Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week V

The good news is last week was better than the week before. The bad news is we still went 2-4-1. So how do we plan on digging out of this hole? By backing two of the worst teams in college football: San Jose State and UTEP.
Ye gads. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-4-1
Overall: 11-15-2

Temple +13 Boston College
Was Boston College exposed last week against Purdue? Perhaps. In their first three games, the explosive BC offense had averaged nearly 53 points per game and over seven and a half yards per play. Against Purdue, the Eagles scored 13 points and were held below four yards per play. However, in their first three games, Boston College faced Massachusetts, Holy Cross, and Wake Forest. Holy Cross is an FCS team, and Massachusetts and Wake Forest have been two of the worst defenses in FBS in the early going. Both rank below 100th nationally in total defense, scoring defense, and (almost) yards allowed per play. Massachusetts does rank 96th in yards allowed per play, and unlike Wake Forest, they have not fired their defensive coordinator, so there is that. But, suffice to say, Boston College feasted on bad defenses in the early going. Temple did lose to an FCS team (albeit a pretty good one) and Buffalo, but they do not have a bad defense. The Owls have allowed under four and a half yards per play through their first four games. I expect some improvement from Boston College over their last outing, but this won't look like one of their first three games. I don't think Temple has enough offense to win outright, but they should keep it close.

Virginia +6 NC State
Hey look everybody, Bronco Mendenhall has turned Virginia into a legitimate football program. After qualifying for a bowl game last season, the Cavaliers are halfway to bowl eligibility in 2018. Three more wins would make them bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for first time since the glory days of Al Groh. The Cavaliers have already faced a pair of Power Five teams (Indiana and Louisville), against whom they are 1-1. NC State, thanks to the cancellation of their game with West Virginia, will be facing their first Power Five opponent in this conference opener. Thus far, they have faced an FCS team, granted a good one (James Madison), an awful Sun Belt team (Georgia State), and a decent Conference USA team on the road (Marshall). Still, despite the relatively light competition, NC State has not been especially impressive. Their running game has been particularly anemic, averaging just 3.36 yards per rush (3.54 once we remove sacks). Senior quarterback Ryan Finley has played well, but again, the competition was not especially challenging. NC State has not been especially good as a home favorite under Dave Doeren, posting a 6-9 ATS mark since 2014. This line should be closer to a field goal, so take Virginia to keep this one close.

Louisville +6.5 Florida State
Might as well go for a swim in the ACC sewage. These two teams have been extremely disappointing in the early going. Both are 2-2, but neither has been impressive on offense. Offensive guru Bobby Petrino has Louisville averaging just 17 points per game, while Florida State has been dominant by comparison, averaging close to 21 points per game. Of course, Alabama represents one fourth of Louisville's early schedule, while Florida State's best opponent thus far has been...Virginia Tech? Syracuse? At least Louisville was able to handle their FCS opponent, beating Indiana State by 24, while Florida State trailed Samford in the fourth quarter before eking out a win. I was on Florida State two weeks ago in the Carrier Dome, and after viewing most of that debacle, I can't understand how you can back Florida State as a significant favorite on the road. A Titans/Jags 9-6 crapfest seems appropriate here. The one unit that should play well in this game is the defensive line. Louisville has allowed 11 sacks thus far and Florida State has allowed 12. Both figures rank 100th or worse nationally. I don't recommend watching this game, but a third straight Louisville victory against the Seminoles would not surprise me.

Western Michigan +1.5 Miami (Ohio)
After a rough start to 2018, Miami opened up MAC play with a victory last week against Bowling Green. Of course, the Falcons may well be one of the worst teams in the conference as their lone victory came the week before against an FCS team in a game where they were significantly outgained. Western Michigan likewise rebounded from their rough start against a pair of Power Five teams. After losing to Syracuse and Michigan 59 points, the Broncos played well against an FCS team (Delaware State) and team that might as well be in the FCS (Georgia State). Those two games can skew the offensive numbers, but the Broncos also moved the ball well against Syracuse in the opener. They just could not contain Eric Dungey. The offense struggled against Michigan, but that was to be expected. I think the Broncos will be able to move the ball against a solid (by MAC standards) Miami defense. I sort of expected Western Michigan to be a slight favorite in this game, which would have meant a pass for me. So, with them catching points, I can't resist. Plus, Western Michigan is 10-2 since 2014 against teams from the MAC East. And finally, Miami is a putrid 5-18 in one-score games under Chuck Martin. Normally, I think those numbers should trend to .500, but Miami has had a losing record in close games each season under Martin. if this game is indeed close as the odds would indicate, you can bank on Miami finding a way to blow it.

San Jose State +13 Hawaii
In the summer, this game seemed like it could be one of the biggest stinkers of the week. These teams combined to finish 5-20 in 2017 with just three of those wins coming against FBS teams. And there was not much optimism heading into 2018 as Hawaii opened the season as a double-digit underdog to Colorado State and San Jose State was basically a pick 'em against an FCS opponent. San Jose State lost their opener to that FCS team, but a funny thing happened on the way to Nick Rolovich's trip to the unemployment line. The Warriors embraced the run n' shoot and won four of their first five games while averaging over 40 points per contest. Can the Warriors continue their high-flying ways and move to 2-0 in the Mountain West. On the surface, this game looks like a total mismatch. Hawaii is 4-1, with their lone loss coming against an option team in a game that literally kicked off while most folks on the islands were sleeping. Meanwhile, San Jose State is 0-3 with the aforementioned loss to that FCS team as well as two losses to Pac-12 teams. In three games, San Jose State has scored 60 points, or one point more than Hawaii scored in their win against Navy. So why is San Jose State the play here? Take another look at Hawaii's schedule. Colorado State has won one game while allowing their opponents to score nearly 40 points per game. Oh, and they also just lost at home by multiple score to Illinois State. Navy is 2-2 with a win over Memphis, but this does not appear to be your prototypical Navy team. The Midshipmen have allowed 33 points per game in their first four contests and were extremely fortunate to get their one FBS win. Rice has not beaten an FBS team and has allowed at least 40 points to each one they have played. Those are the three FBS teams Hawaii has beaten. Its better than most probably expected over the summer, but those are not good teams. Next, consider the arduous travel Hawaii must deal with. Three weeks ago, Hawaii played Rice at home. Two weeks ago, they played on the east coast against Army. Last week, they were back on the islands. Now they travel to San Jose. This game is on the west coast, but that is a great deal of travel in a short amount of time. While the Warriors have been gallivanting across this great land, San Jose State has had a week off to prepare for their arrival. And while the Spartans never threatened to beat Oregon in their last game, it does bare mentioning they only lost by 13 points. Hawaii has been a road favorite just five times since the start of the 2011 season. They have not covered in any of those games and have lost three straight up, including the last time they were favored by double-digits. I don't know if San Jose State has the firepower to win outright, but this is too many points to lay on the road.

UTEP +10.5 Texas-San Antonio
TCU/Texas was a big game last weekend, but for my money, this is the biggest battle this season in the state of Texas. The Miners will be seeking their first victory since the last game of the 2016 season. Cleveland got one last week, so there is hope. Make no mistake, the Miners are bad, having dropped three of their four games in 2018 by at least 20 points, including their opener against Northern Arizona. However, Texas-San Antonio is not the type of team you want to back laying double-digits. The Roadrunners are averaging just over 17 points per game in 2018 and have not scored more than 25 in any one game. Despite scoring 25 points in that game, the Roadrunners have not gained more than 300 yards in any game and are averaging under four yards per play for the season. Plus, the Roadrunners have performed poorly as a home favorite under (J) Frank Wilson, going 2-6 ATS and 1-4 ATS as a double-digit favorite. In a nugget you are unlikely to hear anywhere else on the web, the road team has won all five games in this series. UTEP won't make it six for six for the visitor, but they should do enough to cover this large number.

BYU +17 Washington
Almost a month in to the college football season, the playoff contenders appear to be set. You have Alabama and Georgia (I refuse to include LSU) in the SEC, Ohio State and Penn State in the Big 10, Clemson in the ACC, Oklahoma in the Big 12, Notre Dame in the sort of ACC, and Stanford and Washington in the Pac-12. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they have zero margin for error as their inability to finish drives cost them in the opener against Auburn. Over the summer, a victory over BYU didn't look like it would mean much, as the Cougars were coming off a 4-9 campaign, but BYU is the proud owner of a pair of Power Five road victories (as a double-digit underdog in both), and currently ranked in the AP top-20. For all the flak Washington's non-conference schedule has gotten over the last few seasons, this could end up being a real quality win when the playoff field is determined. Of course, for it to be a quality win, the Huskies need to actually win it. Will they? Probably, but this line seems a little high. Even when they were suffering through their lost 2017 season, BYU was still frisky as a road underdog, going 2-1 ATS with an outright upset. Overall, the Cougars are 7-1 ATS as a road underdog under Kalani Sitake including 3-1 as a double-digit underdog with two outright wins. A few years ago, you could have gotten good numbers with the Huskies as a favorite, but everyone knows Chris Petersen has an elite team now, so there is almost no value in taking them in that role. Plus, while the Huskies have an elite defense, allowing just under 13 points per game this season, they have not scored more than 27 points in any game against an FBS opponent. BYU is no slouch defensively, so expect this to be a low scoring affair. If BYU can score one touchdown, they should be able to cover this number.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week IV

The less said about last week, the better. Let's see if we can rebound after our first losing week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 1-5-1
Overall: 9-11-1

Tulsa +7 Temple
After a disappointing 0-2 start that included a loss to an FCS (Villanova) and MAC (Buffalo) team at home, Temple took their show on the road and upset undefeated Maryland. The Owls scored a season-high 35 points which included a fat-guy offensive touchdown. No disrespect to Freddie Booth-Lloyd, who I am sure is a wonderful guy (and fully capable of kicking my ass), but he is listed at 6-1, 330 pounds, which is on the upper end of most BMI charts. By winning that game, Temple begins conference play with a little momentum. Can they keep it up against a Tulsa team coming off a tough home loss to Arkansas State? While the Golden Hurricane have been bad as a home underdog under Phillip Montgomery (1-7 ATS), they have done better as a travelling act. As a road underdog, the Golden Hurricane are 10-3 ATS under Montgomery with a pair of outright wins. Even in their 2-10 campaign last season, Tulsa managed to cover three of their five games as a road underdog. Tulsa will be facing off against a team that you do not want to be laying a touchdown with. Before their relative offensive explosion against Maryland, the Owls struggled to score points, totaling just 46 combined points against Villanova and Buffalo. That continues a disappointing trend for the Owls in Philadelphia. In eight home games under Geoff Collins, the Owls have averaged just under 23 points per game and have failed to cover all five times they have been a home favorite. Tulsa is a spread offense built to run and Temple has struggled in the early going stopping the run, allowing 4.75 yards per rush (once sacks are removed). I like Tulsa to keep this one close on Thursday night.

Ball State -3 Western Kentucky
Want a prime example of the variance that abounds in college football? Two weeks ago, Western Kentucky lost at home by three points to Maine. Last weekend, the Hilltoppers went to Louisville, led the Cardinals in the fourth quarter, and lost by...three points. Credit the Hilltoppers for maintaining their focus and playing hard against Louisville, but the loss dropped Western Kentucky to 0-3 and Mike Sanford Jr. is now 6-10 as head coach. After the outstanding success the program enjoyed under Jeff Brohm, the villagers are probably gathering their pitchforks and torches. The worst part is that the prolific offense has disappeared. In each of Brohm's three seasons, the Hilltoppers averaged at least 44 points per game. In sixteen games under Sanford, the Hilltoppers have scored at least 44 points once. This season, they are averaging just 16 points per game. If we remove the opener against Wisconsin, that number does climb to 22.5 points per game, but that is still underwhelming. The Hilltoppers close out their non-conference schedule against a Ball State team looking to make a move in Mike Neu's third season. The Cardinals have been marginally competitive in their two games against Power Five opponents, losing to their in-state 'rivals' Notre Dame and Indiana by eight and 28 points respectively. This spread implies these teams are about evenly matched on a neutral field. I believe Ball State is the better team. Couple that with the standard homefield advantage and this line feels at least two points too short. Take Ball State to win and increase the pressure on Mike Sanford.

Oregon State +6 Arizona
The Beavers came close last weekend, but despite outplaying Nevada on the road, they dropped their thirteenth straight game to an FBS opponent. The Beavers have not beaten an FBS team since wining the Civil War to close the 2016 season. Although they didn't get the win, the Beavers seem to be much improved under first year head coach Jonathan Smith, particularly on offense. After averaging just under 21 points per game last season, the Beavers have scored at least 31 in each game in 2018. Of course, they have allowed over 46 points per game, so its no surprise they are only 1-2. Keep in mind though, their two losses have come on the road. Now they return to the friendly confines of Corvallis to face another 1-2 team that is not pleased to be 1-2 under their first year coach. In their only road game to date, Arizona fell behind 38-0 to a Houston team last seen allowing 63 points to Texas Tech. Arizona has lost their last two and seven of their last nine trips to Corvallis. Oregon State has a solid offense and is dangerous catching points, especially at home. Take them to give Arizona all they can handle.

Liberty +14 North Texas
North Texas is 3-0 and fresh off a four-touchdown road win against an SEC team. Not only did the Mean Green beat the Razorbacks, they stunted on them with this amazing punt return. Of course, the Mean Green also benefited from six Arkansas turnovers. The Mean Green did outgain the Razorbacks, but the margin (40 yards) was not indicative of the final score. The general public sees the beating they laid on an SEC team and thinks they should do more of the same against a team transitioning to FBS. Hold on a second though. Not only did North Texas benefit from all those turnovers, they also have a big game next week, when they host Louisiana Tech. That game will go a long way toward determining pole position in the west division of Conference USA, so North Texas could very well be overlooking the Flames. Plus, Liberty had an unexpected week off to lick their wounds following their loss to Army. Liberty may not be better than Arkansas, but their passing game is almost certainly more dangerous. If the Flames don't turn the ball over up and down the field, they should keep this one close.

Louisiana Tech +21 LSU
Les Miles may not be in Baton Rouge anymore, but his spirit is alive and well in the bayou. While LSU is currently a top-ten team and has two very impressive wins, the offense is still as ugly as it ever was. Joe Burrow, a quarterback at an SEC school in 2018 has completed 46% of his passes. Those are Bobby Douglass numbers (without the running skills). His best performance, percentage wise, came against Southeastern Louisiana, when he completed half his passes. Maybe LSU can ride a good defense and an inconsistent at best passing game to an SEC West title, but I have serious doubts. The Tigers won't need Burrow to play well to beat Louisiana Tech at home, but they probably will need him to in order to cover. It's hard to justify backing a team with such limited offensive capabilities laying three touchdowns. Oh, and the Tigers happen to be coming off a huge conference road win. And they have another conference opponent on deck (Ole Miss). I think LSU, particularly the defense, will be looking ahead to next week's showdown with the Rebels and their dynamic receiving corps. Louisiana Tech has been solid as a road underdog since Skip Holtz came to town, posting a 10-6-1 ATS mark, including 9-3-1 since 2014. They have also done well against Power Five opponents, going 5-3-1 ATS, including near victories against Kansas State in 2015, Arkansas in 2016, and South Carolina last season. This also marks the fifth straight season they have traveled to an SEC venue, so they should not be intimidated. Louisiana Tech won't win, but I think there is a good chance while you're watching Stanford and Oregon, you'll notice this game is within ten points in the fourth quarter.

Utah State -10 Air Force
I know the opponents have been less than formidable (New Mexico State and Tennessee Tech), but Utah State has still been impressive in their two home games this season. The Aggies scored a combined 133 points on the other Aggies and Golden Eagles. They have been especially proficient on the ground, accumulating nearly 600 yards and scoring ten touchdowns in both games. Now the Aggies open conference play against an opponent that has gotten under their skin the past three seasons. Air Force has won the last three games against Utah State, with each victory coming by a touchdown or less, despite being outgained by the Aggies and averaging nearly a yard less per play. The Falcons have benefited from some Aggie turnovers (+3 margin in the three games) and general good fortune. I think that tightrope will be tough to walk this season in Logan. Utah State has been solid as a double-digit home favorite under Matt Wells, posting an 8-4 ATS mark. Look for the Aggies to continue rolling here.

Eastern Michigan +10.5 San Diego State
After winning 32 games from 2015 through 2017, the Aztecs were somewhat written off from a national perspective following their season-opening loss to Stanford and less than impressive win against Sacramento State. And then late Saturday night, the Aztecs upset Arizona State moving their Pac-12 record to 3-1 over the past season and a half (which is the same number of Pac-12 wins Utah has in that span). The Aztecs pulled the upset with their backup quarterback by following their usual script. The Aztecs ran the ball 58 times against the Sun Devils, the fourteenth time they have run the ball at least 50 times in the last 44 games. In this era of spread tempo offense and four-hour football games, Rocky Long is a great throwback to the 1970s NFL. However, don't confuse this San Diego State offense with three yards and a cloud of dust. Juwan Washington (and his backup Chase Jasmin) is following in the footsteps of Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny by providing big-play capability in the backfield. Unfortunately, even Rocky Long is not immune to letdowns and I think the Aztecs are in prime position for one after their big win last weekend. Their guests on Saturday night are used to being road warriors. Under Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan is 16-9-1 ATS as a road underdog, including 11-2 since the start of the 2016 season. Under Creighton, the former doormats have won two road games against Power Five opponents. Under his predecessor, the Eagles won four road games total. I've never been to San Diego, but I hear the weather is nice. And the Aztecs have done their best to be accommodating to infrequent visitors. Since 2014, the Aztecs have been favored against four non-conference opponents. The Aztecs have failed to cover in each of those games, including losing one outright. You'll have to stay up late, but this should be a great, if under the radar game. Back Eastern Michigan and expect them to keep it close.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week III

Two winning weeks in a row to start 2018. And we only really whiffed on one game. Sorry for telling you to back Arizona. I think this two game stretch has done more to damage Khalil Tate's pro prospects than the triple option ever could. The theme for this week is weather. A pretty big storm is brewing in the Atlantic so several games, including a few on this list could be canceled or postponed. Have no fear though, if some games are canceled we'll add extra picks throughout the season to get us back to the seven game average. Stay safe everyone. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 8-6

Wake Forest +7 Boston College
Boston College was somewhat of a chic sleeper team over the summer thanks to their strong showing to end 2017. The Eagles won five of their last six regular season games after a 2-4 start, and more importantly finally got their offense on track under Steve Addazio. Over their last six games, the Eagles eclipsed the 30-point barrier five times and averaged a cool 36 points per game. The Eagles have continued to fly high in 2018, scoring 117 total points in easy wins against outclassed competition. Now, the Eagles have their first real test of the season as they open conference play at historic BB&T Field. While the Eagles have looked fantastic in the early going, I think it might be time to pump the breaks on the Boston College bandwagon. For starters, while the offense certainly improved at the end of last season, part of that can be explained by the schedule. In those final six games, the Eagles faced defenses that finished 84th (Louisville), 99th (Syracuse), and 126th (Connecticut) in Defensive S&P. Plus, while Florida State (33rd), NC State (62nd) and Virginia (43rd) were decent on that side of the ball, the Eagles did not face any elite defenses during their run of offensive dynamism. I don't like to read too much into bowl games, but it is worth mentioning they only manged 20 points against a very good Iowa defense (15th). I don't doubt the offensive gains were real, but this is not Chip Kelly's Oregon. Wake Forest does not have an elite defense, but they represent the best resistance the Eagles will have faced on that side of the ball (no offense to Massachusetts and Holy Cross). Wake has been spry as a home dog under Dave Clawson, going 8-4-1 ATS with three outright wins in the role. On the surface, Boston College has been mediocre as a road favorite under Addazio, posting a 4-5 ATS mark, but when you filter out a pair of games against Massachusetts, that record drops to 2-5. I think the market has bought into the Boston College hype a little too much as this number has crept up after opening at five. Facing a conference opponent on the road on a short week is too much to ask. Take the Demon Deacons here.

Florida State -3.5 Syracuse
The Willie Taggart era has not gotten off to the smoothest of starts. After a disappointing 6-6 regular season in 2017, the hope was that Taggart could invigorate a talented roster that had grown a little stale under the old regime. It's way too soon to render any final verdict, but most Florida State fans never thought they would lose the opener by three touchdowns and then need a fourth quarter rally to beat an FCS team. Yet, here we are. As always though, I try to take a measured look at the proceedings and look for market inefficiencies. I think this game presents several. For one, Florida State did not deserve to beat Virginia Tech, but they also did not deserve to lose by three touchdowns. The Seminoles actually slightly outgained the Hokies and averaged more yards per play. Five turnovers and a blocked punt contributed to the inflated margin. Secondly, the Seminoles were in a rough spot against Samford having just played on Monday night. In the last decade, there have been several instances of teams losing on Labor Day night and then struggling against FCS competition the next week. Nine years ago, Florida State has in the exact same spot and had a hard time with Jacksonville State. Virginia Tech famously lost to James Madison after losing a tight game to Boise State. Navy edged Georgia Southern after losing to Maryland. All those teams enjoyed decent to solid seasons despite losing their opener and then struggling with an FCS team on a short week. Thirdly, if you wanted to see Florida State's offense get on track, Syracuse is about a good a team as you could ask for. Remember, the Orange were getting gashed by Western Michigan to the tune of 621 yards and nearly ten yards per play two weeks ago. The Orange won that game thanks to an amazing performance by Eric Dungey, but were sieves defensively against a MAC team. Syracuse has pulled off a few shockers under Dino Babers in the Carrier Dome, but overall they are just 2-5 ATS as a home underdog losing all five non-covers by at least fifteen points. If I had offered you this line five days ago, you would have jumped at the chance to take Florida State. Don't read too much into their ugly win against Samford. The Seminoles will roll here.

Rutgers +3 Kansas
Kansas finally got the proverbial monkey off their back last week as they won a road game for the first time since 2009. For all intents and purposes though, that win was meaningless. Central Michigan was expected to be a bad team coming into the season and they have not disappointed in the early going. The win means Kansas will finish 1-11 instead of 0-12 and ensures David Beatty will end his coaching career with four more wins than me and you. The Jayhawks won comfortably against the Chippewas, but against a MAC team, they barely averaged north of five yards per play. They won easily by forcing six turnovers and committing none. If you think that trend is likely to continue, keep in mind the Jayhawks have finished with a clean turnover sheet just two other times under Beatty. While games with no turnovers have been rare for the Jayhawks, games where they have been favored have been nearly as rare. The Jayhawks have been home favorites against FBS competition twice under Beatty. They lost both of those MAC 34 total points. In fact, the last time Kansas was favored at home against a Power Five team was 2009! The Jayhawks won that game, but failed to cover. I guess what I'm trying to say is, there is no way in hell you should be backing Kansas as a favorite, much less against a Power Five team. Just to be clear though, I am not trying to imply that Rutgers is a good team in any way. The Scarlet Knights looked horrendous last week, but at least have the excuse that they played Ohio State. Rutgers should be able to do what nearly every other FBS team (except Texas) and half the FCS teams on their schedule have been able to do; beat Kansas in Lawrence.

Boise State +3 Oklahoma State
In the current iteration of the AP Poll, Boise State is the highest ranked Group of Five team. Of course, the AP Poll has no bearing on which teams qualify for the College Football Playoff or which teams participate in New Year's Six bowls, but I think its fair to say the Broncos are at worst co-favorites at this point, along with Central Florida, to represent the Group of Five in a New Year's Six game. A road win against a ranked Big 12 team would certainly give them an early edge, and with the troubles in Chapel Hill and Pittsburgh respectively, trump anything remaining on Central Florida's schedule. But, bowl season is a long way off, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. Regular readers might remember that I was high on the Broncos in the offseason, snagging this same bet with a little better value at +4.5. The Broncos have done nothing in the early going to dissuade me from continuing to back them. They have outscored their first two opponents by nearly 100 points and have averaged over nine yards per play. One of those opponents was Connecticut, so some perspective is needed, but the other was a road game against a decent Troy team. Oklahoma State has been similarly dominant in their first two wins, but in the aggregate, Missouri State and South Alabama are probably weaker than Troy and Connecticut. This will represent the first major test for either of these teams and while Boise State will take a senior fourth-year starting quarterback into Stillwater, the Cowboys will counter with an inexperienced senior quarterback making just his third career start. Under Bryan Harsin, Boise State is 6-4 straight up against Power Five teams, but when the Broncos are underdogs, that chip on their shoulder seems to make them play harder. The Broncos are 3-1 ATS in the role with two outright wins and another near miss. I feel confident backing Boise State as low as a pick 'em here. It won't be a cakewalk like their first two games, but they should get the win nonetheless.

Old Dominion -1 Charlotte
I'm giving the Monarchs one more chance. If they blow this game as a short favorite, they are dead to me. I was on them last week against Florida International and after jumping out to a 17-0 lead, their offense floundered, the game was delayed nearly two hours by lightning, and they eventually fell 28-20 to drop them to 0-2. There are some bad teams in Conference USA (and Old Dominion is probably one of them) so a bowl game is still on the table, but they must beat the woeful 49ers if they have any designs on the postseason. Since joining Conference USA in 2014, Old Dominion is a solid 4-2 ATS as a road favorite and Charlotte is not used to delivering wins in front of their home fans. The 49ers are 5-8-1 ATS as a home underdog since joining FBS in 2015 and they have won just once at home against an FBS foe (it was UAB if you were curious). Old Dominion is the better team and should be able to cover this small number.

Tulsa +2 Arkansas State
Arkansas State makes the trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma fresh off a curb stomping in Tuscaloosa. The Red Wolves were a popular pick to cover the more than five touchdown spread against the Crimson Tide, but Alabama led by forty at halftime and held on to win 57-7. Arkansas State is still a legitimate contender in the Sun Belt, but that can't be good for a team's confidence. Tulsa fared a little better in their road trip against a traditional college football power. The Golden Hurricane fell behind Texas 21-0, but quietly staged a second half comeback and eventually lost by just seven points in a game where they never really threatened to win. Through two games, Tulsa appears to be improved, particularly on defense, from the horror show that was 2017. Last season Tulsa finished just 2-10 and for the season allowed an average of 7.3 yards per play (only East Carolina allowed more). I would never call this unit 'good' at defense, but with their offensive firepower, they merely need to be competent to get back to a bowl game. Tulsa has done very well at home under Phillip Montgomery against fellow Group of Five teams, posting a 4-1 record with three of the four wins coming by double-digits. Meanwhile, under Blake Anderson, Arkansas State has treated road non-conference games like preseason games. They are 0-9 in such contests, including 0-3 against Group of Five opponents, with each loss coming by at least two touchdowns. The wrong team is favored here. Take Tulsa to cover, win outright, and match last season's win total.

Purdue +7.5 Missouri
After winning seven games for just the second time in a decade last season, Purdue has stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2018. The Boilermakers have dropped their first two games by a combined five points despite outgaining Northwestern and Eastern Michigan by over 100 combined yards and beating them on a per play basis by more than a full yard. Turnovers (-5 margin), missed kicks (especially an extra point), and ill-timed defensive personal fouls have pushed the Boilermakers into desperation mode. Their final ten games are all against Power Five teams, so if the Boilermakers have designs on a second consecutive bowl game, they now have almost no margin for error. Meanwhile, Missouri enters this game having won eight consecutive regular season games while posting at least 40 in each contest. We'll conveniently ignore the bowl game for the moment as that streak is still impressive. Last week, Missouri throttled a Wyoming team that was expected to be solid entering the season. However, early returns, particularly on offense, have not been great. After scoring 29 points in a Week Zero win against New Mexico State, the Cowboys have only been able to muster a combined 32 points in their next two games. Purdue will represent a significant challenge for the Missouri defense. Despite only managing 19 points in their loss to Eastern Michigan last week, the Boilermakers averaged over seven yards per play. The wet conditions certainly contributed to their inability to finish drives against the Eagles. Purdue will be very dangerous if they can turn that per play efficiency into more touchdowns. One additional thing to consider regarding this game is last year's result. Remember, last season the Boilermakers went into Columbia as a about a touchdown underdog and crushed Missouri 35-3. I wouldn't expect such a lopsided margin here, but Purdue has been fantastic as an underdog under Jeff Brohm, posting a 5-2 ATS mark with three outright upsets. Plus, Missouri has not exactly been a road dynamo under Barry Odom, posting a 3-7 straight up record with the wins coming against Arkansas, Connecticut, and Vanderbilt. Back the Boilermakers here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week II

We got off to a decent start in Week One. I whiffed pretty badly on two games and North Carolina needed a spectacular backdoor cover to give us a winning week. However, two of the underdogs I advised you to back won outright. Bitter with the sweet I suppose. Let's see if we can find some winners this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-3
Overall: 4-3

Arizona +4.5 Houston
It happened late Saturday night and was a little off the beaten path, but one of the biggest upsets of the opening weekend occurred in Tucson. The Wildcats began the Kevin Sumlin era by losing at home as a double-digit favorite to BYU. Darkhorse Heisman candidate Khalil Tate rushed for fourteen total yards and threw for less than 200 against the Cougars. This continued a disturbing trend for Tate. After rushing for over 1200 yards in a six-game span last season, during which the Wildcats went 5-1, Tate has now rushed for a combined 132 yards over his last four games (all losses). So after sixty minutes of game time and a little over four hours of real time, Arizona has gone from a sleeper to win the Pac-12 South to being in real danger of starting 0-2. Kevin Sumlin's seat may be warm at halftime of his second game. This trip to Houston will be a Noon kick, but H-town should be sufficiently rocking for the visit. Arizona is the first of two Power Five opponents on Houston's schedule this season (they travel to Texas Tech next week). A win in both games would put Houston into the top 25 and give them a decent shot at being the Group of Five representative in the New Year's Six. Houston won in Tucson last season in their delayed opener (their scheduled in-state battle with UTSA was canceled). That was before Tate was unleashed on the world. In fact. Brandon Dawkins, who later transferred to Indiana, took the lion's share of snaps in that game. Moving forward to this season, Houston was challenged for a half in their opener, trailing against a Rice team that narrowly edged Prairie View in Week Zero. The Cougars pulled away in the second half and beat their former Southwest and Conference USA rival for the fifth straight time. Opening against Rice is always good for your won/loss record, but Arizona will represent a significant upgrade in competition. Desperate teams also tend to be dangerous and I expect Arizona to come out motivated against Houston. The market is overreacting to Arizona's loss to BYU. Take the Wildcats to keep this one close and potentially win outright.

Georgia Tech -3 South Florida
Not gonna lie to you. I'm extremely hesitant to back the Yellow Jackets as a road favorite. The Stingers have not covered their last six games in that role and have actually lost all six of those games straight up! You have to go back nearly four years to find Georgia Tech's last cover as a road favorite. So why should you back them now? For one thing, this game is taking place in early September and not late November. By then, I expect South Florida to be a very dangerous team. But for now, the Bulls are still adjusting to life without Quinton Flowers. Flowers guided the Bulls to 21 wins, a ton of points, and a pair of ranked finishes over the past two seasons, but he is now trying to stick in the NFL as a running back. Sans Flowers, the Bulls did not have much trouble vanquishing Elon last weekend, but against a Power Five team, particularly one that runs a unique offense, things will probably be different. Plus, even with Flowers, the Bulls did not exactly put away marquee opponents over the past few seasons. Since 2015, the Bulls are 5-3 against Power Five teams, but only two of those wins came against bowl squads. In fact, those two wins actually came in bowl games against South Carolina and Texas Tech, in overtime and by four points respectively. Both those teams also finished just 6-7 after the bowl loss. Georgia Tech has a tough schedule and will need all the non-conference wins they can muster to get back to a bowl game. I expect them to be able to handle an inexperienced Group of Five team on the road. 

Coastal Carolina +10 UAB
My apologies for those that were on Coastal last week. I figured the Chanticleers would put up more of a fight against the Gamecocks in Columbia. While Coastal did not put up much resistance defensively, they were able to put a few solid drives together. Without the benefit of a single turnover or any good field position, the Chanticleers put together four scoring drives (albeit just one of the touchdown variety) against an above-average SEC defense. The Chanticleers also played the underdog role to perfection, at least on offense. They gave a vintage Kansas State performance on that side of the ball, taking their time getting to the line and milking the clock. The game only featured ten possessions for each side. Unfortunately, the defense didn't quite live up to its end of the bargain in allowing the Gamecocks to score touchdowns on seven of those possessions. Now the Chanticleers return to beautiful Conway, South Carolina for their home opener. Their guests will be the Blazers from Birmingham, fresh off their second bowl appearance in school history. UAB was not challenged in their opener as they blasted Savannah State from the FCS 52-0. I wouldn't put too much stock into that game though as the Tigers are what insiders refer to as a bad football team. From 2014 through 2017, the Tigers went 7-36 with eight losses to FBS teams. The Tigers allowed at least 52 points in each of those FBS losses and failed to score more than thirteen points in any game themselves. And lest you think those losses all came against top-tier FBS competition, here are those eight teams listed alphabetically: Akron, Appalachian State, BYU, Colorado State, Georgia Southern (twice), Middle Tennessee State, and Southern Miss. Several of those teams qualified for bowl games, but none reside in a Power Five conference. UAB will see a significant uptick in competition on the road against the Chanticleers. In addition, UAB will be in an unusual situation as they enter this game as a double-digit favorite. The Blazers were favored on the road once last season, by about a touchdown in a game they lost to Charlotte. I'm very happy that UAB is back from the dead and in contention for a second consecutive bowl game, but the Blazers are getting a little too much love from oddsmakers and the public. Take Coastal to keep this one close and put a scare into UAB.

Louisiana-Monroe +6 Southern Miss
Can the market overreact to a team most probably don't even know is FBS? Judging by this spread, I think the answer is a resounding 'Yes'. The Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe edged Southeastern Louisiana 34-31 on Thursday night, and the tight margin has this spread a little higher than it should be. The Warhawks entered the third season of the Matt Viator era with designs on their first bowl bid since 2012. The offense made great strides in Viator's second season, averaging ten more points per game than they did in 2016. With nine starters back, the hope was that the offense could win its fair share of shootouts in 2018. The offense did put 34 points on the board, but the passing game didn't have any explosive plays against the Lions. The Warhawks averaged under ten yards per completion after averaging over fourteen last season. Look for that number to trend upward against a Southern Miss team that did not struggle against their FCS punching bag. The Golden Eagles hung the double-nickel on Jackson State and cruised in their opener. However, before comparing the raw totals, it helps to examine each FCS opponent. Southeastern Louisiana finished 6-5 last season and nearly upset Louisiana-Lafayette. Meanwhile, Jackson State finished 3-8 last season and since 2015, has lost by at least 50 points to three other FBS teams (Middle Tennessee State, TCU, and UNLV). In other words, don't read too much into these disparate results against FCS opponents. If this game were played in Week One, the line would probably be a field goal or less. Plus, Southern Miss has been poor as a home favorite under Jay Hopson, posting a 2-6 ATS mark with four outright losses! Take the Warhawks here and don't be surprised if they win outright.

Old Dominion -1 Florida International
I was streaming Old Dominion and Liberty on Saturday night because I made a big play (by my standards) on the Monarchs when I was in Vegas over the summer. Needless to say, that bet is not looking great after Old Dominion's performance against the Flames. The Monarchs lost by a mere six touchdowns in Liberty's FBS debut. So naturally, I'm back for more hair of the dog this week. Despite Old Dominion's putrid performance, I think they have a good shot at beating the Panthers on Saturday. For starters, Liberty ranked seventh in returning production heading into 2018. It's almost as if Turner Gill and company were building toward this first year of FBS competition. Meanwhile, Florida International ranked 126th. Needless to say, I don't envision the Panthers rolling up 600 yards of offense. If they do, it might be time to fire a defensive coordinator. Secondly, the Monarchs will be back in the friendly confines of S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Virginia (yeah I had to look up the stadium name). Opening the season on the road against an experienced team playing their first game as an FBS program created a raucous atmosphere in Lynchburg, Virginia. Seriously, those evangelicals were making a lot of noise; almost akin to a revival or camp meeting. I expect the Monarchs to play much better in their home opener. Finally, this is a conference game, so I expect the bad taste from that curb stomping to be gone by kickoff. Old Dominion and Florida International are not only in the same conference, they are in the same division. They have played each season since Old Dominion joined Conference USA in 2014 (Old Dominion has won three of four) and will play every year until one of these teams moves to the ACC. Expecting the Panthers to win a conference road game with so little experience is folly. Take the Monarchs to win and cover here.

Cincinnati +2.5 Miami (Ohio) @ Paul Brown Stadium
The battle for the Victory Bell, the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football, takes place in historic Paul Brown Stadium for just the second time in the rivalry's storied history. Miami is looking to break a twelve game losing streak in their annual clash with the Bearcats while Cincinnati will look to make it a baker's dozen. Last week, Cincinnati pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the weekend by upsetting UCLA in Chip Kelly's debut. The Bearcats and Bruins were engaged in a defensive struggle, combining for just over 600 yards and 43 total points in the Rose Bowl. The Bearcats were able to eke out a win thanks to some aggressive play-calling (on both sides). The Bruins failed on a fourth down in their own territory late in the fourth quarter while the Bearcats converted a pair on their subsequent drive to ice the game. Meanwhile, Miami did two things they always seem to do: open with a loss and fail to win a close game. The Redhawks 35-28 loss to Marshall was their ninth season opening loss in ten seasons and dropped them to an unbelievable 5-18 in one-score games under Chuck Martin. I'm a big believer that close game results tend to even out over time, but the Redhawks have consistently failed to deliver in the clutch under Martin. Based on the limited results we have this season, this line does not make a great deal of sense. Cincinnati won a game against a (young) Power Five team on the road while Miami lost at home to a Group of Five team. Typically, I am not in favor of backing a team off a big win, but this is a rivalry game, so motivation should not be an issue. Cincinnati has dominated this rivalry of late and the Bearcats are playing a semi-home game. Finally, oddsmakers expect this game to be close, which has not been a great recipe for Miami under Martin. If Cincinnati were favored, I would advise you to stay away, but with them catching points, I can't resist backing the Bearcats. Miami has been a solid play catching points under Martin (13-7 ATS in the underdog role), but you don't want any part of them as a favorite.

Arizona State +6 Michigan State
Like most rational college football fans, I was surprised by Arizona State's choice to be their next head coach. Herm Edwards had not coached in college football since 1989 and had not coached at all since 2008. Obviously, it's just one game, but the Sun Devils did not fall flat on their collective faces in the opener. Facing a rebuilding UTSA team, the Sun Devils did not let the Roadrunners hang around, building a 28-0 halftime lead with their ACME products and cruising to a 49-7 win. Michigan State's opener was not nearly as easy. Utah State entered East Lansing having lost their previous six road games against Power Five opponents by a combined 178 points. Yet, the Aggies actually took the lead in the fourth quarter before falling 38-31. Michigan State struggled mightily running the ball, averaging under four yards per carry in the game. Quarterback Brian Lewerke bailed the Spartans out, completing six of eight passes on third down to keep the chains moving. Inefficiency on first and second down will not be a recipe for success on the road against a Power Five team desperate for respect. Since the start of the 2015 season, Michigan State is 1-8 ATS as a road favorite and the Sun Devils have been solid in home games against non-conference Power Five competition. Since 2005, under an assortment of head coaches, Arizona State is 7-2 straight up against non-conference opponents from BCS/Power Five conferences. Their losses have come to LSU in 2005 and Georgia in 2008. Who knows, Michigan State may end up as a better team than those mid-aughts SEC squads, but they probably don't have as much underlying talent. I love backing the Spartans as a dog, but I want no part of them giving points in a Pac-12 after dark showcase.

*Bonus Handicap*
Kansas State +9.5 Mississippi State
This isn't a pick as much as it is an advisement for you to stay away from this number. I have made no secret of my love for Bill Snyder on this blog, and perhaps that colors my view too much here, but allow me to lay out a few things for you.

  1. This line opened around a touchdown and has climbed to nearly double-digits. I would not be surprised to see it cross that number by kickoff. Do you really want to chase public money?
  2. You will not make money consistently betting against Bill Snyder as an underdog in Manhattan. Since returning to the Kansas State sideline in 2009, Snyder's teams are 12-6 ATS as a home underdog with seven outright wins!
  3. Was Snyder holding something back in Kansas State's tight win against South Dakota? The last time Kansas State struggled to put away an FCS opponent (ignoring their loss to North Dakota State), they finished 10-3. And even when they lost to the Bison, they finished 8-5. 
Maybe this is the year things go sideways for Snyder. He is approaching Methuselah age and it will never be easy to win at Kansas State. But do you really want to gamble this month's mortgage payment that he is done? Wait and see my friend. If you'll allow me an apropos metaphor, this feels like a Blackjack hand where you are holding a pair of face cards and the dealer's face up card is a Seven. You feel like this is easy money. Then the dealer flips their face down card to reveal a Four. Now your sphincter tightens just a bit as they take a hit. In Blackjack, that hit takes a second or two and its on to the next hand. This hit will last three and a half hours. Save yourself some unneeded stress and find another game to bet.