Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

This weekly preview is slowly becoming the definition of insanity. A fourth consecutive 3-4 week means the margin for error we built early in the season has evaporated. Let's see if Halloween provides some treats. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 30-26

Oregon +3 Arizona State
Oregon is not nearly as good as they have been the past few seasons. Their three regular season losses are the most they have had since 2008. With Cal, Stanford, and Southern Cal still on the schedule, in addition to this game in Tempe, they will probably lose four or five games. With their struggles, the general public appears to have totally abandoned the Ducks. The Ducks have been underdogs twice this season, exceeding the number of times they were betting dogs between 2010 and 2014. In both of those games this season, the Ducks covered as underdogs, including winning outright against Washington two weeks ago. Now is the time to buy low on the Ducks, especially when they face a team like Arizona State. The Sun Devils do have a marquee win at UCLA this season, but they have also laid a few eggs. Take the Ducks to win this one outright.

Wyoming +28 Utah State
Let me begin this preview by stating the obvious. Wyoming is not a good football team. Perhaps you could tell by their 1-7 record which includes losses to North Dakota of the FCS and one of the worst FBS teams in Eastern Michigan. However, despite their struggles, the Cowboys have been a quality play against the number. Under second year head coach Craig Bohl, the Cowboys are an amazing 7-1 as a double digit road underdog, including 4-0 this season. Wyoming has played Washington State, Appalachian State, Air Force, and Boise State on the road this season and while neither game has been particularly close, the Cowboys did not lose any by more than 20 points. Utah State is not markedly better than that quartet of teams, so this is a pretty easy play. Wyoming won't win, but should cover easily.

Georgia Tech -5 Virginia
I am usually reluctant to take favorites that are coming off big wins or upset wins. Georgia Tech checks both boxes, yet I feel reasonably confident the Yellow Jackets can win in Charlottesville by at least a touchdown. While the Yellow Jackets have historically struggled when playing at Virginia, losing eight in a row between 1992 and 2007, things have changed since Paul Johnson's arrival. The Yellow Jackets have won two of three with both wins coming by double digits. I know Georgia Tech is far from a dominant team, and with five losses is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1996. The typical high-powered offense has been atypically quiet, averaging just under 25 points per game over their last six. However, the opposition has had a great deal to do with that. Their last six opponents (Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pitt, and Florida State) all rank in the top fifty in total defense (Virginia ranks 86th). If you prefer more advanced stats, all six save North Carolina (61st) rank in the top forty in S&P+. Virginia ranks 106th in that category. I think the triple-option gets well in a big way on Saturday.

Cal +6 Southern Cal
Last week, both these teams posted drastically different results. The Golden Bears dropped their second consecutive games after a 5-0 start, losing to UCLA. Meanwhile, the Trojans won their first game under interim coach Clay Helton (this season) as they knocked off the previously unbeaten Utah Utes. Now the Trojans are in a position they have not fared well in over the past few seasons. Since 2012, under four different head coaches, the Trojans are just 3-9 against the number as a road favorite with four outright losses. Cal needs just one more win to become bowl eligible, and they may get it on Saturday.

Georgia +3 Vs Florida
Forgive me if you will for reminiscing, but this clash in the city of London's beloved football team reminds me a lot of the 2012 game. For those who don't remember, Florida came into the 2012 game unbeaten with victories against Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, and South Carolina. Georgia, while far from rancid dog chow, came in with no real marquee victories, a blowout loss to South Carolina, and a tight win over a Kentucky team that would win zero SEC games. The Gators were favored by roughly a touchdown, but lost 17-9. Georgia would close the regular season four more victories before facing Alabama in an epic SEC Championship Game. Things are eerily similar in 2015 if you just add an additional loss to each team's ledger. Florida has impressive wins over Tennessee and Ole Miss and a tight loss in Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, Georgia has no marquee wins, a blowout loss, and a closer than expected win against a bad opponent. So, why oh why is Georgia the pick? Take a look at that Florida offense that Jim McElwain has 'fixed'. Against SEC teams, the Gators are currently averaging 4.97 yards per play which ranks 12th in the conference. Last season, the Gators averaged 4.85 yards per play against SEC foes which ranked...12th in the conference. You can argue there has been improvement, but it has been marginal and insignificant. Florida is extremely overvalued here and Georgia, despite two defeats, has plenty to play for. A win against the Gators puts the Bulldogs back in the driver's seat to get to Atlanta, and methinks they might have some extra motivation after last year's result.

Texas Tech +3 Oklahoma State
One of these teams is 7-0 and ranked 12th in the latest AP Poll while the other is 5-3 and did not receive any votes in said poll. Look a little closer though, and you can see the difference in their record is all about the schedule. Let's discount the non-conference schedule as both teams went 3-0 (even though Texas Tech played the toughest opponent). In league play, Texas Tech has played Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU, arguably the top-three teams in the Big 12 (and Iowa State). Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has played Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia. The latter three teams are all quality, but they are not on the same level as Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. Oklahoma State beat that trio by a combined 12 points with one victory coming in overtime. Texas Tech is 4-1 against the number as home underdog under Kliff Kingsbury while Oklahoma State is just 2-7-1 against the spread as a road favorite since the beginning of the 2012 season. Oklahoma State is the type of team you want to back when they are catching points, but you don't want any part of them giving points on the road.

North Texas +9.5 Texas-San Antonio
Let me state the obvious here: Both these teams are bad. If you couldn't tell by their combined 1-13 record coming into this game, well, maybe you should pay more attention. Fortunes can change in a hurry in college football, and these two teams are proof of that. The last time these two played in Denton, Texas, North Texas was on their way to a nine-win season and Texas-San Antonio was busy posting a winning campaign. The Roadrunners won that game, and in the process, cost North Texas a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game. However, since the start of last season, these two teams have combined to go 9-29. North Texas reached rock bottom three weeks ago when they lost by nearly 60 points to an FCS team. Now, that FCS team did beat Washington State, but heads had to roll after a result like that. Head coach Dan McCarney was fired just an hour or so after the game. Mike Canales was named the interim head coach for the second time in his North Texas career. After the change, the Mean Green have shown signs of life in their past two games, covering large spreads against Western Kentucky and Marshall. Texas-San Antonio is too limited on offense to be favored by nearly double digits especially on the road. Take the Mean Green to keep this one close.

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