Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fab Five: Week IX

After consecutive winning weeks, I hit a rough patch. I went just 4-6, including an amazing 0-5 on dogs. This drags my yearly mark to 41-38-1. We'll try and get that corrected this week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 0-5
Overall: 17-22-1

Purdue +17 Illinois
My SDPI numbers rate the Boilermakers as the worst team in the Big 10, so they are an odd choice to make a play on this week. However, the majority of that rating is thanks to their performance last week against a ticked off Ohio State squad. Remove that game, and the Boilermakers rate out as a middling Big 10 team. And speaking of middling, have you met the Illini? Surprisingly, Illinois currently boasts the second best defense in the conference. However, their offense, under freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, is only ranked 9th in the Big 10. Asking a team that relies on their defense to that great an extent to cover a 3-score margin seems to be pushing it. That makes Purdue the pick here.

Kentucky +6.5 Mississippi State
The Cowbells will certainly be out in full force on Saturday night as Mississippi State seeks to lock up only its second winning season since 2000. However, the Bulldogs appear to be a little over-valued by the general public. Consider, both of their league wins have been close (beat Georgia by 12 and Florida by 3) and their offense has yet to gain more than 314 yards against an SEC foe. Kentucky has the offensive firepower to put a scare into Mississippi State, if not pull out the outright upset.

Michigan State +6.5 Iowa
For those of you that read my SDPI post for this week (and if you didn't, why not?), you know that the numbers have not taken too kindly to Iowa. The Hawkeyes feature both a below average Big 10 offense and defense and rank a very un-Iowa like 7th in the Big 10. Meanwhile, Michigan State is undefeated and is very balanced on both offense and defense. The Spartans catching nearly a touchdown is too good to pass up, even if the game is in Iowa City.

Southern Cal +7 Oregon
Like the Michigan State/Iowa game, the SDPI numbers believe the wrong team is favored in this one. Believe it or not, Southern Cal actually has a superior offense against Pac-10 foes than the Ducks. Oregon has been great for sure, but some of their offensive number are certainly inflated by having games against New Mexico (winless) and Portland State (IAA) on the schedule. While certainly not elite, the Trojans also have a better defense than Oregon. Plus, this game is at night, and is Southern Cal's chance to show the nation how good they are since they are ineligible for postseason play. Look for a motivated and hungry Trojan team to win this one outright.

New Mexico State +3.5 San Jose State
These are two of the worst teams in all of IA football. New Mexico State owns just a single win (over winless in-state rival New Mexico), and San Jose State has also tasted victory only once (over IAA Southern Utah). Still, nothing about San Jose State screams that they should be favored in this game. Don't watch this pillow fight, but take the home team to cover.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 24-16

West Virginia -6.5 Connecticut
One week after helping Syracuse clinch their best season in a half-decade, the Mountaineers head to Storrs to take on another team enduring a disappointing season. Thought by many to be contenders in the Big East race in the preseason, the Huskies are now in real danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2006. Their 3 wins this year have come against Texas Southern (IAA), Buffalo (2-5), and Vanderbilt (2-5). The good news for the Huskies is all those wins have come at home, which happens to be the locale for this contest. Unfortunately, the huskies are having major issues throwing the football with quarterback Cody Endres being dismissed from the team. In their last 2 games, the Huskies have averaged only 240 yards per game. West Virginia is holding their foes to just 246 yards per game. Connecticut will have a hard time getting to double digits, so West Virginia should be able to cover this number rather easily.

Maryland -6 Wake Forest
I usually don't like to pick games involving my alma mater, but this one seems too good to pass up. Wake ranks below average offensively and quite terrible defensively in the ACC, while Maryland has struggled moving the ball, but has been quite stout on defense. In addition Wake has struggled in their recent trips to College Park. The Deacons have only beaten the Terps once in 4 tries at Maryland, and that came in the ACC title year of 2006. Look for Maryland to win rather comfortably here.

Marshall -3 UTEP
The UTEP last-season swoon is in full effect. While the Miners have only lost 2 in a row after their 5-1 start, more losses are assuredly on the way with games against SMU, Arkansas, and Tulsa remaining on the schedule. Of course, UTEP is not choking, they were merely never very good to begin with. Their 5 wins have come against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (IAA), New Mexico State (one win over a IA team), Memphis (one win over a IA team), New Mexico (winless), and Rice (two wins over IA teams). In their last two games against powerhouses UAB and Tulane (combined two IA wins besides UTEP), the Miners have gained just 515 total yards and scored just 30 points. Marshall is far from a good team, but the Miners have proven they may be just as bad, and are also traveling a few time zones east. Take the Herd to win by at least a field goal.

Florida International -5 Florida Atlantic
After standing in the shadow of their fellow Sun Belt Sunshine Stater, the Golden Panthers from Florida International appear to be headed toward their first ever bowl bid in school history. After playing 3 of their BCS-conference opponents tough in September, the Golden Panthers have again proven their mettle in Sun Belt play, starting the year out 2-0 in the conference. Meanwhile, the Owls have struggled since winning their opener over UAB. Florida Atlantic has lost 5 straight, with 3 of the losses coming in league play, including a nasty home loss to North Texas. Look for Florida International to win by at least a touchdown and grab their first victory in this series since 2005.

Arkansas -20.5 Vanderbilt
As I stated in last week's SDPI post, Vanderbilt may actually be worse this season than they were in a winless league campaign in 2009. Arkansas has one of the SEC's best offenses with or without Ryan Mallet. It's hard to envision Vandy scoring more than 10 points here, and equally hard to envision Arkansas being held below 30. The Hogs should roll here and cover this number with ease.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mid-Season SDPI: Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-10

As promised last week, here are the mid-season SDPI ratings for teams in the Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-10. Before we get to the ratings though, how did the ACC and SEC ratings perform this past week? Well, the ratings nailed Georgia, which won handily at Kentucky. However, the 'elite' defense that I proclaimed LSU possessed was turned to rubble against Auburn. Still, on the whole, the SDPI ratings did pretty well, posting a 7-2 mark both straight up and against the spread (the losses were LSU over Auburn and Georgia Tech over Clemson). I'll keep you posted on how the ratings perform this week. Next week, we'll finally have a large enough sample to handicap the final BCS conference, the Big East. In addition, look for the Mountain West ratings, where we'll handicap the potential top-10 matchup between TCU and Utah. TCU has what should be an easy win on the road against UNLV, while the Utes have a much tougher road game at Air Force. I'll also try to crunch the Conference USA and WAC numbers next week too.

Big 10 Shutout of the BCS Title Game?
That scenario is a real possibility heading into the last month of the regular season. Michigan State must not only win out (very conceivable), but they must also hope either Oregon or Auburn falters down the stretch. Even if both lose, that may not be enough, as TCU, Boise, or Utah are likely to finish the year unbeaten as well. And what about a potential one-loss Alabama or LSU? If the Spartans can win in Iowa City this week, we could be in for some mega-BCS chaos in early December.
Here are the Big 10 standings through Saturday's games.
Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Illinois-Vic Koenning has done wonders for that Illini defense, as they have improved from 9th to 2nd in just one season. Koenning also consistently coordinated stellar defenses at Clemson, and improved Kansas State's defensive acumen in his only season there.
Indiana-The Hoosiers need to somehow steal two conference games to get to a bowl. I say steal because they will likely be an underdog in all 5, and with Minnesota not on the schedule, the Big 10 could have a pair of winless conference teams.
Iowa-Surprisingly, the defense is not as stout as it has been the past two seasons.
Michigan-The best offense and the worst defense in the conference.
Michigan State-Extremely well-balanced on both sides of the ball. Don't be surprised if they walk out of Iowa City with their undefeated record in tow.
Minnesota-Like Indiana, will likely be an underdog in the rest of their games.
Northwestern-The numbers love the Wildcats. Should be a team to watch in the second half.
Ohio State-The Terrelle Pryor for Heisman hype has dissipated, but the defense is still nasty as ever.
Penn State-Joe Pa's charges continue to struggle, but they got their must-needed first conference win at Minnesota.
Purdue-Probably not the league's worst team, but Ohio State so thoroughly dominated them that their overall numbers have plummeted.
Wisconsin-Like Iowa, another team that does not appear to be as strong as their record would indicate.

Big 12 Baylor?!
Yes Baylor. The Bears are currently in first place in the Big 12 South and also rate out as the best team in the conference thanks to a ridiculous offense that is currently averaging, yes averaging, over 600 yards per game in league play. They currently average over 120 more yards per game than the second best offense (Texas A&M). Perhaps not coincidentally, the Bears are also bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, and have a chance to finish .500 or better in Big 12 play for the first time ever!
Here are the Big 12 standings through Saturday's games.
Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Baylor-The Bears have moved the ball against everyone they have played...except TCU. The Horned Frogs held the prolific Baylor offense to 10 points and 263 total yards in their 45-10 win.
Colorado-The 3-1 start is a distant memory, and Oklahoma is up next this week. However, the Buffs still have Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State remaining on the schedule, so a bowl game is still a possibility.
Iowa State-How do they do it? Despite ranking second to last in both offense and defense, the Cyclones are still very much alive in the bowl picture, and technically in the division race as well.
Kansas-The biggest offseason question may be, 'How the hell did they beat Georgia Tech?'
Kansas State-Probably not that good as their two league wins have come against Iowa State (11th) and Kansas (12th).
Missouri-I'm not buying them as national players yet, but if they can beat Nebraska in Lincoln they can certainly run the table in the regular season.
Nebraska-The offense was humbled by Texas, and the defense was humbled by Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma-Probably the most complete team in the conference, but they blew their chance for a national title at Missouri.
Oklahoma State-Back to the way Mike Gundy likes it. A very good offense, and a very bad defense.
Texas-They remind me of LSU sans the clock management debacles, as a great defense is wasted by an inept offense. An interesting clash of strengths this week against Baylor.
Texas A&M-The numbers seem to think the Aggies are poised for a second half run, but I don't know that I trust Mike Sherman.
Texas Tech-Tuberville comes to town and screws up both the offense and the defense. Two more league losses and the Red Raiders will have their first losing conference campaign since 2000.

Pac-10 Look Who's Back!
Yes, the numbers say the Trojans are still the cream of the crop out west. They will have a chance to prove it Saturday night against the only league member with a shot to bring home the national title, Oregon.
Here are the Pac-10 standings through Saturday's games.
Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Arizona-The Wildcats are flying under the radar, but at worst will quietly play in their 3rd straight bowl game.
Arizona State-The numbers are a fan, but the Sun Devils likely need a little luck just to get to 6-6.
Cal-The Bears have the league's best defense? Yes. Despite getting eviscerated by Southern Cal (602 yards and 48 points), the Bears have held their other 3 conference foes to 34 total points and 689 total yards.
Oregon-Like their fellow pole-sitters down south (Auburn), the defense is the weak link. It pays to mention, the Ducks were significantly outgained at Arizona State (over 200 yards), but 7 forced turnovers got them the win.
Oregon State-The Beavers are ranked surprisingly low. Boise and TCU certainly hope those numbers don't portend a fall.
Southern Cal-Playing at home, I think the Trojans are a good bet to ensure number one goes down for a 4th consecutive week.
Stanford-Every Pac-10 team besides UCLA has moved the ball against them.
UCLA-At the beginning of October, the future seemed bright. Now the Bruins are just another team that has a hard time moving the ball.
Washington-They don't do anything particularly well, but have an outside shot to go bowling for the first time in 8 years.
Washington State-Believe it or not, they have improved. After being saddled with the worst offense and defense in both 2008 and 2009, the Cougars are merely 50% in the worst of category.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fab Five: Week VIII

Last week marked my second straight week above .500 and tied with Week II for my best performance thus far at 7-3. That brings my overall record to 37-32-1. We shall try and continue that trend this week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 17-17-1

Minnesota +9.5 Penn State
The Gophers canned their coach after their loss at Purdue last weekend and appear to be a team content to play out the string. While I don't want to play psychologist and tell you what the mood around the Gopher program is, I will tell you that Penn State should probably not be a near double-digit favorite over any BCS-conference team, particularly on the road. The Nittany Lions currently have the worst offense in the Big 10 and have also not been their usual selves on defense either, ranking a rather disappointing 7th of 11 teams. Minnesota is by no means a good team, but this will not be a cakewalk for a woeful Penn State offense.

Georgia Tech +6 Clemson
Speaking of woeful offenses, hello Clemson Tigers. As you may have noticed in my SDPI post on Tuesday, the Tigers currently rank ahead of only Boston College in ACC in offense, averaging a paltry 276 yards per game in league play. Thankfully for Clemson partisans, their defense is once again among the tops in the conference ranking 3rd behind Florida State and Maryland!? Typically, the games in this series are very close with 7 of the last 10 having been decided by 5 points or less. Look for that trend to continue on Saturday.

LSU +6 Auburn
Based on my SDPI ratings, LSU has on of the nastiest defenses in the nation. They will surely be put to the test Saturday afternoon against an Auburn offense that ranks 2nd in the SEC and boasts a Heisman contender in quarterback Cam Newton. As I have noted on here before, never, and I mean never trust Les Miles as a favorite, particularly a large one. However, with the Mad Hatter lying in the weeds and getting points, LSU appears to be a very safe play.

Indiana +13.5 Illinois
Yes, this same Indiana team that struggled in putting away Arkansas State is primed to give a solid Illinois team a game on the road. This game is a matchup of strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness. Indiana has a very potent offense (4th in the Big 10), while Illinois has a very stout defense (2nd in the Big 10). Meanwhile, the Hoosiers are awful on defense (dead last in the Big 10), while the Illini are second to last in the Big 10 on offense (thank you Penn State). Illinois will probably end up winning and getting one step closer to saving Zook's job, but expect Indiana to hang around 10 points or so.

Arizona State +3.5 Cal
One week after getting embarrassed by their in-state rivals Southern Cal, the Cal Bears return home to face one of the best 3-3 teams in the country. The Sun Devils have lost by a single point at Wisconsin (where Ohio State fell), lost a reasonably close home game to Oregon in which they committed 7 turnovers, lost by 3 points at Oregon State, and beaten Washington by 2 touchdowns on the road. They stand a real shot to win this game outright and strengthen their bowl chances.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 20-15

West Virginia -14 Syracuse
Remember all that good will the Orange had last week after upsetting South Florida? Well, it has kind of dissipated. A 31-point home loss to a team with a losing record coming in will do that. The Orange still have an outside shot at getting to a bowl game for the first time since 2004, but they are unlikely to add a crucial win to their resume on Saturday. West Virginia has held every opponent except Marshall (in the Herd's near upset on the season's 2nd Friday) to 276 yards or fewer. Yards and points will be at a premium for a Syracuse team that has not moved the ball well against against BCS-conference foes. West Virginia should win in a romp. Plus, mysterious commenter Miguel has advised me to always go against teams wearing Orange.

Georgia -4 Kentucky
The SDPI numbers absolutely love Georgia, having crowned them the best team in SEC East. The Bulldogs are on fire, having bludgeoned Tennessee and Vanderbilt after losing 4 in a row. Meanwhile, the Kentucky Wildcats are also riding high after posting an upset of then number 10 South Carolina. Despite the win, the Wildcats remain horrendous on defense, ranking ahead of only Vanderbilt in the SEC. Georgia does have the Cocktail Party with Florida coming up, but Georgia is 9-0 in the game immediately preceding Florida under Mark Richt, with 5 of the 9 wins coming by more than 4 points.

Western Michigan -7.5 Akron
This could be the oddest spread on the board this week. The Broncos from Western Michigan are one of the better teams in the MAC, fielding the league's 2nd best offense and 3rd best defense. Sure they took a beating at Notre Dame last week and at Michigan State in their opener, but they should be able to deal with a conference patsy like Akron. The Zips appear to be the worst team in the MAC, losing each of their 3 conference games by at least 11 points and ranking dead last in the conference in offense and second to last in defense. The Broncos should roll in this one.

South Carolina -13 Vanderbilt
Being a Columbia resident, it always amazes me how quickly Gamecock fans believe the sky is falling. Some are even worried their beloved Gamecocks could drop this game at Vandy (they did lose the last time they were here). However, that was a competent Vandy team playing against a South Carolina team desperately seeking an offense. Even without freshman stud Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball effectively against the worst defense in the SEC. Oh, and did I mention that the Commodores also have the league's worst offense as well? It will be very hard for Vandy to score more than 10 points in this game. Thus, 24 should enough to allow the Gamecocks to cover, and some Gamecock partisans to return to a sense of normalcy.

Northern Illinois -9.5 Central Michigan
Call this a changing of the guard game if you will. The Chippewas from Central Michigan have won 3 of the last 4 MAC West (and overall conference) titles. They have also beaten the Huskies from Northern Illinois for 3 consecutive seasons. However, this season, the MAC appears to belong to Northern Illinois. The Huskies currently boast the best offense and defense in the conference and are unbeaten at 3-0 in league play. Meanwhile, the Chippewas still have a dynamic offense despite the loss of Dan LeFevour (the poor man's Tim Tebow), but are atrocious on defense (11th in the MAC). They are also just 2-5 through 7 games and in danger of posting their first losing season since 2004. The Huskies should hasten Central Michigan's descent toward loserville with a comfortable win on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mid-Season SDPI: ACC and SEC

As any regular reader of this blog will note (thanks Dad), SDPI is a mainstay of the offseason posts. What is SDPI you ask? SDPI is simply a measure of how a given team performed gaining and preventing opponents from gaining yardage versus the conference average. For my SDPI ratings I only look at conference games. I do this primarily because non-conference games vary greatly in strength among teams. In addition, conference games usually come after a team has played a few non-conference games and has had an opportunity to iron out the kinks and show themselves for what they really are. The SDPI numbers are also key components of my projection system. With that in mind, I decided to take a midseason look at how the SDPI numbers are stacking up for each conference. Since a good number of ACC and SEC teams have played half of their conference schedule already, we'll begin with those two conferences. Next week, we'll take a look at the Big 10 and Big 12 and perhaps the Pac-10. The following week, we'll examine which WAC team has the best shot at knocking off Boise and preview what should be a monumental showdown in the Mountain West (TCU at Utah). Sometime either that week or later, we'll also take a peak at the Big East, MAC, and Conference USA. The numbers, at least for some teams will shock and amaze you.

ACC Guess Who's Back?
The Florida State Seminoles appear to be back to their 90's form under Jimbo Fisher. They are 4-0 in the conference for the first time since 2003 and are in prime position to win the division title for only the second time since the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005.
Here are the ACC standings through Saturday's games.Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Boston College-The Eagles have a terrible offense. There's no sugar coating it. However, they remain a team to watch in the second half thanks to their defense. Despite facing the top-3 offenses in the league (NC State, Virginia Tech, and Florida State) in their first 3 games, the Eagles still rate out as above average defensively.
Clemson-Speaking of terrible offenses, think Clemson misses CJ Spiller? The defense, as always, remains good.
Duke-Cutcliffe continues to produce an above-average offense at Duke, but the defense is nowhere to be found.
Florida State-What a difference a year and a new defensive coordinator make. After finishing dead last in the conference in defense last season under outgoing coordinator Mickey Andrews, the Seminoles are tops in the conference under Mark Stoops.
Georgia Tech-Al Groh has not yet had the desired effect on the defense.
Maryland-Maryland is the only ACC team to have played only two conference games. Take their numbers with a grain of salt. Interestingly, they were significantly outgained by Duke in a close home win and significantly outgained Clemson in a blowout road loss. We should know a lot more about this team after they visit Boston College on Saturday.
Miami-Not quite as dominant as the pundits had hoped. Still, the 'Canes get division pole-sitter Virginia Tech at home
North Carolina-A nice 2-1 league start, particularly with all the suspensions and distractions, but those number do not portend contention.
NC State-The best offense in the league. If not for special teams and turnover struggles against Virginia Tech, next Thursday's game against Florida State would have been for sole possession of first place.
Virginia-Somehow a worse defense than Wake Forest (if that's even possible).
Virginia Tech-The offense has been a pleasant surprise, but the defense is surprisingly low (8th in the conference).
Wake Forest-Based on the eye test, this is the worst defense in the conference. Awful tackling and pass defense are a good recipe for missing out on a bowl.

SEC The Smoldering Ruins of the SEC East
SEC East teams have won just a pair of games in 12 tries against their conference opponents out west. South Carolina famously upset Alabama ten days ago, and Vanderbilt knocked off Ole Miss (on the road no less) in the season's third week. Resident division overlord Florida is already winless against the SEC West, and will not get a chance to break their streak unless they manage to win this battle of attrition and get to the SEC Championship Game.
Here are the SEC standings through Saturday's games.Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Alabama-The offense rates surprisingly low considering nearly everyone, including the reigning Heisman winner, returned in 2010.
Arkansas-The offense is once again the team's strength, but the defense is only marginally improved from their 12th place showing last year.
Auburn-The Battering Cam leads another great SEC offense, but one would think their defense will let them down before its over.
Florida-The offense has never been below average in Urban Meyer's tenure, but perhaps the losses of coordinator Dan Mullen following the 2008 season and Tebow this past season have brought about a perfect storm in Gainesville.
Georgia-Definitely the most shocking numbers SDPI spit out. However, the Dogs have dominated their last 2 opponents, and their losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State were close. If they can win the Cocktain Party, their division hopes are very much alive.
Kentucky-Terrible as always on defense, but the offense is enjoying its best showing since Andre Woodson was under center.
LSU-Clock management and rotating quarterbacks be damned, this defense is scary good. As far as I am concerned they are the division and by extension the conference favorite.
Mississippi State-Not quite as good as you might think. In fact, the offense has taken a step back from last season. However, barring a major upset by UAB, the Bulldogs will be bowl eligible come Saturday night. Kudos to Dan Mullen.
Ole Miss-An average team that will probably be kicking themselves for losing to Jacksonville State, as that loss will probably keep them out of the postseason.
South Carolina-Maybe Ellis Johnson should return some of that massive salary. When a defensive coordinator makes more than most mid-major head coaches, the defense should be elite, not below average. Still, if they take care of business against Vandy and Tennessee, the battle in Gainesville will be for their first division title. The Arkansas game won't matter in essence because it is not a division game, and Florida already has 3 losses.
Tennessee-They don't do anything particularly well, but thankfully Memphis and Vanderbilt are still on the schedule.
Vanderbilt-Since I live in Columbia, I peruse the local news affiliate websites. There is a ridiculous article on one today about how Vandy controls its own destiny in the SEC East race, and with a win versus South Carolina Saturday would be alone in first place. While certainly factually true, it fails to mention how awful Vanderbilt is. Despite already owning a league win, this year's team may actually be worse than last year's (winless in the conference) on a down-to-down basis. I'd take the bet that the Commodores don't win another SEC game this season.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fab Five: Week VII

Your humble narrator did a fine job of getting off the mat after the debacle that was Week V. I finished 6-4, with duplicate 3-2 marks for both dogs and faves to bring my yearly record back above .500 (30-29-1). Hopefully, we can continue that trend this week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 13-16-1

Boston College +22 Florida State
Since being embarrassed in Norman in Week II, the 'Noles have looked like the 'Noles of old. They have outscored their last 4 opponents by a combined 103 points en route to opening ACC play with a 3-0 record. The 'Noles have an excellent shot of being 4-0 after this game, but methinks it will be closer than most expect. For starters, Boston College still has a very good defense, albeit, one that is paired with a poor offense. During their 3-game losing streak, the Eagles have still managed to hold Virginia Tech and NC State to their second lowest yardage outputs and Notre Dame to their lowest yardage output of the season. In addition, this game is the dreaded sandwich game for the 'Noles, coming directly between their two biggest road conference games of the year (Miami and NC State).

Missouri +3.5 Texas A&M
The Missouri Tigers may be the most under-appreciated 5-0 team in 2010. The Tigers own victories over what has turned out to be a solid Illinois team, a likely bowl-eligible San Diego State team, and a shut out over a Colorado team that had upset Georgia the week before. The Tigers travel to College Station for their first road game in an attempt to keep their unbeaten record intact. The Aggies come in losers or consecutive games, at Oklahoma State and versus Arkansas. The Aggies have seen their defense improve from the putrid numbers they put up last season, but have been victimized by turnovers, losing 14 in their past 3 games. This game appears to be a toss-up, so take the team getting points here.

Pitt +1 Syracuse
It's been a long time since Syracuse was favored in a conference game. How long? The Orange were last favored against a league foe when they were 1-point favorites (eerie isn't it?) over Connecticut in November of 2006. The Orange won that game 20-14 to move their record to 4-7. If they win here, the results would be much more significant. A win would give them 5 wins for the first time since 2004 and move them within one game of bowl eligibility for the first time since that same season. While the Orange have impressive defensive statistics, ranking 15th in total defense, it pays to mention that 3 of their games have been played against Akron (the worst team in the MAC) and two IAA schools (Colgate and Maine). In their one game against a competent DI offense (sorry South Florida), the Washington Huskies rolled up 467 yards and 41 points against them. Pitt is likely the nation's best team with a losing record (with a pair of those losses coming at Utah and against Miami). Look for them to lose that distinction on Saturday when they get back to .500.

Don't look now, but UTEP is just one win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2005. Now the Miners have not exactly beaten a who's who of teams (the 4 IA teams they have beaten have combined for just 3 wins themselves), they have won most of those games by a healthy margin. Not surprisingly, UTEP does most of their damage on the offensive end, ranking 32nd in the nation in total offense. Meanwhile, UAB has either played a nailbiter or been blown out. They have lost a one-point game, won a one-point game, and lost a 3-point game in overtime. In their other 2 games, they have lost by 21 and 35. This one will probably be close, but the Miners should put enough points on the board to win a shootout.

Army +7 Vs Rutgers
The Black Knights from Army are just 2 wins away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 1996! And with a game against VMI coming up after this one, all they should require is one win in their other 5 games to return to a bowl. The Black Knights have actually rushed better through their first 6 games than their more highly regarded brethren at the Naval Academy. Army is averaging 274 yards per game on the ground (9th in the country), while the Midshipmen are averaging 260 (1oth in the country). The Black Knights have won their games on the strength of that rushing attack and on the backs of a +12 turnover margin (tops in the country). The Black Knights have yet to throw an interception and have only lost 4 fumbles. While fumble recovery is random, so their turnover margin in their final 6 games should decline, the Knights will probably not throw many interceptions, as they have attempted only 55 passes in 6 games. Their opponent, Rutgers, has been very iffy against IA competition. All their games have come down to the wire, with the Scarlet Knights beating Florida International and Connecticut by 5 and 3 points respectively, and losing to North Carolina and Tulane by 4 and 3 points. The Scarlet Knights finally got their offense in gear against Connecticut last week, gaining a season high 453 yards. They'll need to do that for a few more weeks in order to convince me that was not just a one game fluke. This game is at a neutral site (the New Meadowlands), and Army is hungry. Look for the Black Knights to give the Scarlet Knights all they can handle.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 17-13

NC State -7 East Carolina
East Carolina is already 3-0 in Conference USA, but against BCS conference competition, the Pirates have fallen to both Virginia Tech and North Carolina by a combined 47 points. The Pirates home stadium will be rocking thanks to a visit from their in-state brethren, but the East Carolina defense (if you can call it that) should be shredded easily by Russell Wilson.

Southern Cal -2.5 Cal
Southern Cal is a hard-luck 1-2 in the Pac-10 after consecutive last second losses. Don't expect too much sympathy from their league brethren. The next team looking to kick the Trojans while they are down is the Cal Bears. Cal has not beaten the Trojans since their memorable overtime win in 2003, that ultimately kept the Trojans out of the BCS Championship Game. The Trojans are just plain nasty on offense, averaging 476 yards per game and 7.2 yards per play! Unfortunately, Monte Kiffin has not been able to do much with the defense. The Trojans are allowing 429 yards per game and 6.2 yards per play. Still, with the homefield advantage, the Trojans should be able to win this one by at least a field goal.

Baylor -1 Colorado
Betting on Baylor to win a Big 12 road game would appear to be folly. The Bears have won 3 Big 12 road games. In the history of the conference! Amazingly, one of their road wins occurred the last time they visited Boulder in 2006. Baylor does not have much of a defense, but if there is one thing they do have, its team speed on offense. The last truly speedy offensive team the Buffs faced was the Cal Bears in Week II. The result? A 52-7 Cal win. The Bears won't win that easily, but they should take care of business.

Indiana -11.5 Arkansas State
Indiana was humbled last week by Ohio State, but if there is one thing the Hoosiers have proven they can do this season, its put up points against non-elite defenses. In their other 4 games against non-Ohio State defenses, the Hoosiers have put up at least 35 points, and 360 yards in each game. The Red Wolves will move the ball and put up some points against the Hoosiers, but Indiana should win by at least 2 touchdowns.

Iowa -3.5 Michigan
Let's see. Last week against the best defense they have faced all season, the dynamic Michigan attack gained just 377 yards (nearly 100 yards below their previous season low). This week they face a defense that is not merely good, but elite. Iowa has not allowed more than 366 yards in any game this season, and has only allowed its 5 opponents to score 4 offensive touchdowns. In their lone loss, Arizona scored on a kickoff and fumble return to account for 14 of their 34 points. Michigan will have to have some opportunistic defensive or special teams scores to have any chance of winning this game.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Fab Five: Week VI

I hit rock bottom last week, managing only a 3-7 record. This brings me one game under .500 on the season (24-25-1). I humbly apologize to anyone and everyone who uses my insight to make wagers, foolish as that may be. The good news is things are unlikely to get worse. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 10-14-1

Clemson +3 North Carolina
Clemson burned me last week when I picked them to cover (and potentially win outright) at home versus Miami. For that matter, North Carolina burned me too when I picked East Carolina to cover what I believed was a rather large number against them. The optimist in me sees a Clemson team that played terribly against Miami, yet had they converted a late 4th and 1, could easily have won the game. Meanwhile, North Carolina put up 42 points, and rang up 444 yards against East Carolina. However, the Pirates entered the game allowing 42 points and 480 yards per game, so if anything, the Tar Heels played a little below average. Since this game is not at Noon, methinks Clemson has an excellent chance to win.

Minnesota +22 Wisconsin
If we learned anything from last weekends heartbreaking loss to Northwestern, its that Tim Brewster's charges will play hard for him, even if the writing for his ouster in on the wall. The Gophers nearly upset the Wildcats and have been pretty competitive in all their losses (never losing by more than 11 with an average loss margin of 6.5 points). Meanwhile, Wisconsin was somewhat exposed as a Big 10 pretender losing at Michigan State. Against the IA creampuffs they have faced (UNLV and San Jose State), the Badgers have only won those games by 16.5 points per game. Even if Wisconsin statistically dominates this game, the type of team they are (65% of their plays are runs), likely means the final margin will be relatively close.

Wake Forest +4 Navy
This is hardly a good Wake Forest team, but an opportunity for a home upset of the Naval Academy is very real. For starters, the Deacons just finished playing against a team with a similar offense (Georgia Tech). Wake held the Jackets to 339 total yards and 4.9 yards per play (their lowest outputs in both categories on the season). Secondly, this appears to be one of the weaker Navy teams of recent memory. The Midshipmen have already lost to Maryland and Air Force, and have struggled to put away Georgia Southern and Louisiana Tech. Navy is averaging only 17.5 points per game, which should help keep a struggling Wake Forest offense in the game.

Pitt +6.5 Notre Dame
I don't know that any team has fallen further from their preseason projections than the Pitt Panthers. Widely regarded as the Big East favorite, the Panthers are now nearly a touchdown underdog to a Notre Dame team that has a pair of wins over Purdue and Boston College on its resume. Not that Pitt has any spectacular wins, but the Panthers were competitive in a road loss at undefeated Utah. Plus, if you are of the opinion that Miami is one of the nation's best teams, their shellacking at the hands of the Canes is hardly reason to think they stand no chance against the Irish. Pitt may not win this game, but it should be competitive and the Panthers stand a real shot at covering.

UCLA +7.5 California
This line appears to be an over-reaction to UCLA's close win over Washington State last weekend (for the Cougars, any game they keep within 30 is close). To me it seems like a perfect case of riding high off the Texas win and looking ahead to a conference showdown with in-state rival Cal. Speaking of the Bears, in their last game, they led Arizona from wire-to-wire before losing on a late touchdown pass 10-9. But, if you will remember, just a week before, the Bears were gashed by a mid-major team than runs the Pistol (Nevada). Care to guess what offense UCLA is running now? The Bruins have a real shot to win this game straight up and totally alter the course of their season.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 14-11

Missouri -11.5 Colorado
Missouri has won 4 straight against the Buffs, with their average win in that span coming by 34.3 points (smallest win being 13 points). The Buffs are 3-1 and looking to save Dan Hawkins' job before bolting to the Pac-10 (Pac-12). However, Colorado has only outgained their opponents by 44 yards in those 4 games, and are actually averaging nearly a full yard less per play (5.0 to 5.8). Plus, in their only true road game to date, the Buffs were embarrassed by Cal 52-7. Methinks this one will not be that bad, but Missouri should still win easily.

Florida -6.5 LSU
The Gators have won the last 2 in this series by 30 and 10 points respectively. They have won the last 2 in Gainesville by 13 and 30. LSU has been skating by their opponents by the thinnest of margins thanks to an inept offense that has made a few timely plays and an elite defense and special teams unit. The Tigers rank 6th nationally in total defense, allowing a mere 247 yards per game. However, Florida has also been pretty solid defensively, allowing only 291 yards per game. Florida has also played better offensively after their opening debacle against Miami of Ohio (212 total yards). The Gators have a comparable defense, a better offense, an immensely better coach, and the homefield. They should win by at least a touchdown.

Northern Illinois -3 Temple
Could this be a potential MAC Championship Game preview? The Huskies and Owls have certainly looked like the class of the MAC in the early going. Both teams have combined for 3 losses, but each loss has come on the road against a team from a BCS conference. Northern Illinois lost at Iowa State and Illinois, while Temple fell at Penn State. Both teams also own wins amongst BCS-conference foes. Northern Illinois won by 11 at Minnesota and Temple won by 14 at home against Connecticut. Both teams are strong defensively, especially for MAC schools. Temple currently allows 368 yards per game and Northern Illinois is right behind them allowing just 371 yards per game. However, Northern Illinois has been much stronger offensively, averaging nearly 100 more yards per game. The Huskies should be able to win by at least a touchdown at home.

UTEP -9.5 Rice
Don't read too much into UTEP's misleading win over New Mexico last week. The Miners 'only' beat the lowly Lobos by 18 (38-20), but 2 of the New Mexico's touchdowns came via a bloacked field goal and kickoff return. The Miners outgained the Lobos by nearly 200 yards, and the final score could have, and probably should have been much worse. Meanwhile, Rice has lost 3 straight games, and the Owls have given up at least 30 points in each game. Ironically, their best defensive performance (yardage-wise) came in the opener against Texas when they allowed just 369 yards. In their past 4 games, the Owls have allowed an average of 450 yards per game. UTEP should continue the trend of putting up at least 30 on the Owls and win by at least 10 points.

Miami -6 Florida State
This one has all the makings of another Florida State road struggle. The general public seems to have forgotten how bad the 'Noles crapped the bed the last time they played a good team on the road. Certainly, Florida State has dominated their last 3 games against BYU, Wake Forest, and Virginia, but realistically, only one of those teams will be playing postseason football. It wouldn't surprise me if all 3 are home for the holidays. The 'Noles will encounter a different beast in arch-rival Miami. Look for the 'Canes to roll here and cement their status as ACC front-runner.