Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

This weekly preview is slowly becoming the definition of insanity. A fourth consecutive 3-4 week means the margin for error we built early in the season has evaporated. Let's see if Halloween provides some treats. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 30-26

Oregon +3 Arizona State
Oregon is not nearly as good as they have been the past few seasons. Their three regular season losses are the most they have had since 2008. With Cal, Stanford, and Southern Cal still on the schedule, in addition to this game in Tempe, they will probably lose four or five games. With their struggles, the general public appears to have totally abandoned the Ducks. The Ducks have been underdogs twice this season, exceeding the number of times they were betting dogs between 2010 and 2014. In both of those games this season, the Ducks covered as underdogs, including winning outright against Washington two weeks ago. Now is the time to buy low on the Ducks, especially when they face a team like Arizona State. The Sun Devils do have a marquee win at UCLA this season, but they have also laid a few eggs. Take the Ducks to win this one outright.

Wyoming +28 Utah State
Let me begin this preview by stating the obvious. Wyoming is not a good football team. Perhaps you could tell by their 1-7 record which includes losses to North Dakota of the FCS and one of the worst FBS teams in Eastern Michigan. However, despite their struggles, the Cowboys have been a quality play against the number. Under second year head coach Craig Bohl, the Cowboys are an amazing 7-1 as a double digit road underdog, including 4-0 this season. Wyoming has played Washington State, Appalachian State, Air Force, and Boise State on the road this season and while neither game has been particularly close, the Cowboys did not lose any by more than 20 points. Utah State is not markedly better than that quartet of teams, so this is a pretty easy play. Wyoming won't win, but should cover easily.

Georgia Tech -5 Virginia
I am usually reluctant to take favorites that are coming off big wins or upset wins. Georgia Tech checks both boxes, yet I feel reasonably confident the Yellow Jackets can win in Charlottesville by at least a touchdown. While the Yellow Jackets have historically struggled when playing at Virginia, losing eight in a row between 1992 and 2007, things have changed since Paul Johnson's arrival. The Yellow Jackets have won two of three with both wins coming by double digits. I know Georgia Tech is far from a dominant team, and with five losses is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1996. The typical high-powered offense has been atypically quiet, averaging just under 25 points per game over their last six. However, the opposition has had a great deal to do with that. Their last six opponents (Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pitt, and Florida State) all rank in the top fifty in total defense (Virginia ranks 86th). If you prefer more advanced stats, all six save North Carolina (61st) rank in the top forty in S&P+. Virginia ranks 106th in that category. I think the triple-option gets well in a big way on Saturday.

Cal +6 Southern Cal
Last week, both these teams posted drastically different results. The Golden Bears dropped their second consecutive games after a 5-0 start, losing to UCLA. Meanwhile, the Trojans won their first game under interim coach Clay Helton (this season) as they knocked off the previously unbeaten Utah Utes. Now the Trojans are in a position they have not fared well in over the past few seasons. Since 2012, under four different head coaches, the Trojans are just 3-9 against the number as a road favorite with four outright losses. Cal needs just one more win to become bowl eligible, and they may get it on Saturday.

Georgia +3 Vs Florida
Forgive me if you will for reminiscing, but this clash in the city of London's beloved football team reminds me a lot of the 2012 game. For those who don't remember, Florida came into the 2012 game unbeaten with victories against Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, and South Carolina. Georgia, while far from rancid dog chow, came in with no real marquee victories, a blowout loss to South Carolina, and a tight win over a Kentucky team that would win zero SEC games. The Gators were favored by roughly a touchdown, but lost 17-9. Georgia would close the regular season four more victories before facing Alabama in an epic SEC Championship Game. Things are eerily similar in 2015 if you just add an additional loss to each team's ledger. Florida has impressive wins over Tennessee and Ole Miss and a tight loss in Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, Georgia has no marquee wins, a blowout loss, and a closer than expected win against a bad opponent. So, why oh why is Georgia the pick? Take a look at that Florida offense that Jim McElwain has 'fixed'. Against SEC teams, the Gators are currently averaging 4.97 yards per play which ranks 12th in the conference. Last season, the Gators averaged 4.85 yards per play against SEC foes which ranked...12th in the conference. You can argue there has been improvement, but it has been marginal and insignificant. Florida is extremely overvalued here and Georgia, despite two defeats, has plenty to play for. A win against the Gators puts the Bulldogs back in the driver's seat to get to Atlanta, and methinks they might have some extra motivation after last year's result.

Texas Tech +3 Oklahoma State
One of these teams is 7-0 and ranked 12th in the latest AP Poll while the other is 5-3 and did not receive any votes in said poll. Look a little closer though, and you can see the difference in their record is all about the schedule. Let's discount the non-conference schedule as both teams went 3-0 (even though Texas Tech played the toughest opponent). In league play, Texas Tech has played Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU, arguably the top-three teams in the Big 12 (and Iowa State). Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has played Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia. The latter three teams are all quality, but they are not on the same level as Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. Oklahoma State beat that trio by a combined 12 points with one victory coming in overtime. Texas Tech is 4-1 against the number as home underdog under Kliff Kingsbury while Oklahoma State is just 2-7-1 against the spread as a road favorite since the beginning of the 2012 season. Oklahoma State is the type of team you want to back when they are catching points, but you don't want any part of them giving points on the road.

North Texas +9.5 Texas-San Antonio
Let me state the obvious here: Both these teams are bad. If you couldn't tell by their combined 1-13 record coming into this game, well, maybe you should pay more attention. Fortunes can change in a hurry in college football, and these two teams are proof of that. The last time these two played in Denton, Texas, North Texas was on their way to a nine-win season and Texas-San Antonio was busy posting a winning campaign. The Roadrunners won that game, and in the process, cost North Texas a spot in the Conference USA Championship Game. However, since the start of last season, these two teams have combined to go 9-29. North Texas reached rock bottom three weeks ago when they lost by nearly 60 points to an FCS team. Now, that FCS team did beat Washington State, but heads had to roll after a result like that. Head coach Dan McCarney was fired just an hour or so after the game. Mike Canales was named the interim head coach for the second time in his North Texas career. After the change, the Mean Green have shown signs of life in their past two games, covering large spreads against Western Kentucky and Marshall. Texas-San Antonio is too limited on offense to be favored by nearly double digits especially on the road. Take the Mean Green to keep this one close.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Poll Position: October 25th

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With eight weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll.

Oklahoma State (12th) - The Cowboys move up two spots after their functional bye against Kansas. While they sport a 7-0 record, the Cowboys are probably below Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma in the Big 12 pecking order. They should get a serious test in Lubbock this weekend.

Clemson (3rd) - I know they just beat a team that is likely playing for a lame duck coach, but 58-0 is still impressive. Their early season win over Appalachian State is one of the more underrated victories against a mid-major this season.

Oklahoma (14th) - For my money, perhaps the best one-loss team in the country. If they sweep their last three games, @ Baylor, TCU, and @ Oklahoma State, Sooners can still be a player in the playoff race. 

Leaving the Poll:
Texas A&M - Aggies will probably have a nice nine-win regular season, but they are playing fourth fiddle in the SEC West at best,

California - No shame in road losses to Utah and UCLA. Also, look at their wins (San Diego State, @ Texas, @ Washington, and Washington State). All quality teams. Bears probably deserve a spot in the poll and could return if they can beat the Trojans at home this week.

Joining the Poll:
UCLA (24th) - Bruins have a chance to go on a roll (Colorado, @ Oregon State, and Washington State) over their next three games. Outside of Utah, everyone in the division has at least two conference losses, so they are very much alive.

Mississippi State (25th) - Bulldogs have won three in a row to get to bowl eligibility. Probably out of the division race, but they host Alabama and Ole Miss, so will have a say in who goes to Atlanta.

Around the Mid-Major Universe:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. Memphis is still the highest ranked team from the Group of Five conferences as they avoided a letdown loss on a short week. Tigers host Tulane this week before a three-game stretch that will determine who wins the American West (Navy, @ Houston, and @ Temple). Speaking of Houston, the Cougars moved up three spots to 18th. The Cougars get a chance to beat a second Power Five school this weekend when they host Vanderbilt. With just one road game reaming on the schedule (@ Connecticut), I would favor the Cougars to overtake Memphis and win the division. Toledo dropped a spot to 20th after a harrowing first half against Massachusetts. They still won by more than two touchdowns, but pollsters don't need much of an excuse to drop a MAC team. Temple fought off East Carolina and moved up one spot to 21st. They face Notre Dame on Halloween night with a chance for perhaps the biggest win in program history. BYU dropped 70 points on Wagner over the weekend, and is currently just outside the top-25 (29th). Their toughest remaining game is likely a road trip to Utah State, so ten wins and an appearance in the top-25 is a distinct probability for the Cougars. Appalachian State, with six whole votes, is the only other mid-major receiving any pollster love this week. The Mountaineers are a good team (I hope you watched their game with Georgia Southern on Thursday), but will likely need to win out during the regular season before they can hope to be the first ever ranked Sun Belt team. San Diego State tightened up the Mountain West race on Friday night. The Aztecs are a virtual shoe-in to win their division (its the West in case you were curious), but their victory over Utah State means the Aggies have no margin for error to remain ahead of Boise State in the Mountain Division. If either the Aggies, Aztecs, or Broncos win out, they could find themselves in the poll at season's end, but the Mountain West is weak, so even that may not get the job done. Despite their loss in Baton Rouge, Western Kentucky appears to be on a collision course with Marshall to decide the East division in Conference USA. Neither team received any votes this week, but if they win out, that will likely change. In the West division, Southern Miss appears to be the biggest challenger to Louisiana Tech and their attempts to repeat as division champ. Like Marshall and Western Kentucky, those two will square off over Thanksgiving weekend with the division title likely on the line.

Ranked Matchups This Week:
Notre Dame (9th) @ Temple (21st): With Ole Miss @ Auburn, Georgia Vs. Florida, and West Virginia @ TCU, as some of the games on the slate, who had this matchup of the Irish as Owls as the only game between ranked teams in the preseason?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

That's three 3-4 weeks in a row. Once again though, we avoided total disaster. Let's see if we can get some wins before the month is over. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 27-22

Tulsa +11 Memphis
One week after being burned by Memphis when they pulled off perhaps the biggest win in school history, I'm going against the Tigers again. This game just screams 'letdown'. The Tigers beat Ole Miss, achieved the highest ranking in school history, and now must face a quality opponent on a short week. While Tulsa has not achieved the dramatic heights under a first year coach like another American school, the Golden Hurricane have played solid football under, particularly on offense, under Philip Montgomery. The former Baylor offensive coordinator has seen his charges score 30 points or more four times in six games. Over the previous two seasons, while they were going 5-19, Tulsa hit the 30-point barrier just eight times. While Tulsa is just 3-3, after this contest with Memphis, the Golden Hurricane have games remaining against SMU, UCF, and Tulane (combined 3-16 record), so a bowl game is still a real possibility. Both these teams had relatively misleading finals last week. Tulsa actually outgained and averaged more yards per play than East Carolina, but threw a pick-six near the East Carolina goalline on their first drive in the 13-point loss. Meanwhile, Memphis upset Ole Miss, but averaged nearly a one and half fewer yards per play than the Rebels. Take Tulsa to keep this one close, and even if Memphis pulls away in the second half, the backdoor should be wide open.

Syracuse +6.5 Pitt
Pat Narduzzi is just a single win away from matching the most wins Pitt has had in the regular season since 2010. The Panthers are 3-0 in the ACC, and after their trip to upstate New York, three of their final four conference games come at home. In other words, halfway through the conference season, the Panthers are real players in the division race. Despite their fine start, the Panthers seem a better value when they are getting points than when they are giving them. Case in point, the Panthers were an underdog at Georgia Tech last week and won the game outright. They did the same two weeks prior against Virginia Tech. However, in between, the Panthers were nine point favorites at home against Virginia and failed to cover. The Panthers appear to be the type of team that plays everyone close. Outside of their 17-point road win against Akron, their other five games have been decided by eight points or less. Syracuse is a quality opponent, particularly in the Carrier Dome, where the last two games in this series have been decided by a single point. Look for more of the same this week.

Army +10 Rice
While no one will confuse Rice with a college football power, at 3-3, the Owls are halfway to a fourth consecutive bowl bid under head coach David Bailiff. For a school that went 45 years between bowl bids, that is quite an accomplishment. If Rice reaches a fourth straight bowl game, they can thank the schedule makers and the shadowy figures behind realignment. Rice has beaten Wagner (an FCS school) and two woebegone conference foes (North Texas and Florida Atlantic) that were formerly in the Sun Belt. When the American raided Conference USA (to replace their ranks that were raided by the ACC, Big 10, and Big 12), the strength of the league declined significantly. After Army, a team that is currently 2-5, the Owls finish with five conference games including tilts with UTEP (2-4), Texas-San Antonio (1-6), and Charlotte (2-4). The Owls could conceivably win seven games and have nary a quality win. But, to paraphrase Bill Parcells: They don't ask how, they just ask how many. So after badmouthing their schedule, including Army, it only makes sense that the Cadets are the pick right? Army was crushed by Duke two weeks ago, but the Cadets have usually been competitive this season. They lost to Fordham by two points, Connecticut by five points, Wake Forest by three points, and Penn State by six points. There are very few teams against whom Rice should be favored by double digits. Army is not one of them.

Boston College +8 Louisville
Last week, Clemson did something especially amazing against Boston College. In their first six games, the Eagles had allowed just 43 total point. Clemson scored 34. Despite their failings against the Tigers, Boston College still boasts a stout defense. However, the loss dropped them to 0-4 in the ACC. With Notre Dame remaining on the non-conference schedule, the Eagles likely need to find a trifecta of conference wins to get to a third straight bowl game. On the other sideline, Louisville needs to win four of their final six games to get back to a sixth consecutive bowl. Fortunately, the Cardinals have already played both Clemson and Florida State, so they get to face the soft underbelly of the ACC over the second half of the season. Louisville is the better team and is playing at home, but Boston College's defense should keep this one close.

Indiana +17 Michigan State
After one of the most improbable victories, not only in school history, but in college football history, Michigan State returns home to take on an Indiana team in a desperate search for bowl eligibility. Indiana suffered their own improbable loss when they fell at home despite a 25-point cushion against Rutgers. Does that derail Indiana's season? Perhaps, but the Hoosiers have been competitive in games where quarterback Nate Sudfeld plays regardless of the opponent. Whether it is Southern Illinois, Wake Forest, or Ohio State. I think Michigan State will be on cruise control for the next month until they travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. With that in mind, take the Hoosiers to keep this one respectable.

Old Dominion +14 Florida International
Florida International is in an unfamiliar situation on Saturday. They will be double digit favorites against an FBS team for the first time since 2012. Back then, the Panthers were in the Sun Belt, coached by a likely upwardly mobile upstart, and coming off consecutive bowl appearances. Things can change in a hurry though. After beating the Zips, the Panthers would win just two games the rest of the season. Head coach Mario Cristobal was fired, Ron Turner was hired, and the Panthers moved to Conference USA. With three wins already under their (sun) belt, the Panthers have a shot at qualifying for a bowl game. To do so, they will almost certainly need to win their next three games (Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, and Charlotte) as their final two contests are against league overlords Marshall and Western Kentucky. However, Old Dominion also has designs on a bowl game, which would be the first in school history. The Monarchs have three of the least impressive wins imaginable (Eastern Michigan, FCS Norfolk State, and Charlotte), but have a light schedule the rest of the way as well. The Monarchs may have also found a quarterback to run head coach Bobby Wilder's system. After losing Taylor Heinicke to graduation, the Monarchs struggled throwing the football in the early going in 2015. I know it was FBS newbie Charlotte, but newly installed signal caller David Washington helped the Monarchs average over eight yards per pass against the 49ers. The team had been below six yards per pass in four of their previous five games. I don't expect Old Dominion to join the AP Poll this week, but they should give Florida International a game.

South Alabama +4 Texas State
Both these teams joined FBS in 2012 and were bowl eligible in 2013 and 2014. Unfortunately for the Bobcats of Texas State, they were not invited to the postseason either year. The Jaguars from South Alabama played a memorable forgettable bowl game against Bowling Green last season. South Alabama is 3-3 and could conceivably get back to the postseason while Texas State is 1-4 and faces an uphill battle to nab their first bowl bid. Neither of these teams is particularly good, but the spread should be closer to a pick 'em. South Alabama had a misleading final score last week when they lost to Arkansas State by a healthy margin thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns by the Red Wolves in the final ten minutes. Look for South Alabama to pull off the road upset.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poll Position: October 18th

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With seven weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll.

Oklahoma State (14th) - Over their bye week, the Cowboys moved up two more spots. With Kansas up this week, they will probably climb a little higher next week, but they don't appear to be as strong as the other three ranked Big 12 teams.

LSU (5th) - I know I said they were overrated just a few weeks ago, but I changed my mind. I know they needed some more Lesticles Bayou Magic to beat the Gators, but they have averaged over seven yards per play in each of their past five games. Road trips to Alabama and Ole Miss remain to be played, but this is an elite team.

Iowa (12th) - Take a look at that schedule again. There are some quality wins: Pitt (more on them later), @ Wisconsin, and by 30 @ Northwestern (a place and opponent where Stanford lost by ten). 

Leaving the Poll:
UCLA - Ah yes, the preseason playoff dark horse. The Bruins have not finished with fewer than three regular season losses since 2005.

Northwestern - After a great start to the season, Wildcats have dropped two straight by 38 and 30 points respectively. Still need one win over their final five games to become bowl eligible.

Boise State - New Year's Six hopes likely dashed after an epic eight turnover performance against Utah State.

Joining the Poll:
Memphis (18th) - It only took half the season, six wins, and an upset over an SEC school. This represents the highest ranking in program history.

Temple (22nd) - The Owls are the third American team in the poll, the only Group of Five conference with multiple teams. With Notre Dame on tap on Halloween, the Owls are unlikely to achieve their highest ranking in school history. They rose as high as 13th in the months before the US entered World War II.

Pitt (25th) - Panthers are 3-0 in the ACC. Having Paul Chryst take the Wisconsin job may have been the best thing to happen to them. 

Around the Mid-Major Universe:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. Toledo moved up three spots to 19th. The Rockets face Massachusetts this weekend, but then they must face the MAC gauntlet. Beginning with mid-week MACtion on November 3rd, the Rockets face Northern Illinois, @ Central Michigan, @ Bowling Green, and Western Michigan before a potential rematch with Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game. If the Rockets finish undefeated, they will have earned it. Memphis, the highest ranked Group of Five member at this point (18th) will begin their own gauntlet in November, when they face Navy, @ Houston, and @ Temple (the three best American teams) in back-to-back-to-back weeks. The race for the New Year's Six bowl berth from the Group of Five will probably be an undefeated Toledo team or the American champion after Boise State dropped their second game of the season. The loss dropped the Broncos from the poll and will likely keep the Broncos out of the Mountain West Championship Game. Utah State has a one-game lead on the Broncos (and the tiebreaker with the head-to-head win) with five to play. Utah State could join the poll late in the year if they win out. Western Kentucky has a chance to join the conversation for the New Year's Six bowl bid. All they have to do is win at LSU this weekend. BYU's schedule is significantly easier over the second half of the year. Missouri and Utah State are their toughest remaining foes, so the Cougars could return to the polls. Fire up your ESPNU on Thursday night as two former Southern Conference powers continue their ascension in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State both have just one loss on the year, and this game in Boone will probably determine the Sun Belt champion. Georgia Southern still has Georgia on the schedule, so even if they win their other games, they will probably find it difficult to join the polls. Appalachian State has completed their non-conference schedule, so a win by the Mountaineers could propel them into the polls by the end of the season.

Ranked Matchups This Week:
Texas A&M (15th) @ Ole Miss (24th): After five ranked matchups last week, this is the only one on the docket this weekend. Despite the loss to Memphis, Ole Miss still controls their destiny in the SEC West race. Keep that in mind as a potential apocalyptic scenario. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

A second straight 3-4 week has your esteemed handicapper questioning everything. Once again though, we avoided total disaster. Let's try and get some 'Ws' this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 24-18

Louisiana Tech +13.5 Mississippi State
After opening his tenure at Louisiana Tech with an awful campaign, Skip Holtz has transformed the Bulldogs into a contender in Conference USA. They won their division last season and lost a one-score game to Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Game. With bad teams occupying their division, a second consecutive appearance in the league title game is certainly a possibility, nay I say, a probability. Before resuming conference play, the Bulldogs step outside the league for a chance at a marquee scalp in Mississippi State. The other Bulldogs will not reach the heights they enjoyed last season, when they rose as high as number one in the nation. Still, with four wins already adorning their ledger, the Bulldogs have a great chance to play in their sixth consecutive bowl game. Mississippi State has played some tight games against non-Power Five teams in their recent history. They beat Louisiana Tech by six (in overtime) in 2011, edged Bowling Green by a single point in 2013, and beat UAB by 13 points last season. Louisiana Tech is not a pushover like Troy, the team Mississippi State destroyed last weekend. Look for the mid-major Bulldogs to keep this one close.

Florida International +9 Middle Tennessee State
The Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee are about two plays away from a special season. They have played three Power Five teams, and after an expected humbling at the hands of Alabama, lost on a late field goal at Illinois and a late touchdown run to Vanderbilt. Ah, but we must focus on things as they are, not things as they could be. Instead of a 4-2 record, the Blue Raiders are 2-4 and must win four of their last six to qualify for a bowl game. With Louisiana Tech and Marshall remaining on the schedule, the Blue Raiders must take care of business in their other winnable games. This game certainly qualifies as winnable, but I think the line is a shade high. With three wins, the Panthers also have designs on a bowl appearance, and with four road games already under their belt, they are battle-tested. Middle Tennessee's two wins have come against an FCS team (Jackson State) and a new FBS team (Charlotte). Two years ago, Florida International would have been comparable to those two teams. They are much better this year and will challenge the Blue Raiders.

Florida Atlantic +6.5 Marshall
On the surface, Marshall appears to be continuing their run of mid-major dominance that began in 2013. After posting 10-4 and 13-1 records the past two seasons, the Herd are off to a 5-1 start and are averaging over 30 points per game, including nearly 35 per game during their current four game winning streak. However, after averaging over six yards per play against Purdue in their season opener, the Herd have been held below five yards per play in each of their next four FBS games. For comparison, the Herd were held below five yards per play three teams between 2013 and 2014 (28 games). Marshall is far from the offensive juggernaut they were when Rakeem Cato was under center. The general public is not wise to that yet though. Take the Owls to keep this one close.

Ole Miss -10.5 Memphis
I'm always a little nervous taking double-digit favorites, but I think the fact that Memphis is undefeated has artificially deflated this line. The Tigers certainly have a strong offense, but against the competent offenses they have faced, their defense has been torched. Both Bowling Green and Cincinnati averaged over seven yards per play and scored over 40 points against the Tigers. Barring a barrage of turnovers, Ole Miss should score at least 40 in this game. So we know Ole Miss is likely to score a lot, but how have they done in the role of a large favorite under Hugh Freeze? As a double-digit favorite away from Oxford, the Rebels are a perfect 3-0 against the number. In total, against non-Power Five opponents, the Rebels are 8-0-1 against the number under Freeze. Their only non-cover came as a three touchdown favorite against these same Tigers last season. Memphis is a good team, and probably deserves to be ranked, but Ole Miss should handle them by two touchdowns.

Colorado State +3.5 Air Force
Colorado State fans are probably a tad disappointed based on the early returns of the Mike Bobo era, at least compared to the heights the Rams reached last season. Although the Rams are 2-4 and 0-2 in the Mountain West, their losses have come to a pair of Power Five teams (Minnesota and Colorado) and the two best teams in the Mountain West (Boise State and Utah State). After playing the Falcons, the rest of the conference is basically junk, so a bowl game is still in play. In fact, the schedule is probably why Air Force is favored in this game. While the Rams opened conference play with the two best teams in the league, Air Force is 2-0 in the league, but has beaten perhaps the worst team in the conference (Wyoming) and a middle of the road team (San Jose State), with both games coming at home. This line should be closer to a pick em', so when Vegas is giving you a field goal, the underdog is the play.

Oklahoma -4 Kansas State
I know I wrote just two short weeks ago that you would be a very rich man if you had simply bet on Kansas State in each game (against FBS teams) since Bill Snyder started his second tenure in 2009. His record against the number now stands at an amazing 47-21-1! So, its only natural I'm taking Oklahoma right? As you may have heard, just when it seemed like you could trust this Oklahoma team, they went out and lost as a double-digit favorite to Texas. Ah, but that was a rivalry game and the 'Horns likely had extra motivation playing for their embattled head coach. How has Oklahoma performed coming off a loss as a double-digit favorite over the past few seasons? Well, the Sooners have lost six times as a double-digit favorite since 2011. One of those losses came in their regular season finale. In the five other instances, the Sooners won each of their followup games by an average margin of over 22 points. Couple that with the fact that Kansas State lost a heartbreaker last week, and to be a little vulgar, likely blew their proverbial load in a near upset of TCU. With this number under a touchdown, the Sooners are the play here.

Penn State +17 Ohio State
Despite an underwhelming performance thus far, Ohio State has managed to hang on to the top spot in the AP Poll. The Buckeyes are still undefeated, which is pretty important, but degenerates across the nation who have backed the Buckeyes have been cursing their performance as they have failed to cover as large favorites in each of their last five games. It would seem Ohio State is due to let loose and crush some teams in the near future. However, one need only look back one year to Florida State to see that may not be the case. The Seminoles were the defending national champion and returned a star quarterback, yet they were consistently overvalued by the point spread. The Seminoles were 1-7 as double-digit favorites last season, managing a cover against a hapless Wake Forest team. Since opening the season allowing ten sacks to Temple, the Nittany Lions have been far from hapless. While Penn State has had a few closer than expected games (Buffalo and Army), they have won five in a row and allowed only nine sacks. Take Penn State to keep this game within two touchdowns.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Poll Position: October 11th

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With six weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll.

Ohio State (1st) - The Buckeyes continue to receive the benefit of the doubt from the pollsters despite underwhelming play on the field. For comparison's sake, they beat Maryland by roughly the same margin as Bowling Green did. The competition will stiffen a little this weekend when they host Penn State.

Michigan State (7th) - Another escape, this time against Rutgers.

Alabama (10th) - At least all the teams in front of them are undefeated. Still, it would be hard to make an objective case that Michigan State is better.

California (23rd) - Kudos to the pollsters for keeping the Bears in the rankings. Three of their wins (@Texas, @Washington, and Washington State) look a lot better this week.

Leaving the Poll:
Southern Cal - The Trojans feel a lot like the 00's version of Florida State. 'USC is baaaaaaack. For reals this time.'

Georgia - The Bulldogs still have a chance to get back to Atlanta if they can beat the Gators in Jacksonville.

Joining the Poll:
Houston (24th) - The former Ohio State offensive coordinator appears to have taken some of their mojo to the Lonestar State. Not to rub salt into an open wound, but there are three ranked teams from the state of Texas, and the Longhorns are not one of them.

Duke (25th) - No argument here. Duke does not have any great wins (Georgia Tech? Boston College?), but their only loss is to Northwestern.

Around the Mid-Major Universe:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. Boise State moved up four spots to 21st. The Broncos may end up kicking themselves for losing to BYU as they seem destined to run the table in the Mountain West. Toledo moved up two spots to 22nd. This is their highest poll position since 1997. As mentioned earlier, Houston is back in the poll for the first time since 2011. The American Athletic Conference has two other teams just outside the poll with Temple and Memphis ranking 26th and 27th respectively. Memphis will likely have to wait before returning to the poll as they face Ole Miss this weekend. Temple, on the other hand, hosts a suddenly atrocious UCF, so they should enter the rankings next week. The only other mid-majors to receive any votes are BYU (32nd), Western Kentucky (33rd), and Navy (37th). If BYU can beat Cincinnati this week, their schedule is very manageable the rest of the way. Western Kentucky has a functional bye against North Texas before traveling to Death Valley to take on LSU. If they put up a fight against the Tigers and win the rest of their games, they could be ranked for the first time in school history by bowl season. Despite their loss to Notre Dame, Navy is still in fine shape in their maiden voyage in the American. While they did not receive any votes this week, keep an eye on Louisiana Tech. They travel to Starkville to face Mississippi State this week. A win there (not as far-fetched as it may seem) could catapult them into the polls.

The race for the New Year's Six bid from the Group of Five could be quite interesting. A a one-loss Boise State team (in a weak Mountain West), a potentially undefeated Toledo team, and an American champion that could have one loss would provide plenty of debate fodder for the talking heads at ESPN.

Ranked Matchups This Week:
UCLA (18th) @ Stanford (15th): Take a 5-Hour Energy so you can stay up on Thursday night to watch. Stanford appears to have a much larger margin for error in the Pac-12 North with every other team already owning a conference loss. Meanwhile, a loss by UCLA would mean the Bruins likely need to run the table to get to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Iowa (17th) @ Northwestern (20th): Another likely Big 10 defensive struggle. A win would get Iowa to 7-0 and leave road game at Indiana and Nebraska as the major stumbling blocks to an unbeaten regular season.

Alabama (10th) @ Texas A&M (9th): The Game of the Century of the Weekend. Be prepared to hear Vern Lundquist mess up some play-by-play and Gary Danielson complain about the spread and sound like a know-it-all douche.

Michigan State (7th) @ Michigan (12th): This game kinda feels like a blowout doesn't it?

Florida (8th) @ LSU (6th): Another big game in the SEC. Can the Gators continue their improbable run to the SEC East title, or do the Tigers lend Georgia a hand? Oh, and keep their own national title hopes alive.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

Well, we had another losing week, but at 3-4 we averted total disaster, and the year to date winning percentage still stands at a robust 60%. Hopefully, we can keep up the good work as conference play begins in earnest. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 21-14

Virginia +10 Pittsburgh
On the surface this pick looks a little nuts right? Virginia's last game was a nightmarish home beatdown at the hands of Boise State in front of a national audience (of losers who had nothing better to do than watch a football game on Friday night). Meanwhile, Pitt opened ACC play with a road upset of Virginia Tech, wherein they held the Hokies to 100 yards of total offense and under two yards per play. Why would anyone in their right might take Virginia in this game? For starters, the Cavs are probably not as bad as they appeared against Boise State. They committed five turnovers in that game, giving them nine on the season. In addition, the Cavs have played a tough schedule thus far, travelling to UCLA and nearly upsetting Notre Dame at home. They have also yet to force a turnover this season. While turnovers do involve a modicum of skill, they are also highly random and dependent on luck. One would think the Cavs will force a few extra turnovers over the last two-thirds of the season. Finally, Pitt is probably a little overvalued after their road upset against a Virginia Tech team that may struggle to qualify for a bowl. And lest we forget, this Pitt team is not an offensive juggernaut. The Panthers have failed to exceed 24 point against any FBS team this season. This game will likely play out like most 12:30 ACC games. Borderline unwatchable, but close.

Miami (Ohio) +17 Ohio
Miami of Ohio is playing their fourth road game in five weeks as they travel to Athens, but that is the only trend I would be concerned about in this game. While the Radhawks have just a single win on the season, they have been competitive against both Cincinnati and Kent State in recent weeks, losing both games by a combined ten points. Now, Miami has been eviscerated twice as well, but those teams featured either a humongous offensive line with a punishing running game (Wisconsin) or a high-wattage passing attack (Western Kentucky). Ohio is a solid team, but they do not boast the beef of Wisconsin or the aerial potential of Western Kentucky. I would be very surprised if Ohio lost this game, but they are just 3-5 against the number as a double-digit home favorite since 2012 while Miami is 6-2 against the spread as a double-digit road underdog under Chuck Martin. Take Miami to keep this one within about two touchdowns.

Boston College -7.5 Wake Forest
Chalk this low number up to recency bias. Most causal observers probably see that in their last game, Wake Forest stood toe to toe with the defending ACC Champions. While the Deacons did lose by just eight points, the Seminoles significantly outgained Wake Forest on a per play basis, averaging nearly two additional yards per play (6.3 to 4.5). Let's also not forget the fact that Florida State has been putrid against the number a double-digit favorite since the start of last season, going 2-9 versus the spread (and 0-3 on the road). The trends, the homefield, and an early injury to Dalvin Cook combined to make the Deacons look good in the eyes of degenerates. Now the Deacons leave the friendly confines of BB&T Field to take on a Boston College team fielding one of the best defenses in the nation. No opponent has yet to average four yards per play against the stalwart Eagles defense. While Wake Forest is certainly improved over last season's ghastly offense, asking them to score multiple touchdowns in this game is probably too tall a task. The Deacons are just 2-5 against the number as road underdogs under Dave Clawson and the Eagles are 4-2 against the number as home favorites under Steve Addazio. The Eagles should win this one by double-digits.

Syracuse +4 South Florida
This line really surprises me. I figured Syracuse, even with their injury issues, would be a small favorite down in Tampa. South Florida is better than they have been the past few seasons (of course, with the debacle that was 2013, that is not saying much), and they are a pretty good play when catching points, but expecting them to win a game by more than a field goal does not seem prudent. South Florida has not been in the position of home favorite very often under Willie Taggart. In fact, it was happened just twice against FBS teams. The Bulls are 1-1 straight up and against the number in those games, so its hard to gleam a lot from a two-game sample. This is the first road game for the Orange, so that is cause for some concern, but South Florida has a very rudimentary offense that struggles when they are forced to throw (just 5.3 yards per pass against FBS foes). Take the Orange to cover and win outright here.

Wisconsin +1.5 Nebraska
While this is just the second conference game for both schools, it amounts to a must-win if either has designs on the Big Ten Leaders Legends West Division. In fact, Nebraska could be in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2007 and just the third time since 1968 with a loss here. Both schools are operating under first year head coaches with mediocre career winning percentages at their prior stops. While both schools have multiple losses thus far in 2015, Wisconsin at least has the excuse that their defeats have come to teams with a combined 9-1 record (Alabama and Iowa). Nebraska has no terrible losses on their ledger, but their loss to Illinois last week had to be frustrating considering they had beaten the Illini by 20 and 31 points in their first two meetings as conference foes. Nebraska may be the more desperate team, but Wisconsin is the better team. Take the Badgers to leave Lincoln with an outright win.

Minnesota -2.5 Purdue
Like the low number in the Wake Forest/Boston College game, this line is likely a product of recency bias. In their last game, Minnesota was blown out by a quality (and potentially elite) Northwestern team, while Purdue lost by just a field goal on the road to the team currently ranked fourth in the nation. I'm not sure what else Michigan State has to do this season to prove they are not an elite team (perhaps losing at Rutgers this weekend?), but they certainly do not appear to be one. Despite posting very few wins in Darrell Hazell's two-plus seasons in West Lafayette (just five thus far), the Boilermakers have been decent as double-digit underdogs (8-7 against the number) as they were last weekend. However, against more narrow spreads, the Boilermakers have had a much more difficult time holding down the margin of defeat (1-5 against the number). With a number this low, you have to have decent faith in Purdue winning this game. I don't. Take the Gophers to win by at least a field goal.

Ball State +10.5 Northern Illinois
Has Northern Illinois lost their stranglehold on the MAC West? Last week, the Huskies dropped their MAC opener against Central Michigan (their third consecutive loss), and failed to score at least 20 points against a conference foe for the first time since...last year's game against Central Michigan. The Huskies were also held below four yards per play by a MAC opponent for the first time since 2007! Quarterback Drew Hare has been absolutely atrocious the past three games (granted two were against Ohio State and Boston College), completing just 44% of his passes while averaging 3.2 yards per throw with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. His stat line won't likely be that bad against a permissive Ball State defense. However, Northern Illinois is just 1-5 against the number under Rod Carey as a double-digit home favorite while Ball State is 9-3 against the number as a double-digit road underdog under Pete Lembo and 8-2 as a MAC road underdog of any kind. Look for Ball State to keep this one close.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Poll Position: October 4th

With the introduction of the College Football Playoff last season, polls are a superfluous endeavor. However, they still give us a rough approximation of the general consensus of teams. With five weeks of the college football season in the books (frowny face), and with the internet being invented so that random people can bitch about trivial things they have no control over, here are my thoughts on the latest AP Poll. If you find this piece enjoyable, keep in mind I plan on making this a regular feature for the rest of the season.

Ohio State (1st) - The 'consensus' number one team in the country. If you only look at this season, its hard to make an argument for Ohio State as the top team in the nation, much less a prohibitive top team (the Buckeyes currently have 38 of 61 first place votes). A road win against Indiana is the highlight of their resume now.

TCU (2nd) - I know they blew out Texas, but they needed a deflected fourth down pass to beat Texas Tech and SMU was within five points of them in the fourth quarter (in Fort Worth!). The offense is elite, but their defensive issues will keep them put of the playoff.

Michigan State (4th) - That three-point win over Oregon has lost some of its shine and the Spartans needed a late stop to escape Purdue at home. Let that prepositional phrase sink in for a moment: To escape Purdue at home.

LSU (7th) - Put down your pitchforks. Yes, the Tigers have the best running back since Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson, but who exactly have they beaten? I'll give you a minute. Winning in Starkville is nothing to dismiss, but let's not start carving Fournett's name into the Heisman yet. 

Utah (5th) - Are they really the best team in the Pac-12? Probably not, but their resume is pretty sparkling. The Michigan win looks much better than it did a month ago, Utah State is a solid mid-major, and they gave last season's runner-up an existential crisis thanks to the severity of their beating. Probably have the best resume in the country at this point.

Oklahoma (10th) - Once bitten, twice shy? After starting the 2014 season in the top five and subsequently crashing and burning, pollsters have been reluctant to move the Sooners up despite some impressive wins. The Tennessee win is not as valuable as it looked two weeks ago, but beating West Virginia at home by three scores is something a vintage Bob Stoops' team would do.

Northwestern (13th) - I know it was Minnesota, but Northwestern may have one of the best defenses in the country. The Wildcats held Stanford to six points in their season opener, and since then, the Cardinal have averaged over 42 points per game. Incidentally, I fully expect if Northwestern loses a tight game at Michigan next week that Stanford will be ranked at least ten spots ahead of them.

Notre Dame (15th) - It feels weird including Notre Dame here, but the Irish lost a road game against a top ten team by two points. If you dig into the box score of that game, you will see that the Irish averaged nearly two more yards per play than the Tigers. 

Leaving the Poll:
Wisconsin - Paul Chryst has made it his mission to drag every team he coaches to 6-6. All kidding aside, Saturday marked the first time Wisconsin has been held below ten points at home since 2008.

West Virginia - No shame in losing in Norman, particularly when you have five turnovers. Not sure if I believe in them as much as some advanced stats, but seeing them back in the poll at some point this season wouldn't shock me.

Mississippi State - Troy, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky, and @Missouri are their next four, so they could be back soon.

Joining the Poll:
Iowa (22nd) - Kirk Ferentz appears to have navigated the Hawkeyes out of the jungle of mediocrity. Don't worry, they'll be back soon though.

Toledo (24th) - 'Bout damn time. All they have done is beat two Power 5 schools, blowout a perennial Sun Belt bowl team, and win their conference opener on the road. Its way too early to start talking about an undefeated season, but keep it in the back of your mind. With Kent State, Eastern Michigan, and @Massachusetts their next three, the Rockets have a chance to reach or exceed the highest ranking in school history.

Boise State (25th) - The Broncos return after a brief hiatus. The competition has not been the best, but the Broncos have outscored their last three opponents 163-14. The Mountain West is not as strong as it usually is (every other team has at least two losses already and eight have three) so seeing the Broncos run the table would not be surprising. 

The American Athletic Conference currently has four, count em' four, undefeated teams. That is tied for the most of any conference (Big 10 and Big 12). Guess how many are ranked? Houston, Memphis, Navy, and Temple are all unbeaten with wins against Air Force, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Louisville, and Penn State to name a few. What does it take for them to get some dap from the pollsters?

Elsewhere in Mid-Majordom:
I am an admitted mid-major apologist, so I always enjoy it when some non-traditional powers find their way into the poll. Outside of Boise, Toledo, and the quartet of American teams, the mid-majors with the best chance to get into the poll at some point this year are Western Kentucky (currently 4-1 with a three-point loss at Indiana their only blemish), Louisiana Tech (two tight losses, but a chance to beat Mississippi State in two weeks), Marshall (more of a pipe dream as Herd have just one loss, but no marquee wins and no real opportunities to get any), Ohio (see Marshall comment), BYU (two losses, but the schedule eases up significantly), and Georgia Southern (just one loss, but no Sun Belt team has ever graced the polls).

Ranked Matchups This Week:
Northwestern (13th) @ Michigan (18th): The early over/under point total for this game could be six and a half. Big Ten football!

Cal (23rd) @ Utah (5th): Who predicted this would be the biggest Pac-12 game on the second weekend of October?