Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

A second straight 3-4 week has your esteemed handicapper questioning everything. Once again though, we avoided total disaster. Let's try and get some 'Ws' this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 24-18

Louisiana Tech +13.5 Mississippi State
After opening his tenure at Louisiana Tech with an awful campaign, Skip Holtz has transformed the Bulldogs into a contender in Conference USA. They won their division last season and lost a one-score game to Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Game. With bad teams occupying their division, a second consecutive appearance in the league title game is certainly a possibility, nay I say, a probability. Before resuming conference play, the Bulldogs step outside the league for a chance at a marquee scalp in Mississippi State. The other Bulldogs will not reach the heights they enjoyed last season, when they rose as high as number one in the nation. Still, with four wins already adorning their ledger, the Bulldogs have a great chance to play in their sixth consecutive bowl game. Mississippi State has played some tight games against non-Power Five teams in their recent history. They beat Louisiana Tech by six (in overtime) in 2011, edged Bowling Green by a single point in 2013, and beat UAB by 13 points last season. Louisiana Tech is not a pushover like Troy, the team Mississippi State destroyed last weekend. Look for the mid-major Bulldogs to keep this one close.

Florida International +9 Middle Tennessee State
The Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee are about two plays away from a special season. They have played three Power Five teams, and after an expected humbling at the hands of Alabama, lost on a late field goal at Illinois and a late touchdown run to Vanderbilt. Ah, but we must focus on things as they are, not things as they could be. Instead of a 4-2 record, the Blue Raiders are 2-4 and must win four of their last six to qualify for a bowl game. With Louisiana Tech and Marshall remaining on the schedule, the Blue Raiders must take care of business in their other winnable games. This game certainly qualifies as winnable, but I think the line is a shade high. With three wins, the Panthers also have designs on a bowl appearance, and with four road games already under their belt, they are battle-tested. Middle Tennessee's two wins have come against an FCS team (Jackson State) and a new FBS team (Charlotte). Two years ago, Florida International would have been comparable to those two teams. They are much better this year and will challenge the Blue Raiders.

Florida Atlantic +6.5 Marshall
On the surface, Marshall appears to be continuing their run of mid-major dominance that began in 2013. After posting 10-4 and 13-1 records the past two seasons, the Herd are off to a 5-1 start and are averaging over 30 points per game, including nearly 35 per game during their current four game winning streak. However, after averaging over six yards per play against Purdue in their season opener, the Herd have been held below five yards per play in each of their next four FBS games. For comparison, the Herd were held below five yards per play three teams between 2013 and 2014 (28 games). Marshall is far from the offensive juggernaut they were when Rakeem Cato was under center. The general public is not wise to that yet though. Take the Owls to keep this one close.

Ole Miss -10.5 Memphis
I'm always a little nervous taking double-digit favorites, but I think the fact that Memphis is undefeated has artificially deflated this line. The Tigers certainly have a strong offense, but against the competent offenses they have faced, their defense has been torched. Both Bowling Green and Cincinnati averaged over seven yards per play and scored over 40 points against the Tigers. Barring a barrage of turnovers, Ole Miss should score at least 40 in this game. So we know Ole Miss is likely to score a lot, but how have they done in the role of a large favorite under Hugh Freeze? As a double-digit favorite away from Oxford, the Rebels are a perfect 3-0 against the number. In total, against non-Power Five opponents, the Rebels are 8-0-1 against the number under Freeze. Their only non-cover came as a three touchdown favorite against these same Tigers last season. Memphis is a good team, and probably deserves to be ranked, but Ole Miss should handle them by two touchdowns.

Colorado State +3.5 Air Force
Colorado State fans are probably a tad disappointed based on the early returns of the Mike Bobo era, at least compared to the heights the Rams reached last season. Although the Rams are 2-4 and 0-2 in the Mountain West, their losses have come to a pair of Power Five teams (Minnesota and Colorado) and the two best teams in the Mountain West (Boise State and Utah State). After playing the Falcons, the rest of the conference is basically junk, so a bowl game is still in play. In fact, the schedule is probably why Air Force is favored in this game. While the Rams opened conference play with the two best teams in the league, Air Force is 2-0 in the league, but has beaten perhaps the worst team in the conference (Wyoming) and a middle of the road team (San Jose State), with both games coming at home. This line should be closer to a pick em', so when Vegas is giving you a field goal, the underdog is the play.

Oklahoma -4 Kansas State
I know I wrote just two short weeks ago that you would be a very rich man if you had simply bet on Kansas State in each game (against FBS teams) since Bill Snyder started his second tenure in 2009. His record against the number now stands at an amazing 47-21-1! So, its only natural I'm taking Oklahoma right? As you may have heard, just when it seemed like you could trust this Oklahoma team, they went out and lost as a double-digit favorite to Texas. Ah, but that was a rivalry game and the 'Horns likely had extra motivation playing for their embattled head coach. How has Oklahoma performed coming off a loss as a double-digit favorite over the past few seasons? Well, the Sooners have lost six times as a double-digit favorite since 2011. One of those losses came in their regular season finale. In the five other instances, the Sooners won each of their followup games by an average margin of over 22 points. Couple that with the fact that Kansas State lost a heartbreaker last week, and to be a little vulgar, likely blew their proverbial load in a near upset of TCU. With this number under a touchdown, the Sooners are the play here.

Penn State +17 Ohio State
Despite an underwhelming performance thus far, Ohio State has managed to hang on to the top spot in the AP Poll. The Buckeyes are still undefeated, which is pretty important, but degenerates across the nation who have backed the Buckeyes have been cursing their performance as they have failed to cover as large favorites in each of their last five games. It would seem Ohio State is due to let loose and crush some teams in the near future. However, one need only look back one year to Florida State to see that may not be the case. The Seminoles were the defending national champion and returned a star quarterback, yet they were consistently overvalued by the point spread. The Seminoles were 1-7 as double-digit favorites last season, managing a cover against a hapless Wake Forest team. Since opening the season allowing ten sacks to Temple, the Nittany Lions have been far from hapless. While Penn State has had a few closer than expected games (Buffalo and Army), they have won five in a row and allowed only nine sacks. Take Penn State to keep this game within two touchdowns.

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