Fab Five: Week XIII
5 Dogs I Like
Both these teams pulled off shockers last weekend. The Huskies, as you may have heard, hammered the likely penultimate nail in the coffin of Charlie Weis' tenure at Notre Dame, while the Orange won their first Big East game under new coach Doug Marrone. At South Bend, the Huskies finally had luck on their side as they won by 3 after 5 previous losses in games decided by fewer than 7 points. The win gives the Huskies a new lease on their postseason life as they end the season with consecutive home games against Syracuse and South Florida. The Orange have played better of late, holding their last 3 opponents not ranked in the top-10 to 472 total yards, with neither Akron, Louisville, or Rutgers topping the 200-yard plateau. Connecticut doesn't have the offensive firepower of Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, the last 2 teams to move the ball against Syracuse, so look for the Orange to keep this one relatively close.
Tulane +17.5 SMU
I got burned by the Green Wave in one of my few bad picks last week, as they were annihilated 49-0 by UCF. They are once again big road underdogs against an SMU squad primed for their first bowl appearance since the Reagan administration. However, while the Ponies have managed to cobble together 6 wins already, only one of them has been by more than one-score (a 27-13 decision over Tulsa). Their other wins have come by a combined 24 points, and only one has come over a team that will finish the season with a winning record (East Carolina). Tulane is probably the worst team in Conference USA, but if they avoid the turnover bug (lost 5 in last week's game), this game could be competitive.
NC State +5.5 North Carolina
The North Carolina defense is no joke. In ACC games, they are allowing just a shade north of 300 yards per game (302). However, their offense is very meager. In those same ACC games, the offense is averaging only 270 yards per game. The Tar Heels have won their last 4 games thanks to their athletic defense scoring and putting the offense in position to score. Their turnover margin in the streak is +8, and the defense has accounted for 4 touchdowns in that span (3 interception and one fumble return). Thus NC State's biggest weakness, their porous defense (allowing 436 yards per game to ACC opponents) may not be quite as weak. The Wolfpack will also prove a stiff test for the Tar Heel defense, as they average close to 400 yards per game in conference play (395). If the Tar Heel defense doesn't do a lot of scoring themselves, this one should be close.
The Hurricanes have had their most successful season season since 2005. At 8-3, the 'Canes have a shot at 10 wins if they can beat the Bulls and then win their bowl game. However, despite their success, the 'Canes have been pretty mediocre on the road. They are 3-2 on the road, but they have not beaten a BCS-conference school on the road by more than 4 points. In fact, in those 5 road games, the 'Canes have been outscored by 8 points. South Florida has already beaten one in-state big brother this season (Florida State), so they will certainly have motivation to play well in this game. Miami has almost nothing to play for and should struggle to put away the Bulls.
Since appearing in the Rose Bowl on January 1 2008, the Illini have gone just 8-14, with only 5 wins coming against teams from BCS conferences. With only pride left to play for, look for them to get blown off the map against a Cincinnati team that still has an outside shot at playing for a national title.
Middle Tennessee State -3.5 Louisiana-Monroe
Make it 5 in a row. After pounding Arkansas State last week, the hottest team in the Sun Belt, the Blue Raiders, have now won 5 in a row. During that streak, the Blue Raiders have averaged 499 yards and 41.8 points per game. The defense has also played well, limiting opponents to 313 yards and 19.2 points per game. Louisiana-Monroe has struggled as of late, losing 3 of 5, with 2 of the wins coming against the dregs of the Sun Belt (North Texas and Western Kentucky). The Blue Raiders have an outside shot at 10 wins if they can beat the Warhawks on the road.
Georgia Tech -7.5 Georgia
There are only about 3 reasons why most observers would feel Georgia has a chance in this game. For starters its a rivalry game. Throw the records out as they say. Secondly, Mark Richt is still the Bulldogs coach. He is one of the game's best. And finally, the SEC, God's gift to football. While that last argument may be repeated ad nauseum by CBS each and every Saturday, the fact is the SEC is Florida, Alabama, and a host of mediocrity. You have to look long and hard to find a marquee win on Georgia's schedule. Is it South Carolina (6-5), Arkansas (7-4), or Auburn (7-4)? The Dawgs have also beaten Vanderbilt (2-10), Arizona State (4-7), and Tennessee Tech. Georgia is not particularly good on either side of the ball. Outside of a fine offensive showing at Arkansas (and their game with IAA Tennessee Tech) during which they gained 530 yards and averaged 8.5 yards per snap, the Bulldogs are averaging 325 yards per game. Again, outside of those 2 games, the defense is allowing 340 yards per contest. Georgia Tech has issues on defense (Vandy and Mississippi State were both able to drop 31 on them), but no one has shown any sign of stopping the Jackets since their loss to Miami in mid-September. Look for the Jackets to win a high-scoring affair by about 10.
Southern Cal -13 UCLA
The Trojans have fallen out of the national pitcure with 2 losses in their past 3 games, while the Bruins have won 3 straight to become bowl eligible after a 5-game losing streak. Southern Cal's defense is not what it once was, having allowed the most yards per game since the 2005 incarnation. Unfortunately, this Trojan offense does not have the elite playmakers on offense the 2005 team had to offset the mediocrity of the defense. However, UCLA is averaging only 341 yards per game (89th in the nation), so they should be hard-pressed to score more than 2 touchdowns on the Trojan defense. Playing at home, against a rival, with a chip on their shoulder, the Trojans should roll.