Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

The first weekend of the college football season was a successful one. While I gave you a few duds (sorry if you took Georgia Southern against West Virginia), three of my underdog picks won outright. Hooray! A 4-3 week is nothing to sneeze at. It will probably just get worse from here. Looking at these picks, there are probably way too many road underdogs selected. However, as the recently departed Joaquin Andujar once said: "There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, 'You never know'." As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 4-3

Utah State +13.5 Utah
The first thing I'd like to point out about this Beehive State showdown is the toll injuries appear to have taken on Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The quarterback who led Utah State to a bowl in 2011 and a conference title in 2012 has suffered season-ending injuries in each of the past two seasons. Here are Keeton's numbers from 2011-2013 contrasted with his (truncated) numbers from the past two seasons.

2011-2013: 66.5% completion percentage, 7.67 yards per pass, 56 TDs, 13 Ints
2014-2015: 53.6% completion percentage, 4.29 yards per pass, 2 TDs, 5 Ints

Keeton and the Aggies failed to score an offensive touchdown in their first game, with a punt return touchdown providing the winning margin against Southern Utah of the FCS. Despite the offensive struggle, the defense was its usual dominant self, holding the Thunderbirds to just one touchdown and under three yards per play. The defense will need an encore against a Utah team riding high after spoiling Jim Harbaugh's Michigan's debut. Despite the apparent mismatch here, I like the Aggies as they will be motivated against their in-state 'big brother' and have covered in three of their last four trips to Sack Lake City (and the non-cover was a four-point loss).

South Florida +27.5 Florida State
I know it was an FCS foe, but South Florida scored 51 points on Saturday in their victory over Florida A&M. The 51 points represented the most the Bulls have scored in 25 games under Willie Taggert and is the most points they have scored since scoring 52 on UTEP in 2011. In addition, the Bulls have never scored more than 55 points in any two game stretch under Taggert. Suffice to say, unless things go very poorly in Tallahassee, they should exceed that number. The Seminoles started out rather sluggishly in their first game without Jameis Winston, leading Texas State 21-10 at the half before scoring 38 second half points in a blowout win. The kickoff time for this game is 11:30 EST on Saturday, so another slow start for Florida State would not be surprising here. Plus, South Florida has covered both previous games with the Seminoles (including one outright win) and are 5-1 against the number under Taggert as a double-digit road underdog.

Eastern Michigan +13.5 Wyoming
Craig Bohl's jump from FCS powerhouse to FBS also-ran has been a bit bumpy. After guiding North Dakota State to three consecutive national titles, Bohl took his talents to Laramie and the results thus far have not been up to his usual standards. The Cowboys went 4-8 in his first season, including losing seven of their last eight games. His second season began rather inauspiciously with a loss to North Dakota of the FCS. The Sioux are far from an FCS power, having gone 5-7 last season and owning just one winning season since 2010. Bohl may yet turn the Cowboys into winners, and it could very well happen, much to my dismay, as soon as this weekend. On the other sideline, perpetual loser Eastern Michigan lost yet again last week, but hung with Old Dominion in a tight loss. Though the Eagles gave up 38 points to Old Dominion, they allowed under six yards per play, something they did only twice last season. Baby steps people. Why do I like the Eagles here? I don't know. I think they made a great hire in Chris Creighton, but this might be more wishing, and hoping, and dreaming, and praying than rational analysis.

Kentucky +7.5 South Carolina
Full disclosure, I live in Columbia, so I watch a lot of South Carolina games and hear a lot about the Gamecocks on talk radio. With that being said, I didn't see a great deal of improvement on Thursday night. Yes, the Gamecocks didn't allow more than 50 points at home. Yes, they held a (probably) potent offense to 13 points. Both valid points. However, dig a little deeper into the box score and notice that South Carolina allowed nearly seven yards per play to the Tar Heels. The Gamecocks kept the Tar Heels off the scoreboard thanks to red zone turnovers. Red zone turnovers are great for winning a game, but that is not the kind of high-wire act you want to rely on to win consistently. I would practically guarantee the Wildcats score at least 24 in Columbia. Speaking of the Wildcats, they needed a late score to get by Louisiana-Lafayette in Lexington. While the Wildcats squeaked by the Ragin' Cajuns, they actually led 21-0 and 33-10 and averaged over seven yards per play. South Carolina will have their hands full with the Wildcats on Saturday night.
Pictured: Jon Hoke and the Gamecock defense. 

Indiana -7.5 Florida International
You may have missed it with all the other action going on Thursday night, but Florida International had one of the quieter double-digit underdog upsets of the weekend. The Panthers beat their in-state rival Central Florida 15-14 by blocking a last second field goal. The Panthers have come a long way in Ron Turner's third season. In 2013, they were arguably the worst FBS team, and last season, despite improvement, they still lost to an FCS team. Now they head to the nation's heartland to face an Indiana team that narrowly avoided losing to an FCS team themselves. The Hoosiers bested Southern Illinois 48-47 when the Salukis failed on a last second two-point conversion. As has been the case for seemingly all of the Kevin Wilson era, the Hoosiers put up a lot of points, but also failed to prevent their opponents from doing the same. However, that narrow escape may serve to put some extra money in your pocket. As I famously mentioned last year, teams that avoid close calls against lower-division opponents have a phenomenal record against the number in their next game. Indiana should probably be closer to a two-touchdown favorite here. Florida International will score some points against the Hoosiers, but the final result will be a comfortable Indiana win.

Georgia State +6.5 New Mexico State
My logic for this game follows very similar logic to my notion to fade Georgia State last week when they were a touchdown favorite at home against Charlotte. That logic was that Georgia State should not be favored by a touchdown against any FBS team. I feel the same way about New Mexico State. Last season the Aggies and Panthers played an exciting game with New Mexico State getting a late touchdown to win 34-31. Alas, the game was buried on ESPN3. I think television ratings for this one will be comparable to last year's. In other words, I don't think the M*A*S*H record will be threatened. Last week didn't tell us a whole lot about these teams we didn't already know. Georgia State can't win games when their opponents score touchdowns on defense and New Mexico State is not better than Florida. I think this game will play out a lot like last year's. Expect more than 30 points for each side and a margin of victory of three or four points.

San Jose State +6.5 Air Force
What do we know about these two teams? We know they can trounce FCS teams. San Jose State crushed New Hampshire (where Chip Kelly made a name for himself) and Air Force bludgeoned Morgan State. We also know that last year, these two teams enjoyed vastly different fates. Air Force won ten games and yet another Commander in Chief Trophy, while San Jose State finished 3-9 with losses in their last six games. Personally, I thought San Jose State would be much improved this season as their Yards Per Play numbers were solid last season. Not great, but befitting a 6-6 or 5-7 team versus a 3-9 team. The first game provided no reason for me to stray from that opinion. Of course, this one might.

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