Fab Five: Week XIII
West Virginia +3 Pittsburgh
This backyard brawl has down-to-the-wire struggle written all over it. Not only have the last 3 in this series all been decided by 4 points or fewer, but these are clearly the two best teams in the conference. Based on my SDPI numbers, West Virginia is slightly better, with a very dominant defense. Its hard to have much faith in either head coach, but when in doubt, go against the Wannstache.
Southern Miss +3.5 Tulsa
The Golden Eagles have got to be kicking themselves. They have lost a pair of conference games by a single point. If either game had gone the other way, Southern Miss would be playing this game for an opportunity to host the Conference USA Championship Game. As it stands now, they must win and hope for the near impossible (a Memphis upset of UCF). Championship or not, the Golden Eagles have played the best on a down-to-down basis of any team in Conference USA. Thus, they should probably be a slight favorite here.
BYU +9 Utah
What looked like a lost season for the Cougars in early October (1-4 start) has actually evolved into yet another fine campaign. If they can manage to get past Utah in their final game as conference rivals, the Cougars would actually finish in a tie for second place in the Mountain West. Based on SDPI, BYU is actually a hair superior to Utah, and thus them getting nearly double digits is an excellent bet.
Florida Atlantic +4.5 Middle Tennessee State
I'm not sure why the point spread continues to favor Middle Tennessee State so much. Make no mistake, the Blue Raiders are a bad team. The worst in the Sun Belt by SDPI. Last week, they needed a 99-yard fumble return to edge Western Kentucky by a single point, one week after losing at home to North Texas. They may win against the Owls, who are no great team themselves, but it should be close.
Western Kentucky +13 Troy
The Hilltoppers have played much better in their first season under head coach Willie Taggart than their 2-9 record would indicate. They have lost 4 games by 7 points or less, including a pair of one-point defeats. They boast the best defense in the Sun Belt by a large margin, and have one of college football's hidden gems in running back Bobby Rainey. Rainey has accumulated nearly 1500 yards on the ground and scored 13 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Troy needs one victory in their final two games to be bowl eligible for the 5th straight season. the Trojans have the league's top-ranked offense, so their matchup with Western Kentucky's defense should be entertaining. However, their defense also happens to be the worst in the Sun Belt. Even if Troy scores a lot of points, their defense (or lack thereof) will probably make this game very close.
Toledo -4 Central Michigan
The Rockets have performed well in coach Tim Beckman's second season, clinching both their first winning season and bowl bid since 2005. Meanwhile, Central Michigan has struggled in the first year of the Dan Enos regime, clinching their first losing season since 2004. Toledo is better on both sides of the ball than the Chippewas and is playing at home (where they have yet to lose in conference play). This spread should be closer to a touchdown.
SMU -1 East Carolina
The East Carolina defense has disintegrated, particularly recently, as the Pirates have allowed at least 42 points in their last 4 games, and in that span have twice allowed more than 60. On the season, the Pirates rank dead last nationally in both total and scoring defense. Amazingly, in conference play, they rank just second to last (narrowly edging Rice). Meanwhile, SMU, for all the talk of June Jones and his spread offense, actually has the best defense in all of Conference USA. The Mustangs can clinch a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game with a win here, and they should do just that.
Western Michigan -6.5 Bowling Green
The Broncos from Western Michigan will try to attain bowl eligibility for the 4th time in 6 seasons with a win in their road finale. When Western Michigan has won, it has been big. Their 5 wins have all come by at least 15 points, with 3 coming by at least 30. The Broncos are statistically one of the MAC's better teams, while Bowling Green only rates as better than winless Akron. The Broncos must win here and pull against a few major conference teams (Texas and Georgia to name a pair) to have a shot at a bowl bid.
Florida International -5 Arkansas State
The Sun Belt's best team (both statistically and in the standings) has a chance to lock up their first ever conference title on Saturday. Just 4 short seasons ago, the Panthers of Florida International were winless, and in the midst of a 23-game losing streak. Now they are on the cusp of a league crown. Arkansas State is better than their 4-7 record would indicate, but will not be able to cover this relatively small number on the road.
Louisiana Tech -11.5 San Jose State
I thought this was a misprint when I first saw the spread. San Jose State is not only the worst team in the WAC, they may also be the worst team in the nation. The Spartans have yet to beat a single IA foe, going 1-1 against a pair of IAA teams. They rank last in the WAC in the SDPI measures of offense and defense. All they have going for them here is that this game is at home. Louisiana Tech should be favored by about 3 touchdowns here.