Fab Five: Week I
Under Chris Petersen (Boise coach since 2006), the Broncos are 7-2 Against the Spread (ATS) versus BCS conference teams. In both of their failures to cover the number they were favorites (against Washington in 2007 and in 2010 against Oregon State). As an underdog, they are one of the safest bets on the board. Sure the Broncos have lost a great deal from last year's team, but Michigan State must also replace their departing quarterback and every significant receiver. The Spartans are still solid on defense, particularly in the front seven with William Gholston and Denicos Allen returning to make plays in the backfield. I foresee a tight defensive struggle. Take the Broncos getting nearly a touchdown and enjoy what should be one of the better Friday night games of the year.
Syracuse +1.5 Northwestern
Over the past five seasons, Northwestern is just 2-7 ATS as a road favorite. Granted, with just a nine-game sample size over five seasons, this means the Wildcats are not often road favorites. One of those games was against Syracuse in 2009. The Wildcats came in as a three-point favorite and left with a three point defeat. In fact, as a road favorite against BCS conference teams, the Wildcats have covered just once in seven games (last season against an awful Indiana team). Both these teams are flawed but Syracuse is very liable to pull off the straight up upset at home.
San Diego State +14.5 Washington
Steve Sarkisian has managed quite a turnaround in Seattle, leading the Huskies to 19 wins over his three seasons as coach after the team managed just 18 wins in the preceding six seasons. His Huskies are rightly favored in this game, but San Diego State is a solid Mountain West team that improved substantially under Brady Hoke and was able to tread water despite losing Hoke to Michigan. Rocky Long has endeared himself to this blog by eschewing conventional wisdom and claiming to show some fourth down balls. We'll see if he actually goes through with that proclamation. In the meantime, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and take his Aztecs to cover here.
SMU +10 Baylor
Baylor enjoyed their best season in ages last year as they won 10 games and finished the season ranked 13th in the AP poll. Unfortunately, the three biggest reasons for that special season, quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Terrance Ganaway, and receiver Kendall Wright are gone. In addition, the Bears also had two players from the offensive line taken in April's NFL Draft (Philip Blake and Robert T Griffin). Suffice to say the offense will not average close to 600 yards per game this season. That means the defense must improve if Baylor is to attend a third-straight bowl. Unfortunately, the Bears have allowed an average of fewer than 400 yards per game just once (2008) in the past six seasons. Baylor is rightfully favored, but they should not be a double-digit favorite against a solid in-state rival with a chip on their shoulder.
Georgia Tech +7.5 Virginia Tech
In Paul Johnson's four seasons as head coach at Georgia Tech, his Yellow Jackets are just 1-3 against the Hokies. However, they are 3-1 ATS, including covers in both previous trips to Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has had a whole offseason to prepare for the peculiar and occasionally perplexing triple option attack. However, the Hokies are breaking in eight new starters on offense, including four along the offensive line. Georgia Tech's primary weakness in the past two disappointing seasons (combined 14-12 record after a 20-7 mark in 2008-2009) has been the performance (or lack thereof) from the defense. Virginia Tech should not be able to run roughshod over the Yellow Jackets. Three of the four meetings since Paul Johnson took over have been decided by seven points or fewer and I think this one will continue that trend.
Know where Michigan was ranked last preseason? They weren't. Know where they are ranked in this preseason? Number 8. Remember Texas A&M last year? Ole Miss in 2009? Clemson in 2008? The track record for teams not ranked in the preseason one year and subsequently ranked in the top-10 the next preseason is one of disappointment. Plus, challenges don't come more difficult than the defending national champions. Last season, while they did lose a game, the Alabama defense proved to be one of the more dominant in recent history. Like an atom smasher, they destroyed opposing offenses on the sub-atomic level. And head coach Nick Saban? Under his tutelage, Alabama is 8-1 ATS versus non-conference BCS opponents. Their lone failure to cover came against Florida State in 2007 (Saban's first season), meaning his charges have covered eight in a row. This one could get ugly very fast.
What's the best way to overcome the sting of a successful, but disappointing 9-4 season? Slaughtering a non-conference opponent in front of a sea of red clad partisans. Southern Miss has to replace a ton of starters and is breaking in a new coach fresh off perhaps their most successful season in school history. Lincoln, Nebraska is not the ideal place to start a season, unless you are a Cornhusker. Nebraska should roll the Golden Eagles without much trouble.
Ohio St -23 Miami (Ohio)
Meyer ball debuts in Columbus on Saturday, and while the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason this year, they should be much improved after their 6-7 finish last season. The defense should be their usual rock-solid selves and Meyer should be able to coax the offense, lead by sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller into scoring enough touchdowns to cover this large number.
Miami (Florida) -2 Boston College
At first glance, this spread seems egregiously low. Miami finished just 6-6 last season, but each of their losses were by eight points or fewer. Based on the Adjusted Pythagorean Theorem I introduced back in March, the Hurricanes should have won about six games...in the ACC (instead of the three conference wins they ended up with). Meanwhile, Boston College also finished with three conference wins, but their won/loss total was much closer to their actual performance. In a unique twist, both teams faced each other in their final game last season. Boston College ended their season on a high note winning 24-17 in Coral gables. Maybe Vegas knows something we don't about this game. And if they do, it wouldn't be the first time.
Arizona -10 Toledo
Rich Rod debuts in the desert against a dangerous MAC squad. Unfortunately for Toledo, while they should remain strong on offense with Terrance Owens under center, their defense must replace seven starters. That's bad news against a Wildcat offense lead by quarterback Matt Scott, an experienced athletic senior who red-shirted last season. This should be a high-scoring affair, with Arizona mustering just enough defensive stops to get the cover.