Last Week: 4-3
Clemson -7 Wake Forest
Every time Clemson fans sport their orange national championship t-shirts while riding around on their tractors, they should say a little 'thank you' to Wake Forest. For it was the Demon Deacons that got Tommy Bowden fired fourteen years ago. On a Thursday night in 2008, Clemson traveled to Winston-Salem and fell 12-7 to Wake Forest. Your humble author happened to be in attendance that night. The next day, Clemson fired Bowden who was in his tenth year as head coach and promoted a little known assistant named Dabo Swinney. Swinney led the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game the next season and after a step back in 2010, made some great coordinator hires, improved the recruiting, and the rest as they say, is history. Swinney's accomplishments at the school include seven ACC titles, a pair of national titles, and an unblemished record against Wake Forest. Under Swinney, the Tigers are 13-0 against the Demon Deacons, winning by an average of nearly 28 points per game. Only one game, the 2011 edition, has been close. Had Wake Forest won that game in Death Valley, they would have represented the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game. Otherwise, the closest the Demon Deacons have come is 14 points in 2014. Under Swinney, the Tigers have been mediocre ATS versus Wake Forest (7-6), but that is primarily due to the high points spreads. Clemson has been favored by an average of 20 points per game against Wake Forest under Swinney and has been a double digit favorite eleven times. Wake Forest was probably looking ahead to this game as evidenced by their narrow victory against Liberty last week. I expect a better performance this week, but Clemson's defense has put the clamps on the Clawfense each time they have played. The game may be close for a while, but Clemson should win by double digits.
TCU -2 SMU
SMU has won the past two games in this rivalry, beating the Horned Frogs in 2019 and 2021 (there was no game in 2020). However, despite the back-to-back victories, the Mustangs have not won at home since 2005! That year, TCU was coming off a road victory against Oklahoma and while the Mustangs pulled off the upset, TCU would finish the season 11-1, while SMU would finish just 5-6. In the new millennium, TCU has dominated this series (16-4 straight up record) and the oddsmakers have consistently installed them as heavy favorites. TCU was a double digit favorite in nineteen consecutive meetings between 1999 and 2018. They lost the past two meetings as eight and nine point favorites respectively, so this marks the cheapest you could buy the Horned Frogs in this rivalry since the last time they were an underdog (1998). TCU is the stronger program and will be looking to make amends for their past two losses. You couldn't ask for much better than laying under a field goal.
Buffalo +6 Eastern Michigan
Last week Eastern Michigan beat a Power Five team on the road for the fourth time under Chris Creighton. Creighton, in his ninth season at Eastern Michigan, has pulled off one of the best rebuilding jobs in college football history. While the Eagles have maxed out at seven regular season wins and have posted just one winning conference record under Creighton, they have been a consistent bowl contender for the past six seasons. They have also been money in the bank when catching points. After a rough first two years when he was building the foundation, the Eagles are an amazing 28-10-1 ATS when catching points since 2016! However, as you can see above, they are actually laying points in this spot and the Eagles have not been nearly as profitable in that situation. As a home favorite since 2016, they are 5-9 ATS overall and just 2-7 ATS when laying single digits. In addition, in the seven instances where they have not covered as a single digit home favorite, they have lost the game outright! While Eastern Michigan led wire to wire against Arizona State last week, they also gave up touchdowns on seven consecutive drives to Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago. That Louisiana-Lafayette team was just held under 200 total yards by defensive stalwart Rice. Buffalo is going to be able to move the ball and score against Eastern Michigan. The Eagles should be favored, as Buffalo has looked less than impressive in the early going, but they are not going to roll over the Bulls. Finally, its only natural for Eastern Michigan to relax a bit after their huge win against Arizona State. As I mentioned, they have beaten three other Power Five teams under Creighton. What happened in the three games immediately following those victories? In 2017, they lost at home to Ohio as a small favorite. In 2018, they lost at Buffalo as a small underdog. And in 2019, they needed a miraculous blocked punt in the closing seconds to beat an FCS team. This is going to be a close game. Take the points.
Iowa State -2.5 Baylor
Baylor won the Big 12 outright for just the second time last season (and first time since 2013). However, despite their success under Dave Aranda, the Bears are just 3-8 straight up on the road in his tenure. All three of those victories came last season, with two coming against Texas State and Kansas. I know Kansas is looking unstoppable this year, but remember, the Jayhawks used to be bad. The Bears already have a road loss on their ledger this season at BYU. Note that BYU team was missing several key contributors on offense and proceeded to get blown out by Oregon the next week. Meanwhile, Iowa State seems to be relishing in their newfound anonymity. After beginning the past three seasons in the preseason AP Poll (including the top ten last season) and losing fifteen times, the Cyclones began this year without any expectations. They have responded by pounding the FCS and Group of Five teams on their schedule while beating Iowa for the first time under Matt Campbell. Now they open Big 12 play looking for revenge after losing in Waco last season as a top fifteen team. The Cyclones outgained the Bears by nearly 200 yards last season, but allowed a kickoff return touchdown and failed on a late two point conversion. Iowa State is just 1-2 ATS against Baylor in Ames under Matt Campbell, but that is mostly due to the inflated point spreads. The last two times these two have faced off in Ames, Iowa State has been laying double digits. They won by fourteen and seven respectively, but failed to cover. With the Cyclones lying less than a field goal I like their chances of covering this low number.
Indiana +17 Cincinnati
After finishing 2-10 in 2021, Indiana has already topped last season's win total with a glistening 3-0 mark early in 2022. Despite the undefeated record, Indiana's play has been less than inspiring. They edged Illinois in their opener, trailed Idaho at halftime, and needed overtime to beat Western Kentucky at home. The Hoosiers are probably one of the worst undefeated teams in the nation, but I don't think they should be catching double digits against a Group of Five team (even one that made the College Football Playoff last season). Remember, a much better Cincinnati team had real trouble with Indiana last year. The Hoosiers led 14-0 in last year's game and even held a slim one-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Cincinnati pulled away in the final frame, but Indiana (remember 2-10 Indiana) put forth a valiant effort in defeat. A simple spread comparison shows why Indiana is an easy play here. As I mentioned, eventual playoff participant Cincinnati traveled to eventual 2-10 Indiana last season. The Bearcats were favored by three or three and a half points depending on your book and when you bet it. This spread implies this version of Cincinnati, which is ostensibly worse than last year's, would be favored by eleven or twelve points at this year's version of Indiana (which is at least on par and perhaps better than last year's). Don't consider this a vote of confidence in Indiana (the Hoosiers could drop their last nine games) or a slight at Cincinnati (the Bearcats could make another New Year's Six Bowl), but rather a case where the spread is simply too damn high.
Arkansas State +5 Old Dominion
This season, when it comes to facing Power Five in-state teams, Old Dominion has kept it close on the scoreboard despite being significantly outplayed down to down. In their victory against Virginia Tech, the Monarchs were outgained by nearly 100 yards and averaged about a yard less per play than the Hokies. However, they were plus three in turnovers thanks to four Grant Wells interceptions and they returned a botched field goal snap for a touchdown. In their loss to Virginia last week, the Monarchs were outgained by nearly 200 yards and averaged about a yard and a half less per play than the Cavaliers. However, they were plus two in turnovers as they pounced on three Virginia fumbles, including two when Virginia had goal to go opportunities. The Cavaliers also missed a relatively short field goal that gave Old Dominion an opportunity to take a late lead. The Monarchs deserve credit for forcing those turnovers, but that is not a formula that tends to work out in the long run. Consequently, Old Dominion is little overvalued in the betting market. This line should probably be closer to a field goal or perhaps even lower. Arkansas State has been torched the past two weeks, but their opponents (Ohio State and Memphis) have prolific offenses. Meanwhile, Old Dominion is averaging under five yards per play on the season. Arkansas State's defense was among the worst in the nation through October of last season (allowed nearly eight yards per play through their first eight games). However, they allowed under six yards per play in their last four, winning once and covering twice in that span. I expected some defensive improvement in 2022, but it has probably been masked by the strength of their past two opponents. For what its worth, they did shut down Grambling in the opener. Old Dominion should not be laying nearly a touchdown in this spot. Take the Red Wolves and the points.
Stanford +13.5 Washington
Is Washington back? The Huskies certainly looked the part in an offensive explosion against Michigan State last week. The Huskies scored 39 points on the Spartans, their most versus a Power Five opponent since pounding the corpse of Arizona during the pandemic season. But before we declare them back, lets add some context to last week's victory. The Huskies torched the Spartans through the air, accumulating 397 yards on 40 pass attempts. However, Michigan State's pass defense was trash last season and despite a decent showing against their first two outclassed opponents, we should probably make a slight downward adjustment to Washington's pass offense. While the pass offense was dominant against Michigan State, their rushing attack was not as formidable. They averaged under three yards per carry and turned the ball over on downs twice inside the Michigan State five because they could not convert in short yardage goal to go situations. Their pass defense also gave up some big plays, granted it could be argued a great deal of the damage occurred in garbage time. Still, there are questions about this Washington team. How will they handle success? The Huskies are have notched their highest ranking (18th in the latest poll) since 2019. I'll note in their past four games as a ranked team, the Huskies are 0-4 (with two of the losses coming to Stanford as a double digit favorite and the other coming to Montana in last year's season opener). Stanford is coming off a bye and should be able to move the ball against the Huskies. If they can avoid the turnovers that doomed them two weeks ago against Southern Cal, they should be able to hang around. David Shaw is 7-4 in his career against the Huskies and the underdog has actually covered the past five in this series. I think this nightcap will come down to the wire.