Last Week: 4-3
Central Florida +17 East Carolina
Both the Pirates and Knights have endured disappointing seasons in 2015. These two former Conference USA powers combined for a 17-9 record last season (12-4 in the American Athletic Conference). Ah, but things can change in a hurry in college football. The Knights are winless in 2015, having lost to good teams (Stanford), bad teams (Tulane), and FCS teams (Furman). East Carolina has also struggled and at 4-6, the Pirates are in danger of missing out on a bowl for the first time since 2011. East Carolina has had a real tough go of it on offense, with the departure of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma and the matriculation of quarterback Shane Carden and record setting receiver Justin Hardy. After ranking no lower than fourth in their conference in terms of yards per play over the past three seasons, the Pirates are an uncharacteristic ninth in that category in the twelve team American. Taking a team that struggles on offense to cover a double-digit spread on the road against a team hungry for their first win is a recipe for disaster.
Florida International +16.5 Western Kentucky
Florida International is coming off a 52-0 beatdown at the hands of Marshall. So naturally, they are the play at home against perhaps the best team in Conference USA right? Here are a few reasons I think the Panthers are a good play. For starters, the Panthers have five wins, and obviously need a sixth qualify for a bowl game. Despite the tough odds, the Panthers will likely be inspired to get to the postseason. In addition, this game is virtually meaningless to Western Kentucky. Their hopes for a division and eventual conference title will come down to their Black Friday showdown at home against Marshall. I think the Hilltoppers will be looking ahead. Finally, Western Kentucky has not covered as a double digit favorite this year, failing to cover a large spread at North Texas and pushing later in the year at Old Dominion. Western Kentucky won't lose, but the Panthers will keep this one close.
Duke +2.5 Virginia
The Duke Blue Devils are in uncharted territory under head coach David Cutcliffe. Barring some sanctions that manifest themselves over the final three weeks of the season, Duke will be playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history. That is quite an accomplishment considering the Blue Devils played in just two bowls between 1961 and 2011. Incidentally, Duke has not won a bowl game since 1960, when they were coached by Bill Murray (unfortunately, it was not that Bill Murray). The Blue Devils have been money in the bank as a road underdog the past few seasons, posting a 6-2 mark against the number in such a role (with six outright upsets). Meanwhile, Virginia is just 2-7-1 as a home favorite against the number since 2012. Couple that with the fact that Duke is probably the better team and has won three straight in the series, and they are an easy play here.
We came. We saw. We kicked their ass.
Louisville +2.5 Pittsburgh
Louisville disappeared from the national radar after their 0-3 start, but the team coached by one of the easiest men to hate in sports has won six of seven and with a win here, would finish tied for second in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. On the other sideline, the Panthers actually have an outside shot at winning the Coastal Division. The Panthers need to win their final two games (against Louisville and Miami) and have North Carolina lose both of their final games (Virginia Tech and NC State). It could kindly be referred to as a 'snowball's chance', but the possibility does exist. While a division title by Pitt is a longshot, a much more likely outcome is a close game on Saturday. Louisville has played nine games against FBS opponents. Seven have been decided by a touchdown or less. Pitt has also played nine games against FBS opponents. Six have been decided by a touchdown or less. With Pitt's upset win over Duke last week, they are probably a little overvalued here. Take the Cardinal to cover and win outright here.
New Mexico State +15.5 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns are in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time under head coach Mark Hudspeth. At 4-5, Lafayette needs two victories in their final three games to become bowl eligible. After facing the Aggies, the Cajuns go on the road to take on Appalachian State (perhaps the best team in the Sun Belt) and then return home to face Troy. Winning in Boone will be a challenge, so it behooves the Cajuns to beat the Aggies. That will not be as easy as it would have been in past years. While the Aggies have just a pair of wins, they have beaten more than one FBS team for the first time since 2011! Lafayette has no business being favored by double-digits against any team in FBS, even at home. Take the Aggies to keep this one close.
Colorado State -2 New Mexico
For the first time since 2007, New Mexico is bowl eligible. The Lobos have won their past two games in increasingly improbable fashion. Two weeks ago, they were twenty point home underdogs to Utah State. They won by a point. Then last week, they were thirty point underdogs at Boise State. They won by seven, although the margin at the end was incredibly close. Now the Aggies return home with a shot at the Mountain Division title (the Lobos play Air Force next week). They will face a Colorado State team looking for its third consecutive bowl appearance, and first under rookie head coach Mike Bobo. You may remember Bobo for his work as the offensive coordinator of the Georgia Bulldogs, where he is probably still blamed for Georgia's offensive struggles this season. The Rams struggled in the first half of the season, primarily due to the schedule, going 2-4 with losses to Minnesota, Colorado, Utah State, and Boise State. Since the schedule has eased up in the second half, the Rams have improved, winning three of four with the lone loss coming to perhaps the best team in the conference. Colorado State still needs one win to become bowl eligible, and after two huge wins by the Lobos, I think the Rams will be more hungry than the wolves on Saturday.
Missouri +9 Tennessee
After a rough three game stretch where they scored a grand total twelve points, the Missouri offense has gotten on track (by their standards) in the last two games, scoring 33 combined points and even winning a game for the first time in six weeks. The win came amidst a week of turmoil where the Missouri players threatened to not play against BYU and head coach Gary Pinkel announced his retirement effective the end of the season. With five wins, Pinkel will coach at least two additional games and needs an upset win over the Vols or Arkansas to coach in a postseason game. Whether they win or not, this clash with Tennessee will mark Pinkel's final home game as coach of the Tigers. That intangibility coupled with the strong Missouri defense makes the Tigers the play here.