Friday, November 21, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIII

Two winning weeks in a row has us back to .500 for the year. There are only three weeks left in the college football regular season. It always leaves us to soon. As always, home teams in bold.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 42-42

UTEP +9 Rice
Not to brag or anything, but I am currently reading a book. The book in question, Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890-1980, is a good read for anyone interested in the history of amateur sports. Obviously, the title is a little verbose, but the book is a great historical analysis of the integration of college sports. One thing I discovered in reading the book (not related to integration at all), is that Bum Phillips coached UTEP for one season in 1962. Before he was 'Luv ya Blue', he was 'Luv ya U(TEP)'. Perhaps Bum saw the writing on the wall more than a half-century ago. It is hard to win in El Paso. However, perhaps the tide could be turning. Second year head coach Sean Kugler has the Miners bowl eligible with two games left to play. This is a stark improvement from last season, when the Miners won just a single conference game for their eighth consecutive losing season. Seeking to clinch their first winning season since 2005, the Miners head to Houston to take on a Rice team that is bowl eligible for the third consecutive season. Rice is probably the better team, and is playing at home, but this spread should be less than a touchdown. Take the Miners to dig in and keep this one close.

Purdue +2.5 Northwestern
The fates finally smiled on Northwestern last week. After losing eight of their previous ten one-score games, the Wildcats used a late surge, and questionable coaching by Brian Kelly, to stun the Irish in South Bend in overtime. The win bolstered Northwestern's bowl chances as they merely need to sweep Purdue and Illinois to reach six wins. With the Boilermakers and Illini combining for a 2-10 Big 10 record, that would seem a forgone conclusion. Ah, but let's not start licking our own lollipops just yet. Not only could a letdown be in store for the Wildcats, but the Boilermakers have also been exceedingly competitive in their second season under Darrell Hazell. In fact, since the ugly loss to Iowa, during which Austin Appleby replaced Danny Etling under center (or in the shotgun), Purdue has been a downright average football team. Unfortunately, the schedule has featured a quartet of teams that are either currently ranked, or were ranked at some point in the season (Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin). The Boilermakers lost all four of those games, but covered three times, and also pounded Illinois for good measure. Northwestern struggles big time moving the football, so don't be surprised if Purdue is able to pull off an outright upset here.

Western Michigan -1 Central Michigan
Don't look now, but statistically, these could be the two best teams in the MAC. For Central Michigan, the Chippewas have steadily improved over the half decade that Dan Enos has been in charge. At 7-4, they have already achieved the most regular season wins under his guidance, and a win here, coupled with a lot of help could send them back to the MAC Championship Game for the first time since 2009. The other directional Michigan school has risen rapidly under second year coach P.J. Fleck. After winning just a single game (by a single point) in Fleck's first season, the Broncos are 7-3 and winners of five straight. The last four wins in the streak have all come by at least twelve points. The Broncos still need some help to notch their first ever berth in the MAC Championship Game, but with this spread hovering below a field goal, they are an easy play here.

Ole Miss -2.5 Arkansas
Last week, I advised you to go against the Hogs as they were somehow laying points against LSU. Please accept my sincerest apologies for that mistake. I failed to realize that Cam Cameron was somehow coaching worse than he did as head man of the Dolphins. Ole Miss, even without receiver Laquon Treadwell, should be able to move the ball against one of the worst defenses in the SEC. Despite the shutout win over LSU, Arkansas only managed 264 yards of their own, at just over four yards per play. The Ole Miss defense has slipped a bit since their early season domination, but they should do enough to win this game by at least a touchdown.

New Mexico State +8 Louisiana-Monroe
Louisiana-Monroe, the underdog darlings of the 2012 football season, have clinched a losing season. However, despite already owning seven losses, the Warhawks did defeat a Power Five conference team for the third consecutive season. Granted, that team was Wake Forest (my alma mater's second loss to the Warhawks in as many seasons), but it is a solid achievement nonetheless considering the Warhawks won just three such games from 1994 through 2011 (although the one in 2007 was quite infamous). The Warhawks have a hard time moving the ball, even against Sun Belt foes, ranking last in the conference in yards per play. Their defense is average by Sun Belt standards, but with such a low-wattage offense, they should not be favored by more than a touchdown, especially on the road. In fact, the Warhawks have not won a game by more than a touchdown since last Halloween. Look for the Aggies to keep this one close.

Missouri +3.5 Tennessee
You want a crazy, I mean, really ridiculous stat? Missouri, a team that finished 2-6 in their inaugural season in the SEC, has won seven straight SEC road games! Under Nick Saban, Alabama won nine straight from 2008 through 2010 and eleven straight from 2011 through 2013. Under Urban Meyer, Florida won ten straight from 2007 through 2010. Those are the only other more lengthy road winning streaks over the last decade in the SEC. Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers are 7-2 ATS as a road underdog, with six outright road upsets. Missouri is still in control of its destiny in regards to the SEC title, so motivation should not be a factor here. Look for the Tigers to continue their stellar road play and make Tennessee have to sweat out one more week before becoming bowl eligible.

Oregon State +6.5 Washington
2014 has not played out exactly how the Beavers and Huskies had hoped in the preseason. Coming off consecutive bowl appearances, the Beavers, even with the loss of stud receiver Brandin Cooks to the NFL, hoped to continue shredding west coast defenses with senior quarterback Sean Mannion. Without Cooks the offense has declined and the team still needs a win in one of its final two games to qualify for a bowl (probably don't want to head into the Civil War with Oregon needing a win to get bowl eligible). The Huskies have had similar issues on offense sans quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey. The Huskies opened the year with four consecutive wins against a good IAA team (Eastern Washington) and a trio of IA bottom dwellers (Hawaii, Illinois, and Georgia State). Once conference play began, the Huskies offensive difficulties outweighed their defensive acumen, and they too need to win one of their final two games to be assured of a postseason invite. Both these teams are about as statistically equivalent as one can get. Consequently, take the team catching nearly a touchdown, even though they are on the road.

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