Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fab Five: Week XI

For the second consecutive week your self-proclaimed prognosticenti posted a 5-5 mark. While we are disappointed with our showing, it did mark the fifth consecutive week we managed at least a .500 record. The tally for the year stands at 53-47. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 26-24

Florida Atlantic +17 Western Kentucky
After winning just one game last season, and going winless in the Sun Belt, the Owls from Florida Atlantic have already doubled last season's win total and captured their first conference win since early-November 2010. Very quietly this game is a matchup of the two best defenses in the Sun Belt. Western Kentucky is already bowl-eligible for the second-consecutive season and at 3-2 in league play has designs on their first championship as a IA team. While Florida Atlantic will be home for the holidays for the fourth consecutive season, they have shown improvement, boasting the second best defense in the conference. In addition, the Owls have been rather spectacular Against the Spread (ATS) in Carl Pelini's first season at the helm. The Owls have been underdogs in each of their eight games versus IA opponents. However, the Owls have covered the spread seven times in those eight games, including a perfect 4-0 mark in games as a double-digit underdog. This one will be much closer than the three-score line.

Air Force +8 San Diego State
Last week, Air Force lost to Army for the first time since 2005 and in the process lost their two-year grip on the Commander in Chief Trophy (having lost to Navy earlier in the season). The Falcons were done in by five turnovers, their most since 2010, a span of 26 games. Meanwhile, San Diego State upset Boise State on the Smurf Turf, becoming the first team to win at Boise against the Broncos since...TCU last season. However, San Diego State was slightly outgained by the Broncos in that game and the winning margin was provided on a kickoff return touchdown. Air Force is a little undervalued here and San Diego State is a little overvalued. This spread should be closer to a field goal in San Diego State's favor. Don't be surprised if the Falcons pull off the outright upset here.

Oregon State +4 Stanford
After two down years where they posted just eight combined wins, the Oregon State Beavers have returned with a vengeance. The Beavers are currently 7-1 and still control their own destiny in their quest for their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1964. The Beavers visit Stanford this week in an elimination game in the Pac-12 North. Oregon State is an outstanding 18-8 ATS as an underdog since 2009, including an impressive 4-0 this season (with three of those covers coming on the road). Meanwhile, Stanford is just 1-3 ATS this season as a home favorite, narrowly surviving as relatively large home favorites against San Jose State and Arizona. Oregon State should cover here, and could leave with an outright upset.

Louisiana-Lafayette +26.5 Florida
After covering for six consecutive games, the Florida Gators are in the midst of a two-game streak of failing to cover the spread. Could it be that those folks slow to warm up to the Gators are starting to overvalue them? The Gators are unbeaten ATS as an underdog this season, pulling three outright upsets against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and LSU. However, as a favorite, the Gators are just 3-3, with a late cover against Vanderbilt and a misleading 44-11 blowout against South Carolina. In addition, Florida is just 2-2 ATS since 2010 against mid-major foes. Meanwhile, Louisiana-Lafayette is 2-1 ATS versus BCS-conference opponents under head coach Mark Hudspeth and a robust 7-1 ATS as a road underdog. This game means nothing to Florida, so it would not surprise me to see the Gators come out very lethargic and win by about 24 points. 

Washington State +16 UCLA
UCLA is riding high off of their shocking 56-point beatdown of Arizona. Now they must travel to Pullman, Washington to face a team coming off a 43-point loss. This number is inflated a tad by both of those large margins last weekend. Washington State is actually a solid 5-2 ATS since 2010 as a double-digit home underdog. UCLA has already proven under their first-year head coach Jim Mora that they are prone to head-scratching road losses, falling 43-17 in Berkley against a mediocre at best Cal team last month. Look for the Cougars to make this one much closer than the experts think.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 27-23

Fresno State -3 Nevada
One of the more pleasant surprises in the mid-major world has to be Fresno State. In 2011, the Bulldogs posted just their second losing season since 1998 and gave long-time coach Pat Hill a pink slip. The Bulldogs brought in Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and seemed likely to return to the postseason with 14 starters back. The Bulldogs have done much more than that. They are currently 7-3 with a shot at both their first ten-win season since 2001 and their first conference title since 1999. The Bulldogs' three losses have come on the road at Oregon, Tulsa, and Boise State, teams with a combined 23-4 record! ATS, Fresno has been even better, posting an incredible 8-1 mark, including a 4-1 mark on the road and a 6-0 mark as a favorite. Meanwhile, Nevada has dropped two straight after a 6-1 start. The Wolfpack do own a win over Cal from the Pac-12, but the Golden Bears have proven to be a rather middling BCS-conference team (currently have a 3-7 record). Nevada is 0-3 ATS at home this season, and just 2-6 overall. Fresno State could be the best team in the Mountain West and is one of the strongest mid-major teams this season. This spread should be closer to a touchdown.

Oklahoma State -9 West Virginia
Has any bandwagon ever come to a screeching halt quite like the dual stagecoaches piloted by Dana Holgorsen? Six weeks into the season, West Virginia stood 5-0 and was ranked fifth in the nation. Quarterback Geno Smith had 24 touchdown passes and no interceptions and seemed ready to run away with the Heisman Trophy. Fast forward five weeks, and the Mountaineers have lost three consecutive games, with two coming at home, while being outscored by 77 points. Smith has thrown for a more modest five touchdowns and three interceptions the past three games and is no longer even in the Heisman conversation. Now the Mountaineers must travel to Stillwater to face an Oklahoma State team that is 13-7-1 ATS as a home favorite since 2009, and an even more impressive 7-1 ATS as a single digit home favorite. Oklahoma State is criminally undervalued. They actually outgained Kansas State last week and have won their last two home games by 21 and 22 points respectively. Look for more of the same against one of the worst defenses in college football.

Tennessee -3 Missouri
It's Dooley or Die time for Tennessee. The Vols have lost six consecutive SEC games dating back to last season and are just 1-12 versus conference foes since the start of 2011. If Dooley has designs on keeping his job, this is a game the Vols likely must win. The good news for Tennessee fans is that Missouri represents the softest conference competition they have faced this season. Tennessee has lost close games to Georgia, Mississippi State, and South Carolina (combined record 22-5) and been blown out by Alabama and Florida (combined record of 17-1). Missouri enters this game with a 4-5 record, and with only a single win on the road this season (at Central Florida). Tennessee is a little undervalued after their scare last week against Troy. The Trojans have a dynamic offense, while Missouri has struggled to move the ball all season, failing to generate more than 395 yards against any IA opponent. In addition, Tennessee is a solid 3-1 ATS as a single-digit home favorite under Dooley. Look for the Vols to get back on track as they outscore Missouri and win by at least a touchdown.

Virginia -1 Miami
The only underdog game I called correctly last week was Virginia against NC State. Now, I did not honestly believe the Cavaliers would win in Raleigh, but the ten-point spread was just too much to overlook. Now, after that big upset, the Cavaliers return home, knowing they must win out to make a second-consecutive postseason trip. The primary difference in last week's win and their previous quartet of ACC losses was ball security. Virginia committed just a single turnover last week against the Wolfpack after giving the ball away nine times in their previous four league games. Miami also won last week and is in the driver's seat for their first ever Coastal Divsion title. The Hurricanes beat Virginia Tech for the first time since 2008 and improved to 4-2 in the ACC. However, the Hurricanes were outgained in that game (as they have been in five of their six ACC contests). In fact, Miami has the second-worst defense in the ACC, besting only the boys from Durham in that category. Virginia has won two straight in this series and should do enough to keep their faint bowl hopes alive.

Ole Miss -3 Vanderbilt
Despite their loss at Georgia last week, Ole Miss still has a very good shot at becoming bowl-eligible in their first season of play under head coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels need only win once in their final three games, against either Vandy, LSU, or Mississippi State. Similarly, Vanderbilt just needs a single win in their final three games (Ole Miss, Tennessee, or Wake Forest) to become bowl-eligible for the second-consecutive season under James Franklin. While both these teams have enjoyed solid seasons, Ole Miss has been better ATS, posting a 6-2 mark, including a 3-1 mark at home. For his career, head coach Hugh Freeze is now 15-4 ATS (9-2 last season at Arkansas State). His team's are also 6-1 as a home favorite. Vanderbilt has been decent on the road under James Franklin (4-5 ATS), but Hugh Freeze is a hard man to go against, especially at home laying just a field goal.

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