Friday, November 22, 2013

Fab Five: Week XIII

A fourth consecutive winning week has inched us ever closer to the .500 mark. The yearly mark is still a disappointing 58-60-2, but at least we can see a .500 finish. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 26-33-1

Navy +2.5 San Jose State
After winning eleven games last season and finishing in the top-25 of the AP Poll, San Jose State has struggled in their much anticipated follow up. The Spartans began the season 1-3, but rallied to win four straight and move within a game of bowl eligibility. However, they are currently riding a two-game skid, that culminated last week in a loss to lowly Nevada. Outside of San Jose State, the Wolfpack have beaten UC Davis (IAA), Air Force (2-8 record), and Hawaii (0-10 record). Now the Spartans must win one of their final two games to become bowl eligible. Their finale comes against Fresno State, so on paper, Navy represents their best opportunity. The Academy is bowl eligible once again and after clashing with the Spartans get a three-week vacation before their annual showdown with Army. Navy is 11-3 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog since 2010 and San Jose State is just 2-6 ATS in the role of home favorite since 2011. Take the Midshipmen to cover here, and potentially pull the outright upset.

Wake Forest +5 Duke
Full disclosure, I am a Wake Forest alum. However, I am pretty unbiased when it comes to handicapping my team. That being said, under head coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest is an incredible 21-3 at home against teams from the state of North Carolina. Even if we remove the games against IAA competition and East Carolina, and focus solely on the other three ACC schools (Duke, North Carolina, and NC State), the Deacons are 14-3 at home under Grobe. Last season was the first time Wake had lost to Duke since 1999. The Blue Devils are rightly favored, but I think they are a little overvalued after their home upset over Miami last week. The Deacons have a solid defense, particularly when they are not facing Clemson or Florida State. On Senior Day in Winston-Salem, the Deacs keep it close.

Nebraska +1.5 Penn State
Nebraska pretty much squandered whatever miniscule chance they had of winning their first conference title since 1999 with their five turnover masterpiece last week (I say miniscule because we all know they would get ground into oblivion by Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship Game). Still, despite their best effort to hand the game to Michigan State, the Cornhuskers only lost by 13 while gaining the most yards (392) and averaging the most yards per play (6.13) the vaunted Michigan State defense has conceded this season. Penn State has won all three of their home conference games this season, but two of those contests came against Purdue and Illinois, a pair that has combined for zero Big 10 wins in 2013. Despite the drama surrounding the program and coach Bo Pelini, Nebraska should leave State College with an outright win.

Michigan +6 Iowa
Michigan finally scored a touchdown last week in their road upset of Northwestern, but not in regulation. The Wolverines knotted the game at nine on the final play of the fourth quarter and managed two touchdowns in three overtime possessions to knock off the Wildcats. The offense still has serious issues, but the defense, as it has for most of the season, should keep the Wolverines in most games. Iowa has returned to the postseason conversation one season after a 4-8 disappointment. With the homefield advantage, the Hawkeyes may well win this game, but laying nearly a touchdown is too much here.

Texas A&M +4.5 LSU
Texas AM is in a unique position on Saturday, playing as a road underdog for just the second time with Johnny Manziel under center. The only other time the Aggies were a road underdog? The memorable upset of Alabama last season. Manziel has continued his spectacular offensive performance, averaging over 10 yards per pass attempt and accounting for 39 touchdowns through ten games. Unfortunately, the Aggies have real issues on defense, ranking ahead of only Kentucky and Arkansas in the SEC in yards per play allowed. This should be one of the more entertaining games on Saturday and I like the Aggies to cover, particularly when paired against a coach with a checkered history of spread covering.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 32-27-1

Missouri -2.5 Ole Miss
For whatever reason, maybe its the fact that they bombed their SEC debut last season, or the fact that they are not necessarily a national 'brand', the public at-large seems to still be sleeping on Missouri. Let me fill you in. The Tigers are 9-1. They have road victories against Indiana (17 points), Vanderbilt (by 23 points), Georgia (by 15 points), and Kentucky (by 31 points). They have home wins over Florida (by 19 points) and Tennessee (by 28 points), as well as victories over solid mid-majors Toledo (by 15 points) and Arkansas State (by 22 points). They are really, really good, and perhaps a shade underrated at eight in the latest AP Poll. Ole Miss has won four straight, including an upset over LSU a month ago, but Missouri should probably be favored by about a touchdown in this one. Take the Tigers to cover here and set up a huge home showdown with Texas A&M next week.

SMU -4.5 South Florida
In a story as old as time itself, SMU has rebounded from a poor non-conference showing to contend for a bowl game. From 2009 to 2012, the Mustangs went just 5-11 in regular season non-conference action, putting them squarely behind the eight ball in terms of qualifying for a bowl game. In that same time span, they went 22-10 in Conference USA play, and participated in a bowl game each season. This year, the Mustangs again stumbled out of the gate, finishing 1-3 with the lone win coming by a single point over Montana State (IAA). Once again they have rebounded and stand 3-2 in league play in the American Athletic Conference, with the losses coming to Rutgers and Cincinnati by just three points apiece. Barring a barrage of turnovers, its hard to picture SMU losing to a South Florida team that has scored exactly three offensive touchdowns in five conference games. SMU should be able to win this one by at least a touchdown and get their fifth win of the season.

BYU -1 Notre Dame
The two best independents of 2013 square off in one of the more intriguing matchups of the thirteenth week of the college football season. These two met last season in a game Notre Dame won by a 17-14 final score. In fact, the Cougars have not won at historic Notre Dame stadium since 1994. Notre Dame has experienced a rather interesting season, losing to a terribly mediocre Pitt team and permitting 41 points to a Michigan team that has now become allergic to the end zone. The Irish have also beaten Michigan State (the Spartan's lone loss), Arizona State (one of two losses by the Sun Devils), and Southern Cal (the Trojans lone loss under Ed Orgeron). BYU is road-tested in 2013, traveling to Virginia, Utah State, Houston, and Wisconsin in their third season as an independent barnstormer. The Cougars are vastly underrated by the public, perhaps because they don't play all their home games on NBC. Take the Cougars to cover this small number and put a serious dent in Notre Dame's postseason resume.

Mississippi State -1.5 Arkansas
Since Bobby Petrino fell off his motorcycle, Arkansas has gone just 7-15 (after going 18-4 in their final 22 games under ol' loose pants). Against teams from BCS conferences, which includes all their SEC games and two non-conference clashes with Rutgers, Arkansas is just 2-14 sans Petrino with the wins coming against a pair of winless SEC stalwarts in 2012 (Auburn and Kentucky). Only three of those 14 defeats have been decided by a touchdown or less. Mississippi State is far from an elite team, but all six of their losses have come to teams currently ranked in the top-18 of the most recent AP Poll. In fact, Mississippi State has not lost to a team that failed to qualify for a bowl in Dan Mullen's entire tenure! Arkansas is playing at home, but with this spread under a field goal, the Bulldogs are a solid play here.

Western Kentucky -4 Texas State
If you just look at the raw numbers, Bobby Petrino is doing a fine job at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are averaging nearly 30 points per game, the best numbers in their brief history as a IA program. However, turnovers have prevented the Hilltoppers from being a serious contender in the Sun Belt. The Hilltoppers have committed 28 turnovers on the year, bested only by Hawaii and Southern Miss. By comparison, the Hilltoppers have a 6-4 record while Hawaii and Southern Miss are a combined 0-20. In their four losses, the Hilltoppers have turned the ball over 16 times (four per game) and in their six victories just 12 times (two per game). If the Hilltoppers don't shoot themselves in the foot (too badly), they should leave San Marcos with their seventh win and have a chance to set the school record for wins at the IA level next week against Arkansas State.

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