Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fab Five: Week III

After a stellar Week I, Week II brought some humility to your erstwhile handicapper. I went a rather pedestrian 4-6, whiffing on three dogs and three favorites alike. We will shoot for improvement this week.  Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 6-4

Rutgers +8 South Florida
Over the past five seasons, the Scarlet Knights from New Jersey have been underdogs to the Bulls from Tampa each time they have played. Despite the oddsmakers seeming infatuation with the greater Tampa/St Pete area, the Scarlet Knights have emerged victorious in four of those contests and have been a perfect 5-0 Against the Spread (ATS). Rutgers has looked less than impressive in early season wins over Tulane and Howard, scoring just 50 combined points. However, the strength of the Scarlet Knights during their recent ascendance has been the defense. While the competition has been less than stellar, Rutgers has allowed just one touchdown during their first two games. South Florida upset Nevada in a thrilling shootout last week, and now must face an opponent that has had their number on a short week. Take Rutgers here, and dont be surprised if they manage an outright upset.

Marshall +6 Ohio
For the Ohio Bobcats, this game is likely the only thing standing between them and their first visit to the AP Poll since 1968. After this game, the Bobcats host a IAA school (Norfolk State), travel to Amherst to take on the worst team in IA (Massachusetts), then host MAC also-rans Buffalo and Akron. Realistically, a win here should have them standing at 7-0 in mid-October. Despite a dearth of quality wins, that would get them noticed and likely earn them a spot in the nether regions of the poll. But first things, first. They must beat a Marshall team they have faced the previous three seasons. The Bobcats lost an entertaining Little Caesars Pizza Bowl following the 2009 season 21-17, followed that up with a close loss in Huntington in 2010 (24-23), then crushed the Thundering Herd 44-7 in Athens last season. Ohio is a tad overrated, having beaten a depleted Penn State squad in Bill O'Brien's coaching debut, and handily beating New Mexico State last week. Meanwhile, Marshall may be one of the more entertaining teams of the 2012 season. They gave up 69 points to West Virginia in their opener, but have gained 1160 yards through two games themselves. This one should be close, and I'd like to see Ohio climb into polls, but giving nearly a touchdown on the road against a team with the offensive firepower of Marshall is too much.

North Carolina +3 Louisville
After lambasting Elon, the Tar Heels rolled into Winston-Salem as double-digit favorites and left an outright loser to my Demon Deacons in a very entertaining game. The Heels hit the road once again to take on a ranked Louisville squad. While the Cardinals were a chic pick to win the Big East and have opened up 2-0, their competition has been pedestrian. The Cardinals kept in-state rival Kentucky at bay and had no trouble with Southwest Missouri State (IAA). The Tar Heels represent their toughest challenge to this point and while they are under new management, they have been a solid play as a road underdog, going 9-6 ATS over the past five seasons. 

Florida +3 Tennessee
Last week, the Gators surprised pundits and oddsmakers alike, winning as a small underdog in College Station. Now they will attempt to turn the trick in consecutive weeks. And if they do, well they may very well win the SEC East. Care to guess how many conference road games Florida has after this week? One. Versus Vanderbilt. That is definitely something for fans of the Bulldogs and Gamecocks to keep in mind. While the Gators have yet to reach the offensive heights they enjoyed under Tim Tebow, the defense has returned to its elitist ways. The Gators bottled up what is likely a powerful Aggie offense on the road, holding them to 17 points and 334 yards. Tennessee will provide a stiff test for the Gators, having rolled up over 500 yards in each of their first two games. However, NC State and Georgia State do not have quite the defensive pedigree of Florida. Remember after their first game, a closer than expected win against Bowling Green, when everyone was calling for Will Muschamp's head? His seat will be a lot cooler come Saturday night.

Houston +17 UCLA
Congrats to UCLA. The Bruins upset Nebraska last weekend and climbed into the polls for the first time since 2008. Freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has revived a moribund offense. The Bruins have gained over 600 yards apiece in their first two games versus Rice (not very impressive) and Nebraska (pretty impressive). The Bruins had not gained over 600 yards in any game since the first game of the 2007 season against Stanford. The Bruins appear to be a much better team than Houston (which currently sits at 0-2), but this has all the makings of a game the Bruins sleepwalk through. Houston rediscovered their offensive mojo last week, gaining nearly 700 yards in a loss to Louisiana Tech. As you can likely tell from the fact that they lost that game, the defense is still searching for its mojo. UCLA will probably put up a lot of points, but I expect Houston to do the same and perhaps get a backdoor cover here.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 6-4

Northern Illinois -3 Army
After a near-miss against Iowa, the Huskies from Dekalb, Illinois rolled over Tennessee-Martin (IAA) 35-7 as they prepare to defend their MAC title. Huskie (not husky) quarterback Jordan Lynch, taking over for the departed Chandler Harnish, has been the focal point of the offense, leading the team in passing (duh) and rushing. Lynch gained over 100 yards on the ground against Iowa and scored three touchdowns against Tennessee-Martin. Lynch and the Huskies will face an Army defense that struggled mightily last week against San Diego State. The Aztecs rolled up 443 yards and averaged an impressive 7.03 yards per play in an easy 42-7 win. Army is sure to improve on that abysmal performance, but probably not enough to keep this game within a touchdown.

Ohio State -17 California
Since 2007, the Cal Golden Bears have been anything but golden away from Berkeley. The Bears are a horrendous 9-19 ATS away from home. In their first two home games, Cal has done nothing to dispel the notion that this season could be different. They dropped their home opener against Nevada and then beat IAA Southern Utah by the unimpressive final score of 50-31. Traveling across the country to play an Ohio State team that is substantially improved under Urban Meyer at Noon Eastern Time is not the recipe for negating their road ills.

Minnesota -2.5 Western Michigan
Minnesota will seek to match last year's win total in just their third game when they host the Western Michigan Broncos Saturday. Believe it or not, Minnesota is one of just four postseason-eligible undefeated Big 10 teams. The others are Michigan State and traditional powers Indiana and Northwestern. Yes, it has been a rough start for the conference. Western Michigan has their second chance to obtain a Big 10 scalp after falling to Illinois in the season opener. The Broncos rebounded from that disappointing effort by trouncing IAA Eastern Illinois. The Broncos should be able to move the ball against a Minnesota defense that is likely sub-par, but has been solid against the two light weights they have opened with. Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray should also be able to put some drives together of his own. This one may be close, but playing at home, Minnesota should win this one by at least a field goal.

TCU -21 Kansas
The Charlie Weis era has begun rather inauspiciously. The Jayhawks opened the season narrowly outgaining IAA South Dakota State and followed that up with a home loss to Rice. The Jayhawks have lost 12 consecutive Big 12 games and seem destined to make it 13 on Saturday against TCU. The Horned Frogs had Labor Day off, but pounded Grambling State (IAA) in their first game last week. TCU quarterbacks did not throw a single incompletion against the Tigers. They will probably throw one or two against Kansas, but its hard to envision Kansas doing anything on offense to keep this game close. 

Texas A&M -13.5 SMU
Texas A&M began their SEC sojourn last week with a close loss (what else is new?) at home to Florida. The Aggies will look to regroup against a former conference rival that played one of the more interesting games in college football's second weekend. SMU crushed IAA Stephen F. Austin 52-0, and without looking at the box score, one would think they dominated the game. However, the Mustangs were actually outgained by over 100 yards. Instead, they were the beneficiaries of ten Lumberjack turnovers. The resulting +7 margin allowed SMU to roll despite their pedestrian offensive numbers. I don't expect the Aggies to be so philanthropic with the football this week. Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin was the head man at Houston for four seasons. He never lost to SMU and covered in three of the four meetings. Look for that trend to continue here.

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