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.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A 7th BCS Conference?

After reading this article wherein the author suggests the WAC and Mountain West should combine to form a super (big) conference I was a little confused. What the author fails to realize, is that this already happened. From 1996-1998, the WAC featured 16 teams and a Championship Game. In 1999, 8 teams left and formed the Mountain West. And the rest as they say, is history. However, the article did give me an idea for creating a 7th BCS conference. It's fairly obvious the cream of the Mountain West and WAC can compete with most teams in the nation. The top of the SEC and Big 12 and the very top of the Pac-10 and Big 10 are clearly better, but the top of both the Mountain West and WAC are as good as those top teams in the ACC and Big East. What brings the conferences down is the soft underbelly. Idaho and Utah State are horrible in the WAC and New Mexico State is not much better. Meanwhile, in the Mountain West, Wyoming and San Diego State have 2 IA wins between. So the smart thing for those presidents at schools like TCU and Boise State to do is cut the dead weight. Make some back room deals with schools like BYU and Utah and form a new western league--the Alpine West-- and then lobby for your own automatic BCS bid. So who's in?

TCU--The Horned Frogs have played in 9 bowl games over the past 10 seasons and have won 11 games 5 times in that span. Plus they have notched several wins over BCS-conference schools over the last 5 years (Baylor, Stanford, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Northwestern).

Utah--Over the past 15 seasons, the Utes have posted a winning record 13 times. They have played in 5 straight bowl games and were the first non-BCS team to play in a BCS bowl game.

BYU--3 straight bowl trips after a brief dip at the beginning of this century. Arguably the best history of any non-BCS conference team, complete with a Hall of Fame coach and national title.

New Mexico--5 bowl games in the past 6 seasons. Get the nod over Air Force because, while the Falcons are clearly a very good team now, the margin of error for a service academy is very thin. When/if Troy Calhoun leaves, the Falcons could level off.

UNLV--Location. Location. Location. The Rebels don't have any real football history to offer, but Vegas attracts its fair share of visitors.

Boise State--10 straight winning seasons, 7 seasons of at least 10 wins in the past 9, and a BCS bowl appearance. The Broncos are the 'name brand' mid-major program.

Fresno State--A little overrated, but the Bulldogs have played in 8 bowl games in the past 9 seasons. The Bulldogs have a well-deserved rep for taking on all comers, and occasionally they win those games. Another 'name brand' mid-major despite not appearing in a BCS bowl game.

Nevada--3 straight bowl games and an active Hall of Fame coach. Also are a good natural rival for UNLV. Get the nod over Hawaii to allow the conference to save on travel.

This gives you an 8 team conference that is at worst, on par with the Big East. Also, since each member plays only 7 conference games, there is more opportunity for marquee non-conference matchups. Of course, if these teams merge, there will probably be some pissed off university presisdents in San Jose, Las Cruces, Moscow, Logan, Honolulu, Ruston, Colorado Springs, San Diego, Fort Collins, and Laramie. What would become of those teams? Good question. And that is the proverbial fly in the ointment, likely preventing this partial merger from happening. But of course, you just never know.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fab Five: Week IX

Last week I once again went 6-4, bringing my seasonal record to 44-33-3. One again, the goal for this week is 7 wins. (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 27-12-1

Duke +10.5 Vanderbilt
The 'Nerd Bowl' is a much bigger game that it may have appeared before the season started. Vanderbilt needs just a single win to garner bowl eligibility for the first time since 1982. A win for Duke would give them a winning record this late in the season for the first time since 1994, and make a bowl bid at least a plausibility if not a possibility. Both teams come into this contest on two-game losing streaks. Duke has fallen to Georgia Tech and Miami after beginning the season 3-1 and Vanderbilt has dropped games against Mississippi State and Georgia. A precursory look at yardage statistics reveals that Vandy has done their damage with smoke and mirrors. The Commodores are currently averaging only 249 yards per game on offense (ahead of only UCF in the NCAA). Duke is far from an offensive juggernaut, but they are averaging 326 yards per game (87th in the nation). Vandy does have a legit defense, holding opponents to 334 yards per game (45th in the nation), but it is not appreciably better than the 350 yards per game Duke allows (57th in the nation). Vanderbilt has built their record on a great turnover margin (+9 in their 5 wins) and a little bit of luck--opponents have made only 6 of 11 field goal attempts and the Commodores are 3-1 in one-possession games. Vandy may well get to bowl eligibility against Duke on Saturday, but this game should be much closer than 10 points.

Rutgers +10 Pitt
On the surface this game appears to be a total mismatch. The team with the inside track to the Big East title versus a team basically reduced to playing out the string. However, while Rutgers is by no means a good team, 3 of their 5 losses have come by 7 points or less, and each loss has come to a likely bowl team. Quarterback Mike Teel has been far from productive this season, but in the past 3 games (all against Big East foes), he has avoided throwing an interception. Each of those games have come down to the wire, with the Knights winning only one. The Rutgers defense has also improved recently, allowing only 130 yards on the ground and 3.32 yards per rush over their last 3 games after allowing 212 rushing yards per game and 4.96 yards per rush in the their first 3. If the Knights can contain Pitt running back LeSean McCoy, who is averaging 149 yards on the ground and over 6 yards per rush over his last 3 games, they stand a great chance of being in this game until the end.

SMU +12 Navy
Don't look now, but June Jones run-n-shoot offense is starting to click down in Dallas. After averaging only 302 yards per game in their first 5 contests against IA foes, the Ponies have averaged 442 yards per game over their last 2. The defense is still terrible, having allowed an average of 502 yards per game (dead last in the NCAA), but the offense was good enough to keep the team in close losses to both Tulsa and Houston the past 2 weeks. Navy won't have a problem moving the ball against the pourous SMU defense, and could conceivably top 500 yards on the ground. However, with the exception of Wake Forest and perhaps IAA Towson, every team has moved the ball with ease against the Navy defense. The defense is a little overrated statistically (91st in the nation allowing 401 yards per game) thanks to the ability of the offense to control the clock and limit opponents possessions. Navy ranks 100th nationally in yards allowed per play, permitting a shade over 6 yards per play. This one should be quite entertaining, and SMU should keep it close.

Kentucky +26 Florida
Kentucky's defense is a little overrated thanks to their pillow-soft non-conference schedule. However, even when accessing their prowess against SEC teams, its clear this is the best Kentucky defense in a long time. In 3 SEC games, the Wildcats have allowed only 355 yards per game, a figure that would still rank 61st in the nation. The Florida offense is rounding into fine form, averaging 477 yards per game over their past 3. Florida will move the ball against Kentucky and the Wildcats have several key injuries that will limit their already weak offense, but this spread is just too big to take the Gators.

Middle Tennessee State +1o Mississippi State
Its been a somewhat disappointing season for the Blue Raiders who are already 1-3 in Sun Belt play, likely keeping them home for the holidays no matter what happens the rest of the way. However, outside the league, Middle Tennessee has upset Maryland and lost by 6 to Kentucky. Mississippi State is exactly the type of team Middle Tennessee could potentially knock off. The Bulldogs offense is atrocious, averaging only 285 yards per game (111th in the nation--or Vanderbilt on steroids), but they are quite stout defensively. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents only 292 yards per game (22nd in the nation). Middle Tennessee State is far from a good team, but they should be able to hang around against a team with an offense this lousy.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 17-21-2

Nebraska -12 Baylor
After consecutive home losses to Virginia Tech and Missouri, the Huskers dropped off the national radar. Many casual observers probably missed perhaps their two most impressive performances over the past two weeks--a close loss at Texas Tech and a blowout win against Iowa State. The Huskers had their two best offensive performances thus far against BCS-conference foes in those two games, gaining 1019 yards. The Huskers welcome Baylor to Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, the Huskers are 6-0 versus Baylor, winning by an average of over 36 points per game (over 46 points per game at home). Baylor is certainly new and improved under head coach Art Briles and quarterback Robert Griffin, but Nebraska should win comfortably at home.

Army -2.5 Louisiana Tech
If there was ny doubt that option football is what the service academies need to be successful, just take a look at the Black Knights. In Stan Brock's first season as head coach in 2007, he scrapped the option attack and tried to implement a more pro-style offense. The results were disastrous. The Knights went 3-9 (their 11th consecutive losing season) and the offense averaged 276 yards per game (116th in the nation). Brock brought back the option this season and after a rough start the team has improved. The Knights began the season 0-4, with offensive averages of 264 yards per game and 3.91 yards per play. In their last three games (of which they have won two), the Knights have averaged 349 yards per game and 6.12 yards per play. In fact, the option has been so good, Army defeated Eastern Michigan without completing a single pass. Army should take care of business at home against a Louisiana Tech team that ranks 119th (or next to last) in the nation in pass efficiency.

Cincinnati -2.5 Connecticut
The Bearcats should have quarterback Tony Pike back for this game. Pike, as you may remember, replaced Dustin Grutza who was injured in the second game of the season against Oklahoma. Grutza, as you may remember, replaced Ben Mauk who quarterbacked the Bearcats last season, but was denied a 6th year of eligibility by the NCAA multiple times in the offseason. Outside of the whipping the Sooners laid on them in Norman, the Cincinnati defense has been pretty solid, allowing only 295 yards per game to IA foes not quarterbacked by Sam Bradford. The Connecticut quarterback, Zach Frazer, is about as far removed from Sam Bradford as one can get. Frazer himself is also replacing an injured starting quarterback in Tyler Lorenzen. Connecticut will do what they always do, which is pound Donald Brown (nation's leading rusher), play solid defense, and capitalize on mistakes. Without a competent passing game, it won't be enough to get by Cincinnati.

Central Michigan -4 Toledo
This game could be billed as a changing of the guard in the Toledo Glass Bowl. From 2000-2005, Toledo was arguably the top program in the MAC. The Rockets were 55-19 over those 6 seasons (38-9 in MAC play) with a conference title and four bowl appearances. In the two and a half seasons since then, they have gone 12-19 (7-12 in MAC play) and their once mighty homefield advantage has been reduced to rubble (0-3 at home this season). On the other hand, Central Michigan has gone 23-12 over the past two and a half seasons (17-2 in MAC play) with consecutive MAC titles and bowl appearances. Toledo's offense, outside of a 598 yard outburst against Fresno State, has averaged a paltry 268 yards per game in their other six contests. Central Michigan should do enough to cover this number even if star quarterback Dan LeFevour is out of action.

New Mexico State -13 Idaho
New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme is probably licking his chops at the prospect of calling plays against a secondary as emabttled as the one Idaho currently employs (in the metaphorical sense of course). The Vandals have allowed opposing quarterbacks to post an efficiency rating of 153.63 (114th in the nation) and have allowed 22 touchdown passes on the season (only North Texas and SMU have allowed more). Look for New Mexico State to roll in the Kibbie Dome.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Second Half Bears and Bulls

With each college football team having played at least 6 games at this point, I thought it would be a good idea to take a stab at determining which teams will sizzle and which teams will fizzle in the second half. We'll begin by examining a few teams that are likely to see their record falter as the leaves turn.

Record: 6-1 (2-1 Big 10)
After 7 games, the Golden Gophers are already bowl-eligible, a feat few deemed possible, especially this early in the season. The 1-11 debacle (and winless Big 10 campaign) of 2007 has been quickly forgotten. But, let's not go heralding the Gophers as this year's Illinois just yet. Minnesota's 4 wins outside the league were over Northern Illinois (a solid 4-3 MAC school), Bowling Green (a not-so solid 3-4 MAC school), Montana State (IAA), and Florida Atlantic (a 2-5 Sun Belt school). In Big 10 play, the Gophers knocked off Indiana (only one win versus a IA foe) and Illinois (4-3) and lost to Ohio State (7-1). However, in those 3 Big 10 games, the Gophers are only averaging 304 yards per game, while allowing an average of 419 yards per game. The biggest difference between this season and last is that the Gophers have forced 20 turnovers in just 7 games after forcing only 14 all of last season. Turnovers are a significant determinant of wins and losses in football games, but they are also very random events. If Minnesota's turnover capabilities dip, their record should follow suit.

Record: 5-2 (3-2 SEC)
Vanderbilt's ranking in total offense is ..drum roll... 119th in Division IA. Only UCF has been worse moving the ball. Vanderbilt's defense is a very respectable 45th, but with the struggles the offense has gone through--after netting 360 yards in the opener against Miami (Ohio), the unit has averaged 231 yards per game--Vandy will still struggle to get to bowl eligibility. Vandy's remaining schedule includes an improved Duke team, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest. And speaking of...

Wake Forest
Record: 4-2 (2-1 ACC)
In 3 ACC games, Wake Forest has scored exactly 1 touchdown. In the Deacons first 2 games (against Baylor and Ole Miss), they scored 71 points and averaged 362 yards. In their next 4 games (Florida State, Navy, Clemson, and Maryland), the Deacons have scored 41 points and averaged 288 yards per game. One is an accident. Two is a trend. Three is a problem. So what is four? A debacle. Last season Wake averaged 340 yards per game. Nothing spectacular. This season, that average has dropped to 312. However, in 2007, the Deacons also scored 10 defensive or special teams touchdowns. This season they have scored zero. Thus that small drop in yardage has led to a huge drop in points (from 27.8 per game to 18.7). Wake Forest is not an ACC title contender and will be fortunate to eke out 7 regular season wins.

And now, who is ready to turn the corner? What improved team is hiding behind a pitiful won/loss record?

Record: 1-7 (0-5 Conference USA)
Well, its guaranteed SMU will go yet another season without a bowl bid, but if you look closely, you can see some minor improvement. In their first 5 games, the June Jones run-n-shoot was averaging only 313 yards per game. If we remove the win over Texas State (IAA), that number drops to 283 per game. In their last 3 games, the Pony Express is averaging 419 yards per game. The main reason is the improved play of freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. In the first 5 games, Mitchell completed 54.9% of his passes, averaged 6.7 yards per pass, and threw 14 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions. Once again if we remove the Texas State game, those numbers drop to 52.7%, 6 yards per pass, and 9 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions. In the last 3 games, Mitchell has completed 64.7% of his passes, averaged 8.7 yards per pass, and thrown 9 touchdowns versus 6 interceptions. The past 2 weeks, the Mustangs have come close to breaking through for their first win over a IA opponent, losing by 6 against both Tulsa and Houston. While Jones' offense has finally clicked, the defense has remained putrid, allowing over 1100 yards the past 2 weeks. Still, with 4 games left to play, there is ample opportunity for the Mustangs to win 2 or 3 games against Navy, Memphis, UTEP, and Southern Miss.

Record: 5-3 (2-2 Big 10)
After 3 straight losses following a 3-0 start, the Hawkeyes looked like an afterthought in the Big 10 race. However, it should be noted each loss came by 5 points or fewer and the Hawkeyes actually outgained all 3 teams. The Hawkeyes stumbled because they were -5 in turnover margin over that span. Incredibly, they lost 7 fumbles in those 3 games (while gaining only one) and for the season have recovered only 38% of total fumbles (average is 50%). Look for that trend to reverse somewhat over the final 3rd of the season. In addition, the Hawkeyes also boast the nation's 3rd leading rusher in junior back Shonn Greene. Greene is averaging 144 yards per game and over 6.5 yards per rush. Many folks think Penn State's last big hurdle is this week in Columbus, but they should be very wary of the November 8th clash in Iowa City.

Record: 2-5 (1-2 MAC)
The Bobcats have truly been road warriors in 2008. 5 of their first 7 games (and soon to be 5 of 8 after tonight) have been on the road. The Bobcats lost by a single point at Wyoming, led Ohio State in the second half, lost by 3 to Central Michigan, and lost by 8 to Northwestern. They have outgained their opponents on the year and have the profile of a team with a 4-3 record. If they can survive what should be a defensive slugfest at Temple tonight, they would have no losses within the division with 3 of their final 4 regular season games at home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fab Five: Week VIII

Last week I went 6-4, bringing my seasonal record to 38-29-3. The goal is 7 wins this week. (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 25-9-1

Memphis +8.5 East Carolina
I think its safe to say the bloom is off the Skip Holtz rose. After opening the season with 3 straight victories (2 over ranked BCS-conference foes), the Pirates have dropped 3 straight. 2 have come to ACC teams, albeit ACC teams that may well be at home for the holidays. East Carolina has been outscored (by 8 points) and outgained on the season (by 227 yards), so their profile befits a 3-3 team. The Pirates have yet to gain more than 386 yards in any game and currently rank 81st in yards per game. The defense, which was pretty stout in the first 3 games (allowing only 269 yards per game) has regressed (allowing 478 yards per game over the previous 3 contests). Meanwhile, Memphis has a poorer record (3-4), but may have the better team. 3 of the Tigers 4 defeats have come by one possession. The Tigers have outgained their 7 opponents by 716 yards on the season so they could easily stand 5-2 or even 6-1. The Tigers nearly upset Louisville last week, but lost thanks to 3 non-offensive touchdowns by the Cardinals. Louisville returned a kickoff, blocked field goal, and returned a fumble for a touchdown against Memphis, yet won by only 7 points. Memphis is a good team and getting more than a touchdown makes them a very safe play this weekend.

Southern Miss +3.5 Rice
What a difference a year makes. Last season Rice upset Southern Miss, but coming into the game they were 20-point underdogs. Now they find themslves in the unfamiliar position of favorite. A win by Rice would be their 4th of the season (3rd in conference play) and put them within spitting distance of bowl eligibility. Rice has a very good offense, led by senior quarterback Chase Clement, senior wide receiver Jarett Dillard, and sophmore H-back James Casey. The Owls currently average 429 yards per game (24th in the nation). Unfortunately, the other side of the ball is not as strong. The Owls currently allow 466 yards per game (114th in the nation). Forcing turnovers is the only thing Rice does well on defense, having gained 16 through 6 games (tied for 8th in the nation). Southern Miss has stumbled somewhat out of the gate, winning only 2 of their first 6 games under new coach Larry Fedora. The Golden Eagles are also 0-2 in conference play and need this game in a bad way. The 2 conference losses have been close (by 10 total points) and the Eagles have only been non-competitive in losses to Auburn and Boise State. Running back Damion Fletcher, currently averaging nearly 6 yards per carry, should plow through the pourous Rice defense and if the Golden Eagles can limit their turnovers, they should walk out of Texas with a straight up win.

Ole Miss +13 Alabama
How well does the Tide stand prosperity? This game will go a long way toward determining that. With the Auburn Tigers suddenly becoming paper tigers, this game and the road trip to LSU next month are the biggest stumbling blocks before the SEC Championship Game. Alabama's offense may get a lot of the credit for their 6-0 start, but if we remove the Western Kentucky game when the offense exploded for 557 yards, the Tide have averaged only 343 yards in their other 5 games. The defense is Alabama's strength, having not permitted more than 324 yards in any contest. Alabama currently allows only 262 yards per game (1oth in the nation). The Rebs come into this game fresh off a bye after a disappointing home loss to South Carolina. Ole Miss may be only 3-3, but their losses have come by 2, 6, and 7 points respectively. The teams they have lost to (Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina) currently boast a combined 14-4 record. The reason the Rebs have failed to win those close games can be summed up in one word: turnovers. Ole Miss outgained Wake (only by 12 yards), but lost thanks to a -2 turnover margin. The Rebs outgained Vanderbilt significantly (183 yards), but were -4 in turnover margin. South Carolina outgained them by 44 yards, but the Rebs compunded their trouble by again posting a -2 turnover margin. Quarterback Jevan Snead has been a drastic improvement over whatever gardbage lined up under center in the 4 seasons after Eli Manning's departure, but he has thrown 9 interceptions in only 6 games. If he can avoid the big negative plays, Ole Miss can hang around and make things interesting in Tuscaloosa.

Colorado State +21.5 Utah
Considering how well the Rams played against TCU last week (lost 13-7), I'm surprised this spread is so high. After opening the season with a blowout loss to arch-rival Colorado and following that up with a nip-and-tuck 3-point win over IAA Sacramento State, the Rams have played pretty good football. They've beaten both Houston and UNLV, while losing to Cal and TCU. The 35-point loss to Cal is a bit exaggerated, as the Bears scored 3 non-offensive touchdowns. Utah may well be the top mid-major this season, but Colorado State should be able to stay within 3 touchdowns.

Rutgers +1 Connecticut
Less than 2 calendar years after their amazing Thursday night comeback against Louisville, the Scarlet Knights have returned to their former position at the basement of college football. While the Knights have failed to notch a single win against a IA foe, they have come close on several occasions. They have lost by 2 points to Navy, 7 points to West Virginia, and 3 points to Cincinnati. None of those teams are world-beaters, but all are likely headed to bowl games, and each contest was on the road. Returning home to face Connecticut could be just what the doctor ordered. The Scarlet Knights can lay the blame for the lost season squarely at the feet of the offense which is averaging a paltry 318 yards per game (95th in the nation). Quarterback Mike Teel has gone from an average erratic quarterback to a bad erratic quarterback. The running game has yet to find a suitable replacement for Ray Rice, and alleged super star receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood have not a single touchdown catch between them (15 last season). The Connecticut Huskies look a lot like the 2006 Scarlet Knights. They pound opponents with the running game (Donald Brown leads the NCAA with 178 rushing yards per game), play pretty good defense (33rd in the nation allowing 306 yards per game), and win the close ones (3-0 in one-possession games). However, teams with such thin margins for error usually lay a few eggs on the season and this appears to be an ample opportunity for one. A wounded, yet proud team at home, looks like a straight up win to me.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 13-20-2

Pitt -3 Navy
The relatively small margin of this spread surprises me. I know Navy upset the Panthers (on the road) in OT last season. I know Navy owns wins over Wake Forest and Air Force and one of their losses came against undefeated Ball State, but 3 points? A field goal. Lest we forget, Navy also lost to Duke (an improved Duke squad I'll grant you). 3 of Navy's 4 victories have come by 7 points or less and the most recent win against Air Force came courtesy of 2 blocked punts that were returned for touchdowns. The Falcons outgained the Midshipmen by 167 yards, but could not overcome the 14 points they spotted them on special teams. Plus, the bewildering Navy option attack is not as proficient sans maestro Paul Johnson. If we remove the opening 602 yard foray they put on IAA Towson, the offense is currently averaging only 344 yards per game (about 100 les than the 444 per game they put up last season). To be fair the defense is better (allowing 384 versus the 439 they allowed per game last season), but Navy is still a team that relies on superior execution and mistakes by their opponents. Pitt is certainly a team capable of making a great deal of mistakes, but they should handle Navy with relative ease.

Cal -1.5 Arizona
If I have learned anything in my life on this Earth, its never trust Mike 'Lesser' Stoops. Despite this fact I erroneously believed Arizona could perform the simple task of winning at Stanford last week. You know the old saying, 'Fool me once...'. Despite their road loss at Maryland, the Bears have been pretty dominant thus far, and figure to be the main challenger to the Trojans in the Pac-10. Cal has outgained their 5 opponents by over 600 yards and are showing a penchant for defense. The Bears currently rank 25 in total defense, permitting 291 yards per game. Michigan State gashed them somewhat with 402 yards in the opener, but only Colorado State has topped 300 yards against them since. Arizona fooled me into thinking they were legit by pounding cream puffs (their best win was on the road at 2-4 UCLA). Arizona should put up a fight, but Cal will win by at least a deuce.

Illinois -15.5 Indiana
The Hoosiers have been in a free fall since opening the year with blowout wins over Western Kentucky and Murray State. Ball State, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Iowa have beaten them by an average of 20 points. The Hoosiers now travel to a very dangerous Illinois squad. The Illini are only 3-3, but 2 of their losses have come to top-15 teams (Missouri and Penn State). In their 4 games against BCS-conference foes (Missouri, Penn State, Michigan, and Minnesota), the Illini are averaging 489 yards per game and 6.7 yards per play. They should make quick work of an overmatched Indiana defense that has allowed 429 yards per game in their 4 losses.

San Jose State -2 New Mexico State
The best reclamation project you've never heard of is going down now as we speak in San Jose. Dick Tomey, the purveyor of turnarounds at Hawaii and Arizona, is doing it once again. The Spartans were 14-33 (10-22 in the WAC) in the 4 seasons before Tomey's arrival in 2005. In his 3+ seasons at the helm, the Spartans are 21-21 (13-13 in the WAC) and won a bowl game following the 2006 season. Hal Mumme is attempting to do the same at Las Cruces, but has not seen the same kind of results. The Aggies were 21-27 (14-10 in the Sun Belt) in the 4 seasons preceeding Mumme's arrival in 2005. In his 3+ seasons, the Aggies are 11-31 (4-21 in the WAC) with just 6 wins over IA foes. The Aggies will try to beat the Spartans by moving the ball through the air. They torched Nevada for 409 yards and 3 touchdowns via the pass last week in a 48-45 upset win. However, San Jose State has been very proficient defending the pass this season. Opposing quarterbacks have an efficiency rating of only 92.91 against the Spartans this year (5th in the nation). And lest you think those numbers have been put up only against the easy portion of the schedule, think again. Nebraska and Stanford (both at home) managed not a single touchdown throw against the Spartans. The Spartans will win a close one and need just a single victory for bowl eligibility.

Louisiana-Lafayette -3 Arkansas State
This battle for momentary supremacy in the Sun Belt should be quite entertaining. In 2 Sun Belt games, the Ragin' Cajuns are currently rolling up an average of 659 yards per game and averaging over 10 yards per play. Running back Tyrell Fenroy and quarterback Michael Desormeaux are both nearing 1000 yards on the ground. Arkansas State is also 2-0 in Sun Belt play and boast a win over Texas A&M on their resume. Its clear the Aggies are not that good, but a road win over a Big 12 teams is still impressive for a Sun Belt team. Arkansas State is a bit over-valued thanks to a rediculous +10 turnover margin through 6 games (a trend not likely to continue). Playing at home, the Cajuns should get a leg up on their Sun Belt competition.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Notes and Such

While most of America is busy handicapping the races in the SEC, Big 10, and Big XII, there is a pretty interesting race developing in the Sun Belt. Florida Atlantic, the consensus preseason pick of everyone and I mean everyone, is currently 1-5, and more importantly 0-2 in conference play. Taking the Owls place atop the league are the triumverate of Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State, Troy, and uh, Florida International? All 4 teams are 2-0 in league play and none is more shocking that the Golden Panthers. The Ragin' Cajuns from Louisiana were co-champs as recently as 2005, as were the Red Wolves from Arkansas State. Troy has shared the league title the past 2 seasons, so those teams are old money Sun Belt powers. Florida International on the other hand, won a single game in the 2 seasons preceeding 2008. They've tripled that win total in just 6 games, and each of their losses have come to BCS-conference foes (Kansas, Iowa, and South Florida). I mention this because the first installment of the Sun Belt's round-robin battle on the road to New Orleans begins this week. Florida International travels to Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette hosts Arkansas State. Troy has the more favorable schedule down the stretch as they host Florida International, Arkansas State, and Louisiana-Lafayette, but don't sleep on the Cajuns. Remember, Louisiana-Lafayette has played extremely well in one-score defeats at both Illinois (20-17) and Kansas State (45-37).

Speaking of the Sun Belt, I need to give props to senior Louisiana-Lafayette wide receiver Jason Cherry. In the Ragin' Cajuns win against North Texas on Saturday, Cherry caught 3 passes for 123 yards. More importantly, each catch went for 6 points. Cherry also ran the ball 3 times for 85 yards and a score. And he returned 2 kickoffs, one he was able to take all the way back for 6. So if you're scoring at home, he touched the ball 8 times and scored 5 touchdowns.

If Ron Prince joins Tommy Bowden in the unemployment line at season's end (and you can make a pretty cogent argument he deserves to), the Wildcats should be sure to retain the services of the gentleman (men) who work on special teams. The Wildcats scored 6 touchdowns on special teams in 2006 and 2007, but thus far in a half-season's work they have 5. The Wildcats are especially proficient at blocking kicks, totalling 6 in 6 games.

If you know Washington State coach Paul Wulff, send him a card. Or better yet a defense. The Cougars have played 4 Pac-10 games. 3 of their opponents (Cal, Oregon, and Oregon State) have topped 60 points against their alleged defense. Things don't get any easier this weekend when the mighty Trojans come to town. The early spread is SC -42. Ouch.

And people thought Tuane would miss Matt Forte. Not so much. Andre Anderson has done quite nicely filling in for the Chicago Bears draft pick. Anderson has 852 yards on the ground through 6 games. He's topped 100 yards in each of the past 4 contests (twice going over the 200-yard mark). Since netting only 32 yards in the opener against Alabama, Anderson has averaged 164 yards per game and a robust 5.22 yards per carry.

And speaking of running the football, the Black Knights of Army may have found their feature back in fullback Collin Mooney. Mooney had only 6 carries and 22 rushing yards coming into the season, but in the past 2 games, he has put up 187 yards against Tulane and 229 against Eastern Michigan. The team as a whole is playing much better in Stan Brock's second season. After opening 0-3, including a loss to IAA New Hampshire, the Black Knights have won 2 of 3 with the lone loss coming by 4 points at Texas A&M.

There's dominance, and then there is what the MAC West has done to the MAC East this season. Teams in the MAC West (Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Toledo) are 10-0 against teams in the MAC East (Bowling Green, Akron, Ohio, Temple, Buffalo, Kent State, and Miami). The lone MAC West team without a win against their eastern brethren is Toledo, and well, that's because they have yet to play an eastern dwellar. The MAC East has a chance to get off the schnide as Akron hosts Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fab Five: Week VII

Last week was very another winning week for me (barely). I went 5-4-1, bringing my record to 32-25-3 on the season. On to the picks (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 21-8-1

Western Michigan +1.5 Buffalo
The Broncos from Western Michigan have reeled off 5 straight wins since falling to Nebraska in their opener. They currently stand 3-0 in the MAC, and are the biggest threats to Central Michigan's 3-peat and Ball State's run at perfection. Buffalo is 1-1 in MAC play, with a 2-point win over Temple and a 2-point loss to Central Michigan on their resume. Even though the game is in Buffalo, that point spread should probably be reversed. Against MAC foes, Western Michigan has averaged 5.99 yards per play and their opponents ave averaged 4.70 yards per play. By contrast, Buffalo has averaged 5.77 yards per play and their opponents have averaged 5.99 yards per play. Western Michigan has slight advantage in offensive firepower, and a decided advantage on the defensive side. Barring a barrage of turnovers, the Broncos should pull out the straight up win.

Arkansas +19 Auburn
Auburn recently threw their offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, under the bus, canning him 6 games into his first full season. True, the Auburn offensive has been just short of deplorable this season (see the 3-2 slugfest against Mississippi State), it was his first year on the job. Did it never occur to the Auburn administration that it might take a while (even a few years) for the offense to catch on? I would be willing to bet between 70-80% of the current players were not recruited to run this spread offense. But alas, I suppose the axe has to fall on someone. With the midseason (midweek) firing, even if Auburn reverts back to their days of pounding the ball out of the I-formation, can they cover this large number? Think about it. If Arkansas manages to score 10 points, that means Auburn must score 30 to cover. This one has all the makings of a 20-3 snoozefest Tiger victory.

Louisiana Tech +7.5 Hawaii
Hawaii was able to upend Fresno State last week (on the road) and notch their first win against a IA opponent. However, the Warriors were significantly outplayed by the Bulldogs on a down-to-down basis. Fresno State outgained the Warrios by 180 yards, but shot themselves in the foot with 6 turnovers (3 lost fumbles and 3 interceptions) and 2 missed field goals. The Warriors also ran a kickoff back for a touchdown, a surprising feat considering they 87th nationally in kickoff return average. Hawaii may well knock off Louisiana Tech on the islands, but this one should be closer than a touchdown.

Tulane +4.5 UTEP
A quick glance at Tulane's peripheral yardage stats and one would think they were 5-0 instead of 2-3. The Green Wave have outgained their first 5 opponents by 729 yards. But the Green Wave have given up two special teams and one defensive touchdown to their opponents while scoring none of their own. Meanwhile, UTEP has rebounded from an 0-3 start to win their first two conference games. Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe has been especially sound in the two conference wins, throwing 7 touchdown passes and just a single interception after throwing 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in the first 3 games. UTEP may well begin their conference season 3-0, but they are a little overvalued after consecutive wins over Central Florida and Southern Miss. The Miners destroyed Central Florida 58-13, but that win was buyoed by 6 turnovers. They followed that up with an OT win over Southern Miss, but benefitted from 3 missed field goals from the Golden Eagles.

Texas +7 Oklahoma
The Sooners have been a buzzsaw thus far, destroying everything in their path. The Sooners certainly have a pair of better wins, as they own victories over Cincinnati and TCU. Of course, both those wins came in Norman. Texas, on the other hand, has the better road win, a 24-point shellacking of Colorado in Boulder. Methinks this one will be tight, and thus the pick is the team getting spotted a touchdown.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-2-1
Overall: 11-17-2

South Carolina -1 Kentucky
Kentucky's loss to Alabama looked extremely competitive last week, but don't forget the fact that the Wildcats scored late to make it a 3-point game. Alabama outgained the Wildcats by over 100 yards and bludgeoned them for 282 yards on the ground. South Carolina has their best offensive showing last week, totalling 405 yards in a win at Ole Miss. South Carolina is stronger on both sides of the ball and should keep Steve Spurrier perfect against Kentucky.

Missouri -14 Oklahoma State
At worst, this one should be quite entertaining. Missouri is averaging an astounding 8.2 yards per play and has punted twice in the past 3 games. Oklahoma State has also been quite proficient offensively, averaging over 52 points per game. However, the Cowboys have seen their offensive splits drop when facing BCS-conference foes. Against Washington State and Texas A&M, two teams that will likely fail to qualify for a bowl, the Cowboys have averaged 384 yards per game. Against Houston, Southwest Missouri State (IAA), and Troy the Cowboys have averaged 628 yards per game. Missouri does not have a dominant defense, but it should do enough to win comfortably at home.

Ball State -16 Western Kentucky
Ball State is attempting a run at perfection. Western Kentucky is playing their last year of provisional IA ball before joinng the Sun Belt next season. Against 4 IA foes this season, Western Kentucky has been doubled up in total yardage (1698-840) and outscored by an average of 26 points per game. The Hilltoppers have averaged 9 points per game against IA foes. If they get to 14 against Ball State, the Cardinals need only get to 30 to cover. Consider it done.

Georgia -13 Tennessee
Tennessee has beaten Georgia the past 2 seasons, including a 51-point outburst between the hedges in 2006. The Phil Fulmer death march continues into Athens this week. Against teams not named UAB, the Vols have averaged just under 14 points per game. The offense has averaged 260 yards per game against those schools. Of course, the defense has been rock solid, holding each opponent under 300 yards. That's a far cry from last season when the defense gave up 403 yards per game. Georgia may have a little trouble moving the ball, but playing at home, they should win by at least 2 touchdowns.

Arizona -6.5 Stanford
At long last (10 seasons to be exact), this appears to be the year the Wildcats finally get back to a bowl game. A turnover-fueled loss at New Mexico in the 3rd game of the season likely elicited 'here we go again' shouts from Tucson, but the Wildcats have responded with consecutive lopsided conference wins. The Wildcats have outgained each of their first 5 opponents and are currently averaging 429 yards per game, by far the most in the Mike Stoops era (386 last season). The defense is also doing their part, currently allowing only 226 yards per game (again the best in the Stoops era). Stanford is certainly improved under Jim Harbaugh, but Arizona should be able to cover the touchdown number on the road.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fab Five: Week VI

Last week was very schizophrenic for me. I swept the underdogs and whiffed on all the favorites bringing my record to 27-21-2. Time for another winning week (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 5-0
Overall: 18-6-1

Pittsburgh +14 South Florida
Barring a large number of turnover-induced or special teams touchdowns, this should be a low-scoring affair. Pitt currently ranks 32nd in total defense, permitting 307 yards per game. South Florida is 8th in total defense, allowing only 242 yards per game. Of course, part of South Florida's defensive acumen is accentuated by their schedule--3 of their 4 IA opponents (Central Florida, NC State, and Florida International) rank 111th in total offense or worse. South Florida may well be the best team in the Big East, but Pitt should keep this one close.

UNLV +2 Colorado State
UNLV has been one of the pleasant surprises of the college football season, opening with a 3-2 record including two wins against BCS-conference foes--Arizona State and Iowa State. That's good news for head coach Mike Sanford who came into 2008 on a serious hot seat. He's already set a personal best for wins, as the Rebs won 2 games in each of his first 3 seasons. Sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton is the primary reason UNLV has serious bowl aspirations. From 2005-2007 (Sanford's first 3 years in Vegas), the Rebs averaged 18.8, 19.8, and 18.2 points per game. On the strength of Clayton's arm (currently 31st in the nation in pass efficiency), the Rebs are averaging 26.4 points per game. That's good because the defense is allowing 31.8 points per game. Meanwhile, their opponents, the Rams, have been blown out twice (Colorado and Cal beat them by a combined score of 80-24), and have won a pair of squeakers (3-point wins over Sacramento State and Houston). UNLV's offense should do enough to compensate for their shoddy defense and allow them to win a shootout.

Illinois +3 Michigan
One of the most improbable wins from last weekend was Michigan's upset of Wisconsin. Down 19-0 at the half and looking every bit the part of overmatched challenger to a top-10 team, the Wolverines played competently in the second half and used some lucky breaks (tipped interception return for a touchdown and a penalty on Wisconsin's tying 2-point try) to pull out the win. Despite the win, the offense is still very much a work in progress. Quarterback Steven Threet completed only 12 of 31 passes for 96 yards and 2 interceptions. In their Big 10 opener, the Illini played valiantly before falling by 14 at Penn State. After facing the Penn State 'Spread HD' offense, the task here should be much easier. These teams are pretty evenly matched and since the Illini are getting points, they are the pick. Before we leave this discussion, its important to point out the play of quarterback Juice Williams. After torching Missouri for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns while averaging 10.7 yards per pass in the opener, Williams has regressed to his rudimentary passing ways. In the 3 games since, Williams has averaged 6.1 yards per pass and thrown 4 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. Keep in mind 2 of those games were against Eastern Illinois (IAA) and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Navy +5.5 Air Force
The underdog in this game, the United States Naval Academy, has beaten the Falcons 5 straight times. Navy has seen their offense decline a little from the phenomenal numbers they put up last season (slipped from 22nd in total offense to 34th), but the defense has improved upon their putrid numbers (jumped from 99th in total defense to 81st). The net result means Navy should qualify for a bowl game for the 6th straight season. Meanwhile, Air Force is looking to make its second bowl appearance in as many seasons under head coach Troy Calhoun. The Falcons are 3-1, but in their past 2 games, they have allowed 974 total yards to Houston and Utah. That could spell trouble against Navy's option attack. The Falcons are also due for a market correction in fumble recovery luck. Their opponents have put the ball on the ground 9 times, and the Falcons have recovered each fumble.

North Texas +6.5 Florida International
Th summary for this one is pretty simple. Know the last time Florida International was favored? It was 2 years ago at North Texas. They lost. The Golden Panthers won last week despite gaining 239 yards because they were the beneficiary of 4 Toledo turnovers. Neither of these teams are very good, but when the home team is getting a touchdown, they are the pick.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 0-5
Overall: 9-15-1

Memphis -3 UAB
Memphis is one of the best 2-3 teams in the nation, and may be poised for a big second half as they get into the meat of their Conference USA schedule. The Tigers have outgained all 5 of their opponents, including an Ole Miss team that recently knocked off the Florida Gators in Gainesville. On the other hand, UAB has yet to defeat a IA opponent, whiffing against Tulsa, Florida Atlantic, Tennessee, and South Carolina by an average of nearly 21 points per game. The defense has been the team's weak link, permitting 7 yards per play (118th in the nation). Memphis should have their way with the Blazers and win by at least a touchdown.

Auburn -4 Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt fans should enjoy the undefeated season and national ranking while they can. It won't last long. Auburn may find it a trifle difficult moving the ball against Vandy, but the Commodores certainly have the worst offense of any undefeated team I've ever seen. In their 2 SEC games, wins mind you, Vandy has gained 225 (South Carolina) and 202 (Mississippi) yards. Vandy is undefeated thanks to an amazing +9 turnover margin through 4 games. The plan seems to be to emulate Mississippi State from last last season. Hang around and let your opponent fall on their own sword. The Commodores have yet to throw an interception on the season, and have attempted only 57 passes as a team. Only the 3 service academies and Georgia Tech have attempted fewer passes on the season. The game plan against Auburn should be fairly similar to what it was against the Gamecocks and Rebels: run quarterback Chris Nickson, pound running back Jared Hawkins, throw safe passes, and wait for the opponent to muff a punt or fumble through the endzone. For some reason I don't think it will work for the 3rd time.

Ohio State -1 Wisconsin
Wisconsin fancied themselves Big 10 title contenders before the season thanks to a good defense and solid ground game. Unfortunately, they do not possess a competent player at the most important position--quarterback. Allan Evridge, a transfer from Kansas State has not proven himself to be an accurate passer, particularly against good defenses. In 2005, his lone season as a Wildcat, Evridge completed a lowly 47.9% of his passes. This season, his completion percentage is a respectable 57.7%, but against the two stronger teams the Badgers have faced (Fresno State and Michigan), he has completed only 52.5% of his passes. The Ohio State offense may be a work in progress, but the defense still qualifies as strong, if not elite. The Buckeyes currently rank 12th in total defense and 21st in pass efficiency defense. He will be in for a long night against the Buckeyes.

Tulsa -15.5 Rice
While I'm pretty confident in this pick, I'm much more confident in the over bet. Unless the over line is triple digits, its probably a safe bet. As for the game itself, look for Tulsa, led by quarterback David Johnson (the nation's highest rated passer), to decimate a Rice defense that currently ranks 112th in yards allowed per game. Rice will be able to move the ball as well against a Tulsa defense that is only 95th in yards allowed per game, but Tulsa's offense, which is currently averaging over 600 yards per game, should be enough to cover the 3-score spread.

Kansas -12 Iowa State
This is the Big 12 opener for both teams and a chance for Kansas to show that last season's 12-1 record was not a fluke. The Jayhawks have been road-tested already, having lost on a last-second field goal at South Florida. Iowa State is already only a single win away from matching their win total (3) from last season. Unfortunately, their offense has seen diminishing returns in each game. They opened by totalling 388 yards against South Dakota State (IAA), and have seen their yardage total drop to 374, 325, and 306 in their next 3 games. The Kansas defense should shut down the Cyclone attack and cruise to a 2-touchdown victory.