Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week V

Once again, we failed to post a winning record against Vegas. But once again, we did improve. Let's try to post our first winning week in a month. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 12-14-2

Virginia +3.5 Duke
Virginia bagged their first win under Bronco Mendenhall last week when they won as a home underdog against Central Michigan. The Cavaliers jumped out to a 28-0 lead, only to see the Chippewas (as has often been the case for trailing teams in 2016) storm all the way back to tie the score. The Cavs were resilient though, outscoring Central Michigan 21-7 after the game was tied. The Cavaliers now travel to Durham to take on a Duke team that has beaten them four consecutive times at home. The Blue Devils moved to 2-2 last week after upsetting Notre Dame. The victory by the Blue Devils caused the Irish to shake up their staff. The win against the Irish marked the first time Duke scored more than 14 points or averaged more than five yards per play against an FBS opponent. Duke is a little overvalued after that win as Notre Dame is not as good as many anticipated in the preseason. Bronco Mendenhall is 9-4 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog since 2012 and Duke has not covered in their last five games as a home favorite with four outright losses. Look for Virginia to keep this one close and potentially win outright.

Eastern Michigan +3 Bowling Green
Don't look now, but Eastern Michigan is 3-1 and halfway to bowl eligibility. Personally, based on the bet I made on them in July, I hope they do a little better than six wins. Still, for a team with just a single bowl appearance in their history, this could could be a special season even if it does not involve a MAC title. Outside of their game with a suddenly potent Missouri, Eastern Michigan has been unusually competent on defense, allowing under five yards per play to both Charlotte and Wyoming. The Eagles open MAC play with a visit to the defending MAC champs who have fallen on hard times. First year coach Mike Jinks has done his best to run the team into the ground. Jinks came from Texas Tech and has apparently brought the 'no-defense' policy with him to Ohio. The Falcons have already allowed 77 points twice this season and are a made two-point conversion by North Dakota from being 0-4. The offense has struggled as well without Dino Babers, failing to score more than 27 points in any game after averaging 42 points per game last year. Bowling Green is favored in this game on reputation only. Look for the Eagles to win their fourth game of the year and generate some real excitement in Ypsilanti.

Kansas State +3 West Virginia
Since returning to Manhattan prior to the 2009 season, Bill Snyder has kept the Kansas State program relevant on the national level. And under his leadership, the Wildcats have done particularly well as a road underdog. As a road underdog, the Wildcats are 16-7 ATS with eight outright wins. After opening with a competitive road loss to Stanford, the Wildcats have slipped under the radar, handily beating a bad FBS team (Florida Atlantic) and an FCS team by a combined 91 points. West Virginia has beaten Missouri (a win that will probably look better at the end of the year), an FCS school, and BYU (on a neutral field). The most recent win against BYU was not decided until the final minute with the Mountaineers intercepting the Cougars to preserve the win. West Virginia has been a little suspect on defense in the early going, generating just two sacks and allowing their three opponents (including the aforementioned FCS team) to average over five yards per carry. That should play right into the hands of Kansas State who love to keep the ball on the ground and use a lot of clock, limiting the possessions and enabling them to pull off upsets. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia is 0-5 straight up and ATS as a home favorite of a touchdown or less. Plus Kansas State has won each of the four meetings as conference mates despite being an underdog three times. Look for that trend to continue as West Virginia suffers their first defeat.

Navy +7.5 Air Force
The Midshipmen have flown (or sailed?) under the radar early in the season, opening 3-0 after winning eleven games and finishing in the top-20 of the final polls last year. The Midshipmen have also banked two wins in the American Athletic Conference and are set to host league favorite Houston next week. But first comes the preliminary leg of the Commander in Chief round robin. With Army's 3-1 start, all three service academies could qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2010. Air Force has also opened 3-0, with their most recent victory coming in somewhat controversial fashion at Utah State. Navy has had a week to prepare for the unique option offense of Air Force, and the Midshipmen have the good fortune of running a similar offense and have already faced Tulane this season (another option offense). I like the Midshipmen to keep this game close and that extra half a point could prove to be the difference.

Northern Illinois +4 Ball State
The Hukies, the six-time defending MAC West champs have started 0-4. How big of a deal is this? Consider that head coach Rod Carey did not lose his fourth game as head coach at Northern Illinois until his 20th game! Overall, the Huskies are riding a seven game losing streak as they lost the final three games of 2015. Last week's loss was probably the most devastating as the Huskies fell to Western Illinois. This marked their first loss to an FCS team since 2007. That team ended up bottoming out at 2-10 and made a coaching change. While that could happen to this incarnation of the Huskies, I am more optimistic. For starters, two of their losses have come to strong mid-majors in South Florida and San Diego State. Their other loss came at the high elevation of Wyoming. Their opponent in the MAC opener is Ball State, a team that has already matched their win total from 2015. While the Cardinals have three wins banked, their three victims (Georgia State, Eastern Kentucky, and Florida Atlantic) have combined for zero wins against FBS opponents. Northern Illinois has won the last seven in this series and despite their early season struggles, I think they will make it eight in a row on Saturday.

Idaho +13.5 Troy
Continuing in the grand tradition of Watson Brown, Mark Stoops, and Mike Stoops, Paul Petrino has not quite had the same distinguished coaching career of his brother. While he has yet to be caught with his pants down, the lesser Petrino has compiled just an 8-31 mark as head coach of Idaho. His Vandals are 2-2 on the young season however after upsetting UNLV last week. Perusing through the box score, it is hard to understand how exactly the Vandals won that game. UNLV outgained the Vandals by over 150 yards and averaged nearly two more yards per play. However, Idaho had an interception return for a touchdown, held UNLV to a field goal when they were inside the ten-yard line, and stopped UNLV on an earlier fourth down attempt in their territory. Suffice it to say the Vandals were lucky to emerge victorious. Now they return home for the first time in a month to take on what may end of being the best team in the Sun Belt. After starting 1-5 under Neal Brown last season, the Trojans have won six of their last ten with the lone defeat this season coming on the road at Clemson. Despite those superlatives, I think the Trojans are in prime position for a letdown here. For starters, their 52-6 win against New Mexico State was aided by a +5 turnover margin last week. Secondly, while the Trojans did upset Southern Miss the week before, they were outgained by over 100 yards and averaged a year fewer per play than the Golden Eagles. Troy is a little overvalued after their close game against Clemson and their two big wins the last two weeks. They should beat Idaho, but the Vandals will put up a fight.

Marshall +16 Pittsburgh
Back in the summer, I pegged Marshall as a contender in Conference USA, putting a few dollars on them to win the league. After beating up on an FCS patsy, the next two weeks did not go according to plan as they were outscored by 58 points in their next two home games. One of those losses was to Louisville (excusable), but the other was to Akron (not so much). To be fair, the Thundering Herd did allow three non-offensive touchdowns to the Zips, so their defense was not quite as bad as the 65 points they allowed to the might lead you to believe (but still not good). Now the Herd head across the border to take on Pittsburgh. While Pitt and West Virginia used to engage in the Backyard Brawl, Pitt and Marshall have never faced each other. Pittsburgh also comes into this game losers of two straight. Pat Narduzzi has to be frustrated with the way his defense has played as the Panthers have allowed more than 40 points per game to FBS foes, giving this game great back-door cover potential. Also, consider that while Marshall is just 1-5 straight up against Power 5/BCS conference opponents on the road under Doc Holliday, they are 4-2 ATS. This will be a high-scoring affair where Pitt wins, but Marshall covers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

Week III has another week to forget. As least we improved on Week II though. Little victories. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 9-10-2

Purdue -4 Nevada
Two decades from now, perhaps the most remembered aspect of the Darrell Hazell era will be the fact that two of his former quarterbacks started for ranked SEC teams. Barring a miracle, Hazell is on his way out sometime soon, but in the meantime, he is still receiving a paycheck and you can still place bets on his team. Despite the ineptitude that has hovered around the Purdue program for the duration of his tenure, the Boilermakers have showed some spunk this season. Against Eastern Kentucky (FCS) and Cincinnati, Purdue has averaged over six yards per. However, they lost to the Bearcats thanks to five interceptions courtesy of quarterback David Blough. If Blough can avoid excessive turnovers against the Wolfpack, the offense can put some points on the board. If nothing else, Blough should be well-protected as he is yet to be sacked in 100 pass attempts through two games and the Wolfpack have yet to secure a sack through three games. After Saturday, Purdue may not win another game all season, but they should beat Nevada by at least a touchdown.

Wake Forest +7.5 Indiana
I usually don't handicap my alma mater's games on this blog. My emotional attachment to the Deacons can prevent me from making a rational selection. That being said, I think they are a great play here. Against an admittedly light schedule, the Deacons are 3-0 for the first time since 2008. Bonus nugget of information: The Deacons beat Robert Griffin in his first college game to open the 2008 season. The offense, opener notwithstanding, while not great by any stretch, appears to be the best of the Dave Clawson era. However, the defense has been the real strength of the team in allowing less than five yards per play in each of the first three games. The Deacons will face a fellow undefeated team in the Indiana Hoosiers. After qualifying for their first bowl in nearly a decade last season, Indiana has quietly beaten a pair of mid-majors in their first two games. Like Wake Forest, the competition has been less than stellar in the early going, but for a program starved for success and barring realignment, one that shares a division with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State (not to mention Penn State), wins will taken where they can be had. Indiana probably needs this game more than Wake for their bowl hopes and therefore could be hungrier. Still, this game was a one-possession affair last season when Wake has not as good. Despite the road venue, I think the Deacons will keep this one close and potentially leave with an outright win.

Florida +6.5 Tennessee
Can the Vols finally break through? Can they combat more than a decade of losing to the Florida Gators? The last time Tennessee defeated the Gators, the esteemed Ron Zook was coaching the team, Nick Saban was at LSU, and an SEC team was about to go undefeated and be shut out of the national title game. My, how times have changed. The Gators will certainly be at a disadvantage under center (or in shotgun) in this game after quarterback Luke Del Rio suffered an injury against North Texas. The good news for the Gators is that while his replacement is limited in his ability, he is experienced, having thrown nearly 500 career passes while suiting up for the Purdue Boilermakers. Still, can he be any worse than luminaries like Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, or John Brantley who have already beaten the Vols? Probably not. That being said, the Gators will rely on their defense to win this game. While the competition has not been stiff, the Gators are allowing under three yards per play in the early going. In addition, consider that besides scoring just seven points and averaging just over three yards per play against the Gators, Kentucky has put 97 points on the board and averaged over eight yards per play in their other two contests. Their defense may not be among the best of all time, but it is good enough to stay close to (and even beat) a flawed Vols team. The Tennessee offense behind quarterback Josh Dobbs is averaging just a touch over five yards per play. Despite being a darkhorse preseason Heisman candidate, Dobbs has never averaged more than 6.8 yards per pass in a full season and is averaging the fewest yards per throw (6.5) since his freshman season (5.7). Beleaguered offensive coordinator Mike DeBord deserves some of the blame, but Dobbs has failed to take the proverbial next step to give Tennessee a dynamic offense. Keep an eye on Tennessee's fumble luck in this game, as the Vols have recovered an unsustainable 15 of 18 fumbles in their first three games. If a few of those balls had bounced a different way, Tennessee could have lost one or perhaps even two of their first three games. Tennessee has been awful as a home favorite under Butch Jones as they have gone just 4-10 Against the Spread (ATS) with four outright losses. This will be a tight game and Florida may well make it an even dozen against the Vols.

Kentucky -2 South Carolina
One of the signs of being an adult is being able to admit when you were wrong. And making predictions on this blog gives my a lot of chances to do that. Last week, I was dead wrong about the Gamecocks (yet still managed to get the game right). I figured they would be able to move the ball at will against East Carolina. And while the Gamecocks did score 20 points for the first time under Will Muschamp, the team was very fortunate to emerge victorious against the Pirates. Outside of their first two drives, the offense sputtered against the Pirates (just 219 yards and 4.8 yards per play after the first two touchdown drives). Meanwhile, East Carolina spent most of the final three quarters of the game in South Carolina territory, yet only managed to find the end zone once. This victory reminded me a lot of South Carolina's opening victory last season where North Carolina moved the ball seemingly at will against South Carolina while falling on their own swords once they got near the end zone. No one took that victory away from South Carolina, just as no one will remove this victory against East Carolina, but relying on red zone turnovers is a precarious defensive strategy. After their escape against North Carolina, the red zone turnovers disappeared the next week and Kentucky was able to win in Columbia. The Wildcats will look to make it three in a row against the Gamecocks while breaking a six-game SEC losing streak. Kentucky is not a good team and will certainly miss the postseason for the sixth consecutive year once all is said and done. However, I think they are set up nicely to beat the Gamecocks by at least a field goal at home. Oh, and if South Carolina can't score 30 against Kentucky, they may never hit that number in the Will Muschamp era.

UTEP +10.5 Southern Miss
Speaking of times when I was wrong, I also whiffed on UTEP last week. I figured the Miners would be competitive against Army as a small underdog and potentially win the game outright. Instead, the Miners allowed 66 points to the Black Knights! That marked the first time Army had eclipsed 60 points since 2006 in a game against VMI. So naturally, UTEP is the play this week. Army absolutely gashed the Miners in rushing for over 400 yards and averaging over 20 yards per pass on just eight attempts. However, Army runs an option offense, and presents a unique challenge. UTEP does not have a good defense by any means, but they should match up better against Southern Miss than they did against Army. UTEP has covered in their last four games as a double-digit home underdog and you may not have noticed, but Southern Miss dropped a home game last week to Troy. I like UTEP to bounce back and keep this one close.

Arkansas +6.5 Texas A&M @ Arlington
These former Southwest Conference rivals will have played in eight consecutive seasons once this game concludes early Sunday morning. Arkansas won the first three games of the renewed rivalry when the Aggies were still members of the Big 12, but Texas A&M has won each of the four meetings when both were SEC teams. After dismantling a John L. Smith coached team in 2012, the Aggies have won the last three by smaller margins and have not covered in any of the three. Arkansas is 9-4-1 ATS as a road or neutral field underdog under Bret Bielema, including a 9-1-1 run since failing to cover in his first three games in the role as coach of the Hogs. I expect another close battle in Arlington and I wouldn't be surprised with an outright Arkansas win.

Utah State +3.5 Air Force
Utah State is in rarefied air at least relative to their school history. If they can manage six wins in the regular season, they will be bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive year. While they will probably not reach the heights of 2012 anytime soon, this is quite an accomplishment for a team that won just 17 games between 2005 and 2010. Air Force has also enjoyed a great run of success. After a horrible 2013 reset, the Falcons have won 18 games over the past two seasons and if they can get to six wins, they will have been bowl eligible in nine of Troy Calhoun's ten seasons on the sideline. The marks the first real test and first road game for Air Force as they opened against an FCS school and Georgia State. Utah State is already battle-tested, having played at USC and are usually strong at home, posting a 17-3 record under head coach Matt Wells. This line should be closer to a pick 'em, so take the points and Utah State.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week III

Well, as good as Week I was, Week II was nearly as bad. 1-5-1 is not going to get it done. We will try to get back on track this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 1-5-1
Overall: 7-5-2

Kansas +20 Memphis
Well, I erroneously jumped on that Kansas football bandwagon. After looking good against a bad FCS team in their opener, Kansas was back to being Kansas in their second game. Ohio, granted a typically above-average MAC team, beat them by double digits at home. Now the Jayhawks go on the road against another mid-major that has enjoyed great success the past two seasons. So why on earth would they be a good play here? For starters, what do we know about Memphis that would make them a nearly three touchdown favorite against any FBS team? The Tigers, despite their 19-7 record the past two seasons are transitioning in 2016. Their head coach is now at Virginia Tech. His replacement certainly has bona fides, performing admirably as Arizona State's offensive coordinator the past four seasons. However, he is one game deep into his head coaching career. Secondly, the Tigers are without their most famous, and perhaps most important player from last season, quarterback Paxton Lynch. Thirdly, Kansas was hampered by turnovers in their loss to Ohio, a highly variable statistic. I don't think Kansas has what it takes to win this game, but this spread is probably about a touchdown too high.

Ohio +27.5 Tennessee
This is a dreaded 'sandwich' game for Tennessee. Last week, the Vols played in the highest attended game in college football history. Next week, they will attempt to end an eleven-game losing streak to the Florida Gators. In between, they host a MAC team in the early kickoff window. Despite dominating Virginia Tech on the scoreboard last week, a closer look at the box score reveals the Vols still have some areas of concern. For starters, Josh Dobbs threw for less than 100 yards. This is partly a function of a low volume of passes (19), but Dobbs still averaged under five yards per pass attempt. Dobbs did contribute over 100 yards on the ground, but against the better teams on the schedule, Dobbs will likely need to make some plays with his arm if the Vols are to win. Secondly, the Vols benefited from five Virginia Tech fumbles contributing to the somewhat misleading final score. The Vols allowed Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans to complete more than 70% of his passes and allowed running back Travon McMillian to run for over 100 yards on just 14 carries. The NCAA won't take the win away, but the defense will probably not force five turnovers per game either. Finally, Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord received some criticism in the offseason for his conservative play-calling in a few defeats last year. I looked into that a little more and found that in the last three years and two games that DeBord has been a college offensive coordinator, his teams have been favored by 20 points or more at home nine times against FBS competition. His teams have won each of those games, most of them comfortably, but have only covered the spread twice. Look for more of the same on Saturday.

Northern Illinois +11 San Diego State
Northern Illinois has never been a home underdog under head coach Rod Carey and this marks just their sixth turn in the role in the last decade. If you are curious, the Huskies are 5-0 Against the Spread (ATS) in that role with three outright upsets. Of course, this is not a 'normal' season for the six-time defending MAC West champs. The Huskies are 0-2 for the first time since 2008 (their first season under Jerry Kill) after travelling across the United States in their first two games from Laramie, Wyoming, to Tampa, Florida before finally returning to DeKalb, Illinois for their home opener. The defense has been suspect in the early going, allowing over six and half combined yards per play and 88 points to Wyoming and South Florida. Granted, 13 of those point came in some overtime frames against the Cowboys, but the Huskies have seen their points allowed per game increase each season since their historic Orange Bowl appearance. That being said, I think the Huskies are a great play here. San Diego State is coming off an emotional home win against a Power 5 school that embarrassed them in 2015. Now they must travel halfway across the country to face a hungry team playing their first home game. San Diego State has played five games in the Central or Eastern time zones under Rocky Long (not counting bowl games) and they are just 1-4 straight up and ATS in those games. San Diego State will be in for a fight and this game will be very close.

South Carolina -3.5 East Carolina
It's early, but Will Muschamp's South Carolina teams are playing a lot like his Florida least on one side of the ball. The Gamecocks have scored three offensive touchdowns and averaged just over four yards per play through two conference games. By comparison, in his 32 SEC games at Florida, his teams averaged 2.4 offensive touchdowns per game and between 4.67 and 5.11 yards per play each season. However, it should be noted, the Gamecocks have yet to play a home game and have played perhaps one of the SEC's better defenses (Vanderbilt) and in one of its more hostile environments (Starkville) so maybe the offense is not quite as bad as the numbers would indicate. The Gamecocks will host an East Carolina team fresh off an upset of NC State, but also one that may allow the Gamecocks to kick start their offense. Despite beating NC State 33-30, the Pirates allowed nearly eight yards per play to the Wolfpack while permitting over 200 yards both on the ground and through the air. The final score of that game, and that fact that East Carolina has won six straight against ACC foes has the Pirates a little overvalued here. The Gamecocks won't blow the Pirates out, but should win by at least a touchdown and score more than 20 points against an FBS foe for the first time under Muschamp.

UTEP +4 Army
After winning just six games in the first two seasons of the Jeff Monken era (just four against FBS competition), Army already owns a pair of wins early in the 2016 season. The Black Knights upset Temple as a huge underdog and made sure than win counted by avoiding a letdown against Rice the next week as a prohibitive favorite themselves. Could Army do the nearly impossible and win more than six regular season games for the first time since 1996? I can see it now. When the DVD for this historic Army season comes out, it will be entitled something like The Black Knight Rises. Ah, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. Army has a tricky road trip ahead this weekend. Prior to upsetting Temple in their opener, Army had won just a single true road game since 2011! If Marty Robbins is to be believed, El Paso is in west Texas, which is more than a stones throw away from West Point and the Miners have been pretty tough at home. If we discount Sean Kugler's Year Zero in 2013, the Miners are 8-4 straight up at home and 4-1 ATS as a home underdog with three outright wins. Keep an eye on UTEP running back Aaron Jones. Mr. Jones already has nearly 400 yards on the ground and is averaging over seven and a half yards per carry. I think he will have a big night against the United States Military Academy and lead the Miners to an outright win.

Oklahoma +2 Ohio State
If this spread holds until kickoff, it will mark the first time Oklahoma has been a home underdog since 2000! In the game of the new century, number three Oklahoma upset number one Nebraska on the way to the national title. I think Oklahoma could pull a similar trick here. Despite their loss to Houston, Oklahoma outgained the Cougars by nearly a yard and a half per play. The Sooners continually forced Houston and Greg Ward Jr. into third and long. yet gave up conversion after conversion (some via penalty). Overall, Houston converted nine third downs in the game, and an incredible seven were conversions of nine yards or more! Now, Ward and the Cougars deserved full credit for that, but I would imagine such a phenomenal number of third and long conversions would not be sustainable. Oh, and don't forget the Cougars added a 'Kick Six', one of the more random and non-repeatable plays in football, to their scoring margin. Suffice it to say, Oklahoma is probably a better team than Houston despite their loss on the field. That's not to say beating Ohio State will be a walk in the park, but let's examine the Buckeyes for a second. Ohio State crushed Bowling Green in their opener. While Bowling Green was a strong mid-major last year, this season in their only other game, they barely escaped North Dakota at home. Not North Dakota State, but North Dakota. Now, North Dakota was in the FCS top-25, but they have gone just 12-11 the past two seasons. In their second game, the Buckeyes again dominated a mid-major foe, but they managed under six yards per play against Tulsa and fourteen of their 48 points came via interception returns. This is Ohio State's first road game, Oklahoma has their backs to the wall, and the Sooners don't even have to win for you to cash this ticket.

Texas State +31 Arkansas
The Hogs, coupled with Central Michigan (with an assist from the officials) and Houston the week before, dealt the Big 12's playoff hopes a serious blow last weekend. The top three teams in the conference based on preseason consensus all have a loss now. In fact, only Baylor, Texas, and West Virginia remain unbeaten through two weeks of the college football season. The win was an emotional one for the Hogs as they saw a two-score fourth quarter lead evaporate, rallied to tie in the closing minutes, saw a game-losing touchdown nullified, blocked a field goal to stave off a loss in regulation, and then won in double-overtime. Fresh off that huge win, I think the Hogs are a good bet to disappoint this week. They host an FBS neophyte and have Texas A&M on deck next week. I don't think the Bobcats will have their full attention. Couple that with the fact that Arkansas has been outgained on a per play basis by both Louisiana Tech and TCU, and you have an easy recipe for a huge underdog play.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

In the nearly ten years I have been posting ATS picks on this blog, I have never had a perfect week. I suppose last week was not technically perfect, but it was the equivalent of the first man reaching via an error and then retiring 27 straight batters. 6-0-1 looks pretty good, but alas, we must move on.  Let's stay perfect this week. :) As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 6-0-1
Overall: 6-0-1

Syracuse +15 Louisville
Prior to the season Louisville was a darkhorse candidate to unseat Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Their performance on opening night did not tamper enthusiasm. The Cardinals torched FBS newcomer Charlotte 70-14, with quarterback Lamar Jackson accounting for eight touchdowns on his own. Now the Cardinals will try to follow up that performance with their first conference win. While Syracuse did not set any offensive records in their opener, the Orange opened the Dino Babers era with a comfortable win against Colgate from the FCS. As a team, the Orange completed 87% of their passes against the Raiders with sophomore Eric Dungey going 34 of 40 while averaging nearly nine yards per throw. While the Orange may struggle to get to a bowl in Babers' first season, I think they are a good play here. For starters, the Orange are 6-3 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home dog since joining the ACC in 2013. Secondly, Louisville has a pretty big game on tap next week when they host the Seminoles, so the Orange may not have their undivided attention. Finally, I think the Cardinals are a shade overvalued after their throttling of Charlotte. The last time Louisville scored more than 70 points, they were huge favorites on the road against a bad Temple team in their next game. While they won comfortably, they did not cover the 32-point spread. Syracuse will keep this one within two touchdowns.

Kansas -3 Ohio
After twelve consecutive losses to open his coaching career, David Beaty finally got his first career win last week as Kansas dropped the double nickel on Rhode Island. Now, Rhode Island is an FCS team, and typically a bad one, but Kansas lost to an FCS team last year, and won by just six against their FCS foe in 2014. The 55 points the Jayhawks scored marked the most they have put on the board since their magical 2007 season. Now, I am not suggesting the Jayhawks will wind up in the Orange Bowl, but I think they are good enough to beat a MAC team at home. You may not have noticed it with all the other excitement going on around college football over Labor Day Weekend, but Ohio played one of the more entertaining games. They fell in three overtimes to Texas State, which by itself may not seem too bad. However, the Bobcats were actually favored by nearly three touchdowns, so they are probably not as good as the numbers and general prognosticators may have believed. I know the competition was weak, but this Kansas team appears to be much better than last year's incarnation. The Jayhawks should easily cover this number.

Navy -4 Connecticut
Both these American Athletic Conference schools faced FCS programs in their opener. The results were quite dissimilar. Navy dominated Fordham (no blocks of granite could be found), but Connecticut needed a last second field goal to escape Maine. I know a few years back I posted about how teams that narrowly defeat FCS foes are usually good plays the next week. However, Vegas seems to have gotten wise to this little trend in recent years. Over the past two seasons, FBS teams that have scraped by FCS teams (win by eight points or fewer) are just 12-13-1 ATS in their next game. As an underdog, those teams are 7-10-1. Unfortunately for the Huskies, scraping by, or even losing to FCS teams has become an annual tradition. The Huskies dropped their opener to Towson in 2013, followed that up with a three-point win against Stony Brook in 2014, and then squeaked by Villanova last season. If this line was more than a touchdown, I would be hesitant to back the Midshipmen, but this line implies these two teams are roughly equal on a neutral field. Navy did lose their quarterback in the opener to a season ending injury, but at Navy, the offensive system has been in place for ages. The Midshipmen won't miss much of a beat in this game, and will be able to cover this small number.

Kentucky +16.5 Florida
Southern Miss over Kentucky was a trendy upset pick heading into opening weekend. And for a while, that pick looked really dumb. Kentucky jumped out to a big lead over the Golden Eagles, but then allowed the last 34 points of the game en route to the upset loss. With a non-conference game remaining against Louisville and a cross-division game against Alabama, the road to their first bowl game under Mark Stoops looks untenable. The good news is Kentucky probably won't tease their fans with a hot start only to suffer another losing season. That being said, Kentucky did do some good things on Saturday. The Wildcats averaged over eight yards per play and seemed to find themselves a quarterback in Drew Barker. Can the Wildcats end their 29-game losing streak to Florida and win in Gainesville for the first time since 1979? While Kentucky was busy losing at home to Southern Miss, Florida continued their offensive struggles and had their hands full with Massachusetts, a team widely regarded as among the worst in college football. The Gators held the Minutemen to seven points, but were only able to put 24 points on the board themselves while averaging less than five yards per play. The last two games in this series have been decided by six points (in overtime) and five points. Couple that with the fact that Florida is 1-4 ATS as a double digit home favorite under Jim McElwain and the Wildcats are a solid play here.

Middle Tennessee State +5.5 Vanderbilt
Optimism was high for the beginning of Derek Mason's third season in Nashville. The Commodores returned 15 starters from a team that won four games and was generally pretty competitive in 2015. At halftime, optimism was still high as the Commodores held a ten point lead as a small favorite against South Carolina. Alas, Vanderbilt went scoreless in the second half and the Gamecocks won on a late field goal. Vanderbilt failed to play 'modern' football against South Carolina. The Commodores completed just over a third of their passes and threw for less than 100 yards against a Gamecock defense that allowed opponents to complete nearly two thirds of their passes last season. I know South Carolina was bound to improve defensively by progression to the mean and the hiring of defensive minded Will Muschamp as head coach, but it would be hard for Vanderbilt to win football games with those numbers in the 1970s much less the offensive friendly contemporary environment. Things do not get easier for Vanderbilt. After facing the Blue Raiders, the Commodores travel to Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky before beginning SEC play in earnest. Suffice it to say, a home win against the Blue Raiders is a must if Vandy has any designs on getting to the postseason in 2016. This marks the fifth meeting between the Commodores and Blue Raiders, but just the second in the last decade. Vanderbilt scored two fourth quarter touchdowns last season to eke out an upset win in Murfreesboro. I think this game will look a lot like that one, and for that matter, like most Vanderbilt games. Both teams will finish with point totals coinciding with a bad opening Blackjack hand (13-17) and the end result will be determined by who plays better in the fourth quarter. I won't call for an outright Middle Tennessee win, but it would not shock me.

Iowa State +15 Iowa
Matt Campbell began his tenure in Ames rather inauspiciously as the Cyclones dropped their opener to Northern Iowa of the FCS. This marked the second time they have lost to Kurt Warner's alma mater in the past four seasons and their third overall loss to an FCS program in that span. Now the Cyclones must head to Iowa City to take on their arch-rivals. Iowa won their 13th consecutive regular season game last week against Miami of Ohio, but continued a disturbing trend for degenerates by failing to cover the spread. The spread loss dropped Iowa to 2-7 ATS as a double-digit home favorite since 2012 and 6-16 ATS overall as a home favorite in that span. I believe that trend will continue here. Iowa State is better than the final score showed last week, as they actually averaged nearly a yard and a half more per play than the Panthers, but were done in by four turnovers. Iowa State will not lack for motivation here, and have actually won three of the last five in this series despite not having been favored since at least 2003. Look for the Cyclones to keep this one respectable.

Cal +7.5 San Diego State
While Hawaii had to travel from Sydney, Australia the islands and then to Ann Arbor, Michigan in a week's time, Cal got to take a week off to let their bodies recover from the game (where they earned a modicum of revenge for their basketball team) and jet lag. While their second game is on the road, it is in their home state and same time zone. While Cal lost a number one draft pick at quarterback, they added an experienced transfer and appear to still be relatively prolific on offense. Defense was another story as the Bears allowed 31 points and more than six and a half yards per play to Hawaii, indicating this year will be a lot like last year when the average California game saw more than 68 combined points. On the other sideline, San Diego State is currently 30th in the latest AP Poll and will look to make their first foray into the rankings since 1995. The Aztecs are currently riding an eleven game winning streak after a rough 1-3 start to the 2015 season. Keep in mind these two teams played last season with Cal winning by four touchdowns at home and San Diego State has beaten one BCS/Power 5 conference team since the turn of the century (Washington State in 2011). The Aztecs have a real shot to win here, but this spread should be closer to a field goal instead of more than a touchdown.