Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

Week I went rather swimmingly for your humble narrator. A 5-2 start will hopefully serve as a springboard to even better things as the calendar turns to September. There are a lot of big games for the second weekend of the college football season (Michigan State/Oregon, Virginia Tech/Ohio State, and Southern Cal/Stanford to name a few), but thanks to cowardice and no general read on those games, my picks will be more under the radar fare. In fact, a few of my picks involve the MAC, a conference with a great chance to beat a few Power 5 schools this weekend. Toledo hosts Missouri, Central Michigan travels to Purdue, Northern Illinois visits Northwestern, Ball State treks to Iowa, and Ohio is at Kentucky. There are others as well, but these five strike me as upset possibilities. Missouri, Central Michigan, and Northern Illinois are all underdogs of less than a touchdown, while Ball State and Ohio have beaten a few Power 5 teams under their current coaches. Sit back and enjoy the second week of college football. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 5-2

Georgia State Pick Em' New Mexico State
At long last, the Georgia State Panthers are winners once again. Losers of 16 straight, the Panthers kicked a last second field goal to beat Abilene Christian in the season's first game (on Wednesday of last week). The win was their first as a IA team, and now they will seek to win their first game against a IA team (baby steps). This game also marks the first time in their history Georgia State is not a betting underdog (again, baby steps) against a fellow IA opponent (they were a small favorite last week). New Mexico State also won their opener against a IAA opponent, although the Aggies did not have to sweat it out, winning 28-10 against Cal Poly. A win would make the Aggies 2-0 for the first time since 1999! Alas, I don't think the Aggies will get it done. They are just 2-8-1 ATS on the road the past two seasons. While this figures to be a competitive affair, Georgia State is playing at home, giving no points, and showed some polish on offense last week. Look for the Panthers to earn their second win as a IA program and move into first place for the time being in the Sun Belt.

Central Michigan +3.5 Purdue
As you may or may not know, Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell was once the top guy at Kent State. In 2012, he led the Golden Flashes to a school-record eleven wins. However, his tenure at Purdue may prove that 2012 was a (Golden) flash in the pan. Last week's win over Western Michigan marked the first for Purdue over a IA team under Hazell. While the victory was nice, it was anything but resounding as the Broncos actually outgained the Boilermakers and averaged more yards per play. Now the Boilermakers take on another directional Michigan school that could potentially be the last game they are favored in all year (excluding their clash with IAA Southern Illinois). Central Michigan also struggled last week, falling behind IAA Chattanooga 16-0 before rallying to win 20-16. I like the Chippewas here, as their opponent last week, Chattanooga, may actually be a better team than Western Michigan despite being a lower-level football program. Look for the Chippewas to keep this one close and perhaps leave West Lafayette with an outright upset.

South Alabama -3 Kent State
Kent State opened the 2014 season by losing on a last second field goal to Ohio. Just nine months earlier, the Golden Flashes pounded Ohio into oblivion 44-13. Despite the narrow loss, Kent State was actually very lucky to be in the game at all. Ohio outgained Kent State by nearly 150 yards and averaged nearly two more yards per play. However, thanks to four fumbles (all recovered by Kent State), the game was tied in the closing moments. If the Golden Flashes have any designs on a bowl game, they must win this game as the next three are at Ohio State, at Virginia, and at Northern Illinois. An 0-5 start will be very difficult to overcome. South Alabama beat Kent State by 17 in Mobile (one) last season. The Jaguars, in just their sixth season of football, and third at the IA level, are though of as one of the top teams in the Sun Belt. Last season, they were one of the more statistically dominant Sun Belt teams, but suffered three losses by a single point, as well as a two-point loss, and a seven-point loss on their way to a 6-6 campaign. Despite this being the season opener for the Jaguars, I like them to cover this small number and open the year with a victory.

South Florida +12.5 Maryland
South Florida did not get off to the best start last week, edging IAA Western Carolina 36-31. However, it certainly beat the heck out of their start last season when they lost by 32 to IAA McNeese State. In fact, the six-point margin against the Catamounts was a bit misleading. South Florida averaged over eight yards per play to the Catamounts 4.7. Freshman running back Marlon Mack was the star of the show, rushing for 275 yards on just 24 attempts and scoring four touchdowns on the ground. Last season, the feeble South Florida offense managed four rushing touchdowns on the season! Mack and Co. Are catching double-digits at home against a Maryland team that took care of business against their IAA opponent, James Madison. Playing the role of Stephon, I mean William Marbury, the Terrapins racked up 52 points against the Dukes, their highest point total since hanging 62 on my Demon Deacons in 2010. Maryland is a little over-valued here, and the Bulls are under-valued, particularly playing at home. The offense is light years beyond last year's low-wattage unit, and should do enough to keep this game within single digits. If you are feeling very industrious, might I suggest a South Florida play on the moneyline.

Wyoming +2.5 Air Force
It wasn't easy, but the Cowboys won the debut of head coach Craig Bohl. Bohl, as you may or may not know, won the last three IAA national championships at North Dakota State. It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing game, but the Cowboys won their opener for the first time since 2011. Now the Cowboys turn their focus to a conference opponent in the Air Force Falcons. Air Force ended a three-game skid that dated back to last season's win over Army in dispatching (Kid) Nicholls State. Now the Falcons look to end an even uglier skid that has seen them lose nine consecutive games in the Mountain West Conference. Befitting a team that has not won a conference game in over a year, the Falcons have been putrid on the road as a favorite, going 0-3 ATS in the role since 2012. They have also not covered against Wyoming since 2008. In my humble opinion, the wrong team is favored here. I expect this game to be close, and since they are catching nearly a field goal, Wyoming is the play here.

Eastern Michigan +38 Florida
The debut of Chris Creighton at Eastern Michigan began rather inauspiciously, with his charges taking longer than expected to knock down a wall with sledgehammers. The end result was quality though, with the wall (sort of) tumbling down, though Joshua would have been disappointed, and the Eagles edging Morgan State 31-28. Before moving forward, let me be clear about one thing: Eastern Michigan has no shot (almost no shot) at winning this game outright. However, covering is another issue. The Florida Gators under Will Muschamp do set offensive records and dazzle with their passing acumen. They win games (less here as of late) with great defense. Eastern Michigan will have a hard time scoring and may in fact be shut out. However, expecting the Gators to score more than five touchdowns may not be the most logical assumption. Consider the following: As a double-digit home favorite under Muschamp, the Gators are just 4-7 ATS and lest you think those lack of covers come against SEC teams, they are also 2-3 ATS at home against non-BCS opponents. Despite the fact that they have been one of the worst IA teams in recent years, the Eagles are actually 4-2 ATS against BCS conference opponents the past three seasons. This has all the makings of a 31-3 Florida win.

Texas Tech -21 UTEP
How do you win a road game where you allow nearly eight yards per play? Allow Paydirt Pete to show you how. First, while you give up a lot of big plays, you don't allow many third down conversions (3 of 11). Second, don't allow them to convert on fourth down (1 of 3). Third, force turnovers (two fumble recoveries and an interception). Fourth, score some points of your own (31). That, dear friends, is how UTEP won at New Mexico despite showing very clear evidence that they are still not very good at football. While UTEP was winning in Albuquerque, Texas Tech was having a tougher than expected time putting away Central Arkansas. The Red Raiders averaged nearly three more yards per play than the Bears, yet only won by seven thanks to some red zone failures (just four scores in six opportunities) and turnovers (two interceptions). Of course, that all bodes well for you this week. This spread should be much closer to four touchdowns despite the fact that is is being played in the west Texas town of El Paso. The Red Raiders have played a non-BCS opponent on the road each of the past four seasons, and have covered each time with the average margin of victory clocking in at nearly 37 points. This one should get out of hand very quickly.

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