Came back to earth last week going 1-4 bringing my record to 14-9-2, while the good Doctor went 4-1 bringing his record to 14-11.
On to this week's picks. From Dr. Bob...
MICHIGAN STATE (-7) 33 Illinois 19
Both of these teams are coming off upset wins, as Michigan State beat rival Michigan 34-17 and Illinois won at Penn State 33-13. While you'd expect both teams that be in equal letdown modes, but that is not actually the case. It's the Illini that apply to a very negative 9-52 ATS road underdog letdown situation and Michigan State is also the clearly superior team. Illinois' freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been inconsistent with 2 good games (Southern Illinois and last week against Penn State) and 3 bad games and he's been below average overall, averaging 5.7 yards per pass play against teams that would allow 6.0 yppp to an average quarterback. Michigan State defends the pass well (5.6 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would average 6.2 yppp against an average team), so I expect Scheelhaase to struggle this week. Illinois does have a good rushing attack, averaging 5.3 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 4.7 yprp to an average team, but Michigan State is slightly better than that defending the run (4.1 yprp allowed to teams that would average 4.8 yprp). My math model projects just 4.8 yppl for the Illini in this game without taking into account the letdown situation.
California (+2 ½) 30 USC 24
California's 31-52 loss at Nevada on national TV has the Bears underrated, as that game is not representative of how good Jeff Tedford's team is. Cal played that game without their 1st Team All-Pac 10 LB Mike Mohamed and the Bears' attack style of defense isn't suited to defend an option team like Nevada that can also throw the ball effectively. The combination of Mohamed being out and being forced to play a read and react style of defense resulted in the Wolf Pack averaging 8.2 yppl in that game (Nevada would average 7.2 yppl at home against an average defensive team). However, the Bears have been dominating defensively otherwise, holding Colorado, Arizona and UCLA to a combined average of just 232 yards at 3.4 yppl and 8.0 points per game. Most impressive was limiting Arizona's potent attack to just 4.9 yppl and 10 points, as the Wildcats would average 7.3 yppl at home against an average team. Overall, the Bears' defense ranks among the best in the nation even with that bad Nevada game included, as they've yielded just 4.5 yppl to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average stop unit. USC will be another stiff challenge, as USC has averaged 7.3 yppl against teams that would allow 5.7 yppl to an average team. USC's offense rates at just 0.1 yppl better than Cal's defense, but Cal may be better than their overall stats given the one outlier against Nevada when their best player didn't play. Cal was able to shut down Arizona and I rate the Wildcats' offense as better than that of USC, so I think the Bears are certainly capable of limiting the Trojans today.
Iowa State (+23 ½) 26 OKLAHOMA 38
Oklahoma may be undefeated and ranked 6th in the nation but the Sooners simply aren't a dominant team this season. Oklahoma has only played one really impressive game, their 47-17 win over Florida State, and they've escaped with close wins against Utah State (31-24), Air Force (27-24), Cincinnati (31-29) and against an overrated Texas team (28-20) in a game in which they were out-played 4.3 yards per play to 5.9 yppl and won because of a +2 turnover margin. For the season the Sooners are averaging just 5.1 yards per play against teams that would allow 5.1 yppl to an average team and their defense is actually worse than average in allowing 5.9 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average team. Despite worse than average yppl stats, the Sooners are actually a better than average team because they average 83 plays per game while allowing 70 plays and they have good special teams, but they are certainly not a top-10 team and I wouldn't even rank them in my top-20. Iowa State just lost 27-68 at home to a very good Utah team, but the Cyclones beat up on Texas Tech 52-38 the week before that and they are certainly not bad enough to merit a line above 21 points. In fact, Iowa State's decent offensive attack (5.2 yppl against teams that would allow 5.3 yppl to an average team) should move the ball pretty well against Oklahoma's sub-par defense and the Cyclones haven't been too bad on defense this season, allowing 6.1 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average defensive team. That's actually just 0.3 yppl worse than Oklahoma's mediocre offensive rating. Iowa State will likely be without RB Alexander Robinson this week, but Robinson's 5.1 ypr on 88 carries looks like it can be adequately replaced by Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody, who combine to average 5.9 ypr on their 55 runs this season (5.3 ypr if I take out their yards against Utah's second string defense last week, which of course I do). My math model projects Oklahoma with 15 more plays than Iowa State and a 548 yards at 6.3 yppl to 391 yards at 5.5 yppl advantage, but that's not enough to justify such a high line even after accounting for Oklahoma's advantage in projected turnovers and a slight edge in special teams. In fact, my math favors Oklahoma by just 17 ½ points in this game and Iowa State's blowout loss last week sets the Cyclones up in a very good 24-0 ATS subset of a 75-16 ATS bounce-back situation that plays on big road dogs after getting embarrassed in their previous game.
Oklahoma State (+3) 38 TEXAS TECH 31
Texas Tech beat me last week in their 45-38 win over Baylor, but that win did nothing to change my mind about the Red Raiders being an average team (they were out-gained 6.7 yards per play to 6.9 yppl by Baylor). For the season Texas Tech has averaged 443 yards at 5.7 yppl (against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) while allowing 410 yards at 5.5 yppl (to teams that would average just 5.2 yppl against an average defense). The Red Raiders are actually worse than average from the line of scrimmage after compensating for their easier than normal schedule and Tech is also below average in special teams. From a scoring perspective, Texas Tech has out-scored their opponents by 5.2 points per game (36.8 to 31.6) and they've played a schedule that is 3.4 points easier than average. That would make the Red Raiders 1.8 points better than average looking strictly at points.
TROY STATE (-19) 42 UL Lafayette 14
Troy is the class of the Sun Belt again this season and the Trojans should continue to dominate weaker league foes at home. Troy is 10-2 ATS as a conference home favorite of 11 points or more since 2004, including 3-0 ATS last season and the Trojans should have their way with a horrible UL Lafayette squad after beating up on an overrated Middle Tennessee team last week 42-13. That win sets up the Trojans in a very good 71-22 ATS home favorite momentum situation and my math model likes Troy as well. Troy State's offense is averaging 489 yards at 6.1 yards per play and 36 points per game (against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average team) and the Trojans are likely to gain even more yardage than normal against a soft Ragin' Cajuns' defense that has given up 6.0 yppl and 39 points per game to teams that would combine to average just 5.3 yppl. Lafayette is also hurting on that side of the ball with 3 defensive starters out with injury after FS Rolle, DE Richardson and LB Fleming were all hurt last week against Oklahoma State. I didn't even adjust for those injuries and my math model still projects 507 yards at 6.8 yppl and 42 points for the Trojans in this game.
And on to my picks...
St. Louis +8 versus San Diego
SD has been a solid team this year even though their record does not seem to agree. This is simply too many points for a St. Louis team that can play well at home.
KC +4 versus Houston
KC actually showed me more in their loss last week than they did in their previous three wins. Houston offensive line played like a turnstyle at New York and KC will get pressure on Schaub. KC will be able to score against a weak Houston defense making the points to juicy to pass up.
NO -4 @ TB
If this game had been played in week 1, the line would have been 6 or 7. Is TB legit? Is NO terrible? I think this is an overreaction to what's happened in the last few weeks. I think NO gets their act together and wins this game comfortably.
Washington +3 over Indy
Washington is a solid team and getting three points at home shows no respect for what they have accomplished so far. Indy D has holes against the run and Washington will do their best to make Indy one dimensional.
SF -6.5 versus Oakland
Everyone is waiting for this Niner's team to finally show their true skills and hopefully this is the week. The Niners have a good defense and if Alex Smith can avoid the turnovers this is a game they should win by more than a TD.