Wednesday, September 02, 2009

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. I for one, found these Week I lines to be awful difficult to handicap. So, like John Mellencamp, this is the best that I could do (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

South Carolina +5 NC State
This is a huge game for both teams, albeit for different reasons. NC State fancies themselves a darkhorse contender in the ACC (who isn't?), and could use this game, along with 7 additional home games as the springboard to a special season. On the other side, South Carolina needs this game, perhaps to achieve bowl eligibility with 9 other bowl teams from 2008 on the slate after this one. In my opinion, this game will be a battle of strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness. NC State was the second most productive offense in the ACC last season behind quarterback Russell Wilson. South Carolina boasted the fifth ranked defense in the SEC last season, and that includes their utter collapse down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack featured the ACC's worst defense (yes, even Duke was better), while the Gamecocks countered with the seventh best offense in the SEC. The Wolfpack defense will be hard-pressed to get much better with the loss of their best player, linebacker Nate Irving, to a car crash in June. As long as Stephen Garcia does not have a turnover-fest like he did in the Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks should cover and could even win outright.

New Mexico +14 Texas A&M
I'm a little hesitant to back the Lobos here as they have a new coach, who is implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball. However, the Lobos do return a senior quarterback, Donovan Porterie, who was injured for much of last season. In addition, Texas A&M has not exactly been money at home against non-BCS foes. In 2007, they edged Fresno State 47-45 in triple OT as a 17 point favorite. Last season, they lost their home opener to Arkansas State as a 19 point favorite and also squeaked by Army 21-17 as a 27 point favorite. Expect more of the same here in a game that is closer than it should be.

Virginia Tech + 6.5 Vs Alabama
Defense and special teams should dominate this game. Virginia Tech was the best defense in the ACC last season, and Alabama finished a close second to Tennessee in the SEC. The Hokies have 7 starters back on defense while the Tide have 9. The issue for the Tide here will be on offense, where they lose 3 starting offensive linemen, a senior quarterback, and last season's leading rusher. The Hokie defense will likely be licking their chops against against a relatively inexperienced quarterback. Alabama may well have the defensive strength to win this game, but it should be closer than a touchdown.

Washington +17.5 LSU
Before you call me crazy for picking a winless team to cover against one of the dominant programs of the 00's, take a look at these facts. In the last 3 seasons, LSU has been a double-digit favorite 20 times. They are 7-13 ATS in those games. They were 0-4 ATS in those situations last season. While the Huskies will probably not be very good this season, they do return 18 total starters, including 10 on defense. They also bring back quarterback Jake Locker, who was injured for a majority of the 2008 season. This game will be a lot closer than most people think.

Colorado State +10 Colorado
Prior to last season, when Colorado won by 21 points, the previous 6 games in the series had been decided by a total of 25 points. Colorado was exceptionally weak on offense last season (last in the Big 12), and pretty strong on defense (fourth in the Big 12). They return 9 starters on offense, so improvement on that end in likely. However, they only bring back 4 starters on defense, so the gains on offense will likely be offset by losses on defense. Colorado State was a surprise bowl team last season, and is widely regarded as a lower tier Mountain West team this season. That projection is probably right on, but I expect a close contest in this rivalry game.

Five Faves I Like

Purdue -10.5 Toledo
Purdue was better than you thought they were last season. Based on their yardage totals in league play, they were roughly the sixth best team, a little above the bowl-bound outfit of Northwestern. Punt coverage, one of those hidden yardage stats, killed the Boilers last season as they allowed an NCAA worst 16.7 yards per return and gave up 3 touchdowns. For 2009, the Boilers have a new coach (Danny Hope), but Hope is quite familiar with the program, having been the OL coach under Joe Tiller from 1997-2001 and assistant head coach last season. Toledo also comes into this game with a new coach, and a reputation for putting up great offensive numbers. However, a cursory look at the statistics shows that not really the case. In the MAC last season, Toledo gained more yards than Temple. That's it. Away from the friendly confines of the Glass Bowl, Toledo put up over 20 points only twice (Eastern Michigan and Akron) and that trend is likely to continue in a double-digit loss to Purdue.

Connecticut -3.5 Ohio
Don't get me wrong, I think Ohio has a great chance at winning their division in the MAC this season. However, the Huskies from Connecticut remind a lot of Wake Forest. You watch them play, and you wonder how do they win? And yet at the end of the season, they are bowl eligible. The Huskies lost a lot in the offseason (chief among those losses was running back Donald Brown), but the Huskies do return the leading rusher from 2007, Andre Dixon. Dixon split carries with Brown in 2007, and actually outrushed him. The Huskies also lose their quarterback from last season, but that may be a blessing is disguise as Tyler Lorenzen completed less than half his passes and managed only 3 touchdown throws. This one should be a low-scoring affair won by the Huskies by about a touchdown.

Auburn -13.5 Louisiana Tech
Last season Louisiana Tech shocked an SEC team on their home field over Labor Day weekend when they upset Mississippi State. Don't expect it to happen again. The Bulldogs won their first bowl game since 1977 last season, so expectations are little higher than normal in Ruston. However, the Bulldogs are only 4-14 ATS as a road dog the past 3 seasons. Auburn, even in their trainwreck of a season in 2008, still played solid defense (seventh in the SEC). The Bulldogs will have a hard time moving the ball and Auburn should cruise here.

New Mexico State -3 Idaho
Learn the name DeWayne Walker. He may be coaching your team in a few years if he can get blood from a stone at New Mexico State. Walker was UCLA's defensive coordinator the past 3 seasons, and routinely captained very good units. The Aggies probably won't be too good this season, but neither will the Vandals from Idaho. And since this game is in Las Crues, take the Aggies.

Arizona -13.5 Central Michigan
Trusting the 'Lesser Stoops' to do anything always seems a little risky. However, he has quietly built a solid program in Tucson that has improve steadily since he took over in 2004. The Wildcats crushed their two non-conference home foes by a combined score of 111-16 last season. It won't be quite that bad for Central Michigan, as they have Tim-Tebow light in quarterback Dan LeFevour. However, what they lack, is a defense. They were the second worst defense in the MAC last season, and while they return 10 starters on that side, that likely means they can aspire to be an average MAC defense. Even with a new quarterback, Arizona should have no trouble moving the ball.

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