Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fab Five: Week IV

Week III was a slight improvement upon Week II, but there is no reason to be satisfied with 5-5. The yearly mark is still a rather solid 17-13, so we'll see if we can stay on the positive side of the ledger after this week. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 9-6

Southern Miss +5 Western Kentucky
One of the (many) games I kept a close eye on last Saturday night during my college football gorge-fest was Western Kentucky at Kentucky. The Hilltoppers lost a 14-point second half lead and surrendered a touchdown on Kentucky's initial overtime possession. Then the Hilltoppers scored a touchdown of their own and coach Willie Taggart kept the offense on the field. And then this happened.
Three seasons removed from a winless campaign, the Hilltoppers were able to beat an SEC (in name only) team on the road.Now comes the hard part. Maintaining and consolidating success. The Hilltoppers will face a desperate Southern Miss team in danger of falling to 0-3. The Golden Eagles actually outgained East Carolina by nearly 100 yards last week, but committed three turnovers while gaining none (have not gained a turnover through two games) and lost 24-14. Look for Southern Miss to win outright against an improving, but overvalued Western Kentucky team.

Utah +7 Arizona State
The Utah Utes have picked up where they left off last season, boasting one of the nation's stingier defenses (15th in the nation in total defense), but alas, also one of its poorer offenses (107th in total offense). Part of that offensive ineptitude can be explained by the loss of quarterback Jordan Wynn in the team's second game. Wynn's football career is over and the Utes must move on behind Jon Hays. Hays has taken care of the football, having yet to throw a pick on the young season. The Utes did not commit a turnover in last week's home upset of arch-rival BYU. If the Utes can hang on to the football, they may very well leave Tempe with an outright road win.

Arizona +23 Oregon
The Rich Rod-era in Tucson has started out much better than his initial foray at Ann Arbor. Michigan did not win their third game under Rodriguez until they had already accumulated seven losses. Unfortunately, his Wildcats will likely be expunged from the ranks of the unbeatens Saturday night, but there is reason to believe they can cover this high number. For starters, while Oregon has certainly taken their foot off the proverbial throttle in their early season exploits, they have still allowed nearly 900 yards of total offense against the two IA schools (Arkansas State and Fresno State) they have played. And Arizona's specialty? Offense. The Wildcats have topped 600 yards of offense twice on the young season, something they did exactly zero times from 2007-2011. The Ducks also appear to be one of the more overvalued teams in the gambling world, having failed to cover large numbers against both Arkansas State and Fresno State. Arizona does not stand a great shot at winning this game, but they should keep it within three touchdowns.

Troy +1 North Texas
The former beasts of the Sun Belt, the Troy Trojans, are seeking to reclaim their place in the Sun belt pecking order. After winning at least a share of five consecutive conference crowns from 2006-2010, the Trojans won only a pair of conference games in 2011. They opened Sun Belt play two weeks ago by falling at home to Louisiana-Lafayette. The Trojans outgained the Ragin' Cajuns by nearly 200 yards, but were done in by three turnovers. Similarly, they outgained Mississippi State from the SEC last week, but four turnovers kept them from pulling the upset. North Texas was marginally competitive against Kansas State last week, but this spread should probably be in Troy's favor by about a field goal. If the Trojans can avoid a dramatic loss in the turnover department, they should be able to win here.

Hawaii +8 Nevada
The last time Nevada won at Hawaii was...Any guesses? 1948. That's right, Harry Truman had just been elected president the month before. Nevada's coach Chris Ault had just turned two. Since joining the WAC in 2000 (and thus playing Hawaii yearly), the Wolfpack are 0-6 at Hawaii with the average loss coming by 14.5 points. The last three on the islands have all been close though, with each game being decided by a touchdown or less. The Wolfpack have also not fared well in postseason games on the 50th state, losing two of three Hawaii Bowls since 2005. If Nevada does manage to end their 60+ year drought against the Warriors in Hawaii, it will almost certainly be by a narrow margin.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 8-7

Boise State -6 BYU
This spread is somewhat significant as it marks just the third time since 2006 that Boise has been a single-digit home favorite. Boise was a touchdown favorite against Oregon State in the second game of the 2006 season and was a slight three point favorite in the opening game of the 2009 season against Oregon. Boise covered the number in both of those games easily. If this spread were ten points or two touchdowns I would be hesitant to take the Broncos, but playing at home against a team coming off a crushing loss to an in-state rival makes the Broncos seem like a pretty safe play here.

Oklahoma -15 Kansas State
In the past five seasons, Oklahoma has covered nearly twice as often as not as a double-digit home favorite, going 19-10 Against the Spread (ATS) in such instances since 2007. The Sooners have had a week to prepare for a Kansas State team that may be better than we believed in the preseason, but is still not on the level they were in the late-90's.

South Florida -10 Ball State
For the second straight year, and third time overall, the Ball State Cardinals have defeated their in-state big brothers in Bloomington. The Cardinals won in dramatic fashion last week, getting a field goal as time expired to drop the Hoosiers 41-39. Now the Cardinals face a South Florida team coming off its first loss of the season. While South Florida has struggled in Big East play since climbing to number two in the country in October of 2007 (going just 12-23 versus the conference), they have fared much better in non-league action. In the same span, the Bulls are 22-4 versus non-conference opponents, including last year's 37-7 victory over Ball State. The Cardinals have enough offensive firepower to make this game interesting for a half or so, but South Florida should take the final margin by at least two touchdowns.

Air Force -10.5 UNLV
Back in late-August, you could have forgiven UNLV fans for dreaming of a hot start to coach Bobby Hauck's third season in Sin City. The Rebels were slated to open the 2012 campaign with four consecutive home games. Two were against BCS conference teams, but those teams (Minnesota and Washington State) had combined to go just 7-17 in 2011. A game against Northern Arizona (IAA) was sandwiched in between, so a 3-0 start was not out of the question. Unfortunately, the Rebels failed to win either of their first three games and now face an Air Force team fresh off a bye week. 0-4 is looking very likely. Air Force has won the past five meetings with UNLV, with four of those wins coming by double-digits. Look for that trend to continue here.

LSU -20 Auburn
Formerly a sinkhole for cash as a double-digit favorite, LSU has tightened things up recently in the role of a huge favorite. From 2007-2010, LSU was just 8-15-1 ATS as a double-digit favorite. However, since the beginning of the 2011 season, LSU is 8-3 ATS as a double-digit favorite, including 2-1 this year. Meanwhile, since winning the BCS National Championship in 2010, Auburn is just 5-10 ATS, including 0-3 this year. Auburn has done nothing to show they can move the ball with any consistency against a team the caliber of LSU. The Tigers from the bayou should roll here.

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