We took a step back after three straight winning weeks, but we are still above water on the season. Let's try to keep it that way. As always, home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 2-4-1
Iowa State +6.5 Kansas State
The latest edition of 'Farmageddon' has me going against my favorite college football coach. While Bill Snyder has excelled in winning games and covering the spread since he returned to the sidelines in 2009, Iowa State has been one team that has frequently frustrated him, at least when it comes to cashing tickets. Snyder is 7-0 straight up against the Cyclones, but just 3-3-1 Against the Spread (ATS) including 2-3-1 in the role of favorite. Six of the seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the lone exception being three years ago in Manhattan. Kansas State has won the last two games in Ames by a combined 10 points with teams that appear to be markedly better than the one they are putting on the field this season. Iowa State has had a week off to prepare for the Wildcats while Kansas State has not had a break since early September. Kansas State plays at a slow pace, so the possessions will be limited here and the potential margin of victory will be depressed. Take the Cyclones to keep this one close.
Michigan State +23 Michigan
Michigan State, a program that had gone 36-5 over the past three seasons with a pair of Big 10 championships and one playoff appearance is dangerously close to missing out on a bowl game for the first time under Mark Dantonio. The Spartans are just 2-5 and with games remaining against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State appear headed for 4-8 at best. The interesting fact about Michigan State is they have not been horrendous on a per play basis. In fact, in their Big 10 games, they have actually outgained their opponents in terms of yards per play despite their 0-4 mark. I would assume the football gods are debiting their account for their incredible record despite middling yards per play numbers last season. Michigan on the other hand, has been exceedingly dominant through the first two months of the season. Their only close win came against Wisconsin. Outside of that game with the Badgers, only Colorado has come within three scores of them. However, it is also important to note that Michigan has played just one road game thus far and it came against Rutgers. Despite their poor record, Michigan State will be up for their in-state rival. This spread is probably a touchdown too high thanks to Michigan State's record, which is not indicative of their play thus far and Michigan's 'brand' under Jim Harbaugh. Michigan is far from a sure thing on the road under Harbaugh, as they failed to cover as a large favorite against both Indiana and Minnesota last season and could have actually lost both games. I don't see a tenable path for Michigan State to win here, but this game will be closer than three touchdowns.
Notre Dame +2.5 Miami
Just three short weeks ago, Miami was back under Mark Richt. Since that 4-0 start, the Hurricanes have dropped three straight conference games to fall out of the Coastal Division race. While the competition was strong, Miami was actually favored in two of those games, which is a trend Richt has continued from his days at Georgia. In his final three seasons in Athens, Richt lost eight regular season games as a betting favorite (nine overall if we include the Gator Bowl against Nebraska). Four of those losses came in a role similar to where the Hurricanes find themselves on Saturday: as a small road favorite. Provided they have not mutinied against Brian Kelly, Notre Dame should be a desperate team playing at home off a bye. The Irish are 2-5 and need four victories in their final five games to qualify for a bowl. It won't be as lavish as the Fiesta Bowl they played in last season, but it would mark their seventh consecutive postseason appearance under Kelly. If you squint hard enough, you can see some defensive improvement since the Irish fired Brian VanGorder. The Irish have allowed under six yards per play to their last three opponents since jettisoning VanGorder. Of course, one of those games was played in a monsoon and the other was against the impotent offense of Stanford (more on them later), but we are all about positives here at Statistically Speaking. Other than Richt's history in this role and the homefield advantage for Notre Dame, I don't have a lot of overwhelming reasons to take the Irish, but this just feels like a game Miami and Richt are destined to lose.
Ole Miss +4 Auburn
Will Ole Miss rejoin the polls with a 4-4 record should they win here? Has any coach gone from genius to hot seat back to genius faster than Gus Malzahn? Will Malzahn still be considered a genius if his team loses a tight game on the road against a quality foe? This game is dripping with storylines and should make Paul Finebaum's show on Monday must-see TV. I think Ole Miss is a solid play here for several reasons. Auburn will likely never be more overvalued than they are this week after their dismantling of Arkansas last week. However, before we go comparing Auburn to the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers, remember that Arkansas has allowed over ten yards per play to both Alabama and Texas A&M this season, meaning their showing against Auburn was only the third worst the defense has played this season. Plus, while Ole Miss was run over by LSU last week, Auburn is more of a finesse running team instead of a sledgehammer power team like LSU. And let's now forget this is only Auburn's second road trip of the season. Their other game away from Jordan-Hare came against Mississippi State, which is easily the West's worst team. Ole Miss is 6-2 ATS as a home underdog under Hugh Freeze and has three outright wins included among those six covers. Look for the Rebels to get back on track and slow Auburn's momentum on Saturday night.
South Carolina +13.5 Tennessee
Being a resident of Columbia, I hear a great deal about the Gamecocks around the watercooler, on talk radio, and yes, even on the internet. The big talk around Columbia the past ten days or so has been the new Bentley the Gamecocks have been driving. Will Muschamp, in an effort to qualify for the, I don't know, Camping World Independence Bowl, burned the redshirt of quarterback Jake Bentley in an effort to jumpstart the offense. It worked to some extent as the Gamecocks scored a season high 34 points against Massachusetts last week. It was Massachusetts, who is not a burgeoning football power, but the Gamecocks had struggled to score against other poor defenses like East Carolina and Kentucky, so there is at least a little reason for optimism. Now, Tennessee comes to town to begin the JV portion of their SEC schedule. After opening conference play with Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama, the Volunteers close with South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt in their quest to win the SEC East for the first time in nearly a decade. While the Vols are 5-2 and ranked 18th in the latest AP Poll, they have been far from dominant. The Volunteers needed overtime to survive Appalachian State at home, struggled with Ohio, and needed a Hail Mary conversion to beat an extremely flawed Georgia team before dropping two straight to a pair of SEC West powers. Even in their weakened state, South Carolina has been tough as a home underdog. Since 2014, they are 3-2 ATS in that span and have already covered at home against Texas A&M and nearly covered against Georgia if not for a fluke kickoff return touchdown (and an SEC conspiracy to move the game to Sunday when the atmosphere would be less raucous -- I am not even kidding, people I know who are otherwise intelligent folks believe this). Tennessee has won three straight in this series, but they have beaten South Carolina by more than a touchdown just once in the last decade. Take the Gamecocks to keep this one close, but 6-6 is probably still a pipe dream.
UNLV -3 San Jose State
This seemingly inconsequential Mountain West matchup occurring after most (even hardcore) college football fans have gone to bed seems to be between a pair of teams heading in opposite directions. San Jose State began the Ron Caragher era with a 6-6 record in 2013, but have failed to post a winning record since (despite a bowl win last season). Standing 2-6 this season, the Spartans are extreme longshots to win out and qualify for a bowl. Meanwhile, UNLV has already matched last season's win total in their second under Tony Sanchez and could conceivably get to a bowl game. Even if they don't manage a postseason invite, UNLV has set up a solid foundation for success in the future. After a 1-3 non-conference start, the Rebels handed the reigns to freshman quarterback Dalton Sneed. Sneed has been very hit or miss, completing just 47% of his passes, but averaging a healthy 7.7 yards per pass attempt. He has also been effective on the ground, rushing for over 300 yards including this spectacular run against Fresno State. The best defense in the conference, San Diego State, was able to hold the Rebels down, but in their other three league games, UNLV has averaged over 36 points per game and 6.77 yards per play. The bottom quartile of the Mountain West (Fresno State, Nevada, and San Jose State) is very bad. UNLV is not in the upper-echelon of Mountain West teams (yet), but they are firmly middle class and should be able to win by at least a touchdown even on the road against San Jose State.
Arizona +6 Stanford
Something very odd is happening in Palo Alto. The Stanford Cardinal have forgotten how to score points. Since beating Southern Cal 27-10 back on September 17th, Stanford has played five games. In those five games, they have scored a grand total of four...yes, four offensive touchdowns. For a team with Stanford's recent pedigree, that is a historic level of ineptitude. Stanford has somehow managed to win two of those five games thanks to a solid defense. Now Stanford hits the road to take on an Arizona team in danger of failing to qualify for a bowl game for the first time under Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats are 2-5 and need to win four of their final five games to qualify for their fifth consecutive bowl game. Arizona has yet to win a conference game and has serious defensive issues, as they have allowed 41 points per game and 6.9 yards per play to Pac-12 opponents. Interestingly, the two teams that played in the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2014, Arizona and Oregon, currently rank last and second to last in defensive yards per play in the Pac-12. In other words, if Stanford cannot score here, they at least have another chance in two weeks. :) Arizona is coming off a bye and is in desperate need of win. In addition, the Wildcats are 6-2 ATS as a home underdog under Rodriguez with four outright wins. I don't know that they will be able to win this game outright, but they should be able to keep it close against a struggling offense.