Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

The less said about last week, the better. Let's see if we can rebound after our first losing week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 1-5-1
Overall: 9-11-1

Tulsa +7 Temple
After a disappointing 0-2 start that included a loss to an FCS (Villanova) and MAC (Buffalo) team at home, Temple took their show on the road and upset undefeated Maryland. The Owls scored a season-high 35 points which included a fat-guy offensive touchdown. No disrespect to Freddie Booth-Lloyd, who I am sure is a wonderful guy (and fully capable of kicking my ass), but he is listed at 6-1, 330 pounds, which is on the upper end of most BMI charts. By winning that game, Temple begins conference play with a little momentum. Can they keep it up against a Tulsa team coming off a tough home loss to Arkansas State? While the Golden Hurricane have been bad as a home underdog under Phillip Montgomery (1-7 ATS), they have done better as a travelling act. As a road underdog, the Golden Hurricane are 10-3 ATS under Montgomery with a pair of outright wins. Even in their 2-10 campaign last season, Tulsa managed to cover three of their five games as a road underdog. Tulsa will be facing off against a team that you do not want to be laying a touchdown with. Before their relative offensive explosion against Maryland, the Owls struggled to score points, totaling just 46 combined points against Villanova and Buffalo. That continues a disappointing trend for the Owls in Philadelphia. In eight home games under Geoff Collins, the Owls have averaged just under 23 points per game and have failed to cover all five times they have been a home favorite. Tulsa is a spread offense built to run and Temple has struggled in the early going stopping the run, allowing 4.75 yards per rush (once sacks are removed). I like Tulsa to keep this one close on Thursday night.

Ball State -3 Western Kentucky
Want a prime example of the variance that abounds in college football? Two weeks ago, Western Kentucky lost at home by three points to Maine. Last weekend, the Hilltoppers went to Louisville, led the Cardinals in the fourth quarter, and lost by...three points. Credit the Hilltoppers for maintaining their focus and playing hard against Louisville, but the loss dropped Western Kentucky to 0-3 and Mike Sanford Jr. is now 6-10 as head coach. After the outstanding success the program enjoyed under Jeff Brohm, the villagers are probably gathering their pitchforks and torches. The worst part is that the prolific offense has disappeared. In each of Brohm's three seasons, the Hilltoppers averaged at least 44 points per game. In sixteen games under Sanford, the Hilltoppers have scored at least 44 points once. This season, they are averaging just 16 points per game. If we remove the opener against Wisconsin, that number does climb to 22.5 points per game, but that is still underwhelming. The Hilltoppers close out their non-conference schedule against a Ball State team looking to make a move in Mike Neu's third season. The Cardinals have been marginally competitive in their two games against Power Five opponents, losing to their in-state 'rivals' Notre Dame and Indiana by eight and 28 points respectively. This spread implies these teams are about evenly matched on a neutral field. I believe Ball State is the better team. Couple that with the standard homefield advantage and this line feels at least two points too short. Take Ball State to win and increase the pressure on Mike Sanford.

Oregon State +6 Arizona
The Beavers came close last weekend, but despite outplaying Nevada on the road, they dropped their thirteenth straight game to an FBS opponent. The Beavers have not beaten an FBS team since wining the Civil War to close the 2016 season. Although they didn't get the win, the Beavers seem to be much improved under first year head coach Jonathan Smith, particularly on offense. After averaging just under 21 points per game last season, the Beavers have scored at least 31 in each game in 2018. Of course, they have allowed over 46 points per game, so its no surprise they are only 1-2. Keep in mind though, their two losses have come on the road. Now they return to the friendly confines of Corvallis to face another 1-2 team that is not pleased to be 1-2 under their first year coach. In their only road game to date, Arizona fell behind 38-0 to a Houston team last seen allowing 63 points to Texas Tech. Arizona has lost their last two and seven of their last nine trips to Corvallis. Oregon State has a solid offense and is dangerous catching points, especially at home. Take them to give Arizona all they can handle.

Liberty +14 North Texas
North Texas is 3-0 and fresh off a four-touchdown road win against an SEC team. Not only did the Mean Green beat the Razorbacks, they stunted on them with this amazing punt return. Of course, the Mean Green also benefited from six Arkansas turnovers. The Mean Green did outgain the Razorbacks, but the margin (40 yards) was not indicative of the final score. The general public sees the beating they laid on an SEC team and thinks they should do more of the same against a team transitioning to FBS. Hold on a second though. Not only did North Texas benefit from all those turnovers, they also have a big game next week, when they host Louisiana Tech. That game will go a long way toward determining pole position in the west division of Conference USA, so North Texas could very well be overlooking the Flames. Plus, Liberty had an unexpected week off to lick their wounds following their loss to Army. Liberty may not be better than Arkansas, but their passing game is almost certainly more dangerous. If the Flames don't turn the ball over up and down the field, they should keep this one close.

Louisiana Tech +21 LSU
Les Miles may not be in Baton Rouge anymore, but his spirit is alive and well in the bayou. While LSU is currently a top-ten team and has two very impressive wins, the offense is still as ugly as it ever was. Joe Burrow, a quarterback at an SEC school in 2018 has completed 46% of his passes. Those are Bobby Douglass numbers (without the running skills). His best performance, percentage wise, came against Southeastern Louisiana, when he completed half his passes. Maybe LSU can ride a good defense and an inconsistent at best passing game to an SEC West title, but I have serious doubts. The Tigers won't need Burrow to play well to beat Louisiana Tech at home, but they probably will need him to in order to cover. It's hard to justify backing a team with such limited offensive capabilities laying three touchdowns. Oh, and the Tigers happen to be coming off a huge conference road win. And they have another conference opponent on deck (Ole Miss). I think LSU, particularly the defense, will be looking ahead to next week's showdown with the Rebels and their dynamic receiving corps. Louisiana Tech has been solid as a road underdog since Skip Holtz came to town, posting a 10-6-1 ATS mark, including 9-3-1 since 2014. They have also done well against Power Five opponents, going 5-3-1 ATS, including near victories against Kansas State in 2015, Arkansas in 2016, and South Carolina last season. This also marks the fifth straight season they have traveled to an SEC venue, so they should not be intimidated. Louisiana Tech won't win, but I think there is a good chance while you're watching Stanford and Oregon, you'll notice this game is within ten points in the fourth quarter.

Utah State -10 Air Force
I know the opponents have been less than formidable (New Mexico State and Tennessee Tech), but Utah State has still been impressive in their two home games this season. The Aggies scored a combined 133 points on the other Aggies and Golden Eagles. They have been especially proficient on the ground, accumulating nearly 600 yards and scoring ten touchdowns in both games. Now the Aggies open conference play against an opponent that has gotten under their skin the past three seasons. Air Force has won the last three games against Utah State, with each victory coming by a touchdown or less, despite being outgained by the Aggies and averaging nearly a yard less per play. The Falcons have benefited from some Aggie turnovers (+3 margin in the three games) and general good fortune. I think that tightrope will be tough to walk this season in Logan. Utah State has been solid as a double-digit home favorite under Matt Wells, posting an 8-4 ATS mark. Look for the Aggies to continue rolling here.

Eastern Michigan +10.5 San Diego State
After winning 32 games from 2015 through 2017, the Aztecs were somewhat written off from a national perspective following their season-opening loss to Stanford and less than impressive win against Sacramento State. And then late Saturday night, the Aztecs upset Arizona State moving their Pac-12 record to 3-1 over the past season and a half (which is the same number of Pac-12 wins Utah has in that span). The Aztecs pulled the upset with their backup quarterback by following their usual script. The Aztecs ran the ball 58 times against the Sun Devils, the fourteenth time they have run the ball at least 50 times in the last 44 games. In this era of spread tempo offense and four-hour football games, Rocky Long is a great throwback to the 1970s NFL. However, don't confuse this San Diego State offense with three yards and a cloud of dust. Juwan Washington (and his backup Chase Jasmin) is following in the footsteps of Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny by providing big-play capability in the backfield. Unfortunately, even Rocky Long is not immune to letdowns and I think the Aztecs are in prime position for one after their big win last weekend. Their guests on Saturday night are used to being road warriors. Under Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan is 16-9-1 ATS as a road underdog, including 11-2 since the start of the 2016 season. Under Creighton, the former doormats have won two road games against Power Five opponents. Under his predecessor, the Eagles won four road games total. I've never been to San Diego, but I hear the weather is nice. And the Aztecs have done their best to be accommodating to infrequent visitors. Since 2014, the Aztecs have been favored against four non-conference opponents. The Aztecs have failed to cover in each of those games, including losing one outright. You'll have to stay up late, but this should be a great, if under the radar game. Back Eastern Michigan and expect them to keep it close.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week III

Two winning weeks in a row to start 2018. And we only really whiffed on one game. Sorry for telling you to back Arizona. I think this two game stretch has done more to damage Khalil Tate's pro prospects than the triple option ever could. The theme for this week is weather. A pretty big storm is brewing in the Atlantic so several games, including a few on this list could be canceled or postponed. Have no fear though, if some games are canceled we'll add extra picks throughout the season to get us back to the seven game average. Stay safe everyone. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 8-6

Wake Forest +7 Boston College
Boston College was somewhat of a chic sleeper team over the summer thanks to their strong showing to end 2017. The Eagles won five of their last six regular season games after a 2-4 start, and more importantly finally got their offense on track under Steve Addazio. Over their last six games, the Eagles eclipsed the 30-point barrier five times and averaged a cool 36 points per game. The Eagles have continued to fly high in 2018, scoring 117 total points in easy wins against outclassed competition. Now, the Eagles have their first real test of the season as they open conference play at historic BB&T Field. While the Eagles have looked fantastic in the early going, I think it might be time to pump the breaks on the Boston College bandwagon. For starters, while the offense certainly improved at the end of last season, part of that can be explained by the schedule. In those final six games, the Eagles faced defenses that finished 84th (Louisville), 99th (Syracuse), and 126th (Connecticut) in Defensive S&P. Plus, while Florida State (33rd), NC State (62nd) and Virginia (43rd) were decent on that side of the ball, the Eagles did not face any elite defenses during their run of offensive dynamism. I don't like to read too much into bowl games, but it is worth mentioning they only manged 20 points against a very good Iowa defense (15th). I don't doubt the offensive gains were real, but this is not Chip Kelly's Oregon. Wake Forest does not have an elite defense, but they represent the best resistance the Eagles will have faced on that side of the ball (no offense to Massachusetts and Holy Cross). Wake has been spry as a home dog under Dave Clawson, going 8-4-1 ATS with three outright wins in the role. On the surface, Boston College has been mediocre as a road favorite under Addazio, posting a 4-5 ATS mark, but when you filter out a pair of games against Massachusetts, that record drops to 2-5. I think the market has bought into the Boston College hype a little too much as this number has crept up after opening at five. Facing a conference opponent on the road on a short week is too much to ask. Take the Demon Deacons here.

Florida State -3.5 Syracuse
The Willie Taggart era has not gotten off to the smoothest of starts. After a disappointing 6-6 regular season in 2017, the hope was that Taggart could invigorate a talented roster that had grown a little stale under the old regime. It's way too soon to render any final verdict, but most Florida State fans never thought they would lose the opener by three touchdowns and then need a fourth quarter rally to beat an FCS team. Yet, here we are. As always though, I try to take a measured look at the proceedings and look for market inefficiencies. I think this game presents several. For one, Florida State did not deserve to beat Virginia Tech, but they also did not deserve to lose by three touchdowns. The Seminoles actually slightly outgained the Hokies and averaged more yards per play. Five turnovers and a blocked punt contributed to the inflated margin. Secondly, the Seminoles were in a rough spot against Samford having just played on Monday night. In the last decade, there have been several instances of teams losing on Labor Day night and then struggling against FCS competition the next week. Nine years ago, Florida State has in the exact same spot and had a hard time with Jacksonville State. Virginia Tech famously lost to James Madison after losing a tight game to Boise State. Navy edged Georgia Southern after losing to Maryland. All those teams enjoyed decent to solid seasons despite losing their opener and then struggling with an FCS team on a short week. Thirdly, if you wanted to see Florida State's offense get on track, Syracuse is about a good a team as you could ask for. Remember, the Orange were getting gashed by Western Michigan to the tune of 621 yards and nearly ten yards per play two weeks ago. The Orange won that game thanks to an amazing performance by Eric Dungey, but were sieves defensively against a MAC team. Syracuse has pulled off a few shockers under Dino Babers in the Carrier Dome, but overall they are just 2-5 ATS as a home underdog losing all five non-covers by at least fifteen points. If I had offered you this line five days ago, you would have jumped at the chance to take Florida State. Don't read too much into their ugly win against Samford. The Seminoles will roll here.

Rutgers +3 Kansas
Kansas finally got the proverbial monkey off their back last week as they won a road game for the first time since 2009. For all intents and purposes though, that win was meaningless. Central Michigan was expected to be a bad team coming into the season and they have not disappointed in the early going. The win means Kansas will finish 1-11 instead of 0-12 and ensures David Beatty will end his coaching career with four more wins than me and you. The Jayhawks won comfortably against the Chippewas, but against a MAC team, they barely averaged north of five yards per play. They won easily by forcing six turnovers and committing none. If you think that trend is likely to continue, keep in mind the Jayhawks have finished with a clean turnover sheet just two other times under Beatty. While games with no turnovers have been rare for the Jayhawks, games where they have been favored have been nearly as rare. The Jayhawks have been home favorites against FBS competition twice under Beatty. They lost both of those MAC 34 total points. In fact, the last time Kansas was favored at home against a Power Five team was 2009! The Jayhawks won that game, but failed to cover. I guess what I'm trying to say is, there is no way in hell you should be backing Kansas as a favorite, much less against a Power Five team. Just to be clear though, I am not trying to imply that Rutgers is a good team in any way. The Scarlet Knights looked horrendous last week, but at least have the excuse that they played Ohio State. Rutgers should be able to do what nearly every other FBS team (except Texas) and half the FCS teams on their schedule have been able to do; beat Kansas in Lawrence.

Boise State +3 Oklahoma State
In the current iteration of the AP Poll, Boise State is the highest ranked Group of Five team. Of course, the AP Poll has no bearing on which teams qualify for the College Football Playoff or which teams participate in New Year's Six bowls, but I think its fair to say the Broncos are at worst co-favorites at this point, along with Central Florida, to represent the Group of Five in a New Year's Six game. A road win against a ranked Big 12 team would certainly give them an early edge, and with the troubles in Chapel Hill and Pittsburgh respectively, trump anything remaining on Central Florida's schedule. But, bowl season is a long way off, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. Regular readers might remember that I was high on the Broncos in the offseason, snagging this same bet with a little better value at +4.5. The Broncos have done nothing in the early going to dissuade me from continuing to back them. They have outscored their first two opponents by nearly 100 points and have averaged over nine yards per play. One of those opponents was Connecticut, so some perspective is needed, but the other was a road game against a decent Troy team. Oklahoma State has been similarly dominant in their first two wins, but in the aggregate, Missouri State and South Alabama are probably weaker than Troy and Connecticut. This will represent the first major test for either of these teams and while Boise State will take a senior fourth-year starting quarterback into Stillwater, the Cowboys will counter with an inexperienced senior quarterback making just his third career start. Under Bryan Harsin, Boise State is 6-4 straight up against Power Five teams, but when the Broncos are underdogs, that chip on their shoulder seems to make them play harder. The Broncos are 3-1 ATS in the role with two outright wins and another near miss. I feel confident backing Boise State as low as a pick 'em here. It won't be a cakewalk like their first two games, but they should get the win nonetheless.

Old Dominion -1 Charlotte
I'm giving the Monarchs one more chance. If they blow this game as a short favorite, they are dead to me. I was on them last week against Florida International and after jumping out to a 17-0 lead, their offense floundered, the game was delayed nearly two hours by lightning, and they eventually fell 28-20 to drop them to 0-2. There are some bad teams in Conference USA (and Old Dominion is probably one of them) so a bowl game is still on the table, but they must beat the woeful 49ers if they have any designs on the postseason. Since joining Conference USA in 2014, Old Dominion is a solid 4-2 ATS as a road favorite and Charlotte is not used to delivering wins in front of their home fans. The 49ers are 5-8-1 ATS as a home underdog since joining FBS in 2015 and they have won just once at home against an FBS foe (it was UAB if you were curious). Old Dominion is the better team and should be able to cover this small number.

Tulsa +2 Arkansas State
Arkansas State makes the trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma fresh off a curb stomping in Tuscaloosa. The Red Wolves were a popular pick to cover the more than five touchdown spread against the Crimson Tide, but Alabama led by forty at halftime and held on to win 57-7. Arkansas State is still a legitimate contender in the Sun Belt, but that can't be good for a team's confidence. Tulsa fared a little better in their road trip against a traditional college football power. The Golden Hurricane fell behind Texas 21-0, but quietly staged a second half comeback and eventually lost by just seven points in a game where they never really threatened to win. Through two games, Tulsa appears to be improved, particularly on defense, from the horror show that was 2017. Last season Tulsa finished just 2-10 and for the season allowed an average of 7.3 yards per play (only East Carolina allowed more). I would never call this unit 'good' at defense, but with their offensive firepower, they merely need to be competent to get back to a bowl game. Tulsa has done very well at home under Phillip Montgomery against fellow Group of Five teams, posting a 4-1 record with three of the four wins coming by double-digits. Meanwhile, under Blake Anderson, Arkansas State has treated road non-conference games like preseason games. They are 0-9 in such contests, including 0-3 against Group of Five opponents, with each loss coming by at least two touchdowns. The wrong team is favored here. Take Tulsa to cover, win outright, and match last season's win total.

Purdue +7.5 Missouri
After winning seven games for just the second time in a decade last season, Purdue has stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2018. The Boilermakers have dropped their first two games by a combined five points despite outgaining Northwestern and Eastern Michigan by over 100 combined yards and beating them on a per play basis by more than a full yard. Turnovers (-5 margin), missed kicks (especially an extra point), and ill-timed defensive personal fouls have pushed the Boilermakers into desperation mode. Their final ten games are all against Power Five teams, so if the Boilermakers have designs on a second consecutive bowl game, they now have almost no margin for error. Meanwhile, Missouri enters this game having won eight consecutive regular season games while posting at least 40 in each contest. We'll conveniently ignore the bowl game for the moment as that streak is still impressive. Last week, Missouri throttled a Wyoming team that was expected to be solid entering the season. However, early returns, particularly on offense, have not been great. After scoring 29 points in a Week Zero win against New Mexico State, the Cowboys have only been able to muster a combined 32 points in their next two games. Purdue will represent a significant challenge for the Missouri defense. Despite only managing 19 points in their loss to Eastern Michigan last week, the Boilermakers averaged over seven yards per play. The wet conditions certainly contributed to their inability to finish drives against the Eagles. Purdue will be very dangerous if they can turn that per play efficiency into more touchdowns. One additional thing to consider regarding this game is last year's result. Remember, last season the Boilermakers went into Columbia as a about a touchdown underdog and crushed Missouri 35-3. I wouldn't expect such a lopsided margin here, but Purdue has been fantastic as an underdog under Jeff Brohm, posting a 5-2 ATS mark with three outright upsets. Plus, Missouri has not exactly been a road dynamo under Barry Odom, posting a 3-7 straight up record with the wins coming against Arkansas, Connecticut, and Vanderbilt. Back the Boilermakers here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

We got off to a decent start in Week One. I whiffed pretty badly on two games and North Carolina needed a spectacular backdoor cover to give us a winning week. However, two of the underdogs I advised you to back won outright. Bitter with the sweet I suppose. Let's see if we can find some winners this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 4-3

Arizona +4.5 Houston
It happened late Saturday night and was a little off the beaten path, but one of the biggest upsets of the opening weekend occurred in Tucson. The Wildcats began the Kevin Sumlin era by losing at home as a double-digit favorite to BYU. Darkhorse Heisman candidate Khalil Tate rushed for fourteen total yards and threw for less than 200 against the Cougars. This continued a disturbing trend for Tate. After rushing for over 1200 yards in a six-game span last season, during which the Wildcats went 5-1, Tate has now rushed for a combined 132 yards over his last four games (all losses). So after sixty minutes of game time and a little over four hours of real time, Arizona has gone from a sleeper to win the Pac-12 South to being in real danger of starting 0-2. Kevin Sumlin's seat may be warm at halftime of his second game. This trip to Houston will be a Noon kick, but H-town should be sufficiently rocking for the visit. Arizona is the first of two Power Five opponents on Houston's schedule this season (they travel to Texas Tech next week). A win in both games would put Houston into the top 25 and give them a decent shot at being the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six. Houston won in Tucson last season in their delayed opener (their scheduled in-state battle with UTSA was canceled). That was before Tate was unleashed on the world. In fact. Brandon Dawkins, who later transferred to Indiana, took the lion's share of snaps in that game. Moving forward to this season, Houston was challenged for a half in their opener, trailing against a Rice team that narrowly edged Prairie View in Week Zero. The Cougars pulled away in the second half and beat their former Southwest and Conference USA rival for the fifth straight time. Opening against Rice is always good for your won/loss record, but Arizona will represent a significant upgrade in competition. Desperate teams also tend to be dangerous and I expect Arizona to come out motivated against Houston. The market is overreacting to Arizona's loss to BYU. Take the Wildcats to keep this one close and potentially win outright.

Georgia Tech -3 South Florida
Not gonna lie to you. I'm extremely hesitant to back the Yellow Jackets as a road favorite. The Stingers have not covered their last six games in that role and have actually lost all six of those games straight up! You have to go back nearly four years to find Georgia Tech's last cover as a road favorite. So why should you back them now? For one thing, this game is taking place in early September and not late November. By then, I expect South Florida to be a very dangerous team. But for now, the Bulls are still adjusting to life without Quinton Flowers. Flowers guided the Bulls to 21 wins, a ton of points, and a pair of ranked finishes over the past two seasons, but he is now trying to stick in the NFL as a running back. Sans Flowers, the Bulls did not have much trouble vanquishing Elon last weekend, but against a Power Five team, particularly one that runs a unique offense, things will probably be different. Plus, even with Flowers, the Bulls did not exactly put away marquee opponents over the past few seasons. Since 2015, the Bulls are 5-3 against Power Five teams, but only two of those wins came against bowl squads. In fact, those two wins actually came in bowl games against South Carolina and Texas Tech, in overtime and by four points respectively. Both those teams also finished just 6-7 after the bowl loss. Georgia Tech has a tough schedule and will need all the non-conference wins they can muster to get back to a bowl game. I expect them to be able to handle an inexperienced Group of Five team on the road. 

Coastal Carolina +10 UAB
My apologies for those that were on Coastal last week. I figured the Chanticleers would put up more of a fight against the Gamecocks in Columbia. While Coastal did not put up much resistance defensively, they were able to put a few solid drives together. Without the benefit of a single turnover or any good field position, the Chanticleers put together four scoring drives (albeit just one of the touchdown variety) against an above-average SEC defense. The Chanticleers also played the underdog role to perfection, at least on offense. They gave a vintage Kansas State performance on that side of the ball, taking their time getting to the line and milking the clock. The game only featured ten possessions for each side. Unfortunately, the defense didn't quite live up to its end of the bargain in allowing the Gamecocks to score touchdowns on seven of those possessions. Now the Chanticleers return to beautiful Conway, South Carolina for their home opener. Their guests will be the Blazers from Birmingham, fresh off their second bowl appearance in school history. UAB was not challenged in their opener as they blasted Savannah State from the FCS 52-0. I wouldn't put too much stock into that game though as the Tigers are what insiders refer to as a bad football team. From 2014 through 2017, the Tigers went 7-36 with eight losses to FBS teams. The Tigers allowed at least 52 points in each of those FBS losses and failed to score more than thirteen points in any game themselves. And lest you think those losses all came against top-tier FBS competition, here are those eight teams listed alphabetically: Akron, Appalachian State, BYU, Colorado State, Georgia Southern (twice), Middle Tennessee State, and Southern Miss. Several of those teams qualified for bowl games, but none reside in a Power Five conference. UAB will see a significant uptick in competition on the road against the Chanticleers. In addition, UAB will be in an unusual situation as they enter this game as a double-digit favorite. The Blazers were favored on the road once last season, by about a touchdown in a game they lost to Charlotte. I'm very happy that UAB is back from the dead and in contention for a second consecutive bowl game, but the Blazers are getting a little too much love from oddsmakers and the public. Take Coastal to keep this one close and put a scare into UAB.

Louisiana-Monroe +6 Southern Miss
Can the market overreact to a team most probably don't even know is FBS? Judging by this spread, I think the answer is a resounding 'Yes'. The Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe edged Southeastern Louisiana 34-31 on Thursday night, and the tight margin has this spread a little higher than it should be. The Warhawks entered the third season of the Matt Viator era with designs on their first bowl bid since 2012. The offense made great strides in Viator's second season, averaging ten more points per game than they did in 2016. With nine starters back, the hope was that the offense could win its fair share of shootouts in 2018. The offense did put 34 points on the board, but the passing game didn't have any explosive plays against the Lions. The Warhawks averaged under ten yards per completion after averaging over fourteen last season. Look for that number to trend upward against a Southern Miss team that did not struggle against their FCS punching bag. The Golden Eagles hung the double-nickel on Jackson State and cruised in their opener. However, before comparing the raw totals, it helps to examine each FCS opponent. Southeastern Louisiana finished 6-5 last season and nearly upset Louisiana-Lafayette. Meanwhile, Jackson State finished 3-8 last season and since 2015, has lost by at least 50 points to three other FBS teams (Middle Tennessee State, TCU, and UNLV). In other words, don't read too much into these disparate results against FCS opponents. If this game were played in Week One, the line would probably be a field goal or less. Plus, Southern Miss has been poor as a home favorite under Jay Hopson, posting a 2-6 ATS mark with four outright losses! Take the Warhawks here and don't be surprised if they win outright.

Old Dominion -1 Florida International
I was streaming Old Dominion and Liberty on Saturday night because I made a big play (by my standards) on the Monarchs when I was in Vegas over the summer. Needless to say, that bet is not looking great after Old Dominion's performance against the Flames. The Monarchs lost by a mere six touchdowns in Liberty's FBS debut. So naturally, I'm back for more hair of the dog this week. Despite Old Dominion's putrid performance, I think they have a good shot at beating the Panthers on Saturday. For starters, Liberty ranked seventh in returning production heading into 2018. It's almost as if Turner Gill and company were building toward this first year of FBS competition. Meanwhile, Florida International ranked 126th. Needless to say, I don't envision the Panthers rolling up 600 yards of offense. If they do, it might be time to fire a defensive coordinator. Secondly, the Monarchs will be back in the friendly confines of S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Virginia (yeah I had to look up the stadium name). Opening the season on the road against an experienced team playing their first game as an FBS program created a raucous atmosphere in Lynchburg, Virginia. Seriously, those evangelicals were making a lot of noise; almost akin to a revival or camp meeting. I expect the Monarchs to play much better in their home opener. Finally, this is a conference game, so I expect the bad taste from that curb stomping to be gone by kickoff. Old Dominion and Florida International are not only in the same conference, they are in the same division. They have played each season since Old Dominion joined Conference USA in 2014 (Old Dominion has won three of four) and will play every year until one of these teams moves to the ACC. Expecting the Panthers to win a conference road game with so little experience is folly. Take the Monarchs to win and cover here.

Cincinnati +2.5 Miami (Ohio) @ Paul Brown Stadium
The battle for the Victory Bell, the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football, takes place in historic Paul Brown Stadium for just the second time in the rivalry's storied history. Miami is looking to break a twelve game losing streak in their annual clash with the Bearcats while Cincinnati will look to make it a baker's dozen. Last week, Cincinnati pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the weekend by upsetting UCLA in Chip Kelly's debut. The Bearcats and Bruins were engaged in a defensive struggle, combining for just over 600 yards and 43 total points in the Rose Bowl. The Bearcats were able to eke out a win thanks to some aggressive play-calling (on both sides). The Bruins failed on a fourth down in their own territory late in the fourth quarter while the Bearcats converted a pair on their subsequent drive to ice the game. Meanwhile, Miami did two things they always seem to do: open with a loss and fail to win a close game. The Redhawks 35-28 loss to Marshall was their ninth season opening loss in ten seasons and dropped them to an unbelievable 5-18 in one-score games under Chuck Martin. I'm a big believer that close game results tend to even out over time, but the Redhawks have consistently failed to deliver in the clutch under Martin. Based on the limited results we have this season, this line does not make a great deal of sense. Cincinnati won a game against a (young) Power Five team on the road while Miami lost at home to a Group of Five team. Typically, I am not in favor of backing a team off a big win, but this is a rivalry game, so motivation should not be an issue. Cincinnati has dominated this rivalry of late and the Bearcats are playing a semi-home game. Finally, oddsmakers expect this game to be close, which has not been a great recipe for Miami under Martin. If Cincinnati were favored, I would advise you to stay away, but with them catching points, I can't resist backing the Bearcats. Miami has been a solid play catching points under Martin (13-7 ATS in the underdog role), but you don't want any part of them as a favorite.

Arizona State +6 Michigan State
Like most rational college football fans, I was surprised by Arizona State's choice to be their next head coach. Herm Edwards had not coached in college football since 1989 and had not coached at all since 2008. Obviously, it's just one game, but the Sun Devils did not fall flat on their collective faces in the opener. Facing a rebuilding UTSA team, the Sun Devils did not let the Roadrunners hang around, building a 28-0 halftime lead with their ACME products and cruising to a 49-7 win. Michigan State's opener was not nearly as easy. Utah State entered East Lansing having lost their previous six road games against Power Five opponents by a combined 178 points. Yet, the Aggies actually took the lead in the fourth quarter before falling 38-31. Michigan State struggled mightily running the ball, averaging under four yards per carry in the game. Quarterback Brian Lewerke bailed the Spartans out, completing six of eight passes on third down to keep the chains moving. Inefficiency on first and second down will not be a recipe for success on the road against a Power Five team desperate for respect. Since the start of the 2015 season, Michigan State is 1-8 ATS as a road favorite and the Sun Devils have been solid in home games against non-conference Power Five competition. Since 2005, under an assortment of head coaches, Arizona State is 7-2 straight up against non-conference opponents from BCS/Power Five conferences. Their losses have come to LSU in 2005 and Georgia in 2008. Who knows, Michigan State may end up as a better team than those mid-aughts SEC squads, but they probably don't have as much underlying talent. I love backing the Spartans as a dog, but I want no part of them giving points in a Pac-12 after dark showcase.

*Bonus Handicap*
Kansas State +9.5 Mississippi State
This isn't a pick as much as it is an advisement for you to stay away from this number. I have made no secret of my love for Bill Snyder on this blog, and perhaps that colors my view too much here, but allow me to lay out a few things for you.

  1. This line opened around a touchdown and has climbed to nearly double-digits. I would not be surprised to see it cross that number by kickoff. Do you really want to chase public money?
  2. You will not make money consistently betting against Bill Snyder as an underdog in Manhattan. Since returning to the Kansas State sideline in 2009, Snyder's teams are 12-6 ATS as a home underdog with seven outright wins!
  3. Was Snyder holding something back in Kansas State's tight win against South Dakota? The last time Kansas State struggled to put away an FCS opponent (ignoring their loss to North Dakota State), they finished 10-3. And even when they lost to the Bison, they finished 8-5. 
Maybe this is the year things go sideways for Snyder. He is approaching Methuselah age and it will never be easy to win at Kansas State. But do you really want to gamble this month's mortgage payment that he is done? Wait and see my friend. If you'll allow me an apropos metaphor, this feels like a Blackjack hand where you are holding a pair of face cards and the dealer's face up card is a Seven. You feel like this is easy money. Then the dealer flips their face down card to reveal a Four. Now your sphincter tightens just a bit as they take a hit. In Blackjack, that hit takes a second or two and its on to the next hand. This hit will last three and a half hours. Save yourself some unneeded stress and find another game to bet. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week I

Finally, football is back. Week Zero served as a nice appetizer, and who knows, if the schedule keeps expanding, perhaps The Magnificent Seven can start appearing a week early. Regardless, the games begin in earnest on Thursday. College football is back, and I couldn't be happier. For new readers, this weekly post will outline the seven games I deem as the best options for you to wager your hard earned money on. If you feel so compelled, send a little of your winnings my way. Let's get to it. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Northwestern +3 Purdue
In my offseason conference recaps and gambling posts, I occasionally mention The Plexiglas (or is it Plexiglass?) Principle. The conceit behind the principle is simple: teams or players that improve significantly tend to see their performance decline the following season. Why does this phenomenon exist? Basic regression to the mean, opponents getting 'tape' or scouting successful teams more closely, and players performing 'over their heads' (i.e. on the right edge of the bell curve) are all solid explanations. Regardless of the explanation, Purdue is a great candidate to decline, at least on defense, relative to last season. When Jeff Brohm was hired to resurrect the Purdue program, many expected the Boilermakers to see drastic improvement on the offensive end. However, the major reason Purdue went from a 3-9 dumpster fire to a 7-6 bowl winner was the defense. Purdue cut their points per game allowed from over 38 per game in 2016 to under 21 per game in 2017. Their offensive output was basically the same, as they went from scoring just under 25 points per game to just over 25 points per game. The defensive improvement was unexpected and the Boilermakers lose seven starters from that improved unit. I wouldn't expect the Boilermakers to go back to allowing nearly 40 points per game, but the defense should take a step back. Thankfully, the offense should improve in Brohm's second season making another bowl game a distinct possibility. I would be all over Purdue if they were a home dog here, but I think the market has overreacted to Purdue's resurgence last season. Couple that with the fact that Northwestern has been a covering machine as a road underdog of late (six straight covers and a 10-3 ATS mark with eight outright wins since 2014) makes the Wildcats the play in the Big 10 opener.

Coastal Carolina +29.5 South Carolina
The write up for this pick could easily be one sentence. This spread is too damn high!
However, since you come to this corner of the internet for enlightened takes, let me give you a few more reasons to back the Chanticleers.
  1. South Carolina's largest margin of victory under Will Muschamp is 26 points (and that took three defensive touchdowns). 
  2. South Carolina has played three Group of Five teams at home under Will Muschamp. They have beaten those teams by five, six, and one point respectively. 
  3. South Carolina has a pretty big home game coming up on the Saturday after this one. I don't know that the Chanticleers will have the Gamecocks full attention. I have a little bit of data to back that claim up. Since 2005, South Carolina has opened against a mid-major program with Georgia on-deck four times (2005, 2007, 2010, 2011). They won all four of those openers, but only covered once. 
  4. Coastal Carolina was solid as a road underdog last season. The Chanticleers finished 3-9, but all their wins came in the underdog role. Coastal was 2-1 ATS as a double-digit road underdog, including a near upset of Arkansas, and 3-1-1 ATS as a road underdog overall. 
  5. Coastal Carolina is getting their coach back. Joe Moglia sat out last season with health issues. The timing could not have been worse, as Coastal was moving up to FBS. Moglia will probably get a little too much credit when Coastal inevitably improves this season (they were 1-5 in one-score games last season), but his return will benefit the team. 
Reports around Columbia would have you believe the Gamecocks will be embracing tempo this season (with a first time coordinator no less!). Personally, I think they will play with tempo until their first three and out. Then its back to the same ol' Boom Ball. I've been wrong a time or two on this blog, but I don't see how South Carolina covers this large number. 

Ole Miss +2 Texas Tech @ Houston
This game may not have the national cache of some other SEC non-conference battles on opening weekend, but it could be the most fun. The Rebels have done their best Texas Tech impression the past two seasons, ranking near the top of the SEC in yards per play both seasons, but near the bottom in yards allowed per play. The defense has fallen a long way since the salad days of the Landsharks. Of course, Texas Tech changed their stripes a bit last season, improving to an average Big 12 defense. As I mentioned in the Northwestern/Purdue write up, often dramatic improvement portends a decline the following season. And be sure, the improvement on defense was dramatic. Texas Tech finished last or second to last in the Big 12 in yards allowed per play each season from 2014 to 2016, but improved by more than a whole yard per play and finished fifth in the Big 12 last season. The defense does bring back ten starters, but I still think regression is a solid bet. The defense will need to remain solid, at least early on as the offense must replace the top running back, quarterback, and receiver. The Red Raiders will particularly miss the services of Keke Coutee (a fourth round draft pick of the Houston Texans). Coutee caught 93 passes last season and averaged over 100 receiving yards per game. Speaking of talented receivers, Ole Miss may have the best receiver in all of college football (this side of Buffalo). AJ Brown also averaged over 100 yards per game last season despite a few no shows (in three games against Cal, Alabama, and Arkansas he caught a combined three passes for 54 yards). With another year in Phil Longo's offensive system and with the Ole Miss defense allowing a ton of points, Brown should be primed for a huge season provided he stays healthy. Ole Miss was solid as an underdog away from Oxford last season, going 3-1 ATS with two outright wins. Their lone non-cover came in Tuscaloosa. I think the wrong team is favored here. Take the Rebels to win outright.

Wyoming +1.5 Washington State
I try not to overreact to one game, and I know the opposition wasn't the strongest, but based on Wyoming's performance in Week Zero, this could be the best Wyoming team since 1996. There was a reasonable chance their defense would remain strong (second in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play last season), and despite the loss of a first round quarterback, their offense could not get much worse (second to last in the Mountain West in yards per play). 'Workmanlike' would be a perfect descriptor of their offensive performance against New Mexico State. The Cowboys rushed for over 300 yards on nearly 60 carries and while their new quarterback didn't throw a touchdown, he still completed nearly 60% of his passes and didn't turn the ball over. Now the competition ramps up a little as the Cowboys pull off somewhat of a coup in hosting their second Pac-12 team in as many seasons. Their last role as host didn't turn out so well, but things could well be different this time. After posting a Pac-12 record of 19-8 over the past three seasons, Washington State returns just ten starters (by far the fewest of the Mike Leach era). Despite the presence of Leach, Washington State has won a great deal over the past few seasons thanks to their defense which loses their star coordinator. I don't expect Washington State to return to being one of the worst Power Five teams as they were before Mike Leach arrived, but everything about 2018 screams rebuilding year. I think the wrong team is favored here and if you are one of those folks who think history tends to repeat itself pay heed: The last time Washington State entered as a road favorite against a Mountain West opponent, they lost. And finished 3-9. Look for Wyoming to win this one outright.

Northern Illinois +10 Iowa
This line opened at about thirteen points and has dropped by a field goal thanks to a few key suspensions the Hawkeyes are dealing with. The lazy handicapper might compare this game to Iowa's opener last year against Wyoming. Iowa came into that game as about a twelve point favorite and despite a lethargic offensive performance, they dominated the Cowboys and their fraudulent first round pick, Josh Allen. Northern Illinois does not have a pro prospect under center. In fact, the Huskies are a far cry from the dominant mid-major offense they were in the early part of the decade with Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch leading the team. No, the Huskies win with defense nowadays. Last season, they held six of their thirteen opponents under 20 points and allowed the second fewest yards per play in the MAC. MAC Defensive Player of the Year Sutton Smith finished tied for first nationally in total sacks (14). Smith failed to register a sack in the bowl loss to Duke, but against two other Power Five teams on the schedule (Boston College and Nebraska) he accumulated three sacks and eight and a half tackles for loss. He should be able to cause a little chaos and havoc against the Hawkeyes. Northern Illinois has been a solid play as a road underdog under Rod Carey, going 10-3 ATS including 4-2 ATS as a double-digit underdog. The Huskies have also played well against Power Five opponents, going 5-1 ATS in the regular season with three outright wins. Asking them to win outright might be pushing it, but the Huskies should keep this one close.

North Carolina +7.5 Cal
This line opened with Cal favored by about six points and has climbed above the touchdown threshold thanks to some footwear related suspensions in Chapel Hill. The good news for the Tar Heels is that those suspensions are staggered meaning their depth will not necessarily be obliterated. The Tar Heels will be without presumptive starting quarterback Chazz Surratt, but Nathan Elliott saw significant action last season and should be able to competently guide the team while Surratt is out. Most people, including the betting public, appear to be down on North Carolina, as the preseason consensus has them second to last in the Coastal Division of the ACC. I think that is a bit of an overreaction to an injury-plagued 2017 campaign. Remember, the Tar Heels finished with an unblemished conference record just three seasons ago, and prior to last season had not finished worse than 4-4 in ACC play under Larry Fedora. Cal beat those Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last season on their way to a 5-7 campaign. The Golden Bears saw their defense dramatically improve under rookie head coach Justin Wilcox, but their offense ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in yards per play. With nearly everyone back, the offense should improve, but the Bears were only favored once against FBS competition last season (if Oregon State qualifies), so this role will be somewhat unfamiliar to them. I expect North Carolina to rebound somewhat this season, with 2017 serving as an outlier in Fedora's tenure. If this game occurred at any other point during the season, I think the travel could impact North Carolina. However, with this being the opener, the Heels should have their internal clocks synchronized. If this spread were under a touchdown, I would stay away, but I think the market overreacted in pushing it over seven. Take the Tar Heels to keep this one close.

UNLV +25 Southern Cal
Despite 21 wins in his first two full seasons (the most for the Trojans in consecutive years since the uber-successful Pete Carroll era), Clay Helton is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. His hire was not very creative (you'd think Southern Cal could have done better) and the Trojans spit the bit against the two best teams they played last season. And now they have to replace their leading passer, rusher, and pass catcher from last season (two of the three were NFL draft choices and the third has a chance to make the Titans). There may be some glitches as the Trojans look to get their offense on track and defend their Pac-12 title. The Trojans have been an interesting play as a large home favorite under Helton. In 2016, the Trojans covered each time they were a home favorite of ten or more points (5-0). Last season, they failed to cover each time they were a double-digit home favorite (0-5). And lest you think there were a lot of backdoor covers, the Trojans won three such games by a combined nine points. The typical gambler is always paying a premium to back Southern Cal and I think this spot against an improving UNLV team is no exception. The Rebels have yet to qualify for a bowl game under fourth year head coach Tony Sanchez, but they have improved their win total each season under his tutelage and have gone 6-2 ATS as a double-digit road underdog, including a perfect 3-0 against Power Five opponents. The Rebels won't threaten to win this game, but this number should be closer to 21. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Option: Familiarity Breeds Success

I tend to think of myself as being pretty self-aware. I have biases, but I try to write objectively and let data guide my conclusions. That being said, I love the triple-option and I have thoroughly enjoyed the ten years Paul Johnson has been running it at a Power Five program. My affinity for the offense colors my perception of Georgia Tech. Johnson’s tenure at Georgia Tech has seen success (three ACC Championship Game appearances and one title), but also failure (the inability to produce an above-average defense, a non-conference loss to Kansas, and the first two bowl-free seasons in Atlanta since the mid-90s). I’m not here to try to change your mind about Johnson, the option, or Georgia Tech, but I want to share an amazing fact that I discovered while pouring over Johnson’s resume this summer.

Excluding the conference championship game (where Georgia Tech is 1-2), the Yellow Jackets are a respectable 46-34 in ACC play under Johnson. For your convenience, I’ve listed out Johnson’s record against each ACC team below and separated them out as intra or inter-division games.
The Yellow Jackets have been perfectly mediocre against their Coastal Division opponents, but they have won over 70% of their conference games against the Atlantic Division!

When the ACC split into a pair of divisions beginning with the 2005 season, each school was given a designated ‘rival’ from the other division. Georgia Tech’s designated rival was and remains Clemson. This means the Yellow Jackets and Tigers play each season despite occupying separate divisions. Take a look at what happens when instead of differentiating between intra and inter-division opponents, we look at annual and infrequent conference opponents.
Once again, Georgia Tech is decidedly mediocre against ACC teams they play each season. However, their record against infrequent opponents surges to an amazing 14-1! Obviously, fifteen games is a relatively small sample, and with the expansion of the ACC to fourteen teams, the Yellow Jackets only play one infrequent conference opponent each season, but this does make some sense. Outside of the service academies and some downtrodden mid-majors, no other team has an offense like Georgia Tech’s. It would make logical sense that teams that play them on a regular basis would be more familiar with their style of play and better able to defend against it. To test this, let’s look at how many points per game the Yellow Jackets have traditionally scored against both types of teams. We’ll start with their annual ACC opponents.
The Yellow Jackets have scored right at about 28 points per game and have scored thirty or more points exactly thirty times in 65 games (about 46% of the time). Now, contrast that with how have they done against infrequent ACC opponents.
The Yellow Jackets have averaged about five and a half additional points per game against these opponents and have scored thirty or more points 60% of the time.

I neglected to include Georgia in the annual opponent table, in the interest of looking at solely ACC teams, but the Dogs' inclusion would serve to bolster my argument. The Yellow Jackets have averaged just 23.6 points per game in their ten games with Georgia, including just 21.2 points per game after scoring 45 in their initial meeting under Johnson.

So which ACC Atlantic team (besides Clemson) has the misfortune of facing Georgia Tech this season? Louisville has not faced Georgia Tech since joining the ACC in 2014. They get their turn this season on a short week with a Friday night home game. Georgia Tech will probably enter that game as a decent underdog (maybe a touchdown or so). Both teams play the Saturday before, so neither will have an advantage of additional off days, but the Yellow Jackets have a home scrimmage against Bowling Green while Louisville will be going for their third straight win over Florida State. I think the Yellow Jackets have a great shot at not only covering, but also moving their regular season record against Atlantic Division teams other than Clemson to 15-1.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Binary Spread Record: Under-Performing

Last week, I discussed a new statistic I dubbed a team’s Binary Spread Record. This simple to calculate measure looks at how many games a team won relative to its expected records based on the betting line. Instead of using a probabilistic look, which is arguably a better choice, I used a quick and easy to calculate measure that only looked at whether or not a team ‘should’ have won their game regardless of if they were favored by two or twenty points. Using this method, I identified a few teams that exceeded their spread record by at least three games in 2017 and were thus a decent bet to see their won total decrease in 2018. This week, I want to look at the opposite. What teams under-performed their Binary Spread Record by at least three games in 2017?

Let’s start by looking at the schedule breakdown of a team that significantly under-performed in 2017: the Miami of Ohio Redhawks.
The Redhawks lost five times as a favorite in 2017! To be fair, several of their losses occurred when they were small favorites (Marshall and Eastern Michigan specifically), but the Redhawks were underdogs in just three games last season. Even with Notre Dame on the schedule, a MAC title and double-digit wins were certainly within reach.

Before we access how teams that similarly under-performed like the Redhawks fared the next season, let’s look at another team that failed to meet expectations in 2017, but does not qualify for this list.
The Florida Gators only missed their binary spread record by two games despite finishing just 4-7. The Gators certainly underachieved, but by the time November rolled around, the betting line had caught up (or down) to them. Vegas knew they were a dumpster fire and reacted accordingly. The Gators were underdogs in their final four games against Power Five competition, and in their lone turn as a favorite after mid-October, they blew out UAB.

I looked at every team from the previous three seasons (2014-2016) that under-perfumed relative to their binary spread record by at least three games. I then looked at how much their win total changed the next season. The results are listed below.
83% of the teams that under-performed their Binary Spread Record improved the following season with the average team improving by more than two whole wins! In addition, only three teams saw a decline in their fortunes the following season.

So which teams are prime candidates for improvement in 2018? As promised, here is a listing of every team from 2017 that under-performed their binary spread record by at least three games. This doesn’t guarantee improvement, but most of the teams on this list will see their win total improve.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Binary Spread Record: Over-Performing

One of my favorite topics to discuss on this blog in the betting line. The betting line is a mix of bookmaker ‘power ratings’ adjusted for venue and market corrections based on bets placed that combine to give even the casual fan a decent idea of which team will win a particular football game. But what happens if the betting line continues to make incorrect calls about a certain team? And by incorrect, I mean not just in reference to covering the spread, but actually winning the game. If a team pulls off a lot of upsets or is upset a lot, what tends to happen the next season? Being a resident of Columbia, South Carolina, I have a particular curiosity about teams like this.

The hometown Gamecocks, a team I am rather ambivalent about, are getting a decent amount of preseason love by the media and especially the hometown radio station (107.5 The Game). The Game is not quite the propaganda machine of Fox News, but their takes are generally pretty rosy even when the team is struggling. Vegas is more lukewarm toward the Gamecocks’ prospects with an over/under win total of 7.5. Using their surprising performance last season as a frame of reference, what should we realistically expect from the Gamecocks in 2018? To begin answering that question, let’s review South Carolina’s schedule from 2017. Below I have included their entire 2017 regular season schedule with the venue, opponent, spread, and game result (straight up, not against the spread). The final column (Net) rewards the Gamecocks when their game result differs positively from the spread and penalizes them when their game result differs negatively. Major thanks to Phil Steele for providing spread data in his annual magazine.
Using the spread as a binary (win or loss) and not probabilistic predictor, the Gamecocks ‘should’ have won five games last season. They won eight. They pulled four outright upsets (NC State, Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee) and lost once as a favorite (Kentucky) giving them eight total wins and a net differential of +3.

I looked at every team from the previous three seasons (2014-2016) that exceeded their binary spread record by at least three games. I then looked at how much their win total changed the next season. The results are listed below.
Eighteen teams met the +3 criteria and two thirds of them (twelve) saw their win total decline the following season with the average team declining by about 1.4 wins. What might be driving these declines? For starters, these teams were probably fortunate to win as many games as they did in what I will dub their ‘upset’ season. If a team wins games as an underdog, but continues to be an underdog in their upcoming games, ‘luck’ could be the driving force in their good record. We’ll define luck or good fortune as being on the good side of more random events like turnovers, huge special teams plays, and general clutch play in tight games. Maybe an analyst would describe it as ‘finding a way to win’. You get the idea.

Before we look at all teams that exceeded their binary spread record by at least three games in 2017, I wanted to look at a team that exceeded their preseason expectations significantly, but did not do so by pulling off a lot of upsets.

Fresno State finished 1-11 in 2016 with their lone win coming against an FCS team. Despite hiring an established coach in Jeff Tedford, expectations were muted in 2017. Their preseason win total of 4 reflected a small expected bounce, but not much else. However, the Bulldogs surprised nearly everyone by winning nine regular season games and playing in the Mountain West Championship Game. Let’s take a look at how their schedule played out.
After an exhibition against Incarnate Word, Fresno was cannon fodder for a pair of elite Power Five programs. Relative to the spread, they performed admirably in those two games and found themselves favored in their first three conference games. After alternating an upset of San Diego State with a head-scratching loss to UNLV, Fresno was chalk until they upset Boise State in the regular season finale. While the Plexiglas Principle certainly to applies to teams that make a seismic leap like Fresno State, they may be more disposed to hold onto their gains than a team like South Carolina since most of their wins did not come at the expense of ‘superior’ teams.

As promised, here is a listing of every team from 2017 that exceeded their binary spread record by at least three games. This doesn’t guarantee regression, but keep this in the back of your mind if you plan on backing these teams this season.