Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

We have put together a nice little two week run. A 4-3 mark gets us above .500 on the year. Lets see if we can post another solid week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 20-19-3

Mississippi State +7.5 BYU
For the second time in three weeks, BYU will host a Friday night game. Hopefully, Mack Brown won't have to leave before the game is over this time. I'll say this for BYU, they have played mostly entertaining and exciting games. Prior to their most recent victory against Michigan State, their first five games were all decided by three points or less. They ranged from defensive struggles to offensive shootouts and occasionally featured two point conversion attempts. After this game, BYU travels to Boise State, but then closes with a relatively easy stretch of Cincinnati, Southern Utah, Massachusetts, and Utah State , so they should get to at least seven wins after a rough 1-3 start. First things first though: Can they beat an SEC team for the first time since 2011? If BYU is going to win this game, it will be with the running game. Running back Jamaal Williams and quarterback Taysom Hill have combined for over 1100 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Mississippi State has been decent against the run thus far, but BYU should be able to move the ball and score some points. However, asking them to win by more than a touchdown is a little much. BYU is a little overvalued after their win against Michigan State (who by the way is probably not very good this year) while Mississippi State is undervalued after their home loss to Auburn (who is probably pretty good this year). BYU will be motivated to take down an SEC team, but Mississippi State should be motivated too. The Bulldogs have four ranked teams left on their schedule, so they probably need this game to become bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive year.

NC State +17.5 Clemson
Most prognosticators have identified Clemson's road trip to Tallahassee as their last remaining test until at least the ACC Championship Game (obviously ignoring their precarious trip to Winston-Salem). However, NC State appears to have emerged as a legitimate threat to at least offer Clemson some semblance of a challenge. After stubbing their toe against East Carolina, the Wolfpack have reeled off three consecutive wins with quarterback Ryan Finley emerging as a perhaps the Pack's best quarterback since Russell Wilson. Finley has yet to throw an interception and has completed nearly 70% of his passes. Granted, Clemson represents by far the toughest defense he has faced, but I think he and the Wolfpack will be able to move the ball against the Tigers. Clemson will not have the benefit of a nationally televised prime time setting they enjoyed against Louisville. I think the Tigers could come out a little flat and NC State is probably a little undervalued after their slog against Notre Dame last week.

North Carolina +9 Miami
This line seems like a huge overreaction to North Carolina's performance last week. The Tar Heels and Hokies played in the remnants of Hurricane Matthew and North Carolina posted their worst offensive showing under Larry Fedora, in failing to find the end zone. I would take the numbers and statistics from that game, both offensive and defensive, and throw them out the window. Barring another weather event, North Carolina should be able to move the ball against Miami. Plus, the Hurricanes come into this game in a huge letdown spot. Last week, they lost their seventh consecutive game to their bitter in-state rivals in gut-wrenching fashion. Plus, Miami's schedule has been quite soft up to this point. They have posted great numbers through the first half of the season, but against the two Power 5 teams they have played, they needed two defensive scores to provide the winning margin against Georgia Tech and managed just two offensive touchdowns against a Florida State team that was allowing over 40 points per game to FBS teams. I think North Carolina provides great value here and could even win outright.

Oregon State +9 Utah
Last week, I was set on fading the Utes as a big home favorite and despite the fact that it didn't work out, I am all set to do the same this week as they travel to Corvallis. Outside of the smoldering crater in Eugene, Utah has the worst defense in the Pac-12, allowing all three conference opponents (Arizona, Cal, and Southern Cal) to average north of seven yards per play against them. The Utes have been winning games with timely offense and a great punter. That would seem to be an untenable long term strategy, especially on the road at an improving Oregon State team. The Beavers won their first conference game under Gary Anderson last week when they knocked off Cal in overtime. After playing the role of sieve on defense last season, the Beavers have shown flashes on that side of the ball this season. They did allow 47 points at Colorado, but they held both Cal and Minnesota under five yards per play. Utah is just 3-7 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road favorite since joining the Pac-12, and I think they are ill-equipped to dominate Oregon State on the road.

New Mexico State +6 Idaho
Call it the Relegation Bowl if you will. The Sun Belt, yes, the Sun Belt, has decided they are too good for both of these teams and will be giving them das boot following the 2017 football season. Idaho has decided to drop down to FCS while New Mexico State will tough it out as an FBS independent. Godspeed Aggies. Despite their poor histories, the winner of this game will actually have an outside shot at bowl eligibility. If Idaho wins, they would need to beat two more teams (looking at you Georgia State and Texas State) to get to six wins while New Mexico State would need three additional wins to get to six. Anyway, on to handicapping this game, which I can't believe College GameDay is not at. Idaho has won three games with each victory coming by exactly three points. However, in their five games against FBS opponents, the Vandals have allowed at least six yards per play. Conversely, they have not averaged more than six yards per play against any FBS opponent. New Mexico State has been solid offensively thus far, averaging 5.5 yards per play against their five FBS opponents. The Aggies have been competitive in every game save for their turnover debacle at Troy (who by the way may win the Sun Belt). This line is about a field goal too high. Take the Aggies to cover and potentially win outright.

San Jose State -1.5 Nevada
So here's the deal: San Jose State is 1-5 and has not beaten an FBS team this season. How in the heck are they favored here? For starters, three of their five losses have been on the road. Secondly, one of their home losses came to a ranked team from the Pac-12 (Utah). Thirdly, the Spartans have a -8 turnover margin in their five FBS games. Turnovers are not totally random, like say coin flips or roulette spins, but there is a high degree of randomness inherent in them. The Spartans are unlikely to continue performing as poorly in committing and failing to gain turnovers the rest of the season. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, their opponent, Nevada, is not very good. While the Wolfpack are 3-3 on the year, their wins have all come at home against teams that have combined for just a single FBS win. The Wolfpack have failed to average more than six yards per play against any FBS opponent (including just 5.36 against what we now know is a bad Notre Dame defense). The Wolfpack have also allowed at least six yards per play to every FBS opponent except Fresno State (to whom they allowed 5.95). The Wolfpack are very fortunate to be 3-3 and this line should probably be more than a field goal. If San Jose State wins, they are very likely to cover, and I think they have a great shot at winning here.

UCLA +7 Washington State
This line has steadily climbed all week with the status of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in doubt. Even if Rosen does not play, I think the Bruins are a good bet to keep this one close. They own the best defense in the Pac-12 and have yet to surrender more than 24 points to any team in regulation. Washington State has never been more overvalued than they are now, coming off a dismantling of Stanford on the road. Remember the Cougars have played better as of late, but they did drop a home game to an FCS opponent a little more than a month ago. UCLA will be the more desperate team as they already have two conference defeats and another would put them squarely behind the 8-ball in the Pac-12 South race.

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