Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fab Five: Week VI

Last week was very schizophrenic for me. I swept the underdogs and whiffed on all the favorites bringing my record to 27-21-2. Time for another winning week (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 5-0
Overall: 18-6-1

Pittsburgh +14 South Florida
Barring a large number of turnover-induced or special teams touchdowns, this should be a low-scoring affair. Pitt currently ranks 32nd in total defense, permitting 307 yards per game. South Florida is 8th in total defense, allowing only 242 yards per game. Of course, part of South Florida's defensive acumen is accentuated by their schedule--3 of their 4 IA opponents (Central Florida, NC State, and Florida International) rank 111th in total offense or worse. South Florida may well be the best team in the Big East, but Pitt should keep this one close.

UNLV +2 Colorado State
UNLV has been one of the pleasant surprises of the college football season, opening with a 3-2 record including two wins against BCS-conference foes--Arizona State and Iowa State. That's good news for head coach Mike Sanford who came into 2008 on a serious hot seat. He's already set a personal best for wins, as the Rebs won 2 games in each of his first 3 seasons. Sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton is the primary reason UNLV has serious bowl aspirations. From 2005-2007 (Sanford's first 3 years in Vegas), the Rebs averaged 18.8, 19.8, and 18.2 points per game. On the strength of Clayton's arm (currently 31st in the nation in pass efficiency), the Rebs are averaging 26.4 points per game. That's good because the defense is allowing 31.8 points per game. Meanwhile, their opponents, the Rams, have been blown out twice (Colorado and Cal beat them by a combined score of 80-24), and have won a pair of squeakers (3-point wins over Sacramento State and Houston). UNLV's offense should do enough to compensate for their shoddy defense and allow them to win a shootout.

Illinois +3 Michigan
One of the most improbable wins from last weekend was Michigan's upset of Wisconsin. Down 19-0 at the half and looking every bit the part of overmatched challenger to a top-10 team, the Wolverines played competently in the second half and used some lucky breaks (tipped interception return for a touchdown and a penalty on Wisconsin's tying 2-point try) to pull out the win. Despite the win, the offense is still very much a work in progress. Quarterback Steven Threet completed only 12 of 31 passes for 96 yards and 2 interceptions. In their Big 10 opener, the Illini played valiantly before falling by 14 at Penn State. After facing the Penn State 'Spread HD' offense, the task here should be much easier. These teams are pretty evenly matched and since the Illini are getting points, they are the pick. Before we leave this discussion, its important to point out the play of quarterback Juice Williams. After torching Missouri for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns while averaging 10.7 yards per pass in the opener, Williams has regressed to his rudimentary passing ways. In the 3 games since, Williams has averaged 6.1 yards per pass and thrown 4 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. Keep in mind 2 of those games were against Eastern Illinois (IAA) and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Navy +5.5 Air Force
The underdog in this game, the United States Naval Academy, has beaten the Falcons 5 straight times. Navy has seen their offense decline a little from the phenomenal numbers they put up last season (slipped from 22nd in total offense to 34th), but the defense has improved upon their putrid numbers (jumped from 99th in total defense to 81st). The net result means Navy should qualify for a bowl game for the 6th straight season. Meanwhile, Air Force is looking to make its second bowl appearance in as many seasons under head coach Troy Calhoun. The Falcons are 3-1, but in their past 2 games, they have allowed 974 total yards to Houston and Utah. That could spell trouble against Navy's option attack. The Falcons are also due for a market correction in fumble recovery luck. Their opponents have put the ball on the ground 9 times, and the Falcons have recovered each fumble.

North Texas +6.5 Florida International
Th summary for this one is pretty simple. Know the last time Florida International was favored? It was 2 years ago at North Texas. They lost. The Golden Panthers won last week despite gaining 239 yards because they were the beneficiary of 4 Toledo turnovers. Neither of these teams are very good, but when the home team is getting a touchdown, they are the pick.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 0-5
Overall: 9-15-1

Memphis -3 UAB
Memphis is one of the best 2-3 teams in the nation, and may be poised for a big second half as they get into the meat of their Conference USA schedule. The Tigers have outgained all 5 of their opponents, including an Ole Miss team that recently knocked off the Florida Gators in Gainesville. On the other hand, UAB has yet to defeat a IA opponent, whiffing against Tulsa, Florida Atlantic, Tennessee, and South Carolina by an average of nearly 21 points per game. The defense has been the team's weak link, permitting 7 yards per play (118th in the nation). Memphis should have their way with the Blazers and win by at least a touchdown.

Auburn -4 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt fans should enjoy the undefeated season and national ranking while they can. It won't last long. Auburn may find it a trifle difficult moving the ball against Vandy, but the Commodores certainly have the worst offense of any undefeated team I've ever seen. In their 2 SEC games, wins mind you, Vandy has gained 225 (South Carolina) and 202 (Mississippi) yards. Vandy is undefeated thanks to an amazing +9 turnover margin through 4 games. The plan seems to be to emulate Mississippi State from last last season. Hang around and let your opponent fall on their own sword. The Commodores have yet to throw an interception on the season, and have attempted only 57 passes as a team. Only the 3 service academies and Georgia Tech have attempted fewer passes on the season. The game plan against Auburn should be fairly similar to what it was against the Gamecocks and Rebels: run quarterback Chris Nickson, pound running back Jared Hawkins, throw safe passes, and wait for the opponent to muff a punt or fumble through the endzone. For some reason I don't think it will work for the 3rd time.

Ohio State -1 Wisconsin
Wisconsin fancied themselves Big 10 title contenders before the season thanks to a good defense and solid ground game. Unfortunately, they do not possess a competent player at the most important position--quarterback. Allan Evridge, a transfer from Kansas State has not proven himself to be an accurate passer, particularly against good defenses. In 2005, his lone season as a Wildcat, Evridge completed a lowly 47.9% of his passes. This season, his completion percentage is a respectable 57.7%, but against the two stronger teams the Badgers have faced (Fresno State and Michigan), he has completed only 52.5% of his passes. The Ohio State offense may be a work in progress, but the defense still qualifies as strong, if not elite. The Buckeyes currently rank 12th in total defense and 21st in pass efficiency defense. He will be in for a long night against the Buckeyes.

Tulsa -15.5 Rice
While I'm pretty confident in this pick, I'm much more confident in the over bet. Unless the over line is triple digits, its probably a safe bet. As for the game itself, look for Tulsa, led by quarterback David Johnson (the nation's highest rated passer), to decimate a Rice defense that currently ranks 112th in yards allowed per game. Rice will be able to move the ball as well against a Tulsa defense that is only 95th in yards allowed per game, but Tulsa's offense, which is currently averaging over 600 yards per game, should be enough to cover the 3-score spread.

Kansas -12 Iowa State
This is the Big 12 opener for both teams and a chance for Kansas to show that last season's 12-1 record was not a fluke. The Jayhawks have been road-tested already, having lost on a last-second field goal at South Florida. Iowa State is already only a single win away from matching their win total (3) from last season. Unfortunately, their offense has seen diminishing returns in each game. They opened by totalling 388 yards against South Dakota State (IAA), and have seen their yardage total drop to 374, 325, and 306 in their next 3 games. The Kansas defense should shut down the Cyclone attack and cruise to a 2-touchdown victory.

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