Once again, we failed to post a winning record against Vegas. But once again, we did improve. Let's try to post our first winning week in a month. As always, home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 3-4
Virginia +3.5 Duke
Virginia bagged their first win under Bronco Mendenhall last week when they won as a home underdog against Central Michigan. The Cavaliers jumped out to a 28-0 lead, only to see the Chippewas (as has often been the case for trailing teams in 2016) storm all the way back to tie the score. The Cavs were resilient though, outscoring Central Michigan 21-7 after the game was tied. The Cavaliers now travel to Durham to take on a Duke team that has beaten them four consecutive times at home. The Blue Devils moved to 2-2 last week after upsetting Notre Dame. The victory by the Blue Devils caused the Irish to shake up their staff. The win against the Irish marked the first time Duke scored more than 14 points or averaged more than five yards per play against an FBS opponent. Duke is a little overvalued after that win as Notre Dame is not as good as many anticipated in the preseason. Bronco Mendenhall is 9-4 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog since 2012 and Duke has not covered in their last five games as a home favorite with four outright losses. Look for Virginia to keep this one close and potentially win outright.
Eastern Michigan +3 Bowling Green
Don't look now, but Eastern Michigan is 3-1 and halfway to bowl eligibility. Personally, based on the bet I made on them in July, I hope they do a little better than six wins. Still, for a team with just a single bowl appearance in their history, this could could be a special season even if it does not involve a MAC title. Outside of their game with a suddenly potent Missouri, Eastern Michigan has been unusually competent on defense, allowing under five yards per play to both Charlotte and Wyoming. The Eagles open MAC play with a visit to the defending MAC champs who have fallen on hard times. First year coach Mike Jinks has done his best to run the team into the ground. Jinks came from Texas Tech and has apparently brought the 'no-defense' policy with him to Ohio. The Falcons have already allowed 77 points twice this season and are a made two-point conversion by North Dakota from being 0-4. The offense has struggled as well without Dino Babers, failing to score more than 27 points in any game after averaging 42 points per game last year. Bowling Green is favored in this game on reputation only. Look for the Eagles to win their fourth game of the year and generate some real excitement in Ypsilanti.
Kansas State +3 West Virginia
Since returning to Manhattan prior to the 2009 season, Bill Snyder has kept the Kansas State program relevant on the national level. And under his leadership, the Wildcats have done particularly well as a road underdog. As a road underdog, the Wildcats are 16-7 ATS with eight outright wins. After opening with a competitive road loss to Stanford, the Wildcats have slipped under the radar, handily beating a bad FBS team (Florida Atlantic) and an FCS team by a combined 91 points. West Virginia has beaten Missouri (a win that will probably look better at the end of the year), an FCS school, and BYU (on a neutral field). The most recent win against BYU was not decided until the final minute with the Mountaineers intercepting the Cougars to preserve the win. West Virginia has been a little suspect on defense in the early going, generating just two sacks and allowing their three opponents (including the aforementioned FCS team) to average over five yards per carry. That should play right into the hands of Kansas State who love to keep the ball on the ground and use a lot of clock, limiting the possessions and enabling them to pull off upsets. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia is 0-5 straight up and ATS as a home favorite of a touchdown or less. Plus Kansas State has won each of the four meetings as conference mates despite being an underdog three times. Look for that trend to continue as West Virginia suffers their first defeat.
Navy +7.5 Air Force
The Midshipmen have flown (or sailed?) under the radar early in the season, opening 3-0 after winning eleven games and finishing in the top-20 of the final polls last year. The Midshipmen have also banked two wins in the American Athletic Conference and are set to host league favorite Houston next week. But first comes the preliminary leg of the Commander in Chief round robin. With Army's 3-1 start, all three service academies could qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2010. Air Force has also opened 3-0, with their most recent victory coming in somewhat controversial fashion at Utah State. Navy has had a week to prepare for the unique option offense of Air Force, and the Midshipmen have the good fortune of running a similar offense and have already faced Tulane this season (another option offense). I like the Midshipmen to keep this game close and that extra half a point could prove to be the difference.
Northern Illinois +4 Ball State
The Hukies, the six-time defending MAC West champs have started 0-4. How big of a deal is this? Consider that head coach Rod Carey did not lose his fourth game as head coach at Northern Illinois until his 20th game! Overall, the Huskies are riding a seven game losing streak as they lost the final three games of 2015. Last week's loss was probably the most devastating as the Huskies fell to Western Illinois. This marked their first loss to an FCS team since 2007. That team ended up bottoming out at 2-10 and made a coaching change. While that could happen to this incarnation of the Huskies, I am more optimistic. For starters, two of their losses have come to strong mid-majors in South Florida and San Diego State. Their other loss came at the high elevation of Wyoming. Their opponent in the MAC opener is Ball State, a team that has already matched their win total from 2015. While the Cardinals have three wins banked, their three victims (Georgia State, Eastern Kentucky, and Florida Atlantic) have combined for zero wins against FBS opponents. Northern Illinois has won the last seven in this series and despite their early season struggles, I think they will make it eight in a row on Saturday.
Idaho +13.5 Troy
Continuing in the grand tradition of Watson Brown, Mark Stoops, and Mike Stoops, Paul Petrino has not quite had the same distinguished coaching career of his brother. While he has yet to be caught with his pants down, the lesser Petrino has compiled just an 8-31 mark as head coach of Idaho. His Vandals are 2-2 on the young season however after upsetting UNLV last week. Perusing through the box score, it is hard to understand how exactly the Vandals won that game. UNLV outgained the Vandals by over 150 yards and averaged nearly two more yards per play. However, Idaho had an interception return for a touchdown, held UNLV to a field goal when they were inside the ten-yard line, and stopped UNLV on an earlier fourth down attempt in their territory. Suffice it to say the Vandals were lucky to emerge victorious. Now they return home for the first time in a month to take on what may end of being the best team in the Sun Belt. After starting 1-5 under Neal Brown last season, the Trojans have won six of their last ten with the lone defeat this season coming on the road at Clemson. Despite those superlatives, I think the Trojans are in prime position for a letdown here. For starters, their 52-6 win against New Mexico State was aided by a +5 turnover margin last week. Secondly, while the Trojans did upset Southern Miss the week before, they were outgained by over 100 yards and averaged a year fewer per play than the Golden Eagles. Troy is a little overvalued after their close game against Clemson and their two big wins the last two weeks. They should beat Idaho, but the Vandals will put up a fight.
Marshall +16 Pittsburgh
Back in the summer, I pegged Marshall as a contender in Conference USA, putting a few dollars on them to win the league. After beating up on an FCS patsy, the next two weeks did not go according to plan as they were outscored by 58 points in their next two home games. One of those losses was to Louisville (excusable), but the other was to Akron (not so much). To be fair, the Thundering Herd did allow three non-offensive touchdowns to the Zips, so their defense was not quite as bad as the 65 points they allowed to the might lead you to believe (but still not good). Now the Herd head across the border to take on Pittsburgh. While Pitt and West Virginia used to engage in the Backyard Brawl, Pitt and Marshall have never faced each other. Pittsburgh also comes into this game losers of two straight. Pat Narduzzi has to be frustrated with the way his defense has played as the Panthers have allowed more than 40 points per game to FBS foes, giving this game great back-door cover potential. Also, consider that while Marshall is just 1-5 straight up against Power 5/BCS conference opponents on the road under Doc Holliday, they are 4-2 ATS. This will be a high-scoring affair where Pitt wins, but Marshall covers.