Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIV

We finally broke our string of losses by posting a solid 5-2 mark. This is the penultimate pick piece of the year as only bowl season will be left after this weekend. Enjoy. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 46-41-4

TCU -4 Kansas State
Who can say for sure if TCU did indeed land the killing shot to the Charlie Strong era at Texas? Perhaps Texas had decided to move on from Strong after a third straight season with at least six losses or perhaps a win in the home finale would have granted him another year of clemency. As it is, the loss to TCU was the last game Strong would coach at Texas and in an interesting little bit of trivia, TCU was the only Big 12 team that Strong did not both beat and lose to while in Austin. Strong won and lost at least once to every other Big 12 team save the Horned Frogs, against whom he went 0-3. Now TCU heads home to try and salvage a winning record from a disjointed season. The Frogs began the year ranked 13th nationally, struggled in the opener with South Dakota State, lost to Arkansas, nearly lost to Kansas and have not looked the part of a national contender. Still, I think they are a good play at home. Kansas State runs the ball well, but they are extremely limited when they are forced to throw. The Wildcats rank 110th nationally in yards per pass. While TCU was gashed in the running game by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, they have held up pretty well against the run otherwise. As long as Kenny Hill does not gift wrap a few interceptions that lead to short fields for Kansas State, TCU should win this one by at least a touchdown.

Louisiana Tech +10 Western Kentucky
If you are in the market for a head coach, you could probably do a lot worse than Jeff Brohm, particularly if you like offense. All Brohm has done in his three seasons is win 29 games, a conference title, and finish in the final polls for the first time in school history. I for one, expected 2016 to be a small step back after the Hilltoppers lost quarterback Brandon Doughty. The quarterback threw an amazing 97 touchdown passes the past two seasons! His replacement is Mike White, who seemed barely able to throw a forward pass in his previous stop at South Florida. But lo, the quarterback whisperer Brohm, has seen White toss 31 touchdown passes and average over ten yards per throw! Aside from a defeat to Alabama, which everyone has these days, the Hilltoppers lost by just a single point to Vanderbilt and by just three points to these same Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Were the Hilltoppers more fortunate in close games, they might be playing for a New Year's Six Bowl bid. As it is, they will attempt to win their second consecutive conference title against a Louisiana Tech team that has won at least eight games for three consecutive seasons. Skip Holtz has revitalized his career in Ruston and has the Bulldogs in the Conference USA Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. Louisiana Tech lost at a motivated Southern Miss team in a meaningless game for them last week, giving them value as a big underdog here. Otherwise, they have been nearly as dominant as Western Kentucky in Conference USA play this season. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, they actually beat the Hilltoppers this season! Louisiana Tech put a scare into Marshall on the road two years ago on Championship Saturday, and I think they will do the same this weekend.

Temple +3 Navy
For the second year in a row Temple will play in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game as they seek to win the first conference title in school history. To be fair, the Owls did not join a conference until 1991, but this would still be an historic achievement. Navy will also be trying to win its first ever conference title, but the Midshipmen joined a conference even later than Temple. As far as actually handicapping this game, Navy is doing something perhaps never seen before with the triple option. Despite being a run oriented offense, the Midshipmen averaged over seven yards per play in conference play ranking second behind South Florida. Nationally, when including all games, the Midshipmen rank tenth! This is absolutely incredible. And yet, their defense prevented this from being perhaps an even more spectacular season. In conference play, Navy ranked dead last in yards allowed per play, permitting more than six and a half yards per pop. Their offensive scheme did allow them to control time of possession (20th nationally) and face a low volume of plays (15th nationally in plays faced), but opponents were able to move the ball effectively against the Midshipmen. Navy presents a unique challenge for a Temple team with the best defense in the American. However, Temple does have experience in facing the triple option this season, having already played Army in the season opener. Of course, Temple did lose that game, but it was more due to turnovers (three interceptions) than Army running the ball down their throats. Temple has won six in a row with the last four coming in dominant fashion against bad teams (combined margin of 100 points) and while Navy is not a bad team, they are quite poor defensively. Senior quarterback Phillip Walker should play well in the penultimate game of his Temple career that began with a 2-10 campaign. Look for Temple to win this game outright and perhaps enter the AP Poll.

Oklahoma State +12 Oklahoma
Oklahoma appears to be getting a great deal of unearned respect from the College Football Playoff Committee and the betting market. The Sooners are 9th in the most recent set of CFP rankings, yet they have only one win against other teams currently ranked in the top 25. The Sooners have not been especially dominant against their schedule either, as they have one score wins against the three Big 12 schools from Texas (Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU), each of which has at least five losses on the season. Perhaps their most recent game, a four touchdown win at West Virginia is the catalyst behind their ascent in the minds of committee members and degenerates. However, keep in mind the Sooners were actually outgained in that game and allowed nearly nine yards per play to the Mountaineers. The big difference in the game was turnovers, of which the Sooners forced four (including a pick six), while committing only one themselves. Oklahoma State has quietly won seven in a row after a 2-2 start and would like nothing more than to steal the Big 12 title from the Sooners in their own stadium. The home team has won the last three in this rivalry, and while I don't know that the Cowboys can win outright, they should score enough to cover this large number.

Georgia State +6.5 Idaho
Sometimes I wonder what schools are thinking. Georgia State, a program that just began playing football in 2010 and qualified for their first bowl game last season, fired their coach after a 2-8 start to 2016. The Panthers won their first game under interim coach Tim Lappano by beating in-state rival Georgia Southern. Despite their poor record this season, Georgia State actually has solid per play numbers. They rank a middling sixth in the Sun Belt in yards per play, but boast the second best yards allowed per play in the conference. The schedule is partially to blame for their record as the Panthers faced Wisconsin and Air Force in the non-conference and had the misfortune of playing the three best teams in the Sun Belt (Appalachian State, Arkansas State, and Troy) once conference play began. The Panthers conclude their season with a road trip to Moscow, Idaho to take on a Vandal team looking to win eight games in the regular season for the first time since 1998. In their penultimate FBS season before returning to the FCS, Idaho has won more games this year than they did in their first three under coach Paul Petrino. The Vandals have won four games by a touchdown or less, and are far from a dominant team. The line in this game should be closer to a field goal and if Georgia State is motivated for a meaningless road trip to the middle of nowhere, this game should be close until the very end.

Wyoming +6.5 San Diego State
The computers have spoken! With the Cowboys and Aztecs both dropping games last week to back into the Mountain West Championship Game, the league had to use computers to determine which school would get to host. These teams played two short weeks ago with Wyoming emerging victorious when San Diego State failed on a two-point conversion after scoring as time expired. San Diego State came into the game a prohibitive favorite, so maybe Rocky Long should have read some of my stuff before making that call. Regardless, San Diego State still boasts the best defense in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play, but they were last seen being thrashed by Colorado State and have their numbers somewhat inflated (or deflated in this case) by playing in the far weaker West division. On the season Mountain teams went 14-4 against their West division opponents. Wyoming has not lost at home this season and four of their six wins have come in the role of underdog. Take the Cowboys to at least keep this one close and potentially take the league crown.

Virginia Tech +10 Clemson @ Orlando
The stakes for this game could be much different if Virginia Tech did not suffer a few head scratching losses this season. Their loss to Tennessee was understandable at the time, but with what we know now about the Vols and their collapse, it has to be looked at as a missed opportunity. The Syracuse loss was bad when it happened and looks even worse now as the Orange went just 1-4 after upsetting the Hokies. Finally, their home loss to Georgia Tech came against a Yellow Jacket team starting their backup quarterback and center. That being said, the Hokies still won the most games in the regular season (nine) that they have since the last time they played in the ACC Championship Game (2011) when they lost to Clemson (symmetry!). Justin Fuente did a fine job in his first season in Blacksburg. The Hokies improved from twelfth in the ACC in yards per play to eighth and their defense remained the rock of the team, finishing second in the ACC in yards allowed per play. Clemson is not as dominant as they were last season when they ran roughshod over the ACC winning just a single conference game by one-score. This year featured three one-score wins and a home loss to Pitt. I don't know that Virginia Tech can win this game, but their defense will keep them in it and with the game being moved from Charlotte, I think some of the homefield edge Clemson might otherwise enjoy has been diluted. Take the Hokies to keep this one close.

No comments: