Fab Five: Week V
UTEP +16.5 Houston
Care to hazard a guess as to who the lone remaining unbeaten mid-major not named Boise State is? Its Houston. The Cougars are 4-0, but they have been less than impressive in winning their first four non-league games. They beat UCLA by at home, knocked off North Texas by 25 on the road, edged Louisiana Tech by one after a furious comeback, and shut-out IAA Georgia State last weekend. As always, their offense has been dynamic, averaging 536 yards per game against IA opponents. However, their defense is allowing 429 yards per game to those same foes. UTEP is far from an elite team, but the Miners have at least faced some stiff competition, losing on the road at South Florida. Houston is just 1-2 playing UTEP in El Paso since joining Conference USA. Their lone win came by three points. Houston will be lucky to leave El Paso with their unblemished record intact on Thursday.
Rice +15.5 Southern Miss
Rice is just 1-2 and likely headed to a third straight losing season. However, their opening schedule has been quite challenging. The Owls opened their season with three games against BCS conference teams. They lost to Texas and Baylor on the road, but in between those games, upset Purdue at home. Meanwhile, Southern Miss turned some heads with a win over Virginia of the ACC last week (one of the few predictions I got right). The Golden Eagles may well be the best team in Conference USA, but they are a little over-valued here. Southern Miss may well win by two touchdowns, but that won't be enough to cover.
Rutgers +3 Syracuse
Syracuse may well be the worst 3-1 team in the country. The Orange have been outgained by roughly 65 yards per game in the early going, despite playing a IAA school (Rhode Island) and a MAC team (Toledo). Each of their wins have come by 7 points or fewer (with two coming in overtime). The Orange are not very proficient at anything, save avoiding interceptions (having thrown just one all season). This game is the Big East opener for both teams and pits the Orange against a Syracuse team looking to rebound from its first losing season since 2004. The Scarlet Knights are not particularly adept at anything either, save forcing fumbles, having forced 13 in just 3 games. These teams appear pretty evenly matched, so take the team getting points in this one.
Auburn +10 South Carolina
For the first time all season, South Carolina finally covered the spread last week, beating Vanderbilt 21-3. The Gamecocks will look to make it two covers in a row and start 5-0 when they take on defending national champion Auburn. Like the Gamecocks, Auburn has only one cover under its belt on the young season, winning at home against Mississippi State as a touchdown underdog. South Carolina should win this game, but they are not to be trusted laying more than a touchdown against any SEC team not named Kentucky, Ole Miss, or Vandy.
Clemson +7 Virginia Tech
Clemson would be Exhibit A for ignoring early season close shaves with IAA schools (Oregon State would be the counterpoint). The Tigers edged Wofford by just 8 points, but since that game have beaten a pair of quality programs (Auburn and Florida State) at home. This marks the first road game for the Tigers and their fancy new offense. Virginia Tech is somewhat of an unknown, having yet to face a team from a BCS conference. The Hokies were less than impressive in each of their games against IA schools, failing to cover the spread once. This should be a tight game that is decided in the final minutes.
Colorado -3 Washington State
Since their program began cratering in 2008, the Cougars from Washington State are just 1-17 in true road games. They are a more respectable 8-10 ATS (Against the Spread) in those games, but only two of those spreads, the first game in the streak (+3 in 2008 versus Baylor) and the most last game (+6.5 versus San Diego State two weeks ago), have been below 17 points. Colorado is not a good team, but they are a different team at home. They should win this one rather handily.
Louisiana Lafayette -9.5 Florida Atlantic
Louisiana-Lafayette served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt when they knocked off Florida International last week. The Panthers were 3-0 with victories over Louisville from the Big East and UCF from Conference USA. The win was the third straight for Louisiana-Lafayette since a season-opening loss to Oklahoma State. The Ragin' Cajuns should have more than enough firepower to knock off a Florida Atlantic team that has scored just one offensive touchdown in three games.
Louisiana Tech -3.5 Hawaii
If Syracuse is the worst 3-1 team in the country, Louisiana Tech may be the best 1-3 team. The Bulldogs 3 losses have come by 2, 1, and 6 points. Those defeats have also come against likely bowl teams in Southern Miss, Houston, and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs should get their first win over a IA team when Hawaii visits Saturday. The Bulldogs have won two of the past three against Hawaii in Ruston and have covered in all three (lost by a point in 2007 as 28-point underdogs) and should win by a comfortable margin here.
Notre Dame -12 Purdue
Don't look now, but the Irish have won two in a row since their early season meltdowns against South Florida and Michigan. The Irish have even played a modicum of defense in their two wins, holding Michigan State and Pitt to an average of 313 yards and 12.5 points per game. In fact, outside of the Michigan debacle, Notre Dame has played quite well on defense. If the Irish can avoid being overly generous with the football, they should have no trouble with a bad Purdue team.
Georgia -7 Mississippi State
The Georgia Bulldogs are slowly turning their season around after an 0-2 start. In fact, they have actually outplayed both of their SEC foes, but were done in by turnovers and a great fake punt against South Carolina. Georgia should continue to fly under the radar for the remainder of the season and should be a great play ATS.