Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fab Five: Week XIII

After a long, dry spell, I finally hit it big in Week XII. I managed my best record of the year, 8-2 (including a fantastic 5-0 on favorites) to bring my overall record to a 62-57-1). We'll try to make it two good weeks in a row. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 27-32-1

West Virginia +3 Pittsburgh
This backyard brawl has down-to-the-wire struggle written all over it. Not only have the last 3 in this series all been decided by 4 points or fewer, but these are clearly the two best teams in the conference. Based on my SDPI numbers, West Virginia is slightly better, with a very dominant defense. Its hard to have much faith in either head coach, but when in doubt, go against the Wannstache.

Southern Miss +3.5 Tulsa
The Golden Eagles have got to be kicking themselves. They have lost a pair of conference games by a single point. If either game had gone the other way, Southern Miss would be playing this game for an opportunity to host the Conference USA Championship Game. As it stands now, they must win and hope for the near impossible (a Memphis upset of UCF). Championship or not, the Golden Eagles have played the best on a down-to-down basis of any team in Conference USA. Thus, they should probably be a slight favorite here.

BYU +9 Utah
What looked like a lost season for the Cougars in early October (1-4 start) has actually evolved into yet another fine campaign. If they can manage to get past Utah in their final game as conference rivals, the Cougars would actually finish in a tie for second place in the Mountain West. Based on SDPI, BYU is actually a hair superior to Utah, and thus them getting nearly double digits is an excellent bet.

Florida Atlantic +4.5 Middle Tennessee State
I'm not sure why the point spread continues to favor Middle Tennessee State so much. Make no mistake, the Blue Raiders are a bad team. The worst in the Sun Belt by SDPI. Last week, they needed a 99-yard fumble return to edge Western Kentucky by a single point, one week after losing at home to North Texas. They may win against the Owls, who are no great team themselves, but it should be close.

Western Kentucky +13 Troy
The Hilltoppers have played much better in their first season under head coach Willie Taggart than their 2-9 record would indicate. They have lost 4 games by 7 points or less, including a pair of one-point defeats. They boast the best defense in the Sun Belt by a large margin, and have one of college football's hidden gems in running back Bobby Rainey. Rainey has accumulated nearly 1500 yards on the ground and scored 13 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Troy needs one victory in their final two games to be bowl eligible for the 5th straight season. the Trojans have the league's top-ranked offense, so their matchup with Western Kentucky's defense should be entertaining. However, their defense also happens to be the worst in the Sun Belt. Even if Troy scores a lot of points, their defense (or lack thereof) will probably make this game very close.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 5-0
Overall: 35-25

Toledo -4 Central Michigan
The Rockets have performed well in coach Tim Beckman's second season, clinching both their first winning season and bowl bid since 2005. Meanwhile, Central Michigan has struggled in the first year of the Dan Enos regime, clinching their first losing season since 2004. Toledo is better on both sides of the ball than the Chippewas and is playing at home (where they have yet to lose in conference play). This spread should be closer to a touchdown.

SMU -1 East Carolina
The East Carolina defense has disintegrated, particularly recently, as the Pirates have allowed at least 42 points in their last 4 games, and in that span have twice allowed more than 60. On the season, the Pirates rank dead last nationally in both total and scoring defense. Amazingly, in conference play, they rank just second to last (narrowly edging Rice). Meanwhile, SMU, for all the talk of June Jones and his spread offense, actually has the best defense in all of Conference USA. The Mustangs can clinch a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game with a win here, and they should do just that.

Western Michigan -6.5 Bowling Green
The Broncos from Western Michigan will try to attain bowl eligibility for the 4th time in 6 seasons with a win in their road finale. When Western Michigan has won, it has been big. Their 5 wins have all come by at least 15 points, with 3 coming by at least 30. The Broncos are statistically one of the MAC's better teams, while Bowling Green only rates as better than winless Akron. The Broncos must win here and pull against a few major conference teams (Texas and Georgia to name a pair) to have a shot at a bowl bid.

Florida International -5 Arkansas State
The Sun Belt's best team (both statistically and in the standings) has a chance to lock up their first ever conference title on Saturday. Just 4 short seasons ago, the Panthers of Florida International were winless, and in the midst of a 23-game losing streak. Now they are on the cusp of a league crown. Arkansas State is better than their 4-7 record would indicate, but will not be able to cover this relatively small number on the road.

Louisiana Tech -11.5 San Jose State
I thought this was a misprint when I first saw the spread. San Jose State is not only the worst team in the WAC, they may also be the worst team in the nation. The Spartans have yet to beat a single IA foe, going 1-1 against a pair of IAA teams. They rank last in the WAC in the SDPI measures of offense and defense. All they have going for them here is that this game is at home. Louisiana Tech should be favored by about 3 touchdowns here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fab Five: Week XII

Another week, another disappointment. I went a discouraging 4-6 last week to drop my overall record to a game under .500 (54-55-1). In the last few weeks of the season, I'll make a push to get back in the black. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 24-30-1

Eastern Michigan +7 Buffalo
Believe it or not, this is not sour grapes directed at a Buffalo team I was all over as a slight favorite last week. Eastern Michigan is a little better than their 1-9 record would indicate. They have had the misfortune of facing 3 BCS schools in the non-conference, while also playing in what I consider the tougher MAC division (West) and drawing two of the tougher teams from the East (Ohio and Miami). Meanwhile, Buffalo is somehow a 7-point favorite despite owning a single IA win this season. That win by the way, came by two points. Look for Eastern Michigan to keep this one close, and perhaps pull off an outright upset.

Miami +2.5 Virginia Tech
Virgina Tech has basically locked up the Coastal division of the ACC, needing just one more win, either in this game or at home next week against Virginia, to win the Coastal for the 4th time in 6 seasons. Oddly though, the SDPI numbers view Miami as the bets team in ACC. Unfortunately for them, their odd loss at Virginia will likely keep them from bringing home the division crown even if they win this game. Miami has the numbers and the homefield, so take them especially when getting points.

NC State +2.5 North Carolina
The Wolfpack control their own destiny in the ACC Atlantic division race, needing wins in their final two games against North Carolina and Maryland to guarantee passage to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game. Much like Miami, the SDPI numbers also love NC State, ranking them just a smidge behind Miami and Virginia Tech. The numbers do not have such kind fondness for North Carolina, ranking them 9th in the ACC (ahead of only Virginia, Duke, and Wake Forest). Tom O'Brien has not lost to North Carolina since taking over at NC State. Look for that trend to continue as NC State should set up a win-and-you're-in game against Maryland over Thanksgiving weekend.

Western Kentucky +5 Middle Tennessee State
For some odd reason, the spread numbers have not caught on to the fact that Middle Tennessee State is just not a good team this season. The Blue Raiders lost last week at home to a lameduck North Texas squad, and have also suffered setbacks to Memphis (1-9) and Minnesota (2-9). Western Kentucky has the top-ranked defense in the Sun Belt and is coming off a heart-stopping upset of Arkansas State (went for two points when they scored in OT). The Hilltoppers have been very competitive this season, with 3 of their 4 conference losses coming by a combined 13 points. Middle Tennessee should not be a road favorite over any team, so the 'Toppers are the pick here.

Arkansas State +13.5 Navy
Navy has continued their winning ways under head coach Ken Niumatalolo since he took over for the much easier to spell Paul Johnson. Coach Ken is 25-13 as Navy head coach and has beaten Notre Dame twice. However, one area where the Midshipmen have not performed well under coach Ken is covering the spread as a favorite. In his nearly 3 seasons as the helm, the Midshipmen are just 5-9-1 ATS as a favorite. Keep that in mind with a spread nearing two touchdowns.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 30-25

Pittsburgh -3 South Florida
Pitt burned me last week when they lost as about a touchdown favorite at Connecticut. Naturally, I'm all in on getting burned again (once bitten). The Panthers are still statistically the best team in the Big East, while the Bulls have not done anything exceptionally well this season except win close games (3-1 in one-score games). Hopefully, this one will not be close.

Western Michigan -3 Kent State
The Broncos from Western Michigan are a third of the way through their closing stretch where they must win every game to attain bowl eligibility. The good news is that if they can get by Kent State, they will likely be favored in their final game at Bowling Green. Western Michigan is only 3-3 in the MAC, but have outscored their 6 league foes by a combined 56 points. They have lost one game to the league's best team (Northern Illinois) by 7, and another to their archrivals (Central Michigan) by 4. Kent State could also qualify for a bowl game by winning out (they close with Ohio), but Western Michigan appears to be a much stronger team and is playing at home.

Tennessee -8.5 Vanderbilt
Has Tennessee finally found a quarterback? Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray has thrown 8 touchdowns over the past two games (10 over the last 3 if we count his work against South Carolina). Of course, Memphis and Ole Miss are not exactly defensive wiz kids. The good news for Tennessee this week is that Vanderbilt also sucks at defense. While Vandy enjoyed one of their finest offensive performances of the season against Kentucky last week, they still allowed the Wildcats to roll up 580 yards and were never really a factor in the game in the second half. Vanderbilt has been a big dog in 5 straight SEC games and has failed to cover in each one. This represents the smallest spread in that string. Look for Tennessee to cover easily here.

Louisiana-Monroe -1 North Texas
Fresh off a kneecapping at the hands of LSU, Louisiana-Monroe returns home for two games, hoping to lock up their first bowl bid in school history. The Warhawks face off against a North Texas team that has been very competitive in the last 3 games, beating Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, and losing by only 6 to Troy. Still, thanks to their 1-6 start, the Mean Green have only pride to play for and with great motivation, the Warhawks should be able to win this game.

Arkansas -3.5 Mississippi State
Outside of Auburn, what team in the SEC is playing their best football now? Gotta be Arkansas. Even discounting their beatdown of UTEP, the Razorbacks have also crushed SEC East champ South Carolina in their own stadium. And let's not forget the win over Texas A&M from earlier in the season that is looking better and better. Arkansas is going to put a lot of points on the board (probably at least 24). Mississippi State has a hard time scoring, especially in the conference, being held 14 points or fewer 4 times in 6 games. Look for Arkansas to win this one by about a touchdown.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fab Five: Week XI

I stopped the bleeding a tad last week with a 5-5 performance. Ironically, I nailed the dogs for one of the few times all season going 4-1, but totally whiffed on the favorites, going 1-4. That brings the yearly tally to 50-49-1. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 22-27-1

Southern Miss +10 UCF
My SDPI numbers say Southern Miss is the best team in Conference USA. While my eyes disagree, and give the benefit of the doubt to UCF, this spread still seems a bit too high. This should a be a competitive battle between the two best teams in the east division.

Texas +5.5 Oklahoma State
The Longhorns have plummeted to depths most (if not all) felt were impossible. They must either win this game against the Cowboys or the finale against Texas A&M to become bowl eligible (this is assuming they beat Florida Atlantic in between). Still, even with their struggles this season, the Longhorns have the statistical profile of a strong team. They have the top SDPI defense in the Big 12 and are 5th nationally in total defense. To me, this feels a lot like the Nebraska game where the Longhorns were counted out, but held the Huskers powerful offense in check en route to an upset win.

Ole Miss +2 Tennessee
Amazingly, the loser of this game is out of the running for the postseason. The Rebels have fallen on hard times with the loss of quarterback Jevan Snead, running back Dexter McCluster, and defensive lineman Greg Hardy following the 2009 season. Tennessee has fallen on hard times with the 11th hour coaching change. Ole Miss is solid offensively, and awful on defense while Tennessee is pretty bad on both sides of the ball. In that case, take the team that at least has something to hang its hat on.

Louisiana-Monroe +32.5 LSU
This one has the makings of a 31-0 or 35-3 Tiger win. Remember: Les Miles = great at winning (especially ugly), awful at covering the spread (especially as a favorite).

Western Kentucky +12 Arkansas State
Believe it or not, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (in just their second season in the Sun Belt) have the league's top-rated SDPI defense. That unit will be put to the test against the second best offense in the Sun Belt. Western Kentucky has bene surprisingly competitive as of late, as just one of their past 5 losses has come by more than 12 points.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 28-22

Pitt -6 Connecticut
As wary as I am of taking a Dave Wannstedt team on the road, consider that Connecticut ranks dead last in the Big East in both offense and defense. Meanwhile, Pitt has gotten over their early season struggles and have reeled off 3 straight wins, each by at least 17 points. Connecticut managed to upset West Virginia in their last home game thanks to West Virginia fumbles. If Pitt holds on to the ball, they should win this one rather handily.

Buffalo -3 Ball State
Was it really just two short years ago when Ball State ended the regular season with a 12-0 record? Since finishing the 2008 regular season 12-0, the Cardinals have gone just 5-19 with losses to the likes of New Hampshire (IAA), Liberty (IAA), and North Texas. Ironically, Buffalo began the Cardinals decent into the abyss with a MAC Championship Game upset. The Bulls have also suffered through a bit of a lost season, defeating just a single IA foes this year (Bowling Green). Last week, Ball State tried with all their might to give Akron their first win of the year before prevailing in overtime. Look for Buffalo to be able to finish the job.

Tulane -4 Rice
Tulane is one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. According to the SDPI numbers, they rank 6th in Conference USA. However, they have had the misfortune to play the teams ranked first (Southern Miss), second (SMU), fourth (Houston), and fifth (Tulsa) in the league already. Hence their seemingly poor 1-4 league record. Meanwhile, Rice has outpaced only Memphis in terms of performance in the league. This spread should be about four or five points higher. Tulane should win by at least a touchdown.

NC State -19 Wake Forest
Think Russell Wilson is licking his chops as he prepares to face the Deacon secondary? Wake Forest ranks 110th in the nation in opposing quarterback rating (150.02), having allowed 24 touchdown passes on the season while notching just 7 interceptions. The only teams to not have outstanding games through the air against Wake were a pair of option teams (Georgia Tech and Navy). Wake has not come closer than 31 points in any of their four road games this season. Look for that trend to continue Saturday.

Louisville -3 South Florida
This spread is surprisingly low considering how improved Louisville appears to be this season. The Cardinals are a win away from bowl eligibility and 3 of their 4 losses have come by a single score. South Florida is also a win away from bowl eligibility, but in games against legit IA competition (games not involving Stony Brook, Western Kentucky, or Florida Atlantic) have struggled on both offense and defense. Louisville should probably be favored by at least a touchdown here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Mid-Season SDPI: Conference USA, MAC, and Sun Belt

In this fourth installment of the mid-season (I suppose a more apropos term would now be late-season) SDPI ratings we will attempt to handicap the races in Conference USA, the MAC, and the Sun Belt. Enjoy.

Conference USA Godfrey is a Godsend
Freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey has been just what George O'Leary needed to revive his dormant offense at UCF. In 2008 and 2009, following the departure of running back Kevin Smith (over 2500 yards rushing in 2007), the UCF Knights scored 30 or more points 7 times in 25 games and were held to 10 points or fewer 6 times. Since Godfrey became the full time starter in the 3rd game of the year, the Knights have scored 30 or more points 5 times in 7 games. Godfrey has only thrown for 6 touchdowns, but he has completed nearly 66% of his passes, averaged 9.3 yards per attempt (6th nationally among qualifying passers), and contributed 499 yards on the ground. Along with a solid defense, he is a key reason UCF is unbeaten in league play and ranked for the first time in program history.
Here are the Conference USA standings through Saturday's games.
Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.East Carolina-After winning a pair of Conference USA titles under Skip Holtz with their defense, the Pirates have morphed into a team that wins with their offense and hopes their defense doesn't screw up too much.
Houston-The Cougars own the tie-breaker edge over SMU, but appear to have the tougher schedule than SMU (Tulsa and @ Southern Miss for Houston versus Marshall and @ East Carolina for SMU).
Marshall-The defense is again a bright spot, but the offense continues to crater.
Memphis-Larry Porter is finding it a lot harder to win at Memphis than it was at LSU.
Rice-Its nice to see that in this ever-changing world the Owls defense, or lack thereof, is a constant we can always rely on.
SMU-Statistically, the best team in the West, but the Mustangs let Houston (and Tulsa) back in the race by losing to UTEP.
Southern Miss-Statistically the league's best team. I'm surprised their spread versus UCF is as high as it is (UCF -10).
Tulane-The Green Wave are better than you think.Drawing both Southern Miss and UCF from the East did them no favors.
Tulsa-That Hail Mary they gave up to East Carolina in Week I may end up costing them the West division.
UAB-The Blazers have been all over the map in road games, getting crushed by SMU and UCF, but hanging with Tennessee and Mississippi State and actually knocking off Southern Miss.
UCF-My eyes tell me they are the league's best team. The numbers say they are close. Even if they fall to Southern Miss this week, if they can beat Tulane and Memphis on the road, they will be hosting the CUSA Championship Game.
UTEP-The early favorite for worst bowl team. Prior to their upset over SMU, the Miners had beaten Arkansas Pine-Bluff (IAA), New Mexico State, Memphis, New Mexico, and Rice. Those 5 teams have combined for 6 IA wins.

MAC Return of the MAC
Last season, Central Michigan became the first MAC team to end the season ranked since 2003. If Northern Illinois can get past their biggest remaining regular season threat tonight at home versus Toledo, they could make it a MAC repeat in the polls. After Toledo, the Huskies go on the road to Ball State and eastern Michigan to close the regular season. Ball State is awful, and while Eastern Michigan is better than most think, the Huskies should be substantial favorites in both. Should they win all 3, their opponent in the MAC Championship Game will likely be the Ohio/Temple winner (MAC showcase next Tuesday). The Huskies have already beaten Temple and would likely be favored over either. The bowl picture is still very much in flux, but the Huskies have proven their mettle against BCS-conference teams (losing by 6 at Illinois and winning at Minnesota by 11), so a win against a Big 10 foe is not out of the question. Winning out may not be assured, but if the Huskies do, they will certainly find themselves ranked in the final poll.
Here are the MAC standings through Saturday's games.
Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Akron-Not a whole lot of positives here. The Zips are easily the MAC's worst team. Not only are they winless in the MAC, they also lost to IAA Gardner-Webb.
Ball State-The Cardinals tried to give Akron their first win on Saturday, but they prevailed in OT.
Bowling Green-The Falcons had only 8 returning starters, so most felt this was a rebuilding year. And boy were they right.
Buffalo-The Bulls were much better than their 3-5 MAC record last year, but those positive indicators haven't helped them this season.
Central Michigan-The Chippewas have clinched their first losing season since 2004.
Eastern Michigan-While they have only improved by one game on their winless 2009 campaign, on a down-to-down basis, the Eagles are much better.
Kent State-The struggling offense has wasted a solid defensive performance.
Miami-One win away from bowl eligibility. Not bad after going 1-11 in 2009.
Northern Illinois-The MAC's best and most balanced team. Jerry Kill finally has an offense to compliment his fine defense.
Ohio-Frank Solich continues to do great things in Athens. Bobcats face Temple next Tuesday in a game that should decide the MAC East.
Temple-The Golden Child continues the rebuilding effort in Philly. The Owls have been especially dangerous once they inserted Mike Gerardi into the quarterback spot.
Toledo-Rockets are not quite as good as the other top MAC teams, but should be bowling for the first time since 2005.
Western Michigan-Despite their strong peripherals, the Broncos now must win out to get to a bowl.

Sun Belt Troy And...
The Troy Trojans are one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the fifth consecutive season. The big question is, which Sun Belt team will join them in the postseason party. Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe need two more wins to get to bowl eligibility while fellow conference contender Florida International and disappointing Middle Tennessee State need three. For Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International, this would mark their maiden postseason voyages. A bowl bid for Middle Tennessee State would be their third and one for Arkansas State would be their second ever.
Here are the Sun Belt standings through Saturday's games.
Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Arkansas State-This is a nice rebound for Arkansas State (especially on offense) after their offense cratered last season with a revamped offensive line.
Florida Atlantic-As expected, the Owls have experienced some growing pains after losing all-time quarterback Rusty Smith.
Florida International-The numbers say they are the leading contender to Troy's Sun Belt throne. And what do you know, they get a chance to prove it this week.
Louisiana-Lafayette-The defense has really fallen on hard times. Both of their wins have come by a combined 8 points.
Louisiana-Monroe-The Warhawks complete their SEC West gauntlet on Saturday with a trip to LSU (already played Arkansas and Auburn).
Middle Tennessee State-After finishing second in the Sun Belt in total offense last season, quarterback Dwight Dasher has floundered without the tutelage of Tony Franklin.
North Texas-The Mean Green finally notched multiple Sun Belt wins, but they came too late save Todd Dodge.
Troy-Surprise surprise. They once again lead the Sun Belt.
Western Kentucky-Hilltoppers surprisingly have the league's best defense. They could have a much better record as 3 of their 4 league losses have come by 7, 5, and 1 point.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fab Five: Week X

Last week was another rough one as I again went 4-6. I once again struggled mightily on dogs, going just 1-4. As a result my year-to-date record is a less than stellar 45-44-1. I will try to get back on track in the final month of the season. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 18-26-1

Western Michigan +3.5 Central Michigan
In a game that a lot of folks probably didn't pay a great deal of attention to last week, the Broncos from Western Michigan nearly upset the MAC's best team, Northern Illinois, before falling 28-21 at home. A win there would have put the Broncos in contention to grab the MAC West title. The loss leaves the Broncos at 3-5, but with games remaining against Eastern Michigan, Kent State, and Bowling Green after this in-state clash, a bowl bid is still a possibility. Meanwhile, this season has been a big disappointment for Central Michigan. After winning 3 MAC titles in the last 4 years, the Chippewas have already clinched a losing season at 2-7 in the first year of the Dan Enos era. The Chippewas have been a bit unlucky, losing 4 games by 7 points or less. The Chippewas have not been particularly strong at home, losing to Ball State (2-7), Miami of Ohio (5-4), and Bowling Green (2-7). Look for the Broncos to pull off the outright win and inch closer to bowl eligibility.

Louisville +6 Syracuse
At this moment, Syracuse football appears to be a stock you should want to SELL! SELL! SELL! The Orange have won two consecutive Big East games, one as a double digit dog at West Virginia, and the other as around a 5 or 6 point dog at Syracuse. However, according to this week's SDPI ratings, Louisville is actually a little better. I can see how Syracuse should be a small favorite playing at home, but giving nearly a touchdown appears to be a little too much.

NC State +3.5 Clemson
A wounded Clemson team returns home after being humbled at Boston College, while NC State goes on the road after the biggest win of the Tom O'Brien era over Florida State. The Wolfpack now control their own destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division. The Wolfpack feature of the best offenses in the ACC, while Clemson has struggled mightily moving the football. Clemson has made up for it somewhat by playing pretty well on defense. However, this is not the usual NC State defense. After finishing dead last or second to last in the ACC in defense in each of Tom O'Brien's first 3 seasons, the Wolfpack are middle of the road this year. NC State has a real chance to win this game outright.

Duke +1.5 Virginia
This game began the week as a pick-em, and has steadily moved in the favor of the Wahoos. Why? Probably because Virginia managed to upset an inconsistent Miami team last week. Don't forget the Blue Devils also pulled off an upset of their own last week when they knocked off the Midshipmen on the road. Virginia has the only defense that can make Wake Forest's version look competent. Look for Duke to win their 3rd straight against Virginia as a slight underdog.

Illinois +3 Michigan
Illinois has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2010 season. The Illini are 5-3, and their 3 losses have all come to teams ranked in the top-16 (Missouri, Ohio State, and Michigan State). Their defense, under first year coordinator Vic Koenning, has been the impetus for their success, ranking second only to Ohio State in the Big 10. Michigan has a great offense, but a terrible defense, and the Illini should be able to somewhat contain Denard Robinson and eke out a close win.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 27-18

Texas -4 Kansas State
Texas has already clinched their worst record since 1999 and have been maddeningly inconsistent in 2010. The Longhorns own the only victory thus far over Nebraska, but have also lost to UCLA and Iowa State. Their loss to Baylor is a little more forgivable, at least this season. However, Kansas State may well be one of the worst teams in the Big 12, much to my chagrin as I am a huge Bill Snyder fan. The Longhorns should be able to bottle up running back Daniel Thomas and win a relatively low-scoring game by about a touchdown.

TCU -5 Utah
TCU has been uber-dominant against their Mountain West foes, as we detailed in this week's SDPI ratings. Utah has been very good, but TCU is elite. The Against the best teams they have faced thus far, Utah has beaten Pitt and Air Force by a combined 8 points. TCU is in a whole different league than those teams.

Florida State -10.5 North Carolina
Don't sleep on the 'Noles despite their upset loss at the hands of NC State last Thursday. Florida State is one of the best teams in the ACC and could end up winning the league. Meanwhile, North Carolina deserves a great deal of credit for weathering agent and tutor-gate and positioning themselves for another bowl game. Still, the Tar Heels don't do any one thing particularly well, and the 'Noles should win this one rather handily.

Missouri -4.5 Texas Tech
Did Adam James do what Oklahoma and Texas failed to do for a decade, resign the Texas Tech program to insignificance? Or is Tommy Tuberville just experiencing some Year 1 growing pains? Whatever the cause, Texas Tech is in real danger of finishing below .500 in Big 12 play for the first time since 2000. The Red Raiders must win both of their final league games, against Missouri and Oklahoma, just to ensure a 4-4 finish. In addition, they must win 2 of their final 4 overall (they close with Weber State and Houston) to attain bowl eligibility. Currently, Texas Tech has by far the worst offense than any in the Mike Leach era, and a defense that rivals the worst of that era. The Red Raiders have already lost at home to Oklahoma State for the first time since World War II. Missouri is in the same class as the Cowboys and should win this one by about a touchdown.

Southern Cal -6 Arizona State
The Trojans were embarrassed at home by Oregon last week, and this is their penultimate home game of the year, so you can bet they will be chomping at the bit to get at the Sun Devils. Despite being humbled by Oregon, the Trojans still boast one of the best offenses in the Pac-10 and should be able to handle Arizona State by at least a touchdown at home.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mid-Season SDPI: Big East, Mountain West, and WAC

Here we are in early November, and finally the Big East has played enough conference games to get a decent idea about how their teams are faring. There is a surprise contender in the mix, which we'll get to in a second. In addition, in this week's SDPI mid-season report, we'll preview the titanic clash of mid-majors in the Mountain West and see if either Hawaii or Nevada has a ghost of a chance at knocking off Boise in the WAC. How did the SDPI ratings do in handicapping the Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-10 last week? They did pretty well overall (12-4) and ATS (9-6-1), but missed on predicting the biggest games, calling for Michigan State to upset Iowa and Southern Cal to end Oregon's unbeaten reign. Next week, we'll finish our mid-major rounds with Conference USA, the MAC, and the Sun Belt SDPI ratings.

Big East The Cuse is Loose
The surprise contender at the top of the Big East standings is none other than the Orange of Syracuse University. The Orange have 3 Big East wins this season. That is the same number of league games they won in 4 seasons under Greg Robinson. Doug Marrone better clear off his mantle for some postseason awards. After all, who in their right mind would have predicted a bowl appearance for the Orange? How are the Orange doing it? Actually, according to the SDPI numbers they have regressed a bit in their down-to-down performance. Last year the surprisingly boasted the second best defense in the league, but paired that with the sixth ranked defense. This year, both the offense and defense have gotten a little worse, the offense is still sixth, but the defense has fallen to third. So how are the Orange winning? Turnovers. Last season, Syracuse, committed 18 turnovers in their 7 Big East games (thanks Greg Paulus), and forced only 9 turnovers for a league-worst margin of -9. This season, the Orange have protected the ball a little better, committing only 8 turnovers through 4 games. However, they have also already forced 8 turnovers for an even turnover margin. In fact, the Orange have in the proverbial turnover black in their 3 league wins (+4), and their loss to Pitt represented their only game in the red (-4).
Here are the Big East standings through Saturday's games.Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Cincinnati-The Bearcats are in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2005 despite their solid SDPI numbers thanks to a -5 turnover margin in Big East play.
Connecticut-The win over West Virginia may have done wonders for morale, but the Huskies appear to be the worst team in the conference.
Louisville-Welcome back to the land of the living. Hard to believe a split in their final two games would put Louisville in a bowl for the first time since 2006.
Pittsburgh-Can Wannstedt finally lead the Panthers to that elusive BCS berth? And can they avoid embarrassing themselves if they get there?
Rutgers-The offense has improved from last year's miserable showing, but unfortunately the defense has fallen off.
South Florida-The perennial under-achievers are at it again. At least they have the whole regime change as an excuse this time.
Syracuse-Still an outside shot to win the league, but Pitt must lose twice and the Orange must win out. In an interesting finale, they have a chance to keep former conference mate Boston College home for the holidays.
West Virginia-The Mountaineers are wasting a fantastic defensive effort with a slew of offensive mistakes (7 turnovers in their last two games).

Mountain West A Cut Above
Saturday night, if you are one of the fortunate ones, you will be able to see perhaps the biggest regular season mid-major showdown of all time. #4 TCU visits #6 Utah in a game that should not only decide the Mountain West title, but also has massive national implications. TCU and Utah are a combined 10-0 versus the rest of the Mountain West, with only Utah's recent win over Air Force being the only game ever in doubt in the second half. TCU has won each of their conference games by at least 27 points and has only allowed a pair of touchdowns in 5 games. Utah has been a little less dominant, but outside of their 5 point road win over Air Force, their other conference wins have come by at least 24 points. Utah has allowed only 6 offensive touchdowns through 5 league games. If it weren't for the performance of the Horned Frogs, we would be talking about how dominant Utah has been in their conference games.
Here are the Mountain West standings through Saturday's games.Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Air Force-Despite their 5-4 record, the Falcons could easily be 8-1 if a few bounces had gone their way (a 3-point loss at Oklahoma, 2-point loss at San Diego St, and 5-point loss versus Utah).
BYU-It's certainly not a sure thing, but with games left against UNLV, Colorado St, and Wyoming, the Cougars have a chance to be bowl-eligible despite a horrific 1-4 start.
Colorado State-The Rams have to win out to get to a bowl (not likely with San Diego St, BYU, and Wyoming left), but after going winless in the conference last season, this marks improvement.
New Mexico-The pillow fight at home this week versus Wyoming should determine who finishes dead last in the Mountain West, and is also the Lobos last legitimate shot at a win.
San Diego State-The Aztecs have yet to play the Big 2, but even with those games remaining, 8 regular season wins seems likely.
TCU-Believe it or not, the Horned Frogs were even more dominant last season. Their cumulative SDPI was 3.99 in 2009, more than double that of second place BYU (1.45).
UNLV-On the surface, coach Bobby Hauck has not improved the program, but according to SDPI, the Rebels were the worst team in the conference last season.
Utah-Even if by some miracle the Utes get by TCU, there are still several landmines left on the schedule (@Notre Dame, @San Diego St, versus BYU).
Wyoming-Last season, a bad Wyoming team qualified (and won) a bowl because they were unstoppable in close games (6-0 in one-score games). This season, a bad Wyoming team has won a few close ones (2-2 in one-score games), but looks destined for the basement.

WAC Boise's Biggest Challengers
Unfortunately for Boise haters, the biggest contender to Boise's throne in the WAC appears to be Hawaii. I say unfortunately because the Warriors must travel to Idaho for that game. If the game were on the islands, an upset could have been a possibility. As for Nevada, they appear to be Boise's second biggest challenger, and that game is in Reno. However, Nevada appears to be a cut below Hawaii, and several cuts below Boise. An undefeated season for the Broncos seems all but assured.
Here are the WAC standings through Saturday's games.Now here are the SDPI standings. Overall rank in Offense, Defense, and Total SDPI is parentheses.Boise State-Surprise, surprise. In their last season in the WAC, Boise is once again dominating their conference competition.
Fresno State-Their conference schedule is back-loaded with road games against Louisiana Tech and Boise and a home game against Nevada.
Hawaii-The Warriors have dominated their WAC competition and could be the league favorite next season with no Boise to contend with.
Idaho-The Vandals aren't necessarily good, but they have a chance to qualify for their second consecutive (and third overall) bowl game.
Louisiana Tech-The Bulldogs have rebounded nicely from their 1-4 start, but must still win 3 of their final 4 games to qualify for the postseason.
Nevada-After their solid non-conference performance, the Wolfpack have been a little disappointing once conference play began.
New Mexico State-The Aggies have beaten their in-state foe, New Mexico, and San Jose State. Those teams have combined for one overall win and zero wins over IA foes.
San Jose State-The Spartans last best chance for a IA win comes this week against Utah State.
Utah State-A season that began with such promise (a close loss at Oklahoma and a win over in-state bully BYU), has fizzled into yet another losing season.