Thursday, October 03, 2013

Fab Five: Week VI

Despite a great start in the early games, we couldn't manage a second consecutive winning week. Still, 5-5 beats how we were handicapping early in the year. The yearly mark now stands at 23-26-1. Time to start October with a strong week. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 10-15

Utah +6 UCLA
With the turmoil at Southern Cal, this game looms large in the Pac-12 South race. Thanks to not having played a conference game yet, UCLA is the only team in the South without a blemish on their league mark. The North as a whole has gone 5-0 against the South, so while Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State all have a conference defeat, they are still very much in the running with no division losses. Utah has been vastly improved on offense this season, averaging over six and a half yards per play in their three games against IA teams. The Utes averaged just 4.8 yards per play in such games last season. UCLA is also humming on offense, averaging nearly 53 points per game through their first three contests. However, keep in mind those teams rank 110th (Nebraska), 118th (Nevada), and 123rd (New Mexico State) in terms of yards per play allowed on defense. Utah will represent their most significant challenge thus far in 2013 and should be one of the more entertaining Thursday night affairs.

Iowa +1 Michigan State
To me, this Iowa team seems to have a great deal in common with some of the best of the Kirk Ferentz era. For starters, there is the early season non-conference loss which has happened quite often to some pretty good Iowa teams. The Hawkeyes also appear to have their running game back where they want it, and a quarterback who can make defenses pay. Couple that with a division that is imminently winnable, and despite playing just one conference game, you could talk yourself into the Hawkeyes as a veritable Rose Bowl participant. First things first though, the Hawkeyes need to take care of business in Iowa City against a Michigan State team with big time issues on offense. The Spartans have not scored more than two offensive touchdowns against a IA opponent since early November of last season, a span of six games. While the Spartans have one of the best defenses in IA football, Iowa is no slouch on that side of the ball either. I expect this game to be very low-scoring, but I can't fathom how Michigan State is favored on the road against a team as solid as Iowa.

Illinois +10 Nebraska
Both Big 10 squads enter the game with identical 3-1 records, but the mood around each program could not be more different.  For the fourth time in six seasons under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has a blemish on its resume before conference play begins. The Huskers dropped a home game to UCLA three weeks ago as they blew a 21-3 lead. Meanwhile, after winning just a pair of games last season, Illinois has looked good in the early going, with a blowout win over Cincinnati and a competitive loss to a pretty good Washington team dotting the ledger. By all accounts, this should be a shootout in Lincoln. Both these teams are averaging and allowing over six yards per play. Nebraska is just 4-6 Against the Spread (ATS) since 2011 as a double-digit home favorite, so they are far from a sure thing, even playing in front of the Big Red faithful.

Ball State +5 Virginia
I've mentioned Pete Lembo before in this space, and he continues to do great things in Muncie, Indiana. After winning nine games last season, Lembo has the Cardinals at 4-1 early in 2013. After traveling to Charlottesville, the Cardinals return to MAC action for their final six, and with two wins banked, they look to be the top contender to Northern Illinois in the MAC West. How do the Cardinals stack up against the Cavaliers? Well, these teams could not be more different. Ball State has averaged at least six yards per play in each of their games against IA foes. Meanwhile, Virginia has averaged under three and a half yards per play in their three games against IA foes. The Cavs have been stout defensively, holding each team they have played save Oregon to under four yards per play and no more than 16 points per game. Virginia has enough size and speed on defense to keep the prolific Ball State offense in check, but unless they force a plethora of turnovers, the offense won't be able to lap the Cardinals. Ball State has a history of beating BCS conference teams under Lembo, going 3-3 straight up and 4-2 ATS in such games. And wouldn't you know it, Virginia has two home losses to non-BCS conference teams. The Cavs lost to Southern Miss in 2011 and Louisiana Tech last season. Altogether, the Cavs are just 1-3 ATS against non-BCS conference teams. Look for Ball State to pull the outright upset here.

Missouri +1 Vanderbilt
After a disappointing debut in the SEC, Missouri appears to be competent this season. While the Tigers don't own a marquee win in their 4-0 non-conference start, they did win comfortably on the road against a solid Indiana team and also own a pair of home wins over mid-majors that will likely be in the postseason (Arkansas State and Toledo). Quarterback James Franklin has already thrown for nine touchdowns, after throwing for just ten in an injury plagued 2012 campaign. The Tigers seek to open SEC play with a win as they travel to Nashville. The Commodores have romped over three over-matched opponents (Austin Peay, Massachusetts, and UAB) and lost relatively close games to Ole Miss and South Carolina. This game starts a rough patch for the Commodores as they have a bye before facing Georgia, Texas A&M, and Florida in the ensuing four weeks. Despite their struggles last season, the Tigers were actually 3-2 ATS as a road underdog and are 6-3 in such a role since 2011. Look for Missouri to continue their winning ways before traveling to Georgia next week.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 13-11-1

East Carolina -7.5 Middle Tennessee State
East Carolina has been featured twice in this space, and I have been wrong on them both times. May as well make it three for three right? Last week, the Pirates strolled into Chapel Hill and put 55 on the board against the Tar Heels. For comparison's sake, Middle Tennessee lost in the same venue a few weeks ago by 20 points. East Carolina has proven their mettle against a pair of ACC teams, including one team that may have the best defense in the nation (Virginia Tech). Look for the Pirates to win by at least two scores here. 

South Carolina -21 Kentucky
Fresh off a scare at Central Florida, the Gamecocks return to the friendly confines of Williams Brice, a place where they are nigh-unbeatable as of late. Since 2010, the year they first became a factor in the SEC East, the Gamecocks are 13-2 at home against teams from BCS conferences, and are 9-5 ATS as a double-digit home favorite. Last time here, the Gamecocks crushed Kentucky 54-3. Kentucky has played one good game all season, against a pitiful Miami of Ohio outfit and are 2-7 the past two seasons as a double-digit road underdog. Look for the Gamecocks to roll here.

Oklahoma State -13.5 Kansas State
There has never been a better time to buy yourself some Oklahoma State stock. Going halfway across the country to face a team more dangerous than the nation gave it credit for, Oklahoma State stumbled. Now they return home where they are 50-16 under head coach Mike Gundy. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, they have also been solid plays as a home favorite, posting a 7-3 ATS mark as a double-digit home favorite and a 12-4-1 ATS mark overall as home chalk. Kansas State is a dangerous team, but not nearly the national player they were last season. Look for the Cowboys to get healthy and return to their winning ways.

Florida -11 Arkansas
I know the Gators are just 2-6 ATS in their last six games as home favorites, but I think the public has turned against Florida and artificially deflated this line. Consider that each of Florida's wins this season have come by at least 14 points and their offense and defense are actually playing better than they were last season. In addition, Arkansas is probably getting a little too much love for hanging with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M last week. The Razorbacks hung 33 on the Aggies, but should find the going much tougher against one of the best defenses in the nation. Look for Florida to win this one by about two touchdowns.

Central Florida -9.5 Memphis
These two teams have met for the past eight seasons as Conference USA opponents, and this represents their first game as American Athletic Conferences foes. Central Florida gave the Gamecocks from the SEC all they could handle last week before falling 28-25. Now they travel to Memphis, a venue where they have beaten the Tigers in their last four trips. In their first two forays to Memphis, they won by just two and seven points respectively, but in their last two appearances, they have won by a combined 38 points, including an 18-point win last season. The Knights (and perhaps the other Knights up north) are the only real threats to Louisville in the conference. Look for them to remain focused despite their setback last week, as a BCS bid is still on the table.

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