Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fab Five: Week VI

Week V was another ho hum week as I managed only a 5-5 record. That brings my tally on the year to 27-22-1. I did perform extremely well predicting games involving MAC teams last week (4-1). As always,home teams are in bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 11-14
Kansas +3.5 Kansas State
This is by far the biggest game in this series since 1995 when both schools finished 10-2. The Jayhawks had actually lost 11 straight in this series (by an average of 33 points) from 1993-2003. The schools have alternated wins since 2003 with the home team winning each season. In a stunning reversal of modus operandi this season, Kansas has played 4 nobodies thus far (Central Michigan, Toledo, Florida International and Division IAA Southeastern Louisiana) while Kansas State has sandwiched their cream puffs (San Jose State and Southwest Missouri State) between two historical powers (Auburn and Texas). The Jayhawks have dominated their schedule, giving an indication that they may be ready to contend in the Big 12 North this season. They have won their first 4 games by a combined 191 points. Consider that against a similar early season slate last year (Division IAA Northwestern State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Toledo were their first 3 games), the Jayhawks had only outscored their opponents by 27 points and had actually dropped the game against Toledo. The Jayhawks have been strong in all facets of the game--5th in quarterback rating, 12th in rushing yards per attempt, 3rd in quarterback rating allowed, and 1st in kickoff return average. Kansas won't roll through the Wildcats as they have their first 4 opponents, but they will eke out a win over a flawed team that compensates for it's offensive and defensive deficiencies with great special teams (1st in punt return average and 26 in kickoff return average).

Wisconsin +2.5 Illinois
If this line were reversed, I would be a fan of taking the Illini. I don't believe the Badgers are as good as they were last season, and thus far appear pretty undeserving of their top 10 ranking. However, I'm not ready to consider the Illini favorites over any upper-division Big 10 team. Most casual observers probably saw ESPN highlights of Illinois' upset of Penn State last week. What they may not have realized is that Illinois was outgained by almost 100 yards in that game (427-336), returned a kickoff for a touchdown that accounted for the winning margin, and were the beneficiaries of 4 Penn State turnovers. Their quarterback, Juice Williams, is still erratic at best (completion percentage of 53.4, 4 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions) the Illini are not to be trusted in the role as favorite.

Maryland +3 Georgia Tech
Both teams are coming off impressive victories over top 15 foes. Impressive on the scoreboard at least. Georgia Tech beat Clemson despite gaining only 67 yards through the air as Tyler Bennett did his best Reggie Ball impression. Their victory was keyed by a host of Clemson mistakes (4 missed field goals and a penalty negating a touchdown), great defense (held Clemson to 228 total yards), and special teams (blocked punt set up 8 yard touchdown drive and two field goals over 40 yards). It's amazing, but that formula doesn't seem to work as well on the road. Maryland meanwhile, rebounded from an all-time heartbreaker at Wake Forest to upend Rutgers. The Terps, with their backup quarterback no less, rolled up over 450 yards in Rutgers backyard. They were equally effective, gaining 239 yards on the ground and 219 through the air. I'm perplexed as to how the Terps are the underdogs in this game. When Vegas gets a line wrong, sit back and enjoy it.

Houston +10.5 Alabama
The bloom may be off the Nick Saban rose in Tuscaloosa. After beginning the season 3-0, the Tide looked like legitimate contenders in the SEC, and a possible top 10 team. Two losses later, it's clear Alabama is a year away from being a real force under Saban. In fact, if not for a game-saving drive by John Parker Wilson against Arkansas, Alabama could be 2-3 and 0-2 in the SEC. Don't get me wrong, the Cougars are not going to stroll into Bryant-Denny Stadium and walk out with a win, but they are talented enough to stay with shouting distance. Plus they have already played in a hostile environment this season (@ Oregon).

Cincinnati +3.5 Rutgers
Last year's out-of-nowhere Big East contender, meet this year's version. Cincinnati has absolutely dominated their opposition thus far, winning by nearly 36 points per game against Southeast Missouri State, Oregon State, Miami (Ohio), Marshall, and San Diego State. To be fair, a winning team cannot be found amongst those teams. However, starting 5-0 under a new head coach, at a place like Cincinnati is certainly impressive. Also look for the Bearcats to win more games than their fellow city-dwellers, the Bengals. Rutgers comes in fresh off a loss to Maryland as a top 10 team, and also possibly hoping to exact some revenge against the Bearcats who ruined their Cinderella season last year.Rutgers blasted the first three teams they played, but were shocked at home last week by Maryland. Rutgers offense is in better shape than it was last season, especially with the marked improvement of quarterback Mike Teel. However, their defense is not the ferocious, national-title caliber unit it was last season. Look for Cincinnati to remain undefeated and make their case as a legit Big East contender.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 16-8-1
South Carolina -3.5 Kentucky
If you're curious as to my feelings on Kentucky's top 10 ranking, read on down to my post from two days ago. Thursday, they have a change to prove me wrong and convert me into a believer. Kentucky is led by their star quarterback, and would-be Heismann contender, Andre Woodson. Woodson has completed more than 2/3 of his passes while throwing for 16 touchdowns and only 1 interception. He'll have his hands full against a South Carolina defense that is second in the nation in opposing quarterback rating. If the Gamecocks do have an Achilles heal, it is their run defense that is 100th nationally in yards allowed per game (201.2) and 91st in yards allowed per rush (4.64). Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they are 103rd nationally in yards allowed per game (203.2) and 102nd nationally in yards allowed per rush (5.03). Andre Woodson won't be a Heismann candidate and the Wildcats won't be a top 10 team after Thursday.

Clemson -5.5 Virginia Tech
Another team that is highly overrated by the polls is Virginia Tech. The Hokies defense is still quite good, but offensively they are downright inept. Playing at home last week against North Carolina, 1-4 North Carolina, the Hokies were outgained by over 60 yards (306-241) and out first downed 18-13. The Hokies dynamic duo of bad and badder at quarterback (Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon) combined to complete 11 of 20 passes for just 76 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Clemson won't dominate the Hokies, but they will win comfortably.

Missouri -6.5 Nebraska
This winner of this game will have an early leg up in the Big 12 North race. Conventional wisdom had these two pegged as the best teams in the North, but that wisdom may be put to the test after good starts by Colorado, Kansas, and Kansas State. This was supposed to be Nebraska's break out team under Bill Callahan; their return to glory. The offense has done its part, averaging almost 36 points per game, but the defense has failed miserably, barely showing up in an embarrassing home loss to Southern Cal, and getting shredded in what would have been an all-timer of a loss against Ball State. Missouri is very similar, with their offense also humming--averaging 42 points per game through their first 4. However, the defense has not been as stellar, giving up 25 points per game. Still, the Tigers are undefeated, and a few of their wins look better after the season's first month. Their 40-34 win against Illinois, initially viewed as an escape against a bad team can now be viewed as an escape against a pretty good team. Their closer than expected 13 point win at Ole Miss is better than Florida's much closer than expected 6 point win at Ole Miss. Look for this to be an entertaining high scoring game where Missouri prevails.

LSU -9 Florida
If there's one thing the Florida Gators have struggled with under Urban Meyer, it's beating good teams on the road. The Gators have played 6 road games against teams that finished with winning records. They are 2-4 in those games. Their wins have come by 1 and 7 points each. Their losses have come by a combined 50 points. LSU is not merely a good team, they are an elite one. Florida may keep this game close for a half, but LSU will win by at least double digits.

Ohio State -7 Purdue
Purdue is off to a hot start, winning their first 5 games by a combined 125 points. That is partly due to the softness of their schedule. Purdue's 4 Division IA opponents (Toledo, Central Michigan, Minnesota, and Notre Dame) have a combined record of 4-16. Ouch. Ohio State on the other hand, is quietly positioning itself to win yet another Big 10 title. The Buckeyes have limited their first 5 opponents to only 36 total points, with only the Washington Huskies managing double digits (14 points). The last time these two teams played, Purdue knocked off the Buckeyes 24-7. That Ohio State team was not in the same class as this version. Look for the Buckeyes to win handily.

Five to Steer Clear Of

Boston College -20 Bowling Green
The Eagles are in full-on sleepwalk mode after their 3-0 start in the ACC. The Eagles knocked off Army 37-17 two weeks ago, and last week defeated Division IAA Massachusetts 24-14. That spread is too high to have any confidence either way.

Oklahoma -11 Texas
The Red River Shootout has lost some of its luster after both the Sooners and Longhorns were upset last week. Oklahoma is probably the better team, but that 11 point spread seems a little high for a team that gave up 27 points to Colorado. However, the last 9 games in this series have been decided by 10 points or more.

Tennessee -2 Georgia
Under Mark Richt, the Georgia Bulldogs are 19-3 in road conference games. The road team has won the last 4 games in this series. Tennessee has looked horrendous thus far on defense. All signs point to a Georgia blowout. At a website like this, you come to expect statistical analyses instead of hunches, but something about the game just doesn't feel right.

South Florida -15.5 Florida Atlantic
Coming off the biggest win in the program's history, the Bulls must now travel to Boca Raton to play an improving Florida Atlantic team. This has all the makings of a let down game. Remember, the Owls knocked off the Big 10's Minnesota earlier in the year at home. I'm not saying they will win, but a close game wouldn't shock me.

Colorado -8.5 Baylor
Speaking of let down games. The Buffs, fresh off their biggest win in a few years, now travel to Waco to take on a lightly regarded opponent. Don't be surprised if this one is close as well.

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