Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week X

We got back in the good graces of the gambling gods last week. Hopefully we can stave off a relapse and have another solid week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 32-30-1

Central Michigan +1.5 Northern Illinois
I was on Central Michigan last week as they failed to cover against Buffalo. However, the final score of that game was a bit misleading. The Chippewas turned the ball over five times and were -4 in turnover margin for the game. One of those turnovers was returned for a touchdown and two others set Buffalo up in excellent field position to score touchdowns (fifteen and twenty two yard touchdown drives). With the Chippewas returning to Mount Pleasant and needing an additional win for bowl eligibility, they should be motivated to beat the Huskies. Prior to last season’s disappointing campaign, the Chippewas were one of the few MAC teams that could consistently beat Northern Illinois. Central Michigan won four in a row between 2014 and 2017, joining Toledo as they only MAC team to beat the Huskies multiple times in that span. The betting market is down on Central Michigan after their loss to Buffalo last week and high on Northern Illinois after their blowout win against Akron. Central Michigan should be favored in this game, so take the gift point and a half.

Virginia Tech +17.5 Notre Dame
The end seemed inevitable for Justin Fuente after the Hokies opened their season by losing at Boston College. Closer than expected victories against Old Dominion and Furman did not quell the angst in Blacksburg. And then the Hokies laid a massive egg against Duke on a Friday night. Virginia Tech seemed destined to see their nearly three decade bowl streak end. With the season on the ropes, Fuente decided to bench Ryan Willis (you can take the quarterback out of the Kansas, but not the Kansas out of the quarterback) and insert Hendon Hooker as the starter. The Hokies are 3-0 with Hooker as the starter and have scored at least 30 points in each game. Those stats come with some caveats, as the Hokies needed five Miami turnovers to score 42 against the Hurricanes and six overtimes to score 43 against North Carolina. On the other hand, Hooker left the North Carolina game with an injury and the team was forced to improvise with a raw Quincy Patterson alternating snaps with Willis. Most importantly, the Hokies have avoided mistakes with Hooker throwing no interceptions in his three games after Willis threw five in his four starts. Hooker is expected to play against Notre Dame and his ball security and rushing threat should present problems for a Notre Dame team coming off a blowout loss to Michigan. By my count Notre Dame now has two losses which effectively eliminates them from playoff contention. Without that carrot to chase and no conference title to contend for, I think it’s fair to question how motivated the Irish will be in this game. In the playoff era (since 2014), even ignoring their lost 2016 season, Notre Dame is 0-4 ATS as a favorite in the regular season after losing their second game. They have also lost three of those four games outright! In addition, the Irish have not done well as a large home favorite against Power Five/BCS teams under Brian Kelly. Overall, the Irish are a just 14-17-1 ATS as a double-digit home favorite under Kelly. However, those numbers have interesting splits. Against Group of Five (formerly non-BCS) teams, the Irish are 10-4-1 ATS, but against Power Five (formerly BCS teams) they are just 4-11 ATS. The Irish beat up on the New Mexicos and Bowling Greens of the world, but have a tougher time covering as large favorites against the Purdues and Pittsburghs. I would not be so bold as to call for a Virginia Tech outright upset, but this feels like a game that is decided by seven to ten points. Take that extra value and back the Hokies.

Kansas +6 Kansas St
The Wildcats have dominated this Sunflower State showdown lately, winning 22 of the past 26 meetings, including the last ten. Despite that trend, I like the woeful underdog. It’s no secret the Kansas offense has been rolling lately since Les Miles installed Brent Dearmon as the offensive coordinator. Suddenly, a team that scored seven points against Coastal Carolina has scored 85 points over the past two games. After throwing thirteen touchdown passes during his first three season in Lawrence, Carter Stanley suddenly looks like a competent Big 12 quarterback, with nineteen touchdown passes through two thirds of the season. The Kansas defense is still a hindrance to success, but this is the best and most successful Kansas team since 2009. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are coming off a seismic upset of Oklahoma. The Wildcats beat the Sooners in Manhattan after nearly blowing a 25-point second half lead. Did they think they were in the Super Bowl or something? However, if you just looked at the box score, ignorant of the teams involved, and the final score, I doubt you would have successfully identified the winning team. That continues a somewhat disturbing trend for the Wildcats this season. While they are 2-2 in conference play and 5-2 overall, on a per play basis, they are far and away the worst team in the Big 12. Take a look at the per play and yardage differentials in their first four conference games.
That’s quite a tightrope to walk to win any, much less half of your conference games. During his second stint in Manhattan, Bill Snyder mastered a voodoo style of football wherein the Wildcats continuously won more games than the stats indicated they should have. Perhaps Chris Klieman has participated in the same rituals, but I think the Wildcats are more likely to see their record regress to their stats over the second half of conference play. Take the Jayhawks and the points in this spot.

Tennessee -12.5 UAB
Six weeks ago, this seemed like a lost season for the Vols. Tennessee was coming off a humbling loss at Florida and stood just 1-3 with a whole slate of SEC football to go. However, despite going just 2-2 over their past four games, the Vols have shown improvement. They hung around with Georgia until a late fumble return touchdown (with an excellent screen by the official) cost them the cover. Then they upset Mississippi State and played Alabama tough in Tuscaloosa (it helped that Tua got hurt). Finally, last week they exorcised their Will Muschamp demons and beat South Carolina for the first time since 2015. With two league wins, the Vols have already matched their total from the 2017 and 2018 seasons combined and with some winnable games down the stretch, a bowl is not out of the question. That motivation factor is one reason I like Tennessee this weekend. If the Vols have designs on a bowl game, they have to beat the Blazers. In addition, the Vols have already lost at home to a pair of Group of Five teams this season, so I don’t think there is any danger of them overlooking UAB. As for the Blazers, they may be 6-1, but they have played one of the easiest schedules in college football. The six teams they have beaten (Alabama State, Akron, Old Dominion, South Alabama, Rice, and UTSA) have combined for exactly two FBS wins. Those wins both belong to UTSA (the Roadrunners beat Rice and UTEP). The other five teams do not own a single FBS victory! Statistician Jeff Sagarin assigns ratings for both FBS and FCS teams. Based on his strength of schedule metric, UAB’s schedule ranks 189th. For reference, there are 130 FBS teams. This means the Blazers have had an easier schedule to date than a lot of FCS teams. Credit UAB for winning those games while posting solid per play differentials and scoring margins, but Tennessee represents their most significant test by far. Keep in mind the Blazers have done well under head coach Bill Clark as a road underdog, posting an 8-4 ATS record. However, against Power Five opponents, they are just 1-3 ATS with the narrowest defeat coming by thirteen points. The past two seasons (since their rebirth), the Blazers have been decent, but not prohibitive underdogs to Florida (+10) and Texas A&M (+16). The Blazers never led or covered in either game (and don’t forget, Florida was bad and on an interim coach in 2017). This Tennessee pick goes against my normal instincts. The Vols are a double-digit favorite, off an upset win, with a somewhat misleading final score, but I think the loss to Georgia State in the opener will cause them to be focused against UAB. I love seeing SEC programs struggle to put away Group of Five teams at home, but this doesn’t feel like one of those games.

Vanderbilt +16 South Carolina
South Carolina has played seven games against FBS opponents in 2019. Chronologically, they have scored 20, 23, 14, 24, 20, 27, and 21 points in those games. When I plugged those numbers into an IBM supercomputer, that averaged to a little more than 21 points per game (check my math). When you think about the quarterback situation, that’s makes a lot of sense. Senior Jake Bentley was injured in the opener against North Carolina, so the Gamecocks have had to rely on freshman Ryan Hilinski. With a freshman quarterback taking snaps for a Will Muschamp coached team, one wouldn’t expect a great deal of offensive firepower. If the Gamecocks have an average (by their standards) game against the Commodores, they would score 21 points. That means one touchdown by Vanderbilt would cover this number. Of course Vanderbilt probably has one of the worst defenses South Carolina will have faced this season, so maybe they score 30 points. Barring some defensive or special teams scores or several Vanderbilt turnovers that lead to short fields, is it realistic to expect South Carolina to score much more than 30? I wouldn’t think so. Of course, don’t confuse this pick of Vanderbilt with the notion that Vanderbilt has solved all their issues after their home upset of Missouri. I know Derek Mason gave an impassioned monologue after the win, but this team still lost at home to a bad UNLV three weeks ago. I don’t expect the Commodores to suddenly reel off a string of wins and get to a bowl game. However, I do expect the Commodores to play well as a double-digit road underdog, as they have for the duration of Mason’s tenure. As a double-digit road dog, the Commodores are 10-4 ATS under Mason. They rarely win the game outright (Georgia in 2016 is their only outright win), but they consistently cover. South Carolina is still overvalued after their win at Georgia earlier in October. Catching more than two touchdowns, the Commodores are the right side.

BYU +3 Utah State
Amelia Earhart, DB Cooper, and the Utah State offense. Name three things that disappeared without a trace. Forgive my hack Carnac intro, but I think it makes my point. After averaging nearly 48 points per game last season, en route to an 11-2 finish, great things were expected from Utah State in 2019. Yes, the offense lost numerous contributors, as well as their head coach, but the Aggies were bringing back Jordan Love. This summer Love was thought of as a potential first round pick and a darkhorse Heisman candidate. Yet, more than halfway through the season, Love has eight touchdown passes. Boise State’s backup quarterback has the same number on roughly a quarter of the attempts. It looked like the offense might not miss a beat as Love and the Aggies opened the season by torching Wake Forest and Stony Brook. The Demon Deacons don’t have an elite defense and Stony Brook is FCS, but through two games, Love had four touchdown passes (and an uncharacteristic three interceptions), was completing over 70% of his throws, while averaging over eight and a half yards per pass. The Aggies had scored 97 points and appeared to be on their way toward contention in the Mountain West. However, in his last five games, Love has thrown just four touchdown passes (along with six interceptions), completed just 54% of his throws, and averaged just five and a half yards per pass. The team has averaged just 21 points per game in those five contests. To be fair, some of those games have come against strong defenses (Air Force, LSU, and San Diego State), but some have also come against what could charitably be described as below average (Colorado State and Nevada). The Aggies still have one of the better defenses in the Group of Five universe, so they have been able to win three of those five games. However, the offensive decline, especially in the passing game has been surprising. So, if a team has trouble moving the ball and scoring points, does it seem like a good idea to lay points with them? In some circumstances, this could be a bad spot for BYU, as they are coming off a home upset of Boise State, but the Cougars were on a bye last week, and they have dropped two straight in this series in embarrassing fashion. Prior to 2017, the Cougars had won fifteen of seventeen in this near annual rivalry, so I don’t expect a hangover. BYU has also been money in the bank as a road dog under Kalani Sitake. The Cougars are 10-2 ATS in the role with five outright upsets. They are also a perfect 4-0 ATS as a road underdog against fellow Group of Five opponents. Even with their own quarterback issues, I think the Cougars are the better team, so grab the points and don’t be shocked if they win outright.

Fresno State +2.5 Hawaii
Heading into November with a 3-4 record practically ensures his third team will be the worst of Jeff Tedford’s tenure at Fresno. Of course, when your first two squads combined for a 22-6 record, there is almost nowhere to go but down. With the Bulldogs losing so many starters from last season’s Mountain West champions, some drop off was expected. However, despite the rough start, Fresno still has an outside shot at the division title. Both of their conference losses have come to teams in the Mountain Division, so four of their final five games (including this one) come against teams in their own division. Barring some ACC Coastal style chaos, the Bulldogs would need to win out to win a third consecutive division title, but that is certainly not out of the question. That journey will begin late Saturday night against a Hawaii team that is just 2-2 in Mountain West play, but 2-1 against Pac-12 foes. The Warriors have pounded bad teams (wins against Central Arkansas, Nevada, and New Mexico have come by a combined 84 points), won tight games against middling Pac-12 teams (beat Arizona and Oregon State by a combined ten points), and been blown out by the better teams on their schedule (Air Force, Boise State, and Washington beat them by a combined 84 points –eerie symmetry). Hawaii has been dreadful as a home favorite under Nick Rolovich, posting a 1-7 ATS mark with three outright losses. Meanwhile, Fresno State has been fantastic as a road underdog under Tedford (and ATS in general), posting a 6-1 ATS mark in the role. For whatever reason, be it sharper spreads, better travel, or better preparation, the islands do not present any homefield advantage for Hawaii when they are favored. Take Fresno State to cover this short number and win outright.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week IX

Ouch. We had out worst week of the season and that drops us below .500 on the year. We have no one but ourselves to blame. No one made us back Maryland. We'll try and do better this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 1-6
Overall: 27-28-1

Miami +6 Pittsburgh
Let’s flashback to Thanksgiving 2017. Picture the Miami Hurricanes, undefeated at 10-0 under second-year head coach and alum, Mark Richt, headed for a showdown with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The Hurricanes are ranked second in the nation, their highest ranking since the 2003 season. The U is back baby! All that stands between them and an undefeated regular season is a trip to lowly Pittsburgh. The Panthers have put together a decent run after a 2-5 start to the season, but a tight loss the previous week to Virginia Tech means their nine-year bowl streak is over. All they have to play for is pride. And yet somehow, the Panthers pull off the shocker, beating the Hurricanes 24-14. Who would have guessed that less than two years later Mark Richt would no longer be coaching the Hurricanes, Pitt would be the reigning division champ, and Miami would be just 10-13 straight up in their last 23 games? That record is even worse when you drop the FCS and Group of Five opponents. Since starting 10-0 in 2017, Miami is just 5-13 against Power Five opponents! Perhaps even more damning, the Hurricanes have been favored in thirteen of those eighteen games, losing an astonishing eight times as a favorite! I mention all that because I think the market has finally over-corrected on the Hurricanes. I thought Pitt would open as a slight favorite, but I am surprised this line has crept up to almost a touchdown. Both these teams have very good defenses, with Pitt currently boasting the best yards per play defense in the ACC. The Panthers create a great deal of negative plays, leading the nation with 36 sacks and ranking fifth in tackles for loss (61). Miami also does a good job of getting into the backfield, ranking in the top 25 in both sacks (21) and tackles for loss (53). Unfortunately, Miami is one of the most sacked teams in the country, allowing 31 in seven games (127th nationally) and 60 total tackles for loss (125th nationally). Pitt is slightly below average in allowing sacks and tackles for loss, but nowhere close to Miami. The Hurricanes should be facing a lot of second and third and longs. However, the Hurricanes are better at generating explosive plays, as they average over eight yards per pass when not being sacked while Pitt has to slog down the field. Miami's most recent setback, at home to Georgia Tech, saw the Yellow Jackets score on defense and via a fake punt, and also saw some questionable officiating in overtime. The Miami defense is good enough to keep them in this game against a limited Pitt offense. At 1-3, the Hurricanes are probably out of the Coastal Division race (although you never really know), but they still need three more wins to get to bowl eligibility. I expect them to circle the wagons as an underdog and keep this game close.

Western Kentucky +5 Marshall
I don’t think people are wise to the Hilltoppers yet. Despite winning and covering five of their last six games since a head-scratching loss to Central Arkansas, Western Kentucky is being shorted by the market. The Hilltoppers are a throwback in this era, winning games with defense and timely scoring. Since allowing 35 points in their opener, the Hilltoppers have allowed just 90 points in their last six games, with 38 of them coming against an improved Louisville squad. In their four conference games, the Hilltoppers have allowed just 44 total points and under four yards per play. A skeptic or cynic might point out that Conference USA us pretty terrible this year, and they would be right. I would counter that with ‘You know Marshall plays in Conference USA right?’ The Thundering Herd got back in the division race by upsetting Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton last week, and a victory at home would put them in the driver’s seat. However, Marshall has been less than imposing as a home favorite over the past few seasons. Back when the Herd were an explosive offense a half decade or so ago, they were a covering machine at home. Between 2013 and 2015, the Herd were 12-4 ATS as a home favorite, covering numerous double-digit spreads. However, since their offense has come down to earth (averaged under 30 points per game since the start of the 2016 season), the team is just 3-10 ATS as a home favorite, failing to cover much smaller numbers and losing their fair share of games outright (six) as home chalk. The first game in this series was an absolute classic, with Western Kentucky winning an overtime thriller in Huntington 67-66. I don’t expect the point total to be quite that high, but another close game that the Hilltoppers win outright wouldn’t shock me.

Navy -3.5 Tulane
Another team I don’t believe the betting public has yet to fully embrace is Navy. After plummeting to 3-10 last season, Ken Niumatalolo revamped his defensive staff, hiring Brian Newberry from Kennesaw State to run that unit. The results have been quite impressive halfway through the 2019 season. Last season, the Midshipmen allowed over 33 points per game. They have cut that total in half, permitting just over 16 per game in 2019. Yards per play tell a similar story. In eight conference games last season, Navy allowed opposing offenses to move the ball at will, permitting over six and a half yards per play. Thankfully, Connecticut was still in the league (and historically bad), so the Midshipmen were not in the basement defensively. This season, the Midshipmen have the best yards per play defense in the conference. They have benefitted from playing East Carolina, South Florida, and Tulsa, three below average AAC offenses, but they also faced Memphis on the road. The Tigers scored 35 points on Navy, but that was their second-lowest home point total of the season. Speaking of Memphis, the Tigers laid the wood to Tulane last week. The Green Wave came in as slight underdogs, but left with a 30-point beating. They were unable to slow the Tigers down and dropped their first conference game. With a back loaded schedule that includes Temple, UCF, and SMU, this game, and the one next week against Tulsa, looms large for Tulane’s bowl hopes. Four seasons in, Willie Fritz finally has his offense humming in New Orleans, thanks to the addition of offensive coordinator Will Hall (from Memphis) in the offseason, but the defense has not held up, ranking in the bottom half of the AAC. Tulane has not done well as a road underdog under Fritz, posting a 5-9 ATS record under his guidance. This spread should be closer to a touchdown, so jump on Navy and the points while they are still under valued by the market.

Central Michigan +2.5 Buffalo
Jim McElwain’s return to the Group of Five has started well in Mount Pleasant. After scoring mostly Blackjack hands last season (topped 21 points just twice with 24 and 23 points respectively), the Chippewas are averaging nearly 30 points per game in 2019. The Chippewas have scored 38 or more points five times, and perhaps not surprisingly are 5-0 in those games. In their other three games, they have scored just 27 total points and are 0-3, although two of those did come against Power Five teams Miami and Wisconsin. This game feels like a case where the wrong team is favored. Buffalo has played well over the past month on defense, but they have trouble scoring points. Last week against woeful Akron, they managed just one offensive touchdown and benefited from two fumble return scores to inflate the final margin. The passing offense has really struggled without Anthony Johnson, KJ Osborn, and Tyree Jackson. Starting quarterback Matt Myers has missed the past two games with an injury, but his replacement Kyle Vantrease, who also doubles as the punter, has played as good, or in this case as bad as Myers. Regardless of who takes the snaps for Buffalo, I expect Central Michigan to leave upstate New York with an outright victory.

Eastern Michigan +4 Toledo
What to make of the MAC West in 2019? Two teams that combined for a 3-13 conference record last season (Ball State and Central Michigan) are currently the top two teams in the division with a combined 6-1 league record. Eastern Michigan has already lost to both teams, so they are likely out of the division race and playing solely for a bowl bid. Meanwhile, Toledo has looked like trash in their last two games against Bowling Green and Ball State, losing by a combined score of 72-21. Quarterback Mitchell Guadagni missed the Ball State game and without him, the passing game fell apart. On the season, his backups are completing less than half their passes while averaging an anemic 5.04 yards per pass. Guadagni is questionable to return for this game, so how can you have any confidence laying points with the Rockets? Couple that with the fact that Eastern Michigan is 19-10-1 ATS under Chris Creighton as a road underdog (14-3 since 2016) and the Eagles are an easy play.

Duke +3.5 North Carolina
When the epitaph is written on his coaching career, David Cutcliffe will be remembered as one of the best ‘hard job’ coaches. Cutcliffe has been in Durham for eleven and half years. His record at Duke is a shade below .500 (71-75), but in the dozen years before he arrived on campus, Duke posted a cumulative record of 19-117. During that span, they lost ten or more games seven times. I, for one, will be happy to see him go when he finally hangs up his whistle. When the ACC expanded, Wake and Duke became permanent ‘rivals’ despite playing in different divisions. Prior to his arrival, Wake beating Duke was a forgone conclusion (Wake won twelve straight from 2000-2011), but the Blue Devils have won five of the last seven meetings. Under his guidance, the Blue Devils have also had two quarterbacks start NFL games, with one in particular likely to start several more before his career is over. Despite significantly elevating the Duke program over the past twelve seasons, oddsmakers continue to underestimate Cutcliffe and Duke. Since 2013, the first year Duke really turned the corner under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils are 15-10 ATS as road underdogs, with twelve outright wins. The Blue Devils failed to cover as slight underdogs last week at Virginia, but that game was very atypical. The Blue Devils turned the ball over five times and allowed a kickoff return touchdown in the blowout loss. I expect Duke to rebound in a rivalry game against the Tar Heels. And speaking of the Heels, how much do they have left in the tank after a marathon six overtime road loss at Virginia Tech? The Tar Heels have done nothing but play close games in 2019, as six of their seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less. In what should be another close game, take the team getting points.

Michigan +1 Notre Dame
Does Notre Dame ever play road games? It just seems like the Irish are always playing at home, on NBC, with Mike Tirico and Doug Flutie channeling Ken Harrelson and providing biased commentary. In reality, this is Notre Dame’s third true road game (I forgot they opened at Louisville too) and first since their primetime affair against Georgia. The Irish are squarely in the playoff hunt and looking to steal a bid from a more deserving team. I kid of course. Notre Dame is a perfectly fine team that is probably a notch below the best teams in the country. No shame in that. The Irish are averaging nearly 40 points per game this season, an amount that would rank as the best in school history should it hold for the entire season. However, most of their offensive numbers are buoyed by beatdowns of overmatched opponents. In their two games against Group of Five opponents, the Irish have scored 118 points while averaging 8.44 yards per play. In their four games against Power Five opponents, the Irish have scored 119 total points while averaging 5.74 yards per play. Decent numbers for sure, but hardly dynamic, especially considering two of their Power Five opponents were defense optional outfits in Louisville and Southern Cal. The Michigan Wolverines will represent either the best or second best defense the Irish have faced all season, depending on where you would slot Georgia. Michigan did lose once again to a top-ten team last week, but that game was on the road in a hostile environment in State College. The Wolverines acquitted themselves quite well in coming back from a 21-0 hole. In the comforts of the Big House, I expect Michigan to play much better. The Wolverines have lost just four times at home under Harbaugh, with the four losses coming to two teams (Michigan State and Ohio State beat the Wolverines at home in both 2015 and 2017). I still think Michigan is under-valued by the market after their poor offensive showings earlier in the season. All they have to do is win this game for you to cash your ticket. With the homefield and a great defense, I think they can do that.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week VIII

Two winning weeks in row. Let's try and make it three. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 5-2
Overall: 26-22-1

TCU -3.5 Kansas State
Our perceptions of teams can change in a hurry in college football. Less than a month ago, Kansas State was ranked in the AP Poll after beating an SEC team on the road. The passing of the torch from Bill Snyder to Chris Klieman appeared to be going smoothly and the Wildcats seemed like they might be a legit darkhorse in the Big 12. Two conference losses later, during which the Wildcats managed just 25 total points and two offensive touchdowns and the honeymoon period appears to be over for Klieman. The victory over Mississippi State has also lost a great deal of its luster with the Bulldogs moving to 3-3 after losses to Auburn (excusable) and Tennessee (not so much). Taking stock of Kansas State’s resume as a whole, the offense has not done much against quality teams. In their first two games against Nicholls State and Bowling Green, the Wildcats generated nearly 1100 yards of total offense and 101 points. In their three games against Power Five opponents, the Wildcats have amassed 854 total yards and just 56 total points. Their rush defense has also been suspect, allowing nearly six yards per carry on the season. That plays right into TCU’s hands (feet? claws?). The Horned Frogs are a work in progress throwing the football, but have pounded teams on the ground. Darius Anderson is currently averaging north of seven yards per carry and the team as a whole has twelve rushing touchdowns. The Horned Frogs were embarrassed by Iowa State in their last game, allowing 49 points at over seven yards per play to the Cyclones. With a bye week to sweat, yell at his players, and get some of those defensive issues corrected, I expect Gary Patterson to have the Horned Frogs prepared for a road win and cover. Since joining the Big 12, TCU is 7-4 straight up and ATS off a bye and I expect more of the same this week with a vintage TCU defensive performance.

Maryland +5.5 Indiana
Call this game a Maryland discount or an Indiana surcharge if you like. Maryland looked like trash last week against Purdue, losing to the Boilermakers junior varsity squad 40-14. The loss was Maryland's third in four games since their explosive 2-0 start. As anyone that has read this blog should know, I am not exactly the biggest fan of Mike Locksley. His head coaching record certainly speaks for itself. I am extremely cautious and wary of backing him, but there does appear to be value in this line. What has Indiana done in the past two decades since the late Bill Mallory was pacing the sidelines to give you any confidence in them laying points on the road? That's not a rhetorical question. The answer is nothing. Over the past fifteen seasons, Indiana is just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite in Big 10 play, losing three of those seven games outright. I know Tom Allen is not responsible for all those failed ATS covers (the Hoosiers are 1-3 ATS as Big 10 favorites under his watch), but thirty games into his tenure, he does not appear to have elevated the Indiana program. So, historically, Indiana has not done well as a conference road favorite, but what about this season? Does this seem like an especially good version of Indiana? The Hoosiers are 4-2, but they have only played one true road game. In that game, the Hoosiers allowed a barely functional Michigan State offense to score 40 points (really just 34, but you get the idea). Their four victories have all come against cupcakes, with Ball State likely being their best win. With the schedule stiffening over the second half of the season, the Hoosiers are a stock I would start selling. Maryland does have some injury concerns with quarterback Josh Jackson potentially missing a second straight game, but even without Jackson, Maryland should be able to do enough at home against a suspect Indiana defense to cover this number.

Oklahoma State -4 Baylor
Do you find it odd that a 4-2 team is favored at home against an undefeated team? Me too. As Lee Corso is fond of saying; 'Somebody knows something. I'm gonna trust those somebodies'. So far this season, there have been four instances of an unranked team being favored against a ranked team. Those unranked teams are 4-0 straight up and ATS with the smallest margin of victory being Miami's eight point win against Virginia last week. This is a great spot for Oklahoma State coming off a bye while Baylor is playing their fourth consecutive conference game. Oklahoma State has performed well as a home favorite under Mike Gundy, going 22-14-1 ATS in the role since 2011. They have also done particularly well as a short home favorite, posting a 6-2 ATS mark as a home favorite of less than a touchdown in that span. Take the Cowboys to win, cover, and send Baylor to their first loss of the season.

Southern Miss -1 Louisiana Tech
If you just looked at the scoring margin of both these teams, one might wonder why Louisiana Tech is an underdog in this game. The Bulldogs are 5-1 with their lone defeat coming at Texas. On the season, they have outscored their first six opponents by 66 points (eleven per game). Meanwhile, despite their 4-2 record, Southern Miss has outscored their first six opponents by four total points. However, once you examine schedule strength, you can see how Southern Miss closes the gap. The Eagles have lost two games, but they both came on the road against SEC teams, including the best SEC team. They have fattened up against a pair of patsies (Alcorn State and UTEP), but they also won at Troy and blew out North Texas. Once you look closely at Louisiana Tech’s schedule, you can make the argument they are the worst 5-1 team in the country. After losing to Texas, Louisiana Tech has rolled up victories against Grambling, Bowling Green, FIU, Rice, and Massachusetts. The four FBS teams they have beaten have a combined record of 6-19 with just four FBS wins between them and a loss to Southern Illinois thrown in for good measure. The Bulldogs have not been particularly dominant against those hapless opponents either, as they were outgained by Grambling and Rice and needed a late onside kick return to secure the win against FIU. Southern Miss, on the other hand, has torched non-SEC defenses. In their three FBS games against non-SEC teams, the Eagles have rolled up over 1700 yards at nearly eight yards per play while scoring 41 points per game. Southern Miss has won four straight in this series, with the last three coming under head coach Jay Hopson. I expect Southern Miss to take control of the Conference USA West division by winning comfortably in Ruston.

Army -6 Georgia State
Last week, I recommended fading Army as they were going up against a strong and underrated defense in Western Kentucky. This week, they are favored by about the same margin against a horrendous rush defense. Georgia State achieved some notoriety earlier in the season thanks to their monumental win at Tennessee. They have continued to play well, winning three of their next five games, with the marquee win probably the home upset of Arkansas State two weeks ago. With four wins in tow, the Panthers have a good shot at qualifying for a second bowl game in three years. That success has mostly been a function of the offense, which comes in averaging nearly 36 points per game (previous best for the Panthers was 2015 when they averaged just under 27 points per game). Running back Tra Barnett and quarterback Dan Ellington both have a decent shot at becoming the first player in school history to rush for 1000 yards in a season. However, the defense has been one of the worst in the Sun Belt and the nation. The Panthers currently rank 122nd nationally in scoring defense, allowing nearly 38 points per game. Opponents have also averaged over five and a half yards per carry against the Panthers with Tennessee being the only team to fail to rush for 100 yards against them (let that sink in). At 3-3. Army has been somewhat disappointing in the follow up to their eleven win campaign. However, the Black Knights still run the ball effectively and should have their way against the permissive Georgia State defense. I know it can be scary laying points with Army on the road thanks to their offensive scheme and general lack of top level talent, but Georgia State presents a good combination of poor run defense and suspect homefield advantage (just 5-8 straight up at home under Sean Shawn Elliott).

Colorado +12.5 Washington State
As a cable subscriber that does not have access to the Pac-12 Network, I am very glad this game is on the ESPN family of networks. The over/under for this game is around 71, and while I don’t handicap totals, that seems a bit low. Both the Buffaloes and Cougars enter this game with good offenses and train wreck defenses. They both also happen to be 3-3, so this game might go a long way toward determining which team (if any) plays in the postseason. Colorado has allowed at least 30 points in each of their six games, and currently ranks 113th nationally in scoring defense. They have managed to win half of their games thanks to an offense that has scored at least 30 points four times, although they fell significantly short of that number in their last game. Of course, that came against perhaps the best defense in the country (something I never thought I would type) in the Oregon Ducks. While Colorado only managed three points against the Ducks, they did move the ball well, accumulating 22 first downs, (tied with Auburn for the most Oregon has surrendered all year). While Colorado has struggled on defense all season, Washington State saw their defense crater once conference play began. The Cougars allowed 67, 38, and 38 points to their first three conference foes. Those totals represent the highest or second highest point totals for UCLA, Utah, and Arizona State. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned and Mike Leach threw his players under the bus, so things are great in Pullman. Unless this game has a deluge of fumbles, I don’t expect either team to make many stops defensively. The loser of this game will almost certainly have scored at least 30 points and may even be in the low 40s. I don’t know how you can lay almost two touchdowns with a Washington State team that has not played well in a month. The Cougars middling overall defensive numbers are propped up by their paper soft non-conference schedule featuring New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, and a worse than expected Houston. The Cougars have not covered against an FBS team since their opener and while the transitive property is never something you want to base a mortgage-sized wager on, keep in mind the teams do share a common opponent. Both played at Arizona State. Colorado won by three and Washington State lost by four. This spread should be less than a touchdown. As such, you are getting a lot of value on Colorado.

Michigan +9 Penn State
Despite writing a pseudo handicapping column for more than a decade, there are some picks I tend to remember. For example, almost exactly two years ago, I advocated taking Michigan as a ten point underdog when they made their way to State College for a primetime whiteout game. The Wolverines were manhandled by the Nittany Lions and were never a real threat to cover the number. Despite the PTSD associated with that awful selection, I am back on Michigan this week. Over the next few sentences, I’ll try to explain why. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines are 3-1 against Penn State with the Nittany Lions scoring 16, 10, 42, and 7 points respectively again the Michigan defense. The 42 points Penn State netted two years ago seems like the real outlier in that collection of scores. Penn State featured a generational talent at running back and a seasoned junior quarterback as well as a highly regarded offensive coordinator in that game. This season, Penn State certainly has the statistical profile of a dominant team, outscoring their first six foes by over 200 points. While you can certainly gleam something from a team’s dominating performance against inferior opponents, the Penn State offense has been much less imposing when not facing Buffalo, Idaho, Maryland, or the Purdue junior varsity. Against Pitt and Iowa, Penn State has scored just 34 combined points while averaging under five yards per play. Despite their own offensive struggles, Michigan’s defense is still pretty good. Outside of a bloodletting at Wisconsin, the Wolverines have allowed just 3.65 yards per play and 14 points per game. The Wolverines were dominated by the Badgers, but the Nittany Lions do not have the same type of power running profile. I expect Michigan to give a defensive performance more akin to what we are used to from Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown. The offense on the other hand…Points will be hard to come by for the Wolverines, but I believe their defense is good enough to keep them in this game. This line is a bit inflated thanks to the narrative surrounding Michigan this season (albeit one that is partially deserved). Despite their preseason expectations, the Wolverines are not playoff contenders. Their offense is not good enough to carry them to a national title. However, they are not some fringe Big 10 bowl team either. They are probably the third or fourth best team in the conference. Two weeks ago, I recommended buying Michigan at a bargain basement price when they were hosting Iowa as a slight favorite. I think you can do the same this weekend as they travel to Penn State. This line should be about six or seven points, so with the spread more than a touchdown, Michigan is the play.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week VII

We rebounded nicely last week to get above .500. We are still slightly below the gambler's break even point, but hopefully we can rectify that this weekend. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 4-2-1
Overall: 21-20-1

Texas +10.5 Oklahoma @ Dallas
Every trend you can imagine points to Texas in this game. I know Jalen Hurts and the Sooners have looked unbeatable through the first month and change of the season, but consider their competition. Is Texas Tech at home the biggest challenge Oklahoma has faced thus far? Meanwhile, Texas has already played LSU (the Tigers might be better than the Sooners) in addition to Oklahoma State and a tough road trip to West Virginia. Texas has already dealt with adversity, while Oklahoma has been in cruise control in the second half of their games. Oklahoma has not covered in the Red River Shootout since 2012 (they did win and cover against Texas in last year’s Big 12 Championship Game). In that span, they have entered this showdown with arch-rival Texas unbeaten three times (2013, 2015, and 2018). They lost those games by sixteen, seven, and three points respectively. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Oklahoma comes into this game as a bloated favorite every year. And every year, Texas either wins or gives them a scare. Expect more of the same in 2019.

Eastern Michigan -1 Ball State
There are a lot of ways to show how far the Eastern Michigan program has come in nearly six seasons under Chris Creighton, but as a degenerate, I think this is the best. In Creighton’s first three seasons (2014-2016), the Eagles played fifteen homes games against FBS opponents. They were betting underdogs in thirteen of those games. Since the start of the 2017 season, this will be the eleventh home game they have played against an FBS opponent and they have been an underdog just twice. That being the case, the Eagles are a lot shakier than they were a month ago when they won at Illinois. Since then, they needed a late punt block to beat Central Connecticut State (FCS) and were blown out at one of their directional Michigan rivals. However, at 3-2, the Eagles are very much alive for a second (and third in four years) bowl bid. On the other sideline, since winning nineteen combined games in 2012 and 2013, the Cardinals have gone just 20-45 over the past five and a half seasons (12-29 under current coach Mike Neu). Even with their upset win at Northern Illinois last week, the Cardinals are just 8-25 in true road games in that span. You’d have to be a pretty bold person to take this team on the road. Those atrocious road numbers might entice me to take Eastern Michigan even before considering the Eagles have won the last three games in this series, including the last two by 64 total points. Oh, and let’s not forget, Ball State had a somewhat misleading final score last week. The Cardinals beat Northern Illinois despite completing four of fourteen passes for 34 yards and averaging under four yards per play overall. Thanks to turnovers and special teams plays, the Cardinals started five scoring drives in Northern Illinois territory. Their five scoring drives in the second half (totaling 24 points), covered one, three, seventeen, 37, and 45 yards respectively. Ball State certainly deserves to celebrate after beating Northern Illinois last week, but their offense is inconsistent at best and bad at worst. Asking them to win on the road against a solid Eastern Michigan team coming off a rivalry loss is foolish. Take Eastern Michigan to rebound at The Factory.

Florida Atlantic -10 Middle Tennessee State
After a rough start to the 2019 season against a pair of strong teams, the Lane Train seems to be back on track. The Owls have won their last three by an average of 21 points per game while scoring more than 40 points in each game. The competition has not been especially robust (Ball State, Wagner, and Charlotte), but playing in Conference USA means the remainder of the schedule (at least until the bowl game) will not be very robust either. The Owls scoring outburst has them looking a lot like they did in 2017, when they rolled through Conference USA with an unblemished record and won a school record eleven games. With their biggest threat in the division looking like a defense-first, offensively limited Western Kentucky, the Owls can winnow the contenders by beating the Blue Raiders here. The Blue Raiders were able to beat Marshall last week, but despite allowing just thirteen points to the Herd, their defense did not look good. Marshall rolled up nearly 600 yards of total offense and averaged over seven yards per play, but were done in by four turnovers. Turnovers are great for winning games, but hard to depend on consistently. Middle Tennessee’s defensive struggles continued a season-long narrative. The Blue Raiders have allowed 6.7 yards per play on the season (good for 120th nationally), with only Michigan (in a further indictment of the Wolverines’ offense) failing to average at least six yards per play against them. The Blue Raiders have played a solid schedule featuring three Power Five teams (the aforementioned Wolverines as well as Duke and Iowa), but their defense also struggled against Tennessee State (FCS) and of course against Marshall. Lane has never been one to lay off the throttle, particularly with revenge on his mind (the Blue Raiders won last year’s game on a two-point conversion). This has all the makings of a Florida Atlantic blowout. I expect the Owls to win easily and further cement their status as the front-runner in the East division.

Charlotte +5 Florida International
Did Florida International’s shutout win against Massachusetts erase all the stink from their performance from the first month of the season? It sure seems to. How else to explain why the Panthers are such a large favorite against what looks to be an improved Charlotte team? Don’t forget, the 49ers also blew out the Minutemen, but have faced a more difficult schedule than the Panthers, losing to Clemson, Appalachian State, and Florida Atlantic. Outside of their game against Clemson, the 49ers have moved the ball well, averaging over seven yards per play and 42 points per game over their other four contests. Of course, the 49ers have only won half of those games because their defense has been less than sturdy, permitting almost six yards per play and nearly 37 points per game. However, Appalachian State and Florida Atlantic have prolific offenses, so the defense may not be as bad as the numbers say. With the poor state of Conference USA football in 2019, those numbers should improve as the 49ers start conference play and the first bowl game in school history might even be on the table. In an admittedly small sample, Florida International has not performed particularly well as a home favorite under Butch Davis, posting a 3-5 ATS mark with three outright losses, including one this season against Western Kentucky. I don’t think the betting market has come around to how disappointing the Panthers are this season, particularly with their relatively lofty preseason expectations. I expected this line to be closer to a field goal (it opened at two), and given the last three games in this series have been decided by a total of nine points, a final scored of around that margin makes sense. Off a bye, take the 49ers to cover and don’t be surprised if they win outright.

Western Kentucky +5 Army
An opening night loss to an FCS team (Central Arkansas) had most college football fans and the betting public writing them off, but quietly, Western Kentucky has matched last season’s win total and are currently in first place in Conference USA. Formerly a prolific offense under Jeff Brohm, the Hilltoppers have remade themselves into a strong defensive unit (relatively) under first-year head coach Tyson Helton. The Hilltoppers are allowing just 21 points per game overall and their last four opponents have managed just six offensive touchdowns. The Hilltoppers have been particularly stout against the run, as Louisville is the only team to crack four yards per carry against them. Being stout against the run is a prerequisite when facing Army’s triple option attack. The Black Knights appear to be headed for their fourth consecutive bowl appearance, and while that is a testament to head coach Jeff Monken, the schedule-maker should get plenty of accolades as well. Thus far, Army has beaten Rice (zero FBS wins), Texas-San Antonio (one FBS win versus UTEP), and Morgan State (FCS). The Black Knights did play Michigan tough in The Big House, but that game probably revealed more about Michigan than it did Army. Based on early returns, this Army team appears to be a notch below the past two incarnations than won 21 combined games. Army is laying nearly a touchdown on the road against a pretty good rush defense. Take the Hilltoppers to cover and continue their under-the-radar success story.

Louisville +6.5 Wake Forest
Following their tight road win against Boston College, Wake Forest entered the top 25 of the AP Poll for the first time since 2008. While that is quite an accomplishment for the team, it also speaks to the paucity of good football in the ACC as the Demon Deacons are the second-highest ranked team from the conference after Clemson! It also may not portend great things for the Demon Deacons this weekend. Thus far in the 2019 season, ten teams have entered the AP Poll after not being ranked in the preseason. Those teams are 4-6 straight up in their next game and 1-8-1 ATS! And lest you think those ten teams happened to be overmatched in their next game, consider that eight of them entered as the betting favorite. Those betting favorites are just 0-7-1 ATS! Yikes. As a lifelong Wake Forest fan and alum, I’m happy my team is ranked, but I know they aren’t really the 19th best team in the country. The offense has several playmakers that might end up plying their trade in the NFL (Jamie Newman, Scotty Washington, and Sage Surratt to name a few), but the defense has been torched on occasion (Utah State and Boston College both racked up over 500 yards at more than seven yards per play). Louisville is far from the train wreck they were in 2018 with the Cardinals already exceeding last season’s win total in addition to breaking their nine-game conference losing streak last week. Wake Forest has been clutch with Jamie Newman under center (or more accurately in shotgun), with five of his eight wins as a starter coming by less than a touchdown. I expect a similar result in this game. Hopefully, the Deacons make enough plays to stay ranked, but my money is on the Cardinals covering.

Navy -1 Tulsa
Last season, Navy went just 3-10, their lowest win total since Paul Johnson's first season in 2002. ESPN's FPI did not foresee dramatic improvement on tap for the Midshipmen, pegging them the 116th best team in the nation (out of 130 teams) and projecting another losing campaign. However, with three wins in the bank and several winnable games on the schedule, the Midshipmen seem like a good bet to get back to a bowl for the tenth time in twelve seasons under Ken Niumatalolo. Navy hits the road to take on a Tulsa team fresh off a painful loss to SMU. The Golden Hurricane led by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but couldn't close the deal and lost to the Mustangs in triple overtime. The loss dropped Tulsa to 2-3 in 2019 and made them just 7-22 since their ten-win season in 2016. With games against Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane, UCF, and Houston remaining on the schedule, it also did serious damage to their bowl hopes. It's dangerous to add too much psychology to your handicapping, but this Tulsa team is probably not in the best frame of mind right now. Add to that the fact they have yet to beat Navy since the Midshipmen joined the conference (0-4) and you have a solid rationale for fading them this weekend.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

The Magnificent Seven: Week VI

As with Week I, we made some bad picks in Week V, but we also needed some bad luck to finish 2-5. For some reason Northern Illinois boarded the analytics train. I can't say I disagree with the decision to go for two, but it sucks they couldn't wait a few weeks to try it out. Instead, the conversion cost us the cover thanks to the hook. Hopefully, we make some better picks and have some better luck this week. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Last Week: 2-5
Overall: 17-18

East Carolina +12 Temple
Last week, my rationale for fading Auburn as a large favorite was they lacked the ability to score a lot of points. How did that work out? Well, the important thing is, I am going back to that well again. Despite an offense as bland as their uniform colors (22 points per game and eight offensive touchdowns in three games versus FBS opponents), Temple is a double-digit road favorite against East Carolina. The Owls do own two wins against Power Five teams, but they also lost to a one-dimensional MAC team in their lone road game. I’m not going to argue that East Carolina is some sleeper in the American. The Pirates probably only have one or two more wins left on their schedule, but they are far from the trash heap they were under Scottie Montgomery. Temple is off an emotional home win against their former coach and next week they host West division favorite Memphis. Thus, this game qualifies for the dreaded sandwich spot. I expect a low-scoring ugly game on Thursday night with several turnovers and general unaesthetic play. And I'm not talking about the NFL game. Hey Oh! Sometimes you have to hold your nose and back an ugly dog, especially when they are facing an even uglier favorite.

Central Florida -4 Cincinnati
Cincinnati was damn impressive in their victory over Marshall last weekend. The Bearcats won 52-14 and nearly doubled up the Thundering Herd in total yardage. The win represented their largest margin of victory in the series' brief history. The win was even more impressive considering their game this week against UCF is for all intents and purposes for the division title. I know this is the conference opener for Cincinnati, but these are clearly the two best teams in the division (sorry Temple). Despite the impressive win by Cincinnati last week, I expected this number to open around a touchdown. For some reason, the betting markets seem to underrate UCF when they face Cincinnati. Last season, UCF was playing at home and riding a then twenty–two game winning streak and were only favored by seven and a half against the Bearcats. They won big by the way. This season, UCF has already been written off by the national media after their loss to Pitt. Despite the loss, the Knights could conceivably return to an NY6 Bowl. They just need to keep winning and hope for a Boise State loss. They may not even need the loss if Memphis and SMU continue playing well in the West division and present a legitimate challenge in the AAC Championship Game. Suffice to say, UCF still has plenty to play for and is probably out to run the score up when possible. UCF operates at one of the fastest paces in college football, and a large number of possessions means more points and less variance which portends good things for the favorite. I like the Knights laying anything less than a touchdown.

Michigan -3.5 Iowa
I went back and forth debating whether to take Michigan or leave this game alone. In the end, I decided the Wolverines are worth a play since you will probably never be able to buy them this low again. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have been mediocre as a home favorite (15-14 ATS), but most of those spreads have been very high. The Wolverines have been double-digit favorites 26 times and have never been a favorite of less than a touchdown as they are here. Everyone wrote Michigan off after their beatdown at Wisconsin, in conjunction with their poor performances against Middle Tennessee and Army. However, the Wolverines are still one of the most talented teams in the Big 10 this side of Ohio State, while Iowa is more of a developmental program. The Hawkeyes are always a solid team under Kirk Ferentz, but they have not been especially imposing as road underdogs recently, posting a 4-5-1 ATS mark in that role since 2014. Since their near-run to the College Football Playoff in 2015, the Hawkeyes are just 8-6 on the road in Big 10 play with their eight victims combing for an 18-54 conference record. The lone team they defeated that finished with a winning conference record was Minnesota in 2016. Iowa could lose this game and still cover, but I think the more likely result is a Michigan win by about a touchdown.

Connecticut +11 South Florida
Regardless of who wins this game, a long streak will end. South Florida has lost nine straight games to FBS teams. The last FBS team they beat? Connecticut. Not to be outdone, the Huskies have doubled them up and dropped eighteen straight games to FBS teams. Both coaches are presumably on the hot seat, with Charlie Strong probably being in more danger of losing his job since it appears South Florida cares more about football than Connecticut. The Huskies have already given the AAC their two weeks’ notice they will be leaving the conference and playing as an FBS Independent. In an effort to save his job, Strong hired Kerwin Bell from Division II champion Valdosta State to be his offensive coordinator. The results thus far have been rather disappointing. The Bulls are averaging just 21.5 points per game (just over ten per game against FBS opponents) after averaging over 28 per game last season. Perhaps Bell should have stayed his ass in Valdosta. Or perhaps, if you allow me to put on my InfoWars hat, he is intentionally sandbagging in an attempt to stage a palace coup and ascend to the head coach position himself. Just something to keep in mind. Anyway, South Florida has already dropped their only previous road game to a bad Georgia Tech team (though they did cover). Now the Bulls are laying double-digits on the road? I know Connecticut has a bad defense, but they are not nearly as bad as they were last season when they allowed an average of more than 50 points per game and nearly nine yards per play. This year, the defense is ‘only’ allowing 36.5 points per game and 6.3 yards per play. The Huskies were blown out in their past two road games, but were competitive in their last game at home, losing by one score to a bad Illinois team. South Florida is just 2-5 ATS as a road favorite under Strong (this will probably be the penultimate time they are in that position under his guidance). The Bulls and Huskies have been in the same conference since 2005. In that span, the Bulls have visited Storrs seven times. They are 3-4 straight up and ATS up north, never covering as a favorite and losing outright three of the four times they were expected to win. The Bulls will break their FBS losing streak, but don’t count on a cover.

Boston College +6.5 Louisville
Since losing at home to Kansas in one of the more embarrassing performances of the college football season, Boston College has quietly righted the ship. They beat Rutgers by two touchdowns on the road and then covered as seven-point underdogs against undefeated *checks notes* Wake Forest. The Eagles ran for over 500 yards in those two games and for the season are averaging over 250 yards per game on the ground. The loss to Kansas, as pathetic as it was, is looking more and more like an aberration. This is your typical BC team. The Eagles will probably win between six and seven games, go to a nondescript bowl, and have their fanbase clamoring for a head coaching change in the offseason. I guess the Kansas stench takes a long time to wear off though, as I can’t believe the Cardinals are favored by nearly a touchdown. Louisville is much improved, no doubt about it, but their wins have come against directional Kentucky schools Eastern (FCS) and Western (current Conference USA leader but also loser to Central Arkansas). Under Steve Addazio, Boston College is 12-4-1 ATS as a road underdog, with six outright wins. Prospecting forward, Louisville appears to have the brighter future, but as far as the first Saturday in October in the year of our lord 2019, I’d rather back Boston College. Take the Eagles to cover in this bird battle.

West Virginia +11 Texas
After spending the first month of the season in the Lone Star State, the Longhorns finally hit the road. This trip to Morgantown marks their first road game of the season (they did play Rice in the Houston Texans’ stadium, but that ain’t a road game) and is one of only two times they have to leave the state in the regular season (the other is a mid-November trip to Ames). I was down on Texas over the summer, but they appear to be better than I anticipated. The offense in particular, appears to be on its way back to elite, which is good considering the defense has not been great and has also experienced some key injuries. In addition to being their first real road trip, this game also comes a week before their annual rivalry game with Oklahoma. The Longhorns have not covered the game immediately preceding Red River since 2011 (seven straight non-covers with a 3-4 straight up record). West Virginia is in an unusual spot coming into the game. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, West Virginia has been a double-digit home underdog just twice (they covered both games and won one outright for what it’s worth). The Mountaineers are isolated from their conference brethren, who are all located in Texas or flyover country, so the trip to Morgantown is never an easy one. Plus, despite the muted preseason expectations, the Mountaineers do have the same record as Texas (3-1) with the team looking much improved after their narrow escape against James Madison and crushing defeat at Missouri. Texas is obviously the better team, but the other factors in this game; travel, rivalry game on deck, and injuries make West Virginia the play.

Pittsburgh +5 Duke
After a humbling opener against of one of college football’s best teams, Duke has quietly won three games in a row and appears poised to qualify for their seventh bowl game in the past eight seasons. The Blue Devils have also yet to drop a conference game, so they have a chance to vault into contention in the Coastal division of the ACC. However, before we go anointing them as Virginia’s biggest challenger to be sacrificed to Clemson on the altar in Charlotte, let’s take a quick glance at their schedule. Since their loss to Alabama, the Blue Devils have beaten NC A&T (FCS), Middle Tennessee (no wins against FBS teams), and Virginia Tech (dumpster fire, one FBS win against Old Dominion). The Blue Devils have dominated in those three games, but the market might be overrating them (at least to the extent that is possible with Duke football). Pitt will obviously represent the stiffest test for Duke since their opener. The Panthers have one of the more underrated defenses in college football, holding explosive offenses Penn State and UCF to a combined five offensive touchdowns. The Panthers fell to Penn State thanks to some questionable strategy by head coach Pat Narduzzi, but upset UCF with the help of a totally original fourth down play call. Following that upset of UCF, the Panthers treated their next opponent, Delaware from the FCS, like a bye week and sat several of their banged up starters. The Panthers narrowly escaped the Blue Hens (we’ll have to get Mike Leach’s opinion on that battle), and that margin is probably impacting this line. Pitt outgained the Blue Hens by over 270 yards and allowed under three yards per play. Sometimes a close victory against an FCS team can portend bad things (see Virginia Tech), but in Pitt’s case, I think it had more to do with the Panthers resting some starters as well as the hangover effect of an emotional pair of games. Pitt could once again be missing a few starters in this contest, but with a bye on tap, they should go all out. The Panthers have won five of six in this series since joining the ACC and they are 13-5 ATS under Narduzzi as a road underdog with six outright upsets. Plus, the one area where David Cutcliffe has not excelled at Duke is as a home favorite. The Blue Devils are just 7-13 ATS over the past five seasons in the role, including 3-11 ATS in their last fourteen games. Take Pitt to cover and potentially win outright.