Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fab Five: Week IV

Last week was a banner week for me as I went 8-2 ATS, including a perfect sweep of the underdogs. Have I pulled a Marvin Lewis and set the bar too high? Time to find out (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 5-0
Overall: 11-4

Boise State +10.5 Oregon
One of the best mid-major programs of the past decade visits an aspiring usurper to the Trojan's Pac-10 throne. An upset by the Broncos could position them for their 2nd BCS bid in 3 seasons. The Broncos have flown under the radar while beating Idaho State (IAA) and Bowling Green by a combined 69-14 in their first 2 games. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Moore has filled in admirably for the departed Taylor Tharp, completing over 75% of his passes, while averaging nearly 11 yards per pass, and abstaining from throwing an interception. Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon will be without he services of quarterback Justin Roper as he recovers from a knee injury. Fortunately, the Ducks are more of a running team anyway, having rushed for nearly 1000 yards in 3 games (970). The Ducks have torched their first 3 opponents, gaining 1687 yards. However, their first opponent, Washington, allowed 475 and 591 yards respectively to BYU and Oklahoma after the Ducks rolled up 496 yards against them. Their second opponent, Utah State, is one of the worst teams in IA and their most recent foe, Purdue, has never been down for their defensive prowess. Boise State will provide a stiff test for the Ducks, in a game Oregon should win by a slim margin.

New Mexico +10.5 Tulsa
The Lobos began the season with consecutive home losses to TCU and Texas A&M, and appeared to be in for an 0-3 start when undefeated Arizona came to town. But the Lobos were able to parlay 5 Arizona turnovers into a 36-28 upset win. Of course, that's not to say turnovers were the sole reason for the win, as the Lobos were only outgained by a little over 50 yards (388-335). Running back Rodney Ferguson topped 100 yards for the second straight game, gaining 158 on the ground in 26 carries. That performance came after he gashed Texas A&M for 135 yards on just 19 carries. For those scoring at home, thats an average of over 6 and a half yards per rush against BCS-conference defenses. Ferguson has to be licking his chops as the Lobos get set to face Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have not changed much from last year's incarnation. They still move the ball well and score a lot (3rd in yards per game and 7th in points per game thus far) and struggle to stop others from doing the same (98th in yards allowed per game and 71st in scoring defense). Quarterback David Johnson is currently the nation's top-rated passer with an efficiency rating of 241.58. However, Tulsa's first 2 opponents have been UAB and North Texas. UAB gave up 601 yards to Tulsa, but proved that was not an aberration when they gave up 554 to Florida Atlantic and 548 to Tennessee in the following 2 games. North Texas has also proven to be defensively challenged as they allowed 471 yards to Kansas State and 425 to LSU in between the 555 they permitted Tulsa to gain. New Mexico is in another class defensively, having allowed only 915 yards in 3 games. But what should concern Tulsa even more is the fact that their defense gave up 450 yards to North Texas. In their other 2 games, against Kansas State and LSU, the Mean Green have accumulated 404 combined yards. The step up in competition will be too much and the Lobos will cover the double digit spread with ease.

Toledo +7 Fresno State
The Toledo Rockets have been a pretty good team under head coach Tom Amstutz, posting a 56-33 record in just over 7 seasons. However, at home, they have been a great team. Toledo is 35-6 under Amstutz at home in the Glass Bowl. Fresh off a tough home loss to Wisconsin that likely shattered their BCS dreams, Fresno State is walking into a huge trap.

Iowa St +3 UNLV
Iowa State lost last week, while UNLV pulled off a huge upset. However, a look at the box score shows something else. Iowa State outgained their opponent, Iowa, by 85 yards, yet lost thanks to 3 missed field goals, costly turnovers, and a Hawkeye punt return for a score. The Rebels were able to upset Arizona State despite allowing them to average 6.3 yards per play (compared to 4.7 for UNLV) by winning the tunrover battle (1-0), stopping the Sun Devils on a crucial 4th down, and blocking a field goal in overtime. This game should be close, but the wrong team is favored.

Arizona State +7 Georgia
Their loss to UNLV has taken some of the luster off of this matchup, but it is still one of the best of the week. Last week, Georgia was a 7.5 point road favorite against a team with a great defense and a sketchy offense. The touted Bulldog offense was actually outgained by that sketchy offense (thanks to the great defense of course). Now the Bulldogs are 7 point road favorites against a team with a very good offense and a defense that is of unknown prowess. The defense has looked good thus far against the likes of Northern Arizona, Stanford, and UNLV, but the Bulldogs feature a much higher class of athlete. However, the Sun Devil offense will certainly rank among the best Georgia has seen this season. Senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter currently ranks 9th in the nation in pass efficiency and I expect him to keep the Sun Devils in the game. Last time a top-5 SEC school game to Tempe, they escaped with a 35-31 win (LSU in 2005). If Georgia does win, it will be by the thinnest of margins.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 6-9

Pittsburgh -1 Iowa
After their early season scrimmages against Maine (IAA) and Florida International where they looked like worldbeaters, piling up 969 yards of total offense, reality set in for the Hawkeyes against Iowa State. While they did manage to beat the Cyclones 17-5, they gained only 240 yards and scored only a single offensive touchdown. The defense still played well, holding the Cyclones to just 325 yards and picking off 3 passes. Now the Hawkeyes leave home for the first time this season to take on the Panthers. Pittsburgh is coming off a bye week after opening the season with a disappointing 1-1 record against 2 MAC schools (Bowling Green and Buffalo). The defense has been pretty good, limiting the Falcons and Bulls to just 602 combined yards, but the offense has not improved from last season. Super sophomore running back LeSean McCoy is only averaging 3.81 yards per rush and quarterback Bill Stull has just a solitary touchdown pass in 2 games. Still, the homefield advantage should be enough for the Panthers to get by against an equally offensively challenged opponent.

Michigan State -8.5 Notre Dame
Don't read too much into Notre Dame's seemingly easy 35-17 win over Michigan. The Irish benefitted from 6 Wolverine turnovers, including 4 fumble recoveries. Of their 5 touchdown drives, one went 11 yards, another went 14, and one came on a fumble return by linebacker Brian Smith. The Irish gained only 260 yards against the Wolverines and Jimmy Clausen completed less than half of his passes (10 for 21). Also, don't read too much into Michigan State's lackluster 17-0 win over Florida Atlantic. The weather was less than ideal and the Spartans decided to get back to the old school era of Big 10 football by pounding the rock. They threw only 15 passes all day while running the ball 58 times. The defense held a solid Florida Atlantic offense to only 225 yards and pretty good quarterback in Rusty Smith to 8 completions in 34 attempts. The Spartans should handle the Irish with relative ease.

Arkansas State -5.5 Middle Tennessee State
Arkansas State has been very impressive in the early going. They defeated Texas A&M in College Station in their first game, dropped 83 points on Texas Southern (IAA) in game 2, and nearly knocked off Southern Miss last week. The most encouraging sign for the Red Wolves is that they have outgained all 3 foes. They put up 415 yards against Texas A&M and allowed only 303. They lambasted Texas Southern with 670 yards of total offense and racked up 437 against Southern Miss while allowing the Golden Eagles only 348 yards. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee State has rebounded from their opening loss to Troy by knocking off Maryland and coming within a single yard of upsetting Kentucky. The Blue Raiders have shown that they can throw the ball, as quarterback Joe Craddock has completed over 63% of his passes with 5 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions thus far. However, their running game has been virtually nonexistent. For the season, they are averaging just a shade over 2 yards per rush, and as a team have not topped 3 yards per carry in any game this season. The running game will prove to be the difference in this one as Arkansas State has yet to average under 5 yards per carry in any game, and are currently averaging over 7 yards per rush on the season.

Minnesota -6.5 Florida Atlantic
This is a revenge game of sorts for the Gophers who were upset by the Owls 42-39 in Boca Raton last season. Of course, the Owls were very fortunate to win that game as Minnesota nearly survived despite turning the ball over 7 times (to zero Owl turnovers). Minnesota is far from a Big 10 title contender this season, but they are improved over last year's team. Quarterback Adam Weber, the lone bright spot in last season's 1-win debacle, has continued his stellar play, ranking 18th in the nation in pass efficiency. He should be able to throw at will against an Owl secondary that gave up 326 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air to UAB.

North Carolina -2.5 Virginia Tech
Can Virginia Tech continue to be opportunistic and do enough to win the Coastal Division of the ACC? In their 2 games against IA foes (East Carolina and Georgia Tech), the Hokies have yet to gain more than 247 yards. The defense, usually the team's calling card has even been somewhat pourous. The Pirates racked up 369 yards and the Jackets gained 387. 3 Georgia Tech turnovers are the reason the Hokies are not staring up at the rest of the ACC from an 0-1 hole. That style of waiting for the opponent to screw up will get Virginia Tech to a bowl game, but it won't be enough to beat an improving Tar Heel team in Chapel Hill.

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