Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fab Five: Week I

At long last, college football is back! As I have done the past 3 seasons, I'll be coming to you each week with my 10 top picks picks against the spread (5 dogs and 5 faves). Sit back and relax, and make some friendly wagers if you care to. Here is the Fab Five for Week 1. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Northern Illinois +4.5 Iowa State
This Thursday night game may not be getting the play of the other games on ESPN and Versus, but it deserves a look. Both these teams went to bowls last season, and both are eyeing a return trip to the postseason. Northern Illinois (if you believe my projection system) even has designs on a MAC Championship. Meanwhile, Iowa State, despite their bowl appearance last season, was statistically one of the worst teams in the Big 12 (11th of 12 in SDPI). Plus the Cyclones are no strangers to struggling at home to MAC teams in their opener, losing in 2007 to Kent State, and needing 3 overtimes to outlast Toledo in 2006. Northern Illinois may even be worth a look on the moneyline.

Toledo +16 Arizona
I know picking a pair of MAC teams to cover versus teams from BCS conferences may seem a little crazy. Bare with me though. Remember, it was just last season that Toledo humiliated a BCS conference team on Friday night, blitzing Colorado 54-38. While Arizona is much better than Colorado, they have laid a few eggs on the road against non-conference non-BCS conference opponents, losing as a double digit favorite at New Mexico in 2008 and dropping a 20-7 decision at BYU in 2007 as a small dog. Arizona may well win the Pac-10, but they will be walking into a hornet's nest on Friday night.

Cincinnati +2.5 Fresno State
Apparently when Brian Kelly left Cincinnati he took all the Bearcat's mojo with him. How else to explain the fact that a team that finished the regular season unbeaten in 2009 opens 2010 as a betting underdog to a solid, but unspectacular mid-major outfit. New head coach Butch Jones followed Kelly at Central Michigan and won a pair of MAC titles in 3 seasons. He may not win 2 of the next 3 Big East titles, but he will keep Cincy in contention. Fresno is far from a pushover, but their bark has been worse than their bite essentially since their program defining wins over Oregon State and Colorado nearly a decade ago. Methinks this spread should probably be reversed.

UNLV +21 Wisconsin
Wisconsin reminds me a lot of 2009 Ole Miss. They have been getting a lot of preseason ink after their solid finish to last season which included an impressive bowl win over Miami. However, much like Ole Miss in 2009, I think the Badgers are in for another solid season, but not a rarefied one that concludes with a trip to the Rose Bowl. Why? For starters, the Badgers were extremely fortunate to win 10 games last season, going 6-1 in games decided by one-score. Secondly, while the offense was most impressive last season, it will be hard to improve upon the numbers they posted. Our old pal regression should rear his ugly head, and despite the return of 10 starters on that side of the ball improvement (from an offense that was 2nd in the Big 10 in SDPI) is not guaranteed. Finally, the Badgers will be playing this game in a city with a ton of distractions. Are they more talented than UNLV? Of course, and if this game was in Madison, they would likely cover this number, but in Vegas, the Rebs are the pick.

Virginia Tech +2.5 Vs Boise State
For the Boise State Broncos, this is their season. While they do play another BCS-conference school later on (Oregon State), if they lose here, no matter what happens afterward, they will likely be relegated to the nether regions of the top 25. The Broncos do not have a great history of winning in the Eastern time zone. The last time they opened the season on this coast, Georgia embarrassed them 48-13. Virginia Tech is not playing at home, but they should have the partisan crowd, and the Broncos will likely be left picking up the pieces after Monday's game.

Five Faves I Like

Missouri -12 Vs Illinois
Somehow, Ron Zook is still employed as head football coach by the University of Illinois. Under Zook, the Illini are 24-32 ATS (against the spread), 0-3 against Missouri, and 0-3 ATS against Missouri. Look for all those trends to continue as Zook starts his lame duck year.

Kentucky -3 Louisville
After being owned by their in-state rivals when they were coached by Bobby Petrino, the Wildcats have won 3 straight against the Cardinals, including two as underdogs. I don't know that the 'Cats will be a very good team in 2010, but Louisville has the look of a team that is cleaing house and rebuilding. Despite the fact that this game is in Louisville, the 'Cats are the pick.

Texas -30 Vs Rice
30. That's a lot of points to be laying. But hear me out. In the past 5 season, Rice has been an underdog of at least 30 points 6 times. They are 1-5 ATS in those 6 games. In addition, in the past 5 seasons, the Owls have faced the Longhorns 4 times. They have lost those games by an average of 43 points, with none being closer than 41 points. The Longhorns should roll in this one.

Syracuse -9 Akron
If you read my preseason previews, you know my projection system believes this is the best Syracuse team in a long time. It also has Akron pegged for last place in their division in the MAC. The Zips will breaking in a new coach, and were statistically only better than Eastern Michigan in the MAC last season. If Syracuse can avoid the costly turnovers that plagued them last season, they should win this one relatively easy.

Mississippi State -21 Memphis
The Bulldogs enjoyed their best offensive season of the decade last season under first year head coach Dan Mullen. With another year of his system in place, the Bulldogs should at least keep pace with their performance from 2009. Luckily, they get a nice tune-up before Auburn comes calling next Thursday. Memphis was one of the worst teams in college football last season, finishing dead last in Conference USA in defensive SDPI. Prospects for much improvement are grim, so the Bulldogs should roll in their home opener.

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