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.

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