Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fab Five: Week IX

Last week I once again went 6-4, bringing my seasonal record to 44-33-3. One again, the goal for this week is 7 wins. (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 27-12-1

Duke +10.5 Vanderbilt
The 'Nerd Bowl' is a much bigger game that it may have appeared before the season started. Vanderbilt needs just a single win to garner bowl eligibility for the first time since 1982. A win for Duke would give them a winning record this late in the season for the first time since 1994, and make a bowl bid at least a plausibility if not a possibility. Both teams come into this contest on two-game losing streaks. Duke has fallen to Georgia Tech and Miami after beginning the season 3-1 and Vanderbilt has dropped games against Mississippi State and Georgia. A precursory look at yardage statistics reveals that Vandy has done their damage with smoke and mirrors. The Commodores are currently averaging only 249 yards per game on offense (ahead of only UCF in the NCAA). Duke is far from an offensive juggernaut, but they are averaging 326 yards per game (87th in the nation). Vandy does have a legit defense, holding opponents to 334 yards per game (45th in the nation), but it is not appreciably better than the 350 yards per game Duke allows (57th in the nation). Vanderbilt has built their record on a great turnover margin (+9 in their 5 wins) and a little bit of luck--opponents have made only 6 of 11 field goal attempts and the Commodores are 3-1 in one-possession games. Vandy may well get to bowl eligibility against Duke on Saturday, but this game should be much closer than 10 points.

Rutgers +10 Pitt
On the surface this game appears to be a total mismatch. The team with the inside track to the Big East title versus a team basically reduced to playing out the string. However, while Rutgers is by no means a good team, 3 of their 5 losses have come by 7 points or less, and each loss has come to a likely bowl team. Quarterback Mike Teel has been far from productive this season, but in the past 3 games (all against Big East foes), he has avoided throwing an interception. Each of those games have come down to the wire, with the Knights winning only one. The Rutgers defense has also improved recently, allowing only 130 yards on the ground and 3.32 yards per rush over their last 3 games after allowing 212 rushing yards per game and 4.96 yards per rush in the their first 3. If the Knights can contain Pitt running back LeSean McCoy, who is averaging 149 yards on the ground and over 6 yards per rush over his last 3 games, they stand a great chance of being in this game until the end.

SMU +12 Navy
Don't look now, but June Jones run-n-shoot offense is starting to click down in Dallas. After averaging only 302 yards per game in their first 5 contests against IA foes, the Ponies have averaged 442 yards per game over their last 2. The defense is still terrible, having allowed an average of 502 yards per game (dead last in the NCAA), but the offense was good enough to keep the team in close losses to both Tulsa and Houston the past 2 weeks. Navy won't have a problem moving the ball against the pourous SMU defense, and could conceivably top 500 yards on the ground. However, with the exception of Wake Forest and perhaps IAA Towson, every team has moved the ball with ease against the Navy defense. The defense is a little overrated statistically (91st in the nation allowing 401 yards per game) thanks to the ability of the offense to control the clock and limit opponents possessions. Navy ranks 100th nationally in yards allowed per play, permitting a shade over 6 yards per play. This one should be quite entertaining, and SMU should keep it close.

Kentucky +26 Florida
Kentucky's defense is a little overrated thanks to their pillow-soft non-conference schedule. However, even when accessing their prowess against SEC teams, its clear this is the best Kentucky defense in a long time. In 3 SEC games, the Wildcats have allowed only 355 yards per game, a figure that would still rank 61st in the nation. The Florida offense is rounding into fine form, averaging 477 yards per game over their past 3. Florida will move the ball against Kentucky and the Wildcats have several key injuries that will limit their already weak offense, but this spread is just too big to take the Gators.

Middle Tennessee State +1o Mississippi State
Its been a somewhat disappointing season for the Blue Raiders who are already 1-3 in Sun Belt play, likely keeping them home for the holidays no matter what happens the rest of the way. However, outside the league, Middle Tennessee has upset Maryland and lost by 6 to Kentucky. Mississippi State is exactly the type of team Middle Tennessee could potentially knock off. The Bulldogs offense is atrocious, averaging only 285 yards per game (111th in the nation--or Vanderbilt on steroids), but they are quite stout defensively. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents only 292 yards per game (22nd in the nation). Middle Tennessee State is far from a good team, but they should be able to hang around against a team with an offense this lousy.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 17-21-2

Nebraska -12 Baylor
After consecutive home losses to Virginia Tech and Missouri, the Huskers dropped off the national radar. Many casual observers probably missed perhaps their two most impressive performances over the past two weeks--a close loss at Texas Tech and a blowout win against Iowa State. The Huskers had their two best offensive performances thus far against BCS-conference foes in those two games, gaining 1019 yards. The Huskers welcome Baylor to Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, the Huskers are 6-0 versus Baylor, winning by an average of over 36 points per game (over 46 points per game at home). Baylor is certainly new and improved under head coach Art Briles and quarterback Robert Griffin, but Nebraska should win comfortably at home.

Army -2.5 Louisiana Tech
If there was ny doubt that option football is what the service academies need to be successful, just take a look at the Black Knights. In Stan Brock's first season as head coach in 2007, he scrapped the option attack and tried to implement a more pro-style offense. The results were disastrous. The Knights went 3-9 (their 11th consecutive losing season) and the offense averaged 276 yards per game (116th in the nation). Brock brought back the option this season and after a rough start the team has improved. The Knights began the season 0-4, with offensive averages of 264 yards per game and 3.91 yards per play. In their last three games (of which they have won two), the Knights have averaged 349 yards per game and 6.12 yards per play. In fact, the option has been so good, Army defeated Eastern Michigan without completing a single pass. Army should take care of business at home against a Louisiana Tech team that ranks 119th (or next to last) in the nation in pass efficiency.

Cincinnati -2.5 Connecticut
The Bearcats should have quarterback Tony Pike back for this game. Pike, as you may remember, replaced Dustin Grutza who was injured in the second game of the season against Oklahoma. Grutza, as you may remember, replaced Ben Mauk who quarterbacked the Bearcats last season, but was denied a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA multiple times in the offseason. Outside of the whipping the Sooners laid on them in Norman, the Cincinnati defense has been pretty solid, allowing only 295 yards per game to IA foes not quarterbacked by Sam Bradford. The Connecticut quarterback, Zach Frazer, is about as far removed from Sam Bradford as one can get. Frazer himself is also replacing an injured starting quarterback in Tyler Lorenzen. Connecticut will do what they always do, which is pound Donald Brown (nation's leading rusher), play solid defense, and capitalize on mistakes. Without a competent passing game, it won't be enough to get by Cincinnati.

Central Michigan -4 Toledo
This game could be billed as a changing of the guard in the Toledo Glass Bowl. From 2000-2005, Toledo was arguably the top program in the MAC. The Rockets were 55-19 over those 6 seasons (38-9 in MAC play) with a conference title and four bowl appearances. In the two and a half seasons since then, they have gone 12-19 (7-12 in MAC play) and their once mighty homefield advantage has been reduced to rubble (0-3 at home this season). On the other hand, Central Michigan has gone 23-12 over the past two and a half seasons (17-2 in MAC play) with consecutive MAC titles and bowl appearances. Toledo's offense, outside of a 598 yard outburst against Fresno State, has averaged a paltry 268 yards per game in their other six contests. Central Michigan should do enough to cover this number even if star quarterback Dan LeFevour is out of action.

New Mexico State -13 Idaho
New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme is probably licking his chops at the prospect of calling plays against a secondary as emabttled as the one Idaho currently employs (in the metaphorical sense of course). The Vandals have allowed opposing quarterbacks to post an efficiency rating of 153.63 (114th in the nation) and have allowed 22 touchdown passes on the season (only North Texas and SMU have allowed more). Look for New Mexico State to roll in the Kibbie Dome.

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