Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 9:04 AM
Want to know something scary?
When the dust settles at the end of this upcoming weekend a good chunk of the country's 124 FBS teams will have played half of their schedule for this 2012 season.
No doubt time is flying by in this here-and-now College Football Season although it probably can't go fast enough for the likes of Michigan, Arkansas and Virginia Tech - all of whom have plummeted out of the Associated Press Top 25 after having started out there at #8, #10 and #16, respectively.
Still, there have been a number of better-than-you-think teams out there that maybe aren't getting tons of glory in the polls and so let's spend a moment or two on three of 'em right here/right now:
ARIZONA STATE (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) - You won't find these ASU Sun Devils in this week's AP Top 25 even though they've beaten three BCS teams already this year (see Illinois along with fellow conference foes Utah and California) and the current Pac-12 South co-leaders along with UCLA now get a chance to catch their breath before an Oct. 11th tilt at lowly Colorado.
Hey, could vagabond head coach Todd Graham have these Devils pointed to a January bowl game this year?
No doubt that the "culture" has been changed in Tempe where the gridiron guys have not enjoyed a winning year since 2007 (see 10-3 and a Holiday Bowl appearance under Dennis Erickson) and a gritty pass defense that ranks 7th in the country while yielding just 137 aerial yards a game is a key reason for the newfound success. Chuck into the mix the fact Arizona State truly trusts QB Taylor Kelly (averaging 258.4 ypg with 9 TDs and 2 INTs) while TE Chris Coyle (26 receptions) has been a reliable/clutch target.
No doubt the Oct. 18th home tilt against #2 Oregon will be a major problem spot for Arizona State but check out the sked as there's a shot this club could win nine games providing the Devils spring a road upset along the way.
P.S., Arizona State also sits pretty right now with a 4-1 ATS (against the spread) mark.
PURDUE (3-1, 0-0 Big 10) - Maybe you think we're jumping the gun here considering the fact the 2012 Boilermakers have yet to set foot inside Big 10 play ... but hear us out, if you will!
Danny Hope's club already owns three pointspread wins in four tries - including that heartbreaking 20-17 loss-but-cover at 14-point favorite Notre Dame back on Sept. 8th - and this defense could wind up being a major strength come conference play and note Purdue returned two INTs for TDs in last week's 51-41 non-cover victory against 17-point pup Marshall.
Might the Boilers be champing at the proverbial bit here while getting ready this Saturday for mistake-prone Michigan slinger Denard Robinson?
Hey, there are some folks claiming this Purdue secondary might just be the best in all the Big 10 ... we'll see.
If the Boilers - who averaged 42.5 points per game through their first four tilts - show an explosiveness in Big 10 play than their bowl prospects will be a whole lot better than the Little Caesar's Bowl Game they settled for a year ago.
Keep an eye on WR Antavian Edison who has 24 receptions and 5 TDs so far this year - he could give Michigan's secondary major headaches in West Lafayette this weekend.
TOLEDO (4-1, 2-0 Mid-American Conference) - No question that this year's Rockets have been major money-earners for their backers with a nifty 4-1 ATS mark though the first five games but who's playing better than these guys on the road?
Note that Toledo already has banked pointspread wins at Arizona, Wyoming and Western Michigan with last weekend's 37-17 triumph at WMU (a pick 'em affair) featuring a 213-yard rushing game with three TDs by star RB David Fluellen and a 243-yard passing game by savvy QB Terrance Owens.
It's that sort of offensive balance that first-year head coach Matt Campbell has struck up that has Toledo lurking around looking for a third consecutive post-season bowl berth.
Maybe the non-BCS conference teams become afterthoughts when league play warms up 'round the SEC, Pac-12, etc. but don't you dare sleep on these Rockets who've won four in a row SU (straight-up) with a Homecoming Game against rival Central Michigan on tap this Saturday afternoon.
Note that if Toledo wins its next two MAC games - and than beats Cincinnati on Oct. 20th - you'll be hearing plenty more about this better-than-you-think crew.
Now, here's the Thursday Night NCAA Football TV Preview ...
#13 USC (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) at UTAH (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's face it: The USC Trojans almost became irrelevant - again - when they lost 21-14 at Stanford back on Sept. 15th as all that national championship talk was chucked out the window ... but was that all a tad premature?
Consider that the Troy Boys could slither back into the top 10 before too long (maybe even by this time next week!) and than it's up to this LA gang to stay hot, pile up some big scores and keep fingers crossed that enough "name" teams ahead of 'em drop - but here one-time Heisman Trophy candidate QB Matt Barkley (12 TDs but 5 INTs) must avoid the drive-killing picks that have unfortunately defined much of his 2012 season thus far.
Looking for an X-factor type here?
Than check out Utah's ground game that ranks an ugly 110th nationally this year as RB John White IV - averaging just 77.7 ypg - needs to bust a couple of big ones or else the two-TD underdog Utes will spend most of this night behind the proverbial eight-ball.
Spread Notes - USC has failed to cover three of its first four games out of the gate this year and note the Trojans are just 6-7 vig-wise as double-digit betting favorites in the Lane Kiffin Era that started back in 2010. On the flip side, Utah is also 1-3 ATS so far this season but did you know the Utes are 20-12-1 against the odds whenever in the underdog role while dating back to the 2003 season?
NFL THURSDAY NIGHT PREVIEW
ARIZONA (4-0) at ST. LOUIS (2-2) -- 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Here's the real skinny on those 4-and-oh 'Zona Cardinals: They may not be wowing anyone with their stats - the Cards rank 24th in the NFL in pass offense, 30th in rushing and just 20th in pass defense - but they sure as heck have learned how to win the close games with 4-, 2- and 3-point wins on their 2012 resume.
Now, highly underrated head coach Ken Whisenhunt brings his club to the "Arch City" gunning for the team's first 5-0 start since Dan Dierdorf was a toddler and QB Kevin Kolb comes in with mucho confidence after having thrown for 324 yards with three TDs in that wild 24-21 come-from-behind OT win against Miami last weekend.
Here, Kolb will eyeball top targets WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts - a duo that combined for 14 receptions worth 182 yards and three scores in that Week 4 home victory - but can the Cards keep winning with a ground game that's averaging a meager 68 yards a game?
If St. Loo is gonna bang out back-to-back wins first the first time in some 25 games - really! - than head coach Jeff Fisher's squad must kick-start a passing game that ranks a lowly 27th in the league and maybe the QB Sam Bradford-to-WR Danny Amendola tandem needs to stick it into the end zone more (note that Amendola has 31 catches but only two for scores).
Spread Notes - Arizona's covered three of its first four games this season but note the Redbirds have not enjoyed a winning spread season away since their Super Bowl year back in 2008. Meanwhile, St. Louis has cashed both of its home tilts this year (versus Washington and Seattle) but the Rams are a rotten 8-17 ATS in NFC West games since the start of the '08 campaign.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have all the NFL Week 5 winners beginning with the Cardinals-Rams tilt on Thursday Night plus there are loads of NCAA Football and Major-League Baseball Playoff winners straight ahead too -- so go ahead and climb aboard right now with America's #1 Handicapper! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners.
WE CHECK OUT FRIDAY'S TV TWINBILL (THAT'S PITTSBURGH AT SYRACUSE AND UTAH STATE AT BYU)
PLUS A PEEK AHEAD TO SATURDAY'S CARD TO SEE WHICH RANKED ROAD TEAMS COULD BE IN TROUBLE
Here's a thought we've had the last day or so ...
What if this is one of those years in College Football when you have more than two undefeated teams left by the end of regular-season/conference championship games?
Hey, it could happen.
Consider the following very possible scenario:
Let's say #1 Alabama wins out, #2 Oregon runs the table and #3 Florida State doesn't lose a single game.
Again, just for argument's sake, let's say they all win their respective conference championship games by "healthy margins" ... now what?
Maybe you say that's easy 'cause as long as Alabama and Oregon keep winnin' it's not likely they'll be bumped from their two top perches in the polls but this could get real sticky, especially if Florida State wins the ACC Championship Game by 20-plus points and really looks like a proverbial world-beater.
Okay, so maybe we're tossing something out there that's simply not gonna happen but halfway through this 2012 NCAA Football Season it remains a possibility, right?
BTW, if we had a four-team playoff in place for this year - which we don't, of course - the semifinal matchups right this minute would be (get this) Alabama versus LSU and Oregon vs. Florida State.
Okay, so we won't peak into the Jim Sez crystal ball that far down the line anymore here in today's column space but in a few moments we will take a sneak peek at some Saturday games involving ranked road teams and whether or not they have reason to fret but first let's tackle the ESPN twin-bill for this first Friday night in October:
PITTSBURGH (2-2) at SYRACUSE (1-3) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's just say the arrow is pointing up these days for the here-and-now Pittsburgh Panthers ... finally!
Pitt's recent 35-17 win against 10 ½-point favorite Virginia Tech awoke the echoes of a long-lost football program and now first-year boss-man Paul Chryst's team takes its act into the Carrier Dome looking to win its third game in a row and note that hasn't happened in the same year since the middle of 2010 - you remember the Dave Wannstedt Era, right?
In this clash Pittsburgh's born-again QB Tino Sunseri (6 TDs and 1 INT in his last two games) will look to keep up his fine play against the Orange as Sunseri's thrown for 525 yards and two TDs in a pair of wins against the 'Cuse.
If Syracuse is gonna snag this mild home upset - and keep in mind Pittsburgh's won the last seven games in a row SU (straight-up) against the Orange - than slowing down Pitt RB Ray Graham is a big key and keep in mind Syracuse is yielding 176.3 ground yards a game this year (ranks 'em a lowly 81st nationally among 124 FBS schools).
Spread Notes - Pittsburgh has covered seven of its last 10 head-to-head showdowns against Syracuse including the last three in a row. Last year the Panthers - an 8-point home favorite - closed out regular-season action with a stirring 33-20 win/cover against the Orange. Meanwhile, note that the 'Cuse is now 2-10 versus the vig in its last overall dozen games and the lone spread win this year in four tries came in that 42-29 loss-but-cover against 25-point fav USC.
UTAH STATE (4-1) at BYU (3-2) - 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
No doubt about it: This in-state rivalry game is one of the best non-Top 25 games on the whole weekend board and don't you dare sleep on this Utah State team that's won three of its four games by twin-figure margins this year and nearly beat Wisconsin too.
The Aggies rank 15th nationally in pass defense and so whether BYU opts for Riley Nelson (missed last week's 47-0 laugher win against Hawaii with injuries) or freshman star Taysom Hill (143 yards passing to go along with 112 yards passing last Friday night) the road dogs must not allow for field-flipping plays here ... or else.
The main star to watch for U-State is do-it-all RB Kerwynn Williams who brush-stroked UNLV last week to the tune of 113 yards rushing and 147 yards receiving in a 35-13 win/cover. If Williams is able to shake loose in space here, than BYU's LBs/DBs could be in a heap of trouble.
Spread Notes - BYU's failed to cover the last four consecutive showdowns against rival Utah State and that includes last year's 27-24 non-cover win as 8-point home favorites. The Coogs enter this prime-time tilt having covered nine of their last 11 overall games dating back to the middle of last year. Utah State is a perfect 5-0 against the odds this season and the Aggies are an electric 28-13-2 ATS (against the spread) as dogs since the start of the 2007 season (that's a sizzling .683 winning rate)
COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS & NOTES
Let's check in on the ranked road teams that could have problems this Saturday ...
#4 LSU (5-0) - We'll get into more detail with the Bayou Bengals game in Gainesville in our next Jim Sez which will feature a slew of key ranked games on the Saturday card but here's a little appetizer: The Tigers have not exactly appeared to be all that interested in recent wins against Auburn and Towson and now you wonder if 8th-year head coach Les Miles can flick the emotional switch and get his guys to play ferocious ball against Florida in "The Swamp". Can we just say LSU told everyone this past summer that its passing game would be greatly improved and here we are with this SEC West crew averaging just 202 passing yards a game - and that ranks 'em 92nd among FB schools. Ugh!
#17 OKLAHOMA (2-1) - The Sooners did some major soul-searching following that 24-19 loss to 15 ½-point road dog Kansas State two weekends ago and now Bob Stoops' crew flies into another hornet's nest here with born-again Texas Tech (4-0). No doubt that Oklahoma QB Landry Jones is in a something-to-prove mood after two critical turnovers in that loss to K-State and the $64,000 question here is will he now "spit the bit" under pass-rush pressure? Hmmm.
#24 NORTHWESTERN (5-0) - Lots to feel good about here with the 2012 Wildcats who rank 9th in the land in rushing offense (256 yards a game) and 14th nationally in rush defense (90 ypg) but might this high-noon ET tilt at Happy Valley prove to be too tall a task for QB Kain Colter and Company? Note that Northwestern's defense is yielding a mere 15.5 points per game following that season-opening 42-41 win in Syracuse but now Penn State's physical attack will look to wear down the 'Cats come the fourth quarter - is Pat Fitzgerald's team deep enough/strong enough to stay unbeaten here?
NOTE: Get our NCAA Football Saturday Key Previews in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez.