Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week III

Before I recap last week, I first want to give a shout out to cowardly Jacksonville State coach John Grass. With the ball at his own 35-yard line in a tie game against heavily favored Auburn, Grass wisely chose to take a knee and play for overtime. I can only hope that come March a scrappy 14th seed finds themselves tied in the closing seconds with a heavily favored major conference foe in the NCAA tournament and chooses to dribble out the shot clock and play for overtime. Full disclosure, my buddy texted me a pic of the Cowardly Lion after Jacksonville State employed that strategy. I don't have many friends as it is, and I didn't want to lose one for passing their stuff off as my own.

Pictured: John Grass calling plays in the final minute (and also B*tch Jones kicking a 19-yard field goal).

Last week was phenomenally successful as I posted a 6-1 mark. Be sure to fade my picks this week if you are interested in making money. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 6-1
Overall: 10-4

Air Force +26.5 Michigan State
When I was first perusing this week's spreads, this one stuck out to me. It just screamed letdown. Instead of just assuming a team coming off a marquee victory would suffer a letdown, I decided to comb through the data and see what the numbers said. Last week, as you may have heard, Michigan State beat a fellow top-10 team in the Oregon Ducks. Since 2012, the winner of a top-10 matchup has been favored 19 times in their next game. Those teams went just 4-13-2 against the spread. If we break those numbers down even further, double-digit favorites are just 1-10-2 against the number. This seems to imply the betting public is paying a premium on for these highly ranked teams the following week. Air Force is a competent team with a funky offense and this game is at high noon on Saturday. Look for Air Force to hang around against the Spartans.

Eastern Michigan +6 Ball State
This blog (usually) without exception roots for the down trodden, and there is no more down trodden than the Eagles from Eastern Michigan. Two weeks into 2015 though, is there a ray of hope in Ypsilanti? The Eagles opened by covering at home against Old Dominion and followed that up with a road win against Wyoming. Granted, the competition has not been great, but for a team with just one winning season since 1995, this represents significant progress. Now the Eagles return home from their trip to the Cowboy State and open conference play against Ball State. The Cardinals are also returning from a westward road trip (or was it southeast?), albeit one with vastly different results. Of course, the competition was a tad stronger. Ball State gave up 56 points to the Aggies, but perhaps more concerning, a week prior they gave up 36 points and allowed over seven yards per play to VMI of the FCS. Two games in, Ball State appears to have a very leaky defense, and this may in fact be the best Eastern Michigan offense we have seen (or haven't seen based on the attendance in their opener) in quite some time. This should be an entertaining, high-scoring affair, and I for one will have ESPN3 queued up at 3:00. Fly Eagles fly!

Auburn +7.5 LSU
In my mini-rant I already touched on Auburn's struggles last week against Jacksonville State. Still, despite their best efforts, Auburn did win the game. And as I discovered last summer, that means they could provide some value. While Auburn fans were biting their nails, LSU fans were doing the same as a missed Mississippi State field goal allowed the Tigers to escape Starkville with a win. In that game, Les Miles does what he always seems to do: win, but not cover. I posted this two and a half years ago and decided I would provide an update to the stats here. Miles is now 33-45-3 against the spread versus SEC foes (regular season only) as head coach at LSU. That works out to a winning percentage (or cover percentage) of .423. And if we remove the phenomenal 2011 season when LSU was 7-1 against the number versus the SEC, his record drops to 26-44-3 (.371 cover percentage). I know your eyes are begging you to take LSU, but while Auburn's offense has sputtered in the early going, their defense has been much improved over their poor 2014 numbers. Plus, LSU quarterback Brandon Harris threw just 14 passes last week and averaged just north of five yards per pass. If Auburn can contain stud running back Leonard Fournette, this could turn into a defensive battle (hopefully not one this epic). I don't know if Auburn can win in Death Valley, but they provide pretty good value here.

Indiana -1.5 Western Kentucky
Last week I picked Indiana and they covered at home as a seven and a half point favorite. However, with a late long interception return touchdown, it was kind of a frontdoor cover. The win meant Indiana opened 2-0 for just the second time under Kevin Wilson. With a victory against the Hilltoppers, the Hoosiers would be halfway to bowl eligibility and would be 3-0 for the first time since 2010. The Hoosiers were somewhat stymied by Florida International last week (the Panthers may end up with one of the better mid-major defenses) in averaging just over five yards per play. Offense should not be a problem against the Hilltoppers as they just finished allowing north of seven yards per play in a close home win over Louisiana Tech. I'm not mad if you watched the NFL's opening night and missed that Conference USA clash. I expect this one to look a lot like that one. Both Indiana and Western Kentucky should pile up the yards and points, and this should be an entertaining game. With a spread this small, Indiana should be able to cover unless they are looking ahead to their massive showdown with my alma mater next weekend.

South Carolina +16.5 Georgia
As has often been the case for the past few seasons, this game has huge ramifications in the SEC East. A Georgia win all but eliminates the Gamecocks from contention. On the other hand, a South Carolina upset would give the preseason favorite a conference loss and give hope to conference mates in Columbia (the other one), Gainesville, Knoxville, and Lexington?! For South Carolina, being an underdog this large is relatively uncharted territory. Last season, the Gamecocks were two-touchdown underdogs at Auburn, but before that game, the last time they were catching double-digits on the road was 2009 against Alabama! Overall, Spurrier has been a double-digit road underdog eight times in his tenure at Columbia. He is 6-2 against the number. Plus, South Carolina has been pretty competitive in each of their trips to Athens under Spurrier. They have won two of five games and their largest margin of defeat was just eleven points. Georgia fans, lest you worry too much about a Gamecock win, while he is 6-2 versus the spread as a double-digit road underdog, Spurrier's teams have won outright just once.

Old Dominion +18.5 NC State
NC State has had some pretty soft non-conference schedules as of late, and this year is no exception with two Sun Belt teams, a Conference USA squad, and an FCS school on the slate. However, I will give the Wolfpack some credit for going on the road against a team that has adapted quite well to FBS life. Head coach Bobby Wilder has guided the Monarchs since they rebooted their football program in 2009 and has never had a losing season with two FCS playoff appearances. This marks the first time Old Dominion has hosted a Power 5 program so the atmosphere should be electric at cozy Foreman Field. NC State has not been a double-digit road favorite since 2004 and are just 1-7 against the number as a road favorite since 2010. I won't predict an outright Monarch victory, but NC State will be challenged here.

Texas +6.5 Cal
I understand why everyone is throwing dirt on the Texas Longhorns. They looked absolutely atrocious against Notre Dame. However, they looked significantly better against Rice. I know it was Rice, I know most of the country was watching other games during this window, and I know the Longhorns were outgained by nearly 200 yards. However, on a per play basis, Texas dominated the Owls (as they should) by averaging nearly two and a half more yards per play. They also got much better quarterback play with Jerrod Heard looking like a competent FBS player. On the other sideline, Cal does not have any quarterback issues. After throwing for nearly 4000 yards last season, Jared Goff has torched an FCS and a Mountain West defense and currently ranks fifth nationally in averaging 11.3 yards per pass. However, before we fill up the Cal bandwagon, let's consider a few things. Under Sonny Dykes, Cal has three road wins in two plus seasons. Those road wins came against Northwestern (5-7 record), Washington State (3-9), and Oregon State (5-7). In addition, only one of those wins came by more than a touchdown. Cal has looked better than the Longhorns through the first two games of the season, but the Bears have played a much lighter schedule to date and this represents their first road game. Take the Horns to keep this one close.

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