Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fab Five: Week XIII

Just when I go and write myself off, I have my best week to date. In reality though, the 8-2 week was like Clemson's late score against NC State. Merely window dressing on an otherwise horrible performance. My overall record is still a poor to 52-67-1. We'll go for two straight weeks in the black. Happy Thanksgiving loyal readers. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 5-0
Overall: 28-32

Tulsa +3 Houston
Houston is just two wins away from earning their first ever BCS bowl bid. Unfortunately, their opponent on Friday may be the best team in Conference USA. The Golden Hurricane were an afterthought on the national stage after losing early non-conference games to Boise State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. However, Tulsa has rebounded to win seven straight after their 1-3 start. Only one of Tulsa's eight wins has come by a touchdown or less (won by seven at Central Florida). The Golden Hurricane are a decent bet to win this game outright and represent the West division in the championship game.

Maryland +12.5 NC State
NC State still needs one more win to attain bowl eligibility (beat two IAA schools) and they may yet get it, but it won't be easy. NC State is just 3-8 in their last 11 games against the Terps and have not beaten Maryland by more than double digits since 1999. Remember the last time NC State pulled off a shocking home upset? It was just three weeks ago when they shutout North Carolina. They followed that up with a flop at Boston College. This one is at home and for a bowl bid, but it should be just as close.

Wake Forest +1.5 Vanderbilt
I'd like to coin this game as 'The South's Newest and Most Irrelevant Rivalry'. This game will mark the 5th meeting between the Commodores and Deacons in the last seven season. Wake has won three of four, and covered the spread in each win. Both teams appear to have shed their proverbial punching bag label, with Wake qualifying for its fourth bowl game in six years and Vandy attempting to qualify for its second in four years. This one should be very close, but the Deacons should be favored.

New Mexico State +19.5 Louisiana Tech
With their upset of Nevada last week, Louisiana Tech can assure themselves of at least a share of the WAC title here. That feat hardly seemed possible in early October when the Bulldogs were 1-4. Six straight wins later, and the folks from Ruston are making postseason plans. Elsewhere, in Las Cruces, the Aggies won't be bowling, but they have improved significantly in DeWayne Walker's third season as coach. After winning just five games in his first two seasons (only four against IA foes), the Aggies have notched four this year, and have been much more competitive. They should remain competitive against a Louisiana Tech team that is a little overvalued after their upset of Nevada last week.

San Jose State +6.5 Fresno State
Both of these teams pulled off upsets last week and may have kept their opponents home for the holidays in the process. San Jose State beat Navy to ensure the Midshipmen would not go bowling, while Fresno won in Hawaii, forcing the Warriors to beat both Tulane and BYU to get to a bowl game. Outside of their opener against Stanford, San Jose State has been very competitive, losing three games by a combined seven points. Their only other double-digit defeats came to UCLA (10 points), BYU (13 points), and Louisiana Tech (10 points). Those teams are out of Fresno's class this season.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall 24-35-1

Buffalo -2.5 Bowling Green
The Buffalo Bulls have exhibited one of the more extreme home/road splits this season. In their three league home games, they have upset MAC East champ Ohio, lost to MAC West leader Northern Illinois by a point, and crushed Akron by 41. In their four league road games, they have lost a close decision to Ball State, been shut out 34-0 by Temple, lost by 28 to Miami, and 13 to Eastern Michigan. Good thing for the Bulls this one is in the friendly confines of upstate New York.

Florida State -2 Florida
What exactly have the Florida Gators done in the past six or seven weeks to make an oddsmaker think they will keep this game close? Since opening 4-0, with their most impressive win being over Tennessee, the Gators have won just two of seven games. Their wins? Vanderbilt (by 5) and Furman (by 22), with both coming at home. Florida State lost a close game to Virginia last week (three of their four losses have come by a combined 11 points), but remains one of the strongest four-loss teams in the nation. Look for them to roll to a second consecutive easy win over their arch-rival.

Oklahoma -28 Iowa State
Paul Rhoads has developed a (deserved) reputation for pulling off at least one big stunner per season. In 2009, his Cyclones knocked off Nebraska in Lincoln as 20-point underdogs. Last season, they beat Texas in Austin, again as 20-point underdogs. Earlier this season, Iowa State stunned Texas tech in Lubbock as 17-point underdogs. Then last week, his Cyclones shocked the unbeaten and second-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys as two-touchdown underdogs. However, it should be noted in games following those upsets his teams have failed to cover the spread each time. Look for more of the same here. The Cyclones blew their load against the Cowboys and on the road against a pissed off Sooner team, they will take a whipping.

Michigan -7 Ohio State
This is the game Michigan fans have been waiting for since 2003 (the last time they defeated the Buckeyes). The Wolverines come in with a dynamic offense, an improved defense, and a shot at an at-large BCS bid with a win. Meanwhile, Ohio State limps in having lost two in a row after a midseason three-game winning streak got them back to bowl eligibility. Ohio State has a solid defense, but is severely limited on offense. This game may be close for a while, but Michigan should pull away in the second half.

Tennessee -7.5 Kentucky
After failing to show up in any SEC game when they were not facing Ole Miss, the Wildcats suddenly flashed some defensive chips in holding Georgia to just 317 yards and 19 points last week. That was by far their best defensive showing against any team from a BCS conference. Still, I'd chalk that up to a flash in the pan. Kentucky is bad, and has nothing to play for but pride. Meanwhile, Tennessee is only half-bad, and has a bowl game to play for.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fab Five: Week XII

And last week was back to reality. If you are doing anything with my picks other than betting against them, I pity you. Last week's 2-8 mark brings me to 44-65-1 on the year. Ouch. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 23-32

Texas Tech +18 Missouri
Since upsetting Oklahoma a month ago, Texas Tech has lost three straight games by a combined score of 159-33. And two of those games came at home. Unless the Red Raiders can notch a win in Columbia or against Baylor next weekend, they will be home for the holidays for the first time since 1999. Meanwhile, Missouri is 5-5, but seeking their first winning streak of the season. This is the second to last Big 12 game the Tigers will ever play. They have won exactly one game against a IA foe by at least 18 points (beat Iowa State by 35). Take the Red Raiders to keep this margin respectable.

San Jose State +5 Navy
After winning just three games in 2009 and 2010 combined, the Spartans from San Jose State already have three wins in hand this season and have been close in several others (three losses by a combined seven points). The Spartans host a desperate Navy team needing to win out to attain bowl eligibility. San Jose is a long way from Annapolis. Look for the Spartans to hang around and perhaps win the game outright.

Tennessee +1.5 Vanderbilt
Things have not gone as planned for the Vols this season, as they are currently winless in the SEC. Meanwhile, their in-state conference brethren have already won twice in the league, pounding punchless Ole Miss and Kentucky. Believe it or not, Vandy has actually been favored over Tennessee recently (were three point favorites in 2008). Tennessee won that game in Nashville by 10 if you were curious.

Illinois +15 Wisconsin
I know, laugh away. The Illini are in free-fall after their 6-0 start, but consider this. Since 2006, the Illini are actually 11-3 Against the Spread (ATS) as a double-digit underdog. And Wisconsin has not exactly dominated quality opponents on the road, losing to both Michigan State and Ohio State as substantial favorites.

Kansas State +9 Texas
The Wildcats have exceeded any rational fan's preseason expectations by winning eight regular season games for the first time since 2003. The Wildcats have been opportunistic (+9 turnover margin), excelled at special teams (two kickoff return touchdowns), and been a little lucky (6-1 in one-score games). The Wildcats are extremely solid and shouldn't beat themselves against a Texas team that has just a single win versus a team that currently has a winning record (BYU).

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 0-5
Overall 21-33-1

Louisville -1 Connecticut
After some early season struggles (losses to FIU and Marshall), Louisville has quietly turned into a solid team under Charlie Strong and still have an outside shot at the Big East title. They should handle a Connecticut team that is pretty bad on both sides of the ball.

Miami -1 South Florida
Miami has struggled to a 5-5 mark in Al Golden's first year at the helm. However, each of Miami's losses has come by eight points or fewer. A little luck here or there, and the Hurricanes could be challenging for the ACC Championship Game. As it is, they will have to settle for another nondescript bowl. South Florida ended their four-game losing skid last week against Syracuse, and like Miami, are out of the running for their conference title. Miami has better players and barring a turnover disaster, should win here.

Utah State -10 Idaho
Utah State continued their late charge to bowl eligibility last week by holding off San Jose State 34-33. Now they head to Moscow, Idaho to face the WAC's worst team. Idaho has already lost five games by double digits this season and that number should be six after Saturday.

Michigan -3.5 Nebraska
I'll say this for Michigan, they know how to win at home. The Wolverines are unbeaten at the Big House this season, and are a pretty solid play to cover the number there as well (5-1 ATS). Meanwhile, Nebraska is just 4-4-1 ATS on the season and should not be trusted on the road against a very good team.

Utah -3.5 Washington State
Washington State upset Arizona State at home last week to give them more than one Pac-12 (formerly 10) win for the first time since 2007. So much for the afterglow. Utah has been much improved in recent weeks, winning three league games in a row since a lopsided loss to Cal. The Utes still have an outside shot at the division title (Pac-12 South if you were curious), so their should be no motivation issue here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Re-Thinking the AP Top 25

Ever find yourself perplexed by the national polls that come out each Sunday afternoon? Ever gaze in wonder as Team A is ranked above Team B thanks almost solely to the fact that they have fewer losses regardless of the quality of their opponents? Have you ever questioned why a team must drop in the polls just because they lost (or rise just because those above them lost)? I certainly have. I think a better way to rank teams would be to borrow a method the NCAA selection committee uses to pick teams for its postseason basketball tournament. Take a look at a team's resume. Who did you beat, where did you beat them, and to a certain extent, how bad did you beat them? Below I have listed the resumes for each team that I believe has at least a quasi-legitimate argument to be ranked in the most recent Associated Press Poll. I have grouped their wins and losses as either being 'Good', 'Decent', 'Bad', or coming against a IAA school. Some wins or losses I see as good, you may see as only decent and vice-versa and ditto with decent and bad, but I think this is a much more pragmatic and logical way to rank teams. Enjoy,

Clemson AP#7
Hate on the ACC all you want, but the Tigers have a pair of wins almost as good as anyone in the country, at home versus Florida State and on the road against Virginia Tech. Their number 7 ranking seems about right.

Florida State AP#23
The Seminoles won't live up to their preseason hype, but look at the losses. Two have come to top-10 teams and the other came on the road to a solid Wake Forest team. They don't have any great wins, but they dominated their opponents since losing to Wake. This is a top-20 team, and potentially top-10 depending on how they finish the regular season.

Georgia Tech AP NR
Outside of the Clemson upset, their other wins are only decent. No bad losses, but all three have come in their last four games. This is a fringe top-25 team.

Virginia AP NR
The Cavaliers don't have the scalps to be in the top-25 with three losses, but they have certainly exceeded preseason expectations.

Virginia Tech AP#9
No great wins, but a host of solid ones and their only loss came to a team in the top-10. Deserving of their spot in the top-10.

Big East
None. Outside of South Florida (a team that is currently 1-4 in the conference), no team accomplished anything of note outside the league.

Big 10
Michigan AP#20
Outside of Notre Dame, their best win is probably at Northwestern. No bad losses, but just 2-2 on the road. A little underrated at 20.

Michigan State AP#12
No bad losses, and a pair of great scalps (Michigan and Wisconsin). The Spartans should probably be in the top-10.

Nebraska AP#17
The Northwestern loss at home, and the margin of the Wisconsin loss should probably keep them out of the top-15 despite their wins over Michigan State and Penn State.

Penn State AP#21
No marquee wins, but their two losses have come to very good teams. Should probably still be in the top-20 based on resume alone. The AP Poll should not be a ranking system that also attempts to examine a team's psyche.

Wisconsin AP#15
They have dominated the schedule, but six of their eight wins have come against bad or IAA teams. If not for the Ohio State loss, I'd have them in the top-10.

Big 12
Baylor AP#25
The TCU win is looking better and better, but I think their weekend escape against Kansas is more indicative of how good they actually are. Should be receiving votes, but not top-25 worthy.

Kansas State AP#16
Five of their eight wins have come against solid teams. Both their losses came to top-10 teams. A top-15 team, statistics be damned.

Oklahoma AP#5
That Texas Tech loss is looking worse and worse everyday. A lot of decent wins and a major scalp on the road at Florida State. Definitely top-10, but behind Oregon and Alabama in the one-loss pecking order. If they win at Oklahoma State, that could change.

Oklahoma State AP#2
No marquee wins, but eight, count 'em, eight solid wins. If they beat Oklahoma in Bedlam, there should be no argument for an Alabama/LSU rematch.

Texas AP#NR
That Missouri loss has rightfully exiled them from the top-25.

Oregon AP#4
They do have a lot of 'bad' wins, but that loss on a neutral site to LSU is as forgivable as they come.

Southern Cal AP#18
No horrible losses, and plenty of solid to above-average wins. Top-20 material.

Stanford AP#8
Look at that 'bad' column. Perhaps the Cardinal were overrated heading into the Oregon game.

Alabama AP#3
Probably a little overrated thanks to the relative weakness of the middle of the SEC. Only loss was by three points in OT to one of two remaining undefeated teams. Top-5 for sure.

Arkansas AP#6
Before they beat South Carolina, the Hogs had no business being in the top-10. I'm still not sure they should be as high as they are.

Georgia AP#13
The 'Dawgs have ridden a soft (by SEC standards) schedule to a near certain SEC East title. No bad losses, but no great wins either. Probably top-15, but I would be hesitant to rank them higher.

Easily the best resume of any team in the country.

South Carolina AP#14
A plethora of solid wins, but outside of Georgia, no wins to turn your head. Probably ranked about right.

Notre Dame AP#24
Their losses are all excusable, and their schedule has been harder than most casual observers would have thought. Its about time they returned to the top-25. For once, the Irish are underrated by the national media.

A wise man once said: "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." He was speaking of a different kind of talent, but you get the idea. With Boise's loss, this is probably true for the mid-majors this season. There is still a shot one can make a BCS game, but it has become much less likely.

Conference USA
Houston AP#11
There is not a lot of beef in that schedule. Outside of the 'hey they're undefeated' argument, no reason this team should be in the top-10. Their undefeated season may come to an end at the hands of one of the other CUSA teams on this list.

Southern Miss AP#22
Even with the loss to Marshall, the Golden Eagles could conceivably grab a BCS bid. If they win the Conference USA Championship Game and stand 12-1, as long as they are ranked above the Big East champion, Conference USA could have their first BCS buster.

Tulsa AP NR
Here's an outside the box top-25 team for you. Tulsa has lost three games, but each came to a team currently ranked in the top-10. Believe it or not, the Golden Hurricane control their own destiny in the Conference USA race. If they win their last two, at UTEP, and then home versus Houston, they would play in the Conference USA Championship Game. Think about this, if Houston had played this schedule, is there any way they wouldn't have three losses? This team is criminally underrated.

None. Temple and Toledo did some good work, and had some near misses in the non-conference, but every MAC team has at least three losses.

Mountain West
Boise State AP#10
The loss to TCU nixed any dreams of a BCS bid, but these Broncos are still a top-10 team. The wins at Toledo (ask Ohio State) and versus Tulsa are better than the general public knows.

The Horned Frogs have won five in a row and their win at Boise is the Broncos first regular season home loss since 2001. Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore has now lost three games in his illustrious career. Two of them have come against TCU.

Sun Belt
Arkansas State AP NR
Sure this is a reach, but this team should probably at least be receiving votes. They were somewhat competitive in non-conference games against Virginia Tech and Illinois and are two wins away from the first ever 10-win regular season for a Sun Belt school. If they take them both and win their bowl and have a few breaks come their way in the form of other schools losing, they could become the first ever Sun Belt team to enter the AP Poll.

None. Nevada has had a decent season, but they have almost no wins of note. Louisiana Tech missed great opportunities against Southern Miss (two-point loss), Houston (one-point loss) and Mississippi State (OT loss) to nab a quality win. If Utah State could hold a lead (led in the 4th quarter against quality foes Auburn and BYU), they would have a top-25 argument.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fab Five: Week XI

By the slimmest of margins (half a point in the Pitt/Cincinnati game) I had my second winning week of 2011. Cue the parade. The 6-4 week brings my overall record to 42-57-1. Still not a record to be any kind of proud of. Can we go back to back with winning weeks? Doubtful, but I'll give it a shot. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 21-29

East Carolina +4 UTEP
I don't like to make guarantees, but this if I were to be on just one game all season, this would be it. East Carolina has navigated a horrendous schedule (both Carolinas and Virginia Tech were on the non-conference slate) and has positioned themselves for a 6th straight bowl game. Meanwhile, UTEP has wins over exactly no one of note, and boasts the worst defense in Conference USA. Look for the Pirates to win this one outright.

Pitt +3 Louisville
Despite boasting one of the best down-to-down statistical profiles in the Big East, the Pitt Panthers are in jeopardy of missing out on a bowl game. At 4-5, they must win two of their final three (@Louisville, @West Virginia, and versus Syracuse) to get to bowl eligibility. The Panthers will face a Louisville team boasting a stout defense and riding high off an upset of league favorite West Virginia. However, while the Cardinals won on the scoreboard, they were actually outgained by nearly 200 yards and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown provided the winning margin. If Pitt can avoid any killer mistakes, they should be in position to further muddy the Big East race by winning here.

West Virginia +3.5 Cincinnati
The Bearcats are the only remaining undefeated Big East team (in league play that is), and if Tennessee's star quarterback and receiver could have been injured a few weeks earlier, the Bearcats could be milling around the top-10. They aren't quite that good, but the league race is theirs to lose. The Mountaineers come in having lost two of three, but still boast the league's best offense. In fact, they rank higher than Cincinnati on both sides of the ball. Don't be surprised if the Mountaineers tighten up the Big East race on Saturday.

Texas Tech +17 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has been relatively mortal on the road, edging Texas A&M by a single point and beating Texas by just 12. Of course, they also beat a solid Missouri team by 21. Oklahoma State does have a putrid defense, ranking 110th nationally in yards allowed. If Texas Tech can avoid turnovers (Oklahoma State has forced a national best 31 and Texas Tech is tied for 7th nationally with just 10 turnovers) they have a chance to keep this one close.

Washington +12 Southern Cal
Washington has quietly turned a corner in Year 3 under Steve Sarkisian, becoming bowl-eligible for the second straight year, and actually playing like a bowl caliber team. The Huskies seek an incredible third straight win over Southern Cal (and second in a row in the Coliseum). These teams are very evenly matched and the spread should probably be closer to a touchdown.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall 21-28-1

Texas -1.5 Missouri
The Longhorns have certainly looked like vintage Texas the past two games, in dispatching Kansas and Texas Tech by a combined score of 95-20. The Horns have found an offense, posting nearly 1200 yards in the two games, by far their best two-game stretch since the end of the 2009 regular season. Missouri has been up and down and must win two of their final three games to get a bowl. The Tigers don't even pretend to play defense against competent teams, so Texas is the pick here.

Florida State -9 Miami
Sleep on the Seminoles all you want. Since their three-game losing streak early in the season (two of which came to top-10 outfits I might add), the 'Noles have won four in a row over their ACC brethren by an average of nearly 29 points. Its looking a lot like 1996 in Tallahassee. Florida State will have to wait until next year to fulfill their promise, but this team is scary good, and they should have no trouble with a porous Hurrican defense.

Ohio State -7.5 Purdue
Since setting offensive football back a few decades in their 10-7 loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes have showed signs of life on offense. Behind quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes have averaged nearly 335 yards per game. It ain't great, but considering they average just 256 yards per game against Toledo, Miami, Colorado, and Michigan State, it does represent solid improvement. The defense has remained sturdy, if not quite as dominant as usual. They should do enough to take care of a Purdue squad that has only a win over Illinois to hang its hat on.

Stanford -3.5 Oregon
The Cardinal of Stanford have not lost since falling to the Ducks in Eugene in the 5th game of 2010 season. Stanford has won 17 straight games, with only three of those wins coming by fewer than 10 points. They have been exceptionally tough at home, winning their eight home games in that span by an average of 30 points. Oregon is no slouch, and is the second best team in the Pac-12. However, Stanford is statistically the best, and has the homefield advantage. They should win by at least a touchdown.

Arizona State -13 Washington State
The Sun Devils missed their chance at clinching the Pac-12 South when they fell at UCLA last weekend. Still, they have a great shot at winning the South, and outside of Southern Cal are the only above-average South division team. Their opponent, Washington State, has improved from their putrid run from 2008-2009, but outside of Colorado, remain one of the dregs of the Pac-12. After showing promise with a 3-1 start, the Cougars have lost their last two home games by 30 and 23 points respectively. The Sun Devils should take this one by at least a pair of touchdowns.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fab Five: Week X

Surprise, surprise. My unique inability to predict the results of college football contests continued with another 3-7 mark. Overall, I am now 26-43-1. Maybe I can get one more winning week in before the season is over. As always, home teams are in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 18-27

Louisville +13 West Virginia
Louisville has the best defense no one knows about. West Virginia may be the best team in the Big East, but they will struggle to put the pesky Cardinals away.

Syracuse +2 Connecticut
Syracuse has had a very up-and-down season. In no particular order, the Orange have walloped West Virginia, barely escaped Tulane and Rhode Island, and gotten blown out by Louisville. Still, their opponent on Saturday, is the worst team in the Big East by a wide margin and should not be favored over anyone.

Pitt +3.5 Cincinnati
While they have performed rather poorly outside the conference, against Big East foes, Pitt has been dominant. Cincinnati is the lone remaining unbeaten Big East team, but has real issues on defense that Piit should be able to take advantage of.

Utah State +3.5 Hawaii
The Aggies are the best two-win team in college football. They have consistently outplayed their opponents only to be done in by mistakes at inopportune times. The road trip to the islands will be tough, but Utah State is a very good team despite their record.

South Carolina +5 Arkansas
The Gamecocks enter this game likely needing to win out to ensure a second straight SEC East title. Meanwhile, Arkansas has quietly slipped back into the top-10. However, the Razorbacks have not been particularly impressive in any game since rallying to knock off Texas A&M a month ago. Arkansas has been ouplayed in consecutive weeks by Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, not usually a characteristic of a top-10 outfit. Look for Carolina to keep this one close and potentially pull the outright upset.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall 18-26-1

Florida State -14.5 Boston College
Very quietly, Florida State has surged since their three-game losing streak. Keep in mind, the Seminoles losses in that span came to a pair of top-10 teams, and in a game where they turned the ball over 5 times. The Seminoles may be the best team in the ACC at this moment, and the Eagles may be the worst.

Alabama -4.5 LSU
The Game of the Century, at least of this season, takes place on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. The SDPI mid-season numbers say Alabama is one of the best teams of all time. LSU is good, but against what may be one of the best teams ever, on the road, I'll take my chances.

Michigan -4 Iowa
Michigan was shut down when they faced an elite defense in Michigan State. Against other defenses, the Wolverine have moved the ball very well. And don't look now, but the defense is playing above-average football. With an offense like this, that is all you need.

Virginia -1.5 Maryland
Don't sleep on the Cavaliers. SDPI loved them as a team to watch in the second-half and they can get to bowl eligibility here with a win against a stumbling Maryland team.

Oklahoma -13.5 Texas A&M
The Sooners recovered from their massive bed-wetting against Texas Tech by decimating previously unbeaten Kansas State in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Texas A&M limps into this game off a home defeat to Missouri. The Sooners will also want revenge for last year's upset loss in College Station. Look for Oklahoma to lay the wood in this game.