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Statistically Speaking

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

Last week, we hit on four of seven games, putting us on a two week winning streak. This now moves us to 25-24 on the year, just a smidge above .500. However, as any degenerate knows, this is not enough to turn a profit in Vegas. We'll try for another winning week as the weather turns colder. As always, home teams in BOLD.


Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 25-24

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.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

Our first winning week in nearly a month brings us back to even par at 21-21 for the year. The only game we really whiffed on was backing Old Dominion (you'll soon see we haven't learned our lesson). Let's see if we can put together another winning week. As always, home teams in BOLD.


Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 21-21

TCU +10 Baylor
Last week, TCU enjoyed their biggest win since joining the Big 12 conference and now find themselves ranked in the top-10 for the first time since they ended the 2010 season ranked second overall. The win over Oklahoma was no fluke, as TCU slightly outgained the Sooners and averaged more yards per play. Now they travel to Waco to face an old Southwest Conference rival in Baylor. The Bears struggled offensively against Texas last week, averaging under five yards per play for the first time since (drum roll) facing TCU last season, and for just the third time since becoming relevant again in 2010 (that game also came against TCU). However, in contrast to the Baylor of a few years ago, the Bears played well defensively and eventually wore the Longhorns down in a three-touchdown win. For the curious, Baylor has not beaten TCU by more than three points since 1994. This has all the makings of a great Big 12 battle. TCU won the last time they played the Bears in Waco, and another upset would not be the most shocking event in college football history.

Oregon -2 UCLA
Don't get me wrong, this is a big game, but a little of the luster is gone after both Oregon and UCLA lost at home as big favorites last week. Arizona upset the Ducks in Eugene, and Utah edged the Bruins in the historic Rose Bowl. If both teams would have won, College Gameday would have had a tough choice for venue this weekend. As it stands, these two will have to settle for the undercard. So what can we expect here? Well, my friend, if you like sacks, you should love this game. There should be multiple instances of quarterbacks being tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Oregon has allowed 15 sacks thus far, including five at the hands of the Wildcats last week. However, that pales in comparison to the lack of protection afforded Brett Hundley at UCLA. We're talking Steve Beuerlein in 2000 levels here people! The Bruins have allowed 22 sacks in 2014, including ten last week in their loss to Utah (the Utes lead the nation with 28 sacks by the way). Oregon has 16 sacks of their own in 2014, while UCLA has just seven so Hundley will be feeling the heat a little more than Marcus Mariota. Despite typically inflated spreads, Oregon is actually 10-3 ATS as a road favorite since 2011. In fact, this low number marks the first time Oregon has been favored by less than a field goal since Chip Kelly brought the Ducks to the national stage in 2009. Catching Oregon when they are giving just a few points is a dream come true. Take the Ducks here.

Alabama -10 Arkansas
Is the Alabama dynasty really over after a tight loss against a top-10 team? Believe me, no one loves it more than me when Nick Saban loses (except for maybe Tosh or Papi), but I think this line is a colossal overreaction to that defeat. Why should you trust Alabama to win by double-digits against an improved Arkansas team? For starters, the Arkansas defense is leaky. Auburn put up 45 points and averaged eight and a half yards per play against the Hogs. Texas A&M put up 35 points (in overtime) and averaged more than seven and a half yards per play. Even Texas Tech scored 28 points against the Hogs. Secondly, Saban has owned Arkansas since coming to Alabama. The Crimson Tide have won all seven of their games against Arkansas under Saban. The lone close games came in 2007 (Saban's first season) and 2010 (the best season for Arkansas since at least the late 1970's). The Tide have won the other five games by an average of over 38 points. Finally, Alabama stops the one thing Arkansas does well. Removing sacks from the equation, against West Virginia, Florida, and Ole Miss, Alabama has allowed an average of just over three yards per rush. Granted, Arkansas will be the best rush offense they have faced this year, but its hard to see Arkansas running roughshod over the Tide. In addition, while quarterback Brandon Allen has given the Hogs improved quarterback play, his passing numbers are bolstered by the games against Nicholls State and Northern Illinois. Against Auburn, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, the Hogs have averaged just 6.2 yards per pass. This has all the making of at least a two-touchdown bounce back for Alabama.

Florida International +13 Texas-San Antonio
The Panthers from Florida International do not typically merit much press, but they are one of the most improved teams in the country. After bumbling their way through a 2013 season where they were beaten by about four touchdowns per game on average and shutout on three separate occasions, Florida International is already half way to bowl eligibility through six games and has already scored more points than they did throughout all of last season. The Panthers have opened conference play with two consecutive wins as relatively heavy underdogs against both UAB and Florida Atlantic. Part of their success is due to an unsustainable turnover margin (+9 in their past two games and +12 in their three wins), but the Panthers have been much better on a per play basis, limiting opponents to under five yards per play. Texas-San Antonio has lost four straight games after a stunning win over Houston to open the season. The Roadrunners have played marginally well on defense, but have struggled mightily moving the football. Last week against the porous New Mexico defense, the Roadrunners managed just nine points, the fewest the Lobos have allowed since they shutout Wyoming in 2008. The Roadrunners were thought to be the class of the western half of Conference USA, and with just one league game under their beaks, they may live up to preseason expectations. However, asking them to win by two touchdowns against a solid Florida International team is folly.

Old Dominion +2.5 UTEP
Well, we screwed up royally last week when we suggested you should take Old Dominion to cover at home against Marshall. The Monarchs only lost by 42. They were only about three and a half garbage time touchdowns away from covering the spread. However, the Monarchs were not the only team to be blown out on Saturday. The Miners traveled to Ruston, Louisiana and had the infamous double nickel put on them by Louisiana Tech. That continued a troubling trend for the Miners who have allowed opponents to average at least 6.8 yards per play in every game this season. Old Dominion has a competent offense, and against a sieve like UTEP, they may be able to win this game outright.

Ole Miss +2.5 Texas A&M
The interesting thing about college football, and football in general, is that we learn things one week at a time. Then we have a few days to ruminate on what we learned before it is all turned on its head the next week. At this point we realize what we believed earlier was in fact not true at all or we make excuses to point out why it is still true. Case in point, take the Aggies. They strolled into Columbia on the opening Thursday night of the college football season and beat the Gamecocks, a place where the home team had not lost in nearly three years. We overlooked the fact that they gave up nearly seven yards per play to a Gamecock offense replacing the best quarterback in school history. Then the Aggies went on a barnstorming trek where they kicked the crap out of a few creampuffs (Lamar, Rice, and SMU if you want specifics). The Aggies were true SEC and national contenders we said. Then they struggled against Arkansas, needing a late score to tie and send the game to overtime where they eventually outlasted the Hogs. Arkansas is better we said. That's why the Aggies needed overtime. Just part of life in the rugged SEC. Then came a little trip to Starkvegas. The cowbells were out in full force, and the Aggies once again had trouble stopping a competent offense, allowing the Bulldogs to roll them for 48 points and over seven yards per play. The Aggies are the same team they were last year. The defense looked good against Lamar, Rice, and SMU, but against three SEC foes, the Aggies are allowing 6.93 yards per play. That is even worse than the 6.66 yards per play they allowed last year to SEC opponents. So we've spent this whole paragraph going on a diatribe against the overrated Aggies. What about Ole Miss? Yes, they won a huge game last week and could be due for a letdown. It is certainly within the realm of possibility, but Ole Miss is the better team and is getting points. They are the play here. Oh, and one more prediction on the Aggies and quarterback Kenny Hill. I think when December rolls around, a lot of people will be making the analogy between this Aggies team and the Geno Smith-led West Virginia squad of 2012.

Wyoming +4 Hawaii
For just the third time under head coach Norm Chow, Hawaii is favored over a IA team at home. An optimist would point out the Warriors have covered both of those games under Chow, but a statistician might mumble something about small sample sizes before returning to his Excel spreadsheets. How Hawaii is favored in this game is beyond me. The Warriors are playing on the islands so that should count for something, but since June Jones left town, the Warriors have not done a great job of protecting their home turf. They are just 18-21 straight up against IA teams at home and 20-19 ATS. However, if we remove the spectacular 2010 season, those numbers drop to 13-20 straight up and 14-19 ATS. Wyoming has mastered the art of low-scoring ugly wins in 2014, with their three victories coming by scores of 17-12, 17-13, and 20-19. In addition, their losses have come to elite teams (Oregon and Michigan State). I think the Cowboys will sneak off the islands with another low-scoring win.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

Well, the losses just keep on coming. Another sub-par week leaves us at 16-19 and searching for answers. For the third straight week, we'll try and get back on track. As always, home teams in BOLD.


Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 16-19

Florida International +8 Florida Atlantic
Just when it seemed like Ron Turner was a dead man walking after last season's debacle, his Panthers have emerged from the humid Miami jungle as a competitive and dangerous team. After losing to IAA Bethune Cookman (for the second consecutive year) in the season opener, FIU beat IAA Wagner, were marginally competitive against Pitt and Louisville from the ACC, and upset UAB on the road last week. Now the Panthers return home to face their natural rivals Florida Atlantic. The Owls have rebounded from a rough start (lost by a combined 89 points to Nebraska and Alabama) and have won two of three, including an upset win over Texas-San Antonio last weekend. FIU has been relatively impressive on defense this season, holding each foe under six yards per play (after doing it just four times all of last season). Playing at home, in a nascent rivalry game, I like the Panthers to cover here.

Old Dominion +17.5 Marshall
Last week was a classic look ahead/sandwich/short week/laurel resting game for Old Dominion. In their first season of IA football, the Monarchs began the year 3-1, with the most recent win a road upset over defending Conference USA champion Rice. Before the Monarchs were to host presumptive favorite and potential BCS major bowl crasher Marshall, they hosted Middle Tennessee State on a Friday night. Though the Monarchs averaged more yards per play than the Blue Raiders, they were done in by four turnovers. Despite the loss, the Monarchs have proven to be a formidable mid-major, hanging tough with NC State in Raleigh earlier in the year. Marshall has waltzed through their schedule thus far, and the win over Akon Akron is looking better and better, but Old Dominion has the offensive firepower to keep this one close. In addition, with a line of more than two touchdowns, the backdoor could be standing wide open for a cover.

New Mexico +17 Texas-San Antonio
What do we make of Bob Davie's tenure so far at New Mexico? After winning just three games in three years under Mike Locksley, the Lobos have won eight in two plus years under Davie. They have also been infinitely more competitive, losing nine other games by a single score. However, improvement from where they were in Davie's first season to now is hard to surmise. The Lobos are basically the same team they were in 2012 and 2013. They can move the ball against fellow mid-majors, especially on the ground (averaging 6.26 yards per rush), but they have no answers on defense (allowing nearly seven yards per play). With that being said, it is easy to like the Lobos in this situation. They are 6-3 ATS under Davie as a double-digit underdog against a non-Power Five school. Texas-San Antonio is a little over-valued thanks to their first two games where they throttled Houston thanks to six Cougar turnovers, and hung with Arizona. However, looking at their cumulative offensive numbers, its clear they miss departed quarterback Eric Soza as the offense is averaging just 4.26 yards per play (121st nationally). New Mexico's defense is bad, but asking a team with the offensive deficiencies of the Roadrunners to cover this large number is not a wise investment.

Louisiana-Monroe +9 Arkansas State
For Louisiana-Monroe, this game is vital to their bowl hopes. Although they stand 3-1 after a quartet of games, the Warhawks have Kentucky and Texas A&M left on the schedule, so they need all the Sun Belt wins they can muster. The Warhawks have made a habit of winning tight games early, beating Wake Forest, Idaho, and Troy by a combined sixteen points. The Warhawks have played reasonably well on defense, holding opponents to just 4.66 yards per play. Even if we remove their game against Wake Forest (perhaps the worst offense in college football this season), Idaho, LSU, and Troy have combined to average just 5.27 yards per play against them. And speaking of teams that are struggling to move the ball...well hello Arkansas State. Outside of their opening romp over IAA Montana State, the Redwolves have averaged just 3.95 yards per play against Tennessee, Miami, and Utah State. Granted each of those teams is tough, and potentially bowl bound, but we could be seeing the effects of so much constant coaching turnover. I think the Warhawks will be involved in another close game here, and in the role of road underdog against Sun Belt foes, they have done particularly well under Todd Berry, posting an 8-4 ATS mark in his four seasons.

Georgia State +17 Louisiana-Lafayette
This spread would have been understandable in the preseason when Louisiana-Lafayette was widely expected to dominate the Sun Belt and claim their first outright conference title under Mark Hudspeth. However, early returns should have dropped this spread a little. The Ragin' Cajuns have hardly looked ragin' over their last three games -- all losses by a combined 94 points. Two of the losses are quite understandable, at Ole Miss and at Boise State, but the other, a four touchdown home loss to Louisiana Tech, hardly inspires confidence. Of course, I expect the Cajuns to knock off the Panthers, but Georgia State has been money in the bank as a double-digit underdog since joining IA football last season. In ten such contests, including two this season, the Panthers are 9-1 ATS. Look for that trend to continue as Louisiana-Lafayette will have great difficulty covering this large number.

Boise State -2.5 Nevada
With their loss to Air Force last week, Boise State guaranteed they will finish with at least one conference defeat for the fifth consecutive season. That's right, the Broncos have not finished unblemished in league play since 2009! Further proof that is is hard to go undefeated. It is even harder when you turn the ball over seven times. According to Bill Connelly, resident abacus czar,  the value of those seven turnovers was about 30 points. The Broncos outgained the Falcons by about 130 yards and averaged about three quarters of a yard more per play. Now the Broncos must shake off the loss to the Falcons and travel to Reno to face a Nevada team that has won three of their first four games. Despite winning two of their three games against IA competition, the Wolfpack have averaged nearly a yard and a half less per play than Washington State, Arizona, and San Jose State. Similar to the Broncos, turnovers have told the story. In those three games, Nevada has not committed a single turnover while gaining six. The Wolfpack have also made three of their four field goal attempts, while their opponents have missed three of six in those games. The Wolfpack are operating on an extremely thin margin of error and this line should probably be closer to a touchdown in Boise's favor.

Cal +3 Washington State
Unless something strange or unlikely happens (like Kirk Ferentz taking over for Mike Leach at Washington State or Wake Forest replacing Cal in the visitors locker room), this game should see a lot of points. Both teams have split their first two Pac-12 games in entertaining fashion. Cal lost a heartbreaker to Arizona and followed that up with an absurd offensive showcase against Colorado. Washington State hung tough with Oregon and then rebounded from a 21-point hole to upset Utah. While Cal has played a pair of tight games, they have actually averaged over eight yards per play. Meanwhile, Washington State has seen their yards per play numbers more closely resemble a team that has lost as many as they have won. Cal is probably the better team, and since you are getting a field goal, they are a solid play here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week V

We endured our second consecutive losing week. I suppose that is what I get for picking seven underdogs. However, to be fair, three of the underdogs we picked correctly also won outright. So yeah. Anyway, the overall record is now 14-14, which is a little below the percentage we need to make a profit. There is a lot of season left. Let's get to it in Week Five. As always, home teams in BOLD.


Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 14-14

Arizona State +4.5 UCLA
UCLA has opened the 2014 season 3-0, which is great, unless you happened to bet on them in each of their first three games, as you are likely cursing Jim Mora Jr. and Brett Hundley for your missed mortgage payments as they are 0-3 ATS. Now the Bruins head to Tempe where they are once again favored to win. However, one has to think that if Taylor Kelly were suiting up for the Sun Devils this spread might be reversed. Even without Kelly, the Sun Devils are a quality team, especially at home, where they have won eleven of fourteen games under Todd Graham. The Sun Devils will be in a rare position Thursday night as they have been a home underdog just once since 2011. In that game, Oregon jumped out to an early lead and easily covered as an eight-point favorite. UCLA may have gotten the preseason hype, but they are nowhere near the caliber of team of Oregon from 2012. Look for the Sun Devils to keep this one tight and perhaps get an early leg up on the Pac-12 South race.

Purdue +10 Iowa
Last week Iowa may have turned the burner underneath head coach Kirk Ferentz down a notch with their upset win at Pitt. The win came one week after the Hawkeyes lost at home as a large favorite to in-state rival Iowa State. Now the Hawkeyes open Big 10 play against Purdue, hoping to justify their lofty (schedule-induced) preseason expectations. Meanwhile, Purdue is looking to win consecutive games for the first time under Darrell Hazell, and triple last season's win total. Purdue is an also-ran (at best) that will struggle to win games in the Big 10, but I think they are a good play here for several reasons. For starters, this game is at home. Secondly, Iowa is coming off a big win. The Hawkeyes have also performed poorly in the role of double-digit road favorite recently, going just 1-4 ATS since 2010 (with the lone cover coming last season against Purdue). Finally, check Iowa's schedule. I'll wait. Each of their first four games have been decided by eight points or less. The Hawkeyes don't possess an offense explosive enough to bury overmatched foes (see Ball State and Northern Iowa) in the early going. I think this will be a vintage Big 10 game played in the teens or low twenties and decided by about a touchdown.

Tulane +11.5 Rutgers
Under Kyle Flood, Rutgers is the kind of team you want to back as an underdog, but fade as a favorite. Under the antediluvian coach, the Knights are 8-2 ATS as an underdog (with five outright wins), and just 6-9 ATS as a favorite. Fresh off a win against Navy, the Knights are in the dreaded sandwich spot with a visit from Michigan and (presumably) Brady Hoke on deck. The Knights are halfway to bowl eligibility, but have shown both a proclivity for turnovers (committing eight through four games) and an indifference to defense, allowing over six yards per play. They have been particularly susceptible to the pass, where even Navy threw for over 200 yards on them last week. Tulane has had turnover issues of their own, committing the most in the nation (13) through four games. Those turnovers are the primary reason this line is inflated ever so slightly. Two of their interceptions were returned for touchdowns last week against Duke, making the final score of 47-13 a bit misleading. Tulane has already faced a pair of Power Five schools this season (Georgia Tech and Duke), so heading to New Jersey should not pose any significant intangible effect on this game. I like the Green Wave to keep this one close with Rutgers a little more concerned with next week's maize than this week's green.

Bowling Green -4.5 Massachusetts
This spread has been falling like Alicia Keyes with vertigo on black ice. The line opened near two touchdowns and has steadily dropped to its current state under a single touchdown. Perhaps bettors were scarred off by Bowling Green's beatdown at the hands of Wisconsin last week. Remember though, the Badgers regularly bludgeon lesser foes and have much more trouble when they pick on someone their own size. Massachusetts is markedly better under new old coach Mark Whipple, but Bowling Green has been money in the bank against the MAC the past three seasons, going 17-7 ATS, 9-3 ATS on the road, and 5-1 ATS as a road favorite. And before you overreact to their loss to Wisconsin, remember they beat Indiana (who would go on to beat Missouri) just two weeks ago. I would never have taken the Falcons when they were giving close to two touchdowns, but at this small number, they are a solid play.

Missouri +5.5 South Carolina
Was Missouri looking ahead to their SEC opener last week? Perhaps, but that is good news for you Mr. (or Mrs.) Degenerate. The loss to the Hoosiers likely earned you a few extra points on this betting line. The Tigers did struggle to stop the Hoosiers running attack as Tevin Coleman gained 132 yards on nearly seven yards per attempt. With Mike Davis up this week, Tiger fans could be forgiven for being a little worried. However, South Carolina tends to run from typical pro-style or power formations instead of out of spread concepts, so the Tigers could be better suited to contain Davis. Plus, I can pretty much guarantee you Missouri will be able to move the ball against the Gamecocks. Lorenzo Ward defenders will point out that 14 of the 34 points the Gamecocks surrendered to the Commodores last week came via kickoff returns. They would be right, but Vanderbilt also averaged a healthy 6.89 yards per play. The Commodores entered the game having averaged under five yards per play in each of their first three contests which included noted football powers Temple and Massachusetts. Every team South Carolina has faced has averaged north of six and a half yards per play against the suddenly porous Gamecock defense. Expect Missouri to do the same in a game that is much closer to a toss-up than a touchdown spread.

Syracuse +12 Vs Notre Dame (@ East Rutherford)
The last time these two school squared off, Syracuse scored the final 14 points of the game to beat the Irish in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus. Was it the worst loss of the Charlie Weis era? Some would say yes. Others would like to forget the final three years of the Charlie Weis era ever happened. Enough with the history lesson. What can we expect from this game? I think Syracuse is a value play here. The Orange lost at home to Maryland last week, but averaged a robust 7.46 yards per play and outgained the Terrapins by over 200 yards, but threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, lost a fumble, and had a punt blocked. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has had a week to relish their closer than expected win over Purdue in Indianapolis. That line with the Boilermakers was inflated thanks to their throttling of Michigan. Any shutout is impressive, but the Wolverines have shown their offensive struggles from 2013 have not dissipated. This line should be closer to a touchdown instead of double-digits. Plus, the Irish have Stanford on deck next weekend. They may not be as focused on Syracuse as Brian Kelly would hope. Take the Orange to hang with the Irish.

Oregon State +9 Southern Cal
So Southern Cal is back eh? Let's see, what have they done so far in 2014? They crushed a Fresno State team that was subsequently crushed by Utah and Nebraska by similar scores. They beat Stanford in a throwback game after the Cardinal Clemsoned almost as bad as Clemson. Then they took their show to the east coast and lost to a Boston College team that had just lost by two scores to Pitt. So naturally, they are a healthy favorites against a competent Oregon State team. Oregon State has been solid as an underdog away from home, going 13-5 in the role since 2010 (remember, the Beavers had down seasons in 2010 and 2011). This spread should probably be about a field goal lower. Take the Beavers to cover here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

Well, it finally happened, we struggled, and I mean struggled. I went just 2-5 picking games which drops the overall mark to 11-10. As some degenerates may know, that is exactly the percentage you need to break even. Hopefully we can do better this week and get back to our winning ways. Before we get to the picks, I want to give Michigan State some dap. While the Spartans did not play this past weekend, three of their quarterbacks won games in the NFL on Sunday. Kirk Cousins replaced RG3 and led the R*dskins to an easy win over the Jaguars. Brian Hoyer held off Johnny Manziel for another week and got the Cleveland Browns just their second win in a home opener since returning to the league. Finally, Drew Stanton got the start in place of an injured Carson Palmer as the Cardinals won in New York against the Giants. On to the picks. I think you will see a general trend as you peruse them. As always, home teams in BOLD.


Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 11-10

Georgia Tech +9 Virginia Tech
Last week was not a good one for the ACC, and it could have been even worse. While Virginia Tech lost at home as a large favorite to East Carolina, and Wake Forest lost on the road to Utah State (their second loss to a group of five opponent), Georgia Tech nearly lost at home to Paul Johnson's former charges, Georgia Southern. While the Yellow Jackets have been as leaky as ever on defense, their offense has remained potent, averaging nearly 40 points per game and nearly seven yards per play. Suffice it to say they won't reach those numbers against the Hokies, but they may not have to. Excluding their exhibition with William and Mary, the Hokies have averaged just 4.3 yards per play. Quarterback Michael Brewer has averaged under six yards per pass and thrown four interceptions against Ohio State and East Carolina. Virginia Tech appears to be exactly the same as they were last season: A strong defensive team (though East Carolina proved they can be beat through the air) that will have trouble being relevant nationally thanks to a shaky offense. No matter the venue, this game has usually been close since Paul Johnson arrived. While Georgia Tech has lost five of six to the Hokies under Johnson, five of the six games have been decided by seven points or fewer. I think after Saturday, it will be six for seven. Before we move on, just a comment on how unpredictable the ACC Coastal Division race should be this season. You could make a cogent argument for any of the seven schools (Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pitt, Virginia, or Virginia Tech) serving as a sacrificial lamb to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. Enjoy.

Utah State +2.5 Arkansas State
Why is Arkansas State favored in this game you ask? Because Chuckie Keeton, starting quarterback for Utah State, will miss it. While the oft injured Keeton has been a fine quarterback for the Aggies, and may go down as the best in school history, he hasn't really played all that well this season. After throwing just 13 interceptions in 777 pass attempts in his first three years on campus, Keeton has already tossed four in just 92 pass attempts this season, including an ugly Garo Yepremian-esque throw against Wake Forest (I couldn't find the video to share, but trust me, it was bad). Alas, I expected big things from Utah State this season, and it is clear they are not nearly as strong as they have been the past two seasons. Still, catching points against a solid, but hardly dominating Sun Belt team makes them a solid play this week.

Central Michigan +3.5 Kansas
Kansas fans, make sure to enjoy the days leading up to this game as it is truly a rare occasion. For just the fourth time since their program went off the rails following the 2009 season, the Jayhawks are favored against a IA team. Who were the other three teams that were bad enough to be underdogs to Kansas? New Mexico State in 2010, Rice in 2012, and Louisiana Tech last season. Kansas did win two of those three games (New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech), but only covered in one. Both teams here are looking to rebound from poor performances last week. The Jayhawks and Chippewas both lost by nearly identical scores, as Kansas fell to Duke 41-3 and Central Michigan lost to Syracuse 40-3. The Chippewas already own one victory over a Power 5 opponent, beating Purdue (who is still considered a Big 10 team by some) by three touchdowns two weeks ago. The win was the second for the Chippewas under Dan Enos, who while not nearly as successful as his predecessors Butch Jones and Brian Kelly, can surpass them in terms of victories of Power Five (formerly BCS) conference teams. Central Michigan is not quite as bad as they looked last week, and Kansas is much closer to Purdue in quality than they are to Syracuse. Look for the Chippewas to leave with an outright win.

North Carolina +2.5 East Carolina
East Carolina has certainly looked like one of the stronger teams from the Group of Five over the past two weeks. They fell on the road to South Carolina by ten, but slightly outgained the Gamecocks and averaged about a yard more per play. They followed that up by beating Virginia Tech for the first time since 2008. Now the Pirates return home to face another ACC team, and one they bludgeoned in Chapel Hill last season (double nickel sighting). Despite the home crowd, I think the Pirates are due for a letdown against a Tar Heel team that has been quite disjointed in the early going. The Tar Heels let Liberty (Valance) hang around until the second half, and should have lost to San Diego State if not for some huge turnovers by the Aztecs. Still, the Tar Heels have had a week to prepare, are in a revenge spot, and until last season, had won six of the previous seven meetings with the Pirates. If the line were reversed, I would seriously contemplate jumping on the Pirates, but as it is, the Tar Heels are the play.

Rutgers +6 Navy
Yikes, another road underdog. I can understand if you have some trepidation about taking yet another road team. Hear me out though. While Gary Nova did his best Gary Nova impersonation last week in the Scarlet Knights' Big 10 debut against Penn State, throwing five interceptions, the defense held Penn State in check until a late touchdown allowed the Nittany Lions to escape with a victory. Now Rutgers travels to Annapolis to take on a Navy team that has won two straight after hanging with Ohio State in the Horseshoe on the season's first Saturday. The Knights first traveled to Annapolis to take on the Midsheipmen back in 1891 when the great Benjamin Harrison was in charge of the country. The schools played once more in the 19th century, but wouldn't play again until after Woodstock. After playing just ten times in the 19th and 20th century, this will mark the tenth meeting in the new millennium. Rutgers has won seven of the first nine played since 2000, and has been a pretty solid road underdog under Kyle Flood, posting a 6-2 ATS mark with four outright wins. Meanwhile, Navy is just 6-11-1 ATS as a home favorite since 2009. I like the Knights to salvage a bit of the Big 10's reputation by covering and potentially winning outright against the Naval Academy.

Indiana +13 Missouri
The rebuild in Indiana continues. While Kevin Wilson has done an admirable job in a very difficult situation in Bloomington, improving his win total each season, non-conference losses may once again limit Indiana's postseason chances. In Wilson's first season, 2011, his Hoosiers lost to mid-majors Ball State and North Texas (the Hoosiers were favored by by five to six points in both games). In 2012, the Hoosiers lost non-conference games to mid-majors Ball State and Navy, To be fair, the Hoosiers were slight underdogs to Navy, but it continued a disturbing trend of the Hoosiers failing to start conference play with some margin for error. Last season, the Hoosiers once again lost to Navy. This time, they were a double-digit favorite. They also lost to Missouri, but that loss was understandable. As you may have heard, the Hoosiers lost last week to Bowling Green to put a damper on their bowl hopes in 2014. Now they travel to Columbia, Missouri to face an undefeated team that beat them by 17 in Bloomington last season. So why in the name of Bill Mallory, should you take the Hoosiers to cover this week? For starters, Indiana is a shade under-valued after last week. They lost to Bowling Green, but averaged nearly two and a half more yards per play than the Falcons. The defense has, is, and will likely continue to be an issue under Wilson, but the offense has been quite explosive from 2012 on. The Hoosiers will be able to move the ball on the Tigers. The question will be, can they finish drives? Even if the Hoosiers don't make this game ultra-competitive, the possibility is certainly there for a backdoor cover. Take the Hoosiers to keep this once close.

Northern Illinois +14.5 Arkansas
Arkansas appears to be much improved from their dreadful 3-9 campaign last season. However, with the general robustness of the SEC West, they may not improve a great deal on their 0-8 conference record. As such, the Razorbacks will need to win all the non-conference games they can if they have designs on breaking a two year bowl drought. The Razorbacks welcome mid-major darling Northern Illinois and hope to avoid the embarrassment of losing to a MAC team. Arkansas has absolutely wrecked teams on the ground in the early going, averaging nearly eight yards per carry. After nearly fielding two 1000-yard rushers last season, the Razorbacks on pace to accomplish that with ease in 2014. Outside of their opener against Auburn, the defense has also played better, limiting Texas Tech to just 5.6 yards per pass last week. However, before we go heralding Arkansas as a worthy contender/spoiler in the SEC West, remember, Texas Tech won their first two games against Central Arkansas and UTEP by seven and four points respectively. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois has already won a pair of road games, including a win at Northwestern. Since 2009, the Huskies have beaten six teams from power conferences, with five of the wins coming on the road. In addition, as an underdog against power conference teams away from home in the regular season, the Huskies are 10-2 ATS. Joe Novak, Jerry Kill, Dave Doeren, and Rod Carey have crafted quite a mid-major power in DeKalb. The Huskies might not beat the Hogs, but I expect this game to be close.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week III

First off, let me apologize for the Eastern Michigan debacle. The Eagles were catching 38 points from the Gators and very nearly covered, losing by just 65. If you took my advice and the Eagles cost you your parlay card this week, I am truly sorry. However, I did manage another winning week (4-3) to move the yearly mark to 9-5. Let's see if we can keep the momentum going. As always, home teams in BOLD.


Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 9-5

Kansas +15.5 Duke
What difference a half decade makes. The last time these two teams met, Kansas was coming off two consecutive bowl appearances, ranked 22nd in the AP Poll, and favored by more than three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Duke was in the midst of a bowl drought that extended to the first term of President Clinton. Since beating Duke on that September day in 2009, Kansas has won just twelve more times, with only eight coming against IA opponents. On the other hand, Duke is the defending Coastal Division champion in the ACC, and seeking their third consecutive bowl bid. About the only thing that hasn't changed for Kansas is the relative heft of their head coach. Yep, I made a fat joke. Take the low hanging fruit when you can. Kansas comes into this game fresh off a tight 34-28 win over IA Southeast Missouri State. While the final score is close, it is a little deceiving. Kansas actually led 34-7 in the fourth quarter before a late surge by the Redhawks made the game close (their final touchdown came with a minute and a half to go). The misleading final score is artificially inflating this line for a Duke team that had a tough time dispatching Troy last week. Kansas will not win this game, but they will do enough to keep the final margin within two touchdowns.

Iowa State +10 Iowa
With an 0-2 start, Iowa State is in real danger of posting their fifth consecutive losing season. Granted, two of those seasons included bowl appearances, but its all in how you phrase things. The Cyclones have had a rough early schedule, losing at home to IAA power (and IA killer) North Dakota State and blowing a fourth quarter lead to lose Farmageddon to Kansas State. The Cyclones now travel to Iowa City, hoping to avoid on 0-3 start. Not to be outdone, Iowa is having some issues of their own, narrowly edging both Northern Iowa of IAA and Ball State in the season's first two weeks. Neither win elicited feelings of great satisfaction from the Hawkeye faithful. The Cyclones and Hawkeyes have split the fourteen games played this century, so this game will prove to be the rubber match, assuming the world ends before next year's game. The last three in this series have been decided six points or less. Look for this one to be close throughout as well.

Western Kentucky +1.5 Middle Tennessee State
Both these Conference USA squads (and former Sun Belt members), nearly made life even more miserable for the Big 10 last week. Western Kentucky lost a back-and-forth affair at Illinois 42-34 while Middle Tennessee State fell behind 28-0, but staged a somewhat furious rally (in that in made Minnesota backer's furious as the Blue Raiders went right in the back door for a cover) in losing 35-24. As both teams were bowl eligible in 2013, their early returns suggest another solid campaign for each. This game will likely serve as an eliminator of sorts in the East division of Conference USA. Both programs are expected to finish behind Marshall, and the loser will have an arduous task ahead of them to rebound and take the division. This game should feature plenty of points as both teams enter averaging more than 40 per game. Western Kentucky has been a little more impressive in the early going, as one of their games includes a shelling of Bowling Green, while Middle Tennessee State has padded their stats with a dismantling of IAA Savannah State. A two-game sample is not much, but Western Kentucky has posted better numbers against superior competition and should be favored here.

UNLV +10 Northern Illinois
Last week, Northern Illinois beat a Big 10 team on the road for the third time in a little over one season (their two victims last year were Iowa and Purdue). The win did not provide much cache for them however, as they did not receive a single vote in this week's AP Poll. Now the Huskies are in the dreaded sandwich spot, traveling to Sin City to take on UNLV immediately before a road trip to Arkansas. A victory over the Hogs, would perhaps give the Huskies more legitimacy, as they play in the rugged SEC West (though not very well I might add). Could the Huskies potentially sleepwalk through this game with the Rebels, a team that struggled to put away IAA Northern Colorado last week? I think so. UNLV has been a bonefide whiz as a home underdog under head coach Bobby Hauck. Since taking over in 2010, the Rebels are 12-5-1 ATS in the roll, with five outright upsets. I think the Rebels keep this one close, especially with no Jordan Lynch to contend with.

Texas State +10 Navy
After finishing bowl eligible last season, Texas State is looking earn their first bowl invite as a IA team. We didn't learn much from Dennis Franchione's team in their first game, as they bludgeoned IAA Arkansas Pine-Bluff 65-0. However, the schedule makers did them a huge favor by granting them a bye week between that game and their showdown with the Naval Academy. Navy is 1-1 after hanging with Ohio State for three quarters and holding off a pesky Temple team. Navy is one of college football's best stories year in and year out (a service academy with ten bowl appearances in the last eleven seasons). However, they have not been a good bet when they are favored. particularly away from Annapolis. When favored in either road or neutral games since 2009, the Midshipmen are just 5-10 ATS. Texas State is a quality opponent, has had an extra week to prepare for Navy's unique offense, and is catching double-digits at home. Take them cover here.

UCLA -7.5 Vs Texas (@ Arlington)
After poor performances (relative to expectations) last week, these two teams square off for the third time in the past five seasons. In their previous meetings in 2010 and 2011, the road team won handily each time. While both teams performed worse than expected last week, UCLA at least manged to stay unbeaten. The Bruins struggled with Memphis in a 42-35 win, but Texas was annihilated by BYU 41-7. The Texas offense has continued its drunken staggering since Colt McCoy departed, managing just 5.6 yards per pass attempt (excluding sacks) in the early going. The defense has remained (somewhat) stalwart, and is the only hope the Longhorns have of winning this game. The Longhorns have ten sacks in just two games and the UCLA offensive line has done a poor job protecting Brett Hundley, allowing eight combined sacks to Virginia and Memphis. UCLA was miscast as a national championship contender in the preseason, but they are good enough to beat a depleted Texas team by more than a touchdown at a neutral site.

Nebraska -10 Fresno State
Abdullah the Butcher prevented Nebraska from facing a potential sphincter-tightening overtime against McNeese State last week. His phenomenal catch and run broke a fourth quarter tie and provided the winning margin for the Huskers as well as visual evidence as to why you should 'bring your arms' when trying to tackle (I'm looking at you #21). While the game was close, Nebraska actually outgained the Cowboys by 99 yards and averaged almost two more yards per play. The big reason McNeese State was in the game was a long interception return when the Huskers were deep in McNeese State territory in the second quarter. Now the Huskers head west to take on a Fresno State team that is adjusting (poorly) to life without Derek Carr and Davante Adams. After winning 20 games in Tim DeRuyter's first two seasons in Fresno, the Bulldogs have lost their first two games by 39 and 32 points respectively. Southern Cal and Utah have moved the ball with ease against the Bulldogs, and there is no reason to believe Nebraska will not do the same. This spread is low thanks to Nebraska's close shave last week, but the Huskers should roll here.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

BYU: The Mid-Majors Last Hope

Well, we are just two weeks into the 2014 season, and any hopes of an interloper infiltrating the initial College Football Playoff appear to be almost null. Consider the following: In the American Conference, the only remaining unbeaten team is Cincinnati...who has yet to play a game. The Sun Belt has three unbeaten teams, but Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, and South Alabama are hardly college football royalty (and each also has at least one SEC team left on its schedule). Nevada and Wyoming are unbeaten in the Mountain West, but both play difficult Pac-12 teams this weekend and are unlikely to run the table. Central Michigan and Northern Illinois are unbeaten in the MAC, but Central Michigan has lost at least six games for the past four seasons, and Northern Illinois must win an SEC road game (Arkansas) and then navigate an improving MAC with an unblemished record. Marshall is unbeaten in Conference USA, but their schedule is one of the softest in the nation, and a group of Roadrunners may be waiting for them in the Conference USA Championship Game. But take heart underdog lovers everywhere, there is still a glimmer of hope, and it is in the form of a group of latter day saints.

On Saturday night, BYU throttled Texas for the second straight season, this time in Austin, by a score of 41-7. The win moves the Cougars to 2-0, and perhaps more importantly potentially sets the stage for an undefeated campaign. The Cougars still have ten games to play, but after their performance against Texas, no game appears unwinnable. Let's peruse their schedule starting with the home games.

Houston
Virginia
Utah State
Nevada
UNLV
Savannah State

The Cougars have yet to play a home game, so they still have six left on the slate. On paper, the toughest test is probably Utah State out of the Mountain West. Houston, Nevada, and Virginia could also present some challenges, while UNLV and especially Savannah State are likely romps.

And here are their four remaining road games.

@ UCF
@ Boise State
@ Middle Tennessee State
@ Cal

The road schedule is a little dicier with UCF and Boise ranking among the premiere mid-major teams over the past few seasons. However, the Cougars nearly won at Boise two seasons ago in a 7-6 slugfest, and UCF is missing a few pieces from its Fiesta Bowl winning team of 2013.

So that is BYU's schedule. Now, let's go ahead and make the (grandiose) assumption they win out. Could they make the four-team playoff? I think so. Here is why. Their schedule is perfect. A few years ago, Luke Win wrote a Sports Illustrated article about gaming the RPI. While their is no RPI in football, the Cougars have done a great job of challenging themselves with their schedule, but not too much. There are three schools from Power 5 Conferences on the 2014 schedule (Texas, Virginia, and Cal). While none of the three project to be great, Texas will likely win seven or eight games (and more importantly has a great deal of name recognition), while early returns on Virginia and Cal make them appear improved over their ghastly 2013 iterations. The Cougars also did a great job of scheduling mid-majors. Boise State, Houston, Middle Tennessee, UCF, UNLV, and Utah State all played in bowl games last season. Plus, while Nevada missed a bowl last season, they played in eight straight from 2005-2012. This means their are no real anchors on BYU's schedule. Their lone guarantee game is Savannah State (which based on their first two forays against IA opponents should be very ugly).

Now what sort of help does BYU need to make the playoff assuming they win out? For starters, it would be nice for them if UCF beat Missouri this weekend. Having Boise State and Utah State dominate the Mountain West would also be big. Having their (assumed) Power 5 scalps do their some damage in their respective conferences would also be help. If Texas could upset either Baylor, Kansas State, or Oklahoma, that would bolster BYU's profile. In addition, having either Virginia or Cal get to bowl eligibility (with maybe a quality win or two along the way) would also strengthen public perception.

Of course, BYU also needs a little help from the Power 5 conferences as a whole. Well, the Big 10 has already done them a huge favor. Not only did the league's three marquee programs all lose by at least fourteen points in non-conference action over the weekend (Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State), but a pair of teams also went down to MAC foes (Northwestern and Purdue), and a few more narrowly escaped against lesser opponents (Iowa and Nebraska), further hurting the league's reputation. Barring an unbeaten season by Nebraska, the Big 10 champion will probably miss the playoff. What about the other major conferences? Well, the SEC champion is probably in unless they have three losses. Thus, BYU needs to hope SEC teams cannibalize each other enough so that every team except the champion has two losses. In the ACC, a loss by Florida State would do wonders for their playoff hopes (maybe at Louisville?). The Pac-12 champion, particularly if it is Oregon, Southern Cal, or Stanford is probably in with a loss, so again BYU needs some cannibalization, particularly an upset or two by upstarts such as Arizona or Utah. Finally, it would be nice for the Cougar's hopes if the eventual Big 12 champion also has a pair of losses.

To sum things up, assuming they get to the end of the season unbeaten, BYU needs at least three (and possibly four) of the following things to happen to get into the four-team playoff:

ACC champ has one loss
Big 12 champ has two losses
Big 10 champ has one loss
Only one SEC team has fewer than two losses
Pac-12 champ has two losses
Notre Dame has more than one loss

Does this mean I think BYU is one of the four best college football teams in 2014? No. Do I think they could navigate the SEC West with less than two losses? Again, no. However, there are pros and cons to every situation. Playing in the SEC gives you access to the best players in the nation. However, it also means you must navigate a tougher schedule. While BYU does not have as brutal a schedule, they do have systemic disadvantages when it comes to recruiting the nation's best players (some of course self-imposed by their religious affiliation and others a natural occurrence of not being associated with a major conference). Consequently, engaging in theoretical thought experiments such as 'If they played LSU's schedule', are not the point of this post anymore than 'If they had LSU's players' is. BYU will play BYU's schedule in 2014, and it is within the realm of possibility that if they finish unbeaten, they make the four-team playoff.
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