Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Fab Five: Week II

Well, Week I went about as well as one could reasonably hope. I picked (guessed) the first six games correctly and managed a sterling 8-2 mark for the week. There are still 13 more weeks for it to go horribly, horribly awry, but let's celebrate a rock solid start to the prognosticating season. Be advised though, if you are into that sort of thing, you should probably do the opposite of what I suggest in the following paragraphs. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 4-1

Maryland +10 Temple
To say the Randy Edsall era has gotten off to an inauspicious start would be a drastic understatement. The Terps won just two games in Edsall's inaugural season and christened his second season with a one-point win over William & Mary. The next game Maryland wins against a IA opponent (assuming they do win one sometime) will be their first in over a year. Still, this spread just feels a little too high. Temple is less than a year removed from being a member of the Mid-American Conference and were actually outgained in their first game against Villanova despite the 41-10 final score. Last season, four teams struggled against IAA opponents in their first game: Iowa State beat Northern Iowa by one, Washington beat Eastern Washington by three, Kansas State beat Eastern Kentucky by three, and UTEP beat Stony Brook by seven in overtime. All four of those schools covered the next week. Look for Maryland to come out of their shell and challenge Temple.

Auburn +3 Mississippi State
For all the good Dan Mullen has done in his three plus seasons at Mississippi State, and he has done some good, he has yet to beat a team from the SEC West not named Ole Miss. Against Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, and LSU, his Bulldogs are 0-12. Against the Spread (ATS) in those games, his teams are just 2-10. His teams covered in 2009, losing by six as a twelve-point underdog to LSU and last season losing by 17 as a 17 and a half point underdog to Alabama. If Mississippi State wants to take the next step and move up in the Champions League that is the SEC West, they must start winning these games, especially at home. I'll believe the breakthrough when I see it. Take Auburn to pull off the outright upset here.

Miami +7 Kansas State
The baby 'Canes proved maybe Vegas doesn't always have something up their sleeve when they climbed out of a 14-0 hole to win as a small favorite last week at Boston College. Highly touted running back Duke Johnson (who sounds like he should be driving for Hendrick Motorsports) dazzled with 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just seven carries. Now Miami has another road trip to look forward to, this time to the Little Apple in Manhattan, Kansas. I have made no secret of my love affair with Bill Snyder on this blog. Kansas State, as long as they are coached by Snyder, is my second favorite college football team after my beloved Demon Deacons. However, to say Kansas State used smoke and mirrors to win last season would be a massive understatement. Despite not being particularly adept at any one facet of football, the Wildcats played to their strengths (good special teams, a solid running quarterback, and some Bill Snyder magic) and won 10 games last season. Kansas State may well win this game, but the line should be closer to a field goal rather than a touchdown.

Penn State +10 Virginia
The first game of the Bill O'Brien era did not go as planned. The Nittany Lions went scoreless in the second-half en route to blowing a double-digit lead against Ohio. Losing by ten at home to a MAC school should mean the Lions will serve as cannon fodder to a team from a BCS conference right? Not so fast. Virginia, while they won against Richmond without much trouble, was one of the weakest bowl teams from 2011. Despite their 8-5 record, the Cavaliers were actually outscored on the season. Their 5-1 record in one-score games hid the fact that this team was severely flawed. Of course, Penn State has their own share of flaws, but getting ten points against a team of Virginia's caliber make the Lions the pick here.

New Mexico State +21 Ohio
Teams that win outright as small underdogs do not have a great track record of covering as favorites the next week. Part of it is regression to the mean as teams that win outright as underdogs often played over their collective heads in the win. Part of it is likely complacency as the players adjust in going from hunted to hunter. Part of it is the general betting public. Casual fans are often taken by the latest 'flavor of the week' and can artificially drive up the spread. Ohio certainly fits that bill, having notched perhaps the biggest win in program history in upsetting Penn State last week. The Bobcats should win here, but the Aggies should stay within three touchdowns.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 4-1
Iowa -4.5 Iowa State
Last week Iowa State did what they always seem to do under Paul Rhoads: win a game outright as an underdog. While the Cyclones have been on the wrong end of several beatdowns in his three plus seasons at the helm, his teams have won eight regular season games where they have been the betting underdog. In the previous seven follow-up games, the Cyclones have gone just 2-5 ATS. Look for that trend to continue here. Iowa looked less than impressive in their win against Northern Illinois, but the Hawkeyes have won three of the last four in this rivalry, with each win coming by at least 12 points.

Nebraska -5.5 UCLA
Both these teams looked impressive last week against undermanned Conference USA schools. UCLA started fast out of the gate against Rice, opening up a 19-0 lead before the first quarter was half over. The Owls surged back in the second quarter, eventually cutting the lead to five, but UCLA scored the final 20 points of the game and won 49-24. Unfortunately, their kicker Kaimi Fairbairn missed more extra points (three) than he made (two). Meanwhile, Nebraska shook off some early rust and blitzed Southern Miss 35-6 after the game was tied at 14 early in the second quarter. Nebraska is a rock-solid 9-4-1 as a road favorite under Bo Pelini. The 'Huskers should be able to do enough here to win this game by at least a touchdown.

Indiana -14 Massachusetts
Massachusetts initiation into the ranks of IA football did not go well. The Minutemen gained 59 yards on 47 plays against the Connecticut Huskies. Perhaps not surprisingly, they failed to find the end zone as well. While they seek to score their first points as a IA program, the Indiana Hoosiers will seek to win their first game against a IA program under head coach Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers struggled with IAA Indiana State last week, winning 24-17, and marking just the second win of Wilson's head coaching career (the first came last season against IAA South Carolina State). Two touchdowns may seem like a large number, but Massachusetts is likely the worst IA program in the country. Indiana should have a relatively easy time here.

Notre Dame -14 Purdue
The Irish opened up what could be the nation's most difficult schedule with an easy win over Navy in Dublin, Ireland. They now return home to face another relative lightweight before the schedule stiffens. Purdue rolled Eastern Kentucky last week, but the Boilermakers have lost four straight to the Irish, with just one cover in that quartet of games. Playing at home, the Irish should have an easy time of disposing of Purdue before prepping for facing back to back games against Michigan State and Michigan.

Ole Miss -7.5 UTEP
UTEP hung tough at home against Oklahoma last week, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to a blocked punt and stayed in the game until the fourth quarter, losing by the final score of 24-7. While the performance against Oklahoma was admirable, it was likely an aberration. The Miners had the entire offseason to prepare for the biggest game of the year. The game came at home so emotions were high. Now, with just a week to prepare, the Miners journey to hostile territory to take on an Ole Miss team looking to rebound from a pair of disappointing seasons under new head coach Hugh Freeze. Sure it came against Central Arkansas, but in the first game of the Freeze era, the Rebels tallied 500 yards of total offense for the first time since October of 2010, a span of 17 games. Ole Miss will not be favored in many games from here on out, but they should capitalize with a relatively easy win here.

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