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.

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