Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

Our first winning week in nearly a month brings us back to even par at 21-21 for the year. The only game we really whiffed on was backing Old Dominion (you'll soon see we haven't learned our lesson). Let's see if we can put together another winning week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 21-21

TCU +10 Baylor
Last week, TCU enjoyed their biggest win since joining the Big 12 conference and now find themselves ranked in the top-10 for the first time since they ended the 2010 season ranked second overall. The win over Oklahoma was no fluke, as TCU slightly outgained the Sooners and averaged more yards per play. Now they travel to Waco to face an old Southwest Conference rival in Baylor. The Bears struggled offensively against Texas last week, averaging under five yards per play for the first time since (drum roll) facing TCU last season, and for just the third time since becoming relevant again in 2010 (that game also came against TCU). However, in contrast to the Baylor of a few years ago, the Bears played well defensively and eventually wore the Longhorns down in a three-touchdown win. For the curious, Baylor has not beaten TCU by more than three points since 1994. This has all the makings of a great Big 12 battle. TCU won the last time they played the Bears in Waco, and another upset would not be the most shocking event in college football history.

Oregon -2 UCLA
Don't get me wrong, this is a big game, but a little of the luster is gone after both Oregon and UCLA lost at home as big favorites last week. Arizona upset the Ducks in Eugene, and Utah edged the Bruins in the historic Rose Bowl. If both teams would have won, College Gameday would have had a tough choice for venue this weekend. As it stands, these two will have to settle for the undercard. So what can we expect here? Well, my friend, if you like sacks, you should love this game. There should be multiple instances of quarterbacks being tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Oregon has allowed 15 sacks thus far, including five at the hands of the Wildcats last week. However, that pales in comparison to the lack of protection afforded Brett Hundley at UCLA. We're talking Steve Beuerlein in 2000 levels here people! The Bruins have allowed 22 sacks in 2014, including ten last week in their loss to Utah (the Utes lead the nation with 28 sacks by the way). Oregon has 16 sacks of their own in 2014, while UCLA has just seven so Hundley will be feeling the heat a little more than Marcus Mariota. Despite typically inflated spreads, Oregon is actually 10-3 ATS as a road favorite since 2011. In fact, this low number marks the first time Oregon has been favored by less than a field goal since Chip Kelly brought the Ducks to the national stage in 2009. Catching Oregon when they are giving just a few points is a dream come true. Take the Ducks here.

Alabama -10 Arkansas
Is the Alabama dynasty really over after a tight loss against a top-10 team? Believe me, no one loves it more than me when Nick Saban loses (except for maybe Tosh or Papi), but I think this line is a colossal overreaction to that defeat. Why should you trust Alabama to win by double-digits against an improved Arkansas team? For starters, the Arkansas defense is leaky. Auburn put up 45 points and averaged eight and a half yards per play against the Hogs. Texas A&M put up 35 points (in overtime) and averaged more than seven and a half yards per play. Even Texas Tech scored 28 points against the Hogs. Secondly, Saban has owned Arkansas since coming to Alabama. The Crimson Tide have won all seven of their games against Arkansas under Saban. The lone close games came in 2007 (Saban's first season) and 2010 (the best season for Arkansas since at least the late 1970's). The Tide have won the other five games by an average of over 38 points. Finally, Alabama stops the one thing Arkansas does well. Removing sacks from the equation, against West Virginia, Florida, and Ole Miss, Alabama has allowed an average of just over three yards per rush. Granted, Arkansas will be the best rush offense they have faced this year, but its hard to see Arkansas running roughshod over the Tide. In addition, while quarterback Brandon Allen has given the Hogs improved quarterback play, his passing numbers are bolstered by the games against Nicholls State and Northern Illinois. Against Auburn, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, the Hogs have averaged just 6.2 yards per pass. This has all the making of at least a two-touchdown bounce back for Alabama.

Florida International +13 Texas-San Antonio
The Panthers from Florida International do not typically merit much press, but they are one of the most improved teams in the country. After bumbling their way through a 2013 season where they were beaten by about four touchdowns per game on average and shutout on three separate occasions, Florida International is already half way to bowl eligibility through six games and has already scored more points than they did throughout all of last season. The Panthers have opened conference play with two consecutive wins as relatively heavy underdogs against both UAB and Florida Atlantic. Part of their success is due to an unsustainable turnover margin (+9 in their past two games and +12 in their three wins), but the Panthers have been much better on a per play basis, limiting opponents to under five yards per play. Texas-San Antonio has lost four straight games after a stunning win over Houston to open the season. The Roadrunners have played marginally well on defense, but have struggled mightily moving the football. Last week against the porous New Mexico defense, the Roadrunners managed just nine points, the fewest the Lobos have allowed since they shutout Wyoming in 2008. The Roadrunners were thought to be the class of the western half of Conference USA, and with just one league game under their beaks, they may live up to preseason expectations. However, asking them to win by two touchdowns against a solid Florida International team is folly.

Old Dominion +2.5 UTEP
Well, we screwed up royally last week when we suggested you should take Old Dominion to cover at home against Marshall. The Monarchs only lost by 42. They were only about three and a half garbage time touchdowns away from covering the spread. However, the Monarchs were not the only team to be blown out on Saturday. The Miners traveled to Ruston, Louisiana and had the infamous double nickel put on them by Louisiana Tech. That continued a troubling trend for the Miners who have allowed opponents to average at least 6.8 yards per play in every game this season. Old Dominion has a competent offense, and against a sieve like UTEP, they may be able to win this game outright.

Ole Miss +2.5 Texas A&M
The interesting thing about college football, and football in general, is that we learn things one week at a time. Then we have a few days to ruminate on what we learned before it is all turned on its head the next week. At this point we realize what we believed earlier was in fact not true at all or we make excuses to point out why it is still true. Case in point, take the Aggies. They strolled into Columbia on the opening Thursday night of the college football season and beat the Gamecocks, a place where the home team had not lost in nearly three years. We overlooked the fact that they gave up nearly seven yards per play to a Gamecock offense replacing the best quarterback in school history. Then the Aggies went on a barnstorming trek where they kicked the crap out of a few creampuffs (Lamar, Rice, and SMU if you want specifics). The Aggies were true SEC and national contenders we said. Then they struggled against Arkansas, needing a late score to tie and send the game to overtime where they eventually outlasted the Hogs. Arkansas is better we said. That's why the Aggies needed overtime. Just part of life in the rugged SEC. Then came a little trip to Starkvegas. The cowbells were out in full force, and the Aggies once again had trouble stopping a competent offense, allowing the Bulldogs to roll them for 48 points and over seven yards per play. The Aggies are the same team they were last year. The defense looked good against Lamar, Rice, and SMU, but against three SEC foes, the Aggies are allowing 6.93 yards per play. That is even worse than the 6.66 yards per play they allowed last year to SEC opponents. So we've spent this whole paragraph going on a diatribe against the overrated Aggies. What about Ole Miss? Yes, they won a huge game last week and could be due for a letdown. It is certainly within the realm of possibility, but Ole Miss is the better team and is getting points. They are the play here. Oh, and one more prediction on the Aggies and quarterback Kenny Hill. I think when December rolls around, a lot of people will be making the analogy between this Aggies team and the Geno Smith-led West Virginia squad of 2012.

Wyoming +4 Hawaii
For just the third time under head coach Norm Chow, Hawaii is favored over a IA team at home. An optimist would point out the Warriors have covered both of those games under Chow, but a statistician might mumble something about small sample sizes before returning to his Excel spreadsheets. How Hawaii is favored in this game is beyond me. The Warriors are playing on the islands so that should count for something, but since June Jones left town, the Warriors have not done a great job of protecting their home turf. They are just 18-21 straight up against IA teams at home and 20-19 ATS. However, if we remove the spectacular 2010 season, those numbers drop to 13-20 straight up and 14-19 ATS. Wyoming has mastered the art of low-scoring ugly wins in 2014, with their three victories coming by scores of 17-12, 17-13, and 20-19. In addition, their losses have come to elite teams (Oregon and Michigan State). I think the Cowboys will sneak off the islands with another low-scoring win.

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