Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week V

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

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 14-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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