Monday, October 31, 2011

Mid-Season SDPI: Big East, Mountain West, Sun Belt, WAC

In the past two weeks, we have handicapped seven conference races. This week, we will examine the last four. This week's breakdown includes the Big East, a BCS conference that may be on its final legs and three non-BCS conferences of varying degrees of strength.

First off, here are the Big East standings.
And now the SDPI ratings.
: The Bearcats are the early leader in the Big East race, but that may not last long. They play SDPI darling Pittsburgh on the road Saturday.

Connecticut: The defending Big East champs have not been able to carry over their phenomenal close game luck from last season, going just 1-3 in one-score games thus far. They need to win 3 of their final 4 games to get back to a bowl.

Louisville: The Cardinals are flying under the radar now. Pardon the pun. Their defense has been the best in the Big East in the early going, and they get a chance to prove themselves this week as they take on the conference's best offense in West Virginia. Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have done a great job with the defense. The Cardinals have not allowed 30 points or 400 yards of total offense in 15 straight games. In 3 seasons under Steve Kragthorpe, the Cardinals surrendered at least 30 points 17 times and at least 400 yards 18 times (in 36 games).

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have been the league's strongest team in the early going, but unfortunately have done nothing to improve the league's standing nationally in losing to Iowa, Notre Dame, and Utah in non-conference action.

Rutgers: Receiver Mohamed Sanu ranks 5th nationally with 70 catches on the season. However, he is averaging only 10.44 yards per reception. Only 3 receivers with at least 50 catches have a lower per-reception average.

South Florida: It's ironic that the only Big East team to do anything of note in the non-conference is sitting in the league basement. Since joining the Big East in 2005, the Bulls have never finished better than 4-3 in the league.

Syracuse: The Orange need just one win over their final 4 games to secure bowl eligibility for a second straight season. If they do participate in a bowl game, it would mark the first time they have played in consecutive bowls since the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

West Virginia: The conference title and automatic BCS berth may come down to their showdown with Pittsburgh on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Here are the Mountain West standings.And the SDPI ratings.
Air Force: The Falcons have gotten the difficult portion of their league-slate out of the way early. They may close the year on a 5-game sinning streak.

Boise State: What more can you say about the Broncos? Outside of TCU, they are unlikely to be challenged down the stretch. They just need to get out their Stanford and Oklahoma State voodoo dolls.

Colorado State: The Steve Fairchild era began quite well believe it or not. The Rams finished 7-6 in 2008 and then raced out to a 3-0 start in 2009, with upsets over Colorado and Nevada. However, since then, the Rams are just 6-23.

New Mexico: Will the Lobos win a game this year? Their best chance will come on November 12th when they host UNLV. If we do not include their game against Sam Houston State (a IAA school they lost to), the Lobos have scored just 7 offensive touchdowns in their other 7 games. Their date with Boise on the smurf turf on December 3rd should be fun.

San Diego State: With games against Colorado State, New Mexico, and UNLV left on the schedule, the Aztecs have a great shot at a second straight bowl game. However, they have disappointed, particularly on defense.

TCU: The defensive rating is buoyed a great deal by holding New Mexico to 85 total yards. The Horned Frogs aren't nearly as good on that side of the ball as they have been the past 3 seasons.

UNLV: The rebuilding job continues in Las Vegas. They do stand a good chance of not finishing in the basement, so there's that.

Wyoming: A pleasant surprise. The Cowboys still have TCU and Boise to play, but could get to 8 regular season wins for the first time since 1998.

Here are the Sun Belt standings.And the SDPI ratings.
Arkansas St: At 4-0 in the conference, the Red Wolves are threatening for their second ever bowl bid under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze (of The Blindside fame).

Florida Atlantic: Will the Owls go winless? Their best chance for a 'W' is likely at home against UAB.

Florida International: The Panthers have under-performed after raising expectations with a 3-0 start, but still have a shot at a second consecutive bowl game.

Louisiana-Lafayette: Like Arkansas State, the Ragin' Cajuns have surprised folks (at least those who have been paying attention) with a great start under a first-year coach (Mark Hudspeth).

Louisiana-Monroe: Statistically, the Warhawks have been the best team in the Sun Belt. However, a pair of close conference losses, and a tough non-conference schedule means they must win out to have any shot at their first ever bowl game.

Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders have also been very strong statistically, but close losses (1-3 in one-score games) and a tough non-conference schedule means they also have no margin for error down the stretch.

North Texas: Todd Dodge went just 5-25 in Sun Belt play during his four-year tenure. Dan McCarney has already won two league games and also beat Indiana in non-conference action in his first season.

Troy: The King is dead! After winning at least a share of 5 straight Sun Belt titles, the Trojans have fallen on hard times. Their defense, awful last season, has remained as such, and the offense has regressed.

Western Kentucky: After winning just two league games in their first two seasons in the Sun Belt, the Hilltoppers are riding a four-game Sun Belt winning streak. If only they hadn't lost in grisly fashion to Indiana State (IAA) by a 44-16 count, they could be making postseason plans.

Finally, here are the WAC standings.And the SDPI ratings.
Fresno St: The Bulldogs have been mediocre in the WAC and unless they play (and win) a bowl game against a BCS-conference school, will not have beaten a BCS-conference opponent for the first time since 2006.

Hawaii: The Warriors shot at a second-straight league title will likely come down to their trip to Reno on November 12th.

Idaho: The Vandals have fallen off a cliff offensively. In their seven games versus IA opponents, they have scored just 9 offensive touchdowns.

Louisiana Tech: The Air-Raid has yet to take off, but the defense is among the best in the conference.

Nevada: The Wolfpack play an entertaining brand of football, and with 3 of their final 4 games coming at home, have a great shot at taking the league crown.

New Mexico St: The formerly hapless Aggies have found an offense. In DeWayne Walker's first two seasons as head coach, the Aggies averaged 11.5 points per game (2009) and 15.7 points per game (2010). If we add those two numbers together, it amounts to fewer points than the Aggies are currently averaging (28.4 points per game).

San Jose St: The Spartans did not beat a single IA team last season, but have already won three such games in 2011.

Utah St: America's unluckiest team. 4 of their 5 losses have come by a combined 15 points. The Aggies have outgained their seven opponents by nearly 1000 total yards, averaged nearly two yards more per play, and outscored them by 56 points. Going forward, that means they are very dangerous, but sitting at 2-5, a bowl bid is hardly a sure thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fab Five: Week IX

It was another forgettable week for your humble prognosticator. I went 3-7 and pulled my overall record even lower to 23-36-1. I will try and post just my second winning week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 17-23

Virginia +14 Miami
Believe it or not, the Cavaliers have actually beaten Miami 3 of the last 5 years, with all 3 wins coming as a betting line underdog. Miami beat Georgia Tech by 17 last week, but was only able to 262 yards of offense against a suspect Yellow Jacket defense. Look for Virginia to keep this one close on Thursday night.

Tulane +16.5 East Carolina
The SDPI numbers love Tulane, and while I don't trust the Green Wave a great deal, they are catching three score in this game. With my track record this season, what do you have to lose?

Oregon State +5 Utah
Since opening the season with poor showings versus Sacramento State and Wisconsin, the Beavers have quietly rebounded and played well in their last 5 games. While they have still gone just 2-3 in those games, a few lucky bounces here or there and they could have won 4 or even all 5. Without quarterback Jordan Wynn, Utah has issues on offense. In addition, the Utes have not stayed within 9 points of any of their Pac-12 opponents. The Utes may have to wait another week to pick up their initial Pac-12 win.

Syracuse +3 Louisville
Both teams won a pair of Friday night Big East showdowns last week to avoid 0-2 starts in the conference. The loser basically out of the running for the Big East title, and if Louisville loses, is likely out of bowl contention. Syracuse reminds me a lot of Jim Grobe's Wake Forest teams. The Orange will likely never be a serious national threat, but they are good enough to contend for bowl year in and year out, and occasionally pull off a huge upset. I don't think Louisville is that good, so even take the Orange to cover and potentially even win outright.

Michigan St +4.5 Nebraska
Nebraska is like Michigan-lite on offense. Taylor Martinez is not quite the running threat Denard Robinson is. He is very comparable as a passer, which is to say, he's a much better runner. Michigan State proved they can shut down one-dimensional offensive attacks in limiting Michigan to just 14 points and 250 yards two weeks ago. Look for more of the same here.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall 16-23-1

Central Michigan -7.5 Akron
The Chippewas have suffered through a second straight disappointing season. However, the Akron Zips are the cure for what ails ya. The Zips have only stayed within 10 points of a single IA opponent this year, Eastern Michigan.

Clemson -4.5 Georgia Tech
Clemson reminds me a lot of last year's Oregon team. They sometimes take awhile to get going, but eventually their offense and a few timely takeaways by the defense snow you under in the second half. Clemson is unbeaten versus the spread this season, and this number seems very low considering how poorly Georgia Tech has played of late.

Stanford -7.5 Southern Cal
Like Clemson, Stanford is unbeaten versus the spread this season. Their closest win was by 27 points at Arizona. They have been the most statistically dominant Pac-12 team in the early going and should continue laying claim to their top-5 ranking with a relatively easy road win over Southern Cal.

Texas Tech -15 Iowa State
I never thought they would win in Norman, but the Red Raiders are were an under-valued team heading into that game. From the looks of this spread, they appear to be under-valued here as well. Iowa State has been less than impressive on the road in conference play, losing by 23 to Baylor and 35 to Missouri. Look for more of the same here.

Georgia -3 Vs Florida
Georgia has played very well since opening the season 0-2. Actually they have played very well since opening the season 0-1. The Bulldogs outplayed the Gamecocks, but lost thanks to turnovers and a well-timed fake punt. Meanwhile, Florida has disintegrated after their 4-0 start, losing to LSU and Alabama, but also to Auburn. Each loss has come by double-digits and the Gators have struggled mightily on offense. Look for Georgia to continue their winning ways here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mid-Season SDPI: Big 10, Pac-12, CUSA, MAC

Mid-Season SDPI ratings are back for their second crack at handicapping all the conference races. This week we'll take a look at the new Big 10, the new Pac-12, and a pair of non-BCS conferences, Conference USA, and the MAC.

Here are the current Big 10 standings.
And here are the SDPI ratings.
The Illini aren'tas good as their down-to-down performance would suggest? Who would have thought? Ron Zook is a terrible coach, but I guarantee the Illini will pull off at least one upset in their next 3 (@Penn State, versus Michigan, versus Wisconsin).

Indiana: Things have not been pretty in Hoosierville. Indiana has not beaten a IA school and boasts non-conference losses to Ball State and North Texas.

Ohio State: That offense has been as bad as anyone in the conference, and the defense has not lived up to its previous standard.

Penn State: After they escaped against Temple, the Nittany Lions looked like they could be in for a long season. But here they are at 7-1 and contending for the division title.

Purdue: Yes, they somehow lost to Rice and barely escaped Middle Tennessee State, but the Boilermakers are just one upset away from a bowl game (assuming they beat Indiana).

Wisconsin: They fell in dramatic fashion in East Lansing, but the Badgers still have a great shot of ending up in Pasadena for the second straight year.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes haven't played well, but they are 5-2 and barring an epic upset against Minnesota this Saturday, will be bowl eligible by Halloween.

Michigan: The Wolverines were exposed as a one-dimensional offense against their 'little brother'. Sure, the Wolverines can pass, but not against good defenses.

Michigan State: The Spartans are better than their ranking would indicate. They have faced the top-two offenses in the conference and still have the league's best defense.

Minnesota: The Gophers teased early on with a close loss at Southern Cal, but fans probably knew they were in for a long season when they fell at home to New Mexico State the next week.

Nebraska: The Huskers have not lived up to the preseason hype, particularly on defense. If they have any designs on winning the division, they must beat Michigan State on Saturday.

Northwestern: The Wildcats have lost a few close ones, but their wins have come against Boston College and Eastern Illinois so that tells you all you need to know.

And now the Pac-12.
And here are the SDPI ratings.
California: Better than their 1-3 conference record would indicate, but not anywhere near as good as the super-powers (Oregon and Stanford) in the division.

Oregon: If they had held onto the football against LSU, the showdown in Palo Alto on November 12th would be your game of the year.

Oregon State: Surprise, Surprise. The Beavers have played markedly better since opening the year with losses to Sacramento State and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Oregon and Stanford are left on the schedule, so a bowl bid is unlikely.

Stanford: I wasn't sold on the Cardinal before the season started, but wow, they are good. I think we'll see another Pac-10(12) versus SEC showdown in this year's BCS National Championship game.

Washington: Like Stanford, the Huskies are another team that has been better than I thought they would be. The Huskies were a very lucky bowl team last season, but they are a legitimate fringe top-25 team this year.

Washington State: The Cougars are light-years from where they were in Paul Wulff's first 3 seasons. Unfortunately, they are still bad and that improvement probably won't buy him a 5th year.

Arizona: The defense is not quite as bad as the rating would indicate. The Wildcats have faced the top-two offenses in the conference (Oregon and Stanford).

Arizona State: Outside of Southern Cal, the Sun Devils are the best of what's around in the Pac-12 South. They won't give Stanford much a challenge in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game though.

Colorado: The Buffaloes are officially in Washington State circa 2008-2009 territory.

Southern Cal: Their turnover-propelled upset of Notre Dame has them a shade overrated. Stanford should handle them with relative ease this Saturday.

UCLA: Tell me again why they fired Karl Dorrell?

Utah: Their first season as a member of a BCS-conference has not quite been as successful as they had hoped. The grass ain't always greener, but the money sure is.

And now we examine the little guys. We'll start with Conference USA.And, once again, the SDPI ratings.
East Carolina
: The win Saturday against Navy was huge for their bowl hopes. Despite the fact that a bowl game is still very much up in the air, the Pirates do control their own destiny in the division with Southern Miss and UCF coming to Greenville.

Marshall: Their 3 wins have come by a combined 14 points. Memphis and UAB are still on the schedule, so a bowl bid is a possibility.

Memphis: The Tigers broke a 16-game conference losing streak with their win at Tulane Saturday. They're still awful though.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles dominated fellow contender SMU on Saturday. If they can win in El Paso on Saturday, they will likely creep into the AP top-25 for the first time since 2004.

UAB: The Blazers have been awful this season, but there was nothing fluky about their win over defending league champion UCF on Thursday. The Blazers outgained the Knights by 170 yards

UCF: The Knights are still alive it in the division race. 3 of their 4 losses have come by 7 points or less.

Houston: The Cougars have scored at least 49 points in each of their 3 conference games. The defense remains a liability though, and could cost them their designs on an undefeated season.

The Owls aren't good, but they somehow beat Purdue in September.

SMU: Their game against Southern Miss could have been a preview of the CUSA Championship Game. The Mustangs are extremely balanced on both sides of the ball and will test Tulsa this week.

Tulane: The Green Wave have a WTF?! rating. How are they rated so high despite a 1-3 league record? In their lone win, they totally dominated, outgaining UAB by nearly 350 yards. They also stayed almost even with UTEP in yards despite the 44-7 loss to the Miners. Then in their most recent defeat to the worst team in the conference, the Green Wave actually outgained Memphis by 170 yards. With the coaching upheaval and their struggle on the scoreboard, I don't trust this rating at all. However, if Tulane pulls off an upset or two in the season's second-half, well, I told you so.

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane were mostly forgotten after an early season stretch that included games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Boise State. In the conference though, Tulsa has been very impressive. However, their conference slate has included Tulane, UAB, and Rice, so lets see how they do against SMU before we start crowning anyone.

UTEP: The Miners are a notch below the top-3 out west (Houston, SMU, and Tulsa), but if they beat Rice and pull off one upset in their other 4 games, the Miners will be bowling for the second consecutive year.

And finally, we close this week with the MAC.
And the SDPI ratings.

: The Zips have now lost 10 of their last 11 MAC games. The Zips were only within a touchdown at the gun in 3 of those losses.

Bowling Green: With their upset of Temple on Saturday, the Falcons move to 4-4 overall, and have an outside shot at bowl eligibility. The Falcons aren't particularly good, but outside of Temple, Toledo, Ohio, and Northern Illinois, none of the other 9 teams in the conference are either.

Buffalo: The Bulls lost in heart-breaking fashion on Saturday, missing an extra point with under 30 second to go that would have sent their game with Northern Illinois to overtime. The Bulls have played markedly better at home in the conference. In their two league home games (an upset of Ohio and the near miss on Saturday), the Bulls have averaged 541 yards and 34 points per game. In their two league road games (losses to Ball State and Temple), the Bulls have averaged 254 yards and 12.5 points per game.

Kent State: Under new management, the problem remains the same. The Golden Flashes have a phenomenal MAC-level defense, but their offense is absolutely horrendous.

Miami: At 2-5, a bowl bid is basically out of the question. However, the Redhawks can take solace in the fact that they played reasonably well against a pair of teams from BCS conferences (lost by 11 at Missouri and 6 at Minnesota).

Ohio: The Bobcats host the Temple Owls on Tuesday November 2nd in what will likely decide the MAC East.

Temple: Despite their upset loss at Bowling Green, the Owls are the top-rated SDPI team. In their 5 league games, the Owls have allowed just 6 offensive touchdowns.

Ball State: The Cardinals don't do a whole lot well, but they have won the close ones (4-0 in one-score games) and are just one win away from bowl eligibility.

Central Michigan: All offense, no defense. The Chippewas have not been able to stop anyone, so despite their firepower, they are staring at their second straight losing season.

Eastern Michigan: They haven't gotten a lot (or any) press nationally, and they aren't very good, but the Eagles have won 5 games for the first time since 1995. They will have to take two of their last four to get to just their second ever bowl game since they played and beat two IAA schools in the non-conference. I'll be pulling hard for them down the stretch.

Northern Illinois: Their escape at Buffalo leaves them as the only serious challenger to Toledo in the MAC West. They face the Rockets on Tuesday Night Football the day after Halloween.

Toledo: The Rockets are exceptionally balanced on both sides of the ball. A rematch with Temple in the MAC Championship Game would be exciting.

Western Michigan: Like their directional Michigan brethren in the center of the state, the Broncos struggles on defense have prevented them from being a contender.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fab Five: Week VIII

I just can't win. After going 1-4 with dogs two weeks ago, I managed a 4-1 mark this past week. After going 4-1 with favorites two weeks ago, I went 0-4-1 this past week (thanks Steve Spurrier). My yearly mark is now 30-39-1. Time is running out to dig out of this hole. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 15-20

Missouri +7.5 Oklahoma State
If you read my SDPI post on the Big 12 from Monday, you know that my numbers really like Missouri despite their 3-3 record. Similarly, while the numbers like Oklahoma State, they do not appear to be a top-10 team. This game is in Columbia, and the 'better' team by my ratings is getting a touchdown. What do you have to lose?

Georgia Tech +3 Miami
Speaking of SDPI, the numbers hate Miami. The Hurricanes have the worst defense in the ACC, and that may be just the antidote Georgia Tech needs after struggling on offense for the past two games.

Michigan State +8 Wisconsin
Who was the last team to beat Wisconsin in the regular season? Sparty. After watching the Spartans totally manhandle Michigan, I'm a believer. Their defense is legit and will probably be the best one Wisconsin faces all year (unless they meet up with Alabama or LSU in their bowl game). The Spartans are playing at home and getting nearly 10 points. Roll with them here.

Auburn +22 LSU
I know LSU is playing at home and has look-ed nigh unbeatable as of late, but hear me out. The Tigers (LSU variety) are 5-1 ATS (Against the Spread). Under Les Miles, the Tigers have had exactly one winning season ATS. They went 6-5-1 against the number in Miles' first season (2005). Methinks Auburn will at least keep this one somewhat close (17 points or so).

Cincinnati +3 South Florida
The bloom has certainly fallen off the South Florida rose. The Bulls seemed headed for the top-10 until a Thursday night beatdown at the hands of Pitt, followed by an upset loss at lowly Connecticut. At 0-2 in the Big East, the Bulls have now gone 8-15 in Big East play over the past three and half seasons, while going 21-2 in non-conference. Those non-conference games have not been all gimmes either. The Bulls are 6-2 versus non-conference BCS foes (and Notre Dame). Meanwhile, Cincinnati has rebounded from their poor 2010 season and are a win away from bowl eligibility. Outside of their game in Knoxville, the Bearcats have played very well defensively, and against a limited passing attack, the Bearcats have a real shot of pulling off the outright upset.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 0-4-1
Overall 15-19-1

Clemson -11 North Carolina
The SDPI numbers love Clemson, hailing them as the best team in the ACC on both sides of the ball. Honestly, I thought this spread would be closer to 17 or 20 points. North Carolina is a decent team, but not anywhere near Clemson's class.

Nevada -10.5 Fresno State
The winner of this game will have a leg up in the race for the WAC title. Nevada has played very well this season when not facing elite teams. Oregon and Boise State outscored them by a combined 69 points, but the Wolfpack have won 3 of their other 4 contests, with the lone loss coming by a single point to Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Fresno has the indignity of losing at home by double-digits to arguably the worst team in the SEC (Ole Miss). Nevada should win by at least a pair of touchdowns.

Louisiana-Lafayette -3 Western Kentucky
The Ragin' Cajuns are 4-0 in the Sun Belt and have a chance to match their high-water mark for Sun Belt wins after just 5 games (won 5 in 2005 and 2008). Meanwhile, Western Kentucky is coming off their first two-game win streak since joining IA in 2008. Louisiana-Lafayette is one of the upper-echelon Sun Belt teams (along with Arkansas State, Florida International, and Louisiana-Monroe) and should be able to beat the Hilltoppers by at least a field goal.

Northern Illinois -14 Buffalo
Outside of their game against Wisconsin, the Huskies from Northern Illinois have put at least 40 points on the board against each opponent. They currently rank as the best offense in the MAC by a mile. Outside of an upset of Ohio two weeks ago, the Bulls from Buffalo have been relatively non-competitive this season. Northern Illinois should get to 40 again and win this rather handily.

Virginia -5.5 NC State
If you buy into the SDPI numbers, Virginia is a real sleeper in the ACC. With the luck I have had this year, I will be taking a flyer on them to take out the Wolfpack at home.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mid-Season SDPI: ACC, Big 12, and SEC

Back by popular demand, its the mid-season SDPI ratings! For the uninitiated, we'll be taking a statistical look at each conference race using SDPI to see who might be under or over-rated. Don't know what SDPI is? Its a yardage based measure of team strength based on how well team's perform within their league. This week, we'll take a look at the ACC, Big 12, and SEC. And some housekeeping notes, these numbers only include league games. So any non-conference games, whether it was against a IAA cupcake or a national power is not included. In addition, the SDPI ratings include in parentheses where each team ranks in the conference in terms of offense, defense, and total. Enjoy.

We'll start with the ACC. Here are the up-to-the-minute standings.

Now here are the SDPI ratings.
Boston College: The Eagles have been the worst team in the ACC by a longshot. The 12-year bowl streak is as good as over.

Clemson: The Tigers have been the best, and most impressive team in the ACC. They actually have a pretty good shot at winning their last four conference games. Using a modified version of the projection system based on current SDPI and simulating their four remaining league games (North Carolina, @Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and @ NC State) using the log 5 method, I project the Tigers have about a 1 in 3 shot (32%) of finishing 8-0 in the ACC.

Florida State: I know they haven't lived up to the preseason hype, but let's look at the facts. Florida State has lost to a pair of top-10 teams (Oklahoma and Clemson), with one coming on the road, and both in doubt in the 4th quarter). In their other loss, they committed 5 turnovers and still only lost by 5. They may not lose again in the regular season.

Maryland: The Terps have been all over the place in games in and out of conference. Their running quarterback, CJ Brown, has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the games where he has seen significant action. However, he is very raw as a passer, having completed just 46% of his throws on the season. The Terps needs to win 4 of their last 6 to get to a bowl. It won't be easy.

NC State: NC State is one of only 3 ACC teams (Duke and Virginia are the others) to have played just a pair of league games. NC State has yet to beat a team likely headed for the postseason (beat two IAA teams and Central Michigan).

Wake Forest: This is a typical Jim Grobe era Wake Forest team. Good enough to hang around and beat mediocre to above-average conference foes, but lacking the talent to compete with the heavy hitters in the conference. At 4-2, this week's game in Durham is vital to attaining bowl eligibility.

Duke: Poor, poor Duke. If they hadn't lost to Richmond to open the season, they would be sitting at 4-2 and have an outside shot at bowl eligibility. Instead, at 3-3, I don't think their are 3 wins to be had over the remainder of their schedule.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have seen diminishing returns for their option attack since conference play started. They opened up with 496 yards against North Carolina, had 413 versus NC State, 386 against Maryland, and in their loss to Virginia were held to a season-low 296 yards.

Miami: Does Miami have the worst defense in the ACC? I doubt it, but Maryland, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina all had their best in-conference offensive performances against the Hurricanes.

North Carolina: Quarterback Bryn Renner has completed over 75% of his passes on the season, but the Tar Heels rank just 9th in the ACC in offense.

Virginia: Is Virginia really the second best team in the ACC? I doubt it, but they are probably better than most people believe. Virginia has only played two league games, but they outgained both North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

Virginia Tech: After scoring just 3 points in their ACC opener against Clemson, the Hokies have rediscovered their offensive mojo against Miami and Wake Forest, putting up a combined 76 points.

And now the Big 12.

And now the SDPI ratings.Baylor: You know there are some bad defenses in the Big 12 when Baylor only ranks fourth from the bottom. In order to attain bowl eligibility for the second straight year, the Bears will probably have to pull off at least one upset in their final 6 games.

Iowa State: That 3-0 start seems like ages ago. They seem to have at least one huge upset in them per year under head coach Paul Rhoads (at Nebraska in 2009 and at Texas last year). Their opportunity this year could come on Saturday at home against Texas A&M.

Kansas: The good news: Kansas has some semblance of an offense. The bad news: Every IA opponent in 2001 has averaged at least 6 yards per play.

Kansas State: Wow. Smoke and mirrors. How have the Wildcats started 3-0 despite their less than down-to-down performance? Four reasons. Turnover margin. The Wildcats are +6 in the turnover department in their 3 league games. Non-offensive touchdowns. The Wildcats were able to stay close with Texas Tech while their offense struggled in the first half thanks to an interception and a kickoff return for touchdowns. Close games. Including non-conference action, the Wildcats are 5-0 in one-score games. Luck. Kansas State's conference foes have combined to go 3 for 8 kicking field goals against them. While the Wildcats are probably overrated (number 12 in the latest AP poll), after this week's game against Kansas, they will likely be 7-0 when they host Oklahoma on Halloween Weekend.

Missouri: All of Missouri's losses have either been close (seven each to Arizona State and Kansas State) or against a great team (Oklahoma). Their losses have also all come on the road. They may be the best 3-loss team in the country. If they 'upset' Oklahoma State at home on Saturday, don't be too surprised.

Oklahoma: The Sooners are a great team. Groundbreaking stuff. Their national title hopes may all come down to a date in Stillwater on the first weekend in December.

Oklahoma State: The numbers suggest they may not be quite as good as their top-10 ranking. If they escape Columbia with a win on Saturday, I'll change my mind.

Texas: When they were playing UCLA and Iowa State, the offense looked like it was fixed. Against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, not so much. The Longhorns have a bye this weekend and a functional bye against Kansas the following week, so maybe they can get it fixed for real.

Texas A&M: Take away a pair of huge blown second-half leads and the Aggies would be on their way to justifying their preseason hype.

Texas Tech: Look out for the Red Raiders in the second-half. While they are just 1-2 in the league (and likely 1-3 after visiting Norman this weekend), they have played well on both sides of the ball.

And now on to the SEC.And the SDPI ratings.Florida: Things have not been pretty since John Brantley went out with an injury against Alabama. In their first two conference games, the Gators rolled over Tennessee and Kentucky, averaging 434 yards per game. In their last 3 games, granted against stiffer competition (Alabama, LSU, and Auburn), the Gators have averaged just 210 yards per game.

Georgia: Lazarus, come forth. Mark Richt and the Bulldogs have righted the ship since opening with consecutive defeats to Boise State and South Carolina.

Kentucky: Competing with Ole Miss as the worst team in the SEC this season. Good news! The teams do play each other in Lexington on November 5th, so it will be settled on the field. Check your local listings.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are a strange team. Are they good or are they just a solid team that has caught some breaks? Good teams crush lesser opponents. The Gamecocks have absolutely destroyed the two bad SEC teams they've played, outgaining Vanderbilt and Kentucky by over 800 yards. But good teams tend to play well against other good teams. South Carolina has been outgained in each of their other 3 SEC games, but has manged to win two of them. With Marcus Lattimore out and little depth behind Connor Shaw, the season-ending gauntlet of @Tennessee, @Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson will be much more challenging.

Tennessee: After they get crushed by Alabama this week, the schedule does ease up ever so little. Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky remain, so another bowl bid is a legitimate possibility.

Vanderbilt: Can they get to a bowl? Probably need to beat Army, Kentucky, and Wake Forest in order to get to their second bowl game in 4 seasons.

Alabama: I know its early, but Alabama has been obscenely dominant in its first 7 games. They did face a pair of cupcakes in the non-conference (Kent State and North Texas), but they also pushed around a Penn State team that has been better than expected. If they play as well over the second-half of their conference schedule as they have over the first, we could be comparing this team to the 2001 Hurricanes come mid-January.

Arkansas: The 'Hogs have a low-ranking for two reasons. They have only played two league games thus far (every other team has played at least three) and one of them came against the buzzsaw that is Alabama. Conveniently, their next two games are against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, so they should rise in the ratings shortly.

Auburn: Remember back after the Utah State escape when many folks thought Auburn would struggle to get to 6-6? Well, they are 5-2 with Ole Miss and Samford still left on the schedule.

LSU: The Tigers are very good. However, there have not been many teams in the last decade that could beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, something LSU must do if it even has designs on playing in the SEC Championship Game. While we're on LSU, here's a little mini-rant. CBS, don't put LSU or Alabama on the 3:30 national game unless they are playing each other. Those afternoon games have been unwatchable. LSU bear-hugged Tennessee 38-7 this week. Last week, they throttled Florida 41-11. Two weeks ago, Auburn and South Carolina was competitive, but the primetime game (Alabama at Florida) was another four-touchdown pummeling. Three weeks ago, Alabama beat Arkansas 38-14. Save those bloodbaths for ESPNU.

Mississippi: The Rebels are doing all they can to give Kentucky a run for their money at the bottom of the SEC.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are a bit unlucky to be 0-4, but with Alabama and Arkansas left on the slate, the best they can hope for is probably 6-6.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fab Five: Week VII

Depending upon whether you followed my picks on favorites or underdogs, you either had a great or terrible week. I was 5-5 overall with 4-1 mark on favorites and a reciprocal 1-4 mark picking dogs. My yearly record remains an unflattering 26-34. I will strive for just my second winning week on the season. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 11-19

San Jose State +6.5 Hawaii
Don't look now, but San Jose State has quietly become a solid (WAC) team, especially at home. In their two home games thus far, the Spartans have hung with Nevada and beaten New Mexico State. Catching almost a touchdown against a Hawaii team that has been all over the map is a good bet.

Michigan +1.5 Michigan State
Hard to figure this spread out. I know Michigan struggled in the first half of their first road trip at Northwestern last week. I know Michigan State has won 3 in a row in this series. But who has Michigan State beaten? Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, and the rotting husk of Ohio State. Michigan and Michigan State have faced one common opponent. Notre Dame beat Michigan State by 18 and lost to Michigan by 4. I'm not a huge fan of using the transitive property, but this spread should be reversed.

Miami +3 North Carolina
Despite the adversity surrounding the program, Miami has played well early on despite being 2-3. All their losses have come by a single score versus Maryland (8 points), Kansas State (4 points), and Virginia Tech (3 points). The Hurricanes battled back from an early deficit against Virginia Tech last week, showing they have some fight that was lacking under the previous administration. Meanwhile, North Carolina has quietly started 5-1, but has been less than impressive in close home wins versus Louisville and Syracuse. In fact, the Tar Heels have been outgained in their last 4 games and appear primed for a home upset at the hands of The U.

BYU +1.5 Oregon State
The BYU Cougars finally showed some offensive prowess the past two weeks with Riley Nelson at quarterback. Nelson led the Cougars to a comeback win against Utah State two weeks ago, and with Nelson seeing significant action, the team has averaged 447 yards per game versus 291 yards per game without him. Oregon State has shown signs of life the past two weeks, leading Arizona State for a time costing Mike Stoops his job in their home upset of Arizona. Still, like the Michigan game, this line should probably be reversed.

Kansas State +3 Texas Tech
Is it time to start drinking the Bill Snyder Koolaid? The Wildcats have won 3 consecutive games in which they were betting underdogs and are a perfect 4-0 versus the spread this year. Kansas State is not an elite team, and they will likely have their dreams of perfection dashed in a big way by both of the two Oklahoma schools. However, perfection should continue against a Texas Tech program that has lost its mojo since firing Mike Leach.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall 15-15

South Carolina -2 Mississippi State
I figured this line would be about a touchdown or more after South Carolina destroyed perhaps the SEC's worst team, Kentucky, 54-3 last week. For some reason, the betting public remains high on Mississippi State. For the life of me, I can't imagine why. The Bulldogs are just 3-3 on the season, with their wins all coming at home against Memphis, Louisiana Tech, and UAB. Memphis and UAB have yet to win a game versus a IA opponent. Louisiana Tech won their first IA game last week. Mississippi State has been even worse Against the Spread (ATS), covering against the aforementioned dregs of Conference USA (Memphis and UAB). Newly anointed Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw may struggle in his first ever road start, but the Gamecocks are good enough to win this one by at least a touchdown.

Georgia Tech -7.5 Virginia
Georgia Tech was stymied for the first time all season last week against Maryland. Their vaunted triple-option failed to produce 400 yards of total offense and at least 30 points for the first time all season. However, the defense stepped up and held the Terps just 16 points, the fewest they have allowed all season. This game is on the road, but in their last two home games, Virginia has lost to Southern Mississippi and edged Idaho 21-20 in OT. Georgia Tech, questionable defense and all, should take this one by double-digits.

Georgia -11 Vanderbilt
Hey, look who's back in the SEC East race. Left for dead after their close home loss to South Carolina, the Bulldogs have won 3 straight in the SEC, including two on the road (though one was at Ole Miss) to cool down Mark Richt's seat. The Bulldogs have done it with defense, holding Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Tennessee to 35 combined points and just two offensive touchdowns. After scoring 3 touchdowns in their SEC opener against Ole Miss, the Commodores have not found the endzone in games against South Carolina and Alabama. The offense has put together just 267 yards combined in those games. Its hard to imagine Vanderbilt scoring more than 10 points here, so if Georgia can get to 24 they will cover this number.

Penn State -12 Purdue
After being ground to a fine paste by Alabama and nearly being upset at home by Temple, Penn State has quietly put together a solid run. They blasted Eastern Michigan, and then won a pair of old-school games 16-10 and 13-3 versus Indiana and Iowa. The defense has really gotten on track, holding Indiana and Iowa to 509 yards of total offense in those two games. While the offense has failed to put the ball in the endzone often, they did pile up 859 yards of total offense against the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes, indicating they are likely to break out and put 30 on the board against a suspect defense. In games not involving IAA schools or Minnesota, Purdue qualifies as a suspect defense. The Boilermakers allowed over 450 yards per game to their other 3 foes (Middle Tennessee, Rice, and Notre Dame). Penn State should cure some of their offensive woes in this game.

Utah State -3.5 Fresno State
Utah State, a team that has played in just two bowl games since 1961, could be headed for a WAC championship. While they have yet to play a league game, the Aggies were about as impressive as a team could be in the non-conference and still be 2-3. They lost heartbreakers to Auburn, Colorado State, and BYU. In their other games, they waylayed a IAA school and Wyoming by a combined margin of 81 points. Utah State has been road tested, playing well in road losses to Auburn and BYU. Fresno has already lost consecutive home games to Boise (understandable) and Ole Miss (not so much). Look for the Aggies to make it 3 in a row.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fab Five: Week VI

I finally broke through last week, posting my first winning week of the season. The 6-4 mark was bit of a letdown considering I was 5-1 at one point on Saturday. However, when your handicapping has been as poor as mine has, you take any victory you can. My yearly record is still an ugly 21-29. Hopefully I can stay on track this week. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 10-15

Cal +24 Oregon
Suddenly their 8-point loss at Washington doesn't look quite so bad. The Bears outgained the Huskies in their trip to Seattle, but fell 31-23. The Huskies proved they are a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 when they went on the road the following week and blasted Utah 31-14. This is a tough spot for Cal, and I doubt they have what it takes to win. However, they have scored at least 23 points in each of their games versus IA competition this season. Oregon is not known for their defense, having given up 40 and 31 points to the two BCS conference foes they have faced thus far. Even if Cal is never really in this game, the large number will leave Cal in position for a backdoor cover.

Texas +10 Vs Oklahoma
After a shaky start, Texas appears to be back. After a close call with BYU, the Longhorns did what Texas is supposed to do and dispensed UCLA and Iowa State in games that were never really competitive. Now they get to see how far they've come when they take on Big 12 favorite Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. Texas has fared well against the Sooners since 2004, winning four of six. In fact, Oklahoma has not won this game by double-digits since their 12-0 shutout in 2004. Look for this game to follow the script of the last few, with it not being decided until the 4th quarter.

Iowa +3.5 Penn State
The eternal optimist would look at Penn State's game last week against Indiana, a narrow 16-10 win, and see a team that gained 464 yards. However, a pessimist would see a team that completed just 16 of 36 passes against an Indiana defense that made North Texas and Ball State look like major conference teams. Iowa has beaten Penn State 3 straight and 8 of the last 9 times their paths have crosses. Iowa is not an elite team, but they are good enough to win in Happy Valley.

Southern Miss +3 Navy
Every week before the spreads come out, I look at a few games and try to guess the spread. This was one game I looked at this week. I guessed this spread correctly, I just had the wrong team favored. Based on early returns, Southern Miss seems to be the stronger team. Outside of their annual conference brainfart (this year it came against Marshall), the Eagles have played very well, including an upset two weeks ago at Virginia. Meanwhile, Navy has played South Carolina close (hey, who hasn't), but their wins over Western Kentucky and Delaware (IAA) are less than impressive. Jump on the Southern Miss bandwagon, as they are likely the best team in the eastern half of Conference USA.

Bowling Green +10 Western Michigan
I know they were drubbed 55-10 by West Virginia last week, but there is a lot to like about Bowling Green. The Falcons only other loss came by a single point to Wyoming. In addition to that, the Falcons have already won twice on the road (knocking off Idaho and Miami). The Falcons have already exceeded their win total from their woeful 2010 campaign (just two wins all year). Plus , Bowling Green has a solid recent history Against the Spread (ATS) as a double-digit underdog, going 10-6 against the number in such circumstances since 2006.

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

Arizona -2 Oregon State
Times are rough in Tucson and Corvallis. Arizona has not beaten a IA team since they knocked off UCLA 29-21 on the day before Halloween last season. They lost 5 straight to close 2010, and after opening the 2011 season with a shellacking of Northern Arizona, a IAA school, the Wildcats have dropped 4 straight. Amazingly, 8 of their 9 losses have come to the same four teams. They have lost twice each to Oklahoma State, Stanford, Southern Cal, and Oregon. Their other loss in that span came to arch-rival Arizona State. The Wildcats have not fared much better ATS in that span either, going just 1-7-1. However, they finally draw a game against a non-elite foe. Oregon State has lost 6 straight games dating back to last season, including a home loss at the hands of Sacramento State (IAA). The Beavers played better in their past two games (losses to UCLA and Arizona State), but are a far cry from the salty competitive teams usually fielded by Mike Riley.

Arkansas State -2 Louisiana-Monroe
Arkansas State has a chance to jump out to a 2-0 record in Sun Belt play when they visit the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe. The Red Wolves are no strangers to road trips, having played well in competitive losses to Illinois and Virginia Tech. The Red Wolves broke through and notched their first road win of the season last week at Western Kentucky. Louisiana-Monroe has also been a road warrior early on, having lost at Florida State, TCU, and Iowa. However, none of those games were particularly close. Arkansas State has proven to be the better team early on, and with a spread this small, they are one of the better values on the board this week.

Toledo -21 Eastern Michigan
Toledo is a little over-valued after upsetting Temple last week. However, Eastern Michigan is not a good football team. The Eagles barely survived perhaps the worst MAC team (and possibly worst IA team) Akron last week 31-23. Toledo has won 4 straight in this series, with each win coming by at least 24 points. Look for that trend to continue.

NC State -11 Central Michigan
As much as a MAC team can be, Central Michigan is a little overvalued now. Their upset over Northern Illinois last week has artificially deflated this line. The Chippewas are just 5-8 ATS on the road against teams from BCS conferences. This season they are 0-3 on the road, with their closest road loss coming by 14 points to a bad Kentucky team. They lost by a cumulative score of 89-21 when they traveled to face Western Michigan and Michigan State. After consecutive lopsided losses to Cincinnati and Georgia Tech, the Wolfpack will be able to lick their wounds against the Chippewas.

Michigan -7.5 Northwestern
I think it may be time for the general public to come around on Michigan. Obviously, they haven't yet with their spread versus Northwestern being just over a touchdown. Michigan has played fantastically on offense yet again, and their defense has improved to mediocre. That's a recipe for their first winning conference season since 2007. The only thing that should concern you here is the fact that this will be Michigan's first road game of the year. Otherwise, they look like they are about 3 touchdowns better than Northwestern.