentum into this game, but momentum only gets you so far. This is still a team that got steamrolled by California. The Missouri offense is most likely better than that one, and their defense has been stingy as well. The good feeling for Colorado doesn’t last long and Missouri never lets them into the game. Lay the points and take the Tigers. Blaine Gabbert and Co. prove they can contend for the Big XII North.

Lazy Saturday: Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas

Record

Last Week

Straight Up: 3-2; Against the Spread: 1-4

Overall

Straight Up: 24-3; Against the Spread: 10-15

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 10:00 AM

October 6, 2010

MRISports' AP Ballot - October 3

Once again this week, the writers at MRISports have voted and the results of our poll are below.

But before you get to that, one of our ilk will attempt to explain his vote from this week.

In this edition, Brian McCabe explains why he continues to vote Boise State at No. 2.

Here at the MRI, I am in the minority. When the ballots were taken, I had Boise State at No. 2.

All of the other geniuses with whom I work have Boise St. ranked no higher than No. 4. This makes my colleagues as smart as everyone else involved in the debacle known as the BCS.

This is the same BCS that might be sued for violating anti-trust laws.

College football is approaching the dawn of its new day. No longer should Boise State, TCU, Utah or any other team from a “weak” conference be discriminated against because of its strength of schedule.

The Broncos have answered every question put forth thus far. It will continue to do so.

What happened in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago?

What happened is that Utah WAXED an Alabama team one year before the Crimson Tide won a National Championship.

Boise State hoped Virginia Tech would win out after losing to the Broncos on Labor Day. The Hokies’ loss to James Madison hurt. However, there is a letdown factor that was in play for that game. That game is over. Pay attention to what the Hokies do the rest of the season.

Did anyone else notice Virginia Tech’s victory over ranked North Carolina State last week? Keep paying attention.

And then there are the Oregon State Beavers. Sure, they are 2-2. But again, let’s see what happens.

Boise State has won two BCS games in the past four seasons. Boise State has been undefeated four of the past six years. Boise State rarely loses.

So the question should be why shouldn’t Boise St. be ranked No. 2.

And what about that pesky strength of schedule that so often sullies the dreams of the non-BCS team?

Well, as Stewart Mandel so brilliantly points out, according to CollegeBCS.com, Oregon’s SOS is 81.

Boise St … 32.

Need I say more?

Continue reading "MRISports' AP Ballot - October 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:00 PM

October 5, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 3

There is something in the MRI this week that I have seen only once before in the 10-plus years of basketball and football.

The system was originally created to identify those mid-major teams in basketball that deserved more recognition, teams like a George Mason or a Kent State in basketball (both big time MRI favorites during their respective runs).

But when it was changed over for football, non-automatic qualifiers for the BCS has a hard time breaking though.

There might be one or two teams, like a Boise State or a TCU, but there was never a glut of teams in the top 25.

Until this week.

Six of the 25 teams in this week’s rankings come from outside the six top conferences (if the ACC and Big East can still be called that).

There are more teams each from the WAC (2) and Mountain West (4) than the Big East (0) and ACC (1).

And the Mountain West has the same number of teams ranked as the Big Ten, SEC and the Pac-10, all three conferences thought to be the toughest in the country this season.

Can it be explained?

Perhaps there is just more parity this season than ever before in college football. Unlikely though. It is more accurate to think that there are just fewer really superior teams than in years past.

There is probably less of a claim on greatness this year and before, so everyone else really does have a shot just be noticed.

Or maybe this is just the Mountain West’s year.

The only previous time this happened was during the 2005-2006 basketball season, when the Missouri Valley dominated the top 25 in the MRI. We all know what happened that season during the NCAA tournament.

We don’t have a playoff system in college football to see the same thing occurring this year.

But we do have two very strong contenders for the National Title game in TCU and Boise State. Having a solid cadre of teams behind them in their conferences should only help bolster their credentials for the big game.

Now it will just take a movement by the voters to wake up and see that the conferences they love to ignore are playing some good football, at least at the top, much like the conferences that they love to love.

After all, no one believes that Minnesota or Washington State is really adding to the profile of their leagues now, do they?

Check out all the madness and rankings in week three of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:30 PM

October 2, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC: Big East Week 5 Preview

Finally, conference play has begun in the Big East … kind of. Wait, the Big East isn’t playing a single conference game the first week of conference play. That makes a lot of sense.

This conference is so “bass akwards,” it is really tough to decipher much at all, especially when it comes to the play on the field.

Just when the outcomes seem clearer and the prognosticator more clairvoyant, South Florida lays an egg and UConn becomes an offensive juggernaut. These are all just factors to throw into the old noggin to determine an equation.

So what does week five hold for the redheaded stepchild of BCS conferences? Keep reading. What lies beneath in information and stories so gripping, you will be moved for days, weeks and months.

Wait, I think I just wrote a review for “Catfish.”

Last week, the Big East section of the BiACC struggled to a 2-3 finish, but is still above .500 for the season with a record of 7-6.

Saturday:

Vanderbilt at Connecticut (-7.5) - Neither team can throw the ball, but Connecticut sure can move it on the ground. Vandy’s ground game is slightly better than mediocre, so the only offensive advantage in this game clearly goes to the Huskies.

Vandy is in the SEC, but what did I just say about redheaded stepchildren?

Throw in the first-year head coach for the road team, and it looks like Edsall’s bunch should be victorious at home.

I learned my lesson the hard way last week. Take UConn and lay the points.

Tulane at Rutgers (-17) - The Green Wave does not rank in the top 80 FBS teams in points scored, points against, rushing yards or passing yards. Let me say that again. Tulane is not very good.

Oh, where have you gone Shaun King?

Meanwhile, Rutgers is coming off a close loss to the Probation University Tar Heels. Though Rutgers offense is pedestrian, their defense is SECOND in the country in points allowed. Combine this with an awful Tulane offense and this Saturday there will be a lot more joy in Piscataway.

Lay the points and root on Schiano’s squad as they win by at least three touchdowns.

Florida International at Pittsburgh (-17) - While FIU has struggled to an 0-3 start, the Wann-stache bash is really not much better.

Miami absolutely embarrassed the Uneven Mustaches of Pittsburgh last week and exposed them as an excessively mediocre team at best.

FIU is not good either. In fact, I will go as far as to say that Pitt will win this game. The only really dilemma lies in the spread. Pitt averages 21.7 points a game thus far. That makes winning by 19 points tough, especially for a team that gives up an average of 24.7 points a game.

The only mystifying issue is that Pitt should have beaten Utah in the opening game of the season on the road.

I am sorry. I am a Bears fan. I can pick Wannstedt. Take the points and laugh out loud as you repeat this line, “All of the pieces are in place.”

Florida Atlantic at South Florida (-21.5) - Florida Atlantic’s offense is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. (Yea, I like that line, too). The Owls are 30th in passing offense yet only average a touch over 22 points. Eighty—three FBS schools score more points a game than FAU.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Skip Holtzes are trying to form an identity under their first-year head coach. The running game is solid, but former FSU recruit, BJ Daniels, is struggling through the air.

South Florida couldn’t cover a 20+ spread at home last week versus Western Kentucky so what is to say they will do it this week.

And that is why college football is unpredictable. Lay the points and take South Florida.

Louisville at Arkansas St. (+4.5) - Wow, this is a ridiculously low spread for a game that I originally thought included an FCS school. Apparently, I was wrong. I had no idea Arkansas St. was in the FBS. My sincerest apologies to the Red Wolves.

Neither team is good. In fact, I am going out on a limb here and saying that neither team will play in a bowl game. Even a bowl game in November. I know, I know, one of those doesn’t exist, but you know what I am saying. Neither team is going to play in the Poulan Weedeater, Music City, Blockbuster Bankruptcy Bowl.

All I know is this … Louisville will win by more than 4.5. They just have to. Right? Charlie Strong is going to have a LONG week if his team loses in Jonesboro, AR.

Just take Louisville. That is my expert analysis.

Just do it … wait, where have I heard that before?

Lazy Saturday: Cincinnati, West Virginia

Posted by Brian McCabe at 8:30 AM

October 1, 2010

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 5 Preview

pac10-logo.pngIn a week with so little conference action, perhaps it’s appropriate that one of the four contests is a game that may decide the conference champion.

In a matchup of what look to be two best teams in the Pac-10 this year (sorry Arizona), No. 9 Stanford travels to Eugene to visit No. 4 Oregon.

Oregon have been dominant so far this season, as they are first in scoring in the FBS, averaging nearly 58 points per contest. Combined with a defense giving up only 11 per, they look incredibly formidable, especially at home.

Oregon freshman quarterback Darron Thomas was a big question mark coming into the season, but to this point his passer rating has been 145.33 and he has thrown for 10 touchdowns. Still, he’s completing a relatively low 54.7 percent of his passes, so it remains to be seen how efficient he will be against a strong Stanford defense.

For their part, Stanford brings in a stout defense that is giving up less than 14 points per game, coupled with an offense that has put up 48 points per game.

This may prove to be the game of the week, and despite the statistically strong defenses, I fully expect both offensive units to put up big points.

LNwtP-10 went 3-3 last week, bringing the season tally to 14-11 against the spread.

Saturday games:

Washington State at UCLA (-27) - UCLA has been a Jekyll and Hyde team this season, losing 35-0 to Stanford and then coming up with a convincing win at Texas. Opposing them, we have a Washington State team that is as poor as any team in a major conference. UCLA is coming off a huge win, and with quarterback Kevin Prince having thrown for less than 75 yards per game this season, look for a bit of a letdown. UCLA wins, but doesn’t cover the 27. Take Wazzu and the points.

Arizona State at Oregon State (-3.5) - Oregon State may well be the best one-win team in the nation, with both losses coming against teams currently inside the top five. However, ASU has looked extremely tough in their close loss to Wisconsin and their game against Oregon, which was much closer than the score indicated. With quarterback Ryan Katz still unreliable and Jacquizz Rogers unable to really get things going, take ASU plus the 3.5.

Washington at USC (-10) - Jake Locker has been one of the biggest disappointments in all of college football. While suggestions that he might be the number one pick in the upcoming draft always seemed a bit far fetched, Locker has been extremely productive throughout his career. This season, however, he has barely completed half his throws, and in big moments he’s looked less than impressive. On the road against a USC team that should be stout on defense, you can’t take Washington based on what we’ve seen this season. Take USC and lay the points.

Stanford at Oregon (-7) - As I suggested in the open, this is far more likely to be a shootout than a defensive struggle, despite some of the statistical evidence to the contrary. If this game was at Stanford, it would be possible that the freshman quarterback might be found lacking, but inside Autzen, I fully expect the offense to roll. After forcing a few turnovers, Oregon wins by 10. So take OU and lay the points.

Enjoying an afternoon off: Arizona, California

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 7:00 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 5

With a third of the season gone, it is time for a little quiz. Let’s see who has been paying attention so far this season in the SEC.

Ready? Here with go with question No. 1.

Who is the leading rusher in the conference?
A. Stevan Ridley, LSU
B. Trent Richardson, Alabama
C. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
D. None of the above

The answer: D. None of the above. The correct answer is actually Auburn’s Cameron Newton. That’s right, a quarterback leads the conference in rushing yards (485 total).

Now this would likely be Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram had they each been playing alone in the backfield for an entire season so far, but instead it falls to our do everything guy across the state.

Look for Newton to pad those numbers this weekend but more on that later.

Ok, so that one was a hard one. How about an easy one?

Continue reading "Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 5"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

Big Number Country - Big Ten Preview, Week 5

I hope everyone enjoyed the unofficial Big Ten/MAC football challenge last weekend.

I don’t think it quite matches up with the Big Ten/ACC challenge in basketball, as it didn’t provide very many compelling games. That should change this week as the first weekend of conference play provides many juicy match-ups. And with four of the five games featuring home underdogs, I think some competitive will come out of it.

But before we get to the picks, I wanted to comment on one of the big stories this week in the Big Ten.

As you will see below, Purdue finds itself on a bye this week, but their weekend is going to be anything but lazy, as the name implies. Purdue is trying to regroup after receiving more bad injury news.

It was determined that quarterback Robert Marve suffered a torn ACL in the game against Toledo and will be out for the season. It’s a tough break for anyone, but Marve must be feeling a sense of deja vu. He suffered the same injury in the same knee last year and was still working his way back into form for the Boilermakers.

This just compounds the bad news for Purdue after losing starting running back Ralph Bolden and star receiver Keith Smith, both to knee injuries as well. Head coach Danny Hope will now turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Rob Henry to lead the team in Marve’s absence.

It’s obviously going to be tough going for a team many pegged for a breakout season in conference, but they are not completely hopeless. The schedule is still favorable, as the only tough road game is at Ohio State. The running game has still been good despite Bolden’s absence and the defense has the ability to make a team one dimensional with a strong line anchored by end Ryan Kerrigan.

Purdue can still win six games overall and make a bowl game, but it will take all the motivation Hope can muster, and quite frankly, a little luck. But if Purdue can upset Northwestern next week, it will at least keep fans from wondering when basketball season starts a little longer.

Continue reading "Big Number Country - Big Ten Preview, Week 5"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 10:30 AM

September 30, 2010

Big Number Country - Big XII Preview, Week 5

First off, my apologies for the lack of a preview last week. I spent the week in a haze of cold medicine and chicken soup. Luckily, I’ve now shaken the bug and can get back to what I do best: failing at picking against the spread.

What is wrong with Texas?

Or more specifically, what is wrong with the Texas offense?

Granted, the defense didn’t play very well against UCLA, especially in the second half, but they’ve generally been very good, especially in the game against Texas Tech.

The offense, on the other hand, has struggled to consistently move the ball and has been plagued by turnovers at inopportune moments. Frankly, they just don’t look like a conference title contender at the moment.

So then, what is the issue?

I agree somewhat with Stewart Mandel’s assessment in his mailbag this week that the switch in offensive philosophies has hindered the development of the offensive line. The Longhorns, he argues, just can’t run the ball effectively if the offensive line is unable to create the holes the backs need.

That is a fair point, but I would argue that the blame has to also fall on the running backs themselves. There have been three different starters in four games due to injury or ineffectiveness, and no back has run for more than 182 total yards yet. While there have not been lanes to run through, a standout back should be able to create something out of almost nothing, particularly when facing inferior competition.

The lack of a power running game has had a residual affect on the growth of quarterback Garrett Gilbert and the passing game. Gilbert will have trouble making plays if opposing defenses can just key in on stopping him.

Until a running back can emerge to carry the load, Texas will struggle to score points, and if it doesn’t happen soon, the conference title will be out of their reach before the end of October.

Thursday’s Game

Texas A&M at Oklahoma State (-3.5) - Both teams have had a week off to prepare for this game, which will go far in proving how good each team actually is.

The Oklahoma State offense has been very good so far, ranking number one in total offense, with quarterback Brandon Weeden currently ranked third in the country in pass yards. Running back Kendall Hunter is the second leading rusher nationally. So, it can be said that the Cowboys can move the football.

Texas A&M needed a second half comeback to beat Florida International two weeks ago after handling their first two opponents easily. Their offense has been good as well, led by quarterback Jerrod Johnson.

So, this game will come down to which defense can limit the damage. I would give the slight edge to Oklahoma State playing at home, and I don’t think the Aggies are that good yet. Expect a lot of scoring (more than the 66.5 over/under), pick the Cowboys and lay the points.

Saturday’s Games

Kansas at Baylor (-9) - Kansas has had an up and down non-conference schedule, while Baylor’s one hiccup was against BCS title contender TCU. The Bears are out to prove they are an improved team over a year ago. The first step is to beat a Jayhawks team at home that is still trying to find consistency with freshmen starting at the skill positions. Kansas also did not fair well in their first road test against Southern Mississippi. I expect Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III to have a productive day both on the ground and in the air, and leads the Bears to a win at home by 10.

Georgia at Colorado (+ 4.5) - With a disappointing start to their season, Georgia travels to take on Colorado, looking to use this non-conference tilt to forget the 0-3 conference record. The Bulldogs will get receiver A.J. Green back this week from NCAA suspension, which should help to solidify the offense. A win by Colorado would be a big boost before they start their conference schedule next week, and they have performed well in Boulder this season.

With that being said, I don’t think that Colorado has enough overall speed to go toe-to-toe with an SEC foe and come out on top. Green makes an immediate impact for Georgia, scoring a touchdown early, and they roll over Colorado by two touchdowns.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt earns a reprieve from the coaching hotseat with the win. The same won’t be said for Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins.

Texas Tech at Iowa State (+7) - The Cyclones shut out Northern Iowa last week, but in games against Iowa and Kansas State, they had a hard time making defensive stops when needed. They struggled against the run in those games, but I don’t believe Texas Tech will stray much from their offensive philosophy to attack that weakness. In fact, Red Raider quarterback Taylor Potts should have an easier time moving the ball this week than he did against Texas two weeks ago. Iowa State running back Alexander Robinson should be able to find some holes to run through, but it won’t be enough. The Red Raiders go on the road and win. Lay the points.

Big XII Game of the Week

Texas vs. Oklahoma (-3.5) in Dallas - This rivalry game is always intriguing and this year is no different. The Oklahoma defense wants to show that the game against Florida State was the rule and not the exception. The Sooners have let Cincinnati and Air Force move the ball at will in the last two weeks.

The Texas defense is looking to shake off a poor performance as well, after allowing 264 yards rushing to UCLA. However, they have to face Sooners running back DeMarco Murray, who should be able to find a way to churn out big yards.

The Oklahoma defense should be able to bounce back, and by stopping the anemic Texas rushing attack, force Gilbert to try to make too many plays himself. This should create some turnovers and allow quarterback Landry Jones and the offense to control the clock.

I don’t see Texas staying in this game, but it is a rivalry game of the nth degree, so anything is possible. So I’ll say Oklahoma wins, but only by a field goal.

Lazy Saturday: Nebraska, Kansas State, Missouri

Record:

Week 3

Straight Up: 10-0; Against the Spread: 6-4

Overall

Straight Up: 21-1; Against the Spread: 9-11

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 12:00 PM

Heisman Watch 2010, Week 4

Can you overcome a poor game and still compete for the Heisman?

That is the situation that Ryan Mallett finds himself in after giving away Arkansas’ game against Alabama on Saturday.

It is possible but Mallett is going to need some help.

Perhaps he can take a lesson from Terrelle Pryor. This isn’t about how I was hard on Pryor for throwing two picks against Ohio.

No one can be perfect, although he was in that game for 16 straight passes.

But even if he had struggled mightily, all would have been forgotten after this week. Sure, playing Eastern Michigan is barely better than playing Charleston Southern (we will get to that one), but Pryor made the most of every play.

He finished with six touchdowns.

Just let that sink in. SIX!

He ran; he threw; he even caught.

Six!

You just don’t see six touchdowns in a game. Not like that, with contributions in so many facets of the game.

The worry for Pryor is that he is still seen as another version of Troy Smith, and we all know how Smith looked in the National Championship game after winning the Heisman.

Somehow Pryor will have to shake that perception and games like that can go a long way toward doing that.

Mallett obviously isn’t going to explode like Pryor did, especially not in the SEC. But Mallett can do himself a favor and find a way to beat convincingly some of the teams remaining on his schedule.

A few four touchdown performances could have people forgetting this past weekend ever happened.

And it wouldn’t hurt if everyone else had a bad game or two along the way.

Here is how I would rank the candidates after last weekend.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2010, Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:30 AM

September 28, 2010

MRISports' AP Ballot - September 26

Why should the AP, the coaches and the Harris poll voters have all the fun?

The writers at MRISports have gotten together and created their own poll.

Each week going forward, we will publish the results of our top 25 poll, which I am sure you will have a beef with.

In addition, one of the writers will attempt to explain their slightly less than sane reasoning for why they have voted the way they did, at least for some of their more controversial picks.

This week, Ben Miraski breaks down why he didn’t choose Alabama as the top team in the country.

Continue reading "MRISports' AP Ballot - September 26"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

September 27, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 2

It was quite a week for the MRI with so many of the top teams facing their first real tests of the season.

The big winner was Stanford, who quietly put away Notre Dame and took over the top spot in the rankings for the week.

Oregon and Arizona, the two other Pac-10 heavyweights so far, both struggled to wins.

Oregon’s may have been a gift from Arizona State as the Sun Devils committed seven turnovers. The drop in offensive production for the Ducks definitely hurt their MRI score this week and sent then sliding back to No. 4.

Arizona played a slugfest deep into the night against Cal. The Bears will continue to be a dangerous team this season, and as we said last week, should pull off a few upsets during the year.

It was not to be on Saturday night as a late missed field goal by normally automatic Giorgio Tavecchio gave the Wildcats the ball in great position for a late drive. Add in a gorgeous 51-yard pass from Nick Foles to Juron Criner and you have enough ingredients for an Arizona gut-check win.

The two other top five teams last weekend also struggled, with Alabama needing Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett to basically give them the game late, and Nebraska taking it easy against 1-AA opponent South Dakota State.

And so with the refresh, we have a few new teams flying high this week. Who can maintain the momentum the rest of the season?

Check it all out in week two of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 4 Review

pac10-logo.pngIt may have looked a bit dicey early, but by the time Oregon got on track and put Arizona State away, the Pac-10 results clearly showed that this is going to be the best conference season in years.

We’re just a couple of years removed from an era in which USC dominated the conference, essentially leaving the others to play in a nine team league of their own.

Now, with four unbeaten teams among the top 18 in the AP poll, the crystal ball looks far more cloudy when looking for a champion.

Stanford’s emphatic win over Notre Dame was a showcase for Andrew Luck and the offense, despite his two interceptions. The Cardinal converted on 11 of 16 third down opportunities against an admittedly soft Irish defense, but they looked both poised and explosive on their way to 404 total yards.

Oregon took advantage of seven Arizona State turnovers and several other mistakes to win 42-31, even after being held to just 145 yards on the ground. Given that the Ducks had piled up nearly 380 rushing yards per game coming in, a lot of credit must be given to the Sun Devil run defense. They were simply undone by those seven turnovers in what might otherwise have been a closer affair.

Oregon State always looked second best on the Smurf-turf up in Boise, as they surrendered 288 yards and three touchdowns to a very impressive Kellen Moore. Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz looked extremely shaky, completing only 12 of 26 passes, and providing no alternative to a running game that finished with a 2.4 yards per carry average. They ultimately fell 37-24 and dropped out of the AP Top 25.

UCLA was responsible for the shock of the weekend, beating No. 7 Texas in a 34-12 rout. The Bruins benefited from four first-half turnovers by the Longhorns, building an early lead that they never relinquished. All of this was accomplished with only 27 passing yards from Kevin Prince, as UCLA did all their damage on the ground, running for 264 yards as a team.

Arizona saved their unbeaten season with a late touchdown drive following a missed Cal field goal attempt. Stymied for most of the game, the Arizona offense put together a nice drive in the last few minutes, capped by a Nick Fowles 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Juron Criner. Perhaps surprising given the offensive punch both teams had showed this season, the game in Tucson on Saturday was a defensive affair, with the last gasp effort by the Wildcats being the only touchdown of the 10-9 contest.

In more predictable news, USC demolished Washington State, 50-16. No further comment needed.

LNwtP-10 went 3-3 last week, bringing the season tally to 14-11 against the spread.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 4:00 PM

September 25, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 4

There haven't been many reasons to pay attention to Arkansas over the past 30 years.

One governor, one five and dime store, almost a second governor.

The Wildcat and two running backs who still need a roadmap for success in the big league.

That is pretty much the list right there.

It should all change Saturday when two ranked teams meet in Arkansas for the first time in over 30 years.

See, told you there wasn't much reason to pay attention to them.

Are you ready? Because here come this week's picks.

UAB at Tennessee (-14) - Things haven't been going as expected in Tennessee. Does anyone miss Phil Fulmer yet? I bet a few people would have a change of heart on that "retirement." UAB isn't great, but they are better than the single win on the Vols schedule so far, Tennessee-Martin. I have to think the Blazers have enough offense to hang with the less than stellar Volunteers. Going out on a limb and taking UAB and the points.

Alabama at Arkansas (+7) - These are not the same two teams that met last year when Arkansas took a beating. Alabama might be better this season. Still, everything about Arkansas is improved and they are ready to compete and maybe even win this game. Take a look at the poise that Ryan Mallett showed last week against Georgia and it should dispel any doubts. The Razorback defense should at least slow down the two-headed monster at running back and we should see a good game here. And since this is the first real test for Alabama all year, I am going with Arkansas and the points.

Kentucky at Florida (-14) - I have gone against Kentucky all season, but that is going to change this week. Florida barely managed a push against Tennessee and that was pretty much gifted to them. Kentucky based on everything that we have seen so far is better then Tennessee. Go with the Wildcats and the points in a close win for Florida.

Georgia at Mississippi State (even) - Even. Really. Georgia is better than you would expect. They have played South Carolina and Arkansas close and the oddsmakers believe that they are even with Mississippi State, even if it is on the road? That is a severe downgrade to a team that has been unlucky enough to start against two of the main contenders in the conference. Just because they weren't the teams everyone is used to competing in the SEC doesn't mean that they don't count. Georgia should easily win.

Fresno State at Mississippi (-2) - I am in a Cats and Dogs mood today, along with a Hog for good measure. I am not sure that the Fresno State Bulldogs can slow down Jeremiah Massoli, but I do know that Mississippi has been dreadfully worse than expected every time out. I even had them covering against Vanderbilt. How did that one turn out? Oh right. And I am a sucker for Fresno State because they are the ultimate underdog, traveling the country for any game that they can take, and usually competing. I am going with the Bulldogs and calling for the outright upset.

South Carolina at Auburn (-3) - Get ready for a defensive struggle. Auburn finally has a team that won't pressure them immensely through the air and South Carolina has a chance to show that they can contain a do everything quarterback. I think Auburn can shut down Marcus Lattimore enough to cover the three points at home. I will say it again. Auburn, at home, at night, is almost an automatic pick, especially with a team this good. Sorry Mr. Spurrier. War Eagle! Take Auburn and lay the points.

West Virginia at LSU (-10) - I debated on this one the longest of any game this week. After all, it would break my string of picking cats and dogs. I just can't get behind LSU. They might have more talent than every team they have played, but they just don't use it to its maximum potential. Maybe Les Miles has gone soft since getting that National Title. West Virginia has to wave the flag for the Big East tonight, or risk the conference just being totally shoved into a closet until next August. Will anyone even watch a game with a Big East team in it if West Virginia loses tonight? Because let's be honest, this is the best team they have there, as we saw Thursday when Pitt (the supposedly best team) got skewered by Miami. This is Tiger Stadium, so I will concede that a win for West Virginia is unlikely. But given LSU's shaky play lately, I am taking the Mountaineers and the points.

Lazy Saturday: Vanderbilt (Time for some Old Fashioneds)

Southern Exposure went 4-2-1 last week to bring the season' record to 14-10-1 overall.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:00 AM

September 24, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 4

The Big East conference got off to a fast stop this week when Miami trounced the Wannstache Bash 31-3 on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Hey, Dave, are all of the pieces in place now?

As for the other members of the best basketball conference in the land — too bad we are talking about football — the weekend’s slate runs the gamut of competition from an FCS school to a program on the verge of massive probation to a top-15 team.

The Big East section of the BiACC went 2-2 last week and stands at 5-3 on the season.

What does this Saturday hold for our beloved teams out east, kind of the east and the south?

Well, let’s get to it.

Saturday: (MRI Rankings before the team name)

Buffalo at Connecticut (-20.5) - Many expected UConn to take a big step forward this year under coach Randy Edsall, but the season has not begun in stunning fashion for the Huskies.

UConn likes to run the ball, and they will be back at it at home this weekend. Buffalo will have a tough time stopping the run, but UConn will have a harder time winning by more than 20 points.

UConn will win, but they will not cover. Take Buffalo and almost three touchdowns worth of points.

North Carolina at Rutgers (+2) - Wow. Where to start with this game? No one even knows what players North Carolina will be allowed to put on the field in Piscataway, N.J.

Rutgers doesn’t score at a rapid pace, can’t pass, and are mediocre at best on the ground. However, they average an impressive seven points against on defense through two games.

North Carolina is a top-10 passing team in the country and will look to do more of that this weekend.

No offense to Florida International, but UNC will be Rutgers’ first true test…and they will fail.

Take Butch Davis’ group of agent-involved players and lay the two points. UNC will cover.

#23 Oklahoma at Cincinnati (+14) - Oklahoma had a scare thanks to the Air Force Academy last week so Cincinnati will not be facing a team lacking focus two weeks in a row.

Landry Jones can chuck it and by chuck it, I mean really, really, totally chuck it. This will not stop against Cincinnati. UC’s defense is pedestrian at best and is lucky have to have played the Sycamores of Larry Bird U this season, or they would not be in the win-column yet.

Butch Jones’ first-season woes will continue this weekend in a bad way. Take Oklahoma and lay the 14 points. You will walk away giddy.

Western Kentucky at South Florida (-27) - Calling Western Kentucky abysmal might be an insult to the word abysmal. Meanwhile, the fighting Skip Holtzes are coming off of a bye week and are ready to put a hurtin’ on the Hilltoppers.

Look for B.J. Daniels to put up prolific numbers both through the air and on the ground as the Bulldogs roll up a large number in St. Pete on Saturday.

Take South Florida, lay the 27 points and fuhgedaboudit. Wait, maybe I should have used that word in the Rutgers section.

#24 West Virginia at #11 LSU (-10) - So, if Les Miles was a true “Michigan Man” and took the job in Ann Arbor three years ago, Rich Rodriguez would probably still be coaching at his alma mater in Morgantown … but that didn’t happen. RichRod left, Miles stayed and the Tigers welcome the Mountaineers to Death Valley on Saturday night.

See, a quick little historical and pertinent recap for the readers of the MRI there.

LSU is a tough place to play, especially on a Saturday night as chants of “Geaux Tigers” and “Tiger Bait” ring through Tiger Stadium.

Les Miles has left a lot to be desired the past few seasons, but the Tigers have showed up in a big way thus far in 2010. Look for that to continue, as Stevan Ridley will have a big night on the ground.

Both teams feature staunch defenses that give up few points, and that trend should continue. LSU will win at home, but West Virginia will cover.

Take the Mountaineers and the points.

The MRI Sports Patsy Party Continues:

It would be a long week in upstate New York if Syracuse struggles against Colgate.

It will not be a long week in upstate New York.

Lazy Saturday: Louisville

Posted by Brian McCabe at 4:00 PM

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 4 Preview

pac10-logo.pngBy painting one of their practice fields blue, Oregon State signaled to the nation that this week’s matchup against Boise State isn’t just a big game for the Broncos.

The Beavers have already played a team currently in the top five, that being their season opener against TCU, and it may well be that they are finally ready to step up to the challenge on a big national stage.

Or it may just be that they’ve always wanted smurf-turf in Corvallis.

Either way, last week’s re-emergence of star running back Jacquizz Rodgers gives OSU fans some hope, but the steady play of sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz (122.5 QB rating, 0 interceptions in over 50 attempts this season) may have far more to do with the outcome on Saturday night.

There are two other interesting out of conference games this week, as Stanford travels to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, while UCLA looks to knock off a ranked team for the second straight week as they travel to face Texas.

Will Andrew Luck continue his hot streak this week in South Bend? Was UCLA’s performance last week against Houston a mirage? Will Arizona suffer a letdown against Cal after their big win against Iowa? This week should help to further define the conference pecking order for fans of the Pac-10.

LNwP-10 was 5-4 last week and is 11-8 against the spread this season.

Saturday games:

USC at Washington State (+22) - Lane Kiffin’s squad let a number of people down last week, falling a couple points short of a cover. While that only mattered to me and a bunch of people who filled out betting slips, the uninspiring play of USC has puzzled many observers. Say what you will about Lane, but his father and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is a fantastic defensive mind, and sooner or later the USC defense is going to play well. With good field position and a little help from his skill position players, quarterback Matt Barkley is going to have a few more great days this year, and against Wazzu is a great place to start. Despite being burned last week, the play here is to lay the 22 and take the Trojans.

Stanford at Notre Dame (+5) - Andrew Luck leads Stanford into South Bend this week and must be relishing the chance to take apart the weak Irish secondary. The Fightin’ Kellys have given up 443 yards per game so far this season, but they have kept the games close becuase of their potent offense. Stanford has a great mix of run and pass, so I expect them to win this game, but at home take a flyer with ND and the points.

UCLA at Texas (-16) - UCLA came to life last week with a win over Houston, but on the road in Austin could be a different story. While still highly ranked at No. 7, Texas hasn’t gotten off to the start many would have expected and this game is unlikely to be a shootout. With that in mind, take UCLA and the points.

Oregon State at Boise State (-18) - After last week’s 51-6 beatdown of Wyoming, Boise State look to be back on track. Still, Oregon State is anything but a Wyoming clone and an 18 point line is a pretty big number for a team that played TCU very close. I think Boise wins, but take the Beavers and the points.

California at Arizona (-6.5) - Arizona really delivered against Iowa, and they look to keep their strong play going this week as they host Cal in the conference opener for both squads. Quarterback Kevin Riley had an up and down game against Nevada and this week’s matchup doesn’t look like much of let up. Arizona gets it done at home, so lay the 6.5 and ride the Cats for another week.

Oregon at Arizona State (11.5) - The Sun Devils had perhaps the most surprising result of the week in their game against Wisconsin, playing the Badgers much closer than most people expected. They lost the game after having an extra point blocked, and you have to wonder if that will affect them in their game against the Ducks. Oregon has looked great so far this season, and until they prove otherwise, the smart play here is lay the 11.5 and take Oregon.

Lazy Saturday: Washington

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 10:00 AM

September 23, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 4

Big East Coast BiACC held off posting the ACC preview for as long as it could this week in the hopes that the North Carolina situation would finally resolve itself.

It partially did, but not in the way we were hoping. Twelve players will still be missing this week when the Tar Heels travel to Rutgers, although two of them at least know when they can return to the team.

The Situation, and by that we mean this NCAA investigation even though North Carolina will be passing by the Jersey Shore, has derailed Butch Davis’ best club since he has returned to coaching in college.

It can only be described as disappointing because the conference needed someone like the Tar Heels to pick up the banner and run with it.

Instead, the lone ACC team ranked by the AP this week was Miami, although four others did receive votes. Receiving votes isn’t much when you consider that North Carolina State and Georgia Tech received just six more points in the poll than James Madison.

Perhaps the ACC should consider expansion and pluck off a few Colonial conference teams from 1-AA? The quality of football wouldn’t suffer too much considering how things have progressed so far this season.

If it is good enough for the Big East to look at Villanova, then why not? And Duke needs someone that they can beat in conference.

And with that, we go to the picks:

Continue reading "Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:30 PM

Heisman Watch 2010, Week 3

This week’s Heisman Watch was tough to write, frankly because the candidates are having such a hard time showing that they deserve to win the award.

Normally voters have great performances to go on week after week, statistics that just jump out at you.

But when no one has a game like Oklahoma State’s Brandon Wheeler (400-plus yard passing and 6 TDs), it makes it hard to distinguish between the front-runners.

That is why this week for me came down to crunch-time performances, and that is why Ryan Mallett is back in the lead. Leading his team down the field to win against Georgia, he showed poise and the type of quarterback play that could inspire his team to upset No. 1 Alabama this week (No. 4 in the MRI, by the way).

He still put up some numbers (380 yards, 3 TDs), but the piece of the performance that sticks out in my mind is still the finish.

That was the reason why Kellen Moore, despite stats that weren’t great against Virginia Tech was as high as he was on my list after the first week.

The way things are going, we may have to look at how many times a team leader saves their team, or displays their leadership skills in order to determine a winner.

It almost worked for Tim Tebow during his junior year after “the speech”.

So without further delay, here is where I would rank the contenders as of today:

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2010, Week 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:30 AM

September 22, 2010

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 3 Review

pac10-logo.pngFor the first time all season, talking about the Pac-10 doesn’t involve looking into a crystal ball. The conference had a number of enlightening match-ups last week, and it also provided a lot of clarity for observers and fans of the conference.

For instance, we learned that Cal’s defensive dominance was a statistical anomaly, as they were lit up for 52 points by a talented Nevada offense. We also learned that UCLA are not as bad as they appeared last week against Stanford, as this week they hosted No. 23 Houston and won comfortably, 31-13.

It is also very clear that the top teams in the conference can play with almost anyone. While Oregon got on with their business by whacking Portland Stata 69-0, Arizona upset No. 9 ranked Iowa 34-27.

Couple those results with wins by USC, Stanford and Oregon State, and these are pretty heady times for the conference. Even in defeat, ASU put up a much better fight than most observers (including me), thought they would be able to muster.

Fully half of the conference is ranked in this week’s AP poll, and at least a couple of them would seem to have an excellent chance to continue to rise in the polls.

Last week, LNwtP-10 went 5-4 against the spread, bringing the overall record this season to 11-8.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 1:00 PM

September 21, 2010

MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 1

It has finally reached the time to release the first MRI rankings of the year. Ahhh can you smell the hopes and dreams of the top 25, most of which will be dashed by the time that November rolls around?

The most striking item in this set of rankings is the dominance of the Pac-10 over the first three weeks of the season. At the end of the year, it may not be the best conference, but over the first three weeks, three leaders have definitely emerged: Oregon, Stanford and Arizona.

Those three west coasters occupy the top spots according to the bits and bytes this week and for good reason. They have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 471-89.

Add in all the offensive numbers that those three teams have put up and you have a juggernaut. It will be interesting to see how their defenses hold up when they all finally meet each other.

Alabama and Nebraska round out the top five in this week’s rankings.

If you are looking for sleeper teams, check out Cal (oh look, another Pac-10 team) and Iowa. Despite one loss each, both teams made the top 25 in the initial rankings. Both losses came this past week so maybe a trend is starting in the wrong direction, but both teams did enough in the first two weeks to show they are contenders.

As you move down the rankings, a couple of things are worth noting.

First, Utah is outside the top 25 and all the way down at 42. Despite being ranked at 13 in the latest AP poll, the Utes haven’t really impressed the computers yet.

Their last season in the Mountain West could be very disappointing come January if this keeps up. They would be the first team in a while that could actually blame the computers if they don’t make a BCS bowl.

Finally, the grand BYU independence experiment, while not officially underway, isn’t looking like it will have a good act to follow. The Cougars are 1-2 and currently sit at 110 in the MRI rankings after finishing last season at No. 14.

That is currently below MRI doormat Washington State. Those Cougars know a thing or two about being really bad, and it is not something the BYU wants to emulate.

Check out all the rankings in week one of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2010 - Rankings Week 1"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

September 18, 2010

Southern Exposure: SEC Preview, Week 3

Things have been a little hectic here at Southern Exposure.

The good news though is that no one this far north at the editorial offices has been arrested.

So get a grip on yourself as you prepare for a big week in the SEC.

Arkansas at Georgia (-2) - Ryan Mallett should be ready to really begin his assault on the Heisman Trophy after two glorified scrimmages. Sure last week was a little tougher than expected, but the Razorbacks should step up enough with a conference opponent on the other side of the field. I think Georgia has no answer for the Arkansas air attack and am calling for the straight up upset by the Razorbacks. Take Arkansas with a smile.

Vanderbilt at Ole Miss (-12) - Ole Miss is going to be my favorite team to pick this year, especially because the odds makers appear to be cuckoo when it comes to setting the line. Last week’s 24 point spread was ridiculous after the Fighting Akbars lost the previous week to Jacksonville State. They didn’t cover against Tulane but Vandy is just so… Vandy this year. Houston Nutt finally has a full week with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and they get it done. Take Mississippi and lay the 12.

Alabama at Duke (+24) - Commentary at Big East Coast BiACC. Take Alabama with confidence.

Florida at Tennessee (-14) - This one is tough as neither team has looked the contender so far this season, yet both were expected, as always to be that team. Florida players can’t control themselves and there is no Tim Tebow to clean up the mess. John Brantley is still struggling. Tennessee players appear to be afraid of a little lightning. It all is a little crazy, so maybe we need a little divine intervention here. WWTTD: What would Tim Tebow do? Take the Gators and lay the points.

Akron at Kentucky (-25) - Kentucky continues to show they are better than we thought this year. Akron isn’t an SEC for, so that trend should continue this week. Take the Wildcats and lay the points.

Clemson at Auburn (-7) - Commentary at Big East Coast BiACC. Take Auburn and Cam Newton and lay the points.

Mississippi State at LSU (-8) - Les Miles made a big show out of not leaving LSU a couple of years ago. Now he is probably wishing that he had thought twice, three time, maybe even four about that. Despite a 2-0 record, there have been some headaches for the Tigers. This one is in Baton Rouge at night, one of the best atmospheres in all of college football. The defense wraps up Mississippi State and the offense finds a way. Take the Tigers and lay the points.

Patsy Party: Furman at South Carolina (They’ve earned it).

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:45 AM

Big Number Country - Big Ten Preview, Week 3

No real time for chitchat this week, as there are some good games to talk about.

Although, I suggest getting as much joy out of this week as possible because next week is severely lacking in marquee match-ups.

Saturday’s games

Massachusetts at Michigan (Off) - Denard Robinson continues his assault on the Michigan record book. He won’t need to play much in this game, but he’ll look good when he does.

Ohio at Ohio Sate (-30) - If anyone is going to beat the Buckeyes, it’s going to be their in-state rival. Oh, who am I kidding. There’s no way to sugarcoat this one. Brandon Saine has a big day to pace the running attack, Terrelle Pryor completes more than 50% of his passes and the special teams puts in a solid effort. It’s a big line, but lay the points anyway.

Kent State at Penn State (-21) - Quarterback Rob Bolden looked like a freshman against Alabama, but that’s to be expected playing on the road for the first time against the number one team in the country. Unfortunately, running back Evan Royster has also looked like a freshman, rushing for only 72 yards in two games. The problem is, Royster isn’t a freshman; he’s a senior, experienced, and expected to help take pressure off of Bolden. I have a feeling he rebounds this week against Kent State, as Penn State rolls. Lay the points.

Northern Illinois at Illinois (-7) - Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill will be able to coach in this game, after being hospitalized on Sunday for dehydration. Knowing their coach will be on the sidelines might energize the Huskies, as they have looked less than stellar in their first two games. The Illini defense delivered a great performance against Southern Illinois last week, limiting the Salukis to only 46 rushing yards and 3-for-16 on third down. They seem to be buying in to what defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is saying. That trend will continue on Saturday and the Illini win by ten.

Ball State at Purdue (-16.5) - The Boilermakers lost their leading receiver from last year, Keith Smith, for the season last week following a gruesome knee injury. That’s not good news for quarterback Robert Marve, as he continues to look rusty after sitting out a year. What is good news is that Ball State comes to town, who lost to FCS school Liberty last week. The passing game may look shaky at times without Smith, but running back Dan Dierking and the running game picks up the slack. This is tricky number, and though Purdue will win, it won’t be a blowout. Take the points.

USC at Minnesota (+12) - This is the first of three games pitting the Pac-10 against the Big Ten this week. USC has NFL talent all over the field, but haven’t played up to that talent yet this season, even though they are unbeaten. Minnesota gave up big chunks of yardage in losing to South Dakota and could not keep up on offense. There’s a chance USC continues to look befuddled, but quarterback Matt Barkley keeps that from happening. Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster remains on the hot seat, and the Gophers lose by two touchdowns at home.

Arizona State at Wisconsin (-13) - This game is an important one for the Badgers. They haven’t really looked dominating in their two wins, making too many mistakes in the red zone. The constant has been running back John Clay, who keeps putting up big numbers. Arizona State can score some points behind quarterback and Michigan transfer Steven Threet. The last time Threet played Wisconsin, he led Michigan to a comeback victory in 2008, but that was in Ann Arbor. I don’t see the Sun Devils defense stopping Clay, who controls the ball and keeps Threet and the offense watching from the sidelines. Lay the points.

Indiana at Western Kentucky (+11.5) - After a week off, Indiana returns to action against a pretty awful Western Kentucky team. Quarterback Ben Chappell also gets standout wide receiver Tandon Doss back this week, and both should put up big numbers against a defense averaging 56 points allowed through two games. The Hoosiers cover easily, but I still don’t know if this team has enough to compete in conference play.

Northwestern at Rice (+6.5) - Quarterback Dan Persa has been on fire so far for the Wildcats, completing 86% of his passes through two games and throwing five touchdowns. He’s also been the Wildcats leading rusher so far. He should be able to stay hot against a Rice team that could barely contain the North Texas offense last week, despite winning the game. Eventually, Northwestern will need to produce a running back that isn’t Persa, but it won’t matter this week. Take the Wildcats and lay the points.

Notre Dame at Michigan State (-3.5) - For about the last ten years, the games in this rivalry have rarely lacked for excitement, and that shouldn’t change in this year’s installment. The MSU secondary remains a question mark after allowing Florida Atlantic to move the ball at will through the air last week. Notre Dame is a much better passing team that FAU, and if Dayne Crist is able to play the whole game after his injury scare last week, they should be able to score some points. The Spartans can score points too, and get running back Larry Caper back this week to join Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell, `who have both been great through two games. I see the trio controlling the clock, which allows quarterback Kirk Cousins to finally get the passing game going. It will be a nailbiter down to the end, but the Spartans have enough to beat the Irish by five at home.

Big Ten Game of the Week

Iowa at Arizona (+1): This game is a late start for those of us in Big Number Country, so I recommend planning accordingly to make sure you see this one. The Wildcats offense has shown to be very potent through two weeks, led by running back Nic Grigsby and quarterback Nick Foles. Iowa’s defense, as good as it is, may have problems with Arizona, especially on the road. They’ll need to neutralize one of the two in order to win this one. I believe the pass rush of Iowa will rattle Foles, but they’ll have a hard time completely shutting down Grigsby.

The X-factor in this game, will be Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi has done nothing but win since becoming the starter, and if he can manage the offense against a stronger than expected Arizona defense, Iowa will win this game. My feeling is this game will be higher scoring than Iowa would like, but in the end Stanzi leads a late touchdown drive to pull out the victory.

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 9:30 AM

September 17, 2010

On The Field: Wolfpack Guts Cincinnati, Looking Like Favorite in ACC

The final tally showed North Carolina State 30, Cincinnati 19, but it wasn’t really that close.

Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson came to play. He had another great performance through the air and averaged more than four yards per carry on the ground.

Cincinnati’s defense had no answer for anything that Wilson threw at them.

It is becoming clearer that the Brian Kelly-to-Butch Jones transition is not going as smoothly the second time around. NC State had its way against a porous Cincy D while Zach Collaros is struggling to find the glimpses of greatness he showed while relieving Tony Pike in 2009.

Collaros’ numbers might seem gaudy at first glance; over 300 yards through the air and three touchdowns is impressive. But for all intents and purposes, the game was over for half of those stats.

The Bearcats were down 30-7 with less than eight minutes to play and their final touchdown came with less than 50 seconds remaining against a defense that wasn’t doing much more than standing on the field.

The game was the perfect depiction of two teams going in separate directions.

Cincinnati is trying to rebound from the strategic and emotional loss of its head coach to Notre Dame while Russell Wilson is quietly staking a claim for a mention during Heisman discourse.

The ACC is down this year as evidenced by last weekend’s metaphorical evisceration. Virginia Tech is currently a shadow of its former self and many of the other top competitors are heading for a down year.

With the way they are playing, North Carolina State has a chance to compete for the conference championship in the wide-open league and a berth in a BCS game.

After last night, Cincinnati hopes have been downgraded quite a bit… to earning an FBS win.

Posted by Brian McCabe at 4:30 PM

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 3 Preview

pac10-logo.pngWow, it took three weeks, but I can say with great enthusiasm that we finally have a slate of Pac-10 games that doesn’t make me sleepy.

As riveting as a USC-Virgina, ahem, thriller was last week, the matchups for Week three promise to be both entertaining and enlightening.

The quality teams in the conference have made a habit of blowing out their opponents this season but, up against stronger competition, how will they fare?

It seems fairly clear that a teams like Oregon, Stanford and Arizona will be able to put some points on the board this season. But when they face teams other that St. Agnes’ College for Kids Who Lack Footspeed, will they continue to look as explosive?

The Pac-10 looks much stronger defensively than they have in previous years (with the possible exception of USC), but stronger competition should both challenge these defenses and create poorer field position for the offenses. That combination should make for a week of closer, lower scoring games. Hopefully, those games will also be more entertaining.

Continue reading "Late Night with Pac-10: Week 3 Preview"

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 2:00 PM

BIg Number Country - Big XII Preview, Week 3

There isn’t an FCS school on the slate for week three in the Big XII, but that doesn’t mean every game is a tough one. While there are some intriguing games, some of the conference is still looking to beat up on lower tier programs.

Week three also brings us some teams dipping their toes into the rocky waters of the conference schedule including what should be the game of the week involving the Big XII.

Here are my picks, and hopefully, the results cooperate this week:

Continue reading "BIg Number Country - Big XII Preview, Week 3"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 12:00 PM

September 16, 2010

On The Field: Villanova Addition in Big East Makes Sense

The Big East has been been the conference that every other football league looks to when they want to poach members.

Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech fled to the ACC from there. The Big Ten reportedly looked at Rutgers and Pittsburgh in their latest power grab.

Admittedly, the Big East did a little poaching of its own on the basketball side but now they are looking to do it on the football side too, although in a different way.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported last week that Villanova has been offered a chance to move up to the FBS division and join the Big East in football, to go along with their current affiliation in basketball. The move would give the conference nine members, and a balanced 4-game home, 4-game away league schedule.

The Big East has already had success doing this one other time, when Connecticut made the leap to the big time. Nova was given a chance to move then also, but declined.

By all accounts, this is a done deal if the Wildcats have a different answer this time, and Nova would join the league as a full member for the 2014 season at the earliest.

Continue reading "On The Field: Villanova Addition in Big East Makes Sense"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 3

For two weeks we have had the Big East half of Big East Coast BiACC. Now it is time to bring out the big guns of the ACC half.

Well, it would have been time had the conference not had one of the worst weeks in memory last weekend.

Start with Virginia Tech’s embarrassing loss to James Madison. The Hokies fell to 0-2 and put a six-season streak of 10 wins or more in jeopardy. The poster child for the conference now has a worse record than its Conference USA opponent this week.

And Virginia Tech is rightly the standard bearer for the lovable losers in the ACC. The Hokies consistently lose the biggest games, missing out on chances at the ACC title, trips to the BCS bowls and generally putting the conference in a better light.

Every time they cross over against an SEC foe, or recently anyone, they lose. Can they get it together in time for a bowl game? Yes, but any chance to get the ACC standing taller in the regular season goes by the wayside.

To add to the embarrassment of last week, Georgia Tech, ranked at No. 15, dropped their game against Kansas, a team that managed only a field goal in losing to an FCS school in week one.

Against Georgia Tech? 28 points.

Miami and Florida State each bungled away chances to make statements against contenders this season.

Clemson and Maryland were the only highlights of the weekend and they didn’t even play worthy opponents.

Will the shame of the conference continue this week? Let’s look at the games.

Continue reading "Big East Coast BiACC - ACC Preview, Week 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:30 AM

Big East Coast BiACC - Big East Preview, Week 3

Ah, conference football is almost here. With just a week or two left until Big East teams start playing other teams they are associated with, a lot is still to be determined.

The conference is absolutely up for grabs and not much will happen this weekend to convince anyone otherwise. However, a few teams can make statements regarding their immediate future.

How will West Virginia respond after its near-loss at Marshall?

Can UConn beat an FBS team? Unfair? Maybe, but they haven’t yet.

Was the 2009 version of Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros a fluke?

Just how bad will Louisville lose to the Beavers?

Unfortunately for the teams involved, these are all pertinent questions. Most of them should be answered this weekend during round three of the 2010 College Football bonanza.

Last week, the Big East side of Big East Coast BiACC went 3-1 against the spread, a mark it hopes to equal this week.

Thursday night:

Cincinnati at North Carolina State (-2) - The Butch Jones era at Cincinnati has not gotten off to a rousing start and Zach Collaros has yet to put up the staggering offensive numbers he did last year. NC State is undefeated, but like Cincy, has only played one real team.

One can do all the research it wants in regards to numbers, but there is not a lot to go off of on this one. The winner of this game will be determined by quarterback play, and in the end Russell Wilson will do more when it is needed for the victory.

Lay the two points and take State at home.

Saturday:

Connecticut at Temple (+6) - Al Golden’s Owls have struggled mightily on offense, including in their first game against the Villanova Wildcats of the FCS. While Temple surprised many last year as a bowl-eligible squad, they have started off this campaign a bit slow.

UConn got blown out by Denard Robinson (as will happen to almost every school he faces this year), and their performance against Texas Southern does not necessarily portend a great future.

Randy Edsall is gaining prominence just like Golden, but it will be Edsall’s team that is victorious this weekend. Though the game is in Philly, take UConn because they will win by at least a touchdown.

Maryland at West Virginia (-10) - The Mountaineers survived quite a scare at Marshall last week, and are looking to win their third in a row this week when they return to Morgantown.

Maryland is on a roll of its own. After a disastrous ‘09 season, the Terrapins are off to a 2-0 start including a surprising upset of Navy opening weekend. Ralph Friedgen’s team got some rest during a lopsided victory over Morgan St.

The Terps got run over by Navy’s offense and should have lost the game. Look for Noel Devine to go off on Saturday while leading the Mountaineers to a somewhat big win.

MRI faithful, WVU will not let you down to weeks in a row. Take the Mountaineers to cover.

Louisville at Oregon State (-19.5) - Louisville goes on the road for the first time this season and it’s a long way from Kentucky to Corvallis.

Charlie Strong will be a good coach for Louisville, but this is going to be a tough season. The personnel is not where it needs to be and that will be exposed more on Saturday than quite possibly all season.

OSU is looking to bounce back from a tough defeat against TCU while also ramping up for its marquee matchup with Boise State in just over a week.

19.5 points is a huge number … but lay them down with a smile on your face. Oregon St. is going to absolutely obliterate Louisville this weekend.

The MRI Sports Patsy Party Continues …

Maine at Syracuse - The only other Big East school in action this weekend is Syracuse as they welcome Maine Black Bears to the Carrier Dome. Syracuse should win this game easily, but then again, do we have to mention Ole Miss and Virginia Tech?

Lazy Saturday: Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida

Posted by Brian McCabe at 7:30 AM

September 15, 2010

Big Number Country - Recapping Week 2 in the Big Ten

Shoelaces.

That’s the nickname of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who, after totaling 502 yards of offense on Saturday against Notre Dame, has become the talk of college football. Some pundits, though not our own, have even moved Robinson to the top of their Heisman lists.

Robinson has indeed been dynamic so far for the Wolverines, providing the type of player that Rich Rodriguez needs to run his style of offense. As explosive as he was though, his individual performance was almost not enough to beat the Irish.

Michigan needed a late touchdown from Robinson in order to secure the victory, 28-24, after Notre Dame had gone ahead on a 95-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

After spending the majority of the first half on the sidelines injured, Irish quarterback Dayne Crist engineered the second half comeback, while the Irish defense kept Michigan out of the end zone despite Robinson racking up huge numbers.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly also has to answer questions about a decision he made at the end of the first half.

Trailing 21-7, Kelly elected to try and score a touchdown from the 3-yard line to end the half instead of kicking a field goal and cutting into the deficit. Backup quarterback Nate Montana, who looked woeful in relief of Crist, failed to complete the pass to the end zone, and the half ended without any points scored.

The points left on the field would not have affected the final score, but they would have provided a confidence boost to a team struggling offensively. The decision, to me, is inexcusable.

Michigan did look good, but the defense was beat around a bit in the second half and will have trouble when the competition level increases during the conference schedule.

Also, another running back will need to emerge to lighten the load of Robinson, as the remainder of the backfield only accounted for 30 yards Saturday. The numbers for Robinson are great, but if he fails to stay healthy, Michigan has no chance to compete for the title.

Continue reading "Big Number Country - Recapping Week 2 in the Big Ten"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 8:00 AM

Big Number Country - Big XII Week 2 Recap

What a difference a week makes for Kansas.

After a horrible first game when they only managed a field goal against FCS opponent North Dakota State, the Jayhawks rebounded in a big way by beating Georgia Tech 28-25.

Head coach Turner Gill switched to Jordan Webb at quarterback and the freshman went out and threw three touchdowns in his first career start.

Another freshman, running back James Sims, also had an effective day, rushing for 101 yards and scoring the touchdown in the third quarter that put Kansas up for good.

The defense didn’t have the greatest game according to the final statistics, allowing 291 rushing yards, and 407 total yards overall. Using the eyeball test though they didn’t let Georgia Tech get into any sort of offensive rhythm and didn’t miss the plays that had to be made.

As the game got late, they forced quarterback Joshua Nesbitt to make plays through the air, which goes against the nature of the Yellow Jackets offense. Nesbitt finished 5 for 15 passing, including an incomplete pass on 4th and 8 with one minute left in the game, as Georgia Tech was driving for the tying score.

Kansas is still probably not even a decent team, but for at least one week, they can feel good about beating a team picked to challenge for the ACC conference title.

Continue reading "Big Number Country - Big XII Week 2 Recap"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 7:00 AM

September 14, 2010

Heisman Watch 2010: Week 2, or A Look at System Players

What would a Heisman campaign be without a good debate. After his 500-plus yard performance against Notre Dame, Denard Robinson is all anyone can talk about.

But does this one performance put him in line to continue the sophomore streak?

It is a definite maybe at this point because here is where we will insert all of the standard drivel about system players.

Whether it is a June Jones/Mike Leach quarterback or a Rich Rod everything back, system players have been the bane of Heisman voters. No one wants to believe they were the best because they put up stats primarily because the system is designed for them to put up stats.

With the quarterbacks, it is easy to dismiss them. The most recent incarnations of Hawaii and Texas Tech teams haven’t had much of a running game to complement their passing efficiency. Short screens and other techniques helped the passers avoid being road kill for opposing defenses.

Yet Rich Rod’s backs, be it quarter or running varieties, have managed to escape the system tag and be part of the Heisman talk.

Before he left West Virginia, it was Pat White or Steve Slaton, or even Noel Devine, who is now trapped in his new offense and looks much less impressive than he did with the Go Blue traitor in charge.

And Devine is the main reason the Heisman voters should reserve judgment on Robinson. We have a clear example of what happens when you take that same explosive player and remove him from the system.

If Robinson were at another school without the same scheme, would we have just another average mobile quarterback?

It is only one spectacular game — albeit a widely televised one — and Robinson has not locked up anything, in much the same way that Kellen Moore didn’t seal Heisman hopes with his win over Virginia Tech (now tarnished) or Oregon’s Kenjon Barner (now relegated to special teams duty) with his performance against New Mexico..

There is a lot of season, and many better defenses for Robinson to face before he even approaches the top spot in this year’s Heisman Watch.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2010: Week 2, or A Look at System Players"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:30 PM

September 13, 2010

Southern Exposure: Week 2 Review

For coaches in the SEC this weekend, there were thankfully few surprises. No one lost to a weaker opponent, no one ran up against a shocking performance.

Everyone just handled their business.

No one did so better than Alabama. Taking on a team that was supposed to compete in the Big 10, Alabama gained 409 yards on offense and made Penn State look like the young team they are.

Even with an experienced offensive line and Evan Royster — who was ineffective for a second straight week — Alabama was just too much on defense. There is little doubt left that Alabama is the class of the SEC, both in terms of talent and skill.

Mark Ingram has reportedly returned to practice which could mean that Duke is in even more trouble this coming week. The Tide will just replace the second-best running back in college football with the reigning best player in college football.

The Blue Devils will have no answer for that. They might as well be nicknamed the Doormats on Saturday.

Facing the toughest opponent this week, Tennessee managed to build a 10-point lead before it all came undone against Oregon.

Give Ducks coach Chip Kelly credit for turning around what looked like a giant upset about to happen. The paint had to be peeling in the locker room during the weather delay.

Or perhaps the Vols were just afraid of more lightning, especially since shower time seems to be a very interesting fiesta in Tennessee.

The Vols’ struggles sum up a lot of the struggles in the East division. Other than South Carolina, who has looked the class of the division, every team has struggled, including Florida.

Without Tim Tebow leading the offense, the team appears to be learning how to play all over again. About half way through the game, the Gators show up again, but that technique won’t work against the rest of the SEC.

By all accounts, Saturday’s performance was even more sketchy that week one’s rocky start against Miami (Ohio). As Southern Exposure mentioned in the preview, John Brantley is the square peg trying to squeeze into the round hole in the Urban Meyer scheme.

It is entirely possible that Meyer is just killing time until Trey Burton is ready to run the offense in all its glory. Unfortunately for Gator fans, it may take a lot of Pepto-Bismol during the first halves of the remaining games.

Southern Exposure was 6-3 against the spread in games this past weekend, bringing the season record into the black at 10-8 overall.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:00 PM

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 2 Review

pac10-logo.png What can you say about a week in which the only two close games played by the conference were also the most painful to watch?

USC’s home opener was a fairly brutal 17-14 win over the less than impressive Virginia Cavaliers that was neither as interesting nor as close as the score would suggest. The final UVA score came with mere seconds left on the clock, and USC never looked threatened.

However, USC also never looked good, and with the possible exception of another efficient performance by Matt Barkley, there wasn’t much for Trojan fans to hang their hats on.

I saw exactly zero minutes of the Wazzu - Montana State thriller, but from all accounts I didn’t miss that much. The Cougars did manage to engineer a fourth quarter comeback, but it was needed due to their own ineptitude in the third quarter.

Before rescuing the game with a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes and a game-winning field goal, the Cougars had dug themselves a hole after allowing an 45-yard flea flicker for a score, followed by a fumble on the resulting kickoff. While they did manage to win this game, it’s a problem when even non-conference pushovers are giving WSU trouble.

Leading the blowouts, Oregon went on the road against Tennessee and their maniac of a head coach and, with the help of a lightning delay, dropped the hammer on the Vols.

After a less than stellar opening that saw them get down 6-0, Oregon regrouped during the weather delay and never looked back.

The final of 48-13 indicates that not only is Oregon the class of the conference, they may also figure into the national championship picture if they can continue their strong play.

California shrugged off any challenge posed by Colorado, looking strong on defense in a game that suggests that Washington State may have competition for league doormat when Colorado joins in 2012.

Elsewhere, Washington rolled the ‘Cuse, and Stanford kicked off the conference opener with with a beatdown of UCLA.

Both Arizona schools also rolled, especially once ASU got on track in the second half against Northern Arizona.

Late Night with the Pac-10 is heating up in the predictive sciences, going 3-1 against the spread on last weeks betting slate. That brings the season record to 6-4, and is probably the last time that LNwtP-10 will have a winning record.

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 10:30 AM

September 11, 2010

Big Number Country - Week 2 in the Big XII

What did we learn from the first week of games in the Big XII?

Some would say that Texas really need to have a more consistent performance from their offense if they are to make it to a BCS game.

Others might say the Nebraska defense is not quite as good as last year without Ndamukong Suh ravaging opposing quarterbacks. This despite an easy win against awful Western Kentucky.

There’s also Kansas State and Missouri showing reslience in coming from behind and winning games against decent, if unspectacular, opponents.

But for my money, there is only one thing we learned last weekend in the Big XII.

Kansas is possibly really, really bad at football.

But, hey, maybe they’ll actually score a touchdown this week.

Here’s what to expect from this week:

Georgia Tech at Kansas (+13.5) - After the aforementioned lousy performance against North Dakota State, the Jayhawks welcome Joshua Nesbitt and the Yellow Jackets to Lawrence. I’m really surprised the line is this low, but probably comes from this being a home game for Kansas. To borrow a phrase from Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, the Yellow Jackets get off the bus running and never stop, so give the points.

Idaho at Nebraska (-28) - If new Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez can play as well this week as last, Nebraska shouldn’t worry. The number is fairly large, but giving the points is a good bet. I’m sure head coach Bo Pelini read the defense the riot act after the Western Kentucky game, so expect them to shut down a Vandals team that has the ability to score some points.

Colorado at California (-10) - The season started off well for the Buffaloes, but one game does not save head coach Dan Hawkins’ job. The athletes needed to compete on a week-in, week-out basis are just not there. This week gets tougher on the road against Cal, who pull away late against a tired defense and only win by a touchdown. Take the points.

Iowa State at Iowa (-13.5) - As I stated in the Big Ten preview, the game will be decided on the ground and will be close, so take the points. However, Cyclones quarterback Austen Arnaud can’t go and throw five interceptions again like he did in last year’s edition. If that happens, there is no chance of winning.

McNeese State at Missouri (Off) - This one is simple. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert builds upon the Illinois game, throws three touchdowns, and gets a head start on preparing for San Diego State next week.

Troy at Oklahoma State (-13.5) - The game was six days ago, but the Cowboys may still be scoring points against Washington State. Facing Troy, the trend continues, including monster numbers from running back Kendall Hunter. Three touchdowns seems like a fair margin.

Buffalo at Baylor (-16.5) - Beating a mediocre MAC team at home shouldn’t be a problem for an improved Baylor team, who believe they can finish in the upper half of the Big XII South this season. Whether or not they can actually make that leap won’t be answered until conference play starts and the competition gets tougher. Plus, I think Buffalo covers late.

Louisiana Tech at Texas A&M (-19.5) - Texas A&M constructed a schedule this season front-loaded with cream puffs. Louisiana Tech won’t be the worst team they face, but they aren’t good enough to win. The Aggie run defense has another big week, as does quarterback Jerrod Johnson. Do I even need to say it? Okay…give the points.

Wyoming at Texas (-28.5) - Running back Tre’ Newton, who scored three touchdowns against Rice, won’t need to carry the offense this week as quarterback Garrett Gilbert is given a little more to do from head coach Mack Brown. Not much else to say about this one other than it won’t be close.

Missouri State at Kansas State (Off) - Getting quarterback Carson Coffman to throw for more than 66 yards is the only thing the Wildcats need to worry about in this game. I don’t see this game producing a shocking result.

Texas Tech at New Mexico (+24) - Can the Red Raiders match Oregon and beat the Lobos 72-0? Probably not, but quarterback Taylor Potts and company will try their best. New head coach Tommy Tuberville’s revamped defense looks even better this week than they did against SMU, and the Red Raiders romp. It will be interesting to see how many New Mexico fans will still be in attendance by the end of the third quarter.

Big XII Game of the Week

Florida State at Oklahoma (-7) - Both teams look like they can score points. Florida State did beat Samford 59-6, so this may come down to the defenses. Oklahoma’s defense looked a little shaky against Utah State, but still forced 4 turnovers. My guess is Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has another big day, but Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray breaks the game open with a late run and the Sooners win by 9. Oklahoma runs its home winning streak to 32.

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 10:00 AM

September 10, 2010

Defense Still a Concern, but Auburn has a QB in Newton

It may not have been as flashy as his week one performance, but Cameron Newton showed the SEC that his has some brains to go with his skills in Auburn’s 17-14 victory on the road against Mississippi State on Thursday night.

Faced with one of the stiffer SEC defenses and the Southern equivalent of the vuvuzela — the cowbell — Newton put together 206 yards of offense and threw two touchdown passes. What was more important though were the passes that he didn’t throw.

Continue reading "Defense Still a Concern, but Auburn has a QB in Newton"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:30 AM

Big Number Country - Previewing the Big Ten for Week 2

After a week where many teams in the Big Ten delivered impressive performances, the schedule gets a little tougher. Penn State has to go on the road to face the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide, while Ohio State looks to beat a very good Miami team at home and boost its BCS credentials.

Other teams will look to beat up on FCS foes as the warm-up for conference season continues. This can be a no-win situation. The tendency to overlook these opponents is common, and a loss in one of these games can be detrimental to a team as the season continues. Just ask Michigan in 2007… or Ole Miss last weekend.

On to the picks.

Illinois State at Northwestern (Off) - In their first game, Northwestern escaped Nashville with a narrow win over Vanderbilt. Their only viable running back appears to be quarterback Dan Persa, who impressed in his debut for the Wildcats. hat could spell trouble against better opponents, but shouldn’t matter this week. Northwestern returns home and handles the Redbirds easily.

Continue reading "Big Number Country - Previewing the Big Ten for Week 2"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 10:00 AM

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 2 Preview

pac10-logo.pngHorse racing, Grand Ole Opry, Stax Records, Graceland.

BBQ, Andrew Johnson, Sun Records, Elvis.

That’s what I know about Tennessee.

Actually, after today I know a few more things, such as not only does mildly insane Vols coach Derek Dooley believe that he should control who writes about his program, he also seems to need to provide players pointers on personal hygiene habits.

Dooley adds much needed drama to a fairly weak slate this week in the Pac-10, as Oregon heads to Rocky Top on Saturday to face off against the presumably well-groomed Volunteers.

Oregon had perhaps the best opening week of any team in college football, and they look to be clear favorites, even on the road against a traditional powerhouse. Tennessee is a less than vibrant program at the moment, and even though they humbled Tennessee-Martin 50-0 in the opener, the young offense is going to have trouble against a stout Oregon defense. The line is down to 12, take Oregon and lay the points.

With Washington State playing the likes of Montana State (the Bobcats, I checked), Arizona playing the Citadel and Arizona State matched up against the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona, we’ll focus on other, more interesting match-ups this week.

Continue reading "Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 2 Preview"

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 7:30 AM

September 9, 2010

Big East Coast BiACC: A Big East Bonanza in Week Two

Big East football … yes, they do still play organized football in the Big East.

While the Conference might not be as strong as it once was, it was strong once as it ever was.

New beginnings and established powerhouses dominate the headlines this season in the Big East.

Will Charlie Strong build a winner at Louisville?

Can Doug Marrone remind ‘Cuse fans of the McNabb-to-Harrison days?

Will Dave Wannstedt’s mustache ever grow in completely?

These questions along with Rutgers’ emergence under Greg Schiano and the exciting cat-like speed of West Virginia’s Noel Devine give Big East football a legitimate leg to stand on.

Week Two in the Big East provides a delectable slate of games for fans to digest.

Friday Night:
West Virginia at Marshall (+12.5) - While West Virginia is not THE Ohio State University, it can still put up points in a hurry, and Marshall sure can give up points in a hurry as well. Look for Noel Devine to run circles around the Thundering Herd’s defense. Sophomore Geno Smith is coming off of an impressive season debut against Tyler Thigpen’s alma mater Coastal Carolina. He should continue that level of play this week. Take West Virginia, lay the points and reap the benefits.

Saturday games:
South Florida at Florida (-15) - Nobody will confuse Stony Brook for the Florida Gators so Skip Holtz’s team is in for a rough one this Saturday. Even without the “Football Jesus”, the Gators and John Brantley will be just fine. B.J. Daniels and company are in for a long day in the Swamp as Florida is out to prove their worthwhile the Bulls are still adjusting to a new coaching regime. 15 is a high number, but Go Gators and trust Urban.

Syracuse at Washington (-13.5) - Two second-year head coaches; two programs coming back from the depths of the abyss. One six-plus hour flight. If last year is any indication, Washington will cruise to victory at home. While they couldn’t do a thing in anyone else’s stadium last year, they were a top 25 team at home. Jack Locker has to earn all of the hype, and it is not possible for Syracuse to be that much better so soon. Take Washington minus the points and look for Jake Locker to take a big step towards the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL First-Year Player Selection Meeting.

Rutgers at Florida International (+19.5) - New Jersey is once again abuzz about Rutgers’ football. The running attack had a banner day against Norfolk State (key words: Norfolk State) and Rutgers shut out the Spartans for the victory. FIU is coming off of the all-important week one BYE so this is an easy tilt to predict given all of the valuable information. FIU will prove to be a tougher test for Rutgers whose unproven passing game might slow them up a bit this week. Take International and the points but don’t worry Garden State faithful; Coach Schiano will get the ‘W’.

And now it is time for your weekly dose of the MRI Big East Patsy Party. Starring in this week’s episode are: Connecticut, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Butch Jones and Charlie Strong should earn their first victories at their respective schools when Cincinnati beats the Sycamores of Indiana St. and Louisville triumphs over Dan Patrick’s alma mater Eastern Kentucky.

Connecticut and Pittsburgh look to bounce back from tough week one losses. The Wann-stache Bash hosts New Hampshire while UConn travels to Houston to take on the Tigers of Texas Southern.

Posted by Brian McCabe at 7:30 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC preview, Week 2

It is a little sad that the most interesting thing about the SEC season so far is who hasn’t been playing.

First it was Mark Ingram not playing for Alabama, along with LSU facing a half-baked North Carolina squad.

This week, Mark Ingram will again be missing, along with Georgia’s A.J. Green, who after missing last week voluntarily, will be missing the next three weeks because he made $1000 from selling his game-worn bowl jersey.

Here is a pointer for all those football players out there as to whether something violates an NCAA rule. If it involves money, and we are talking any money, even a $5 burrito, it is probably not allowed. When it involves $1000 for your jersey, it most definitely is not right.

When in doubt, ask the kicker.

The rust that plagued the SEC in week one may finally have been shed which means that teams might start to look like who they were supposed to be when the year began.

That can only be a good thing because the strength of opponents has definitely taken a step up this week, including the opening of intra-conference games.

However, a few of the lines this week baffle me, because of what occurred on the field last weekend.

Continue reading "Southern Exposure: SEC preview, Week 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:00 AM

September 8, 2010

Heisman Watch 2010: Week 1 - Just getting warmed up

What would be the bonus if Reggie Bush actually returned his Heisman Trophy? Think of the money they could save by just recycling it and putting a new name plate on the front.

Of course, Bush isn’t really going to give back the trophy without someone prying it from his hands. And I am not sure he actually should give it back.

I am no USC apologist. They broke the rules, and they were almost encouraged to do it by all the media attention thrown at them while they played for title after title.

Getting their comeuppance from Vince Young in the Rose Bowl after ESPN had already crowned them the greatest football team ever seemed only appropriate and knocked the mighty Trojans back a few steps over the next several seasons.

It wasn’t showtime in L.A. anymore. It was just football.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2010: Week 1 - Just getting warmed up"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC Week 1 recap, or getting the rust off

Perhaps it is a good thing that the SEC choose to schedule a few “lesser” squads during their first week.

The rust after months without real game play seemed to be pretty thick based on the play during week one.

Forget that most of the games ended in blowouts in favor of the SEC squad. It was the beginnings that mattered. Watching new quarterbacks and running backs gaffe their way through the opening quarters in games against any team that was more difficult that Tennessee-Martin showed why this season may be the end to the title streak for the conference.

Take LSU, a top 25 team, playing against a North Carolina team that was missing almost all of their defense and their starting running back.

First, you should never be trailing in that situation. You need to run that team into the ground early.

And when you build a 20-point lead at halftime, it should not disappear to where you are sweating out the final minutes of the game.

You are a top 25 team. Play like it.

Maybe North Carolina is a lot better than they were given credit for if they could almost beat LSU with half of their backups bearing the brunt of the plays. Give all the credit to T.J. Yates for leading that team back. But LSU should be more than they showed. [Ed. Note: And how dare North Carolina to come that close to covering when this column went out on a limb to pick them. Finish the job!]

And let’s not forget the embarrassment that Jacksonville State caused Mississippi. No matter how far down you are in any season in the SEC, there is no excuse for losing to a Jacksonville State.

The Gamecocks came back from 21 down to shock the Rebels in double overtime. They did the smartest thing they could by going for two at the end of that second extra period, ensuring that the game would end then and there.

As an undermanned squad, trading touchdowns with the big boys wasn’t a trend that would last forever. It was the same tactic that Boise State used in the Fiesta Bowl when they beat Oklahoma. And just like then — although with less misdirection and on a smaller stage — it worked.

With that kind of opening, you have to wonder if Mississippi will win a game in the conference this season. After all, even Vanderbilt came close to beating a Northwestern team that has some talent is expected to cause trouble in the Big Ten.

Three final notes to close out this first week:

  1. The John Brantley era could be painful for Florida fans: The Gator defense is clearly ahead of the Florida offense at this stage, through no fault of Brantley’s. But winning games, or at least getting leads, based on turnovers and defense stops doesn’t come as easily once conference season begins. Brantley looks like a slightly more mobile version of Chris Leak in the pocket. And we know how much Gator fans loved Leak.

    Brantley can throw but he isn’t going to be the dual threat that Tim Tebow was, and there is no chance of turning him into that. Expect to see Trey Burton sub in, much as Tebow did during Leak’s final year, when a few quarterback sneak yards are needed.

  2. South Carolina could be a surprise winner in the East this season. Their performance against a top of the heap Conference USA squad was even better than advertised, and even Spurrier thinks that this is his best team yet. [Ed. Note: The MRI has been waiting for them to break through for 5 years now.] This weekend’s game against Georgia could go a long way toward determining which direction the Gamecocks (SEC version) are headed.

  3. It is still surprising that Auburn didn’t cover the 31 point spread despite playing at home against a lesser opponent at night. The Tigers’ defense which should be strong considering head coach Gene Chizik is known for, get this, defense, allowed 26 points to Arkansas State. Who? Arkansas State.

    Perhaps the Auburn offense was just too good. Cameron Newton surely made a name for himself this week, accounting for 357 yards of offense and five touchdowns on the night. He orchestrated drives, if you can call them that, that were so quick the Tiger defense barely had time for a cup of Gatorade before they were back on the field.

    As a result, Auburn actually lost the time of possession game, holding the ball for almost nine fewer minuters than the Red Wolves.

Or maybe it was that pesky rust.

Either way, Southern Exposure had to shake off a little rust after the long off-season. We went 4-5 in games against the spread this week, thanks to Auburn, LSU, Vandy, Kentucky and Alabama playing a little too well for a little too long.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:30 AM

September 7, 2010

Late Night with Pac-10: Week 1 Review

pac10-logo.pngWith the kick off of the Pac-10 season, the opening slate seemed to confirm that while there is some turnover at the top of the league, Oregon is clearly the team to beat.

Out in Hawaii, USC got off to an unsteady start, rolling on offense but struggling in the second half to stop the Hawaii offense. They ultimately prevailed 49-36, but the result suggests that USC will be in a lot of shootouts this season, and that they may struggle against the stronger defenses present in the top half of the conference.

One of those stronger defenses was on display in Toledo, as Arizona got their season underway on the road against the Rockets. In a dominating performance, the U of A took the game 41-2, with only a safety sparing Toledo a shutout.

Continue reading "Late Night with Pac-10: Week 1 Review"

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 11:30 PM

Boise State survived, but can they do it again against Oregon State

Boise State showed the nation again Monday night that given the chance, they can play with anyone in college football as they beat Virginia Tech 33-30 in front of 87,000 fans and with the whole nation watching.

By coach Chris Petersen’s reaction though, you would think they had lost the game.

A sullen Petersen told ESPN, “We’re just pleased to get out of here with a ‘W.’”

Maybe it is because the toll of starting the season ranked so highly and with so much riding on every game.

Or maybe it is that he knows his team stole one, a game where they looked fabulous in the first half and then slowly wore down after the break.

Continue reading "Boise State survived, but can they do it again against Oregon State"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:30 AM

September 3, 2010

On The Field: USC Begins Kiffin Era With Win, Questions

The Lane Kiffin era officially began with a 49-36 win over Hawaii.

It will continue with the same questions that have haunted Kiffin everywhere he has been.

USC’s talent eventually overcame the Warriors, even though Hawaii proved they can probably play with 90 percent of the teams in the country after their gutsy offensive performance.

The tipping point came midway through the third quarter when Ronald Johnson piled on the speed as he returned a Hawaii punt 89 yards for a touchdown. The score put USC up 34-16 and the momentum from that score seemed to ignite a fire under the Trojans.

They never needed to look back again even though Hawaii chewed up large chunks of the field on every possession and scored almost as easily as the Trojans.

There were three things that stood out during the game:

Continue reading "On The Field: USC Begins Kiffin Era With Win, Questions"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:02 AM

September 2, 2010

Big Number Country: Big Ten Preview Week 1

The first weekend of games for the Big Ten conference feature some match-ups that may not look impressive, but it’s still the first game of the season, so the possibility for a letdown should never be discounted.

Ohio State is the logical choice to win the conference title again, but there are possibly five other teams that have a realistic chance at winning the last championship before the conference begins a divisional format in 2011.

Iowa and Wisconsin both return veteran lineups and have favorable schedules that should help them compete with the Buckeyes.

Penn State has a question mark at quarterback, but should still end up near the top.

Even Northwestern and Michigan State have upgraded their talent and stand an outside chance at being atop the standings.

The rest of the conference may not have the talent to compete with the teams above, but once conference play rolls around, there won’t be an easy game on the schedule.

Here’s what to expect for week one:

Continue reading "Big Number Country: Big Ten Preview Week 1"

Posted by Alexander Miraski at 3:00 PM

Southern Exposure: SEC Week 1 Preview

They should change the name of the SEC. Maybe the Dynasty conference would be more appropriate.

The SEC has won five of the last seven National Title games and four in a row. There is little reason to believe that they won’t have at least a representative in the game this season, most likely the winner of the Western Division.

Alabama looks ready for another run, with Arkansas hot on their heels. And neither of the teams should sleep on Auburn this season, who draws all of their tough games at home.

Yes, that means an Iron Bowl that might actually mean something this year.

As usual, the season will kick off with the SEC playing a few creampuffs to get their bearings before the crush of conference play.

Here are the picks for the opening weekend.

Thursday Night:

Southern Mississippi at South Carolina (-14) - There are a lot of rumors that Spurrier is on the hot seat in South Carolina. Understandable since he hasn’t gotten it done in his five years there. Granted he has run into two very hot Florida teams and the rest of the East has been less than kind. Changing him out would be a mistake considering South Carolina wouldn’t be expected to do much of anything without him. Southern Miss won’t be expected to do much of anything against him. Take South Carolina and lay the points

Saturday:

Miami (Ohio) at Florida (-36.5) - It is a new era in Gainesville with Tim Tebow playing on Sundays. Florida will still have a high-powered attack, but it might take a few games before it is truly on display. Take Miami and the points.

Louisiana Lafayette at Georgia (-28) - Do we even need to talk about this? Even with Georgia breaking in a new QB, expect the Bulldogs to cover.

Kentucky at Louisville (+3) - My how the Cardinals have fallen. Remember when they were in the hunt for a title? Now they are the underdog at home against Kentucky. This seems like a trap bet to me. Take Louisville and the points and pray for the push.

Arkansas State at Auburn (-31) - Auburn, at night, at home, against no one? Take the Tigers.

San Jose State at Alabama (-37) - I would have been more confident that Alabama would cover this game had Ingram been healthy and playing. Then the Tide would have been trotting out two mega star running backs back to back. As it is, they will only have Trent Richardson running the ball. That should be enough to win — showing up is good enough to win this one — but not to cover since I expect the starters to rest after halftime. Take San Jose State.

Memphis at Mississippi State (-21.5) - Memphis is one of the bottom teams in Conference USA this season, but Mississippi State isn’t expected to do much either. Are the conferences that much different? You bet. Take Mississippi State and lay the points.

Northwestern at Vanderbilt (+4.5) - A new coach at Vandy but the same results. Northwestern should easily cover.

LSU at North Carolina (+4.5) - North Carolina could be without a healthy chunck of its team come Saturday night. Since they are only getting 4.5 even without 18 players, that is a signal that LSU is not as strong as we are used to seeing. I think there is a little extra motivation for Butch Davis’ team so I say take North Carolina.

The rest of the patsy party: Arkansas (vs. Tennessee Tech), Tennessee (vs. Tennessee-Martin), Mississippi (vs. Jacksonville State).

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:00 AM

September 1, 2010

Heisman Watch 2010: 25 candidates or more? Try 5 at best

There are Heisman lists and then there are Heisman lists. MRISports has never been shy about having a long list, but it has never listed 25 players, even if it is a preseason list.

ESPN though has no qualms about this. The World Wide Leader decided to have 25 players on its Heisman Hype list, a list that apparently only appeared on the mobile website, as I couldn’t find it on the normal website. The list they chose to post there had just 20 players in a slideshow. Even better, the list was different.

So ESPN has apparently identified more than 25 players who they think might have a chance to be the best player in college football this season. The sad part is that they are dead wrong.

There won’t be 25 players who even have a sniff at the award. At best there are five players who even have a shot, and that is after Mark Ingram went down with his knee injury. (By the way, does anyone not believe in the Heisman jinx now? If you come back, you are destined to have something happen that derails your season.)

Here is the list of who the MRI will be watching as the season opens Thursday with the biggest drawback to their candidacy for the award.

The Contenders:

  1. Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas) - Mallett is likely the most polished quarterback in college football. He has the arm and the smarts to succeed in the NFL which doesn’t always lead to success. However, Mallett was smart enough to get out of Michigan when the writing was on the wall and he has placed himself in the best situation for his future. To start the season, I believe he may be the best candidate for the award, provided his team helps him. Demerit: Arkansas is one of those “On the Verge” teams. If they stumble early, or Mallett doesn’t perform against the better teams on the schedule (even in a loss), he can say goodbye to the award.

  2. Terrelle Pryor (QB, Ohio State) - Pryor is the latest in the line of Ohio State quarterbacks that all basically look the same. That works in his favor because Troy Smith was able to win the award using that skill set. Pryor will need to be perfect to win the award, but just running through the Big Ten schedule should be enough to get him to New York. Demerit: Troy Smith won with the same skill set, and that was after an undefeated season that took Ohio State to the title game. Ohio State got embarassed in that game, which showed that Smith wasn’t as good as it appeared. That could stand in the way of the voters picking another Buckeye quarterback without some huge numbers.

  3. DeMarco Murray (RB, Oklahoma) - In the mold of Adrian Peterson, Murray will be running all day for Oklahoma. Because Oklahoma will also be running for the title all season long, he will also get a lot of attention from the voters thanks to the miracle of television. Demerit: Murray hasn’t been the most sturdy of backs in his career, somewhat like Peterson. Look for an injury or two to derail this campaign.

  4. Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State) - Moore is supposed to lead the Broncos to the title game. Everyone is dreading that in the BCS era, saying that Boise couldn’t possibly compete if they were in another division. What they are really saying is that Moore will put up some stats against some less than stellar competition, and stats are what a lot of voters will base their decision on. Demerit: That Boise State after his name will cause a lot of people to steer clear. You have to go back to 1990 and a very different era and BYU team to find a winner who came from a conference outside the big six.

  5. Jake Locker (QB, Washington) - If you listen to Mel Kiper, Jake Locker is a … well, lock, to succeed at the next level. He has been on a series of less than great teams in his career but that could change this season. If Washington can contend for the PAC-10 title, Locker will be in the running here. Demerit: Locker will be playing most of his games after everyone is either buzzed or asleep. That won’t help him very much outside of the West region.

Five others who have the best chance of displacing the true contenders (In alphabetical order): Matt Barkley (QB, USC), Noel Devine (RB, West Virginia), Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama), Jerrod Johnson (QB, Texas A&M), Jacquizz Rodgers (RB, Oregon State)

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:45 PM

Late Night with the Pac-10: Week 1 Preview

pac10-logo.pngThe new football season in the Pac-10 starts what may well be a roller coaster season for the conference. Despite potential breakout teams such as Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Stanford, the USC postseason ban sidelines the conference’s perennial title contender. While the Pac-10 does have a number of teams that could emerge on the national stage, a couple of key losses could see the whole conference sink into anonymity.

Week 1 predictions:

Arizona at Toledo (+16) - An Arizona team with a potent offense, passable defense and an weak road record over the last few seasons means that they win, but take Toledo and the points.

New Mexico at Oregon (-34) - Oregon has to replace QB Jeremiah Masoli, but the odds suggest that bettors don’t expect the offense to miss a beat. The Pac-10 champs from a year ago start with a win, but take New Mexico and the points.

Oregon State at TCU (-13.5) - OSU is a difficult team to pin down, but it seems likely that TCU backs up their 12-1 season with an opening victory, and a big one. Lay the 13.5 and take TCU.

Washington State at Oklahoma State (-15.5) - A Washington State team that went 1-11 last season goes into this game at Oklahoma State as only a 15.5 point underdog? Take OSU, and don’t look back.

Washington at BYU (-3) - One of the opening week’s hidden gems, this matchup may well determine the season long arcs for both these teams. Given the usual three-point home advantage, this game is a virtual pick ‘em. BYU in a close one, but you’ll have to lay the three.

USC at Hawaii (+21.5) - A tumultuous off season leads to this, the first game of the Lane Kiffin era. It will take a couple of weeks for Kiffin’s ineptitude as a coach to shine through, but for this game at least, his recruiting and returning players mean that USC wins big. Lay the points and take USC.

UCLA at Kansas State (-1.5) - A tough game to call between two teams expected to have very modest conference finishes, take the home team and lay the 1.5.

These last three are off the board due to the weak competition, so expect blowouts in favor of the Pac-10 teams: Cal (vs. UC Davis), Stanford (vs. Sacramento State), Arizona State (vs. Portland State).

Posted by Jeff Popelka at 6:30 PM

August 30, 2010

A signal of greatness: What an finish outside the top 10 means

Our sports culture is obsessed with rankings, especially at the top.

And while I have kept records of the best MRIs since the football rankings began, the more interesting part of the final numbers are those teams who finish No. 11 - No. 25 the previous year.

Are these teams on the verge of something great, or was it a fluke because of a great finish to the season.

Here are five teams to watch going into the 2010 - 2011 season starting Thursday night:

Continue reading "A signal of greatness: What an finish outside the top 10 means"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:00 PM

July 20, 2010

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Bowl Final

Alabama’s big win in the National Title game allowed the Crimson Tide to overtake Texas and capture the 2009-2010 MRI crown.

Florida, a team that lost only a single game all season — Alabama in the SEC Championship, — finished second. Texas fell to third with their loss.

In the context of history, the Alabama final ranking didn’t even place the Tide in the top 10 MRI scores since the 2003-4 season (the first season for the football rankings).

It was good enough to finish at No. 5 in terms of “champions” of the MRI, the BCS, or the AP (only teams that “won” the championship are ranked on those lists).

Check out all the final rankings in the bowl final edition of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Bowl Final"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Regular Season Final

The final regular season rankings from 2010 for your viewing pleasure.

According to the computer, Texas should have faced TCU in the title game.

The other BCS bowls may have been filled as follows:

  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon
  • Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Penn State
  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Cincinnati
  • Fiesta Bowl: Florida vs. Boise State

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Regular Season Final"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:00 PM

July 19, 2010

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 10

Week 10 of the MRI for your archival pleasure.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 10"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:15 PM

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 9

Football is starting again soon, so I thought it might be nice to finally put up the tail end of last year’s rankings.

They have been done for a while, but just not published to the site, partially because of a back-end upgrade and partially because I was swamped.

Check out all the rankings in week nine of the MRI

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 9"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:00 PM

November 18, 2009

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 8

A few weeks ago, the lament began.

Never had a season this blah been in front of the nation. The rabid fan base that follows college football everywhere was in for a massive letdown.

Not even the playoff that everyone seems in chorus for could save this one.

And now the season appears to be in an even worse state than before, given the latest MRI numbers.

This is no offense to Texas, who have done what has been expected of them coming into the year.

And this is no offense to TCU who has the first legitimate chance to do something no other non-automatic qualifier has done and make an appearance in the National Championship game. (Didn't everyone think it would have been an overrated Notre Dame? )

But this year's crop of teams is terrible. Does anyone honestly believe that Ohio State might be the 6th best team in the country? Or that Oklahoma deserves a spot in the top 10?

Yet, those are the numbers that shake out of this thing.

This season could have the nation looking at the worst top 10 teams ever. Last year was bad. This year looks like the pee-wee leagues that provide halftime entertainment.

It is no surprise that this season is the year of the BCS busters. TCU and Boise State are both legitimate candidates for BCS bowls.

And beyond the one of the pair that will likely earn an automatic spot in the BCS, the other will possibly be left on the outside.

Now that would be a joke. If the standings hold, TCU would earn the automatic spot and Boise State would be left in the snow -- probably literally given the bowl choices the WAC has.

Does anyone believe that Boise isn't more deserving than a second team from the Big Ten, or the Pac-10?

Yet, the bowls will go for the big name rather than give another underdog a shot at the big boys, all but guaranteeing a lackluster affair that will draw more snores than viewers, especially given the drawn-out schedule. Despite the projections out there, college bowl officials just are creative enough to step out of their comfort zone and pick a wildcard.

There are more shocks in the MRI this week -- just try to find USC in the top 25 this week -- but that is best left for the reader to savor themselves.

Check out all the surprises in week eight of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 8"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:05 PM

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 7

For your archival pleasure, the MRI rankings from week seven of the season.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 7"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:02 PM

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 6

For your archival pleasure, the MRI rankings from week six of the season.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 6"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:23 AM

October 28, 2009

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 5

I can't remember a football season this disappointing. It isn't that the games are exciting. But the lack of depth at the top of the rankings is just sad.

I am reveling in the race for the top spot as much as anyone. However, we only have three teams to root for.

Everyone else is officially an also-ran right now, and that is not making for an exciting season.

Even the leaders leave something to be desired. They don't put teams away. They don't distinguish themselves. They are just the best of a mediocre pack.

Take this week's top 25 in the MRI. I can't remember the last time that we had a ranked team with a losing record.

But there one is this week -- Tennessee at No. 22. The whole country is so blah that teams can't knock out a less than .500 squad.

And back at the top, we have our three blind mice, who can't see that putting a little distance on the rest of the group might be a good thing sooner rather than later.

It is as if they are waiting for the upset to happen, so they don't have to carry the mantle of the best team in the country. And the way they all are playing, that upset is coming.

Poised to take their spots are the George Masons of football: TCU and Boise State, who are putting opponents away, but boast schedules that leave something to be desired.

Otherwise, the debate we would be having is not 'Who is No. 1?' but rather 'What happened to the perennial powerhouses?'

At this point, I am hoping that one of the outsiders can crack that top group.

Better yet, I hope they both do.

Check out all the rankings in week 5 of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 5"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:32 PM

October 20, 2009

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 4

ALabama, football, college football

Alabama's defense celebrates
backing into the No. 1 spot.
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

What happens when the No. 1 and 2 teams both win, but neither looks great doing it?

Chaos!

No, not chaos, but close enough. Alabama and Florida both lost ground this week in the MRI. Neither particularly deserved to gain any points after their lackluster wins against South Carolina and Arkansas.

But neither did they deserve to lose those top two spots given that Texas had its hands full taking out Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout.

They could still switch places though, and that is exactly what happened. And while these two have a little spat to decide who is really No. 1, the rest of the country is mired in mediocrity.

No one seems to want to step up and move toward the front of the pack. Whether it is because of poor scheduling, or just parity in the league, every team from Boise State down to No. 25 Pittsburgh is within 20 points of each other.

Teams are changing places in the rankings like they were shuffling inside a crowded elevator. Only right now, that elevator doesn't get any higher than the fifth floor from the top and no one seems to want to stay on that floor for any length of time.

Time to check out all the rankings in week four of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:22 PM

October 14, 2009

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 3

Florida, football, college football

Tim Tebow managed to get away
from LSU. But can he keep the rest
of the country at bay in the MRI?
(AP Photo/Bill Haber)

LSU tried its best. But maybe Tim Tebow really is superman?

After all, the kryptonite that was his own lineman's knee didn't seem to slow him enough to drop the Gators, either on the field or in the MRI.

Alabama did close the gap again between themselves and their SEC foes but given the way the two teams are playing, it looks like it will take until the SEC championship before this one gets sorted out.

And it appears that one of the SEC competitors for the title has fallen aside, leaving the path even more wide open. Auburn took a tumble against Arkansas, taking at least a little of the pressure off the Iron Bowl game at the end of November.

While Texas waits for one of the two teams to slip up, Boise State is battling a less-than-stellar schedule and hoping that it will be enough. The Broncos face a tough test against Tulsa, but will it be enough to improve their MRI standing?

Check out the gap that they need to overcome in this week's MRI.




Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:16 PM

October 7, 2009

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 2

Florida, football, college football

Lots of questions remain for No. 1 Florida
(AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, Aaron E. Daye)

Florida sat at home and watched their lead in the MRI dwindle.

Now they have to worry about it totally going away. With Tim Tebow still in doubt for Saturday, the Gators have the spectres of Alabama and Texas looming.

Alabama had little trouble with Kentucky last week and now Mississippi is on the calendar, a game that if the Tide can win should bolster their MRI points by quite a bit.

Texas prepares to take on Colorado, who is looking like the doormat of the Big 12 this season. Following that, the Longhorns will have three-straight ranked teams on the slate, which could mean a big move in terms of SOS for Texas.

That normally translates into big points in the MRI formula.

Further back are Boise State and Auburn, still undefeated, and still hungry to make some noise.

Auburn will have its chance to show off against Alabama later in the year, if they survive. But Boise State will be an interesting case this season if they can go 12-0. They may have a Utah-like beef against the BCS if they are left out, especially if Oregon continues to play well, and maybe knocks off a USC later in the season.

But there is still a lot of football to be played. Until then, you can see all the rankings in week 2 of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:58 AM

September 27, 2009

MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 1

Florida, football, college football

Could Florida be in trouble at No. 1 now
that Tebow is down?
(AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

After four weeks of supposed upsets, the computer has crunched the numbers and the MRI has returned.

Now we will get to see where the true upsets are occurring in college football.

One place that they have not been occurring is Gainesville, Fla. The carry-over from Tim Tebow's heartfelt speech has lasted at least through the first four weeks this year.

But we finally found the Kryptonite to the Gators' Superman. Who knew it was his own lineman's knee?

Now with Tebow sidelined, will Florida be able to hold onto the top spot that they have owned since the eighth week of last season?

It might be difficult because SEC conference mate Alabama has been solid over the first quarter of the season. Where was the upset that so many were calling for this past week?

Not at Alabama.

Instead the trip-up occurred out at Penn State, where for the second year in a row, Iowa ruined the Nittany Lion BCS championship dreams.

Prior to the loss, it looked as if Penn State would be near the top of the MRI rankings again. Instead, they are No. 25.

Check out all the rankings in week one of the MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2009 - Rankings Week 1"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:07 PM

May 6, 2009

Northwestern Examiner: Northwestern could benefit from Big Ten expansion

There was a time when I though the game had passed Joe Paterno by. I was wrong.

Say what you will about the often gruff coach – he’s old, he can’t relate to kids, the game has passed him by – but he is usually correct. And by the way, like me, you would be wrong on all three counts.

Never one to hold his tongue, Paterno said last week that he would like to see the Big Ten expand to 12 teams, enabling the also-ran conference to create a championship game and play later into the season. The wizened one said he thought that the extra team and game would allow the Big Ten to stay in the minds of the media (read voters) later and possibly get the conference more shots at the National Title.

It is a tough sell, not only because commissioner Jim Delaney has already turned it down, but because the last leagues to try and make waves through expansion haven’t yet shown that it works.

Yet, when Paterno talks, we should listen. After all he was the first to conceive of an East Coast football conference – it became the Big East, but ironically without Penn State.

Plus, with Penn State the relative newcomer to the Big Ten, Paterno can almost speak from an outsider’s point of view. It is not like the Nittany Lions have a strong tie to the Rose Bowl like the rest of the league seems to have.

No, Penn State and JoePa are just the right messengers to push change onto the league that seems perpetually stuck in the 1950s (Now talk about irony!).

Read the rest of this story at Examiner.com.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 7:14 PM

April 29, 2009

Northwestern Examiner: Wildcat free agent signings could crack NFL squads

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance”

A chance was all Lloyd Christmas wanted, and he managed to eventually get it.
But for some reason or another, a piddly little chance has eluded Northwestern players on draft weekend over the past three seasons.

Sure Evanston has never been a hot bed of NFL talent, but usually there is one player in every class that is at least worth a sniff. The Wildcats had never gone three straight years without having at least one player draft.

But the last time any ‘Cat heard their name was 2006, which seems likes a distant memory these days. Northwestern had three players get the call that year: defensive tackle Barry Cofield, offensive lineman Zach Strief and linebacker Tim McGarigle.

The best hope this year to break the shutout was Tyrell Sutton, but concerns over injuries and size probably negated any shot of him being “reserved” by a pro team.

But what do pro scouts know? They hit as often as they miss no matter if it is the first or the seventh round. For every Peyton Manning, there is usually a Ryan Leaf.

At least Pat Fitzgerald wasn’t upset about it enough to complain in the media like Mike Leach did. You would have thought Leach had learned to keep his mouth shut after he and the administration battled over his contract in the media at the end of last season.

Still the chance to make an NFL team may not have escaped Northwestern’s graduating seniors just yet.

Three former Wildcats signed free agent contracts on Sunday night, long after Mr. Irrelevant finished his champagne celebration.

Sutton, John Gill and Eric Peterman all inked deals with NFC North squads with the hope of taking their careers to the next level.

Going undrafted probably means it is a long shot at best that a player will see the field on Sunday, but even if it is just for completeness, I asked my fellow Examiners who cover the pro squads to give me their best guess on what – if any – impact that Northwestern’s former stars will have at the next level.

Get all the insight and read the rest of this article at Examiner.com.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:35 AM

January 10, 2009

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Bowl Final

Urban Meyer poses with a nicer trophy than the MRI can give him.The MRI would like to congratulate its 2008-2009 champion, the Florida Gators. Florida cemented its hold on the No. 1 spot in the computer rankings with its 24-14 victory over Oklahoma.

By losing the Sooners fell to third in the rankings, still ahead of a Texas team that is probably still smarting since it beat Oklahoma by the same margin as Florida managed in the championship game.

Moving into the No. 2 position was not Utah as in the AP poll. Instead, it was a USC team that proved itself against Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

The upstart Utes only improved to No. 8 moving ahead of the Alabama Crimson Tide that it beat in the Sugar Bowl.

And for those BCS lovers out there, Virginia Tech also moved up into the rankings... that's the entire rankings since even the ACC winner was unranked after the season ended. The Hokies managed a No. 24 rankings after beating Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.

The MRI correctly predicted the winner of 21 of the 34 bowl games, a 61.8 percent mark. For the season, the computer predicted 72.92 percent of the games. All-time, the computer has chosen 70.92 percent of the winners.

Check out all the rankings in the bowl final edition of the MRI:

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Bowl Final"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 1:03 PM

January 7, 2009

The MRI vs. The World, Trophy Presentation Edition

Who cares that the crystal football hasn't been handed out. It's over.

No, I am not talking about Rick Reilly handing his mythical National Title to Utah.

The MRI vs. The World has officially been won.

Congratulations to Will Harris of ESPN, who has taken the title with 22 wins in the 33 bowl games that have been held so far this season.

Harris now holds a two point lead on the MRI, the Congrove Computer, Pat Forde and Bruce Feldman.

The World...well, you all finished in dead last, with 16 wins. That's right. You have a losing record so far this bowl season with Florida as your only hope to get to .500.

Good news, though. That would qualify you for a bowl game.

The MRI has reason to celebrate beyond finishing in a tie for second place.

For starters, it tied as the best computer this season.

Next, it beat Kirk Herbstreit, and will tie Bruce Feldman. Can't feel bad about that.

And if you go deeper, the MRI beat four of six Fantasy Sports writers on ESPN, and will beat or tie seven of the nine ESPN Sportscenter Anchors who played in the Bowl Mania challenge.

And for even more satisfaction, it beat another of the computer haters, Skip Bayless.

Overall, not a bad finish for a computer that started 1-5 and looked all but left for dead.

So, congratulations to all of this year's contestants, and a special "Wahoo!" to the MRI for its achievement. The computer looks forward to facing you all again next year.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:02 PM

Jagodzinski out at Boston College

In what is a evolving story, Jeff Jagodzinski has indeed been let go from his head coaching position at Boston College.

The announcement was made at a press conference held by Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo. Jagodzinski's status had been up in the air since he was reportedly threatened with termination if he interviewed with the NFL's New York Jets.

Jagodzinski met with the Jets on Tuesday which led to his firing today.

According to ESPN's Wendi Nix, defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani is expected to be named the interim head coach.

That would be an interesting move because Spaziani has also been involved in coaching rumors and could lead to an even bigger void at the top of the Golden Eagle staff.

Jagodzinski was 20-8 in two season as head coach, including two ACC Atlantic Division titles and a bowl win against Michigan State in last season's Citrus Bowl.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:12 PM

January 6, 2009

About Last Night: Fiesta Bowl Edition

And who says that bowl games don't mean anything to the participants?

Just when you thought that maybe Ohio State could shed that losing feeling, Colt McCoy comes and stomps on their heart. For the Buckeyes, there can be no more brutal way to lose.

Think about it. They just got shellacked against Florida two years ago. Last year, LSU toyed with them, letting the Buckeyes run out to a 10 point lead before just stomping on them.

And then there was last night. Ohio State seems to have the victory at hand. Just stop Texas and the Fiesta Bowl is yours.

But then there is the reach for a first down on 4th and 3. And then a total commitment to stopping the short passing game that left Quan Cosby with no chasers after breaking through the linebackers.

Yep, Ohio State has now been totally humiliated for the third straight season.

Maybe they should be thankful for 2005's Fiesta Bowl when they drew Notre Dame. Playing Notre Dame in a bowl game is like a gift from heaven. You can't possibly be humiliated, unless I guess you are Hawaii.

Continue reading "About Last Night: Fiesta Bowl Edition"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:55 AM

January 5, 2009

The MRI vs. The World, The Final Showdown Edition

The MRI might have felt like its hangover hit a day late. After sweeping through New Year's Day, the computer lost all three bowl games on January 2 before righting the ship on the third by picking Connecticut over Buffalo.

But because of the slips on the second, the MRI has kept itself from being in position to take the MRI vs. the World challenge title.

Instead that will be decided over the next few days during the final three games.

The contenders?

  • Will Harris of ESPN, who currently leads with 20 correct out of 31 games. Over the final three games, Will has Texas, Tulsa and Oklahoma as the winners. Harris needs wins from either Tulsa and Oklahoma to win the title straight out, but he must have one of those two games.
  • Bruce Feldman, also of ESPN, trails Harris by one victory. In the final three, Feldman has picked Texas, Ball State and Florida. Ball State and Florida are must wins if Feldman will take home the title, and he needs both victories.

The best news for the MRI is that it will either beat or tie all of the other computers in the challenge. Even better, the Harmon Forecast, so prominently places on CBS Sports, could be beaten by the MRI.

Ah, sweet victory.

So while the best the MRI can hope for is a second place finish, I don't think it is too wrong to be a little joyful about the bowl season after having such a miserable start that it looked like the MRI could flop.

But there are three more bowl games to go. Let's see what the spreadsheet says.

January 5, 2009

The Fiesta Bowl
Why to watch?: I find it humorous that Kirk Herbstreit was so diligent about sticking with the Big Ten through all of the bowl games, until the big ones. And that includes shunning his alma mater, Ohio State. Herbie pick Michigan State, Wisconsin and Northwestern. How did that work out? 0-fer, that's how. And now, when he has a chance to pick Ohio State to pull a shocker, he doesn't. Texas has been murdering opponents all season long, and its only loss came with a single second left on the clock. I can't believe that no matter how good Ohio State's defense may have been against almost everyone that they will find a way to stop both the passing and running attack of Texas. The only hope might be to somehow contain Colt McCoy enough that he is forced to make mistakes. And that just seems like a losing bet.

Texas HelmetTexas: The MRI, Harmon, Darst, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Feldman, Herbstreit, Harris, The World (90%)

Ohio State: None


January 6, 2009

The GMAC Bowl
Why to watch?: There should be a rule against this. There is no reason for there to be a bowl game this tangential played so late in the bowl season. Heck, this bowl game should have been played prior to the New Year. Tulsa was an MRI darling all season long, and I can hope that it can pay the bills again with a victory over Ball State. Heck, Ball State should be in total let down mode. Their coach is leaving, they ruined their chance at a perfect season by losing to Buffalo in the MAC championship and they are playing in Mobile, Ala. When there were so many better places to go and chances to take, you don't think these kids are disappointed. That should be the perfect formula for Tulsa to win, which should translate into a Will Harris championship.

Tulsa HelmetTulsa: The MRI, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Harris

Ball State: Harmon, Darst, Feldman, Herbstreit, The World (71%)

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World, The Final Showdown Edition"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:16 PM

January 2, 2009

The MRI vs. The World, Easing into the New Year edition

So it wasn't a hangover that kept me from posting the next round of The MRI vs. The World yesterday.

Instead it was a faulty router which took a good deal of the morning and afternoon before I could get it up and running again.

But while computer problems plagued posting, they didn't stop the MRI from going undefeated yesterday in the five New Year's bowl games.

The biggest game up for grabs was the Orange Bowl which saw Virginia Tech's stellar defense stifle Cincinnati's offense to the tune of four turnovers. Beamer Ball was alive and well in Miami.


It was pleasing to see Frank Beamer so happy to finally break through and win that BCS game. It had been an 0-fer until last night and you could see the big weight come off of Beamer's shoulders with the win. He couldn't wait long enough to pass out the Oranges from the trophy.

Winning a big game should help Beamer stick around in Blacksburg for a long time.

You may think that it is silly to even think about him losing his position, but look at what happened in Tennessee this year, or Auburn. The ACC is not the SEC, and winning along the coast should be much easier than winning where Phil Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville did for so long. Yet, Beamer's team has had issues with getting to the top of the less than stellar ACC, and even when he did, he lost the big game.

So a win could quiet any peeps of a rumor for a time. Or we can hope.

Ok, enough soapboxing for the day.

The MRI now has 17 wins on the bowl season after being one of four contestants to correctly pick Virginia Tech. That moves the computer into 3rd place in the competition.

As an added bonus, the computer is guaranteed at least a tie against Kirk Herbstreit who has 15 wins and only two games different the rest of the season.

However, Herbie is not in last place. That coveted position belongs to "The World". Yes folks, the majority of America has proven that they can not pick bowl games better than the experts, or the computers. There is still a small hope for them to crawl out of the last place hole, but that light is quickly draining.

Up front is Will Harris who has 19 wins on the season. ESPN's expert picker only differs with the MRI on one game the rest of the way, which means it will outplay the computer this season, but the championship is far from won.

Let's see what is on tap for the next few days.

January 2, 2009

The Cotton Bowl
Why to watch?: Mississippi is the only team that was able to beat Florida's high-powered offense this season. That means Texas Tech had better watch out. The Red Raiders are ripe for a let down game against the Rebels, after being left out of almost every discussion among the top ten because of their loss to Oklahoma late in the year. Given how Graham Harrell and the rest of Mike Leach's squad have played all season, I really don't think that will happen. This should be a good close game with Tech's offense just barely better than Mississippi's defense. The MRI likes Texas Tech quite a bit in this one.

Texas Tech HelmetTexas Tech: The MRI, Harmon, Darst, Dodd, Congrove, Feldman, Harris, The World (91%)

Mississippi: Forde, Herbstreit


The Liberty Bowl
Why to watch?: East Carolina looked like the Cinderella team of the season for the first few weeks. Skip Holtz appeared as if he were channeling his father's glory days. That is what wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia can do for you. Heck, East Carolina was even ranked! Then reality set in. A loss to then struggling North Carolina State was followed by two more losses, and East Carolina limped into the Conference USA title game on the back of its weak division. That didn't stop it from capturing the conference title though against a much better Tulsa team. So what does that mean against Kentucky? Come on. Kentucky struggled to even get to a bowl. If they hadn't played every small division college earlier this year, the Wildcats would be sitting at home. East Carolina should be sitting pretty.

East Carolina Tech HelmetEast Carolina: The MRI, Harmon, Darst, Dodd, Forde, Feldman, Herbstreit, Harris, The World (81%)

Kentucky: Congrove

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World, Easing into the New Year edition"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:23 AM

December 31, 2008

The MRI vs. The World, NYE Edition

The MRI is slowly climbing back into it. Last night, the computer scored two more victories (although losing the one game that this guy thought would be a perfect bet for those who partake in those things).

That brings the MRI to 9-8 this bowl season, good enough to be tied with the other two computers, Dennis Dodd and Kirk Herbstreit for last. Yet, we are only three games behind the leaders: Pat Forde and Bruce Feldman.

I guess there is a reason why Feldman has his own picks column every week on ESPN.com. Maybe they should rethink having Herbie pick on College Gameday though if the computers can pull ahead of him.

Revenge such as beating Herbstreit would be very sweet given his comments about the computers over the years.

But enough gloating. We have bowl games... and more bowl games... and still more bowl games to pick and watch.

Let's go to the spreadsheet.

December 31, 2008

The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Why to watch?: This is the second rematch of the bowl season and all of the prognosticators are hoping that it will also reverse itself. Houston is the real air force in this game, gaining over almost 500 yards passing per game. The air game should be enough for the Cougars to overcome Air Force this time around, especially since there isn't a hurricane barreling down on the two teams.

Houston HelmetHouston: The MRI, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Feldman, Herbstreit, Harris

Air Force: Harmon, Darst, The World (61.5%)


The Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Why to watch?: It took over 25 years for Vanderbilt to finally qualify for a bowl game again. And to reward them for the feat, they get to stay home in Nashville. Not exactly what the Commodore players were hoping for, but still better than nothing. There will at least be some schwag -- oh wait, they are only getting noise canceling headphones. Vanderbilt will need them to tune out the boos that will rain down when Boston College clobbers them.

Boston College HelmetBoston College: The MRI, Harmon, Darst, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Feldman, Herbstreit, The World (91%)

Vanderbilt: Harris

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World, NYE Edition"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:53 AM

December 24, 2008

The MRI vs. The World 2008: Sad Times

Things haven't gone well for the MRI so far this bowl season. Overtime losses, missed field goals and just plain playing under expectations have foiled the MRI's best chances to win once again this year...and we have only had six games so far this year.

The MRI is mired in dead last with only one win so far this bowl season. The World hasn't done much better, with two wins to its credit.

Leading the pack right now are Pat Forde and Will Harris, who both have five wins so far. The Hawaii Bowl this evening will sort out the top of the rankings, as Forde has sided with the Warriors while Harris (along with the MRI) have picked the Golden Dome to break their long losing streak.

But there are still more games to be picked, so let's go to the spreadsheet.

December 26, 2008

The Motor City Bowl
Why to watch?: Perhaps they will give out some of the financial bailout money to whoever tunes in. The best reason to watch is Dan LeFevour, quarterback for Central Michigan. Since his freshman year, he has been putting up numbers on par with the best quarterbacks in college football. And if his team was slightly better, you might be seeing LeFevour in New York. Central Michigan should be tops this game and give Howard Schnellenberger his first bowl loss

Central Michigan HelmetCentral Michigan: The MRI, Harmon, Darst, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Feldman, Herbstreit, Harris, The World (92%)

Florida Atlantic: None


December 27, 2008

The Emerald Bowl
Why to watch?: To see if anyone runs into the walls which are inexplicably close to the field at AT&T park in San Francisco. Frankly this shouldn't be much of a game. Cal is the MRI's 34-point confidence pick in all the bowl challenges. How the line is only 8 points when Cal just needs to ride down the road in a bus is beyond me. Of course, Cal has been known to screw up big advantages in the past.

Cal HelmetCal: The MRI, Harmon, Darst, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Feldman, Herbstreit, Harris, The World (92%)

Miami: None

Continue reading "The MRI vs. The World 2008: Sad Times"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 4:00 PM

December 19, 2008

Bowling anyone?: The MRI vs. The World 2008

Everybody ready? Start singing: "It's the most wonderful time... of the year."

At least ESPN would like you to think so.

It probably has something to do with their stake in 95 percent of the bowl games that will be played over the next month. I won't go off on the WWL in the same manner as Dan Wetzel did over at Yahoo.

But, suffice to say, 34 bowl games, two more than last season, is a little bit of overkill.

Do we really need another game featuring a 6-6 team this season? Didn't we already get our fill of watching Notre Dame bring its disgraceful offense to the field (Actually, maybe there is no greater pleasure this time of year than watching Weis's Weiners fail...). Should Southern Mississippi, North Carolina State, or Colorado State really take the field again this season?

The short answer is no.

But since the games are held, we might as well make a few picks.

As tradition holds, the MRI will once again be taking on The World, and a few other challengers.

And as tradition holds, last year's winner has apparently retired. Colin Cowherd, who lapped the field last season, did not make picks this year -- at least none I could find.

So for this year's line-up, we have:

Computers: The MRI, Harmon Predictor, Congrove Computer
CBS: Darin Darst, Dennis Dodd
ESPN: Pat Forde, Bruce Feldman, Will Harris, Kirk Herbstreit
The World: The team getting the greater percentage of picks on ESPN's college bowl contest.

Feldman and Herbstreit choose to draw out their picks over the bowl season (probably because there is not much to actually write/talk about for most of the games this year), so they will be a bit behind as the games are updated.

Let's start and see where it takes us:

December 20, 2008

The EagleBank Bowl
Why to watch?: Maybe you missed the first game between Wake Forest and Navy. If so you missed Wake Forest absolutely implode. I was at a bar in Washington, D.C. to see this one and it was one of the few times I saw the Navy fans cheer all season. So maybe the Middies will give them something to cheer for again here.

Navy HelmetNavy: The MRI, Harmon

Wake Forest: Darst, Dodd, Congrove, Forde, Feldman, Harris, Herbstreit, The World (54%)


The New Mexico Bowl
Why to watch?: Really, if you are watching, you are scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Colorado State barely sneaked into the bowls, Fresno State is not the Fresno State we usually see each season. Maybe watch because this is one of the few games where there is a real disagreement about who will win, which could mean a good, although low quality, game.

Fresno State HelmetFresno State: The MRI, Dodd, Congrove, Feldman, The World (87%)

Colorado State: Harmon, Darst, Forde, Harris, Herbstreit


Continue reading "Bowling anyone?: The MRI vs. The World 2008"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:06 PM

December 8, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Regular Season Final

Tim Tebow will have about a month to practice for his next testDon't blame the computers if you are unhappy with the BCS championship match (although the MRI agrees that Oklahoma and Florida should be the participants).

They didn't have Oklahoma and Florida. They had Oklahoma and Texas in a rematch.

Instead, blame the humans.

Yes, those same humans who used to pick the national champion when all of the contending teams played in different bowl games and you didn't have a head-to-head game to judge on.

Yes, those humans, who were randomly picked to vote in the Harris poll. There isn't even as much nepotism in the federal government when if comes to jobs like this.

Yes, those humans, who are easily swayed by things like margin of victory, style points and let's not forget impassioned speeches which end up firing up a team to the tune of nearly 50 points per game after them.

Yep, the humans are who put Florida into the title game.

There is the requisite amount of whining this morning. Florida's loss came at home. USC and Texas both lost on the road.

Florida played in the SEC which wasn't its normal self this year. Texas played in the toughest division in college football, the Big XII South, and should have gotten more points for that (You can leave out the Pac-10 from that discussion. Only 5 of the 10 teams qualified for bowls in a league with two of the worst teams in D-1. With two gimmee wins, they should easily have had 7 teams into bowl games.)

Everyone is hating on Florida; my guess is that they win the whole thing.

The MRI correctly picked 75 percent of the games this weekend, finishing the season at 73.85 percent. All time, the MRI has correctly predicted 71.09 percent of the games, and it doesn't even pick during the gimmee non-conference slate.

Check out the final regular season rankings in this week's MRI:

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Regular Season Final"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:33 AM

December 1, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 11

Louis Murphy celebrates a No. 1 ranking in the MRI... but USC is close behind.Dear BCS --

I don't blame you for being a little gun shy after this weekend. I would advise not going to Texas anytime soon.

But you should be let off the hook, at least for now. You don't control the voters. You don't control the computers. And you most definitely don't control the Big XII athletics directors who signed up for a tie-breaker that they never thought would happen, let alone decide a potential National Championship participant.

The problem is that your biggest controversy is yet to happen.

I know you can sit back now and believe that the SEC champion and Oklahoma will make the title game lack its requisite controversy, but I wouldn't rest easy yet.

Things happen...

  • Like injuries -- Will a bad non-throwing hand have an effect on Sam Bradford in the Big XII game? Yeah, you bet. One sack (although they have been rare against Oklahoma this season) could end his game fairly quickly. And that might be enough emotional fodder for Missouri. Then what?
  • Like close games -- If Florida beats Alabama by five or less points, then what? Alabama has been a favorite No. 1 (even if the MRI doesn't believe in them). Could people believe that Alabama is still No. 2?
  • Like leftovers -- Texas is not happy. And you can bet that anything that would give someone the chance to move Texas back ahead of Oklahoma will be more than jumped at. Texas could come ruin your party, even if Oklahoma wins against Missouri. It would take a lot of human votes to move them, but it is a possibility.
  • Like outsiders -- What if the football gods (those are those mythical creatures not also known as the BCS conference commissioners) decide that USC should really make it? What if Missouri wins and no one likes Texas enough to push them up? What if the No. 5 USC Trojans make it? Then what is the explanation this year? The MRI thinks that USC is the No. 2 team in the country right now. Could the computers in your formula make the same determination after the final weekend?

Plain and simple, the Big XII making a poor choice turned the race for the championship into a mess. This is not the your fault.

But you could take the brunt of the blame when the weirdness that always infects college football takes hold in its final weekend.

And you should be fearful starting when the ball kicks at 4 p.m. Saturday. It can only go downhill from then on.

Sincerely,

The MRI

The MRI struggled this week and only predicted 68.3 percent of the games correctly with home field advantage. All time, it has predicted 71.07 percent of the games.

Check out all the rankings in week 11 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 11"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:52 PM

November 24, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 10

Percy Harvin makes a catch against The CitadelFlorida's smashing victory over The Citadel kept them in the lead this week, but lost them points overall. So can anyone catch Florida at this point for the MRI title?

For sure, if Florida loses. Oklahoma has at least one more game, USC has two more games remaining. Either of those two teams is playing well enough to make the leap over a losing Florida team.

But the best shot of that loss would be coming against Alabama, and that is still two weeks away. If Florida is able to make a significant convincing win against Florida State, it could put itself far enough ahead that an Oklahoma team not playing in its championship could be left out.

That leaves USC, who many see as an also-ran in this year's crowded field. But since its loss to Oregon State, which is the only thing keeping them from the No. 1 ranking right now, the Trojans have been sneaking their way back into the championship hunt.

A lot would have to fall their way for USC to make the title game, but it is not out of the realm of possibility. The SEC championship eliminates one contender. If Florida also loses to Florida State, both could be out of it depending on the outcome in Atlanta.

A loss by Oklahoma to their rival Oklahoma State could send the Big XII spiraling out of control. Texas Tech could then be the team in the title game. Yes, even after the shellacking they took.

So USC needs help, but it is something we have seen before on the final week of the season.

If Florida keeps winning, I don't know if there is a way for anyone to catch them in the MRI, even if they lose the BCS championship game. It would depend on their opponent. Oklahoma would have the best shot, but USC and Texas are close enough that an extra win could propel them over the Gators.

So, nothing is ever easy or clear in the BCS, but it is sure interesting.

To be sure, the major conferences did themselves no favors by fastening their tie-breakers to the system. I think the Big XII would rather that some other system were choosing the representative from the South than the voters and computers.

And even with the over-reliance on the BCS, the championship game this year is being decided through the regular-season and that is most of what you can ask for. As one person said to me today, the dirty little secret of the BCS is that most years, it gets it right.

I would contend that even when it doesn't get it right, the best team does come out the champion.

I can't wait to see how this one ends.

The MRI correctly predicted 73.5 percent of the games this week when factoring home field advantage. Since its inception, it has predicted 71.1 percent of the games correctly.

Check out all the rankings in Week 10 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 10"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:52 AM

November 19, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 12

The Heisman TrophyIf Tim Tebow stays for a fourth year, and plays the way he is playing now, we will have our second repeat Heisman winner. I don’t see how it can’t happen.

Tebow personally rededicated himself after Florida’s one-point loss to Mississippi and it has shown in his performance – and his team’s – on the field.

There is a problem this year in his candidacy. His statistics are not eye-popping. Compared with the Big XII triumvirate, they are downright disappointing.

He is at least 1000 yards behind them passing, his touchdowns are 11 back of the nearest signal-caller, and he isn’t the leader in rushing.

In short, Tebow isn’t Superman this season.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 12"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 4:11 PM

November 17, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 9

Chris Rainey and Florida are racing out ahead of the competitionI respect being undefeated. It isn't an easy task to run through all 12 games on your schedule and not lose one of them.

With only a couple of weeks left, Alabama and Texas Tech have defeated every opponent that has been put in their way. Some of the wins haven't been pretty, others have been dominant. But the fact remains that they found a way to overcome every obstacle.

Though, ask me who the best team in the country is and you will get an answer that isn't either of those two teams.

Florida is the hands down answer to that question.

The absolute shellacking of South Carolina should have cemented that in everyone's mind. Alabama should be looking ahead to a few weekends from now and wondering how they ever have a shot at holding the Gators under 30 points.

Yet, while Florida is lighting up scoreboards again and again, no one seems to be watching.

How else can you explain that only two AP voters and one coach have the Gators at No. 1 on their ballots?

Have they not watched Florida completely humiliate every opponent since their one-point loss, a loss that took place in September?

Have they not seen Texas Tech and Alabama struggle in wins, wins where they should have been putting 50 or 60 points on the board?

Have they not seen how Tim Tebow has gone from having a down season coming off his Heisman Trophy victory to catapulting into the top five contenders for the award, and potentially becoming a repeat winner?

Does their television set not receive CBS, or ESPN?

Apparently not.

Florida extended its lead in the MRI this week, and with a game against The Citadel this weekend, they could move out even further another week from now. My computer has no trouble seeing what team is No. 1, even if the voters can't (the other computers also disagree, but they place a higher value on not having lost).

It is the picture behind Florida that is a little muddy in the MRI. USC, Texas, Penn State and Oklahoma all have a claim to the second spot in the rankings right now.

You read that right. Texas Tech and Alabama have a lot more work to do in order to get to being in that list.

The Red Raiders can do it by beating Oklahoma. Alabama can do it by embarrassing Auburn next weekend.

They both need some help from other teams to make it to the top two in the MRI's book, but winning big next week could go a long way to curing some of their MRI ills, such as Tech's two 1-AA victories, or Alabama's passing offensive woes and tiny average margin of victory in its SEC games.

Until then, they have to look at their other performances this season, and wonder what could have been while they watch Florida take in all of the glory.

The MRI correctly predicted 72 percent of the games this week after factoring in home field advantage. It has predicted 71.06 percent of the games correctly since its inception.

Check out all the rankings in week 9 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 9"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:15 AM

November 11, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 11

The Heisman TrophyWhat do you know? The system quarterback is the one that most people think deserves to win the Heisman Trophy.

Hard to imagine that just a year ago, Colt Brennan didn’t get respect for his numbers. Under June Jones, Hawaii produced too many big-number passers for Brennan to be appreciated.

He still got votes, but he couldn’t beat Tim Tebow and his two-pronged attack.

Graham Harrell has almost reached the numbers that Brennan had last season, although he will have to have a heck of a year the rest of the way to match his own marks from last year.

It is amazing what being undefeated can do to change the perception of numbers and performance.

That is probably why Michael Crabtree is back in many so-called expert Heisman watch rankings recently.

Crabtree is fifth in receiving yards this season. He won’t even sniff at the 134 catches and 1962 yards he put up last year.

Crabtree has 18 touchdowns. It is doubtful that he will lead the country in scoring, even if he surpasses last season’s 22 scores.

Crabtree is a sophomore. We know a sophomore has only ever won once, and that was during a very special season.

We tend to generate a lot of hype for receivers when they get the majority of a quarterback’s throws in their direction. I still say that the myth of a receiver being a Heisman-worthy candidate is bunk.

You need the quarterback, who tends to do much more for the team, partially because they throw to other players and have to handle the ball every down. There is no way that his own receiver can outshine him.

You can say your receiver blocks on running plays. So do the linemen who tend to get zero respect as it is and many of them contribute much more each game than an individual wideout.

The way the game is played now, you would need the most extraordinary receiver in the history of the game to have a receiver win the award again, and even then, the player would need to contribute in a way outside of their receiving skills to be considered. They would have to return kicks almost every other game for touchdowns, they would need to play both ways for a good portion of the snaps.

They would need to change the way we think about the position – check that, they would need to change the way we think of a college football player.

Michael Crabtree is exciting. His fancy footwork on the sideline against Texas to win the game in the final minute was breathtaking.

But he is not that player.

Here is how I would rank the candidates on my ballot after Week 11:

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 11"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 3:20 PM

November 10, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 8

Urban Meyer celebrates his team's rise to No. 1 in the MRI.The toxic No. 1 bug finally hit Penn State over the weekend. If there was a team left on the Nittany Lions' schedule that could have taken them out it was Iowa.

The Hawkeyes may not be the most impressive team in the country, but no team has played its opponents harder this year, and gotten beaten by fewer points than Iowa.

Sure, four losses don't look pretty, but there is a pretty good team in the yellow and black each week, ready to take out some tough opponents.

That is why the Hawkeyes have a coveted spot in the MRI rankings at No. 23.

Penn State, feeling the unlucky mojo, took a steep drop down the ladder to No. 5 after the loss. Their drop was assisted by big wins from some of the other contenders for the MRI crown.

With only a month remaining in the season, the race at the top is very tight, and the stuff that BCS nightmares are made of.

Look at the MRI No. 1, Florida.

The Gators are probably the team that scares the BCS, Alabama and Texas Tech, the most right now. With a single loss by a single point, Florida might be in the best position to sneak into the title game with a single loss, and a single loss which could have them jumping Texas Tech by the end of the year in the computers and the human polls.

Since the loss, Florida has been unstoppable, and teams have just fallen aside in their wake.

If the Gators can win against South Carolina, they will move on to the SEC championship against Alabama. If Florida can not stumble against its final two opponents, there is nothing keeping them from the title game if they beat Alabama.

The question is who would they play. Texas Tech looks like the most likely candidate at this point, but the computers -- and the voters -- can be fickle.

Can Texas Tech, currently No. 6 in the MRI, make it the rest of the way undefeated?

Oklahoma looks like the toughest test for the Red Raiders, and Oklahoma, despite a let down against a Texas team that was better on that day, is again rolling like they did earlier in the season.

Perhaps Oklahoma will end the Texas Tech run. That is on the verge of forcing a three way tie for the Big XII South, which could end up falling to Texas after all the tie breakers are run.

The bottom line is that this season could end up being just as much of a mess as last season was with all the losses by the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the BCS.

The biggest hope for conference commissioners is that Alabama and Texas Tech are able to stay without a loss the rest of the way. Neither has an easy road, and the MRI predicts that at least one game on each team's schedule could trip them up.

Basically, neither has a guaranteed run to the title by any standard.

So, time will tell, and have the commissioners pulling their hair out until Dec. 6 has come to a close.

The MRI correctly predicted 77.8 percent of the games this week when factoring in home field advantage. Since its inception, the MRI has correctly predicted 71.04 percent of the games.

Check out all the rankings in week 8 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 8"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:38 AM

November 3, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 7

Joe Paterno might have a little to complain about in the polls, but not with the MRI.I can only imagine what life was like in the Paterno house on Sunday. Penn State coach Joe Paterno opens his paper, turns on the television to watch a little football, and sees that he gets jumped in the polls.

Something tells me that the Paternos are in the market for a new television.

I can see the shoe flying across the room now, shattering the screen as the AP, the coaches and the BCS show Penn State in third, jumped by Texas Tech.

I can partially understand the vote. Texas Tech beat the top team in the country, and that could mean they were better than a team that didn't play.

Yeah, something like that.

Sorry, this one doesn't make sense to me. Alabama ahead of Penn State makes little sense to me, as Alabama (the Arkansas State game not withstanding) has struggled to prevail over many of its SEC opponents.

If it is any consolation to Penn State, they still lead in the MRI.

Early in the day, it looked as if Penn State were destined to slip to second, but that would have required a win by Texas, something that eluded the Longhorns.

Instead, the idle Nittany Lions held on to the top spot.

They managed to stay ahead of what may be the hottest team in the country, Florida. The Gators rolled another opponent over the weekend, this time in the form of Georgia.

Since its 1-point loss to Mississippi, Florida has outscored its opponents 201 - 43 in four straight wins. The team's performance has been so hot that Tim Tebow has pulled himself from an also ran back into the Heisman Trophy conversation, something that in the first few weeks of the year looked like another failed repeat attempt.

Holding in third place is USC, a team that had the pleasure of destroying one-half of the joke in the Northwest, Washington.

The Trojans will have a tough case to make in the BCS this year though. Unlike years past, the PAC-10 has struggled, and not just against BCS competition, but against teams from the Mountain West too.

So the men from Troy still have a long way to go to erase their performance against Oregon State from the minds of the voters.

The now once-defeated Texas Longhorns fall to fourth this week. Despite a very poor defensive performance, the close loss kept them from falling even further in the standings. Texas now has to hope for an Oklahoma victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders to have a hope of winning the Big XII South division.

Rounding out the top five this week is TCU, who took out UNLV. While TCU has the loss against Oklahoma, they remain firmly in the hunt for consideration of who is the best non-automatic qualifier team.

The Horned Frogs record might have a blemish but that can quickly be kept from the voters' minds if they can defeat Utah on Thursday night. The win would secure the conference for TCU and place them in the same conversation with Boise State for a BCS slot.

The MRI correctly predicted 72 percent of the games with home field advantage factored in last week. The system has predicted 70.88 percent of games all-time.

Check out all the rankings in week 7 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 7"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:31 AM

October 27, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 6

Lydell Sargeant says 'shhh'.  Penn State is still holding onto #1 but did it come at a price?A lot of people have asked how Alabama could be so low? The answer is close wins.

The Crimson Tide have struggled to put away their opponents this year, leaving them in games and leaving Alabama on the verge of losing, even if their record is still without a blemish.

The two leading MRI teams got a taste of what the Tide have been feeling during their games this week.

Texas held on late against Oklahoma State in order to squeak out a 4-point win. The victory gives them another signature win and sets up another tough high-profile game right away with Texas Tech.

Barely surviving to win though doesn't translate into a big move in the MRI and so Texas remains at No. 2 this week.

Penn State had the opportunity to extend its lead going into the night game against Ohio State. Yet the Nittany Lions had the same struggles with a tough Ohio State team.

So, Penn State's lead remains slight over Texas and the rest of the pack is beginning to close at a faster pace.

Perhaps both teams got a little luck on their side this week as USC also was only able to beat Arizona by seven. That victory was enough to stay in third and close the gap, but the results could have meant much more had a blowout been in the works.

Tulsa took its opportunity on Sunday night to run over Central Florida. And so in typical controversial style, the MRI keeps the Golden Hurricane at No. 4.

Rounding out the top five again this week is Florida who set itself up nicely for its game against Georgia this weekend. Combined with the performance of the Gators in the actual BCS so far this season, this upcoming week could mean a lot in terms of putting Florida right back in the title game with the smallest slip in the leaders.

The MRI correctly predicted 74 percent of the games this past week with the home field advantage.

Check out all the rankings in week 6 of the football MRI:

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 6"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:43 PM

October 23, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 8

The Heisman TrophyTexas, you get your wish this week. There is no longer any way that you can deny Colt McCoy the top spot in the race.

Just look at the record: Beat Oklahoma. Beat -- and beat up -- Missouri.

Need you say more?

I am not saying the road ahead will be easy for McCoy in any fashion. This week’s opponent, Oklahoma State, found a way to shut down Chase Daniel and the Missouri Tiger hasn’t been heard from since.

Can the Cowboys do the same to McCoy? Maybe.

And really no contender will be tested as much over the remainder of the season than McCoy. Three games remain against ranked opponents, including two in the top 10. Add in another ranked foe in the Big XII title game, and McCoy will be the most vetted Heisman candidate we have seen in years.

He faces a similar struggle to Tim Tebow last season. With a clear lead, all eyes were unfairly focused on every flaw that Tebow could expose in his play on the field.

McCoy doesn’t have the luxury of a field that is far behind him at this point. Even with the clear lead, there is no denying that others on the list have had brilliant seasons, seasons that are Heisman-worthy in themselves, just not as much as McCoy’s so far.

So, as we head into the final third of the season, get ready for the spotlight to shine brightly on our top candidate. The eyes of Texas are hoping that he doesn’t get burned.

Here is how I would rank the candidates on my ballot after Week 8:

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 8"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:04 AM

October 20, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 5

How long can Evan Royster and Penn State keep running out in front of Texas? (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Despite what the BCS might say, Texas is not the No. 1 team in the country. That is, at least according to the MRI.

Penn State continues to run out ahead of the Longhorns in the MRI computer rankings, although it is unclear how long that might last. Penn State has played one extra game than Texas and with Ohio State and a bye week next on the Nittany Lion schedule, its lead could quickly evaporate.

This week though, Texas has only themselves to blame. After jumping to a 35-3 lead over Missouri, Texas allowed the Tigers back into the game, trading touchdowns with their northern opponent over the second half. The Longhorns just failed to continue stopping Missouri.

Despite the second half scoring, Texas was able to draw to within a single point of the Nittany Lions, who used a safety to spark a triumphant win over Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Still dropping in at No. 3 is USC, who had its largest shutout victory since 1931 and handed Washington State its worst blanking ever.

USC would likely have made more of a claim for the top spot, or even a leap to No. 2 had Washington State not been one of the five worst teams in bowl subdivision.

Still hanging in the top five at No. 4 is Tulsa who had no trouble trouncing UTEP. Tulsa is still lacking respect in the polls that count though.

They are no higher than 15 in any of the computer polls and the human have given them even less credit. Tulsa is No. 19 in the Coaches Poll while the Harris voters have them at No. 21.

Again, it is likely their schedule which holds them back. While they did improve to No. 114 in the country this week, they are still among the bottom ten in terms of strength of opponent.

Rounding out the top five is Florida, who was idle this week after taking out LSU in grand fashion the week before. Florida continues its quest in the jumbled SEC East this week when they take on Kentucky.

The MRI correctly predicted 80.7 percent of the games last week when factoring in home field advantage.

Check out all the rankings in week 5 of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 5"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 10:11 AM

October 15, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 7

The Heisman TrophyTexas fans are really going to dislike me this week. If it wasn’t bad enough that Texas won and still fell from the top spot in my computer rankings, their quarterback also did not take over the top spot in my Heisman ranking this week.

I still believe that Sam Bradford is the better quarterback so far this year.

Don’t get me wrong, Colt McCoy is doing a lot to help his team: he is a leader, he is efficient, he runs in addition to passing the ball.

Sam Bradford is just the arm that his entire team revolves around, and he wasn’t the reason for Oklahoma’s loss. Bradford did almost everything he could short of playing on defense to try and get his team the victory.

It just didn’t work this time.

Having watched Bradford over the past two years, I am sure he would say he would rather win the championship than an individual award. But holding that trophy can sure change things quickly.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 7"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:03 AM

October 13, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 4

Daryll Clark has made Penn State hard to catch in the MRI rankings, flying by Texas (AP Photo/Andy Manis)Remember that game that was going to decide the No. 1 spot in the MRI? It did, only not in the way that was expected.

Despite the "upset" victory by Texas over Oklahoma (The MRI had it right), Texas couldn't hold its lead. Penn State's destruction of Wisconsin made sure of that.

The Nittany Lions were able to do what Michigan and Ohio State couldn't -- a beat down of the team that many thought would be one of the contenders in the conference. While others were able to squeak by the Badgers, Penn State had no such worries.

And so they fly to the top of the rankings this week, knocking down the Longhorns to the No. 2 spot despite the impressive victory over the very tough Oklahoma Sooners.

Coming in at No. 3 is USC, who probably has the inside track to the National title game if they win out. While it wouldn't seem that way being in third, the Trojans do not have a conference title game to contend with, and they still have the easiest part of their schedule ahead. While I expected slightly more against Arizona State over the weekend, I am not shocked that the Trojans are where they are overall.

Florida may have had the most consequential victory of the weekend. Beating previously unblemished LSU led to a big jump for the Gators, especially after their squeaker of a loss the week before. The loss by LSU dropped them far out of the top 25, making hopes for a repeat chance at the title looking unlikely. Despite Florida's struggles this season, they still look like a possible contender, but as always, the road from the SEC to the title game is much more difficult.

Still looking for that BCS buster? Maybe Tulsa should get a longer glance. The Golden Hurricane are undefeated but are not feeling the love in the polls.

The most likely reason is their 117th ranked schedule, according to the MRI statistics. It hasn't stopped Tulsa from breaking up into the top five but it does make it harder for them to continue to stay there. Just witness Tulsa's drop to fifth from fourth in the last week. A close victory over SMU is not the same as a close victory over a team ranked higher than 117 in the MRI.

Being a paper heavyweight also means that a loss will be all the more damaging for the team. The next three games against UTEP, Central Florida and Arkansas could be the undoing for the high fliers.

The MRI correctly predicted 75 percent of the games last weekend when factoring in home field advantage.

Check out all the rankings in week four of the football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 7:57 AM

October 8, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 6

The Heisman TrophyWhy should there be any confusion about why the Big XII is dominating almost every Heisman trophy list out there?

There shouldn’t be. The Big XII has shown itself to be the top conference so far this season. That early lead by the SEC in the chase for that honor, it’s gone.

When your conference is flying high, usually the signal callers get a great deal of publicity, and in the Big XII’s case it is definitely for good reason.

Half of the Big XII quarterbacks are in the top 12 rated passers in the country. Half! And they have two more in the top 20.

The conference’s passers dominant the highlight films on ESPN and those other sports networks.

The names of the game have become Colt, Chase and Sam, and they have fulfilled every expectation of them prior to and during this season.

The biggest test of two of them will come this weekend as Colt and Sam face over control of the Red River.

With their arms, this will be a Shootout, name changes in the rivalry notwithstanding.

And then there is Chase on the side, watching for how he can succeed against Texas a week from now, after he dispenses with Oklahoma State this week. If only the rotation was such that he would get to face the Sooners this year.

With all this air power, it begs the question: What happened to the running game in college football?

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 6"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:50 AM

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 3

Texas celebrates staying No. 1 in the MRIIf there was anything needed to make this weekend's game between Texas and Oklahoma even more important, try putting the top spot in the MRI into the mix.

Oklahoma might only be in the No. 6 spot, but they can make a big move depending on the result of the game on Saturday and potentially make the big jump into first. They will have a tough time doing that though considering the teams on the list that lie ahead of them.

Penn State lies in the way. At No. 2, they take on a Wisconsin team which has had two very difficult defeats in two weeks. While they still remain in the MRI top 25, they can only thank their small margin of loss in those games. Wisconsin might decide to actually step it up this week and take out the high flying Nittany Lions.

Or they might just roll over and be beaten like they were against Michigan and Ohio State. Maybe the loss of their band has something to do with it.

Also in the way is another Big XII team, Missouri. The Tigers have a tough test of their own in Oklahoma State. The Cowboys (MRI #10) have shown the offense that they only showed glimpses of last season is still out there. That means Missouri's defense will really get a test this time out, not like how Nebraska "tested" it. If the Tigers can win, they will definitely be standing in the way of a Sooner bolt to the top.

Or how about another team from Oklahoma. Not Oklahoma State. I am talking about Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have lit up scoreboards in a way that has their Athletic Director worried that he might have to install a third digit on the scoreboard. Tulsa will likely get knocked back a little this weekend as they take on SMU and given the Mustang record, it will be difficult for Tulsa to continue gaining points the way it has.

And then there is USC. Can anyone tell me which USC might show up this week? Against Oregon State, it was the choke USC team.

Looking at the game, you would have expected USC to beat Oregon, but for the game to have been close.

You would have been wrong, as the Trojans rolled over the Ducks. (Maybe I should start using the Balki "Perfect Strangers" method of picking my games.)

So does Arizona State have a chance? It is anyone's guess.

Check out all the rankings in Week 3 of the Football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 3"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 7:04 AM

October 1, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 5

The Heisman TrophyThe spread offense has transformed the Big XII into a quarterback machine, and the results are obvious based on what you will find at the top of most Heisman lists this week.

The triumvirate of Chase Daniel, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy could rewrite the history of the Heisman Trophy if they can keep this up.

Just picture the stage in New York if there is only a single conference represented.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 5"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:07 PM

September 28, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 2

Colt McCoy is helping to hoist his Longhorns to the #1 spot in the MRI (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)Remember all of those comments from last week's rankings? Ignore them.

It is obvious that being in or near the top of the MRI rankings was poisonous for a number of teams.

Take USC. There is no explaining how a team that looked as good as it did in its first two games could look as bad as they did in the next game, against Oregon State of all teams. I have watched USC look poor in the past, but this team was supposed to be beyond all of that. Maybe my hesitation at putting Mark Sanchez in the top five of my Heisman Rankings was well grounded.

USC may react badly to being at the top and almost guaranteed a No. 1 ranking, but one team didn't and never does.

Welcome back Texas to the top spot in the rankings, all on the back of their signal caller, Colt McCoy. McCoy is turned in one of the most dominant performances of the weekend, and his wasn't against some Sun Belt team, or Division 1-AA squad.

This was against Arkansas. Granted the Razorbacks are not supposed to be at the top of the SEC this season, but at the same time, this is an SEC squad. They are not supposed to be this bad.

With four games under his belt, McCoy has thrown for over 1000 yards, 14 touchdowns, and run for 278 yards and four scores. He leads his team in rushing, he is the No. 2 rated quarterback in the country and he is set to break almost every record at Texas.

I think this guy is good (Wait until Wednesday's Heisman rankings), and his team is a deserved No. 1.

Penn State, last week's leader, drops to No. 2 despite a win against Big Ten foe Illinois. They may not look like the best and brightest at all times, but JoePa's squad is playing like they have a shot to sweep through the conference without a blemish.

Alabama shocked a lot of people with their win over Georgia, but the MRI thought it was almost a given. The tide move into the top five at No. 3.

Utah remains the top team from the Mountain West, which keeps its No. 4 league rankings this week. The Utes get tricky Oregon State on Thursday night, which might just make or break their season.

Rounding out the top five is another Big XII squad, the Oklahoma Sooners, who creep up after beating down upstart TCU (still in the top ten). The Sooners showed top-spot ability, including another huge game from Sam Bradford.

Check out all of the rankings in Week 2 of the Football MRI.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 5:22 PM

September 24, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 4

The Heisman TrophyAfter a short vacation, much like most top teams take for the first third of their seasons, I am back and refreshed. With the insight I gained over my little vacation, I have something to announce.

The title defense is over.

Sorry, Tim Tebow. It is just not going to happen this year. So go call Archie Griffin and wish him well. Send him some champagne with the money that you haven’t yet earned from an agent or a pro team.

Yes, your talents weren’t needed against the Tennessee Vols, but you don’t get away with a cheap performance against a conference foe in this race, at least not this season. Last year was a special year, when a soft week could be tolerated.

This year is a different ball game with too many contenders turning in big games when they count.

So, at the top of the heap is one of those top players, Chase Daniel, who didn’t need a huge performance against Buffalo but still produced one, and that is enough in the crowded field to move to the top.

He will have to keep pushing in what looks like it will be a battle of quarterbacks all year long. I don’t expect any of the current rushing leaders to actually make it to New York at this point unless someone turns in ridiculous numbers in the final eight games this year.

Here is how I would rank the candidates on my ballot after Week 4.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 4"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 8:07 AM

September 22, 2008

MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 1

Daryll Clark is pointing at you to guess who is #1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Four weeks have gone, and for some teams, that is a third of their season. And after four weeks, we have a new team at the top of the MRI football rankings.

Welcome to the Penn State Nittany Lions, who hold the No. 1 ranking for the first time ever in the MRI.

Penn State hasn't exactly beat the top teams to get here, but they have taken down their foes convincingly. Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, Syracuse, Temple: all casualties of the machine that Joe Paterno has built to try and move ahead of Bobby Bowden on the all-time win list for good.

Despite holding the top spot, Penn State isn't the story, and will likely fade as the season continues (it is just the nature of the beast, especially the Big Ten schedule). The big story is the Mountain West, which has been beating up on the PAC-10 and has two teams in the top five and three teams in the top 11. Utah and TCU are Nos. 2 and 3 this opening week.

At four is a Texas team which currently is tops in the Big XII, but doesn't look like they have what it takes to really play past Oklahoma in three weeks.

Rounding out the top five is USC, who is No. 1 in most polls. The difference in the MRI is that they have only played two games to most teams' three or four. On pure average, the Trojans are the top team. Given the way they are playing, they should be flying up the rankings to the top in the coming weeks, starting with what will likely be a big win on Thursday night.

But enough of the formalities, let's get to the rankings.

Continue reading "MRI Football 2008 - Rankings Week 1"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:31 PM

September 10, 2008

Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 2

The Heisman TrophyThe problem with the early season schedule is that no one plays anyone. Look at the marquis games last week…

Oh wait, there weren’t any. Sure Miami and Florida is a rivalry, but you can’t seriously have thought that the Hurricanes were going to do anything other than what they managed – Lose.

So, evaluating Heisman performances in week two becomes a little more difficult because the quality of opponents is still lacking for a number of players.

More interesting this week might have been the impact of injuries on the standings. Without Chris Wells, Ohio State looked almost pedestrian against Ohio U. That is not a good sign for them going into a huge game against USC this weekend. It also isn’t a great sign for Wells’ Heisman hopes as losing a week, especially against a weak opponent can hurt the numbers so that they are no longer eye-popping.

Yet, you have to wonder how much the “valuable” vote will go up given that Ohio State looks like a totally different team without him.

The other injury that was worth watching was Jeremy Maclin of Missouri. While Maclin played, he suffered in that Missouri used too many weapons in their trouncing of Southeast Missouri State. Maclin isn’t going to handle the ball on every play, or most plays, and over time, that will certainly weigh on his hope for the pose, as it does in my rankings this week.

The picture is still gray, but here is how I would rank the candidates on my ballot after Week 2.

Continue reading "Heisman Watch 2008-9 -- Week 2"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:29 PM

August 29, 2008

Tailgate Preview - Week 1

The college football season kicks off this week with a snorer of a slate. Nothing like padding your resume with wins over Chattanooga, Georgia Southern and Tennessee-Martin (That means you Oklahoma, Georgia and South Florida).

I am not expecting any Appalachian State-type upsets this season during the first week, not even from Appalachian State. LSU might not have its defensive core from last season, but they are no 2007-version Michigan (or 2008-version Michigan either).

A departure from the norm this week then with a little wider focus, not just previews of the Big XII and the ACC.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the games that actually mean something this weekend:

Illinois vs. Missouri (-9) in St. Louis – Missouri is coming off a high last season, and Chase Daniel is a likely strong contender for the Heisman. Illinois might have a strong defense, but they have lost Rashard Mendenhall and the Juice (Williams) might end up getting squeezed with the loss of his backfield-mate. Illinois head coach Ron Zook should be a little scared. The Tigers are one of the strongest teams in the country on both sides of the ball.

Look for Missouri to cover in the Border War.

Continue reading "Tailgate Preview - Week 1"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:02 AM

August 24, 2008

2008 ACC Preview

ACC Football BannerIt is quite a change to cover the ACC in addition to the Big XII this season. For starters, the ACC has nowhere near the depth of the Big XII. It has never become the super-conference in football that it hoped it would be when it added Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

While Virginia Tech and Boston College have been competitive, Miami has been a flop since coming over. And this season, it looks like both the Hokies and BC will be taking a step backwards, leaving the door open for new participants in the ACC championship game.

Without further ado, the ACC

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson
Coach: Tommy Bowden
2007: 9-4 (5-3), Lost Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Head of the Class – There is little to criticize about James Davis and CJ Spiller, except last year’s performance. While Clemson was favored to win last season’s Atlantic Division, they ended up blowing the conference lead and letting Boston College slip into the title game. The pair are still the best pair of backs in the conference, and among the best pairs in the NCAA. Look for them both to step up this season.

Underachievers – While it is tempting to pick Bowden as the biggest underachiever, grasping defeat from the jaws of victory over and over again, I think the offensive line is a big question mark. Almost the entire group will be new starters and while talented, the lack of a solid group up front was what held back the head of the class last season.

Academic Suspension – This is Clemson, so you have to be wary of picking them to finish in first place. This year, I also worry about a brewing quarterback controversy. The only reason this didn’t become a major issue last year was that freshman Willy Korn got injured and took a medical red shirt. This year, he is back to challenge Cullen Harper and it will be interesting to watch how Bowden handles a full year of competition.

Continue reading "2008 ACC Preview"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 9:22 PM

August 21, 2008

2008 Big XII Preview

Big XII PennantIt is time to get back into the swing of things at MRISports.com, and that means a return to what you all come here for: A chance to rip on my predictions.

Once again as part of the Tailgate at Blogcritics, I will be previewing the Big XII conference each week, and this year, I will also be tackling the ACC.

To start though, the old standby: The Big XII

Big XII South

1. Oklahoma Coach: Bob Stoops 2007: 11-3 (7-2), Lost Fiesta Bowl Head of the Class – What is there not to like about the Sooners? There was no off-season drama. Sam Bradford looks like the real deal, and again they have one of the most punishing offensive lines in the country. Plus, their schedule shapes up well skipping Missouri and with all of the toughest games at home.

Underachievers – Since Adrian Peterson was injured and then left early for the NFL, it is has been running back by committee in Norman. Now that Bradford is a known commodity, the running game is going to have to back him to a greater extent. Not a problem with the line the Sooners have but it is always a little tricky when there is not a featured back game after game.

Academic Suspension – It is always a good sign when the worst thing someone can say about you is that you are starting a freshman kicker. Jimmy Stevens should be taking over the reins of the kicking job, and we know how many games often come down to important kicks. With Oklahoma’s offense, this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is something to watch.

Continue reading "2008 Big XII Preview"

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 2:34 PM

June 11, 2008

It's Here

The best college football preview magazine has arrived in book stores. I purchased mine yesterday and will be using it as an important part of my previes on the season, coming soon.

Until then, go get your own.

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 11:07 AM

April 1, 2005

Not an April Fool's Day Joke

Those of you who tuned into the site late yesterday probably noticed that things are looking a little bit different around here. I finally was able to deliver on the site redesign that I had been promising for the last two months. The new site will allow you to read On The Field, Sitting Courtside, and view the rankings for football and basketball all in one convenient spot.

The archives are still being updated to the new format. Until then, you can access them through a link on the right that goes to the old site design and provides all the back information you need.

In addition, the new site design will allow you to subscribe to MRISports.com with your trusty newsreader or any RSS feed reader. You can find the link to subscribe through Bloglines or the RSS feed at the bottom of the right side of the page.

The Comments feature on the new site are also enhanced. You now will not need to be a member of Blogger to leave me comments about my posts with your actual name and, in addition, you will be able to leave comments directly on the rankings postings. Of course, you are still free to email me all your rants and raves and who knows, you may be featured in a future installment of Defending the MRI.

Need to know where a team was consistently ranked throughout the years? Now you can use the trusty web search on the right column to look for that team's name. It will pull any post where that team or any other search words have been mentioned.

Enjoy the new site design everyone, and I will continue to update the archives until they are all accounted for. If you have any comments or questions, send them on to bmiraski at mrisports.com

Posted by Benjamin Miraski at 12:30 PM