Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fab Five: Week VIII

As predicted, Week VII went about as poorly as possible. I went a horrendous 2-7-1 to run my year-to-date record to 36-32-2. Time to get back on track. As always, home teams in bold

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 16-19
Rutgers +3 South Florida
South Florida is half way to a place in the BCS Championship Game. However, they are only 1/6 of the way to a Big East Championship. They face their first Big East road game on Thursday against last year's surprise Big East team. The Bulls will also look to avenge last year's 22-20 loss. South Florida has certainly been impressive thus far, knocking off power teams Auburn (on the road) and West Virginia, and netting quality wins against North Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and UCF. The Bulls are a good team, but contrary to what some misguided talking heads will have you believe, they are led by their defense (one of the nation's best), and not their mohawked quarterback Matt Grothe. Grothe is a great athlete (7 touchdown passes and 4 rushing touchdowns), but right now he is merely a good quarterback, not a Heisman contender. On the other hand, the Bulls defense is for real. They rank 18th in the nation in yards allowed per rush (2.86), 5th nationally in quarterback rating allowed (88.88), and 13th in sacks (20). That defense will be put to the test against one of the nation's premier backfield combinations. Ray Rice has over 800 yards rushing and is averaging almost 5 yards per carry while Mike Teel has a quarterback rating of 169.78 (5th in the country). The difference between this year's Rutgers team and last season's team, is defense, and more specifically forcing turnovers. Through 6 games last season, the Knights had forced 17 turnovers (8 fumbles and 9 interceptions). Through 6 games this season, the Knights have caused only 9 turnovers (3 fumbles and 6 interceptions). The Knight's defense is still solid and it will frustrate Matt Grothe for the duration of the game. This game will be close and will probably be decided by the kickers. Rutgers' Jeremy Ito has made 9 of 12 field goals, while South Florida's Delbert Alvarado is only 7 of 12, including an awful 2 of 6 performance at Auburn. The advantage in the kicking game and the home field make Rutgers the pick.

Auburn +11.5 LSU
The key to this game will be Brandon Cox, and more specifically, his aversion to or affinity for throwing interceptions and fumbling. In the two games Auburn has lost (South Florida and Mississippi State), the Tigers committed 10 turnovers (5 interceptions and 5 fumbles). In their other 5 games (coincidentally, the Tigers are 5-0 in those games), Auburn has committed 6 turnovers. Auburn is road tested, having won at both Florida and Arkansas, so the environment will not intimidate the Tigers. The last 3 games in this series have been decided by 1, 3, and 4 points respectively. Expect this one to be close as well.

Mississippi +5 Arkansas
The Hogs have not done a good job of defending their SEC West Championship as they are 0-3 in conference play and are desperately seeking a second dimension to their vaunted rushing offense (maybe they should try McFadden and Jones in the single wing or maybe even the veer).This table lists the numbers Arkansas quarterbacks have put up against SEC teams and against the non-conference schedule. Those non-conference games have come against Troy, North Texas, and Chattanooga. From the table, those games have been good for inflating the overall numbers, but not so good at preparing Casey Dick and Co. to face the much stiffer defenses in the SEC. McFadden and Jones will get their yards, and the Hogs may even win, but this game will be very close.

NC State +5 East Carolina
If there was one team I was terribly wrong about in my preseason predictions, it was NC State. I thought the Wolfpack would be a middle-of-the-road ACC teams (3rd place in the Atlantic to be exact). However, they have simply been awful this season. They have committed 22 turnovers while collecting only 5. Neither Harrison Beck nor Daniel Evans have been able to consistently move the offense. So why are they the pick this week? Bye week. No Bronco Nagurski never had one, but NC State is coming off their first and only bye week of the season. In his 9 seasons at Boston College, Tom O'Brien's teams were 8-7 coming off a bye (not counting bowl games where O'Brien has a splendid 6-1 record). However, all 7 of those defeats came to ranked teams, including 4 to teams ranked in the top 10, and 3 to teams ranked in the top 5 (Miami 3 straight years from 2000-2002). O'Brien will have a sound gameplan in place, and the Wolfpack may pull out their second win of the year.

Stanford +10.5 Arizona
Arizona needs this game bad. Real bad. In Mike Stoops' fourth season, the Wildcats are 2-4 (1-3 in Pac-10 play). They have beaten Northern Arizona (Division IAA) and Washington State (2-5 with wins over Idaho and San Diego State). The Wildcats did drub both the Lumberjacks and the Cougars, but as stated earlier, the Lumberjacks are not IA and the Cougars have been outscored by 32 points per game in their 4 road contests (the Wildcats beat them by 28). Stanford is far from a finished product, but they have improved dramatically in Jim Harbaugh's first season. The Cardinal may not win, but Arizona will certainly not dominate.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 1-3-1
Overall: 20-13-2
Clemson -17 Central Michigan
Clemson's bye week could not have come at a better time. After not executing against Georgia Tech, the Tigers simply imploded against Virginia Tech. Despite the rumblings for Tommy Bowden's dismissal, the season still holds great potential for Clemson. The Tigers still have a very good defense under coordinator Vic Koenning. The points allowed per game stat (21.3) does not do the unit justice, as the Tigers have been victimized by 3 special teams and 1 defensive touchdown. The Tigers rank first nationally in passing yards allowed per game (135.2), 7th in quarterback rating allowed (92.06), and 12th in total yards allowed per game (289.3). Central Michigan does have a very good offense, led by sophomore sensation Dan LeFevour. LeFevour has thrown for 13 touchdowns and rushed for 8 more. However, against a defense similar statistically to Clemson's (Kansas in game number one), the Chippewas managed only 7 points. Look for a similar performance on Saturday.

Wake Forest -3 Navy
Normally I try to stay away from analyzing games involving my Deacons. However, this game is just begging for a look. I've watched Navy a twice this season (Duke and Pitt), and I do believe their triple option attack could give us some trouble. However, Navy's defense has been shredded by anyone and everyone on the schedule. Navy has given up over 200 yards rushing four times in six games this year (Rutgers, Ball State, Air Force, and Pitt). In the two games where they did not get gashed on the ground (Duke and Temple), they made up for by allowing over 400 yards through the air and playing Temple. Navy ranks 102nd nationally in yards allowed per game, so the Deacons should have their choice of scoring by land, sea, or air.

Missouri -3.5 Texas Tech
Yes the Tigers lost to Oklahoma by 10 points. Yes the margin was 17 until the final seconds. However, the Tigers led heading into the 4th quarter. If not for some costly miscues that led directly to points for the Sooners, the outcome could have been much different. The Tigers rolled up 418 yards against a team that allows only 303 per game (17 nationally). Texas Tech has improved defensively in recent games (31 total points allowed the last three). However, those numbers have been put up at home against Northwestern State (Division IAA), Iowa State (scoring only 16.3 per game), and Texas A&M (only 24 points scored in two road games). This game occurs away from Lubbock, where the Red Raiders were last seen allowing 49 points and 610 yards to Oklahoma State. It won't be that bad, but Missouri and Chase Daniel will outscore Texas Tech and Graham Harrell.

Kansas -3.5 Colorado
This may be the best Jayhawks team in dare I say ever? The Jayhawks finished the 1960, 1968, and 1995 seasons ranked in the top 10. That 1995 team was a little overrated as they were decimated in two games against Kansas State and Nebraska (lost by a combined 72 points). A win in this game will tie the school record for most wins in Big 12 play. Kansas is for real. They proved it two weeks ago against a Kansas State team that was much better than I thought. Colorado has improved substantially in Dan Hawkins second season, but they do not yet have the offense to move the ball consistently against a defense as good as the one Kansas employs.

Oklahoma State -3 Kansas State
How 'bout 'dem Cowboys? Oklahoma State rolled into Lincoln last week and laid an all-timer of a beating on Nebraska. That says a whole lot more about the Huskers than it does about the Cowboys, but its a great win never the less. Since getting waxed by Troy a few weeks ago, the Cowboys have played much better. They beat Texas Tech (despite the best efforts of their defense), beat Sam Houston State, lost by one point at Texas A&M, and stomped Nebraska. The last two games are a good sign for the Cowboys as both came on the road, where the Cowboys lost their first two games by a combined 39 points. At home the Cowboys are a different team. They are undefeated, and boast a quality win against a good Texas Tech team. Look for the Cowboys to win a high-scoring affair that stays close until the 4th quarter.

Five to Steer Clear Of

Syracuse -3.5 Buffalo
Be wary Orange, the Bulls are a much-improved team. Syracuse has already lost to one MAC team (Miami of Ohio), and pretty much every other team they have played save Louisville. The Bulls may well be the best Division IA football program in the state of New York. Where have you gone Paul Pasqualoni?

Fresno State -12.5 San Jose State
The Spartans wasted a golden opportunity nearly upsetting Hawaii on national TV on Friday night. That loss ended their three game winning streak. The Spartans are well-coached (think Arizona regrets firing Dick Tomey?) and the Bulldogs are probably not as good as their 4-2 record would indicate (outgained last 4 games, but have a 3-1 record).

Louisville -3.5 Connecticut
Is Louisville back? Is Connecticut any good? These questions and more will be answered or on this week's episode of 'As the Big East Turns'.

Penn State -7.5 Indiana
After losing their first two Big 10 games, Penn State has outscored Iowa and Wisconsin by a combined 51 points the past two weeks. Now they must hit the road once again where they are 0-2. Indiana needs one more win to become bowl-eligible. The Hoosiers lead the nation in sacks with 32 and the Nittany Lions are second with 29. If that's not reason enough to watch this game, I don't know what is.

Nebraska -2 Texas A&M
Nebraska has scored 20 total points the last two games. Their opponents have netted 86. Will they get back on track this week? The Aggies better hope not. After the Huskers, their last 4 opponents are Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas (combined record 22-4).

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