Fab Five: Week V
Virginia +7 Florida State
Virginia represents one of the greater unknowns in college football. They have crushed a pair of IAA (or if you prefer, FCS) teams at home by a combined score of 82-20 and have also competed admirably in their lone game against a living, breathing opponent. In their cross-country trip to the golden coast to take on the Trojans, they held Southern Cal to their lowest offensive output of the season (329 yards and 14 points). The Trojans averaged 515 yards and 38.7 points in their other 3 games. This game also marks Florida State's first game outside of Tallahassee since their ugly foray into Norman, Oklahoma. With home wins over Samford, BYU, and Wake Forest, the Seminoles also lack any groundbreaking wins. With the Cavs catching 7 points at home, they are a very good play this week.
Clemson +3.5 Miami
Clemson has had a week to lick and bandage their wounds after a heartbreaking loss on the plains in Auburn. The Tigers acquitted themselves very well in that game, and could easily have won. Now their second season begins as they open conference play with a Miami team fresh off a beating of an overmatched Pitt squad. Miami has had trouble in their conference road tilts the past 2 seasons, going just 4-4 with no win coming by more than points (won by 18 at Duke in 2008), and only one win coming over a team that finished with a winning record (38-34 over a Florida State team that finished 7-6 in 2009). Clemson is likely the class of the Atlantic Division, and could be the best team in the entire ACC. Look for the Tigers to pull off the straight up win on Saturday.
Western Michigan +3 Idaho
The Vandals from Idaho have developed a nice little inter-sectional rivalry, not with one team per se, but with an entire conference. Since 2007, the Vandals have played 4 games with teams from the MAC (3 scheduled and one in the Humanitarian Bowl last season). The Vandals have completed a home and home with Northern Illinois (losing at home in 2007 and winning on the road in 2009). They played Bowling Green in the aforementioned Humanitarian Bowl, winning on a successful 2-point conversion. This game will mark the end of a home and home with the Broncos. The Vandals lost to the Broncos at home in 2008, and now make the return trip to Kalamazoo. The Vandals continue their MAC sojourn in 2011 and 2012 with a home and home with Bowling Green. Now, back to this game. The Vandals are an interesting team, having blown out a IAA school (North Dakota State) and one of the worst teams in IA (UNLV) by a combined 68 points. They also hung tough with Nebraska in Lincoln. However, in their most recent game, they fell to one of the worst teams in IA (Colorado State). Meanwhile, Western Michigan has had 2 weeks to prepare for this game after losing their conference opener to Toledo. Western Michigan substantially outgained the Rockets (416 to 268), but lost thanks to a -4 turnover margin. With Idaho having to travel several a long distance and Western Michigan fresh off a bye, this spread should probably be reversed. Look for the Broncos to pull out an outright upset Saturday.
East Carolina +13.5 North Carolina
I'm a little confused by this spread. North Carolina has not exactly set the world on fire offensively this season. True, they are better than they were last season, but the defense has gotten worse (that will happen when suspensions are so rampant). Meanwhile, East Carolina appears to have shifted from a defense-first team under Skip Holtz to one that will be involved in a great deal of shootouts. Games involving the Pirates have averaged a total of 84 points this season. In their championship winning seasons of 2008 and 2009, games involving the Pirates averaged 44.5 and 48.9 points respectively. This should be an entertaining game with the backdoor open just wide enough for the Pirates to sneak through.
Tennessee +16 LSU
Just as I predicted last week, LSU once again failed to cover a rather large number, jumping out to a 17-point lead before posting a rather ugly 6-point win as a 9-point favorite. Look for more of the same here. LSU is by far the superior team, but for whatever reason, Tennessee is likely to hang around and cover this number.
Oklahoma -4 Vs Texas
Neither the Sooners nor the Longhorns looked particularly dominant last weekend. Texas lost at home to a double-digit underdog with a prehistoric passing game more suited for Amos Alonzo Stagg than Rick Neuheisel. Meanwhile, Oklahoma needed a late onside kick recovery and a plethora of red zone turnovers to eke by a team that lost by a pair of touchdowns to Fresno State. Needless to say, for the second year in a row, the Red River Rivalry is not the marquee game on the Saturday schedule. In fact, both of these teams may be looking on as Nebraska hoists the Big 12 Championship trophy in early December. But I digress. Oklahoma has hardly looked dominant this season, but after 4 weeks, its clear Texas is in a rebuilding mode. Albeit a rebuilding mode than will still likely win 9 games, but rebuilding nonetheless. Look for the Sooners to win comfortably here (10 points or so) and position themselves as the pole sitter in the Big 12 South.
Maryland -7.5 Duke
After a marginally successful season in 2009 (by Duke standards, an incredibly successful one), the Blue Devils appear to have taken a step back in 2010. They have lost 3 in a row after opening with an easy win over Elon, including an embarrassing home loss to Army. The margin was only 14, but the Cadets led 35-7 in the second half. The Blue Devils do not even pretend to play defense, giving up an average of 466 yards per game. Even if we remove the bludgeoning Alabama put on them, they are still allowing 413 yards per game. The Terps have followed up their opening weekend upset of Navy by pounding a IAA school (Morgan State), losing somewhat competitively to the best team in the Big East (West Virginia), and beating a Sun Belt school (Florida International) by 2 touchdowns. Remember though, this is the same Florida International that nearly Rutgers and Texas A&M (losing by 5 and 7 points respectively). Just giving slightly more than a touchdown at home makes Maryland one of the safest plays of the week.
Toledo -3.5 Wyoming
Toledo has built their 3-1 record on the strength of a fantastic turnover margin (+7 in their last 3 games, all wins), so they may end up not being quite the MAC contender they appear to be. The defense is the strength of the team, holding opponents to only 372 yards per game. If we remove the opening loss to Arizona, the Rockets have allowed only 323 yards per game, very good numbers for a MAC outfit. That defense should be good enough to put the clamps on the Cowboys, a team that has yet to gain more than 355 yards in any game (did it against IAA Southern Utah).
Southern Cal -10 Washington
Can you say revenge? While Lane Kiffin was not on the sidelines last season when the Huskies upset the Trojans, a lot of his players were. Motivation is certainly a factor to weigh here, especially with the spread below 2 touchdowns. Outside of their close scrape with Virginia, the Trojans have won their other 3 games by at least 11 points, and all 3 have come on the road. Returning home should allow the Trojans to put up some big offensive numbers, particularly against a team that lost to what has been revealed to be a poor BYU team in their only road game.
UTEP -15 New Mexico
Oh how the once proud Lobos have fallen. Ritchie Valens and Lou Diamond Phillips would be so appalled. New Mexico has not come close than 35 points against any of their foes this season. This is of course on the heels of a 1-11 debacle where the lone win came by 2 points. New Mexico has been outgained by nearly 1000 yards in 4 games and they have been outscored by 184 points. UTEP has one of the best offense in Conference USA, and should be able to run wild on Los Lobos.