Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fab Five: Week XIV

That is five straight winning weeks for your humble prognosticator. Time to plan a trip to Vegas. And we are now above .500 for the first time all year. The yearly mark is now 65-63-2. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 29-35-1

Mississippi State +4.5 Ole Miss
Mississippi State will be fighting for their bowl lives on Thanksgiving night, needing a victory over their in-state rivals to secure a fourth consecutive bowl bid for the Bulldogs. Ole Miss will be in uncharted territory in this game, having not played on the road since October 5th, a span of seven games and eight weeks! Mississippi State has not lost an Egg Bowl at home since Eli Manning patrolled the Ole Miss sidelines in 2003. The Rebels are a little overvalued here and this spread should probably be closer to a pick 'em. Take the Bulldogs to cover and potentially win outright here.

SMU +9.5 Houston
Houston has rebounded from their disappointing 5-7 2012 campaign to post seven wins in 2013. However, after beginning the year 7-1, the Cougars have dropped three consecutive games and have fallen out of contention in the American Athletic Conference. While the three straight losses have come by a total of 19 points, the Cougars have been significantly outplayed in each. The Cougars have been outgained on average by over 150 yards per game in those contests and have averaged just 3.98 yards per play while allowing 5.67. The Cougars have stayed in each of those three games because they won the turnover battle (+1 margin in each game), their opponents missed kicks (five out of nine in field goal attempts), and they scored a defensive touchdown. SMU is a quality conference opponent that has covered in their previous three road games and still needs one more win for bowl eligibility. Look for the Mustangs to keep this one close and potentially send Houston on a four game skid.

Notre Dame +15 Stanford
With Oregon's loss last week, Stanford has now been assured a spot in the third annual Pac-12 Championship Game. Looking to defend the crown they won last season, and appear in their fourth consecutive BCS bowl berth, the Cardinal must first tangle with a Notre Dame team looking to win nine regular season games in consecutive years for the first time since the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Notre Dame is 4-2 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog under Brian Kelly and Stanford is just 4-7 ATS as a home favorite since Andrew Luck left town. More than two touchdowns is too much for Stanford to lay against a quality team like Notre Dame.

Clemson +5 South Carolina
Can South Carolina do something unprecedented and win five consecutive games against their in-state rivals? In eight games against Clemson, the Gamecocks under Steve Spurrier have won five times, including four in a row. To put that number in perspective, from 1987 through 2004, the Gamecocks beat the Tigers five times. Can the Tigers reverse that trend and 'legitimize' their third consecutive season of double-digit wins? In their past four clashes with the Gamecocks, Clemson has averaged just 248 yards per game and 4.10 yards per play. For those expecting this trend to continue, keep in mind this South Carolina defense is much more susceptible to coverage break downs and big plays than their predecessors. While they still have perhaps the most talented and most feared college player, South Carolina is far from invulnerable on the defensive side of the ball. I think the Tigers and Gamecocks stage a tight battle in Columbia that is decided by a field goal.

South Florida +27 Central Florida
Six years ago, South Florida climbed as high as second in the polls. Just two seasons ago, the Bulls were 4-0 and ranked in the top-20. Now they are just 3-17 in their last 20 games. They have managed just three offensive touchdowns in their six American Athletic Conference games to date and nine offensive touchdowns on the season. They have not scored a rushing touchdown since September! And yet, they are a solid play this week. For starters, despite their poor record, the Bulls have actually been solid ATS this season as a road underdog, covering against both Michigan State and Houston. The Bulls do not pose much of a threat to win this game, but nearly four touchdowns is a lot to lay. 

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 36-28-1

Toledo -7.5 Akron
Toledo is one of the better four-loss teams in the country. Their defeats have come on the road against Florida, Missouri, and Ball State with a home loss to Northern Illinois thrown in for good measure. In their other road games, they beat Central Michigan by 21 and upset Bowling Green. Their opponent, Akron, has won four games in 2013 after winning just three combined from 2010 through 2012. In addition, their three conference wins match their total from 2009 through 2012. However, Akron has feasted on the dregs of the conference, beating Kent State, Massachusetts,and Miami, three teams that have combined for a 5-29 record. Toledo should be favored in the game by double-digits, and that is what I expect them to win by.

Northwestern -3.5 Illinois
Back in early October, the Northwestern Wildcats were 4-0, and ranked 16th in the nation. They hosted Ohio State, and were in the game until the very end. However that game beget a seven-game skid that will cause the Wildcats to miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2007. During the streak, Northwestern has four defeats by eight points or fewer, with three of the game not being decided until the final play. For gamblers though, the Wildcats streak could be their ticket to easy street. How else to explain how a truly competent Northwestern team is favored by less than a touchdown against an Illinois team that won its first Big 10 game in over two years last week against...Purdue. Illinois has one of the worst defenses, not just in the Big 10, but in the nation. Northwestern has not reached the 30-point plateau since their 4-1 start, but they should get back to that number in a relatively easy win against the Illini.

Missouri -4 Texas A&M
Despite yet another quality road win, Missouri continues to be one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Tigers have now won road games against Indiana, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Ole Miss, with each victory coming by at least two touchdowns. If not for a blown lead and missed kick against South Carolina, the Tigers would be playing for huge stakes this week. As it is, the Tigers remain a potential national title contender should they win out and either Florida State or Ohio State suffer a defeat. Missouri is 3-1-1 ATS as a home favorite this season, while Texas A&M has yet to cover in either of their three road games on the year. Take the Tigers to win by at least a touchdown here and play for their first SEC title next week.

Tennessee -3.5 Kentucky
These are strange times for Tennessee football. The Volunteers are just 3-20 over the past three seasons in SEC play. The good news for the Vols is that their season concludes against a team that has lost 15 consecutive games in the SEC. In those 15 losses, the Wildcats have not come closer than five points against any opponent. Tennessee has not been a road favorite since the last time they traveled to Lexington, where they lost 10-7 as a six-point favorite in what ended up being the beginning of the end for the Derek Dooley era. A loss here would not be quite as damning for Butch Jones as this is only his first season as the head coach, but a fifth consecutive loss after upsetting South Carolina would not be the way most would have envisioned the season playing out. Take Tennessee to win by at least a touchdown here and develop a little optimism for 2014.

Baylor -11.5 TCU
The Baylor bandwagon and national championship talk came to a screeching halt last week in Stillwater. After scoring at least 40 points in 13 consecutive games dating back to last season, the Bears were held to a mere 17 points by the Cowboys. However, keep in mind winning in Stillwater is a tough task for any team. The Cowboys have only lost once in their last 18 home games. Baylor will again face one of the better defenses on their schedule when they travel to Fort Worth to take on the disappointing Horned Frogs. TCU held the Bears to just 21 points in an upset win at Waco last season, the Bears only loss at home since the beginning of the 2011 season. However, TCU has real issues on offense and has struggled to move the ball in 2013. That is not a recipe for beating Baylor. The Bears are unlikely to lose two fumbles inside the red zone as they did last week, plus the pressure of an unbeaten season is no longer hanging over their heads. Look for Baylor to get back on track and stay in contention for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

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