Monday, September 28, 2009

Any Given Saturday: Top-10 Shakeup

Four top-10 teams were upset on Saturday (and Thursday). That's why we love college football. Here, once again, is your weekly look at those upsets and a few extr thrown in for good measure.

South Carolina 16 Ole Miss 10

How'd it Happen? The Gamecocks made Jevan Snead look like Michael Spurlock or Seth Adams, in holding him to 107 yards passing. The Gamecocks won a defensive slugfest by stopping the Rebels on consecutive possessions in the 4th quarter after their offense failed to move the ball.

What Does it Mean? For the Rebels, they are not who we thought they were. They had been less than impressive in wins over Memphis and SE Louisiana and offensively, were totally shut down by the Gamecocks defense. The Rebels still control their own destiny in the SEC West race, but if the passing game does not improve their ceiling may be a trip to the Liberty or Music City Bowl. For the Gamecocks, they are now 3-1, and one play away from being undefeated. Of course, by the same logic, they are potentially 2 plays away (NC State and Ole Miss) from being 1-3. With home dates against SC State and Kentucky up next, they will likely stand at 5-1 before a severe road test against Alabama on October 17th. This win likely guarantees South Carolina a 6th straight season of bowl eligibility, but until the offense shows some signs of life they are not a contender in the SEC.

Oregon 42 Cal 3

How'd it Happen? The Ducks, a touchdown dog at home, outgained the Bears by over 300 yards and bludgeoned them despite losing 4 fumbles.

What Does it Mean? For Cal, it reinforces the notion that they cannot win on the road. The Bears are 4-9 on the road since the beginning of the 2007 season. They have now lost 4 straight Pac-10 road games and 8 out of 9, with their lone conference road win in that span coming against Washington State. The Bears have to dust themselves off quickly as they host league overlord Southern Cal next week. Win that one, and this loss will not be forgotten, but it will be forgiven. For the Ducks, this win erases the memory of their uneven performances in their first 3 games. The Ducks also host Southern Cal later in the year, so its possible the Pac-10 could have a new Rose Bowl representative for the first time since 2002. The Ducks win was also huge for Boise State. If the Ducks can continue to climb in the polls, the Boise win will look better and better.

Virginia Tech 31 Miami 7

How'd it Happen? Just when it looked like Miami was really back (no really), the Hokies showed them who still owns the ACC. The Hokie defense held the 'Canes without a touchdown pass, scored on a blocked punt return, and grinded out 272 yards on the ground in an easy win.

What Does it Mean? For the U, they are still alive in the Coastal Division race. Had they won here, they would have taken control of said race with wins over both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. As it is, they have a great shot to win more than 7 games for the first time since 2005. For the Hokies, they are in the driver's seat of the Coastal, for now. If they can win in Atlanta on October 17th, that may shore up the championship.

Iowa 21 Penn State 10

How'd it Happen? The Hawkeyes sustained an early haymaker at State College (79-yard touchdown pass), but kept their poise and held the Nittany Lions out of the endzone the rest of the way in a double-digit win as a double-digit dog.

What Does it Mean? For Penn State, their national title hopes are over (thank you Charmin-soft non-conference schedule), but their Rose Bowl dreams are still alive. For Iowa, they will certainly vault into the top-15 and perhaps the top-10 after this victory. They have put themselves in the driver's seat for a potential Rose Bowl bid, and at worst, a likely New Year's Day Bowl. They still have 3 tough road tests at Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State, but even if they drop 2 of those 3, its possible the Big 10 champ will have 2 league losses.

South Florida 17 Florida State 7

How'd it Happen? One week after rushing for 313 yards against a top-10 team, the 'Noles managed 19 yards on the ground against the Bulls. Matt Grothe's replacement, B.J. Daniels did his best Matt Grothe impression, completing less than half his passes while throwing 2 interceptions, but also tossing 2 touchdowns and rushing for over 100 yards.

What Does it Mean? For the 'Noles, well it means we have no idea how good they are. They have played a good game against Miami, a bad game against Jacksonville State, a great game against BYU, and an awful game against South Florida. So that probably means they'll wax Boston College by 45 next week. For South Florida, this road win legitimizes their program and should put them into the top-20 this week. After opening with lopsided blowouts over a pair of IAA schools (Wofford and Charleston Southern) and a IA newbie (Western Kentucky), the win could mean the Bulls are a contender in the Big East. Their win may also prove to be beneficial for Cincinnati down the road. They still have a ways to go, but the Bearcats have the potential to finish the season unbeaten. They need for the other Big East teams to win a few games like this outside the league if they don't want to get jumped by another team with one loss in the race to the BCS Championship game.

Idaho 34 Northern Illinois 31

How'd it Happen? The Vandals rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense and won their first non-conference road game since 2004. After not winning a road game in either 2007 or 2008, the Vandals have won 2 in 3 tries thus far in 2009.

What Does it Mean? For the Huskies (featured in this section last week), it drops them to 2-2, but they are still a legitimate contender in the MAC. For the Vandals, they have matched their win total (3) from the previous 2 seasons combined, and are certainly the most surprising 3-1 team in college football. They host another surprising 3-1 team next week (Colorado State), and have 4 other home games against WAC schools, so the potential exists for the Vandals to win their most games since 2000 (5-6) and make their second ever bowl trip (only other bowl came in 1998).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fab Five: Week IV

Last week was yet another winning one for me. I went 6-4 and if not for a late touchdown by Florida International would have enjoyed a stellar 7-3 week. My overall record on the young season is 17-13 (exactly what it was at this point last year). The spreads seems extra tough this week, but here's my best bets.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 10-5

Arkansas +17.5 Alabama
Arkansas proved last week they are a force to be reckoned with on the offensive end. Defensively, they proved they have a long way to go. In a game highlighted by big play after big play, the Hogs fell at home to Georgia 52-41. The Hogs gained 485 yards and averaged 7.7 yards per play, but they allowed 530 yards and gave up 8.5 yards per play. Both those numbers are not sustainable and will likely come down this week. Alabama has been straight up nasty on defense, holding Virginia Tech, Florida International, and North Texas to a combined 556 yards in 3 games. However, Arkansas will be by far the most talented offense they have faced in the early going. Alabama has the more talented team, but hidden yardage on special teams (Arkansas is 5th in the nation averaging nearly 37 yards per kickoff return while Alabama is 101st in the nation allowing almost 25 yards per return) will allow Arkansas to keep this within 2 touchdowns.

UCF +10.5 East Carolina
Both these teams have extreme difficulty moving the ball. East Carolina averages 268 yards per game (113th in the nation) and UCF averages 262 (116th). Take away their games against IAA opponents and East Carolina drops down to 242 yards per game, while UCF dops to 253. Statistically, UCF has the better defense thanks to a schedule that in addition to Samford, has featured Southern Miss and Buffalo. On the other hand, East Carolina has faced two BCS-conference teams in West Virginia and North Carolina. East Carolina is probably the better team, but not by a 10-point margin.

Illinois +14.5 Ohio State
The Illini have been in seclusion in an undisclosed location since their putrid showing in Week 1 versus Missouri. Since falling to the Tigers 37-9, they have beaten up on a IAA cupcake (Illinois State) and enjoyed a bye week. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have not shown us a whole lot, except that they can beat up on Toledo (Colorado should take lessons). Outside of that game, wherein they rolled up 522 yards of offense, the Buckeyes have been fairly unimpressive on that side of the ball. They managed only 363 against a Navy team not known for its stout defense and then mustered only 265 against a very good Southern Cal defense (about 30 yards less than Washington gained in their upset over the Trojans last week). Illinois will play much better than they did against Missouri, and if they can avoid the turnover bug that has plagued them recently, should keep this one respectable.

Iowa +10 Penn State
This line should have any prospective gambler salivating and could very well be the lock of the year. Of course, in college football, nothing is a sure thing, but this line just seems off. Hear me out. Penn State has outscored their first 3 opponents by 70 points, and the defense appears to be legit, holding each team (Akron, Syracuse, and Temple) under 251 yards of offense. However, the Penn State offense has had trouble finding traction in the early going, especially since the opener against Akron, gaining 1192 yards through 3 games (677 since the first game). The 318 yards they gained against Syracuse is the lowest the Orange have allowed this season (other opponents were fellow Big 10 members Minnesota and Northwestern). The 359 yards they gained against Temple was roughly equal to the 357 the Owls allowed to IAA Villanova. I can't find fault in their opening demolition of Akron (515 yards) except to say that it was expected. Iowa will have issues moving the ball against the Penn State defense, but a blowout is not happening here. The Iowa defense will present Penn State some challenges of their own in a close game better suited for colder weather in November.

TCU +3 Clemson
Much like last week's game in Death Valley, this is a matchup of 2 very good defenses. Unlike last week, this one should be more competitive and unfortunately, will not be televised. TCU is the selection here because of Clemson's issues on the other side of the ball. Boston College has a very good defense, but Clemson looked out of sync all game and managed no offensive touchdowns despite consistently starting drives in or around BC territory. The week before, the Tigers did pile up 386 yards on the road at Georgia Tech, but 130 of those yards game on two long pass plays. TCU is not likely to give up the home run, and Clemson will have to do something they are not used to this season: sustaining drives. This one should be close, and in games like this, take the team getting points.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 7-8

Missouri -7 Nevada
In their first 2 games (Notre Dame and Colorado State) Nevada has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete over 68% of their passes, throw for 522 yards, and have failed to intercept a single pass. That, is the epitome of bad pass defense. Meanwhile, in their first 3 games, Missouri has completed 67% of their passes for 826 yards with 9 touchdowns and not a single interception. Even if we take away the last game versus Furman (IAA), those numbers are still quite good (still over 67%, 497 yards, 5 TDs, and no picks). Nevada has a prolific offense and should put up some yards and points in this game, but they won't be able to stop Missouri at all.

Wisconsin -3 Michigan State
Michigan State is a better team than their 1-2 record would otherwise indicate. A recovered onside kick and a bonehead penalty cost them against Central Michigan and a late interception cost them a chance to kick the tying field goal in a 3-point loss to Notre Dame last week. The Spartan offense, particularly the passing game, has been a welcome suprise, after several years of floundering in mediocrity. However, the defense, outside of the opener against IAA Montana State (160 yards surrendered) has been picked apart by 2 good offenses (Central Michigan and Notre Dame). Wisconsin doesn't have the passing attack of those 2 teams, but the running game, coupled with homefield advantage should be enough to grind out a win by more than a field goal.

Georgia Tech -2.5 North Carolina
Don't let the performance by the Yellow Jackets the past 2 Thursday nights sway you away from them in this game. Clemson has a stellar defense, which is why GT had such a hard time moving the ball over the course of the game, and Miami appears to have themselves a very good passing game, which is why they carved up the Tech defense. North Carolina has a decent defense and a decent quarterback. That won't be enough to keep this one within a field goal on the road.

Oregon State -2.5 Arizona
Oregon State is 9-4 ATS since 2006 as a home favorite (9-5 if we include last week's loss to Cincinnati). Don't let the loss to a very good Bearcats team sway your opinion of Mike Riley's squad. Also since 2006, Arizona is just 5-6 ATS as a road dog (5-7 if we include last week's loss to Iowa). The Wildcats are solid defensively, having yielded no more than 338 yards of offense in any game thus far in 2009. However, they are a work in progress offensively, particularly against the only good defense they have faced thus far (253 yards of offense against Iowa after rolling up over 1000 against Central Michigan and Northern Arizona). The Beavers should win, and anytime the favorite (particularly at home) is giving less than a field goal, its a smart pick.

Iowa State -10 Army
If Paul Rhoads can coax a win out of his Cyclones here, he'll have equaled his predecessor's (Gene Chizik) high total for wins in a season (3). Iowa State has played a pair of good games against overmatched foes (beaten North Dakota State and Kent State by a combined 37 points) and one bad game against a very good team (lost 35-3 to Iowa). I think its abundantly clear what category Army falls into. The Cadets are a good story early in 2009, with a new coach and a 2-1 record. However, their wins have come against a pair of winless teams (Eastern Michigan and Ball State) and their loss has come against a team with no other wins as of yet (Duke). Look for the Cyclones to win this one by at least 2 touchdowns.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Any Given Saturday: Another Trojan Slip and a Huskie Trifecta

Here once again, your weekly look at some of the upsets from a great Saturday of college football.

Washington 16 Southern Cal 13

How'd it Happen? Turnovers. The Trojan defense held the Huskies in check, limiting them to 293 total yards, including just 56 on the ground. However, 3 turnovers (compared to none for the Huskies) contributed greatly to their upset loss. The Huskies kicked a 22-yard field goal with 3 second left for the winning margin.

What Does it Mean? For the Trojans, its yet another road loss as a double-digit favorite (4 since 2006). Their national title hopes are not completely extinguished, but they are quite dimmed. The win versus Ohio State will carry a great deal of weight, but the Trojans cannot lose again if they hope to play in the BCS Championship Game. In addition, its early, but with road games at Cal and Oregon remaining, this loss may have cost them a Rose Bowl bid as well. For Washington, this is the first time they have won consecutive games snce they opened the 2007 season with wins at Syracuse and at home againsto Boise State. Its also their first Pac-10 win since upsetting Cal in November of 2007. Even with the win, a bowl game is still a long shot, as the Huskies have 5 road games in their remaining 9 contests.

Connecticut 30 Baylor 22

How'd it Happen? The Huskies came in as double-digit dogs, but walked out of Waco with a win by holding Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin to just 20 yards on the ground and only 119 yards through the air. The Huskies also had 2 players rush for over 100 yards and committed no turnovers in pulling out the straight up road upset.

What Does it Mean? For the Bears, this is significant blow to their bowl chances. They still have 2 likely wins before conference play begins (Northwestern State and Kent State), but they now have to win 3 league games to become bowl eligible. For the Huskies, it means a likely 3-1 start (with Rhode Island up next) before conference play begins, and a solid chance at a 3rd straight bowl game. Randy Edsall is one heckuva coach.

Northern Illinois 28 Purdue 21

How'd it Happen? The Huskies (sense a trend here?) jumped on the Boilermakers with a 21-point second quarter and held Purdue without an offensive touchdown until late in the 3rd quarter to pull off the upset as double-digit dogs.

What Does it Mean? For the Boilermakers, the loss makes a bowl bid an unlikely scenario. In their final non-conference game, they should be a somewhat large dog to Notre Dame. Lose that one, and it will take 5 Big 10 wins to get back to the postseason. For Northern Illinois, it represents the second good game they have played on the road against a Big 10 team (lost 28-20 to Wisconsin in their first game) and may mean they are contenders in the MAC.

Florida State 54 BYU 28

How'd it Happen? Offense and turnovers. The 'Noles scored on seemingly every possession rolling up 313 yards on the ground and forced 5 Cougar turnovers in winning as more than a touchdown dog in Provo.

What Does it Mean? For the Cougars, their BCS and national title dreams are gone (that was a fun 2 weeks). For the 'Noles, the narrow win over Jacksonville State is forgotten and with Miami's performance on Thursday, the narrow loss to the Hurricanes is forgiven. Maybe the 'Noles really are back?

Middle Tennessee State 32 Maryland 31

How'd it Happen? In a wildly entertaining, evenly played game, Alan Gendreau kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to give the Blue Raiders the road upset.

What Does it Mean? For Maryland, their streak of 3 straight bowls is in jeopardy. With a weakened Rutgers team left on the non-conference slate, the Terps will need at least 4 and possibly 5 conference wins to get back to the postseason. For the Blue Raiders, it marks their second straight somewhat marquee win (beat Memphis last week). It also appears the Blue Raiders have adapted to Tony Franklin's spread, rolling up 438 total yards against a BCS-conference defense. Middle Tennessee is certainly a contender in the Sun Belt race.

Colorado State 35 Nevada 20

How'd it Happen? The prevailing theme of this week's entry: turnovers. The Wolfpack turned it over 5 times. The Rams 0. The Rams led 35-6 midway through the 4th before 2 late Nevada touchdowns made it respectable.

What Does it Mean? For Nevada, they are in serious danger of falling to 0-3 with a home game versus Missouri coming up on Friday. After being expected to challenge Boise State for the WAC title this season, the Wolfpack could potentially be 0-4 before conference play begins (play UNLV after Missouri). For Colorado State, they are the most surprising 3-0 team at this point in the season, and are halfway to bowl eligibility. Such an accoplishment would be their second in as many seasons under coach Steve Fairchild. We'll find out how good they are in short order, as they travel to Provo to take on what will likely be a perturbed BYU team on Saturday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fab Five: Week III

Last week was a mediocre one for me. I went 5-5 bringing my record in the season to a solid 11-9. We'll try to get back to the winning ways this week.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 6-4

Boston College +7 Clemson
Give Clemson a lot of credit for staying the course last Thursday against Georgia Tech. I don't think its too far-fetched to believe that if Tommy Bowden was still the coach, the Tigers would have quit faster than Eddie Kennison in Broncos training camp (yay references). The Tigers stiffened and actually took the lead before falling to the Yellow Jackets on a field goal in the final minute. Meanwhile, Boston College has quietly gone about their business whipping up on a pair of overmatched teams (Northeastern and Kent State) by a combined score of 88-7. With the Seminoles struggle against Jacksonville State, the Wolfpacks struggle against South Carolina, the Deacons struggle with Baylor and Stanford, and the Terrapins struggle with everyone, this game will probably go a long way toward determining the eventual Atlantic Division champ. In the 4 previous meetings as conference foes, the underdog has won each matchup (BC 3-1). The Eagles could very well keep that streak alive, but at the very least they should keep this one within a touchdown.

Louisville +14 Kentucky
After dropping 4 in a row and 7 of 8 in this series, the Wildcats have won the last 2, and have contributed to cranking up the heat on Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe. As of this point in the season, we don't know a great deal about either team. Louisville beat a IAA school (Indiana State) 30-10 and permitted only 101 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, their bluegrass brethren, Kentucky, shutout a Miami of Ohio team that has yet to score through 2 games. Kentucky is at home and should certainly be the favorite, but giving nearly 2 touchdowns is entirely too much.

Virginia + 15.5 Southern Mississippi
I know it sounds crazy, but not too long ago (5 years to be exact), Virginia was believed to be a burgeoning power. 5 games into the 2004 season, the Cavs were undefeated and ranked 6th in the country while preparing to visit the 7th ranked Florida State Seminoles. The 'Noles destroyed them 36-3 and since that day, Virginia has gone just 29-28 and suffered through 2 losing seasons. Oh, and I'm also picking them to cover this spread. Why? Southern Miss is an extremely talented offensive team, but the yardage and point totals they put up in their opener against Alcorn State (631 yards and 52 points) are not likely to be repeated against a team like Virginia. Just last week another low-wattage offense (UCF) held Southern Miss to 384 yards and 26 points. If the Cavs can avoid the turnover debacle that led to their loss against William and Mary (4 lost fumbles and 3 interceptions), they should keep this one within 2 touchdowns.

Mississippi State +9 Vanderbilt
When was the last time Vanderbilt was favored by more than a touchdown against an SEC school? November 12th 2005. The 'Dores were 11-point favorites at home against Kentucky. What happened? Vandy lost 48-43 and blew their shot at bowl eligibility. Is history likely to repeat itself on Saturday? It's a definite possibility. After opening up with impressive showings against IAA schools (1030 combined yards and 90 combined points against Jackson State and Western Carolina), these historically low-fi offenses were brought back to Earth by a pair of Tigers (Auburn and LSU). Vandy managed only 210 yards of offense and 9 points against an LSU defense that was torched by Washington the previous week and Mississippi State managed only 297 yards and 24 points (7 of which came on a blocked punt) against Auburn. Look for a pretty low-scoring game that Vandy wins by about a touchdown.

Florida State +8.5 BYU
Florida State is the epitome of an undervalued stock after their narrow nail-biting win against Jacksonville State. FYI, Jacksonville State is in Alabama, not Florida. The 'Noles played reasonably well in that game, but allowed the Gamecocks to hang around thanks to 3 lost fumbles. Meanwhile, BYU throttled an overmatched Tulane team 54-3. The Cougars appear to be legit on defense, having held Oklahoma to 265 yards and 13 points (impressive even without Sam Bradford for a half) and Tulane to 162 yards and 3 points. While the Cougars have already proven they can hang with and beat one of the nation's elite, methinks this game will be very close. Remember, on their run to an undefeated season last year, Utah (who eneded the season ranked #2) needed a late onside kick recovery to beat a good, but hardly great Oregon State team at home.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 5-5

Boise State -7.5 Fresno State
You can count on Boise State for a few things. Having a decided athletic and schematic advantage over every WAC team on their schedule, a trick here or there, and absolutely owning Fresno. Boise has covered 6 of the last 7 years against their conference rival with the lone loss both straight up and ATS in that span coming in 2005. In their OT loss to Wisconsin last week, Fresno was soft as usual on defense permitting Wisconsin to roll up 413 yards and avrage 6.2 yards per play. The Bulldogs countered by netting 468 yards of their own on offense. Despite what their reputation may be, Boise wins games with their defense. Look for them to shut down Fresno and win by at least 10.

Rutgers -15.5 Florida International
Against IA non-BCS non-conference opponents the past 3 seasons, Rutgers is 6-2 ATS winning their games by an average of 27.5 points. Rutgers looked awful in their opener against Cincinnati while FIU was somewhat competitive in their loss to Alabama. However, Rutgers proved it can still demolish overmatched opponents, winning 45-7 against Howard last week. FIU kept the game close for a while against the Tide, but were still outgained by nearly 300 yards and scored one of their 2 touchdowns via kickoff return. Its hard to envision them scoring more than 14 against Rutgers. That means 30 points by the Knights, will get the job done.

Texas A&M -19.5 Utah State
The Aggies (from Texas A&M) looked sharp in dismantling an overmatched foe over Labor Day Weekend, throttling New Mexico 41-6. In their opener, Utah State gave up 519 yards and 35 points to Utah. Look for Texas A&M to post a similar stat line and beat the other Aggies by at least 3 touchdowns.

Stanford -17 San Jose State
In his 2+ seasons at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh has seen his team be the favorite in 6 games (counting this one). 3 of those have come against San Jose State. In the previous 2, the Cardinal have covered easily, winning 37-0 as a 7-point favorite in 2007, and 23-10 as an 8-point favorite in 2008. San Jose State is not a terrible team, but they are certainly overmatched here. Last week, they kept their game with Utah close despite gaining only 264 yards and allowing 499. As long as Stanford doesn't turn the ball over, they should roll here. Look for running back Toby Gerhart to have a field day against the Spartans.

Texas -17.5 Texas Tech
Think the Longhorns might be out for a little revenge in this one? For the uninitiated, or for those with terrible memories, the Red Raiders upended the 'Horns on a last second touchdown last season. That play kept Texas from winning the Big 12 South and ultimately, likely cost them a shot at the national title. That game of course, was in Lubbock. This one is in Austin. Texas has covered the last 2 times in Austin, winning by 35 as a 17-point favorite in 2005 and by 16 as a 7-point favorite in 2007. The Texas defense should have a good day facing a Texas Tech quarterback, Taylor Potts, making his first road start. There's big upswing in talent when you go from facing North Dakota and Rice to a defense coached by Will Muschamp and recruited by Mack Brown.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Any Given Saturday: The Big 12 Falls Flat

In this sporadic (though hopefully weekly) column, I'll give you some insights into a few of the weekend's upsets, including how they happened and what they mean going forward.

SMU 35 UAB 33

How'd it Happen? The Mustangs, who came in as nearly two-touchdown underdogs, stopped a 2-point conversion attempt by the Blazers with under 30 seconds to play (after previously blocking an extra point attempt earlier in the game) to hold on for the road win. SMU forced 5 UAB turnovers (though they gave the ball away 4 times themselves) and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 3 touchdowns and 353 yards.

What Does it Mean? For SMU, they've already matched their win total from the previous two seasons (2) and ended a 17-game conference losing streak. With 5 home games and seemingly winnable road games at Washington State and Marshall on the schedule, the Mustangs have a decent shot at attaining bowl eligibility. For UAB, they may have blown their chance at a bowl bid, as they have only 3 remaining home games and must travel to both Texas A&M and Ole Miss outside the conference.

Central Michigan 29 Michigan State 27

How'd it Happen? The Spartans, more than a two-touchdown favorite, fell thanks to an exciting late-game sequence. A late controversial touchdown, a gutsy decision by Central Michigan coach Butch Jones to go for 2 and the win, a subsequent missed conversion, a recovered onside kick, a missed game-winning field goal nullified by penalty, and a subsequent make on the re-kick. This game had it all, and is what makes college football great.

What Does it Mean? For Central Michigan, it somewhat legitimizes what they've accomplished over the past 3+ seasons. Though they've won 27 games since the start of the 2006 season, their only previous victory over a team from a BCS conference had been a 37-34 win at Indiana last season. That Indiana team was awful, finishing 3-9 with 2 of the wins coming against a IAA (Muray State) and a provisional IA (Western Kentucky) team. It remains to be seen how good Michigan State will be in 2008, but I think its safe to assume their floor is mediocrity (say 5 wins). For the Spartans, this game dims the expectations for the season somewhat, and could end up costing them a bowl bid.

Michigan 38 Notre Dame 34

How'd it Happen? The Wolverines, 3-point home dogs, won a back-and-forth game in the final seconds when freshman quarterback Tate Forcier found Greg Matthews for touchdown with 11 seconds left.

What Does it Mean? For Michigan, it means a likely 4-0 start (Eastern Michigan and Indiana) before their road opener against rival Michigan State. It also means a likely spot in this week's top-25 as well as renewed enthusiasm for the program. For Notre Dame, it puts them behind the 8-ball for a potential BCS bid. The Irish will likely lose to Southern Cal, and its hard to imagine them navigating the other 9 games without a loss. Still, the Irish proved they are more than capable offensively to match up with any team with the Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd trio.

UCLA 19 Tennessee 15

How'd it Happen? The Bruins, more than a touchdown underdog, capitalized on 4 Tennessee turnovers and beat the Vols for the second straight year. For all the good the Bruins did though, random chance played an extremely important role in this game. There were 7 total fumbles (6 by UCLA and 1 by Tennessee) in this game. UCLA recovered 6. If they had only recovered 4 or 5, the outcome could have been different.

What Does it Mean? The offenses for both teams are still very much a work in progress. After finishing 112th (UCLA) and 116th (Tennessee) in total offense last season, the Bruins put up 359 yards against San Diego State and the Vols rolled up 657 yards against Western Kentucky in their respective openers and all was right with the world. UCLA had 186 yards in this game and Tennessee had 208. Of course, both these defenses appear to be pretty strong, but its clear the offenses have not turned the corner yet.

Louisiana-Lafayette 17 Kansas State 15

How'd it Happen? The Ragin' Cajuns, a touchdown underdog at home, won when Tyler Albrecht kicked a 48-yard field goal with 32 seconds left. The Wildcats outgained the Cajuns by nearly 100 yards, but their kicker, Josh Cherry, missed two field goals and an extra point.

What Does it Mean? For Louisiana-Lafayette, they are the last remaining unbeaten Sun Belt team at 2-0. That will likely change next week when they visit LSU in Baton Rouge. However, with 2 non-conference wins, they only need 4 victories in the Sun Belt to be bowl eligible for the 4th time in 5 seasons. For Kansas State, hopes of a bowl bid in Snyder's first season back are tenuous at best now. The Wildcats have remaining non-conference games at UCLA and against Tennessee Tech. While Tennessee Tech is a likely win, they represent the second IAA school Kansas State plays. That means they need 7 victories to be bowl eligible. If the Wildcats lose to UCLA next week, that means they need 5 conference wins to get to 7 overall.

Houston 45 Oklahoma State 35

How'd it Happen? Deflections. Two key deflections aided the Cougars in their upset bid as a more than two-touchdown underdog. The first came on 4th down and resulted in a touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Bryce Beall that allowed the Cougars to regain the lead 38-35 with a little under 7 minutes left. The second resulted in a pick 6 by Jamal Robinson that provided the final margin in a 45-35 win. Aside from the deflections, the Cougars rolled up over 500 yards against the Cowboys and forced 4 turnovers.

What Does it Mean? For Houston, it means their first poll appearance since the run-n-shoot days of the early 1990s. It also sets up the biggest home game in recent Cougar history in 2 weeks when they host another Big 12 South team in Texas Tech. Win that one and the BCS whispers will start. For Oklahoma State, their Big 12 and BCS bowl hopes are not dashed, but their rep on a national level certainly is. After holding Georgia in check last week, the defense returned to its old ways against a fellow high-powered offense.

Toledo 54 Colorado 38

How'd it Happen? Colorado fell behind early and got eviscerated by the Rockets. Toledo rolled up 624 total yards and scored seemingly at will against the Buffaloes. With 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the score was 54-24 Toledo. To put it in other terms, Colorado looked like the team full of MAC athletes and Toledo looked like the Big 12 offense.

What Does it Mean? For Toledo it means they may be a contender in the MAC West. In addition, the Rockets, under a new head coach, could now be poised to end a run of 3 consecutive losing seasons and return to the contending status they enjoyed at the beginning of the decade. For Colorado, it puts them squarely behind the 8-ball in their hopes of reaching a bowl game in Dan Hawkins 4th season. After the way they have played the first 2 weeks, a win next week at home against Wyoming is not a gimme. Following that game, the Buffs have a bye before travelling to West Virginia on October 1st. Realistically, the Buffs should expect to be 1-3 before starting Big 12 play. This could be a long season for Colorado, and if it could also be Dan Hawkins last as coach.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fab Five: Week II

For once, the opening week of the season was kind to me. After beginning 4-6 in each of the first two seasons of the Fab Five, I was able to reverse course and start out 6-4. The lines certainly didn't get any easier this week, but here's my best shot. In addition, this week's Fab Five also includes an extra game that you should avoid at all cost.

5 Dogs I Like

Western Michigan +1.5 Indiana
Both these teams looked pretty bad last week, with the Broncos losing by 4 touchdowns to Michigan and the Hoosiers getting all they could handle from IAA Eastern Kentucky. The Hoosiers were unable to move the ball on the ground against the Colonels, netting only 73 yards on 31 attempts. After giving up 242 yards to the Wolverines on the ground, that's just what the doctor ordered for the Broncos. Western Michigan is no stranger to beating Big 10 foes, as they knocked off Illinois last season. Indiana is also no stranger to losing to MAC foes, having dropped contests last year to Ball State and Central Michigan. Look for history to repeat itelf in a minor Broncos upset.

Michigan +3 Notre Dame
Go ahead and blame this one on the liberal media. The Irish have looked absolutely invulnerable in their last 2 games, knocking off a pair of WAC teams by a combined score of 84-21. Jimmy Clausen's thrown for over 700 yards and 9 touchdowns in the 2 games. Needless to say, his numbers won't be as gaudy against a Michigan defense that looked to be back on its way to respectability against Western Michigan. Look for Michigan to pull off the outright upset at home.

UCF + 15.5 Southern Mississippi
After barely squeaking by Samford (& Son) 28-24, the Knights must take a road trip to Hattiesburg to face the division favorite Golden Eagles. Despite continuing their trend of anemic offensive performances that began last season (last in the nation in total offense), the Knights do have at least one positive heading into this game. The offense played much better with Wake Forest transfer Brett Hodges under center. Hodges threw for 129 yards on 17 attempts after he was inserted for starter Rob Calabrese, who mustered only 28 yards on his 7 attempts. Southern Miss looked dominant in pasting IAA Alcorn State, but will have a much tougher time moving the ball against the Knights in a reletively close win.

Washington State +2.5 Vs Hawaii (at Seattle)
Despite the fact that they were drubbed yet again (39-13 versus Stanford), the Cougars actually moved the ball fairly well. Their 349 total yards was more than they gained in any game last season, save against IAA Portland State. The defense can still be referred to as generous, as they permitted Stanford to run for 288 yards at a robust 6.9 yards a pop. Still, after last season, anything can count as progress. Hawaii meanwhile escaped Central Arkansas at home (25-20) despite outgaining them by 145 yards and averaging 3 yards per play more (6.9 to 3.9). The culprit was 3 lost fumbles and an interception. In a de facto home game for the Cougars, look for them to eke out a victory, which will only be their second since bludgeoning Portland State last September.

Ohio State +7 Southern Cal
Rest assured, one day Southern Cal will lose a game to a Big 10 foe (it last happened in August of 1996 against Penn State). Under Pete Carroll, the Trojans have bludgeoned Big 10 teams in the Orange Bowl (Iowa), the Rose Bowl (Michigan, Illinois, and Penn State), and in the Coliseum (Ohio State). However, this represents their first road test against a quality Big 10 opponent. The Buckeyes are a little undervalued here after their home scare against Navy. Keep in mind the Midshipmen run an option attack that is far different from the other 116 offenses in IA football (Army, Air Force, and Georgia Tech are the other purveyors and practitioners of the Wishbone). The Trojans bring in a pro style offense with a freshman quarterback making his first road start. The Buckeyes counter with an experienced sophomore who has already quatrebacked the team in a BCS bowl. One final fact to consider: In the Trojans last two road trips against top 10 teams, they narrowly edged Notre Dame in 2005 (the Bush Push) and fell to Oregon in 2007.

Five Faves I Like

Colorado -3.5 Toledo
Colorado spit the bit at home against arch-rival Colorado State on Sunday night, losing 23-17. Things don't get much easier this week as they head east to tangle with another mid-major, the Toledo Rockets. The Rockets were less than impressive in their debut, allowing Purdue to roll up 535 yards (315 of it on the ground) and average 8 yards per play in a 52-31 loss. The Toledo defense will be just what Colorado needs to aid their anemic offense in putting points on the board. For one night at least, the Buffs will remind coach Dan Hawkins of his former charges in Boise, Idaho as they roll up 30+ points on the Rockets.

Pitt -10.5 Buffalo
Turner Gill continues to show he has the Midas touch with the Bulls after they opened the season with a hard-fought win at UTEP. The Bulls will come back to Earth against a team that actually plays defense (unlike the Miners). Give the Panthers credit for making the trek to upstate New York. The trip back should be a joyful one after a relatively easy win.

Washington -21 Idaho
Whether or not they actually cover this somewhat large number, this game will mark Steve Sarkisian's first win as head coach of the Huskies and will also be the Huskies first win since upsetting Cal in November of 2007. The Huskies were sharp offensively last week, cranking out nearly 500 yards against LSU. They should easily reach that number against Idaho, and if the defense does its part an easy win is in the coffers.

Wisconsin -9 Fresno State
Fresno State is a lot like Notre Dame. They both made a name for themselves many years ago (Notre Dame's was many, many years ago), and continue to live off that rep despite increasingly diminishing returns. The Bulldogs ran for 310 yards last week against UC Davis, allowing them to win easily with despite breaking in a new starting quarterback. Going into the game against the Badgers, Fresno quarterbacks have a combined total of 17 career pass attempts. Junior Ryan Colburn is the elder statesman with 14 career passes. That inexperience will do them in when they visit the Camp Randall Stadium.

Kansas -12.5 UTEP
Since bursting onto the national scene in 2007, Kansas has been money in the bank against non-BCS foes. They are 4-1 ATS against non-BCS teams in that span, with their smallest margin of victory a 29-0 shutout of Louisiana Tech last season. In addition, Kansas is 7-2 ATS as a double-digit favorite and 10-2 ATS as at least a touchdown favorite. Look for the Jayhawks to put up 40+ and roll here.


TCU -11.5 Virginia
If there's one thing Al Groh is a master of, its saving his own hide. Like Rasputin or a zombie, the man just won't die. In 2007, the Cavs opened the season getting beatdown at Wyoming 23-3. They would go on to win 9 games and nearly take the division. Last season, the Cavs opened 1-3 with an embrassing 31-3 loss to Duke thrown in. They won their next 4 games (Maryland, East Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech) as a betting underdog in each. Virginia looked awful in losing to William and Mary, but they also turned the ball over 7 times. That's not likely to happen again. I don't think Virginia will win this game, but (and I'd like to trademark this phrase) you never know with Al Groh.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fab Five: Week I

It's that time of year again. The college football season is just mere hours away. That means tailgates, pageantry, hard-hitting action, and most importantly spreads. That's right degenerates, the Fab 5 is back again. Each week I'll give you 5 dogs and 5 favorites I like for the coming weekend. I for one, found these Week I lines to be awful difficult to handicap. So, like John Mellencamp, this is the best that I could do (home teams in Bold).

5 Dogs I Like

South Carolina +5 NC State
This is a huge game for both teams, albeit for different reasons. NC State fancies themselves a darkhorse contender in the ACC (who isn't?), and could use this game, along with 7 additional home games as the springboard to a special season. On the other side, South Carolina needs this game, perhaps to achieve bowl eligibility with 9 other bowl teams from 2008 on the slate after this one. In my opinion, this game will be a battle of strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness. NC State was the second most productive offense in the ACC last season behind quarterback Russell Wilson. South Carolina boasted the fifth ranked defense in the SEC last season, and that includes their utter collapse down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack featured the ACC's worst defense (yes, even Duke was better), while the Gamecocks countered with the seventh best offense in the SEC. The Wolfpack defense will be hard-pressed to get much better with the loss of their best player, linebacker Nate Irving, to a car crash in June. As long as Stephen Garcia does not have a turnover-fest like he did in the Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks should cover and could even win outright.

New Mexico +14 Texas A&M
I'm a little hesitant to back the Lobos here as they have a new coach, who is implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball. However, the Lobos do return a senior quarterback, Donovan Porterie, who was injured for much of last season. In addition, Texas A&M has not exactly been money at home against non-BCS foes. In 2007, they edged Fresno State 47-45 in triple OT as a 17 point favorite. Last season, they lost their home opener to Arkansas State as a 19 point favorite and also squeaked by Army 21-17 as a 27 point favorite. Expect more of the same here in a game that is closer than it should be.

Virginia Tech + 6.5 Vs Alabama
Defense and special teams should dominate this game. Virginia Tech was the best defense in the ACC last season, and Alabama finished a close second to Tennessee in the SEC. The Hokies have 7 starters back on defense while the Tide have 9. The issue for the Tide here will be on offense, where they lose 3 starting offensive linemen, a senior quarterback, and last season's leading rusher. The Hokie defense will likely be licking their chops against against a relatively inexperienced quarterback. Alabama may well have the defensive strength to win this game, but it should be closer than a touchdown.

Washington +17.5 LSU
Before you call me crazy for picking a winless team to cover against one of the dominant programs of the 00's, take a look at these facts. In the last 3 seasons, LSU has been a double-digit favorite 20 times. They are 7-13 ATS in those games. They were 0-4 ATS in those situations last season. While the Huskies will probably not be very good this season, they do return 18 total starters, including 10 on defense. They also bring back quarterback Jake Locker, who was injured for a majority of the 2008 season. This game will be a lot closer than most people think.

Colorado State +10 Colorado
Prior to last season, when Colorado won by 21 points, the previous 6 games in the series had been decided by a total of 25 points. Colorado was exceptionally weak on offense last season (last in the Big 12), and pretty strong on defense (fourth in the Big 12). They return 9 starters on offense, so improvement on that end in likely. However, they only bring back 4 starters on defense, so the gains on offense will likely be offset by losses on defense. Colorado State was a surprise bowl team last season, and is widely regarded as a lower tier Mountain West team this season. That projection is probably right on, but I expect a close contest in this rivalry game.

Five Faves I Like

Purdue -10.5 Toledo
Purdue was better than you thought they were last season. Based on their yardage totals in league play, they were roughly the sixth best team, a little above the bowl-bound outfit of Northwestern. Punt coverage, one of those hidden yardage stats, killed the Boilers last season as they allowed an NCAA worst 16.7 yards per return and gave up 3 touchdowns. For 2009, the Boilers have a new coach (Danny Hope), but Hope is quite familiar with the program, having been the OL coach under Joe Tiller from 1997-2001 and assistant head coach last season. Toledo also comes into this game with a new coach, and a reputation for putting up great offensive numbers. However, a cursory look at the statistics shows that not really the case. In the MAC last season, Toledo gained more yards than Temple. That's it. Away from the friendly confines of the Glass Bowl, Toledo put up over 20 points only twice (Eastern Michigan and Akron) and that trend is likely to continue in a double-digit loss to Purdue.

Connecticut -3.5 Ohio
Don't get me wrong, I think Ohio has a great chance at winning their division in the MAC this season. However, the Huskies from Connecticut remind a lot of Wake Forest. You watch them play, and you wonder how do they win? And yet at the end of the season, they are bowl eligible. The Huskies lost a lot in the offseason (chief among those losses was running back Donald Brown), but the Huskies do return the leading rusher from 2007, Andre Dixon. Dixon split carries with Brown in 2007, and actually outrushed him. The Huskies also lose their quarterback from last season, but that may be a blessing is disguise as Tyler Lorenzen completed less than half his passes and managed only 3 touchdown throws. This one should be a low-scoring affair won by the Huskies by about a touchdown.

Auburn -13.5 Louisiana Tech
Last season Louisiana Tech shocked an SEC team on their home field over Labor Day weekend when they upset Mississippi State. Don't expect it to happen again. The Bulldogs won their first bowl game since 1977 last season, so expectations are little higher than normal in Ruston. However, the Bulldogs are only 4-14 ATS as a road dog the past 3 seasons. Auburn, even in their trainwreck of a season in 2008, still played solid defense (seventh in the SEC). The Bulldogs will have a hard time moving the ball and Auburn should cruise here.

New Mexico State -3 Idaho
Learn the name DeWayne Walker. He may be coaching your team in a few years if he can get blood from a stone at New Mexico State. Walker was UCLA's defensive coordinator the past 3 seasons, and routinely captained very good units. The Aggies probably won't be too good this season, but neither will the Vandals from Idaho. And since this game is in Las Crues, take the Aggies.

Arizona -13.5 Central Michigan
Trusting the 'Lesser Stoops' to do anything always seems a little risky. However, he has quietly built a solid program in Tucson that has improve steadily since he took over in 2004. The Wildcats crushed their two non-conference home foes by a combined score of 111-16 last season. It won't be quite that bad for Central Michigan, as they have Tim-Tebow light in quarterback Dan LeFevour. However, what they lack, is a defense. They were the second worst defense in the MAC last season, and while they return 10 starters on that side, that likely means they can aspire to be an average MAC defense. Even with a new quarterback, Arizona should have no trouble moving the ball.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Similarity Scores: Stephen Garcia and Robert Griffin

With the season nigh upon us, I wanted to use my most recent little toy, similarity scores, to project what the future may hold for two sophomore quarterbacks. I chose these two quarterbacks because they are both interesting and are likely to occupy a lot of my viewing attention in Week 1. As a Columbia resident, I will be watching with great interest to see if Stephen Garcia is finally the quarterback Steve Spurrier needs to run his offense with great success at South Carolina. And as a Wake Forest fan, I will be watching Robert Griffin, hoping against hope, that the rebuilt Deacon defense can contain him enough to give the team a shot to win. To find out how I determined similarity scores, take a look at last week's entry.

We'll begin with the supposed offense gem of Steve Spurrier's efforts thus far at South Carolina. Garcia got into a little trouble in his first year with the Gamecocks and did not see action until his redshirt freshman season. His play was, at best erratic, and at worst putrid. Splitting time with Chris Smelley, Garcia threw 6 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while rushing for almost 200 yards. The 5 most similar freshman quarterbacks since 2004 are:

1. Riley Nelson, Utah State, 2006, 92.1
2. Blake Szymanski, Baylor, 2006, 88.7
3. Julian Foster, Troy. 2005, 86.8
4. Ben Mauk, Wake Forest, 2005, 86.8
5. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech, 2007, 86.4

How did those 5 quarterbacks perform as sophomores? To answer that question, we'll have to find two more quarterbacks as Nelson did not play for Utah State again and Foster threw only 6 passes as a sophomore (and for the rest of his career at Troy). Taking their place amongst Garcia's similar freshman are:

6. Donovan Porterie, New Mexico, 2006, 85.4
7. Kyle McMahon, Eastern Michigan, 2007, 84.6

Collectively, those players put up the following average stat line as sophomores.

There is not exactly a whole lot to like here. Mauk and Taylor struggled mightily as passers, throwing a combined 3 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Szymanski and Porterie posted the best passing numbers, combining for 37 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. McMahon saw very limited action, throwing only 73 passes all season. No quarterback enjoyed a great season, but then again, none besides possibly Taylor, were as sought after as Garcia was out of high school. Maybe Garcia will 'get it' in his first season as 'the guy', but for Gamecock fans, it may be best to curb your enthusiasm.

On the other end of the freshman spectrum is Robert Griffin. Griffin started almost immediately as a true freshman and enjoyed a stellar season. His quarterback rating of 142.0 ranked 27th in the nation, and his three interceptions tied him for the second fewest among qualifying quarterbacks. He also added 13 scores and rushed for over 800 yards on the ground. The 5 most similar freshman quarterbacks to Robert Griffin since 2004 are:

1. Matt Grothe, South Florida, 2006, 80.4
2. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada, 2007, 73.6
3. Shaun Carney, Air Force, 2004, 73.0
4. Case Keenum, Houston, 2007, 69.6
5. Pat White, West Virginia, 2005, 67.9

As you can see, the scores for Griffin's comps are much lower than those for Garcia. That's not extremely surprising, as Griffin is a very unique player, particularly as a freshman. It's also interesting that another player coached by Art Briles (Griffin's coach at Baylor) appears on this list (Keenum was coached by Briles at Houston). Here's how those 5 gentlemen performed collectively on average as sophomores.

Overall, they stayed pretty good. The numbers are inflated a little by Keenum's ridiculous sophomore campaign that saw him toss 44 touchdowns and throw for over 5000 yards. Griffin won't come close to touching those numbers, primarily because he won't throw nearly as many passes as Keenum did (587). Still, I think its safe to assume Griffin will not fall victim to a sophomore slump. His interception total will likely increase from the miniscule 3 he tossed as a freshman, but he will continue to be a nightmare for defensive players to deal with.