Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

Last week we picked some favorites for the first time (four to be exact). And three of them lost outright. We'll try and get back on track this week. Home teams in bold. 

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 9-11-1

Tulsa +4 Northern Illinois
Alarm bells sounded in my head when I saw this line. I think the wrong team is favored here. First off, we have a MAC school (and one that lost to an FCS team) laying points against a team from the American. Granted, Tulsa will probably finish near the bottom of the American standings, but the point remains. In addition, the betting market is undervaluing Tulsa because they have been pounded the past two weeks. The Golden Hurricane have dropped games to Washington and Oklahoma by a combined 82 points. However, the Huskies and Sooners are both ranked in the top 20 of the most recent edition of the AP Poll and are both in the top eleven of ESPN's Football Power Index rating system. Unlie Tulsa, Northern Illinois has beaten a Power Five team this season. The Huskies knocked off Boston College in their opener. However, that Boston College team started Emmett Morehead at quarterback before switching to Thomas Castellanos. The infinitely more mobile Castellanos led the Eagles all the way back before they lost in overtime. Starting Morehead in that game may end up costing Jeff Hafley his job if the Eagles are not able to find six wins on their schedule and it is artificially inflating Northern Illinois in the betting market. Finally, the Huskies have been a poor investment as a home favorite. Under Thomas Hammock, they are 1-7 ATS in the role. These two teams faced off last season with Tulsa winning (and failing to cover) as about a touchdown favorite. This spread has moved roughly eleven points in the opposite direction in one year. Obviously roughly half of that is accounted for by the change in venue from Tulsa to DeKalb, but I'm shocked the Huskies are favored in this spot. Take the Golden Hurricane to easily cover and win outright. 

Rice -2.5 South Florida
It takes a lot of guts to back Rice as a road favorite. Head coach Mike Bloomgren is in his sixth season as the private school and the Owls are just 6-22 in true road games. However, those road numbers deserve some context. Six of those games have come against Power Five teams where the Owls were prohibitive underdogs. In road games against similar teams, the Owls have fared better, especially over the past three seasons. Since the start of 2020, the Owls are 4-7 in road conference games. They won't hang any banners for that performance, but it shows the Owls are much more competitive than they were at the beginning of Bloomgren's tenure. And while Rice has seen their share of struggles on the road, South Florida has struggled no matter the venue. Since the start of the 2020 season, the Bulls have beaten one FBS team. Give them credit for for going 4-0 against FCS foes in that span, but against even the bottom rung of FBS, the Bulls have failed to deliver. They have covered some big numbers at home, including last week against Alabama, but only one of their numerous home losses since 2020 would have covered this small number. You are getting Rice at a discount since South Florida was competitive against Alabama last week in a game the Bulls were extremely motivated for. Will we see the same focus after the Bulls shot their proverbial wad last week against the preeminent college football program of the past fifteen years? I have my doubts. Meanwhile Rice has a shot at getting to a bowl game (legitimately) this season. Including South Florida, there are five or six winnable games left on this slate. Rice has not finished with more than five regular season wins since 2014, but they'll be halfway to bowl eligibility after Saturday. 

Eastern Michigan +6.5 Jacksonville State
Last week, I faded Eastern Michigan as a home favorite, and what do you know, the Eagles needed a late comeback to beat Massachusetts. Now the Eagles are catching nearly a touchdown against a team playing its fourth game as an FBS team. While the Gamecocks are 2-1, their victories have come against UTEP and East Tennessee State. The Gamecocks scored 49 points against East Tennessee State, but they have managed just 33 total points in their two games against FBS competition. I expect the Gamecocks to slightly exceed that average against a below average Eastern Michigan defense, but the over/under in this game (currently 52.5) implies they will score about 29 points. I don't think they will get to that number. Plus Eastern Michigan has been a veritable ATM as a road underdog under Chris Creighton. The Eagles are 30-13-1 ATS in the role under Creighton, including 25-6 since 2016. And this is not a function of them covering massive spreads against Power Five opponents. No sir. The Eagles are 23-8-1 as a road underdog against Group of Five opponents (19-3 since 2016) with eleven outright wins. I think the Eagles make it an even dozen on Saturday. 

Sam Houston State +12 Houston
Is Houston bad? The Cougars edged UTSA in their opener, but have lost to Rice and TCU the past two weeks. In the Rice game, they needed to stage a furious rally to force overtime. Against a TCU team that allowed 45 points and 565 yards to Colorado in Fort Worth, the Cougars managed just 266 yards and 13 points in Houston. Their only touchdown came on a kickoff return. Its hard to cover double digits when you can't score. Of course, Sam Houston State has not exactly set scoreboards aflame in their first season as an FBS team. The Bearkats have covered each of their first two games at the FBS level despite scoring three total points. Off an early bye, I think they score their first touchdown in FBS play and put a scare into Houston. Under Dana Holgorsen, the Cougars have performed poorly as a home favorite, posting a 3-8 ATS record, including 1-6 ATS as a double digit home favorite. The hot seat under Holgorsen will get a little warmer on Saturday. 

Colorado State +3 Middle Tennessee State
Both these teams came close to knocking off unbeaten Power Five opponents. Middle Tennessee hung with Missouri two weeks ago, losing 23-19. Meanwhile, Colorado State allowed Colorado to march the length of the field and force overtime last week in a wild Pac-12 after dark affair. If you are playing amateur psychologist, you might think Colorado State will come out flat after losing to their in-state big brother. However, the last five times they fell to the Buffaloes, the Rams have won their next game, including 2018 when they upset Arkansas. After narrowly losing to Missouri, Middle Tennessee pounded Murray State last week. I think that victory and their close loss to the Tigers is artificially inflating the Blue Raiders. Colorado State has not had the chance to pad their numbers against an FCS opponent (they get that opportunity next week). Despite a few mistakes, the Rams seem to have found their quarterback. Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi has averaged over eight and a half yards per pass against two Power Five defenses. Why he didn't get the start against Washington State is anyone's guess. If Colorado State can avoid the bonehead penalties that doomed them against Colorado, they should leave Murfreesboro with their first win of the season. 

Arkansas +17.5 LSU
If these two teams played last week, I think this number would have been under two touchdowns. Consequently, I think there is some value on Arkansas. The Razorbacks lost at home to BYU despite outgaining the Cougars by nearly 150 yards and nearly a yard per play. The Cougars started three scoring drives on the Arkansas side of the field and added another touchdown drive of just 53 yards after a poor punt. Meanwhile, LSU dominated what may wind up being a very bad Mississippi State team. The Bulldogs are transitioning from the Air Raid and managed just over 200 total yards against LSU. You need only look back a few weeks to see that LSU's defense is probably not quite that elite. A good, but perhaps not great, Florida State team scored 45 points and averaged nearly seven and a half yards per snap against them. And lest we forget, LSU was a below average SEC defense in terms of yards per play last season. No team is as good as they look one week (LSU) or as bad as they look the next (Arkansas). I expect the Razorbacks to rebound and put up a good fight in this spot. Under Sam Pittman, they are 6-3 ATS as a road underdog, including 4-2 ATS as a double digit underdog. In addition, while Arkansas is just 1-2 versus LSU under Pittman, all three games have been decided by a field goal. I expect another close one on Saturday. 

Utah State +5.5 James Madison
I was on Utah State last week and the Aggies were run over by Air Force in a mostly non-competitive game. I think they are in a good spot this week though. James Madison is 3-0 (and 11-3 since joining FBS last season), but their last two victories have come by the skin of their teeth. The Dukes beat Virginia by a point two weeks ago, despite being outgained by the Cavaliers on a per play basis (6.48 to 5.98). They upset Troy by two last week despite being outgained by a similar margin (4.94 to 4.46). The Dukes did not turn the ball over in either game and made all their field goals, while the Cavaliers and Trojans each committed a turnover and the Trojans missed a field goal. Virginia is a Power Five team and Troy won the Sun Belt and finished ranked in the final AP Poll last season, so the Dukes value is a little inflated. This is also their third consecutive road game before they resume conference play against South Alabama next week. Utah State has been erratic under Blake Anderson, winning their first seven true road games while losing five of their first eight homes games. Even this season, the Aggies held their own against Iowa before crapping their pants against Air Force. This number is too high and James Madison is in a rough situational spot. I'll take Utah State and their high variance to keep this one close. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week III

We had a decent showing last week, finally winning more than we lost and nearly evening our yearlong record. We'll try and do the same this week. I even managed to find a few favorites to throw on the card. As always, home teams in bold. 

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 6-7-1

Utah State +9 Air Force
Utah State followed up their surprising 2021 Mountain West title with a somewhat disappointing campaign. Despite eventually qualifying for a bowl, the Aggies began 2022 by losing four of their first five games, including a home blowout loss to an FCS team. The Aggies won five of seven down the stretch (beginning with a home upset of Air Force) to get to 6-6, but when factoring their bowl loss to Memphis into the equation, they were outscored by more than 100 total points last season. Consequently, not much was expected of them heading into 2023. However, through two games, the Aggies have overachieved. They covered as massive underdogs at Iowa, even outgaining the Hawkeyes in both total yards and yards per play. They then dominated Idaho State of the FCS one week after the Bengals played a tight game with San Diego State. I don't like to read too much into FCS blowouts, but Utah State scored 78 points last week; the first time they topped 70 since 2018. Coincidentally, the last time they scored at least 70 points, their next opponent was...Air Force. Speaking of the Falcons, while they are 2-0 and have allowed just ten points on the year, they did not look great in a defensive struggle with Sam Houston State last week. I don't expect another defense dominated game this week. The Mountain West began divisional play in 2013 and with the Aggies and Falcons both occupying the former Mountain Division (the conference scrapped divisions this year), they have played each of the past ten years. If we remove the two years when Gary Andersen returned (2019 and 2020), the Aggies have averaged nearly 37 points per game against the Falcons (topping 30 points six times) and have won five of eight. Utah State will score regularly in this game and I wouldn't be shocked if they leave Colorado Springs with an outright win. 

Indiana +10 Louisville (@ Indianapolis)
Jeff Brohm may have left Purdue, but he has not yet been able to escape his former rivals in Bloomington. During his Purdue tenure, Brohm enjoyed good success in the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry, winning four of five. The last two were not competitive, with the Boilermakers winning by 37 and 14 respectively, but the first three in the series were decided by a touchdown or less. Thanks to their schedule, Louisville was a sleeper team in the ACC heading into 2023. However, they needed a second half surge to put away Georgia Tech in the opener. The Yellow Jackets averaged nearly seven yards per play against the rebuilding Louisville defense, their most against a Power Five opponent in nearly two years. The Cardinals rebounded to put the clamps on Murray State last week, but I don't think the defensive issues are solved. Speaking of defense, Indiana may be able to offer something on that side of the ball. Head coach Tom Allen is a former defensive coordinator and after allowing over thirty points per game each of the past two seasons, the Hoosiers held Ohio State to 23 points in the opener. Ohio State was breaking in a new quarterback, but the receiving corp, headlined by Marvin Harrison Jr., was held in check by the Indiana secondary. This version of Indiana may not be good enough to get back to a bowl, but they can ugly up the game enough to cover some big spreads. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, teams coached by Brohm are much better as underdogs than as favorites. In the regular season, his teams are 21-11 ATS as underdogs and just 13-20 ATS as favorites, including 6-9 as a double digit favorite. Take the Hooisers to keep this one close against their old rival. 

Iowa State -3 Ohio
I think the betting public is a little too down on Iowa State after their tumultuous summer. I think the Cyclones have exceeded expectations somewhat through their first two games. They dispatched Northern Iowa with ease in the opener, which is something previous iterations of this team have not always done. And they lost a defense struggle to Iowa. The Cyclones are 1-6 against Iowa under Matt Campbell, including 0-4 in Ames. Now they are the smallest of favorites on the road against a MAC team in what should be another low-scoring affair. Ohio has put together three solid defensive showings thus far, holding each of their first three opponents to twenty points or less. However, those teams are the habitually low-scoring San Diego State Aztecs, Long Island of the FCS, and Florida Atlantic. Despite the strong defensive performance, the formerly prolific Bobcat offense has sputtered, even with the return of Kurtis Rourke last week. Ohio managed just seventeen points against the Owls and averaged under five yards per play. I don't think their offense will get in gear against an Iowa State defense that held them to ten points last year and has allowed just two offensive touchdowns through two games. Under Matt Campbell, Iowa State is 6-1 against Group of Five opponents (5-2 ATS) with their lone loss coming to Louisiana-Lafayette at the beginning of the Covid season. Their five victories have all come by at least thirteen points and two of those victories came on the road. You are getting Iowa State at a solid discount. This spread should be closer to a touchdown and I think Iowa State wins this game handily (two touchdowns or more) a decent percentage of time. 

Massachusetts +7.5 Eastern Michigan
In the offseason, I paid homage to Chris Creighton and his success at Eastern Michigan. Creighton has turned the formerly moribund program into a consistent bowl participant in the MAC. He has also beaten his share of Power Five opponents and been great as an underdog. However, one thing he has not done is cover as a favorite. The splits are uncanny. In regular season games as an underdog under Creighton, the Eagles are 41-23-2 ATS (33-10-1 since 2016) with twenty two outright wins. As a favorite in the regular season, the Eagles are 10-16 ATS with eleven outright losses. The Eagles have been particularly bad as a home favorite, going just 5-12 ATS under Creighton with eight outright losses. Their opponent in this game has been a perfect barometer for Eastern Michigan's failure as a favorite. They have faced off each of the past two seasons, with Eastern Michigan being heavily favored in both. They Eagles won each game, but did not cover in either. History seems to be repeating itself in 2023, with the only difference being this Eastern Michigan team might actually be bad. The Eagles needed two kickoff return touchdowns to hold off Howard in their opener and averaged under five yards per play against the Bison. Then, despite their previous bona fides against Power Five teams, the Eagles did not put up much of a fight against Minnesota last week. The Eagles covered, but were never in position to win or put a scare into the Golden Gophers. I expect the Eagles to have their best offensive performance of the season against the porous Massachusetts defense, but the Minutemen have shown enough of a pulse on offense to keep this game within the number. 

Louisiana Tech -4.5 North Texas
I try not to jump to conclusions after one game, but I did last week. I was effusive in my praise of Cal after they dropped 58 points on North Texas in their opener. I expected them to move the ball and upset Auburn last week. The Bears covered, but they scored ten points. After allowing 58 points to Cal, North Texas continued to sully the name of Mean Joe Greene by allowing 46 points to Florida International. The 58 points Cal scored marked their high water mark under Justin Wilcox and the 46 points Florida International scored marked their highest point total in the short tenure of Mike MacIntyre. For reference, Louisiana Tech has topped out at 52 points under Sonny Cumbie. Can the Bulldogs get close to that number? I think so. As I mentioned a few lines up, Florida International scored 46 points against North Texas. They did that one week after scoring 14 points against Maine! Louisiana Tech does not play much defense, so I expect a high scoring affair (the over/under is currently at a nice 69), but a few stops are all they should need to cover this number against one of the worst defenses in FBS. 

New Mexico -1.5 New Mexico State
I don't want to put too much pressure on Danny Gonzales, and truth be told, I doubt my readership can turn the heat up on the New Mexico football boosters, but Gonzales probably needs to win this game to keep his job. Two games into his fourth season in Albuquerque, the Lobos are 8-25, with three of those victories coming against FCS opponents. His offenses have been among the worst in college football, averaging under two touchdowns per game in both 2021 and 2022. However, his hire of Bryant Vincent (UAB interim coach) as his offensive coordinator and the subsequent transfer of Dylan Hopkins from the Blazers might be enough to keep him employed. It was just an FCS team, but the Lobos scored 56 points against Tennessee Tech last week. It was their most in a game under Gonzales and if the offense can move from atrocious to slightly below average, there are wins to be had on this schedule. New Mexico State, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Nevada, and UNLV populate the remaining schedule. While it may not be feasible for the Lobos to sweep that quintet and get to a bowl, winning four or five games may earn Gonzales another year on the job. Based on early returns, I think the Lobos are the better team, so playing at home, with a spread under a field goal, they are the play. 

Arizona -18 UTEP
Arizona opens Pac-12 play next week with a road trip to Stanford, so there is a potential danger of them looking past UTEP. However, the Wildcats have not posted a winning season since 2017, so I think they will be ready to take care of am overmatched foe at home. Arizona wide receiver, and former UTEP star, Jacob Cowing has yet to really break out in 2023, catching ten balls for just 69 yards through two games. Cowing averaged over twelve yards per reception last season for Arizona and nearly twenty yards per reception for the Miners in 2021. Despite Cowing's disappointing numbers and quarterback Jayden De Laura's inconsistent play, the Wildcats have acquitted themselves well in the early going. They dominated Northern Arizona in the opener (a team that beat them in 2021) and went to overtime against an SEC team on the road despite losing the turnover margin by four. While I was high on UTEP in the offseason, they have not been very good through a quarter of their 2023 campaign. They beat a good FCS team at home, but on the road they have managed fourteen and seven points against a team playing their first game as an FBS program and the worst team in the Big 10. How many points are they scoring in Tucson on Saturday night? If they get to seventeen, which I think may be overly optimistic, can they hold Arizona under 35? Maybe De Laura has another big turnover game and keeps the Miners close, but I think he got that out of his system last week (at least for a few games) and the Wildcats will roll in this spot. 

Thursday, September 07, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

We made some bad picks last week. But we also had some bad luck. If James Franklin had taken a knee like any sensible college football coach, we would have opened with a perfectly mediocre 3-3-1 record. Alas, he punched it in with five second left and we started off 2023 in the hole at 2-4-1. Alas, there are twelve more weeks or so to dig out of this hole. Let's get going. As always, home teams in bold. 

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

NC State +7.5 Notre Dame
Notre Dame has been clinically efficient in their first two games, blasting Navy and Tennessee State by a combined score of 98-6. Now they face their first real test in Raleigh against a team they have a losing all-time record against (in just three games). The last time Notre Dame traveled to Raleigh, the elements played a pivotal role in the outcome with NC State slogging through a 10-3 victory. Brian Kelly infamously called for 26 passes in less than ideal conditions with those passes netting 54 total yards (excluding sacks). My bold prediction is that more than thirteen combined points will be scored this time. Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman has played three games against NC State as a member of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Hartman and the Deacons lost both games in Raleigh by small margins and won the one game in Winston-Salem in a similarly tight affair. Hartman is familiar with the NC State defense coordinated by Tony Gibson and the Wolfpack are familiar with Hartman, albeit in a completely different offense. However, despite the assumption that Notre Dame has more skill position talent than Wake Forest, I would make the argument Hartman may have downgraded at wide receiver by transferring to South Bend. The offensive line may be stronger in South Bend, but A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Roberson were special talents on the outside. I think NC State is a little undervalued after their workman like road victory against Connecticut. Sure you would like to see the offense do more against a Group of Five opponent, but the Wolfpack were never in danger of losing that game. I expect another close game between Hartman and NC State with the final margin falling within a touchdown either way. 

Northwestern +1.5 UTEP
I have to take this one out of principle. I refuse to accept that UTEP can be favored on the road against a Power Five team. Consider this: UTEP has won five road games since Dana Dimel arrived in El Paso in 2018. Those five teams (Charlotte, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Southern Miss, and Rice) all lost at least nine games in the season UTEP defeated them. The quintet finished with a cumulative record of 10-49. The Miners did not do much better away from the west Texas town of El Paso under his predecessor Sean Kugler. During Kugler's tenure (2013-2017), the Miners also won five road games. The Miners did beat one quality opponent on the road (UTSA in 2016), but the other four were trash. Their combined record was 16-45. Northwestern is likely to finish with double digit losses, but the bottom of the Power Five is simply built different from the bottom of the Group of Five. If this game were in late November, Northwestern may have checked out on the season and I would be wary of backing them. But the season is young, and this is Northwestern's best shot at a victory until Howard comes to town the first Saturday in October. Remember, two weeks ago, UTEP lost to a team playing its first game as an FBS program. It won't be pretty, but Northwestern will win their first game on American soil in nearly two years. 

Appalachian State +18 North Carolina
North Carolina's defense was pretty bad last season, allowing nearly 31 points per game. Over the course of fourteen games last season, the team accumulated just 17 sacks and 51 tackles for loss. In their opener against South Carolina, the Tar Heels netted nine total sacks and sixteen tackles for loss. I don't want to overreact to one data point, but North Carolina may have the most prolific pass rush in college football history! Or at least that is what you might think after seeing this point spread. Yes, North Carolina looked quite impressive in their opener. Yes, Appalachian State struggled for three quarters of their tune up against Gardner-Webb. Yes, North Carolina is playing at home. But I think they are in a prime letdown/sandwich spot. Off that easier than expected victory against South Carolina, the Tar Heels host Minnesota next week. All that stands between them and a 2-0 start to the season is the plucky underdog from Boone. I guarantee the Mountaineers are motivated for this game against the premiere institution in the state. The Mountaineers have also performed quite well as a road underdog against Power Five opponents since joining FBS. They are just 3-6 straight up, but 6-3 ATS having covered their past five games (winning two outright). Appalachian State will be able to protect their quarterback and score enough to stay within this number. 

Boise State +3.5 Central Florida
There is nothing I like better than grabbing a team out of the trash. And Boise State fits that description perfectly. After a solid opening stanza against Washington, the Broncos were decimated by Michael Penix and the Huskie passing attack. Penix threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns as Washington dropped 56 on the Broncos. In an eerie bit of symmetry, Central Florida also scored 56 points albeit against a woeful Kent State team. Playing their first game as a member of the Big 12, the Knights topped 300 yards on the ground and through the air against the Golden Flashes. It was an impressive exhibition, but the difficulty ratchets up significantly as the Knights head west to take on the Broncos. The Knights have not fared well as a favorite since Gus Malzahn replaced Josh Heupel as head coach, posting an 8-11 ATS record in the role with five outright losses. These teams could not have looked more different in the opener, but Boise was facing a fringe top ten team on the road, while Central Florida was a facing one of the five worst teams in FBS at home. Boise State has been a home underdog just four previous times this century. They are just 1-3 ATS in that limited sample, but every team that was favored on the Smurf Turf was either ranked at the time (BYU number nine in 2020, Fresno State number 16 in 2018, Boston College number 19 in 2005) or headed for a top ten finish (Washington State in 2001). Central Florida is poised to have the best debut of the four new Big 12 members, but I don't foresee a ranked finish in their future. Take the Broncos to get back on track. 

Temple +9 Rutgers
Thirty years ago, these teams were bottom dwellers in the Big East. The Big East began playing a true full conference schedule in 1993 and neither the Owls nor the Scarlet Knights posted a winning conference record for more than a decade. Temple was infamously booted from the league after the 2004 season. The Owls bounced around as an Independent before joining the MAC and later returning to the Big East before that league became the AAC. Meanwhile, Rutgers finally posted a winning season in 2005 under Greg Schiano, their current coach. Schiano took the program to great (relative) heights before leaving for the NFL. The team floundered after his departure which also coincided with their move to a stronger conference. Rutgers brought him back in 2020 and his second act has not exactly been Bill Snyder-esque. Rutgers is just 13-22, although they did play in a bowl game, thanks to the cowards at Texas A&M. Offense has been a real problem for Rutgers, particularly post-Covid. Since the start of the 2021 season, Rutgers has averaged less than 20 points per game. In that span, they have played 25 games against FBS opponents and been held below twenty points, seventeen times. Logically, if a team has trouble scoring, they might have trouble covering a big number. I think that will be the case in this spot. Temple quietly improved over the course of Stan Drayton's first season. The Owls were underdogs against every FBS opponent they played last season, but managed a solid 7-4 ATS mark as an underdog, including a blistering 5-1 down the stretch. Rutgers put up less than 300 total yards in their opener against a team that I'll remind you is a home underdog to UTEP! Take the Owls to keep this one close and potentially eke out their second win of the year. 

Cal +6.5 Auburn
This classic rivalry between ACC and SEC schools is being played for the...checks notes...first time ever? Auburn is making a rare visit to the west coast as this is their first road game in California since they opened the 2002 season against Pete Carroll's first great Trojan team. Both the Bears and Tigers looked especially strong in their openers. As expected, Auburn dominated the Minutemen from Massachusetts, while Cal scored a surprisingly easy road win against a trendy underdog in North Texas. Cal scored 58 points against the Mean Green, their most in a game under head coach Justin Wilcox. The Bears are just 10-18 over the past three seasons and the preseason prognosticators did not foresee much improvement in 2023. While the betting markets expected Cal to beat North Texas, I think even casual college football fans were shocked by how it went down. Cal has been a defense first team under Wilcox, so a tight 20-14 or 24-21 victory would have been more in line with expectations. I don't think Cal will lead the nation in scoring this season, but that result, even against a team that may end up with a pretty poor record, is cause for mild optimism. Can the Bears keep it going as a home underdog? I think so. Cal is 10-4 ATS as a home underdog under Wilcox with six outright victories. Meanwhile, Hugh Freeze is just 13-16 ATS as a road favorite at Arkansas State, Ole Miss, and Liberty. SEC teams rarely travel out west and I think that is not properly accounted for in the betting line. Take the Bears to put a scare into the Tigers. 

Stanford +29.5 Southern Cal
To contextualize how low preseason expectations were for Stanford, consider their win total. When I was in Las Vegas in July, I found a 2.5 number at a few books. The Cardinal had both Hawaii (a rebuilding Group of Five team) and Sacramento State (an FCS power and former employer of their current head coach). If the Cardinal won both those games (and assuming they lost to Notre Dame), they would need to finish winless in the Pac-12 to go under that win total. Colorado was perhaps the worst Power Five team last season (Northwestern was also in consideration) and the Buffaloes managed to win a Pac-12 game. Most of the podcasts I listened to in the offseason seemed to agree Stanford was in for a rough season. And they may still be (look at this spread after all). However, I watched most of their opener against Hawaii and saw a few bright spots. Tight end Benjamin Yurosek gained over 100 yards and seemed ready to follow in the solid tight end lineage Stanford has produced in the past decade or so (Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, Austin Hooper, Colby Parkinson, and Dalton Schultz to name a few). At worst, Stanford seems like they will be able to move the ball better than they have the past two seasons, when they have averaged right around 21 points per game. They will need to do so against a Southern Cal team that has put up 122 points in their first two games. The Trojans could certainly get to 60 against a rebuilding Stanford team, but Southern Cal has not proven they have taken another step forward on defense. San Jose State put up four touchdowns on them in The Coliseum before having the life squeezed out of their offense by Oregon State. I don't think Southern Cal will be able to get enough stops to win by four touchdowns. Plus, if you look at the series history, Stanford has played well in this role. Since 2004, the Cardinal have been double digit underdogs to Southern Cal seven times. They are an amazing 3-4 straight up in those games and 6-1 ATS! They are also 5-4 straight up on the road and 6-3 ATS in the recent history of this series. Stanford won't threaten to win this game, but this is way too many points. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Magnificent Seven: Week I

Ladies and gentlemen, we made it. The longest offseason in sports is over and college football is back. Oh to be a rabid NASCAR fan with their abbreviated offseason. Alas, fellow degenerates, college football is our one true love, and for a brief time at least, it is back. For the uninitiated, in this weekly post, I will highlight seven games I think are worth wagering your hard earned money on. I will inevitably take too many dogs and end up with an overall record only slightly better than flipping a coin. Remember, its the journey, not the destination. I hope you gain a little insight, laugh (or at least chuckle) a little, and maybe win some money from your bookie. As always, home teams in bold. 

Central Michigan +14 Michigan State
When the epitaph is written on Mel Tucker's coaching career, how much of an outlier will 2021 be? For perspective, Tucker is 23-21 as a head coach at Colorado and Michigan State. However, outside of that 2021 season when the Spartans finished 11-2 with a Peach Bowl victory and top ten ranking, his teams are 12-19 with zero winning seasons. Tucker certainly capitalized on that 2021 campaign, if not on the recruiting trail, at last at the bank. No shade to the man. My dream is to be standing in the general vicinity when some good shit happens and subsequently get all the credit for something that may have been largely out of my control. If Tucker has designs on getting the Spartans back to a bowl, he will need to do some work in the early portion of the non-con. Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State are on the conference slate and future conference mate Washington pays a visit to East Lansing in a few weeks. The Spartans are 4-0 against Group of Five and FCS opponents under Tucker, winning each game by double digits. However, I don't think Central Michigan will be your typical tomato can the Spartans can easily knock over. Jim McElwain enters his fifth season at Central Michigan and eighth overall as a Group of Five head coach (he spent three seasons at Colorado State a decade ago before getting the Florida job). His charges have performed well against Power Five opponents. At Colorado State, his teams were 4-1 ATS against Power Five schools (3-2 straight up) in the regular season. At Central Michigan, his teams have yet to win a game outright against a Power Five opponent in the regular season, but are 6-2 ATS. And lest we forget, he has beaten Washington State in bowl games in the american southwest at both of his G5 stops. Michigan State has more talent, but they are unsettled at the most important position on the field. I expect the Spartans to try to run the ball at the Chippewas, which while likely successful, will keep the clock moving and result in fewer possessions. Central Michigan will probably do their share of running as well, particularly if Bert Emanuel Jr. wins the starting quarterback job. Even if he doesn't, I expect Emanuel to see significant action in some gimmick packages. The Chippewas will be able to score enough points to keep this within two touchdowns. 

Georgia Tech +7.5 Louisville (@ Atlanta)
This game is at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and not historic Bobby Dodd Stadium, so its not technically a home game for the Yellow Jackets. That being said, Georgia Tech is in good position to cover this number for a few reasons. Louisville has been getting some offseason love as sleeper team, but that has more to do with their schedule and upgrade at head coach rather than drastic improvement in their team composition. The Cardinals were inconsistent last season and for the duration of the Scott Satterfield regime, but they did lose some significant talent off last year's team. Quarterback Malik Cunningham was a dynamic dual threat and the defensive created a ton of havoc with Yasir Abdullah and YaYa Diaby combining for nearly 30 tackles for loss. Abullah and Diaby were both selected in April's NFL Draft and Cunningham is trying to catch on with the New England Patriots. Jack Plummer will be replacing Cunningham at quarterback, and while Plummer has plenty of experience, he has been slightly above average throughout his college career. And all of his value is tied up in his passing. He lacks any playmaking ability with his legs, having accumulated negative rushing yards in his college career. I expect Jeff Brohm to have success at Louisville, but I don't think he should be laying more than a touchdown in his first game against a conference opponent on the (semi) road. Plus, if you examine Brohm's career at Purdue, his teams performed much better in the underdog role. Over his six seasons in West Lafayette, his teams were just 13-19 ATS as a favorite in the regular season, but were 21-11 ATS as an underdog. Finally, while I didn't love the Brent Key hire, and gave some reasons for that in an offseason post, you have to acknowledge that he shored up the Georgia Tech special teams and made the Yellow Jackets a competent Power Five team. In fact, the Yellow Jackets were 5-1 ATS as an underdog under Key. I don't think Georgia Tech is good enough to get to a bowl game this season, but they will be a tough out against the non-elite teams they play this season. 

Bowling Green +10 Liberty
Last season, in mid-November, Liberty was 8-1 and fresh off a road win against an SEC team. At 19th in the AP Poll, the Flames were the second highest ranked Group of Five team. Thankfully, one of the most hateable universities in the world wheezed to the finish line, losing their final three regular season games while helping Connecticut and New Mexico State gain bowl eligibility. They lost their bowl game for good measure and finished 8-5. In the midst of the skid, Hugh Freeze bolted for Auburn and the Flames selected Jamey Chadwell from Coastal Carolina to be their new head coach. Chadwell has a solid track record as a head coach, but unfortunately, he was not able to bring Grayson McCall with him from Conway. Coastal's performance under Chadwell with and without McCall should make Liberty fans a little wary. The Flames play an absurdly easy schedule in 2023, but the quarterback talent on the roster is a definite downgrade from what Chadwell was working with a few hours south. I expect the Flames to be contenders in Conference USA, but they won't be running roughshod over the league. And I think they will have some trouble getting margin in their opener. Like most new coaches, Chadwell will be bringing his own system to Liberty and while the Flames have had all offseason to practice, live action is different. Not that Bowling Green presents a formidable opponent, but the Falcons have been more competitive of late under Scott Loeffler. Bowling Green began Loeffler's tenure with a 2-16 record against FBS opponents, but they are a more respectable 9-12 since. That competitiveness has translated to a very good mark at the betting window. Since the start of 2021, the Falcons are 5-2 ATS as a road underdog against Group of Five opponents. The Falcons figure to have plenty of losses on their schedule this season, including this one. However, they will not go gentle into that good midday. 

Colorado +20.5 TCU
I'm not sold on Coach Prime as an FBS head coach just yet, but I think there is value on the Buffaloes in this spot for a few reasons. For starters, these teams opened the 2022 season in Boulder and TCU was favored by 14 points. Obviously, TCU ended up being much better than we thought, advancing all the way to the College Football Playoff and eventually the national title game. Meanwhile, Colorado was much worse than we thought, finishing 1-11 and losing ten games by double digits. If you dole out three points for homefield advantage, that means this spread is about one point higher than the spread in last season's opener. I don't think you will get an argument from anyone that this TCU team is not as good as last season's. The Horned Frogs had eight players picked in the most recent iteration of the NFL Draft, including their leading receiver, leading rusher, starting quarterback, and top sacker. Meanwhile, its almost impossible to quantify how good Colorado will be in 2023 thanks to their massive roster turnover, but they almost certainly will be better than last season, especially early on. Depth will likely be an issue as the season progresses, but the Buffaloes should be plenty feisty in the opener and anxious to show the nation what they can be. Take Colorado to cover this massive number and potentially set the bar too high for Deion's Power Five debut season. 

Colorado State +12 Washington State
Life moves pretty fast. Exactly six years ago, Colorado State opened their brand new stadium in Week Zero against a Pac-12 team. Coming off consecutive 7-6 campaigns, the Rams dominated Oregon State and appeared to be your Mountain West favorite heading into conference play. After a 4-0 league start, the Rams dropped three of their final four regular season games, including an absurd home loss to Boise State. They also dropped the bowl game to finish 7-6 for the third consecutive year. The bottom fell out in 2018 and Mike Bobo was fired after the 2019 season. The Rams made the curious decision to hire Steve Addazio and mercifully fired him after a 4-12 record across two seasons. They poached Jay Norvell from fellow Mountain West member Nevada and won three games in 2022. For those keeping score at home, the Rams are 14-38 over the past five seasons. However, if you squinted, you could see improvement at the end of last year. After an embarrassing home loss to Sacramento State dropped them to 0-4, the Rams actually covered six of their eight conference games. Along the way, they played solid defense, holding five league opponents below twenty points. The offense never got going, failing to score twenty points in any game last season! However, I expect a big second year leap for the Rams. At Norvell's previous stop, Nevada finished 3-9 in his first season, but won seven regular season games in his second. Colorado State may not double their win total, but they will flirt with bowl eligibility. Jay Norvell's teams have performed quite well as a home underdog. At Nevada and Colorado State, his teams are a combined 9-2 ATS in the role and have even pulled an outright upset against a Power Five team as a double digit underdog. Washington State has not laid double digits on the road since a trip to Corvallis in 2018. This is too many points for a middling Power Five team to lay on the road. 

West Virginia +20.5 Penn State
Is this the end of the line for Neal Brown? The West Virginia head coach enters his fifth season in Morgantown having notched just one winning season (the 2020 Covid year). Despite his offensive bona fides (his last three Troy teams all averaged north of thirty points per game), his two Mountaineer teams that made it to bowl season won with defense. Then when his offense finally got going last season, the defense regressed by nearly ten points per game. This year's schedule features eleven Power Five teams and just one guaranteed win (Duquesne). With the Dukes, Nittany Lions, and Pitt Panthers on the schedule, the Mountaineers are playing all their non-conference games against their neighbors in the Keystone State (so smooth). The Nittany Lions are expected to contend for the Big 10 title this season and if this game were played later in the year, I would be more inclined to lay this big number. Penn State's presumed starting quarterback, Drew Allar, has a higher ceiling than last year's starter Sean Clifford, but despite his alleged lack of upside, Clifford was a four year starter who left as the school's all-time leading passer. Allar may surpass him eventually, but I think there will be a bit of a learning curve, especially against a Power Five team. Allar will probably look like a Heisman contender the next week when Penn State hosts Delaware, but I expect a disjointed effort against the Mountaineers. I'm not calling for a West Virginia upset, but laying three touchdowns is a lot to ask of an inexperienced quarterback against a decent opponent. Plus, I think West Virginia will lean on the ground game with a mobile starting quarterback (Garrett Greene Jr.) taking over. More running means fewer clock stoppages and fewer possessions. That means less time for Penn State to get margin. 

San Jose State +16.5 Oregon State
No one was able to see it because it was 'televised' on the Pac-12 Network, but I think San Jose State acquitted themselves reasonably well against the Trojans. The Spartans gave up 56 points to Southern Cal and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but they also scored 28 points of their own while averaging six yards per play. Now, with a game under their belt they get to host a Power Five (for the moment) team in their brand new stadium. The Spartans have been a good bet as a home underdog under Brent Brennan, going 8-6-1 overall, including 5-1-1 as a double digit underdog. Meanwhile, this is the most points Oregon State has been laying away from Corvallis since they played an eventual 1-11 Washington State team in Pullman in 2009 (favored by 31). The Beavers have been very successful under Jonathan Smith, participating in back-to-back bowl games. However, they have only been road favorites five times under Smith and are 1-4 ATS (0-1 as a double digit favorite). Southern Cal, San Jose State's first opponent, attracts world class talent to succeed. Oregon State develops talent. That's not to say the Beavers don't have good players, just that San Jose State will not be as overwhelmed personnel wise as they were against Southern Cal. Oregon State has a chance to contend in the final year of the Pac-12 as we know it, but I wouldn't be shocked if they are in a fight for their metaphorical lives on Sunday afternoon. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Strangers in the Field VIII

Another year, another Vegas trip. Read on for my investment portfolio.

College Football Plays

Over/Under Win Totals
I made a ton of college football win total bets (39 in all), so I figured it would be easier to group them by conference rather than going down the lost alphabetically. 

AAC Plays
East Carolina over 5.5 wins ($25 to win $50)
Call this a 'trust in Mike Houston' bet. The Pirates lost their long-time quarterback and have a tough schedule, but I think they can eke out bowl eligibility. 

Memphis over 7.5 wins ($40 to win $65)
Its now or never for Ryan Silverfield. With the departures of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, I think the Tigers are poised to in the AAC. 

Navy under 6.5 wins ($25 to win $41.65)
The Midshipmen have won eight games over the past two seasons. They would have to win seven for me to lose this bet. They will spring an upset or two, but I don't think that will be enough for them to eclipse six regular season wins. 

Temple over 5.5 wins ($25 to win $55)
The Owls played well down the stretch last season. Despite losing four of their final five games, three of the losses came by a touchdown or less. I think the Owls coalesce in their second season under Stan Drayton. 

Tulane under 9 wins ($40 to win $80)
I really wanted nine and a half, but I think the Green Wave are much more likely to win eight than ten. Prior to last season, they had not won more than six games in the regular season under Willie Fritz.

ACC Plays
Boston College over 5.5 ($25 to win $43.50)
Boston College over 5.5 ($25 to win $46.75)
I bet this number at two different places after I saw the price was still good. Boston College will not have as many injuries along their offensive line as they did last season and they could very easily go 4-0 in the non-conference portion of their schedule meaning they just need to find a pair of ACC victories to cash this ticket. 

Georgia Tech under 4.5 ($60 ton win $102.85)
If you read my ACC offseason recap, you know I think their success under Brent Key was mostly smoke and mirrors. The ceiling on this team is six wins. I don't think they get close to that number. 

North Carolina under 8.5 ($40 to win $65.80)
The Tar Heels have three tricky non-conference games (South Carolina, Appalachian State, and Minnesota), so a loss is not out of the question. Plus they close with road games against Clemson and NC State. This team will win their share of shootouts, but I think they lose at least four times. 

Virginia Tech over 5.5 ($25 to win $62.50)
There are s lot of tossups on this schedule and I think the Hokies win enough of them to get back to a bowl. 

Wake Forest over 6 ($40 to win $76.35)
The loss of Sam Hartman will hurt, but Wake has quietly put together six consecutive seasons of averaging at least 30 points per game on offense. The Deacons should be 4-0 before the schedule stiffens considerably. I expect at least one home upset (Florida State, NC State, or Pitt) and another bowl campaign. 

Big 10 Plays
Michigan under 10.5 ($40 to win $78.10)
The Wolverines were not quite as good as their unbeaten record would indicate last season and while the non-conference schedule is soft, there are five tricky to difficult conference road games before they face Ohio State (Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Penn State). 

Big 12 Plays
Houston over 4.5 ($25 to win $44.25)
I expect the Cougars to struggle adjusting to Power Five life, but their non-conference slate has three winnable games (UTSA, Rice, and Sam Houston) and they have five conference homes games. 

Iowa State over 5.5 ($300 to win $572.75)
Oooh boy. If I could have one bet back. I will take solace in the fact that Hunter Dekkers was below average by Big 12 standards last season, so the unknown quantity at quarterback may be an upgrade. Still, I don't feel great about this one. 

TCU under 7.5 ($25 to win $55)
The Horned Frogs won't be as fortunate in close games and opposing quarterback injuries this season. Also, watch out for the non-conference game against SMU. The Mustangs have beaten the Horned Frogs in their past two visits to Fort Worth. 

Texas Tech under 7.5 ($25 to win $45)
Not buying the hype. Last season, they finished with a winning conference record for the first time since 2009! Even if they finish with another winning league record, there are two tough non-conference games on the schedule (Wyoming and Oregon). 

CUSA Plays
Louisiana Tech over 5.5 wins ($40 to win $62.85)
The Bulldogs will probably lose three of their four non-conference games, but there are wins to be had in the watered down Conference USA

Middle Tennessee State under 6.5 ($25 to win $48.80)
I've been a Blue Raider stan the past two seasons, but the Blue Raiders will definitely lose two non-conference games and could lose three (Alabama, Colorado State, and Missouri). They also face Liberty and Western Kentucky on the road in league play. I think seven wins is the ceiling for this team.

UTEP over 5.5 wins ($60 to win $106.15)
The Miners could get halfway to their win total in non-conference play (Arizona, Incarnate Word, Northwestern, and UNLV). Plus their road conference schedule features two FBS newbies (Jacksonville State and Sam Houston). The Miners are a real sleeper in Conference USA.

MAC Plays
Akron over 4 wins ($300 to win $600)
I really wanted three and a half, but I think the Zips are poised for a meteoric rise in 2023 in their second season under Joe Moorhead. 

Bowling Green under 4.5 wins ($60 to win $129)
After winning seven games under Scot Loeffler in his first three seasons, the Falcons won seven in 2022 despite being outscored by nine points per game. I expect serious regression in 2023. 

Buffalo under 6 wins ($25 to win $53.75)
The Bulls barely eked out bowl eligibility last season and I think this team is worse with a more difficult schedule. 

Central Michigan over 5.5 wins ($25 to win $46.75)
Maybe this is a square take, but I think Bert Emanuel Jr. could lead the Chippewas to a MAC title in 2023. 

Ohio under 7.5 wins ($25 to win $50)
I'll take a flyer on regression for the Bobcats who are dealing with the return of an injured quarterback and a tough non-conference schedule (Florida Atlantic, Iowa State, and San Diego State). 

Mountain West Plays
Colorado State over 4.5 wins ($25 to win $41.65)
The Rams will be better in Jay Norvell's second season and should contend for a bowl bid. 

Fresno State under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $43.50)
The Bulldogs will miss Jake Haener and play two Power Five teams on the road (Arizona State and Purdue). 

New Mexico over 3 wins ($40 to win $69.65)
New Mexico over 3.5 wins ($25 to win $55)
The Lobos lost all their Mountain West games last season despite a solid first half point differential. If the offense can go from bad to slightly below average, this team could get to a bowl game. They added UAB transfer Dylan Hopkins to play quarterback in the offseason. Hopkins joins his former coach Bryant Vincent (interim last season at UAB) who is the new offensive coordinator. 

Wyoming over 5.5 wins ($40 to win $76.35)
The Cowboys have won at least six regular season games in each of the past six non-Covid regular seasons. I'll bet on that consistency continuing. 

Pac-12 Plays
Oregon under 9.5 wins ($25 to win $44.25)
Utah under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $42.25)
Washington under 9.5 wins ($25 to win $42.25)
Nassim Nicholas Talib has spilled copious amounts of ink encouraging investors to be 'antifragile'. I think betting against the top of the Pac-12 is a perfect example of this. First a little background. Last season the Pac-12 was quite strong. There were six good to very good teams (Oregon, Oregon State, Southern Cal, UCLA, Utah, and Washington). Those teams combined to lose just two games against the other six teams in the conference. I think a few of those bottom six teams will improve significantly this season. Arizona had a great offense last season. Arizona State made a great potential hire in Kenny Dillingham. Cal always has a strong defense under Justin Wilcox. Colorado is the biggest wildcard in college football with their roster turnover. Stanford...well, maybe not Stanford. And Washington State posted a great first half point differential last season despite their middling record. Some improvement among those six teams means more potential losses for the top teams. Plus, each member of this trio has some signs of regressions. Oregon lost their offensive coordinator to Arizona State. Utah's starting quarterback suffered a major injury in their bowl game and the Utes face two Power Five teams in the non-conference (Baylor and Florida). And Washington went from unranked in the preseason to a top ten finish last season. 

Stanford over 2.5 wins ($25 to win $44.25)
The Cardinal will probably be bad in 2023, but their coach had great success at the FCS level and the non-conference schedule includes both Hawaii and Sacramento State. If the Cardinal win both, they will need to win just a single Pac-12 game to eclipse this modest win total. 

SEC Plays
LSU under 9.5 wins ($25 to win $50)
By YPP LSU was one of the worst teams to play in the SEC Championship Game last season. I think they are due for some regression in Brian Kelly's second year. 

Sun Belt Plays
Appalachian State over 6.5 wins ($300 to win $506.90)
The Mountaineers finished with their worst record as an FBS teams last season (6-6). However, five of those six losses came by a touchdown or less. I think they bounce back this season. 

Arkansas State over 4.5 wins ($40 to win $72)
I think the Red Wolves get it done in Year 3 under Butch Jones. And by get it done, I mean almost get to a bowl.

Georgia State over 5.5 wins ($40 to win $98)
The Panthers have a chance to begin the season 3-0 (Charlotte, Connecticut, and Rhode Island). If they do, I think they have a great shot at getting to a bowl.

South Alabama under 7.5 wins ($25 to win $46.75)
The Jaguars won seven Sun Belt games last season, but five of those wins came by a touchdown or less. I think regression comes for the Jaguars in 2023. 

Troy under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $47.70)
Troy has a fantastic defense last season as evidenced by them winning games despite scoring under twenty points five times. A little slippage on defense will result in more defeats. 

College Football Game of the Year Lines

September 15
Michigan State +10.5 Washington ($25 to win $47.75)
What a difference a year makes. Last offseason, Michigan State was a slight favorite in Seattle. Now they are catching double digits at home. I make this spread about a touchdown so I will take a little value in the Spartans. 

October 7
Minnesota +13.5 Michigan ($25 to win $47.75)
I mentioned Michigan has some tricky road games and this certainly qualifies. The Wolverines play their first road game at Nebraska the week before while Minnesota faces Louisiana-Lafayette. 

November 4
Army +9.5 Air Force @ Denver ($25 to win $47.75)
Two service academies facing each other with a spread greater than a touchdown always entices me to take the underdog. 

November 11 
Iowa State +8.5 Texas ($25 to win $47.75)
As I mentioned in the Iowa State write up, I don't feel great about this one. However, if you need a coach to blow a winnable game on the road, Steve Sarkisian is one of your better choices. 

College Football Futures

Akron to win MAC +3000 ($10 to win $300)
The MAC is the perfect conference to take a longshot and the Zips appear to be the perfect team to back in that role in 2023. 

Memphis to win AAC +800 ($10 to win $80)
The AAC is weaker with the departures of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF to the Big 12. I think Memphis is poised to rise in that power vacuum. 

UTEP to win CUSA +1000 ($10 to win $100)
Conference USA is also weaker with the departure of six programs to the AAC. Western Kentucky is probably the best team in the league, but no team seems head and shoulders above the rest. 

College Football Parlay ($20 to win $507.20 -- all must hit)

August 26th 
Massachusetts +9 New Mexico State
Should New Mexico State be laying nearly double digits against any FBS team?

September 2nd
Fresno State +5.5 Purdue
I think Fresno will regress in 2023, but Purdue is trending downward as well. 

Colorado +20 TCU
Colorado is one of the great unknowns heading into 2023. I don't think they will win a lot of games this season, but they should be better. 

North Texas +10 California
This is a dangerous road trip for Cal. The Bears always struggle to score points, so should not be laying double digits on the road. 

Virginia +28 Tennessee @ Nashville
I think Tennessee will take a step back offensively, particularly early in the season, so I'll begrudgingly take Virginia catching four touchdowns. 

NFL Plays

Over/Under Win Totals

Atlanta Falcons under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $56.25)
The Falcons finished 7-10 last season and despite the general expected weakness of the NFC South, I don't see them finishing 2023 with a winning record. 

Carolina Panthers under 7.5 wins ($25 to win $51.25)
The Panthers somehow won seven games last season despite a midseason coaching change. Now they appear to have a quality coach, but I think their rookie quarterback with have some growing pains. 

Los Angeles Rams over 6.5 wins ($25 to win $53.75)
The Rams went from Super Bow champion to 5-12 also ran. I think they bounceback somewhat in 2023. 

Minnesota Vikings under 8.5 wins ($25 to win $52.50)
The Vikings won 13 games last season, but were actually outscored on the season. I think their record this season is more indicative of last season's scoring margin. 

MLB Division

Tampa Bay Rays to win AL East ($20 to win $31.45)
The Rays were tied with the Orioles when I made this bet, but they have lost a starting pitcher to Tommy John surgery, a position player to the exempt list, and the Orioles have been on fire. 

Texas Rangers to win AL West ($20 to win $30.80)
The Rangers had a two game lead and a great run differential when I made this bet and they have maintained both thus far. 

Thanks for reading my annual Vegas trip summary. The season gets underway in ten days with Week Zero. There won't be enough games for spread picks, but I'll be back with weekly picks in a little under two weeks. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

First Half Point Differential: The 2022 Power Five

Last week, we looked at first half point differential in the Group of Five to try and identify some teams that might surprise and or disappoint us this season. This week, we do the same with the Power Five. 

Atlantic Coast Conference
The 2022 ACC standings. 

1HPD in ACC play (title game excluded).
Much like 2021, no ACC team dominated the first half of games in 2022. The team that did come out on top has gotten quite a bit of hype heading into 2023. Can they live up to it? Elsewhere in first half play, Duke improved by 191 point in 1HPD. The Blue Devils finished dead last in 2021, trailing at the half by an average of twenty points per game (-160). Under first year head coach Mike Elko, Duke finished fourth in the ACC in 1HPD in 2022!

Big 10
The 2022 Big 10 standings. 

1HPD in Big 10 play (title game excluded). 
Penn State narrowly edged Ohio State for the 1HPD crown in 2022. However, it was the team that finished third in 1HPD (and pretty far behind the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes I might add), that ended up winning the Big 10 for a second straight season. The Wolverines opponent in the Big 10 Championship Game (Purdue) actually finished fifth (out of seven teams) in their own division, but made the plays when it counted to qualify for their first conference title game. 

Big 12
The 2022 Big 12 standings. 

1HPD in Big 12 play (title game excluded). 
Texas finished with the best 1HPD in Big 12 play, but the Longhorns dropped close conference games to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and TCU to finish third in the standings and miss out on a trip to the conference title game. The bottom of the standings were a familiar site with Kansas finishing last for yet another season despite qualifying for their first bowl game since the George W. Bush administration. 

The 2022 Pac-12 standings. 

1HPD in Pac-12 play (title game excluded). 
The second (Utah) and third (Southern Cal) place teams in 1HPD met for the Pac-12 title with the second place team capturing their second straight league title. Oregon was the most dominant first half Pac-12 team, but their collapse against arch rival Oregon State cost them a spot in the league championship game. 

The 2022 SEC standings. 

1HPD in SEC play (title game excluded).
The Bulldogs were not quite as dominant as they were in 2021 (+161 1HPD), but they once again finished first by a healthy margin and managed to avoid an upset in the SEC Championship Game. The quality of their opponent probably had a lot to do with that. LSU finished ninth in the SEC and sixth in their own division in 1HPD!

In the YPP and APR offseason recaps, I sort the teams in each conference by how much they over or under-performed relative to their expected record. Since all the Power Five conferences are grouped together in this post, I am only going to list those that significantly over or under-performed (a difference of at least .200). We'll start with the overachievers.
All five overachievers qualified for their respective conference title games. Michigan and TCU had especially low first half point differentials for unbeaten teams. Michigan only led by double digits in two of their nine Big 10 conference games. They also trailed at the half in two games and were tied in another, but managed to come back and win each. TCU only trailed at halftime in two games, but in both, they were behind by double digits. The Horned Frogs came back to win both (Oklahoma State and Kansas State). Had they lost either, the Big 12 would likely have been shut out of the College Football Playoff. LSU trailed at the half in five of their eight SEC games and did not lead a single conference game by more than a touchdown at halftime! Like Michigan and TCU, Clemson also finished unbeaten in conference play despite middling first half numbers. The Tigers did at least lead by double digits in half their conference games. They only trailed at the half in one conference game, but it was by double digits (Syracuse). Purdue was tied or trailing at the half in two thirds (six) of their Big 10 games! 

And now the underachievers. 
Washington State had a few dominant first halves to skew their numbers somewhat. The Cougars led by double digits at the half in three conference games (+78 1HPD in those games). In their other six Pac-12 games, they were outscored by six total points in the first half. Virginia Tech was not a good team in 2022, but the Hokies were winning or within a field goal at the half in five of their seven ACC games (eighth game against Virginia was canceled). They only managed to win one of the five. Texas led by double digits at halftime in five of their nine Big 12 games and led by at least a touchdown in two others. They also only trailed by by five combined points in their other two conference games. In two seasons under Steve Sarkisian, the Longhorns are 4-8 in one-score Big 12 games (5-1 in multi-score games). If their luck or clutch play does not improve in 2023, Sark may not get to coach a game in the SEC. Texas A&M led three of their eight conference games at halftime and trailed at the half by a field goal or less in three others, but only managed two SEC wins (their fewest since joining the league). Iowa State trailed at the half in eight of their nine Big 12 games, but they were competitive in each (never trailed by more than a touchdown) until the season finale when TCU was up by 27 points. 

Thanks once again for your continued patronage. I'll be back in a few weeks with a Vegas betting recap and then it will time for the season to start. Hooray!