Friday, November 07, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XI

A second consecutive 2-5 mark has your humble narrator scrambling to just finish with a .500 record for the season. The yearly mark is now a poor  33-37. We'll try and do better this week. As always, home teams in bold.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 33-37

Georgia Tech -3.5 NC State
Last week, NC State finally ended a rather long streak of futility, in winning their first conference game since 2012 (a streak of 12 consecutive conference defeats). Thanks to an incredibly soft non-conference slate, the Wolfpack need just a single victory to become bowl eligible. Despite their upset win over Syracuse, the Wolfpack remain a below average team that is superlative at nothing. They rank twelfth in the fourteen-team ACC in yards per play (ahead of Syracuse and Wake Forest) and eighth in the conference in yards per play allowed. Their opponent on Saturday is an extreme team. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are bowl eligible yet again, and have a chance to play in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. The Yellow Jackets have the best offense in the ACC in terms of yards per play, but are dead last in the conference in yards per play allowed. Their defense has particularly let them down in their two defeats. The Yellow Jackets allowed 31 and 48 points in consecutive losses to Duke and North Carolina that may eventually cost them the Coastal Division title. NC State will be able to move the ball against the Georgia Tech defense, but the Yellow Jackets should be able to outscore the Wolfpack and win by at least a touchdown.

Tulane +17.5 Houston
Two upsets last week (Temple over East Carolina and Connecticut over Central Florida) threw the American Athletic Conference into chaos. Five teams, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, and UCF, are all 3-1 in the league at the halfway point. This should make for an exciting final month. Unfortunately, the champion will probably not be able to snatch a major bowl bid for the Group of Five conferences. Of the teams currently tied atop the American Conference, Houston is probably the weakest. The Cougars have real issues moving the football, averaging under five yards per play in conference games (eighth among eleven teams). This spread appears to be about a touchdown too high. Take the Green Wave to cover this large number.

Texas +3.5 West Virginia
The maiden voyage for the Longhorns under Charlie Strong has seen its share of ups and downs. The Longhorns were blown out by BYU, but hung close with UCLA and Oklahoma, and limited Baylor's explosive offense in a closer than the score indicated defeat. Can the Longhorns finally break through against a ranked team under Strong? The opponent, West Virginia, has three losses, but those defeats have come at the hands of three of the best teams in college football: Alabama, Oklahoma, and TCU. The Mountaineers also have three road wins this season, matching their total for their first two seasons in the Big 12. The key point to remember is that two of those wins were very close and were decided on last second field goals (Maryland and Texas Tech). Also keep in mind Texas obliterated that same Red Raider team (on the same field) just last week and that West Virginia could be in a letdown spot after nearly upsetting TCU last week. Take the Longhorns here, and don't be surprised if they pull off an outright upset.

UNLV +6 Air Force
One season after playing in their first bowl game in thirteen years, the encore has not gone according to plan for UNLV. The Rebels are just 2-7 and have clinched their tenth losing season in the last eleven years. On the other sideline, Air Force has rebounded from a winless Mountain West campaign in 2013 to become bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons under Troy Calhoun. The Falcons have also wrapped up the Commander in Chief Trophy by beating their service academy rivals Army and Navy. However, despite their 6-2 start, Air Force is probably a little over-valued. The Falcons are last in the Mountain West in yards per play and only middle of the pack (seventh) in yards per play allowed. Plus, UNLV has been stellar as a home underdog under Bobby Hauck, going 13-6-1 ATS in those situations. Take the Rebels to cover here, and don't be surprised if they pull off the outright upset.

LSU +6.5 Alabama
Les Miles and the LSU Tigers find themselves in both an unfamiliar situation and a position they are very acquainted with. Under Miles, the Tigers have been home underdogs just five other times. However, three of those instances came against Alabama (as led by Nick Saban). LSU has covered three of those five games, including two of three against Alabama. In fact, their non-covers have also been close as Alabama needed overtime to dispatch LSU as a field goal favorite in 2008 and Florida won by ten as an eight point favorite in 2009. LSU has steadily improved as the year has gone on, and is certainly not the same team that was obliterated by Auburn a month ago. Also keep in mind that Alabama is just 3-6 ATS away from Tuscaloosa since the start of the 2013 season. Take the Tigers to keep this one close.

Ohio State +3.5 Michigan State
Can a Big 10 team crack the initial College Football Playoff? The best chance for the conference probably lies with a Michigan State win here. If Ohio State wins here, and wins out, their inexplicable loss to Virginia Tech will likely serve to keep them out of the playoffs barring some other unlikely results. Along with Wisconsin, these are clearly the two best teams in the conference, but their lack of non-conference accomplishments will likely shut the Big 10 champion out of the playoffs. Ohio State has been a betting underdog exactly twice under Urban Meyer, and once was two seasons ago against these Spartans, in this very stadium. The spread was about the same too, with the Buckeyes getting about a field goal. The Buckeyes won a tight game, and a similar result here would not be too surprising.

New Mexico State +17 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns have had quite a four-year run under Mark Hudspeth. They have played in (and won) three consecutive New Orleans Bowls and are just a win away from attaining bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive season. However, 2014 began rather inauspiciously. After opening with an expected beatdown of IAA Southern, the Cajuns lost at home to Louisiana Tech by four touchdowns (they entered the game as a double-digit favorite). They then went on the road to Ole Miss and Boise State and lost by a combined 66 points. With Captain Hindsight as our guide, we can see that while the Cajuns were not competitive in those three losses, each of those teams has ended up being pretty good. Once conference play began, the Cajuns rebounded and are now 4-0 in the Sun Belt. Their overall Sun Belt record under Hudspeth is a sterling 21-6, yet they have yet to win an outright conference title, finishing third in 2011, second in 2012, and tied for first last season. Even if they win out, they may not be alone at the top of the standings as Georgia Southern is also unblemished through six conference games and does not face the Cajuns. Despite their sterling won-loss record, the Cajuns have been far from a sure thing as a favorite. In conference games in which they entered as the betting favorite, the Cajuns are just 7-10 ATS. They are also just 2-4 ATS in all games as a road favorite under Hudspeth and 2-6-1 ATS as a double-digit favorite. All these trends are compelling reasons to take the Aggies from Las Cruces on Saturday night.

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