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.

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