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.

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