Last week was another solid one as I went 5-2. However, the margin between genius and idiot is often razor thin. Case in point, Northern Illinois covered for me by a single point and Florida International covered thanks to Louisiana Tech taking a knee inside the ten in the final minutes. Methinks things will even out over the course of the season. As always, home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 5-2
Connecticut +18.5 BYU
Don't look now, but the Huskies could be putting a quality (or at least salty) product on the field for the first time in a while. The Huskies have already equaled last season's win total (granted they only won a pair) and appear to be playing quality defense under Bob Diaco. The offense is still a major work in progress, but with a schedule that includes South Florida, Central Florida, and Tulane, the Huskies have a real chance to double last season's win total. How do the Huskies stack up against a BYU team coming off a humiliating performance at Michigan? Give the Cougars credit, splitting four games against the likes of Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, and Michigan (with three coming on the road) is the sign of a quality team. However, I think after facing a quartet of quality opponents with cache and name recognition, the Cougars could be in for a bit of a letdown playing late in the night on Friday. Plus, BYU was 0-5 against the number as a double-digit home favorite last season. Take the Huskies to keep this one relatively close.
Northern Illinois -2 Central Michigan
MAC play begins for the two teams that have combined to win nine of the last ten MAC West titles. That statement is a bit misleading as the Huskies have won the last five. However, beginning in the middle part of the last decade, Central Michigan won three of four MAC championships under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones. Alas, since finishing unbeaten in MAC play in 2009, the Chippewas have not finished better than 5-3 in conference play in any season and are just 18-22 against league foes in that span. The Chippewas have managed to upset Northern Illinois twice since 2011, which accounts for all (yes, I said all) of the Huskies' regular season conference losses since 2010! Do the Chippewas have their number again this year? Under head coach Rod Carey, the Huskies are 8-2 against the number as a road favorite and an even more impressive 5-0 as a single digit favorite. Northern Illinois has seen their typically high-powered offense be shut down the past two weeks in road games against Power Five opponents. Central Michigan does not have the defensive personnel of either Ohio State or Boston College. Combine that with their phenomenal track record as a small favorite and the Huskies are an easy play here.
Air Force +6 Navy
With apologies to Jay Z: If you having tackling problems, I feel bad for ya son. These teams got 99 problems, but a pitch ain't one. After starting their life in the American Athletic Conference with two victories, the Midshipmen step outside of league play to take on the Falcons of Air Force. These teams have played every year since 1972 and the rivalry has been quite streaky. Air Force won eleven in a row between 1982 and 1992 and 19 of 21 between 1982 and 2002. Navy responded by winning seven in a row beginning in 2003. The last five years have seen more parity with Air Force winning three, including last season's affair. Despite owning a loss, one could make the argument that Air Force is the better team here. In their last game, the Falcons actually averaged over seven yards per play against a stout Michigan State defense, but were done in by turnovers. The Midshipmen have not played a team near the quality of Michigan State, and have actually posted middling yards per play numbers in victories against East Carolina and Connecticut. This spread feels like it is at least a field goal too high.
Miami (Ohio) +10.5 Kent State
Since coming out of nowhere to win the 2010 MAC title, the other Miami has hit a rough patch. The Redhawks have not won more than four games in any season and are just 8-24 against conference opponents. They bottomed out in 2013, finishing 0-12 and finding themselves in the market for a new head coach. They chose Chuck Martin, the Notre Dame offensive coordinator, who also enjoyed a successful career at Division II Grand Valley State. The Redhawks went just 2-10 in Martin's inaugural campaign, included among the losses, a defeat to Eastern Kentucky of the FCS. The Redhawks are just 1-3 in after finishing non-conference play in 2015, but they did manage to beat their FCS opponent. They begin MAC play against a Kent State team that has come up just short of a signature win for coach Paul Haynes in the past two weeks. Two weeks ago, the Golden Flashes dropped a 10-7 decision to Minnesota and last week, they blew a double-digit lead and fell in overtime to Marshall. With the losses, Kent State must now win five conference games to get to their first bowl under Haynes. The Golden Flashes find themselves in unfamiliar territory here, entering the game as a double-digit favorite for the first time since...the last time Miami came to town. Miami has been pretty solid as a large road underdog with Martin at the helm, going 5-2 against the number. The Redhawks were bludgeoned by Wisconsin and Western Kentucky on the road, but Kent State does not have nearly the offensive firepower of those two squads. Trust the Redhawks to keep this within a touchdown.
Kansas State +8 Oklahoma State
If you had made a wager for Kansas State in every regular season game against an FBS opponent since Bill Snyder began his second tenure, you would have a nice return on your initial investment. The Wildcats are an amazing 45-21-1 against the number since the beginning of the 2009 season. I have made no secret of my love for Bill Snyder on this blog, so when his team is catching more than a touchdown against a less than elite opponent, I have to jump on it. In their last game, the Wildcats needed overtime to hold off Louisiana Tech in Manhattan. While that may be damning on paper, Louisiana Tech is one of the better teams in Conference USA. Meanwhile, in their last game, Oklahoma State needed assistance from the officials and the Texas punter to beat the Longhorns in Austin. Kansas State failed to cover as an underdog away from Manhattan three times last season. Their opponents in those games? Baylor, TCU, and UCLA. Oklahoma State is not quite in that class. Take the Wildcats to cover and potentially eke out a win here.
Maryland +16 Michigan
After a rough start in Salt Lake City, the Michigan Wolverines appear destined for greatness under Jim Harbaugh. At least, that is the narrative the national media will be forcing down our throats in the coming weeks. Despite what is often written on this blog, I'm no fool. I know Michigan is likely to consistently have a good team under Harbaugh. However, I think Michigan is quite over-valued this week. For starters, Michigan is coming off a fantastic performance against a BYU team playing with a backup quarterback in their fourth consecutive tough game. Couple that fact with Maryland looking like absolute garbage last week against West Virginia, and you have all the ingredients for an inflated spread. Yes, Maryland was pummeled by the Mountaineers, but keep in mind, West Virginia might be pretty damn good. This is Michigan's first road trip in a month and they are in prime letdown position. Take the Terrapins to cover this large number.
Fresno State +9 San Diego State
Things can change almost overnight in college football, and one need look no further than head coach Tim DeRuyter of Fresno State to see an example of this. In his first two years on the job, he guided the Bulldogs to two Mountain West titles, one shared, and one outright. However, since the start of last season, his Bulldogs are just 7-11. Part of the reason for the decline is that both his quarterback and top receiver from those first two teams are now in the NFL. Give DeRuyter credit for staying in Fresno after his studs left town, but hopefully this doesn't torpedo his career like it did for Chris Lowery (different sport I know, but the general narrative fits). It appears Zack Greenlee will be quarterbacking the Bulldogs on Saturday night. He was suspended for the last game after being arrested for public drunkenness (kids these days). Fresno will face a fellow Mountain West team that has also lost three consecutive games. Both teams have posted poor numbers in the early going, but Fresno has the valid excuse that they have faced a pair of top-ten teams (Ole Miss and Utah). San Diego State has faced a pair of Power Five teams, but Cal and Penn State don't appear to be quite as stout as the Rebels and Utes. Oh, and they lost at home to a Sun Belt team. The logic behind this pick is that San Diego State should not be favored by more than a touchdown against any FBS school. Take the Bulldogs to keep this one close.