Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Magnificent Seven: Week XIII

Two straight bad weeks have eroded all the gains we made over the last month. Oh well, just two more weeks left in the regular season. Let's see if we can hit a 7-0. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-4-1
Overall: 40-40-4

Missouri -23 Arkansas
Think about how differently you would view Missouri if they had finished drives better against South Carolina and gotten better officiating against Kentucky. The Tigers would be 9-2 with their losses coming to the two most dominant SEC teams (Alabama and Georgia). I might add, the Tigers did not play especially poorly in those games. So the Tigers would be 9-2 with non-conference wins against Purdue, Wyoming, and Memphis, the latter two coming in blowout fashion. I don't think its a stretch to say Missouri might be looking at a New Year's Six bowl game. But alas, things are as they are and the Tigers will have to settle for closing strong yet again and potentially ending up ranked if things shake out right in the bowl season. On the other sideline, Arkansas is limping to the finish without showing much improvement in head coach Chad Morris' first season. The Hogs have beaten one FBS opponent all year and have scored nine points in their two true SEC road games this season. Despite this being a 'rivalry', I doubt Arkansas will play hard in this one, particularly if they fall behind early. In addition, two Arkansas defensive backs will be suspended for this game after fraternizing with enemy coeds last week. Chad Morris has yet to put an average defense on the field in any of his four seasons as head coach, but suspending solid contributors having a little fun is sure to fire his unit up. Missouri is just 7-6 ATS as a home favorite under Barry Odom, but they are 4-1 ATS when laying double-digits. In the final home game for senior quarterback Drew Lock, I expect the Tigers to hammer Arkansas.

Coastal Carolina -1.5 South Alabama
It is Rivalry Weekend, so it stands to reason that a game I picked for the column would be one of the oldest and heated...oh wait nevermind. This is the first meeting ever between these FBS noobs. But that doesn't mean its not important. A win by Coastal would make them bowl eligible in just their second season of play at the FBS level. A bowl bid is definitely not assured, but the Chants should be motivated at the opportunity. For South Alabama, other than playing the role of spoiler, this game is essentially meaningless. The Jaguars have won just two games in head coach Steve Campbell's first season in charge. That is the fewest by the Jaguars since they burst on the FBS scene in 2012. Campbell has been successful at his previous stops, so good things may be in store for South Alabama, but with nothing to play for, they are hard to back here. I expect an entertaining game with both defenses ranking among the worst in FBS. Coastal Carolina has played much better on the road this season, posting a 4-2 record. With this number being so small, they are a solid play on Black Friday.

Oklahoma -1 West Virginia
This game lost a little bit of its luster when West Virginia lost to Oklahoma State. Had the Mountaineers won that game, this would not only have been a Big 12 Championship play-in game, but both teams would have also been alive for the College Football Playoff. The Sooners still harbor playoff aspirations, but West Virginia can only yearn for their first Big 12 title. Despite winning last week, it can be argued that Oklahoma is paying a bigger price, at least in terms of the spread, for their shoddy performance against Kansas. Admittedly, the Jayhawks are better than in years past, but allowing them to score 40 is a big slight against your defense. Still, the Sooners did win that game comfortably despite playing an inferior opponent while also being fresh off an emotional win with a huge game on deck. You shouldn't be terribly surprised they didn't look great. With a spread this low, you have to believe West Virginia not only has the potential to win, but that they are likely to do so. I can't get behind that logic. Oklahoma has defensive issues galore, but they have perhaps the best offense in the nation. West Virginia does have the homefield, but Oklahoma has not lost a true road game yet under Lincoln Riley. In fact, the Sooners have not dropped a true road game since their 2014 trip to Fort Worth! West Virginia is rarely a home underdog, as this is just the third instance since the start of the 2015 season. However, in those other two instances (both against teams from the state of Oklahoma), the Mountaineers failed to cover and lost by double-digits. West Virginia will get their points, but Oklahoma will survive and advance to the Big 12 Championship Game.

Washington +3.5 Washington State
Ten years after the infamous Crapple Cup, the Huskies and Cougars enter this game with their best combined ranking since 2001. The Huskies have dominated this series since Chris Petersen arrived in Seattle, winning the four contests by at least 18 points. In fact, since that Crapple Cup loss, the Huskies have won eight of nine with seven of the eight wins coming by double digits. These two teams have been pretty good over the past few seasons, so if you predicted both would be ranked heading into this game, that would not have raised any eyebrows. However, if you predicted Washington State and not Washington was the dark horse playoff contender, that might have grabbed some attention. The Huskies entered the season ranked sixth in the preseason AP Poll, but lost to Auburn in Atlanta to immediately put them behind the eight ball in terms of landing a playoff bid. Their offense struggled, but their defense dominated and the Huskies eventually returned to the top ten before losing two of three to actually fall out of the poll altogether. However, they have won two straight and are in position to not only spoil their rivals special season, but also win the division and set up a shot at the Rose Bowl next week against Utah. The Huskies have been confounding on offense this season, struggling at times to score points despite the presence of a seasoned senior backfield. However, their defense is arguably the best in the Pac-12 and comparable to the one in Berkeley. That defense, as you may remember, held Washington State to a season-low in points just three weeks ago. I expected this game to be a pick em' when the line was released so catching more than a field goal, Washington is a bargain.

Arizona +2 Arizona State
The Territorial Cup looked like it might have division implications a few weeks ago, but Utah secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game with their win at Colorado last week. So, this game is solely for bragging rights and a bowl game for Arizona. Both these teams have had uneven seasons to say the least. The Wildcats have not won or lost more than two games in a row all season while the Sun Devils did manage a three-game win streak before losing to Oregon last week. The handicap for this game is simple. Arizona has played much better at home, posting a 4-2 record, including 2-1 ATS and straight up as a home underdog. Meanwhile, Arizona State has played much worse on the road, going 1-4 overall, with their lone victory coming against a crumbling Southern Cal. Plus, the home team has won the last five in this series. Make it six after this weekend.

SMU -2 Tulsa
After a rough start, SMU has righted the ship and the Mustangs are in position to qualify for their second consecutive bowl game. Since starting 0-3, the Mustangs have won five of eight with their only losses in that span coming to the upper echelon teams in the AAC (Cincinnati, Memphis, and UCF). Meanwhile, after a disappointing 2-10 campaign in 2017, Tulsa has shown almost no signs of life in 2018. The Golden Hurricane have beaten one FBS team (if Connecticut even qualifies) and the Philip Montgomery era is starting to feel like Bill Blankenship 2.0 (for those folks who are not Tulsa fans, that is not a compliment). Outside of a solid showing against the two worst defenses in the AAC (Connecticut and Navy), Tulsa has done next to nothing on offense this year. With a line this low against a team with nothing to play for, SMU is the pick here.

Kansas State +14 Iowa State
I hope this is not an overreaction to last week when I was on Iowa State and they neglected to show up in Austin despite having a legitimate shot at playing in the Big 12 Championship Game. Instead, I hope it is me arriving relatively late to the Kansas State party. This has been a weird and disappointing season for Kansas State, with rumors swirling around Bill Snyder's future and the Wildcats looking at their first season without a bowl bid since 2009. However, after a rough start that included a narrow win against an FCS team, a home beatdown at the hands of Mississippi State, and a road beatdown at West Virginia, the Wildcats have done a pretty good imitation of a second generation Bill Snyder team. The Wildcats have covered five of their last six games as an underdog with two outright wins. Their only truly bad performance in that span was against the vastly superior Sooners in Norman. Iowa State is better than Kansas State, but the Cyclones are not in Oklahoma's neighborhood talent-wise. In fact, if you take away that Oklahoma game and their conference opener with West Virginia, Kansas State has allowed just 17.5 points per game in conference play! Overall, the Jayhawks have allowed 21 touchdowns in Big 12 play (just ten in games not involving Oklahoma or West Virginia) while the much more regarded Iowa State defense has allowed 19. Kansas State is better than people think and the Wildcats are still alive for an improbable bowl bid. Take the Wildcats and the two touchdowns here.

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