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- Mountain West - Can TCU overtake BYU?
Sportsbook) - Both
BYU and TCU finished 11-2 last season with
decisive bowl victories as the Cougars took
care of Oregon, 38-8, while the Horned Frogs
demolished Northern Ill, 37-7. However, that's
where the similarities end. BYU won the conference
with an undefeated 8-0 mark, including a two-touchdown
win (31-17) at TCU, with the Frogs also losing
at Utah the following week.
Both schools will have new quarterbacks this
year, but the Cougars also lose their 1,000-yard
rusher and their top-three receiving leaders.
The Frogs bring back nine starters from a defense
that allowed just 12 points per game last season.
Last year, the Mountain
West Conference received
four bowl bids and won three of them, going 3-1
as well against the spread. In fact, the MWC
was dominant ATS the entire season, with a 21-12-1
out-of-conference mark, including 9-3-1 vs. BCS
Which club will come out on top in 2007? If
one goes by the odds to win the BCS Title Game,
then TCU has the edge since the Frogs are 100-1
with BYU listed at 200-1. The rest of the league
is currently 75-1 as the seven other clubs are
part of the field.
TCU - The Horned
Frogs are one of only eight teams with more
than 21 victories the past two years. Do they
have what it takes for another 11-win season?
Strengths - It all starts with the defense.
TCU ranked third in the country in scoring
defense (12.3) and second in total "D" allowing
just 234.9 yards per game. Nine starters return
to the unit, including future first-round draft
choice Tommy Blake. The offense brings back RB
Aaron Brown, who should easily surpass the 1,000-yard
plateau this season. Even though QB Jeff Ballard
graduated, the previous two quarterbacks in the
TCU system have reeled off eight straight wins
in their first eight starts. Weaknesses - It's
hard to find anything wrong with the Frogs except
maybe a matchup at Texas early in the season.
They do have to replace their starting QB and
their top receiver, but minor changes haven't
stopped them before. Bottom line - The Mountain
West Conference has had one undefeated team each
of the last three seasons and TCU will continue
that trend with an 8-0 league mark in 07. The
only loss will come at the hands of the Longhorns.
Bet the Frogs almost every week.
BYU - For the fourth time in the last 14
years the Cougars pulled off a double-digit win
season. Unfortunately, they finished 7-4, 6-5
and 5-7 the three follow-up years. Will a sub-standard
record chase them down once again? Strengths
- For all of BYUs offensive weapons, the defense
was the key to its 11-2 mark. After allowing
29 ppg in 05, the unit slashed it in half giving
up just 14.7. The secondary was the bright spot
intercepting 18 passes after picking off only
nine the previous season. In addition, the unit
was beaten for just 12 passing touchdowns as
opposed to a whopping 25 in 05. Weaknesses -
Gone are John Beck (3,885 passing yards and 32
touchdowns), Curtis Brown (1,010 rushing yards,
62 receptions and 10 TDs) and Jonny Harline (58
catches, 935 yards and 12 TDs). The replacements
will be QB Max Hall, RB Fui Vakapuna and WR Austin
Collie, but if they don't match the production
of the aforementioned troika, it could be a long
season in Provo. Bottom line - BYU will not win
11 games, but will also not fall below .500 either.
The Cougars will be somewhere in between with
eight victories, six in the conference, but don't
be surprised if they fail to reach .500 ATS.
They will be heavily bet and might not warrant
COLORADO STATE - The Rams have not had a
winning season since 2003, but this will be the
breakout year as coach Sonny Lubicks club will
be one of the most improved teams in the nation.
Strengths - When running back Kyle Bell tore
his ACL in fall practice last August, the season
was pretty much history and the Rams played like
it winning just four games. The offensive line
was also mistaken as an infirmary and both of
these units will improve immensely in 07. Defensively,
only 12 teams in the entire country allowed fewer
passing TDs and all four secondary starters return.
The front seven also did its job holding down
the run, knocking off a full yard per carry from
the previous two seasons. Weaknesses - If Bell
doesn't return 100%, the offense will once again
rest on the shoulders of QB Caleb Hanie, who
faltered last season under constant pressure.
Bottom line - All the pieces are in place for
a major turnaround in Fort Collins. The Rams
will go from 4-8 (1-7) to 8-4 (5-3) and will
be one of the top ATS teams to wager on throughout
NEW MEXICO - Rocky Long did his finest coaching
job ever last season taking the Lobos to a bowl
game after returning just 10 starters and losing
his starting quarterback early in the second
game. Strengths - Kole McKameys injury and Chris
Nelsons ineffectiveness forced redshirt freshman
Donovan Porterie into the role of saviour and
he delivered with a 4-2 record. Running back
Rodney Ferguson also burst on the scene with
450 rushing yards the final three games. New
OL coach Dave Baldwin installed a multiple look
scheme this spring with extra wide-outs and two
tight end formations and Porterie looked extremely
poised with the new offense. Thirteen of the
top 14 tacklers return, which will be a huge
boost to the defense after only four starters
returned each of the last three years. Weaknesses
- The offensive line gave up 43 sacks last year,
tied with Duke for fifth worst in the country.
On the bright side, only 37% of the sacks came
in the last seven games. According to coach Long,
the hardest player the Lobos will have to replace
is kicker Kenny Byrd, who booted 32 of 38 field
goals the last two years. Bottom line - Like
Colorado State, expect eight wins, five in league
play. The Lobos will be a solid ATS team all
UTAH - The Utes look to regain their magical
form from 2004, but must face TCU, BYU and CSU
all on the road. Strengths - Brian Johnson returns
from injury to reclaim his starting job after
Brett Ratliff guided Utah to 10 wins in his last
15 starts. Johnson has a host of weapons to work
with and four O- line starters return as well.
Weaknesses - Eric Weddle, the heart and soul
of the defense, has taken his tack to the NFL.
In addition, both defensive tackles depart, which
will leave the team extremely vulnerable up the
middle. Bottom line - Utah will be improved but
it might not reflect in its record, as the club
has to travel to Oregon State and Louisville
as well as the three teams previously mentioned.
Expect a .500 season, but five of the six victories
will come in conference play. There will be a
lot of high-scoring games in Salt Lake City this
season so be prepared for a ton of OVERS.
AIR FORCE - Not
many prognosticators are predicting big things
from the Falcons, especially with a new coaching
staff, but this team was not nearly as bad
as its four-win season a year ago. Strengths
- Troy Calhoun, who takes over from Fisher
DeBerry, was Wake Forests offensive coordinator
in 2002 when the Deacons led the ACC in first
downs, fewest turnovers and most importantly,
total offense. Quarterback Shaun Carney will
love the new no- huddle offense and the defense
will also show massive improvements. That unit
knocked off seven points per game from two
seasons ago and the move to the 3-4 "D" will
be a godsend. Weaknesses - Air Force historically
has fared poorly against the pass, as its defense
rarely practiced against it since the Falcons
primarily ran an option-based offense. The passing
defense still might not be up to snuff in Calhouns
first year at the helm. In addition, the Falcons
are always behind the rest of the conference
in terms of building chemistry since most of
the cadets aren't available for summer workouts.
Bottom line - Air Force lost five games last
season by a combined 21 points. This team could
have easily been 6-6 and thats exactly where
they will finish in 07. Three MWC victories will
also be in the cards, but more importantly, the
Falcons will be over .500 ATS.
UNLV - The Rebels
have been stuck in "deuce" mode,
as in two victories each of the past three seasons.
Strengths - Former USC recruit Rocky Hinds was
injured most of last season and should improve
in 07, especially with Ryan Wolfe and Casey Flair
as his two main targets. The O-line gave Hinds
tremendous protection allowing just six sacks
the final six games. Weaknesses - Defense has
been a problem the last two years as the unit
gave up a combined 39 passing TDs in 05 and 06,
not to mention finishing in last place in conference
play allowing an average of 36 points per game.
Bottom line - A brutal non-conference schedule,
which features Wisconsin, Hawaii and Nevada,
will prevent the Rebels from winning more than
three games, two in the conference. However,
they will be more competitive and it will show
in their ATS record.
WYOMING - The Cowboys have been outscored
in every year but one (2004) this entire decade.
Coincidentally, that campaign was the clubs only
winning season at 7-5. Strengths - The skill
positions are set with Karsten Sween under center
and a host of backs and receivers for him to
get the ball to. Coming out of spring practice,
coach Joe Glenn felt this years squad was the
best in his five years with the team. Weaknesses
- Despite the assortment of offensive talent,
the O-line loses two four-year starters and one
three-year starter. The defensive line also is
a mess with four new starters and a combined
three career starts. In addition, leading tackler
John Wendling is off to the NFL and the safety
position will need two new starters. Bottom line
- Its hard to see this team winning more than
four games (one in the MWC) with its inexperience
in the trenches. The Cowboys are 6-12 ATS in
their last 18 games and will sport a similar
percentage this season.
SAN DIEGO STATE - Its surprising that the
Aztecs were able to win three games last year
with all the injuries they sustained, especially
at the quarterback spot where they were down
to their third string for half the season. Strengths
- Kevin OConnell should be healthy to start the
year after missing most of the first seven games
with an injured thumb. Seven other offensive
starters return so look for substantial improvement
from the 14 points per game the Aztecs averaged
last season. Weaknesses - San Diego State gave
up an average of 27 ppg last season, the same
amount it allowed in 05. Not a positive statistic
considering every other MWC team saw its ppg
total go down. To make maters worse, the Aztecs
brought back the most defensive starters of any
team in the conference in 06 and have the least
returnees in 07 with just four! Bottom line -
It will be considered a great coaching job by
Chuck Long if he can get this team to match last
years three wins. Look for a 2-10 mark, 1-7 in
league play. Stay away from them ATS.
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