Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIII

It was bound to happen. We posted our worst week of the year in terms of handicapping amateur athletic contests. I have a good feeling about this week though. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 41-41-2

San Jose State +7.5 Boise State
Boise State is in a very unfamiliar position heading into their final regular season game. The preseason favorite in the Mountain West currently resides in third place in their division, and a loss to the Spartans would give them four conference losses for the first time since 1996, their first as an FBS program. Their normally stout defense has been shredded in the past three games, as UNLV, New Mexico, and Air Force have combined to average 7.6 yards per play and 31.7 points per game. The Broncos dropped two of those games to drop out of contention in the Mountain Division. Now the Broncos hit the road to take on a San Jose State team that needs a win to become bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons under head coach Ron Caragher. This may be the worst Boise State team in at least a decade, so backing them as a touchdown favorite on the road appears to be a foolhardy endeavor.

Old Dominion +4 Florida Atlantic
I think recency bias is the only explanation for this spread. As you may have heard, Florida Atlantic nearly upset SEC East champion Florida in Hank Ben Hill Peter Griffin Stadium last week. The Owls took the Gators to overtime, and could have won with a touchdown and extra point as the Gators botched their point after touchdown. Alas, the Owls were not able to put the ball in the endzone and had to settle for a cover as a 30+ point underdog. While the win would have been historic for the Owls, it would also have been a fluke. The Owls have just a pair of wins on the season, and have lost games to traditional football factories like Buffalo, Rice, and UTEP. In fact, other than FBS newbie, Charlotte, the only other team the Owls have defeated is Florida International. In fact, outside of their win against Charlotte, the Owls have not won a road game in over two years. Old Dominion is playing for a bowl bid, so motivation will not be an issue for the Monarchs. The Owls have nothing to play for, and likely shot their wad last week.

Southern Miss +6.5 Louisiana Tech
Both these teams have come a long way since 2013. That season, the first for head coaches Todd Monken and Skip Holtz, the two squads combined for a 5-19 record and were about two to three touchdowns worse than the average FBS team based on the Simple Rating System. Louisiana Tech improved dramatically last season, finishing 9-5 and winning the West Division in Conference USA. Southern Miss had further to climb, but did manage three wins last season before improving to eight wins thus far in 2015. Both teams sport identical 8-3 overall records and matching 6-1 marks in Conference USA. Thus, this game in Ruston serves as a play-in game for next week's Conference USA Championship Game. I think Louisiana Tech will win, but Southern Miss has been downright dominant against their recent (inferior) competition, outscoring their last five opponents by 157 points. Louisiana Tech has won their share of blowouts as well, but have also struggled to put away Florida International, Texas-San Antonio, and UTEP. Take the Eagles to soar and cover here.

Ohio State +1 Michigan
I don't know that I have seen a bandwagon empty quicker than Ohio State's after last week's loss to Michigan State. Amazing what a last second loss in poor conditions against a quality foe will do. Now, Ohio State has issues to be sure. Anytime you gain less than 150 yards and have your star player openly criticize the coaching staff, things are not great. However, let's not overreact. Ohio State is still 10-1 on the year, and while their resume lacks a signature win, point out to me Michigan's great win. Sure, beating Northwestern is nice, especially in dominant fashion, but let's not kid ourselves with that notion that the Wildcats are a great team. Plus, I would make the argument that Michigan is nowhere near as dominant defensively now as they were seven weeks ago when that game was played. In the five game span beginning with Oregon State and ending with Northwestern, the Wolverines allowed just 2.6 yards per play and an even more impressive 2.8 points per game. Much of that success was likely schedule driven as Oregon State is the worst team in the Pac-12, UNLV is well, UNLV, Maryland is winless in the Big 10, and Northwestern has the worst offense in the Big 10. Since the Northwestern game, the Wolverines have been much more mortal, allowing 5.3 yards per play and 25 points per game. Even with their conference and national title hopes likely dashed, the Buckeyes will still be plenty motivated to continue their domination of the Wolverines. Oh, and Urban Meyer has not lost back-to-back regular season games since 2010. Take the Buckeyes to cover and win outright here.

Syracuse +3 Boston College
Think about this for a second, do you really trust Boston College as any type of favorite? Against FBS foes, the Eagles are currently averaging less than ten points per game! The Eagles have been favored in two games this season, and covered in neither, winning by three against Northern Illinois as a three and a half point favorite and losing the ugliest game of football this year to my alma mater as a nine point favorite. The Eagles are favored her because they played Notre Dame tough last week. But my friends, there is a big difference between playing an opponent tough as a huge underdog and covering a number as a favorite. The Orange are 3-0 against the number as a home underdog this season, and despite the firing of head coach Scott Shafer earlier this week (Shafer will coach this game), will make it 4-0 in the role on Saturday.

Illinois +3.5 Northwestern @ Soldier Field
Northwestern is one of the more interesting teams of 2015. The Wildcats are very bad on offense, averaging just 4.2 yards per play against Big 10 foes (last in the conference). However, their defense keeps them in games (fourth in the Big 10 in yards per play allowed in league games) and they have won all the close ones (5-0 record in one-score games) thanks to come combination of clutch play, turnovers, randomness, or voodoo. The Wildcats have some good wins this season, beating Stanford, Penn State, and Wisconsin (not to mention, although I guess I am mentioning Duke, Minnesota, and Nebraska). Now, to get to ten regular season wins for the first time since 1995, all the Wildcats have to do it beat listless Illinois. Simple right? Well, for one, the Illini are not that listless. Under interim head coach Bill Cubit, Illinois needs just a single win to become bowl eligible. On a per play basis, the Illini actually appear to be a better team than the Wildcats, so this line appears to be artificially inflated by Northwestern's record. Since the spread is more than a field goal, take the Illini to cover here and don't be surprised if they win outright.

Cal -3.5 Arizona State
Since opening the year 5-0, the Cal Bears have hit the proverbial skids, winning just once in their last six games. Thankfully, Oregon State is enduring a season of futility and provided the Bears with the additional win necessary for bowl eligibility. Arizona State joined the Bears in becoming bowl eligible by beating their in-state rival last week. While the Sun Devils won by 15, the final score was misleading thanks to a pair of interception return touchdowns. Arizona State is notoriously poor as a road underdog under Todd Graham, going just 3-7 against the number in such a role. Look for that trend to continue in an easy home win for Cal.

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