Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIV

Well, it appears we cannot stand prosperity. After consecutive winning weeks got us back to .500, a 2-5 week makes a winning season unlikely. Still, we press on. Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 44-47

Texas +6.5 TCU
The Big 12 seems built for controversy regarding head-to-head versus body of work. In 2008, a three-way tie in the south among Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech had to be broken by the BCS rankings. Now, sans divisions, it appears we are headed toward more controversy regarding the inaugural College Football Playoff. Baylor beat TCU head-to-head on the field in Waco, but TCU has a tougher schedule, and arguably a superior body of work. Before we get ahead of ourselves, remember that potential controversies often have a way of working themselves out. That could certainly be the case on Thanksgiving night as TCU heads to Austin to take on the Longhorns. This is not a typical TCU team. The Horned Frogs have the best offense (in terms of yards per play) in the Big 12, and rank just sixth on defense. Meanwhile, Texas has the league's top-ranked defense and has shut down high-powered offenses like UCLA, Baylor, and Oklahoma already this season. Since joining the Big 12, TCU is just 1-6 ATS as a road favorite. Look for that trend to continue here as Texas keeps this one very close.

Rutgers +8.5 Maryland
The maiden voyage for both Rutgers and Maryland in the Big 10 has been marginally successful for both. Both have attained bowl eligibility, although most of Rutger's work was done in the non-conference. Rutgers did beat a down traditional power in Michigan, so there is something to be said for that. Maryland has already won four conference games and will be looking to post their first winning conference record since 2010 when Ralph Friedgen waddled the sideline. In a nice twist, Friedgen is now the offensive coordinator at...Rutgers of course. This spread is probably a field goal or so too high thanks to Maryland's upset win at Michigan last week. Rutgers has been pretty good as a road underdog under Kyle Flood, posting an 8-4 ATS mark with five outright upsets. Take the Knights to keep this one within a touchdown.

Penn State +13.5 Michigan State
As I mentioned earlier that this is not your typical TCU team, this is also not your typical Michigan State team. Most iterations of Sparty under Mark Dantonio are defense-oriented teams. This year's version ranks an above-average fifth in the Big 10 in yards per play allowed, but the offense has been the real strength of the team. Along with Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans are the only Big 10 team averaging more than six yards per snap in league play. Penn State would kill for that kind of offensive firepower. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions are dead last in the Big 10 in yards per play. The offensive line has been especially porous, allowing 39 sacks thus far on the year (122nd nationally). The Penn State defense has been nearly as robust as the offense has been putrid. The Nittany Lions lead the Big 10 in yards per play allowed, and against the dominant Ohio State offense in Happy Valley, held the Buckeyes to 17 points in regulation. Penn State probably lacks the offensive firepower to win here, but this spread is way too high.

BYU +4.5 Cal
For BYU, the 2014 season began with such promise. The Cougars opened the year by winning their first four games, rose to number 18 in the AP Poll, and had designs on an undefeated season. Alas, quarterback Taysom Hill was injured, and the defense had a few awful games. The Cougars lost four in a row at midseason, but have rebounded against a softer schedule to win their past three and clinch a ninth consecutive winning season under Bronco Mendenhall. While BYU goes for their eighth win of the season, Cal will be seeking their sixth and their first bowl bid since 2011. The Bears have significantly improved from their 1-11 campaign last season, but have lost five of their past six games after a 4-1 start. Cal has not covered as a home favorite since 2011! Granted, they have only been favored four times at home since then, but still, the Bears are far from a dominant home team. Take BYU to cover here and potentially keep the Bears home for the holidays.

Louisiana-Monroe +14.5 Georgia Southern
With a win here, Georgia Southern could attain the dubious distinction of being both the outright Sun Belt champion and not playing in the postseason. Since the Eagles are in their first season as a IA member, they are technically classified as a 'transitional' team and would need a waiver to play in a bowl. Unless some teams self-impose bowl bans in the last two weeks of the season, a scenario where the Eagles play in a bowl game us unlikely. Alas, they could take solace in becoming the first Sun Belt team to finish unbeaten in conference play since Arkansas State in 2011. Under first year coach Willie Fritz, the Eagles have gashed Sun Belt opponents and are averaging nearly seven yards per play against their conference brethren. I think the Eagles will get the win here, but Louisiana-Monroe is a healthy 10-5 ATS as a road underdog against teams from the Group of Five conferences since 2010. Take the Warhawks to keep this one within two touchdowns.

UTEP -4 Middle Tennessee State
Well, we whiffed on UTEP last week, but the one facet we should have considered regarding that game was the location. UTEP was on the road at Rice. Now they return home to try and solidify a bowl bid and clinch their first winning season since 2005. The Miners are unbeaten ATS at home this season, and are 4-0 ATS as a home favorite. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee State is 1-4 straight up on the road and in their last road game fell to feeble Florida International. UTEP has a great deal to play for and in El Paso should win this game by at least a touchdown.

Utah State +9 Boise State
If you want to discuss perseverance, Utah State has it in spades. The Aggies are down to their fourth string quarterback thanks to a spate of injuries. However, like Kurt Warner before him, freshman Kent Myers has risen to the occasion and arguably played better than the man (or in this case men) he was replacing. The Aggies are a few closes losses (to Arkansas State and Colorado State) away from being in position to grab the big-time bowl berth that goes to the highest ranked member from the Group of Five. Ironically, one of the teams that beat Utah State will be pulling hard for the Aggies as the Rams from Colorado State need another Boise loss (in conjunction with their own win over Air Force) to gain entry to the Mountain West Championship Game. Boise State is just 7-15 ATS as a home favorite since joining the Mountain West in 2011. This game should be very close, and an upset by the Aggies would not shock me.

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