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Statistically Speaking: Fab Five: Week I

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fab Five: Week I

It's that time of year again. The college football season is just mere hours away. That means tailgates, pageantry, hard-hitting action, and most importantly spreads. That's right degenerates, the Fab 5 is back again. Each week I'll give you 5 dogs and 5 favorites I like for the coming weekend. So here we go (home teams in Bold).


5 Dogs I Like


UTEP +3 Buffalo
The Buffalo Bulls are probably getting a little too much love after going 5-7 and finishing alone in 3rd place in the MAC East last season. It was a great story for a program with little to cheer about before Turner Gill was hired in 2006. However, as Bill James astutely pointed out with the Plexiglass Principle, teams that come from out of nowhere often fall back to Earth very quickly. UTEP is a solid Conference USA squad, and their offense should give the Bulls fits in an upset win.

SMU +3.5 Rice
The June Jones era begins on Friday night. If anyone is going to resurrect the Pony Express, its the man who took Hawaii from winless to undefeated in less than a decade. SMU was much better than their 1-11 record last season, losing 5 games by 7 points or fewer, including a 1-point loss to these Rice Owls. This game is a toss up, and as such, you should take the team getting the points.

Virginia
+19.5 Southern Cal
This spread seems abnormally large considering the Trojans must replace 7 starters on offense, including the quarterback, running back, top wide receiver, and 4 offensive linemen. That's not to say I believe Virginia has any shot whatsoever to win this game, as they have a multitude of issues as well, but giving nearly 3 touchdowns on the road is not a proposition I'd be inclined to take.

Louisiana Tech +8 Mississippi State
Last season, Mississippi State won 8 games and played in the postseason for the first time since 2000. They did this despite featuring an offense that gained under 300 yards per game (297 to be exact). The Bulldogs were exceptionally fortunate, going 4-0 in one-score games. Their saving grace was a defense that permitted only 332 yards per game and a penchant for their opponents to fall on their own swords. The defense should remain reasonably strong, and the offense should remain anemic. The big difference this season will likely be lady luck. And Mississippi State is walking right into a beartrap in their opener. Louisiana Tech has been a competitive team for the better part of a decade, and while they may not knock off the Bulldogs from the SEC, they will make this one very interesting.

UCLA +7.5 Tennessee
Speaking of walking into a beartrap. Remember what happened last time the Vols opened the season in the great state of California? It wasn't pretty. Now they head to Los Angeles without quarterback Erik Ainge, who matriculated, and offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who left for bluer pastures at Duke. While UCLA is far from a complete team, the homefield advantage should propel them to a Labor Day upset.


Five Faves I Like


Oregon State -3 Stanford
The Beavers lost their entire starting front 7 from last season. However, that does not mean there is a dearth of talent. 2 players, Victor Butler and Slade Norris, who didn't start, actually totalled 19.5 sacks between them in 2007. Both gentlemen are back, and with the return of wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, who missed most of last season with an injury, the inept passing attack should improve. Meanwhile, Stanford avoided the Pac-10 basement in 2007, but remained the worst team in the league according to both point and yardage differential.

Northwestern -11.5 Syracuse
Looking for a sleeper in the Big 10? Look no further than Evanston, Illinois. With 7 senior starters on offense (quarterback, running back, 3 wide receivers, and 2 offensive linemen), the Wildcats will sport the best offense of the Pat Fitzgerald era. The defense also returns 8 starters and should show some improvement. Syracuse on the other hand, as been like a rudderless ship since Paul Pasqualoni was canned following the 2004 season. The Orange have defeated 3 BCS-conference opponents in 3 seasons under Greg Robinson and are 2-14 on the road.

Mississippi -7.5 Memphis
This is a classic case of 2 teams headed in opposite directions. Ole Miss facilitated a serious upgrade in coaching acumen by hiring Houston Nutt to replace the departed Ed Orgeron. By most accounts, Orgeron was a good recruiter, so the cupboard is far from empty in Oxford. The biggest addition to the team in 2008 is quarterback and Texas transfer Jevan Snead, who failed to beat out Colt McCoy in Austin in 2006. Meanwhile, Memphis still has a solid coach with a track record of success at the school (4 bowl games in the past 5 seasons) in Tommy West, but must replace the starting quarterback and running back from last year's team. The last 4 games in this series have been decided by 7 points or less, with Ole Miss winning 3 of 4. However, this one should not be very close.

Louisville -3.5 Kentucky
Last season, the game against Middle Tennessee State was an early sign that things might not be well, but the loss to Kentucky is what really sounded the alarms in Louisville. Louisville loses its quarterback, Brian Brohm, but has a capable replacement in Hunter Cantwell. Kentucky on the other hand, loses its quarterback, Andre Woodson, and does not have a proven player to take his place. That, plus the homefield advantage makes Louisville the pick.

Rutgers -5.5 Fresno State
Fresno State is a classic case of an over-valued stock. Many pundits believe the Bulldogs will win the WAC despite the fact that they were outgained in conference play by an average of 55 yards per game. That number ranked 6th of 9 WAC teams. If this game were in Fresno, the Bulldogs would have a chance, but travelling cross country to face a BCS program, they will falter.

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