Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

In the nearly ten years I have been posting ATS picks on this blog, I have never had a perfect week. I suppose last week was not technically perfect, but it was the equivalent of the first man reaching via an error and then retiring 27 straight batters. 6-0-1 looks pretty good, but alas, we must move on.  Let's stay perfect this week. :) As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 6-0-1
Overall: 6-0-1

Syracuse +15 Louisville
Prior to the season Louisville was a darkhorse candidate to unseat Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Their performance on opening night did not tamper enthusiasm. The Cardinals torched FBS newcomer Charlotte 70-14, with quarterback Lamar Jackson accounting for eight touchdowns on his own. Now the Cardinals will try to follow up that performance with their first conference win. While Syracuse did not set any offensive records in their opener, the Orange opened the Dino Babers era with a comfortable win against Colgate from the FCS. As a team, the Orange completed 87% of their passes against the Raiders with sophomore Eric Dungey going 34 of 40 while averaging nearly nine yards per throw. While the Orange may struggle to get to a bowl in Babers' first season, I think they are a good play here. For starters, the Orange are 6-3 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home dog since joining the ACC in 2013. Secondly, Louisville has a pretty big game on tap next week when they host the Seminoles, so the Orange may not have their undivided attention. Finally, I think the Cardinals are a shade overvalued after their throttling of Charlotte. The last time Louisville scored more than 70 points, they were huge favorites on the road against a bad Temple team in their next game. While they won comfortably, they did not cover the 32-point spread. Syracuse will keep this one within two touchdowns.

Kansas -3 Ohio
After twelve consecutive losses to open his coaching career, David Beaty finally got his first career win last week as Kansas dropped the double nickel on Rhode Island. Now, Rhode Island is an FCS team, and typically a bad one, but Kansas lost to an FCS team last year, and won by just six against their FCS foe in 2014. The 55 points the Jayhawks scored marked the most they have put on the board since their magical 2007 season. Now, I am not suggesting the Jayhawks will wind up in the Orange Bowl, but I think they are good enough to beat a MAC team at home. You may not have noticed it with all the other excitement going on around college football over Labor Day Weekend, but Ohio played one of the more entertaining games. They fell in three overtimes to Texas State, which by itself may not seem too bad. However, the Bobcats were actually favored by nearly three touchdowns, so they are probably not as good as the numbers and general prognosticators may have believed. I know the competition was weak, but this Kansas team appears to be much better than last year's incarnation. The Jayhawks should easily cover this number.

Navy -4 Connecticut
Both these American Athletic Conference schools faced FCS programs in their opener. The results were quite dissimilar. Navy dominated Fordham (no blocks of granite could be found), but Connecticut needed a last second field goal to escape Maine. I know a few years back I posted about how teams that narrowly defeat FCS foes are usually good plays the next week. However, Vegas seems to have gotten wise to this little trend in recent years. Over the past two seasons, FBS teams that have scraped by FCS teams (win by eight points or fewer) are just 12-13-1 ATS in their next game. As an underdog, those teams are 7-10-1. Unfortunately for the Huskies, scraping by, or even losing to FCS teams has become an annual tradition. The Huskies dropped their opener to Towson in 2013, followed that up with a three-point win against Stony Brook in 2014, and then squeaked by Villanova last season. If this line was more than a touchdown, I would be hesitant to back the Midshipmen, but this line implies these two teams are roughly equal on a neutral field. Navy did lose their quarterback in the opener to a season ending injury, but at Navy, the offensive system has been in place for ages. The Midshipmen won't miss much of a beat in this game, and will be able to cover this small number.

Kentucky +16.5 Florida
Southern Miss over Kentucky was a trendy upset pick heading into opening weekend. And for a while, that pick looked really dumb. Kentucky jumped out to a big lead over the Golden Eagles, but then allowed the last 34 points of the game en route to the upset loss. With a non-conference game remaining against Louisville and a cross-division game against Alabama, the road to their first bowl game under Mark Stoops looks untenable. The good news is Kentucky probably won't tease their fans with a hot start only to suffer another losing season. That being said, Kentucky did do some good things on Saturday. The Wildcats averaged over eight yards per play and seemed to find themselves a quarterback in Drew Barker. Can the Wildcats end their 29-game losing streak to Florida and win in Gainesville for the first time since 1979? While Kentucky was busy losing at home to Southern Miss, Florida continued their offensive struggles and had their hands full with Massachusetts, a team widely regarded as among the worst in college football. The Gators held the Minutemen to seven points, but were only able to put 24 points on the board themselves while averaging less than five yards per play. The last two games in this series have been decided by six points (in overtime) and five points. Couple that with the fact that Florida is 1-4 ATS as a double digit home favorite under Jim McElwain and the Wildcats are a solid play here.

Middle Tennessee State +5.5 Vanderbilt
Optimism was high for the beginning of Derek Mason's third season in Nashville. The Commodores returned 15 starters from a team that won four games and was generally pretty competitive in 2015. At halftime, optimism was still high as the Commodores held a ten point lead as a small favorite against South Carolina. Alas, Vanderbilt went scoreless in the second half and the Gamecocks won on a late field goal. Vanderbilt failed to play 'modern' football against South Carolina. The Commodores completed just over a third of their passes and threw for less than 100 yards against a Gamecock defense that allowed opponents to complete nearly two thirds of their passes last season. I know South Carolina was bound to improve defensively by progression to the mean and the hiring of defensive minded Will Muschamp as head coach, but it would be hard for Vanderbilt to win football games with those numbers in the 1970s much less the offensive friendly contemporary environment. Things do not get easier for Vanderbilt. After facing the Blue Raiders, the Commodores travel to Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky before beginning SEC play in earnest. Suffice it to say, a home win against the Blue Raiders is a must if Vandy has any designs on getting to the postseason in 2016. This marks the fifth meeting between the Commodores and Blue Raiders, but just the second in the last decade. Vanderbilt scored two fourth quarter touchdowns last season to eke out an upset win in Murfreesboro. I think this game will look a lot like that one, and for that matter, like most Vanderbilt games. Both teams will finish with point totals coinciding with a bad opening Blackjack hand (13-17) and the end result will be determined by who plays better in the fourth quarter. I won't call for an outright Middle Tennessee win, but it would not shock me.

Iowa State +15 Iowa
Matt Campbell began his tenure in Ames rather inauspiciously as the Cyclones dropped their opener to Northern Iowa of the FCS. This marked the second time they have lost to Kurt Warner's alma mater in the past four seasons and their third overall loss to an FCS program in that span. Now the Cyclones must head to Iowa City to take on their arch-rivals. Iowa won their 13th consecutive regular season game last week against Miami of Ohio, but continued a disturbing trend for degenerates by failing to cover the spread. The spread loss dropped Iowa to 2-7 ATS as a double-digit home favorite since 2012 and 6-16 ATS overall as a home favorite in that span. I believe that trend will continue here. Iowa State is better than the final score showed last week, as they actually averaged nearly a yard and a half more per play than the Panthers, but were done in by four turnovers. Iowa State will not lack for motivation here, and have actually won three of the last five in this series despite not having been favored since at least 2003. Look for the Cyclones to keep this one respectable.

Cal +7.5 San Diego State
While Hawaii had to travel from Sydney, Australia the islands and then to Ann Arbor, Michigan in a week's time, Cal got to take a week off to let their bodies recover from the game (where they earned a modicum of revenge for their basketball team) and jet lag. While their second game is on the road, it is in their home state and same time zone. While Cal lost a number one draft pick at quarterback, they added an experienced transfer and appear to still be relatively prolific on offense. Defense was another story as the Bears allowed 31 points and more than six and a half yards per play to Hawaii, indicating this year will be a lot like last year when the average California game saw more than 68 combined points. On the other sideline, San Diego State is currently 30th in the latest AP Poll and will look to make their first foray into the rankings since 1995. The Aztecs are currently riding an eleven game winning streak after a rough 1-3 start to the 2015 season. Keep in mind these two teams played last season with Cal winning by four touchdowns at home and San Diego State has beaten one BCS/Power 5 conference team since the turn of the century (Washington State in 2011). The Aztecs have a real shot to win here, but this spread should be closer to a field goal instead of more than a touchdown.

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