Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fab Five: Week IX

As bad as Week VII was, week VIII was that good. I went 8-2 (4-1 on dogs and favorites) to run my seasonal record to 44-34-2. Still waiting patiently on my 'White Whale'--an undefeated week. As always, home teams in bold

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 20-20
Fresno State +3 Boise State
If you listen closely you can hear the murmurs. Murmurs of misguided sportswriters and casual fans making the case for welcoming a one-loss Boise State team back to the BCS. I'm all for giving the little guy a piece of the pie, but this Boise State team is a notch, nay several notches, below the one that shocked Oklahoma last season.The above table lists Boise States' stats through their first 7 games this season and their first 7 games last season. As you can plainly see, they are not as dominant despite facing an easier schedule. The opponent numbers do not do the disparity in schedule strength justice as last season at this time, Boise had already disposed of two teams (Oregon State and Hawaii) that would win 21 games between them. On Friday, the Broncos are road favorites against a conference rival that is much improved. After opening conference play against the dregs of the league, Fresno has built up a 4-0 record and now looks to see if they really are a contender, along with Boise and Hawaii for the conference crown. The Bulldogs suffered a heartbreaking overtime defeat to Texas A&M and then were left for dead after their beatdown at the hands of Oregon. Winning in College Station is tough (no one has done it yet this season) and Oregon may well be the best team in the country. Playing at home, against a familiar opponent, the Bulldogs will upset the Broncos and end their hopes for a BCS bid.

Indiana +7.5 Wisconsin
At worst, this game should be an entertaining shootout; a game that would turn the stomach of the great Woody Hayes. Both these teams have mediocre at best defenses. Excluding their opener against Indiana State, the Hoosiers have given up at least 20 points to every team they have faced (including 20 to offensive indifferent Iowa) while Wisconsin has given up at least 30 in 3 of their last 5 games (the lone exceptions were against Iowa and Northern Illinois). The Badgers may have the homefield, but the Hooiers have the superior signal-caller. In his sophomore season, Kellen Lewis has gone from erratic athlete (54.9 completion percentage in 2006) to athletic quarterback (61.5 completion percentage). He and the 6 foot 7 James Hardy (748 yards, 11 touchdowns) will keep the Hoosiers close. Don't be surprised if they walk out of Madison as a bowl-eligible team.

Connecticut +4.5 South Florida
After watching the Huskies on Friday against Louisville, consider me a believer (punt returns notwithstanding). The Huskies defense is legit (no team has scored more than 17 points against them) and the homefield edge will keep this one close. South Florida could very well have beaten Rutgers on Thursday, but their offense was somewhat exposed as one-dimensional. A lot of Matt Grothe and very little of anything else. The defense of course, is still nasty, so expect a low-scoring affair. I don't know that the Huskies can pull this one out, but they will keep it very close.

Pittsburgh +11 Louisville
Just when it looked like Louisville was ready to turn their season around after upsetting Cincinnati, they went and lost another close game. All 4 of their losses have been by 9 points or less. Three of those losses can be laid at the feet of the defense (allowing 40, 38 and 44 points respectively), but this loss sits squarely on the offensive side of the ball. True, the defense did give up a late score that proved to be the final margin, but the explosive offense only managed to grind out 17 points and 321 yards (both season lows). Now the Panthers come into town hoping to turn their season around after upsetting...Cincinnati. Louisville does not do a lot of things well on defense, including stopping the run. They allow 4.58 yards per rush (87 nationally) and over 159 yards on the ground per game (68th nationally). Pitt's stud freshman LeSean McCoy (805 yards, 5.71 per attempt) should do enough damage on the ground to keep Pitt within two scores.

Ball State +14 Illinois
Two weeks ago, they were Big 10 title contenders. Now the Illini are just seeking that elusive 6th win, and with it bowl-eligibility. They will get it Saturday, but it won't be easy. For all the talk about their spread offense and backfield tandem of Juice Williams and Rashard Mendenhall, the real credit for the Illini's turnaround goes to the defense. The offense is averaging roughly a touchdown more per game (5.9 more points per game in 2007), but the defense, after allowing nearly 40 point per contest in Zook's first season has seen that number drop from 26.8 last year to 19.6 this year (7.2 less). That defense will face a stiff test Saturday in the form of Nate Davis, the best quarterback you've never heard of. In just his sophomore campaign, Davis has already tossed 20 touchdowns (only 3 interceptions) and has the Cardinals at the precipice of bowl-eligibility themselves. The Illini should have no trouble pounding Mendenhall and Williams against the porous Cardinal rush defense (allowing 5.10 yards per rush and almost 215 rushing yards per game), but Davis will keep Ball State within two touchdowns.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 24-14-2
Virginia Tech -3 Boston College
Will number two get flushed once again on Thursday night? I think so. No sane person would accuse Virginia Tech of having a good, or even a balanced offense. However, they do still have those outstanding defensive and special teams units. Don't expect another performance like they had against Clemson, but they will make some big plays on Thursday all the same. Boston College has been flying under the radar since their pantsing of a pretty good Georgia Tech team 6 weeks ago (in Atlanta no less). Matt Ryan has made himself a Heisman candidate, throwing for over 21oo yards and 17 touchdowns in the Eagles' 7-0 start. If this game were in Chestnut Hill, I'd say bet the next two months' mortgage on the Eagles. However, as Clemson can attest, Lane Stadium on a Thursday night is different animal. Boston College will lose their seat at the BCS Championship table after Thursday. Just so you know, Virginia Tech will eventually be undone by their pedestrian offense and fall flat on their faces. Probably next Thursday.

Oregon -3 Southern Cal
Step back from this game for one second. Remove everything you know about these two programs from the past half-decade. One team is playing at home, outscored it's first 7 opponents by an average of 24 points per game, has beaten 3 likely bowl teams (possibly 4), and has lost to a team currently 5-2 by 7 points. The other team is playing on the road, has outscored it's first 7 opponents by an average of 18 points per game, has beaten zero likely bowl teams (possibly 2), and has lost to a team currently 3-4 by 1 point. Who would you pick to win?

Washington -4 Arizona
The nation forgot about Washington and their nice 2-0 start after a recent run of 5 losses in 5 games. However, all those losses came to teams that will go bowling, including 4 that are currently ranked in the top 10. With only two games remaining against ranked opponents (and one of them the very shaky Hawaii Warrior), the Huskies have a chance to go on a nice run and maybe, if everything breaks their way, get to 7 wins. That streak will start Saturday against an Arizona team that seems to have regressed in Mike Stoops' fourth season. The Wildcats wins have come over Northern Arizona (IAA) and Washington State (2-5). Heck if they were even in the Mountain West, they would not be in contention for the conference title (losses to BYU and New Mexico)

Kansas -2.5 Texas A&M
The Kansas Jayhawks just keep rolling along, pulling out a close win over Colorado (don't knock it, Oklahoma couldn't win there). Kansas has gotten things done against quality opponents with their defense. Late stops netted them tough road wins over Kansas State and Colorado. The Aggies will look to do what any team with Stephen McGee, Jorvorskie Lane, and Mike Goodson would do--pound the rock. Unfortunately for them, Kansas has held opponents to 2.69 yards per rush this season (11th nationally). Even the two good teams they played (Kansas State and Colorado) netted only 119 yards on 54 carries (2.20 yards per rush). The Jayhawks have covered every line in their first 6 games thus far. Can they make it to lucky #7? You bet. The Aggies are just dust in the wind.

Western Michigan -5 Eastern Michigan
The Broncos from Western Michigan are 3-5 thanks mainly to a non-conference schedule that included games against West Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri, and an isolated piss poor kick coverage against Akron. Eastern Michigan on the other hand, is doing what they done since Jeff Genyk's first season, slip to the bottom of the MAC's Western Division. At least this year they have Northern Illinois to break their fall in the cellar. The Eagles may keep this interesting for a while, but barring a horrible performance from Western Michigan's Tim Hiller, this one should be at least a two score margin.

Five to Steer Clear Of

Wake Forest -6 North Carolina
North Carolina is much better than their 2-5 record would indicate. In fact, if they led the charmed life the Deacons have over the past season and a half, they could be as good as 6-1.

Clemson -3.5 Maryland
The last three games in this series have been decided by 3, 4, and 1 point. This has all the makings of another nail-biter.

Virginia -3 NC State
Doesn't this game just feel like another narrow escape for Virginia as they make their way to Jacksonville.

Tennessee -3 South Carolina
Loser is eliminated from SEC East contention.

Arizona State -3 Cal
Time to show us you're for real Sun Devils.

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