Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fab Five: Week XII

After going ten weeks without a single push, we pushed twice on Saturday. On the whole though, it was a reasonably successful week, as I finished 5-3-2. The yearly mark is now 58-50-2. Perhaps most impressively, your humble prognosticator has now posted six consecutive non-losing weeks. Let's see if we can grab lucky number seven this week. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-1-1
Overall: 29-25-1

Rutgers +6.5 Cincinnati
This tilt that may involve the eventual Big East champion has lost a bit of its luster over the last month as both of these teams have lost non-conference games to MAC opponents. Cincinnati lost at Toledo a little less than a month ago, while Rutgers lost the following week at home to Kent State. This game appears to be a clash of strengths. Cincinnati boasts one of the top offenses in the Big East (currently third behind Louisville and Syracuse), but on defense they rate ahead of only Temple. Meanwhile, Rutgers is below average on offense, but can lay claim to having the number one defense in the conference. This game will also mark the end of an Against the Spread (ATS) run for one of these teams. Rutgers is 2-0 as a road underdog this season, with outright wins at both South Florida and Arkansas earlier this year. Meanwhile, Cincinnati has covered in each of their three games as a home favorite (versus Pitt, Miami of Ohio, and Syracuse). Rutgers is a bit limited on offense, but against team's without great defenses, the Scarlet Knights have been able to move the ball (over 500 yards against Arkansas and over 400 yards against South Florida). Cincinnati may win this game and ease back into the league race, but Rutgers should match them step-for-step and keep this one close.

Northwestern +7 Michigan State
Northwestern has been oh, so close to becoming a contender in the Legends Division this season. They had a 12-point fourth quarter lead at home against Nebraska before falling by a single point, and then last week owned a late field goal lead against Michigan before this great catch near the end of regulation that resulted in an OT loss:
If the Wildcats can hang on in either or both of those games, they are in the hunt for the Rose Bowl. As it stands, they are still bowl-eligible and have a shot to put a damper on the bowl designs of Michigan State. The Spartans are just 5-5 despite a strong defensive showing, thanks mostly to their general ineptness at offensive football. The Spartans have lost three games where they have allowed fewer than 20 points and have averaged just 18.8 points per game in Big 10 play. In addition, the Spartans are 0-5 ATS as a home favorite this season and just 4-7 ATS as a home conference favorite since 2009. Meanwhile, Northwestern is a solid 7-4 ATS as a road conference underdog since 2009. This one should be low-scoring and decided in the final minutes. Don't be surprised if Northwestern does enough to pull off the outright upset.

Indiana +18 Penn State
Indiana is your consummate underrated underdog this week (CUU for short). The Hoosiers were embarrassed at home last week by Wisconsin 62-14 in a game where they were only a touchdown underdog. However, the Badgers have had Indiana's number the last three seasons. Including last week, the Hoosiers have lost to the Badgers by an average score of 14-68. And how have the Hoosiers done in their previous two road trips following the shellackings by Wisconsin? They have covered both times, winning outright as a field goal underdog at Purdue in 2010, and losing by 21 as a 23-point underdog to Iowa last season. In fact, if you limit your view to this season, Indiana has been very competitive. They are 4-2 ATS as an underdog and 2-1 ATS as a road underdog. Indiana will almost certainly lose this game, but I think the margin will be about two touchdowns.

Kansas +6 Iowa State
Is this the week? Can Kansas finally get their first conference win under the legendary (in his own mind) Charlie Weis and break an incredible 19-game conference losing streak? That's right, Kansas has not won a Big 12 game since beating Colorado with an avalanche of 35 fourth quarter points on November 6th, 2010. Since going 4-4 versus the Big 12 in 2008, Kansas is now just 2-30 in their last 32 conference games. That, my friends, is futility. However, Kansas has been reasonably competitive ATS during that span. Last season they were 2-2 ATS as a home dog versus Big 12 opponents, including nearly upsetting Baylor and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin. This season, Kansas has covered in each of their three games as a home underdog against Big 12 opponents, losing by 14 to TCU, by just six to Oklahoma State, and by four to Texas. The Jayhawks were also competitive last week on the road at Texas Tech, losing in OT by seven. Meanwhile Iowa State enters this game needing just one more win to qualify for their second consecutive bowl and third in the four-year tenure of Paul Rhoads. While Iowa State has won four Big 12 road games during his time in Ames, the Cyclones have only been road favorites against a Big 12 opponent once! They ended up losing that game by 20 points, and missed out on a bowl because of it. Iowa State is fighting for their bowl lives, but Kansas has been particularly feisty at home and has actually gained more yards and allowed fewer yards than the Cyclones in Big 12 play. Look for the long losing streak to end Saturday in Lawrence.

Syracuse +4 Missouri
Both these teams enter this late-season non-conference clash with 5-5 records. The winner will be bowl-eligible, and the loser will have just one more opportunity to qualify for a bowl game. Syracuse concludes their season with a visit to Temple, while Missouri finishes up with a road trip to Texas A&M. Thus, it would stand to reason that the Tigers need this game much more than the Orange. The Orange have quietly rebounded from a 1-3 start, and actually still have a remote (very remote) chance to walk away with the conference's Orange Bowl bid in their final season in the Big East. The Orange have moved the ball quite effectively of late, topping 500 yards of total offense thrice in the last four games behind senior quarterback Ryan Nassib and a pair of senior receivers in Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon. Conversely, Missouri has had trouble moving the ball all season, with their best offensive performance of the year coming last week against a pitiful Tennessee defense. Missouri is hardly a lock as a home favorite, going just 5-8 ATS since 2009 in that particular role. Look for this game to be very tight and don't be surprised if Syracuse leaves with an outright upset. 

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-2-1
Overall: 29-25-1

Florida Atlantic -1.5 Florida International
Back in August, most Sun Belt aficionados (all four of them), probably would have pegged this spread to be Florida International -14 or so. And for good reason. The Panthers were coming off an 8-5 season and were prohibitive Sun Belt favorites. Their head coach, somewhat of a hot commodity in the offseason, had decided to remain in Miami and the future looked bright. Meanwhile, the Owls were coming off a 1-11 season and were bringing in a new, first-time head coach. Flash forward three months, and the Panthers are looking up at the Owls in the league standings. The Panthers won their first Sun Belt, and just their second overall, game two weeks ago against South Alabama. The Panthers have not fared much better ATS either. They are just 4-6 ATS overall and 1-5 ATS as a single-digit underdog. While the Owls have won just three times on the year themselves, they have been money against the spread, covering in eight consecutive games and going 8-1 ATS versus IA competition this year, including a perfect 2-0 ATS at home. Since both teams joined the Sun Belt in 2005, the Owls have won and covered in five of seven games. Look for that trend to continue here. This spread should be closer to a touchdown.

Tulsa -2 Central Florida
In a week that features exactly zero clashes between top-10 teams and just two tilts between teams ranked in the top-25, this undercard deserves your attention. Plus it kicks off at Noon. So while the SEC is challenging themselves with some IAA squads, turn your attention to Conference USA. Both these teams enter the game with matching 6-0 conference marks, and the winner will clinch their respective division and earn a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game. While the loser will still likely qualify for the title game, the winner here will be assured of hosting a potential rematch on December 1st. Not only are both schools 6-0 in  league play, they are also both 8-2 overall with the losses coming to BCS-conference opponents. Central Florida lost a relatively close game at undefeated Ohio State 31-16 and blew their chance for a program-defining win by losing at home to Missouri 21-16. Meanwhile Tulsa lost at Iowa State to open the season 38-23 and then fell at Arkansas two weeks ago 19-15. Both these teams are the best Conference USA has to offer this season. Tulsa is a little bit better on offense, while Central Florida is a little bit better on defense. Tulsa has a sterling home record under second-year head coach Bill Blankenship, losing only to Oklahoma State and Houston last season (two teams that combined for a 25-2 record). This one should be tight throughout, but the Golden Hurricane should manage to win by at least a field goal.

Utah State -3 Louisiana Tech
While this may be the final season for the WAC as a football conference, the league has certainly not gone gentle into that good night. The league has three strong teams, with Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, and Utah State combining for a 25-5 mark. While Louisiana Tech has gotten the love from the pollsters (ranked 19th in the current AP Poll), one can make a plausible argument that Utah State is actually the better, and more complete team. There is no argument that the Aggies have the better defense. Over the course of the season, they have allowed two thousand (that's right 2000!) fewer yards than the Bulldogs. They have also held their own on offense too, averaging 6.65 yards per play (to Louisiana Tech's stellar 6.67). The Aggies are also on a stellar ATS streak, posting an 8-0-1 mark against IA competition this season, including a near-perfect 4-0-1 mark on the road. Louisiana Tech has not been as strong against the number, posting a 5-4-1 mark ATS and just a 1-2-1 mark at home. Utah State is one of the more underrated teams in the country and should win this one by about a touchdown and continue their great ATS streak.

Georgia Tech -13.5 Duke
The Duke Blue Devils are 6-4 and eligible for their first bowl game since 1994. They are a great story, but they are not a good team. If we remove games against Florida International, Memphis, and NC Central, the Blue Devils have been outscored by about 14.3 points per game. And here's a newsflash, the Blue Devils play in the ACC. Outside of Florida State and Clemson, the ACC is very weak. In their last six games, the Blue Devils have allowed an average of 513 yards per game! That's not great news going on the road against an offense as prolific as Georgia Tech's. Duke is just 2-4 ATS as an underdog this season and an even weaker 1-3 ATS as a road underdog. Georgia Tech certainly has issues on defense themselves, but they should do enough to exorcize the Blue Devils by at least two touchdowns.

Wisconsin -3 Ohio State
Time to start a new streak. In their last home game, Wisconsin fell to Michigan State, their first home loss since October 17th, 2009 versus Iowa, snapping a 21-game home winning streak. The Badgers took out some of their anger on Indiana last week, crushing the Hoosiers 62-14. Now they get a chance to ruin Ohio State's dreams of an unbeaten season. While the Buckeyes have won all ten of their games, they have certainly not always looked great. They managed to sneak by an average at best Cal team at home by seven, won at Michigan State by a point, won at Indiana by three, and needed overtime to escape Purdue at home. Still, 10-0 is 10-0, even if it comes within the confines of the Big 10. Can the Buckeyes continue their run of success and leave Camp Randall Stadium victorious as they did in Terrelle Pryor's third career start in 2008?  Well, since that loss to Iowa nearly over three years ago, Wisconsin has gone a stellar 12-6 ATS as a home favorite. The Badgers should be amped for this game after their heartbreaking loss to the Buckeyes a year ago (if you don't know about it, just check out the Watch ESPN commercial with the guy leaving the convenience store). Michigan State was able to beat the Badgers by shutting down their offense. Ohio State does not have that kind of defense (case in point, they gave up 49 points to Indiana). Look for Wisconsin to win by about a touchdown.

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