Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

That's three 3-4 weeks in a row. Once again though, we avoided total disaster. Let's see if we can get some wins before the month is over. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 27-22

Tulsa +11 Memphis
One week after being burned by Memphis when they pulled off perhaps the biggest win in school history, I'm going against the Tigers again. This game just screams 'letdown'. The Tigers beat Ole Miss, achieved the highest ranking in school history, and now must face a quality opponent on a short week. While Tulsa has not achieved the dramatic heights under a first year coach like another American school, the Golden Hurricane have played solid football under, particularly on offense, under Philip Montgomery. The former Baylor offensive coordinator has seen his charges score 30 points or more four times in six games. Over the previous two seasons, while they were going 5-19, Tulsa hit the 30-point barrier just eight times. While Tulsa is just 3-3, after this contest with Memphis, the Golden Hurricane have games remaining against SMU, UCF, and Tulane (combined 3-16 record), so a bowl game is still a real possibility. Both these teams had relatively misleading finals last week. Tulsa actually outgained and averaged more yards per play than East Carolina, but threw a pick-six near the East Carolina goalline on their first drive in the 13-point loss. Meanwhile, Memphis upset Ole Miss, but averaged nearly a one and half fewer yards per play than the Rebels. Take Tulsa to keep this one close, and even if Memphis pulls away in the second half, the backdoor should be wide open.

Syracuse +6.5 Pitt
Pat Narduzzi is just a single win away from matching the most wins Pitt has had in the regular season since 2010. The Panthers are 3-0 in the ACC, and after their trip to upstate New York, three of their final four conference games come at home. In other words, halfway through the conference season, the Panthers are real players in the division race. Despite their fine start, the Panthers seem a better value when they are getting points than when they are giving them. Case in point, the Panthers were an underdog at Georgia Tech last week and won the game outright. They did the same two weeks prior against Virginia Tech. However, in between, the Panthers were nine point favorites at home against Virginia and failed to cover. The Panthers appear to be the type of team that plays everyone close. Outside of their 17-point road win against Akron, their other five games have been decided by eight points or less. Syracuse is a quality opponent, particularly in the Carrier Dome, where the last two games in this series have been decided by a single point. Look for more of the same this week.

Army +10 Rice
While no one will confuse Rice with a college football power, at 3-3, the Owls are halfway to a fourth consecutive bowl bid under head coach David Bailiff. For a school that went 45 years between bowl bids, that is quite an accomplishment. If Rice reaches a fourth straight bowl game, they can thank the schedule makers and the shadowy figures behind realignment. Rice has beaten Wagner (an FCS school) and two woebegone conference foes (North Texas and Florida Atlantic) that were formerly in the Sun Belt. When the American raided Conference USA (to replace their ranks that were raided by the ACC, Big 10, and Big 12), the strength of the league declined significantly. After Army, a team that is currently 2-5, the Owls finish with five conference games including tilts with UTEP (2-4), Texas-San Antonio (1-6), and Charlotte (2-4). The Owls could conceivably win seven games and have nary a quality win. But, to paraphrase Bill Parcells: They don't ask how, they just ask how many. So after badmouthing their schedule, including Army, it only makes sense that the Cadets are the pick right? Army was crushed by Duke two weeks ago, but the Cadets have usually been competitive this season. They lost to Fordham by two points, Connecticut by five points, Wake Forest by three points, and Penn State by six points. There are very few teams against whom Rice should be favored by double digits. Army is not one of them.

Boston College +8 Louisville
Last week, Clemson did something especially amazing against Boston College. In their first six games, the Eagles had allowed just 43 total point. Clemson scored 34. Despite their failings against the Tigers, Boston College still boasts a stout defense. However, the loss dropped them to 0-4 in the ACC. With Notre Dame remaining on the non-conference schedule, the Eagles likely need to find a trifecta of conference wins to get to a third straight bowl game. On the other sideline, Louisville needs to win four of their final six games to get back to a sixth consecutive bowl. Fortunately, the Cardinals have already played both Clemson and Florida State, so they get to face the soft underbelly of the ACC over the second half of the season. Louisville is the better team and is playing at home, but Boston College's defense should keep this one close.

Indiana +17 Michigan State
After one of the most improbable victories, not only in school history, but in college football history, Michigan State returns home to take on an Indiana team in a desperate search for bowl eligibility. Indiana suffered their own improbable loss when they fell at home despite a 25-point cushion against Rutgers. Does that derail Indiana's season? Perhaps, but the Hoosiers have been competitive in games where quarterback Nate Sudfeld plays regardless of the opponent. Whether it is Southern Illinois, Wake Forest, or Ohio State. I think Michigan State will be on cruise control for the next month until they travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. With that in mind, take the Hoosiers to keep this one respectable.

Old Dominion +14 Florida International
Florida International is in an unfamiliar situation on Saturday. They will be double digit favorites against an FBS team for the first time since 2012. Back then, the Panthers were in the Sun Belt, coached by a likely upwardly mobile upstart, and coming off consecutive bowl appearances. Things can change in a hurry though. After beating the Zips, the Panthers would win just two games the rest of the season. Head coach Mario Cristobal was fired, Ron Turner was hired, and the Panthers moved to Conference USA. With three wins already under their (sun) belt, the Panthers have a shot at qualifying for a bowl game. To do so, they will almost certainly need to win their next three games (Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, and Charlotte) as their final two contests are against league overlords Marshall and Western Kentucky. However, Old Dominion also has designs on a bowl game, which would be the first in school history. The Monarchs have three of the least impressive wins imaginable (Eastern Michigan, FCS Norfolk State, and Charlotte), but have a light schedule the rest of the way as well. The Monarchs may have also found a quarterback to run head coach Bobby Wilder's system. After losing Taylor Heinicke to graduation, the Monarchs struggled throwing the football in the early going in 2015. I know it was FBS newbie Charlotte, but newly installed signal caller David Washington helped the Monarchs average over eight yards per pass against the 49ers. The team had been below six yards per pass in four of their previous five games. I don't expect Old Dominion to join the AP Poll this week, but they should give Florida International a game.

South Alabama +4 Texas State
Both these teams joined FBS in 2012 and were bowl eligible in 2013 and 2014. Unfortunately for the Bobcats of Texas State, they were not invited to the postseason either year. The Jaguars from South Alabama played a memorable forgettable bowl game against Bowling Green last season. South Alabama is 3-3 and could conceivably get back to the postseason while Texas State is 1-4 and faces an uphill battle to nab their first bowl bid. Neither of these teams is particularly good, but the spread should be closer to a pick 'em. South Alabama had a misleading final score last week when they lost to Arkansas State by a healthy margin thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns by the Red Wolves in the final ten minutes. Look for South Alabama to pull off the road upset.

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