Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Our showcase game Sunday in college football doesn’t feature any teams from the top 25. But, SMU at Baylor does involved a couple of very interesting storylines for the 2012 season. We talked about this during our conference previews that ran in July and August. Now that September has arrived, it’s going to be fascinating to watch things unfold for BOTH of these programs.
*SMU now has a potentially potent combo in terms of the scoreboard. June Jones has always been aggressive in the air with the ball. Now former Texas Longhorns quarterback Garrett Gilbert is the signal caller. He was a bit too interception prone with the Longhorns, and a bit too slow to realize he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. But, now…humbled…facing a softer schedule…playing for perhaps the ideal coach, Gilbert may be in position to have a really big year. We’re now saying SMU is going to become the new Houston in Conference USA. Then again…you never know.
*Speaking of Houston, Baylor coach Art Briles used to run the Cougars program, and was the architect for that stat-padding offense that got a few Houston QB’s looks in the NFL before Robert Griffin III took things to a whole new level last year with Baylor. Put this system in the hands of an athletic superstar in the right conference…and big things can happen. Well, big things DID happen, but now RGIII is in the NFL, and Baylor is trying to figure out how they’re going to be competitive in a LETHAL Big 12 conference that brought in West Virginia and TCU during the offseason.
So, SMU at Baylor isn’t some kind of throwaway game that only a Vegas gambler could love. Sure, this wouldn’t be a national TV game on a Saturday most likely. But, it IS an important game that handicappers should pay very close attention to because of volatility with both programs. Oddsmakers may behind the curve with both of these teams out of the gate. On the other hand, maybe Gilbert just isn’t a major college quarterback…and maybe the Briles system deserves more credit for working than it got last year.
Let’s crunch some data and see what we can find out…
SMU AT BAYLOR (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports)
Las Vegas Spread: Baylor by 10.5, total of 59
The line opened higher than this, and smart money as come in on the road underdog. It’s telling though that Baylor is still seen as double digits better at home (at least a TD on a neutral field) even with the loss of RGIII. The Big 12 gets respect over CUSA. And, in high scoring games, points come a bit cheaper. We’ve seen a lot of that in recent years. A spread around 10 looks tall...but then a shootout ends up 45-31 and line value wasn’t what it seemed at first.
2012 AP POLL RANKINGS
Baylor: 35th (listed amongst “others receiving votes)
Teams like SMU have to earn their respect before getting invited into the polls. Baylor used to be like that, and finally did so last year thanks to a superstar quarterback. That current “ranking” of 35 suggests that voters don’t really know what to do with the team. They want to acknowledge advancement in the program. But, nobody would be surprised if the Bears sank back near the bottom of the Big 12 during this transition period.
2012 ATHLON MAGAZINE RANKINGS
We mentioned during the summer that we thought Athlon was being way too pessimistic about the Mustangs. Sharps seemed to agree with that by betting SMU against the opening line in this game when it came out several days ago. We’re not going to suggest SMU is the equal of Baylor. And, if it turns out they are the equal of Baylor, that could just as easily be around #55 rather than #40. We are very interested to see how SMU responds to Sunday’s challenge in Waco. If they get routed…hats off to Athlon for their read.
SMU: June Jones
Baylor: Art Briles
You longtime college football fans know there are a lot of similarities between these men in terms of what they try to do on the field. Though, that was more clear when Jones was at Hawaii than it is now. Defenses have adjusted to his version of the spread, which has his teams moving more side-to-side in an effort to move the chains rather than scoring at will vertically. Briles is as “down the field” as it gets in terms of his attack zone. You’ll see in a bit that SMU grades out fairly well nationally on defense. Much of that can be contributed to what’s become a ball-control characteristic of his offense.
SMU: Garrett Gilbert
Baylor: Nick Florence
Florence is a senior, which means the players know him well even if you don’t. He’s seen as a mature team leader. We’ll just have to wait to see what he can do on the field vs. real opposition. Oddsmakers gave him respect with their opening line. It’s not like Baylor opened above 10 points because of their defense! Gilbert is a question mark with tremendous upside…but also a proven tendency to implode under pressure. It’s this category more than any other that makes this game so fascinating.
SMU: Returns 3 starters from the 58th ranked offense
Baylor: Returns 7 starters from the 2nd ranked offense
Here’s the main reason for SMU ranking so poorly in the summer magazines. They don’t have much experience on offense. And, if they can’t block for Gilbert, it doesn’t matter that he’s likely to be better than most newcomers. Baylor has a proven system in terms of yardage production…and point production when they avoid turnovers. Will the offense avoid turnovers?
SMU: Returns 6 starters from the 27th ranked defense
Baylor: Returns 8 starters from the 116th ranked defense
Both of those rankings have some pollution to them. Baylor’s offense doesn’t stay on the field long, so their defense is constantly in shootouts that cause exhaustion. SMU’s offense has done a good job of running clock, which means fewer plays for a defense that has an easier time of staying fresh. If you stuck both of those defenses on the field against the same generic opponent, and then had their own coaches run a generic offense…they’d be much closer together in the rankings. We’re not going to give SMU the kind of defensive edge those rankings would suggest. And, you can tell that the market things the same way or a team with THAT big a defensive edge wouldn’t be a double digit dog.
Given the new quarterbacks, it’s very hard to make a general assessment with confidence. You just don’t know if Florence is ready to run the show for the Bears. You just don’t know if Gilbert peaked in high school or is about to become a big story. That’s why it pays to have scouts and sources all over the country digging deep to find the right information. If JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK has a big Sunday release in this game, it’s because those scouts and sources uncovered something very important about at least one of the new starting quarterbacks.
Sunday’s plays will go up mid-morning at the latest so there’s plenty of time for you to take care of business before pennant race baseball and Kentucky-Louisville in college football get started. Among the baseball matchups we’re looking at today: Baltimore at the NY Yankees, Chicago White Sox at Detroit, and St. Louis at Washington. You can always purchase game day releases right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about our service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
Back with you Monday here in the NOTEBOOK to preview Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech. Hasn’t this opening weekend of college action gone fast? When the going gets fast, YOU MAKE FAST MONEY WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!