Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week XII

Two winning weeks in a row. Let's see if we can make it three. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 39-37-1

Cincinnati -3.5 East Carolina
You think maybe East Carolina is regretting their decision to fire Ruffin McNeill? Scottie Montgomery began his career in Greenville on a positive note, winning his first two games, including a home upset of NC State. However, since that 2-0 start, the Pirates are just 3-17 over their last twenty games! Against teams not located in Storrs, Connecticut, the Pirates are 1-17! Most of their losses have not been competitive, with fifteen of the seventeen coming by at least ten points. Last week's loss to Tulane was one of the few that did not come in blowout fashion. The Pirates took the Green Wave to overtime, but were outgained and averaged nearly a yard and a half less per play than Tulane. On the season, the Pirates have the worst defense in the American by far. They have allowed 45 points per game and more than seven and a half yards per play. For a Cincinnati team that has struggled moving the ball in Luke Fickell's first season, East Carolina is just what the doctor ordered. With East Carolina and Connecticut remaining on the schedule, the Bearcats have a chance to finish the year strong. East Carolina has nothing to play for here and the Noon kick will probably dilute what little homefield advantage they have. Since upsetting NC State fourteen months ago, the Pirates are just 1-5 ATS as a home underdog. Cincinnati should win easily here.

Pittsburgh +16 Virginia Tech
What more does Virginia Tech have to do to convince the nation they are not an elite team? After opening the 2017 season 7-1 with one quality win, the Hokies have lost back-to-back games to Miami and Georgia Tech. The Hokies were mostly non-competitive against Miami, and lost to Georgia Tech despite returning an interception for a touchdown and converting a third and long via a miraculous catch. Some dominant home wins against bad teams (Old Dominion, North Carolina, and Duke) by a margin of 111 points seem to be etched in the mind's of voters and oddsmakers. However, overall the Hokies have been pretty bad offensively. The Hokies rank twelfth of fourteen ACC teams in yards per play. Their running game in particular, has been nonexistent in conference play. When removing sacks from their rushing attempts, the Hokies have averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and just 144 yards per game in ACC play. If the Hokies can score on defense or special teams, they have a chance to cover this number, but that is a dangerous assumption to make. The Panthers are 8-3-1 ATS as a road underdog under Pat Narduzzi with five outright wins. The Panthers are still technically alive for a bowl game as they need to sweep their final two games to qualify, so they should be motivated. I don't know if they can pull the outright upset, but this game should be much closer than sixteen points.

Tulane +9.5 Houston
It's a long shot, but bowl eligibility is still on the table for Tulane. The Green Wave need to sweep their final two games against Houston and SMU to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013 and just the second time since 2002. Realistically, the Green Wave should probably start making postseason plans for 2018. That will mark the third year of the Willie Fritz funky triple option regime. Tulane has improved offensively in their second year under Fritz, averaging an extra yard per play in conference games and improving their complimentary passing game. Last season, the Green Wave, despite not throwing often, averaged a putrid 5.3 yards per pass. This season, the Green Wave are averaging 7.3 yards per pass. Defensively, the Green Wave have had issues, allowing over six and half yards per play to conference foes. This has tampered down their record despite the offensive improvement. The Green Wave have played well in New Orleans, in their relatively new stadium, where they have won three of five homes games this season with both losses coming by a combined seven points. Look for more of the same here. The Green Wave probably don't have the firepower to beat Houston outright, but they should keep this one close.

Army +3 North Texas
Army and North Texas are developing quite a rivalry. This will mark the third meeting between the two teams since last October. The Mean Green won the first game in West Point and the Black Knights won the rematch in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. For the degenerates out there, the Black Knights failed to cover each time as they were double-digit favorites in both. If I had told you prior to their first meeting last October that a little more than a year later both of these teams would be a combined 15-5, you probably would have nodded politely and then not listened to another word I said. That's where we are though. The Black Knights have won six in a row after a 2-2 start and are even receiving a few votes in the latest AP Poll. Meanwhile, the Mean Green are 7-3 and have already clinched the West division of Conference USA. North Texas is led by their offense, which ranks third in Conference USA in yards per play. They are also averaging over 36 points per game, which is amazing considering just two seasons ago they averaged just a shade more than fifteen points per game and maxed out at thirty points in their lone win. Unfortunately, their defense is a little leaky. They are also allowing north of thirty points per game and only three Conference USA teams allow more yards per play. The Mean Green have also been a little fortunate, posting a 4-0 record in one-score games. A leaky defense is not something you want when facing a unique, deliberate offense like Army's. Army is 7-4-2 ATS as a road underdog under Jeff Monken and North Texas has yet to cover this season in two attempts as a home favorite. North Texas is much better in the underdog role (4-1 ATS with three outright wins) and I think it will be tough for them to get up for a non-conference game one week after clinching the division. Don't be surprised if Army wins outright.

Texas A&M +3 Ole Miss
If Texas A&M has designs on a winning regular season, they probably need to win this game in Oxford. The Aggies close with a road trip to Baton Rouge, so a loss here probably means a 6-6 regular season and perhaps a new coach. The Aggies have disappointed this season, especially considering their schedule. It is now mid-November, and the Aggies have left the state of Texas twice this season (and just once since Labor Day Weekend). Yet, they still have four losses, with three coming in College Station. This otherwise forgettable game in Oxford will be a battle between a mediocre team that doesn't really do anything well (Texas A&M) against an Ole Miss team that does one thing really well (throw the football). The Rebels, despite playing a backup quarterback for the fourth straight game, are averaging 9.3 yards per pass. Their deep stable of receivers, led by AJ Brown, are big plays waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the Landshark defense is nowhere to be found in Oxford. The Rebels are consistently gashed on the ground, allowing over six yards per rush when removing sacks from the equation. This should be an entertaining game, but I would never trust this incarnation of Ole Miss giving points against any Power Five opponent.

Wake Forest -1.5 NC State
Wake Forest is my alma mater, and I may be a little biased, but I want to take a moment to marvel at how far the Deacons have come under Dave Clawson. In Clawson's first season in charge, the Deacons won three games and averaged under fifteen points per game. In this, his fourth season, the Deacons are averaging over 35 points per game and are already bowl eligible with a chance for their most regular season wins in a decade. Quarterback John Wolford has evolved from a sack taking machine to one of the best (and most underrated) dual threat quarterbacks in the country. Wolford is averaging nearly nine yards per pass attempt and has thrown twenty touchdowns against just three interceptions in 2017. Oh, and he's also rushed for over 500 yards and ten touchdowns. He's not Khalil Tate or Lamar Jackson, but he ain't half bad. Anyway, back to the Deacons. Wake Forest was not favored against an FBS opponent in Winston-Salem until the first game of Dave Clawson's third year in charge. This will mark the seventh time in their last ten home games that they have been favored, so the oddsmakers and the betting public have come around to how good the Deacons are. I was actually hoping the Deacons would be catching a few points here, but with this line under a field goal, I think they are still a good play. In recent history, the home team usually wins in this rivalry. Wake Forest has won six of the last seven in Winston-Salem and the Wolfpack have won all but one meeting in Raleigh since 1984. Look for that home team trend to continue here in a Wake Forest win.

Air Force +17.5 Boise State
A win by Boise State would clinch their first division title since 2014 and put them in position to finish ranked. However, a New Year's Six bid is probably a pipe dream thanks to the number of ranked teams in the American Athletic Conference. The Broncos have won six in a row after a 2-2 start, with their latest win coming via a miraculous comeback against Colorado State. The Broncos channeled the New England Patriots and came back from a pair of 25-point deficits to force overtime, where they eventually prevailed and actually covered, much to the chagrin of those who wagered on the Rams. The Broncos are clearly the better team, but can they come down from that emotional high and handle a team that runs a peculiar offense? After winning 28 games over the previous three seasons, Air Force has struggled in 2017, losing to both Army and Navy for the first time since 2012 and in need of a sweep of their final two games to become bowl eligible. The Falcons have one of the worst defenses in college football, but they do a good job of hiding it with their ball-control offense that limits the number of possessions. The Falcons have been a perennial thorn in Boise State's side since the Broncos joined the Mountain West. The teams have faced off four times and the Falcons have covered each time (as a double-digit underdog) winning the last three outright. Air Force is 7-1 ATS as a road underdog since the start of the 2015 season (3-0 as a double-digit underdog) and Boise State is just 2-13-1 ATS as a home favorite in the same span. Boise State will win, but Air Force will cover.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week XI

Finally. After two horrendous weeks, we finally picked some winners. We'll try to make it two in a row this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 35-34-1

Nebraska +2.5 Minnesota
These teams may have identical 4-5 records, but their coaching situations could not be more different. Minnesota is still in the honeymoon phase with their new coach, PJ Fleck. While the Gophers have regressed from their 9-4 record last season, Minnesota fans believe the future is bright under Fleck who also struggled in his first season at Western Michigan before gradually building the Broncos into a MAC power. Meanwhile, Nebraska seems poised to fire Mike Riley at any moment and have their sights set on a former quarterback from their glory years to lead the team. This noontime battle in Minneapolis will serve as a postseason eliminator of sorts. Nebraska closes with Penn State and Iowa, so even with a win the Huskers may not be long for a bowl game. Minnesota finishes with Northwestern and Wisconsin, so a win here may not be enough to get them into the postseason either. In BIg 10 play, Nebraska has done well away from Lincoln, winning both their road games, including an upset of Purdue two weeks ago. Despite the struggles of transfer quarterback Tanner Lee, the Cornhuskers have one of the better offenses in the Big 10 this side of Columbus and State College. The Gophers, on the other hand, have the worst offense in the Big 10 on a per play basis. After averaging 33 points per game in non-conference action, the Gophers have not scored more than 27 points in any conference game, and have been held below twenty points three times. Quarterback play has been extremely scattershot with Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft combining to complete just 42% of their passes in conference games! Neither team has a whole lot going for them in 2017, but Nebraska is the better team and should not be catching points against Minnesota regardless of the game's location.

Georgia Tech +3 Virginia Tech
This game is vital to Georgia Tech's bowl hopes. At 4-4, with a game remaining against Georgia, the Yellow Jackets are staring down at least five regular season losses. They may end up benefiting from the cancellation of their game against Central Florida in Orlando. The Knights appear to be the best mid-major in the nation (regardless of the lack of respect the College Football Selection Committee shows them) and probably would have already tagged Georgia Tech with a fifth loss. As it stands, many are down on the Ramblin' Wreck after they have lost two straight and three of four. However, two of those losses came to the two best teams in the ACC (Clemson and Miami) on the road. The other came last week at Scott Stadium, a place the Yellow Jackets have historically struggled. Since beating Virginia there when they were number one in the nation in 1990 (yes, Virginia really was ranked number one that season), the Yellow Jackets have lost eleven of the thirteen games they have played there with seven of the eleven defeats coming by a touchdown or less. Now the Yellow Jackets return to Bobby Dodd Stadium where they are unbeaten this season. They host a Virginia Tech team that is probably getting a little too much love from the College Football Selection Committee. While Central Florida is 18th in the latest rankings despite dominating a somewhat weak schedule, Virginia Tech is 17th thanks to victories against...West Virginia? Oh, and Boston College before they were good. Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in the ACC, but their offense has struggled in 2017. In addition, the Hokies are just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite under Justin Fuente. Look for Georgia Tech to get back on track against the Hokies in a low-scoring defensive affair.

Wake Forest +1 Syracuse
Despite a loss at Notre Dame last weekend, Wake Forest has a chance to do something extraordinary in 2017. Through nine games, the Deacons have a mediocre 5-4 record, but they are averaging 31.9 points per game. Wake Forest has never averaged more than thirty points per game in their illustrious history. The closest they came was 1986 when they averaged 29.5 points per game. However, that schedule included a pair of games against FCS competition. If the Deacons can maintain their scoring streak over the season's final quarter (and in their potential bowl game), it would be historic. Wake should have a chance to eclipse thirty against Syracuse as the Orange not only have the second worst per play defense in the ACC, their games also feature the sixteenth most possessions in the nation. While Syracuse plays fast, they are not necessarily that efficient or effective on offense, ranking just ninth in the ACC in yards per play. They do own one of the best wins on the year with their Friday night ambush of Clemson a few weeks ago. However, after a similar win last season, when they shocked Virginia Tech in the Carrier Dome, the Orange dropped four of their final five games en route to a 4-8 record. This season, after the Clemson win, the Orange have dropped two in a row and need to win two of their final three to get to a bowl game. The Orange seem to get up for home games against high-quality teams, but they are just 4-5 at home against FBS opponents under Dino Babers including a loss to Middle Tennessee State earlier this season. Wake Forest has been a dangerous road dog under Dave Clawson, posting a 9-4 ATS mark in the role since 2015 with three outright wins. The wrong team is favored here. Look for Wake Forest to leave upstate New York with a win.

Iowa +12 Wisconsin
Normally, I'm not a huge fan of taking teams the week after a big victory. And victories don't come any bigger than the one Iowa posted last week. The Hawkeyes pounded Ohio State and gave Urban Meyer his worst loss as a head coach. Obviously, the Hawkeyes performance was about as far right on the Bell Curve as possible, so some natural regression is to be expected. Plus, the Hawkeyes won't have the mystique of Kinnick Stadium to help them here. Instead they must travel to Camp Randall Stadium, a place where the Badgers have lost just once since the start of the 2016 season. Still, this line does not seem to be artificially lowered after Iowa's shocking upset last week. After Iowa stomped Ohio State, I was expecting this line to be around a touchdown, which would have resulted in a hard 'pass' from me. Instead, their most recent game does not seem to have impacted this line at all. In addition, the Badgers will be without their leading receiver for this game as Quintez Cephus has been ruled out. That is another factor that does not appear to be built into this line. Even though Iowa enters this game with three losses, all their defeats have been close. Penn State beat them on a touchdown at the gun, Michigan State beat them by seven, and Northwestern beat them in overtime. Iowa won't be dropping double-nickels on the Badgers, but I expect this game to be close as the Hawkeyes give Wisconsin their biggest test of the season.

Arkansas State -11.5 South Alabama
I don't know this for a fact, but it sure seems like Blake Anderson treats Arkansas State's non-conference schedule like the NFL preseason. Since becoming the head coach in 2014, the Red Wolves are just 4-11 in regular season non-conference games (1-10 versus FBS opponents). However, once Sun Belt play starts, Anderson has ironed out all the kinks. The Red Wolves are 24-4 against Sun Belt opponents under Anderson and have won twenty of their last twenty one conference games. If the Red Wolves can continue their winning ways in November, their December 2nd showdown with Troy could be a de facto Sun Belt Championship Game. First things first though, the Red Wolves need to take care of business against a South Alabama team that has already beaten Troy this season. South Alabama has struggled to score in 2017, being held below twenty points in three of their five Sun Belt games, and only topping thirty against the league's worst defense (Louisiana-Monroe). Arkansas State has been balanced on both offense and defense, ranking fourth in the Sun Belt in yards per play and second in yards allowed per play. The Red Wolves excel at pressuring the quarterback, having accumulated 26 sacks in just seven games! Backing double-digit road favorites always leaves me feeling a bit queasy, but the Red Wolves are 6-2 ATS as a road favorite since the start of the 2015 season and South Alabama is not an especially dangerous home team (just 5-6 ATS as a home dog since joining the Sun Belt). Arkansas State has had a week off to prepare for their four-game stretch run, and I think they will start it off with a blowout of the Jaguars.

Wyoming +3 Air Force
After an out of nowhere division title last season, Wyoming began 2017 rather inauspiciously, losing in non-competitive fashion to Iowa and Oregon sandwiched around a win against Gardner Webb. However, since that 1-2 start, the Cowboys have won five of six with their lone loss coming at Boise State. The Cowboys are totally different from the team they fielded last season that relied on outscoring opponents. Last season, Wyoming lost two games where they scored more than thirty points and lost every game where they scored fewer than thirty points. This season, the Cowboys have won four times when scoring under thirty points, including last week's 16-13 win in the snow against Colorado State. The new, defensively sound Cowboys play a style of football that tends to travel better than one built solely around offensive escapades. However, despite their offensive struggles in 2017, Wyoming has a chance to post solid numbers against one of the worst defenses in FBS. Thanks to their ground-oriented option offense, Air Force limits the number of possessions in their games, but the Falcons still rank 100th nationally in scoring defense and have allowed nearly seven yards per play on the season (over seven and half in conference play). Every team Air Force has faced with the exception of VMI has averaged over four and a half yards per carry against the Falcons and their last seven opponents have all averaged at least six yards per carry (cumulative average of 7.59 yards per rush!). The Wyoming running game, which has struggled mightily in 2017, should find some holes and put quarterback Josh Allen in favorable situations. The wrong team appears to be favored here. Take the Cowboys to cover and win this one outright.

Boise State -6 Colorado State
Before the season started, Colorado State fans probably had this game circled on their calendars. The Rams, with a dynamic offense and a some nice returning playmakers would be hosting the resident conference overlord with a chance to end their reign (I know Boise has not even won their division the last two years, but they are the perceived dominant program in the conference). The conference season started well enough after a somewhat disappointing non-conference campaign that saw the Rams lose their third straight to in-state rival Colorado. The Rams won their first four conference games while averaging a healthy 37 points per game. However, some signs of weakness began to show in that stretch. The Rams allowed over 25 points per game and only beat Nevada and New Mexico by a combined five points. Their defense would betray them completely in their fifth game, when they allowed 45 points on just eight drives against Air Force. Humbled by the Falcons, the defense played perhaps its best game of the season, but the offense could produce only one touchdown against Wyoming. Those two defeats have basically eliminated Colorado State from contention for the division title. Even if they upset the Broncos, they would still need Boise State to lose another game and they would also need Wyoming to drop two additional games. Motivation, or lack thereof, after the disappointment of the previous two weeks could certainly play a role here. For Boise State, one bad quarter against Washington State and one bad game against Virginia, made the nation at-large forget about the Broncos. However, since that home loss to the Cavaliers, Boise State has won five in a row with each victory coming by at least ten points. Two of those wins were against last season's Mountain West Championship Game participants. The Broncos have the second best defense in the conference in terms of yards per play, and their offense has steadily improved as the year has gone on. The Broncos have a chance to tighten their stranglehold on the Mountain division with a win here and they have performed well in the role of a road favorite under Bryan Harsin, going 13-6 ATS with him at the helm. Look for the Broncos to win this one by at least a touchdown.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week X

Oy vay. Aother awful week, although I will say we were a little unlucky as Vanderbilt missed an extra point resulting in our first push of the year instead of a win. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-4-1
Overall: 31-31-1

Northern Illinois +9 Toledo
After a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2016 (where they still managed a winning MAC record), Northern Illinois is already bowl eligible and back in contention for another MAC title. The Huskies are unbeaten in the MAC and also own a non-conference win at Nebraska. Despite the good start, this is not a typical Huskie team. After finishing in the top-five in the MAC in terms of yards per play each season from 2009 through 2016, the Huskies have slumped to eighth this season. The Huskies do appear to have settled on a quarterback as freshman Marcus Childers has gotten the majority of the snaps in conference play. Assuming normal progression and health, Childers could be the heir apparent to Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch. With their (relative) offensive struggles, Northern Illinois has leaned on their defense. No team has scored more than two offensive touchdowns against the Huskies and only Buffalo, with some big pass plays, averaged more than six yards per play against them. Toledo has pounded some overmatched MAC teams over the past few weeks (beat Central Michigan, Akron, and Ball State by a combined 88 points), but the Huskies will be their most formidable conference test yet. Northern Illinois is 10-2 ATS as a road underdog under Rod Carey with six outright wins. Toledo is rightly favored in this game, but getting a leg up in the division race will not be easy.

Kansas +9 Baylor
Remember 2014? It was just three short years ago, but the world has changed dramatically. We had a competent president, John Stewart was hosting The Daily Show, and Baylor was in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Now, three years later, the president is an unhinged liar, Trevor Noah is behind The Daily Show desk, and Baylor has lost eleven straight conference games. Fans in Waco have been treated to a flashback of the Kevin Steele days. Can the Bears end their skid against the Big 12's resident punching bag? Year 3 of the David Beaty era has not looked very dissimilar to Years 1 or 2. If nothing else, Kansas beat an FCS team (handily) for the second year in a row. Outside of that opener though, Kansas has been pretty ghastly to watch. The Jayhawks have lost seven straight games, with each defeat coming by double-digits. However, the Jayhawks showed a little spunk in their most recent game, losing by just ten to Kansas State while outgaining and averaging more yards per play than the Wildcats. Baylor has one of the worst defenses in college football, as they have allowed over eight yards per play to conference opponents. This is not a team you want to be laying nearly double-digits on the road with.

Georgia State -3.5 Georgia Southern
In their first two seasons as an FBS program, Georgia Southern went 18-7 and won a bowl game. However, since Willie Fritz left for Tulane, the Eagles are 5-14 and riding a seven game losing streak that got their coach fired after just eighteen games on campus. While Georgia Southern began their FBS life by achieving great success, Georgia State lost their first fifteen Sun Belt games and won just ten games in their first four seasons as an FBS program. Now the tables have turned a little as Georgia State is 4-3 with enough trash left on their schedule to get back to a bowl game for the second time in three seasons. Shawn Elliott began his coaching career in Atlanta rather inauspiciously by losing at home to an FCS school (something Georgia State has done four other times since joining FBS), but the Panthers were able to circle the wagons. Georgia State has won three true road games, giving them seven total in their nascent FBS journey. Georgia State is not very good, but they can throw the football and Georgia Southern is one of the worst (if not the worst) teams in FBS. Georgia State will win their third in a row against the Eagles by a comfortable margin.

Maryland -1 Rutgers
After this game against the Scarlet Knights, Maryland closes with a rough three-game stretch against Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State. Even with a win against Rutgers, the Terps will need to upset one of those teams to return to the postseason for a second consecutive season. First things first though, the Terps will need to take care of a Rutgers team that has actually won two of their last three games after a sixteen game conference losing streak. Despite winning twice as many conference games in the last month as they won in the previous two years, Rutgers still ranks last in the Big 10 in both yards per play and yards allowed per play. Even playing at home (this game was originally scheduled for Yankee Stadium in the Bronx), Maryland should be laying a few more points. The Terps will win this one by a comfortable enough margin to cover this small number.

Utah State +4.5 New Mexico
Three times on this blog I have backed Utah State as a underdog (twice as a road dog). Utah State has failed to cover the number in all three games, and has not been particularly close in any. So naturally, I am on them again this week. The teams that have handily beaten Utah State have run the gamut from good to very good. New Mexico does not fit that criteria. The Lobos have been competitive since Bob Davie arrived in 2012, but they are not in the same league as Wisconsin or Boise State. Both teams already have five losses, so the loser will see their bowl hopes put in serious jeopardy, so motivation should not be an issue. New Mexico has won the last two games in this series, but those wins have come by a combined four points. In fact, the last three games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less. Utah State has done a pretty good job against New Mexico's option attack, holding the Lobos to under four yards per carry in their four meetings since becoming conference mates. Look for more of the same here in a tight game that Utah State may win outright.

Wyoming +3 Colorado State
Presumptive first round pick Josh Allen has disappointed for the Wyoming Cowboys. After accounting for 35 touchdowns last season in their surprise run to a division title, Allen is averaging two full yards fewer per pass attempt this season and has accounted for just sixteen touchdowns. Part of the reason for the decline is the amount of skill position talent the Cowboys had to replace. Superstar running back Brian Hill was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and Allen's top three receivers from 2016 all departed. Thankfully, for the Cowboys, their defense has picked up the slack. After finishing second to last in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play last season, the Cowboys are third in that category this season. That has allowed the Cowboys to remain in contention in the Mountain West with just a single conference loss. Colorado State also enters this game with a single conference loss, but their makeup is the exact opposite of Wyoming. The Rams are the best offense in the Mountain West, averaging a spectacular 7.68 yards per play against conference opponents. However, they also rank ninth in yards allowed per play. Those defensive issues allowed Nevada and New Mexico to hang around and resulted in their first conference loss last week to Air Force. The Rams have Boise State next week, but if they fall here, Boise will have a significant edge in the division race regardless of their game with the Rams. After a rough start to the Craig Bohl era, Wyoming is 7-3 ATS as a home underdog since 2015 with six outright wins. The Cowboys have also won eleven of their last thirteen at home and another outright win here would not surprise me.

Miami +3 Virginia Tech
Can a team be simultaneously overrated and underrated? Miami is currently ninth in the latest AP Poll. They are probably not the ninth best team in the country. However, they are three point home underdogs against Virginia Tech; a line that doesn't make a great deal of sense. Miami has won their last four games by total of just eighteen points, including their first victory against Florida State since 2009. Since that game, the Hurricanes appear to have been sleepwalking, beating Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and North Carolina, but failing to cover in each game. On a per play basis, the Hurricanes have played well, outgaining those three teams by at least a full yard per snap, but have not been able to turn that efficiency into a bigger spread on the scoreboard. I think that has duped the betting public regarding this line. Quick, what is Virginia Tech's best win? The Hokies opened with a close win against West Virginia and won at Boston College before the Eagles straightened out their offensive issues, but that's about it. The Hokies have put up solid point totals, averaging over 35 points per game, but they have four return touchdowns and were the beneficiaries of a soft non-conference slate (outside of West Virginia). In ACC play, the Hokies rank eleventh in the conference in terms of yards per play. Their defense is legit, ranking first in the ACC in yards allowed per play, but this is not an offensive juggernaut heading down to South Beach. If Miami wins this game, they can cruise to the ACC Championship game, so they should be sufficiently motivated. If Miami was any type of favorite, I would avoid this game like the plague, but catching a field goal, they are a solid play here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

We were due for some regression, but that was a little too much. We'll try and do better this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 29-27

Michigan State -2 Northwestern
2016 seems like an eternity ago for Michigan State fans. After a lost season where the Spartans managed just a solitary Big 10 win, Mark Dantonio has already quadrupled that total and has the Spartans potentially looking at nine regular season wins. Their four conference wins have all been close (combined 22 point margin of victory), but the clutch play that eluded the Spartans last season has returned. The Spartans have won in stereotypical Big 10 fashion, with three of their wins coming with them scoring fewer than twenty points. Now they travel to Evanston seeking revenge against a Northwestern team that beat them last season. I will make one bold prediction about this game. The total will not come anywhere near the 94 points these two teams combined for last season. Michigan State has issues on offense, as has been the case since Connor Cook matriculated, but their defense is one of the best in the Big 10. In their five games against Power Five opponents, Northwestern has averaged just 20 points per game. I don't expect them to get to that number here in another ugly Michigan State win.

Appalachian State -3.5 Massachusetts
Appalachian State is a tough team to get a read on. If you just look at their record, it has been business as usual for the burgeoning Sun Belt power. The Mountaineers two losses have come to Power Five opponents (one of which is ranked pretty high) and the Mountaineers are perfect in the Sun Belt. Their 4-0 Sun Belt mark has moved their overall Sun Belt record to 24-4 since moving up (24-2 since a slow start). However, the Mountaineers have struggled against the number, particularly on the road. As double-digit road favorites, the Mountaineers eked out wins against Texas State and Idaho by a combined ten points (3-11 combined record for the Bobcats and Vandals). Those road struggles have depressed this line (probably too much). Another factor in this low spread is Massachusetts latest performance. Off a two week break, the Minutemen crushed Georgia Southern 55-20 and the winless Eagles subsequently fired their coach. Unfortunately for Massachusetts, Georgia Southern is quite possibly the worst FBS team this season. That fact appears to have escaped the oddsmakers here. Despite their road struggles this season, Appalachian State is actually 8-3 ATS as a road favorite since moving to FBS. As a small favorite (less than ten points), they are a perfect 3-0. Don't be fooled by the great performance Massachusetts put together last week. This season, they have already lost at home to luminaries Hawaii and Old Dominion. Look for Appalachian State to get their first road cover of the season.

San Jose State +14 BYU
BYU is five games away from one of the most unique accomplishments in college football history. Through eight games in 2017, the Cougars have failed to cover the spread in every one! It is still a longshot, but if BYU can pull it off, it will go down as one of the most impressive follies of all time. Most LDS BYU fans probably don't care about that statistic and are more concerned with the Cougars getting their first victory against an FBS opponent. Since a closer than expected opening win against Portland State, BYU has lost seven consecutive games while averaging just eleven points per game. There are a number of stats you can use to quantify how bad BYU is offensively, but I think this one sums it up best. Last season BYU beat Toledo 55-53 in a Friday night game that lasted so long, Mack Brown had to leave early. The Cougars scored seven offensive touchdowns in that game. In seven games against FBS opponents in 2017, the Cougars have scored eight offensive touchdowns! Last week, in their loss to East Carolina, the Cougars averaged 5.85 yards per play (a season high against FBS competition). East Carolina came into the game having allowed at least six and a half yards per play to every team they had faced including Connecticut and Temple. I've noted it several ways, but BYU's offense is probably the worst in school history. That being said, they should beat San Jose State at home. The Spartans, under first year coach Brent Brennan, play fast (eighth fastest pace), which when you have a bad team, just results in a lot of three and outs and more possessions for your bad defense to face. Maybe someone needs to explain underdog strategies to coach Brennan. Anyway, the Spartans have not beaten an FBS team this season, but have shown a little spunk recently, losing their last two games by just seventeen and eleven points respectively (their smallest margins of defeat on the year). Against almost any other team, I would not back San Jose State, but if the Spartans can find the endzone once, they should be able to cover this large number against an offensively challenged BYU team.

Iowa State +7 TCU
Prior to the season, who would have thought TCU's visit to Ames would have national implications for both participants? Matt Campbell has guided Iowa State to a 3-1 start in conference play and if the Cyclones can manage two more victories over the rest of the season, they would post their first winning Big 12 record since the great Sage Rosenfels led them to a 5-3 mark in 2000! While this game will be played in Ames, it will probably look more like games that are typically played in Iowa City. The Horned Frogs and Cyclones own the two best defenses in the Big 12, so this game may feature a final score more reminiscent of a Big 10 game. After a disappointing 6-7 season in 2016, TCU has altered their offensive approach in 2017. The Horned Frogs have run the ball more (57% of plays have been runs in 2017 versus 49% in 2016) in order to protect their erratic quarterback Kenny Hill. After throwing thirteen interceptions last season, Hill has only tossed three this year and the Horned Frogs have a +4 turnover margin in 2017 (after posting a -4 margin last season). While the Horned Frogs have been successful since joining the Big 12, they have not performed well as a road favorite. They are 6-11 ATS in the role since 2012 and just 3-9 ATS in Big 12 play. Meanwhile, Iowa State is 4-2 ATS as a home underdog under Matt Campbell. TCU may leave Ames with a victory, but this one feels like it will come down to the final drive.

Vanderbilt +7 South Carolina
As a Columbia resident, I always get a kick out of sportstalk radio. With the modest success the team has enjoyed in the second year of the Will Muschamp era, fans are making plans for an 8-4 finish to the regular season and a top-25 ranking. This is eerily similar to the last time Gamecock fans were notably bullish on their team despite mediocre numbers. South Carolina opened the year with two wins away from Williams-Brice and were set to face Kentucky as about a touchdown favorite. Reasonable callers flooded the airwaves with talks of three-touchdown victories and a return to the glories of the Steve Spurrier era. You know what happened next. Once again, a few victories have intoxicated the fanbase. The Commodores stand no chance against this mighty Gamecock team last seen putting fifteen points on the board against a Tennessee team that is the living embodiment of disarray. After facing a gauntlet of Power 5 teams, Vanderbilt needed a bye week. The Commodores faced Kansas State, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Ole Miss in consecutive weeks, losing the last four of those games in mostly non-competitive fashion. On the surface, Vanderbilt's defensive numbers look atrocious, but keep in mind all four of their conference opponents rank in the upper half of the SEC in terms of yards per play. Yes, Jim McElwain has finally put a competent offense on the field in Gainesville just in time for his defense to regress. But I digress. South Carolina is not in that stratosphere offensively, especially considering the bad defenses they have already faced (Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky are three of the four poorest SEC defenses in terms of yards per play). After playing four games where they would have needed to score at least 39 to win each one, South Carolina will provide a welcome respite. The Gamecocks appear to hate scoring in the 30s and actively strive for old-school AFC Central slogs. South Carolina does have one of the better defenses in the SEC, but it is still light years behind the units in Tuscaloosa and Athens Vanderbilt has already faced. Despite their four-game losing streak, Vanderbilt still harbors significant bowl hopes, so they should be motivated here. Their next four games are against Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. I'm not saying Vanderbilt will finish 8-4, but there are wins left on that schedule. Take Vanderbilt to keep this one close and potentially eke out a win in Columbia.

Utah State +8 Boise State
After a non-conference schedule that saw them blow a game they had in the bag against Washington State and get whipped at home by Virginia, Boise State has righted the ship in Mountain West play. The Broncos are 3-0 in conference play and have beaten last year's championship game participants in consecutive weeks. Still, something does not seem quite right with this Bronco team. Boise State ranks ninth in the Mountain West in yards per play and is averaging just a shade over 28 points per game, which would rank as the fewest for the team since 1997! The defense is still top notch, ranking second in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play. Of course, Utah State's defense is no slouch either. The Aggies rank third in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play and are looking for their first Mountain West home win of the year. Both teams have played a version of quarterback musical chairs thus far in 2017, with Boise State alternating Brett Rypien and Montell Cozart and the Aggies going between Kent Myers and Jordan Love. Both Aggie quarterbacks have been mistake prone, with Myers and Love combining for eleven interceptions on the year. They will need to avoid mistakes against an opportunistic Boise State defense that has intercepted eight passes of their own. Boise State is a bad investment as a favorite, going 5-13 ATS in the role since the start of the 2016 season (they are 2-0 ATS as an underdog in that span) and are over-valued after their past two games. Utah State typically yacks in close games under Matt Wells (5-13 in one possession games under his guidance) so I wouldn't bank on them winning outright, but they should keep this one close.

San Diego State -9 Hawaii
It may be hard to believe, but before November, the two-time defending Mountain West champs in San Diego are pretty much out of the running for another conference title. The Aztecs are two games behind resurgent Fresno State, and after last week's game, the Bulldogs own the head-to-head tiebreaker. San Diego State will have to console themselves with a third straight double-digit win season and a second consecutive finish in the polls. The Aztecs last four games are against Hawaii, San Jose State, Nevada, and New Mexico and they should be significant favorites in each one. Travelling to Hawaii is never easy, but San Diego State has won and covered in their last two trips to the island. The Aztecs are 8-4 ATS as a road favorite since 2014 and Hawaii is one of the worst teams in the Mountain West. The Warriors already have a home loss of thirty points on their resume this season, and a similar result would not shock me here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

We posted our second best week of the year. Hopefully, we are rounding into great handicapping form. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 6-1
Overall: 27-22

Florida State -7 Louisville
What odds would you have given me prior to the season starting that Florida State and Louisville would enter this game with six combined losses and nearly zero percent chance to win the Atlantic Division? For Florida State, the explanation is pretty simple. A rough early schedule featuring a pair of undefeated teams (Alabama and Miami) and NC State as well as an injury to their starting quarterback has forced the Seminoles to grind out conference wins. Through five games, the Seminoles are averaging just over 18 points per game, which would mark their worst finish in that stat since 1976. However, there is a good chance their scoring numbers will go up this weekend. Last season Louisville paired a dominant offense with a defense that ranked first in the ACC in yards allowed per play and third in touchdowns allowed. The Cardinals lost defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to Mississippi State in the offseason and replaced him with Peter Sirmon. The results have been nothing short of disastrous. Call it 'The Sirmon on the Rocks'. Through four games, the Cardinals have nearly allowed more touchdowns (19) than they did over the course of eight conference games last season (20). In addition, the Cardinals have allowed nearly seven yards per play to conference opponents, which is quite a feat considering half their conference schedule has featured the struggling offenses of North Carolina and Boston College. Speaking of the Eagles, in their upset of Louisville last weekend, they scored more than 40 points against an FBS team for the first time since 2013. When your defense is congruent with New Mexico State, you have real issues. Obviously, the defensive coordinator change is an oversimplification of a host of issues, but whatever the reason(s), Louisville has one of the worst Power Five defenses this season. Taking that defense on the road against a team with revenge on their mind after last season's debacle is not an ideal situation. Take the Seminoles to win this one by a significant margin.

Iowa -1.5 Northwestern
Typically a narrow road favorite is in prime position to not only fail to cover, but also to get beat outright. Despite this trend, I think the Hawkeyes are a good play here. For starters, they have been sterling in the role of a road favorite since 2013, posting an 11-1-1 ATS record. Couple that with Northwestern's struggles as a home underdog (1-4 ATS in the role since 2015) and the numbers point to Iowa. While Northwestern has pulled their fair share of upsets under Pat Fitzgerald, most of them have come away from Evanston. The Wildcats have won eleven games since the start of the 2012 season as a betting underdog (regular season only). However, only three of those games have come at home! In addition, Northwestern has not lived up to their preseason expectations thus far in 2017. The Wildcats have already lost three games and their best win is against a Maryland team battling a plague of quarterback injuries. Iowa is coming off of a bye and has already faced road challenges at Iowa State and Michigan State. They probably won't blow the Wildcats out, but this feels like a defensive slog the Hawkeyes win by at least a field goal.

Georgia State +7.5 Troy
Georgia State opened their brand new stadium (to them at least) on August 31st and suffered an ignominious defeat to an FCS team. The Panthers got their starting quarterback hurt, turned the ball over four times, and managed just ten points. Since then, the Panthers have played four consecutive road games, including one against the team currently ranked second in the nation. Surprisingly, the Panthers won three of those four games, and return home after a nearly two-month hiatus with a perfect Sun Belt record and a decent shot at their second bowl game in school history. To be fair, the Panthers don't have any great wins, with two coming against FBS noobs Charlotte and Coastal Carolina and the other against perennial underdog Louisiana-Monroe, but for a team with just four road wins in their history as an FBS school prior to this season, that is still impressive. For a Sun Belt team, the Panthers have a prolific passing offense. Senior quarterback Conner Manning is averaging over eight yards per pass (over nine and a half if we remove the game against Penn State) and the team has allowed just eight sacks all season. The Panthers will look to cement their status as Sun Belt contenders against a Troy team that received a lot of publicity for their takedown of LSU a few weeks ago, but has struggled in the aggregate. After topping 30 points seven times last season, they have only managed to get to that number against an FCS foe in 2017. The Trojans have faced a few strong defenses in Boise State and LSU, but Akron, New Mexico State, and South Alabama have also held the Trojans in check. In Sun Belt action, Troy is tenth in the twelve team league in yards per play (Georgia State conversely is first) and recently netted exactly eight points in a home loss to South Alabama. Troy might be better than Georgia State (they did of course win at LSU), but this spread implies they would be about ten points better on a neutral field. For a Georgia State team with everything to play for in terms of the Sun Belt race, I don't see any way they don't keep this close.

Central Florida -8 Navy
Let me preface this by saying their opponents have not been all that strong in the aggregate, but Central Florida may have been the most impressive FBS team in 2017 (non-Alabama and Georgia edition). I was skeptical of the hype Central Florida was receiving in the offseason, but the Knights have dominated their opponents through five games. Consider they have yet to score fewer than 38 points, win by less than four touchdowns, or fail to cover as an increasingly larger and larger favorite. In fact, Georgia Tech fans are probably mighty happy their game in Orlando was canceled. Consider this your last chance to invest in a burgeoning startup before it becomes too successful and prices you out of the market. This will be your last chance to back Central Florida as a small favorite until their bowl game. There are some red flags in backing the favorite here as Navy has been a spry home dog recently, covering and winning outright in their last four games in the role. Couple that with their unique offense and you can see how this game could shake out with a Midshipmen win or cover, but I'll buy into the Central Florida hype and take them as a small favorite.

Louisiana-Monroe +5 South Alabama
This under the radar Sun Belt clash is classic weakness versus strength showcase. The Warhawks from Louisiana-Monroe are a win away from matching last year's total and have an outside shot at a bowl game in their second season under Matt Viator. The Warhawks are averaging over 47 points per game in Sun Belt action, but are allowing 42 in entertaining clashes you have to stream over ESPN3. However, their defensive liabilities may not be as important in this game as South Alabama has struggled scoring points in 2017. In their three games against other Group of Five teams (two Sun Belt games and Louisiana Tech), the Jaguars have averaged just 19 points per game and just 4.4 yards per play. Obviously, those numbers should improve after this game, but South Alabama is overvalued by the betting public after their 'massive' upset of Troy last week. The line in that game was around seventeen points, but it was inflated thanks to Troy's upset of LSU. Realistically, Troy should have been favored by about a touchdown (or less). South Alabama has pulled four upsets as a double-digit underdog since the start of the 2015 season, and they have failed to cover in their three previous follow-up games. In addition, South Alabama is just 1-6-1 ATS as a home favorite since 2014. These two teams will play a close game that will not be decided until the final possession and I would not be surprised if the underdog pulls the outright upset.

Michigan +10 Penn State
The final scores have not reflected it, but if you squint, you can find some holes in the Penn State 'offensive juggernaut'. The Nittany Lions averaged nearly 50 points per game and over eight yards per play in their non-conference trilogy. However, those games came against a pair of overmatched Group of Five teams (Akron and Georgia State) and a Pitt team that has one win against an FBS school. Once conference play started, the point totals stayed high, but the underlying performance was lacking. After needing a last second touchdown pass to beat Iowa, Penn State scored 76 combined points in easy wins against Indiana and Northwestern. However, in Big 10 play, the Nittany Lions have averaged just 5.28 yards per play (by comparison they averaged 6.51 last season). Heisman contender Saquon Barkley had just 131 yards on the ground and averaged under four yards per carry against Indiana and Northwestern. Penn State has compensated for their offensive struggles by winning the turnover battle (+5 through three games) and scoring two non-offensive touchdowns. Iowa, Indiana, and Northwestern have solid defenses, but Michigan is on another level. Since Don Brown became the defensive coordinator prior to the 2016 season, the Wolverines have allowed 30 or more points in regulation only once. In addition, no team has averaged six yards per play against Michigan during his tenure. When Michigan is a favorite, you are paying a premium to back them (10-12 ATS as a double-digit favorite under Harbaugh), but they provide some value when they are a dog. It hasn't happened very often (just twice in the Harbaugh era) and this marks the first time they have been a double-digit dog under Harbaugh. Michigan has issues on offense and that will probably prevent them from winning outright, but I love them catching ten points here.

Washington State -10.5 Colorado
Washington State, along with Clemson, got Chaos Weekend started late last Friday night when they lost in blowout fashion at Cal. The Cougars entered that game as a double-digit favorite, but did not manage an offensive touchdown for the first time since 2013 (a game they somehow won by the way). Obviously Washington State did not play well, but Cal has proven to be a strong defensive team, particularly at home. Under first year head coach and former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Bears have held four of their six FBS opponents to less than five yards per play. So Washington State's offensive performance was a little more excusable. In addition, the Cougars turned the ball over seven times, including a few highly improbably interceptions. Those plays hurt the Cougars in the present, but aren't predictable going forward. Considering they turned the ball over seven times, the Cougars played decent defense against the Bears despite allowing 37 points on the scoreboard. The Bears only scored three offensive touchdowns and averaged just 5.2 yards per play. The loss was certainly devastating to Washington State's playoff hopes, but Mike Leach has proven his teams will circle the wagon. During his tenure in Pullman, the Cougars have suffered four losses as either a double-digit favorite or against an FCS foe. The Cougars are 3-0 ATS in their previous follow-up games. The eccentric Leach should have his Cougars ready for a home game against a Colorado team that has declined dramatically from their division winning team in 2016. The Colorado defense, which ranked second in the Pac-12 last season in yards allowed per play, is currently second to last in the category this season. Washington State should get back on track offensively against the Buffaloes. Washington State is 7-2 ATS as a double-digit home favorite under Mike Leach (not counting two losses to FCS teams), and I would expect that trend to continue Saturday night.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

Once again, we followed up a losing record, with a winning week. This is the time we make it two good weeks in a row. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 21-21

Eastern Michigan +6 Army
For the third game in a row, Eastern Michigan could not make the plays when they needed as they dropped a one-score game to Toledo. That result followed an overtime loss to Ohio and a close loss to Kentucky. With the MAC gauntlet starting next week, this game will go a long way toward determining whether of not the Eagles can get to a consecutive bowl games. Army is also looking for consecutive postseason appearances. A win here would give them five on the year, but the back half of their schedule is significantly tougher than the front, so a loss could derail those bowl hopes. The best team Army has beaten thus far is Buffalo, as they have beat up on the dregs of Conference USA the past two weeks. UTEP and Rice did not offer much resistance as the Black Knights rushed for more than 750 yards and ten touchdowns in those two games. While the running game has been prolific, the defense has been leaky. Buffalo averaged eight yards per play against the Black Knights, fellow option team Tulane averaged nearly seven, Rice averaged six, and even putrid UTEP had one of their best offensive showings of the year. The Army defense is just what the doctor ordered for an Eastern Michigan offense averaging just 19 points per game (and never topping 24 in any game) in 2017. The Eagles have been solid defensively in 2017, allowing just 18 points per game and under five yards per play in the early going. That is particularly impressive considering the Eagles have faced two strong MAC offenses (Ohio and Toledo) and a pair of Power Five teams (Rutgers and Kentucky). Eastern Michigan has been a solid road team under Chris Creighton, posting a 12-8-1 ATS record as a road underdog. They are an even more impressive 7-1 ATS in the role since the start of 2016. In fact, in their last four games as a single digit road underdog, the Eagles have four outright wins. Another here would not shock me.

Pittsburgh +12.5 NC State
This just seems like a game NC State is destined to lose right? After a huge home win against a top-20 Louisville team, NC State finds themselves ranked 20th in the latest AP Poll (their highest ranking since they climbed to 14th in 2003). The Wolfpack seem primed for a letdown, but let me give you a few more reasons the Panthers seem like a solid play here. For starters, Louisville's defense has crashed and burned. NC State averaged over seven yards per play against Louisville and probably should have won by a larger margin. However, outside of games against Kent State and Murray State, Louisville is allowing 6.68 yards per play! North Carolina, Clemson, and NC State all significantly exceeded their seasonal averages on offense against Louisville. I feel like the decline of Louisville's defense has not gotten a lot of press, so the NC State offense is probably a little overvalued. Another reason to fade NC State is the common opponent these two teams have faced. NC State beat Syracuse and Pitt lost to the Orange. However, the NC State game was in Raleigh and the Pitt game was in the Carrier Dome. NC State beat the Orange by eight and Pitt lost to them by three. That difference of eleven points comes close to this number, but once homefield advantage is accounted for, the difference is more than cut in half. I know extrapolating too greatly with the transitive property is folly, but this spread feels like it should be closer to a touchdown. Also keep in mind, this is NC State's second true road game. Their first was against Florida State with James Blackman making his first start for the Seminoles. Take Pitt to keep this one close.

UNLV +7.5 Air Force
I was drinking the UNLV Koolaid last weekend, as I thought they had a chance to knock off San Diego State at home. Alas, the Aztecs bounced back from a below-average showing the week before to crush the Rebels in Sin City. However, I don't think you should abandon the UNLV bandwagon just yet. Based on five games worth of data, UNLV appears to be a team that will struggle mightily against good defenses (see San Diego State and to an even greater extent, Ohio State), but will torch poor ones. If you have not checked the numbers lately, Air Force does not have a good defense. The Falcons have allowed at least six yards per play and a grand total of 132 points in their last three games. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Falcons have lost all of those games. Air Force has not gone quietly, putting up 107 points of their own in the three contests, but their defense is not to be trusted. Laying more than a touchdown in what appears to be a back and forth shootout is not the side you want to be on. Couple that with the fact that Air Force is coming off an emotional loss to Navy, and they could be prime for an outright upset. Since 2012, after facing a fellow service academy (what I think can be fairly classified as a rivalry game), the Falcons are just 2-8 ATS, including 1-4 as a favorite. Look for that trend to continue here.

Akron +14.5 Western Michigan
The spreads for Western Michigan appear to be inflated based on their spectacular performance last season. While the Broncos have adjusted to the loss of head coach PJ Fleck, quarterback Zach Terrell, and wide receiver Corey Davis, they have not been as successful against the number. Over Fleck's final three seasons in Kalamazoo, the Broncos were 24-13 ATS versus FBS foes. Thus far in 2017, the Broncos are just 2-3 ATS, but more importantly, 4-2 overall and in prime position for a fourth consecutive bowl bid. The Broncos will be looking for their twelfth consecutive MAC win against an Akron team that also enters unbeaten in MAC play. With every other MAC East team already sporting a conference loss, a win would go a long way toward setting Akron up for their first division title since 2005. The Zips are 3-3 thanks to a rough non-conference schedule that included dalliances with Penn State and Iowa State as well as a road trip against a Troy team that knocked off LSU. Of course, Western Michigan didn't exactly line up cupcakes as they opened with Southern Cal and Michigan State. Akron has played well as a road underdog against fellow mid-majors under Tommy Bowden, going 11-4 ATS in the role with four outright wins. Winning outright is probably too much to ask against Western Michigan, but I like the Zips to keep this one within a touchdown.

Navy +3.5 Memphis
Maybe its because they are a service academy. Maybe its because they run the archaic triple option. Maybe its because no one can spell their coach's name. Either way, Navy has been criminally underrated the past three seasons. Consider that in 2015, Navy won their first four and then nine of their first ten games, but did not enter the AP Poll until they were 7-1. They finished 2015 ranked 18th. Navy began 2016 3-0, and then 5-1, and then 9-2, but were only in the poll a total of three weeks. They did struggle at the end, losing their last three, so they did not finish in the final poll. Thus far in 2017, Navy is 5-0 and yet the Midshipmen barely cracked the latest AP Poll. In the past two and a half years, Navy has won five games as a betting underdog, with two of those wins coming against the Memphis Tigers. Thanks to their play and some scheduling quirks dealing with hurricanes, the Tigers have had a disjointed start in 2017. They opened with a closer than expected win against Louisiana-Monroe, saw their game with UCF postponed due to Hurricane Irma, upset UCLA in a shootout, struggled with an FCS school, were crushed by UCF in the rescheduled game, and then dropped 70 points on Connecticut. Despite the seemingly easy win against Connecticut, the Tigers allowed nearly seven yards per play to the Huskies. However, they were able to snuff out three drives by forcing turnovers (while committing none of their own) and stop a pair of fourth down attempts. Obviously forcing turnovers and stopping fourth downs will win you games, but relying on those two things is not the most reliable method moving forward. Navy's offense is as strong as ever, and their defense, outside of last week's showing against Air Force, has been solid in 2017. Look for the Midshipmen to make it three in a row against Memphis with an outright win on Saturday.

North Texas +3 Texas-San Antonio
The nation is probably not riveted with the divisional races in Conference USA, but this is a huge game. Every team in the West has at least one conference loss save North Texas, and a win by the Mean Green would give them a leg up on two of their biggest division threats (these Roadrunners and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles who were beaten by North Texas two weeks ago). North Texas has exploded on offense this season, averaging over seven yards per play in Seth Littrell's second season as head coach. In fact, despite a pair of losses to likely bowl teams SMU and Iowa, the Mean Green have averaged more yards per play than each of their first five opponents. The most amazing stat for the Mean Green is that they have already scored more points through five games (194) than they did for the entire 2015 season (182) when they went just 1-11 (the lone win was over Texas-San Antonio for what its worth). The Roadrunners have also shown improvement in their second season under a new coaching regime. Frank Wilson led the Roadrunners to their first bowl game in 2016 and despite missing a game due to Hurricane Harvey, a second bowl game seems assured. The Roadrunners pulled off the biggest win in school history in their opener when they upset Baylor in Waco. Of course, the Bears have not won a game this season, which is a common refrain for the three teams the Roadrunners have beaten. Baylor, Southern (FCS), and Texas State have combined for exactly zero FBS wins in 2017. Hard to see how oddsmakers made them a road favorite here. In addition, the team that beat the Roadrunners last week (in San Antonio no less), Southern Miss, lost to North Texas the previous week. The wrong team is favored here. I would feel comfortable backing the Mean Green even if this line were reversed.

Arizona -1 UCLA
This Pac-12 After Dark battle in Tucson will be an interesting clash between a pair of coaches with a lot in common. Both Jim Mora Jr. and Rich Rodriguez are in their sixth season at their respective schools and have guided their squads to division titles (Mora in 2012 and Rodriguez in 2014), but are coming off disappointing performances in 2016. After winning at least seven games in each of their first eight combined seasons, both teams managed seven wins as a duo last season. However, both seem to have improved and sport matching 3-2 records in 2017. They have even achieved those records in a similar fashion. Both teams lost to mid-major Group of Five teams in the non-conference, opened conference play with a loss, and beat Colorado for their first conference win. Arizona seems to have found their quarterback to lead them back to the postseason as Khalil Tate set the quarterback rushing record last week with over 300 yards on the ground. He also threw for 142 yards on just 12 pass attempts. Despite those heroics, Arizona only won by three points thanks to a defense that allowed 42 points and 300 yards rushing to Colorado. UCLA also has a pretty good quarterback. Josh Rosen, a likely early NFL entrant, has thrown for over 2000 yards and 17 touchdowns through five games. Unfortunately, the Bruins have not been as prolific on the other side of the ball. The Bruins have allowed nearly 40 points and 284 rushing yards per game this season. Every team save Memphis has torched the Bruins on the ground and that plays right to Arizona's strengths. With the Wildcats playing at home and this spread sitting under a field goal, they are the play here. This should be one of the more entertaining games on Saturday with about a five hour run time and very few defensive stops.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

We failed yet again to post consecutive winning weeks as I managed just a 2-5 mark. Also, if you followed my advice and took Ole Miss, my bad. We'll try and do better this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 17-18

Eastern Michigan +13.5 Toledo
A few weeks after earning their first ever victory against a Power Five opponent (in name only), Eastern Michigan nearly got their second against Kentucky. The loss dropped the Eagles to 2-2, but the progress they have made under Chris Creighton is undeniable. Consider this: From 2008 through 2015, Eastern Michigan won six road games. Since the beginning of 2016, the Eagles have won five road games. To qualify for a second consecutive bowl game, and the third in school history, the Eagles will need to continue to be road warriors as five of their last eight games are away from Ypsilanti. The first of those contests comes against a Toledo team looking to win its first MAC championship since 2004. The Rockets have finished with at least six MAC wins six times over the past seven seasons, but have not been able to advance to the MAC Championship Game. Northern Illinois and Western Michigan have foiled their efforts. Thus far in 2017, Toledo has not been all that impressive. Ignoring their season opening win against FCS Elon, the Rockets have struggled putting away a winless Nevada team, needed a last second field goal to beat a Tulsa team with just a single win, and been moderately competitive for a three quarters against Miami. Nothing they have done thus far gives me the notion they will be able to beat a solid Eastern Michigan team by two touchdowns. The Eagles are 9-4 ATS as a road underdog since 2015 and I expect that trend to continue here.

Virginia -2.5 Duke
The most impressive aspect of Virginia's surprising win against Boise State two Fridays ago was not the fact that they won, but the fact that they rolled up 42 points and 440 yards against a heretofore stout Bronco defense. While Washington State did drop 47 points and 455 yards on the Broncos a few weeks prior, there were a few differences. That game was in Pullman, not Boise, it lasted three overtimes, and the Cougars had two defensive scores. Yards per play tells a much clearer picture. Washington State averaged just 4.8 yards per play against the Broncos while Virginia averaged 6.4. It marked just the third time the Broncos had allowed over six yards per play at home since 2012! Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert is doing his best Matt Schaub impression for the Cavaliers. With three wins in non-conference play the Cavaliers have a shot at their first bowl bid since 2011. Fresh off a bye, they host an improved Duke team in a perfect letdown spot. Last week, the Blue Devils were unbeaten and hosting a top-15 Miami team. The Blue Devils were game, but the Hurricanes pulled away in the second half and won 31-6. Off that tough game and their rivalry game against North Carolina the previous week with Florida State on deck (in Durham), this spread seems way too low. Take Virginia to win easily here.

Purdue -3.5 Minnesota
Its early, and I may be speaking too soon, but it looks like Jeff Brohm will have the Boilermakers back in the postseason faster than most initially thought. After winning just three games against Power Five opponents in four seasons under Darrell Hazell, the Boilermakers already have one such win in 2017. And that one win came by more points (32) than the combined margin of their three wins under Hazell (24). Unfortunately, thanks to a difficult early schedule that featured a pair of top-20 teams, the Boilermakers are just 2-2 a third of the way through the season. Purdue was very competitive against Louisville in the opener, losing by just seven and hung around with Michigan for the better part of three quarters. The good news for Purdue is that they will not face a defense as stout a Michigan's over the remainder of the season or a quarterback as talented as Lamar Jackson. And that might be bad news for Minnesota. Against the three teams without an elite defense, Purdue has averaged 36 points and 460 yards per game. Minnesota has a solid defense, so they may not get to those averages, but playing at home as a slight favorite, Purdue should be a solid play. Plus, Jeff Brohm's teams have a good track record as a home favorite. In his three seasons at Western Kentucky and early start at Purdue, his teams are 12-5 ATS in the role. Look for that trend to continue here with Purdue earning their first conference win of the season.

Miami -3.5 Florida State
I'll admit, taking Miami here makes me a bit uneasy. The Hurricanes have lost seven straight to the Seminoles, including a pair of games (2010 and 2016) where they entered as the favorite. Overall, four of the games, and the last three in a row have been decided by five points or less. However, as an alum of Wake Forest, I watched all of last week's Florida State game with great interest. While the Seminoles were able to pull one out in Winston-Salem, they needed to catch a few breaks. The Demon Deacons averaged a yard more per play than the Seminoles, but lost the turnover battle and allowed a backbreaking kickoff return. One turnover was deep in their own territory and directly led to a Florida State field goal, while the other was in Florida State territory and snuffed out a potential scoring drive. The kickoff return came when Wake Forest had just moved out to a nine-point lead and while the kickoff itself did not result in a touchdown, it put a heretofore anemic Florida State offense in prime position to score one. Everyone knows Florida State is now guided by a freshman quarterback, but I think the bigger issue for the offense is the line. Wake Forest sacked James Blackman five times, and while the Deacons have a better defense than most probably believe, Miami probably has better pass rushers. This Miami team also seems cut from a different sort of cloth than the recent vintage. With the Florida State game on deck, Miami headed to Duke last Friday night and soundly defeated a quality Blue Devil team. The win made the Hurricanes 5-1 ATS as a road favorite under Mark Richt, as they have proven to be a reliable team away from home. Florida State's history as a home underdog under Jimbo Fisher is a short one, so there is not much to be gleamed there. The Seminoles lost, but covered as a home dog to Clemson last year and lost and failed to cover as a home dog to Oklahoma in 2011. I think this is the year Miami finally exorcises their Seminoles demons.

Coastal Carolina +2 Georgia State
In their last game, Georgia State won at Charlotte. That win gave the Panthers five road wins as an FBS program. Depending on when you got the game, it also marked the first time they were ever a road favorite. Can the Panthers win two in a row on the road? While they were ultimately able to get the job done against a bad Charlotte team, the final score of 28-0 was misleading. The Panthers only averaged about half a yard more per play than the 49ers, but won the turnover battle 3-0, stopped the 49ers on a pair of fourth down conversions, and scored a touchdown when Charlotte blocked their field goal. Those three things are all solid contributors to victory, but not something to be relied on going forward (especially the score off the blocked field goal). After dispatching Charlotte, the Panthers will attempt to defeat another FBS newbie in Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers have been a little disappointing in their maiden FBS voyage. After opening with a victory against Massachusetts, they have dropped three in a row, including an embarrassing loss to the Leathernecks of Western Illinois two weeks ago. The FCS Leathernecks rolled up over 500 yards, averaged nearly nine yards per play, and scored 52 points against Coastal in Conway! The Chants rebounded in a solid effort against Louisiana-Monroe last week, where a fumble return on the game's final play made the score a little more lopsided than it actually was. Outside of the Western Illinois game, Coastal's defense has been decent (by Sun Belt standards), so we'll chalk that one up to FBS growing pains. Georgia State is not a dynamic offense (they have scored 38 points through three games), so there is no way I can back them as a road favorite. Take Coastal to win outright.

SMU +6.5 Houston
This is a revenge spot for the Cougars, who were embarrassed by SMU last season. However, I think SMU is a solid play as Houston has not impressed thus far in 2017. Outside of a beatdown of overmatched Rice, Houston has failed to score more than 24 points against Arizona, Texas Tech, or Temple. Two of those are Power Five teams, but neither is known for their defensive acumen. The Cougars did manage to win two of those three games, so they have played good defense, but the Cougars obviously miss the talents of the departed Greg Ward Jr. SMU is on the other end of the spectrum, as the Mustangs have scored at least 36 points in every game en route to averaging 48 per contest, but are also allowing over 30 points per game. Defensively, the Mustangs seem to either make or allow a big play. They have 21 sacks on the season (good for third nationally in sacks per game), but have allowed over nine yards per pass (remember the NCAA accounting method is faulty as sacks are counted as rushing yards). Houston has only allowed four sacks all season, so this will be an interesting battle. Houston will probably get over some of their offensive ills in this game as I expect a shootout. However, asking them to lay nearly a touchdown against a dynamic SMU offense is too much.

UNLV +11 San Diego State
The Mountain West is in an interesting spot at the moment. San Diego State is currently the second highest ranked Group of Five school (albeit in the AP Poll which doesn't really count for anything), just one spot behind South Florida. The Aztecs have beaten a pair of Pac-12 schools (Arizona State and Stanford) and own a solid win against Northern Illinois. However, the Aztecs may not even be the best team in the conference. According to Bill Connelly's win expectancy numbers, San Diego State should have lost each of their last four games (the previously mentioned trio and Air Force), yet the Aztecs came out on the right side of the scoreboard. That tightrope will be hard to walk for the rest of the season. Of course, the there are no more Power Five teams on the schedule, but Boise State does visit sunny San Diego next week, and the Aztecs could have to face the Broncos or a team like Colorado State in the Mountain West Championship Game. With the game against Boise looming, the Aztecs travel to Sin City to face a team that has coalesced since their shocking upset loss to Howard. Against teams not named 'Ohio State', the Rebels have put up at least 40 points, rushed for at least 300 yards, and averaged at least eight yards per play in every game. San Diego State always has a good defense under Rocky Long, but UNLV will be able to scratch out their share of yards and points. San Diego State should be able to run the ball effectively, with Rashaad Penny likely going over 1000 yards on the season (needs 177 to reach the mark), but I expect a competitive shootout so pop a 5-Hour Energy and stay up for this one.