The Magnificent Seven: Week IX
*Fastidious readers of this blog (if there are any) will note that I changed one of my picks. After careful deliberation, I concluded Wisconsin/Maryland was indeed not magnificent. I have swapped that game out for Vanderbilt/Missouri. I apologize if you had already made your wagers based on this blog. But hey, at least I didn't try and pull a fast one and pick Louisiana-Lafayette/Arkansas State. I'll take the Cajuns plus the points by the way.*
Last Week: 4-3
San Jose State +9 Navy
When will bookmakers learn to stop making Navy a substantial home favorite? Since 2010, the Midshipmen are 5-11 ATS in the role of home favorite, with six straight up losses (including two this season to Rutgers and Western Kentucky). With four losses already on the (darnell) docket, a game remaining with Notre Dame, as well as battles with solid mid-major squads Georgia Southern and South Alabama, Navy desperately needs this game to ensure they get the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility. Outside of their game at Auburn, San Jose State has been at least marginally competitive with every team they have played. In Mountain West play, they have held each of their first three opponents under five yards per play. This is the fourth consecutive year these two teams have played, so San Jose State should be relatively familiar with Navy's unique offense. Navy should be favored, but this spread should be a little less than a touchdown.
Akron -1 Ball State
The Zips headed to Athens, Ohio last week riding a three-game winning streak and lost a tight game to the Bobcats. The loss dropped Akron to 2-1 in the MAC, but they remain just a half game behind Bowling Green in the latest standings. Under Dick Morris lookalike, Terry Bowden, the Zips have become competitive in short order, improving from 1-11, to 5-7, to 4-3 in Bowden's three seasons. Their nine wins over the last season and a half are more than they had from 2009-2012. Now the Zips will look to rebound against a Ball State team enduring some growing pains in Pete Lembo's fourth season. After going 25-13, and playing in two bowl games in Lembo's first three seasons, the Cardinals have struggled through a 2-5 start in 2014. Both sides of the ball have been equally culpable, as the offense ranks second to last and the defense ranks dead last in the MAC in yards per play in conference games. The Cardinals did upset Central Michigan on the road last week, but they were significantly outgained and averaged about two and a half fewer yards per play than the Chippewas. The Cardinals benefited from five Central Michigan turnovers and are a little overvalued because of that. This line should be closer to a whole touchdown. Take Akron to cover with ease here.
Georgia Tech +3.5 Pittsburgh
When handicapping the ACC Coastal Division, the lesson you should know by now is the same as the philosophy espoused by the X-Files: Trust No One. Pitt is (currently) tied for first in the division, but have also lost to Terry Bowden and Akron earlier in the year. Georgia Tech fancies themselves contenders in the division, and just two weeks ago, they were the only team without a loss. However, after consecutive close defeats to Duke and North Carolina, they must separate themselves from a logjam of teams if they want to return to the ACC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. The Georgia Tech triple option offense continues to have 99 problems, but a pitch ain't one. Actually, the offense is the strength of the team, averaging north of six yards per play through their quartet of conference games. The defense has been their downfall, allowing more yards per play than every team in the conference except the Tar Heels. While Georgia Tech is a team of extremes, Pitt is decidedly a shade above average on offense and defense. The Panther's yards per play numbers rank fifth in the ACC on both sides of the ball. Georgia Tech has been a bad bet as a favorite this season, posting a 1-3 ATS record. However, as an underdog, they are a good value, going 2-0 ATS with a pair of outright wins. After consecutive outright losses as a favorite, the pendulum has swung a little to far to the other side. Look for Georgia Tech to cover here and leave Pennsylvania with an outright win and throw the Coastal side into even more chaos.
Temple +10 Central Florida
With their victory over Tulane last week, the Knights from UCF have now won eleven consecutive conference games, dating back to their days in Conference USA. The last team to beat UCF? Tulsa. Back when they were a competent football team. The Knights have been rather fortunate in their winning streak, with eight of the wins (including both this season) coming by a touchdown or less. One would think that run of good luck would have to end sooner or later. Could it be this week with Temple flying into town? The Owls have already doubled their win total from last season and are still alive in the conference race despite their loss to Houston last week. The 31-10 final score was a bit misleading, as the Owls averaged more than seven yards per play against the typically stout Cougar defense, but were undone by four turnovers, including an interception that was returned for a score. The Owls are...ahem...flying under the radar here, especially facing an offense like UCF's. Think the Knights might be missing their two skill position draft picks, as well as their undrafted offensive lineman? Last season the Knights averaged over six yards per play in American Conference games. Through two games this season, they are averaging 3.94 yards per play. When a team has trouble scoring, they are a bad bet to lay double-digits. Take the Owls here.
Vanderbilt +21 Missouri
Speaking of teams that have trouble scoring...After scoring 38, 49, and 38 points in their first three games, the Missouri Tigers have averaged just 22.5 points per game over their last four (though they have won two of those games). The scoring drop-off is even more pronounced when we consider the offensive touchdowns the Tigers have scored, and the level of competition. The Tigers have scored seven combined offensive touchdowns against Indiana (104th in scoring defense), South Carolina (91st in scoring defense), Georgia (19th in scoring defense), and Florida (62nd in scoring defense). Georgia and Florida (despite the scoring defense rank of the Gators) have good to above-average defenses, but Indiana and South Carolina are another story. To make matters worse, quarterback Maty Mauk has not thrown a touchdown pass since the Indiana game more than a month ago. The Tigers should rightfully expect to win this game as Vanderbilt is terrible, but the Commodores have actually covered twice as a heavy road underdog this season (against Kentucky and Georgia) and are actually 3-1 ATS as a double-digit underdog. Missouri cannot be trusted with a spread this large, so Vandy is the pick.
Ole Miss -3.5 LSU
This line seems odd just looking at it. When the Golden Nugget released their Game of the Year odds in the summer, the line on this game was LSU -7.5. That means this spread has shifted by an amazing eleven points! I understand if you have some trepidation taking an upstart to win in Death Valley at night with College Gameday on the scene. Here's why you should trust Ole Miss. The Rebels are battle-tested, with home wins over Alabama and a better than you think Memphis team, as well as wins away from home against Boise State and Texas A&M. Granted, the Aggies have fallen from grace the past three weeks, but the Rebels are the only team to beat them by at least two scores in College Station since Missouri in 2010. The Rebels also have one of the best defenses in the nation. Alabama and Texas A&M are the only teams to average north of five yards per play against them this season. Finally, LSU is just not as good as they normally are. Their opening win against Wisconsin has lost some of it's luster with the Badgers losing to Northwestern in between struggling to put away South Florida and Illinois. The Tigers have already lost at home to Mississippi State and were blown out at Auburn. They needed a last second field goal to escape against Florida. Yet, after their easy win against Kentucky last week, the Tigers are now poised to challenge Ole Miss? Consider me skeptical. The spread on this game should be closer to a touchdown. Bank on Ole Miss remaining unbeaten and covering here.
Southern Cal Pick Em' Utah
Suddenly, this is a huge game in the Pac-12 South. While the southern division of the Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC Coastal, it is nearly as competitive and hard to figure. Five of the six teams (or every one save Colorado) have either one or two conference losses. The Trojans are currently in the pole position, courtesy of having played five conference games and winning four of them. The Trojans have been a little sketchy on the road, losing to Boston College, while beating Stanford and Arizona by a combined five points. To be fair, Arizona and Stanford are quality teams, and Southern Cal is the only team to beat each in their home stadium. On the other sideline, I think its fair to say this is Utah's biggest game since joining the Pac-12 prior to the 2011 season. This is primarily because the Utes began their first three seasons of big boy football with 0-4, 0-4, and 1-2 conference records. At 2-1, the Utes have already matched last season's conference win total. They have done it almost entirely on one side of the ball. The defense is extremely disruptive, leading the nation with 33 sacks (they have had at least three in each game). Meanwhile, the offense has slowly reverted to last year's form, averaging under five yards per play over their last four games. The running game, led by Devontae Booker has been quality, averaging nearly 230 yards per game on the ground in Pac-12 play. The passing attack has been another story with Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson combining to average just 4.3 yards per pass against Pac-12 opponents. Utah is a good team, but Southern Cal is a proven commodity. If the Trojans were giving a field goal, I would be hesitant to take them. However, all they have to do is win here, so they are the pick.