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A guide to Saturday’s games

The game of the day is in Tuscaloosa, as the #4 team in the SRS tries to ruin the perfect season of the best team in the country. Here’s a look at the weekly results for Alabama and Texas A&M, sorted from highest to lowest SRS score:

09-01-2012Alabama41Michigan14Arlington TXWin2725.551.877.3
09-29-2012Texas A&M58Arkansas10HomeWin4834.542.777.2
09-15-2012Texas A&M48SMU3RoadWin453638.674.6
10-27-2012Alabama38Mississippi St7HomeWin312647.773.7
11-03-2012Texas A&M38Mississippi St13RoadWin252647.773.7
10-27-2012Texas A&M63Auburn21RoadWin4234.537.672.1
09-08-2012Alabama35Western Kentucky0HomeWin352839.867.8
09-22-2012Alabama40Florida Atlantic7HomeWin332729.456.4
09-08-2012Texas A&M17Florida20HomeLoss-3-761.854.8
10-13-2012Texas A&M59Louisiana Tech57Shreveport LAWin2747.554.5
10-06-2012Texas A&M30Mississippi27RoadWin3747.154.1
09-22-2012Texas A&M70South Carolina St14HomeWin5638.514.553
10-20-2012Texas A&M19LSU24HomeLoss-5-857.149.1

Both teams blew out Arkansas in September and then embarrassed Mississippi State the last two weeks. Both Alabama and Texas A&M played their worst games of the year against LSU. The Aggies are a 13.5-point underdog, and it seems absurd to think that college football’s version of what it would look like if the Eagles and Chargers could have a baby could upend the mighty Crimson Tide, but it’s November. That generally means expect the unexpected.

Louisville @ Syracuse

The Cardinals look to keep their dream season alive in what looks to be an easy matchup on paper. Louisville is 9-0 and Syracuse is 4-5, so this should be a gimme, right? Except in Vegas, the line is just Syracuse -1.5. Many college football fans are calling this the oddest line of the week, but fans of the SRS would disagree. The SRS is predictive and doesn’t care about your record; it is intended to tell us how well teams will play in the future, and as a result, often mirrors the point spread in a game. Well, the SRS says Louisville should be favored by just 2.4 points despite the much more impressive record. You can view every college football game score here, which helps explain why Syracuse isn’t the pushover you might expect them to be. Syracuse has lost just one home game this season, a 42-41 game against Northwestern that ended in controversial fashion. Against the other cream of the conference, the Orange lost on the road by 8 against Rutgers and 11 against Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, Louisville beat Cincinnati at home by 3, and defeated North Carolina two months ago, but otherwise, doesn’t have any impressive wins on its resume. And it was only three weeks ago that Louisville was trailing in the final two minutes, at home, to South Florida. The Cardinals have played just three road games this season, against teams that are a combined 6-22. I think Vegas has this line appropriately placed; it’s close to a toss-up game, although I’d obviously favor the Cardinals.

Wisconsin @ Indiana

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible (but undefeated against the rest of the conference), and Illinois and Purdue terrible (combined 0-10 in the Big Ten), the Big Ten Leaders Division will be won by either the Badgers or the Hoosiers. An Indiana win would leave both teams at 3-3 in the conference, and with Indiana having the easier remaining schedule and the tiebreaker, likely to not only break the space-time vortex but also win the division. Could the Hoosiers, at home, actually pull off the upset?

Yes, Indiana lost to Ball State and Navy, and lost by 15 to Northwestern. But Wisconsin is likely starting Curt Phillips at quarterback, a senior who has thrown a total of 12 passes in his career, all coming in 2009. According to the SRS, Wisconsin should be favored by 6.3 points; they’re actually giving 7.5 points. The talent disparity between the two programs is enormous; Indiana has been playing over their heads while the Badgers have underachieved, which explains why they’re still a touchdown underdog even considering the Wisconsin quarterback situation. The game won’t be pretty to watch, but underdogs everywhere should root for the Hoosiers, who have a legitimate shot of winning the division.

Oregon @ California

As far as games with 28.5-point spreads go, this one should be competitive. The SRS says Oregon should only be favored by 20.6 points, but I’ve already explained how the SRS underrates the Ducks. As the great Matt Hinton points out, Oregon had a lead of at least 32 points in each of its first 8 games, and in 7 of those games, they scored at least 4 straight touchdowns at one point (and in the other, there were two runs of three straight touchdowns). Oregon has scored 324 points in the first half of games, which is just 1 point per game behind the per-game averages of both UCLA and Arizona State, the two teams that have scored the most points in the Pac-12 after Oregon. Last week, in the one competitive game the Ducks have played, they shattered USC records for both points and yards allowed. Hinton offers the only reason to believe Cal has any chance of slowing down the Ducks machine:

Memorial Stadium is the only Pac-12 venue Kelly’s offense has yet to burn and pillage: In 2008, Oregon was held below 300 yards and managed just 16 points in a loss; in 2010, the Ducks arrived in Berkeley with a 9-0 record and an unstoppable, unchallenged offense that looked more or less exactly like the current buzzsaw, and limped out with a single offensive touchdown to its credit in a harrowing, 15-13 squeaker decided by an untimely penalty against Cal’s kicker. (That turned out to be the only significant challenge on the Ducks’ scorched-earth run to the BCS title game.)

With Jeff Tedford’s seat on fire, can he again provide the Kyrptonite to Kelly’s attack? We’ll probably have our answer after the first quarter.

Kansas State @ TCU

I’m not sure why the Wildcats continue to be undervalued, but the SRS says this is a 15.8-point game while Vegas is giving TCU only seven points. It’s true that Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein suffered a mysterious injury — likely a concussion — that leaves his status in doubt for the game. But everyone expects him to play, and the Wildcats were wildly underrated by Vegas last week, which makes me think something in their algorithm doesn’t like Kansas State.

But there’s not much at all to like about TCU. They were embarassed by Oklahoma State, a team Kansas State throttled last week. They squeaked by West Virginia, who was bludgoened by K-State earlier this year. And three weeks ago they lost to Texas Tech, who promptly lost by 31 the following week to the Wildcats. Bill Snyder’s team may not be sexy, but they’ve been far, far superior to TCU this year. The short version? It is very odd to see a touchdown line with the #3 team in the SRS against the #41 team.

Notre Dame @ Boston College

Even on the road, the Fighting Irish are a 19-point favorite here; in fact, the SRS says that line should be closer to 27 points. BC has been bad all season long, but even by their own standards, a 14-point loss to Wake Forest last week qualifies as the worst performance of the season. Notre Dame needs to quiet the doubters, and this is a ‘name your score’ type of game that should allow them to do just that.