Friday, September 27, 2013

Fab Five: Week V

Well, we finally broke through. Despite a push and backdoor cover that didn't go out way, Week IV still ended with your humble narrator going 6-4-1, our first winning week on the season. The yearly mark now stands at 18-21-1. We'll seek to end September on another positive note. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-3
Overall: 8-12

Wake Forest +29 Clemson
Full disclosure, I am a Wake Forest alum. However, I have never let my allegiances get in the way of an objective pick, and for this week, I think the Demon Deacons are one of the biggest locks on the board. Let's start with a breakdown of the Clemson Tigers. Despite ranking third in the nation in the latest AP poll, their highest ranking since 1988, the Tigers have not been terribly impressive in the early going. True, they did manage to knock off Georgia at home, but in that game, the Tigers averaged just over six yards per play, while allowing nearly eight yards per snap. In their next two games, against South Carolina State and NC State, they averaged just 5.4 yards per play. Last season, Clemson averaged under five and a half yards per play just twice, against Virginia Tech and in the bowl against LSU. Plus, anyone that watched last Thursday's win over NC State understands that quarterback Tajh Boyd struggles mightily when under pressure. Wake Forest does not have a very good offense, but their defense, particularly defensive linemen Nikita Whitlock and Zach Thompson, should pressure Tajh Boyd and make him uncomfortable. With their offensive deficiencies, Wake Forest has almost no chance to win this game, but should be able to stay within about two touchdowns of the Tigers.

Akron +14.5 Bowling Green
Sooner or later, the tide has to turn for Terry Bowden and the Akron Zips right? After going 0-4 in one-score games last season en route to a 1-11 finish, the Zips have lost a tight contest each of the past two weeks. The first came against a Big 10 power (Michigan) and the second came against a likely Sun Belt bowl team (Louisiana-Lafayette). While the Zips lost both games, gamblers will be delighted to know that they did cover the number in both. In fact, under Bowden, the Zips are 6-1 Against the Spread (ATS) as a double-digit road underdog, or precisely the position they find themselves in on Saturday. Akron has been highly competitive the past two weeks, and I expect that trend to continue against one of the front-runners in the MAC East.

South Alabama +18.5 Tennessee
Last time Tennessee faced a Sun Belt opponent at home, the bludgeoned Western Kentucky by 32 points. However, the Hilltoppers committed an absurd seven turnovers in that game that allowed Tennessee to win handily. Yardage wise, the Hilltoppers actually slightly outgained the Vols and nearly met their average in yards per play. Plus, despite the fact that the Jaguars are in just their fifth season of college football, and just their second at the IA level, they appear to be pretty good. South Alabama did beat that same Western Kentucky team two weeks ago. In fact, since joining IA last season, the Jaguars are a robust 4-1 ATS as a double-digit road underdog. In fact, they covered in both situations as an underdog versus BCS-conference teams last year, holding their own against both NC State and Mississippi State. I don't expect the Jaguars to win here, but Tennessee has enough issues for this to be about a two-touchdown margin. 

West Virginia +18.5 Oklahoma State
Last week, West Virginia was shut out for the first time since 2001, when Virginia Tech whitewashed them 35-0, and held without an offensive touchdown for the first time since the second game of the 2008 season. While the offense struggled to move the ball against the Terrapins, the defense remained stout as it has been for the majority of the season. The Mountaineers held Maryland to 330 yards (225 below their average output coming in) and 4.58 yards per play (over three yards below below their average output coming in). The Mountaineers were done in by six turnovers, including four lost fumbles. It is very hard to win any game with that many giveaways. West Virginia has only been a home underdog twice since the beginning of the 2006 season, and a double-digit underdog just once. Last season, Oklahoma came to Morgantown as an eleven-point favorite and won by just a single point. Expect more of the same when another team from that state travels east to face the Mountaineers this week. 

Southern Cal +5 Arizona State
Lane Kiffin has had moderate success at Southern Cal. The Trojans own a 28-14 record under his watch, but compared to expectations, they have disappointed. ATS, they have also disappointed, managing just a 17-25 mark as far as those in Vegas are concerned. However, one area where Lane Kiffin has been money in the bank, aside from his choice in spouses, is as a road underdog. The Trojans have been road underdogs five times under Kiffin, and are 4-1 ATS in such situations, including three outright wins. Since losing to Washington State at home, the public has been down on the Trojans. Take advantage of the public's lack of understanding here as the Trojans have a great opportunity to leave Tempe with an upset win.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-1-1
Overall: 10-9-1

North Carolina -12 East Carolina
The Tar Heels will attempt to move to 2-0 against Conference USA teams on Saturday when they host the Pirates of East Carolina. Three weeks ago, the Tar Heels hosted the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee and covered as an eighteen-point favorite, winning 40-20. Now they take on an East Carolina team that has already challenged one ACC team, losing 15-10 two weeks ago at home against Virginia Tech. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this game is the venue. North Carolina is 3-1 ATS under head coach Larry Fedora as a double-digit home favorite and 3-0 ATS in home games versus teams from non-BCS conferences. Meanwhile, East Carolina is just 1-6 ATS under Ruffin McNeill as a double-digit road underdog. Plus, while the Pirates are 3-1 ATS against BCS conference opponents at home, they are 0-4 ATS in such games on the road. Look for the Tar Heels to win this game by at least two touchdowns.

Northern Illinois -3.5 Purdue
The Huskies from Dekalb, Illinois have gotten off to a 3-0 start, but it certainly has not been easy. They knocked off Iowa, of the Big 10, by a field goal in the opener. Then after a week off, they traveled to Idaho where they fell behind early, before rallying to beat the hapless Vandals. Then last week in their home opener, they fell behind once again to Eastern Illinois, a team that already owns a victory over a IA school, but again rallied to win. Eastern Illinois, despite their IAA status is a quality team, so I wouldn't read a great deal into the struggles displayed by the Huskies last week. Despite their close loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago, Purdue is simply not a good team. The Huskies should win here by at least a touchdown.

Oklahoma -3.5 Notre Dame
Last season, the Irish waltzed into Norman as a nearly two-touchdown underdog and knocked off the Sooners 30-13. The loss was Oklahoma's second home loss on the season and third in their past eight home games. Considering they did not lose a home game in any season beginning in 2006 and continuing through 2010, that was quite a feat. Now the Sooners travel to South Bend where Notre Dame is an underdog for just the third time under Brian Kelly. Both previous times happened in 2010, first against Stanford, and then against an overrated Utah team. The Irish were not competitive against the Andrew Luck-led Cardinal, but they managed to upset the Utes. Contrary to usual circumstances, Oklahoma is probably a little underrated heading into this game. The Sooners own non-competitive wins over solid mid-majors (Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa) and a two-score victory over an average at worse West Virginia team. Notre Dame has a home win over a putrid Temple team, a road loss against a perhaps less than spectacular Michigan team, a home win over a definite less than spectacular Purdue team, and an official-aided home win over Michigan State. Count on the Sooners winning this game by at least a touchdown.  

Iowa -1 Minnesota
Both these teams played curious games last week. Minnesota defeated San Jose State by the seemingly comfortable final score of 43-24, yet somehow the Spartans averaged nearly five more yards per play (9.35 to 4.37). Three forced turnovers and nearly 50% more plays accounted for their margin of victory. Meanwhile, Iowa beat Western Michigan 59-3, the most points they have scored since dropping the double-nickel on...Minnesota in the regular season finale in 2008. Iowa scored four non-offensive touchdowns in the win last week, with a pair of interception returns by BJ Lowery and a pair of punt returns by Kevonte Martin-Manley accounting for nearly half their scoring. Still, Iowa has been much more proficient on offense in 2013, averaging over 130 more yards per game than they did in 2012. After losing consecutive games to the Gophers in 2010 and 2011, the Hawkeyes should hang on to the Floyd of Rosedale for a second year in a row.

Wyoming -10.5 Texas State
One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 college football season thus far, at least outside of the BCS conferences, is the play of the Wyoming Cowboys. After going 4-8 last season and averaging under five and a half yards per play, including just 5.18 in Mountain West play, the 'Pokes have been downright explosive in 2013. They are currently averaging 6.83 yards per play and 556 yards per game. The previous high for yards per play and per game under Dave Christensen 5.52 in 2011 and 389 yards in 2012. Quarterback Brett Smith has thrown for 13 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 300 yards, providing a dual-threat under center for the Cowboys. The Cowboys are also unblemished ATS against IA opponents, after blitzing Air Force by 33 points on the road last week. Texas State is in just their second year of IA football and does not look to be able to hang with one of the Mountain West's best teams even though the game is in San Marcos.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fab Five: Week IV

Week III was another ho-hum effort for your humble prognosticator. The season is slowly slipping away, so the picks better start improving. Last week, one of the games we picked was postponed so the final tally was 4-5. This week, we'll pick eleven games, adding an extra underdog pick to make up for the postponed Fresno State/Colorado grudge match. The overall mark is now 12-17. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 1-3
Overall: 5-9

Boise State +4 Fresno State
The Broncos have faded from the national conscience after their opening smackdown at the hands of the Washington Huskies. The nation at-large is not used to seeing the Broncos be handled so easily, especially by, what for the last decade, has been a middling at best Pac-12 outfit. The good news for degenerates is that the Broncos may now be an undervalued asset. Consider these facts. The Broncos have not lost to Fresno State since 2005, and have beaten them by at least ten points in every game since. Along with Utah State, these are likely the two best teams in the Mountain West and a rematch could well be on the horizon in the inaugural Mountain West Championship Game. Doubt Boise State at your own risk.

Kansas State +6 Texas
Since losing the 2009 BCS National Championship Game to Alabama, Texas has gone just 23-18. To put those 18 losses into context, consider that Mack Brown lost just 27 games in his first 12 seasons as the head coach at Texas and just 19 in the ten-season span from 2000-2009. However, living in the more recent past, the Longhorns are just 7-11 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home favorite since 2010 and just 3-8 as a home favorite against teams from BCS conferences. Kansas State has won five straight in this series and stands a great chance to make it six in a row on Saturday.

Michigan State +6 Notre Dame
While the opponent was Youngstown State (IAA), it had to be comforting for Michigan State fans to see that their offense could score against somebody. The offense scored seven touchdowns against the Penguins, or one more than they had accounted for in the previous four games dating back to last season (all Spartan wins amazingly). I doubt if they will drop the double-nickel on Notre Dame, but the Spartans should be strong enough defensively to keep this one close.

Central Michigan +13 Toledo
Last week the Chippewas squandered a great chance at a non-conference road win, blowing a 21-0 lead while losing at UNLV 31-21. The Chippewas will look to rebound against a Toledo team that has played their share of heavyweights thus far in 2013. The Rockets have two losses against SEC teams on their resume (Florida and Missouri) and a home win over a IAA darling (Eastern Washington). However, Toledo is just 2-6 ATS as a favorite under current head coach Matt Campbell and 0-2 ATS as a road favorite. The Rockets have the firepower to win a shootout, but this one should stay within two touchdowns.

Utah +7 BYU
Utah may have dropped their Pac-12 opener to Oregon State last week, in one of the more entertaining game of the weekend I might add, but the early returns on the offense coordinated by Dennis Erickson have to be encouraging. In their first two seasons in the Pac-12, the Utes played 18 conference games. Not once did they gain over 500 yards of offense or average more than seven yards per play. They did both against the Beavers. Quarterback Travis Wilson already has as many touchdown passes (7) as he had all of last season. Wilson also leads the team in rushing with 244 yards. This week, the Utes will travel to Provo for the Holy War with BYU. Despite their recent offensive struggles, the Utes have actually won the last three in this series and four of the past five, winning outright the past two seasons as underdogs. BYU gashed Texas two weeks ago as the faithful in Austin begin to bang the drum slowly for Mack Brown. However, while the Cougars looked impressive on the ground, their quarterback, Taysom Hill, is pretty much the college version of the pro version of Tim Tebow (make sense?). Hill has rushed for over 300 yards, but has completed just a third of his passes through two games! With such an antiquated offense, it will be tough for BYU to cover the touchdown line here.

San Jose State +4 Minnesota
As far an non-conference games between teams that haven't played in over twenty years go, this one is pretty intriguing. Minnesota will look to begin 4-0 for the second consecutive year. By all accounts, San Jose State will be the toughest team they have faced thus far in 2013. Their other three wins have come over teams with a combined single win over a IA opponent. But hey, if it gets you to a bowl. Like BYU, Minnesota has been effective despite an inaccurate quarterback. Philip Nelson has completed just over half his passes, but he has accounted for over 200 yards on the ground (in fact he is the Gophers leading rusher). San Jose State will attempt to spring the outright upset and claim their first win over a team from a BCS conference since 2006. San Jose State is 11-5 ATS since 2010 as a road underdog and is actually 14-2 ATS in their past 16 games against IA teams.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 7-8

Pitt -4 Duke
Is there a more underrated team in the nation than the Pitt Panthers? I could not believe the opening line in this game was under a touchdown. Pitt has played two games this season, one against a team that is appears to be very good, and another against a team that appears to be quite bad. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Panthers have suffered one blowout defeat and have achieved one blowout win. Duke opened the season 2-0 before reality reared its ugly head last week in a 24-point home loss to Georgia Tech. Pitt should have no trouble in Durham, and despite the fact that the Devils are more competitive under Cutcliffe, they are just 4-6 ATS as a single-digit underdog under his guidance. This should be one of the more lopsided contests of the weekend. Come Sunday, you'll be amazed the line was ever this low.

Virginia Tech -8 Marshall
The Hokies failed to cover last week on the road as just over a touchdown favorite against a contender in Conference USA. Now they return to Blacksburg to take on another Conference USA school, this time as a similar favorite. And once again, I think the Hokies are the pick. Marshall has an explosive offense, scoring at least 30 points in each of their three contests in 2013. However, Virginia Tech may have one of the best defenses in the nation. The Alabama offense last seen laying waste to Texas A&M could barely muster 200 yards against the Hokies. Virginia Tech is a healthy 4-1 ATS in homes games against teams outside of a BCS conference. The Hokies will humble the Herd and cover this number.

Ball State -10.5 Eastern Michigan
Remember the name Pete Lembo. He may be coaching your favorite BCS conference team next year. If you hail him as a Messiah, you might be right. The man did get his start in Bethlehem after all. All right, enough sacrilege for one week. Under Lembo, the Cardinals have amassed a 17-11 mark in a shade over two season. They have beaten three teams from BCS conferences, including two victories over in-state big brother Indiana. Now they open conference play against what appears to be a hapless Eastern Michigan team. The Eagles have won eleven games in four plus seasons under Ron English, and own just eight wins over IA teams! The Eagles are just 5-10 ATS as a home underdog under English and an even worse 2-6 ATS as a double-digit underdog. Ball State should have no problem romping to a victory in their first conference game of 2013.

Rutgers -1.5 Arkansas
The cakewalk portion of the season is over for Bret Bielema and Arkansas. While the Hogs avoided any monumental upsets, they were not thoroughly impressive in their wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, or Southern Miss (teams with zero combined IA wins). A trip to New Jersey to face Rutgers could be just what they need as they prepare for a brutal SEC slate. Arkansas is a poor 1-5 ATS as a road underdog since 2011 and should have a hard time containing what has morphed into an explosive Rutgers offense. Look for the Knights to take this game and cover the small number.

Missouri -1.5 Indiana
Believe it or not, these two midwestern neighbors separated by just a single state (Illinois) have not played each other since 1992. However, from 1985 through 1992, they played eight times with the Hoosiers winning six times and the teams tying twice. In fact, Missouri has not beaten Indiana since 1953 (also the last time they won at Indiana). Times are a little different now than they were in the late 1980's and early 90's. For starters, Missouri has a competent football program. After going on an extended bowl drought from 1984 through 1996, the Tigers have actually played in ten bowls over the past 16 seasons, and had a seven year bowl streak snapped last season. Now the shoe is on the other foot as it were. Indiana has played in just one bowl game since 1993, and has not won a bowl game since 1991. But enough about history. Missouri is a solid 6-3 ATS as a road favorite since 2008 and Indiana is just 1-3 ATS as a single-digit home underdog under Kevin Wilson. Take the Tigers to cover this small number.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fab Five: Week III

Week II represented a bit of a bounce back. The picks went a pedestrian 5-5, bringing the yearly total to 8-12. Hopefully, we have gotten the kinks ironed out and the picks will be better from here on out. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 4-6

Colorado +10 Fresno State
Don't look now, but the Buffaloes have shown signs of life in year one of the Mike MacIntyre era. The Buffs have won their first two games of the season while scoring 41 and 38 points respectively. In the duration of the Jon Embree era, the Buffs scored 38 or more points just once, in a 48-29 home win over Arizona in 2011. The star of the rejuvenated Colorado offense has been receiver Paul Richardson who has posted nearly identical stat lines of 10 catches for 208 yards and 11 catches for 209 yards in the two victories. After tearing his ACL and missing all of the 2012 season, Richardson has returned with a vengeance and the Colorado offense already has more than half as many touchdown passes (6) as they had all of last season (11). The Buffs will not only seek a 3-0 start, but also a modicum of revenge against a Fresno State team that humiliated them 69-14 last season in the Silicon Valley. Don't be surprised if the Bulldogs lack focus here as they have a key conference game with Boise State next Friday. Fresno State has already failed to cover once this season as a large favorite, holding off Rutgers 52-51 as a ten-point home favorite on the opening Thursday night of the college football season. Prior to the debacle that was the Jon Embree era, the Buffs were actually a healthy 10-7-1 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home underdog under Dan Hawkins. In addition, current head coach Mike MacIntyre has actually covered the last six games and 14 of the past 16 dating back to his time at San Jose State. Look for that trend to continue here with Colorado standing a good chance at pulling the outright upset.

Bowling Green +2.5 Indiana
Don't look now, but the MAC could potentially have a team sneak into a BCS bowl game for the second straight year. I know there is a long way to go, but hear me out. Bowling Green has already beaten a Conference USA power (Tulsa) and knocked off a huge threat to their division title hopes (Kent State). They still have to travel to Indiana and Mississippi State outside the conference and potentially win out in conference play, but the opportunity exists. In addition, conference mate Northern Illinois has already beaten a team from a BCS conference (Iowa) and has a shot at another Big 10 team in a few weeks (Purdue). If the Huskies can keep winning, another ranked showdown in the MAC Championship Game could be on the horizon. Before we get to that though, the Falcons must travel to Bloomington to take on an Indiana team coming off a home loss as a double-digit favorite to Navy. The Hoosiers are no stranger to losing to teams from outside the BCS conferences, having done so five times in Kevin Wilson's two plus seasons. In four of the defeats, Indiana came into the game as a betting favorite. Bowling Green appears to be one of the better mid-major schools in the nation in 2013. Expect them to continue their unblemished season with an outright upset over a Big 10 team on Saturday.

Connecticut +7 Maryland
As you may have heard (or may not have, we are talking Connecticut football here), the Huskies lost their opener to a IAA squad in the Towson Tigers. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni is now 10-15 since taking over for Randy Edsall prior to the 2011 season. In a nice coincidence, Edsall is now coaching Maryland and is looking to keep his Terrapins positioned for a bowl bid with a 3-0 start. Maryland has looked downright impressive, but keep in mind their wins have come against Florida International, a team so bad they are actually three-point underdogs at home this weekend against IAA Bethune Cookman, and Old Dominion, a team making the transition to IA. Methinks Maryland is getting a little too much love here and Connecticut is actually 4-1 ATS as a home underdog under Pasqualoni. Look for the Huskies to surprise a lot of folks (at least those paying attention) and keep this one close.

Kentucky +13.5 Louisville
With the embarrassing performance of Cincinnati last week against Illinois, an undefeated campaign is appearing more likely in Louisville. The Cardinals have not been challenged in their first two contests, blowout home wins over Ohio of the MAC and Eastern Kentucky of IAA. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has already thrown nine touchdowns and is averaging an absurd 12.5 yards per pass attempt. However, before we get too caught up in the Louisville hype, remember this will be their first road contest of the year. Under Charlie Strong, the Cardinals are 0-2 ATS as a double digit road favorite, narrowly beating a pair of poor non-BCS conference foes, Florida International and Southern Miss, by a combined eleven points last season. Kentucky is likely headed for a fourth consecutive losing season, but they have started out with a pair of solid performances in 2012. Though they lost to Western Kentucky in the season's first week, the Wildcats averaged nearly seven yards per play and topped that by averaging over nine yards per play the following week against Miami of Ohio. Playing at home, with a chance to make a statement against an arch-rival, look for Kentucky to keep this one close.

Wisconsin +5 Arizona State
Both these teams will be facing by far their stiffest tests of the young 2013 season on Saturday night. Wisconsin has bludgeoned two over-matched foes, and has actually not allowed a point thus far in 2013. They will face an Arizona State team that has also yet to allow a point. Clearly, one of these teams will see their shutout streak end this week. While at Utah State, current Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen posted an absurd 14-2 ATS mark as a road underdog. In addition, teams coached by Andersen are 11-2 ATS in their last 13 games. Take the Badgers to keep this one close and potentially leave Tempe with an outright upset.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 4-6

Virginia Tech -7.5 East Carolina
While their opener with Alabama looked like a mauling on the scoreboard, the Hokies from Virginia Tech actually acquitted themselves quite well against the Crimson Tide. The Hokies held Alabama to just over 200 yards of total offense at just over three yards per snap. The Hokies were done in by three non-offensive touchdowns the Tide managed in rapid succession. While Virginia Tech did not exactly move the ball with Oregon-like efficiency against Alabama, they are likely to encounter significantly less resistance against the Pirates of East Carolina. The Pirates have two wins to their credit, but they have come against a IAA program (Old Dominion) and a very lo-fi IA program (Florida Atlantic). The Hokies are 7-3 ATS as a single digit road favorite the past four seasons and should put the clamps on the Pirate offense en route to a double-digit margin of victory.

Georgia Tech -8.5 Duke
While ACC teams have been making headlines, some good, some great, and others not so much, the Yellow Jackets have remained on the college football periphery. The only data point we have on the Yellow Jackets is that they rolled Elon 70-0 while averaging a whopping nine yards per play. Now Georgia Tech faces a critical stretch of Coastal Division games against Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Miami. After this four-game stretch, the Yellow Jackets will either harbor serious divisional aspirations or potentially need a big finishing run to even qualify for a bowl. The fun starts with a trip to Durham where Georgia Tech is unbeaten under Paul Johnson and 1-1 ATS. Overall under Johnson, Georgia Tech is 7-4-1 ATS as a road favorite and an even better 4-1 ATS as a single digit road favorite. Duke should be competitive at home, but Georgia Tech should take this one by double digits.

UTEP -5.5 New Mexico State
The Miners of Texas-El Paso opened the Sean Kugler era with a home loss to New Mexico. In that game, the Miners were laughably deficient when it came to stopping the Lobos option attack. As a team, the Lobos averaged nearly seven yards per rush and running back Kasey Carrier had nearly 300 yards on the ground by himself (291). Still, the Miners moved the ball behind quarterback Jameill Showers, who you may remember engaged in an intense quarterback battle last summer with eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Showers should again find the opposition very forgiving on the defensive side of the ball as New Mexico State has allowed over nine yards per play in their first two games against Texas and Minnesota. Opposing quarterbacks have completed two-thirds of their passes and the Aggies have allowed over 700 yards on the ground through two games. UTEP has won the previous four in this series with no win coming by fewer than six points, and three by at least 13 points. Look for Sean Kugler and company to get their first win against the hapless Aggies.

Iowa -2 Iowa State
Heading to Ames to face in-state rival Iowa, the Hawkeyes will seek to end a two-game losing streak in the series. Iowa has dropped the past two games to the Cyclones, with each loss coming by three points, albeit in wildly different fashion. Two years ago, the Cyclones won a wild shootout 44-41 in overtime and last season, the Cyclones won a soporific game by a 9-6 final score. While Iowa opened the season with a loss to Northern Illinois, after beating them last season, the Hawkeyes actually moved the ball well, averaging 5.73 yards per play. The The Hawkeyes were that explosive on offense just thrice last season, against Northern Iowa (a IAA team), Central Michigan (a middling MAC team), and Minnesota (a bad Big 10 team). On the other sideline, if Iowa State has designs on a third consecutive bowl, this amounts to a must-win game. With a loss to a IAA team already on their resume, a road trip to Tulsa, and nine Big 12 games, this one looms large. Iowa likely won't be players in the Big 10 race, but they should do enough to win this game by at least a field goal.

Texas -2.5 Ole Miss
To me, this seems like the perfect week to lay some of your hard-earned money on Texas. Embarrassed last week? Check. Opposing players dissing you on Twitter? Check. Playing at home? Check. Still immensely talented? Check. Time to circle the wagons. Maybe this game goes the other way and the Mack Brown era is over (if not literally, at least figuratively) by Sunday morning. Still, Texas beat this team on the road last season by five touchdowns. Not five points, five touchdowns. In their only road game thus far, Ole Miss barely escaped Vanderbilt. Vandy is solid, but playing in the 'Horns in Austin is a lot different from playing in Nashville. Take the Longhorns and put three orfour mortgage payments on this game.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Fab Five: Week II

Well, the opening weekend did not quite go as well as we had hoped. I went just 3-7 and if you lost a great sum of money I do apologize. However, this is a new week, and your humble narrator has dug himself out of much larger holes than this. On to the picks! Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 1-4

West Virginia +21 Oklahoma
Last week, West Virginia, a team that was once ranked as high as number five last season, found themselves down double-digits to IAA William and Mary. The Mountaineers rallied to win the game 24-17, but no confidence was inspired amongst the faithful in Morgantown. However, keep this little nugget in mind. Since 2008, 24 IA teams have beaten IAA teams by seven point or fewer in their first game. Of those 24 teams, 17 covered the following week. If we delve even deeper into the numbers, 14 of those teams have been underdogs the following week. 11 of them have covered. It appears that narrowly edging a IAA team in your first game will make you criminally underrated by the betting public the following week. Couple that with the fact that Oklahoma is a very mortal 10-10 as a double-digit home favorite since 2009, and you have a recipe for some value this week. Count on the Mountaineers keeping this one close.

Navy +12.5 Indiana
Last week, Indiana won by more than a single touchdown for the just the fourth time under Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers rolled up 73 points and over 600 yards of offense against Larry Bird's alma mater. That was marked improvement over last season when the Hoosiers beat the Sycamores by just a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Naval Academy had an extra week of preparation as they did not play in the opening college football festivities. Navy is catching nearly two touchdowns here and is actually 13-5 Against The Spread (ATS) as a road underdog under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The Midshipmen beat the Hoosiers last season in an nailbiter 31-30. Indiana appears to be much improved, but Navy has proven time and again to be a pesky squad. I could see them losing by two touchdowns to an upper-tier BCS conference opponent, but the Hoosiers are not on that level.

Kent State +7.5 Bowling Green
Like West Virginia, Kent State struggled with a IAA opponent last week, needing a touchdown in the final five minutes to beat Liberty in a defensive struggle 17-10. The Golden Flashes were without the services of their own flash, running back Dri Archer who left the game early in the first quarter with an injury, Archer averaged nine yards per rush last season while accounting for 24 touchdowns in a variety of ways. While the Flashes were struggling to beat a IAA team, Bowling Green was rolling over the defending Conference USA champs, clobbering Tulsa 34-7. While the scoreboard indicated a blowout, Tulsa missed several scoring opportunities after driving deep into Bowling Green territory. Kent State is highly under-valued here, having won three straight in this series with covers in four consecutive games with the Falcons. The Golden Flashes will keep this one close and have a shot at springing the outright upset.

San Diego State +28 Ohio State
While West Virginia struggled with a IAA team last week, San Diego State did them one better and actually lost, it grisly fashion to Eastern Illinois of the lower division. The Aztecs committed five turnovers and allowed over 500 yards of offense to the Panthers in a 40-19 defeat. Before we go throwing dirt on their grave or diagnosing them with smallpox, remember, these Aztecs have been to three consecutive bowl games and are actually 6-2 ATS as a road underdog the past three seasons. Four touchdowns is a lot to give, especially for an Ohio State team that is just 4-7 ATS as a double-digit home favorite since 2011. With a road date at Cal on deck, expect the Buckeyes to sleepwalk here and fail to cover.

San Jose State +26.5 Stanford
Stanford did not miss a beat when David Shaw replaced Jim Harbaugh prior to the 2011 season. The Cardinal have gone 23-4, won a Pac-12 title, and played in two BCS bowls. Even considering the Cardinal had won 20 games in Jim Harbaugh's final two seasons, that ain't half bad. However, despite their successes in winning games, the Cardinal are a rather pedestrian 5-4 as a double digit home favorite under Shaw, including just a 1-3 mark last season, their first under Shaw sans Andrew Luck. Stanford scored over 27 points, the lowest amount they would have to get to to cover this number, just four times last season. Those games came against Duke, Arizona (in overtime), Colorado, and UCLA. Meanwhile, San Jose State is 7-4 ATS as a double-digit road underdog since 2010. San Jose State is also 13-2 ATS in their past 15 games. I don't think Stanford has an offense that is explosive enough to bury San Jose State. The Cardinal should win with their stout defense, but the Spartans should hang with them in this game. 

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 2-3

Cincinnati -7.5 Illinois
I know Illinois meets the criteria mentioned in the West Virginia and Kent State write ups as a team that narrowly edged a IAA opponent in their first game (the Illini beat Southern Illinois by eight), but all things considered, Cincinnati should probably be favored by double digits here. The Bearcats bludgeoned Purdue by five touchdowns in their opener and are 5-2 ATS in the role of road favorite since 2010. In addition, Texas Tech, while being coached by Tommy Tuberville was 6-1-1 ATS as a road favorite and 3-1-1 ATS as a single digit road favorite. Coming off a 2-10 campaign and winning a somewhat close game over a IAA team does not inspire a lot of confidence for the Illini despite the homefield advantage. Take Cincinnati to continue their winning ways in 2013. 

Oregon -23 Virginia
Last week, Virginia won a game that may end up saving their coach's job at the end of the year. With non-conference games against Oregon and Ball State, as well as an ACC slate that includes games with Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech, six wins will be hard to come by. Their narrow win over BYU could could grant them entry into the postseason. While the Cavaliers won the game, they certainly did not look great in doing so. They amassed only 223 total yards and averaged just over three yards per snap. Meanwhile, out west, the Ducks eviscerated another opponent, gaining nearly 800 yards against IAA Nicholls State. Virginia should present a little bigger challenge, but the Ducks are 7-3 ATS as a double digit road favorite since 2009 and are 12-5 ATS as a road favorite of any kind in that span. Meanwhile, Virginia is just 3-6 ATS as a home underdog under Mike London. Its hard to imagine Virginia scoring more than two touchdowns here, so if the Ducks aren't too jet lagged, they should be a solid play.

Tulane -5.5 South Alabama
Don't look now, but this might just be the best team Tulane has fielded in over a decade. The Green Wave have not played in a bowl since 2002, and have not won more than four games since 2004. However, with one win already under their belt and solid chance at victory in this game, the Green Wave could match last season's win total before mid-September. On Saturday, the Green Wave will host a South Alabama team that is only in their fifth season of organized football and just their second season at the IA level. The Jaguars have yet to cover in their brief history as a single digit underdog, going 0-5 ATS in such a role last season. Look for that trend to continue in the Superdome on Saturday. 

Duke -4 Memphis
This game at the historic Liberty Bowl marks a rare occasion for the Duke program. Duke has not been a road favorite since the first game of the 2005 season when they were a field goal favorite at East Carolina. The Blue Devils lost that game (shocker) en route to a 1-10 campaign. Mercifully, the Ted Roof era would end two seasons later and David Cutcliffe would usher in a new era of competitiveness in Durham. Under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils are 9-5 ATS versus non-conference opponents and 7-1 against non-BCS non-conference opponents. I know Memphis is technically a BCS-conference foe (for one season at least), but the Blue Devils won this game by 24 last season and should be able to win this one by at least a touchdown.

Tulsa -10 Colorado State
Both these mid-major schools look to rebound from tough starts and avoid falling into an 0-2 hole on the season. For the third consecutive season under Bill Blankenship, the Golden Hurricane stumbled on the road in their opener. However, the previous two seasons, Tulsa has rebounded to cover as a big favorite (both times versus Tulane). While Tulsa lost to a solid, and potentially very strong Bowling Green team, Colorado State lost on a neutral field to their in-state rival Colorado. It remains to be seen how improved Colorado is, but they won only a single game last season, and were one of the worst BCS-conference teams of recent memory. Colorado State is just 1-5 ATS away from Fort Collins under head coach Jim McElwain. Look for that trend to continue in an easy Tulsa win.