Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fab Five: Week VII

Week VI was one of my better performances. I went 7-3 overall (4-1 picking dogs) to run my year-to-date record to 34-25-1. Methinks this week will be much more humbling. As we are now knee-deep in conference play, there just aren't that many lines that I am a huge fan of. But in the interest of serving you the reader, I will take a crack at giving you some winners this week. As always, home teams are in bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 15-15
Wisconsin +7 Penn State
I got burned last week taking the Badgers, but alas I am a glutton for punishment. To reiterate what I said last week, Wisconsin is not an elite team, but then neither is Penn State. When they aren't playing Florida International, Notre Dame, or Buffalo, the Nittany Lions have trouble putting the ball in the endzone (5 touchdowns, 18.7 points per game in conference play). The culprit? Famed Statistically Speaking whipping boy, Anthony Morelli. In Big 10 games, Morelli has completed 54 of 100 passes (54%) for 700 yards (7 yards per pass) with only two touchdowns and five interceptions. Of course, Wisconsin's defense has not come close to matching the performance of last year's unit.The table to the right helps illustrate this point. Wisconsin is worse, much worse, in every defensive statistic this season. So why are they the pick here? They are getting 7 points and they have the better quarterback. In his first season as a starter, Tyler Donovan has avoided turnovers (only 5 interceptions) while averaging over 8 yards per pass.

Colorado +5.5 Kansas State
Two weeks ago these teams were on top of the world as they knocked off the two Big 12 South heavyweights, Texas and Oklahoma. Colorado continued their solid play last week in knocking off Baylor on the road, while Kansas State fell to their arch rival Kansas in a 30-24 thriller. If Colorado manages to win this game, they will be 3-0 in Big 12 play with only two conference road games left. The Wildcats though will do their best to make sure that doesn't come to pass. Once again Kansas State lives by their special teams. They rank 1st in the nation in punt return average, 33rd in kickoff return average, and 5th in net punting. Those three facets make up for their pedestrian offense and defense. Since scoring 6 points against Florida State, Colorado has scored 112 points over their last 3 games. Part of the reason for the improvement? Quarterback Cody Hawkins. In the first 3 games Cody completed 53.5% of his passes, averaged 5.27 yards per pass, threw four touchdowns and four interception. Over the last 3 games he has completed 63% of his passes, averaged 8.57 yards per pass, thrown six touchdowns and five interceptions. The interceptions are up, but Cody has improved in every other facet of his game. This bodes well for his dad's team.

Missouri +10.5 Oklahoma
Missouri showed the nation, or at least those who stayed tuned in, that this may finally be the year they win the Big 12 North when they thrashed Nebraska 41-6 on Saturday. Of course, Kansas and Colorado still have a say in the matter, but for now, the Tigers are riding high. Win here, and the faithful can begin whispering about a possible national title. A win in Norman could also vault quarterback Chase Daniel into the Heismann discussion. Of course, a win certainly will not be easy to come by, but do the Tigers have a chance to pull off the upset? I think so. After bludgeoning their first 4 opponents by a combined score of 246-47, Oklahoma has been very mortal in Big 12 play. They outscored Colorado and Texas by a mere 4 points, while being upset by the Buffs. The culprit? Schedule. North Texas and Utah State are a combined 0-11. Miami, a decent team, is certainly not the dynamo they were just a few short years ago. Tulsa is 3-2, but the only good team they have beaten is BYU. All things considered, Missouri is probably the best team Oklahoma has played all season. Missouri probably won't win, but expect them to cover the double digit spread.

Duke +13.5 Virginia Tech
The Hokies were mighty impressive in dispatching of Clemson in Death Valley last week. Or were they? Virginia Tech won by 18 despite gaining only 219 yards and 9 first downs. The Hokies had 3 returns (kickoff, punt, and interception) for touchdowns and were +3 in turnover margin. Special teams and defense are Virginia Tech's calling card, but expecting performances like this week in and week out is foolish. Virginia Tech's offense is still very much a work in progress (just 13 offensive touchdowns in 6 games) and amazingly, the argument can be made that Thaddeus Lewis is the best quarterback Virginia Tech has faced thus far. Since stinking up the joint against Connecticut and Virgina (48.3% completion rate, 4.91 yards per pass, 2 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions) Lewis has been great (60.9% completion rate, 9.07 yards per pass, 13 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions). Duke won't win, but this one will be interesting.

Bowling Green +2 Miami (Ohio)
Both the Falcons and Redhawks come into this game undefeated in conference play and the winner instantly becomes the favorite in the MAC East. Miami's 3 wins have come by 1, 3, and 7 points. The offense has been bad, averaging only 16 points per game. Bowling Green on the other hand, has a pretty dynamic offense (32.4 points per game) and of they don't turn the ball over like they did last week (6 interceptions against Boston College), they should win outright.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 19-10-1
Miami (Florida) -2.5 Georgia Tech
After an atrocious first half against North Carolina where they trailed 27-0, the Hurricanes nearly came all the way back before falling 33-27. Quarterback Kyle Wright made some big plays (a 97 yard touchdown pass), but also made too many mistakes (4 interceptions). As long as Wright avoids any huge mistakes (not a given) this game will come down to a battle of strengths. Miami limits teams to only 2.90 yards per rush, and Georgia Tech will try their best to pound Tashard Choice and put the offense in manageable 2nd and 3rd downs. If the Hurricanes shut down Choice, the burden will move to quarterback Taylor Bennett, coming off his best game as a starter against a team not named Samford. With the exception of last week and the game against Samford, Bennett has been pretty bad, completing only 53.1% of his passes (under 50% in 3 games) and throwing only two touchdowns all year. Look for the Hurricanes to win an ugly defensive battle.

Tennessee -7 Mississippi State
At the halfway point of the 2007 season, Mississippi State has a 4-2 record and may become bowl eligible in Sylvester Croom's 4th season. However, that does not change the fact that the Bulldog offense is atrocious. Their quarterbacks, Michael Henig, Josh Riddell, and Wesley Carroll, have combined to complete only 50% of their passes, while averaging only 5.4 yards on those passes. They have also thrown just 3 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. If the season had played out the way most pundits had predicted, the Bulldogs would be 3-3. The one game they 'stole' early on was against Auburn. In that game, the Tigers turned the ball over 5 times and still only lost by 5. Tennessee's offense has not been stopped all year. Their weakness this season has been their defense. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, they are ill-equipped to take advantage of that weakness.

LSU -9.5 Kentucky
I'll be the first to admit that I was impressed by Kentucky's performance against South Carolina in Columbia. The Wildcats were in the game until the very end despite a sub par performance by Andre Woodson. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, this is not a good team to get healthy against. Last week Kentucky faced the #2 pass defense (in terms of opponent's quarterback rating), and this week they face the #1 pass defense. LSU is also very good against the run. While South Carolina was 99th nationally in rush yards allowed per game and 88th in yards per rush, LSU is 4th in rushing yards allowed per game and 5th in yards allowed per rush.

Western Michigan -4 Northern Illinois
As you may have seen on Sportscenter last week, Western Michigan did everything but win last week against Akron. Up 7, the Broncos took a safety with 15 seconds left, only to see the Zips return the ensuing free kick all the way for a touchdown. Despite facing 3 BCS schools (West Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri) with a combined 2 losses and losing in such a manner to Akron, the Broncos have only been outscored by 26 points on the year. They may make that scoring margin up in this game. Northern Illinois has run the ball effectively--Garrett Wolfe's replacement Justin Anderson is 7th in the nation in rushing yards (736), despite only gaining 81 yards in the first 2 games. The Huskies have lost to traditional underlings Eastern Michigan and Temple as well as Division IAA Southern Illinois. They won't stay close against one of the MAC's best.

Memphis -4 Middle Tennessee State
After playing 3 games in 11 days, the Tigers may not know what to do with all their free time (10 days off). After a tough 2-3 start, the Tigers have a chance to go on a run and become Conference USA contenders in the coming weeks. After this winnable home game, the Tigers go on the road to face Rice and Tulane, two of the weakest teams in the conference. Following those 3 games, they have 3 of their final 4 at home. Middle Tennessee comes fresh off a near shocker against Virginia. However, the Blue Raiders have yet to win a road game, and their only win thus far has come against Florida International (0-6).

Five to Steer Clear Of

Hawaii -19 San Jose State
In my college football preview, I examined Hawaii's road struggles on short rest. I cited the Nevada game on November 16th as a reason Hawaii would not go undefeated. I did not notice Hawaii had to play another road game on short rest. If you care to look at the numbers, here's the link. Scroll on down to the WAC preview. This is clearly one of the best Hawaii teams ever, and San Jose State is not that good, but I would be wary taking the Warriors to cover almost 3 touchdowns on the road. Remember, they barely survived a road game against Louisiana Tech (45-44 OT win).

Virginia -3.5 Connecticut
How good is Connecticut? Like Kansas and Cincinnati last week, the Huskies get a chance to prove their undefeated record is legit it against a quality opponent on the road. Virginia is 5-1, but 3 of their wins have come by a combined 9 points, including last week's squeaker against Middle Tennessee State. Sit back and enjoy this one, but don't try to make any predictions.

Nebraska -4 Oklahoma State
So much for the resurrection Bill Callahan was supposed to bring about in Lincoln. All the Huskers have done is lose by a combined 53 points to the two ranked teams they have played, while narrowly edging two mediocre teams (Wake Forest and Ball State) by a combined 4 points. Oklahoma State has yet to win a road game, although they played very well at Texas A&M last week (24-23 loss).

Illinois -3.5 Iowa
What I said last week about not being able to trust the Illini as favorites, that rings even truer this week. The Illini are road favorites and a straight up loss to Iowa would not be a great shock.

Georgia -7 Vanderbilt
Since beating South Carolina in September of 2006, the Georgia Bulldogs have lost 6 straight games against SEC East teams. I'm just saying.

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