Another winning week moves us to a season high five games over .500. However, we are due for some regression and oh boy, I took six road underdogs this week. I apologize in advance if you tail these picks. As always, home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 5-2
TCU +13.5 West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen showed some...ahem...onions on Saturday, electing to go for two and the win after the Mountaineers scored late against Texas. The victory moved the Mountaineers to 7-1 and gave them a clear path to the Big 12 Championship Game. A Big 12 title is still a long shot, as it may require beating Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks. However, before the Mountaineers can dream of their first league title since 2011, they must take care of business against a disappointing TCU team. The Horned Frogs are in danger of missing out on a bowl for the first time since 2013. With a 4-5 record, the Horned Frogs must win two of their last three games to become bowl eligible. TCU has struggled offensively in 2018, ranking eighth in the Big 12 in yards per play while averaging just 19 points per game in conference play. Turnovers have also hurt the Horned Frogs. In Big 12 play, TCU's turnover margin is -9 (it was -11 before they finally came out on the positive side against Kansas State). The defense, a Gary Patterson staple, has remained relatively stout by Big 12 standards, ranking second in the conference in yards allowed per play. However, the defense has only forced nine turnovers, which is on pace to be the fewest forced by the team since they joined the Big 12 in 2012. That poor turnover margin has conspired to make TCU look worse than they actually are. If the Horned Frogs had a little better turnover luck, they wouldn't be Big 12 title contenders, but they certainly would not have lost to Kansas either. TCU's defense only played one bad game this season, and that was against the Oklahoma juggernaut. West Virginia has a potent offense, ranking second in the Big 12 in yards per play, but the difference between the Sooners and the Mountaineers is the same as the difference between the Mountaineers and Kansas State (at least in yards per play). TCU has done well as a road underdog since joining the Big 12, posting a 10-4 ATS mark in the role, including 3-0 as a double-digit underdog. West Virginia is due for a letdown after such an emotional win against Texas. Plus, in their last eight games as a top-ten team, the Mountaineers are just 4-4 straight up and 1-7 ATS. That ATS record includes an 0-3 ATS mark as a double-digit home favorite and and 0-6 ATS mark as a favorite overall. TCU probably lacks the firepower to win outright, but they will keep this one close.
Wisconsin +8 Penn State
Perhaps this game should be christened The Disappointment Bowl (Big 10 edition). Both these teams began the season in the top-ten of the AP Poll and harbored at least semi-realistic playoff aspirations. Three fourths of the way through the season, Penn State is still ranked, but both teams have combined for six losses, including embarrassing defeats in Ann Arbor to Michigan. Wisconsin's typically stout defense has deserted them as they rank ninth in the Big 10 in yards allowed per play while Penn State's offense has not been the same without the services of Saquon Barkley and Joe Moorhead. The Nittany Lions currently rank a mediocre seventh in the Big 10 in yards per play (after ranking first and third in the category the past two seasons). And if you look closely, the teams appear to be trending in opposite directions. After losing to Michigan a month ago, Wisconsin was allowing an unheard of 7.19 yards per play to Big 10 opponents. Those numbers made Illinois look like the '85 Bears. Since dropping that game, the Badgers have allowed a more Wisconsin-like 4.89 yards per play. Meanwhile, Penn State has struggled offensively over the last month, particularly throwing the football. In their first two conference games, the Nittany Lions torched Illinois and Ohio State through the air, averaging a robust 9.42 yards per pass. However, in their last four games, the Nittany Lions have averaged just 6.50 yards per pass. For the season, Trace McSorley has completed just 52% of his passes (those are Joe Burrow type numbers). In 2016 and 2017, McSorley completed over 62% of his passes. This drop-off is concerning for McSorley's pro prospects and for Penn State's odds of covering as a relatively large favorite. The Nittany Lions are either 2-2 or 1-3 ATS as a home favorite this season, depending on when you bet the Iowa game. Their lone home domination came against Kent State. Wisconsin is down a few pegs from their previous incarnations, but they are good enough to keep this one close. Keep in mind Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook is questionable for this game, but I believe the Badgers are a solid play even if he is unable to go. Remember, his status is already baked into the point spread. If he is ruled out, this line will probably jump a few more points and make Wisconsin an even better proposition.
Maryland +3 Indiana
This game features a battle of the have-nots in the Big 10 East in a sort of desperation bowl. The winner will have a decent shot at bowl eligibility (Maryland will become bowl eligible with a win), but the loser will almost certainly be home for the holidays. Maryland has had an odd season, even just considering the on-field results. The Terps knocked off Texas in their opener and two weeks later lost to at home to an 0-2 Temple team that had already lost to both Villanova and Buffalo. Once Big 10 play began, they continued their uneven play. In their three wins, the Terps have averaged a robust 46 points per game. In their three league losses, the Terps have scored 24 total points. The Terps success comes down to their ability to run the ball. In their five wins, the Terps have averaged 325 yards per game on the ground while averaging over seven yards per rush. In their four losses, they have averaged 93 yards per game on the ground and just 3.11 yards per rush. Fortunately for them, Indiana does not have an elite defense. The Hoosiers rank eleventh in the Big 10 in yards allowed per play. Their offense has been similarly below average, also ranking eleventh in yards per play. Indiana's lone conference win came over a month ago at Rutgers. I'm not sure why they are favored here. Take the Terps to cover and don't be surprised if they win outright.
Charlotte +14.5 Marshall
It's mostly gone unnoticed because they are Charlotte, an FBS neophyte playing in Conference USA, but the 49ers have probably put the best team in school history on the field this year, especially on defense. Since allowing 49 points in an ugly road loss to Massachusetts, the 49ers have allowed under 100 points in their past five games (94 to be exact). They have also been stingy in the yardage department, permitting just 4.81 yards per play. Most national media blamed Tennessee for their poor showing at home last week (just 192 total yards and one offensive touchdown against Charlotte), but the 49ers deserve a good portion of credit for keeping that game close. Unfortunately, the offense has not been able to pull their weight (ranking twelfth in Conference USA in yards per play). Thus, the 49ers are stuck at 4-5 and need to win two of their last three to qualify for a bowl. The 49ers face the two Florida schools (Atlantic and International) after their trip to Huntington, so I wouldn't start buying up Bahamas Bowl tickets yet were I a Charlotte fan. Still, you can make a solid argument for Charlotte keeping this game close. Marshall is a better team, but they have offensive issues of their own (currently rank ninth in Conference USA in yards per play) and have not done well as a home favorite recently. The Herd are just 2-7 ATS as a home favorite since 2016 including 2-5 ATS as a double-digit home favorite. I expect a low-scoring game here and with Charlotte catching more than two touchdowns, they are the play.
East Carolina +13.5 Tulane
Two weeks ago, this looked like another lost season for Tulane. The Green Wave had just lost a tight game to SMU to drop their record to 2-5. An 0-3 mark in one-score games seemed destined to keep the Green Wave home for the holidays for the fifth consecutive year, especially with two straight road games on the horizon. But against tall odds, the Green Wave beat both Tulsa and South Florida and now need only sweep their home games against East Carolina and Navy to become bowl eligible. Unfortunately for Tulane backers, those two wins have probably inflated this line. Despite being in their third season of option football under Willie Fritz, the Green Wave have not dominated offensively like his previous teams at Georgia Southern. The Green Wave currently rank eighth in the AAC in yards per play. Their defense is the strength of the team, ranking third in the conference in yards allowed per play. It's hard to back defense-first teams when they are laying numbers this large. In fact, this line is rather historic for Tulane. They have not been a double-digit favorite against an FBS team since 2013! Tulane did win that game by the way, but they have not been great as a home favorite under Willie Fritz, posting a 2-4 ATS record with three outright losses! East Carolina is trash and I feel dirty backing them, but this spread is simply too high for a team that has not fully weaponized the option yet.
Houston -4 Temple
After moving into the polls prior to last weekend, Houston received a rude awakening from their in-state rivals at SMU. Allow me to digress for a moment. Kudos to SMU and Sonny Dykes. Since losing to Central Florida to fall to 2-4, the Mustangs have won at Tulane, lost to Cincinnati in overtime, and beaten Houston. With games against Connecticut and Tulsa remaining on the schedule, a second straight bowl game is likely. I definitely did not see that coming a month ago. Anyway, back to this game. That loss to the Mustangs has kept this line under a touchdown, which is great news if you fancy backing Houston. With D'Eriq King at quarterback and f*ck face Kendal Briles calling plays, the Cougars have been dynamic on offense, averaging nearly 48 points per game in 2018. The defense has had occasional glitches, but they still rank fifth in the AAC in yards allowed per play. I think this is a bad spot for Temple as well, as the Owls put a great deal of effort in their last game, a nationally televised road contest against Central Florida. With their division and conference title hopes likely dashed, the Owls may have shot their proverbial wad. Meanwhile, the loss to SMU likely served as a wake-up call to Houston who are now no longer sure things to win the division. Houston plays fast, so this game will likely feature a large number of possessions, something that serves to help favorites cover. Take the Cougars to win here by at least a touchdown.
Miami +4 Georgia Tech
Life comes at you fast. A year ago, Miami was 'back' and the 'Canes were the toast of college football. Heck, a month ago, Miami was the favorite to win the ACC Coastal and get a rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Three losses later and suddenly Miami is 5-7 over their last twelve games, including just 2-7 against Power Five opponents. Those two wins have come against a cratering North Carolina team that is just 4-16 since the start of 2017 and a Florida State team staring down their worst season since 1975. Suffice to say, Miami has not looked good in a long time. The culprit has been their offensive ineptitude. Miami has scored just 39 points during their three-game skid and neither Malik Rosier nor N'Kosi Perry have been able to give the them average quarterback play. As a team, the Hurricanes are completing just over 52% of their passes, a figure that ranks 116th nationally! It's a shame the Miami offense has been so bad because they are wasting another fine defensive performance by Manny Diaz's unit. The Hurricanes rank second in the ACC in yards allowed per play and have permitted just nine touchdowns in their five conference games. The Hurricanes have been particularly adept at getting tackles for loss, leading the nation with 94. That should come in handy against an efficiency based Georgia Tech option attack. The Yellow Jackets have played better of late, winning four of five after a 1-3 start. The Yellow Jackets have been a high variance team, particularly on offense this season. In three of their four losses, the Yellow Jackets have scored a grand total of 54 points (that's 18 per game for those who failed linear algebra). However, in their other six games, Georgia Tech has averaged nearly 50 points per game (49.2 to be exact)! Georgia Tech has played better since their poor start, but most of those games have come against bad teams. Three of their four victories since beginning 1-3 have come against Bowling Green, Louisville, and North Carolina. Their other victory came against a Virginia Tech team that also might not be that good (they did lose to Old Dominion after all). Plus they lost to Duke in between those four victories while scoring exactly 14 points at home. Miami's defense is good enough to hold Georgia Tech to around 20 points or so, and while their offense is not reliable, Georgia Tech ranks twelfth of fourteen teams in the ACC in yards allowed per play. Before this number came out, I thought Miami might be a slight favorite. Couple that with the fact that both Miami (won eight of ten games in the series since Johnson arrived at Tech) and Mark Richt (also won eight of ten against Johnson including his time at Georgia) have done well against the Yellow Jackets and the disappointing 'Canes are the play here.