Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fab Five: Week IX

If 2 weeks ago was bad, well last week was awful. I had my worst week ever in the nearly 3 seasons of doing this column, a putrid 2-8 record. That drops my once promising yearly mark to 41-37-2. Its still a winning record, but after my great start somewhat disappointing. Time to get back to my winning ways.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 23-16-1

Indiana +17.5 Iowa
Does Iowa remind you of another Big 10 team that seemed to win every close game they played? I'm thinking Ohio State circa 2002. The Hawkeyes have beaten a single team by more than 11 points and that was their archrival Iowa State. Iowa is primed for a letdown after their huge win at Michigan State that moved them to 8-0. And this is not your usual Hoosier doormat either. Indiana was bludgeoned by Virginia and Ohio State by 40 and 19 points respectively, but their other 2 losses at the hands of Michigan and Northwestern came by a combined 4 points. Look for the Hoosiers to hang around all day before Iowa puts them away in the 4th quarter and wins by about 2 touchdowns.

South Florida +3 WestVirginia
For the first time all season, the Bulls got pushed around on defense last week. The Pitt Panthers moved the ball effectively both on the ground and through the air as they accumulated 486 yards of total offense and averaged a robust 6.8 yards per play. The Bulls also had their worst offensive display, as they netted only 212 yards of total offense. With a performance like that, its a wonder this line isn't much higher. However, its important to note that the game was at Pitt, and also that Pitt may very well be the best team in the Big East now. In their first 4 games, which included clashes with powers Youngstown State (IAA), Buffalo, and a loss to NC State, the Panthers averaged 360 yards per game and allowed an average of 352 yards per game. Those are characteristics of a middling team, especially considering the schedule. In their last 4 games, the Panthers have averaged 439 yards per game and allowed an average of 277 yards per game. Those games have also all come against Big East opponents. What I'm trying to say is, there is no shame in getting pantsed by Pitt at this point in the season. Despite their 6-1 record, the Mountaineers have faced only 2 road games all season. One came against Auburn and the other was against Syracuse. South Florida has by far the best defense West Virginia has faced this season, and coupling that with the homefield should equal an outright upset.

New Mexico State +44 Ohio State
Granted, New Mexico State is awful, but even if you assume a shutout here, Ohio State has scored more than 44 points just 3 times since the beginning of the 2007 season. I'd bank on Mr. Sweatervest showing some mercy here and holding on 42.

Tulane +36 LSU
LSU has not topped 31 points on the season. Like Ohio State, even if you assume a shutout, the Tigers will have to best their season high in points scored by 5 to push and 6 to cover. LSU has been huge favorites the past 2 seasons against Tulane and has failed to cover. Make it 3 in a row.

Georgia +15 Vs Florida
The Bulldogs have layed low since they were humbled 3 weeks ago in Knoxville. They beat Vandy in a noon game the following week, and have had 2 weeks to prepare for the defending national champs. This is not a vintage Georgia team by any means, having been both outgained and outscored by their opponents on the season. However, Florida has had a hard time putting away decent teams this season. Their only true thumping against a major conference foe came at Kentucky. The Gators have failed to top 400 yards in their 4 other SEC games (after doing it 6 times in 8 games last season). Florida should win, but Georgia will keep this one within striking distance for a while.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 18-21-1

Missouri -4 Colorado
Missouri is like an undervalued stock right now. Their last 3 losses have come to teams that are a combined 17-4. Prior to that, Missouri had won 4 in a row, including a road win over a solid Nevada team, with an offense light years beyond Colorado's. The Buffs were able to upset Kansas at home 2 weeks ago, but that effort was due mostly to mistakes by Kansas. The Buffs have averaged just 231 yards against their 3 Big 12 foes. The Missouri defense is pretty good, so the Buffs should have a very difficult time moving the ball. Missouri still has a few playmakers on offense (particularly receiver Danario Alexander), and should be able to win by at least a touchdown.

Air Force -4.5 Colorado State
Air Force may only be 4-4 through 8 games in Troy Calhoun's 3rd season, but consider who their losses have come against. They have lost at Minnesota, at Navy (in OT), at home against TCU, and at Utah (again in OT). None of their 4 losses have come by more than 7 points, and the total margin in the 4 losses has been 20 points. After a rousing 3-0 start, Colorado State has lost 5 straight, and the defense has gotten progressively worse. In their first 3 wins, the Rams were allowing an average of 329 yards per game and 4.63 yards per play. Since then, the Rams have allowed an average of 453 yards per game and 6.45 yards per play! That trend should continue against an Air Force team that excels at running the ball.

Idaho -3 Louisiana Tech
Idaho's dream season was somewhat shattered last week when they ran into a Nevada buzzsaw that put 70 points on the board. However, until they face Fresno and Boise State in a few weeks, thats the best offense they'll see this season. Before we leave the Vandals, it should be noted they added 45 points themselves, continuing a streak of netting at least 30 in 5 of 6 games. Louisiana Tech does not have nearly the offensive capabilities of Nevada, and thus far, they are winless on the road. Their road losses have come against the big boys (Auburn), a service academy (Navy) and a team that previously had no IA wins (Utah State). Outside of the most recent loss to the Aggies of Utah State, each road loss had come by at least 18 points. If the Vandals can avoid giving up too many big returns to Phillip Livas (averaging 30 yards per kickoff return and nearly 25 per punt return), they should win rather handily.

Louisville -3 Arkansas State
Assuming Louisville has not quit on their coach, the Cardinals should have their way with a mid-level Sun Belt team. To be fair, the Cardinals are only 2-5, but 3 of their losses have come to ranked teams (Cincinnati, Pitt, and Utah), and the other 2 were to likely bowl teams from BCS conferences (Kentucky and Connecticut). Arkansas State may be a bowl team, and they did play Iowa tough in Iowa City (lost by 3), but the Hawkeyes were poised for a letdown after beating Penn State and the Red Wolves have yet to win a road game. Louisville will win relatively easily and Steve Kragthorpe will hold onto his job for at least one more week.

Georgia Tech -12 Vanderbilt
Georgia Tech's weakness this season is their defense. They have allowed over 450 yards to 3 teams (Miami, Mississippi State, and Florida State), yet managed to win 2 of those games thanks to their stellar offense. Against the poor offenses they have faced, the Jackets have played well. North Carolina and Virginia managed only a combined 352 yards against them. North Carolina ranks 114th in total offense and Virginia ranks 115th. By comparison, Vanderbilt is the 2007 New England Patriots as they rank 98th. I'd be very surprised in Vandy gets past double digits. Thus, a paltry 3 touchdowns and a field goal should give the Jackets a cover here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Any Given Saturday: On the Road Again

A couple of monumental road teams won this week (often for the first time in many years at the road venue) shaking up their respective conferences races and the bowl picture (especially in the Big 12).

Iowa State 9 Nebraska 7

How'd it Happen? Iowa State won in Lincoln for the first time since 1977 despite being outgained by over 100 yards, averaging under 3 yards per carry, and missing an extra point. They can thank the generous Nebraska offense which turned the ball over 8 times (3 picks and 5 lost fumbles), many of them occurring deep in Cyclone territory. The Nebraska defense failed to register a takeway giving the Cyclones an almost unheard of +8 turnover margin.

What Does it Mean? For the Cornhuskers, they drop to 1-2 in the Big 12 conference. The North Division is certainly muddled as the 3 preseason favorites (Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri) are now a combined 2-7 in the league. For the record, Kansas State is your leader at the midway point with a 3-1 record, followed by these Cyclones who are now 2-2. More pressing for the Huskers is their stagnant offense that has only scored 6 touchdowns in 3 conference games thus far. For the Cyclones, they have equaled the win total under the previous administration (5) and have surpassed the conference win total (2) in just half a season under Paul Rhoads. They are a single win away from bowl eligibility, which would be a huge step forward one season after having their coach bail on them. Oh, and for the record, Iowa State has the same record as Auburn (5-3).

Texas A&M 52 Texas Tech 30

How'd it Happen? This is why we love college football. 2 weeks ago Texas Tech blasted Kansas State 66-14. Last week, Kansas State blasted Texas A&M 62-14. So the Aggies had no shot winning in Lubbock right (a place they hadn't emerged victorious since 1993)? The Aggies thumbed their noses at the transitive property of sports, barely outgaining the Red Raiders and committing 4 fewer turnovers en route to a huge win as a 3-touchdown underdog.

What Does it Mean? For the Red Raiders, the loss basically eliminates them from contention in the Big 12 South, and with league games remaining against Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, could mean a losing conference record for the first time since Mike Leach's first year as head coach (2000). For the Aggies, the win moves them to 4-3 on the year and gives Mike Sherman a chance to attain bowl eligibility in his second season.

Clemson 40 Miami 37

How'd it Happen? The Tigers finally won a close game. After losing 3 games by 4 points or less, the Tigers rode a historic day by CJ Spiller to a road upset over Miami. Spiller rushed for 81 yards, had 104 yards receiving, and added 125 on kickoff returns (including a 90-yard return for 6) to help Clemson win their first road game of the season.

What Does it Mean? For Miami, their Coastal Division title hopes are virtually dashed. In fact, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson may send the Clemson team a thank you note. All the Yellow Jackets have to do to take the Coastal now is win their remaining 2 league games against Wake Forest and Duke. In fact Johnson may be able to hand deliver the note at the ACC Championship Game in Tampa. Clemson is now 3-2 in the league and holds the tiebreaker advantage over the other 2 division teams with 2 losses (Boston College and Wake Forest).

Iowa 15 Michigan State 13

How'd it Happen? A 7-yard slant pass from Ricki Stanzi to Marvin McNutt on the games final play kept the Hawkeyes dream season alive. It was Iowa's first win in East Lansing since 1996.

What Does it Mean? The loss drops the Spartans to 4-4. Michigan State has been the anti-Iowa this season. All 4 of their losses have come by 8 points or less, with 3 of them coming by 3 points or less. A bowl bid is still likely in Michigan State's future though, with games against Minnesota, Western Michigan, and Purdue remaining on the schedule. The win moves the Hawkeyes to 8-0 and evokes memories of 2002 Ohio State. Iowa has now won 4 games by 3 points or less, and has only one road game remaining on their schedule. Its a big one though, coming at Ohio State. It hasn't always been pretty, but the Hawkeyes are 2/3rds of the way through an unbeaten regular season.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fab Five: Week VIII

Well, you had to know it was coming. I had my first losing week of the season last week, and what a doozy it was. I managed only a 3-6-1 record dropping my season mark to 39-29-2. Thats still a very solid winning percentage, but far from what it once was. We'll try and get back on the winning track this week.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 1-3-1
Overall: 22-12-1

Florida State +2.5 North Carolina
For all the uproar about the descent of the Florida State program, the 'Noles are only a few plays away from having a solid season. Their 3 ACC losses have come by 4, 7, and 5 points. The offense, with the exception of the South Florida game, has done well, averaging 426 yards per game (26th in the nation). The defense has been the 'Noles achilles heel, permitting 426 yards per game (107th in the nation). They couldn't have asked for a better opponent Thursday night. North Carolina has done a fine job against their 2 IAA foes, averaging 41 points and 332 yards per game. However, against their 4 IA opponents, the Heels have averaged a much less potent 13 points and 257 yards per game. In fact, the next touchdown they score against an ACC opponent will be their second...on the season! Look for Florida State to break out of their mini-slump and position themselves for a bowl bid in an upset of theTar Heels.

Wake Forest +2 Navy
I don't usually attempt to handicap the Deacons games as I'm emotionally involved. However, I think this line is too much a reflection of last year's upset and last weekend's loss to Clemson. While Wake was exposed as a pretender in the ACC race, its important to remember that Clemson has one of the top defenses in the country. They currently rank 12th in total defense (270 yards per game), 7th in pass defense (148 yards per game), and 17th in scoring defense (15.3 points per game). After an opening hiccup against Baylor, and before the humbling experience in Death Valley, the Wake offense had been a sight to behold. Even excluding the game against Elon, the offense averaged 465 yards per game against Stanford, Boston College, NC State, and Maryland. To put that into perspective, Wake had not gained over 465 yards in any one game since 2005. While those 4 schools are not outstanding defenses, neither is that belonging to the Naval Academy. I expect the Navy offense to move the ball and score points, but Wake should win outright in a shootout.

Idaho +15 Nevada
The Wolfpack of Nevada have won 3 straight after a forgettable 0-3 start to the season. However, those wins have come against teams that are a combined 3-10 against IA foes (not counting games against Nevada). Meanwhile Idaho is already bowl eligible at 6-1, with their lone loss coming at Washington. The Vandals are no stranger to the road this season, having won away from the Kibbie Dome 3 times already in 4 chances. Idaho is a legitimate contender for the WAC silver medal as their performance has not been aided by fluky luck in turnover margin (+4 on the season). Nevada is rightly favored in this game as it is at home, but giving more than 2 touchdowns against a solid team like Idaho is not a number they are likely to cover.

Arkansas +6 Ole Miss
Despite entering the season with division title aspirations, the Ole Miss Rebels have pretty much already been eliminated from contention in the SEC West. It looks like they will have to settle for a second consecutive bowl bid, something that has not occurred in Oxford since the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The Rebels have put quite a hurting on non-SEC teams, averaging 48 points and 450 yards per game against Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, and UAB. However, against their 3 SEC opponents, the Rebels have scored only 4 touchdowns and are averaging 286 yards per game. Arkansas will be the worst SEC defense the Rebels have faced thus far, but they probably also have the best offense the Rebels will see this season. Ole Miss is rightly favored, but laying almost a touchdown is a bit much.

Virginia +6 Georgia Tech
Can you say letdown? Fresh off a victory over Coastal Division overlord Virginia Tech, the Yellow Jackets must travel to a place where they have not won since 1990 (lost 8 straight) when they won the mythical national title. Remember, Virginia also beat Georgia Tech last season in Atlanta when they held the Jackets to 156 yards on the ground. Virginia has been lights out defensively the past 3 games, allowing an average of only 243 yards per game against North Carolina, Indiana, and Maryland. Virginia's offense is still very much a work in progress, but this game should be very close.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 17-17-1

Oklahoma -7 Kansas
Last week, they were the best 2-loss team, now they're the best 3-loss team. Oklahoma fans probably won't take too much solace in that, but the fact of the matter remains, the Sooners are very good. The Sooners defense is very legit. They have not allowed more than 357 yards in any game, and even if we discard the bludgeoning of Idaho State, they are only allowing a shade over 301 yards per game. Kansas has the home field, and they vastly outplayed Colorado in their loss last week, but the offense will face its first real test in the Sooners. The Jayhawks have scored 30 or more in each game this season, but they will have a very difficult time getting to that number against the Oklahoma defense. Get ready to ride the undervalued Sooner stock all the way to the bank over the next few weeks.

South Carolina -12.5 Vanderbilt
Think the Gamecocks may be ready for this one? The Commodores have beaten the Gamecocks in consecutive seasons so they won't sneak up on South Carolina in this one. Vanderbilt has one of the worst offenses in the nation, averaging only 13 points and 282 yards against IA opponents. If they get to those averages, which will be tough to do against a defense as good as South Carolina's, it will only take 3 Gamecock touchdowns and a pair of field goals to cover that number.

Toledo -3 Temple
I believe this is the 3rd week in a row I've featured a Temple line here. And for the third week in a row, I'll be going against the Owls (1-2 so far). Temple is 4-2 and well positioned for their first bowl bid in 30 years. Toledo is 4-3 under first year head coach Tim Beckman and is also angling for a bowl bid. This game features two very divergent teams. Toledo has a very good offense and a questionable defense, while the Owls have a good defense and a stuggling offense. In games not involving Ohio State, Toledo has averaged 500 yards and 35 points per game. However, in those same games, the Rockets have allowed an average of 421 yards and 38 points per game. Temple has also played a Big 10 power (Penn State), and when we remove that game, the Owls numbers could not be more different. Temple has averaged 320 yards and 27 points per game while allowing 313 yards and 17 points per game. Temple does not have the offense to keep up with Toledo, particularly in the Glass Bowl. Look for the Rockets to get one step closer to bowl eligibility with a win on Saturday.

Western Michigan -5 Buffalo
Western Michigan has been a little disappointing thus far, managing only a 3-4 record when they were expected to contend for the MAC West title. However, 2 of the Broncos losses have come to BCS conference schools (Michigan and Indiana) and another has come to the best team in the MAC (Central Michigan). The only head scratcher on Western Michigan's ledger is a 38-3 beatdown at the hands of Northern Illinois in Dekalb. The Broncos struggled offensively over the first half of the season, but they seem to have righted that part of the ship the past 2 weeks, gaining over 1000 yards combined against Toledo and Central Michigan. Buffalo is also 3-4 after reeling off 2 straight victories against Gardner Webb (IAA) and Akron. However, Gardner Webb and Akron have no wins over IA opponents between them. Western Michigan is the better team and is playing at home. They should win by at least a touchdown.

Colorado State -8 San Diego State
Colorado State has disappeared from the national conscience (if they were ever really there) after 4 straight losses following a 3-game win streak to open the season. Of course, Colorado State has lost those games to the Big 3 of the Mountain West (BYU, TCU, and Utah), and the suddenly vibrant Vandals of Idaho. Those 4 teams are a combined 23-3. 3 of those 4 losses were on the road, and the lone home game was a narrow 7-point defeat to Utah. San Diego State has beaten only a single IA team (New Mexico State). San Diego State has lost their 3 road games by an average of 15 points per game. Colorado State should be able to handle about half of that number.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fab Five: Week VII

Last week was somewhat historic as I accrued my first push of the year. I only managed a 5-4-1 record though, bringing my overall mark to 36-23-1. I have yet to have a losing week this season, so we'll try and keep that streak alive.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 21-9

Oklahoma +3.5 Vs Texas
While Oklahoma enters this game with 2 losses on their ledger, I think it may be fair to say Texas has been the most unimpressive of the 2 traditional Big 12 powers thus far. At least in terms of performance. Oklahoma has lost a pair of 1-point games to teams currently ranked in the top-20. Meanwhile, outside of their utter annihilation of UTEP, Texas has been anything but dominant, despite their unblemished record. Texas is 1-4 ATS thus far, indicating they are an overvalued stock. Quarterback Colt McCoy has struggled in the early going, throwing 6 interceptions in 5 games, after throwing 8 all of last season. That has come against a schedule not exactly loaded with heavyweights. Outside of Texas Tech, the Longhorns have faced 2 other potential bowl teams (Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming), but they are from the Sun Belt and Mountain West respectively. Oklahoma has a very good defense that will keep them in this game and may allow them to pull off the outright upset.

+3.5 Cal
Despite losing to Oregon 24-10 last week, UCLA played very well defensively. They limited the powerful Oregon attack to only 303 total yards (the Ducks had run up over 1000 yards in their previous 2 games). Oregon scored only one offensive touchdown in the game, the other 2 came via kickoff and interception returns. The other bears in this game are coming off 2 straight losses wherein they have managed a grand total of 6 points. After rolling over Maryland, Eastern Washington, and Minnesota by a combined 105 points, the Golden Bears have been exposed as frauds. Couple that with the fact that Cal is 6-12 in road games the past 3 seasons (4-12 in games not involving Washington State) and its hard to back Cal as a road favorite. And don't forget, Cal has not beaten UCLA in the Rose Bowl since 1999.

Army +11 Temple
Care to hazard a guess which team is leading the MAC East? After an 0-2 start, the Owls have won 3 straight league games and are one bad turnover game from being 4-1 (lost opener to Villanova when they had 5 turnovers). The Owls have played in only 2 bowl games in their history and have not been in the postseason since 1979. The good news is they are half way there. The bad news is they may not be quite as good as their record would indicate. During their 3-game winning streak, the Owls have gained 950 yards and allowed...wait for it...950 yards. The secret to the Owl's success has been their +9 turnover margin in the past 3 games. The Owls have intercepted 7 passes in those 3 games and recovered 5 fumbles. Army is not likely to throw many interceptions to the Owls, as only 3 teams have thrown fewer passes. The Black Knights may contribute in the fumble area as they have put the ball on the ground 20 times thus far in 2009 (lucky to have only lost 5). This may be the best Temple team in 3 decades, but asking them to cover a double-digit spread is giving them a little too much chutzpah.

UNLV +16.5 Utah
It hasn't been pretty, but the Utes have continued their winning ways from last season, starting the new year with a 4-1 record. Utah has not won any game by more than 18 points (Utah State), and they have not won a road game by more than 10 points (San Jose State). UNLV is well on its way to another losing season that will likely cost coach Mike Sanfore his job (13-40 in 4+ seasons). The culprit this season has been a defense that is allowing an unreal 7.2 yards per play (only Western Kentucky is worse). Against IA foes, they are allowing 7.6 yards per play. The Runnin' Rebels have been equally generous against the run (allowing over 6 yards per rush) and the pass (opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 160.3). Still, its hard to ignore Utah's shaky road credentials, so I have to give the nod to UNLV.

Washington +7 Arizona State
The Huskies improved to 3-3 with an improbable upset of Arizona last week. The Huskies are not quite as good as their .500 record would indicate as they have been outgained by 360 yards through those 6 games. Their defense has been the weak link of the team, allowing 418 yards per game (106th nationally). Arizona State is a tough team to get a grasp on. The Sun Devils are currently allowing only 222 yards per game (3rd in the nation), but their schedule has included Idaho State (IAA), Louisiana-Monroe, a now exposed Georgia, Oregon State, and the worst BCS team in the country (Washington State). Saturday will give us a good idea of how good Arizona State really is. They will probably win, but this one should be close.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 1-3-1
Overall: 15-14-1

Penn State -17.5 Minnesota
If you didn't watch the game and ignored the box score, you may have thought Minnesota's 35-20 win over Purdue last week was another ho-hum case of a superior team simply taking care of business at home. That was not the case. Minnesota score 35 points, but had only one sustained drive (they went 84 yards for their first touchdown). Their other 4 touchdown drives all covered 31 yards or less thanks to Purdue turnovers and a return of a blocked field goal for a touchdown. The Boilermakers actually outgained the Gophers by over 120 yards and severly limited their passing game. If Minnesota was a stock, now would be the time to sell. The Nittany Lions have quitely rebounded from their humbling home loss to Iowa by dispatching overmatched teams from Illinois (the Illini and Eastern Illinois). Minnesota will have a very hard time moving the ball against the Nittany Lions, and though Penn State won't put up video game numbers on offense, they should get to 30 which should be enough to cover.

Southern Cal -10 Notre Dame
This does not meet the definition for games the Trojans usually sleepwalk through. With a week off to prepare for a road game against a nationally ranked opponent, Southern Cal should be wide awake for their visit to South Bend. No team has yet to score more than a single offensive touchdown against the fantastic Trojan defense. No offense has gained more than 293 yards against the Trojans. The Trojans are also road tested, having won at Ohio State and Cal, sandwiched around the surprising loss to Washington. Barring barrage of fumbles and interceptions, Southern Cal should continue their recent dominance in this series.

Auburn -13.5 Kentucky
We knew before the season Auburn wasn't going undefeated. So the loss to Arkansas should not damper what could yet be a very good season on the Plains. Even if we remove the games against Louisiana Tech and Ball State, the Gus Malzahn offense is averaging 456 yards per game (would rank 15th in the nation). Auburn's weakness (surprisingly) has been their defense. The Tigers are currently allowing 369 yards per game (67th in the nation) and if we only include games against BCS foes, that number jumps to 428 yards per game. Can Kentucky take advantage of that weakness? Probably not. Outside of their opening pantsing of Miami of Ohio, the 'Cats have not gained more than 360 yards in any game and are averaging a little under 300 yards in those games. Auburn should be able to outscore the 'Cats at home and win by at least 2 touchdowns.

Miami -14 Central Florida
I'm a little suprised the line is this low. Miami has been very efficient moving the ball this season, only being held down by Virginia Tech. UCF currently ranks a respectable 51st in the nation in total defense, holding their foes to 340 yards per game thus far. However, their offense has been putrid for the second straight season (ranking 100th in total offense one year after finishing dead last). If Miami can manage 4 touchdowns (just 1 per quarter), they should be able to cover this number.

Navy -7 SMU
Navy returns to the state of Texas to take on another member of Conference USA one week after blasting Rice 63-14. SMU's defense is not as bad as the one Rice utilizes, but the Pony Express is very lucky to be sitting at 3-2 after 5 games. Despite their winning record and undefeated mark in conference play, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has not improved upon his uneven freshman campaign (quarterback rating of 121.6 is 3 points lower than last season). Interceptions are once again his biggest flaw, as he has tossed 10 in only 5 games. The Mustangs are winning thanks to a little bit of luck (3-1 in one-score games) and a defense that has gone from terrible (allowed 480 yards per game last season which ranked 119th in the nation) to merely bad (allowing 392 yards per game which ranks 91st in the nation). Navy should run at will against the Mustangs and also intercept a few passes for good measure, allowing them to win on the road by double-digits.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Fab Five: Week VI

The Gambling Gods were good to me once again last week as I once again went 7-3. This brings my yearly mark to 31-19, which is a pristine .620 win percentage. When will the inevitable fall come? Could it be this week?

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 17-8

Ball State +15 Temple
The poor Cardinals from Muncie, Indiana did everything but win last week. They led by a point with under a minute to play, but shockingly gave up a long touchdown pass to lose 37-30 and fall to 0-5 on the year. At least famous alum David Letterman had a worse week. The Cardinals are 0-5, but 3 of their losses have come by 7 points, which means they have been competitive. Meanwhile, Temple put the kabosh on Eastern Michigan last week to improve to 2-2 overall and 2-0 in the MAC. If they can take care of Ball State on Saturday, they will be 3-0 in the league and have an outside shot at their first bowl berth in 30 years. Temple is the better team, and has the homefield, but banking on them to beat anyone by 2 touchdowns is foolish.

Connecticut +6.5 Pitt
This game illustrates the value of coaching in college football. Switch the rosters around and you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a reason why Connecticut wouldn't win going away. But such is the nature of having Dave Wannstedt as your coach. His Panthers did blow out Louisville last week, but that is a team that may have an even worse coach. Pitt quarterback Bill Stull has quietly thrown 11 touchdowns and just 1 interception after coming into the season with a career mark of 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Maybe Stull has 'gotten it', but against a defense as good as Connecticut's (4th nationally in yards allowed per game), he won't be as efficient. Connecticut should cover the number and may win outright.

Idaho +3.5 San Jose State
Talk about not getting any respect. All Idaho has done is begin the year 4-1 with victories over a strong contender in the MAC (Northern Illinois) and a likely bowl team from the Mountain West (Colorado State). Their lone loss came in their second game at Washington (a place Southern Cal couldn't even win). The Vandals are no fluke either. One season after allowing 471 yards per game (117th in the nation), the Vandals are now allowing 352 per game (59th in the nation). The offense has also improved, going from accumulating 320 yards per game (94th in the nation) to gaining 404 yards per game (39th in the nation). San Jose State has been on the wrong end of a few games with the big boys, losing to Southern Cal, Utah, and Stanford by a combined 88 points. They did beat Cal Poly (IAA) 2 weeks ago, but still scored only 19 points. This one should be close, especially with the Spartans holding home field, but the wrong team is favored.

Boston College +13.5 Virginia Tech
The most underrated team in the nation? Easily Boston College. Through 3 coaches, 2 conferences, and several NFL draft picks, the Eagles just win. They have won 9 games for 5 straight seasons and seem primed to do it once again as well as take their 3rd straight Atlantic Division title. And despite a 4-1 record, they are not ranked. After struggling through one of the worst offensive performances I've even seen (54 yards of offense versus Clemson), the Eagles seem to have found themselves a quarterback in Dave Shinskie. In his last 2 games, Shinskie has thrown 5 touchdowns and just 1 interception in leading the Eagles to home wins over division rivals Wake Forest and Florida State. The Eagles defense did get gashed in those games, allowing 907 yards, but outside of offensive showcases against Marshall and Duke (1082 combined yards), the Hokies have not been exceptional at moving the ball against better defenses (803 combined yards in their other 3 games). The Hokies are rightfully favored, but I think this one will look a little more like the Nebraska squeaker than the Miami blowout.

Houston +1.5 Mississippi State
Such is life for the mid-majors like Houston. 2 impressive wins over Big 12 South teams mean nothing after an upset to a conference rival. Following the Cougars loss at UTEP last weekend, Houston is no longer ranked and not only being ignored by the pollsters, but also by Vegas. Houston is a great play here, as their offense is one of the best in the nation, currently averaging 573 yards (1st in the country) and 42.5 points (3rd) per game. The Cougars' achilles heel is their defense. The Cougars have allowed all 3 IA opponents to gain at least 434 yards of offense and average at least 6 yards per play. Mississippi State may be suited to take advantage of that pourous defense, as the Bulldogs are currently averaging than a yard more per play than they did last season (5.2 to 4.2) under first year coach Dan Mullen. Still, the Bulldogs have not come close to stopping any team with a competent offense, allowing over 1000 yards and 91 total points in losses to Auburn and Georgia Tech. Last week was a typical letdown game for the Cougars, coming off arguably the 2 biggest wins in school history. They'll be up for an SEC team on the road, and should win outright.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 14-11

Northwestern -19.5 Miami (Ohio)
Normally, I'm not a huge proponent of laying a lot of points with an iffy at best outfit like Northwestern. However, despite their uneven start, which includes a loss at Syracuse and a 3-point win over another MAC also-ran (Eastern Michigan), the Wildcats should be able to handle what may be the worst IA team this side of Western Kentucky. Miami has not come within 10 points of any team this season and was shutout by Kentucky, perhaps the worst team in the SEC. The Redhawks are also last in the nation in turnover margin (-14). Northwestern should get their 4th win with relative ease. The hard part will be finding 2 more wins over the back half of the schedule.

Okahoma -26 Baylor
With 2 losses in their first 4 games, the Sooners have lost some of their luster. Keep in mind though, those 2 losses came away from Norman, to ranked to teams, by 2 total points. Outside of 2005, when the Bears took the Sooners to overtime in Norman before falling, Oklahoma has won the other 9 meetings with Bob Stoops as their head man by an average of 33 points per game. Baylor won last week versus Kent State, but the Golden Flashes rolled up 424 yards (50 more than the Bears), which was about 155 more than their average coming in. Oklahoma should put up at least 45 points, so if they can hold the Bears below 3 touchdowns, they should cover this high number.

Navy -11.5 Rice
After winning 10 games in 2008, the Rice Owls are winless thus far in 2009. After losing their 3 best skill position players, they are bad offensively (108th in total offense) and once again remain bad on defense (115th in total defense). The Navy offense should have no problem moving the ball against the resistable force of the Rice defense. They should also be able to get enough stops to win by 2 touchdowns.

Arizona -4 Washington
Before our very eyes and under our very noses, the Arizona Wildcats have quietly become a very good Pac-10 team. With 3 wins already under their belt, they are well on their way to a second consecutive bowl game. The 'Cats play very good defense, allowing only 288 yards per game (23rd in the nation). Included in those numbers are a very good opening week against Central Michigan in which they held the Chippewas and their star quarterback Dan LeFevour to 182 total yards. The 'Cats also have a playmaker on offense in running back Nic Grigsby (a poor man's Jahvid Best). Grigsby is averaging a cool 8.14 yards per rush. The Huskies have shown major improvement under first year coach Steve Sarkisian, but are giving up far too many big plays on defense. The Huskies are allowing an amazing 7 yards per play (only Washington State and Western Kentucky are more generous to opposing offenses). Grigsby should have a big day and the Arizona defense should hold Jake Locker in check.

Southern Miss -1.5 Louisville
Southern Miss lost more than a game when they were upset by UAB last week. Their star quarterback, Austin Davis, went down for the year with torn ligaments in his foot. However, his backup and new starter, Martevious Young, will have 2 additional weapons at his disposal. Running back Damion Fletcher (371 rushing yards on the season) and receiver DeAndre Brown (167 receiving yards) will be back in action on Saturday. Louisville is a team in disarray, having lost each game they have played against IA competition, with the margin of defeat growing in each contest (4, 16, 25). Steve Kragthorpe is on his way out, and his departure should be hastened by a loss as a home favorite to former conference rival Southern Miss.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Any Given Saturday: ACC and CUSA Turned Upside Down

This weekend saw a couple of huge upsets in both the ACC and Conference USA that could have a profound on the eventual league champ.

UAB 30 Southern Miss 17

How'd it Happen? The Blazers upset the Golden Eagles despite passing for 23 total yards in the game (21 yards came on one pass) thanks to 3 Southern Miss turnovers and the feet of quarterback Joe Webb. Webb rushed for 138 yards in what amounted to a glorified single-wing offense. Overall, Webb accounted for 161 of the team's 245 total yards (nearly 66%). Nursing a 6-point lead with about a minute to play, the Blazers got a pick-6 to ice it.

What Does it Mean? For the Golden Eagles, they drop to 1-1 in Conference USA play with Houston, Tulsa, and East Carolina still on the schedule. For the Blazers, they improve to 2-1 in conference and 2-3 overall. However, 5 of their final 7 games are on the road, so a bowl game is still a long shot.

UTEP 58 Houston 41

How'd it Happen? UTEP running back Donald Buckram ran for 262 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Miners tallied 581 yards of offense exactly one week after gaining 53 yards of total offense in a loss to Texas. Don't fault Houston quarterback Case Keenum for the loss. He threw for 536 yards and 5 touchdowns without an interception in a losing effort.

What Does it Mean? For the Cougars, not only are their BCS hopes gone, but their conference title hopes may be dashed as well. UTEP now owns the tie-breaker with the head-to-head win and the Cougars still have league games left against Southern Miss and at Tulsa. For UTEP, the memories of their awful 1-3 non-conference start are forgotten (for now). The Miners have an early leg up on the league race, but they have a long way to go to even get to a bowl game, much less win the division.

Maryland 24 Clemson 21

How'd it Happen? Maryland turned an early 10-point deficit into a slim lead with 2 extended touchdown drives (their only 2 of the game) of 76 and 81 yards. With Clemson in field goal range at the end of the game, quarterback Kyle Parker took a sack (bad) and fumbled (worse) to seal the loss.

What Does it Mean? For Clemson, this had all the trappings of a Tommy Bowden game. Big favorite. Check. Early lead. Check. Fall behind. Check. Do something totally un-clutch to seal the loss. Check. Clemson has now lost 3 of 4 to Maryland, with the 3 losses coming when the Tigers were double-digit favorites. For Maryland, it just goes to show that you just never know, especially in the ACC. The Terps still need 4 more wins to get to bowl eligibility, but if you can get any kind of read on this team, I urge you to head straight to Vegas.

Virginia 16 North Carolina 3

How'd it Happen? Virginia held the trendy preseason darkhorse North Carolina to 174 yards of offense (one week after Georgia Tech held them to 154 yards) in a defensive slugfest.

What Does it Mean? For the Tar Heels, the loss irreparably damages their ACC title hopes. With games left against Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, and rival NC State a bowl game is also not a sure thing. The Tar Heels play 2 IAA teams this season (The Citadel and Georgia Southern), so they need 7 wins to qualify for a bowl. For the Cavs, like Maryland, they just keep going the other way just when you think you have them figured out. If they don't turn the ball over (none against the Tar Heels), you can be sure their defense will lead them to another upset or 2.

Idaho 31 Colorado State 29

How'd it Happen? The kicking game. Both teams scored 4 touchdowns and kicked a field goal. However, the Vandals blocked an extra point following a Rams touchdown. That forced the Rams to go for 2 to tie following their final touchdown with under 2 minutes to go. They didn't make it and the Vandals are now 4-1.

What Does it Mean? For the Rams, they are still nicely positioned to qualify for a bowl game. After playing the remainder the of the Mountain West triumverate, Utah and TCU (played BYU last week), the schedule lightens up a good bit. For the Vandals, they are 4-1 and have 7 games remaing against WAC opponents. Win 2 and they are bowl eligible. Win 3, and a bowl is almost assured (would be their second ever).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fab Five: Week V

Last week was was my best yet on the young season. I went 7-3, including 4-1 on favorites. This brings my yearly mark to 24-16, good for a solid .600 percentage. I'll try and maintain the momentum this week.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 13-7

Virginia +13.5 North Carolina
Outside of the opening debacle at the hands of both William and Mary, the Cavs have actually shown signs of life against two very good mid-major teams. They lost to Mountain West power TCU by 16 and then nearly upset Southern Miss on the road before falling by 3. The defense has not given up more than 380 yards in any game and actually ranks a respectable 56th in total defense (344 yards per game). The offense, after consecutive stinkers against W&M and TCU (445 combined yards), may be coming around, tallying 390 against Southern Miss in their last game. The Tar Heels, outside of their opening beatdown of the Citadel, have not been particularly impressive. The Heels were outgained by over 250 yards last week in a loss to Georgia Tech that was not as close as the 24-7 margin. The defense had a good track record prior to last week's game, having allowed only 596 yards through the first 3 games. This game has all the trappings of a low-scoring, boring, Raycom snooze-fest. Do yourself a favor though, and take the Cavs getting 2 touchdowns. The general public still sees them as the turnover machine that lost to William & Mary. In reality, the Cavs are a competitive team that will hang around and pull off a few upsets as long as they don't implode with turnovers (lost 7 versus William & Mary, but just 3 in the other 2 games).

Wisconsin +3 Minnesota
The Badgers take their undefeated record on the road to face the Golden Gophers in the first Big 10 game in their brand new stadium. Minnesota is 3-1 themselves, but could very easily be 1-3. The Gophers edged Syracuse in OT in their first game and beat Air Force by 7 in their second (the first game played in the new stadium). In fact the Gophers have been outgained on the season and in 3 of their 4 games (only gained more yards than Syracuse). Meanwhile, the Badgers have shown themselves to be a potential darkhorse in the Big 10 race, especially with the play of junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. After throwing only 8 passes in mop-up duty last season, Tolzien has quietly put up a quarterback rating of 164.3 (13th in the nation among qualifying passers) in his first 4 collegiate starts. With Tolzien at the helm, the Badgers team passer rating has improved from 74th in 2008 to 12th this season. Look for Tolzien and the Badgers to win outright in a shootout.

Eastern Michigan +7 Temple
The Ron English era has not gotten off to a great start in Ypsilanti, Michigan (yes I had to look it up) as the Eagles have plodded out to an 0-3 start. Outside of the opener against Army, the losses are somewhat respectable. The Eagles have lost at Northwestern by 3 and at a rejuvenated Michigan by 28. Senior quarterback Andy Schmitt has struggled out of the gate, throwing just 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while averaging only 5.3 yards per pass. Scmitt is a solid quarterback and should right the ship once the Eagles get into the MAC schedule. Meanwhile, Temple just won their first game of the season, a 37-13 beatdown of Buffalo. While impressive, the margin was the result of a few big plays. The Owls returned a kickoff and an interception for a touchdown, while going +4 in turnover margin. The Owls were outgained by nearly 100 yards by the Bulls, and have yet to top 300 yards against a IA foe (had 456 yards in the opener against Villanova). Playing at home, Eastern Michigan has a great shot at winning this game outright, and an even better one of staying within a touchdown. Yom Kippur is over, so take your shekels and bet against Temple.

Auburn +2.5 Tennessee
Auburn has been one of the bigger surprises of the college football season. Under new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have put up at least 37 points and 400 yards in each game. To put that points number in perspective, last season the Tigers scored 201 points in 12 games. They have scored 181 through 4 games this season. On Saturday, they will face both their first road test, and their toughest defensive opposition thus far. Tennessee stands only 2-2 thanks to their lackluster offense. The defense, under Monty Kiffin, has been very good in the early going, holding each opponent to 340 yards or less. They even held the mighty Florida Gators to 323 yards and 23 points. Auburn will have some difficulty moving the ball, but so will Tennessee. Tennessee has the homefield, but Auburn has the more balanced team. Tennessee is heavily tilted toward their defense and should probably be a slight dog here.

Wyoming +3.5 Florida Atlantic
After struggling against a pair of Big 12 foes (Texas and Colorado), the Cowboys upset UNLV last week and posted their best passing game (based on efficiency) since November of 2008. The passer rating they posted last week of 142.9 was higher than all but one game last season, higher than every game in 2007, and higher than all but 3 games in 2006. The primary passer in that game was freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels. His 3 touchdown passes were the most by a Cowboy quarterback since Corey Bramlet threw 3 against Colorado State in October of 2005. Could the Cowboys finally have an offense to build around? Their opponent on Saturday, Florida Atlantic, has swooned thus far in 2009. They opened with an expected beatdown at Nebraska, followed it up with a decent showing at South Carolina, and last week lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe. Potential NFL player, quarterback Rusty Smith, has struggled out of the gate, throwing 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in the early going. Florida Atlantic has the homefield, but Wyoming is from the stronger league and is getting points.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 11-9

Arkansas -1.5 Vs Texas A&M
Arkansas is 1-2 on the season, and lost by 4 touchdowns last week, yet is a favorite in the state of Texas against the Aggies. How do you explain that? Schedule. Arkansas has lost to Georgia and perhaps the best team in the nation (Alabama). Meanwhile, Texas A&M has beaten New Mexico (winless), Utah State (no IA wins), and UAB (lone win over winless Rice). Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett should lay the hammer down against a secondary that gave up over 300 yards passing to Utah State.

Georgia -3.5 LSU
Why is LSU ranked to high? What have they shown you in their narrow escapes at Washington and Mississippi State and their less-than impressive wins over Vandy and Louisiana-Lafayette to make you think they can stay within a field goal between the hedges? Despite their 4-0 start, LSU has actually been outgained on the season! We expect those kinds of anomalies from an unranked Minnesota squad, but from a top-5 SEC power? Georgia will expose their fraudulent ways on Saturday.

Georgia Tech -5.5 Mississippi State
Degenerates, you can thank LSU for this shockingly low spread. Since 2006, the Tigers are a pathetic 5-20-1 ATS versus SEC foes. Playing a tight game against an inferior opponent is LSU's modus operandi. Mississippi State is improved under first-year coach Dan Mullen, but they are a very low-fi offense. They do not have the playmakers Miami and Clemson used to take advantage of the Georgia Tech secondary. This one may be somewhat close, but Georgia Tech should win by more than a touchdown.

Alabama -16 Kentucky
The Crimson Tide may very well be the best team, not only in the SEC, but in the country. Their defense has been outstanding in the early going. Against the 2 legitimate teams they have played, Virginia Tech and Arkansas, the Tide have allowed 155 and 254 yards respectively. No team has rushed for more than 64 yards against the Tide, and no team has averaged more than 3.8 yards per play. Couple that with a quarterback who has played extremely well in his first season as a starter (Greg McElroy is 3rd in the nation with a passer rating of 175.2) and you have the recipe for a special season. Kentucky has proven they can destroy one of the nation's worst IA teams (Miami of Ohio), barely edge a Louisville team that has yet to win a IA game, and get destroyed by an SEC power (Florida). It's hard to envision Kentucky keeping this one close without a cavalcade of turnovers.

Central Michigan -8 Buffalo
One season after winning games despite being consistently outgained (thanks to a +20 turnover margin), the Bulls are losing games depite outgaining their opponents (thanks to a turnover margin of -10). Central Michigan is probably the best team in the MAC and should not be intimidated by the Bulls homefield after previous trips to Arizona and Michigan State this year. Buffalo is better than their 1-3 record, but they won't do enough to stay within a touchdown of the Chippewas.