by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

As we move into mid-October and the halfway point of the college football season, several teams can be expected to begin a sometimes-steep descent. Following are a handful of sides generating those sorts of “go against” vibes; as always, we also recommend checking out the “Pointspread Streaks” portion of our Systems Spotlight section for lists of current cold (and hot) teams against the number.

Auburn...Several weeks ago, we shocked listeners in our sports talk radio segments in Memphis and Baton Rouge by stating that we thought at least one, and perhaps both, from among Auburn and Arkansas would miss out on bowl action this season out of the SEC West. We stick by what we said, especially so with a troubled Tigers side that now sits at 1-4 after last week’s limp home effort vs. those same Razorbacks, who entered Jordan-Hare Stadium a disheveled bunch on a 4-game losing streak, and owning the nation’s 116-th ranked defense to boot. Final score? Arkansas 24, Auburn 7, and now the war drums are getting ready to beat on the Plains for HC Gene Chizik, admittedly just two years removed from the Cam Newton-influenced national title campaign of 2010 but at only .500 since (and worse than that at 6-12 vs. the number). Moreover, the Tigers look clueless offensively, as the pro-style looks imported by new o.c. Scott Loeffler have failed to gain traction, while soph QB Kiehl Frazier struggles so much that he’s likely to be yanked for backup Clint Moseley, as he was last week vs. the Razorbacks. Pass protection has been spotty (eight sacks allowed vs. Arkansas), and Auburn ranks a woeful 113th in total offense and 117th in scoring at barely 15 ppg. Where is Gus Malzahn when you need him? Moreover, aside from remaining gimmes at home vs. New Mexico State and Alabama A&M, we’re not sure the Tigers can find another three wins that will be needed to get them into the bowl mix (in fact, we can’t even be sure of one other remaining win besides those two home intersectionals).

Boston College...If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck. Thus, it’s easy to see why Eagle HC Frank Spaziani is in serious trouble with his regime after the Eagles have lost four of five (straight up and vs. the number) out of the gate. Which means BC is well on it sway to a second consecutive bowl-less season as the deterioration of a recently-proud program is now hard to ignore. Spaziani tried to jiggle the offense in the offseason by adding new o.c. Doug Martin (former Kent State HC) to implement a more jazzy downfield passing attack. Which has worked to a certain extent with QB Chase Rettig, but on the flip side, the Eagle “D” has regressed alarmingly with no LB Luke Kuechly in the fold, bottoming out in last Saturday’s 34-31 loss at Army. A result which should erase any doubts people should have about Spaziani’s troubled status. Let’s also not forget that BC will soon be hiring a new AD, as Spaziani’s only potential safety blanket, Gene DeFilippo, has just retired. Upcoming road games at Florida State and Georgia Tech could seal Spaziani’s fate by Halloween, as the Eagles can no longer rely on their defense to keep them afloat as in recent years.

Colorado State...Mountain West sources had indicated that new HC Jim McElwain was going to be inheriting a mostly-bare cupboard in Fort Collins due to downgraded recruiting efforts by predecessor Steve Fairchild, who was fired after his third straight 3-9 season a year ago. So far, that looks to be a spot-on evaluation for the Rams, who have lost five straight (and not been within double digits) since an opening loss over rival Colorado. Moreover, top offensive weapon QB Garrett Grayson is out, perhaps for the rest of the season, after breaking his collarbone September 29 vs. Air Force, and the offense has stammered behind sr. backup QB M.J. McPeek, kept off the scoreboard entirely until the final 1:12 last Saturday in the latest loss, a 28-7 spanking administered by Fresno State. McElwain, who could be excused for wishing he were still employed on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff, where he served as offensive coordinator the past couple of years, has also ruffled some feathers in his short stint at CSU, complaining about practice facilities and publically questioning his team’s effort after a recent loss to Air Force. This situation looks like a real mess, especially with word that many of McElwain’s inherited players are not especially thrilled with the new coach...a sentiment apparently shared by the coaching staff. With Grayson sidelined, this could get uglier in Fort Collins.

Eastern Michigan...There have been red flags everywhere in Ypsilanti since opening week, when the Eagles were disappointing in a loss to Ball State. A subsequent 31-14 home loss to FCS Illinois State confirmed as much, as the strides made by EMU last year for then-third-year HC Ron English seemed to have been wiped away. Losing seven starters from last year’s defense has proven a difficult hurdle, especially since the Eagles can’t stop the run (ranking dead last nationally at 305 ypg and conceding a hard-to-fathom 6 yards per carry). The offense hasn’t been much better, ranking 119th nationally, and English has tampered with team chemistry by benching three-year starting QB Alex Gillett and replacing him with soph Tyler Benz, who is completing less than 50% of hid passes. Is English using Gillett as a scapegoat for the Eagles’ troubles? Without any offense or defense, and a coach perhaps looking to throw anyone under the bus, EMU looks a decent bet to slide to 0-12, which should put English’s job in jeopardy. The only spread cover in five games was a 23-7 loss at disinterested Michigan State, and EMU hasn’t been within single digits vs. any opponent.

Hawaii...This can’t be what sage offensive guru Norm Chow envisioned when he was finally rewarded with a long-awaited head coaching opportunity this season with his native Hawaii. So far, it has been an unmitigated disaster in Honolulu, as the Warriors have been within 38 points just once in five games (against FCS Lamar, which had just resurrected its program two years earlier). The last three weeks have been especially painful, with scorelines of 69-24 (Nevada), 47-0 (BYU), and 52-14 (San Diego State) against Hawaii. In the process, Chow junked the Warriors’ trademark Red Gun offense first imported to the islands in 1999 by June Jones and retained by successor Greg McMackin, substituting instead with split-back, “pro-style” looks that have only resembled the 2008 version of the winless Detroit Lions. New QB Sean Schroder, a Duke transfer who had never taken a college snap prior to this season, has been struggling as the once-feared passing game ranks 109th in the country and the “O” clicks in at number 118, at a mere 267 yards per game. The Colt Brennan years now seem like decades ago, and the long-awaited Chow hire instead looks to be a desperate and ill-advised miss, which hardly sits well in the fish bowl that is Hawaii football on the islands.

Southern Miss...The Golden Eagles looked due for a downgrade this season after being hit hard by graduation that included 4-year starting QB Austin Davis. Not to mention the departure of HC Larry Fedora to North Carolina. But here were also several Conference USA onlookers who openly questioned the hire of South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson as the new head coach in Hattiesburg. Though an accomplished and respected defensive tactician, Johnson’s previous two head coaching assignments were short-lived (Gardner-Webb in 1983, and The Citadel between 2001-03) and none too successful, suggesting that Johnson is one of many career assistant coaches who just happen to be better fits for coordinator jobs than overseeing the entire operation. Still, few expected USM to look as bad as it has in the first five weeks of the season, dropping all of its games for the programs first 0-5 start since 1976. Johnson still hasn’t been able to make up his mind regarding his QBs, having played as many as three (junior Chris Campbell, RS frosh Ricky Lloyd, and true from Anthony Alford) in the same games, although a recent concussion suffered by Campbell has at least thinned the QB rotation. The only USM spread cover to date was in monsoon-like conditions at home against Louisville, when the Cards still managed to rally from a 17-6 deficit to win 21-17 despite playing in conditions that were better suited for Noah’s Ark. There should be a few wins in USM’s future against a weakened CUSA slate, but we can’t be sure when or where they’ll come, and the offensive issues make support for the Golden Eagles very dicey until further notice.

Tulane...We’re not ready to say Tulane dropped the ball on the hire of new HC Curtis Johnson, imported form the staff of the hometown NFL Saints. We wonder if Bear Bryant in his prime could have made much difference with what Johnson has inherited in new Orleans, including an early spate of injuries at QB that have KO’d starter Ryan Griffin (shoulder) and hotshot frosh Devin Powell (toe) and have forced third-stringer D.J. Ponder, who was playing pro baseball in the summer and didn’t even show up until late in Wave’s fall camp, into the starting lineup. Ponder has understandably struggled, completing only 14 of 39 passes last week in a 41-13 loss to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, the latest of five straight defeats by a 35.4 ppg margin to open the season. Along the way, the Wave is gaining inches per carry and rates at the bottom of national stats in total, scoring, and rushing offense, a difficult trifecta to accomplish. To complete the parlay, the Wave ranks almost at the bottom of national stats in scoring and rush defense (118th in each). Moreover, the team is playing with a heavy heart after the serious neck injury suffered by DB Devon Walker in the second game at Tulsa. We rarely recall a team that looks as if it should simply surrender, or play with a running clock, but Tulane fits the bill. We’re not sure how high the oddsmakers will have to go to get us interested in the Wave.

UTEP...CUSA sources (who we seem to be quoting an awful lot in this story) suggested in the summer that the UTEP situation was one to watch. A tough early slate, lack of depth on the squad, and the status of veteran HC Mike Price, whose contract is due to expire at the end of the season, indicated the Miner situation could go sour by midseason. And at 1-5, with almost all bowl hopes dashed, and coming off a listless 17-0 loss at the Sun Bowl vs. a so-so SMU squad, it looks as if the doomsday scenario has just arrived in El paso. Price became flustered with QB Nick Lamaison against the Mustangs and pulled him for backup Carson Meger, but it didn’t stir the offense against SMU, and now a spate of injuries to key personnel, including most of the top receivers (among them top pass catchers Mike Edwards and Jordan Leslie), has decimated the squad by mid-October. UTEP owns a decent 3-3 spread mark, but the quick break was also anticipated by CUSA sources, who were more concerned when the Miners would begin to put together losses. It’s happened over the past two weeks vs. East Carolina and SMU, so we would be on the watch for more losses to come. Price also now rates as the coach most-likely to announce his departure before the end of the season, although most sources believe Price would be allowed to finish out the season at UTEP should be decide to hang ‘em up before the 2012 season is complete.

Other potential trouble spots: Central Michigan...The Chips are now 4-21 their last 25 on the board as the Iowa upset win on Sept. 22 looks to be a one-off; HC Dan Enos could be in trouble. Colorado...Jon Embree’s travails in Boulder are no secret, and if not for a 4th Q collapse by Washington State against the Buffs on Sept. 22, Embree might have already walked the plank. CU is simply non-competitive vs. competent opposition. New Mexico State...Although the Ags managed a rare spread cover last week at Idaho, they haven’t won a game since the opener against Sacramento State, and the mood around the program is said to be decidedly grim as the dissolution of the WAC has NMSU’s gridiron future in jeopardy. Many in Las Cruces expect HC DeWayne Walker to bail out after the season and take an assistant job elsewhere, perhaps in the NFL. Virginia...Some ACC sources are suggesting that HC Mike London is getting exposed after the Cavs made a surprise emergence as a bowl team a year ago. Not this year, however, as UVa is 2-4 SU (1-5 vs. the line) with its toughest games still ahead, and London playing musical chairs at QB with Michael
Rocco (finally benched last week at Duke) and Phillip Sims.

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