Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fab Five: Week XIV

Last week was another winning week as I went 6-4 bringing my yearly record to 69-57-4. This is college football's final regular season weekend, with a somewhat truncated schedule, so we're gonna do things a little differently. There are 5 conference championship games going on this weekend, and since this is the Fab Five, I'm gonna try my best to give you 5 winners against the spread.

MAC Championship from Detroit, Michigan
Central Michigan -3 Miami (Ohio)

This year's MAC Championship Game is eerily similar to last years' version. Last season, the Central Michigan Chippewas and their dynamic offense, led by quarterback Dan LeFevour, represented the MAC West. They took on a surprise representative from the MAC East, the Ohio Bobcats. One season after finishing 4-7, the Bobcats improved substantially on defense (30.5 points allowed per game in 2005 to 18.1 points allowed per game in 2006) and entered the MAC Championship Game as a 3 point dog to Central Michigan. This season, Central Michigan still has an outstanding offense (they average 33.7 points per game, up from 29.7 in 2006); however, their defense has regressed. The Chips give up 38 points per game after yielding only 22.3 per game last season. Their opponent, much like last season is somewhat of a surprise participant. One year removed from a 2-10 debacle, the Miami Redhawks have managed to cobble together a 6-6 record. The Redhawks have the best scoring defense in the MAC (allowing 24.8 points per game, down only slightly from the 25.3 they allowed last season). The Redhawk offense has not improved substantially from last season either (18.5 points per game in 2006 and 20.0 this season). The reason for the dramatic shift in their record? In 2006 the Redhawks were 2-5 in close (8 points or less) games. This season they are 5-2 in such contests. The Redhawks were not as bad as their 2-10 record last season, and they are not quite as good as their 6-6 record this season. They have a chance to knock off Central Michigan and take the MAC crown, but Central Michigan's one weakness--a porous defense, is not apt to be exploited by Miami's less than stellar offense. And while the Redhawks sport the MAC's best defensive unit, it is a far cry from the BCS units the Chips have already seen when they took on Kansas and Clemson. Like last year's title game, this one should be close for a while, but will get away from the Redhawks in the second half. The final score may not be as lopsided as last year's 31-10 Chip win over Ohio, but it will definitely be by more than 3.
The Pick: Central Michigan
The return of the MAC.

Conference USA Championship from Orlando, Florida
Central Florida -7 Tulsa

For the second time in 3 years, George O'Leary has his Golden Knights in the Conference USA Championship Game. And for the second time in 3 years, the Golden Hurricane stand in their way. Make no mistake about it, the 2005 Central Florida team was much more lucky than good (scored just as many points as they allowed over the course of the season), whereas this team is much more good (grammar alert!) than lucky. Of the Golden Knights 9 wins, 8 have come by at least 14 points. One of those 9 wins was over Tulsa (at home, as this game is) by a 44-23 count. Both teams come into this contest very hot. Central has won 6 in a row, while Tulsa has won 5 in a row since falling to Central. At the very least this game should be entertaining. Tulsa, led by senior quarterback Paul Smith and his 39 TD passes plus a host of underclassmen receivers (the top 5 receivers are all juniors or younger) and a pretty good tailback (Tarrion Adams has over 1000 yards on the ground and averages over 5.8 per rush), average 4-7 points per game. Check out the ridiculous numbers for receiver Brennan Marion. He averages almost 36 yards per catch! Unfortunately, Tulsa allows 34.7 points per game to its opponents. The good news for Tulsa is that their struggles on defense stem mostly from an inability to defend the pass (opposing quarterbacks have a composite rating of 139.88 good for 95th in the country). Their run defense is not great, but it is a little better (they allow 4.45 yards per rush which ranks 83rd nationally). Stopping the run against Central is much more imperative than stopping the pass. Central averages 37.9 points per game, but their offense runs through junior running back Kevin Smith. Smith has over 2100 yards and averages 5.76 per rush and has scored 25 touchdowns. Their passing offense is much improved from last season, but it's also likely that senior quarterback Kyle Israel's solid number (over 60% completion rate, 15 TD passes, only 8 interceptions) are due to the presence of Smith. The difference in this game is Central's defense. While not great, it is far superior to the one Tulsa employs. That plus the homefield advantage means Central Florida will win by more than a touchdown.
The Pick: Central Florida
Updating that resume, George?

ACC Championship from Jacksonville, Florida
Virginia Tech -4.5 Boston College

When last these teams met, Boston College prevailed in less than desirable conditions after less than desirable play for the first 56 minutes or so. Two late touchdown drives erased an early 10-0 Virginia Tech lead and the Eagles escaped with their #2 ranking intact. Virginia Tech has not lost since that night, winning 4 ACC games by an average of 21.3 per games, with the smallest margin of victory a 12 point win against Virginia. Boston College meanwhile has lost 2 of 4, but they did win the 'big one' by upsetting the Clemson Tigers n Death Valley. That made up for their shocking loss to Maryland. In their 4 game winning streak, the dynamic VT quarterback duo of Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor have played remarkable football. The Virginia Tech passing game has actually been an asset to the team. Still, as is usually the case, turnovers are the real story. In their first 8 games, Virginia Tech was +3 in turnover margin. That's a pretty good margin. In their last 4 games, the Hokies are +10. That's a great margin - Kansas territory. BC on the other hand, has seen their turnover margin head in the other direction. The Eagles were +11 in their first 8 games and are -8 in their last 4. Of course, in the upset at Clemson, they were even in turnover margin. The Eagles seem to me to be a better version of last year's Wake Forest team. They don't play as many tight games, but when they do, their superiority at the quarterback position allows them to make plays late to pull games out. I expect more of the same this week. So after 3 ACC Championship Games, the conference will have sent a 4-loss team (Florida State in 2005) and two teams that don't historically travel well (Wake in 2006 and BC this season) to the BCS. Is that what they anticipated when they added VT and Miami?
The Pick: Boston College
Who had BC as the first of the new 3 to win the title?

SEC Championship from Atlanta, Georgia
LSU -7.5 Tennessee

Earlier in the week, I posted a blog about Tennessee and their Pythagorean shortcomings. Judging from similar teams that played in conference title games, things don't look good for the Vols. The 9 teams that were very similar to Tennessee were 1-8 in their conference title games, losing by an average of 9.6 points per game. Away from home, Tennessee has lost by 14 to a Cal team with 5 losses, by 39 to Florida, beaten Mississippi State by 12 (the Bulldogs are 7-5, but have one of the most impotent offenses in the NCAA), lost by 24 to a 6-loss Alabama team, and beaten a 7-5 Kentucky team by 2. LSU is better than all those teams (with the exception of perhaps Florida) and they will throttle the Vols on Saturday.
The Pick: LSU
Quiet, he's pointing to Ar - Kansas.

Big 12 Championship from San Antonio, Texas
Oklahoma -3 Missouri

In their first meeting, nearly 2 months ago, Oklahoma won by 10 and was up by 17 late in the game. However, that game was in Norman (where the Sooners have not lost since 2005). The Tigers also turned the ball over 4 times (to the Sooners' 2) and one of those turnovers (a fumble) was returned for a touchdown. In fact, the Tigers actually led early in the 4th quarter before a pair of turnovers did them in. This game is at a neutral site, and the Tigers are playing for a spot in the national title game. Oklahoma is extremely vulnerable away from Norman. Excluding their 40+ point win over out manned Tulsa, the Sooners have lost at Colorado, beaten a good, but not great Texas team by 7 in Dallas, won by 10 at a bad Iowa State team, and lost to Texas Tech in Lubbock. The Sooners will not only fail to cover, Missouri will win straight up and punch their ticket to New Orleans.
The Pick: Missouri
The Patented Pinkel collapse not forthcoming.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Long Division

The Tennessee Volunteers have captured the SEC East crown despite being outscored on the year in conference play. This unique achievement inspired me to look for other division champs who were likely not the best team in their division, yet through some combination of schedule and fortune were able to play for a conference championship. Basically what follows is a David Letterman-esque list of the top 10 'worst' division champions from BCS conferences. The word worst in this sense means largest differential in Pythagorean winning percentage (conference games only) between the division winner and the 'best' team (team with highest Pythagorean winning percentage). The tables that follow list the division champion, their conference record, and their Pythagorean conference record with Pythagorean winning percentage in parentheses. The team in the division with the best Pythagorean winning percentage is listed next, and finally the difference in Pythagorean wins and winning percentage is included. Here are the top 10 worst BCS division champions.

The Gators lone conference loss was by a single point to Alabama. However, these were not the typically dominant Gators the Steve Spurrier era. They won only 2 conference games by more than 20 points, with the largest margin of victory 28 points. All 6 of Tennessee's conference wins came by at least 14 points. 4 came by more than 20 points and their 2 losses were by 2 and 4 points.

Nebraska was much more dominant against Big 12 teams than Kansas State. 5 of their 6 conference wins came by at least 18 points. Kansas State had some big wins in conference play as well (3 by 21 or more), but also won 3 squeakers. The beat Missouri by 4, Texas Tech by 5, and Nebraska by a single point to hold the tie-breaker advantage.

Georgia Tech won 4 conference games by 8 points or fewer on their way to a Coastal Division title. They won only one conference game by more than 20 points (a 28-point win over listless Duke) and were blown out in their only conference loss (24 points to Clemson). The Hokies meanwhile won 5 of their 6 conference games by at least 10 points and 3 by more than 20.

Surprise, surprise. Georgia is not the Pythagorean Division champ. Georgia's Pythagorean winning percentage is .664 which is only about 9 one hundredths of a win less than Florida's. Tennessee was actually outscored on the year in conference play! When you lose games by 39 and 24 points, that can happen. Half of the Vols' SEC wins (3) came by a combined 6 points (2 in OT). They did beat Georgia and Arkansas by 21 points apiece, but good teams simply don't lose games by 40 points. Florida's 3 conference losses came by 3, 4, and 12 points. They also won 3 conference games by at least 20 points.

LSU dropped a 3-point decision to Auburn early in the year that ended up being the difference in the SEC West race. 3 of Auburn's 6 wins came by 5 points or less and they did not win a conference game by more than 17 points. LSU won 2 conference games by at least 27 points and 4 by double digits.

The game between these two schools was the beginning of the end of the Frank Solich era. Nebraska came into that game undefeated, having not won a conference game (or any game) by fewer than 10 points. Colorado beat them by 26. However, in their first 7 conference games, the Buffs biggest win in conference play had been by 14 points. Their only loss was also a 34 point drubbing at the hands of Texas. They did exact some measure of revenge in the Big 12 Championship Game by upsetting the Longhorns 39-37 and costing them a shot at the national title.

The 2004 season by the Tennessee Vols and their subsequent expectations for 2005 was the impetus for my first blog post. 6 of the Vols' 7 conference wins were by 6 points or fewer. Their lone comfortable win was by 14 points. They also suffered their lone conference loss by 24 points. Georgia on the other hand lost by 5 to Tennessee and by 18 to eventual SEC champion Auburn, but also won 3 conference games by at least 29 points.

Another appearance by the Tennessee Vols. The 2001 Florida Gators are probably one of the best teams to not play for a national championship and certainly the best team to not win their conference title. Florida won 5 of their 6 conference games by at least 29 points, including a 29-point win at eventual SEC champion LSU. They won 4 conference games by more than 30 and 2 by more than 50. Their 2 losses came by a combined 5 points. Tennessee on the other hand was not nearly as dominant. They won only one conference game by more than 11 points. 4 of their wins were by 8 points or less, including the division-deciding 2-point win over the Gators.

Colorado had a fine season in Big 12 play in 2002 as 5 of their 7 wins were by more than 10 points. The Wildcats from Manhattan simply had a phenomenal season running up the score. All 6 of their conference wins were by at least 34 points. Their two losses came by 4 and 3 points.

Technically, Alabama was both the division champ and the Pythagorean champ, but alas they were on probation.

The 9 teams on this list other than this year's Tennessee Volunteers went a combined 1-8 in their conference championship games. They were outscored on average by a little more than 9 and half points per game. In other words, don't expect a Tennessee upset victory on Saturday. And one final note, just so no one can accuse me of bias. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons' 2006 Atlantic Division title ranks 11th on the list of worst division champions. They had roughly one fewer Pythagorean win (.125 less Pythagorean winning percentage) than the Pythagorean champion Clemson Tigers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fab Five: Week XIII

Finally, after 3 consecutive non-wining weeks, I was able to climb out of the small hole and post a 6-4 record. This brings my yearly mark to 63-53-4. Before we dive into the picks this week, I want to take time to celebrate two running backs from schools that rarely get national attention. James Starks, of the Buffalo Bulls, eclipsed 1000 yards in the Bulls' loss to Bowling Green. Starks is Buffalo's first 1000 yard rusher since 1996. Elsewhere, Tulane running back Matt Forte passed the 2000 yard barrier in the Green Wave's win over Rice. Forte is the first back to rush for more than 2000 yards in Division IA since JJ Arrington did it in 2004 for the Cal Bears. Both Forte and Starks have one more game to add to their total. Another Conference USA back, Kevin Smith of Central Florida, will likely go over 2000 yards this weekend, as he needs only 55 yards against East Carolina to get to 2000. Even more importantly, with a win Central Florida will advance to the Conference USA Championship Game and give Smith an extra game to add to his total. With possibly 3 games to go, Smith would need over 227 yards per game to break Barry Sanders' single season record of 2628 yards set in 1988. Finally, Ray Rice has 1612 yards through 11 games. With the finale against Louisville and a bowl game, Rice also has a chance to topple the 2000 yard barrier.
Big Game James

His Forte is pounding the rock.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 27-31-2
Texas A&M +5.5 Texas
On the road against decent teams, Texas owns a pair of 3 point wins--versus Central Florida and Oklahoma State. The Aggies meanwhile, have only lost once at home--to undefeated Kansas by a 19-11 count. The Longhorns will escape with a win and their shot at the Big 12 South in tact, but they will fail to cover the number.

Arkansas +13 LSU
In their last 4 games against winning teams, LSU has not won by more than 7 points. Arkansas is currently 7-4. If Casey Dick avoids throwing a ton of interceptions, the Razorbacks should keep this one close. LSU has won the last two by 2 and 5 points.

UCLA +2 Oregon
UCLA is coming off a bye week, fresh off a a good showing against Arizona State. Oregon on the other hand is coming off a crushing loss to Arizona that ruined their national title hopes and severely dented their BCS hopes. The Brady Leaf Experience V3.0 did not get off to a good start in the game against the Wildcats. True, his skills are not accentuated by the system, but a competent Division I quarterback should be able to hit his receivers in stride occasionally. UCLA will get to bowl eligibility and further dim the Duck's conference title aspirations.

Connecticut +17 West Virginia
Fresh off a win over the second best turnover margin team in the country, the Mountaineers get to host the fifth best turnover margin team in the country. West Virginia was only -1 in turnover margin against Cincinnati, yet only managed a 5 point win. The Mountaineers are a better team and I fully expect them to win, but laying 17 points is simply too much against a quality opponent.

Washington State +6 Washington
The largest margin of victory in the last 5 Apple Cups is 8 points. This one should also be close. Washington State has crushed by Oregon State 52-17 last week, but that was mostly due to their 8 turnovers. Quarterback Alex Brink threw 6 interceptions after throwing only 9 in the first 10 games. Don't expect a similar performance against a Washington team with only 11 interceptions on the season.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 36-22-2
Hawaii -3 Boise State
If Hawaii was going to lose in the regular season, it was last week to Nevada. It didn't happen. The Warriors BCS hopes will be left up to computers and pollsters because they will take care of business against a team that must travel to Hawaii on short rest.

NC State -2 Maryland
The Wolfpack had their 4 game winning streak snapped last week in Winston-Salem and now face Maryland in a game that is a bowl elimination game of sorts. The winner will be bowl eligible, but with the glut of 6 and 7-win teams, is certainly not guaranteed a bowl bid. Maryland has lost 4 of 5 with the lone win a stunning 42-35 defeat of Boston College. The Terps will lose their 7th game of the season and fail to qualify for a bowl game for the 3rd time in 4 years.

Cincinnati -20.5 Syracuse
Seems like you can't make a point spread too high when Syracuse is involved. The Orange have 5 Big East losses and those losses have come by an average of 24.4 points. They have lost 3 conference home games by an average of 32 points.

Kansas State pick em Fresno State
While not technically a favorite, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt since they are a pick em' on the road. The Wildcats have gone 2-5 since upsetting Texas in late September, but with the exception of the Iowa State game, the losses have been to teams ranging from decent to good. Fresno State is decent, but they are WAC decent, not Big 12 decent.

Kansas -2 Missouri @ Kansas City
Can the perfect season continue? Not only is Kansas 11-0, they are also 10-0 against the spread. Both the Jayhawks and Tigers have dynamic offenses, but Kansas has the better defense. The Tigers allow 23 points per game and 5.1 yards per play. The Jayhawks allow 14.2 points per game and 4.3 yards per play.

Five to Steer Clear Of

Wake Forest -1.5 Vanderbilt
Wake is playing for an 8-win regular season, while Vandy is playing for bowl eligibility. After coming tantalizingly close in losses to Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, will Vandy get their breakthrough here?

Tennessee +3 Kentucky
Tennessee may well be the 4th of 5th best team in the SEC East, but they are poised to play in Atlanta with a win here.

Clemson -3 South Carolina
What will the psyche of the Tigers' be after their heartbreaking loss to Boston College? Will the bye week help the Gamecocks fix their defense and prevent a 5-game losing streak?

Auburn -6 Alabama
This line is scary. Can Alabama lose 4 straight under Saban and their 6th in a row to Auburn?

North Carolina -14 Duke
As a Wake fan, it feels good to have the best Division IA football program in North Carolina (at least for the time being).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fab Five: Week XII

After consecutive .500 weeks, I only managed a 4-6 record last week. My yearly record is a somewhat better than average 57-49-4. Time to close strong. As always, home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 0-5 (ouch!)
Overall: 24-29-2
Arizona +12.5 Oregon
Out of all the team's with national title aspirations, Oregon has by far the smallest differential between yards per play and yards per play allowed. The Ducks average a stellar 6.6 yards per play (tied for 6th in the nation), but allow 5.4 yards per play (tied for 58th). Their defensive deficiencies will come back to bite them in Tucson on Thursday against an improving Arizona team that can move the ball.

Iowa State +26 Kansas
As noted earlier in the week, Iowa State has improved substantially over the last month by simply taking better care of the football. They still don't have the horses to keep up with Kansas (how weird is it to write that?) and pull the game out, but they will end the Jayhawks perfect season against the spread.

Miami +16.5 Virginia Tech
After closing the Orange Bowl in style with consecutive home losses to Georgia Tech, NC State, and Virginia, the most recent a 48-point drubbing, the Canes must now win one of their final two games (Virginia Tech and Boston College) to even get to bowl eligibility. Miami is a far cry from where they were a few short seasons ago, but even with a par of quarterbacks as horrible as Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman, the Canes getting more than 2 touchdowns on the road are a solid bet.

Tulane +2 Rice
This should be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. Both teams should be able to shred the other, albeit in different ways. The nation's leading rusher (Matt Forte of Tulane) should eclipse 2000 yards on the season in this game. Meanwhile, the Owls passing attack led by Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard should carve up the Tulane defense. In what should be a toss up, even on the road, take the team getting points.

Northern Illinois +15.5 Navy
The Naval Academy has already accepted a bid to play in the Poinsettia Bowl. This marks their 5th straight bowl bid. Congratulations are in order for the Mids and head coach Paul Johnson. The Mids have a real chance to win 8 games before they line em up for the bowl game. Their shot at win number 7 comes against a team that played in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. The Huskies are struggling through a terrible season; certainly not the norm since Joe Novak righted the ship around the turn of the century. However, Navy has not won a single game by more than 11 points and currently sport one of the worst defenses in Division IA (tied for 116th in yards per play allowed).

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 33-20-2
Missouri -7 Kansas State
I don't know what to make of the Wildcats. Before the season I thought they would disappoint because most of their success last season was due to special teams and good fortune. At midseason they were 4-2 with their only losses coming to Kansas and Auburn. Since then they have proceeded to drop 3 of 4 with the lone win coming against Baylor. Keep in mind, the Wildcats have only lost once at home (by 6 to Kansas) so a close game here wouldn't be a total shock. Still, any team that lets Nebraska drop 73 should not be trusted, even at home.

West Virginia -6.5 Cincinnati
Don't get me wrong, I'd love for the 'Nati to pull this one out and in all likelihood punch themselves a ticket to the Orange Bowl, but the numbers say West Virginia is the pick. Cincinnati lives by turnovers, currently they are tied for 2nd in the country at +16. Oh by the way, West Virginia is 4th at +12. However, West Virginia has been much more dominant in terms of yardage (outgaining their opponents by over 187 yards per game to Cincinnati's 68 per game) and yards per play--West Virginia averages 6.6 yards per play and allows 4.3 while Cincinnati averages 5.9 and allows 5.0.

Oklahoma -8 Texas Tech
With the national title still within reach, you can bet the Sooners won't be overlooking the Red Raiders especially after their last visit to Lubbock (23-21 Tech win). Instead of blaming the refs for his teams' struggles, perhaps Mike Leach should blame a defense that has allowed 45 points per game in their 4 losses. Expect more of the same against a motivated Sooner squad.

Illinois -13.5 Northwestern
Fresh off their monumental upset of Ohio State, the Illini are primed for a let down. Except they are playing Northwestern. The Wildcats are not a good team, having parlayed the spread offense an easy non-conference schedule (Northeastern, Nevada, Duke, and Eastern Michigan), and good luck (4 of 6 wins have been by 7 points or less) into bowl eligibility. The Illini should roll over them on Saturday.

Louisiana-Lafayette -4.5 Florida International
Florida International has not won since the final game of the 2005 season. That tells you about all you need to know.

Five to Steer Clear Of

Hawaii no line Nevada
The BCS dream ends here for Hawaii. Even with Colt Brennan there is a good chance they will lose this game. Short week. Solid team. Road game. Cold. That's your recipe to end Hawaii's undefeated season.

Wisconsin -14 Minnesota
Minnesota has been every part of terrible this season, losing every Big 10 game they have played. Still, on senior day inside the dome, you never know what will happen.

LSU -19.5 Ole Miss
Keep in mind last year's game was won by LSU 23-20 in OT. In Baton Rouge.

Notre Dame -6 Duke
How sweet would a Duke win be?

Georgia Tech -10 North Carolina
Trust the Jackets to do anything at your own peril.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In Case You Missed It: Week 11

...Yes he's only a sophomore, but if the Heisman goes to the nation's most outstanding player, well Tim Tebow is that guy. The table below lists the national rankings for Tim Tebow and Dennis Dixon in 5 important statistical categories. Their actual statistics are in parentheses.Tebow ranks ahead of the consensus Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon in nearly every statistical category. The only category where Dixon ranks ahead of Tebow is in number of interceptions (3 versus Tebow's 5).

...Speaking of Florida and the questions surrounding Meyer and his spread offense when he first arrived on campus. Yes the spread will still work against great athletes once you get great athletes of your own. The Gators average 28.6 points per game and 373.4 yards per game in Meyer's first season (2005). In 2006 they averaged 29.7 points per game and 396.1 yards per game. Keep in mind both those teams were quarterbacked by the less than nimble Chris Leak. This season, with a mobile quarterback, the Gators are averaging 41.3 points per game and 450.2 yards per game. So a coach with a unique offense who has been successful at football outposts is now successful running the same offense in the big time. Nebraska take note. This man should be your next football coach.

...A pair of afterthoughts in BCS conferences have turned things around over the last month after horrendous starts. After starting the season 1-6, including a loss to Division IA Northern Iowa, the Iowa State Cyclones have hung tough with both Oklahoma and Missouri and scored upsets over Kansas State and Colorado. How have they improved in the last month versus the first half of the season?Iowa State's offense has improved slightly (in both yards per play and total yards), while the defense has regressed slightly in terms of yardage allowed and improved slightly in terms of yards per play. So with only marginal improvement, how has Iowa State gone from being one of the worst teams in a BCS conference to a team that can go toe to toe with Oklahoma and Missouri. Turnovers. After giving the ball away almost 3 times per game in their first 7, they are only averaging one giveaway per game over the past 4.

Meanwhile in Raleigh, NC State has won 4 in a row after a 1-5 start and now a bowl game is within reach. How have they done it? Let's take a look.The Pack have improved substantially on offense and defense, especially on defense where they are allowing one whole yard less per play. But another real difference, just like Iowa State, has been turnovers. The Pack gave the ball away almost 4 times per game over the first 6. They have cut that total to a shade over 1 per game over the last 4.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Second Blog

I've started a second blog. It will chronicle my trips to see mid-major basketball in South Carolina. If you like this blog, check out my new one. If you hate this blog, check out my new one (it's almost entirely devoid of statistical analysis!)

SC Sojourn

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fab Five: Week XI

Last week was another mediocre week as I went 4-4-2 to bring my yearly record to 53-43-4. After two consecutive .500 weeks, we'll try and get back in the black. As always, home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-2-2
Overall: 24-24-2
Auburn +1 Georgia
If there is one thing Auburn won't be heading into this game, it's intimidated. The Tigers have won road games at Florida and Arkansas and given LSU all they could handle. Once again, Auburn has one of the best defenses in the nation, limiting opponents to only 14.5 points (5th nationally) and 293.8 yards (8th nationally) per game. Auburn's two early season defeats occurred because they were a combined -9 in turnover margin against South Florida and Mississippi State. Despite all the turnovers, they lost those two games by a combined 8 points. After getting waxed by Tennessee in early October, Georgia has quietly won 3 in a row and are in solid position to win the SEC East. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has improved substantially in his sophomore season, throwing 15 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions (as opposed to 7 and 13 last year). His completion percentage is still somewhat low (56.1%), so he is definitely not a finished product. The key to this game will be turnovers. Last season the Georgia defense forced 30 turnovers in 13 games. Through 9 games this season, they have only forced 12. Auburn will limit their turnovers and come out of Athens with a victory.

Wyoming +14 Utah
In one of the most under-reported stories of the college football season, the Wyoming Cowboys have wasted an outstanding defensive performance, and instead of competing for a Mountain West championship, they are struggling to become bowl-eligible. The Cowboys are allowing 21.1 points per game (29th nationally) which is pretty good. However, when you look at yards allowed per game (285.1--6th nationally) and yards per play (4.1--4th nationally) you realize how outstanding they are. Unfortunately, their offense, and especially sophomore quarterback Karsteen Sween, has not kept up their end of the bargain. As a team, the Cowboys average only 5.7 yards per pass (112th nationally). The offense has also turned the ball over 23 times (98th nationally), consistently putting the defense in difficult situations. Even with the offenses' struggles, the defense should be good enough to keep this game within two touchdowns.

South Carolina +6.5 Florida
After smelling like a rose and standing 6-1, the Gamecocks have dropped 3 straight and are looking at a very real chance of dropping 5 in a row to close the season. Meanwhile, the Gators have defended their SEC and national title by having both their best offense by far under Urban Meyer and their worst defense. Truth be told, it was the defense that carried the team during Meyer's first two seasons, and now it is the offense that must carry the team while the defense rights itself. South Carolina has played much better offensively the past 6 quarters, but that lay has been offset by some terrible luck against Tennessee and some awful positioning and tackling against Arkansas. The Gators will get their yards on the ground against sub-par Gamecock rush defense, but Tim Tebow and company will find the going tough through the air, enabling South Carolina to cover.

New Mexico State +3.5 San Jose State
Strength versus weakness. San Jose State ranks 117th nationally in points per game (16.0) and 111th in yards per game (307.1). New Mexico State ranks 105th nationally in points allowed per game (35.5) and 88th in yards allowed per game (425.9). With a healthy Chase Holbrook, the Aggies will be able to handle the Spartans.

Texas Tech +6.5 Texas
With the exception of the Vince Young-led dominations in 2004 and 2005, the recent games in this rivalry have been close. Tech won by 4 in 2002, Texas won by 3 in 2003 by 4 last season. One things for certain, this one won't be low scoring. Since 2001, the fewest combined points scored in this series has been 49. Texas is very fortunate to be 8-2, having won 3 games by 3 points (Central Florida, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State). After a 5-game midseason stretch where he failed to gain 100 yards in a game, Texas running back Jamaal Charles has gained 470 yards the past two games (9.6 yards per rush) and is a big reason why the Longhorns are 8-2 and not 6-4. Charles will get his yards, and Texas will get a lot of points, but Texas Tech will keep this one close.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 29-19-2
South Florida -16.5 Syracuse
The cure for what ails ya? Syracuse. The Golden Bulls will end their 3-game losing streak by beating up on the Orange. Syracuse has lost their 4 home games against BCS teams by an average of 29 points. Yikes.

Kansas -6 Oklahoma State
The Jayhawks are 4 wins away from a likely date with the BCS Championship Game. This will be their last true road game. At home Oklahoma State is very prolific, with their lone loss a 3-point defeat at the hands of Texas. However, their defense has been equally as porous both at home and on the road. At home they allow 26.2 points per game. On the road they allow 28.5. The difference in their home and road performance has been the play of the offense. At home they score 41.2 points per game. On the road they score only 26.3. Oklahoma State will put some points on the board (heck Nebraska got 39 last week), but Kansas will be able to move the ball against the Cowboys as well. Kansas will improve to 10-0 overall and 9-0 against the spread.

Kentucky -3.5 Vanderbilt
Looking for an upset and bowl-eligibility, Vandy won't find it here. The Commodores are ill-suited to upset a team with an offense as dynamic as Kentucky's. Vandy upset the Gamecocks a few weeks ago, but South Carolina has offensive line issues and is a very flawed offensive team. Kentucky is flawed defensively, but Vandy does not have the offense to take advantage of Kentucky's defensive liabilities.

Indiana -2 Northwestern
The loser of this game is likely out of luck when it comes to playing in a bowl game. Indiana is already bowl-eligible with Purdue left on the schedule, a loss here means a likely 2-6 finish in conference play. A loss here would also give Northwestern bowl-eligibility and mean they could finish no worse than 3-5 in league play. Thus Northwestern would likely garner one of the Big 10's final bowl bids over the Hoosiers. If Indiana does one thing well, it's torch bad defenses--37 points and 442 yards against Western Michigan, 41 points and 475 yards against Akron, 40 points and 463 yards against Minnesota, and 38 points and 462 yards against Ball State. Rest assured, Northwestern is a bad defense. They rank 84 nationally in points allowed per game (30.3), 77th in yards allowed per game (408.7), and 98th in opponent quarterback rating. Kellen Lewis should have a big day and Indiana should guarantee themselves a bowl bid.

NC State -3.5 North Carolina
The Wolfpack has rebounded from their 1-5 start to win 3 in a row and position themselves for a shot at a bowl bid with 3 games to go. What's changed? For starters Daniel Evans has improved. In the first 6 games he had thrown 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. In the last 3 games, he has thrown 6 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. But the real reason for the improvement has been the turnover battle. In the first 5 games, NC State was an amazing -17 in turnover margin. In the past 3 games, they are +4 in turnover margin. They have forced 7 turnovers in the past 3 games (5 in the first 5), but have only given the ball away 3 times in the past 3 games (an amazing 22 in the first 5). Look for the improvement to continue against a North Carolina team that has yet to win on the road.

Five to Steer Clear Of

Clemson -8.5 Wake Forest
Clemson controls it's own destiny in the ACC race. Clemson is clearly the superior team, but in their last 2 trips to Death Valley, the Deacons have lost by 8 and 7 points.

Tennessee pick Arkansas
Tennessee controls it's own destiny in the SEC race. Arkansas is looking to build on it's amazing performance against South Carolina. Tennessee is very good at home, but their defense has been suspect all season.

Miami -4 Virginia
Another week, another close game for the Cavs.

Southern Cal -4 California
Who would have thought these two teams would come into this game with a combined 5 losses?

Cincinnati -5.5 Connecticut
Both these teams still have legitimate shots at the Big East title. A loss by Connecticut would not eliminate them, but a Bearcat loss would be the death knell for their title hopes. Amazingly, Connecticut is 4-0 in Big East play, but has been outgained in every conference game. Cincinnati is 2-2, and they have been outgained in 3 of their conference games. The secret to these teams' success? Turnovers. Cincinnati is +15 in turnover margin and Connecticut is +13.

Monday, November 05, 2007

In Case You Missed It: Week 10

...Against NC State, Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman posted the following stat line:
1 completion, 14 attempts, 84 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions
That's right, Freeman's yards per pass attempt (6.0) was almost as high as his completion percentage (7.1%). He completed 3 times as many passes to Wolfpack defenders as he did to his own teammates. Not surprisingly, the Hurricanes lost that game to Wolfpack. On the season, Freeman has completed a lowly 31% of his passes. Freeman makes fellow signal-caller Kyle Wright look like a Heisman candidate.

...Smile big man. Mangino's Jayhawks scored touchdowns on an astounding 10 straight possessions against Nebraska. Kansas is now 9-0 and has a legitimate shot at the national championship. I'm a week late in trotting out these stats, but it's interesting nonetheless. In Mangino's first 5 seasons, Kansas won 4 true road games. Those games came against Tulsa (finished 1-11) in 2002, Wyoming (4-8) in 2003, Missouri (5-6) in 2004, and Iowa State (4-8) in 2006. No bowl teams, no winning teams, and only two conference opponents in that bunch. In the month of October, Kansas won road games at Kansas State (5-4, no other home losses), Colorado (5-5, beat Oklahoma at home), and Texas A&M (6-4, no other home losses). Comparatively, that's an amazing turnaround. None of those teams are elite, but all 3 will probably at least be bowl-eligible.

...The team on the other end of the Kansas smackdown? Nebraska. In their 6 conference games, the Cornhuskers have allowed 243 points. The Huskers gave up more than 243 points in an entire season only once under Frank Solich (2002). They never allowed 243 points in a season under Tom Osbourne or Bob Devaney. Prior to the 2002 season, Nebraska had not allowed 243 points in a season since 1957.