Underdog Delight in Conference USA

Published October 19, 2011

| Sports Network

UAB has yet to win a game this season with six straight defeats, however, the Blazers aren't as bad as their record indicates. Two of those games came against SEC opponents while two others were road losses by just five points to East Carolina (a team coming off a bye week) and by a single point at Troy.

Last week UAB hung tough at Tulsa for 30 minutes trailing 24-20 at halftime before the Golden Hurricane busted through with 13 unanswered points in the second half. Still, the Blazers racked up 379 total yards and quarterback Bryan Ellis returned after missing the previous two contests.

UCF comes in at 3-3 but with just one victory since week three. The Knights are 0-3 away from home, and even though both squads must deal with the shortened week, UCF had to travel from SMU to UAB and must play its second straight game away from home.

After scoring 30 points against Boston College back on September 10th, the Knights have failed to put up more than 17 in each of their last four games while averaging 15 points per game in the process. It's true that UAB hasn't been anywhere near the team it was last year, but neither has UCF. The two teams have combined for five touchdown passes this season - UCF with three and UAB with two.

Look for a defensive showdown at Legion Field as the Knights come away with a victory by single digits.

Take UAB and the points in this week's lone Five-Star play.

THREE-STAR SELECTIONS

Marshall travels to Houston to take on the undefeated Cougars, who moved up from 25th to 21st in the latest AP rankings. Houston is coming off a bye week but the Cougars are just 6-11 ATS in their last 17 games with at least one week to prepare for an opponent.

Still, quarterback Case Keenum has been virtually unstoppable this season with 17 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He's also averaging 385 yards per game while completing 71% of his tosses. In addition, the running game has balanced out the offense with the three top backs averaging at least 5.6 yards per carry.

On the negative side, take away wins against lowly North Texas and Georgia State, and the Cougars have won three of their four games by a combined 12 points. Furthermore, they allowed an average of 37 points per game in those three matchups against UCLA, Louisiana Tech and UTEP. The only dominating win they have came against East Carolina.

Keenum has not had much success against the Herd with only four touchdown passes, three interceptions and a 1-1 record. The Herd defeated Keenum and the Cougars, 37-23, as seven-point underdogs back in 2008 and covered in 2007 when getting 11.5 points. This year, Houston is favored by 22.5!

Marshall, 55th in the country in scoring defense, has not only held Southern Miss to just 20 points and Virginia Tech to 30, but it also has allowed an average of 16 ppg in its last three. Look for the Herd to continue playing solid defense and stay within the number.

Take Marshall plus the points.

West Virginia takes on Syracuse Friday night with revenge on its minds since the Orange won in Morgantown last year, 19-14. However, going to upstate New York might not be a perfect recipe for success since West Virginia sports a below .500 record away from home since the start of the 2008 season. On the other hand, the Mountaineers are 23-3 on their own turf.

Syracuse is no longer a pushover in the Big East as its 4-2 record indicates. Furthermore, the Orange is 13-6 in its last 19 games. Doug Marrone has done a masterful job as head coach, and even though the defense has been brutal against the pass, the offense will score just enough for Syracuse to cover the spread.

Take the Orange plus the points.

Stanford hosts Washington in the marquee Pac-12 game of the week. Both teams are undefeated in conference play after the former blew out Washington State by 30 points and the latter cruised past Colorado by 28.

The Cardinal has yet to be challenged in 2011 winning all six games by at least 27 points. Nevertheless, look for Washington to at least cut that margin in half. The Huskies have the most underrated quarterback in the country in Keith Price, who has thrown 21 touchdown passes (against four interceptions) while completing 69% of his throws.

Take the Huskies and the points.

One team not getting enough credit this season is UTEP. The Miners came into the year with just one returning starter on offense and they have scored a combined 86 points the last two games against Houston and Tulane.

They are 5-0 ATS in 2011 while their opposition, Colorado State, is 1-4. The Rams are averaging just 19 ppg in regulation play this year against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) squads while allowing 32. And outside of Boise State, they haven't faced any top teams.

Take UTEP minus the points.

North Texas takes on ULM in Sun Belt action. Both teams have losing records but ULM has a decided advantage considering the Mean Green's strength is running the football. The Warhawks have allowed just 3.1 yards per carry! Moreover, North Texas is last in the league against the pass while ULM's offensive strength is its passing game.

Giving almost a touchdown on the road is not a play I normally make but Todd Berry's club should win this one by at least two touchdowns.

Take ULM minus the points.

Middle Tennessee, another road favorite in the Sun Belt this week, is the sixth and final Three-Star play. The Blue Raiders come into Florida Atlantic with just one victory on the season. However, three of their losses have come by a combined nine points, and two were on the road against Purdue and Troy.

FAU has yet to win a game this year, and even though the Owls have played just once at home, they were shutout 20-0 by Western Kentucky at FAU Stadium. The Blue Raiders haven't played since October 6th so look for them to come out smoking and destroy the Owls by at least three touchdowns.

Take Middle Tennessee minus the points.

TWO-STAR PLAYS

Go with Cincinnati (at South Florida), Western Michigan (at Eastern Michigan), and Northwestern (against Penn State).

ONE-STAR SELECTIONS

Take the over in Wisconsin-Michigan State, Air Force (at Boise State) and Oklahoma (minus the points vs. Texas Tech).

AFTER SEVEN WEEKS

The overall six-week total now stands at 32-55 after a 6-6 week. My Five-Star plays are 2-3, the Three-Star selections are 11-15, the Two-Star plays are 12-22, and the One-Star picks are 7-15.

As a reminder, the Five-Star plays are when my Power Plays and Key Plays coincide. The Three-Star choices are my personal picks, the Two-Star plays are the "power number" picks (games with at least a five-point differential between my line and the actual line), and the One-Star plays are my personal secondary selections.

THIS WEEK'S JEFF FRANK'S "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Alabama, 110.5; 2) LSU, 108.5; 3-T) Stanford, Wisconsin, and Boise State, 107.5; 6) Oklahoma, 106.5; 7) Oregon, 103.5; 8) Oklahoma State, 103; 9) Texas A&M, 100; 10) Notre Dame, 99; 11) Clemson, 96.5; 12-T) Arkansas, Arizona State, and Florida State, 96

(The Top 12 is not a reflection of a given team's won-loss record. It's based purely on power rankings used to predict spreads for the upcoming week. At the beginning of the season, all 120 FBS teams are assigned a power number, which then changes on a week-to-week basis depending on how each team played.)

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