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.

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