Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

Week III has another week to forget. As least we improved on Week II though. Little victories. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 9-10-2

Purdue -4 Nevada
Two decades from now, perhaps the most remembered aspect of the Darrell Hazell era will be the fact that two of his former quarterbacks started for ranked SEC teams. Barring a miracle, Hazell is on his way out sometime soon, but in the meantime, he is still receiving a paycheck and you can still place bets on his team. Despite the ineptitude that has hovered around the Purdue program for the duration of his tenure, the Boilermakers have showed some spunk this season. Against Eastern Kentucky (FCS) and Cincinnati, Purdue has averaged over six yards per. However, they lost to the Bearcats thanks to five interceptions courtesy of quarterback David Blough. If Blough can avoid excessive turnovers against the Wolfpack, the offense can put some points on the board. If nothing else, Blough should be well-protected as he is yet to be sacked in 100 pass attempts through two games and the Wolfpack have yet to secure a sack through three games. After Saturday, Purdue may not win another game all season, but they should beat Nevada by at least a touchdown.

Wake Forest +7.5 Indiana
I usually don't handicap my alma mater's games on this blog. My emotional attachment to the Deacons can prevent me from making a rational selection. That being said, I think they are a great play here. Against an admittedly light schedule, the Deacons are 3-0 for the first time since 2008. Bonus nugget of information: The Deacons beat Robert Griffin in his first college game to open the 2008 season. The offense, opener notwithstanding, while not great by any stretch, appears to be the best of the Dave Clawson era. However, the defense has been the real strength of the team in allowing less than five yards per play in each of the first three games. The Deacons will face a fellow undefeated team in the Indiana Hoosiers. After qualifying for their first bowl in nearly a decade last season, Indiana has quietly beaten a pair of mid-majors in their first two games. Like Wake Forest, the competition has been less than stellar in the early going, but for a program starved for success and barring realignment, one that shares a division with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State (not to mention Penn State), wins will taken where they can be had. Indiana probably needs this game more than Wake for their bowl hopes and therefore could be hungrier. Still, this game was a one-possession affair last season when Wake has not as good. Despite the road venue, I think the Deacons will keep this one close and potentially leave with an outright win.

Florida +6.5 Tennessee
Can the Vols finally break through? Can they combat more than a decade of losing to the Florida Gators? The last time Tennessee defeated the Gators, the esteemed Ron Zook was coaching the team, Nick Saban was at LSU, and an SEC team was about to go undefeated and be shut out of the national title game. My, how times have changed. The Gators will certainly be at a disadvantage under center (or in shotgun) in this game after quarterback Luke Del Rio suffered an injury against North Texas. The good news for the Gators is that while his replacement is limited in his ability, he is experienced, having thrown nearly 500 career passes while suiting up for the Purdue Boilermakers. Still, can he be any worse than luminaries like Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, or John Brantley who have already beaten the Vols? Probably not. That being said, the Gators will rely on their defense to win this game. While the competition has not been stiff, the Gators are allowing under three yards per play in the early going. In addition, consider that besides scoring just seven points and averaging just over three yards per play against the Gators, Kentucky has put 97 points on the board and averaged over eight yards per play in their other two contests. Their defense may not be among the best of all time, but it is good enough to stay close to (and even beat) a flawed Vols team. The Tennessee offense behind quarterback Josh Dobbs is averaging just a touch over five yards per play. Despite being a darkhorse preseason Heisman candidate, Dobbs has never averaged more than 6.8 yards per pass in a full season and is averaging the fewest yards per throw (6.5) since his freshman season (5.7). Beleaguered offensive coordinator Mike DeBord deserves some of the blame, but Dobbs has failed to take the proverbial next step to give Tennessee a dynamic offense. Keep an eye on Tennessee's fumble luck in this game, as the Vols have recovered an unsustainable 15 of 18 fumbles in their first three games. If a few of those balls had bounced a different way, Tennessee could have lost one or perhaps even two of their first three games. Tennessee has been awful as a home favorite under Butch Jones as they have gone just 4-10 Against the Spread (ATS) with four outright losses. This will be a tight game and Florida may well make it an even dozen against the Vols.

Kentucky -2 South Carolina
One of the signs of being an adult is being able to admit when you were wrong. And making predictions on this blog gives my a lot of chances to do that. Last week, I was dead wrong about the Gamecocks (yet still managed to get the game right). I figured they would be able to move the ball at will against East Carolina. And while the Gamecocks did score 20 points for the first time under Will Muschamp, the team was very fortunate to emerge victorious against the Pirates. Outside of their first two drives, the offense sputtered against the Pirates (just 219 yards and 4.8 yards per play after the first two touchdown drives). Meanwhile, East Carolina spent most of the final three quarters of the game in South Carolina territory, yet only managed to find the end zone once. This victory reminded me a lot of South Carolina's opening victory last season where North Carolina moved the ball seemingly at will against South Carolina while falling on their own swords once they got near the end zone. No one took that victory away from South Carolina, just as no one will remove this victory against East Carolina, but relying on red zone turnovers is a precarious defensive strategy. After their escape against North Carolina, the red zone turnovers disappeared the next week and Kentucky was able to win in Columbia. The Wildcats will look to make it three in a row against the Gamecocks while breaking a six-game SEC losing streak. Kentucky is not a good team and will certainly miss the postseason for the sixth consecutive year once all is said and done. However, I think they are set up nicely to beat the Gamecocks by at least a field goal at home. Oh, and if South Carolina can't score 30 against Kentucky, they may never hit that number in the Will Muschamp era.

UTEP +10.5 Southern Miss
Speaking of times when I was wrong, I also whiffed on UTEP last week. I figured the Miners would be competitive against Army as a small underdog and potentially win the game outright. Instead, the Miners allowed 66 points to the Black Knights! That marked the first time Army had eclipsed 60 points since 2006 in a game against VMI. So naturally, UTEP is the play this week. Army absolutely gashed the Miners in rushing for over 400 yards and averaging over 20 yards per pass on just eight attempts. However, Army runs an option offense, and presents a unique challenge. UTEP does not have a good defense by any means, but they should match up better against Southern Miss than they did against Army. UTEP has covered in their last four games as a double-digit home underdog and you may not have noticed, but Southern Miss dropped a home game last week to Troy. I like UTEP to bounce back and keep this one close.

Arkansas +6.5 Texas A&M @ Arlington
These former Southwest Conference rivals will have played in eight consecutive seasons once this game concludes early Sunday morning. Arkansas won the first three games of the renewed rivalry when the Aggies were still members of the Big 12, but Texas A&M has won each of the four meetings when both were SEC teams. After dismantling a John L. Smith coached team in 2012, the Aggies have won the last three by smaller margins and have not covered in any of the three. Arkansas is 9-4-1 ATS as a road or neutral field underdog under Bret Bielema, including a 9-1-1 run since failing to cover in his first three games in the role as coach of the Hogs. I expect another close battle in Arlington and I wouldn't be surprised with an outright Arkansas win.

Utah State +3.5 Air Force
Utah State is in rarefied air at least relative to their school history. If they can manage six wins in the regular season, they will be bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive year. While they will probably not reach the heights of 2012 anytime soon, this is quite an accomplishment for a team that won just 17 games between 2005 and 2010. Air Force has also enjoyed a great run of success. After a horrible 2013 reset, the Falcons have won 18 games over the past two seasons and if they can get to six wins, they will have been bowl eligible in nine of Troy Calhoun's ten seasons on the sideline. The marks the first real test and first road game for Air Force as they opened against an FCS school and Georgia State. Utah State is already battle-tested, having played at USC and are usually strong at home, posting a 17-3 record under head coach Matt Wells. This line should be closer to a pick 'em, so take the points and Utah State.

No comments: