Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Magnificent Seven: Week XII

We endured another losing week last week to put us just below the gambler's break even line. We'll try to climb back over it this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 3-4
Overall: 38-35-4

Illinois +10 Iowa
Last week, I was on the Illini and I was dead wrong. So why not go back for more hair of the dog? Iowa is riding high after one of the more impressive wins of the Kirk Ferentz era. I know the Hawkeyes were undefeated in the regular season last year, but all of their wins pale in comparison to their upset over the Wolverines last week. Despite the win, Iowa still rates out as a below average Big 10 team. Based on yards per play, the Hawkeyes rank thirteenth in the fourteen team Big 10, with only Rutgers rating worse. This will be Iowa's fifth Big 10 road game of the year. In three of the other four games, the Hawkeyes managed 14 points. They did drop 49 on Purdue, but the Boilermakers have by far the worst defense in the Big 10 (allowing over seven yards per play to conference opponents). Illinois may not have the players to win this game, but this has all the makings of an ugly, low-scoring slog. The Noon kickoff and Michigan hangover should aid Illinois in covering this big number.

UTEP +1.5 Rice
I know Rice earned their first FBS win last week on the road against Charlotte, but they may still be the worst team in all of college football (FBS category). The Owls inched by the 49ers, but they still averaged under five yards per play and scored 22 points against the FBS neophyte. The Owls did post their best defensive showing, holding Charlotte to just over four yards per play, but are still dead last in Conference USA in yards allowed per play. UTEP is not a great offensive team, but they do one thing well - run the ball. Junior running back Aaron Jones is averaging over seven yards per carry and has eclipsed 200 yards on the ground three times this season. He should be licking his chops in preparing for the Rice 'defense'. Rice is typically tough at home under David Bailiff, but after going 31-14 in the friendly confines from 2008-2015, the Owls are just 1-4 this season, with zero FBS wins. UTEP is far from a sure thing, but I think they can pull of the outright upset here.

Virginia +11 Georgia Tech
Seeing as how I bet a significant sum in Vegas on Georgia Tech exceeding their preseason win total of 6.5, I watched a great deal of the Virginia Tech/Georgia Tech game last week. Coming into the game, the Yellow Jackets were nearly two touchdown underdogs, so my optimism was subdued. The Yellow Jackets ended up winning the game without quarterback Justin Thomas and running back Dedrick Mills who did not play due to injury and suspension respectively. Despite the win, it pays to look objectively at how the Yellow Jackets were able to get it done and see if that blueprint is repeatable. Georgia Tech forced a fumble on the opening kickoff, intercepted Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans in the endzone, forced two additional turnovers, and blocked a field goal. After forcing just nine turnovers in their first nine games, Georgia Tech was probably due for some additional luck in forcing turnovers, but relying too heavily on turnovers is often not a recipe for success. If we look at season long numbers, Georgia Tech ranks dead last in the ACC in yards allowed per play. Four conference opponents have averaged north of six yards per play against Georgia Tech, and the struggling offense of Boston College came close. The Yellow Jackets have almost no pass rush, with the defense totaling just thirteen sacks on the year, with five coming against Virginia Tech. I don't think Georgia Tech solved all their defensive issues in Blacksburg. The Yellow Jackets played their best defensive game of the year and caught their fair share of breaks. Virginia is not a good team, but they are capable of moving the ball against a porous Georgia Tech defense. I expect a lot of points to be put on the board in Atlanta with Georgia Tech eking out a win to cash the 'over' ticket.

Virginia Tech +1 Notre Dame
I already touched on Virginia Tech's loss last week earlier in this post, so I won't rehash it here, but suffice it to say a lot of things went against the Hokies. Could the same thing happen this week? Sure, but I wouldn't bet on it. When we look back on this season, I get the feeling it will feel like a big missed opportunity for Virginia Tech. The Hokies outgained and averaged more yards per play than Tennessee, but fell thanks to five lost fumbles. In their other two losses, to Georgia Tech and Syracuse, the Hokies entered as large favorites. The Hokies don't really appear to be a legitimate playoff contender, but if a few different things had fallen their way, they could very well be in the top-ten at this moment. As it is, they are unranked and looking to avoid a fifth consecutive four-loss regular season. Notre Dame is a little overvalued here after dismantling Army last week, but they already have three home losses this season, with two coming to Duke and Michigan State. Look for Virginia Tech to rebound and leave South Bend with an outright win on Saturday.

Iowa State +3.5 Texas Tech
If you just glance at final scores and don't keep a close eye on college football, you might be inclined to believe that Texas Tech is who they have always been under Kliff Kingsbury - a team with a great offense and equally poor defense. You would be half right. Tech's defense is still deplorable, ranking tenth in the Big 12 in yards allowed per play. However, their offense is also below average, particularly by Big 12 standards. After ranking second in yards per play each of the past two seasons, the Red Raiders currently sit at seventh in that category this season. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is still slinging the ball around the yard, but the Texas Tech run game has struggled. After averaging over five yards per carry (including sacks) the past two seasons, the running game is currently averaging just 3.3 yards per rush. The Red Raiders have struggled to find a consistent running threat as the leading rusher has just over 300 yards on the season. Texas Tech has not covered as a road favorite since 2013, and Iowa State is 3-0 Against the Spread (ATS) as a home underdog under first year coach Matt Campbell. Look for Iowa State to earn their second Big 12 win on Saturday and keep Texas Tech home for the holidays.

California +10.5 Stanford
Cal was another team that I backed last week, and like Illinois, they did not come close to covering. And like Illinois, I am on California once again. Here's why. Last week's opponent, Washington State, has a dynamic offense and throws the ball a lot. This week's opponent, Stanford, prefers a more methodical, run-based approach. That slow pace featuring a lot of runs, and poor quarterback play, means fewer possessions and more of an opportunity for a large underdog to cover. Cal is 3-1 ATS as a home underdog this season with three outright wins. I don't think they will be able to beat Stanford for the first time since 2009 (amazing!), but they should keep this one close.

Tulsa -1.5 Central Florida
Tulsa missed a great opportunity last week to put themselves in position to win the western division of the American Athletic Conference. The Golden Hurricane lost in a shootout at Navy giving the Midshipmen control of the division race. Despite the loss, Tulsa is still in position to post their most regular season wins since 2012. In their second season under Philip Montgomery, the offense has become one of the best in the mid-major universe on a per play basis. Couple that with a fast pace and Tulsa is able to put a lot of points on the board. In fact, outside of their poor showing at Ohio State, the Golden Hurricane have averaged over 46 points per game! Central Florida has a good defense, ranking second in the American in yards allowed per play. However, the only defense to slow down Tulsa is one of the top teams in the Big 10. Tulsa may struggle for a bit in this game against the Central Florida defense, but they will do enough to earn a conference road win.

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