2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 AAC Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

A bad day at the office is nothing compared to the bad year the Big East has been forced to endure.

Losing foundation blocks Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC was just the start. The conference officially began to fall apart at the seams when West Virginia bailed out and left for the Big 12 last year.

TCU then reneged and did a u-turn, that on the heels of the announcement that Louisville and Rutgers were headed out as well, with the Cardinals off the ACC and the Scarlet Knight to the Big Ten next year.

To top it off the once powerful Big East Basketball Conference made like a shrinking violet and instead became the Catholic 7.

Yeah, it's safe to say the Big East had a bad year.

New kids on the block this football season include Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF. In addition, next year they will take in East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa, while Navy will join forces in 2015.

Hence, by the time the 2015 football season arrives the conference that started playing football in 1991 will be comprised of 12 teams, only two of who (Rutgers and Temple) were original members. And starting July 1st this season they officially will become known as the American Athletic Conference.

From that point forward they will look to stand tall and forever be known as… THE AMERICAN.

Truth be told, the new moniker is in place for one simple reason: so as not to confuse the AAC with the ACC.

Lost in the turmoil is the fact that the Big East was the only FBS conference that had seen each of its members play in at least one bowl game the past three seasons, and the only league which saw each team with at least one bowl win the last five years.

Then there was 2011, when every Big East team won at least five games last season - the first time since 1905 that an existing Bowl Subdivision conference had every member finish with at least five wins.

And let's not forget the conference also owned the best postseason record (46-29, .613) of any Bowl Subdivision conference since the inception of the BCS in 1998, including a stellar 10-3 SUATS mark against the powerful SEC.

So where did it all go wrong?

Blame is on the newest disease to enter the world of college athletics: expansion.

And for that we can thank the cable networks for killing the golden goose.

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.

CINCINNATI (*8/5)

Team Theme: A COMMITMENT, OF SORTS

A day after promising Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt that he would return to coach the Red Raiders in 2013, Tommy Tuberville agreed to a $2.2M per year contract with Cincinnati. That goes hand in hand with former 5-star quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel coming to Cincinnati. Kiel originally committed to Indiana, switched to LSU and eventually went to Notre Dame for one season before bailing out and coming aboard with Tuberville in Cincinnati. The good news for the Bearcats is that regardless of who is behind center (6th-year senior Brendon Kay and senior Munchie Legaux are also in the mix), they will be well protected by the best offensive line in the Big East, one that returns intact after allowing just 15 sacks in 2012. Also on the positive side, UC opens the Tuberville era against eight straight teams that ended the 2012 season with a losing record.

Stat You Will Like: The Bearcats will face five foes that will be playing with a week of rest this season, tying Memphis for the most in the FBS in 2013.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. SMU (11/9)

CONNECTICUT (*8/5)


Team Theme: HOWLING AT THE MOON

The Huskies failed to regain their bite in a 'mission' season in 2012 when a season-ending loss to home Cincinnati kept them home for the holidays for a 2nd straight year. The biggest downfall was the shoddy showing at home at Rentschler Field where a 3-3 effort paled in comparison to the Huskies' 46-18 all-time overall mark here, including 8-0 SU and ATS off back-to-back losses. Even stranger, head coach Paul Pasqualoni, the Big East career leader with 117 wins (including 67 in conference play) has seen the home team log a 109-70-1 SU and 100-71-5 ATS mark in his career. If the defense once again holds up its end of the bargain, and behind an experienced offense, the Huskies could do well switching from a missionary to the doggie position in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: The Huskies are 8-0 SU and ATS at Rentschler Field when playing off back-to-back losses.

PLAY ON: vs. Cincinnati (10/19) - *Key

HOUSTON (*9/5)

Team Theme: POTTY TRAINED

After beating Penn State, 30-14, in the 2011 Ticket City Bowl in his first game on the sidelines for the Cougars, Tony Levine proceeded to pee his pants in his first start of the season last year when he laid a Texas-sized egg in a 30-13 loss to Texas State as a 34.5-point home favorite! It didn't go much better thereafter as the Cougars' offense and defense each slipped over 100 YPG on the season en route to a precipitous 5-win campaign. Not unexpectedly, a new OC and DC were promptly hired. An experienced group of 43 juniors and seniors will dot this year's roster, as 21 letter-winners (including eight who received all-conference honors) return with a combined 303 career starts: 181 on offense and 122 on defense. As they move to the Big East, it's time this group sheds the Pampers.

Stat You Will Like: The Cougars' 48,315 total yards of offense is tops in the nation since 2006.

PLAY ON: vs. SMU (11/29) - *Key

LOUISVILLE (*6/9)

Team Theme: STRONG NUMBERS

Claiming back-to-back Big East titles the last 2 seasons, including an 11-win campaign for the 4th time in school history last year, the Cardinals are indeed the team to beat in the conference in 2013. Led by Big East Offensive Player of the Year QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville won back-to-back games against ranked teams for the first time ever in 2012. Bridgewater welcomes back his top three receivers - all of whom caught 40 or more passes last year - plus 9 starters on defense. Thus the question begs: is their room for improvement or is a crash-and-burn in order? We say that knowing the last Big East team to win 11 games (Cincinnati) went 4-8 SU and 4-7 ATS the next season in 2010. You may call it paranoia. We call it precautious. However, given the neighborhood in which they reside, along with a soft Charmin-like schedule, don't be surprised to see this team in another BCS bowl.

Stat You Will Like: Strong has coached in 23 bowl games in his collegiate career.

PLAY ON: vs. Connecticut (11/8) - *Key

MEMPHIS (*8/8)

Team Theme: CODE: BCS

The Tigers made huge strides under first-year head coach Justin Fuente last season, doubling their 2011 win-total while winning each of its final three games of the 2012 season. After ranking next-to-last in rushing yards in 2011, the Tigers nearly doubled that total last year. With 16 starters back this campaign, including QB Jacob Karam, excitement resonates with Memphis moving up to the Big East conference this season. "We have taken a step forward but we have to understand when you take a step forward, you don't take a break. We will play bigger, more physical teams," said Fuente. His demand of 'Tiger Code': 1. Fundamentally Sound, 2. Physically Fit, 3. Mentally Tough - will be put to the test in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: The Tigers' 3 Interceptions thrown last year were the fewest in school history.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (10/12)

RUTGERS (*7/5)

Team Theme: FLOODING THE WIN COLUMN

When Kyle Flood led his troops onto the field against Kent State last season he was in select company. That's because since 1990 there were a total of only 13 first-year Division-1 coaches to open a season 7-0 heading into Game Eight. Not only did Flood become the first to lose straight-up as a favorite (-13.5) in this role, his perfect start ended in a disappointing 2-4 finish. To make matters worse, a school-record seven players were drafted into the NFL, including three by the New England Patriots. The good news is six of the seven home games this year will be against teams that ended the 2012 season with a losing record.

Stat You Will Like: Rutgers is 51-4 SU in games in which it outrushes its opponent.

PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (10/10)

SMU (*6/6)

Team Theme: JUNE IS IN BLOOM

After a head-scratching 1-11 debut with the Mustangs in 2008, SMU head coach June Jones has led his charges to bowl games each year since, setting a school-record in the process. QB Garrett Gilbert, former high school player of the year, returns after throwing for 2,952 yards on 53% completions with 15 TDs and 15 INTs. To his credit his numbers increased with alarming precision over the second-half of the season when the Ponies rallied from a 2-4 start to close the campaign with a 5-2 flurry. One of six teams to leave CUSA for the Big East, the heat will be on early this season with SMU taking on teams coming off winning campaigns in each of its first five games of the season.

Stat You Will Like: June Jones is 6-0 ATS as a 'dog of less than 18 points versus undefeated opposition.

PLAY ON: vs. TCU (9/28)

TEMPLE (*8/6)

Team Theme: RETURN TO THE GOLDEN RHULES

When Matt Rhule decided to vacate his position as OL coach with the NY Giants and accept the head coaching position at Temple, he became the 3rd new head coach for the Owls in the last four years. A former 6-year assistant at the school, including the last three seasons under Al Golden, Rhule is a disciplinarian and will command the respect of his team. He inherits a veteran squad that sank like the Titanic in its debut in a BCS conference last year. After opening the Big East season with a pair of wins, Temple lost its next five conference games en route to a 4-win season, thus making them a 'mission team' in 2013. Thus, we're betting they win more than the one game they did 'In The Stats' last season. It's our rule.

Stat You Will Like: Temple won 26 games the previous three seasons prior to last year.

PASS

UCF (*6/5)

Team Theme: TRICK OR TREAT

With nary a revenge game on this year's schedule, head coach George O'Leary will need to dig deep into his bag of tricks to keep his team inspired. After all, the Knights won their fourth CUSA Eastern division title last season with just eight years in the league. Plenty of talent returns with no less than six all-conference performers back in 2013, led by QB Blake Bortles who tossed for over 3,000 yards last year. Bortles is joined by five of his top six wide receivers. Meanwhile former Miami RB Storm Johnson is anxious for a breakout season after gaining over 500 yards in a backup role behind departed star RB Latavious Murray (1106 yards and 15 TDs). Lots of talent here with little motivation. No thanks.

Stat You Will Like: The Knights ranked 16th in FBS turnover margin last season.

PASS

USF (5/7)

Team Theme: GOOD BULL HUNTING

When South Florida hired Skip Holtz in 2010 he went on record as saying, "We can win conference championships here. We can win national championships here." But it did not happen. The Bulls dismissed Skip Holtz and hired Willie Taggart as its new head coach last winter following the worst season in the program's 16-year history. The bottom line was turnovers (-19 net) along with Injuries that decimated the Bulls last season when they lost quarterback B. J. Daniels, #3 on the Big East's career total yardage list. By the end of the season tight end and emergency backup QB Evan Landi was taking snaps. Taggart was a prep standout at Bradenton Manatee High School and returns home after having taken the Western Kentucky program from 0-20 to its first bowl appearance in 2012. The Bulls are in good hands.

Stat You Will Like: USF has lost 14 of its past 16 contests against Big East opponents and were 5-16 overall in league play under Holtz.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Connecticut (10/12)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 ACC Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

Sure, Tobacco Road is a path most recognized and well traveled by its basketball brethren. However, the ACC has more than held it’s own on the gridiron of late.

Looking back, in its eight years as a 12-member league, the ACC has sent 64 teams to a bowl game, topped only by the SEC (69) in that span.

And after leading the nation with the most players selected in the first-round of the NFL Draft (30) from 2007-2010, 15 of the top 60 players in the 2011 draft either chewed, puffed or spit some form of tobacco. It was more of the same in 2012 when 15 of the first 100 players selected called the ACC home. And this season the six ACC players selected in the first round was second only to the SEC, increasing the ACC’s tally to 51-first-rounders plucked by the NFL since 2005.

New to the loop in 2013 are Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who join former Big East squads Boston College, Miami Florida and Virginia Tech in this burgeoning conference.

This season figures to be the ‘Year of the Quarterback’ in the ACC with no less than five QB’s owning more than 6,000 career passing yards.

While life is good in the ACC these days they will battle the nation’s toughest non-conference opponent agenda this season. And, much like the tobacco products produced in this region, this year’s non-ACC schedule of games comes with a WARNING: the 56 non-conference BCS AQ foes on tap this season owned a salty .558 win percentage last season.

Wagering on those games could be dangerous to your wealth.

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

Atlantic Division

BOSTON COLLEGE (*5/4)


Team Theme: CLIMBING TO NEW HEIGHTS

After an initial two-year tenure with Temple, Eagles head coach Steve Addazio has worked his way up the food chain to take over a free-falling Eagles’ program that has regressed in the win column each of the last five years. The good news for Addazio is that the cupboard is not bare with 16 starters back on both sides of the ball, including all four linebackers and QB Chase Rettig who tossed for 3,065 yards and 17 TDs last season. While Rettig will be working with his 4th OC in as many years, the good news is this year it’s Ryan Day, a former OC with the Eagles. “He is one of the bright minds and best young coaches in the country,” said former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Stat You Will Like: Off their worst record since 1978, four of BC’s losses last year were by single-digits, including one in overtime.

PLAY ON: vs. Wake Forest (9/6)

CLEMSON (*6/6)

Team Theme: RAISING THE BAR

Off their fourth 11-win season in school history, highlighted with a statement-making win over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Tigers became the favorite to win the ACC in 2013 when star QB Tajh Boyd decided to skip the NFL draft. Along with Sammy Watkins, arguably the best wide receiver in college football, they each are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, leading a Chad Morris offense that has improved dramatically each of his first two years with Clemson. And speaking of heavyweight tandems, OC Morris (1.3M) and DC Brent Venables (800K) combine to haul down over $2 million dollars per year. It’s Venables’ turn to ratchet up the defense, one that has regressed each and every season under head coach Dabo Swinney. Katie bar the door should that happen.

Stat You Will Like: The Tigers are 7-0 ATS at home versus an opponent off a SUATS loss under Swinney.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. South Carolina (11/30)

FLORIDA STATE (6/4)

Team Theme: GOING, GOING, GONE

If, as they say, the price of success is often measured after the fact, then the Seminoles paid a heavy cost after their first 12-win season this millennium in 2012. For openers a school record eleven players were selected in this year’s NFL draft - more than Miami and Florida combined -including QB EJ Manuel, 25-6 as a starter and only the 2nd quarterback in NCAA history (West Virginia’s Pat White was the first) to go 4-0 in bowl games in his career. Then to make matters worse, backup QB Clint Trickett transferred to White’s alma mater. Additionally, they need to replace nearly the entire front seven from the nations 2nd ranked defense, not to mention that six assistant coaches left for new jobs. To say this is a team in transition would be a dramatic understatement. The sign above Jimbo Fisher’s office says it all… Gone Fishin’.

Stat You Will Like: The Seminoles have registered 36 winning seasons in a row and have appeared in 31 straight bowl games, tops in the nation.

PLAY ON: vs. NC State (10/26)

MARYLAND (*7/5)

Team Theme: A TURTLE WAX SHINE

A marked 120 YPG defensive improvement was squandered last season when QB Perry Hills went down with an ACL after seven games. As a result the Terps lost their final five games of the 2012 campaign. The good news is that not only is Hills back but also QB C.J. Brown, the 2011 starter who sat out the entire 2012 season with an ACL, as well. They will have plenty of targets with WR Stefon Diggs returning after an electrifying freshmen season along with JUCO transfer WR Deon Long, a 1st-team all JUCO receiver with 100 receptions last season. Adding to the mix is RB Brandon Ross who led the team in rushing as a freshman last year. Yes, the Terrapins appear to be coming out of their shell.

Stat You Will Like: Randy Edsall played and coached at Syracuse. His wife, Eileen, is in the Syracuse Hall Of Fame as a basketball and volleyball player.

PLAY ON: vs. NC State (11/30)

NC STATE (5/5)

Team Theme: ALL JACKED UP

New head coach Dave Doeren, former boss at Northern Illinois, assumes the reins and he’s as excited as can be. “I didn’t take any short cuts to get here. I’ve been coaching 17 years at the college level and I’ve lined the field and driven the bus… I was a GA twice. I’ve coached high school. I’ve been a 1-AA non-scholarship coach. I’ve been a co-coordinator, a recruiting co-coordinator… and I’m now standing here in the ACC and I’m jacked up about it,” exclaims Doeren. Unfortunately he inherits a green team returning just 5 starters on each side of the ball, with only 3 players having made starts in each of the last 3 years. Relief comes in the form of having only 4 road games.

Stat You Will Like: Doeren is 9-1-1 ATS vs. opponents off a pointspread win of 7 or more points.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wake Forest (10/5)

SYRACUSE (5/6)

Team Theme: WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

An original Big East member, Syracuse makes its move to the ACC along with former partner Pittsburgh as the transformation of the next super-conferences is officially under way. The Orange arrives in a new neighborhood with new head coach Scott Shafer, the defensive coordinator for Syracuse over the last four seasons under former HC Doug Marrone. In addition to losing four members from last year’s coaching staff, Shafer also loses QB Ryan Nassib, who started every game the past three years, and top WR Alec Lemon, the Big East’s leader in receptions last season. Instead, Shafer will concentrate heavily on getting the football to his top two returning RB’s Jerome Smith (1,171 rushing yards) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (617 rushing yards). Yes, there’s a dramatic new look to the Cuse.

Stat You Will Like: Center Macky MacPherson, a Rimington award candidate, is the grandson of Dick MacPherson, the legendary Syracuse coach.

PLAY ON: at Northwestern (9/7)

WAKE FOREST (*8/8)

Team Theme: FALL AWAKENING

With losses in its final three games of the season last year, Wake Forest has failed to field a winning team since 2008. Look for that to change in 2013 behind a veteran team loaded with playing experience. Head coach Jim Grobe, who is just five wins shy of becoming the winningest coach in Demon Deacons’ history since “Peahead” Walker (1937-50), welcomes a squad that features an offense of players totaling 146 combined starts and a defense with 158 starts. Leading the charge is QB Tanner Price (34 starts) who completed 228 of 410 passes for 2,300 yards and 12 TD’s last season. With his favorite target and top two running backs returning, look for the slumber to come to a sudden halt this campaign.

Stat You Will Like: The Deacons have been dreadful during the final six games of the season, going 5-29 SU the last four years.

PLAY ON: vs. NC State (10/5)

Coastal Division

DUKE (9/5)


Team Theme: STILL SMARTING

David Cutcliffe, the reigning ACC Coach of the Year, has led the Devils to 21 wins in his five years at Duke. That’s 11 more than the program totaled in the previous eight years. The good news this season is the offensive line lost just one starter for the 2nd straight year, and the top six RB’s return. The bad news is QB Sean Renfree and WR Conner Vernon are both departed. Vernon is the ACC all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yards. The tandem hooked up for 20 TD’s, the primary reason the Devils tallied a school record 410 points last season. Anxious to hit the field after making its first bowl appearance last year since 1994, our best guess is Duke will have a devil of a time mirroring last year’s success.

Stat You Will Like: 21 players made the ACC all-academics team last season, the most in the conference. Second most was Clemson with 6.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. NC State (11/9)

GEORGIA TECH (7/8)

Team Theme: WHAT A RUSH

For the 2nd year in a row Paul Johnson will field an offensive line led by 4 returning starters – this group helped set a school rushing record of 6,175 yards on the ground last season. Opponents know what they are up against as this overland juggernaut has rushed for more yards than any FBS team since 2008. All 7 losses last year for the Wreck came against bowl eligible opponents. Adding to the task of making it to a bowl game for the 17th straight season (only three teams have longer streaks) is the fact that 10 opponents on this year’s schedule won 6 or more games last season. New defensive coordinator Ted Roof, an ex-alum and former head coach at Duke, was DC with Penn State last year and also with 2008 national champion Auburn. The Yellow Jackets have the second best record in Coastal Division since 2005 (42-22).

Stat You Will Like: The Yellow Jackets have finished .500 or better 18 straight years in the ACC, the longest stretch in the nation.

PLAY ON: vs. Georgia (11/30)

MIAMI FLORIDA (*10/10)

Team Theme: GOLDEN THEM THAR HILLS

The Canes made forward strides in season two under Al Golden, mainly behind an offense that improved 62 net YPG, and a turnover margin that went from -4 to +7. And with only four winning foes on this year’s schedule, the 20 returning starters that dominate this year’s roster are anxious to put a self-imposed two-year bowl ban behind them and regain a bit of gleam from the glory days of years past. QB Stephen Morris, fresh off breaking Bernie Kosar’s school record for total offense last year, leads the charge. Super-soph RB Duke Johnson broke Clinton Portis’ 13-year school freshman rushing record with 947 yards and 10 TD’s as well. With 21 freshmen having seen action last year, the rush is on.

Stat You Will Like: Miami’s last conference championship was in 2003 in the Big East.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Florida (9/7)

NORTH CAROLINA (*6/7)

Team Theme: WELL HEELED

When Larry Fedora accepted the UNC job last season he did so knowing the Tar Heels were on probation from the Butch Davis years and not eligible to go bowling. Nonetheless, he led Big Blue to its first winning record in ACC play since 2004 while also managing to beat Virginia Tech at home for the first time since 1938. Best of all last year’s 8-win effort was accomplished while playing 28 freshmen, tying LSU and TCU for most combined first-year players to see action. Quarterback Bryn Renner, ranked 2nd in pass efficiency (160.3) last season among active players, returns after throwing for 3,356 yards on 67% completions. The healing process is under way.

Stat You Will Like: Fedora is 7-0 ATS in his career versus a .714 or less opponent off back-to-back wins.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. NC State (11/2)

PITTSBURGH (6/9)

Team Theme: HOLY CHRYST

After being hired as its fourth coach in 13 years last season, it appeared Paul Chryst was the next head on the chopping block after a 0-2 start, punctuated by a season-opening home loss to (yikes) Youngstown State. However, the football gods answered his prayers when the Panthers went on to win 6 of their next 10 games and land a bowl berth again Ole Miss. Gone is 4-year starting QB Tino Sunseri, likely to be replaced by former Rutgers signal caller Tom Savage, a senior who was a scholarship player at Arizona in 2011 but did not play. Also graduated is star RB Ray Graham who rushed for 3,271 yards in four seasons, second at Pitt only to Tony Dorsett. In his first season in the ACC, Chryst will once again be a regular at the local house of worship.

Stat You Will Like: The Panthers are 0-6-1 SU and 0-7 ATS away versus ACC opponents, and 0-6 ATS as a single-digit dog versus the ACC.

PLAY ON: at Syracuse (11/23)

VIRGINIA (7/7)

Team Theme: LONDON CALLING

The Cavaliers saw their win total slashed in half last season despite posting comparable stats from an 8-win effort in 2011. With 14 starters back, this year’s squad could fly under the radar and improve on all fronts. The loss, however, of former 5-star high school recruit QB Phillip Sims to academic suspension hurts. Sims, a transfer from Alabama’s 2011 national championship team, played in all 12 games last season, starting four times. The Cavs will be put to the test against 8 bowl teams and 2 others who were bowl eligible. Mike London’s three basic tenets delivered to his players (Go to class; Show class; Treat people with respect and dignity) are paying dividends. In his 4th year at the helm, and with 8 home games, it’s now time for this team to fulfill their coach’s lofty expectations.

Stat You Will Like: 6 of Virginia’s 16 wins under London have been by 3 or less points.

PLAY ON: vs. Maryland (10/12)

VIRGINIA TECH (*6/9)

Team Theme: BACK ON THE BEAM

The Hokies were the nation’s only team with 10 or more wins the previous eight seasons, and 8 or more wins the last 14 years – until 2012. That’s when the whole thing nearly went to hell in a handbag. Were it not for a pair of 3-point wins in the last game of the season and in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Hokies would have endured their first losing season since 1992. With the attack falling off dramatically, Frank Beamer brings in three new offensive assistants, including an OC and QB coach. They will be hands on in hopes of better grooming 6’6”, 255-lb senior QB Logan Thomas for the NFL, who endured an inconsistent campaign last year after a breakout season in 2011. Like General MacArthur, they shall return.

Stat You Will Like: The Hokies are 13-1 SU in the state of North Carolina during the regular season since joining the ACC in 2004 (only loss last year at UNC).

PLAY AGAINST: as a dog vs. Miami Florida (11/8)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 Big Ten Football Preview                     
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

At first glance it appears the muscle on display by the Big Ten Conference went steroid-free and softened up in 2012. A closer look tells a different story.

The conference flexed its power in 2011 when three Big Ten teams finished the season with 11 wins for the second-straight season. In addition, an NCAA record 10 teams went bowling in 2011. Along the way the league picked up its 3rd BCS bowl win in as many years.

That all changed in 2012 when the BCS bowl string was snapped and only seven teams from the conference hit the alleys. In addition only one team, Ohio State, managed to win more than 10 games.

It should be noted, however, that two teams were bowl ineligible (Penn State and the Buckeyes) while the league also suffered an onslaught of close-call losses last season.

That’s confirmed by the fact the Big Ten was 85-68 overall in 2012, with nearly a 30% of the losses (20) by a field goal or less. Leading the charge were three teams – Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin – with four defeats by three or less points.

The good news is 30 all-conference players are back in 2013, the most since 2005.

The coaching turnstile continues with two new coaches this season, making nine of the current twelve coaches at the helm two years or less.

That number will grow by at least two next season when Maryland and Rutgers move into the conference.

In this crazy world of conference expansion, it’s been said that Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney is secretly a plant in quest of more soil.

We couldn’t agree more.

Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2013 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

Leaders Division

ILLINOIS (*9/4)


Team Theme: BABY POWDER

A promising 2-1 start for new head coach Tim Beckman went down the drain faster than toot in a frat bust when the Illini went 0-9 to conclude a disappointing season last year. Beckman, who has coached under the likes of Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, Mike Gundy and Pat Dye, immediately brought in five new assistant coaches, including Bill Cubit as his new OC and QB coach. The former Western Michigan head coach will look to fix the Illini offensive woes, a monumental task on paper considering Illinois finished second-to-last in the FBS in total offense and scoring last year. They will employ a high tempo no-huddle spread offense engineered by Nathan Scheelhaase or Reilly O’Toole. Look for the 18 freshmen that debuted last season to find plenty of playing time in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, a 3-year starter with 36 starts, ranks 5th all-rime in total offense (7,091 yards) at Illinois.

PLAY ON: vs. Indiana (11/9)

INDIANA (*10/9)

Team Theme: BLOOMING GARDEN

Kevin Wilson’s 3rd year at the helm in Bloomington was a relative success when his young Hoosiers showed dramatic improvement. Fielding the youngest team in the country (24 of 35 starters were underclassmen), Wilson parlayed playing time granted to 16 true freshmen and 16 redshirt freshmen in 2011 into 16 more newbie’s getting game time last year. As a result the new kids on the block led the Big Ten in passing offense in 2012 while setting school records in passing yards and total offense. They were so excited they ran one play every 20.3 seconds, with 23 TDs coming in under 90 seconds. Behind a bevy of returning starters, including 10 on offense, look for Wilson to take these pimply-faces places they’ve never been before.

Stat You Will Like: Despite trailing in time of possession by nearly 7 minutes per game last season, the Hoosiers led the opposition in plays per game (78.3-75.8).

PLAY ON: vs. Wisconsin (11/16)

OHIO STATE (*9/4)

Team Theme: FOUR ON THE FLOOR

With two national championships and two undefeated seasons now under his belt, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer will look to improve on an auspicious debut in Columbus last year – if that’s possible. With 47 of 82 scholarship players either freshmen or sophomores, and not having the benefit of extra practice time afforded to bowl teams before bowling last season, we’re selling rather than buying. Sure, the offense is loaded with nine starters including star QB Braxton Miller and four senior starters on the o-line, but the defense is shaky at best. Not only did it decline 37 YPG last season, the front seven returns only ONE starter, with the entire front four gone. Yes, Meyer has been a winner at every level, but you may be floored at this year’s slippage.

Stat You Will Like: The Buckeyes list only four seniors on defense this season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wisconsin (9/28)

PENN STATE (8/6)

Team Theme: SUPER GLUE

Through the eyes of many, Bill O’Brien was arguably College Football’s Coach of the Year last season. No, the Lions did not go bowling – they were not allowed - their win total actually slipped from the previous year, and the defense allowed 31 more YPG. What O’Brien did was bond a once proud program back together in spectacular fashion following the Joe Paterno scandal. The task becomes more difficult this season given the fact that emotional inspiration does not figure to reach last year’s levels. JUCO transfer QB Tyler Ferguson figures to be under center until mega-recruit Christian Hackenberg is ready. Meanwhile, WR Allen Robinson, the Big Ten’s active receiving yards leader (1,013) from last season, becomes the team’s go-to player.

Stat You Will Like: Three of the Lions’ four non-conference games are against foes that were in bowl games last season.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Nebraska (11/23)

PURDUE (5/9)

Team Theme: HAMMER AND RAILS

There are distinct differences, but in more ways than one, this squad is similar to Boilermaker teams from the past. However, Darrell Hazell - former Ohio State assistant and Kent State head coach - is the new sheriff in town and he’s looking to make changes this season. Quarterbacks Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush have moved on from the ‘Cradle of QBs’, as did leading wide receiver Antavian Edison and leading rusher Akeem Shavers. Considering Hazell’s Flashes dialed up 584 run plays compared to 358 designed passes last season, TB Akeem Hunt is likely to step into the spotlight this season. With fans railing for improvements both at Ross-Ade Stadium and on the field, look for Hazell’s tenure to start from the ground up with the Boilers this season.

Stat You Will Like: One of a handful of FBS schools without permanent lighting at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Boilermakers will have no prime-time games on the Big Ten Network this season.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Ohio State (11/2)

WISCONSIN (*8/7)

Team Theme: PASA-THREE-NA

Big 10 champions three years running – albeit largely by default last season - the Badgers became only the third team in history to drop three consecutive Rose Bowls in as many years last season when they fell to Stanford, 20-14. An expected letdown was clearly in order when after a 39-point trouncing of Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, it was announced head coach Brett Bielema was departing for Arkansas. Through it all Gary Andersen arrives from Utah State where he managed to turn 13 straight losing seasons into a school-best 11-win campaign for the Aggies last year. With the Big Ten brawnier than ever, and Urban Meyer’s Ohio State squad both conference and bowl-eligible in 2013, FTD will not likely be delivering a fourth bouquet of roses to Bucky this season.

Stat You Will Like: Andersen's Utah State squad was No. 1 in red-zone scoring defense last season. Wisconsin was No. 120 (dead-last) in red-zone scoring defense last season.

PASS

Legends Division

IOWA (6/8)


Team Theme: BEAM ME UP

The result of facing too much stiff competition brought sober results to a Hawkeyes program that couldn’t find its way to the winner’s circle in close call games last season. When the smoke settled, half of their eight losses in 2012 were by a field goal or less, leading to a disastrous 0-6 finish. A closer look reveals nine of Iowa’s twelve opponents played in a bowl game, with another (Penn State) winning 8 games. Offensively, Kirk Ferentz replaces QB James Vandenberg with Jake Ruddock (led his Florida high school squad to 29-1 record and state title) and welcomes back last year’s top two running backs as well as four of the top five wide receivers. With the top three tacklers back on defense, expect Captain Kirk to right the ship… pronto.

Stat You Will Like: The Hawkeyes were the only team in the nation to have six regular season games decided by 3 or less points last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Iowa State (9/14)

MICHIGAN (*5/6)

Team Theme: TIGHTEN UP

Lost in the mix of another 5-loss season last year (3rd time in last four years) was the fact that the defeats came at the hands of teams that combined to go 58-8 on the season. In fact, four of the Wolverines’ five losses occurred away from the “Big House” against the AP’s top 10 teams: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 8 South Carolina. Whew, talk about tight. Meanwhile, QB Devin Gardner stepped in for an injured Denard Robinson and ignited the offense by tallying at least two touchdowns in every game (5) he played at quarterback. By the time the dust settled Gardner finished with 18 TDs, including 11 by air and 7 by land. Revenge looms large in Ann Arbor.

Stat You Will Like: Brady Hoke became the first Michigan head coach to go undefeated at home in his first two seasons at U-M since Fielding Yost in 1901-02.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Ohio State (11/30)

MICHIGAN STATE (*9/7)

Team Theme: LOCKED AND LOADED

Selected by most pundits as the team to beat in the Big Ten last season, the Spartans fell woefully short of expectations in 2012. The defense held up their end of the bargain. It was the offense that suffered major attrition, slipping 11 points and 31 yards per game. The upside was a stirring 13-point comeback in a 17-16 win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, giving them back-to-back bowl wins for the first time since 1990. With a stellar defense that ranked in the nation’s top 5 overall the last two years, many of those same experts will be right back on the Spartans in 2013. After all, eleven players on offense and twelve on defense own starting experience, including six OL with at least ten starts apiece.

Stat You Will Like: Michigan State has won more Big Ten games (27) than any other team in conference play the last four years.

PLAY ON: vs. Northwestern (11/23)

MINNESOTA (*10/7)

Team Theme: KILLING ME SOFTLY

In between seizures, Jerry Kill’s game plan is beginning to play out. After joining the Gophers two years ago, Kill’s clan is showing signs of the Glen Mason era in Minneapolis when anything less than a bowl bid was unacceptable. His troops found their way to the Meineke Car Care Bowl last year, losing in a shootout to Texas Tech. They return 17 starters from a team that improved its numbers on both sides of the ball from the previous year. With star athlete Marquies Gray having gone from QB to WR to the NFL (free agent with the 49ers), the ball is now in the hands of Phillip Nelson. He’ll need to improve on a sub 50% completion rate last year for the plan to progress.

Stat You Will Like: In his 3rd year at Northern Illinois, Kill went 11-3 SU and 10-2-1 ATS.

PLAY ON: vs. Northwestern (10/19)

NEBRASKA (*7/5)

Team Theme: LEGENDS IN THEIR OWN MINDS

Why is it a team that has had five straight nine-win seasons in as many years under its head coach, while also capturing the Legends division the Big 10 last season, can’t seem to command the respect of its peers? Maybe it’s the four losses they incurred each of the last five years. Or perhaps it’s the fact that they led the nation in scoring defense in 2009 (10.4 PPG), but have grown progressively worse (28 PPG last season) each year since. The bottom line is this program is certainly a ghost of the one that dominated college football in the 80s and 90s. QB Taylor Martinez leads an offense that improved 6 points and 81 yards per game last season. But their legendary status will remain a memory until the defense comes around.

Stat You Will Like: All 10 college football programs Bo Pelini has been a part of have won nine or more games each season.

PLAY ON: vs. UCLA (9/14)

NORTHWESTERN (*8/7)

Team Theme: PURPLE REIGN

Last year on these pages Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald was quoted as saying, “We’re not that far away… it’s all about chemistry. Are we eating and drinking and sleeping and just consumed with being a champion? We’re darn close, and that’s the goal.” His words proved prophetic as Northwestern proceeded to win 10 games for only the second-time in school history. As a result Fitzgerald enjoyed his best-ever recruiting class this year, paving the way for continuity to be in place for years to come. Adding to the good news is the return of 15 starters from last year’s record-setting class, including QB Kain Colter on offense and Tyler Scott on defense, the nation’s active sack leader last season. The saga continues.

Stat You Will Like: The last time Northwestern won back-to-back bowl games was 1949.

PLAY ON: vs. Michigan (11/16)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 Big 12 Conference Football Preview                      
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

These days it’s all about the money, honey.

And with it, at its 2013 spring meeting, the Big 12 Conference announced that is will distribute a record amount of revenue - $198 million – to each of its ten members.

In what amounts to a $22 million payday for eight Big 12 member institutions, and $11 million dollars apiece for newcomers TCU and West Virginia, it was learned the bulk of the revenues was generated by its television contracts along with member participation in bowl games and the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

FYI: the SEC, which has four more members, was able to distribute $289.4 million.

The one glaring similarity: each conference’s television agreements are largely responsible for the uptick in revenue, with 49.5% of the Big 12 monies and 59.8% of the SEC’s primarily the driving forces. Think about that the next time you pay your monthly cable bill.

So the next time you hear the Big 12 talking about the need to add two more teams in order to bring the 10-team league back to 12, you will better understand the real reason behind the double-speak.

And speaking of money, a look back shows the Big 12 has participated in at least eight bowl games (nine last campaign) four straight seasons, and ten times the last 17 years. In addition, the Big 12 completed the 2012 season owning the nation’s best two-year non-conference regular season-win percentage at .883 (53-7).

The league has also tallied its best non-conference records in the month of September, going 52-5 SU and 28-14 ATS, including 13-1 ATS when not favored by more than seven points, the last two seasons.

Through it all, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops insists the Big 12 is better balanced - from top to bottom - than the SEC. Bowl records over the last decade say different with the SEC standing 53-30, while the Big 12 counters at 40-39.

Maybe he was referring to offensive production, where six Big 12 squads landed in the nation’s Top 20 in total offense last season, doubling-up the amount of SEC teams. Then again, the SEC found six schools in the Top 20 in scoring defense last season as opposed to ZERO teams from the Big 12.

And therein tells the tale of that story… and the checkbook disparity of the two conferences.

Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2013 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

BAYLOR (6/7)

Team Theme: FINDING THEIR SEA LEGS

If there was a hotter team at the conclusion of the 2012 season than the Bears, let them step forward. Art Briles’ squad finished with the No. 2 offense in the nation, one year after RG3 ran off with the Heisman and headed to the nation’s capitol. And speaking of the coveted trophy, this just in… “I’m going to win the Heisman. I’m going to win it in 2013,” RB Lache Seastrunk said. “If I don’t, I’m going to get very close.” Seastrunk got regular carries in just the final six games of the season (in which the Bears went 6-0 ATS), and in that span, he flashed his 4.34 speed in the 40 and ran for 831 yards (8.1 average) and six touchdowns. It may be a small body of work but: beware.

Stat You Will Like: The Baylor defense has regressed in total yards allowed each of the last four years.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Kansas State (10/12)

IOWA STATE (7/6)

Team Theme: RHOADS TO SUCCESS

At first look one might think that three consecutive 7-loss seasons would start to warm up a coach’s seat. Not in Ames where the last two campaigns culminated in bowl games. Hometown hero Paul Rhoads has attendance at an all-time high while last year marked the first time in school history the Cyclones beat a ranked team in three straight seasons. The main task at hand in 2013 is replacing super-star LBs A. J. Klein and Jake Knott, both three-year starters who will be playing on Sundays this season. QB Sam Richardson started the final three games of the season last year and assumes the starting duties. With nine games against bowlers, including each of their six road games, another 7-loss season would be another small step on the long road to success.

Stat You Will Like: Head coach Paul Rhoads was born and raised 10 minutes from Jack Trice Stadium.

PLAY ON: vs. Tulsa (9/21)

KANSAS (*5/4)

Team Theme: DOWN FOR THE COUNT

Going downhill faster than an Olympic slalom racer, Kansas has watched its annual win total fall from 12, to 8, to 5, to 3, to 2, to 1 over the last six years. The good news for 2d year head coach Charlie Weis is that since 1990 there have been a total of 108 Division-1 teams who won exactly one game the previous season, and 89 of those teams went on to improve on that total the following season, while only 3 teams regressed to zero wins. Better news is the Jayhawks return 96% of the rushing yards from a unit that owned the 3rd best running attack in the Big 12 last season. Squaring off against 10 bowlers and snapping a 21-game conference-losing skein is another matter.

Stat You Will Like: Kansas is 1-27 SU from Game Six out the last four years.

PASS

KANSAS STATE (8/2)

Team Theme: GREAT GRAND DAD

As we alluded to last year, not many great grandfathers can lay claim to winning National Coach of the Year honors. You can count on one finger how many of them have done it back-to-back seasons. That gold finger belongs to Bill Snyder who captured the honor once again last year after winning the same award in 2011. This accomplishment justly earned by a legendary coach who inherited a team in the midst of a 0-21-1 run over two decades ago. Last year’s Big 12 title was the first for the Wildcats since 2003 and the 3rd in school history. The challenge is on for 2013, though, with QB Collin Klein and nine senior starters from last year’s defense now with diplomas in hand.

Stat You Will Like: Three fumbles lost last season tied with Iowa for top honors in the FBS.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Oklahoma State (10/5)

OKLAHOMA (7/4)

Team Theme: A TOUGH STATE OF MIND

With no less than 11 bowlers from last season dotting the itinerary, the Sooners will be put to the test in 2013. And for the first time since 2007 they will take the field with a new quarterback behind center. That’s because 4-year starter Landry Jones, who went 39-11 in his career at OU, is gone. Fortunately a strong upper class (45 seniors and juniors) returns for Bob Stoops, the fastest coach to reach 100 wins in modern history. Stoops also returns as the only coach to reach all four BCS bowl games and the National Championship Game. With 44 players residing on the roster from the state of Texas and 28 from Oklahoma, look for Big Game Bob to improve on his shimmering 69-18 SU all-time mark against teams from either state.

Stat You Will Like: The Sooners are 20-0 SU in games off a regular season loss since 2003.

PLAY ON: vs. Kansas State (11/30)

OKLAHOMA STATE (*7/8)

Team Theme: STRAIGHT SHOOTERS

On the heels of a school record 7-straight bowl games, the Cowboys shoot for 8 in a row behind a revamped coaching staff and ton of talent. Mike Yurcich becomes the third offensive coordinator in four seasons at OSU. His Shippensburg team ranked first nationally among Division II schools in total offense while passing for a nation-best 387.7 YPG last season. With Wes Lunt transferring out, he’ll have two quarterbacks at his disposal who shared starting duties for the Cowboys last season in Clint Chief and J. W. Walsh – both of whom combined with Lunt to throw for over 4,000 yards en route to averaging 547 YPG of offense, setting a school record in the process. A brackish schedule finds opponents, other than Kansas, with an 82-47 record last season.

Stat You Will Like: Mike Gundy was 12-15 in his first 27 games with the Cowboys. He’s 55-20 since.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas (11/16)

TCU (*6/9)

Team Theme: THE SMOKE HAS CLEARED

Frog fever is back in the air in Fort Worth now that QB Casey Pachall has been cleared to resume duties following his arrest and subsequent suspension for a wacky-tobaccco violation. Pachall returns as the active FBS career passing efficiency leader (163.1). Also back is his replacement last year, sophomore Trevone Boykin, along with leading WR Waymon James and top rusher B. J. Catalon. The fact of the matter is youth served TCU well last year as 20 players made their first career starts, while a total of 28 true and redshirt freshmen played. With the Frogs having been bowlers 11 of 12 years under Gary Patterson, it is no wonder TCU owns the best record in the state of Texas (84-19) since 2005.

Stat You Will Like: TCU has won 47 straight games when it has outrushed its opponent.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas Tech (9/14)

TEXAS (*10/9)

Team Theme: STEERING THE STAMPEDE

The only team in the nation to finish in the final BCS poll in 13 of the last 14 seasons, the Longhorns will mix experience (19 returning starters) with youth (34 of 48 freshmen have played the last two season) to form a potentially lethal combination in 2013. This year's squad is loaded offensively with 10 starters back, including the two-headed QB combo of David Ash and Case McCoy who combined to rank 10th in the land in passing efficiency last season. It's the defense that finds them shaking in their boots, one that slipped nearly 100 YPG last season. Here's hoping 9 starters back from a unit that ranked 6th in the FBS in tackles for a loss last year holds up its end of the deal.

Stat You Will Like: Mack Brown has led his teams to winning campaigns in 22 of the last 23 years, including 14 of the last 15 seasons at Texas.

PLAY ON: vs. Kansas State (9/21)

TEXAS TECH (6/9)

Team Theme: PULL BACK FROM THE KLIFF

Following a spat at the conclusion of the 2009 season, Mike Leach left the Red Raiders and took his powerful offensive system with him. The air-miles registered by the Texas Tech offense began to drop like passes to a wide receiver wearing boxing gloves, causing the victory totals to diminish as well, with the Techsters averaging seven wins per season since. However, the hire of former TTRR quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has sparked new life into a dying program and as a result, more fans put off suicide and attended the spring game than ever before, anxious to see WR Eric Ward and a new high-flying offense at work. With 2011 three-star recruit QB Michael Brewer looking to lead an offense back to the Promised Land, Kingsbury’s popularity is winning fans over in droves. Let’s hope the football team does, too.

Stat You Will Like: The Red Raiders will face nine teams that were in bowl games last season, including seven in their final seven games of the season.

PLAY ON: vs. Baylor (11/16)

WEST VIRGINIA (4/7)

Team Theme: LIGHTS OUT

Like an insomniac, third-year coach Dana Holgorsen has not been sleeping well – at least not since the departure of his entire passing skill offense. QB Geno Smith and his top three wide receivers are off to the NFL, forcing Holgorsen to plug many missing holes from last year’s over-the-top 500-yard offense. RB Andrew Buie is the only experienced playmaker returning on offense. Thus the transfer of former Florida State QB Clint Trickett (ruled eligible this season with graduation degree in hand) provides a ray of hope and a chance for slumber. The nightmare persists, however, with a Swiss-cheese defense that surrendered the most points in the Big 12. All this on the heels of a team that had its heart ripped out following a 5-0 start last season. Pass the Ambien, please.

Stat You Will Like: The Mountaineers lose 3,752 passing yards and 42 touchdowns from last year’s offense.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Baylor (10/5)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 CUSA Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

Life without a scorecard around these parts would be like going to a wet tee-shirt contest with a blindfold. It just doesn’t make sense.

With six new teams joining the affiliation, comprising a pair of 7-team divisions, a scorecard in the Conference USA is a must these days.

According to our scorecard, CUSA loses Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF to the American Athletic Conference (the former Big East). Meanwhile they import Charlotte, FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, and Texas-San Antonio in 2013.

If expansion talk like this isn’t dizzying enough, the loop welcomes four new head coaches in 2013, including Ron Turner (FIU), Skip Holtz (Louisiana Tech), Todd Monken (Southern Miss) and Sean Kugler (UTEP), while breaking in six new starting quarterbacks as well.

Stepping outside the conference, members will take on 18 games against foes from the Big10, the Big12 and the SEC. In head-to-head games against these three super conferences, the CUSA stands 45-206 straight up and 110-134-5 against the spread since the inception the conference, including a super-scary 2-117 SU and 39-83-2 ATS in games in which they fail to score 17 points. Against all other non-conference foes the loop stands 343-324 SU overall.

And despite its BCS non-AQ status, the CUSA has performed well of late with 10 different teams from the conference participating in 45 bowl games over the last eight years. They’ve really held their own in these post-season affairs, going 22-23 SU and 23-21-1 ATS.

Interestingly, in that span against .666 or greater bowl opponents the CUSA is 15-9 SU and 17-7 ATS, while just 7-14 SU and 6-14-1 ATS versus sub .666 foes. (Go figure)

So when it comes to partying take off the blindfold and, like the teams in this loop, just go for it and enjoy.

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

East Division

EAST CAROLINA (*8/8)


Team Theme: RUFFIN READY
After serving 10 years as an assistant under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, former ECU alum (and 4-year football letterman) Ruffin McNeil knew it was his time when the Pirates brought him aboard as the head coach in 2010. A 19-19 record does not have the fan base clamoring for him to walk the plank, but his breakout season looks to be at hand in 2013. After 51 players made their first-ever collegiate starts with the Pirates in his first two seasons, he featured only three senior starters on offense in 2012. As a result, ECU will field the second-highest number of returning starts of all FBS teams this year: 355, including 215 from last season. With 25 seniors and 24 juniors (50.5% upper classmen) putting on the pads, including record-setting QB Shane Carden, the Pirates are ready to push the envelope.

Stat You Will Like: 75% of the Pirates lettermen return in 2013.

PLAY ON: vs. North Carolina (9/28)

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (7/8)

Team Theme: MOVIN’ ON UP

Like the Jeffersons, FAU finds itself moving on up to Conference USA beginning this football season. It didn’t take new head coach Carl Pelini long to make his mark in Boca Raton, where his Owls dramatically improved their offensive numbers in his first year at the helm in 2012. A 101-yard improvement rewarded backers as well with a nifty 8-3 pointspread mark. With 15 starters back, they’re prepared to move up in class this campaign. The good news is they will face only two opponents that participated in a bowl game last season, and will close out the season against seven losing squads. The feeling here, though, is the combination of sophomore blues and a tougher neighborhood may find the Owls asleep on the ATS perch in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: FAU improved from No. 117 to No. 64 in penalty yards per game under Pelini last season.

PLAY AGAINST: at UAB (10/5)

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (*3/3)

Team Theme: TURNING A NEW CORNER

Along with their neighborhood cousins Florida Atlantic, FIU moves in a new direction by joining Conference USA in 2013. In addition, they bring along new head coach Ron Turner, a former boss at Illinois and San Jose State. The former Big 10 Coach of the Year (Illinois 2001) will need all of his coaching skills as he finds the cupboard bare with only three starters back on both sides of the ball after the Panthers lost nearly 30 seniors to graduation. The good news is 22 true or redshirt freshmen made their debut last season, while 28 players who sat out because of redshirt, injury or transfer status will be suiting up in 2013. Keeping oft-injured QB Jake Medlock healthy is crucial.

Stat You Will Like: Turner is 6-23 ATS in games off a SUATS loss in his college career.

PLAY ON: vs. Marshall (11/23)

MARSHALL (*8/7)

Team Theme: GREEN COLORED GLASSES

When Doc Holliday arrived in town three years ago he promised to fire-up an offense that appeared to have run out of bullets. They’ve re-loaded since, with the buy-sign coming last year when the Doctor’s offense improved a whopping 201 YPG. Puzzling, though, was the fact that after going 7-1 in one-possession games (games decided by a touchdown or less) his first two seasons with a popgun attack, his troops plummeted to 2-4 in the same games last year. The blame can be placed on a defense that has been in decline since Holliday’s arrival. With plenty of offensive power on hand in the likes of QB Rakeem Cato (CUSA MVP) and WR Tommy Shuler (110 receptions in 2012), things will improve when and if the defense does.

Stat You Will Like: In addition to Cato and Shuler, the Thundering Herd offense returns its top three running backs, TE Gator Hoskins (10 TDs) and a whopping eight linemen with starting experience.

PLAY ON: vs. East Carolina (11/30)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (*9/8)

Team Theme: NO STANDING STILL

The hire of Rick Stockstill at MTSU in 2006 has paid off in spades. He has demonstrated the ability to develop and coach big-time players throughout his career, having worked 24 years as an assistant with legendary coaches Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier, Danny Ford, Tommy Bowden, Ken Hatfield and Tommy West. Coaching is in his blood and it was apparent last year when he led the Blue Raiders to the nation’s biggest win improvement of +6 games, including a school record 5 FBS road wins. Headed to the Conference USA, seventeen starters are back for more, led by senior QB Logan Kilgore who has enjoyed back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. Going up against only two bowl teams in 2013, anything less than a bowl would be substandard.

Stat You Will Like: In his tenure at MTSU, Rick Stockstill’s teams have gone from an APR score of 892 to 983, the biggest increase of any program in the country.

PLAY ON: vs. North Carolina (9/7)

SOUTHERN MISS (4/9)

Team Theme: HERO TO ZERO

On paper it looked like the right move. Ellis Johnson, a four-year defensive coordinator at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier, was in for the departed Larry Fedora. His job was to extend the Eagles' 18-year win skein, if not somehow improve on 2011's school-best 12-win effort. It turns out Johnson became the poster-boy for the Peter Principle when he led his team to ZERO wins. Like a candle in the wind, his flame burned out long before his legend ever did. Enter Todd Monken, former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. He is the third Golden Eagles head coach of the last four hired whose previous job was OC with the Cowboys. The good news for Monken: Zero-win lined teams have gone 248-439-4 the next season since 1991.

Stat You Will Like: David Duggan, Southern Miss defensive coordinator in 2011, returns as DC this season.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas State (8/31)

UAB (*8/8)

Team Theme: OINTMENT APPLIED

Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was fully aware of what it was he was getting into when he assumed the reins at UAB last season. He inherited a team on a 7-year losing skid and a defense that was torched for more than 500 yards on seven occasions. The seven-year itch wouldn’t go away but a solid improvement on both sides of the ball provides the salve needed to soften the wounds. Led by returning QB Austin Brown’s school record 309 passing YPG, and joined by last year’s leading WR Jackie Williams and top RB Darrin Reaves, the Blazers take the field in 2013 with the look of a team ready to turn the corner.

Stat You Will Like: Four returning wide receivers caught 40 or more passes last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Troy (8/31)

West Division

LOUISIANA TECH (3/4)

Team Theme: BOW-WOW

You know the tale of Mother Hubbard going to the cupboard to get her poor dog a bone, only to find the cupboard bare. That same verse is running through new coach Skip Holtz’s head as he assumes the reins in Ruston with a total of 7 starters back from last years record-setting squad that tallied 51 PPG and 578 YPG en route to a 9-2 season. Unfortunately, the program turned down an Independence Bowl invite hoping for a more high-profile game, only to have their porous defense (allowed 526 YPG) fail to impress the bowl scouts elsewhere – thus, the Bulldogs remained home for the holidays. Skippy will need to rely on his playbook more than ever this season with QB Colby Cameron (4,147 pass yards) listed among the departed. Sophomore RB Kenneth Dixon (1,194 rushing yards) will be heavily counted upon to carry the load.

Stat You Will Like: Skip Holtz is 15-3 ATS as a dog versus a .500 or less opponent.

Pass

NORTH TEXAS (*8/8)

Team Theme: SMOOTH OPERATOR

Dan McCarney’s operation of weaning JUCO’s and concentrating instead on recruits showed promising signs - on the stat sheet at least - last season when the Mean Green improved its numbers on both sides of the ball despite slipping both SU & ATS. Longtime followers of this publication know what that equation means – expected improvement this season. For the first time in 60 years NTSU had three players rush for more than 500 yards in a single season and two of them are back in 2013. They join senior QB Derek Thompson to form a potent backfield. Coupled with a defense that allowed the fewest points in a season since 2006, the transition to the CUSA could be smoother than anticipated.

Stat You Will Like: North Texas’ offensive line allowed the fewest sacks in the nation last season (6).

PLAY ON: vs. Middle Tennessee State (10/12)

RICE (*9/10)

Team Theme: MANY HAPPY RETURNS

A 5-game season-ending win skein is not all that propels the Owls into the 2013 season. For the first time in head coach David Bailiff’s seven-year tenure, the entire coaching staff returns intact. In addition, 19 returning starters dot the roster led by QB Taylor McHargue. The clincher, though, is the fact that 14 freshmen debuted last season and they combine with an FBS-best 233 returning starts from last year’s team to bring experience aplenty. That makes the wide-eyed Owls a major player in the CUSA this campaign. Think not? Then chew on this: last year’s 3-3 SU and 4-2 ATS away mark put a halt to a 1-17 SU and 5-13 ATS road mark since 2009.

Stat You Will Like: The Owls led the nation in time of possession (33:59) last season.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Louisiana Tech (11/16) - *Key off win

TULANE (8/8)

Team Theme: I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR C.J.

When C. J. Johnson brought his 25 years of coaching experience, along with some flashy hardware – namely: a Super Bowl trophy during his stint with the New Orleans Saints and a national championship ring as an assistant at Miami Florida – the hope was his glossy resume would be a good start toward recovery for a program that has wallowed 10 straight years on the south side of .500. Year Two of the rebuilding project finds hope with 16 starters back, including all-CUSA WR Ryan Grant (led the conference in receiving yards last year). The wish is that JUCO transfer QB Nick Montana will assume the reins and walk on by to the north side of the barrier. The wishin’ and hopin’ continues in the Big Easy.

Stat You Will Like: PK Cairo Santos was the winner of the 2012 Lou Groza award. Santos nailed 21 of 21 field goals last season.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. North Texas (10/5)

TULSA (*7/3)

Team Theme: STARSHIP ENTERPRISE

Replacing 4-year starter G.J. Kinne proved to be no problem for Bill Blankenship’s Golden Hurricane last season when they tied a school record with 11 wins thanks to a same-season revenge win over Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl. QB Cody Green, along with his top three wide receivers and two running backs, are back for more, giddy as all get-out after winning Tulsa’s first conference title since 2005. In fact, no other senior class has managed to top the 29 wins recorded by this group in school history. After venturing where few other Tulsa teams have gone before, Blankenship’s star-studded no-huddle spread offense will hope a gutted defense, sans the entire D-line, doesn’t let their efforts go to waste.

Stat You Will Like: Blankenship is 15-2 SU and 12-5 ATS in conference games with the Hurricane, including 4-0 SUATS off a loss.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Marshall (11/14)

UTEP (7/4)

Team Theme: GLORY DAYS

If kudos and coaching pedigree are a part of the equation when it comes to evaluating a new coach then the Miners struck gold this off-season when they inked Sean Kugler to replace Mike Price. “There’s absolutely no question that he’s the best football coach I’ve ever been around,” beamed Boise State head coach Chris Peterson. Kugler is a former UTEP offensive lineman who spent one year with the Broncos in between eleven years as an assistant with the Bills, Lions and Steelers in the NFL. To top it off he hired Scott Stoker as his defensive coordinator. Stoker, the 2011 FCS DC Coach Of The Year guided Sam Houston State to consecutive FCS National Title games. Ex-Texas A&M QB Jameill Showers, who played behind Ryan Tannehill in 2011 and Johnny Manziel in 2012, will usher in the Kugler era.

Stat You Will Like: New OC Patrick Higgins, former UTEP offensive coordinator (2000-03), served as interim OC and interim head coach at Purdue last season.

PASS

UTSA (10/8)

Team Theme: REBORN IN THE USA

After spending its first-year as an FBS member in the WAC, the Roadrunners are off to the Conference USA. This upstart program will become a full-fledged FBS program and bowl eligible in 2014. That’s good news for a program built from the ground up by former national championship head coach Larry Coker, who is 72-25 with a .742 career win percentage, as he has appeared in 18 bowl games in his collegiate career with his teams winning 14 of those contests. But first things first as the jump to a tougher neighborhood will likely dampen last year’s successful debut. 18 returning starters in 2013 – and 21 last year – make this a seasoned lot. Remember, though, only half of their 8 wins last season were against FBS squads, and those teams finished up 8-41.

Stat You Will Like: NBC Sports personality Michelle Beadle is a Texas-San Antonio alum.

PASS

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 Independents Preview
By Marc Lawrence
VegasInsider.com

With conference expansion maddeningly filling the college football airways these days, you might be surprised to learn the one loop that has grown the most the past three years is none other than the Independents.

When BYU declared its independence and joined Army, Navy and Notre Dame to form the FBS Independent ‘fighting four’ in 2011, the contingent is now up to a ‘skirmishing six’ with the additions of Idaho and New Mexico State this season.

By our math, that’s a 50% increase of members in two years.

And like last year when a member of the ‘fighting four’ had a say in college football’s title picture (the Irish fell to Alabama in the championship game), expect more of the same this year when these six Indy’s take a total of 40 opponents that landed bowl bids last season, with Notre Dame leading the charge against a whopping 11 bowlers.

Keep this thought in mind when handicapping the chances of these six INDEPENDENTS this season: Collectively, under their current head coaches, this contingent shines in games when taking points, going 56-44-1 ATS combined, including 19-8 ATS against foes off a SU and ATS loss, and 9-3 ATS as underdogs against an opponent with a losing record (8 wins straight up).

Then again, on the opposite side of the ladder, this sextet combined to go just 4-14 ATS as home chalk last season.

Regardless of how you approach handicapping this contingent this season, don’t be influenced by stories and promises from other parties. Stand your ground and remain Independent, if you know what I mean…

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

ARMY (7/8)

Team Theme: HIGH ON A FEELING

Loaded with 60 returning lettermen from a team that improved its offensive numbers nearly 40 YPG last season, head coach Rich Ellerson is high on his Black Knights. After assessing his team in spring camp, Ellerson gushed, “I’m really pleased with the progress we made. It was very combative… We made some tremendous gains physically.” The top rushing team in the land the last two years, Army returns leading RB Raymond Maples, the 3rd running back in school history to run for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons last year, and FB Larry Dixon who pounded the ground for 839 yards in 2012. Now if they can just improve on a 2-18 SU mark against fellow service academies since 2003, morale will be sky-high at West Point.

Stat You Will Like: Army has won 6 Commander-In-Chief trophies, the last in 1996.

PLAY ON: vs. Navy (12/14)

BYU (8/6)

Team Theme: BRONCO RESTORATION

Hired on after the Cougars suffered through three consecutive losing seasons back in 2005, Bronco Mendenhall not only put the program back on a winning track but has also elevated it to all-time high levels (see ‘Stat You Will Like’ below). As a result of winning an average 9.25 games per season, Mendenhall fields one of only four teams in the land to win four bowl games the last four years. Not satisfied, he brings in five new offensive coaches this season, including former OC Robert Anae. Should the offensive unit improve like the defense did last season (No. 3 in the nation), the 20 seniors on this squad figure to go out winners again as the restoration process at the ‘Y’ continues.

Stat You Will Like: Bronco Mendenhall owns the highest win percentage (.718) of any football coach in BYU history.

PLAY ON: vs. Utah (9/21)

IDAHO (7/4)

Team Theme: COMING HOME

When Idaho hired Paul Petrino, it appeared to be an odd fit. Why would a high-profile coach who’s been the master architect (offensive coordinator) of major powerhouses at Arkansas, Illinois and Louisville move to Moscow to make his head-coaching debut? It turns out that Petrino was an assistant with Idaho from 1992-94 and loves the area. Born and raised in Butte, Montana, he’s at home in Vandal country. Unfortunately, he inherits the nation’s worst offense, a team that averaged just 15.8 PPG in 2012. That doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm, however. “We want to score a whole bunch of points, be explosive on offense and hit that quarterback on defense. We want to win a whole bunch of games and go to bowls.” However, with little talent on hand, Petrino will likely have to ‘want on’ in his first season.

Stat You Will Like: The Vandals are 3-13 ATS as home favorites, including 1-11 ATS off a loss.

PLAY AGAINST: at New Mexico State (11/30)

NAVY (*6/7)

Team Theme: IN THE NAVY, NOW

Long the laughingstock of the military academies, the Middies have made a u-turn of dramatic proportions since going 3-30 from 2000-02. That’s confirmed by an 83-45 mark the last 10 years – and their 19-2 record in games against other military schools over the same period has turned the laughs into wows. Last year, QB Keenan Reynolds became the first freshman to start behind center for the Middies since 1991. With Reynolds at the controls, the Swabbies’ 5 losses in 2012 came at the hands of foes that were 44-19 on the season. For a team that was ranked No. 2 last year and No. 1 in 2011 in fewest penalties per game, Navy has suddenly become a now-team.

Stat You Will Like: Navy’s 19 wins versus BCS schools since 2003 is the most in the nation by a non-BCS team.

PLAY ON: at Duke (10/12)

NEW MEXICO STATE (7/7)

Team Theme: MY FAVORITE MARTIN

Thank goodness for Georgia State. Were it not for the Panthers making their FBS debut this season, the Aggies would be, hands-down, the dregs of college football. And with the announcement that redshirt junior QB Andrew Manley has been granted a release to transfer, they still might be. While he may not own up to it, Manley started all 12 games last season, throwing for 2,764 yards and 18 TDs. The good news is the entire starting cast of OL returns. The bad news is that the entire starting cast of OL returns. New head coach Doug Martin, a former 7-year head coach at Kent State, was the OC at Boston College last year and OC here with New Mexico State in 2011. Note: those two teams finished 47th and 26th in passing offense under his lead.

Stat You Will Like: The Aggies are 0-9-1 ATS as home favorites of less than 9 points.

PASS

NOTRE DAME (5/8)

Team Theme: 4-LEAF CLOBBER

Brian Kelly was in select company last season when he became the 5th coach in Irish history with a chance to win the national championship in his third-year at the school. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz each accomplished the feat. Kelly did not. The luck of the Irish – half of the Dame’s 12 wins were by single-digit margins – ran out when they were battered from pillar-to-post in a 42-14 annihilation at the hands of Alabama in the BCS title game. A brutal schedule in 2013 finds them taking on 11 teams that went to bowl games last season. Complicating matters is the suspension of starting QB Everett Golson for academic reasons. Senior QB Tommy Rees with 18 career starts under his belt looks to fill Golson's shoes provided, of course, the school assigns him a designated driver.

Stat You Will Like: The last 10 teams to lose a BCS title game have not returned to win it since that loss.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Michigan (9/7)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 MAC Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

It's been said the MAC has enjoyed balanced divisions for the same amount of time the cast of Jersey Shore has been sober...about 2 months.

With Temple making like an In-and-Out burger, opting out of the MAC for the Big East/American Athletic Conference after being admitted in back in 2007, the conference remains in flux. (At least a $6 million buyout fee paid by the Owls softened the blow.)

Unfortunately, UMass' admission last year now leaves the loop an unbalanced, unlucky 13-team league. Thus, in the battlefield of conference shuffling and expansion gone wild, Temple is old news, and Massachusetts a breathe of fresh air, in the 2013 Mid American Conference.

Entering its 67th year of gridiron competition, the MAC this season at least feels better composed knowing that four teams from the West Division finished the 2012 season with a winning record. That after only five teams managed to accomplish the same the previous three years.

And while it can be said that only three players from the MAC were selected in this year's NFL draft, you've got bragging rights for at least a year when you lay claim to the No. 1 overall pick (Central Michigan's Eric Fisher) calling the Mid American Conference home.

As we reported last year in this conference review, this is definitely a league that is wide open and one that likes to mix things up. Ten different teams have appeared in the last eight MAC Championship games, while 19 different MAC schools (seven last season) have gone bowling the last ten years.

And speaking of bowls, keep this note handy once the bowl games roll around: after going 3-13 SU and 2-13-1 ATS in bowl games from since the 2008 calendar year, the MAC has rebounded going 6-6 SU and 5-7 ATS as bowlers the last two seasons.

Amazingly, when traveling as favorites on the non-conference road the lightweight MAC is a staunch 16-2 SU and 12-5-1 ATS laying points, including 8-0 SU and 7-0-1 ATS when coming off a conference game.

All of which bodes well for an ever-changing league that's simply looking to balance the books. Because once you go MAC, you never go back.

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.

East Division

AKRON (7/7)


Team Theme: CHEMO THERAPY

When the Zips hired Terry Bowden as their new savior last season, they realized he was a program-builder and that in his previous three stops as a collegiate head coach his teams had posted records of 9-1, 11-0 and 11-2 in his first year on the job at Samford, Auburn and Northern Alabama, respectively. Thus, last season's 1-11 debut was as well-received as a preliminary diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. And to make matters worse, a quick glance at this year's schedule (10 winning opponents, first 7 games versus bowl teams, all 6 home games versus the same) is practically a death knell. The loss of QB Dalton Williams (started all 12 games last year, passing for 3,387 yards and 25 TDs) and his top WR, Marquelo Suel, cements it.

Stat You Will Like: Bowden is 1-11 SU and 2-10 ATS as a home dog.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Ball State (10/26)

BOWLING GREEN (*9/9)

Team Theme: HERE WE COME AGAIN
   
Thanks to yet another underclassmen-led infusion, for the second-straight year the Falcons return 18 starters to a squad picked by many as the team to beat in the MAC this season. This year's crew features 9 senior starters back - five on the offense and four on the defense - including no less than 7 all MAC performers. High profile QB Matt Schilz (35 starts, 7,832 passing yards and 50 TDs) leads the attack, along with all three of last year's starting wide receivers and his tight end. Most impressive, though, are the 9 starters back from a defense that improved 109 YPG in 2012. All this for a team that closed out the regular season last year with wins in seven of its final eight games.

Stat You Will Like: The last time the Falcons won a conference championship was 1992.

PLAY ON: at Kent State (9/7)

BUFFALO (*9/8)

Team Theme: COME ALL WITHOUT, COME ALL WITHIN

Year Four of the mighty Quinn project finds Buffalo taking positive baby steps under HC Jeff Quinn. The hope this season is the return of 17 starters, including a two-headed quarterback (Joe Licata and Alex Zordich) and its leading wide receiver and running back, will carry Buffalo on through to its first winning campaign since Turner Gill roamed the sidelines in 2008. The addition of former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper as defensive coordinator paid immediate dividends last season, especially the 2nd half of the season when the Bulls surrendered just 326 YPG. A tough schedule finds them taking on seven winning teams in 2013. That could prove difficult, as our stat below indicates.

Stat You Will Like: The Bulls are 2-17 SU versus .500 or greater foes under Jeff Quinn.

PLAY ON: vs. Ohio U (11/5)

KENT STATE (6/6)

Team Theme: HAZELL NUTS

Darrell Hazell's two-year stint with Kent went by in a flash (pun intended). After a pair of 5-7 seasons, Hazell was recruited from the Ohio State staff and, after another 5-7 season in his first year as a FBS head coach, he led the Golden gang to its first-ever MAC title game and a winning season for the first time 2001, coming this-close to landing a rarified BCS bowl bid. The result was a six-win improvement, tied with Middle Tennessee and Ohio State as the most improved teams in the nation in 2012. As expected, Hazell was lured to a prime-time job (Purdue), leaving KSU after just its 2nd winning season since 1987. Former Arkansas DC Paul Haynes enters looking to pick up the pieces. Good luck.

Stat You Will Like: The Flashes were the first MAC East team to go 8-0 since Ben Roethlisberger's Miami Ohio team in 2003.

PLAY AGAINST: at Ball State (10/12) - *KEY if off win

MIAMI OHIO (8/6)

Team Theme: TREADING WATER

Consistency seems to be the operative word in Oxford these days where the RedHawks have parsed together a pair of 4-8 efforts under 3rd-year head coach Don Treadwell. The promising news is the offense has improved each season under his tenure. Unfortunately, the defense has not, going backward both seasons - including a whopping 104 YPG decline in 2012. The biggest loss of 2013, though, is the departure of star QB Zac Dysert who broke Ben Roethlisberger's record for passing yards, completions and TDs. In his stead is QB Austin Boucher who led Miami to four straight wins, including the MAC title game and a GoDaddy.com bowl victory in 2010. Sophomore RB Jamire Westbrook, the team's leading rusher as a freshman last year, keeps them afloat.

Stat You Will Like: The RedHawks are 1-10 SU versus .500 or greater opponents under Treadwell.

PLAY AGAINST: at Ohio U (10/26)

OHIO UNIVERSITY (*7/5)

Team Theme: WAR OF ATTRITION

Talk about being on a roll. Frank Solich's squad was sitting pretty - off to a 7-0 start with wins in thirteen of its last fourteen games - when the injury bug laid a deadly bite on the Bobcats. So severe, in fact, it claimed 15 players from the two-deep roster, resulting in a disappointing 2-4 finish to what had 'best-season-ever' written all over it. They healed up enough to lay a whipping on La-Monroe in the Independence Bowl, picking up their spirits in the offseason. As a result, the coaching staff held out 29 players from the spring game either because of injuries or simply to avoid an injury, including record-setting QB Tyler Tettleton (2,844 yards and 18 TDs). If the bug bypasses them at all this year, they become the team to beat in the MAC.

Stat You Will Like: Solich is 5-0 ATS at home off a SU underdog win in his college football head-coaching career.

PASS

UMASS (*4/7)

Team Theme: WAIT A MINUTE

"I don't look at UMass as being Massachusetts' football team," head coach Charley Molnar said at his introductory news conference in December 2011. "I look at UMass as being New England's football team. There's no reason why we can't be the No. 1 team in New England." Excuse us, Charlie… enthusiasm over a new job is one thing - veracity is another. The Minutemen were 1-11 in Molnar's UMass debut last year, while being outyarded 183 YPG against a sea of relative lightweights, so there is obviously room for growth. Rest assured, this 1st-year FBS program, with only one loss by single-digits and a 0-4 mark in non-conference games by a combined 194-26, is a long way from being top gun in the state of Massachusetts - let alone New England.

Stat You Will Like: UMass is 1-22 SU against FBS teams since 1988 with seven of the losses versus MAC teams last season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Akron (11/16) - *KEY if favored

West Division

BALL STATE (*7/6)


Team Theme: ANYTHING, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE

The slogan above appears atop the 2013 Ball State spring prospectus and it represents the infectious style of play the Cardinals have assumed under head coach Pete Lembo. The nine wins they recorded last season tied for the third-most in single season school history. Most importantly, Lembo loves the progress in senior QB Keith Wenning, who has added durability in the weight room while improving his quickness and core strength considerably the last two years. Wenning is only the second quarterback to throw for more than 7,000 yards in school history, and his team was sixth in the nation in first downs (27.9 per game) in 2012. The Cardinals' four losses last year came at the hands of teams that finished the season 43-9.

Stat You Will Like: Lembo has suffered only one losing season (5-6) in his 12 years as a collegiate head coach.

PLAY ON: at Northern Illinois (11/13)

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (8/7)

Team Theme: CHIPPIN' AWAY

Once again the Chippewas proved that teams that play youngsters two years in a row are on the way up. After 19 players in 2010 and 24 more in 2011 made their starting debuts, CMU's seven wins last year more than doubled head coach Dan Enos' total victories from his first two years combined. While that attack loses QB Ryan Radcliffe and Eric Fisher (the first pick in this year's draft), RB Zurlon Tipton (1,531 yards and 19 TDs) and a strong receiver corps, led by WR Titus Davis, return. "Titus Davis is a very special football player… he will have an opportunity to play on Sundays. He is as good as they come," said wide receivers coach Mose Rison.

Stat You Will Like: The Chippewas are 0-6 ATS as conference dogs of less than 7 points under Dan Enos.

PASS

EASTERN MICHIGAN (*7/5)

Team Theme: IN PLAIN ENGLISH

With just 10 wins in his four seasons in Ypsilanti, Ron English fully realizes his Eagles need to take flight soon in order to save his job. Granted, a two-victory effort last year came against a salty schedule as nine foes went on to bowl games. Nine more winning foes dot this year's roster as well, providing English with a greater sense of urgency. As a result, he will assume defensive coordinator duties in 2013, joining seven other FBS head coaches that will share coordinator roles this season, including two of whom - Rocky Long, San Diego State and Bronco Mendenhall, BYU - that will be barking out defensive plays. New OC Stan Parrish takes over the offense. Here's hoping seven road games, including five winning foes, do signal the end of this English class.

Stat You Will Like: 16 of EMU's 48 games under English have been decided by 7 or less points (Eagles 6-10 in those games).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Western Michigan (11/9)

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (*8/5)

Team Theme: TOP DOGS AT THE WIRE

Meet the winningest program in Illinois and in the MAC over the last decade. As a result, the Huskies became the first-ever MAC team to secure a bid in a BCS bowl game last season. In fact, 34 wins over the last three seasons is only two shy of Oregon's best of 36. Because of all the success, head coach Dave Doeren was lured away to NC State. Assuming the reins as head Husky is Rod Carey, last year's offensive coordinator. He welcomes back Heisman-candidate QB Jordan Lynch and his entire cast of offensive linemen. And if excitement is your thing, you have to love the fact that NIU won the last two MAC championships on the last play of the game. Whew!

Stat You Will Like: The Huskies own the nation's longest conference win streak (17 games) entering the 2013 season.

PLAY ON: as a dog at Iowa (8/31)

TOLEDO (*9/3)

Team Theme: PREPARING FOR LIFTOFF

When the senior class took the field three years ago, they did so on the heels of three straight losing seasons at Toledo. They enter the 2013 campaign 26-13, including 20-4 in the MAC, with three straight bowl seasons. But they're not finished according to head coach Matt Campbell. "We want to win the MAC West Division, win the MAC Championship Game, and go to a bowl game," insists Campbell. And behind an offense loaded with FIVE all-MAC performers, including the nation's leading rusher David Fluellen (1,498 yards and 12 TDs) and senior QB Terrance Owens (17 career starts with 2,707 yards last season), who split duties the last three years with Austin Dantin, it appears all systems are go this year.

Stat You Will Like: The Rockets' defense features six players with 30 or more tackles last season.

PLAY ON: at Ball State (9/28)

WESTERN MICHIGAN (*5/7)

Team Theme: GOLD FLECKS ON THE SURFACE

New 32-year old Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck is the youngest FBS head coach in the nation and another of the MAC's youth-tree of coaches, joining five others in this loop that are 44 years old or younger. Fleck, a former wide receiver at Northern Illinois and an assistant with the Tampa Bay Bucs last year, was recently named "Best New Hire of 2013" by Sports Illustrated. He has coached under Jim Tressel, Jerry Kill and Greg Schiano and brings in OC Kirk Ciarroca and DC Ed Pinkham (friends and former coordinators at Rutgers) to smooth out the transition. They will rely heavily on QB Tyler Van Tubbergen, who started the last six games of 2012 and threw for 5 TD's twice. In addition, diminutive RB Dareyon Chance returns after rushing for 947 yards last season.

Stat You Will Like: QB Van Tubbergen completed 19 of 21 passes for 252 yards and 6 TDs in his first start against Akron in 2011.

PLAY AGAINST: at UMass (10/27)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 Mountain West Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

In the dizzying world of college athletics expansion, the MWC welcomes two new houseguests this season, San Jose State and Utah State. Meaning it’s out with the old and in with the new… well sort of… in the Mountain West Conference in 2013.

After losing its first-and-only three-time champ TCU to the Big 12 last season, the MWC bounced back and lured three replacement members for 2012, namely Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada.

By our scorecard three major powerhouse programs have bailed out of the conference the past three seasons (BYU, Utah and aforementioned TCU) with the Bulldogs, Rainbow Warriors and Wolf Pack taking their place last year – and now the aforementioned Spartans and Aggies entering this season.

Pure and simple, if it were a baseball trade, it would be safe to say the MWC pretty much-mirrored Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins when they sent triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. To put it bluntly, they got hosed.

Granted, the decision of Boise State and San Diego State to back out of a commitment to join the Big East and remain in the Mountain West adds a bit more legitimacy to the conference. However, under its new agreement with the Mountain West, Boise State home football games will not be part of the current or future Mountain West television rights contracts. The school's home games will be sold separately by the conference and the university and revenue will be distributed among league members. But Boise State can make extra money by being on national television more often than its conference mates.

In addition, the conference also agreed not to impose uniform restrictions on Boise State. So the Broncos can go back to wearing blue while playing on its blue-turf home field. The Mountain West had prohibited those uniforms because opposing coaches complained that it gave the Broncos an unfair advantage. It’s called the cost of doing business.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Mountain West sent five teams into postseason bowl games in 2012. The MWC has earned 56 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 32-24 (.571) all-time record in those contests. However, the Mountain West finished with a 1-4 mark in postseason play in 2012, marking the second year in a row the league did not post a winning bowl record (2-3 in 2011).

Boise State (11-2), Fresno State (9-4), San Diego State (9-4), Nevada (7-6) and Air Force (6-7) all reached bowl eligibility, marking the eighth year in a row, and ninth overall, the MWC has boasted five bowl-eligible teams. In fact, its .610 win percentage (25-16) in bowl games since 2004 is second only to the SEC’s .653 glossy (47-25) mark.

Three new coaches come calling in the Mountain West this season, all taking charge of a program for the first time in their coaching careers. In fact, the MWC has seen 20 first-year coaches the past 14 seasons, eight of which played in a bowl game in their debut year.

From Air Force to Wyoming, the new Mountain West Conference does more than just blanket the alphabetical world of college football. Ranging from sea level (Hawaii 18 feet and San Diego State 46 feet) to over 7,000 feet above (Air Force and Wyoming), a mountainous challenge awaits the twelve teams calling the MWC home this season.

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

Mountain Division

AIR FORCE (3/5)


Team Theme: MISSION POSSIBLE

On paper the Cadets look mighty thin with only 3 starters back on offense and a defense that’s gone backward each of the last three years. But rebuilding and reloading is never an issue with a military team as prospects waiting in the wings are always ready to be the next man up. That experience this season comes in part from 24 first-time starters last year, the most in the nation. And remember this: only five times since the AFA joined the Commander-in-Chief competition in 1972 have they been swept in the same season, as was the case last year. With skipper Troy Calhoun off his first losing season with the Academy, expect a u-turn in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: Three of the last four games with Navy have gone to overtime.

PLAY ON: at Navy (10/5)

BOISE STATE (*5/4)

Team Theme: BOWL ME OVER

For the second straight year, head coach Chris Petersen finds the cupboard bare with just nine returning starters back for the Broncos. This year, however, his troops will take on six 2012 bowl teams in the first eight games of the season, with bowlers dotting the agenda in five of six road games. A puzzling home loss to San Diego State helped snap the Broncos’ skein of four straight 12-win seasons, the only team to accomplish that feat since 1920! In addition, the schedule finds three Friday games and two bye-weeks (make it 3 if they advance to the MWC title game on 12/14). Other than that, it should be no problem for the nation’s winningest team since 1997 (a stellar 168-35) to retain a season-ending spot in the Top 15 for the 16th straight season.

Stat You Will Like: The Broncos are 18-4 SU and 16-6 ATS on Fridays, including 6-0 ATS as single-digit favorites.

PLAY ON: at San Diego State (11/23) - *KEY

COLORADO STATE (*9/6)

Team Theme: “RAM U”

Beware: 2nd-year head coach Jim McElwain’s comprehensive off-season program called “Ram U” was derived from its all-around approach to physical and mental conditioning… and it’s working. The proof is in the pudding as CSU’s 2nd half turnaround last season, despite being gutted with injuries, was remarkable. Behind a rushing attack that improved 70 YPG the final five games of the season, the Rams won three of their final five games. Nine returning starters on offense (plus OG Brandon Hayes, who started 7 games in 2012) and the entire RB corps, along with 8 of the top 9 WR’s, meld with six starters on defense (plus an influx of JUCO linemen) to give them sleeper status in 2013. Make sure you don’t snooze on this team.

Stat You Will Like: The Rams finished 17th in the nation and 2nd in the MWC in red-zone efficiency (21/24 scores) last season.

PLAY ON: at Wyoming (10/19)

NEW MEXICO (5/3)

Team Theme: LET’S STAY PHYSICAL

If you wonder how much a coach means to a program, witness Bob Davie at New Mexico. He pulled the Lobos out of three years of misery and changed the culture and psyche of the team in one season. ”There is only one way to play this game and that’s to be physical. A year ago we were trying to be competitive… now we are thinking about how we can win games. It’s a major, major change,” says Davie. He will be up against it in 2013, though, as 50 first and second-year players (as opposed to 28 third, fourth and fifth year players) comprise the majority of the roster. A pistol offense that improved 188 RYPG last season returns its top three rushers.

Stat You Will Like: The Lobos were the most improved team in scoring margin in 2012 (+25.2 PPG).

PLAY ON: vs. Air Force (11/8)

UTAH STATE (*8/8)

Team Theme: CLIMBING TO NEW HEIGHTS

The Aggies usher in a new coach, Matt Wells, to lead them into a new conference off a record-setting performance in 2012. The question begs: what can they do for an encore? Wells, last year’s offensive coordinator and a former starting QB at Utah State, assumes the reins from Gary Andersen who was lured to Wisconsin after leading USU to its first conference title since 1936. He welcomes a cast of 16 returning starters, 10 of whom won all-WAC honors, including record-setting QB Chuckie Keeton who was 275-of-407 for 3,373 yards, 27 TD’s and 9 INT’s in the air, in addition to picking up 619 yards and 8 TDs on the ground last season. Coming off the school’s second-ever bowl victory, there is no question that the deck is stacked. Let’s just hope the well doesn’t dry up.

Stat You Will Like: The Aggies were the only team in the nation not to allow a 1st-quarter touchdown last season and have not allowed a 1st-quarter TD in the last 16 games.

PLAY ON: vs. BYU (10/4)

WYOMING (*7/7)

Team Theme: BRETT MAVERICK

Meet Brett Smith, the star performer in the cast of Cowboys this campaign. Not only does this star-studded quarterback lead all active MWC QBs in passing efficiency (157.7), he was also the nation’s 5th-ranked signal caller in points responsible for last season at 20.2 PPG. However, the offense is not the concern, the defense is: it’s regressed every year under Dave Christensen and must rely on an infusion of JUCO transfers to change direction. It’s imperative the Boys get out of the gate in strong fashion against losing foes in six of their first seven games as they close out the campaign against bowlers in four of their final five contests. Look for Smith to break out this year.

Stat You Will Like: From College Football News.com: The Cowboys scored 116 points in the 2Q – and 37 points in the 3Q last season.

PLAY ON: at Air Force (9/21)

West Division

FRESNO STATE (*7/8)

Team Theme: BABY, YOU CAN DRIVE MY CARR

Former Texas A&M DC Tim DeRuyter made an impact in his first season on the sidelines in Fresno when his Bulldogs improved their numbers substantially on both sides of the ball last year en route to 9-win, five game improvement. It tied for 6th-best increase among all FBS teams last season. Leading the charge was all-MWC QB Derek Carr, a 5th-year senior who enters the season with a .652 completion percentage to go along with 63 TD’s and only 16 INT’s in his career. His prime target, WR Davante Adams, reeled in 102 passes as a freshman in 2012, while catching TDs in each of his last 8 games of the season. A 13th bowl game in the last 15 years appears in the offing.

Stat You Will Like: FSU ranked dead-last with 9 takeaways in 2011, and 5th with 35 takeaways last season. It was the largest improvement by a FBS program since the turn of the century.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Boise State (9/20)

HAWAII (*10/8)

Team Theme: ODIOUS OFFENSE

Little did the Warriors realize when they hired novice native Norm Chow as their head coach last season that the lifelong college assistant offensive guru would direct the worst offense in the FBS. Perhaps it’s what happens when you are forced to play 32 first-time players – the most in the nation. The problem, though, may not be just the youth issues, but Chow himself. Consider: Bill Connelly of SB Nation.com reports his 2008-10 Tennessee offenses ranked 114th, 88th and 90th in his three years with the Vols. Then in 2011 his Utah offense ranked 95th. Hawaii did, however, improve down the stretch, slashing its losing margin from -42.25 PPG the first five games to -22.2 PPG the final seven games of the season. The clothespins are standing by.

Stat You Will Like: The Warriors will take on teams that appeared in bowl games in each of their first five games of the season in 2013.

PLAY ON: vs. Colorado State (10/26) - *KEY if CSU off a loss

NEVADA (*7/5)

Team Theme: RELOADING THE CHAMBER

The Godfather of the Pistol, Chris Ault, has retired for the third time in his illustrious career at Nevada. In doing so, he leaves a legacy as an offensive innovator, so innovative that when he attended the NFL combine he was flocked upon like a rock star by NFL brass looking to pick his mind. Filling his shoes is 38-year old Brian Polian, son of former NFL GM Bill Pollian and never higher than a RB coach. Polian will rely on offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, OC for the Wolf Pack last season and at Hawaii the previous nine years. He’ll hand the gun to QB Cody Fajardo who passed for 2,780 yards and 20 TDs last season while rushing for 1,121 yards and 12 TDs.

Stat You Will Like: During his three-term tenure with Nevada, the Wolf Pack went 49-65 in the 10 years without Ault.

PLAY ON: at San Diego State (10/4)

SAN DIEGO STATE (*7/9)

Team Theme: TAKING THINGS TO A NEW LEVEL

It’s safe to call San Diego State the Troy State of the west coast. After all, they are both resident red-headed step-children in their respective states and, as a result, they get the 2nd-level players. But 2nd-level is not a bad thing when you reside in the state of California, and the fact that the Aztecs have been to three straight bowl games confirms that notion. Not bad for a team that had been to just 3 bowl games in the previous four decades. Sixteen returning starters, including DB Nat Berhe and LB Jake Fely – who ranked among the top 4 players in the nation in tackles per game in 2012 – look to climb up another rung.

Stat You Will Like: San Diego State’s win over Boise State last year was its first victory over a ranked team since 1996.

PLAY ON: at San Jose State (11/9)

SAN JOSE STATE (*7/6)

Team Theme: DON’T FALE ME NOW

When Mike McIntyre headed to Colorado after leading the Spartans to their highest-ever season-ending ranking (21st in the nation) last year, not only did he plant the seeds for new head coach Ron Caragher – former UCLA assistant and University of San Diego coach (44-22), and Troy Aikman’s backup with the Bruins – he also left him a wealth of experienced talent. From a squad that went from 1-12 in 2010 to 11-2 last season, San Jose State welcomes the 4th highest number of returning starts overall (317) this 2013 season. The keys to this vastly improved racecar are in the hands of QB David Fales, who had 4,193 yards and 33 TDs on 73 percent completions last year. Failure is not an option.

Stat You Will Like: The last time the Spartans enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons was 1991-92.

PLAY AGAINST: at Minnesota (9/21)

UNLV (*9/9)

Team Theme: GIMME FIVE

If you like patterns, this should be an interesting year for the Rebels. The previous coach, Mike Sanford, won two games in each of his first three seasons before capturing five victories in each of his final two years with UNLV. Similarly, Bobby Hauck has delivered two wins in each of his first three seasons with the Rebels. Could a 5-win campaign – or more – be in the offing with a deep and experienced squad in 2013? Logic says yes, considering eighteen returning starters including QB Nick Sherry, RB Tim Cornett and last year’s top two wide receivers are back from the group that lost five games by 8 or less points last year. Should they shore up an Achilles’ heel (a porous rush defense), the prototype for success could be reached in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: Leading WR Devante Davis and RB Tim Cornett, as well as TE Jacobie Russell and receivers coach Cedric Cormier, all hail from Galena Park (TX) North Shore high school.

PLAY AGAINST: at Air Force (11/21)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 PAC-12 Conference Football Preview                      
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

Yes, it was a good year for the Pac-12 in 2012.

Eight teams went bowling last season while Oregon and Stanford cemented their top-five status. In the end, 28 players were selected in this year’s NFL draft, the 3rd most of all college football conferences.

This self-proclaimed ‘Conference of Champions’ features teams that have won more NCAA National Team Championships (456) than any other conference in history. In fact, the top three schools with the most NCAA team championships reside in this conference, namely UCLA, Stanford and USC… in that order.

2013, however, brings plenty of other challenge to the table. Nike U (Oregon) transitions from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich at head coach, while Stanford looks to find a way to kick-start a passing attack that slipped 80 YPG after Andrew Luck moved on to the NFL last season.

Then there’s USC. The ‘University of Soiled Children’ have finally shaken off suspensions but the after-effects of such puts head coach Lane Kiffin squarely in a make-or-break campaign. He’ll have to do it without the services of four-year starting QB Matt Barkley. Along with a revised “5-2” defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, there are changes-a-plenty in store for the Trojans in 2013.

Remaining true to its roots, the PAC-12 is home to notable football rivalries such as The Civil War (Oregon and Oregon State), the Duel in the Desert (Arizona and Arizona State), the Big Game (California and Stanford), the Apple Cup (Washington and Washington State) and the Battle of LA (UCLA and USC). As such, these traditional rivalries continue throughout its alignment of two divisions, the North and the South.

Through it all, the PAC-12 prepares for the 2014 College Football Playoff touting its teams’ schedules as the toughest in the land.

And thus, the groundwork and planting of the seeds for champion game arguments begins.

Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2013 PLAYBOOK Football Preview magazine. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

North Division

CALIFORNIA (7/6)


Team Theme: PLUGGING A HOLE IN THE DYKE

After witnessing a losing effort for the 2nd time in three seasons, the Berkeley brass was resolute that the end of an 11-year era with Jeff Tedford was at hand. Enter Sonny Dykes, an instant offense-expert, whose three-year tenure with Louisiana Tech witnessed a spike in offense each season. Unfortunately the only ‘D’ in his playbook is the first letter of his last name as his Bulldogs ranked dead-last in team defense last season while allowing an average 455 YPG in his three-year tenure in Ruston – not good news for a Cal team that slipped 91 YPG on defense in 2012. Dykes will be on the spot to earn every penny of the big fat five-year $9.7M contract he inked with the Bears, as he inherits a squad that lost its starting QB, leading RB and top WR. Even worse, the itinerary is filled with 9 winning teams. Get the super-glue ready.

Stat You Will Like: Sonny Dykes is 14-1 SU and 11-3-1 ATS versus sub .500 opponents.

PASS

OREGON (*8/7)

Team Theme: ADDICTED TO QUACK

After watching Chip Kelly’s big green machine rip the Pac-12 to shreds, going 34-3 in conference play with 31 wins by double-digits (and by an average winning margin of 25 PPG), defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was asked how in the world does new head coach Mark Helfrich, Oregon’s offensive coordinator under Kelly, improve on that? “It’s kind of, like, not fair,” replied Aliotti. ESPN’s Ivan Maisel adds, “To raise the bar, Helfrich has to raise the crystal trophy above his head. That would be a tall order for any head coach, much less a guy who has never run a program.” Once again, Helfrich will rely on QB Marcus Mariota, RB De’Anthony Thomas and a cast of 11 wide receivers who saw playing time last season.

Stat You Will Like: The Ducks appeared in a BCS bowl game each of Chip Kelly’s four years with the school, the longest current streak in the nation.

PLAY ON: as a dog at Stanford (11/7)

OREGON STATE (*9/8)

Team Theme: RE-BEAVED

The reward for the largest one-year turnaround in school history? Three new retrofit uniforms from the mad scientists at Nike, and a new Beaver logo. That is about the only new look to the OSU football program as they return loaded in 2013 with 294 combined starts back from the 2012 squad (332 if you count the kickers). Head coach Mike Riley, the winningest coach in the program’s history, was forced to play freshmen in 2011 and it paid off in spades last year. He’ll welcome 60 returning lettermen, including starting QBs Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, to a team suddenly long on experience. A loss to Washington, following a 6-0 start to last year’s campaign, figures to be the circled game on this year’s schedule. We’ll be there.

Stat You Will Like: DC Mark Banker (11) and OC Danny Langsdorf (10) have by far the longest combined tenure (21) of coordinators in the Pac-12.

PLAY ON: vs. Washington (11/23) - *KEY as dog

STANFORD (*6/9)

Team Theme: RULE OF TREE

To say the Cardinal have advanced this program to an exceptional level would be an understatement. Starting with Jim Harbaugh and moving forward under David Shaw, the Cardinal shook a 7-year losing skid to become one of only five teams to score double-digit wins each of the last four seasons, keeping company with the likes of Alabama, Boise State, LSU, and Oregon. Thankfully, with QB Josh Nunes retiring from a bicep injury that was worse than expected, Kevin Hogan (started final six games last season) will be under center. With the graduation of four-year RB Stepfan Taylor, Hogan is also the team’s leading returning rusher. To top it off, the Tree ruled the FBS in sacks last year and returns five of its top six tacklers.

Stat You Will Like: Stanford recorded its first Rose Bowl win in 40 years last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Notre Dame (11/30)

WASHINGTON (*10/7)

Team Theme: PRICE IS RIGHT

The Huskies entered the 2012 season filled with promise off back-to-back 7-win bowl seasons with a quarterback on the verge of stardom. Keith Price was behind center after being recognized as the 7th-ranked signal caller in pass efficiency. Instead, Price regressed and UDub settled on a 3rd straight 7-6 season. Due to a litany of injuries, they force-fed a bevy of sophomores who this year become experienced juniors. Star RB Bishop Stankey, who rushed for 1,439 yards while also hauling in 33 passes, combines with WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Sefrian-Jenkins to form a lethal trio of skill players – all of whom will find more touches behind a new no-huddle look in 2013. If Price is right, this team can become the conference surprise.

Stat You Will Like: The Huskies beat two Top 10 ranked teams at home last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Boise State (8/31) - *KEY as a dog

WASHINGTON STATE (*8/8)

Team Theme: SNAPPED WINNING STREAK

A streak of 10 winning seasons – and 10 bowl appearances – in 10 years as a collegiate head coach came to a screeching halt for Mike Leach in his debut with the Cougars last year. A 2-1 start dissolved into a 1-8 finish despite the fact that Wazzu led the Pac-12 in passing, while also finishing 9th nationally. Leach’s ‘Air-Raid’ attack welcomes back QB Connor Halliday and his four starting wide receivers. An offensive line that allowed a nation’s-worst 57 sacks last year must step up in order for the team to improve. Meanwhile, look for the forced experience of 17 freshmen that played last year to pay dividends in 2013. After all, Leach has NEVER suffered back-to-back losing seasons.

Stat You Will Like: Leach is 21-3 SU and 20-2-2 ATS at home in lined games when his team owns a .600 or less win percentage.

PLAY ON: vs. Stanford (9/28)

South Division

ARIZONA (7/10)


Team Theme: UPS AND DOWNS

Like the choice of floors on an elevator, the Wildcats have seen offensive and defensive production go up and down the past few seasons. With Rich Rodriguez on board last year, the Cats totaled 6,840 yards (526 YPG), shattering the former school record by over 1,100 yards in 2012 and making it three straight seasons of increased offensive production. On the other side of the coin, the team has witnessed defensive decline over each of the last four years. Thus, the task of shoring up the ‘D’ becomes priority-one this season. Replacing 20 seniors, nine of who were starters at one point or another last season, means Rich Rod will need to push the right buttons in 2013. Let’s hope it’s not the emergency button.

Stat You Will Like: Rodriguez is 11-15 SU and 7-18 ATS from Game 11 out, including 1-13-1 ATS when off an ATS loss.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Washington State (11/16)

ARIZONA STATE (*6/8)

Team Theme: INSTA GRAHAM

When the Sun Devils ended the season with three straight wins for the first time since 1978, a bevy of ‘firsts’ were suddenly in the books. First-year head coach Todd Graham acquainted 29 players, including 17 true freshmen, with their first action at this level. In addition, Graham became the only coach in FBS history to record 60-plus points in a bowl game multiple (3) times. And to top it off, RB Marion Grice led the nation in TDs per touch (7.5), helping lead ASU to more rushing yards in a season than it has had in the last 25 years. With returning quarterback Taylor Kelly ranked 3rd actively in the nation in pass efficiency, the Devils are the favorites to win the Pac-12 South.

Stat You Will Like: Last season, the Sun Devils led the nation in tackles for a loss, and the P12 in fewest penalties.

PLAY ON: at UCLA (11/23)

COLORADO (*8/9)     
   
Team Theme: YABBA DABBA DOO

If, as they say, you have to hit rock bottom before climbing back up, then Boulder is likely the home of the Slate Rock & Gravel Company these days. No, you won't find Fred or Barney or much of a football team, for that matter. Instead, Mike McIntyre, who went from 1-12 to 10-2 with San Jose State, enters looking to wipe some of the pterodactyl egg off the face of a once-proud program that went winless at home for the first time since 1920, suffering its first shutout home loss in 20 years. Meanwhile, McIntyre inherits 17 returning starters and a team owning the 4th highest returning starts of all FBS squads this season. To which he was last heard muttering, “Don't toy with me, Barn.”     

Stat You Will Like: The Buffaloes are 1-6 SU and 0-7 ATS as favorites versus Pac-10/12 foes since 1999.

PLAY ON: at Utah (11/30)

UCLA (*6/5)

Team Theme: PASSING TEAMA IN PASADENA

After being the first bowl team in NCAA history to end a season two games under .500 two years ago, the call went out to Jim Mora Jr. He responded with nine wins, matching the school record for wins by a 1st-year coach (Terry Donahue, 1976). Sophomore QB Brett Hundley leads the charges in 2013. Hundley set numerous school records, including total offense, passing yards and completions. He also became the first UCLA quarterback to toss for 300-plus yards in three straight games. While a tad short on returning starters, the Bruins feature 26 players with starting experience last season. Coupled with a coaching staff returning virtually intact, less is Mora this season as the Bruins look to claim a third-straight PAC-12 South division title.

Stat You Will Like: The Bruins are 0-9 SU the final three games of the season during the last three years.

PLAY ON: at Stanford (10/19)

USC (8/7)

Team Theme: DRIVING DOWN THE WRONG LANE

In three years with the Trojans, head coach Lane Kiffin has lost 13 games. That’s as many as Southern Cal lost the previous eight years combined. And last year’s defense allowed one of the highest totals of yards and points in school history. Not exactly Pete Carroll numbers… if you get our drift. Kiffin’s first call for help was to Clancy Pendergast, his new defensive coordinator. Despite the key losses of Barkley and Woods, plenty of talent returns in 2013, headlined by Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Marqise Lee, the team’s first-ever Biletnikoff Award winner. With 61 players back that saw action last year, including 7 of the top 9 RB’s and 5 of the top 6 tacklers, Kiffin needs to get his troops back on the right track – pronto.

Stat You Will Like: The last time USC lost 6 games in a season (2001) they rebounded by going 10-2 the following year, capturing the league title and winning a BCS bowl game.

PLAY ON: vs. UCLA (11/30)

UTAH (*7/6)

Team Theme: BOOK OF MORMON

Mormons in Utah are oftentimes committed to serving on religious missions. This year’s entire Utes team will be on a football mission – a long-time winning program that suffered a rare losing season in 2012 is looking to return to their winning ways. The first thing head coach Kyle Whittingham did was secure the services of Dennis Erickson, who will serve as offensive coordinator with former Ute QB Brian Johnson. Sophomore QB Travis Wilson (6’6” and 240 lbs) will target WR Dres Anderson and TE Jake Murphy, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season. They are the sons of former NFL WR Willie ‘Flipper’ Anderson and MLB star Dale Murphy. Look for it to be ‘mission accomplished’ in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: Whittingham is 6-1 ATS as a dog off a double-digit spread loss.

PLAY ON: vs. Oregon State (9/14)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 SEC Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

If ever an argument of who the best football conference in the country is begins to get out of hand, the case quickly closes shut with this staggering fact: A whopping 32 picks in the first three rounds of this year's draft called the SEC home last season.

Think about that. An entire round of NFL picks, over the first three rounds of the 2013 draft, were selected from the SEC.

In the end, 63 players in this year's draft, or over 25% of the selections, were players from the Southeastern Conference.

In fact, a total of 65 first-round selections have landed in the NFL since 2006, including eleven this year and nine last year. Thus cementing the SEC's case as the most fertile football breeding ground in the land.

If that's not evidence enough after winning seven national titles in a row, and eight of the last ten, the SEC is now 9-0 in BCS title games. The conference has now won 60% of the 15 BCS championships games.

When projecting a national champion this year, keep this sobering thought in mind: Nine of the last eleven BCS champions have owned a Top 10 ranked defense. Thus, as we've come to learn, the SEC builds elite defenses with waves of athletic defensive linemen.

It's also no coincidence the SEC produced 14 of the nation's 23 highest-paid assistant coaches last season, including seven of the top eight.

So while saddling up with an SEC team to make it the BCS title game once again this year would appear to be the high percentage play, the tougher question is 'who'?

Five different teams have captured the SEC championship game the last nine years, with only Alabama and Florida repeaters.

And then there's always LSU. Deeply talented as always and defensively ferocious, the Tigers relish being left out of the spotlight and figure to have plenty to prove after dropping back-to-back games to the Tide, including the 2011 title game.

So, as we like to say, until somebody steps up and ends its domination in the BCS championship game, "This is the SEC's world. We just live in it."

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.

East Division

FLORIDA (*6/3)


Team Theme: ONE STEP UP, ANOTHER STEP BACK

The Gators were the epitome of what happens to teams that either choose or are forced to play an abundance of lower classmen the previous season. After taking down Texas A&M in College Station, beating LSU, smashing South Carolina and flattening Florida State in Tallahassee, a 7-win disappointment in Will Muschamp's first season transformed to an 11-win success last year. The problem is, as College Football.com's Pete Fiutak put it, "They were doing just enough on offense not to lose, until they lost." With road games at Miami Florida, LSU, Missouri and South Carolina - and having to face five bowl teams in their final five games of the season - regression to the mean is written all over this team in 2013.

Stat You Will Like: The Gators' offense was ranked dead last in passing in the SEC last season.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Georgia (11/2)

GEORGIA (*10/4)

Team Theme: HEDGE YOUR BETS

Two years ago, coach Mark Richt was living on the proverbial hot seat after a jaw-dropping 6-7 effort in 2010. A 22-6 effort since has not only cooled off his derrière but also found him inking a contract extension. He can thank senior QB Aaron Murray, the NCAA active career leader with 95 TD passes, fresh off a school-record performance in 2012 in which he passed for 3,893 yards and 36 scores. Joining him in the backfield are a pair of lethal RBs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who combined for 2,144 yards and 25 TDs as FRESHMEN last season. Behind a loaded offense and a squad that played 13 true freshmen in its season opener last year, this team is soaring.

Stat You Will Like: Mark Richt is 49-8 SU versus non-conference opposition, including 34-1 'Between the Hedges.'

PLAY ON: vs. South Carolina (9/7)

KENTUCKY (*6/6)

Team Theme: SPREADING CAT SCRATCH FEVER

After clawing around winning seasons the previous six years, and then suffering a 2-win campaign last year, the Wildcats emptied a Joker from the deck and hired Mark Stoops to right the ship. The former Florida State and Arizona defensive coordinator, and brother of Oklahoma's Bob and Mike Stoops, inherits a team that was among the most inexperienced last season - one that played a total of 27 freshmen. A byproduct of the youth and the injuries sustained a year ago is that 32 returnees have started at least one game during their collegiate careers. New offensive coordinator Neal Brown, the OC at Texas Tech for the last three years, will orchestrate an 'Air Raid' spread attack with more of an emphasis on the running game.

Stat You Will Like: The Wildcats will face nine teams with winning records last season, including all five games away from Lexington.

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Western Kentucky (8/31)

MISSOURI (*8/6)

Team Theme: BUG OFF

The injury bug bit the Tigers hard last season. Consider this: only ONE player on the OL started all 12 games last year, and he was a true freshman. QB James Franklin, who was in and out of the lineup with an array of injuries, saw his production slip from nearly 4,00 yards and 36 TDs in 2011 to 1,684 yards and 10 TDs last year. "The injuries were like nothing I've ever seen," said coach Gary Pinkel. "We have a lot of proven guys back and healthy, and with the younger guys pushing them, I expect there to be a lot of improvement." After facing the toughest schedule (Sagarin) in the nation last year, look for the Tigers to put a bite on the SEC this season.

Stat You Will Like: The Tigers led the nation in forced fumbles (21) last season.

PLAY ON: at Vanderbilt (10/5)

SOUTH CAROLINA (*6/5)

Team Theme: COCK SURE

As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Steve Spurrier promised to build this program into a national power - and he's delivered. With back-to-back AP Top 25 finishes for the first time in school history, and ranked for 47 consecutive weeks (only Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Oklahoma with more), the Gamecocks have become the first team in school history to record back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins. Having the nation's top DL in Jadeveon Clowney - the odds-on choice to be the No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft - has Spurrier sleeping like a baby these days. With Alabama and LSU nowhere to be found on this year's itinerary, the Ol' Ball Coach likes his chances in 2013. Now, raise your hand if you're sure!

Stat You Will Like: QB Connor Shaw is 17-3 as a starter, including 10-0 at home.

PLAY ON: vs. Florida 11/16 - *KEY as dog

TENNESSEE (5/8)

Team Theme: WELCOME, BUTCHIE BOY

Three straight 7-loss seasons spelled the end of the Derek Dooley era in Knoxville. Enter Butch Jones, whose 34-12 career mark in conference games (27-3 versus non-winners) would look mighty nice in this power conference. And if you're going to beat Jones, you'd better jump on him in the first half as his teams are 32-1 in games with a lead either at the half or after three quarters! Despite returning just 5 starters on the offensive side, four of them were members of an experienced OL that allowed just 8 sacks last season. The great state of Tennessee may have lost a legend with the passing of country superstar George Jones, but they added a rock-solid coach in Butch.

Stat You Will Like: The Vols will face five coaches that are in their first season with their respective universities in 2013.

PLAY ON: at Missouri (11/2)

VANDERBILT (8/6)

Team Theme: BUILDING A BRICK HOUSE

There were no sophomore blues playing in Nashville last season where 2nd year head coach James Franklin improved from 6 wins to 9 with a season-ending victory over NC State in the Music City Bowl. As a result, Franklin's electric-offense scored the most points (390) in a season since 1915, while its 11.3 PPG average score margin was the highest since 1955. In fact, with the most wins (15) in school history over a two-year period since 1929-1930, Franklin was inked to a long-term contract extension for the second year in a row. Despite the loss of star QB Jordan Rodgers and RB Zac Stacy, this year's Vandy roster is dotted with 39 upper-classmen, including 18 seniors. Forewarned is forearmed.

Stat You Will Like: The Commodores coaching staff is one of only nine FBS staffs that return intact for the 2013 season.

PLAY ON: at South Carolina (9/14)

West Division

ALABAMA (*6/7)


Team Theme: FOLLOW THE LEADER

With three NCAA titles the last four years, the Tide has set the FBS benchmark for winning. Amazingly, last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Alabama when instead all they did was build a larger trophy case. Surprisingly 2012 marked only the 2nd SEC title won by the Tide since 2000. And speaking of rebuilding, the offensive line lost three starters to the NFL. The hire of former FIU head coach Mario Cristobal as the new OL coach should add stability to a potential problem area. QB A. J. McCarron, this year's cover boy, returns as the nation's active leader in pass efficiency and was the MVP in the BCS title game last season. His 25-2 record as a starter with Alabama speaks volumes.

Stat You Will Like: McCarron has completed 66.7% of his passes for 5,956 yards, 49 TDs and 8 INTs. His one INT per every 86.25 passes in the best in SEC history.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. LSU (11/9)

ARKANSAS (5/8)

Team Theme: EXPERIENCE THE GREATNESS

When the Razorbacks hired former Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema, a lot of people were surprised. Not Russell Wilson, former Badgers quarterback who promptly went on record when he said, "He's a tremendous coach with great knowledge of the game and an unbelievable person. Arkansas is getting a great human being and a great coach. He will do a great job and they will win a lot of games." In addition, his coaching staff is loaded with 174 years of coaching experience. Remember this: Bielema was 68-24 in his years as a head coach in the tough Big Ten at Wisconsin. The bad news is a demanding schedule that includes foes who won the last 7 national championships… but don't discount the chances of this 'mission team.'

Stat You Will Like: The Razorbacks' 2013 opponents were 99-54 combined in 2012, including 9 bowlers (the most in the SEC).

PLAY ON: at Mississippi (11/9)

AUBURN (*8/8)

Team Theme: TAKING CHARGE

From a national championship to the unemployment line in two years. That could certainly serve as the title of a Gene Chizik autobiography. It's what happens when you go from 14-0 to 3-9 two years later. Hence, the hire of Gus Malzahn, offensive fireworks maestro who, in addition to being a one-hit wonder at Arkansas State last year, was the architect of the Auburn offense in its championship season. Malzahn brings in Rhett Lashlee, his offensive coordinator with the Red Wolves, and Ellis Johnson, short-term head coach at Southern Miss last year and defensive coordinator the previous four years at South Carolina. Beware: the 'mission' Tigers welcome back the 5th-highest amount of players with returning starts (315) in the nation.

Stat You Will Like: The series history between the south's oldest rivalry, Auburn and Alabama, is deadlocked at 54-54-8 all-time.

PLAY ON: vs. Alabama (11/30)

LSU (*8/4)

Team Theme: TIGER BLOOD TRANSFUSION

It's a good thing Les Miles tied TCU for the most combined freshmen (28, including 15 true) with playing time last season. Otherwise, the record eight players selected from the defense in the first five rounds of this year's NFL draft would have gutted the team. Instead, the Mad Hatter will draw from a steady pool of blue-chip recruits to revamp a stop-unit that lost all four linemen in the process. On the other side of the ball, QB Zach Mettenberger needs to step up and deliver. Emerging from an outstanding spring camp, he appears to have the full command and respect of the offense. With only four road games on the itinerary, a seventh double-digit win season in the last nine years looks to be in the offing. As Charlie Sheen would sum it up, "Winning."

Stat You Will Like: Seven of the Tigers' eight conference games were decided by 8 or less points last season.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Mississippi (10/19)

MISSISSIPPI (*8/11)

Team Theme: DEEP FREEZE

Like the U.S. Mail, head coach Hugh Freeze delivered as promised in his debut with the Rebels, snapping a 14-game SEC losing streak en route to leading the Rebels to a winning season, including a rout of Pittsburgh in the Compass Bowl. Better yet, a deep and experienced team returns with 58 lettermen and 19 starters back for more, including QB Bo Wallace - the only quarterback in Ole Miss history not named Eli Manning to eclipse 3,000 passing yards in a season. In addition, leading rusher Jeff Scott and all nine wide receivers that lettered last year are back. The cherry on the cake came when Freeze landed a consensus Top 10 recruiting class in the offseason. Yes, Johnny Reb is back.

Stat You Will Like: The last SEC title won by the Rebels occurred in 1963.

PLAY AGAINST: at Auburn (10/5)

MISSISSIPPI STATE (*6/6)

Team Theme: FOR WHOM THE COWBELL TOLLS

You know your program has arrived when you're a participant in a Kickoff Game. That honor was bestowed on the Bulldogs when they were named to face Oklahoma State in the Texas Kickoff Classic this season. A fresh start is gladly welcomed as 2012 drew to a 1-5 close on the heels of a 7-0 start - and with it, gut checks are in place. The offense loses its top four wide receivers but welcomes 5th-year senior QB Tyler Russell and 12 of its top 13 offensive linemen. Star RB LaDarius Perkins returns for his senior season as well. If the secondary finds able replacements for the three departed starters, the four bowlers MSU faces in the final five games of the season could have a tough row to hoe.

Stat You Will Like: Mullen is 28-3 SU and 18-9 ATS versus sub .750 foes, and 1-19 SU and 5-15 ATS versus .750 or greater opposition.

PLAY AGAINST: at Arkansas (11/23)

TEXAS A&M (*6/5)


Team Theme: JOHNNY HEISMAN

When Johnny Manziel accepted the Heisman Trophy last December he became the first freshman to ever do so, and for that he can thank Ryan Tannehill for leaving early to the NFL. Manziel notched a signature victory when he led the Aggies to a win as 12.5-point dogs at Alabama, all part of a season-ending 6-0 SU and 5-0 ATS win skein. That makes them a hot team with a favorable schedule in 2013 - they have only a pair of two-game road outings, each of which are preceded by a pair of four-game home stands. That's rather unfair when you take into account head coach Kevin Sumlin's 15-0 SU and 13-1-1 ATS career mark as a home favorite of more than 6 points. Gulp.

Stat You Will Like: 12 seats are always left empty at Kyle Field to remember Texas A&M community members who died in a 1999 bonfire accident.

PLAY ON: as a dog at LSU (11/23)

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Re: 2013 College Football Conference Previews

2013 Sun Belt Preview
By Marc Lawrence
Playbook.com

A new year brings a new logo for the new-look Sun Belt Conference.

Next year brings even more change as the Sun Belt joins in the wild world of conference calamity.

Last season the conference welcomed South Alabama. This year Texas State and Georgia State are fully on board, with Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee State and North Texas headed off to the Conference USA with Western Kentucky set to move to the same new neighborhood next year.

The Sun Belt will add WAC leftovers Idaho and New Mexico State, in addition to traditional FCS powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern next season.

Meanwhile, Arkansas State aims for a third straight conference title, for the first time in Sun Belt history since North Texas did so between 2002 and 2004, behind third-new coach in as many years.
   
It was part of the SBC’s best-ever season ending computer ranking, ahead of the Conference USA and Mountain West Conference. Wins over two SEC squads, and a pair of bowl victories, added to the tally.

The ‘Fun in the Sun’ guys currently own a winning bowl record in games played since 2007 (8-7). And a recently signed contract with ESPN guarantees the Sun Belt new radiant exposure on the programming giant through the 2019 season.

One very disturbing stat: Sun Belt teams are 12-123 in games against BCS AQ (Automatic Qualifier) teams the last six years.

Granted, they may be arguably the weakest of the 10 BCS conference affiliates, and its league champ won’t be guaranteed a BCS bowl, but don’t tell them.

By rule, if it can, the SBC champion will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if its champion is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or if that team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and its ranking is higher that that of a champion of a conference that have an automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

As we’ve mentioned before, the league may be suffering from a bad case of sunspots but to a team they believe a member of the Sun Belt Conference will someday be playing in a BCS bowl game. Unfortunately, with the BCS in its final year of existence, it will have to happen this year or never.

Regardless, they’ve still having plenty of fun in the sun.

Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.

ARKANSAS STATE (7/5)

Team Theme: BIG PAIR OF SHOES TO FILL

New head coach Bryan Harsin brings an impressive dossier to Jonesboro. As a former assistant coach or offensive coordinator the last dozen years at Texas and Boise State, ten of his teams have gone bowling. He inherits a squad that has won back-to-back Sun Belt titles, with only one conference defeat the last two years. The question is will be he another ‘one-and-done’ like his predecessors, Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze, were the last two years? The loss of star QB Ryan Aplin and his top two wide receivers – along with leading tackler Nathan Herrold – puts Harsin in an immediate hole. Hopefully, a soft FBS schedule (foes 48-86 in 2012) should help him fill some mighty big shoes.

State You Will Like: Entering the 2013 season, the Red Wolves’ 8-game win streak is second only to Ohio State.

PLAY ON: at Western Kentucky (11/30)

GEORGIA STATE (*9/7)

Team Theme: RODE HARD AND PUT AWAY WET

Hired to lead the neophyte Panthers, Bill Curry – former Alabama, Georgia Tech and Kentucky head coach – launched the football program by going 6-5 in its inaugural season in 2010, then 3-8 in 2011 and 1-10 last season. By the end of his final game last year, Curry was worn out and had the look of a horse ridden hard. Hired in his place, ‘program-builder’ Trent Miles steps in this season after having taken Indiana State – a team that won ONE GAME the previous three years – to back-to-back winning campaigns. Rest assured, it’s a gigantic step from FCS to FBS for a program that debuted a mere three years ago. Road trips to Alabama and West Virginia will likely have Miles running for cover.

State You Will Like: New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is a former Boston College head coach and Atlanta Falcons assistant coach.

PASS

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (*7/7)

Team Theme: NEVER LET GO OF THE ROPE

The development of the Cajuns in two seasons under Mark Hudspeth has been dramatic. They are just one of eight schools that has won 9 or more games during that span. One of the first lessons he gave after taking over the helm came when he had the offense and defense engage in an old-fashioned tug of war. As the rope went back and forth with neither team generating enough force to win the battle, Hudspeth stopped the Cajuns and had both teams move to the same side of the rope, pointing out how much easier it is to move the rope when everyone was on the same side and fighting for the same thing. “We never let go of the rope,” said Hudspeth.

State You Will Like: Hudspeth is 84-29 in his nine-year career as a head coach, winning 10 or more games five times.

PLAY ON: at Arkansas State (10/22)

LOUISIANA-MONROE (*8/9)

Team Theme: WHAT A FEELING

After setting 45 new school records en route to guiding the Warhawks to an FBS-era best 8 wins last season, Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year Todd Berry received a 4-year contract extension. They were America’s darlings for three weeks in September when they beat Arkansas in OT, lost to Auburn in OT and nearly took down Baylor in a 5-point loss. A total of 17 starters from last year’s team return, including SBC Offensive Player of the Year, QB Kolton Browning, who tossed for 3,049 yards and 29 TDs. Missing is his go-to guy, WR Brent Leonard, who hauled in 104 passes last year. Nonetheless, Berry will need to address a defense that has more defects than a Toyota Corolla if he wishes to retain that feel-good sensation.

State You Will Like: Berry is 0-24 SU and 6-17 ATS in games off a spread win of more than 4 points.

PLAY ON: at Baylor (9/21)

SOUTH ALABAMA (*9/8)

Team Theme: KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

Welcome to the FBS. After launching the football program in 2007, the Jaguars got their first taste of life with the big boys last season. A historic win over Florida Atlantic, their first-ever versus an FBS foe, wasn’t enough to wipe the taste of a 2-11 season from head coach Joey Jones’ palate. Jones, a storied wide receiver at Alabama and a Mobile native, leads his team into battle this season eligible to win the Sun Belt Conference and earn a bowl bid for the first time in school history. With five home games against foes that went bowling last year, they will rely heavily on WR Jereme Jones (set a school record for receptions last season) to stop the bleeding.

State You Will Like: The Jaguars were 17-0, outscoring the opposition 734-171, in their first two seasons of play in 2009-10, before transitioning to Division I-A.

PLAY ON: vs. Arkansas State (11/2)

TEXAS STATE (7/8)

Team Theme: THREE’S A CROWD

The Bobcats make a conference switch for the third time in three years when they head to the Sun Belt after making their first FBS appearance in the WAC last season. After stunning Houston as 34.5-point dogs in their FBS debut last season, it was pretty much downhill thereafter with Texas State’s other three wins coming against an FCS school, Idaho and New Mexico State. Nonetheless, Dennis Franchione was awarded a five-year contract extension. The 2-time National Coach of the Year and 9-time conference champ will need to do a better job of protecting the airways as his troops surrendered 200 or more passing yards in 10 of 12 games in 2012, with only groundhogs Navy and New Mexico State failing to join the club.

State You Will Like: Franchione’s 197 career wins ranks him among the Top 5 of active FBS coaches.

PLAY ON: at Texas Tech (9/21)

TROY (*3/5)

Team Theme: ONE-TWO PUNCH

Texas may own the most notable two-headed QB combo in the FBS with David Ash and Case McCoy, but Troy’s dynamic duo of senior quarterbacks Corey Robinson and Deon Anthony is right there with them as far as production is concerned. Robinson has tossed for nearly six miles of yardage (10,258 – see other accomplishments below), while Anthony passed and rushed for 1,246 yards and 17 TDs last season, leading the Sun Belt in pass efficiency. The loss of his top running back and wide receiver, along with a defense that was dead-last in the SBC in 2012, will put the coaching skills of savvy veteran Larry Blakeney to the test this season.

State You Will Like: QB Corey Robinson is the FBS active leader in pass attempts, completions and total yards entering this season.

PLAY ON: at Louisiana Lafayette (11/7)

WESTERN KENTUCKY (*7/7)


Team Theme: TOP THIS

We don’t get it. Maybe it’s the Petrino intrigue. Or perhaps, it’s the desire to shed its ‘little-brother image’ within the state of Kentucky. Whatever the case, the Hilltoppers decided that progressing from 2-22 in its inaugural two seasons at the FBS level to 16-20 (and a bowl game last season) the next three years under former alum Willie Taggart just wasn’t fast enough. Instead, like a pimply-faced virgin at the Chicken Ranch, they were intoxicated by job-hopping whore Bobby Petrino, the disgraced coach who tore down programs at Arkansas and Atlanta (Falcons) in his last two stops. Paying him nearly twice the salary ($850K) Taggart earned, he can now afford a new Hog. Maybe he’ll take wife Becky for a ride this time.

State You Will Like: RB Antonio Andrews led the nation in all-purpose yards last season with 3,161 – 2nd all-time to Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Troy (10/26)

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