On the plus side, I had my best week since September last week. On the downside, I still went just 3-3-1. Hopefully, we can finally breakthrough this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 3-3-1
Purdue +16 Northwestern
Northwestern is 18th in the latest College Football Playoff Rankings, coming off an exciting home win over Penn State, and on their way to their first bowl appearance since 2012. And now, sorry ass Purdue strolls into town as a big underdog. Northwestern should roll right? As Lee Corso might say, 'Not so fast, my friend!'. While Purdue has been horrendous under Darrell Hazell, posting a 6-27 overall record, the Boilermakers have been solid plays as a double digit road underdog. They are 6-3 against the spread in that role with five consecutive covers. Plus, Northwestern finds themselves in the dreaded sandwich game. After a tight contest with Penn State last week, the Boilermakers have Wisconsin on deck in Madison next week. Think they might be looking ahead? I do.
Georgia +1.5 Auburn
I am having a little trouble reconciling this spread with the seasonal numbers. Yes, Auburn has played better of late, beating Texas A&M after staying close with Ole Miss and taking Arkansas to overtime in their previous two games. However, despite their improved play, the Auburn offense has still only averaged 5.6 yards per play in that three-game span. Prorated to an entire season, that number would rank sixth in the SEC, hardly an elite showing. It should also be noted that Arkansas ranks dead last in the SEC in yards per play allowed and Texas A&M ranks twelfth in that category (Ole Miss is fifth, but is not quite as stout as we all thought back in early October). Of course, Georgia has had offensive difficulties of their own, scoring zero touchdowns in their two games going into Kentucky. As is usually the case for SEC teams, Kentucky is the cure for what ails you. The Bulldogs put three touchdown on the board and gained 300 yards on the ground against the Wildcats. It should also be noted the two teams that shut down Georgia prior to their clash with the Wildcats, Florida and Missouri, rank first and second in the SEC in yards per play allowed. Georgia has won seven of the last nine in this series with the two losses coming courtesy of Cam Newton and a miracle conversion. I like Georgia to win this one outright.
Ohio State -16 Illinois
I know the talking heads have repeated it ad nauseum on ESPN and FS1, but the Ohio State Buckeyes are a different team with JT Barrett under center. Barrett returns this week after his suspension for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. With Barrett replacing Cardale Jones, the Buckeye offense should click and eclipse the 30-point barrier. If the Buckeyes can move the ball and finish drives, they should be able to cover this large number as Illinois lacks the offensive firepower to generate explosive plays against Ohio State. I think the Buckeyes win this one by three touchdowns.
Utah State -1 Air Force
Barring another Boise State loss, Utah State likely blew their chance at a division title last week when they fell at New Mexico (as 20 point favorites). The Aggies significantly outplayed the Lobos everywhere, but the scoreboard. They averaged nearly a yards more per play than the Lobos, but turned the ball over on downs twice inside the New Mexico 30, lost a fumble inside the New Mexico 30, lost a fumble inside their own five, and missed a field goal. Of course, we must give New Mexico credit for capitalizing on the Aggies' woes, but that result seems to have significantly depressed the point spread in this game. Air Force has been tough at home since the start of 2014, winning eleven consecutive games at Falcon Stadium. However, the combined record of the FBS teams they have beaten at home this season is an unimpressive 9-28. Utah State is by far the best team they will have faced in the friendly confines this year. With a spread this low, the Aggies are the play.
Rutgers +9.5 Nebraska
Thanks to some dubious officiating last week, Nebraska may have saved their season. And by saved their season, I mean potentially earned themselves a nondescript bowl bid. Nebraska needs to win their final two games, on the road at Rutgers and after a week of respite, at home against Iowa to get to 6-6. I know Iowa is unbeaten, but a rested, better than their record Nebraska team playing at home feels like at least a 50/50 proposition in my mind. However, before the showdown with Iowa, Nebraska must do something they have never done - win at Rutgers. Alright, full disclosure, Nebraska has never played at Rutgers, but that doesn't make the preceding statement any less true. The Cornhuskers did beat the Knights in New York in 1920 (I'm sure your grandfather has great stories about that game), but last year's battle in Lincoln was their first meeting since Woodrow Wilson was running things. The Cornhuskers have been road favorites in two games this season, and have lost both. I would be very shocked if Rutgers pulls out the win here, but Nebraska's defense is just bad enough to allow the Knights to stay close.
LSU -7.5 Arkansas
While I am usually loathe to back Les Miles as a favorite, primarily because he does a pretty bad job of covering the spread, I think the Tigers are a good play here for several reasons. The public seems to have not only cleared the LSU bandwagon after their loss to Alabama, but spray painted it a certain hue of Crimson, set it on fire, and rolled it down the hill. How else to explain why LSU, a team that has won all their home games save versus Florida by at least 21 points, is scarcely more than a touchdown favorite against Arkansas. I know the Hogs are coming off a big road win at Ole Miss, but if you watched that game, it perfectly summed up their season. The Hogs have a powerful offense, but are held back by a defense that is the worst in the SEC (based on yards per play). Against the six Power Five teams Arkansas has faced (five SEC teams and Texas Tech), the Hogs have allowed 34.7 points per game and 6.57 yards per play. The Hogs allowed three teams (Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss) to average more than eight yards per play against them. Add in the revenge factor after last year's bloodletting in Fayetteville and you have all the ingredients for an LSU blowout.
Arizona +6 Utah
Like TCU, Utah had a rough start to life in a power conference. In their first three seasons in the Pac-12, the Utes won just a third of their conference games and endured two consecutive losing seasons. However, over the past year and a half, the Utes have won twice as many Pac-12 games as they have lost and are in contention for a division title. The Utes aren't great on either side of the ball, but they win the close ones (6-2 league record in one-score games since the start of last season), score in unconventional ways (seven non-offensive touchdowns in their last 15 league games), and rush the passer (60 sacks in Pac-12 games over the past two seasons). Their opponent on Saturday will be plenty motivated. Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats still need an additional win to be bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season. Having already played ten games, they only have two more shots at it. After winning the Pac-12 South last season, Arizona has experience significant regression on both sides of the ball in 2015. Their offense and defense are both below average by Pac-12 standards and their two league wins have come against league lightweights Oregon State and Colorado. So naturally, they are the pick right? Well, here are a few reasons to go against Utah this week. They pulled off a minor upset last week when they won at Washington. Utah also has a huge home game next weekend against UCLA that will go a long way toward determining the division championship. Finally, Arizona is unbeaten against the spread under Rich Rodriguez as a home underdog (4-0). Take the Wildcats to keep this one within a touchdown.