The good news is, I did not go 3-4 last week. The bad news is, I did even worse, posting a 2-4-1 week. Thankfully October is over. Let's try and pick some winners. As always, home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 2-4-1
Syracuse +13 Louisville
Since football nomad Bobby Petrino returned home (for now at least), prior to the 2014 season, the expectation was that Louisville would become an offensive juggernaut despite the loss of Teddy Bridgewater. Alas, that has not been the case. The Cardinals ranked seventh in the ACC in yards per play in conference games last season and are currently tenth in that category. The defense has been the key to Louisville's success. Last season, they ranked second in the ACC in yards per play allowed in conference games, and this year, they are third in that metric. Thanks to their offensive difficulties, the Cardinals are 0-4 against the number as a double digit home favorite. Syracuse is a competent team, with too many deficiencies to win this game outright, but they should do enough to cover this large number.
Marshall +3 Middle Tennessee State
After a disjointed start that saw them win a back-and-forth game with a bad Purdue team and lose on the road by two scores to a bad Ohio team, the Thundering Herd have quietly returned to their winning ways. They have won seven straight and are likely to win ten games for the third consecutive year. In fact, regardless of what happens here, their division title hopes will likely come down to their Black Friday showdown with Western Kentucky. As expected, Marshall suffered a drop off on offense with the loss of Rakeem Cato, but the defense is perhaps even better than it was last season. The Herd are currently second in Conference USA in terms of yards per play allowed in league games. Middle Tennessee State is just 3-5, but their losses have come to Power 5 teams (Alabama, Illinois, and Vanderbilt) and two of the stronger teams in Conference USA (Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky). Still, its hard to see how they are favored here. Marshall is the better team, and despite having to go on the road, should be able to eke out a win here.
Florida State +12.5 Clemson
If Florida State had not been buzzed two weeks against Georgia Tech, this matchup would be the third featuring unbeaten teams this weekend. As it stands, the winner of this game, particularly if it is Clemson, will have pretty much locked up the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Clemson enters this game as the newly christened number one in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Barring an inexplicable turn of events that would have to involve Dabo Swinney being caught on tape offering a recruit hookers and cocaine, Clemson will be in the College Football Playoff if they win out. Clemson and Florida State have played each season since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. The Seminoles owned the series (and the conference) early on, winning the first eleven contests. However, beginning in 2003, the series has been much more competitive, with the teams splitting six contests. It should be noted, most of those wins by Clemson came when Bobby Bowden was 'coaching' the team. Since Jimbo Fisher arrived, the Seminoles have won four of five. Speaking of Fisher, this marks the first time under his guidance that the Seminoles are double digit underdogs. I'll leave you with this. Jimbo Fisher has lost twelve games in his tenure at Florida State. In only two, at Oklahoma in his first season and against Oregon in the Rose Bowl last year, was the margin of defeat enough for the opposing team to cover a number this large.
Arkansas +11 Ole Miss
What happened to the Ole Miss team that was straight crushing kids in September? The Rebels opened the season looking nigh unstoppable, scoring over 70 points in consecutive games against Tennessee-Martin (runteldat!) and Fresno State and then dropping 43 on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. In those three games, the Rebels averaged 64 points per game. In the six games since, the Rebels have averaged just over 27 points per game. I know the schedule has stiffened, but their 52 point outburst against New Mexico State is included in that data set. It should also be noted the Rebels scored just 24 points against a Memphis team that allowed 41 points to Bowling Green, 46 to Cincinnati, and 42 points to Tulsa. Arkansas is a competent team and has already won a road game against a solid Tennessee squad. This line should be closer to a touchdown. Take the Hogs to cover here.
Old Dominion +12 Texas-San Antonio
So, Old Dominion has already burned me twice this season as a double-digit underdog. Yet, I continue picking the Monarchs undeterred by their performance and against my better judgement. Old Dominion is not a good football team, having beaten Eastern Michigan, Norfolk State, and Charlotte by a combined 21 points. However, Texas-San Antonio is not exactly Nebraska circa 1995. The Roadrunners have just a single win on the year, shafting the mighty UTEP Miners a month ago. The Roadrunners do have a trio of narrow defeats to Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, and North Texas, but should not be favored by double-digits against any team. The Roadrunners have big time issues on offense, ranking 12th in Conference USA in yards per play (conference games only). Take the Monarchs to keep this one close and potentially leave the Alamodome with a win.
LSU +6.5 Alabama
Ole Miss is still hanging around near the top of the SEC West standings, but you can trust the Rebels at your own peril. With the Rebels lurking, this game will serve as an eliminator if Alabama loses. The Tigers will have a narrow margin for error should they fall, but the division title will remain a possibility. The Tide have won the last four in this series (three in the regular season) which is their best stretch since they won four in a row from 1989 through 1992. There is reason to believe Alabama is overvalued going into this game. For starters, they are 0-5 against the number as a home favorite this season, including losing outright to Ole Miss. What you may not have noticed is that despite the wins, Alabama is tenth in the SEC in yards per play (conference games only). For perspective, that ranks below Kentucky! Hmmm....Maybe Lane Kiffin ain't so hot when he isn't drawing up plays for Amari Cooper. The Tide have been their usual dominant selves on defense ranking fourth in the SEC in yards per play allowed. Meanwhile, behind the powerful running of Leonard Fournette and the surprisingly efficient passing of Brandon Harris, the Tigers rank first in the SEC in yards per play. This line seems like it is about a field goal too high. Take the Tigers to keep this one close and potentially leave Tuscaloosa with the inside track to the SEC West title.
Cal +6 Oregon
One of the tenets I usually follow when picking games is never back a favorite if they are coming off an upset win. Of course, last week I ignored that rule by taking Georgia Tech, and like a horror movie character going outside to 'check on that noise', I caught a Jason Voorhees' machete right in the face. Unlike characters in horror movies, I hope to learn from my mistakes this week. Oregon is coming off an upset win in a bonkers game at Arizona State that saw the Ducks have to sweat out a win despite averaging over seven yards per play. The culprit, obviously, was the Duck defense which allowed over 30 points for the fifth time in eight games. Last season, the Ducks allowed 354 points in 15 games. This season, in just eight games, the Ducks have allowed 307 points. Suffice it to say, this game should be entertaining. Cal still needs one additional win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011, and even with a loss in this game will probably get there with a win next week against Oregon State. But, lets not get ahead of ourselves, as the Bears could end their three-game losing skid in Autzen Stadium. Oregon has beaten three teams by more than six points this season: Eastern Washington, Georgia State, and Colorado. Cal will not be added to that list.