Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fab Five: Week IX

The wheels have not yet come off the wagon, but they have loosened quite a bit. Another losing week (this time 4-6) pushes the yearly mark down to 35-44-1. Unbeknownst to me, when picking this weeks teams, I leaned heavily toward the road team. Fully nine of the ten picks are teams playing away from home. As always, proceed with caution. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 16-24

Houston +7 Rutgers
After a disappointing 5-7 season, the Houston Cougars have already matched their win total from 2012 and nearly eclipsed it before falling by a single point to BYU. Despite the loss, the Cougars still control their own destiny (as much as destiny can be controlled) in the American Athletic Conference race. The Cougars travel to New Jersey this week and attempt to eliminate Rutgers from the conference race. The Scarlet Knights already have one conference defeat and a second will relegate them to a fledgling bowl in late December. Houston may have a loss, but Against the Spread (ATS) they are unbeaten in 2012. Led by freshman quarterback John O'Korn, the Cougars have a great chance at beating the Scarlet Knights in their first ever meeting.

Georgia State +11.5 Louisiana-Monroe
The Panthers first season of IA football has been as one would expect. The Panthers are 0-7 overall, with three of the losses coming to IAA teams. However, against IA opponents, the Panthers have covered the spread each time. Of course, one of those spreads was more than 50 points against the Crimson Tide. Still, after that beating at the hands of Alabama, Georgia State has dropped their first two Sun Belt games by just a touchdown apiece. Now the Panthers look to win their first game as a IA program against a Louisiana-Monroe team that has scuffled on offense. After averaging nearly 34 points per game en route to their first ever bowl trip last season, the Warhawks are averaging just north of 17 per game this season. They beat Texas State 21-14 in their last game, but 14 of the points came via interception returns. The Warhawks may get the win here, but their offense is not prolific enough to trust them laying double-digits.

South Carolina +2.5 Missouri
For all intents and purposes, a win by Missouri on Saturday night will lock up the SEC East for the Tigers. The Tigers would have zero league losses and own the tiebreaker over their three closest competitors in the division. Hope appears lost for the Gamecocks with quarterback Connor Shaw unlikely to play. However, Dylan Thompson has been a more than capable backup in the past. Missouri is probably a little overvalued after their stomping of Florida last week, and the Gamecocks are a little undervalued, as they beat Tennessee everywhere save the scoreboard last week in a 23-21 loss. The betting public has doubted Missouri all year, but now they appear to have done a 180 and put too much faith in them. I think the Gamecocks tighten the east race with a road win on Saturday night.

San Diego State +9 Fresno State
Fresno State has a shot at a BCS bowl bid thanks to their 6-0 record and initial ranking of 17th in the BCS standings. Still, their best wins have both come at home by a single point (over Rutgers and Boise State). Fresno State has played just two road games thus far, and San Diego State represents the strongest road team they will play until the regular season finale against San Jose State. The Aztecs have rebounded from a  rough start by winning three in a row, and with a win here, could actually take control of the division race (its the West division in case you were wondering). The Aztecs are better than people give them credit for, and Fresno is probably a shade worse than people think. Look for Fresno to prevail, albeit in a high-scoring, close affair.

Vanderbilt +17.5 Texas A&M
 If you had come into the 2013 season with the idea that you would bet against Texas A&M anytime they were a favorite, you would have cleaned up on the parlay card. The Aggies have covered just once in five games as a favorite this season (against a IA team). Their defense continues to be atrocious, giving up over seven yards per play to conference foes. I don't think Vanderbilt can win in College Station, but even if the game is not close, the porous Aggie defense will leave the backdoor wide open for a cover by the Commodores.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 19-20-1

Ball State -10 Akron
The nation at-large is still sleeping on Ball State and their coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals have already won handily at Virginia and are 7-1 with a real shot at their first MAC title since 1996. Don't fret the double-digit spread, as the Cardinals have already covered twice this season as a large road favorite. Plus, while Akron has shown some fight under Terry Bowden, they are just 1-5 ATS as a home under dog. Look for Ball State to cruise here.

Tulsa -3 Tulane
The West division in Conference USA is a little upside down at the moment. Tulsa, a team that won 19 games in 2011 and 2012, is just 2-4 halfway home in 2013. However, with just one conference loss, they are still in the race for a second consecutive league title. Meanwhile, Tulane is the early leader in the division with a 3-0 record and five wins overall for the first time in a decade. However, while the Green Wave have been winning, they have been doing it with smoke and mirrors. The Green Wave were outgained by nearly 400 yards in their past two games against North Texas and East Carolina, but won thanks to three non-offensive touchdowns, some clutch kicking (made six of eight field goals), and some not so clutch kicking by their opponents (made four of eight field goals). Tulsa appears to be the better team, and if they can avoid falling on their own swords, they should win by at least a touchdown here.

North Texas -10.5 Southern Miss
The losing streak for the Golden Eagles now stands at 18 games. To put that number in perspective, Southern Miss lost 19 games in Larry Fedora's four seasons as head coach. The Eagles don't differentiate in who they lose to either. They have lost to teams from big conferences (Arkansas, Louisville, and Nebraska), teams from the Sun Belt (Western Kentucky and Texas State), mid-major powerhouses (Boise State), and of course, teams from their own conference (the streak in league play stands at a more respectable ten games). Southern Miss has one of the worst offenses in the land, averaging just a shade over 12 points per game on the season, and should be blown out by one of the best teams in Conference USA.

Buffalo -1 Kent State
If this was 2012, when Kent State enjoyed their dream season, Kent State might be a solid play here. However, the Golden Flashes have not played as well in their encore performance. They have beaten just two teams, Liberty (IAA) and Western Michigan, that have won exactly zero games against IA opponents. They host a Buffalo team that has won five in a row after a rough start that included games at Ohio State and Baylor. Buffalo currently boasts the best defense in the MAC, and should be favored by at least a field goal in this game.

South Alabama -1.5 Texas State
I'll say this for the Jaguars of South Alabama, they have played exciting games in 2013. Five of their six games have been decided by seven points or less, with two being decided by a single point, and one by just two points. After winning just twice in their inaugural IA season (and just once against a IA team), the Jaguars have three wins and could threaten bowl eligibility. Similarly, Texas State has enjoyed moderate success in their second season of IA football, winning four times in seven games after going just 4-8 in 2012. In the early going, South Alabama has the best offense in the Sun Belt and should be able to make hay against Texas State in San Marcos.

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