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College Football Preview
by Al McMordie - 05/06/2005
2005 College Football from a Wagering Standpoint
By Big Al McMordie
It's never too early to talk about the best time of year for sports bettors: football! Pro and College football is creeping up on us, and this is an excellent time to take a look at some key changes that have taken place with some college football teams. I've picked out a few teams that, for various reasons, could be ones to keep a close eye on this fall. Some are surprises that could be worth a look to wager on or against, while others are possibilities to look at 'over' or 'under' the total.
USC: Three straight titles for the defending champs? You win in football with talent and coaching. Certainly, Southern Cal has the talent, with a whole crop of talented players back from last year's powerhouse (8 on offense, 6 on "D"). At first glance the offense is eye-popping, behind senior QB Matt Leinart, running backs Reggie Bush (908 yards, 6.3 ypc) and LenDale White (1,103 yards), four of five offensive returning linemen, as well as ace pass catchers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. This group is 25-1 the last two seasons.
However, they suffered a major coaching loss. Essentially, Pete Carroll has run the defense while talented offensive coordinator Norm Chow has run the offense. But Chow is off to coach in the NFL. He has a long reputation for tutoring quarterbacks at BYU, NC State and USC and has an imaginative offensive mind. The Trojans may miss him far more than some observers might think. WR coach Lane Kiffin takes over as offensive coordinator, but I think Chow will be missed, especially with road games at Notre Dame, Hawaii, Cal and Arkansas.
California: And speaking of brilliant offensive minds, Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford is an offensive genius. Tedford has to find a new QB, but he's done wonders over the years with great college QBs like Akili Smith, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers. The next name on the list looks like Joseph Ayoob, California's Junior College Offensive Player of the Year. In addition, a brilliant offensive line returns along with talented sophomore RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch ran for 628 yards, a sensational 8.8 yards per carry and 8 TDs! He played second fiddle to J.J. Arrington -- but not this season. If you're looking at the futures board for who will lead college football in rushing, little known Lynch may be a household name by November.
UTEP: Conference USA features three teams that are always worth a look to play 'over' the total. Texas-El Paso joins C-USA this fall. This will be an interesting team to watch. Coach Mike Price showed everyone what a terrific football coach he is by resurrecting this program in one season. The offense erupted for 36 points, 142 yards rushing and 251 passing per game behind Carson Palmer's brother, QB Jordan Palmer. He returns for his senior season, along with WRs Jayson Boyd (560 yards, 5 TDs) and Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. (700 yards, 10 TDs). They also pick up RB Tyler Ebell, a transfer from UCLA who was a standout Pac 10 player from 2002-03 after a brilliant high school career. The defense is still a weak spot, so UTEP may be involved in a lot of offensive shootouts and worth a look 'over' the total when the number is right.
Houston: The same is true for the Cougars, who have plenty of offensive talent, but slumped last season. Still, standout junior QB Kevin Kolb is back along with speedy wide receiver Vincent Marshall and two-year starting RB Anthony Evans. Like UTEP, the defense is poor, so if you like to play totals, look for a lot of high scoring games with the Cougars.
Tulane: Chris Scelfo may not be a household name, but he's in his 7th season at Tulane where he's consistently developed quarterbacks and strong offenses (Shaun King, Patrick Ramsey, J.P. Losman). The Green Wave averaged 27 points and 234 passing yards last season behind young quarterback Lester Ricard (62% completions, 21 TDs and 9 INTs.) The defense was just awful, so don't be surprised if Tulane is involved in more high scoring battles.
NC State: The Wolfpack are one of the more interesting ACC teams to keep an eye on. Coach Chuck Amato has done a fine job recruiting, though they slipped with a 5-6 campaign. However, the Wolfpack defense was sensational, allowing just 220 total yards per game! In fact, they had one of the most one-sided edges in total yards you will ever find at 350-220 per game. But a young QB and turnovers killed them. The defense made huge strides under first year defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, a former NFL linebacking coach. NC State has big bodies up front to stuff the run again. The offense can only get better under senior QB Jay Davis (12 TDs, 15 picks) with seven starters back and a new offensive coordinator in Marc Trestman. This might be one of the surprise teams in the ACC and with that defense, don't expect 5-6 again.
Florida: The Urban Cowboy comes to Gainesville! The boy genius, the hottest coaching prospect in years, Urban Meyer comes to Florida with his penchant for aggressive, wide-open offenses while at Utah and Bowling Green. For the record, when Meyer took over at Utah in 2003, his team averaged 29 points in a 10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS season. The Utes were also 4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS as an underdog. Unfortunately, you're not likely to get that get line value as Meyer is well known now. However, Meyer does have a ton of offensive talent to work with, including junior QB Chris Leak (3,197 yards, 29 TDs, 12 picks in 2004). Florida averaged 32 points and 271 yards passing, so it will be fascinating to see what they do in Meyer's spread offense, featuring junior WRs Andre Caldwell and Chad Jackson. Circle the Florida/South Carolina game on your schedule. The Gamecocks were pummeled by Florida last season, 48-14, and get to host the Gators this season. Oh, and South Carolina has a new coach, too: Steve Spurrier, the former Florida offensive genius. Look for fireworks on and off the field the week of this one!
East Carolina: And speaking of new head coaches, East Carolina has been a great go-against the last few seasons (1-10 SU, 4-7 ATS on the road the last two years), but they have a new coach in Skip Holtz. Holtz has experience as offensive coordinator at South Carolina under Lou Holtz, his father. The Pirates have seven starters back on offense and nine on defense and feature brand new looks scheme-wise under Holtz. Two things to keep in mind: They might not be a great go-against again, and if they get off to a bad start, the Pirates may improve later in the season as the players begin to absorb the teachings of the new coaching staff, making them a better team to wager on later in the year.
BYU: Gary Crowdon is out and former defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall takes over as head coach. Mendenhall wants more offensive balance, so the Cougars may abandon their long tradition of being a pass-happy offense. This was a bad defensive team last season. In addition, they may be a good go-against in October: BYU has a very tough schedule, playing five of seven road games beginning October 1.
Air Force: On the flip side, well-coached and disciplined Air Force may be a team to play-on later in the season. The Falcons have a terrific young quarterback running their option-attack in sophomore QB Shaun Carney, as well as a great coach in Fisher DeBerry. This offense averaged 277 yards rushing and 30 points last season. The schedule is very tough, with road games at Washington, Utah, Colorado State and Navy all before October 8. But if they have a poor record at that time, Air Force might be undervalued late in the season as the schedule gets easier. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.