North Dakota State Uses Familiar Blueprint To Beat FBS Foes
Perhaps you heard the North Dakota State Bison defeated the #13 Iowa Hawkeyes 23-21 on Saturday. The Bison went in as 14.5 points underdogs and defeated the mighty Iowa team that went 12-2 and played in the Rose Bowl last season. This was the sixth straight victory for North Dakota State over an FBS opponent. Below is the North Dakota State record and future games versus FBS teams.
So how does North Dakota State consistently defeat their FBS foes? Well, let’s take a closer look.
Below are the averages between the Bison and their last six FBS opponents, which happens to be their current win streak against the FBS.
So how do the Bison defeat six straight FBS teams? Stop the run, force third and long situations, control the ball, and win the turnover battle.
First, the Bison like to stop the run and that is clear from the rushing yards given up (85.5 per game) and yards per carry average (2.9 per attempt). In fact, their highest rushing total allowed in the six games was 168 yards to Minnesota in 2011. Every other game has seen the Bison allow no more than 102 yards. The highest total yardage allowed by NDSU in the six games was 321 to Kansas State in 2013. The other five games all saw the Bison hold their opponent to fewer than 300 yards.
Notice at the bottom of the picture where it mentions the average yards to go on third down. Some calculations were needed, but the end result is clear: the Bison like to get their opponent in third and long, which becomes and obvious passing down. Common sense says it is a lot easier to prepare when you know what is coming from the other offense. The Bison also did better to defend third down as well allowing roughly 36% (4.5 converted out of 12.5 on average per game). The Bison converted about 50% of their third downs on offense, which helps immensely with time of possession.
Next up is controlling the ball and the Bison do this incredibly well. They held the ball for an average of 60% of the game and that is not an aberration. They won the time of possession battle in all six victories and the last four (Colorado State, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Iowa) saw them hold the ball above their 60% average. The longer NDSU holds the ball, the longer the opposing defense stays on the field and gets tired. Tiredness can lead to mistakes and frustration. It is demoralizing for a defense to be constantly battered without much rest and the Bison are great at this part.
Finally, we have reached the turnover part. The averages say the Bison have less than one turnover per game compared to two for their FBS opponent. Turnovers lead to more possessions, which leads to higher time of possession, more running, and basically everything NDSU loves to do. The Bison have not been perfect as they registered one turnover in four of the six games. The difference? The Bison never lost the turnover battle in the six wins and their “worst” result was against Iowa on Saturday when both teams finished with one turnover.
There is still more to the puzzle that is part of the blueprint, but they are not separated out in the box score. Those pieces would be the coaches game plan and execution by the players. How do you account for the things coaches see on film? How about when the player is in the right spot at the right time? Sure, it might end up as a turnover, but what about a blitz that is called out and picked up or a certain formation that is run? The Bison have been well prepared by Craig Bohl and Chris Klieman, but the players deserve credit for their execution too. They did not become 5-time FCS National Champions solely due to luck or by accident.
Iowa = Kansas State?
The light did not go on watching the North Dakota State-Iowa game as to how similar this game was to the Kansas State victory in 2013. NDSU took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter in both games, K-State and Iowa both responded by scoring at least two touchdowns, and the Bison needed a score late in the game to win. In addition, North Dakota State came in as a double digit underdog and reigning FCS Champions.
Look at those rushing stats. The Bison averaged 227 yards per game and gave up only 37.5. 37.5 yards per game against two upper level Power 5 conference opponents. Look at the time of possession. NDSU held the ball for 60%+ in each game. They ran about 40% more plays while also committing a grand total of 2 penalties for 20 yards in the two games. Coincidentally, the scores were nearly identical at 23-21 against Kansas State and 24-21 against Iowa.
Want to consistently pull upsets like North Dakota State? There is the blueprint and all you need to do is execute it like the Bison. Easier said than done.
Let’s enjoy this incredible run by the Bison both against FBS teams and in the FCS because these type of streaks do not happen very often.
Five Predictions For The Mountain West Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season is less than four weeks away and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Mountain West Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.
There are no changes for the Mountain West Conference as the twelve teams remain the same. The Mountain division is composed of Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State, and Wyoming. The West division is made up of Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State, and UNLV.
Here are five predictions for the Mountain West Conference in 2016:
1. Air Force will win the Commander-in-Chief Trophyand win 10 games – The first part only requires the Falcons to defeat the duo of Army and Navy. The chances are good to get back the CIC for the first time since 2014 (Navy has won the CIC three of the last four years). Navy was decimated on offense with only one returning starter and Air Force is better than Army on paper (that is why they play the games though).
Air Force will be returning five starters on offense including their leading rusher Jacobi Owens (1,092 yards and 7 touchdowns) and receiver Jalen Robinette. (26 catches for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns). Also back is quarterback Nate Romine who was the starter to begin 2015, but suffered a torn ACL early in the season. The offense should come close to their 2015 numbers of 33.8 points and 451 yards per game.
The defense has nine back from a unit that allowed 25.5 points and 355 yards per game. The entire secondary returns led by strong safety Weston Steelhammer (80 tackles and 5 interceptions) and they will be the anchor of what should be another solid team. The schedule opens with Abilene Christian and Georgia State at home and the Falcons should be poised to go 4-0 in non-conference this year. The Falcons do have five away games in conference, but they are winnable (Utah State, Wyoming, New Mexico, Fresno State, and San Jose State). Their toughest games come at home against Colorado State and Boise State. The Falcons have a great shot at 10 wins in 2016.
2. San Diego State will win the West Division – The Aztecs won the 2015 Mountain West Championship with a 27-24 victory over Air Force. 2016 appears to favor SDSU to get back to the title game again. They return seven starters on both offense and defense led by running back Donnel Pumphrey (1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns), but there are other reasons.
First, they avoid the Mountain Division duo of Air Force and Boise State, which makes the road much easier. The second reason is they do not face much in the way of competition in their own division with being Nevada their biggest threat. The Wolf Pack return 10 starters on offense and five on defense, but lost their offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich to Hawaii. Nevada does not have to face Air Force and Boise State from the Mountain as well. San Diego State does have to face Nevada on the road, but they look likely to win the West in a down year for the division.
3. Boise State will lead the MWC in points scored and Thomas Sperbeck will lead the MWC in receiving yardage – The Broncos were easily the best scoring offense in 2015 putting up 39.1 points per game while Air Force was second at 33.8 points per contest. Sperbeck also led the conference in receiving in 2015 with 1,412 yards on 88 catches. The next closest was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins with 75 catches for 1,062 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The offense should easily lead the conference again as they return the young and talented quarterback Brett Rypien (3,353 yards with 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) as well as running back JeremyMcNichols (1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns). Sperbeck will be accompanied by Chaz Anderson at receiver as he was the number two receiver with 42 catches for 578 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sperbeck will be the top target and let’s call for at least 1,500 yards in 2016 to lead the MWC.
4. UNLV will make a bowl game in 2016 – Finding an under the radar team from the West division to make a bowl game was tough. Fresno State and Hawaii have tough schedules while San Jose State is hardly under the radar after making the Cure Bowl last year. UNLV made some serious progress during 2015 in Tony Sanchez’s first season.
The offense went from 21.9 points and 387 yards per game in 2014 to 28.5 points and 405 yards in 2015 with only five starters back (as well as the new offense under Sanchez). This year six starters return including the talented Devonte Boyd at receiver (1st team all MWC in 2013 and 2nd team all MWC in 2015). The top three running backs return as well as three linemen. They will have a new quarterback, but he is likely to be former Nebraska Cornhusker Johnny Stanton. The offense should surpass the 2015 numbers they put up.
The defense went from 38.5 points and 513 yards allowed per game in 2014 down to 33.7 points and 457 yards per contest in 2015. Those numbers should improve again this year as eight starters return. The team was competitive last year and had three losses by a touchdown or less. UNLV will open up against Jackson State, UCLA (away), Central Michigan (away), and Idaho. They also face Fresno State, Hawaii (away), Colorado State, San Jose State (away), and Wyoming in conference, which makes a bowl in reach if they can go 3-1 or even 2-2 out of conference.
5. New Mexico will make their second straight bowl game in 2016 – The Lobos have not been to back-to-back bowl games since 2006 and 2007 when they played in the New Mexico Bowl both times. They played in the same bowl last year against Arizona where they lost 45-37.
The offense will have just five starters back from the group that put up 29.9 points and 388 yards per game. Quarterback Lamar Jordan returns after throwing for 1,045 yards with 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, but the focus of this offense is the triple option. Jordan ran for 807 yards and 9 touchdowns, but the leading rusher departs. He will be replaced by Teriyon Gipson who ran for 848 yards and 6 touchdowns. They also return the top two receivers from last year, which is a plus if they need to rely on the passing attack a bit more.
The defense looks like the strength of the team. In 2014, they allowed 35.9 points and 519 yards per game while 2015 saw an improvement to 28.4 points and 438 yards per game with seven starters back. For 2016, there are ten starters returning including middle linebacker Dakota Cox (97 tackles, 5 sacks, and one interception). There should be even more improvement this year.
The schedule opens up with South Dakota before winnable road games against New Mexico State and Rutgers. Their final non-conference game is in mid October against Louisiana Monroe, another winnable contest. In conference, they will have games versus San Jose State, Boise State, Air Force (in Dallas), Hawaii (away), Nevada, Utah State (away), Colorado State (away), and Wyoming. There are at least three wins in there in which they can become eligible for a bowl game (assuming a 3-1 non-conference record).
The Prediction Schedule
With the MWC predictions above, there are now predictions for six conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.
The Big Ten went 8-6 in the opening week of the college football season, but overall it was not a good weekend for them. Week two was a good chance for the Big Ten to redeem themselves. A closer look at each of the Big Ten’s teams is below.
Oregon State Beavers at Michigan Wolverines
Result: Michigan Win 35-7 (Saturday, September 12)
Jim Harbaugh’s first game in the Big House did not get off to a good start. The Beavers took the opening drive and marched right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. It got worse when quarterback Jake Rudock lost a fumble on the Wolverines’ first possession and put Oregon State in position to add to their lead. The Michigan defense stepped up to force and recover a fumble two plays later while the offense turned it into a field goal.
Michigan looked more like Michigan after that first drive by not allowing another point the rest of the game. De’Veon Smith was effective at rushing the ball and was more decisive as well. He finished with 126 yards and 3 touchdowns on 23 carries. Rudock went 18 of 26 for 180 yards, but did not have a touchdown pass and threw an interception.
The Michigan defense allowed a total of 138 yards the entire game and 79 of those yards came on Oregon State’s opening drive. They were disruptive and all over the field for nearly all of the game. The defense gave up only one third down conversion to the Oregon State offense out of 11 attempts.
The Wolverines face UNLV next week at home with a chance to continue improving on both sides of the ball.
Western Illinois Leathernecks at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 44-0 (Saturday, September 12)
The departure of Tim Beckman had no effect in week two as the offense continued to shine. Wes Lunt went 33 of 46 for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His top target was Geronimo Allison who had 8 receptions for 124 yards. Marchie Murdock had a solid game with 6 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.
One area that the offense struggled in was holding on to the ball. They had four turnovers in total with three of those coming on lost fumbles. Obviously it did not hurt this week, but a similar performance against better competition will have disastrous consequences. The Illini also had 147 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 40 carries as a team, which does not even average to 4 yards a carry. That will also need to improve.
The defense pitched a shut out and gave up only 141 yards of offense to Western Illinois. They allowed just 43 yards through the air and intercepted two passes. It was a suffocating performance that bodes well for them.
Illinois looked good for two weeks, but the waters get very deep next week on the road at North Carolina. That will be a great test for Illinois on both sides of the ball against their highest quality opponent to date.
Bowling Green Falcons at Maryland Terrapins
Result: Bowling Green Win 48-27 (Saturday, September 12)
Maryland had a second half surge to beat Richmond last week and it looked like they were going to do well against Bowling Green this week. The Terps led 13-6 at halftime, but struggled mightily in the final 30 minutes.
The defense for Maryland was the biggest culprit as they gave up 42 second half points. They allowed 491 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air while giving up another 201 yards on the ground. They managed just one turnover and allowed 10 of 22 on third and fourth down conversions.
Perry Hills did not have a good game going 15 of 30 with 168 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. He threw three interceptions, but did run for 94 yards on 8 carries. William Likely was a bright spot again with an 85 yard touchdown return on a punt.
Maryland has a third home game in a row next week against South Florida, but that will not be easy if they continue to struggle.
Buffalo Bulls at Penn State Nittany Lions
Result: Penn State Win 27-14 (Saturday, September 12)
Penn State was atrocious in week one against Temple, but rebounded to beat Buffalo at home this week. However, it was not always pretty as they continued to struggle on offense.
Christian Hackenberg went 14 of 27 with 128 yards and a touchdown. He and the offense would not score until midway through the second quarter, but built a familiar 10-0 score. Buffalo made it 10-7 on their second drive of the second half, but the offense was able to do enough to put the game out of reach. Hackenberg was not sacked at all against Buffalo after being sacked 10 times in week one.
Saquon Barkley had a good game with 115 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while Akeel Lynch was stifled at times gaining only 46 yards on 19 carries. This duo was able to move the ball at times while the passing game was ineffective under Hackenberg.
The Nittany Lions’ defense was solid allowing only 274 yards of offense to Buffalo and only 69 yards on the ground. They did not force a turnover, but were solid for most of the game.
Penn State kicks off their Big Ten schedule with a home game against Rutgers next week.
Miami (OH) Redhawks at Wisconsin Badgers
Result: Wisconsin Win 58-0 (Saturday, September 12)
Wisconsin was in fine form in week two after their tough opening week game against Alabama. Week two provided Miami (OH), which was a welcome relief as the Badgers crushed them.
Corey Clement did not play this week due to a lingering injury, but it did not matter with Joel Stave slinging the ball around. The running game struggled early on, but eventually got on track as the Redhawks wore down. Dare Ogunbowale ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while Taiwan Deal had 45 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 carries.
Stave looked sharp again this week going 19 of 30 for 236 yards with 3 touchdown and an interception. His best target was surprising with Robert Wheelwright leading the team. He had 6 catches for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns with the bulk of the catches coming late in the second quarter. Alex Erickson had 5 catches for 73 yards, but was also effective on punt returns with 72 yards on 4 returns.
The defense, as expected, was dominant. They held Miami to -3 yards rushing and a total of 157 yards. They forced four turnovers including two picks Leo Musso and one interception by Tanner McEvoy. McEvoy got snaps at wide receiver as well in this game catching 3 passes for 29 yards.
It was a much better performance, but the run game will need to find its feet quicker and not rely on Stave too much to get the offense going. The Badgers will have Troy in town next week.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Result: Ohio State Win 38-0 (Saturday, September 12)
Ohio State had a quick turnaround from Monday night’s win over Virginia Tech and it may have played a part in their lackadaisical effort at times.
Cardale Jones started the game, but struggled for the first quarter and a half. He was pulled in the second quarter with J.T. Barrett taking over. Neither quarterback was overly impressive with Jones going 12 of 18 for 111 yards and Barrett going 8 of 15 for 70 yards. Neither threw a touchdown or interception.
Ezekiel Elliott was relied on more heavily this game going for 101 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries. Braxton Miller, to no surprise, was used as well with 8 carries for 57 yards, but was held to 2 catches for 16 yards. Curtis Samuel finished as the leading receiver with 7 catches for 53 yards and Michael Thomas had 52 yards on 5 catches.
The defense was very good by allowing only 165 total yards with 85 of those coming through the air and 80 on the ground. They forced four turnovers (2 interceptions and 2 fumbles) and returned one of those fumbles to the house courtesy of Vonn Bell from 14 yards out.
The Buckeyes will certainly be looking to get more a rhythm next week at home against Northern Illinois.
Washington State Cougars at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Result: Washington State Win 37-34 (Saturday, September 12)
It looked like Rutgers was going to pull one out for the Big Ten, but a wild fourth quarter saw these two teams combine for 39 points including touchdowns from each team in the final 1:31.
Kyle Flood opted to play Chris Laviano against the Cougars and he was decent. He finished 23 of 29 for 204 yards with a touchdown, but threw an interception that led to a field goal. He was able to spread the ball around finding 10 different receivers with Janarion Grant leading the way with 5 catches for 65 yards. Josh Hicks led the team in rushing with 91 yards on 16 carries while Robert Martin ran for 61 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries.
The obvious weakness this week was the defense that was shredded by Washington State’s air raid offense. Luke Falk went 47 of 66 for 478 yards with 4 touchdowns. Gabe Marks caught 14 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown while River Cracraft had 8 catches for 121 yards and a score. The Rutgers defense was not able to force a turnover and the critical drive that led to the loss. The defense will need to improve if Rutgers wants to make a bowl game this year.
The Scarlet Knights face Penn State on the road next week.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Colorado State Rams
Result: Minnesota Win 23-20 in 1 Overtime (Saturday, September 12)
Minnesota played well in week one and did so again in week two on the road at Colorado State. The Gophers needed overtime to get the win, but they were able to force an interception and then kick a field goal to give them the three point victory.
Mitch Leidner’s stats are not overwhelming, but he played well when he had to for the most part. He went 23 of 45 for 233 yards with 2 touchdowns, but no interceptions. He did lose two fumbles with the first one occurring inside the Rams’ 20 yard line on fourth and one. The other happened inside his own red zone that led to a field goal. Still, his ability to lead the offense down the field late in the fourth quarter for a go ahead touchdown was impressive.
Rodney Smith ran for 108 yards on 21 carries while Leidner was the second leading rusher with 47 yards on 11 carries. Drew Wolitarsky was a big target for Leidner with 9 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. KJ Maye made the biggest catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown and finished with 6 catches for 54 yards.
The defense played well, especially when it counted the most in overtime. They finished with four turnovers forced and also held the Colorado State offense to 314 yards. The defense got lucky that Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins was out, but still did well overall.
Minnesota’s strong start will look to be continued next week back at home against Kent State.
Eastern Illinois Panthers at Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 41-0 (Saturday, September 12)
If there was any worry that Northwestern would be too full of themselves after last week’s win over Stanford, it was not apparent in week two.
The offense was far from overwhelming, but was efficient led by Clayton Thorson who went 11 of 16 for 152 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown and only attempted two runs. Justin Jackson had 22 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown while WarrenLong saw action and finished with 12 rushers for 72 yards and a score.
Austin Carr had 2 catches for 61 yards and a long touchdown of 44 yards. Dan Vitale had 4 catches for 40 yards. The offense was not spectacular, but the defense was even if it was versus a FCS team.
Matthew Harris had a big game this week with two interceptions including one returned 71 yards for a touchdown. The defense allowed only 138 yards of offense to Eastern Illinois and did not allow a third down conversion (0 for 11). It was another dominant performance that bodes incredibly well for the Wildcats.
Northwestern will take on Duke next week on the road in another early season test for the Wildcats.
Iowa Hawkeyes at Iowa State Cyclones
Result: Iowa Win 31-17 (Saturday, September 12)
Iowa had to battle against their in-state rival Iowa State, but they got the job done thanks to a balanced offense. Quarterback C.J. Beathard threw for 215 yards and 3 touchdowns on 15 of 25 passing. He also showed some wheels by running for 77 yards on 10 carries including long runs of 44 yards and 57 yards.
Jordan Canzeri pounded the ball 24 times for 124 yards and a touchdown, but did lose a fumble inside the Iowa State red zone with the game tied at 17. Matt VandeBerg was a safety blanket catching 9 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was not great in the first half allowing all 17 points, but they played well in the final two quarters. With the game still in the balance and Iowa leading 24-17, Desmond King intercepted a pass at the Iowa State 36 and put the offense in great position to salt the game away.
One drive worth noting was Iowa’s final drive of the first half. They started from their own 2, moved the ball down to the Iowa State 22, and were in a great spot to kick a field goal. The game was a 17-10 Iowa State lead at the time, but Kirk Ferentz decided to try a trick play and let Marshall Koehn run the ball on a fake field goal, but he was stopped at the five. It was a bizarre play call that had no effect in the end, but the timing was very curious.
Iowa has another good game next week with Pittsburgh going to Iowa City.
#7 Oregon Ducks at #5 Michigan State Wolverines
Result: Michigan State Win 31-28 (Saturday, September 12)
The Big Ten’s biggest game of the week turned out to be a good one that went their way with a nice performance out of the Michigan State Spartans.
Connor Cook had a decent game going 20 of 32 for 192 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Madre London had a good game running the ball with 103 yards on 18 carries while LJ Scott pounded the ball in for two touchdowns and 76 yards on 11 carries. Aaron Burbridge had a great game catching 8 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The Michigan State defense was not great, but they played well considering their opponent. They forced two interceptions in the first half with the first one leading to a touchdown for the offense. They also had a huge goal line stop in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, they allowed a touchdown with a 31-21 lead, but were able to force a turnover on downs on the following drive (thanks in large part to a sack by Chris Frey and Lawrence Thomas).
Michigan State will be back at home next week with Air Force coming to town.
South Alabama Jaguars at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: Nebraska Win 48-9 (Saturday, September 12)
Nebraska rebounded from week one’s crushing Hail Mary loss to decimate South Alabama. TommyArmstrong went 21 of 30 for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead the Huskers. Terrell Newby had a monster game rushing for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns on 28 carries. Newby also had 2 catches for 38 yards and a score while Brandon Reilly caught 5 passes for 71 yards to lead the team.
The defense was clearly angered by last week’s performance and did well with the starters in. They did not allow a point in the first half and when the Jaguars did get into scoring position, they stopped them both times.
Nebraska faces the Miami Hurricanes next week on the road in another big game for them.
Florida International Panthers at Indiana Hoosiers
Result: Indiana Win 36-22 (Saturday, September 12)
Indiana escaped an upset last week against FCS Southern Illinois while this week’s game was not as dramatic at the end. However, Indiana did struggle early on with FIU. The Hoosiers trailed 22-19 early in the fourth quarter before putting up the final 17 points to make the finish comfortable.
Jordan Howard had another very good game with 27 carries for 159 yards. The defense struggled at times, but sealed the game with a pick six for 96 yards by Jameel Cook. That happened to be on fourth and goal with just over 4 minutes left.
Indiana’s defense will be tested again next week with the high-powered Western Kentucky offense going into Bloomington.
That concludes a look at the second week of the Big Ten football roundup. Look out for the week three edition next week.
Part 3 of the 2015 College Football Preview dives into the Mountain West. Specifically, the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference will be previewed. Below is a look at the entire 2015 College Football Preview schedule:
Now, let’s take a look at the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division preview.
1. Boise State Broncos
The first year for head coach Bryan Harsin was a major success for Boise State, as the Broncos went 12-2 and won the Mountain West’s inaugural Championship Game. Year 2 under Harsin will them poised to continue the success.
The offense will have 9 starters back from last year’s unit that put 39.7 points and 494 yards per game. The losses are at key positions, however. Quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi are both gone. Ajayi’s departure is offset by the addition of Kelsey Young as a transfer from Stanford. Quarterback will likely be played by Ryan Finley who saw action in five games in 2014. He will have his entire offensive line returning and some top targets in Thomas Sperbeck (51 catches for 877 yards and 3 touchdowns), Shane Williams-Rhodes (68 catches for 585 yards and 7 touchdowns, and tight end JakeRoh (35 catches for 408 yards and 2 touchdowns). The offense may not put up as many points, but it will still put up more than enough to outscore most opponents.
Boise State sees 8 starters return on defense including the top 5 tacklers from a season ago. The losses are spaced out evenly with one at each level. Middle linebacker Tanner Vallejo will be leading the defense again after recording 100 tackles, 3 sacks, and 13.5 tackles for loss. On the defensive line, Kamalei Correa looks to have another double digit sack season after recording 12 sacks in 2014. The defense gave up 26.8 points and 375 yards per game in 2014 and similar numbers, or better, can be expected.
Boise State starts the season with a match up against former head coach Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies at home. They then have a road trip to BYU, are home against Idaho State, and travel again to face Virginia. Their Mountain West schedule sets them up nicely for a shot at an undefeated conference season. Their toughest games will be at Utah State and home to Air Force, but they draw Hawaii, UNLV, and San José State from the West. Those are three teams the Broncos should crush. The Broncos should have a relatively easy time winning their division and reaching another MWC Title Game.
2. Air Force Falcons
2014 was a major turnaround season for Air Force. In 2013, the Falcons went 2-10 with their only triumphs being against FCS Colgate and Army. In 2014, they went 10-3 with their three losses all coming in Mountain West play (Wyoming, Utah State, and San Diego State).
In 2015, Air Force has 7 starters returning on offense led by running back Jacobi Owens and wide receiver Jalen Robinette. Owens led the Falcons with 1,054 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing while Robinette had 43 catches for 806 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has to replace three starters, but as usual, it will be upperclassmen filling the vacancies. At quarterback, Nate Romine is expected to return to start. He started 5 games in 2013 and one game in 2014. The offense averaged 31.5 points per game a year ago and could come close to that in 2015.
The major area of concern for Air Force is on defense where only 4 starters return. The last time they had this few starters return was in 2012 with 2 and gave up an average of 29 points per game. Alex Hansen will anchor the defensive line after garnering 2nd Team All-Mountain West honors in 2014 with 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss. Connor Healy will be the star linebacker after finishing second in tackles in 2014 with 90. Weston Steelhammer is back at strong safety after he made the 1st Team All-Mountain West in 2014. He had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 6 interceptions. This unit lost a lot in the way of experience and will probably suffer a bit.
Air Force stars off with a game against FCS Morgan State before starting conference play at home against San José State. Next up is a road trip to Michigan State before a bye and another road trip to Navy. The reason they are put second on this list is due to the Mountain West schedule. They will have to face Fresno State at home, but get a road trip to Hawaii and have the aforementioned game against San José State. That is not the toughest West draw and with a win against Utah State on November 14 at home, the Falcons could be sitting behind Boise State when all is said and done.
3. Utah State Aggies
2014 produced a surprisingly good year for Utah State despite a few negatives. They entered 2014 with only 7 returning starters and lost star quarterback Chuckie Keeton after 3 starts, but were able to finish 10-4. 2015 looks even better for the Aggies.
On offense, the Aggies return 9 starters including Chuckie Keeton. Keeton was given a 6th year of eligibility after being injured last season. He will have running back LaJuan Hunt back as well after he ran for 540 yards and a touchdown. Keeton will also have the top two receivers from last year (HunterSharp and JoJo Natson) as well as four starters back on the line. After averaging 26.9 points and 379 yards a game in 2014, the Aggies should have better output in 2015.
As previously mentioned, 2014 was a big year for Utah State and the defense was a massive part of the reason. Despite only having 4 starters back, the unit gave up 19.7 points and 356 yards per game. In 2015, they will have 6 starters returning. The strength of the defense will be at linebacker with three of the four starters returning including Nick Vigil, who recorded 134 tackles, 7 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and an interception a season ago. The defensive line has to replace two starters as does the secondary. The defensive line should do well while the pass defense may have some struggles this season.
Utah State has a rough out of conference schedule after their opener against Southern Utah. They face back-to-back Pac-12 foes on the road in Utah and Washington. Their last non-conference game is against BYU at home in the regular season finale. During Mountain West play they will have a rough time as well. They get Boise State at home and travel to Air Force, but the teams from the West Division is what really hurts. They face three of the top teams in Fresno State (road), San Diego State (road), and Nevada (home). Utah State will make another bowl game in 2015 and they could surprise with a winning record against the 5 aforementioned Mountain West foes.
4. Wyoming Cowboys
Craig Bohl‘s first season in the FBS in 2014 was not kind as Wyoming finished 4-8 with the offense averaging only 21.1 points per game and the defense surrendering 32.8 points per game. 2015 may a bit better for Wyoming despite only 9 starters returning.
The Cowboys will have 5 starters back on offense and one of them is not at quarterback. However, that may not be a problem as they have Cameron Coffman who transferred from Indiana. Coffman threw for 2,734 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 2012. The top two running backs also return in BrianHill (796 yards and 7 touchdowns) and Shaun Wick (753 yards and 6 touchdowns). Wyoming does lose their top two receivers, but those two only combined for 86 catches, 1,172 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Despite the losses, the offense should perform better with a year of Bohl’s system under their belts.
The defense returns only 4 starters, but one of those is 1st Team-All Mountain West defensive end EddieYarbrough. He finished 2014 as the second leading tackler with 63 and also recorded 4 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. 2 other projected starters on the defensive line have experience starting as well. The linebacking unit has only 1 returning starter, but Lucas Wacha started 11 games in 2013 and returns to start at the weak side. The secondary only returns one starter from 2014, but strong safety Chad Reese was a constant starter between 2011 and 2013 before missing all of 2014. The defense does not have a lot of starters returning, but they are in the second year of Bohl’s system and have several starters from years prior to 2014.
Wyoming has a relatively easy non-conference schedule with back-to-back home games against North Dakota and Eastern Michigan. They then travel to Washington State before starting conference play at home against New Mexico. Their non-conference schedule wraps up on October 3 with a road game at Appalachian State, which could see them sitting at 4-1 in early October. They have a rough conference schedule with road games against Air Force, Boise State, Utah State, and San Diego State. They also have Nevada and UNLV from the West division. The Cowboys will probably need an upset or 2 to reach bowl eligibility, but that is not out of the question for Craig Bohl.
5. Colorado State Rams
Colorado State has been on the up and up since Jim McElwain took over in 2012. They went from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-6 in 2013 to 10-3 in 2014. However, McElwain departed to take over at Florida and Mike Bobo was brought in from Georgia.
Bobo will have 7 starters back on offense including one of the best receivers in college football from 2014. Rashard Higgins caught 96 passes for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns while making the 2014 1st Team All-American squad. He will not have his top quarterback, however, and that will probably hurt the output. Seth Grayson threw for 4,006 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Also missing is the leading rusher from last year, Dee Hart, who ran for 1,275 yards and 16 touchdowns. After putting up 33.9 points per game in 2014, the offense will probably see a drop off despite the return of Higgins.
Defensively, the Rams have 8 starters returning, but two of the losses are the top two tacklers in 2014. The defensive line will be moving to a 4-3 from a 3-4, but they do return 3 starters, which should see them improve on the 201 rushing yards per game they surrendered in 2014. Linebacker is where the losses hurt the most with the two leading tacklers gone and there will most likely be drop off there. The secondary returns all four starters including the #3, #4, and #5 leading tacklers in 2014. This will be the strength of the defense and they only gave up 224 passing yards per game in 2014.
The Rams open the season with back-to-back home games against Savannah State and Minnesota before facing arch-rival Colorado in Denver. The wrap up non-conference with their first road trip outside of Colorado to face Texas-San Antonio. In conference, the Rams will have home games against Boise State and Air Force while drawing San Diego State, UNLV, and Fresno State from the West.
It might be a little harsh to put Colorado State 5th in the Mountain Division after their excellent season a year ago. They lose their quarterback, top rusher, top two tacklers, and have a new coach with new systems to install. Still, the Rams have an excellent shot at topping 6 wins and making another bowl game.
6. New Mexico Lobos
2015 will be Bob Davie‘s fourth season in charge at New Mexico. He has yet to do better than 4 wins, but will 2015 be different? To start, he will have 7 starters returning on offense including his top 3 rushers from his run based offense. Quarterback Lamar Jordan threw for only 895 yards with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but was able to run for 612 yards and 3 touchdowns. Also in the backfield is Jhurell Pressley (1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Teriyon Gipson (809 yards and 8 touchdowns). They also have 3 starters returning on the offensive line to pave the way. With the amount of talent and experience returning in 2015, the Lobos should be able to average at least the 310 yards rushing per game they did in 2014.
On defense, Davie will also have 7 starters returning and that is the most since he started at New Mexico in 2012. Two of the three defensive linemen return including Nik D’Avanzo who recorded 52 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. Three of the four linebackers return with that unit led by the tackling machine of Dakota Cox. He finished 2014 with 116 tackles to lead the team en route to finishing on the 1st Team All-Mountain West squad despite only playing the first 9 games. The secondary returns two starters as well and should continue to improve. The defense will probably improve on their 35.9 points and 519 yards per game given up in 2014, but will need to do much better.
New Mexico kicks off the season with homes games against Mississippi Valley State and Tulsa before a road trip to Arizona State. They open their conference schedule at Wyoming before facing New Mexico State at home to finish the non-conference portion of their schedule. From the West Division, the Lobos will face Nevada and San José State on the road while getting Hawaii at home. The Lobos could possibly go 2-1 in those three games and combined with an expected 2-2 non-conference record, be just two wins away from bowl eligibility. The Lobos will come close to 6 wins, but may fall just a bit short in 2015.
The Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division is Boise State’s to lose. They have a solid offense and a strong defense that appears to be much better on paper than any of their conference opponents. With a few upsets, Utah State or Air Force could win the division, but that is unlikely with those two teams battling it out for second along with Wyoming and Colorado State. New Mexico will be close to getting back to a bowl game but probably needs another year. Below is the predicted order of finish.
1. Boise State
2. Air Force
3. Utah State
5. Colorado State
6. New Mexico
The Mountain West Conference West Division will be out on Friday, July 10 along with the Mountain West Title Game prediction.
While the Gators and Vandals will not play in 2017, the two schools will play each other at some point in the future as agreed in the contract.
In 2017, Florida will face the Michigan Wolverines at a neutral site and also have to play Colorado State once between 2017 and 2020. The game against the Rams is due to the Gators buying out head coach JimMcElwain and becoming the head coach of Florida.
The first conference game will take place on Saturday, September 12 with San Jose State at Air Force. The season will conclude on Saturday, December 5 with the 2015 Mountain West Conference Championship. The Championship game will be played at the home of the highest-ranked division winners.
The Mountain West will televise games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday throughout the season. Some of the games listed below will be moved to another day when ESPN and CBS Sports Network determine their respective television schedules.
Final scores do not always tell the tale of how a game truly went or how comprehensive a team performed. This article is intended to shed light on some of those discrepancies and highlight some stats put up by teams and individuals alike.
Virginia Tech Hokies at Pittsburgh Panthers (Pittsburgh won 21-16 on Thursday (10/16))
The Hokies ran for only 26 yards on 22 carries as a team against Pittsburgh. That comes out to an average of 1.2 yards per carry. Even worse, the offense was 2 of 14 on third down yet the Hokies managed to stay in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
For Pittsburgh, James Conner ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, but he did have two touchdowns. This marked his third straight game where he failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark. His first four games saw him run for at least 153 yards each game and total 699 rushing yards. In the last three games, Conner has produced 260 yards. That total is respectable, but it is quite a drop off from his early season output.
Temple Owls at Houston Cougars (Houston won 31-10 on Friday (10/17))
The story of this game was the four turnovers by Temple quarterback P.J. Walker. He had three interceptions and a fumble lost. One interception was returned for pick-six and another led to a Houston touchdown. The lost fumble came on the doorstep of Houston’s end zone at the one yard line. Those three turnovers combined were a 17 to 21 point swing, which undoubtedly cost the Owls a chance to win.
South Florida Bulls at Tulsa Golden Hurricane (South Florida won 38-30 on Saturday (10/18))
South Florida trailed 27-7 at halftime, but outscored Tulsa 31-3 in the final minutes to win the game. Outside of their first drive of the third quarter, Tulsa ran only 7 plays in South Florida territory and failed to score a point.
Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers (West Virginia won 41-27 on Saturday)
This game had several noticeable stats. First, Baylor committed 18 penalties for 215 yards!! West Virginia committed 14 penalties for 138 yards. Combined, the two teams had 32 penalties for 353 yards. Those 353 penalties yards are more than Baylor put up on offense (318 yards)!
As impressive (or pathetic) as those penalty yards are, the Mountaineers did everything they could early on to let Baylor put up points. Clint Trickett had a lost fumble and an interception that led to 10 Baylor points in the first quarter. Daryl Worley lost a fumble on a punt return, but Baylor could not take advantage of that turnover.
Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma Sooners (Kansas State won 31-30 on Saturday)
We will not dwell on this game too much because this is obvious why the Sooners lost. Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed two field goals (including a horrendous shank late in the game) and an extra point. One could also point to DanzelMcDaniel’s 5 yard pick-six as another reason.
Texas A&M Aggies at Alabama Crimson Tide (Alabama won 59-0 on Saturday)
This one has to be included for the way Alabama utterly dominated the Aggies. The Tide were up 45-0 at the break and held the high-flying Aggies offense to 172 yards for the entire game!! The Tide scored 35 second quarter points, the most ever in a single quarter for an Alabama team.
The shutout is even more impressive because it marks the first time Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has been shut out as a coach in 86 games at the FBS level.
We all know Nick Saban is looking for something to critique in this performance and there are few he can sheepishly use. The first is that the Aggies managed to convert two third downs… out of 13 attempts. In addition, the Tide only forced one turnover. There are your areas for improvement, coach Saban.
Michigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers (Michigan State won 56-17 on Saturday)
Indiana actually led 17-14 with 5:25 left in the second quarter, but Michigan State quickly put an end to that. They scored 14 points in the final 4 minutes to take a 28-17 lead and then poured on 28 more points in the second half.
The most striking stat was that Indiana had 11 yards passing. Zander Diamont went 5 of 15 for all 11 yards in his first start as a true freshman. He has drawn comparisons to Johnny Manziel, but that is all hyperbole for a kid who had a total of one negative yard on the game (Diamont also ran 10 times for -12 yards).
The Hoosiers had 224 yards of offense, even without a passing game from Diamont, who was replacing the injured Nate Sudfeld. Tevin Coleman had 132 yards on 15 carries, which is excellent for a one-dimensional offense against the Spartans.
Colorado Buffaloes at USC Trojans (USC won 56-28 on Saturday)
USC quarterback Cody Kessler went 19 of 26 for 391 yards and 7 touchdowns. Yes, 7 touchdowns for Cody Kessler. It is a pretty good day when 27% of your attempts go for a touchdown and 37% of your completions end up as a score. Unsurprisingly, Kessler is now the USC single game record holder for touchdown passes in a game. He also tied the Pac-12 record with 7 touchdown passes in a game with Mike Pagel of Arizona State in the 1981 season.
Tennessee Volunteers at Ole Miss Rebels (Ole Miss won 34-3 on Saturday)
Ole Miss gave up a total 191 yards of offense to Tennessee on Saturday night. All 191 yards came through the air, as the Volunteers did not gain a single yard via the ground game. Jalen Hurd had 40 yards rushing, but that was cancelled out by JustinWorley’s 8 rushes for -41 yards performance. One caveat, however, is that sack yardage goes against the rushing stats in college football.
Missouri Tigers at Florida Gators (Missouri won 42-13 on Saturday)
Most people probably heard this on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but it is worth repeating. Missouri had 119 yards of total offense (20 passing and 99 rushing), yet the won by 29 points over Florida. How? Turnovers and touchdown returns.
Missouri had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, a fumble return for a touchdown, and an interception return for a touchdown. Marcus Murphy had both the kickoff and punt returns for a touchdown from 96 and 86 yards respectively. Markus Golden had a 21 yard fumble return and Darvin Ruise had a 46 yard interception return.
The Gators committed 6 turnovers, three fumbles and three interceptions, which led to 24 points for Missouri.
Will Muschamp should start packing his bags now because he is well on his way out of Gainesville.
Utah State Aggies at Colorado State Rams (Colorado State won 16-13 on Saturday)
The highlight of this game was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins. He caught 10 passes for 187 yards during the game while the Rams threw for 243 yards. That equates to Higgins accounting for 77% of the receiving yardage. Higgins managed to account for only 59% of the total offense for Colorado State.
Iowa State Cyclones at Texas Longhorns (Texas won 48-45 on Saturday)
This needs a bit of context to explain why it makes it here. According to Las Vegas Insider, the over/under of this game closed at 45.5 points, which makes them believe it would be a defensive game. Texas closed as an 11-point favorite so it was expected that Texas would not give up many points.
Boy, those expectations were way off.
The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of total offense with the yardage nearly split 50/50. Iowa State had 524 yards and Texas amassed 512 yards. By halftime, the score was 28-28, well over the 45.5 points expected for the ENTIRE GAME.
Both quarterbacks had over 300 yards passing with Sam B. Richardson (ISU) having 345 yards and Tyrone Swoopes (UT) throwing for 321 yards. Iowa State ran for 179 yards while the Longhorns had 191 yards on the ground.
This just goes to show that even Vegas can be way off once in a while.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Florida State Seminoles (Florida State won 31-27 on Saturday)
Controversial ending aside, this game did feature one incredible strength. That was the run defense of Notre Dame. They allowed only 50 yards rushing on 26 carries for the Seminoles.
There may be recipe in there to beat Florida State. By stopping the run, they put the pressure on Jameis Winston to lead the Seminoles offense with his arm. If a team can force Winston into mistakes and turnovers, they can pull the upset. However, it is far more difficult to force Jameis into mistakes on the football field as opposed to off of the field.
Nevada Wolf Pack at BYU Cougars (Nevada won 42-35 on Saturday)
This was a late night game, but it had plenty of fireworks and not a lot of defense. The two teams combined for 58 first downs, 1,012 yards of total offense, and 20 third down conversion out of 38 attempts.
BYU led 28-13 at the break, but saw their lead evaporate with four scoring drives by Nevada in the second half. All four of those scoring drives resulted in touchdowns and a 42-28 lead with less than 6 minutes remaining. The Wolf Pack held on for a 42-35 win to send BYU to their third straight loss without Taysom Hill.
Filling in for Hill has been Christian Stewart who looked excellent in this game until the fourth quarter. For the game, he went 39 of 63 for 408 yards with 4 passing touchdowns. He did not have a single interception, but he lost two fumbles in the final seven and a half minutes to dent BYU’s chances of winning. The first led to a touchdown by Nevada to take a 42-28 lead and the second occurred at the Nevada 34 yard line when the Cougars were driving for the game-tying score.
It was an unfitting end to a game in which Stewart played so well.