Monday, October 29, 2012

Mid-Season SDPI: Mountain West and Sun Belt

Its time for our third installment of SDPI. Last week, among other things, I told you to be wary of large Big 12 favorites that were likely overrated, and lo and behold Texas and Oklahoma were challenged despite being heavy favorites. Of course, I also told you that Memphis had one of the better defenses on Conference USA. This week, we'll see what the numbers tell us about the Mountain West and Sun Belt. Next week, we'll finally get to the Big East and WAC.

First the Mountain West standings.
Now the SDPI ratings.

The numbers love Fresno State, and while the Broncos did beat them on the Smurf Turf, you have to be impressed with Tim DeRuyter's success in his first season in the valley.

Air Force: The Falcons have to be kicking themselves for their loss to UNLV. Otherwise, with a schedule devoid of Boise State, they could be in position for their first conference title since 1998.

Boise State: Despite their offensive reputation, the Broncos continue to make their hay with the best and most consistent mid-major defense.

Colorado State: The Jim McElwain era began with a win over in-state rival Colorado. Unfortunately, the Rams went eight weeks before their next win, on Saturday against Hawaii.

Fresno State: If the Bulldogs can survive a trip to Reno on November 10th, they have a chance to enter the postseason with an opportunity to win ten games for the first time since 2001, when another Carr was quarterbacking the team.

Hawaii: The Warriors have been an absolute disaster in their first season under Norm Chow. Unfortunately, Boise State, Fresno State, and Air Force are still on the schedule. At 1-6, the Warriors could lose ten games for the first time since 1998.

Nevada: Two weeks ago, the Wolfpack was 3-0 in the conference and looking forward to hosting Boise on December 1st with the conference title on the line. Now after two straight losses, and with Fresno and Boise remaining on the schedule, they could end the regular-season on a five-game skid.

New Mexico: The Lobos won three games from 2009-2011. They have won four thus far in 2012, and have an outside shot at becoming bowl-eligible. Check out junior running back Kasey Carrier. He has four consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including a 338 yard performance versus Air Force. 

San Diego State: Rocky Long lied to us! After contemplating going for it on fourth down often during the offseason, the Aztecs have have just 14 fourth down conversion attempts which is tied for 46th nationally.

UNLV: The Rebels have beaten Air Force, but no one else. They are currently 5-29 under head coach Bobby Hauck. During his seven seasons as head coach of Montana (a IAA power), his teams lost 17 total games.

Wyoming: The Cowboys have an interesting on-again, off-again relationship with lady luck under head coach Dave Christensen. In odd-numbered years, Christensen's first season of 2009 and then last season, the Cowboys are a perfect 11-0 in one-score games. In even-numbered years, the Cowboys are 3-7 in one-score games, including a 1-4 mark this season. In other words, folks in Laramie should wait until next year to buy that lottery ticket.

Now the Sun Belt standings.
And the SDPI ratings.

A familiar team is at the top of the Sun Belt ratings, but not the standings. That honor belongs to the team that was the toast of September.

Arkansas State: The Red Wolves were due for some regression after their perfect Sun Belt campaign last year, but halfway home they remain contenders.

Florida Atlantic: Congrats to the Owls who broke a 14-game Sun Belt losing streak with their upset win over Troy on Saturday. It was their first win against a IA opponent under first-year coach Carl Pelini. Don't look now, but the former Nebraska defensive coordinator has the Owls playing pretty well on that side of the ball.

Florida International: They came in as heavy favorites to win the conference, and here we are almost in November, and they have zero conference wins. Sometimes you just never know.

Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin' Cajuns have experienced some adversity, particularly on defense, where they rank last in the conference, but they have four wins banked and need just two more to become bowl-eligible for the sixth time in the last eight seasons.

Louisiana-Monroe: If you forgot about them after their September hit and pair of near misses, you'll be happy to know they have won five in a row.

Middle Tennessee State: Another reason you never know. The Blue Raiders have somehow managed to lose to a IAA team (McNeese State) at home, and beat an ACC team (Georgia Tech) on the road.

North Texas: The Mean Green have won six conference games in a year and a half under coach Dan McCarney. In four seasons under his predecessor, Todd Dodge, the Mean Green won five conference games.

South Alabama: Welcome to IA football! The Jaguars rate out as the worst team in the conference, but already have a conference win banked.

Troy: They rate out as the best team in the conference, but with three league losses, they have virtually no shot at the title. Plus with games left against Tennessee and Navy, they may not get to bowl-eligibility either.

Western Kentucky: Standing at 6-2 with four games remaining, the Hilltoppers (along with the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe) have a shot at winning ten games in the regular season. That would be quite an achievement for a team that was winless in 2009.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fab Five: Week IX

For the third straight week I enjoyed a fine weekend of prognostication, finishing 8-2 to push back over .500 for the year at 43-37. We'll see if the clairvoyance can continue. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 22-18

Memphis +21 SMU
Last Thursday night, SMU enjoyed one of the more misleading 72 point games you will ever see. In their 30-point win over in-state rival Houston, the Mustangs forced an amazing nine turnovers and scored four defensive touchdowns (three interception returns and a fumble return). It marked the second time this season SMU has forced at least nine turnovers (they forced ten in their 52-0 win over Stephen F Austin). The victory over Houston came just five days after a perplexing road loss to Tulane and moved the Mustangs back into contention in the West Division. The Mustangs continue their quest for a bowl game hosting a Memphis team that has not improved record-wise from their lackluster performance the past three seasons (6-37 record since 2009). However, the Tigers have shown progress on a down-to-down basis, posting one of the better defenses in Conference USA. SMU is just 2-8-1 Against the Spread (ATS) under June Jones as a double-digit favorite (just 1-6-1 at home) and just 11-15-1 ATS against conference foes since the beginning of the 2009 season. Memphis may not be able to break through and get the win, but they should be able to stay within three touchdowns.

Kansas +21 Texas
It may have taken a half-season before this became evident, but Texas has not returned to elite status this year. While they performed well in the non-conference, covering twice in three games as double-digit favorites, they have struggled against Big 12 competition. They narrowly won (and covered) at Oklahoma State on a late touchdown that may not have been a touchdown. They were then upset by West Virginia at home, crushed by Oklahoma at the state fair, and narrowly avoided a third straight loss to Baylor. They are actually extremely fortunate to not be winless in Big 12 play, as they have the second-worst defense in the Big 12, outclassing only Baylor. Kansas has not improved substantially under first-year coach Charlie Weis, but the Jayhawks have already covered twice as huge home underdogs against TCU and Oklahoma State. Look for the Jayhawks to keep this one much closer than Texas fans would like.

Arizona +6.5 Southern Cal
The Trojans from Southern California have been rather shaky as a road/neutral site favorite under Lane Kiffin, posting just a 4-7 mark ATS, including an 0-4 mark this season. Meanwhile, under new coach Rich Rodriguez, Arizona has already covered twice as a betting underdog, at home against Oklahoma State in an outright upset and on the road at Stanford in an overtime loss. Rodriguez should feel an eerie similarity between this team and his final Michigan squad, as Arizona is fantastic on offense (549 yards per game ranks sixth nationally) and atrocious on defense (465 yards per game ranks 107th nationally). Still, Southern Cal's road struggles (at least against the number), coupled with Arizona's offensive prowess mean this is a game the Trojans may actually lose outright.

Texas Tech +7 Kansas State
Kansas State has been one of the most surprising teams in college football over the past two seasons. The Wildcats have won 17 of 20 games despite being underdogs in eleven of those contests! However, the Wildcats have not worn the mantle of favorites quite as well, going just 4-3 ATS against IA opponents in that span. They host a Texas Tech team this Saturday coached by a man with a penchant for upsetting top-10 teams. In less than three full seasons at the helm, Tommy Tuberville has guided the Red Raiders to outright victories over top-10 teams twice and over top-20 opponents three times. The Red Raiders also catch the Wildcats off of a resounding road win over a flawed West Virginia team meaning the public at large is likely over-valuing them and inflating this number. Look for Texas Tech and their improved defense to keep this one very close.

Notre Dame +11 Oklahoma
As I stated earlier this week in my mid-season SDPI post on the Big 12, I think Oklahoma's offense is overrated thanks to their bludgeoning of Texas two weeks ago. The Longhorns have the second-worst defense in the Big 12 (they can thank Baylor later) and the Sooners rolled up 677 yards and 63 points against them in Dallas. However, in their other three conference games, the Sooners have only averaged 391 yards. That's an impressive number, but hardly dominating by Big 12 standards. In Norman on Saturday night, they will face the strongest defense on their schedule (regular season variety) in the Irish from South Bend. Notre Dame has not allowed more than 17 points or 348 yards to any team this season. In fact, they have held their last six opponents under 300 yards. Oklahoma has already lost twice in Norman in their past six home games, after winning 39 straight at home from 2005-2011. I don't think they will lose twice at home this season, but methinks this one will be extremely tight.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 21-19

Ball State -4.5 Army
Ball State is just one win away from attaining bowl-eligibility for the second straight year under coach Pete Lembo. More than likely, he'll be heading up a BCS-conference team near you very soon. In the interim, the Cardinals travel to West Point to take on an Army team that features one of the worst defenses in college football. The Black Knights rank 108th in the nation in total defense, allowing 466 yards per game. However, that number does not do their defense justice. Owing to their offensive style featuring mostly runs that chew up the clock and limit possessions, it is actually worse. The Black Knights are allowing an amazing 7.50 yards per play, the worst in the nation by nearly half a yard. Things aren't likely to get any better this weekend, as Ball State comes in ranked 19th nationally in total offense, averaging 481 yards per game. This game should be entertaining and high-scoring, but Ball State should win by about a touchdown.

UAB -3 Tulane
The Blazers from UAB enter this game seeking their first win against a IA opponent under first-year coach Garrick McGee. While the Blazers have yet to break through in the win column (their lone win came against IAA Southeastern Louisiana), they have been more competitive, losing one-score games to Tulsa and east Carolina, while losing by only two touchdowns in Columbus against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Meanwhile, Tulane has entered the IA win column under their first-year head coach, Curtis Johnson, upsetting SMU in the Superdome two weeks ago. That win marked their first home cover against a Conference USA opponent since late-2010. In fact, since 2009, the Green Wave are just 3-10 against conference opponents in the Superdome. Look for that trend to continue here with UAB winning by at least a touchdown.

Colorado State -7 Hawaii
The Rams and Warriors enter this game with a combined record of 2-11. Colorado State owns the only win over a IA opponent (Colorado), but makes up for it by also owning a loss to a IAA opponent (North Dakota State). In fairness to the Warriors from Hawaii, they did roll over their IAA opponent, Lamar, 54-2. Still, against IA opponents, Hawaii has yet to cover the spread this season, their first under head coach Norm Chow. In fact, in their previous three road games, Hawaii has been outscored 148-24. Colorado State is far from a good team, hell competent may be giving them too much credit, but the Warriors have been nothing but atrocious this season, and I wouldn't trust them even getting ten points in this spot.

Florida -6.5 Vs Georgia
Florida continued their hot streak last week, roaring by South Carolina thanks to a barrage of Gamecock turnovers in the first half. Since failing to cover in their opener versus Bowling Green, the Gators have now covered the number in six consecutive games. Meanwhile, Georgia failed to cover for the third consecutive week as huge favorites at Kentucky. Georgia actually won and covered as a slight favorite in this game last season, but the Gators had won and covered the previous three meetings. Georgia has too many issues particularly on defense (allowed 870 yards to Tennessee and South Carolina while the Gators allowed 531 yards to those same two teams) to win here. Florida should win by at least ten points.

Houston -13 UTEP
The Houston Cougars head into this game against their in-state brethren from El Paso off a 30-point loss to SMU. However, as mentioned earlier in this post, the Cougars were done in by an amazing nine turnovers and four defensive touchdowns. That game was also on the road, whereas this one will be in the friendly confines of Robertson Stadium. Since 2009, the Houston Cougars are a robust 12-4 ATS as a home favorite, including a resounding 30-point defeat of UTEP in their last visit. Houston still has designs on the Conference USA West division, so motivation should not be a concern here. Look for the Cougars to bury the Miners in a barrage of points.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mid-Season SDPI: ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Conference USA

It's now time for our second rendition of the mid-season SDPI ratings. Last week I clued you in on a number of things, including the fact that Arizona State might be the best team in the Pac-12. Thankfully I qualified that with a comment on their strength of schedule (or lack there of) as they were eviscerated at home by Oregon on Thursday night. This week, we'll take a gander at the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, and Conference USA.

First the ACC standings.
Now the SDPI ratings.
It looks like 1990's in the ACC. Florida State appears head and shoulders above the rest of the conference. And despite rumors of their demise plus two losses in the conference by mid-October, it appears a familiar face is poised to win the Coastal Division yet again.

Boston College: Frank Spaziani is as good as gone. It's not a foregone conclusion that the Eagles lose the rest of their games, but they will likely be underdogs in all five.

Clemson: Tigers still have issues on defense despite the stellar recruiting classes and the addition of coordinator Brent Venables.

Duke: Congrats to the Blue Devils who are now bowl-eligible for the first time since the 1994 season.

Georgia Tech. The defense looked much better in their first game since canning Al Groh. Of course, the competition was Boston College so let's withhold judgement for a few weeks.

Florida State: There are probably too many teams in front of them to pass to get back into national title discussions, but rest assured Florida State is an elite team. At the very least, they may have a shot to ruin their arch-rivals perfect season on November 24th in Tallahassee.

Maryland: The Terps have played seven games, and each one has been decided by 10 points or less.

Miami: Their last three games conference games are all against Coastal Division foes, so the Hurricanes control their destiny in regards to reaching the ACC Championship Game.

North Carolina: If you're into this kind of thing, the Heels are 3-0 Against the Spread (ATS) at home and 0-4 ATS on the road. They host NC State this weekend FYI.

NC State: With a win over Florida State in their back pocket, the Wolfpack actually control their own destiny in the Atlantic Division.

Virginia: The SDPI numbers actually like the Cavaliers. Unfortunately, their -7 turnover margin in conference play has kept them winless. Don't be surprised of they pull off an upset or two in their final four games, especially the home contests against Miami and North Carolina.

Virginia Tech: Very quietly, the defense has improved since their humbling trip to Chapel Hill, culminating with last week's showing against Clemson when they held the Tigers to 295 yards, their lowest offensive output of the season.

Wake Forest: There have been good (the home win over North Carolina), there have been bad (the 52-0 shutout at the hands of Florida State), and there have been ugly (the 16-10 snoozer win over Virginia), but Jim Grobe has the Deacons in familiar territory, in bowl contention. The Deacons will need to beat Boston College at home and steal a win as a likely underdog in Winston versus Clemson or Vanderbilt or on the road at NC State or Notre Dame.

Now the Big 10 standings.
And the SDPI ratings.
The best team in the conference may be one that is ineligible for the postseason. However, it may not be the one that is currently undefeated.

Illinois: Is it me or is Ron Zook still coaching this team? The Illini are now on a nine-game conference losing streak dating back to last season,

Indiana: Speaking of losing streaks, the Hoosiers have lost eleven consecutive conference games and 23 of 24. However, they have shown improvement, at least on the offensive end, under second-year coach Kevin Wilson.

Iowa: Despite the blowout home loss to Penn State, the Hawkeyes still control their own destiny in the Legends Division.

Michigan: SDPI says they have the number one defense in the conference. Of course, they have thus far faced teams that rank last, second-to-last, and eighth in the conference on offense. We'll see how well they hold up in Lincoln this weekend.

Michigan State: Barring a miracle, the Spartans are out of the running for the Legends Division with three losses. However, their losses have come by one, two, and three points, so they remain a dangerous spoiler over their final four games.

Minnesota: The Gophers need to find two wins over their final five games to get to a bowl for the first time since 2009. The most likely candidates? This week at home against Purdue and on November 10th at Illinois.

Nebraska: The SDPI numbers like them, but their conference wins have come by one and three points, while their loss came by 25.

Northwestern: Congrats to Northwestern which is now bowl-eligible for the sixth consecutive season. If they had held on against Nebraska, they could have fancied themselves contenders in the Legends Division for at least one more week. Their offensive numbers are probably a little overrated as 46% of their total offense in four Big 10 games came in the opener against Indiana when they rolled up 704 yards and looked like the second coming of 1995 Nebraska.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes slip by another flawed Big Ten team. Still, a win is a win, and they are halfway home to an unbeaten conference season.

Penn State: Bill O'Brien has done a masterful job, not only of rallying his team after an 0-2 start with nothing of consequence to play for, but of turning Matt McGloin into a bonafide DI quarterback. In his first two seasons as a starting quarterback McGloin completed 54.% of his passes while throwing 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Nittany Lions averaged 23.5 points in games during which McGloin enjoyed significant playing time. Through seven games in 2012, McGloin has completed 62.5% of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The Lions have averaged 28.6 points per game, while topping 30 four of the past five games.

Purdue: After a solid 3-1 non-conference campaign, including a close loss to Notre Dame, you would be forgiven for talking yourself into Purdue as a Leaders Division contender. Meh, not so much. The Boilers rate out as the second-worst offense and defense in Big 10 and desperately need this weekends game against Minnesota if they want to return to the postseason.

Wisconsin: Has the old Wisconsin returned? The Badgers have bludgeoned three straight Big 10 opponents rolling up 977 yards on the ground in those games. Keep in mind though those games were against Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota. We'll know if their offense has found its footing after they face a still stout Michigan State defense this weekend. At worst, they have pretty much already locked up the Leaders Division thanks to the postseason ban in Columbus and State College.

Onto the Big 12 standings.
And the SDPI ratings.
Looks like we're in for one heckuva a conference race. Fully half of the conference has an SDPI rating approaching one standard deviation above average. If Kansas State runs the table, they will have survived the deepest conference, top-to-bottom, in college football.

Baylor: The best offense and worst defense in the conference. The Bears have already lost two games in which they gained a combined 1307 yards and scored 113 points.

Iowa State: The Big 12 is not a good conference to be sans an offense. When they aren't drastically winning the turnover margin, as they were against TCU (+5 in the upset win), the Cyclones have a very hard time scoring. The home game against Baylor this weekend is huge for their bowl aspirations.

Kansas: The numbers like them better than I would have thought. The Jayhawks have played their first two home conference opponents tough (lost by 14 to TCU and by 6 to Oklahoma State). Maybe Texas has something to worry about this weekend.

Kansas State: A year after winning games despite weak numbers on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats have great defensive and decent offensive SDPI numbers. I think SDPI is overrating their defense and underrating their offense thanks to their pace. The Wildcats have run just 441 plays in seven games (63 per game) which ranks 120th (out of 124 teams) in the country. Meanwhile, their defense has faced 475 plays (67.9 per game). Only 29 defenses have faced fewer plays. They have already won three conference games on the road meaning three of their last five are at home. Can Bill Snyder finally get the Wildcats to the national championship game after coming oh so close in 1998?

Oklahoma: I think their performance against Texas may have fooled the nation into thinking their offense is elite. Outside of that outburst, the Sooners have averaged 391 yards in their other three conference games. That number would rank just eighth in the Big 12. Keep that in mind if you have the urge to take Oklahoma laying a large number against Notre Dame this weekend.

Oklahoma State: The turnover-fest in the desert, and the close loss to Texas have removed them from the national conscience, but the Cowboys are still a very dangerous team.

Texas: Last season, Texas gave up 24 offensive touchdowns in Big 12 play (in nine games) and allowed 334 yards per conference game. This season, through four games, Texas has already given up 24 offensive touchdowns and are allowing 580 yards per game to their Big 12 opponents. I will be shocked if Manny Diaz is coordinating the defense next season.

TCU: In their final four seasons in the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs lost one conference game. They have lost two of their first four Big 12 games. TCU is still a good team, but the Big 12 has a ton of depth and after Saturday, either them or the Cowboys will have three total losses.

Texas Tech: The defense is light years ahead of where it was last season. The Red Raiders have a chance to shake up the BCS standings for the second straight year by winning on the road against a Big 12 power this week when they travel to Manhattan, Kansas.

West Virginia: A great deal of their offensive notoriety can probably be explained by the fact that they opened conference play against Baylor and Texas, the two worst defenses in the conference.

Finally, the Conference USA standings.
And the SDPI ratings.
An old familiar face tops the SDPI ratings, if not the actual conference standings.

East Carolina: The Pirates have already banked four league wins, but with their loss to UCF, will need help if they play to return to the Conference USA Championship Game for the first time since 2009.

Houston: How can a team that just lost to a division rival by 30 somehow rate as the best team in the conference by a wide margin? Turnovers. Houston outgained SMU by nearly 180 yards, but committed nine turnovers. The Cougars are very much alive in the West Division.

Marshall: The Thundering Herd boast the best offense in Conference USA. They have scored at least 38 points in their first three conference games and have topped 50 in two. Set your DVRs when they host Houston on November 17th when the league's two best offenses get together.

Memphis: The Tigers have shown some teeth on defense under first-year coach Justin Fuente. Are they the best defense in Conference USA? Probably not, but after just five total wins in the preceding three seasons, its all about minor victories.

Rice: Oh, what might have been. The Owls knocked off Kansas early in the season, but have lost three of their four conference games by 11 total points, likely dooming them to a fourth straight losing season.

SMU: The Mustangs rebounded from an inexplicable loss at Tulane to get back in the West Division race with a blowout win over Houston. Despite not even being assured of a bowl bid yet with a 3-4 overall record, they control their own destiny in getting to the Conference USA Championship Game.

Southern Miss: After winning the conference and 12 games in 2011, the 2012 season can't end fast enough. The Golden Eagles are 0-7 and have clinched their first losing season since 1993. Just a note, Ellis Johnson was 17-28 as a head coach before he got his hands on what was a solid mid-major program. Bad hire anyone?

Tulane: The Green Wave have played better as of late, upsetting SMU two weeks ago and losing to UTEP by four last weekend.

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane have not been dominating, but they are 5-0 in the conference and at 7-1 overall, are the league's only hope of sending a team into the polls. They have a bye this weekend before traveling to Arkansas While they will certainly be underdogs in that game, they have to like their chances now much more than they did in the summer.

UAB: The Blazers are seeking their first conference win under first-year coach Garrick McGee.

UCF: The Knights have the inside track to the East Division title, and their game with Marshall this weekend will go a long way toward deciding the division race.

UTEP: The Miners continue their mediocre to-below average play under Mike Price. After taking the Miners to surprise consecutive bowls in 2004 and 2005, the Miners are just 18-34 versus conference opponents since. I think its time for a change.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fab Five: Week VIII

For the first time all season, I was able to put together back-to-back winning weeks. My 7-3 mark last week brings the yearly tally to 35-35. We'll see if we can move above 50% this week.Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 18-17

Michigan State +10 Michigan
Under Mark Dantonio, the Michigan State Spartans have enjoyed almost unprecedented success against their more famous in-state rivals. The Spartans have won four in a row against the Wolverines and have finished with either a better overall record or higher ranking in the polls each of the past four seasons. In fact, under Dantonio, the Spartans are 4-0-1 Against the Spread (ATS) versus the Wolverines. The Spartans enter this game having lost two of three and facing a must-win if they have any designs on returning to the Big 10 Championship Game. Despite owning three losses already, after losing just three times in the past two regular seasons, the Spartans still possess the kind of defense that can give Michigan fits. No team has topped 383 yards or 27 points against them this season. Michigan comes into this game riding high, fresh off blowouts of Purdue and Illinois by a combined 76 points. However, keep in mind that Purdue and Illinois have yet to defeat a BCS-conference opponent. In addition, Michigan State is a fantastic 6-3 ATS in road conference games since 2010. Michigan may get their first win in the series since 2008, but this one should be decided by a touchdown or less.

Maryland +3 NC State
The home team has covered three straight in this series and won four straight outright. NC State comes into this game fresh off perhaps the biggest win of the Tom O'Brien era. Two weeks ago, the Wolfpack upset the undefeated Florida State Seminoles 17-16, likely extinguishing Florida State's national title hopes in the process. Winning at home in front of a sold out crowd is one thing, winning on the road against an underrated Maryland team is quite another. Very quietly, despite one of the worst rushing offenses in college football (their leading rusher has 150 yards), Maryland has won four games and appears to be headed back to the postseason after a 2-10 disaster last year. The Terps have one of the better defenses in college football, permitting just 279 yards per game. In fact, a month ago, they held West Virginia to their lowest yardage output of the season (363 yards) in Morgantown! This game will not be pretty, but Maryland should be stout enough on defense to emerge with an outright upset.

Temple +5.5 Rutgers
The Temple Owls have readjusted quite nicely to Big East life. Since getting the boot from the conference after the 2004 season, the Owls have wandered through the wilderness as an independent, joined the MAC, been resurrected by Al Golden, and been invited back to the Big East. Two weeks ago, they won their first Big East game since November 13th, 2004 when they beat South Florida at home. That upset win made Temple 7-1-1 ATS in their last nine games as a home underdog, the same position the Owls find themselves in this Saturday. Both teams are pretty limited offensively and feature reasonably strong defenses. With three conference wins, Rutgers has the inside track to the Orange Bowl, but they will be challenged by the Owls in Philadelphia.

Indiana +3 Navy
In his first 18 games as Indiana coach, Kevin Wilson 'boasts' a career record of 3-15. His Hoosiers are just 1-15 versus IA competition, yet they appear to be one of the safest bets on the board this weekend. Very quietly, Indiana has developed quite an impressive offense this season. The Hoosiers have scored at least 24 points in every game (they scored at least 24 just five times last season) and are currently averaging 35.5 points per game. They have not averaged at least 30 for an entire season since 2007. They are also averaging 473 yards per game, good for 23rd nationally. Their best yards per game average in the past nine seasons was 394 in 2007. Those good numbers could translate into wins as soon as this weekend. While they have won three of four to even their record at 3-3, the Midshipmen are just 2-5 ATS as favorites against teams from BCS-conferences since 2005. This game should be an entertaining shootout and the Hoosiers could very well leave Annapolis with just their second road win under Kevin Wilson.

Toledo +7.5 Cincinnati
This game represents the MAC's final chance at a significant non-conference scalp in 2012. Of course, last chance implies there have been no successes thus far, which is not true at all. In fact, the MAC has six wins versus teams from BCS-conferences. Ohio defeated Penn State, Ball State beat Indiana and South Florida, Central Michigan beat Iowa, Western Michigan downed Connecticut, and Northern Illinois vanquished Kansas. The Rockets would love to add lucky number seven against nationally-ranked Cincinnati to the list on Saturday. The Rockets were competitive in their lone foray into BCS-conference competition, losing in overtime at Arizona in the season opener. Cincinnati has yet to play a true road game seven weeks into the college football season. They are also just 5-7 ATS in road non-conference games since 2007. The Rockets may not spoil their perfect season, but they should make them sweat it out and hold the final margin within a touchdown.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 17-18

Vanderbilt -7 Auburn
With Vandy's loss to Florida last week, one of the more unknown impressive streaks in college football fell by the wayside. In his first seven home games versus IA teams as coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores, James Franklin's teams covered the spread each time. The Commodores finally failed to cover the spread at home last week against Florida. What better time to start another streak than against a team that is 1-5 ATS themselves this season? In fact, the Tigers have failed to cover the spread in their last five road games and are just 2-9 ATS on the road under Gene Chizik in games not started by Cam Newton.

Clemson -8 Virginia Tech
Anytime Virginia Tech is an underdog versus an ACC opponent, I get a little leery. However, based on a half season's worth of data, these are clearly not your typical Virginia Tech Hokies. For starters, they have yet to win a game away from Blacksburg, losing and failing to cover versus Pitt, Cincinnati, and North Carolina away from home. Secondly, they are 57th nationally in total defense, allowing 381 yards per game, their most since joining the ACC. While Clemson has earned a reputation as a flaky team, they are actually quite solid at home under Dabo Swinney. Since Dabo assumed the top position in mid-2008, the Tigers are 14-6 ATS as a home favorite, and are an even more impressive 7-2 ATS as a single-digit home favorite. Look for the Hokies to continue their road woes against Clemson on Saturday.

Ball State -3 Central Michigan
This battle in Mount Pleasant, Michigan features a pair of MAC teams trending in opposite directions. In 2009, Ball State managed just a 2-10 mark under Stan Parrish, while Central Michigan finished 12-2 and ended the season ranked 23rd in the AP Poll. Butch Jones, the Central Michigan coach left for Cincinnati following the successful campaign and was replaced by Dan Enos. Parrish lasted one more season, but was fired after a 4-8 showing in 2010. After his firing, Ball State hired Pete Lembo, former coach at Lehigh and Elon. Enos got off to rough start in Central Michigan going 3-9 in 2010, and followed that up with another 3-9 season in 2011. Meanwhile, Lembo went 6-6 in 2011 and is currently 4-3 midway through his second season. Lembo also owns three wins over BCS-conference teams (Indiana twice and South Florida). Enos is just 2-4 in his third season and likely needs to get to bowl eligibility to save his job. Central Michigan is just 2-6 ATS in MAC home games under Enos, while Ball State is 4-1 ATS in MAC road games under Lembo. Take Ball State to win this game by at least a touchdown.

Florida -3 South Carolina
When a team is on a hot streak, its best to let it ride. After beginning the season with a lackluster performance against Bowling Green, the Gators have now covered in five consecutive games. They have covered as road dogs (Texas A&M and Tennessee), road favorites (Vanderbilt), home dogs (LSU), and home favorites (Kentucky). Now they come home to face a South Carolina team playing its third consecutive tough SEC game. The Gamecocks bludgeoned Georgia two weeks and fell in Baton Rouge to LSu last week. This game will go a long way toward determining the SEC East representative in Atlanta. While South Carolina has looked elite at times, they have yet to play a complete game on the road (inching by Vandy, trailing Kentucky at the half, and trailing by nine to LSU in the final minutes). The Gators are much better than people expected and Vegas has not caught up to them yet. Take the Gators for at least one more week.

Kent State -3.5 Western Michigan
Kent State has been kind to me the past two weeks as a slight road favorite, so now they have my full backing as they return to Ohio as a slight home favorite. The Golden Flashes are just a win away from bowl eligibility and with a 3-0 mark in the MAC, are tied for first in the MAC East. Three of their last five conference games are at home, so don't be surprised if they show up in Detroit on the final Friday in November as the MAC East representative in the MAC Championship Game. Western Michigan is just 13-20-2 ATS on the road since 2007 while Kent State has covered in their last four home games. The home team has won and covered three straight in this series, and after Saturday, the streak should stand at four.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mid-Season SDPI: MAC, Pac-12, SEC

For regular readers of this fine blog, you know that one of the tools I use to recap the previous and predict the next college football season is SDPI (Standard Deviation Power Index). The tool measures how far above or below average a team is relative to its conference mates in terms of gaining and preventing yards. Two years ago I decided to calculate SDPI in the middle of the season. Last season I continued the tradition, and now mid-season SDPI returns. This is an attempt to handicap the conference races and provide some insight you might now get in other places. We'll begin with the MAC, Pac-12, and SEC. Enjoy.

First the MAC standings.
Now the SDPI ratings.
According to SDPI, and despite what you may have seen in the most recent AP Poll, the strength of the conference resides in the MAC West.

Akron: The Zips have shown some spunk, particularly on offense under new coach Terry Bowden. Quarterback Dalton Williams, a transfer from Stephen F Austin, has thrown 19 touchdown passes on the season. As a team, the Zips threw just 24 touchdowns in 2010 and 2011 combined.

Ball State: The Cardinals proved they have great potential in beating a pair of BCS-conference teams (Indiana and South Florida) in September. Unfortunately, they now have a pair of conference defeats and are probably out of the running in the division despite their impressive rating. Head coach Pete Lembo should have the keys to a BCS-conference program in the next few seasons.

Bowling Green: They gave Florida a game to open the season and with the MAC's best defense are still in the running for the MAC East with Kent State and Ohio.

Buffalo: Under Jeff Quinn, the Bulls have won just three games against IA opponents in 27 tries. Even in frigid upstate New York, his seat his heating up.

Central Michigan: All the goodwill the Chippewas engendered with the upset over Iowa has dissipated with three non-competitive losses in a row.

Eastern Michigan: After a surprising 6-6 finish in 2011, the Eagles looked like they could be in contention for at least a bowl game in 2012. However, outside of that 12 game stretch, the Eagles are just 2-28 under head coach Ron English.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes have a great chance at making their first bowl appearance since the great Don James roamed the sidelines in 1972. I've mentioned him before on this blog, but if you get a chance check out Dri Archer when the Golden Flashes host Ohio on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Archer is slight at 5'7'', but his speed makes defenses quiver. Archer is currently averaging more than 10 yards per rush and has scored touchdowns on the ground, through the air, and on returns. Oh, and he threw one last week against Army.

Massachusetts: The Minutemen have had a rough introduction to IA football. When will they get their first win? I'm thinking at home against Buffalo on November 17th.

Miami: The Redhawks have the distinction of making Ohio State's defense look great (its not) and Boise State's offense look explosive (its not).

Northern Illinois: If not for their opening one-point loss to Iowa, the defending MAC champs could be in the discussion for an unbeaten regular season. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is the MAC's version of Collin Klein. Lynch has passed and rushed for 11 touchdowns apiece and is just 82 yards short of 1000 on the ground.

Ohio: First, congrats to the Bobcats on their poll ranking, the team's first since 1968. The Bobcats are also bowl-eligible for the fourth consecutive season and sixth time in eight seasons under Frank Solich. Plus, that win over Penn State looks better and better by the week. However, the Bobcats have been less than impressive in their first three conference games, being outgained by three teams (Akron, Buffalo, and Massachusetts) that have yet to beat a IA team this season. I wouldn't favor them against any of the four teams capable of winning the MAC West (Ball State, Northern Illinois, Toledo, or Western Michigan) and they are probably not as good as Bowling Green or Kent State either. Still, they could very well be 9-0 when they host Bowling Green on the day after Election Day.

Toledo: Like Northern Illinois, the Rockets fell in a close game to a BCS-conference foe in the opening week (in OT at Arizona) and have done nothing but win since. This week, they get another chance at a major conference scalp when they host nationally ranked Cincinnati.

Western Michigan: The OT loss at Ball State pretty much sinks their division title aspirations, but the Broncos still have a shot to get to a second consecutive bowl game.

The Pac-12 standings.
The Pac-12 SDPI ratings.
A surprising team occupies the top spot. We'll know after Thursday whether or not they are for real.

Arizona: Rich Rod's first team at Arizona is looking a lot like his last team at Michigan. Superb on offense, and utterly incapable of stopping anyone on defense.

Arizona State: The numbers love them, but before we get all hot and bothered by the Sun Devils, remember, they have played Cal, Colorado, and Utah in their first three games. Wouldn't you know it, they get a chance to prove they are for real when they host Oregon on Thursday night.

Cal: Bears have played much better in their past two conference games (wins versus UCLA and Washington State). If they have designs on a bowl game, the home game against Stanford this weekend is almost a must-win.

Colorado: Somehow, despite being deplorable on both sides of the ball, the Buffaloes already have a conference win.

Oregon: Surprisingly, the Ducks rank just fourth of offense in the early going in the conference. The Ducks have four very challenging road games left on their schedule (Arizona State, Cal, Oregon State, and Southern Cal). Win out and they will truly be a deserving national title participant.

Oregon State: After consecutive losing season, the Beavers have returned to the top-10 for the first time since 2000.

Southern Cal: The Trojans and Matt Barkley have been less than impressive on offense. The Trojans will have a significant impact on the national title picture one way or another as they host both Oregon (currently ranked number two) and Notre Dame (currently ranked number five) in the season's second half.

Stanford: The next offensive touchdown Stanford scores in a true road game will be their first since November 5th of last season against Oregon State.

UCLA: The Bruins are a win away from matching last season's win total. Sorry, but all my insights can't be brilliant.

Utah: Life in a BCS-conference has not been kind to the Utes. They are just 4-8 in league play as members of the Pac-12.

Washington: Quarterback Keith Price and his associates have failed to live up to expectations on offense. Thankfully, for Huskie fans, the defense has dramatically improved from the sieve they fielded last season.

Washington State: We knew there would be growing pains, but the Cougars have actually regressed on offense in Mike Leach's first season.

The SEC standings.
The SEC SDPI ratings.
In the SEC, the power seems to once again reside in the West. The SEC West has won four of the past five SEC titles, including three in a row.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide have continued their dominant ways. SEC opponents have scored just two offensive touchdowns in three games.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks have rebounded after a tough start to conference play. We'll see if their relative renaissance is just a function of playing Auburn and Kentucky.

Auburn: Without Cam Newton, the Auburn Tigers have gone just 7-13 versus the SEC under Gene Chizik.

Florida: The Gators have grown up. The Gators don't have to leave the state of Florida again until the SEC Championship Game (if they make it that far).

Georgia: The defense is holding them back and will probably prevent them from winning the SEC East.

Kentucky: Wildcats are just 4-16 in SEC play under Joker Phillips. Why so serious?

LSU: Cause for concern: The Tigers have scored just three offensive touchdowns in three conference games. Here's an interesting tidbit about the Tigers under coach Les Miles. The Tigers beat South Carolina on Saturday, but failed to cover the field goal spread. Aside from 2011, when the Tigers went 7-1 against the spread in their eight regular season conference games, they are just 15-33-3 against the number in SEC games under Miles.

Mississippi: The Rebels gave Alabama their toughest test of the season and actually rate out pretty well according to SDPI. Don't be shocked if they pull off an upset or two in their final five games and get to a bowl under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. Oh, and Freeze is the anti-Les Miles. Last season at Arkansas State, his Red Wolves went 9-2 against the number. Thus far in 2012, the Rebels are 5-1 against the spread, giving Freeze a 14-3 career mark.

Mississippi State: The win over Tennessee somewhat validated their impressive start to the season. I don't think they are the second-best team in the conference, but they have taken care of business against weak competition in the early going.

Missouri: Their first foray into the SEC has not gone quite as well as they had hoped.

South Carolina: Their low-rating mostly stems from their most recent game against LSU where the Tigers nearly doubled them up in total yards. The good news is that loss did next to nothing to hamper them in their quest to win the SEC East.

Tennessee: The Vols are now 1-10 in their last eleven SEC games. Derek Dooley now has 15 SEC losses. Phillip Fulmer didn't lose his 15th SEC game until his tenth full season!

Texas A&M: Who is Johnny? Johnny Manziel, the freshman quarterback for the Aggies has already accounted for 24 touchdowns and is well on his way to a 3000-yard passing and 1000-yard rushing season.

Vanderbilt: With their failure to cover against Florida on Saturday, the Commodores are now 7-1 against the number in home games under James Franklin.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fab Five: Week VII

The month of October began much like the month of September - with a winning week for your humble prognosticator. After four consecutive non-winning weeks, I managed a 6-4 mark to bring my yearly record to 28-32. It feels good to be back in black. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 14-16

TCU +8.5 Baylor
TCU appears to be in a bit of a rough patch. Their starting quarterback, Casey Pachall, has been suspended indefinitely, they are coming off an embarrassing home loss to Iowa State, and now they must face an in-state rival that beat them last season. However, let's not be too quick to abandon the TCU bandwagon. Consider that last week, Iowa State won for the seventh time as at least a six-point underdog under head coach Paul Rhoads. His teams always play over their heads and pull off at least one shocker per season (sometimes two). Four of those previous six teams actually went on to win their next game after the upset. Baylor has serious issues on defense as evidenced by their performance against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. Look for TCU to play inspired football and at worst keep this one close, and at best leave Waco with a win.

Miami +7 North Carolina
Fresh off a pasting at the hands of Notre Dame, the Hurricanes return home to lick their wounds. Despite their unimpressive non-conference performances (lost to Kansas State and Notre Dame by a combined score of 93-16), the Hurricanes are actually unbeaten in the ACC and could move to 4-0 in the conference with a win against the Tar Heels. In this series, the home team has covered four times in the past six seasons giving a slight edge to the Hurricanes. In addition, the Tar Heels seem to be a different team away from Keenan Stadium this year, failing to win or cover in either of their road games against Wake Forest and Louisville while covering easily as home favorites in their other three games against IA competition. Miami is under-valued after their poor showing last week, as Notre Dame has one of the best defenses in the nation. Take them getting nearly a touchdown at home against the Heels.

Utah State +3 San Jose State
Two of the nation's best kept secrets do battle Saturday in San Jose. While neither team will compete for a national title, both are headed to bowl games, and the winner could realistically see eight or nine regular season wins. What makes this all the more impressive is that both schools were a combined 11-38 in 2009 and 2010. By contrast, since the beginning of the 2011 season, the two are a combined 20-16. The oddsmakers appear to believe these two teams are equal as the margin of the game is due mostly to a perceived homefield advantage (typically thought of as three points in favor of the home team). However, under head coach Gary Andersen, the Aggies from Utah State are an amazing 13-2 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog! Look for that trend to continue here in a tight game that is eventually won by Utah State.

Tennessee +3 Mississippi State
Mississippi State is 5-0 and ranked in the top-20. With a win over Tennessee and a win next week over Middle Tennessee, coupled with some fortuitous losses elsewhere in the top-20, the Bulldogs could conceivably be in the top-10 when they visit Alabama in two weeks. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. While Mississippi State sports a nice record, they do not have a marquee scalp on the mantle. They have beaten a pair of Sun Belt teams (though kudos to the Bulldogs for traveling to Troy) and two teams that are among the worst in the SEC (Auburn and Kentucky). Suffice it to say, they have not faced an offense the caliber of Tennessee's yet this season. While the Vols have a pair of defeats on their ledger, both those came at the hands of top-15 teams (Florida and Georgia). A win against Mississippi State would mark just the second road conference win for the Vols under Derek Dooley. Tennessee has won six straight in this series with the last Bulldog victory coming in 1994. Look for the Vols to pull the outright upset here and muffle the cries for Dooley's job.

South Alabama +21 Arkansas State
In their maiden voyage as a IA team, South Alabama has yet to win a game against a fellow IA opponent, with their lone win coming courtesy of IAA Nicholls State. However, the Jaguars are a respectable 2-2 ATS, covering as large underdogs against NC State and Mississippi State. Once again the Jaguars find themselves large underdogs, this time to a Sun Belt power. The defending Sun Belt champs have already lost as many games as they did all of last season (three), but still have designs on another Sun Belt championship. Unfortunately for the Red Wolves, they are just 6-8 ATS since 2007 as double-digit favorites. They should beat the IA newcomers at home, but I don't think they will cover this large number.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 14-16

Kent State -1.5 Army
Army comes into this game fresh off their first victory of the season. By beating Boston College last week, the Black Knights snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to last season. Kent State also enters this game off a win. In fact, the Golden Flashes have won three in a row and are actually in first place in the MAC East. A win here would inch the Golden Flashes ever closer to their first bowl game since 1972. The spread here is very small, so a win of almost any kind by Kent State will equal a cover here. Kent State has already won two road games on the season, so playing a motivated Army squad in West Point should not dissuade you from taking them to cover the small number. 
Florida -8.5 Vanderbilt
Coming off the biggest win of the Will Muschamp-era and their biggest win as a program since the Sugar Bowl in January 2010, the Florida Gators face a tricky sandwich road game against Vanderbilt before heading back home to host division rival South Carolina. This seems like a prime opportunity for a letdown. Take the Commodores right? Not so fast. Since sleepwalking through their opening game against Bowling Green, the Gators have covered four consecutive times, with two coming against tough conference opponents on the road. Florida is also 4-1 ATS as a single-digit road favorite since 2007. Honestly, I expected this spread to be almost double the current number. I have an odd feeling of supreme confidence about this game, so don't just wager next month's mortgage payment on this game, take your kid's college fund and let it ride. Oh, and if you're thinking of doing a parlay with two favorites, how about...

Boise State -7.5 Fresno State
I got burned a few weeks ago when I encouraged faithful readers to take Boise at home against BYU. Little did I know the BYU defense was the second-coming of the 1985 Bears (they are currently on a 13 quarter streak of not allowing a touchdown). Boise still managed to win that game despite not scoring an offensive touchdown, but failed to cover the touchdown spread. The Broncos do not need to worry about being held scoreless here. Boise State has won six in a row in this series, covering in each win. Their smallest margin of victory in that span is 13 points, and they have three wins by at least 50 points. Take the Broncos in conjunction with the Gators and enjoy an early retirement after Saturday.

Toledo -13.5 Eastern Michigan
After a close loss at Arizona to begin the season, the Toledo Rockets have reeled off five consecutive victories and have set themselves up, along with Northern Illinois, as the co-favorites in the MAC West. The Rockets are led by first-year coach (he coached last season's bowl game) Matt Campbell, the youngest coach in IA. Campbell will seek to run his career mark to 7-1 when the Rockets face an Eastern Michigan team that remains winless more than a month into the season. After a surprising 6-6 finish in 2011, the Eagles have lost each game in 2012 by at least 11 points, including their home game against IAA Illinois State. Eastern Michigan played in front of just over 6000 fans last week when they faced Kent State in their MAC home-opener. That number should dwindle even further against the Rockets, preventing the Eagles from enjoying much of a homefield advantage. Toledo has won and covered five consecutive times against the Eagles, with each win coming by at least 24 points. Look for more of the same on Saturday in Ypsilanti.
Virginia -1.5 Maryland
Virginia is the only college football team that has yet to cover the spread thus far in 2012. So why am I picking them this week? Let's call it the Boston Red Sox rule. By 2004, the Red Sox were due for a World Series title. While five games is not nearly as long as 86 years, the same concept applies. Virginia is bound to cover the spread sooner or later and Saturday against Maryland is a prime candidate for that initial cover. Virginia and Maryland are permanent rivals in the ACC's divisional format. Since the ACC went to divisional play in 2005, the Cavaliers are 5-2 ATS against the Terps with five covers in their last six meetings. The spread is small and the Cavs are playing at home. That them to win by at least a field goal.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Fab Five: Week VI

A pessimist would say the 4-6 week I endured would lose one a solid sum of money in Vegas. The optimist would say that 4-6 beats the heck out of 1-9. The fourth consecutive non-winning week drops my yearly mark to  22-28. Wake me when September ends. We'll try to do better in the month of October. Home teams in Bold.

5 Dogs I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 12-13

Arkansas +10 Auburn
I know. This may be the craziest pick of the week, but hear me out. Arkansas is well on their way to a losing season (and perhaps a two or three-win season) after beginning the year in the top 10. Their defense has been horrendous, surrendering an average of 558 yards and 45 points to the four IA teams they have faced. On the other hand, their offense has remained relatively prolific, averaging 461 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers, and Texas A&M (quarterback Tyler Wilson's IA starts). The problems on offense have been limited to turnovers. The Hogs have committed 15 turnovers in five games, while creating only two. If they can keep the turnovers to a minimum, this game should be closer than the experts think. Auburn is no juggernaut themselves, coming into the game ranked 117th nationally in total offense (298 yards per game) and 78th in total defense (419 yards per game). In addition, outside of the Cam Newton aided 2010 season, Gene Chizik is just 12-16 Against the Spread (ATS) as coach at Auburn. Take Arkansas to cover this relatively high number.

Virginia Tech +4 North Carolina
The preeminent ACC program of the past eight years or so appears to have fallen on hard times. Virginia Tech has dropped two of their past three games with the defeats coming at the hands of lightly regarded Big East teams Pitt and Cincinnati. The Hokies were decisive favorites in both games. Now Virginia Tech resumes ACC play as an underdog to a conference mate for the first time since their 2009 league opener against Miami. What did the Hokies do as a two-point home underdog in that game? They merely won 31-7. In fact, since 2006, Virginia Tech is 6-2 ATS as an underdog against an ACC opponent. Counted out after early non-conference losses in 2007, 2008, and 2010, the Hokies rebounded to not only take the ACC Coastal Division, but also the league crown. Could it be deja vu all over again? North Carolina is a little over-valued after waxing Idaho 66-0 last week. Take the Hokies getting the points here and don't be surprised if they go on a run that ends with another ACC Championship Game appearance.

Florida +3 LSU
The Gators have seen promising seasons spiral into (relative) oblivion at the hands of the Tigers the past two years. In 2010, Florida hosted LSU with a 4-1 record and a ranking of 14 in the AP Poll. They lost in dramatic fashion and finished just 3-3 over the remaining six games. Last season, they also entered the game 4-1 and sported a ranking of 17. LSU crushed them in Baton Rouge 41-11. The Gators limped to a 2-4 finish down the stretch with the wins coming against Vanderbilt and Furman. Will this season be different? I think so. For starters, Florida has already proven themselves to be a formidable team. In 2010, their lone win in their first four was over an eventual bowl team was at Tennessee. That Tennessee team finished just 6-7. Last season, their best win up to the LSU game was also against Tennessee. That Volunteer squad managed just a 5-7 mark. Thus far, Florida has beaten both Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road. The Aggies managed just 17 points against the punishing Florida defense, but have scored 176 points in their other three games. Tennessee managed just 20 against the Gators, but the Vols have scored 177 in their other four games. This game also marks just the second time LSU has ventured away from Baton Rouge on the young season. In their first road trip, the Tigers narrowly escaped a very flawed Auburn team 12-10. This spread should be reversed. Take Florida to win here, and then prepare the hype machine for when they host the Gamecocks in two weeks.

Marshall +3 Tulsa
One season after putting two teams in the final AP Poll, Conference USA may be the worst conference in IA football. With a month of the season in the books, two teams currently have a winning record. East Carolina is 3-2, with two of their wins coming in the conference. Tulsa is 4-1, also boasting two conference wins. In addition, a third of the league is winless. Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulane, and UAB are all 0-4. Yikes! While Tulsa does boast a 4-1 record, their two league wins have come against a pair of the aforementioned winless quartet (Tulane and UAB). One of their non-league wins came against IAA Nicholls State. Their lone respectable win came at home against Fresno State, by a single point. Their opponent on Saturday, Marshall, sits at 2-3, but two of their losses have come on the road at BCS conference schools (West Virginia and Purdue) and the third was against undefeated Ohio. Marshall has won seven of their past eight conference home games and has a solid shot at pulling off the outright upset here.

Texas Tech +5.5 Oklahoma
This spread has to be based on reputation only. If we remove the names on the jerseys and consider only what these teams have done this season, Texas Tech would have to be favored. In their two games against IA teams this year, Oklahoma has scored 43 points. One of those games was against UTEP. Most of the Sooners teams under Bob Stoops would score 43 in a half against UTEP. Meanwhile, Texas Tech has played a schedule consisting of more cupcakes than a 3rd grade class party. Still, the Red Raiders have dominated that schedule, outscoring their four opponents by over 30 points per game and allowing just 670 yards of total offense. Couple this information with the fact that Oklahoma has lost their past three trips to Lubbock and you can see why Texas Tech is one of the best bets on the board this week.

Five Faves I Like

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 10-15

UTEP -2.5 Southern Methodist
Since joining Conference USA in 2005, the UTEP Miners have gone 5-2 ATS against their in-state rivals from Dallas. As members of Conference USA, UTEP has not lost to the Pony Express in El Paso. SMU is a little over-valued after keeping the game with TCU close last week (they only lost by eight). However, that final score is misleading as that game was played in a downpour that severely hampered the offense of the Horned Frogs. In their other games against IA offenses (also based in Texas), the Mustangs allowed over 600 yards to both Baylor and Texas A&M. UTEP may not move the ball that well, but they should notch their first conference win of the young season.

Kent State -3 Eastern Michigan
In most weeks, Kent State's exciting 45-43 win over Ball State would have been one of the highest scoring games. Unfortunately, the Golden Flashes were outshone not only by West Virginia and Baylor's refusal to play defense, but also by a game within their own division that saw Miami and Akron combine for 105 points. The Golden Flashes were able to beat Ball State thanks in great part to the play of Dri Archer. The junior running back totaled a modest 72 yards rushing and failed to hit pay dirt on the ground, but he made up for it by catching three passes for 104 yards and pair of touchdowns and also returning a kickoff for a touchdown. Archer will look to get his team to a 3-0 start in the MAC when the Golden Flashes travel to Ypsilanti, Michigan to take on the winless Eagles. Eastern Michigan has lost by at least eleven points to every team they have faced, including IAA Illinois State. Perhaps the Eagles will show some life off a bye, but this spread seems like it should be about a touchdown instead of a field goal.

New Mexico -3.5 Texas State
Welcome back to competitive football New Mexico. While the Lobos are just 2-3 on the season, they have already matched the number of victories they achieved under Mike Locksley in two and a half seasons. While they lost last week to Boise State, they nearly climbed out of a 25-0 hole, but could not quite reach the summit, falling 32-29. The Lobos have embraced the option this season and have topped 300 yards on the ground twice and 200 yards four times. Playing at home, the Lobos should do enough to beat IA newcomer Texas State by at least a touchdown.

Duke -2 Virginia
Time to party like its 1994? As hard as it may be to believe the Duke Blue Devils are just two wins away from a likely spot in their first postseason game since the days of gangsta rap, grunge, and the baseball strike. Last week Duke upset Wake Forest (beating my Deacons for the first time since 1999) and moved to 4-1. Now they host Virginia, a team they are 3-1 against under David Cutcliffe. Under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils are also 3-0-1 ATS against the Cavaliers, winning and covering in both games held in Durham. Look for the Blue Devils to lack just a single win to attain bowl eligibility come Saturday night.

Boise State -11 Southern Miss
Under Chris Petersen, Boise State has failed to cover in three consecutive regular season games just once in his career (last season, the Broncos went an amazing six consecutive games without covering to close the regular season). The Broncos are currently riding an 0 for 2 streak, edging out BYU and New Mexico by one and three points respectively. They should get well on the road against a Southern Miss team that is winless through the season's first four games. Southern Miss is a little over-valued thanks to their close home loss to Louisville last week. However, like SMU and TCU, that game was played in a deluge that severely limited Louisville's offensive output. Look for the Broncos to roll here as they prepare to enter Mountain West play.