Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Fab Five: Week VII

Well, that was rough. We had a bad week, particularly calling favorites, only nailing one correctly. The 3-7 mark was pretty disastrous, but there are still nine weeks left to make a positive change (or dig the hole deeper). The yearly mark now stands at 26-33-1. Time to get back on track. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 12-18

Rutgers +18.5 Louisville
With the American Athletic Conference in relative shambles, these next two weeks will represent the toughest test for Louisville in authoring an unbeaten season. That's not to say they couldn't stumble elsewhere (they did lose at home to Connecticut last season after all), but the next two games against Rutgers and Central Florida represent their toughest tests on paper. Louisville has not been slowed down all season, averaging over seven yards per play in each of their first five games. However, though not elite, Rutgers will be the stoutest defense they have faced all season. The Scarlet Knights have seen their offense improve under quarterback Gary Nova, who has cut down on his mistakes and hit more big plays in the passing game. Rutgers probably lacks the defensive studs to hold Louisville in check to pull off the upset, but this one should be marginally competitive.

Missouri +8 Georgia
Despite a glut of injuries, Georgia pulled out a crucial SEC road win last week to bring their conference record to a perfect 3-0. With home wins over South Carolina and LSU, the Dawgs are clearly a legit contender in the SEC. However, lost in the afterglow of their 3-0 league start is the fact that their defense has been a bit leaky. They have allowed at least 30 points to every BCS-conference team they have faced. Despite having Aaron Murray at quarterback, that is bound to catch up to them before all is said and done. Enter Missouri, a team that is quietly 5-0 with two under the radar road wins (Indiana and Vanderbilt) that were never really in doubt, and a quality home win against a solid MAC school (Toledo). Missouri may not be able to beat Georgia between the hedges (the Dawgs have won their past 15 at home), but I think they can make this one a little too close for comfort.

Florida +7 LSU
Since becoming an elite defensive team in 2012, the Gators have been money in the bank when catching points either at home or on the road. The Gators are 3-0 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog in that span and 4-0 ATS overall as a dog. In the role of a home favorite against conference foes, Les Miles and LSU are just 6-9-1 ATS since 2008. If we remove the fluky 2011 season when LSU was a covering machine, the numbers drop to 3-8-1. This one has all the makings of a close Florida win, or an LSU escape.

Utah State +7 Boise State
Last week, Utah State saw their nine-game home winning streak snapped in grisly fashion at the hands of their in-state rival BYU. The Aggies rolled up nearly 400 yards against the stout BYU defense, but were only able to muster 14 points on the scoreboard. Now the Aggies must regroup as they host Boise State in a key Mountain West conference clash. The Broncos have not won a road game this season, having lost to both Washington and Fresno State earlier in the 2013 campaign. A loss here would be a death knell for Boise's conference title hopes as they would be two games behind the Aggies in the Mountain Division, with Utah State holding the tiebreaker. These are not Kellen Moore's Boise State Broncos. In six games last season against bowl teams, Boise was just 2-4 ATS, and just 1-4 ATS in the role of a favorite. Against the only two likely bowl teams they have faced this season, Boise is 1-1 ATS, but has lost both games. This should be a tight affair that is decided in the final minutes, and seven points is simply too much to give.

Oregon State +2 Washington State
Oregon State has been one of the best road underdog plays over the past few seasons. Since 2009, they are 13-5 ATS as a road underdog with eight outright wins in the 18 games. The Beavers take their show on the road to Pullman this week to face off against a Washington State team that has won four games for only the second time since 2007. After a rough first year on the Palouse, Mike Leach has made the Cougars competitive again. In fact, for just the fourth time since 2008, the Cougars are favored in a conference game. Last week against Cal marked the first time they covered (or won as a conference favorite) since beating Jim Harbaugh's first Stanford team in 2007. The Cougars are a shade overrated, having beaten an inconsistent Southern Cal team, a young (and bad) Cal team, and no one else of note. Oregon State already owns a pair of road wins, versus Utah and San Diego State, and has an excusable loss to a solid IAA team (Eastern Washington). Mike Riley usually comes through in this role, and I expect that trend to continue here.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 14-15-1

Oklahoma -13.5 Texas (at Dallas)
Since arriving at Norman in 1999, Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners have beaten Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns in nine of the fourteen meetings, including a current three-game winning streak. Four of the nine wins by Stoops have come in blowout fashion, including the last two that have come by a combined margin of 118-38. This has the feel of one of those lopsided games. True, Oklahoma is 0-2 ATS as a large home favorite in their first two Big 12 games, but Texas is probably not as good as West Virginia or TCU. I think the Sooners roll here and potentially send Mack Brown to the unemployment line.

North Texas -6.5 Middle Tennessee State
As far as misleading final scores go, they don't come any better than the Mean Green's trip to New Orleans last week. North Texas outgained the Green Wave by more than 130 yards and averaged two more yards per play. However, Tulane returned an interception and a blocked field goal for a touchdown, yet still needed a late field goal to win. Now North Texas returns home where they are 9-2 under head coach Dan McCarney and 4-0 ATS as a home favorite. The Mean Green will turn their attention to Middle Tennessee State, a team they have played for the past twelve seasons as members of the Sun Belt conference. Middle Tennessee State is just 4-7 ATS as a road underdog since 2011, and has already lost twice in grisly fashion on the road (to North Carolina and BYU). North Texas should win by at least a touchdown here. 

Baylor -17 Kansas State
Is Baylor for real? Granted, they probably will not average 70 points for the entire season, but what they have done in their first four games is downright impressive. Dating back to their final four games of last season, the Bears have averaged 59.5 points per game, never scoring fewer than 41 in any game. Their average margin of victory has been over 35 points per game. Last season, their final four opponents all qualified for bowls, including a then unbeaten Kansas State team. Of course, things could go horribly awry in Manhattan, as they did two years ago when the Wildcats upset a Robert Griffin led Baylor team that would win ten games and set the standard for modern Baylor football. I think the Bears find the going a little tougher than normal, and maybe even play their starters deep into the second half, but a win by three touchdowns seems about right.

Michigan -1.5 Penn State
Penn State returns to Happy Valley fresh off a 20-point drubbing at the hands of...Indiana?! There's a sentence I didn't think I would ever type. The Hoosiers held the Nittany Lions to their second-lowest yardage output of the season and scored the most points they ever have against Penn State. When Penn State has played a team with a competent offense (Central Florida and Indiana), they have not been able to stop them, allowing the Knights and Hoosiers to accumulate nearly 1000 yards on over 6.8 yards per play. As long as Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner avoids too many turnovers (its a given he will thrown an interception as he has one in nine of his last ten games), the Wolverines should be able to cover this small number.

Wisconsin -10.5 Northwestern
This game screams let-down for Northwestern. One week after nearly upsetting the Buckeyes as a touchdown home underdog (before a ridiculous backdoor cover made Ohio State backers very happy), the Wildcats now head to Madison to take on a Wisconsin team that has been money ATS at home. I'm surprised the line is this high, but Wisconsin has gone 12-4 ATS as a home favorite against Big 10 teams since 2009 and is 9-1 ATS as a double-digit home favorite against Big 10 foes. I think the Wildcats have a huge hangover and the Badgers roll.

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