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.

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