Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

Two winning weeks in row. Let's try and make it three. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 26-22-1

TCU -3.5 Kansas State
Our perceptions of teams can change in a hurry in college football. Less than a month ago, Kansas State was ranked in the AP Poll after beating an SEC team on the road. The passing of the torch from Bill Snyder to Chris Klieman appeared to be going smoothly and the Wildcats seemed like they might be a legit darkhorse in the Big 12. Two conference losses later, during which the Wildcats managed just 25 total points and two offensive touchdowns and the honeymoon period appears to be over for Klieman. The victory over Mississippi State has also lost a great deal of its luster with the Bulldogs moving to 3-3 after losses to Auburn (excusable) and Tennessee (not so much). Taking stock of Kansas State’s resume as a whole, the offense has not done much against quality teams. In their first two games against Nicholls State and Bowling Green, the Wildcats generated nearly 1100 yards of total offense and 101 points. In their three games against Power Five opponents, the Wildcats have amassed 854 total yards and just 56 total points. Their rush defense has also been suspect, allowing nearly six yards per carry on the season. That plays right into TCU’s hands (feet? claws?). The Horned Frogs are a work in progress throwing the football, but have pounded teams on the ground. Darius Anderson is currently averaging north of seven yards per carry and the team as a whole has twelve rushing touchdowns. The Horned Frogs were embarrassed by Iowa State in their last game, allowing 49 points at over seven yards per play to the Cyclones. With a bye week to sweat, yell at his players, and get some of those defensive issues corrected, I expect Gary Patterson to have the Horned Frogs prepared for a road win and cover. Since joining the Big 12, TCU is 7-4 straight up and ATS off a bye and I expect more of the same this week with a vintage TCU defensive performance.

Maryland +5.5 Indiana
Call this game a Maryland discount or an Indiana surcharge if you like. Maryland looked like trash last week against Purdue, losing to the Boilermakers junior varsity squad 40-14. The loss was Maryland's third in four games since their explosive 2-0 start. As anyone that has read this blog should know, I am not exactly the biggest fan of Mike Locksley. His head coaching record certainly speaks for itself. I am extremely cautious and wary of backing him, but there does appear to be value in this line. What has Indiana done in the past two decades since the late Bill Mallory was pacing the sidelines to give you any confidence in them laying points on the road? That's not a rhetorical question. The answer is nothing. Over the past fifteen seasons, Indiana is just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite in Big 10 play, losing three of those seven games outright. I know Tom Allen is not responsible for all those failed ATS covers (the Hoosiers are 1-3 ATS as Big 10 favorites under his watch), but thirty games into his tenure, he does not appear to have elevated the Indiana program. So, historically, Indiana has not done well as a conference road favorite, but what about this season? Does this seem like an especially good version of Indiana? The Hoosiers are 4-2, but they have only played one true road game. In that game, the Hoosiers allowed a barely functional Michigan State offense to score 40 points (really just 34, but you get the idea). Their four victories have all come against cupcakes, with Ball State likely being their best win. With the schedule stiffening over the second half of the season, the Hoosiers are a stock I would start selling. Maryland does have some injury concerns with quarterback Josh Jackson potentially missing a second straight game, but even without Jackson, Maryland should be able to do enough at home against a suspect Indiana defense to cover this number.

Oklahoma State -4 Baylor
Do you find it odd that a 4-2 team is favored at home against an undefeated team? Me too. As Lee Corso is fond of saying; 'Somebody knows something. I'm gonna trust those somebodies'. So far this season, there have been four instances of an unranked team being favored against a ranked team. Those unranked teams are 4-0 straight up and ATS with the smallest margin of victory being Miami's eight point win against Virginia last week. This is a great spot for Oklahoma State coming off a bye while Baylor is playing their fourth consecutive conference game. Oklahoma State has performed well as a home favorite under Mike Gundy, going 22-14-1 ATS in the role since 2011. They have also done particularly well as a short home favorite, posting a 6-2 ATS mark as a home favorite of less than a touchdown in that span. Take the Cowboys to win, cover, and send Baylor to their first loss of the season.

Southern Miss -1 Louisiana Tech
If you just looked at the scoring margin of both these teams, one might wonder why Louisiana Tech is an underdog in this game. The Bulldogs are 5-1 with their lone defeat coming at Texas. On the season, they have outscored their first six opponents by 66 points (eleven per game). Meanwhile, despite their 4-2 record, Southern Miss has outscored their first six opponents by four total points. However, once you examine schedule strength, you can see how Southern Miss closes the gap. The Eagles have lost two games, but they both came on the road against SEC teams, including the best SEC team. They have fattened up against a pair of patsies (Alcorn State and UTEP), but they also won at Troy and blew out North Texas. Once you look closely at Louisiana Tech’s schedule, you can make the argument they are the worst 5-1 team in the country. After losing to Texas, Louisiana Tech has rolled up victories against Grambling, Bowling Green, FIU, Rice, and Massachusetts. The four FBS teams they have beaten have a combined record of 6-19 with just four FBS wins between them and a loss to Southern Illinois thrown in for good measure. The Bulldogs have not been particularly dominant against those hapless opponents either, as they were outgained by Grambling and Rice and needed a late onside kick return to secure the win against FIU. Southern Miss, on the other hand, has torched non-SEC defenses. In their three FBS games against non-SEC teams, the Eagles have rolled up over 1700 yards at nearly eight yards per play while scoring 41 points per game. Southern Miss has won four straight in this series, with the last three coming under head coach Jay Hopson. I expect Southern Miss to take control of the Conference USA West division by winning comfortably in Ruston.

Army -6 Georgia State
Last week, I recommended fading Army as they were going up against a strong and underrated defense in Western Kentucky. This week, they are favored by about the same margin against a horrendous rush defense. Georgia State achieved some notoriety earlier in the season thanks to their monumental win at Tennessee. They have continued to play well, winning three of their next five games, with the marquee win probably the home upset of Arkansas State two weeks ago. With four wins in tow, the Panthers have a good shot at qualifying for a second bowl game in three years. That success has mostly been a function of the offense, which comes in averaging nearly 36 points per game (previous best for the Panthers was 2015 when they averaged just under 27 points per game). Running back Tra Barnett and quarterback Dan Ellington both have a decent shot at becoming the first player in school history to rush for 1000 yards in a season. However, the defense has been one of the worst in the Sun Belt and the nation. The Panthers currently rank 122nd nationally in scoring defense, allowing nearly 38 points per game. Opponents have also averaged over five and a half yards per carry against the Panthers with Tennessee being the only team to fail to rush for 100 yards against them (let that sink in). At 3-3. Army has been somewhat disappointing in the follow up to their eleven win campaign. However, the Black Knights still run the ball effectively and should have their way against the permissive Georgia State defense. I know it can be scary laying points with Army on the road thanks to their offensive scheme and general lack of top level talent, but Georgia State presents a good combination of poor run defense and suspect homefield advantage (just 5-8 straight up at home under Sean Shawn Elliott).

Colorado +12.5 Washington State
As a cable subscriber that does not have access to the Pac-12 Network, I am very glad this game is on the ESPN family of networks. The over/under for this game is around 71, and while I don’t handicap totals, that seems a bit low. Both the Buffaloes and Cougars enter this game with good offenses and train wreck defenses. They both also happen to be 3-3, so this game might go a long way toward determining which team (if any) plays in the postseason. Colorado has allowed at least 30 points in each of their six games, and currently ranks 113th nationally in scoring defense. They have managed to win half of their games thanks to an offense that has scored at least 30 points four times, although they fell significantly short of that number in their last game. Of course, that came against perhaps the best defense in the country (something I never thought I would type) in the Oregon Ducks. While Colorado only managed three points against the Ducks, they did move the ball well, accumulating 22 first downs, (tied with Auburn for the most Oregon has surrendered all year). While Colorado has struggled on defense all season, Washington State saw their defense crater once conference play began. The Cougars allowed 67, 38, and 38 points to their first three conference foes. Those totals represent the highest or second highest point totals for UCLA, Utah, and Arizona State. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned and Mike Leach threw his players under the bus, so things are great in Pullman. Unless this game has a deluge of fumbles, I don’t expect either team to make many stops defensively. The loser of this game will almost certainly have scored at least 30 points and may even be in the low 40s. I don’t know how you can lay almost two touchdowns with a Washington State team that has not played well in a month. The Cougars middling overall defensive numbers are propped up by their paper soft non-conference schedule featuring New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, and a worse than expected Houston. The Cougars have not covered against an FBS team since their opener and while the transitive property is never something you want to base a mortgage-sized wager on, keep in mind the teams do share a common opponent. Both played at Arizona State. Colorado won by three and Washington State lost by four. This spread should be less than a touchdown. As such, you are getting a lot of value on Colorado.

Michigan +9 Penn State
Despite writing a pseudo handicapping column for more than a decade, there are some picks I tend to remember. For example, almost exactly two years ago, I advocated taking Michigan as a ten point underdog when they made their way to State College for a primetime whiteout game. The Wolverines were manhandled by the Nittany Lions and were never a real threat to cover the number. Despite the PTSD associated with that awful selection, I am back on Michigan this week. Over the next few sentences, I’ll try to explain why. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines are 3-1 against Penn State with the Nittany Lions scoring 16, 10, 42, and 7 points respectively again the Michigan defense. The 42 points Penn State netted two years ago seems like the real outlier in that collection of scores. Penn State featured a generational talent at running back and a seasoned junior quarterback as well as a highly regarded offensive coordinator in that game. This season, Penn State certainly has the statistical profile of a dominant team, outscoring their first six foes by over 200 points. While you can certainly gleam something from a team’s dominating performance against inferior opponents, the Penn State offense has been much less imposing when not facing Buffalo, Idaho, Maryland, or the Purdue junior varsity. Against Pitt and Iowa, Penn State has scored just 34 combined points while averaging under five yards per play. Despite their own offensive struggles, Michigan’s defense is still pretty good. Outside of a bloodletting at Wisconsin, the Wolverines have allowed just 3.65 yards per play and 14 points per game. The Wolverines were dominated by the Badgers, but the Nittany Lions do not have the same type of power running profile. I expect Michigan to give a defensive performance more akin to what we are used to from Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown. The offense on the other hand…Points will be hard to come by for the Wolverines, but I believe their defense is good enough to keep them in this game. This line is a bit inflated thanks to the narrative surrounding Michigan this season (albeit one that is partially deserved). Despite their preseason expectations, the Wolverines are not playoff contenders. Their offense is not good enough to carry them to a national title. However, they are not some fringe Big 10 bowl team either. They are probably the third or fourth best team in the conference. Two weeks ago, I recommended buying Michigan at a bargain basement price when they were hosting Iowa as a slight favorite. I think you can do the same this weekend as they travel to Penn State. This line should be about six or seven points, so with the spread more than a touchdown, Michigan is the play.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

We rebounded nicely last week to get above .500. We are still slightly below the gambler's break even point, but hopefully we can rectify that this weekend. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-2-1
Overall: 21-20-1

Texas +10.5 Oklahoma @ Dallas
Every trend you can imagine points to Texas in this game. I know Jalen Hurts and the Sooners have looked unbeatable through the first month and change of the season, but consider their competition. Is Texas Tech at home the biggest challenge Oklahoma has faced thus far? Meanwhile, Texas has already played LSU (the Tigers might be better than the Sooners) in addition to Oklahoma State and a tough road trip to West Virginia. Texas has already dealt with adversity, while Oklahoma has been in cruise control in the second half of their games. Oklahoma has not covered in the Red River Shootout since 2012 (they did win and cover against Texas in last year’s Big 12 Championship Game). In that span, they have entered this showdown with arch-rival Texas unbeaten three times (2013, 2015, and 2018). They lost those games by sixteen, seven, and three points respectively. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Oklahoma comes into this game as a bloated favorite every year. And every year, Texas either wins or gives them a scare. Expect more of the same in 2019.

Eastern Michigan -1 Ball State
There are a lot of ways to show how far the Eastern Michigan program has come in nearly six seasons under Chris Creighton, but as a degenerate, I think this is the best. In Creighton’s first three seasons (2014-2016), the Eagles played fifteen homes games against FBS opponents. They were betting underdogs in thirteen of those games. Since the start of the 2017 season, this will be the eleventh home game they have played against an FBS opponent and they have been an underdog just twice. That being the case, the Eagles are a lot shakier than they were a month ago when they won at Illinois. Since then, they needed a late punt block to beat Central Connecticut State (FCS) and were blown out at one of their directional Michigan rivals. However, at 3-2, the Eagles are very much alive for a second (and third in four years) bowl bid. On the other sideline, since winning nineteen combined games in 2012 and 2013, the Cardinals have gone just 20-45 over the past five and a half seasons (12-29 under current coach Mike Neu). Even with their upset win at Northern Illinois last week, the Cardinals are just 8-25 in true road games in that span. You’d have to be a pretty bold person to take this team on the road. Those atrocious road numbers might entice me to take Eastern Michigan even before considering the Eagles have won the last three games in this series, including the last two by 64 total points. Oh, and let’s not forget, Ball State had a somewhat misleading final score last week. The Cardinals beat Northern Illinois despite completing four of fourteen passes for 34 yards and averaging under four yards per play overall. Thanks to turnovers and special teams plays, the Cardinals started five scoring drives in Northern Illinois territory. Their five scoring drives in the second half (totaling 24 points), covered one, three, seventeen, 37, and 45 yards respectively. Ball State certainly deserves to celebrate after beating Northern Illinois last week, but their offense is inconsistent at best and bad at worst. Asking them to win on the road against a solid Eastern Michigan team coming off a rivalry loss is foolish. Take Eastern Michigan to rebound at The Factory.

Florida Atlantic -10 Middle Tennessee State
After a rough start to the 2019 season against a pair of strong teams, the Lane Train seems to be back on track. The Owls have won their last three by an average of 21 points per game while scoring more than 40 points in each game. The competition has not been especially robust (Ball State, Wagner, and Charlotte), but playing in Conference USA means the remainder of the schedule (at least until the bowl game) will not be very robust either. The Owls scoring outburst has them looking a lot like they did in 2017, when they rolled through Conference USA with an unblemished record and won a school record eleven games. With their biggest threat in the division looking like a defense-first, offensively limited Western Kentucky, the Owls can winnow the contenders by beating the Blue Raiders here. The Blue Raiders were able to beat Marshall last week, but despite allowing just thirteen points to the Herd, their defense did not look good. Marshall rolled up nearly 600 yards of total offense and averaged over seven yards per play, but were done in by four turnovers. Turnovers are great for winning games, but hard to depend on consistently. Middle Tennessee’s defensive struggles continued a season-long narrative. The Blue Raiders have allowed 6.7 yards per play on the season (good for 120th nationally), with only Michigan (in a further indictment of the Wolverines’ offense) failing to average at least six yards per play against them. The Blue Raiders have played a solid schedule featuring three Power Five teams (the aforementioned Wolverines as well as Duke and Iowa), but their defense also struggled against Tennessee State (FCS) and of course against Marshall. Lane has never been one to lay off the throttle, particularly with revenge on his mind (the Blue Raiders won last year’s game on a two-point conversion). This has all the makings of a Florida Atlantic blowout. I expect the Owls to win easily and further cement their status as the front-runner in the East division.

Charlotte +5 Florida International
Did Florida International’s shutout win against Massachusetts erase all the stink from their performance from the first month of the season? It sure seems to. How else to explain why the Panthers are such a large favorite against what looks to be an improved Charlotte team? Don’t forget, the 49ers also blew out the Minutemen, but have faced a more difficult schedule than the Panthers, losing to Clemson, Appalachian State, and Florida Atlantic. Outside of their game against Clemson, the 49ers have moved the ball well, averaging over seven yards per play and 42 points per game over their other four contests. Of course, the 49ers have only won half of those games because their defense has been less than sturdy, permitting almost six yards per play and nearly 37 points per game. However, Appalachian State and Florida Atlantic have prolific offenses, so the defense may not be as bad as the numbers say. With the poor state of Conference USA football in 2019, those numbers should improve as the 49ers start conference play and the first bowl game in school history might even be on the table. In an admittedly small sample, Florida International has not performed particularly well as a home favorite under Butch Davis, posting a 3-5 ATS mark with three outright losses, including one this season against Western Kentucky. I don’t think the betting market has come around to how disappointing the Panthers are this season, particularly with their relatively lofty preseason expectations. I expected this line to be closer to a field goal (it opened at two), and given the last three games in this series have been decided by a total of nine points, a final scored of around that margin makes sense. Off a bye, take the 49ers to cover and don’t be surprised if they win outright.

Western Kentucky +5 Army
An opening night loss to an FCS team (Central Arkansas) had most college football fans and the betting public writing them off, but quietly, Western Kentucky has matched last season’s win total and are currently in first place in Conference USA. Formerly a prolific offense under Jeff Brohm, the Hilltoppers have remade themselves into a strong defensive unit (relatively) under first-year head coach Tyson Helton. The Hilltoppers are allowing just 21 points per game overall and their last four opponents have managed just six offensive touchdowns. The Hilltoppers have been particularly stout against the run, as Louisville is the only team to crack four yards per carry against them. Being stout against the run is a prerequisite when facing Army’s triple option attack. The Black Knights appear to be headed for their fourth consecutive bowl appearance, and while that is a testament to head coach Jeff Monken, the schedule-maker should get plenty of accolades as well. Thus far, Army has beaten Rice (zero FBS wins), Texas-San Antonio (one FBS win versus UTEP), and Morgan State (FCS). The Black Knights did play Michigan tough in The Big House, but that game probably revealed more about Michigan than it did Army. Based on early returns, this Army team appears to be a notch below the past two incarnations than won 21 combined games. Army is laying nearly a touchdown on the road against a pretty good rush defense. Take the Hilltoppers to cover and continue their under-the-radar success story.

Louisville +6.5 Wake Forest
Following their tight road win against Boston College, Wake Forest entered the top 25 of the AP Poll for the first time since 2008. While that is quite an accomplishment for the team, it also speaks to the paucity of good football in the ACC as the Demon Deacons are the second-highest ranked team from the conference after Clemson! It also may not portend great things for the Demon Deacons this weekend. Thus far in the 2019 season, ten teams have entered the AP Poll after not being ranked in the preseason. Those teams are 4-6 straight up in their next game and 1-8-1 ATS! And lest you think those ten teams happened to be overmatched in their next game, consider that eight of them entered as the betting favorite. Those betting favorites are just 0-7-1 ATS! Yikes. As a lifelong Wake Forest fan and alum, I’m happy my team is ranked, but I know they aren’t really the 19th best team in the country. The offense has several playmakers that might end up plying their trade in the NFL (Jamie Newman, Scotty Washington, and Sage Surratt to name a few), but the defense has been torched on occasion (Utah State and Boston College both racked up over 500 yards at more than seven yards per play). Louisville is far from the train wreck they were in 2018 with the Cardinals already exceeding last season’s win total in addition to breaking their nine-game conference losing streak last week. Wake Forest has been clutch with Jamie Newman under center (or more accurately in shotgun), with five of his eight wins as a starter coming by less than a touchdown. I expect a similar result in this game. Hopefully, the Deacons make enough plays to stay ranked, but my money is on the Cardinals covering.

Navy -1 Tulsa
Last season, Navy went just 3-10, their lowest win total since Paul Johnson's first season in 2002. ESPN's FPI did not foresee dramatic improvement on tap for the Midshipmen, pegging them the 116th best team in the nation (out of 130 teams) and projecting another losing campaign. However, with three wins in the bank and several winnable games on the schedule, the Midshipmen seem like a good bet to get back to a bowl for the tenth time in twelve seasons under Ken Niumatalolo. Navy hits the road to take on a Tulsa team fresh off a painful loss to SMU. The Golden Hurricane led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but couldn't close the deal and lost to the Mustangs in triple overtime. The loss dropped Tulsa to 2-3 in 2019 and made them just 7-22 since their ten-win season in 2016. With games against Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane, UCF, and Houston remaining on the schedule, it also did serious damage to their bowl hopes. It's dangerous to add too much psychology to your handicapping, but this Tulsa team is probably not in the best frame of mind right now. Add to that the fact they have yet to beat Navy since the Midshipmen joined the conference (0-4) and you have a solid rationale for fading them this weekend.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

As with Week I, we made some bad picks in Week V, but we also needed some bad luck to finish 2-5. For some reason Northern Illinois boarded the analytics train. I can't say I disagree with the decision to go for two, but it sucks they couldn't wait a few weeks to try it out. Instead, the conversion cost us the cover thanks to the hook. Hopefully, we make some better picks and have some better luck this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 17-18

East Carolina +12 Temple
Last week, my rationale for fading Auburn as a large favorite was they lacked the ability to score a lot of points. How did that work out? Well, the important thing is, I am going back to that well again. Despite an offense as bland as their uniform colors (22 points per game and eight offensive touchdowns in three games versus FBS opponents), Temple is a double-digit road favorite against East Carolina. The Owls do own two wins against Power Five teams, but they also lost to a one-dimensional MAC team in their lone road game. I’m not going to argue that East Carolina is some sleeper in the American. The Pirates probably only have one or two more wins left on their schedule, but they are far from the trash heap they were under Scottie Montgomery. Temple is off an emotional home win against their former coach and next week they host West division favorite Memphis. Thus, this game qualifies for the dreaded sandwich spot. I expect a low-scoring ugly game on Thursday night with several turnovers and general unaesthetic play. And I'm not talking about the NFL game. Hey Oh! Sometimes you have to hold your nose and back an ugly dog, especially when they are facing an even uglier favorite.

Central Florida -4 Cincinnati
Cincinnati was damn impressive in their victory over Marshall last weekend. The Bearcats won 52-14 and nearly doubled up the Thundering Herd in total yardage. The win represented their largest margin of victory in the series' brief history. The win was even more impressive considering their game this week against UCF is for all intents and purposes for the division title. I know this is the conference opener for Cincinnati, but these are clearly the two best teams in the division (sorry Temple). Despite the impressive win by Cincinnati last week, I expected this number to open around a touchdown. For some reason, the betting markets seem to underrate UCF when they face Cincinnati. Last season, UCF was playing at home and riding a then twenty–two game winning streak and were only favored by seven and a half against the Bearcats. They won big by the way. This season, UCF has already been written off by the national media after their loss to Pitt. Despite the loss, the Knights could conceivably return to an NY6 Bowl. They just need to keep winning and hope for a Boise State loss. They may not even need the loss if Memphis and SMU continue playing well in the West division and present a legitimate challenge in the AAC Championship Game. Suffice to say, UCF still has plenty to play for and is probably out to run the score up when possible. UCF operates at one of the fastest paces in college football, and a large number of possessions means more points and less variance which portends good things for the favorite. I like the Knights laying anything less than a touchdown.

Michigan -3.5 Iowa
I went back and forth debating whether to take Michigan or leave this game alone. In the end, I decided the Wolverines are worth a play since you will probably never be able to buy them this low again. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have been mediocre as a home favorite (15-14 ATS), but most of those spreads have been very high. The Wolverines have been double-digit favorites 26 times and have never been a favorite of less than a touchdown as they are here. Everyone wrote Michigan off after their beatdown at Wisconsin, in conjunction with their poor performances against Middle Tennessee and Army. However, the Wolverines are still one of the most talented teams in the Big 10 this side of Ohio State, while Iowa is more of a developmental program. The Hawkeyes are always a solid team under Kirk Ferentz, but they have not been especially imposing as road underdogs recently, posting a 4-5-1 ATS mark in that role since 2014. Since their near-run to the College Football Playoff in 2015, the Hawkeyes are just 8-6 on the road in Big 10 play with their eight victims combing for an 18-54 conference record. The lone team they defeated that finished with a winning conference record was Minnesota in 2016. Iowa could lose this game and still cover, but I think the more likely result is a Michigan win by about a touchdown.

Connecticut +11 South Florida
Regardless of who wins this game, a long streak will end. South Florida has lost nine straight games to FBS teams. The last FBS team they beat? Connecticut. Not to be outdone, the Huskies have doubled them up and dropped eighteen straight games to FBS teams. Both coaches are presumably on the hot seat, with Charlie Strong probably being in more danger of losing his job since it appears South Florida cares more about football than Connecticut. The Huskies have already given the AAC their two weeks’ notice they will be leaving the conference and playing as an FBS Independent. In an effort to save his job, Strong hired Kerwin Bell from Division II champion Valdosta State to be his offensive coordinator. The results thus far have been rather disappointing. The Bulls are averaging just 21.5 points per game (just over ten per game against FBS opponents) after averaging over 28 per game last season. Perhaps Bell should have stayed his ass in Valdosta. Or perhaps, if you allow me to put on my InfoWars hat, he is intentionally sandbagging in an attempt to stage a palace coup and ascend to the head coach position himself. Just something to keep in mind. Anyway, South Florida has already dropped their only previous road game to a bad Georgia Tech team (though they did cover). Now the Bulls are laying double-digits on the road? I know Connecticut has a bad defense, but they are not nearly as bad as they were last season when they allowed an average of more than 50 points per game and nearly nine yards per play. This year, the defense is ‘only’ allowing 36.5 points per game and 6.3 yards per play. The Huskies were blown out in their past two road games, but were competitive in their last game at home, losing by one score to a bad Illinois team. South Florida is just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite under Strong (this will probably be the penultimate time they are in that position under his guidance). The Bulls and Huskies have been in the same conference since 2005. In that span, the Bulls have visited Storrs seven times. They are 3-4 straight up and ATS up north, never covering as a favorite and losing outright three of the four times they were expected to win. The Bulls will break their FBS losing streak, but don’t count on a cover.

Boston College +6.5 Louisville
Since losing at home to Kansas in one of the more embarrassing performances of the college football season, Boston College has quietly righted the ship. They beat Rutgers by two touchdowns on the road and then covered as seven-point underdogs against undefeated *checks notes* Wake Forest. The Eagles ran for over 500 yards in those two games and for the season are averaging over 250 yards per game on the ground. The loss to Kansas, as pathetic as it was, is looking more and more like an aberration. This is your typical BC team. The Eagles will probably win between six and seven games, go to a nondescript bowl, and have their fanbase clamoring for a head coaching change in the offseason. I guess the Kansas stench takes a long time to wear off though, as I can’t believe the Cardinals are favored by nearly a touchdown. Louisville is much improved, no doubt about it, but their wins have come against directional Kentucky schools Eastern (FCS) and Western (current Conference USA leader but also loser to Central Arkansas). Under Steve Addazio, Boston College is 12-4-1 ATS as a road underdog, with six outright wins. Prospecting forward, Louisville appears to have the brighter future, but as far as the first Saturday in October in the year of our lord 2019, I’d rather back Boston College. Take the Eagles to cover in this bird battle.

West Virginia +11 Texas
After spending the first month of the season in the Lone Star State, the Longhorns finally hit the road. This trip to Morgantown marks their first road game of the season (they did play Rice in the Houston Texans’ stadium, but that ain’t a road game) and is one of only two times they have to leave the state in the regular season (the other is a mid-November trip to Ames). I was down on Texas over the summer, but they appear to be better than I anticipated. The offense in particular, appears to be on its way back to elite, which is good considering the defense has not been great and has also experienced some key injuries. In addition to being their first real road trip, this game also comes a week before their annual rivalry game with Oklahoma. The Longhorns have not covered the game immediately preceding Red River since 2011 (seven straight non-covers with a 3-4 straight up record). West Virginia is in an unusual spot coming into the game. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia has been a double-digit home underdog just twice (they covered both games and won one outright for what it’s worth). The Mountaineers are isolated from their conference brethren, who are all located in Texas or flyover country, so the trip to Morgantown is never an easy one. Plus, despite the muted preseason expectations, the Mountaineers do have the same record as Texas (3-1) with the team looking much improved after their narrow escape against James Madison and crushing defeat at Missouri. Texas is obviously the better team, but the other factors in this game; travel, rivalry game on deck, and injuries make West Virginia the play.

Pittsburgh +5 Duke
After a humbling opener against of one of college football’s best teams, Duke has quietly won three games in a row and appears poised to qualify for their seventh bowl game in the past eight seasons. The Blue Devils have also yet to drop a conference game, so they have a chance to vault into contention in the Coastal division of the ACC. However, before we go anointing them as Virginia’s biggest challenger to be sacrificed to Clemson on the altar in Charlotte, let’s take a quick glance at their schedule. Since their loss to Alabama, the Blue Devils have beaten NC A&T (FCS), Middle Tennessee (no wins against FBS teams), and Virginia Tech (dumpster fire, one FBS win against Old Dominion). The Blue Devils have dominated in those three games, but the market might be overrating them (at least to the extent that is possible with Duke football). Pitt will obviously represent the stiffest test for Duke since their opener. The Panthers have one of the more underrated defenses in college football, holding explosive offenses Penn State and UCF to a combined five offensive touchdowns. The Panthers fell to Penn State thanks to some questionable strategy by head coach Pat Narduzzi, but upset UCF with the help of a totally original fourth down play call. Following that upset of UCF, the Panthers treated their next opponent, Delaware from the FCS, like a bye week and sat several of their banged up starters. The Panthers narrowly escaped the Blue Hens (we’ll have to get Mike Leach’s opinion on that battle), and that margin is probably impacting this line. Pitt outgained the Blue Hens by over 270 yards and allowed under three yards per play. Sometimes a close victory against an FCS team can portend bad things (see Virginia Tech), but in Pitt’s case, I think it had more to do with the Panthers resting some starters as well as the hangover effect of an emotional pair of games. Pitt could once again be missing a few starters in this contest, but with a bye on tap, they should go all out. The Panthers have won five of six in this series since joining the ACC and they are 13-5 ATS under Narduzzi as a road underdog with six outright upsets. Plus, the one area where David Cutcliffe has not excelled at Duke is as a home favorite. The Blue Devils are just 7-13 ATS over the past five seasons in the role, including 3-11 ATS in their last fourteen games. Take Pitt to cover and potentially win outright.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week V

We had a bit of a hiccup last week, but we can take some solace in that fact that three of the underdogs we chose won outright (Auburn, Colorado, and SMU). Let's do better this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 15-13

Miami (Ohio) +2.5 Buffalo
This line has shifted dramatically from where it opened at Miami -5. I could understand why it would shift a little as Miami was destroyed last week while Buffalo won as a double-digit underdog. However, I still think Miami should be favored. Miami enters this game 1-3, but each of their defeats has come on the road against teams that are a combined 9-1 on the season. The Redhawks have been mostly non-competitive in those defeats, but that is par for the course under head coach Chuck Martin. In regular season non-conference games against FBS opponents, the Redhawks are now 0-19 under Martin. Part of that is the talent disparity between the rest of FBS and the MAC and part of it is probably Martin’s desire to focus on the more winnable conference portion of the schedule, where Miami is 16-8 over the past three seasons. Meanwhile, Buffalo is coming off a big upset against an AAC school, but the score of that game was a bit misleading. Buffalo was slightly outgained by Temple and averaged slightly fewer yards per play, but benefited from a +2 turnover margin and a non-offensive touchdown. Buffalo passed for 62 yards in that game. And no, the Bulls do not run some variant of the triple option. Give the Bulls credit for the win, but the result was not indicative of the quality of the two teams. Aside from schedule strength and a misleading final, why else might Miami be a solid play here? Miami has done well at home against MAC opponents, finishing 8-4 in the friendly confines in conference play over the past three seasons. They are also 2-1 ATS in the rare instances they have been home underdogs to conference foes in that span. I was comfortable taking Miami as a favorite of less than three points, so I love them now that they are an underdog.

Vanderbilt -6.5 Northern Illinois
Despite the blowout loss to LSU last week, Vanderbilt scored the most points they ever have in a loss under Derek Mason. I know the Commodores scored a pair of non-offensive touchdowns to get to 38, but it’s necessary to look for silver linings in games like that. Of course, the Commodores failed to cover the large spread in that game because they allowed 66 points. LSU, like Alabama last season, appears to have fully weaponized their offense. It's almost unfair when elite recruiters are aggressive and run modern, dynamic offenses (perhaps Kirby Smart should take note). Vanderbilt does come into this game with an 0-3 record, so you might be surprised to find them laying points against what is regarded as a solid Group of Five program in Northern Illinois. However, since 2014, there have been eighteen instances of a team being 0-3 or worse and laying points to another FBS team. Those eighteen teams are 16-2 straight up and 13-4-1 ATS. As is the case with Vanderbilt, most of those previous instances involved a team starting out with a tough schedule, and then facing an inferior opponent at home. If you were wondering, there is another winless team that is favored this week, but I didn’t have the stones to back them. In the rare instances they are in the role, Vanderbilt has done well as a home favorite under Mason. They are 8-3 overall ATS and 5-2 ATS versus Group of Five opponents, covering the past five instances against mid-major foes after a rough start to the Mason-era. This game is vitally important to Vanderbilt. Less so to Northern Illinois. I’m sure Northern Illinois would like to beat an SEC team on the road, but their goal is another MAC title. Meanwhile, if Vanderbilt has designs on a third bowl trip in four seasons, they must win this game. The Commodores have about seven winnable games remaining on the schedule, so their margin for error is razor thin. The Commodores should take care of business against the Huskies before they resume SEC play next week at Ole Miss.

Purdue +1.5 Minnesota
Obviously this line has been impacted by the health of Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar. Sindelar sustained a concussion three weeks ago against Vanderbilt and did not play in the loss to TCU two weeks ago. The Boilermakers (and Gophers) were on a bye last week so Sindelar has had extra time to ‘heal’ (to the extent one can heal from a brain bruise, but I digress). Were Sindelar certain to play, Purdue would probably be favored by at least a field goal. I believe Sindelar will play, as he was listed first on Purdue’s depth chart for this week. However, even if Sindelar does not play, I think there is value in taking the Boilermakers. Backup quarterback Jack Plummer made his first collegiate start against TCU with the Horned Frogs off a bye week. Outside of dates against Alabama or Clemson, I can’t envision a tougher scenario for a first time starter. Even if Plummer is forced to start against the Gophers, he now has game experience as well as an extra week of practice. In addition, Minnesota has been bad on the road under PJ Fleck posting a 3-8 straight up record. After closing the 2018 season strong, the Gophers entered 2019 with decent expectations. While they have won their first three games, they have been less than impressive in doing so, needing fourth quarter comebacks to beat an FCS and two Group of Five teams. Purdue also has revenge motivation in this game as the Gophers embarrassed them in Minneapolis last season. Take Purdue to put a quick end to Minnesota’s undefeated season.

Louisiana-Lafayette -3.5 Georgia Southern
One season after winning the Sun Belt West and advancing to the conference title game under first year head coach Billy Napier, the Ragin’ Cajuns might be even better in 2019. The offense, particularly the rushing attack, has been explosive thus far. As a team, the Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging over seven and a half yards per carry and leading rusher Trey Ragas is averaging a first down every time he runs the ball! Might Billy Napier be next in line to coach the Tennessee Vols? This of course, is rampant, irresponsible speculation, but with Napier’s background as an assistant under both Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Nick Saban at Alabama and his early success at a Sun Belt program, he seems preordained to be coaching in the SEC at some point in the next three years. This marks just the second time the Ragin’ Cajuns have been road favorites under Napier (they covered the other time if you’re curious), but they have played well on the road overall under his guidance. They are 7-1 ATS overall in true road games under Napier, winning twice outright as an underdog including last week against Ohio. Buy Louisiana-Lafayette on the cheap while you still can as I have a feeling the betting public will be wise to their value after this game. Taking Louisiana-Lafayette violates a few gambling principles, as Georgia Southern is an option team playing at home off a bye. However, the Eagles do not appear to be as good as last season’s ten-win team. The offense has scored just four touchdowns through three games, and while they nearly upset Minnesota in their last outing, it took two non-offensive touchdowns to get them that close. The Ragin’ Cajuns should win comfortably here.

Mississippi State +10.5 Auburn
Through four games, Auburn is probably not the best team in college football, but they may have the best resume. Everyone remembers their Power Five wins against Oregon and Texas A&M, but their home victories against Tulane and Kent State are solid as well. Tulane is 3-1 and likely headed for a second consecutive bowl, while Kent State is 2-2 with a decent shot at getting to a bowl game in the weak MAC. Despite the strong start, I think Auburn is a tad overvalued, especially when facing a live dog (pun sort of intended) like Mississippi State. What do large favorites need to do in order to be able to cover? Score. And that is something Auburn has not done well over the past two seasons. Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Auburn has played eleven Power Five opponents in the regular season. They have scored more than 30 points just twice, against Arkansas and Ole Miss (two of the worst defenses in the SEC last year). Overall, they have averaged just 23 points per game against Power Five opponents in that span. Compare that to their run to the SEC Championship Game in 2017, when they scored 30 or more points six times in ten Power Five games and averaged 34 points overall in those contests (which includes a pair of no-shows against Clemson and Georgia). This season, outside of the game against Kent State, Auburn has averaged under five yards per play. The Tigers have played a conservative brand of football and relied on their defense to win games. They remind me more of the late-era Tommy Tuberville Tigers. Thus far, it has proven to be a successful strategy while they wait for Bo Nix to blossom into an SEC quarterback, but I don't think it is a great strategy for degenerates to back them as a big favorite. Mississippi State has played well in the early going, and I expect them to hang around in this game regardless of who gets the nod at quarterback. The injured Tommy Stevens is the better passer and has more experience, but Garrett Shrader could give Auburn trouble with his mobility. I doubt Mississippi State is good enough to win this game outright, but Auburn is laying too many points after their win at Texas A&M.

Nebraska +18 Ohio State
Through their first four games, Ohio State certainly seems like a juggernaut headed for their third consecutive Big 10 Championship Game berth. The Buckeyes have dismantled their four opponents by an average score of 54-9. While there are no great teams in that quartet, my guess is at least three and potentially all four will be bowl eligible at the conclusion of the regular season. Despite that strong start, this lines appears to have tilted too far in Ohio State’s favor. Back in May, the Golden Nugget released their Game of the Year lines and this game opened at Ohio State -10. Based on one month of play, this spread has increased by more than a touchdown. That seems a bit excessive. The Nebraska hype train picked up steam in the offseason, but derailed after a lackluster start where the Huskers struggled to put away South Alabama and lost outright against former Big 8 foe Colorado. However, the Huskers seem to have gotten back on track in their past two games. They thumped Northern Illinois and outplayed Illinois on the field, if not on the scoreboard. While Nebraska trailed for a significant portion of the game and only won by four points, they outgained the Illini by nearly 400 yards and averaged two more yards per play. Unfortunately, they also lost four fumbles and had a -3 turnover margin for the game. Of course, another turnover fest against Ohio State will give the Buckeyes an easy cover, but turnovers, particularly lost fumbles, are quite random. Nebraska has not thrown an interception in the past two games, so I would expect their turnover numbers to be closer to even here. Nebraska represents the toughest test Ohio State has faced thus far, and while I doubt the Huskers will be able to win this game outright, they should be able to keep it within two touchdowns.

Washington State +6 Utah
This Pac-12 After Dark clash looked like it could be a battle between top-fifteen teams, but both the Cougars and the Utes took brutal losses last week. Utah’s loss was brutal because it was to a division foe in their conference opener after an entire offseason of hype. Washington State’s loss was brutal because they allowed UCLA to look like a functional offense and blew a 32-point second half lead. As far as collapses go, it was one of the biggest in college football history. Leach had been on the other side of an epic collapse when Texas Tech stormed back against Minnesota in the Insight Bowl during the 2006 postseason. Thankfully, Leach avoided the fate of his counterpart, Glen Mason, who was fired by the Gophers following that collapse. Not only did both teams suffer losses last week, they also entered their respective games favored (Washington State was a more prohibitive favorite). Washington State fans will be happy to know the Cougars have a history of getting off the deck under Leach. Since 2015, the Cougars have lost five times as a betting favorite, including twice against FCS opponents. In their next game, the Cougars are 4-1 straight up and 4-1 ATS. Their lone loss in that span was a three-point decision at Boise State and their lone non-cover came against Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl. In addition, Washington State is 11-5 ATS as a road underdog since 2014, with eight outright upsets (if we remove Apple Cup games, they are 11-3 ATS). The Cougars are also 4-1 against Utah under Leach with two of those victories coming in Salt Lake City. I’m surprised Utah is laying this many points with running back Zack Moss unlikely to play. I think most casual bettors probably saw the final score and the highlights of the UCLA comeback and neglected to peruse the box score. Washington State turned the ball over six times and their overall turnover margin in the game was -5. The offense moved the ball with impunity against UCLA and with better ball security, probably would have won handily. Expect the Cougars to take better care of the ball and beat Utah on Saturday night.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

That's two winning weeks in a row. Let's see if we can make it three. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 12-9

Western Michigan +6 Syracuse
Despite their performance thus far in 2019, it does not appear the betting market has come around to how bad Syracuse is. The Orange are averaging just under 17 points per game through their first three contests, and while their poor showing against Clemson is included in that data set, the offense did not set the world aflame against Liberty or Maryland either. Their offensive line has been particularly troublesome, allowing fourteen sacks through three games. The Tigers were responsible for eight of those takedowns, but Liberty and Maryland combined for six as well. The offense especially seems to be missing the play of quarterback Eric Dungey. During his four-year career, the Orange played quite poorly when he was not in the lineup. In games where Dungey saw significant action (defined somewhat arbitrarily as throwing at least ten passes), the Orange were 20-16. In games where he did not play at all or threw fewer than ten passes, the Orange were 2-11, with both victories coming at home by three points against sub-par teams. As the Orange entered their fourth season under Dino Babers, I think most observers figured there would be some drop off when Dungey matriculated, but that his replacement would at least maintain a moderate level of performance. That has not happened thus far. To compound things further, the defense has been shredded the past two weeks as well. Maryland and Clemson combined for over 100 points and more than 1200 yards of total offense against the Orange alleged defense. That may not portend good things against a Western Michigan team coming off a 57-point explosion against Georgia State. The Broncos rolled up nearly 700 yards against Georgia State one week after playing a solid offensive game against a very stout Michigan State defense. Although they only managed 17 points against the Spartans, they gained 352 yards and averaged seven yards per pass. Syracuse is a Power Five team, but their defense is light years behind Michigan State’s. Western Michigan will be able to move the ball and score, so the Orange will probably have to get to the mid to high 30’s to cover this number. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the reputation of the ACC takes yet another hit on Saturday with Western Michigan pulling the outright upset.

Auburn +3.5 Texas A&M
After their thrilling comeback win against Oregon, Auburn faced two Group of Five opponents and now begin their SEC slog. The offense has been hit-or-miss in the early going, as you might expect from one led by a freshman quarterback. The running game was able to get on track against Kent State and Bo Nix attempted just 16 passes in the win after throwing nearly 70 times in the season’s first two games. I’m usually reticent to back a freshman quarterback making his first road start, but based on the history of this series, the Tigers look like a solid play. Since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, Auburn is 4-3 straight up against the Aggies, but just 2-4-1 ATS. However, they are 3-0 ATS at Texas A&M with two outright wins. In fact, the home team is just 1-6 straight up in this series. The favorite is also just 4-3 straight up, so upsets and road teams playing well are par for the course. In addition, Texas A&M, has not been terribly impressive in the early going. The Aggies have pounded two overmatched teams at home (Texas State and Lamar) while losing at Clemson in a game that was not as competitive as the final score might indicate. Quarterback Kellen Mond has not been especially careful with the football, throwing an interception in each game (I’ll remind you two of those games were against Texas State and Lamar). Other than the homefield, I can’t think of a compelling reason to back Texas A&M. I expect a conservative game plan from Gus Malzahn with the Tigers playing to their strength (defense, in particular the defensive line). The Tigers have already faced a superior quarterback in Justin Herbert and they play in College Station every other year, so they should not be intimidated by the road environment. Take the Tigers to continue the road underdog trend in this series.

North Carolina -3 Appalachian State
Surprisingly, these two Tar Heel State teams have only met once before, during the FDR administration. Has North Carolina been ducking the plucky former FCS power and now FBS overachiever? I don’t know, but I love engaging in reckless speculation, so let’s say ‘Yes’. North Carolina returns home after a non-conference loss to Wake Forest (yes, you read that sentence correctly). The Tar Heels fell behind 21-0, but quarterback Sam Howell nearly engineered his third consecutive fourth quarter comeback. Alas, the football gods invoiced Mack Brown for the extra second they added to the clock in the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game and the Tar Heels suffered their first loss of the season. Appalachian State was off last week, but the week prior, they endured a tough battle with another up and coming in-state team. Charlotte actually outgained the Mountaineers, and the yards per play in the game were roughly equivalent, but some special teams plays allowed Appalachian State to move to 2-0. I expect the Mountaineers to give the Tar Heels their best shot here, but I am surprised this line is only three points. Based on the game location, that implies Appalachian State is roughly equivalent to North Carolina and the spread would be a pick if this game were played on a neutral field. I think Appalachian State’s memorable moments, like their upset of Michigan and their near-misses against Tennessee and Penn State might be tempering this line. While the Mountaineers have a reputation for being a dangerous Group of Five team, their reputation exceeds their middling results. Keep in mind they are just 2-3 ATS on the road against Power Five teams since joining FBS in 2014 and this is by far the lowest spread they will have faced (previous low was 14 against Georgia in 2017). I think North Carolina will win this game by at least a touchdown.

SMU +9.5 TCU
As the proud owner of a TCU regular season win total 'over' ticket, I watched last weekend’s TCU/Purdue game with a vested interest. While the end result was quite satisfying, TCU may not be built to win eight regular season games in the defense optional Big 12. Normally a road win against a Power Five opponent by three touchdowns would be satisfying, but there is at least one legitimate area of concern. They have not been able to generate any kind of passing offense through their first two games. Against Purdue, TCU quarterbacks Alex Delton and Max Duggan, combined to complete eight of 24 passes for a grand total of 75 yards. Those numbers would not be acceptable in the AFC Central in the 1970s, much less the modern college game. All of the blame shouldn’t fall at the quarterbacks’ feet (or arms as it were). TCU receivers seemed determined to set a school record for drops as balls continued to ricochet off their hands and onto the turf. Thankfully, they were able to lean on the running game, with Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua both accumulating more than 100 yards on the ground. However, I don’t know if that game plan will work in the Big 12 against more explosive offenses. It should also be noted there were extenuating circumstances in this game. Purdue was without their starting quarterback and TCU head coach and defensive savant, Gary Patterson, had an extra week to prepare with TCU enjoying a bye week after their opener against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. If every Big 12 team is forced to start their backup against TCU, the Horned Frogs may well win the league, but through two games, the offense leaves a lot to be desired. And unfortunately, the Horned Frogs are facing an SMU team that might be able to exploit their offensive deficiencies. SMU has opened the 2019 season 3-0 by dispatching three Group of Five teams in the old Southwest Conference footprint. They slipped by Arkansas State in Jonesboro, and then handled North Texas and Texas State with ease in Dallas. The offense has been balanced with transfer quarterback Shane Buechele outplaying the departed Ben Hicks and the running game averaging nearly 250 yards per game (more than double what they averaged last season). While SMU has typically been a large underdog against their former mid-major vagabond in arms, the Mustangs have gone 4-2-1 ATS their last seven trips to Fort Worth. SMU has a decent shot at winning this game outright and moving me one step closer to tearing up that season win total ticket.

Tulsa -3.5 Wyoming
Has the Craig Bohl era been a success at Wyoming? On the surface, that seems like a dumb question. Since tearing the program down in his first two seasons, (6-18 record), the Cowboys have accomplished the following since 2016: finished bowl eligible three consecutive years, won the Mountain Division, had a quarterback drafted in the first round, and beaten an SEC team at home. All things considered, that ain’t too bad. However, despite improvements on defense, the offense has regressed significantly and the team has one of the worst passing offenses in college football. The Cowboys have played fifteen games since Josh Allen was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. In that span, they have thrown eight touchdown passes (including none so far this season). In that same span, only Navy and Rutgers have thrown fewer touchdown passes (Army has thrown eight as well). Army and Navy have attempted 113 and 145 passes respectively. Wyoming has attempted 322. Rutgers has attempted 410, but they are Rutgers and also have the misfortune of playing in the Big 10 East. Wyoming has faced teams like Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico State, New Mexico, San Jose State, Texas State, and Wofford during that span. Bohl deserves credit for getting blood from the stone that is the Wyoming offense and managing to win nine of fifteen games since Allen departed, but if the wins dry up, the boring, flaccid pass offense could put him on the hot seat. Speaking of hot seats, Philip Montgomery has to be feeling the heat at Tulsa. Montgomery raised the Golden Hurricane’s profile quickly, by qualifying for a bowl game in his first season and winning ten games in his second. However, since the Miami Beach Bowl beatdown of Central Michigan, the Golden Hurricane have gone just 6-21. In an effort to save his job Montgomery handed the reigns of the offense to Baylor transfer Zach Smith. Smith has posted solid passing numbers thus far despite facing two Power Five teams. If Tulsa has any designs on getting to a bowl, they must win this game. Their AAC schedule includes games against Cincinnati, Memphis, Navy, SMU, and UCF (to say nothing of an improved Tulane and still dangerous Houston), so wins will be hard to come by. Wyoming is perhaps the luckiest (and worst) 3-0 team in college football. Outside of their turnover fueled home upset of Missouri, the Cowboys have faced an FCS team and an FBS team that functions as an FCS team, with both victories coming by a combined fourteen points. The Cowboys are also just 2-8 in road non-conference games under Bohl, with the victories coming against New Mexico State and Texas State. Take Tulsa to cover this low number with ease.

South Carolina +9.5 Missouri
Fresh off hosting one of the nation’s top teams, South Carolina continues their arduous schedule by travelling to the other Columbia where they will meet a familiar face. It’s not enough the Gamecocks still have to deal with Clemson and Georgia later on (not to mention Florida, Texas A&M, and even Appalachian State), they also get to contend with former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. The last time Bryant quarterbacked against South Carolina, his Tigers scored 34 points and left Williams-Brice with an easy victory. That loss marked the only time South Carolina failed to cover as an underdog in 2017. As the table below shows, South Carolina has been very profitable in that role under Will Muschamp, be it at home, on the road, or at a neutral site.
After a rough ATS start to his coaching career at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have been on quite a roll as an underdog. Since the start of the 2017 season, they are 11-3 ATS as an underdog and have pulled six outright upsets. Each of those outright upsets has occurred while the Gamecocks have been catching single digits (as they happen to be here). This line is probably a bit inflated as Missouri’s home win against West Virginia is looking much better after the Mountaineers snuffed out NC State over the weekend. While West Virginia did look much better against the Wolfpack, I think the result was more a function of NC State being overrated after solid performances against two cupcakes as opposed to West Virginia being markedly better than anticipated. It should be noted that Gamecock quarterback Ryan Hilinski will be making his first road start, so that is a concern. However, he just faced Alabama’s defense and had a decent showing against the Tide. He will be the best quarterback Missouri’s defense has faced thus far and while Missouri might end up being the second best team in the SEC East this season, they will struggle to put away South Carolina.

Colorado +7.5 Arizona State
Herm Edwards appears to be trying his damndest to bring 1970s NFL football to the college ranks. Through the first three games of the 2019 season, the average score of an Arizona State game has been 20-7 in favor of the Sun Devils. Arizona State is fresh off a road upset of Michigan State, the second year in a row they have won outright as an underdog against the Spartans. Despite allowing just seven points, Michigan State was able to move the ball, totaling 404 yards (nearly 200 more than the Sun Devils) and averaging about a yard and a half more per play (5.46 to 4.15). Alas, the Spartans were only able to punch the ball into the endzone once, as they missed three field goals, turned the ball over once, and failed on fourth down once. The Sun Devils don’t have to give the victory back, but their defense is not as dominant as the raw numbers suggest. Colorado should provide a solid test for that defense as the Buffaloes come in averaging over 36 points per game through the non-conference portion of their schedule. The point spread is probably a bit inflated after Colorado lost at home in overtime to what may end up being a pretty solid Air Force team. The Buffaloes were not able to stop the Air Force option, as the Falcons rolled up nearly 300 yards on the ground and augmented that with timely passes while averaging nearly 13 yards per throw. Arizona State has a much more conventional offense and has struggled on the ground, averaging under 100 yards rushing per game. They have also struggled protecting their freshman quarterback. The Sun Devils have allowed ten sacks in their first three games, including five to Kent State! Arizona State has not shown the capability of scoring a lot of points in 2019 and they have not performed well after tasting success under Herm Edwards. They won outright three times last season as a betting underdog and were favored two times games immediately following their upset wins. They lost one of those games outright and failed to cover the other as a sizable favorite. Take the Buffs and the points here.