Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Bowl Season

Well, the regular season didn't necessarily go as we hoped. But, like Fresno State, we were awarded a postseason invitation despite a losing record. I will use my handicapping skills to give you the seven best bowl bets I see on the board. Let's enjoy the last fortnight or so of football as the offseason is long and arduous.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Western Michigan -1 Air Force
On the first Saturday of bowl season, we are treated to a quintet of games on ESPN and ABC. In the penultimate game, a pair of teams that improved dramatically face off in Boise, Idaho. Western Michigan and Air Force combined to go 3-21 in 2013. Under first year head coach PJ Fleck, the Broncos endured a typical 'Year Zero', losing all their games save one as they transitioned to a new administration. Meanwhile, after six consecutive bowl appearances under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons won just two games, their fewest in a season since 1980. Coming into this game, the Broncos and Falcons have a combined 17-7 mark, a full 14-game improvement. Despite finishing behind both Northern Illinois and Toledo in the MAC West, the Broncos may have been the best team in the conference. Statistically, they averaged the most yards per play in the conference, and their yards per play differential was also tops among MAC teams. Alas, the Broncos lost on the field to both the Huskies and Rockets and will have to be content with their first bowl win in school history to cap the season. The Falcons played in a tougher conference, but were quite fortunate to finish with nine wins. In conference play, they were outgained by nearly three quarters of a yard per play. The Falcons used their home field to their advantage, finishing 6-0 at home, including wins over league heavyweights Boise State and Colorado State. Away from the friendly confines of Falcon Stadium, Air Force went just 3-3, with the wins courtesy of Army, Georgia State, and UNLV. That triumvirate was a combined 7-30 in 2014. In this battle of improved teams, take the Broncos to win and cover this small number. Before we leave this game, here is a bit of bonus trivia for both teams. Did you know Bill Parcells once coached the Air Force Academy? His 1978 squad went just 3-8. In other coaching minutia, Jack Harbaugh coached Western Michigan. Yes, the father of Super Bowl winning coach John Harbaugh and super a-hole Jim Harbaugh was the Broncos fearless leader for five seasons beginning in 1982.

Miami Beach Bowl
Memphis -1 BYU
Before quarterback Taysom Hill went down with an injury in early October, some, in particular one genius blogger, fancied BYU a darkhorse contender for the college football playoff. Alas, the Cougars suffered a four-game losing streak upon losing Hill, but quietly rebounded to win their final four games. Despite owning eight victories, including three over teams from Power Five conferences, the Cougars only defeated a pair of teams (Houston and Texas) that are playing in bowl games. Meanwhile, all four of their losses came to bowl participants (all from the Group of Five). While the Cougars are playing in their tenth consecutive bowl game under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, the Memphis Tigers are playing in their first since 2008. The end of the Tommy West era, the entirety of the Larry Porter era, and the first two years of the Justin Fuente era produced just twelve victories, so the 9-3 campaign is certainly cause for a celebration. In fact, in the latest edition of the AP Poll, the Tigers are 29th, so a victory here could have them sitting in the final poll for the first time in school history. The Tigers are no fluke either, ranking second in the American Conference in terms of yards per play differential. They also acquitted themselves reasonably well outside the conference, playing a tight game at UCLA and giving Ole Miss a decent game despite losing by three touchdowns. Memphis is the better team and with a spread under a field goal, should be able to cover this small number.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Penn State +2.5 Boston College
These former northeast rivals on the Independent circuit will be playing for just the third time since 1992, and the first time in ten years. And they will be doing it in New York City! Boston College enters the game with seven wins and will look to end the season with eight for the first time since 2009. The Eagles were once a bowl winning machine under Tom O'Brien, emerging victorious in eight consecutive bowl games from 2000-2007. Alas, their winning ways have eluded them of late as they have suffered four consecutive postseason setbacks, with last year's debacle against Arizona the most recent. The Eagles were imminently average in the ACC in 2014, ranking eighth in yards per play and sixth in yards per play allowed. Their primary strength was the running of quarterback Tyler Murphy who was the only non-triple option quarterback to rush for more than 1000 yards in 2014. Murphy and the Eagles will take on a Penn State team that was average in terms of their final record, but extreme in how they got there. The Nittany Lions ranked dead last in the Big 10 in yards per play, averaging a pathetic 3.72 yards per snap. However, the Nittany Lions also boasted a robust defense, ranking first in the conference in yards per play allowed. The Nittany Lions were particularly adept against the run as no team averaged four yards per carry against them in 2014. Look for the Nittany Lions to win a tight low-scoring affair in one of our nation's finest cities.

Texas Bowl
Texas +6 Arkansas
There really is no better time than bowl season to renew old acquaintances. These former Southwest Conference rivals, who once played every season from 1932 to 1991 will be getting together for the first time since 2008 and just the fifth time since Arkansas left for the SEC before the 1992 season. While Bret Bielema and Charlie Strong may not yet have the cache of Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles, their teams are better than their combined 12-12 records would indicate. While Arkansas managed just a pair of SEC wins, and are just 2-14 in the league under Bielema, the Hogs beat Ole Miss and LSU by a combined 47 points. In addition, four of their six conference losses were by a touchdown or less, and all six of their losses came to bowl bound teams. Outside the SEC, the Hogs dominated. The Hogs crushed eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois, beat a an improved UAB team by four touchdowns, and throttled another former Southwest Conference rival (Texas Tech) by three touchdowns on the road. So why are they not the play here? For starters, a solid Texas team is catching nearly a touchdown. After a dismal 2-4 start that included wins against North Texas and Kansas, the Longhorns won four of their final six games. Like the Razorbacks, each team to defeat Texas will be playing in the postseason, so the schedule is partially responsible for the .500 record. Plus, and this factoid may shock you, Texas boated the best per play defense in the Big 12. The Longhorns held the dynamic Baylor offense under five yards per play. They also held the other powerful offenses in the Big 12, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and TCU, under their season averages. Methinks this will be a low-scoring game that hearkens back to the old days of the Southwest Conference with a lot of running plays, and a game that is not decided until the final minutes.

Music City Bowl
Notre Dame +7 LSU
If you want to go by the always ephemeral 'momentum', neither team stands a very good chance of winning this game. The Irish began the year 6-0 before losing in controversial fashion to Florida State. They came out flat in their next gane, but still managed a double-digit win over Navy. Then the wheels came off. The Irish dropped a tough road game in the desert against Arizona State, were upset by Northwestern and Louisville in successive weekends at home, and capped their four-game losing streak with a blowout by the Trojans in Los Angeles. In their first five games, all wins, the Irish allowed an average of 12 points per game and 4.72 yards per play. Over their final seven games (2-5 record), the Irish allowed an average of 41.6 points per game and 5.88 yards per play. Granted, the competition improved, but allowing over 40 points per game over a half season's worth of games is not something one would expect from Notre Dame. The good news for the Irish is that LSU has struggled mightily moving the football, particularly late in the season. Before they 'exploded' (relatively speaking) against Texas A&M in the season finale the Tigers averaged just 4.43 yards per play over a six-game SEC stretch. Three of those games came against the strong defenses of Alabama, Florida, and Ole Miss, but Arkansas, Auburn, and Kentucky were also included in that set of games. Suffice it to say, Cam Cameron didn't exactly earn his money this season. LSU will probably win this game, as they nearly always defeat non-conference foes under Miles, but I think they pull this one out the Les Miles way.

Fiesta Bowl
Boise State +3 Arizona
The Boise State program did not implode upon the exit of Chris Petersen. After a somewhat down year in 2013 that saw the Broncos lose five games for the first time since 1998, Petersen followed the coaching carousel to Washington. In his stead, the Broncos tabbed Bryan Harsin from Arkansas State (the new cradle of coaches). Harsin led the Broncos to their first outright Mountain West title since joining the conference in 2011. These Broncos are likely a little different than the teams you are used to watching. After ranking either first or second in terms of yards per play allowed among their conference brethren for each season from 2005 through 2013, the Broncos fell all the way to fourth in 2014 (gasp), but more than made up for it by fielding an outstanding offensive attack (second in the Mountain West to Colorado State in terms of yards per play). Running back Jay Ajayi enters the bowl with nearly 1700 rushing yards on the season and 25 touchdowns. Boise will seek their third Fiesta Bowl victory (Penn State holds the record with six Fiesta Bowl wins) against the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats will be making their first major bowl appearance since 1993, when they last played in the Fiesta Bowl. The Wildcats won seven of their nine regular season Pac-12 games, but were not very proficient at any one area. They ranked eighth in the conference in yards per play and sixth in yards per play allowed. The Wildcats did fare quite well in more random aspects of play, finishing with a +9 turnover margin in Pac-12 play and winning six of their seven one score games. This was a phenomenal season for Arizona, and it is a shame they ran into an elite Oregon team in the Pac-12 Championship Game, denying the program their first outright conference title since they won the Border Conference in 1941. Arizona is a little over-valued here and Boise should enter this game reasonably motivated to knock off a major conference team. Look for the Broncos to pull off an outright upset here.

Citrus Bowl
Minnesota +6 Missouri
For the second consecutive year, SEC newcomer Missouri won their division. And then were summarily trounced in the SEC Championship Game. There is no shame in losing to Alabama, but the Missouri Tigers are now 0-4 in conference title games under Gary Pinkel as they seek their first conference title since they shared the Big 8 with Nebraska in 1969. Missouri was led by their defense in 2014, ranking first in the SEC in yards per play allowed. That number is likely a function of their easier eastern division schedule, but the defense was legitimately nasty. The offense on the other hand, was a slowly decomposing husk. After averaging 6.1 yards per play in their four non-conference games, the Tigers struggled mightily moving the ball in the SEC, averaging under five yards per play. That figure ranked ahead of winless (in the conference) Vanderbilt, and no one else. The Tigers will be challenged by a Minnesota team playing in their third consecutive bowl under Jerry Kill. The Gophers somehow lost to Illinois (much like the Tigers somehow lost to Indiana), but otherwise performed admirably in 2014, beating Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska, and losing to Ohio State, TCU, and Wisconsin. Minnesota does not do a anything particularly well, but against an offense as limited as Missouri's, they should be able to keep the margin in this game to a less than a touchdown.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XV

Alas, we have posted yet another subpar week, and with just one week to go in the regular season, it appears we will not finish the year with a winning record. Still, we have had a good time, and hopefully have not lost you too much money. Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 47-51

Central Florida +7 East Carolina
The race for the crown in the American conference is yet to be decided. Memphis is in the clubhouse with a 7-1 mark and has clinched at least a share of the title. However, with one loss apiece, Central Florida and Cincinnati are still alive for a share of the title as well. If you are like me, and are pulling for sheer zaniness this weekend, Central Florida, Cincinnati, or Memphis could potentially grab one of the New Year's Six bowl games should Boise State lose in the Mountain West Championship Game. Yes, it is a long shot, but crazier things have happened. As for capping this game, were I a betting man, I would wager a significant amount on Central Florida. The Knights have one of the best mid-major defenses, and since losing to Connecticut on November 1st, have allowed just two offensive touchdowns in three games. East Carolina won't be held without an offensive score, but this spread should be closer to a pick 'em.

Arizona +14.5 Oregon @ Santa Clara
For the first time in the brief history of the Pac-12, the title game will be held at a neutral site instead of at the home of the team with the better conference record. A win by the Wildcats would not only give them their first outright Pac-10/12 title since joining the conference in 1978, it would also give them three wins over the Ducks in the past two seasons. For Oregon, a win certainly vaults them into the inaugural College Football Playoff, and would also give them their first conference title since 2011. It is unfair that some teams have to wait so long between championships. Arizona will keep this one close, but the Ducks will prevail sans a cover.

Marshall -12 Louisiana Tech
Despite their home loss to Western Kentucky last week, Marshall still has an incredible (unadjusted) profile. They outgained Conference USA opponents by over three yards per play (7.88 to 4.86)! Unfortunately, their dream season was shredded on a two-point conversion. Still, the Thundering Herd have a great deal to play for. A win here would give them their first conference championship since 2002. Plus, a solid performance by quarterback Rakeem Cato could land him an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony. The Thundering Herd will be opposed by an improved Louisiana Tech team. The Bulldogs finished just 4-8 in Skip Holtz's first season in charge, but improved to 8-4 this season behind the best defense in Conference USA. Holtz has won a pair of Conference USA Championship Games, both times as an underdog, but I think the Herd will be too much here, particularly at home.

Iowa State +33.5 TCU
With the release of the latest college football rankings, TCU appears to be just a win away from locking up a playoff spot. Now all they have to do is get by an Iowa State team that has not won a conference game since the end of last season. Iowa State has played TCU tough in their two contests as Big 12 members, with the Cyclones upsetting the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth two years ago, and losing a close contest in Ames last season. This one won't be as competitive, but the Cyclones should hold the margin of defeat under 30.

Missouri +14.5 Alabama @ Atlanta
The newbies from the Big 12 have now won twice as many SEC East titles in three seasons as Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt have combined to win in 23 seasons. The Tigers will be looking to exorcise a few demons from last year's title game when Auburn shredded their previously stout defense with nearly 700 yards of offense, including 545 on the ground. The Tigers enter this game once again boasting a stout defense, in fact the best in the SEC by yards per play. To be fair, the Tigers play in the SEC East, so some adjustment for strength of schedule is necessary, but the defense is still the strength of the team. This is especially true when considering quarterback Maty Mauk completed less than half his passes in five of eight SEC games. Alabama is clearly the better team, but as a double-digit favorite away from home, the Tide are 0-3 ATS this season. I think Missouri loves company, and keeps this one within two touchdowns.

Georgia Tech +4 Florida State @ Charlotte
I feel a little nervous jumping on that Georgia Tech bandwagon after their upset over Georgia last week. Everyone has been waiting patiently for Florida State to lose all season, and yet the Seminoles are unbeaten (and disrespected) as Championship Weekend approaches. If noting else, this game should be entertaining with two of the best offense in the ACC going head to head. The last time these two teams met was a classic (although no one was there to see it). Take the Jackets to win a tight one and open the door for either Ohio State or Baylor to sneak into the playoff picture.

Fresno State +21 Boise State
At the beginning of November, things looked bleak for the Fresno State Bulldogs. Fresh off a Mountain West title, the Bulldogs stood just 3-6 and were a loss away from missing a bowl for the first time under Tim DeRuyter. Then the Bulldogs reeled off three straight wins and thanks to their earlier win over San Diego State actually won the West division of the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it looks like they will enter bowl season with a losing record like Georgia Tech did in 2012. A win here would be a major upset, but a cover would not be unprecedented.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIV

Well, it appears we cannot stand prosperity. After consecutive winning weeks got us back to .500, a 2-5 week makes a winning season unlikely. Still, we press on. Home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 44-47

Texas +6.5 TCU
The Big 12 seems built for controversy regarding head-to-head versus body of work. In 2008, a three-way tie in the south among Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech had to be broken by the BCS rankings. Now, sans divisions, it appears we are headed toward more controversy regarding the inaugural College Football Playoff. Baylor beat TCU head-to-head on the field in Waco, but TCU has a tougher schedule, and arguably a superior body of work. Before we get ahead of ourselves, remember that potential controversies often have a way of working themselves out. That could certainly be the case on Thanksgiving night as TCU heads to Austin to take on the Longhorns. This is not a typical TCU team. The Horned Frogs have the best offense (in terms of yards per play) in the Big 12, and rank just sixth on defense. Meanwhile, Texas has the league's top-ranked defense and has shut down high-powered offenses like UCLA, Baylor, and Oklahoma already this season. Since joining the Big 12, TCU is just 1-6 ATS as a road favorite. Look for that trend to continue here as Texas keeps this one very close.

Rutgers +8.5 Maryland
The maiden voyage for both Rutgers and Maryland in the Big 10 has been marginally successful for both. Both have attained bowl eligibility, although most of Rutger's work was done in the non-conference. Rutgers did beat a down traditional power in Michigan, so there is something to be said for that. Maryland has already won four conference games and will be looking to post their first winning conference record since 2010 when Ralph Friedgen waddled the sideline. In a nice twist, Friedgen is now the offensive coordinator at...Rutgers of course. This spread is probably a field goal or so too high thanks to Maryland's upset win at Michigan last week. Rutgers has been pretty good as a road underdog under Kyle Flood, posting an 8-4 ATS mark with five outright upsets. Take the Knights to keep this one within a touchdown.

Penn State +13.5 Michigan State
As I mentioned earlier that this is not your typical TCU team, this is also not your typical Michigan State team. Most iterations of Sparty under Mark Dantonio are defense-oriented teams. This year's version ranks an above-average fifth in the Big 10 in yards per play allowed, but the offense has been the real strength of the team. Along with Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans are the only Big 10 team averaging more than six yards per snap in league play. Penn State would kill for that kind of offensive firepower. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions are dead last in the Big 10 in yards per play. The offensive line has been especially porous, allowing 39 sacks thus far on the year (122nd nationally). The Penn State defense has been nearly as robust as the offense has been putrid. The Nittany Lions lead the Big 10 in yards per play allowed, and against the dominant Ohio State offense in Happy Valley, held the Buckeyes to 17 points in regulation. Penn State probably lacks the offensive firepower to win here, but this spread is way too high.

BYU +4.5 Cal
For BYU, the 2014 season began with such promise. The Cougars opened the year by winning their first four games, rose to number 18 in the AP Poll, and had designs on an undefeated season. Alas, quarterback Taysom Hill was injured, and the defense had a few awful games. The Cougars lost four in a row at midseason, but have rebounded against a softer schedule to win their past three and clinch a ninth consecutive winning season under Bronco Mendenhall. While BYU goes for their eighth win of the season, Cal will be seeking their sixth and their first bowl bid since 2011. The Bears have significantly improved from their 1-11 campaign last season, but have lost five of their past six games after a 4-1 start. Cal has not covered as a home favorite since 2011! Granted, they have only been favored four times at home since then, but still, the Bears are far from a dominant home team. Take BYU to cover here and potentially keep the Bears home for the holidays.

Louisiana-Monroe +14.5 Georgia Southern
With a win here, Georgia Southern could attain the dubious distinction of being both the outright Sun Belt champion and not playing in the postseason. Since the Eagles are in their first season as a IA member, they are technically classified as a 'transitional' team and would need a waiver to play in a bowl. Unless some teams self-impose bowl bans in the last two weeks of the season, a scenario where the Eagles play in a bowl game us unlikely. Alas, they could take solace in becoming the first Sun Belt team to finish unbeaten in conference play since Arkansas State in 2011. Under first year coach Willie Fritz, the Eagles have gashed Sun Belt opponents and are averaging nearly seven yards per play against their conference brethren. I think the Eagles will get the win here, but Louisiana-Monroe is a healthy 10-5 ATS as a road underdog against teams from the Group of Five conferences since 2010. Take the Warhawks to keep this one within two touchdowns.

UTEP -4 Middle Tennessee State
Well, we whiffed on UTEP last week, but the one facet we should have considered regarding that game was the location. UTEP was on the road at Rice. Now they return home to try and solidify a bowl bid and clinch their first winning season since 2005. The Miners are unbeaten ATS at home this season, and are 4-0 ATS as a home favorite. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee State is 1-4 straight up on the road and in their last road game fell to feeble Florida International. UTEP has a great deal to play for and in El Paso should win this game by at least a touchdown.

Utah State +9 Boise State
If you want to discuss perseverance, Utah State has it in spades. The Aggies are down to their fourth string quarterback thanks to a spate of injuries. However, like Kurt Warner before him, freshman Kent Myers has risen to the occasion and arguably played better than the man (or in this case men) he was replacing. The Aggies are a few closes losses (to Arkansas State and Colorado State) away from being in position to grab the big-time bowl berth that goes to the highest ranked member from the Group of Five. Ironically, one of the teams that beat Utah State will be pulling hard for the Aggies as the Rams from Colorado State need another Boise loss (in conjunction with their own win over Air Force) to gain entry to the Mountain West Championship Game. Boise State is just 7-15 ATS as a home favorite since joining the Mountain West in 2011. This game should be very close, and an upset by the Aggies would not shock me.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIII

Two winning weeks in a row has us back to .500 for the year. There are only three weeks left in the college football regular season. It always leaves us to soon. As always, home teams in bold.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 42-42

UTEP +9 Rice
Not to brag or anything, but I am currently reading a book. The book in question, Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890-1980, is a good read for anyone interested in the history of amateur sports. Obviously, the title is a little verbose, but the book is a great historical analysis of the integration of college sports. One thing I discovered in reading the book (not related to integration at all), is that Bum Phillips coached UTEP for one season in 1962. Before he was 'Luv ya Blue', he was 'Luv ya U(TEP)'. Perhaps Bum saw the writing on the wall more than a half-century ago. It is hard to win in El Paso. However, perhaps the tide could be turning. Second year head coach Sean Kugler has the Miners bowl eligible with two games left to play. This is a stark improvement from last season, when the Miners won just a single conference game for their eighth consecutive losing season. Seeking to clinch their first winning season since 2005, the Miners head to Houston to take on a Rice team that is bowl eligible for the third consecutive season. Rice is probably the better team, and is playing at home, but this spread should be less than a touchdown. Take the Miners to dig in and keep this one close.

Purdue +2.5 Northwestern
The fates finally smiled on Northwestern last week. After losing eight of their previous ten one-score games, the Wildcats used a late surge, and questionable coaching by Brian Kelly, to stun the Irish in South Bend in overtime. The win bolstered Northwestern's bowl chances as they merely need to sweep Purdue and Illinois to reach six wins. With the Boilermakers and Illini combining for a 2-10 Big 10 record, that would seem a forgone conclusion. Ah, but let's not start licking our own lollipops just yet. Not only could a letdown be in store for the Wildcats, but the Boilermakers have also been exceedingly competitive in their second season under Darrell Hazell. In fact, since the ugly loss to Iowa, during which Austin Appleby replaced Danny Etling under center (or in the shotgun), Purdue has been a downright average football team. Unfortunately, the schedule has featured a quartet of teams that are either currently ranked, or were ranked at some point in the season (Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin). The Boilermakers lost all four of those games, but covered three times, and also pounded Illinois for good measure. Northwestern struggles big time moving the football, so don't be surprised if Purdue is able to pull off an outright upset here.

Western Michigan -1 Central Michigan
Don't look now, but statistically, these could be the two best teams in the MAC. For Central Michigan, the Chippewas have steadily improved over the half decade that Dan Enos has been in charge. At 7-4, they have already achieved the most regular season wins under his guidance, and a win here, coupled with a lot of help could send them back to the MAC Championship Game for the first time since 2009. The other directional Michigan school has risen rapidly under second year coach P.J. Fleck. After winning just a single game (by a single point) in Fleck's first season, the Broncos are 7-3 and winners of five straight. The last four wins in the streak have all come by at least twelve points. The Broncos still need some help to notch their first ever berth in the MAC Championship Game, but with this spread hovering below a field goal, they are an easy play here.

Ole Miss -2.5 Arkansas
Last week, I advised you to go against the Hogs as they were somehow laying points against LSU. Please accept my sincerest apologies for that mistake. I failed to realize that Cam Cameron was somehow coaching worse than he did as head man of the Dolphins. Ole Miss, even without receiver Laquon Treadwell, should be able to move the ball against one of the worst defenses in the SEC. Despite the shutout win over LSU, Arkansas only managed 264 yards of their own, at just over four yards per play. The Ole Miss defense has slipped a bit since their early season domination, but they should do enough to win this game by at least a touchdown.

New Mexico State +8 Louisiana-Monroe
Louisiana-Monroe, the underdog darlings of the 2012 football season, have clinched a losing season. However, despite already owning seven losses, the Warhawks did defeat a Power Five conference team for the third consecutive season. Granted, that team was Wake Forest (my alma mater's second loss to the Warhawks in as many seasons), but it is a solid achievement nonetheless considering the Warhawks won just three such games from 1994 through 2011 (although the one in 2007 was quite infamous). The Warhawks have a hard time moving the ball, even against Sun Belt foes, ranking last in the conference in yards per play. Their defense is average by Sun Belt standards, but with such a low-wattage offense, they should not be favored by more than a touchdown, especially on the road. In fact, the Warhawks have not won a game by more than a touchdown since last Halloween. Look for the Aggies to keep this one close.

Missouri +3.5 Tennessee
You want a crazy, I mean, really ridiculous stat? Missouri, a team that finished 2-6 in their inaugural season in the SEC, has won seven straight SEC road games! Under Nick Saban, Alabama won nine straight from 2008 through 2010 and eleven straight from 2011 through 2013. Under Urban Meyer, Florida won ten straight from 2007 through 2010. Those are the only other more lengthy road winning streaks over the last decade in the SEC. Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers are 7-2 ATS as a road underdog, with six outright road upsets. Missouri is still in control of its destiny in regards to the SEC title, so motivation should not be a factor here. Look for the Tigers to continue their stellar road play and make Tennessee have to sweat out one more week before becoming bowl eligible.

Oregon State +6.5 Washington
2014 has not played out exactly how the Beavers and Huskies had hoped in the preseason. Coming off consecutive bowl appearances, the Beavers, even with the loss of stud receiver Brandin Cooks to the NFL, hoped to continue shredding west coast defenses with senior quarterback Sean Mannion. Without Cooks the offense has declined and the team still needs a win in one of its final two games to qualify for a bowl (probably don't want to head into the Civil War with Oregon needing a win to get bowl eligible). The Huskies have had similar issues on offense sans quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey. The Huskies opened the year with four consecutive wins against a good IAA team (Eastern Washington) and a trio of IA bottom dwellers (Hawaii, Illinois, and Georgia State). Once conference play began, the Huskies offensive difficulties outweighed their defensive acumen, and they too need to win one of their final two games to be assured of a postseason invite. Both these teams are about as statistically equivalent as one can get. Consequently, take the team catching nearly a touchdown, even though they are on the road.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XII

Well, we finally came through with a winning week, finishing 4-3. We were just a half a point away from a 5-2 week before LSU folded in overtime against Alabama. C'est la vie. We are now 37-40 with four weeks to go. Let's try and even that record this week. As always, home teams in bold.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 37-40

Western Kentucky -8 Army
This spread has been falling since it was released on Sunday. It started out at ten points or so, and is now just above a touchdown. I'm a little confused at the love Army is receiving after their 'upset' of Connecticut last week. The win was the third of the season for the Black Knights, which matches their total from last season and is tied for their highest seasonal win total since 2010. The Black Knights should eclipse that threshold next week against Fordham, but I don't see them keeping this one especially close. Western Kentucky has been outstanding on offense this season, scoring at least 34 points in every game except one. However, they have also allowed at least 27 points in every game. Hence their 4-5 record. Army has been pretty forgiving on defense themselves, allowing nearly 33 points per game and over six yards per play. Even the historically bad Wake Forest offense averaged over five yards per play against the Black Knights. I expect this to be a high-scoring game, but Western Kentucky should win this one by double-digits.

Iowa -3.5 Illinois
Perhaps this spread is an overreaction to the transitive property (which does not exist in sports by the way). In one of their few solid performances under Tim Beckman, the Illini upset Minnesota at home three weeks ago. Then last week, those same Golden Gophers eviscerated the Hawkeyes. The betting public is still down on Iowa for that egg they laid. Illinois has the worst defense in the Big 10, as they are currently allowing over seven yards per play to their Big 10 opponents. The spread should be about a touchdown. Take the Hawkeyes to cover here.

South Carolina +6.5 Florida
If I had told you before the season that one of these teams would enter this game needing to spring an upset in their final three games to qualify for a bowl, most would probably have pegged the Gators as that underachiever. Certainly, Florida is not where they were at their peak under Urban Meyer, but the Gators can clinch a winning season with a victory against the Gamecocks (assuming they beat Eastern Kentucky next week). The Gators enter having won two in a row, and still have an outside shot at getting to the SEC Championship Game, which is more an indictment of the SEC East than praise for the Gators. South Carolina enters having lost four of five (and four in a row in the SEC) after a 3-1 start. The defense is among the worst in the SEC, allowing more yards per play than every team except Texas A&M and Arkansas. Despite Florida's offensive struggles, the Gators should be able to move the ball against the Gamecocks as comparable bad offenses (Vanderbilt and Tennessee) certainly have. Despite the failings of the defense, the Gamecocks have been competitive thanks to their fantastic offense. The offense has racked up at least 35 points in six of their past seven SEC games. Despite their poor record, South Carolina has been effective as an underdog ATS in a small sample size this season, winning outright against Georgia and fighting Auburn to the bitter end. Florida is just 4-8 ATS as a home favorite since 2012, and with this spread close to a touchdown, I expect the Gamecocks to keep it close.

Wisconsin -6 Nebraska
This game will go a long way toward determining the Big 10 West's division. Currently these two teams are tied with Minnesota at 4-1. Unfortunately for the Gophers, they play both of these teams on the road to close the regular season, as well as Ohio State this weekend, so the winner of this game will be in the driver's seat. After a rough start to the conference season that saw them lose to Northwestern for the first time since 2009 and struggling with Illinois in a ten-point home win, the Badgers have gone on their usual Big 10 steamrolling tour. They have won their past three games against Maryland, Rutgers, and Purdue by a cumulative 123-23 score. Nebraska has quietly won eight of nine, with the lone loss coming at Michigan State. The Huskers are looking to lose less than four games for the first time under head coach Bo Pelini. In their three previous meetings as Big 10 foes, the home team has won each game, with the Badgers taking the rubber match in the 2012 Big 10 Championship Game. Wisconsin's two wins came by 31 and 39 points respectively, while Nebraska's win was a much closer three-point margin. This is the smallest home spread for Wisconsin under second-year coach Gary Andersen. Under Anderson, the Badgers are a healthy 7-3 ATS as a home favorite (typically large number). Look for the Badgers to win this one by at least double-digits.

Auburn +2.5 Georgia
As I discussed over the summer, Auburn should be expected to be less than stellar ATS as a double-digit favorite. The Tigers are just 2-3 ATS as a large favorite, including last week's outright home loss to Texas A&M. They are also just 3-5 overall ATS as a favorite of any kind. However, when the Tigers are catching points, they have been money in the bank under Guz Malzahn. Including last year's BCS Championship Game, Auburn is a healthy 6-0 ATS with four outright upsets, including one two weeks ago against Ole Miss. This line is probably too much of an overreaction to Auburn's loss at home to Texas A&M. Plus, while Mark Richt has not developed the reputation Les Miles enjoys in regards to failing to cover the spread, the Bulldogs are just 33-42-4 ATS since 2005. Bank on Malzahn and the Tigers getting back on track here.

Missouri +5.5 Texas A&M
It's amazing how one week can shift your perception of a team. Last week at this time, the Aggies were coming off a less than decisive win against Louisiana-Monroe, had lost three straight SEC games by at least 15 points, and were three touchdown underdogs against the defending conference champion. Then the Aggies jumped out a big lead, made a timely special teams play, enjoyed a little snapping good fortune, and now are 7-3 with two home games left. But has anything really changed with the Aggies? Sure, they score a lot of points (sometimes), but they also have one of the worst defenses in the SEC. On the other sideline, Missouri is the polar opposite of Texas A&M. They combine the worst offense in the conference with the best defense. Texas A&M's SEC games have seen about 69 points scored on average between the Aggies and their opponents. Meanwhile, Missouri's SEC games have seen the Tigers and their opponents combine for roughly 40 points per game. Missouri's defense should be able to hold the Aggies in check and the Tigers have been money in the bank as a road underdog since joining the SEC, going 6-2 ATS in the role.

LSU +2.5 Arkansas
So let me get this straight. One of these teams is ranked in the top-25 of the current AP Poll and the other has not won an SEC game since 2012. And of course, the team currently riding a 17-game conference losing streak is favored. During their 17-game skid, Arkansas has had a few close calls, losing seven games by a touchdown or less, including their last two against LSU. In both of those games LSU was a double-digit favorite. They struggled, but won the Les Miles way. Were LSU giving points, I would advise you to avoid this game at all costs. However, since the Tigers are catching nearly a field goal here, they should be a solid play. LSU will be able to move the ball against an Arkansas defense that is statistically the worst in the SEC. After playing Ole Miss and Alabama in their last two games, LSU should get out some of their collective offensive frustrations on the Hogs.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week XI

A second consecutive 2-5 mark has your humble narrator scrambling to just finish with a .500 record for the season. The yearly mark is now a poor  33-37. We'll try and do better this week. As always, home teams in bold.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 33-37

Georgia Tech -3.5 NC State
Last week, NC State finally ended a rather long streak of futility, in winning their first conference game since 2012 (a streak of 12 consecutive conference defeats). Thanks to an incredibly soft non-conference slate, the Wolfpack need just a single victory to become bowl eligible. Despite their upset win over Syracuse, the Wolfpack remain a below average team that is superlative at nothing. They rank twelfth in the fourteen-team ACC in yards per play (ahead of Syracuse and Wake Forest) and eighth in the conference in yards per play allowed. Their opponent on Saturday is an extreme team. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are bowl eligible yet again, and have a chance to play in the ACC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. The Yellow Jackets have the best offense in the ACC in terms of yards per play, but are dead last in the conference in yards per play allowed. Their defense has particularly let them down in their two defeats. The Yellow Jackets allowed 31 and 48 points in consecutive losses to Duke and North Carolina that may eventually cost them the Coastal Division title. NC State will be able to move the ball against the Georgia Tech defense, but the Yellow Jackets should be able to outscore the Wolfpack and win by at least a touchdown.

Tulane +17.5 Houston
Two upsets last week (Temple over East Carolina and Connecticut over Central Florida) threw the American Athletic Conference into chaos. Five teams, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, and UCF, are all 3-1 in the league at the halfway point. This should make for an exciting final month. Unfortunately, the champion will probably not be able to snatch a major bowl bid for the Group of Five conferences. Of the teams currently tied atop the American Conference, Houston is probably the weakest. The Cougars have real issues moving the football, averaging under five yards per play in conference games (eighth among eleven teams). This spread appears to be about a touchdown too high. Take the Green Wave to cover this large number.

Texas +3.5 West Virginia
The maiden voyage for the Longhorns under Charlie Strong has seen its share of ups and downs. The Longhorns were blown out by BYU, but hung close with UCLA and Oklahoma, and limited Baylor's explosive offense in a closer than the score indicated defeat. Can the Longhorns finally break through against a ranked team under Strong? The opponent, West Virginia, has three losses, but those defeats have come at the hands of three of the best teams in college football: Alabama, Oklahoma, and TCU. The Mountaineers also have three road wins this season, matching their total for their first two seasons in the Big 12. The key point to remember is that two of those wins were very close and were decided on last second field goals (Maryland and Texas Tech). Also keep in mind Texas obliterated that same Red Raider team (on the same field) just last week and that West Virginia could be in a letdown spot after nearly upsetting TCU last week. Take the Longhorns here, and don't be surprised if they pull off an outright upset.

UNLV +6 Air Force
One season after playing in their first bowl game in thirteen years, the encore has not gone according to plan for UNLV. The Rebels are just 2-7 and have clinched their tenth losing season in the last eleven years. On the other sideline, Air Force has rebounded from a winless Mountain West campaign in 2013 to become bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons under Troy Calhoun. The Falcons have also wrapped up the Commander in Chief Trophy by beating their service academy rivals Army and Navy. However, despite their 6-2 start, Air Force is probably a little over-valued. The Falcons are last in the Mountain West in yards per play and only middle of the pack (seventh) in yards per play allowed. Plus, UNLV has been stellar as a home underdog under Bobby Hauck, going 13-6-1 ATS in those situations. Take the Rebels to cover here, and don't be surprised if they pull off the outright upset.

LSU +6.5 Alabama
Les Miles and the LSU Tigers find themselves in both an unfamiliar situation and a position they are very acquainted with. Under Miles, the Tigers have been home underdogs just five other times. However, three of those instances came against Alabama (as led by Nick Saban). LSU has covered three of those five games, including two of three against Alabama. In fact, their non-covers have also been close as Alabama needed overtime to dispatch LSU as a field goal favorite in 2008 and Florida won by ten as an eight point favorite in 2009. LSU has steadily improved as the year has gone on, and is certainly not the same team that was obliterated by Auburn a month ago. Also keep in mind that Alabama is just 3-6 ATS away from Tuscaloosa since the start of the 2013 season. Take the Tigers to keep this one close.

Ohio State +3.5 Michigan State
Can a Big 10 team crack the initial College Football Playoff? The best chance for the conference probably lies with a Michigan State win here. If Ohio State wins here, and wins out, their inexplicable loss to Virginia Tech will likely serve to keep them out of the playoffs barring some other unlikely results. Along with Wisconsin, these are clearly the two best teams in the conference, but their lack of non-conference accomplishments will likely shut the Big 10 champion out of the playoffs. Ohio State has been a betting underdog exactly twice under Urban Meyer, and once was two seasons ago against these Spartans, in this very stadium. The spread was about the same too, with the Buckeyes getting about a field goal. The Buckeyes won a tight game, and a similar result here would not be too surprising.

New Mexico State +17 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns have had quite a four-year run under Mark Hudspeth. They have played in (and won) three consecutive New Orleans Bowls and are just a win away from attaining bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive season. However, 2014 began rather inauspiciously. After opening with an expected beatdown of IAA Southern, the Cajuns lost at home to Louisiana Tech by four touchdowns (they entered the game as a double-digit favorite). They then went on the road to Ole Miss and Boise State and lost by a combined 66 points. With Captain Hindsight as our guide, we can see that while the Cajuns were not competitive in those three losses, each of those teams has ended up being pretty good. Once conference play began, the Cajuns rebounded and are now 4-0 in the Sun Belt. Their overall Sun Belt record under Hudspeth is a sterling 21-6, yet they have yet to win an outright conference title, finishing third in 2011, second in 2012, and tied for first last season. Even if they win out, they may not be alone at the top of the standings as Georgia Southern is also unblemished through six conference games and does not face the Cajuns. Despite their sterling won-loss record, the Cajuns have been far from a sure thing as a favorite. In conference games in which they entered as the betting favorite, the Cajuns are just 7-10 ATS. They are also just 2-4 ATS in all games as a road favorite under Hudspeth and 2-6-1 ATS as a double-digit favorite. All these trends are compelling reasons to take the Aggies from Las Cruces on Saturday night.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week X

Well, Week IX was a downer in a big way. We only manged a 2-5 mark which drops the yearly record to 31-32. However, there are still six weeks (or 40%) of the college football season left to try and make amends. As always, home teams in bold.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 31-32

Pittsburgh -2 Duke
Just when it seemed like Pitt had a chance to take control of the Coastal division of the ACC, the Panthers suffered from a full-fledged case of fumbleitis against Georgia Tech. The Panthers lost six fumbles in total against the Yellow Jackets en route to their 56-28 defeat. And yet, despite that defeat, the Panthers are still very much alive in the division race. Another team very much alive in the race is the Duke Blue Devils. Duke is currently the only Coastal division team with fewer than a pair of conference losses. A win here by the Devils would set them up nicely for a return trip to the ACC Championship Game. While Duke has won two of their first three conference games, they have been less than impressive in doing so. The Blue Devils currently rank second to last (ahead of only Wake Forest) in the ACC in yards per play and are also second to last (ahead of only Georgia Tech) in yards per play allowed. Duke is not as good as their 6-1 mark would lead you to believe, and while Pitt has been wildly inconsistent this season (winning on the road at Boston College and losing at home to Akron), they should be able to cover this small number at home.

Florida +13 Georgia @ Jacksonville
Some prognosticators, myself included, thought the Florida Gators were a good bet to improve this season, and perhaps even challenge for the SEC East title. Needless to say, we (especially I) were wrong. The Gators have not seen their offense improve, and their defense, while still strong has declined somewhat. If not for some tight wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, the Gators could be entering this game with a 1-5 mark. Since their opener against Idaho was canceled, the Gators may not be able to come up with the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility! Where have you gone Charley Pell, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you (woo woo woo)? Meanwhile, Georgia enters this game having won five straight, and fancying themselves legitimate playoff contenders. The Bulldogs have been especially impressive in their last three games, crushing Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Arkansas by a combined 74 points. However, the Bulldogs have not faced nearly as daunting an SEC schedule as the Gators (Florida has already lost to Alabama and LSU while Georgia has already faced Vanderbilt and a weaker than expected South Carolina) and are actually just 4-7-1 ATS over the past two seasons as a favorite against a fellow SEC team. This is a rivalry game so Florida will be sufficiently motivated to hang with the Bulldogs here. Also, keep in mind, Georgia has not won this game by enough points to cover this large a number since 1997!

West Virginia +5 TCU
Is this the week the Big 12's parity conspires to thwart another potential playoff team? Both these teams have rebounded nicely from losing seasons in 2013. After combining to go just 4-14 against conference foes last season, the Horny Toads and Mountaineers are a combined 7-2 against the Big 12 this season. For TCU, it was not hard to see improvement coming, as the boys from Fort Worth had solid statistical numbers despite their poor record last season. West Virginia on the other hand, has been more of a pleasant surprise. The defense has been especially encouraging, with the Mountaineers on pace to allow fewer than 30 points per game for the first time since 2011, the Mountaineers final season in the Big East. TCU is just 2-6 ATS as a road favorite since 2011, so backing the Mountaineers seems like a solid play here.

San Jose State +6.5 Colorado State
We were all over the Spartans catching more than a touchdown last week at Navy. That didn't work out so well. The Spartans allowed the Midshipmen to run for over 400 yards on them and failed to cover. Now they return to conference play to take on a Colorado State team on the cusp of being ranked for the first time since 2003. While the Rams are getting a little under the radar hype as a potential representative in the big time bowls from the Group of 5, San Jose State is actually in better shape to make it to the Mountain West Championship Game. Courtesy of their early season loss at Boise, the Rams need the Broncos to lose at least once more to a Mountain West team to have a shot at winning the Mountain division. Colorado State is probably a little over-valued at the moment and this spread should probably be closer to a field goal. Look for the Spartans to give the Rams a good game on Saturday night.

Old Dominion +10 Vanderbilt
Think the Commodores might be missing Lionel Richie James Franklin? After winning eleven SEC games in three seasons under Franklin (or one more than they won in eight seasons under Steve Martin Bobby Johnson), the Commodores have returned to their rightful standing at the bottom of the SEC East. The Commodores have yet to win an SEC game, and have victories over Massachusetts and Charleston Southern (IAA) by a total of four points as well as a 30-point loss to Temple. Yes, the Commodores are a pretty good bet when they are getting a lot of points (4-1 ATS as double digit underdogs), but are not to be trusted when laying points, especially more than a touchdown. The rotting carcass of the Missouri offense was able to put up 24 points on Vanderbilt last week. Old Dominion has not done a lot well as they transition to IA football, but they can put up some yards and points. Outside of Marshall, they have been one of the most explosive offenses in Conference USA. Vanderbilt will probably pull out a win here, but it will not be easy.

Stanford +10.5 Oregon
You know expectations have changed at Stanford when three losses are the most regular season defeats the Cardinal have suffered since 2009! While the Cardinal have suffered more than their standard number of setbacks, keep in mind they have still played very well. An inability to finish drives led to their loss to Southern Cal, a late touchdown led to their demise at Notre Dame, and even in their multi-score loss to Arizona State, the Cardinal still averaged more yards per play then the Sun Devils. Stanford is still a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball, leading the nation in yards per play allowed (3.72 per snap). The Cardinal still wreck havoc in opposing backfields, ranking ninth in the nation with 27 sacks. However, despite their defensive prowess, they have been unable to force turnovers. In games where they had no need for turnovers to achieve victory (UC Davis and Army), the Cardinal forced five. In their other six games, they have forced just three (and have a turnover margin of -9). That friends is the reason Stanford sits outside the latest AP poll. However, it is also a reason to expect the Cardinal to cover this double-digit spread. Stanford has given Oregon trouble the past two seasons, and though they may not win their third in a row in the series, I expect the result to be in doubt for most of the game.

San Diego State +5.5 Nevada
How significant is jet lag in college football? While this game is obviously a sample size of one, I think it fits nicely within a not so well documented trend. Since 2010, 17 teams have visited Hawaii, and returned to the mainland to play a game the following week. Those 17 teams are an unremarkable 8-9 ATS in the follow up game. That is hardly big enough reason to fade those teams. However, if we dig a little deeper inside the numbers, there might be an angle to play. Eight of those teams returned to the mainland as favorites. Those eight teams covered just twice in the role of favorite. Nevada, as fate would have it, was in the islands just last week. The Wolfpack won, to run their record to 5-3 (2-2 in the Mountain West), but have been winning games despite shaky peripheral numbers this season. All eight teams Nevada has faced averaged more yards per play than the Wolfpack. However, Nevada has held onto the ball (just eight turnovers on the season), forced opponents to give it up (17 turnovers forced is tied for 16th nationally), and been a little lucky (opponents have hit just 6 of 13 field goal attempts). Recipes like that tend to turn sour after awhile. Meanwhile, at 4-3, San Diego State is in line for their fifth consecutive season of bowl eligibility, which is quite impressive considering they had just one winning season from 1997 to 2009. Plus, with a 3-1 conference mark, they are actually in the driver's seat at the halfway point in the West division of the Mountain West Conference. With a week off to freshen up, take the Aztecs to cover and potentially win outright here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

It took a backdoor cover by Miami of Ohio, but we enjoyed another winning week of capping games bringing the yearly mark to 29-27. We are within sniffing distance of the degenerates break even line. Let's see if we can jump it this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.
*Fastidious readers of this blog (if there are any) will note that I changed one of my picks. After careful deliberation, I concluded Wisconsin/Maryland was indeed not magnificent. I have swapped that game out for Vanderbilt/Missouri. I apologize if you had already made your wagers based on this blog. But hey, at least I didn't try and pull a fast one and pick Louisiana-Lafayette/Arkansas State. I'll take the Cajuns plus the points by the way.*

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 29-27

San Jose State +9 Navy
When will bookmakers learn to stop making Navy a substantial home favorite? Since 2010, the Midshipmen are 5-11 ATS in the role of home favorite, with six straight up losses (including two this season to Rutgers and Western Kentucky). With four losses already on the (darnell) docket, a game remaining with Notre Dame, as well as battles with solid mid-major squads Georgia Southern and South Alabama, Navy desperately needs this game to ensure they get the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility. Outside of their game at Auburn, San Jose State has been at least marginally competitive with every team they have played. In Mountain West play, they have held each of their first three opponents under five yards per play. This is the fourth consecutive year these two teams have played, so San Jose State should be relatively familiar with Navy's unique offense. Navy should be favored, but this spread should be a little less than a touchdown.

Akron -1 Ball State
The Zips headed to Athens, Ohio last week riding a three-game winning streak and lost a tight game to the Bobcats. The loss dropped Akron to 2-1 in the MAC, but they remain just a half game behind Bowling Green in the latest standings. Under Dick Morris lookalike, Terry Bowden, the Zips have become competitive in short order, improving from 1-11, to 5-7, to 4-3 in Bowden's three seasons. Their nine wins over the last season and a half are more than they had from 2009-2012. Now the Zips will look to rebound against a Ball State team enduring some growing pains in Pete Lembo's fourth season. After going 25-13, and playing in two bowl games in Lembo's first three seasons, the Cardinals have struggled through a 2-5 start in 2014. Both sides of the ball have been equally culpable, as the offense ranks second to last and the defense ranks dead last in the MAC in yards per play in conference games. The Cardinals did upset Central Michigan on the road last week, but they were significantly outgained and averaged about two and a half fewer yards per play than the Chippewas. The Cardinals benefited from five Central Michigan turnovers and are a little overvalued because of that. This line should be closer to a whole touchdown. Take Akron to cover with ease here.
See, they look similar. Maybe Politico will link to the blog now.

Georgia Tech +3.5 Pittsburgh
When handicapping the ACC Coastal Division, the lesson you should know by now is the same as the philosophy espoused by the X-Files: Trust No One. Pitt is (currently) tied for first in the division, but have also lost to Terry Bowden and Akron earlier in the year. Georgia Tech fancies themselves contenders in the division, and just two weeks ago, they were the only team without a loss. However, after consecutive close defeats to Duke and North Carolina, they must separate themselves from a logjam of teams if they want to return to the ACC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. The Georgia Tech triple option offense continues to have 99 problems, but a pitch ain't one. Actually, the offense is the strength of the team, averaging north of six yards per play through their quartet of conference games. The defense has been their downfall, allowing more yards per play than every team in the conference except the Tar Heels. While Georgia Tech is a team of extremes, Pitt is decidedly a shade above average on offense and defense. The Panther's yards per play numbers rank fifth in the ACC on both sides of the ball. Georgia Tech has been a bad bet as a favorite this season, posting a 1-3 ATS record. However, as an underdog, they are a good value, going 2-0 ATS with a pair of outright wins. After consecutive outright losses as a favorite, the pendulum has swung a little to far to the other side. Look for Georgia Tech to cover here and leave Pennsylvania with an outright win and throw the Coastal side into even more chaos.

Temple +10 Central Florida
With their victory over Tulane last week, the Knights from UCF have now won eleven consecutive conference games, dating back to their days in Conference USA. The last team to beat UCF? Tulsa. Back when they were a competent football team. The Knights have been rather fortunate in their winning streak, with eight of the wins (including both this season) coming by a touchdown or less. One would think that run of good luck would have to end sooner or later. Could it be this week with Temple flying into town? The Owls have already doubled their win total from last season and are still alive in the conference race despite their loss to Houston last week. The 31-10 final score was a bit misleading, as the Owls averaged more than seven yards per play against the typically stout Cougar defense, but were undone by four turnovers, including an interception that was returned for a score. The Owls are...ahem...flying under the radar here, especially facing an offense like UCF's. Think the Knights might be missing their two skill position draft picks, as well as their undrafted offensive lineman? Last season the Knights averaged over six yards per play in American Conference games. Through two games this season, they are averaging 3.94 yards per play. When a team has trouble scoring, they are a bad bet to lay double-digits. Take the Owls here.

Vanderbilt +21 Missouri
Speaking of teams that have trouble scoring...After scoring 38, 49, and 38 points in their first three games, the Missouri Tigers have averaged just 22.5 points per game over their last four (though they have won two of those games). The scoring drop-off is even more pronounced when we consider the offensive touchdowns the Tigers have scored, and the level of competition. The Tigers have scored seven combined offensive touchdowns against Indiana (104th in scoring defense), South Carolina (91st in scoring defense), Georgia (19th in scoring defense), and Florida (62nd in scoring defense). Georgia and Florida (despite the scoring defense rank of the Gators) have good to above-average defenses, but Indiana and South Carolina are another story. To make matters worse, quarterback Maty Mauk has not thrown a touchdown pass since the Indiana game more than a month ago. The Tigers should rightfully expect to win this game as Vanderbilt is terrible, but the Commodores have actually covered twice as a heavy road underdog this season (against Kentucky and Georgia) and are actually 3-1 ATS as a double-digit underdog. Missouri cannot be trusted with a spread this large, so Vandy is the pick.

Ole Miss -3.5 LSU
This line seems odd just looking at it. When the Golden Nugget released their Game of the Year odds in the summer, the line on this game was LSU -7.5. That means this spread has shifted by an amazing eleven points! I understand if you have some trepidation taking an upstart to win in Death Valley at night with College Gameday on the scene. Here's why you should trust Ole Miss. The Rebels are battle-tested, with home wins over Alabama and a better than you think Memphis team, as well as wins away from home against Boise State and Texas A&M. Granted, the Aggies have fallen from grace the past three weeks, but the Rebels are the only team to beat them by at least two scores in College Station since Missouri in 2010. The Rebels also have one of the best defenses in the nation. Alabama and Texas A&M are the only teams to average north of five yards per play against them this season. Finally, LSU is just not as good as they normally are. Their opening win against Wisconsin has lost some of it's luster with the Badgers losing to Northwestern in between struggling to put away South Florida and Illinois. The Tigers have already lost at home to Mississippi State and were blown out at Auburn. They needed a last second field goal to escape against Florida. Yet, after their easy win against Kentucky last week, the Tigers are now poised to challenge Ole Miss? Consider me skeptical. The spread on this game should be closer to a touchdown. Bank on Ole Miss remaining unbeaten and covering here.

Southern Cal Pick Em' Utah
Suddenly, this is a huge game in the Pac-12 South. While the southern division of the Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC Coastal, it is nearly as competitive and hard to figure. Five of the six teams (or every one save Colorado) have either one or two conference losses. The Trojans are currently in the pole position, courtesy of having played five conference games and winning four of them. The Trojans have been a little sketchy on the road, losing to Boston College, while beating Stanford and Arizona by a combined five points. To be fair, Arizona and Stanford are quality teams, and Southern Cal is the only team to beat each in their home stadium. On the other sideline, I think its fair to say this is Utah's biggest game since joining the Pac-12 prior to the 2011 season. This is primarily because the Utes began their first three seasons of big boy football with 0-4, 0-4, and 1-2 conference records. At 2-1, the Utes have already matched last season's conference win total. They have done it almost entirely on one side of the ball. The defense is extremely disruptive, leading the nation with 33 sacks (they have had at least three in each game). Meanwhile, the offense has slowly reverted to last year's form, averaging under five yards per play over their last four games. The running game, led by Devontae Booker has been quality, averaging nearly 230 yards per game on the ground in Pac-12 play. The passing attack has been another story with Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson combining to average just 4.3 yards per pass against Pac-12 opponents. Utah is a good team, but Southern Cal is a proven commodity. If the Trojans were giving a field goal, I would be hesitant to take them. However, all they have to do is win here, so they are the pick.