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.

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