September 8, 2004

Cal versus New Mexico State

On paper, this looks like one of those mismatches that we all ridicule
every year, like when Nebraska plays against Middle Northeastern Rhode
Island State, downtown campus. I think it will look like that on the
football field as well.

Gotta love Jay Heater (Contra Costa Times) for finding the bright spot
for NMSU. Last season, they got blown out by Texas in their opener, but
then came back and won their second game in a rout (48-3 on the road at
Western New Mexico). Unfortunately, that scene won't replay for NMSU,
who will face a better and more experienced team this week than they did
in last week's 63-13 loss to Arkansas.

After that one bright spot, things begin to look darker for NMSU. Even
if this were a letdown opportunity for Cal, I have a hard time believing
this will even be close at halftime. NMSU will of course take last
week's loss personally, and the players will come out motivated to prove
themselves. I have no doubt they will perform better than last week
because of it, but the Bears are simply too good a team for NMSU.

Some notes about NMSU's first loss last week:
Arkansas returned only ONE starter from last year, their QB. He left in
the third quarter after the game was decided, and his backup (a redshirt
freshman) also threw two TD passes. Even so, Arkansas abused NMSU for
221 yards rushing and 302 yards passing on a total of 78 plays (7 yards
per play). Arkansas pounded the ball with 54 rushing attempts (4.1
yards per carry).

Arkansas had 16 3rd-down opportunities, and NMSU allowed them to convert
11 of those (69%). This, with the 54 rushing attempts and 4.1 yards per
carry, shows why Arkansas had a time of possession of 33:36 (6 minutes
longer than NMSU). Arkansas allowed no sacks.

On the other side, NMSU had just 3.9 yards per play (9 yards per catch,
1.9 yards per carry). In addition, NMSU lost three fumbles, which is
never a good thing. They also gave up three sacks, and they were a
meager 3 of 13 on third downs (23%). They had no rushing TDs.

As to rankings and polls, here's the run-down:
NMSU is #115 in the Sagarin ratings with just 59.07 points. Cal is #9
with 86.50 points. With the home field advantage, that would put Cal as
a Sagarin 31-point favorite. Compare to Arkansas, which is currently
#27 in Sagarin's ratings (80.40 points). In addition, Cal is #12 in the
AP poll and #13 in the ESPN poll. (Arkansas is #39 in the ESPN poll.)

In conference ratings, NMSU is in the Sun Belt conference, which is
ranked #12 out of 12 Div I-A conferences by Sagarin. The Pac-10 is #3
(but on simple average of team rank is #1).

The oddsmakers agree, too. Cal is a favorite by 32-1/2 to 34 points.

Now to the teams:
We all know Cal's strengths. In addition, both Wendell Hunter and Ray
Tago are expected to be available this weekend after recovering from

NMSU lost two of their players this week due to felony forgery
indictments. From what I can gather, both were projected starters in
the summer but neither played against Arkansas. Looking at the current
depth chart, then, we see an offense that is filled with sophomores and
freshmen. Only three upperclassmen are listed as starters, RG, RT, and
QB. There are quite a few more juniors and seniors in the two-deep, but
there are just as many freshmen there as well. The interesting note on
their depth chart is that the two upperclassmen in the OL are HUGE. RG
Steve Subia is 6-1 and 368 pounds, and RT Nick Cole is 6-1 and 348
pounds. I would expect running plays to go behind those bulls, with
some counter plays and a lot of screens and passes back across the

The defense, however, is mostly juniors and seniors in the two-deep.
Only two sophomores (Nose tackle, left corner) are starters; all others
are upperclassmen. One wonders how they were so pummeled by the
Razorbacks, and one assumes they are not as bad as the statistics from
that game show. Still, their D line averages 263 pounds, 7 pounds a man
LESS than Air Force, and 39 pounds a man less than Cal's O line.
Clearly, Cal's game plan should be to exploit this mismatch. Another
mismatch is the DBs versus Cal's WRs. They have only two DBs who reach
6 feet tall, including a true freshman 3rd on the depth chart. Most of
the DBs are listed at 5-9. Compare this to Cal's WRs, who are 6-1
(McArthur), 6-4 (Lyman), 6-0 (Makonnen), and 6-2 (Toler). In addition,
both of Cal's TEs are 6-5.

When Cal has the ball, this game is simply a physical mismatch with Cal
having all the advantages. Heart and motivation can overcome a lot, but
it can't overcome this type of skill, power, training, discipline, and
physical advantage.

My prediction
While I expect NMSU to be motivated to prove themselves, and I expect
them to come out and play hard, I think it will be an interesting game
for about the first 20 minutes. Cal should pull away in the 2nd quarter
and have a good lead by halftime. It will be very important for the
Bears to come out and play HARD and put this team away because they have
a short week and go on the road for a Thursday night game at Southern
Miss, who will be out for revenge (but they play Nebraska this weekend).

I don't want to predict a final score, but I will say that I think the Bears will beat the point spread.

Go Bears!

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