Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fab Five: Week V

Last week was another solid week for me as I went 5-3-2, raising my collective record to 22-16-2. Another week, another set of picks designed to make you money (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-2-1
Overall: 13-6-1

Mississippi +22.5 Florida
For those who didn't watch the game, or bother to read the box score (and that includes most pollsters apparently), the Rebels home loss to Vanderbilt makes it appear as though things have not changed too much in Oxford. Look a little deeper though, and you will see an improving team. Last season, Ole Miss opened the season with a 1-2 record against IA foes. In those 3 games, they averaged 357 yards per game and allowed 466 yards per game. This season, the Rebs have opened 1-2 against IA foes (we'll ignore their win over Samford for comparison's sake). In those 3 games, they have averaged 394 yards per game and allowed 334 per game. That looks like improvement to me. Ole Miss stumbled last week against Vanderbilt because they turned the ball over 6 times. The Commodores gained only 202 yards against the Ole Miss defense. Barring a turnover barrage, the Rebs should stay within 3 touchdowns in Gainesville.

Houston +11 East Carolina
Thankfully with their loss to NC State, we can dispense with all the talk about the Pirates being an elite team. East Carolina is a team with limited offensive capabilities. They have yet to gain more than 386 yards against any opponent. The Pirates are very strong defensively, permitting an average of only 298 yards per game (32nd in the nation). However, they have yet to face an offense as prolific as Houston's. The Cougars open conference play after a 1-3 start in non-conference action. The Cougars are still a dangerous team, and should make some noise in Conference USA. They have yet to gain fewer than 473 yards in any game, and could very well be 3-1 as their losses to Air Force and Colorado State came by 3 points apiece. In addition, the Cougars outgained both those teams by a combined 205 yards. This one should be close.

Michigan +6.5 Wisconsin
Will this be a bowl-less season in Ann Arbor? The Wolverines currently have an active 33-game bowl streak, and the nation will have a much better idea of whether or not that streak will continue after this game. Despite the fact that they stand 1-2, there is some evidence that the Wolverines are picking up Rich Rod's offense. In the opener, Michigan generated a paltry 203 yards against Utah. They upped that tally to 281 in game number two against Miami (Ohio). And in game three, they put up 388 yards on Notre Dame. The running game has substantially improved with the emergence of freshman running back Sam McGuffie. After carrying 8 times for 8 yards against the Utes, McGuffie has gained 205 yards on 42 carries (4.9 yards per rush) against the Redhawks and Irish. On the other sideline, Wisconsin has looked robust opening the season 3-0, with a quality road win at Fresno State included in the bunch. However, Wisconsin could struggle against the Michigan defense as they were only able to put up 304 yards against Fresno State. Consider the Bulldogs responded by promptly giving up 598 yards to Toledo the next week. At worst, Michigan keeps this one close, and if things break right, they walk away with an outright victory.

Minnesota +19 Ohio State
In their games against IA foes, the Buckeyes have looked listless at best and atrocious at worst on offense. Excluding the opener against Youngstown State, the Buckeyes have failed to gain more than 309 yards in any game. To be fair, one of those games was against what may be the best team in the nation, Southern Cal, but the other two were against Ohio and Troy. Not that those schools are bad, in fact Ohio is by the far the best winless team in the nation, having also given Wyoming, Central Michigan, and Northwestern fits in close losses, and Troy is sure to be a contender in the Sun Belt, but they aren't in the class of elite teams. The Buckeyes are still strong on defense, even in the Southern Cal debacle, the Trojans only amassed 348 yards, but the offense seems lost without Beanie Wells. Meanwhile Minnesota has quadrupled last season's win total, albeit against less than stellar competition (Minnesota's opponents have two IA wins between them), but it beats losing to them, which the Gophers did last season. Minnesota will have trouble moving the ball against the Buckeye defense, but I expect them to be within shouting distance without posing much of a real threat to actually win.

Northwestern +8.5 Iowa
The Wildcats rolled through the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 4-0 record, positioning themselves for their first bowl bid since 2005. Despite their 4-0 record, the Wildcats have to be a little concerned about their passing game. Quarterback CJ Bacher has thrown just 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions against inferior competition (Syracuse, Duke, Southern Illinois, and Ohio). While the senior quarterback has been disappointing, the senior running back has exceeded expectations. Tyrell Sutton has totalled 387 yards and 5 touchdowns in the 4 games, and is averaging 6.1 yards per rush. Northwestern's offense should keep them in the game against an Iowa team with a sound defense and sputtering offense.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-1-1
Overall: 9-10-1

Cincinnati -10.5 Akron
One thing Cincinnati has done extremely well under second-year head coach Brian Kelly is beat the snot out of non-BCS conference foes. Excluding their non-conference games against IAA teams, Kelly's Bearcats have played 6 games against teams from non-BCS leagues. They have won those 6 games by a combined 130 points. Only the 2 bowl wins, over Western Michigan (in Kelly's first game after he came over from Central Michigan) and Southern Miss were close. The Bearcats edged Western Michigan by 3 and beat Southern Miss by 10. Last week, Cincinnati beat one of the favorites in the MAC (Miami of Ohio) by 25. The trend of beating hapless foes should continue with a comfortable win over the Zips.

Louisville -3.5 Connecticut
Louisville's loss against Kentucky may end up being one of the most head-scratching results of the season. They looked totally lost against the Wildcats, gaining only 205 yards and committing 5 turnovers in a 27-2 loss. The offense played much better (as was expected) in their next game against IAA Tennessee Tech. Then against Kansas State, the offense continued to roll, piling up 577 yards (303 of it on the ground) against the second set of Wildcats. Freshman running back Victor Anderson has been the story thus far. After rushing 12 times for 31 yards against Kentucky, he piled up 290 yards while averaging 9.7 yards per carry in the next two games. The Huskies come into the Big East opener 4-0, but with nary a win against a squad likely bound for postseason play. Conneticut dispatched Temple and Baylor by 3 points apiece and blew out Hofstra and Virginia. The Huskies BMOC is running back Donald Brown who leads the nation in rushing yards (716) and rushing yards per game (179). Unfortunately, the Huskies biggest strength does not match up well with Louisville. The Cardinals have allowed only 126 yards on the ground in 3 games. The Cardinals should be able to contain Donald Brown and put the onus on quarterback Tyler Lorenzen, who has struggled thus far, throwing only a single touchdown against 6 interceptions.

Toledo -19.5 Florida International
Toledo has one of the biggest home field advantages in all of college football. They lost at home last week to Fresno State, but were able to put up nearly 600 yards of offense on the Bulldogs. This one could get ugly quickly as Florida International is one of the worst teams in IA. The only explanation for their performance last week, a 17-9 loss to South Florida, is somnambulism on the part of the Bulls.

Nebraska -7 Virginia Tech
Another week, another ugly win in the ACC for the Hokies. The Hokies have been outgained by each IA foe they have played (East Carolina, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina) by an average of over 100 yards per game, and yet they were able to win 2 of 3 thanks to defense, special teams, and some good old fashioned luck. Virginia Tech is not a good team. They may be good enough to win the Coastal Division, and maybe even the whole shebang in the ACC, but a night road game against an improving Nebraska squad screams blowout.

Kansas State -20 Louisiana-Lafayette
Fresh off a loss to Louisville that was not nearly as competitive as the 38-29 final score would indicate, the Wildcats return home to console themselves with the best remedy possible--a Sun Belt team. Keep in mind, this pick is by no means an endorsement of Kansas State, as they are likely to miss out on a bowl and may end up firing Ron Prince at season's end. However, the Ragin' Cajuns gave up 633 yards to Southern Miss! Kansas State should win this one rather easily.

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