It wasn’t a fantastic debut.
Week 10 was my first crack at filling Julian Dickinson’s shoes with a weekly rundown of the sassiest matchups beyond the national rankings. I ended up 2-3, with Air Force and Illinois responsible for paydays as double-digit favorites. I also suggested Wake Forest at pick ‘em. It was a nearly forgivable oversight as the Deacons lost by a single point (and closed as 1 ½-point underdogs).
Taking Tulane at home with the points over Tulsa was bad. I’d like to blame Matt Forte, who managed only 103 rushing yards after posting four straight 200-yard games. But I’m to blame for not seeing how the Golden Hurricane offense would tear up the Superdome turf.
Then there’s Notre Dame, who I said could score at will against Navy. Indeed they could. Too bad the Irish defense stopped runs about as effectively as a jumbo-sized bowl of chili.
On to Week 11 and an improved record. I’m looking at another Notre Dame game as the Irish prepare to face another running team – guess which side I’m on this week?
North Carolina at North Carolina State (-3 ½, 43 ½)
The Tar Heels have won their last three clashes with the Pack despite being underdogs in each. Beating NC State, in fact, was about the only highlight of John Bunting’s final year on the UNC sideline. Butch Davis is now the man in Chapel Hill and he’s overseen an improvement in recent weeks – North Carolina is 4-1 ATS over its last five games.
NC State was 0-4 SU and ATS against top-tier competition in September, thanks largely to injuries in its backfield. The Pack have since gone 4-0 ATS with three straight wins as an underdog. Now NC State is favored for the first time since Week 1. They face a Tar Heels team that plays only 26 miles away (i.e. motivation won’t be an issue) and has recently dominated head-to-head meetings.
Both teams lack playmakers. Both have improved more on ‘D’ than on ‘O’ as the season has progressed. That combination makes me lean toward a low-scoring game. And the lower-scoring a game is, the more tempting it gets to take the underdog with the points.
Air Force at Notre Dame (+3, 43 ½)
Last Saturday’s loss to Navy proved what we all suspected about Notre Dame this season: the Irish are so bad they’ve rendered the team’s history absolutely meaningless. So take your “Notre Dame is 9-1 SU against Air Force in the last 20 seasons” stats and toss ‘em out the window.
Charlie Weis has given up on 2007. He went for it on every fourth down situation, even to the team’s detriment, and is toying with the idea of a two-quarterback rotation this weekend.
Air Force, in the meantime, has a shot at the MWC title. These Falcons don’t fly, preferring to pound opponents on the ground, as evidenced by their 437 rushing yards against Army last week. Considering how ineffective the Irish looked against Navy’s run, Notre Dame may have to depend on its finale against Duke to avoid a winless ’07 campaign at home.
Houston at Tulsa (-1, N/A)
The C-USA West crown is effectively on the line in Tulsa on Saturday. A Houston win clinches the division, while a Tulsa win leaves the Golden Hurricane needing only a win at Rice in the season closer to secure a berth in the conference championship game.
If any weekend game is going to be a case of “last touchdown wins”, it’s this one. There are only three schools in the FBS (formerly Division I-A) averaging more than 80 offensive snaps per game. Houston and Tulsa are two of them.
The difference is Tulsa’s propensity to turn the ball over. The Golden Hurricane have given the ball away 19 times in their six conference games, a big reason they’re only 1-5 ATS in C-USA this season. Houston’s defensive speed should capitalize on Tulsa’s carelessness on Saturday and carry the Cougars to the division title.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Middle Tennessee State (-13 ½, 62 ½)
Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns held South Carolina to 28 points in Week 1 and easily covered as 28 ½-point underdogs. It was their defensive highlight of the season. ULL has since gone 1-7 SU and 1-6 ATS, allowing 41.6 points per game along the way. The Ragin’ Cajuns gave up 59 points at Tennessee last weekend and 52 at Arkansas State in their most recent conference road game.
Middle Tennessee State, on the other hand, has become the Sun Belt’s best bet since starting the season 0-4. The Blue Raiders are 5-1 SU and 5-0-1 ATS over their last six games and have looked explosive since QB Joe Craddock returned from a back injury.
ULL won straight-up as a double-digit underdog in its two most recent trips to Murfeesboro, but this season’s Ragin’ Cajuns aren’t up to repeating the feat. MTSU alumni should enjoy a comfortable win at Floyd Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Wyoming at Utah (-13 ½, 43 ½)
The line for this game wouldn’t have approached double-digits if it had been scheduled in late September. At the time, Wyoming was 4-1 and sitting pretty in the MWC while injury-riddled Utah had just been shut out by UNLV to fall to 1-3.
The Utes have since regained their misplaced mojo, going 4-0 SU and ATS in October. They averaged 443 yards per game last month, compared to the 304 per game in their opening five games. Utah now plays at home, both confident after its recent success and rested after last week’s bye.
Wyoming’s strength remains its defense, but its offense has weakened as the season progresses. The program managed only three second-half points and 250 total yards last week as San Diego State passed them in the MWC standings. Those numbers won’t improve in Salt Lake City against the conference’s stingiest defense.
Kent State at Northern Illinois (+3 ½, 48 ½)
Kent State stuck a true freshman under center in its last game. While the Golden Flashes didn’t win or cover, don’t blame the kid. Giorgio Morgan hit 18 of 28 passes for 247 yards in the 10-point home loss to Central Michigan. Morgan also threw for three touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.
Morgan and the Flashes used last weekend’s bye week to get the offense back up to snuff. Kent State was 0-4 SU and ATS last month but faces a Northern Illinois team that allowed 114 points over its last two games.
Would-be NIU backers suggest the 1-8 Huskies have a shot against the MAC East’s last-place club. But Northern Illinois has simply gotten worse as the season continues and will likely live down to its shoddy expectations on Saturday. Its run defense has allowed over 330 yards to each of NIU’s last two foes, bad news with the MAC’s leading rusher, Eugene Jarvis, coming to DeKalb.