Friday, September 27, 2013

Fab Five: Week V

Well, we finally broke through. Despite a push and backdoor cover that didn't go out way, Week IV still ended with your humble narrator going 6-4-1, our first winning week on the season. The yearly mark now stands at 18-21-1. We'll seek to end September on another positive note. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-3
Overall: 8-12

Wake Forest +29 Clemson
Full disclosure, I am a Wake Forest alum. However, I have never let my allegiances get in the way of an objective pick, and for this week, I think the Demon Deacons are one of the biggest locks on the board. Let's start with a breakdown of the Clemson Tigers. Despite ranking third in the nation in the latest AP poll, their highest ranking since 1988, the Tigers have not been terribly impressive in the early going. True, they did manage to knock off Georgia at home, but in that game, the Tigers averaged just over six yards per play, while allowing nearly eight yards per snap. In their next two games, against South Carolina State and NC State, they averaged just 5.4 yards per play. Last season, Clemson averaged under five and a half yards per play just twice, against Virginia Tech and in the bowl against LSU. Plus, anyone that watched last Thursday's win over NC State understands that quarterback Tajh Boyd struggles mightily when under pressure. Wake Forest does not have a very good offense, but their defense, particularly defensive linemen Nikita Whitlock and Zach Thompson, should pressure Tajh Boyd and make him uncomfortable. With their offensive deficiencies, Wake Forest has almost no chance to win this game, but should be able to stay within about two touchdowns of the Tigers.

Akron +14.5 Bowling Green
Sooner or later, the tide has to turn for Terry Bowden and the Akron Zips right? After going 0-4 in one-score games last season en route to a 1-11 finish, the Zips have lost a tight contest each of the past two weeks. The first came against a Big 10 power (Michigan) and the second came against a likely Sun Belt bowl team (Louisiana-Lafayette). While the Zips lost both games, gamblers will be delighted to know that they did cover the number in both. In fact, under Bowden, the Zips are 6-1 Against the Spread (ATS) as a double-digit road underdog, or precisely the position they find themselves in on Saturday. Akron has been highly competitive the past two weeks, and I expect that trend to continue against one of the front-runners in the MAC East.

South Alabama +18.5 Tennessee
Last time Tennessee faced a Sun Belt opponent at home, the bludgeoned Western Kentucky by 32 points. However, the Hilltoppers committed an absurd seven turnovers in that game that allowed Tennessee to win handily. Yardage wise, the Hilltoppers actually slightly outgained the Vols and nearly met their average in yards per play. Plus, despite the fact that the Jaguars are in just their fifth season of college football, and just their second at the IA level, they appear to be pretty good. South Alabama did beat that same Western Kentucky team two weeks ago. In fact, since joining IA last season, the Jaguars are a robust 4-1 ATS as a double-digit road underdog. In fact, they covered in both situations as an underdog versus BCS-conference teams last year, holding their own against both NC State and Mississippi State. I don't expect the Jaguars to win here, but Tennessee has enough issues for this to be about a two-touchdown margin. 

West Virginia +18.5 Oklahoma State
Last week, West Virginia was shut out for the first time since 2001, when Virginia Tech whitewashed them 35-0, and held without an offensive touchdown for the first time since the second game of the 2008 season. While the offense struggled to move the ball against the Terrapins, the defense remained stout as it has been for the majority of the season. The Mountaineers held Maryland to 330 yards (225 below their average output coming in) and 4.58 yards per play (over three yards below below their average output coming in). The Mountaineers were done in by six turnovers, including four lost fumbles. It is very hard to win any game with that many giveaways. West Virginia has only been a home underdog twice since the beginning of the 2006 season, and a double-digit underdog just once. Last season, Oklahoma came to Morgantown as an eleven-point favorite and won by just a single point. Expect more of the same when another team from that state travels east to face the Mountaineers this week. 

Southern Cal +5 Arizona State
Lane Kiffin has had moderate success at Southern Cal. The Trojans own a 28-14 record under his watch, but compared to expectations, they have disappointed. ATS, they have also disappointed, managing just a 17-25 mark as far as those in Vegas are concerned. However, one area where Lane Kiffin has been money in the bank, aside from his choice in spouses, is as a road underdog. The Trojans have been road underdogs five times under Kiffin, and are 4-1 ATS in such situations, including three outright wins. Since losing to Washington State at home, the public has been down on the Trojans. Take advantage of the public's lack of understanding here as the Trojans have a great opportunity to leave Tempe with an upset win.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-1-1
Overall: 10-9-1

North Carolina -12 East Carolina
The Tar Heels will attempt to move to 2-0 against Conference USA teams on Saturday when they host the Pirates of East Carolina. Three weeks ago, the Tar Heels hosted the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee and covered as an eighteen-point favorite, winning 40-20. Now they take on an East Carolina team that has already challenged one ACC team, losing 15-10 two weeks ago at home against Virginia Tech. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this game is the venue. North Carolina is 3-1 ATS under head coach Larry Fedora as a double-digit home favorite and 3-0 ATS in home games versus teams from non-BCS conferences. Meanwhile, East Carolina is just 1-6 ATS under Ruffin McNeill as a double-digit road underdog. Plus, while the Pirates are 3-1 ATS against BCS conference opponents at home, they are 0-4 ATS in such games on the road. Look for the Tar Heels to win this game by at least two touchdowns.

Northern Illinois -3.5 Purdue
The Huskies from Dekalb, Illinois have gotten off to a 3-0 start, but it certainly has not been easy. They knocked off Iowa, of the Big 10, by a field goal in the opener. Then after a week off, they traveled to Idaho where they fell behind early, before rallying to beat the hapless Vandals. Then last week in their home opener, they fell behind once again to Eastern Illinois, a team that already owns a victory over a IA school, but again rallied to win. Eastern Illinois, despite their IAA status is a quality team, so I wouldn't read a great deal into the struggles displayed by the Huskies last week. Despite their close loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago, Purdue is simply not a good team. The Huskies should win here by at least a touchdown.

Oklahoma -3.5 Notre Dame
Last season, the Irish waltzed into Norman as a nearly two-touchdown underdog and knocked off the Sooners 30-13. The loss was Oklahoma's second home loss on the season and third in their past eight home games. Considering they did not lose a home game in any season beginning in 2006 and continuing through 2010, that was quite a feat. Now the Sooners travel to South Bend where Notre Dame is an underdog for just the third time under Brian Kelly. Both previous times happened in 2010, first against Stanford, and then against an overrated Utah team. The Irish were not competitive against the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal, but they managed to upset the Utes. Contrary to usual circumstances, Oklahoma is probably a little underrated heading into this game. The Sooners own non-competitive wins over solid mid-majors (Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa) and a two-score victory over an average at worse West Virginia team. Notre Dame has a home win over a putrid Temple team, a road loss against a perhaps less than spectacular Michigan team, a home win over a definite less than spectacular Purdue team, and an official-aided home win over Michigan State. Count on the Sooners winning this game by at least a touchdown.  

Iowa -1 Minnesota
Both these teams played curious games last week. Minnesota defeated San Jose State by the seemingly comfortable final score of 43-24, yet somehow the Spartans averaged nearly five more yards per play (9.35 to 4.37). Three forced turnovers and nearly 50% more plays accounted for their margin of victory. Meanwhile, Iowa beat Western Michigan 59-3, the most points they have scored since dropping the double-nickel on...Minnesota in the regular season finale in 2008. Iowa scored four non-offensive touchdowns in the win last week, with a pair of interception returns by BJ Lowery and a pair of punt returns by Kevonte Martin-Manley accounting for nearly half their scoring. Still, Iowa has been much more proficient on offense in 2013, averaging over 130 more yards per game than they did in 2012. After losing consecutive games to the Gophers in 2010 and 2011, the Hawkeyes should hang on to the Floyd of Rosedale for a second year in a row.

Wyoming -10.5 Texas State
One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 college football season thus far, at least outside of the BCS conferences, is the play of the Wyoming Cowboys. After going 4-8 last season and averaging under five and a half yards per play, including just 5.18 in Mountain West play, the 'Pokes have been downright explosive in 2013. They are currently averaging 6.83 yards per play and 556 yards per game. The previous high for yards per play and per game under Dave Christensen 5.52 in 2011 and 389 yards in 2012. Quarterback Brett Smith has thrown for 13 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 300 yards, providing a dual-threat under center for the Cowboys. The Cowboys are also unblemished ATS against IA opponents, after blitzing Air Force by 33 points on the road last week. Texas State is in just their second year of IA football and does not look to be able to hang with one of the Mountain West's best teams even though the game is in San Marcos.

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