Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fab Five: Week XIV

That is five straight winning weeks for your humble prognosticator. Time to plan a trip to Vegas. And we are now above .500 for the first time all year. The yearly mark is now 65-63-2. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 29-35-1

Mississippi State +4.5 Ole Miss
Mississippi State will be fighting for their bowl lives on Thanksgiving night, needing a victory over their in-state rivals to secure a fourth consecutive bowl bid for the Bulldogs. Ole Miss will be in uncharted territory in this game, having not played on the road since October 5th, a span of seven games and eight weeks! Mississippi State has not lost an Egg Bowl at home since Eli Manning patrolled the Ole Miss sidelines in 2003. The Rebels are a little overvalued here and this spread should probably be closer to a pick 'em. Take the Bulldogs to cover and potentially win outright here.

SMU +9.5 Houston
Houston has rebounded from their disappointing 5-7 2012 campaign to post seven wins in 2013. However, after beginning the year 7-1, the Cougars have dropped three consecutive games and have fallen out of contention in the American Athletic Conference. While the three straight losses have come by a total of 19 points, the Cougars have been significantly outplayed in each. The Cougars have been outgained on average by over 150 yards per game in those contests and have averaged just 3.98 yards per play while allowing 5.67. The Cougars have stayed in each of those three games because they won the turnover battle (+1 margin in each game), their opponents missed kicks (five out of nine in field goal attempts), and they scored a defensive touchdown. SMU is a quality conference opponent that has covered in their previous three road games and still needs one more win for bowl eligibility. Look for the Mustangs to keep this one close and potentially send Houston on a four game skid.

Notre Dame +15 Stanford
With Oregon's loss last week, Stanford has now been assured a spot in the third annual Pac-12 Championship Game. Looking to defend the crown they won last season, and appear in their fourth consecutive BCS bowl berth, the Cardinal must first tangle with a Notre Dame team looking to win nine regular season games in consecutive years for the first time since the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Notre Dame is 4-2 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog under Brian Kelly and Stanford is just 4-7 ATS as a home favorite since Andrew Luck left town. More than two touchdowns is too much for Stanford to lay against a quality team like Notre Dame.

Clemson +5 South Carolina
Can South Carolina do something unprecedented and win five consecutive games against their in-state rivals? In eight games against Clemson, the Gamecocks under Steve Spurrier have won five times, including four in a row. To put that number in perspective, from 1987 through 2004, the Gamecocks beat the Tigers five times. Can the Tigers reverse that trend and 'legitimize' their third consecutive season of double-digit wins? In their past four clashes with the Gamecocks, Clemson has averaged just 248 yards per game and 4.10 yards per play. For those expecting this trend to continue, keep in mind this South Carolina defense is much more susceptible to coverage break downs and big plays than their predecessors. While they still have perhaps the most talented and most feared college player, South Carolina is far from invulnerable on the defensive side of the ball. I think the Tigers and Gamecocks stage a tight battle in Columbia that is decided by a field goal.

South Florida +27 Central Florida
Six years ago, South Florida climbed as high as second in the polls. Just two seasons ago, the Bulls were 4-0 and ranked in the top-20. Now they are just 3-17 in their last 20 games. They have managed just three offensive touchdowns in their six American Athletic Conference games to date and nine offensive touchdowns on the season. They have not scored a rushing touchdown since September! And yet, they are a solid play this week. For starters, despite their poor record, the Bulls have actually been solid ATS this season as a road underdog, covering against both Michigan State and Houston. The Bulls do not pose much of a threat to win this game, but nearly four touchdowns is a lot to lay. 

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 36-28-1

Toledo -7.5 Akron
Toledo is one of the better four-loss teams in the country. Their defeats have come on the road against Florida, Missouri, and Ball State with a home loss to Northern Illinois thrown in for good measure. In their other road games, they beat Central Michigan by 21 and upset Bowling Green. Their opponent, Akron, has won four games in 2013 after winning just three combined from 2010 through 2012. In addition, their three conference wins match their total from 2009 through 2012. However, Akron has feasted on the dregs of the conference, beating Kent State, Massachusetts,and Miami, three teams that have combined for a 5-29 record. Toledo should be favored in the game by double-digits, and that is what I expect them to win by.

Northwestern -3.5 Illinois
Back in early October, the Northwestern Wildcats were 4-0, and ranked 16th in the nation. They hosted Ohio State, and were in the game until the very end. However that game beget a seven-game skid that will cause the Wildcats to miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2007. During the streak, Northwestern has four defeats by eight points or fewer, with three of the game not being decided until the final play. For gamblers though, the Wildcats streak could be their ticket to easy street. How else to explain how a truly competent Northwestern team is favored by less than a touchdown against an Illinois team that won its first Big 10 game in over two years last week against...Purdue. Illinois has one of the worst defenses, not just in the Big 10, but in the nation. Northwestern has not reached the 30-point plateau since their 4-1 start, but they should get back to that number in a relatively easy win against the Illini.

Missouri -4 Texas A&M
Despite yet another quality road win, Missouri continues to be one of the more undervalued teams in the nation. The Tigers have now won road games against Indiana, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Ole Miss, with each victory coming by at least two touchdowns. If not for a blown lead and missed kick against South Carolina, the Tigers would be playing for huge stakes this week. As it is, the Tigers remain a potential national title contender should they win out and either Florida State or Ohio State suffer a defeat. Missouri is 3-1-1 ATS as a home favorite this season, while Texas A&M has yet to cover in either of their three road games on the year. Take the Tigers to win by at least a touchdown here and play for their first SEC title next week.

Tennessee -3.5 Kentucky
These are strange times for Tennessee football. The Volunteers are just 3-20 over the past three seasons in SEC play. The good news for the Vols is that their season concludes against a team that has lost 15 consecutive games in the SEC. In those 15 losses, the Wildcats have not come closer than five points against any opponent. Tennessee has not been a road favorite since the last time they traveled to Lexington, where they lost 10-7 as a six-point favorite in what ended up being the beginning of the end for the Derek Dooley era. A loss here would not be quite as damning for Butch Jones as this is only his first season as the head coach, but a fifth consecutive loss after upsetting South Carolina would not be the way most would have envisioned the season playing out. Take Tennessee to win by at least a touchdown here and develop a little optimism for 2014.

Baylor -11.5 TCU
The Baylor bandwagon and national championship talk came to a screeching halt last week in Stillwater. After scoring at least 40 points in 13 consecutive games dating back to last season, the Bears were held to a mere 17 points by the Cowboys. However, keep in mind winning in Stillwater is a tough task for any team. The Cowboys have only lost once in their last 18 home games. Baylor will again face one of the better defenses on their schedule when they travel to Fort Worth to take on the disappointing Horned Frogs. TCU held the Bears to just 21 points in an upset win at Waco last season, the Bears only loss at home since the beginning of the 2011 season. However, TCU has real issues on offense and has struggled to move the ball in 2013. That is not a recipe for beating Baylor. The Bears are unlikely to lose two fumbles inside the red zone as they did last week, plus the pressure of an unbeaten season is no longer hanging over their heads. Look for Baylor to get back on track and stay in contention for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fab Five: Week XIII

A fourth consecutive winning week has inched us ever closer to the .500 mark. The yearly mark is still a disappointing 58-60-2, but at least we can see a .500 finish. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 26-33-1

Navy +2.5 San Jose State
After winning eleven games last season and finishing in the top-25 of the AP Poll, San Jose State has struggled in their much anticipated follow up. The Spartans began the season 1-3, but rallied to win four straight and move within a game of bowl eligibility. However, they are currently riding a two-game skid, that culminated last week in a loss to lowly Nevada. Outside of San Jose State, the Wolfpack have beaten UC Davis (IAA), Air Force (2-8 record), and Hawaii (0-10 record). Now the Spartans must win one of their final two games to become bowl eligible. Their finale comes against Fresno State, so on paper, Navy represents their best opportunity. The Academy is bowl eligible once again and after clashing with the Spartans get a three-week vacation before their annual showdown with Army. Navy is 11-3 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog since 2010 and San Jose State is just 2-6 ATS in the role of home favorite since 2011. Take the Midshipmen to cover here, and potentially pull the outright upset.

Wake Forest +5 Duke
Full disclosure, I am a Wake Forest alum. However, I am pretty unbiased when it comes to handicapping my team. That being said, under head coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest is an incredible 21-3 at home against teams from the state of North Carolina. Even if we remove the games against IAA competition and East Carolina, and focus solely on the other three ACC schools (Duke, North Carolina, and NC State), the Deacons are 14-3 at home under Grobe. Last season was the first time Wake had lost to Duke since 1999. The Blue Devils are rightly favored, but I think they are a little overvalued after their home upset over Miami last week. The Deacons have a solid defense, particularly when they are not facing Clemson or Florida State. On Senior Day in Winston-Salem, the Deacs keep it close.

Nebraska +1.5 Penn State
Nebraska pretty much squandered whatever miniscule chance they had of winning their first conference title since 1999 with their five turnover masterpiece last week (I say miniscule because we all know they would get ground into oblivion by Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship Game). Still, despite their best effort to hand the game to Michigan State, the Cornhuskers only lost by 13 while gaining the most yards (392) and averaging the most yards per play (6.13) the vaunted Michigan State defense has conceded this season. Penn State has won all three of their home conference games this season, but two of those contests came against Purdue and Illinois, a pair that has combined for zero Big 10 wins in 2013. Despite the drama surrounding the program and coach Bo Pelini, Nebraska should leave State College with an outright win.

Michigan +6 Iowa
Michigan finally scored a touchdown last week in their road upset of Northwestern, but not in regulation. The Wolverines knotted the game at nine on the final play of the fourth quarter and managed two touchdowns in three overtime possessions to knock off the Wildcats. The offense still has serious issues, but the defense, as it has for most of the season, should keep the Wolverines in most games. Iowa has returned to the postseason conversation one season after a 4-8 disappointment. With the homefield advantage, the Hawkeyes may well win this game, but laying nearly a touchdown is too much here.

Texas A&M +4.5 LSU
Texas AM is in a unique position on Saturday, playing as a road underdog for just the second time with Johnny Manziel under center. The only other time the Aggies were a road underdog? The memorable upset of Alabama last season. Manziel has continued his spectacular offensive performance, averaging over 10 yards per pass attempt and accounting for 39 touchdowns through ten games. Unfortunately, the Aggies have real issues on defense, ranking ahead of only Kentucky and Arkansas in the SEC in yards per play allowed. This should be one of the more entertaining games on Saturday and I like the Aggies to cover, particularly when paired against a coach with a checkered history of spread covering.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 32-27-1

Missouri -2.5 Ole Miss
For whatever reason, maybe its the fact that they bombed their SEC debut last season, or the fact that they are not necessarily a national 'brand', the public at-large seems to still be sleeping on Missouri. Let me fill you in. The Tigers are 9-1. They have road victories against Indiana (17 points), Vanderbilt (by 23 points), Georgia (by 15 points), and Kentucky (by 31 points). They have home wins over Florida (by 19 points) and Tennessee (by 28 points), as well as victories over solid mid-majors Toledo (by 15 points) and Arkansas State (by 22 points). They are really, really good, and perhaps a shade underrated at eight in the latest AP Poll. Ole Miss has won four straight, including an upset over LSU a month ago, but Missouri should probably be favored by about a touchdown in this one. Take the Tigers to cover here and set up a huge home showdown with Texas A&M next week.

SMU -4.5 South Florida
In a story as old as time itself, SMU has rebounded from a poor non-conference showing to contend for a bowl game. From 2009 to 2012, the Mustangs went just 5-11 in regular season non-conference action, putting them squarely behind the eight ball in terms of qualifying for a bowl game. In that same time span, they went 22-10 in Conference USA play, and participated in a bowl game each season. This year, the Mustangs again stumbled out of the gate, finishing 1-3 with the lone win coming by a single point over Montana State (IAA). Once again they have rebounded and stand 3-2 in league play in the American Athletic Conference, with the losses coming to Rutgers and Cincinnati by just three points apiece. Barring a barrage of turnovers, its hard to picture SMU losing to a South Florida team that has scored exactly three offensive touchdowns in five conference games. SMU should be able to win this one by at least a touchdown and get their fifth win of the season.

BYU -1 Notre Dame
The two best independents of 2013 square off in one of the more intriguing matchups of the thirteenth week of the college football season. These two met last season in a game Notre Dame won by a 17-14 final score. In fact, the Cougars have not won at historic Notre Dame stadium since 1994. Notre Dame has experienced a rather interesting season, losing to a terribly mediocre Pitt team and permitting 41 points to a Michigan team that has now become allergic to the end zone. The Irish have also beaten Michigan State (the Spartan's lone loss), Arizona State (one of two losses by the Sun Devils), and Southern Cal (the Trojans lone loss under Ed Orgeron). BYU is road-tested in 2013, traveling to Virginia, Utah State, Houston, and Wisconsin in their third season as an independent barnstormer. The Cougars are vastly underrated by the public, perhaps because they don't play all their home games on NBC. Take the Cougars to cover this small number and put a serious dent in Notre Dame's postseason resume.

Mississippi State -1.5 Arkansas
Since Bobby Petrino fell off his motorcycle, Arkansas has gone just 7-15 (after going 18-4 in their final 22 games under ol' loose pants). Against teams from BCS conferences, which includes all their SEC games and two non-conference clashes with Rutgers, Arkansas is just 2-14 sans Petrino with the wins coming against a pair of winless SEC stalwarts in 2012 (Auburn and Kentucky). Only three of those 14 defeats have been decided by a touchdown or less. Mississippi State is far from an elite team, but all six of their losses have come to teams currently ranked in the top-18 of the most recent AP Poll. In fact, Mississippi State has not lost to a team that failed to qualify for a bowl in Dan Mullen's entire tenure! Arkansas is playing at home, but with this spread under a field goal, the Bulldogs are a solid play here.

Western Kentucky -4 Texas State
If you just look at the raw numbers, Bobby Petrino is doing a fine job at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are averaging nearly 30 points per game, the best numbers in their brief history as a IA program. However, turnovers have prevented the Hilltoppers from being a serious contender in the Sun Belt. The Hilltoppers have committed 28 turnovers on the year, bested only by Hawaii and Southern Miss. By comparison, the Hilltoppers have a 6-4 record while Hawaii and Southern Miss are a combined 0-20. In their four losses, the Hilltoppers have turned the ball over 16 times (four per game) and in their six victories just 12 times (two per game). If the Hilltoppers don't shoot themselves in the foot (too badly), they should leave San Marcos with their seventh win and have a chance to set the school record for wins at the IA level next week against Arkansas State.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fab Five: Week XII

Three consecutive weeks of finishing in the black! Get excited! The yearly mark is still a disappointing 52-56-2, but at least now we have a chance at getting back to .500. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 2-2-1
Overall: 23-31-1

Washington +2.5 UCLA
Both these teams endured rough back-to-back games a month or so ago. They both faced Stanford and Oregon in rapid succession. Both dropped the pair of games and disappeared from the national consciousness. Washington also faced a third strong team, taking on the Sun Devils in Tempe following their Stanford/Oregon gauntlet. The Huskies have quietly rebounded, beating the dregs of the Pac-12 (Cal and Colorado), while the Bruins have also won consecutive games against Colorado and Arizona. Thanks to their minor upset over the Wildcats last week, the Bruins are a tad overvalued here. Look for the Huskies to go to the Rose Bowl and leave with an upset win.

Michigan +3 Northwestern
Both these teams would probably love to flash back to early October. Both were 4-0 at that point in the season and were ranked in the top-20. Since that day, Northwestern has dropped five consecutive Big 10 games, with the last three coming by a combined 13 points. The penultimate loss came in overtime at Iowa and the most recent came in gut-wrenching fashion on a Hail Mary at the gun to Nebraska. Michigan has fared only marginally better, losing three of five and rushing for -69 yards in their past two games. Typically, the Wolverines are a very public team, but with their highly publicized offensive failures the past two weeks, the betting public has abandoned ship. I'll say this, Northwestern is not in nearly the same class defensively as the Spartans and Cornhuskers, the most recent Michigan opponents. I like the Wolverines to leave Evanston with an outright upset.

North Carolina +1 Pitt
The Tar Heels have won three straight games after a 1-5 start, and with Old Dominion and Duke left on the schedule, could conceivably end the regular season on a six-game winning streak. After facing their three strongest division opponents in their first three conference games, the Tar Heels have feasted against Boston College, NC State, and Virginia, winning those three games by an average of 21 points. Meanwhile, Pitt strengthened their bowl chances with a home upset of Notre Dame last week. The Panthers allowed nearly three more yards per play to the Irish, but finished plus three in the turnover department en route to the seven-point win. I don't want to say this game is like stealing, and nothing is ever certain, but the line for this game should probably be about five point in the other direction. Look for the Tar Heels to win their fourth straight on Saturday.

South Alabama +7.5 Navy
The Jaguars from South Alabama have won three games in just their second season of IA football (and just their fifth season overall). Plus, they have been wildly entertaining. Only one of their eight games, a 38-21 win over Kent State has been decided by more than a touchdown. The Jaguars travel to Navy and face a team needing just one more win to qualify for a bowl for the tenth time in eleven seasons. Navy is typically solid as a home underdog, but in the role of home favorite, they have struggled in recent years. They are just 4-9 Against the Spread (ATS) in that situation since 2010. Meanwhile, South Alabama is a healthy 7-3 ATS in the role of road underdog. Look for the Jaguars to play yet another close game against the Academy. 

TCU +10.5 Kansas State
For the Horned Frogs, their second year of big boy football has been even worse than their first. After a disappointing 7-6 mark last season, the Horned Frogs are just 4-6 in 2013, and must win their final two games against Kansas State and Baylor to even qualify for a bowl. TCU has failed to cover in five consecutive games and is just 2-3 in that span despite being favored in four of the contests. So now is the perfect time to take them as a big underdog. TCU still plays defense quite well, limiting Big 12 opponents to just 4.75 yards per play. Their offense is still mistake prone and inept, but I think the Horned Frogs can keep this one within a touchdown even in the Little Apple.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 29-25-1

Miami -3 Duke
Can you imagine what this spread would have been if this game were played two weeks ago? I'll refresh your memory of the situation. The Hurricanes were 7-0 and ranked in the top-10. They lost as a huge underdog to Florida State, and then fell at home as a moderate favorite to an undervalued Virginia Tech team. Miami is still a quality team, though certainly not top-10 material. Their defense has serious issues, but the offense is still among the best in the ACC. The Hurricanes have failed to cover the number in their past four outings, three times as a favorite, proving they were overvalued. However, I think the market correction has turned too far and there is value in the Hurricanes this week. Though Duke has seven wins, their lone scalp of significance came when Virginia Tech (and more specifically quarterback Logan Thomas) absolutely imploded and handed them the game. Miami will move the ball with ease and while allowing the Blue Devils their own share of big plays, should win a shootout by at least a touchdown.

Oklahoma State -3 Texas
Texas is rarely a home underdog. In fact, the last time the oddsmakers favored them to fall at home was in 2011 against...Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were about a touchdown favorite, and beat the Longhorns by 12. In fact, the Cowboys have won their past two trips to Austin, covering as a five-point favorite during the Texas debacle that was the 2010 season. In an odd twist, the Cowboys are powered by their defense, ranking second in the Big 12, behind an even more surprising Baylor. The Cowboys host the Bears next week, so they could be looking ahead, but with one conference loss already on the docket, I'm guessing they are focused here. Look for the Cowboys to win by at least a touchdown here.

Colorado State -6.5 New Mexico
Colorado State has positioned themselves for a bowl bid in just their second season under Jim McElwain. Last week, they won their fifth game, the most wins for the program since 2008. With New Mexico and Air Force still on the schedule, the Rams could get to seven regular season wins. Last week running back Kapri Bibbs rushed for 312 yards in a 38-17 win over Nevada. Bibbs has topped 100 yards on the ground in three of the last four games, as the JUCO transfer has over 1100 yards rushing on the season. He should be licking his chops against a New Mexico defense that allows over six yards per rush. New Mexico should be able to score enough to keep this game competitive for a while, but their defense is too soft to keep this one within a touchdown.

Memphis -1.5 South Florida
This battle of low-wattage offenses could be won by the first team to score ten points. South Florida is averaging just over 15 points per game and has been held to single digits twice in their eight games. Memphis has fared a little better, averaging just over 20 points per game while never failing to score fewer than 14 points. South Florida has won two conference games and is actually 2-2 in league play, but they have managed just two offensive touchdowns in their four conference games. Memphis has a solid defense and should be able to win a tight, low-scoring affair.

San Jose State -7.5 Nevada
Nevada has struggled in their first season without hall of fame head coach Chris Ault. The Wolfpack have already clinched a spot at home for the holidays for the first time since 2004. The defense is among the worst in the Mountain West (ahead of only New Mexico), and the offense is also below average. The ground game that had averaged over 200 yards per game and at least 4.9 yards per carry for the past six seasons is currently at 176 per game and 3.8 per rush. San Jose State has fallen a bit as well, but the Spartans need just a single win to clinch bowl eligibility The only losses in conference play have come to Utah State and San Diego State, two of the stronger teams in the Mountain West. San Jose State is actually 6-0 ATS as a road favorite since last season and should be able to win this one by double-digits in Reno.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Fab Five: Week XI

A second consecutive winning week has pulled us with shouting distance of .500. Hopefully we can make this a November to remember. The overall mark is now 47-52-1. Home teams in bold.

5 Dogs I Like
Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 21-29

Houston +10.5 Central Florida
Both these former Conference USA squads control their own destiny in the inaugural American Athletic Conference race. Central Florida has received more attention nationally thanks to their upsets of Louisville and Penn State and near upset of South Carolina. Houston on the other hand, has not received any national attention despite a 7-1 start. While the Cougars have no outstanding wins, their only loss came by a single point to an underrated BYU team. These teams are much closer to each other in terms of quality than ten points. Central Florida may win and move one step closer to a BCS bowl berth, but it won't be easy.

LSU +12 Alabama
Is Alabama the best team in college football? Possibly. However, they will certainly get the benefit of the doubt from most pollsters and observers. Keep in mind though, their last four victories have come over a IAA neophyte (Georgia State) and the three worst teams in the SEC (Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee). LSU is probably the best team Alabama has faced this season, and depending on who ends up winning the SEC East, the best team the Tide will face before their bowl game. After losing to Ole Miss, LSU played Furman and then had a bye, so they should be as healthy as possible traveling to Tuscaloosa. Look for LSU to give the Tide a run for their money and potentially walk away with an outright upset.

Virginia Tech +7 Miami
After opening conference play with three consecutive wins (all within the division), the Hokies have dropped consecutive games despite allowing just 4.4 yards per play in both contests. The culprit? Quarterback Logan Thomas, who has thrown six interceptions in his the last two games. Thomas has thrown 38 interceptions in his illustrious career. Still, the Virginia Tech defense is perhaps the best in the ACC and should be able to limit the Hurricanes without star running back Duke Johnson. Against the other strong defenses they have faced, Florida and Florida State, the Hurricanes have scored just 35 points. The Hokies should be able to keep this one close, and potentially shake up the Coastal Division of the ACC, if Thomas can avoid too many mistakes.

West Virginia +7 Texas
West Virginia upset TCU last week to earn their fourth win of the season and inch closer to bowl eligibility. A loss there would have put a serious damper on their bowl hopes, as they would have been required to win out the rest of the way. This marks the third time this season West Virginia has been a home underdog. That's quite a feat considering from 2004 through 2011, the Mountaineers were home underdogs just three times! The Mountaineers are probably a little undervalued as they have yet to face the soft underbelly of the Big 12 (they finish with games against Kansas and Iowa State). Meanwhile, a public team like Texas is often overrated. While the Longhorns have won five in a row after a rough start, they are just 0-2 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road favorite this season. West Virginia should keep this one close and potentially end the Longhorn's unbeaten run through the Big 12.

BYU +7.5 Wisconsin
BYU is one of the more anonymous nearly elite teams in college football this season. After opening the season with a now inexplicable loss to Virginia, the Cougars have won six of seven with the lone loss coming at arch-rival Utah. The Cougars six wins have all come against quality opponents, including Texas, Middle Tennessee State, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston, and Boise State. Amazingly, BYU has also covered in their last eight games as a road underdog, with three outright wins. Look for the Cougars and Badgers to stage an instant classic on Saturday night.

Five Faves I Like
Last Week: 4-1
Overall: 26-23-1

North Carolina -13.5 Virginia
After opening the season with a 19-16 upset win over BYU, Cavaliers fans had to feel pretty good about a potential bowl bid. After an expected beatdown at the hands of Oregon and a win over IAA VMI, the Cavs needed just four additional wins to qualify for a bowl game. Alas, the Cavs have not won a game since, losing six consecutive games with each defeat save one coming by double-digits. The conference losing streak has inched its way to seven in a row dating  back to last season, and Mike London's overall ACC record stands at 8-21. After this game in Chapel Hill, Virginia must travel to Miami before hosting Virginia Tech in the season finale. A 2-10 finish is certainly in play, which would mark the worst Virginia campaign since 1982. I don't have a great deal of optimism for the Cavs in this one, as North Carolina has rebounded from a 1-5 start to post consecutive wins. The Heels are 6-3 ATS as a home favorite under Larry Fedora and should be able to move up and down the field against the ACC's worst team.

Minnesota -2.5 Penn State
Penn State has proven they can endure. Despite the drama surrounding the program, the Nittany Lions are seemingly headed for another winning campaign despite the fact that there will be no bowl game awaiting them at the end of the regular season. However, the Lions have been far from dominant, particularly away from Happy Valley this season. In their two road games, Penn State lost by 20 points to Indiana and 49 points to Ohio State. They also failed to cover in their opener against Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Minnesota has quietly won seven games for the first time since 2008 and is still in contention in the Legends Division. With this spread under a field goal, take the Gophers to cover here.

Iowa -14.5 Purdue
Is Purdue the worst BCS conference team in college football? You can make a cogent argument that is the case. The Boilermakers have won just a single game all season, by six points over IAA Indiana State. All of their losses, save one, have come by at least 14 points (right around the point spread margin for this game). The Boilermakers have scored one touchdown since September ended. This spread should probably be about a field goal higher. Iowa needs one more win to get to bowl eligibility and they should have it by early Saturday afternoon.

Notre Dame -4 Pitt
Notre Dame has had an interesting season. They have several very quality wins (Michigan State, Arizona State, and Southern Cal), two understandable losses (at Michigan and home to Oklahoma), and a pair of shockingly difficult wins (Purdue and Navy). After taking on the Panthers, the Irish host perhaps the best mid-major team (BYU) and then travel west to face the new Rose Bowl favorite (Stanford). A BCS bowl bid is still in play, but the Irish probably need to win at least two of three to be in the conversation. Pitt has found the going tough in their first ACC season, ranking ahead of only NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia on the offensive side of the ball. This game will be tight for a while, but Notre Dame is too good a team to win by less than a touchdown.

Utah State -13.5 UNLV
Utah State is one win away from bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season, a feat the Aggies have not achieved since 1980. The Aggies have never played in three consecutive bowls, but that is likely to end in December of this year. The Aggies come into this game with the same record as the Rebels, but their losses have come at Utah, at Southern Cal, home versus BYU, and home versus Boise State. In their three previous conference road games, the Aggies have won all three by 95 total points, with the smallest margin of victory coming in at 28 points. UNLV has won five games for the first time since 2003, but the Rebels are not a good team by any means. I for one, hope they can get their sixth win and qualify for a bowl, but I don't think that win will come on Saturday.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Mid-Season Handicapping: American, Mountain West, Sun Belt

Today is our final installment of the mid (or in this case, late) season handicapping. We'll examine the conference races in the American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.

Here are the American standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

American: A Wide-Open Race
A few weeks ago, this league looked like an easy Louisville romp. Now there are as many as five teams with legitimate hopes to claim the inaugural American Athletic Conference title. The last remaining undefeated teams (in conference play) tangle this week when Houston travels to Orlando to take on Central Florida. Louisville and Cincinnati are still in the race with a single league loss and SMU is hanging around with just one conference defeat as well. And keep in mind, the Ponies do not have to play Louisville this season. collectively, American teams went 4-11 against other BCS conference teams with the wins coming over lackluster outfits Arkansas, Kentucky, Penn State, and Purdue. American teams also lost nine games to teams from outside BCS conferences, including three games to IAA opponents.

Central Florida-- The Knights are ranked the highest they have ever been in school history. This week's battle with Houston and their road trip to Dallas to play SMU in December likely represent the toughest tests left on their schedule.
Cincinnati-- Quietly, the Bearcats have rebounded after a rough start. Still, how the heck did they lose to Illinois?
Connecticut-- Statistically the worst team in the conference. Since playing in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2010 season, the Huskies have gone just 10-21.
Houston-- Why no AP Poll love for the Cougars? They are currently in the 'others receiving votes' category (30th overall). No great wins, but they are 7-1 with the lone loss coming by a single point to BYU.
Louisville-- Statistically the top team in the conference. Still have a chance to grab the BCS bid, but they really need a three-way tie atop the standings to do so.
Memphis-- Better than their record (1-6), but will spend a fifth consecutive season home for the holidays.
South Florida-- The Bulls have scored two offensive touchdowns in four conference games. They have scored three non-offensive touchdowns (two fumble returns and a blocked field goal return).
SMU-- Mustangs are in an interesting position as they are in the hunt for a league title, but not assured bowl eligibility. They play Cincinnati this weekend with the loser effectively out of the running for the conference crown.
Rutgers-- The Knights will probably get to a bowl, but yikes, the defense has plummeted.
Temple-- November 23rd against Connecticut is the best chance both teams have of notching their first (and likely only) conference win.

Here are the Mountain West standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

Mountain West: Don't Sleep on Boise
Despite not being nearly as dominant as they have in the past, the Broncos still control their own destiny in the Mountain West. The Broncos are tied with Utah State in the Mountain Division and could ruin Fresno State's dream season in the first Mountain West Conference Championship Game. Mountain Wes teams went...are you ready for this?...a deplorable 1-18 against teams from BCS conference with the lone win coming by Fresno over Rutgers by a single point. Mountain West teams did lose just once to IAA opponents.

Air Force-- The Falcons have endured an abysmal season, but their next two games are against New Mexico and UNLV so a winless conference season is unlikely.
Boise State-- Running back Jay Ajayi continues the fine tradition of Bronco running backs. With 1008 yards on the season, the Broncos have now had a player rush for more than 1000 yards in five consecutive seasons.
Colorado State-- Since the Rams are playing 13 games, they must win three of their final four to qualify for a bowl.
Hawaii-- I believe this season has put to rest any notion that Norm Chow is an offensive genius. That being said, the Warriors are better than their record and would rank among the best winless teams ever if it came to that.
Fresno State-- The Bulldogs have escaped several times through eight games in 2013. I don't think they finish the year unbeaten. Who do they lose to? Perhaps this week against a solid Wyoming team in Laramie. Or the regular season finale at San Jose State? Or Boise State in the Mountain West Championship Game.
Nevada-- With BYU and San Jose State left on the schedule, the bowl streak is all but over.
New Mexico-- The Lobos are much more competitive than they were under Mike Locksley, but the defense is about as bad as they come.
San Diego State-- No you aren't reading that chart wrong. San Diego State rates out as the best team in the conference. If you were sleeping, the Aztecs had a short kick blocked that would have beaten Fresno State last week.
San Jose State-- The Spartans have won four straight and with another win will qualify for consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1987.
UNLV-- No, the Rebels aren't good. But they just need one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000. And they may have saved Bobby Hauck's job.
Utah State-- The Aggies have four losses, but those defeats have come to Utah, Southern Cal, BYU, and Boise State. Don't sleep on these guys during bowl season.
Wyoming-- Quarterback Brett Smith needs just a shade over 100 yards passing to move into second place on the Cowboys all-time passing yardage list.

Here are the Sun Belt standings.
And here are the yards per play ratings.

Sun Belt: Parity... and Georgia State
Aside from Georgia State (in their first season of IA football), every team in the Sun Belt is in bowl contention. Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State are already bowl eligible, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy, and Western Kentucky need just one more win to get there, Arkansas State needs two more, and South Alabama needs three. Sun Belt teams went a respectable 2-14 against teams from BCS conferences. They have lost four games to IAA opponents, but three of those losses are courtesy of IA neophyte Georgia State.

Arkansas State-- The Red Wolves have won consecutive league titles, but will need some help to get a third as they have already lost to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Georgia State-- The move to IA has not been an easy one. Panthers have lost 13 consecutive games since beating Rhode Island last season.
Louisiana-Lafayette-- Cajuns fell behind early to future conference mate New Mexico State, but rallied to win their sixth in a row. The league title may come down to their home date with in-state rival Louisiana-Monroe. Better make plans to replace Mark Hudspeth after the season.
Louisiana-Monroe-- In their first six games against IA teams, the Warhawks scored 73 points (2-4 record). In their last two games, the Warhawks have scored 87 points (2-0 record). Go figure.
South Alabama-- If you must watch just one team in 2013, watch the Jaguars. They have played eight games. Only one has been decided by more than a touchdown. Their other seven games have been decided by (in chronological order) one point, two points, seven points, seven points, one point, two points, and one point.
Texas State-- Dennis Franchione has the Bobcats bowl-eligible in just their second season of IA football. They probably need one more win to guarantee a bowl bid.
Troy-- Trojans need another win to break the two-year bowl drought. They need to shore up that defense if they have designs on getting there.
Western Kentucky-- Hilltoppers are probably one of the Sun Belt's top teams, but their propensity for turning the ball over (margin of -13 on the season) will prevent them from hoisting the trophy.