The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII
Last Week: 4-3
Oregon State +3 Utah
Both teams enter this game with identical 4-1 marks, and in the rugged Pac-12, will likely need every win they can get to attain bowl eligibility. Utah is actually ranked in the latest AP poll, thanks to their most recent game, an upset over UCLA. However, the offense appears to have disappeared over the last month. After moving the ball with relative ease against Idaho State (IAA) and Fresno State, the Utes have averaged under five yards per play against Michigan, Washington State, and UCLA. The Utes have somewhat made up for their offensive struggles with a great pass rush. The Utes lead the nation with 28 sacks and senior defensive end Nate Orchard is second in the country with 8.5 on his own. Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has struggled on the road. They have not covered as a road favorite since their Mountain West days in 2010. Their straight up and ATS Pac-12 road record is just 4-10. Their offensive struggles combined with their poor road performance as a Pac-12 member make the Beavers the pick here.
Purdue +12.5 Minnesota
Don't look now, but the signs of the Apocalypse abound in the nation's heartland. Purdue has been competitive as of late (since Austin Appleby took over at quarterback) and Minnesota is currently in first place in the Big 10 (your guess is as good as mine) division. Minnesota helped usher in the Brady Hoke death march a few weeks ago and then continued their run at bowl eligibility with a tight win over Northwestern. A win against the Boilermakers would make the Gophers 3-0 in Big 10 play for the first time since 1990! It would also likely grant them entry into the top-25 for the first time since 2008. Minnesota hearkens back to the football of our grandfathers by detesting the forward pass. Their 103 pass attempts in 2014 are more than just five teams (Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, New Mexico, Navy and Army). Each of those squads is a purveyor of some type of option, triple or otherwise. Since they run from a conventional offense, they are not nearly as explosive on the ground as those option teams. They average just 4.66 yards per rush, good for 50th in the nation. Minnesota is not built to blow teams out, so I think Purdue is a good bet to keep this one close.
Tulane +20 Central Florida
The Green Wave from Tulane appear unlikely to appear in consecutive bowl games for just the second time in school history. Granted, their non-conference schedule probably had a lot to do with that, as the Green Wave faced Georgia Tech, Duke, and Rutgers, in three of their four non-American (un-American?) games. They lost each of those games by at least 17 points, but rebounded to beat Connecticut at home last week for their first conference win as members of the American. Now they head east to take on a Central Florida team that has beaten them by 49 and 47 points respectively in the last two meetings (2009 and 2010). The Knights should be expected to win this game, and run their record to 4-2, but three touchdowns is too much to lay even at home.
Virginia +2.5 Duke
Who wants to spin the ACC Wheel of Destiny? While the Atlantic Division appears to be in pretty good hands with Florida State, the Coastal is a wide open jumble. Every team has at least one loss within the division except, ya'll ready for this? Virginia! Mike London was on the hot seat when the season began, but the Cavs have done their best to cool things off. Halfway through 2014, they have already doubled last season's win total and are actually in the driver's seat in the division in the early going of conference play. The defense has been especially salty, holding opponents under five yards per play through six games. Virginia's defeats have been close and have come to UCLA (when the Bruins were aided by three defensive touchdowns) and BYU (when the Cougars still had Taysom Hill). Duke has been relatively lackluster in their 5-1 start, beating no one of consequence until their upset of Georgia Tech last week in Atlanta. The Blue Devils will struggle to move the ball against the Cavalier defense and I think Virginia will stroll out of Durham with an outright upset.
Eastern Michigan +16.5 Massachusetts
Both these teams have struggled over the past few years. Well, Eastern Michigan has struggled for time immemorial, but the Minutemen have been a IAA playoff team as recently as 2007. After engendering hope with a 6-6 finish in 2011, Eastern Michigan won just two games apiece in 2012 and 2013, earning Ron English a pink slip. Chris Creighton, an accomplished coach at lower levels of football, took the reigns, and has already notched two victories in his inaugural campaign. Meanwhile, in Amherst, the new old coach, Mark Whipple, took over and made the Minutemen infinitely more competitive. Massachusetts lost close games in non-conference play to both Colorado and Vanderbilt, before opening MAC play with additional close defeats to Bowling Green and Miami. They finally got their elusive second first win under Whipple with a 40-17 victory over Kent State last week. Massachusetts is vastly improved over the product they fielded during their first two seasons in the MAC. However, asking the Minutemen to win by three scores against a fellow MAC school is not a great idea.
Alabama -10.5 Texas A&M
Well, we whiffed on Alabama last week (thought they would mangle Arkansas), so naturally, we're all over them again this week. Despite the ineptitude of the Tide offense, the defense still managed to bottle up Arkansas, limiting the Hogs to just 4.24 yards per play, and fewer than 100 yards rushing. The Tide will return home to find a much more forgiving defense. The Aggies have permitted each competent offense they have faced to score at least 28 points and average north of six yards per play. Plus, this is Texas A&M's fourth consecutive tough game (yay SEC West), after facing Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss over the past three weeks. This has all the makings of an Alabama blowout, so maybe Nick Saban will be in a better mood at his next press conference. Of course, if he's not, I won't be too sad.
Miami +12 Northern Illinois
What in the name of Chandler Harnish is going on in the MAC? For the first time since October of 2011, the Huskies of Northern Illinois lost a MAC regular season game. It was also their first home loss in the MAC since 2008. And the same team did it all three times. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for Central Michigan, the Husky killers. Clearly, this is not the same Northern Illinois team that ran roughshod over the MAC from 2010-2013, winning four consecutive MAC West titles and a pair of MAC championships while losing just a single regular season conference game. Before they lost to Central Michigan, Northern Illinois struggled to put away a (currently) winless Kent State team at home. Now an improving Miami team comes to town. The Redhawks have already secured more wins and scored more points than they did in 2013 (granted they finished without a single win). Head coach Chuck Martin is attempting to become the second successful MAC coach to emerge from Grand Valley State. The Redhawks have already covered three times as a double digit road favorite this season and should do so again in DeKalb.