Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Fab Five: Week VIII

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 15-19-1
That makes three losing weeks in a row. We'll try to find some winners as October comes to a close. 

Temple +3.5 Tulane
I have been a huge Willie Fritz fan since I watched his Sam Houston State team play in the FCS playoffs in either 2011 or 2012. I followed him when he made the move to Georgia Southern and later Tulane. And while you can't argue with the success he has had at Tulane (back to back bowl games and a half yard away from three in a row), he has never been able to get the offense rolling in New Orleans as he did at Sam Houston and Georgia Southern. And this year, the Green Wave have been as bad or worse on defense. Their last three opponents (all good offenses) have scored 137 points and the Green Wave are drowning with an 0-4 mark in conference play. In fact, dating back to last season, the Green Wave have lost seven conference games in a row with their last AAC victory coming almost exactly one year ago. Yet they are favored against a team and coach with a solid track record in the underdog role. Rod Carey is in his eighth season as a college football head coach, and while his teams never win bowl games, they play well as an underdog. His charges at Northern Illinois and Temple are 14-6 Against the Spread (ATS) as a road underdog with eight outright wins. They are a live dog in this spot against a reeling Tulane team. 

Iowa -2.5 Northwestern
Does this line seem a little off to you? The team that is favored lost outright as a slight favorite last week while the underdog beat the brakes off an opponent they were expected to beat by double digits. I think this line tells you all you need to know about Maryland, Northwestern's opponent last week. I foolishly believed Maryland could hang in that game, and while the Terrapins did score on their opening drive, it was all downhill from there. While picking Maryland to cover last week was monumentally stupid, I will toot my own horn for a bit in correctly shaming the Mike Locksley hire. Of course, any idiot could have seen that coming. But I digress. I don't know how much we can surmise from Northwestern's victory last week, other than they are not nearly as bad offensively as they were last season. How good they are remains to be seen and a trip to Iowa City will provide some insight. The Hawkeyes lost at Purdue last week, but outgained the Boilermakers and averaged a yard more per play. Iowa was what we have come to expect from the Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz, even with a new quarterback making his first road start. I expect the Hawkeyes to rebound, especially since they will be back in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. This has been a unique series, at least in regards to the betting line, since Pat Fitzgerald showed up. The Hawkeyes are just 6-8 against Northwestern in that span and are an amazing 0-4 straight up and ATS as a double digit favorite! However, in games with an expected tighter margin (Hawkeyes favored by a touchdown or less), they are 4-1 straight up and ATS. Northwestern looked like a Big 10 contender last week, but most teams will probably look that way against Maryland. They will come back to earth on Saturday with the Hawkeyes giving them their first loss of the season. 

Auburn +3 LSU
For the second time this season, the highly competent SEC officials may have gifted Auburn a victory. While the Tigers did have to drive down and score after the questionable call, there is no doubt Auburn could well be 1-4 or even 0-5 if a few whistles had gone the other way. Halfway through an unusual ten game SEC schedule, Auburn has been outscored on the year and quarterback Bo Nix has not improved on his uneven play from his freshman campaign. Despite their struggles, I am surprised they are catching three points at home against LSU. This spread would probably be different had LSU not had their game with Florida postponed two weeks ago. Remember, LSU was coming off a shocking road loss at Missouri and would have been at least a moderate underdog in the Swamp. As it was, they had an unexpected bye, and then crushed South Carolina at home, or so it would seem. Meanwhile, Auburn lost to that same South Carolina team in Columbia and needed the aforementioned fourth quarter comeback to shake Ole Miss in Oxford. But let's circle back to LSU's good looking win against South Carolina. While the Tigers won by four touchdowns, their defense did not play well. They allowed over 400 yards to the Gamecocks on just 51 snaps. This was the third time in four conference games they permitted at least seven yards per play. A defensive and special teams touchdown, as well as three missed field goals by South Carolina masked that poor defensive effort. LSU is allowing over seven yards per play on the season, and if we remove their victory against Vanderbilt, that number shoots up to 8.3. As I mentioned earlier, Bo Nix has basically played at about the same level he did last season, but I expect him to have the best game of the season (and potentially of his career) against LSU. Auburn has struggled against LSU under Gus Malzahn, going 2-5 straight up, including losing three straight (all as a favorite), but the underdog has done well recently in this series. The underdog is 5-2 ATS in this series since Malzahn arrived on The Plains and LSU has not covered as a favorite in Jordan Hare since 2008. I like Auburn to win this game outright. 

New Mexico +13.5 San Jose State
This game was originally scheduled to be played in Albuquerque, but due to Covid-19 issues in the area, was moved to San Jose. That relocation puts San Jose State in an awkward position in that they will be laying double digits against an FBS team for the first time since 2014. The Spartans are much improved from what they were a few years ago, but should they really be laying two touchdowns against a conference opponent one week after scoring a grand total of seventeen points? I don't think so, which is why I'm encouraging you to back New Mexico. Remember, to cover a big spread, a team typically needs to score a lot of points, and I don't know if San Jose State can do that. As I mentioned, they netted seventeen points last week, but they made up for that by gaining less than 300 yards and averaging under five yards per play. It should be noted, the Spartans did win last week, so they may be able to hold New Mexico in check. However, a bet on New Mexico is a bet on uncertainty, and I think the Lobos have a chance to be better than most folks think. For starters, the toxic Bob Davie is no longer coaching the team, and they achieved a massive coup when Rocky Long agreed to be their defensive coordinator. Long enjoyed success as a head coach at both New Mexico and San Diego State, particularly on defense, so I think he can help a New Mexico team that has been quite porous on that side of the ball for the past few seasons. Take the Lobos and the points. 

Texas Tech +14.5 Oklahoma
The Red Raiders finally came through and won their first Big 12 game of the season last week against West Virginia. The victory has just their third in conference play in a year and a half under head coach Matt Wells. Henry Colombi, who followed Wells from Utah State, started at quarterback and helped ignite a Red Raider offense that had been dormant since their overtime loss to Texas. The offense will need to continue to perform well when Oklahoma comes to Lubbock. While the Sooners have not been as dominant as they were previously under Lincoln Riley without an experienced quarterback running the show, they have still scored at least 30 points in every Big 12 game and have a conceivable path to get to the Big 12 Championship Game after an 0-2 start. However, their defense continues to be a cause for concern and is the reason I would back Texas Tech in this spot. The Sooners are second to last in the Big 12 in yards allowed per per play and before a solid showing against TCU, had allowed at least 37 points to their first three conference opponents. The Sooners also do not have a solid track record in Lubbock. The Sooners have been favored their last six trips there and have only covered once. They have been laying double digits their past three trips and have not covered either time. Look for more of the same. I don't have the cajones to call for a Texas Tech outright win, but they will cover this number. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Fab Five: Week VII

Last Week: 2-3
Overall: 13-16-1
Well, we did better than than the week prior, but 2-3 is not going to cut it. Let's get some winners this week.

Temple +13.5 Memphis
Temple, a team once kicked out of the Big East for being terrible, has been competent at football for more than a decade. If you had told a Temple fan in the 80's or 90's they would enjoy a solid decade of bowl games and occasional conference title contention they may well have laughed in your face. After winning ten games and the Garden State Bowl in 1979, the Owls had just three winning seasons between 1980 and 2008. And in two of those years it took a future good NFL head coach to get them to 6-5. However, since Al Golden's fourth season in 2009, the Owls have posted just two losing seasons and have served as a springboard for four coaches to nab Power Five and one NFL head coaching gig. I mention all this because the Owls are not the sad sack program they were in the late aughts. They are a gritty team that has been a very good mid-major defense for many years. In fact, the Owls have finished either first or second in yards allowed per play in the AAC each of the past five seasons. And despite some struggles on the scoreboard in the early going, they are currently third in the AAC in yards allowed per play. Their defense should give Memphis some problems especially considering the Tigers are coming off an emotional comeback win against their conference nemesis UCF. Prior to last week, the Tigers had never beaten UCF (0-13), including back to back losses in the AAC Championship Game in 2017 and 2018. This seems like a flat spot for the Tigers as they are heavily favored one week after vanquishing a frequent tormentor. In addition, while the Tigers won last week, their defense did not play well, allowing 49 points and nearly 800 yards to the Knights. On the season, Memphis has allowed over eight yards per play to AAC opponents, so the backdoor should be wide open for a late Temple score. Finally, this is a relatively new series, with the Owls holding a 3-2 advantage (all meetings since 2013). However, Memphis has been favored in each game and has yet to cover. Expect more of the same on Saturday with the Owls and Tigers playing a close game.  

Missouri +5.5 Kentucky
Both these teams are coming off upset victories, but the home team has had a week to comedown from their upset of the defending champs while Kentucky must go on the road again after beating Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time since 1984. The Wildcats have played well defensively the past two weeks, holding Mississippi State and Tennessee to a combined nine points, but a great deal of that success has been due to an unsustainable turnover margin. The Wildcats are +8 the last two weeks (10 gained and 2 lost) and have scored three defensive touchdowns. Meanwhile, their offense has sputtered, averaging just under four yards per play in the winning streak. Kentucky is getting too much love from the market after their performance the past two weeks. I think their turnover luck regresses to the mean and Missouri gets the outright victory at home. 

Wyoming -4.5 Nevada
It took a while, but Craig Bohl has turned Wyoming into one of the better mid-major defenses in the country. The Cowboys were a defensive sieve in Bohl's first three seasons, allowing at least 32 points per game each year. However, the Cowboys have tightened up significantly the past three seasons, collectively allowing just 19 points per game in that span. Their conference record in that span is a somewhat disappointing 13-11, thanks mostly to ineffective quarterback play from a first round pick, quarterback injuries, and general bad luck in close games (4-7 record in one-score conference games). Despite the middling record over the past three seasons, the Cowboys have done quite well in games they were expected to win, posting a 10-2 Against the Spread (ATS) mark as a favorite. While both teams finished 4-4 in Mountain West play last season, when you look at Yards per Play, the Adjusted Pythagorean Record, or First Half Point Differential, Wyoming was a far superior team. With a clear track record and a proven national championship winning coach, I don't have a problem laying less than a touchdown on the road. 

Maryland +11 Northwestern
Both these teams finished 3-9 last season, but for Northwestern it was an outlier, while it was par for the course for Maryland. Northwestern followed up an appearance in the Big 10 Championship Game with a barely functional FBS offense. The Wildcats averaged just a shade north of sixteen points per game and that was with an offensive flourish in their final four contests (nearly 30 points per game). Meanwhile, Maryland finished with a solitary conference win after fooling some AP pollsters and climbing as high as 21st in the early part of the season. If I had to choose which team is more likely to finish with a winning record in 2020, the obvious answer is Northwestern, but if I have to take a side in this game, the obvious answer is Maryland. Northwestern has been a perennial bowl contender under Pat Fitzgerald who is entering his fifteenth season at the helm in Evanston. However, the Wildcats have never done well laying points, especially double digits under his watch. As a home favorite, they are just 16-28-1 ATS and they are even worse as a double digit home favorite, posting an 8-16-1 mark. Pat's Cats tend to grind out wins against teams with similar or slightly better talent. They rarely roll over anyone. I expect more of the same here. 

Louisiana Tech -2 UTSA
If you just looked at scores against common opponents, you might wonder why Louisiana Tech is favored in this game. As of today, the Bulldogs and Roadrunners, share a single common opponent: BYU. The Bulldogs were run off the field in Provo, losing 45-14. Meanwhile, UTSA played BYU tight, losing 27-20, the smallest margin of victory for BYU this season. Of course, there is more to college football handicapping that common scores (or at least there should be) and I don't believe a critical injury is factoring enough into this line. UTSA lost their starting quarterback (Lowell Narcisse) for the season in their loss to Army last week. While the presumed new starter has experience, he had not played nearly as well as Narcisse and had faced inferior competition. Louisiana Tech is undervalued after losing to perhaps the best team in Conference USA last week. Despite the loss, their hopes for a division title and rematch are still alive. The Bulldogs have been solid as a road favorite under Skip Holtz, going 13-8 ATS in that role and the Bulldogs are 6-1 all time against the Roadrunners. Don't let the homefield deter you from taking Louisiana Tech. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Fab Five: Week VI

Time to burn the game film from last week and get back to our winning ways. Note this post has been updated with a new pick due to the postponement of the Southern Miss at UTEP game. 
Last Week: 1-4
Overall: 11-13-1

Pittsburgh +13 Miami
This line has jumped by three points or so due to the status of Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett is questionable and may not play, but to be honest, Pickett has been very inconsistent in his nearly four seasons as a starter. Whether Pickett plays or not, the reason you should back Pitt in this spot is because of their defense. While they have allowed at least 30 points in their last two games (both losses), they cause a lot of havoc and Miami proved very susceptible to havoc last week against Clemson. The Panthers have 25 sacks through five games, and if we ignore their opener against Austin Peay, they still have 22 sacks in four games against Power 5 opponents. They also have an amazing 52 tackles for loss in five games meaning they make constant appearances in their opponents backfields. I expect Pitt to harass Miami quarterback D'Eric King and keep this one close especially with Miami coming off a crushing defeat to Clemson that derailed any hopes they had at the College Football Playoff. 

Navy -2.5 East Carolina
Like a Russian Nesting Doll, Navy has had a weird season within the already weird 2020 season. The Midshipmen are 2-2, despite being outscored by 80 points in four games. And if the season ended today, which it seems to always be in danger of doing, they would be AAC champs. Don't believe me? Check the standings. The Midshipmen are 2-0 in the AAC, staging a second half rally to edge Tulane, and stopping a late two-point conversion to sneak by Temple. With their narrow margins of victory, this would not appear to be a team you would want to lay points with, particularly on the road. However, I think they are in a good spot as they travel to Greenville to take on East Carolina. For starters, the Pirates will be without starting quarterback Holton Ahlers. This has caused the line to creep up a few points, but it has not even touched a field goal as of this writing. Aside from the news about Ahlers, all signs point to Navy in this game thanks to their strong history against East Carolina. The Midshipmen are 6-1 straight up against the Pirates and 5-2 Against the Spread (ATS). They have won all three games in Greenville by at least 28 points and several of those wins were against pretty good East Carolina teams coached by Ruffin McNeill. In addition, East Carolina has not won a home conference game under second year head coach Mike Houston (0-5), and while they have covered three times, all those covers came against teams favored by double digits. East Carolina looked pretty good in their victory against South Florida last week, but I think that was more indicative of the lack of quality of the Bulls than of anything positive regarding East Carolina. Keep in mind before exploding for 44 points against the Bulls, the Pirates managed all of one offensive touchdown in a blowout loss at Georgia State. Obviously the loss of Ahlers causes more uncertainty in this spot and there is always the potential that his backup plays better, either thanks to being better or due to the lack of film the opposition has on him. Still, Navy has pounded East Carolina in their previous meetings and while this is not a vintage Navy team, they usually roll over bad defenses. Take the Midshipmen to cover this small number.  

Auburn -3 South Carolina
Prior to the start of the 2020 season, there was general consensus that the two worst teams in the SEC were Arkansas and Vanderbilt. The two participants in this game played those teams on the road last week, and while the Tigers and Gamecocks both emerged victorious, the circumstances surrounding their victories were quite disparate. South Carolina cruised to an easy victory against Vanderbilt, scoring 41 points (their third most in a conference game under Will Muschamp) and winning by 34 (their largest margin of victory in a conference game under Muschamp). Meanwhile, Auburn, with a possible assist from SEC officials, barely survived at Arkansas. With Auburn looking shaky and South Carolina looking dominant, you can sort of understand why this line is so low. However, even three games in, it is clear this Arkansas team bares little resemblance to the one that competed in the SEC over the past couple of seasons. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt may be even worse than we initially thought, especially when they are down to almost the minimum number of scholarship players. Remember, LSU looked like they had fixed all their issues when they dominated the Commodores in Nashville two weeks ago. Against middle class conference competition, I expect Auburn to be able to handle their business. Take the Tigers to cover this low number. 

Syracuse +3.5 Liberty
These two teams faced off to open the 2019 season (when Hugh Freeze the Pious famously coached from his hospital bed) and Syracuse was favored by about nineteen points (on Liberty's homefield). Fast forward thirteen months and while nothing much has changed in the world, Liberty is now a small favorite in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse will be without starting quarterback Tommy DeVito who was injured in their loss to Duke last week. Even with DeVito, the offense struggled, allowing a nation worst twenty one sacks in their first four games. Despite their struggles, I think the market is too high on Liberty, making Syracuse a great play this weekend. Take a look at Liberty's schedule. I'll wait. The Flames have beaten Florida International, Louisiana-Monroe, North Alabama, and Western Kentucky. North Alabama is an FCS program and the other three FBS programs have combined for exactly one victory this season (cumulative 1-10 record). Liberty laid waste to Louisiana-Monroe this past weekend, but their combined margin of victory against Florida International and Western Kentucky was just eight points. Asking them to win by more than a field goal on the road against an ostensible Power Five team seems optimistic even with a stud transfer quarterback. It is often said those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Last year, a 5-2 Liberty team trekked north to New Jersey to face a Big 10 team with an interim coach that would go on to score just six offensive touchdowns in nine conference games. The Flames were favored by about a touchdown and allowed 44 points in a somewhat surprising loss. This Liberty team is better than last year's, but Syracuse is nowhere near as bad as that Rutgers squad. Liberty has played five Power Five opponents since moving up to FBS in 2018. They have lost those games by a combined margin of 136 points. Look for that trend to continue Saturday with Syracuse pulling a minor upset. 

Louisiana Tech +13.5 Marshall
Is this a potential preview of the Conference USA Championship Game? Perhaps. In the early going, both teams lead their respective divisions and the Thundering Herd are close to appearing in the AP Poll. They were in the poll a month ago before the pollsters began ranking teams that had yet to play. Once those Johnny Come Lately's were added, Marshall dropped out, but the Herd can solidify their first national ranking since 2014 with a win in Ruston. Marshall is getting a great deal of respect from the betting market with this number. Under Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech has never been an underdog of more than nine points when playing at home (Mississippi State) and they have only been a home dog six times in his seven plus seasons. In fact, Louisiana Tech has not been a two touchdown home underdog since hosting Boise State in 2009 (Derek Dooley's final season in charge). Marshall is a good team, but do they have the firepower to win by two touchdowns against a competent conference opponent? The Thundering Herd have been double digit road favorites fourteen times under Doc Holliday and are a perfectly mediocre 7-7 ATS in that spot. The majority of those games (ten) came when Rakeem Cato was leading an explosive offensive attack between 2011 and 2014. Marshall may have a future star in quarterback Grant Wells, but since obliterating Eastern Kentucky in his first start, Wells has yet to throw a touchdown pass against FBS competition. I think this game turns into a defensive battle with the winning team scoring in the twenties. With the homefield and almost two touchdowns in their pocket, take the Bulldogs in this spot. 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Fab Five: Week V

Last Week: 3-2
Overall: 10-9-1
Back to our winning way! And it would have been even better if we didn't get in front of that Alabama Juggernaut. Obviously, I'm a slow learned because we are getting in front of another elite team this week. Read on to find out who!

Texas Tech +12.5 Iowa State
Texas Tech starting quarterback Alan Bowman may not play after being injured last week against Kansas State, but regardless of his status, I think this is a great spot to back the Red Raiders. As you probably know, Iowa State beat Oklahoma last week to move to 2-0 in Big 12 play and put themselves in position to win their first conference title since 1912! Obviously, there is a lot of season left to be played (hopefully), but this is Iowa State's first 2-0 start in league play since 2002. So the big question is, can they avoid a letdown at home against Texas Tech? Recent history suggests they may not lose the game on the field, but they probably will at the ticket window. Iowa State has been a double digit home favorite eight times under Matt Campbell. They have won six of those games, but are just 2-6 Against the Spread (ATS) and just 1-4 ATS as a double digit home favorite against Power Five opponents. You can probably guess the Power Five team they covered against. In addition, although the sample size is small, the Cyclones have not played up to expectations after facing Oklahoma. Including last week's game, the Cyclones are 5-0 ATS against the Sooners under Campbell with two outright wins. However, in the game immediately following their clash with the Sooners, the Cyclones are just 1-3 ATS. They have been favored in all four games and have not lost outright, but their next opponent does not seem to have their full attention. Finally, while Matt Campbell has been a good coach to bet on during his time in Ames, the difference between his track record as a favorite and underdog is quite stark. Against FBS opponents, the Cyclones have posted a 28-18-1 ATS record under Campbell (regular season only). However, most of that success has been when they are an underdog where they have a 17-8-1 ATS mark. As a favorite, they are at the break even point, posting an 11-10 ATS mark. Fade Iowa State this week and take the points with Texas Tech.  

Texas State +7 Troy
If nothing else, Texas State fans (if any) can finally rejoice that their team has found an offense. In the four seasons between 2016 and 2019, the Bobcats averaged 18.5 points per game. They scored at least thirty points just ten times in that 48 game span. So far in 2020, the Bobcats are averaging nearly thirty three points per game and that is despite playing a Power Five team and a team currently ranked in the AP Poll. The Bobcats are just 1-3, but each of their losses have come by a touchdown or less. So naturally, they are catching points against a team fresh off a forty point loss. I don't get it either. Despite their 1-3 start, Texas State is actually unbeaten in conference play (1-0), so they should be sufficiently motivated for this road game (their third of five straight on the road). In the past, I was wary of backing Texas State because if they allowed two touchdowns, it would be very difficult for them to come back. But with their offense showing signs of life, they should be able to hang with a conference opponent with similar talent

Kansas State +8.5 TCU
The status of Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson must be impacting this line. I can't think of any other reason for TCU to be such a large favorite. Even if Thompson does not play (his backup Will Howard saw significant action in their win against Texas Tech), I'll be happy to take the points with the Wildcats. There are a few trends to consider in this game. For starters, Gary Patterson played for Kansas State in the early 80's so this game probably means a little something extra to him. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, the Horned Frogs are 4-4 straight up and 3-5 ATS against Kansas State. The Horned Frogs have been favored in six of the games (the last six) and are 2-4 ATS as a favorite, losing two of those games outright (including last season). In addition, TCU has struggled in their first game after playing Texas since joining the Big 12. The Horned Frogs are 3-5 straight up and 1-7 ATS, including 1-4 ATS as a favorite in their first game after playing Texas. This seems to indicate the Horned Frogs have a hard time resetting emotionally after playing their perceived big brother. If those numbers aren't enough to have you looking at the Kansas State side, consider that TCU is just 13-18-1 ATS as a home favorite since joining the Big 12. And more than a third of those covers came in TCU's magical 2014 season. The Horned Frogs torched all comers in Fort Worth that season, posting a 5-0 ATS mark as a home favorite, so they are just 8-18-1 ATS over the other seven seasons in the role. Finally, Chris Klieman has been money in the bank (and has plenty of money in the bank) as a road underdog. In his brief tenure, the Wildcats are 4-1 ATS as a road underdog with three outright upsets. I like the Wildcats to at least keep this one close. 

Mississippi State +2 Kentucky
It took all of one week, but the luster is off the Mike Leach shine. After upsetting LSU in Baton Rouge, the Bulldogs returned to Starkville and lost at home to an SEC team that had not won a conference game since joining the conference in 1992 (citation needed). The loss dropped the Bulldogs to where most thought they would be after two games (1-1) and ended any absurd talk of them being in the College Football Playoff conversation at season's end. The good new for Mississippi State fans is that Mike Leach did not make a habit of losing often as a large favorite at Washington State. During his eight seasons in Pullman, the Cougars lost five times as a double-digit favorite (including a pair of losses to FCS teams), but all those losses came early in the season and the Cougars typically bounced back. Overall, the Cougars were 21-13 ATS following a loss under Leach and 5-3 ATS after losing as a favorite. I cite those trends because they seem to indicate Leach does a good job of getting his teams off the mat after tasting defeat. If you want to back Kentucky in this spot, don't do it because you think Mississippi State won't be ready to play. If you want to back Kentucky, well why is that exactly? Has Kentucky's defense impressed you in the early going? The Wildcats have allowed almost ten yards per pass in their first three games (9.9) while going against Auburn and Ole Miss. Auburn's passing offense is better than they looked in their last outing against Georgia and Ole Miss seems to have things rolling on that side of the ball under Lane Kiffin, but a bad pass defense is not typically the recipe for beating a team coached by Mike Leach. Have we already forgotten what K.J. Costello did to LSU in the season opener? And unlike their Magnolia State brethren in Oxford, the boys in Starkville at least pretend to play defense. The Bulldogs have ten sacks through their first two games and have held LSU and Arkansas to a combined 4.70 yards per play. This game is throwing off some serious 'wrong team favored' vibes even before we consider how bad Kentucky has been as a home favorite under Mark Stoops. The Wildcats are 9-14 ATS in the role, which isn't good, but are just 3-9 ATS as home favorites against Power 5 opponents. Take Mississippi State to cover and win outright.   

Miami +14 Clemson
This might be the equivalent of stepping in front of a speeding train, but I think the Hurricanes provide good value catching two touchdowns on Saturday. I know their last two games against Clemson could have gone better (lost by a combined score of 96-3) and I know their schedule has not been challenging up to this point, but I get the feeling this Miami team might really be worthy of their top-ten ranking. I reserve the right to change my opinion following the result of this game, but the new quarterback and offensive coordinator combo seems to have done wonders for a team that perennially disappoints. For Clemson, winner of five consecutive ACC titles, this is their smallest home spread against a conference opponent in nearly three seasons when they were also two touchdown favorites against Georgia Tech and were quarterbacked by Kelly Bryant (wow that seems like eons ago). For Miami, this is the first time they will be catching double digits in the regular season since 2015 when they were double digit underdogs at North Carolina and (checks notes) Duke?! That Duke game did have one of the most memorable endings in college football history, but the Hurricanes lost by nearly forty in Chapel Hill. I'm not basing this play on any trends, but I feel like Clemson may not be as dominant as they were the past two seasons. Couple that with what seems like legitimate improvement by Miami and I will gladly take the two touchdowns (and probably be cursing the Hurricanes at halftime). 

Thursday, October 01, 2020

The Fab Five: Week IV

Last Week: 1-3-1
Overall: 7-7-1
We had our first losing week, but I guess we should be thankful Will Muschamp is an avid reader of this blog. For some odd reason, he elected to kick a field goal and get us a push to avoid a disastrous weekend. Things are looking up this week though.

TCU +12 Texas
Some college football fans claim the AP Poll has a distinct SEC bias, but judging by the most recent edition, I'd posit they are looking at things through the eyes of Texas. If not for an onside kick recovery, the Longhorns would have lost as a double digit favorite to Texas Tech last week. Despite the near loss and the return of the Big 10 and Pac-12 to the poll, the Longhorns dropped one spot from eighth to ninth. For comparison, the Longhorns in-state rival, Texas A&M, won an ugly game against Vanderbilt. Yet the Aggies never trailed after the first quarter averaged nearly three more yards per play than the Commodores. For their efforts, they fell three spots in the polls from tenth to thirteenth. Enough bitching about the polls. Why should you back TCU in this spot after the Horned Frogs allowed over eight yards per play in a loss to Iowa State? For starters, look at Gary Patterson's track record against Texas. The Horned Frogs have faced Texas nine times since Patterson became the coach and have a 6-3 mark both straight up and Against the Spread (ATS). They have won six of the nine games outright despite entering as an underdog five times. And their success has not been confined to Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have won three times in Austin under Patterson. In addition, Patterson has been able to rally his troops as road underdogs since joining the Big 12. The Horned Frogs are 10-7 ATS in the role since 2012 and 4-1 ATS as double digit road underdogs. And finally, let's not forget how much Texas has struggled as a big favorite under Tom Herman. The Longhorns are a mediocre 3-5 ATS as a double digit home favorite, but all those covers have come against inferior competition (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, and UTEP). Against Power Five opponents, Texas is 0-4 ATS as a double digit home favorite, losing outright to Maryland in Herman's debut and nearly losing to Kansas last season. Patterson will have the Horned Frogs motivated to play their big brother, so look for TCU to keep this one close. 

Texas A&M +18 Alabama
As I previously mentioned, the Aggies won a very ugly game against Vanderbilt last week. Side bar: How depressing must it be to be a Vanderbilt fan (keep in mind this is coming from a Wake Forest fan)? The Aggies tried their best to keep Vanderbilt in the game by turning the ball over on back to back drives in the fourth quarter while nursing a one-score lead. Vanderbilt followed up those turnovers by throwing their own interception and then losing nine yards on their final drive. With an SEC only schedule, a winless campaign is definitely on the table. Anyway, back to Texas A&M. While the Aggies failed to put the Commodores away on the scoreboard, they did dominate them in the box score, averaging nearly seven yards per play while allowing less than four. Clean the mistakes up, and that's a recipe for a comfortable win. I think their lackluster play against Vanderbilt was more indicative of them overlooking a thirty point underdog rather them not being a top-ten team. In this trip to Tuscaloosa, I expect a much better performance. The trends also seem to point to an Aggie cover. Under Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies have been double digit road underdogs four times, and have covered in three of those games. The lone game they failed to cover was in the regular season finale last year against the eventual national champions. It also helps that Texas A&M plays at a very slow pace. The Aggies naturally use a lot of time on the play clock resulting in fewer plays and possessions. Expect them to waste a few timeouts as well to avoid delay of game penalties. This is of course less than ideal if the game is close and the Aggies need to get the ball back, but if you just need them to cover a three score margin, they can waste all the time they want. 

Middle Tennessee State +7 Western Kentucky
The '100 Miles of Hate' is one of the more underrated rivalries in college football. It has spanned many years and many conferences, from the Ohio Valley, to the Sun Belt, and finally to Conference USA. With the Blue Raiders and Hilltoppers sharing a division, this rivalry should be on for the foreseeable future. Full disclosure, Middle Tennessee State was one of my sleeper teams heading into the season. They were better than their record last season, and I expected them to contend for the Conference USA title. Their first two games had me fleeing the bandwagon. They bounced back somewhat in their last game, and I regret not grabbing them as an underdog of around six points. So naturally, I am back on them on Saturday, perhaps a week too late. I did a lot of research on this rivalry, and over the past ten meetings, the home team has been favored eight times. In both instances where the home team was an underdog, they covered. I know two games is the epitome of a small sample size, but I think that trend fits here. As I mentioned earlier, Middle Tennessee State kind of got their act together in their last game, racking up over 550 yards while averaging over six yards per play. In addition, Western Kentucky has not exactly followed up their nine win campaign with a quality start. The Hilltoppers lost to a solid Louisville team, but then lost as double digit favorites to Liberty. The Hilltoppers racked up less than 300 yards in both those games against non-elite defenses, while their formerly strong defense did not hold up, allowing at least thirty points in both games (gave up thirty points three times last season). Western Kentucky should be favored, but a touchdown is too much to lay. Give me the Blue Raiders.  

Air Force +7 Navy
Prior to the Mountain West's recent announcement of their intent to return to the field, this was going to be one of the weirdest college football games of the season (its still pretty weird). The Falcons were set to play a two-game season consisting of their service academy rivals Army and Navy. Had they won both games, I would have lobbied for them to receive some College Football Playoff consideration. With Air Force having yet to take the field, there are obviously a lot of unknowns surrounding their football team, especially at quarterback. While unknowns can be bad, I would argue Navy's early performance should preclude them from laying points on the road. To refresh your memory, Navy was steamrolled by BYU on Labor Day, took a week off, and then stunned Tulane after falling behind 24-0. While the Midshipmen are 1-1, they have looked like trash for six of the eight quarters they have played. My math tells me that is 75%. I don't see how you can be comfortable laying nearly a touchdown with Navy and that is before you consider the history of this series. Air Force has won three in a row and four of the last five in Colorado Springs, with two of those wins coming as small underdogs. In addition, the Falcons have been money in the bank when getting points at home under Troy Calhoun. In his thirteen seasons at the helm, the Falcons are 12-7 ATS as a home underdog. And if we ignore the 2013 season, when the program bottomed out, the Falcons are 12-3 ATS as a home underdog! I don't like to throw the word 'lock' around very often, but this seems like a game where you could feel comfortable betting your mortgage on the Falcons. 

North Texas -1.5 Southern Miss
I'm normally a huge fan of buying teams at their lowest. And you can't get much lower than Southern Miss at the moment. As a brief refresher, the Eagles lost their opener as a double digit favorite against South Alabama (and then their coach resigned), blew a big lead and lost their conference opener to Louisiana Tech, and then allowed 66 points to Tulane. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention that North Texas also allowed more than 60 points in their last game. And the worst part is they did so while honoring Hayden Fry with some awesome unis. Personally, I would have loved to have seen a little splotch of pink on those unis, but I digress. This spread implies Southern Miss might be favored on a neutral field and I just can't figure that one out. North Texas has had a week off to lick their wounds after losing to SMU and are opening conference play while Southern Miss has already dropped a conference game and is playing their first road game of the year. North Texas is 3-1 against Southern Miss under Seth Littrell, winning (and covering easily) in both of the games in Denton. I expect that trend to continue with North Texas covering this small number.