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PAC 10 College Football Preview

PAC 10 College Football Preview

Written by: Shane M. Dayton

Many fans, myself included, have viewed the Pac-10 in recent years as a conference that held one of the best football dynasties in college football history, and then the rest was a joke.  While the Pac-10 has not been particularly strong in recent years, there is reason to believe that the rest of the pack is catching up to Pete Carroll’s amazing USC teams, but let’s not get carried away…

USC still owns the west and they are an early favorite to head to the national title game.

USC: Finished T-1st, projected 1st

When you average eleven wins and two losses a year and have two national titles, you know you’re doing something right, or maybe everything.  Pete Carroll has rebuilt the USC Trojans into the team everyone is gunning to beat.  When an 11-2 record, shared conference title, and BCS bowl victory is a down year, things are good.  Even if Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are gone, there is no reason to worry.  USC is returning a jaw dropping eighteen starters, including every single defensive starter.  USC will avenge its losses and go undefeated, cementing John David Booty’s chances to cement his name along side Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.  They are too good, with too many returning starters, and too much stockpiled talent.

UCLA: Finished T-4th, projected 2nd

How sweet was December 1st for Bruins fans!  Your defense hammered the famed unstoppable offense to the tune of a 13-9 victory.  The really good news is that the suffocating D loses only one starter, and the offense doesn’t look bad, either, returning ten players with starting experience.  Quarterback Olsen is back healthy, and his backup worked admirably in relief, including the USC upset.  UCLA faces some strong non conference competition, and the Pac-10 as a hole is stronger.  You know USC is going to be gunning for revenge.  UCLA will be a tough cookie, and may surprise teams as a national title contender, but I think USC will just be a little too much.  Expect a winning season and a solid bowl, though if the stars align right, they may be dark horse contenders for the national title.

Oregon State: Finished 3rd, projected 3rd

Oregon State put together an excellent season, winning ten games and acting as one of only two teams to defeat USC.  Seven starters return on offense, and eight return on defense, which will give the Beavers a great base to work from in 2007.  A dramatic win over a strong Missouri team in the Sun Bowl gives state fans reason to be optimistic.  The defense and offense are both strong, and this is a well coached team.  Not enough to knock off USC, but enough to grab a solid bowl, and upset Cal along the way.

Cal: Finished T-1st, projected 4th

Spread offenses work much better in college than in the NFL, which makes Cal dangerous regardless if they are a “system team,” and maybe I’m falling into the same trap of over looking them, but this year I just genuinely believe that Cal is the fourth best team in the Pac-10, and A&M was heavily overrated—so I don’t buy their bowl game as a quality victory.  There are only four returning starters on the defense, and seven on offense.  They go to UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona State while USC eats up a home game.  This is a good team, but this year they slip.  They will still make a bowl, but this won’t be a team competing for the Pac-10 title in the final weeks.

Arizona: T-5th, projected 5th

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the breakout team of the Pac-10 for 2007.  It has taken time and patience, but both are about to pay off for wild cat fans.  Eight starters return on offense, including the entire offensive line.  An extremely tough defense returns ten starters.  This is a team that beat Oregon and Cal last year and played USC and Oregon State very respectably.  With all the returning talent, another solid recruiting class, and Coach Stoops, this is the year they take the next step: A winning record, .500 or better in the Pac-10, and a bowl game.  Also, Arizona State better be ready: this year the in-state rivalry will be an all out brawl.

Arizona State: T-5th, projected 6th

It’s hard to pick out Arizona State over Oregon since the two teams look similar in many regards, but Arizona State has the better head coach and quarterback, so there’s the nod.  An easy non-conference schedule will help sprint towards .500 and a bowl bid, and quarterback Rudy Carpenter was good enough for the team to tell Sam Keller to hit the road.  Nine starters on offense will make them potent—which is good since the defense will leave plenty to be desired.  Expect a winning season and mid level bowl, but unless Carpenter morphs into the next John Elway or Brett Favre, don’t expect major contention from this team.

Oregon: T-5th, projected 7th

Oregon didn’t exactly collapse: because they weren’t nearly as good as their 4-0 (with the extremely controversial win over Oklahoma) would indicate—but they were just terrible against a hungry BYU team that destroyed them 38-8.  On the plus side, Oregon has always bounced back from a bad season under Coach Mike Bellotti and they return seven starters on offense, including QB Dennis Dixon, who should be much better with more experience under his belt.  While they’re not the ten win team of a few years back, they should have a potent offense and should go bowling again this year.

Washington State: T-5th, projected 8th

When you collapse badly, as Washington State did, you hope for a quick start, so . . . hello Wisconsin?  Three weeks later their first Pac-10 game is at USC, followed by another road trip to a resurgent Arizona (who beat them last season).  Ouch.  State lost most of a defense that wasn’t dominant to begin with, though the offense should be good shape.  This team will have to fight and claw to reach .500, but if the defensive line can stay healthy—which hasn’t happened so far, they could have a chance to become a real thorn in the side of Pac-10 competition.  My former college roommate asked me for good news being a Wazzu fan, so I told him at least he’s not a Washington fan.

Washington: 9th, projected 9th

It’s not that this team isn’t making strides under head coach Tyrone Willingham—it is, but most coaches will take a powder puff non conference schedule during a potential break out season.  Washington starts out with Syracuse (good) then plays Boise State, Ohio State, and Hawaii.  Even worse, Boise State and Ohio State eat up two home games, meaning most of the Pac-10 will see Washington at their place.  With highly touted recruits finally getting their chance, and a solid offensive line, this team is much better than it was three years ago—but it doesn’t matter because they have to crawl on broken glass across their stomachs to get to four wins.

Stanford: Finished 10th, projected 10th

Five straight losing seasons, despite having talented quarterback Trent Edwards.  The team hired former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh as head coach.  Harbaugh has the right work ethic and upbeat attitude for a difficult job, and will switch the team to a West Coast offense.  Despite some big losses, most of the starters return on a defense that does have talent, but still needs to make strides.  When the high point is saying, “Well at least we have one of the best punters in the Pac-10,” you know success is a ways away.  Even Washington’s murderous schedule won’t knock them to the basement.

The Pac-10 will be much more competitive than years past, with USC once again heading the group, though if UCLA can even put together an okay offense, they could be a strong dark horse team.  This should be a much more fun conference to watch this year than in years past.

Big East College Football Preview

ncaaf-gschiano.jpgBig East College Football Preview

Written by: Shane M. Dayton

Rutgers was everyone’s darling last year, though losing in triple overtime to West Virginia dashed their BCS hopes, 10-2 followed by a bowl win is nothing to sneeze at. West Virginia is on everyone’s minds, and can anyone possibly stop that offense?

Louisville lost a lot, including their head coach, but in a somewhat surprising move Brian Brohm returns to give it one more shot. So can anyone beat the Mountaineers? Can Rutgers repeat the magic? Can anyone outside of Tampa name the one team with the potential to dark horse all of them?

West Virginia: T-2nd, projected 1st

I am a firm believer that when in doubt, pick defense. This is why I was in the minority who picked Louisville to win the Big East despite West Virginia’s jaw dropping offense. Still, with all the turnover at Louisville and some key losses at Rutgers, there is no question that QB Patrick White and RB Steve Slaton are perhaps two of the most talented players in the Big East, and West Virginia has to be the favorite. With 8 returning starters on offense and seven returning starters (and four more players with starting experience) returning on a defense that wasn’t dominant, but was getting better, it’s hard to see anyone leap frogging them this year. South Florida won’t surprise them, and Louisville just won’t be quite good enough. In a solid conference, West Virginia is the best of a good group of teams.

Louisville: 1st, projected 2nd

Louisville loses four starters on offense, plus six on defense, including NFL first round pick DT Amobi Okoye. Even with a change in head coaches, this will be a powerful offensive team that is going to score a lot of points, but it was the defense that gave the edge last season and it’s hard to believe they can match last year’s performance. Louisville is still a dangerous team, and they are certainly capable of beating anyone on their schedule, but I just don’t see them making that last step. Expect a very good season, 9-10 wins, but no BCS bowl.

South Florida: T-4th, projected 3rd

The Big East knows about South Florida. Two years ago they beat Louisville, last season they stunned West Virginia and nearly did the same to Rutgers two weeks later. Quarterback Matt Grothe, only a sophomore, has drawn rave reviews. He’s a strong, smart, athletic player who knows exactly when to get rid of the ball, when to wait for the receiver, and when to use his own athleticism. This is a very athletic team built around a no huddle spread offense tat takes several different forms. Seven starters return on offense, as well as seven on a defense that was pretty darn good. West Virginia has to go to South Florida, and an early non conference game at Auburn will give the Bulls a chance to not only prove they’re for real, but to get used to strong competition before the West Virginia game. A great coach and talented team may be a year away—but there’s enough here that they can beat anyone in the Big East. A single slip and it’s theirs for the taking.

Rutgers: T-2nd, projected 4th

Rutgers has to be one of the best turnaround stories in college football in years. Greg Schiano is a fantastic coach, and since he took over calling the defense two years ago Rutgers has consistently been among the best in the country, despite not having a lot of NFL caliber talent from individual players. Seven starters return on offense and six on defense, leaving plenty of holes on both sides of the ball. Losing TE Mike Hart and FB Brian Leonard are the biggest losses, and both will be sorely missed. HB Ray Rice will be strong enough to carry the team, but he’ll miss both those players, as will QB Mike Teel who was highly touted, but at best is only okay. This team has played beyond its talent and is a testament to the coaches. They will still easily win enough games to find a mind level bowl, but I just don’t see them competing with the top of the Big East.

Cincinnati: T-4th, projected 5th

Cincinnati boasts experience in bringing back fourteen starters to a team that won eight games last season. The offense is shifting to a spread under new head coach Brian Kelly. Most of the defense returns and Wake Forest transfer QB Ben Mauk will compete with two year starter Dustin Grutza, so either way the QB position will be set. Cincinnati has some challenging non-conference games, but they have some easy ones, as well, and have a good shot at a middle of the road bowl game.

Pittsburgh: 6th, projected 6th

I was really iffy on Dave Wannstedt as a head coach when Pitt made this hire. He was a great college coordinator, but some coaches that is their extent: brilliant at offense or defense, but can’t run the whole show. Wannstedt took over a Pitt team with strong talent and a winning record, but has only an 11-12 record over the last two seasons, and only 9-12 against division one opponents. After a 6-6 record, it’s hard to envision Pitt getting much better after losing QB Tyler Palko and six defensive starters. The main hope is that eight starters on offense return, and hopefully improve. About a six and six record is right.

UCONN: T-7th, projected 7th

When Connecticut first made the jump to I-A, they amazed the world by going 6-6 and then building off that success with QB Dan Orvlosky and a great spread offense. But QB play has been abysmal the last two years and the coaches often appeared in disarray last year. No offensive player started all 12 games at the same position. Eight different starters came and went in the defensive secondary. There is a lot to worry about with this team, and hope lays with JUCO QB addition Tyler Lorenzen. The good news is that the early part of the UCONN schedule is cupcake, with Pitt by far and away the only competitive team on the schedule. If everything clicks, they may be able to sneak out a 6-6 record, but it will be tough.

Syracuse: T-7th, projected 8th

The days of QB Donovan McNabb and BCS representation have to seem like centuries ago. Two years ago Syracuse fired their old coach for one too many 6-6 seasons—now that mark seems way out of reach. Coach Greg Robinson has tried to instill a West Coast offense, but it just has not worked. With five starters gone from an already terrible offense, the loss of seven starters from an impressive defense seems to doom this team to the basement once again. Robinson fired several coaches and shook up the offense, which hopefully will help the worst offensive line in the Big East. The seat is getting hot, especially with only one win in the Big East in he last two seasons. Maybe this was the right move, maybe not, but Syracuse isn’t going to be scaring anybody next year.

The Big East is strong on top, and still has a middle team or two that has potential to still make noise. How Rutgers handles a season with expectations, how Louisville restocks its defense, and how closely will South Florida’s quarterback emulate John Elway may go a long way to determining what happens in this conference—which has more than held its own against the ACC.

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