Fab Five: Week I
North Texas +14.5 Florida International
Over the past two seasons, IA mid-majors have taken on IA mid-majors 12 times on the season's opening weekend. The favorites are 2-10 ATS (Against the Spread) in that span. Double Digit favorites are just 1-4 ATS, and home favorites are just 1-7. In fact, the favored team is just 5-7 straight up in those 12 games! Florida International was the Sun Belt co-champ last season, and is rightfully favored to contend again. However, North Texas was much better than their 3-9 mark last season and seem poised to give the Panthers a game in Miami.
Bowling Green +7.5 Idaho
20 months ago, these teams staged a bowl game classic on Boise's blue field in the Humanitarian Bowl. Last season, both teams stumbled, with Bowling Green taking the larger plunge and falling to 2-10. The previous logic of mid-major versus mid-major applies here with the additional fact that Idaho must replace the maestro that made their team competitive the past two seasons in quarterback Nathan Enderle. With a new, relatively untested player under center, the spread in this game should be closer to a field goal.
Louisiana Tech +12.5 Southern Miss
Once again, we have the mid-major versus mid-major angle here. Southern Miss has the tools to win their first Conference USA championship since 2003. The Golden Eagles do play well at home (11-5 against IA schools under head coach Larry Fedora), but they are far from invulnerable ATS (9-7). Louisiana Tech is in the second year of Sonny Dykes' 'Air Raid' offense and could be one of the real sleeper teams in the WAC. The Bulldogs are worth a play here.
New Mexico State +7.5 Ohio
Deja vu? The mid-major versus mid-major logic once again applies here. New Mexico State is a bad team, but Ohio is traveling a great distance (over 1600 miles if you believe Google Maps). Ohio may be a contender to win the MAC, but they are not a college football power. A touchdown is too much for them to be giving in this game.
SMU +16 Texas A&M
Texas A&M is what I like to call a surprise top-10 team. Ranked 8th in the preaseason AP Poll, the Aggies were unranked in last year's preseason AP Poll. From 2006-2010, 7 teams began the season ranked in the AP top-10 after beginning the previous season unranked. They were, West Virginia (2006), Notre Dame (2006), Wisconsin (2007), Missouri (2008), Clemson (2008), Ole Miss (2009), and Oklahoma State (2009). Those teams all enjoyed some modicum of success, but were overrated by the general public. Only Ole Miss posted a winning record ATS (6-5). Collectively, those 7 teams went just 34-48-2 ATS. If you're wondering, that's a winning percentage of 41%. SMU may not win in College Station, but betting against the Aggies should be a good practice this season.
Auburn is a shell of their BCS Championship team from last season, but as long as Gus Malzahn is the offensive coordinator, they should light up the scoreboard against teams like the Aggies. Remember, in 2009, before Cam Newton came on the scene, Auburn put up 91 combined points on Louisiana Tech and Ball State with Chris Todd, yes Chris Todd, at quarterback. They should win this game by about 4 touchdowns.
Missouri -17 Miami (Ohio)
Last season, Miami was very successful. They won the MAC, won 10 games, and lost to Missouri by 38 points. Miami doesn't figure to be better this season with a new coach and new schemes, and while Missouri may be a little worse, they should be able to cover a spread smaller than 3 touchdowns.
Clemson -16 Troy
Since 2006, Clemson is 5-2 ATS versus IA mid-major teams (not named TCU). Clemson was bad offensively last season, so despite the loss of a senior quarterback, they should actually improve a bit. They won't suddenly become Oregon, but they should be closer to average if not a little above. Defensively, they are consistently one of the top-20 programs in the nation. Troy shouldn't be able to generate more than a pair of touchdowns against the Tigers, so if Clemson can get to 30, they should cover this number.
Oklahoma -26 Tulsa
Oklahoma may well be the best team in the country. Outside of last season, when Utah State and Air Force played the Sooners close, they usually dominate lesser foes at home. Under Bob Stoops, the Sooners are 19-1 versus mid-major IA teams (lost versus TCU in 2005). The average score of those 20 games has been Oklahoma 43, opponent 12.
Houston -3 UCLA
The Cougars have revenge on their mind. Last season, they rolled into Los Angeles as 3 and a half point favorites, but were waylayed 31-13 by the Bruins. Perhaps more importantly, the Cougars have their star quarterback, Case Keenum, back. Keenum tore his ACL against the Bruins and was lost for the year. Without him, a combination of defensive ineptitude, turnovers, and a slight decline on offense led to their first losing season since 2004. With him, they have a chance to win the conference and should dispose of a Pac-12 also-ran with relative ease.