Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fab Five: Week V

Last week was the epitome of mediocrity as I went 5-5. I finally had some luck picking dogs (3-2), but made up for it by struggling with favorites (2-3). This .500 week brings my yearly mark to 21-18-1. Here's hoping for another winning week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 9-10-1

Virginia +7 Florida State
Virginia represents one of the greater unknowns in college football. They have crushed a pair of IAA (or if you prefer, FCS) teams at home by a combined score of 82-20 and have also competed admirably in their lone game against a living, breathing opponent. In their cross-country trip to the golden coast to take on the Trojans, they held Southern Cal to their lowest offensive output of the season (329 yards and 14 points). The Trojans averaged 515 yards and 38.7 points in their other 3 games. This game also marks Florida State's first game outside of Tallahassee since their ugly foray into Norman, Oklahoma. With home wins over Samford, BYU, and Wake Forest, the Seminoles also lack any groundbreaking wins. With the Cavs catching 7 points at home, they are a very good play this week.

Clemson +3.5 Miami
Clemson has had a week to lick and bandage their wounds after a heartbreaking loss on the plains in Auburn. The Tigers acquitted themselves very well in that game, and could easily have won. Now their second season begins as they open conference play with a Miami team fresh off a beating of an overmatched Pitt squad. Miami has had trouble in their conference road tilts the past 2 seasons, going just 4-4 with no win coming by more than points (won by 18 at Duke in 2008), and only one win coming over a team that finished with a winning record (38-34 over a Florida State team that finished 7-6 in 2009). Clemson is likely the class of the Atlantic Division, and could be the best team in the entire ACC. Look for the Tigers to pull off the straight up win on Saturday.

Western Michigan +3 Idaho
The Vandals from Idaho have developed a nice little inter-sectional rivalry, not with one team per se, but with an entire conference. Since 2007, the Vandals have played 4 games with teams from the MAC (3 scheduled and one in the Humanitarian Bowl last season). The Vandals have completed a home and home with Northern Illinois (losing at home in 2007 and winning on the road in 2009). They played Bowling Green in the aforementioned Humanitarian Bowl, winning on a successful 2-point conversion. This game will mark the end of a home and home with the Broncos. The Vandals lost to the Broncos at home in 2008, and now make the return trip to Kalamazoo. The Vandals continue their MAC sojourn in 2011 and 2012 with a home and home with Bowling Green. Now, back to this game. The Vandals are an interesting team, having blown out a IAA school (North Dakota State) and one of the worst teams in IA (UNLV) by a combined 68 points. They also hung tough with Nebraska in Lincoln. However, in their most recent game, they fell to one of the worst teams in IA (Colorado State). Meanwhile, Western Michigan has had 2 weeks to prepare for this game after losing their conference opener to Toledo. Western Michigan substantially outgained the Rockets (416 to 268), but lost thanks to a -4 turnover margin. With Idaho having to travel several a long distance and Western Michigan fresh off a bye, this spread should probably be reversed. Look for the Broncos to pull out an outright upset Saturday.

East Carolina +13.5 North Carolina
I'm a little confused by this spread. North Carolina has not exactly set the world on fire offensively this season. True, they are better than they were last season, but the defense has gotten worse (that will happen when suspensions are so rampant). Meanwhile, East Carolina appears to have shifted from a defense-first team under Skip Holtz to one that will be involved in a great deal of shootouts. Games involving the Pirates have averaged a total of 84 points this season. In their championship winning seasons of 2008 and 2009, games involving the Pirates averaged 44.5 and 48.9 points respectively. This should be an entertaining game with the backdoor open just wide enough for the Pirates to sneak through.

Tennessee +16 LSU
Just as I predicted last week, LSU once again failed to cover a rather large number, jumping out to a 17-point lead before posting a rather ugly 6-point win as a 9-point favorite. Look for more of the same here. LSU is by far the superior team, but for whatever reason, Tennessee is likely to hang around and cover this number.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 12-8

Oklahoma -4 Vs Texas
Neither the Sooners nor the Longhorns looked particularly dominant last weekend. Texas lost at home to a double-digit underdog with a prehistoric passing game more suited for Amos Alonzo Stagg than Rick Neuheisel. Meanwhile, Oklahoma needed a late onside kick recovery and a plethora of red zone turnovers to eke by a team that lost by a pair of touchdowns to Fresno State. Needless to say, for the second year in a row, the Red River Rivalry is not the marquee game on the Saturday schedule. In fact, both of these teams may be looking on as Nebraska hoists the Big 12 Championship trophy in early December. But I digress. Oklahoma has hardly looked dominant this season, but after 4 weeks, its clear Texas is in a rebuilding mode. Albeit a rebuilding mode than will still likely win 9 games, but rebuilding nonetheless. Look for the Sooners to win comfortably here (10 points or so) and position themselves as the pole sitter in the Big 12 South.

Maryland -7.5 Duke
After a marginally successful season in 2009 (by Duke standards, an incredibly successful one), the Blue Devils appear to have taken a step back in 2010. They have lost 3 in a row after opening with an easy win over Elon, including an embarrassing home loss to Army. The margin was only 14, but the Cadets led 35-7 in the second half. The Blue Devils do not even pretend to play defense, giving up an average of 466 yards per game. Even if we remove the bludgeoning Alabama put on them, they are still allowing 413 yards per game. The Terps have followed up their opening weekend upset of Navy by pounding a IAA school (Morgan State), losing somewhat competitively to the best team in the Big East (West Virginia), and beating a Sun Belt school (Florida International) by 2 touchdowns. Remember though, this is the same Florida International that nearly Rutgers and Texas A&M (losing by 5 and 7 points respectively). Just giving slightly more than a touchdown at home makes Maryland one of the safest plays of the week.

Toledo -3.5 Wyoming
Toledo has built their 3-1 record on the strength of a fantastic turnover margin (+7 in their last 3 games, all wins), so they may end up not being quite the MAC contender they appear to be. The defense is the strength of the team, holding opponents to only 372 yards per game. If we remove the opening loss to Arizona, the Rockets have allowed only 323 yards per game, very good numbers for a MAC outfit. That defense should be good enough to put the clamps on the Cowboys, a team that has yet to gain more than 355 yards in any game (did it against IAA Southern Utah).

Southern Cal -10 Washington
Can you say revenge? While Lane Kiffin was not on the sidelines last season when the Huskies upset the Trojans, a lot of his players were. Motivation is certainly a factor to weigh here, especially with the spread below 2 touchdowns. Outside of their close scrape with Virginia, the Trojans have won their other 3 games by at least 11 points, and all 3 have come on the road. Returning home should allow the Trojans to put up some big offensive numbers, particularly against a team that lost to what has been revealed to be a poor BYU team in their only road game.

UTEP -15 New Mexico
Oh how the once proud Lobos have fallen. Ritchie Valens and Lou Diamond Phillips would be so appalled. New Mexico has not come close than 35 points against any of their foes this season. This is of course on the heels of a 1-11 debacle where the lone win came by 2 points. New Mexico has been outgained by nearly 1000 yards in 4 games and they have been outscored by 184 points. UTEP has one of the best offense in Conference USA, and should be able to run wild on Los Lobos.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fab Five: Week IV

After the lows of Week I and the highs of Week II, Week III somewhere in the middle. I managed a winning week thanks to Tennessee's push against Florida (5-4-1) to run my overall record to 16-13-1. However, aside from the Tennessee push, I only got one dog right. Thus far, I am performing much better picking favorites than I am picking dogs. Keep that in mind if you are foolish enough to gamble your hard-earned money on these picks. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-3-1
Overall: 6-8-1

Arkansas State +11 Troy
If they have done nothing else this season, at the very least, the Troy Trojans have provided their fans with entertaining football games. Each of their 3 contests thus far have been in doubt in the final minutes. In their opener, they manged to hold off Bowling Green 30-27. In their second game, they traveled to Oklahoma State and nearly upset the Cowboys before falling 41-38. Then last week, they fell to UAB on a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game's final play (lost 34-33). The Over/Under on this game currently sits at 63.5, so the oddsmakers rightly expect this to be a high scoring affair. Arkansas State is averaging 28 points per game and allowing 34.3 (partly inflated by their trip to Auburn), while Troy is averaging 33.7 points per game and allowing 34. Arkansas State should be able to move the ball well enough to keep this one relatively tight with the resident beasts of the Sun Belt.

Notre Dame +5 Stanford
Call it the Wake Forest Effect. Stanford looked almost unstoppable on offense last week in dropping 68 on the hapless Deacon defense. However, let's not forget that just a week earlier, the Demon Deacons also made Duke look like an offensive juggernaut when the gave up 48 points in a narrow win over the Blue Devils. Traveling a few time zones east and facing a defense that does not belong to Wake Forest will make the Stanford offense face its first bit of adversity this season.

West Virginia +9 LSU
As head coach as LSU, Les Miles is 27-36-4 ATS (including 2-1 this season). The Tigers have covered consecutive games after failing to cover the inflated line for their opener (+7). Only one other time during his tenure has LSU covered more than 2 games in a row. They covered the final 2 games of 2006 (at Arkansas and versus Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl) and the first 3 games of 2007 (at Mississippi State and home versus Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee State). If there has ever been a time to double down against LSU, this it.

New Mexico +11 UNLV
If TCU or Utah finishes undefeated and fails to qualify for the BCS National Championship Game, they may well have these 2 teams (and Colorado State) to blame for dragging down their strength of schedule. New Mexico has yet to play a competitive game, losing to Oregon by 72, Texas Tech by 35, and Utah by 42 (with the latter 2 coming at home!). Meanwhile, UNLV has lost to Wisconsin by 20, Utah 28, and Idaho by 23. The winner of this game will have a leg up on getting out of the Mountain West basement and with Colorado State remaining on the schedule, could be staring at multiple league wins. Either way, this will probably be the closest game either team has played thus far.

Arizona State +12 Oregon
Arizona State nearly upset the Badgers in Madison last week, and as a reward for their troubles, they draw perhaps the hottest offense in the nation. Meanwhile, Oregon continued their buzzsawing ways, trouncing Portland State (IAA) 69-0. Arizona State proved last week they are more than capable of staying in games with their offense and special teams. Look for this one to be very close and potentially end the Ducks run at perfection.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 10-5

Oklahoma -15 Cincinnati
Technically, this game is at Paul Brown Stadium, and while that means its not at Cincinnati's true homefield, its pretty darn close. Oklahoma endured the typical letdown game last weekend, narrowly edging the Air Force Falcons 27-24. Oklahoma proved a week before they are more than capable crushing quality opponents when they dropped Florida State by 30. Going into their first road test of the year, motivation should not be a factor (as it may have been in close wins over Utah State and Air Force). In addition, Cincinnati should not be much of a factor either. The Bearcats have fallen precipitously from the heights they reached last season, looking for all the world like they have no concept of pass protection in road loss to Fresno State and NC State (giving up 13 sacks in those games). This one could get ugly quickly.

Florida -14 Kentucky
This line perplexes me. Last week Florida was 14-point favorite on the road at Tennessee. This week they are a 14-point favorite at home against Kentucky. While Kentucky will almost assuredly return to the postseason, their resume thus far is iffy at best. Their wins have come against Louisville (on the road) and at home versus Western Kentucky and Akron (2 teams without wins). The Wildcats have looked like worldbeaters on offense, averaging nearly 500 yards per game. However, Florida will provide a much stiffer test. The Gators may not have the offensive firepower (yet) they featured with Tim Tebow under center, they still possess one of the game's best defenses. This is another game that could get ugly quickly.

Duke -6.5 Army
No team will be happier to return to the field on Saturday than the Duke Blue Devils. One week after facing off against Alabama, the Devils will likely feel like they are on vacation facing Army. While Duke struggled mightily moving the ball against Alabama, they should have enough offensive firepower to beat Army by a touchdown at home.

Baylor -7.5 Rice
Last week, Northwestern rolled into Houston as a touchdown favorite to face the Owls and left with a 17-point win. I would expect Baylor to have similar success against the Owls. Baylor was humbled by TCU last week, but Rice ain't TCU. The Bears will get back to their winning ways with a comfortable road win.

Arizona -7 California
Fresh off their biggest win since 1998, the Wildcats now begin their Pac-10 season, and quest for their first Rose Bowl bid at home against the Cal Bears. Cal was humbled at Nevada last week, despite moving the ball particularly well, thanks to turnovers that directly led to Nevada scores. Arizona is a much better team than the Wolfpack (perhaps the best in the Pac-10), so they should win by at least a touchdown here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fab Five: Week III

Week II was infinitely more kind to your humble prognosticator. I went 7-3 and raised my overall record to just north of .500 at 11-9. We'll see if I can continue my winning ways this week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 5-5

Kansas +5.5 Southern Miss
Kansas surprised a lot of folks and severely damaged the ACC's reputation by winning as a 14-point underdog against Georgia Tech last week. This week they try to avoid becoming a BCS conference scalp for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles used to be known as giant-killers, but they have gone just 2-9 against BCS conference teams since 2005, with the wins coming against low-wattage outfits from NC State in 2006 (3-9 record) and Virginia last season (3-9 record). Both incidentally did come at home, so they have that going for them. Still the Golden Eagles do not have a good track record of beating decent BCS conference opponents. I expect that trend to continue on Friday night.

Arizona State +14 Wisconsin
If nothing else, Arizona State has started the 2010 season by gaining confidence. Their first 2 opponents were IAA schools (Portland State and Northern Arizona). The Sun Devils were not challenged in either game, winning both by a combined 66 points. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has also opened against a pair of light weights, albeit IA lightweights in UNLV and San Jose State. Interestingly, Wisconsin has failed to cover rather large numbers in both games, beating UNLV by 20 and San Jose State 13. Wisconsin will almost certainly emerge victorious from this game, but the Sun Devils are an under the radar Pac-10 team that could end up bowl eligible after consecutive losing seasons. For this reason, its hard to best against them getting 2 touchdowns.

Baylor +21.5 TCU
I don't think the Horned Frogs are in any danger of losing this game, and with it their hopes of a national championship. However, the Bears have one of the games best playmakers in quarterback Robert Griffin. TCU has speed on defense, but Mr. Griffin will likely be the fastest, quickest, most athletic quarterback they face this season. Unfortunately, for the Bears, TCU should be able to move the ball at will against them, thus meaning Mr. Griffin will likely have to play a perfect game for Baylor to have any shot of actually winning. He won't, but the Bears should stay within 3 touchdowns.

Tennessee +14 Florida
The Vols were crushed by an Oregon avalanche in the second half last week. After playing the Ducks even for a half, a barrage of turnovers and special teams errors allowed the Ducks to lay the lumber in the second half. While Florida may be a better overall team than the Ducks, their offense has not been as dynamic this season. Miami of Ohio was able to hold them in check, as was South Florida until the Gator defense turned the game with a multitude of turnovers. As long as Tennessee avoids the turnover gaffe that did them in against Oregon, and I think they will with a very conservative gameplan, they should be able to hang with the Gators.

North Texas +6 Army
Sooner or later, one would think North Texas could catch a break. After going 0-6 in games decided by 7 points or less last season, the Mean Green dropped a winnable home game against Rice by a single point. The good news for North Texas is that the offense is humming, gaining over 400 yards against both Rice and Clemson. Unfortunately, the defense has been very permissive as well, allowing 774 yards in both games. If the Mean Green can avoid the turnover bugaboo, they should win their first road game since opening the 2009 season upsetting Ball State.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 6-4

Florida State -10 BYU
Florida State is akin to an undervalued stock. They were humbled last week in Norman, Oklahoma, a place where Bob Stoops has lost just twice in over a decade coaching the Sooners. While their game flew under the radar, the Cougars were also humbled on the road, losing to Air Force 35-14. The Cougars managed only 309 yards against the Falcons, including just 88 through the air. Defending the pass is Florida State's biggest weakness, but with a pair of first year starters, including freshman Jake Heaps, under center, the Cougars are ill-equipped to gash the Seminoles through the air.

Houston -3 UCLA
The Bruins have looked like they are intent on giving Washington State a run for their money at the bottom of the Pac-10 in 2010. OK, maybe not that bad, but they have struggled, particularly on offense on the early going. Houston rolled over UTEP last Friday despite losing all-world quarterback Case Keenum to a concussion. Keenum is day-to-day, whatever that means. Even without him, the Cougars should be able to win by more than a field goal if running back Bryce Beall, who is averaging over 10 yards a rush, can do his best Daniel Thomas impression. Thomas, you may remember, rang up over 230 yards against the Bruins over Labor Day weekend.

Indiana -12 Western Kentucky
I was amazed when I saw the Hoosiers were giving less than a pair of touchdowns at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are currently riding a 22-game losing streak and have opened this campaign with a pair of defeats to Nebraska and Kentucky by 39 and 35 points respectively. I know this game is at Western Kentucky, but if Indiana has any pulse whatsoever, they should win by at least 20.

Northwestern -6.5 Rice
The Owls hung tough in their opener against Texas, losing by just 17. However, Rice has seemingly had issues on defense since the game of football was invented, and facing a quarterback as accurate as Dan Persa (just 6 incompletions in 44 attempts on the season) does not bode well for them. Rice may be able to hang with Northwestern, by putting up some scores of their own, but I doubt they can stay within a touchdown.

Oklahoma State -7 Tulsa
This small number is a bit of an overreaction to Oklahoma State's narrow escape (41-38) versus Troy last week. Despite the narrow margin, the Cowboys outgained the Trojans by over 150 yards and have put up over 1000 yards of total offense in their first 2 contests. Tulsa has also gained over 1000 yards in their first 2 games (1125 to be exact), but have also allowed 841 yards. This game figures to be very high-scoring and exciting, but look for the Cowboys to pull away and win by about 10 points.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Boise and the BCS

Boise didn't play this past weekend, and yet their hopes of playing in the BCS National Championship Game took a big hit when their marque scalp, Virginia Tech, fell at home to a IAA (FCS) foe in James Madison. Fear not Boise fans, all hope is not lost. While their chances are certainly dimmer than they were at this time last week, Boise's WAC opponents still have ample time to earn some solid wins and position themselves as more than juts typical WAC fodder. While New Mexico State and San Jose State once again appear to be among the worst teams in IA football, the rest of the WAC can do Boise some favors over the remainder of the season. Here's how they can help.

Louisiana Tech appears to be rebuilding under first year coach Sonny Dykes. The Air Raid that Dykes brought to Ruston has yet to catch hold, as the Bulldogs were only able to score 20 points in their opener against Grambling and were then pummeled by Texas A&M. However, they still have non-conference home games remaining against Navy and Southern Miss. Both those teams will likely qualify for bowls, so if the Bulldogs could somehow manage a split, the permutations would inflate Boise's strength of schedule ever so slightly.

Idaho played in a bowl game last season and while never really a threat to beat Nebraska in Lincoln, only lost by 21 points last weekend. The Vandals have non-conference games remaining against UNLV, at Colorado State, and at Western Michigan. UNLV and Colorado State appear to be prime contenders for the Mountain West basement. Idaho needs to avoid a bad loss to both those schools. The long trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan presents the Vandals with an opportunity to win a road game over a potential bowl team and MAC contender. Boise State definitely needs the Vandals to avoid a loss to either Mountain West outfit, and a road win over the other Broncos from Western Michigan is not out of the question.

Utah State played Oklahoma tough in their opener, losing by 7 against a team that thrashed Florida State by 30 the next week. The Aggies have a pair of Mountain West teams remaining on their schedule, but unfortunately, they are not UNLV and Colorado State. The Aggies travel to San Diego State and host in-state rival BYU. While they will likely be underdogs in both games, competitive losses to both or a split would do wonders towards proving their game in Norman was not a fluke.

Hawaii lost on the opening Thursday to Southern Cal in a game that was closer than many predicted. They followed that up with a road win at Army. The Warriors play at Colorado this week before returning to the islands to host Charleston Southern. The Buffaloes are no longer a Big 12 power, but any road win over a BCS conference foe is good. The Charleston Southern game is one the Warriors should (and must) win handily. Hawaii close out the regular season by hosting UNLV. Anything less than 2 blowout home wins and a competitive road loss will only hurt the Bronco's esteem in the eyes of the pollsters and the computers.

Fresno State has already done Boise a big favor by beating Cincinnati at home in their opener. They have another pair of opportunities to beat BCS conference teams when they travel to Ole Miss and host Illinois. While Jacksonville State has won in Oxford, proving it can certainly be done, Fresno State will probably be an underdog in that game. They need to be competitive in defeat and avoid a home loss to an Illinois team that will likely be playing for pride in the season finale. Their other non-conference game comes against IAA Cal Poly, so they need to avoid a slip-up there.

Nevada, the likely biggest threat to Boise's WAC supremacy, is 2-0 with IAA Eastern Washington and aforementioned Mountain West basement dweller Colorado State. The Wolfpack have the opportunity this Friday to grab the biggest non-conference scalp for the WAC outside of the one Boise already has (Virginia Tech) and is likely to get (Oregon State) when they host Cal. The Golden Bears are not thought of as Pac-10 contenders in the same esteem as say Oregon, but they are a perennial bowl team. While the Wolfpack don't have to win to help the reputation of the WAC, they certainly need to perform better than they have against BCS conference teams the past 5 seasons.After Cal, Nevada also plays a pair of Mountain West road games against BYU and in-state rival UNLV. BYU lost at Air Force last weekend and may be fielding their worst team in a half-decade or so. Meanwhile, Nevada has not lost to UNLV since 2004, and for Boise's sake, does not need to end that streak this season.

So there you have it. Boise was certainly not helped by this past weekend's results, but if their WAC brethren can step up, the rest of their schedule can be stronger than initially thought. Plus, don't forget, Oregon State, a potential Pac-10 contender as well as Wyoming (bowl team last season), and Toledo (potential MAC contender) remain. It's a long shot of course, but don't go throwing dirt on Boise's national title dreams just yet.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Fab Five: Week II

Well, Week I was not a rousing success for your humble prognosticator. It was more like Weak I. My record was an unspectacular 4-6, lowlighted by a putrid 1-4 mark picking dogs. I promise to do better this week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 1-4

Central Michigan +7.5 Temple
The MAC's preeminent program of the past 4 years matches up with a team many think will be the preeminent program this season. The Chippewas have won 3 of the past 4 MAC titles, and opened the 2010 season by shutting out IAA Hampton. Temple tied for the MAC East title last year and opened with a nail-biting win over Villanova, the defending IAA champion. While Temple certainly had the greater challenge in the first game, the Owls weren't exactly scintillating in their victory. This spread should probably be about 3 or 4 points lower. Central Michigan is a steal getting more than a touchdown.

Hawaii +3 Army
Hawaii would certainly not appear to be the safest road pick based on recent history, going just 4-8 in road games the past 2 seasons. However, despite winning just a third of their road games since 2008, they have managed a successful 7-5 record ATS on the road. Hawaii has also had a few extra days of travel for this road trip, having played Southern Cal on Thursday instead of Saturday. Thus, the typical effects playing a road contest has on Hawaii should be somewhat muted for this game. In addition, based on their performance against Southern Cal, Hawaii should not have much trouble moving the ball against Army. Of course, they may not be able to stop the Black Knights either. However, based on how both teams performed in their openers, Hawaii should probably be a slight favorite here. Thus, with them getting a field goal, I have no reservations taking them to cover.

Bowling Green +17 Tulsa
This is a rematch of the most lopsided bowl game in NCAA history. After the 2007 season, Tulsa and Bowling Green faced off in the GMAC Bowl. Bowling Green officials have likely burned that game film after the Golden Hurricane embarrassed them 63-7. Of course, that bowl game from 3 seasons ago likely has little bearing on the outcome of this game. Both teams come into this game off close road losses. Bowling Green dropped a 30-27 decision to Sun Belt power Troy while Tulsa gave up a Hail Mary on the final play to fall to East Carolina 51-49. There shouldn't be a great deal of defense played in this game, so the Over may be a solid play as well. I don't think Bowling Green will threaten to win this game, but Tulsa's defense is bad enough that the Falcons should be able to cover.

Tennessee +12 Oregon
The Ducks are flying high fresh off their 72-0 beatdown of hapless New Mexico, but traveling across the country to take on Tennessee should provide a much stiffer test than the Lobos could offer. Both teams come into this game off blowout wins over overmatched opponents. Oregon of course waxed New Mexico 72-0, but the Vols were also impressive in their 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin. New Mexico is likely on of the worst IA teams in all of college football, so the Ducks are a little overvalued as team this week. This line should be closer to a single touchdown (6 or 7 points), especially with this marking the Ducks first road game of the season.

NC State +3 Central Florida
I don't subscribe to the notion that NC State is a great team after they managed to dominate Western Carolina. However, I'm not sure of the rationale to favor UCF in this game. The Knights have not beaten a team from a BCS conference since upsetting (guess who) NC State to open the 2007 season. By the same token, NC State has not lost to a team from outside a BCS conference since that 2007 opener. NC State may not have improved much on defense since that August day in 2007, but with Russell Wilson under center, they should be able to outscore the Knights on their homefield.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 3-2

Georgia Tech -14 Kansas
While Ole Miss drew most of the headlines for falling at home to a IAA (or FCS) program, Kansas began the Turner Gill era by doing the same thing. However, instead of an entertaining shootout, the Jayhawks lost a snoozer to North Dakota State 6-3. While the Jayhawks probably should have won, as they outgained the Bison by 125 yards, but were done in by 3 turnovers some shoddy field goal kicking. Still, the Jayhawks struggled moving the ball against the Bison, total ling only 293 yards. The Jayhawks will have to do much better on offense if they hope to stay with one of the best and unique offenses in college football.

Oklahoma -6.5 Florida State
The Sooners struggled somewhat in their opener, narrowly edging Utah State 31-24 in a game where they were nearly a 5-touchdown favorite. I wouldn't read too much into this one game though. In 2006, the Sooners struggled in their opener against UAB, beating the Blazers 24-17 as a 22-point favorite. They went on to win the Big 12 that season and play Boise State in a very memorable Fiesta Bowl. Remember, the Sooners jumped on Utah State early, leading 21-0 before the Aggies made the game competitive. The Sooners likely won't suffer the same lapses against a team with the brand and notoriety of Florida State.

Ohio State -8.5 Miami
How good is Miami? Probably good enough to win the ACC. But good enough to compete with the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe? Doubtful. The Buckeyes have the best defense Miami will face all season, unless of course they match up with a super power in their bowl game. Last time Miami faced a road game this big, they crapped the bed as a small favorite at Virginia Tech last season losing 31-7. If Miami scores more than 10 points in this game, I will be very surprised.

Ole Miss -20.5 Tulane
I know, just a few paragraphs up I ripped Kansas for losing at home to a IAA team. And yet, here I am, taking the Rebels, another team that fell at home to a IAA school. While the Rebels did lose at home to Jacksonville State, their offense did not have any problems moving the ball. The Rebels gained 479 yards and scored 48 points against the Gamecocks. They were undone by 3 turnovers and some defensive lapses (especially in overtime). Meanwhile, Tulane did manage to win their opener against a IAA school (SE Louisiana), but they were actually outgained by the Lions. Tulane is not a good team, and Ole Miss will cure their ills from last week with a blowout here.

Iowa -13.5 Iowa State
Last year in Ames, the Hawkeyes blew out the Cyclones 35-3. This year, the game is in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes are only a two-touchdown favorite. Iowa State has scored 8 total points in their past 2 games against the Hawkeyes. I would expect their total to be around that number in this game, meaning 21 points should be enough for Iowa to cover.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fab Five: Week I

At long last, college football is back! As I have done the past 3 seasons, I'll be coming to you each week with my 10 top picks picks against the spread (5 dogs and 5 faves). Sit back and relax, and make some friendly wagers if you care to. Here is the Fab Five for Week 1. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Northern Illinois +4.5 Iowa State
This Thursday night game may not be getting the play of the other games on ESPN and Versus, but it deserves a look. Both these teams went to bowls last season, and both are eyeing a return trip to the postseason. Northern Illinois (if you believe my projection system) even has designs on a MAC Championship. Meanwhile, Iowa State, despite their bowl appearance last season, was statistically one of the worst teams in the Big 12 (11th of 12 in SDPI). Plus the Cyclones are no strangers to struggling at home to MAC teams in their opener, losing in 2007 to Kent State, and needing 3 overtimes to outlast Toledo in 2006. Northern Illinois may even be worth a look on the moneyline.

Toledo +16 Arizona
I know picking a pair of MAC teams to cover versus teams from BCS conferences may seem a little crazy. Bare with me though. Remember, it was just last season that Toledo humiliated a BCS conference team on Friday night, blitzing Colorado 54-38. While Arizona is much better than Colorado, they have laid a few eggs on the road against non-conference non-BCS conference opponents, losing as a double digit favorite at New Mexico in 2008 and dropping a 20-7 decision at BYU in 2007 as a small dog. Arizona may well win the Pac-10, but they will be walking into a hornet's nest on Friday night.

Cincinnati +2.5 Fresno State
Apparently when Brian Kelly left Cincinnati he took all the Bearcat's mojo with him. How else to explain the fact that a team that finished the regular season unbeaten in 2009 opens 2010 as a betting underdog to a solid, but unspectacular mid-major outfit. New head coach Butch Jones followed Kelly at Central Michigan and won a pair of MAC titles in 3 seasons. He may not win 2 of the next 3 Big East titles, but he will keep Cincy in contention. Fresno is far from a pushover, but their bark has been worse than their bite essentially since their program defining wins over Oregon State and Colorado nearly a decade ago. Methinks this spread should probably be reversed.

UNLV +21 Wisconsin
Wisconsin reminds me a lot of 2009 Ole Miss. They have been getting a lot of preseason ink after their solid finish to last season which included an impressive bowl win over Miami. However, much like Ole Miss in 2009, I think the Badgers are in for another solid season, but not a rarefied one that concludes with a trip to the Rose Bowl. Why? For starters, the Badgers were extremely fortunate to win 10 games last season, going 6-1 in games decided by one-score. Secondly, while the offense was most impressive last season, it will be hard to improve upon the numbers they posted. Our old pal regression should rear his ugly head, and despite the return of 10 starters on that side of the ball improvement (from an offense that was 2nd in the Big 10 in SDPI) is not guaranteed. Finally, the Badgers will be playing this game in a city with a ton of distractions. Are they more talented than UNLV? Of course, and if this game was in Madison, they would likely cover this number, but in Vegas, the Rebs are the pick.

Virginia Tech +2.5 Vs Boise State
For the Boise State Broncos, this is their season. While they do play another BCS-conference school later on (Oregon State), if they lose here, no matter what happens afterward, they will likely be relegated to the nether regions of the top 25. The Broncos do not have a great history of winning in the Eastern time zone. The last time they opened the season on this coast, Georgia embarrassed them 48-13. Virginia Tech is not playing at home, but they should have the partisan crowd, and the Broncos will likely be left picking up the pieces after Monday's game.

Five Faves I Like

Missouri -12 Vs Illinois
Somehow, Ron Zook is still employed as head football coach by the University of Illinois. Under Zook, the Illini are 24-32 ATS (against the spread), 0-3 against Missouri, and 0-3 ATS against Missouri. Look for all those trends to continue as Zook starts his lame duck year.

Kentucky -3 Louisville
After being owned by their in-state rivals when they were coached by Bobby Petrino, the Wildcats have won 3 straight against the Cardinals, including two as underdogs. I don't know that the 'Cats will be a very good team in 2010, but Louisville has the look of a team that is cleaing house and rebuilding. Despite the fact that this game is in Louisville, the 'Cats are the pick.

Texas -30 Vs Rice
30. That's a lot of points to be laying. But hear me out. In the past 5 season, Rice has been an underdog of at least 30 points 6 times. They are 1-5 ATS in those 6 games. In addition, in the past 5 seasons, the Owls have faced the Longhorns 4 times. They have lost those games by an average of 43 points, with none being closer than 41 points. The Longhorns should roll in this one.

Syracuse -9 Akron
If you read my preseason previews, you know my projection system believes this is the best Syracuse team in a long time. It also has Akron pegged for last place in their division in the MAC. The Zips will breaking in a new coach, and were statistically only better than Eastern Michigan in the MAC last season. If Syracuse can avoid the costly turnovers that plagued them last season, they should win this one relatively easy.

Mississippi State -21 Memphis
The Bulldogs enjoyed their best offensive season of the decade last season under first year head coach Dan Mullen. With another year of his system in place, the Bulldogs should at least keep pace with their performance from 2009. Luckily, they get a nice tune-up before Auburn comes calling next Thursday. Memphis was one of the worst teams in college football last season, finishing dead last in Conference USA in defensive SDPI. Prospects for much improvement are grim, so the Bulldogs should roll in their home opener.