Friday, September 20, 2013

Fab Five: Week IV

Week III was another ho-hum effort for your humble prognosticator. The season is slowly slipping away, so the picks better start improving. Last week, one of the games we picked was postponed so the final tally was 4-5. This week, we'll pick eleven games, adding an extra underdog pick to make up for the postponed Fresno State/Colorado grudge match. The overall mark is now 12-17. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 1-3
Overall: 5-9

Boise State +4 Fresno State
The Broncos have faded from the national conscience after their opening smackdown at the hands of the Washington Huskies. The nation at-large is not used to seeing the Broncos be handled so easily, especially by, what for the last decade, has been a middling at best Pac-12 outfit. The good news for degenerates is that the Broncos may now be an undervalued asset. Consider these facts. The Broncos have not lost to Fresno State since 2005, and have beaten them by at least ten points in every game since. Along with Utah State, these are likely the two best teams in the Mountain West and a rematch could well be on the horizon in the inaugural Mountain West Championship Game. Doubt Boise State at your own risk.

Kansas State +6 Texas
Since losing the 2009 BCS National Championship Game to Alabama, Texas has gone just 23-18. To put those 18 losses into context, consider that Mack Brown lost just 27 games in his first 12 seasons as the head coach at Texas and just 19 in the ten-season span from 2000-2009. However, living in the more recent past, the Longhorns are just 7-11 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home favorite since 2010 and just 3-8 as a home favorite against teams from BCS conferences. Kansas State has won five straight in this series and stands a great chance to make it six in a row on Saturday.

Michigan State +6 Notre Dame
While the opponent was Youngstown State (IAA), it had to be comforting for Michigan State fans to see that their offense could score against somebody. The offense scored seven touchdowns against the Penguins, or one more than they had accounted for in the previous four games dating back to last season (all Spartan wins amazingly). I doubt if they will drop the double-nickel on Notre Dame, but the Spartans should be strong enough defensively to keep this one close.

Central Michigan +13 Toledo
Last week the Chippewas squandered a great chance at a non-conference road win, blowing a 21-0 lead while losing at UNLV 31-21. The Chippewas will look to rebound against a Toledo team that has played their share of heavyweights thus far in 2013. The Rockets have two losses against SEC teams on their resume (Florida and Missouri) and a home win over a IAA darling (Eastern Washington). However, Toledo is just 2-6 ATS as a favorite under current head coach Matt Campbell and 0-2 ATS as a road favorite. The Rockets have the firepower to win a shootout, but this one should stay within two touchdowns.

Utah +7 BYU
Utah may have dropped their Pac-12 opener to Oregon State last week, in one of the more entertaining game of the weekend I might add, but the early returns on the offense coordinated by Dennis Erickson have to be encouraging. In their first two seasons in the Pac-12, the Utes played 18 conference games. Not once did they gain over 500 yards of offense or average more than seven yards per play. They did both against the Beavers. Quarterback Travis Wilson already has as many touchdown passes (7) as he had all of last season. Wilson also leads the team in rushing with 244 yards. This week, the Utes will travel to Provo for the Holy War with BYU. Despite their recent offensive struggles, the Utes have actually won the last three in this series and four of the past five, winning outright the past two seasons as underdogs. BYU gashed Texas two weeks ago as the faithful in Austin begin to bang the drum slowly for Mack Brown. However, while the Cougars looked impressive on the ground, their quarterback, Taysom Hill, is pretty much the college version of the pro version of Tim Tebow (make sense?). Hill has rushed for over 300 yards, but has completed just a third of his passes through two games! With such an antiquated offense, it will be tough for BYU to cover the touchdown line here.

San Jose State +4 Minnesota
As far an non-conference games between teams that haven't played in over twenty years go, this one is pretty intriguing. Minnesota will look to begin 4-0 for the second consecutive year. By all accounts, San Jose State will be the toughest team they have faced thus far in 2013. Their other three wins have come over teams with a combined single win over a IA opponent. But hey, if it gets you to a bowl. Like BYU, Minnesota has been effective despite an inaccurate quarterback. Philip Nelson has completed just over half his passes, but he has accounted for over 200 yards on the ground (in fact he is the Gophers leading rusher). San Jose State will attempt to spring the outright upset and claim their first win over a team from a BCS conference since 2006. San Jose State is 11-5 ATS since 2010 as a road underdog and is actually 14-2 ATS in their past 16 games against IA teams.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 7-8

Pitt -4 Duke
Is there a more underrated team in the nation than the Pitt Panthers? I could not believe the opening line in this game was under a touchdown. Pitt has played two games this season, one against a team that is appears to be very good, and another against a team that appears to be quite bad. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Panthers have suffered one blowout defeat and have achieved one blowout win. Duke opened the season 2-0 before reality reared its ugly head last week in a 24-point home loss to Georgia Tech. Pitt should have no trouble in Durham, and despite the fact that the Devils are more competitive under Cutcliffe, they are just 4-6 ATS as a single-digit underdog under his guidance. This should be one of the more lopsided contests of the weekend. Come Sunday, you'll be amazed the line was ever this low.

Virginia Tech -8 Marshall
The Hokies failed to cover last week on the road as just over a touchdown favorite against a contender in Conference USA. Now they return to Blacksburg to take on another Conference USA school, this time as a similar favorite. And once again, I think the Hokies are the pick. Marshall has an explosive offense, scoring at least 30 points in each of their three contests in 2013. However, Virginia Tech may have one of the best defenses in the nation. The Alabama offense last seen laying waste to Texas A&M could barely muster 200 yards against the Hokies. Virginia Tech is a healthy 4-1 ATS in homes games against teams outside of a BCS conference. The Hokies will humble the Herd and cover this number.

Ball State -10.5 Eastern Michigan
Remember the name Pete Lembo. He may be coaching your favorite BCS conference team next year. If you hail him as a Messiah, you might be right. The man did get his start in Bethlehem after all. All right, enough sacrilege for one week. Under Lembo, the Cardinals have amassed a 17-11 mark in a shade over two season. They have beaten three teams from BCS conferences, including two victories over in-state big brother Indiana. Now they open conference play against what appears to be a hapless Eastern Michigan team. The Eagles have won eleven games in four plus seasons under Ron English, and own just eight wins over IA teams! The Eagles are just 5-10 ATS as a home underdog under English and an even worse 2-6 ATS as a double-digit underdog. Ball State should have no problem romping to a victory in their first conference game of 2013.

Rutgers -1.5 Arkansas
The cakewalk portion of the season is over for Bret Bielema and Arkansas. While the Hogs avoided any monumental upsets, they were not thoroughly impressive in their wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, or Southern Miss (teams with zero combined IA wins). A trip to New Jersey to face Rutgers could be just what they need as they prepare for a brutal SEC slate. Arkansas is a poor 1-5 ATS as a road underdog since 2011 and should have a hard time containing what has morphed into an explosive Rutgers offense. Look for the Knights to take this game and cover the small number.

Missouri -1.5 Indiana
Believe it or not, these two midwestern neighbors separated by just a single state (Illinois) have not played each other since 1992. However, from 1985 through 1992, they played eight times with the Hoosiers winning six times and the teams tying twice. In fact, Missouri has not beaten Indiana since 1953 (also the last time they won at Indiana). Times are a little different now than they were in the late 1980's and early 90's. For starters, Missouri has a competent football program. After going on an extended bowl drought from 1984 through 1996, the Tigers have actually played in ten bowls over the past 16 seasons, and had a seven year bowl streak snapped last season. Now the shoe is on the other foot as it were. Indiana has played in just one bowl game since 1993, and has not won a bowl game since 1991. But enough about history. Missouri is a solid 6-3 ATS as a road favorite since 2008 and Indiana is just 1-3 ATS as a single-digit home underdog under Kevin Wilson. Take the Tigers to cover this small number.

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