Fab Five: Week V
Northwestern is one of just two postseason eligible Big 10 teams to have survived the first four weeks of the season unscathed. The Wildcats also own three victories against fellow BCS conference schools (Syracuse, Vanderbilt, and Boston College). The conference has just five total with the other two coming courtesy of Ohio State (versus Cal) and Minnesota (also against Syracuse). With just two more victories, the Wildcats will have themselves bowl eligible for the sixth straight season and should be in line for the fifth consecutive bowl appearance. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's consider a few things. Since 2007, Northwestern is just 3-6 Against the Spread (ATS) as a double-digit favorite. They are also just 1-3 ATS in their past four games against the Hoosiers. Northwestern should remain undefeated, but this one will be decided by about a touchdown.
The Houston Cougars are one of the biggest disappointments of the 2012 college football season. After winning 12 games, and finishing in the top-20 of the final polls last season, the Cougars began 2012 by losing as an over 30-point home favorite against IA neophyte Texas State. They followed that up with a competitive home tilt versus Louisiana Tech and were then crushed in Los Angeles by UCLA. Rice is 1-3 on the young season, but they do own a road upset of Kansas and were nearly able to even their record last week in an overtime loss to Marshall. Make no mistake, this game should see its fair share of points. Rice is currently averaging 471 yards and 34.3 points per game, figures that rank in the top third of college football. However, they are allowing 546 yards and 45.8 points per game, figures that rank second to last and dead last in college football respectively. However, Houston is allowing 536 yards and 41 points per game themselves. Playing at home, where they have actually beaten Houston the past two meetings (and lost by a point in the third), and getting more than a field goal, makes Rice the play here.
Penn St +1 Illinois
Despite a rough start that included a home loss to Ohio and a road loss at Virginia (thanks to one of the worst place-kicking efforts you will ever see in modern college football), the Nittany Lions have righted the ship. Granted, their two wins have come against Navy and Temple, but for a team with nothing to play for, wins are wins. Senior quarterback Matthew McGloin has improved under the tutelage of Bill O'Brien. After completing just north of 54% of his passes in his first three seasons on campus, McGloin has upped his completion percentage to 59.3%. He has also avoided mistakes, tossing just two interceptions in 140 passes. If McGloin and Company can minimize their mistakes, they should eke out a road conference win over an Illinois team seemingly desperate to channel their former coach Ron Zook by their helter-skelter play.
The Roadrunners from San Antonio have yet to lose a game as a IA team. Of course, they have only played one game against a fellow IA team, defeating fellow noob South Alabama 33-31 in the season's first weekend.Their other three wins have come against Texas A&M Commerce, Georgia State, and Northwestern Oklahoma State. Now they return to IA action in their first conference game. New Mexico State opened the year with a fine performance against IAA Sacramento State, but have lost three straight to fellow mid-majors ranging from good (Ohio), to not so good (UTEP), to laughing stock (New Mexico). New Mexico State should be favored over perhaps one other IA team (Massachusetts). Look for the Roadrunners to remain unbeaten here.
This spread seems backwards to me. Arkansas State has been uncompetitive in their two games versus BCS conference teams, allowing 50 first half points to Oregon and losing by four touchdowns at Nebraska. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky notched a victory against one of the BCS conference teams they faced, upsetting in-state rival Kentucky two weeks ago. They followed that up with a resounding home beatdown of a Southern Miss team that appears to be on a crash course to its first losing season since 1993. Arkansas State is 15-4 since 2007 against Sun Belt opponents in Jonesboro. Look for that trend to continue here.
Nebraska -11 Wisconsin
This game is significant for the Badgers as it marks the first time they have been betting underdogs in a regular season game since they were road underdogs at Iowa in 2010, a stretch of 20 games (they were underdogs in both Rose Bowls in that span--versus TCU and Oregon). The Wisconsin offense has gone from being Batman in The Dark Knight, to Batman in the early part of The Dark Knight Rises.
mustelidae that bludgeoned Big 10 teams while averaging over 44 points per game last season have been reduced to a domesticated ferret. The Badgers have been held below last season's points per game average in every contest, and were held to a single offensive touchdown against both Oregon State and Utah State. In fact, in their lone road trip thus far, the Badgers managed just north of 200 yards of offense. Nebraska has hardly proven themselves to be elite, but they should win comfortably against this incarnation of Wisconsin.
Nevada -20 Texas State
With the early season offensive struggles on the blue turf in Boise, coupled with the fact that the Wolfpack face the Broncos in Reno, Nevada could be on their way to a Mountain West title. However, this week, they step outside the league to take on a Texas State team playing just its fourth game as a IA program. Since 2008, Nevada has been a solid play as a double-digit favorite, going 13-8 ATS against teams the oddsmakers expected them to crush. The Wolfpack have scored at least 31 in each game this season and are fresh off a 69-ing of Hawaii on the islands. Outside of their opening shocker against Houston, Texas State has allowed 58 points to Texas Tech (understandable) and 37 to IAA Stephen F Austin (not as understandable). Nevada should have their way with Texas State and hopefully the second half lead will be big enough so degenerates don't have to worry about a backdoor cover.
Louisiana Tech -3 Virginia
Is Louisiana Tech the best mid-major team in 2012? I'm not not ready to crown them yet, but they certainly do appear to have the best offense. The Bulldogs scored 52 points last week at Illinois, and it represented their lowest output of the young season. In their first two games, the Bulldogs put up an identical 56 points in wins over Houston and Rice. Perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs showed a little defensive prowess in holding the Illini to just 324 total yards. Virginia has dropped two straight by large margins after beginning the season with wins over Richmond and Penn State. The Cavaliers are playing at home, but are just 3-6 ATS in their last nine home games against non-conference foes. Look for the Bulldogs to continue their stellar early-season play.
San Jose State -2.5 Navy
Just two years removed from an ugly 1-12 campaign that included a five-point win over a IAA school as the lone highlight, San Jose State has a solid shot at getting to a bowl game in 2012. Mike MacIntyre, former defensive coordinator of the Duke Blue Devils, took on another unenviable task when he took the San Jose State job and could be a coach of the year candidate if more people would pay attention to what he is doing. You'll remember, the Spartans gave Stanford its toughest challenge thus far on the opening Friday night of the college football season, losing just 20-17. The Spartans now face a tricky road test against Navy, a team they upset last season. The Midshipmen got well last week against VMI, but in their first two games against IA opponents, they allowed Notre Dame and Penn State to rack up more than seven yards per offensive snap! A spread of a touchdown or so would give me pause here, but the Spartans are an amazing 13-4 ATS over their last 17 games and should continue their remarkable run against a porous Navy defense.
Cal -1.5 Arizona State
The Arizona State Sun Devils are a touch over-valued in this position coming off a 30-point blitzing of Utah in Tempe. Meanwhile, Cal returns home after back-to-back road losses to Ohio State and Southern Cal. The Golden Bears played well in the loss at Columbus, and not so well in the loss to an angry Trojans team in Los Angeles. Cal is a very strong home team and should be able to win this one by at least a field goal.