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Statistically Speaking: Fab Five: Week VIII

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fab Five: Week VIII

Last week I went 6-4, bringing my seasonal record to 38-29-3. The goal is 7 wins this week. (home teams in Bold).


5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 25-9-1

Memphis +8.5 East Carolina
I think its safe to say the bloom is off the Skip Holtz rose. After opening the season with 3 straight victories (2 over ranked BCS-conference foes), the Pirates have dropped 3 straight. 2 have come to ACC teams, albeit ACC teams that may well be at home for the holidays. East Carolina has been outscored (by 8 points) and outgained on the season (by 227 yards), so their profile befits a 3-3 team. The Pirates have yet to gain more than 386 yards in any game and currently rank 81st in yards per game. The defense, which was pretty stout in the first 3 games (allowing only 269 yards per game) has regressed (allowing 478 yards per game over the previous 3 contests). Meanwhile, Memphis has a poorer record (3-4), but may have the better team. 3 of the Tigers 4 defeats have come by one possession. The Tigers have outgained their 7 opponents by 716 yards on the season so they could easily stand 5-2 or even 6-1. The Tigers nearly upset Louisville last week, but lost thanks to 3 non-offensive touchdowns by the Cardinals. Louisville returned a kickoff, blocked field goal, and returned a fumble for a touchdown against Memphis, yet won by only 7 points. Memphis is a good team and getting more than a touchdown makes them a very safe play this weekend.

Southern Miss +3.5 Rice
What a difference a year makes. Last season Rice upset Southern Miss, but coming into the game they were 20-point underdogs. Now they find themslves in the unfamiliar position of favorite. A win by Rice would be their 4th of the season (3rd in conference play) and put them within spitting distance of bowl eligibility. Rice has a very good offense, led by senior quarterback Chase Clement, senior wide receiver Jarett Dillard, and sophmore H-back James Casey. The Owls currently average 429 yards per game (24th in the nation). Unfortunately, the other side of the ball is not as strong. The Owls currently allow 466 yards per game (114th in the nation). Forcing turnovers is the only thing Rice does well on defense, having gained 16 through 6 games (tied for 8th in the nation). Southern Miss has stumbled somewhat out of the gate, winning only 2 of their first 6 games under new coach Larry Fedora. The Golden Eagles are also 0-2 in conference play and need this game in a bad way. The 2 conference losses have been close (by 10 total points) and the Eagles have only been non-competitive in losses to Auburn and Boise State. Running back Damion Fletcher, currently averaging nearly 6 yards per carry, should plow through the pourous Rice defense and if the Golden Eagles can limit their turnovers, they should walk out of Texas with a straight up win.

Ole Miss +13 Alabama
How well does the Tide stand prosperity? This game will go a long way toward determining that. With the Auburn Tigers suddenly becoming paper tigers, this game and the road trip to LSU next month are the biggest stumbling blocks before the SEC Championship Game. Alabama's offense may get a lot of the credit for their 6-0 start, but if we remove the Western Kentucky game when the offense exploded for 557 yards, the Tide have averaged only 343 yards in their other 5 games. The defense is Alabama's strength, having not permitted more than 324 yards in any contest. Alabama currently allows only 262 yards per game (1oth in the nation). The Rebs come into this game fresh off a bye after a disappointing home loss to South Carolina. Ole Miss may be only 3-3, but their losses have come by 2, 6, and 7 points respectively. The teams they have lost to (Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina) currently boast a combined 14-4 record. The reason the Rebs have failed to win those close games can be summed up in one word: turnovers. Ole Miss outgained Wake (only by 12 yards), but lost thanks to a -2 turnover margin. The Rebs outgained Vanderbilt significantly (183 yards), but were -4 in turnover margin. South Carolina outgained them by 44 yards, but the Rebs compunded their trouble by again posting a -2 turnover margin. Quarterback Jevan Snead has been a drastic improvement over whatever gardbage lined up under center in the 4 seasons after Eli Manning's departure, but he has thrown 9 interceptions in only 6 games. If he can avoid the big negative plays, Ole Miss can hang around and make things interesting in Tuscaloosa.

Colorado State +21.5 Utah
Considering how well the Rams played against TCU last week (lost 13-7), I'm surprised this spread is so high. After opening the season with a blowout loss to arch-rival Colorado and following that up with a nip-and-tuck 3-point win over IAA Sacramento State, the Rams have played pretty good football. They've beaten both Houston and UNLV, while losing to Cal and TCU. The 35-point loss to Cal is a bit exaggerated, as the Bears scored 3 non-offensive touchdowns. Utah may well be the top mid-major this season, but Colorado State should be able to stay within 3 touchdowns.

Rutgers +1 Connecticut
Less than 2 calendar years after their amazing Thursday night comeback against Louisville, the Scarlet Knights have returned to their former position at the basement of college football. While the Knights have failed to notch a single win against a IA foe, they have come close on several occasions. They have lost by 2 points to Navy, 7 points to West Virginia, and 3 points to Cincinnati. None of those teams are world-beaters, but all are likely headed to bowl games, and each contest was on the road. Returning home to face Connecticut could be just what the doctor ordered. The Scarlet Knights can lay the blame for the lost season squarely at the feet of the offense which is averaging a paltry 318 yards per game (95th in the nation). Quarterback Mike Teel has gone from an average erratic quarterback to a bad erratic quarterback. The running game has yet to find a suitable replacement for Ray Rice, and alleged super star receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood have not a single touchdown catch between them (15 last season). The Connecticut Huskies look a lot like the 2006 Scarlet Knights. They pound opponents with the running game (Donald Brown leads the NCAA with 178 rushing yards per game), play pretty good defense (33rd in the nation allowing 306 yards per game), and win the close ones (3-0 in one-possession games). However, teams with such thin margins for error usually lay a few eggs on the season and this appears to be an ample opportunity for one. A wounded, yet proud team at home, looks like a straight up win to me.


Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 13-20-2

Pitt -3 Navy
The relatively small margin of this spread surprises me. I know Navy upset the Panthers (on the road) in OT last season. I know Navy owns wins over Wake Forest and Air Force and one of their losses came against undefeated Ball State, but 3 points? A field goal. Lest we forget, Navy also lost to Duke (an improved Duke squad I'll grant you). 3 of Navy's 4 victories have come by 7 points or less and the most recent win against Air Force came courtesy of 2 blocked punts that were returned for touchdowns. The Falcons outgained the Midshipmen by 167 yards, but could not overcome the 14 points they spotted them on special teams. Plus, the bewildering Navy option attack is not as proficient sans maestro Paul Johnson. If we remove the opening 602 yard foray they put on IAA Towson, the offense is currently averaging only 344 yards per game (about 100 les than the 444 per game they put up last season). To be fair the defense is better (allowing 384 versus the 439 they allowed per game last season), but Navy is still a team that relies on superior execution and mistakes by their opponents. Pitt is certainly a team capable of making a great deal of mistakes, but they should handle Navy with relative ease.

Cal -1.5 Arizona
If I have learned anything in my life on this Earth, its never trust Mike 'Lesser' Stoops. Despite this fact I erroneously believed Arizona could perform the simple task of winning at Stanford last week. You know the old saying, 'Fool me once...'. Despite their road loss at Maryland, the Bears have been pretty dominant thus far, and figure to be the main challenger to the Trojans in the Pac-10. Cal has outgained their 5 opponents by over 600 yards and are showing a penchant for defense. The Bears currently rank 25 in total defense, permitting 291 yards per game. Michigan State gashed them somewhat with 402 yards in the opener, but only Colorado State has topped 300 yards against them since. Arizona fooled me into thinking they were legit by pounding cream puffs (their best win was on the road at 2-4 UCLA). Arizona should put up a fight, but Cal will win by at least a deuce.

Illinois -15.5 Indiana
The Hoosiers have been in a free fall since opening the year with blowout wins over Western Kentucky and Murray State. Ball State, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Iowa have beaten them by an average of 20 points. The Hoosiers now travel to a very dangerous Illinois squad. The Illini are only 3-3, but 2 of their losses have come to top-15 teams (Missouri and Penn State). In their 4 games against BCS-conference foes (Missouri, Penn State, Michigan, and Minnesota), the Illini are averaging 489 yards per game and 6.7 yards per play. They should make quick work of an overmatched Indiana defense that has allowed 429 yards per game in their 4 losses.

San Jose State -2 New Mexico State
The best reclamation project you've never heard of is going down now as we speak in San Jose. Dick Tomey, the purveyor of turnarounds at Hawaii and Arizona, is doing it once again. The Spartans were 14-33 (10-22 in the WAC) in the 4 seasons before Tomey's arrival in 2005. In his 3+ seasons at the helm, the Spartans are 21-21 (13-13 in the WAC) and won a bowl game following the 2006 season. Hal Mumme is attempting to do the same at Las Cruces, but has not seen the same kind of results. The Aggies were 21-27 (14-10 in the Sun Belt) in the 4 seasons preceeding Mumme's arrival in 2005. In his 3+ seasons, the Aggies are 11-31 (4-21 in the WAC) with just 6 wins over IA foes. The Aggies will try to beat the Spartans by moving the ball through the air. They torched Nevada for 409 yards and 3 touchdowns via the pass last week in a 48-45 upset win. However, San Jose State has been very proficient defending the pass this season. Opposing quarterbacks have an efficiency rating of only 92.91 against the Spartans this year (5th in the nation). And lest you think those numbers have been put up only against the easy portion of the schedule, think again. Nebraska and Stanford (both at home) managed not a single touchdown throw against the Spartans. The Spartans will win a close one and need just a single victory for bowl eligibility.

Louisiana-Lafayette -3 Arkansas State
This battle for momentary supremacy in the Sun Belt should be quite entertaining. In 2 Sun Belt games, the Ragin' Cajuns are currently rolling up an average of 659 yards per game and averaging over 10 yards per play. Running back Tyrell Fenroy and quarterback Michael Desormeaux are both nearing 1000 yards on the ground. Arkansas State is also 2-0 in Sun Belt play and boast a win over Texas A&M on their resume. Its clear the Aggies are not that good, but a road win over a Big 12 teams is still impressive for a Sun Belt team. Arkansas State is a bit over-valued thanks to a rediculous +10 turnover margin through 6 games (a trend not likely to continue). Playing at home, the Cajuns should get a leg up on their Sun Belt competition.

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