We start our preview by going outside the Big XII: Houston, North Texas, Rice, SMU, TCU and UTEP.
We're also going to give a brief mention to Sam Houston State and Texas State for a couple reasons. One, they appear on the scheduled of a number of Big XII Teams. Two, they are both ranked in 1-AA
We've stolen borrowed MGoBlog's position ratings for our college football previews. What that means to you is that we rate each unit 1-5 (1 being weakest, 5 being strongest) based on strength of unit relative to conference. (A 5 for a Conference USA team doesn't mean that they are going to be good against a Big XII team.)
The Skinny: UTEP will shift conferences this year, along with Rice, Tulsa, and SMU, to Conference USA. Mike Price's Miners went 8-4 last year, making an appearance in the Houston Bowl. This year's Miners return Jordan Palmer, one of the best QBs and a good defense no one is talking about. There's probably no true "BCS buster" this year, but UTEP comes awfully close.
Schedule: Aside from an October 22 home date against Marshall, there isn't a game on their schedule that should scare the Miners.
QB: 5 - Jordan Palmer is one of the best quarterbacks not on a BCS team.
RB: 2 - An inconsistent running back by committee. They can outrun you when good, they can cough it up a lot when bad.
WR: 3 - Palmer makes this crew look better than it is
TE: 4 - Jake Sears should be a reliable safety valve after working on his catches in the offseason
OL: 5 - Surprisingly deep for a team in this conference.
DL: 4 - Underrated, ferocious, and tough.
LB: 4 - This unit is led by 6-3 240 OLB Thomas Howard and contains some talented and agressive, but inexperienced, players.
CB: 2 - The unit has been hampered by the injury bug in fall practice.
S: 4 - Quintin Demps and Joe Flesoski have over 100 tackles between them.
Kicking Game: 4 - Junior Reagan Schneider is great from a distancen (8-11 from beyond 40)
Return Game: 4 - Johnnie Lee Higgins is always a breakaway threat
What the Miners need to do to win:
1. Don't believe their press - People are patting them on the back for one good season, but they can't let it go to their head. They need to work hard if they want to go to the next level.
2. Hang on to the football - Turnovers will kill this team if they are not careful.
3. Rush the QB - The d-linemen and linebackers will have to make up for a banged up set of corners.
Projection: 10-1, Conference USA Champion
The Skinny: Houston finished 3-8 in the old Conference USA, it's second season under former Texas Tech assistant Art Briles. True, some of that was their non-conference schedule (playing national runner-up OU and perennial power Miami didn't help), but they also underperformed relative to their talent level when they got into conference. With a slightly easier road this year, Houston may bounce back to where they were in 2003, but don't expect anything out of the Andre Ware glory days. This team looks like Texas Tech circa 2000.
Schedule: They will probably win 5 games alone on schedule (Tulane, Tulsa, Rice, SMU, and Sam Houston State) They have to get 2 more wins against Oregon, Mississippi State, UTEP, Southern Miss, Memphis or Central Florida.
QB: 4 - Kevin Kolb should bounce back from a bad 2004. His arm and mobility are too good to perform at that level again.
RB: 2 - There will probably be a huge committee of backs, none of them quality
WR: 4 - Vincent Marshall and Ricky Wilson will provide speed on the outside
IR/TE: 3- Expect decent years from the 4 or so recievers that occupy the slot positions
OL: 2 - 4 of 5 starters return, but last we saw this unit, they gave up 44 sacks!
DL: 2 - Needs to generate more rush, even with the switch to the 3-4
LB: 3 - What might have been a good unit suffers from a spring injury to Lance Everson
CB: 4 - Two corners who can be physical with opposing receivers, and a nickel corner who can keep up with slot recievers
S: 3 - Will depend on if senior FS Will Gulley is healthy or not.
Kicking Game: 4 - Justin Laird Will handle both chores
Return Game: 4 - Ricky Wilson runs a 4.38 40-yard dash and can break a return if he gets blocking.
What the Cougars need to do to win:
1. Get a pass rush - Houston went to the 3-4 in order to get more heat on the QB.
2. Protect Kolb - OL needs to give Kolb one of his many talented receivers.
3. Game plan around Marshall and Wilson - Get the ball in these guys hands any way you can, whether it be throws or reverses.
Projection: 7-4 and maybe a bowl game.
The Skinny: A 3-8 from a year ago in the WAC, Rice now moves over to Conference USA. Rice is talking about implementing more of a passing dimension to take advantage of the skills of his two QBs. But let's not kid ourselves, Ken Hatfield is an old school triple-option coach and the option game will be the bread and butter of the Owls attack. And Rice will always lack the talent of their opponents.
Schedule: Brutal road trips to UCLA, Texas, UTEP, UAB, and East Carolina.
QB: 1 - Owls going with quarterback by committee, neither of which is promising
RB: 3 - They're young, but they can run. They will be called upon to catch more than ever, though.
TE: 2 - Not a strong recieving unit
WR: 1 - Not exactly the experience or talent you look for when you're trying to throw the ball more
OL: 2 - Returns only 2 of 5 starters
DL: 2 - Aside from John Syptak, this unit is abysmal
LB: 3 - The best unit on an otherwise bad defense
CB: 1 - Too young, too green, and not talented enough
S: 1 - See above
Kicking Game: 2 - The kicker can score from close, but the kicker, punter, and coverage teams may not be able to help the Owls with the field position game.
Return Game: 2 - Uncertain what to expect from this unit until the season starts. One thing is for certain, don't expect the Owls to have good field position.
What the Owls need to do to win:
1. QBs need to make good decisions - Whether in the passing game or the option game, the QBs must make the right reads so they don't turn the ball over.
2. Grow up in a hurry - Rice is very inexperienced at key positions
3. Defense and field position - The only way this team can win: Keep it close and win the field position battle.
Projection: 1-10, the only win coming against...
The Skinny: There's experience, and then there's bad experience. The misleading stat here is that SMU returns 22 starters. The problem is, SMU has gone 6-29 under 4 years of Phil Bennett. Not exactly the type of experience you want.
Schedule: They finally remove Texas Tech from the schedule, but add Texas A&M. That Iron Skillet game against TCU isn't going to be pretty either. Of course, When you're only a threat to beat an academic school like Rice, something's wrong.
QB: 1 - 3 QBs vying for the position, none are D-I quality
RB: 1 - The team's best rusher Cedrick Dorsey, had only 431 yards and there's not much depth behind him.
WR: 1 - None of the 3 projected starters really have the stats to cause fear in opponents.
TE: 3 - Ryan Kennedy is the Mustangs' best offensive threat, but he can't do it by himself.
OL: 1 - Has experience, but lacks size and talent.
DL: 1 - Their best D-lineman is still hurt and the rest of the unit gave up 209 rush yards/game and 26 rushing touchdowns.
LB: 2 - Alvin Nnabuife is this team's only real playmaker.
CB: 1 - SMU secondary gave up 258 yards/game through the air
S: 3 - Just don't ask them to cover people
Kicking Game: 3 - Chris McMurtray may be this team's only offense. Punter Ryan Metzer averages 40 yards a punt, but kick and punt coverage units give up too much field position.
Return Game: 4 - Blake Warren can create field position for this team.
What the Mustangs need to do to win:
1. Do something, anything on offense - Craig James has used up his eligibility, right?
2. Do something, anything on defense - 450+ yards/game ain't gonna cut it at any level.
3. Fire Phil Bennett - How is this guy still a college football head coach? Does Bennett have dirty pictures of the AD's daughter or info about SMU's recruiting practices? I'm all for giving a coach a chance, but this guy has a grand total of 6 wins in 4 seasons.
The Skinny: TCU went 5-6 last year in Conference USA, but will be moving to the Mountain West this season. This helps them out in 2 areas. One, Most teams in the Mountain West run a
"3-3-5 Stack" defense, and such schemes can be victimized by strong running teams like TCU's run-oriented, ball-control offense. Two, Most Mountain West teams have not seen much of TCU's unusual 4-2-5 defense. Expect them to contend for the conference title in their first MWC season .
Schedule: Aside from a nasty opener against Oklahoma, this schedule seems to favor TCU. Utah, last year's champion, travels to Fort Worth and the only tricky road game seems to be at the extreme high altitude of Wyoming.
QB: 4 - Tye Gunn is a game manager with a good arm.
RB: 5 - Lonta Hobbs should be back and healthy enough to challenge New Mexico's DonTrell Moore for the MWC rushing title.
WR: 2 - Beyond Cory Rodgers, this unit is inconsistent.
TE: 4 - Chad Andrus is a blocking and receiving threat, Brett Hecht could be a great blocker.
OL: 3 - Starting 5 solid, if a little undersized, reserves not so good.
DL: 4 - Deep, Talented, and Experienced
LB: 3 - Inexperienced, but promising group led by Andrew Ward.
ROV: 4 - Young, talented group that will be asked to handle a lot of responsibility
CB: 3 - Quincy Butler solidifies one corner. Other corner will depend on Drew Coleman's health.
FS: 3 - There's a position battle in between Jeremy Modkins and Elvis Gallegos, but whomever emerges will be decent.
Kicking Game: 4 - Cincinnati tranfer Chris Manfredi brings some consistency to the field goal game.
Return Game: 3 - Cory Rodgers puts up average numbers
What the Horned Frogs need to do to win:
1. Get a consistent pass rush - It's a good secondary, but they can't carry the defense. They need help from the front 6.
2. Run, Hobbs, Run - Establish a solid running game with Lonta Hobbs.
3. Pray for no injuries - if Gunn or one of the O-line goes down, it could ruin TCU's chances
Projection: 9-2, Mountain West Champion
The Skinny: The Mean Green will be the only team to have 2 consecutive NCAA Rushing Champions on the same team. Patrick Cobbs, 2003 rushing champ, returns from a knee injury that allowed Jamario Thomas to capture the 2004 rushing title. The defense went from being Mean Green to just green last year as they were plagued by rookie mistakes, but it should be better this year.
Schedule: They start with LSU, but have winnable non-conference games against Louisiana Tech. They could catch Kansas State napping, if Bill Snyder isn't careful. Key game in conference will be against Middle Tennessee State.
UPDATE 8/31: The LSU game has been postponed by Hurricane Katrina and is in limbo right now because the only date North Texas has open is the same day as the SEC Championship
(Reminder: These are relative to the rest of their conference, so any LSU fan reading this should not be sweating this team)
QB: 3 - Joey Byerly has the physical tools, but not the experience.
RB: 5 - What other rating would you give to a unit that features 2 rushing champs.
WR: 4 - Lots of speed, led by Johnny Quinn
TE: 3 - Solid blockers, not necessarily great recievers
OL: 4 - The only question mark is redshirt freshman center Chad Rose, other than that, it's a solid line.
DL: 4 - Experience on one side, youth on the other, but the combination will work.
LB: 5 - This unit excelled late in the year for North Texas.
CB: 2 - Could be a weakness if someone doesn't emerge opposite T.J. Covington
S: 3 - Good hitters, not necessarily good in coverage.
Kicking game: 5 - Nick Bazaldua handles both placekicking and punting duties for North Texas and is the returning 1st team All-Sun Belt Kicker.
Return game: 3 - Quinn and WR Zach Muzzy
What the Mean Green need to do to win:
1. Rush the passer - The front 7 needs to get some heat on the opposing QB to take the heat off the secondary.
2. Emphasize the running backs - If you have to, put both Thomas and Cobbs in the backfield or split one out as a reciever. (Wow, I've been playing way too much NCAA 2006)
3. Get good blocking from the offensive line - Open holes for the backs and keep Byerly upright long enough to throw.
Projection: 8-3, Sun Belt Champions.
Sam Houston State
The Skinny: Hard to get a read on this team. They are ranked #16 nationally in I-AA, but picked to finish no better than 4th in the Southland, a conference they were co-champions of last year. The team is led by Texas A&M transfer Dustin Long, who completed 62.7 of his passes for 4,588 yards and 39 touchdowns.
The Skinny: The Bobcats are expected to have one of the best ground games in the Southland, are ranked nationally in I-AA for the first time in a while. They are projected to finish second in the Southland by the coaches.
Next: Part 2 - Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri