Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week XII

Well, after what seemed like months of losing, we finally posted a winning mark in handicapping games. 4-3 is not great, but we'll take it. Let's try for a repeat. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 39-36-2

Central Florida +17 East Carolina
Both the Pirates and Knights have endured disappointing seasons in 2015. These two former Conference USA powers combined for a 17-9 record last season (12-4 in the American Athletic Conference). Ah, but things can change in a hurry in college football. The Knights are winless in 2015, having lost to good teams (Stanford), bad teams (Tulane), and FCS teams (Furman). East Carolina has also struggled and at 4-6, the Pirates are in danger of missing out on a bowl for the first time since 2011. East Carolina has had a real tough go of it on offense, with the departure of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma and the matriculation of quarterback Shane Carden and record setting receiver Justin Hardy. After ranking no lower than fourth in their conference in terms of yards per play over the past three seasons, the Pirates are an uncharacteristic ninth in that category in the twelve team American. Taking a team that struggles on offense to cover a double-digit spread on the road against a team hungry for their first win is a recipe for disaster.

Florida International +16.5 Western Kentucky
Florida International is coming off a 52-0 beatdown at the hands of Marshall. So naturally, they are the play at home against perhaps the best team in Conference USA right? Here are a few reasons I think the Panthers are a good play. For starters, the Panthers have five wins, and obviously need a sixth qualify for a bowl game. Despite the tough odds, the Panthers will likely be inspired to get to the postseason. In addition, this game is virtually meaningless to Western Kentucky. Their hopes for a division and eventual conference title will come down to their Black Friday showdown at home against Marshall. I think the Hilltoppers will be looking ahead. Finally, Western Kentucky has not covered as a double digit favorite this year, failing to cover a large spread at North Texas and pushing later in the year at Old Dominion. Western Kentucky won't lose, but the Panthers will keep this one close.

Duke +2.5 Virginia
The Duke Blue Devils are in uncharted territory under head coach David Cutcliffe. Barring some sanctions that manifest themselves over the final three weeks of the season, Duke will be playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history. That is quite an accomplishment considering the Blue Devils played in just two bowls between 1961 and 2011. Incidentally, Duke has not won a bowl game since 1960, when they were coached by Bill Murray (unfortunately, it was not that Bill Murray). The Blue Devils have been money in the bank as a road underdog the past few seasons, posting a 6-2 mark against the number in such a role (with six outright upsets). Meanwhile, Virginia is just 2-7-1 as a home favorite against the number since 2012. Couple that with the fact that Duke is probably the better team and has won three straight in the series, and they are an easy play here.
We came. We saw. We kicked their ass.

Louisville +2.5 Pittsburgh
Louisville disappeared from the national radar after their 0-3 start, but the team coached by one of the easiest men to hate in sports has won six of seven and with a win here, would finish tied for second in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. On the other sideline, the Panthers actually have an outside shot at winning the Coastal Division. The Panthers need to win their final two games (against Louisville and Miami) and have North Carolina lose both of their final games (Virginia Tech and NC State). It could kindly be referred to as a 'snowball's chance', but the possibility does exist. While a division title by Pitt is a longshot, a much more likely outcome is a close game on Saturday. Louisville has played nine games against FBS opponents. Seven have been decided by a touchdown or less. Pitt has also played nine games against FBS opponents. Six have been decided by a touchdown or less. With Pitt's upset win over Duke last week, they are probably a little overvalued here. Take the Cardinal to cover and win outright here.

New Mexico State +15.5 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns are in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time under head coach Mark Hudspeth. At 4-5, Lafayette needs two victories in their final three games to become bowl eligible. After facing the Aggies, the Cajuns go on the road to take on Appalachian State (perhaps the best team in the Sun Belt) and then return home to face Troy. Winning in Boone will be a challenge, so it behooves the Cajuns to beat the Aggies. That will not be as easy as it would have been in past years. While the Aggies have just a pair of wins, they have beaten more than one FBS team for the first time since 2011! Lafayette has no business being favored by double-digits against any team in FBS, even at home. Take the Aggies to keep this one close.

Colorado State -2 New Mexico
For the first time since 2007, New Mexico is bowl eligible. The Lobos have won their past two games in increasingly improbable fashion. Two weeks ago, they were twenty point home underdogs to Utah State. They won by a point. Then last week, they were thirty point underdogs at Boise State. They won by seven, although the margin at the end was incredibly close. Now the Aggies return home with a shot at the Mountain Division title (the Lobos play Air Force next week). They will face a Colorado State team looking for its third consecutive bowl appearance, and first under rookie head coach Mike Bobo. You may remember Bobo for his work as the offensive coordinator of the Georgia Bulldogs, where he is probably still blamed for Georgia's offensive struggles this season. The Rams struggled in the first half of the season, primarily due to the schedule, going 2-4 with losses to Minnesota, Colorado, Utah State, and Boise State. Since the schedule has eased up in the second half, the Rams have improved, winning three of four with the lone loss coming to perhaps the best team in the conference. Colorado State still needs one win to become bowl eligible, and after two huge wins by the Lobos, I think the Rams will be more hungry than the wolves on Saturday.

Missouri +9 Tennessee
After a rough three game stretch where they scored a grand total twelve points, the Missouri offense has gotten on track (by their standards) in the last two games, scoring 33 combined points and even winning a game for the first time in six weeks. The win came amidst a week of turmoil where the Missouri players threatened to not play against BYU and head coach Gary Pinkel announced his retirement effective the end of the season. With five wins, Pinkel will coach at least two additional games and needs an upset win over the Vols or Arkansas to coach in a postseason game. Whether they win or not, this clash with Tennessee will mark Pinkel's final home game as coach of the Tigers. That intangibility coupled with the strong Missouri defense makes the Tigers the play here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Poll Position: November 15

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With eleven weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll. I apologize for not giving my thoughts on the poll last week, but I was busy and the poll was relatively unchanged from the week before.

Iowa (6th) - With the laws of polls, I guess you have to move these guys up as they keep winning. Feel like they are destined to lose to Nebraska on Black Friday.

Oklahoma (7th) - They moved up five spots after their win in Waco, and I am still 'all in' on the Sooners bandwagon. 

Leaving the Poll:
UCLA - Bruins still have a chance to get to the Pac-12 championship game, but it will take consecutive road wins (Utah and Southern Cal) to do it.

Mississippi State - They moved the ball their first few drives against the Tide, but had no points to show for it. Then, the avalanche came.

Temple - Such is the life of a mid-major. One upset undoes a season of great work.

Memphis - See Temple comment. Although, the Tigers did blow a great chance to get back in the division race in the American West.

Joining the Poll:
Southern Cal (22nd) - Trojans survived a Friday night in Boulder. Their next two are against Oregon and UCLA. If they win them both (or split and get some help), they will be in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Oregon (23rd) - Ducks have won four straight and their latest likely keeps the Pac-12 out of the playoff picture.

Washington State (24th) - Congrats to the Cougars who are in the poll for the first time since a brief stay in 2006. The upset over UCLA also clinched their first wining season since 2003!

Ole Miss (25th) - I guess with four open spaces, they had to add an SEC team.

Around the Mid-Major Universe:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. Houston (13th) and Navy (19th) are the only mid-majors remaining in the poll. They will face off on Black Friday with the American West division on the line. Barring an upset this week or a loss in the American Athletic Championship Game (Temple is the likely opponent), the Midshipmen or Cougars are your likely Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six Bowl games. In the MAC, Bowling Green has clinched the East division for the third straight year (and received a handful of votes in the latest poll). The Falcons opponent is TBD as Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Western Michigan are all 5-1 in league play. Northern Illinois hosts Western Michigan on Wednesday while Toledo travels to Bowling Green on Tuesday. By Thursday morning, Northern Illinois could clinch a spot in the MAC Championship Game. In the Mountain West, Boise State and Utah State both lost over the weekend. Boise fell as a huge home favorite to New Mexico (congrats to Los Lobos who are bowl eligible for the first time since 2007) and Utah State lost at Air Force. The Aggies are out of division contention after their third loss in four games, and Air Force is alone in first place. The Falcons travel to Boise on Friday night with a chance to clinch the Mountain Division. In the West Division, San Diego State is quietly unbeaten in league play and can clinch the division with another win and make plans to host the Mountain West Championship Game. The Conference USA storyline is the same as it has been for most of the season. Marshall and Western Kentucky will decide the East on Black Friday while Louisiana Tech ans Southern Miss will decide the West the following day. In the Sun Belt, Arkansas State remains unbeaten in league play and with New Mexico State and Texas State left on the docket (combined 4-14 record), an outright league title seems a foregone conclusion. Independent BYU blew their chance to join the poll as they lost to an inspired Missouri squad on Saturday.

Ranked Matchups This Week:
Michigan State (9th) @ Ohio State (2nd) - GameDay will be there. Hopefully the game is competitive even though Michigan State has been far from elite this season.

Baylor (10th) @ Oklahoma State (4th) - A win by the Cowboys will have them set up for perhaps the biggest Bedlam in history.

TCU (11th) @ Oklahoma (7th) - See previous comment.

LSU (17th) @ Ole Miss (25th) - The AVB (Arkansas Victims' Bowl).

Northwestern (20th) @ Wisconsin (21st) - Wisconsin has faint division title hopes and Northwestern has a shot at ten wins in the regular season.

Southern Cal (22nd) @ Oregon (23rd) - A month ago, these two were huge disappointments. Now, the winner has a chance to finish in the top-ten of the final polls.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week XI

On the plus side, I had my best week since September last week. On the downside, I still went just 3-3-1. Hopefully, we can finally breakthrough this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-3-1
Overall: 35-33-2

Purdue +16 Northwestern
Northwestern is 18th in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings, coming off an exciting home win over Penn State, and on their way to their first bowl appearance since 2012. And now, sorry ass Purdue strolls into town as a big underdog. Northwestern should roll right? As Lee Corso might say, 'Not so fast, my friend!'. While Purdue has been horrendous under Darrell Hazell, posting a 6-27 overall record, the Boilermakers have been solid plays as a double digit road underdog. They are 6-3 against the spread in that role with five consecutive covers. Plus, Northwestern finds themselves in the dreaded sandwich game. After a tight contest with Penn State last week, the Boilermakers have Wisconsin on deck in Madison next week. Think they might be looking ahead? I do.

Georgia +1.5 Auburn
I am having a little trouble reconciling this spread with the seasonal numbers. Yes, Auburn has played better of late, beating Texas A&M after staying close with Ole Miss and taking Arkansas to overtime in their previous two games. However, despite their improved play, the Auburn offense has still only averaged 5.6 yards per play in that three-game span. Prorated to an entire season, that number would rank sixth in the SEC, hardly an elite showing. It should also be noted that Arkansas ranks dead last in the SEC in yards per play allowed and Texas A&M ranks twelfth in that category (Ole Miss is fifth, but is not quite as stout as we all thought back in early October). Of course, Georgia has had offensive difficulties of their own, scoring zero touchdowns in their two games going into Kentucky. As is usually the case for SEC teams, Kentucky is the cure for what ails you. The Bulldogs put three touchdown on the board and gained 300 yards on the ground against the Wildcats. It should also be noted the two teams that shut down Georgia prior to their clash with the Wildcats, Florida and Missouri, rank first and second in the SEC in yards per play allowed. Georgia has won seven of the last nine in this series with the two losses coming courtesy of Cam Newton and a miracle conversion. I like Georgia to win this one outright.

Ohio State -16 Illinois
I know the talking heads have repeated it ad nauseum on ESPN and FS1, but the Ohio State Buckeyes are a different team with JT Barrett under center. Barrett returns this week after his suspension for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. With Barrett replacing Cardale Jones, the Buckeye offense should click and eclipse the 30-point barrier. If the Buckeyes can move the ball and finish drives, they should be able to cover this large number as Illinois lacks the offensive firepower to generate explosive plays against Ohio State. I think the Buckeyes win this one by three touchdowns.

Utah State -1 Air Force
Barring another Boise State loss, Utah State likely blew their chance at a division title last week when they fell at New Mexico (as 20 point favorites). The Aggies significantly outplayed the Lobos everywhere, but the scoreboard. They averaged nearly a yards more per play than the Lobos, but turned the ball over on downs twice inside the New Mexico 30, lost a fumble inside the New Mexico 30, lost a fumble inside their own five, and missed a field goal. Of course, we must give New Mexico credit for capitalizing on the Aggies' woes, but that result seems to have significantly depressed the point spread in this game. Air Force has been tough at home since the start of 2014, winning eleven consecutive games at Falcon Stadium. However, the combined record of the FBS teams they have beaten at home this season is an unimpressive 9-28. Utah State is by far the best team they will have faced in the friendly confines this year. With a spread this low, the Aggies are the play.

Rutgers +9.5 Nebraska
Thanks to some dubious officiating last week, Nebraska may have saved their season. And by saved their season, I mean potentially earned themselves a nondescript bowl bid. Nebraska needs to win their final two games, on the road at Rutgers and after a week of respite, at home against Iowa to get to 6-6. I know Iowa is unbeaten, but a rested, better than their record Nebraska team playing at home feels like at least a 50/50 proposition in my mind. However, before the showdown with Iowa, Nebraska must do something they have never done - win at Rutgers. Alright, full disclosure, Nebraska has never played at Rutgers, but that doesn't make the preceding statement any less true. The Cornhuskers did beat the Knights in New York in 1920 (I'm sure your grandfather has great stories about that game), but last year's battle in Lincoln was their first meeting since Woodrow Wilson was running things. The Cornhuskers have been road favorites in two games this season, and have lost both. I would be very shocked if Rutgers pulls out the win here, but Nebraska's defense is just bad enough to allow the Knights to stay close.

LSU -7.5 Arkansas
While I am usually loathe to back Les Miles as a favorite, primarily because he does a pretty bad job of covering the spread, I think the Tigers are a good play here for several reasons. The public seems to have not only cleared the LSU bandwagon after their loss to Alabama, but spray painted it a certain hue of Crimson, set it on fire, and rolled it down the hill. How else to explain why LSU, a team that has won all their home games save versus Florida by at least 21 points, is scarcely more than a touchdown favorite against Arkansas. I know the Hogs are coming off a big road win at Ole Miss, but if you watched that game, it perfectly summed up their season. The Hogs have a powerful offense, but are held back by a defense that is the worst in the SEC (based on yards per play). Against the six Power Five teams Arkansas has faced (five SEC teams and Texas Tech), the Hogs have allowed 34.7 points per game and 6.57 yards per play. The Hogs allowed three teams (Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss) to average more than eight yards per play against them. Add in the revenge factor after last year's bloodletting in Fayetteville and you have all the ingredients for an LSU blowout.

Arizona +6 Utah
Like TCU, Utah had a rough start to life in a power conference. In their first three seasons in the Pac-12, the Utes won just a third of their conference games and endured two consecutive losing seasons. However, over the past year and a half, the Utes have won twice as many Pac-12 games as they have lost and are in contention for a division title. The Utes aren't great on either side of the ball, but they win the close ones (6-2 league record in one-score games since the start of last season), score in unconventional ways (seven non-offensive touchdowns in their last 15 league games), and rush the passer (60 sacks in Pac-12 games over the past two seasons). Their opponent on Saturday will be plenty motivated. Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats still need an additional win to be bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season. Having already played ten games, they only have two more shots at it. After winning the Pac-12 South last season, Arizona has experience significant regression on both sides of the ball in 2015. Their offense and defense are both below average by Pac-12 standards and their two league wins have come against league lightweights Oregon State and Colorado. So naturally, they are the pick right? Well, here are a few reasons to go against Utah this week. They pulled off a minor upset last week when they won at Washington. Utah also has a huge home game next weekend against UCLA that will go a long way toward determining the division championship. Finally, Arizona is unbeaten against the spread under Rich Rodriguez as a home underdog (4-0). Take the Wildcats to keep this one within a touchdown.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Poll Position: November 8th

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With ten weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll. I apologize for not giving my thoughts on the poll last week, but I was busy and the poll was relatively unchanged from the week before.

Alabama (3rd) - Talk about always getting the benefit of the doubt. Yes, the Tide looked great against LSU, but there are a few not so great data points on their resume too, including the home loss to Ole Miss and the narrow home win over Tennessee. Hopefully Mississippi State can do everyone a favor and beat them this weekend. Then maybe they drop to what, sixth?

Oklahoma (12th) - I think the Sooners have a real chance to win out and make a case for a playoff berth. If they do, their resume would include road wins over Tennessee, Baylor, and Oklahoma State. Of course, the bad loss to Texas remains a black mark, but those wins would trump any Ohio State had last year. 

Leaving the Poll:
Texas A&M - Can we stop hyping these guys in the preseason? After their breakthrough 2012 campaign, the Aggies are just 10-12 in conference play.

Ole Miss - Mr Freeze continues to under perform with those great athletes. His teams lost three times as a betting favorite last season and all three of their losses this year have come when they entered the game as a favorite. Think Robert Nkemdiche might be regretting switching his college choice?

Toledo - A season's worth of respect evaporates in one game. The real issue is that the Rockets received just four votes in the current poll.

Joining the Poll:
Navy (22nd) - Midshipmen are ranked for the first time since the end of the 2004 season and just the second time since 1980.

Wisconsin (23rd) - Is Wisconsin even any good? Both teams that beat them are a combined 17-1, but this doesn't feel like a vintage dominant Wisconsin team.

Northwestern (24th) - This has been a nice bounceback season for the Wildcats after consecutive losing campaigns. The offense is very limited, but with Purdue and Illinois left on the schedule, the Wildcats have an outside shot at going into the bowl with a shot at ten wins.

Around the Mid-Major Universe:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. With Toledo's loss to Northern Illinois (you may have missed it as it happened on Tuesday) and Memphis' loss to Navy, the havenots have only a single unbeaten - Houston. The Cougars host Memphis this weekend in a game that will either eliminate Memphis from the American West race or suddenly put Navy alone in first place in the division (Houston hosts Navy on the Friday after Thanksgiving). The chances of a Group of Five team sneaking into the playoff are likely kaput after Memphis' loss. While Houston will certainly rise if they beat Memphis, they really needed this game to be a matchup of undefeated teams to have even a glimmer of hope of rising into the top four. As it is, the next few weeks in the American should be entertaining. Houston and Memphis play this week, Memphis faces the likely East division champ Temple in Philly next week, and then Houston hosts Navy. The two teams left standing will then play in the inaugural American Championship Game on the first weekend in December. In the Mountain West, New Mexico did Boise State a big favor in knocking off Utah State and giving the Broncos control of the Mountain Division (don't worry, I had to look up which division they were in too). If the Broncos can win their last three or have Utah State lose another game or two, they will face San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship Game (the Aztecs haven't clinched yet, but they are pretty much a sure thing). If Boise wins and the American teams beat each other up over the next four weeks, they could conceivably be in position to grab a New Year's Six bowl bid. However, the Mountain West has been garbage this season, so I would not be a huge fan of Boise getting the invite this year. Toledo's loss opens the door for several teams in the MAC West. Western Michigan at 5-0 has a one game lead on Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Toledo. The Broncos can do the Rockets a favor by beating Northern Illinois on November 18th and giving the Huskies a second league loss. The Broncos and Rockets play at Toledo on the Friday after Thanksgiving. There is still a lot to be decided in the West. In the East, Bowling Green has won six straight games and has all but wrapped up the division. The Falcons will be challenged in their next two games with potential MAC Championship Game previews against Western Michigan and Toledo. The Falcons did not receive any votes in the current poll, but if they pull out both of those, to go with competitive losses to Tennessee and Memphis earlier in the year, they would be deserving of a place in the top-25 in my opinion. Both divisions in Conference USA will likely come down to the Friday after Thanksgiving (sensing a trend here?). Western Kentucky improved to 6-0 in the East while Marshall dropped an overtime game to Middle Tennessee State to fall to 5-1. I watched a little of the fourth quarter and overtime of that game and I have a message for Doc Holiday: Sprout a sack and play to win! After missing three field goals in regulation, the Herd scored a touchdown to trail by a point in the first overtime. Instead of following Bret Bielema's lead and going for two and the win, Holiday opted to kick the extra point. The game went to an additional period where the Herd...wait for it...missed a field goal. Because the football gods enjoy torturing those who make foolish decisions, the Herd survived to a third overtime where they again missed a field goal. Why would you not play to win when you know you have serious kicking issues and in all likelihood will have to kick again to win or extend the game? There was less drama in the West, where Louisiana Tech won to move to 5-1 in league play and gain a half-game on idle Southern Miss. In the Sun Belt, the dream of a ranked team is likely over. Appalachian State fell at home to Arkansas State. The loss drops the Mountaineers into a second place tie with Georgia Southern at 4-1. The Red Wolves move to 5-0 in Sun Belt play and with no Georgia Southern on the schedule (Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, and Texas State are their remaining three games), they are in prime position to win the Sun Belt for the fourth time in five seasons (under their fourth different head coach). BYU beat San Jose State by a point late Friday. The win moved the Cougars to 7-2. Their final three games are against Missouri (terrible offense, but still a dangerous defensive team), Fresno State (garbage), and Utah State (decent, but hardly unbeatable). If they win out, the Cougars should enter bowl season in the polls. Finally, while their may not have been any sublime endings as their have been the past three weeks (technically The Hog and Ladder did not win the game for Arkansas) in the FBS, there was in the FCS. Follow this link and feel sorry for the Idaho State Bengals.

Ranked Matchups This Week:
Alabama (3rd) @ Mississippi State (20th) - Like I said before, Dan Mullen, please do the world a favor and beat these guys.

Oklahoma (12th) @ Baylor (4th) - Baylor has a chance to prove themselves with their new quarterback and Oklahoma has a chance to remind everybody that they are pretty damn good.

Memphis (25th) @ Houston (16th) - It's a shame Memphis will leave the poll if they lose this game. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week X

The good news is, I did not go 3-4 last week. The bad news is, I did even worse, posting a 2-4-1 week. Thankfully October is over. Let's try and pick some winners. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-4-1
Overall: 32-30-1

Syracuse +13 Louisville
Since football nomad Bobby Petrino returned home (for now at least), prior to the 2014 season, the expectation was that Louisville would become an offensive juggernaut despite the loss of Teddy Bridgewater. Alas, that has not been the case. The Cardinals ranked seventh in the ACC in yards per play in conference games last season and are currently tenth in that category. The defense has been the key to Louisville's success. Last season, they ranked second in the ACC in yards per play allowed in conference games, and this year, they are third in that metric. Thanks to their offensive difficulties, the Cardinals are 0-4 against the number as a double digit home favorite. Syracuse is a competent team, with too many deficiencies to win this game outright, but they should do enough to cover this large number.

Marshall +3 Middle Tennessee State
After a disjointed start that saw them win a back-and-forth game with a bad Purdue team and lose on the road by two scores to a bad Ohio team, the Thundering Herd have quietly returned to their winning ways. They have won seven straight and are likely to win ten games for the third consecutive year. In fact, regardless of what happens here, their division title hopes will likely come down to their Black Friday showdown with Western Kentucky. As expected, Marshall suffered a drop off on offense with the loss of Rakeem Cato, but the defense is perhaps even better than it was last season. The Herd are currently second in Conference USA in terms of yards per play allowed in league games. Middle Tennessee State is just 3-5, but their losses have come to Power 5 teams (Alabama, Illinois, and Vanderbilt) and two of the stronger teams in Conference USA (Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky). Still, its hard to see how they are favored here. Marshall is the better team, and despite having to go on the road, should be able to eke out a win here.

Florida State +12.5 Clemson
If Florida State had not been buzzed two weeks against Georgia Tech, this matchup would be the third featuring unbeaten teams this weekend. As it stands, the winner of this game, particularly if it is Clemson, will have pretty much locked up the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Clemson enters this game as the newly christened number one in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Barring an inexplicable turn of events that would have to involve Dabo Swinney being caught on tape offering a recruit hookers and cocaine, Clemson will  be in the College Football Playoff if they win out. Clemson and Florida State have played each season since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. The Seminoles owned the series (and the conference) early on, winning the first eleven contests. However, beginning in 2003, the series has been much more competitive, with the teams splitting six contests. It should be noted, most of those wins by Clemson came when Bobby Bowden was 'coaching' the team. Since Jimbo Fisher arrived, the Seminoles have won four of five. Speaking of Fisher, this marks the first time under his guidance that the Seminoles are double digit underdogs. I'll leave you with this. Jimbo Fisher has lost twelve games in his tenure at Florida State. In only two, at Oklahoma in his first season and against Oregon in the Rose Bowl last year, was the margin of defeat enough for the opposing team to cover a number this large.

Arkansas +11 Ole Miss
What happened to the Ole Miss team that was straight crushing kids in September? The Rebels opened the season looking nigh unstoppable, scoring over 70 points in consecutive games against Tennessee-Martin (runteldat!) and Fresno State and then dropping 43 on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. In those three games, the Rebels averaged 64 points per game. In the six games since, the Rebels have averaged just over 27 points per game. I know the schedule has stiffened, but their 52 point outburst against New Mexico State is included in that data set. It should also be noted the Rebels scored just 24 points against a Memphis team that allowed 41 points to Bowling Green, 46 to Cincinnati, and 42 points to Tulsa. Arkansas is a competent team and has already won a road game against a solid Tennessee squad. This line should be closer to a touchdown. Take the Hogs to cover here.

Old Dominion +12 Texas-San Antonio
So, Old Dominion has already burned me twice this season as a double-digit underdog. Yet, I continue picking the Monarchs undeterred by their performance and against my better judgement. Old Dominion is not a good football team, having beaten Eastern Michigan, Norfolk State, and Charlotte by a combined 21 points. However, Texas-San Antonio is not exactly Nebraska circa 1995. The Roadrunners have just a single win on the year, shafting the mighty UTEP Miners a month ago. The Roadrunners do have a trio of narrow defeats to Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, and North Texas, but should not be favored by double-digits against any team. The Roadrunners have big time issues on offense, ranking 12th in Conference USA in yards per play (conference games only). Take the Monarchs to keep this one close and potentially leave the Alamodome with a win.

LSU +6.5 Alabama
Ole Miss is still hanging around near the top of the SEC West standings, but you can trust the Rebels at your own peril. With the Rebels lurking, this game will serve as an eliminator if Alabama loses. The Tigers will have a narrow margin for error should they fall, but the division title will remain a possibility. The Tide have won the last four in this series (three in the regular season) which is their best stretch since they won four in a row from 1989 through 1992. There is reason to believe Alabama is overvalued going into this game. For starters, they are 0-5 against the number as a home favorite this season, including losing outright to Ole Miss. What you may not have noticed is that despite the wins, Alabama is tenth in the SEC in yards per play (conference games only). For perspective, that ranks below Kentucky! Hmmm....Maybe Lane Kiffin ain't so hot when he isn't drawing up plays for Amari Cooper. The Tide have been their usual dominant selves on defense ranking fourth in the SEC in yards per play allowed. Meanwhile, behind the powerful running of Leonard Fournette and the surprisingly efficient passing of Brandon Harris, the Tigers rank first in the SEC in yards per play. This line seems like it is about a field goal too high. Take the Tigers to keep this one close and potentially leave Tuscaloosa with the inside track to the SEC West title.

Cal +6 Oregon
One of the tenets I usually follow when picking games is never back a favorite if they are coming off an upset win. Of course, last week I ignored that rule by taking Georgia Tech, and like a horror movie character going outside to 'check on that noise', I caught a Jason Voorhees' machete right in the face. Unlike characters in horror movies, I hope to learn from my mistakes this week. Oregon is coming off an upset win in a bonkers game at Arizona State that saw the Ducks have to sweat out a win despite averaging over seven yards per play. The culprit, obviously, was the Duck defense which allowed over 30 points for the fifth time in eight games. Last season, the Ducks allowed 354 points in 15 games. This season, in just eight games, the Ducks have allowed 307 points. Suffice it to say, this game should be entertaining. Cal still needs one additional win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, and even with a loss in this game will probably get there with a win next week against Oregon State. But, lets not get ahead of ourselves, as the Bears could end their three-game losing skid in Autzen Stadium. Oregon has beaten three teams by more than six points this season: Eastern Washington, Georgia State, and Colorado. Cal will not be added to that list.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

This weekly preview is slowly becoming the definition of insanity. A fourth consecutive 3-4 week means the margin for error we built early in the season has evaporated. Let's see if Halloween provides some treats. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 30-26

Oregon +3 Arizona State
Oregon is not nearly as good as they have been the past few seasons. Their three regular season losses are the most they have had since 2008. With Cal, Stanford, and Southern Cal still on the schedule, in addition to this game in Tempe, they will probably lose four or five games. With their struggles, the general public appears to have totally abandoned the Ducks. The Ducks have been underdogs twice this season, exceeding the number of times they were betting dogs between 2010 and 2014. In both of those games this season, the Ducks covered as underdogs, including winning outright against Washington two weeks ago. Now is the time to buy low on the Ducks, especially when they face a team like Arizona State. The Sun Devils do have a marquee win at UCLA this season, but they have also laid a few eggs. Take the Ducks to win this one outright.

Wyoming +28 Utah State
Let me begin this preview by stating the obvious. Wyoming is not a good football team. Perhaps you could tell by their 1-7 record which includes losses to North Dakota of the FCS and one of the worst FBS teams in Eastern Michigan. However, despite their struggles, the Cowboys have been a quality play against the number. Under second year head coach Craig Bohl, the Cowboys are an amazing 7-1 as a double digit road underdog, including 4-0 this season. Wyoming has played Washington State, Appalachian State, Air Force, and Boise State on the road this season and while neither game has been particularly close, the Cowboys did not lose any by more than 20 points. Utah State is not markedly better than that quartet of teams, so this is a pretty easy play. Wyoming won't win, but should cover easily.

Georgia Tech -5 Virginia
I am usually reluctant to take favorites that are coming off big wins or upset wins. Georgia Tech checks both boxes, yet I feel reasonably confident the Yellow Jackets can win in Charlottesville by at least a touchdown. While the Yellow Jackets have historically struggled when playing at Virginia, losing eight in a row between 1992 and 2007, things have changed since Paul Johnson's arrival. The Yellow Jackets have won two of three with both wins coming by double digits. I know Georgia Tech is far from a dominant team, and with five losses is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1996. The typical high-powered offense has been atypically quiet, averaging just under 25 points per game over their last six. However, the opposition has had a great deal to do with that. Their last six opponents (Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pitt, and Florida State) all rank in the top fifty in total defense (Virginia ranks 86th). If you prefer more advanced stats, all six save North Carolina (61st) rank in the top forty in S&P+. Virginia ranks 106th in that category. I think the triple-option gets well in a big way on Saturday.

Cal +6 Southern Cal
Last week, both these teams posted drastically different results. The Golden Bears dropped their second consecutive games after a 5-0 start, losing to UCLA. Meanwhile, the Trojans won their first game under interim coach Clay Helton (this season) as they knocked off the previously unbeaten Utah Utes. Now the Trojans are in a position they have not fared well in over the past few seasons. Since 2012, under four different head coaches, the Trojans are just 3-9 against the number as a road favorite with four outright losses. Cal needs just one more win to become bowl eligible, and they may get it on Saturday.

Georgia +3 Vs Florida
Forgive me if you will for reminiscing, but this clash in the city of London's beloved football team reminds me a lot of the 2012 game. For those who don't remember, Florida came into the 2012 game unbeaten with victories against Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, and South Carolina. Georgia, while far from rancid dog chow, came in with no real marquee victories, a blowout loss to South Carolina, and a tight win over a Kentucky team that would win zero SEC games. The Gators were favored by roughly a touchdown, but lost 17-9. Georgia would close the regular season four more victories before facing Alabama in an epic SEC Championship Game. Things are eerily similar in 2015 if you just add an additional loss to each team's ledger. Florida has impressive wins over Tennessee and Ole Miss and a tight loss in Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, Georgia has no marquee wins, a blowout loss, and a closer than expected win against a bad opponent. So, why oh why is Georgia the pick? Take a look at that Florida offense that Jim McElwain has 'fixed'. Against SEC teams, the Gators are currently averaging 4.97 yards per play which ranks 12th in the conference. Last season, the Gators averaged 4.85 yards per play against SEC foes which ranked...12th in the conference. You can argue there has been improvement, but it has been marginal and insignificant. Florida is extremely overvalued here and Georgia, despite two defeats, has plenty to play for. A win against the Gators puts the Bulldogs back in the driver's seat to get to Atlanta, and methinks they might have some extra motivation after last year's result.

Texas Tech +3 Oklahoma State
One of these teams is 7-0 and ranked 12th in the latest AP Poll while the other is 5-3 and did not receive any votes in said poll. Look a little closer though, and you can see the difference in their record is all about the schedule. Let's discount the non-conference schedule as both teams went 3-0 (even though Texas Tech played the toughest opponent). In league play, Texas Tech has played Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU, arguably the top-three teams in the Big 12 (and Iowa State). Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has played Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia. The latter three teams are all quality, but they are not on the same level as Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. Oklahoma State beat that trio by a combined 12 points with one victory coming in overtime. Texas Tech is 4-1 against the number as home underdog under Kliff Kingsbury while Oklahoma State is just 2-7-1 against the spread as a road favorite since the beginning of the 2012 season. Oklahoma State is the type of team you want to back when they are catching points, but you don't want any part of them giving points on the road.

North Texas +9.5 Texas-San Antonio
Let me state the obvious here: Both these teams are bad. If you couldn't tell by their combined 1-13 record coming into this game, well, maybe you should pay more attention. Fortunes can change in a hurry in college football, and these two teams are proof of that. The last time these two played in Denton, Texas, North Texas was on their way to a nine-win season and Texas-San Antonio was busy posting a winning campaign. The Roadrunners won that game, and in the process, cost North Texas a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game. However, since the start of last season, these two teams have combined to go 9-29. North Texas reached rock bottom three weeks ago when they lost by nearly 60 points to an FCS team. Now, that FCS team did beat Washington State, but heads had to roll after a result like that. Head coach Dan McCarney was fired just an hour or so after the game. Mike Canales was named the interim head coach for the second time in his North Texas career. After the change, the Mean Green have shown signs of life in their past two games, covering large spreads against Western Kentucky and Marshall. Texas-San Antonio is too limited on offense to be favored by nearly double digits especially on the road. Take the Mean Green to keep this one close.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Poll Position: October 25th

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With eight weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll.

Oklahoma State (12th) - The Cowboys move up two spots after their functional bye against Kansas. While they sport a 7-0 record, the Cowboys are probably below Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma in the Big 12 pecking order. They should get a serious test in Lubbock this weekend.

Clemson (3rd) - I know they just beat a team that is likely playing for a lame duck coach, but 58-0 is still impressive. Their early season win over Appalachian State is one of the more underrated victories against a mid-major this season.

Oklahoma (14th) - For my money, perhaps the best one-loss team in the country. If they sweep their last three games, @ Baylor, TCU, and @ Oklahoma State, Sooners can still be a player in the playoff race. 

Leaving the Poll:
Texas A&M - Aggies will probably have a nice nine-win regular season, but they are playing fourth fiddle in the SEC West at best,

California - No shame in road losses to Utah and UCLA. Also, look at their wins (San Diego State, @ Texas, @ Washington, and Washington State). All quality teams. Bears probably deserve a spot in the poll and could return if they can beat the Trojans at home this week.

Joining the Poll:
UCLA (24th) - Bruins have a chance to go on a roll (Colorado, @ Oregon State, and Washington State) over their next three games. Outside of Utah, everyone in the division has at least two conference losses, so they are very much alive.

Mississippi State (25th) - Bulldogs have won three in a row to get to bowl eligibility. Probably out of the division race, but they host Alabama and Ole Miss, so will have a say in who goes to Atlanta.

Around the Mid-Major Universe:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. Memphis is still the highest ranked team from the Group of Five conferences as they avoided a letdown loss on a short week. Tigers host Tulane this week before a three-game stretch that will determine who wins the American West (Navy, @ Houston, and @ Temple). Speaking of Houston, the Cougars moved up three spots to 18th. The Cougars get a chance to beat a second Power Five school this weekend when they host Vanderbilt. With just one road game reaming on the schedule (@ Connecticut), I would favor the Cougars to overtake Memphis and win the division. Toledo dropped a spot to 20th after a harrowing first half against Massachusetts. They still won by more than two touchdowns, but pollsters don't need much of an excuse to drop a MAC team. Temple fought off East Carolina and moved up one spot to 21st. They face Notre Dame on Halloween night with a chance for perhaps the biggest win in program history. BYU dropped 70 points on Wagner over the weekend, and is currently just outside the top-25 (29th). Their toughest remaining game is likely a road trip to Utah State, so ten wins and an appearance in the top-25 is a distinct probability for the Cougars. Appalachian State, with six whole votes, is the only other mid-major receiving any pollster love this week. The Mountaineers are a good team (I hope you watched their game with Georgia Southern on Thursday), but will likely need to win out during the regular season before they can hope to be the first ever ranked Sun Belt team. San Diego State tightened up the Mountain West race on Friday night. The Aztecs are a virtual shoe-in to win their division (its the West in case you were curious), but their victory over Utah State means the Aggies have no margin for error to remain ahead of Boise State in the Mountain Division. If either the Aggies, Aztecs, or Broncos win out, they could find themselves in the poll at season's end, but the Mountain West is weak, so even that may not get the job done. Despite their loss in Baton Rouge, Western Kentucky appears to be on a collision course with Marshall to decide the East division in Conference USA. Neither team received any votes this week, but if they win out, that will likely change. In the West division, Southern Miss appears to be the biggest challenger to Louisiana Tech and their attempts to repeat as division champ. Like Marshall and Western Kentucky, those two will square off over Thanksgiving weekend with the division title likely on the line.

Ranked Matchups This Week:
Notre Dame (9th) @ Temple (21st): With Ole Miss @ Auburn, Georgia Vs. Florida, and West Virginia @ TCU, as some of the games on the slate, who had this matchup of the Irish as Owls as the only game between ranked teams in the preseason?