Friday, November 15, 2013

Fab Five: Week XII

Three consecutive weeks of finishing in the black! Get excited! The yearly mark is still a disappointing 52-56-2, but at least now we have a chance at getting back to .500. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 2-2-1
Overall: 23-31-1

Washington +2.5 UCLA
Both these teams endured rough back-to-back games a month or so ago. They both faced Stanford and Oregon in rapid succession. Both dropped the pair of games and disappeared from the national consciousness. Washington also faced a third strong team, taking on the Sun Devils in Tempe following their Stanford/Oregon gauntlet. The Huskies have quietly rebounded, beating the dregs of the Pac-12 (Cal and Colorado), while the Bruins have also won consecutive games against Colorado and Arizona. Thanks to their minor upset over the Wildcats last week, the Bruins are a tad overvalued here. Look for the Huskies to go to the Rose Bowl and leave with an upset win.

Michigan +3 Northwestern
Both these teams would probably love to flash back to early October. Both were 4-0 at that point in the season and were ranked in the top-20. Since that day, Northwestern has dropped five consecutive Big 10 games, with the last three coming by a combined 13 points. The penultimate loss came in overtime at Iowa and the most recent came in gut-wrenching fashion on a Hail Mary at the gun to Nebraska. Michigan has fared only marginally better, losing three of five and rushing for -69 yards in their past two games. Typically, the Wolverines are a very public team, but with their highly publicized offensive failures the past two weeks, the betting public has abandoned ship. I'll say this, Northwestern is not in nearly the same class defensively as the Spartans and Cornhuskers, the most recent Michigan opponents. I like the Wolverines to leave Evanston with an outright upset.

North Carolina +1 Pitt
The Tar Heels have won three straight games after a 1-5 start, and with Old Dominion and Duke left on the schedule, could conceivably end the regular season on a six-game winning streak. After facing their three strongest division opponents in their first three conference games, the Tar Heels have feasted against Boston College, NC State, and Virginia, winning those three games by an average of 21 points. Meanwhile, Pitt strengthened their bowl chances with a home upset of Notre Dame last week. The Panthers allowed nearly three more yards per play to the Irish, but finished plus three in the turnover department en route to the seven-point win. I don't want to say this game is like stealing, and nothing is ever certain, but the line for this game should probably be about five point in the other direction. Look for the Tar Heels to win their fourth straight on Saturday.

South Alabama +7.5 Navy
The Jaguars from South Alabama have won three games in just their second season of IA football (and just their fifth season overall). Plus, they have been wildly entertaining. Only one of their eight games, a 38-21 win over Kent State has been decided by more than a touchdown. The Jaguars travel to Navy and face a team needing just one more win to qualify for a bowl for the tenth time in eleven seasons. Navy is typically solid as a home underdog, but in the role of home favorite, they have struggled in recent years. They are just 4-9 Against the Spread (ATS) in that situation since 2010. Meanwhile, South Alabama is a healthy 7-3 ATS in the role of road underdog. Look for the Jaguars to play yet another close game against the Academy. 

TCU +10.5 Kansas State
For the Horned Frogs, their second year of big boy football has been even worse than their first. After a disappointing 7-6 mark last season, the Horned Frogs are just 4-6 in 2013, and must win their final two games against Kansas State and Baylor to even qualify for a bowl. TCU has failed to cover in five consecutive games and is just 2-3 in that span despite being favored in four of the contests. So now is the perfect time to take them as a big underdog. TCU still plays defense quite well, limiting Big 12 opponents to just 4.75 yards per play. Their offense is still mistake prone and inept, but I think the Horned Frogs can keep this one within a touchdown even in the Little Apple.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 29-25-1

Miami -3 Duke
Can you imagine what this spread would have been if this game were played two weeks ago? I'll refresh your memory of the situation. The Hurricanes were 7-0 and ranked in the top-10. They lost as a huge underdog to Florida State, and then fell at home as a moderate favorite to an undervalued Virginia Tech team. Miami is still a quality team, though certainly not top-10 material. Their defense has serious issues, but the offense is still among the best in the ACC. The Hurricanes have failed to cover the number in their past four outings, three times as a favorite, proving they were overvalued. However, I think the market correction has turned too far and there is value in the Hurricanes this week. Though Duke has seven wins, their lone scalp of significance came when Virginia Tech (and more specifically quarterback Logan Thomas) absolutely imploded and handed them the game. Miami will move the ball with ease and while allowing the Blue Devils their own share of big plays, should win a shootout by at least a touchdown.

Oklahoma State -3 Texas
Texas is rarely a home underdog. In fact, the last time the oddsmakers favored them to fall at home was in 2011 against...Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were about a touchdown favorite, and beat the Longhorns by 12. In fact, the Cowboys have won their past two trips to Austin, covering as a five-point favorite during the Texas debacle that was the 2010 season. In an odd twist, the Cowboys are powered by their defense, ranking second in the Big 12, behind an even more surprising Baylor. The Cowboys host the Bears next week, so they could be looking ahead, but with one conference loss already on the docket, I'm guessing they are focused here. Look for the Cowboys to win by at least a touchdown here.

Colorado State -6.5 New Mexico
Colorado State has positioned themselves for a bowl bid in just their second season under Jim McElwain. Last week, they won their fifth game, the most wins for the program since 2008. With New Mexico and Air Force still on the schedule, the Rams could get to seven regular season wins. Last week running back Kapri Bibbs rushed for 312 yards in a 38-17 win over Nevada. Bibbs has topped 100 yards on the ground in three of the last four games, as the JUCO transfer has over 1100 yards rushing on the season. He should be licking his chops against a New Mexico defense that allows over six yards per rush. New Mexico should be able to score enough to keep this game competitive for a while, but their defense is too soft to keep this one within a touchdown.

Memphis -1.5 South Florida
This battle of low-wattage offenses could be won by the first team to score ten points. South Florida is averaging just over 15 points per game and has been held to single digits twice in their eight games. Memphis has fared a little better, averaging just over 20 points per game while never failing to score fewer than 14 points. South Florida has won two conference games and is actually 2-2 in league play, but they have managed just two offensive touchdowns in their four conference games. Memphis has a solid defense and should be able to win a tight, low-scoring affair.

San Jose State -7.5 Nevada
Nevada has struggled in their first season without hall of fame head coach Chris Ault. The Wolfpack have already clinched a spot at home for the holidays for the first time since 2004. The defense is among the worst in the Mountain West (ahead of only New Mexico), and the offense is also below average. The ground game that had averaged over 200 yards per game and at least 4.9 yards per carry for the past six seasons is currently at 176 per game and 3.8 per rush. San Jose State has fallen a bit as well, but the Spartans need just a single win to clinch bowl eligibility The only losses in conference play have come to Utah State and San Diego State, two of the stronger teams in the Mountain West. San Jose State is actually 6-0 ATS as a road favorite since last season and should be able to win this one by double-digits in Reno.

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