Solon stops the bleeding with a good week of picks and some solid tailgating on the West Coast. The missing ingredient: ladies. Import a few to his next tailgater, and he may anoint you as an acolyte of Gamblor and show you his secret spreadsheets. Enjoy...
First off, I would like to thank my hosts last week at the USC-Notre Dame game, the short-lived and oft-drunk but always entertaining blogger CollegeFootballPundit, and Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com. A spectacular setup with 4 televisions and a satellite, so I missed very little of the action from around the nation; they also had some serious eats courtesy of the legendary Dan-O. So many of the elements were there that I almost thought I was at a Georgia tailgate--until I looked around and saw that it was a pickle party. Step it up, lads--bloody hell, it's USC, import some of those song-girls!
Catherine Bell's in LA, right? She likes beer, right? Give her a call.
I also chatted up HP and CFR, with whom I was able to have some discussion about the nature of College Football. A few more hours and we'd have figured it all out. It's always good to talk to other obsessives.
I stopped the bleeding a little bit last week with a 5-5 record, leaving me at 14-25 for the month of November--36%--my worst record for any single month I can remember. Fortunately I have decided to pass on the MAC Championship, and hopefully I can step it up for December and January and finish up strong.
My record sits at 69-60 for the season, a winning percentage of 53%. Not too many options this week, but there are a few. Here are this week's selections:
WEST VIRGINIA (-9) v. Rutgers
West Virginia laid a serious egg last week on O, the first time since QB White became the full-time starter that they did not go for at least 27 points.
I cannot help but think that game was an aberration and they will get it together for this contest, which they have obviously been focused on for two weeks. WVU struggles offensively when teams can take away the run--it happened earlier this season against ECU, and then again last week against USF--QB White seems to play best from a position of strength, incredibly efficient when his team is balanced but struggling when he is the focus of the O. Despite this, as good as the Rutgers run D has been, I do not think they will do well against the WVU running game. Good running games faced by this Rutgers D are few and far between, but UConn RB Brown did the business against them, going for 199 yards in a game that UConn very well could have won. Rutgers has done well against the other good running games they have faced--Louisville and Illinois, and I suppose Navy (which lost their starting QB in the 1st quarter)--but none of those teams brings to the table what WVU does. As mentioned previously, ECU did well against WVU, and they responded the next week by rushing for 289 yds against a good Miss State D, and then following that up with 443 yds against Syracuse the following week. So, I don't think USF has sussed them out--I think that WVU just had an off-day, and they will regroup. The big edge in this game, though, lies on the other side of the ball, where Rutgers' strong running game will face its biggest test to date; WVU has given up an average of 80 ypg and 2.58 ypc this season, and only Marshall and Louisville have been the least bit effective against them this season (please note that Marshall gained most of their yards after the game was decided, and Louisville only managed 107 yards on 30 carries). Against the 6 common Big East opponents, WVU's run D actually did better than the highly-touted Rutgers run D--WVU gave up 71 ypg and 2.31 ypc, while Rutgers gave up 112 ypg and 3.24 ypc. WVU is vulnerable through the air; their last 4 opponents have thrown for an average of 321 ypg and 9.58 ypp--but Rutgers QB Teel is far too poor to take advantage, averaging 6.44 ypp with an 8-12 ratio against a very poor slate of opponents. To be honest, I will celebrate every time he throws the ball, because (1) 1 out of every 19 balls he's thrown this season is picked off, and that is going up against much less athletic secondaries than this one, and (2) every time he throws, it means Rutgers is not using their much stronger running game.
With two fast-break run games, you should see this a lot during the Rutgers/WVU game.
NEW MEXICO STATE (-11.5) v. Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech played a fine game last week, although the final score was a little deceptive; I think this week they are up against it and I am counting on them to capitulate. New Mexico State has gotten it together lately; after being rolled by Boise, Hawaii, and Nevada in successive weeks, they have outgained every opponent and they were competitive against slightly superior competition before rolling inferior USU last week. I rate LT as among the worst teams in the WAC; certainly their D is among the worst, if not the worst, in the entire nation. Against the pass--really, the only thing operative here, given the nature of the NMSU O--LT has given up 246 ypg and 9.36 ypp with a 15-6 ratio. Even without the Hawaii game, they have given up 203 ypg and 8.69 ypp with a 10-5 ratio against a rather average set of QBs--and, truth be told, the WAC offense that is most comparable to NMSU's is Hawaii's, who went 30-44 for 506 yds against LT. LT's O is not good--despite scoring 27 points last week, they only gained 355 yards, and that is about as good as they have done all season. The NMSU D has stepped it up lately; since the Nevada loss, they are giving up only 318 ypg. NMSU is, relatively speaking, pretty good against the run; while they are vulnerable against the pass, LT's passing game is rather poor and it is unlikely that they will be able to take too much advantage. The only particularly effective game LT has had throwing the ball in WAC play this season was against the poor USU pass D, where they went 13-18 for 226 with a 4-0 ratio; outside of this contest, they are averaging 177 ypg and 5.57 ypp with a 3-11 ratio. NMSU's pass D is poor but they are not bad enough to get torched like USU did; during their recent run of good play they have held opponents to 134 ypg and 6.08 ypp with a 4-1 ratio. Prior to this, they even held Nevada to 230 yards passing and picked off the Wolfpack on 3 occasions. One concern is that NMSU QB Holbrook suffered a concussion last week; the offense stalled without him last week, but he is apparently set to play and provided he does that should make the difference.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN (-17) v. Air Force
I was stunned to see this line come out at what it did (TCU -14.5); now that I check back in later in the week it seems a little more reasonable, but not enough for it to matter. TCU is on a great roll, coinciding with the decision by HC Patterson to open up the O; against SDSU and CSU, TCU has had season-high offensive outputs, averaging 615 yards and going over 600 yards in each game. Certainly SDSU and CSU do not have the best defenses, but I would rate either of them as the equal of AFA's, which has been pretty uneven all season and gave up an amazing 555 yards to a UNLV D that has struggled all season; to illustrate, UNLV QB Hinds threw for 351 yards (on 34 passes), whereas his previous high yardage total this season had been 232 yards against Utah. Every halfway decent QB has torn up the AFA D; Tennessee, Col State, BYU, and ND have averaged 270 ypg and 10.59 ypp with a 12-3 ratio, and none of those teams have anywhere near the running game that TCU does. Even with this, TCU's matchup on D may even be stronger than their matchup on O; AFA is primarily a running team, and TCU's run D is a brick wall. TCU has only given up more than 100 yards rushing to Utah this season; MWC opponents are averaging 66 ypg and 2.45 ypc. AFA's running game seems to have dropped off as the season has progressed; after averaging 264 ypg rushing and 67 ypg passing through the Army game, in the last three games they have averaged 173 ypg rushing and 211 ypg passing. Even if they continue this emphasis on the passing game, TCU will be better equipped than most MWC teams to deal with it; only BYU had a particularly good game throwing the ball against TCU, and all opponents have only managed 187 and 5.74 ypp with an 8-12 ratio against them, and please note that these numbers include games against Baylor and Texas Tech. I am always a little weary of playing teams just after they have accepted a bowl bid, but the gap in this one is too large and I think TCU will cover regardless.
OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP; Jacksonville, FL
Wake Forest (+2.5) v. Georgia Tech
Not too much statistical analysis, since it seems useless when you are dealing with a Wake team that incomprehensibly keeps winning. So just a couple of bits: first, outside of VT, GT's division of the ACC is downright horrible; say what you will about the FSU this season, but while FSU is arguably the worst team in their division, and they have almost certainly outperformed Miami, who is a clear 3rd best team in theirs; even if one doesn't accept this, UVa, UNC, and Duke are undoubtedly the worst teams in the conference and GT benefited from playing in the same division as all of them. Second: mentally, Wake is sky-high, fresh off a winner-take-all game against Md, while GT has just lost a gut-wrenching game to their biggest rival. And the bottom line? Wake's D is as good as GT's, their running games are comparable, and, despite starting a redshirt Freshman as opposed to a 4-year starter, Wake's QB is far less likely to make mistakes. And HC Grobe is a damn genius who will get the job done here.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP; Atlanta, GA
Arkansas (+3) v. Florida
I have, for the most part, given up on trying to understand how Arkansas wins games, and just accepted that they do. Of course, their passing game is useless but I am not sure it matters too much; they have been held under 100 yards passing more than they have gone over 200 yards passing but they still sit at 10-2 for the season. Florida has a great D, but good running games they have faced are few and far between; the only particularly strong running games they have faced were those of LSU, Auburn, Vandy, and South Carolina, and all of those had reasonable success; an average of 110 ypg and 3.88 ypc. Those are not strong numbers for opponents but Arkansas presents a stronger challenge than any, and given the limitations of the Florida offense it is likely that even limited success will prove decisive. One big problem for the Florida O is that not only do they struggle offensively in the red zone, they lack a kicker that salvages points during unsuccessful trips to that area. And, given the way the Arkansas D has been playing as of late it is likely that Florida will need to make the most of their red-zone opportunities; no SEC opponent has gone for 400 yards against Arkansas, and opponents are only averaging 311 ypg. All things considered, it should be a hard-fought contest with points at a premium, and since Arkansas has the player most likely to make plays (RB McFadden) and Florida's kicking game problems, I'll lean toward Arkansas and the points.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP; Kansas City, MO
Nebraska (+3) v. Oklahoma
While my official selections are three heavy favorites, in the title games I lean toward all the 'dogs. Oklahoma's D has been playing great of late, but they did show some weakness last week against OSU, who played much of the game with their backup QB after super QB Reid suffered an injury. Nebraska is one of the few teams in the Big 12 that has the requisite balance to keep the OU D from playing at their best, as OSU did last week; only Texas shut down their running game, and they have thrown for 243 ypg in conference play. Nebraska's D is vulnerable against the pass, but fairly strong against the run; fortunately for them, Stoops has shown a reluctance to let QB Thompson air it out, even though he has had a pretty good season. Even after the injury to RB Peterson, OU is running the ball 44 times a game and only throwing it 20 times a game. I think OU is probably the better team here but the matchup favors the 'Huskers; I also expect them to have stronger fan support, and that should make the difference.