Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fab Five: Week V

Another week, another losing record. My unprecedented run of suckitude continued with another 4-6. This bring my yearly tally to 15-25. Ouch. Hopefully this week I can get back on track. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 6-14

UTEP +16.5 Houston
Care to hazard a guess as to who the lone remaining unbeaten mid-major not named Boise State is? Its Houston. The Cougars are 4-0, but they have been less than impressive in winning their first four non-league games. They beat UCLA by at home, knocked off North Texas by 25 on the road, edged Louisiana Tech by one after a furious comeback, and shut-out IAA Georgia State last weekend. As always, their offense has been dynamic, averaging 536 yards per game against IA opponents. However, their defense is allowing 429 yards per game to those same foes. UTEP is far from an elite team, but the Miners have at least faced some stiff competition, losing on the road at South Florida. Houston is just 1-2 playing UTEP in El Paso since joining Conference USA. Their lone win came by three points. Houston will be lucky to leave El Paso with their unblemished record intact on Thursday.

Rice +15.5 Southern Miss
Rice is just 1-2 and likely headed to a third straight losing season. However, their opening schedule has been quite challenging. The Owls opened their season with three games against BCS conference teams. They lost to Texas and Baylor on the road, but in between those games, upset Purdue at home. Meanwhile, Southern Miss turned some heads with a win over Virginia of the ACC last week (one of the few predictions I got right). The Golden Eagles may well be the best team in Conference USA, but they are a little over-valued here. Southern Miss may well win by two touchdowns, but that won't be enough to cover.

Rutgers +3 Syracuse
Syracuse may well be the worst 3-1 team in the country. The Orange have been outgained by roughly 65 yards per game in the early going, despite playing a IAA school (Rhode Island) and a MAC team (Toledo). Each of their wins have come by 7 points or fewer (with two coming in overtime). The Orange are not very proficient at anything, save avoiding interceptions (having thrown just one all season). This game is the Big East opener for both teams and pits the Orange against a Syracuse team looking to rebound from its first losing season since 2004. The Scarlet Knights are not particularly adept at anything either, save forcing fumbles, having forced 13 in just 3 games. These teams appear pretty evenly matched, so take the team getting points in this one.

Auburn +10 South Carolina
For the first time all season, South Carolina finally covered the spread last week, beating Vanderbilt 21-3. The Gamecocks will look to make it two covers in a row and start 5-0 when they take on defending national champion Auburn. Like the Gamecocks, Auburn has only one cover under its belt on the young season, winning at home against Mississippi State as a touchdown underdog. South Carolina should win this game, but they are not to be trusted laying more than a touchdown against any SEC team not named Kentucky, Ole Miss, or Vandy.

Clemson +7 Virginia Tech
Clemson would be Exhibit A for ignoring early season close shaves with IAA schools (Oregon State would be the counterpoint). The Tigers edged Wofford by just 8 points, but since that game have beaten a pair of quality programs (Auburn and Florida State) at home. This marks the first road game for the Tigers and their fancy new offense. Virginia Tech is somewhat of an unknown, having yet to face a team from a BCS conference. The Hokies were less than impressive in each of their games against IA schools, failing to cover the spread once. This should be a tight game that is decided in the final minutes.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall 9-11

Colorado -3 Washington State
Since their program began cratering in 2008, the Cougars from Washington State are just 1-17 in true road games. They are a more respectable 8-10 ATS (Against the Spread) in those games, but only two of those spreads, the first game in the streak (+3 in 2008 versus Baylor) and the most last game (+6.5 versus San Diego State two weeks ago), have been below 17 points. Colorado is not a good team, but they are a different team at home. They should win this one rather handily.

Louisiana Lafayette -9.5 Florida Atlantic
Louisiana-Lafayette served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt when they knocked off Florida International last week. The Panthers were 3-0 with victories over Louisville from the Big East and UCF from Conference USA. The win was the third straight for Louisiana-Lafayette since a season-opening loss to Oklahoma State. The Ragin' Cajuns should have more than enough firepower to knock off a Florida Atlantic team that has scored just one offensive touchdown in three games.

Louisiana Tech -3.5 Hawaii
If Syracuse is the worst 3-1 team in the country, Louisiana Tech may be the best 1-3 team. The Bulldogs 3 losses have come by 2, 1, and 6 points. Those defeats have also come against likely bowl teams in Southern Miss, Houston, and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs should get their first win over a IA team when Hawaii visits Saturday. The Bulldogs have won two of the past three against Hawaii in Ruston and have covered in all three (lost by a point in 2007 as 28-point underdogs) and should win by a comfortable margin here.

Notre Dame -12 Purdue
Don't look now, but the Irish have won two in a row since their early season meltdowns against South Florida and Michigan. The Irish have even played a modicum of defense in their two wins, holding Michigan State and Pitt to an average of 313 yards and 12.5 points per game. In fact, outside of the Michigan debacle, Notre Dame has played quite well on defense. If the Irish can avoid being overly generous with the football, they should have no trouble with a bad Purdue team.

Georgia -7 Mississippi State
The Georgia Bulldogs are slowly turning their season around after an 0-2 start. In fact, they have actually outplayed both of their SEC foes, but were done in by turnovers and a great fake punt against South Carolina. Georgia should continue to fly under the radar for the remainder of the season and should be a great play ATS.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fab Five: Week IV

Last week marked progress, as I improved from 2-8 to 4-6. However, I have yet to post a winning week thus far in the season and stand before you with an unflattering 11-19 mark on the year. Thankfully, time remains for redemption. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 4-11

UCF +2.5 BYU
Last week UCF suffered a bitter loss to an in-state team, falling 17-10 to Florida International. The UCF defense continued its stellar play, holding the Panthers to just 238 total yards and just a single offensive touchdown. For the season, the Knights have yet to allow a passing touchdown. However, they were also unable to generate much offense, allowing six sacks and and scoring just once themselves. They have also yet to pass for a touchdown of their own this season. Their opponents on Friday night, BYU, is also coming off a loss to an in-state rival. BYU dropped their Holy War battle with Utah by the narrow margin of 54-10. The Cougars lost six fumbles, and committed seven turnovers in all, contributing greatly to the humbling defeat. BYU has yet to score more than 16 points on the young season, and against a defense as talented a UCF's they should not be favored here.

Ball State +4 Army
Army enters this game in the rare position of being a road favorite. The Black Knights have been road favorites just twice since 2006 and are 0-2 ATS (Against The Spread) in those games. In fact, since 2006, the Black Knights are just 4-8 ATS as favorites. Ball State is currently unbeaten at home on the young season, having knocked off Indiana and Buffalo in close games. Expect this one to be a hard-fought close game, won yet again by the home team.

Tulane +10 Duke
Speaking of unfamiliar territory, I couldn't find the last time Duke was a double-digit favorite, but it was at least 2004. The Blue Devils are a little over-valued after their road win against a reeling Boston College program. The Blue Devils face a Tulane team that also scored a huge conference road win last week. While the Blue Devils edged Boston College by a single point, the Green Wave bludgeoned UAB 49-10. Tulane rushed and passed for over 250 yards apiece against the Blazers and averaged over 7 yards per play. This was their best showing since averaging a hair over 8 yards per play against IAA McNeese State in 2009. That result, like the Duke/Boston College final, probably says a lot more about UAB than Tulane, but the Green Wave should be able to hang in here and keep this one close.

Southern Miss +3 Virginia
Both teams enter this game 2-1, with Southern Miss having the much more questionable loss (versus a Marshall team that was later blown out by Ohio). However, that loss fits with the MO of Southern Miss very well. In the four season span from 2007-2010, the Golden Eagles dropped nine conference games in which they were the betting line favorite. They were 18-9 straight up as a favorite in conference play, but the Golden Eagles have lost numerous times as a large favorite. For example, they lost to Rice as a 20-point favorite in 2007, to Memphis as a 17-point favorite that same year, and to UAB as a 10-point favorite in both 2009 and 2010. The Golden Eagles appear to fall asleep against their conference brethren when they are a large favorite. They won't have that problem going on the road versus a BCS conference foe.

West Virginia +6.5 LSU
LSU has been perhaps the most impressive team thus far in the early going. The Tigers have won a pair of games against quality foes (Oregon and Mississippi State), by double-digits, away from home. If that doesn't scream number one in the nation, I don't know what does. The Tigers have won with a brutal defense, holding Oregon to their lowest yardage output (325) since they gained just 317 in a narrow win over Cal last November. They then held Mississippi State under 200 yards for the first time since Sylvester Croom's last game (a 45-0 whitewashing at the hands of Ole Miss). I expect them to hold West Virginia in check as well. However, the Tigers are notorious for not covering the spread under Les Miles, going 22-30-3 ATS as a favorite under the Mad Hatter. I expect LSU to win, but in Morgantown, this one should be within a touchdown.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall 7-8

Georgia -10 Ole Miss
Georgia enjoyed a much-needed below the radar beatdown of Coastal Carolina last week. The heat has been turned down a notch on Mark Richt, but a loss here would certainly be an incendiary event. No fear though, Houston Nutt has his own problems. The Rebels were throttled by Vanderbilt, and have scored just 20 points in two games versus IA foes. To make matters worse, they were also outgained in their win versus IAA Southern Illinois. Barring some food poisoning scare, the Bulldogs should win easily here and turn the heat up on Nutt.

Fresno State -3 Idaho
Fresno finally earned their first win of the young season last week against IAA North Dakota after whiffing against a pair of BCS teams (California and Nebraska) in their first two games. The Bulldogs were reasonably competitive in their road test at Nebraska, losing 42-29. Meanwhile, idaho has done nothing to indicate they are any threat in the WAC this season, failing to generate more than 280 yards of offense in a game against a IA foe. Fresno has won their three conference trips to the Kibbie dome by an average of 17.7 points, with none coming by fewer than 10 points. Look for more of the same here.

East Carolina -13 UAB
East Carolina deserved a bye after their opening gauntlet versus South Carolina and Virginia Tech (currently ranked 12th and 13th respectively). The Pirates acquitted themselves quite well in both games, jumping out to a big lead on the Gamecocks and staying even with Virginia Tech for virtually the entire game. They couldn't ask for a better antidote to their schedule ailment than a UAB team was throttled by both Florida (understandable) and Tulane (huh?) in their first two games. The Blazers have scored just 10 points in their first two games while allowing 88. Since becoming division rivals in 2005, the Pirates have won five of six games, with their average margin of victory at home coming by 19.7 points.

Texas Tech -20.5 Nevada
Suffice it to say, Nevada isn't quite the team they were last year. One season after knocking off Boise and finishing number 11 in the final polls, the Wolfpack began the 2011 season with a sizzling beatdown at the hands of Oregon, and followed that up with a narrow win over San Jose State. Texas Tech has hung at least 50 on its first two overmatched opponents (Texas State and New Mexico) and should do the same here.

Mississippi State -19.5 Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs have earned this one. After losing a nailbiter to Auburn and having the life squeezed out of them by LSU, Mississippi State needed a game to get their offensive confidence back. Louisiana Tech is no pushover, but Mississippi State should move the ball well and put enough points on the board to cover this number.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fab Five: Week III

So, um, yeah. Sorry about last week. To anyone who lost the proverbial farm taking any of my picks last week, I humbly apologize. I will try to do better. Last week's 2-8 nightmare leaves me sitting unpretty at 7-13 on the season. However, the season is young, so I still have time to dig myself out of this hole. Onward and upward! As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 3-7

Washington State +6 San Diego State
After last week's debacle, I am certainly taking a chance picking Washington State, a team that has beaten exactly 4 IA teams since Paul Wulff became coach in 2008. However, the Cougars were quite impressive in knocking off UNLV last weekend, 59-7. That was their largest margin of victory since nipping Idaho 56-10 in 2006. Meanwhile, San Diego State was less than impressive in edging Army 23-20. Nearly a touchdown is too much for San Diego State to be laying here.

West Virginia +1 Maryland
The Mountaineers looked less than impressive, at least in the first half, of their eventual rout of Norfolk State. West Virginia trailed 12-10 at the half, but came out and disposed of the Spartans with a 45-0 run in the second half. Maryland had the week off to celebrate its 32-24 Labor Day win over Miami. West Virginia has not lost to Maryland since 2003, winning 5 straight in the rivalry. The wrong team is favored here. Look for West Virginia to make it 6 in a row.

Arizona +10.5 Stanford
Last year Arizona came into this game ranked 13th in the nation with a glistening 7-1 record and a shot at the Rose Bowl. Stanford eviscerated them 42-17 and Arizona would not win again all season. This year the locale is Tucson, and not Palo Alto. That is a key distinction. Arizona is 7-1 ATS (Against the Spread) as a home underdog since 2006 (with 4 outright wins). As a double-digit home underdog, they are 4-0 ATS. Look for Arizona to keep this one close, and perhaps put an end to Stanford's top-10 ranking.

Virginia +10 North Carolina
Last season, North Carolina embarrassed the Cavs in Charlottesville 44-10. However, based on recent history, that is more the exception than the rule in this series. Virginia has won 7 of the past 10 meetings, including 3 of the past 5 in Chapel Hill. Last season's trouncing was also the first North Carolina victory by double-digits since 1998. Look for Virginia to keep this one close and perhaps even emerge with an outright upset.

Kent State +17.5 Kansas State
The days of 66-3 curb-stompings against non-BCS foes in Manhattan have faded. The Wildcats defeated UCF 17-13 last season and edged Louisiana-Lafayette 45-37 in 2008 to highlight their less than dominant recent track record. In fact, since 2004, the Wildcats have beaten non-BCS conference foes at home by an average of just 19 points per game. There have been a few beatings, most notably against Sun Belt foes, but for the most part, the game have been competitive. Kent State has the defense to hold a less-than-explosive Kansas State offense in check. They don't have the offense to win outright, but they should keep this one relatively close.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 1-4
Overall 4-6

Ole Miss -2 Vanderbilt
Yes, Vanderbilt won last week, but their game against Connecticut likely set offensive football back a few years. The Commodores and Huskies combined for 452 total yards and just 2 offensive touchdowns (both scored by Vanderbilt). Ole Miss was hardly impressive in their win over Southern Illinois, but should be able to do enough to hold a low-wattage Vanderbilt offense down while winning by at least a field goal.

Notre Dame -4 Michigan State
Eventually, Notre Dame has to win a game right? The Irish have opened the season 0-2 despite gaining over 1000 yards and averaging nearly 7 yards (6.8) per snap. How? Poor defense (allowed over 700 yards and nearly 6 yards per snap) and turnovers (10). If they can hold onto the ball, they should be able to beat a Michigan State team that looked weak against a IAA foe (Youngstown State), and then dominated perhaps the worst IA team (Florida Atlantic) last week.

Illinois -1 Arizona State
Arizona State finally won a close game last week, upending Missouri 37-30 in overtime. The Sun Devils were an unlucky 2-10 in one-score games from 2008-2010. Thus far in 2011, the Sun Devils have been their typical outlaw selves, ranking 100th in the nation in penalties per game (after ranking no better than 104th in the nation the past 3 seasons). Meanwhile, Illinois has quietly put together a pair of dominant performance against lesser competition, besting Arkansas State and South Dakota State by a combined 71 points. Illinois is rightly favored here, and giving less than a field goal, they should be the pick.

Penn State -7.5 Temple
This low spread is likely an overreaction to Penn State's offensive ineptitude against Alabama. If you didn't know, Alabama may have the best defense in the entire nation. Its OK to look bad against them. Temple is no punching bag, but their first 2 games have come against a IAA school (Villanova) and an awful IA team (Akron). Penn State should be able to win by more than one score here.

Texas -4 UCLA
More hair of the dog? Texas was one of the teams that aided in my 2-8 stinker last week. They may not have gotten all the kinks worked out of the offense, but they did decide to jettison quarterback Garret Gilbert. The defense played well against BYU and should do enough against UCLA to get the Longhorns a win here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fab Five: Week II

My Week I picks were like the new episodes of Family Guy. A few highlights, some forgettable moments, and all-in-all, nothing to write home about. I went a respectable 5-5. Let's see if we can end Week II with a winning record. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 2-3

Ball State +20 South Florida
Remember back in the Big East Preview when I wrote that teams coached by Skip Holtz excelled at winning ugly? The Notre Dame game was a perfect microcosm of that over-arching fact. South Florida was doubled up in yardage (508-254). They averaged a whopping 3.5 yards per play, while Notre Dame rolled up and down the field averaging 6.5 yards per snap. And yet, who emerged the victor? South Florida gladly accepted five Notre Dame turnovers, including three in the red zone, and one that was returned for a score, while committing none of their own. The Bulls are probably getting a little too much love as they return home to face a Ball State team that was also victorious in its opener against a favored opponent. The Cardinals knocked off Indiana 27-20 and are actually 9-2 ATS (Against the Spread) as an underdog versus BCS conference teams since 2006. I don't expect them to win this game, but they should stay within 3 touchdowns.

Utah +9.5 Southern Cal
Since the aura of invincibility departed the Coliseum in 2009, the Trojans are just 3-9 ATS as home favorites. In fact, the Trojans have lost four times at home as a betting line favorite since 2009 (8-4 straight up as a favorite) and of four of their eight wins have come by single digits. Utah did not show much in their opening night win against IAA Montana State, and are undervalued heading into their second game.

Cincinnati +6 Tennessee
The Bearcats were a major disappointment last season, following up consecutive BCS berths with a 4-8 strugglefest. However, the Bearcats still moved the ball very well. Their downfall was turnovers, and lots of them. Their season long margin of -15 put them consistently behind the 8-ball and hindered their shot at another Big East title. Turnovers tend to ebb and flow, and with fewer giveaways, the Bearcats should return to bowl eligibility. Catching nearly a touchdown against a Tennessee team that got hot thanks to a soft second-half schedule last year makes them a solid selection this week.

Duke +22 Stanford
Duke has actually been a solid play under David Cutcliffe. That is, as long as they aren't playing Richmond. In an interesting split, the Blue Devils are 0-2 straight up versus Richmond, but 3-0 straight up versus UVA under Cut. Overall, the Blue Devils are 17-14-1 ATS versus IA opponents under Cut. Stanford is traveling cross-country, and the last two Pac-10 (now 12) teams to travel cross-country to face an ACC foe did not fare well. Cal visited Maryland in 2008 as 14 point-favorites, but lost 35-27. In 2009, Stanford visited Wake Forest, in a game I was fortunate to attend. The Cardinal were 3-point underdogs and lost 24-17. Don't discount the effects of travel here. Duke probably won't win, but don't be surprised if this one is close.

Connecticut +2.5 Vanderbilt
Connecticut is 9-6 ATS versus non-conference BCS teams (and Notre Dame) since 2006. If we only look at road games, they are 5-2 ATS in that span. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is just 6-14 ATS as a home favorite in the last decade. Vanderbilt did not execute particularly well last week versus Elon, racking up 45 points, but gaining only 309 total yards. Vandy should probably not be favored over any BCS conference team with the exception of perhaps Washington State.

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

Minnesota -21 New Mexico State
The Jerry Killy era at Minnesota nearly began with a huge upset against the Trojans of Southern California. However, after digging a huge hole, the Gophers were unable to come all the way back, losing 19-17. This week, they get a breather in the form of the Aggies from New Mexico State. The Aggies have covered just once against a BCS conference foe since 2006 (1-5 ATS). Look for that trend to continue here.

Ohio State -19 Toledo
This spread seems unreasonably small. Ohio State is still a force to be reckoned with in the Big 10 and are actually 6-3 ATS versus MAC teams since 2006. Toledo is better than Akron (lost 42-0 versus Ohio State last week), but should still find it tough to score against one of the nation's best defenses.

Texas -7 BYU
After you count the money you win from betting this game, be sure to thank the 2010 Texas Longhorns for lowering expectations. Texas is actually 7-3 ATS versus non-BCS conference teams at home since 2006. They were 1-1 last season, easily covering versus Florida Atlantic, but missing the cover versus Wyoming by half a point (won by 27, but were a 27.5-point favorite). The Cougars showed they were strong defensively last week, holding Ole Miss to 13 points and 208 total yards. However, they only generated a single offensive touchdown for themselves. Whatever offensive issues they may have, Texas is still elite on defense and should be able to hold BYU in check and score just enough to cover here.

Georgia Tech -11 Middle Tennessee State
The Blue Raiders nearly pulled off a road upset last week, but were stymied with a late comeback by Purdue in a 27-24 loss. The Blue Raiders moved the ball well against the Boilermakers, generating 460 yards of total offense. They may be able to do the same against a Georgia Tech defense that gave up 21 points and 301 total yards to Western Carolina. However, Georgia Tech should be able to effectively move the ball against the Blue Raiders and with only a modicum of defensive success should be able to cover here.

Purdue -1 Rice
Rice has not beaten a BCS conference opponent since they knocked off a winless Duke team in 2001. Purdue was far from dominant in their win versus Middle Tennessee State last week, but a spread this low is just too good to pass up.