Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

Well, the losses just keep on coming. Another sub-par week leaves us at 16-19 and searching for answers. For the third straight week, we'll try and get back on track. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 16-19

Florida International +8 Florida Atlantic
Just when it seemed like Ron Turner was a dead man walking after last season's debacle, his Panthers have emerged from the humid Miami jungle as a competitive and dangerous team. After losing to IAA Bethune Cookman (for the second consecutive year) in the season opener, FIU beat IAA Wagner, were marginally competitive against Pitt and Louisville from the ACC, and upset UAB on the road last week. Now the Panthers return home to face their natural rivals Florida Atlantic. The Owls have rebounded from a rough start (lost by a combined 89 points to Nebraska and Alabama) and have won two of three, including an upset win over Texas-San Antonio last weekend. FIU has been relatively impressive on defense this season, holding each foe under six yards per play (after doing it just four times all of last season). Playing at home, in a nascent rivalry game, I like the Panthers to cover here.

Old Dominion +17.5 Marshall
Last week was a classic look ahead/sandwich/short week/laurel resting game for Old Dominion. In their first season of IA football, the Monarchs began the year 3-1, with the most recent win a road upset over defending Conference USA champion Rice. Before the Monarchs were to host presumptive favorite and potential BCS major bowl crasher Marshall, they hosted Middle Tennessee State on a Friday night. Though the Monarchs averaged more yards per play than the Blue Raiders, they were done in by four turnovers. Despite the loss, the Monarchs have proven to be a formidable mid-major, hanging tough with NC State in Raleigh earlier in the year. Marshall has waltzed through their schedule thus far, and the win over Akon Akron is looking better and better, but Old Dominion has the offensive firepower to keep this one close. In addition, with a line of more than two touchdowns, the backdoor could be standing wide open for a cover.

New Mexico +17 Texas-San Antonio
What do we make of Bob Davie's tenure so far at New Mexico? After winning just three games in three years under Mike Locksley, the Lobos have won eight in two plus years under Davie. They have also been infinitely more competitive, losing nine other games by a single score. However, improvement from where they were in Davie's first season to now is hard to surmise. The Lobos are basically the same team they were in 2012 and 2013. They can move the ball against fellow mid-majors, especially on the ground (averaging 6.26 yards per rush), but they have no answers on defense (allowing nearly seven yards per play). With that being said, it is easy to like the Lobos in this situation. They are 6-3 ATS under Davie as a double-digit underdog against a non-Power Five school. Texas-San Antonio is a little over-valued thanks to their first two games where they throttled Houston thanks to six Cougar turnovers, and hung with Arizona. However, looking at their cumulative offensive numbers, its clear they miss departed quarterback Eric Soza as the offense is averaging just 4.26 yards per play (121st nationally). New Mexico's defense is bad, but asking a team with the offensive deficiencies of the Roadrunners to cover this large number is not a wise investment.

Louisiana-Monroe +9 Arkansas State
For Louisiana-Monroe, this game is vital to their bowl hopes. Although they stand 3-1 after a quartet of games, the Warhawks have Kentucky and Texas A&M left on the schedule, so they need all the Sun Belt wins they can muster. The Warhawks have made a habit of winning tight games early, beating Wake Forest, Idaho, and Troy by a combined sixteen points. The Warhawks have played reasonably well on defense, holding opponents to just 4.66 yards per play. Even if we remove their game against Wake Forest (perhaps the worst offense in college football this season), Idaho, LSU, and Troy have combined to average just 5.27 yards per play against them. And speaking of teams that are struggling to move the ball...well hello Arkansas State. Outside of their opening romp over IAA Montana State, the Redwolves have averaged just 3.95 yards per play against Tennessee, Miami, and Utah State. Granted each of those teams is tough, and potentially bowl bound, but we could be seeing the effects of so much constant coaching turnover. I think the Warhawks will be involved in another close game here, and in the role of road underdog against Sun Belt foes, they have done particularly well under Todd Berry, posting an 8-4 ATS mark in his four seasons.

Georgia State +17 Louisiana-Lafayette
This spread would have been understandable in the preseason when Louisiana-Lafayette was widely expected to dominate the Sun Belt and claim their first outright conference title under Mark Hudspeth. However, early returns should have dropped this spread a little. The Ragin' Cajuns have hardly looked ragin' over their last three games -- all losses by a combined 94 points. Two of the losses are quite understandable, at Ole Miss and at Boise State, but the other, a four touchdown home loss to Louisiana Tech, hardly inspires confidence. Of course, I expect the Cajuns to knock off the Panthers, but Georgia State has been money in the bank as a double-digit underdog since joining IA football last season. In ten such contests, including two this season, the Panthers are 9-1 ATS. Look for that trend to continue as Louisiana-Lafayette will have great difficulty covering this large number.

Boise State -2.5 Nevada
With their loss to Air Force last week, Boise State guaranteed they will finish with at least one conference defeat for the fifth consecutive season. That's right, the Broncos have not finished unblemished in league play since 2009! Further proof that is is hard to go undefeated. It is even harder when you turn the ball over seven times. According to Bill Connelly, resident abacus czar,  the value of those seven turnovers was about 30 points. The Broncos outgained the Falcons by about 130 yards and averaged about three quarters of a yard more per play. Now the Broncos must shake off the loss to the Falcons and travel to Reno to face a Nevada team that has won three of their first four games. Despite winning two of their three games against IA competition, the Wolfpack have averaged nearly a yard and a half less per play than Washington State, Arizona, and San Jose State. Similar to the Broncos, turnovers have told the story. In those three games, Nevada has not committed a single turnover while gaining six. The Wolfpack have also made three of their four field goal attempts, while their opponents have missed three of six in those games. The Wolfpack are operating on an extremely thin margin of error and this line should probably be closer to a touchdown in Boise's favor.

Cal +3 Washington State
Unless something strange or unlikely happens (like Kirk Ferentz taking over for Mike Leach at Washington State or Wake Forest replacing Cal in the visitors locker room), this game should see a lot of points. Both teams have split their first two Pac-12 games in entertaining fashion. Cal lost a heartbreaker to Arizona and followed that up with an absurd offensive showcase against Colorado. Washington State hung tough with Oregon and then rebounded from a 21-point hole to upset Utah. While Cal has played a pair of tight games, they have actually averaged over eight yards per play. Meanwhile, Washington State has seen their yards per play numbers more closely resemble a team that has lost as many as they have won. Cal is probably the better team, and since you are getting a field goal, they are a solid play here.

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