Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Armed Forces Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Fort Worth, Texas
The Teams: Houston and Air Force
The Line: Houston -3.5
What's at Stake? This is a rematch of a regular season game won by Air Force 31-28. A win would give Houston 8 victories in Kevin Sumlin's first season as coach and would also be the Cougars first bowl win since the 1980 Garden State Bowl. An victory for Air Force would be their first bowl win since 2000.
Why You Should Watch: Sophomore quarterback Case Keenum threw 43 touchdown passes for the Cougars (2nd in the nation behind Sam Bradford). Air Force averages 269 yards per game on the ground.
Spread Prediction: Air Force allowed 534 yards to the Cougars in the first meeting, but held on to win thanks to winning the turnover battle (+2). In the other rematch this bowl season, Wake extracted revenge on Navy after blowing the first game with turnovers. Look for history to repeat itself here.

The Game: Sun Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: El Paso, Texas
The Teams: Oregon State and Pitt
The Line: Oregon State -2.5
What's at Stake? Oregon State seeks their fifth bowl win in 6 seasons. This would be Pitt's first bowl win under Dave Wannstedt.
Why You Should Watch: The Beavers are consistently underrated by the nation at large. Tune in to see one of the most inconspicuous coaches in the game, in Beaver coach Mike Riley. Pitt running back LeSean McCoy has over 1700 yards rushing in 2 seasons.
Spread Prediction: Mike Riley should be able to coach circles around Dave Wannstedt. Add to that the fact that Oregon State was extremely well balanced (3rd in the Pac 10 in offense and 4th in defense) and you have all the trappings of a Beaver win.

The Game: Music City Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Nashville, Tennessee
The Teams: Houston and Air Force
The Line: Boston College -3.5
What's at Stake? Boston College is seeking their ninth straight bowl win (last loss in the 1999 Insight Bowl), while Vandy is looking for their first bowl win since 1955.
Why You Should Watch: You like defense, or maybe an absence of offense? This is the game for you. Both teams are pretty good on defense and average (Boston College) to terrible (Vandy) on offense.
Spread Prediction: Unfortunately for the Commodores, neither their offense or defense is as good as the Eagles.

The Game: Insight Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Tempe, Arizona
The Teams: Kansas and Minnesota
The Line: Kansas -9.5
What's at Stake? A win for Kansas would be their second strsight bowl win and give them an unthinkable 20 wins over the past 2 seasons. A win for Minnesota would make a 6 and a half game improvement on last season's 1-11 debacle.
Why You Should Watch: Todd Reesing of Kansas is a great college quarterback. He's a junior, so catch him while you still can. If Minnesota harbors any hope of an upset, defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg (9.5 sacks this season) needs to apply some pressure.
Spread Prediction: This one should be very entertaining, a Holiday Bowl-lite perhaps. Kansas had a pretty bad defense this season (only Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Kansas State allowed more yards in conference play). That's good news for a Minnesota team that was last in the Big 10 in offense. Minnesota won't win, but they will do enough to keep this one to single digits.

The Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl
The Date: December 31
The Location: Atlanta, Georgia
The Teams: Georgia Tech and LSU
The Line: Georgia Tech -4
What's at Stake? A win gives Georgia Tech 10 in Paul Johnson's first season. Les Miles desperately needs a win to salvage a disappointing season.
Why You Should Watch: Paul Johnson's triple option attack would never work at a BCS conference school. Tune in and watch it not work (sarcasm). Opponents ran back 7 LSU passes for touchdowns. Can Georgia Tech make 8 enough?
Spread Prediction: Georgia Tech was the best team in the ACC, and LSU was an also ran in the SEC. The Jackets should roll.

The Game: Outback Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Tampa, Florida
The Teams: Iowa and South Carolina
The Line: Iowa -4
What's at Stake? A win for Iowa will cap off one of the most under the radar seasons ever. South Carolina needs a win lest Steve Spurrier drop his record to 13-12 over the past 2 seasons.
Why You Should Watch: Iowa running back Shonn Greene topped 100 yards in each game this season. As a team, South Carolina rushed for less than 100 yards 7 times.
Spread Prediction: As much as it pains me to say it as a South Carolina alum, this team is just not that good. Iowa should roll.

The Game: Gator Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Jacksonville, Florida
The Teams: Clemson and Nebraska
The Line: Clemson -2.5
What's at Stake? A win here would give Clemson 6 victories over IA teams. Am I a little bitter Clemson got to the Gator Bowl with 7 wins? Maybe. Nebraska is looking for its first bowl win since 2005.
Why You Should Watch: This will be your last chance to catch Thunder and Lightning (James Davis and CJ Spiller) in the same backfield for Clemson. This is the final game for Nebraska senior quarterback Joe Ganz.
Spread Prediction: Both these teams came alive down the stretch. Nebraska won 5 of 6 with their only loss coming to Oklahoma. Clemson won 4 of 5 with their lone loss coming to Florida State. Clemson has the superior defense and Nebraska the better offense. Take the Huskers since they are getting points.

The Game: Capital One Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Orlando, Florida
The Teams: Georgia and Michigan State
The Line: Georgia -8
What's at Stake? Georgia is looking for their third straight bowl win and sixth in the last 7 seasons. Michigan State is looking for their first bowl win since 2001.
Why You Should Watch: A pair of dynamic running backs in Knowshon Moreno and Javon Ringer should provide their share of highlights.
Spread Prediction: Michigan State was very fortunate to go 6-2 in the Big 10. They had the profile of a 4-4 or 3-5 team. Georgia has issues on defense, but they should do enough to cover the 8 point spread.

The Game: Rose Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Pasadena, California
The Teams: Southern Cal and Penn State
The Line: Southern Cal -9
What's at Stake? A third straight Rose Bowl win for Southern Cal or Penn State's first Rose Bowl triumph since 1994 (January of 1995).
Why You Should Watch: It's the Rose Bowl. Jo Pa and the Trojans.
Spread Prediction: Most seem to think the Trojans will roll in this one. Their defense is outstanding, but Penn State's defense is pretty good too. This one will come down to the wire and Penn State could pull off the upset.

The Game: Orange Bowl
The Date: January 1
The Location: Miami, Florida
The Teams: Cincinnati and Virginia Tech
The Line: Cincinnati -2
What's at Stake? The first ever BCS bowl win for Cincinnati or the first BCS bowl win by an ACC team since 1999 (Florida State over Virginia Tech).
Why You Should Watch: Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in the NCAA. He will match wits with another great coach, Frank Beamer.
Spread Prediction: Virginia Tech has real issues on offense (tenth in the ACC in yards), and that will be their undoing against a very solid Cincinnati defense.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Humanitarian Bowl
The Date: December 30
The Location: Boise, Idaho
The Teams: Nevada and Maryland
The Line: Nevada -2
What's at Stake? A win would give Maryland 4 bowl wins in Ralph Friedgen's 8 seasons. In the 26 seasons preceeding his arrival (1975-2000), Maryland won 4 bowl games. This is Nevada's fourth straight bowl game and a win would be their fourth ever.
Why You Should Watch: Nevada runs the 'Pistol' offense, a short shotgun with lots of runs. They also feature a great sophomore tandem of backs in quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua (both topped 1000 yards on the ground).
Spread Prediction: I can't get past the fact that Nevada is favored in this game. Maryland is far from a great team, and they may well be unmotivated playing on the Smurf Turf, but the WAC, outside of Boise State, was one of the worst IA conferences this season. I'll take Maryland to pull off the outright upset.

The Game: Holiday Bowl
The Date: December 30
The Location: San Diego, California
The Teams: Oklahoma State and Oregon
The Line: Oklahoma State -3
What's at Stake? The winner of this game will have 10 wins, the loser will have a ho-hum 9-4 record.
Why You Should Watch: You like offense? This is the game for you. Both teams are great at running the football. Oregon averaged 278 yards per game on the ground (4th in the nation) and Oklahoma State averaged 256 yards per game (7th in the nation).
Spread Prediction: Oklahoma State's losses came to Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. Those 3 teams combined to lose 3 games all season. Oregon didn't exactly lose to a bunch of chumps (Boise, Southern Cal, and Cal), but the Cowboys appear to be a stronger team and should outscore the Ducks.

The Game: Texas Bowl
The Date: December 30
The Location: Houston, Texas
The Teams: Rice and Western Michigan
The Line: Rice -2.5
What's at Stake? The first bowl win for Rice since the 1953 Cotton Bowl or the first ever bowl win for Western Michigan.
Why You Should Watch: This will be the last time the Rice passing tandem Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard suit up for the Owls. Clement is the Owls all-time leading passer and Dillard is the Owls all-time leading receiver. Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller is no slouch himself, having tossed 34 touchdown passes on the season.
Spread Prediction: Western Michigan is much stronger defensively, and since they are getting points, they are the pick.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Meineke Car Care Bowl
The Date: December 27
The Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
The Teams: West Virginia and North Carolina
The Line: West Virginia -1.5
What's at Stake? North Carolina's first bowl win since 2001 and first season of at least 9 wins since 1997. For West Virginia, this would be their fourth straight bowl win and would take just a little of the heat off of first year head coach Billl Stewart.
Why You Should Watch: This will be the final college game for outstanding West Virginia quarterback Pat White. While White will probably latch on at some position with a professional team, this will be the last chance you get to watch him line up exclusively under center (or in the shotgun).
Spread Prediction: Both these teams are a little overvalued. In ACC play, North Carolina finished ninth in yards gained and eighth in yards allowed. In their 4 conference wins, they were +7 in turnovers. In their 4 conference losses, they were -12. Believe it or not, despite the presence of Pat White, West Virginia was sixth (among 8 teams) in yards gained in Big East play. Their defense did not fare much better, finishing fifth in yards allowed. Turnovers were the key to their victories as well. In their 5 conference wins, they were +12 and in their 2 conference losses, they were -1. This game should be very tight, but since Carolina should have a slight homefield advantage and because they are getting points, they are the pick.

The Game: Champs Sports Bowl
The Date: December 27
The Location: Orlando, Florida
The Teams: Florida State and Wisconsin
The Line: Florida State -6
What's at Stake? A victory over the Badgers would give Papa Bowden his twentieth bowl win at Florida State (21st overall), move him one win behind Joe Paterno for most wins all time (382), and would be the Seminoles first 9-win season since 2004. A win for the Badgers would give them 8 wins for a fifth straight season.
Why You Should Watch: Florida State sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder has a ton of talent. Can he harness it, or will he become the next Chris Rix? Stay tuned. Wisconsin running back PJ Hill topped 1000 yards rushing for the third straight season. Watch to see of he can top 100 yards for the fourth time in 5 games.
Spread Prediction: Despite their 3-5 Big 10 record, Wisconsin actually played like one of the better teams in the league. They finished third in yards gained and fourth in yards allowed in Big 10 play. The Seminoles were very similar in ACC play, finishing fourth in yards gained and fifth in yards allowed. On paper, this game seems pretty even, and with the Badgers getting nearly a touchdown, they are the pick.

The Game: Emerald Bowl
The Date: December 27
The Location: San Francisco, California
The Teams: Cal and Miami
The Line: Cal -8.5
What's at Stake? A fourth straight bowl win for Cal or Miami's first season of 8 wins since 2005.
Why You Should Watch: Cal's sophomore running back Jahvid Best averages an absurd 8 yards per carry (1394 yards on the season). Miami picked off opposing quarterbacks an NCAA-low 4 times this season. See if they can get their paws on any Cal passes (only 10 interceptions thrown all season).
Spread Prediction: Despite the presence of Best, Cal was a little below average offensively in the Pac-10 (sixth in yards gained). They made their mark on defense, as only Southern Cal and UCLA allowed fewer yards. Miami was their antipode, finishing third in the ACC in yards gained, but falling to tenth in yards allowed (ahead of only Duke and NC State). Cal should win, but Miami will keep this closer than a touchdown.

The Game: Independence Bowl
The Date: December 28
The Location: Shreveport, Louisiana
The Teams: Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech
The Line: Northern Illinois -1
What's at Stake? A win would give the Huskies from Northern Illinois their eighth winning season in 9 years. It would also mark a 5 and a half game improvment over last year's 2-10 campaign. A win for Louisiana Tech would be their first triumph in the postseason since the 1977 Independence Bowl.
Why You Should Watch: Both these teams are coached by upwardly mobile gentlemen. Jerry Kill, in his first season at Northern Illinois has been a successful coach in his previous stops at Saginaw Valley State and Southern Illinois (93-46 record). Derek Dooley in his second year at Louisiana Tech, has guided the Bulldogs to their first bowl game since 2001. And if the last name looks familiar, yes he is Vince's son. If you're a fan of a struggling BCS conference school, one or both of these men could be guiding your university as early as 2010.
Spread Prediction: Both these teams were statistically the third best teams in their respective conferences. Northern Illinois was only tenth in yards gained in the MAC, but boasted the best defense in the league, limiting conference foes to just 318 yards per game. Louisiana Tech was more balanced, finishing third in the WAC in yards gained and fourth in yards allowed. Outside of Boise State, the WAC has been awful in non-conference games. The other 8 schools, in contests against IA foes, have gone a collective 8-21. Make that 8-22.

The Game: Papajohns Bowl
The Date: December 29
The Location: Birmingham, Alabama
The Teams: Rutgers and NC State
The Line: Rutgers -7
What's at Stake? A third straight bowl win for Rutgers, after a century and a half of zero postseason wins. For NC State, this would be their first bowl win since the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Why You Should Watch: These are 2 of the hottest teams in the country. NC State has won 4 in a row after a 2-6 start. Rutgers has won 6 in a row after a 1-5 start.
Spread Prediction: NC State's defense has improved in their 4 game winning streak (allowing 336 yards per game). However, if we extrapolate that number over a full ACC season, they would still rank only eighth in the conference in defense (as opposed to the twelfth they currently rank). Meanwhile, Rutgers is in a virtual statistical tie with Cincinnati as the best team in the Big East. Rutgers is a better team, and will win, but NC State will cover the touchdown spread.

The Game: Alamo Bowl
The Date: December 29
The Location: San Antonio, Texas
The Teams: Missouri and Northwestern
The Line: Missouri -12.5
What's at Stake? This is Missouri's fourth straight bowl game (first time since 1978-1981 that the team has played in four straight), and a victory would give them 30 wins over the past 3 seasons. Northwestern, on the other hand, has not won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl (played January 1st 1949)
Why You Should Watch: This is your last chance to see Chase Daniel suit up for the Tigers and also the final opportunity to watch CJ Bacher throw passes for the Wildcats.
Spread Prediction: Northwestern did nothing in the Big 10 season to make me believe they can win this game. However, Missouri has not beaten a team with a pulse convincingly in 2 months (58-0 thrashing of Colorado). Northwestern will be able to move the ball enough on the Tigers to cover the large spread.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: Poinsettia Bowl
The Date: December 23
The Location: San Diego, California
The Teams: TCU and Boise State
The Line: TCU -3
What's at Stake? Boise State is looking for their second undefeated season in 3 years and a top-10 finish. TCU is out to prove that they are the creme de la creme of the mid-major crop and looking for a top-10 finish of their own. This year, a Poinsettia really is a poor man's rose.
Why You Should Watch: Defense. While Boise is most famous for their blue turf and zany offensive plays, their defense is what keeps them on top of the WAC. In onference play, Boise was the number one WAC defense. They allowed about 89 fewer yards per game than the 'average' WAC team. TCU was also the number one defense in the Mountain West. They allowed about 158 fewer yards per game than the 'average' Mountain West team.
Spread Prediction: The difference between TCU's 10-2 record and Boise's undefeated season is a matter of schedule. If you reverse the schedules for both teams, Boise probably ends up 10-2 and TCU finishes undefeated. This one has all the makings of a classic. I wouldn't expect either team to score more than 2 offensive touchdowns. TCU is a little more battle tested, so take the Horned Frogs to win and cover.

The Game: Hawaii Bowl
The Date: December 24
The Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
The Teams: Notre Dame and Hawaii
The Line: Notre Dame -2
What's at Stake? Notre Dame's first bowl win since the 1993 Cotton Bowl (played January 1, 1994) and a winning season for the Irish. Hawaii is looking for their fourth win in 6 Hawaii-based bowl games and their seventh winning season in 8 years.
Why You Should Watch: To pull against Notre Dame. I know there's almost nothing I like better than seeing the Irish go down. Otherwise, watch for Hawaii defensive end David Veikune, who lead the Warriors with 9 sacks this season.
Spread Prediction: 4 of Hawaii's 6 losses came to teams currently ranked in the top-25 (Florida, Boise, Cincnnati, and Oregon State). 2 of those teams are playing in BCS bowls, and the other 2 had themselves in position to qualify. The homefield advantage will be enough for the Warriors to pull off the small upset.

The Game: Motor City Bowl
The Date: December 26
The Location: Detroit, Michigan
The Teams: Central Michigan and Florida Atlantic
The Line: Central Michigan -7
What's at Stake? This is Central Michigan's third straight bowl game (all 3 in the Motor City Bowl) and the second straight and second ever for Florida Atlantic.
Why You Should Watch: Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour is Tim-Tebow lite. Despite missing 2 full games and part of another, he managed to throw for over 2500 yards and rush for 500 more. The Florida Atlantic senior rushing duo of Charles Pierre and DiIvory Edgecomb combined for over 1300 yards at an average of nearly 6 yards per rush (5.9).
Spread Prediction: Both these teams were widely expected to be the champions of their respective conferences. Things didn't quite turn out as they planned. For the Chippewas, the culprit was the emergence of Ball State in their division. For the Owls, it was a defense that had a tough time stopping Sun Belt foes. Central Michigan had their own struggles on defense (only Eastern Michigan allowed more yards in MAC play), but they should be able to do enough on offense to win a shootout by at least a touchdown.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Magnificent Seven: Bowl Locks

Bowl season is the second best time of the year (to March Madness of course). And one of the most rewarding aspects of bowl season is trying to predict each bowl's winner against the spread. With 34 bowl games this season, accurately predicting a significant percentage of covers is nigh impossible. However, if you restrict your view to games where the spread does not accurately represent the quality of the teams engaging in gridiron conflict, then you have a better chance of coming out ahead. That being said, I present to you my Magnificent Seven.

Sun Bowl
Oregon State -2.5 Pittsburgh
Despite their home loss to hated rival Oregon in the season finale that ultimately cost them a Rose Bowl bid, the Beavers enjoyed a fine season in 2008. They were extremely balanced, finishing third in yards gained in Pac-10 play (behind Oregon and Southern Cal) and fourth in yards allowed (behind Southern Cal, UCLA, and Cal). Oregon State was only 3-3 on the road, but two of those defeats came to top-10 teams (Penn State and Utah). The Beavers crushed UCLA in Pasadena and squeaked by bowl bound Arizona in Tucson. On the surface, Pitt would also appear to be very balanced as they finished fifth in the Big East in yards gained in conference play and third in yards allowed. However, while the Big East consists of only 8 teams, the Pac-10 has 10 (duh) making Oregon State's finish much more impressive. Statistically, the Beavers were the second best team in the Pac-10 (based on SDPI), though were significantly worse than league overlord Southern Cal. Meanwhile, Pitt was the third best team in the Big East, behind Cincinnati and Rutgers, but they were bunched very closely together with South Florida and Connecticut, and failing to separate themselves from the pack.

Music City Bowl
Boston College -4 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is obviously a great story as the Commodores broke a 26-year bowl drought by finishing 6-6 and an impressive 4-4 in the SEC. Ignore the record though, and look only at the stats and the numbers tell a troubling tale. Only 2 teams gained fewer yards in SEC play than the Commodores (Tennessee and Mississippi State). Vandy's defense was solid, finishing sixth in the conference in yards allowed in SEC play. However, the Commodores clearly relied on the other team's mistakes to win their games. In their 6 wins, the Commodores were +10 in turnover margin. In their 6 losses, they were -4. Put another way, when Vanderbilt won the turnover battle, they were 5-1. When they were even or negative, they were 1-5. The Vanderbilt offense gained more than 300 yards only 3 times all season. Those games were against Miami of Ohio (91st nationally in total defense), Rice (115th nationally in total defense), and Kentucky (37th in total defense thanks to their piss poor non-conference slate, but 12th in the SEC in yards allowed in conference play). That is not good news as they go up against a Boston College team that features the third best defense in the ACC (behind Virginia Tech and Clemson). The Eagles are also no strangers at forcing turnovers, netting 36 on the season to lead the nation. Even without quarterback Chris Crane, the Eagles should do enough to polish off the Commodores. Remember, Boston College lost the ACC title game because they could not move the ball against an elite defense. Vandy has a good defense, but it is not elite. Plus the Commodores are already 0-2 against the ACC this season (losses to Duke and Wake Forest).

Chick Fil-A Bowl
Georgia Tech -4 LSU
Statistically, Georgia Tech was the best team in the ACC in 2008. Their offense, which would never work mind you at a major college, ranked first in yards gained in conference play, and their defense, even without the aggressive Jon Tenuta ranked fourth in yards allowed. Paul Johnson couldn't have asked for a better opponent in the bowl game. The Yellow Jackets draw LSU from the big bad SEC. LSU, despite their reputation coming into the season, was an absolute sive on defense. Only Kentucky and Arkansas allowed more yards in conference play than the Tigers. Of course, Tiger apologists will point out they drew Florida and Georgia (the 2 best offenses in the SEC) as 2 of their 3 SEC East opponents. True. But the Tigers also benefitted from facing Auburn (ninth in yards in SEC play) and Mississippi State (dead last in yards in SEC play) in their division. LSU's defense is not good, and their offense is middling (sixth in yards gained in SEC play). Georgia Tech should score their third win of the season against an SEC foe (already beat Mississippi State and Georgia).

Outback Bowl
Iowa -3.5 South Carolina
A 3-game losing skid in September and October booted them off the national radar, but the Hawkeyes returned with a vengeance when they upended Penn State on November 8th. Each of Iowa's 4 losses came 5 points or less (12 total points). The Hawkeyes were statistically the fourth best team in an underrated Big 10. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were statistically the sixth best team in an overrated SEC. South Carolina had a solid defense, but it was far from great. In SEC play, four teams allowed fewer yards than the Gamecocks (Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Ole Miss). Plus those numbers are inflated by the fact that 2 of their opponents were among the 3 most offensively challenged teams in the conference (Vanderbilt and Tennessee). The Gamecocks will also be without their star safety and leadiing tackler Emanuel Cook, who is academically ineligible. That's bad news for the Gamecocks, but good news for perhaps the nation's top running back. Junior Shonn Greene topped 100 yards in every game he played this season on his way to finishing second nationally in rushing to Connecticut's Donald Brown. Iowa should take care of business and send the Gamecocks on a 3-game skid of their own to close the season.

Gator Bowl
Nebraska +2.5 Clemson
I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this number. Yes Clemson has been on a relative tear, winning their last 3 games to attain bowl eligibility. But who have they beaten? Duke, Virginia, and South Carolina. Duke, while improved, is not a good team. Likewise, the Virginia win was on the road, but the Cavs are also middling at best. South Carolina is a bowl team, but not exactly a super power in the SEC. In ACC play, Clemson struggled somewhat offensively, finishing sixth in yards gained, but were once again carried by their defense, which was second only to Virgina Tech in yards allowed. Of course, now in the bowl game, the maestro of the defense is no longer with the team. When Dabo Swinney was promoted to head coach, one of his first duties was releasing defensive coordinator Vic Koenning of his responsibilities. Koenning is an excellent coordinator and his presence will be missed. On the other sideline, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have quietly gone 8-4 in Bo Pelini's first season in Lincoln. And believe it or not, the Huskers actually own the Big 12's second best defense. Only Texas allowed fewer yards in Big 12 play than Nebraska. The Huskers also have the Big 12's third best offense. Only Oklahoma and Texas Tech gained fewer yards in conference play. If not for the fact that they only forced 15 turnovers on the season (110th nationally), the Cornhuskers could very well have won the Big 12 North. The main contributing factor to this inability to create turnovers was their bad luck in recovering opponent fumbles. Nebraska forced 16 fumbles this season and recovered only 5 of those (31%). Fumble recoveries are totally random events and we have expected Nebraska to recover about 3 more fumbles than they actually did. Nebraska is an excellent pick getting points as I fully expected them to be a small favorite in this game.

Capital One Bowl
Georgia -7.5 Michigan State
If you don't believe that things tend to even out of time, just take a look at Michigan State. Last season, despite playing like one of the best teams in the Big 10, the Spartans lost 6 games by 7 points or less (2-6 record in one-score games) en route to a 7-6 finish. This season, despite playing like one of the weaker teams in the Big 10 (statistically, only Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana were worse), Michigan State went 9-3. Though they were only 2-1 in one-score games, their wins were all reasonably close (6 Big 10 wins by an average of 10 points) and their losses were huge (Ohio State and Penn State outscored them 94-25). The Spartans do have a fantastic running back in Javon Ringer (1590 yards on the ground), but their passing game needs work (efficiency rating of 118.33 ranks 81st nationally). Georgia is a tad overrated (they are certainly not the number one team in the land as many thought before the season), but they do have an offense strong enough (second to Florida in SEC play in yards gained) to move the ball against a Michigan State defense that was below average against Big 10 foes (eigth in yards allowed).

Rose Bowl
Penn State + 9 Southern Cal
Can the Trojans make it 3 straight Rose Bowl bludgeonings over outclassed Big 10 teams? You don't need me to tell you that Southern Call was uber-dominant against the Pac-10. They were second in yards gained (by a single solitary yard to Oregon) and first by a mile in yards allowed. However, Penn State was pretty damn dominant too. The Lions had the second best offense in the Big 10 (to surprise--Illinois!) and the best defense. Methinks the Trojans will find the Penn State defense to be every bit as athletic as theirs. Southern Cal may have a small advantage on offense, but barring a barrage of turnovers this one should be close and could be a classic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bowl Season

The Game: EagleBank Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: Washington, DC
The Teams: Wake Forest and Navy
The Line: Wake Forest -3
What's at Stake? This will be the third meeting and rubber match (until next year) between these teams in the past 14 months. The Deacons took the first in October 2007 at Annapolis and the Midshipmen won this year's contest in late September at Winston-Salem. This is Wake's third straight bowl game and the sixth straight for the Naval Academy. These teams have combined for a 52-25 record over the past 3 seasons.
Why You Should Watch: Wake's defense features several playmakers, including corner Alphonso Smith and linebacker Aaron Curry, who will both be playing on Sunday next season. This will be the final college game for Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, the first 3-year starter at the Academy since Brian Broadwater in 2000.
Spread Prediction: Navy won the first game 24-17 thanks in large part to 6 Deacon turnovers. In their other 11 games, the Deacs had 13 turnovers. Wake should take care of the Academy and finish with at least 8 wins for the third straight season.

The Game: New Mexico Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Teams: Fresno State and Colorado State
The Line: Fresno State -3
What's at Stake? For Fresno State, a win would help salvage a disappointing season. Widely expected to contend for the WAC title, the Bulldogs stumbled to a 4-4 conference record, including non-competitive losses to Nevada and Boise. The Rams meanwhile are likely overjoyed with their 4-4 finish in the Mountain West. Widely regarded in the preseason as the worst team in the conference, the Rams managed to qualify fr a bowl game for the first time since 2005 under first year coach Steve Fairchild.
Why You Should Watch: Pat Hill's mustache. If that's not enough, watch to see if the atrocious Colorado State pass rush can get to Tom Brandstater. The Rams sacked opposing quarterbacks an NCAA low 9 times this season.
Spread Prediction: Fresno wins their fifth bowl game in 7 seasons in convincing fashion.

The Game: St. Petersburg Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
The Teams: South Florida and Memphis
The Line: South Florida -12.5
What's at Stake? This is the fourth straight bowl game for the Bulls from South Florida, but after a 5-0 start, their 7-5 finish makes this game a must win. The Bulls went only 2-5 in Big East play including a loss to cellar-dwelling Louisville. Memphis is playing in their fifth bowl game in 6 seasons, and a victory would clinch a winning record. The Tigers began the season 0-3, but rebounded to win 6 of their last 9 contests.
Why You Should Watch: George Selvie totalled only 5.5 sacks after notching 14.5 last season, but is still a serious pass-rushing threat for the Bulls. Memphis features 4 receivers 6 foot 4 or taller including the 6-8 Carlos Singleton.
Spread Prediction: South Florida beat two IA teams by more than 12.5 points this season--Syracuse and NC State. That is way too many points to give a solid team like Memphis.

The Game: Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl
The Date: December 20
The Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
The Teams: Arizona and BYU
The Line: Arizona -3
What's at Stake? A third straight Las Vegas Bowl victory and 11-win season for BYU or the first bowl win by Arizona in a decade (Holiday Bowl over Nebraska in 1998).
Why You Should Watch: This is the final college game for Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama who leaves as the all-time leading passer in Arizona history. BYU wide receiver Austin Collie leads the nation in receiving yards per game (118).
Spread Prediction: BYU was among the worst defenses in the Moutain West (only Colorado State, UNLV, and San Diego State allowed more yards in conference play). Only Oregon, Southern Cal, and Oregon State gained more yards in Pac-10 play than Arizona. The Wildcats should win an entertaining high-scoring affair.

The Game: R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
The Date: December 21
The Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
The Teams: Troy and Southern Miss
The Line: Troy -4.5
What's at Stake? The Troy Trojans have won at least a share of 3 straight Sun Belt titles and have achieved bowl eligibility in 5 of the past 6 seasons. A win in this bowl game would give them 9 wins for the first time since they moved to full-fledged IA status in 2001. Southern Miss has won 4 straight after suffering a 5-game skid in midseason. A win would clinch a winning season for Larry Fedora in his innaugural campaign.
Why You Should Watch: Larry Blakeney. Now that Brian Kelly and Paul Johnson have jobs at BCS schools, Blakeney is probably the best coach you've never heard of, and he seems content to be a mid-major 'lifer'. Blakeney is finishing up his 18th season at Troy and has compiled a sterling 144-72-1 record during that span. When Troy was IAA, his teams made 7 playoff appearances in 10 seasons, including twice advancing to the national semifinals. Southern Miss junior running back Damion Fletcher has already set the school's all-time rushing mark (4209 yards) and has averaged nearly 5 and a half yards per rush in his 3 seasons.
Spread Prediction: This should be an interesting battle as Troy posted the best defense in the Sun Belt and Southern Miss boasts the fourth best offense in Conference USA. Troy is an excellent team, but Southern Miss is much better than their 6-6 record and pose a real threat to win this game straight up.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fab Five: Week XIV

Last week was another ho-hum performance as I managed only a 5-5 mark. This brings my yearly record to 69-57-4. With just 2 weeks left in the season I'd like to climb to 15 games over .500 (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 42-22-1

UCLA +10 Arizona State
After a co-championship finish in the Pac-10 last season, the Sun Devils are a disappointing 4-6 in 2008 and need to win out to even have a shot at earning a bowl bid. UCLA must also run the table to even think about the postseason, but unfortunately for them, they must still face Southern Cal. Both teams are 3-4 in Pac-10 play and each owns victories over the same conference foes at the same venue: @Washington and home to both Washington State and Stanford. UCLA is slightly worse than Arizona State on offense and slightly better on defense. This game is a veritable toss up and getting 10 points with the Bruins is a steal.

Georgia Tech +8.5 Georgia
Paul Johnson's first season at the helm has gone pretty well in Atlanta. The Jackets are 8-3 and still have a small shot at garnering the ACC's BCS bid. Can he do what his predecessor failed to do in his entire tenure at the school, beat Georgia? Georgia Tech and Georgia outgained their conference foes by a very similar margin (+68 yards per game for Tech and +74 yards per game for Georgia), so this game will likely be very close. Tech is getting more than a touchdown and thus are the pick.

South Carolina +1.5 Clemson
Take the under in this game. With the exception of the Florida game, the Gamecock defense has been spectacular. Clemson's defense has also been quite stout except against Alabama and Florida State. In addition, neither of these teams figures to do a lot of scoring on offense. The alleged dynamic duo of James Davis and CJ Spiller have combined to rush for only 1158 yards this season on an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If we remove the 2 games against IAA foes, that number drops to 818 yards at a 4.5 yards per attempt clip. Davis and Spiller will find it tough going against the Gamecock defense and South Carolina will win a rather low-scoring affair.

UAB +9 Central Florida
UAB has one of the worst defenses in Conference USA and the nation at large, 450 yards per game (111th in the nation). Fortunately for them, Central Florida has the bona fide worst offense in the nation averaging a paltry 231 yards per game. The Golden Knights have no business being favored over anyone by more than a touchdown.

Texas A&M +35 Texas
This is too many points, even for a terrible team like Texas A&M to be given against their biggest rival.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 27-35-3

Texas Tech -20 Baylor
The Bears are a much improved team under Art Briles, but Texas Tech should be able to shred the Baylor defense that has given up an average of over 500 yards per game to the Big 12 powers it has faced (Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Texas).

Boise State -21 Fresno State
This is one of Pat Hill's worst teams at Fresno and Boise is playing for style points at home. Look for the Broncos to hold the Bulldogs to 10 points or fewer while putting at least 31 on the board.

Memphis -14 Tulane
After starting the season 2-2 with a near upset of East Carolina included in one of the losses, the Green Wave have lost 7 straight. The last 5 have all been by at least 17 points. Expect more of the same when they face a Memphis team still in contention for a bowl bid.

Florida Atlantic -4 Florida International
In an eery coincidence, both these teams have played 6 Sun Belt games and allowed almost the exact same number of yards (2223 for the Owls and 2207 for the Panthers). So Florida International is allowing about 3 fewer yards per game. Unfortunately, they are gaining about 60 fewer yards per game. Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith, despite a down season, is still the best of what's around in the Sun Belt. The Owls will win and finish the season bowl eligible.

Missouri -14 Kansas
The Tigers have quietly clinched the Big 12 North and are playing for a high national ranking. Kansas has deteriorated this season thanks to a defense that is allowing 78 yards more per game in 2008 than they did in 2007 (a nearly 25% increase). Both teams should score a lot in this one, but while Kansas may be stopped from time to time, Missouri will see their drives end without points very infrequently.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Odds and Ends

With their come-from-behind double overtime win at Bowling Green, the Buffalo Bulls have clinched the MAC East division and with it, the school's first ever bowl game. The Bulls did receive an invitation to the 1958 Tangerine Bowl, but turned down the invite because two black players would not be allowed to play. Since returning to IA football in 1999, Buffalo has won 24 games. 14 of those wins have come in the past 3 seasons under head coach Turner Gill. If you're bad at math, that means in the other 7 seasons, the Bulls won only 10 games. Even more impressive is the fact that the Bulls are 11-12 in MAC play under Gill, including 11-6 in their past 17 league games. Mr. Gill may be in line for a big time job at season's end.

Congrats to Joe Tiller who went out in style with a 62-10 win over in-state rival Purdue. While many Purdue fans and some in the administration were fed up with Tiller, they should build the man a statue in West Lafayette. Tiller's record in 12 seasons at Purdue is 87-62 (a winning percentage of .584) and 53-43 in Big 10 play (.552). In the 12 seasons prior to Tiller's arrival, the Boilers were 40-88-4 (.318) and 26-67-3 in Big 10 play (.286). The Boilers have posted 10 .500 or better seasons under Tiller compared to zero in the previous 12. They posted a winning Big 10 record 5 times in 12 seasons and were even in Big 10 play another 4 times. In the 12 seasons prior to Tiller's arrival, the Boilers never won more than 3 games in conference play.

My pick for coach of the year? Greg Schiano. On the evening of Octover 11th, the Scarlet Knights were 1-5 (0-2) in the Big East with 4 games remaining on the schedule against likely bowl teams. The Knights' lone win had come against Morgan State, they had lost to Navy, and had been blown off their home field by both Fresno State and North Carolina. Flash forward 6 weeks, and the Knights have won 5 straight and have 11 days off before facing a slumping Louisville at home. Schiano kept his team together and has them pointed toward their 4th straight bowl bid.

Saturday was another big day for the Rice Owls. The Owls rolled up 461 yards on Marshall and held the Thundering Herd to 10 points in a 35-10 win. The previous best defensive effort by the Owls had been holding Tulane to 17 points. With at least 2 games left (more on that in a moment), Rice has a chance to win 9 games for the first time since 1953 when they defeated Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. Rice closed the regular season Saturday at home against Houston (where the Owls are undefeated). If the Owls can upset the Cougars in what should be an offensive showcase, and the Thundering Herd can knock off Tulsa, the Owls will win Conference USA West and play in the title game.

Want a sleeper Heisman candidate for next season? How about Iowa running back Shonn Greene. Greene rushed for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Hawkeyes 55-0 whitewashing of Minnesota. Greene rushed for at least 100 yards in every game and finishes the regular season with 1729 yards rushing on 278 carries (6.22 yards per rush) and 17 touchdowns.

Middle Tennessee running back Phillip Tanner had a sensational game on Saturday against North Texas. Coming into the game, Tanner had gained 477 yards on the ground on 151 carries (3.16 average per rush) with 8 touchdowns. Tanner carried the ball 14 times against the Mean Green, gained 159 yards, and scored 5 touchdowns. In addition, Tanner returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. Tanner had returned 7 kicks this season for 112 yards (16 yards per return). He ran back 3 kicks on Saturday and gained 139 yards (46.3 yards per return).

Another mid-major player who had a big day was Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele. DiMichele who came in averaging 220 yards per game with 12 touchdown passes, threw for 370 yards and 6 touchdown passes in the Owls 55-52 win over Eastern Michigan.

Your day going poorly? At least you're not Cal-Poly kicker Andrew Gardner. Gardner missed 3 extra points, including one in OT, in the Mustangs 36-35 loss to Wisconsin. The Mustangs ran for 276 yards against the Badgers and held possession for 39:59.

And finally, this is a college football blog, but as anyone who knows me will atest, I am also a huge college hoops fan, especially of mid-major schools. That's why I am naming the Mercer Bears the official hoops team of Statistically Speaking. Here's the wikipedia link to Mercer University. The Bears own road wins over SEC schools Alabama and Auburn and gave Georgia Tech all they could handle in an OT loss yesterday. The Bears will have numerous chances to make themselves known as they must face Dayton, Oklahoma State, UCLA, and Iowa State on the road before they begin play in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Mercer has not posted a winning record since 2005. They hired a new coach in the offseason, Bob Hoffman, who was very successful in previous stops as women's basketball coach at Southern Nazarene (NAIA championship), college coach at Houston Baptist (2 NAIA championship game berths), college coach at Texas Pan American (21 wins in 2002), and a professional coach in the NBADL and ABA. The Bears will likely contend with Belmont for the Atlantic Sun title. Remeber Belmont? They were last seen giving Duke all they could handle as a 15 seed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fab Five: Week XIII

Last week's performance tied for the best of the season as I went 8-2. Like Steve Winwood, I'm back in the high life again. My record for the season is now 64-52-4. Hopefully I can continue that momentum with another solid week (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 39-20-1

Pitt +5 Cincinnati
If Cincinnati can get by Pitt, they will have only a home date against Syracuse standing between them and a BCS bid. The Bearcats have been phenomenal in the nearly 2 seasons Brian Kelly has been at the helm, posting an 18-5 record. One of those losses came courtesy of Pitt last season in a 24-17 decision. Pitt has a lot to play for in this game as well. A win would put them in the driver's seat for the Big East title with games left against West Virginia and Connecticut. Pitt has has outgained Big East foes by 85 yards per game, while Cincinnati has only outgained conference foes by 17 yards per game. Cincinnati may well win this game with the homefield advantage, but statistically, Pitt has been more dominant against common foes and thus is the pick.

Buffalo+3.5 Bowling Green
It's clear the balance of power is slanted toward the MAC West, but this game will go a long way toward determining who gets to the MAC Championship Game out of the eastern division. Both teams have played their MAC foes pretty evenly (Bowling Green has been outgained by about 7 yards per game and Buffalo has outgained foes by about 5 yards per game). The main difference in these two teams in the Bulls ability to force turnovers. They have recovered 16 fumbles on the season, and while fumble recovery is a random event, forcing fumbles is a skill. The Bulls have forced 26 fumbles on the season while the Falcons have forced only 10. Consequently, the Falcons have a turnover margin of +1 and the Bulls have a turnover margin of +13. Like last week's 4 OT thriller between the Bulls and Akron Zips, this one should be close. So take the team getting points.

Tennessee +3 Vanderbilt
Can the impossible happen? If Vandy wins this game, they will have 5 SEC wins, an unbelievable assertion before the season. In all likelihood, this game will be insanely boring as both these teams have the worst offenses this side of Auburn. Vandy has topped 300 yards against an SEC foe once in 7 tries (last week against Kentucky), and Tennessee has yet to top 300 yards against an SEC team. Both teams also boast strong defenses. Vandy has allowed only 322 yards per game to their 7 SEC opponents and Tennessee has allowed an average of 290 yards per game to their 6 SEC foes. Using the same logic as before, when the game is evenly matched, take the team getting points.

Nevada +6 Boise State
The Nevada Wolfpack are all that stands between Boise State and a 3rd undefeated regular season in 5 years. I know they play Fresno on the next week, but there's no way the Bulldogs win on the Smurf Turf. This game will be the ultimate battle of the irresitable force versus the immovable object. Nevada has run roughshod over every WAC defense they have faced, never gaining fewer than 481 yards. Boise State has shut down every WAC offense they have faced, never allowing more than 329 yards. Nevada is especially proficient running the ball in the Pistol offense, averaging a national best 325 yards per game on the ground. A pair of super sophomores, running back Vai Taua and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have both gone over 1000 yards rushing in only 10 games. Boise State ranks 12th nationally in rush defense, permitting only 103 yards per game. The Broncos were gashed on the ground in their trip to Autzen Stadium against Oregon when the Ducks totalled 227 yards on the ground. Nevada won't get to 300 yards rushing, but they will do enough to cover the spread.

Mississippi +4 LSU
Even when they were bad, the Rebels had a habit of sticking close with the boys from Baton Rouge. In 2004, during the midst of a 4-7 campaign, the Rebs lost by 3 at 20th ranked LSU (spread was 20). In 2006, during the midst of a 4-8 season, the Rebs again lost to LSU by 3, this time in OT (the 9th ranked Tigers were favored by 27). The spread is a lot lower, but the result should be very similar this time. LSU's defense is nowhere near as good as it has been the past few seasons. Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead will make some big plays and keep the Rebels in the game.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 25-32-3

Memphis -5.5 Central Florida
These 2 teams couldn't be more different. Memphis has one of the better offenses in Conference USA, and the best offense in Conference USA East. Meanwhile, Central Florida has, not only the worst offense in Conference USA, but also the worst offense in the nation. The Golden Knights have topped the 300 yards mark only twice on the season, in the opener against South Carolina State (IAA) and then against UTEP. To cover this spread, Memphis will only have to get to 17 points.

Arkansas -1 Mississippi State
Remeber when I said Vandy and Tennessee had the worst offense this side of Auburn, well I forgot to mention Mississippi State. The almighty SEC has 4 offenses that would struggle to score against Washington State and a fifth (South Carolina) intent on ruining the reputation of one of the most revered coaches in college footbal history. Off of soapbox. Mississippi State is doing the same thing they did last season, combine a putrid offense with a respectable defense, but no bowl game is in their future because their opponents have refrained from falling on their own swords. Arkansas is clearly a work in progress under first year coach Bobby Petrino, but Sylvester Croom would kill to have an offense as mediore as the one the Razorbacks have. Arkansas should win a squeaker and set themselves up for a potential bowl game if they can beat LSU next week.

Arizona -2.5 Oregon State
If there is one thing Pac-10 teams have done thus far in 2008, its win at home. Pac-10 teams are 24-13 in home conference games. If we remove the league's 2 whipping boys, Washington and Washington State who are a combined 0-8 at home, the league's teams are an incredible 24-5 at home. Southern Cal, Cal, Oregon, and Oregon State are undefated at home. Stanford's lone home loss has come to Southern Cal as has Arizona's. Stay with the home team trend in this one.

Florida State -1 Maryland
Like Arkansas, Florida State is a small road favorite against a conference foe. Unlike Arkansas, which has a better offense, but worse defense than Mississippi State, Florida State is a little better than Maryland on both sides of the ball. The key to this game will be Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. In the Seminoles 3 losses, he has tossed just a single touchdown and 7 interceptions. In their 5 wins over IA teams he has thrown 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. If Ponder can keep his mistakes to a minimun, Florida State will pull out a win and stay alive in the conference race.

Iowa -5.5 Minnesota
Iowa is winning their football games in stereotypical Big 10 fashion this season, with the running game and defense. The Hawkeyes boast the nation's 2nd leading rusher in Shonn Greene who is averaging 144 yards per game and over 6 yards per rush. Green has yet to be held under 100 yards on the ground this season. Greene's presence has helped make up for a passing attack that has only been mediocre under Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen. The Golden Gophers are winning games by forcing turnovers. Their turnover margin on the season is +15. In games where their turnover margin is at least +1, they are 6-0. In games where they break even or are in the red, their record is 1-4. The Gophers rank a medicore 62nd in rush defense, allowing 140 yards per game. Greene should be able to do enough to prevent the Gophers from teeing off in passing situations and forcing turnovers. If they don't win the turnover battle, the Gophers have little chance of covering.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fab Five: Week XII

Last week was my third consecutive losing week as I managed only a 4-6 record. My overall record is now 56-50-4. Hopefully I can break out of this rut and finish strong (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 35-19-1

Buffalo +3.5 Akron
I can't say enough about the job Turner Gill has done in bringing the Buffalo program out of the malaise of losing in under 3 seasons. Both teams come into this game 3-2 in MAC play and the winner will be in the driver's seat for the MAC East title. The Zips and Bulls may have the same conference record, but the Bulls have played the tougher schedule, with both their losses coming to Western and Central Michigan (combined record 15-4). The Zips have lost to undefeated Ball State, but also fell to fellow division member Bowling Green (5-5 record) 2 of their 3 wins have come against MAC West bottom-feeders Eastern Michigan and Toledo (combined record 4-15). This should be a tight game, but the wrong team is favored.

Northwestern +4 Michigan
What a difference a week makes. If this game had been played last week, this spread may very well have been reversed. Yet a blowout loss by Northwestern and a blowout win by Michigan have caused a seismic shift in betting logic. Ladies and gentlemen, as always, here are the facts. Even with their domination of Minnesota last week, the Michigan Wolverines have still been outgained by 114 yards per game against Big 10 foes. Even after being dominated by Ohio State last week, the Northwestern Wildcats have been outgained by Big 10 foes by about 9 yards per game. Northwestern is better than Michigan on both sides of the ball and should leave the Big House with a straight up win.

Rutgers +8 South Florida
Which season has been more disappointing? The Scarlet Knights are in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time in 4 seasons, but the Bulls have already lost 3 conference games and are no longer in contention for the Big East title. Rutgers has 3 Big East wins, and with an upset over the Bulls can clinch a winning Big East record and move closer to bowl eligibility with a 2 game home stand (Army and Louisville) to close the season. After failing to top 3oo yards in their first 3 Big East games (1-2 record), the Knights have eclipsed the 400-yard mark in the last 2 games. Of course, one was against Syracuse, but the other came against Pitt, the owner of a pretty stout defense. The difference in those games was embattled senior quarterback Mike Teel. Teel threw just 1 touchdown, completed a shade over 51% of his passes, and averaged 5.5 yards per pass in the first 3 conference games. In the last 2, he has thrown 9 touchdowns, completed over 70% of his passes, and averaged over 11 yards per pass. He won't be nearly as good against a good South Florida defense, but Rutgers, despite the bad start, has remained solid defensively. They should keep the South Florida signal-caller, Matt Grothe in check. The last 2 games in this series have been decided by 2 and 3 points. Expect a repeat here, though the Bulls may finally prevail.

South Carolina +23 Florida
This is probably not how Steve Spurrier envisioned winning games when he came to South Carolina--with a strong defense and pedestrian offense. The Gamecocks currently rank 3rd in the nation in total defense, allowing only 257 yards per game. Only 3 teams have topped 300 yards against the Gamecock defense this season--Mississippi, LSU, and Arkansas. The Gators are a prime candidate to be the 4th such team. They have failed to reach that number only once this season, against Tennessee, which says more about where they started their drives and the course of the game than anything about Tennessee's defense. Florida has won 5 straight SEC games by at least 28 points and appear to in line for a berth in the BCS Championship Game should they win out. Florida should continue their winning ways, but the offense is due to hit a bump in the road. After Saturday, Steve Spurrier will be able to take pride in the fact that although he is only 1-3 against the Gators, he is 3-1 against the spread.

Houston +4.5 Tulsa
In all likelihood this game will determine the champion of the Western division in Conference USA. Tulsa has an outstanding offense, averaging over 600 yards in conference games. However, the Cougars are also pretty proficient on offense. The Cougars are averaging a robust 564 yards per game against Conference USA foes. Houston's offense is slightly worse, but their defense is slightly better. This game is a toss up, and as such, the pick is the team getting points.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 21-31-3

Notre Dame -3.5 Navy
After a one year hiatus, the Irish look to get back to their winning ways against the Midshipmen. Notre Dame has struggled against winning teams, with an 0-4 record, but the Middies, while a winning team, do not have the raw talent that Notre Dame possesses. The worst Notre Dame team in recent memory stayed with Navy for 3 OTs last year. Navy will score some points, but the Irish will prevail rather easily.

Connecticut -10 Syracuse
The Connecticut Huskies are attempting to do something pretty amazing. They are already bowl eligible, and one more win will guarantee them a bowl game. They are capable of accomplishing this goal despite one of the worst passing offenses in the nation. Connecticut has thrown only 3 touchdown passes all season (tied with Army for the fewest in the nation). However, the Huskies have attempted more than twice as many passes as the Black Knights. Huskie quarterbacks have also thrown 12 interceptions to go with their lowly 3 touchdown passes. Their team passer rating is 98.31 (113th in the nation). The Huskies do have the excuse that their starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen has missed the past 4 games (and is out for the season) with an injury. However, in the 4 and a quarter games Lorenzen did play, he only managed a single touchdown pass to go along with 6 interceptions. Thank God for Donald Brown. Brown leads the nation in rushing yards per game, averaging 156 per contest. Brown has been held below 100 yards only once, in his last outing against West Virginia. Brown should have a field day against a Syracuse defense that has allowed 200 yards rushing in 7 of their 9 games. For the season, the Orange are allowing 204 yards per game on the ground (106th in the nation). Brown should run over the Orange and the Huskies should win what should be an ugly game rather easily.

Southern Cal -23 Stanford
Last season, as you may recall, Stanford pulled off the shock of all shockers when they knocked off the 40-point favorite Trojans. The Cardinal are clearly a better team this season and are playing at home, so is another upset in the works? I doubt it. The Trojans have held each of their last 4 opponents (Washington State, Arizona, Washington, and Cal) to under 200 yards. As a team, the Cardinal are averaging 360 yards per game against Pac-10 foes. However, when we remove the 2 games against the defense optional outfits in Seattle and Pullman, that number drops to 320 yards per game. Stanford will be lucky to score 10 points against the Trojans, meaning a number in the low 30's will be enough to cover.

Oregon -4 Arizona
Both these teams are out of the conference race, but with 2 games left for the Ducks and 3 left for the Wildcats, each team still has a shot at a 10-win season. This games seemed to close to call at first glance, so I took a detailed look at the stats. In Pac-10 play, Oregon is averaging 412 yards per game and allowing 353 yards per game. Arizona is currently averaging 374 yards per game against Pac-10 foes and allowing 313 yards per game. Those numbers look pretty even, so I removed both teams' games against the Pac-10 (and Division I) bottom feeders Washington and Washington State. After applying that adjustment, Oregon is averaging 376 yards per game against Pac-10 opponents and allowing 391 yards per game. Arizona is now averaging 315 yards per game and allowing 357 yards per game. Oregon has the better offense and Arizona the better defense. Cummulatively, Oregon has a slightly better team. Couple that with homefield advantage and the Ducks are the pick.

Southern Miss -3 East Carolina
Just looking at records, this game looks like a mismatch. Southern Miss is 4-6 (2-4 in Conference USA) and East Carolina is 6-3 (4-1 in Conference USA). However, if we look at yardage numbers, the we see this should be a very close game. Southern Miss, despite their 2-4 conference record, has outgained their league foes by an average of 94 yards per game. East Carolina, on the other hand, has outgained Conference USA foes by an average of just a single yard. The universe will even itself out a bit after Southern Miss wins on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fab Five: Week XI

Last week endured my second consecutive losing week as I managed only a 4-6 record. My overall record is now 52-44-4. I know my faithful readers expect more from me, and I certainly do as well. I hereby guarantee at least 6 wins this week. Get excited (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 33-16-1

Marshall +8 East Carolina
The winner of this game will likely be the champion of Conference USA's Eastern Division. Unfortunately, what that likely means is a slautering at the hands of Tulsa. I would not classify either the Pirates or Thundering Herd as 'good teams', as each has been outgained on the season. Barring an abundance of turnovers on either side, this game should come down to the wire.

Iowa +7.5 Penn State
Forget the home date with Michigan State at the end of the year, this is Penn State's stiffest remaining test on the road to the BCS Championship Game. The Hawkeyes 5-4 record belies their strong performance. None of their losses have come by more than 5 points, and the combined margin of defeat in those 4 games is only 12 points. Running back Shonn Greene should, the nation's 3rd leading rusher, should help the Hawkeyes control the clock and move the ball against the stout Penn State defense. Remember, both Illinois and Michigan had success on the ground against Penn State (391 combined yards and 4.44 yards per rush), so it's not unprecedented.

New Mexico State +3 Hawaii
New Mexico State is a very undervalued play this week, as most people can't shake their performance against Boise State out of their minds (0 points and 150 yards of offense last week). However, Boise is clearly the WAC's best team and the Broncos also shutout the Aggies last year, only to have the Aggies rebound and cover the very next week against Louisiana Tech (they were +7 and lost 22-21). Hawaii is not in nearly the same class as Boise and this spread shoul probably be reversed.

Notre Dame +3 Boston College
Look at the stats and they'll tell you that Boston College has a fantastic defense, 10th in the nation in yards allowed per game (275). But look at the Eagles schedule, and you can see why they are ranked so high. 3 of their 8 opponents are ranked 109th or worse in total offense (NC State, Virginia Tech, and UCF who is ranked dead last). 3 others are ranked 72nd or worse (Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Clemson). One is a IAA team (Rhode Island). The highest ranked offense the Eagles have played is Kent State (36th). Notre Dame ranks 44th in total offense and has the best set of skill position players the Eagles will have seen so far this season (Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Jimmy Clausen).

Georgia Tech +4 North Carolina
Paul Johnson's triple option has not run roughshod over the ACC...yet. The Jackets are 8th in the nation in rushing offense, but total offense-wise, they are a bit below average at 72nd. The players that fit Johnson's system will come, but in the meantime, he has the service of one of the best defenses in the nation (15th in total defense). In what should be a low-scoring game, take the team getting points.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 19-28-3

Southern Miss -3 Central Florida
The Golden Eagles broke out of their season long doldrums last week when they pummelled UAB 70-14. Southern Miss has been the unfortunate beneficiary of poor luck this season, with a 1-4 record in one score games. While the Eagles can expect some improvement based on those numbers next season, the fact is they will likely be home for the holidays this season. Of course, there's still time to inflict some misery on others, beginning with this weeks game against UCF. The Knights, are to put it mildly, horrendous on offense. They currently average 240 yards per game, which is dead last in the nation. They are on pace to finish with a worse offense than Notre Dame from last season (242 yards per game). Add to that the fact that UCF's numbers are a bit inflated by their game against IAA South Carolina State. If we look only at games against IA foes, their yardage number drops to 227 per game.

Arkansas State -2.5 Florida International
The Red Wolves from Arkansas may be the happiest team in the nation this week. After facing off against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Red Wolves take a big step down in competition when they face the Golden Panthers. With 4 conference games left, Arkansas State still has designs on winning the Sun Belt, and their run will likely start against a team that has yet to average over 4 yards per carry in any game this season.

TCU -2 Utah
The other Thursday night Mountain West showdown turned out to be a laugher. TCU crushed BYU 32-7 and ended their BCS dreams. They now look to do the same against the Utes. Methinks this one will be a much closer battle. Both these teams are rediculously strong on defense. No Mountain West team has topped 300 yards against either unit. Utah has the stronger offense, but TCU has the stronger defense. I had TCU as the champion in the preseason, so I'll stick with that prediction and take the Horned Frogs to lock up the Mountain West on Thursday night.

Florida State -5.5 Clemson
Last week marked the first time Clemson had covered a spread yet in 2008. Don't look for it to happen 2 weeks in a row. Since their abysmal 220 yards showing against Wake Forest, the Florida State offense has been on point (by ACC standards at least), averaging 366 yards in their other 4 conference games. The defense has been stout as well, allowing only 295 yards per game to ACC foes. Florida State may not be back, which is to say mid-90's, but this is the best team they have had since 2003. They should make short work of a Clemson team that is basically playing out the string.

Rice -11 Army
For lack of a better comparison, Rice is Diet-Tulsa. The Owls don't have an offense quite as prolific as the Golden Hurricane and their defense is also a little worse, but thy certainly score enough to win. Army is much better than they were last season, but their option offense is still a work in progress (average only 287 yards per game--111th in the nation). Rice will be able to move the ball well enough to win by 2 touchdowns.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Deep Thoughts

If it wasn't already apparent, it is now. Mike Leach is one helluva a football coach. He has taken a non-traditional power in Texas Tech and led them to a #2 ranking in the polls. Leach has been to a bowl each season at Tech in a tough conference and even tougher division. Will Leach stay at a Red Raider at season's end? I don't think there is any question Leach will win wherever he goes, but if he stays at Tech and continues to win, and occasionally compete for a league title, he could go down as one of the all-time greats. That being said, I fully expect Texas Tech to lose at least once and possibly twice before the end of the regular season.

Someone is going to have to explain the logic in the Coaches Poll. While Texas is ranked one spot ahead of Oklahoma in the AP Poll (4 and 5), the Sooners are ranked 4th in the Coaches Poll and the Longhorns are 7th. Now, Texas did lose most recently, but it was on the road and the winning margin came in the closing seconds. Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field by 2 scores (10 points), and besides the win over the Sooners, owns 2 wins better than any on the Sooners slate (Missouri and Oklahoma State) with the possible exception of TCU.

Another team in Texas is defying expectations with a prolific offense. With their victory over UTEP on Saturday, Rice is now bowl eligible at 6-3. Each loss has come to a likely bowl team--Texas, Vanderbilt, and Tulsa, and while Rice has yet to knock off a team with a winning record, a 2nd potential bowl bid in 3 seasons is something to get excited about. In fact this team is much better than the rabbits foot carrying 2--6 version. The 2006 team was outscored by 82 points over 13 games, while this year's version is +34 thus far. Rice has 2 receivers closing in on the 1000-yard mark, touchdown machine Jarett Dillard and uber-mench James Casey. With games left against Army, Marshall, and Houston, Rice could potentially win 8 games before their bowl.

Finally, there is a real imbalance in the divisions within the Big 12 and MAC this season. The Big 12 South is 13-3 against the North thus far. The 4 superpowers (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech) have yet to lose a game outside the division. The MAC West is currently 11-1 against the MAC East with the only loss coming when Eastern Michigan fell to Akron. From the looks of things, the conference championship games may not be too competitive.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fab Five: Week X

Last week I went 4-5-1, which was my first losing week since the opener. My overall record is now 48-38-4. One again, the goal for this week is 7 wins. (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 30-14-1

Despite their loss to Oklahoma last month, the Horned Frogs are still solidly positioned to qualify for a BCS bowl. TCU has one of the nation's best defenses, mid-major or otherwise. Statistically they are second in the nation in total defense, permitting only 219 yards per game. The offense is not in the same class as some other teams in the state of Texas (Texas, Texas Tech, and Houston), but they do average 408 yards per game (34th in the nation). However, like most teams, the TCU offense drops off a bit on the road. In their 4 home contests against IA foes, they have averaged 433 yards per game and 5.58 yards per play. In their 4 road contests against IA foes, they have averaged 355 yards per game and 4.77 yards per play. UNLV has come very close to scoring an upset each of the past 2 weeks, losing to Air Force by a single point and BYU by 7 points. The Rebels should come close to scoring another upset this week.

Northwestern +7 Minnesota
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. That's how Minnesota has gone from Big 10 basement dwellar to potential Rose Bowl participant. The Gophers have been outgained on the season (albeit only slightly), yet are 7-1 thanks to an amazing +15 turnover margin. Is this performance sustainable through the end of the season? Probably not, as 12 of their 24 forced turnovers have come via fumble recovery. The problem with that is that the Gophers have forced only 14 fumbles on the season, meaning they have recovered nearly 86% of their opponents fumbles. Turnovers are also the reason Northwestern comes into this game fresh off an upset loss to Indiana. The Wildcats lost 3 fumbles and threw 2 interceptions while forcing no turnovers in a 21-19 loss. Northwestern is not an upper-echelon Big 10 team, but then again, neither is Minnesota. The Wildcats should keep this one close and perhaps even pull off an outright upset.

Kent State +6.5 Bowling Green
Don't look now, but the Golden Flashes may be rounding into championship form. Hell, someone has to win the MAC East. After falling by 21 to Ball State, Kent State has dominated their next 3 MAC foes on the field, if not the scoreboard. The Golden Flashes have gained an average of 424 yards per game and allowed an average of 333 yards per game over their past 3 contests (Akron, Ohio, and Miami). Kent State is primed to take advantage of Bowling Green's major weakness, stopping the run. The Falcons have allowed an average of 219 yards per game on the gorund in their past 3 contests. Kent State currently ranks 15th in the nation in rushing offense, gaining an average of 218 yards per game. Running back Eugene Jarvis and quarterback Julian Edelman should post great numbers and the Golden Flashes have a real chance to pull off the upset.

Pitt +4.5 Notre Dame
Despite their horrendous loss last week when they gave up 442 yards and 54 points to the previously lethargic Rutgers offense, Pitt still poses a serious threat to the Irish and their BCS pipe dreams. The Rutgers debacle seems to be the exception rather than the rule, as Pitt has yet to allow more than 361 yards to any other opponent. Even in defeat, running back LeSean McCoy continued his stellar play, topping 100 yards on the ground for the 4th consecutive game (average 148 per game and 5.9 per rush with 9 touchdowns in that span). Notre Dame decimated Washington last week, but as usual, the Irish have yet to beat a team with a winning record (Stanford at 4-4 is their best scalp). Pitt will keep this one close and may eke out a straight up win.

Louisiana-Monroe +1o Troy
After posting one of the Sun Belt's best offenses with quarterback Omar Haugabook calling the signals over the past 2 seasons, the Troy Trojans are now winning games with their defense. Their 4 Sun Belt foes have only averaged 332 yards per games with none gaining more than 358 yards against Troy's stout defense. The defensive capability has allowed the green offense to endure its growing pains without costing the team games. The offense has topped the 400 yard mark only once in Sun Belt play, against league bottom-feeder North Texas. Louisiana-Monroe is only 1-3 in league play, but each of their losses has come by single-digits (combined 18 points). Expect more of the same on Saturday, as Troy pulls out a closer than expected win.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 1-3-1
Overall: 18-24-3

Missouri -22 Baylor
The Tigers disappeared from the national conscience after consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Texas. However, the Tigers still have a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl game, provided of course they can win the Big 12 North. Each of Missouri's victories save the opener over Illinois have come by at least 21 points. Expect more of the same in Waco on Saturday.

Kansas -9 Kansas State
Both the Jayhawks and Wildcats are coming off defense-optional losses to Big 12 South teams. Kansas gave up 556 yards and 63 points to Texas Tech while Kansas State gave up 528 yards and 58 points to Oklahoma. Both teams share another common trait, and that is getting whacked at home by Texas Tech. Earlier in the month, Kansas State experienced a 30 point home defeat to the Red Raiders. Kansas one-upped them last week, losing by 42. So why is Kansas the pick here? While both defenses have have their problems, at least Kansas has shown signs of being marginally proficient on that side of the ball. Kansas State has not. Outside of North Texas and Colorado, every IA team on their schedule has gained at least 500 yards and averaged at least 6.4 yards per play. Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing is definitely poised for a big day. And while his counterpart, Josh Freeman, will certainly post good numbers too, the homefield and better defense will allow Kansas to cover.

Boston College -3 Clemson
What was supposed to be a memorable season for the Clemson Tigers, has turned out to be unforgettable. With preseason expectations of at least a division title, the Tigers have fallen flat on their faces, posting a 1-4 record against IA foes. The defense is still pretty stingy, allowing only 317 yards per game (36th in the nation), but the offense has stalled. Against IA foes, the Tigers have averaged only 287 yards per game, a figure that would rank 111th nationally. Things won't get any easier against a Boston College defense currently allowing only 266 yards per game (7th in the nation).

Navy -7 Temple
Both of these teams won last week while producing some unique offensive stats. Navy did not complete or even throw a single pass in their 34-7 win over SMU, while Temple managed to defeat Ohio 14-10 despite gaining only 143 yards. Offensive struggles are nothing new to the Temple Owls who have been held under 200 yards 3 times in 8 games this season. For the season, they are averaging only 251 yards per game (119th in the nation and ahead of only UCF). Temple's defense has kept them in most games, holding 4 opponents under 300 yards and 6 under 400 yards. Only Penn State with their spread scheme and vastly superior athletes has been able to dominate the Owls. Their defense should keep them in the game against Navy, but playing at home, the Midshipmen are a good play to cover a touchdown margin.

Texas -4 Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are 4-0 in Big 12 play, with 3 of their victories coming on the road. However, while 3 of their last 4 conference games are at home, 3 also come against top-10 teams, starting with number 1 Texas. The Red Raiders will be able to move the ball against the Longhorns, but the new and improved Will Muschamp defense will put the clamps on the Red Raiders enough times to allow Texas to cover.