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Backs To The Wall

Several teams face games that will make or break their season

by Dave Congrove
October 6, 2011

On the surface it may seem like an elementary analysis, but a study of this week's games points to a single common thread in a large number of the matchups - it's make or break time.

Oklahoma, ranked No. 1 in the Congrove Computer Rankings and the Coaches' poll, faces Texas in Dallas. It's the only game this week that involves a head-to-head matchup of undefeated teams and it's a conference game. Half of the 10 teams in the Big 12 conference are undefeated overall and have already gotten off to a 1-0 league start.

Texas is a huge underdog by more than 18 points in the Congrove Computer Rankings' analysis, the largest computer margin I can remember in this particular annual matchup. I checked records back to 1998 and each of the last 13 games had forecasted margins of 8 points or less.

Is Oklahoma really that much better than Texas?

Virginia Tech was unmasked last week as a possible pretender. The 4-0 Hokies were throttled 23-3 in Blacksburg by Clemson and now finds themselves in an ACC do-or-die game with Miami. The loser here drops to 0-2 in the conference standings with virtually no way of climbing back to the top by the end of the regular season. The computer picks the Hokies by 12.20, but it had Virginia Tech winning last week's game by 10.93.

Auburn looked like a pretender when it lost at Clemson earlier this year, but rejuvenated its season last week with a 16-13 win at South Carolina. Last week's victory left the Tigers in a 3-way SEC West tie with Alabama and LSU at 2-0 so it's obvious why they need another win this week. Auburn travels to Fayetteville to face an Arkansas team that was blown out 38-14 at Alabama two weeks ago and needs this win to even its SEC record at 1-1. The computer gives the Hogs a 13.05-point advantage.

Ohio State has already been saddled with two losses - at Miami and vs. Michigan State - and limps into Lincoln with a 2-2 record overall and an 0-1 start in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, homestanding Nebraska is licking its wounded pride after a 48-17 stinkfest against Wisconsin that made the 'Huskers worthy of the pretender label.

Everyone who follows college football knows the trouble Ohio State has been going through off the field, and it didn't get any better this week when last year's top receiver, Devier Posey, and top running back, Dan Herron, were suspended for this game for receiving inordinate pay for summer jobs. They have already missed the first five games as part of the TattooGate investigation.

Nebraska's troubles are on the field where QB Taylor Martinez has thrown more interceptions (5) than TD passes (4) and has barely completed half of his passes (50.5%). The defense has issues, too, as it ranks 64th overall.

Of course, the early loss of Terrelle Pryor to the NFL - and the absences of Herron and Posey - haven't helped Ohio State's offense which now ranks 108th out of 120 FBS teams.

The Buckeyes won the only two previous meetings between these teams way back in 1955-1956. but are computer underdogs this week by 8.62 points.

Texas A&M has blown its lofty preseason rankings with consecutive second-half collapses in games against Oklahoma State and Arkansas. The Aggies led the Cowboys by 17 and the Razorbacks by 18 before disintegrating over the final two quarters. This week, A&M visits undefeated Texas Tech with the hopes of ending their rivals' perfect season and the computer likes the Ags to do just that by 5.30.

Florida garnered pretender status with last week's 38-10 home blowout loss to the computer's No. 2 team, Alabama. The Gators are in the unenvied position of having to travel to Baton Rouge this week as a 15.92-point computer underdog to the computer's No. 3 team, LSU.

Other games involving the nation's remaining 15 undefeated schools include Vanderbilt at Alabama (5-0), Boise State (4-0) at Fresno State (Friday), Kansas at Oklahoma State (4-0), Colorado at Stanford (4-0), Michigan (5-0) at Northwestern, Boston College at Clemson (5-0), Illinois (5-0) at Indiana, Maryland at Georgia Tech (5-0) East Carolina at Houston (5-0) and Missouri at Kansas State (4-0). Wisconsin (5-0) is idle.

Kansas State is actually a 13.76-point computer underdog against Missouri while Michigan is only a 3.03-point favorite at Northwestern.

The college football week kicks of on Thursday night with California at Oregon. The Golden Bears pulled out all the stops to slow down the Quack Attack last year, including faking injuries, and fell just short in the upset bid in a 15-13 home loss. The computer has the Ducks winning by nearly 20 points.

MTSU hosts Western Kentucky in a Thursday night Sun Belt clash.

On Friday, former WAC rivals Boise State and Fresno State continue their rivalry. Even though the Broncos have bolted for the Mountain West, not much else has changed. Boise State is still a prohibitive favorite to beat the Bulldogs for the 10th time in the last 11 years with the computer giving the Broncos a 23.63-point edge. Next year, this will become a Mountain West conference game.

Another game that stands out on Saturday is Air Force's visit to Notre Dame. The last meeting in 2007 resulted in a 41-24 AFA victory, giving the Falcons' their second win in South Bend in their last three visits dating back to 1996. This time around, the computer forecasts the Irish as an 8.82-point winner.

Also keep an eye on Arizona State-Utah, Georgia-Tennessee, Southern Miss-Navy, Pitt-Rutgers and TCU-San Diego State.

COMPUTER ACCURACY:
- The computer has picked every game correctly for 36 of the 120 teams.

- It has just 1 incorrect pick for 43 other teams.

- It has correctly forecasted the winner of 92% of all Boise State games over the last 8 years.

- It has achieved the 80% accuracy level with 27 teams.

- Its preseason top four is still its top four.

- Its current top five were among its preseason top 6.

FBS vs. FCS:
For the first time this season, there are no games on the schedule that pit FBS teams against FCS schools. Through the first five weeks, FBS teams are 83-6 (.933), improving their record to 630-55 (.920) in such games since 2003.

Here are the results of the FBS losses to FCS schools this season:
9/24: North Dakota St. 37, Minnesota 24
9/24: Sam Houston State 48, New Mexico 45 (OT)
9/24: Southern Utah41, UNLV 16
9/17: Indiana State 44, Western Kentucky 16
9/3: Richmond 23, Duke 21
9/3: Sacramento State 29, Oregon State 28

93 FBS teams play a total of 97 games against FCS foes this year. Four schools play two such games - Air Force, Eastern Michigan, N.C. State and Wyoming.

STREAKS:
Boise State - Has streaks of 34 home wins, 64 regular season home wins, and 46 straight conference home victories. BSU joined the Mountain West this season and left the WAC where it never lost a conference game at home (40-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 7-1 in their last eight matches with BCS conference schools. (Next: at Fresno State on Friday).

Stanford - 12 straight wins overall. (Next: hosts Colorado on Saturday).

Oklahoma - 9 straight wins overall and 39 straight home victories. (Next: vs. Texas at Dallas on Saturday).

TCU - 18-game conference winning streak. (Next: at San Diego State on Saturday).

Virginia Tech - 10 straight road wins. (Next: hosts Miami on Saturday).

Memphis - 13 straight losses vs. FBS schools. (Next: at Rice on Saturday).

New Mexico - 8 straight losses overall and 17 straight road losses. (Next: at Nevada on October 15).

Colorado - 18 straight road losses. (Next: at Stanford on Saturday).

NEW COACHES:
24 teams have a new college football coach in the FBS ranks this season. Last season saw 23 new head coaches, only 8 of whom matched or exceeded the W-L record of their predecessors' final season.

Two of the schools with a new head coach are undefeated, thus far - Michigan and Stanford . Florida lost for the first time this week. The new head coaches are a cumulative 51-41, but only 14 of them have defeated a school from the "Big 6" conferences - Ball State, Florida, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, North Carolina, North Texas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Stanford, Temple, Vanderbilt and West Virginia.

Four games this week pit new head coaches against each other - Temple at Ball State, Colorado at Stanford, Connecticut at West Virginia and Kent State at Northern Illinois.

Here are this week's games for each new head coach:

Team Coach Game
Arkansas State Hugh Freeze (3-2) at La.-Monroe
Ball State Pete Lembo (3-2) vs. Temple
Colorado Jon Embree (1-4) at Stanford
Connecticut Paul Pasqualoni (2-3) at West Virginia
Florida Will Muschamp (4-1) at LSU
Indiana Kevin Wilson (1-4) vs. Illinois
Kent State Darrell Hazell (1-4) at Northern Illinois
Louisiana-Lafayette Mark Hudspeth (4-1) vs. Troy
Maryland Randy Edsall (2-2) at Georgia Tech
Miami (Fla.) Al Golden (2-2) at Virginia Tech
Miami (O.) Don Treadwell (0-4) vs. Army
Michigan Brady Hoke (5-0) at Northwestern
Minnesota Jerry Kill (1-4) at Purdue
North Carolina Everett Withers (Interim) (4-1) vs. Louisville
North Texas Dan McCarney (1-4) vs. FAU
Northern Illinois Dave Doeren (2-3) vs. Kent State
Ohio State Luke Fickell (Interim) (3-2) at Nebraska
Pittsburgh Todd Graham (3-2) at Rutgers
San Diego St. Rocky Long (3-1) vs. TCU
Stanford David Shaw (4-0) vs. Colorado
Temple Steve Addazio (3-2) at Ball State
Tulsa Bill Blankenship (2-3) Idle
Vanderbilt James Franklin (3-1) at Alabama
West Virginia Dana Holgorsen (4-1) vs. Connecticut


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