Fab Five: Week V
Last Week: 4-1
Southern Miss +11 Boise State
The last time Boise State lost a regular season game at home (they lost the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl to Boston College 27-21) was 2001, to a Washington State team that finished 10-2. Taking Southern Miss to keep it close on the Smurf Turf may seem a foolhardy endeavor, but this Boise State team is not the mid-major juggernaut they were last season. After rolling up 371 rushing yards (6.75 average per rush) against over-matched Weber State, the Broncos have gained only 224 yards (2.73 average) on the ground against noticeably tougher competition (Washington and Wyoming). The quarterback situation is also a work in progress as Taylor Tharp has yet to show the big play ability Jared Zabransky demonstrated during his time on campus. In addition, Southern Miss is road tested, having already played at Tennessee and won at East Carolina. As long as they don't turn the ball over habitually, the Eagles should keep it close.
Akron +14 Connecticut
This line is a little to high thanks to Connecticut's 4-0 start and their 34-14 win over Pitt last week, a game in which the Panthers turned the ball over 6 times. Besides the Panthers, the other three teams the Huskies have beaten are Duke, Maine, and Temple--not exactly the Holy Trinity of collegiate teams. Akron is far from a super power as well, but look for the Zips to give the Huskies all they can handle. Connecticut's win over Pitt will end up being one of the season's biggest flukes once all is said and done.
Illinois +3 Penn State
Flashback to last season's game in Happy Valley. One team thoroughly dominated the game--gaining 378 yards while limiting the opposition to 184 yards on their way to a 26-12 wi er loss!? Despite their failings on the scoreboard, Illinois dominated the Nittany Lions last year. The Lions appear to be no better than they were last season (preseason pundits, myself included, put too much stock in their bowl win over Tennessee). Their offense still struggles to score touchdowns against legit teams, negating the stellar play of the defense. The Illini appear to be much improved this season, as their only blemish is a 6 point loss to undefeated Missouri.
Miami (Ohio) +1.5 Syracuse
Lest you think last week's win, and offensive explosion, against Louisville flipped a switch and instituted a football renaissance for the Orange, take a look inside the numbers. Syracuse was outgained by Louisville by over 160 yards and out-first downed 37-16. In 4 games, Syracuse has an astounding 60 fewer first downs than their opponents (15 per game). Their opponents have gained 927 more yards (231.8 per game), and prior to the last week, their closest margin of defeat was 21 points. To be fair, Miami has struggled in recent weeks (scored only 10 points the past two weeks), but they do have a track record against porous defenses. Against Minnesota (106th nationally in pass efficiency defense), the Redhawks rolled up 418 yards through the air and netted 35 points in an OT loss. Syracuse is 104th in pass efficiency defense. Miami will win a close one and send Syracuse back to the sludge from which they rose last week.
Colorado State +10.5 TCU
The Colorado State Rams are one of (if not the) best 0-3 teams in the country. The Rams have more first downs (60-54), more yards (1186-1121), and a better QB rating (163.48-128.37) than their opponents. The culprit for the Rams' struggles? Punt coverage--the Rams are 105th nationally in punt coverage, allowing 14.7 yards per return and luck--the Rams are 0-2 in close games and have only recovered 4 of 13 fumbles (including just 3 of 10 opponent's fumbles). TCU on the other hand is 2-2, but has been far from the Mountain West dynamo many thought they would be. They have fewer first downs and yardage than their opponents. The Horned Frogs have been winning with defense (14th in pass efficiency defense) and excellent punt returns (20th nationally at 14.8 yards per return). The Horned Frogs are averaging only 19.5 points per game and have scored only 6 offensive touchdowns in 4 games. The Rams may be the best 0-4 team in that country after this game, but they will cover the high number.
Central Michigan -3 Northern Illinois
It's not often a team is a 3 point favorite one week after losing...by 30...to a Division IAA team. Central Michigan got blasted by North Dakota State 44-14 last week. The Chippewas have taken a step back offensively with the departure of head coach Brian Kelly (23.8 points per game down from 29.7 last year), but the more troubling development has been with the defense. The Chippewas are giving up 43 points per game (nearly double the 22.3 they gave up last season). Opponents have completed over 71% of their passes against the Chips alleged secondary, while averaging 8.9 yards per pass, and tossing only 1 interception. Fortunately for them, the Huskies come to Mt. Pleasant with problems of their own. The Huskies are also 1-3 (with a Division IAA loss of their own). Their losses have all been relatively close (largest margin 13 points to Iowa), but the opposition has not been as tough as Central Michigan's. For all the struggles Central has against the pass, Northern Illinois is a team that is not poised to exploit that weakness--only 5 touchdown passes against 8 interceptions on the year. Look for Central Michigan to improve to 2-0 in MAC play with a relatively comfortable margin.
Kent State -1 Ohio
The Golden Flashes gave the ball away 4 times in a 27-20 home loss to Akron last week. Kent State outgained the Zips by 130 yards, but were undone by the aforementioned turnovers and two failed 4th down conversions. The Bobcats also fell last week to Wyoming 34-33. In that game, the Bobcats used a 94 yard kickoff return and a 30 yard pick six (and 6 other Cowboy turnovers) to stay in a game where they were outgained by almost 150 yards and out-first downed by 15. Vegas has this game as a toss-up and that seems about right. Our old friend regression will catch up to the Bobcats who have played above their heads thus far against Division IA teams--they have outscored their opponents on the year despite having 37 fewer first downs.
Oregon -6 Cal
The Oregon Ducks have been an offensive machine thus far, averaging 48.5 points while facing some pretty solid competition. The Ducks have blown teams out in Eugene (Houston and Fresno State) and on the road (Michigan and Stanford). Duck quarterbacks have not thrown an interception all season and the team has a collective 182.11 rating. The rushing attack is averaging over 6 yards per rush. What's not to love? Cal on the other hand has one marquee win to hang their hat on (Tennessee). Unfortunately, the Vols appear to be solid at best and in their only road trip thus far, the Bears were nearly ambushed in Fort Collins by Colorado State. Look for Oregon to roll on their way to a 7-0 start before a huge game in Autzen Stadium on October 27th against Southern Cal.
Rutgers -17 Maryland
The real question here, is what will the Terrapins psyche be after their meltdown at Wake Forest. With 17 minutes to go, the players and coaches had to think they had that game in their back pocket. Yet here they are, 2-2 and 0-1 in conference play. The Terps did not do a good job of shutting down another Big East rushing attack two weeks ago, allowing 353 yards (7.35 per rush) against West Virginia. They will have to do much better if they hope to stay in the game against Rutgers. On offense, the Terps have not been extremely effective either, averaging only 3.51 yards per rush. The quarterback play has consisted of mostly safe, short passes (68.7% completion rate, but only 9.4 yards per completion). Terp quarterbacks have also thrown 6 interceptions and just 1 touchdown. Rutgers as crushed the cupcakes they have faced thus far and in the process, quarterback Mike Teel may have morphed from liability to legitimate BCS quarterback (236.66 QB rating). I'll reserve final judgement until the Knights play Cincinnati next week. This has all the makings of a blowout.
Western Michigan -1.5 Toledo
Both these teams have been hammered by their BCS opponents. Western Michigan lost to West Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri by an average score of 25-50.3. Toledo lost to Purdue and Kansas by an average score of 18.5-48.5. They did upset Iowa State 36-35 last week, but look inside the numbers. Toledo had 100 fewer yards and 8 fewer first downs. The Rockets scored their final two touchdowns (after trailing 35-24) on a kickoff return and a fumble recovery in the end zone on a botched punt. The Rockets are vastly inferior to the Broncos. Toledo's opponents have compiled a QB rating of 151.67 (105th nationally). Every team has bombed them with their passing attack. Even Iowa State, a team that entered with a high-water pass efficiency mark of 117.89, compiled an extreme rating (160.56). Toledo is also due some regression in the fumble luck department as they have recovered 9 of 13 fumbles (7 of 9 opponent fumbles). Barring some extremely fluky plays, Western Michigan should roll over the Rockets.
This is quite an intriguing game. After falling to UTEP 10-6, in a game they dominated statistically, the Lobos have won 3 in a row, including a road win over the Pac 10's Arizona. Now they host a team that may be the best in the Mountain West. BYU is only 2-2, but they have not lost a conference game since 2005. Stay far away.
Georgia Tech +3 Clemson
As any Clemson fan knows, these are the games Tommy usually manages to choke away. Enjoy this game from afar.
Utah -20.5 Utah State
Remember what I wrote last week about Utah? It rings even truer this week. The Utes have crushed UCLA and lost a close one to Air Force at home. On the road they have managed only 7 points combined in losses to Oregon State and UNLV. Utah State looks like easy pickings, especially on the road, but the Utes are not to be trusted.
Florida -18.5 Auburn
This Auburn team is not nearly as good as they have been the past few seasons and the Gators are extremely tough at home. Still, this line seems a little high.
Arizona -2.5 Washington State
If there ever was a game not to bet on, this is it. Both teams need this win bad. Terribly bad. Arizona probably needs it more after their 1-2 start in non-conference action.