Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIII

Three winning weeks in a row. Let's see if we can make it make it a full month. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-2-1
Overall: 43-39-2

SMU -8 Tulane
Regardless of the outcome of this game, SMU is headed back to a bowl for the first time since 2012. The Mustangs have increased their win total in each season under Chad Morris, rising from two wins in his first, to five in his second, and now six in his third. Morris is oft mentioned as a candidate for other coaching jobs, and he would probably make a Power Five school happy, but his accomplishments thus far do not seem to merit such a job. True, SMU was in dire straits when he was hired, but June Jones turned the program around faster than Morris, who has yet to have a winning campaign in Dallas. The problem for Morris since he arrived on campus has been the defense. The Mustangs ranked tenth in the American Athletic Conference in yards allowed per play in his first season, improved marginally, but still ranked tenth in his second season, and are currently eleventh. To illustrate this point, the Mustangs scored more than 40 points in each of their last two games, but lost both, the most recent in blowout fashion, thanks to a defense that allowed over 100 combined points. The good news for SMU is that while both of those games were on the road, this one is in the friendly confines of Gerald J. Ford Stadium. It also helps that their opponent this week, Tulane, is not nearly as proficient on offense as Navy and Memphis. The Green Wave have improved in their second season under Willie Fritz, but they still rank in the bottom half of the American in yards per play. They also struggle on defense, ranking just ahead of SMU in yards allowed per play. Tulane will have plenty to play for as a win will make them bowl eligible, but SMU has been solid under Morris as a home favorite, posting a 5-1 ATS record in the role. In addition, this spread is just north of a touchdown, and I expect SMU to do plenty of scoring with a chance to clinch a winning season. Take the Mustangs to win comfortably here.

North Carolina +17 NC State
Sometimes in college football, one game can make all the difference. Last season, NC State entered their annual clash with the Tar Heels as a ten point underdog with a 5-6 record. Had the Wolfpack lost that game, Dave Doeren may have been fired and Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden could be leading the team now. Of course, the Wolfpack pulled the upset, pounded Vanderbilt in their bowl game, and entered 2017 with reasonably high expectations. Those expectations were somewhat tempered after the opener, but the Wolfpack won six in a row after their loss to the Gamecocks, and were in contention for the Atlantic Division title. Then the season took another turn as the Wolfpack lost three of four, the most recent in heartbreaking fashion, to fall out of contention. Now the Wolfpack will have to turn their goals to a finish in the final polls and their most wins since 2010. To get there, the they will first need to handle their business against a Tar Heel team that has struggled in 2017. Prior to beating Pittsburgh two weeks ago, North Carolina's only win had come against Old Dominion. The Tar Heels can blame injury, the loss of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, and the putrid play of transfer quarterback Brandon Harris. With Chazz Surratt or Nathan Elliott taking snaps, the Tar Heels have been more competitive recently, losing by just five to Miami, while beating Pittsburgh and Western Carolina. NC State will provide a little more resistance than the Catamounts, but the road team has been a strong play recently in this series, with the visitor winning the last four meetings outright. North Carolina is not nearly as bad as they looked in the middle of the season, and while I don't think they will pull off the massive upset, they should keep this one close.

Arizona -1 Arizona State
After combining for an 8-16 record last season (just 3-15 in Pac-12 play), the Wildcats and Sun Devils have rebounded (somewhat) in 2017. Arizona State is 6-5 with solid wins over Oregon, Utah, and Washington, while Arizona is 7-4 and appear to have found their quarterback of the future. Both teams leave a lot to be desired defensively, as they rank in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in terms of yards allowed per play. Arizona State is similarly mediocre offensively, but Arizona has torched opponents, especially on the ground. The Wildcats have rushed for over 3600 yards on the season, and lead the nation averaging a robust seven yards per carry. That is not a good matchup for Arizona State. The Sun Devils have been gashed on the ground, particularly when you remove their (impressive) 32 sacks from the equation. Once proper accounting is made for actual rushing plays, the Sun Devils permit over six yards per carry! The venue of this game will provide a significant advantage for the Sun Devils, but Arizona is the better team. I expect a close game, and I would not make any play if the line were around a field goal, but Arizona should do enough to leave with the win on Saturday afternoon.

South Carolina +14 Clemson
Clemson is on their way to the ACC Championship Game for the third consecutive season. However, if you look closely at the numbers, this Clemson teams appear to be a notch below the previous two squads. Offensively, Clemson ranks sixth in the ACC in yards per play. After torching what was a bad Louisville defense in their conference opener, Clemson has failed to average more than six yards per play against any other ACC opponent. Defensively, the Tigers are still one of the strongest teams in the ACC, ranking second in the conference in yards allowed per play. However, their offensive struggles will probably prevent them from covering this large number against their arch rivals. South Carolina ranks fourth in the SEC in yards allowed per play (behind the three uber-defenses at Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia). No team has scored more than 28 points on the Gamecocks this season, and the Gamecocks are unbeaten ATS as an underdog this season (6-0 with four outright upsets). Clemson has not beaten South Carolina by more than five points in Columbia since 2003. Remember, just two years ago, a very bad South Carolina team lost 37-32 to a Clemson team that nearly won the national title. I am extremely wary of backing Will Muschamp when his teams are giving points, but I think he will do a great job of dragging Clemson into a low-scoring defensive battle here. I don't think South Carolina will be able to pull off the outright upset and shake up the College Football Playoff, but they should cover.

Texas A&M +10.5 LSU
Two years ago there were coaching rumors swirling around this game. Les Miles was all but finished at LSU as the Tigers came in on a three-game losing streak. The Tigers were able to right the ship against the Aggies, and Miles was retained..for five more games. The game ended up being a band-aid on a bullet would as the underlying issues (lack of creativity on offense mostly) remained and LSU parted ways with the enigmatic Miles. Now Texas A&M enters amid coaching uncertainty. Despite winning at least eight games each season he has been in charge, Kevin Sumlin is squarely on the hot seat. He set the bar too high in his first season which included a Heisman winner, an upset over Alabama, and a top-five final ranking. Since then, the Aggies have finished ranked just once and have not finished with a wining conference record. The Aggies typically start off great and then stagger to the finish leaving fans with thoughts of what might have been. This year has been a little different. The Aggies opened with an epic choke job at UCLA, rebounded to win four in a row against the soft part of their schedule, and then lost in competitive fashion to Alabama. The Aggies then upset Florida in Gainesville, but lost two in a row at home to Mississippi State and Auburn to ratchet up the heat. However, since those two defeats, the Aggies have played well. They dominated New Mexico from start to finish and then won as a slight underdog at Ole Miss. With no expectations, the Aggies have played better. Most are not giving the Aggies a chance against the Tigers despite LSU's deficiencies. Remember, the Tigers struggled at home against Syracuse and lost to Troy. They have won five of six since the loss to Troy, but four of those wins have come against teams likely to finish with losing records (Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Tennessee). The Aggies are perfect this season ATS as a road underdog, with two outright wins, and catching double-digits against a flawed LSU squad makes them a valuable play.

Louisiana Tech -1.5 Texas-San Antonio
2017 has been weird and disappointing for Louisiana Tech. After playing for the Conference USA title last season and winning nine games for the third straight year, the Bulldogs enter their finale with a 5-6 mark. The Bulldogs have sought to give their fans congenital heart failure, playing four games decided by a single point. Louisiana Tech has been on the wrong side of three of those games, including one at South Carolina. Overall, the Bulldogs are just 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less. If the Bulldogs make a few more plays here or there, perhaps they are preparing for yet another trip to the Conference USA Championship Game. As it stands, they need to beat the Roadrunners to get to back to a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season. If you look closely at this number, it implies Texas-San Antonio would actually be favored at a neutral site. While the Roadrunners did get a quality win at home against Marshall last week, the five FBS teams they have beaten have combined for an 11-44 overall record. Louisiana Tech will be desperate and they are a solid 10-6 ATS as a home favorite under Skip Holtz. Once again, a spread of a field goal or more might scare me away, but with a number this low, the Bulldogs are the pick.

Utah State +2 Air Force
After last week's results for both teams, I expected Utah State to be a slight favorite (which would have resulted in a pass for me). The Aggies dominated a bad Hawaii team in Logan and Air Force was dominated by a surging Boise State team on the Smurf Turf. The win made Utah State bowl eligible for the sixth time in seven seasons, and ensures the Aggies will at least double last season's win total. Meanwhile, Air Force will miss out on a bowl for the first time since 2013. The Falcons have the worst per play defense in the Mountain West, permitting over seven yards per snap against league foes. Utah State ranks around the middle of the pack offensively in the Mountain West, but their defense is in the upper tier, ranking fourth in yards allowed per play. They have already contained one option offense this season, when they held New Mexico to ten points a few weeks ago. Look for more of the same here. Air Force is 0-3 ATS as a home favorite this season with two outright losses. Utah State should be favored in this game and will win outright.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week XII

Two winning weeks in a row. Let's see if we can make it three. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 39-37-1

Cincinnati -3.5 East Carolina
You think maybe East Carolina is regretting their decision to fire Ruffin McNeill? Scottie Montgomery began his career in Greenville on a positive note, winning his first two games, including a home upset of NC State. However, since that 2-0 start, the Pirates are just 3-17 over their last twenty games! Against teams not located in Storrs, Connecticut, the Pirates are 1-17! Most of their losses have not been competitive, with fifteen of the seventeen coming by at least ten points. Last week's loss to Tulane was one of the few that did not come in blowout fashion. The Pirates took the Green Wave to overtime, but were outgained and averaged nearly a yard and a half less per play than Tulane. On the season, the Pirates have the worst defense in the American by far. They have allowed 45 points per game and more than seven and a half yards per play. For a Cincinnati team that has struggled moving the ball in Luke Fickell's first season, East Carolina is just what the doctor ordered. With East Carolina and Connecticut remaining on the schedule, the Bearcats have a chance to finish the year strong. East Carolina has nothing to play for here and the Noon kick will probably dilute what little homefield advantage they have. Since upsetting NC State fourteen months ago, the Pirates are just 1-5 ATS as a home underdog. Cincinnati should win easily here.

Pittsburgh +16 Virginia Tech
What more does Virginia Tech have to do to convince the nation they are not an elite team? After opening the 2017 season 7-1 with one quality win, the Hokies have lost back-to-back games to Miami and Georgia Tech. The Hokies were mostly non-competitive against Miami, and lost to Georgia Tech despite returning an interception for a touchdown and converting a third and long via a miraculous catch. Some dominant home wins against bad teams (Old Dominion, North Carolina, and Duke) by a margin of 111 points seem to be etched in the mind's of voters and oddsmakers. However, overall the Hokies have been pretty bad offensively. The Hokies rank twelfth of fourteen ACC teams in yards per play. Their running game in particular, has been nonexistent in conference play. When removing sacks from their rushing attempts, the Hokies have averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and just 144 yards per game in ACC play. If the Hokies can score on defense or special teams, they have a chance to cover this number, but that is a dangerous assumption to make. The Panthers are 8-3-1 ATS as a road underdog under Pat Narduzzi with five outright wins. The Panthers are still technically alive for a bowl game as they need to sweep their final two games to qualify, so they should be motivated. I don't know if they can pull the outright upset, but this game should be much closer than sixteen points.

Tulane +9.5 Houston
It's a long shot, but bowl eligibility is still on the table for Tulane. The Green Wave need to sweep their final two games against Houston and SMU to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013 and just the second time since 2002. Realistically, the Green Wave should probably start making postseason plans for 2018. That will mark the third year of the Willie Fritz funky triple option regime. Tulane has improved offensively in their second year under Fritz, averaging an extra yard per play in conference games and improving their complimentary passing game. Last season, the Green Wave, despite not throwing often, averaged a putrid 5.3 yards per pass. This season, the Green Wave are averaging 7.3 yards per pass. Defensively, the Green Wave have had issues, allowing over six and half yards per play to conference foes. This has tampered down their record despite the offensive improvement. The Green Wave have played well in New Orleans, in their relatively new stadium, where they have won three of five homes games this season with both losses coming by a combined seven points. Look for more of the same here. The Green Wave probably don't have the firepower to beat Houston outright, but they should keep this one close.

Army +3 North Texas
Army and North Texas are developing quite a rivalry. This will mark the third meeting between the two teams since last October. The Mean Green won the first game in West Point and the Black Knights won the rematch in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. For the degenerates out there, the Black Knights failed to cover each time as they were double-digit favorites in both. If I had told you prior to their first meeting last October that a little more than a year later both of these teams would be a combined 15-5, you probably would have nodded politely and then not listened to another word I said. That's where we are though. The Black Knights have won six in a row after a 2-2 start and are even receiving a few votes in the latest AP Poll. Meanwhile, the Mean Green are 7-3 and have already clinched the West division of Conference USA. North Texas is led by their offense, which ranks third in Conference USA in yards per play. They are also averaging over 36 points per game, which is amazing considering just two seasons ago they averaged just a shade more than fifteen points per game and maxed out at thirty points in their lone win. Unfortunately, their defense is a little leaky. They are also allowing north of thirty points per game and only three Conference USA teams allow more yards per play. The Mean Green have also been a little fortunate, posting a 4-0 record in one-score games. A leaky defense is not something you want when facing a unique, deliberate offense like Army's. Army is 7-4-2 ATS as a road underdog under Jeff Monken and North Texas has yet to cover this season in two attempts as a home favorite. North Texas is much better in the underdog role (4-1 ATS with three outright wins) and I think it will be tough for them to get up for a non-conference game one week after clinching the division. Don't be surprised if Army wins outright.

Texas A&M +3 Ole Miss
If Texas A&M has designs on a winning regular season, they probably need to win this game in Oxford. The Aggies close with a road trip to Baton Rouge, so a loss here probably means a 6-6 regular season and perhaps a new coach. The Aggies have disappointed this season, especially considering their schedule. It is now mid-November, and the Aggies have left the state of Texas twice this season (and just once since Labor Day Weekend). Yet, they still have four losses, with three coming in College Station. This otherwise forgettable game in Oxford will be a battle between a mediocre team that doesn't really do anything well (Texas A&M) against an Ole Miss team that does one thing really well (throw the football). The Rebels, despite playing a backup quarterback for the fourth straight game, are averaging 9.3 yards per pass. Their deep stable of receivers, led by AJ Brown, are big plays waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the Landshark defense is nowhere to be found in Oxford. The Rebels are consistently gashed on the ground, allowing over six yards per rush when removing sacks from the equation. This should be an entertaining game, but I would never trust this incarnation of Ole Miss giving points against any Power Five opponent.

Wake Forest -1.5 NC State
Wake Forest is my alma mater, and I may be a little biased, but I want to take a moment to marvel at how far the Deacons have come under Dave Clawson. In Clawson's first season in charge, the Deacons won three games and averaged under fifteen points per game. In this, his fourth season, the Deacons are averaging over 35 points per game and are already bowl eligible with a chance for their most regular season wins in a decade. Quarterback John Wolford has evolved from a sack taking machine to one of the best (and most underrated) dual threat quarterbacks in the country. Wolford is averaging nearly nine yards per pass attempt and has thrown twenty touchdowns against just three interceptions in 2017. Oh, and he's also rushed for over 500 yards and ten touchdowns. He's not Khalil Tate or Lamar Jackson, but he ain't half bad. Anyway, back to the Deacons. Wake Forest was not favored against an FBS opponent in Winston-Salem until the first game of Dave Clawson's third year in charge. This will mark the seventh time in their last ten home games that they have been favored, so the oddsmakers and the betting public have come around to how good the Deacons are. I was actually hoping the Deacons would be catching a few points here, but with this line under a field goal, I think they are still a good play. In recent history, the home team usually wins in this rivalry. Wake Forest has won six of the last seven in Winston-Salem and the Wolfpack have won all but one meeting in Raleigh since 1984. Look for that home team trend to continue here in a Wake Forest win.

Air Force +17.5 Boise State
A win by Boise State would clinch their first division title since 2014 and put them in position to finish ranked. However, a New Year's Six bid is probably a pipe dream thanks to the number of ranked teams in the American Athletic Conference. The Broncos have won six in a row after a 2-2 start, with their latest win coming via a miraculous comeback against Colorado State. The Broncos channeled the New England Patriots and came back from a pair of 25-point deficits to force overtime, where they eventually prevailed and actually covered, much to the chagrin of those who wagered on the Rams. The Broncos are clearly the better team, but can they come down from that emotional high and handle a team that runs a peculiar offense? After winning 28 games over the previous three seasons, Air Force has struggled in 2017, losing to both Army and Navy for the first time since 2012 and in need of a sweep of their final two games to become bowl eligible. The Falcons have one of the worst defenses in college football, but they do a good job of hiding it with their ball-control offense that limits the number of possessions. The Falcons have been a perennial thorn in Boise State's side since the Broncos joined the Mountain West. The teams have faced off four times and the Falcons have covered each time (as a double-digit underdog) winning the last three outright. Air Force is 7-1 ATS as a road underdog since the start of the 2015 season (3-0 as a double-digit underdog) and Boise State is just 2-13-1 ATS as a home favorite in the same span. Boise State will win, but Air Force will cover.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week XI

Finally. After two horrendous weeks, we finally picked some winners. We'll try to make it two in a row this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 35-34-1

Nebraska +2.5 Minnesota
These teams may have identical 4-5 records, but their coaching situations could not be more different. Minnesota is still in the honeymoon phase with their new coach, PJ Fleck. While the Gophers have regressed from their 9-4 record last season, Minnesota fans believe the future is bright under Fleck who also struggled in his first season at Western Michigan before gradually building the Broncos into a MAC power. Meanwhile, Nebraska seems poised to fire Mike Riley at any moment and have their sights set on a former quarterback from their glory years to lead the team. This noontime battle in Minneapolis will serve as a postseason eliminator of sorts. Nebraska closes with Penn State and Iowa, so even with a win the Huskers may not be long for a bowl game. Minnesota finishes with Northwestern and Wisconsin, so a win here may not be enough to get them into the postseason either. In BIg 10 play, Nebraska has done well away from Lincoln, winning both their road games, including an upset of Purdue two weeks ago. Despite the struggles of transfer quarterback Tanner Lee, the Cornhuskers have one of the better offenses in the Big 10 this side of Columbus and State College. The Gophers, on the other hand, have the worst offense in the Big 10 on a per play basis. After averaging 33 points per game in non-conference action, the Gophers have not scored more than 27 points in any conference game, and have been held below twenty points three times. Quarterback play has been extremely scattershot with Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft combining to complete just 42% of their passes in conference games! Neither team has a whole lot going for them in 2017, but Nebraska is the better team and should not be catching points against Minnesota regardless of the game's location.

Georgia Tech +3 Virginia Tech
This game is vital to Georgia Tech's bowl hopes. At 4-4, with a game remaining against Georgia, the Yellow Jackets are staring down at least five regular season losses. They may end up benefiting from the cancellation of their game against Central Florida in Orlando. The Knights appear to be the best mid-major in the nation (regardless of the lack of respect the College Football Selection Committee shows them) and probably would have already tagged Georgia Tech with a fifth loss. As it stands, many are down on the Ramblin' Wreck after they have lost two straight and three of four. However, two of those losses came to the two best teams in the ACC (Clemson and Miami) on the road. The other came last week at Scott Stadium, a place the Yellow Jackets have historically struggled. Since beating Virginia there when they were number one in the nation in 1990 (yes, Virginia really was ranked number one that season), the Yellow Jackets have lost eleven of the thirteen games they have played there with seven of the eleven defeats coming by a touchdown or less. Now the Yellow Jackets return to Bobby Dodd Stadium where they are unbeaten this season. They host a Virginia Tech team that is probably getting a little too much love from the College Football Selection Committee. While Central Florida is 18th in the latest rankings despite dominating a somewhat weak schedule, Virginia Tech is 17th thanks to victories against...West Virginia? Oh, and Boston College before they were good. Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in the ACC, but their offense has struggled in 2017. In addition, the Hokies are just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite under Justin Fuente. Look for Georgia Tech to get back on track against the Hokies in a low-scoring defensive affair.

Wake Forest +1 Syracuse
Despite a loss at Notre Dame last weekend, Wake Forest has a chance to do something extraordinary in 2017. Through nine games, the Deacons have a mediocre 5-4 record, but they are averaging 31.9 points per game. Wake Forest has never averaged more than thirty points per game in their illustrious history. The closest they came was 1986 when they averaged 29.5 points per game. However, that schedule included a pair of games against FCS competition. If the Deacons can maintain their scoring streak over the season's final quarter (and in their potential bowl game), it would be historic. Wake should have a chance to eclipse thirty against Syracuse as the Orange not only have the second worst per play defense in the ACC, their games also feature the sixteenth most possessions in the nation. While Syracuse plays fast, they are not necessarily that efficient or effective on offense, ranking just ninth in the ACC in yards per play. They do own one of the best wins on the year with their Friday night ambush of Clemson a few weeks ago. However, after a similar win last season, when they shocked Virginia Tech in the Carrier Dome, the Orange dropped four of their final five games en route to a 4-8 record. This season, after the Clemson win, the Orange have dropped two in a row and need to win two of their final three to get to a bowl game. The Orange seem to get up for home games against high-quality teams, but they are just 4-5 at home against FBS opponents under Dino Babers including a loss to Middle Tennessee State earlier this season. Wake Forest has been a dangerous road dog under Dave Clawson, posting a 9-4 ATS mark in the role since 2015 with three outright wins. The wrong team is favored here. Look for Wake Forest to leave upstate New York with a win.

Iowa +12 Wisconsin
Normally, I'm not a huge fan of taking teams the week after a big victory. And victories don't come any bigger than the one Iowa posted last week. The Hawkeyes pounded Ohio State and gave Urban Meyer his worst loss as a head coach. Obviously, the Hawkeyes performance was about as far right on the Bell Curve as possible, so some natural regression is to be expected. Plus, the Hawkeyes won't have the mystique of Kinnick Stadium to help them here. Instead they must travel to Camp Randall Stadium, a place where the Badgers have lost just once since the start of the 2016 season. Still, this line does not seem to be artificially lowered after Iowa's shocking upset last week. After Iowa stomped Ohio State, I was expecting this line to be around a touchdown, which would have resulted in a hard 'pass' from me. Instead, their most recent game does not seem to have impacted this line at all. In addition, the Badgers will be without their leading receiver for this game as Quintez Cephus has been ruled out. That is another factor that does not appear to be built into this line. Even though Iowa enters this game with three losses, all their defeats have been close. Penn State beat them on a touchdown at the gun, Michigan State beat them by seven, and Northwestern beat them in overtime. Iowa won't be dropping double-nickels on the Badgers, but I expect this game to be close as the Hawkeyes give Wisconsin their biggest test of the season.

Arkansas State -11.5 South Alabama
I don't know this for a fact, but it sure seems like Blake Anderson treats Arkansas State's non-conference schedule like the NFL preseason. Since becoming the head coach in 2014, the Red Wolves are just 4-11 in regular season non-conference games (1-10 versus FBS opponents). However, once Sun Belt play starts, Anderson has ironed out all the kinks. The Red Wolves are 24-4 against Sun Belt opponents under Anderson and have won twenty of their last twenty one conference games. If the Red Wolves can continue their winning ways in November, their December 2nd showdown with Troy could be a de facto Sun Belt Championship Game. First things first though, the Red Wolves need to take care of business against a South Alabama team that has already beaten Troy this season. South Alabama has struggled to score in 2017, being held below twenty points in three of their five Sun Belt games, and only topping thirty against the league's worst defense (Louisiana-Monroe). Arkansas State has been balanced on both offense and defense, ranking fourth in the Sun Belt in yards per play and second in yards allowed per play. The Red Wolves excel at pressuring the quarterback, having accumulated 26 sacks in just seven games! Backing double-digit road favorites always leaves me feeling a bit queasy, but the Red Wolves are 6-2 ATS as a road favorite since the start of the 2015 season and South Alabama is not an especially dangerous home team (just 5-6 ATS as a home dog since joining the Sun Belt). Arkansas State has had a week off to prepare for their four-game stretch run, and I think they will start it off with a blowout of the Jaguars.

Wyoming +3 Air Force
After an out of nowhere division title last season, Wyoming began 2017 rather inauspiciously, losing in non-competitive fashion to Iowa and Oregon sandwiched around a win against Gardner Webb. However, since that 1-2 start, the Cowboys have won five of six with their lone loss coming at Boise State. The Cowboys are totally different from the team they fielded last season that relied on outscoring opponents. Last season, Wyoming lost two games where they scored more than thirty points and lost every game where they scored fewer than thirty points. This season, the Cowboys have won four times when scoring under thirty points, including last week's 16-13 win in the snow against Colorado State. The new, defensively sound Cowboys play a style of football that tends to travel better than one built solely around offensive escapades. However, despite their offensive struggles in 2017, Wyoming has a chance to post solid numbers against one of the worst defenses in FBS. Thanks to their ground-oriented option offense, Air Force limits the number of possessions in their games, but the Falcons still rank 100th nationally in scoring defense and have allowed nearly seven yards per play on the season (over seven and half in conference play). Every team Air Force has faced with the exception of VMI has averaged over four and a half yards per carry against the Falcons and their last seven opponents have all averaged at least six yards per carry (cumulative average of 7.59 yards per rush!). The Wyoming running game, which has struggled mightily in 2017, should find some holes and put quarterback Josh Allen in favorable situations. The wrong team appears to be favored here. Take the Cowboys to cover and win this one outright.

Boise State -6 Colorado State
Before the season started, Colorado State fans probably had this game circled on their calendars. The Rams, with a dynamic offense and a some nice returning playmakers would be hosting the resident conference overlord with a chance to end their reign (I know Boise has not even won their division the last two years, but they are the perceived dominant program in the conference). The conference season started well enough after a somewhat disappointing non-conference campaign that saw the Rams lose their third straight to in-state rival Colorado. The Rams won their first four conference games while averaging a healthy 37 points per game. However, some signs of weakness began to show in that stretch. The Rams allowed over 25 points per game and only beat Nevada and New Mexico by a combined five points. Their defense would betray them completely in their fifth game, when they allowed 45 points on just eight drives against Air Force. Humbled by the Falcons, the defense played perhaps its best game of the season, but the offense could produce only one touchdown against Wyoming. Those two defeats have basically eliminated Colorado State from contention for the division title. Even if they upset the Broncos, they would still need Boise State to lose another game and they would also need Wyoming to drop two additional games. Motivation, or lack thereof, after the disappointment of the previous two weeks could certainly play a role here. For Boise State, one bad quarter against Washington State and one bad game against Virginia, made the nation at-large forget about the Broncos. However, since that home loss to the Cavaliers, Boise State has won five in a row with each victory coming by at least ten points. Two of those wins were against last season's Mountain West Championship Game participants. The Broncos have the second best defense in the conference in terms of yards per play, and their offense has steadily improved as the year has gone on. The Broncos have a chance to tighten their stranglehold on the Mountain division with a win here and they have performed well in the role of a road favorite under Bryan Harsin, going 13-6 ATS with him at the helm. Look for the Broncos to win this one by at least a touchdown.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Magnificent Seven: Week X

Oy vay. Aother awful week, although I will say we were a little unlucky as Vanderbilt missed an extra point resulting in our first push of the year instead of a win. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-4-1
Overall: 31-31-1

Northern Illinois +9 Toledo
After a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2016 (where they still managed a winning MAC record), Northern Illinois is already bowl eligible and back in contention for another MAC title. The Huskies are unbeaten in the MAC and also own a non-conference win at Nebraska. Despite the good start, this is not a typical Huskie team. After finishing in the top-five in the MAC in terms of yards per play each season from 2009 through 2016, the Huskies have slumped to eighth this season. The Huskies do appear to have settled on a quarterback as freshman Marcus Childers has gotten the majority of the snaps in conference play. Assuming normal progression and health, Childers could be the heir apparent to Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch. With their (relative) offensive struggles, Northern Illinois has leaned on their defense. No team has scored more than two offensive touchdowns against the Huskies and only Buffalo, with some big pass plays, averaged more than six yards per play against them. Toledo has pounded some overmatched MAC teams over the past few weeks (beat Central Michigan, Akron, and Ball State by a combined 88 points), but the Huskies will be their most formidable conference test yet. Northern Illinois is 10-2 ATS as a road underdog under Rod Carey with six outright wins. Toledo is rightly favored in this game, but getting a leg up in the division race will not be easy.

Kansas +9 Baylor
Remember 2014? It was just three short years ago, but the world has changed dramatically. We had a competent president, John Stewart was hosting The Daily Show, and Baylor was in contention for a berth in the College Football Playoff. Now, three years later, the president is an unhinged liar, Trevor Noah is behind The Daily Show desk, and Baylor has lost eleven straight conference games. Fans in Waco have been treated to a flashback of the Kevin Steele days. Can the Bears end their skid against the Big 12's resident punching bag? Year 3 of the David Beaty era has not looked very dissimilar to Years 1 or 2. If nothing else, Kansas beat an FCS team (handily) for the second year in a row. Outside of that opener though, Kansas has been pretty ghastly to watch. The Jayhawks have lost seven straight games, with each defeat coming by double-digits. However, the Jayhawks showed a little spunk in their most recent game, losing by just ten to Kansas State while outgaining and averaging more yards per play than the Wildcats. Baylor has one of the worst defenses in college football, as they have allowed over eight yards per play to conference opponents. This is not a team you want to be laying nearly double-digits on the road with.

Georgia State -3.5 Georgia Southern
In their first two seasons as an FBS program, Georgia Southern went 18-7 and won a bowl game. However, since Willie Fritz left for Tulane, the Eagles are 5-14 and riding a seven game losing streak that got their coach fired after just eighteen games on campus. While Georgia Southern began their FBS life by achieving great success, Georgia State lost their first fifteen Sun Belt games and won just ten games in their first four seasons as an FBS program. Now the tables have turned a little as Georgia State is 4-3 with enough trash left on their schedule to get back to a bowl game for the second time in three seasons. Shawn Elliott began his coaching career in Atlanta rather inauspiciously by losing at home to an FCS school (something Georgia State has done four other times since joining FBS), but the Panthers were able to circle the wagons. Georgia State has won three true road games, giving them seven total in their nascent FBS journey. Georgia State is not very good, but they can throw the football and Georgia Southern is one of the worst (if not the worst) teams in FBS. Georgia State will win their third in a row against the Eagles by a comfortable margin.

Maryland -1 Rutgers
After this game against the Scarlet Knights, Maryland closes with a rough three-game stretch against Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State. Even with a win against Rutgers, the Terps will need to upset one of those teams to return to the postseason for a second consecutive season. First things first though, the Terps will need to take care of a Rutgers team that has actually won two of their last three games after a sixteen game conference losing streak. Despite winning twice as many conference games in the last month as they won in the previous two years, Rutgers still ranks last in the Big 10 in both yards per play and yards allowed per play. Even playing at home (this game was originally scheduled for Yankee Stadium in the Bronx), Maryland should be laying a few more points. The Terps will win this one by a comfortable enough margin to cover this small number.

Utah State +4.5 New Mexico
Three times on this blog I have backed Utah State as a underdog (twice as a road dog). Utah State has failed to cover the number in all three games, and has not been particularly close in any. So naturally, I am on them again this week. The teams that have handily beaten Utah State have run the gamut from good to very good. New Mexico does not fit that criteria. The Lobos have been competitive since Bob Davie arrived in 2012, but they are not in the same league as Wisconsin or Boise State. Both teams already have five losses, so the loser will see their bowl hopes put in serious jeopardy, so motivation should not be an issue. New Mexico has won the last two games in this series, but those wins have come by a combined four points. In fact, the last three games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less. Utah State has done a pretty good job against New Mexico's option attack, holding the Lobos to under four yards per carry in their four meetings since becoming conference mates. Look for more of the same here in a tight game that Utah State may win outright.

Wyoming +3 Colorado State
Presumptive first round pick Josh Allen has disappointed for the Wyoming Cowboys. After accounting for 35 touchdowns last season in their surprise run to a division title, Allen is averaging two full yards fewer per pass attempt this season and has accounted for just sixteen touchdowns. Part of the reason for the decline is the amount of skill position talent the Cowboys had to replace. Superstar running back Brian Hill was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and Allen's top three receivers from 2016 all departed. Thankfully, for the Cowboys, their defense has picked up the slack. After finishing second to last in the Mountain West in yards allowed per play last season, the Cowboys are third in that category this season. That has allowed the Cowboys to remain in contention in the Mountain West with just a single conference loss. Colorado State also enters this game with a single conference loss, but their makeup is the exact opposite of Wyoming. The Rams are the best offense in the Mountain West, averaging a spectacular 7.68 yards per play against conference opponents. However, they also rank ninth in yards allowed per play. Those defensive issues allowed Nevada and New Mexico to hang around and resulted in their first conference loss last week to Air Force. The Rams have Boise State next week, but if they fall here, Boise will have a significant edge in the division race regardless of their game with the Rams. After a rough start to the Craig Bohl era, Wyoming is 7-3 ATS as a home underdog since 2015 with six outright wins. The Cowboys have also won eleven of their last thirteen at home and another outright win here would not surprise me.

Miami +3 Virginia Tech
Can a team be simultaneously overrated and underrated? Miami is currently ninth in the latest AP Poll. They are probably not the ninth best team in the country. However, they are three point home underdogs against Virginia Tech; a line that doesn't make a great deal of sense. Miami has won their last four games by total of just eighteen points, including their first victory against Florida State since 2009. Since that game, the Hurricanes appear to have been sleepwalking, beating Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and North Carolina, but failing to cover in each game. On a per play basis, the Hurricanes have played well, outgaining those three teams by at least a full yard per snap, but have not been able to turn that efficiency into a bigger spread on the scoreboard. I think that has duped the betting public regarding this line. Quick, what is Virginia Tech's best win? The Hokies opened with a close win against West Virginia and won at Boston College before the Eagles straightened out their offensive issues, but that's about it. The Hokies have put up solid point totals, averaging over 35 points per game, but they have four return touchdowns and were the beneficiaries of a soft non-conference slate (outside of West Virginia). In ACC play, the Hokies rank eleventh in the conference in terms of yards per play. Their defense is legit, ranking first in the ACC in yards allowed per play, but this is not an offensive juggernaut heading down to South Beach. If Miami wins this game, they can cruise to the ACC Championship game, so they should be sufficiently motivated. If Miami was any type of favorite, I would avoid this game like the plague, but catching a field goal, they are a solid play here.