Almost forgot Solon's picks thanks to us watching the Pat White Video three thousand times today. Apologies to all our hardcore gamblers, hardworking Solon himself included.
Greetings everyone. I am bloody exhausted this week, so I'll just get right to it.
I recovered from my Thursday night loss last week to end up at 5-4 for the weekend, leaving me with a season record of 62-47, a winning percentage of 57%. Hopefully I can bump it up a little and do better than last year's 58%. Here are this week's selections:
Central Michigan (-3.5) v. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
CMU served notice of their quality early this season with a close loss to BC, and they have delivered on that promise; last week's win against WMU guaranteed them a spot in the MAC title game. Their strength is their O; and, while their D has been overmatched in non-conference competition, in MAC play they have only given up 14 ppg. NIU's O showed much promise, but around the midway point of the season it all went pear-shaped; in their first 5 games they averaged 465 ypg on O, and in their last 5 they have averaged 283 on O ypg against roughly comparable opposition. There is little to suggest what brought on the change other than that RB Wolfe tired of being their sole weapon and the O has suffered without his superhuman performances. As mentioned, the CMU does has more than held their own against MAC offenses--334 ypg allowed in MAC play--and they should be fine against the weakening NIU O. The real advantage for CMU lies on the offensive side of the ball, where the CMU running game has stepped it up as of late and now matches their already-strong passing game as a threat. In MAC play, CMU is averaging 143 ypg and 4.43 ypc rushing; NIU has been pretty good against the run, but the better rushing attacks they have faced did reasonably well; Ohio ran for 178 yards, WMU ran for 129 yards, and Toledo ran for 225 yards, and I would rate the CMU running game as the best of this bunch. NIU's biggest problems this season have been against the pass; in MAC play they have given up 252 ypg and 7.24 ypp with an 11-3 ratio, despite facing only two halfway decent passing attacks (Ball State and Miami (O)). The only one of these even remotely in CMU's class is Ball State, and the Cardinals went 21-29 for 324 yds against the Huskies. I am concerned about the forecast--specifically, the potential for high winds--but the current forecast is for 10 MPH, and I think CMU's passing game will still be able to perform at a high enough level to get ahead of this number.
Aeolus the god of wind cannot stop CMU's passing game.
South Florida (+16.5) v. LOUISVILLE
Lost in the shuffle last week was how fortunate Louisville was to get to 25 points against a stingy Rutgers D; they had a KO return for a TD, and also needed a fake punt to set them up for another TD. In other words, after their first drive of the game, they were not able to manage a TD during the run of "normal" play. This is remarkable for a team like Louisville, but at the same time is par for the course for them this season, where I think they are finally feeling the loss of RB Bush; against the non-joke defenses they have run up against--Miami, K State, Cincy, Syracuse, West Va, and Rutgers--they are only averaging 29 ppg and 383 ypg.
These are not bad numbers but given these numbers they do not warrant being favored by this number against a quality opponent. One could make the argument that only the Rutgers D is superior to USF's, among Louisville's opponents; USF has given up 17 ppg and 282 ypg against BCS opposition, and their worst performances were 23 pts (Cincy) and only Rutgers and Kansas have gained as many 300 yds. Equals to the Louisville passing attack are hard to come by, but Pitt QB Palko only managed an 11-23, 159 yd, 1-3 performance against USF a couple weeks back. Oddly enough, USF had a poor performance against Kansas backup QB Barmann early in the season, but Big East opponents have only thrown for 148 ypg and 5.60 ypp, with a 3-6 ratio. I think USF will be able to hold down the production of the Louisville passing game enough to give their O a shot. USF does not have much of a running game, but the weakness of the Louisville D is the pass D; Louisville has given up 7.95 ypp with a 4-2 ratio in conference play. USF QB Grothe has seemingly gotten better each week, and had his best game of the season in his last, a 25-35, 364 yd performance against a strong Syracuse pass D; for the season in Big East play, he is averaging 7.78 ypp with a 6-6 ratio, and his only ineffective performance was against Cincinnati. I think Louisville will be a little flat this week, and as long as they do not jump out to a big lead against USF I think USF will stay ahead of this number.
Missouri (-14.5) v. IOWA STATE
I have a lot of respect for Dan McCarney, and I believe that he is a great coach, but I suspect that this team just wants the season to be over. ISU has yet to be competitive in Big 12 play; their closest loss has been by 14 and their average margin of defeat is 21 points. Mizzou has lost their last two, but Oklahoma and Nebraska are on a different level than ISU is. On D, ISU is poor against the run and the pass. ISU's Big 12 opponents have averaged 185 ypg and 5.40 ypc rushing, and they have only held pass-happy Texas Tech under 100 yards rushing (87); against the pass, they have given up 214 ypg and 8.48 ypp with a 17-3 ratio. Mizzou's O has been pretty good this season; they are averaging 26 ppg against Big 12 teams, and this is almost certainly the worst D they will face in conference play. QB Daniel has been pretty good, averaging 252 ypg and 7.48 ypp with a 12-8 ratio in conference play; given the state of the ISU pass D, he should have little trouble surpassing those averages. To illustrate the point, last week Colorado QB Jackson had an 11-19, 200 yard performance, his best game of the season by some distance. On the other side of the ball, one of my biggest disappointments this season has been ISU QB Meyer. He has had a fair season but there is little doubt that he has disappointed this year. He has had little help from the running game; in Big 12 play, ISU only averages 75 ypg and 2.54 ypc on the ground. Mizzou does not have the strongest run D, but ISU has topped out at 104 yards rushing in the Big 12 this season and I doubt Mizzou will give up more than that number. Given that his team has been behind so often, QB Meyer has had to throw a lot this season, but relatively speaking he has accomplished much; 212 ypg in Big 12 play but only 6.15 ypp with a 6-9 ratio. Mizzou's pass D is not as good as their statistics imply, but they handled Texas Tech and they should be able to handle Meyer in this spot.
Dan McCarney: playing for that great motivator, spite.
Houston (-16.5) v. MEMPHIS
Houston's passing game disappointed last week but their running game more than picked up the slack. Both areas should do well against a Memphis D that is nowhere near as good as SMU's. Specifically, the Houston passing game should get back on track this week; Kolb's numbers are great this season ( 8.80 ypp with a 21-3 ratio), and I rate the Memphis pass D as the worst in the nation. Memphis has given up 236 ypg and 9.90 ypp with a 12-5 ratio in ConfUSA play; the last four weeks, after suffering multiple injuries in to their secondary, those numbers are 262 ypg and 10.78 ypp with a 10-1 ratio, despite only facing 1 above-average QB (Tulsa's Smith). Houston's running game is not their strength, but they will do well against the Memphis D, if last week's performance is any indication (357 yds rushing against a pretty good SMU run D); since the firing of DC Joe Lee Dunn in September, Memphis has given up 186 ypg and 4.55 ypc. Memphis' running game is poor; in ConfUSA play they are averaging 96 ypg and 3.67 ypc. The Houston running D is not all that great but stopping to Memphis rushing attack should not cause too many problems. Memphis throws more than it runs and has a bit of production; in conference play they are averaging 245 ypg on 38 passes a game ( 6.42 ypp). For the most part, though, they are not able to produce enough to overcome their defense's limitations; their cause has not been helped by 10 interceptions in 6 conference games. Houston's pass D is not all that great either, but they stepped it up against UTEP QB Palmer and Tulsa QB Smith, holding them to 5.34 ypp and without a TD pass. As I mentioned last week, Houston's D has been very uneven this season, but I cannot imagine that their D will give up enough points to stop Houston from getting ahead of this number, given what the Houston O is likely to do to the Memphis D.
East Carolina (-2.5) v. RICE
Rice HC Graham has done wonders with this Rice team; given the state of his team's D--giving up 35 ppg--it is remarkable that they sit at 5-5. Perhaps even more impressive is their ConfUSA record of 4-2, given that they have given up a minimum of 29 points in each game. I think this week the matchup is a bad one for them, as they go up against an ECU squad that can slow down their O. There is little doubt that ECU has the best D in ConfUSA; they are holding conference opponents to 19 ppg and 303 ypg, and they held an extremely potent West Va O to 27 pts and 346 yds. Rice does have a great O--probably the best in the conference--but they have not faced the likes of ECU since playing non-conference opponents UCLA, Texas, and Fla State, who between them held Rice to an average of 10 ppg and 205 ypg. There is little doubt that Rice has gotten better since that stretch of games but keep in mind that none of those Ds are truly elite units. And, last week against Tulsa--arguably the 2nd best D in ConfUSA--Rice only gained 306 yards in regulation. The big advantage for ECU--and, really, for any Rice opponent this season--will come when the Owls' D is on the field. ECU's running game is only fair, but their passing game has been prolific at times and I think they will be so again on Saturday; QB Pinkney struggled against Southern Miss and Tulsa, but those pass Ds are in a different class than Rice. Against the other ConfUSA teams on the schedule, Pinkney has averaged 266 ypg and 8.05 ypp with a 5-5 ratio. Rice's opponents in ConfUSA play have had very strong production with the passing game; 303 ypg and 8.73 ypp with a 19-4 ratio. And, for all the weaknesses of the ECU running game, Rice's run D is equally poor; conference opponents are averaging 147 ypg and 4.70 ypc against a not-so-tough slate of opponents (Houston and Tulsa have been the only halfway-decent running games, and I wouldn't rank either of those in the top half of the nation). Given these numbers ECU will almost certainly be able to provide QB Pinkney with some balance and help his level of production. A win here will wrap up the ConfUSA East title for ECU and I think they will come to play and get the job done.
Yarr! Amber alert for Rice's football team likely.
LOUISIANA STATE (-27) v. Mississippi
There is a poll new for this season, where oddsmakers are polled to list teams according to their perceived pointspread strength, i.e., according to who would be favored over who at a neutral site. In this poll, LSU is a joint second in the nation (behind OSU, and even with USC); I tend to agree with this assessment. LSU's problem is that they tend to shit their pants against equally talented opponents (and their schedule doesn't help, given that they drew Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas on the road). Fortunately for them, they tend to dominate lesser opposition and this week's opponent falls in that category. LSU's D should shut down the Ole Miss O; Ole Miss is averaging 261 ypg in SEC play, and they have only hit more than 300 yds once, against Kentucky--and LSU will by far be the best D they have faced. LSU has held SEC opponents to 251 ypg, and have only given up more than 300 yards once, against Alabama. Ole Miss's running game is their strength on O, gaining 132 ypg in SEC play, but those numbers are skewed by performances against Kentucky and Vandy; against better SEC defenses, they are only averaging 112 ypg and 3.38 ypc. LSU has stuffed much better run defenses than this one, and have only given up more than 100 yards once this season, to UL-Lafayette. SEC teams are averaging 59 ypg and 2.35 ypc against LSU's D, and it is likely that they will be shut down Ole Miss' running game. OIe Miss' passing game is even less of a threat; Ole Miss has only averaged 129 ypg passing and 6.35 ypp with a 5-6 ratio. LSU struggled last week against 'Bama but that passing game is far superior to this; for the season against SEC opponents, their numbers are still 6.32 ypp with a 7-6 ratio, and those numbers include games against Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and 'Bama. LSU's running game has been pretty strong this season, especially recently--against Tennessee and 'Bama, they averaged 197 ypg and 5.40 ypc--but the passing game is where their big advantage lies. For the season, QB Russell has completed 71% of his passes and is averaging 9.46 ypp with a 21-7 ratio. Ole Miss' pass D is poor; in SEC play, they are giving up 7.65 ypp with a 9-2 ratio, but they have only been effective against in the game against UGA, which was still trying to sort out their QB situation. Otherwise, the Ole Miss D has given up 8.33 ypp in SEC play. So long as LSU is not too dispirited by a likely Arkansas win earlier in the day, they should have little trouble sticking it to the Rebels and getting ahead of this number with ease.
ALABAMA (+3) v. Auburn
Auburn always struck me as a bit overrated, and I think in the final analysis the surprising thing about their season will not be their losses, but their wins. Auburn's O has been disappointing; their running game has not really panned out, and they are averaging a very pedestrian 106 ypg and 3.10 ypc in conference play. 'Bama has been vulnerable on the ground--most notably, Duke ran for 198 yds against them--but I cannot imagine Auburn will outperform their SEC season averages by too much if at all. QB Cox was fairly efficient at the beginning of the season, but it has started to go downhill for him lately; while his first really bad game of the season was last week against Georgia (not that he set the world alight against LSU, Arkansas, or Florida, mind), he has thrown 6 interceptions (on just 33 passes) in his last two games after throwing 3 interceptions in his first 203 passes of the season. It's also worth noting that in SEC play, Cox has only gone for over 200 yards against Ole Miss and Miss State. He will have his hands full against a pretty strong 'Bama pass D; LSU and Florida--two of the more efficient passing games in the nation--combined for 9.62 ypp with a 4-0 ratio, but Auburn is not in that class. Outside of these, 'Bama made two pretty good passing attacks work for their yards; Hawaii and Tennessee averaged 7.24 ypp with a 2-4 ratio, and Auburn's passing game does not present a challenge on the order of those teams. On the other side of the ball, 'Bama QB Wilson has had a good season; not only did he throw as well as anyone in a couple of years against the LSU D, in SEC play he is averaging 6.95 ypp with an 8-7 ratio; while those are not great numbers, in SEC play he has gone up against LSU, Fla, and Tenn, three of the better pass defenses in the nation. Auburn is exploitable through the air; for the season SEC opponents are averaging 7.40 ypp with a 6-5 ratio, and last week Georgia QB Stafford had his best game of the season by far against the Auburn D. This is a game where the home field matters more than most, and I think it will tell here as 'Bama gets the outright win.
2005: 10 wins. 2006: Shula loves lamp.
OREGON (-13) v. Arizona
Oregon will no doubt at this point be disappointed in their season, but as long as they have not packed it in they are in a good spot this week. 'Zona appears to have turned it around, and, amazingly, a win in either of their final two games will put them in a bowl this season. The sparkplug has been the return of QB Tuitama; he has jumpstarted their O and been able to overcome the limitations they have with the running game. Even with this, I think he will be up against it this week. Oregon's pass D is one of the best in the nation; outside of the opener against Stanford (a 48-10 win, by the way), no team has thrown for as many as 200 yards against them, even though their opponents have included Oklahoma, Cal, Washington State, and USC. BCS opponents are only managing 152 ypg and 5.61 ypp with a 10-7 ratio; please note that Oregon plays in the Pac 10. And, for all of his success this season as a leader, Tuitama's statistics are very modest; 6.11 ypp with a 3-6 ratio. As ineffective as I think the 'Zona passing game will be, it will light it up compared to the 'Zona running game; outside of a 221 yd performance against Pac-10 doormat Stanford, 'Zona has rushed for 115 yards total (19 ypg) in their other 6 conference games. Oregon's rush D is pretty average, but they will not have too much trouble with this unit. Oregon's O has been pretty prolific this season; until last week, they had not been held under 23 points, and against BCS teams they are averaging 31 ppg and 446 ypg. 'Zona's D has been pretty good this season; outside of a 45-point output by LSU, opponent offenses have scored a maximum of 20 points in any contest. Still, even if Oregon only reaches that amount I think they have a good chance to cover this number. One could make the argument that the only O in the Pac 10 that is as good as Oregon's is that of Cal's; while Cal struggled last week, the venues have switched for them and I think Oregon will outperform the Bears. So long as Duck QBs do not put their D in a bad position with mistakes--as Cal did last week--I do not think Oregon will struggle in this one.
Nevada (-20) v. LOUISIANA TECH
Nevada's O is nowhere near as efficient as it has been in recent seasons, but they are still very prolific, as they are scoring 32 ppg. This LT D is in no position to stop them; the only two opponents to score less than 30 pts against LT this season were hapless Idaho and Utah State, who still scored 24 and 28 points respectively. Even North Texas scored 31 points against LT--their season-high--despite only averaging 11 ppg in their other contests. The scoreboard is not the only place they are getting rolled, they are also getting handled statistically; Idaho and Utah State are the only teams that have managed less than 400 yards against LT, and their season average allowed is 490 ypg. Nevada has shown a propensity for running it up against bad Ds--45 ppg against New Mexico State, Idaho, and Utah State--and this D is about as bad as it gets. LT's O is pass-heavy; other than a game in which they abandoned the pass against Utah State (to good effect, as they ran for 344 yds on 47 carries), LT has thrown more than they have run this season. Their production is not too bad--215 ypg--but they are not especially efficient, only averaging 6.59 ypp with a 12-12 ratio. Nevada's pass D had two bad games against good passing attacks--Hawaii and Arizona State threw for 9.95 ypp with a 9-1 ratio against them--but against the rest of their schedule they have been nothing short of outstanding, only giving up 133 ypg and 5.65 ypp with a 3-15 ratio--and note that they have gone up against Col State, SJSU, and New Mexico State. Even if LT abandons the pass, I do not think it will help them too much; Nevada's run D is obviously not nearly as good as their pass D, but they are quite a bit better than Utah State and will not likely be steamrolled.
Did you know Nevada has the fifth highest murder rate in the nation? He looks psyched to hear that.
Other Games of Note:
OHIO STATE (-6.5) v. Michigan
I'm not going to be able to add too much to the discussion on this game. First off, I think the Michigan D is amazing; along with LSU, I'd argue it's among the two best in the nation, hands down. That said, the OSU D is not too far behind--no Big 10 opponent has gained more than 336 yards against them (one of the nuttier statistics of the year--OSU's two worst defensive performances this season, in terms of yardage allowed, were against MAC teams Northern Illinois and Bowling Green). In my estimation, though, the OSU O has it all over the Michigan O; while I have a lot of respect for Michigan RB Hart, he's not the sort of back that is going to dominate a game; he'll get 4 ypc and never fumble, and that's about it. OSU's run D is vulnerable; they have given up yards to Texas, Penn State, and Illinois, and Michigan should certainly outproduce them on the ground. But I rate OSU QB Smith as the best player in the nation, and I have been high on him since midseason last year. Michigan handled ND QB Quinn, and have done well against the pass generally, holding the better passing attacks they have faced (ND, Wisc, Minn) to an excellent 5.54 ypp with a 6-3 ratio. Against all opponents, Michigan is giving up 199 ypg and an amazing 5.48 ypp with a 10-11 ratio. For the season, Smith is averaging 8.56 ypp with a 26-4 ratio; he will not be able to match those numbers against the excellent Michigan D, but my guess is that he will be able to have a level of production at least as good as Ball State, who threw for 250 yds (despite playing in the MAC, note that the Ball State passing game is legitimate). The passing game is where Michigan will be hard pressed to match OSU's production; OSU has held the better passing attacks they have faced (Texas, Cincy, Minn) to 5.94 ypp with a 2-6 ratio. Henne is averaging 7.67 ypp with an 18-7 ratio; these are good numbers, but his level of production has averaged only 176 ypg and he will be hard-pressed to get to that number against a D that is giving up only 172 ypg and an incredible 5.50 ypp for the season with an equally incredible 6-20 ratio.
So, long story short:
Michigan outgains OSU on the ground, but not by much. OSU outgains Michigan in the air by a decent margin; this is more because OSU's passing game is better, less than because of any weakness in the Michigan pass D. The game is in Columbus, which will count for something. So, I think Ohio State wins somewhere along the lines of 24-13 or something similar, and outgains Michigan something like 320-240. But wouldn't you have to be mad to give 6 1/2 points to this Michigan D?
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (-5) v. California
Cal's loss to Tennessee always gave me pause, even when they appeared to have improved. Their win over Minnesota is unimpressive in retrospect, and what look to be the only impressive wins on the schedule--v. 'Zona State, Oregon, and Wash State--were all accomplished with a good bit of luck. While they scored 49 pts against ASU, they only had two scoring drives of more than 31 yards, and they scored 3 non-offensive TDs; against Oregon, the Ducks killed themselves with 4 TOs; and, against WSU, they had 5 and 12 yd TD drives after a blocked punt and an interception. Given their performances the last three weeks, it appears that Cal's luck is running out; Washington played them even despite playing with a backup QB that threw 5 interceptions, UCLA's mediocre O dominated the Cal D during the first half although they couldn't make it count for points, and then 'Zona finally did them in last week. This week, they go up against what is unquestionably the most talented team in the Pac 10; USC had some rough patches at the beginning of the Pac 10 schedule, but it was always a matter of time before their O got it together, and now that their WR corps is mostly healthy they have started to look better, although they stumbled against a strong Oregon pass D last week. While the USC passing game will get their yards, Cal is actually much more suspect against the run; and, despite the injury to RB Moody, USC has plenty of horses in the RB spot and they will get their yards there as well. So, while I lean to USC here I wouldn't play them, because, as amazing as it is to say, Pete Carroll is Jeff Tedford's bitch, and part of me thinks Cal has been looking forward to this game for weeks, and just been sleepwalking through this recent rough stretch; proceed with caution.
I think Pete's calling me, and he wants another cocktail. Right away, sir...