Friday, November 08, 2013

Fab Five: Week XI

A second consecutive winning week has pulled us with shouting distance of .500. Hopefully we can make this a November to remember. The overall mark is now 47-52-1. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 21-29

Houston +10.5 Central Florida
Both these former Conference USA squads control their own destiny in the inaugural American Athletic Conference race. Central Florida has received more attention nationally thanks to their upsets of Louisville and Penn State and near upset of South Carolina. Houston on the other hand, has not received any national attention despite a 7-1 start. While the Cougars have no outstanding wins, their only loss came by a single point to an underrated BYU team. These teams are much closer to each other in terms of quality than ten points. Central Florida may win and move one step closer to a BCS bowl berth, but it won't be easy.

LSU +12 Alabama
Is Alabama the best team in college football? Possibly. However, they will certainly get the benefit of the doubt from most pollsters and observers. Keep in mind though, their last four victories have come over a IAA neophyte (Georgia State) and the three worst teams in the SEC (Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee). LSU is probably the best team Alabama has faced this season, and depending on who ends up winning the SEC East, the best team the Tide will face before their bowl game. After losing to Ole Miss, LSU played Furman and then had a bye, so they should be as healthy as possible traveling to Tuscaloosa. Look for LSU to give the Tide a run for their money and potentially walk away with an outright upset.

Virginia Tech +7 Miami
After opening conference play with three consecutive wins (all within the division), the Hokies have dropped consecutive games despite allowing just 4.4 yards per play in both contests. The culprit? Quarterback Logan Thomas, who has thrown six interceptions in his the last two games. Thomas has thrown 38 interceptions in his illustrious career. Still, the Virginia Tech defense is perhaps the best in the ACC and should be able to limit the Hurricanes without star running back Duke Johnson. Against the other strong defenses they have faced, Florida and Florida State, the Hurricanes have scored just 35 points. The Hokies should be able to keep this one close, and potentially shake up the Coastal Division of the ACC, if Thomas can avoid too many mistakes.

West Virginia +7 Texas
West Virginia upset TCU last week to earn their fourth win of the season and inch closer to bowl eligibility. A loss there would have put a serious damper on their bowl hopes, as they would have been required to win out the rest of the way. This marks the third time this season West Virginia has been a home underdog. That's quite a feat considering from 2004 through 2011, the Mountaineers were home underdogs just three times! The Mountaineers are probably a little undervalued as they have yet to face the soft underbelly of the Big 12 (they finish with games against Kansas and Iowa State). Meanwhile, a public team like Texas is often overrated. While the Longhorns have won five in a row after a rough start, they are just 0-2 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road favorite this season. West Virginia should keep this one close and potentially end the Longhorn's unbeaten run through the Big 12.

BYU +7.5 Wisconsin
BYU is one of the more anonymous nearly elite teams in college football this season. After opening the season with a now inexplicable loss to Virginia, the Cougars have won six of seven with the lone loss coming at arch-rival Utah. The Cougars six wins have all come against quality opponents, including Texas, Middle Tennessee State, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston, and Boise State. Amazingly, BYU has also covered in their last eight games as a road underdog, with three outright wins. Look for the Cougars and Badgers to stage an instant classic on Saturday night.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 26-23-1

North Carolina -13.5 Virginia
After opening the season with a 19-16 upset win over BYU, Cavaliers fans had to feel pretty good about a potential bowl bid. After an expected beatdown at the hands of Oregon and a win over IAA VMI, the Cavs needed just four additional wins to qualify for a bowl game. Alas, the Cavs have not won a game since, losing six consecutive games with each defeat save one coming by double-digits. The conference losing streak has inched its way to seven in a row dating  back to last season, and Mike London's overall ACC record stands at 8-21. After this game in Chapel Hill, Virginia must travel to Miami before hosting Virginia Tech in the season finale. A 2-10 finish is certainly in play, which would mark the worst Virginia campaign since 1982. I don't have a great deal of optimism for the Cavs in this one, as North Carolina has rebounded from a 1-5 start to post consecutive wins. The Heels are 6-3 ATS as a home favorite under Larry Fedora and should be able to move up and down the field against the ACC's worst team.

Minnesota -2.5 Penn State
Penn State has proven they can endure. Despite the drama surrounding the program, the Nittany Lions are seemingly headed for another winning campaign despite the fact that there will be no bowl game awaiting them at the end of the regular season. However, the Lions have been far from dominant, particularly away from Happy Valley this season. In their two road games, Penn State lost by 20 points to Indiana and 49 points to Ohio State. They also failed to cover in their opener against Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Minnesota has quietly won seven games for the first time since 2008 and is still in contention in the Legends Division. With this spread under a field goal, take the Gophers to cover here.

Iowa -14.5 Purdue
Is Purdue the worst BCS conference team in college football? You can make a cogent argument that is the case. The Boilermakers have won just a single game all season, by six points over IAA Indiana State. All of their losses, save one, have come by at least 14 points (right around the point spread margin for this game). The Boilermakers have scored one touchdown since September ended. This spread should probably be about a field goal higher. Iowa needs one more win to get to bowl eligibility and they should have it by early Saturday afternoon.

Notre Dame -4 Pitt
Notre Dame has had an interesting season. They have several very quality wins (Michigan State, Arizona State, and Southern Cal), two understandable losses (at Michigan and home to Oklahoma), and a pair of shockingly difficult wins (Purdue and Navy). After taking on the Panthers, the Irish host perhaps the best mid-major team (BYU) and then travel west to face the new Rose Bowl favorite (Stanford). A BCS bowl bid is still in play, but the Irish probably need to win at least two of three to be in the conversation. Pitt has found the going tough in their first ACC season, ranking ahead of only NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia on the offensive side of the ball. This game will be tight for a while, but Notre Dame is too good a team to win by less than a touchdown.

Utah State -13.5 UNLV
Utah State is one win away from bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season, a feat the Aggies have not achieved since 1980. The Aggies have never played in three consecutive bowls, but that is likely to end in December of this year. The Aggies come into this game with the same record as the Rebels, but their losses have come at Utah, at Southern Cal, home versus BYU, and home versus Boise State. In their three previous conference road games, the Aggies have won all three by 95 total points, with the smallest margin of victory coming in at 28 points. UNLV has won five games for the first time since 2003, but the Rebels are not a good team by any means. I for one, hope they can get their sixth win and qualify for a bowl, but I don't think that win will come on Saturday.

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