Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

It was bound to happen, and last week it did. I suffered my first losing week. Thankfully, it wasn't a horrific performance, as I managed a 3-4 record. The goal is to only look foolish once a week, and well, I looked foolish at least twice. My humblest apologies for believing in Auburn and South Carolina. I'll try and do better this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 13-8

Bowling Green -1 Purdue
This spread appears almost too good to be true. After a somewhat disappointing first season under Dino Babers (where they still won the MAC East and a bowl game), the Falcons have played well through a quarter of the 2015 season. The Falcons have put up 30 points in each game (eclipsing 40 twice) and already own a win over Maryland of the Big 10. The Falcons are now 2-1 against Big 10 foes under Babers and will look to make it three of four in West Lafayette. Here is what we know about these teams. Bowling Green is good enough to move the ball against an SEC team, good enough to beat a middling Big 10 team on the road, and good enough to challenge the reigning American Athletic Conference champion at home. What do we know about Purdue? They were good enough to hang with Marshall on the road (though Marshall has proven to be much weaker than they were last season), good enough to convincingly beat an FCS opponent, and good enough to be crushed at home by a Virginia Tech team playing with their backup quarterback. I can't for the life of me understand why this spread is so low. They say a sucker emcee is born every minute, and perhaps this spread will end up being made for such folk.

Syracuse +24 LSU
This is an interesting non-conference clash, and it marks the first time LSU and Syracuse have played in the regular season. The teams split two bowl games (one in the 60's and one in the 80's) and this will serve as the rubber match until Syracuse takes the return trip to Baton Rouge in 2017. By then, we'll be almost a year through the first term of the Trump presidency, so who knows if the world as we know it will still exist. I'm taking the Orange here because LSU is bound to suffer a letdown after their beatdown of Auburn last week. Leonard Fournette treated the Auburn Tigers like a JV squad grinding out 228 yards on the ground while averaging twelve yards per rush. The talent disparity screams LSU blowout, but I think the Tigers will be a tad disinterested in facing a non-conference opponent early in the Eastern Time Zone. Plus, LSU has not covered as a double-digit road favorite since their fantastic 2011 season. Take the Orange to cover here in a surprisingly competitive game.

Northern Illinois +4 Boston College
On Friday, Boston College turned in a phenomenal defensive performance in holding Florida State to under four yards per play and just a single offensive touchdown in a 14-0 loss. The next day, Northern Illinois may have done then one better in holding Ohio State under 300 yards at The Horseshoe. Alas, both teams failed to pull off large upsets thanks to their offensive struggles. Boston College was held to 195 yards and could not get on the scoreboard against the Seminoles. Northern Illinois averaged less than three yards per play against the Buckeyes, and employed some cowardly tactics in their 20-13 loss. Despite their apparent apathy toward actually winning the game against the Buckeyes, Northern Illinois is 3-2 against Power Five opponents under head coach Rod Carey and 4-1 against the number. Boston College has already dropped a home game to a Group of Five opponent under Steve Addazio, so an upset here would not stop the presses. Look for the Huskies to keep this one close and eke out another win for the MAC against the big boys.

Florida International +14.5 Louisiana Tech
The Panthers from Florida International have been one of the more pleasant surprises from outside the power conferences. After a dreadful start under Ron Turner in 2013, the Panthers improved to 4-8 last season, and are 2-1 in 2015 with a closer than it looked loss to Indiana their only blemish. The Panthers have one of the better mid-major defenses, holding a prolific Indiana attach to just over five yards per play. Louisiana Tech is a strong mid-major as well, taking Kansas State to overtime in their trip to Manhattan this past weekend. The Bulldogs are quarterbacked by former Florida scapegoat signal caller Jeff Driskel and have a dynamic running back in Kenneth Dixon who is currently averaging over seven yards per carry. The Bulldogs may have the star power and the homefield, but the Panthers are 5-1 against the number as a road underdog since the beginning of last season. I would be extremely surprised if this game is decided by more than a touchdown.

Eastern Michigan -2.5 Army
I was all in on Eastern Michigan last week and things were looking good early on as they jumped out to a 17-0 lead against Ball State before allowing four unanswered touchdowns. I still think Eastern Michigan is one of the more improved teams in the nation and are primed for their second win of the year as a winless Army squad comes to town. The Black Knights have lost three tight games to begin their second season under Jeff Monken. Of course, the competition in those three games has not exactly been elite competition. Fordham, Connecticut, and Wake Forest are not typically found in the upper-reaches of the college football polls. This is a unique spot for Eastern Michigan, as they have not been favored against an FBS team since 2011. Three consecutive 2-10 seasons will do that to you. Army is better than their record, but Eastern Michigan should be able to take advantage of Army's leaky defense and win this one by at least a field goal.

Missouri +3 Kentucky
Missouri opens conference play after giving the nation one of the uglier games of the third week of college football. The Tigers outlasted the Connecticut Huskies 9-6 in a game that remarkably, featured no field goals. Despite their unaesthetic early performances (they edged Arkansas State by a touchdown the week before), the Tigers appear to have the Wildcats right where they want them. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Missouri has been a road underdog five times. They have covered in all five games and won each outright. In fact, Missouri is 10-1 against the number since 2013 on the road. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that Missouri has not lost a true road game (they lost both SEC Championship Games they appeared in) since facing Johnny Manziel in 2012. I'm having a hard time figuring out how Kentucky is favored in this game. Take the Tigers to continue their winning ways on the road.

Ball State +18.5 Northwestern
Northwestern closes their non-conference season when they host Ball State on Saturday night. After a pair of disappointing 5-7 seasons, the Wildcats have beaten two Power 5 foes in their first three games and are currently ranked 17th in the latest AP Poll. The Wildcats have played outstanding defense in their first three games, holding Stanford, Eastern Illinois, and Duke to just 16 combined points and less than four yards per play. With no cross-division games against Michigan State or Ohio State, Northwestern appears to be a real threat to win the Big 10 West. Despite lauding the Wildcats for their performance thus far, I think Ball State is a good play. For starters, despite their fine defensive play through the first three games, the Wildcats have only scored 16 and 19 points respectively against the two FBS opponents they have faced. In addition, after upsetting Duke last week, and with their conference opener against Minnesota on tap next week, the Wildcats could be in prime letdown position here. Plus Ball State is 8-3 against the number under head coach Pete Lembo as a double-digit road underdog. They are also 5-2 against the number versus Power 5 foes under Lembo with three outright upsets. I don't think they can pull off the outright win here, but they should cover.

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