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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

Last week, we hit on four of seven games, putting us on a two week winning streak. This now moves us to 25-24 on the year, just a smidge above .500. However, as any degenerate knows, this is not enough to turn a profit in Vegas. We'll try for another winning week as the weather turns colder. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 25-24

Oregon State +3 Utah
Both teams enter this game with identical 4-1 marks, and in the rugged Pac-12, will likely need every win they can get to attain bowl eligibility. Utah is actually ranked in the latest AP poll, thanks to their most recent game, an upset over UCLA. However, the offense appears to have disappeared over the last month. After moving the ball with relative ease against Idaho State (IAA) and Fresno State, the Utes have averaged under five yards per play against Michigan, Washington State, and UCLA. The Utes have somewhat made up for their offensive struggles with a great pass rush. The Utes lead the nation with 28 sacks and senior defensive end Nate Orchard is second in the country with 8.5 on his own. Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has struggled on the road. They have not covered as a road favorite since their Mountain West days in 2010. Their straight up and ATS Pac-12 road record is just 4-10. Their offensive struggles combined with their poor road performance as a Pac-12 member make the Beavers the pick here.

Purdue +12.5 Minnesota
Don't look now, but the signs of the Apocalypse abound in the nation's heartland. Purdue has been competitive as of late (since Austin Appleby took over at quarterback) and Minnesota is currently in first place in the Big 10 (your guess is as good as mine) division. Minnesota helped usher in the Brady Hoke death march a few weeks ago and then continued their run at bowl eligibility with a tight win over Northwestern. A win against the Boilermakers would make the Gophers 3-0 in Big 10 play for the first time since 1990! It would also likely grant them entry into the top-25 for the first time since 2008. Minnesota hearkens back to the football of our grandfathers by detesting the forward pass. Their 103 pass attempts in 2014 are more than just five teams (Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, New Mexico, Navy and Army). Each of those squads is a purveyor of some type of option, triple or otherwise. Since they run from a conventional offense, they are not nearly as explosive on the ground as those option teams. They average just 4.66 yards per rush, good for 50th in the nation. Minnesota is not built to blow teams out, so I think Purdue is a good bet to keep this one close.

Tulane +20 Central Florida
The Green Wave from Tulane appear unlikely to appear in consecutive bowl games for just the second time in school history. Granted, their non-conference schedule probably had a lot to do with that, as the Green Wave faced Georgia Tech, Duke, and Rutgers, in three of their four non-American (un-American?) games. They lost each of those games by at least 17 points, but rebounded to beat Connecticut at home last week for their first conference win as members of the American. Now they head east to take on a Central Florida team that has beaten them by 49 and 47 points respectively in the last two meetings (2009 and 2010). The Knights should be expected to win this game, and run their record to 4-2, but three touchdowns is too much to lay even at home.

Virginia +2.5 Duke
Who wants to spin the ACC Wheel of Destiny? While the Atlantic Division appears to be in pretty good hands with Florida State, the Coastal is a wide open jumble. Every team has at least one loss within the division except, ya'll ready for this? Virginia! Mike London was on the hot seat when the season began, but the Cavs have done their best to cool things off. Halfway through 2014, they have already doubled last season's win total and are actually in the driver's seat in the division in the early going of conference play. The defense has been especially salty, holding opponents under five yards per play through six games. Virginia's defeats have been close and have come to UCLA (when the Bruins were aided by three defensive touchdowns) and BYU (when the Cougars still had Taysom Hill). Duke has been relatively lackluster in their 5-1 start, beating no one of consequence until their upset of Georgia Tech last week in Atlanta. The Blue Devils will struggle to move the ball against the Cavalier defense and I think Virginia will stroll out of Durham with an outright upset.

Eastern Michigan +16.5 Massachusetts
Both these teams have struggled over the past few years. Well, Eastern Michigan has struggled for time immemorial, but the Minutemen have been a IAA playoff team as recently as 2007. After engendering hope with a 6-6 finish in 2011, Eastern Michigan won just two games apiece in 2012 and 2013, earning Ron English a pink slip. Chris Creighton, an accomplished coach at lower levels of football, took the reigns, and has already notched two victories in his inaugural campaign. Meanwhile, in Amherst, the new old coach, Mark Whipple, took over and made the Minutemen infinitely more competitive. Massachusetts lost close games in non-conference play to both Colorado and Vanderbilt, before opening MAC play with additional close defeats to Bowling Green and Miami. They finally got their elusive second first win under Whipple with a 40-17 victory over Kent State last week. Massachusetts is vastly improved over the product they fielded during their first two seasons in the MAC. However, asking the Minutemen to win by three scores against a fellow MAC school is not a great idea.

Alabama -10.5 Texas A&M
Well, we whiffed on Alabama last week (thought they would mangle Arkansas), so naturally, we're all over them again this week. Despite the ineptitude of the Tide offense, the defense still managed to bottle up Arkansas, limiting the Hogs to just 4.24 yards per play, and fewer than 100 yards rushing. The Tide will return home to find a much more forgiving defense. The Aggies have permitted each competent offense they have faced to score at least 28 points and average north of six yards per play. Plus, this is Texas A&M's fourth consecutive tough game (yay SEC West), after facing Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss over the past three weeks. This has all the makings of an Alabama blowout, so maybe Nick Saban will be in a better mood at his next press conference. Of course, if he's not, I won't be too sad.

Miami +12 Northern Illinois
What in the name of Chandler Harnish is going on in the MAC? For the first time since October of 2011, the Huskies of Northern Illinois lost a MAC regular season game. It was also their first home loss in the MAC since 2008. And the same team did it all three times. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for Central Michigan, the Husky killers. Clearly, this is not the same Northern Illinois team that ran roughshod over the MAC from 2010-2013, winning four consecutive MAC West titles and a pair of MAC championships while losing just a single regular season conference game. Before they lost to Central Michigan, Northern Illinois struggled to put away a (currently) winless Kent State team at home. Now an improving Miami team comes to town. The Redhawks have already secured more wins and scored more points than they did in 2013 (granted they finished without a single win). Head coach Chuck Martin is attempting to become the second successful MAC coach to emerge from Grand Valley State. The Redhawks have already covered three times as a double digit road favorite this season and should do so again in DeKalb.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

Our first winning week in nearly a month brings us back to even par at 21-21 for the year. The only game we really whiffed on was backing Old Dominion (you'll soon see we haven't learned our lesson). Let's see if we can put together another winning week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 21-21

TCU +10 Baylor
Last week, TCU enjoyed their biggest win since joining the Big 12 conference and now find themselves ranked in the top-10 for the first time since they ended the 2010 season ranked second overall. The win over Oklahoma was no fluke, as TCU slightly outgained the Sooners and averaged more yards per play. Now they travel to Waco to face an old Southwest Conference rival in Baylor. The Bears struggled offensively against Texas last week, averaging under five yards per play for the first time since (drum roll) facing TCU last season, and for just the third time since becoming relevant again in 2010 (that game also came against TCU). However, in contrast to the Baylor of a few years ago, the Bears played well defensively and eventually wore the Longhorns down in a three-touchdown win. For the curious, Baylor has not beaten TCU by more than three points since 1994. This has all the makings of a great Big 12 battle. TCU won the last time they played the Bears in Waco, and another upset would not be the most shocking event in college football history.

Oregon -2 UCLA
Don't get me wrong, this is a big game, but a little of the luster is gone after both Oregon and UCLA lost at home as big favorites last week. Arizona upset the Ducks in Eugene, and Utah edged the Bruins in the historic Rose Bowl. If both teams would have won, College Gameday would have had a tough choice for venue this weekend. As it stands, these two will have to settle for the undercard. So what can we expect here? Well, my friend, if you like sacks, you should love this game. There should be multiple instances of quarterbacks being tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Oregon has allowed 15 sacks thus far, including five at the hands of the Wildcats last week. However, that pales in comparison to the lack of protection afforded Brett Hundley at UCLA. We're talking Steve Beuerlein in 2000 levels here people! The Bruins have allowed 22 sacks in 2014, including ten last week in their loss to Utah (the Utes lead the nation with 28 sacks by the way). Oregon has 16 sacks of their own in 2014, while UCLA has just seven so Hundley will be feeling the heat a little more than Marcus Mariota. Despite typically inflated spreads, Oregon is actually 10-3 ATS as a road favorite since 2011. In fact, this low number marks the first time Oregon has been favored by less than a field goal since Chip Kelly brought the Ducks to the national stage in 2009. Catching Oregon when they are giving just a few points is a dream come true. Take the Ducks here.

Alabama -10 Arkansas
Is the Alabama dynasty really over after a tight loss against a top-10 team? Believe me, no one loves it more than me when Nick Saban loses (except for maybe Tosh or Papi), but I think this line is a colossal overreaction to that defeat. Why should you trust Alabama to win by double-digits against an improved Arkansas team? For starters, the Arkansas defense is leaky. Auburn put up 45 points and averaged eight and a half yards per play against the Hogs. Texas A&M put up 35 points (in overtime) and averaged more than seven and a half yards per play. Even Texas Tech scored 28 points against the Hogs. Secondly, Saban has owned Arkansas since coming to Alabama. The Crimson Tide have won all seven of their games against Arkansas under Saban. The lone close games came in 2007 (Saban's first season) and 2010 (the best season for Arkansas since at least the late 1970's). The Tide have won the other five games by an average of over 38 points. Finally, Alabama stops the one thing Arkansas does well. Removing sacks from the equation, against West Virginia, Florida, and Ole Miss, Alabama has allowed an average of just over three yards per rush. Granted, Arkansas will be the best rush offense they have faced this year, but its hard to see Arkansas running roughshod over the Tide. In addition, while quarterback Brandon Allen has given the Hogs improved quarterback play, his passing numbers are bolstered by the games against Nicholls State and Northern Illinois. Against Auburn, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, the Hogs have averaged just 6.2 yards per pass. This has all the making of at least a two-touchdown bounce back for Alabama.

Florida International +13 Texas-San Antonio
The Panthers from Florida International do not typically merit much press, but they are one of the most improved teams in the country. After bumbling their way through a 2013 season where they were beaten by about four touchdowns per game on average and shutout on three separate occasions, Florida International is already half way to bowl eligibility through six games and has already scored more points than they did throughout all of last season. The Panthers have opened conference play with two consecutive wins as relatively heavy underdogs against both UAB and Florida Atlantic. Part of their success is due to an unsustainable turnover margin (+9 in their past two games and +12 in their three wins), but the Panthers have been much better on a per play basis, limiting opponents to under five yards per play. Texas-San Antonio has lost four straight games after a stunning win over Houston to open the season. The Roadrunners have played marginally well on defense, but have struggled mightily moving the football. Last week against the porous New Mexico defense, the Roadrunners managed just nine points, the fewest the Lobos have allowed since they shutout Wyoming in 2008. The Roadrunners were thought to be the class of the western half of Conference USA, and with just one league game under their beaks, they may live up to preseason expectations. However, asking them to win by two touchdowns against a solid Florida International team is folly.

Old Dominion +2.5 UTEP
Well, we screwed up royally last week when we suggested you should take Old Dominion to cover at home against Marshall. The Monarchs only lost by 42. They were only about three and a half garbage time touchdowns away from covering the spread. However, the Monarchs were not the only team to be blown out on Saturday. The Miners traveled to Ruston, Louisiana and had the infamous double nickel put on them by Louisiana Tech. That continued a troubling trend for the Miners who have allowed opponents to average at least 6.8 yards per play in every game this season. Old Dominion has a competent offense, and against a sieve like UTEP, they may be able to win this game outright.

Ole Miss +2.5 Texas A&M
The interesting thing about college football, and football in general, is that we learn things one week at a time. Then we have a few days to ruminate on what we learned before it is all turned on its head the next week. At this point we realize what we believed earlier was in fact not true at all or we make excuses to point out why it is still true. Case in point, take the Aggies. They strolled into Columbia on the opening Thursday night of the college football season and beat the Gamecocks, a place where the home team had not lost in nearly three years. We overlooked the fact that they gave up nearly seven yards per play to a Gamecock offense replacing the best quarterback in school history. Then the Aggies went on a barnstorming trek where they kicked the crap out of a few creampuffs (Lamar, Rice, and SMU if you want specifics). The Aggies were true SEC and national contenders we said. Then they struggled against Arkansas, needing a late score to tie and send the game to overtime where they eventually outlasted the Hogs. Arkansas is better we said. That's why the Aggies needed overtime. Just part of life in the rugged SEC. Then came a little trip to Starkvegas. The cowbells were out in full force, and the Aggies once again had trouble stopping a competent offense, allowing the Bulldogs to roll them for 48 points and over seven yards per play. The Aggies are the same team they were last year. The defense looked good against Lamar, Rice, and SMU, but against three SEC foes, the Aggies are allowing 6.93 yards per play. That is even worse than the 6.66 yards per play they allowed last year to SEC opponents. So we've spent this whole paragraph going on a diatribe against the overrated Aggies. What about Ole Miss? Yes, they won a huge game last week and could be due for a letdown. It is certainly within the realm of possibility, but Ole Miss is the better team and is getting points. They are the play here. Oh, and one more prediction on the Aggies and quarterback Kenny Hill. I think when December rolls around, a lot of people will be making the analogy between this Aggies team and the Geno Smith-led West Virginia squad of 2012.

Wyoming +4 Hawaii
For just the third time under head coach Norm Chow, Hawaii is favored over a IA team at home. An optimist would point out the Warriors have covered both of those games under Chow, but a statistician might mumble something about small sample sizes before returning to his Excel spreadsheets. How Hawaii is favored in this game is beyond me. The Warriors are playing on the islands so that should count for something, but since June Jones left town, the Warriors have not done a great job of protecting their home turf. They are just 18-21 straight up against IA teams at home and 20-19 ATS. However, if we remove the spectacular 2010 season, those numbers drop to 13-20 straight up and 14-19 ATS. Wyoming has mastered the art of low-scoring ugly wins in 2014, with their three victories coming by scores of 17-12, 17-13, and 20-19. In addition, their losses have come to elite teams (Oregon and Michigan State). I think the Cowboys will sneak off the islands with another low-scoring win.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

Well, the losses just keep on coming. Another sub-par week leaves us at 16-19 and searching for answers. For the third straight week, we'll try and get back on track. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 16-19

Florida International +8 Florida Atlantic
Just when it seemed like Ron Turner was a dead man walking after last season's debacle, his Panthers have emerged from the humid Miami jungle as a competitive and dangerous team. After losing to IAA Bethune Cookman (for the second consecutive year) in the season opener, FIU beat IAA Wagner, were marginally competitive against Pitt and Louisville from the ACC, and upset UAB on the road last week. Now the Panthers return home to face their natural rivals Florida Atlantic. The Owls have rebounded from a rough start (lost by a combined 89 points to Nebraska and Alabama) and have won two of three, including an upset win over Texas-San Antonio last weekend. FIU has been relatively impressive on defense this season, holding each foe under six yards per play (after doing it just four times all of last season). Playing at home, in a nascent rivalry game, I like the Panthers to cover here.

Old Dominion +17.5 Marshall
Last week was a classic look ahead/sandwich/short week/laurel resting game for Old Dominion. In their first season of IA football, the Monarchs began the year 3-1, with the most recent win a road upset over defending Conference USA champion Rice. Before the Monarchs were to host presumptive favorite and potential BCS major bowl crasher Marshall, they hosted Middle Tennessee State on a Friday night. Though the Monarchs averaged more yards per play than the Blue Raiders, they were done in by four turnovers. Despite the loss, the Monarchs have proven to be a formidable mid-major, hanging tough with NC State in Raleigh earlier in the year. Marshall has waltzed through their schedule thus far, and the win over Akon Akron is looking better and better, but Old Dominion has the offensive firepower to keep this one close. In addition, with a line of more than two touchdowns, the backdoor could be standing wide open for a cover.

New Mexico +17 Texas-San Antonio
What do we make of Bob Davie's tenure so far at New Mexico? After winning just three games in three years under Mike Locksley, the Lobos have won eight in two plus years under Davie. They have also been infinitely more competitive, losing nine other games by a single score. However, improvement from where they were in Davie's first season to now is hard to surmise. The Lobos are basically the same team they were in 2012 and 2013. They can move the ball against fellow mid-majors, especially on the ground (averaging 6.26 yards per rush), but they have no answers on defense (allowing nearly seven yards per play). With that being said, it is easy to like the Lobos in this situation. They are 6-3 ATS under Davie as a double-digit underdog against a non-Power Five school. Texas-San Antonio is a little over-valued thanks to their first two games where they throttled Houston thanks to six Cougar turnovers, and hung with Arizona. However, looking at their cumulative offensive numbers, its clear they miss departed quarterback Eric Soza as the offense is averaging just 4.26 yards per play (121st nationally). New Mexico's defense is bad, but asking a team with the offensive deficiencies of the Roadrunners to cover this large number is not a wise investment.

Louisiana-Monroe +9 Arkansas State
For Louisiana-Monroe, this game is vital to their bowl hopes. Although they stand 3-1 after a quartet of games, the Warhawks have Kentucky and Texas A&M left on the schedule, so they need all the Sun Belt wins they can muster. The Warhawks have made a habit of winning tight games early, beating Wake Forest, Idaho, and Troy by a combined sixteen points. The Warhawks have played reasonably well on defense, holding opponents to just 4.66 yards per play. Even if we remove their game against Wake Forest (perhaps the worst offense in college football this season), Idaho, LSU, and Troy have combined to average just 5.27 yards per play against them. And speaking of teams that are struggling to move the ball...well hello Arkansas State. Outside of their opening romp over IAA Montana State, the Redwolves have averaged just 3.95 yards per play against Tennessee, Miami, and Utah State. Granted each of those teams is tough, and potentially bowl bound, but we could be seeing the effects of so much constant coaching turnover. I think the Warhawks will be involved in another close game here, and in the role of road underdog against Sun Belt foes, they have done particularly well under Todd Berry, posting an 8-4 ATS mark in his four seasons.

Georgia State +17 Louisiana-Lafayette
This spread would have been understandable in the preseason when Louisiana-Lafayette was widely expected to dominate the Sun Belt and claim their first outright conference title under Mark Hudspeth. However, early returns should have dropped this spread a little. The Ragin' Cajuns have hardly looked ragin' over their last three games -- all losses by a combined 94 points. Two of the losses are quite understandable, at Ole Miss and at Boise State, but the other, a four touchdown home loss to Louisiana Tech, hardly inspires confidence. Of course, I expect the Cajuns to knock off the Panthers, but Georgia State has been money in the bank as a double-digit underdog since joining IA football last season. In ten such contests, including two this season, the Panthers are 9-1 ATS. Look for that trend to continue as Louisiana-Lafayette will have great difficulty covering this large number.

Boise State -2.5 Nevada
With their loss to Air Force last week, Boise State guaranteed they will finish with at least one conference defeat for the fifth consecutive season. That's right, the Broncos have not finished unblemished in league play since 2009! Further proof that is is hard to go undefeated. It is even harder when you turn the ball over seven times. According to Bill Connelly, resident abacus czar,  the value of those seven turnovers was about 30 points. The Broncos outgained the Falcons by about 130 yards and averaged about three quarters of a yard more per play. Now the Broncos must shake off the loss to the Falcons and travel to Reno to face a Nevada team that has won three of their first four games. Despite winning two of their three games against IA competition, the Wolfpack have averaged nearly a yard and a half less per play than Washington State, Arizona, and San Jose State. Similar to the Broncos, turnovers have told the story. In those three games, Nevada has not committed a single turnover while gaining six. The Wolfpack have also made three of their four field goal attempts, while their opponents have missed three of six in those games. The Wolfpack are operating on an extremely thin margin of error and this line should probably be closer to a touchdown in Boise's favor.

Cal +3 Washington State
Unless something strange or unlikely happens (like Kirk Ferentz taking over for Mike Leach at Washington State or Wake Forest replacing Cal in the visitors locker room), this game should see a lot of points. Both teams have split their first two Pac-12 games in entertaining fashion. Cal lost a heartbreaker to Arizona and followed that up with an absurd offensive showcase against Colorado. Washington State hung tough with Oregon and then rebounded from a 21-point hole to upset Utah. While Cal has played a pair of tight games, they have actually averaged over eight yards per play. Meanwhile, Washington State has seen their yards per play numbers more closely resemble a team that has lost as many as they have won. Cal is probably the better team, and since you are getting a field goal, they are a solid play here.