Fab Five: Week X
Last Week: 3-2
Oklahoma State +3 Texas
These are not the Longhorns of 2005. That team was an unrepentant juggernaut that destroyed everything in its path. They played two close games all season, at Ohio State and against Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. All other teams Big 12 and Sun Belt alike were trampled by their might. The same cannot be said for this year's version. Oh yes, the Horns sport a robust 7-2 record, but they defeated Arkansas State by only 8 points, struggled until the 4th quarter against a down TCU team, edged UCF by 3, lost by 20 at home to Kansas State, struggled into the 4th quarter against Baylor, and barely put away a dying Nebraska team. Thus far, Texas has been impressive in 3 games: the woodshed beatings of Rice and Iowa State, and the narrow loss to Oklahoma. Otherwise, they have been a solid, but not great team; not one you would trust giving 3 points against an Oklahoma State team that has won all their home games, despite a home schedule with Texas Tech and Kansas State on the slate. The Cowboys won both those games by a combined 6 points, scoring 90 and allowing 84 points. Look for similar fireworks and a similar result on Saturday.
South Carolina +4.5 Arkansas
The Gamecocks did everything but win in Knoxville on Saturday night. They outgained the Vols by nearly 200 yards, yet lost thanks to 4 turnovers, a turnover on downs inside the 10, a missed field goal, a Tennessee fumble recovery that gained 15 yards, and an opportune penalty against the Vols as their kicker stoinked a game-tying field goal. Now the Cocks must try and regroup, for they still have an outside shot at representing the SEC East in Atlanta. Standing in their way on Saturday is an Arkansas team that has proven they can beat any and all comers from the Sun Belt, but have yet to earn a win against an SEC team with a winning record. This game will probably be very similar to the one played here in 2005. That game was a 14-10 defensive struggle that Arkansas lost despite nearly doubling South Carolina's yardage output (356-187). Expect a similar score range as both defenses are pretty stout and both offenses can struggle at times. Arkansas probably has the better offense, unfortunately it is also more one-dimensional, and the Gamecocks have the better defense. A three-game losing skid will not befall Steve Spurrier in consecutive seasons.
Florida State +6.5 Boston College
For about 56 minutes on Friday, Boston College did not look the part of the #2 team in the nation. That all changed after some questionable decisions by the Virginia Tech coaching staff to switch from the aggressive unit that made Matt Ryan look infinitely mortal to the vanilla 3-man rush that Ryan picked apart. The Eagles escaped though, and can now begin realistically thinking about a national title. On Saturday they face a Seminole team looking to establish itself as a possible ACC contender for next season and improve it's bowl status. Three weeks ago, the Seminoles looked like real contenders after licking their wounds from the Clemson opener. They stood 4-1, with now impressive victories over Alabama and Colorado. Then they went into BB&T Field and it all fell apart. The Noles dropped a close game to the Deacons (though not a close as the 3 point margin) and then fell the next week to Miami (much closer than the 8 point margin). Despite being a flawed team, especially on offense, and especially at the quarterback position, the Noles are better than their 5-3 record. They are only 1-3 in close games and have lost 10 of their 11 fumbles on the season. The Noles still have a good defense (17th nationally in yards per game), so if the Eagles don't significantly win the turnover margin this one will be very close.
Alabama +7 LSU
After winning their first 5 games by nearly 33 and a half points per game, the Tigers have come back down to Earth. They needed fourth quarter comebacks to knock off both Florida and Auburn in Baton Rouge. In between those two wins, they fell in overtime against a solid, but not great Kentucky team. The difference? Schedule strength. I'm not saying LSU played cupcakes in their first 5 games, but take a look at the offensive capabilities of their first 5 opponents versus those same capabilities of their last 3. The table below lists the yards per game and points per game of LSU's opponents. The national rank is in parentheses.It is still impressive that LSU held their first five opponents to under 7 points per game, but in the last 3 games, it's become clear LSU's defense is good, but not historically great. If you're curious, Alabama ranks 44th nationally in yards per game (413.6) and 39th in points per game (31.5). That's significantly better than any of LSU's first 5 opponents and the Tide are playing at home. Don't be surprised is Alabama is in control of the SEC West come Saturday night.
Louisiana-Lafayette +29.5 Tennessee
Of the five teams still legitimate contenders in the SEC East (sorry Vandy), Tennessee is probably the worst of the bunch. Despite their 5-3 record, they have scored exactly the same number of points as they have allowed. All of their losses have been by double digits (39, 24, and 14 points). The Vols offense is pretty prolific, averaging 404 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. However, their defense is giving up 418.5 yards per game and 5.9 yards per play. The Ragin' Cajuns are not a good team; at 1-7 they are far from it, but in a game sandwiched between a hard-fought SEC win (South Carolina) and another tough SEC game (Arkansas), look for the Vols to sleepwalk through this one.
Georgia Tech -2.5 Virginia Tech
Despite already having 3 conference losses, the Yellow Jackets may be the best team in the Coastal Division. Their losses have come to Boston College (undefeated), Virginia (by 5 points), and Maryland (2 points). Against both Virginia and Maryland, defensive touchdowns by the Cavs and Terps proved to be the winning margin. Against a defense as stout as Georgia Tech's, the Hokies will need perhaps several non-offensive touchdowns to pull this one out.
Kansas State -14 Iowa State
The Wildcats have been one of this season's biggest surprises, at least to me. Last season, the Wildcats parlayed great special teams and a good dose of luck into a 7-6 season. This season, their special teams are very good, but their offense and defense have improved as well. Their losses have come to teams that currently sport a combined 19-6 record. Those losses have also come by a combined 18 points. Their opponent, Iowa State, has played better the past two weeks--losing to Oklahoma and Missouri by 'only' 24 combined points. Look for that trend to reverse itself this week in a blowout at the hands of the Wildcats.
Louisisna Tech -3.5 Idaho
After losing 5 of their first 7 games, the Bulldogs are now one game deep into the doldrums of their schedule. They won by 10 against Utah State last week, and now get the Vandals before facing a death march towards Baton Rouge. After that game though, the Bulldogs close with a home game against San Jose State (very winnable) and a road trip to Nevada (not so winnable). With a chance to finish with 5 or possibly even 6 wins, the Bulldogs needn't take the Vandals lightly. Idaho has won only once this season, and they are winless against Division IA teams. In fact, their season finale against Utah State could be a battle between two teams without a Division IA win between them. Look for quarterback Zac Champion to torch a pass defense that is 112th nationally in opponent quarterback rating.
Connecticut -2.5 Rutgers
Last years Cinderella, meet this year's Cinderella. Despite overtures from Cincinnati and South Florida, it appears the Huskies are this season's Big East Cinderella. Led by an aggressive ball-hawking defense (sound familiar Rutgers?), and an offense that does just enough the Huskies are undefeated in Big East play, and look to clinch a winning Big East record the first time ever. The Huskies are an astounding +12 in turnover margin (12th nationally) through 8 games. Look for the Huskies to win a relatively close game. Ray Rice will get his yards, but Mike Teel will prevent the Knights from pulling this one out.
Boise State -25.5 San Jose State
The Spartans almost ruined Boise State's Fiesta Bowl season last year. The Broncos need a last second field goal to knock off San Jose 23-20. Unfortunately for the Spartans, that game was at home. Coming to the Smurf Turf is tough, especially for opposing WAC teams. Look for Boise to dominate what has been revealed to be a bad San Jose State team.
Can the impossible happen? Can Navy beat Notre Dame and can Notre Dame mount some scoring drives against a defense that gives up almost 460 yards per game?
North Carolina -2.5 Maryland
This should be a good game, but I have no idea what will happen.
Michigan -4 Michigan State
John L. Smith is gone, but the tanking continues. Somehow the Spartans lost to Iowa despite giving up 53 pass yards.
Wake Forest -1 Virginia
The Deacons a road favorite. Against a team not from Durham. Ye Gods.
Georgia -16.5 Troy
I've got a sneaking suspicion this one could be close. But I've been wrong before.